Privacy Advisor

FISA Rulings Put Tech Biz Between Rock and Hard Place; Revelations Continue

June 14, 2013

Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CiPP/E

Yahoo and the FISA Court

The New York Times reports on a 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court ruling requesting that Yahoo turn over user data on certain foreign suspects. Yahoo, at first, refused to turn over the data because there was not a warrant and the broad request was unconstitutional. However, the FISA court judge disagreed.

“That left Yahoo two choices: Hand over the data or break the law,” the report states.

It’s been reported that a U.S. tech firm had fought a FISA request, but as of this report, it was unknown which company had done so. The case, though, puts companies that collect large consumer datasets on notice “that they not even try to test their legality.”

ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Christopher Soghoian said, “Even though they have an awful reputation on consumer privacy issues, when it comes to government privacy, they generally tend to put their users first.”

U.S.-EU Agreement

The U.S. has also agreed to share intelligence data with the European Union, Business Standard reports. After talks with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Dublin, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and EU Justice Commissioner Vivane Reding announced the agreement. In a post on Twitter, Malmström wrote, “Agreed with the US in Dublin to set up a transatlantic expert group to receive more info on PRISM and look at the safeguards.”

Future Surveillance Disclosures?

The Hill reports on comments made by Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), who said the recent surveillance disclosures are just “the tip of the iceberg” and there are “significantly more” NSA programs. Her comments came after a briefing with counterterrorism officials.

“What we learned in there,” she said, “is significantly more than what is out in the media today.”

In a Q&A for The National Post, Ashkan Soltani, an independent Washington-based technology consultant, discussed four programs that have come to light from the NSA disclosures and said to expect more revelations about top-secret programs in the near future.

Big Data Challenges

With such a wide swath of data collection, TIME notes the real challenge for the NSA “is not so much collecting that information but figuring out how to use it to help keep the country safe—and doing it against the clock while minimizing mistakes.”

Oxford Internet Institute Prof. Viktor Mayer-Schönberger said, “This is a Big Data challenge…You have lots and lots of noise with a potential signal buried inside, but it’s hard to differentiate the two.” 

Private companies already face similar challenges of removing the “signal from the noise” when sifting through their own vast consumer datasets. One Silicon Valley-based CTO said, “There’s so much data flowing around now and a huge need to analyze it…That’s led to companies like us developing the technology to take advantage of it.”

The report also looks at how some data collection technology developed by the NSA is making its way into private industry.

Consumer Awareness

The Washington Post reports on how the increased public awareness of the NSA tracking programs also draws attention to consumer data tracking. On Twitter, journalist Dan Sinker wrote, “When I go to The Washington Post to learn about gov data tracking, I’m hit by *fifty* commercial data trackers.” However, the report points out there are differences between government data tracking and consumer data tracking: The private industry is subject to market pressures, while the government is not.

A new Allstate/National JournalHeartland Monitor poll reveals that “most Americans exhibit a healthy amount of skepticism and resignation about data collection and surveillance and show varying degrees of trust in institutions to responsibly use their personal information.”  The poll was conducted days before the NSA disclosures.

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:
NSA Leaks Has Canadian Officials Looking at Domestic Surveillance
EU-U.S. Tensions on the Rise; Some Gov’t-Google Sharing Details Revealed
AUSTRALIA—NSA Leaks Reach Australian Shores
Tech Firms, Lawmakers Respond to NSA Leak