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Latest News - July 29, 2014

EPIC, Consumer Groups Challenge Facebook on Web Snooping

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.

Obama Drone Order Fails to Safeguard Privacy

According to reports, President Obama is set to issue an executive order on drone privacy. The order would call for the development of voluntary best practices for the commercial use of drones. Senator Markey and Representative Welch immediately responded to the reports with a letter to the President urging "strong, enforceable rules - not voluntary best practices...." EPIC has testified in Congress in support of a comprehensive drone privacy law. EPIC called for drone legislation to include use limitations, data retention limitations, transparency, and public accountability. The Federal Aviation Administration agreed to address drone privacy issues after an EPIC-led coalition petitioned the agency two years ago. Last year, EPIC urged the agency to mandate minimum privacy standards for drone operators. For more information, see EPIC: Domestic Drones.

EPIC Tells Congress FTC Does Not Enforce Consent Orders

EPIC has sent a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Regulation stating that the Federal Trade Commission rarely enforces "Section 5" consent orders. EPIC also said that the Commission has never modified a consent order in response to public comments or required companies to implement the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. The Committee believed the Commission has gone too far to protect the privacy of American consumers. EPIC wrote "the opposite is true." Senator Rockefeller also wrote a letter, urging the Committee not to interfere in the FTC's "well-established legal authority." For more information, see EPIC: Wyndham Hotels and EPIC: FTC.

EPIC Urges Privacy Board to Address Concerns About 12333 Surveillance Authority

EPIC National Security Counsel Jeramie Scott has urged the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to focus on surveillance conducted under Executive Order 12333. The Executive Order, signed in 1981, granted broad surveillance authority to the Intelligence Community with little oversight. The Order has enabled vast surveillance of Americans, but has received little attention. EPIC previously urged the Privacy Board to establish greater legal protection for metadata, increase safeguards for personal data, and minimize data collection. At the Board's first public meeting in 2012, EPIC recommended that the Board ensure Privacy Act adherence and investigate privacy concerns with the Fusion Center program, closed-circuit television surveillance, body scanners, surveillance drones, and Suspicious Activity Reporting. So far, the Privacy Board has focused almost entirely on "section 215" and "section 702" surveillance programs. For more information, See EPIC: Executive Order 12333.

Privacy Lawsuit Against Google for Policy Change Moves Forward

A federal court in California has ruled that a class action privacy lawsuit against Google can continue. The plaintiffs are Android users who sued Google in 2012 after the company consolidated user data across many separate services, including Gmail, Google+, and Youtube. They allege that Google concealed a plan to modify its privacy policies and also that Google violated the privacy policy for GooglePlay. After dismissing similar claims, the court held that the case may now go forward. In 2012, EPIC objected to the same change in Google's policy and urged the Federal Trade Commission to block the change because of a 2011 consent order in which Google agreed not to combine user data without user consent. After the FTC failed to act, EPIC sued the agency. Members of Congress, state Attorneys General, European Justice Officials, technical experts, and IT managers in government and the private sector also expressed concern about the 2012 Google policy change. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. FTC (Google Consent Order) and EPIC: FTC.

EPIC Files Lawsuit For Details of Government Profiling System

EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about a controversial government data mining program, operated by the Department of Homeland Security. The "Analytical Framework for Intelligence" contains a vast amount of sensitive personal information obtained from government agencies and the private sector. The system is used by the DHS for link analysis, anomaly detection, pattern analysis, and predictive modeling. The system also incorporates "risk assessment" scores from the Automated Targeting System also operated by the DHS. EPIC has urged the suspension of the risk assessment system, arguing that the use of such factors as race and nationality in a government database is unconstitutional. The case is EPIC v. Customs and Border Protection, No 14-1217 (D.D.C. filed 7/18/2014). For more information see: EPIC: Automated Targeting System, EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: EPIC v. Customs and Border Protection (Analytical Framework for Intelligence).

EPIC Uncovers Complaints from Education Department about Misuse of Education Records

EPIC has obtained documents from the Department of Education detailing parent and student complaints about the misuse of educational records. The Department released the documents in response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act request. The documents reveal that schools and districts have disclosed students' personal records without consent, possibly in violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The documents also reveal that the Department failed to investigate many FERPA complaints. EPIC is expecting to receive more documents about the agency’s enforcement of the federal student privacy law. For more information, see EPIC: Student Privacy and EPIC: Open Government.

EPIC Seeks Government Report about Security of Internet Voting

EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Defense for records detailing the security of online voting. The agency administers the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which has promoted online voting and provided funding to states for internet voting technology. Computer scientists have expressed concern about the reliability of these systems and privacy risks for voters. At a Congressional hearing in 2012, the agency promised to release the results of security tests it had conducted on voting software by December 2012. Because the agency has failed to make the test results public, EPIC has demanded these results, as well as related documents, be disclosed. For more information see: EPIC: Open Government and EPIC: Voting Privacy.

Following EPIC Complaint, Senator Seeks Investigation of Facebook User Manipulation Study

Senator Mark Warner has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the legality of Facebook's emotional manipulation study. In a letter to the Commission, Senator Warner stated that "it is not clear whether Facebook users were adequately informed and given an opportunity to opt-in or opt-out." He asked the FTC to conduct an investigation to see "if this 2012 experiment violated Section 5 of the FTC Act or the 2011 consent agreement with Facebook," two issues raised in EPIC's earlier complaint. "The company purposefully messed with people's minds," wrote EPIC in a complaint to the Commission. EPIC charged that Facebook violated a consent decree that required the company to respect user privacy and also engaged in a deceptive trade practice. EPIC has asked the FTC to require that Facebook make public the News Feed algorithm. For more information, see EPIC: In re Facebook, EPIC: In re Facebook (Psychological Study), and EPIC: FTC.

Global Survey: Widespread Opposition to US Communications Surveillance, Drones

A new survey from Pew Research finds overwhelming opposition to the US monitoring of emails and phone calls. There appears to be little variation by region or culture, with high levels of opposition found in countries in Europe, South America, Asia, and the Middle East. According to the survey "Global Opinions of U.S. Surveillance," the four countries that believe US surveillance is acceptable are the United States, the Philippines, India, and Nigeria. A related Pew Survey found widespread opposition to drone strikes. For more information, see EPIC: Public Opinion on Privacy.

Pew Research Publishes "Net Threats" Report

The Pew Research Internet Project has released a "Canvassing of Experts" that finds growing concerns about the future of the Internet. According to the report, current trends could "sharply disrupt the way the Internet works for many users." Among the threats identified: state censorship, surveillance, diminished user trust, commercialization and centralization. EPIC President Marc Rotenberg pointed to the growing concentration of the Internet industry and said "There should be many information sources, more distributed, and with less concentration of control....We need many more small and mid-size firms that are stable and enduring." For more information, see EPIC: Public Opinion on Privacy.

FTC Sues Amazon Over Billing for Childrens' In-App Purchases

The FTC has filed a lawsuit alleging that "Amazon.com, Inc. has billed parents and other account holders for millions of dollars in unauthorized in-app charges incurred by children." FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said, "Amazon's in-app system allowed children to incur unlimited charges on their parents' accounts without permission. Even Amazon's own employees recognized the serious problem its process created." The FTC recently settled similar charges with Apple. In that case, the FTC charged Apple with "billing consumers for millions of dollars of charges incurred by children in kids' mobile apps without their parents' consent." Under the terms of the settlement, Apple must provide a refund for affected consumers and must change its billing practices to ensure that it has obtained express, informed consent from consumers before charging them for items sold in mobile apps. Previously, EPIC filed a complaint with the FTC over Amazon's collection of children's data. EPIC explained that Amazon was violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act by allowing children to post content, including personally identifiable information, without their parents' permission. EPIC currently has several complaints pending with the FTC. For more information, see EPIC: FTC.

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