Privacy!?

You ain’t got no privacy.  You don’t need any stinking privacy!

Using facial recognition software in combination with image storage houses like drivers license databases can be highly useful in tracking down criminal suspects.

But the combination can be highly dangerous, too, as this attitude by Joseph Michael, Washington County Deputy State’s Attorney in Maryland, demonstrates:

the expectation of privacy ends when you sit down and smile at the government desk.

Pinellas County (FL) Sheriff Bob Gualtieri argued

Another Facebook Fail

Chinese firms Huawei, Lenovo, Oppo and TCL were among numerous handset makers that were given access to Facebook data in what the US company said was “a controlled operation.”

The social media giant’s vice president of mobile partnerships, Francisco Varela, confirmed a report in The New York Times Tuesday that Facebook had given Chinese device makers deep access to the data of users’ friends without their explicit consent.

A “controlled operation.”  Meaning the accesses were deliberately granted, consents were deliberately not requested in advance.  Which raises the question: were any consents actively withheld and those denials ignored by Facebook?

A Concept of Privacy

Personal privacy and protections against warrantless searches got a boost from the Supreme Court earlier this week.

The Supreme Court said Tuesday that police need a warrant to search vehicles parked at private homes, the second time this month the justices rejected government arguments for expanding the “automobile exception” to Fourth Amendment rules against unreasonable searches.

The case at hand involved a stolen motorcycle parked in the driveway of a private residence and protected from the elements (and perhaps (even probably) from being seen by police) by a tarp.  A police officer recognized from Facebook postings the residence, saw the fact of a motorcycle under the tarp, entered the property, lifted the tarp, and looked over the motorcycle—all without a warrant.

The FBI and Backdoors

Recall that the FBI has long wanted government-accessible backdoors into our personal but encrypted communications.  “Trust us,” FBI leadership assures us, “we wouldn’t misuse that access; we’ll only use for ‘criminal’ investigations, and only with government authorization.”  And they’ve claimed in support of that wide-eyed innocence that they can’t break into over 7,000 cell phones in the pursuit of criminal investigations.  Current FBI Director Christopher Wray even put the number at over 7,700.

However.

On Tuesday, the FBI told PCMag that a programming error resulted in a “significant overcounting” of the encrypted devices. “The FBI is currently conducting an in-depth review of how this over-counting previously occurred,” the agency said in a statement.

AI Surveillance

Police forces around the nation are on the verge of getting Artificial Intelligence assistance in identifying folks of interest to them in real time on our cities’ streets.  The image below and its caption illustrate the thing.

I’m all for assisting the police, especially regarding the subject of that cynically tear-jerking caption.  But this sort of thing needs to be looked at with a very jaundiced eye.  It isn’t too far away from what the People’s Republic of China already is doing in terms of routine surveillance and tracking of everyone.

Too Much Privacy?

That’s actually a serious question.

The firestorm over Facebook Inc’s handling of personal data raises a question for those pondering a regulatory response: is there such a thing as too much privacy?

And

Law-enforcement agencies rely on access to user data as an important tool for tracking criminals or preventing terrorist attacks. As such, they have long argued additional regulation may be harmful to national security.

Unfortunately, no government can be trusted with citizens’ privacy, as the Star Chamber secret FISA court, the FBI leadership (and not just the current or immediately prior crowd—recall J Edgar Hoover), prior DoJ leadership, the Robert Mueller “investigation,” and much more demonstrate.

Statutes, Judges, and DoJ

The Supreme Court last Tuesday heard a case between Microsoft and DoJ concerning whether the emails of an alleged drug dealer must be turned over to the government pursuant to a search warrant to that effect.  The catch is that the emails are stored exclusively on servers in Ireland—nominally beyond the reach of the US’ long arm of the law.

The statute in question is the Stored Communications Act, enacted 30 years ago before email and similar electronic communications were available.

A Thought on American Women’s Gymnastics

Unless you’ve been vacationing unplugged under a rock for the last several months, you’re aware of the atrocities committed by Larry Nassar, the ex-pseudo-doctor for the US’ women’s gymnastics team.  Now we find out that

The US Olympic Committee didn’t intervene in USA Gymnastics’ handling of sexual-abuse allegations against longtime national-team doctor Larry Nassar in 2015, even after USA Gymnastics’ then-president told two top USOC executives that an internal investigation had uncovered possible criminal behavior by the doctor against Olympic athletes.

And pursuant to a lawsuit,

Warrantless Searches of Cell Phone Data

The Supreme Court has a case before it, Carpenter v US (it heard oral argument Wednesday), concerning the 4th Amendment and the personal data of a defendant in the form of his cell phone location data.  The data were obtained from the cell phone company by police without first getting a search warrant.  There is precedent.

The high court reasoned then [in ’70s cases involving business records that banks and landline phone companies maintain about customer transactions and that the Supreme Court then reasoned police could seize without warrants] that individuals had voluntarily revealed their financial transactions or numbers they dialed to a third party—the bank or phone company—and so had forfeited any privacy interest in that information.

Mobile Encryption is a Huge Problem

That’s the position of FBI Director Christopher Wray.

To put it mildly, this [mobile device encryption] is a huge, huge problem.  It impacts investigations across the board.

Certainly, consumer-done encryption of our communications devices can temporarily hinder investigations of the criminals who also use this encryption.  But as the FBI demonstrated regarding an encrypted cell phone involved in the San Bernardino terrorist attack, its initial claims notwithstanding, the encryption can be broken without the cooperation of the device’s owner.