In the last week the world saw what appeared to be another attempt to violate privacy by government law enforcement. In this case the FBI opened a “pilot” program to capture iris imprints for a searchable database. To date they have captured more than 400,000 of these imprints. The major concern here is that there was (and remains) no public debate, or oversight on the program. The program stands on its own outside the many restrictions that protect privacy and also other rights that people have. Well at least that is how things look on the surface. We took a little bit of a deeper look and tried to peel away some of the FUD and hype over the collection.
Law Enforcement surveillance is a necessary thing. It really is, but what is not necessary is when the agencies in question decide to get lazy or feel their powers extend to a larger group of people than their intended targets. This is when things get messy and from a legal stand point ugly. Over the last ten or so years law enforcement in general has made the decision to extend their surveillance programs into mass collection of data.
In the post-Snowden era the idea that government agencies are spying on us is no longer the real of Movies/TV or conspiracy theorists. It is fairly well documented that this is happening every day. The question has moved from what if this happens, to what we are going to do to change it. Well one of the biggest hurdles has been trying to find people in power that even want this to change. When you consider the fact that the people with the power to stop the mass spying are likely to be the ones that voted to put it in place. This has meant that the average person must try to prove their case in the courts.
The Italian Security firm Hacking Team is now admitting that their spying software is potentially in the hands of bad guys. After a hack that saw roughly 400GB of company information liberated from their systems they have been monitoring what is being released online. They have now concluded that there is sufficient source code for their monitoring applications to allow someone to mount the same style surveillance that they were providing to their clients.
The term privacy has come to mean a great many things in the last few years. To some the idea of privacy is being able to do or say certain things without the fear of anyone finding out. Most people like to know that what they do on their own time is their business. Where things get a little muddy is when people liken the desire for privacy with a desire to hide wrongdoing. This belief couldn’t be farther from the truth . It is not just that it is wrong, but it is also dangerous. To imply that anyone that wants to have privacy is somehow hiding something illegal sets a dangerous precedent. Keeping this mentality alive will allow for a further erosion of peoples’ rights and grants very worrying powers to agencies that are there to protect, not to oppress.
It would seem that some in the judicial branch of the US government feel that privacy is not really about protecting citizens from unjustified surveillance. They also do not seem to have any fear of the US becoming a place where the government has powers that extend beyond the ones granted by the US constitution. At least this is the opinion of one US Judge; Judge Richard Posner. The interesting thing is that Posner has made more than a few statements in favor of individuals including condemning the existing copyright system and the way that the copyright lobby is trying to enforce it.
Microsoft had a brief moment in the sun with the release of Windows 10 after the less than stellar market performance of Windows 8.x. However, it seems they are determined to make sure that they screw things up as it was uncovered that the EULA (End User License Agreement) for the Windows 10 Technical Preview allowed them access to a little more than they would usually need for a Beta program.
The organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) announced their concern that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is planning in the near future to have a visual database with photographs of people's faces.
Lately the news has had a few articles about how companies like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo etc. are pushing the government for radical changes to their surveillance policies and demanding better protections for their customers. We have seen new ads focused on explaining how important our data is to them (and in some cases how the other guys are abusing it). The groups lining up and demanding change are many of the same companies that Edward Snowden’s bevy of leaked documents claimed were working hand in hand with the NSA to allow for mass spying on peoples’ data and that in cases where they were not directly cooperating lax security practices allowed for easy retrieval of user information.
Shortly after Edward Snowden revealed the massive surveillance programs being run by the NSA we all were treated to speeches and claims that these programs were essential to national security. These claims further talked about the vital role the NSA plays in protecting the US from the bad guys around the world. Of course they never touched on the violations individual rights protected by the constitution, but that was such a small matter than they felt it was not important.