Police Surveillance Takes a Bite Out of Privacy, Part 2
While Maine, New Jersey, and Virginia have laws that limit the use of ALPRs, Legislators in New Hampshire—with the state motto of “Live Free Or Die” —voted down a bill in January that would have allowed police to use ALPRs.
Neal Kurk, a State Representative in New Hampshire for 28 years said that his state banned license plate readers and red light cameras years ago: “We felt they were a great invasion of people’s privacy and the right not to be tracked. New Hampshire is the sole remaining state (without ALPRs).” Last year, New Hampshire police tried to change that, but didn’t like the retention limit of three minutes that legislators came up with for non hit-list ALPR data. Unlike much longer retention periods of other states, the logic in New Hampshire was that ALPR data collected on cars that aren’t immediately connected with a crime should be deleted.
Kurk explained, “During negotiations with police, which I was involved with, police said they planned on coming back in a couple years to extend the retention to as much time as they could possibly get. Police were adamant they wanted to keep records on where everybody was all the time. That was not acceptable.” Kurk has authored another bill that will also ban private companies from using ALPRs. New Hampshire does have ALPRs for tollbooth collection, a practice begun at the San Francisco Bay Bridge last year (“The Golden Gate Bridge is Watching You,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, 3/28/13).
Corporations Are People, Too
As activists, journalists, and privacy rights groups confront the rise of ALPRs and other surveillance tools, some private surveillance companies are fighting back. A Vigilant Solutions website blog (3/18/14) reads: “A large tide of anti-LPR legislation has swept across the United States, prompted by fear tactics and misleading rhetoric from the media and the ACLU that license plate recognition invades privacy…. Utah, in fact, had passed a law that banned the private, commercial use of the technology. But, the tide is turning.” When the state of Utah passed a law limiting collection and storage time of ALPR data, Vigilant filed a lawsuit claiming that this infringed on their first amendment right to take photographs in public. The law was also opposed by law enforcement, according to Utah State Senator Todd Weiler, who authored the bill.
Weiler told me, “My intent was to limit how long the data was stored and who could access it. SB 196 took effect in May 2013 and limits the storage of ALPR data in Utah to 9 months by government and 30 days by private parties. I’m running a new bill right now (2014) to address the first amendment concerns raised by Vigilant. I see LPR technology as highly invasive. It can read license plates at 100 mph at 2:00 AM through the fog. To me, that’s akin to standing on someone’s sidewalk and using technology to peer through bedroom windows. I don’t see that as a right protected by the First Amendment. My biggest concern is that the government’s use of the data collected can amount to a warrantless search.”
Senator Weiler continued, “There is a certain 1984-Big Brother element to all of this. I told bill opponents last year that we could probably solve a lot more crimes if a traceable chip was implanted under everyone’s skin—but that would be unconstitutional. There is an inherent conflict between advancing technology and personal privacy.”
ACLU attorney Catherine Crump explains how Utah responded to the corporation’s attempted block: “Vigilant Solutions argued that they have the right of a person to take photos of other people and objects that are in public spaces, and that this right was being infringed on by Utah legislation. Utah nullified their lawsuit by limiting the state bill so it focused on law enforcement use of the technology. It said that if law enforcement wants to access a private database then the private database must comply with the same time retention limits as if law enforcement had collected the ALPR data themselves. There is a substantial difference between taking a photograph of someone in public and amassing huge databases of plates, hits, and locations.”
Certainly the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that corporations have the rights of persons supports corporate claims to first amendment protections. In California, State Senator Joe Simitian authored State Bill 1330 to “help protect the privacy of data gleaned from license plate recognition technology used by law enforcement and other government agencies,” according to the Senator’s website. The 2012 bill did not pass. Legislation by another California State Senator, Mark Leno, that would’ve limited private and police retention of ALPR data to 60 days—the current limit for California Highway Patrol—also failed. “There was vigorous opposition from law enforcement,” said ACLU attorney Peter Bibring.
In Massachusetts, Senator Jonathan Hecht has supported the Massachusetts License Plate Privacy Act which would limit ALPR storage to 48 hours, even though he’s from Watertown where the Boston bombers were tracked using ALPRs. ACLU attorney Kade Crockford told me, “We’re strongly supporting the License Plate Privacy Act. We believe the time of storage should be days or weeks instead of months or years.”
In Southern California, EFF and the ACLU asked the LA Police and LA Sheriff Departments for documents regarding the storage and sharing of their ALPR data from a single week in 2012. The data received was incomplete, so a joint lawsuit was filed to receive the full records.
Drawing The Line In Brookline
In the Boston suburb of Brookline, Massachusetts, people decided they didn’t trust a license plate reader system that would share data outside of their community. Like Santa Cruz, Brookline was offered “free money” to buy ALPRs in the form of a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Highways.
Clint Richmond is a software developer and activist in Brookline who serves as one of 240 elected Board of Selectmen [sic], part of an east-coast form of government called Representative Town Meeting.
Richmond told me, “The Police Chief proposed accepting the grant but there were objections to how the data was going to be used. We learned that the ALPR system was run by Vigilant and that it’s centralized in their National Vehicle License database and we’d have no local control. The risk with these powerful digital surveillance tools is once the data is digitized and centralized it can become widely and secretly available. And we’d have no way of knowing.”
Brookline residents were already familiar with surveillance gear: “We had an existing policy for DHS surveillance cameras that were already installed; so-called emergency evacuation cameras,” explained Richmond. “There were a lot of objections and they were restricted somewhat. When ALPRs came along at least everyone here knew what the issues were even though it’s a new technology.” Richmond, with the local ACLU and other groups, including The Digital Fourth, Bill Of Rights Defense Committee and, The Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action, organized an education campaign.
Knowing that ALPR data goes to state fusion centers and possibly on to DHS, FBI, and other agencies, Brookline chose a unique strategy to retain control of the data. Richmond explained, “Because of concerns about data sharing, we rejected the grant and decided to buy it out of our own funds. It was a small enough amount— around $20,000—so that it didn’t need extra approval for the funds. That’s another concern about this technology. The devices are so cheap that they don’t appear as a major item in city budgets. The other problem is the availability of free grants from the Feds, which can end up undermining or circumventing routine review of spending. That’s what happened with our DHS cameras.
“Instead of being managed by Vigilant’s centralized national system, Brookline agreed to have police ALPRs managed by Vigilant’s local distributor, a company called AYACHT. It’s out-sourced mass surveillance. The point we made in our campaign is that government mass surveillance should not be approved, even if it’s cheap and sometimes saves lives. You can’t have your entire population under surveillance for individual events that are horrible and also very infrequent.”
ALPR cameras are now operational in Brookline according to Richmond. “It’s still bad, because they’re using ALPRs, but at least its not being directly fed to other agencies, the way the state grant was designed,” he told me. “I believe we’re not honoring the fundamental religious principle of the inherent worth and dignity of every person if everyone is under constant surveillance in a perpetual dragnet.”
Boston Police Caught In The Act
In Boston, the police have paused their license reader cameras. Kade Crockford of the Massachusetts ACLU explains, “Shawn Musgrave, a journalist for Muckrock. com, made public records requests to the Boston Police Department (BPD) asking for data from their plate reader program and was stonewalled for a long time. Finally, he got data and found a number of things that were troubling. One was that the BPD released data that was completely un-scrubbed; people’s license plate numbers were in there, which is troubling. And it was one of the reasons that the Boston Police shut down their ALPR program.”
The Boston Police department would not communicate with me about the decision to discontinue their ALPR program, except for a single line email: “The Boston Police has suspended the program indefinitely.” In what ACLU attorney Catherine Crump describes as “irony alert,” the police union that represents officers in Boston has tried to resist police administration moves to install GPS tracking devices in all patrol cars. Apparently police don’t want to be continuously tracked, just like the rest of us. The union couldn’t be reached for comment.
According to Crockford, the Boston ALPR data also showed, “The Boston Police Department was targeting mostly low income, working class, and Black neighborhoods with their license plate reader program. This is not a huge shock for people who follow the criminal justice or surveillance world for the simple reason that police departments tend to focus on low income and Black neighborhoods for all of their policing.”
“The most troubling thing was that the data showed that one motorcycle that was recorded stolen in the police department’s system had driven past one fixed plate reader over 60 times. That signals to me that our greatest fear is true. While police say, ‘We need this technology because it helps us find stolen cars and criminals,’ we have found they’re also using these tools to collect data about people who they have no reason to believe were involved in any criminal activity. In Boston, we found that police aren’t using these cameras to respond to hits, they’re sucking up all this data to use potentially down the road for intelligence.”
Crockford told me, “Some people say they’re not concerned about ALPRs or other surveillance because they believe they have nothing to hide. But people do have plenty to hide whether or not they want to admit it. A really easy way of demonstrating that is saying to people, “Great. Let me see your phone. I’d love to look through your text messages.” If the curtain was pulled back and we were able to see the kinds of data that is held by private corporations and government, I think people would be horrified.”
“We published a report called “Policing Dissent” which describes how the fusion center here in Boston was keeping tabs on Veterans for Peace, Codepink, United for Justice, and anti-war organizations, for years,” says Crockford. “They were writing intelligence reports about conflicts within the movement. It was COINTELPRO stuff and was going on up until 2009. It’s probably still happening.”
Lessons Unlearned: Cointelpro
Back in 1971, John and Bonnie Raines were anti-war activists and knew that the FBI and police were spying on the New Left movement, but they couldn’t prove it. A new book by Betty Medsger—The Burglary—details how the Raines’s and other members of the Citizen’s Committee to Investigate The FBI broke into the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office and walked out with suitcases full of documents, some of which pointed to a secret program designed to intimidate and diffuse the political movements of the day called COINTELPRO for “Counter Intelligence Program.”
John Raines said that, “We learned lessons back then and you’d wish that it had changed the course of national policy, but it didn’t. J. Edgar Hoover justified what the FBI was doing by saying it was in defense of national security. That’s a really slippery phrase and, of course, it’s running all over the place today.”
Bonnie Raines adds, “You didn’t have to be an activist to be watched. They watched the entire Black community.” She recalls finding a document that instructed FBI agents to increase the paranoia in the ant-war movement by “giving the impression that there was an FBI agent behind every mailbox,” a phrase taken directly from the document. Certainly in 2014 we might have the impression that there’s an NSA agent behind every email and phone call and a police camera scanning every car.
John Raines continues, “Dissent begins in private conversations and becomes powerful when those private conversations become a community of resistance. An excellent way of destroying that community of dissent is to create the impression that whatever you are saying or doing is being recorded.”
Looking Out From The Panopticon
Jeremy Bentham was an 18th century British Quaker who designed a fantastic prison,” John Raines elucidates. “One guard could control a massive number of prisoners. The cells are backlit 24 hours a day and the guard tower is in the center of a spoke. The prisoners knew that the guard couldn’t be watching them at every given moment and they also knew that the guard could at any given moment be watching them. Bentham discovered that what happened under those conditions is that prisoners became their own guard. Quoting Michel Foucault, they became ‘docile bodies’.”
Raines continued, “We’re living in a Pan- Opticon. Literally this means all-visible. We have constructed a society where we’re visible all of the time and that changes our relationship to ourselves and to institutions that can reward or punish us. It’s very dangerous.”
License Scanners & Mosque Crawlers
When I spoke with Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg about ALPRs, Stingrays, and the rise in police surveillance, he said, “Any of this surveillance can be used against dissenters, whistleblowers, or journalistic sources and it can be used politically. If it’s (ALPR) used at political rallies, that is a clear abuse.” Ellsberg recalled being tracked himself. “At one of the very first rallies given for me after I was indicted in 1971 in Massachusetts and a lot of people came. The police were obviously taking down all the license plates. That’s the kind of thing one could say is an abuse.”
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the ACLU, and others say there’s also great potential for police and others to abuse surveillance data for commercial or personal reasons. “A case recently emerged in Utah where a rogue officer was using a controlled drug database to visit the residences listed and conduct searches,” said Utah’s Senator Weiler. “As new technology comes online, we have to draw new lines to keep them in check.”
The Brookings Institute Center for Technology Innovation report titled, “Recording Everything: Digital Storage as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments” (2011) adds, “Within the next few years an important threshold will be crossed. For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders—every phone conversation, electronic message, media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle and video from every street corner. Governments with a history of using all of the tools at their disposal to track and monitor their citizens will undoubtedly make full use of this capability once it becomes available.”
The ACLU’s own report on license scanners warns that police surveillance has often led to political repression; “For decades of the 20th Century, the FBI and other federal agencies illegally targeted activists in the civil rights, anti-war, and labor movements. Today law enforcement agencies are again carrying out systematic surveillance of peaceful political protestors.”
An August, 2011 Associated Press report revealed that in 2005 New York City police used surveillance cameras and informants called “Mosque crawlers” to watch congregants attending a Mosque in Queens. According to the report, “In some instances, police in unmarked cars outfitted with electronic license plate readers would drive down the street and record the plates of everyone parked near the mosque.” On May 22, 2009, the BBC reported that British police used license scanners to track a political activist after he attended anti-war rallies. Virginia police recorded the license plates of all who attended Obama’s 2009 inauguration.
Clint Richmond reflects on the effect surveillance has on democratic participation: “It’s already hard enough to get people to a rally. If you say, “By the way, you’re going to be under surveillance,” they’ll say, “I’m definitely not going. Surveillance has a chilling effect on expression.”
Keith McHenry, founder of Food Not Bombs adds, “While the government has been surveilling and disrupting social and political movements, the result has been negative for all of us, not just for activists. Climate change is obviously creating many problems. Yet the movements to address climate change have been disrupted by the FBI, police, and others for years. We could be solar by now.”
In 1990, a bomb exploded in Judi Bari’s car as she and fellow Earth First! activist Darryl Cherney were driving toward Santa Cruz, California. Oakland Police and FBI agents arrived on the scene immediately, accusing them of carrying the bomb. A federal lawsuit against the FBI ended with a jury awarding Judi, who died of cancer in 1997, and Darryl Cherney $4.4 million. “Somebody put a bomb in Judi Bari’s car and in order to do that they had to know where she was. That means there was some form of surveillance going on,” says Cherney. “A license plate reader would have been an ideal tool for them to watch her for a period of time.” Cherney continues, “If people think that information collected by the government won’t hurt them, they’re in complete denial. Nobody lives a completely innocent life. Many people cheat on their taxes and almost everybody speeds or illegally parks. People have affairs. Nobody is pure, which is why spying is so effective because there’s always a skeleton in the closet. Having the sense that you’re under surveillance stifles everything from art to political strategies.”
Harvey Silverglate, author of “Three Felonies A Day” told me, “Federal laws are so complicated or vague or both that a typical citizen doesn’t have any idea when he or she might arguably be violating a statute, thereby putting himself at the mercy of some overly ambitious or vicious federal prosecutor or FBI agent. That has great implications for liberty in an age when the government is listening to so much of what we write on our computers or speak about on the phone. It’s a scary time we’re living in.”
Stingrays And Harpoons
A December 8, 2013 report in USA Today revealed that police across the U.S. are using NSA-style spying techniques like “tower dumps” and the “Stingray,” a briefcase-sized device that simulates a cellphone tower. Stingrays are generically called IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity Locator) Catchers and are sold by the Florida-based Harris Corporation.
Linda Lye explains how the device works, “The Stingray tricks wireless devices into communicating with it instead of a real cell tower. It can pick up the unique ID and telephone number of every connected phone and other devices in the area, as well as their location, and numbers called. If they’re configured to pick up communications on the voice channel then they’ll also pick up voice communications.” She adds, “The Defense Department has these devices (Stingrays). I remember seeing something in one of the Harris product sheets about airborne stingrays, which I assume means they can be attached to drones.”
Harris’s public affairs representative, Jim Burke, wouldn’t discuss any drone or military applications of their products. In fact, Burke wouldn’t confirm or deny if Harris sells Stingrays: “We do provide technologies to various government agencies, in the DOD classified arena as well as law enforcement, but we’re not allowed to talk about them,” he explained. “Because of the nature of the products and the customers we’re restricted from talking about them, to protect the customers and the missions they serve.” Burke did say that Harris has, “revenues of about $5 five billion with 14,000 employees.” He added that Harris was founded in 1895, originally as a printing press company.
While Harris has tried to keep the lid on their hi-tech surveillance gear, journalists and privacy advocates have recently uncovered details.
A report from News10 in Sacramento (“Cellphone Spying Technology Being Used Throughout Northern California, March 14, 2014) revealed that Stingrays are currently in use by at least 7 police departments including Los Angeles, San Jose, Sacramento, and Oakland, where they were used to make 19 arrests in 2009 alone. News10 said that it first learned in 2011 that the FBI was using Stingrays.
The News10 report mentioned the potential for political repression posed by the devices, “When Miami-Dade police submitted a grant application to buy a StingRay, they told the city council they needed one to monitor protestors at an upcoming World Trade Conference. Parking a StingRay outside the protest would give law enforcement the names and telephone numbers of everyone nearby.”
One reason police use of Stingrays has remained secret is that the Harris Corporation requires that customers sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), essentially barring all discussion of the devices.
An article in Wired magazine (“Police Contract with Spy Tool Maker Prohibits Talking about Device’s Use,” 3/4/14, highlights the secrecy agreement), “also requires police to tell Harris if a court orders them to disclose information and then to “provide maximum protection of the information” when they do disclose information to the court.”
According to Wired, a copy of a 2010 Harris NDA was acquired from a Tucson, Arizona police department through Public Records Act Requests by journalist Beau Hodai, who founded DBA Press and writes for The Center for Media & Democracy. In March, Daniel Pochoda, Legal Director of ACLU Arizona, filed a lawsuit against the Tucson Police demanding full disclosure of their use of Stingrays.
Pochoda told me, “Police are using non-disclosure agreements with a private corporation as an excuse to avoid the requirements of various state laws for release of information.” He added, “The devices are being used not just to fight crime, but to identify people at protests. Unless activists discard their cellphones before they get into an area, they can be identified by Stingray technology.” Pochoda also said that Tempe Police bought a Stingray and initially posted information on their website, but then removed the post, “probably because Harris told them it violated their non-disclosure agreement.”
The ACLU’s Linda Lye explains the deeper predicament, “We haven’t figured out a way to track how many police departments have Stingrays. This points to a larger problem; there’s a proliferation of new surveillance technologies without any oversight or regulations. We know so little about them.”
Cameras in The Sky
A plethora of surveillance tools are entering police departments across the country. Iris scanners and facial recognition software are being developed to potentially identify not just every car all the time, but to track all citizens all the time. Starchase sells small GPS projectiles that are fired from a launcher that’s mounted on the front of police cars and stick to the suspect’s car, making it easy to track. Universal Forensic Extraction Devices (UFED) are manufactured by Cellebrite, a subsidiary of Japan’s Sun Corporation. The laptop-size device performs, “physical, logical, file system and password extraction of all data (even if deleted) from the widest range of devices including legacy and feature phones, smartphones, portable GPS devices, tablets and phones manufactured with Chinese chipsets” (from Cellebrite website). UFED’s can be connected to a cellphone and suck out all of the stored data and call history.
Linda Lye clarifies: “The ACLU certainly has the view that police should have a search warrant in order to search the contents of a cellphone. The California Supreme Court disagreed in 2011 but the issue is in front of the United States Supreme Court now. The court found that a cigarette pack in someone’s pocket could be searched without a warrant once arrested. On the other hand, the Supreme Court found that a footlocker could not be searched without a warrant when someone was arrested. The courts have considered that if a cellphone is in the person’s immediate possession—‘an object on or about the person’— then it can be searched without a warrant, like the cigarette pack. But, of course, that leaves out the point that there is so much information on a cellphone that it’s not like a cigarette pack, it’s like having your entire home office searched.”
The Washington Post’s Craig Timber reported (1/22/14) that two giant blimp-like “aerostats” tethered to the ground have been deployed over Maryland for a “three year test for detecting cruise missiles or enemy aircraft.” Aerostats have been used in Afghanistan and Iraq with “powerful surveillance cameras” and “defense contractor Raytheon last year touted an exercise in which it outfitted the aerostats planned for deployment in suburban Baltimore with one of the company’s most powerful high-altitude surveillance systems capable of spotting individual people and vehicles from a distance of many miles.” Neal Kurk, a New Hampshire State Representative, warns: “If you’re concerned about license plate readers you should be even more interested in drones. The drones are coming. They’re from bumble-bee size to the missile-carrying size used in Afghanistan.” He points out that drones are available for purchase for under $50 ($300 for a pretty decent one) and that Amazon has announced plans to make deliveries with drones. In Dubai, they’re already delivering drivers licenses with drones, (Wired, “Dubai Could Make Drone Deliveries Before Amazon Does,” 2/13/14). The drones will be changing our lives in extraordinary ways, most of which will be beneficial. However there is the opportunity for abuse and the invasion of privacy.”
To protect against such abuse, Kurk authored a bill— that passed the House—banning the use of drones by New Hampshire law enforcement unless they have a warrant. “It allows the use of drones by both the private and public sector as long as they’re not using the drones to harass, stalk or track somebody. There’s an exception for the press and, for example, the University of New Hampshire to do a drone survey of the moose population of the state.” Last year FBI Director Robert Mueller said the FBI uses drone aircraft for surveillance in certain cases. And according to a CNN report (June 20, 2013), “The FAA forecasts some 10,000 civilian drones will be in use in the United States within five years, including those for law enforcement and commercial purposes,” and “The FAA recently announced plans to create six drone test sites around the country.”
The website for the ACLU warns, “U.S. law enforcement is greatly expanding its use of domestic drones for surveillance. Routine aerial surveillance would profoundly change the character of public life in America… Drone manufacturers are also considering offering police the option of arming these remote-controlled aircraft with (nonlethal for now) weapons like rubber bullets, Tasers, and tear gas.”
The EFF has a list on their website of law enforcement agencies, universities and other institutions that have applied for permits to operate drones in the U.S., which includes the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (California) and the Gadsden, Alabama Police Department.
Persistent Surveillance Systems is a company in Dayton, Ohio that sells the Hawk Eye ll surveillance camera that can be mounted on a Cessna airplane. From 10,000 feet up in the sky, with 12 50 mm lenses, the computerized camera combines 12 individual tiles into one mosaic photo that can observe a 5 mile by 5 mile area, “watching every vehicle and person that’s outdoors for six or nine hours at a time” (“New Eyes in The Sky For Police” by Craig Timberg, Washington Post, 2/5/14). “With this technology it’s almost like the police have a time machine,” Timberg added.
“One of the things that’s happened in recent years is that location and identity have become mingled as concepts,” Timberg surmised. The hyper-cameras have already been flown above Baltimore, Philadelphia, Compton, and Dayton, in demonstrations for police. An April 27, 2014 editorial in the LA Times suggested, “Before flying a camera-laden cessna over the city (Compton), the Sheriff’s Department should have told residents.”
Police in Dayton, Ohio considered the fee of $120,000 to have a “persistent surveillance” plane fly for a total of 200 hours over the city. But according to the Washington Post article, Dayton’s mayor Nan Whaley is instead encouraging downtown businesses to install private surveillance cameras to ensure full video coverage of the city center. The article noted that Persistent Surveillance Systems, “has cameras for those situations, too, capable of spotting individual people from seven miles away.”
BAE Systems is also manufacturing a “persistent surveillance” camera called ARGUS-IS, or Autonomous Real-Time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System. Their website explains, “Threats facing U.S. forces today require persistent surveillance over areas of operation and areas of interest.”
An LA Weekly (February 27, 2014) piece titled “Forget The NSA, the LAPD Spies on Millions of Innocent Folks,” by Darwin Bond-Graham and Ali Winston states, “The use of military-grade surveillance tools is migrating from places like Fallujah to neighborhoods including Watts and even low-crime areas of the San Fernando Valley, where surveillance cameras are proliferating like California poppies in spring.”
ACLU attorney Catherine Crump points to strong oversight as one protection against these surveillance tools, “There is an interesting model in Seattle where they passed a bill. It has many flaws, but it’s innovative. When surveillance technology is purchased you need to, within 30 or 60 days, make that information public and then come to us with a privacy proposal. If we saw more cities taking affirmative steps like Seattle we would all be better off.”
Privacy Is Not Secrecy, Privacy Is Choice About What To Share
The key distinction between me posting things on Twitter and someone hacking into my email is that I made a choice to tell the world certain things. There’s a whole host of things I wouldn’t say on Twitter that I do say to my family and friends and lover,” says Kade Crockford. “Privacy is not secrecy. Privacy is about choice and control over information about yourself.”
Linda Lye told me, “The collection of meta-data by the NSA and the use of ALPRs and Stingrays by police shows us that we are being pervasively surveilled. The question that we’re grappling with now is what privacy do we have while we’re in public spaces? Do we only have privacy when we are reading a non-digital book or writing a letter with pen and paper in the privacy of our own home? What privacy rights do we have when automated license plate readers comprehensively track our movements around town? When we’re posting on twitter, can the police subpoena every single one of our tweets on every topic for the last six months? These are questions that the law is struggling with now.”
Daniel Ellsberg told me, “Digital technology has allowed them to do surveillance everywhere in the world. Some say that we can encrypt more of our communications to make it harder to surveil. The only answer I can think of is accountability with real access to the surveillance data, which the intelligence committees don’t have. One could imagine a group that could report to Congress and the Judiciary that did not come from inside NSA. Or in this case the police.”
Crockford continues, “What’s so disturbing about all of this secret surveillance is that you lose control over information about yourself. That’s really threatening in a democracy, particularly to people who challenge government policies; activists and people who dissent. Since 9/11 people have been told that we have to give up some of our personal privacy in order to not be blown up by a terrorist. It’s a dangerous fallacy that the government has successfully inculcated in large parts of the public. But we’ve also seen that people are rejecting that now.”
In his 2013 Christmas video, Edward Snowden reminds us, “Privacy allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be. End mass surveillance.”