Two opposite court judgements have been handed down regarding the NSA surveillance program in 10 days by two US district judges in two states.
On December 27, US District Judge William Pauley in New York ruled in ACLU v. James R. Clapper that the NSA’s metadata program is lawful under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The ACLU sought a preliminary injunction against the Government’s program, but this was denied.
On December 16, US District Judge Richard L. Leon in DC ruled in Klayman v. Obama that the NSA program was “likely unconstitutional.” Leon found against the NSA’s metadata program and granted a preliminary injunction, but stayed the ruling to allow for appeals.
James R. Clapper was filed June 11 by the American Civil Liberties Union against the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. Days earlier, Edward Snowden’s leaks were published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, revealing the NSA’s telephone data collection program, which records in dragnet the numbers and duration of calls Americans dial, but not the content of those calls.
Pauley cited several reasons for his decision.
Pauly framed the NSA program within a group of counter-measures the government had effected in order to combat the threat posed by a new enemy: terror networks. The September 11 terrorist attacks, Pauly reasoned, might have been prevented if the metadata program had been in place at that time.
Pauly stated that the “blunt tool”–the metadata program–works only because it collects everything.
Pauly found that, putting aside the public and government discussion and litigation taking place in the wake of the unauthorized disclosures of Edward Snowden, the question Pauly was tasked to deal with in James R. Clapper was specifically whether the bulk telephony program is lawful. Pauly found that it was lawful, but noted explicitly that “the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of Government to decide,” referring to the legislative and executive branches of government.
Pauly concluded by quoting Justice Jackson: “the Bill of Rights is not a suicide-pact,” observing that the Forth Amendment right against search and seizure is “fundamental, but not absolute.” Pauly framed the question of government surveillance in terms of reasonableness. Pauly cited the voluntary giving of information more personal than telephony metadata by most Americans to various trans-national corporations. There was no evidence that the government had used any of its collected data for any purpose other than investigating terrorist attacks – violations, Pauly said, stemmed from human error and the complex nature of the information tool – and that the metadata program was subject to responsible oversight and monitoring. Pauly reiterated his concern over the “cost of missing such a [useful piece of information against a terrorist plan]” that could be horrific, referring to the 9/11 attacks.
Pauley dismissed the ACLU’s complaint and denied the ACLU’s motion for injunction.
The ACLU commented after Pauley’s decision, complaining that the decision misinterpreted relevant statutes and understated the privacy implications of the NSA program. The ACLU also complained that Pauley’s ruling relied on and misapplied the precedent of Smith v. Maryland (1979), which is the precedent referred to in cases where third-party disclosures are at issue.
Smith v. Maryland continued a tradition in U.S. law that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” In Smith, the Supreme Court found that no warrant is required to obtain information from phone companies for metadata those companies hold as business records. FISA has also upheld this ruling in secret, one-sided courts conducted since 2006.
Klayman v. Obama, ruled on by Judge Leon on December 16, had an opposite result. Leon called the NSA program “almost Orwellian” and said that the program probably violated the Fourth Amendment. Leon observed that James Madison would be “aghast” at the program.
Leon stated that the government had not shown any case where the program actually stopped an immanent terrorist attack. This function is the primary rationale for the program that Leon found to probably infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights.
Leon noted Smith v. Maryland, but found that the meaning of telephone use had changed substantially since the 1979 case–beyond what could even be conceived at that date–and so should not be relied on in the trial.
Leon warned the government that he was providing six months for the government to prepare for eventual defeat if the appeals Leon expected the government to make did not succeed.
Klayman was brought by a conservative lawyer, Larry Klayman and the father of a soldier killed in 2011 in Afghanistan, Charles Strange.
Law Professor at George Washington University, Orin Kerr, commented on the two rulings, calling them “dream rulings” for each interested party respectively, “Point and counterpoint” of the issue. Kerr explained that both opinions were material for the appeals courts to take up.
President Obama has voiced his intention to state publicly in January what reforms to the NSA program he supports. Obama’s personally appointed review panel recommended last week that the NSA should conduct significant reforms and no longer store the metadata in question.
From here, the losing parties of the two trials on NSA surveillance will proceed to appeals courts; the ACLU said that it intended to appeal James R. Clapper and the government is expected to appeal Klayman in the upcoming months.
By Day Blakely Donaldson
When political parties reverse their policy stance, their supporters immediately switch their opinions too
At least a significant portion of their supporters, according to U of Aarhus researchers.
When two competing political parties in Denmark reversed their policy stance on an issue — suddenly they both supported reducing unemployment benefits — their voters immediately moved their opinions by around 15% into line with their party.
The same thing happened when one of these parties shifted from opposing to supporting ending Denmark’s early retirement.
The researchers were studying how public opinion is formed. Their recent paper sheds light on how much influence political parties have over their supporters, according to the researchers, who surveyed their panel of subjects in five successive waves between 2010 and 2011. They studied the same group of party supporters before, during and after a policy reversal.
“We can see that [the] welfare programs were actually quite popular … and many of the voters of the center-right party were in favor of these welfare programs,” commented one of the researchers, Rune Slothuus. “Nevertheless, we can see that they reversed their opinion from supporting these welfare programs to opposing these welfare programs.”
“I was surprised to see the parties appeared this powerful in shaping opinions,” Slothuus said. “Our findings suggest that partisan leaders can indeed lead citizens’ opinions in the real world, even in situations where the stakes are real and the economic consequences tangible.”
The researchers pondered Western democracy in light of their findings: “If citizens just blindly follow their party without thinking much about it, that should lead to some concern about the mechanisms in our democracy. Because how can partisan elites represent citizens’ views if the views of citizens are shaped by the very same elites who are supposed to represent them?”
Source: How Political Parties Shape Public Opinion in the Real World. Rune Slothuus and Martin Bisgaard. First published: 04 November 2020 https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12550
The brain listens for things it is trying to predict
The brain interprets sounds as they contrast with its expectations; it recognizes patterns of sounds faster when they’re in line with what it is predicting it will hear, but it only encodes sounds when they contrast with expectations, according to Technische U researchers.
The researchers showed this by monitoring the two principal nuclei of the subcortical pathway responsible for auditory processing: the inferior colliculus and the medial geniculate body, as their subjects listened to patterns of sounds which the researches modified so that sometimes they would hear an expected sound pattern, and other times something unexpected.
Source: Alejandro Tabas, Glad Mihai, Stefan Kiebel, Robert Trampel, Katharina von Kriegstein. Abstract rules drive adaptation in the subcortical sensory pathway. eLife, 2020; 9 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.64501
We have a particular way of understanding a room
When several research subjects were instructed to explore an empty room, and when they were instead seated in a chair and watched someone else explore the room, their brain waves followed a certain pattern, as recorded by a backpack hooked up to record their brain waves, eye movements, and paths. It didn’t matter if they were walking or watching someone else, according to UC researchers led by Dr Matthias Stangl.
The researchers also tested what happened when subjects searched for a hidden spot, or watched someone else do so, and found that brain waves flowed more strongly when they had a goal and hunted for something.
Source: Matthias Stangl, Uros Topalovic, Cory S. Inman, Sonja Hiller, Diane Villaroman, Zahra M. Aghajan, Leonardo Christov-Moore, Nicholas R. Hasulak, Vikram R. Rao, Casey H. Halpern, Dawn Eliashiv, Itzhak Fried, Nanthia Suthana. Boundary-anchored neural mechanisms of location-encoding for self and others. Nature, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-03073-y
Extroverts and introverts use different vocabularies
Extroverts use ‘positive emotion’ and ‘social process’ words more often than introverts, according to new research conducted at Nanyang Technological U.
‘Love,’ ‘happy,’ and ‘blessed’ indicate pleasant emotions, and ‘beautiful’ and ‘nice’ indicate positivity or optimism, and are among the words found to be used more often by extroverts. So too are ‘meet,’ ‘share,’ and ‘talk,’ which are about socializing. Extroverts use personal pronouns — except ‘I’ — more too, another indication of sociability.
The correlation, however, was small, and the researchers think that stronger linguistic indicators need to be found to achieve their general goal, which is improving machine learning approaches to targeting consumer marketing.
Source: Jiayu Chen, Lin Qiu, Moon-Ho Ringo Ho. A meta-analysis of linguistic markers of extraversion: Positive emotion and social process words. Journal of Research in Personality, 2020; 89: 104035 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2020.104035
WhatsApp is changing today - Users must give the app permission to send their private data to Facebook or lose account
WhatsApp was bought by Facebook in 2014, but has thrived while promoting itself as a privacy-respecting messaging app that now has 1.5b monthly active users. This week, though, WhatApp sent out an update to users’ phones that they must ‘consent’ to a new policy or lose access.
Whatsapp will now share more of your data, including your IP address (your location) and phone number, your account registration information, your transaction data, and service-related data, interactions on WhatsApp, and other data collected based on your consent, with Facebook’s other companies. Facebook has been working towards more closely integrating Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger.
Users who do not agree to ‘consent’ to the new policy will see their WhatsApp account become inaccessible until they do ‘consent.’ These accounts will remain dormant for 120 days after which they will be ‘deleted.’
The biggest change to the user policy, which many people ignored and clicked ‘agree’ to, thinking it was just another unimportant app update message, now reads,
‘We collect information about your activity on our Services, like service-related, diagnostic, and performance information. This includes information about your activity (including how you use our Services, your Services settings, how you interact with others using our Services (including when you interact with a business), and the time, frequency, and duration of your activities and interactions), log files, and diagnostic, crash, website, and performance logs and reports. This also includes information about when you registered to use our Services; the features you use like our messaging, calling, Status, groups (including group name, group picture, group description), payments or business features; profile photo, “about” information; whether you are online, when you last used our Services (your “last seen”); and when you last updated your “about” information.’
Notably, Elon Musk tweeted on the news, saying that WhatsApp users should switch to Signal, one of several popular privacy-focused messaging apps similar to WhatsApp.
The data sharing policy change doesn’t affect people in Europe due to GDPR data protection regulations.