Police Are Keeping Mum About Their Cell-Tracking Technology

POSTED BY Edwin Batista

Police have been using a device called Stingray to intercept phone calls and text messages to aid in their police work. However, privacy issues have been raised due to police refusing to elaborate on the details of their surveillance operation. Little is known about how police use Stingray and the rules they follow when using it even in states with strong open record laws. Efforts to obtain public-records regarding Police use of Stingray have been mostly fruitless.

At about the size of a suitcase, Stingray works by tricking cellphones in its range of operation into identifying themselves and transmitting their data to police rather than the nearest cellphone tower. It is not clear what information Stingray is capable of capturing because documents regarding Stingrays are usually heavily censored. In rare court appearance in 2011, the FBI confirmed that Stingray has the potential to affect innocent users in its area of operation.

Earlier this month the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, through one of its journalist, sued the Tucson Police Department, alleging that police had not complied with the State’s public-records law because police did not fully disclose Stingray records.

Awareness of police cell-tracking capabilities through their use of Stingray has spread across the country. News agencies in California, Florida and Philadelphia have been denied police records on Stingray. Attempts to obtain this information have been met with denials and challenges to such request in court. The main issue here is that there is an exception in public-records law that protects trade Secrets. It is through these trade secrets exception and nondisclosure agreements that Police have been able to decline to tell the courts about the use of Stingray.

The recent revelations about the surveillance programs run by the NSA has started a debate regarding the balance between citizen’s privacy and government surveillance policies. The issue of the lack of information on police use of Stingray will not go away and will likely intensify and spread across the country. The fact that police can avoid complying with public-records request by contracting with private companies with trade secrets and nondisclosure agreements must be addressed. In order to maintain our civil liberties and eliminate abuses public agencies need to be more transparent. A balance must be struck between allowing police to use technology to effectively do their job and allowing citizens the ability to make sure police are not abusing their power.

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Google Lawsuit Denied Class Action Status

POSTED BY Jared Bishop

Google has a serious issue on their hands with regards to wiretapping of Gmail users. However, any hope that consumers had against taking down the monstrous enterprise of Google was likely shot down in a decision by Judge Lucy Koh. Judge Koh, a United States District Judge for the Northern District of California, ruled that the case would not be allowed to proceed as a class action lawsuit due to the importance of individual consent issues.

 

The suit alleged that Google was taking users who used other Google products such as Google Apps and users who send emails to Gmail account holders, and creating Gmail accounts for these same users. These users allegedly did not agree to any terms for Gmail, nor did they agree to have a Gmail account Google allegedly used this data-mining information to target consumers with advertisements.

 

Judge Koh held that the individual consent issue far outweighed the potential for similar issues amongst potential plaintiffs. Koh ruled that a factual basis would need to be addressed in regards to each individual plaintiff to determine whether consent was or was not given to Google. This decision severely damages the plaintiffs’ argument as they have less power to encourage settlement with Google due to the fewer number of plaintiffs and potential damages.

 

Judge Koh’s decision was a giant one in favor of Google, but it was the right one. It would be virtually impossible for a jury to analyze to analyze thousands of consumers’ consent or failure to consent to Google’s actions. Google would essentially have to prove that each and every consumer consented to Google’s actions, which would cost millions in litigation fees.

 

With that being said, Judge Koh’s decision, virtually gives consumers a serious hole in their lawsuit against Google. While the decision saved Google millions in litigations fees, Koh’s decision hinders consumers’ financial power in pooling their financial interests to match the monster of Google. Consumers are more likely now to drop their suits as Google has a far less incentive to settle with individual or small groups of consumers.

Score One for the Internet: European Union Affirms the Right to Hyperlink

POSTED BY Andrew Clark

The European Court of Justice that sits in Luxembourg recently decided the Case of Nils Svensson et al. v. Retriever Sverige. The Plaintiffs in this case, Svensson et al., brought an action against the Defendant, Retriever Sverige, to obtain compensation for the use of hyperlinks by the Defendants, which directed users to the Plaintiff’s website. The question before the court was whether person who places a hyperlink to a copyrighted work with out the copyright holder’s permission violates copyright or related areas of law?

The EU Court held that there was no violation of copyright law by an unauthorized user directing website visitors to copyrighted works through the use of a hyperlink. The court specified that, “the owner of a website, such as that of Retriever Sverige, may, without the authorisation of the copyright holders, redirect internet users, via hyperlinks, to protected works available on a freely accessible basis on another site.” One important consideration to note is that the holding only applies to hyperlinked work that is freely available to the public; it does not include links that seek to avoid payment or restricted access.

The sanctity of the Internet was protected due to the EU Court’s holding. The Internet is a vast medium of information that is often easier found by clicking from Website to Website rather than searching for specific information. What if the court would have held conversely, that a copyright holder’s permission was required to place a hyperlink on a website? That holding would have made it impossible for users to click from one website to another that included complimentary information, thus forever changing the structure of the Internet. For example, had the converse holding been upheld it would have made writing this blog post difficult. Imagine reading a news article about a current legal issue, but where you’d normally find a hyperlink to the related court case there was nothing. You would then have to search the Internet for the specific source adding unnecessary delay and headache. I do agree with the differentiation between linking to publicly available Websites or works and those with restricted access. I do not feel that it would be appropriate to allow hyperlinks to be used to avoid paying to access a website or other specified restrictions. Thankfully, the holding in this case substantiated the Internet as a great space for the world to share information with others, so long as that information is freely accessible.

Autonomous Vehicles are the Future or Not?

POSTED BY Abner Pinedo

Imagine a scenario where a blind man is operating a vehicle by himself on a freeway and is able to arrive safely to his destination. This far-fetched scenario only once imagined in Sci-Fi films is one of many possibilities that Google Inc. illustrates as possible in a YouTube video they posted up called “Self-Driving Car Test: Steve Maha.” Between 2011 and 2012, California, Nevada, and Florida have passed laws allowing the use of automated vehicles on the road in their prototype stages. Google claims that their automated self-driven vehicle is going to revolutionize safety and efficiency for society. The Google Car boasts over 300,000 driven miles in real-time traffic without any reported accidents to date. They claim their autonomous vehicle has the potential of bringing our average 32,000 motor vehicle accidents a year to zero. This is the future Google’s working on for us.

The legality of these new vehicles on the road seems possible, but what exactly is allowed? Three bodies of law govern the United States’ vehicle laws: the 1941 Geneva Convention, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the vehicle codes that each State has enacted. These laws combined create a complex body of law, some requiring that there should be a driver in control of the vehicle at all times. These laws do not particularly prohibit the legality of automated vehicles, but does complicate their admissibility. For example, most states assume the notion of a prudent or reasonable licensed human driver with the ability to use their own sound judgment.

California, Nevada, and Florida have all allowed Google’s automated prototype to be legal on the roads. These states have passed similar bills all defining “autonomous vehicles” and the ability to obtain virtual or automated licenses. The policy behind these bills is to facilitate the creation and use of these new technologies safely on the highways. However, these passed bills do not address general tort liability, insurance, environmental impact assessment, and more.

If autonomous vehicles are to become legal they are going to change the structure of a lot of our industries, especially of those of insurance companies. It is going to affect who gets sued and who is liable of an accident. For example, who would be held responsible for a fender-bender when a computer is automatically controlling the vehicle? Would the blind man be held liable or would Google be? Since the bills don’t resolve the human drivers’ obligations behind the wheel and the vehicle standards, it is likely that the Google car will remain a prototype for sometime. The question regarding who’s liable and how much in damages will be paid is left to the courts and legislation to decide. These decisions need to be well balanced in order to not deter companies from entering into this new sector and it cannot make the drivers fully responsible for a machine’s decisions in order to not dissuade drivers from purchasing the vehicles.

The question of liability would further be complicated by the different definitions of “autonomous” established between the legislature and the DMV in these states. For example, the Nevada’s legislature definition of autonomous vehicle does not require a human operator. However, the Nevada DMV’s definition of autonomous does require some form of human intervention. The potential driver could in fact argue that they should not be held liable, because the legislature does not conceivably require human input, thus the creator of the vehicle would be deemed at fault. These inconsistencies need to be thoroughly fixed and altered. Nevada legislature did urge for the DMV to amend their definition of autonomous in order to comply with their definition of autonomous. Without a clear definition and consistency, liability for an accident related to autonomous vehicles can become a mess. It is clearly an exciting time we live in. Nevertheless, self-driven vehicles have a long way towards fully being able to exit its prototypic stages and into our garages.

State and Federal Lawmakers Propose Bills in Hopes of Suppressing Theft of Mobile Devices

POSTED BY Caroline Carollo

Smartphone theft is a major problem in the United States, and the number of smartphone-related robberies has significantly increased over the past couple of years.  These thefts make up between 30 to 40 percent of all robberies across the country.  In 2012, approximately 1.6 Americans were victims of smartphone theft, and consumers in the U.S. spent more than $30 billion in recovering cell phones.  In San Francisco, California, cell phone thefts make up 66 percent of all robberies, and in Oakland, California, that number increases to over 75 percent.

In an effort to curb smartphone theft, as well as the violence that often accompanies these robberies, several lawmakers around the country have come together to promote the Secure Our Smartphone initiative to urge phone carriers to include a “kill switch” in their devices.  On February 7, 2014, California State Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon took this initiative a step further and introduced a bill (Senate Bill 962) that would require the inclusion of a “kill switch” in phones sold in the state.  If the bill is passed, any phone sold after January 1, 2015 would require the security feature, which would prevent the phone from operating if stolen.  Although the phone’s owner would not be required to keep the security feature, the purpose of the bill is to guarantee that the feature is preloaded on the phone.  The user would then have the option to disable the feature and opt-out of the system.  The prediction is that thieves will be deterred from stealing smartphones, knowing that such a security device is in place.

One week after California Senate Bill 962 was proposed, federal lawmakers put forward a similar bill.  On February 13, U.S. senators introduced national legislation to require a method of disabling smartphones remotely.  Like the California bill, the goal of this proposed bill is to deter theft and protect consumers.

Nevertheless, the proposed legislation is facing resistance from the phone carriers.  Several U.S. carriers have already stated they would not support such a feature, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular.  The wireless industry has voiced concerns over the possibility of increasing the chance of hacking if the antitheft technology is required.  The CTIA, a telecom industry group, discussed how the technical details involved in the remote transmission of a “kill message” would be broadly known among mobile operators.  Consequently, it would be difficult to prevent hackers from remotely sending those kill messages and shutting down customers’ phones permanently.  The problem becomes even more serious when imagining hackers disabling an entire group of customers, such as the Department of Defense or law enforcement.  There are also concerns over unintended consequences.  For example, a permanent kill switch could have unintended consequences for customers who eventually find their lost phones.

Proponents of the proposed antitheft security feature believe the resistance coming from mobile carriers is largely motivated by money, and that carriers are prioritizing profit over safety.  It seems likely that business relationships, such as with insurance companies, play a role in carriers’ opposition for such a bill.  Indeed, mobile carriers make billions every year from selling theft insurance to their customers.

While I agree with the sentiment that steps need to be taken to reduce the number of cell phone thefts, I am not completely convinced that a kill switch is the answer.  While it appears that it could be an effective solution in theory, I do worry about the possibility of hacking and of unintended consequences.  Individuals need to be more aware of their surroundings and should resist the urge to take out their phones in public.  While maybe not the strongest deterrent, I do find that the “Find my Phone” application that users can download on their iPhones serves as a deterrent nonetheless, and more people should consider downloading this feature.  Ultimately, I believe more research should be done on how kill switch technology will operate, and how to fix the inevitable glitches, before implementing such a feature.

Smartphone theft is a major problem in the United States, and the number of smartphone-related robberies has significantly increased over the past couple of years.  These thefts make up between 30 to 40 percent of all robberies across the country.  In 2012, approximately 1.6 Americans were victims of smartphone theft, and consumers in the U.S. spent more than $30 billion in recovering cell phones.  In San Francisco, California, cell phone thefts make up 66 percent of all robberies, and in Oakland, California, that number increases to over 75 percent.

In an effort to curb smartphone theft, as well as the violence that often accompanies these robberies, several lawmakers around the country have come together to promote the Secure Our Smartphone initiative to urge phone carriers to include a “kill switch” in their devices.  On February 7, 2014, California State Senator Mark Leno and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon took this initiative a step further and introduced a bill (Senate Bill 962) that would require the inclusion of a “kill switch” in phones sold in the state.  If the bill is passed, any phone sold after January 1, 2015 would require the security feature, which would prevent the phone from operating if stolen.  Although the phone’s owner would not be required to keep the security feature, the purpose of the bill is to guarantee that the feature is preloaded on the phone.  The user would then have the option to disable the feature and opt-out of the system.  The prediction is that thieves will be deterred from stealing smartphones, knowing that such a security device is in place.

One week after California Senate Bill 962 was proposed, federal lawmakers put forward a similar bill.  On February 13, U.S. senators introduced national legislation to require a method of disabling smartphones remotely.  Like the California bill, the goal of this proposed bill is to deter theft and protect consumers.

Nevertheless, the proposed legislation is facing resistance from the phone carriers.  Several U.S. carriers have already stated they would not support such a feature, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular.  The wireless industry has voiced concerns over the possibility of increasing the chance of hacking if the antitheft technology is required.  The CTIA, a telecom industry group, discussed how the technical details involved in the remote transmission of a “kill message” would be broadly known among mobile operators.  Consequently, it would be difficult to prevent hackers from remotely sending those kill messages and shutting down customers’ phones permanently.  The problem becomes even more serious when imagining hackers disabling an entire group of customers, such as the Department of Defense or law enforcement.  There are also concerns over unintended consequences.  For example, a permanent kill switch could have unintended consequences for customers who eventually find their lost phones.

Proponents of the proposed antitheft security feature believe the resistance coming from mobile carriers is largely motivated by money, and that carriers are prioritizing profit over safety.  It seems likely that business relationships, such as with insurance companies, play a role in carriers’ opposition for such a bill.  Indeed, mobile carriers make billions every year from selling theft insurance to their customers.

While I agree with the sentiment that steps need to be taken to reduce the number of cell phone thefts, I am not completely convinced that a kill switch is the answer.  While it appears that it could be an effective solution in theory, I do worry about the possibility of hacking and of unintended consequences.  Individuals need to be more aware of their surroundings and should resist the urge to take out their phones in public.  While maybe not the strongest deterrent, I do find that the “Find my Phone” application that users can download on their iPhones serves as a deterrent nonetheless, and more people should consider downloading this feature.  Ultimately, I believe more research should be done on how kill switch technology will operate, and how to fix the inevitable glitches, before implementing such a feature.

FCC Proposes Changes to Reinstate Net Neutrality

POSTED BY Edwin Batista

Feeling the Pressure from politicians, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) announced that plans to reinstate Net Neutrality will be released shortly. Despite suffering a legal defeat in a federal appeals court, the FCC was encouraged by the court’s decision, which threw out the FCC’s open Internet rules on a legal technicality.  Regardless of the optimism, the FCC will have a tough fight ahead of itself.

In Verizon v. F.C.C., 11-1355, 2014 WL 113946 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 14, 2014), the Court of Appeals rejected the FCC’s Open Internet rules on a legal technicality but upheld the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband networks. The Court found  that the FCC has a general authority to regulate broadband rules but the Court found that the FCC’s Open Internet rules were based on flawed legal logic.  Specifically, the FCC cannot regulate broadband providers using the same rules that apply to phone companies. In the spirit of acting to preserve a free and open Internet the FCC will soon outline how it proposes to preserve net neutrality.

One possible direction that the FCC could takes is to change the classification of Broadband.  Using this strategy will likely be opposed by broadband providers.  Broadband providers argue that changing the classification of Broadband would change the way that all matters involving the Internet are regulated. Another strategy that the FCC can take is if Congress makes changes to the Communication Act to specifically delineate all of the intricacies of Net neutrality. However, critics argues that such reform would take years.

This is an important first step on the part of the FCC.  By acting so quickly after the decision the FCC is reassuring the public that the FCC believes that Net Neutrality is essential for consumers.  Without Net Neutrality, Broadband providers have an incentive to control access to the internet by blocking and slowing down certain content.  By trying to monetize consumer’s access to different parts of the internet, Broadband companies limit commerce, innovation, and consumer’s ability to communicate with others and obtain information.  Thus the FCC should make reinstating Net neutrality their top priority.

The Long Term Effects of NSA Revelations

POSTED BY Grant Bowen

Rolling scandal over National Security agency surveillance, triggered by a mass leak of secrets by Edward Snowden, as well as further revelations of spying on allies, continues to follow President Obama and the U.S. Government. Due to this, various experts are worried of two results: the government is suffering in its relationships with allies and cryptography, which has continuously formed the backbone of U.S. surveillance programs, and simultaneous the public may be damaged by cloud computing surveillance.

Primarily, experts are concerned about the extent to which the US can successfully exert “soft power” through political and cultural values, while simultaneously lowering its military presence throughout the world. It was intended that through networks of friends and allies, the U.S. could extend this “soft power” and influence more countries through peace, rather than war-tactics. Maintaining and establishing more alliances through this method will help to mitigate consequences of lessening military might.

However, the current surveillance problems do harm to this plan. In order to establish “soft power” in the first place, there has to be a baseline level of trust. The global opinion of America is hardly positive at the moment, though. Coming off a long government shutdown, and repeated surveillance scandals, American status has suffered. If the long-term plan is to carefully manage military decline, while preserving maximum influence, surveillance issues can’t continue. They repeatedly break down the requisite trust in order to successfully follow such a plan.

Furthermore, NSA surveillance issues continue to wreak havoc for the American public. Primarily, many organizations have noted access to stored data in the public cloud, even though the U.S. insisted it was only doing so to track suspected terrorist activities overseas. However, both Microsoft’s Office 365 and SharePoint Online experienced NSA surveillance activity (whether they were “accidents” or purposeful is still disputed). Due to the large universe of SharePoint and other online services (think Apple’s iCloud or Google Online Doc Suite), smaller providers, cloud computing services and others are feeling the influence. They are putting their cloud migration plans on hold, or simply terminating those already occurring. In fact, according to one study, nearly 35% of those with plans to migrate to cloud computing are now in a holding pattern.

It may need to go without say that there is a question of whether the NSA security “surveillance” tactics raise issues of legality. According to Congress, and the Supreme Court the processes employed by the NSA do not violate the 4th amendment “as long as the government can show that it is relevant to an authorized investigation into known – and, significantly – unknown terrorists who may be in the United States.” Yet, legality, as determined by the government, does not answer the question of what the long-term effects of such surveillance will be. As we have seen already it could affect as much as international political relationships, or simply public and commercial computing access.