Latest News - August 20, 2014
Senator Charles Schumer has denounced the data collection practices of "activity trackers" such as FitBit. "Activity trackers" are mobile devices that record highly personal information about the wearer and constantly analyze the wearer's activities, including their diet, exercise, sleep, and even sexual habits. However, it is not clear whether federal privacy law protects this personal data from disclosure to third parties. EPIC has commented extensively on the privacy protections that are necessary in the "internet of things." EPIC has frequently pointed out the potential for misuse when companies collect data about sensitive consumer behavior. EPIC has made several recommendations to improve the privacy protections on devices such as "activity trackers," including requiring companies to adopt Privacy Enhancing Techniques, respect a consumer’s choice not to tracked, profiled, or monitored, minimize data collection, and ensure transparency in both design and operation of Internet-connected devices. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Practical Privacy Tools.
In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice, EPIC has obtained many documents about the NSA's Internet Metadata program. These include the Government's original FISA application seeking authorization to collect data from millions of e-mails, as well as declarations from NSA officials describing the program. The documents show that FISA Court Judge John Bates chastised the agency for "long-standing and pervasive violations of the prior [court] orders in this matter.'' The FISA Court first authorized the program in 2004, but the documents obtained by EPIC show that the legal justification was not provided to Congress until 2009. The documents also reveal that the DOJ withheld information about the program in testimony for the Senate Intelligence hearing prior to the reauthorization of the legal authority. The program was shut down in 2011 after a detailed review. For more information, see EPIC v. DOJ (FISA Pen Register) and EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The Federal Trade Commission has responded to EPIC's letter urging the agency to oppose a collusive Google class action settlement. The agency stated that it "systematically monitors compliance" with its consumer protection orders and that it "takes alleged violation[s] of an order seriously," but that it cannot publicly disclose details of its investigations until a formal complaint is issued. In 2010, Google was sued for sharing user web browsing information with advertisers. Under the proposed settlement agreement, Google will distribute several million dollars to a handful of organizations, many of which already have ties to the company. EPIC and other privacy organizations urged the Commission to formally object because the proposed agreement "confers no monetary relief to class members, compels no change in Google's behavior, and misallocates the cy pres distribution." The agency has a history of filing objections - it filed a similar objection in Fraley v. Facebook, an unfair class action settlement in the Ninth Circuit. For more information see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Search Engine Privacy.
EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Central Intelligence Agency Inspect General's report detailing the agency's surveillance of the Congressional Intelligence Committee. In March 2014, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly accused the CIA of secretly removing documents from the Committee, searching computers used by the Committee, and attempting to intimidate congressional investigators by requesting a Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry of their conduct. The Committee had been investigating the CIA's torture program. After Senator Feinstein publicly accused the agency of spying, the CIA's Inspector General conducted an investigation and concluded that the agency's actions had been improper. However, the Inspector General has failed to the actual report public. EPIC has demanded a copy of the full report, as well as associated documents. For more information see: EPIC: FOIA Cases and EPIC v. CIA (Domestic Surveillance).
EPIC, along with a group of consumer privacy organizations, has asked the Federal Trade Commission to object to an unfair class action settlement in California federal court. In 2010, Google was sued for sharing user web browsing information with advertisers. Under the proposed settlement agreement, Google will distribute several million dollars to a handful of organizations, many of which already have ties to the company. EPIC and other privacy organizations have argued that the proposed agreement "confers no monetary relief to class members, compels no change in Google's behavior, and misallocates the cy pres distribution" to organizations that are "not aligned with the interests of class members and do not further the purpose of the litigation." The consumer groups, who have already written to the court opposing the settlement, urged the Federal Trade Commission to object as well. The agency filed a similar objection in Fraley v. Facebook, an unfair class action settlement in the Ninth Circuit. For more information, see EPIC: FTC and EPIC: Search Engine Privacy.
EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain details about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's surveillance programs. The agency is required to conduct privacy impact assessments when it collects and uses personal data. However, the Bureau has failed to publicly release privacy impact assessments for many of its programs, including facial recognition, drones, and license plate readers. According to the E-Government Act and Justice Department guidelines, all privacy assessments should be made public if practicable. EPIC, joined by a coalition of organizations, recently urged the Attorney General to immediately conduct a privacy assessment of the FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) program. The NGI program collects massive amounts of biometric data on U.S. citizens. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. FBI - Privacy Assessments.
EPIC has filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests for documents related to the Government's collection of private communications data under Executive Order 12333. EPIC is seeking secret policies that govern the collection of Internet data by U.S. intelligence agencies outside of the United States. Former government officials have warned that these procedures allow the government to spy on Americans in violation the Fourth Amendment. The Washington Post also reported last year that the NSA had infiltrated private communications held on servers abroad. EPIC's requests to the Attorney General, the Director of National Intelligence, the NSA and other intelligence agencies will help to shed light on these invasive programs. For more information, see EPIC: Executive order 12333.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of EPIC today in a Freedom of Information Act case seeking the full text of National Security Presidential Directive 54, a previously-secret Presidential order granting the government broad authority over cybersecurity matters. EPIC successfully obtained the Directive from the NSA, and the DC Circuit has vacated the lower court’s Fall 2013 ruling that NSPD-54 was not an “agency record” subject to the FOIA. The Directive also includes the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative and evidences government efforts to enlist private sector companies to assist in monitoring Internet traffic. EPIC has several related FOIA cases against the NSA pending in federal court. For more information, see EPIC v. NSA: NSPD-54 Appeal and EPIC: Freedom of Information Act Cases.
Today, Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced legislation to require privacy safeguards for education records and prohibit the use of student information for advertising purposes. The "Protecting Student Privacy Act of 2014" would give students the right to access and amend their records that are held by private companies. The bill also requires schools to minimize the amount of personally identifiable information transferred to private companies. The bill requires companies to destroy student information "when the information is no longer needed for the specified purpose." The bill incorporates many of the proposals EPIC set out in the Student Privacy Bill of Rights. Senator Markey announced plans to introduce student privacy legislation earlier this year at EPIC's public panel on student privacy. For more information, see EPIC: Student Privacy.
Today Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), joined by Democratic and Republican Senators, introduced legislation to end the NSA's practice of collecting telephone records of Americans. Leahy described the bill as "the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act 13 years ago." The USA Freedom Act would require require the government to specify specific "search terms" to obtain telephone record information. The government would have to demonstrate that it has a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that the search term is associated with a foreign terrorist organization. The bill also requires a comprehensive transparency report for the use of FISA surveillance authorities. However, the bill exempts the FBI from certain reporting requirements. Civil liberties organizations support the bill. EPIC previously filed a Petition for Mandamus with the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to end the bulk collection of American's phone records. EPIC's petition was supported by legal scholars, technical experts, and former members of the Church Committee. For more information, see In re EPIC and EPIC: FISA Reform.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has issued the 2013 Wiretap Report, detailing the use of surveillance authorities by law enforcement agencies. This annual report, one of the most comprehensive issued by any agency, provides an insight into the debate over surveillance authorities and the use of privacy-enhancing technologies. In 2013, wiretap applications increased 5%, from 3,576 to 3,395. Authorities encountered encryption during 41 investigations, but encryption prevented the government from deciphering messages in only 9 cases. This statistic contradicts claims that law enforcement agencies are "going dark" as new technologies emerge. Of the 3,074 individuals arrested based on wiretaps in 2013, only 709 individuals were convicted based on wiretap evidence. EPIC has repeatedly called on greater transparency of FISA surveillance, citing the Wiretap Report as a model for other agencies. EPIC also maintains a comprehensive index of the annual wiretap reports and FISA reports. For more information, see EPIC: Title III Wiretap Orders, EPIC: Wiretapping, and EPIC: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
EPIC, along with a coalition of consumer groups, has urged the Federal Trade Commission to block Facebook's plan to collect users' web browsing history. Facebook recently announced plans to collect user data from sites all over the web. But the practice may violate a Federal Trade Commission order prohibiting Facebook from changing its business practices without users' express consent. The groups asked the FTC "to act immediately to notify the company that it must suspend its proposed change in business practices to determine whether it complies with current U.S. and EU law." EPIC has also filed a FOIA request, seeking the FTC's communications with Facebook about this change. For more information, see EPIC: Facebook Privacy, EPIC: Online Tracking and Behavioral Privacy, and EPIC: FTC.
Top News Archive
Vote For EPIC's SXSWedu 2015 Panel
"Data Privacy: Can Innovation and Privacy Coexist?"
Vote for EPIC's SXSW Interactive 2015 Panel
"When Brands Get Creepy: Where to Draw the Line?"
EPIC in the News
Eight Ways to Protect Student Data
Harvard Education Letter
Obama admin thwarting release of public data under FOIA, lawsuit charges
August 18, 2014
More EPIC in the News >>
Privacy Interests: Big Data, UAVs and SNS
Director, EPIC Open Government Project
The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School
August 13, 2014
"Developing Policies for the Internet of Things"
Aspen Institute Communication and Society Program
Aug 13-16, 2014
More EPIC Events >>
Recent EPIC Events
EPIC 2014 Champion of Freedom Awards Dinner
June 2, 2014
January 14, 2014
USA Today: Facebook Study Sparks Outrage and an FCC Complaint
Designing Technology to Restore Privacy: Deborah C. Peel, MD at TEDxTraverseCity 2014
Privacy Video Archive >>
In re EPIC
In re EPIC
(Petition to U.S. Supreme Court Challenging NSA Telephone Records Program)
EPIC FOIA Cases
EPIC v. DOJ
(Government Surveillance Reports)
More EPIC FOIA Cases >>
EPIC Amicus Briefs
Riley v. California
(Warrantless Search of a Cell Phone During an Arrest)
More EPIC Amicus Briefs >>
Other EPIC Filings
Facebook - WhatsApp
More EPIC Filings >>