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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.

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.

Security gifts for the home

The holidays are here so everyone is going crazy getting gifts. One area that is perhaps overlooked at times for gifts is home security, though now with all sorts of surveillance gadgets tied to the Internet, you have some really cool options in this area that can make for great gifts.

Here’s one that is highlighted in the Bullz-Eye.com Holiday Gift Guide for the home:

iZON Remote Room Monitor

If anyone in your family or circle of friends has just had a baby or is expecting, this cool new monitor from Stem Innovation makes a great gift. This innovative and elegant video camera enables you to view and listen to activity in your home or office from anywhere in the world on your iPod touch, iPhone or iPad. You can use it as a baby monitor, or as a monitor in your home when the babysitter is watching your kid. It can also be used as a security device as well so it also makes a great gift for anyone who’s interested in a video monitor. Privacy is also protected ensured as iZON uses secure encryption to stream video and audio through your local wireless network. Set up multiple iZON on a single network and view in a list within the app.

It’s amazing how flexible these tools are these days, and here you have an easy dual use device that can be a baby monitor but also so much more. It’s a great way to keep an eye on your home, kids, pets etc. Check it out.

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!

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.

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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