Category Archives: Civil Liberties
Watch their lips. If they’re moving…
(Apologies if this auto-played; I had inconsistent results with different browsers. Embedding Daily Show links is harder than it should be.)
In what appears to be the first example of tool use among reptiles, researchers have discovered that both animals use twigs and sticks to attract nest-building birds. In 2007, behavioral ecologist Vladimir Dinets noticed that mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) at a zoo in India would balance small sticks on their snouts near a rookery where egrets compete for sticks to build their nests. Once, one of the crocs lunged at an egret that approached. Intrigued, Dinets studied alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) at four sites in Louisiana. The alligators put sticks on their snouts … much more frequently near egret rookeries and during the nest-building season, he and colleagues report online in Ethology Ecology & Evolution.
Arguably this shows gators and crocs have better sense when it comes to hunting than the NSA, which apparently spent millions of dollars spying on online gamers for fear terrorists might use World of Warcraft or Second Life as meeting sites. It was, for some reason, a very popular assignment all over the TLA world:
Meanwhile, the FBI, CIA, and the Defense Humint Service were all running human intelligence operations – undercover agents – within Second Life. In fact, so crowded were the virtual worlds with staff from the different agencies, that there was a need to try to “deconflict” their efforts – or, in other words, to make sure each agency wasn’t just duplicating what the others were doing.
Sticks would have been cheaper, and about as useful.
But no, this is the genuine mission patch for a spy rocket lofted into orbit this week by the Office of National Intelligence:
“NROL-39 is represented by the octopus, a versatile, adaptable, and highly intelligent creature. Emblematically, enemies of the United States can be reached no matter where they choose to hide,” says Karen Furgerson, a spokesperson for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). “‘Nothing is beyond our reach’ defines this mission and the value it brings to our nation and the warfighters it supports, who serve valiently all over the globe, protecting our nation.”
Edward Hasbrouck is reporting daily from Ibrahim v. DHS, a fascinating and important case about the no-fly lists. Must-reads for anyone interested in privacy, civil liberties — or intending to attempt air travel.
Shocking day one event: TSA allegedly (and, day two suggests, in fact) prevented a key witness (a US citizen) for the complainant to fly to the trial to testify. At present the evidence is only hearsay; if the witness ever makes it to the trial–sounds like a bad thriller doesn’t it?–then we’ll have sworn testimony.
“PETs Must Be on a Leash”: How U.S. Law (and Industry Practice) Often Undermines and Even Forbids Valuable Privacy Enhancing Technology, forthcoming in the Ohio State Law Journal, just posted to SSRN.
U.S. law puts the onus on the individual to protect his or her own privacy with only a small number of exceptions (e.g. attorney-client privilege). In order to protect privacy, one usually has three possible strategies: to change daily behavior to avoid privacy-destroying cameras or online surveillance; to contract for privacy; or to employ Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) and other privacy-protective technologies. The first two options are very frequently unrealistic in large swaths of modern life. One would thus expect great demand for, and widespread deployment of, PETs and other privacy-protective technologies. But in fact that does not appear to be the case. This paper argues that part of the reason is a set of government and corporate policies which discourage the deployment of privacy technology. This paper describes some of those polices, notably: (1) requiring that communications facilities be wiretap-ready and engage in customer data retention; (2) mandatory identification both online and off; (3) technology-limiting rules; and also (4) various other rules that have anti-privacy side effects.
The paper argues that a government concerned with protecting personal privacy and enhancing user security against ID theft and other fraud should support and advocate for the widespread use of PETs. In fact, however, whatever official policy may be, by its actions the prevailing attitude of the U.S. government amounts to saying that PETs and other privacy protecting technology, must be kept on a leash.
A last-minute update reconsiders the argument in light of the Snowden revelations about the widespread dragnet surveillance conducted by the NSA.