December 9th, 2013
The Washington Post reports that an investigation by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) has revealed that “Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies conducting criminal investigations collected data on cellphone activity thousands of times last year, with each request to a phone company yielding hundreds or thousands of phone numbers of innocent Americans along with those of potential suspects.”
Law enforcement made more than 9,000 requests last year for what are called “tower dumps,” information on all the calls that bounced off a cellphone tower within a certain period of time, usually two or more hours, a congressional inquiry has revealed.
The little-known practice has raised concerns among federal judges, lawmakers and privacy advocates who question the harvesting of massive amounts of data on people suspected of no crime in order to try to locate a criminal. Data linked to specific cell towers can be used to track people’s movements. Read more »
December 6th, 2013
In an opinion column for InformationWeek, Joe Rubin, acting head of Federal Government Affairs for the technology trade association TechAmerica, writes about the need for major updates to electronic privacy laws:
Last month’s release of Google’s Transparency Report detailing government and court requests for user data highlights a growing challenge to service providers like Google and other technology companies: How to meet the skyrocketing number of requests from government authorities for data while working under murky and unclear guidelines.
The report reveals that demands by US law enforcement agencies for user account data from Google rose 30% in the last six months. A significant percentage of these demands come from civil regulatory agencies who want access to users’ email and other stored documents from online providers — using subpoenas they issue themselves, with no judicial or other third-party review. [...]
TechAmerica, like the rest of the technology community, consumer groups, privacy advocates, and others, are supporting legislation that would ensure that government agencies should be able to access these files only with a warrant issued by a judge. Read more »
December 6th, 2013
In a post on the Official Microsoft Blog, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith announced changes that the company is making amid concerns about government surveillance, especially in light of revelations by ex-National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Smith wrote: That’s why we are taking steps to ensure governments use legal process rather than technological brute force to access customer data.
Like many others, we are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures – and in our view, legal processes and protections – in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data. In particular, recent press stories have reported allegations of governmental interception and collection – without search warrants or legal subpoenas – of customer data as it travels between customers and servers or between company data centers in our industry.
If true, these efforts threaten to seriously undermine confidence in the security and privacy of online communications. Indeed, government snooping potentially now constitutes an “advanced persistent threat,” alongside sophisticated malware and cyber attacks.
In light of these allegations, we’ve decided to take immediate and coordinated action in three areas: Read more »
December 5th, 2013
The New York Times looks at advances in facial-recognition technology and considers the effects of this biometric technology on individuals’ privacy rights:
People often reveal their private emotions in tiny, fleeting facial expressions, visible only to a best friend — or to a skilled poker player. Now, computer software is using frame-by-frame video analysis to read subtle muscular changes that flash across our faces in milliseconds, signaling emotions like happiness, sadness and disgust.
With face-reading software, a computer’s webcam might spot the confused expression of an online student and provide extra tutoring. Or computer-based games with built-in cameras could register how people are reacting to each move in the game and ramp up the pace if they seem bored.
But the rapidly developing technology is far from infallible, and it raises many questions about privacy and surveillance. [...] Read more »
December 4th, 2013
The Washington Post has more revelations from former National Security Agency Edward Snowden concerning the NSA’s surveillance program, which have affected Americans’ privacy and civil liberties:
The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.
The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.
The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result. [...] Read more »
December 4th, 2013
The Federal Trade Commission announced that it will host seminars in the spring on retail tracking, alternative scoring, and consumer health information, three topics that the agency says “have garnered considerable attention for both their potential benefits and the possible privacy concerns they raise for consumers.” The agency also said:
As the tools available to track, market to and analyze consumers – often without their knowledge – grow, businesses are able to meet consumers’ demands more efficiently and effectively. But these tools may also carry significant risks to consumers’ privacy. The seminars, taking place over three months, will shine a light on new trends in Big Data and their impact on consumer privacy. The topics will include:
- Mobile device tracking – tracking consumers in retail and other businesses using signals from their mobile devices.
- Alternative scoring products – using predictive scoring to determine consumers’ access to products and offers.
- Consumer-generated and controlled health data – information provided by consumers to non-HIPAA covered websites, health apps and devices.
View the full announcement to learn more about the seminars, including dates and questions to be addressed, as well as how to submit comments to the agency for consideration during the seminars. The agency also said that it would issue reports after the seminars.