Category Archives: Privacy

Big Brother Continues To Grow

If you’re a British citizen flying to the United States, you better hope that there’s nothing suspicious on your credit card bills:

Britons flying to America could have their credit card and email accounts inspected by the United States authorities following a deal struck by Brussels and Washington.

By using a credit card to book a flight, passengers face having other transactions on the card inspected by the American authorities. Providing an email address to an airline could also lead to scrutiny of other messages sent or received on that account.

The extent of the demands were disclosed in “undertakings” given by the US Department of Homeland Security to the European Union and published by the Department for Transport after a Freedom of Information request.

These measures will be justified by pointing to September 11th and last summer’s arrest of British Muslims involved in a plot to bomb aircraft headed to the United States, no doubt. But it is already clear that the information collected will be used for far more than just combating terrorism:

Not only will such material be available when combating terrorism but the Americans have asserted the right to the same information when dealing with other serious crimes.

And the information will be available for use long after the person in question has left the United States:

Initially, such material could be inspected for seven days but a reduced number of US officials could view it for three and a half years. Should any record be inspected during this period, the file could remain open for eight years.

Material compiled by the border authorities can be shared with domestic agencies. It can also be on a “case by case” basis with foreign governments.

Washington promised to “encourage” US airlines to make similar information available to EU governments — rather than compel them to do so.

And the line between “compel” and “encourage” isn’t bright at all. I would expect similar information about American citizens flying abroad to be shared with foreign governments soon, if it isn’t happening already.

What is unclear is how monitoring this much information about this many people is going help in any significant respect in stopping a real terrorist from getting into the country. Compared to the massive violation of privacy and civil liberties that this involved, it would appear that the benefits of the program are really quite minimal.

TSA Violated Privacy Laws

Don’t you feel safer?

Report Says TSA Violated Privacy Law

Secure Flight, the U.S. government’s stalled program to screen domestic air passengers against terrorism watch lists, violated federal law during a crucial test phase, according to a report to be issued today by the Homeland Security Department’s privacy office.

The agency found that by gathering passenger data from commercial brokers in 2004 without notifying the passengers, the program violated a 1974 Privacy Act requirement that the public be made aware of any changes in a federal program that affects the privacy of U.S. citizens. “As ultimately implemented, the commercial data test conducted in connection with the Secure Flight program testing did not match [the Transportation Security Administration’s] public announcements,” the report states.

The story hinges not about whether it’s correct for our TSA to create enormous databases on all air travel passengers in order to increase security, which is something that I doubt they could effectively do anyway. Nor does it hinge on the fact that quite a few people never knew about these databases, and never consented to having their travel habits monitored by the government.

No, in a truly anti-climactic sense, nothing in this story has to do with whether the database should even exist. It has to do with the source of the data for the database.

In 2004, the TSA published a Federal Register notice on a data-test phase of the program, saying that “strict firewalls” would prevent any commercial data from mixing with government data. However, this was based on the notion that the Secure Flight contractor, EagleForce Associates Inc. of McLean, would ensure that no commercial data were used, the report said.

But by the time the EagleForce contract was finalized, “it was clear that TSA would receive commercial data,” the report says. If, for instance, TSA data for an individual passenger lacked an address or date of birth, EagleForce would obtain the missing information from commercial data brokers.

“The fact that EagleForce had access to the commercial data did not create a firewall,” the report says, because under the Privacy Act, in effect, “EagleForce stands in the shoes of TSA.”

It was going to be a “strict firewall”, and if I know our government, maybe the data would have ended up in a “lockbox”. But think about the implications of this. I’m sure the TSA has been less than forthcoming about what exactly goes into this database. But the government, as far as I’m aware, only has certain information about each of us*. With the help of EagleForce, of course, they have access to just about anything. I’m sure that probably includes bank records, credit scores, and a host of other things that have become part of our “targeted-advertising” world. I’m sure if they got a hold of my purchasing history, they’d probably keep a closer eye on me.

This comes on the heels of other fun revelations about the TSA’s privacy-protection philosophy:

Moreover, commercial databases provided Eagle Force with data for some individuals who were not air passengers. These people were never notified — a violation of the privacy act, the report says.

A 2004 probe found that the TSA improperly stored 100 million commercial data records containing personal information on passengers after the agency said no data storage would occur.

Commercial data information on people who don’t fly, that’s saved into a database that’s not supposed to exist. I’m sure this does wonders for improving air safety. Especially after Flight 93, which was a signal to every terrorist in the world that they’ll be unsuccessful due not to air marshals or the TSA, but due to actions of ordinary passengers.

Of course, much like my post on the War on Sudafed, there’s always some sort of government apologist to explain how this is nothing to worry about, and all is moving forward as planned. And this time, they went straight to the top:

TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said that he supports the use of Secure Flight and that his agency is working closely with other government officials to ensure it protects privacy. “We are working in a transparent way,” Hawley said, adding that the agency’s “challenging” goal is to roll out the program in 2008.

Yep, move along, nothing to see here. We promise we’ll fix this by rollout.

» Read more

Support For Domestic Spying Slipping

Five years after 9/11, fewer Americans think it’s such a great idea for the government to spy on it’s citizens:

Two-thirds of Americans believe that the FBI and other federal agencies are intruding on privacy rights as part of terrorism investigations, but they remain divided over whether such tactics are justified, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released yesterday.

The poll also showed that 52 percent of respondents favor congressional hearings on how the Bush administration has handled surveillance, detainees and other terrorism-related issues, compared with 45 percent who are opposed. That question was posed to half of the poll’s 1,005-person random sample.

Overall, the poll — which includes questions that have been asked since 2002 and 2003 — showed a continued skepticism about whether the government is adequately protecting privacy rights as it conducts terrorism-related investigations.

Compared with June 2002, for example, almost twice as many respondents say the need to respect privacy outranks the need to investigate terrorist threats. That shift was first evident in polling conducted in January 2006.

That sentiment is still a minority view, however: Nearly two-thirds rank investigating threats as more important than guarding against intrusions on personal privacy, down from 79 percent in 2002.

Slowly but surely, though, the public seems to be coming to the realization that the surveillance state is not the best of all possible worlds.

Should Your Employer Be Allowed To Fire You If You Smoke ?

That’s the question raised by the case of a Massachusetts man suing his former employer for firing him when he tested positive for nicotine:

A Buzzards Bay man has sued The Scotts Co. , the lawn care giant, for firing him after a drug test showed nicotine in his urine, indicating that he had violated a company policy forbidding employees to smoke on or off the job. Many are unaware that such drug tests can detect nicotine, and how this and other substances are detected. You can read more here about drug testing to understand more about this case, and how this man was caught out by his workplace. Many would argue that what substances he puts in his body in his own time is an individual matter and should not affect his standing with his employers. Alas, this is not the case in this instance, leading to the individual in question losing their job. Others facing similar tests can click here to see what course of action can be taken to avoid failing such a test.

There are various types of drug tests available to employers. Aside from urine testing, some drug tests also involve hair follicle examinations. To learn more about hair follicle drug testing go to

Employers are often keen to learn more about prospective employees and do digging around them in the form of background checks which can often lead to someone missing out on a job opportunity. If this has happened to you but it stemmed from an error in your background check, you might want to dispute this by getting a hireright background check lawyer onside.

The suit, filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, is highly unusual because it involves an employee who was terminated for engaging in legal activities away from the workplace. The lawyer who filed the complaint said he believes it is the first of its kind in the state.

Scotts announced last year that it would no longer hire tobacco users, a policy company officials said was intended to improve employee wellness and drive down the company’s healthcare costs. But civil libertarians say it violates personal privacy rights and could be used to mask age discrimination or other illegal behavior.

The gut reaction of most people, I suspect, will be to say that Scotts had no right to fire this man for something he did outside of work. But, why shouldn’t they be allowed to fire him for any reason they deem appropriate ? You don’t have a right to a job, and you don’t have a right to a job under rules you find acceptable. If Scotts, or any other employer, believes that off-the-job behavior can have an impact on the company, which it certainly can when the company is paying for health insurance, then why shouldn’t they be allowed to tell someone that if they engage in certain behavior, on or off the job, they could be subject to termination ?

As the article goes on to state, the Plaintiff in this case knew about the no-smoking policy at the time he was hired. If he didn’t like the rule, then he didn’t have to take the job. Having taken the job, though, he can’t complain when he faces the consequences of not following the rules.

H/T: Hit & Run

A Perverse Incentive

A Question was asked by a reader:

1500 SWAT raids a day…. Has the Drug War completely corrupted our legal system?

It depends on what you mean by corrupted. It is certainly corrosive to the souls of the police, and their relationship with the public they are, and must be, inextricably a part of.

I was watching the history channel, or discovery channel or some such, and they were talking about SWAT training. They mentioned 5 towns in rural Illinois I just happen to know about, as all having full time SWAT teams, equipped with fully automatic weapons, and full ninja gear etc…

As I said, I know these towns. None of them are bigger than 30,000 people. None of them have a real crime problem. The only crime issue they have is meth labs; but no more than anywhere else in the American midwest these days.

But all five towns have full time SWAT teams; and those teams existence has to be justified somehow.

Last I checked, more than 60% of all departments now had at least part time swat teams or something similar (ESU, high risk warrant squad etc…); now really, is there a need for even HALF of these teams, for a quarter of them?

I understand the need for officer safety; and how the movement of meth into rural America has changed the risks and difficulties of law enforcement for a large portion of the country; but is there any reason on this earth why a town of 24,000 people, where the only real violent crime is domestic; should have a five man full time SWAT team?

Of course not. Most of those SWAT teams didn’t exist before 1994; which coincidentally is when federal funding, and equipment purchase programs were ramped up for SWAT type teams, so that local law enforcement organizations could better fight “the war on drugs”.

Of course most place dont NEED a SWAT team, but almost any law enforcement organization could use more money, more training, more equipment etc… The incentive was there for federal funding to be spent, and federal equipment to be acquired; and where there’s financial incentive, there will be a means created to fulfill that incentive.

Now that they are there, they need to justify their continued existence; so what used to be a normal warrant service all of a sudden ends up with 5 guys with machine guns and balaclavas busting a 90 year old womans door down in the middle of the night.

And this sort of thing is 1500 times a day all over this country. Now of course, most of those SWAT raids are on genuine bad guys (drug dealers mostly, who aren’t exactly boy scouts); but some of them most definitely are not necessary, or worth the higher risk of injury or death to the general public… in fact Id wager a guess a hell of a lot of them are not.

Of course the police will say it’s all about officer safety; but in reality more officers are shot on raids than in standard warrant service (and we’re going to get into a correlation vs. causation issue here)… oh and the number of officers shot in any other circumstances are dwarfed by officers being shot in domestic disturbances, and traffic stops (especially felony traffic stops, which are in fact how most criminals end up getting arrested).

So, in the name of oficer safety; and of course in preventing the evidence from being flushed down the toilet; purse snatchers, and 90 year old women with joints, end up getting killed.

This is properly decried wherever it happens; but police being what they are, the blue wall goes up, defending policy and officer actions; and gets higher, and tighter; separating the police from the public they serve, ever more, with every raid.

Corruption? Not the way most people mean it. Just the perverse incentive toward the militarization of the police, and their estrangement from the public

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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