Thursday, June 30, 2011

PlaneRed: A new (cheap) solution to TSA harassment and unfriendly skies

From the
From invasive pat-downs of nonagenarians to radiation-spewing scanners, the examples of TSA ineptitude are abundant enough to fill a book. Add in absurdities such as the recent decision of Delta Airlines to partner with Saudia Arabia Air, which requires that the American carrier enforce Sharia law against Jewish passengers, and it begins to seem that air travel just isn’t worth the trouble anymore.

Or so was the case until an enterprising man by the name of Wade Eyerly came up with a plan to build a better mousetrap. His fledgling company, PlaneRed, is the first all-you-can-fly air carrier (actually air service is more like it). Subscribers pay $150 a month for unlimited access to bookings on popular routes.

When the service officially goes airborne, PlaneRed, will serve Atlantic City, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC, but plans are already afoot to extend their routes to destinations as far as California and Texas.

If you’ve bought an airline ticket to almost anywhere in recent memory, you instantly recognize that PlaneRed’s monthly retainer is less than it costs to fly your baggage (Delta and Continental, for example, now charge an extra $175 and $200 respectively for “oversized” bags).

Perhaps best of all, PlaneRed sticks it to the TSA (a pox on them!) by stocking its fleet with planes that seat 9 passengers. TSA only screens planes that carry 10 passengers or more.

The TSA's tentacles spread

It's eight months now since the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) abandoned its last pretence of respect for America's constitutional principles, by mandating no traveller may fly in American airspace unless TSA agents first see and/or feel said traveller's genitalia. That's not hyperbole, just a straightforward description of American law playing out in airports every day. And given America's vast size, lack of mass transit and Americans' generally short vacations from work, flying is often the only feasible way US citizens can travel from points A to B. Yet our government has decreed every such flyer submit to search procedures previously associated with playground-haunting paedophiles and prison rapists.

Eight months of apologists insisting mandatory frottage is acceptable in a free country, and it's unpatriotic and downright mean for people like me to criticise poor working-stiff TSA agents, who, after all, are merely following orders. (Though the agency apparently considers some of those orders 'fringe benefits'; as I type this, the department of homeland security is hiring part-time TSA staff at Logan International Airport in Boston. The online advert calls for 'transportation security officers' over the subheading 'A CAREER WHERE X-RAY VISION AND FEDERAL BENEFITS COME STANDARD.')

Cancer in TSA Employees Rises as the TSA Ignores the Problem

From Technorati Politics:
As if the Fourth Amendment and groping/naked body scans weren't big enough problems for the new TSA regulatory searches, new information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows a rise in cancer among TSA employees operating the body scanner machines and the TSA's attempt to cover up the scary reality of how unsafe these machines are. Some leading scientists are saying there has not been enough testing and data gathered to prove that the machines are safe. Mark Rotenberg from Electronic Privacy Information Center says the Department of Homeland Security has not been forthcoming about the true risks of radiation and has overstated the support of new the new program by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In fact, information obtained by the FOIA shows that the head of the head of the Department of Homeland Security publicly mischaracterized saying that it had it confirmed the safety of the body scanners. The NIST actually warned TSA employees to avoid standing next to the scanners in order to keep exposure to harmful radiation “as low as reasonably achievable.”

Fourth Amendment erosion: Court cases whittle away Fourth Amendment protections

From the
If the home indeed is a castle, Americans may want to start investing in moats.

That's because a pair of recent and reckless assaults on the Fourth Amendment kicked in the quaint notion that a closed door is enough to prevent police from forcing an entry into your home without consent.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its near-unanimous decision in King v. Kentucky, granted police more latitude to break down your door when pursuing drug peddlers.

The ruling centered on a 2005 case involving Lexington police and their pursuit of a man who'd sold crack cocaine to a police informant. Officers lost sight of him when he entered an apartment building.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Voters approve smart meters

Burlington voters said yes to controversial smart electric meters.

Voters approved installing the wireless meters for all customers by a wide margin. Burlington Electric says the high tech meters will help upgrade the power grid, and give customers real time information about the power they are using.

A federal grant will help pay for the $13.5 project.

Some residents had pushed against the plan saying the wireless technology is an invasion of privacy and a waste of money.

Installation of the new meters could start this Fall.

Free to Search and Seize

From the
THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.

In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime.

None of these are landmark decisions. But together they further erode the privilege of privacy that was championed by Congress and the courts in the mid-to-late-20th century, when the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement was applied to the states, unconstitutionally seized evidence was ruled inadmissible in state trials, and privacy laws were enacted following revelations in the 1970s of domestic spying on antiwar and civil rights groups.

Oklahoma Supreme Court says state employees' birth dates are not public record

From the Tulsa World:
The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with the Oklahoma Public Employees Association in a dispute with media outlets over the release of state employee birth dates.

The Tulsa World and The Oklahoman had sought birth-date information for state employees, which the Oklahoma Public Employees Association opposed.

In its opinion, the state's high court said agencies must balance an individual's right to privacy against the public interest in releasing the information.

Remember what the Fourth Amendment protects? No? Just as well.

“We are gathered here today to mourn the loss of a dear friend, the Fourth Amendment. Born on the freedom-loving soil of early America, the Fourth Amendment will be remembered as the bulwark of the liberty we once called privacy. For ye, we mourn.”

As you can see, we’re working on a eulogy for the Fourth Amendment, the part of the Constitution guarding against “unreasonable searches and seizures” — in effect, a privacy provision.

When did the Fourth Amendment die, you ask?

Recently, but it’s been sick for a while.

If you thought feds wanted to track you before, check out now

From WorldNetDaily:
The federal government is arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that police investigators and other authorities should be allowed to track American citizens in the U.S. to develop the 'probable cause' needed for search warrants and other investigative tools.

But a team of civil-rights experts says such permission would pose a grave danger to freedom-loving citizens who may become the targets of the political influences that hold power at any given moment.

The Supreme Court announced yesterday it will weigh in on the controversy of police attaching GPS tracking devices to citizens' vehicles to obtain information that may lead to the 'probable cause' necessary for search warrants and arrests.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Federal appeals court rules search that found nude photos of teen was illegal

From the Daily Reporter:
A federal appeals court has ruled that a policeman acted illegally when he obtained a Lexington man's cellphone containing nude photographs of a teenager.

According to an account in court records, on October 21, 2007, the guardian of the unnamed 14-year-old girl told police that Frankie Joe Little had taken photographs of the teenager in his mobile home while the girl was lying naked on his bed.

Lexington Police Lt. Michael Harper, who knew Little, found the man at Little's mother's home and asked him to come to the police station. When Little went to get a shirt, Harper followed him inside where he took possession of Little's cellphone. It was later found to contain the photographs.

Supreme Court to Decide Constitutionality of Warrantless GPS Monitoring's Threat Level blog:
At the Obama administration’s urging, the Supreme Court agreed Monday to review whether the government, without a court warrant, may affix GPS devices on suspects’ vehicles to track their every move.

The Justice Department told the justices that “a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another,” (.pdf) and demanded the justices undo a lower court decision that reversed the conviction and life sentence of a cocaine dealer whose vehicle was tracked via GPS for a month without a court warrant.

The petition, which will not be decided until the new term begins in October, is arguably one of the biggest Fourth Amendment case in a decade — one weighing the collision of privacy, technology and the Constitution.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Help! The police have broken in

I can't pass up this outrageous invasion of privacy from our friends in the United Kingdom. From the
POLICE have sparked outrage after it emerged that they have been breaking into homes and businesses in a bid to highlight the dangers of burglary.

Officers have been climbing through open windows and leaving calling cards to alert residents to the threat of leaving their property insecure.

One lone woman was shocked when a uniformed officer walked into her front room while she was watching TV. Civil liberties campaigners last night demanded an end to the scheme, calling it an invasion of privacy.

Daniel Hamilton, of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: “This case is symptomatic of the rapid growth of the nanny state. For police officers to be entering people’s homes without invitation is at best hugely ­invasive and, at worse, legally dubious. Trespassing on private property, regardless of any good intention you may have, is a crime."

TSA makes about-face on child patdowns

From AHN:
The Transportation Security Agency has revised its rules on patting down children, two months after it sparked international outrage by frisking a 6-year-old girl and defending the actions of its security personnel.

Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, TSA Administrator John Pistole said screeners would avoid patting down children and would use other means to resolve anomalies detected with young passengers.

Under TSA's policy, pat-downs are conducted after checkpoint alarms and if a person opts out of a full-body scan. The agency uses a modified pat-down for children younger than 12.

T.S.A. Screeners Choose Their Union

From the
Airport screeners around the county have chosen the nation’s largest federal employee union to represent them in collective bargaining talks with the government, federal officials announced Thursday.

The American Federation of Government Employees won a close runoff vote to represent about 44,000 employees at the Transportation Security Administration in the largest union election for federal workers in history.

Federal officials tallying the votes say A.F.G.E. received 8,903 votes, or 51 percent, while National Treasury Employees Union got 8,447 votes, or 49 percent. The runoff was held after neither union received more than 50 percent of votes in the first election earlier this year.

The vote came after John S. Pistole, who heads the T.S.A., agreed in February to grant screeners limited collective bargaining rights for the first time. The screeners, who inspect bags and guide passengers through security, had been among the few federal workers without a union.

Airport screening test will let pilots fly by security checkpoints

From the
New security screening procedures will be tested at O'Hare International Airport starting this summer to allow pilots to speed through checkpoints without undergoing scans or pat-downs, officials said.

It's a first step toward transitioning to a more logical risk-based screening and away from the current system of treating pilots and passengers as equal potential security threats, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Expedited screening of flight attendants, who undergo less rigorous security and background checks than pilots during the hiring process, will occur later, officials said.

The streamlined screening procedures affecting the nation's more than 75,000 airline pilots also may help lead to lines moving more briskly for passengers going through security. At least officials hope that will happen.

TSA and thefts from luggage at LAX: How common is this?

From the
In the last two months, two U.S. Transportation Security Administration officers have been arrested on suspicion of stealing from passenger luggage at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) -- incidents that leave me worrying about how often such theft happens. Judging from official statistics, it seems rare -- or maybe the culprits just don't get caught very often.

On Thursday, TSA officer Paul Yashou, 37, was arrested on suspicion of taking $30,000 worth of items from suitcases at the airport, according to this Daily Breeze story, which also said that a police search of Yashou's home turned up 'numerous items belonging to LAX passengers.'

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said Yashou worked at Terminal 1, where the baggage screening area is in a very public lobby area near ticketing counters. (Side note: Having flown out of Terminal 1 many times, I wonder how the alleged pilfering could took place out of view of other TSA staffers or even passers-by. Melendez said he didn't know either.)

Texas and TSA pat-downs: Gov. Rick Perry revives bill

From the
The decision by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to revive legislation that would criminalize 'intrusive' pat-downs by airport security drew expected praise from grass-roots conservatives, rankled opponents who called it political pandering and reignited threats from federal officials of grounded flights in the state.

But it may not even come to a vote.

HB 41, which would make it a crime for federal agents to touch a person's anus, genitals, buttocks or breasts without probable cause, is at peril of dying in the state House, as Republican Speaker Joe Straus has pledged not to consider it in its current state.

'The bill — without some serious revisions — appears to me to be nothing more than an ill-advised publicity stunt. Unenforceable. Ill-advised. Misdirected to uniformed security personnel. And not where it appropriately should be aimed, which is in Washington, to the bosses of these people,' Straus told reporters Friday.

TSA Defends Diaper Check on Dying 95-Yr-Old Cancer Patient

From the International Business Times:
The Transport Security Administration (TSA) has defended a recent pat-down act on a 95-year old cancer patient, Lena Reppert, who was forced to remove her diaper as part of security check.

Jean Weber, Reppert's daughter, has filed a complaint with the federal authorities over the incident.

However, the TSA stood by its officers and released the following statement:

'While every person and item must be screened before entering the secure boarding area, TSA works with passengers to resolve security alarms in a respectful and sensitive manner. We have reviewed the circumstances involving this screening and determined that our officers acted professionally and according to proper procedure.'

Friday, June 24, 2011

Danish police proposal: Ban anonymous Internet use

From Boing Boing:
The Danish police had proposed abolishing all anonymous Internet access, under the rubric of fighting terrorism. ISPs and companies would be required to gather strong proof of identity (official ID cards and similar) before connecting users, and would be required to retain records.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

License Plate Reader technology helps find stolen vehicles

Sgt. Julio Valcarcel wheels his unmarked sport utility vehicle south onto U.S. 1 in Jessup as motorists whiz by in the opposite direction. The Maryland state trooper is not looking to ticket speeders, but rather is on the hunt for stolen cars.

And he doesn't have to consult a 'hot sheet' to compare license plate numbers, or even remember the make, model and color of vehicles on the stolen-car list.

Images of license plates pop onto his laptop computer screen as the cars go by. An alarms sounds when the computer finds a stolen plate or car, or even a revoked or suspended registration, information stored in a database updated daily by the FBI and the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.
Now I'm wondering where in this article (if anywhere) they bring up potential privacy concerns...nearly two-thirds of the way through:
As the license plate readers become more widely used — even by parking lot owners to help people find their cars — so does the scrutiny. Privacy groups have raised concerns over law enforcement running plate numbers and collecting the data from people not suspected of breaking the law.

"We see no problem as long as the information is can be used legitimately, and used for narrowly tailored purposes" said Meredith Curtis, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Curtis said her group is more concerned with the way the data is kept. "Police are not supposed to be keeping files on people who are not breaking the law," she said.
And here's the kicker:
Valcarcel said police agencies typically keep the information for up to a year before removing it from the system.
Yes, police agencies in Maryland typically store scanned license plates for a year, even if you're not suspected of anything!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wiretap picture frame

This isn't really an invasion of your privacy, unless you're still figuring out that using unsecured WiFi is a problem. :-)

Scott says pause in drug-testing, “just the process now"

From Post on Politics:
Gov. Rick Scott downplayed the implications of his decision to suspend his order that all state employees undergo pre-employment and random drug testing, saying Thursday he remains committed to screening.

The move came two weeks after the ACLU of Florida sued the governor, claiming testing was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Scott sent a memo last week to agency heads saying that only the Department of Corrections should go forward with implementing his March testing order until the outcome of the lawsuit, now in Miami federal court.

“We’re going forward with it,” Scott said. “We’ll continue to go forward…It’s just the process now.”

Scott also brushed off questions about whether he was concerned about the court overturning his order.

“The private sector does this all the time,” Scott said. “Our taxpayers expect our state employees to be productive…this is the right thing, and we’re going forward.”

Ont. cops get new high-tech plate scanners

We normally focus on the United States, but here's a bit from our friendly neighbors to the north. From the Toronto Sun:
Drivers beware, the Ontario Provincial Police have extra eyes on the road.

And not everyone's happy about what they see as a potential invasion of your privacy.

As part of a pilot project, four OPP cruisers and one SUV are outfitted with a new sophisticated camera system, similar to one used on toll highways, that can scan as many as 7,000 licence plates an hour.

The vehicles equipped with the Automated Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) technology are based in London, Ont., Cornwall, Ont., and the Greater Toronto Area.

With two cameras mounted on 45-degree angles on the front of the roof and one on the back, ALPR-equipped vehicles are able to scan plates behind and in the lanes to the left and right.

Student punished upon school's privacy invasion

A U.S. federal court has ruled that a school overstepped its authority in disciplining a student for information he posted on his social networking site.

Hickory High School senior Justin Layshock used his grandmother's computer to create a parody profile of a teacher. But when school officials learned of it, they imposed a ten-day suspension and banned him from extracurricular activities and from participating in graduation ceremonies. But John Whitehead of The Rutherford Institute is defending Layshock's privacy.

'What this says is state officials, which public school teachers...and school officials [are], can't come into your home [or] your computer and tell you what you can and can't say,' he explains.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scanner Vans Allow Drive-By Snooping

Privacy-conscious travelers may cringe to think of the full-body scanners finding their way into dozens of airport checkpoints around the country. Most likely aren't aware that the same technology, capable of seeing through walls and clothes, has also been rolling out on U.S. streets.

American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Mass., has sold U.S. and foreign government agencies more than 500 backscatter X-ray scanners mounted in vans that can be driven past neighboring vehicles or cargo containers to snoop into their contents. And while the biggest buyer of AS&E's machines over the last seven years has been the Department of Defense for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the company says law enforcement agencies have also been using them domestically, deploying the roving scanners to search for vehicle-based roadside bombs in American cities. 'This product is now the largest-selling cargo and vehicle inspection system ever,' says Joseph Reiss, AS&E's vice president of marketing.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kids, guns and doctors’ rights

Pediatricians regularly give parents advice about how to keep their children safe at home: Stash toxic cleaners where young children cannot get to them, fence the backyard swimming pool, require bike helmets, and keep any firearms unloaded and locked away.

Physicians call this kind of preventive care “anticipatory guidance.’’ When it comes to guns, the National Rifle Association calls it an invasion of privacy.

Governor Rick Scott this month signed a law making Florida the first state to limit a physician’s ability to ask patients or their parents whether they own a gun. Those who do would be subject to discipline by the state medical board. Similar proposals now being considered by several other states have enraged many doctors who say the law impinges on their ability to deliver critical information to families.

ACLU, Workers Question State Drug-Testing Mandate

From The Famuan:
One civil liberty group questions the constitutionality of Florida's new drug-testing mandate for state employees and plans to challenge Gov. Rick Scott's Executive Order 11-58 in court.

Opponents call mandatory pre-employment and unannounced, quarterly drug-testing a costly invasion of privacy in a state that has faced sweeping budget cuts since Scott entered office this year. Testing the more than 150,000 state workers each quarter will cost at least $23.5 million, according to The FAMUAN's research.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Richard Flamm, a scientist with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, filed a lawsuit in Miami this month along with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) – a civil servant's union - challenging the validity of rehashing an outdated law to screen workers for unnamed drugs.

Iowa City's Ordinance Making Apartment Keys Available to Emergency Crews Faces Backlash

An Iowa city has passed an ordinance requiring hundreds of commercial buildings and apartment complexes to literally leave the keys outside in case of an emergency, allowing quicker access to first responders but potentially to those up to no good, as well.

The Cedar Falls City Council voted 6-1 on Monday to expand an existing 2004 ordinance that required lock boxes containing keys at buildings with six or more units and commercial buildings with sprinkler system or unsupervised alarms. The new ordinance, which can become law with a signature by Mayor Jon Crews, expands the requirement to apartment buildings with just three or more units.

Nick Taiber, the lone council member to oppose the ordinance, told the issue has led to allegations of overreaching bureaucracy and constitutional concerns. He said he has yet to see a "strong case" for the benefits of requiring the safe-like boxes located on the outside of buildings so fire officials, with a master key, can gain entry during emergencies. With at least 841 commercial properties in Cedar Falls, Taiber estimates the cost of expanding the ordinance will cost the city roughly $500,000.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Video: Airport security checkpoint of the future

From SmartPlanet
Heeding to calls for a less intrusive way to screen passengers at the airport, transportation authorities have proposed a high tech solution that includes eye scanners, x-rays, metal and liquid detectors.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) demoed the first mock-up of a Checkpoint of the Future at the the Association’s 67th Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit, in Singapore.

“We spend $7.4 billion a year to keep aviation secure. But our passengers only see hassle. Passengers should be able to get from curb to boarding gate with dignity,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “That means without stopping, stripping or unpacking, and certainly not groping.”

A new Ohio law could be an invasion of privacy for charged felon

Certain civil rights groups say a new state law in Ohio could violate your civil rights.

Taking effect July 1st, law enforcement will now take a DNA swab upon a felony arrest. Right now, police can only request a sample or a judge can order someone give a sample if that someone has been convicted of a felony.

'How far do we allow law enforcement to go without the individual's consent or without a court order?' asked Toledo defense attorney Jerry Phillips. 'You can't legislate away your constitutional rights.'

The idea behind the law is to possible match a suspect's DNA to other crimes by using the state's DNA database. With a match, police could have the opportunity to keep their suspect in custody for a longer period of time.

New School Webcam Privacy Lawsuit Filed

From eSecurity Planet:
A new lawsuit has been filed against Pennsylvania's Lower Merion School District over webcam photos secretly taken of students by school administrators, following the settling of two previous lawsuits last fall.

'The latest accusations, which were said to occur during a six-month period ending September 2008, [have] left the high school student 'shocked, humiliated and severely emotionally distressed,' according to a federal invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages,' writes Wired's David Kravets.

'As part of an FBI investigation and a lawsuit brought by a different student, a judge had contacted the boy’s parents informing him of the breach, and invited them to view the pictures,' Kravets writes. 'The youth’s parents were shown 4,404 webcam photographs and 3,978 screenshots captured with the Lower Merion School District–issued MacBook. The amount of photos represents the largest publicly known number of images secretly recorded in the webcam scandal.'

Man posts billboard claiming ex had an abortion, tells courts 'free speech!'

From the NY Daily News:
A New Mexico man is fighting a free speech battle over a giant billboard that he set up claiming his ex-girlfriend had an abortion.

Greg Fultz, 35, put up a billboard in mid-May that shows him cradling the black silhouette of a baby with the message, 'This Would Have Been a Picture of My 2-Month Old Baby If the Mother Had Decided To Not KILL Our Child!'

The towering sign is next to the main road through Alamogordo, N.M., where Fultz lives.