Tag Archives: data privacy

Uproar After Congress Sneaks Attack on Digital Privacy Rights Into Omnibus Spending Bill

Attaching it to massive spending deal, lawmakers rush through controversial bill that allows law enforcement to hand over personal data without a warrant

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 3-22-2018

Critics of the CLOUD Act ” are rightfully pointing out that it jettisons current human rights protections in favor of vague standards that could gut individual rights.” (Photo: Electoric Frontier Foundation)

Buried in the 2,232-page omnibus spending bill that the U.S. House passed Thursday is a piece of legislation that digital privacy advocates warn “expands American and foreign law enforcement’s ability to target and access people’s data across international borders.”

The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data or CLOUD Act (S. 2383 and H.R. 4943) would add an official provision for U.S. law enforcement to access “the contents of a wire or electronic communication and any record or other information” for people all across the globe, regardless of where they live and what that nation’s privacy laws dictate. It would also create a “backdoor” into Americans’ data, enabling the U.S. government to bypass its citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights to access and even use their data. Continue reading

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Victory for Civil Liberties as GOP Push to Expand NSA Spying Declared Dead—For Now

“Just like that, in less than 12 hours, last-ditch efforts to cram an NSA surveillance expansion bill were delayed—and possibly derailed. Your voices are heard. Keep it up.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 12-20-2017

“Like with the tax bill and healthcare, House Republicans are now trying to pass an awful NSA surveillance expansion bill within hours of releasing the text and with zero debate,” Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm warned in a tweet on Tuesday. (Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr/cc)

Civil libertarians and internet freedom groups declared tentative victory on Wednesday after House Republicans announced that they have—at least for now—abandoned efforts to sneak through a measure that would have reauthorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and vastly expanded NSA spying powers.

A number of prominent groups and public figures—including Fight for the Future, the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), and Edward Snowden—have been working to call attention to the legislation in recent days amid the flurry of tax and budget developments. Continue reading

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The StingRay Spy Device Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

At least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays.

By Olivia Donaldson

Photo: The Desk

Imagine you are in the middle of your typical day-to-day activities. Maybe you are driving, spending time with family, or working. If you are like most people, your phone is at your side on a daily basis. Little do you know that, at any time, police and law enforcement could be looking at information stored on your phone. You haven’t done anything wrong. You haven’t been asked for permission. You aren’t suspected of any crime.

The StingRay

Police have the power to collect your location along with the numbers of your incoming and outgoing calls and intercept the content of call and text communication. They can do all of this without you ever knowing about it.

How? They use a shoebox-sized device called a StingRay. This device (also called an IMSI catcher) mimics cell phone towers, prompting all the phones in the area to connect to it even if the phones aren’t in use.

The police use StingRays to track down and implicate perpetrators of mainly domestic crimes. The devices can be mounted in vehicles, drones, helicopters, and airplanes, allowing police to gain highly specific information on the location of any particular phone, down to a particular apartment complex or hotel room.

Quietly, StingRay use is growing throughout local and federal law enforcement with little to no oversight. The ACLU has discovered that at least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays, but says that this “dramatically underrepresents the actual use of StingRays by law enforcement agencies nationwide.”

The Violation

Information from potentially thousands of phones is being collected every time a StingRay is used. Signals are sent into the homes, bags, and pockets of innocent individuals. The Electronic Frontier Foundation likens this to the Pre-Revolutionary War practice of soldiers going door-to-door, searching without suspicion.

Richard Tynan, a technologist with Privacy International notes that, “there really isn’t any place for innocent people to hide from a device such as this.”

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution states that, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The StingRay clearly violates these standards. The drafters of the Constitution recognized that restricting the government from violating privacy is essential for a free society. That’s why the Fourth Amendment exists. The StingRay is creating a dangerous precedent that tells the government that it’s okay for them to violate our rights. Because of this, freedom is quietly slipping out the window.

Little Regulation

Law Enforcement is using StingRays without a warrant in most cases. For example, the San Bernardino Police Department used their StingRay 300 times without a warrant in a little over a year.

In 2010, the Tallahassee Police Department used a StingRay in a warrantless search to track down the suspect of a crime. A testimony from an unsealed hearing transcript talks about how police went about finding their target. The ACLU sums it up well:

“Police drove through the area using the vehicle-based device until they found the apartment complex in which the target phone was located, and then they walked around with the handheld device and stood ‘at every door and every window in that complex’ until they figured out which apartment the phone was located in. In other words, police were lurking outside people’s windows and sending powerful electronic signals into their private homes in order to collect information from within.”

A handful of states have passed laws requiring police and federal agents to get a warrant before using a StingRay. They must show probable cause for one of the thousands of phones that they are actually searching. This is far from enough.

Additionally, there are many concerns that agents are withholding information from federal judges to monitor subjects without approval – bypassing the probable cause standard laid out in the Constitution. They even go as far as to let criminals go to avoid disclosing information about these devices to the courts.

If the public doesn’t become aware of this issue, the police will continue to use StingRays to infringe on our rights in secret and with impunity.

Olivia Donaldson

Olivia Donaldson

Olivia Donaldson is a recent high school graduate that is currently opting out of college and participating in an entrepreneurial program called Praxis.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Editorial note: If you’d like to read about the current use of StingRays by the Trump administration, we ran an article on the subject back in May.

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Future of Free Speech at Risk as Supreme Court Hears Critical Digital Privacy Case

“No constitutional doctrine should presume that consumers assume the risk of warrantless government surveillance simply by using technologies that are increasingly integrated into modern life.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 11-29-2017

In a Supreme Court case beginning Wednesday, the ACLU is arguing that Americans should not be expected to give up privacy rights every time they use a cell phone that pings phone towers nearby, as analog-era legal arguments would hold. (Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr/cc)

The Supreme Court will hear the first arguments in a landmark case regarding digital privacy rights on Wednesday as civil liberties advocates, joined by tech companies and journalists, argue the court must acknowledge that privacy rights and free speech protections should align with the reality of 21st century technology.

The case, known as Carpenter vs. United States centers around Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2011 of several robberies after the police, without a probable cause warrant, gathered data from his cell phone company. Months of records were turned over, showing that he had been near cell towers close to the sites of the robberies when they took place. Continue reading

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‘Chilling’ New Rule Allows DHS to Monitor All Immigrants’ Social Media Activity

Freedom of speech advocates denounce DHS’s new “collect-it-all” approach

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-27-2017

Freedom of speech advocates are calling a new Department of Homeland Security rule “chilling,” as the department will begin collecting social media communications and data of all immigrants.

The rule, added last week to the Privacy Act of 1974, would allow the DHS to gather “social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results” of people with immigration files, as well as “publicly available information from the internet.”

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement on the new rule on Tuesday. Continue reading

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DOJ Docs Raise Questions About Gorsuch’s Views on Torture and Executive Power

Americans should be “deeply concerned that this nominee won’t be a meaningful check on Donald Trump’s illegal and unconstitutional agenda”

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-16-2017

Photo: Screenshot

With just days until Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a new trove of documents is raising additional questions about the federal judge’s time at the Department of Justice (DOJ), where he “played a key role in defending the torture and detention policies that have been rejected by the courts and by our country,” according to one group.

From June 2005 to August 2006, Gorsuch served as the principal deputy to the associate attorney general under former President George W. Bush. Continue reading

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House Intel Committee Gives Trump Monday Deadline for Wiretapping Proof

“The only question is why the president would make up such a thing,” says Rep. Adam Schiff of California

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-12-2017

The White House has been asked by lawmakers to produce evidence of President Donald Trump’s wiretapping claims.

Leading members of the House Intelligence Committee have demanded that President Donald Trump provide evidence by Monday of his claim that Trump Tower was wiretapped—possibly by former President Barack Obama.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that committee chairman, Devin Nunes of California, and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, made the request in a letter sent to the White House last week.

Other lawmakers have made similar demands, including U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), as Common Dreams reported Wednesday.  Continue reading

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Feds Drop Charges in Child Porn Case to Protect Secrets

By . Published 3-9-2017 by The Anti-Media

Official FBI flag. Photo: Public domain

Washington, D.C. — In a case that’s drawn criticism from multiple angles, last week federal prosecutors in Washington state dropped all charges against a man who allegedly downloaded child pornography from a website that was infiltrated, taken over, and allegedly even improved by the FBI.

The site, Playpen, operated on a platform designed to mask the real identities of its users, as Gizmodo explained Monday:

“The site in question operated on the Tor network, a system used to anonymize web activity. The network makes use of a special web browser that conceals people’s identities and location by routing their internet connections through a complex series of computers and encrypting data in the process.” Continue reading

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Why whistleblowers are essential to democracy

In a functioning democracy, it is absolutely crucial for power to be held to account. For this we need whistleblowers.

By Rebecca Sentance. Published 2-3-2017 by openDemocracy

Free Chelsea Manning.Grafitti in Vienna, Austria, 2014. Wikicommons/smuconlaw.

On January 17, 2017, whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence was commuted to seven years from her date of arrest, in one of President Obama’s last acts before leaving office. At the time of her commutation, Private Manning had spent more time behind bars than any other person in US history who had disclosed information considered to be in the public interest.

The information leaked by Chelsea Manning – videos, diplomatic cables and reports relating to the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan – exposed corruption and human rights abuses, and is widely regarded to have been a catalyst for the Arab Spring that began in December 2010. Continue reading

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Facebook Doesn’t Tell Users Everything It Really Knows About Them

The site shows users how Facebook categorizes them. It doesn’t reveal the data it is buying about their offline lives.

By Julia Angwin, Terry Parris Jr., Surya Mattu.. Published 12-28-2016 by Common Dreams

Facebook has long let users see all sorts of things the site knows about them, like whether they enjoy soccer, have recently moved, or like Melania Trump.

But the tech giant gives users little indication that it buys far more sensitive data about them, including their income, the types of restaurants they frequent and even how many credit cards are in their wallets.

Since September, ProPublica has been encouraging Facebook users to share the categories of interest that the site has assigned to them. Users showed us everything from “Pretending to Text in Awkward Situations” to “Breastfeeding in Public.” In total, we collected more than 52,000 unique attributes that Facebook has used to classify users. Continue reading

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