A Week in Review - April 8th, 2016

EVENT NOTICE: If you will be in the San Francisco, CA, area on April 13th, you may wish to consider attending the free "De-Identification: Practice and Policy" forum put on by the Future of Privacy Forum, EY, and Privacy Analytics.  From the registration invitation: "This half-day forum will include panel discussions on topics such as common uses of de-identification, implementation and best practices, and case studies. We encourage audience participation and knowledge sharing.

In a recently released ruling, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Appeals Court determined that it is legal and "fine" for police to blatantly lie about their reason for a traffic stop.  The Court wrote: 'Is it fine for police officers flatly to tell drivers they stop that they observed—or thought they observed—a traffic violation when they really did not? We hold today that it is.'"

A published video details a 2014 incident in which SC police officers stopped a vehicle for displaying a temporary license and then subjected the passenger to repeated rectal violations in open view of passing vehicles.  While the linked article appears to fixated on race, we are more concerned with the fact that the initial stop was not legitimate (the "paper tags" were not expired) and that two officers - who have faced no discipline for their actions, as of this writing - felt is was "fine" to violate both the person and the rights of a citizen who had committed no crime.  Read on the heels the story above, the implications are chilling.

In a small victory for Fourth Amendment rights, Florida will now require criminal charges before seizing private assets.  S.B. 1044 was signed into law, ensuring that "a property seizure may only take place if the owner of the property is arrested for a crime for which said property would be described as 'contraband.' That appears to put in place restrictions that would avoid a federal bypass."

Reddit.com's "warrant canary" - a paragraph explicitly stating a site has not been asked to divulge user information nor are they under a federal gag order about doing so - has been removed.  This has raised eyebrows - and alarm - over potential intrusion and compromise of the social news networking site by federal agencies.

Seventeen Democrat attorneys general held a press conference to announce their intent to 'pursue to the fullest extent of the law' companies denying human-cause climate change.  NY's AG Eric Schneiderman warned that such companies "are committing fraud by 'lying' about the dangers," And CA's AG Kamala Harris has "already launched investigations into ExxonMobil for allegedly funding research that questioned climate change.” 

The smartphone instant messaging application WhatsApp announced that it is now providing ProtonMail-style end-to-end encryption for its nearly one billion users, supporting all platforms "from iPhones to Android phones to Windows phones to old school Nokia flip phones." Per the owners statement, "not even WhatsApp’s employees can read the data that’s sent across its network.... WhatsApp has no way of complying with a court order demanding access to the content of any message, phone call, photo, or video traveling through its service."

The office of CA Attorney General Kamala Harris raided the home of an activist who had filmed Planned Parenthood representatives negotiating the sale of fetal tissue, seizing his computers and video files.  AG Harris - currently campaigning for the U.S. Senate and threatening to prosecute "climate change deniers" - did not issue a subpoena first, opting instead for a physical raid of the premises.

Data analysis start "Predata" is offering risk assessment service based on software that "vacuums up vast quantities of data from online conversations and comments... monitors about 1,000 Twitter feeds, 10,000 Wikipedia pages, 50,000 YouTube videos, and several dozen newspapers and magazines in some 200 countries."  They offer their clients "analytical and predictive capabilities, including the ability to... track the movement of signals, compute statistical correlations, and generate predictive models" based on online comments and postings from people like us.

According to Dell’s new report (PDF) on the underground hacker market, hiring a hacker to compromise email and social media accounts can be done for as little as $129USD.  Per the linked article, "hackers are providing customer support, they do not ask for prepayments, promise fast results (depending on the complexity of the hack) and promise complete confidentiality, saying that victims won’t noticed they’ve been hacked."

A CA bill would require models to have letter of fitness - based on state-defined body mass and nutrition guidelines - approved by a physician before they could work in the state.  The intrusion into personal habits are justified as being protective of models' health and assuring "that our children will see healthy images on magazines and fashion websites.”  If passed, this will establish the precedent that government has the legal right to keep someone from working based on state-defined standards.  Perhaps you shouldn't be a sedentary software developer unless you prove to your doctor that you've improved your cardio....

The TSA - known for failing every test of their security prowess and most famous for the inappropriate groping of American travelers - may be given "ready access to additional terrorism-related databases maintained by the intelligence community when vetting airport workers." While it would be nice to think this new, Senate-proposed tool would be used to improve the performance of the agency, it seems far more likely that it will be abused, as they have abused every other tool provided them.

This month, PA voters will have the power to abolish a court infamous for its corruption, eliminating it from the state Constitution. Per the linked editorial, "Traffic Court was so corrupt that a federal jury found four of its judges guilty of lying to a grand jury or the FBI in a sprawling ticket-fixing case. Three more pleaded guilty to fixing tickets, one of them in exchange for the seafood and dirty DVDs. Another, found not guilty in the ticket-fixing case, pleaded guilty to separate tax charges."

In New Jersey, gun laws have now been "loosened" to allow gun owners the freedom to fuel their vehicles or stop at a restroom when driving back from the shooting range, and to allow issuance of a firearm permit "in as little as a month" if you can prove serious threats against your life.  While any victory is a step in the right direction, the fact that stopping to relieve yourself has been a crime and that imminent danger still requires a month's wait for permission to arm yourself is deplorable.  Consider it an epilogue to last month's piece, Explaining the Objections to Background Checks.