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The Internet Pulls Together: Advocacy Derails SOPA/PIPA

Warrant Needed for GPS Tracking

Google's Privacy Policy Change: Initial Thoughts, Broader Issues

Featured on Policy Beta

January 31, Washington, DC - Harley Geiger will be speaking on facial recognition and privacy at the Privacy Working Group lunch.


The new year isn't even a month old and already we have two huge victories for the open Internet and digital civil liberties.

The Internet Pulls Together: Advocacy Derails SOPA/PIPA

Toward the end of last year it looked like two bills aimed at fighting online piracy were going to steamroll the opposition and sail through the House and Senate, with serious consequences for free expression, innovation and cybersecurity. Then a historic development took place: against one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill, a diverse community of grassroots Internet users, investors, leading companies, and advocacy groups fueled an online uprising, which succeeded in derailing the bills. PIPA and SOPA have now been shelved and are unlikely to return any time soon. Many deserve credit for contributing to this effort. CDT was one of the first to call attention to the legislation when it surfaced in 2010; our analyses of the bills were widely downloaded, and we helped spread the word with numerous press articles and appearances.

Warrant Needed for GPS Tracking

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court held on January 23 that government agents violated the Constitution when they planted a GPS device on a person's car and used it to track the person for a prolonged period with a judicial warrant. The decision makes it clear that the Court will not allow advancing technology to erode the Constitutional right of privacy. The Justice Department had argued that the GPS device, because it tracked the person's movements only on the public streets, did not raise any concern under the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which generally requires a warrant for searches and seizures. Not a single Justice agreed with the government on that issue. The case has clear implications for tracking individuals using cell phone tower data. Five Justices suggested that a warrant would have been required on the facts of this case even if the government tracking did not involve planting a GPS device. CDT is helping to coordinate a coalition of major Internet companies, think tanks and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum calling on Congress to require a warrant for cell phone tracking; Justice Alito's concurring opinion urged Congress to act.

Google's Privacy Policy Change: Initial Thoughts, Broader Issues

Google's decision to consolidate its privacy policies and drastically reduce the number of policies it uses across its products is a good step toward greater transparency. The new policy makes explicit a trend already underway: many Google products and the data associated with them have been merged. It is our understanding, however, that Google is maintaining the Chinese wall between data it collects from logged-in users and data collected by DoubleClick &emdash; a wall that deserves to be maintained. It is also worth noting that the new policy does not change users' current privacy settings - whether on YouTube, Google+, or Picasa. We are concerned, however, that the integration of Google services includes the Chrome browser. Moreover, Google has not promised to cabin off the Android web browser and Android OS. Special caution should be exercised with data from Chrome and Android because these two products see a lot, as consumers use them to connect with other services outside Google. We have similar questions about how sensitive data collected from Gmail could be correlated in the future.

SCOTUS Hears Broadcast Indecency Case

In a case with implications for both TV and the Internet, the Supreme Court heard arguments in FCC v. Fox, a case that may determine whether regulation of "indecent" content on broadcast television violates the First Amendment. CDT filed an amicus brief.

The Drones Are Coming

Americans are used to reading about unmanned aircraft flying over the Middle East in search of terrorists. Soon those eyes will be over American skies as well. This coming spring, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to propose rules that will enable civilians to obtain permits to fly drones over the national airspace.

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