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Posts Tagged ‘#surveillance’

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Progressive Groups Invoke Trump In New Push For Surveillance Reform

October 4, 2017

Leading progressive organizations hope to turn the reform of government surveillance programs into a litmus test for 2020 presidential candidates.

In a letter to congressional Democrats, 34 groups, led by the digital rights-focused Demand Progress Action, demand new protections for civil liberties in the reauthorization of a key surveillance law. The groups favor allowing the expiration of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which enables the federal government to search the electronic communications of Americans without a warrant.

Given the political difficulty of such a goal, however, the groups are trying to leverage Democrats’ fear of overreach by President Donald Trump to unite the party behind a more limited, but nonetheless sweeping, set of reforms aimed at preventing surveillance of Americans without a warrant.

“The Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to criminalize people of color and activists,” the letter says. “No Democrat should support a law that grants Trump the ability to spy — without a court-issued warrant — on the more than 325 million people that live in this country.”

Section 702, which Congress added to FISA in 2008, allows the attorney general and director of national intelligence to order the surveillance of non-Americans “reasonably believed to be located outside the United States” for the collection of foreign intelligence information.

The provision is the legal basis for two digital data collection programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in June 2013. The NSA uses its Prism program to collect data from Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft that is sent to or from a foreigner targeted for national security or intelligence reasons, and its “upstream” collection picks up communications from the international fiber-optic cables that transport phone and internet data across borders.

The law limits data collection to foreigners not on United States soil, but it places no such limits on searching already-collected data. As a result, civil liberties groups say, the provision has been used to create a “back-door” search mechanism granting the government access to data involving U.S. citizens, green-card holders, and foreigners living in the U.S. who corresponded with a targeted foreigner.

Until April, the NSA’s Upstream program had been collecting data on Americans’ whose electronic communications contained the contact information of a targeted foreigner, even if a foreigner targeted for security or intelligence purposes was not involved in the correspondence. That tactic is known as “about” collection.

The NSA discontinued the practice after it could not find a way to maintain it and remain in compliance with FISA court rules permitting the Upstream program.

But were it not for Snowden’s leaks, civil liberties advocates noted, the “about” searching would never have been discovered and stopped. (Snowden argued on Twitter that the cessation of the practice would be “the most substantive of the post-2013 NSA reforms, if the principle is applied to all other programs.”)

Progressive organizations believe wariness of Attorney General Jeff Session and President Donald Trump could solidify Democratic support for major surveillance reform.
For Demand Progress Action ― and allies on the letter, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Color of Change, and Credo ― the exposure shows that FISA courts alone are not enough to ensure that the federal government respects the constitutional right to privacy enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Demand Progress Action’s policy arm documented numerous other violations of FISA rules in a September report, making the case that FISA courts have proven incapable of deterring intelligence agency abuses under Section 702.

Section 702 has “grown into a tool so powerful that it is changing the way innocent people speak and associate,” the letter says.

Left unchecked, the federal government, particularly under Trump’s leadership, is liable to abuse its powers in even more pernicious ways, the letter says. It points to intelligence agencies’ historic use of mass surveillance to engage in political persecution against Martin Luther King Jr. and other progressive leaders as an indication of what is possible.

“Surveillance has always been justified on the back of national security concerns, even though on many occasions it has been employed to counter progressive reform movements, and it invariably disproportionately targets communities of color and people working for social change,” the letter says.

The progressive organizations propose far-reaching reforms. They want Congress to write into the law the NSA’s cessation of “about” searches in which neither correspondent is a foreigner based in a different country. Further, they would have Congress explicitly forbid the federal government from accessing the data of U.S. citizens, green-card holders and foreigners living in the United States without a court-issued warrant.

Additionally, they are pressing Congress to force the NSA to disclose how much data it has collected on American citizens, green-card holders and foreigners on U.S. soil, and require the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel to explain how it is interpreting Section 702.

The groups are also seeking to revise a procedure known as “parallel construction,” in which the government uses secretly collected information against defendants without disclosing to them or courts the origin of the evidence. The practice prevents Americans and foreigners living in the U.S. from challenging evidence prosecutors launder from national security-related searches and later share with other law enforcement authorities.

Finally, the progressive groups are trying to limit the re-authorization of the FISA Act to a single year “so that Congress and the public have the opportunity to re-examine how (and if) the Trump-run surveillance agencies operate under the framework it enshrines.”

There is a broad set of Democratic activists and voters who are very concerned about affording these sorts of powers to Trump.
David Segal, Demand Progress Action
Even under President Barack Obama, civil libertarians had limited success curtailing the authority of the NSA and other intelligence agencies, thanks to post-9/11 laws expanding their powers.

A June 2015 reform entitled the USA Freedom Act transferred the storage of phone data previously held by the NSA to phone companies and required the federal government to petition a federal court to search the cache.

But civil liberties groups, including Demand Progress Action, considered the measure a fig leaf for real reform, arguing that the NSA’s practice of searching personal data on tens of millions of Americans would continue through a different process.

In December 2012, prior to Snowden’s revelations, Congress quietly renewed the 2008 amendments to the FISA Act for five years.

Support for substantial reform of the FISA Act has grown stronger in libertarian wings of both parties, but political backing for the status quo has proven resilient. A bipartisan amendment to the annual defense spending bill that would have barred the NSA from using federal dollars to conduct back-door searches on Americans’ data passed the House twice in 2014 and 2015, before being stripped out in the Senate. In June 2016, following the massacre at the Orlando nightclub, the House defeated the amendment by a narrow margin.

Ahead of the December deadline for reauthorization of the FISA Act, the prospects for deep reforms of the kind advocated by organizations like Demand Progress Action and libertarian conservative outfits like FreedomWorks has grown more remote ― not least because of the Trump administration’s hostility to those efforts. A White House official said in March that the administration supports a “clean reauthorization” free from reforms aimed at buttressing privacy rights.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Chris Wray and NSA Director Michael Rogers are likely to make their views known in a classified briefing on Section 702 for members of Congress on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a group of hawkish Senate Republicans led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill in June that would permanently reauthorize Section 702.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress Action, said the group’s effort aims to consolidate Democratic support for reform.

“There is a broad set of Democratic activists and voters who are very concerned about affording these sorts of powers to Trump,” Segal said. “They’ll be watching how everybody votes on this issue with particular attention to people running for president ― Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Corey Booker and others ― when they consider who has the interests of communities that comprise the Democratic Party in mind.”

Democrats who may have been less sensitive to those concerns under the Obama administration might reconsider now that Trump is president, according to Segal.

“Because they trusted Obama, they helped erect surveillance structures that amount to a turnkey tyranny that Donald Trump can steward,” Segal said. “There’s now an understanding of the danger of having people like Trump and Jeff Sessions having control over these extraordinary powers.”

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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
www.theintercept.com

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CIA Ex-Boss: Secretive Spooks Tolerated In UK More Than In US

May 31, 2016

British people are not demanding more transparency from the intelligence services as loudly as Americans, the former director of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA has said.
Michael Hayden played a pivotal, leading role in American intelligence until he was replaced as director of the CIA shortly into the presidency of Barack Obama.
In a wide-ranging talk on the fourth day of the Hay festival, Hayden addressed CIA torture, targeted killings, what he thinks about Edward Snowden and how Facebook is perhaps a greater threat to privacy than government.
Hayden said the security services were changing faster in the US than the UK. “You as a population are far more tolerant of aggressive action on the part of your intelligence services than we are in the United States,” he said.
The US intelligence services would not have validation from the American people unless there was a certain amount of knowledge, an increased transparency, he said.
Hayden talked about the tensions between the need to know and the need to protect.
In his newlypublished book Hayden calls Snowden naive and narcissistic and says he wanted to put him on a “kill list”.
On the next page he said Snowden “highlighted the need for a broad cultural shift” in terms of transparency and what constitutes consent. On Sunday he said there was no contradiction between the two assertions.
“The 2% of what Snowden revealed that had to do with privacy accelerated a necessary conversation. The other 98% was about how the US and foreign governments collected legitimate material … that was incredibly damaging.”
The privacy revelations quickened a conversation which had “hit the beach” in the US but it “has not hit the beach here in Great Britain”.
Hayden was asked about how much information we give to social media companies and whether the public is naive in trusting Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook more than the NSA.
“I have my views on that,” he joked. “Your habits are all geared to protecting privacy against the government because that was always the traditional threat. That is no longer the pattern, it is the private sector … we are going through a cultural adjustment.
“With regard to the 21st-century definition of reasonable privacy, Mark Zuckerberg is probably going to have a greater influence on that than your or my government because of the rules we will embed inside his Facebook applications.”
On “enhanced interrogation techniques” or torture – which could include waterboarding – Hayden said he personally authorised it only once and it did not, he admitted, work.
But he added the “suite” of usable techniques had been reduced from 13 to six and the interrogator believed he would have got information if that had not been the case. “Was it doomed to failure or was it a failure because we did not do enough?”
Targeted killings were justified, Hayden said, because the US believed it was at war. The UK, he said, referring to the killing of “Jihadi John”, has now “joined the queue”.
Hayden said he believed Islam was going through the crisis that Christianity went through in the 17th century as it was in an internal crisis. “We are not the target, we are collateral damage. What has happened in Paris, in Brussels … is spillage.”
Hayden also touched on Donald Trump, whose pronouncements, he said, had damaged US security.
“The jihadist narrative is that there is undying enmity between Islam and the modern world so when Trump says they all hate us, he’s using their narrative … he’s feeding their recruitment video.”
By Mark Brown
www.theguardian.com

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Under Surveillance: Journalists Urged To Guard Their Data

May 30, 2016

The two most important principles for great journalism go hand in hand: first, to hold power to account, and second, to protect sources.
However, both principles are becoming increasingly challenging in light of the UK government’s attack on Freedom of Information and the expansive surveillance powers laid out in the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill.
If the UK Home Office has its way, bulk collection of metadata and content, collation of ‘bulk personal datasets’ (including innocent people’s political opinions, medical conditions, ethnicity, sexuality) and even bulk hacking, will be exercised under the new legislation. This is despite the extreme breaches of human rights law and basic democratic principles.
Journalistic principles are more important than ever if the draft bill becomes law in the United Kingdom. Equally important is for journalists to offer real source protection and adopt good information security practices.
It is thanks to great journalism, and excellent information security, that we can even have an informed debate about the surveillance state today. I’m referring, of course, to the courageous work of Glenn Greenwald and other journalists. It was their reporting on thousands of classified documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – jigsaw pieces put together over the past two and a half years – that formed an unrecognisable and frankly dystopian picture of the Western democracies we thought we knew.
Whistleblowing and journalism has forced UK intelligence agencies and government to present comprehensive legislation to parliament in form of the draft bill to clearly define the powers that have been, and currently are, exercised with dubious legality. Few expected the worst of Snowden’s revelations to be proliferated and even extended, but they have been.
The UK government made a great deal of ‘journalist protections’ in the draft bill. I spent considerable time looking for them in the 300-page document. There aren’t any. There is a draft code of practice accompanying the bill, which recommends that police and spies have ‘consideration’ when gathering data on, or intercepting, journalist-source communications. But the bill gives police and intelligence agencies the power to spy on, intercept and even hack journalists’ communications. Since when is ‘consideration’ an effective safeguard to protect a critical pillar of a free society – a free press?
Journalists rarely know when they are being spied on. Authorities need not declare their target’s job; there is no obligation to inform those wrongfully spied on; and intercept evidence is banned from the courts. Despite the near impossibility of finding out you’ve been the target of surveillance, there are increasing examples of unjustified surveillance of journalists and their sources.
Journalists who want to be able to offer source protection; who want to do serious investigative work; who want to hold power to account, must adopt information security practices. Information security is source protection in the digital age, and journalists who show an awareness, willingness and ability to adopt digital security behaviours will attract valuable sources and stories.
My top tips for journalists on protecting their data:
• Don’t offer source protection unless you are confident you can provide it. It is important to give potential sources an honest and informed evaluation of the protection you can provide them and the safety of your communications. Their livelihoods, and in some countries their lives, could be at stake.
• Information you need to understand the risks and defend against them is widely available, including this free handbook from the Centre for Investigative Journalism.
• Use encryption to securely exchange emails and to safely share important source files. Encryption wraps communications in impenetrable code, so that the content is only accessible to the intended recipient/s. It is one of the very best ways we have of securing modern communications and technologies.
• Using the Centre for Investigative Journalism handbook you can learn some simple but highly effective ways to encrypt your emails, use encrypted instant messaging and store or exchange encrypted files.
By Silkie Carlo
www.newssafety.org

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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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