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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.

Surveillance gadgets for the holidays

We can gripe all we want about privacy, but the plain fact is that we can now be recorded for video and sound just about anywhere.

Of course this is useful for fun for people interested in tracking others, and that’ where surveillance gadgets come into play. With super-small HD video recorders, we’re seeing all sorts of surveillance and video recording equipment getting pushed in the consumer market. Now anyone can channel their inner 007 and spy on others.

Above we have a photo of the new Sony Digital Binoculars priced at $1,999.

Look into the first fully digital, 3D, high-def-recording binoculars and you’re not gazing through glass, you’re observing dual independent electronic viewfinders. Why’s that better? You can adjust the image, focus instantly, and with the push of a button start recording the identical view in 1080p high-def, and 3D. The possibilities for the DEV-5 are limitless—birding, sports action, checking out that apartment across the street with the hot neighbor who always leaves the lights on… ok, maybe not (better to simply take advice from The Girl Next Door by getting her tips on love, sex, and dating sent right to your inbox).

Along the same lines we have the Pivothead HD Recording Sunglasses which can be used to record everything around you with POV video. You can record your adventures, but also record other people of course.

Just keep in mind your local privacy laws when using these devices. It’s one thing to record video out in public, but it’s quite another to record people when they have an expectation of privacy.

Privacy, telematics and car insurance

Here’s a fascinating story of how car insurance companies can monitor your driving.

When Zshavina Meacher of Cleveland traded in her car for a new 2011 Chevy Malibu last summer, her insurance premium jumped to $510 every six months. Her insurer, Progressive Corp., asked her whether she wanted to cut her rate.

If Meacher agreed to install a device in her car that monitors how safely she drives and the results were good, her rates would go down. If the results weren’t so good, her rates would stay the same. She agreed.

During the first few weeks, the device told Meacher that she slammed on her brakes a lot. She stopped the hard braking.
In February, the 23-year-old’s insurance bill dropped by $120 per six months, or 24 percent.

Meacher is happy her rates went down. And Progressive is happy the risk of Meacher getting into an accident went down. Fewer claims will help keep Mayfield-based Progressive profitable.

If you haven’t heard of telematics — a device that monitors your driving — then get ready. While Progressive started dabbling in telematics in the 1990s, it started pushing it in 2010 with its “Snapshot” program, and other insurers have stepped up interest in the last year.

Of course this is voluntary monitoring, and safe drivers can save money on their car insurance, but it raises all sorts of privacy issues. What’s next? Will health insurers want constant monitoring of our heart rates to see if we are exercising?

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.

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.

Erin Andrews still fighting to take down videos

ESPN television sportscaster Erin Andrews arrives at the 2009 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles in this July 15, 2009 file photograph. Chicago insurance man Michael David Barrett was sentenced to 30 months in prison on March 15, 2010 for making nude videos through hotel peepholes of television sports reporter Erin Andrews and posting them on the Internet. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/Files (UNITED STATES – Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SPORT)

The beautiful Erin Andrews was violated a while back when some creep used a camera to film her undressing through the peep hole in the door to her hotel room. She’s still trying to deal with the videos taken from that incident.

But Andrews was also traumatized when peephole stalker Michael David Barrett posted nude videos of her that went viral. Barrett was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for interstate stalking. That sentence wasn’t nearly long enough for Andrews who blasted him as a “sexual predator” in court.

Andrews is buying copyrights of the videos in an attempt to take them down for good. Still, she’s reminded of her frightening experience every day on Twitter, where she has over 645,000 followers. She has a warning for any famous athlete, celebrity or media personality who wants to play the social media game. Learn to accept criticism. Ignore the urge to fire back — no matter how much you want to.

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 fight for the social web

The battle for privacy on social networking sites is heating up.

Privacy. It’s a word we hear a lot in the digital age, especially now that Facebook and Twitter are signing on users practically straight from the womb. It’s also a concept very few people understand. Just type your name into the search engine pipl.com. If you’re like me, you’re fortunate enough to have a fairly common name, but even then an alarming amount of information can show up. The funny thing about that search engine is everything on it is either in the public record or was shared by the person to whom it pertains. That’s right, we’re to blame for the vast majority of private information that is publicly available.

Legislators in California are trying to reduce the amount of information we accidentally share by imposing new privacy laws on social media.

The arguments against these regulations are ridiculous, so you have to read the entire articles, which also includes a story of a 14-year-old girl who created all sorts of issues for her family with her online social media accounts.

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