Civil Liberties in the Digital Age

In the digital age that we live in today, we are constantly exposing our personal information online. From using cell phones and GPS devices to online shopping and sending e-mail, the things we do and say online leave behind ever-growing trails of personal information. The ACLU believes that Americans shouldn’t have to choose between using new technology and keeping control of your private information. Each week, we feature some of the most interesting news related to technology and civil liberties that we’ve spotted from the previous week.
California’s Landmark Commercial Transparency Law: a 10-Year Evaluation

California’s Landmark Commercial Transparency Law: a 10-Year Evaluation

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:39pm
In 2003, California passed a landmark piece of legislation called the Shine the Light law, which gave Californians the right to learn how companies share their personal information for “direct marketing purposes.” Now that ten years have passed since that law was enacted, my colleagues at the ACLU of California have written a report evaluating how the law has turned out—and looking at the role of transparency in general when it comes to private companies and their handling of privacy.
How Private is Your Online Search History?

How Private is Your Online Search History?

By Nathan Freed Wessler, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 12:04pm

The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice to find out whether federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors think they need a warrant to obtain people’s search queries from online search engine operators,…

Massachusetts High Court Set to Rule on Whether State Can Force You to Decrypt Your Drive

Massachusetts High Court Set to Rule on Whether State Can Force You to Decrypt Your Drive

By Kade Crockford, Director, ACLU of Massachusetts Technology for Liberty Project at 11:25am

Can the government force you to decrypt your hard drive? Do the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights protect us from being compelled to disclose or enter our encryption keys, and…

On the Prospect of Blackmail by the NSA

On the Prospect of Blackmail by the NSA

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:47am

Sometimes when I hear public officials speaking out in defense of NSA spying, I can’t help thinking, even if just for a moment, “what if the NSA has something on that person and that’s why he or she is saying this?”

Of course it’s…

Albert Einstein on America Since 9/11

Albert Einstein on America Since 9/11

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:13am

I recently came across the following quote from Albert Einstein which, if you just sub out “Communism” and replace it with “terrorism,” pretty much nails our current situation:

America is incomparably less endangered by its own Communists…

The Millennial Generation and Civil Liberties

The Millennial Generation and Civil Liberties

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:28am

Peter Beinart recently published a very interesting article on the Daily Beast making an argument that, if correct, could have very significant implications for privacy and other civil liberties in coming decades.

In essence, Beinart argues…

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…

ACLU at DEF CON 21!

ACLU at DEF CON 21!

By Noa Yachot, Communications Strategist, ACLU at 10:04am

It's DEF CON time! The preeminent hacker convention kicked off yesterday in Las Vegas, and a team of ACLU experts are there. If you're in town, come visit us in the vendor area, where we're on hand to chat about what has been a pretty eventful year…

Activists Leverage Stronger EU Privacy Laws to Seek More Information on PRISM

Activists Leverage Stronger EU Privacy Laws to Seek More Information on PRISM

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 3:03pm

A group of European activists yesterday filed complaints with European data protection authorities against Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype, and Yahoo alleging that the companies are violating EU privacy law by cooperating with the NSA's PRISM…

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