EFF in the News
How far do laws go? Can businesses be forced to cooperate with authorities? Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director of the US civil liberties organization Electronic Frontier Foundation, addressed these issues in Hamburg. He used the example of a hotly debated fight between the FBI and Apple, in which authorities sought a court order to force the smartphone manufacturer to crack the encryption of an iPhone owned by a suspected terrorist.
Is there a way, then, for the government to compel these companies to offer assistance or to seize the data on their servers? According to Nate Cardozo, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the answer is not really. “They don’t even need to go to companies like Google or Facebook or Apple,” he said, “and frankly that’s pretty unlikely. They’re gonna go to a company like Palantir.”
David Greene, civil liberties director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said courts across the United States have affirmed the fact that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields Backpage and other online publishers from liability for the content their users create. And shaming a website like Backpage into shutting down its adult listings will have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected free speech, he said. "Ads for adult services are not presumptively illegal," Mr. Greene said in a statement emailed to the Monitor.
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."