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.
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 Snowden’s revelations that the NSA has been operating well outside any reasonable reading of the statutes on which it relies, and outside any national consensus over the proper limits to domestic spying, what are we to make of this behemoth? How we think about our national security state is a very important question, not least because it suggests what direction we ought to take moving forward.
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…

Big Data, George Orwell, and Tanks

Big Data, George Orwell, and Tanks

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 11:33am

I recently came across an interesting passage by George Orwell. It made me think about Big Data.

It is a commonplace that the history of civilization is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery…

Who Decides?

Who Decides?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 9:32am

I’d like to make one major point about the NSA surveillance scandal that many people have made indirectly, or implicitly, or seem to have assumed, but have not stated baldly and explicitly. That point is how this incident has laid bare the arrogance of our national security officials.

Because there are really two separate issues behind last week’s revelations. The first is, how much surveillance of the American people should the government conduct? The second is, who should decide how much surveillance of the American people the government should conduct?

And on that second question, the government has arrogated to itself the power to make that decision, unilaterally, in secret, on behalf of the American people.

In his only comments on this scandal, President Obama said,

Do Young People Care About Privacy?

Do Young People Care About Privacy?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:00am

Everywhere I go, I hear some variation of the claim that “young people today just don’t care about privacy.” This is something that people widely seem to believe is “just true.” The latest claim to this effect comes in the form of a new poll, the release of which was trumpeted with unfortunate headlines like “Millennials don’t worry about online privacy.”

In fact, the poll, which was conducted by the University of Southern California’s corporate-partnered Center for the Digital Future, showed no such thing. Although there were some differences between younger and older respondents,

Data Tunnel

Cyberalarmism's Threat to Privacy

By Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:26pm

This piece originally ran on Al Jazeera America.

When members of Congress talk cybersecurity, it doesn’t take long for the discussion to turn apocalyptic. The Feb. 27 meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee was no different when Lindsey…

Ignorant Armies Eavesdropping By Night?

Ignorant Armies Eavesdropping By Night?

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 10:11am

As revelations continue to pour forth about how the talents of thousands of brilliant math and computer experts are being utilized by the National Security Agency, we also saw last week the release of a report to Congress that attempts to defend the…

The Burdens of Total Surveillance

The Burdens of Total Surveillance

By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project at 1:33pm

Last week’s Washington Post report that the CIA had requested that Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev be placed on a terrorist watch list raises an interesting point about total surveillance societies: in addition to all their negative implications for citizens, they actually bring some disadvantages for the authorities as well.

It’s not clear what information the CIA’s request was based upon, but reportedly it came from Russian authorities. It is also possible that Tsarnaev’s communications were flagged by US agencies such as the NSA. Either way, it seems as though there’s a real possibility that Tamerlan’s name came to the attention of the authorities through some dragnet-style surveillance technique.

If so, the conundrum for the authorities is this:

Crop of image by afagen via Flickr

Dear Mr. President: Walk the Walk on Big Data

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:28pm

In the wake of the NSA scandals and daily corporate privacy invasions, the president asked one of his senior advisors, John Podesta, to perform a quick 90-day review of “big data” (corporate jargon for privacy) and lay out what next steps his administration…

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…

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