Adam Levin

Adam Levin Chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. Adam’s experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit. Reach Adam at creditexperts@credit.com.

Hacking the Federal Logjam

No doubt you've seen the studies that show how social networking sites hurt productivity, and I am pretty sure you've read, heard or watched countless stories about how companies have tried to solve that problem. And you would have to be living in a cave in Bora Bora---specifically a cave without WiFi---to not know that when computers go down because of a denial of service attack or security breach, productivity takes a hit

However, some really shocking news that you've probably heard nothing about is turning what you think you know about that topic upside-down.

Some twelve weeks ago, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) was the target of a sophisticated hack attack. The EDA is a relatively tiny unit of the Department of Commerce, with only 215 employees, that makes grants to distressed communities from six regional offices. The hackers installed a virus that was so virulent the EDA was cut off from the rest of the Commerce Department, as well as the rest of government, and all its systems were shut down in order to prevent the virus from spreading through the system.

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Flipping the Bird: Is the Fed on Twitter a Horrible Idea?

Even the farsighted Founding Fathers could not have foreseen this--the Fed is now on Twitter! Just think of the possibilities-- one fine Friday any Fed functionary could foment a world crisis in 140 characters or less! It could be as simple as a typo.

For example, the Fed's second tweet was: "Watch a video of Chairman #Bernanke explaining the structure of the Federal Reserve. #fed #economy"

What if it accidentally read: "Watch a video of Chairman #Bernanke exploding the structure of the Federal Reserve. #fed #economy"

Or even worse, what if a disgruntled Fed employee tweeted: "New Fed figures fuel inflation fears--discount rate will be set at 11% next week"

Get the idea?

Perhaps it's a laudable thing that the Fed wants to move into the 21st century by means of instant communication through Twitter. But I wonder--does anyone really need a "cool Fed" or a "fab Fed?" Remember the famous "briefcase theory" during the tenure of Alan Greenspan? That theory held that if Greenspan left his house (on a day when the Open Market Committee was meeting) with a bulging briefcase, it was because the Chairman had armed himself with a battery of statistical reports and planned to argue a rate change. However, a slimmer briefcase indicated that the FOMC would leave rates alone (this was, of course, in pre-iPad times.) If people actually resorted to measuring the thickness of a briefcase for a sign of policy change, how long would it be before almost anything that was tweeted acquired major significance? After all, just a couple weeks ago the price of gold dropped by a whopping four percent, evidently because Chairman Benrnanke made a comment about improving employment conditions. So, in a world where the images of the Virgin Mary regularly appear on tuna melts, it's a safe bet that someone somewhere will find Nostradamus-like predictions cleverly hidden in the verbiage of an otherwise banal tweet.

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Google's New Privacy Policy: Close But No Cigar

Last week was a pretty good one for the notion of privacy in America, which  has increasingly become forlorn and tattered as a result of the advancement of digital technology. First, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Jones that warrantless GPS tracking of a criminal suspect by the FBI was unconstitutional, and then later in the week Google announced its new privacy policy, a model of simplicity and fairness with one sizeable flaw. Oddly, this particular decision by the court sheds some important light on the particular problem within Google's otherwise admirable new privacy policy.

The decision of the Court in United States v. Jones was accompanied by two concurring opinions, one written by Justice Alito, and the other by Justice Sotomayor. The unanimous decision and ruling found that the government violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures because a tracking device had been attached to the defendant's car without first obtaining a warrant. The placing of the device constituted a trespass, akin to breaking into someone's home or filing cabinet. 

Justice Alito's well-reasoned concurrence went further, arguing that the notion of physical trespass as a predicate to finding a warrant necessary was outdated, and that beginning with the wiretapping cases of the 1960s, courts began to recognize that a more appropriate standard was whether or not a person had "a reasonable expectation of privacy" in a given situation. This approach, argued Alito, was far more effective in dealing with privacy issues in the digital era---as opposed to limiting the Fourth Amendment to the law of trespass, which essentially dates back to 1215. Justice Sotomayor's opinion spoke to the world as we know it, and she couldn't have been more spot on. She wrote:

... it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties... This approach is ill-suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers... I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year."

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