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Category: Privacy (Electronic Surveillance)

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Stanford Law Review Online: The Dead Past

Stanford Law Review

The Stanford Law Review Online has just published Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s Keynote from our 2012 Symposium, The Dead Past. Chief Judge Kozinski discusses the privacy implications of our increasingly digitized world and our role as a society in shaping the law:

I must start out with a confession: When it comes to technology, I’m what you might call a troglodyte. I don’t own a Kindle or an iPad or an iPhone or a Blackberry. I don’t have an avatar or even voicemail. I don’t text.

I don’t reject technology altogether: I do have a typewriter—an electric one, with a ball. But I do think that technology can be a dangerous thing because it changes the way we do things and the way we think about things; and sometimes it changes our own perception of who we are and what we’re about. And by the time we realize it, we find we’re living in a different world with different assumptions about such fundamental things as property and privacy and dignity. And by then, it’s too late to turn back the clock.

He concludes:

Judges, legislators and law enforcement officials live in the real world. The opinions they write, the legislation they pass, the intrusions they dare engage in—all of these reflect an explicit or implicit judgment about the degree of privacy we can reasonably expect by living in our society. In a world where employers monitor the computer communications of their employees, law enforcement officers find it easy to demand that internet service providers give up information on the web-browsing habits of their subscribers. In a world where people post up-to-the-minute location information through Facebook Places or Foursquare, the police may feel justified in attaching a GPS to your car. In a world where people tweet about their sexual experiences and eager thousands read about them the morning after, it may well be reasonable for law enforcement, in pursuit of terrorists and criminals, to spy with high-powered binoculars through people’s bedroom windows or put concealed cameras in public restrooms. In a world where you can listen to people shouting lurid descriptions of their gall-bladder operations into their cell phones, it may well be reasonable to ask telephone companies or even doctors for access to their customer records. If we the people don’t consider our own privacy terribly valuable, we cannot count on government—with its many legitimate worries about law-breaking and security—to guard it for us.

Which is to say that the concerns that have been raised about the erosion of our right to privacy are, indeed, legitimate, but misdirected. The danger here is not Big Brother; the government, and especially Congress, have been commendably restrained, all things considered. The danger comes from a different source altogether. In the immortal words of Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Read the full article, The Dead Past by Alex Kozinski, at the Stanford Law Review Online.

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Fifth Circuit Considers Constitutionality of Cell Site Location Data

Department of Justice litigators just filed a reply brief in an exciting but complex case in the Fifth Circuit that concerns law enforcement access to cell site location data.  As amicus curiae, I hope to deepen readers’ understanding of the basic issues in the case and also to provide some insider’s insights.  This blog post will furnish the background that later postings will draw upon.

The litigation began when Magistrate Judge Smith rejected three government applications for cell site location data that did not purport to satisfy probable cause.  I highly recommend Judge Smith’s thoughtful opinion that holds that agents must obtain a warrant to compel service providers to disclose a target subscriber’s stored records of cell phone location data.  Justice Department lawyers appealed Judge Smith’s denial, as well as the District Court’s order that agreed with Judge Smith, because they claim the right to compel disclosure whenever they satisfy the “relevance standard” under 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) (“D order”).

My amicus brief argues that the Fourth Amendment requires a probable cause warrant for all location data, which is similar to the argument in EPIC’s amicus briefEFF and ACLU made that argument as well, and they also suggested that the Fifth Circuit could find that the Stored Communications Act gives magistrate judges the discretion to require either a warrant or a D order.  EFF and ACLU previously advocated the discretionary approach in the Third Circuit, and the Third Circuit recently adopted it in the only federal appellate decision on the matter.   Orin Kerr’s amicus brief argued that magistrate judges lack the authority to deny government applications on the grounds of unconstitutionality.

The case’s importance derives from the lack of appellate guidance on law enforcement acquisition of cell site location data, which has become commonplace, according to the ACLU’s recent release of numerous public records.  The ACLU’s report reveals a wide array of procedures, with some practices clearly lacking appropriate protections against misuse.  Congress currently sits on bills that would clarify the standards; one would require a warrant for access to all location data; another would require a warrant only for prospective location data and not for stored data.

In future postings I will discuss how low procedural hurdles as well as a lack of notice and transparency make location data acquisition a threat to civil liberties.  I will also discuss the continued use of arbitrary distinctions (such as between historical and prospective data) that unduly complicates the law and limits privacy protections.  I will argue, for example, that the Supreme Court’s Jones case concerning GPS tracking in real-time governs historical location data.  With luck, I will even shed some light on just what location data is.  Please stay tuned.

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Ravi Trial Verdict for Invading the Privacy of Clementi

Dharun Ravi was found guilty of invasion of privacy when he used a webcam to watch and broadcast online Clementi’s intimate activities with another man in their shared dorm room.  From CNN:

A former Rutgers University student accused of spying on and intimidating his gay roommate by use of a hidden webcam was found guilty on all counts, including invasion of privacy and the more severe charges of bias intimidation, in a case that thrust cyberbullying into the national spotlight.

Dharun Ravi, 20, could now face up to 10 years in jail and deportation to his native India. He was also found guilty of witness tampering, hindering apprehension and tampering of physical evidence.

The jury was confronted with a series of questions on each charge. Though it found Ravi not guilty on several questions within the verdict sheet, because he was found guilty on at least one question on each main count, he could now face the maximum penalty.

From ABC News:

A New Jersey jury today found former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi guilty on all counts for using a webcam to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, having a gay sexual encounter in 2010.

Ravi, 20, was convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest, stemming from his role in activating the webcam to peek at Clementi’s date with a man in the dorm room on Sept. 19, 2010. Ravi was also convicted of encouraging others to spy during a second date, on Sept. 21, 2010, and intimidating Clementi for being gay.

Ravi was found not guilty of some subparts of the 15 counts of bias intimidation, attempted invasion of privacy, and attempted bias intimidation, but needed only to be found guilty of one part of each count to be convicted.

I blogged about this case here and here and here.

Here is New Jersey’s invasion of privacy statute:

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Symposium on Configuring the Networked Self: Cohen’s Methodological Contributions

Julie Cohen’s extraordinarily illuminating book Configuring the Networked Self makes fundamental contributions to the field of law and technology. In this post, I’d like to focus on methodology and theory (a central concern of Chapters 1 to 4). In another post, I hope to turn to the question of realizing Cohen’s vision of human flourishing (a topic Chapters 9 and 10 address most directly).

Discussions of rights and utility dominate the intellectual property and privacy literatures.* Cohen argues that their appeal can be more rhetorical than substantive. As she has stated:

[T]he purported advantage of rights theories and economic theories is neither precisely that they are normative nor precisely that they are scientific, but that they do normative work in a scientific way. Their normative heft derives from a small number of formal principles and purports to concern questions that are a step or two removed from the particular question of policy to be decided. . . . These theories manifest a quasi-scientific neutrality as to copyright law that consists precisely in the high degree of abstraction with which they facilitate thinking about processes of cultural transmission.

Cohen notes “copyright scholars’ aversion to the complexities of cultural theory, which persistently violates those principles.” But she feels they should embrace it, given that it offers “account[s] of the nature and development of knowledge that [are] both far more robust and far more nuanced than anything that liberal political philosophy has to offer. . . . [particularly in understanding] how existing knowledge systems have evolved, and how they are encoded and enforced.”

A term like “knowledge system” may itself seem very abstract and formal. But Cohen’s work insists on a capacious view of network-enabled forms of knowing. Rather than naturalizing and accepting as given the limits of copyright and privacy law on the dissemination of knowledge, she can subsume them into a much broader framework of understanding where “knowing” is going. That framework includes cultural practices, norms, economics, and bureaucratic processes, as well as law.
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Stanford Law Review Online: The Privacy Paradox 2012 Symposium Issue

Stanford Law Review

Our 2012 Symposium Issue, The Privacy Paradox: Privacy and Its Conflicting Values, is now available online:

Essays

The text of Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s keynote is forthcoming.

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The Potentially Profound Implications of United States v. Jones

I must respectfully disagree with a recent post by Renee Hutchins on our blog about the recent U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Jones.    She concludes:

With full knowledge of this history, the Jones decision should give us pause. It is widely believed that the test the court enunciated nearly a half-century ago better protects the privacy interest of citizens in the face of advancing technology. By reverting to the language of trespass, the court this week took a step back when it could have taken a bold step forward. Moreover, by failing to engage the admittedly “thorny” question of whether the monitoring of the GPS device alone violated Mr. Jones’ constitutional rights, the court missed a momentous opportunity to speak clearly in a brave new world.

Although it is true that the majority opinion is narrow, the concurring opinions indicate five votes for a broader more progressive view of the Fourth Amendment, one which breaks from some of the Court’s antiquated notions of privacy. When I read Jones, I see cause for celebration rather than disappointment.

I have long argued that the Court has failed to understand that aggregated pieces of information can together upend expectations of privacy. See Privacy and Power 1434-35 (2001), The Digital Person 44-47 (2004), Understanding Privacy 117-21 (2008).  I have also critiqued what I call the “secrecy paradigm” where the Court has held that privacy is only invaded by revealing previously concealed information.  See The Digital Person 42-44 (2004), Understanding Privacy 106-12 (2008).  I have argued that privacy can be invaded even by public surveillance.  More recently, in Nothing to Hide 178 (2011), I argued:

The problem with the secrecy paradigm is that we do expect some degree of privacy in public.  We don’t expect total secrecy, but we also don’t expect somebody to be recording everything we do. Most of the time, when we’re out and about, nobody’s paying any special attention to us. We do many private things in public, such as buy medications and hygiene products in drug stores and browse books and magazines in bookstores. We expect a kind of practical obscurity—to be just another face in the crowd.

In Justice Alito’s concurring opinion, he seemingly recognizes both of the concept of aggregation and the fact that the extent of the surveillance matter more than merely whether it occurs in public or private:

Under this approach, relatively short-term monitoring of a person’s movements on public streets accords with expectations of privacy that our society has recognized as reasonable.  But the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.  For such offenses, society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not—and indeed, in the main, simply could not—secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.

Justice Sotomayor discusses this passage with approval in her concurrence, indicating five votes for this view.  Indeed, she would go even further than Justice Alito.

I see profound implications in Jones for the future direction of the Fourth Amendment and privacy law more generally.  I explain this in detail in a recent essay, United States v. Jones and the Future of Privacy Law: The Potential Far-Reaching Implications of the GPS Surveillance Case, Bloomberg BNA Privacy & Security Law Report (Jan. 30, 2012).  From the essay:

The more contextual and open-ended view of privacy articulated by Justice Alito has five votes on the Court.  This is a sophisticated view of privacy, one that departs from the antiquated notions the Court has often clung to.  If this view works its way through Fourth Amendment law, the implications could be quite profound.  So many of the Court’s rationales under the reasonable expectation of privacy test fail to comprehend how technology changes the dynamic of information gathering, making it ruthlessly efficient and making surveillance pervasive and more penetrating.  We might be seeing the stirrings of a more modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, one that no longer seems impervious to technological development.

I continue:

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United States v. Jones, A Step Back for Rights

I appreciate the chance to engage with CoOp readers on the United States v. Jones case.  I wrote an Op Ed for the Baltimore Sun, so here’s what I have to say.

I really wanted to love the Supreme Court’s decision Monday in United States v. Jones. As one deeply committed to personal liberty and restrained government, what’s not to love when the nation’s highest court finds the police must obtain a warrant before continuously tracking the citizenry with installed GPS devices?  Unfortunately, the answer is “plenty.”

The Supreme Court in Jones could have categorically denounced intrusive government monitoring in the mold of the Orwellian state. It didn’t. And so, while the result in Jones is being roundly celebrated in many quarters, there remain good reasons for privacy fans to hold our applause.

Acting on suspicions that Antoine Jones was selling drugs, the government attached a GPS device to his car. From that device, police computers received a steady stream of information about the car’s location for 28 days. In all, more than 2,000 pages of location data were transmitted. Some of the data linked Mr. Jones to a house where substantial quantities of drugs and money were found. Mr. Jones was consequently charged with drug trafficking offenses. The trial court held that most of the data gleaned from the GPS device was admissible.

Commendably, the Supreme Court reversed that decision and declared the GPS monitoring of Mr. Jones unconstitutional. In doing so, however, the court refused to answer the long-standing question of constitutional limits on the Orwellian state. The case was an opportunity for the court to announce that round-the-clock surveillance of citizens without a warrant offends Fourth Amendment guarantees. Instead, the court based its analysis upon the narrower observation that the police attached a device to Mr. Jones’ car. The Supreme Court’s reluctance is understandable; the broader questions are complex and not easily resolved. But, now more than ever, advances in technology make pressing the need to confront the questions head on.

The court’s refusal to tell us whether the Constitution protects us from suspicion-less government monitoring is alone cause for frustration. But perhaps as troubling is the language the court used to accomplish its elusion. Read More
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Why Scalia is Right in Jones: Magic Places and One-Way Ratchets

The Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. Jones yesterday, and the blogosphere is abuzz about the case. (See Margot Kaminski, Paul Ohm, Howard Wasserman, Tom Goldstein, and the terrifyingly prolific Orin Kerr.) The verdict was a clean sweep – 9-0 for Jones – but the case produced three opinions, including a duel between Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito. Thus far, most privacy and constitutional law thinkers favor Alito’s position. That’s incorrect: Justice Scalia’s opinion is far more privacy protective. Here’s why: Read More

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United States v. Jones: Privacy in Public Space? Piece it all Together and You Get 5.

By Priscilla Smith, Nabiha Syed & Albert Wong, Information Society Project at Yale Law School

There was exciting news from the Supreme Court yesterday.  By a rare 9-0 vote, in United States v. Jones, No. 10-1259, the Court held that the Government should have obtained a warrant before placing a GPS surveillance device on the defendant’s car and monitoring his movements.  This result was not completely unexpected, especially considering the Justices’ interest at oral argument in the Government’s position that GPS surveillance technology could be used without a warrant to track the movements of any car — even the Justices’ own cars — for an unlimited period of time.  The Government argued —  unsuccessfully — that this result was compelled because citizens have no privacy interests in their public movements.

Of particular note, the three opinions in the case and the unusual line-up make for a broader ruling than is apparent at the outset.  The most narrow rule comes from the Court’s opinion written by Justice Scalia and joined by Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, and — wait for it — Sotomayor, holding that that “the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle,2 and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a “search.”  Slip op. at 3.  Scalia notes that the Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their . . . effects,” and it “is beyond dispute that a vehicle is an ‘effect’ as that term is used in the [Fourth] Amendment.”  Id. at 3.  Ergo, he holds the installation done with the intent to “use … th[e] device to monitor the vehicle’s movements” was a search.  Id. at 3.  He describes the action at issue, saying “[t]he Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information.”  He holds that since this form of physical trespass and monitoring would have been a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment at the time it was adopted, it is a search now.  Hello, original application guy.

On first glance, it seems that Scalia might be returning to old interpretations of the Fourth Amendment that required a physical trespass to have occurred before an action could be considered a search.  But what Scalia is actually doing here is defining the Court’s task, which is “at a minimum, is to decide whether the action in question would have constituted a ‘search’ within the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment,” and because it would have, it is a search now.  Just because in 1967 Katz said that the Fourth Amendment protects more than physical trespass, doesn’t mean that the Fourth Amendment doesn’t protect physical trespass.  See slip op. at 6-7 (noting Katz did not erode the principle that a search occurs where the Government “does engage in physical intrusion of a constitutionally protected area in order to obtain information.”) (emphasis in original).  So Scalia establishes and emphasizes a threshold for determining when a search has occurred — a threshold that is not comprehensive, but sufficient to resolve the issue at hand.

And thus Scalia declines to go further and consider what would happen if, hypothetically, there was no physical trespass.  He does hold open the possibility that “achieving the same result through electronic means [as they achieved here with physical trespass], without an accompanying trespass, is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”  Id. at 11.  Simple enough.  Why decide the harder issue with all its accompanying “vexing problems” that would arise in a case involving electronic surveillance without an accompanying trespass?  Scalia argues that there is no reason to “rush forward” to resolve them now.  Slip op. at 12.  Put aside for a minute that he encouraged the Court in United States v. Kyllo, a case holding that the use of heat-seeking technology required a warrant, to adopt rules that “take account of more sophisticated systems that are already in use or in development,” Kyllo, 533 U.S. at 37.

But Scalia has a problem.  As he points out, in its opinion in United States v. Knotts, the Court upheld the use of beeper technology to track a target’s movements, holding there was no invasion of privacy.  He distinguishes Knotts from this case because Knotts did not involve physical trespass. The beeper there was placed inside a container with consent of the then-owner of the container, and only then was the container placed in the driver’s car.  Moreover, Knotts didn’t challenge the installation.  Right.  But the Court didn’t decide there was no search in Knotts based on an absence of a physical trespass; the Court decided the case holding there was no invasion of privacy.  So shouldn’t Scalia explain to us why he holds open the possibility that “achieving the same result through electronic means [as they achieved here with physical trespass], without an accompanying trespass, [like they did in Knotts] is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy?”  Id. at 11.  Saying that GPS is a different technology, as he does in a footnote, is not enough.  Doesn’t he owe us an explanation of why Knotts doesn’t preclude that possibility, as the Government so vehemently argued it did and the Ninth Circuit in a similar case agreed?  See Pineda-Moreno v. United States.

Of course he does — or so says Justice Alito, with Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan joining.  See Alito’s concurrence, slip op. at 13.  In fact, not only did Alito think the Court should reach the Katz expectation of privacy test, he didn’t buy the physical trespass holding at all, and lists its many flaws.  Justice Alito then evaluates the GPS surveillance here, noting that “devices like the one used in the present case … make long-term monitoring relatively easy and cheap.”  “[T]he best we can do in this case,” reasons Alito, “is to apply existing Fourth Amendment doctrine” and “ask whether the use of GPS tracking in a particular case involved a degree of intrusion that a reasonable person would not have anticipated.”  Alito at 13.  Under this inquiry, “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy,” because “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”  Id.  Now, Justice Alito recognizes the “degree of circularity” inherent in Katz’s expectation of privacy test — i.e., the problem that, if read literally, the test would permit a situation in which the government takes away your privacy so that one no longer has an“expectation” of it — and in so doing, one no longer has a constitutionally protected interest in it.  Hello, 1984.  Unfortunately, though, his concurrence does nothing to address, and instead relies exactly on, that circular part of it — the intrusion you would or would not have anticipated.  The concurrence is also remarkably skimpy in its explication of why exactly the surveillance is “intrusive” — you know, the point that is the actual crux of the case.

The only Justice who doesn’t avoid the issues is Justice Sotomayor.  Although she joins the narrow majority opinion because she buys Scalia’s argument that the physical trespass here suffices to decide the case, she writes separately to make clear that “physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of surveillance,” her slip op. at 2, a statement that Scalia certainly does not deny.

Moreover, and making this a much broader ruling than it appears on first glance, unlike Scalia, Sotomayor explains the distinction between Jones and Knotts.  She agrees with the Alito Four that “’longer term GPS monitoring in investigation of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.’”  Sotomayor concurrence at 3, quoting Alito concurrence at 13.  Rather than relying on whether citizens “anticipate” invasions of their privacy, her opinion reflects the concerns of the D.C. Circuit, New York Court of Appeals, and C.J. Kozinski writing in dissent from denial of rehearing en banc in a similar case in the Ninth Circuit, that the information collected by GPS monitoring generates a “comprehensive record of a person’s public movements that reflects a wealth of detail about her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.”  Id. at 3.  (In fact, unless we missed something, she appears to be the only one who cites to Chief Judge Kozinski’s dissenting opinion in the Pineda-Moreno case; no one seems to cite the DC Circuit opinion, scared off perhaps by some folks’ misplaced railing against its “mosaic” language).  She further discusses the concerns raised in a brief filed by some of us at the ISP on behalf of a group of privacy scholars that GPS surveillance, as she says, “evades the ordinary checks that constrain abusive law enforcement practices” and is susceptible to abuse, and that awareness of government monitoring chills associational and expressive freedoms.  Id.  She summarizes:

I would also consider the appropriateness of entrusting to the Executive, in the absence of any over­sight from a coordinate branch, a tool so amenable to misuse, especially in light of the Fourth Amendment’s goal to curb arbitrary exercises of police power to and prevent “a too permeating police surveillance,” United States v. Di Re, 332 U. S. 581, 595 (1948).

Finally, Sotomayor suggests a more fundamental change in the jurisprudence to “reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” and notes that the rule is “ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks,” Sotomayor at 5, questioning the notion at the heart of the rule that “secrecy [is] a prerequisite to privacy.”

The long and the short of it is that by agreeing with the Alito Four that the use of GPS surveillance technology for a prolonged period violates a reasonable expectation of privacy, Sotomayor’s concurrence means that five justices agree to veer away from the inside/outside distinction relied upon by the Government.  It seems that we may have some privacy interests in our public movements after all.

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United States v. Jones — The Fourth Amendment and GPS Surveillance

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided United States v. Jones, concluding that when the government installs a GPS surveillance device on a car, it is a Fourth Amendment search.  The majority uses a property-based rationale and the concurring opinion (Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan) uses a privacy-based rationale.   More thoughts and analysis to come later.

I also want to congratulate my colleague Orin Kerr, who is cited in both the majority opinion and in a concurring opinion for his article, The Fourth Amendment and New Technologies: Constitutional Myths and the Case for Caution, 102 Mich. L. Rev. 801 (2004).  The majority opinion relies heavily on Orin’s theory of the Fourth Amendment and property that he sets forth in the first part of his article.