Tag: Privacy

Germany Has Chosen … Poorly

 

Me, two years ago, after the Bataclan massacre in Paris:

There are two possible responses to the dispersed threat of Islamic terrorism: Increased surveillance and security in the hopes that you’ll catch terrorists in the same net you use to corral regular citizens, or an empowered, aware citizenry that can stop an attack dead in its tracks. I prefer the second option myself, not only because it works, but it errs on the side of freedom, and that’s always a good thing.

Reasonable Searches in the Digital Age

 

This past week, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Carpenter v. United States, a case that goes to the heart of the government’s power to track private individual behavior without a warrant. Timothy Carpenter and his henchmen had engaged in a series of armed robberies in Michigan and Ohio that led to his conviction for up to 116 years in prison. In his opinion, Judge Raymond Kethledge of the Sixth Circuit correctly observed that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures “has long recognized a distinction between the content of a communication and the information necessary to convey it. Content, per this distinction, is protected under the Fourth Amendment, but routing information is not.”

Accordingly, Kethledge let the government introduce into evidence the business records from the defendants’ wireless carriers that placed the defendants at or near the scene of several violent robberies. Alone, that evidence could never support a conviction for armed robbery, but its value lies in contravening the defendants’ alibi that they were elsewhere at the time.

Kethledge’s analysis received a rocky reception at the Supreme Court, as both liberal and conservative’s fretted about the invasions of privacy from such extended surveillance. A puzzled Justice Stephen Breyer professed astonishment by observing: “This is an open box. We know not where to go.” In contrast, Justice Elena Kagan had a more pointed objection. She noted that in United States v. Jones (2012), the Court reversed a conviction for narcotics trafficking because the government had conducted an illegal search by attaching a GPS tracking device to the defendant’s wife’s car without a warrant. According to the majority in that case, attaching the GPS amounted to a common law trespass, which Justice Antonin Scalia held justified suppressing that evidence. To Kagan, the government had to explain how using phone company records differed from using the GPS system, when both give exhaustive and accurate information about the defendant’s whereabouts.

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 I realize that coming from a, shall we say earlier generation, my expectations of privacy might be considered quaint in today’s world. But I’m trying to adapt. Not that it does any good. The other day, I was using Tor browser and a VPN signed in from the Netherlands. Hah! Take that, privacy infringers! I […]

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America discuss the latest revelations surrounding former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and breathe a sigh of relief that he’s already gone.  They also lament FBI Director James Comey’s admission that there is no longer any such thing as “absolute privacy” anymore.  And they discuss Pres. Trump’s decision to nominate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to be U.S. Ambassador to Russia.

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California enacted a controversial law last year, known as SB277, that abolished the religious and personal-belief exemptions to state-mandated child vaccinations. One remaining exemption, however, is at the heart of the law: the physician exemption. Under that exemption, if your child is contraindicated (that is, medical circumstances suggest your child is more likely to suffer […]

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You know what I want to do? Dump PayPal!!! Does anyone know of any other on-line payment services? I don’t want to use bitcoin, either. Here’s a radical thought. If several states—at least 5—were to pass religious freedom bills, or bathroom bills, or any other bill that gets the LGBT crowd all puffed up, at […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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 […]

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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.

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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

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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 […]

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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.