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    Archive for the ‘Fourth Amendment’ Category

    Continuing Debate on Privacy and Use of Newborns’ Blood Samples

    Monday, December 1st, 2014

    There has been considerable debate about the ethical, privacy, and civil liberty issues surrounding the unauthorized or unknowing retention and use of babies’ blood samples for purposes other than disease-screening in the United States and abroad. Often, parents are not told of the possible lengthy data retention period, possible distribution to other agencies, and possible other purposes for which their children’s blood samples could be used. Now, WNCN in North Carolina looks at the situation, and what it finds shows there are also questions about de-identification or “anonymization” of newborns’ medical data.

    Asked what the government plans to do with the data, Scott Zimmerman, director of the N.C. State Public Health Lab, said, “So if an outside agency such as an academic institution approaches us and asks for dried blood spots, there are two approaches that can be taken. One, we can get parental consent to release that dried blood sample to an outside entity. We will not release any DBS that contains patient information without parental consent.”

    Zimmerman added, “The only other way DBS are released is if they are de-identified.”

    Researchers have shown that, often, data that has been de-identified can be re-identified (or “de-anonymized”), and sensitive data could be linked back to an individual. Therefore, there is a significant privacy concern for individuals’ whose information is shared, without their consent, in this manner.  Read more »

    Uber Executives’ Comments, Actions Shine Spotlight on Privacy Risks for Consumers

    Monday, November 24th, 2014

    At a recent dinner, Uber Senior Vice President Emil Michael suggested that Uber could spend “a million dollars” to hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists who were critical of the company, a service for hailing taxis, private cars or ride-shares. According to BuzzFeed: ”That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into ‘your personal lives, your families,’ and give the media a taste of its own medicine.” He mentioned specifically focusing on the private details of the life of journalist Sarah Lacy. Lacy’s response is here. Michael has apologized for his comments, and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has said Michael’s comments “were terrible and do not represent the company.” 

    If Uber were to investigate journalists or other critics, it would not be the first company to do so. Two cases involved Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Hewlett-Packard. In 2009, Deutsche Bank fired two executives because of a scandal in which bank executives hired investigators who spied on board members and a shareholder. In early 2006, then-Hewlett-Packard Chair Patricia Dunn hired private investigators that used “pretexting” to acquire the personal phone records of board members and journalists in an effort to locate the source of leaks to the media. (“Pretexting” is a fancy word for “pretending to be someone else in order to get his or her personal information” — in this case, phone records.) There were various criminal and Congressional investigations. Dunn said she didn’t know that the investigators were pretexting, and the charges against her were eventually dismissed. The scandal prompted Congress to pass the Telephone and Records Privacy Act of 2006, which prohibits pretexting to gather phone record data (with exceptions for law enforcement).

    BuzzFeed also reported that another Uber executive, the general manager of Uber NYC, did something that also raises privacy questions. During an e-mail exchange with a journalist, the Uber executive “accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.” This raises the specter of an insider misusing or abusing his data-access privileges to invade the privacy of an individual. We’ve talked before about the problems that arise when insiders abuse or misuse their access to individuals’ data. There have been many such cases. Read more »

    Update: Senate Fails to Advance USA Freedom Act, a Bill to Reform NSA Surveillance

    Thursday, November 20th, 2014

    The Senate, by a vote of 58 to 42, failed to advance to debate on the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform bulk data collection by the National Security Agency. The NSA has faced considerable criticism from the public and lawmakers since revelations by former contractor Edward Snowden concerning the agency’s broad surveillance programs. (He revealed several surveillance programs by the agency.) The USA Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and a host of Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. The legislation was backed by the Obama administration, which called for reforms in January. The Washington Post reports:

    Congress and the administration face a June 1 expiration of a key provision of the USA Patriot Act that enables the intelligence community to gather data for counterterrorism purposes. Section 215 allows the government to obtain specific records relevant to particular investigations. But, as Snowden disclosed, it also was the authority cited by the government to enable the NSA to collect data in bulk. Reform advocates want to end that bulk collection but in general maintain the government’s ability to issue targeted orders for data.

    The 58-to-42 vote exposed fissures in the GOP over the legislation, with national security-oriented members and a vocal privacy proponent, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), voting to block the bill — but for different reasons. Read more »

    Kojo Nnamdi Show: GPS Tracking And Law Enforcement

    Monday, November 17th, 2014

    The Kojo Nnamdi Show recently had a discussion with Chris Calabrese, Senior Policy Director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Mark Eckenwiler, Senior Counsel at Perkins Coie, about GPS tracking technology and its use by law enforcement officials. The discussion included privacy issues. Here’s the blurb:

    Last week, law enforcement officers used GPS tracking to locate a woman who had been abducted in Philadelphia. The vehicle of her alleged abductor had a GPS device installed by the dealer, which the police then used to find the suspect and the victim. We explore the legal issues around when and how police can use surveillance technology like GPS, and what a 2012 Supreme Court decision means for such cases.

    Update: AT&T stops using tracking ‘supercookies’ on cellphones — for now

    Monday, November 17th, 2014

    Recently, there were news reports that Verizon and AT&T were using tracking “supercookies” to keep tabs on their customers’ online activities. These supercookies were virtually impossible to get rid of. Now, ProPublica reports that AT&T has stopped using the supercookie tracking technology on mobile phones, but it may restart the use of the technology:

    AT&T says it has stopped its controversial practice of adding a hidden, undeletable tracking number to its mobile customers’ Internet activity. [...]

    The tracking numbers can be used by sites to build a dossier about a person’s behavior on mobile devices – including which apps they use, what sites they visit and for how long. Read more »

    Wall Street Journal: Americans’ Cellphones Targeted in Secret U.S. Spy Program

    Friday, November 14th, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal reports on a surveillance program gathering the data of thousands of mobile phones:

    WASHINGTON—The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of mobile phones through devices deployed on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations. [...]

    Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information.

    The technology in the two-foot-square device enables investigators to scoop data from tens of thousands of cellphones in a single flight, collecting their identifying information and general location, these people said. [...] Read more »