Blog of Rights

Jay
Stanley
Jay Stanley (@JayCStanley) is Senior Policy Analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, where he researches, writes and speaks about technology-related privacy and civil liberties issues and their future.  He is the Editor of the ACLU's "Free Future" blog and has authored and co-authored a variety of influential ACLU reports on privacy and technology topics. Before joining the ACLU, he was an analyst at the technology research firm Forrester, served as American politics editor of Facts on File’s World News Digest, and as national newswire editor at Medialink. He is a graduate of Williams College and holds an M.A. in American History from the University of Virginia.
Is Law Enforcement Getting Wiser About Its Use of New Technologies?

Is Law Enforcement Getting Wiser About Its Use of New Technologies?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:14am
Some leading police officials around the nation seem to be realizing that high-technology surveillance systems need to be deployed with great care, lest they prompt a public backlash. As the Atlantic Cities pointed out in a piece Friday, the Seattle police department has unilaterally pulled the plug on a new citywide mesh surveillance network after a local newspaper highlighted the department’s lack of rules and policies surrounding how the network would be used, and lack of public awareness or input surrounding the system.
What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

What if the Government Hid Bugs and Video Cameras in Every American Home?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:11am

Top government officials have been defending the NSA’s secret collection of phone records of every American. But the argument they are using today to justify mass surveillance of phone calls could be used to justify ANY amount of intrusion into Americans’ private lives. Imagine, for example, what would happen if it were discovered that the NSA had placed a secret microphone and video camera in the living room and bedroom of every home in America. It’s easy to predict how the government would defend that kind of spying. Here is what they would probably say:

  • The audio and video data collected from Americans’ homes do not constitute “surveillance” because nobody watches or listens to the recordings, unless they obtain a warrant. Actually, not a real warrant, or even a subpoena, but permission through an internal NSA process based on—trust us!—very, very strict criteria. Or in a small number of other very exceptional circumstances.
  • The program has been approved by the chairs of the major congressional intelligence committees, as well as the secret FISA Court.
  • While it’s true that even the sweepingly broad Patriot Act requires that data be “relevant” to an investigation, there has never been a requirement that every piece of data in a dataset that is turned over be relevant, only that the data set be generally relevant . When it comes to the mass of data that we are collecting from people’s homes, we know there is relevant information in there, and if we don’t preserve that data, we won’t be able to find it when we need it.
  • At least 50 acts of terrorism-like crimes have been prevented. We can’t release details of these successes, but they include several people caught building bomb-like objects in their kitchens, two instances in which women who were kidnapped years ago were found being kept prisoner within private homes, and numerous instances of domestic violence.

All of the arguments above are essentially what the NSA’s current defenders have been saying. My point is that there are few limits to the spying that their arguments could be used to justify.

The idea of the NSA secretly visiting every home in America to hide audio and video bugs inside may seem far-fetched, but what they have actually done is not quite as different as it might seem. It was not long ago that in order for the government to collect telephone metadata (all telephone numbers called and received), the authorities had to attach telephone bugs known as “pen register” and “trap and trace” devices to a home’s physical telephone line. Today it no longer needs to do that, but its mass collection of telephone metadata accomplishes the same end through virtual means, and just because the technology makes it possible to carry out such spying through the reshuffling of digital files at telephone central offices, doesn’t mean it’s any less intrusive than if the NSA were to physically attach a bug on the telephone wires outside every home.

Big Data, George Orwell, and Tanks

Big Data, George Orwell, and Tanks

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:33am

I recently came across an interesting passage by George Orwell. It made me think about Big Data.

It is a commonplace that the history of civilization is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery…

Raytheon’s “Riot” Social-Network Data Mining Software

Raytheon’s “Riot” Social-Network Data Mining Software

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:08pm

A video touting software created by Raytheon to mine data from social networks has been attracting an increasing amount of attention in the past few days, since it was uncovered by Ryan Gallagher at the Guardian.

As best as I can tell from…

High-Tech “Mind Readers” Are Latest Effort to Detect Lies

High-Tech “Mind Readers” Are Latest Effort to Detect Lies

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:41am

I recently wrote about how difficult it is to know which technologies on the horizon will turn into genuine privacy nightmares and which remain menacing but distant threats. One group of technologies that we’ve had our eyes on for a while are…

Muslim Profiling and Behavioral Profiling

Muslim Profiling and Behavioral Profiling

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:24pm

Yesterday I posted about the debate over profiling Muslims at the airport, and how Bruce Schneier persuasively argued that the concept, which seems so intuitively sensible to so many Americans, is a terrible idea even just from a security point of…

Computers vs. Humans: What Constitutes A Privacy Invasion?

Computers vs. Humans: What Constitutes A Privacy Invasion?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:37pm

The NSA is refusing to tell two U.S. Senators how many Americans the agency has eavesdropped upon. According to a letter obtained by Wired, the NSA claims that “dedicating sufficient additional resources” to gather that information “would likely…

The Privacy-Invading Potential of Eye Tracking Technology

The Privacy-Invading Potential of Eye Tracking Technology

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:42am

Eye tracking technology received new attention recently due to its inclusion in the Samsung Galaxy IV phone, where it can (with mixed results, according to reviewers) let users scroll the screen with their eyes or dim the screen when they look away.…

Congress Trying to Fast-Track Domestic Drone Use, Sideline Privacy

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:39pm

Congress is poised to give final passage to legislation that would give a big boost to domestic unmanned aerial surveillance — aka “drones.”

As we explained in our recent report, drone technology is advancing by leaps and…

Crop of image by x ray delta one via Flickr

Ad Industry Feeds White House Its Fallacious “Internet Depends on Spying” Logic

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:44am

Representatives of the online advertising industry headed to the White House last week to speak with the task force on “big data and privacy” that President Obama asked advisor John Podesta to head up. The executives said they would bring the White…

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