Privacy

'No Such Thing as Absolute Privacy in America,' Warns FBI Director Comey

Government can "invade our private spaces" if it has a "good reason."

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Rich Girard / Flickr

Earlier this week, FBI Director James Comey spoke at the Boston Conference on Cyber Security at Boston College and addressed the growth of cyber threats. While the agency head explained that "cybersecurity is a priority for every enterprise in the United States at all levels," he also made some chilling statements that should give every American pause.

"There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America," Comey announced at the conference, Politico reported. "There is no place in America outside of judicial reach."

This comes on the heels of a Wikileaks dump that revealed the CIA is working on hacks into everything from smart televisions to cars. The reality of a mass surveillance state has been apparent at least since then–National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked information in 2013 that the organization was spying on the public, so admissions like these from the intelligence community should come as no surprise. Yet the candidness with which Comey admits that Americans' privacy is circumscribed is striking.

He acknowledged that the law says "all of us have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, and in our devices," but provided a nice little caveat that if it has a "good reason," the state can nonetheless "invade our private spaces."

"Even our memories aren't private," Comey added, according to Politico. "Any of us can be compelled to say what we saw…In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any of us to testify in court on those private communications."

Back in 2015, a Pew Research poll found Americans were not nearly as concerned as you might think about the government spying on them. Some 54 percent were not very or not at all concerned about officials snooping on their emails; 53 percent felt the same way about their search engine data. Even when it came to cellphones, 54 percent were not concerned.

Many participants explained that they were not worried about government surveillance programs as long as they were helpful in preventing terrorist attacks or criminal activity. It appears, in this instance anyway, that a substantial segment of the population prefers security to liberty.

Perhaps the latest Wikileaks release will lead to more substantive discussions about privacy and mass surveillance, but as Reason's Scott Shackford pointed out in his article about the president's recent wiretapping claims, it can be hard to get people to look beyond their politics. He wrote:

There is plenty to discuss about problems with how surveillance authorities are granted here in the United States—the incidental collection of our own private data, the opaqueness of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), and the potential for intelligence sharing to be abused domestically to bypass the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

But none of those policy issues are being brought up in this fight at all. It's all about Trump vs. President Barack Obama. This fight just turns real surveillance issues into political intrigue and just another tool in the battle over who controls the executive branch. Everything about this issue has been and will continue to be analyzed in the terms of what it all means for Trump—and only Trump.

A reminder for anyone who will be in Austin this weekend that Shackford will be discussing the future of legislating on digital privacy with experts from the Fourth Amendment Caucus, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the R Street Institute at South by Southwest tomorrow. Stop by and see him.

NEXT: Grand Jury Clears Five Newark Cops in Shooting of Robbery Suspects

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  1. I’d say something like “the mask slips” but I don’t think any of these government folks were ever even wearing the mask to begin with.

    1. Scott nailed it on the head when he points out the majority of Americans see nothing wrong with this. They probably won’t, either, until just before the end. Bread & circuses v.2.0.

      1. So true. Just this week a colleague said that anonymously speaking on the internet is awful because of the ability to spread false information and make personal threats. He’d like to see a requirement that everyone register with the government for internet access and email accounts.

    2. Well, one spy did: The Countess Lisl Von Schlaf, played by Cassandra Harris (then ux of Pierce Brosnan) in For Your Eyes Only. Except it was her nightie and her accent that slipped.

    3. As I keep saying the only way to fix this is to make all government information public record.

      Anything the government can access the average citizen can.

      If the government can:
      access and collect credit card records…its a fucking public database.
      cameras……its fucking fucking live streamed!
      all photos collected….its a fucking public database.
      drug prescriptions…..its a fucking public database.
      IPASS location data …..its a fucking public database.
      phone calls, txt, location data…….its a fucking public database.
      …..and so on and so on

      If this was a constitutional requirement…guess what? People would fucking care and nearly every fucking over reach would never fucking happen.

      Almost no one would want their:
      cell phone data
      credit cards
      drugs
      medical records
      location data
      txt and so on in a public records data base.

      This is the simplest and most logical way to solve this and force people to care.

      It is also logical and rational. If the government is of the people by the people and for the people than everyone has a right to know all the government knows and has access to.

      You don;t want it public? Don’t let the government collect it. All spying solved.

  2. Good job all you American pussies who are so afraid of some psycho muslim that you signed away your liberty to some douchebag in the TSA.

    1. “But you can’t be ffee if you are not [made] safe!!”

      /Trumpista

      1. I think you are obsessed with trumpistas. The spying is not a new thing that was brought about by trump and supporters

        Jmo

        1. It’s all trumpistas and marxians with him.

        2. Trump hasn’t done anything yet. I don’t have much faith that he will exercise real change for the better but only psychos think trump has done something to effect our government or our situation.

          We are dealing with fidel obama’s fallout here and will be for a long time. Of course the reason for Obama’s psychotic ass was Clinton and bush.

          OMG, what a shitty bunch of scumbags have been at the helm for 29 years…or since americans stopped paying attention and started loving middle eastern wars. .

          1. Yea this. Blaming trump for things before him is silly

            If a bad tariff gets thru that is on him then

      2. The tsa has been harassing people prior to trump fyi

        1. To be fair, his comment is about the attitudes of Trump supporters, not any actions of the administration.

          1. Yea i get that but trump supporters didnt exist really prior to 2015. Before we had a lot of “security”

    2. ’bout time you started catching up with the party, a bit late, but finally is better than never.

  3. Christ, what an asshole.

  4. “Even our memories aren’t private,” Comey added, according to Politico. “Any of us can be compelled to say what we saw…In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any of us to testify in court on those private communications.”

    Well, they can try, anyway. I’m pretty sure they have yet to perfect truth serums and mind reading.

    1. They should talk to John about the mind reading part.

      1. Thank you for everything you do, X.

    2. Plus there is this pesky thing called the Fifth Amendment. You can’t compel me to testify against myself, but you can pull up surveillance of me which is incriminating.

      1. The Fifth only applies to speaking about yourself. You do not have a 5th A right when questioned about the actions of others. Comey is correct because he is talking about what we saw, not what we did.

        We create so much electronic data on ourselves, the 5A is becoming obsolete. They don’t have to ask us where we were between this time and that time, they already know. They just want to see if you will be honest or not.

    3. He’s just talking about alcohol and extortion using prostitutes.

    4. Perhaps I should ask them if they could compel me to remember what I saw, because right now I can’t remember shit…

  5. OT, but you’re going to love it.

    Donald Trump the libertarian.

    President Trump’s recent executive order, titled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Cost,” speaks the language of the principled libertarians, but its beneficiaries are likely to be the thugs.

    1. My God. CNN is like an old dog that just needs to be put down to end its suffering

      1. ‘Hey, I’m with it, I totally get ‘libertarians’. I’m going to throw out a John Galt reference. And there, I’ve won the debate’

        1. Hey, I am going to forget to mention that the biggest, baddest, thuggiest, looterish looting thug is the government.

      2. I think they are serving a valuable purpose. For the 1% of americans who might be smart enough to understand the danger, it’s good that the news outlets are outing themselves as propagandists for the Marxists.

        Both parties are going to collectively try to destroy the libertarian brand over the healthcare thing if Rand P. has the balls to vote it down and to remain on principle.
        He has the opportunity to sit back and reiterate why it will not work from a small government perspective and as a doctor.

        What are the odds that he caves however?

        I am putting my money of cave.

    2. That there be some funny stuff.

    3. Hmm. Sounds more like the language of consequentialist libertarians to me.

      I just read the whole piece, and I still have no idea who the “professional criminals who hate cops” he’s talking about are.

      I think I liked it better when no one even pretended they knew what libertarianism was.

      1. Yea so these regulations are preventing all this criminal activity. If so can he name them and i will stop patronizing them?

        As it is a bit concerning to me that a company is just itching to commit crimes and hurt others

        Or maybe he is making chit up

        1. I think he might be making shit up.

          He also seems to think that all regulations are equally valuable and necessary.

          The absolute most Trump’s policy could do is halve the number of regs.

    4. Koppelman writes for salon. He isnt to be taken seriously

      His article combines fear mongering and hyperbole and nefarious villians acting like laws against fraud and hurting others will be repealed (this is a bad business model to hurt customers anywho).

      The worst part was claiming if a dubious net benefit of a reg was positive therefore there is no capture

      1. Well, I do take him seriously. My laughter is very serious.

      2. Nah uh, he said ‘John Galt’. He totally gets libertarians

    5. Trump aint a libertarian and never was. Also didnt ayn hate libertarians?

    6. I told you cosmo cucks that Trump was something of a libertarian, even CNN agrees.

      1. You sure you want to cite CNN agreeing with you as support for your contention?

    7. To CNN, thugs and warlords are the obvious beneficiaries of liberty.

      1. Yea lol all these thugs who want to provide products to buy

        Chipotle ask them how they enjoyed their issue despite being regs in place

  6. Good to know this complete piece of shit will be getting a sweet retirement paid for by my great grandchildren.

  7. The future is now. Unless you do a Ron Swanson and dumpster your computer, someone, government or corporate, knows all about you. And it’s only going to get worse.

    1. Yep. We have lost the initiative.

      America became an irrelevant injured tiger in a corner on September 11, 2001.

      We just won’t die already because of the FED and the pols propping up our paper strength and borrowing into oblivion.

  8. ‘No Such Thing as Absolute Privacy in America,’ Warns FBI Director Comey

    Which is why I have a daily habit of rubbing my nutsack on my laptop camera. Hope they enjoy the show.

    Government can “invade our private spaces” if it has a “good reason.”

    Said “good reason” better come with a warrant.

    1. Bah. Even that’s gonna be a ‘quaint’ notion.

      Cops act as if warrants are an irritant and it sounds like 54% of people wouldn’t care about that either.

  9. Some 54 percent were not very or not at all concerned about officials snooping on their emails; 53 percent felt the same way about their search engine data. Even when it came to cellphones, 54 percent were not concerned.

    Obviously these are the people who have nothing to hide.

    1. I bet they do.

      I have a friend that was saying he has nothing to hide. I told him to wave his fat sack of weed in front of the next cop he saw. I’m pretty sure he’ll stick to hiding it.

  10. “Some 54 percent were not very or not at all concerned about officials snooping on their emails; 53 percent felt the same way about their search engine data. Even when it came to cellphones, 54 percent were not concerned.”

    That’s 54% libertarians can never capture.

    How retarded these people are…and how frightening.

    1. You know what I just thought? These are probably the people who like government voyeurism because it makes them feel even more self-important than their latest Twitter blast.

    2. I suspect it would change if they knew for sure gov was looking at them (like had at least one example) otherwise it is an out of sight of mind type thing

  11. The statement that there is “No Such Thing as Absolute Privacy in America” is 100% true, but an exceedingly DUMB thing for the head of the FBI to say at a press conference -true or not. More importantly, even though there is not “100% security on all of our persons and effects” that doesn’t mean the GOVERNMENT has the right to obtain this information whenever it wants.

    Is there a pile of shit Comey has yet to step in?

  12. Yet in 1763 England (the same oppressive English monarchy the USA rebelled against), William Pitt had this to say:

    The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter,?the rain may enter,?but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!

    1. *wistful sigh*

    2. +1 bearing of arms in defens of same

  13. he also made some chilling statements that should give every American pause.

    “There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America,” Comey announced at the conference, Politico reported. “There is no place in America outside of judicial reach.”

    By itself, that statement is absolutely correct.

    The limits to our privacy are spelled out in the constitution.

    1. I presume, from context, he is referring to judicial warrants and subpeonas for testimony. With judicial approval there is very little that is legally absolutely beyond the ability of law enforcement to lay a claim to discovering*. He may have been inartful.in the way he expressed that reality though.

      In fact, sometimes, that can be useful in establishing doubt about someone’s guilt.

      *Recognizing the truth to that does not mean one thinks that law enforcement has a ubiquitous right to all information outside of reasonable judicial review.

  14. There are many institutions that can spy on you. The FBI may need a warrant. The NSA does not. Clapper made some comment about needing a FISA application but Snowden outta the NSA for spying on love interests. I bet there wasn’t a single FISA application on any of those.

    People who operate in secret, operate with impunity. Clapper is a good example of that, lied to Congress, told Congress he lied to them, and they didn’t do a damn thing. Who is he scared of? No one.

    1. exactly zero accountability has lead to this situation as always.

  15. Government can “invade our private spaces” if it has a “good reason.” Such as contributing to a right wing group (like Cato?), or emailing your congressman that the TSA is out of control, or maybe just because you’re a hottie that some goon wants to perve on?

  16. 2 things:

    1).”He acknowledged that the law says “all of us have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, and in our devices,” but provided a nice little caveat that if it has a “good reason,” the state can nonetheless “invade our private spaces.””
    ___
    I myself and many don’t recognize this bastardization. It is ridiculous on every level. The government never has had a right to invade my privacy.

    2.)””Even our memories aren’t private,” Comey added, according to Politico. “Any of us can be compelled to say what we saw…In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any of us to testify in court on those private communications.””
    ___
    Fuck you only if your an unprincipled shit. Give me liberty or give me death/prison. I will always refuse to comply when needed. So should everyone else. You want my password? Fucking eat my shit!

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