Meet the Privacy Expert on a Mission to Protect Your Digital Footprint

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a new breed of nationalism took root that trained its attention on the foreigners among us. In response, the federal government adopted a set of strict policies and legislation that tracked immigrants in general and Muslim communities in particular.
“I felt like the whole country was in turmoil and at risk of abandoning its values for a false sense of security,” says Tim Sparapani, an expert in digital privacy and a NationSwell Council member. “I was always taught at moments like that you don’t look away; you get involved.”
So Sparapani did, finding his passion for social impact and public service within those tumultuous days. He joined the American Civil Liberties Union as senior legislative counsel and later helped establish Facebook’s presence in Washington as its first director of public policy. These days, the D.C.-based Sparapani leads SPQR Strategies, which he founded in 2011 as a consulting firm focused on online and digital data privacy.
It was at the ACLU that Sparapani gained his reputation as a fierce advocate for individual privacy, becoming a protector against what he says was unconstitutional policies. That included the Real ID Act of 2005, a significant piece of 9/11 legislation introduced and championed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), which required people who applied for a driver’s license or a government ID to produce five types of identification to prove their identity, such as a social security number, birth certificate, proof of citizenship and home address, and a mortgage statement or utility bill.
Democrats and the ACLU, along with moderate Republicans and a handful of libertarian organizations like the CATO Institute, thought the statute was “deeply unconstitutional,” says Sparapani. “Once you pulled back the layers, you saw it was based on nativism and ugly xenophobia.”
After the bill passed, Sparapani and his team at the ACLU spearheaded a campaign that urged states to resist the federal regulations. They made their push to the public by highlighting how the new driver’s licenses mandated under the bill — which would have electronic chips that stored a person’s name, address, birth date and social security number — were prone to identity theft, could be used to track individuals’ travel, and would cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
“We were able to get dozens of states to independently enact legislation resisting the federal statute. That hasn’t happened since the Civil War,” Sparapani says. “It was our strategy to have state-by-state resistance to something that was tremendous overreach.”
Though the Real ID Act is still enshrined in federal law and, starting next year, will bar certain state IDs from being used to fly or gain access to federal buildings, Sparapani credits the campaign as his “a-ha moment,” when he realized there was a need to protect all U.S. residents’ privacy, especially from a government that he saw as wielding too much power.
“There was this new opportunity in the computer-database era for the government to exercise control over people in all sorts of nefarious ways by using technology for ill,” Sparapani says, adding that he’d like to see more people take up the cause for privacy rights online. “It’s kind of up to all of us to decide the rules for how we use technology as a society and put limits on it that are aligned with our constitutional values.”


Tim Sparapani is a NationSwell Council member and the founder of SPQR Strategies, a consulting firm that works with startups, established companies, and consumer and privacy advocates on the policy challenges raised by emerging technologies.

After America Was Attacked, These Veterans Were Inspired to Protect and Serve

At a Google Tech Talk yesterday, held at the company’s New York City offices, a panel of veterans recalled where they were on Sept. 11, 2001 — a date that motivated so many service members to join the Armed Forces.
In attendance was Joe Quinn, now the Northeast Director for Team Red, White & Blue, whose brother was one of the 658 employees at Cantor Fitzgerald who died when Flight 11 hit One World Trade Center. Former Green Beret Mark Nutsch told the story how he had to explain to his boys and his wife (seven months into her pregnancy) that he would soon have to deploy to get the bad guys. And Master Sergeant Eric Stebner spoke about earning the Silver Star for braving enemy fire to carry the bodies of fellow U.S. Army Rangers — including that of his best friend — in the battle of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan.
Carrie Laureno, founder of the Google Veterans Network, moderated the panel and emphasized the need to acknowledge these “achievements and contributions on behalf of all of us who have not served.”
Laureno led her team at Google Creative Lab to produce “The Call to Serve,” a temporary installation at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City to recognize the stories of Quinn, Nutsch and Stebner, among others. Reacting to the museum lacking any recognition of military accomplishments in the permanent exhibit, Laureno developed this tribute to the untold stories of military members who have served since 9/11.
Touch screens in the exhibit draw you into these stories using Google Tour Builder technology that integrates Google Earth imagery with personal photos and anecdotes provided by nine veterans.
While the exhibit will only be on view this week, as part of the 9/11 Museum’s “Salute to Service,” the tribute will remain online indefinitely.
Browse through the stories of the responders whose stories and service deserve recognition and thanks, then spread the word with the #ThankAVet hashtag.

Send a Text, Save a Life

Simply put, people are addicted to text messaging. They text about important business plans, what to have for dinner or simply to ask their friend, “what’s up?” But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) believes there is a much more important way to use texting.
Instead of using it as merely a means of communication, it’s expanding its scope to serve the well-being of the people through its Text-to-911 initiative.
On January 30 of this year, the FCC called for all 911 call centers to have this texting available by December 31. So far, 100 call centers in 121 counties out of 6,000 nationwide have instituted the new technology (click here for a list). As more add the program, kinks are being worked out to ensure that the most efficient service possible is provided. Phone service providers are stepping up and backing the initiative as well. On May 15, the four main carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — pledged their support to the program in areas where the dispatch centers are equipped to handle the technology. The FCC expanded that reach further on August 8, by opening the technology and service to small carriers also.
So, how does it work? It’s easy: Users text their location and emergency situation to 911. The dispatcher will respond to the message and help will be sent. If the person is not in a text-to-911 service zone, a bounce back message will be sent alerting the person to call 911.
Hamilton County, Ohio is one of the first counties to integrate it. Accustomed to receiving an average of 688,000 calls a year, the dispatch center was a little nervous about how the new addition would work. Although it has only received four text messages so far, the ability to text has made a difference.
One such message was from a young woman considering suicide. Her friend had suggested that she call 911, but the girl was embarrassed that her parents would overhear her on the phone. So, instead, she sent a text message, and the dispatcher talked her out of it.
The big takeaway from all of this can be summed up by Director of Government Affairs at the National Emergency Number Association Trey Forgerty.
As he told ABC News, “It’s always preferable to make a voice call to 911. Call if you can, text only if you can’t.”
While you may tend to rely solely on texting in your everyday life, dialing 911 should remain your default method of communication. Unless, of course, the situation (ahem) calls for a text — for example, involving those who are speech or hearing impaired, stuck in a natural disaster zone or being kidnapped.
MORE: The 7 Smartest Uses of Technology in Government Today

An App That Turns Everyday Bystanders Into Everyday Heroes

When an airplane passenger is in physical distress, the flight attendant calls through the speakers asking if medical professionals are on board. It’s a simple action that can make a huge difference. What if we could mimic this same outreach, 10,000 feet below, everyday on the ground?
That’s exactly what the smart phone app PulsePoint (for download here) makes possible, according to Emergency Management. Using the gadgets we all carry every day, municipalities that use the free mobile service are able to send out alerts to CPR-certified citizens who are nearby someone in need. In many cases, there are just a few minutes between life and death, so every second counts. By quickening response times, this app can help save lives — before an ambulance is even in sight.
PulsePoint doesn’t replace dispatched responders, but as fast as ambulances and emergency medical technicians try to arrive, they’re often not quick enough. Once 9-1-1 is dialed and the available crew is actually with the patient, it can be too late – making those that can arrive quicker a vital resource.
San Jose became the first area city to use PulsePoint in 2012 — the app’s founder and CEO, Richard Price, is from the area, having worked as an ex-fire chief of the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District. Since then, it’s caught on thanks to support from a local hospital and the results it provides. A local hospital is also planning a public registry of automated defibrillators through a new, related app, PulsePoint AED.
With decreasing local budgets for emergency response, increasing populations and traffic congestion, the demand for innovations like PulsePoint is greater than ever. By alerting off-duty first responders, medical professionals, and other CPR certified individuals of a nearby need, PulsePoint turns them into valuable lifesavers, all with the tap of a phone, making the app early — and effective — when time means everything.

Making Access to Emergency Help Easier, One Text at a Time

We’ve already told you about an effort to make 911 calls easier from motel rooms, where people often have to press “9” to make outgoing calls, a small step that had fatal consequences for one family.
Now, a new plan from the FCC is trying to make access to emergency help even easier for the most vulnerable citizens, including those who don’t even have the option of a phone call. Called “text-to-911,” the initiative allows select AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon customers to text 911 for help during emergency situations.
“Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st Century,” said Julius Genachowski, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, in a press release announcing the plan’s proposal in 2012.
Which is not to say texting is the agency’s preferred method of communication. There’s only a limited number of call centers that can receive texts at the moment, though the plan is slated to be available across the country by the end of the year. Still, dispatchers caution that voice-to-voice communication is still ideal for a number of reasons, including the transmission delays and limited character counts associated with texting.
But as Keith Wagstaff of NBC News writes, “It’s not ideal. But for some people, especially those with disabilities, text-to-911 could be a life-saver.”