Free Future

It Sure Sounds Like the NSA Is Tracking Our Locations

It Sure Sounds Like the NSA Is Tracking Our Locations

By Patrick C. Toomey, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 12:36pm
The drumbeat of “non-denial denials” is getting louder as the NSA continues to refuse to directly state whether it is using cell phone information to track Americans’ whereabouts. When NSA Director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander was asked again about the NSA’s cell phone location tracking on Thursday — at a hearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — this is how the exchange went:
Photographers' Rights At Issue As Arizona Community Rises Up Against "Occupying Army" of Border Patrol Agents

Photographers' Rights At Issue As Arizona Community Rises Up Against "Occupying Army" of Border Patrol Agents

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:10pm

The ACLU of Arizona today sent a letter to the U.S. Border Patrol demanding that the agency immediately stop interfering with the First Amendment rights of the residents of Arivaca, Arizona, to protest and to photograph government activities that are…

Crop of image by David Goehring via Flickr

Curious Cop Downloaded Hundreds of Private Prescription Records Because He Could

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 2:40pm

Today, the ACLU and ACLU of Utah filed an amicus brief in support of a Utah paramedic whose Fourth Amendment rights were violated when police swept up his confidential prescription records in a dragnet search. Law enforcement’s disregard for…

So you think you have nothing to hide...

So you think you have nothing to hide...

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 11:00pm

Governments at the local, state, and federal level increasingly collect troves of sensitive information about where we go, what we read, who we know, what we buy, and more. Some people say they don't care about this silent and ever present surveillance.…

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.

Modification of image by jpstanley with map by jepoirrier via Flickr

Cell Tower Dumps: Another Surveillance Technique, Another Set of Unanswered Questions

By Katie Haas, Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at 11:58am

Today, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI, the DEA, the Secret Service, and several other agencies asking for information about a surveillance technique known as a “cell tower dump.” If you’re wondering what that…

Photo of Stingray from U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Documents Reveal Unregulated Use of Stingrays in California

By Linda Lye, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California at 4:37pm

Local law enforcement agencies across the Bay Area have so-called stingray devices, a powerful cellphone surveillance tool, and more are planning to acquire the technology, according to public records recently obtained by Sacramento News10. The devices…

Rapid Improvements in Lidar Technology Could Have Surveillance Implications

Rapid Improvements in Lidar Technology Could Have Surveillance Implications

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:25am

Technology Review has an article out on advances in lidar technology. The article is a reminder of just how many fronts there are where we’re seeing large technological advances with possible implications for surveillance.

Lidar is like radar…

The Shrinking Rationale For Government Surveillance Camera Systems

The Shrinking Rationale For Government Surveillance Camera Systems

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:42am

Yesterday I wrote about how the spread of cameras throughout our public lives is irrevocably changing our privacy in public spaces, as well as society expectations around video surveillance—with people increasingly surprised when an unusual incident…

"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…