Losing Your Online Privacy

On March 19th, 2017, the Republican-controlled Congress voted to pass a bill requiring no more than President Trump’s signature to make it law that would give internet service providers (ISPs) the right to snoop on their customers. This new law would allow ISPs to do this without the consent of their customers and then sell any collected data to marketing companies.

An Added Advantage
Those Republicans who backed this bill stated it would help to level the playing field for broadband companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon and give them an advantage in their battle against content providers like Facebook and Google.
Those Democrats who stood in opposition to the bill stated that this bill would give ISPs the right to monitor every aspect of their customers’ daily online lives. It would also give them the right to profit from selling their customer’s private data to marketers and advertisers. It could also make it much easier for hackers to benefit from this suddenly available mass of data.

Peter Eckersley, chief computer scientist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, states, ” Information about your activities may wind up being used to make adverse decisions about you. Something your kids search for online could be the basis for why you are denied a loan.” But, it’s not just individuals such as law enforcement officers who can be affected by this new law, many businesses could soon find their information in the wrong hands.

Think of it like this, if your ISP can sell your information, how long will it be before those with ill-intent find a way to access it and use what they find to cause significant problems. While Republicans laud this new law as a way to give ISPs the same advantages as content providers, Democrats call it an assault on the public’s right to privacy with the sole intent of helping ISPs to enjoy higher profit levels.
Minnesota Democrat Rep. Keith Ellison says, “It’s outrageous, I can’t believe that a person who is a constitutional conservative would vote for a monstrosity like this.” California Democrat Rep. Anna Eshoo said, “The message to the American people is clear: Your Privacy doesn’t matter.”

Changes in How We Use the Internet
One thing is sure, this new law is going to have a major impact on how people use their internet service. Many are likely to seek out encryption services or software as a way to get around the constant monitoring by their ISPs. The only bad part of doing this is that if your ISP is determined to collect your browsing history, these services may not be enough to protect your privacy from their prying eyes.
It seems that right now there is simply no way you are going to be able to protect your browsing history from your ISP service. The best thing you can do is be sure that you do everything to keep any private information secure using currently available encryption services and to be prepared to take legal action if your personal data is mishandled, at least until this law is changed or repealed.

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Continued Killings of Law Enforcement Officers Brings New Meaning to Being Vigilant

The number of “cop killings” continues to rise as more officers are being targeted simply because they are in uniform. With this in mind, no member of law enforcement can afford to let his or her guard down lest they become the next victim of this senseless violence. According to the latest statistics, there have been 17 officers killed in the line of duty since January 1st, 2017 by gunfire and the carnage has not been slowing down.

A Rising Tide
These officers are a part of what appears to be a rising tide of violence that is being focused on those whose job it is to “Serve and Protect.” In part, this is due to efforts around the country to “demonize” police officers both by members of the public and sadly by certain elements of the press. Some of the many protest groups around the country are only too happy to rush in and accuse an officer of murder in the event he/she is involved in a shooting.

The press is not much better and seems to be all too happy to jump on the bandwagon. They rush to publish what they believe to be eyewitness reports that indicate the officer is at fault before checking the facts. Often, once video recordings and body cam recordings are viewed, it becomes obvious the officer was not at fault. But, by then it’s too late as the general public has already formed an opinion that is not likely to be changed.

Research Shows
In a recent research study conducted by John Lott Jr. of the Crime Prevention Research Center, it was noted that of the 2,699 fatal police shootings between 2013 and 2015, race played very little role in the killings. White officers were no more likely to shoot African-Americans than any other race, nor was there a significant difference in the number of killings of African-Americans by black or white officers. The same was also noted of whites and Hispanics by officers of any race.

At the same time, it was noted that the use of body cameras by officers had little effect on the number of police shootings. What the report did note, is that the number one deterrent for officer-involved shootings was simply having more officers in the area.

However, the report did go on to say that the use of body cameras does serve a purpose. This is to protect officers from being falsely accused and convicted of crimes. They can also be used to prosecute those who attack officers physically or do things like spraying them with mace or gas them while they are on duty.

While it is virtually impossible to protect our brothers in blue from every form of attack, it is every officer’s duty to become more vigilant than ever before. This includes when they are on duty and conducting routine business and when they are off duty enjoying their everyday lives.

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Is a Law Enforcement Officer’s Cell Phone Protected Under the Constitution?

For today’s law enforcement officer his or her cellphone/smartphone has become just as much a part of their personal gear as their sidearm and handcuffs. Officers routinely use their phone to call in reports, take pictures of accident and crime scenes, even to email witnesses. At the same time, some us them to send distasteful text messages, call their spouses, surf the web, and store pictures of family and friends. A cellphone is no longer just a tool, it has literally become an extension of their on and off-duty life.

Privacy Desired

Given the types of information likely to be found stored in the many different files of the average officer’s phone, it is highly unlikely that they would want anybody such as their supervisor, a member of internal affairs, or any type of criminal investigator to see what they have stored. However, it has become very common for these people to want access to this information in order to investigate both internal and external complaints as well as to help substantiate or disprove any complaints of criminal behavior. The result of this confusion is that more officers are asking if their cell phones are susceptible to inspection. The answer is not as easy as you might think.

According to the Tenth Circuit, a determination has not been made as to whether a police officer’s cell phone is protected by the Fourth Amendment. Yet at the same time since a personal computer is protected by the Fourth Amendment and today’s smartphones are essentially miniature computers, it may be that they are offered this same level of protection.

Possession Indicates an Expectation of Privacy

Much like anything that may contain evidence or any type of information, the amount of protection afforded to it may be dependent on how much of a degree of privacy the officer in question seems to outwardly exhibit. In most cases, it appears that simply having a cell phone in one’s possession seems to be enough to give rise to the idea that there should be a certain amount of protection and privacy, even if the phone is provided by that officer’s department rather than being a personal device.

However, just because the phone might be protected under the Fourth Amendment, doesn’t necessarily mean that the officer’s employer does not have the right to access it. In fact, they may have the right to review the contents of the phone in the event of an investigation into misconduct that is work-related or for non-investigatory purposes, providing their inspection is deemed “reasonable”.

This idea of “reasonable”, gives the officer’s employer a lot of latitude with regard to this type of invasion of privacy. In certain instances, the employer may even be able to compel the officer to allow them to access their cell phone. The best way to avoid this type of situation, is to avoid is to ensure you do not record personal information on it and that if you are asked to turn it over for investigation, you politely decline and seek legal counsel.

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The Debate Over Filming and Police Privacy

A law enforcement department in Wilmington, NC has been forced to backtrack following an incident in which one of its officers was recorded by a citizen telling him that he could not record their interaction. This particularly unnerving incident once again raises the specter of just how much privacy a law enforcement officer has a right to expect when you consider the current climate in which there is a high demand for transparency, while at the same time balancing this with the need for increased officer safety and the need to investigate any possible misdoings by officers.

What Happened
According to reports, on the 26th of February, Sgt. Kenneth Becker of the Wilmington PD was recorded telling Jesse Bright that under a new state law, it was no longer legal to record police officers acting in the line of duty. The problem is that there is no such law on the books, Bright who is an attorney questioned the officer as the validity of this statement, knowing full well that none existed. During the interaction, Bright informed Becker that he was “scared” and that he wanted to continue “recording in case anything happened.” During the stop, Bright’s car was searched after being told a K-9 unit had detected drugs. Bright told local news station WECT that he was released after the officers found no sign of drugs.

Ralph Evangelous, Wilmington Police Chief, released a statement to say that an investigation had begun into the event and that all citizens do in fact have the right to record officers acting in the line of duty. His statement said, ” Taking photographs and videos of people that are in plain sight including the police is your legal right. As a matter of fact, we invite citizens to do so when they believe it is necessary. We believe that public videos help to protect the police as well as our citizens and provide critical information during police and citizen interaction.”

What the Laws Truly Say and Mean
While House Bill 972 that took effect back in October does make all footage from police body cameras and dash-cams private in the state of North Carolina, it does not cover any footage not created by a private citizen on their own equipment. While this might seem like a good idea, it adds yet another major mess into the melting pot that has become a huge issue with regard to the growing demands for both more transparency and the need to protect the privacy of police officers.

There is no doubt that across the country, the laws covering the use of video cameras by officers and civilians alike are a mess. Unfortunately, there have been far too many instances of violence against officers following the public release of footage like this. This makes critics highly wary of any laws designed to block public access while at the same time of making this type of footage public knowledge. It is a double-edged sword and one that is likely to plague law enforcement agencies for many years to come.

Bottom line at the moment is that until definitive laws are passed, the public still retains the right to actively film any law enforcement officer in the line of duty. At least unless filming police officers in the line of duty will actively hinder an ongoing investigation. So officers take heed, the public has the right to videotape you and currently, there is nothing you can do about it.

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Privacyforcops.org Announces Acquisition of PolicePrivacy.com

NEWS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Pasadena, CA – May 1, 2017 – The Public Safety Assistance Foundation (“PSAF”), a California Non-Profit 501(c)(3), operating under the name Privacyforcops.org, has recently acquired their longest standing and largest competitor PolicePrivacy.com. Both companies started in 2007 after California Government Code 6254.21 was passed. Over the years, there had been several talks in regards to Privacyforcops.org purchasing PolicePrivacy.com, but nothing ever transpired. Most recently, Privacyforcops.org was approached and undisclosed terms to purchase PolicePrivacy.com were reached. At this time, the purchase made sense and opened up a great opportunity for Privacyforcops.org to expand in the current market and also opens the doors to several other market opportunities. Privacyforcops.org is currently setup to utilize Government Code in California, Colorado, Idaho, and Texas, but the pursuance of being able to offer their service beyond these states is something they have been looking forward to do for some time now.

“Following multiple police shootings that arose in 2014, continued law enforcement scrutiny, and with the rise of information sharing websites targeting officers and officials, the expansion into more markets is coming at a perfect time,” said Joshua McIntire, Privacyforcops.org CEO. “And with the recent data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), where personnel files and security clearance and background investigation files are presumed to have been taken by foreign actors, the safety of law enforcement officers and their loved ones continue to be at risk.”

“This was a great opportunity to provide this much needed service to a larger market,” said Joshua McIntire, Privacyforcops.org CEO. By posting the personal residence of an active or retired law enforcement officer or public official, it is in fact a violation of the law in many states. “Our goal is to stop websites from continuously posting personal information of law enforcement officers, public officials, and their families. As the industry leader in law enforcement and public official information removal, we work closely with the online databases to seek removal as fast as possible.”

About the Public Safety Assistance Foundation/Privacy for Cops
Privacyforcops.org is a California Non-Profit 501 (c)(3) organization. With a mission to assist law enforcement officers, public officials, federal and district judges, federal agents, district attorneys and their families — in facilitating, executing, and monitoring the removal of their personal information from information sharing databases, Privacyforcops.org helps eliminate the wide-spread use of sites publicly posting confidential information online. Recently, Privacyforcops.org has implemented a proprietary web-crawler to help monitor the internet and have several other products and affiliations in development. Privacyforcops.org has a team of committed board and staff members who continuously work on behalf of their members.

For more information please visit our website at www.privacyforcops.org or contact us directly at:

Privacyforcops.org
info@privacyforcops.org
866.418.0049
@privacyforcops
www.facebook.com/privacyforcops

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Police Officers and Civil Liability

Given the amount of media coverage over the past few months, law enforcement officers face more scrutiny than at any time in history. Naturally, with all of this scrutiny, the number of civil lawsuits being filed against officers for both on and off-duty actions has also increased and is having a significant impact on their employment. With this in mind it is becoming increasingly important that law enforcement officers become aware of the potential for them to be held personally liable for any actions they take in the line of duty that could end with a personal lawsuit being filed against them.

Law Enforcement Officers and Personal Civil Liability
The concept of personal liability for police officers refers to the idea that an officer can be considered civilly liable for any actions they take within the realm of their position. There are, in fact, a number of legal theories in which an officer can become the defendant in a civil lawsuit. These may include, but not be limited to; intentional injuries also known as torts as well as pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Lawsuits filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are considered to be the most common filed against police officers as they can be filed against any officer who has been accused of violating a person’s statutory or constitutional rights as described by law. These filings are typically called a “Bivens action” in reference to the case of Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).

Among the most common examples of this are:
• Cases of alleged false arrest
• Cases of alleged malicious prosecution
• Cases of alleged use of excessive force
• Cases of alleged failure of an officer to intervene when another officer is engaged in some form of unlawful action

Today, when a police department or federal law enforcement agency faces a civil lawsuit regarding one of their officer’s actions, the individual police officer is also named in the suit. In most cases, the main target of the plaintiff’s attorney is the particular department in question because they have the ability to pay any type of large settlement, but at the same time, the officer also becomes a target of the lawsuit. This can cause an undue amount of stress for the officer.

The Good News
The good news for the law enforcement officer named in the suit is that in most cases when an officer is named in the suit, the case itself is dismissed because law enforcement officers are afforded a certain amount of immunity. The average officer also lacks the ability to pay any type of larger settlement out of their own pockets. But, this does not seem to help relieve the stress of being named in such suits.

The courts, however, are very aware of this situation and tend to give officers a high level of deference, which in many cases make them immune to this type of suit. Those that you do see in the news are the ones in which this type of deference is not brought into play.

In most cases, the government will step in to defend an officer who is named in a civil lawsuit. Most Federal, state and local agencies have their own regulations in place that require them to provide legal representation for any officer who is accused of misconduct. However, these regulations may vary from agency to agency and may lead to the state or locality representing the officer and the agency at the same time to help avoid making the case any more complicated than it already is. On top of this, in the event the government makes the decision to settle the case, they will require the plaintiff to sign a full release against the officer and the government.

Private Insurance
It is highly recommended that law enforcement officers consider purchasing a private insurance policy designed to cover them in the event they need to hire an attorney for this type of civil lawsuit. The policy should not only cover the cost of legal defense, but also any settlement or judgment. It is your job as a law enforcement officer to ensure you are properly protected and that you fully understand your personal liabilities and the issues you face as a member of law enforcement.

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Police Body Camera Footage – Public Record or Not?

The number of police departments across the country that are equipping their officers with body cameras continues to increase exponentially. The biggest problem with this is that despite the rapid growth in use, the vast majority of these departments have little in the way of laws on the books regarding their use. States like North Carolina do have laws in place that are designed to prevent members of the public from seeing any footage captured by body cameras unless they have a court order. This new law does provide a number of exceptions that would allow anyone who is captured on film to access it, but at the same time, there is a huge list of exceptions that would continue to prevent members of the public from seeing the footage. That is unless they can afford the costly legal fees.

A Nationwide Issue
This situation is one that is affected police departments across the country as they continue to struggle with finding the best possible way to cope with such an enormous influx of new evidence. The big question concerns whether or not any footage captured by body cameras should be treated like any other evidence. Alternatively, should the footage be considered as something unique that does, in fact, require new laws such as the one in North Carolina?

The question is at the center of a huge nationwide debate as not only can this type of footage provide the evidence needed to ensure a conviction, but in many cases, it also includes images of people or places that are not actively involved in the investigation or crime. As such, capturing this information and making it accessible to members of the public, could, in fact, be considered a breach of their privacy covered under a number of existing laws.

Privacy Is Key
It is only to be expected that the use of police body cameras would indeed pose a risk to the public’s right to expect privacy. Such footage is indeed capable of providing law enforcement officers and the courts with undeniable evidence of what happened during an interaction between officers and the public. However, there are those in the courts and law enforcement who seem to feel as though the public does not have a right to see it.

If you were to ask virtually any police department if they believe they should have control over who gets to see this footage, the answer would, of course, be a very firm yes. The feeling among individual officers may be slightly different as they see the footage as a way to prove that they were, in fact, behaving in a manner consummate with proper behavior and that they were in the fact right. At the same time, failing to release the footage to the public is likely to cause them to trust law enforcement officers less now than at any time in the past. In turn, this is likely to lead to even more threats against officers rather than less as was hoped with the introduction of police body cams.

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A Police Officer’s Vow Is to Protect and Serve

Everyone has seen the message “To Protect and Serve” on the sides of law enforcement vehicles either in their hometowns or at least on television in shows like CHiPs and Hawaii 5-0. The average person understands that the term “Protect” indicates that the officer is there to be a guardian or protector of the innocent, not to be at “war’ with them.

What Does “To Serve” Really Mean?
Since the average citizen has at least a basic understanding of what the term “To Protect” means, what does “To Serve” really mean? In reality, the two terms are forever linked together as the job of a police officer is to both protect and serve at the same time. Many officers might say that despite the use of the term “To Serve” that they are no one’s servant.

However, according to Robert Greenleaf founder of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, “The servant-leader is a servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is a leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…”

He goes on to say, “The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”

Finally, he says this, “A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the ‘top of the pyramid’ servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible…”

So, when you take these concepts and apply them to the job of a police officer, it should be easy to understand why so many police departments include both “To Protect” and “To Serve” on the doors of their vehicles, on their badges, or in many other locations. The main goal of posting this is not to follow a tradition, but to show the general public that the goal of their local law enforcement agency is to both protect and serve its citizens.

Law enforcement officers should realize they have the privilege of being able to spend time in their local communities anytime day or night, and in any weather to assist with an incredibly diverse range of requests for assistance (To Protect). They are in the unique position of being the first one on the scene to provide one on one assistance (To Serve). This is more than just a calling for most officers, it is also a privilege.

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Privacy Tips and Safety Advice for Law Enforcement Officers

5 steps to better privacyToday’s police officers are struggling to do their jobs and not be assaulted by the public more than at any time in their history. Officers are constantly looking over their shoulders for any number of attack by those they have arrested. Being put in this position can be hard for you as a police officer, but when you have a family to worry about as well, the risk goes up significantly. Here are a few good tips to help you maintain the privacy and safety of yourself and your family.

1. Have a plan in place to keep your family safe at all times. For example, when you tell them to go straight home, they should be prepared to do so immediately and without question. Be sure you have a safe route home planned out and that you remind your family of this plan on a frequent basis to ensure they understand how and why.

2. Teach your wife and children not to tell those who ask that you are a law enforcement officer. While some institutions like the school your children attend, your bank, and so on do need this information, the whole world does not need to know. The fewer who know this, the lower the risk that someone might target your family.

3. Watch what goes on social media. There is nothing wrong with you and your family having social media accounts. However, if you do, everyone needs to know what they can and cannot post online. You might be shocked at how easily someone can link a social media account such as FaceBook to your family and to your address so that they can target you or your family.

4. Never post pictures of yourself in uniform online. This simply makes it much easier for those will ill intentions to find you when you are not on duty. A single picture of you can be used not only to find you but to connect you with your family, putting them once again at risk of attack.

5. Change your passwords on a regular basis. Most of us are guilty of using the same passwords for month after month. Even worse, many of us use the same password for multiple accounts. In both cases, it becomes much easier for a would be criminal to hack into all of your accounts. This could lead to something as financially ruinous as identity theft or lead them right to your front door.

While there are a number of laws in place designed to protect the privacy of law enforcement officers and their families, they are not enough. You are responsible for your own safety and privacy as well as that of your family if you have one. While you should be proud to be a member of law enforcement, it has become one of the most dangerous careers in the country, be sure you are doing your part to protect yourself and those you love.

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Cell Phone Record Searches by Police in Canada Deemed a Violation of Rights

Cell Phone EvidenceA recent message coming from the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and the White House, stated that incoming citizens from certain countries may be subjected to having their cell phones searched for a wide range of information. It has been noted that this concept could also be applied the phone records of U.S. Citizens. This exact topic was the subject of a recent judgment issued by an Ontario Superior Court Judge John Sproat.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms
According to Justice Sproat, search warrants being used to force cell phone companies to release the records of thousands of their customers who are innocent of any wrong-doing is a direct violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This judgment was in answer to a case filed in the Peel Region. In this case, the police had been given a court order allowing them to access the names, phone numbers, banking information, and addresses of all cell phone users whose cell signals were connected to certain towers. This information was requested for a specific period of time during with a number of jewelry store heists that occurred in 2014.

The challenge to this in court was based on the idea that this broad-based court order affected the privacy of over 40,000 customers, the vast majority of whom were completely innocent. Justice Sproat voiced the decision that it was ” improper for the police to seek irrelevant personal information” during the course of their investigations. He went on to say ” have no hesitation in finding that the production orders were overly broad and that they infringed Section 8 (against unreasonable search and seizure) of the charter.”

New Guidelines in Canada
The end result included a number of new guidelines that could possibly soon find their way south of the Border here in the U.S. These guidelines include suggesting that police officers simply limit their requests to the minimum amount of information needed for the case in question. This might be limited to nothing more than the phone numbers that accessed the cell towers during this period of time. This way the cell service providers could create tailor-made reports rather than providing police with reams of useless raw data containing large amounts of private data.

In a statement made during a CBS News interview, Sukanya Pillay, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, she said: ” They can’t be mass surveillance, needle in a haystack searches.” This situation not only affects hundreds of thousands of private citizens in Canada but also has the potential to affect the privacy of millions of U.S. cell phone users if the practice should move south and be taken up by law enforcement agencies across the nation.

While this was the first such case in Canada, it sets a precedent that may also be used to argue such a case in the United States where citizens’ rights to privacy are protected in a similar fashion. To be sure, law enforcement agencies do need access to this type of information, but in a carefully limited manner. At the same time, the rights of privacy are guaranteed under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, this is sure to become an issue that must be settled by the courts in the U.S. before it becomes a major problem for both citizen and law enforcement officer.

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