Tag: Civil liberties

May 21

The USA Freedumb Act

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

President Barack Obama has said that he wanted to reform how the NSA collects and stores metadata. What he says and what he does, again, are two different things.

The “Consult with Congress” Stage of USA Freedumb

By Marcy Wheeler, emptywheel

Remember how, in the days after President Obama announced his principles for reforming the dragnet, his Senior Administration Official pretended that any efforts to make the scope of the program worse would come from Congress? [..]

Well, it looks like the Administration isn’t so passive after all. They’re working with House leadership to gut the bill.

   TROUBLE FOR USA FREEDOM? – House leadership and Obama administration officials met with committee members Sunday to negotiate changes to key NSA reform legislation, parting late in the evening without reaching a final resolution, said a congressional staffer close to the process. Still, it seems clear that the USA FREEDOM Act, approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees little more than a week ago, will not reach the House floor intact. Some passages have been watered down already, the staffer acknowledged, declining to go into specifics. The bill is set for “possible consideration” this week, according to the schedule circulated by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office.

   Word of the talks caused some of the bill’s most ardent privacy and civil liberties backers to cry foul and say they could withdraw support. Areas of concern to watchdogs include possible removal of transparency language allowing companies to tell their customers about the broad numbers of lawful intercept requests they receive; and a debate on whether the search terms used by the NSA to search communications records should be narrowly defined in statute.

   “The version we fear could now be negotiated in secret and introduced on the House floor may not move us forward on NSA reform,” said human rights organization Access. “I am gravely disappointed if the House leadership and the administration chose to disrupt the hard-fought compromise that so many of us were pleased to support just two weeks ago,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

And while it’s not clear these secret changes would broaden the scope outside of counterterrorism (though I think that’s possible already), it does seem clear the Administration is pushing for these changes because the already weak bill is too strong for them.

Congress is no better.

Advocates fear NSA bill is being gutted

By Kate Tummarello, The Hill

To win the support of NSA defenders, lawmakers abandoned some reform provisions in Sensenbrenner’s original bill. One of the major changes was dropping the appointment of a constitutional advocate to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves the NSA’s spying requests, and substituting it for a panel of experts.

The bill was also stripped of language that would have allowed tech companies to publish more specific information about the number and types of government requests for user data they receive.

During Judiciary consideration, an amendment to allow less specific reporting was added back into the bill, but some worry that provision is in danger now because the administration thinks it’s already reached a deal that allows tech companies to publish more information about the NSA requests.

While pro-reform advocacy groups and members hailed the House bill as a positive first step, many lamented the revisions and said the legislation will be in trouble on the floor if it undergoes further changes.

A Deep Dive into the House’s Version of Narrow NSA Reform: The New USA Freedom Act

By Mark Jaycox, Electronic Freedom Foundation

Here’s how the House version of the USA Freedom Act compares to the Senate’s version, what the new House version of the USA Freedom Act does, and what it sorely lacks.

The Senate’s Version of USA Freedom Act

As we mentioned when the original USA Freedom Act was first introduced, it proposed changes to several NSA activities and limited the bulk collection of all Americans’ calling records. It would fix a key problem with Section 702 (.pdf) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FISAA), bring more transparency to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA court), and introduce a special advocate to champion civil liberties in the FISA court.

The House’s New Version of the USA Freedom Act:

The new USA Freedom Act concentrates on prohibiting the collection of all Americans’ calling records using Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Other sections of the bill would allow the FISA Court to assign amici, or non-parties who can brief issues before the court; create new government reports about the spying powers; and create new company reports detailing how many accounts and customers are affected by FISA Court orders.

First and foremost, the bill introduces a different conceptual approach to prohibiting mass spying under Section 215. Unlike the Senate version, which tries to stop the mass collection of calling records by mandating that the records sought “pertain to” an agent of a foreign power or their activities-an approach that we’ve worried about because “pertains to” and “relevant” are so similar-the House version mandates that a “specific selection term” (currently defined as uniquely describing a person, entity, or account) be the “basis for the production” of the records. The overall language may be stronger than in the old USA Freedom Act, but “specific selection term” must be further defined as “entity” could be construed expansively. After the order is filed, the government can obtain up to “two hops“-which may be too expansive for many investigations-from the selection term.

The bill also tries to tighten the “minimization procedures” that apply to government collection of records using Section 215 and other spying authorities like national security letters and the FISA Pen Register/Trap and Trace (PR/TT) provision. But the procedures only touch the FBI, not other agencies-like the NSA-that may be obtaining records using Section 215. In addition, the House version uses language we’ve seen in Section 702’s minimization procedures. If you remember, those procedures are horrendous. They allow for the overcollection, overretention, and oversharing of Americans’ communications “mistakenly” collected. The House must draft stronger minimization language to completely ensure improper information about untargeted users is not collected. For instance, simply inserting the word “acquisition” or “collection” would help.

End the NSA’s Mass Spying

Tell Congress: Support the USA FREEDOM Act. Stop the FISA Improvements Act & Other Fake Reforms.

There’s a powerful reform proposal moving through Congress. H.R. 3361, the House’s version of the USA FREEDOM Act, would limit bulk collection of phone records and add transparency to the egregious NSA spying.

If it passes, the USA FREEDOM Act will be the most meaningful reform of government surveillance in decades. While the USA FREEDOM Act doesn’t address every issue with NSA surveillance, it’s a powerful first step.

But certain members of Congress don’t want reform. Representatives Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger have introduced a bill that attempts to make NSA spying worse. And Senator Dianne Feinstein is promoting the FISA Improvements Act, a bill posing as reform that attempts to legalize the worst aspects of NSA surveillance.

We can’t let NSA apologists preserve the status quo. Demand real reform.  Stop mass spying.

Mar 11

‘We’re heading towards a dystopian surveillance society’

MSNBC’s “Now” host Alex Wagner interviewed Julian Assange from his refuge at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. He discusses the surveillance stata, his exile and Edward Snowden.

Feb 19

A Whistleblower and former NSA Lawyer Debate the Snowden Effect

The great debate in the media and on the internet is was the disclosure of the NSA’s massive spying apparatus in the United States and across the globe by Edward Snowden justified. Former National Security Agency lawyer Stewart Baker and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Juan González to debate that question.

Snowden’s leaks to The Guardian and other media outlets have generated a series of exposés on NSA surveillance activities – from its collection of American’s phone records, text messages and email, to its monitoring of the internal communications of individual heads of state. Partly as a consequence of the government’s response to Snowden’s leaks, the United States plunged 13 spots in an annual survey of press freedom by the independent organization, Reporters Without Borders. Snowden now lives in Russia and faces possible espionage charges if he returns to the United States.



Transcript can be read here

This debate will continue for quite some time.

Feb 18

Snowden’s Lawyer Interrogated in UK

It should not come as a surprise that Jesselyn Radack, a human rights advocate, whistleblower group member and lawyer to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was detained and interrogated when she arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport. Firedoglake’s KEvin Gosztola spoke with Ms. Radack after the incident which she described as “very hostile.”

As Radack recalled, she was asked why she was here. “To see friends,” she answered. “Who will you be seeing?” She answered, “A group called Sam Adams Associates.”

The agent wanted to know who was in the group. “Ray McGovern, Annie Machon, Thomas Drake, Craig Murray,” she answered. She said she is part of the group as well.

“Where will you meet?” Radack answered, “At the Ecuadorian Embassy.” Then, the agent asked, “With Julian Assange?” Radack said yes.

The interrogation continued, “Why have you gone to Russia twice in three months?” Radack said she had a client in the country. “Who?” She answered, “Edward Snowden.”

“Who is Edward Snowden?” asked the agent. Radack said he is a whistleblower and an asylee. Then, the agent asked, “Who is Bradley Manning?” To this, she answered, “A whistleblower.”

For whatever reason, the agent asked, “Where is he?” “In jail,” Radack told the agent. (Now, she is known as Chelsea Manning.)

The agent said, “So he’s a criminal?” Radack corrected the agent, “He’s a political prisoner.” The agent asked if she represented Manning and she said no. Then he followed up, “But you represent Snowden?” She replied, “Yes, I’m a human rights lawyer.”

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, who was traveling with her, witnessed the questioning, said the border agent had a “threatening demeanor.” Ms. Raddack was informed by the agent that she has been placed on US Department of Homeland Security “inhibited persons list” which was created in March of 2012 as an effort to impose US laws on the rest of the world. The United Kingdom agreed to the new rules to provide information to the DHS even if the passenger of all nationalities, is not traveling to the US.

Ms. Radack told RT News about the humiliating ordeal and her concerns:

“Clearly any kind of line of questioning into the details of my work and specific clients is beyond the ambit of what any normal customs official would ask,” Radack told RT.

“I feel like lawyers and journalists are now beginning to be targeted at the borders of countries in the Western Hemisphere, in so-called democratic countries.It’s a threat to press freedoms when journalists are questioned. And it’s a threat to the integrity of the judicial system when attorney who are working on someone’s case are being harassed or intimidated on the basis of who they represent.” [..]

Following the ordeal at Heathrow, Radack came out with a public statement denouncing the whole practice and the harassment it often entails: “The government, whether in the US, UK or elsewhere does not have the authority to monitor, harass or intimidate lawyers for representing unpopular clients.” [..]

Radack once told RT that despite the fact that “it’s a dangerous time for whistleblowers in the US,” Snowden’s revelations have had a big effect as “courage is contagious.” She added that “I really think [Snowden] has had a wonderful effect [on] the US and the world.”

Ms. Radack spoke with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman from London.



Transcript can be read here

The US and the UK have evolved into fascist states something thath they fought against in 1940.

Jan 25

Snowden Answers Questions

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Yesterday afternoon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden answered questions in s candid on line chat. He responded not only to questions about what he believes should be done about the massive NSA surveillance programs and the threats to his life but countered some of the spurious accusations that he acted in concert with the Russians and stole his co-workers passwords.

@mperkel #ASKSNOWDEN They say it’s a balance of privacy and safety. I think spying makes us less safe. do you agree?

Intelligence agencies do have a role to play, and the people at the working level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the IC are not out to get you. They’re good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.

The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court, a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of government requests (which denied only 11 requests out of 33,900 in 33 years http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/06/fisa-court-nsa-spying-opinion-reject-request. They’re the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting us go too far.

And even the President now agrees our surveillance programs are going too far, gathering massive amounts of private records on ordinary Americans who have never been suspected of any crime. This violates our constitutional protection against unlawful searches and seizure. Collecting phone and email records for every American is a waste of money, time and human resources that could be better spent pursuing those the government has reason to suspect are a serious threat.

I’m going to stop here. My deepest thanks to everyone who sent questions, and whether or not we agree on where the lines should be drawn, I encourage you to contact your members of congress and tell them how you feel about mass surveillance. This is a global problem, and the first step to tackling it is by working together to fix it at home.

If you’d like to more ideas on how to push back against unconstitutional surveillance, consider taking a look at the organizations working together to organize https://thedaywefightback.org/. [..]

@LukasReuter #AskSnowden How should the community of states react to the new information concerning surveillance? What actions have to be made?

We need to work together to agree on a reasonable international norm for the limitations on spying. Nobody should be hacking critical-to-life infrastructure like hospitals and power stations, and it’s fair to say that can be recognized in international law.

Additionally, we need to recognize that national laws are not going to solve the problem of indiscriminate surveillance. A prohibition in Burundi isn’t going to stop the spies in Greenland. We need a global forum, and global funding, committed to the development of security standards that enforce our right to privacy not through law, but through science and technology. The easiest way to ensure a country’s communications are secure is to secure them world-wide, and that means better standards, better crypto, and better research. [..]

@RagBagUSA #AskSnowden what (in your opinion) is the appropriate extent of US national security apparatus? Surely some spying is needed?

Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary – after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers – but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.

I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back.

This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it. If our government decides our Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing.

It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me. The NSA and the rest of the US Intelligence Community is exceptionally well positioned to meet our intelligence requirements through targeted surveillance – the same way we’ve always done it – without resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.

When we’re sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device in the world we want to (up to and including Angela Merkel’s phone, if reports are to be believed), there’s no excuse to be wasting our time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri. [..]

@savagejen Do you think it is possible for our democracy to recover from the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties? #AskSnowden

Yes. What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.

The Russian government has extended Mr. Snowden’s asylum beyond next August, possibly indefinitely.

The lawmaker, Aleksei K. Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of Parliament, hinted during a panel discussion that the extension of temporary refugee status for Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, might be indefinite.

“He will not be sent out of Russia,” Mr. Pushkov said. “It will be up to Snowden.”

He added that Mr. Snowden’s father believes his son could not get a fair trial in the United States.

Mr. Pushkov made his comments came against a backdrop of broad criticism of the American spying programs that have come to light since the summer. He pointed to the sheer volume of information that American authorities are able to gather.

“The U.S. has created a Big Brother system,” Mr. Pushkov said.

Jan 18

Greenwald: NSA Reforms Just a Bad PR Campaign

Journalist and constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald and  the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union Anthony D Romero discussed President Barack Obama’s new NSA “reforms” with Alex Wagner, the host of MSNBC’s “Now.”

Obama’s NSA ‘reforms’ are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public

By Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place

In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America’s most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama’s much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for “reforming” the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.

The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are “serious questions that have been raised”. They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic “reforms” so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge. [..]

Today’s speech should be seen as the first step, not the last, on the road to restoring privacy. The causes that drove Obama to give this speech need to be, and will be, stoked and nurtured further until it becomes clear to official Washington that, this time around, cosmetic gestures are plainly inadequate.

Here is the press release from the ACLU commenting on the President’s NSA speech:

January 17, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – President Obama today announced changes to some aspects of the NSA’s surveillance programs and left others in place. Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, had this reaction:

“The president’s speech outlined several developments which we welcome. Increased transparency for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, improved checks and balances at the FISA court through the creation of a panel of advocates, and increased privacy protections for non-U.S. citizens abroad – the first such assertion by a U.S. president – are all necessary and welcome reforms.

“However, the president’s decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans’ data remains highly troubling. The president outlined a process to study the issue further and appears open to alternatives. But the president should end – not mend – the government’s collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans’ data. When the government collects and stores every American’s phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an ‘unreasonable search’ that violates the Constitution. The president’s own review panel recommended that bulk data collection be ended, and the president should accept that recommendation in its entirety.”

A new chart comparing the ACLU’s proposals, President Obama’s announcement, and the USA FREEDOM Act (a bipartisan bill currently pending in Congress) is at: aclu.org/national-security/where-does-president-stand-nsa-reform

ACLU Action is demanding an end to dragnet surveillance at: aclu.org/endsurveillance

Jan 18

The President Flops on NSA Reform

President Barack Obama once again fell short of taking any meaningful action on reining in the NSA surveillance programs or assuring that American’s right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment be protected. He made one of his predictable speeches that attempted to placate both critics and defenders, failing to actually do anything significant, all the while lecturing the public on history and expressing his offense that anyone would think that he had done an inadequate job or had enabled surveillance state policies. FDL’s Kevin Gosztola contrasted today’s speech with NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander’s statements to Congress and his inaugural address last year:

The narrative that Obama promoted in the part of his speech building up to announcement of reforms was starkly similar to what NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander has said when addressing members of Congress at hearings held in the aftermath of Snowden’s first disclosures. The narrative he used should make Americans even more skeptical of how substantive the changes to surveillance will be. [..]

One might remember that just about one year ago Obama gave an inaugural speech after his re-election where he said a “decade of war is now ending” and later described how Americans believe there is no need for “perpetual war.” But the very premise of Obama’s speech involved a demand to recognize the value of militarized surveillance and this militarization keeps the US on a permanent war footing putting civil liberties of Americans at risk so long as this footing is maintained.

Since there were such low expectations, Mike Masnick at Techdirt thought the announced reforms were more significant than expected but stopped short of fixing the actual problems:

  • A judge will have to approve each query for data on the metadata collection from Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
  • The “three hop” dragnet will be reduced down to two hops. That does, in fact, limit how far the NSA can search by quite a bit. That last hop is quite big.
  • The NSA should no longer hold all of the data, meaning that the telcos will be expected to hold onto it (though, he leaves it up to Congress and the DOJ to figure out how to do this). He calls this a “transition” away from the Section 215 program, but that’s hardly clear.
  • National Security Letters (NSLs) will no longer have an unlimited gag order on them. The Attorney General will need to set up guidelines for a time in which gag orders expire, with the possibility of extending them for investigations that are still ongoing.
  • Companies will be given slightly more freedom to reveal data on the NSLs they get (though I don’t think he indicated the same thing for Section 702 orders…. which is a big concern).
  • The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will review annually FISC rulings to figure out what can be declassified.
  • He promises to “work with Congress” to look at changes to the FISA court
  • He is adding some very limited restrictions on spying on people overseas. It should only be used for actual counterterrorism/crime/military/real national security efforts.
  • A State Department official will be in charge of handling “diplomacy issues” related to these changes on foreign spying.
  • An effort will be started with technologists and privacy experts over how to handle “big data and privacy” in both the public and private sectors.

Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel addressed what the president does not consider abuse:

  • The NSA spied on the porn and phone sex habits of ideological opponents, including those with no significant ties to extremists, and including a US person.
  • According to the NSA in 2009, it had a program similar to Project Minaret – the tracking of anti-war opponents in the 1970s – in which it spied on people in the US in the guise of counterterrorism without approval. We still don’t have details of this abuse.
  • When the NSA got FISC approval for the Internet (2004) and phone (2006) dragnets, NSA did not turn off features of Bush’s illegal program that did not comply with the FISC authorization. These abuses continued until 2009 (one of them, the collection of Internet metadata that qualified as content, continued even after 2004 identification of those abuses).
  • Even after the FISC spent 9 months reining in some of this abuse, the NSA continued to ignore limits on disseminating US person data. Similarly, the NSA and FBI never complied with PATRIOT Act requirements to develop minimization procedures for the Section 215 program (in part, probably, because NSA’s role in the phone dragnet would violate any compliant minimization procedures).
  • The NSA has twice – in 2009 and 2011 – admitted to collecting US person content in the United States in bulk after having done so for years. It tried to claim (and still claims publicly in spite of legal rulings to the contrary) this US person content did not count as intentionally-collected US person content (FISC disagreed both times), and has succeeded in continuing some of it by refusing to count it, so it can claim it doesn’t know it is happening.
  • As recently as spring 2012, 9% of the NSA’s violations involved analysts breaking standard operating procedures they know. NSA doesn’t report these as willful violations, however, because they’ve deemed any rule-breaking in pursuit of “the mission” not to be willful violations.
  • In 2008, Congress passed a law allowing bulk collection of foreign-targeted content in the US, Section 702, to end the NSA’s practice of stealing Internet company data from telecom cables. Yet in spite of having a legal way to acquire such data, the NSA (through GCHQ) continues to steal data from some of the same companies, this time overseas, from their own cables. Arguably this is a violation of Section 702 of FISA.
  • NSA may intentionally collect US person content (including Internet metadata that legally qualifies as content) overseas (it won’t count this data, so we don’t know how systematic it is). If it does, it may be a violation of Section 703 of FISA.

No, Mr. President, this is not enough.

Jan 17

NSA Excuses Get Moronic

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

We can’t tell you that we spied on you because it would violate your privacy??!!! This is precisely what the head of the NSA, General Keith B. Alexander told Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in a letter responding to Sen. Sanders’ question about whether it collects information on members of Congress because doing so would violate the law.

“Among those protections is the condition that NSA can query the metadata only based on phone numbers reasonably suspected to be associated with specific foreign terrorist groups,” Alexander wrote. “For that reason, NSA cannot lawfully search to determine if any records NSA has received under the program have included metadata of the phone calls of any member of Congress, other American elected officials, or any other American without the predicate.” [..]

Alexander doesn’t actually say so in his letter, but it’s very possible that the NSA collects data on members of Congress just as it does on everyone else, in bulk. The NSA said in a statement earlier this month that members of Congress have the “same privacy protections” as ordinary citizens, which means that they too might be caught up in the NSA’s terrorism queries of its telephone database, which may sweep up millions of innocent people in a single search.

Seriously. I want to know what drugs they have given the heads of the DNI & NSA that they think that this is a plausible explanation of why that can’t tell a United States Senator whether or not they have spied on him. Alexander really wants us to believe that searching the NSA data base for information would violate the law

This certainly comes under the category of the most lamest excuses for abuse of power.



Jan 16

Will the NSA Be “Reformed”?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In the run up to President Barack Obama’s promised decision on reforms the National Security Agency and its surveillance programs, there has been an  unsubstantiated press release, by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers and his Democratic counterpart Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, that the material taken by whistleblower Edward Snowden gravely impacted America’s national security, put the lives of US military personnel at risk and aided terrorists. There are no specifics about these allegations that Snowden had downloaded 1.7 million files or had considerable information on current U.S. military operations because the Pentagon report is, of course, classified.

Meanwhile top NSA officials and their allies are making their public appeals to retain their surveillance powers

In a lengthy interview that aired on Friday on National Public Radio (NPR), the NSA’s top civilian official, the outgoing deputy director John C Inglis, said that the agency would cautiously welcome a public advocate to argue for privacy interests before the secret court which oversees surveillance. Such a measure is being promoted by some of the agency’s strongest legislative critics. [..]

But security officials are arguing strongly against curtailing the substance of domestic surveillance activities.

While Inglis conceded in his NPR interview that at most one terrorist attack might have been foiled by NSA’s bulk collection of all American phone data – a case in San Diego that involved a money transfer from four men to al-Shabaab in Somalia – he described it as an “insurance policy” against future acts of terrorism. [..]

Inglis was bolstered on Thursday by the new FBI director James Comey, who said he opposed curbing the bureau’s power to collect information from businesses through a non-judicial subpoena called a national security letter. The use of national security letters, which occurs in secret, came under sharp criticism from Obama’s surveillance review panel, which advocated judicial approval over them.

Comey told reporters that would make it harder for his agency to investigate national security issues than conduct bank fraud investigations.

What we have learned is that the massive data collection has not led to the prevention of one terrorist attack and that conventional methods using court orders were more effective (pdf).

Activist and journalist Chris Hedges, along with former NSA technical director and NSA whistle-blower William Binney, tell Real News Network‘s Paul Jay that there should be accountability, including the President himself, for the criminal practices used by the NSA against the American people.

This Friday the president will publicly announce the results of his review of National Security Agency surveillance programs at the Department of Justice, not the White House.

Jan 04

Could Snowden Get a Fair Trial in the US

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake and Jessalyn Raddack, Edward Snowden’s legal adviser appeared on Meet the Press, December 29, discussed the NSA leaks by Snowden and why they believe that he could not get a fair trial in this country.

In editorials over New Year’s Day, the New York Times and The Guardian called on President Barack Obama to grant Edward Snowden some form of clemency or a pardon to allow him to return home.

Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower

By The New York Times Editorial Board

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.  [..]

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

Snowden affair: the case for a pardon

The Guardian Editorial, Comment is Free

Snowden gave classified information to journalists, even though he knew the likely consequences. That was an act of courage

Mr Snowden gave classified information to journalists, even though he knew the likely consequences. That was an act of some moral courage. Presidents – from Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan – have issued pardons. The debate that Mr Snowden has facilitated will no doubt be argued over in the US supreme court. If those justices agree with Mr Obama’s own review panel and Judge Richard Leon in finding that Mr Snowden did, indeed, raise serious matters of public importance which were previously hidden (or, worse, dishonestly concealed), is it then conceivable that he could be treated as a traitor or common felon? We hope that calm heads within the present administration are working on a strategy to allow Mr Snowden to return to the US with dignity, and the president to use his executive powers to treat him humanely and in a manner that would be a shining example about the value of whistleblowers and of free speech itself.

Attorney for Julian Assange and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York discussed how the New York Times Editorial should have also supported other whistleblowers with Real News Network’s Jaisal Noor.



Full transcript can be read here

Dec 26

Edward Snowden’s Christmas Message

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Hi, and Merry Christmas. I’m honored to have the chance to speak with you and your family this year.

Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.

Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.

Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.

The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance. End mass surveillance. And remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

For everyone out there listening, thank you, and Merry Christmas.

Dec 20

The Ayes Have It, The NSA Went Too Far

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

President Obama’s panel of security and civil liberties experts finished their work giving their recommendations to the president last Friday. The report was released to the public Tuesday. Much to the surprise of the war on terror hawks, it slammed the mass surveillance programs vindicating what critics have been saying since Edward Snowden’s revelations.

A presidential advisory panel has recommended sweeping limits on the government’s surveillance programs, including requiring a court to sign off on individual searches of phone records and stripping the National Security Agency of its ability to store that data from Americans. [..]

The recommendations include tightening federal law enforcement’s use of so-called national security letters, which give the government sweeping authority to demand financial and phone records without prior court approval in national security cases. The task force recommended that authorities should be required to obtain a prior “judicial finding” showing “reasonable grounds” that the information sought is relevant to terrorism or other intelligence activities.

In addition, the panel proposed terminating the NSA’s ability to store telephone data and instead require it to be held by the phone companies or a third party. Access to the data would then be permitted only through an order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The panel called for more independent review of what the NSA collects and the process by which it goes about gathering data.

Amid an international furor over NSA spying on the leaders of allied nations such as Germany, the review group recommended that the president personally approve all sensitive methods used by the intelligence community.

President’s Review Group on Intelligence  and Communications Technologies Report On NSA

Marcy Wheeler, at emptywheel, has been pouring over the report and has pulled out what she thinks is pertinent here, here and here.

In a re-published article by Kara Brandeisky of ProPublica, that she wrote for Techdirt back in August, the folks there note that the surveillance reforms the Pres. Obama supported before he was president are remarkably similar to the Task Force’s proposals:

As a senator, Obama wanted to limit bulk records collection.

Obama co-sponsored a 2007 bill, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would have required the government to demonstrate, with “specific and articulable facts,” that it wanted records related to “a suspected agent of a foreign power” or the records of people with one degree of separation from a suspect. The bill died in committee. Following pressure from the Bush administration, lawmakers had abandoned a similar 2005 measure, which Obama also supported. [..]

As a senator, Obama wanted to require government analysts to get court approval before accessing incidentally collected American data.

In Feb. 2008, Obama co-sponsored an amendment, also introduced by Feingold, which would have further limited the ability of the government to collect any communications to or from people residing in the U.S.

The measure would have also required government analysts to segregate all incidentally collected American communications. If analysts wanted to access those communications, they would have needed to apply for individualized surveillance court approval.

The amendment pfailed 35-63 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/… Obama later reversed his position and supported what became the law now known to authorize the PRISM program. That legislation – the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – also granted immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government on surveillance. [..]

As a senator, Obama wanted the executive branch to report to Congress how many American communications had been swept up during surveillance.

Feingold’s 2008 amendment, which Obama supported, would have also required the Defense Department and Justice Department to complete a joint audit of all incidentally collected American communications and provide the report to congressional intelligence committees. The amendment failed 35-63. [..]

The White House has already made it clear that the recommendations are just that and has already said it will not separate the US Cyber Command from the NSA. So basically, as Charles Pierce pointedly put it, “the White House can tell the committee to pound sand.”

And, even if it doesn’t, there is no reason on god’s earth why anyone should believe that the NSA actually would abide by any agreement going forward. The all-too-human, but curiously error-prone heroes of our intelligence community, imbued as they are with a mission mindset that is perilously close to messianic, can be presumed eventually to breach by unfortunate accident almost any new protocol put in place. (And that’s not even to mingle with the wilder fauna in the jungle.)

At Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman and Juan González discuss the panel recommendations with Kirk Wiebe, a retired National Security Agency official who worked there for over 32 years, and Ben Wizner, Edward Snowden’s legal adviser and director of the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.



Transcript can be read here



Transcript can be read here

Let the conversation continue.

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