Month: April 2020

Smart Homes Convenient, Rife With Data-Privacy Issues

By Christopher Adams

The convenience and novelty of smart homes are undeniable. However, the ability of these intelligent homes to undermine the privacy of homeowners is certainly real.

In 2018, 17 billion connected devices were in use globally, along with 7 billion IoT (internet of things) connected devices, according to IoT Analytics.

Security Today magazine also reported that more than 26 billion IoT devices were active worldwide last year.

Consumers should proceed with caution, according to VentureBeat, a digital publication that covers transformative technology.

Users needs to be aware of the risks in using such digital assistants as Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, which manage your home’s smart devices.  

“All of these devices are gathering, in some cases, pretty intimate data about us — even something as simple as when you come home, when you leave, when you go to bed, when you wake up,” Adam Levin, chairman and co-founder of CyberScout, told Digital Privacy News.

“So, this is data that becomes very valuable to someone who’s either a burglar or a stalker,” he said.

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World Privacy Forum Raises Concerns With Student Data Under FERPA

By Samantha Cleaver

Last summer, when 50.8 million children enrolled in public school in the United States, and 14.7 million more students arrived at postsecondary schools, their data went with them.

Student data, from addresses to photographs, is protected under the U.S. Family Educational Rights Privacy Act (FERPA).

In compliance, students, or their parents, must consent before a school discloses any identifiable information.

But what students and parents may not know is that, unless they opt out, FERPA also allows for some of that data to be released.

In 1974, when FERPA was written, a directory information exemption was put in place. Under this exemption, schools can designate information that can be made public without explicit parental consent.

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Q&A: ACLU’s Jay Stanley

‘Spy Plane’ Surveillance of Baltimore is a Gross Invasion of Privacy

By C.J. Thompson

Last of two parts.

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, warns that the Baltimore Police Department’s aerial surveillance program violates the U.S. Constitution. In today’s report, Stanley discusses the department’s covert test run in 2016 and the implications for other cities.

Did the Baltimore Police Department’s covert test of the surveillance program produce any evidence of effectiveness? 

I don’t think there was definitive evidence that it was a huge success. That’s why (Police Commissioner Michael Harrison) is selling this as a “test.”

They’re bringing in entities to do studies and are taking the pose that, ‘We don’t know whether it will work or not and we’ll make a judgment once the data is in.’

That’s undermined by the fact that they want to press forward during the COVID lockdown. If they really wanted to get representative data, they would wait until city life was (back to) normal.

It suggests that they’re not very serious about this just being a test.

They intend to press forward with it regardless.  

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Health Data, Even at a Privacy Loss, Proves Invaluable in Emergency Rooms

By Samantha Stone

The global COVID-19 pandemic has brought thousands of people to hospital emergency rooms, where the urgent pace and the need for information are at odds.

After the first critical hours, patients are stabilized and doctors then can review health histories from electronic medical records (EMR).

But what is the nature of that information? How wide and how deep is the data reservoir that doctors can plumb for guidance? Is the patient’s full history stripped bare?

“If you’re part of a treatment team, legitimately, then you can have access to the record,” Dr. Eric Howell, chief operating officer at the Society of Hospital Medicine and a Johns Hopkins University clinician, told Digital Privacy News.

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Q&A: ACLU’s Jay Stanley

Baltimore Police ‘Spy-Plane’ Program Greenlit to Record Citizens’ Every Move 

By C.J. Thompson

First of two parts.

The Baltimore Police Department will launch a privately funded aerial-surveillance program next week after a federal court in Maryland ruled Friday against local activists and the American Civil Liberties Union and its state affiliate.

The groups argued the continuous surveillance of citizens would violate the First and Fourth Amendments. The Washington-based ACLU will appeal the ruling.

Under the program, Persistent Surveillance Systems will fly three manned Cessna planes over Baltimore for up to 84 hours per week. The planes, equipped with cameras, will conduct military-grade surveillance — continuously recording all outdoor movements. The footage will be utilized to track crimes after the fact.

The program’s $3.7 million cost is being paid by a wealthy Texas couple, John and Laura Arnold.

Baltimore city officials voted earlier this month to formally implement the six-month test despite the public outrage over a similar program police conducted secretly in 2016.

ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley warns that Baltimore’s program could set a precedent that could potentially end privacy and freedom as Americans now know it.

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IRS Stimulus Website Plagued by Privacy, Security Issues

By Rob Sabo

Linda Elkington Huotari was excited when she logged into the new IRS website “Get My Payment” and learned she was eligible for direct deposit of her coronavirus stimulus check.

Huotari, who lives in Sherwood, Ore., had already filed her 2018 and 2019 tax returns, so the Internal Revenue Service had her correct banking information.

Two weeks have passed, however, and Huotari has yet to see any funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) deposited into her checking account.

She’s actually one of the lucky ones who successfully navigated Get My Payments to track the status of her payment.

“I’ve received my refunds from 2018 and 2019, but no stimulus funds — and there’s no reason why,” Huotari told Digital Privacy News.

Tens of millions of Americans have received stimulus checks via direct deposit, but millions more have encountered difficulty navigating Get My Payment.

The most-common issues are users receiving an error message stating “payment status not available” — and not having any way to provide correct banking information.

More alarming, security and data-privacy experts told Digital Privacy News, is the lack of safeguards and critical site vulnerabilities that potentially leave millions of consumers who accessed the site prone to data intrusion and cyberfraud.

“Get My Payment was launched a mere five days after the IRS announced it was being developed,” said Mandee Rose, editor at “Had efforts toward developing the site started sooner, the IRS would have had time to make sure cybersecurity and online privacy measures were properly implemented.”

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