Daily updates on privacy stories in the news.

November 2007 Archives

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Mayor of San Francisco Signs Legislation Approving City IDs

The mayor signed legislation Wednesday requiring the city to issue identification cards to undocumented immigrants and other residents who can't or won't apply for driver's licenses. The IDs would not enable cardholders to drive in San Francisco, and they would not stand in for a work visa or Social Security number for those seeking employment. But the IDs would qualify them for health services at city-run clinics, public library privileges and resident discounts at museums and other cultural institutions, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom.

San Fran OKs ID Card for Immigrants, Associated Press, November 29, 2007.

Facebook Considers Revision of Controversial Advertising Plan

In the wake of mounting criticism, Facebook executives are discussing changes to a controversial advertising tool that publicizes users' Web activities outside of the popular social network. Alterations to the recently introduced Beacon system could be announced as early as Nov. 29, BusinessWeek.com has learned. Executives of the three-year-old company were in deep talks over proposed changes late into the afternoon on Nov. 28, according to a person familiar with the matter. At issue is the Beacon program, which alerts members' Facebook "friends" to purchases and other activities on third-party Web sites. A spokesperson for the company declined to discuss changes, reiterating an earlier statement: "Facebook is listening to feedback from its users and committed to evolving Beacon."

Facebook May Revamp Beacon, BusinessWeek, November 28, 2007.

Homeland Security Backs Down on 'No Match' Plan

The Bush administration will suspend its legal defense of a new rule issued in August to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, conceding a hard-fought opening round in a court battle over a central measure in its strategy to curb illegal immigration, according to government papers filed late Friday in federal court. Instead, the administration plans to revise the rule to try to meet concerns raised by a federal judge and issue it again by late March, hoping to pass court scrutiny on the second try. The rule would have forced employers to fire workers within 90 days if their Social Security information could not be verified. The government�s proposal was a response to an indefinite delay to the rule ordered Oct. 10 by the judge, Charles R. Breyer of Federal District Court in San Francisco. Judge Breyer found that the government had failed to follow proper procedures in issuing the rule and that it should have completed a survey of its impact on small business.

Revised Rule for Employers That Hire Immigrants, New York Times, November 25, 2007.

Homeland Security Begins Collecting Ten Fingerprints From Foreign Visitors

The Homeland Security Department intends to begin scanning all 10 fingerprints for foreign visitors starting Nov. 29 at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, department officials said Tuesday. Foreigners visiting the United States on visas must have a digital photograph taken and a scan of their two index fingers under the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program. DHS has built a database of 90 million fingerprints in the four years the program has been in operation.

DHS to begin full fingerprint scans for visitors, Washington Technology, November 21, 2007.

UK Government Loses Personal Data of Almost Half Its Population

Prime Minister Gordon Brown stood by his finance minister as opposition parties accused the government of incompetence after it revealed it had lost personal details of almost half the U.K. population. Alistair Darling was yesterday forced to explain to lawmakers how two unencrypted disks containing records of 7.3 million families claiming child-benefit payments had gone missing from the tax authority, which is overseen by the Treasury. The loss, the largest of its kind in U.K. history, lays open the 25 million people named in the data to the risk of fraud and theft.

Brown Backs His Finance Minister Over U.K. Data Loss, Bloomberg News, November 21, 2007.

Head of Greece's Privacy Agency Resigns Over Camera Surveillance of Protests

The head of Greece's privacy watchdog resigned Monday over the government's use of traffic cameras to monitor demonstrations, raising the stakes in a heated dispute over civil liberties. Dimitris Gourgourakis said police "directly breached" his powerful Data Protection Authority's regulations by using closed-circuit cameras for surveillance at a central Athens protest Saturday, despite a ban. "I believe this constitutes a blow to the authority's independence," said Gourgourakis, a former senior judge. The authority's deputy head and another two members also stepped down in protest.

Head of Greek privacy watchdog resigns over police use of cameras to monitor protests, International Herald Tribune, November 19, 2007.

Senators Kohl and Hatch Urge 'Serious Scrutiny' of Proposed Google Merger

Two U.S. senators on the antitrust subcommittee urged the Federal Trade Commission's chairman to submit Google Inc's purchase of advertising company DoubleClick to "serious scrutiny." Sen. Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, argued that Google had a dominant position in a form of Internet advertising called contextual ads while DoubleClick was a market leader in display advertising. They said industry experts believed the deal could harm competition on the Web. Kohl and Hatch also raised questions about privacy implications since both Google and DoubleClick collect information about Web usage.

Lawmakers urge Google/DoubleClick deal scrutiny, Reuters, November 19, 2007.

Congress Debates Repeal of REAL ID National Identification System

Congressional Republicans are scrambling to defuse the political time bomb they created in 2005 when they allowed states to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens � but a key Republican and author of the Real ID Act says their new bill is unconstitutional. Democrats say Republicans have only themselves to blame for the way the law reads now, given that House Republicans wrote it and forced it through Congress and onto President Bush's desk. "All's fair in political campaigns, but this is the height of demagoguery for someone who helped write the Real ID Act to then protest so loudly what a crummy law it was," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat.

GOP split on repeal of Real ID, Washington Times, November 14, 2007.

White House Allows Clearances In NSA Investigation

Just four days after Michael B. Mukasey was sworn in as attorney general, Justice Department officials said Tuesday that President Bush had reversed course and approved long-denied security clearances for the Justice Department�s ethics office to investigate the National Security Agency�s warrantless surveillance program. The department�s inspector general has been investigating the department�s involvement with the N.S.A. program for about a year, but the move suggested both that Mr. Mukasey wanted to remedy what many in Congress saw as an improper decision by the president to block the clearances and that the White House chose to back him.

Bush Gives Clearances for N.S.A. Inquiry, New York Times, November 14, 2007.

San Francisco Approves ID Card Without Citizenship Requirements

The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to issue municipal identification cards to city residents - regardless of whether they are in the country legally - and to double the amount of public money available to candidates running for supervisor. Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who authored the ID card legislation, said the program is a smart public safety measure because it would make residents living on the social margins of San Francisco more likely to seek the help of police and could give them more access to banking services. "People are afraid to report crimes," Ammiano said, referring to illegal immigrants who avoid local law enforcement authorities over fear of being arrested or deported by federal immigration officials.

S.F. supervisors approve ID cards for residents, San Francisco Chronicle, November 14, 2007.

EU Opens In-Depth Investigation of Proposed Google-DoubleClick Merger

European Commission competition authorities refused today to approve Google�s $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, the Internet advertising company, and ordered an in-depth review amid opposition from rivals, publishers and consumer groups. The commission, which rules on antitrust issues for the 27 countries in the European Union, said the merger raised competition concerns and required a more thorough review of its impact on the Internet advertising business. In Brussels, many of the mounting objections filed to the commission in recent weeks centered on privacy issues, rather than questions about how a Google-DoubleClick merger would affect competition.

Google Hits European Hurdle on DoubleClick Deal, New York Times, November 13, 2007.

Facebook Under Fire for Advertising Change That Includes Subscribers

Just days after Facebook unveiled plans for a new advertising network that relies on user-provided details about themselves for marketers to target their ads, some legal experts said the system may violate privacy laws. William McGeveran, association professor of law at the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis, noted in a blog post that the new ad initiative only asks users in general whether they want to share information -- not whether they want their name and picture used in an ad for a product. The new Facebook system will serve up so-called Social Ads, which combines actions taken by a users' friends -- like a purchase, review or a service -- with an advertiser's message. These ads will appear in a user's news feeds as sponsored content or in the ad space on the site, according to Facebook.

New Facebook Ad Techniques Raise Privacy Concerns, PC World, November 10, 2007.

NY Three-Tier License Plan Heavily Criticized

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer wants his state to implement what he's calling the most secure driver's license in history. The initiative would enable the state to comply with the federal government's controversial identification mandates and document the million or so illegal immigrants currently living in New York. However, it may be technology rather than politics that derails the proposal. The plan is running into strong opposition from groups worried in part that the proposed use of RFID (radio-frequency identification) and other technology could endanger the privacy rights of citizens while still not delivering the level of security that the governor is promising.

N.Y. License Plan Sparks Debate, Eweek.com, November 10, 2007.

Washington, DC Seeks to Mandate SmarTrip Chips in DC Licenses and ID Cards

Privacy advocates are alarmed by a D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles initiative to embed SmarTrip computer chips inside every new D.C. driver�s license, making it easier than ever to track D.C. residents on their travels through the transit system. The DMV will spend $830,000 a year to install SmarTrip chips in all driver�s licenses and identification cards starting in October 2008. SmarTrip does, however, provide Metro and the government with a system to follow users, though Hazel said the agency �has no intention to track [a] person�s movements on the Metro system.�

D.C. DMV to build SmarTrip chips into driver�s licenses, Washington Examiner, November 6, 2007.

EU Seeks Personal Data on American Travelers

American travelers' personal data would for the first time be exported to all European Union states by airline carriers flying to Europe under a proposal to be announced this week. The data, including names, telephone numbers, credit card information and travel itinerary, would be sent to E.U. member states so they could assess passenger risk for counterterrorism purposes, according to a draft copy obtained by The Washington Post. The European Commission proposal would allow the data to be kept for 13 years or longer if used in criminal investigations and intelligence operations. It would cover all passengers flying into and out of Europe, not just Americans.

E.U. Seeks Data on American Passengers, Washington Post, November 4, 2007.

Homeland Security Again Changes REAL ID Standards

The Bush administration is easing its demand for tough national standards for driver's licenses, acting at the behest of state officials who say the "Real ID" plan is unworkable and too costly, officials familiar with the new policy said. While Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff hailed an agreement with New York last week on more secure state identification cards for citizens as a sign that "the tide is moving more rapidly in favor of Real ID," his department is preparing to extend deadlines for the second time in a year and ease or take over responsibility for new security measures, the officials said. Timothy Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said DHS is weakening the program in a desperate bid to keep it alive. The ACLU and conservative libertarian groups that oppose Real ID view it as a de facto national ID with Orwellian implications. Eight states have passed legislation to opt out of the program, nine others have passed resolutions in opposition, and more will consider doing so this winter.

Homeland Security Retreats From Facets of 'Real ID' , Washington Post, November 4, 2007.

New South Wales Police Expand Use of Portable Fingerprint Scanner

NSW Police has confirmed it will roll out a new state-wide system of Criminal Infringement Notices (CINs) with the aid of a biometric finger-scanning device from 2009 in an effort to reduce paperwork and court attendances. As first reported by Computerworld Australia, NSW Police has been testing portable biometric devices for a number of years as a means of linking individuals to crimes. A CIN is an alternative legal process to the arrest and processing of suspects and involves an "on-the-spot" fine for a range of minor criminal offences.

NSW Police to use mobile biometrics by 2009, Computerworld New Zealand, November 2, 2007.

Nashville Schools Will Include Facial Recognition Technology in Camera Surveillance

The Nashville school system plans to become the first in the nation to use security cameras that spot intruders with controversial face-recognition technology. Starting Dec. 1, the 75,000-student district will equip three schools and an administration building with cameras that can detect an unfamiliar face or someone barred from school grounds, said Ralph Thompson, assistant superintendent for student services. The technology is denounced by civil libertarians and has been discarded by police in Tampa and Virginia Beach, which found face-recognition cameras in downtown districts did not help in spotting wanted criminals. "Schools should not feel like some sort of prison," said Melissa Ngo of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

School security cameras go cutting edge, USA Today, November 2, 2007.

Federal Trade Commission Holds Meeting on Targeted Online Advertising

The Federal Trade Commission will hold meetings today and tomorrow about online privacy. The questions they will entertain include how much control people need or want over the vast trove of information that corporate America routinely collects about people as they click from site to site on the Internet. In advance of the F.T.C. meetings, a coalition of consumer groups called yesterday for a do-not-track list that would permit people to opt out of so-called behavioral tracking programs, which use data about a consumer�s Web travels to deliver relevant ads.

F.T.C. to Review Online Ads and Privacy, New York Times, November 1, 2007.