Victory for Privacy as Supreme Court Rules Warrantless Phone Location Tracking Unconstitutional

This is a very important ruling that should serve as a good precedent for technologically-based privacy rights in the future.

The Supreme Court handed down a landmark opinion today in Carpenter v. United States, ruling 5-4 that the Fourth Amendment protects cell phone location information. In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court recognized that location information, collected by cell providers like Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon, creates a “detailed chronicle of a person’s physical presence compiled every day, every moment over years.” As a result, police must now get a warrant before obtaining this data.

This is a major victory. Cell phones are essential to modern life, but the way that cell phones operate—by constantly connecting to cell towers to exchange data—makes it possible for cell providers to collect information on everywhere that each phone—and by extension, each phone’s owner—has been for years in the past. As the Court noted, not only does access to this kind of information allow the government to achieve “near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user,” but, because phone companies collect it for every device, the “police need not even know in advance whether they want to follow a particular individual, or when.”

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Perhaps the most significant part of today’s ruling for the future is its explicit recognition that individuals can maintain an expectation of privacy in information that they provide to third parties. The Court termed that a “rare” case, but it’s clear that other invasive surveillance technologies, particularly those than can track individuals through physical space, are now ripe for challenge in light of Carpenter. Expect to see much more litigation on this subject from EFF and our friends.

Verizon and AT&T Want to Run Invasive Phone Ad-Tracking Networks

Smartphones today are essentially surveillance devices — perhaps the most intimate surveillance devices in general. If they’re left on (as is common), they know where people travel (it’s a necessity to keep a connection to phone towers and many apps track location), who they associate with (probably who they have sex with), what they do (seeing as they’re computers that people interact with on average for hours a day), and to top it all off, they can be turned into listening devices if the phone is hacked. Adding more intrusive surveillance to this (via more ad-tracking) would be horrible news for consumer privacy, and since privacy and security are so often intertwined today, it’ll end up being bad news for consumer security somehow too.

 

NSA Expands Mass Surveillance to Triple Its Collection of U.S. Phone Records

Mass surveillance is damaging to privacy generally and ineffective at preventing stateless terror attacks — its main effect is to increase repressive control.

The National Security Agency (NSA) collected over 530 million phone records of Americans in 2017—that’s three times the amount the spy agency sucked up in 2016.

The figures were released Friday in an annual report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

It shows that the number of “call detail records” the agency collected from telecommunications providers during Trump’s first year in office was 534 million, compared to 151 million the year prior.

“The intelligence community’s transparency has yet to extend to explaining dramatic increases in their collection,” said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute.

The content of the calls itself is not collected but so-called “metadata,” which, as Gizmodo notes, “is supposedly anonymous, but it can easily be used to identify an individual. The information can also be paired with other publicly available information from social media and other sources to paint a surprisingly detailed picture of a person’s life.”

The report also revealed that the agency, using its controversial Section 702 authority, increased the number of foreign targets of warrantless surveillance. It was 129,080 in 2017 compared to 106,469 in 2016.

As digital rights group EFF noted earlier this year,

Under Section 702, the NSA collects billions of communications, including those belonging to innocent Americans who are not actually targeted. These communications are then placed in databases that other intelligence and law enforcement agencies can access—for purposes unrelated to national security—without a warrant or any judicial review.

“Overall,” Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at the Project On Government Oversight, said to ZDNet, “the numbers show that the scale of warrantless surveillance is growing at a significant rate, but ODNI still won’t tell Americans how much it affects them.”

New Coating for Devices Would Make Them Much More Resistant

Good news for the safety of electronics, especially with regards to their potential exposure to liquids.

Sometimes our phones end up in the toilet bowl, or laptops end up covered in tea. It happens.

But if they were coated with an ‘omniphobic’ material, like the one created by a team of University of Michigan researchers, your devices would be a lot more likely to come out unscathed.

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This everything-proof material works by combining fluorinated polyurethane and fluorodecyl polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane (F-POSS).

F-POSS has an extremely low surface energy, which means that things don’t stick to it.

The coating developed by the team stands out from other similar materials because of the clever way these two ingredients work together, forming a more durable product.

“In the past, researchers might have taken a very durable substance and a very repellent substance and mixed them together,” Tuteja said.

“But this doesn’t necessarily yield a durable, repellent coating.”

But these two materials have combined so well, they ended up with a durable coating that can repeal everything – oil, water, or anything else the researchers threw at it.

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Although this all sounds amazing, this incredible coating won’t be available quite yet – F-POSS is rare and expensive right now, although that is changing as manufacturers scale up the product, which should lower the cost.