David Kirkpatrick

February 11, 2010

Big Brother …

… may well be a little electronic device in your pocket. It shouldn’t be shocking, but I never cease to be amazed at the unconstitutional power grabs the Federal government continues to attempt and take in terms of civil liberties and personal privacy. New technology is wonderful, but it is very important to track, and reign in, the long, sneaky arm of the Fed.

From the link:

If you own a cell phone, you should care about the outcome of a case scheduled to be argued in federal appeals court in Philadelphia tomorrow. It could well decide whether the government can use your cell phone to track you — even if it hasn’t shown probable cause to believe it will turn up evidence of a crime.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology will ask the court to require that the government at least show probable cause before it can track your whereabouts.

And:

There’s no question that cell phones and cell-phone records can be useful for police officers who need to track the movements of those they believe to be breaking the law. And it is important for law enforcement agents to have the tools they need to stop crimes. However, it is just as important to make sure such tools are used responsibly, in a manner that safeguards our personal privacy.

But documents obtained by the ACLU and the EFF as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show that the government takes advantage of this technology to track cell phones as extensively as possible — often without first obtaining warrants — except in states where courts step in to establish boundaries.

And here is the absolutely ridiculous government argument for retaining this right to breach your privacy:

The government has argued that “one who does not wish to disclose his movements to the government need not use a cellular telephone.” This is a startling and dismaying statement coming from the United States. The government is supposed to care about people’s privacy. It should not be forcing the nation’s 277 million cell-phone subscribers to choose between risking being tracked and going without an essential communications tool.

What’s at stake in the case is not whether it’s OK for the government to track the locations of cell phones; we agree that cell-phone tracking is lawful and appropriate in certain situations. The question is whether the government should first have to show that it has good reason to think such tracking will turn up evidence of a crime.

Update 2/13/10 — the above link and quotes are from the ACLU. Here’s the Cato Institute’s take on this issue. As with many, many public policy issues, Cato and the ACLU are in total agreement here.

December 4, 2009

Concerned about a website’s privacy policy? You have a forum

Not a bad idea from the Center for Democracy and Technology.

From the link:

Don’t like what a website has done with your personal information? Don’t understand its privacy policies? A new privacy complaint site is now open for business–created by an Internet freedom and privacy advocacy group in Washington, D.C. called the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).

Complaints can be shared with your social network via sites like Twitter and Facebook, and also forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). If enough complaints surface, it’s possible that the FTC will launch an investigation into whether a website is violate existing laws.

The larger point is to create a cudgel to get Congress interested  in enactingcomprehensive Internet privacy legislation. CDT has already put out a pretty good guide to online privacy problems, explaining existing and often narrowly-written patchwork of court rulings and laws, most of them falling hopelessly behind rapid technological advances.

October 12, 2009

A sad day for civil liberties

Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to extend the Patriot Act past the sunset provision slated to go into effect this year.

From the link:

Supporters of the Patriot Act say it gives law enforcement important powers to track down and investigate terrorists. Without the Patriot Act, U.S. law enforcement efforts to find terrorists would be significantly harmed, members of former President George Bush’s administration argued.

But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a digital rights group, both protested the Judiciary Committee’s decision to move the bill forward.

Click here to find out more!

Parts of the Patriot Act would expire at the end of the year if Congress doesn’t renew them. The Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted 11-8 to approve the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act with a handful of amendments.

One of the most controversial portions of the bill allows the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain warrantless subpoenas to get personal information from Internet service providers, telephone carriers and other businesses.

The National Security Letter (NSL) program allows the FBI, and potentially other U.S. agencies, to issue letters to businesses or organizations demanding information about targeted users or customers. E-mail messages and phone records are among the information that the FBI can seek in an NSL.