Category: Privacy

2

Italy’s Surveillance of Cyber Cafes

italy3.jpgThis interesting story describes Italy’s strong antiterrorism laws, which require extensive monitoring of people’s use of the Internet in cyber cafes:

After Italy passed a new antiterrorism package in July, authorities ordered managers offering public communications services, like Mr. Savoni, to make passport photocopies of every customer seeking to use the Internet, phone, or fax. . . .

Passed within weeks of the London bombings this summer, the law is part of the most extensive antiterror package introduced in Italy since 9/11 and the country’s subsequent support of the Iraq war.

Though the legislation also includes measures to heighten transportation security, permit DNA collection, and facilitate the detention or deportation of suspects, average Italians are feeling its effect mainly in Internet cafes.

Before the law was passed, Savoni’s clients were anonymous to him. Now they must be identified by first and last name. He must also document which computer they use, as well as their log-in and log-out times.

Like other owners of Internet cafes, Savoni had to obtain a new public communications business license, and purchase tracking software that costs up to $1,600.

The software saves a list of all sites visited by clients, and Internet cafe operators must periodically turn this list into their local police headquarters.

5

Should We All Be in the National DNA Database?

dna4.jpgThe Senate recently voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. But nestled in the Act was an amendment by Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) to add arrestee information to the national DNA database. The national DNA database, which is run by the FBI, is called the Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”), and it includes DNA from over two million convicted criminals. This DNA is used to identify matches with DNA found at crime scenes.

In a press release, Senator Leahy (D-Vermont) states:

Regrettably, this important bill was saddled in Committee with an extraneous and ill-considered amendment, offered by Senator Kyl, relating to the national DNA database. Current law permits States to collect DNA samples from arrested individuals and to include arrestee information in State DNA databases. In addition, States may use arrestee information to search the national DNA database for a possible “hit.” The only thing that States may not do is upload arrestee information into the national database before a person has been formally charged with a crime.

Under the Kyl amendment, arrestee information can go into the national database immediately upon arrest, before formal charges are filed, and even if no charges are ever brought. This adds little or no value for law enforcement, while intruding on the privacy rights of people who are, in our system, presumed innocent. It could also provide an incentive for pretextual and race-based stops and arrests for the purpose of DNA sampling. Congress rejected this very proposal less than a year ago, after extended negotiations and consultation with the Department of Justice.

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5

Do We Really Want Perfect Law Enforcement?

speeding3.jpgI just wrote a post about the possibility of cell phones being used to nab speeders. This raises a larger question regarding law enforcement. If we employ new technologies of surveillance to achieve a more efficient enforcement of various laws, the most obvious concern that comes to mind is the threat posed to privacy. There’s also another problem worth thinking about – Is it desirable to have very efficient enforcement of certain laws?

Of course, we’d want as perfect enforcement as we could get when it came to crimes such as murder and kidnapping. But what about speeding?

Consider what happened in 2000, when the Hawaii transportation department began using cameras mounted on vans to catch speeders. Tickets were issued for all drivers exceeding the speed limit by six miles per hour. The program resulted in an enormous public outcry. As one journalist observed, “it became possibly the most hated public policy initiative in Hawaii history, almost uniformly disliked, even by those who thought it actually worked.” Mike Leidemann, Few Saying Aloha to Van Cams Fondly, Honolulu Advisor, Apr. 14, 2002. Some drivers referred to the vans as “talivans” and radio stations broadcast their location.

In 2002, the program was cancelled. Where the cameras were used, traffic accidents and fatalities were down significantly. [In a recent post, however, I discuss a study of DC traffic cameras that reveals the opposite conclusion – that traffic cameras had no effects on accident or fatality rates.]

So why was there such a public outcry against the program?

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4

Using Cell Phones to Catch Speeders

speeding-cartoon1.jpgA glimpse into the not-too-distant future . . .

You’re driving along the highway. There is only light traffic on the road, and there’s not a cop in sight. You decide to give in to that dastardly rebel within and go 10 miles over the speed limit. You get to your destination without incident, a few minutes early. The sun is shining in the sky; there’s not a cloud in sight. It’s a happy day. Life is good.

But then a few weeks later, you discover that the day wasn’t as cheery as you had thought. That’s because you were caught for speeding that day. Your ticket arrives in the mail. But there were no police officers along the route, no speed traps, no surveillance cameras. How did you get caught?

You were ratted out, betrayed by a traitor in your car. No, not a secret agent, not a rat, not a mole. Instead, it was something you trusted the most, an inseparable companion . . . it was your cell phone.

According to the AP:

Driving to work with your cell phone on, you notice the traffic beginning to slow down. Instantly and unbeknown to you, the government senses your delay and flashes a traffic congestion update over Web sites and electronic road signs.

Other motorists take heed, diverting to alternative routes or allowing more time for their trips.

Futuristic as it might seem, the scenario actually is pretty close to becoming reality.

In what would be the largest project of its kind, the Missouri Department of Transportation is negotiating with private contractors to monitor thousands of cell phones, using their movements to produce real-time traffic conditions on 5,500 miles of roads statewide.

Cell phone users won’t even know anyone’s watching them. But transportation and technology leaders assure there is no need to worry – the data will remain anonymous, leaving no possibility of tracking specific people from their driveway to their destination.

I have a quote in the story, but I’m not saying anything really profound, so I won’t bother excerpting it.

Since there is no tracking that can be linked to identifiable people, the cell phone tracking described by the article appears to pose little of a privacy concern. However, it isn’t too hard to imagine in the future new ways that these devices can be used. Previously, I blogged about how cell phones can function as an RFID device to track people’s movement. With the technology described in the AP article, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine cell phones being used to determine a driver’s rate of speed. Would there be a problem if cell phones were used as a way to nab speeders?

This raises another question regarding the enforcement of the law. When we devise ways to more perfectly enforce laws such as speeding, is this desirable? To keep this post from getting too long, I will explore this question in a separate post.

79

The Airline Screening Playset: Hours of Fun!

After blogging a few weeks ago about the airline screening playset, I went ahead and ordered one.

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Each day, I would check my mailbox, eager with excitement about its arrival. Today, it finally arrived. I rushed to open it and began what would be hours of exciting play. Here’s what came in the playset:

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I was a bit disappointed in the toy’s lack of realism. There was only one passenger to be screened. Where were the long lines? The passenger’s clothing wasn’t removable for strip searching. The passenger’s shoes couldn’t be removed either. Her luggage fit easily inside the X-ray machine. There were no silly warning signs not to carry guns or bombs onto the plane. And there was no No Fly List or Selectee List included in the playset.

Another oddity was that the toy came with two guns, one for the police officer and one that either belonged to the X-ray screener or the passenger. The luggage actually opened up, and the gun fit inside. I put it through the X-ray machine, and it went through undetected. Perhaps this is where the toy came closest to reality.

The biggest departure from reality was that the passenger had a cheery smile on her face.

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To make the toy more realistic, I required the passenger to show her ID, which she didn’t have. Indeed, the playset didn’t come with an ID card, so it wasn’t the passenger’s fault. But I had the screener cheerfully deny her the right to board the plane. Ha!

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But she still had that silly smile.

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I wasn’t ready to give up, however, so I decided to have her searched from head to toe with the magnetic wand.

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But she still had that smile.

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2

Hurricane Katrina and Credit Scores

creditscore1.jpgBob Sullivan at MSNBC writes:

A second storm surge may soon start slamming into Gulf coast residents hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mounting unpaid bills will lead to a surge of black marks on victims’ credit reports, say consumer advocates, sinking their credit scores. And now, they say, efforts to convince the nation’s credit bureaus to develop new systems to account for victims’ temporary bill-paying troubles have hit a major snag.

Consumers who can’t make their house payments any more – even if that house has been completely swept away by the storm – may face the ultimate penalty in America’s credit-driven society: A credit score so low they won’t qualify for the loans they need to start rebuilding.

Consumer groups, anticipating the coming surge of late payments and account defaults, have asked credit bureaus to help. The consumer groups proposed that the bureaus take a pre-Katrina credit score snapshot of all residents in the affected areas. Later, when victims apply for loans, the pre-Katrina score could be used to identify whether victims were good credit risks before the storm.

This sounds like a sensible proposal, something that will help the survivors of the hurricane rebuild their lives. After all, without good credit, it is much more costly to take out a loan, and sometimes nearly impossible to get a loan or credit.

Fair Issac, the company that creates the formula for generating credit scores supports this proposal. The credit reporting agencies, however, won’t have any of it:

But on Thursday, consumer groups revealed that the nation’s three bureaus – Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax – have declined to participate in the plan.

The reasons are:

A second score likely wouldn’t comply with parts of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, the firm indicated in a letter sent to Consumers Union.

Equifax’s David Rubinger said the presence of a second score could create confusion both for lenders and consumers. Also, credit bureaus and lenders sometimes use alternate scoring systems, he said, so a snapshot FICO score would be of little use to those lenders.

First of all, I’m not familiar with a provision of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) that would prohibit reporting a second score. If there is something in the law that prohibits reporting another score, then Congress should make an exception for victims of certain sudden catastrophes.

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7

The Blog Impersonators

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Harriet Miers, as my co-blogger Kaimi pointed out, is the first Supreme Court Justice nominee to have her own blog – Harriet Miers’s Blog!!! Her first entry:

OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M THE NOMINEE!!!

This is BIGGEST DAY OF MY LIFE!!! EVER!!!!

OMG OMG OMG

Needless to say, it’s a fake. And so is a blog called Luttig’s Lair purportedly written by Judge J. Michael Luttig.

Anyone can sign up on a free blogger platform, such as Blogger, and create a blog. In anybody’s name. In your name. You might have a blog and not even know about it.

The Miers and Luttig blogs are quite funny because everybody knows they’re phony. But it is easy to imagine a case where reality and parody are not so readily discernable. What’s to stop me from creating a blog by you? (Don’t even think of vice-versa!)

The law provides at least two potential remedies. One is the tort of libel, which provides for damages when a person publishes falsehoods that damage the reputation of another. This wouldn’t apply to Miers because the blog is an obvious parody – no reasonable person would think it were true.

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13

Airport X-Ray Peep Shows

x-ray2.jpgAccording to the New York Times, the TSA is moving closer to deploying a new kind of X-ray machine at airports, one that sees through people’s clothing:

Among the most controversial technology being looked at by the Transportation Security Administration is the backscatter body scanner. The device – a boxy contraption that beams low-level X-rays through people’s clothing – has received a lot of attention because of the explicit images of passengers’ bodies it can produce.

This summer, for instance, Lori Borgman, a family humor columnist, wrote that such images were “bound to find their way to the break room, the Internet and the tabloids.” The American Civil Liberties Union has called the backscatter a “virtual strip search.”

As a result, the Transportation Security Administration has approached the deployment of the machines tentatively over the last several years. “I think that as we make the decision to roll out and go to pilot tests and move forward, we need to be sure we’re doing it in a responsible manner,” said the agency’s chief technology officer and assistant administrator, Clifford Wilke. “A person’s first experience with a new technology will determine their perception.”

But there are signs that the T.S.A. is preparing to make its move. The agency said it did not have a specific timeline, but statements made in early August by the two manufacturers of the technology – American Science and Engineering and Rapiscan Systems, a division of the OSI Systems electronics company – indicated that the plans could be made public within the next two months.

Does this technology establish the appropriate balance between privacy and security?

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5

A Victory for Anonymous Blogging

anonymity2.jpgAnonymous bloggers received a great victory this week in a case decided by the Delaware Supreme Court — Doe v. Cahill (Oct. 5, 2005). The case involved John Doe, who anonymously posted on a blog statements about Patrick Cahill, a City Councilman of Smyrna, Delaware. Doe, in criticizing Cahill’s job performance, noted that Cahill had “obvious mental deterioration” and was “paranoid.” Cahill sued Doe for defamation.

Doe was anonymous, but his IP address could be linked to his postings, and Cahill sought to obtain Doe’s identity from Comcast, Doe’s ISP. Comcast notified Doe that Cahill was seeking his identity, and Doe immediately went to court to prevent the disclosure of his identity. The case reached the Delaware Supreme Court, which concluded that Cahill should not be permitted to obtain Doe’s identity.

The issues in this case are very important. Many of you comment here anonymously; and many comment anonymously on other blogs. Some have anonymous blogs, such as the person pretending to be Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers on a blog or the pseudonymous “Article III groupie,” who maintains the famous blog, Underneath Their Robes. EFF has produced a manual about how to blog anonymously.

What if your identity – and those of the Miers impersonator and Article III groupie — could readily be unmasked?

The First Amendment provides for a right to speak anonymously. It does so because without anonymity, people might be chilled in saying certain things. But what happens when anonymous speakers defame people or invade their privacy? Those injured people should be able to sue. This issue has been a difficult one for courts, which have tried to balance a person’s free speech rights to speak anonymously with the injured plaintiff’s rights to proceed with a lawsuit.

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0

Now Auditioning for the Next Star Wars Kid

starwars3.jpgHave you been craving your 15 minutes of infamy? Are you not even qualified enough to make it onto reality TV? Well, you’re in luck. There’s a way for you to become a star after all. As this article explains:

Internet media outlets are striving to discover the next quirky or gripping low-budget online video so they can drive consumer demand for multimedia, bring in advertising or licensing dollars, and put their own video search engines and archives on the map.

But talent–like the 15-year-old “Star Wars” fan who inadvertently became an Internet star when a video of him staging a mock light saber battle found its way online–can be hard to find. And studios and broadcasters have yet to make much content available online due to piracy fears.

That’s why portals like Yahoo and Google, as well as start-ups such as Grouper and Veoh Networks, are attempting to create a new kind of social network. They want everyone–from upcoming filmmakers to artistic nobodies–to film videos, upload them to the Web, and let the masses decide what’s worth watching and what’s not.

The Star Wars Kid video became an Internet sensation. People from around the world downloaded it millions of times. The video was remixed with sound effects and music; and countless versions of it were created.

So pick up that video camera and channel your favorite Star Wars character. Your star on the Internet Walk of Fame awaits.

As the article notes, Internet media executives are feverishly discussing how to create compelling content that will draw large audiences like the Star Wars Kid video. That is the big question — not just for video. We here at Concurring Opinions are trying to create good content and develop an enormous audience so we can sell ads and get filthy rich. We need you to visit often and spread the word about Concurring Opinions to your friends. If you don’t, we might have to release the videos of Kaimi’s training to be a Jedi Knight.

Hat tip: Bruce Boyden