Concerns are growing around privacy and government surveillance in today’s hyper-connected world. Technology is smarter and faster than ever — and so are government strategies for listening in. As a lawyer for the ACLU, Jennifer Granick (TED Talk: How the US government spies on people who protest — including you) works to demystify the murky legal landscape of privacy civil rights, protecting our freedom of privacy against government and private interests. We spoke with her about the battle against government surveillance, how you can keep your data safe and why legal transparency — and legal action — is vital.
In your talk at TEDxStanford, you detail some of the history and methods of government surveillance in the United States. Can you elaborate on how these methods have evolved as technology has advanced?
As Supreme Court Justice John Roberts put it, it’s the difference between “a ride on horseback [and] a flight to the moon.” The amount of information that’s available about us is exponentially more; the ease of accessing it and analyzing it, because of big data tools, storage and machine searching, is categorically different. At the same time, the laws that are intended to protect our privacy have been downgraded repeatedly, most recently in the name of the War on Terror. Everything is bigger; there’s just so much more out there.
In your talk, you mentioned that Section 702 of the FISA amendments (which allows US government agencies to surveil “foreign terrorist threats”) expired in 2017. What kind of impact will that have on the landscape of surveillance?
There was a long political battle about 702 and trying to amend it. What ended up happening is that Congress just reauthorized it, and passed it as part of a larger bill with no real reform. The movement to try to do something about it utterly failed. What it means is that right now, with more confidence than ever before, the intelligence community and [its] agencies can gather information in the name of targeting foreigners and store all of that information. So, they can search through conversations we’re having with people overseas. The news that’s happened since then shows that there are still mistakes and problems with the way these intelligence agencies are handling the information, and that they’re regularly breaking the rules. There was a recent story about the FBI violating the 702 rules. There’s no accountability to comply with the law; weak as it is, it’s basically not a concern.
What role do tech companies like Amazon and Facebook play in perpetuating these surveillance efforts?
Companies don’t want to comply with a whole bunch of legal processes, but when they do, they want it to be clear what they’re supposed to do, and they don’t want any liability for it. The companies have had some comments about wanting to restrain government surveillance to legitimate purposes to reassure their non-American users, and they’ve pushed for some sort of clarity and regularity in how surveillance is going to happen. They came out in favor of a more controlled exercise of 702, but no real reform. They also supported the Cloud Act which is a recent law that basically enables foreign governments to access information stored here in the US without meeting the higher standard of US legal process. They’re not consistently civil libertarians or privacy advocates.
Read the full article here: https://blog.ted.com/the-terrifying-now-of-big-data-and-surveillance-a-conversation-with-jennifer-granick/