Chicago States Attorney Lets Bad Cops Slide, Prosecutes Citizens Who Record Them

Radley Balko write on The Huffington Post about recent cases in Illinois of prosecutors going after citizens who record their interactions with the police. Apparently, Illinois law takes a hard line on recording the conversations of others, especially police officers. You would think that a state with such a seedy past of graft and corruption would fight back against that with laws that empower people to make recordings when there is not a reasonable right to privacy.

Balko writes about the importance of empowering people with recorders:

The ACLU of Illinois is also challenging the law. But in January, U.S. District Court Judge Suzanne B. Conlon ruled against the organization. Conlon wrote that the First Amendment does not protect citizens who record the police. The ACLU has appealed and expects to participate in oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit sometime in the fall.

In a report released just this month, the United Nations noted the importance of Internet access and personal technology in facilitating the recent Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East. Technology has given citizens all over the world a remarkable and historic tool to bring transparency to the most brutal and oppressive governments.

But even as Americans have criticized those countries for attempting to prevent protesters from uploading photo, video, blog posts and Twitter accounts of government crackdowns, government officials in the U.S. are still arresting, threatening, intimidating and harassing Americans who attempt to document police abuse in America. See this example over Memorial Day in Miami.

No, America isnt Egypt or Yemen or Iran. But while the scale of the suppression is different, the premise is the same: When a citizen and a police officer have a confrontation, the police officers narrative has always given deference by prosecutors, judges and juries — in the same way governments in more oppressive parts of the world have the power to project their own version of events as truth.

Citizens in America and across the globe now have the ability to preserve and present a more objective narrative. This is a positive thing — for democracy, for good government and for a fairer criminal justice system. U.S. courts and legislatures need to make it abundantly, unambiguously clear that not only do citizens have the right to record on-duty police officers, but that cops and prosecutors who violate that right will be held accountable.

via Chicago States Attorney Lets Bad Cops Slide, Prosecutes Citizens Who Record Them.

I agree with Balko completely. Public workers, especially those with power over individuals such as the police. I also believe that judges should not be exempt from recording when there is no court reporter present. These are not private conversations taking place between individuals. These are conversations taking place within a network of power relationships with the recorders traditionally and substantially disadvantaged as compared to the recorded party.

Dystopias often have a technological bent where recording technologies give the hegemony power over its subjects. The people of Illinois should demand transparency and protection of its people from overzealous prosecutors and police who wish to deprive citizens of what should be a fundamental right to protect one’s self through recording technologies. Otherwise, our loss of this protection afforded by personal and affordable technology will only be a further erosion of our rights where the system is stacked in favor of the authorities.

NY Times Story on HTML5 and Supercookies

Unfortunately, the next iteration of HTML code, HTML5, won’t include the most awesome peanut butter and white chocolate infused snickerdoodles. The New York Times ran an article today on the possibility of new online tracking being developed that hides multiple cookies on a user’s computer in order to thwart those tracking cookies’ discovery. You can read about the Evercookie and other supercookies here. Things do get worse though. Bruce Schneier reported awhile back on tracking without cookies here. Similar concerns were raised on CNET about browser fingerprinting here.

I have no overwhelming problem with websites that I visit making money in some way on my browsing. The services that I enjoy have to be paid for somehow. This is something that some folks forget. However, I do have problems with companies being irresponsible or exploitative. Irresponsibility may include data leaks, hacks, or selling data to less responsible companies. Exploitation may include retaining data indefinitely for undisclosed purposes, shaping browsing experiences in a way that isn’t meant to merely sell something but that fundamentally alters one’s participation online, or commoditizing one’s online experience in such a way that it significantly devalues personal identities.

The Center for Democracy and Technology has some useful tips for maintaining your online privacy here. The main tips go without saying: strong passwords, protect your computer with encryption and security software, block ads and use private browsing, and keep up to date on privacy policy changes at the websites you frequent. Furthermore, steer clear of sites that have privacy policies that you don’t agree with. For example, Facebook does a lot of good things for helping folks stay in touch with one another, but they also use the data collected by our using the site and browsing other sites (if we remain logged in while browsing) to make money. There are ways to protect what data they have access to, but the best way is to stay logged out or don’t use Facebook at all.

Supreme Court Heard Arguments on JPL Case Today, Questions of Administration’s Commitment to Privacy

Dennis V. Byrnes wrote a very good summary of his and the other JPL plaintiffs’s position regarding their case against the US government and CalTech for what they see as NASA’s unconstitutional background check policy that took effect during the last Bush administration. You can read it here on the LA Times, and you can read about the long and winding path to the Supreme Court here on their official website.

This seems to be another case of campaign promises broken by President Obama–an alarming problem in the technology sector for a number of reasons including his administration’s defending and attempting to maintain the Bush-era NSA wiretapping of Internet traffic, ACTA support,  appointments of media industry insiders to key positions, and only modest restrictions placed on the President’s Internet “kill switch.” The current administration seems to have as many or more state secrets than the Bush administration. Instead of restraining or eliminating some of President Bush’s greatest affronts to personal privacy, he has authorized his administration to actively erode personal privacy in favor of maintaining the previous administration’s status quo.

I believe that President Obama and his administration are doing the best that they can with the current situation in our country and the world, but there are seriously alarming problems with some of their policies including those specifically not addressed in briefings or by the established news media. I  wish Mr. Byrnes and his colleagues the best of luck with their law suit, and I hope for the best for the rest of us as the democratic potential of the Internet, at least within the US (and without due in part to ACTA), is threatened by someone I and others thought would be one of its champions. However, there are greater threats to the possibilities of the Internet on all sides of the political and ideological spectrum. It is important for those of us who follow these things to get the word out, because it is our interests and rights, not those of corporations and the government–the recent Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance and the Gore v. Bush case demonstrates how disconnected the electorate is from the establishment and maintenance of power–that deserve preservation. These issues may seem to some to be divorced from their everyday lives, but the continuing integration of cyberspace into daily life means that we have to secure our rights within that place as surely as we would beyond the reach of the keyboard. President Obama has done many good things during his presidency so far; I only hope that he will reconsider some of his administration’s policies regarding privacy in the workplace and online. With the continuing growth of the Internet, this could be one of his best legacies.

Protect Your Online Privacy and Take the Battle to Facebook’s Turf

All of the recent explosive disclosures about the changes to Facebook‘s privacy policy–something that has been an ongoing and procedural erosion of our privacy (see here for a graphical representation of the changes) by acceptance of their terms of service and privacy policy changes–had begun to make me think strongly about quitting Facebook all together. It can be a time wasting website, and it can give you too much information about some folks who you don’t really want to know that much about. However, it allows you to reconnect with old friends, and more importantly, stay connected with professional colleagues. It is primarily for this latter reason that I have decided to stay on Facebook and take the fight to their turf. The reason that Facebook is so insanely popular is that it facilitates social networking and communication in a a very streamlined and generally snappy website. There are no other players on the near horizon that can do the things that Facebook does that I can switch to and bring all of my friends and colleagues with me. I have pitched my tent in the Facebook frontier, and I intend to fight for my tiny share of profile space and the inroads that I and my friends have made there. It is a good land with a lot of possibilities that I don’t want to give up on just yet. I know that we can use Facebook and protect ourselves, but we will have to be proactive and ever vigilant to the changes instituted by Facebook that may conflict with the way we want to use the service and the way Facebook may take advantage of us using their service. Also, I should note that I have no problem with Facebook making a buck off of my using their service, but I believe that I should not be made into a commodity rather than a potential consumer (via ads, add-ons, etc.). Give me respect as a person, and I will be happy to play ball. As it is now, Facebook sees me and my information as so much stuff to be bought and sold, so I am offering the following tactics (there’s some de Certeau for you guys in the know) to fight back against Facebook’s strategies.

  1. Suit up with an updated version of Firefox. Then, go to Preferences > Privacy > Uncheck all except Clear History when Firefox Closes. Click on Exceptions for Cookies and manually add the domains for the sites that you want to accept cookies from (Facebook might not be one of those sites you want to list).
  2. Yield a mighty sword: Install AdBlock Pro. Inside Firefox, go to Tools > Add-Ons > Search for AdBlock Pro and choose to install it. After installing and restarting Firefox, click on the ABP icon in your navigation bar and choose preferences. Click on Filters > Add Subscription > Choose EasyList to add, and then add Fanboy’s List. You will also want to manually add the following filters one-by-one:
    [Thanks to Andrew and pfc.joker’s comments on Lifehacker for these.]
  3. Store your gear when you’re not using it. When you’re not using Facebook, make sure that you logout. This is probably a generally good rule of thumb when it comes to other sites accessing cookies saved by your web browser.
  4. Secure your stable door. This is where you adjust your Facebook privacy settings. First, go to Account > Privacy Settings. Here, you need to go through each page and adjust the settings. Personal Information and Posts > Set to Friends Only for all. Contact Information > Friends Only (you can allow Everyone to add you as a friend or contact you, but hide your email addresses by setting to Only Me). Friends, Tags, and Connections > Friends Only. Search > Uncheck Allow Public Search. Applications and Websites > What Friends Can Share > Uncheck All. Applications and Websites > Instant Personalization > Uncheck Allow.
  5. Clean up your stable. This is where you cut the new “Connections” that enable the flow of information between you and your friends to companies that Facebook sells your info to. Navigate to your Profile > Info. You have to leave your basic info, but you want to remove all of your interests, likes, education, work info, etc. You may also want to go into your photos and profile pictures and delete anything that you don’t want circulated (this is just good sense). You can use your bio to include the parts about you that you want people to know about. I only include SFRA and IAFA in my Likes and Interests, because these are professional affiliations that I use Facebook for.
  6. Ride off on a new adventure. If you’re really fed up with Facebook, you can create a new account and reconnect with your friends. There is a procedure to follow for this that you can find on Lifehacker here. They also have a nice set of 10 privacy tweaks that will generally improve your privacy online here.
  7. There be dragons in every cave and a troll under every bridge. The important thing to remember is that for every new and creative way of protecting our information and online identity from exploitation, there are corporations out there looking for equally inventive ways to make a buck on the information that we make freely available. Even our browsing habits can be tracked according to the way we configure our web browser (read about a project by the EFF regarding this on Slashdot here). You have to educate yourself about how your software works, and how you can use it to be prepared for unexpected onslaughts against your privacy. Check in on the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Read Lifehacker is good (even though its part of Gawker), and has some good info along with other wonderful things.
  8. Leave your own tips and favorite electronic privacy links in the comments, and let’s let Facebook know how we feel about their new policies before more of our online rights are eroded by big business.

Save Your Privacy, Facebook Connection Block

If it weren’t for the ease of keeping up with friends and maintaining professional connections with Facebook, I would drop it faster than a Centaurian slug. As it is, Facebook has positioned itself as an essential part of contemporary computer technology-enabled social networking. As with so many social networks in the past decade, I can’t imagine Facebook holding on to its vaunted position forever, but it has a firm grasp on most of us for the time being. The unfortunate reality is that we exchange our use of the site for commodification of our online identity, social connections, and personal privacy.

It wasn’t until this morning that I decided to do something about the changes to Facebook had made to my information stored on their site. I knew about the new Connections feature, which allows your data to be available through the Connection links in certain parts of your profile. This also opens your data to dispersal through other people’s profiles who are similarly ‘connected.’ Also, it wasn’t too long ago that Facebook changed how much information was made available on public searches for your name.

It was when I began trying to change all of my privacy settings on Facebook to better control how I wanted my information made available and to who I wanted it made available that I discovered something rather unexpected. I raised an alarm on Twitter about some unusual applications authorized on my account, which I had not authorized–a problem that was discussed on here. I was in the process of deleting these applications from my Facebook profile when my buddy Andrew Pilsch at UPenn sent me a link regarding this ‘bug.’

Not too long after that, Andrew devised and posted an elegant solution to block the new Facebook Connection ‘feature’ or as I like to think of it: the privacy Nazi-death-rape-machine. The basics: 1) Browse with Firefox, 2) Install AdBlock Pro, and 3) Add http://*.connect.facebook.*/* to your filter. Read Andrew’s blog here for the full instructions.

Some related reading for recent Facebook privacy changes, concerns, and protection:

Earlier in the day, I was wondering how some apps got slipstreamed into my account without my knowledge. Andrew directed me to this Macworld article that explains what happened. Using Franken’s instructions below, I stumbled on to this problem that Facebook claims is now fixed.

Senator Al Franken posted some instructions on how to guard your privacy settings from within Facebook here.

The EFF has a nice timeline of the erosion of personal privacy on Facebook here.

And the EFF’s article on Facebook’s Evil Interfaces here is a fun read.