Privacy SOS

Catch up on the most important surveillance and privacy news from the week

There’s been a lot of surveillance and privacy news this week. Here are some high (actually mostly low) lights.

Federal law enforcement officials argue that electronic surveillance orders must, as a matter of policy, be kept secret—even after the prosecutions have finished and the cases are closed.

The ACLU obtained documents showing that a Ronald Reagan era executive order still grants the NSA incredibly broad authority to spy on pretty much everyone in the world—including US citizens. Can the NSA spy on Americans without warrants? You betcha. Thanks, Reagan!

A Salon report reveals that “Islamophobe Frank Gaffney’s” Center for Security Policy is funded in part by war and surveillance industry behemoths. Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Electric all donated to the organization in 2013, reporter Eli Clifton found. How to ensure continued demand for the many costly services offered by the war and spy business? Ensure the public is afraid of a large and supposedly powerful enemy, in this case the world’s billions of Muslims. Neat trick, though hardly new.

Cops and prosecutors all over the country have for years been hawking dangerous malware to parents, saying that installation of the “Computer COP” software will enable adults to safely monitor their kids’ internet use. EFF dug deep into the actual software, the company that made it, and the public agencies nationwide that have been promoting and giving it away—with our money. A number of Massachusetts entities are implicated, including the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, which has been handing out the malware for years.

The Department of Homeland Security flies drones above the heads, homes, and businesses of those of us who live within 100 miles of a sea or land border. (That’s most people in the United States, so chances are if you’re in the US you’re one of them.) We know this because the GAO released a report about DHS drone flights, based off of internal agency documents. The GAO does these annual reports in part to make sure DHS isn’t flying drones above US airspace, but rather just at the border. Turns out: DHS breaks the rules! At least some of those flights are missions flown for other law enforcement agencies, including local police.

In a disastrous ruling overturning lower courts, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that evidence obtained via illegal electronic surveillance can be used against a defendant. Police initially placed a GPS tracker on Harry Katzin’s car before the Supreme Court ruled in Jones that this type of surveillance requires a probable cause warrant. Prosecutors later argued that they should be able to use the evidence derived from that tracking device, even though this type of warrantless spying was later ruled to be unconstitutional, citing what’s called the “good faith” exception. Police acted in good faith, they argued, because when they installed the GPS tracker no law or precedent required that they obtain a warrant to do so. The Third Circuit’s decision isn’t just bad for Katzin; it’s bad for everyone. Courts and legislatures move very slowly when it comes to updating the law to protect people from unwarranted government spying using new technology. This ruling sends a terrible message to police: Unless a legislature or a court in your jurisdiction has explicitly said you can’t track or monitor someone with a specific kind of technology sans a warrant, go right ahead. Even if that monitoring or tracking is later found unconstitutional, your evidence will still be admissible. It’s bad news.

CNBC interviewed an NSA recruiter, who reports that most of the young computer science students he reaches out to don’t much care about the political implications of the NSA’s activities, even in light of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

The Austin Police Department is doing its damnedest to criminalize an organization called the Peaceful Streets Project, which aims to expose and counter police corruption and brutality, internal documents show. Emails released via a public records request to the activists show that officers have conspired to see how they can arrest and detain members of the group, even calling them “domestic extremists.” In one email, a police officer “makes a strange attempt to lump police accountability activists and the hacker-collective Anonymous in with sovereign citizens groups as a collective revolutionary movement,” TruthOut reports.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.