Category: Special Reports

Jussie Smollett Warrants Threaten Digital Privacy Rights, Experts Say

By Matthew Scott

The warrants granted recently in the special investigation of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s alleged faked hate crime last year highlight law enforcement’s expanding ability to gain access to vast amounts of personal data and the potential risks that poses to the digital privacy rights of Americans.

“There are tremendous risks to individuals’ privacy from the collection of data on this scale and also law enforcement access to information on this scale,” Mark Rumold, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), warned to Digital Privacy News. 

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Jussie Smollett Orders: Dangers in Email Drafts and Deleted Texts

By Matthew Scott

Last of two parts. (Part 1)

Sweeping warrants recently issued in the Jussie Smollett special investigation pit privacy rights against law enforcement. Today’s report details the perils in unsent or draft emails and texts.

Chicago special prosecutor Dan Webb must prove fraud in last year’s
alleged Jussie Smollett attack — and that most likely enabled him to get warrants for deleted and unsent information from Google, New York privacy advocate Adam Wandt told Digital Privacy News.

Fraud cases often require law enforcement to probe deeper to prove intent and motive, explained Wandt, assistant professor of public policy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Because so many crimes are growing in sophistication, prosecutors are asking for — and obtaining — greater access to digital information. Warrants seeking access to email drafts, deleted emails and GPS tracking data from multiple platforms now are extremely common, Wandt said.

Criminals have been found to delete or manipulate such data to commit and hide illegal activity. Terrorists were the first to evade authorities by communicating through email drafts without sending them.

“They’d type up a draft, do not send it, then somebody else logs in to the same account,” he said. “That person then reads the draft, and they delete it.

“There is never an actual sent email,” Wandt noted, but the message is communicated.

The “strategy” has been replicated in organized crime — and now is common among drug dealers and fraudsters worldwide.

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Privacy Advocates Mum on Broad Jussie Smollett Warrants

By Matthew Scott

First of two parts.

Two recent sweeping orders from an Illinois judge in the special investigation of former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett could threaten the digital rights of all Americans, but few privacy advocates would discuss them with Digital Privacy News.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Toomin in December ordered Google to turn over a year’s worth of digital data and documents from the email accounts of Smollett and his manager, Frank Gatson.

The directives were part of special prosecutor Dan Webb’s probe into a faked hate crime Smollett allegedly orchestrated in Chicago last year to boost his career.

The charges were dropped in March 2019. Smollett, 37, has maintained his innocence.

Toomin’s warrants were exhaustive. They included deleted messages and drafts in the two’s accounts, documents in their Google Drive cloud accounts, and their Google Voice texts.

Other Google data ordered turned over included Smollett’s and Gatson’s call logs, contacts, images, photographs, search and web-browsing histories, and GPS location data.

Toomin mandated Google to provide the data from November 2018 to November 2019.

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