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Paul Merrell

The Supreme Court's Groundbreaking Privacy Victory for the Digital Age | American Civil Liberties Union - 0 views

  • The Supreme Court on Friday handed down what is arguably the most consequential privacy decision of the digital age, ruling that police need a warrant before they can seize people’s sensitive location information stored by cellphone companies. The case specifically concerns the privacy of cellphone location data, but the ruling has broad implications for government access to all manner of information collected about people and stored by the purveyors of popular technologies. In its decision, the court rejects the government’s expansive argument that people lose their privacy rights merely by using those technologies. Carpenter v. U.S., which was argued by the ACLU, involves Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2013 of a string of burglaries in Detroit. To tie Carpenter to the burglaries, FBI agents obtained — without seeking a warrant — months’ worth of his location information from Carpenter’s cellphone company. They got almost 13,000 data points tracking Carpenter’s whereabouts during that period, revealing where he slept, when he attended church, and much more. Indeed, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in Friday’s decision, “when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user.”.
  • The government’s argument that it needed no warrant for these records extends far beyond cellphone location information, to any data generated by modern technologies and held by private companies rather than in our own homes or pockets. To make their case, government lawyers relied on an outdated, 1970s-era legal doctrine that says that once someone shares information with a “third party” — in Carpenter’s case, a cellphone company — that data is no longer protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court made abundantly clear that this doctrine has its limits and cannot serve as a carte blanche for the government seizure of any data of its choosing without judicial oversight.
  • The ACLU argued the agents had violated Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment rights when they obtained such detailed records without a warrant based on probable cause. In a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court agreed, recognizing that the Fourth Amendment must apply to records of such unprecedented breadth and sensitivity: Mapping a cell phone’s location over the course of 127 days provides an all-encompassing record of the holder’s whereabouts. As with GPS information, the timestamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his ‘familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.’
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  • While the decision extends in the immediate term only to historical cellphone location data, the Supreme Court’s reasoning opens the door to the protection of the many other kinds of data generated by popular technologies. Today’s decision provides a groundbreaking update to privacy rights that the digital age has rendered vulnerable to abuse by the government’s appetite for surveillance. It recognizes that “cell phones and the services they provide are ‘such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life’ that carrying one is indispensable to participation in modern society.” And it helps ensure that we don’t have to give up those rights if we want to participate in modern life. 
Paul Merrell

New Documents Reveal FBI's "Cozy" Relationship with Geek Squad - 1 views

  • Throughout the past ten years, the FBI has at varying points in time maintained a particularly close relationship with Best Buy officials and used the company’s Geek Squad employees as informants. But the FBI refuses to confirm or deny key information about how the agency may potentially circumvent computer owners’ Fourth Amendment rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtained a handful of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in February of last year. EFF says they show the relationship between the FBI and Geek Squad employees is much “cozier” than they thought.
  • In court filings, the defense mentioned there were “eight FBI informants at Geek Squad City” from 2007 to 2012. Multiple employees received payments ranging from $500-1000 for work as informants.
  • There is no evidence that FBI obtained warrants before the Geek Squad informants searched computers they were repairing. It is believed Geek Squad employees routinely search unallocated space for any illegal content that may be on a device and then alert the FBI after conducting “fishing expeditions” for criminal activity, and this is what the FBI trains them to do. EFF sought “records about the extent to which [the FBI] directs and trains Best Buy employees to conduct warrantless searches of people’s devices.” As is clear, the government stonewalled EFF and only released documents that were already referred to by news media. The FBI neither confirmed nor denied whether the agency has “similar relationships with other computer repair facilities or businesses.” The FBI also would not produce any documents that detailed procedures or “training materials” for cultivating informants at computer repair facilities.
Paul Merrell

In Hearing on Internet Surveillance, Nobody Knows How Many Americans Impacted in Data Collection | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 0 views

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee held an open hearing today on the FISA Amendments Act, the law that ostensibly authorizes the digital surveillance of hundreds of millions of people both in the United States and around the world. Section 702 of the law, scheduled to expire next year, is designed to allow U.S. intelligence services to collect signals intelligence on foreign targets related to our national security interests. However—thanks to the leaks of many whistleblowers including Edward Snowden, the work of investigative journalists, and statements by public officials—we now know that the FISA Amendments Act has been used to sweep up data on hundreds of millions of people who have no connection to a terrorist investigation, including countless Americans. What do we mean by “countless”? As became increasingly clear in the hearing today, the exact number of Americans impacted by this surveillance is unknown. Senator Franken asked the panel of witnesses, “Is it possible for the government to provide an exact count of how many United States persons have been swept up in Section 702 surveillance? And if not the exact count, then what about an estimate?”
  • Elizabeth Goitein, the Brennan Center director whose articulate and thought-provoking testimony was the highlight of the hearing, noted that at this time an exact number would be difficult to provide. However, she asserted that an estimate should be possible for most if not all of the government’s surveillance programs. None of the other panel participants—which included David Medine and Rachel Brand of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board as well as Matthew Olsen of IronNet Cybersecurity and attorney Kenneth Wainstein—offered an estimate. Today’s hearing reaffirmed that it is not only the American people who are left in the dark about how many people or accounts are impacted by the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of the Internet. Even vital oversight committees in Congress like the Senate Judiciary Committee are left to speculate about just how far-reaching this surveillance is. It's part of the reason why we urged the House Judiciary Committee to demand that the Intelligence Community provide the public with a number. 
  • The lack of information makes rigorous oversight of the programs all but impossible. As Senator Franken put it in the hearing today, “When the public lacks even a rough sense of the scope of the government’s surveillance program, they have no way of knowing if the government is striking the right balance, whether we are safeguarding our national security without trampling on our citizens’ fundamental privacy rights. But the public can’t know if we succeed in striking that balance if they don’t even have the most basic information about our major surveillance programs."  Senator Patrick Leahy also questioned the panel about the “minimization procedures” associated with this type of surveillance, the privacy safeguard that is intended to ensure that irrelevant data and data on American citizens is swiftly deleted. Senator Leahy asked the panel: “Do you believe the current minimization procedures ensure that data about innocent Americans is deleted? Is that enough?”  David Medine, who recently announced his pending retirement from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, answered unequivocally:
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  • Senator Leahy, they don’t. The minimization procedures call for the deletion of innocent Americans’ information upon discovery to determine whether it has any foreign intelligence value. But what the board’s report found is that in fact information is never deleted. It sits in the databases for 5 years, or sometimes longer. And so the minimization doesn’t really address the privacy concerns of incidentally collected communications—again, where there’s been no warrant at all in the process… In the United States, we simply can’t read people’s emails and listen to their phone calls without court approval, and the same should be true when the government shifts its attention to Americans under this program. One of the most startling exchanges from the hearing today came toward the end of the session, when Senator Dianne Feinstein—who also sits on the Intelligence Committee—seemed taken aback by Ms. Goitein’s mention of “backdoor searches.” 
  • Feinstein: Wow, wow. What do you call it? What’s a backdoor search? Goitein: Backdoor search is when the FBI or any other agency targets a U.S. person for a search of data that was collected under Section 702, which is supposed to be targeted against foreigners overseas. Feinstein: Regardless of the minimization that was properly carried out. Goitein: Well the data is searched in its unminimized form. So the FBI gets raw data, the NSA, the CIA get raw data. And they search that raw data using U.S. person identifiers. That’s what I’m referring to as backdoor searches. It’s deeply concerning that any member of Congress, much less a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, might not be aware of the problem surrounding backdoor searches. In April 2014, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged the searches of this data, which Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall termed “the ‘back-door search’ loophole in section 702.” The public was so incensed that the House of Representatives passed an amendment to that year's defense appropriations bill effectively banning the warrantless backdoor searches. Nonetheless, in the hearing today it seemed like Senator Feinstein might not recognize or appreciate the serious implications of allowing U.S. law enforcement agencies to query the raw data collected through these Internet surveillance programs. Hopefully today’s testimony helped convince the Senator that there is more to this topic than what she’s hearing in jargon-filled classified security briefings.
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    The 4th Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and *particularly describing the place to be searched, and the* persons or *things to be seized."* So much for the particularized description of the place to be searched and the thngs to be seized.  Fah! Who needs a Constitution, anyway .... 
Paul Merrell

Microsoft Says U.S. Is Abusing Secret Warrants - 0 views

  • “WE APPRECIATE THAT there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.” With those words, Smith announced that Microsoft was suing the Department of Justice for the right to inform its customers when the government is reading their emails. The last big fight between the Justice Department and Silicon Valley was started by law enforcement, when the FBI demanded that Apple unlock a phone used by San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook. This time, Microsoft is going on the offensive. The move is welcomed by privacy activists as a step forward for transparency — though it’s also for business reasons.
  • Secret government searches are eroding people’s trust in the cloud, Smith wrote — including large and small businesses now keeping massive amounts of records online. “The transition to the cloud does not alter people’s expectations of privacy and should not alter the fundamental constitutional requirement that the government must — with few exceptions — give notice when it searches and seizes private information or communications,” he wrote. According to the complaint, Microsoft received 5,624 federal demands for customer information or data in the past 18 months. Almost half — 2,576 — came with gag orders, and almost half of those — 1,752 — had “no fixed end date” by which Microsoft would no longer be sworn to secrecy. These requests, though signed off on by a judge, qualify as unconstitutional searches, the attorneys argue. It “violates both the Fourth Amendment, which affords people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property, and the First Amendment, which enshrines Microsoft’s rights to talk to its customers and to discuss how the government conducts its investigations — subject only to restraints narrowly tailored to serve compelling government interests,” they wrote.
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    The Fourth Amendment argument that people have a right to know when their property has been searched or seized is particularly interesting to me. If adopted by the Courts, that could spell the end of surveillance gag orders. 
Paul Merrell

Fourth Circuit adopts mosaic theory, holds that obtaining "extended" cell-site records requires a warrant - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • A divided Fourth Circuit has ruled, in United States v. Graham, that “the government conducts a search under the Fourth Amendment when it obtains and inspects a cell phone user’s historical [cell-site location information] for an extended period of time” and that obtaining such records requires a warrant. The new case creates multiple circuit splits, which may lead to Supreme Court review. Specifically, the decision creates a clear circuit split with the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits on whether acquiring cell-site records is a search. It also creates an additional clear circuit split with the Eleventh Circuit on whether, if cell-site records are protected, a warrant is required. Finally, it also appears to deepen an existing split between the Fifth and Third Circuits on whether the Stored Communications Act allows the government to choose whether to obtain an intermediate court order or a warrant for cell-site records. This post will cover the reasoning of the new case in detail.
Paul Merrell

The Government Can No Longer Track Your Cell Phone Without a Warrant | Motherboard - 0 views

  • The government and police regularly use location data pulled off of cell phone towers to put criminals at the scenes of crimes—often without a warrant. Well, an appeals court ruled today that the practice is unconstitutional, in one of the strongest judicial defenses of technology privacy rights we've seen in a while.  The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the government illegally obtained and used Quartavious Davis's cell phone location data to help convict him in a string of armed robberies in Miami and unequivocally stated that cell phone location information is protected by the Fourth Amendment. "In short, we hold that cell site location information is within the subscriber’s reasonable expectation of privacy," the court ruled in an opinion written by Judge David Sentelle. "The obtaining of that data without a warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation."
  • In Davis's case, police used his cell phone's call history against him to put him at the scene of several armed robberies. They obtained a court order—which does not require the government to show probable cause—not a warrant, to do so. From now on, that'll be illegal. The decision applies only in the Eleventh Circuit, but sets a strong precedent for future cases.
  • Indeed, the decision alone is a huge privacy win, but Sentelle's strong language supporting cell phone users' privacy rights is perhaps the most important part of the opinion. Sentelle pushed back against several of the federal government's arguments, including one that suggested that, because cell phone location data based on a caller's closest cell tower isn't precise, it should be readily collectable.  "The United States further argues that cell site location information is less protected than GPS data because it is less precise. We are not sure why this should be significant. We do not doubt that there may be a difference in precision, but that is not to say that the difference in precision has constitutional significance," Sentelle wrote. "That information obtained by an invasion of privacy may not be entirely precise does not change the calculus as to whether obtaining it was in fact an invasion of privacy." The court also cited the infamous US v. Jones Supreme Court decision that held that attaching a GPS to a suspect's car is a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. Sentelle suggested a cell phone user has an even greater expectation of location privacy with his or her cell phone use than a driver does with his or her car. A car, Sentelle wrote, isn't always with a person, while a cell phone, these days, usually is.
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  • "One’s cell phone, unlike an automobile, can accompany its owner anywhere. Thus, the exposure of the cell site location information can convert what would otherwise be a private event into a public one," he wrote. "In that sense, cell site data is more like communications data than it is like GPS information. That is, it is private in nature rather than being public data that warrants privacy protection only when its collection creates a sufficient mosaic to expose that which would otherwise be private." Finally, the government argued that, because Davis made outgoing calls, he "voluntarily" gave up his location data. Sentelle rejected that, too, citing a prior decision by a Third Circuit Court. "The Third Circuit went on to observe that 'a cell phone customer has not ‘voluntarily’ shared his location information with a cellular provider in any meaningful way.' That circuit further noted that 'it is unlikely that cell phone customers are aware that their cell phone providers collect and store historical location information,'” Sentelle wrote.
  • "Therefore, as the Third Circuit concluded, 'when a cell phone user makes a call, the only information that is voluntarily and knowingly conveyed to the phone company is the number that is dialed, and there is no indication to the user that making that call will also locate the caller,'" he continued.
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    Another victory for civil libertarians against the surveillance state. Note that this is another decision drawing guidance from the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Jones, shortly before the Edward Snowden leaks came to light, that called for re-examination of the Third Party Doctrine, an older doctrine that data given to or generated by third parties is not protected by the Fourth Amendment.   
Paul Merrell

Technology News: Tech Law: Court Ruling Grants Email the Cloak of Privacy - 0 views

  • The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has handed down a ruling that delights privacy advocates and Fourth Amendment purists: In U.S. v. Warshak, it found that the government should have obtained a search warrant before seizing and searching defendant Stephen Warshak's emails, which were stored by email service providers.
  • It is an important ruling, because it is the first time a federal court of appeals has extended the Fourth Amendment to email with such careful consideration, and it is likely to be influential on both legal and practical levels
  • The decision is particularly important because the Stored Communications Act does allow the government to secretly obtain emails without a warrant in many situations, according to the EFF, which filed an amicus brief in the case.
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