Privacy SOS

State Department, without a hint of irony, warns US travelers about privacy threats in Sochi

The US State Department is warning visitors to the Sochi Olympics that they should have "no expectation of privacy" upon arrival. This is apparently due to the influx of criminal hackers in the city, who are eagerly awaiting the influx of tens of thousands of wealthy tourists.

That sounds awfully familiar. The US Department of Justice, in a much less publicized announcement, told Americans in a court filing that we have "no privacy interest" in the location information beamed from our cell phones 24 hours a day.

Of course, the US and Russian governments are experts at spying on one another, and one another's citizens. Back in 1976, State Department officials in Moscow reported back to Washington that "medical experts are of the considered opinion that prolonged exposure to microwave radiation at the levels measure in the US embassy constitute a potential health hazard." In 2013, the German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that the NSA uses white boxes, hidden in plain site on the rooftops of US embassies worldwide, to spy on foreign governments and nationals.

Here at home, the US government claims it does not need a warrant to spy on citizens using drones, cell phone trackers, or even to read the content of our emails (as long as they are over six months old). Meanwhile, the FBI, CIA, and NSA operate teams of hackers that implant malicious software on the phones, tablets, and computers of adversaries. The legal regime governing this kind of surveillance remains murky, even months after the Snowden disclosures began leaking out to the public. Finally, even state and local law enforcement can often obtain the private records of US persons without warrants or a showing of probable cause.

In other words, Americans should feel right at home in Sochi.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.