STLR Link Round-Up – Nov. 13, 2014

President Obama on Net Neutrality

On November 10th, 2014, the White House uploaded a video and website in support of Net Neutrality. President Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to apply Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act to Internet service providers (ISP). While the president acknowledged the FCC’s independent decision-making power, many commentators see the move as very influential. Until this point, the FCC had been working on a hybrid plan designed to appease open Internet activists while catering to the concerns of service providers. Such a plan would apply Title II only to back end transactions, where websites accessed ISP networks, and apply the less onerous section 706 of the same act to the front end. While support for such a plan had been growing, there are reports that some groups were advised “keep their powder dry” and wait until the president’s announcement before committing.

Can the Police Police Themselves?

Since the fatal shooting of Mike Brown by Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson, much has been made of the uncertainty of the exact events that lead up to the deadly encounter. Since the incident, police departments are investigating equipping their officers with cameras in an attempt to bring a level of certainty to these types of scenarios. Cameras and recording equipment are not without their disadvantages. The technology is not cheap. NPR reports that a department in Columbia, Ohio spent $130,000 on equipment and an additional $40,000 a year on digital storage space. Furthermore, maximum effectiveness requires the full cooperation of the officers being equipped. Earlier this year, investigators discovered that police officers in Los Angeles were tampering with recording devices to prevent monitoring.

Apple’s Health Concerns

Apple is slated to release its anticipated Apple Watch next year. Among the many boasted uses and applications, the watch is able to monitor the wearer’s health data including diet and exercise. Apple, which suffered a security leak earlier this year regarding celebrity photos, is currently in talks with the Federal Trade Commission to prevent similar breaches of user health data. The L.A. Times reports that most of the information that the Apple Watch would collect would not fall under the privacy rules of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Nor would this be the first time a device collected user health information. Jawbone, a fitness wearable company, recently released anonymized data of user activity during this year’s South Napa Earthquake. It is worth noting that there is some debate about whether users are even concerned about data collection in the first place.

Listening In

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Marshals are using “fake” cellphone towers to identify and locate the phone signals of suspects. The program, in place since 2007, places devices called dirt boxes on airplanes that mimic cellphone towers. The dirt boxes present themselves as the closest and strongest signal, tricking phones to connect en masse. This enables law enforcement to create a dragnet that trawls entire cities, looking for signals of interest. Time reports that this isn’t the first time authorities have used cellphone technology to track suspects and that it isn’t completely without legal basis. Specifically, the Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Maryland held that the use of cellphone monitoring technology to monitor suspects was valid without a warrant as long as law enforcement could show that a suspect’s cellphone is, “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

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