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Posts Tagged ‘privacy’
April 12th, 2018 at 4:19 pm
Facebook Testifies Before Congress, but Where’s Google?
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Where’s Google?

That’s the question asked by Timothy Lee, CFIF’s Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs, in an op-ed published by The Hill in the lead up to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s much-anticipated testimony before Congressional committees this week.

While Facebook understandably is dominating the news, Lee wrote, “Google’s data practices are perhaps even more troubling.”

Lee goes on to suggest that its time for all internet platforms, including Facebook, Google and others, to stop eschewing accountability:

As a threshold matter, platforms must accept that they play an important role in addressing the harms they enable. To date, their voluntary measures have fallen far short, largely consisting of asking outside groups like Wikipedia or Snopes.com to referee their problems. But non-profit encyclopedias and fact-checkers simply aren’t equipped to solve these problems, particularly those who might possess their own biases and motives. Platforms themselves can and should do far more to address illegal and illicit conduct they facilitate.

The internet has changed the way we communicate, conduct commerce and entertain ourselves. Growing concerns about the ease with which bad actors exploit it, however, undermines consumer confidence and erodes public trust. By eschewing accountability, dominant online platforms contribute to that downward spiral.
Read the entire op-ed here.

March 22nd, 2017 at 5:48 pm
Congress Making Good On Rescinding Rogue “Privacy” Regulations Rammed Through by Obama’s FCC
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Among the myriad missteps and abuses of the Obama Administration, its habit of rogue lawmaking through unelected administrative agencies rather than the deliberative democratic process was perhaps the worst.  Even the most liberal Supreme Court justices on several occasions agreed, striking down Obama Administration regulatory impositions by unanimous votes.

And perhaps no federal agency represented that lawlessness and impropriety better than the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Last year as the clock began to expire on the Obama era, the FCC moved to impose new “privacy” regulations upon private Internet Service Providers (ISPs), upon which Americans rely to access the internet.  Those regulations actually did nothing on behalf of consumer privacy, or to prevent online data collection practices used profusely by other entities throughout the Internet economy that the Obama Administration favored.  Instead, the regulations served to constrict development of new business practices and distort the robust digital marketplace, while picking winners and losers.

Additionally, those FCC regulations circumvented the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) superior expertise in this field by encroaching upon its existing regulations upon which the Internet economy had relied for years.  The FTC’s proven framework protected consumers for decades, while obviously allowing the Internet to flourish as it did.  But the FCC went rogue, insisting on inserting itself into more areas of American consumers’ daily lives, and disrupting a robust marketplace with a “solution” where no problem existed.

Fortunately, Congress is set to act by rescinding the Obama FCC’s ill-advised regulation.  The Congressional Review Act (CRA), which was enacted as part of the Contract with America reforms, allows Congress to rein in rogue administrative agency regulations and prevent future agencies from reimposing them in the future.  It remained an ineffective tool when the threat of an Obama veto loomed, but with Donald Trump now in the White House, Congress has begun using the CRA to rescind costly and improper regulations.

Now, the Senate stands ready to eliminate the Obama FCC’s destructive last-hour “privacy” regulation this week.

And they can use your help.

Contact your Senators and tell them to put the CRA to use and rescind the FCC’s rule.  The best way to protect privacy and strengthen the internet economy is to build from the successful and established framework established by the FTC, not the Obama FCC’s scheme.

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March 31st, 2016 at 5:13 pm
FCC Moves Forward With Unfair and Unnecessary New Broadband “Privacy” Rules
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today voted to move forward with consideration of proposed new “privacy” regulations targeted at Internet Service Providers (ISPs).  What follows is a statement by Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF) President Jeffrey Mazzella:

This latest effort by the FCC is nothing more than the Commission once again picking winners and losers in the marketplace. These regulations on ISPs do nothing to prevent the online data collection practices used profusely by others throughout the Internet economy, while constricting the development of new business practices and distorting the robust digital marketplace.

The prescriptive regulations voted on today also circumvent the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) expertise in this area. The FTC’s proven framework on privacy has worked to protect consumers for decades while encouraging the growth of the Internet we have today.

Rather than finding ways to cement the presence of FCC bureaucracy in our daily lives, the Commission should reconsider its regulations on so-called ‘privacy’ and instead focus on pro-growth solutions for a robust mobile marketplace.

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January 28th, 2015 at 12:14 pm
Uproar Over Privacy Concerns Spurs White House to Change Course

Last week the Associated Press revealed that the Obama administration is allowing e-commerce companies to collect private information from people using Healthcare.gov – the government website connecting citizens in 34 states to ObamaCare-compliant insurance plans.

The data points retrieved include ZIP code, age, income, pregnancy status and tobacco use.

Now, the website has reduced the amount of information it is sending, but privacy advocates say more needs to be done.

A tech expert with the Electronic Frontier Foundation says the Obama administration’s website should not allow third-party tracking services to capture the information received from visitors who enable the “do not track” feature on their browsers.

Better yet, the government should get out of the business of sharing sensitive information it mandates citizens to divulge.

January 21st, 2015 at 7:36 am
“Dozens” of E-Commerce Vendors Gathering Data from Healthcare.gov Users

“Have you been researching a chronic illness like coronary artery blockage? Do you shop online for smoking-cessation aids? Are you investigating genetic markers for a certain type of breast cancer? Are you seeking help for financial problems, or for an addiction?”

Those are just some of the information items potentially being collected on Healthcare.gov – the federal government’s ObamaCare website used by millions of Americans to shop for health insurance.

A report by the Associated Press confirmed that “dozens” of third party vendors like Google, Twitter and Facebook are gleaning personal data points from Healthcare.gov users. These can be sold to internet advertisers to market products directly to consumers who’ve searched for similar items.

The hidden presence of these websites drew concern from two cyber security experts interviewed by the AP, in part because tracking firms can piece together a user’s identity through IP addresses and patterns of behavior.

Once upon a time there was concern that hackers would find a way to access a person’s health and financial records through a weakness in Healthcare.gov. As it turns out, all they need to do is pose as an e-commerce vendor.

February 13th, 2014 at 12:43 pm
Should the Brakes Be Put on Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communications?
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In an interview with CFIF, Marc Scribner, Research Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, discusses “talking cars” and the significant challenges that remain to insure that security and privacy issues related to the technology have been addressed. 

Listen to the interview here.

December 27th, 2013 at 2:56 pm
NSA Program Upheld in NY After Losing in DC

Earlier today a federal judge in New York ruled that the National Security Agency’s warrantless phone record collections are constitutional.

Because the decision conflicts with a previous ruling from the District of Columbia, today’s ruling makes it much more likely that the United States Supreme Court will eventually weigh in.

As always, the outcome will depend heavily on which frame the Court adopts.

In the D.C. case, Judge Richard Leon emphasized the extent to which the NSA’s program violated fundamental norms of privacy, and pronounced it unconstitutional. “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval,” wrote Leon.

However in New York, Judge William Pauley took a more sympathetic view of the government’s argument. To him the program “significantly increases the NSA’s capability to detect the faintest patterns left behind by individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations. Armed with all the metadata, NSA can draw connections it might otherwise never be able to find.”

Though my inclination is to side with Judge Leon’s disapproval, I’m withholding judgment while Congress deliberates. As Judge Pauley correctly notes, “The question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds that it is. But the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide.”

It’s a debate we can’t afford to take lightly.

December 16th, 2013 at 7:03 pm
Judge Casts Legal Doubt on NSA Spying

A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the National Security Agency (NSA) today, reports Politico.

The 68-page ruling sets up the possibility that some or all of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance practices could be banned as violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unlawful searches and seizures.

Due to U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s tone, it sounds like he’s leaning toward striking the program down.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval,” Leon wrote.

Since Leon seems likely to convert his preliminary order into a permanent injunction, expect to see this case – and perhaps others – arrive on the Supreme Court’s docket soon. Along the way there will be no shortage of arguments about arcane legal precedents and policy disputes over national security.

All of these are important considerations, but – in my view – the most appropriate place for their deliberation is Congress, not the courts. Maybe what NSA is doing can be justified under the Constitution as a legitimate national security measure. Maybe not. Either way, ultimately it should be decided by the branch most responsive – and responsible – to the People.

November 14th, 2013 at 3:00 pm
Obama Admin Downplaying Security Risks on Healthcare.gov

If you’re thinking about using Healthcare.gov to shop for an Obamacare-approved insurance plan – wait.

The personal information you enter to create an account may be unprotected from hackers.

That is the startling reality uncovered in testimony given by one of Healthcare.gov’s top IT officials to House investigators. Apparently, a memo documenting several “open high findings” – including the website’s vulnerability to identity thieves – was kept away from the person responsible for green-lighting its launch.

As the plot thickens, Avik Roy asks several pertinent questions: “First: Did Tony Trenkle intentionally conceal this critical information about high security risks from Henry Chao, or was it an accident? Second: Would Chao have recommended that the exchange go forward if he had been aware of high findings? Third: Did Marilyn Tavenner—the head of CMS—know about these issues when she issued the final go-ahead authorization? Fourth: Now that this information is public, why is the Obama administration encouraging people to enter their sensitive personal data into the non-secure healthcare.gov website?” (Emphasis added)

Why indeed?

Could it be that there is such a rush to spike Healthcare.gov’s enrollment numbers that Obama administration officials are willing to overlook the potential risk to millions of Americans’ private information?

It brings a whole new ominous meaning to the warning buyer beware.

October 19th, 2013 at 10:54 am
Podcast: ObamaCare’s Privacy Threat
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Dan Epstein, Executive Director of Cause of Action, discusses the risks Americans face in disclosing their personal medical and financial information on the ObamaCare exchanges and the risk of waste, fraud and abuse of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars states are receiving to run their exchanges.

Listen to the interview here.

September 17th, 2013 at 5:47 pm
ObamaCare in Your Bedroom?

The New York Civil Liberties Union and the Goldwater Institute are both warning of dire threats to privacy if ObamaCare’s financial incentives and penalties on doctors aren’t changed soon.

The health law’s ‘reforms’ “aim to turn doctors into government agents, pressuring them financially to ask questions they consider inappropriate and unnecessary, and to violate their Hippocratic Oath to keep patients’ records confidential,” writes Betsy McCaughey in the New York Post.

Topics include asking whether a patient is sexually active, and if so, with what number of partners. Whether a person has same-sex partners is also an area the feds want to know about.

And don’t forget to add in the required questions about a person’s drug history.

Combine this with all the routine yet highly sensitive health information people share with their doctor, and you’ve got the makings for a single-source document that could ruin someone’s life if made public.

To do this, ObamaCare uses financial pressure to compel doctors to participate. Answers go into federally mandated electronic health records. Highly portable, the records can be accessed and shared among regulators.

Resistance won’t be easy.

“Doctors and hospitals who don’t comply with the federal government’s electronic-health-records-requirements forgo incentive payments now; starting in 2015, they’ll face financial penalties from Medicare and Medicaid,” according to McCaughey. “The Department of Health and Human Services has already paid out over $12.7 billion for these incentives.”

And it’s just going to get worse.

Best advice: Try to convince your doctor to keep two sets of books. One that’s real; the other for the Feds.

ObamaCare: Bringing people together in opposition to their government.

July 25th, 2013 at 2:29 pm
ObamaCare’s Data Hub Will Destroy Privacy

Seton Motley, President of Less Government, catalogues in blistering fashion why ObamaCare’s Federal Data Hub – a database designed to link all of the personal medical and financial information held by the states and federal government – may not be a good idea:

The government spies on reporters. And their parents.

The government collects phone call data on hundreds of millions of Americans. It allows thousands of National Security  Administration (NSA) analysts to listen to them at their individual discretion. These same analysts can also read our emails, texts and Instant Messages, and watch our video chats. The government is working with many of the largest Internet companies to take possession of much of the information they have on us.

The government uses our data to sic the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on opponents, inhibits select political organizations from forming or gaining approval, then releases damaging information on and audits anyone not with the big government program.

With this as its track record, how in the world can Americans trust the government to protect some of our most precious personal information and refrain from abusing it?

Better to pull the plug on the Hub and the law that mandates its existence.

H/T: The Daily Caller

July 11th, 2013 at 6:33 pm
Jonah Goldberg on the Inconsistencies of Liberal Paranoia
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The reliably great Johan Goldberg’s newest column considers liberal outrage over the NSA surveillance scandal and comes to what strikes me as an utterly reasonable conclusion: if you’re a leftist who’s bothered by this sort of invasiveness, there’s a whole world of outrages awaiting you upon inspection of President Obama’s domestic record:

What I have a hard time understanding, however, is how one can get worked up into a near panic about an overreaching national-security apparatus while also celebrating other government expansions into our lives, chief among them the hydra-headed leviathan of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). The 2009 stimulus created a health database that will store all your health records. The Federal Data Services Hub will record everything bureaucrats deem useful, from your incarceration record and immigration status to whether or not you had an abortion or were treated for depression or erectile dysfunction.

In other words, while the NSA can tell if you searched the Web for “Viagra,” the Hub will know if you were actually prescribed the medication and for how long. Yes, there are rules for keeping that information private, but you don’t need security clearance or a warrant to get it.

Then there’s the IRS. We already have evidence of abuse there. For instance, the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, had its tax returns and private donor information leaked to the news media last year, presumably in order to embarrass Mitt Romney (he gave the group $10,000) and others during the presidential election.

And yet, worrying about NSA abuse is cast as high-minded, while worrying about Obamacare or the IRS is seen as paranoid. Why?

The answer, it seems to me, lies in the ideological priors of those doing the complaining. Unlike conservatives, liberals default to an essentially benevolent view of government and those that populate it — unless they happen to work in fields concerned with public safety, such as the military, intelligence, or law enforcement.

For my money, they all deserve scrutiny. But the track record also shows that the government officials who give the left night terrors are the ones that tend, on balance, to be the most responsible. Why? Well, I’d argue because they’re the only ones who retain a sense of that abstract virtue known as duty.

June 1st, 2012 at 12:34 pm
CFIF Joins Coalition Against Black Box Mandate

The Center for Individual Freedom (“CFIF”) this week joined a coalition of leading free market organizations opposing the federal Black Box Mandate, a provision included in the Senate version of the Highway Bill (SEC. 31406 of S. 1813) that would require all passenger motor vehicles in the United States, beginning with model year 2015, to be fitted with event data recorders (EDRs) that would collect all driving habits of consumers. 

The provision, which is currently being contemplated in a House-Senate conference committee on the Highway Bill, threatens to violate the privacy rights of consumers and burdens manufactures and small businesses with yet another costly, misguided and unnecessary federal mandate.

CFIF is encouraging all of our supporters and activists to visit the coalition website and sign the pledge to their Members of Congress and President Obama “to oppose any federal action to mandate the use of black box data recorders in personal vehicles.”  The pledge goes on to state that the Black Box Mandate:

  1. Is an infringement on personal privacy and freedoms. 
  2. Would be a slippery slope for Government to track citizen’s transportation habits and location. 
  3. Is both an unnecessary expansion of government police power and an undue mandate on consumers and business.

Visit http://www.blackboxmandate.org to sign the pledge now.

May 30th, 2012 at 2:28 pm
State Governments Not Limiting Their Hunger for Drone Dollars

Salon highlights the combination of state-based interests lining-up to convince the Federal Aviation Administration to award it one of six licenses to operate a domestic drone test site.

The deal is this: Prove that drones – unmanned surveillance aircraft – can be operated safely in civilian airspace, and the FAA will remove regulatory barriers restricting where drones can fly.

By extension, locations with test sites will be positioned to become hubs for drone-related activity.

Salon notes that while states like Florida, Ohio, and Colorado have already pitched plans to the FAA to land a test site…

…the most fully developed proposals for running the test sites are likely to come from state consortiums of industry, government and universities, which will put up the money to run the sites. The FAA is not providing any funding for the sites.

According to the article, the parties most interested in promoting drone usage domestically are defense industry contractors, state research universities, and municipalities adjacent to military bases.

If you’re having trouble seeing the private sector in any of this, you’re not alone.  Commentators across the ideological spectrum are deeply disturbed by the near certainty that introducing drone surveillance into domestic airspace will do little more than empower government at every level.

Of course, there is one benefit promised for greater drone use: jobs.  As one retired Air Force colonel involved in Colorado’s plan told Salon, “The more freedom of movement the FAA allows, the greater the private business will be.  If unmanned vehicles have access similar to that enjoyed by manned aircraft, I think the commercial business will be ten times larger than the Department of Defense business.”

That’s an amazing forecast considering that military spending is 98.6 percent of the $7 billion-plus drone industry.  Until then, why not let government agencies up and down the food chain grow their budgets testing unmanned surveillance vehicles?  What could go wrong?

What we’re seeing with the rollout of the domestic drone issue is an example of one of the greatest threats to liberty and fiscal sanity today – a network of government actors negotiating among themselves over public resources.

If the system keeps mutating this way, privacy won’t be the only casualty.  We’ll also redefine what it means to create jobs.  Gone will be the idea that lower taxes and less regulations spur hiring and expansion.  In will be the notion that transfer payments between government entities are the best way forward.

And I think we all know how long that system is sustainable.

July 22nd, 2011 at 12:54 pm
John Edwards Campaign Experiencing a Different Kind of Transparency

Roll Call reports that former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has been ordered by the Federal Election Commission to repay nearly $2.3 million in misused matching funds.

The FEC’s order follows a legally required audit of Edwards’ campaign after the candidate took taxpayer money in return for capping his expenditures.  It turns out Edwards exceeded the cap and violated the law.  (For those familiar with Edwards’ post-2008 history, it’s no surprise his fiscal excess rose to the level of his personal excess.)

What does this have to do with campaign finance law?  Plenty.

To supporters, one of the goals of campaign finance laws is to increase the amount of transparency in who funds a candidate.  That goal is much easier to achieve when the hook of federal auditing is swallowed along with matching funds.  Like most liberals, John Edwards is relentlessly supportive of increasing government oversight on just about everything.  Now, the very transparency and oversight he championed for others is unearthing all kinds of sordid details he would surely prefer stay out of view.

Maybe Edwards’ inner libertarian will awaken and he’ll become an advocate for less government and more privacy.  If nothing else, he would be well advised in the future to practice a lot more discretion.

November 4th, 2010 at 5:53 pm
Public Health Care Means Loss of Privacy

One of the selling points for “universal” health care is the notion it carries of making treatment available to everyone.  That’s (somewhat) true, but when government-run health care displaces private companies, something else gets tossed out too: privacy.

According to a notice published in the Federal Register last month, President Barack Obama’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will be launching a new health-related database that adds to new data sets to one representing federal workers: private citizens who report pre-existing health conditions or use one of the newly created regional exchanges for pooled health insurance.  That information will be made available to any government agency, law enforcement group, or third party researcher that shows a need for it.

What gives OPM the right to collect and disseminate such sensitive health records?  The passage and implementation of ObamaCare.

Charles Krauthammer’s recent column heralding the demise Obama’s legislative agenda contained a paragraph that deserves mention:

Over the next two years, the real action will be not in Congress but in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy. Democrats will advance their agenda on Obamacare, financial reform and energy by means of administrative regulation, such as carbon-emission limits imposed unilaterally by the Environmental Protection Agency.

No doubt, there will be many battles to fight in Congress against enactment of more freedom-killing policies, but voters, activists, and politicians should remember that the threat to liberty only accelerates once the federal bureaucracy gets involved.  OPM is just the most recent example.

February 13th, 2010 at 9:22 pm
The Wrong Kind of Government Transparency

Remember Erroll Southers?  He was President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the chief of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), the agency in charge of security at all the nation’s airports.  If approved, he would have been the point man for installing full body scan machines for every passenger to walk through.  Yet, he withdrew his nomination last month after it surfaced that twenty years ago as an FBI agent he illegally accessed information about his ex-wife’s boyfriend.  By all accounts he was a model security professional before and after the incident, but introduce a personal motive, and even the best people may play a dangerous game with our privacy.

Once again, Britain provides a case study.  Recently, an Indian film star discovered the failures of a government-run failsafe system.  Immediately after participating in a mandatory full body scan at London’s Heathrow airport, Shahrukh Khan saw two female security workers printing out a picture with detailed outlines of his manhood on display.  The event gave the lie to assurances by the British government that no scanned information would be saved or printed.  Though irritated, he made light of the matter and autographed the paper.  The rest of us should take note.

It is darkly ironic that at a time when most Americans are disgusted with the lack of transparency from their government, their government is lusting after more transparency from its people.

February 11th, 2010 at 4:35 pm
The Obama Administration vs. The ACLU

Anyone needing a reminder that the government’s idea of enhanced security is destroying personal privacy should read this article from CNET. Soon, a federal appeals court will hear oral arguments about whether law enforcement agencies like the FBI have the authority to demand information giving the physical location of a person’s cell phone from telecom companies without a warrant. According to the Obama Administration, people using cell phones don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they use items like a cell phone. The rationale is that when you share information with another person or entity, you forfeit your Fourth Amendment rights.  And since the cell company keeps a record of the transmission tower you link to when calling, all the government needs to do to check on your whereabouts is “ask” the company for it’s records.

So, fair warning: the next time you call Aunt Agnes from your cell phone, Uncle Sam will be “asking” your wireless provider for your whereabouts. But remember – it’s for your protection.

February 9th, 2010 at 1:17 pm
Airport Body Scanners Breaking Child Porn Laws?

They do in Britain if the subject of the security scan is under 18. As for everybody else, it looks like Heathrow personnel are taking their time deleting near naked images of celebrities like India’s Shahrukh Khan. Even more troubling, they may be printing and sharing them.

Who knew people charged with security would abuse their power in such a way?! Especially since they work for the government! It’s almost as if the people working at airport checkpoints are the same type of folks who would illegally access confidential information about an ex-spouse’s new squeeze while working for the FBI.