Steven believes in the power of computing to improve lives and solve problems. He also has seen how computing can be misused to create fear and silence voices. Modern surveillance technology is capable of watching many people with little manpower. This new efficiency can create a chilling effect, where people self-censor for fear they're being spied on. He co-founded Thaw America to fight this effect and to ensure technology does not erode civil liberties.
In late 2016, the FISA Court of Review declassified the fourth decision in the 38 years of the court's existence. The case, FISCR 16-01, focused on pen registers, a tool for real-time gathering of telephone metadata. In the case, the Department of Justice argued they should be able to gather phone numbers dialed after the call connects – so-called “Post Cut-Through Dialing Digits” (PCTDD). No other court has ever allowed this, citing concerns about incidental capture of call content. Nonetheless, the court sided with the DoJ. This decision has major implications for telecommunications privacy, including the possibility of pen registers becoming backdoor warrants.
Thaw America has been fighting to get the case reexamined. We have cataloged and described the logical, legal and technical flaws in the court's decision. We've even attempted to appeal to the Supreme Court, only to be stopped by an illegal rejection of our filing by the clerk of the court.
In this talk, we will cover the technical background, legal arguments, dangers of this decision, current state of the case and what our next efforts will be.