Electronic privacy

  • January 3, 2014
    Guest Post
    by Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law and ACS Co-Faculty Advisor at the University of Chicago, and former ACS Board Chair
     
    * This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post and is the third part of an ongoing series. The first part can be read here; the second part can be read here; the fourth part can be read here; the fifth part can be read here.
     
    In my last post, I explored the pros and cons of the NSA's bulk telephony meta-data program. As I reported, after considering all the competing interests and perspectives, the Review Group concluded that, in light of the availability of other means by which the government could achieve its legitimate objectives, there was "no sufficient justification to allow the government itself to collect and store bulk telephony meta-data." The Review Group therefore recommended that the meta-data program, as currently constituted, "should be terminated as soon as reasonably practicable."
     
    At the same time, though, the Review Group found that access to telephony meta-data can be useful to the government in its effort to identify terrorists operating inside the United States. The challenge was to figure out how best to preserve the legitimate value of the program while at the same time reducing its risks to personal privacy and individual freedom.
     
    To strike a better balance, the Review Group recommends several important changes in the program as it currently exists.
     
    First, and perhaps most important, the Review Group recommends that the government should not be permitted to store the telephony meta-data. The Review Group reasoned that taking the meta-data out of the hands of government would substantially reduce the potential for government abuse. The Review Group therefore recommends that the telephony meta-data should be held by private entities. That is, the meta-data should be held either by the various telephone service providers themselves or, upon a showing that that solution would make effective use of the meta-data impossible, by a private organization created specifically for that purpose. This approach would both prevent the government from having direct access to the database and ensure that an independent set of eyes could monitor the government's access to the information.
     
  • December 23, 2013
     
    Last week’s release of a 300-plus page report by the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies was only the latest bump on a long road of challenging news in recent weeks for the National Security Agency (NSA).
     
    The esteemed panel of intelligence and legal experts – including Geoffrey R. Stone, former ACS Board Member and Co-Faculty Advisor to the ACS Student Chapter at the University of Chicago Law School – suggested “significant new limits” on intelligence activities as well as general principles to guide future reform.
     
    All in all, 46 recommendations were offered, among them the private, non-governmental retention of all personal communications data, accessible only through individualized court orders approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC); the first-ever appointment of a “public interest advocate” to argue on behalf of civil liberties and privacy concerns before the FISC, which currently has no adversarial process; the ceasing of “back door” access points in hardware or software; and the incorporation of privacy protections for non-U.S. citizens.
     
    Also of note was the enumeration of guiding principles. For example, the panel endorsed a dual understanding of “security” – national security, on the one hand, and Fourth Amendment personal security on the other. The report also said the idea of “balancing” these two interests has “an important element of truth” but is “inadequate and misleading”:
     
    [S]ome safeguards are not subject to balancing at all. In a free society, public officials should never engage in surveillance in order to punish their political enemies; to restrict freedom of speech or religion; to suppress legitimate criticism and dissent; to help their preferred companies or industries; to provide domestic companies with an unfair competitive advantage; or to benefit or burden members of groups defined in terms of religion, ethnicity, race, and gender.
     
    The panel also endorsed a “broad principle for the future: as a general rule and without senior policy review, the government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes.”
     
  • November 21, 2013
     
    Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, November 19, ACS held a panel discussion on constitutional protections of privacy in a time of rapid technological innovation and increasing surveillance, featuring Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, Chris Calabrese of the ACLU, Stephen Vladeck of American University Washington College of Law and others. You can watch video of the event here.
     
    These days, according to an array of public interest groups, civil liberties appear to be taking a hit from a growing and seemingly unwieldy national security apparatus.
     
    U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who misled Congress on domestic surveillance, attempted to quote Casablanca at a recent hearing about surveillance abroad. “My God, there’s gambling going on here!” he joked, mocking the umbrage of Senate Intelligence Committee who are regularly offered closed-door briefings on the government’s mass surveillance programs, even if they don’t always attend.
     
    And the Obama administration, which has touted itself as “the most open and transparent in history,” was forced into sunlight following extensive leaks by former C.I.A. analyst Edward Snowden.
     
    Potential harms to privacy do not end there. For example, students of all ages are being subjected to what the headmaster of Phillips Academy calls “National Security Agency-style surveillance.” Large corporations are accepting handouts from the government in exchange for turning over sensitive information. And even journalists, historically in the vanguard of free speech fights, are suggesting tools like anonymity are “a big mistake.”
     
  • November 15, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Hillary B. Farber, Associate Professor of Law, University of Massachusetts School of Law, and author of a forthcoming article on the domestic deployment of drones in Vol.64 of the Syracuse Law Review
     
    Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, November 19, ACS is hosting a panel discussion on constitutional protections of privacy in a time of rapid technological innovation and increasing surveillance, featuring Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, Chris Calabrese of the ACLU, Stephen Vladeck of American University Washington College of Law and others.  We hope that you will join us for this important and timely conversation.  If you are interested in attending, please RSVP here.

    By the end of this decade it is estimated that 30,000 drones will occupy national airspace.  In 2012, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act, which ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to promulgate regulations for the integration of drones into the national airspace. Law enforcement agencies around the country have purchased drones and are testing the new technology. As of May 2013, four Department of Justice (DOJ) divisions had acquired drones: the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF); Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); and, the U.S. Marshals Service.  On June 19, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress that the FBI has deployed drones for surveillance on domestic soil and is developing guidelines for their future law enforcement use. 

    As compared with manned airplanes and helicopters, unmanned aerial surveillance bears unique risks to society's expectation of privacy. Drones, properly called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are practically invisible at altitudes where a manned aircraft could be seen with the naked eye. Smaller UAVs operate almost silently, making them significantly harder to detect. Moreover, UAVs can be equipped with sensory enhancing technologies such as thermal imaging devices, facial recognition software, Wi-Fi sniffers, GPS systems, license plate readers and cameras that can provide high resolution images from significant altitudes.  This type of aerial surveillance presents the potential for intrusion of privacy far more pervasive than the flyover of a plane or helicopter.  Drone surveillance has the potential to enable users to gather unprecedented amounts of information about people and retain it well into the future.
  • November 5, 2013
    Guest Post
     
    This post originally appeared at BORDC's People's Blog for the Constitution. It is the second installment in a two-part series; the first installment can be read here.
     
    As the NSA spying scandal has progressed, congressional Democrats have grown co-opted by an Obama administration committed to defending, entrenching, and perpetuating the Bush administration’s legacy—despite the president’s campaign promises in 2008 to reverse it. This co-optation spells grave threats not only to partisan Democrats, but also to principled progressives attached to an ideology inadvertently weakened by partisan Democrats aligned with the president.
     
    Rallying around President Obama…to shoot themselves in the feet
     
    In August 2013, during the debate on the House defense appropriations bill, only 7 votes protected the NSA from debilitating budget cuts that would have ended its domestic bulk collection activities. Seven members of Congress could have changed the outcome of the vote, reflecting a razor thin (under 2%) margin of victory for the surveillance state.
     
    That margin of victory could be explained in many ways. One explanation may surprise progressives: Democrats from the Bay Area and Chicago, representing safe blue seats, who were outspoken about surveillance abuses at one point, comprised the NSA’s entire margin of victory. They chose to resign their principles, oaths of office, and constituents’ concerns in order to support their partisan patron, the president. They’re carrying the Bush administration’s water because it’s now President Obama holding the glass.
     
    After raising a righteous ruckus about government spying under the Bush administration, congressional Democrats saved the NSA from a transformative challenge initiated from within the GOP. Their constituents have already indicated—loudly—that they are not happy.