The Noose Around Privacy is Tightening...
“There’s a monster on the loose! He’s got our heads into a noose! And he just sits there, watchin’....” Steppenwolf’s tedious (9 minutes, 15 seconds) song, “Monster/Suicide/America,” was released in 1969 and did not break any Billboard records. But the lyrics of this lament and protest song read as if they were written yesterday. They are prophetic and troubling. Read on to learn how the U.S. government is working to make privacy history...
Is Privacy a Thing of the Past?
Steppenwolf's “monster” is the United States government, and it is slowly, slyly tightening a deadly noose around the 4th Amendment, the one that forbids searches and seizures of citizens personal effects and “papers” without a warrant and a reason that a judge approves such an intrusion into a citizen’s privacy. Here are some of the ways in which the government and law enforcement is attempting to tighten the noose:
“A proposed amendment to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) would expand the FBI’s power to use National Security Letters (NSLs) to force companies to divulge more information about their customers online activities than the ECPA currently allows,” I wrote in my June 14, 2016, article, The FBI wants your browsing history.
Fortunately, this measure, which would have given federal agents direct access to internet browsing histories, email and text message logs, failed in the U.S. Senate by just two votes. If there's any good news on the privacy front, that's all of it.
After suing Apple in an effort to force the company to crack an iPhone used by one of the killers in the San Bernardino slayings, the FBI hired a private firm to do the job. It did, and the FBI now knows how to crack iPhone 5s and older iPhone models. The feds refuse to share the technique with Apple, preventing the company from developing a fix.
Government efforts to expand warrantless searches go beyond petitions to courts and Congress. State and local law enforcement agencies borrow so-called “StingRay” devices from the federal government to scoop up all cellular communnications within range of the stingray’s faked “cellular tower.” Local law enforcement officers were trained to lie under oath to protect the secret of stingrays’ very existence from court scrutiny. The data gathered includes the communications of many innocent people, and while law enforcement pinky-swears that it deletes what is not relevant to a case, there is no accountability.
Safety, Privacy, and Accountability
Facing stiff resistance in Congress to efforts to expand surveillance powers, law enforcement is now tampering with the rules that govern court operations. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, backed by more than 40 tech companies, is fighting a recent change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Those Rules are concocted by the Judicial Conference of the United States, a body of learned but unelected and unaccountable judges.
The proposed amendment to Rule 41 would expand the geographical jurisdiction of any district court from its local district to “anywhere in the world” when the location of a target computer is obscured by technological means. The effect of the amendment, according to the EFF and its supporters, is to permit the government to hack into your PC any time your physical location is unclear. Users of VPNs and proxy servers such as the Tor network are directly threatened by this change.
The Judicial Conference has recommended the changes to Rule 41 to Congress, which has until December 1, 2016, to modify or repudiate the changes. If Congress does nothing (as it usually does), then the amendment takes effect in every court throughout the land. The EFF has more to say on the amendment and its opposition. I want to highlight the site NoGlobalWarrants.org set up by the EFF to help you and other citizens who value their privacy tell Congress to reject the amendment to Rule 41.
No Expectation of Privacy?
But wait… it gets even worse. A Federal court ruled in late June 2016, that home computer users should have "no expectation of privacy" if they connect to the Internet. An Internet Patrol article says in essence that "If you connect your computer to the Internet, you should assume that it can and will be hacked. So by extension, it's okay for government agents to hack your computer without a warrant." That's scary and shocking stuff. Let's hope this goes to the Supreme Court and is overturned there.
We want to be safe in our homes, and in the public square. We want law enforcement to have the tools they need to catch bad guys and prevent terrorism. What we don't want is a government that has carte blanche access to everything we've always considered private.
But the monster never sleeps; “it just sits there, watchin’” for any chance to subvert citizens’ privacy. Our job is neatly summarized in a quotation often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Jefferson never actually said those words, and the original source seems lost to history. But still, they are good words to live by.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 6 Jul 2016
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