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Edward Snowden’s Autobiography Makes a Plea for the Fourth Amendment, the Right to Privacy, and Encryption

September 24, 2019

America’s most famous whistleblower calls for restricting the power of government.

Article by SCOTT SHACKFORD | source: Reason.com 9.24.2019 8:00 AM

Edward Snowden has a message to the tech developers who have digitized so much of our lives: If the United States and other world governments are not willing to recognize our right to privacy, then the private sector is going to have to do the work.

Metropolitan Books
The whistleblower’s new autobiography, Permanent Record, details how he discovered and exposed Washington’s mass surveillance of American citizens. Happily, he does this in approachable prose that doesn’t require readers to have served time in an IT department to understand it.

The book recounts Snowden’s fears that the United States is following in the footsteps of China’s surveillance of its citizenry, his discovery that these worries were true when he stumbled across a classified report while working for the National Security Agency (NSA), and his decision to sneak documentation of the NSA’s techniques to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. I won’t belabor that story—it’s pretty much a matter of public record now, and it’s not the draw of the book. The selling point of Permanent Record is its insight into why Snowden did what he did and how he feels about the state of the world today.

Snowden’s decision to become a whistleblower sprang from his strong belief that the Constitution is supposed to restrain the government’s power over the public. He was angry when he discovered the documents describing just how extensive the NSA’s post-9/11 domestic surveillance program STELLARWIND was. That operation had been exposed in 2004 by whistleblower Thomas Tamm, yet it quietly continued and expanded.

In Permanent Record, Snowden argues that the mass collection of Americans’ data without individualized warrants violates our Fourth Amendment rights. The intelligence system that had been sold as a way to fight terrorism was in fact being turned against us all. “After a decade of mass surveillance,” he writes, “the technology had proved itself to be a potent weapon less against terror and more against liberty itself. By continuing these programs, by continuing these lies, American was protecting little, winning nothing, and losing much—until there would be few distinctions left between those post-9/11 polarities of ‘Us’ and ‘Them.'”

We’d been assured that our private data was being carefully, thoughtfully handled—that serious oversight and meaningful protections were in place. But that’s not what Snowden found. Pretty much anybody could become a target:

The grounds for suspicion were often poorly documented, if they were documented at all, and the connections could be incredibly tenuous—”believed to be potentially associated with” and then the name of some international organization that could be anything from a telecommunications standards body to UNICEF to something you might actually agree is menacing.
Snowden describes the sometimes overly friendly relationship between tech companies and the government, which at times had the former giving the latter access to our info without our knowledge. But he also sees the positive in the pushes by companies like Apple and Google to bring consumers better encryption. “Encryption,” he writes, “is the single best hope for fighting surveillance of any kind. If all our data, including our communications, were enciphered in this fashion, from end to end…then no government—no entity conceivable under our current knowledge of physics, for that matter—would be able to understand them.”

This makes it all the more important to resist officials’ efforts to hobble encryption with “back doors” that allow police to access your private data without your permission. Politicians, police chiefs, and leaders of the FBI insist that criminals are using encryption to “go dark,” making it harder for police to solve crimes and for the feds to track down terror threats. But this is the same way they sold these surveillance powers, and then it turned out they were abusing the system. The ability to secretly bypass encryption would simply allow new avenues of warrantless surveillance of American citizens.

Given the national security state’s lack of respect for the Fourth Amendment—and given how weak-willed politicians have been about standing up to those agencies—Snowden thinks it’s up to independent, private, privacy-minded tech developers to take the lead in protecting our privacy:

In a perfect world, which is to say a world that doesn’t exist, just laws would make these tools obsolete. But in the only world we have, they have never been more necessary. A change in the law is infinitely more difficult to achieve than a change in a technological standard, and as long a legal innovation lags behind technological innovation institutions will seek to abuse that disparity in the furtherance of their interests. It falls to independent, open-source hardware and software developers to close that gap by providing the vital civil liberties protections that the law may be unable, or unwilling, to guarantee.

Meanwhile, Australia is now trying to mandate encryption back doors, with repercussions that go far beyond Australia. And the U.S. government is trying to prevent Snowden from earning money off his own book. Those vital civil liberties protections could use all the help they can get.

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ph

Chinese deepfake app Zao sparks privacy row after going viral

September 3, 2019

Critics say face-swap app could spread misinformation on a massive scale

A Chinese app that lets users convincingly swap their faces with film or TV characters has rapidly become one of the country’s most downloaded apps, triggering a privacy row.

The rise of the deepfake and the threat to democracy
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Released on Friday, the Zao app went viral as Chinese users seized on the chance to see themselves act out scenes from well-known movies using deepfake technology, which has already prompted concerns elsewhere over potential misuse.

Users provide a series of selfies in which they blink, move their mouths and make facial expressions, which the app uses to realistically morph the person’s animated likeness on to movies, TV shows or other content.
The company was forced to issue a statement on Sunday pledging changes after critics attacked the app’s privacy policy, which it had “free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicenseable” rights to all user-generated content.

There has been growing concern over deepfakes, which use artificial intelligence to appear genuine. Critics say the technology can be used to create bogus videos to manipulate elections, defame someone, or potentially cause unrest by spreading misinformation on a massive scale.

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“We understand the concerns about privacy. We’ve received the feedback, and will fix the issues that we didn’t take into consideration, which will take some time,” a statement released by Zao said.

Zao is owned by Momo Inc, a Tinder-like dating service that is listed on the US Nasdaq.

It has since changed its terms to say it will not use headshots or videos uploaded by users, other than to improve the app. It also pledged to remove from its servers any content that was uploaded but subsequently deleted by users.

The backlash has not dented the app’s popularity. As of Monday afternoon it remained the top free download in China, according to the app market data provider App Annie.

Concerns over deepfakes have grown since the 2016 US election campaign, which saw wide use of online misinformation, according to US investigations.

In June, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said the social network was struggling to find ways to deal with deepfake videos, saying they may constitute “a completely different category” of misinformation than anything faced before.

Article by Agence France-Presse in Shanghai
Mon 2 Sep 2019 09.05 EDT

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Google tightens grip on some Android data over privacy fears, report says

August 19, 2019

The search giant ends a program that provided network coverage data to wireless carriers.

BY CARRIE MIHALCIK
AUGUST 19, 2019 8:49 AM PDT

Google is apparently tightening its grip on some Android data. The search giant shut down its Mobile Network Insights service, which provided wireless carriers with data on signal strengths and connection speeds in their coverage areas, according to Reuters.

Google reportedly decided to shutter the program over concerns that sharing this Android data could draw further scrutiny from users and regulators.

Google on Monday confirmed that it shut down the program but didn’t provide further details.

“We worked on a program to help mobile partners improve their networks through aggregated and anonymized performance metrics. Due to changing product priorities, we decided to end it,” a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement Monday. “We remain committed to improving network performance across our apps and services for users.”

Google, and other big tech companies, have come under increased scrutiny over how they handle users’ data as well as potentially anticompetitive practices. Last year, Google faced a wave of backlash over its collection of location data even when users turned off location services. The company has since introduced an autodelete feature for location, app and web history.

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4000

Wikipedia co-founder slams Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter and the ‘appalling’ internet

July 8, 2019

Elizabeth Schulze

Wikpedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger said in an interview social media companies like Facebook and Twitter are abusing their power and violating users’ privacy and security.
He criticized executives in Silicon Valley like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for being “too controlling.”
Sanger is advocating “decentralized” social networks.

Larry Sanger co-founded Wikipedia in 2001 — and he’s not happy with how the internet has evolved in the nearly two decades since then.

“It’s appalling frankly,” he said in an interview with CNBC this week.

Sanger’s main gripe is with big social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter. These companies, he says, exploit users’ personal data to make profits, at the expense of “massive violations” of privacy and security.

“They can shape your experience, they can control what you see, when you see it and you become essentially a cog in their machine,” he said.
Sanger launched a “social media strike” this week to draw attention to his concerns. In a “Declaration of Digital Independence” published on his personal blog, he said “vast digital empires” need to be replaced by decentralized networks of independent individuals. The declaration had roughly 2,400 signatures as of Friday morning.

The Wikipedia co-founder, who is currently CIO of a blockchain encyclopedia network called Everipedia, is not the first internet pioneer to attack the dominance of big tech companies. Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the World Wide Web, recently released a “Contract for the Web” arguing companies need to take more action to protect consumers’ privacy and personal data.

Zuckerberg’s ‘temperament’
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to seemingly endless concerns about privacy and security on the platform with a new vision for the company, highlighting measures like encrypted messaging. Sanger questioned whether Zuckerberg’s intentions are “sincere” and blasted the Facebook executive for abusing the company’s power online.

“The internet wouldn’t have been created by people like Mark Zuckerberg, or any of the sort of corporate executives in Silicon Valley today,” he said. “They wouldn’t be capable, they don’t have the temperament, they’re too controlling. They don’t understand the whole idea of bottom up.”

Despite growing scrutiny of Big Tech by governments and regulators around the world, Sanger isn’t convinced legislation is the best solution for reining in companies like Facebook or Twitter. Facebook did not provide a comment to CNBC at the time of publication. Twitter declined to comment.

Sanger said onerous regulations could make it more difficult for competitors to enter the market, ultimately benefiting big corporations like Facebook. He also raised concerns over government efforts to regulate free speech and content online.

“If the government gets involved their interests are not the same as individual people,” Sanger said.

‘Decentralized’ internet
Instead, Sanger advocates for decentralized social networks. These networks would, for example, allow individuals to publish information online without going through a central organization, like a corporation. In the same way that bitcoin is a “decentralized” asset not subject to authorities like central banks, decentralized social networks would mean no single platform could control users’ data online. The idea has support among privacy advocates but has a long way to go before becoming mainstream.

“A decentralized internet, a freer internet, that’s what led to the internet being created in the place,” Sanger said.

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Why America Needs a Thoughtful Federal Privacy Law

June 26, 2019

More than a dozen privacy bills have been introduced in this Congress. Here’s what it needs to do.

By Peter M. Lefkowitz
Mr. Lefkowitz is the chief privacy and digital risk officer at Citrix Systems.
June 25, 2019
This is the year of privacy, a unique opportunity to protect Americans’ privacy rights while protecting technological innovation and civil discourse.

If this sounds lofty for a technology issue, consider: The Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed significant threats to consumers and to democracy posed by the misuse of consumer personal information; the General Data Protection Regulation, Europe’s year-old comprehensive privacy law, required companies globally to rework their privacy programs, at real expense and with the possibility of monumental fines; and the California Consumer Privacy Act, enacted quickly last year, gives consumers extensive new rights, including the ability to tell companies not to sell or retain their data.
Congress is working on a consumer privacy law, with the prospect that the United States will join 80 other countries with comprehensive national laws protecting personal information. At least 15 bills have been filed this year, and a group of six senators is expected to introduce its own bill in coming weeks, the most substantial undertaking to date.
There are many reasons to support federal privacy legislation. A federal law would set a consistent standard for how companies treat consumers’ personal information and would inspire greater confidence in how responsible companies behave. It could address the significant risks posed by the aggregation of consumer profiles, which include racial and economic discrimination and a lack of transparency
about how information is collected and used. And a federal law would allow the United States to harmonize its laws with those of other major economies, easing trade concerns and promoting American technology in Europe and beyond.

For all of this promise, there are serious deficiencies in the way privacy is being discussed in public and in Congress, particularly in the failure to consider how proposals designed to address social media would impact critical work elsewhere.

[If you’re online — and, well, you are — chances are someone is using your information. We’ll tell you what you can do about it. Sign up for our limited-run newsletter.]

First, “opt-in consent” — the model suggested in a number of federal proposals — does not protect consumers.

Website privacy policies average more than 2,500 words and are carefully drafted to maximize data use and minimize legal exposure. Few consumers read these policies before agreeing to give up information, and the practices of ad networks and social media are not clear to most of us when we click the “I agree” button.

Second, rigid rules about the “sale of data” and limits on the use of artificial intelligence
are not a productive way to prevent abuse and would impact activities essential to our safety and security.

Some behavior raises alarms and should be stopped, like secretly sharing minutely detailed personal profiles with political operatives to turn elections. However, essential activities — including advances in health care, cybersecurity, financial services and fundamental scientific research — depend upon large data sets and broad data sharing. Massachusetts has funded a public-private partnership called Mass Digital Health, and the American Medical Association has created the Integrated Health Model Initiative to promote data sharing across the medical and scientific communities to improve health care outcomes. Technology companies are deploying artificial intelligence across massive data sets to advance understanding of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Detecting fraud and cybercrime relies upon compiling and analyzing large sets of metadata, as bad actors intentionally strike broadly and over time. And A.I. is being used to benefit underserved communities. There are innovative programs using a range of personal data to offer loans to disadvantaged consumers, and there is research on internet search data to predict and prevent infectious diseases. Requiring companies to remove individual pieces of data from large data sets on demand, and prohibiting analytics because some might use it improperly, would render many of these activities impractical.

Finally, the law must not be so burdensome that it cuts off innovation and economic opportunity.

The digital sector represented roughly 7 percent of the American economy as of 2017, and it is growing at nearly triple the average, according to the Bureau of Economic Affairs. Contrast that to Continental Europe, where a burdensome regulatory environment contributes to anemic tech sector growth.

At the same time, American companies are competing to develop more privacy-protective technologies and to wed their brands to how well they guard our data. Any new law must foster this commercial interest in the value of privacy without making it onerous for new businesses to emerge and compete. Notably, creating high barriers to new services only further entrenches the few social media and data companies with established services, large data sets and financial cushions.

Some ideas already employed widely outside the United States deserve consideration. Privacy laws in Canada, Japan and elsewhere rightfully require companies to consider the benefits and risks their data practices pose to consumers and society. Setting standards for data use and requiring more granular disclosures would take the pressure off consumers to consent to all possible uses at once.

Any new law must also recognize that data is important to all we do and that we cannot simply make it go away. Instead, a variety of tools — including reasonable data minimization, development of industry standards and Federal Trade Commission rule-making — can protect against misuse while allowing development of science and industry.
Time is running out for Congress to pass meaningful privacy legislation before the implementation of the California privacy law in 2020, the adoption of inconsistent laws in other states, and the distraction of the 2020 elections. Let’s use the coming months constructively to enact a privacy law that protects consumers and promotes technology innovation and a healthy digital environment.

Mr. Lefkowitz is the chief privacy and digital risk officer at Citrix Systems. He was the 2018 chairman of the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

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main-snowden
Edward Snowden’s Autobiography Makes a Plea for the Fourth Amendment, the Right to Privacy, and Encryption
September 24, 2019

America's most famous whistleblower calls for restricting the power of government. Article by SCO...

Read more
ph
Chinese deepfake app Zao sparks privacy row after going viral
September 3, 2019

Critics say face-swap app could spread misinformation on a massive scale A Chinese app that lets ...

Read more
1463600977631262
Google tightens grip on some Android data over privacy fears, report says
August 19, 2019

The search giant ends a program that provided network coverage data to wireless carriers. BY CARR...

Read more
4000
Wikipedia co-founder slams Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter and the ‘appalling’ internet
July 8, 2019

Elizabeth Schulze Wikpedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger said in an interview social media companies ...

Read more
venmo_pub_priv
Why America Needs a Thoughtful Federal Privacy Law
June 26, 2019

More than a dozen privacy bills have been introduced in this Congress. Here’s what it needs to do....

Read more