Tag Archives: Privacy

Facebook Forced To Turn Over Account Info, Photos, and Conversations

The New York Court of Appeals, its highest state court, approved in a 5-1 decision a search warrant that forces Facebook to turn over material on 381 accounts including account information, private photos, and conversations.  This ruling is based significantly on New York law which the court interpreted to mean search warrants issued by judges cannot be appealed to a higher court and the proper venue for challenging search warrants is during a pretrial hearing when a party argues the search warrant is an illegal search.

Read more about this case in this New York Times article here.  The underlying case deals with disability fraud and the Brennan Center provides a concise summary, along with its amicus brief, on its website available here.

One could argue that this opens the door to New York search warrants giving prosecutors access to users’ data on other social networking sites.

The full slip opinion is available here.

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Microsoft Sues DOJ

In order to sue the Department of Justice, Microsoft has brought out the big guns by hiring law firms Covington and Burling LLP, where partner James Garland used to work for former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.  Yesterday, Microsoft’s complaint was filed in the Western District Court of Washington State and the complaint is available on the Wall Street Journal website here.  The complaint is also available on Pacer, but the Wall Street Journal has the free version.

In the past, the U.S. government has requested information about certain users from Microsoft, presumably when warranted Microsoft complied with the production of information, and then the U.S. government could temporarily bar Microsoft from telling its users about the request for data.  Under 18 U.S.C. Section 2705, a governmental entity, with a court order, may delay notification to customers for a period not exceeding 90 days if the government has reason to believe that the notification would result in adverse results.  So, a customer would not be notified that a provider, like Microsoft, supplied information to a governmental authority until well after the production of information.  Adverse results include endangering the life or physical safety of an individual, flight from prosecution, destruction of evidence, tampering with evidence, intimidation of a potential witness, or otherwise seriously jeopardizing an investigation or unduly delaying trial.

Microsoft argues that this is unlawful and that tech companies should be allowed to tell their users when their cloud database and private information has been turned over to the government.  The U.S. government may argue that the disclosure to users would compromise an investigation.  However, Microsoft asserts that the U.S. government’s behavior is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.  But, is it?

This lawsuit is no easy feat.  It can be difficult to sue the U.S. government due to sovereign immunity issues.  Furthermore, the lawsuit boils down to a fundamental right to privacy argument that seems almost basic and may merit standard Fourth Amendment treatment regardless of all the discussion about cloud computing and the digital age.

Under F.R.C.P. 12, a U.S. governmental agency has 60 days from when they were served to file an answer.  It will be interesting to see who from the DOJ is assigned to the case and what the DOJ’s answer will be.

Furthermore, this case is not likely to settle.  Rather than Microsoft’s typical way of hiring lobbyists to change the law through Congress, it looks like Microsoft is using the courts and this lawsuit to change Fourth Amendment law.  Read more about this new case in this Wall Street Journal article here.

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FTC’s Unanimous Vote Against Snapchat for Privacy Rights

To round out the year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released their final order involving Snapchat. The unanimous vote, 5-0, reprimanded Snapchat for misrepresentation to consumers and orders changes to encompass more of user’s privacy rights. The FTC pointed out that Snapchat failed to fully disclose the amount of data it was collecting from its users. The full press release is available here. The charges against Snapchat are now settled.

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New Proposed Legislation Would Require Warrants for Email Searches

The Senate Judiciary Committee is pushing legislation that would require police officers to obtain a warrant before accessing emails.  The Senator from Vermont who is supporting the bill, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), has secured a strong democratic vote and is currently pushing for republican favor in order to fast track the bill.  Read more about this new privacy bill from The Hill article available here.

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FTC and Facebook Finalize Privacy Settlement

On Friday, August 10th, the Federal Trade Commission listed a press release regarding a settlement with Facebook.  The press release is available here.  Facebook was initially charged with sharing private user information with third parties and thus deceiving consumers on privacy settings.

As the press release states:

The settlement requires Facebook to take several steps to make sure it lives up to its promises in the future, including by giving consumers clear and prominent notice and obtaining their express consent before sharing their information beyond their privacy settings, by maintaining a comprehensive privacy program to protect consumers’ information, and by obtaining biennial privacy audits from an independent third party.

The original settlement talks between the FTC and Facebook were publicly announced in November 2011.  The FTC posted the eight counts of privacy violation charges against Facebook and the proposed settlement here.  Nine months later, the agency and company are closer to changing the future of privacy laws and enforcement.

Dan Rowinski published an article on ReadWrite Web with additional comments on the settlement available here.

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Facebook Alters Email Addresses in Users’ Contacts

Has Facebook gone too far in the hopes of becoming more efficient?  Has Facebook crossed the proverbial line of messing too much with users’ stuff and invading their privacy?  Or, was Facebook justified in making alterations to users’ contacts and address books because users gave permission to Facebook to access these features?

Yesterday, CNet published an article about how Facebook attempts to unify user email and user contacts resulted in replacing people’s work and other email addresses in their contacts with Facebook’s user assigned email addresses.  The full article is available here.  To make matters worse, some emails accidentally sent to the user’s Facebook email address were never received by the intended recipient.

Violet Blue, the author of the CNet article, writes,

Facebook users say contacts’ e-mail addresses on phones and personal devices have been altered without their consent — and their e-mail communication is being redirected elsewhere, and lost.

I did not have my Facebook contacts synced with the other apps on my iPhone or home computer which may have prevented contacts alterations from occurring.

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Search Engine Land Submits Letter to FTC Regarding Disclosure Compliance

In early June, Search Engine Land writer, Danny Sullivan, submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission readdressing disclosure compliance of search engines.  The letter is available here.

Sullivan included strong language in his letter, such as:

The idea that a CEO could pen a letter about a competitor’s supposed lack of consumer transparency without a concern that his own company doesn’t follow your guidelines suggests that those guidelines either aren’t taken seriously by some in the search engine industry or aren’t considered applicable to them. I’d like the FTC review to address this.

When the guidelines were drafted, the concern was that consumers might not know what was paid for or not within search engines and assume everything was listed without payment being a factor, since that’s how search engines had historically operated. Compliance with paid placement listings generally seems good. But when it comes to paid inclusion, which was always the trickier issue, compliance seems to be poor.

The letter also included definitions of relevant actors within the search engine field.

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Confidentiality Claims in the European Commission

The European Commission has released new guidelines on filing confidentiality claims.  The documents listed on the European Commission Competition page provide further guidance on how to claim confidentiality and includes practical examples.

Access the new guidelines here.

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The Rick Santorum Google Search

President Obama used tweeting, the Internet, and technology to his campaign advantage.  Rick Santorum… not so much.  It is scary, isn’t it?

Rick Santorum is a Republican candidate running for the 2012 Republican Party Presidential Primaries.  Read more about his party platform at his campaign website here.

Dan Savage is a columnist and gay-rights activist who is well-known for his involvement with the “It Gets Better” Project.  The Project provides a support system and outlet to young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered teens through testimonial videos and other social networking, blogging, and pledging.

In a political outcry, Savage created a website called “Spreading Santorum” which defines Santorum as a lewd sexual activity.  Check out the definition and website here.  As the website popularity grew because of peaked interest and click-throughs, the site moved up the Google Search result list to the very top.

This hurt Santorum’s campaign and caused users to question whether or not search result popularity should be controlled.  Some question whether Santorum can sue for defamation or portrayal in false light.  Does he sue Savage for creating the site?  Does he sue Google for not removing the search result even though it is users that generate popularity?  How strong is the argument when the persona is a public figure running for an election that opens the candidate up to potential ridicule and bad press?  The big question is:  Where is the line on the Internet?

Should a line be drawn?  If a line is drawn, will it hinder growth and innovation on the Internet?  Or will it conflict with freedom of speech?

NPR did a piece on how the Rick Santorum problem has endured and it is available here.

Search Engine Land published a piece on how Rick Santorum is making his Google problem worse.  Read more about it here.  Beta Beat did a similar piece and it is available here.  This blog called the Journal writes about how Santorum needs a online reputation manager.

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Case Blurb: United States v. Antoine Jones

The Supreme Court unanimously decided on January 23, 2012 that attaching a GPS tracker to a car is considered an encroachment on a protected area and thus would require a search warrant.  In this particular case, because the police had not obtained a search warrant when they attached a GPS tracker to Antoine Jones’ Jeep, the Justices held that the evidence and information obtained from the GPS tracker was a violation of the Fourth Amendment and considered an unreasonable search and seizure.

Above the Law has a quick post about this monumental decision available here.  The Washington Post writes about the warrant requirement for GPS trackers here.  The original Supreme Court decision is available in PDF format here.  My friend, Patrick McGrath, published a law journal article on GPS tracking with the Journal of High Technology Law, and the article is available here.

It will be interesting to see what other electronic devices require a warrant under the Fourth Amendment once this decision is implemented into the court system.

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