Are privacy and civil liberties a secondary concern for law enforcement?

DoJ talks of growing public distrust of law enforcement surveillance and high-tech investigative techniques; creates new cybercrime fighting unit

There is a debate brewing that privacy and civil liberties are afterthoughts to criminal investigators. Part of the mistrust on the part of the public can be laid at the feet of the NSA and details or lack thereof of exactly what the agency is doing. Myriad privacy invasions and data breaches also don’t help the overall cyber trust situation.

Speaking at the Cybercrime 2020 Symposium in Washington, D.C., Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell  encouraged the debate but defended the US Department of Justice stating: “Almost every decision we make during an investigation requires us to weigh the effect on privacy and civil liberties, and we take that responsibility seriously.  Privacy concerns are not just tacked onto our investigations, they are baked in.  Privacy concerns are in the laws that set the ground rules for us to follow; the Departmental policies that govern our investigative and prosecutorial conduct; the accountability we must embrace when we present our evidence to a judge, a jury, and the public in an open courtroom; and in the proud culture of the Department.

+More on Network World: Quick look: NASA Orion’s critical test mission+

Caldwell went onto say that the agency “not only carefully consider privacy implications throughout our investigations, but we also dedicate significant resources to protecting the privacy of Americans from hackers who steal our financial and credit card information, online predators that stalk and exploit our children, and cyber thieves who steal the trade secrets of innovative American entrepreneurs.  As just an example our efforts, we recently announced the conviction of a Danish citizen who marketed and sold StealthGenie, a spyware application or “app” that could remotely monitor calls, texts, videos and other communications on mobile phones without detection.  This app was marketed to individuals who wanted to spy on spouses and lovers suspected of infidelity.”

Caldwell noted that earlier this year, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced charges against the owner of “Blackshades,” which sold the Blackshades Remote Access Tool, which resulted in the arrests of more than 90 people across the globe.

“The Blackshades tool was used by hackers to gain access to victims’ personal computers to secretly steal files and account information, browse personal photos, and even to monitor the victims through their own webcams. This software tool illustrates one of the scariest capabilities of hackers to date, as the Blackshades product or a similar tool was used by one hacker to secretly capture naked photos of teens and young women, including Miss Teen USA. The hacker then used the photos to extort his victims—with threats that he would post the photos on the Internet—into sending additional nude photos and videos,” Caldwell stated.

As part of an effort to make sure the cybercrime fight stays on the up-and-up, Caldwell said a new DoJ unit will be formed to enjoin law enforcement, private sector companies and Congress in the fight.

The new group called the Cybersecurity Unit will operate in the DoJ’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.  Prosecutors from the Cybersecurity Unit will provide a central hub for expert advice and legal guidance regarding the criminal electronic surveillance statutes for both U.S. and international law enforcement conducting complex cyber investigations to ensure that the powerful law enforcement tools are effectively used to bring the perpetrators to justice while also protecting the privacy of every day Americans. 

This new unit will strive to ensure that the advancing cyber security legislation is shaped to most effectively protect our nation’s computer networks and individual victims from cyber attacks, Caldwell stated.  

“Outreach allows us to participate in the growing public debate about evolving technology.  The open debate will benefit from the information that we can contribute about how technology is being used by criminals, how we are leveraging technology to investigate and disrupt criminal activity, and how technology can be leveraged in the public and private sectors to enhance cyber security.  Without that information, misconceptions and inaccuracies can take root and hamper enforcement efforts as well as cyber security programs,” Caldwell stated.

What do you think? Is the security/privacy issue so much water over the dam already or could the situation be fixed or at least improved greatly?

Check out these other hot stories:

DARPA looks to connect complex system security dots and wipe out malicious cyber attacks

US intelligence wants high-tech access to the most prodigious sensor of all: Humans

NASA sets huge $5M cubesat competition

Air Force evaluating high-frequency, focused mobile networks

US intelligence unit launches $50k speech recognition competition

FTC gets federal court to shut down $120M tech support scam

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.