Posts Tagged ‘Privacy Rights’

Commerce Department recommends online “Privacy Bill of Rights”

Friday, December 17th, 2010

"Privacy? On the Internet? Consumer Rights? Are you making this up?"

Every time I create a new online account that requires me to input personal information, I get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Primarily it happens when I am on a site that doesn’t list their privacy policy right from out in the open where I can find it easily and peruse it before I even begin the account creation process. I’ve chickened  out of ordering from sites where the wording of their policy wasn’t clear or if it was eight pages long, requiring me to thoroughly read said policy to make certain there was no  wording that meant my information was up for grabs if I didn’t provide a photocopy of my driver’s license and social security card via snail mail within ten days of submitting my info (true story).

This has led to a degree of paranoia on my part which some security experts would argue was healthy when it comes to the world of privacy. I’d agree with them to a point but as someone who often prefers shopping online where I can determine if an item is in stock without ever leaving the privacy of my home, I can’t believe there aren’t more stringent laws in place that protect the privacy rights of online consumers at least as well as the rights of those who use physical storefronts.

Let’s face it, there’s a decent percentage of sites out there that believe the information you provide them is theirs to do with as they will once you hit the submit button and unfortunately, there is nothing currently in the law books that protect the consumers for overt abuse in this regard.

Until, hopefully, now.

The Commerce Department, in a recent report, called for the creation of a “privacy bill of rights” for online consumers that sets the guidelines for companies that collect data from users and in what ways that information can be used in terms of marketing as well as other purposes. This proposal comes two weeks after the Federal Trade Commission suggested the creation of a “Do Not Track” tool that would allow users to opt out of having their information and online activities studied by online marketing firms who commonly use the information in order to create targeted ads for those users.

Unfortunately, the recommendation also included the proposal that the policy be developed by Internet advertising firms, social networking sites, as well as other online service providers. The proposal also included government officials and privacy watchdogs in the list but the others listed are a cause for concern, at least on my part.

Also of concern is that the bill would be a guideline which sites could choose to abide by or not. Those who chose to commit to following the guidelines would be punished by law in the case of infractions while those who chose not to abide would see no repercussions… unless you count the fact that those who understood the Bill would choose not to do business with them.

The fact of the matter here is that the Bill, while a step in the right direction, is insufficient to halt those sites that abuse the privacy of their customers. I understand what the Bill is trying to accomplish but those who are less Web-savvy might not understand that a site that doesn’t abide by the guidelines set forth in the Bill only means the site is not responsible under the law for what it does with their data. Meaning those sites who are already abusing customer data will continue to do so until the general public understands the rights it is given under the Bill.

The advertising industry is already warning the government that turning off all online tracking will result in the loss of other personalized content for consumers such as sports and stock tickers.

Honestly, I could do without some personalized content in exchange for the peace of mind.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

New “Porno” Scanners seeing more common use in Airports

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Yeah, I'm using the pic again. The real pics the scanners produce creep me out.

5 days out of the week, I have to wear a TWIC card on my belt. For those of you who don’t know, the TWIC is the Transportation Worker Identification Credential and it is issued by the TSA after a background check is performed by Homeland Security. It took six weeks for the background check to be completed and I was contacted twice during that process for an agent to get clarification on items on my file.

I’m bringing this up here for a reason, I swear.

If the Coast Guard or any branch of the military comes into my work and I do not have this identification in place, I can be arrested on the spot and my employer can be heavily fined. This card can be requested at any time when I am at work and must be visible at all times. I go through a security checkpoint that scans the smartcard on the ID and then a security guard manually inspects me as I walk by whether they have seen me before or not, even when they know me.

Here’s the point to all of this: This ID which will get me past security checkpoints and will verify my identity with the military isn’t recognized by the TSA, the issuing agency. And when I say not recognized I don’t mean that it isn’t valid with them, I mean they don’t know what it is. Keep in mind that pilots, flight attendants, and pretty much anyone who works within the secure areas of airports have the identical credential, the TWIC, in their possession.

I have literally spent an hour demonstrating to a TSA agent, on the TSA website, how the ID is a valid form of identification to show instead of my driver’s license. The TWIC is in a little hard plastic carrier which I wear on my belt and is easier to get at than my wallet which I prefer to keep in the bag that has to go through the x-ray machine at the checkpoint.

Unfortunately, to date, I have yet to be able to use the card as a form of identification nor does it apparently allow me to bypass airport security checkpoints regardless of the strenuous background check performed when it was issued. The ID’s smartcard contains my biometric information and has my picture stored on it as well on the off chance that someone other than me tries to use it. It should be the simplest way for me to prove that I am who I say I am and that I represent no threat because I have had my background thoroughly checked. It is enough for me to get into some of the most sensitive chemical and nuclear plants in the United States. But presenting the card to a TSA agent causes more confusion then it is worth and as such, I keep it tucked away.

There is practically no screening process for TSA Screeners (no pun intended) and very little training beyond what to look for in luggage and on a person that could be used to take control of or down a plane. There is not much in the way of requirements beyond a high school diploma or, and I quote, “have one year of any type of work experience that demonstrates the applicant’s ability to perform the work of the position”. There is no psych profile to see if the person is fit to be “groping” a person, what is supposedly an improved pat down, or if they have the adult mentality to not leer or mock practically nude images of people on the little screen at which they stare.

The new scanners we talked about back in July are in operation in a lot of airports now and more are rolling out every day. While you have the choice to opt out, the “enhanced” pat down, described by those who have gone through them as being “personally invasive”, doesn’t sound like much of an option either. “Let’s see, potentially DNA altering radiation, combined with x-rays which can cause sterility after repeated exposure OR have the friendly looking fellow with the pedo-stache over there rough up my junk?” Yeah, that’s a choice.

I’ve been through the security checkpoints on multiple occasions. I have dealt with screeners who were friendly and screeners who were almost hostile. I understand the pressures that must be associated with trying to screen thousands of passengers each day while keeping the flow of the mob in order to make sure passengers reach their flights on time. I have been selected for the “random”, more thorough screenings where I was poked, prodded, scanned, and told I would have to wait for a “supervisor” when the metal plates in my head set off the metal detector. I have been placed in the little Plexiglas waiting room and I have watched friends suffer through the same. In every case, had the little card in my pocket actually been of some worth to the group that issued it, these events could have been avoided and we could have been on our way.

And now with the introduction of the “porno” scanners, as they are called, and reports across the nation coming in about inappropriate behavior on the parts of TSA agents during “enhanced” pat downs, one group is asking us to stand up for our rights and refuse to submit to the new scanners. The group is called “We Won’t Fly” and their site (wewontfly.com) provides information on the health hazards of the new scanners and the ineffectiveness of the devices. The group is also advocating a National Opt Out Day, asking travelers to refuse to submit themselves to the new scanners for the cause of privacy and of health.

My advice to you, dear reader, is to head over to wewontfly.com and read up on the group’s advice for dealing with airport security and the potential risks of the new scanners if you plan to travel via air at any point in the near future. I may stop short of wearing tin foil undies but you won’t find me going anywhere near any of these machines in the near future.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

Our future privacy may already be a thing of the past

Monday, October 18th, 2010

FBI Agents showed up to claim this GPS device... Fortunately they left their memory flasher at home.

What would you do if you found a GPS tracker on your vehicle? Would you just assume you were being tracked by a federal agency? Would it make you paranoid? Would it confirm all the reasons you wear a tinfoil hat while you comment on underground conspiracy forums? Is that last one just me?

The legality of law enforcement agencies using GPS devices is being called into question after Yasir Afifi, a 20 year old college student, discovered a GPS device attached to his car during an oil change earlier this month. Uncertain of the device’s function or its origins, Yasir took pictures of the device and posted them up to see if he could determine what was going on. Shortly after the pictures had gone up, the FBI showed up to demand the return of the device.

I’m not here to argue against racial profiling (which would appear to be the case here) or scream government conspiracy but rather to take a look at where the past few years have gotten our “democratic” society as the technology has quickly outpaced the laws of our nation.

When the telephone was put into common use, law enforcement agencies found the means to listen in on the conversations. Discovering they could record the conversations in the late 1800s, it would be a few decades before the constitutionality of the process would be decided upon. Above all else, it was determined that the right of the individual to their privacy outweighed the legal arguments that were presented by the authorities. The matter was revisited during World War II where it was argued that allowing more leeway in wire taps would assist in the defense of the United States. But it was not until 9/11 that the courts determined to allow “wiggle” room in the laws regarding phone taps which was then expanded to include electronic communication via the means of data transfers.

But the recent advancements in GPS technology have allowed for a “gray” area. It isn’t technically and invasion of privacy, authorities argue, and provides a minimum of information in regards to the general whereabouts of the “suspect”. It also saves money that would otherwise be spent on surveillance and “tails” while still allowing the suspect to be tracked, at least while in their vehicle.

But how long before this data becomes damning in a court of law? We’ve already seen cases where a suspect’s cell phone calls are triangulated via cell towers to place them at the scene of the crime. How long before GPS is an accepted means of placing someone in danger of being convicted for a crime they didn’t commit? How long before the authorities bring in suspects merely based on their locale rather than by any other actual facts?

While the Internet rumbles with conspiracy theories and talks of “Big Brother” and “1984”, it may be best that we listen to those rumblings. We are entering a day and age where satellite tracking is not only feasible but a reality. We live in a time where devices we use on a daily basis determine our location and track our routines. Our online browsing habits are recorded each time we log onto the web, our cell phones keep track of who we call and when, and our every action that we see fit to record to the various social networks are kept for months, sometimes years, at a time.

We should be concerned by the lack of concern by the California courts in regards to law enforcement agents not being required to submit for warrants before attaching tracking devices to vehicles. We should be concerned with the lack of understanding with regards to the judges making decisions in exactly how this information affects our privacy. We should be concerned that the value of that privacy is becoming less and less in the eyes of the court. We should, as a collective, be concerned that the law isn’t keeping up with the technology.

And you guys wanted to make fun of my tinfoil hat.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

Full Body Scan… Not as much fun as it sounds, potentially dangerous

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

"Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just hap... Nope, that's a gun."

There’s a bit of a concern with the new full body scanners that will are becoming more popular at airport security stations.  Aside from the obvious concerns in regards to invasion of privacy (the detectors essentially produce semi-naked images of those who are being scanned), there are now some major health concerns being voiced by medical experts across the world.  Like how they have to potential to kill you…

Don’t get the wrong idea.  The devices don’t function as some sort of death ray or cause your head to explode as you are scanned by them.  The concern is that the concentration of energy on those being scanned has the potential to cause skin cancer due to radiation reaching dangerous levels as the devices are focused on and directly under the skin, especially the neck and face.

Honestly, the cancer that the concern is in regards to is basal-cell carcinoma, which rarely metastasizes and is pretty low on the chart of things that might kill you, but the fact remains that if the experts are right, why subject ourselves to another hazard while traveling even if it is in the name of security.

Another recently raised concern is the fact that the devices use Terahertz Waves in order to penetrate through clothing when scans are performed.  A recent study shows that while the Waves are present in our every day lives, the focus of this energy on the human body in large amounts, which is the case with the scanners, can be damaging to our DNA.  Yeah, I’d prefer the strip search to something that can pull my DNA apart, thanks.

There have already been some privacy issues with the devices and lawsuits have been opened in Britain where security personnel have been accused of “ogling” the semi-naked images of travelers that are produced by the scanners and in at least one case, commenting on them as well.

And then to top off all these problems, Israeli security experts have denounced the scanners as being a “waste of money” as well as being “easily fooled” when it comes to the transport of explosive materials.  At $250,000 a pop, one doesn’t like to hear of harmful radiation and that the scanner that’s potentially scrambling your DNA isn’t really going to make your flight any safer.

I don’t know about the rest of you but when I travel, I make certain I’m at the airport early enough to make certain the security checks don’t make me miss a flight.  The system might not be perfect and there may be some TSA folks I’d just as soon not talk to but in the long run, I don’t think the scanners’ potential for damage outweighs the questionable security benefits.

Guess I better get my tinfoil undies out of storage.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

Facebook promises “less complex privacy tools”

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Does Facebook actually care about your right to privacy? We'll see.

A couple of weeks ago, I voiced some of my concerns about the decline of Facebook’s privacy controls. I even considered deleting my account after having some troubles trudging through the myriad of privacy controls that seemed to be set up to frustrate and discourage people from making any changes whatsoever. But I caved and kept my account after figuring out how to lock my account down so that only friends had access to my info.

The temptation to remove myself from Facebook is still there. The only thing holding me back is the thought that many of my friends and family depend on Facebook as a reliable means to get in touch with me. You know, since I don’t have a cell phone or anything. /sarcasmoff

The site and its creator, Mark Zuckerberg, have been catching some flak for what many essentially view as an invasion of privacy and with just cause. There are a number of my friends on Facebook who did not realize their phone number and home address were pretty much out there for the world to see after the last batch of changes to Facebook’s privacy policy.

Zuckerberg did, however, apologize for the “complexity” of the privacy controls in an open letter to the Washington Post and made a pledge to both simplify the privacy controls and enforce stricter guidelines to protect the private information of Facebook’s 400 million plus users. Maybe the poll by the Internet security firm Sophos, showing that 60% of the Facebook users they polled were ready to bail over privacy concerns, played a part in that?

Whatever the reasons, Zuckerberg has lost a lot of ground with users with his apparent disregard for personal privacy and the release of a chat transcript that would seem damning in regards to the level of trust users have given him over the years. And that transcript would seem to reflect the string of changes that have been made to the privacy policy over the years.

I know I’ve harped on Facebook and privacy issues quite a bit in recent weeks but my heart is in the right place… Or I’m paranoid, one of the two. But the point here is that while you may do your utmost to protect your own information, you can’t control the actions of others. As it stands now, any information anyone else might have in regards to you is essentially up for grabs if you know where to look. We don’t need more concerns about our private information, social networking site or otherwise.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make a new tinfoil cap.

Gritskrieg – End of Line

Facebook, the Open Window of the Internet

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Facebook needs your information... How else are they going to show it to anyone who wants it?

I have an entire website to post to and people I don’t know personally will actually read those posts.

I’m not saying this to be vain or brag. I’m saying this because I have an outlet where I can rant and rave and whether people agree with what I am saying or not, I have the means to make my views and ideals very public. But why am I bringing this up?

Over the past couple of years, I have become increasingly social on the Internet. However, there are certain aspects of my life that I prefer to limit to my friends and family. If you were to see me on Facebook, you’d see that I often post up what could easily be considered toilet humor. I don’t necessarily believe that everyone should be subjected to it and so I keep my friends to those people I actually know.

Therein lies the problem. Over the course of the past two years, the information I have provided to Facebook in order to have my account with them has been increasingly difficult to keep on the downlow. And it only seems to be getting worse.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently posted up the changes to Facebook’s privacy policy since its launch back in 2005 (you can find that information here) and just the tone of the post conveys their concern in the apparent decreasing lack of concern that Facebook has for its users private information. It’s good reading and may help you to see where the recent concern about what Facebook is doing to people’s privacy has come from. And if you don’t want to take the time to read it, you can find a nice graphic here showing the timeline.

Make no mistake, there are certain aspects of my life and certain information about me that is available for anyone to see. I’ve certainly made no secret of my love of good times with good friends and good beverages. But I’ve also gone to lengths to keep certain portions of my life private, like who I’m dating or family matters I’d rather the world at large not have access to at the click of a mouse.

But that information is becoming harder to protect, so much so that in recent weeks I’ve actually considered deleting my Facebook account. A recent “adventure” with Facebook’s “privacy” settings in an attempt to secure my private data nearly led to a “rage delete”. Most certainly the tools Facebook offers to keep one’s information from prying eyes has become more and more difficult to comprehend, much less use. In fact, Gizmodo.com has posted up a fairly decent chart of how difficult is has become to keep your information out of the hands of third parties.

I’m certainly not a prude about my personal life. In fact, I’m often willing to discuss it with perfect strangers. But more often than not, that discussion is an attempt to make them uncomfortable so they’ll move away from me. Handy in movie theatres, I assure you.

My point here is that as a social networking site, Facebook seems to be working very hard to get me to share my information with people and companies I know nothing about. There is no means for me to be able to know who is looking at my info since now, and I love this one, you can set up all the privacy you want but if that friend of yours who hasn’t logged on in over a year doesn’t pop on and change some of the settings on their account, your information may still be available and completely out of your control.

Think I’m exaggerating? This is a blurb in the privacy settings on Facebook:

“Please keep in mind that if you opt out, your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application.”

I’m going to make an admission here. I used to go out and try to find new applications that Crutchboy and Timothy Danger hadn’t blocked yet. They hate all the updates from your mafia, your farm, or whatever the hell you’re playing on Facebook. Yeah, yeah, I’m a jerk. It amused me though and that’s what mattered.

I don’t do that anymore after reading the information above. Sounds too much like I could be publicizing other people’s information because I laughed when one of my friends asked me when the hell I got anything done with all the dumb games I was playing on Facebook. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to help contribute to this privacy issue.

Look, I’m not trying to create panic here, I’m not trying to say Facebook is evil but it certainly does seem that in their attempt to monetize their application and cash in on their popularity that they’re opening the door for the complete de-privatization of the public at large. Check it out for yourself and see what you think about their privacy guidelines now.

When you do, you may decide there may be such a thing as too social.

Gritskrieg – End of Line










OFFICE MATE
Categories
Archives