Tag Archive: Mass Surveillance

Nov 14 2016

Should It Ever Have Been A Matter Of Trust?

A question for those who trusted Barack Obama with national security, mass surveillance, drones and targeted assassination: Do you trust Donald Trump and his minions with those tools? If you don’t, it’s a bit too late for panicking  There were those of us on the far left with a greater respect for the law and …

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Jul 07 2015

FBI’s Lastest Ploy to Spy on Everyone: ISIS

Torture authorizer and current FBI director, James Comey trotted out the latest “bogeyman” to justify unlocking encryption of private digital messages: ISIS. Apparently trying to scare people with kidnappers and child abusers failed.

(In) a preview of his appearance Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey is playing the ISIS card, saying that it is becoming impossible for the FBI to stop their recruitment and planned attacks. (He uses an alternate acronym, ISIL, for the Islamic State.)

“The current ISIL threat… involves ISIL operators in Syria recruiting and tasking dozens of troubled Americans to kill people, a process that increasingly takes part through mobile messaging apps that are end-to-end encrypted, communications that may not be intercepted, despite judicial orders under the Fourth Amendment,” Comey wrote on Monday in a blog post on the pro-surveillance website Lawfare.

While providing no specific, independently confirmable examples, Comey has claimed that FBI agents are currently encountering problems because of encrypted communications as they track potential ISIS sympathizers and radicals.

Comey has long argued that sophisticated encryption technology being implemented by tech giants, including Google and Apple, will make it harder and harder for the FBI to track its targets. Encryption scrambles the contents of digital communications, making it impossible for users without the “key” to read messages in plain language.

The major problem with Comey’s argument, giving law enforcement a backdoor key to private encrypted communications, would be an open door for hackers and criminals.

On Tuesday, the group – 13 of the world’s pre-eminent cryptographers, computer scientists and security specialists – released the paper (pdf), which concludes there is no viable technical solution that would allow the American and British governments to gain “exceptional access” to encrypted communications without putting the world’s most confidential data and critical infrastructure in danger. [..]

The authors of the report said such fears did not justify putting the world’s digital communications at risk. Given the inherent vulnerabilities of the Internet, they argued, reducing encryption is not an option. Handing governments a key to encrypted communications would also require an extraordinary degree of trust. With government agency breaches now the norm – most recently at the United States Office of Personnel Management, the State Department and the White House – the security specialists said authorities cannot be trusted to keep such keys safe from hackers and criminals. They added that if the United States and Britain mandated backdoor keys to communications, it would spur China and other governments in foreign markets to do the same.

Keys Under Doormats: Mandating insecurity by requiring government access to all data and communications

Twenty years ago, law enforcement organizations lobbied to require data and communication services to engineer their products to guarantee law enforcement access to all data. After lengthy debate and vigorous predictions of enforcement channels going dark, these attempts to regulate the emerging Internet were abandoned. In the intervening years, innovation on the Internet flourished, and law enforcement agencies found new and more effective means of accessing vastly larger quantities of data. Today we are again hearing calls for regulation to mandate the provision of exceptional access mechanisms. In this report, a group of computer scientists and security experts, many of whom participated in a 1997 study of these same topics, has convened to explore the likely effects of imposing extraordinary access mandates. We have found that the damage that could be caused by law enforcement exceptional access requirements would be even greater today than it would have been 20 years ago. In the wake of the growing economic and social cost of the fundamental insecurity of today’s Internet environment, any proposals that alter the security dynamics online should be approached with caution. Exceptional access would force Internet system developers to reverse forward secrecy design practices that seek to minimize the impact on user privacy when systems are breached. The complexity of today’s Internet environment, with millions of apps and globally connected services, means that new law enforcement requirements are likely to introduce unanticipated, hard to detect security flaws. Beyond these and other technical vulnerabilities, the prospect of globally deployed exceptional access systems raises difficult problems about how such an environment would be governed and how to ensure that such systems would respect human rights and the rule of law.

This was a bad idea in 1997 and still a bad idea today.

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.