The Privacy BlogThoughts on privacy, security, and other stuff.

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Welcome to Episode 10 of The Privacy Blog Podcast, brought to you by Anonymizer.

In July’s episode, I’ll be talking about the storage capacity of the NSA’s data center in Utah and whether the US really is the most surveilled country in the world. Next, I’ll explain why the new royal baby is trying to hack you and how your own phone’s SIM card could be putting your privacy at risk.

Lastly, I’ll discuss the current legal status of law enforcement geolocation, Yahoo!’s decision to reuse account names, and  some exciting Anonymizer Universal news.

As always, feel free to leave any questions in the comments section. Thanks for listening!

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ArsTechnica has a nice article on a recent ruling by the US Fifth Circuit court of appeals.

In this 2-1 decision, the court ruled that cellular location information is not covered by the fourth amendment, and does not require a warrant. The logic behind this ruling is that the information is part of business records created and stored by the mobile phone carriers in the ordinary course of their business.

Therefor, the data actually belongs to the phone company, and not to you. The Stored Communications Act says that law enforcement must get a warrant to obtain the contents of communications (the body of emails or the audio of a phone call) but not for meta-data like sender, recipient, or location.

The court suggests that if the public wants privacy of location information that they should demand (I suppose through market forces) that providers delete or anonymize the location information, and that legislation be enacted to require warrants for access to it. Until then, they say we have no expectation of privacy in that information.

The Fifth Circuit covers Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

This ruling conflicts with a recent New Jersey Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled that law enforcement does not have that right, which ruling only applies in New Jersey.

Montana has a law requiring a warrant to obtain location information, while in California a similar bill was vetoed.

It seems very likely that one or more of these cases will go to the supreme court.

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Jun/13

4

Can you be forced to decrypt your files?

Declan McCullagh at CNET writes about the most recent skirmish over whether a person can be forced to decrypt their encrypted files.

In this case, Jeffery Feldman is suspected of having almost 20 terabytes of encrypted child pornography. Evidence of use of eMule, a peer to peer file sharing tool, showed filenames suggestive of such content. Child porn makes for some of the worst case law because it is such an emotionally charged issue.

A judge had ordered Mr. Feldman to decrypt the hard drive, or furnish the pass phrase, by today. After an emergency motion, he has been given more time while the challenge to the order is processed.

The challenge is over whether being compelled to decrypt data is equivalent to forced testimony against one’s self, which is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment. The prosecution position is that an encryption key is similar to a key to a safe, which may be compelled. Some prior cases have come down on the side of forcing the decryption, but not all.

If it was plausible that the suspect might not know how to decrypt the file, that would make things even more interesting. For now, the moral of the story is that you can’t rely on the Fifth Amendment to protect you from contempt of court charges in the United States if you try to protect your encrypted data. Outside the US, your mileage may vary.

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The ACLU just posted an article about a recent federal magistrate judge’s ruling. It is a somewhat bizarre case.

The DEA had an arrest warrant for a doctor suspected selling prescription pain killer drugs for cash. They then requested a court order to obtain his real time location information from his cell provider.

The judge went along, but then published a 30 page opinion stating that no order or warrant should have been required for the location information because the suspect had no expectation of location privacy. If he wanted privacy, all he had to have done is to turn off his phone (which would have prevented the collection of the information at all, not just established his expectation).

So, if this line of reasoning is picked up and becomes precedent, it is clear than anyone on the run needs to keep their phone off and / or use burner phones paid for with cash.

My concern is that, if there is no expectation of privacy, is there anything preventing government entities from requesting location information on whole populations without any probable cause or court order.

While I think that the use of location information in this case was completely appropriate, I would sleep better if there was the check and balance of the need for a court order before getting it.

This is another situation where technology has run ahead of the law. The Fourth Amendment was written in a time where information was in tangible form, and the only time it was generally in the hands of third parties, was when it was in the mail. Therefor search of mail in transit was specially protected.

Today, cloud and telecommunication providers serve much the same purpose as the US Postal Service, and are used in similar ways. It is high time that the same protection extended to snail mail be applied to the new high tech communications infrastructures we use today.

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It has long been known in security circles that many printers embed nearly invisible watermarks in all printed documents which uniquely identify the printer used.

SpringyLeaks reports that a recent FOIA request revealed the names of printer companies who embed such markings and have worked with law enforcement to identify the printers used in various cases.

The article also suggest that these watermarks can be used to aid reconstruction of shredded documents.

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