Blog of Rights

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's NSA 'reforms': bad for privacy, bad for business

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's NSA 'reforms': bad for privacy, bad for business

By Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California at 2:29pm
This op-ed originally ran in the San Jose Mercury News before the tech giants released their letter to Pres. Obama and Congress urging widespread surveillance reform. In August, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-innovation think tank, calculated that over the next three years, the U.S. cloud computing industry stands to lose as much as $35 billion as international customers find other cloud computing services rather than risk their sensitive data falling into the NSA's giant maw. The estimate had to make U.S. tech executives' knees buckle. The fear of looking like data aggregators for the National Security Agency has even led tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft to release transparency reports about government demands and lobby Congress to rein in the spy agency. Shareholders are now pushing AT&T and Verizon to stand up for user privacy and take similar actions. So if you had to pick a senator who would be especially attuned to Silicon Valley's fear of how the NSA revelations harm business, a front-runner should be Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco. Yet as chairwoman of the secretive and powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein has not only vocally defended NSA's dragnet surveillance programs, but she also introduced legislation -- cynically dubbed a reform measure -- that would entrench and expand the NSA's surveillance powers. Feinstein's FISA Improvements Act would be a dream come true for the NSA. What was once done in secret with little oversight would get congressional approval. The bill would codify the NSA's unconstitutional call-records program and allow bulk collection of location data from mobile phone users. Most egregiously, Feinstein's bill allows undefined "law enforcement agencies" to query its foreign intelligence databases, even for U.S. persons, without a warrant. Perhaps even our own local police could try to use its federal law enforcement relationships to get around using court orders to investigate people it doesn't have probable cause to scrutinize. If Feinstein's legislation were to pass, it would show the world that Congress no longer respects its citizens' fundamental privacy rights. And if Congress couldn't care less about protecting Americans' privacy, what kind of message would that send to the rest of the world, already enraged and frightened by the NSA's insatiable global surveillance? What kind of scarlet letter would that put on America's most popular technological brands? After seeing the Feinstein bill for what it is -- an NSA wish list -- it's no wonder major technology companies sent a letter of applause to the bipartisan members of Congress behind the USA FREEDOM Act, which limits NSA surveillance and brings the surveillance programs out into the sunlight. Since the rise of Facebook and social media in general, there's always been a pernicious myth that people no longer care about their privacy because of how much information they reveal online. Thankfully, the global reaction to the NSA's project to make privacy extinct shows just how very precious privacy remains to people, no matter where they call home or on what side of the political aisle they may sit. Privacy isn't just a human right; it's essential for business. America's most dominant tech industries are already threatened with paying a very high price for the NSA's overreach, which Feinstein says she largely knew about, supported and enabled. If Feinstein has her way, she won't only irreparably harm everyone's privacy rights, but also the nation's economic competitiveness globally. Talk about a lose-lose situation.
Cell Phone Companies Reveal How Much Cops Love Your Phone

Cell Phone Companies Reveal How Much Cops Love Your Phone

By Catherine Crump, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at 12:06pm

Cellphones are the spies in our pockets, gathering information about whom we befriend, what we say, where we go, and what we read. That’s why Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., recently asked the nation’s major cellphone companies to disclose how frequently they receive requests from law enforcement for customer call records—including the content of communications, numbers dialed, websites visited, and location data. Sometimes police have a warrant, sometimes they don’t.

Seven companies provided information in response to the inqury. The letters Markey received, which were covered today in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and New York Times, show that the quantity of requests for these records is staggering. T-Mobile and AT&T together received nearly 600,000 requests for customer information in 2012. AT&T has to employ more than 100 full-time workers to process them. And police demand for our call records is growing rapidly, with requests to Verizon doubling in the last five years.

This piece was originally published on Slate. Click here to read the full article.

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.

DOJ asks court to give police the benefit of the doubt on murky surveillance law

DOJ asks court to give police the benefit of the doubt on murky surveillance law

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 3:18pm

Live in Delaware, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania? You can rest a little bit easier today, knowing that police need a warrant before putting a GPS tracker on your car to monitor your movements. The Department of Justice has declined to appeal a Third Circuit…

Who Should be in Charge of Privacy in the 21st Century?

Who Should be in Charge of Privacy in the 21st Century?

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Joe Silver, Washington Legislative Office, ACLU at 2:23pm

An effort is underway to significantly set back even the limited amount of government privacy oversight that currently takes place over commercial privacy in the United States. Tuesday the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing…

Tell the White House to Fix ECPA and Protect Our Electronic Privacy

Tell the White House to Fix ECPA and Protect Our Electronic Privacy

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 10:03am

This might come as a shock to you, but the privacy of many of your electronic communications has a six-month expiration date.

The angry email you wish you didn't send last spring where you said those unflattering things. That text message you…

Amazon and Drones

Amazon and Drones

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 8:04am

Amazon attracted a lot of attention this weekend when, on “60 Minutes,” CEO Jeff Bezos announced a futuristic vision for the company: using drones to make deliveries within 30 minutes to homes in metropolitan areas.

The biggest import of…

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,…

ACLU of Northern California files shareholder proposal with AT&T and Verizon on NSA Data Sharing

ACLU of Northern California files shareholder proposal with AT&T and Verizon on NSA Data Sharing

By Abdi Soltani, Executive Director, ACLU of Northern California at 1:53pm

When I found out that AT&T and Verizon have been handing over information about millions of customers’ calls to the National Security Agency (NSA) I was outraged. Secret, unchecked surveillance is antithetical to democracy, and the…

The $338,000 Internet Comment

The $338,000 Internet Comment

By Lee Rowland, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:00am

We’ve written before about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1998 — a federal law that protects the robust diversity of free speech we’ve come to know and love (and hate) on the Internet. Last night, the ACLU and the ACLU of Kentucky…