October 11, 2015

Notes on privacy and surveillance, October 11, 2015

1. European Union data sovereignty laws have long had a “Safe Harbour” rule stating it was OK to ship data to the US. Per the case Maximilian Schrems v Data Protection Commissioner, this rule is now held to be invalid. Angst has ensued, and rightly so.

The core technical issues are roughly:

Facebook’s estimate of billions of dollars in added costs is not easy to refute.

My next set of technical thoughts starts:

2. US law enforcement is at loggerheads with major US tech companies, because it wants the right to subpoena data stored overseas. The central case here is a request to get at Microsoft’s customer data stored in Ireland. A government victory would be catastrophic for the US tech industry, but I’m hopeful that sense will — at least to some extent — prevail.

3. Ed Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and numerous other luminaries are pushing something called the Snowden Treaty, as a model for how privacy laws should be set up. I’m a huge fan of what Snowden and Greenwald have done in general, but this particular project has not started well. First, they’ve rolled the thing out while actually giving almost no details, so they haven’t really contributing anything except a bit of PR. Second, one of the few details they did provide contains a horrific error.

Specifically, they “demand”

freedom from damaging publicity, public scrutiny …

To that I can only say: “Have you guys lost your minds???????” As written, that’s a demand that can only be met by censorship laws. I’m sure this error is unintentional, because Greenwald is in fact a stunningly impassioned and articulate opponent of censorship. Even so, that’s an appallingly careless mistake, which for me casts the whole publicity campaign into serious doubt.

4. As a general rule — although the details of course depend upon where you live — it is no longer possible to move around and be confident that you won’t be tracked. This is true even if you’re not a specific target of surveillance. Ways of tracking your movements include but are not limited to:

5. The previous point illustrates that the strong form of the Snowden Treaty is a pipe dream — it calls for a prohibition on mass surveillance, and that will never happen, because:

The huge problem with these truisms, of course, is scope creep. Once the data exists, it can be used for many more purposes than the few we’d all agree are actually OK.

6. That, in turn, leads me back to two privacy posts that I like to keep reminding people of, because they make points that aren’t commonly found elsewhere:

Whether or not you basically agree with me about privacy and surveillance, those two posts may help flesh out whatever your views on the subject actually are.


One Response to “Notes on privacy and surveillance, October 11, 2015”

  1. Fazal Majid on October 12th, 2015 3:34 am

    From my reading of the verdict, transferring Austrian data to the US for analysis would also be forbidden, i.e. it isn’t only about storage. If Microsoft loses to the DoJ, a US company would not be allowed to operate even if it operates data centers in Europe.

    One little scrutinized mechanism for tracking movements is Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS). Those little wireless pressure sensors are mandated by law in all cars built after 2007. While they are useful at alerting you of potentially catastrophic tire depressurization, they can also be used to track you as each TPM has its own 28-bit to 32-bit unique ID:

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