Researchers Ask Federal Court To Unseal Years of Surveillance Records

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Two lawyers and legal researchers based at Stanford University have formally asked a federal court in San Francisco to unseal numerous records of surveillance-related cases, as a way to better understand how authorities seek such powers from judges. This courthouse is responsible for the entire Northern District of California, which includes the region where tech companies such as Twitter, Apple, and Google, are based. According to the petition, Jennifer Granick and Riana Pfefferkorn were partly inspired by a number of high-profile privacy cases that have unfolded in recent years, ranging from Lavabit to Apple’s battle with the Department of Justice. In their 45-page petition, they specifically say that they don’t need all sealed surveillance records, simply those that should have been unsealed — which, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen automatically. The researchers wrote in their Wednesday filing: “Most surveillance orders are sealed, however. Therefore, the public does not have a strong understanding of what technical assistance courts may order private entities to provide to law enforcement. There are at least 70 cases, many under seal, in which courts have mandated that Apple and Google unlock mobile phones and potentially many more. The Lavabit district court may not be the only court to have ordered companies to turn over private encryption keys to law enforcement based on novel interpretations of law. Courts today may be granting orders forcing private companies to turn on microphones or cameras in cars, laptops, mobile phones, smart TVs, or other audio- and video-enabled Internet-connected devices in order to conduct wiretapping or visual surveillance. This pervasive sealing cripples public discussion of whether these judicial orders are lawful and appropriate.”

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