The government is quietly trying to track the movements of American citizens and people online.
But that surveillance is going to take place without their knowledge, a growing number of privacy advocates and tech companies say.
In the latest sign of the debate, the Department of Justice has released new guidelines for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to review privacy protections in government computers, computers and mobile devices.
The guidelines, which were released this week and will go into effect next year, state that companies with government contracts can track people’s online activity through their computers, phones and tablets.
The government has used such privacy-enhancing technology for decades, but in recent years, lawmakers and tech executives have pushed for privacy protections.
Last month, the FTC launched a series of privacy and civil liberties lawsuits to fight the tracking.
In response, a coalition of tech companies including Google and Facebook sued the FTC in federal court in San Francisco.
Both the FTC and the Justice Department say that the new guidelines are based on the principles of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Privacy Act.
The new guidelines say that “any tracking technology used by a government contractor must be designed to protect the privacy of Americans and other people who are not directly identifiable” and that “no tracking technology can identify or track an individual’s personal information unless it is specifically approved by the government contractor.”
“If the privacy rights of third parties are compromised, the technology could be used against them,” the FTC said in a statement.
“We are concerned that the FTC’s guidelines do not provide meaningful protections against government surveillance, especially when used by government contractors with government contracting agreements with private companies.”
A Privacy and Civil Liberties Task Force also issued a report last year that criticized the FTC for using the agency’s authority under the law to regulate the use of surveillance technologies.
“The FTC’s use of the FTC Act to regulate surveillance by private companies with federal contracts violates the FTC Charter and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” the task force wrote.
The FTC has never used the authority of Title VII to force private companies to disclose the contents of their customers’ communications.””
In the past, the Commission has relied on its authority under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to require that certain private companies comply with privacy rights obligations.
The FTC has never used the authority of Title VII to force private companies to disclose the contents of their customers’ communications.”
The FTC is currently reviewing a separate lawsuit filed by Google, which claims the FTC has violated its privacy rights by relying on a federal law that requires search engines to reveal how many times users search for information and whether they opt in or out of the tracking programs.
The FTC also is reviewing a complaint by Facebook that the Federal Communications Commission is overstepping its authority in requiring the company to disclose its personal information to advertisers.
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We support privacy and accountability for all Americans, and we continue to seek to build on our longstanding practice of voluntarily sharing information with law enforcement and regulatory authorities.”
The agency’s guidelines say the agency will take steps to “increase privacy protections for our users, particularly when these are in the best interests of the public.”
The new rules say that companies must protect the “right of consumers to be able to determine if their personal information is being used in the context of an ad, search, or other online activity,” which is a major privacy concern.
“When a consumer decides to access a website, website provider, mobile app, or service, that user must be able, and should be able under the circumstances, to determine whether that information is collected or used in a manner that does not identify the user as the user of the information,” the guidelines say.
“As a result, any privacy rights that a consumer has in the information may be affected by how it is used.”