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Category: Privacy (Electronic Surveillance)

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On the NSA and Media Bias: An Extended Analysis

By Albert Wong and Valerie Belair-Gagnon, Information Society Project at Yale Law School

In a recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, we reported that major US newspapers exhibited a net pro-surveillance bias in their “post-Edward Snowden” coverage of the NSA. Our results ran counter to the general perception that major media outlets lean “traditionally liberal” on social issues. Given our findings, we decided to extend our analysis to see if the same bias was present in “traditionally conservative” and international newspapers.

Using the same methods described in our previous study, we examined total press coverage in the Washington Times, one of the top “traditionally conservative” newspapers in the US. We found that the Washington Times used pro-surveillance terms such as security or counterterrorism 45.5% more frequently than anti-surveillance terms like liberty or rights. This is comparable to USA Today‘s 36% bias and quantitatively greater than The New York Times‘ 14.1% or the Washington Post‘s 11.1%. The Washington Times, a “traditionally conservative” newspaper, had the same, if not stronger, pro-surveillance bias in its coverage as neutral/”traditionally liberal”-leaning newspapers.

In contrast, The Guardian, the major UK newspaper where Glenn Greenwald has reported most of Snowden’s disclosures, did not exhibit such a bias. Unlike any of the US newspapers we examined, The Guardian actually used anti-surveillance terms slightly (3.2%) more frequently than pro-surveillance terms. Despite the UK government’s pro-surveillance position (similar to and perhaps even more uncompromising than that of the US government), the Guardian‘s coverage has remained neutral overall. (Neutral as far as keyword frequency analysis goes, anyway; the use of other methods, such as qualitative analysis of article tone, may also be helpful in building a comprehensive picture.)

Our extended results provide additional context for our earlier report and demonstrate that our analysis is “capturing a meaningful divide.”

On a further note, as several commenters suggested in response to our original report, the US media’s pro-surveillance bias may be a manifestation of a broader “pro-state” bias. This theory may be correct, but it would be difficult to confirm conclusively. On many, even most, issues, the US government does not speak with one voice. Whose position should be taken as the “state” position? The opinion of the President? The Speaker of the House? The Chief Justice? Administration allies in Congress? In the context of the Affordable Care Act, is there no “pro-state” position at all, since the President, the Speaker, and the Chief Justice each have different, largely irreconcilable views?

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Opportunities and Roadblocks Along the Electronic Silk Road

977574_288606077943048_524618202_oLast week, Foreign Affairs posted a note about my book, The Electronic Silk Road, on its Facebook page. In the comments, some clever wag asked, “Didn’t the FBI shut this down a few weeks ago?” In other venues as well, as I have shared portions of my book across the web, individuals across the world have written back, sometimes applauding and at other times challenging my claims. My writing itself has journed across the world–when I adapted part of a chapter as “How Censorship Hurts Chinese Internet Companies” for The Atlantic, the China Daily republished it. The Financial Times published its review of the book in both English and Chinese.

International trade was involved in even these posts. Much of this activity involved websites—from Facebook, to The Atlantic, and the Financial Times, each of them earning revenue in part from cross-border advertising (even the government-owned China Daily is apparently under pressure to increase advertising) . In the second quarter of 2013, for example, Facebook earned the majority of its revenues outside the United States–$995 million out of a total of $1,813 million, or 55 percent of revenues.

But this trade also brought communication—with ideas and critiques circulated around the world.  The old silk roads similarly were passages not only for goods, but knowledge. They helped shape our world, not only materially, but spiritually, just as the mix of commerce and communication on the Electronic Silk Road will reshape the world to come.

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Coding Freedom: An Aesthetics of Decontrol

Gabriella Coleman’s Coding Freedom is a beautifully written book, offering deep insight into communities of hackers. By immersing herself in the culture of free and open source software devotees, she helps us understand the motivations, goals, frustrations, and aesthetics of a frequently misunderstood movement. The stakes are high, both for those inside and outside the hacker community. Some want the term hacker to primarily denote playful creativity; others emphasize subversion of oppressive power centers; still others embrace an identity of unreasoned disruption.

Outsiders stray into such debates at their peril, and Coleman took significant risks to write the book. As an academic, she defied conventional anthropological career paths by launching an investigation of a digitally connected enclave within an advanced society.* As an observer, she risked that sub-subcultures would try to exact revenge on her for saying something they disagreed with. (It’s not just the obvious targets who get hacked.) But the gambles have paid off, both within the academic community and in the broader ambit of Internet intellectuals.

Hackers are frequently misunderstood, both when praised and when damned. In the popular imagination, the computer hacker can pop up as a digital Bonnie or Clyde, fighting “the system” of opaque automation. On the other hand, former NSA Chief Michael Hayden wrote off hacker fans of Edward Snowden as “nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years.” The hero/villain narratives are easy to sell to Wired or Fox. Coleman gives us a much richer story.
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Martin Luther King, Labor Day, and Surveillance

Interesting to see how the three topics converge. First, an excerpt from King’s December 1961 speech to the AFL-CIO Convention:

Less than a century ago, the laborer had no rights, little or no respect, and led a life that was socially submerged and barren. . . . American industry organized misery into sweatshops and proclaimed the right of capital to act without restraints and without conscience. . . . The children of workers had no childhood and no future. They, too, worked for pennies an hour and by the time they reached their teens they were worn-out old men, devoid of spirit, devoid of hope and devoid of self-respect.

Second, from Tom Geoghegan’s analysis of King as a labor leader: “It is said that just after this speech, J. Edgar Hoover was more determined to wiretap King.”

Treating someone working for the betterment of the many, as an enemy of the state, is a core harm of politicized surveillance.

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Over-Parenting Goes International

The thought of hiring a private detective in this age of relatively accessible electronic surveillance seems a bit retro, like a black-and-white scene from a smoky film noire. But it has been enjoying a surprising comeback in recent years, with parents who hire private investigators to spy on their children.

In an article titled Over-Parenting, my co-author Gaia Bernstein and I identified a trend of legal adoption of intensive parenting norms. We cautioned against society legally sanctioning a single parenting style – namely, intensive parenting – while deeming potentially neglectful other parenting styles which could be perfectly legitimate. We also pointed out that involved parenting is class-biased, since it is costly, and not all parents can afford the technology that would enable them to be intensive parents, such as purchasing GPS enabled smartphones for their kids. We argued that when intensive parenting is used for children who do not need it, it becomes over-parenting. Not all children need the same level of involvement in their lives; one of the most important roles of parents is to prepare their children for independent life, and over-parenting might thwart that role. Finally, we speculated that the cultural model for intensive parenting originates in media depictions of upper-middle class families, and that how these families are portrayed in movies and TV shows influences real-life parents.

Well, I’m sad to report that over-parenting is not a unique American phenomenon. Last year, for example, a Chinese newspaper reported that parents in china are increasingly becoming more involved in their children’s lives by hiring private investigators to check whether the children use drugs, drink alcohol or have sex. In Israel some parents are doing the same, especially during the long summer break, during which bored teenagers, many parent fear, are prone to engage in such activities (if you read Hebrew, you can read the story here). I am sure that some American parents do the same.

Leaving aside the class question (are parents who cannot afford a private eye neglectful?), what does this say about parents’ role as educators? Or about the level of trust (or distrust) between those parents and their children? It used to be that a spouse would hire a private investigator because they thought that their partner was having an affair. Nowadays, a growing chunk of a private investigator’s work involved parents spying on their children. Can’t we say that the fact that parents feel that they need to spy on their children already testifies to their limited parental skills?

NSA Penalty Proposed

Readers suggested potential penalties for improper gathering or misuse of surveillance data last month.  As revelations continue, Congressmen have recently proposed some new ideas:

Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) proposed legislation . . .  that would cut National Security Agency (NSA) funding if it violates new surveillance rules aimed at preventing broad data collection on millions of people.

Fitzpatrick has also offered language to restrict the term “relevant” when it comes to data collection.  On the one hand, it seems odd for Congress to micromanage a spy agency.  On the other hand, no one has adequately explained how present safeguards keep the integrated Information Sharing Environment from engaging in the harms catalogued here and here. So we’re likely to see many blunt efforts to cut off its ability to collect and analyze data, even if data misuse is really the core problem.

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The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy

I recently posted a draft of my new article, The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy (with Professor Woodrow Hartzog).

One of the great ironies about information privacy law is that the primary regulation of privacy in the United States has barely been studied in a scholarly way. Since the late 1990s, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been enforcing companies’ privacy policies through its authority to police unfair and deceptive trade practices. Despite more than fifteen years of FTC enforcement, there is no meaningful body of judicial decisions to show for it. The cases have nearly all resulted in settlement agreements. Nevertheless, companies look to these agreements to guide their privacy practices. Thus, in practice, FTC privacy jurisprudence has become the broadest and most influential regulating force on information privacy in the United States – more so than nearly any privacy statute and any common law tort.

In this article, we contend that the FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is the functional equivalent to a body of common law, and we examine it as such. The article explores the following issues:

  • Why did the FTC, and not contract law, come to dominate the enforcement of privacy policies?
  • Why, despite more than 15 years of FTC enforcement, have there been hardly any resulting judicial decisions?
  • Why has FTC enforcement had such a profound effect on company behavior given the very small penalties?
  • Can FTC jurisprudence evolve into a comprehensive regulatory regime for privacy?

 

 

The claims we make in this article include:

  • The common view of FTC jurisprudence as thin — as merely enforcing privacy promises — is misguided. The FTC’s privacy jurisprudence is actually quite thick, and it has come to serve as the functional equivalent to a body of common law.
  • The foundations exist in FTC jurisprudence to develop a robust privacy regulatory regime, one that focuses on consumer expectations of privacy, that extends far beyond privacy policies, and that involves substantive rules that exist independently from a company’s privacy representations.

 

You can download the article draft here on SSRN.

Focusing on the Core Harms of Surveillance

CoreHarmsThe “summer of NSA revelations” rolls along, with a blockbuster finale today. In June, Jennifer Granick and Christopher Sprigman flatly declared the NSA criminal. Now the agency’s own internal documents (leaked by Snowden) appear to confirm thousands of legal violations.

Legal scholars will not be surprised by the day’s revelations, just as few surveillance experts were all that shocked by the breadth and depth of PRISM, PINWALE, MARINA, and other programs. Ray Ku called warrantless surveillance unconstitutional in 2010. Civil liberties groups and legal scholars warned us repeatedly about where Bush-era executive power theories would lead. As anyone familiar with Bruce Ackerman’s work might guess, pliable attorneys have rubber-stamped the telephony metadata program with a “white paper” that “fails to confront counterarguments and address contrary caselaw” and “cites cases that [are] relatively weak authority for its position.” There are no meaningful penalties in sight (perhaps because the OLC has prepared documents that function as a “get out of jail free” card for those involved).
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Brave New World of Biometric Identification

120px-Fingerprint_scanner_identificationProfessor Margaret Hu’s important new article, “Biometric ID Cybersurveillance” (Indiana Law Journal), carefully and chillingly lays out federal and state government’s increasing use of biometrics for identification and other purposes. These efforts are poised to lead to a national biometric ID with centralized databases of our iris, face, and fingerprints. Such multimodal biometric IDs ostensibly provide greater security from fraud than our current de facto identifier, the social security number. As Professor Hu lays out, biometrics are, and soon will be, gatekeepers to the right to vote, work, fly, drive, and cross into our borders. Professor Hu explains that the FBI’s Next Generation Identification project will institute:

a comprehensive, centralized, and technologically interoperable biometric database that spans across military and national security agencies, as well as all other state and federal government agencies.Once complete, NGI will strive to centralize whatever biometric data is available on all citizens and noncitizens in the United States and abroad, including information on fingerprints, DNA, iris scans, voice recognition, and facial recognition data captured through digitalized photos, such as U.S. passport photos and REAL ID driver’s licenses.The NGI Interstate Photo System, for instance, aims to aggregate digital photos from not only federal, state, and local law enforcement, but also digital photos from private businesses, social networking sites, government agencies, and foreign and international entities, as well as acquaintances, friends, and family members.

Such a comprehensive biometric database would surely be accessed and used by our network of fusion centers and other hubs of our domestic surveillance apparatus that Frank Pasquale and I wrote about here.

Biometric ID cybersurveillance might be used to assign risk assessment scores and to take action based on those scores. In a chilling passage, Professor Hu describes one such proposed program:

FAST is currently under testing by DHS and has been described in press reports as a “precrime” program. If implemented, FAST will purportedly rely upon complex statistical algorithms that can aggregate data from multiple databases in an attempt to “predict” future criminal or terrorist acts, most likely through stealth cybersurveillance and covert data monitoring of ordinary citizens. The FAST program purports to assess whether an individual might pose a “precrime” threat through the capture of a range of data, including biometric data. In other words, FAST attempts to infer the security threat risk of future criminals and terrorists through data analysis.

Under FAST, biometric-based physiological and behavioral cues are captured through the following types of biometric data: body and eye movements, eye blink rate and pupil variation, body heat changes, and breathing patterns. Biometric- based linguistic cues include the capture of the following types of biometric data: voice pitch changes, alterations in rhythm, and changes in intonations of speech.Documents released by DHS indicate that individuals could be arrested and face other serious consequences based upon statistical algorithms and predictive analytical assessments. Specifically, projected consequences of FAST ‘can range from none to being temporarily detained to deportation, prison, or death.’

Data mining of our biometrics to predict criminal and terrorist activity, which is then used as a basis for government decision making about our liberty? If this comes to fruition, technological due process would certainly be required.

Professor Hu calls for the Fourth Amendment to evolve to meet the challenge of 24/7 biometric surveillance technologies. David Gray and I hopefully answer Professor Hu’s request in our article “The Right to Quantitative Privacy” (forthcoming Minnesota Law Review). Rather than asking how much information is gathered in a particular case, we argue that Fourth Amendment interests in quantitative privacy demand that we focus on how information is gathered.  In our view, the threshold Fourth Amendment question should be whether a technology has the capacity to facilitate broad and indiscriminate surveillance that intrudes upon reasonable expectations of quantitative privacy by raising the specter of a surveillance state if deployment and use of that technology is left to the unfettered discretion of government. If it does not, then the Fourth Amendment imposes no limitations on law enforcement’s use of that technology, regardless of how much information officers gather against a particular target in a particular case. By contrast, if it does threaten reasonable expectations of quantitative privacy, then the government’s use of that technology amounts to a “search,” and must be subjected to the crucible of Fourth Amendment reasonableness, including judicially enforced constraints on law enforcement’s discretion.

 

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Letting the Air Out

The NSA and the rest of our surveillance state apparatus is shrouded in secrecy. As captured in Frank Pasquale’s superb forthcoming book, governmental surveillance is a black box. Gag orders prevent Internet companies from talking about their participation in PRISM; nearly everything revealing is classified; the Executive Branch is telling us half truths or no truths. To counter massive governmental overreach, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and others have exposed some sunlight on our surveillance state. That sunlight isn’t coming from those who are betraying the country, but those who are trying to save it, at least that’s what many registered voters think. According to a Quinnipiac poll released today, American voters say “55 – 34 percent” that NSA consultant Edward Snowden is a “whistleblower rather than a traitor.” According to the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, “Most American voters think positively of Edward Snowden,” at least they did before he accepted asylum in Russia. From July 28 to July 31, 1,468 registered voters were surveyed on the phone. These sorts of leaks seem inevitable, at least culturally given our so-called commitment to openness and transparency. The leakers/whistleblowers are trying to nudge the Executive Branch to honor its commitments to the Fourth Amendment, the sentiments of the Church Report, and the Administration’s 2009 Openness and Transparency memo. Let’s see if letting the air out moves us closer to the kind of country we say we are.

H/T: Yale ISP’s Christina Spiesel for the Quinnipiac Poll