Monday, July 23, 2007

News and Opinion Wrap-up

Lawyers Say They Have Evidence of Warrantless Surveillance

Earlier this month, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio dismissed a challenge to the so-called Terrorist Surveillance Program because the plaintiffs, a group of lawyers, professors and journalists, could not show they had actually been put under government surveillance.

...But, in one case in Oregon, lawyers say they have actual proof that the government listened in on their clients' phone calls without a warrant, providing a chance to have the courts decide whether the surveillance program is unconstitutional.

Microchips implanted in humans: High-tech helpers, or Big Brother surveillance tools?

...the news that Americans had, for the first time, been injected with electronic identifiers to perform their jobs fired up a debate over the proliferation of ever-more-precise tracking technologies and their ability to erode privacy in the digital age.

Chipping, [critics say], might start with Alzheimer's patients or Army Rangers, but would eventually be suggested for convicts, then parolees, then sex offenders, then illegal aliens — until one day, a majority of Americans, falling into one category or another, would find themselves electronically tagged.

Consumer lists are not so innocent if you can't opt-out

While most consumers probably understand that mailing and similar lists exist, many may be surprised by the type of information available. Want a list of Jewish donors broken down by age and the presence of children? Check the Web. One broker offers lists of the members of more than 40 ethnic groups. Or maybe you would like one of the dozens of lists of users of particular medications. Lists can be broken down by income, geography, marital status, age, and gender.

The sale of such lists raises several issues. One issue is simply privacy. To be sure, some list creators offer consumers an opportunity to opt out of the sale of information about them. But federal law imposes no obligation to offer an opt-out, and even compilers who offer an opt-out may not explain that the failure to opt out may land consumers on a list organized by ethnicity or other private information. Of course, list sellers have little incentive to tell consumers things that may cause them to opt out because lengthier lists are more valuable.

...Rather than enacting comprehensive privacy regulation, the US has proceeded ad hoc, passing legislation in response to particular privacy invasions. For example, Congress answered last year's Hewlett-Packard pretexting scandal by enacting a pretexting statute. As a result, privacy laws are a jumble of irreconcilable rules.

Say Goodbye to that Quaint Notion, Privacy
...part of the issue with sites such as Facebook is the blurring of our public and private personas. There have been reports of prospective employers browsing Facebook sites as part of a background check, and recently Oxford University revealed it had searched the site to collect photographs of students breaking campus rules and issue fines.

...This year, it was revealed a search in Facebook could yield specific, private details about people. A search for women who were politically conservative, Muslim and gay, for instance, would reveal the names and pictures of most such users. The feature was changed by Facebook once the problem became public.

...Facebook's privacy history should leave users concerned. In a interim report by Privacy International this year entitled A Race to the Bottom: Privacy Ranking of Internet Service Companies, the organisation nominated Facebook as a "substantial threat" and gave it its second lowest rating, saying the site did not maintain "strong security mechanisms".

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