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Sharing your phone’s password at the border

We all understand the importance of border security these days and the importance of keeping dangerous people out of the country.

Yet this has also led to policies that can be very disturbing for the ordinary citizen. For example, authorities have the right to search your laptop when you’re entering the country. I’ve never experienced this but you can see how this will be used for travelers with high-risk profiles.

Which brings us to the story of a Canadian man who was charged at the Canadian border for not sharing the password from his phone upon returning from the Dominican Republic. Who knows why he refused – maybe he was partying with some hotties and had compromising photos. Maybe he really had something to hide. Or maybe like the rest of us he was appalled at the notion of border agents asking to browse through his phone.

Regardless, he’s in trouble now and the rest of us can only hope never to be in that situation.

Obama proposes FISA reforms

The great surveillance debate is about to heat up again, as President Obama has proposed reforms to the FISA court process in an attempt to address the criticisms of the NSA surveillance program. It will be fascinating to see how this debate evolves. Many of the reforms seem to make sense and suggest a willingness to reach a consensus on this issue. Still, many critics were not impressed. We’ll see how this goes.

Online privacy battle in California

Things are getting interesting in California. Tech companies are fighting privacy advocates over a California bill that would require companies like Facebook, Google and other social networks to disclose to users the personal data the services have collected and with whom they have shared it. It doesn’t restrict what they can do, but the disclosure requirements are still very controversial and could be very expensive.

Supreme Court rules unanimously in GPS case

A recent case highlighted new challenges for privacy in the modern world. Cops placed a GPS tracker on the car of a criminal suspect without getting a warrant. Fortunately, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court decision that ruled that this was a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution which prevents unreasonable searches without a warrant.

The court, however, declined to go further. Issues on other types of electronic surveillance will be left to another day.

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.

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