EFF in the News
If you’re creeped out by Facebook’s ability to identify your friends when you upload a photo, you’re not alone. An Illinois citizen is suing Facebook, claiming the social media giant’s use of facial recognition violates Illinois’ law protecting residents’ biometric data. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Senior Staff Attorney Jennifer Lynch said biometric data isunique to an individual’s body -- like a fingerprint. “But it could also be the face-recognition data, which is the shape of your face, how far apart your eyebrows are, where your ears are on your head,” she said. “That’s sort of a very basic example of face recognition data.”
By combining facial recognition and license plates with other databases, like driver's licenses or property records, the state could create a very full picture of a person's life, said Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "We should not normalize this sort of surveillance, but should actually examine it every time it comes up," she said.
The convenience of voice-activated devices, which passively listen for a "hot word" or a "wake word" in order to activate, may come at a cost of individual privacy. In order to function, the device must constantly record and process all sound all the time, hoping to pick up on the wake word. Mike JuangA big part of the onus lies on the companies manufacturing the technology, explained Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney with the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, in an interview. "We can still insist that these companies protect our privacy when the government comes for that data," he said.
In April, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and more than 30 other watchdog groups and nonprofits combed through nearly 170 California government websites to make sure surveillance policies had been posted. They found 79 — many of which could easily be located. But volunteers at the time could not locate policies for at least 90 agencies, which were believed to employ surveillance technology based on public records. Dave Maass, an investigative researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said more agencies have since posted their policies online. But whether California has a clearer picture now of the surveillance technology in use is “a mixed bag,” he said.
According to David Greene, a senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, law enforcement would be violating students’ First Amendment rights if they arrest kids for what they write about online. “We believe — and most courts agree — that schools are very limited when it comes to punishing off-campus student speech,” Greene said. Student speech is still protected by free speech laws, regardless of how cruel and unusual it is — especially when they’re off-campus.
Amazon’s Internet-connected home assistant devices can turn on your TV, read you the news and order you an Uber. Law enforcement officials in Arkansas hope an Amazon Echo can help them crack a murder case. We spoke to Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit, about the potential privacy risks surrounding “always-on” home devices. "The tricky thing about a device that’s recording data inside of your home is that you may be transmitting that recording in such a way that the government can directly collect it, or, as in the case we have in Arkansas, it may be that the data is sitting on Amazon’s servers," Tien said.
The EFF's worry is that the incoming administration will follow through on its campaign promises to increase surveillance and challenge digital security, Cindy Cohn, the organization's executive director, tells Channelnomics.
"The informal pressure to dumb down security already exists and some companies are willing to do it," Cohn says. "[The open letter] is what we think is going to happen with the new administration - it doesn't look like the pressure is going to decrease."
If someone sets up a fake police site and then uses that to solicit donations, “the creators/administrators of the site could be on the hook for charges of larceny or identity theft,” said Stephanie Lacambra, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which works to monitor laws that police the internet with an eye toward encouraging freedom of expression.
Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Aaron Mackey said he was “very pleased with the court’s decision today and are optimistic that its review of the documents will demonstrate or show that the government’s withholdings are unjustifiable and hopefully order the release of documents that have been withheld.”
Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) built upon former senator Ted Stevens’ analogy that said the internet is like a bunch of tubes, saying, “If you use HTTP, those tubes are totally transparent. Anyone along the way can look inside and see exactly what you’re doing.” Use HTTPS, and “those tubes become opaque. Only people at the end can see what’s traveling through them.”