Yesterday, American hero and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden presented a Christmas message for Britain’s Channel 4. If you missed Snowden’s message amidst the holiday festivities, I highly recommend watching it above. He has some important things to say about privacy and why it matters, and The Freedom Bulletin couldn’t agree more with his sentiments.
December 26, 2013
December 24, 2013
In an in-depth interview with the Washington Post, heroic NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden explained and defended his decision to share details of the agency’s surveillance programs with the world. He also expressed his sense of victory now that the NSA’s programs have become public and therefore a source of debate and controversy:
“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished. I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself… All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed. That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”
In response to those who accuse him of breaking the oath of secrecy that he took when he became an NSA contractor, he replied:
“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy. That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not… I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA. I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”
And to the critics who would ask what gave him the right to unilaterally decide that the NSA’s programs should no longer be secret, he said:
“Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions… Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden… The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility… It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere. You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”
December 16, 2013
Image credit: Sustainable Prosperity
Today, Judge Richard Leon stood up for Americans’ privacy rights. In a historic decision, he ruled that the NSA’s mass collection of telephone records is unconstitutional and violates the Fourth Amendment. The plaintiffs, conservative activist Larry Klayman and Charles Strange, whose son worked for the NSA before being killed in Afghanistan, filed suit against President Obama and the NSA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Leon granted them a preliminary injunction ordering the NSA to stop collecting their phone records and to destroy the records they currently hold. However, he delayed enforcement of the injunction pending a government appeal.
“I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware ‘the abridgment of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,’ would be aghast,” Judge Leon wrote in his ruling.
Contrasting the case with a 1979 ruling that the government does not need a warrant to access phone records, he wrote, “There is the very real prospect that the (NSA) program will go on for as long as America is combatting terrorism, which realistically could be forever!… The almost-Orwellian technology that enables the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived of in 1979.”
He made fun of the government’s argument that it would be burdensome to comply with individuals’ requests to stop storing their data: “Of course, the public has no interest in saving the government from the burdens of complying with the Constitution!”
And he expressed his doubt that the mass surveillance program even protects national security, saying, “I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism. The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack.”Plaintiff Klayman said of the decision: “Obviously it’s a great ruling and a correct ruling, and the first time that in a long time that a court has stepped in to prevent the tyranny of the other two branches of government.”
And Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee who heroically leaked the details of the previously secret spying program to the public, said, “I acted on my belief that the NSA’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”
Read the opinion here (PDF)
October 27, 2013
Yesterday, on the 12th anniversary of the Patriot Act, the largest pro-privacy rally in history took place in Washington, D.C. Organized by the Stop Watching Us coalition, it featured activists from across the political spectrum speaking out against the NSA’s surveillance programs. Watch highlights from the rally, and read a statement by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, below:
March 28, 2013
In addition to health insurance companies invading their customers’ privacy as I blogged about earlier in the week, there seems to be a similar trend with car insurance. As opposed to simply trusting customers to report their driving habits, car insurance companies are starting to place surveillance devices in cars to record this information directly. No one (yet) is required to submit to this invasion of privacy in order to buy car insurance, but companies are offering discounts to those who do.
For example, beginning in 2009, Progressive rolled out a program called MyRate, which uses an in-car telematic device that collects data about driving speed, acceleration and deceleration, distance, and time of day, enabling customers to receive discounts based on what the data show. If you live in MA, you have likely seen TV ads for its successor, Snapshot, which debuted in 2010 and operates the same way. Similar programs in other states include DriveWise by Allstate and Drive Safe and Save by State Farm. Other programs use GPS to track location. More and more insurance companies are expected to start similar programs in the coming years.
Surveys have shown that many people are disturbingly willing to sacrifice their privacy rights to save money. According to one poll by CarInsurance.com, 64% of people would allow a breathalyzer in their cars, 38% would accept a data-monitoring device like those described above, 37% would accept a cellphone-disabling device, and 20% would accept an in-car surveillance camera.
Some might argue that there’s nothing wrong with giving people the option of sacrificing some privacy for a cheaper rate, but as I wrote in my earlier blog post on health insurance, rewarding people for giving up privacy is the same as punishing people for keeping their privacy. And the punishment could become more ominous in the future. In an interview with the New York Times, Shamik Lala of the consulting firm A.T. Kearney predicted that the insurance industry will view privacy-free policies as standard in five years, and people who wish to keep their privacy will be viewed as risky drivers. We should fight back against the increasing surveillance of our lives. Privacy is a fundamental right, and people shouldn’t be financially penalized for exercising it.
March 25, 2013
CVS recently unveiled a new policy requiring all employees who use the company’s health insurance plan to undergo a medical screening by May 1 of this year, which includes having their height, weight, and blood pressure measured by a doctor, as well as blood tests for glucose and cholesterol, or else be penalized $50 a month. Employees must sign a statement certifying that the screening is “voluntary,” and the results will be sent to WebMD Health Services Group, the company that implements CVS’s benefit programs.
This policy has deservedly faced criticism from privacy rights organizations. Dr. Deborah Peel, the founder of Patient Privacy Rights, called the policy “incredibly coercive and invasive.”
March 12, 2013
In the wake of the scandal about Harvard students who allegedly cheated on their take-home final exams, a rather disturbing fact has now been widely reported by local media…at least disturbing to people who care about privacy. Harvard searched the email accounts of its 16 Resident Deans to investigate who had leaked information about the alleged cheating to the press. They only looked at the subject lines of emails, as opposed to their contents, and they searched the deans’ administrative accounts, as opposed to their individual Harvard accounts. But still, this is an invasion of privacy, and deans say that they feel shocked, dismayed, betrayed, and creeped out. Although Harvard has a policy that requires it to notify faculty members before or shortly after any searches take place, the university did not make the deans aware of the searches until the Boston Globe started investigating the matter nearly 6 months later.
Some people have criticized these reactions; for example, Eileen McNamara at WBUR calls this a case of “selective outrage” because, she claims, faculty members wouldn’t have been upset if Harvard had snooped on regular employees. (Harvard faculty are given greater email privacy protections than staff, and it is debatable which category deans are considered to fall under.) While I don’t think it’s right to criticize people for being upset about a violation of their privacy – the deans have a right to be upset, and their colleagues have a right to be upset on their behalf – she makes a good point that it is always a bad thing for liberty and privacy when companies and organizations look through the emails of their employees. In Boston.com’s On Liberty blog, Gavi Wolfe of the ACLU and Kade Crockford of the Technology for Liberty project use this incident to draw attention to the Electronic Privacy Act, a law that would require law enforcement to actually have probable cause in order to access logs of people’s phone use, contacts, location, emails, and texts. Unfortunately from a privacy rights point of view, courts have granted employers pretty much free reign to monitor their employees’ use of work email accounts and computers. But that doesn’t mean the government should have free reign as well. A law like the Electronic Privacy Act is long overdue.