Jul 17 2013

The Continuing Erosion of Privacy

Millions of US license plates tracked and stored, new ACLU report finds

Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

Wednesday 17 July 2013 10.07 EDT

Millions of Americans are having their movements tracked through automated scanning of their car license plates, with the records held often indefinitely in vast government and private databases.

A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union has found an alarming proliferation of databases across the US storing details of Americans’ locations. The technology is not confined to government agencies – private companies are also getting in on the act, with one firm National Vehicle Location Service holding more than 800m records of scanned license plates.

“License plate readers are the most pervasive method of location tracking that nobody has heard of,” said Catherine Crump, ACLU lawyer and lead author of the report. “They collect data on millions of Americans, the overwhelming number of whom are entirely innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Many police authorities have few or no regulations over use of the scanners other than that they should not be deployed to track people of personal interest such as spouses or friends. Pittsburg police department in California stated on the documents submitted to ACLU that the scanners can be used for “any routine patrol operation or criminal investigation – reasonable suspicion or probably cause is not required”. The police department in Scarsdale New York was glowing about the potential of the technology, saying the scanners had potential that “is only limited by the officer’s imagination”.

Boston Strangler: DNA testing of suspect’s corpse may lay identity to rest

Associated Press

Friday 12 July 2013 03.09 EDT

Investigators helped by advances in DNA technology finally have forensic evidence linking longtime suspect Albert DeSalvo to the last of the 1960s killings attributed to the Boston Strangler, leading many involved in the case to hope it can finally be put to rest.

DeSalvo’s family was outraged police secretly followed his nephew to collect DNA for new tests. Attorney Elaine Sharp said the family also believes there is still reasonable doubt he killed the Strangler’s last supposed victim.

NSA warned to rein in surveillance as agency reveals even greater scope

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian

Wednesday 17 July 2013 15.19 EDT

The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

John C Inglis, the deputy director of the surveillance agency, told a member of the House judiciary committee that NSA analysts can perform “a second or third hop query” through its collections of telephone data and internet records in order to find connections to terrorist organizations.

A document published last month by the Guardian detailing the history of the NSA’s post-9/11 bulk surveillance on telephone and internet data refer to one- or two-hop analysis performed by NSA. The document, provided by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, does not explicitly mention three-hop analysis, nor does it clearly suggest that such analysis occurs.

Wednesday’s hearing was the second major public congressional hearing about the NSA’s surveillance activities since the Guardian and the Washington Post disclosed some of them in early June. Unlike the previous hearing on June 18 before the House intelligence committee, members of the House judiciary committee aggressively questioned senior officials from the NSA, FBI, Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

One senior member of the panel, congressman James Sensenbrenner, the author of the 2001 Patriot Act, warned the officials that unless they rein in the scope of their surveillance on Americans’ phone records, “There are not the votes in the House of Representatives” to renew the provision after its 2015 expiration.

(S)everal members of the committee, of both parties, said they were concerned not merely about the analysis of the phone records but about NSA’s collection of millions of Americans’ phone data in the first place, without an individual suspicion of connections to terrorism.

“The statute says ‘collection’,” congressman Jerrold Nadler told Cole. “You’re trying to confuse us by talking use.”

Congressman Ted Poe, a judge, said: “I hope as we move forward as a Congress we rein in the idea that it’s OK to bruise the spirit of the constitution in the name of national security.”

Congressman Spencer Bachus said he “was not aware at all” of the extent of the surveillance, since the NSA programs were primarily briefed to the intelligence committees of the House and Senate.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren revealed that an annual report provided to Congress by the government about the phone-records collection, something cited by intelligence officials as an example of their disclosures to Congress, is “less than a single page and not more than eight sentences”.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, challenged Litt’s contention that the Fisa court was “not a rubber stamp” by way of a baseball analogy. Jeffries noted that some of the greatest hitters in baseball history – the Cardinals’ Stan Musial, the Red Sox’s Ted Williams, the Tigers’ Ty Cobb and the Yankees’ Babe Ruth – did not hit more than four balls safely per 10 times at bat, for career batting averages ranging from Musial’s .331 to Cobb’s .366.

He then noted that the Fisa court approves over 99% of government requests for surveillance – which would give the government a lifetime batting average of .999 – saying: “But you’ve taken the position that the Fisa court is an independent check.”

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  1. ek hornbeck

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