Wednesday, April 10, 2013

IRS can read your e-mail without a warrant

The ACLU has obtained internal IRS documents that say Americans enjoy "generally no privacy" in their e-mail messages, Facebook chats, and other electronic communications.

The Internal Revenue Service doesn't believe it needs a search warrant to read your e-mail.
Newly disclosed documents prepared by IRS lawyers says that Americans enjoy "generally no privacy" in their e-mail, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and similar online communications -- meaning that they can be perused without obtaining a search warrant signed by a judge.
That places the IRS at odds with a growing sentiment among many judges and legislators who believe that Americans' e-mail messages should be protected from warrantless search and seizure. They say e-mail should be protected by the same Fourth Amendment privacy standards that require search warrants for hard drives in someone's home, or a physical letter in a filing cabinet.
An IRS 2009 Search Warrant Handbook obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union argues that "emails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual's computer." The handbook was prepared by the Office of Chief Counsel for the Criminal Tax Division and obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Nathan Wessler, a staff attorney at the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, said in a blog post that the IRS's view of privacy rights violates the Fourth Amendment:
 Let's hope you never end up on the wrong end of an IRS criminal tax investigation. But if you do, you should be able to trust that the IRS will obey the Fourth Amendment when it seeks the contents of your private emails. Until now, that hasn't been the case. The IRS should let the American public know whether it obtains warrants across the board when accessing people's email. And even more important, the IRS should formally amend its policies to require its agents to obtain warrants when seeking the contents of emails, without regard to their age.
The IRS continued to take the same position, the documents indicate, even after a federal appeals court ruled in the 2010 case U.S. v. Warshak that Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their e-mail. A few e-mail providers, including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook, but not all, have taken the position that Warshak mandates warrants for e-mail.
The IRS did not immediately respond to a request from CNET asking whether it is the agency's position that a search warrant is required for e-mail and similar communications.
Before the Warshak decision, the general rule since 1986 had been that police could obtain Americans' e-mail messages that were more than 180 days old with an administrative subpoena or what's known as a 2703(d) order, both of which lack a warrant's probable cause requirement.
The rule was adopted in the era of telephone modems, BBSs, and UUCP links, long before gigabytes of e-mail stored in the cloud was ever envisioned. Since then, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Warshak, technology had changed dramatically: "Since the advent of e-mail, the telephone call and the letter have waned in importance, and an explosion of Internet-based communication has taken place. People are now able to send sensitive and intimate information, instantaneously, to friends, family, and colleagues half a world away... By obtaining access to someone's e-mail, government agents gain the ability to peer deeply into his activities."
A March 2011 update to the IRS manual, published four months after the Warshak decision, says that nothing has changed and that "investigators can obtain everything in an account except for unopened e-mail or voice mail stored with a provider for 180 days or less" without a warrant. An October 2011 memorandum (PDF) from IRS senior counsel William Spatz took a similar position.
A phalanx of companies, including Amazon, Apple, AT&T, eBay, Google, Intel, Microsoft, and Twitter, as well as liberal, conservative, and libertarian advocacy groups, have asked Congress to update the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act to make it clear that law enforcement needs warrants to access private communications and the locations of mobile devices.
In November, a Senate panel approved the e-mail warrant requirement, and last month Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose district includes the heart of Silicon Valley, introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives. The Justice Department indicated last month it will drop its opposition to an e-mail warrant requirement.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

5 questions answered about Facebook Home

video: TheVerge
Facebook has unveiled a new product, Facebook Home, at an event everyone knew would have something to do with phones and apps and operating systems.
"We're not building a phone and we're not building an operating system," CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday. "But we're also building something that's a whole lot deeper than just another app."
Um, OK. Thanks for clarifying that, Zuck.
In all seriousness, though, here's the breakdown on Home, a feature Facebook hopes will make it part of everything you do on your phone.
What is it?
As described by Zuckerberg and others, Home is a "family of apps" that essentially push Facebook content front and center on your Android phone.
Once the phone "wakes up," the home screen and lock screen are replaced with something called "Cover Feed." Images and posts from friends will appear as the new screen's background. Users can flip through and interact with them -- "like" an update, or post a comment -- immediately without having to open a specific Facebook app. One touch takes the user to their apps, or back to the last app they were using.
Home's other big feature was called "Chat Heads," which is a basically a tool that combines Facebook Messenger with the phone's regular SMS text-message tool. Messages pop up regardless of what the user is doing at the time, along with the sender's profile picture, enclosed in a little circle.
The user can decide whether to open the message (without leaving the app or other screen they're on), dismiss it or save it for later with a single touch.
When and where can I get it?
Home will be available in the Google Play mobile store on April 12 for at least some Android phones. Users will be able to choose whether to install it permanently, or for a one-off trial session.
At release, it will only be optimized for Samsung's Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II and the HTC One line of phones. It will run on the Galaxy S 4 and the HTC One when those phones are released, with other phones being added in the coming months.
Facebook said a version for tablets will be released "within several months."
How about my iPhone?
Your wait might be quite a bit longer. Or, you know, forever.
During the event, Zuckerberg repeatedly talked about how Google's open Android system was the perfect place to build Home. It's not unusual for mobile-device makers, most notably Amazon with its Kindle Fire tablets, to tweak the system to suit their own needs.
Apple, on the other hand, has a very closed operating system, giving its developers far less leeway in exchange for what the company says is a smoother, better-developed user experience. Creating something like Home for Apple's iOS system would require an almost unprecedented partnership between the companies.
"Anything that happens with Apple is going to happen with partnership," Zuckerberg said. "Google's Android is open so we don't have to work with them."
Still, Facebook isn't ruling out the possibility, at least not officially.
"This is a first step and we're continuing to iterate," a Facebook spokeswoman said in response to iPhone questions. "We chose to start building on Android because we could build a more deeply integrated mobile experience. We'll continue to test and iterate on the Facebook experience across all platforms. "
What happened to the Facebook phone I was hearing about?
Well, there's not one. While rumors to that effect have swirled for a couple of years, Facebook has always maintained it wasn't "making" a phone. That remains technically true.
But at Wednesday's event, HTC unveiled the HTC First, an AT&T exclusive Android phone that will be released the same day Facebook Home goes live. The phone will have Home pre-loaded as the default version of its operating system.
So it's the closest thing to a Facebook phone for now.
Unveiled by CEO Peter Chou, the First will be a mid-range phone that looks vaguely like an iPhone 5, with a 4.3-inch screen and dual-core Snapdragon processor. It will sell for $99 in the United States.
Folks looking for a high-end HTC phone may be more inclined to wait for the HTC One, which launches on April 19.
What are folks saying?
"Jokes aside, I think Home is a very smart thing for Facebook to do. At least for now. Really is a blanket over Android. Need to play with it." -- MG Siegler, columnist, TechCrunch
"Wonder when Twitter and others will introduce their own "super apps" that take over lock screen, home page.... ." -- Stephen Levy,senior writer, Wired
"It's nice-looking enough, for what it is. But what it is is an assumption that users want to use Facebook to filter everything they do with their smartphones ... . Putting friends first isn't a bad concept for the smartphone experience. But Facebook thinks that friends = Facebook and Facebook = friends. If this were ever true, it isn't now.
source: cnn