EFF in the News
A proposed biometric privacy bill in Montana is drawing support from the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which argues that new laws are needed to protect people from privacy threats posed by facial recognition technology. The definition means that Facebook and other Web companies would be required to obtain consumers' consent before applying the kind of software that enables them to create faceprints, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Adam Schwartz. "Social media companies would need to get consumer consent before they start scraping all the photographs that they get and applying facial recognition," Schwartz tells MediaPost.
“We are recommending that people think about their digital privacy at the border before, during, and after travel,” said Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That is especially good advice for journalists who may have sensitive information on their devices and in their social media accounts, but who do not have as much legal protection as, for example, attorneys entrusted with client information.
Law enforcement is compelling Apple and Facebook to hand over the personal information of users who were mass arrested at protests against the inauguration of Donald Trump in Washington, DC, AlterNet has confirmed. The tech giants appear to be complying with the data-mining requests, amid mounting concerns over the heavy-handed crackdown against the more than 200 people detained on January 20, among them journalists, legal observers and medics. Stephanie Lacambra, a criminal defense staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told AlterNet that, in addition to Facebook and Apple, Google has also been sent requests for information by law enforcement. None of the companies responded to a request for an interview.
Twitter quietly introduced a new punishment for rule breakers a couple of weeks ago: the timeout. “We’ve detected some potentially abusive behavior from your account,” Twitter’s email to users who have triggered the punishment reads. And as a result, Twitter temporarily limits the reach of those accounts. While in the timeout, you can still use Twitter, including to tweet. But only your followers will see what you’re up to. Jillian York, the director for international freedom of expression of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was cautiously optimistic about the account limitations on Thursday, in part because they still allow accounts in timeout to use the platform.
On Wednesday, Motherboard showed how powerful off-the-shelf, $170 spyware really is. For a day, I used a piece of software on my phone to surreptitiously collect GPS location data, intercept phone calls, and silently steal photos. What can potential victims of this type of surveillance do to check if they're being monitored? What are some of the best practices to keep in mind to make installing the malware harder? And what can those who are certainly being spied on do? Unfortunately, this is actually one of the harder information security threats to reliably give advice for. "The threat model against this is very complicated because you don't know really how much private space the abuse victim has," Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Motherboard.
On three occasions this week, I asked a FlexiSpy salesperson a simple question: If I wanted to, could I use their spyware to snoop on my wife's cellphone without her knowing? The answer each time was yes. When asked if it was legal, they responded with a canned disclaimer explaining it was necessary to get the permission of the target. Nate Cardozo, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's senior counsel: "He's offering to be an accomplice to violating the Wiretap act. Under a American law he'd be guilty of a Wiretap violation." FlexiSpy hadn't responded for further questions about the legality of its operations.
“If we move into a society where we’re required to use biometrics to identify ourselves, and that information is compromised, anyone can impersonate us,” says Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Biometrics are not like a Social Security or credit card number. You can’t change your fingerprints.”
Watchdog groups that keep tabs on digital privacy rights are concerned that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are searching the phones and other digital devices of international travelers at border checkpoints in U.S. airports. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation both say they have noticed an uptick in complaints about searches of digital devices by border agents.The increase has become most noticeable in the last month, said Adam Schwartz, a senior staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We are concerned that a bad practice that has existed under past presidents has gotten worse in quantity under the new president," Schwartz said.
It's clear that Facebook played a big role in mobilizing people to participate in the global Women's March last month. And now researchers have determined just how much of an impact the social network had.According to a study from researchers at the University of Maryland, almost 70% of people who attended the D.C. march heard about it on Facebook. Meanwhile, 61% from friends and family. "There are definitely elements of planning activism that you want to keep off Facebook, especially if you're planning some sort of civil disobedience," Galperin told CNNTech. "[But] in getting the word out, it is unrealistic to tell people not to use Facebook for this purpose."
BART is considering a policy that would balance security interests and privacy rights. The BART Surveillance & Community Safety Act would require its Board of Directors to grant specific approval for each new surveillance device after listening to public comment and conduct yearly reviews of their use. Misuse, or ineffectiveness, would require the board to alter or stop the use of the technology. San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit civil rights organization that focuses on the digital world, is working with BART to develop the proposed policy. “Public safety requires trust between government and the communities served,” Adam Schwartz, the foundation’s senior staff attorney, said in a letter to BART directors.