The ACLU reported on Wednesday that the IRS may be reading Americans’ emails without a warrant, because all Americans are now terroriststax evasion is just like terrorism look because they can OK jeez you people with all your Constitution this and Constitution thatshut up already!
The newly formed Massachusetts chapter of PANDA is bringing forward legislation on Beacon Hill to prevent the indefinite detention of American citizens under the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA.
The US government in these cases was exceptionally anxious to preserve authority to detain anyone for any length of time, provided they could be vaguely associated with al-Qaeda. Many people expected that President Obama would abandon such arguments and restore the rule of law. In reality, he has allowed the power of indefinite detention to pass into law. In 2012, he issued a signing statement to that year’s NDAA (it’s an annual thing), claiming that he would never use the power of indefinite detention. That’s not even legally binding on him, let alone on his successors. In 2013’s bill, even that signing statement has disappeared from view. Hence, people in many states have been proposing bills like the Liberty Preservation Act.
Over the fold, for the details of what the Liberty Preservation Act would do!
Americans are used to thinking of ourselves as “rights pioneers.” But the American constitution is particularly difficult to amend, and is therefore slower than most to respond to a rapidly changing technological and cultural landscape. Justice Brandeis’s 1890 law review article on “The Right to Privacy” conceived of the Constitution as embodying a central, unarticulated “right to be let alone”, expressed as the “right to an inviolate personality.” Such a right was eventually recognized in the context of marriage by the US Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), famously arguing in much-mocked language that “specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance.” The difficulty with embodying privacy as a right consists in the fact that nobody can define it clearly in a way that is not highly contingent on time-specific cultural and generational norms; we cannot say now, in 2013 and after the passage of (to name only two) marital rape laws and gay marriage laws, that the norms governing marital privacy are the same now as when Griswold was decided. Thus, culture and technology continually gallop ahead, while the law is still getting saddled up. In this post, we explore some innovative efforts to help the law catch up.
It’s not usually our dealio here at Digital Fourth to weigh in on federal digital rights, because terrific organizations like EFF, Fight for the Future, Demand Progress and the ACLU generally do that heavy lifting for us. But so much has happened regarding prosecutions under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that it’s worth focusing on what this law is, why it’s in such a mess, and what can usefully be done about it.
When originally passed way back in 1986, the intent of the CFAA was to ban hacking. This kind of hacking:
In other words, what they were concerned about was access to “Federal interest computers”, namely computers belonging to the government, or at certain designated utilities like nuclear power stations or financial institutions. Now, however, the law covers pretty much any computer held by anyone.
Have you ever wondered why your Mondays have become an unending bliss of delight, falling upon you like Zeus visiting Danae in a shower of gold? It must surely be because of Microscope Monday, your weekly look at notable surveillance-related bills on Beacon Hill.
[Artwork adapted slightly from Leo Reynolds on Flickr]
After the 9/11 attacks, a traumatized nation considered whether the attacks could have been thwarted by coordinating intelligence-gathering better between the FBI and CIA. From that impulse grew the fusion centers, of which there are now at least 7277 86 across the country. Us lucky SOBs here in Massachusetts get two, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center at One Schroeder Plaza, Roxbury, MA 02120 and the Commonwealth Fusion Center at 124 Acton Street, Maynard, MA 01754. The idea was that they would be able to thwart terrorist attacks before they occur, by gathering representatives from different agencies, and in some cases the military and the private sector, together to report on “suspicious activity”. In practice, it has not worked.
Thing is, actual terrorists are relatively thin on the ground. A network of 7277 86 fusion centers might handle three genuine cases of terrorism between them in any given year. That’s not enough to enable each fusion center to show that it’s doing anything at all. What’s a good bureaucrat to do?
As we residents of Massachusetts gambol heedlessly downward from the Mountains of Liberty toward the Swamps of Oppression, let’s take a brief breather to consider a more general commentary on surveillance.
Philosophical examinations of governmental surveillance powers center on eighteenth-century founder of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham and twentieth-century philosopher Michel Foucault. The key concept used to inform their thinking is Bentham’s notion of the Panopticon:
The Panopticon was a prison with the cells in the outside circle and the guard tower in the center. Each prisoner was, at all times, perfectly visible to the guards. The guards were invisible to the prisoners, so prisoners had to assume that they were being permanently watched.
I run the Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights out of an incubator in Cambridge, Mass. Many startups at the incubator base their innovative products around “big data”, and the concept attracts substantial academic attention locally as well.
It’s natural that law enforcement would be interested in employing the same techniques, accessing information that people put on the Internet and on their devices about themselves, their location and their habits. Massachusetts-based Raytheon, the world’s fifth-largest defense contractor, has developed a product for law enforcement called “Riot”. Riot acts as a search engine, gathering information about people from Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other places. Raytheon refers to Riot as “extreme-scale analytics”, possibly because “wicked awesome analytics” was already trademarked. The Guardian has found a video from inside Raytheon demonstrating the software’s capabilities.
Just in case you thought that the federal government would be satisfied with massively overcharging Aaron Swartz and Barrett Brown, we now have the case of Reuters social media editor Matthew Keys (@TheMatthewKeys).
Seems that a grand jury indictment has been filed in Sacramento, alleging that Keys participated in an online chat where he gave Anonymous hackers login credentials for his former employer, the Tribune Company, possibly in exchange for access to the IRC channel where Anonymous hackers were discussing future exploits, and possibly out of disapproval of the Tribune Company using paywalls. The indictment alleges that he told the channel to “go f*** some sh** up”. A hacker then used those credentials to alter, for about half an hour, a story on the Tribune website, so that it claimed that a hacker called “Chippy 1337” was about to be “elected head of the [U.S.] Senate”, to which Keys apparently responded “Nice”.
May I take a moment? [Sips glass of water] Thank you. [Deep breath]