The Noose Around Privacy is Tightening...

Category: Privacy

“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.

warrantless searches

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 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...

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Most recent comments on "The Noose Around Privacy is Tightening..."

(See all 39 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

If home computer users have no expectation of privacy as soon as they connect to the internet, then logically the government would not either, so hacking government computers should no longer be a crime. What's good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

@PgmrDude: Yours is my favorite comment today, and you're absolutely right. Why is there a double standard? If the government can hack its citizens, why should it be a crime for the citizens to hack the government?

Our electorate is supposed to be made up of the citizenry, but it isn't. It's full of the elite, those who came from families with money and power. And therein lies the problem--all that wealth makes them think they can buy a position that's above the law of the land, and all too often that position is for sale to many.

The Fourth Amendment should apply to anywhere we live and anything we own or create that we decide to keep private. Wanna look? Get a warrant!

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

This was first written by Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its Reply to the Governor (11 Nov. 1755)

What I find chilling is how many, even on this site, are so willing to open their lives up to unlimited, uncontrolled and unaccountable government intrusion in the hope that the government will make them safer.

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

James McMillen: You believe you're the one that gets to decide if you're doing something wrong? Hmmm..

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

James McMillen :

You have no problem with the government reading your email?

I do hope you meant to say they could do that with a warrant because they had reasonable cause to do that.

If you fell they could do it any time they wanted to what else could one say except..WOW!!

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

You don't need high tech to steal someone's privacy and ruin lives as a means of gaining power. You just need paranoia and lies, as in the tragic McCarthy era in the 1950's. If you're young, you probably didn't get to learn about this in school:

Posted by:

Bob K
07 Jul 2016

BOB: "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."

Yes, the feds wanted Apple to unlock one (the terrorist's) iPhone, and Tim Cook refused. So now, the feds know how to unlock all the 5s and previous iPhones. Did Tim Cook really think it could not be done? Good for the the feds.

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

Very well said, Bob.

Posted by:

Patrick McDonald
07 Jul 2016

State surveillance at its current level would have made the East German Security Agencies purple with envy. Sad that those who alerted us to the threat, at great risk to themselves, are deemed "traitors". Even Orwell would have blushed. But this is an age of madness, where the Trumps and Koches of the world run riot over rational political process.

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

First, it isn't a matter of not having anything to hide, it IS a matter of a constitutional right to privacy. That right is being eroded. If there is just cause a warrant can and will be issued for the information contained on your connected device.

Second, in a case like the San Bernardino terrorists, the FBI should obtain a warrant and Apple should comply with that warrant. Plain and simple. If the warrant is not obtained the investigative agencies involved are breaking constitutional law, and if the warrant is not followed Apple is in contempt and subject to prosecution. This system has worked for a long time, up until this age of political correctness.

Finally, why is this the fault of the Koch brothers and Trump? Unless I'm mistaken this has been happening under the leadership of BOTH parties.

I am not a criminal, and should not have to live in fear of being treated as one.

Posted by:

Fred Ceppa
07 Jul 2016

Why do you think so many of us are voting for Trump. fc

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

To those proposing to share this on Facebook, it is way too late. IMO that social media has sold out long ago, and has been attempting to mold its members into a certain political mindset. Those who do not comply are banned (and probably put on a watch list).

We have watched our rights being whittled away, so this should come as no surprise. I think this is one of the most important comments that Bob has written. There is no doubt that matters will get worse as time goes by. PCs are the perfect means to enter people's homes without physically doing so. We citizens have become the enemy. Hacking into computers has become child's play. It is said that "People deserve what they tolerate". It seems we have been tolerating some things for far too long.

Posted by:

07 Jul 2016

Anyone can probably get to my sent email via any one of a dozen routes but if someone wants to hack into my personal pc to get to data I want protected, well good luck with that. I am sure if someone with enough knowledge really wanted to that it could be done but it will take a fairly sophisticated hacker a significant amount of time and effort to do it. For those individuals who do not take the time or spend the effort to protect their privacy then in my opinion they are essentially abdicating their "rights" to privacy. No external agency can ever guarantee your security. The only one who can do that is you. Any expectation of external protection is a fairy-tale.

Posted by:

Max Granger
08 Jul 2016

I live in South Africa so as far as I am concerned the United States Government and FBI can go and get stuffed if they think they can read my hard drive and emails. What right do they have to break into my personal computer. Not that there is anything of a security risk on my system. It's the bloody principal that the USA seems to think they have a right to. An arrogant and bombastic approach as usual, to anything they think is right and to hell with the rest of the world.

Max Granger
Amber Ridge
South Africa

Posted by:

Sailer Jerry
10 Jul 2016

Paranoia will destroy ya

Posted by:

Dwight Simmons
10 Jul 2016

Why all the fuss about the Feds knowing all you do. Amazon, Yahoo, Google, and the rest of the corporate world already know more about you than your wife does. Let's accept the fact that everything you say or look at on line can be discovered. Let's not try to drive the process underground. Let's have proper oversight and elected officials who can be held accountable and manage the process. Rather than rail against the government, who may have valid reasons for looking at your browser content (like fighting terrorists), how about controlling the data collection of Amazon or Google (who reads your email's to suggest advertising. BTW, Google already knows what you browse, just search on fertilizer. After a few searches, all the ads on the Google search page will be about fertilizer.

Posted by:

11 Jul 2016

I love the innocent "I HAVE NOTHING TO HIDE!" people. At the most extreme and this truly is the case, why not just post your social security#, banking account details and log-in credentials, leave your front door unlocked and don't even bother locking your car doors?
A professional corporate lawyer friend of a friend who used to profess that "IHN2H" mentality, just got dinged for pot (>1oz.) possession. And now that this lawyer is truly afraid of getting her BAR credentials yanked; she is trying to see what can be done to erase her arrest record. All of a sudden, it seems like she is professionally/personally speaking from both sides of her mouth about privacy.
I am certain that if there happens to be a lesson to be learned from this small story about "Privacy" and "IHN2H" mentality >> you be the judge! But please do not confuse being a law abiding citizen with "IHN2H" mentality!

Posted by:

19 Dec 2016

For the "I have nothing to hide" crowd let me ask you a few questions. Why do you use envelopes? If you have nothing to hide, why conceal what you have written in an envelope? Most of you would object to having the government (or a total stranger) install a remote camera installed in your bedroom, why? Is there something you are doing that is illegal in your bedroom? Why are you concerned about people figuring out your SSN or credit card numbers? are you doing something wrong? Will you object if a law is passed requiring you to give the government a spare key to your house? They will assure you that this key will only be used to conduct searches and other police business and in most cases you will not even know they were in your house and they will try to search your house while you are not home so that they don't bother you.

Posted by:

Bob Greene
20 Dec 2016

On the personal privacy issue, our choice is not simply privacy or no privacy.

Such an idea is faulty logic, an error commonly termed "false dichotomy" when used in argument.

That is, citizens of this country are guaranteed privacy by the supreme law of the land-- they do not have to justify their wish for a right in order to have it, and exercise it.

Posted by:

Edward Storbeck
21 Mar 2017

hi Bob
Where can I get iDrive ONE in South Africa? Are your specials on iDrive valid internationally?

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