Category: Q&A

Q&A: Zimbabwe’s Kuda Hove

‘There Are No Safeguards to People’s Right to Privacy’

By Maureen Nkatha

With no active law on how private data that is collected should be stored or handled, human-rights activists and privacy experts in Zimbabwe are questioning just how ready the country is for facial-recognition technology. 

The country’s Freedom of Information Act was enforced starting last July, providing citizens and media the right to access information. However, the law does not clearly outline how data collection is handled.

Kuda Hove, a policy officer at Privacy International, told Digital Privacy News that surveillance in Zimbabwe went beyond investigating crimes and was now used as a political tool against those speaking against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ruling party.

Hove, who holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of South Africa, also led the Information and Communication Technology (ICT)’s policy and legal work at the Zimbabwean chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

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Q&A: Kian Vesteinsson of Freedom House Research Group

COVID Is ‘Laying the Foundation for the Future Surveillance State’

By Patrick W. Dunne

Kian Vesteinsson is a research analyst for technology and democracy at Freedom House, a research institute in Washington.

He also greatly contributes to the annual “Freedom on the Net” report produced by the nonprofit, which was established in 1941.

The report, released in October, analyzes how countries worldwide handle internet freedom.

“The public-health crisis has created an opening for the digitization, collection and analysis of people’s most intimate data without adequate protections against abuses,” reads an excerpt from the 2020 report.

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Q&A: EFF’s Cindy Cohn

COVID and Privacy: ‘Bad Ideas About Tracking People’

By Nora Macaluso

Last of three parts.

Established in 1990, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a history of fighting government and private efforts to monitor civilians.

In 2005, Cindy Cohn, as EFF’s legal director and general counsel, led a class-action lawsuit against Sony BMG, alleging that the entertainment giant built a flawed and invasive computer program into as many as 22 million music CDs to block copying by the public.

In a 2007 settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, Sony made available a patch that was designed to resolve the security vulnerability.

The next year, EFF began representing victims in a lawsuit challenging an illegal surveillance program run by the National Security Agency (NSA) conducted under the guise of the U.S. Patriot Act. The litigation continues.

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Q&A: Cindy Cohn of the EFF

Authorities Are Growing More ‘Hostile to Your Ability to Lock Up Your Data’

By Nora Macaluso

Second of three parts.

Law enforcement and tech companies have been teaming up on surveillance — and privacy advocates say that could be problematic.

In today’s Digital Privacy News interview, Electronic Frontier Foundation Executive Director Cindy Cohn discussed the link between litigation and policy change and the need for a national privacy law.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Q&A: EFF’s Cindy Cohn

‘We’re Going to Die by a Death of a Thousand Cuts for Privacy’

By Nora Macaluso

First of three parts.

Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has advocated for privacy on issues ranging from privately developed surveillance technology to government spying to human rights.

In 2005, she also led the foundation in a national class-action lawsuit against Sony BMG, arguing that the company had included a flawed and overreaching computer program in millions of music CDs sold to the public.

The entertainment behemoth ultimately settled with the Federal Trade Commission.

Cohn, 57, has helmed EFF since 2015, after serving as legal director, as well as its general counsel, for 15 years. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, the University of Iowa and the London School of Economics.

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Q&A: UC-Berkeley’s Daniel Aranki

Monitoring Employees by AI Raises New Class of Privacy Fears

By Victor R. Bradley

The general public is broadly aware that artificial intelligence and increasingly powerful statistical models have given companies the ability to build intrusive customer profiles based on web-surfing behavior.

Less discussed, however, is the power such technology confers upon employers. 

This neglected legal and ethical area is becoming increasingly prominent. In February, U.S. House Labor and Education Committee held a hearing: “The Future of Work: Protecting Workers’ Civil Rights in the Digital Age.”

The session investigated the ways algorithms and automated surveillance technology could reproduce and exacerbate existing biases in the workplace.

The explosion in remote work since March because of COVID-19 has made such investigation increasingly necessary, as employers must increasingly rely on supervision via cyberspace. 

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Q&A: Kristin Johnson of Emory University

‘We’re Never Clear About the Data That’s Being Gathered’

By C.J. Thompson

Guarding private information is only getting tougher.

The lack of federal data-privacy legislation, combined with the ramifications of the intensifying pandemic, is increasing the entry points for compromising data.

Kristin Johnson, Asa Griggs Candler professor of law at the Emory University Law School, told Digital Privacy News that more public vigilance was needed.

She argues in a soon-to-be-published academic paper — “Regulating Digital Surveillance: Protecting Privacy in a Pandemic” — that when it comes to privacy intrusion, financial-transaction data is as critical a privacy issue as geolocation tracking.

As such, the choice to add apps to devices should not be taken lightly.

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Q&A: Ethan Zuckerman at UMass

What Infrastructures Bring a ‘Healthy Online Life?’

By Mukund Rathi

Ethan Zuckerman is a visiting research scholar at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and a new faculty member at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

He has started the Institute for Digital Public Infrastructure at Amherst, which advocates for treating internet platforms as public spaces and public goods, “much as public television and radio have complemented commercial broadcasting,” according to the institute’s website.

Formerly the director of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Zuckerman created pop-up internet ads in 1997. In 2014, he apologized for unintentionally creating one the internet’s most despised forms of advertising.

But he told Digital Privacy News that this new approach regarding platforms would help protect privacy and help users control their data online.

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Q&A: Simple Analytics’ Adriaan van Rossum

‘Analytics Is Basically a Knife’

By Jackson Chen 

Google Analytics may be one of the most popular analytics platforms, but Adriaan van Rossum felt it was far from being the best. 

Van Rossum, who created a privacy-friendly alternative called Simple Analytics, believes analytics platforms do not need to track cookies while still providing essential visitor data. 

With more users concerned with how their data is being used and with governments passing laws on how companies can gather peoples’ online history, van Rossum told Digital Privacy News that not all analytics tools should be invasive. 

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Q&A: IAWRT’S Cecilia M. Maundu

‘The Internet is Gender-Blind. Let No One Tell You Otherwise’

By Maureen Nkatha

In an August report on internet experiences of women in Africa by Pollicy.org, a Uganda-based civic technology organization, more than half of those interviewed reported suffering from anxiety because of negative online experiences.

Cecilia M. Maundu, a specialist in gender digital-security training, has been working to educate women and minority groups on the importance of cybersecurity training in Kenya.

Maundu, who holds a master’s in communication from the University of Nairobi, also is secretary general of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) in Nairobi.

She told Digital Privacy News that online gender-based violence is a global issue and governments worldwide should enforce laws to prosecute perpetrators.

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Q&A: CDT’s Alexandra Reeve Givens

‘We Fight for an Open and Accessible Internet’

By Samantha Stone

Alexandra Reeve Givens was in grade school when the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) was founded.

CDT, based in Washington, is deeply rooted in digital technology’s original sin: exposing users to scrutiny by anyone with the means and the motive to probe.

By that standard, the organization is both young, at 26, and mature — having influenced public policy for a quarter of a century.

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Q&A: University of Chicago’s Ben Zhao and Heather Zheng

‘Fawkes’ Tool Protects Against Unregulated Facial Software

Examples of original photos and versions that have been “cloaked” by the Fawkes tool created by a team at the University of Chicago. Team co-leaders Heather Zheng and Ben Zhao are pictured on the bottom row. Credit: SAND Lab, University of Chicago.

By Rachel Looker

With the abundance of surveillance cameras in stores, at traffic lights and in most people’s pockets, the possibility of your face being captured for unsavory purposes has become more prevalent than ever before.

To protect individual privacy, University of Chicago professors Ben Zhao and Heather Zheng led a team to create the “Fawkes” algorithmic and software tool.

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Q&A: CDT’s William Adler

Even a Small Breach in Election Security Can Sow Distrust

By Mary Pieper

William T. Adler, senior technologist in elections and security at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, recently participated in a news briefing on election security.

With record early voting leading into Tuesday’s election, Adler and his colleagues explained what election officials were doing to prevent security breaches. They also discussed online misinformation and voting suppression.

In a follow-up interview, Adler told Digital Privacy News that, while election officials had made numerous security improvements, vulnerabilities still existed.

An attack on just one voting machine could create widespread doubts about overall election security, he said.

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Q&A: Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Americans Deserve ‘Full Accounting’ From Big Tech CEOs on Their Practices

By Jeff Benson

Nearly two weeks ago, The New York Post published what it deemed a bombshell story allegedly linking Hunter Biden to a Ukrainian-influence campaign on his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden.

Many social media users didn’t hear about it until later.

Twitter blocked the article for purportedly breaching its privacy policies, while Facebook slowed down dissemination so the report could be fact-checked.

The incident put further strain on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives online publishers broad discretion to moderate content submitted by users.

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Q&A: San Diego State’s Daniel Eaton

‘Work From Home Is Still Work and Subject to Work Rules’

By Victor Bradley

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May, Gallup found that 52% of employed U.S. adults worked from home full-time, versus fewer than 6% as recently as 2017.

As such, employers increasingly have turned to technology to monitor and analyze employee behavior. These include AI-capable systems, which they claim to use big data-based insights to identify — even predict — problematic employee behaviors.

But Daniel E. Eaton, a lecturer in employment law and business ethics at San Diego State University’s Fowler College of Business, told Digital Privacy News that federal privacy rights for workers were limited in general, leaving this new frontier essentially unregulated.

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Q&A: South African Professor Uche Mbanaso

‘Privacy Means to Be “Left Alone,” But the Context Has Changed’

By Maureen Nkatha

South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) took effect in July, becoming one of the few African nations to have adopted effective data-protection legislation.

The act defines how personal information can be collected and shared by public and private-sector organizations. They now must report all data breaches to the country’s information regulator.

Uche Mbanaso, a visiting senior lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, told Digital Privacy News that one of the greatest challenges to implementing the law is the fluidity of privacy data, which many infrastructures were not yet designed to handle.

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Q&A: Sen. Bill Cassidy, R- La.

Privacy Proposal Would Protect Consumers, COVID Health Data 

By Rachel Looker 

For Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., promoting public health while protecting consumer privacy goes hand in hand during a public-health crisis like COVID-19. 

He recently introduced the Exposure Notification Privacy Act to limit data-collection and usage while requiring the involvement from public-health officials in deploying contact-tracing apps and other exposure-notification systems.

The legislation would give consumers control over their health data by highlighting voluntary participation, user consent and the right to delete data on exposure-notification systems.

Cassidy introduced the bipartisan legislation in June with two Democrats, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Wash., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minn.

He told Digital Privacy News that Congress was overdue in examining at how personal health information was being marketed for commercial purposes, unbeknownst to users.  

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Q&A: Blogger Cory Doctorow

‘Companies Have Your Back When Having Your Back Is Good for Them’

By Jeff Benson

Last of three parts.

Cory Doctorow’s latest book, “How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism,” has much to say about how using antitrust law can lead to better privacy.

But it has less to say about what consumers can do avoid online surveillance. 

In this final installment of a three-part interview, Doctorow told Digital Privacy News that the internet became centralized through mergers, that personal data leaks were unavoidable and that consumers should be battling for stronger penalties for companies that break the law.

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Q&A: Technologist Cory Doctorow

‘We Can Pass Laws That Make Being Anti-Privacy Unprofitable’

By Jeff Benson

Second of three parts.

Technologist and author Cory Doctorow doesn’t buy the argument that we can’t regulate Big Tech because they’ll move overseas.

In today’s Digital Privacy News interview, the second of three parts, he said that U.S. laws allowed monopolies to expand across the globe, that changing those rules were “politically difficult” and that companies only cared about privacy if they could profit from it.

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Q&A: British Author Cory Doctorow

Breaking Up Monopolies Unleashes Innovation, Competition

By Jeff Benson

First of three parts.

Cory Doctorow is one of the world’s most prolific tech and science fiction writers.

In between releasing his second graphic novel, “Poesy the Monster Slayer,” in July and a sequel to “Little Brother” (due out in October), Doctorow managed to fit in a 27,000-word treatise on breaking up tech monopolies.

Published on OneZero late last month (and available for free to read), “How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism” argues that the government needs to step up its antitrust efforts or else Facebook, Google and their ilk will invade people’s privacy with impunity.

In the first of a three-part interview, Doctorow told Digital Privacy News that breaking up monopolies helped tech grow, that Facebook won’t stop hoarding data on its own — and provided questions that really should be asked about Big Tech.

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