Weekly News Digest


Surveillance video shows missing man at SLC convenience store


September 2, 2014

Haldren Efren, a 20 year old from Micronesia, was reported missing on Sunday after arguing with his girlfriend at the Rockport State Park campsite and storming off. A Utah Department of Public Safety Helicopter and 20 workers from the Summit county search and rescue helped look for the man on Sunday. A convenience store near 150 South and 1300 West in Salt lake caught the man on surveillance video taken on Tuesday 3 hours after he went missing. It was also said he was seen heading to Evanston, Wyoming. He hasn’t come forward at all and they assume he doesn’t want to be found.


NYPD officers to begin wearing body cameras as part of settlement


September 4, 2014

Due to the recent death of Eric Garner during an arrest by New York city police officers, police commissioner William Bratton announced a pilot program on Thursday which requires 60 NYPD officers to wear body cameras on duty. Last year, a federal judge put a stop to their crime-stopping tactics saying they “unfairly targeted black men and did little to reduce crime.” While the body cameras are being implemented to keep the city of New York “safe and protected” many have concerns about mission privacy because the New York Police Department supposedly has a long history of watching and recording innocent NewYorkers.


‘Swatting’ prank caller victimizes Bluffdale homeowner


September 1, 2014

A man’s wife in Bluffdale was playing video games on a website called “Twitch” when out of nowhere someone started posting her personal information in the chat box. She deleted the comments and logged off only to see that the streamer had posted on twitter that the SWAT team would soon be at their home. The prank caller used Skype to contact the Saratoga Springs dispatch center at 9:30pm saying he had shot and killed his mother and was holding his father and brother hostage. The SWAT team did show up at their home and demanded the homeowner to surrender. He got a chance to explain it was an internet prank and he was innocent. Police are using the devices used in the prank (Skype and Twitch) to track down who it was that committed the crime and they will receive federal charges.


83 percent of Utahns want body cameras on police officers, poll shows


September 2, 2014

A recent poll shows that 83 percent of people living in Utah want police officers to wear body cameras anytime they interact with the public. Police officers have already been using these body cameras in public situations for 2 years. 145 officers already are equipped and 114 are soon to be. The cameras are under the cop’s control and are encouraged to be used during every encounter with any person. The video goes directly to the officer’s phone for them to watch instantaneously, but they are not able to save the video for their own use. The videos are later downloaded to ensure the cop’s and the public’s safety.


Dad in hot-car death case indicted on murder, child cruelty charges


September 4, 2014

Georgia man Justin Ross Harris was indicted on Thursday to charges of murder and child-cruelty 2 months after he was accused of leaving his 22 month old son in the hot car causing his death. Harris insists that his son’s death was an accident, but back in July police officers showed surveillance tapes proving Harrison had left his son in the hot car all day only stopping by to check on him once. Police also went through his web history and found evidence of him searching videos of killing people and “How to survive prison.” This evidence shows that the murder of his son was intentional and he will possibly face the death penalty.






Snowden: Hero or Criminal?

Edward Snowden had been working for the government, both NSA (National Security Agency) and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), for just a short amount of time before he decided to make a decision that would change his life forever. Starting off as a security guard at the NSA, he somehow graduated to working an information-technology job at the CIA. While working at an NSA office in Oahu, Snowden then began to notice programs within the government that involved spying on citizens’ phone calls and emails. This seemed to have rubbed him the wrong way.

It wasn’t long after that that he began copying and storing confidential government documents to gather the data for the case he was building. He was preparing to reveal all the secrets of the government that took him in and offered him a way to support himself. It wasn’t until a month later, after he had collected as many confidential files as possible, that Snowden had begun leaking that information to the many reporters surrounding the NSA. He began to discuss his opinions publicly with these same reporters and this is what may have lead to his asylum in Russia. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”. While Snowden shares his reasoning openly, stating that he did it for the sake of the American citizens, it is hard to tell just how heroic his actions really were. While some will say that Snowden was a hero that informed American citizens that the government had been spying on them, personally, some would have to argue that because of the way he had informed citizens and the harsh outcomes that have happened before can categorize him as a criminal.


Even though he believed that was he was doing was for the well being of the people of America, he caused more damage than he could have imagined. By revealing the fact that the NSA was invading the privacy of the citizens, he ended up ruining most of the security that was already in place. “First, there is the undeniable operational effect of informing adversaries of American intelligence’s tactics, techniques and procedures. Snowden’s disclosures go beyond the ‘”what” of a particular secret or source. He is busily revealing the ‘”how” of American collection.” By bringing this heightened awareness to the situation at hand, Snowden made it easier for the real criminals out there to commit their crimes of choice. He ultimately presented them with a warning, as well as the exact way they are being watched. This gave the real terrorists a way around the NSA so they could easily adapt and find new ways to hack into our governments system. In doing this, Snowden announced to other countries how  the security systems in the United States are running, which put us at a disadvantage. In the same way the criminals were made aware of how we are securing our citizens privacy, these other countries could find a way to evade the tactics we were practicing and find another way to invade our government.


Snowden was affected in a way most other NSA employees were not. Due to his own personal morals, he believed that he was righting a wrong in our government and security system. Although a lot of the citizens benefited from this announcement, Snowden was aiming to please himself and satisfy his own moral code. By saying this, it is not stating that what he did was not moral, but that Snowden could have thought of ways to get this information out and handling this information besides the way he had. Some could say that Snowden releasing this information benefitted them greatly to be more aware with what our government is doing involving us personally, but it was immoral in the fact that perhaps the nation did not need to know every detail of this situation. Snowden could have found a way to share this information without making it so public as to be also sharing this information with outsiders to our country. While it seems as though it is for the better good of the nation, it did more harm than good.

“The American government, and its democracy, are flawed institutions. But our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air—and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it.”

Edward Snowden made what appeared to be an easy solution to a very complicated problem. By deciding to break the law and out the government, he made a rash decision. There were other ways he could have gone about this as mentioned in the quote earlier. He signed a contract with the NSA, stating that he would not share what he saw or did to the public, and he broke that contract. Snowden knew what he was signing up for. He knew what the NSA did and the fact that the first thing that bothered him, he decided to breach his contract and break the law, sharing the information he gathered with the first people to give him a chance.

“We’re not prepared to endorse that campaign, and we’re not even sure that Snowden qualifies as a whistle-blower in the strict sense of someone who discloses government information in order to expose illegal activity. The two surveillance programs he was apparently responsible for revealing — an electronic dragnet of Americans’ phone records and the monitoring of the contents of foreigners’ electronic communications — are legal, authorized by Congress and overseen (however indulgently) by federal judges.”

By releasing all of the information he had obtained to do what he thought of as the right thing to do, Snowden ended up causing more harm than he may have intended. Even though he came off as having the right intentions, he isn’t the hero he is made out to be. In the end he broke the law and caused the nation trouble, even if the citizens don’t realize it. There’s a fine line between security and spying. Our government is here to keep us safe and although it might have seemed like the right thing for Snowden to do, there is much more to it than invading the privacy of the citizens of the United States.

Students are a bit schizophrenic, and perhaps predictable, when it comes to privacy attitudes and practices

So, what do “typical” first year students at the University of Utah look like in terms of their attitudes and beliefs about privacy and surveillance?  What privacy practices do they follow and how accurate is their knowledge about privacy?

These and other questions were answered when  the 20 students (10 male and 10 female) enrolled in UGS 2260 “Privacy & Surveillance”  anonymously answered a 65 question survey before the first day of class.   What follows is a composite picture of the “average” class member, who we shall call by the androgynous name of “Pat.”

First, some demographics: 

Pat is 18 years of age, is from Utah, will likely major in political science or a science related field and intends to pursue an advanced degree.

Pat is social media savvy, having a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine and Google+ accounts.  However, she does not use Flickr or other photo sharing sites.  Pat has three email addresses and has used an opaque online user name which hides her real name as she believes anonymous speech is an important element of using the internet.  She does not subscribe to any RSS feeds, has never edited a Wikipedia page and is not a blog author, but she does post comments on blogs and online sites.  Pat’s primary source of news comes from social media and  although she sometimes reads online newspapers Pat never reads print newspapers for news.

Pat is also technologically savvy having first received a cell phone when she was 13 years old.   She maintains an online banking account, a frequent shopper digital account, orders and pays for products and services online, uses cloud storage and uses text messaging as the primary means of communicating with her friends when physically apart.  When communicating with her digital dinosaur parents and family she uses the phone.

Pat’s attitudes about privacy.

Pat is “somewhat uncomfortable” with the fact that some internet companies provide free services and in exchange collect personal information about her for advertising purposes , yet she uses such services and is willing to disclose personal information in exchange for the free services. She is only “mildly concerned” about her activities in public spaces being recorded, but believes that if a person takes a photograph of her in a public space that person should obtain her permission before posting it on the web.  Pat is of the strong view that she should be entitled to know what personal information about her is being collected by government and businesses and should also have the right  to delete personal information collected about her.  However, she is not willing to pay to either obtain or delete the information.  Pat views the privacy rights of public and private institutions in a markedly different manner.  She believes public institutions have an obligation to be transparent and have no right of privacy in how they operate.  On the other hand, private organizations have no obligation to be transparent and should have a right of privacy in their operations.  Interestingly, the distinction between public and private institutions does not extend to public and private individuals.  Both individuals, she says, are entitled to privacy in how they conduct their lives.   Pat places a higher value on privacy than institutional or personal security when the two are at odds and strongly believes that healthcare providers should not share her personal information even with other healthcare providers without her consent.

Pat’s privacy practices.

Although Pat believes Congress should enact Do-Not-Track legislation allowing her to opt out of online tracking, she believes it is the user who is primarily responsible for insuring the safe handling of personal information on online sites and networks, not government or the site owner.  Despite this latter view, however,  Pat’s efforts to protect her privacy are somewhat inconsistent and  lax.   She has password protected her mobile device , has modified the default privacy settings on some of her social networking accounts and sometimes turns off the geo-location feature on her phone.  On the other hand, she does not use separate passwords for her online accounts, has not enabled Google’s two-step authentication for her Gmail account, rarely clears her browser history, rarely deletes cookies from her computer and does not encrypt her emails.  She only “sometimes” reads a website’s privacy policy before establishing an account and she has not put a “Google alert” on her name.

Pat’s knowledge about privacy.

Like many people, Pat has several mistaken beliefs about online privacy.  She mistakenly believes that if a website has a privacy policy the site owner may not legally share  her personal information with other companies and must delete such information  on her request.  She does correctly know that a website does not need her permission to share her address and purchase history with the government, but erroneously believes that when she orders a pizza by phone for home delivery the pizza company may not sell her address or phone number to others.  Similarly, she incorrectly believes that when she gives her address and telephone number to the store cashier when making a purchase that the store may not sell that information absent her permission.

Any survey surprises?

Pat’s views and attitudes about privacy mirror the information learned from extensive surveys by the PEW Research Center.   See http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/20/young-americans-and-privacy-its-complicated.  Based on a 2013 national survey of persons aged 18-29, PEW concluded , among other things,  that young adults are more willing than older Americans to let companies use their personal data for commercial purposes, but are more skeptical about the government’s acquisition of personal information for purposes of combatting terrorism and better insuring personal safety.

It will be interesting to explore the reasons behind the privacy views of our class during the semester and to see if any views are changed as a result of the class.




Why a real name policy for online comments works best (except when it doesn’t)

The debate about anonymity on the internet has raged since the advent of the internet. The debate usually pits free speech advocates against proponents of civility and accountability with both sides approaching the issue with an all or nothing mentality.  The  past few years, however,  have witnessed a growing trend among website owners to require persons to use their real names in order to post or comment online.  Facebook, YouTube, the Huffington Post and  Quora are just a few of the more notable websites that have recently joined this trend. One commentator has even  advocated a mandatory internet-wide real names policy.  This post identifies the main arguments for and against a real name policy and sets out the authors view as to the proper policy that should be adopted.

  Promoting Civility & Insuring Accountability

Advocates for requiring a person to use their real name (or at least a recognized user name) primarily argue that such a policy raises the level of civility and quality of discourse on the internet, fosters accountability, discourages trolls and abusive posts and provides valuable contextual information for the reader to assess the post.  Persons who are defamed anonymously are often unable to seek judicial relief because the wrongdoers are anonymous.   And, there are numerous example of persons abusing their power and avoiding accountability for what they say by hiding behind the cloak of anonymity.   The poster child for this latter concern was the U.S. Attorney in New Orleans, who was a highly respected attorney and one of the longest serving U.S. Attorneys in the country, but resigned in December of 2012 when it was discovered that two of his top deputies were using the internet to anonymously attack persons their office was investigating.   Another example is the Cleveland, Ohio State Judge who made anonymous comments about several high profile cases that were pending before her and then sued the paper when she was outed.  Recently, the online review site Yelp was ordered by a court to reveal the identities of seven reviewers who posted negative reviews about a prominent local carpet cleaning business in Virginia. The business claims the reviews were false and were not from actual customers, but from competitors. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jan/8/court-rules-yelp-website-must-identify-seven-negat/?page=all

Slate Senior Editor Emily Bazelonreflects the views of many when she argues that a free democracy is better off when everyone is forced to put their name to their words, noting that online anonymous users are poisoning civil discourse with their vile and defamatory comments, all under the excuse of “free speech.”

  Protecting Whistleblowers & Fostering Free Speech

Proponents of anonymity acknowledge that abuses may sometimes occur, but argue that anonymous speech has along and hallowed tradition in our country and, indeed, enjoys constitutional protection.  Absent anonymity, speech will be unnecessarily chilled, they argue.  How many abused women, whistleblowers and political dissidents will come forward if they must do so using their real names?  Anonymous Facebook and Twitter communications were essential during the Arab Spring protests and anonymity allows victims of domestic violence to rebuild their lives where abusers cannot follow.  In a recent post, David Maas of the Electronic Frontier Foundation identifies 16 different groups of persons who benefit from anonymity besides trolls and political dissidents. Maas argues that anonymity is important to anyone who doesn’t want every facet of their online life tied to a Google search of their name.  He focuses on the free speech promoting aspects of anonymity when he argues ” To suggest anonymity should be forbidden because of troll-noise is just as bad as suggesting a ban on protesting because the only demonstrators you have ever encountered are from the Westboro Baptist Church—the trolls of the picket world.

The website geekfeminism.org has created a Wiki which compiles a list ofpersons harmed by a real names policy. Some commentators argue that anonymity actually promotes truth and trustworthiness on the internet. http://irevolution.net/2013/10/22/trustworthiness-and-truth/.

Traditional media, who are struggling to adjust to the online world, have adopted various approaches.  Some newspapers allow anonymous comments, but editors moderate all posts by reserving the right to delete comments that violate the papers posted community guidelines, such as no racist, sexist or personal attacks.  KSL TV follows this approach in its Comments Policy.  This is labor intensive, however, and with the economic challenges traditional media, this approach has lost favor of late. The Salt Lake Tribune allows opaque user names, but you are required to have a real email address in order to open an account which is a prerequisite to posting comments.  Comments are not moderated by Tribune editors, but are subject to being deleted if they violate the Tribune’s terms of use.  Other newspapers permit readers to self police the comments by allowing readers to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on each comment.  If a particular comment receives a certain number of down votes it is removed.  With Facebook’s ubiquity and the ability to log onto a site via Facebook, many newspapers allow a commenter to check in with Facebook and have reported that such a policy has improved the quality of comments.

 Anonymity, But With Potential Accountability

 While it certainly is well within the rights of any website to dictate its own terms of use, I place my thumb on the free speech side of the scale when it comes to anonymous speech.  We unavoidably stifle and restrict free expression when we rule out anonymous statements.  That does not mean that anonymous posters should be given free reign to libel and attack others with impunity; it just means that they have the right to speak anonymously and they must be willing to accept the consequences in the event their identity is discovered.  In today’s increasingly transparent world, it is becoming very difficult to be truly anonymous in the face of a persistent effort to learn someone’s identity.  Moreover, there are existing legal processes that allow a judicially compelled disclosure of identity when certain legal threshold showings are made.  In my view, this regime (allowing initial anonymity with judicially compelled disclosure under certain circumstances) strikes a reasonable balance between the competing interests.

Weekly News Digest for 29 August 2014

California Senate approves measure banning warrantless drone surveillance

27 August 2014
The California state Senate passed legislation this week that limits how law enforcement and other government agencies can use drones in the state. Law enforcement agencies will be required to get a warrant to conduct surveillance with a drone for criminal investigations. Other state agencies can only use drones for their “core mission” and not for criminal investigation. Finally, information collected with a drone can only be retained for one year. California joins a number of other states that have adopted similar measures.

ICREACH: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google

25 August 2014
The National Security Agency (NSA) has created a Google-like search interface that allows it and a dozen other government agencies to search communications metadata that the NSA has collected. In all, the search interface known as “ICREACH” provides access to roughly 850 billion records, which is more than the number of stars in our galaxy. While most of these records are believed to pertain to foreigners, perhaps millions of them could related to Americans’ whose information was “incidentally” collected and not properly “minimized,” raising concerns about the possibility of improper use of such information by law enforcement.

How Cops and Hackers Could Abuse California’s New Phone Kill-Switch Law

26 August 2014
California has implemented a law that requires all new cell phones to come with a “kill switch” that allows users to remotely render their phones useless in the event that the phone is lost or stolen. However, some civil liberties and technology groups are raising concerns that the feature could be misused, causing more privacy problems than it solves. For example, the law allows law enforcement to remotely kill someone’s phone under certain circumstances. Also, there is the concern that hackers and criminals could figure out how to access the feature and wipe peoples’ phones to prevent them from calling for help or as a form of extortion.

Comcast Data Breach Leaks Thousands of Unlisted Phone Numbers, Threatening Customers’ Privacy

25 August 2014
Tens of thousands of Comcast customers in California and elsewhere around the country had their unlisted phone numbers released publicly. These customers were paying Comcast a monthly fee to insure that their contact information would not be shared publicly. But many began to notice their information showing up online anyway. Now, the Public Utility Commission in California is conducting an investigation to see how and why this personal information was leaked. This is just one more in a long string of incidents where individuals’ personal information stored with a private company is breached and made available to criminals or the general public against their wishes or against the law.

The FTC’s Controversial Battle To Force Companies To Protect Your Data

21 August 2014
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is increasingly attempting to regulate the way companies store consumer data. Even though there have been a growing number of breaches of company databases in recent years resulting in the theft of personal information leading to fraud and identity theft, there is no one federal agency responsible for protecting consumer privacy. The FTC is attempting to become that agency. However, while some welcome this move, it is not entirely clear whether the FTC actually has the legal authority to take on this role.