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.

Meet Jack: What The Government Could Do With All That Location Data

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 5:38pm

Wednesday we learned that the NSA is collecting location information en masse. As we’ve long said, location data is an extremely powerful set of information about people. To flesh out why that is true, here is the kind of future memo that we fear may someday soon be uncovered:

Dear commissioner: now that we have finalized our systems for the acquisition and processing of Americans’ location data (using data from cell phone and license plate readers as well as other sources), I wanted to give you a quick taste of our new system’s capabilities in the domestic policing context.

As you can see in this screen shot from our new application, an individual by the name of Jack R. Benjamin yesterday was flagged as a potential DUI risk:

The rest of this post has been placed on a separate page that can display high-resolution images. Click here to view.

The FISA Court’s Problems Run Deep, and More Than Tinkering is Required

The FISA Court’s Problems Run Deep, and More Than Tinkering is Required

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

With the latest release of documents about the NSA and the FISA Court (this one in response to an ACLU/EFF Freedom of Information Act request) we now have yet more evidence that the NSA’s compliance with the court’s orders has been poor. We learn,…

Celebrities, the Police, and Surreptitious DNA Collection

Celebrities, the Police, and Surreptitious DNA Collection

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:54am

Actress Mia Farrow made gossip-news headlines this week when, asked by Vanity Fair whether her former husband Frank Sinatra was the father of her son Ronan, rather than Woody Allen as broadly understood, she replied, “possibly.” She said that no…

Ignorant Armies Eavesdropping By Night?

Ignorant Armies Eavesdropping By Night?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:11am

As revelations continue to pour forth about how the talents of thousands of brilliant math and computer experts are being utilized by the National Security Agency, we also saw last week the release of a report to Congress that attempts to defend the…

SPOT Off

SPOT Off

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:58pm

Lost in all the news about the NSA program this week was the release of a devastating report by the DHS Inspector General on the TSA’s SPOT program (first reported by the New York Times on Sunday). The new report underscores what a waste of money that program has been. After hiring 2,800 full-time staff and spending an estimated $878 million since FY 2007, the program remains deeply misguided not only in its very concept, but also in how it has been implemented.

SPOT (which stands for Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) is the program that places “Behavior Detection Officers” (BDOs) near airport security lines, where by intrusively chatting with fliers, they will supposedly be able to detect “something amiss” that might suggest a passenger is planning a terrorist attack.

The program has always been ludicrous. In testimony at a 2011 congressional hearing on SPOT, psychologist Dr. Maria Hartwig summarized the decades of empirical research on the detection of deception, which is basically

Simple Dataset About American Colonists Shows Power of Metadata

Simple Dataset About American Colonists Shows Power of Metadata

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:16pm

In the best tradition of educators who manage to be both entertaining and enlightening, Duke sociology professor Kieran Healy has posted “Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere”—a fascinating demonstration of just how revealing metadata can be when subject to certain quite simple but powerful number-crunching techniques. Using simple information about 260 colonists in the years before the American Revolution (what organizations they belong to), he shows step by step how the lowest analyst at the “Royal Security Agency” could use that data to build powerful insights into what might be going on among the rebellious colonists.

The scariest thing about this is just how small and simple the starting data set is. Healy concludes:

I must ask you to imagine what might be possible if we were but able to collect information on very many more people, and also synthesize information from different kinds of ties between people! For the simple methods I have described are quite generalizable in these ways, and their capability only becomes more apparent as the size and scope of the information they are given increases. We would not need to know what was being whispered between individuals, only that they were connected in various ways. The analytical engine would do the rest!

In other words, this demonstration has just show us a hint of what an organization like the NSA can probably do with metadata.

More evidence that (as we have argued at greater length elsewhere) those downplaying the intrusiveness of metadata are way behind the times.

Homeland Security, May I Earn a Living?

Homeland Security, May I Earn a Living?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 4:43pm

One of the things in play in the current wrangling over immigration reform is whether we will see the E-Verify work authorization program expanded nationwide and made mandatory. We’ve just put out a white paper summarizing “The 10 big Problems…

The Burdens of Total Surveillance

The Burdens of Total Surveillance

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:33pm

Last week’s Washington Post report that the CIA had requested that Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev be placed on a terrorist watch list raises an interesting point about total surveillance societies: in addition to all their negative implications for citizens, they actually bring some disadvantages for the authorities as well.

It’s not clear what information the CIA’s request was based upon, but reportedly it came from Russian authorities. It is also possible that Tsarnaev’s communications were flagged by US agencies such as the NSA. Either way, it seems as though there’s a real possibility that Tamerlan’s name came to the attention of the authorities through some dragnet-style surveillance technique.

If so, the conundrum for the authorities is this:

The House Hearing on Location Tracking Law (or the Lack Thereof)

The House Hearing on Location Tracking Law (or the Lack Thereof)

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:44pm

My colleague Catherine Crump testified before Congress today on location tracking and privacy, and the GPS Act that would increase legal protections for our location data. The hearing was before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, and you can read her written testimony submitted here.

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (D-Wis.), is a strong supporter of updating the law. He opened the hearing by acknowledging that the law has not kept pace with new technology—certainly a truism, and certainly true with regards to location tracking in particular, but one that is good to hear accepted as fact by powerful lawmakers.

Sensenbrenner also slammed the Justice Department for not sending a witness to the hearing. The reason, he reported, is that “it lacks a clear policy position on ECPA,” referring to the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. When Sensenbrenner was reading Catherine’s bio, which included mention of her efforts to find out how the DOJ is interpreting

ACLU testimony in hearing today on location tracking

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:59am

My colleague Catherine Crump is testifying today at a House committee hearing on location tracking and the proposed GPS Act. The hearing can be watched live here, and Crump's written testimony is online here.

Statistics image