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.
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.

Ohio Aerial Surveillance System Moving Forward Without Having to Wait For FAA Drone Rules

Ohio Aerial Surveillance System Moving Forward Without Having to Wait For FAA Drone Rules

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:07am

I wrote recently about ARGUS, the high-flying drone technology capable of capturing super-high-definition video of a 15-square mile area...

The ACLU’s Pizza Video: 10 Years Later

The ACLU’s Pizza Video: 10 Years Later

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:48pm

In 2004, the ACLU produced a satiric video called “Ordering Pizza in 2015” that has become the single most-downloaded piece of content we’ve ever produced (at least we believe in the absence of complete stats). I won’t describe…

A Look at the Issues Raised by 'Black Boxes' in Cars

A Look at the Issues Raised by 'Black Boxes' in Cars

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:20pm

On Friday the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) formally proposed regulations requiring the placement of “black boxes” in cars. More properly known as “Event Data Recorders,” or EDRs, these are similar to…

Police Chiefs Issue Recommendations on Drones; A Look At How They Measure Up

Police Chiefs Issue Recommendations on Drones; A Look At How They Measure Up

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:39am

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recently approved “Recommended Guidelines for the use of Unmanned Aircraft.”

The IACP is to be applauded for addressing this issue, and for issuing recommendations that are quite…

Photographing Police: What Happens When the Police Think Your Phone Holds Evidence of a Crime?

Photographing Police: What Happens When the Police Think Your Phone Holds Evidence of a Crime?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:27am

The Washington, DC chief of police on Friday issued a new “General Order” to members of the police department on “Video Recording, Photographing, and Audio Recording of Metropolitan Police Department Members by the Public.”…

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…

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Treat Ebola as a Public Health Issue, Not a National Security Matter

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:09pm

Since the government announced the introduction of new Ebola screening measures at border checkpoints at five U.S. airports, we’ve been getting queries asking what our position is on such measures from a civil liberties standpoint.

This is…

Police Cameras Outside Your Door

Police Cameras Outside Your Door

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:56am

The ACLU of Michigan recently put out an interesting report on surveillance cameras. Like other ACLU reports on cameras (such as those by our affiliates in Illinois and Northern California, and the materials on our national site) it summarizes the…

Sympathizing With The Police (Up to a Point) On Photography

Sympathizing With The Police (Up to a Point) On Photography

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:00pm

This past week we saw a strong step forward on photographers’ rights in Washington DC: a groundbreaking General Order issued by the DC police chief as part of the settlement of an ACLU lawsuit. This is the latest in the ACLU’s ongoing effort…

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