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Privacy rights in the US

Old 08-28-13, 11:52 PM
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Privacy rights in the US

I see people defending the NSA spying by saying that by using a 3rd party to send emails, and surf the web, you should have no expectation of privacy when it comes to government reading and storing the information within your emails or the content of your web activity.

So why do courts need a warrant to tap someone's phone? The phone company is a 3rd party, and we're using THEIR service to talk?

I didn't want to post this in the NSA thread, because I wanted to know more about specific laws in regards to privacy, the 4th amendment, as well as the history of it.
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Old 08-29-13, 12:18 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

I believe Smith v. Maryland implies there is no expectation of privacy with regard to metadata.
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Old 08-29-13, 12:29 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

But it's more than just metadata right? What about PRISM? Metadata is the term applied to keeping track of the numbers called. Is the content of an email also considered metadata? What about web activity?
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Old 08-29-13, 12:54 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Generally, it's metadata, at least for communication between U.S. citizens. There are exceptions, but no one knows how common they are. Anyway, the argument is that when you send email you know ahead of time that it will pass through numerous third parties -- ergo, no expectation of privacy.
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Old 08-29-13, 01:00 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Thanks for the answers.

In regards to email, is it really common knowledge that the content of your email goes through numerous 3rd parties? I honestly assumed, until recently, that your email is read by no one except the person that's receiving it? Who are the numerous 3rd parties besides the email provider? What does the email provider do with it? Scan it for keywords and sell that info to advertisers?
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Old 08-29-13, 08:50 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

email is also sent in clear text unless you go out of your way to encrypt it.

ANYONE IN THE WORLD CAN INTERCEPT YOUR CLEAR TEXT EMAIL AND READ IT!!!

This is very different from a phone conversation.

You got something to say in email that you want to keep private, encrypt it. Then if the NSA hacks your encryption you have a better argument about your privacy being invaded. Clear text email? no argument, there is no privacy implied anywhere by anyone. You might as well post your thoughts on the bulletin board in the local supermarket

I speak SMTP, I use to have fun logging into various email relays and sending mail to people that didn't really happen, going a step further, you can clone any email passing through the relay and get a copy for yourself, not hard. the basic protocol that handles mail transfer was invented in the 1970s and hasn't changed much over the years, back then there was not much need for any security
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Old 08-29-13, 08:55 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by 4KRG View Post
email is also sent in clear text unless you go out of your way to encrypt it.

ANYONE IN THE WORLD CAN INTERCEPT YOUR CLEAR TEXT EMAIL AND READ IT!!!

This is very different from a phone conversation.
Those are two separate issues, though. Phone conversations are protected by law, they're not encrypted. We could extend that to email very easily. Wouldn't stop people from reading it, but it couldn't be used as evidence.
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Old 08-29-13, 02:20 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by Tracer Bullet View Post
Those are two separate issues, though. Phone conversations are protected by law, they're not encrypted. We could extend that to email very easily. Wouldn't stop people from reading it, but it couldn't be used as evidence.
I am not explaining this correctly.

Say you wrote something to a friend of yours and posted it out on a public street stapled to a telephone pole.

Someone from the NSA happened by and read your note.

Did he violate your privacy?

Email is the same thing as stapling a sign to a telephone pole.

If you yell your words down the street to your friend and the NSA guy happens to be walking on the same street and hears you would be a better comparison than a phone conversation.


Email has always been a wide open note posted on a telephone pole on a public street (same as yelling down the street). Since people don't understand that, they think the NSA has done something more than read a note posted in public.

Now if I encrypt my email and the NSA is still reading it, I have a huge problem with that as my encrypted email has an inherent point to point prvacy built into how it works.


Tracer, if I wanted to capture all your email traffic, I could simply because I am on the internet and you are on the internet (we are connected, 'on the same public street) and you are not encrypting your email (it is plain text for anyone on the internet to see just like this forum).

Replace me with the NSA, what have I done that is wrong? I am not defending anyone or anything, I am simply trying to explain that your email is a note posted on a telephone pole for all that want to stop and take the time to read it can. Don't post it up there if you don't want strangers to look at it (strangers being me or your government)

Could I listen to your traditional POTS telephone calls if I wanted to? NO, I can't.


If you want to pass a law saying the NSA is not allowed to read the sign you posted on the telephone pole, but all other Joe Q. Public are allowed to, I would be ok with that, but that isn't the law currently.
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Old 08-29-13, 02:34 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Thanks, Obama!


For nothin'.
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Old 08-29-13, 02:39 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by 4KRG View Post
I am not explaining this correctly.

Say you wrote something to a friend of yours and posted it out on a public street stapled to a telephone pole.

Someone from the NSA happened by and read your note.

Did he violate your privacy?

Email is the same thing as stapling a sign to a telephone pole.

If you yell your words down the street to your friend and the NSA guy happens to be walking on the same street and hears you would be a better comparison than a phone conversation.


Email has always been a wide open note posted on a telephone pole on a public street (same as yelling down the street). Since people don't understand that, they think the NSA has done something more than read a note posted in public.

Now if I encrypt my email and the NSA is still reading it, I have a huge problem with that as my encrypted email has an inherent point to point prvacy built into how it works.


Tracer, if I wanted to capture all your email traffic, I could simply because I am on the internet and you are on the internet (we are connected, 'on the same public street) and you are not encrypting your email (it is plain text for anyone on the internet to see just like this forum).

Replace me with the NSA, what have I done that is wrong? I am not defending anyone or anything, I am simply trying to explain that your email is a note posted on a telephone pole for all that want to stop and take the time to read it can. Don't post it up there if you don't want strangers to look at it (strangers being me or your government)

Could I listen to your traditional POTS telephone calls if I wanted to? NO, I can't.


If you want to pass a law saying the NSA is not allowed to read the sign you posted on the telephone pole, but all other Joe Q. Public are allowed to, I would be ok with that, but that isn't the law currently.
No, I get that, but try telling the average person that an email is the same as stapling a message on a telephone pole.

For what it's worth, I don't think that email should be treated like that, legally speaking. It is correspondence between individuals, not a broadcast.
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Old 08-29-13, 02:53 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

I have detailed, confidential discussions with clients over email. An interesting legal question is whether using email constitutes a waiver of the attorney-client privilege. I think most lawyers and judges would say that it does not.
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Old 08-29-13, 03:34 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by Tracer Bullet View Post
No, I get that, but try telling the average person that an email is the same as stapling a message on a telephone pole.

For what it's worth, I don't think that email should be treated like that, legally speaking. It is correspondence between individuals, not a broadcast.
I can't say that I disagree with you, however, the entire mail transfer protocol would have to be re-written or upgraded or whatever you wanted to do with it to make it more secure than a note posted on a telephone pole.

on the other hand

I can't help someone that is ignorant

see below



Originally Posted by Bandoman View Post
I have detailed, confidential discussions with clients over email. An interesting legal question is whether using email constitutes a waiver of the attorney-client privilege. I think most lawyers and judges would say that it does not.



If you (and by you I do not mean bando, I mean the general you) don't understand what it is that you are using, maybe you should not use it. I have a problem with the government protecting me from my own stupidity.

I think a solution maybe to make stealing email the same as stealing US postal mail. The problem is, the US laws don't apply to all the people that can steal your email.

The only answer is to encrypt all email or force email clients to encrypt all email. But as you say, normal people don't understand that email is a note stapled to a telephone pole, they will never understand certificate based encryption.



Bando - you and your clients are seriously insane if you discuss confidential stuff over clear text email. Wow, what is your email address? (and please don't tell me @gmail or @hotmail, then I will forever see you as the lawyer running behind an ambulance leaving a car accident)
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Old 08-29-13, 03:41 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

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Old 08-29-13, 03:56 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

I tell my people to encrypt any HIPAA related documents if they send to a 3rd party, but hardly any of them do it. They are majorly ignorant.
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Old 08-29-13, 04:03 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by 4KRG View Post
I speak SMTP, I use to have fun logging into various email relays and sending mail to people that didn't really happen, going a step further, you can clone any email passing through the relay and get a copy for yourself, not hard. the basic protocol that handles mail transfer was invented in the 1970s and hasn't changed much over the years, back then there was not much need for any security
You had me at EHLO.......
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Old 08-30-13, 12:49 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by Tracer Bullet View Post
No, I get that, but try telling the average person that an email is the same as stapling a message on a telephone pole.
How exactly is it like stapling a message on a telephone pole? I thought the only way someone could read your email was either they hacked your account, I supposed if they wanted the email provider had the power to as well, but I had assumed they wouldn't do that. Are there other ways I'm unaware of?
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Old 08-30-13, 02:44 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Now hold on a second. Just because it's easy to read unencrypted emails does not mean it is the Internet equivalent of posting a note on a telephone pole or shouting a conversation down the street. Posting here would be like that, but emails are correspondence between individuals who have an expectation of privacy. I have ever anywhere heard that by using email you are giving up a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The fact is, it's easy for someone to read your mail as well. Anyone between you and the recipient who handles a letter can open and read it. But that's illegal, because there's an expectation of privacy. Just because it is easy to access does not mean that we should expect it to be read by anyone and everyone.
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Old 08-30-13, 05:48 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by Supermallet View Post
The fact is, it's easy for someone to read your mail as well. Anyone between you and the recipient who handles a letter can open and read it. But that's illegal, because there's an expectation of privacy. Just because it is easy to access does not mean that we should expect it to be read by anyone and everyone.
I'm sure a lawyer will correct me if I'm wrong (or even if I'm not), but here is my understanding: The envelope of your letter (containing metadata) is visible to all and not subject to an expectation of privacy; the contents are not visible, and so it is illegal to open your mail (except with a warrant or if sent via a method that is agreed to be subject to inspection, such as Media Mail). However, postcards are not covered by the Fourth Amendment, for the reason I cited above. So email is analogous to postcards under "third party doctrine".
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Old 08-30-13, 06:37 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Legally speaking, what criteria determines 'expectation of privacy'? Because it's certainly not based on what people actually expect....
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Old 08-30-13, 08:38 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by brayzie View Post
How exactly is it like stapling a message on a telephone pole? I thought the only way someone could read your email was either they hacked your account, I supposed if they wanted the email provider had the power to as well, but I had assumed they wouldn't do that. Are there other ways I'm unaware of?
I was using his example. I don't agree with it. It's not the same. You have to have some technical knowledge to intercept email and read it.
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Old 08-30-13, 08:56 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

dork on the postcard analogy - well done

and then to those of you that expect email privacy on the internet at large, please show me where it is written that plain text email is private? Who told you that? or did you just make a huge assumption with no research?


Analogies are never 100% correct. You need technical knowledge to capture plain text email, but the idea is similar. Your email is still posted in public (public being the internet) Don't get caught up in the finer sematics of what I am saying, it is as simple as one line

'plain text email is available to anyone on the internet that wants it'

You don't have to agree with me, but I am right

Last edited by 4KRG; 08-30-13 at 09:03 AM.
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Old 08-30-13, 11:18 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by dork View Post
I'm sure a lawyer will correct me if I'm wrong (or even if I'm not), but here is my understanding: The envelope of your letter (containing metadata) is visible to all and not subject to an expectation of privacy; the contents are not visible, and so it is illegal to open your mail (except with a warrant or if sent via a method that is agreed to be subject to inspection, such as Media Mail). However, postcards are not covered by the Fourth Amendment, for the reason I cited above. So email is analogous to postcards under "third party doctrine".
E-mail would even worse in my opinion; e-mail would be analogous to post cards if the original postcard was photocopied at each postal hub, with that hub retaining a copy.
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Old 08-30-13, 11:19 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

add me to the list of those who had no fucking idea that email wasn't private.

fuck that.
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Old 08-30-13, 11:25 AM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Why are phone conversations private? Isn't it true that with technical know how that anyone can intercept these as well? Don't they also go through third parties? Is the legal reasoning really based on how easy it is and not on what the generally accepted actual expectation is?

Also, why do email providers not routinely encrypt all messages? Would this be too costly or too time consuming?

Sorry for all the questions. I am genuinely interested and I know very little about this stuff...

Oh yeah, one more question, wouldn't posting a blog or on a forum be more akin to posting a notice on a pole? With email, there is an intended recipient, regardless of how easy it is to intercept the message...
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Old 08-30-13, 05:18 PM
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Re: Privacy rights in the US

Originally Posted by dave-o View Post
Legally speaking, what criteria determines 'expectation of privacy'? Because it's certainly not based on what people actually expect....
Not to mention that is changing significantly w/ the new generation of people who have grown up w/ social media and used to putting everything out there for anyone/everyone to read.
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