Executive Order #12333: The Legality of the Most Expansive Domestic Surveillance Program Ever

Posted By: Rob Pollock

Big BrotherFor privacy advocates and civil liberties watchdogs, the year 2016 was a bad year. Executive Order #12333, signed into law over 35 years ago and largely forgotten, has been resurrected in late 2016 with a series of hair-raising executive agency procedures passed by the Obama administration citing the obscure executive order as authorization. This relatively-benign executive order was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on December 4, 1981, and regarded the relationship between intelligence agencies in how they share information with each other. However now, the executive order is not so benign, and its use as justification for intelligence information collection could represent one of the most egregious violations of the Fourth Amendment and privacy protections we’ve seen in the intelligence community for a long time.

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Twitter and Electronic Surveillance: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Brother

Posted by: Emily Weiss

Big BrotherOn April 6th, 2017, online microblogging site giant Twitter filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Twitter sought the court’s aid in preventing the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol from obtaining information about one of its users – the user who ran the account @ALT_USCIS. Twitter argued that the summons that CBP was using to obtain the information was inapposite, and did not apply to the kind of information CBP actually sought. As a result, Twitter argued, the summons violated the First Amendment and Twitter did not have to comply with it.

Less than a day later, DHS and CBP dropped the summons for information, and Twitter likewise dropped the suit. The American Civil Liberties Union called this a “big victory for free speech and the right to dissent.” But was it? This is not the beginning – nor the end – to Twitter’s apparent commitment to protect its user’s privacy.

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New FCC Internet Regulations: The Debate Between the Interests of Big ISPs and the Average Consumer

Posted By: Timothy Emmart

town-sign-83730_640You spend an afternoon online. Your browsing activity ranges from dinner recipes, to banking, to alt-right political websites, to pornography, to the top Chinese food delivery near your zip code. According to new congressional action, your ISP may collect the information from your afternoon online. Your ISP now knows that you viewed pornography and it has this knowledge without your knowledge and without your consent. The Internet is not a private place and this is increasingly true.

Conceptions of privacy in the U.S. have been fluid throughout history and as it relates to technology and the Internet. Last year the FCC approved new privacy rules aimed at protecting consumer information in part by placing the consumer in the driver’s seat by requiring ISPs to gain consumer consent on data collection. The new rules would have required ISPs to 1) take reasonable steps to secure consumer data; 2) to inform consumers of what data was being collected, how the data is used, and who has access to it; and 3) to gain consumer consent to data collection. Unfortunately for consumers, the implementation of these new rules was blocked last month by the new head of the FCC.

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Geolocation and Smartphone Applications

Posted by Collin Gaines

April 20, 2015

Iphone_2Corporations have a duty to maximize profits for their shareholders. In the digital world, the easiest way for companies to increase profits is to monetize the data from current users of these companies’ applications or technological products. For example, a consumer’s smartphone location is continuously shared through third-party applications everyday, all day.  Many consumers are unaware of this business strategy and indeed, view it as an intrusion. A study by Carnegie Mellon University, in 2014 determined that “concise privacy-relevant information” frequently was shared including location, phone contact lists, calendar and call logs. Indeed, during the study, a participant received a message stating, “Your location has been shared 5,398 times with Facebook, Groupon, GO Launcher EX and seven other apps in the last 14 days.” Such a message demonstrates the volume in that consumers information is shared. In fact, the researchers found “that many popular Android apps tracked their users an average 6,200 times per participant over a two-week period, or about every three minutes!” Therefore,  the ever increasing “smartphone addiction” that is taking place in society today, has lead to an erosion of the 4th Amendment Constitutional right to privacy.
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Adequate Encryption in the Cloud

Posted by: Collin Gaines

April 20, 2015

pad-lockPrivate cloud networks suffer some of the same privacy issues that public cloud networks are battling. Not all private cloud networks are “on-premise,” many utilize companies such as Amazon, to provide them with the technology to operate their network. Data is still traveling over the internet but in-house technology professionals manage the control of the network. Encrypting data in-house does provide many benefits in that companies may enjoy the use of a cloud without worrying about third party attacks.

Those who use cloud computing must understand that they may compromise security and relinquish absolute control of their data, when turning over privileged information to third-parties such as cloud storage providers. Under current law, third-parties may voluntarily provide government officials with client sensitive documents and the “law has always been slow to catch up with technological advances .” Therefore, people using electronic digital communication devices such as laptops, computers, Smartphone’s and cell phones have security vulnerabilities regarding essential personal information. For example, the world wide web has become prone to hacking and scamming incidents, which has resulted in high levels of privacy invasions. Continue reading

Bitcoin Faces Increased Federal and State Regulation

Posted by Sam Knecht

April 20, 2015

bitcoin2Bitcoin, a digital crypto-currency, operates on a decentralized network that was designed to promote anonymity and avoid government regulation. Promoters of Bitcoin say it can improve global financial inclusion, allowing those without access to other financial services, or those living in countries with fluctuating fiat currency, a means of security via cyberspace. Advocates also say Bitcoin allows consumers a means of increased privacy, allowing them to control information about themselves financially and otherwise while participating in the global economy. However, the digital capital is facing increasing regulation on both federal and state levels that is likely to greatly decrease this anonymity in the future.

In 2013, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network issued guidance saying that it would treat transmitters of Bitcoin the same as it does transmitters of other money. Businesses that exchange Bitcoin are now required to register with FinCEN and keep records of transactions. FinCEN regulates companies under the Bank Secrecy Act, a set of regulations that includes Patriot Act laws and requires money transmitters to record personal information about its customers. Certain kinds of financial transactions must also be reported. Continue reading

Can Privacy Survive?

Posted by: Michael Avila

April 20, 2015

town-sign-83730_640One of the largest concerns of the American Citizen is the question of the right to privacy. With the shroud of the Patriot Act hanging over every action that Americans take and the growing influence of websites like Facebook and Twitter that encourage people to share the details of their everyday lives the question of whether or not privacy is dying out is a valid one. While the law and technology seem to be decreasing the ability of the average person to maintain the level of privacy that they could have expected even fifteen years ago, it still seems important to maintain this right in the face of these growing concerns. Continue reading

Is the Archive Button Sending the Wrong Message?

Posted by Collin Gaines

April 20, 2015


In 2007, Google rolled out the “archive and next” shortcut in Gmail “to help improve the speed and convenience of managing email.” Merriam-Webster definition of archive is “to collect and store materials (such as recordings, documents, or computer files) so that they can be found and used when they are needed.” Therefore, the average person would conceivably believe that once emails are archived they are stored for backup purposes only.

Accordingly, when a message in Gmail is “archived” the message is removed from the inbox tab but not deleted or removed entirely. By archiving the messages, users perceive that their inbox is void of such messages but the emails are indeed still in storage and can be easily retrieved. Interestingly, it is possible to “archive” messages that have been read and unread messages as well. Users may retrieve messages by accessing the “All Mail” tab, or if someone responds to an archived message. Because archived messages seem as though they have been deleted and can only be retrieved in limited inboxes or responses, not only is Google’s “archive” label likely to confuse the a person of average sensibilities but it may also confuse someone who is familiar with the Stored Communications Act. Continue reading

If Privacy Were an Species, It Would Be an Endangered One

Posted by: Macaulay Christian

April 20, 2015


town-sign-83730_640If you were to swipe the lock screen on your smartphone, yours, like almost everyone else, would contain a variety of apps, and at least one of those apps would be a social media account, one you use frequently…why else would it be on your phone? Perhaps you’re documenting your life, one selfie at a time with Snapchat, or maybe mean tweeting celebrities with Twitter, stalking classmates on Facebook, or casually swiping people’s faces one direction or another on Tinder. Regardless of why you are on social media or what you do on it, the digital world many of us have grown up in, seems to harken us, collectively, back to a time when there weren’t these walls of solitude erected between me and you. For all of the ways in which computers and the Internet have revolutionized the lives of most of the planet’s seven billion inhabitants, perhaps the most striking, or, certainly the most controversial, seems to be the ever increasingly publicity of the average person’s life for all to see, comment, like, and share.

It is curious to think that a hallmark of human civilization’s technological progression is having an effect on the social and personal relationships of individual people, reverting, in a sense, the nature of those relationships to a status the hasn’t existed for more than a century. It is an interesting line of thought, one put forward by Vint Cerf, who characterized privacy as something of an “anomaly”. Continue reading

Surveillance through the Internet

Posted by Angelica J. Simpson

April 17, 2015


EFF_version_of_NSA_logoOver the past few years there has been headlines making their way claiming the governments gross overreach in surveillance. Stories that the FBI can hack into your computer, or that NSA is gathering everyone’s phone records, down to tracking capabilities through GOOGLE Maps apps and technology. But just how true are these headlines? Does American law allows for and even facilitates the ability for the government to use technology to track and spy on people? The reality of it seems to be that while the law allows for some surveillance, it also constrains the power as well. Continue reading