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    Stories about Privacy in the United States from the Holidays

    Welcome back, everyone! Here are some stories concerning privacy and civil liberties in the United States that were published while Privacy Lives was dark.

    CNN:  Online posting of women’s abortion information challenged in Oklahoma

    CNN reports on controversy over an abortion law in Oklahoma:

    A judge in Oklahoma extended on Friday a temporary restraining order on a law that would post information online about women who get abortions in the state.

    In extending the restraining order, Oklahoma County District Judge Daniel Owens denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case, putting the measure on hold until a February 19 hearing. […]

    The law, passed in May, requires doctors to fill out a 10-page questionnaire for every abortion performed, including asking the woman about her age, marital status, race and years of education. In all, there are 37 questions the women are to answer.

    Critics say the act would be harassment and an invasion of privacy. […]

    One section of the “Individual Abortion Form” says the woman must state her reason for seeking an abortion and answer this checklist. “Having a baby:

    • Would dramatically change the life of the mother;
    • Would interfere with the education of the mother;
    • Would interfere with the job/employment/career of the mother.” […]

    If the law does go forward, the state Department of Health is to have the Web site up and running by March 1, 2011. Doctors are to begin submitting completed questionnaires 30 days later.

    Washington Post: Documents show DHS improperly spied on Nation of Islam in 2007

    The Washington Post reports on documents recently released because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

    The Department of Homeland Security improperly gathered intelligence on the Nation of Islam for eight months in 2007 when the leader of the black Muslim group, Louis Farrakhan, was in poor health and appeared to be yielding power, according to government documents released Wednesday.

    The intelligence gathering violated domestic spying rules because analysts took longer than 180 days to determine whether the U.S-based group or its American members posed a terrorist threat. Analysts also disseminated their report too broadly, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group.

    The disclosure was included in hundreds of heavily redacted pages released by the Justice Department as part of long-standing FOIA lawsuits about the government’s policies on terrorist surveillance, detention and treatment since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It marks the latest case of inappropriate domestic spying under rules that were expanded after the terror attacks to give intelligence agencies more latitude. […]

    The agency, [a Homeland Security spokesman] said, “is fully committed to securing the nation from terrorist attacks and other threats, and we take very seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people.” The 2007 study, titled “Nation of Islam: Uncertain Leadership Succession Poses Risks,” was recalled by agency lawyers within hours. The lawyers said it was not reviewed by the department’s intelligence chief before release.

    Security Management: Civil Liberty Concerns Could Become a Factor in Grants to State Fusion Centers

    Security Management looked at how grants to state fusion centers could be tied to civil liberties issues. (Fusion centers are state and local programs to gather domestic intelligence. There are numerous privacy and civil liberty questions surrounding the centers.)

    Yesterday’s revelation that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gathered intelligence in 2007 on the Chicago-based Nation of Islam group again raised the specter of civil rights violations in the name of homeland security. […]

    While the incident highlights the importance of having protections in place, it also calls for a closer look at how those not abiding by civil liberty restrictions will be held accountable—an issue that Security Management was exploring even before the latest news broke.

    One concern is that much intelligence collection and analysis happens at the local, state, and regional levels at fusion centers where the actors may not be under the direct purview of DHS. […]

    Because fusion centers are not federal entities, both Johnson and Gersten told Security Management that there isn’t a lot DHS can do to hold fusion centers accountable. Fusion centers, however, do rely substantially on federal funding to sustain operations, a fact not lost on groups like the ACLU.

    Civil libertarians have seized upon this to force DHS to hold fusion centers more accountable. In a recent letter to the House Homeland Security Committee, a group of privacy and civil liberty organizations complained that DHS’s Chief Privacy Officer needed to use the power of the federal purse on fusion centers.

    “Merely writing the [privacy impact assessment on fusion centers] does not provide this necessary oversight,” the letter signed by the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center said. “Neither does ‘encouraging’ fusion centers to take certain actions without mandating those actions as conditions of receiving funding.”

    New York Times: Cellphone Encryption Code Is Divulged

    The New York Times reports that security data about cellphones has been revealed, which could affect the privacy of mobile phone users.

    A German computer engineer said Monday that he had deciphered and published the secret code used to encrypt most of the world’s digital mobile phone calls, saying it was his attempt to expose weaknesses in the security of global wireless systems.

    The action by the encryption expert, Karsten Nohl, aimed to question the effectiveness of the 21-year-old G.S.M. algorithm, a code developed in 1988 and still used to protect the privacy of 80 percent of mobile calls worldwide. (The abbreviation stands for global system for mobile communication.)

    “This shows that existing G.S.M. security is inadequate,” Mr. Nohl, 28, told about 600 people attending the Chaos Communication Congress, a four-day conference of computer hackers that runs through Wednesday in Berlin. “We are trying to push operators to adopt better security measures for mobile phone calls.”

    The G.S.M. Association, the industry group based in London that devised the algorithm and represents wireless companies, called Mr. Nohl’s efforts illegal and said they overstated the security threat to wireless calls. […]

    While the disclosure does not by itself threaten the security of voice data, one analyst said companies and governmental organizations should take the same steps to ensure the security of their wireless conversations as they do with antivirus software for computer files.

    Associated Press: San Jose police mount cameras on officers’ heads

    The Associated Press reports that officers in San Jose, California, will soon be wearing helmets with cameras in them.

    Eighteen of San Jose’s more than 1,300 sworn officers have been trained to use the AXON head cameras as part of a free trial. Other departments are expected to be added to the program.

    Experts say the head cameras could help catch officers behaving badly and clear those who are falsely accused so long as they are accompanied by police department policies requiring they be switched on during each encounter and not as an officer chooses. […]

    The device resembles a Bluetooth earpiece and is attached by a band that runs around the back of the officer’s head.

    It can be connected to an on-and-off button on the officer’s chest, and from there to a video screen on a holster. In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops.

    At the end of an officer’s shift, the device is placed in a docking station, where it recharges and its content is downloaded and stored on a secure server offsite. A three-year contract for the system for one officer that includes software and video storage costs $5,700, said Tom Smith, chairman and founder of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser.

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