Friday, January 23, 2009

Weekly Roundup

Monday, January 19, 2009

Transparency vs. Privacy

Opponents of California's Proposition 8 have created a new website which provides the names, home or work address of those individuals that donated money to the successful ballot initiative. Proposition 8, which was successfully passed during the 2008 election cycle, added the following language to California state Constitution, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Protect Marriage, a proponent of Proposition 8 expressed serious concerns over the launch of In an interview with the New York Times Schubert said, "giving these people [gay rights activitists] a map to your home or office leaves supporters of Proposition 8 feeling especially vulnerable. Really, it is chilling.”

As a result of these concerns, Protect Marriage, a pro Proposition 8 interest group, has filed a lawsuit in Sacramento's Federal District Court seeking an injunction against California state election laws that compels the release of names, addresses, occupations, and other personal information of donors of more than $100.

James Bopp Jr., a lawyer who filed the lawsuit on the behalf of Protect Marriage, said, “the cost of transparency cannot be discouragement of people’s participation in the process." Mr. Bopp further stated, “the highest value in the First Amendment is speech, and some amorphous idea about transparency cannot be used to subvert those rights.” In the filing, Mr. Bopp alleges there have been “death threats, acts of domestic terrorism, physical violence, threats of physical violence, vandalism of personal property, harassing phone calls, harassing e-mails, blacklisting and boycotts” against supporters of Proposition 8 identified via the website.

In response to the lawsuit Shannon P. Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco, asked, “do they want to hide something?” Further, according to the New York Times, "opponents of Proposition 8 have condemned any attacks on supporters, but noted that those claiming harassment are already protected by laws.

The administrator of used data publicly available from a California state government website located here. Access to this data allowed the administrator to write a Google "mashup" which overlayed the data onto a Google Maps which may make the data more accessible to the average person.

Ironically, the administrator(s) of the website has no such interest in revealing information about themselves and has choosen to register the website through Domains by Proxy Inc., a company that protects the privacy of website owners and administrators, by serving as a proxy during the domain registration process.

Discussion for Class

  • Using Solove's taxonomy of privacy as a guide what privacy harms, if any, are most pressing in this example?
  • Do you think there is a chilling effect if this type of information that identifies political affiliation is published?
  • Is increased transparency at odds with the privacy protections offered by the First amendment?
  • Should personally identifiable information be so easily accessible?
  • Should the administrator(s) of be required to identify themselves?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

You Are Being Watched!

The ACLU has launched an interesting website which tracks the spread of government funded video surveillance cameras. The ACLU notes, "an increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems." Further, the ACLU states, "video surveillance technology will only grow more sophisticated. There will come a day when the cameras will be routinely linked with other technologies in attempt to instantly identify you and me via face recognition, RFIDs, or other technologies."

Although the conventional wisdom is that video surveillance cameras deters criminals, the ACLU notes, "that research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates."

If video surveillance cameras do not noticeably deter crime are they worth the cost? Even if video cameras do not reduce crime do they play a role in helping police solve crimes after they occurred? Should local government instead invest resources into hiring more police officers?

Additionally, do you think video surveillance cameras harm privacy? Are they any policies that can mitigate potential harms caused by potential invasions of privacy?

The YouTube Battlespace

On January 12, 2009, I noted an entry on the Google Public Policy blog today entitled 'Congress Comes to YouTube'. According to the blog,

As the 111th Congress kicks into gear, many Members of Congress are starting their own YouTube channels. They're posting videos direct from their Washington offices, as well as clips of floor speeches and committee hearings alongside additional behind-the-scenes footage from Capitol Hill. And in conjunction with both the House and Senate, today we're launching two new platforms that will help you access your Senator and Representatives' YouTube channels: The Senate Hub ( and The House Hub (
The Google Public Policy blog concludes that Congress's YouTube presence has "the potential to make Congress more transparent and accessible than ever before."

I personally think this is a good move for Congress because it has the potential to engage and create a more politically active electorate. Frankly, Im somewhat surprised that it has take Congress this long to use online services like YouTube.

In a somewhat ironic twist, CBS News released a story on the same day reporting on a new YouTube channel launched by Hamas's military wing the Al Qassam Brigades. CBS News reports, "Seven videos have been added to the channel since its launch on December 31st, two days after the Israeli military set up a Youtube channel to show videos of IAF strikes on Gaza."

I discovered a YouTube channel maintained by the Al Qassam Brigades which appears to have been established on November 2, 2008 and currently hosts 29 videos here. Im not sure which channel CBS News is referring to, but its clear that Hamas and other Jihadists groups have leveraged the propaganda value of YouTube and other social media sites for a long time. In fact, in May 2008 Senator Joe Lieberman pressured Google to remove Jihadist propaganda hosted on YouTube.

We will discuss how terrorist use the Internet later in the semester, but I thought it would be good to get some exposure to this issue as early as possible. Questions that we will discuss include whether or not we should censor sites like YouTube, or if we should allows terrorist to continue to use these sites and turn their use of these sites against them by gathering as much intelligence as possible about the producers and consumers of terrorist propaganda.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Weekly Roundup

The following is a collection of links to media reports on information privacy and security from this past week.

Two-faced book?

On Tuesday, January 6, 2009, Facebook hosted a conference entitled "Privacy 2009: The Year Ahead" at its Palo Atlo headquarters. One of the more interesting discussions at the conference was whether or not Facebook or other social network service providers should enable their customers to create and maintain multiple profiles for each of their personas.

Jim Dempsey, VP for Public Policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology and one of the panelists at the conference, noted that it is common for users to maintain separate personas for different social circles. For example, it is common for an individual to have a 'work persona' for the office, 'parent persona' when dealing with his or her children, and a 'social persona' when interacting with close friends. According to Dempsey, people prefer to keep these personas seperate. Specifically, people are unlikely to want their 'parent' or 'social' persona to define their interactions at work. Some of the conference panelists used these facts to argue in favor of allowing users to create multiple profiles for their multiple personas.

It seems to me that having the ability to create multiple profiles will create more privacy problems. Users may be encouraged to post more information about themselves via the maintainence of multiple profiles. Additionally, an individual's personal information may be more available as it will be stored in multiple and possibly more available profiles.

I think the most reasonable solution to this dilemma is to allow users to have more fine grained control over the information in their profile. For example, the user should be able to control the content their co-workers see in their profile versus what their family members see and so on. This ability to control how your personal information is shared seems to align with the definitions of privacy that we encountered in our reading, such as Charles Fried's definition of privacy as the right to control information about oneself.

Discussion for Class

Do you have multiple personas for different situations in your life? Would you like to have multiple profiles on Facebook or MySpace to mirror these multiple personas? If not, would you like to have more control over what information you display in your profile to different groups of 'friends'? For example, would you like to limit your co-workers from seeing what your friends write on your wall and vice-versa?