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.
Modification by Jay Stanley of photo by Nestor Lacle via Flickr

Chicago Police “Heat List” Renews Old Fears About Government Flagging and Tagging

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:40am
The Verge had a story last week (expanding on an August report from the Chicago Tribune that I’d missed) that the Chicago police have created a list of the “400 most dangerous people in Chicago.” The Trib reported on one fellow, who had no criminal arrests, expressing surprise over having received a visit from the police and being told he was on this list. A 17-year-old girl was also shocked when told she was on the list.
"GPS Bullets" Allow Police to Shoot a Tracker Onto a Car

"GPS Bullets" Allow Police to Shoot a Tracker Onto a Car

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:54am

We've started getting a few calls asking us what we think of new GPS tracking devices that police can shoot at a car that they are pursuing from a launcher mounted to the front grille of their car. The device sticks to the car, allowing the police…

Extreme Traffic Enforcement

Extreme Traffic Enforcement

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:05pm

In a recent post I pointed out various ways that license plate recognition devices could be combined with other databases to invade privacy.

One obvious use for ALPR that I did not mention is speeding tickets. If you’ve gotten from point…

Photo of ACLU v. Clapper argument in Second Circuit

Nude Celebs and the NSA

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:49pm

Writing in the New Republic, Yishai Schwartz notes the confluence of two privacy stories yesterday: the theft of celebrities’ private nude photos stored in Apple’s iCloud, and my colleague Alexander Abdo’s argument before the Second Circuit Court…

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.

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…

Full Body Scanners: From Airports to the Streets?

Full Body Scanners: From Airports to the Streets?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:15pm

Andy Greenberg at Forbes.com reported yesterday that company representatives told him that backscatter X-rays mounted in vans that can be driven around the public streets have been sold to, and deployed by, domestic U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Backscatter…

Blurred car lights at night

Location Apps Sharing Data With Governments

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:00pm

(Update: correction below)

Forbes reported last week that the crowdsourced mapping location service Waze is beginning to share bulk location data with government bodies—with Rio de Janeiro since 2013, and soon with the state of Florida. The…

Crop of image by David D/C via Flickr

Have We Become a “Surveillance State”? A Five-Part Test

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:14am

At a panel in Toronto recently I was asked whether I thought the United States had become a “surveillance state.” How to answer that question? At first glance it’s an impossibly fuzzy question, the answer to which is relative depending on whether…

"Vitruvian Man" by Leonardo da Vinci (modified by Jay Stanley)

A Tour of the TSA’s Testing Facility

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:04am

Last week I was given a tour of the “TSA Systems Integration Facility” (TSIF), the agency’s testing facility located at Reagan National Airport here in Washington, in some outlying buildings that used to house the airport’s post office facility.…

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