Category Archives: Surveillance

NSA: House bill would lower standards for collecting individuals’ data

Draft bill would allow collection of electronic communications records based only on ‘reasonable articulable suspicion’

US phone data NSA: House bill would lower standards for collecting individuals data
The House intelligence committee is circulating a draft bill that would permit the government to acquire the phone or email records of an “individual or facility” inside the US for up to a year.
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The move by the House intelligence committee’s leadership – the Republican chairman Michael Rogers of Michigan and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland – would significantly prohibit mass surveillance of all Americans’ phone data, a shift in position by two of the most stalwart congressional defenders of the practice. It comes as the New York Times reports that Barack Obama will propose ending bulk collection.

Obama’s self-imposed deadline on revamping the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk domestic phone data is set to expire on Friday.

The bill, titled the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014 and currently circulating on Capitol Hill, would prevent the government from acquiring “records of any electronic communication without the use of specific identifiers or selection terms,” some 10 months after the Guardian first exposed the bulk collection based on leaks by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

But the bill would allow the government to collect electronic communications records based on “reasonable articulable suspicion”, rather than probable cause or relevance to a terrorism investigation, from someone deemed to be an agent of a foreign power, associated with an agent of a foreign power, or “in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power.”

A draft of the bill acquired by the Guardian proposes the acquisition of such phone or email data for up to a year and would not necessarily require prior approval by a judge. Authorisation of the collection would come jointly from the US attorney general and director of national intelligence.

The NSA or the FBI would not be able to collect the content of those communications without probable cause.

Nor does the House intelligence committee’s draft bill require phone companies or any other private entity to store bulk phone records on behalf of the NSA – a proposal that has met with stiff opposition from the telecom companies. In essence, the draft bill gets rid of bulk collection, but makes it easier for government authorities to collect metadata on individuals inside the US suspected of involvement with a foreign power.

The House intelligence committee proposal represents competition to a different bill introduced last fall by privacy advocates in the Senate and House judiciary committees known as the USA Freedom Act.

That bill, which has 163 co-sponsors in both chambers, does not lower the legal standard for data collection on US persons, and would prohibit the NSA from searching for Americans’ identifying information in its foreign-oriented communications content databases, something the House intelligence bill would not.

A spokesperson for the House intelligence committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Rogers and Ruppersberger have scheduled a press conference on Tuesday morning to discuss what they described in a release as “Fisaimprovement legislation” – a reference to the seminal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which their bill would amend.

While a judge would not necessarily review the collection of a US individual’s phone or email records ahead of time, the House intelligence committee bill would require judicial review of the collection procedures and associated privacy protections to “reasonably limit the receipt, retention, use and disclosure of communications records associated with a specific person when such records are not necessary to understand foreign intelligence information or assess the importance of such information”.

A telecom or internet service provider could challenge the collection order before the secret Fisa court under the House intelligence committee proposal. The court would also have latitude to reject challenges “that are not warranted by existing law or consists of a frivolous argument for extending, modifying or reversing existing law or for establishing a new law”, and to impose contempt of court penalties for noncompliant companies.

The attorney general and the director of national intelligence would have to “assess compliance with the selection and the civil liberties and privacy protection procedures” associated with the collection every six months, and submit those assessments to the Fisa court and the intelligence and judiciary committees of the House and Senate.

Additionally, and in keeping with an October proposal from Senate intelligence committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, the House intelligence committee proposal would permit the NSA to continue surveillance for 72 hours on a suspected foreigner’s communications content if that person enters the US.

The House intelligence committee proposal contains provisions embraced by critics of widespread NSA surveillance. It would create a privacy advocate before the Fisa çourt; mandate additional declassification of Fisa court rulings; require the Senate to confirm the NSA director and inspector general.

It also requires annual disclosure of the number of times “in which the contents of a communication of a United States person was acquired under this Act when the acquisition authorized by this Act that resulted in the collection of such contents could not reasonably have been anticipated to capture such contents.”

But in a sign of the continuing contentiousness on Capitol Hill over changes to NSA surveillance, James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican and co-author of the USA Freedom Act, preemptively rejected the House intelligence committee proposal, calling it “a convoluted bill that accepts the administration’s deliberate misinterpretations of the law.

“It limits, but does not end, bulk collection. Provisions included in the draft fall well short of the safeguards in the USA Freedom Act and do not strike the proper balance between privacy and security,” Sensenbrenner said in a statement late on Monday.

On Friday, the Obama administration and the intelligence agencies will face the expiration of a Fisa court order for bulk domestic phone records collection. That expiration represents a deadline imposed by Obama in January for his administration to come to reach consensus on the specific contours of post-NSA phone metadata collection.

According to a New York Times report late on Monday, Obama will propose ending bulk phone data collection and replacing it with individualised orders for telecom firms to provide phone records up to two “hops” – or degrees of separation – from a phone number suspected of wrongdoing. The effort goes further towards the position favoured by privacy advocates than Obama proposed in January. Obama will request the Fisa court bless the current bulk collection program for a final 90-day renewal as he attempts to implement the new plan, the Times reported.

The White House declined to comment on Monday about either the End Bulk Collection Act or the USA Freedom Act.

Source: TheGuardian

Tech giants to press Obama on NSA reform in private White House meeting

 Tech giants to press Obama on NSA reform in private White House meeting

Technology industry leaders were due to question Barack Obama about privacy issues and his progress towards ending the National Security Agency’s collection of bulk telephone data on Friday, in their second White House meeting over Silicon Valley’s surveillance concerns.
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Executives from Facebook, Google and Yahoo were invited by the administration to the private Oval Office discussion amid continued anger over revelations stemming from leaks last June by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Reform efforts in Washington have stalled somewhat since Obama called for the US government to stop collecting domestic phone data in January but suggested an unspecified third party might be able manage the database instead – leaving Congress and the intelligence community locked in a battle over how to proceed.

This has doubly complicated matters for the US technology industry, which fears public surveillance concerns are damaging its international business interests but which has little appetite for replacing the NSA’s role with a private sector database provider.

Friday’s meeting comes just days after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called Obama to express his displeasure with the latest round of NSA revelations. “Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true, full reform,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post on 13 March.

Zuckerberg, who was expected to attend the Oval Office event with Google chairman Eric Schmidt, said he had been “confused and frustrated” by reports of the behaviour of the US government. “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government,” he wrote.

“The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.”

This week, Rajesh De, the NSA’s general counsel, said all communications content and associated metadata harvested by the NSA under a 2008 surveillance law occurred with the knowledge of the companies – both for the internet collection program known as Prism and for the so-called “upstream” collection of communications moving across the internet.

Executives from Netflix and Palantir, the big data mining company, are also expected to attend the White House meeting, where a major topic of conversation is expected to be the imminent overhaul of how the US collects the phone records of millions of US mobile users.

Obama’s speech in January worried many in the tech and telecoms community, who are concerned that the burden of collecting and keeping that data will merely be passed on to them.

Following Obama’s announcement, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and others said the proposal represented “positive progress on key issues including transparency from the government and in what companies will be allowed to disclose, extending privacy protections to non-US citizens, and Fisa court reform.”

But they said crucial details remain to be addressed and additional steps were needed. Others were more critical. Alex Fowler, head of privacy and public policy at Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, said Obama’s proposals did not represent meaningful change.

“Overall, the strategy seems to be to leave current intelligence processes largely intact and improve oversight to a degree. We’d hoped for, and the internet deserves, more. Without a meaningful change of course, the internet will continue on its path toward a world of balkanization and distrust – a grave departure from its origins of openness and opportunity,” he wrote in a blog post.

Silicon Valley executives have made clear that they want greater transparency over the government’s collection of their users data and more oversight. But talks seem to have foundered in recent months with tech executives becoming increasingly concerned that little will change.

Source: TheGuardian

Limit surveillance to ‘terrorist communication,’ says outgoing NSA boss

Limit surveillance to ‘terrorist communication’ says outgoing NSA boss Limit surveillance to ‘terrorist communication,’ says outgoing NSA boss

General Keith Alexander, the soon-to-be departed chief of the NSA, admitted Thursday in front of a congressional committee that the massive intelligence agency may be open to extracting less, or more targeted metadata from communication companies.
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Classified documents leaked last summer by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the intelligence agency currently compels at least three major telephone providers – Verizon, Sprint, and AT&T – to turn over call information on millions of Americans. Among that information, known as metadata, is the duration of the call, the time the call was made, who the phone call was to, and where it originated.

Snowden disclosed a trove of secret information about US intelligence activity to the press, but the collection of phone metadata has been perhaps the most controversial, in part because of its sheer breadth.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) was among those hoping to find more when, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, he asked Alexander how the metadata is collected and stored.

Chairman, I think there are three options that you put on the table,” Alexander replied. “You mentioned the government holding it, the ISPs holding it. I think there is yet another option where we look at what data you actually need and only get that data.

Can we come up with a capability that just gets those that are predicated on a terrorist communication? I think you have those three options that I’ve put on the table,” he continued. “Those are three of the ones that I think need to be clearly discussed and the merits from both sides, they have pros and cons on the agility that you would have with the program.”

Alexander was referring to possible reforms to the NSA set forth by US intelligence and law enforcement leaders earlier this week. US President Obama, who has said he is open to reforming the surveillance programs after public scrutiny, tasked the attorney general and other administration officials to propose theories on how the phone metadata collection program could remain in use.

The most radical proposal, according to anonymous sources who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, would be to entirely abandon the collection of telephony metadata. Officials are also considering turning that vast datalog over to a government agency other than the NSA – either the FBI or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, perhaps.

Alexander’s testimony seemed to indicate that the scenario the administration is taking most seriously is leaving the trove metadata with the phone company, with the NSA only forcing the company to handover information about numbers thought to be involved in a web of terrorism.

It’s impossible to guess exactly what Alexander’s intentions are, though, because of the general’s reputation as a surveillance hawk. One unnamed intelligence source told the Washington Post in 2013 that Alexander organized the mass collection of Iraqi telecommunication information as a measure against terror attacks on US troops there. That official implied that Alexander had brought the same approach stateside.

Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, [Alexander’s] approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’” he said. “Collect it all, tag it, store it…And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”

Alexander, the public face of the NSA, has kept that stance even in the face of public pressure and questions from lawmakers. He said in October that the NSA could scale back the eavesdropping on foreign leaders, but that the indiscriminate interception should continue, even if the data is turned over to a third party.

I would love to give this hornet’s nest to someone else, to say: ‘You get stung by this.’ But don’t drop it, because that’s our country, and if you drop it, the chance of that a terrorist attack gets through increases,” he said.

Previous reports indicated that the outgoing Alexander would relinquish his position as director by March or April 2014. Administration sources insisted that plans for his departure had been in the works before the Snowden leak, but the agency has been dogged by question and criticism for more than six months.

The true tragedy in all this is the way the press has articulated [the NSA] as the villains when what they are doing is protecting the country and [doing] what we have asked them to do,” Alexander said.

Source: RT

GCHQ and NSA intercepted Yahoo users’ private photographs

GCHQ and NSA intercepted Yahoo users private photographs GCHQ and NSA intercepted Yahoo users private photographs

British and American surveillance agencies teamed up to develop a system that collected millions of images from the webcams of unsuspecting and innocent internet users, new leaked documents reveal.
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This “Optic Nerve” program — administered by the UK’s GCHQ with the assistance of the National Security Agency — routinely intercepted and stored those webcam images in secret starting in 2008, according to documents disclosed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and published by The Guardian on Thursday.

The program indiscriminately collected millions of images from people who used Yahoo’s webcam chat function, the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman and James Ball reported, “including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications.”

According to the journalists, the GCHQ relied on Optic Nerve to experiment with facial recognition programing to monitor existing targets and search for new persons of interest.

But the GCHQ didn’t stop at targeting solely suspected terrorists, the report continues, and instead collected intelligence by seemingly anyone unfortunate enough to log-in to Yahoo’s webcam chat feature, at least between 2008 and 2012.

“Yahoo webcam is known to be used by GCHQ targets,” reads a portion of the classified documentation published by the paper.

The GCHQ did not limit their surveillance to just those target, however. According to the leaked Snowden document, 1.8 million Yahoo users had their webcam images collected by the agency during just a six-month span shortly after Optic Nerve was first rolled out.

When reached for comment by the British paper, a representative for Yahoo said the GCHQ program as explained demonstrates a “whole new level of violation of our users’ privacy.”

Elsewhere in the leaked documentation, GCHQ agents admitted that a large portion of the imagery collected contained “undesirable nudity.”

“Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person,” one internal document cited by The Guardian reads.“Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”

And although the program was carried out by British spies, Ackerman and Ball acknowledged that millions of Americans may have had their own likeness — clothed or not — captured in the process.

“GCHQ does not have the technical means to make sure no images of UK or US citizens are collected and stored by the system, and there are no restrictions under UK law to prevent Americans’ images being accessed by British analysts without an individual warrant,” they wrote.

But Vanee Vines, a spokesperson for the NSA, told the Guardian that the US spy agency “does not ask its foreign partners to undertake any intelligence activity that the US government would be legally prohibited from undertaking itself.”

“A key part of the protections that apply to both US persons and citizens of other countries is the mandate that information be in support of a valid foreign intelligence requirement, and comply with US Attorney General-approved procedures to protect privacy rights. Those procedures govern the acquisition, use, and retention of information about US persons,” Vines said.

In an op-ed published in The Guardian also on Thursday, acclaimed security expert and cryptographer Bruce Schneier said even safeguards in place to prevent these images being viewed by any GCHQ staffer should be questioned.

“[I]s it really okay for a computer to monitor you online, and for that data collection and analysis only to count as a potential privacy invasion when a person sees it? I say it’s not, and the latest Snowden leaks only make more clear how important this distinction is,” he wrote.

Source: RT

Apple security flaw could be a backdoor for the NSA

Apple security flaw could be a backdoor for the NSA Apple security flaw could be a backdoor for the NSA

Was the National Security Agency exploiting two just-discovered security flaws to hack into the iPhones and Apple computers of certain targets? Some skeptics are saying there is cause to be concerned about recent coincidences regarding the NSA and Apple.
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Within hours of one another over the weekend, Apple acknowledged that it had discovered critical vulnerabilities in both its iOS and OSX operating systems that, if exploited correctly, would put thought-to-be-secure communications into the hands of skilled hackers.

“An attacker with a privileged network position may capture or modify data in sessions protected by SSL/TLS,” the company announced.

Apple has since taken steps to supposedly patch up the flaw that affected mobile devices running its iOS operating system, such as iPhones, but has yet to unveil any fix for the OSX used by desktop and laptop computers. As experts investigated the issue through the weekend, though, many couldn’t help but consider the likelihood — no matter how modicum — that the United States’ secretive spy agency exploited those security flaws to conduct surveillance on targets.

On Saturday, Apple enthusiast and blogger John Gruber noted on his personal website that information contained within internal NSA documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last year coincide closely with the release of the affected mobile operating system, iOS 6.

According to a NSA slideshow leaked by Mr. Snowden last June, the US government has since 2007 relied on a program named PRISM that enables the agency to collect data “directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and others. The most recent addition to that list, however, was Apple, which the NSA said it was only able to exploit using PRISM since October 2012.

The affected operating system — iOS 6.0 — was released days earlier on September 24, 2012.

These facts, Gruber blogged, “prove nothing” and are “purely circumstantial.” Nevertheless, he wrote, “the shoe fits.”

With the iOS vulnerability being blamed on a single line of erroneous code, Gruber considered a number of possibilities to explain how that happened.

Conspiratorially, one could suppose the NSA planted the bug, through an employee mole, perhaps. Innocuously, the Occam’s Razor explanation would be that this was an inadvertent error on the part of an Apple engineer,” he wrote.

Once the bug was in place, the NSA wouldn’t even have needed to find it by manually reading the source code. All they would need are automated tests using spoofed certificates that they run against each new release of every OS. Apple releases iOS, the NSA’s automated spoofed certificate testing finds the vulnerability, and boom, Apple gets ‘added’ to PRISM.

Gruber said he sees five possible scenarios, or “levels of paranoia,” as he put it:

Nothing. The NSA was not aware of this vulnerability.
The NSA knew about it, but never exploited it.
The NSA knew about it, and exploited it.
NSA itself planted it surreptitiously.
Apple, complicit with the NSA, added it.

Of course, Guber added, there is always the possibility that “this is all a coincidence.” He certainly wasn’t the only one to consider it, though.

Again, all of this is circumstantial and speculative, and Apple has come out numerous times vehemently denying its involvement in any NSA program,” iDownloadblog’s Cody Lee wrote on Monday. “But the timing is rather odd, and it makes you wonder how such a serious bug went undiscovered for over a year.”

Indeed, Apple has since the start of the Snowden leaks adamantly fended off allegations concerning a possible collusion with the NSA. On December 31, 2013, the company even issued a statement insisting “Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone.”

We will continue to use our resources to stay ahead of malicious hackers and defend our customers from security attacks, regardless of who’s behind them,” Apple said then — nearly two months after acknowledging the major security vulnerability discovered last week.

At the time, though, Apple was responding to another serious allegation that, if correct, gives much more credence to the latest accusations. The Dec. 31 statement was sent hours after security researcher Jacob Appelbaum presented previously unpublished NSA slides at a hacking conference in Germany, including some where the spy agency boasted about being able to infiltrate any iPhone owned by a targeted person.

The NSA, Appelbaum said, “literally claim that any time they target an iOS device, that it will succeed for implantation.”

“Either they have a huge collection of exploits that work against Apple products — meaning they are hoarding information about critical systems American companies product and sabotaging them — or Apple sabotages it themselves.”

Last year, RT reported that the NSA entered into a contract in 2012 with VUPEN, a French security company that sells so-called 0-day exploits to governments and agencies so that vulnerabilities and flaws can be abused before the affected product’s owner is even made aware. It’s likely just another major coincidence that fits the time frame eerily well, but that contract was signed only days before iOS 6 was released — and, coincidentally, days before the NSA boasted about being able to access Apple communications through its PRISM program.

Source: RT

Bush cyberczar: NSA created ‘the potential for a police state’

richard clarke Bush cyberczar: NSA created ‘the potential for a police state’

The former cyber advisor under President George W. Bush had some harsh words for the United States National Security Agency during an address in California on Monday: “get out of the business of fucking with encryption standards.”
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That was the recommendation that famed cyberczar Richard Clarke made while speaking earlier this week at the at the Cloud Security Alliance summit in San Francisco.

Clarke, 63, served as a counterterrorism advisor for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and later assisted his successor, Mr. Bush, as the special advisor on cybersecurity for that administration through 2003. Most recently, though, Clarke was assigned to a five-person panel assembled by Pres. Obama late last year that was tasked with assessing the NSA’s operations in the midst of ongoing and ever-damaging leaks disclosed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. In December, that group suggested 46 changes for the Obama administration to consider in order rein in the secretive spy agency.

Speaking during Monday’s conference, however, Clarke opened up about some of the more personal suggestions he has for the NSA, and even some insight about what the future may have in store for the agency if they continue to collect intelligence from seemingly all corners of the Earth.

“In terms of collecting intelligence, they are very good. Far better than you could imagine,” Clarke said.“But they have created, with the growth of technologies, the potential for a police state.”

“If you’re not specific, an agency that bugs phones is going to bug phones,” he added, according to the Tech Target blog, Search Security“The NSA is an organization that’s like a hammer, and everything looks like a nail.”

Even if the NSA scales back such hacking operations in the future as Pres. Obama suggested and limits who the US targets and how, Clarke said during Monday’s address that another type of interference favored by the agency — influencing and intentionally degrading encryption standards — need to be scraped.

Since June, those Snowden leaks have exposed an array of previously covert NSA operations, including programs that put the emails of foreign leaders and phone data pertaining to millions of Americans into the hands of the US government. According to Clarke, though, the NSA’s handling of encryption standards — as exposed by Snowden — has serious repercussions.

In September, leaked documents courtesy of Mr. Snowden showed the NSA has invested millions of dollars to be able to decrypt “large amounts” of supposedly secure data, an operation that spies at Britain’s GCHQ called “an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies.” Then in December, further Snowden documents showed that RSA, a private company considered a staple of the computer security industry, had secretly entered into a $10 million contract with the NSA to create a government-friendly “backdoor” in its products.

Because of the NSA’s efforts, Clarke said during Monday’s event, “the trust in encryption has been greatly eroded.”

“The encryption standards need to be trusted,” he said, according to Infosecurity Magazine“The US government has to get out of the business of fucking around with encryption standards.”

“We need to rebuild the trust in encryption; we need to have the US government forced some way into ensuring this happens,” he said.

When Clarke and four other Obama-appointed experts weighed in on the NSA’s programs for the report released in December, the group said they were “unaware of any vulnerability created by the US government in generally available commercial software that puts users at risk of criminal hackers or foreign governments decrypting their data. Moreover, it appears that in the vast majority of generally used, commercially available encryption software, there is no vulnerability, or ‘backdoor,’ that makes it possible for the US government or anyone else to achieve unauthorized access.”

As part of the group’s recommendations, they advised that the NSA “not engineer vulnerabilities into the encryption algorithms that guard global commerce” and “not demand changes in any product by any vendor for the purpose of undermining the security or integrity of the product, or to ease NSA’s clandestine collection of information by users of the product.”

Source: RT

NSA plans to expand collection of American phone metadata

NSA plans to expand collection of American phone metadata1 NSA plans to expand collection of American phone metadata

Lawsuits waged at the United States government over the National Security Agency’s controversial phone data collection program may actually cause the NSA to hold onto information even longer, a new report reveals.
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A handful of lawsuits have been filed against the US government and the administration of President Barack Obama since last June when former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been routinely compelling the nation’s telecommunications companies for the metadatapertaining to millions of Americans. Pres. Obama has since submitted to calls for reforming that program, and even instructed Congress recently to find an alternative approach to storing metadata. According to the Wall Street Journal, however, the NSA may have to hold onto that data for a little bit longer.

On Wednesday this week, WSJ journalists Devlin Barrett and Siobhan Gorman wrote that that the lawsuits filed against the Obama administration over the NSA program may cause some rather unintended consequences to occur. Because the NSA may have to argue those cases in court, they wrote, any intelligence it collected that pertains to the plaintiffs may have to be retained indefinitely pending trial.

Currently, the NSA is obligated to purge metadata from its systems after about five years. Speaking to the Journal, one official said on condition of anonymity that those records are removed from the database about twice a year.

But because those records may become evidence in the lawsuits, the paper alleged, the NSA may be forced to postpone a data purge until after the federal courts consider the cases against the bulk metadata collection program.

“A particular concern, according to one official, is that the older records may give certain parties legal standing to pursue their cases, and that deleting the data could erase evidence that the phone records of those individuals or groups were swept up in the data dragnet,” Barrett and Gorman wrote.

An attorney with one of those plaintiffs that have sued the administration over the NSA program — Patrick Tommey of the American Civil Liberties Union — told the Journal that “It’s difficult to understand why the government would consider taking this position, when the relief we’ve requested in the lawsuit is a purge of our data.”

But Cindy Cohn, a lawyer and legal director for co-plaintiffs at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, acknowledged to the paper, “If they’re destroying evidence, that would be a crime.”

Both the ACLU and EFF filed lawsuits against the administration within days of Mr. Snowden’s first major NSA revelation last June. The EFF has been fighting against the NSA’s alleged spy programs since 2008 when it challenged the government’s “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance” on behalf of a former AT&T customer. When Snowden’s early June leak showed that telephone lines administered by competitor Verizon were being sent to the NSA, though, the ACLU again filed suit.

“As an organization that advocates for and litigates to defend the civil liberties of society’s most vulnerable, the staff at the ACLU naturally use the phone — a lot — to talk about sensitive and confidential topics with clients, legislators, whistleblowers and ACLU members,”ACLU legal fellow Brett Kaufman wrote when the suit was filed. “And since the ACLU is a VBNS [Verizon Business Network Services] customer, we were immediately confronted with the harmful impact that such broad surveillance would have on our legal and advocacy work.”

After the Verizon revelation, the EFF’s Cohn told the Washington Post that the NSA leaks had been a“tremendous boon” to previously filed legal challenges. Speaking to the Journal this week, though, she said the issue should have been brought before the courts long ago.

“I think they’re looking for any way to throw rocks at the litigation,” she said. “To the extent this is a serious concern, we should have had this discussion in 2008.”

Source: RT

Snowden Documents Reveal Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Visitors

Snowden Documents Reveal Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Visitors Snowden Documents Reveal Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Visitors

The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has long been in the crosshairs of the U.S. government.  Now, more details exposed by The Intercept reveal that the National Security Agency (NSA)’s British counterpart, GCHQ, monitored Internet users who visited the WikiLeaks website and that the Obama administration urged allies to file charges against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, the site’s founder.

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The article was written by Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, and is the latest piece on The Intercept based off documents Edward Snowden leaked to Greenwald and other journalists.

WikiLeaks is a target of a U.S. grand jury case, though the Washington Post reported last November that the Justice Department has indicated no charges would be filed since they couldn’t prosecute without targeting other media organizations and journalists.  But the grand jury is not the only way the U.S. set its sight on WikiLeaks, which rose to prominence after they published hundreds of thousands of secret documents exposing the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and U.S. diplomatic dealings.

Greenwald and Gallagher report on three documents that show the extent of U.S. and British targeting of WikiLeaks.  They contradict the U.S. government’s insistence that they only target “terrorists” for surveillance.

One document shows that the GCHQ used its surveillance system to sweep up the IP addresses of those visiting the WikiLeaks website and the search terms people used to reach the site.  These included Americans.  “How could targeting an entire website’s user base be necessary or proportionate?” asked Gus Hosein, the head of Privacy International, in an interview with The Intercept.  “These are innocent people who are turned into suspects based on their reading habits. Surely becoming a target of a state’s intelligence and security apparatus should require more than a mere click on a link.”
piwik2 Snowden Documents Reveal Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Visitors

A separate file reveals how the Obama administration wanted allies like Australia and Germany to file charges against WikiLeaks for publishing the Afghan war logs, which detailed civilian deaths caused by soldiers and other aspects of the war.

A third document shows that the NSA considered designating WikiLeaks a “malicious foreign actor.”  According to The Intercept, such a designation would “have significantly expanded the agency’s ability to subject the group’s officials and supporters to extensive surveillance.

Such a designation would allow WikiLeaks to be targeted with surveillance without the use of ‘defeats’ – an agency term for technical mechanisms to shield the communications of U.S. persons from getting caught in the dragnet.”  There is no confirmation that the NSA did decide to use the designation, though.

Source: Alternet.org

Seattle considering $1.6 million facial recognition surveillance system

Seattle considering 1.6 million facial recognition surveillance system Seattle considering $1.6 million facial recognition surveillance system

Privacy advocates in the Pacific Northwest are squaring off with local police over plans to install a system that would link surveillance camera video with databases containing photographs of hundreds of thousands of area residents.
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In Seattle, Washington, the City Council will soon decide on whether or not they should approve an ordinance that green-lights a $1.6 million federal grant, a large chunk of which will be used to purchase sophisticated facial recognition software that supporters of the measure say would help stop crime.

Those Department of Homeland Security dollars would let the Seattle police pay for software that digitally scans surveillance camera footage and then tries to match images of the individuals caught on tape with any one of the 350,000-or-so people who have been photographed previously by King County, Washington law enforcement.

“An officer has to reasonably believe that a person has been involved in a crime or committed a crime”before they begin to use the program, Assistant Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best told KIRO-TV this week

Once the facial recognition software is initiated, though, it scours a collection containing close to a half-a-million area residents — including many who may never have been convicted of a crime.

That database, members of the local Seattle Privacy anti-surveillance collective say, is composed of more than just the mug shots of convicted criminals. Images of anyone ever arrested and booked are included in that system, regardless of whether or not they were ever ultimately convicted of a crime. And according to a recent post on the Seattle Privacy website attributed to founding member Jan Bultmann, there has already been mention of perhaps someday including the driver’s license photos of the millions of adults across Washington state into that same system.

As currently proposed, though, “It would be a great way to expedite some searching we’re already doing,”Assistant Chief Best said of the plans during a City Council committee meeting earlier this month, the Seattle CrossCut reported“This only allows us to do it much more quickly and much more efficiently, with a little bit more efficacy.”

On Wednesday this week, the City Council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee met to discuss whether or not it should approve that DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant in the amount of $1,645,955, and in turn purchase that “booking photo comparison software” and also amend the Seattle Police Department manual to include a section on properly using the product. The full council is now expected to vote on the measure early next month, but in the meantime privacy advocates are asking the city to consider the possible implications of moving forward.

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Of particular concern, Seattle Privacy says, is the city’s rather sordid past with regards to not just surveillance, but police misconduct. The Seattle PD has previously used DHS money to fund spy projects later canned over public outcry, and a federal investigation concluded by the United States Department of Justice in 2012 found that local officers acted in an “unconstitutional and excessive manner” during nearly 20 percent of all instances involving the use of force.

“Anytime you’ve got the officers, you know, routinely — 20 percent of the time — violating our constitutional rights, that’s a huge problem,” Chris Stearns, a lawyer on the city’s Human Rights Commission, told NPR after the DOJ report was released.

But nearly two years later, the city is again being blasted by civil rights advocates for allegedly being in violation of another constitutional guarantee — the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unlawful searches. Although the Seattle PD has promised it won’t use its booking photo comparison software to track suspects on-the-fly if the project has moved forward, opponents fear residents will be worried over the possibility of 24/7 monitoring to enough of a degree that will impact how people associate and assemble in public.

The Booking Photo Comparison Software, Seattle resident Phil Mocek argued at Wednesday’s meeting,“may be used to target activists and do real-time ID of people on the street,” according to a tweet by Seattle Privacy founding member Lee Colleton. And while the Seattle PD’s draft manual for using that system currently includes provisions preventing a link-up with live camera feeds, it does not include any measures saying how long police might wait to watch a recording, be it five seconds, five minutes or five hours.

Once that data is recorded, Public Safety Committee Chair Bruce Harrell told KIRO-TV this week, Seattle law enforcement may elect to share it elsewhere.

“There may be times when the federal government may want to look at that database that may be very appropriate if we have an international terrorist here that might have committed a misdemeanor,” he said.

With the Seattle PD draft rules currently mandating a 42 month retention period, any activity captured if and when the system is approved — even a misdemeanor — can be used by city and federal authorities alike to look for persons of interest three-and-a-half-years down the road.

Despite the possible Orwellian outcome, though, opponents of the measure fear city officials aren’t adequately considering the potential consequences. One witness to Wednesday’s meeting remarked that none of the four testifying experts were privacy advocates, but rather came from either the Seattle PD or DHS, with the exception of a lone Seattle Human Rights Commission representative.

“We need to get some independent technical expertise outside of SPD chain of command to audit this equipment,” Seattle Privacy’s Bultmann opined. Her group has since stated on their website that they will be marking up the draft document themselves “to give councilmembers an example of what a through independent technical review with an eye toward privacy and security would look like, and how useful it would be.”

Should Bultmann succeed, then the surveillance program may in fact meet its maker before ever getting off the ground. Strangely enough, it wouldn’t be the first spy program to be stopped in its tracks lately in Seattle. In November the city was forced to deactivate a wireless mesh network system installed in secret across Seattle after privacy advocates exposed how it could be used to track the locations of anyone with a mobile phone in real-time. And among similar outcry, the Seattle PD last February said they wouldn’t proceed with plans to start using surveillance drones across the city.

“DHS has spent billions in black surveillance budgets that brought us drones and cameras we’re not even using,” Bultmann said during Wednesday’s meeting.

“Drones give law enforcement agencies unprecedented abilities to engage in surveillance and intrude on people’s privacy,” Doug Honig, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said in an email to Reuters when the police pulled the plug on the plan earlier in February.

According to the ACLU, however, the facial recognition system being requested by the Seattle PD doesn’t raise any red flags as of right now. ACLU of Washington privacy counsel Doug Klunder told CrossCut recently that the police actually approached his civil rights group while drafting procedures for the surveillance system, and he thinks “This policy does a good job of limiting [the software] to proper uses.”

Two states away, however, the ACLU of California is asking city officials in Oakland, CA to reconsider an eerily similar surveillance system being planned there with federal funds. The City Council there voted on Tuesday to postpone a vote pertaining to the future of that major surveillance hub under construction — the Domain Awareness Center, or DAC — after 79 speakers signed up to rally against the project during the hearing.

Tuesday’s meeting in Oakland ended after more than four hours with the council agreeing to wait another two weeks before deciding if they should proceed with plans to use $1.6 million they’ve been offered by the DHS to proceed with the next stage, phase 2. The city installed 137 security cameras on the Port of Oakland, 50 traffic cameras across town and a system of gunshot-detecting microphones as part of the recently completed phase 1.

Source: RT

Homeland Security cancels national license plate tracking plan

Homeland Security cancels national license plate tracking plan Homeland Security cancels national license plate tracking plan

Only days after the US Department of Homeland Security began seeking a company to help it track license plates nationwide, the agency has reportedly canceled the initiative over civil liberties concerns.
Continue reading «Homeland Security cancels national license plate tracking plan»

According to the Washington Post, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson canceled the plan on Wednesday, after media outlets noticed a proposal by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency looking for partners to help develop the tracking system.

As RT reported this week, the plan would allow DHS and other law enforcement officials to sift through a nationwide database of license plates once they are photographed, collected, and stored on a system owned by a private company. Government officials stated the database would be used to help locate illegal immigrants who are on the run from authorities, but civil liberties advocates became worried about the possibility that it would also be used to track the movement of American citizens.

ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen tried to downplay these concerns, saying the database “could only be accessed in conjunction with ongoing criminal investigations or to locate wanted individuals.”

These words didn’t do much to calm groups concerned with potential abuse, especially in light of ongoing leaks regarding the National Security Agency’s wide-ranging surveillance program.

“Ultimately, you’re creating a national database of location information,” Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation said on Tuesday. “When all that data is compiled and aggregated you can track somebody as they go through their life.”

On Thursday, Christensen confirmed that DHS and ICE have nixed the project.

“The solicitation, which was posted without the awareness of ICE leadership, has been cancelled,” she said in a statement. “While we continue to support a range of technologies to help meet our law enforcement mission, this solicitation will be reviewed to ensure the path forward appropriately meets our operational needs.”

The decision was greeted with open arms by opponents, some of which found cause for concern even in Christensen’s statement. Speaking with the Post, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) – the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee – said the idea ICE leadership was unaware of the proposal “highlights a serious management problem within this DHS component that currently does not have a director nominated by the president.”

Others, meanwhile, were relieved to see the listing taken down, especially since the ICE’s promise to comply with the Privacy Act of 1974 did not necessarily mean the system wouldn’t be abused.

“The Privacy Act protections are quite weak, especially because they have loads of exemptions for law enforcement,” said Harley Geiger of the nonprofit Center for Democracy & Technology.

The cancellation of this nationwide initiative doesn’t mean that local law enforcement agencies don’t currently use similar methods. Private companies have already set up smaller license plate databases with local agencies in order to track traffic violations as well as suspected criminal meetings.

Source: RT