Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

200,000 warrantless searches performed by the FBI

Friday, August 15, 2014 at 9:05 am by

ben franklinOn August 7, BORDC co-sponsored an event in Salt Lake City, about how Utahns can help stop the NSA dragnet. This blog post includes the prepared remarks of former Salt Lake City Mayor Ross C. “Rocky” Anderson.

During the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, US intelligence agencies engaged in widespread illegal misconduct, far outside the checks and balances of constitutional government. The FBI, after engaging in warrantless wiretapping, tried to blackmail Martin Luther King, Jr. into committing suicide.  The CIA hired the Mafia to try to assassinate Fidel Castro.  The CIA supported the overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected government.  In the COINTELPRO program, the FBI, in the name of national security, conducted illegal investigations of people and organizations engaged in lawful conduct, meted out secret punishments, and promoted violence, broke up marriages of civil rights workers, falsely labeled people as government informers to provoke reprisals against them, and effectively prevented citizens from speaking, teaching, writing, and publishing.  The FBI and CIA also engaged in a massive letter-opening campaign, all without warrants and with knowledge of its illegality.

 There are times when our government rises to the occasion and casts a light on wrongdoing that inspires us as as to the grand possibilities of our democracy in safeguarding our liberties and providing us the truth about what our government is doing, and what it has done.  The Church Committee, during 1975-76, investigated and disclosed to the American people horrendous abuses by the intelligence community, providing the sort of disclosure and wisdom that restores the health and integrity of our threatened republic.  It demonstrated that vigilance and an insistence upon the truth are, indeed, essential to our freedoms and democracy.  The Church Committee’s work serves as an inspiring object lesson for what urgently needs to happen if we are to keep our republic.

(more…)

Missouri to vote on protection of digital privacy, but will the Feds respect it?

Monday, July 28, 2014 at 11:45 am by

yes on 9On August 5, Missouri voters will decide in a referendum whether to expand its state constitution’s privacy protections to electronic communications and data. This follows the overwhelming approval of the measure by Missouri’s state legislature, where the state House of Representatives approved it by a vote of 114-28 and the state Senate had only one dissenting vote.

The ballot question, known as Amendment 9, would change the Missouri State Constitution to read:

“Section 15. That the people shall be secure in their persons, papers, homes [and], effects, and electronic communications and data, from unreasonable searches and seizures; and no warrant to search any place, or seize any person or thing, or access electronic data or communication, shall issue without describing the place to be searched, or the person or thing to be seized, or the data or communication to be accessed, as nearly as may be; nor without probable cause, supported by written oath or affirmation.”

The proposed revision comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision this past June regarding the privacy status of cell phones. In the US Supreme Court decisions in  Riley v. California and US v. Wurie, the court unanimously ruled that police must acquire a warrant to search a person’s cell phone. The cases involved arrested suspects whose cell phones were searched without warrant and the evidence found used against them in prosecution.  Writing for the court, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that “modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life.” (more…)

Restore the Fourth works to strengthen the USA FREEDOM Act

Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 9:00 am by

Restore the Fourth’s Chicago chapter rang in July in a lively fashion. After the House of Representatives watering down the proposed USA FREEDOM Act to resemble “little more than a Trojan horse” languishing in congressional purgatory, privacy advocates reached out to US Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) to invite him to strengthen the bill’s incarnation in the Senate.

In an email correspondence, organizer John Bumstead said his organization has engaged both Durbin’s office and the media. The group’s efforts focus on eliminating from the proposed legislation its measure extending for an additional two years beyond its present 2015 expiration date the sunset for Section 215 powers  under the Patriot Act.

Restore_the_Fourth_Logo

RT4 Chicago is planning a weekly flyering/postcard campaign in support of a Patriot Act Section 215 sunset pledge, which would formally usher the controversial law out of existence by adhering to the 2015 expiration date. Bumstead says the campaign’s rationale lies in the relative ease of convincing legislators to not vote for something to continue as opposed to sticking their necks out in support of something. He adds the campaign may also switch gears as necessary to focus on other topics, such as killing the USA FREEDOM Act if his group is dissatisfied with the resulting bill.

Chicago residents moved by RT4’s work attended a public meeting on July 3 at Chicago’s CivicLab and are organizing an RT4-wide event in honor of Orwell Day on August 4.

BORDC joins ACLU brief challenging NYPD spying

Monday, July 14, 2014 at 12:57 pm by

Last Thursday, BORDC signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey in the case of Hassan, et al., v. City of New York, which challenges the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance of Muslims, mosques, and Muslim-owned businesses in New Jersey. The brief, which was submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, explained that the lower court erred when it issued a decision in February dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims.

hassan

Other organizations on the brief included Latino Justice PRLDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Garden State Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, and the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.

“When a person presents evidence that a government agency has singled them out for harsher treatment because of their race, ethnicity or religion, the government bears a heavy burden of justifying its actions,” stated Rutgers Law School-Newark’s Acting Dean Ronald Chen, who is serving as the ACLU-NJ’s cooperating counsel in the case. “The plaintiffs deserve to have their day in court to challenge being profiled by the NYPD.” (more…)

The Court finally shows up for work (Part II)

Monday, June 30, 2014 at 8:12 am by

Part I of this series explained the Supreme Court’s decision in Riley v. California, and why it represents so dramatic an evolution from prior cases where the Court failed to grasp the implications of digital technology for the privacy values pervading the Bill of Rights. This follow-up post explains the social forces animating the decision, with crucial implications for any number of social issues going forward.

Where it came from: is the Court “in front,” or behind?

It remains important to recognize how a broader social debate made possible last week’s decision in Riley v. California. Only in examining the influence of mass debate on elite legal discourse can we understand how digital privacy — or other contested rights — will evolve in the future.

A long-running debate among legal theorists questions whether, and how, courts are influenced by broader public debates beyond the courtroom. On the one hand, courts are inherently reactive institutions.

On the other hand, courts have occasionally advanced justice while the political branches remain mired in majoritarian prejudice: in Brown vs Board, the Court — not Congress — forced desegregation on the South, just as Goodridge v. Dep’t of Public Health placed a Massachusetts court near the front of the marriage equality movement (disclosure: I was part of the legal team representing the mayor of new Paltz, NY in a 2004 marriage equality case).

Brown vs. Board is relevant not only in demonstrating an example of the Court’s occasional proactivity, but also in rejecting “separate but equal” systems for people of different races. Lost in most commentary about the Riley decision has been an awareness of its serious implications for race, which in turn help reveal whether Riley reflects a Court “out in front,” or instead, one lagging behind American society.

(more…)

NSA? The Postal Service is watching you, too

Monday, June 23, 2014 at 2:05 pm by

With the ongoing debate about mass spying by the NSA, many Americans are reconsidering their reliance on telephone and electronic communications. But is it safe to trust the US Postal Service (USPS)? You may not want to know….

In 2013, the Postal Inspection Service processed tens of thousands of mail covers, and also “photograph[ed] the exterior of every piece of paper mail” processed by the USPS through the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program revealed last year.

Last July, the New York Times explained that “Snail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.”

A Postal Service Inspector General report released last month suggests that even the more restrained mail cover program should raise concerns.

(more…)

Retired Air Force officer exhorts Americans to challenge “Fortress America”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 11:06 am by

Reflecting on his 20 years of military service as a US Air Force officer, and noting the dramatic changes in both law & culture over the past decade, Lt. Colonel (ret.) William J. Astore wrote last week about the acquiescence of Americans to what he describes as “Fortress America.” In Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You—He Already Has You, Astore exhorts Americans to challenge the national security state in order to preserve basic liberty principles.

Referencing young people who may not recall an era in which privacy was ever respected, he explains:

Many of the college students I’ve taught recently take such a loss of privacy for granted. They have no idea what’s gone missing from their lives and so don’t value what they’ve lost or, if they fret about it at all, console themselves with magical thinking—incantations like “I’ve done nothing wrong, so I’ve got nothing to hide.” They have little sense of how capricious governments can be about the definition of “wrong.”

Astore goes on to note the sycophancy of Hollywood, reflected in movies repeatedly glorifying US intelligence agencies despite their serial crimes, in sharp contrast to the films of the 1970s and 1980s that offered storylines and narratives more reflective of the agencies actual behavior.

He also takes on border security and police militarization:

(more…)

Senate Intel Committee exhorted to move beyond USA Freedom Act

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm by

Last week, on June 5, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and legislative proposals to reform its provisions to address systemic abuses by the National Security Agency (NSA). C-SPAN recorded the hearing, and has posted both video and full text of the testimony and exchanges with Senators.

Harley Geiger from the Center for Democracy & Technology delivered especially informative testimony, explaining that:

Although questions remain and further debate is needed in many areas, a near consensus has emerged on a critical issue that has been of central focus to the American public: The government’s bulk collection of records of phone calls and emails to, from and within the United States is both intrusive and unnecessary, and Congress must act to prohibit this activity.

(more…)

NSA collects biometric data, prompting creative countermeasures

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 7:27 am by

Along with investigative journalist Laura Pointras, James Risen from the New York Times (who is facing prosecution for protecting the confidentiality of his sources in the face of yet another whistleblower investigation) produced a report this Sunday based on the latest among the Snowden revelations. In particular, Poitras & Risen reveal that the NSA is collecting and maintaining a vast image database of faces for use with facial recognition software.

As they explain in their report:

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.

Facial recognition software deployed for surveillance and intelligence gathering is not merely constitutionally questionable, it is also really, really creepy. Your face is not “data,” it is you. More than any personal email or racy text message, your biometric information is the most personal data you possess. By rendering faces into ones and zeros, the NSA objectifies and commodifies the body itself.

(more…)

Congress guts USA FREEDOM Act, deferring to NSA yet again

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at 9:24 am by

Yesterday, closed door negotiations on the House Rules Committee gutted the USA FREEDOM Act, undermining the promises of the bill’s bipartisan sponsors to help end mass NSA surveillance. In the wake of the changes, rights and privacy groups abandoned the bill, noting that it has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.

Last summer, whistleblower Edward Snowden and journalist Glenn Greenwald revealed secret, mass, arbitrary, and unconstitutional surveillance targeting the American people.

In the year since then, Congress has done more or less nothing to change the law. It is now poised to consider what the ACLU describes as “a slight improvement” far short of “the reform bill that Americans deserve.”

(more…)