Loss of Privacy

Keeping you informed on recent losses to privacy and civil rights worldwide.

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Alan M. Dershowitz continues his five-part series with a discussion on surveillance, privacy, and the case of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.


The recent disclosure
by Edward Snowden of the US government’s wide net of surveillance has stimulated an emotional debate about security, privacy, and secrecy. We have learned from Snowden that the National Security Agency engages in virtually unchecked monitoring of all sorts of communications that were thought to be private but that we now know are maintained in secret government databases.

Three fundamental issues are raised by these disclosures: Was it proper for the government to conduct such massive surveillance and to maintain such extensive files? Was it proper for the government to keep its surveillance program secret from the public? If not, did this governmental impropriety justify the unlawful disclosure of so much classified information by Snowden?

There are no simple or perfect answers to these questions. All governments, even those that respect the right to privacy, must engage in some surveillance. The nature and extent of permissible intrusion on privacy will always depend on the nature and extent of the threats posed and the value of the information sought in preventing these threats from materializing. A delicate balance must be always struck between security and privacy.

We don’t know precisely what sorts of information the NSA has gathered and from whom. (This lack of knowledge in itself is part of the problem.) But we know enough to be concerned that our phone calls, e-mails, and even oral conversations may be subject to governmental monitoring and collecting. The government denies that it is listening to or reading the content of private communications between ordinary citizens, claiming that the NSA collects only the “metadata,” specifically the identifying features of the persons who are communicating; the times, durations, and locations of such communications; and other “externalities.” The massiveness of such a collection process tells the government a great deal about the substance of terrorist plans. But it also tells the government a great deal about the substance of our private lives. That is why there is so much controversy about a program that gathers so much with so few checks and so little accountability.

The real question in a democracy is not whether a balance must be struck — of course it must — but who should get to strike that balance. Which brings up the secrecy issue. If the governmental programs of gathering information are kept secret from the public and from most of its elected officials, then the balance will be struck, if it is struck at all, by intelligence officials who have a far greater interest in security than in privacy.

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fingerprint

Pupils at Redhill School in Stourbridge, United Kingdom are set to have their fingerprints taken. The schools say the controversial technology is part of a cashless system throughout the school and is necessary to reduce queues and monitor pupils’ diets.

The 1,200-pupil school in Junction Road detailed its plans in a letter to parents last month. Headteacher Stephen Dunster said the scheme was part of a long-term plan to allow parents to pay for any school related fees over the internet.

He said: “We are aiming to have a cashless system throughout the school. The catering system is better for parents because they don’t have to provide children with lunch money every morning. From our perspective it is far more efficient as it reduces waiting times.”

“We will also be able to monitor what children are buying to make sure they are eating a healthy diet.”

Just because a student takes an orange to eat for lunch does not mean the student eats that orange. You can force children to take healthy foods at lunch, but you can’t make them eat it.

Around half of Dudley’s secondary schools use some form of biometric system. But its use has come under fire from civil liberties campaigners, who fear the information could be stored on school databases. Mr Dunster added: “We don’t hold fingerprints on file. This is about using technology to benefit our pupils and parents.”

If the fingerprints are not held on file, who has them? Who has access to these fingerprints and how secure are they?

More at the Express and Star.

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Two teens were cited for sexting after police said they shared a nude photo of a girl while in class at West Port High School in Marion County.

The boys, 14 and 15, were cited under Florida’s sexting statute, which makes a first-time offense a civil infraction and not a crime for minors.

Police said the first teen downloaded the photo from Instagram, then shared it with the other teen via Kik Messenger. The second boy shared the picture with his cousin, according to Ocala police. A school resource officer uncovered the information and filed the report.

The first teen was cited for possessing and distributing the nude photo, while the second was cited for distributing it. Police said since the photo was sent to his mother’s phone he wasn’t charged with possession.

The girl told police the picture had been edited via Photoshop.

Both teens face a fine or eight hours of community service. A second offense is a first-degree misdemeanor. The teens were not arrested, but they do have a mandatory court appearance.

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Facebook’s Privacy Checkup from Facebook on Vimeo.

For now, this is for desktop versions only. Facebook is looking for feedback from users before rolling out a mobile version, which it says make up 30 percent of its monthly users.

More at recode.

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