Tag Archive: National Security Agency

Jun 01 2015

The Patriot Act Ain’t Dead Yet

While the Senate failed to pass the USA Freedom Act during Sunday’s emergency session, it did get past a cloture vote to continue debate and consider amendments that could either weaken or strengthen the already inadequate reform of the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act. So for the moment, the most egregious parts of the act which violate the Fourth Amendment have expired. So what next? There is no chance to renew the Patriot Act, as the Senate Republican leadership would prefer. Amending the US Freedom Act would necessitate the bill being returned to the House for another vote or hash out the details in a conference committee. None of this looks good for a resolution anytime soon, which is not entirely a bad thing.

McConnell introduced a handful of amendments Sunday evening on behalf of himself and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.). Paul and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also attempted to bring up amendments of their own, but they were blocked.

Paul’s opposition will push votes on both those amendments and the final bill back to Tuesday at the earliest, and potentially Wednesday.

The House would then either need to vote on the new bill or hash out the details in a conference committee.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) – an NSA critic – warned senators against adding amendments to the legislation that could potentially weaken the bill in the eyes of its supporters.

“On the House side, there’s not support for a more watered down version of the Freedom Act,” he said. “If they want to get something passed through the House, they need to make it better not worse.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald gave his reaction to the expiration of the act and the fear mongering that will ensue to Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman’



Transcript can be read here

The internecine GOP politics surrounding this are quite a maze since it involves not just Sen. Paul’s candidacy for president in 2016, but power fights between the House and Senate leaderships. Sen. McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are not exactly best of friends.

The game is now in the Senate and could mean the permanent end of Section 215. Let’s keep our fingers crossed they screw this up.  

May 27 2015

Changing Minds on Edward Snowden

Former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Jimmy Carter administration Hodding Carter III has changed his mind about Edward Snowden whose leaks of NSA programs to the public has sparked the debate a the renewal of the Patriot Act. In an article in Salon, he explains  his change of heart and offered an apology to The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn Greenwald, I’m sorry: Why I changed my mind on Edward Snowden

What follows is based on sixty years of experience in public life and journalism. It arises from deepening concern about the people’s limited appreciation of the First Amendment and disgust with media waffling behind timidity’s breastworks. It also arises from urgent unease about government overreach in the name of “homeland security,” an overreach based on post-9/11 fear, political opportunism and an all but explicit assertion that a free people do not need to know and should not demand to know how they are being protected. There is no pretense here of carefully allocated balance, that briefly treasured convention of American journalism. Instead, this is an attempt to explain the evolution of today’s media-government confrontations and to suggest answers to the hard questions that currently face the press when national security clashes with the Bill of Rights.

Unless informed consent is to be treated as a dangerous relic of more tranquil times, these questions should be answered on behalf of the American people as often as they arise. That means applying general principles to specific cases. Knowing the evolution of press freedom can be useful. Having an accurate picture of the chaotic realities of the murky present is crucial. Hard cases are inevitable; hard-and-fast rules are rarely available and too often inapplicable to current conditions. In the end, as always, it is up to each journalist and news organization to be willing to stand alone, to ask, and to answer individually:

“Whose side are you on?”

Mr. Carter and Glenn Greenwald appeared on MSNBC’s “The Last Word” to discuss the surveillance and the firght over the renewal of the Patriot Act.

Whose side are you on?

May 23 2015

Extension of Patriot Act Provisions Blocked

C-Span is fast becoming my late night entertainment channel. The Senate’s votes on the House USA Freedom Act and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempts to extend the Patriot Act provisions for mass surveillance, for even one day past June 1, were well worth staying up to the early morning hours well worth the loss of sleep. (Not that I don’t anyway.) It was, at last, an epic #FAIL for the spies and fear mongers on both votes.

By a vote of 57-42, the USA Freedom Act failed on Friday to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance in the Senate after hours of procedural manoeuvering lasted into the wee hours Saturday morning.

The result left the Senate due to reconvene on May 31, just hours before a wellspring of broad NSA and FBI domestic spying powers will expire at midnight.

Architects of the USA Freedom Act had hoped that the expiration at the end of May of the Patriot Act authorities, known as Section 215, provided them sufficient leverage to undo the defeat of 2014 and push their bill over the line.

The bill was a compromise to limit the scope of government surveillance. It traded the end of NSA bulk surveillance for the retention through 2019 of Section 215, which permits the collection of “business records” outside normal warrant and subpoena channels – as well as a massive amount of US communications metadata, according to a justice department report. [..]

On Saturday morning, after both cloture votes failed, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell asked for unanimous consent to extend the Patriot Act for a week. Paul objected. Objections were then heard from Paul, as well as from Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich on four-day, two-day and one-day extensions. Eventually McConnell gave up and announced that the Senate would adjourn until 31 May, the day before the key provisions of the Patriot Act expire. [..]

Those who want a straight extension of the Patriot Act are in a distinct minority and supporters of the USA Freedom Act still cannot muster the necessary super majority to advance the bill. The result means those who are more than happy to simply let Section 215 expire on May 31 are in the driver’s seat.

When reporters asked Paul on Saturday morning whether he was concerned about the provisions of the Patriot Act expiring at the end of the month, the Kentucky Republican seemed unworried “We were liking the constitution for about 200 years and I think we could rely on the constitution.”

Watch Sen. Paul shut down Sen McConnell’s attempts to extend the Patriot Act,

Also caught in that clip was Sen. Huckleberry Butchmeup rolling his eyes and picking his nose as Sen. Paul was speaking.

This was Marcy Wheeler’s (emptywheel) reaction on the proceedings

It’s not certain just how “legal” Pres. Obama’s request to the FISA court would be considering the federal appeals court ruling last week that found the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of phone records illegal.

The Senate will return from the Memorial Day break one day early, on May 31, to reconsider an extension of the three provisions of the Patriot Act that will expire the next day.

Let me say two things. First, I am ashamed that any Democrat supported the farce House bill that does nothing to protect our Fourth Amendment rights. Sorry, Sen. Boxer, this is not protecting our county.

Second, a hearty thanks to Senator Rand Paul, who for the fist time that I can remember, went past Charles Pierce’s five minute rule for anything he says.

May 08 2015

NSA Bulk Phone Data Mining Illegal

A federal court ion New York has ruled that the National Security Agency’s mass phone data collection under the Patriot Act is illegal.

Ruling on a program revealed by former government security contractor Edward Snowden, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the Patriot Act did not authorize the National Security Agency to collect Americans’ calling records in bulk.

Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote for a three-judge panel that Section 215, which addresses the FBI’s ability to gather business records, could not be interpreted to have permitted the NSA to collect a “staggering” amount of phone records, contrary to claims by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan held back from saying it was unconstitutional, nor did it order a halt to the program which expires on June 1.

The ruling has sparked concern by the Department of Justice. Newly appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that the DOJ was reviewing the decision calling it “vital tool in our national security.” One more reason this woman is unfit for AG.

The Senate has decided to delay its consideration of the long term renewal of the Patriot Act.

Now, with the relevant section of the Patriot Act due to expire at the end of the month, Republican leaders in Congress are scrambling to find a shorter-term fix to keep the programme alive as it looks likely that the court ruling will prevent them from securing the necessary votes for a full extension in the remaining six days of this legislative session. [..]

One option would be a one-month extension to get Congress past the 1 June deadline in exchange for Republicans allowing an alternative vote on the USA Freedom Act – a reform bill designed to replace NSA collection of telephone metadata with a scheme involving data retention by telephone companies instead.

But newly emboldened Democrats angrily denied rumours that they had agreed to such a deal on Thursday. [..]

Many of those in favour of reform believe their best chance of forcing the Republican leader Mitch McConnell into allowing a vote on the Freedom Act is the prospect of him failing to pass anything and forcing the NSA to totally shutdown the controversial programme first revealed by Edward Snowden.

Such a scenario would be preferable to many privacy campaigners, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which originally lodged Thursday’s court challenge.

But even a full reauthorisation of the Patriot Act would now require supreme court approval to be effective, argue campaigners.

Last week the House appeared ready to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act which would end the collection of metadata, a mere band-aid on the problem. It would still allow the N.S.A.’s ability to analyze links between callers to hunt for terrorists, but keep the bulk records in the hands of phone companies, which could dispose of them after 18 months. The N.S.A. currently stores them for five years. With the court ruling, that may no longer be an option.

Needless to say this has the neo-con fear mongers scrambling

A spokesman for McConnell’s office insisted he continued to back the Patriot Act renewal and pointed to support for its use by judges in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) courts that were designed to deal with such questions. “All the other courts, the Fisa courts, have ruled the other way,” he said.

“I think it’s very unfortunate,” the Arizona senator John McCain, a Republican, also told the Guardian. “I’m very concerned and it’s my understanding other courts have ruled otherwise.”

The problem with the argument about the “other Courts” is that the court they are talking about FISA has questionable constitutionality since it doesn’t fit the Article III and Fourth Amendment requirements.

And let us not forget 9/11

Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina and an ardent supporter of the NSA, invoked the attacks on September 11 to emphasise the importance of the surveillance programmes.

“I’ve got one goal: if you need to reform the programme, great, I just don’t want to gut it,” Graham told the Guardian. “I would continue until someone told me to stop. I believe if the programme were in operation before 9/11, we probably would have prevented 9/11.”

Graham added that he found it hard to believe lawmakers would diminish the programme, given the current national security climate, “based on a court ruling that’s not binding”.

On other thing that the ruling inadvertently did was vindicated whistleblower Edward Snowden whose leak of the NSA program prompted to public discussion and legal challenges.

The ruling was discussed by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and The Intercept journalist Glenn Grenwald on MSNBC’s “Now” host Alex Wagner.

What Charlie Pierce said

(T)he program has now faced the clear light of an open court and it has been judged in its operation to be at best a baroque overreach and, at worst, un-American. This debate always has been better conducted in the open. This is the case with almost any debate, but especially those that arise under the tremulous camouflage of National Security. If I thought courage was as contagious as fear, I’d be more optimistic. And, again, I point out that all this ever was about was what kind of government we would be willing to tolerate and still maintain our identity as a constitutional self-governing Republic, and that none of this happens without the intervention of Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage, and Glenn Greenwald, who is simply Not One Of Us.

Apr 10 2015

John Oliver Takes on Surveillance Reform

The battle over citizens’ right to privacy and the government’s mass collection of private data that has nothing to do with protecting the country from terrorist attacks, is coming to a head on June 1. That’s when the Patriot Act’s section 215, the provision of the act that the NSA used to authorize its bulk telephone metadata collection program, must either be renewed by congress or it expires. The problem is the lack of interest by the American public. In an extended segment of his HBO program, “This Week Tonight,” John Oliver found a subject that might pique their interest, “dick pics.” He presented his idea to Edward Snowden in a one on one exclusive interview.

So why all the trouble? In theory, Snowden’s revelations are old, they have proven to be either inaccessible or not titillating enough for the American public, and Oliver already covered the issue himself on the show in an interview with former NSA chief General Keith Alexander less than a year ago.

As it turns out, Oliver wasn’t satisfied. Using the June 1 expiration of controversial sections of the Patriot Act as a peg, Oliver decided to revive the conversation anew by highlighting one specific aspect of the surveillance issue that a majority of Americans could relate to.

And Sunday’s final product is earning Oliver plaudits across the Internet. In the interview, Oliver accomplishes several feats. He’s not only funny (Snowden apparently misses eating Hot Pockets, the sodium vehicle of the American freezer section), but also incisive and tough. [..]

But most notably of all, Oliver might finally have pinpointed a way to make the debate about surveillance accessible to a wide audience. By honing on one aspect of the government surveillance, the capacity for intelligence agencies to access “dick pics,” he captures the attention and summons the outrage of numerous passersby in a filmed segment in Times Square. Many of those interviewed can’t properly identify Edward Snowden or don’t quite recall what he had done, but all recoil at the thought of government access to intimate photography.

Thanks to John’s interview and the above viral video, which at this posting has

4,723,977 views, the movement to end mass surveillance has new life.

Privacy advocates experienced a major setback in November when a surveillance reform bill, the FREEDOM Act, died in a Senate procedural vote. But now they’re back, and with a new, simple question for Americans – Can they see your junk?

Playing off Oliver’s hilarious skit, one privacy activist built cantheyseemydick.com, which breaks down how each NSA program could be used to access private communications. Despite its flippant tone, the website offers simple explanations of complex programs that are difficult to understand.

On a more serious note, a new coalition of privacy groups led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today launched the Fight 215 campaign calling for an end to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

EFF activist Nadia Kayyali told TechCrunch the organizations launched the campaign today because of the impending deadline, but they were very excited about the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver skit and the attention it has already brought to surveillance reform.

With this campaign, the privacy advocates have taken a direct stance, end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. [..]

Even with the new public attention on surveillance reform, privacy advocates face an uphill battle in Congress. Although surveillance reform is an issue that does not fall squarely on party lines, reform efforts in the Democratic-controlled Senate last year were thwarted primarily by Republican votes. Now Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

As the June 1 deadline approaches, no one in Congress has laid out a comprehensive plan to address government surveillance this year. Kayyali attributes the lack of action on the Hill to uncertainty.

“I think a lot of people, including people who want to see good legislation passed, weren’t certain where to start from,” Kayyali said. “It’s hard to say what Congress is thinking.”

As members look to form that plan, Kayyali hopes the new campaign will send them a clear message.

EEF and thirty other civil liberties organizations have launched a call in campaign, Fight 215. They will help connect you to your representatives to tell them to end mass surveillance.

Call Congress Now

Urge them to end mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

What to say

Hi,

I’m one of your constituents, and I’m calling to urge you to end the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance under the Patriot Act.

NSA surveillance illegally invades my privacy, along with millions of other innocent people, without making me safer.

Ending phone record surveillance is the first step to reining in surveillance abuses by the NSA. The time to put pressure on congress is now.

 

Nov 21 2014

NSA Spying Reform Defeated by ISIS and GOP

The Senate was briefly in session this week where it took cloture votes on two note worthy bills. One to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and the second called the USA Freedom Act, would vaguely reform the NSA by limiting their ability to spy on Americans. Both bill failed.

Regardless of the denials by the Democratic leadership, the Keystone bill was brought to a vote in a vain attempt to save Louisiana’s Senator Mary Landrieu’s seat. While the Republicans would have bee gleeful of it had passed, the bill failed to reach cloture by one vote. The incoming leadership has vowed to bring it to the floor one more time.

The USA Freedom Act was another deal. Since the the likelihood this bill would never see the light of day in the next session, it was thought there were enough votes for cloture. There weren’t. It was roundly shouted down by Republicans because the Islamic state is coming to kill us.

NSA Reform Bill Dies As Republicans Hype Threats From Islamic State

Dan Froomkin, The Intercept

Supporters of the USA Freedom Act, including privacy groups and technology companies, had considered it an essential first step toward ending the NSA’s overreach. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell set the tone for the day in the morning, actively encouraging his caucus to block the measure, citing concerns that it would hurt the fight against such groups as the Islamic State. Republicans also took their cues from an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden and former attorney general Michael Mukasey described the bill as NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love.

With Republicans taking control of the Senate in January, a vote during the current lame-duck session was widely considered the bill’s last, best shot.

The USA Freedom Act would have ended the government’s bulk collection of domestic phone records, forcing officials to make specific requests to phone companies. It would also have ended the law-enforcement monopoly on arguments before the secretive surveillance court by creating a role for a special advocate. And it would have required that significant court opinions be made public.

Writing for The Guardian, Trevor Timm thinks that the Republican may have shot themselves in the foot by opposing the bill:

But the Republicans – and NSA supporters everywhere – may have made a mistake that will come back to haunt them. They killed a measure that many reformers were holding their nose while supporting, and six month from now – by the middle of 2015 – they may have several even bigger fights on their hands. [..]

(T)he legislation Republicans just blocked also would have effectively shut down several promising lawsuits against the NSA in federal court and another case where National Security Letters were already ruled unconstitutional.

Now many of those cases, already in the appeals stage, may be decided within the next six months, and if the oral arguments are any indication, the US government may be in trouble. Indeed, the conservative justices may be willing to do more for your privacy than conservative lawmakers, as Judge Richard Leon proved last year when he ruled that the NSA’s phone surveillance program is likely unconstitutional.

But here’s the real reason the the USA Freedom Act’s failure could backfire on its biggest supporters: As I’ve mentioned before, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act – the law that was re-interpreted in secret to allow for mass phone metadata surveillance in the first place – comes up for renewal next summer. It has to be reauthorized before June, or it will disappear completely.

And even though the Republicans will be in control next year, they won’t be able to pull the same stunts they did on Tuesday. Everyone knows getting “no” votes is a lot easier than getting a “yes”. And this time they’ll need 60 “yes” votes, plus the support of the House of Representatives, where we know already there are likely enough votes to kill an extension of the Patriot Act.

At the New York Times, Charles Savage found a little noticed provision in the Patriot Act that grandfathered on going investigations even if section 215 sunsets:

   The law says that Section 215, along with another section of the Patriot Act, expires on “June 1, 2015, except that former provisions continue in effect with respect to any particular foreign intelligence investigation that began before June 1, 2015, or with respect to any particular offense or potential offense that began or occurred before June 1, 2015.”

   Michael Davidson, who until his retirement in 2011 was the Senate Intelligence Committee’s top staff lawyer, said this meant that as long as there was an older counterterrorism investigation still open, the court could keep issuing Section 215 orders to phone companies indefinitely for that investigation.

   “It was always understood that no investigation should be different the day after the sunset than it was the day before,” Mr. Davidson said, adding: “There are important reasons for Congress to legislate on what, if any, program is now warranted. But considering the actual language of the sunset provision, no one should believe the present program will disappear solely because of the sunset.”

   Mr. Davidson said the widespread assumption by lawmakers and executive branch officials, as well as in news articles in The New York Times and elsewhere, that the program must lapse next summer without new legislation was incorrect.

   The exception is obscure because it was recorded as note accompanying Section 215; while still law, it does not receive its own listing in the United States Code. It was created by the original Patriot Act and was explicitly restated in a 2006 reauthorization bill, and then quietly carried forward in 2010 and in 2011.

While over at The Intercept, journalist and author, Glenn Greenwald found watching the Senate debate was “like watching a repeat of some hideously shallow TV show”. As he noted, congress is irrelevant on mass surveillance and points out what really matters:

The entire system in D.C. is designed at its core to prevent real reform. This Congress is not going to enact anything resembling fundamental limits on the NSA’s powers of mass surveillance. Even if it somehow did, this White House would never sign it. Even if all that miraculously happened, the fact that the U.S. intelligence community and National Security State operates with no limits and no oversight means they’d easily co-opt the entire reform process. That’s what happened after the eavesdropping scandals of the mid-1970s led to the establishment of congressional intelligence committees and a special FISA “oversight” court-the committees were instantly captured by putting in charge supreme servants of the intelligence community like Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chambliss, and Congressmen Mike Rogers and “Dutch” Ruppersberger, while the court quickly became a rubber stamp with subservient judges who operate in total secrecy. [..]

In pretty much every interview I’ve done over the last year, I’ve been asked why there haven’t been significant changes from all the disclosures. I vehemently disagree with the premise of the question, which equates “U.S. legislative changes” with “meaningful changes.” But it has been clear from the start that U.S. legislation is not going to impose meaningful limitations on the NSA’s powers of mass surveillance, at least not fundamentally. Those limitations are going to come from-are now coming from -very different places:

1) Individuals refusing to use internet services that compromise their privacy. The FBI and other U.S. government agencies, as well as the U.K. Government, are apoplectic over new products from Google and Apple that are embedded with strong encryption, precisely because they know that such protections, while far from perfect, are serious impediments to their power of mass surveillance. To make this observation does not mean, as some deeply confused people try to suggest, that one believes that Silicon Valley companies care in the slightest about people’s privacy rights and civil liberties. [..]

2) Other countries taking action against U.S. hegemony over the internet. Most people who claim nothing has changed from the Snowden disclosures are viewing the world jingoistically, with the U.S. the only venue that matters. But the real action has long been in other countries, acting individually and jointly to prevent U.S. domination of the internet. [..]

3) U.S. court proceedings. A U.S. federal judge already ruled that the NSA’s domestic bulk collection program likely violates the 4th Amendment, and in doing so, obliterated many of the government’s underlying justifications. Multiple cases are now on appeal, almost certainly headed to the Supreme Court. None of this was possible in the absence of Snowden disclosures. [..]

4) Greater individual demand for, and use of, encryption. In the immediate aftermath of the first Snowden reports, I was contacted by countless leading national security reporters in the U.S., who work with the largest media outlets, seeking an interview with Snowden. But there was a critical problem: despite working every day on highly sensitive matters, none of them knew anything about basic encryption methods, nor did their IT departments. Just a few short months later, well over 50 percent of the journalists who emailed me did so under the protection of PGP encryption. Today, if any journalist emails me without encryption, they do so apologetically and with embarrassment. [..]

The changes from the Snowden disclosures are found far from the Kabuki theater of the D.C. political class, and they are unquestionably significant. That does not mean the battle is inevitably won: The U.S. remains the most powerful government on earth, has all sorts of ways to continue to induce the complicity of big Silicon Valley firms, and is not going to cede dominion over the internet easily. But the battle is underway and the forces of reform are formidable-not because of anything the U.S. congress is doing, but despite it.

The USA Freedom Act would have made little difference to the unlawful NSA. What matters now is what the courts and we do to preserve our rights.

Oct 15 2014

Your Privacy Matters

The NSA, FBI and DOJ are upset with the new Apple and Google encryption apps that they can’t hack. The poor Director of the FBI, James Comey is “concerned” so he plays the “fear card”

“I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law,” Comey told reporters at FBI headquarters in Washington. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”

Apple said last week that it would no longer be technically feasible to unlock encrypted iPhones and iPads for law enforcement because the devices would no longer allow user passcodes to be bypassed. The move comes as tech companies struggle to manage public concerns in the aftermath of last year’s leak of classified National Security Agency documents about government access to private user data. [..]

“Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” the company said. “So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

Comey said that while he understood the need for privacy, government access to mobile devices may be needed in extreme circumstances, such as in the event of a terror attack.

“I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smart phone,” he said. “The notion that someone would market a closet that could never be opened — even if it involves a case involving a child kidnapper and a court order — to me does not make any sense.”

Comey said FBI officials have had conversations with both Apple and Google about the marketing of their devices.

“Google is marketing their Android the same way: Buy our phone and law-enforcement, even with legal process, can never get access to it,” he said.

Why anyone would think that the guy who approved torture believes in the rule of law is beyond me. Trevor Timm at The Guardian dissects what Comey said:

Comey began:

  I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law. … What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.

First of all, despite the FBI director’s implication, what Apple and Google have done is perfectly legal, and they are under no obligation under the “the rule of law” to decrypt users’ data if the company itself cannot access your stuff. From 47 U.S. Code § 1002 (emphasis mine):

   A telecommunications carrier shall not be responsible for decrypting, or ensuring the government’s ability to decrypt, any communication encrypted by a subscriber or customer, unless the encryption was provided by the carrier and the carrier possesses the information necessary to decrypt the communication.

Comey continued:

   I like and believe very much that we should have to obtain a warrant from an independent judge to be able to take the content of anyone’s closet or their smart phone.

That’s funny, because literally four months ago, the United States government was saying the exact opposite (pdf) before the US supreme court, arguing that, in fact, the feds shouldn’t need to get a warrant to get inside anyone’s smartphone after you’re arrested. In its landmark June ruling in the case, Riley v California, the court disagreed. So it’s great to see that Jim Comey, too, has come around to the common sense conclusion that cops need a warrant to search your cellphone data, but it would’ve been nice for him to express those sentiments when they actually mattered.

Comey doubled down in another statement with the absurd fear that criminals, like child kidnappers would be able to evade the law. On its face that’s insanely ridiculous since law enforcement has numerous ways tools to access your data. The Intercept‘s Micah Lee points out that Apple still has access to plenty of your data to feed to the Feds. He went on how bemoan the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden has caused the need to protect a person’s private information may have gone too far. How so, Mr. Comey? As Timm notes in his article

Congress has not changed surveillance law at all in the the nearly 16 months since Edward Snowden’s disclosures began, mostly because of the vociferous opposition from intelligence agencies and cops. The pendulum is still permanently lodged squarely on law enforcement’s side. If it has swung at all, it’s because of the aforementioned ruling by the supreme court of the United States, along with tech companies implementing more privacy protections unilaterally because US tech companies are losing billions of dollars because of the government’s spying scandals.

A week ago, The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald gave a Ted Talk in Rio de Janeiro on why your privacy matters

Crypto wars redux: why the FBI’s desire to unlock your private life must be resisted

In 1995, the US government tried – and failed – to categorise encryption as a weapon. Today, the same lines are being drawn and the same tactics repeated as the FBI wants to do the same. Here’s why they are wrong, and why they must fail again

Eric Holder, the outgoing US attorney general, has joined the FBI and other law enforcement agencies in calling for the security of all computer systems to be fatally weakened. This isn’t a new project – the idea has been around since the early 1990s, when the NSA classed all strong cryptography as a “munition” and regulated civilian use of it to ensure that they had the keys to unlock any technological countermeasures you put around your data.

In 1995, the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a landmark case establishing that code was a form of protected expression under the First Amendment to the US constitution, and since then, the whole world has enjoyed relatively unfettered access to strong crypto. [..]

The arguments then are the arguments now. Governments invoke the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse (software pirates, organised crime, child pornographers, and terrorists) and say that unless they can decrypt bad guys’ hard drives and listen in on their conversations, law and order is a dead letter.

On the other side, virtually every security and cryptography expert tries patiently to explain that there’s no such thing as “a back door that only the good guys can walk through” (hat tip to Bruce Schneier). Designing a computer that bad guys can’t break into is impossible to reconcile with designing a computer that good guys can break into.

If you give the cops a secret key that opens the locks on your computerised storage and on your conversations, then one day, people who aren’t cops will get hold of that key, too. The same forces that led to bent cops selling out the public’s personal information to Glen Mulcaire and the tabloid press will cause those cops’ successors to sell out access to the world’s computer systems, too, only the numbers of people who are interested in these keys to the (United) Kingdom will be much larger, and they’ll have more money, and they’ll be able to do more damage.

Long live The Republic.

Jul 24 2014

How To Get On The Terrorist Watch List Without Ever Trying

Are you on the Department of Homeland Security’s Terrorist Watch List or No-Fly List? If you are, there is no way for you to find out but we now know what the criteria is and it’s pretty fast and loose with the rules. The Intercept investigative journalists Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux have obtained a copy of the guidelines from a document that was issued by the National Counterterrorism Center, the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance.” In an extensive article, they examine how the government is using secret rules  “putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings.”

The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place “entire categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases-though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.” [..]

The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination-a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist-opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources-and might go unnoticed. [..]

The fallout is personal too. There are severe consequences for people unfairly labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, which shares its watchlist data with local law enforcement, foreign governments, and “private entities.” Once the U.S. government secretly labels you a terrorist or terrorist suspect, other institutions tend to treat you as one. It can become difficult to get a job (or simply to stay out of jail). It can become burdensome-or impossible-to travel. And routine encounters with law enforcement can turn into ordeals. [..]

The government has been widely criticized for making it impossible for people to know why they have been placed on a watchlist, and for making it nearly impossible to get off. The guidelines bluntly state that “the general policy of the U.S. Government is to neither confirm nor deny an individual’s watchlist status.” But the courts have taken exception to the official silence and footdragging: In June, a federal judge described the government’s secretive removal process as unconstitutional and “wholly ineffective.”

The difficulty of getting off the list is highlighted by a passage in the guidelines stating that an individual can be kept on the watchlist, or even placed onto the watchlist, despite being acquitted of a terrorism-related crime. The rulebook justifies this by noting that conviction in U.S. courts requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas watchlisting requires only a reasonable suspicion. Once suspicion is raised, even a jury’s verdict cannot erase it.

Not even death provides a guarantee of getting off the list. The guidelines say the names of dead people will stay on the list if there is reason to believe the deceased’s identity may be used by a suspected terrorist-which the National Counterterrorism Center calls a “demonstrated terrorist tactic.” In fact, for the same reason, the rules permit the deceased spouses of suspected terrorists to be placed onto the list after they have died.

Essentially, once a person is on these lists their Fourth Amendment rights are completely ignored, as Mike Masnick at Techdirt points out individuals are subjected to extra scrutiny, essentially allowing the government to sift through every aspect of a person’s life:

In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE (Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment) database.

Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition-“e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information” – details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips-is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.

At FDL’s The Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola discusses how this loop-hole ridden criteria violate a person’s rights and are inherently discriminatory towards Muslims:

There are a few general points to make in order to fully understand what this vague criteria for watchlisting means.

First of all, it is important not to ignore the anti-Muslim racism that likely influences a number of aspects of the watchlisting process. The idea that Muslims are “predisposed” to commit acts of violence is pervades the national security establishment. Training materials on fighting terrorism have been used by government agencies in previous years that deal with theories of “radicalization” and such training promotes prejudice, as evidenced by the fact that one NSA official used the slur “Mohammed Raghead” in an NSA memo.

Second, a federal district court in Oregon recently decided violated due process rights of Americans placed on the No-Fly List because it is nearly impossible to challenge inclusion and clear one’s name. The ACLU represented thirteen Americans, who have never engaged in any terrorist activity, in this case. Each person experienced hardship because they ended up on the No-Fly List.

The guidance shows why there needs to be a process established for getting off watchlists, especially the No-Fly List.

Finally, there is absolutely no reasonable justification for why this rulebook and any version of it from 2001 to 2014 should be secret. The watchlisting guidance is marked “unclassified.” There is nothing in it that will endanger any Americans.

Jeremy and Ryna sat down for an an interview with Huffington Post‘s Alyona Minkovski. During the discussion, Ryan called the these guidelines a “global stop and frisk program.”

Recently there were two court rulings that pertain to getting off the No-Fly list and a Supreme Court decision that bars warrantless searches of cell phones. Precisely how how those rulings will impact the guidelines remains to be seen but it is fairly obvious that the Obama administration has little regard for the rule of law.

Jul 18 2014

Edward Snowden Calls on Professionals to Protect Private Communications

On July 10, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden sat down for an interview with Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, and reporter Ewen MacAskill in Moscow.

Over the course of seven hours, he talked about the need for professionals to protect the confidentiality of their clients in the light of the surveillance by spy agencies. He also spoke about his life in Moskow and the specious accusations that he was spying for Russia or had given the information he took from the NSA to Russian authorities.

(Snowden):

• Said if he ended up in US detention in Guantánamo Bay he could live with it.

• Offered rare glimpses into his daily life in Russia, insisting that, contrary to reports that he is depressed, he is not sad and does not have any regrets. He rejected various conspiracy theories surrounding him, describing as “bullshit” suggestions he is a Russian spy.

• Said that, contrary to a claim he works for a Russian organisation, he was independently secure, living on savings, and money from awards and speeches he has delivered online round the world.

• Made a startling claim that a culture exists within the NSA in which, during surveillance, nude photographs picked up of people in “sexually compromising” situations are routinely passed around.

• Spoke at length about his future, which seems destined to be spent in Russia for the foreseeable future after expressing disappointment over the failure of western European governments to offer him a home.

• Said he was holding out for a jury trial in the US rather a judge-only one, hopeful that it would be hard to find 12 jurors who would convict him if he was charged with an offence to which there was a public interest defence. Negotiations with the US government on a return to his country appear to be stalled.

Jul 09 2014

Americans Spied On By NSA & FBI Without Cause

The National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau if Investigation was given authorization by a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on five Americans because of their political activity and, umm, their Middle Eastern names:

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

By Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain

he National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans-including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers-under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”-short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.he National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans-including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers-under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”-short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens. [..]

The five Americans whose email accounts were monitored by the NSA and FBI have all led highly public, outwardly exemplary lives. All five vehemently deny any involvement in terrorism or espionage, and none advocates violent jihad or is known to have been implicated in any crime, despite years of intense scrutiny by the government and the press. Some have even climbed the ranks of the U.S. national security and foreign policy establishments.

[..]

Asim Ghafoor says his first-hand experience working on behalf of other Muslim-Americans has led him to believe that “the U.S. government embarked on a very systematic approach” to target his community.

“I saw the government specifically go after Muslim people who were involved in certain activities such as charity work, humanitarian work, political activism,” he says. “Maybe they had some website that had some speeches that nobody ever read or even noticed, maybe they had some bloodcurdling speeches. So the government just treated you like you were blowing up the next tower. They treated you like you were going to be the Manchurian Candidate, you were going to destroy America from within. There were U.S. attorneys, FBI agents, DHS agents, customs agents all over the country that were trying to find the next terror cell in their midst. If you were involved in those activities and maybe you were on a student visa and you didn’t quite fill out the paperwork, you were hosed. There is no question about it, you were worse off than a migrant worker in Dubai. You were just packed up and sent home. Life became very, very unbearable for them.”

Even a U.S. citizen like Faisal Gill, who served his country both in the armed forces and in the White House, found himself spied on by his own government. “I was a very conservative, Reagan-loving Republican,” he says. “If somebody like me could be surveilled, then [there are] other people out there I can only imagine who are under surveillance.

“I went to school here as a fourth grader – learned about the Revolutionary War, learned about individual rights, Thomas Jefferson, all these things,” he continues. “That is ingrained in you – your privacy is important. And to have that basically invaded for no reason whatsoever – for the fact that I didn’t do anything – I think that’s troubling. And I think that certainly goes to show how we need to shape policy differently than it is right now.”

As per Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim, Glenn Greenwald received the permission of all five named in the article before printing their names.

This is the Democratic administration of Barack Hussein Obama.

Older posts «

Fetch more items