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Posts Tagged ‘#FBI’


FBI’s Comey: No Absolute Privacy in U.S.

March 21, 2017

FBI Director James Comey charged on Wednesday that there is no longer “absolute privacy” in the United States — the government could one day request and access the details of just about any conversation.

“Even our memories aren’t private,” Comey told a panel in Boston. “Any of us can be compelled to say what we saw. In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any of us to testify in court on those private communications. There is no place in America outside of judicial reach.”

Comey continued, “There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.”
He elaborated that he believes this includes speech which has generally been seen as constitutionally protected.

“Even our communications with our spouses, with our clergy members, with our attorneys are not absolutely private in America,” he said. “In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any one of us to testify in court about those very private communications.”
Comey’s comments come after a tumultuous past year in American life, one replete with presidential allegations of wiretapping and the publishing of communications from top Democratic Party officials that some say tipped the election to Donald Trump. On Monday, Former senior National Security Advisor Bill Binney charged that new technology has allowed the government to access and archive just about any conversation, including ones featuring the president, consistent with explosive allegations raised by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
But Comey defended some measure of privacy.

Americans “have a reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes, in our cars, in our devices,” he said.

“It is a vital part of being an American. The government cannot invade our privacy without good reason, reviewable in court… We all value privacy. We all value security. We should never have to sacrifice one for the other… Our founders struck a bargain that is at the center of this amazing country of ours and has been for over two centuries,” the director explained.

Comey’s role in the election was controversial, with some alleging that his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton cost the Democrats victory in November. Despite all the rancor surrounding him, Comey told the Boston audience he’s not going anywhere.

“You’re stuck with me for another 6 ½ years,” Comey said. FBI directors traditionally serve 10 years. Comey, a Republican, was appointed by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in 2013.

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Federal Agency Begins Inquiry Into Auto Lenders’ Use of GPS Tracking

February 23, 2017

Auto loans to Americans with poor credit have been booming, and many finance companies, credit unions and auto dealers are using technologies to track the location of borrowers’ vehicles in case they need to repossess them.
Such surveillance, lenders say, allows them to extend loans to more low-income Americans, knowing that they can easily locate the car. Lenders are also installing devices that enable them to remotely disable a car’s ignition after a borrower misses a payment.

Now, federal regulators are investigating whether these devices unfairly violate a borrower’s privacy.

The auto lender Credit Acceptance Corp. said this month in a securities filing that it had received a civil investigative demand from the Federal Trade Commission asking for its “policies, practices and procedures” related to so-called GPS starter interrupter devices, which are used to disable an ignition.

Industry lawyers say the action is part of a broader inquiry by the agency into tracking technologies used in the subprime auto lending market.

The regulatory scrutiny over the GPS starter interrupter devices comes as cracks are starting to appear in the auto loan market. The percentage of auto loans that were at least 90 days delinquent increased to 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter from 3.6 percent in the third quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

The auto finance industry says that without the devices, many low-income Americans would not be able to buy cars that they need to get to work.

But some find it unsettling that the technology gives lenders so much control over borrowers.

“They don’t need to know what we are doing — when we go out to eat, when we go on vacation,” said Elias Sanchez, a forklift operator in Austin, Texas. “We want our privacy.” His auto dealer didn’t tell him that a GPS tracking device had been installed in his 2005 Ford SUV, he said.

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FBI probes newly discovered emails tied to Clinton case

October 28, 2016

FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers Friday the bureau is reviewing new emails related to Hillary Clinton’s personal server, a development that shook her campaign 11 days before the election.

The emails being examined are part of an investigation into Anthony Weiner, according to law enforcement sources. Weiner, the disgraced former congressman, recently separated from top Clinton aide Huma Abedin after a sexting incident.
The FBI and the New York Police Department have opened preliminary investigations of allegations that the former New York Democratic congressman exchanged sexually explicit text messages with a purportedly underage girl.
The emails in question were sent or received by Abedin, according to a law enforcement official. There were a “considerable number” of emails being reviewed from at least one device shared by Abedin and Weinder, the official said. A separate official described it as thousands of pages.
The FBI is looking at whether any of the newly discovered emails will have an impact on the investigation into Clinton’s server that was closed earlier this year.
After recommending in July that the Department of Justice not press charges against the former secretary of state, Comey said in a letter to eight congressional committee chairmen Friday that investigators are examining newly discovered emails that “appear to be pertinent” to the email probe.

Hillary Clinton’s email controversy, explained
“In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear pertinent to the investigation,” Comey wrote the chairmen. “I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.”
Comey said he was not sure how long the additional review would take and said the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta pressed Comey to release more information about the emails.
“FBI Director Comey should immediately provide the American public more information than is contained in the letter he sent to eight Republican committee chairmen,” Podesta said. “Already, we have seen characterizations that the FBI is ‘reopening’ an investigation but Comey’s words do not match that characterization. Director Comey’s letter refers to emails that have come to light in an unrelated case, but we have no idea what those emails are and the Director himself notes they may not even be significant. It is extraordinary that we would see something like this just 11 days out from a presidential election.”
Comey felt he had no choice but to tell Congress now or risk being accused of hiding relevant information before the election, law enforcement officials said in explaining the timing. The letter was “carefully worded,” one of the officials said.
The Department of Justice, which followed Comey’s recommendation not to charge Clinton, declined to comment Friday.
Law enforcement sources say the newly discovered emails are not related to WikiLeaks or the Clinton Foundation. They would not describe in further detail the content of the emails. A law enforcement official said the newly discovered emails were found on an electronic device that the FBI didn’t previously have in its possession.
The news is a major development unfolding in the final stretch of the campaign, uniting Republicans and putting the Clinton campaign on defense. GOP nominee Donald Trump and other prominent Republicans, such as Speaker Paul Ryan, jumped on Comey’s announcement to blast Clinton.
Clinton’s campaign learned of the news while they were aboard a flight to Iowa.
“We’re learning about this just like you all are,” a Clinton aide told CNN.
The Democratic nominee has the advantage in the race for the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the presidency. She is leading Trump by six points in CNN’s Poll of Polls. The question now is whether the return of the email storm, which has overshadowed her entire campaign, will have an impact on any remaining undecided voters.
Republicans: No honeymoon if Clinton wins
“Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we’ve never seen before,” Trump said at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. “We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.”
Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, tweeted after the news broke, “A great day in our campaign just got even better.”
Ryan said Clinton betrayed Americans’ trust for handling “the nation’s most important secrets.”
“This decision, long overdue, is the result of her reckless use of a private email server, and her refusal to be forthcoming with federal investigators,” Ryan said in a statement. “I renew my call for the Director of National Intelligence to suspend all classified briefings for Secretary Clinton until this matter is fully resolved.”
Despite lashing Clinton’s email practices as “extremely careless,” Comey declined over the summer to recommend prosecution. That move was instantly lambasted by Republicans — some of whom decried the department’s politicization. Comey eventually was called to Capitol Hill to testify and defend the FBI’s integrity and decision process.

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Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy for the FBI to Spy on Journalists

July 1, 2016

Secret FBI rules allow agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from two internal officials — far less oversight than under normal judicial procedures.
The classified rules, obtained by The Intercept and dating from 2013, govern the FBI’s use of National Security Letters, which allow the bureau to obtain information about journalists’ calls without going to a judge or informing the news organization being targeted. They have previously been released only in heavily redacted form.
Media advocates said the documents show that the FBI imposes few constraints on itself when it bypasses the requirement to go to court and obtain subpoenas or search warrants before accessing journalists’ information.
The rules stipulate that obtaining a journalist’s records with a National Security Letter (or NSL) requires the sign-off of the FBI’s general counsel and the executive assistant director of the bureau’s National Security Branch, in addition to the regular chain of approval. Generally speaking, there are a variety of FBI officials, including the agents in charge of field offices, who can sign off that an NSL is “relevant” to a national security investigation.
There is an extra step under the rules if the NSL targets a journalist in order “to identify confidential news media sources.” In that case, the general counsel and the executive assistant director must first consult with the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
But if the NSL is trying to identify a leaker by targeting the records of the potential source, and not the journalist, the Justice Department doesn’t need to be involved.
The guidelines also specify that the extra oversight layers do not apply if the journalist is believed to be a spy or is part of a news organization “associated with a foreign intelligence service” or “otherwise acting on behalf of a foreign power.” Unless, again, the purpose is to identify a leak, in which case, the general counsel and executive assistant director must approve the request.
“These supposed rules are incredibly weak and almost nonexistent — as long as they have that second sign-off they’re basically good to go,” said Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which has sued the Justice Department for the release of these rules. “The FBI is entirely able to go after journalists and with only one extra hoop they have to jump through.”
A spokesperson for the FBI, Christopher Allen, declined to comment on the rules or say if they had been changed since 2013, except to say that they are “very clear” that “the FBI cannot predicate investigative activity solely on the exercise of First Amendment rights.”
The Obama administration has come under criticism for bringing a record number of leak prosecutions, and aggressively targeting journalists in the process. In 2013, after it came out that the Justice Department had secretly seized records from phone lines at the Associated Press and surveilled Fox News reporter James Rosen, then-Attorney General Eric Holder tightened the rules for when prosecutors could go after journalists. The new policies emphasized that reporters would not be prosecuted for “newsgathering activities,” and that the government would “seek evidence from or involving the news media” as a “last resort” and an “extraordinary measure.” The FBI could not label reporters as co-conspirators in order to try to identify their sources — as had happened with Rosen — and it became more difficult to get journalists’ phone records without notifying the news organization first.
Yet these changes did not apply to NSLs. Those are governed by a separate set of rules, laid out in a classified annex to the FBI’s operating manual, known as the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, or DIOG. The full version of that guide, including the classified annex, was last made public in redacted form in 2011.
The section of the annex on NSLs obtained by The Intercept dates from October 2013 and is marked “last updated October 2011.” It is classified as secret with an additional restriction against distribution to any non-U.S. citizens.
Emails from FBI lawyers in 2015, which were released earlier this year to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, reference an update to this portion of the DIOG, but it is not clear from the heavily redacted emails what changes were actually made.
In a January 2015 email to a number of FBI employee lists, James Baker, the general counsel of the FBI, attached the new attorney general’s policy and wrote that “with the increased focus on media issues,” the FBI and Justice Department would “continue to review the DIOG and other internal policy guides to determine if additional changes or requirements are necessary.”
“Please be mindful of these media issues,” he continued, and advised consulting with the general counsel’s office “prior to implementing any techniques targeting the media.” But the email also explicitly notes that the new guidelines do not apply to “national security tools.”
Allen, the FBI spokesperson, told The Intercept in an emailed statement that “the FBI periodically reviews and updates the DIOG as needed” and that “certainly the FBI’s DIOG remains consistent with all [Attorney General] Guidelines.”
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said that the “use of NSLs as a way around the protections in the guidelines is a serious concern for news organizations.”
Last week, the Reporters Committee filed a brief in support of the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s lawsuit for the FBI’s NSL rules and other documents on behalf of 37 news organizations including The Intercept’s publisher, First Look Media. (First Look also provides funding to both the Reporters Committee and the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and several Intercept staffers serve on the foundation’s board.)
Seeing the rules in their un-censored form, Timm, of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said that the FBI should not have kept them classified.
“Redacting the fact that they need a little extra sign-off from supervisors doesn’t come close to protecting state secrets,” he said.
The FBI issues thousands of NSLs each year, including nearly 13,000 in 2015. Over the years, a series of Inspector General reports found significant problems with their use, yet the FBI is currently pushing to expand the types of information it can demand with an NSL. The scope of NSLs has long been limited to basic subscriber information and toll billing information — which number called which, when, and for how long — as well as some financial and banking records. But the FBI had made a habit of asking companies to hand over more revealing data on internet usage, which could include email header information (though not the subject lines or content of emails) and browsing history. The 2013 NSL rules for the media only mention telephone toll records.
Another controversial aspect of NSLs is that they come with a gag order preventing companies from disclosing even the fact that they’ve received one. Court challenges and legislative changes have loosened that restriction a bit, allowing companies to disclose how many NSLs they receive, in broad ranges, and in a few cases, to describe the materials the FBI had demanded of them in more detail. Earlier this month, Yahoo became the first company to release three NSLs it had received in recent years.
It’s unclear how often the FBI has used NSLs to get journalists’ records. Barton Gellman, of the Washington Post, has said that he was told his phone records had been obtained via an NSL.
The FBI could also potentially demand journalists’ information through an application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISA court), which, like NSLs, would also not be covered by the Justice Department policy. The rules for that process are still obscure. The emails about revisions to the FBI guidelines reference a “FISA portion,” but most of the discussion is redacted.
For Brown, of the Reporters Committee, the disclosure of the rules “only confirms that we need information about the actual frequency and context of NSL practice relating to newsgathering and journalists’ records to assess the effectiveness of the new guidelines.”
By Cora Currier

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FBI’s Secret Surveillance Tech Budget Is ‘Hundreds of Millions’

June 27, 2016

FBI’s Secret Surveillance Tech Budget Is ‘Hundreds of Millions’

The FBI has “hundreds of millions of dollars” to spend on developing technology for use in both national security and domestic law enforcement investigations — but it won’t reveal the exact amount.
Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI James Burrell spoke about the secretive budget of the Operational Technology Division — which focuses on all the bureau’s advanced investigative gizmos, from robots to surveillance tech to biometric scanners during a roundtable discussion on encryption technology.
In December 2015, The Washington Post reported the budget of the FBI’s Operational Technology Division at between $600 and $800 million, but officials refused to confirm the exact amount.
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment from The Intercept on the division’s budget.
The intelligence community sponsored the roundtable on Thursday and Friday to spark discussion among academics, scientists, developers, and tech officials on the finer points of encryption — and to try to answer whether it’s technically possible to give law enforcement access to secure devices without compromising digital security.
The National Academies of Science, Technology, and Medicine hosted the workshop, which included Chris Inglis, former deputy director of the NSA; James Baker, the top lawyer for the FBI; and tech officials from Apple, Microsoft, and other companies.
Burrell said the FBI divides its technical focuses into two areas: core IT capabilities, and the Operational Technology Division, which devotes resources to researching and developing technology “specifically for use in investigations.”
The division’s budget had to be put “into context,” Burrell stressed. Resources are split between tools developed for national security investigations versus domestic law enforcement. “Sometimes we’re not able to use the technology we develop for one side equally on the other,” because some technology is classified, he said.
The FBI has tried to keep evidence gleaned from its advanced, national security technology secret in court proceedings relating to domestic investigations — technology like Stingrays, which mimic cell phone towers to track location information of an entire geographical area. The FBI has even chosen to throw out legal prosecutions to hide its technical capabilities — a controversial decision that’s been criticized by advocates for transparency.
The bureau has also repeatedly stressed how challenging and expensive it is to develop capabilities to hack into devices rather than have a mandated access point in encryption. “Hacking devices, … of course we do it, but it is slow,” Baker said in his concluding remarks. “It’s expensive, it’s very fragile.”
The FBI has requested over $100 million more dollars for its operational technology division and cyber division for 2017 — pushing the grand total closer to a billion, if the Washington Post‘s figure is accurate. The FBI asked for over $85 million to bulk up its cyber offense and defense — and over $38 million to counter the problem encryption and other anonymity software poses during investigations through technological means.
“Of all kinds of government secrecy, budget secrecy is the least defensible,” Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy run by the Federation of American Scientists, wrote in an email to The Intercept. Publishing the budget is required by the Constitution, he pointed out.
Agencies often prefer not to divulge budget in order keep some programs below the radar, or because keeping the amounts secret “helps to obscure large increases or decreases in funding that could attract unwanted attention,” he said.
“But spending levels do not reveal operational information — about targets, or capabilities, or vulnerabilities — and therefore they should almost always be disclosed,” he concluded.
The work done by the Operational Technology Division had received more attention after the 2015 San Bernadino shootings. Access to encrypted communications has become a national issue following the FBI’s battle with Apple over obtaining access to the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, which was encrypted.
Technology officials largely agree that giving any sort of “exceptional access” to software would damage an already fragile digital security regime experts have spent decades trying to improve.
During the first panel session, the conversation turned to what the FBI might be able to do instead of supporting mandated “backdoors” or security holes in products in order to intercept communications of suspects.
Baker, the bureau’s top lawyer, said the FBI’s technical capabilities are “finite” but “in some ways” are “better and increasing every day.”
By Jenna McLaughlin

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