Digital footprints may embarass or worse: US privacy and technology laws could land practically anyone in jail

Flickr, Casey Konstantín

We’ve all done questionably illegal things in our lives (allegedly), whether partaking in recreational drug use in college, sipping on alcohol in our parents’ basements well before reaching the legal drinking age, or other dubious acts we feel best left tucked away.

Whether in admittance or not, sometimes we leave digital footprints behind of these activities. Facebook messages, phone records, photos, tweets, texts, and immature YouTube videos can be collected, stored, mined in a database, and searched at the government’s convenience.

Though our activities may not be illegal, they most certainly can be embarrassing and, if left unchecked in the vastness of the Internet, can tarnish a reputation.

With our culture so obsessed with sharing our lives in the digital world, one has to wonder if what we share is truly private.

If recent allegations are true, the National Security Agency and its PRISM initiative can collect and store whatever digital data it wants on us. Now imagine the capabilities it gives federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors already have immense unchecked power. Look at the case against Aaron Swartz, who was charged with downloading academic papers. The prosecutors were seeking the maximum penalty for Swartz, asking for more than 50 years in prison for his sentencing. He committed suicide on Jan. 11, 2013.

Disproportionately, a first-time offender of producing child pornography faces a maximum 30 years in prison. The more you know.

“There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime,” John Baker, a retired Louisiana State University law professor said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

If everyone is a criminal, what is there to stop our government from abusing its power?

The intersection between our digital lives and prosecution stems from what we do online.

Have you ever connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi network just to check Facebook? Used a fake name online? Let a friend burn a CD?
Inadvertently violated a website’s terms of service? All of these acts are prosecutable under the broad and often abused Computer Fraud and Abuse Act; the same Act that was used against Swartz.

If you couple the NSA’s broad surveillance of Americans with the abusive powers of prosecutors to charge whoever they want for laws never known to be broken, are we really left with the freedom we were so promised?

Whether Congress really cares about our privacy or lack thereof has little to do with the perverseness of the whole idea that nothing we do online is private. Major reforms are necessary with both the surveillance state and federal prosecutors’ wild-west tactics before we can truly feel secure with our government’s doing.

Granted, there are those that say if you don’t do anything illegal you don’t have anything to worry about. Clearly, with an unfathomable amount of federal laws on the books, we have to wonder if any of us are safe.

Originally published in The Eastern Echo

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Why Occupy Wall Street cannot be taken seriously

The Occupy Wall Street movement seems to be losing the social momentum it has grasped onto for so long.  With the New York protesters evicted from Zuccotti Park, and L.A. and Philadelphia vacated as well, the media appears to be moving on.  And so should the protesters.

There are a few things that bother me with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

First, the bankers are not the only ones to be held accountable for the current financial state of America.  In 1999 the 106th controlled, Congress pased and then President Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.  Even though  the Congress was controlled by Republicans, the billed passed with bi-partisan support.

The Act allowed for less stringent credit and down payment requirements for working- and middle-class families when pursuing home purchases. [FactCheck.org]  This allowed for families who would not normally be able to afford a mortgage the opportunity to own house.

Then in the mid 2000s, the Bush Administartion sought to control the housing marking through the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005, but failed to gain support before the housing bubble was to large to handle.  Also, the Act faced fierce competition from Democrats at the time, with Democratic Senate Banking Committee chairman Chris Dodd calling the Bush Administrations’ “ill-advised.” [FactCheck.org]

And blaming the bankers on Wall Street for holding the nations wealthiest accounts and assets is statistically wrong.  The New York Times reported that in 2005 the majority of people who make up the 1 percent are not bankers or even working in the financial sector. [New York Times]

The 1 percent consists of 31 percent of managers and executives not in the financial sector.  The next 15.7 percent consists of medical professionals.  The majority of the 1 percent are not even in the financial sector.  If the Occupy Wall Street protesters were honestly concerned about the wealth and political pull of the 1 percent, why are no hospitals or non-financial board rooms being occupied.

Until the protesters realize their irony involving the situation, they will not maintain or gain the support and media coverage they received so early on in their occupation.

Where’s the Message?

I’m confused.

The message of the Occupy Wall Street protesters is indiscernible.

The message is messages; cries for “Fiscal Responsibility,” and calling for the end of “Corporate corruption in Washington;” too much for too little time.

The Occupy Wall Street campaign is a hell-bent grassroots effort for socioeconomic and political change.

The motives are good, but what change (changes?) the protesters want is questionable. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are just as disillusioned and disorganized as the institutions they are protesting against.

Their message is just as discombobulated as the media coverage they are receiving.  The New York Times is apparently just as confused as the protest they are covering.

While covering the protesters march onto the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, the New York
Times flipped more than the GOP candidates discussing Medicare on how they felt about the protesters – all in the span 20 minutes.

At 6:59 p.m. the New York Times ran the headline “Protestors Arrested on Brooklyn Bridge.”

Twenty minutes later at 7:19 p.m. the headline was changed to read “Hundreds arrested on Brooklyn Bridge.”

Where the shift in blame from the police to the protesters is prevalent is in the lead change that occurs when the headline is changed.

The first lead read: “After allowing them onto the bridge, the police cut off and arrested dozens of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.”

The second and changed lead read: “In a tense showdown over the East River, police arrested hundreds of Occupy Wall Street demonstrators after they marched onto the bridge’s Brooklyn bound roadway.”

Do dozens change to hundreds and allowed change to marched in the span of 20 minutes?

The protesters voice is lost because of such flip-flopped media coverage from many sources. In the late 1960s the media displayed the civil war and anti-war protestors as a youthful, self-disenfranchised group of extreme leftists and drug induced hippies, tainting the message, power, and legitimacy of the protests and protesters themselves.

Media coverage of what is happening on Wall Street displays the protestors as a youthful, self-disenfranchised group of extreme leftists and drug induced hippies, tainting the message, power, and legitimacy of the protests; even if their makeup is from all walks of the socioeconomic life style.

The protesters message may not be a cry for a change in everything, but if their one voice cannot be conveyed through the media outlets that are reporting on them, then their voices will never be heard.