Congress puts hold on privacy rights bill, Net users at risk

Dave Masko's picture

EUGENE, Ore. – Privacy rights legislation that was delayed by Congress during a recent Feb. 19 vote is still impacting all Americans with both the Patriot Act and something dubbed as data mining; in turn, use of any digital device is a clear and present danger for all Americans “because they are being hacked into by both good and bad guys and those who market stuff on line,” say defenders of privacy rights.

The recent House and Senate vote to delay the legal authority adds 90 days to three provisions that were part of the post 9/11 terrorist attack that resulted in the USA Patriot Act. The current provisions give the FBI “court-approved rights for secret surveillance of non-American suspects not known to be tied to specific terrorist groups.” In addition, privacy rights advocates told lawmakers that data mining of everyday Americans is growing daily and a serious national security issue.

Here in liberal Eugene -- where questions about the rights of the government to “spy” on Americans have been raised since the Sixties freedom of speech and civil rights movements -- the concern is considered “very high” right now with issues surrounding the Patriot Act and how much of what’s placed on one’s Internet site or even Facebook is safe,” said members of a local privacy rights action group.

Government’s right to data mine your Internet communications

Although the provisions to “spy on Americans” in the name of the Patriot Act were not made permanent, both members of Congress and numerous civil rights groups in Eugene and across the nation are speaking out.

“We are alarmed because the Internet is out of control right now and it gives the government too much power to spy on people,” stated members of a privacy rights group that had their views about this Patriot Act legislation submitted in the Congressional record.

In response, one lawmaker said the current Patriot Act does not harm people’s rights.

“None of these three provisions have been held unconstitutional by a court. No court has found that civil liberties have been violated,” said Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin who authored the original Patriot Act.

In 90 days, Congress will again address if Americans should be spied upon as well as other legislation that would stop data mining by Internet organizations such as Facebook.

Facebook moves to give your address and cell numbers away

Social networking sites such as Facebook are set to give data mining agencies and web site access to user information, such as your home address, your cell phone number and other information while getting a lot of negative feedback from both users and government agencies who do the same thing but under the protection of the Patriot Act.

Facebook “data mines” your personal information by being “friendly” with questions about your date of birth, your family and what you like or don’t like.

Moreover, Facebook officials told the Federal Trade Commission about these proposed changes on how it will control privacy information. Still, privacy advocates say it's just talk.

"We expect that, once the feature is re-enabled, Facebook will again permit users to authorize applications to obtain their contact information. However, we are currently evaluating methods to further enhance user control in this area," explained Marne Levine, the vice president of global public policy for Facebook.

In turn, lawmakers have stated for the public record that: "Facebook needs to protect the personal information of its users to ensure that Facebook doesn’t become Phonebook.”

At the same time, lawmakers are requesting responses to these questions “to better understand Facebook’s practices regarding possible access to users’ personal information by third parties. This is sensitive data and needs to be protected.”

Data mining means your Net info is up for grabs

The issue of “data mining” was also raised by a recent Senate hearing on privacy rights for Americans who expose both themselves and their children to social media web sites that create easy pickings for those who mine personal information for Internet marketing and other uses.

In fact, Congress has put forward legislation that if enacted could create the first government limitations on the use of data mining technology that’s running out of control in cyberspace today.

Eugene area expresses concern over data mining

Here in high-tech business centers in Eugene, and at the University of Oregon, much is discussed about how to make simple cell phone calls and Internet searches safe from those who would “mine” people’s personal information for both business and illegal purposes.

“I’d compare today’s data mining in this digital age to a fire that’s burning user privacy rights to the ground. If you had a fire going, you’d put it out. Yet, we’re letting this fire burn out of control,” says Eugene computer security expert Chuck DeSousa.

In fact, recent revelations about Facebook security and privacy issues are just “a tip of the iceberg,” adds DeSousa, who consults with the University of Oregon and other local information technology hubs that view data mining as a clear and present danger for anyone on line.

Moreover, DeSousa notes that the worries users have about the collection of personal data now extends to any “analytic capabilities that are applied to data.”

He also notes that data mining is a “growth industry” here in Eugene and other major cities where “computer users are viewed like cattle” that are observed and then mined of their personal information.

Today’s high-tech data mining tools help both good and bad computer experts “mine” personal information by identifying patterns among customers. “Once we put the spotlight on your cell phone or Internet patterns, we respond with appropriate advertising. For law enforcement, they take a look at what you’re saying on your Facebook page and who you’re connecting to,” DeSousa warns.

Facebook setting the pace for data mining

According to a Facebook advertising promotion, members can “look forward” to hitting a “like” button to see if there’s something they need along the lines of searching for items on eBay. At the same time, those user wants will be featured on a “friends” Facebook homepage.

“We’re taking what is happening in your News Feed and finding a new way to distribute it so it’s easy for your friends to see. It’s another way for friends to tell friends what they recommend,” explains Facebook’s marketing official Brandon McCormick during recent media briefings.

At the same time, those Facebook users who are concerned about privacy simply “don’t want my wish lists shared with people on Facebook,” says University of Oregon student Jim Koch who adds “I get enough prompting to buy junk here in Eugene without Facebook swamping me with yet more things my girl friend may want.”

A new European Union Information Society and Media report shows how such strategy to milk more ad money out of social networking sites is on the rise.

“Given that the Internet is integrated into much of everyday life, it raises critical issues about privacy when a social networking site saturates its users with advertisements,” stated the EU report that’s critical of “holding Internet users hostage to unwanted advertisements” that are increasing as the Net grows and grows.

With Facebook having about 550 million members, it’s clear that more ads that both link and use the users as marketing and advertising tools is a money maker, but users may wonder at what cost?

“It’s like Facebook thinks for us. It’s now telling us what I want to buy and then relaying that to my family and friends on our Facebook pages without any real input or approval from us. That’s not cool,” says Koch who’s thinking of cooling it when it comes to sharing his wants on Facebook.

Up north in Canada, this privacy issue has produced a critical evaluation of data mining that was recently released to the public by Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian.

The report, dubbed “Data Mining: Staking a Claim on Your Privacy,” states that today’s massive use of cell phones and the Internet has resulted in “little or no real privacy for anyone on line,” and this may be “the most fundamental challenge that privacy advocates will face in the next decade.”

Still, most Americans “get down on both knees to worship technology without questioning where all their personal information is going, or how it’s being used. If you’re on line and not fearful, than you should be,” adds DeSousa.


I am a increasingly frustrated parent. I am getting close to just yanking my family off of social media as this is really starting to get out of hand with Facebook and its blatant disrespect for what its users want to keep private. This is getting ridiculous Facebook's disregard for users' privacy coupled with how everything is trending towards becoming more and more "location aware" (to borrow from the new lexicon that is currently being shoved down our throats) will lead to some unintended consequences. Consider cases of "twitter burglaries" or "facebook bandits" who troll status updates and location updates or check-ins looking for "going to movies" or otherwise not home and vulnerable to burglary type information. also, a female's "working late again Frown " update plus her location on a map shared with her social media "friends"could potentially land her in a bad situation as well. And now, my daughter is telling me how people can now post FAKE LOCATION information to facebook, twitter, foursquare etc. with something called gps cloak on her smartphone. I used to at least be able to trust that type of information and have some sort of sense as to the whereabout of my family though some of these social media sites, but now that is called into question. somehow it seems as if all this technological advancement is making harder to keep tabs on our children while at the same time put us in that fishbowl situation where nothing is private......

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