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Posts Tagged ‘#FBI’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks during a news conference as Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) listens on Capitol Hill in Washington March 8, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Invoking Orlando, Senate Republicans Set Up Vote To Expand FBI Spying

June 21, 2016

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set up a vote late on Monday to expand the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s authority to use a secretive surveillance order without a warrant to include email metadata and some browsing history information.
The move, made via an amendment to a criminal justice appropriations bill, is an effort by Senate Republicans to respond to last week’s mass shooting in an Orlando nightclub after a series of measures to restrict guns offered by both parties failed on Monday.
“In the wake of the tragic massacre in Orlando, it is important our law enforcement have the tools they need to conduct counterterrorism investigations,” Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and sponsor of the amendment, said in a statement.
The bill is also supported by Republican Senators John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions and Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Privacy advocates denounced the effort, saying it seeks to exploit a mass shooting in order to expand the government’s digital spying powers.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, criticized a similar effort last month as one that “takes a hatchet to important protections for Americans’ liberty.”
The amendment would broaden the FBI’s authority to use so-called National Security Letters to include electronic communications transaction records such as time stamps of emails and the emails’ senders and recipients.
The Obama administration for years has lobbied for a change to how NSLs can be used, after a 2008 legal memo from the Justice Department said the law limits them largely to phone billing records. FBI Director James Comey has said the change essentially corrects a typo and is a top legislative priority for his agency.
NSLs do not require a warrant and are almost always accompanied by a gag order preventing the service provider from sharing the request with a targeted user.
The letters have existed since the 1970s, though the scope and frequency of their use expanded greatly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The amendment filed Monday would also make permanent a provision of the USA Patriot Act that allows the intelligence community to conduct surveillance on “lone wolf” suspects who do not have confirmed ties to a foreign terrorist group. That provision, which the Justice Department said last year had never been used, is currently set to expire in December 2019.
A vote is expected no later than Wednesday, McConnell’s office said.

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New Intelligence Bill Gives FBI More Secret Surveillance Power

June 10, 2016

A Senate bill published late Monday night includes a new provision that would give the FBI more power to issue secret demands, known as national security letters, to technology, internet, communications, and banking companies for their customers’ information.
The provision, tucked into the Senate Intelligence Authorization Act, would explicitly authorize the FBI to obtain “electronic communication transactional records” for individuals or entities — though it doesn’t define what that means. The bill was passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee last week.
In the past, the FBI has considered “electronic communication transactional records” to be a broad category of information — including everything from browsing history, email header information, records of online purchases, IP addresses of contacts, and more.
The Justice Department told the FBI in 2008 that it was not authorized to receive this information from companies without a court order, although as The Intercept reported last week, the FBI has continued to demand such data anyway — insisting on a different legal interpretation.
The major technology companies have been fighting back since then by refusing to provide email metadata and online records — forcing the FBI to pursue a legislative solution.
Before the full text of the bill was published, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued a press release warning about the expansion of power.
Read the text of the amendment below:
Sec. 803. Counterintelligence Access to Telephone Toll and Transactional Records:
Subsection (b) of section 2709 of title 18, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
“(b) REQUIRED CERTIFICATION.—The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or the designee of the Director in a position not lower that Deputy Assistant Director at Bureau headquarters or a Special Agent in Charge in a Bureau field office designated by the Director, may, using a term that specifically identifies a person, entity, telephone number, or account as the basis for a request, request the name, address, length of service, local and long distance toll billing records, and electronic communication transactional records of a person or entity, but not the contents of an electronic communication, if the Director (or the designee) certifies in writing to the wire or electronic communication service provider to which the request is made that the name, address, length of service, toll billing records, and electronic communication transactional records sought are relevant to an authorized investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such an investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely on the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.”.
By Jenna McLaughlin
www.theintercept.com

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FBI Wants Email Privacy Act To Allow Warrantless Access To Browsing Histories

June 8, 2016

Fixing a “typo” in a law governing domestic surveillance is the top priority for the bureau this year, FBI Director James B. Comey has said.
A “typo?” Tech companies and privacy advocates are strenuously disagreeing with his characterization of the proposed amendment, which would give the FBI explicit authority to access a person’s internet browser history and other electronic data without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases.
At the FBI’s request, lawmakers have put forth legislation that would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which Comey claims now lets some tech companies refuse to hand over data that, the government claims, Congress had intended for them to provide.
The proposed legislation would do away with the necessity to get a warrant for such data and would let the government get a national security letter (NSL) instead: a subpoena that doesn’t require a judge’s approval.
The Senate Intelligence Committee panel recently voted out an authorization bill with the NSL amendment, but it’s since crept back, reintroduced in an amendment to the ECPA floated last week by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
Cornyn’s on-message with the FBI. As reported by The Washington Post, he referred to Comey’s “typo” in the law as a “scrivener’s error” that’s “needlessly hamstringing our counterintelligence and counterterrorism efforts.”
If the amendment passes, it would allow the FBI to access internet browsing records without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases. That doesn’t mean they’d get at the content of email: rather, with an NSL, the Feds could access a host of online information, including IP addresses, routing and transmission information, session data, and more.
The bureau told The Washington Post that there’s a limit to how specific the browsing history would be. For example, somebody could visit any part of the newspaper’s website, but law enforcement would only see that they’d visited washingtonpost.com.
Privacy advocates say that’s bunk.
A letter signed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International USA, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Google, Facebook and Yahoo, among others, pointed out that a 2007 audit found that the FBI illegally used NSLs to collect information that wasn’t permitted by NSL statutes.
This history of abusing NSLs compounds the civil liberties and human rights concerns brought up by expanding the use of the subpoenas, the letter said.
As it is, even without email content, the Electronic Communication Transactional Records (ECTRs) the Feds are after would paint “an incredibly intimate picture of an individual’s life,” the letter signers said.
“ECTRs could include a person’s browsing history, email metadata, location information, and the exact date and time a person signs in or out of a particular online account.
This information could reveal details about a person’s political affiliation, medical conditions, religion, substance abuse history, sexual orientation, and, in spite of the exclusion of cell tower information in the Cornyn amendment, even his or her movements throughout the day.”
According to The Hill, Cornyn’s amendment was one of a few that delayed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s consideration of the Email Privacy Act last week.
That bill, which the House of Representatives unanimously passed in April, would require investigators to get a warrant before they can force technology companies to hand over customers’ email or other electronic communications, no matter how old.
The Senate committee’s slated to mark the bill up on Thursday.

By Lisa Vaas
www.nakedsecurity.sophos.com

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Secret Text in Senate Bill Would Give FBI Warrantless Access to Email Records

May 27, 2016

A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.
If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs — most commonly, information about the name, address, and call data associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.
Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transactional records,” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.
The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of the bill’s provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”
Wyden did not disclose exactly what the provision would allow, but his spokesperson suggested it might go beyond email records to things like web-surfing histories and other information about online behavior. “Senator Wyden is concerned it could be read that way,” Keith Chu said.
It’s unclear how or when the provision was added, although Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., — the committee’s chairman — and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., have both offered bills in the past that would address what the FBI calls a gap and privacy advocates consider a serious threat to civil liberties.
“At this point, it should go without saying that the information the FBI wants to include in the statue is extremely revealing — URLs, for example, may reveal the content of a website that users have visited, their location, and so on,” Andrew Crocker, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in an email to The Intercept.
“And it’s particularly sneaky because this bill is debated behind closed doors,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute, said in an interview.
In February, FBI Director James Comey testified during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats that the FBI’s inability to get email records with NSLs was a “typo” — and that fixing it was one of the FBI’s top legislative priorities.
Greene warned at the time: “Unless we push back against Comey now, before you know it, the long slow push for an [electronic communication transactional records] fix may just be unstoppable.”
The FBI used to think that it was, in fact, allowed to get email records with NSLs, and did so routinely until the Justice Department under George W. Bush told the bureau that it had interpreted its powers overly broadly.
Ever since, the FBI has tried to get that power and has been rejected, including during negotiations over the USA Freedom Act.
The FBI’s power to issue NSLs is actually derived from the Electronic Communications Privacy Act — a 1986 law that Congress is currently working to update to incorporate more protections for electronic communications — not fewer. The House unanimously passed the Email Privacy Act in late April, while the Senate is due to vote on its version this week.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is expected to offer an amendment that would mirror the provision in the intelligence bill.
Privacy advocates warn that adding it to the broadly supported reform effort would backfire.
“If [the provision] is added to ECPA, it’ll kill the bill,” Gabe Rottman, deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s freedom, security, and technology project, wrote in an email to The Intercept. “If it passes independently, it’ll create a gaping loophole. Either way, it’s a big problem and a massive expansion of government surveillance authority.”
NSLs have a particularly controversial history. In 2008, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine blasted the FBI for using NSLs supported by weak evidence and documentation to collect information on Americans, some of which “implicated the target’s First Amendment rights.”
“NSLs have a sordid history. They’ve been abused in a number of ways, including … targeting of journalists and … use to collect an essentially unbounded amount of information,” Crocker wrote.
One thing that makes them particularly easy to abuse is that recipients of NSLs are subject to a gag order that forbids them from revealing the letters’ existence to anyone, much less the public.

By Jenna McLaughlin

www.theintercept.com

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Protect-From-Ransomware

FBI Warns of a Rise in Ransomware Attacks

May 17, 2016

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is warning businesses to be on the lookout for a rise in ransomware attacks.
On Friday, the FBI published a letter revealing that the threat posed by ransomware to hospitals, state and local governments, law enforcement, small businesses, and private individuals is growing.
“Ransomware has been around for a few years, but during 2015, law enforcement saw an increase in these types of cyber attacks, particularly against organizations because the payoffs are higher,” the letter reads. “And if the first three months of this year are any indication, the number of ransomware incidents–and the ensuing damage they cause–will grow even more in 2016 if individuals and organizations don’t prepare for these attacks in advance.”
Along with an increase in the number of ransomware attacks, the FBI has observed a corresponding increase in the sophistication of attack campaigns. Computer criminals traditionally relied solely on spam mail to send out most forms of malware. Now they are turning to more sophisticated means, including spear-phishing (or whaling) emails and exploit kit attacks that don’t require user interaction.
The FBI has said in the past that paying the ransom fee is sometimes the only way for victims to recover their encrypted data. But in its letter, the FBI is careful to point out it does not support that course of action given certain negative consequences.
“Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee an organization that it will get its data back–we’ve seen cases where organizations never got a decryption key after having paid the ransom,” explains FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director James Trainor. “Paying a ransom not only emboldens current cyber criminals to target more organizations, it also offers an incentive for other criminals to get involved in this type of illegal activity. And finally, by paying a ransom, an organization might inadvertently be funding other illicit activity associated with criminals.”
Acknowledging those repercussions, the FBI urges organizations to develop a business continuity plan they can implement in the event of an attack and to invest in ransomware prevention.
By David Bisson
www.tripwire.com

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