Loss of Privacy

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

The new law says an employer cannot force you to tell them your social media passwords or login to let them see what you’re doing. That seems obvious to most people. But what an employer also cannot do anymore is tell an employee or applicant, I need you to ‘friend’ me on Facebook, or I need you to friend me on Instagram, or follow me on Twitter. That way I can see what you’re doing,” said Chris McCarty, a Knoxville attorney who specializes in employment law.

Tennessee now joins a list of dozens of states that have passed an Employee Online Privacy Act. McCarty says it protects people who make their online settings private, not the information someone shares with the entire world wide web.

“The default setting for most social media accounts is ‘public’ so anyone can see it. Anything that is public is still fair game for an employer to see what its workers or an applicant is doing. I tell people to be smart, because everything you do online that is public, it’s just like going in the street and doing it,” said McCarty.

The new law says employers cannot force an employee or job applicant to provide access to private information.

“You have to take an active role as the user and make everything friend-only and set your privacy settings. If you don’t do that, this law doesn’t protect you at all,” said McCarty.

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The NYPD has been using a secretive program for several years using unmarked vans with x-ray machines inside. They’re supposed to detect bombs. ProPublica spent three years attempting to determine what the program was about, but the NYPD refused. It took a judge to order the release of the records to learn anything.

The ruling follows a nearly three-year legal battle by ProPublica, which had requested police reports, training materials, contracts and any health and safety tests on the vans under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

ProPublica filed the request as part of its investigation into the proliferation of security equipment, including airport body scanners, that expose people to ionizing radiation, which can mutate DNA and increase the risk of cancer.

Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said Thursday that the NYPD would appeal “because disclosing this sensitive information would compromise public safety.”

The X-ray vans at issue are essentially a version of older airport body scanners mounted on a truck.

The X-ray vans—which reportedly cost between $729,000 and $825,000 each—are designed to find organic materials such as drugs and explosives. The rays penetrate the metal in a car or concrete in a building and scatter back to a detector, producing an image of what’s inside. The van can scan while driving alongside a row of shipping containers or while parked as cars pass by. Customs agencies around the world have used them to fight drug and human smuggling.

But most Federal Drug Administration regulations for medical X-rays do not apply to security equipment, leaving the decision of when and how to use the scanners up to law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD.

The NYPD’s policies are of particular interest because many agencies have adopted strict policies to address potential harm from backscatter X-ray scans. When Customs began using the vans extensively in 2010, the agency prohibited their use on occupied vehicles and required that people get out of the vehicles before they were X-rayed.

But because the NYPD has refused to release the department’s policies and procedures, it’s unclear how widely the vans are being used—if at all, whether they’re being used to scan people or even if police are deploying them for routine patrols on busy city streets.

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In the latest “think of the children” idea to come out of the United Kingdom, a new bill proposes that nursery school staff and registered childminders must report toddlers they think are at risk of becoming terrorists.

The directive is contained in a 39-page consultation document issued by the Home Office in a bid to bolster its Prevent anti-terrorism plan.

Critics said the idea was “unworkable” and “heavy-handed”, and accused the Government of treating teachers and carers as “spies”.

The document accompanies the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, currently before parliament. It identifies nurseries and early years childcare providers, along with schools and universities, as having a duty “to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.

The consultation paper adds: “Senior management and governors should make sure that staff have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas which can be used to legitimise terrorism and are shared by terrorist groups.

David Davis, the Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary, said: “It is hard to see how this can be implemented. It is unworkable. I have to say I cannot understand what they [nursery staff] are expected to do.

“Are they supposed to report some toddler who comes in praising a preacher deemed to be extreme? I don’t think so.

“It is heavy-handed.”

Headteachers’ union NAHT, said it was “uneasy” with the new guidance. General secretary Russell Hobby, said: “It’s really important that nurseries are able to establish a strong relationship of trust with families, as they are often the first experience the families will have of the education system.

“Any suspicions that they are evaluating families for ideology could be quite counterproductive.

“Nursery settings should focus on the foundations of literacy and socialising with other children – those are the real ‘protections’.”

Schools and nurseries, he said, should not be required to act as a police service.

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