Wednesday, June 17, 2015

NSA 'tracking' hundreds of millions of mobile phones


Almost five billion mobile phone location records are logged by the NSA every day, reports the Washington Post.

The data is said to help the NSA track individuals, and map who they know, to aid the agency's anti-terror work.
The "dragnet surveillance" was condemned by digital rights groups who called for the NSA's snooping efforts to be reined in.
The news comes as Microsoft plans to use more encryption to thwart NSA spying on it and its customers.

Wrong target

The huge database built up by the NSA (National Security Agency) keeps an eye on "hundreds of millions" of mobile phones, said the Post, adding that it let the agency map movements and relationships in ways that were "previously unimaginable".
It added that the vast programme potentially surpassed any other NSA project in terms of its impact on privacy. Information about the programme was in papers released to the Post by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The spying agency is said to have accumulated so much data, about 27 terabytes according to leaked papers seen by the Post, that it was "outpacing" the NSA's ability to analyse the information in a timely fashion.

The analysis, via a computer system called Co-Traveler, was necessary as only a tiny fraction of 1% of the data gathered was actually useful in its anti-terror work, said the paper. The analysis is so detailed that it can be used to thwart attempts to hide from scrutiny by people who use disposable phones or only use a handset briefly before switching it off.

The vast majority of the information gathered is said to come from taps installed on mobile phone networks and used the basic location-information that networks log as people move around. Analysing this data helps the NSA work out which devices are regularly in close proximity and, by implication, exposes a potential connection between the owners of those handsets.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it was "staggering" that the NSA could mount such a vast location-logging system without any public debate. The "dragnet surveillance" broke US obligations that require it to respect the privacy of foreigners and Americans.

"The government should be targeting its surveillance at those suspected of wrong-doing, not assembling massive associational databases that, by their very nature, record the movements of a huge number of innocent people," it added.
The steady flow of information about the NSA's surveillance work has led Microsoft to take steps to protect itself and its customers from unwarranted scrutiny, it said in a blogpost.

Brad Smith, Microsoft legal counsel, said government snooping was now as much of a security problem as computer viruses and other cyber-attacks.
In response, Mr Smith said, Microsoft was expanding its use of encryption; would fight legal orders that stop it telling customers when their data is being sought and would allow a closer look at the code it develops to show there were no backdoors built in.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Timeline of NSA Domestic Spying

 Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul might well be mainlining throat lozenges today after Wednesday's marathon quasi-filibuster opposing the Patriot Act.

Paul spoke for more than 11 hours against the law, highlighting Section 215 of the act, which sunsets June 1 unless Congress renews it. Section 215 authorizes the government — with an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — to collect "tangible things" including business records. Its most controversial application has been in collecting and storing Americans' phone-dialing records, known as metadata.

Paul's opposition to renewing Section 215 echoes one of today's columnists, who argues Uncle Sam is wrong to "seek and peek" without solid justification.
Others favor extension. To that end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr introduced a bill that continues Section 215 until 2020.

Likewise, today's other columnist argues that Section 215 is essential to America's counterterrorism strategy.

Coincidentally, a review issued Thursday by the Justice Department's Inspector General noted the FBI's surging use of Section 215 to gather "hard copy reproductions of business ledgers and receipts to gigabytes of metadata and other electronic information." The FBI's proclivity for the tool owes, in part, the report says, to a lower legal bar for its use.

By the numbers
1952: The year a President Harry Truman order established the National Security Agency.
60: The percentage of Americans in an April ACLU poll who agree the Patriot Act should be overhauled "to limit government surveillance and protect Americans' privacy."
34: The percentage of Americans in the same poll who feel the Patriot Act is perfect as is for protecting America.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The end of privacy? Government and private surveillance pose a growing threat to Americans

 By Walter Simpson for the Buffalo News

The perfect storm threatens our private lives. Personal privacy, cherished by previous generations, is being swept away by a variety of forces. These include our heavy reliance on the Internet for work, entertainment and shopping; our addiction to cellphones, data plans and apps; our eagerness to expose the details of our lives on websites like Facebook; and our tolerance of excessive government spy programs.
Privacy is essential to our humanity. It permits us to create and maintain private lives from which spring personal identity, self-determination, freedom and, ultimately, happiness.
In contrast, surveillance is a direct assault on privacy. It attacks and eliminates privacy. Its chilling effect constrains and shrinks us through self-censorship of thought and action. When taken to the extreme, like in George Orwell’s “1984,” surveillance objectifies so thoroughly that it destroys our internal life.
Our nation’s founders recognized the importance of privacy in the Bill of Rights. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
While this language is pre-9/11, Internet and cellphone, it speaks of the kind of nation the founders envisioned. In America, we have a constitutionally guaranteed right to a private life safe from unreasonable search and seizure. But our privacy is being eroded by leaps and bounds every day.

You are what you click

As chronicled in Julia Angwin’s excellent book, “Dragnet Nation,” whenever we use our cellphones, tablets and computers, everything we do on them is tracked, recorded and stored by phone and Internet service providers. The apps we use and the websites we visit gather our personal data and use it to market products to us or sell it to third-party data brokers.
In fact, many Web providers invite third-party data-mining companies to spy on us, allowing them to secretly insert “cookies” and “Web beacons” onto our computers so they can track our activity as we go from website to website. Twenty or more of these undisclosed companies may be tracking us at any given time. The tracking data they gather is then used to create detailed personal profiles of Web users – each made up of as many as 1,000 data points, according to the Obama administration’s just-released “Big Data” report. These profiles are then marketed to other companies. This is how “free” websites and services make money.
Our personal communications, including online gaming activity, are also vacuumed up by the National Security Agency. Thanks to revelations by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we know this U.S. spy agency employs a “collect it all” strategy when gathering information on our personal cellphone and online activities. Since 9/11, the NSA has used secret contracts with telecommunication giants and covert splicing into their communication cables to intercept Internet and cellphone information on hundreds of millions of Americans and foreigners who are not terrorist or criminal suspects. As pointed out by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, the NSA has not shown that this dragnet is effective in preventing terrorist activity.
Credit card use creates a digital trail that banks analyze and may sell to marketers. Cable TV providers track channel choice and may soon send “personalized” ads to individual TVs based on viewer profiles. Once linked to the Net, everything – private business and medical records and more – is at risk of being read and used by others without permission.
Cellphones provide a continuous record of user location. This information is collected and made available to police and government surveillance agencies. The NSA is reported to be able to access cellphones even when they are turned off. Built-in car GPS systems also provide a record of location. New car event data recorders will add an additional measure of surveillance to our lives.

Public surveillance grows

Increasingly, our public activities are recorded by security cameras operated privately or by police agencies. While it’s difficult to argue against security cameras in high-crime areas, their proliferation everywhere and integration into larger networks mean that large swaths of public space may soon be subject to continuous surveillance. Facial recognition technology will allow individuals to be tracked, producing detailed information on daily personal activity, which was previously private.
Police, as well as private parties, are also beginning to use automatic license plate recognition scanners. These devices can be seen on the back or sides of police cars. As they become cheaper, scanners are likely to proliferate to any location with a law enforcement or security justification. Plate scanners will allow police to keep tabs on us and may tell mall operators every time we pull into their parking lots – as was the case in New Jersey before being stopped by public outcry.
In a bizarre public relations gesture, Amazon recently demonstrated how a small remote-controlled “domestic drone” could deliver packages to our doorsteps. But these drones, now completely unregulated, can also be used by police, private companies and the kid down the block to fly around your house, peer into your windows, inspect your backyard or follow you down the street.
Organizations like the Electronic Freedom Foundation have challenged secrecy surrounding government use of domestic drones and called for privacy protection policies to limit their use. And, locally, former Amherst Town Supervisor Dan Ward has proposed a groundbreaking drone privacy protection ordinance for Amherst.
Our privacy dilemma is symbolized by computer and cellphone cameras and microphones. We take photos and videos for instant sharing. We make video calls – a distant dream a few years ago. But these cameras and mikes can also be used by uninvited third parties to watch and listen to us without our knowledge or permission whenever we are online. Too paranoid to consider? Well, it’s already been done by a school district and a retailer that spied on students and customers, respectively, in the privacy of their homes, including in their bedrooms.

What can be done?

Individually, we can recapture some online privacy by covering our webcams, switching to socially responsible providers, web-based services, retailers and search engines like DuckDuckGo that promise not to track, and employing software like Ghostery and Disconnect to reveal and block third-party data-miners from following us across the Web. These strategies can work but are inconvenient.
We can “opt out” of tracking whenever possible or drop out all together. Quitting or strictly minimizing certain activities may seem like a radical Luddite step, but an increasing number may take it if real privacy protections are not forthcoming from government and the private sector.
There are a number of policy changes that would protect privacy.
Enact strong laws to protect digital activities. The 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act should be updated to provide email correspondence and all personal electronic documents the same protection from warrantless government snooping and seizure as hard-copy paper documents. Ideally, this law, or a new digital consumer protection law, would ban all online tracking that is done without the user’s explicit knowledge, full understanding and consent. New laws should also permit Internet users to have easy access to data about them with the option of deleting or correcting it.
Limit security cameras, license plate scanners and domestic drones. Laws are needed to limit and control the deployment of these technologies, recognizing that it’s all too easy to justify their use to enhance security while their cumulative impact is an unacceptable erosion of privacy. Potential application of these devices should be subject to a rigorous determination of need and compliance with serious privacy protection policies placing sensible limits on surveillance in public spaces.
Lift the veil on government spying. In a democracy, the public has a right to know about government surveillance. Spy agencies should be held to the highest standards of public accountability and controlled by our elected representatives – not by a shadowy secret government we are expected to blindly trust. All government surveillance agencies should be required to issue annual privacy impact assessments accompanied by opportunities for public review and policy change.
Repeal the USA Patriot Act. This law was a vast government overreach from the day it was passed in the aftermath of 9/11. In expanding government spy activities, the Patriot Act allowed search and seizure without specific warrants or probable cause, initiated the dragnet collection of personal information on hundreds of millions of people here and abroad, and placed gag orders on those ordered to turn over information on others.
Reform or abolish the FISA Court. Ideally, a secret court, making secret rulings and secret interpretations of law, should not exist in a democracy. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does exist, and its use was vastly expanded under the Patriot Act. This court needs transparency and a complete overhaul to protect individual rights and privacy. It should not rubber stamp excessive spying.
Pass the USA Freedom Act. This bill would stop bulk collection of Americans’ communication records and meaningfully reform the FISA Court. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Reps. Chris Collins, Brian Higgins and Tom Reed are not listed among its co-sponsors.
Cut the budgets of government surveillance agencies. The NSA annually costs taxpayers $10.8 billion which, according to a Washington Post analysis, is part of a $52.6 billion “Black Budget” for all national intelligence agencies and their 107,000 employees. Budget cuts should be big enough to force the scuttling of ineffective, unnecessary, wasteful and unconstitutional programs without jeopardizing national security.
Protect the free press and whistle-blowers. Our government should not be spying on journalists and their confidential sources. Laws are needed to prevent this and thus protect the press’s ability to investigate and criticize government. Whistle-blowers perform a critically important public service. National security agency employees and contractors need whistle-blower legal protection. They do not have it now.
Seek a constitutional amendment. In addition to strong digital privacy protections, we need a constitutional legal basis for “privacy in public” without which our lives in real and virtual public spaces may soon become subject to continuous surveillance.
Insist on congressional accountability. Our senators and congressional representatives failed to tell us about or stop NSA dragnet surveillance and FISA Court abuses. They also failed to address ubiquitous Internet surveillance by private companies and the need for meaningful digital age consumer protection.
While our elected officials need a wake-up call, segments of the news media have been on the job and deserve our thanks for consistent coverage of this issue. The UK Guardian and the Washington Post recently received the Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the NSA scandal. And public opinion polls now show a sizable majority of Americans, both Democrat and Republican, want government to stop spying on them. An increasing number are also upset about online surveillance. The time is right for action on the privacy issue.
Walter Simpson writes about a variety of environmental, peace and justice issues. He resides in Amherst.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thousands Join Legal Fight Against UK Surveillance — And You Can, Too

As featured in FirstLook:

Featured photo - Thousands Join Legal Fight Against UK Surveillance — And You Can, Too
Thousands of people are signing up to join an unprecedented legal campaign against the United Kingdom’s leading electronic surveillance agency.

On Monday, London-based human rights group Privacy International launched an initiative enabling anyone across the world to challenge covert spying operations involving Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, the National Security Agency’s British counterpart.

The campaign was made possible following a historic court ruling earlier this month that deemed intelligence sharing between GCHQ and the NSA to have been unlawful because of the extreme secrecy shrouding it.

Consequently, members of the public now have a rare opportunity to take part in a lawsuit against the spying in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, a special British court that handles complaints about surveillance operations conducted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Privacy International is allowing anyone who wants to participate to submit their name, email address and phone number through a page on its website. The group plans to use the details to lodge a case with GCHQ and the court that will seek to discover whether each participant’s emails or phone calls have been covertly obtained by the agency in violation of the privacy and freedom of expression provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. If it is established that any of the communications have been unlawfully collected, the court could force GCHQ to delete them from its vast repositories of intercepted data.

By Tuesday evening, more than 10,000 people had already signed up to the campaign, a spokesman for Privacy International told The Intercept.

In a statement announcing the campaign on Monday, Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said: “The public have a right to know if they were illegally spied on, and GCHQ must come clean on whose records they hold that they should never have had in the first place.
“We have known for some time that the NSA and GCHQ have been engaged in mass surveillance, but never before could anyone explicitly find out if their phone calls, emails, or location histories were unlawfully shared between the U.S. and U.K.

“There are few chances that people have to directly challenge the seemingly unrestrained surveillance state, but individuals now have a historic opportunity finally hold GCHQ accountable for their unlawful actions.”

Details about the scope of GCHQ and NSA surveillance first emerged in June 2013 following leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, which exposed a series of major secret programs used to sweep up private communications on a large scale. Last year, The Intercept revealed new details about GCHQ’s efforts to push for broader access to data swept up by the NSA.

GCHQ declined to comment about the Privacy International initiative, and referred inquiries from The Intercept to the British government’s Home Office. A Home Office spokesperson said in emailed statement:
The current regime governing both the intelligence agencies’ external interception and intelligence sharing regimes is lawful and European Court of Human Rights compliant.
This government is committed to transparency. It has made public more detail than ever before about the work of the security and intelligence agencies, including through the publication of statutory codes of practice.
We have now made public the detail of the safeguards that underpin requests to overseas governments for support on interception.
Photo: A Banksy artwork near GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham, England: Matt Cardy/Getty Images.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Revisiting a Classic: Privacy in the Age of Video Surveillance, This Is Not Your Father's Candid Camera

In this AISight post, by Angelo J. Pompano, we are sharing a forward looking account from 2000 which remains impressively insightful 15 years later.  What is most interesting is that the dangers are here today, and not off in some distant dystopian society.

Privacy in the Age of Video Surveillance, This Is Not Your Father's Candid Camera

No, this is not your father's Candid Camera. Privacy in the Age of Video Surveillance is a serious concern. With the proliferation of video surveillance equipment in every conceivable situation of our daily lives, concealed video cameras are not a source of amusement as on the old Candid Camera television show, but a real restriction on our right to privacy. Consider a hypothetical, but possibly typical day: you wake up and walk out to your mailbox. A neighbor's private security camera is trained on his driveway across the street and picks you up. Later, you drive to work and when you get to the light on the corner, a video camera is watching to see if you went through red. You stop off at an ATM and you are taped. You go into the 7 Eleven-taped; pump gas- taped; get on the interstate and the traffic control cameras are focused on you. You get to work and the camera in the parking lot follows you into the building. Then you finally get you your desk and once more you are monitored. Let's not even consider the possibility of hanging out at the water cooler or going into the bathroom. It's only 8:15 AM and you have already had more TV exposure than Regis Philbin. You begin to think that maybe you shouldn't have worn that plaid tie with the checkered shirt.

The purpose of this unit is have students consider how many times a day their privacy is compromised by unseen video cameras and to have them understand that neither the 4th Amendment of the Constitution nor any statutory provision really protect them. The unit is concerned with privacy as it relates to closed circuit television used in surveillance by both government agencies and private corporations. It is intended to be used with 8th grade social studies classes but may be adapted for use with other grade levels and subject areas. It is aligned with the Reading, Writing and Speaking Content Standards of the City of New Haven.

Video Surveillance Cameras

Security vs. Privacy

Video surveillance has been commonplace in England and Europe for some time. In recent years it has been a growing phenomenon in the United States as well. By means of the technology of closed circuit television, individuals are observed without their knowledge in stores, at the ATM, in elevators, in restaurants, in school hallways, and when stopped police in patrol cars. The Technology The technology of video equipment has gotten to the point where the units can be activated by motion detectors and can tape in color even at night. One reason why the use of video surveillance is becoming so prevalent is because cameras are shrinking, thus making it easier to conceal the equipment. Video surveillance cameras can be so small that they can be hidden almost anywhere in the workplace and even worn on clothing. These little devices are capable of zooming in on the smallest of details and can pan and tilt.

The PVSS (Personal Video Surveillance System) is the size of a badge and can project images of arrests to video recorders in a patrol car.
A drawback to miniaturization however, is that smaller cameras result in blurrier images. Technology is addressing this problem by developing software to clear up out of focus video. According to Albert Janjigian of STAT Resources, software is being developed to bring those fuzzy pictures into sharp focus.

It remains to be seen if manipulated images will be questioned as valid evidence. Who is to say that when an image is "made sharper" it doesn't become distorted to the point where it changes a person's features, resulting in misidentification? One thing that video does have in its favor is that it records what it "sees" and unlike the human mind does not forget.

Video Monitoring in the Corporate World

Video monitoring has become prevalent in the corporate world for several reasons. The technology has improved the quality of the images to the point where it is possible to zoom in enough to read a license plate clearly or to make a positive identification of a person. At the same time, the price of the equipment has decreased to the point where a business can easily recoup its investment in equipment by cutting losses due to stealing or worker down time. Also, the threat of industrial espionage has forced many companies to resort to video surveillance to protect their technology. By the same token, terrorism has driven government agencies to resort to the same tactics.
The lack of stringent laws governing video surveillance (also) makes it an attractive option for businesses and city agencies. For example, it's illegal in many states to secretly tape-record a conversation, but secretly videotaping someone is perfectly legal.

Police Video Surveillance

____ What would cause Americans to accept this invasion of their privacy when freedom of unrestricted mobility has been a cornerstone of our democracy? The answer can be found in the daily headlines. Because we have become so terrified of violent crime and terrorism, many of us accept the loss of some personal freedom for a feeling of security. On the surface video surveillance by police departments in public areas seems to be a noninvasive measure implemented for the well being of the public. Although they may not be happy with the use of the video surveillance equipment to catch them as they go through a red light, few people will argue with the reasoning that video cameras promote safety.

A bank ATM camera filmed a Ryder truck outside Oklahoma City's federal office building just before the blast (April 1994) that killed 167 people. That clue helped police track down Timothy McVeigh.
It is commonplace for the audience of the nightly news to view footage of bank or store hold ups. Oftentimes this leads to the arrest of a suspect. Cases such as these make it hard to argue that video surveillance cameras should not be used. Since 1993 police in Tacoma, Washington have been using video cameras mounted on lampposts and telephone poles to monitor an area plagued by gangs, drug dealers and prostitutes. One of the most extensive video surveillance systems in the country has been in use in Baltimore, Maryland since 1996. Both cities report a drop in crime in those areas under surveillance.

Frank Russo, a retired police commander and the public safety director for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, the merchant association that spearheaded the surveillance project, says that besides making law-abiding people feel safer, the cameras are in part responsible for an 11 percent drop in crime in the area during the first year of operation.
According to a 1996 California Research Bureau report on public-video surveillance, as reported by Alex Salkever in the article Too Many Unseen Cameras? the overwhelming majority of cities that use video in the US say it has helped cut crime. Of course it can be argued that the surveillance cameras do not actually reduce crime, but instead, shift it somewhere else.

I thought I saw you in New Haven

The use of video surveillance cameras as a deterrent to traffic violations has recently come to our own city of New Haven. The Department of Traffic and Parking at 200 Orange Street has monitors that observe the traffic flow at several intersections in New Haven twenty-four hours a day. Video cameras such as the one at the intersection of State and Water Streets not only capture the traffic flow, but also any activity on the sidewalks. Unlike in some cities, these cameras are movable. The equipment is capable of producing still frames of cars that run through red lights. The still pictures will clearly show the cars registration plates. A driver who causes an accident by disobeying the signal not only runs the risk of a summons, but still prints will be sent to the driver's insurance company. This gets to the very heart of the privacy issue. Not only is the individual photographed without permission, but also his photograph is going to be distributed to a third party who will use it for business purposes.

The argument may be made that it is illegal to run a red light and the person doing so should suffer the consequences. However, there are no guarantees that the cameras may not be used for other purposes. A case can be made that since local government is already helping insurance companies, the next step would be to sell the video to other enterprises. One can imagine getting a call from a representative of a body shop who wants to sell you a paint job because it was noted on the video that your car was faded. Far fetched? At this time it is possible watch the morning news on commercial television and see live reports of traffic flow on local highways. This is a case of private enterprise using publicly supported surveillance equipment for commercial gain: namely ratings. In this case, this use of public equipment is accepted because it provides a helpful service.


While much of the public may be accepting of video surveillance, others feel that safeguards are needed. As with so many things that are good for the general welfare, there is always a risk of abuse. The surveillance equipment in Baltimore has been termed a minimally intrusive system because it is in a non-residential area. The cameras are fixed in public areas and not set up to view into windows. While that system may be responsibly operated, the potential for abuse exists and has become increasingly common. With each advance in technology the possibility that surveillance can get out of hand grows. Mark Hansen in an article in the American Bar Association Journal entitled No Place to Hide asks the question:

Would we tolerate the prospect that police might someday be armed with a device that would enable them to conduct the functional equivalent of a strip search on some unsuspecting citizen from a distance of up to 60 feet away?
According to the article, a new generation of cameras, which can "see" through clothing and even building materials, is not far off. These devices will be capable of not only revealing if a person has a weapon under their clothing, but can produce a precise image of intimate anatomical details. We do not have to look to the future to find cases of abuse of video surveillance equipment. Serious problems exist today.

In Florida the general manager of the Apalachicola Times' newspaper extended a legitimate system to include a hidden video camera in his employees' bathroom. It was found that the camera was not against the law.
Employees of the Dunkin' Donuts chain used its video-surveillance technology to listen in on customers. The company was forced to remove the cameras.
The management at Boston's Sheraton Hotel was recording workers as they changed clothes in a locker room on the pretext that it was investigating suspected drug use by its workers.
In Concord, Calif., a JC Penney employee discovered that a guard was showing videotape in which he zoomed in on her breasts. He made the tape with the store's ceiling cameras.
In England - the most videotaped society in the world because of IRA terrorism- B-grade filmmakers have raided footage from public video cameras to make risque movies, often featuring unsuspecting couples
It is no wonder that critics of the use of this technology by law enforcement agencies feel that the harm outweighs the good. In fact, some police departments such as in Oakland, California have rejected the idea of video surveillance when officials proposed installing video cameras very similar to those now in use in New Haven.
The police department withdrew the proposal, concluding that they could not find credible evidence that video surveillance was effective in fighting crime and that the negative impacts would outweigh any benefits," says John Crew, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who worked on the case.
What irks the critics most is that as laws now stand, there are few restrictions on monitoring the activities of others with the use of a video camera.

Lack of Legislation

Most people who have found themselves the unwilling subject of hidden video cameras have found that they have little recourse because there are no federal regulations, no state statutes, and no labor laws covering video surveillance. A U.S. Senate bill that would require employers to inform workers about cameras in bathrooms or locker rooms was attacked by the business community and stymied by Congress. "This is all leading to a total-surveillance society," says Craig Cornish, of the National Employment Lawyers Association. The same holds true for police surveillance videos. "The law, as it exists today, would appear to allow the use of any of this new technology by police without the prospect of any judicial supervision."

The critics not withstanding, video surveillance devices in public do not seem to violate any constitutional principles. If these devices were set up to gaze into a private dwelling, however, that would be a different story.
The United States Supreme has decided in a long line of cases, most notably in Katz v. United States 389 U.S. 347, 88 S.CT.507 (1967), that there is no expectation of privacy in a public place. The Court ruled that the limits of Fourth Amendment protections against an illegal search did not stop at a physical trespass into a constitutionally protected area. However, some protection is suggested in that the court set forth two tests that since 1967 have been the reference point for other decisions. The first test is expectation of privacy and the second is reasonableness of government search. Neither test is explicitly in the 4th Amendment. However, the 4th Amendment does speak of unreasonable searches and seizures.
Up until this case in 1967 the court used to focus heavily on property rights. Charles Katz had been convicted in federal district court of bookmaking based on an eavesdropping device attached to the outside of a public telephone booth without a warrant. The Supreme Court threw out his conviction. Justice Potter Stewart writing for the majority declared, "The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places." Katz holds that "What a person knowingly exposes to the public, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.
Therefore it would follow that a person in public cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy from video surveillance cameras.
____If it's done in a public place, and it's there purely for public safety purposes, it's not a problem," says George Trubow, a professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago and director of the school's Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law.
____ Still, some people question whether the use of video surveillance cameras in public areas is reasonable police action vs. unreasonable police infringement of the 4th Amendment. There is enough concern that the American Bar Association has issued standards that take into consideration the authorization, purpose, and duration of the surveillance, the notification of the community, and use of the images. Sheldon Krantz, a Washington, D.C. attorney, chaired the task force that developed the standards. Under ABA standards, video surveillance cameras and other detection devices can only be used to "see" into a particular area if the Fourth Amendment allows a traditional search of the area.
Under those standards, the use of such devices would be permitted if they are reasonably likely to achieve a legitimate law enforcement objective, have been approved by a politically accountable public official, and have been presented to the public, which must be given an opportunity for comment.

The standards have been published in a volume titled ABA Standards for Criminal Justice Electronic Surveillance Third Edition, Section B: Technological-Assisted Physical Surveillance.
Still, if you consider surveillance a search, it is one thing to be searched electronically if there is probable cause. But the indiscriminate surveillance of the general public seems to violate the constitutional right to privacy as interpreted by the Fourth Amendment.
John Henry Hingson III is a criminal defense lawyer in Oregon City, Oregon, and a past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He claims that the rights of the innocent are being sacrificed in the name of law enforcement.

"The weapons of war are now being used against American citizens for civilian law enforcement," he says. "And the casualties of this war are the constitutional rights of the innocent."
This may not be the case for long, however. Even if the right of privacy from unauthorized videotaping is not covered by the Constitution, a right may be protected by statutory means. Florida lawmakers have passed a bill which creates criminal penalties for secretly videotaping, recording or filming people where they have an expectation of privacy. This is a step in the right direction and will protect people in places such as restrooms. However, it does not protect citizens who do not realize they are being videotaped when they are in a public place, which is where most surveillance takes place.

What legislation is appropriate?

It has been established that we have no expectations to privacy when in a public place. However, that does not necessarily mean that we have to accept being video taped when we do not expect it. It is not unreasonable for a person to expect to be able to venture into public without his image showing up on in a situation that may be embarrassing to him or may harm him in some way. It seems that appropriate legislation would allow surveillance video equipment that would promote public safety while putting severe restrictions on how that tape may be used and who will have access to it. However, don't count on legislation to stem the proliferation of surveillance cameras or how they are used in the near future. For now, to paraphrase what they used to say on television: anybody, anytime, anyplace may be the subject of this candid camera.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Big Brother Business Is Always Watching You

In this posting,  Abigail Wang discusses how video surveillance is being used for more than just security.

Eagle Eye Cloud Surveillance

Whether you like it or not, there are cameras everywhere that are watching you. In retail stores, on the streets, in the office, it doesn't seem like you can escape them. What do businesses do with all this footage, and what future plans are in store for video surveillance? Video security company Eagle Eye Networks released a recent report that details some of the key trends happening in business use of surveillance systems.

Customers' Best Interests in Mind?The survey included feedback from 500 Information Technology, Video Surveillance professionals and managers over the span of a year. One of the questions participants were asked was what their businesses' plans were for their next system upgrade. Sixty-eight percent plan to have their system usage include business operations and not simply for protection purposes only.
If video surveillance isn't being used primarily for protection, then what is it being used for? Over fifty percent of the respondents claimed that their businesses aimed to improve sales or customer support, and 44 percent wanted to focus on improving general employee productivity. Other important uses included analyzing customer behavior and reducing risk of injury.
Possible Cyberattacks on the Horizon

Approximately 65 percent of the companies in the survey claimed they want to implement some sort of cloud video recording, and 75 percent of the professionals acknowledged the advantages cloud-managed video surveillance systems have. Among their perks, these systems allow for flexible storage capacity, easier access to video content, and easier multi-site integration and upgrades.

Eagle Eye Cloud Surveillance 2
For every positive, however, there is a negative. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents saw problems that could arise in cloud-managed video surveillance. The top concern was security; in fact almost 70 percent of the IT professionals surveyed believed that video surveillance systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Other concerns were high bandwidth usage, issues of reliability, and the possibly difficult transition to cloud-based systems.

Only Time Will TellCurrent video surveillance systems aren't exactly the best. Participants complained of poor image quality, multi-site issues with browser or camera incompatibility, and system unreliability.
Video surveillance systems, both cloud and on-premise recording, are certainly here to stay no matter what you think of them. Time will tell whether companies will be able to meet their needs with cloud-based surveillance.

Read more at PC Magazine.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Shrinking Rationale For Government Surveillance Camera Systems

By request of several of our AISight readers, we are including this article  written by Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project.

Yesterday I wrote about how the spread of cameras throughout our public lives is irrevocably changing our privacy in public spaces, as well as society expectations around video surveillance—with people increasingly surprised when an unusual incident that takes place in public is not captured on video.

Does this mean that I or the ACLU have thrown in the towel when it comes to opposing public video surveillance?


The trend toward Little Brother surveillance has one additional very significant implication: given such surveillance, there is actually less reason for police departments to build centralized, government-run camera systems. We can get 99% of the security benefits of surveillance cameras from privately owned, distributed cameras—and with a much smaller portion of the privacy downside.

When a freak event such as a terrorist attack or more common crime such as a mugging takes place, the police will be able to collect video footage from the private citizens and businesses that are nearby. This is essentially what happened after the Boston Marathon bombing. The more a place is high-profile, well-trafficked, and likely to be the target of a terrorist attack, the more likely a place is to be highly photographed by numerous private cameras.
In New Orleans, the police have actually taken things one step further: they are building a database of privately run cameras.

What do we think of that idea?

Well, any system for the mandatory reporting or registration of private cameras would be constitutionally troubling, and a system in which the police can actually monitor private cameras in real time would be not an improvement on centralized surveillance systems, but a super-charged version thereof. But assuming that (as in New Orleans) it is entirely voluntary for citizens to tell the police about their cameras, and the police are not actually plugging in to the private cameras, I see no problem with it.

Of course, the possibility always exists that the police will abuse this capability for illegitimate uses such as politicized "intelligence" gathering—but the effort involved plus the involvement of private citizens will provide more insulation against abuse than centralized government-run camera systems. Reliance on private cameras probably represents the appropriate long-term balance between increasingly omnipresent video technology and concerns over privacy.
The benefits of centralized and live access to large-scale video systems doesn't balance out the privacy risks (not to mention the monetary costs, although we should expect those will fall sharply over time). As with any technology, one can imagine scenarios where such systems save the day—but it is even easier to imagine scenarios where such a technology is abused and in fact such scenarios don't require any imagination whatsoever as experience strongly suggests abuses are inevitable.
It seems to me there are two main arguments for centralized camera networks that a supporter of such networks might make. The first is ease of access to video footage by the police, who would be spared the inconvenience of having to collect private footage. But we impose many inconveniences on the authorities for the sake of limiting their power and protecting our privacy—from search warrants to expensive and time-consuming jury trials. The costs of centralized surveillance are too great to trade away for mere convenience.

The other argument is that the police might use a centralized network for live monitoring, in the hopes of detecting and preventing crimes before they occur. The problem with this was well summed up by Cato's Julian Sanchez:
Terror attacks are (thankfully) so rare and varied that any system with the slightest chance of detecting a real one would necessarily yield a vast, paralyzing number of false positives.
Crimes other than terrorism are more common but the "predictors" for such crimes may be even more broad, and lead to the same ocean of false positives. Part of the reason this is true is the asymmetry between past and future: it's far harder to predict something than to reconstruct how it happened after the fact. Yet the ease of the latter seduces us into thinking we can do the former.

Unfortunately we are seeing the construction of centralized government camera systems in Chicago, California and elsewhere. Every day there is less need for the authorities to go down that road.