Category Archives: Privacy

Quote of the day: Incestuous panopticon duopoly

From novelist and civil libertarian Cory Doctorow in a Simon Willmetts interview for Jacobin:

Many historians have observed that social surveillance was the norm in the small agricultural towns where everybody knew everybody else’s business in the seventeenth century. Even if the only “everyone” whose business you knew were people who lived nearby, you had a very intimate view into their lives. There are ways in which that is corrosive.

But it’s a different kind of corrosiveness to the kind of overwhelming corporate and state surveillance. The argument I hear more often than the “sousveillance” argument is that corporations are scarier than governments, or governments are scarier than corporations. But the reality is that the only reason overwhelming surveillance is possible is because, on the one hand, the state has failed to regulate private data collection and, on the other, the state raids corporate databases.

After the Church Committee in the 1970s, when the FBI’s surveillance powers were limited, the credit bureaus sprang up. A lot of them were started by ex-FBI agents, and although they supplied intelligence to mortgage lenders and lots of other entities, their major client was the FBI. The FBI wasn’t allowed to maintain dossiers on people unless they had specific, articulable criminal suspicions about them, but credit bureaus were.

Whether you are worried about the state surveilling you or corporations surveilling you, the problem of mass surveillance is inseparable from state or corporate surveillance. When you have one, you’ll have the other, and until you rein in one, you’ll never rein in the other.

Panopticon profiteering hits Texas highways

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation [emphasis added]:

Vigilant Solutions, one of the country’s largest brokers of vehicle surveillance technology, is offering a hell of a deal to law enforcement agencies in Texas: a whole suite of automated license plate reader (ALPR) equipment and access to the company’s massive databases and analytical tools—and it won’t cost the agency a dime.

Even though the technology is marketed as budget neutral, that doesn’t mean no one has to pay. Instead, Texas police fund it by gouging people who have outstanding court fines and handing Vigilant all of the data they gather on drivers for nearly unlimited commercial use.

ALPR refers to high-speed camera networks that capture license plate images, convert the plate numbers into machine-readable text, geotag and time-stamp the information, and store it all in database systems. EFF has long been concerned with this technology, because ALPRs typically capture sensitive location information on all drivers—not just criminal suspects—and, in aggregate, the information can reveal personal information, such as where you go to church, what doctors you visit, and where you sleep at night.

Vigilant is leveraging H.B. 121, a new Texas law passed in 2015 that allows officers to install credit and debit card readers in their patrol vehicles to take payment on the spot for unpaid court fines, also known as capias warrants. When the law passed, Texas legislators argued that not only would it help local government with their budgets, it would also benefit the public and police.

Headline of the day II: Usual suspects, usual things

From The Independent:

Government has been allowing UK firms to sell invasive spying equipment to countries including Saudi Arabia, records show

The licenses include tools that can listen in on an entire country’s internet network, and others that can pinpoint and tune into phone calls

Chart of the day: What do you feel like sharing

From a new Pew Research Center survey [PDF], Americans reveal where and what they’re willingness to share in today’s high tech panopticon society. And click on the image to enlarge:


Chart of the day: Parental digital monitoring

From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Digital

Paul Conrad, 1975: 40 years later and no change

Another blast from the past from the brilliant Paul Conrad, the late, great editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Conrad 1975

Headline of the day: What Fourth Amendment?

From the Washington Post:

Federal judge: Drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home