Pando

ACLU comes out against Gov. Christie's metadata-based smear campaign against a political rival

By Nathaniel Mott , written on January 16, 2015

From The News Desk

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has condemned New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's decision to use tollbooth information to embarrass a political opponent.

Christie and a subordinate used information gathered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to criticize now-deceased Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)'s opposition to fare hikes on the many bridges and tunnels which allow travel between the two states.

Experts told International Business Times reporter David Sirota (a Pando alumnus) that the use of EZ-Pass data and other information collected by the Port Authority might have violated New Jersey laws meant to protect the privacy of people traveling in the state.

It also raises questions about the lengths to which politicians will go to smear their rivals -- in this case, the answer allegedly included using private information and violating state laws to attack a senator who dared to oppose Christie's plan.

"If officials feel comfortable using information against a senator," the ACLU wrote in its blog post, "what is a lower ranking political official, let alone ordinary citizen, supposed to conclude about how data could be used against them?" The answer could be terrifying.

This is the latest example of how the government -- or anyone with the right information -- can use metadata to their own ends. It didn't matter what Sen. Lautenberg was doing, who was with him, or anything else. All that mattered were his comings and goings.

All of which leads the ACLU to this conclusion:

Where identifiable location data is collected, it needs to be subject to very strict protections and controls, including immutable audits that record who is accessing what data, and for what legitimate purpose. Those controls need to cover everyone, right to the top.
The only objectionable part of that statement is that it ever needed to be said at all.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]