A Federal Surveillance Law Lapse

A fairly broad range of FISA surveillance authorities held by the Federal government has lapsed, and that

has begun to limit the FBI’s ability to pursue some terrorism and espionage suspects….

Disagreements among the House, Senate, and White House over how much to renew and the degree of additional controls to be applied to what’s renewed combined with the Wuhan Virus situation to let Congress adjourn for the season and the situation without action.

I’m undismayed by this turn of events. In the first place, when Congress returns, it’s quite likely to work out these differences and renew the FISA authorities in some form—which, if done correctly, won’t be all bad.

Wuhan Virus Tracking

Many nations are using cell phone data and/or apps installed on cell phones to track folks known to be infected in order to identify those persons’ contacts and to build up anticipatory data of pending and developing hotspots. This is intended to facilitate more efficient targeting of medical resources, to more efficiently target more limited populations, and so to more quickly free up economic resources and activity.

Where Were the FISA Court Judges?

DoJ’s Inspector General is finding yet more, yet more rampant, miscreancies in and done by what used to be our nation’s—the world’s, even—premier law enforcement agency.

DOJ’s new assessment indicated that FISA problems were systemic at the bureau and extended beyond the Page probe. In four of the 29 cases the DOJ inspector general reviewed, the FBI did not have any so-called “Woods files” at all, referring to documentation demonstrating that it had independently corroborated key facts in its surveillance warrant applications. In three of those applications, the FBI couldn’t confirm that Woods documentation ever existed.
The other 25 applications contained an average of 20 assertions not properly supported with Woods materials; one application contained 65 unsupported claims. The review encompassed the work of eight field offices over the past five years in several cases.

Privacy

Here is why more needs to be done to protect our privacy—primarily by us, but with Government’s assistance. Below is an example, quoted from a bulletin board I follow. The author is talking about an investment during a time of coronavirus disruption of supply chains, but the subtext should be obvious.

“Should Government Halt the Use of Facial-Recognition Technology?”

The Wall Street Journal ran one of its point-counterpoint debates over the weekend; this one treating the topic in this post’s title.

The debaters focused on the error rate of the technology and whether that was a big deal or a little one; although there was passing mention of civil liberty problems.

I say the question is over-broad.

Government should not only halt its own use of facial recognition software; it should be statutorily barred from it. We haven’t, yet, been overrun by the People’s Republic of China. The civil liberty—the individual liberty—matter is much too serious to be glossed over, and this is one venue where the line is better drawn at zero rather than trusting Government (which is to say, the men of Government) to go this far but no farther.

In Which Illinois Got It Right

Back in 2008, Illinois passed a law barring companies from collecting customers’ personal biometric information without their prior permission. Companies in Illinois also were required to develop a policy, and make it readily available, that laid out how those biometric data would be stored and when they would be destroyed.

Facebook was accused of violating that law when it decided to use its facial recognition technology to analyze users’ photos in order to create and store “face templates.” Users’ faces are plainly biometric data in this context, the data were taken by Facebook without the owners’/users’ permission, and in 2015, folks sued Facebook over its misbehavior.

Harms in Public Spaces

The Brits are working out a new way to intervene in private lives and in private businesses, this time in an attempt to control “harms” done via (not by, mind you) “online platforms”—social media.

Under the [British] government’s proposal, a new regulator would have the power to require companies to protect users from a number of identified online harms—such as pornography, extremist content, and cyber bullying.

And

[T]he pair talked through the different terms that had been used to describe social media in a legal context, looking for the right analogy. They tried “platform,” “pipe” and “intermediary.” Nothing seemed to fit. Then “we thought of a ‘public space,'” says Ms Woods. “People do different things online. It was just like ‘how do we regulate spaces?'”

Fiscally Sound Socialism

Richard Rubin posited, in his Wall Street Journal article, some hypotheticals for how Progressive-Democratic Party Presidential candidate and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) might pay for her Medicare-for-All plan. He suggested that one of the ways toward this goal of Medicare-for-All that all the Progressive-Democrats running for President need to do was to

find[] ways to reduce health-care costs

Were Progressive-Democrat candidates serious about this, though, they’d stop conflating health care costs with health care coverage costs, get government out of the way of both industries, and put them both (back) into competitive, free market environments.

A City’s Attack on Privacy

You’re aware of the Chicago Teachers Union strike against the city, demanding a ton more money—a 15% pay raise over the next three years (against Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s meek counteroffer of 16% over five years).  Here is another part of Lightfoot’s offer to the union [emphasis added].

1-5.8 Bargaining Unit Employee Information. The BOARD shall provide the UNION on at least a monthly basis, and on a weekly basis for the months of August, September, and October, a list of all current employees in the bargaining unit, which shall include each employee’s first and last name, shift, job title, department, work location, home address, all telephone numbers (including cell phone number if available), personal and work email addresses, date of birth, seniority date, base hourly pay rate (if available), language preference (if available), identification number/payroll code/job number, salary, status as a member or non-member, UNION dues, and COPE payment.

In Which Zuckerberg is Right

Attorney General William Barr has taken up ex-FBI Director James Comey’s battle for government backdoors into private citizens’ encrypted private messages.  Apple MFWIC Tim Cook won a similar fight regarding iPhone passwords and a demand that government should be allowed backdoors into those, and Comey’s FBI was shown to have been dissembling about that difficulty by the speed with which a contractor the FBI hired successfully broke into an iPhone the FBI had confiscated.

Now Barr has broadened the fight, demanding Facebook give Government backdoors into Facebook’s planned rollout of encryption for its messaging services.  He wants Facebook, too, to hold off on its rollout until Government is satisfied it has such backdoors.  Barr’s cynically misleading plaint includes this tearjerker: