FBI Spies, Fast Food Windows

Grind for October 12th
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
– Winston Churchill

Not Again

The Headline

Court Rules: FBI spying violates Americans’ privacy rights

The Grind

As disclosed this week, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2018 concluded the FBI’s spying operations violated Americans’ privacy rights.

The court ruling cited improper use of Section 702, an Internet surveillance database used primarily by the NSA.

Section 702 is designed to collect foreign intelligence from international phone calls and emails regarding cyber threats, terrorism suspects, and other security risks.

By law, the database can be used only to find evidence of a crime or to obtain foreign intelligence. Names of American citizens caught up in search queries are generally blacked out when information is shared among federal agencies.

Privacy advocates view the system as an unnecessarily broad tool that grants access to Americans’ personal information without a warrant.

The Details

According to court documents, FBI agents used Section 702 to vet their own personnel and sources. In at least one case, an FBI contractor accessed the system to find information about his relatives and coworkers.

The investigation revealed tens of thousands of improper database queries in 2017 and 2018.

“The court accordingly finds that the FBI’s querying procedures and minimization procedures are not consistent with the requirements of the Fourth Amendment,” wrote FISA Court Judge James Boasberg.

This issue was made public Tuesday after the Trump Administration failed to convince a secret appeals court that improving the database to protect Americans’ privacy would make it harder for the FBI to address national security threats.

The FBI has agreed to improve privacy protections, implement new procedures, and create a compliance review team, but the case casts doubt on whether intelligence agencies are actually complying with the privacy procedures mandated by Congress.

The disclosure “reveals serious failings in the FBI’s backdoor searches, underscoring the need for the government to seek a warrant before searching through mountains of private data on Americans,” argues Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

President Trump signed a six-year renewal of Section 702 in 2018.

Road Closed

The Headline

Minneapolis bans drive-thru windows

The Grind

Minneapolis, MN passed an ordinance last month banning the construction of drive-thru windows. Similar restrictions exist in Long Beach, CA, Creve Coeur, MO, and Fair Haven, NJ.

The unpopular ban is designed to reduce litter, cut emissions, and improve pedestrian safety/walkability. Some hope it will encourage a healthier lifestyle, although the rule does not affect any existing drive-thru.

The Details

In 2008, South Los Angeles passed a regulation blocking the construction of stand-alone fast food restaurants and drive-thru windows to address obesity rates that had reached over 30%.

Despite researcher’s expectations, obesity rates in South LA continued to increase for the next three years.

“We need to be careful not to overstate what these bans can do,” says economist Roland Sturm. “If we want to lower obesity and want people to be healthier, [drive-thru bans] are not going to achieve that.”

The bigger problem here is that fast-food is often the cheapest food available – in some cases even cheaper than cooking at home.

Taxing unhealthy foods is more likely to work – as some cities have done with soda – but a more effective solution would be to encourage the industry to offer healthier foods.

“Instead of banning drive-thrus, we need to put pressure on the restaurant chains,” says author Hank Cardello. “As an industry, they haven’t stepped up to make a commitment to cutting calories and improving nutrition…to make eating healthy more of a default choice.”

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