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Disappearing Phone Booths

ITU Discussions Must Be Opened

The US Government's Secret Standards for Wireless Network Shutdowns

Featured on Policy Beta

June 28 - Nairobi, Kenya - Ellery Roberts Biddle will lead sessions at Global Voices Summit.


Will technology doom privacy? The question has been asked for over a century, but never so urgently as today. A recent four-part series on the CDT blog explores why. Meanwhile, as the International Telecommunication Union considers extending its jurisdiction to the Internet, CDT and other organizations are urging the UN agency to operate in a more transparent and inclusive manner.

Disappearing Phone Booths

CDT's Erica Newland recently gave a speech to DC Superior Court judges examining the relationship between privacy and innovation, and she summarized her remarks in a four-part series on the CDT blog.

Erica took her theme from a line in the Supreme Court's 1967 privacy case, Katz v. US, where Justice Stewart wrote of the way that a person, in shutting the door of a telephone booth, is entitled to assume that the words he speaks are protected against eavesdropping. As real phone booths disappear, a key challenge for Congress and the courts over the next decade will be to define metaphorical phone booths -- those spaces or times or situations in which society recognizes and protects a right to privacy.

Part I of the series explores in broad terms the privacy implications of many of the useful and entertaining innovations that pervade our lives today.

Part II digs a little deeper, identifying four cross-cutting factors that amplify the consequences of these technologies: digital ubiquity, the increasing number of parties that are involved in common daily transactions; the commodification and monetization of data; and our woefully out-of-date privacy laws.

Part III discusses the harms caused by the loss of privacy. Part IV asks what happens if privacy becomes obsolete.

Erica has just left CDT to attend Yale Law School (not the first policy analyst we have lost to Yale). We hope that, despite the demands of law school, Erica will continue to contribute to the CDT site as a guest blogger.

ITU Discussions Must Be Opened

Civil society organizations from around the world are seeking more transparency from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as that UN agency considers proposals that could give it power to regulate the Internet. Traditionally, the ITU was a largely technical body, but some of the ideas now under discussion may impact free expression, privacy, and other human rights.

As a government-dominated body, the ITU is frustratingly opaque, especially for civil society stakeholders. To begin with, ITU documents are officially available only to members, limiting public awareness and participation. (A WCITleaks site contains a few recent items.) While companies and NGOs may join, the cost of membership is high. Civil society could have a voice through participation in the development of the positions that their national governments take to the ITU, but most Member States have not created public processes to seek input, even though debate on the Internet regulatory proposals is already well underway.

CDT will be delving more into the substance of pending Internet governance proposals circulating within the ITU, but as a threshold point we and others are urging the body to be more open and participatory in deciding matters that may affect the future of the Internet.

The US Government's Secret Standards for Wireless Network Shutdowns

After the San Francisco Bay Area transit authority shut down wireless Internet access in some of its stations in a (failed) effort to curtail protests last year, the Federal Communications Commission initiated an inquiry into what should be the standards for such shutdowns. In comments, CDT outlined the serious First Amendment problems posed by government shutdowns of wireless networks, and we urged the Commission to prohibit the practice.

Several comments in the first round discussed an existing government-sanctioned protocol for wireless service interruption, known as SOP 303. The details of SOP 303 are secret. The only official description of it is one paragraph in a government report. However, as we explained in a second round of comments to the FCC, even from that description it is clear that the protocol fails to meet the First Amendment's strict requirements for when the government engages in a prior restraint on speech.

Privacy in a Future That's Forever

With the world launch last week of IPv6, the new protocol for creating and assigning Internet addresses, Internet companies are committing to upgrades that will support universal connectivity for the next billion Internet users and beyond. As CDT's Alissa Cooper, a member of the Internet Architecture Board, explains, IPv6 implementors can incorporate "privacy extensions" that limit the tracking potential of the new addresses, and major companies deploying the new protocol, including Microsoft, Apple, and Google, are turning the extensions "on" by default in their operating systems, a significant win for privacy.

Retiring U.S. Cybersecurity Chief Shaped Internet Policy on Many Fronts

The nation's cybersecurity "czar," Howard Schmidt, announced he is leaving office. In his 2 1/2 year tenure, Schmidt brought bring much-needed coherence to the federal government's cybersecurity efforts. In the process, he became a key player on Internet policy overall, using his security credibility and his technical expertise to bring a pro-Internet, pro-innovation perspective to a range of issues.

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