EFF in the News
The department on Thursday dropped its appeal of a federal judge's decision requiring it to provide the opinion from its Office of Legal Counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The civil liberties watchdogs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation recently launched a petition asking the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to investigate Verizon for what the organization believes is "unfair and deceptive" practices related to the tracking code. "The telecom giant did not properly disclose the nature of the tracking header, they do not allow customers to opt-out of the tracking, and their current explanation of its use is deceptive at best," the petition argues.
At issue are tracking cookies intended to serve up relevant ads. The practice is nothing new for Web users, but as the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted last year, "super cookies" focus on mobile surfing and users cannot easily opt out.
"It allows third-party advertisers and websites to assemble a deep, permanent profile of visitors' web browsing habits without their consent," the EFF said at the time. "In fact, it functions even if you use a private browsing mode or clear your cookies."
"The telecom giant did not properly disclose the nature of the tracking header," the EFF’s petition noted. "They do not allow customers to opt-out of the tracking, and their current explanation of its use is deceptive at best."
Civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Consumer Federation of America are also not fans of the new FCC policy, but for very different reasons. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), for instance, argues that the plan lacks any mention of privacy safeguards.
“Without more specific guidelines...carriers could use E911 regulations as an excuse to ubiquitously track the precise locations of all of their customers, both indoors and outdoors, all the time,” writes EFF staff technologist Jeremy Gillula.
He continues, “[O]rganizations like the NSA and DEA will likely demand access to that data, using the flimsy reasoning that such information is ‘only metadata.’ There’s also the risk that state or local police might try to get this data without a warrant. A malicious hacker or a foreign government can already extract your location from the current system without your carrier’s knowledge or consent.”
The Justice Department has dropped its bid to keep secret a legal analysis of how the Patriot Act justifies law enforcement and intelligence access to census records, watchdog group EFF said Thursday.
"Are we really going to create an algorithm that can tell the difference between a bomb threat and a joke about a bomb?" says Danny O'Brien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to defending digital rights.
O'Brien says the solution to these sorts of recent crimes and threats "is police work, not a shutdown of the Internet. There's the simple fact that if Twitter were to require you to sign up with a passport ID all of a sudden, someone can just fake that."
In the end, O'Brien feels that what should be up for debate isn't so much our newfound high-tech ability to instantly communicate globally and anonymously, but rather the age-old matter of civil discourse and social justice.
"Let's be clear, if you're going to tweet bomb threats," he says, "you're not exactly worried about Twitter's terms of service rules."
"It's encouraging that the Obama administration is proposing more privacy reforms," Mark. M Jaycox, legislative analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said in an email interview. "But they can't be hollow bills."
For instance, he noted:
EFF supported the California bill that the administration is basing its student privacy proposal on. But just this morning, Education Week reported the administration bill does not contain an explicit prohibition on vendors amassing profiles of K-12 students for non-educational uses.
Jaycox added that the student-privacy bill also won't prohibit companies from collecting information in an educational context and then using it to target advertising to students elsewhere.
But some, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have already noted that there are some questions about how carries will abide by this rule without compromising privacy. As the EFF explains in a blog post outlining the rules’ problems and potential solutions:
Better 911 location accuracy has the potential to make a huge positive impact in peoples’ lives. But if people are concerned that this benefit will come at the expense of their privacy, they’re more likely to take steps that will prevent these location services from working properly. In order to prevent this, we need the FCC to make sure that privacy is baked in to new E911 regulations from the start. Otherwise, these rules may force people to choose between privacy and response time in an emergency, and that’s a decision nobody should have to make.
Lord King's comments aren't just goofy. The Snooper's Charter, which King was proposing as an amendment to a separate counter-terrorism bill, is about warrantless online surveillance. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it would require "require [internet service providers] to harvest and store data taken from their subscribers' online traffic, and hand this over to the government without a warrant." That's troubling in its own right, and doubly so given the justification one of its key proponents has offered.