Tag: Privacy

Drones: The Bitter with the Sweet?


shutterstock_188506913A recent post in the tabloid British press offers an early warning to an issue that is surely percolating up right now in the United States. Quite simply, what should be done with privately owned drones.

The problem has become insistent because as the price of drone technology goes down, the deployment of drones for both good and for evil raises some difficult choices. On the positive side it is easy to see how drones can ease the work of legitimate surveillance needed to determine boundary lines in remote locations, track the movement of herd animals in order to manage their behavior, or to deliver everything from hot food to needed documents promptly. Here the ends are legitimate and the means chosen are conducive to these ends. The appropriate response is yet another salute to technological progress that makes things better for us all.

Then again, there is the other side of the story. The wider use of drones opens up the following scenarios. The drones will become menaces as they crash into people, cars, airplanes, and each other. Or they can become observation outposts for people to snoop into the private lives of other individuals by hovering near open windows and parked cars.

Powell Aide: Snowden “Pure as a Driven Snow”


SnowdenSnowden “more helpful than dangerous” says ex-Colin Powell Chief of Staff:

The leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about US worldwide surveillance have helped rather than harmed America, and the leaks haven’t endangered lives.

Lawrence “Larry” Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell in the last Bush administration, said that he believed Snowden’s assertions that he leaked out of concern for the US breaking both domestic and international law.

Apple, Originalism, and the All Writs Act


iPhone_6_PLUS_preview_MG_1875Originalism as a method of judicial interpretation is now irrelevant, some claimed after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. It never really worked and now it’s destined to fade away.

Tell that to federal magistrate judge James Orenstein in New York, who yesterday ruled for Apple in a case in which the feds had invoked the All Writs Act to demand the unlocking of the phone of suspected drug dealer Jun Feng (the case parallels the far higher-profile case of the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone).

The Act grants federal courts broad power to issue “necessary or appropriate” writs, which the government would like to interpret to include types of writ Congress has declined to authorize explicitly even after considering doing so. In Judge Orenstein’s reasoning, it matters very much what the All Writs Act was understood to mean at the time of its passage in 1789.

What about Guarding the Front Door?


iPhone_6_PLUS_preview_MG_1875Yesterday, we learned that US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym ordered Apple to help the FBI break into the iPhone of San Bernardino murderer Syed Rizwan Farook. Perhaps mindful of King Canute’s experience stopping the tide, the judge stopped short of commanding Farook’s phone to reveal the encrypted data directly, instead instructing Apple to reorient its developers from productive endeavors to undermining its own carefully constructed software- and hardware-based security architecture.

Not long ago, conservatives were appalled when Congress passed and the Supreme Court upheld a law requiring citizens to purchase a particular product — Obama-certified health insurance. Now we have a federal judge, drawing authority solely from the All Writs Act of 1789, ordering a private company to create a custom product for the government’s use. And what a product! If implemented, the judge’s order will create a weaponized piece of software capable of taking down the world’s second most valuable company. Collateral damage could include large swathes of our globally-connected economy. Hyperbole? Read the relevant portion of the order for yourself and imagine what malicious hackers could do with such an app:

Apple’s reasonable technical assistance shall accomplish the following three important functions: (1) it will bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled; (2) it will enable the FBI to submit passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE for testing electronically via the physical device port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other protocol available on the SUBJECT DEVICE and (3) it will ensure that when the FBI submits passcodes to the SUBJECT DEVICE, software running on the device will not purposefully introduce any additional delay between passcode attempts beyond what is incurred by Apple hardware.

Member Post


As you’re already aware, the Federal government is suing Apple Inc to force Apple to provide software for breaking the encryption of an Apple phone owned by San Bernardino County and used by a county employee in the pursuit of his terror and his wife’s attack on county offices. Apple’s CEO has demurred and is […]

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Two Different Uses of Big Data and Mass Surveillance


shutterstock_340300073The first comes from The Economist and describes how intelligence agencies, the military, and police are using data and electronic surveillance to fight terrorism at home and jihad abroad:

Thanks to the clever use of software, tips from … [terrorist] manuals obtained by intelligence agencies are proving increasingly valuable to counter-terrorist forces deployed both in the West and abroad. Technologists are modifying existing mapping software to produce “geographic profiling” programs that show which areas should be searched or put under surveillance first in the hunt for hideouts, bomb workshops and weapons caches. “Declaration of Jihad Against the Country’s Tyrants”, for example, was a cornerstone of Building Intent, a geoprofiling program developed … for America’s defence department. In addition to terrorist guidelines on which buildings to use, software such as Building Intent is fed the co-ordinates of bombings and other actions thought related to the group of interest. These are useful because such groups are often reluctant to conduct operations far from their bases, be it to save time, to remain in familiar or friendly territory, or to reduce the likelihood of encountering a checkpoint.

The second, via Conor Friedersdorf, profiles a company whose business is photographing and geotagging as many car license plates as they can and selling access to their database:

The Uneasy Legacy of Henrietta Lacks


henrietta-lacksRecently, Rebecca Skloot, author of the major best-seller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, wrote an impassioned plea in the New York Times, urging people to support sweeping revisions to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects, which is now under active review in the Department of Health and Human Services. These revisions are directed to the rules that now govern the collection and use of “clinical biospecimens,” which include all the organic substances that are routinely removed from the human body as a consequence of surgery, childbirth, or even normal testing. At first appearance, these materials look like waste products best disposed of in a safe and sanitary manner. But, in fact, they are invaluable in medical research to treat cancer and a host of other genetic and life-threatening diseases.

Without question, the most dramatic illustration of this process involves the so-called HeLa cell line derived from the cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks, an African American tobacco farmer who died of cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. When she was treated at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, her cancer cells were given to the pathologist Dr. George Gey. Gey found to his amazement that, unlike other cancer cells, Lack’s cells were immortal in that they could be cultured and reproduced indefinitely. Within three years of her death, her cell line helped develop the Salk polio vaccine. In the 65 years since Lacks died, about 20 tons of her cell line have been reproduced and distributed worldwide for medical research.

But just what did Lacks and her family get out of the arrangement? At the time, nothing. In accordance with the then standard practice, the Johns Hopkins researchers collected and used her cells without her knowledge or consent. In more recent years, she has received countless public honors for her contributions to medical research. But, at the same time, the many researchers who worked with her cell line collected substantial royalties from the patented cells and the devices developed with their assistance.

Member Post


When I got to that point in the Ricochet sign-up I had to stop and think. You see, I know how the Internet works. Every single employer I get from now to forever will google my name and see it associated with right wing ravings. Never mind that I don’t actually rave often; employers are […]

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Dispatches from the War on Cash


kronerOnce upon a time, thieves gave you a choice: your money or your life. Not the government: it wants bothAs if it is not enough that the state knows absolutely everything you do electronically, it’s moving to make the last private vestige of our lives digital as well. “The war on cash is advancing on all fronts,” reports Zerohedge in “First they came for the pennies“. The consequences of going cashless are manifold and hard to overstate, especially in terms of loss of privacy and autonomy.

Sweden’s citizens have become willing guinea pigs in an experiment consisting of negative interest rates in a near cashless society. Even homeless vendors of street newspapers carry mobile card readers. The situation is similar in Denmark. In sub-Saharan Africa, going cashless is nearly a matter of survival, not convenience, as few have bank accounts, but nearly everyone has a mobile phone. (Side note: is this the solution to voter ID in the United State?) Western NGOs such as the Gates Foundation are working with governments, banks, and credit card companies to replace cash with mobile money platforms. India hopes to do the same.

Consequences include banks taking a cut of every transaction and keeping extensive, eternal records of who you are and what you do. Going cashless is likely the only strategy that allows central planners to continue Negative Interest Rate Policy (NIRP), since rational savers will take cash out of the banking system under such circumstances. It is nothing more than legal theft by the authorities. It seems the general public sees only the “convenience” of going cashless.

Member Post


Toronto police warned hackers of the Ashley Madison infidelity website that their actions “won’t be tolerated,” and said there are two unconfirmed suicides linked to the breach. “This hack is one of the largest data breaches in the world,” said Staff Supt. Bryce Evans at a Monday morning news conference. Preview Open

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Member Post


A few weeks ago, a federal appeals court ruled that you have no reasonable expectation of privacy on phone calls that you pocket-dial. The case involved a woman getting pocket-dialed by the chairman of her company’s board and subsequently overhearing a sensitive conversation about her boss. She stayed on the line for ninety minutes, taking notes, apparently because […]

Join Ricochet!

This is a members-only post on Ricochet's Member Feed. Want to read it? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Shaun’s Musings: The Internet and Privacy


My father bought the house’s first computer in 1995. Before then, I had used a rickety old typewriter with a flying ‘g’ that seemed to eat the ink cartridges faster than I could replace them. Happy with my father’s new purchase, I set to work on writing a novel. We had AOL in those days, but the Internet was not anywhere near where it is today. On the first day I started using the Internet, my father sat down with me and gave me a good piece of advice that I have never forgotten. “The Internet is a public place,” he told me. “I don’t care what website says it’s private. Automatically assume that everything you write, buy, and look at online will still be visible twenty years from now.”

That advice came in handy years later when I lost an entire manuscript I had saved since I was sixteen. Remembering that I had shared the file with some friends in order to gain some feedback, I was quickly able to find and download it. The date? May, 1997, just weeks before I graduated high school.

Die Gedanken sind frei, But That’s About it


Privacy-spyThe U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Kentucky ruled this week that a person who dials another party by sitting on his cell-phone doesn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy if he is overheard.

In what is presumed the first “butt dial” ruling in a federal court, Judge Danny J. Boggs found that what you say over your cell phone is equivalent to standing naked in front of your bedroom window and expecting passersby not to sneak a peek:

This case requires us to consider whether a person who listens to and subsequently electronically records a conversation from an inadvertent ‘pocket-dial’ call violates Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Street Act of 1968,” wrote Boggs, after hearing the case of Huff v. Spaw in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Behold the Canadians, Destroyers of Worlds


Avid Life Media is a Toronto-based company that makes millions on the sexual weakness of others. It runs three sites, Ashley Madison, Cougar Life and Established Men. The first two are for married peopleAM that are looking to be matched up for affairs, the latter for young women who wish to be the mistress of a successful and well-heeled man.

Of course, this service is promised to be 100% safe and discreet.

The Libertarian Podcast: The Sony Controversy


On this week’s installment of The Libertarian Podcast, Professor Epstein discusses the legal issues surrounding the Sony hacking and the subsequent dissemination of the purloined materials in the press. What does Supreme Court precedent have to say about the distribution of such information? (Spoiler alert: Richard thinks the Court got it wrong). Is there a coherent standard of “newsworthiness” that constrains such publications? The professor answers those questions and, in a Libertarian first, engages in a duel of wits with Aaron Sorkin. Listen in below: