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Welfare drug testing law in Florida blocked by judge

Florida’s Tea Party governor, Rick Scott, has pretty much been a disaster. One of his worst initiatives was to institute drug testing for anyone receiving welfare benefits.

Not only is this a gross violation of privacy rights, it also perpetuates our insane drug war and wastes taxpayer money at a time when budgets are being savaged.

A federal judge was not impressed with the new law:

A federal judge temporarily blocked Florida’s new law that requires welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits on Monday, saying it may violate the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Mary Scriven ruled in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of a 35-year-old Navy veteran and single father who sought the benefits while finishing his college degree, but refused to take the test. The judge said there was a good chance plaintiff Luis Lebron would succeed in his challenge to the law based on the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals from being unfairly searched.

The drug test can reveal a host of private medical facts about the individual, Scriven wrote, adding that she found it “troubling” that the drug tests are not kept confidential like medical records. The results can also be shared with law enforcement officers and a drug abuse hotline.

“This potential interception of positive drug tests by law enforcement implicates a `far more substantial’ invasion of privacy than in ordinary civil drug testing cases,” said Scriven, who was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Hopefully he’s right and this idiotic law will be held unconstitutional.

Appeals court says you can film and record police officers

This is a great ruling, and not really unexpected. It’s outrageous that cops tried to prevent citizens from recording them:

We’ve had a lot of stories this year about police arresting people for filming them. It’s become quite a trend. Even worse, a couple weeks ago, we wrote about a police officer in Massachusetts, Michael Sedergren, who is trying to get criminal wiretapping charges brought against a woman who filmed some police officers beating a guy. This officer claims that the woman violated Massachusetts anti-wiretapping law, a common claim from police in such situations.

Segederin may have been better off if he’d waited a couple weeks for an appeals court ruling that came out Friday, because that ruling found that arresting someone for filming the police is a clear violation of both the First Amendment and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. How the case got to this point is a bit complex, but basically, a guy named Simon Glik saw some police arresting someone in Boston, and thought they were using excessive force. He took out his camera phone and began recording. The police saw that and told him to stop taking pictures. He told them he was recording them, and that he’d seen them punch the guy they were arresting. One officer asked him if the phone recorded audio as well and Glik told him it did. At that point, they arrested him, saying that recording audio was a violation of Massachusetts wiretap laws.

Even more ridiculous, they then had him charged not just with that, but also with disturbing the peace and “aiding in the escape of a prisoner.” After realizing that last one didn’t even pass the guffaw test, Massachusetts officials dropped that charge. A Boston court then dumped the other charges and Glik was free. However, he wanted to take things further, as he thought his treatment was against the law. He first filed a complaint with Boston Police Internal Affairs who promptly set about totally ignoring it. After they refused to investigate, Glik sued the officers who arrested him and the City of Boston in federal court for violating both his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The police officers filed for qualified immunity, which is designed to protect them from frivolous charges from people they arrest.

The district court rejected the officers’ rights to qualified immunity, saying that their actions violated the First & Fourth Amendments. Before the rest of the case could go on, the officers appealed, and that brings us to Friday’s ruling, which, once again, unequivocally states that recording police in public is protected under the First Amendment, and that the use of Massachusetts wiretapping laws to arrest Glik was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights as well. The ruling (pdf) is a fantastic and quick read and makes the point pretty clearly. Best of all, it not only says that it was a clear violation, but that the officers were basically full of it in suggesting that this was even in question. The court more or less slams the officers for pretending they had a valid excuse to harass a guy who filmed them arresting someone.

Read the rest of the post at Tech Dirt which also links to the opinion.

Consult your local laws before recording anyone without consent

This story is crazy, and it demonstrates how many of our laws are outdated.

In Illinois, it’s illegal to record anyone without their consent, including police officers! A woman is now charged with a crime for recording a conversation with a police officer who was assaulting her sexually.

This has naturally sparked outrage from various groups.

But the lesson here is you have to be very careful if you’re going to use surveillance equipment to monitor anyone. Check your local laws first!

The cyber security issue

The recent Sony case highlights the depth of the problem:

Sony is run by a bunch of greedy morons who stupidly left their systems vulnerable to an attack by hackers: This is the conventional explanation of how the company finds itself bent into a familiar pose of contrition, following news that cyber-pirates breached its defenses, potentially gaining access to troves of valuable information — credit card numbers, email addresses — for more than 100 million customers.

If only life were so soothingly simple. The Sony data hack and the predictable pursuit of villains carries a dose of false comfort, implicitly affirming the assumption that someone must have fouled up to create such a menace to privacy and commerce; someone must have failed in a readily identifiable way, because this surely can’t be the ordinary state of events. But the blame narrative masks an unsettling question: What if Sony did the best it could to protect itself, and the pirates still won? What if the company employed the best defenses available, yet they proved inadequate in the face of a decentralized and proliferating threat?

Sony has captured headlines because it is one of the world’s most conspicuous consumer brands, and the recent attacks on its network have been both brazen and successful. But the list of companies that have been targeted by similar plots is lengthy and growing.

The problem is that we don’t focus enough resources on this issue, and we don’t go after simple targets.

Take simple spam. It’s all over the place. But if we pursued these idiots aggressively, we would start to build an apparatus that would start to root out cyber criminals at all levels.

We need to get serious about these issues, and stop wasting time on things like online poker.

It’s also one of the few areas where the interests of security and privacy converge.

A win for privacy . . .

This seems like a reasonable ruling.

Giving privacy-rights advocates and civil libertarians an important victory, a federal appeals court ruled that police conducted an illegal warrant-less search by planting a GPS device in a drug-case suspect’s car and tracking him for a month.

In ruling Friday that the police violated the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that by almost any measure, planting a GPS device, then following a person for several weeks conflicted with an individual’s reasonable expectations for privacy.

It will be interesting to see how the law develops for personal spying and private investigators.

Digital Due Process coalition

Many are now concerned about web privacy, so a group of companies have formed the Digital Due Process coalition to advocate for clearer laws to protect privacy online. The opening paragraphs from the web site for this group explains their position.

ECPA Reform: Why Now?

The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) was a forward-looking statute when enacted in 1986. It specified standards for law enforcement access to electronic communications and associated data, affording important privacy protections to subscribers of emerging wireless and Internet technologies. Technology has advanced dramatically since 1986, and ECPA has been outpaced. The statute has not undergone a significant revision since it was enacted in 1986 – light years ago in Internet time.

As a result, ECPA is a patchwork of confusing standards that have been interpreted inconsistently by the courts, creating uncertainty for both service providers and law enforcement agencies. ECPA can no longer be applied in a clear and consistent way, and, consequently, the vast amount of personal information generated by today’s digital communication services may no longer be adequately protected. At the same time, ECPA must be flexible enough to allow law enforcement agencies and services providers to work effectively together to combat increasingly sophisticated cyber-criminals or sexual predators.

The time for an update to the ECPA is now. For more than a year, privacy advocates, legal scholars, and major Internet and communications service providers have been engaged in a dialogue to explore how the ECPA applies to new services and technologies. We have developed consensus around the notion of a core set of principles intended to simplify, clarify, and unify the ECPA standards; provide clearer privacy protections for subscribers taking into account changes in technology and usage patterns; and preserve the legal tools necessary for government agencies to enforce the laws and protect the public.

Richard Clarke and cybersecurity

Richard Clarke is one of our leading experts on national security, and he has made cybersecurity his pet project. He’s written a new book on the subject, and he’s very critical of our nation’s efforts to combat digital terror, and he’s also critical of the efforts of companies to protect their own information.

His recommendations are summarized in a recent article in BusinessWeek, and they include getting serious about industrial espionage and creating information quarantines.

The privacy implications don’t appear obvious at first blush, but as with most security efforts, the privacy problems come out later as new policies and tactics are implemented.

Privacy in the digital age

Everything has changed. In the past ten years we’ve reached a tipping point where technology involving surveillance and the sharing of information has become so pervasive and inexpensive that we can no longer assume that our actions or words will be kept private.

Add in the dangers posed by terrorists and criminals, and now we have a greater appetite for compromising privacy in exchange for greater security.

We started this blog to address the tensions between the competing needs for security and privacy. We’ll also address the tools out there that citizens can use to shield their privacy, along with the tools that can be used to get information . . . even about others.

In the end, we will need to make choices about how to balance these interests as a society, and each individual will need to come to their own conclusions about how to live in the new environment. For example, if you could spy on your spouse or significant other, would you do it? Would you place a GPS device on their car? How much surveillance is appropriate regarding your children? Get used to these difficult questions.

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