Archive for March 14th, 2012

News Digest 03/14/12

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm by

Reports of NYPD religious-based surveillance continue to surface

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm by

From New York-area mosques to Muslim college students the New York Police Department (NYPD) has been infringing on the privacy of Muslim Americans without any basis for individual suspicion. A new report released by the Associated Press (AP) last week shows in no uncertain terms that the NYPD was monitoring people solely based on their religion. The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reports:

The secret report, obtained by the Associated Press and released Friday, adds to longstanding concerns about the NYPD’s Demographics Unit. It shows that the unit collected huge amounts of information on the region’s Muslim-American community – ranging from conversations in Muslim-owned shops to the license-plate numbers of those attending mosque – even if there was no link to criminal activity.

“It is indisputable that the NYPD is engaged in a widespread campaign of religious profiling targeting the American Muslim community,” wrote the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Executive Director Nihad Awad in a letter to President Obama. “Only direct White House and Justice Department intervention will provide some measure of protection for the constitutional rights of American Muslims.”

The secret documents released by the AP show that the NYPD has been routinely monitoring Muslim-owned businesses in New York without proof — or even mere suspicion — of criminal activity.  For example, one report describes the surveillance of the Meena House Cafe, deemed “suspicious” because the “location is owned and operated by an Egyptian male named Said. He previously owned the Egyptian Cafe located at 25-62 Steinway Street. The Al Jeezera news network is shown here with all the local Arab newspapers available for all.”

It’s Sunshine Week! So why are we still in the dark?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 11:36 am by

Sunshine WeekMarch 11 to 17 is Sunshine Week, a week dedicated to openness and transparency in government.

When President Obama took office and promised the most transparent administration ever, we all held out hope that he would fulfill that promise. Sadly, the Obama administration has utterly failed on transparency: for example, the Justice Department under President Obama has prosecuted more government whistleblowers than every other administration combined. So this is a week to take action and call on the president to live up to his promises on government transparency.

You can learn more at the Sunshine Week website, including a calendar of events being held across the country.

Google’s new ‘spy’ policy

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 7:43 am by

On March 1, Google and Cape Air announced that Cape Air would be migrating its Passenger Name Records (PNR) to a new computerized reservation system (CRS) developed by Google’s ITA Software division. In combination with Google’s controversial new privacy policy, this move could set a potentially dangerous standard for what kinds of information Customs and Border Protections (CBP) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may access in determining the fly or no-fly status of travelers.

While most have never seen their PNRs, it is an important assemblage of data that determines whether or not a passenger is permitted to fly. Each individual has his or her own PNR, which are stored with millions of other passengers in CRSs. Governmental agencies then have access to these files and place restrictions on those passengers they deem to be a credible threat to national security.

Google has also made headlines recently regarding its new privacy policy, which Consumer Watchdog reports is a blatant misnomer, and actually describes the new and invasive ways in which Google wants to gather information about individuals’ Internet usage. Many of these techniques include methods for circumventing the privacy policies of Internet browsers such as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari, which is used on iPhones and iPads around the country. This information will then be stored in virtually permanent digital dossiers so that Google can target ads based on individuals’ personal information. Contrary to its name, this new privacy agreement essentially outlines Google’s “spy” policy.

These issues should each individually be enough to concern any person who uses the Internet. However, these two issues combined should raise serious questions about what kind of information Google is including in its CRS, which are then admissible as grounds for CBP and TSA to restrict individuals’ ability to travel.

It is true that as of now the only user for Google’s CRS database is Cape Air, a relatively small airline that flies to only a few destinations in the Caribbean. It is also unclear how Google will use these digital dossiers and how they will be incorporated into its CRS database. However, there is no doubt that Google will seek to expand to include other airlines in the future and as it does so, the potential for government agencies violating individual privacy rights will increase exponentially while legal measures for accountability remain virtually non-existent.

Google’s new CRS system has also raised issues among European privacy advocates who claim that the new policy violates EU law. While Cape Air has included a waiver of certain rights, it is still unclear whether this is a legitimate exception to EU policy. Either way, Google appears to have no intentions of closing their CRS program and the civil rights of individuals will continue to be an important issue.