EFF in the News
Privacy issues are moving under our skin—now the devices that keep us alive and healthy can also be used against us in the court of law. What happens when privacy violations are committed by devices inside of us, devices that we can’t just turn off via settings? “EFF is concerned that as technology advances, the erosion of individual privacy in personally identifiable health information increases,” Stephanie Lacambra, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s criminal defense attorney.
Donald Trump may be the best thing that could happen to Snap’s upcoming initial public offering. It’s not just that Snap’s Snapchat app stands to gain millions of users as people flee the noxious political cloud that has enveloped Facebook like pollution on a red-alert day in Beijing. There’s an even more significant way the new president will help the company: He is stoking fears about privacy and an Orwellian surveillance state, and Snap is one of the few social media companies that doesn’t base its business model on knowing everything it can about you. The new NSA policies “are widening the aperture for abuse to happen, just as abuses are becoming more likely,” says Nate Cardozo, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
GOP aside, the White House is required to conduct all business correspondence over White House email for preservation purposes. However, since the contents of those encrypted messages cannot be revealed, it’s unclear whether anyone’s breaking the law. Aaron Mackey, a legal fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said compliance with the PRA depends on what staff members are talking about. While the privacy-focused organization advocates for encryption, Mackey said when statutes set rules for archiving communications, they have to be followed for transparency and record-keeping. "It’s unclear to me whether these individuals – assuming the report is right – they’re using a particular messaging app – are discussing personal matters or if they’re discussing government business, creating documents and records that should be preserved."
When you buy something you naturally think that -- you know-- you own it. But when it comes to products that contain software you don’t. That odd and fundamentally unfair state of affairs is why two members of Congress – a Democrat and a Republican – have teamed to reform a key provision of copyright law and give consumers the right to actually own stuff they’ve paid for. “The point is to make sure that people’s rights stay intact in the digital space,” says Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is supporting the Your Own Device Act.
As with any tool designed for military and civilian uses, there are dangers of these hacking programs falling into the wrong hands. To be sure, the misuse of government-grade exploits unnerves many civil liberties groups. “Governments shouldn’t be able to use them to crack down on free speech or dissidents,” says Andrew Crocker, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is suing the Ethiopian government on behalf of a blogger, now residing in Maryland, who alleges his Skype communications were tapped through malware made by German surveillance-tech company Gamma Group.
Speaking at a conference in Atlanta on Feb. 2, Ohlhausen drew a distinction between a "notice-and-choice approach" to privacy protection and a "harms-based approach," an approach one privacy advocate called "outrageous." The difference? The "notice-and-choice" approach, generally favored by the Obama FTC, basically gives consumers the choice to "opt out" of sharing certain types of information. The "harms-based" approach, on the other hand, seeks to protect consumers only from privacy breaches that are harmful. Sophia Cope, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, calls the harm-based approach outrageous and says it is "exactly what companies have been hoping for.""It removes consumer choice and control over their privacy," Cope said.
On Monday, Trump promoted Ajit Pai to chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Pai, who was appointed by President Obama to a Republican seat at the FCC in 2012, has been a critic of net neutrality, which prevents providers from throttling the internet and creating so-called fast and slow lanes. "We are concerned that Commissioner Pai may take steps to undermine net neutrality protections," Corynne McSherry, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told NBC News in a statement. "If so, we — and millions of internet users — will do what is necessary to defend a free and open internet."
The obvious reason FBI v. Apple didn't set any precedents is that it never got legally resolved. Just before a scheduled hearing on the case, the FBI withdrew, saying it had found a vendor that was able to unlock the phone. And in the view of some privacy advocates, that’s unfortunate, because they think the FBI would have lost. Nate Cardozo, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), who called the FBI complaint “wild overreach,” is one of them. He said the FBI knew its case was weak. “The fact that the government pulled the plug on the litigation on the literal eve of the hearing speaks volumes about the strength of its legal argument. Instead of risking binding precedent on our side, the government blinked,” he said.
In the wake of the sting, some experts say the courts will ultimately reshape the law for computer search and seizure rules for any crime. "I remain concerned that the decisions will affect law enforcement's ability to hack for years going forward in a way that is significantly detrimental to everyone's rights," Mark Rumold, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Monday.
Cybersecurity experts warn against building a digital trove of information, no matter how cheap or easy it is to do.“If you have old communications stored on [a compromised] account, you could be leaking sensitive information that’s still very pertinent today,” says William Budington, security engineer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.