Free Future

Documents Shed Light on Border Laptop Searches

Documents Shed Light on Border Laptop Searches

By Brian Hauss, Legal Fellow, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 6:24pm
The case of David Miranda got a lot of attention around the world after UK authorities were accused of abusing an anti-terrorism law to evade the normal constitutional restrains on police power and question someone because of their political associations. Well, a very similar abuse of power appears to have happened here in the United States.
How Can Smart, Ethical Individuals Form Dumb, Amoral Government Agencies?

How Can Smart, Ethical Individuals Form Dumb, Amoral Government Agencies?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:16pm

Yesterday I set forth some reflections on our giant national security establishment, and how we should think about it. I argued that one very useful way of conceptualizing it is not as a result of politics or personality, but as an institution, which to the first approximation is best thought of as a mindless, amoral, and self-perpetuating primitive life form.

And by saying that, I do not mean to disparage any of the individuals who make up those bureaucracies. I live in Washington and am friends with many government workers who are excellent, thoughtful human beings.

But when you gather many human beings into an institution, that institution tends to take on a life of its own. Most of the individuals who make up the gigantic national security state are reasonably intelligent, and many of them no doubt are exceptionally so. But when you aggregate thousands of intelligent human minds together in a bureaucratic organization, the ironic result is that the collective is sometimes dumber than its individual parts. By the same token, there is no particular reason to think that bureaucracies attract a disproportionate number of amoral or immoral individuals—they surely form the same bell curve as any other group of humans when it comes to characteristics such as empathy, sensitivity, and conscience. But the collective set of such humans can exhibit a marked quality of amorality, as exhibited for example by the willingness of security bureaucracies to do horrifying things such as continue to detain people at Guantanamo who are known to pose no threat to the United States.

Complexity theorists have a concept called emergence, which refers to the fact that when large numbers of individuals

How to Think About the National Security State

How to Think About the National Security State

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

The United States has grown a gigantic national security state. According to one analyst, our overall annual security budget is now more than $1.2 trillion. And we now know that includes at least $75 billion for “intelligence.” In the wake of Edward…

License Plate Readers: Just Don’t Keep Data on Innocent People!

License Plate Readers: Just Don’t Keep Data on Innocent People!

By Katie Haas, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 11:42am

Our recent report on license plate scanners, You Are Being Tracked, reveals a lot about the privacy problems caused by the proliferation of this technology. But the report also shows that there are simple solutions that would go a long way toward transforming…

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

First in the Nation: Montana Requires a Warrant for Location Tracking

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 10:15am

Montana just made history. It recently enacted the first state law in the nation (sponsored by Rep. Daniel Zolnikov (R-Billings)) requiring...

Call Logs? Try Kilowatts: Reports Reveal Demands for California Energy Data

Call Logs? Try Kilowatts: Reports Reveal Demands for California Energy Data

By Matthew Cagle, Volunteer Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 4:34pm

Amid recent revelations that the NSA has been secretly spying on phone records and the Internet activity of people in the United States, transparency reports filed by the California utilities companies and obtained by the ACLU of California show that…

Court Ruling Gives FBI Too Much Leeway on Surveillance Technology

Court Ruling Gives FBI Too Much Leeway on Surveillance Technology

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 5:09pm

Today, a federal district judge in Arizona issued a very disappointing decision concerning the government’s obligations to be candid with courts about new technologies they are seeking a warrant to use.

The case involves Daniel Rigmaiden, who is being criminally prosecuted for an alleged electronic tax fraud scheme. The government used a surveillance device known as a stingray to locate Mr. Rigmaiden. A stingray operates by simulating a cell tower and tricking all wireless devices on the same network in the immediate vicinity to communicate with it, as though it were the carrier’s cell tower. In order to locate a suspect, a stingray scoops up information not only of the suspect, but all third parties on the same network in the area. This means that when the government uses a stingray to conduct a search, it is searching not only the suspect, but also tens or hundreds of third parties who have nothing to do with the matter. When the FBI sought court permission to use the device to locate Mr. Rigmaiden, it didn’t explain the full reach of stingrays to the court.

The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief arguing that when the government wants to use

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.

Status of Location Privacy Legislation in the States

Status of Location Privacy Legislation in the States

By Allie Bohm, Advocacy & Policy Strategist, ACLU at 12:00am

In the wake of the NSA revelations, there has been an avalanche of state bills requiring law enforcement to obtain a probable cause warrant before tracking an individual’s location in an investigation. Most state legislators know they can’t control the NSA—but they can control their state and local law enforcement, which are engaging in some of the same invasive practices. The trend actually started in the wake of the ACLU’s nationwide public records requests on location tracking and the 2012 U.S. v. Jones decision, when Montana and Maine enacted the first two location tracking laws in the country—the recent revelations have simply increased the momentum.

Working closely with our lobbyists in state capitols around the country, we’ve been tracking this activity and working hard to make sure these privacy-protective bills become law. The chart below shows the current status of state legislation as we understand it. We will keep this chart up-to-date as we receive new information.