Category Archives: Privacy

Do Not Track

Brian Fung of the Washington Post’s Switch blog writes on the state of privacy in web browsing and the policy proposal known as Do Not Track.

So where do the Do Not Track negotiations go from here? In the wake of Wednesday’s poll, the W3C is not expected to terminate the group. Instead, it might settle for establishing a definition for Do Not Track without laying out steps for compliance. Meanwhile, the Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry organization that recently exited the W3C working group, is developing its own draft standards. So while the W3C’s attempt may have stalled, Do Not Track may still have some life left.

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Navigating Homosex

“Even if the internet helps men find sex with men outside the gay identity, they’re still not safe from the heterosexual regime,” writes Huw Lemmey in The New Inquiry.

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LinkedIn And The Invisible Employment Screen

My new piece at The New Inquiry:

Far from a buggy nuisance, this kind of openness is LinkedIn’s hallmark feature. As BuzzFeed’s listicles overlord Ben Smith chirped, “LinkedIn’s stalker problem is not totally unrelated to how awesome it is as a reporting tool.” Unlike the more social networks whose overriding ethos is YOLO, the employment site only wants to see the front, business-side of your mullet. By showcasing CVs and work affiliations, LinkedIn operates as a professional safe space. Here, you know for sure prospective employers are looking. As a designated network for the interaction between us and our would-be bosses, LinkedIn ostensibly guards against the rampant and potentially illegal practice of the invisible employment screen.

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After Petition Against CISPA, Obama Responds

Responding to a petition signed by over 100,000 people on the White House’s We The People website, the Obama Administration has issued clarifying remarks on its stance towards CISPA. The President does not support the version of CISPA that the House of Representatives passed earlier this month. And as the Senate is expected to put forth its own version of the bill, Obama hopes to provide guidance for any new legislation.

According to Obama’s official response, the Administration will only stand by information-sharing legislation that embody “three key principles.”

1. “minimizing information that can be used to identify specific individuals.” This means erring on the side of discretion regarding the personal information of users/clients especially if that data is irrelevant to a specific cyber attack.

This, of course, is uncomfortably vague. Without the need for warrants, how will government agencies and private companies decide what is relevant information and what is not?

2. “new information should enter the government through a civilian department rather than an intelligence agency.” Here, Obama would like to see that the data collected under the protection of CISPA is gathered not by the NSA or the CIA but through civilian channels, like the Department of Homeland Security.

A longstanding American axiom: the CIA should not be able to spy on US citizens.

3. “Any new legislation ought to provide legal clarity for companies…But it should not provide broad immunity for businesses and organizations.” The Administration is hoping to guard against “unwarranted disclosure of personal information,” as well as practices that would “likely to cause damage to third parties.”

This last principle hopes to rid the legislation of dangerously broad language that would embolden companies to needlessly turn over damning personal data.

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Updating an E-Mail Law From the Last Century

Somini Sengupta reports in the New York Times

The current statute requires a warrant for e-mails that are less than six months old. But it lets the authorities gain access to older communications — or bizarrely, e-mails that have already been opened — with just a subpoena and no judicial review.

The law governs the privacy of practically everything entrusted to the Internet — family photos stored with a Web service, journal entries kept online, company documents uploaded to the cloud, and the flurry of e-mails exchanged every day. The problem is that it was written when the cloud was just vapor in the sky.

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The FBI And Gmail Spying Powers

“It’s no secret that under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the feds can easily obtain archive copies of emails. When it comes to spying on emails or Gchat in real time, however, it’s a different story, writes Ryan Gallagher of Slate.

From the perspective of law enforcement, the data that passes through email, cloud services and chat is difficult to monitor in real time. As Gallagher notes, “That’s because a 1994 surveillance law called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act only allows the government to force Internet providers and phone companies to install surveillance equipment within their networks.” For newer forms of communication, the FBI’s spying power is restricted.

Gallagher summarizes a recent speech by the FBI’s general counsel, Andrew Weissmann, and reports that the agency will push a proposal this year to expand their “Internet spy powers.”

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Google Testifies To Congress Calling For Email Privacy

Writing on The Verge, Carl Franzen reports that Google’s legal director, Richard Salgado, will testify in front of a subcommittee in the House of Representatives. Salgado will argue for a legislative update on the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA).

The subcommittee’s meeting subject: “Lawful access to stored content,” will deal with our society’s mismatch between new information technology and outdated legal paradigms.

Other companies and privacy advocates have spent years calling for updates to ECPA. The law currently gives government agencies and law enforcement organizations the ability to request all user email older than 180 days with just a subpoena, while access to newer email requires a stricter search warrant. The law has also been used to enable the government to request other cloud-based user information and even mobile device location information. But Google and those calling for reform want to see search warrants required to access all stored web user info and emails, regardless of their freshness or whether users have opened them.

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Google Concedes That Drive-by Prying Violated Privacy

Google Car

The New York Times/Karen Bleier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

David Streitfeld reports on the New York Times:

Google on Tuesday acknowledged to state officials that it had violated people’s privacy during its Street View mapping project when it casually scooped up passwords, e-mail and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users…

The Street View case arose out of Google’s deployment of special vehicles to photograph the houses and offices lining the world’s avenues and boulevards and lanes. For several years, the company also secretly collected personal information — e-mail, medical and financial records, passwords — as it cruised by. It was data-scooping from millions of unencrypted wireless networks.

Proposed Ohio Law Would Officially Allow Snooping on Kids’ Text Messages, Calls, and Emails

Writing on Slate, Ryan Gallagher reports on an Ohio representative’s bill that would enable adults to monitor their children’s digital communication.

“Rep. Brian Hill, R-Zanesville, is pushing to amend a state wiretapping law…making it permissible for parents, grandparents, guardians, and custodians to snoop on their kids’ communications so long as they are under the age of 18. The interception would have to be made, according to the proposed law, “in good faith for the protection of the child.”

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Even If It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected

In it’s 2nd social media report, the National Labor Relations Board aims to protect employees’ rights to speech.  The memo “covers 14 cases, half of which involve questions about employer social media policies…The remaining cases involved discharges of employees after they posted comments to Facebook.”

Writing in The New York Times, Steven Greenhouse goes through some of these cases and helps explain what kind of things employees can say online and what things can rightfully get someone fired.

The labor board’s rulings, which apply to virtually all private sector employers, generally tell companies that it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.

Greenhouse also mentions that California and Illinois recently joined 4 other states in preventing companies from forcing workers to hand over their social media passwords.

The author quotes the president of the National Workrights Institute, Lewis L. Maltby: “No one should be fired for anything they post that’s legal, off-duty and not job-related.”

These rulings do not apply to public sector workers, however. And as Greenhouse reminds us, the internet speech of teachers, police officers, corporate execs and college students falls into a bizarro grey area that we are only beginning to grapple with.

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