Free Future

From the NSA to License Plate Readers: Are We to Have a “Collect it All” Society?

From the NSA to License Plate Readers: Are We to Have a “Collect it All” Society?

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

If the NSA needs a slogan, it should probably be “collect it all.” As phrased by an anonymous intel official recently quoted by the Washington Post, that has apparently been the approach of agency leadership in recent years. But the fight over whether that’s an appropriate strategy for keeping order in a democratic society is one that stretches far beyond the NSA programs now being debated.

For example, look at automatic license plate recognition systems, which are now sprouting up around the country. As we detailed in our recent report on the technology, many police departments are collecting and storing not only information about vehicles that are wanted by the police, but also location information about everybody who drives a car. Some police have defended this practice by arguing, essentially, that “you never know when or what we might need to solve a crime.”

In other words, nobody who accepts the NSA’s argument that universal collection is the right answer ought to be surprised when

Police Harassment of Photographers Remains a Problem

Police Harassment of Photographers Remains a Problem

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:31pm

It’s been almost two years since we posted our ”Know Your Rights” Guide for Photographers, began calling attention to the problem of police harassment of photographers (including through this video), and began blogging about the issue. And several years before that, our affiliates around the country had already begun filing what have become numerous lawsuits on the issue.

It’s also been nearly two years since the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that the right to film police officers is protected by the First Amendment and that, moreover, that principle is so “fundamental and virtually self-evident” that it should have been known to the police even before the court’s ruling. That ruling was only the most prominent—courts around the country have been pretty much unanimous in finding such a right.

Yet the problem persists.

As Carlos Miller documents on his invaluable site Photography is Not a Crime, incidents of police harassment of photographers (and worse) continue to take place around the country on a daily or near-daily basis.

Why is it so hard for police officers to learn the law? We have seen settlements in some cities in which police department management has sent clear messages to their officers instructing them on the law, but in many cities, not enough has been done to train officers and/or enforce requirements that they abide by the Constitution.

As citizens prepare to gather this Fourth of July for rallies to restore the Fourth Amendment, let’s hope that this First Amendment right is respected as well.

The Three Dimensions of the Privacy Apocalypse

The Three Dimensions of the Privacy Apocalypse

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:34am

Recent reports have revealed that several companies are currently pushing “intelligent street lights” that are capable of being loaded with various kinds of sensors including, as Reuters reported late last month,

sensors for moisture,…

Accountability vs. Privacy: The ACLU’s Recommendations on Police Body Cameras

Accountability vs. Privacy: The ACLU’s Recommendations on Police Body Cameras

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:00am

Today we’re releasing our policy recommendations on police “body cameras” (also called “on-officer recording systems” or “cop cams”), small cameras that clip on to an officer’s uniform and record audio and video of the officer’s interactions…

Chelsea Manning and the Government's Draconian Approach to Whistleblowers

Chelsea Manning and the Government's Draconian Approach to Whistleblowers

By Ben Wizner, Director, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:02pm

Many Americans have been perplexed about how to view the prosecution of Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced this week under the name Bradley Manning.

On the one hand, they're not comfortable with the notion that any Army private should be able…

The FCC's DIY Net Neutrality Fix

The FCC's DIY Net Neutrality Fix

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:24pm

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals today issued a long-awaited decision in a challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s “net neutrality” or “open internet” regulations. As expected, the court invalidated two of these rules.

One…

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.…

Chertoff on Google Glass

Chertoff on Google Glass

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 5:56pm

We’ve been doing a fair amount of thinking about the implications of consumer wearable cameras like Google Glass, and I’m sure we’ll have more to say in this space on the subject. But meanwhile, we’re pleasantly surprised to report a very trenchant analysis of the technology’s implications for our privacy by none other than Michael Chertoff. Writing on CNN’s web page, the former DHS chief writes,

So, who owns and what happens to the user's [video] data? Can the entire database be mined and analyzed for commercial purposes? What rules will apply when law enforcement seeks access to the data for a criminal or national security investigation? For how long will the data be retained? ….

Even those who might be willing to forgo some degree of privacy to enhance national security should be concerned about a corporate America that will have an unrestricted continuous video record of millions.

What is to prevent a corporation from targeting a particular individual, using face recognition technology to assemble all uploaded videos in which he appears, and effectively constructing a surveillance record that can be used to analyze his life?

Chertoff says he’s inclined to think that government regulation may be needed. I haven’t seen Chertoff say anything about the threat of pervasive government surveillance, which would make him a kind of anti-libertarian on privacy—in favor of restricting corporations, but not the government. For the average, relatively powerless person trying to live their life, the threat comes from both directions.

Aerial view of the U.S. Patent Office building; Image source: Cliff/Flickr

Is the "Patent Happy" Patent Office Violating the First Amendment?

By Sandra S. Park, Staff Attorney, ACLU Women's Rights Project at 2:43pm

Last April, during the Supreme Court oral arguments in our case challenging patents on human genes, Justice Kagan remarked, "The PTO seems very patent happy." Her comment, and the unanimous decision invalidating gene patents, clearly expressed the…

Persistent Aerial Surveillance: Do We Want To Go There, America?

Persistent Aerial Surveillance: Do We Want To Go There, America?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:32am

The Washington Post ran a story Thursday on a technology that I've been very concerned about for a while: persistent aerial surveillance. Specifically, it profiled a company, Persistent Surveillance Solutions, that has been deploying this panoptic…