EFF in the News
In the week that WikiLeaks revealed the CIA and MI5 have an armoury of surveillance tools that can spy on people through their smart TVs, cars and cellphones, the FBI director, James Comey, has said that Americans should not have expectations of “absolute privacy”. Is privacy really dead, as Silicon Valley luminaries such as Mark Zuckerberg have previously declared? Not according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s executive director, Cindy Cohn. “The freedom to have a private conversation – free from the worry that a hostile government, a rogue government agent or a competitor or a criminal are listening – is central to a free society,” she said.
“The one thing that people can and should be doing is keeping their apps and phones as up-to-date as possible,” said Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit.
If the former real estate mogul is truly concerned about being the target of broad surveillance, he now has the power to change that by calling on Congress to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. Cindy Cohn, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s executive director, said in a statement that “the government has consistently stonewalled any effort to bring more transparency to secret spying orders. We’re still waiting to hear whether the president has concerns about government spying on ordinary, innocent Americans — so far he hasn’t shown that he does.”
Cindy Cohn, an expert on surveillance who runs the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group for civil liberties, said the intelligence community had such expansive powers that Mr Trump should not be immediately dismissed as completely off base. “Part of what we need here is much more transparency to see if we are comfortable with what has happened. It is a big problem for the country if Trump tweets this out and nobody knows [what’s true],” said Ms Cohn.
The FBI could also have asked for a so-called “pen register” or “trap and trace device,” which record only the parties involved in a phone call. These requests have a lower bar for approval.While it's unknown whether any of these scenarios occurred, it's “very likely that the people in the Obama administration had access to the communication of senior Trump officials in the run-up to the election, because they have very, very broad authority,” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has advocated for revising surveillance laws.
Poisonous political divisions have spawned an encryption arms race across the Trump administration, as both the president’s advisers and career civil servants scramble to cover their digital tracks in a capital nervous about leaks. The surge in the use of scrambled-communication technology — enabled by free smartphone apps such as WhatsApp and Signal — could skirt or violate laws that require government records to be preserved and the public’s business to be conducted in official channels, several ethics experts say. It may even cloud future generations’ knowledge of the full history of Donald Trump’s presidency. The wide availability of encrypted messaging makes secrecy easier than ever. “It’s certainly easier to circumvent public records laws in a written format now than it ever has been,” said Mark Rumold, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that pushes for government transparency.
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.