How online companies can protect privacy and free speech

QR_logoThere have been a lot of stories about online services breaching privacy, losing user’s data, being hacked, being to willing to give into state requests for information and much more. But not so much on how companies might provide a positive service that works, whilst respecting privacy, free speech and other fundamental rights. But now ACLU has issued a helpful guide. Clearly, it’s designed for business rather than being a critique of businesses and their practices, and as such is hardly a manual for revolution, but it will be interesting to see who takes notice… and who doesn’t.

Could the US fiscal stimulus lead to a surveillance surge?

Largely unnoticed in commentary on US President Obama’s fiscal stimulus plan has been the $4Bn for the Justice Department. Now there are various very worthy programs nominated for funding including quite a large chunk to combat violence against women, but also a lot of cash washing around for rather more vague aims, in particular the $2Bn (i.e.: half the cash injection) for the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program “to fund grants for state and local programs that combat crime”.

The JAG program has already providing funding for many cities to install cameras as part of ‘demonstration programs’, as well as covert surveillance capabilities. However $2Bn is a massive increase in funding and will allow some rather more ambitious schemes to be funded. With the current popularity of CCTV cameras as a catch-all solution in the USA (regardless of negative assessments of their effectiveness elsewhere – see ACLU’s recent convenient US-focused summary), could one side-effect of the stimulus package be a massive ‘surveillance surge’ in the USA? After all, this is exactly what happened in the UK in the 1990s when central state funding through the ‘City Challenge’ program sparked a mania for installing city-centre CCTV systems – see the editorial and the articles by Will Webster, Pete Fussey and Roy Coleman in the special issue of Surveillance & Society on CCTV.

Those concerned with civil liberties and the intensifying push for videosurveillance in the USA should keep a careful eye on applications to the JAG program.

ACLU calls for release of Bush security info

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling for President Obama´s administration to release secret files that would shed light on the previous US government´s security and surveillance policies, including the now use of torture and warrantless surveillance. It´s a good move of course, but as I´ve previously remarked, the NSA and others have been doing this for almost 50 years, either directly or indirectly through UKUSA allies, warrants or no warrants, so what makes anyone think that they only started doing this under Bush or will stop if such information is released? As intelligence researcher, Loch K. Johnson, remarked about the Church Committee hearings in the 1970s, one thing they showed was that, when it came to illegal intelligence activities, the office of the President was an irrelevancy. Bush was probably even more irrelevant than most. Still, sunlight is the best disinfectant… but if Obama can change the internal culture of US intelligence, he will truly have performed a miracle.