Friday, January 3, 2014

Snowden, Drones, and Downton Abbey: Musings of a Privacy Professional for 2014

The year ahead promises to be one full of interesting and provocative legal cases involving privacy and data security.

Target continues to deal with the legal and public relations nightmare of one of the largest ever data security breaches.

In December two federal judges issued decisions regarding the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden.  One found the program unconstitutional and the other determined that it is a legitimate and appropriate tool to combat terrorism. 

Another federal judge is considering whether or not the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to investigate and take enforcement actions against businesses with lax data security systems.

Finally, North Dakota was selected this week by the Federal Aviation Agency to host a commercial drone test site.

The following quotations suggest the disparate views likely to be expressed in the spirited discussions and debates surrounding these controversies: 

“First electricity, now telephones. Sometimes I feel as if I were living in an HG Wells novel. But the young are all so calm about change aren’t they?”

--Violet, the dowager countess in Downton Abbey (circa 1912) 

“You have zero privacy. Get over it!”

--Scott McNealy, then CEO of Sun Microsystems, at a press conference announcing the latest company products (June 6, 1999)

“I cannot in good conscience allow the United States government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

--Edward Snowden, former technical assistant for the CIA who worked for the NSA as a contract employee, after disclosing secret and confidential information about the NSA surveillance program in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian (June 10, 2013)   

“The government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk data collection actually stopped an imminent attack.”

--United States District Court Judge Richard J. Leon describing the “indiscriminately and arbitrary invasion” of the fourth amendment of the constitution protection from unreasonable search of vast databases of phone call records and referring to it as the use of “Orwellian technology” (December 16, 2013)

“When a person voluntarily conveys information to a third party he forfeits his right to privacy in the information.”

--Just eleven days after Judge Leon found the NSA program likely unconstitutional, another federal judge,  William Pauley, determined that  the NSA mass collection of telephone data was legal and a legitimate and necessary method for government to combat terrorism (December 27, 2013)

“We just don’t have our arms around what the proper use of this technology is going to be. We don’t want to stifle jobs and business unnecessarily, but yet also balance individual privacy rights.”

--Minnesota State Senator Sean Nienow, who would like to have more discussion on how to balance the economic benefits of commercial use of drone technology with privacy concerns (quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 2, 2014)

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