Category: Privacy

1

Update on the Seigenthaler Wikipedia Defamation Case

Wikipedia.jpgPaul Secunda over at Workplace Prof Blog brings news about an update to the Seigenthaler Wikipedia defamation case I blogged about recently. In the case, an anonymous individual wrote in Seigenthaler’s Wikipedia entry that Seigenthaler was involved in President Kennedy’s assassination. Seigenthaler complained that he was unable to track down the identity of the alleged defamer.

Enter Daniel Brandt, who earlier had complained about information in his Wikipedia profile he claimed was false. I blogged about Brandt’s case a while back. According to the New York Times:

Using information in Mr. Seigenthaler’s article and some online tools, Mr. Brandt traced the computer used to make the Wikipedia entry to the delivery company in Nashville. Mr. Brandt called the company and told employees there about the Wikipedia problem but was not able to learn anything definitive.

Mr. Brandt then sent an e-mail message to the company, asking for information about its courier services. A response bore the same Internet Protocol address that was left by the creator of the Wikipedia entry, offering further evidence of a connection.

Paul Secunda nicely explains what happened next:

Chase later resigned from his job because he did not want to cause problems for his company. Seigenthaler has urged Chase’s boss to rehire him, but so far Chase is still without a job.

Oh, the wrath of bloggers!

More details at the NY Times article and at Paul Secunda’s post.

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3

Airline Screening List Mathematics

airline-screening-list1.jpgWhat do Santa Claus and DHS have in common? They both keep a list of who’s naughty or nice. DHS’s list isn’t quite as large as Santa’s, but it’s getting quite big. From the AFP:

A watchlist of possible terror suspects distributed by the US government to airlines for pre-flight checks is now 80,000 names long, a Swedish newspaper reported, citing European air industry sources.

The classified list, which carried just 16 names before the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington had grown to 1,000 by the end of 2001, to 40,000 a year later and now stands at 80,000, Svenska Dagbladet reported.

Airlines must check each passenger flying to a US destination against the list, and contact the US Department of Homeland Security for further investigation if there is a matching name.

A few days ago, I blogged about a news article that revealed that 30,000 people are wrongly flagged as “matches” on the list.

So applying my very amateur mathematics skills, that means of the 80,000 names on the list, possibly about 30,000 of them (37.5%) match those of an innocent traveler.

Now, I bet that there are repeats, so several of the 30,000 could have the same name. If John Smith is one of the names on the list, it could account for a number of innocent travelers being flagged. Still, these numbers strike me as quite alarming. Something is seriously wrong. Is this really a competent way to go about airline security? What, precisely, gets a name on the list? Why are these lists so bad that they capture so many innocent people?

I guess the DHS is no Santa Claus.

Related Posts:

1. Solove, 30,000 Innocent Travelers Flagged on Airline Screening Lists

2. Solove, The Airline Screening Playset: Hours of Fun!

3. Solove, Airline Screening Stories

4. Solove, When Nuns Can’t Fly

Hat tip: Privacy.org

13

Privacy and Guns

gun2.jpgOver at the Volokh Conspiracy, Eugene Volokh (law, UCLA) fires off a few questions regarding the privacy of gunowners. He asks whether gun registration and licensing records should be available to the public. He also asks whether the requirement in some places that one cannot carry a concealed weapon is “an impermissible burden on people’s privacy.” Eugene writes:

I’m particularly interested in the views of those people who are sympathetic to gun controls — and especially in limits on concealed carry — but also see themselves as supporters of privacy.

Well, that’s me, so I’ll take a shot at responding. Although I am generally sympathetic to gun controls (not absolute bans of guns), I don’t support infringing upon the privacy of gun owners. Often, this is used as a proxy for gun control, and it isn’t a legitimate one or even an effective one.

Gun records should not be publicly available. I haven’t heard a good articulation for why the public needs to know who owns a gun.

However, I generally support government recordkeeping of gun ownership as well as requiring technologies to enhance the traceability of discharged ammo to particular weapons. This might be very useful in solving gun crimes. I would, of course, favor strong protections to prevent government abuse of such data or government dragnet searches of people who own guns.

Regarding open carry laws, I have a hard time understanding the justifications for these laws. Do we really want people walking around with their guns openly displayed in their holsters? This isn’t the Wild West, and I don’t understand the benefits of prohibiting concealed guns. Unless there’s a compelling benefit articulated, I don’t think that open carry laws would be justified against the infringement upon privacy.

5

Should Divorce Records Be Public or Private?

divorce2.jpgA USA Today story raises the issue about whether divorce records should be public or private. The article has a good discussion of the law of divorce record confidentiality, and it has examples of several cases where reporters obtained divorce records of celebrities and politicians in order to glean juicy bits of gossip. One of the most interesting cases involves Republican U.S. Senate candidate Jack Ryan, who ran in Illinois in 2004:

Republican contender Jack Ryan quit the race after news organizations persuaded a Los Angeles judge, over objections by Ryan and his ex-wife, to unseal their 2000 child-custody battle. Jeri Ryan, an actress in TV’s Boston Public and Star Trek: Voyager, had alleged that her husband dragged her to “sex clubs” and asked her to have sex with him in front of strangers. She said she refused. . . .

I’m quoted in the story as siding with keeping divorce records confidential:

Daniel Solove, a professor and privacy advocate at George Washington University Law School, says it was “inappropriate” for the court to release the Ryan allegations. “It’s a private matter, essentially a dispute between this couple. We don’t say, ‘You’re running for politics and your priest should have to divulge confession records.’ ”

But Donald Schiller, a Chicago attorney, says, “If you’re putting your character on the line for voters to see, maybe there should be no secrets. But that shouldn’t apply to the average man or woman.”

Although my quote came out fine, I wouldn’t describe myself as a “privacy advocate.” Both Schiller and I agree that divorce records should be private, but Schiller believes that they shouldn’t be private for politicians. I believe they should be presumed to be private unless there’s a very compelling reason to the contrary. Who’s right, Schiller or myself? What about the divorce records of celebrities? Should they be public because celebrities are public figures? And perhaps, one could argue, divorce records should be public for everybody, even if they’re not famous. After all, people getting a divorce are availing themselves of the courts, and courts are public institutions.

This is a very interesting and contentious issue. States are all over the place when it comes to policies regarding whether divorce records remain sealed or not. The article continues:

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3

30,000 Innocent Travelers Flagged on Airline Screening Lists

airlinescreening1.jpgFrom ZDNET:

About 30,000 airline passengers have discovered since last November that their names were mistakenly matched with those appearing on federal watch lists, a transportation security official said Tuesday.

Jim Kennedy, director of the Transportation Security Administration’s redress office, revealed the errors at a quarterly meeting convened here by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.

The 30,000 are on the “selectee” list, which means they aren’t barred from flying; instead, they are continually singled out for additional screening. If you’re one of the unlucky 30,000, what do you do? Can you rectify the situation? Sort of — and only after a lot of effort:

Kennedy said that travelers have had to ask the TSA to clear their identities from watch lists by submitting a “Passenger Identity Verification Form” and three notarized copies of identification documents. On average, he said, it takes officials 45 to 60 days to evaluate the request and make any necessary changes. . . .

Sounds like fun . . . and getting notarized copies isn’t cheap either. But you’re cleared then, right? Not so fast:

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11

Jennifer Aniston Nude Photos and the Anti-Paparazzi Act

jennifer-aniston1a.jpgpaparazzi1a.jpgJennifer Aniston is suing a paparazzi who took nude photos of her. In a complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, Aniston claims that Peter Brandt took topless photographs of her from a significant distance from her home. He used a high-powered telephoto lens to photograph her at her home. Aniston’s lawyers claim the photos were taken from over a mile away, but Brandt claims that this would be “impossible . . . unless you have something from NASA.”

Jack Chin at CrimProf expresses disbelief at the case:

Nude Photos of Jennifer Aniston can’t possibly be “illegal” if taken from a lawful vantagepoint with commercially available and commonly used equipment, can they? At least, they cannot violate a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” right? But lawyers who filed a lawsuit described on The Smoking Gun say otherwise.

This case is an example of the application of California’s Anti-Paparazzi Act. In a previous post about the Act, I observed:

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5

Subways, Searches, and Slippery Slopes

police-search.jpgThe gloves are off. Dave Hoffman has lodged another challenge to my position, and I want to take a quick moment to defend myself.

I believe that Dave mischaracterizes my arguments in several places and exaggerates some of my claims. So I’ll attempt to clear up any confusion as to my positions and try to defend my turf.

1. I’m not a privacy absolutist. If I were, I wouldn’t even be speaking about whether the subway searches were effective or not, as it would be irrelevant.

2. I am not arguing that we’re on a slippery slope toward totalitarianism. I am arguing that the “show of force” that Jason extols is something that totalitarian societies do, and it has effects on shaping people’s attitudes and their sense of freedom. It has “expressive” content. My argument is not that we’re going to quickly slide down the slope to Big Brother. Rather, my argument is that the searches and other displays of force Jason speaks about are similar tactics to those used in totalitarian societies. They won’t necessarily make us into such a society, but they do introduce different elements into our own society that will have some effect. Allowing police to search people as they travel about the city, without any suspicion of wrongdoing, is a significant change in the tone and tenor of life in NYC. Although this will not lead to the government’s installing telescreens into people’s homes anytime soon, the subway search policy isn’t a trivial initiative. Nor are the other displays of force Jason speaks about. They affect the very atmosphere in which we live.

3. I did not invoke Korematsu to suggest that we’re on a slippery slope to internment. I invoked it to suggest that it involves the same arguments and logic of deference. The point is that the government officials were wrong with regard to the Japanese Internment, and perhaps this should serve as a lesson to courts that government officials do not always know better. It also demonstrates the lengths to which the government can go when security is threatened. I raise Korematsu not as a slippery slope problem but as a cautionary tale that in the face of security threats, the government (and the population at large) can make rash and unwise decisions. This is a reason why courts shouldn’t defer but should keep a very critical eye on the policies adopted by the government in times of crisis.

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12

Rational Security vs. Symbolic Security

cartoon-security1b.bmpSo much for concurring opinions . . . I’ve been attacked by not only one co-blogger, but two. Earlier on, I posted a critique of the court’s decision upholding the NYC subway searching policy against a Fourth Amendment challenge.

Jason Mazzone argues that I’m ignoring a key benefit of the search policy:

The overriding goal of all of these efforts is prevention. The police are no longer charged simply with responding to crimes that have occurred. To succeed, they must stop terrorist attacks before they occur.

The City has taken the view, reasonable in my opinion, that prevention is aided by demonstrating on a regular basis the power of the City’s security forces. Such a demonstration combines awe with surprise.

First, I question whether such demonstrations of force are likely to deter the terrorists, who continually seek to infiltrate the hardest of targets rather than the unfortified ones. The terrorists focus a lot on airplanes, where the security is rather tight compared to many other tragets. So I wonder whether such demonstrations of force really deter terrorists. Perhaps the show of force gives people a sense of security, which, although illusory, is nevertheless comforting. But if this is the goal, should it be a legitimate government policy to create an illusion?

Jason’s argument reminds me of the armed military personnel patrolling airports after 9/11 with machine guns. The guns were unloaded, and the troops were there primarily as symbols of strength. All this cost money, money that wasn’t spent on addressing the real vulnerabilities of air travel. I guess the question is whether it is better to have rational security or symbolic security. My vote is for rational security.

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5

Wiki Thyself

wikipedia3.jpgIn a recent incident on Wikipedia, Adam Curry, a former MTV VJ, was accused of editing an entry on Wikipedia on podcasting to enhance his role in the origins of podcasting. According to a CNET article:

Essentially, Curry is accused of anonymously editing out information in the article that discusses some others’ roles in the creation of the technology while at the same time pumping up his own role.

In particular, he was said to have entirely deleted sections of the article, which addressed innovations originally talked about by Technorati principal engineer Kevin Marks.

“At the first Harvard BloggerCon conference,” in 2003, the original Wikipedia language began, “Kevin Marks demonstrated a script to download RSS enclosures to iTunes and synchronise them onto an iPod, something Adam Curry had been doing with Radio Userland and Applescript.”

But then an anonymous user–who was traced back to Curry via the IP address–deleted the Marks section.

According to another CNET article, Curry believed that the information he deleted was wrong. It wasn’t, and Curry admitted making a mistake. The CNET article raises the issue of whether people should be permitted to create or edit entries on issues where they have a personal interest:

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3

Curtailing Anonymity at Wikipedia

Wikipedia.jpgA few days ago, I blogged about an incident involving a defamatory biography on Wikipedia about John Seigenthaler Sr. According to a New York Times story:

The whole nonprofit enterprise began in January 2001, the brainchild of Jimmy Wales, 39, a former futures and options trader who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. He said he had hoped to advance the promise of the Internet as a place for sharing information.

It has, by most measures, been a spectacular success. Wikipedia is now the biggest encyclopedia in the history of the world. As of Friday, it was receiving 2.5 billion page views a month, and offering at least 1,000 articles in 82 languages. The number of articles, already close to two million, is growing by 7 percent a month. And Mr. Wales said that traffic doubles every four months.

Still, the question of Wikipedia, as of so much of what you find online, is: Can you trust it?

According to the article, Wales is planning to address these problems:

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