January 26, 2021

Your round up of surveillance news for the week of January 26, 2021

Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

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Here are this week’s surveil-links: reading and summarizing the latest news in digital privacy so you don’t have to.

You can easily, and slightly more privately, navigate to each link by browsing to “” followed by the link’s corresponding number. For example, surveil-link #12 can be found at

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting digital civil liberties, released last Thursday a long list of asks for the new Biden administration. While the memo goes beyond the topics of “privacy” and “surveillance” the words themselves appear 70 times and 35 times respectively throughout the document. The asks specific to the realm of surveillance include the following:

  1. Kill Section 215 of the Foregin Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that enabled the NSA to collect millions of Americans’ call records from 2004 to 2013.
  2. Reform Section 702 of the same law that gives the intelligence community the power to electronically and indiscriminately surveil non-U.S. citizens inside the U.S.
  3. Ensure that future intelligence gathering performed under the jurisdiction of FISA is subject to much more “robust legal review”.
  4. Support the passage of the Face Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act proposed in Congress this past summer. The law would ban the federal government from using facial recognition technology among other things.
  5. Reform surveillance at the United States border by reversing its recent expansion, requiring a warrant to search electronic devices of those crossing the border, blocking the use of biometric surveillance in use at the border, requiring a warrant when running license plate numbers, and no longer requiring visa applicants to disclose their online activities.
  6. Advocate for much stronger federal privacy legislation.
  7. Heavily reform the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and ban the use of surveillance technologies in a school setting.
  8. The EFF would have been amiss if they did not include their fear of how the current pandemic has affected privacy and ask for a thorough review of how the Trump administration handled COVID-related data it collected on U.S. citizens.

You may have heard by now that all of Parler’s user data was downloaded by tech savvy internet citizens, but did you know that every face from every picture posted to the site during January 6th’s insurrection in Washington has been published online? According to Wired, Faces of the Riot — as the website is called — uses machine learning and facial recognition technology to catalog every instance of every individual’s face in videos posted to Parler during the events. The site raises questions of privacy as it does not distinguish between those actively breaking the law and those observing. The creator even admits to still be in the process of removing “non-rioter” faces from the website.

The New York Times released a memo the Defense Intelligence Agency wrote for Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon in which the agency states that it paid for commercially available databases of location data to assist in five separate investigations in the past two and a half years. The memo was a response to an inquiry from Wyden’s office in which the agency states that their data broker does not separate data based on nationality, so the agency does this themselves and stores the data of U.S. citizens in their own database which requires approval from the agency’s Chief of Staff and general counsel to access. The agency also states they don’t believe the Supreme Court’s 2018 Carpenter decision applies to location data purchased through third-party, commercial sources.

Oakland, California banned the use of both predictive policing and voice recognition technology by law enforcement. The story linked to incorrectly reports that they are the first city to ban predictive policing. While a great feat, they are the third city to do so — behind Santa Cruz, California and New Orleans, Louisiana — but the first to ban voice recognition.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that the city of St. Louis, Missouri voted 15 to 14 to give the mayor the ability to contract with an Ohio-based company to provide aerial surveillance of the city 18 hours a day. The move comes as the city apparently faces growing crime rates. Opponents to the bill cite a threat to civil liberties.

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