Category: Q&A

Q&A: World Privacy Forum’s Pam Dixon

Health Oversight Waiver Opens Door to Broad Uses of Private Data

By Myrle Croasdale

To fight COVID-19, the federal government recently waived enforcement penalties for failing to comply with some patient-privacy provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The first of these waivers has been beneficial, said Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research group in San Diego, Calif., focused on privacy in the digital age.

One makes it easier for providers to release information to a patient’s family and friends. Another expands telemedicine.

Others, however, have raised concerns. 

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Q&A: California Tech Lawyer Jeffrey J. Blatt

Preventing Mass Shootings vs. Invading Privacy

By Mary Pieper

Will an artificial intelligence system eventually be created that collects vast amounts of data on almost everyone in the United States to predict who is likely to become an active shooter?

The technology exists to make this system possible, said Jeffrey J. Blatt, a California tech lawyer and founder of X Ventures, which represents clients in international technology and related issues, during recent IT security conference in San Francisco.

However, society as a whole must decide if potentially saving hundreds of lives is worth such a huge invasion of privacy, he said.

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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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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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Q&A: Cyber-Rights Advocate Ari Ezra Waldman

Swatting Problem Spreading Beyond Celebrities

By C. J. Thompson

Swatting, the act of reporting a violent crime in progress to provoke an aggressive police response on an unsuspecting target, is affecting a growing number of everyday people.

While tech executives, politicians, gamers, Twitter personalities and celebrities continue to be the most-frequent victims, churches and universities also have been targeted.

Swatting wasn’t included in the FBI’s most recent crime-statistics report, but news reports have cited an estimate of more than 1,000 occurrences in 2019.

Ari Ezra Waldman, an attorney and board member of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative in New York, says growing awareness by the public, and particularly by law enforcement, is necessary to gain ground against this harassment tactic.

A Columbia University Ph.D., Waldman also is the founding director of the Innovation Center for Law and Technology at New York Law School.

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Q&A: California Privacy Advocate Alastair Mactaggart

Privacy Should Be Protected by Law, No Matter the Cost

By Terry Collins

In three months, California will begin enforcing its closely followed California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), the complex law that gives residents the right to know what information companies collect on them and some control of their data.

As lawmakers, advisers and companies scramble to complete compliance guidelines, the man behind the 2018 voter-backed law, privacy advocate Alistar Mactaggart, is preparing another ballot initiative to strengthen the law for voters to decide this fall. 

Mactaggart, an affluent Bay Area real estate magnate, Harvard-educated chairman and founder of Californians for Consumer Privacy (CCP), told Digital Privacy News he wants to toughen the privacy rights and protections that the current law doesn’t offer. 

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

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Q&A: EFF’s Danny O’Brien

Trading Privacy to Save Lives

By Samantha Stone

The world marked its one millionth coronavirus case last week. Experts say electronic surveillance is an effective tool to slow the spread, but at what cost to privacy?

Privacy activist Danny O’Brien says there will be enormous temptation after the crisis to stockpile the personal tracking data for future use.

O’Brien is director of strategy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. He’s credited with coining the term “life hack.”

Should we trade off privacy to save lives?

The big questions we have with these things are is it necessary and is it proportionate? 

Also, not jumping to the first high-tech solution that might appear appropriate [is another consideration], because there are lots of ways of doing this. Some of them are effective; some of them are ineffective. 

A classic example is where people were trying to tell from the data they had whether people, generally, were practicing social distancing.

They didn’t take into account that in some states, people have to travel farther to see someone else.

If you’re tracking how far people are moving in — say, Montana — that’s going to have a very different characteristic than it is in California.

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Harvard’s Elizabeth Renieris: Privacy Is an Inalienable Right

By Jeff Benson

Last of two parts. (First part here.)

Worldwide, individuals remain at the whim of unfair data practices, says Elizabeth Renieris, a data protection lawyer and fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society.

She now discusses how to rebalance the scales toward individuals.

Many technologists talk about data ownership as enabling digital privacy. Yet, you’ve written that they’re at odds. Why?

The way I think about privacy and data protection, though there is a difference, is through the lens of fundamental rights that are inalienable, which means they’re non-transferrable. So, you can never waive those rights.

The problem with most data-ownership models, and monetization in particular, is that the type of ownership that allows you to monetize something is typically a property-style framework. So, something akin to personal (or movable) property, or sometimes intellectual property.

Those things are monetizable because they’re transferrable, because they allow you to dispose of and do things with that data as property that you could not necessarily do under other legal frameworks.

So, there’s a direct tension between the inalienability and non-transferability of human rights and the alienability and transferability of property.

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Q&A: Harvard’s Elizabeth Renieris

Data Ownership Is Dangerous

By Jeff Benson

First of two parts.

American computer scientist Jaron Lanier invented virtual reality. Now he and a growing list of technologists, from Andrew Yang to blockchain-obsessed idealists, want to forge a future in which people can profit from their data.

Elizabeth Renieris thinks that’s a dangerous idea. 

A lawyer and fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, Renieris is among the foremost experts on cross-border data protection laws and digital privacy.

In an interview with Digital Privacy News, she explained why data commodification won’t work.

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