Privacy News StoriesExcerpts of Key Privacy News Stories in Major Media
Note: This comprehensive list of privacy news stories is usually updated once a week. Explore our full index to revealing excerpts of key major media news stories on several dozen engaging topics. And don't miss amazing excerpts from 20 of the most revealing news articles ever published.
It started with a fingerprint of a 25-year-old college professor who opposed the Vietnam War and ended with a search for his remains, 32 years later, in a wooded area near Eveleth, Minn. The FBI's files on Paul and Sheila Wellstone [show that] the FBI initially took interest in Wellstone as part of the broader surveillance of the American left ... and, in the end, [sifted] through the wreckage of the fatal plane crash that killed Wellstone and seven others eight years ago. Wellstone's surviving sons declined to comment on the documents, which were obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by MPR News. The FBI did not include 76 pages related to the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigated the crash. A request for those records is pending. Coleen Rowley, the 9/11 whistleblower and former chief legal advisor in the FBI's Minneapolis office, said the documents from 1970 shed light on the FBI's far-reaching efforts to quash political dissent. "I think this really is valuable … because it's basically history repeating what we have right now," she said, noting the recent FBI raids at the homes of several anti-war organizers in Minneapolis. Wellstone's arrest occurred less than a year before the official end of Cointelpro, a series of secret domestic surveillance programs created by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to monitor and disrupt groups deemed to be a threat to national security.
Note: For insights into the deeper implications of Senator Wellstone's mysterious plane crash, click here.
A privacy watchdog has uncovered a government memo that encourages federal agents to befriend people on a variety of social networks, to take advantage of their readiness to share -- and to spy on them. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the government released a handful of documents, including a May 2008 memo detailing how social-networking sites are exploited by the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS). Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Digg had not commented on the report, which details the official government program to spy via social networking. Other websites the government is spying on include ... Craigslist and Wikipedia, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which filed the FOIA request. "Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuel a need to have a large group of 'friends' link to their pages, and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don't even know," stated one of the documents obtained by the EFF. "This provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS to observe the daily life of [members]," it said. Among the networks specifically cited for analysis "were general social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Flickr, as well as sites that focus specifically on certain demographic groups such as MiGente and BlackPlanet, news sites such as NPR, and political commentary sites DailyKos," the EFF wrote.
Note: For more information, read the full report at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old computer salesman and community-college student, took his car in for an oil change earlier this month and his mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage. The wire was attached to a strange magnetic device that puzzled Afifi and the mechanic. They freed it from the car and posted images of it online, asking for help in identifying it. Two days later, FBI agents arrived at Afifi's Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global-positioning-system tracking device now at the center of a raging legal debate over privacy rights. One federal judge wrote that the widespread use of the device was straight out of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four." By holding that this kind of surveillance doesn't impair an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, the panel hands the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives," wrote Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a blistering dissent in which a three-judge panel from his court ruled that search warrants weren't necessary for GPS tracking. In his dissent, Chief Judge Kozinski noted that GPS technology is far different from tailing a suspect on a public road, which requires the active participation of investigators. "The devices create a permanent electronic record that can be compared, contrasted and coordinated to deduce all manner of private information about individuals," Kozinksi wrote.
Note: For an AP photo of this device, click here.
News that the US is buying custom-made vans packed with something called backscatter X-ray capacity has riled privacy advocates and sparked internet worries about "feds radiating Americans." American Science & Engineering, a Billerica, Mass.-company, tells Forbes it [has] sold more than 500 ZBVs, or Z Backscatter Vans, to US and foreign governments. The Department of Defense has bought the most for war zone use, but US law enforcement has also deployed the vans to [use] inside the US, according to Joe Reiss, a company spokesman. On [September 28], a counterterror operation snarled truck traffic on I-20 near Atlanta, where Department of Homeland Security teams used mobile X-ray technology to check the contents of truck trailers. Authorities said the inspections weren't prompted by any specific threat. Backscatter X-ray is already part of an ongoing national debate about its use in so-called full body scanners being deployed in many US airports. [Critics] worry that radiating Americans without their knowledge is evidence of gradually eroding constitutional protections in the post-9/11 age. "This is another way in which the government is capturing information they may lose control over. I just have some real problems with the idea of even beginning a campaign of rolling surveillance of American citizens, which is what this essentially is said [Vermont-based privacy expert Frederick Lane, author of American Privacy.]
Note: For further reports from reliable sources on the militarization of US police forces, click here.
Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone. Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages. James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design. “They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”
Note: For an analysis of this new government move to spy on US citizens, click here. For lots more from reliable sources on disturbing government threats to privacy and civil liberties, click here and here.
That photo of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riding one of the first desegregated buses in Montgomery, Ala.? He took it. The well-known image of black sanitation workers carrying “I Am a Man” signs in Memphis? His. He was there in Room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel, Dr. King’s room, on the night he was assassinated. But now an unsettling asterisk must be added to the legacy of Ernest C. Withers, one of the most celebrated photographers of the civil rights era: He was a paid F.B.I. informer. On [September 12], The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two-year investigation that showed Mr. Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two F.B.I. agents in the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil rights movement. From at least 1968 to 1970, Mr. Withers, who was black, provided photographs, biographical information and scheduling details to two F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s Memphis domestic surveillance program, Howell Lowe and William H. Lawrence, according to numerous reports summarizing their meetings. The reports were obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on its Web site. While he was growing close to top civil rights leaders, Mr. Withers was also meeting regularly with the F.B.I. agents, disclosing details about plans for marches and political beliefs of the leaders, even personal information like the leaders’ car tag numbers.
Note: For a fascinating CNN interview with civil rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young on this issue, click here. For key reports from reliable sources raising unanswered questions about the assassination of Martin Luther King and other major US political leaders, click here.
The U.S. government will have unmanned surveillance aircraft monitoring the whole southwest border with Mexico from September 1, as it ramps up border security in this election year. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said U.S. Customs and Border Protection would begin flying a Predator B drone out of Corpus Christi, Texas, on [that date], extending the reach of the agency's unmanned surveillance aircraft across the length of the nearly 2,000 mile border with Mexico. "With the deployment of the Predator in Texas, we will now be able to cover the southwest border from the El Centro sector in California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, providing critical aerial surveillance assistance to personnel on the ground," Napolitano said during a conference call. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed a $600 million bill that would fund some 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and other law enforcement officials along the border, as well as paying for two more unmanned drones. The Predator B drones are made by defense contractor General Atomics. They carry equipment including sophisticated day and night vision cameras that operators use to detect drug and human smugglers, and can stay aloft for up to 30 hours at a time.
Note: How long will it be before aerial surveillance drones, now positioned over the southern border of the US, are deployed in other parts of the country?
One of the fastest-growing online businesses is the business of spying on Internet users by using sophisticated software to track movements through the Web, so that the information can be sold to advertisers. Julia Angwin recently led a team of reporters from The Wall Street Journal in analyzing the tracking software. They discovered that nearly all of the most commonly visited websites gather information in real time about the behavior of online users. The Journal series identified more than 100 tracking companies, data brokers and advertising networks collecting data — which are then sold on a stock market-like exchange to online advertisers. Angwin explains how consumer surveillance works, how users can disable the tracking software — and how advertisers are continually evolving to keep up with the data they receive. She notes that many Internet users are unaware that their information is being tracked and then traded. "Most people that we have heard from since writing these stories did not know what was going on," Angwin explains. "So when you go to a website, you're not thinking about the fact that they might have relationships with all different types of monitoring firms, and those firms are installing things that are invisible to you on your computer."
Note: Julia Angwin is senior technology editor of The Wall Street Journal, and author of the book, Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America. For lots more on growing threats to privacy, click here.
Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn't violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn't tracking your movements. That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant. It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell. It is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich. Plenty of liberals have objected to this kind of spying, but it is the conservative Chief Judge Kozinski who has done so most passionately. "1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it's here at last," he lamented in his dissent. And invoking Orwell's totalitarian dystopia where privacy is essentially nonexistent, he warned: "Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we're living in Oceania."
Note: For key reports from reliable souces on increasing government threats to civil liberties, click here.
Mexico's sixth-largest city, Leon, is on the road to ... a future in which everyone is tracked wherever they go. Fast Company reports that U.S. biometrics firm Global Rainmakers and its Mexican partner announced yesterday that they have begun installing iris-scanning technology in the city of more than 1 million in Guanajuato state. The companies aim ... to create "the most secure city in the world." The first phase concentrates on law enforcement and security checkpoints. Then the iris scanners, which the firms say can "identify humans in motion and at a distance while ensuring liveness," will fill malls, pharmacies, mass transit, medical centers and banks, "among other public and private locations," Fast Company writes. "In the future, whether it's entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris," says Jeff Carter, CDO of Global Rainmakers. Before coming to GRI, Carter headed a think tank partnership between Bank of America, Harvard, and MIT. "Every person, place, and thing on this planet will be connected [to the iris system] within the next 10 years," he says.
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on threats to privacy, click here.
The growing use by the police of new technologies that make surveillance far easier and cheaper to conduct is raising difficult questions about the scope of constitutional privacy rights. The issue is whether the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches covers a device that records a suspect’s movements for weeks or months without any need for an officer to trail him. The GPS tracking dispute coincides with a burst of other technological tools that expand police monitoring abilities — including ... the widely discussed prospect of linking face-recognition computer programs to the proliferating number of surveillance cameras. Some legal scholars ... have called for a fundamental rethinking of how to apply Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the 21st century. Traditionally, courts have held that the Fourth Amendment does not cover the trailing of a suspect because people have no expectation of privacy for actions exposed to public view. On [August 12], five judges on the San Francisco appeals court dissented from a decision not to re-hear a ruling upholding the warrantless use of GPS trackers. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski characterized the tactic as “creepy and un-American” and contended that its capabilities handed “the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives.”
It is just a technical matter, the Obama administration says: We just need to make a slight change in a law to make clear that we have the right to see the names of anyone’s e-mail correspondents and their Web browsing history without the messy complication of asking a judge for permission. It is far more than a technical change. The administration’s request, reported [on July 29] in The Washington Post, is an unnecessary and disappointing step backward toward more intrusive surveillance from a president who promised something very different during the 2008 campaign. To get this information, the F.B.I. simply has to ask for it in the form of a national security letter, which is an administrative request that does not require a judge’s signature. The F.B.I. used these letters hundreds of thousands of times to demand records of phone calls and other communications, and the Pentagon used them to get records from banks and consumer credit agencies. Internal investigations of both agencies found widespread misuse of the power, and little oversight into how it was wielded. President Obama campaigned for office on an explicit promise to rein in these abuses. But instead of implementing reasonable civil liberties protections, like taking requests for e-mail surveillance before a judge, the administration is proposing changes to the law that would allow huge numbers of new electronic communications to be examined with no judicial oversight.
Note: For key reports on the growing government and corporate threats to privacy, click here.
The federal government is launching an expansive program dubbed "Perfect Citizen" to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants. The surveillance by the National Security Agency, the government's chief eavesdropping agency, would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack. Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. recently won a classified contract for the initial phase of the surveillance effort valued at up to $100 million. Some industry and government officials familiar with the program see Perfect Citizen as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs. One internal Raytheon email, the text of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal [said,] "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother." Raytheon declined to comment on this email. The information gathered by Perfect Citizen could also have applications beyond the critical infrastructure sector, officials said, serving as a data bank that would also help companies and agencies who call upon NSA for help with investigations of cyber attacks, as Google did when it sustained a major attack late last year.
Note: For key reports of government and corporate surveillance from reliable sources, click here.
University of Reading researcher Mark Gasson has become the first human known to be infected by a computer virus. The virus, infecting a chip implanted in Gasson's hand, passed into a laboratory computer. From there, the infection could have spread into other computer chips found in building access cards. All this was intentional, in an experiment to see how simple radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips like those used for tracking animals can host and spread technological diseases. The research from the British university shows that as implantable bionic devices such as pacemakers get more sophisticated in the years ahead, their security and the safety of the patients whose lives depend on them will become increasingly important, said Gasson. "We should start to think of these devices as miniature computers," Gasson said. And just like everyday computers, they can get sick. "I don’t think for us that (infectious technological agents) would be a particularly new concept, but implants in our bodies will make it a lot more real," Gasson told TechNewsDaily. "A denial-of-service attack on a pacemaker, if such a thing were possible, would of course be very detrimental."
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on the dangers of microchip implant technologies, click here.
At a warehouse in New Jersey, 6,000 used copy machines sit ready to be sold. Almost every one of them holds a secret. Nearly every digital copier built since 2002 contains a hard drive ... storing an image of every document copied, scanned, or emailed by the machine. In the process, it's turned an office staple into a digital time-bomb packed with highly-personal or sensitive data. If you're in the identity theft business it seems this would be a pot of gold. "The type of information we see on these machines with the social security numbers, birth certificates, bank records, income tax forms," John Juntunen said, "that information would be very valuable." Juntunen's Sacramento-based company Digital Copier Security developed software called "INFOSWEEP" that can scrub all the data on hard drives. He's been trying to warn people about the potential risk - with no luck. All the major [digital copier] manufacturers told us they offer security or encryption packages on their products. One product from Sharp automatically erases an image from the hard drive. It costs $500. But evidence keeps piling up in warehouses that many businesses are unwilling to pay for such protection, and that the average American is completely unaware of the dangers posed by digital copiers.
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on threats to privacy, click here.
President Obama has signed off on new security protocols for people flying to the United States, establishing a system that uses intelligence information and assessment of threats to identify passengers who could have links to terrorism. The system, which will be put in place this month, applies only to travelers flying into the United States. Officials said intelligence information from a variety of United States agencies would be made available to foreign airlines, whose employees and security officials would have wide latitude to stop passengers, or not. Currently, the only information typically checked before a passenger boards an airplane is the name, date of birth and nationality — information found in a passport, which is compared against the terror watch lists. But the Homeland Security Department separately already collects much more information on the travel patterns of passengers headed to the United States, including other stops made on the way to an American airport, how the passenger paid for the ticket as well as other details contained in the reservation, like what hotel a passenger might be staying in, or if he or she is traveling alone.
Note: For many disturbing reports from major media sources on increasing governmental threats to civil liberties, click here.
A broad coalition of technology companies, including AT&T, Google and Microsoft, and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum said Tuesday that it would push Congress to strengthen online privacy laws to protect private digital information from government access. The group, calling itself the Digital Due Process coalition, said it wanted to ensure that as millions of people moved private documents from their filing cabinets and personal computers to the Web, those documents remain protected from easy access by law enforcement and other government authorities. The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, wants law enforcement agencies to use a search warrant approved by a judge or a magistrate rather than rely on a simple subpoena from a prosecutor to obtain a citizen’s online data. The group also said that it wanted to safeguard location-based information collected by cellphone companies and applications providers. forcement agencies and the Obama administration.
Note: For many key articles from reliable sources on privacy issues in the new age of surveillance, click here.
A federal judge ruled [on March 31] that the National Security Agencyďż˝s program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administrationďż˝s effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush. In a 45-page opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been ďż˝subjected to unlawful surveillance,ďż˝ the judge said the government was liable to pay them damages. The ruling by Judge Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, rejected the Justice Departmentďż˝s claim ďż˝ first asserted by the Bush administration and continued under President Obama ďż˝ that the charityďż˝s lawsuit should be dismissed without a ruling on the merits because allowing it to go forward could reveal state secrets. The judge characterized that expansive use of the so-called state-secrets privilege as amounting to ďż˝unfettered executive-branch discretionďż˝ that had ďż˝obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.ďż˝
Note: For illumination of the dark world of state secrecy, click here.
All dogs are to be compulsorily microchipped so that their owners can be more easily traced under a crackdown on dangerous dogs. Under the scheme a microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin of the dog between its shoulder blades. The chip contains a unique code number, the dog's name, age, breed and health as well as the owner's name, address and phone number. When the chip is "read" by a handheld scanner the code number is revealed and the details can be checked on a national database. The measures will be set out by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, who will point to rising public concern that "status dogs" are being used by some irresponsible owners to intimidate communities or as a weapon by gangs. If the scheme were made compulsory owners would face a fine for failing to microchip their dogs.
Note: Once all dogs are required to be microchipped, what will come next? To be informed of some disturbing plans to microchip all of us, click here. For lots more on microchipping from reliable sources, click here.
From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them. Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police. “They have been collecting the names and all sorts of other information about everybody who is stopped and frisked on the streets,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the department’s stop-and-frisk policy and its compiling of data on people who are innocent. “This is a massive database of innocent, overwhelmingly black and Latino people,” she said. Police Commissioner Kelly has made it clear that this monstrous database, growing by a half-million or so stops each year, is to be a permanent feature of the department’s operations.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on serious threats to civil liberties, click here.
Important Note: Explore our full index to revealing excerpts of key major media news stories on several dozen engaging topics. And don't miss amazing excerpts from 20 of the most revealing news articles ever published.