Free Markets, Free People

privacy


Whatever happened to tar and feathers?

This is the story of 20 year-old Tiawanda Moore. It seems she was dissatisfied with a contact she’d had with a Chicago police officer.

Moore, of Hammond, Ind., was being interviewed at police headquarters about her complaint that a patrol officer had grabbed her breast and given her his phone number when he came to her boyfriend’s South Side apartment on a domestic disturbance call.

No doubt the officer, having Moore’s best interests in mind, thought he would be a much better boyfriend. Sadly, Moore took this concern for her well-being amiss, and decided to file a complaint against the officer. At police headquarters, the investigating officers—who similarly appeared to have only Moore’s best interests at heart—suggested an alternate method of dispute resolution, that is to say, to drop her complaint entirely, as they preferred not to conduct a formal investigation, which would, really, just be an inconvenience to everyone involved. At that time, Moore decided to record the remainder of the conversation.

On the muffled recording, which was played for the jury Tuesday, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo can be heard explaining to Moore that if she dropped the complaint, they could “almost guarantee” that the harassment would not happen again. He also suggested that going that route might save her the time and aggravation of a full investigation.

Ah. You see, if she decided not to demand a formal investigation, the IA investigators could "almost guarantee" that the breast-grabbing officer would get the word to cool his jets. And, isn’t an "almost guarantee" good enough? Not for Moore, apparently, who decided to use her Blackberry to record the conversation, because she felt, for some incomprehensible reason, that the Chicago Police Department might be downplaying her complaint.

And that’s why this case is being heard by a jury, as the quote above indicates.

The officers, of course, are not being tried for corruption or dereliction of duty, of course. Tiawanda Moore is the defendant, on two counts of—I kid you not—eavesdropping on a public official. In response to questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh, Moore said:

“I was sure about what I wanted to do –I wanted him (the officer) to be at least fired from his job,” Moore testified. “I wanted justice, I wanted to be protected.”

But this is not the Chicago Way. The Chicago Way is to slap down hard any civilian peasant who presumes to record their politically-protected betters in a possible wrongdoing.

On the one hand, of course, we all know what the eventual result of an internal affairs investigation would be. The police would carefully investigate the police, and after due course would conclude that the police had done nothing wrong. And recording public officials without their knowledge when they are engaged in corrupt behavior might actually endanger their ability to engage in corruption.

On the other hand, all this could have been avoided by dropping her complaint in return for almost a guarantee that she won’t be bothered in the future.

But in Chicago, public officials, engaged in public duties on the public’s dime, have an expectation of privacy, and cannot be recorded without their consent. You, as a member of the public, can be recorded by the police at any time, with or without your consent, but you can never record them unless they graciously allow it.

The only possible reason for such a law, as far as I’m concerned, is to protect corrupt officials, and to prevent the public from exposing it.

We don’t drag public officials naked and screaming out of their offices to tar and feather them any more. Indeed, we can barely muster up the will to toss out incumbents who vote for such laws. But in a just world, , the Illinos Legislature, Internal Affairs Officer Luis Alejo and Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jo Murtaugh would, even now, be sporting the sleek plumage of an Albatross from the Exxon Valdez.

UPDATE: A commenter informs me the jury appears to have done the right thing and acquitted Moore. Still, none of the other players are sporting a heavy layer of fine down, so the glass is only half full.

~
Dale Franks
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Hey iPhone users, how do you like this?

Unsurprising, really, but certainly something I think Apple needs to hear about from consumers:

Apple Inc. is now collecting the “precise,” “real-time geographic location” of its users’ iPhones, iPads and computers.

In an updated version of its privacy policy, the company added a paragraph noting that once users agree, Apple and unspecified “partners and licensees” may collect and store user location data.

When users attempt to download apps or media from the iTunes store, they are prompted to agree to the new terms and conditions. Until they agree, they cannot download anything through the store.

The company says the data is anonymous and does not personally identify users. Analysts have shown, however, that large, specific data sets can be used to identify people based on behavior patterns.

Now I’m like most people – I don’t have the time or interest, usually, to read the “I agree” statements that accompany many software updates and licenses. Most of us automatically hit the “I agree” button and get on with business.

And I also know that it is up to me (i.e. my responsibility) to read those things and if I don’t then what they do is on me for not doing so.

That said, when I either have to agree to use the produce and software I’ve already paid for or else, then I think there’s a certain level of coercion involved that I find disturbing.

So – given the circumstance (and no, I don’t have an iPhone), this should be something clearly stated by Apple with an “opt in” clause, where it is the customer’s option to let the consumer decide to share their data – not the other way around.

Until then, I think iPhone users ought to raise holy hell with Apple until they change their agreement.

~McQ


Cell Phone Records: “No Reasonable Expectation Of Privacy”

Is there an “expectation of privacy” pertaining to your cell phone’s records?  Or any records held by a third party provider?

The Obama administration is arguing that there isn’t:

In that case, the Obama administration has argued that Americans enjoy no “reasonable expectation of privacy” in their—or at least their cell phones’—whereabouts. U.S. Department of Justice lawyers say that “a customer’s Fourth Amendment rights are not violated when the phone company reveals to the government its own records” that show where a mobile device placed and received calls.

In other words, since the provider keeps the records (not you) as mandated by law, those records belong to them and thus should be open to government inspection without permission from you or a court.

Now, there’s an argument to be made in terms of law enforcement needs. For instance, a series of bank robberies took place over a wide area. Combing the records for cell towers in the area of each robbery allowed law enforcement to narrow it down to two cell phone users who made calls in each area just before the robberies. Good police work. But shouldn’t they have to go before a judge and justify their desire to look at these records? I’m not sure they didn’t, but essentially the Justice Department is trying to argue that such a justification and court order should be unnecessary.

Ironic from an administration that was so strident about opposing warrantless wiretaps.

The question is, should those records be considered private? Jim Harper argues at Cato that those records are the modern equivalent of “papers and effects” protected by the 4th Amendment and that the court has misinterpreted that since 1967.

These holdings were never right, but they grow more wrong with each step forward in modern, connected living. Incredibly deep reservoirs of information are constantly collected by third-party service providers today. Cellular telephone networks pinpoint customers’ locations throughout the day through the movement of their phones. Internet service providers maintain copies of huge swaths of the information that crosses their networks, tied to customer identifiers. Search engines maintain logs of searches that can be correlated to specific computers and usually the individuals that use them. Payment systems record each instance of commerce, and the time and place it occurred. The totality of these records are very, very revealing of people’s lives. They are a window onto each individual’s spiritual nature, feelings, and intellect. They reflect each American’s beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and sensations. They ought to be protected, as they are the modern iteration of our “papers and effects.”

I agree with Harper.  Technology has changed how those records are kept, but they are still private records between the provider and the subscriber – especially since, for the most part, much of the data recorded is gathered without our permission. What I see in the case by the Obama administration is another attempt at government data mining – domestic intelligence – something which Democrats and libertarians were adamantly against when various schemes were uncovered during the Bush administration.

This attempt is subtly different. Instead of just assuming that there is no expectation of privacy and going ahead and demanding the information, the administration is attempting to have the court okay it first. But the result will be the same – unimpeded access by government to your location at any time (as long as you have a cell phone). It is but a short step from there to do what Harper outlines: data mining from various other providers based on the same argument and with this case as precedence. Result: a profile of you containing private data about your movements, spending habits, places visited on the internet, etc that are really none of the government’s business.

Of course, we all know that Big Brother government would never misuse or abuse this information, don’t we?

As Harper concludes, this is an imporant case which needs to be watched closely:

This is a case to watch, as it will help determine whether or not your digital life is an open book to government investigators.

~McQ


Aren’t We Glad We Got “Change”?

Via Ace, apparently a 9 year old federal ban is being lifted. Unfortunately it’s not a ban on off-shore drilling or school vouchers being lifted. It’s a ban on the federal government collecting information on you that’s being lifted:

The White House is reversing a nine-year-old policy forbidding the use of tracking cookies on those who visit federal websites.

You know its a problem when even the ACLU is alarmed:

Since 2000, it has been the policy of the federal government not to use such technology. But the OMB is now seeking to change that policy and is considering the use of cookies for tracking web visitors across multiple sessions and storing their unique preferences and surfing habits. Though this is a major shift in policy, the announcement of this program consists of only a single page from the federal register that contains almost no detail.

This is a sea change in government privacy policy,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Acting Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Without explaining this reversal of policy, the OMB is seeking to allow the mass collection of personal information of every user of a federal government website. Until the OMB answers the multitude of questions surrounding this policy shift, we will continue to raise our strenuous objections.”

The use of cookies allows a website to differentiate between users and build a database of each user’s viewing habits and the information they share with the site. Since web surfers frequently share information like their name or email address (if they’ve signed up for a service) or search request terms, the use of cookies frequently allows a user’s identity and web surfing habits to be linked. In addition, websites can allow third parties, such as advertisers, to also place cookies on a user’s computer.

“Americans rely on the information from the federal government to research politics, medical issues and legal requirements. The OMB is now asking to retain the personal and identifiable information we leave behind,” said Christopher Calabrese, Counsel for the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project. “No American should have to sacrifice privacy or risk surveillance in order to access free government information. No policy change should be adopted without wide ranging debate including information on the restrictions and uses of cookies as well as impact on privacy.”

No matter how benign the original intent of this change may be, I don’t want government collecting information on anything I do on the internet. And it isn’t a matter of “if you don’t do bad things you shouldn’t care”. I do care regardless of what I do. It is simply none of the government’s business.

As for “benign intent”, who the heck knows who will have access to what is essentially private information and what they will do with it. We have privacy laws in this country which restricts government from collecting private information. I believe this to be in violation of the intent of those laws. And, for once, I’m in agreement with the ACLU – “No policy change should be adopted.” I’ll go one further though – “No policy change should be adopted, period. No “debate” necessary.”

~McQ


More Extensive Executive Power Proposed By Congress

Al Gore may have ‘invented’ it, but the Congress may give Obama control of it. The report is from Mother Jones:

Should President Obama have the power to shut down domestic Internet traffic during a state of emergency?

Senators John Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) think so. On Wednesday they introduced a bill to establish the Office of the National Cybersecurity Advisor—an arm of the executive branch that would have vast power to monitor and control Internet traffic to protect against threats to critical cyber infrastructure. That broad power is rattling some civil libertarians.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (PDF) gives the president the ability to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” and shut down or limit Internet traffic in any “critical” information network “in the interest of national security.” The bill does not define a critical information network or a cybersecurity emergency. That definition would be left to the president.

The bill does not only add to the power of the president. It also grants the Secretary of Commerce “access to all relevant data concerning [critical] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access.” This means he or she can monitor or access any data on private or public networks without regard to privacy laws.

So you have an unelected Secretary of Commerce able to access all of the data on the private or public networks without regard to privacy laws – yeah, no possibility of abuse there, huh?

The bill could undermine the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), says CDT senior counsel Greg Nojeim. That law, enacted in the mid ’80s, requires law enforcement seek a warrant before tapping in to data transmissions between computers.

“It’s an incredibly broad authority,” Nojeim says, pointing out that existing privacy laws “could fall to this authority.”

It will be interesting to see if we hear the same sort of outcry from the left pertaining to warrants as we heard about FISA if this passes.

“We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs—from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records—the list goes on,” Rockefeller said in a statement. Snowe echoed her colleague, saying, “if we fail to take swift action, we, regrettably, risk a cyber-Katrina.”

And apparently the possibility of a “cyber-Katrina” means that any Constitutional right you may have to privacy can be waived.

Comforting, no?

~McQ

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