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.

7 Things Every Protester Needs to Know

Taking to the streets in protest — bullhorns or banner in hand — is an American tradition. Whether marching for the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, each demonstration has added to the history of free speech and assembly that began in the Boston Harbor in 1773 and continues today with protests taking off across the country in response to grand jury decisions on Staten Island, N.Y. and in Ferguson, Mo.
Peaceful protest is a right that’s broadly protected by the First Amendment, but recent events serve as a tangible reminder of the difference between protest and riot — one democratic and productive, the other anarchic and devastating. Here, some key tips that every protester should keep in mind before taking to the streets.

1. Know your rights.

Thanks to the Bill of Rights, you have the right to gather and peacefully protest. You don’t need a permit to protest in a public space like a park, sidewalk, street or plaza, the American Civil Liberties Union reminds activists. However, law enforcement may limit a person from protesting on private property (like an abortion clinic or power plant) unless its owner gives their consent. You’re also allowed to pass out pamphlets, as long as pedestrians are free to pass by without being “physically and maliciously detained” and no building entrances are blocked, the ACLU says.
Additionally, “you never have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings,” the group adds. An officer may pat you down to search for a weapon or search your belongings if you are under arrest, but otherwise a warrant is required.
If you witness someone else being arrested, don’t interfere or threaten the officer. That will only escalate the conflict and could land you in a pair of handcuffs, charged with obstruction of justice, disorderly conduct or interference with an arrest. Instead, write down the officer’s badge number and photograph or videotape the incident to document any misconduct. (You have the right to photograph anything “in plain view” from a public space, according to the ACLU.) Police officers may not confiscate or delete anything from your camera, nor can they demand to see your images without a warrant. The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) offers the free Stop and Frisk Watch app for both iPhone and Android that allows bystanders to document an arrest with video or a written survey that is immediately sent to NYCLU’s offices.

In Oakland, Calif., a man sits in the street after being blocked by a line of police officers following a New York grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, Dec. 4, 2014.

2. Realize when you’re on the wrong side of the law.

Legally, an officer can arrest you for not following orders. If you are asked to keep clear of a certain area, for example, it’s in your best interest to cooperate with the order — even though you may legally have a right to be there. You won’t find out if you were correct until you’re before a judge.
That’s not to say that civil disobedience — for refusing to get up from a sit-in at an intersection or disobeying a command — is not a powerful symbol. But you need to be aware that you could be putting yourself in danger.
“We go into a protest knowing that there is a chance that we will get arrested, tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, or billy clubbed,” says a protest guide written by students at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. “This isn’t to be dramatic, but realistic. Fear will make the streets anxious and we probably won’t accomplish much.” In case of a confrontation with riot police, you may want to carry a plastic bag with bandanas soaked in vinegar or lemon juice to neutralize tear gas, the guide suggests. Don’t rub your eyes or panic, it adds; instead, rinse your eyes with water until the burning passes.

3. Have a backup plan.

During the Occupy Wall Street protests, Brooklyn software designer Jason Van Anden developed a free phone app called I’m Getting Arrested, which sends a prewritten text message to friends and family if, you guessed it, the cops are threatening you with arrest. The app, which was named by PC Magazine as a top app of 2011, is only available to Android users. (Due to Apple policy, the app won’t function on iPhones.)
Once you’re in a jail cell, you won’t be allowed to use your cell, so make sure to take other precautions. Write the number for a pro bono attorney on your arm and on a piece of paper so you can call once you are at the precinct. Take advantage of your Miranda rights to know the charges against you, to speak to your attorney or have one appointed and to appear before a judge to ask for your release until the trial.

4. Be respectful.

“Stay calm, be polite, and don’t run,” the ACLU recommends. When thousands (or more) of fed-up protesters crowd into a public space, the situation can rapidly get out-of-hand. Cops want to keep order, and sometimes a few rogue troublemakers don’t have the same intentions. Treat officers with respect, and you’ll likely receive the same treatment. Most importantly, never physically resist an arrest.

5. Come prepared with supplies.

Protests are all about making your voice heard. Drawing a quick sign on poster board or printing out a slogan from your computer can amplify your message. Whistles, pots and pans, drums, tin cans, sticks, a megaphone or even coins in an empty bottle will all help you literally increase your volume. Wear shoes you can walk in, comfortable layers of clothes and sunscreen. Avoid items that could be interpreted as a weapon, like a Swiss army knife or any blunt object, and leave all alcohol and drugs at home.

6. Find fellow activists on social media.

Twitter and Facebook are now the places where movements coalesce. Over the past month, hashtags like #EricGarner, #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe proliferated across the web, accompanied by calls for demonstrations. Those tweets organized like-minded activists to meet at New York City’s Rockefeller Plaza in an effort to shut down the annual Christmas tree lighting and to clutter the floors of Grand Central Terminal with a “mass grave” of bodies within a few quick hours.
Be sure to tweet your whereabouts and why you’re out. After all, there’s no use holding a demonstration if no one hears you. “You can see that it’s not just five people standing in Times Square — it’s people marching throughout the city,” Marcus Messner, a journalism professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, tells the Wall Street Journal. “The immediate visuals we’re seeing on Twitter and Instagram help people overcome that barrier to getting out and protesting.”
If there’s action rising up at multiple spots across a city, stick to one trusted source for location information or you may find yourself fruitlessly chasing different marches.

Sophia Smith (C) of Oakland chants with a crowd of protesters, in Oakland, Calif., Dec. 4, 2014.

7. Channel the momentum.

The weeks after a protest can feel like a letdown. Nothing’s changed, you might say, but remember that social progress moves at a glacial pace. (Case in point: Seven decades passed between the convention in Seneca Falls and the day women finally gained the right to vote.) Maintain your involvement through letter writing campaigns or boycotts; study the cause you’re fighting for. And keep marching.

Are Storage Units the Key to Reducing Homelessness?

Anyone that has moved can attest to the difficulty of moving your possessions from one place to another. But for the homeless, not only is hauling around their stuff a physical challenge, but also a blow to any sense of stability or dignity.
This was poignantly illuminated in 2009 when a group of San Diego homeless lost everything while attending a church event when the Environmental Services Department collected and destroyed their belongings.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapter of San Diego filed a lawsuit on behalf of the homeless shortly after, which led to the city’s solution to provide a place for those without homes to safely store their possessions.
The Transitional Storage Center now provides more than 350 bins — each providing up to 96 gallons of space — for the city’s homeless, according City Lab. The program, which is run by service group the Girls Think Tank, is supervised by two full-time employees, enabling individuals to store or check on their belongings during the morning and evening.
“When you’re literally homeless, you’re like a turtle that carries everything on his or her back,” says Michael Stoops, director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless. “Which can be problematic if you’re walking long distances or trying to work. There’s always the danger of things being lost, stolen, or thrown away by police officers.”
San Diego’s move follows in the footsteps of Los Angeles’s Central City East Association Check-in Center, which also provides storage units for homeless. While the concept is by no means a solution to ending homelessness, it can help people avoid living on the streets long-term.

“Having a storage space can help someone get out of homelessness,” Stoops tells City Lab. “A lot of shelters will have no storage space whatsoever. You sleep on top of your stuff, you put it under the cot, you have to take it with you the next day.”

Indeed, having a space to store belongings helps alleviate some of the stress on the homeless to carry their stuff in order to be mobile. Keepsakes and personal documents or sleeping bags and clothing can be cumbersome to tote around, making it difficult for the homeless to move around. That could mean missing a job interview or medical appointment or making frequent use of public washrooms.

Storage units — while simple in concept — do pose some challenges. Primarily, funding them can be tricky. San Diego’s operational costs are anywhere between $80,000 and $100,000 annually, City Lab reports. And finding a location isn’t easy, either. San Diego’s program has moved twice since the city agreed to the space in the lawsuit agreement, currently residing in a San Diego Housing Commission parking lot.

Supervising these facilities is also a problem, Stoops adds.

“If people have access to storage units at all hours of day and night, then you need video surveillance or security personnel” on site, according to Stoops. “You can’t be doing drugs, alcohol, prostitution [in a storage-unit building]. You need to think of all those things. You need to be clear about what items are allowed to be stored.”

Still, if more cities found ways to convert abandon lots or shipping containers into spaces for the homeless, perhaps it could help ease an already harrowing situation. Storage units may be a small step, but the concept could be a stable step in the right direction.

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This Brave Group of Michigan Business Leaders Are Standing Up For LGBT Rights

Last year was a landmark year for the gay marriage movement, and now this year, supporters are turning the tide on rights in the workplace. Some 10 major Michigan businesses are spearheading a campaign to amend the state’s civil rights act to prohibit employee discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Currently, Michigan is one of 29 states that allows an employer to legally fire someone based on his or her sexual orientation; employee discrimination based on gender identity is also legal. But state business leaders from AT&T Michigan, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Consumers Energy, Dow Chemical Co., Google, Herman Miller, PADNOS, Steelcase, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Whirlpool Corporation are aiming to change that by forming the Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition, according to
The state law outlawing employee discrimination — the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 (ELCRA) — extends only to religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. Business leaders like AT&T Michigan’s Jim Murray, a Republican, believe that should include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, too.
“We need to find ways in Michigan to keep and attract talent, and there are some barriers to that and this happens to be one of them,” Murray said.
Overwhelmingly, more than 75 percent of Michigan residents back the idea of adding sexual orientation to state law, which includes a majority of Republicans and small business owners, according to a recent poll. Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights released a report last year that found excluding LGBT protection hurts the state’s pool of talent as well as its economy. By refusing to update the law, the state loses competitive advantage in keeping some of its college graduates as well as professionals, too.
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While there’s no legislation on the table yet, the coalition has pledged to push lawmakers into a meaningful conversation about the amendment. Previous efforts, which include a proposed bill in the Senate in 2012 and in the House in 2009, failed to receive a floor vote. But late last year Republican Governor Rick Snyder said he’s open to to the idea.
“This is the right time to do it and the right thing to do, and I’m hoping that the Legislature can be brave enough to do it,” said Shelly Padnos, the executive vice president of coalition member PADNOS.
Padnos, who previously worked for the House of Republicans but now identifies as an Independent, points out that ELCRA was passed by a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats who understood that equality was important to Michigan’s economic future. Hopefully, that attitude continues to resonate with the legislature today.