Tag Archives: civil rights

Will non-criminal mugshots of residents from your state be in new FBI database?

By SB Anderson

The FBI plans to launch by summer’s end a facial recognition system that “poses real threats to privacy for all Americans” and could include 4.3 million photos taken for non-criminal purposes within a year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports.

“NGI will allow law enforcement at all levels to search non-criminal and criminal face records at the same time. This means you could become a suspect in a criminal case merely because you applied for a job that required you to submit a photo with your background check.”
–EFF report

“The FBI’s massive biometric database that may hold records on as much as one third of the U.S. population,” the EFF said, citing documents it has received as part of a Freedom of Information Act legal fight. “The facial recognition component of this database poses real threats to privacy for all Americans.”

The 4.4 million non-crime-related images would be part of the “Next Generation Identification” system, which “builds on the FBI’s legacy fingerprint database—which already contains well over 100 million individual records—and has been designed to include multiple forms of biometric data, including palm prints and iris scans in addition to fingerprints and face recognition data.”

One source for those new images: Routine employer fingerprint checks. A copy of the fingerprints are already sent to the FBI’s non-civil database; a photo could not be added if employers ask that they be taken, EFF says. The issue: NGI would also mean first-ever searches of both the criminal and noncriminal databases.

“This means that even if you have never been arrested for a crime, if your employer requires you to submit a photo as part of your background check, your face image could be searched—and you could be implicated as a criminal suspect—just by virtue of having that image in the non-criminal file.”

The graphic below shows the status, as of 2012, of FBI discussions with states for participating in NGI. “The FBI hopes to bring all states online with NGI by this year,” EFF said.

Participating states

SOURCE: Electronic Frontier Fondation

Microsoft got 44 requests for data a day from US agencies in first half of 2013

By SB Anderson

U.S. government agencies asked Microsoft to share customer information or content nearly 8,000 times in the first half of 2013. Those requests involved 22,300 accounts, new data released by the Seattle-based firm on Friday said.

Based on so-called “transparency” reports released so far this year from Microsoft, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook, US agencies between January and the end of June made, on average, up to 183 requests per day across the four companies, for a total of 33,338 requests affecting 84,597 accounts.

Google, which has been releasing law enforcement request data longer than any major competitor, has yet to release its data for the first half of the year. Microsoft first released some data early last summer after former NSA employee Edward Snowden began leaking top-secret documents about government surveillance programs involving the major internet companies.

Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom and France followed the U.S. in the No. 1 spot for requests from Microsoft. Together, the five made up 3 in 4 of the global 37,196 requests affecting 66,539 accounts.

Just over 1 in 10 U.S. requests led to user content being released. In 2 out of 3 cases, at least some user account information such as name, gender and Zip Code was turned over. Only about 1 in 100 was rejected for not meeting legal requirements. And in just under 1 in 20 cases — 17% — no customer data was found.

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Fissures in support for the Surveillance State

By SB Anderson

Last week all but certainly will be looked back at as a watershed week in shifting support for the Surveillance State by not only U.S. citizens, but members of Congress.

For those who’ve been in eyes-half-open mode because it’s Summer and want to catch up, The New York Times today has a must-read on the politics and cross-party partnerships behind last week’s surprising oh-so-close vote in the House that would have killed funding for the National Security Administration’s telephone data collection, exposed by Edward Snowden.

Two quotes that stand out:

“There is a growing sense that things have really gone a-kilter here.”

“The time has come to stop it, and the way we stop it is to approve this amendment.”

The first, from U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who is helping craft a bill “to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance,” the NYT story says.

The second is from someone who was a force behind the Patriot Act and who is helping Lofgren on that bill. — U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. His very brief (and unexpected) remarks — seven sentences — before the House vote last week were seen as pivotal.

Govt Anti-Terror PoliciesMeantime, new research data shows the opinion shift among Americans. Almost half of those polled from July 17-21 said their “greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties,” Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported on Friday.

That was a 15-point jump since 2010, when the question was last asked. “This is the first time a plurality has expressed greater concern about civil liberties than security since the question was first asked in 2004.”

Nearly 3 in 5 of those adults surveyed — 56% — said courts aren’t providing the safety net needed for government data collection. “An even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism,” Pew said.

Politically, a clear lean toward more support for civil liberties vs. national security since 2010 is pretty much across the board, as the chart below shows. Particularly noteworthy is the shift in the civil liberties v. national security view by Tea Party Republicans.

For the media, the public remains divided over how aggressive journalists should be in reporting on secret methods used to fight terrorism — 47% yes, 47% no. That’s the same as 2006. However, there has been a partisan shift, as Republicans now are much more supportive of an aggressive media role (+17 points), while Democrats have retreated (-14 points). See chart below.

In a column today, the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, whose release of Snowden’s inside information along with the Washington Post detonated the current NSA and civil liberties controversy, took note of the shift in the Venn diagram of civil liberties and national security that Pew’s survey revealed.

As I’ve repeatedly said, the only ones defending the NSA at this point are the party loyalists and institutional authoritarians in both parties. That’s enough for the moment to control Washington outcomes – as epitomized by the unholy trinity that saved the NSA in the House last week: Pelosi, John Bohener and the Obama White House – but it is clearly not enough to stem the rapidly changing tide of public opinion.

(Note: If you’re interested, Pew has details on how it conducted its survey).

ACLU says study shows ‘mass tracking’ of license plates by local law enforcement

By SB Anderson

ACLU interactive map on license plate tracking

If you click on the map above, you’ll be taken to a just-released interactive map that American Civil Liberties Union put together on the fast-growing trend of local law enforcement agencies photographing — and retaining data about — millions of license plates. The map links to responses received from local law enforcement agences to a public records requests ACLU made about the plate tracking systems.

The ACLU analyzed 26,000 pages of documents that it received with the records requests and concluded ” increasingly, all of this [license plate] data is being fed into massive databases that contain the location information of many millions of innocent Americans stretching back for months or even years.”

“The implementation of automatic license plate readers poses serious privacy and other
civil liberties threats,” the ACLU said in a 37-page report. “More and more cameras, longer retention periods, and widespread sharing allow law enforcement agents to assemble the individual puzzle pieces of where we have been over time into a single, high-resolution image of our lives.:

ON THE JUMP PAGE: Read the full report.

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When it comes to PRISM, whither Twitter? #mumstheword

By SB Anderson
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo visits with ASNE in Washington

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo visits with ASNE in Washington (Photo from C-SPAN video).

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo joined us for lunch on Wednesday at the American Society of News Editors conference in Washington and talked about journalism and its intersection with Twitter (and vice-versa); his company and its culture; privacy; and a few other topics.

But when it came to one hot topic in DC of late and  why Twitter wasn’t included on the now-famous PowerPoint slide about companies the NSA has relationships with for the top-secret PRISM user data collection program, Costolo pretty much had precisely 140 characters of nothing specific to say. With a hashtag of #mumstheword.

Asked  by Marty Baron of the Washington Post whether Twitter was “invited or instructed by the federal government to participate in this program, whether you chose to turn the government down, and if you did that based on legal objections, what were those legal objections,” Costolo wouldn’t take the bait.

He did, however, say Twitter is very aggressive and takes a “principled approach” when it comes to pushing back against government requests for large amounts of user data.

“When we get specific, pointed legal requests that are legally valid. . . we respond to them,” he said in reply to Baron’s question. “When we receive general requests that we feel are overly broad, not valid legal requests, we push back on those. I think it’s fair to say as has been reported in other cases like Wikileaks, we will spend time and energy and money to defend out users’ rights to be informed about the information that is being requested about them. . . That’s really all i can say about it.”

Earlier in his visit, interviewer Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post said, “It feels like we’re sort of dancing around this thing that’s all in caps called PRISM. You can’t talk so much about it.  . . .  Does it bother you you can’t talk more about your relationship with the government and these sorts of requests?”

His repsonse was much the same as what he told Baron.

He did note that he has talked publicly about a rule in the UK that makes it illegal to even disclose there’s an injunction in some situations, and called such rules “Kafkaesque. . . . Those kinds of things are generally disturbing and we have called for and would love to see more transparency around these types of requests.”

I’ve extracted the PRISM-related discussion from the hourlong Costolo chat (but the content isn’t available yet for embedding). View it here:

Google’s 1st Amendment lawsuit seeking public FISA data release

By SB Anderson

Here’s the motion that Google filed today with the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court saying it has a First Amendment right to release aggregate data on the number of requests it receives from the court for data and the number of accounts or users affected. It already releases similar details in its regular “transparency reports” about National Security Letter requests from the FBI.

“Google’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in
the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations,” the petition says, referring to stories in the Guardian and Washington Post about the NSA’s PRISM program involving major online companies. “Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities. Moreover, these are matters of significant weight and importance, and transparency is critical to advancing public debate in a thoughtful and democratic manner.”

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – Motion for Declaratory Judgment by Liz Gannes of All Things D.