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Paul Merrell

Feds Force Suspect To Unlock An Apple iPhone X With Their Face - 0 views

  • It finally happened. The feds forced an Apple iPhone X owner to unlock their device with their face.A child abuse investigation unearthed by Forbes includes the first known case in which law enforcement used Apple Face ID facial recognition technology to open a suspect's iPhone. That's by any police agency anywhere in the world, not just in America.It happened on August 10, when the FBI searched the house of 28-year-old Grant Michalski, a Columbus, Ohio, resident who would later that month be charged with receiving and possessing child pornography. With a search warrant in hand, a federal investigator told Michalski to put his face in front of the phone, which he duly did. That allowed the agent to pick through the suspect's online chats, photos and whatever else he deemed worthy of investigation.The case marks another significant moment in the ongoing battle between law enforcement and tech providers, with the former trying to break the myriad security protections put in place by the latter. Since the fight between the world's most valuable company and the FBI in San Bernardino over access to an iPhone in 2016, Forbes has been tracking the various ways cops have been trying to break Apple's protections.
Paul Merrell

New Documents Reveal FBI's "Cozy" Relationship with Geek Squad - 1 views

  • Throughout the past ten years, the FBI has at varying points in time maintained a particularly close relationship with Best Buy officials and used the company’s Geek Squad employees as informants. But the FBI refuses to confirm or deny key information about how the agency may potentially circumvent computer owners’ Fourth Amendment rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtained a handful of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed in February of last year. EFF says they show the relationship between the FBI and Geek Squad employees is much “cozier” than they thought.
  • In court filings, the defense mentioned there were “eight FBI informants at Geek Squad City” from 2007 to 2012. Multiple employees received payments ranging from $500-1000 for work as informants.
  • There is no evidence that FBI obtained warrants before the Geek Squad informants searched computers they were repairing. It is believed Geek Squad employees routinely search unallocated space for any illegal content that may be on a device and then alert the FBI after conducting “fishing expeditions” for criminal activity, and this is what the FBI trains them to do. EFF sought “records about the extent to which [the FBI] directs and trains Best Buy employees to conduct warrantless searches of people’s devices.” As is clear, the government stonewalled EFF and only released documents that were already referred to by news media. The FBI neither confirmed nor denied whether the agency has “similar relationships with other computer repair facilities or businesses.” The FBI also would not produce any documents that detailed procedures or “training materials” for cultivating informants at computer repair facilities.
Paul Merrell

It's A-OK for FBI agents to silence web giants, says appeals court * The Register - 1 views

  • Gagging orders in the FBI's National Security Letters are all above board and constitutional, a California court has ruled. These security letters are typically sent to internet giants demanding information on whoever is behind a username or email address. Crucially, these requests include clauses that prevent the organizations from warning specific subscribers that they are under surveillance by the Feds. Cloudflare and Credo Mobile aren't happy with that, and – with the help of rights warriors at the EFF – challenged the gagging orders. Despite earlier successes in their legal battle, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [PDF] on Monday that the gagging orders do not trample on First Amendment rights.
  • The FBI dishes out thousands of National Security Letters (NSLs) every year; they can simply be issued by a special agent in charge in a bureau field office, and don’t require judicial review. They allow the Feds to obtain the name, address, and records of any services used – but not the contents of conversations – plus billing records of a person, and forbid the hosting company from telling the subject, meaning those under investigation can’t challenge the decision. It used to be the case that companies couldn’t even mention the existence of the NSL system for fear of prosecution. However, in 2013 a US district court in San Francisco ruled that such extreme gagging violated the First Amendment. That decision came after Google, and later others, started publishing the number of NSL orders that had been received, in defiance of the law. In 2015 the Obama administration amended the law to allow companies limited rights to disclose NSL orders, and to set a three-year limit for the gagging order. It also set up a framework for companies to challenge the legitimacy of NSL subpoenas, and it was these changes that caused the appeals court verdict in favor of the government.
Paul Merrell

FBI director: Cover up your webcam | TheHill - 0 views

  • The head of the FBI on Wednesday defended putting a piece of tape over his personal laptop's webcam, claiming the security step was a common sense one that most should take.  “There’s some sensible things you should be doing, and that’s one of them,” Director James Comey said during a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.ADVERTISEMENT“You go into any government office and we all have the little camera things that sit on top of the screen,” he added. “They all have a little lid that closes down on them.“You do that so that people who don’t have authority don’t look at you. I think that’s a good thing.”Comey was pilloried online earlier this year, after he revealed that he puts a piece of tape over his laptop camera to keep away prying eyes. The precaution is a common one among security advocates, given the relative ease of hacking laptop cameras.  
  • But many found it ironic for Comey, who this year launched a high profile battle against Apple to gain access to data locked inside of the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorists. Many viewed that fight as a referendum on digital privacy.Comey was “much mocked for that,” he acknowledged on Wednesday.But he still uses the tape on his laptop.“I hope people lock their cars,” he said. “Lock your doors at night… if you have an alarm system, you should use it.”“It’s not crazy that the FBI director cares about personal security as well,” the FBI director added. “So I think people ought to take responsibility for their own safety and security.”
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Keep the FBI out of my Computer - Access Now - 0 views

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    "The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wants the power to hack into computers anywhere in the world, and even millions of computers at once. Instead of asking U.S. Congress for permission, they're sneaking a procedural rule change through the bureaucracy. It's called Rule 41 and it's part of the U.S.Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Read more about Rule 41 and government hacking here and here. "
Paul Merrell

Senate narrowly rejects new FBI surveillance | TheHill - 0 views

  • The Senate narrowly rejected expanding the FBI's surveillance powers Wednesday in the wake of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.  Senators voted 58-38 on a procedural hurdle, with 60 votes needed to move forward. Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Finance: Wall Street awaits Brexit result | Clinton touts biz support | New threat to Puerto Rico bill? | Dodd, Frank hit back The Trail 2016: Berning embers McConnell quashes Senate effort on guns MORE, who initially voted "yes," switched his vote, which allows him to potentially bring the measure back up. 
  • The Senate GOP proposal—being offered as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill—would allow the FBI to use "national security letters" to obtain people's internet browsing history and other information without a warrant during a terrorism or federal intelligence probe.  It would also permanently extend a Patriot Act provision — currently set to expire in 2019 — meant to monitor "lone wolf" extremists.  Senate Republicans said they would likely be able to get enough votes if McConnell schedules a redo.
  • Asked if he anticipates supporters will be able to get 60 votes, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate to vote on two gun bills Senate Dems rip GOP on immigration ruling Post Orlando, hawks make a power play MORE (R-Texas) separately told reporters "that's certainly my expectation." McConnell urged support for the proposal earlier Wednesday, saying it would give the FBI to "connect the dots" in terrorist investigations.  "We can focus on defeating [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] or we can focus on partisan politics. Some of our colleagues many think this is all some game," he said. "I believe this is a serious moment that calls for serious solutions."  But Democrats—and some Republicans—raised concerns that the changes didn't go far enough to ensure Americans' privacy.  Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenPost Orlando, hawks make a power play Democrats seize spotlight with sit-in on guns Democrats stage sit-in on House floor to push for gun vote MORE (D-Ore.) blasted his colleagues for "hypocrisy" after a gunman killed 49 people and injured dozens more during the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. "Due process ought to apply as it relates to guns, but due process wouldn't apply as it relates to the internet activity of millions of Americans," he said ahead of Wednesday's vote. "Supporters of this amendment...have suggested that Americans need to choose between protecting our security and protecting our constitutional right to privacy." 
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  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also came out in opposition the Senate GOP proposal on Tuesday, warning it would urge lawmakers to vote against it. 
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    Too close for comfort and coming around the bernd again. 
Paul Merrell

FBI's secret method of unlocking iPhone may never reach Apple | Reuters - 0 views

  • The FBI may be allowed to withhold information about how it broke into an iPhone belonging to a gunman in the December San Bernardino shootings, despite a U.S. government policy of disclosing technology security flaws discovered by federal agencies. Under the U.S. vulnerabilities equities process, the government is supposed to err in favor of disclosing security issues so companies can devise fixes to protect data. The policy has exceptions for law enforcement, and there are no hard rules about when and how it must be applied.Apple Inc has said it would like the government to share how it cracked the iPhone security protections. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been frustrated by its inability to access data on encrypted phones belonging to criminal suspects, might prefer to keep secret the technique it used to gain access to gunman Syed Farook's phone. The referee is likely to be a White House group formed during the Obama administration to review computer security flaws discovered by federal agencies and decide whether they should be disclosed.
  • Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA and now a lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson, said the review process could be complicated if the cracking method is considered proprietary by the third party that assisted the FBI.Several security researchers have pointed to the Israel-based mobile forensics firm Cellebrite as the likely third party that helped the FBI. That company has repeatedly declined comment.
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    The article is wide of the mark, based on analysis of Executive Branch policy rather than the governing law such as the Freedom of Information Act. And I still find it somewhat ludicrous that a third party with knowledge of the defect could succeed in convincing a court that knowledge of a defect in a company's product is trade-secret proprietary information. "Your honor, my client has discovered a way to break into Mr. Tim Cook's house without a key to his house. That is a valuable trade secret that this Court must keep Mr. Cook from learning." Pow! The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it a crime to access a computer that can connect to the Internet by exploiting a software bug. 
Paul Merrell

Apple could use Brooklyn case to pursue details about FBI iPhone hack: source | Reuters - 0 views

  • If the U.S. Department of Justice asks a New York court to force Apple Inc to unlock an iPhone, the technology company could push the government to reveal how it accessed the phone which belonged to a shooter in San Bernardino, a source familiar with the situation said.The Justice Department will disclose over the next two weeks whether it will continue with its bid to compel Apple to help access an iPhone in a Brooklyn drug case, according to a court filing on Tuesday.The Justice Department this week withdrew a similar request in California, saying it had succeeded in unlocking an iPhone used by one of the shooters involved in a rampage in San Bernardino in December without Apple's help.The legal dispute between the U.S. government and Apple has been a high-profile test of whether law enforcement should have access to encrypted phone data.
  • Apple, supported by most of the technology industry, says anything that helps authorities bypass security features will undermine security for all users. Government officials say that all kinds of criminal investigations will be crippled without access to phone data.Prosecutors have not said whether the San Bernardino technique would work for other seized iPhones, including the one at issue in Brooklyn. Should the Brooklyn case continue, Apple could pursue legal discovery that would potentially force the FBI to reveal what technique it used on the San Bernardino phone, the source said. A Justice Department representative did not have immediate comment.
Paul Merrell

Apple's New Challenge: Learning How the U.S. Cracked Its iPhone - The New York Times - 0 views

  • Now that the United States government has cracked open an iPhone that belonged to a gunman in the San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting without Apple’s help, the tech company is under pressure to find and fix the flaw.But unlike other cases where security vulnerabilities have cropped up, Apple may face a higher set of hurdles in ferreting out and repairing the particular iPhone hole that the government hacked.The challenges start with the lack of information about the method that the law enforcement authorities, with the aid of a third party, used to break into the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, an attacker in the San Bernardino rampage last year. Federal officials have refused to identify the person, or organization, who helped crack the device, and have declined to specify the procedure used to open the iPhone. Apple also cannot obtain the device to reverse-engineer the problem, the way it would in other hacking situations.
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    It would make a very interesting Freedom of Information Act case if Apple sued under that Act to force disclosure of the security hole iPhone product defect the FBI exploited. I know of no interpretation of the law enforcement FOIA exemption that would justify FBI disclosure of the information. It might be alleged that the information is the trade secret of the company that disclosed the defect and exploit to the the FBI, but there's a very strong argument that the fact that the information was shared with the FBI waived the trade secrecy claim. And the notion that government is entitled to collect product security defects and exploit them without informing the exploited product's company of the specific defect is extremely weak.  Were I Tim Cook, I would have already told my lawyers to get cracking on filing the FOIA request with the FBI to get the legal ball rolling. 
Paul Merrell

FBI Got Into San Bernardino Killer's iPhone Without Apple's Help - 0 views

  • AFTER MORE THAN a month of insisting that Apple weaken its security to help the FBI break into San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, the government has dropped its legal fight. “The government has now successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone and therefore no longer requires the assistance from Apple,” wrote attorneys for the Department of Justice on Monday evening. It’s not yet known if anything valuable was stored on the phone, however. “The FBI is currently reviewing the information on the phone, consistent with standard investigatory procedures,” said Department of Justice spokesperson Melanie Newman in a statement.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

FBI's Tor Hack Shows the Risk of Subpoenas to Security Researchers | WIRED - 0 views

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    "Computer security researchers who expose hackable vulnerabilities in digital products face plenty of occupational hazards: They can have their work censored by threats of lawsuits from the companies whose products they hack, or they can even be criminally indicted if their white-hat hacking runs afoul of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But one still-mysterious encounter between security researchers and the law points to a newer, equally troubling possibility: They can have their work subpoenaed in a criminal investigation and used as a law enforcement tool."
Paul Merrell

This Is the Real Reason Apple Is Fighting the FBI | TIME - 0 views

  • The first thing to understand about Apple’s latest fight with the FBI—over a court order to help unlock the deceased San Bernardino shooter’s phone—is that it has very little to do with the San Bernardino shooter’s phone. It’s not even, really, the latest round of the Crypto Wars—the long running debate about how law enforcement and intelligence agencies can adapt to the growing ubiquity of uncrackable encryption tools. Rather, it’s a fight over the future of high-tech surveillance, the trust infrastructure undergirding the global software ecosystem, and how far technology companies and software developers can be conscripted as unwilling suppliers of hacking tools for governments. It’s also the public face of a conflict that will undoubtedly be continued in secret—and is likely already well underway.
  • Considered in isolation, the request seems fairly benign: If it were merely a question of whether to unlock a single device—even one unlikely to contain much essential evidence—there would probably be little enough harm in complying. The reason Apple CEO Tim Cook has pledged to fight a court’s order to assist the bureau is that he understands the danger of the underlying legal precedent the FBI is seeking to establish. Four important pieces of context are necessary to see the trouble with the Apple order.
Paul Merrell

Cameron Calls June 23 EU Referendum as Cabinet Fractures - Bloomberg Business - 0 views

  • In a secret meeting convened by the White House around Thanksgiving, senior national security officials ordered agencies across the U.S. government to find ways to counter encryption software and gain access to the most heavily protected user data on the most secure consumer devices, including Apple Inc.’s iPhone, the marquee product of one of America’s most valuable companies, according to two people familiar with the decision.The approach was formalized in a confidential National Security Council “decision memo,” tasking government agencies with developing encryption workarounds, estimating additional budgets and identifying laws that may need to be changed to counter what FBI Director James Comey calls the “going dark” problem: investigators being unable to access the contents of encrypted data stored on mobile devices or traveling across the Internet. Details of the memo reveal that, in private, the government was honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.
  • On Tuesday, the public got its first glimpse of what those efforts may look like when a federal judge ordered Apple to create a special tool for the FBI to bypass security protections on an iPhone 5c belonging to one of the shooters in the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook has vowed to fight the order, calling it a “chilling” demand that Apple “hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers.” The order was not a direct outcome of the memo but is in line with the broader government strategy.White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice have the Obama administration’s “full” support in the matter. The government is “not asking Apple to redesign its product or to create a new backdoor to their products,” but rather are seeking entry “to this one device,” he said.
Paul Merrell

Upgrade Your iPhone Passcode to Defeat the FBI's Backdoor Strategy - 0 views

  • It’s true that ordering Apple to develop the backdoor will fundamentally undermine iPhone security, as Cook and other digital security advocates have argued. But it’s possible for individual iPhone users to protect themselves from government snooping by setting strong passcodes on their phones — passcodes the FBI would not be able to unlock even if it gets its iPhone backdoor. The technical details of how the iPhone encrypts data, and how the FBI might circumvent this protection, are complex and convoluted, and are being thoroughly explored elsewhere on the internet. What I’m going to focus on here is how ordinary iPhone users can protect themselves. The short version: If you’re worried about governments trying to access your phone, set your iPhone up with a random, 11-digit numeric passcode. What follows is an explanation of why that will protect you and how to actually do it.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

FBI Investigates Hollywood Ties to Pirated 'Hateful Eight' Screener - TorrentFreak [# !... - 0 views

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    " Ernesto on December 23, 2015 C: 143 Breaking The pirated screener of Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" has been traced back to a copy sent to a top Hollywood executive. The FBI is currently investigating the breach, which is part of series of leaked screeners that appeared online in recent days. Meanwhile, The Hateful Eight has been shared more than a million times through various unauthorized channels."
Paul Merrell

Microsoft to host data in Germany to evade US spying | Naked Security - 0 views

  • Microsoft's new plan to keep the US government's hands off its customers' data: Germany will be a safe harbor in the digital privacy storm. Microsoft on Wednesday announced that beginning in the second half of 2016, it will give foreign customers the option of keeping data in new European facilities that, at least in theory, should shield customers from US government surveillance. It will cost more, according to the Financial Times, though pricing details weren't forthcoming. Microsoft Cloud - including Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online - will be hosted from new datacenters in the German regions of Magdeburg and Frankfurt am Main. Access to data will be controlled by what the company called a German data trustee: T-Systems, a subsidiary of the independent German company Deutsche Telekom. Without the permission of Deutsche Telekom or customers, Microsoft won't be able to get its hands on the data. If it does get permission, the trustee will still control and oversee Microsoft's access.
  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella dropped the word "trust" into the company's statement: Microsoft’s mission is to empower every person and every individual on the planet to achieve more. Our new datacenter regions in Germany, operated in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, will not only spur local innovation and growth, but offer customers choice and trust in how their data is handled and where it is stored.
  • On Tuesday, at the Future Decoded conference in London, Nadella also announced that Microsoft would, for the first time, be opening two UK datacenters next year. The company's also expanding its existing operations in Ireland and the Netherlands. Officially, none of this has anything to do with the long-drawn-out squabbling over the transatlantic Safe Harbor agreement, which the EU's highest court struck down last month, calling the agreement "invalid" because it didn't protect data from US surveillance. No, Nadella said, the new datacenters and expansions are all about giving local businesses and organizations "transformative technology they need to seize new global growth." But as Diginomica reports, Microsoft EVP of Cloud and Enterprise Scott Guthrie followed up his boss’s comments by saying that yes, the driver behind the new datacenters is to let customers keep data close: We can guarantee customers that their data will always stay in the UK. Being able to very concretely tell that story is something that I think will accelerate cloud adoption further in the UK.
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  • Microsoft and T-Systems' lawyers may well think that storing customer data in a German trustee data center will protect it from the reach of US law, but for all we know, that could be wishful thinking. Forrester cloud computing analyst Paul Miller: To be sure, we must wait for the first legal challenge. And the appeal. And the counter-appeal. As with all new legal approaches, we don’t know it is watertight until it is challenged in court. Microsoft and T-Systems’ lawyers are very good and say it's watertight. But we can be sure opposition lawyers will look for all the holes. By keeping data offshore - particularly in Germany, which has strong data privacy laws - Microsoft could avoid the situation it's now facing with the US demanding access to customer emails stored on a Microsoft server in Dublin. The US has argued that Microsoft, as a US company, comes under US jurisdiction, regardless of where it keeps its data.
  • Running away to Germany isn't a groundbreaking move; other US cloud services providers have already pledged expansion of their EU presences, including Amazon's plan to open a UK datacenter in late 2016 that will offer what CTO Werner Vogels calls "strong data sovereignty to local users." Other big data operators that have followed suit: Salesforce, which has already opened datacenters in the UK and Germany and plans to open one in France next year, as well as new EU operations pledged for the new year by NetSuite and Box. Can Germany keep the US out of its datacenters? Can Ireland? Time, and court cases, will tell.
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    The European Community's Court of Justice decision in the Safe Harbor case --- and Edward Snowden --- are now officially downgrading the U.S. as a cloud data center location. NSA is good business for Europeans looking to displace American cloud service providers, as evidenced by Microsoft's decision. The legal test is whether Microsoft has "possession, custody, or control" of the data. From the info given in the article, it seems that Microsoft has done its best to dodge that bullet by moving data centers to Germany and placing their data under the control of a European company. Do ownership of the hardware and profits from their rent mean that Microsoft still has "possession, custody, or control" of the data? The fine print of the agreement with Deutsche Telekom and the customer EULAs will get a thorough going over by the Dept. of Justice for evidence of Microsoft "control" of the data. That will be the crucial legal issue. The data centers in Germany may pass the test. But the notion that data centers in the UK can offer privacy is laughable; the UK's legal authority for GCHQ makes it even easier to get the data than the NSA can in the U.S.  It doesn't even require a court order. 
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Tor Director Accuses FBI of Spending $1 Million to Attack Tor Users - 1 views

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    "Short Bytes: In a blog post, Tor Director has outlined the unethical ways that were employed by FBI to unmask Tor users. He added that the invasion of people's privacy on a wholesale level is unacceptable by crossing the ethical lines between research and targeting innocent users."
Paul Merrell

Even the Former Director of the NSA Hates the FBI's New Surveillance Push - The Daily B... - 0 views

  • The head of the FBI has spent the last several months in something of a panic, warning anyone who will listen that terrorists are “going dark”—using encrypted communications to hide from the FBI—and insisting that the bureau needs some kind of electronic back door to get access to those chats.It’s an argument that civil libertarians and technology industry executives have largely rejected. And now, members of the national security establishment—veterans of both the Obama and Bush administrations—are beginning to speak out publicly against FBI Director Jim Comey’s call to give the government a skeleton key to your private talks.
  • The encryption issue was also one of several small, but telling, ways in which Comey seemed out of sync with some of his fellow members of the national security establishment here at the Aspen Security Forum.
  • This isn’t the first intra-government fight over encryption, Chertoff noted. The last time an administration insisted on a technological back door—in the 1990s—Congress shot down the idea. And despite cries of “going dark” back then, the government found all kinds of new ways to spy. “We collected more than ever. We found ways to deal with that issue,” Chertoff told the forum.
Paul Merrell

FBI Now Holding Up Michael Horowitz' Investigation into the DEA | emptywheel - 0 views

  • Man, at some point Congress is going to have to declare the FBI legally contemptuous and throw them in jail. They continue to refuse to cooperate with DOJ’s Inspector General, as they have been for basically 5 years. But in Michael Horowitz’ latest complaint to Congress, he adds a new spin: FBI is not only obstructing his investigation of the FBI’s management impaired surveillance, now FBI is obstructing his investigation of DEA’s management impaired surveillance. I first reported on DOJ IG’s investigation into DEA’s dragnet databases last April. At that point, the only dragnet we knew about was Hemisphere, which DEA uses to obtain years of phone records as well as location data and other details, before it them parallel constructs that data out of a defendant’s reach.
  • But since then, we’ve learned of what the government claims to be another database — that used to identify Shantia Hassanshahi in an Iranian sanctions case. After some delay, the government revealed that this was another dragnet, including just international calls. It claims that this database was suspended in September 2013 (around the time Hemisphere became public) and that it is no longer obtaining bulk records for it. According to the latest installment of Michael Horowitz’ complaints about FBI obstruction, he tried to obtain records on the DEA databases on November 20, 2014 (of note, during the period when the government was still refusing to tell even Judge Rudolph Contreras what the database implicating Hassanshahi was). FBI slow-walked production, but promised to provide everything to Horowitz by February 13, 2015. FBI has decided it has to keep reviewing the emails in question to see if there is grand jury, Title III electronic surveillance, and Fair Credit Reporting Act materials, which are the same categories of stuff FBI has refused in the past. So Horowitz is pointing to the language tied to DOJ’s appropriations for FY 2015 which (basically) defunded FBI obstruction. Only FBI continues to obstruct.
  • There’s one more question about this. As noted, this investigation is supposed to be about DEA’s databases. We’ve already seen that FBI uses Hemisphere (when I asked FBI for comment in advance of this February 4, 2014 article on FBI obstinance, Hemisphere was the one thing they refused all comment on). And obviously, FBI access another DEA database to go after Hassanshahi. So that may be the only reason why Horowitz needs the FBI’s cooperation to investigate the DEA’s dragnets. Plus, assuming FBI is parallel constructing these dragnets just like DEA is, I can understand why they’d want to withhold grand jury information, which would make that clear. Still, I can’t help but wonder — as I have in the past — whether these dragnets are all connected, a constantly moving shell game. That might explain why FBI is so intent on obstructing Horowitz again.
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    Marcy Wheeler's specuiulation that various government databases simply move to another agency when they're brought to light is not without precedent. When Congress shut down DARPA's Total Information Awareness program, most of its software programs and databases were just moved to NSA. 
Paul Merrell

FBI Flouts Obama Directive to Limit Gag Orders on National Security Letters - The Inter... - 0 views

  • Despite the post-Snowden spotlight on mass surveillance, the intelligence community’s easiest end-run around the Fourth Amendment since 2001 has been something called a National Security Letter. FBI agents can demand that an Internet service provider, telephone company or financial institution turn over its records on any number of people — without any judicial review whatsoever — simply by writing a letter that says the information is needed for national security purposes. The FBI at one point was cranking out over 50,000 such letters a year; by the latest count, it still issues about 60 a day. The letters look like this:
  • Recipients are legally required to comply — but it doesn’t stop there. They also aren’t allowed to mention the order to anyone, least of all the person whose data is being searched. Ever. That’s because National Security Letters almost always come with eternal gag orders. Here’s that part:
  • That means the NSL process utterly disregards the First Amendment as well. More than a year ago, President Obama announced that he was ordering the Justice Department to terminate gag orders “within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy.” And on Feb. 3, when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced a handful of baby steps resulting from its “comprehensive effort to examine and enhance [its] privacy and civil liberty protections” one of the most concrete was — finally — to cap the gag orders: In response to the President’s new direction, the FBI will now presumptively terminate National Security Letter nondisclosure orders at the earlier of three years after the opening of a fully predicated investigation or the investigation’s close. Continued nondisclosures orders beyond this period are permitted only if a Special Agent in Charge or a Deputy Assistant Director determines that the statutory standards for nondisclosure continue to be satisfied and that the case agent has justified, in writing, why continued nondisclosure is appropriate.
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  • Despite the use of the word “now” in that first sentence, however, the FBI has yet to do any such thing. It has not announced any such change, nor explained how it will implement it, or when. Media inquiries were greeted with stalling and, finally, a no comment — ostensibly on advice of legal counsel. “There is pending litigation that deals with a lot of the same questions you’re asking, out of the Ninth Circuit,” FBI spokesman Chris Allen told me. “So for now, we’ll just have to decline to comment.” FBI lawyers are working on a court filing for that case, and “it will address” the new policy, he said. He would not say when to expect it.
  • There is indeed a significant case currently before the federal appeals court in San Francisco. Oral arguments were in October. A decision could come any time. But in that case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is representing two unnamed communications companies that received NSLs, is calling for the entire NSL statute to be thrown out as unconstitutional — not for a tweak to the gag. And it has a March 2013 district court ruling in its favor. “The gag is a prior restraint under the First Amendment, and prior restraints have to meet an extremely high burden,” said Andrew Crocker, a legal fellow at EFF. That means going to court and meeting the burden of proof — not just signing a letter. Or as the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez put it, “To have such a low bar for denying persons or companies the right to speak about government orders they have been served with is anathema. And it is not very good for accountability.”
  • In a separate case, a wide range of media companies (including First Look Media, the non-profit digital media venture that produces The Intercept) are supporting a lawsuit filed by Twitter, demanding the right to say specifically how many NSLs it has received. But simply releasing companies from a gag doesn’t assure the kind of accountability that privacy advocates are saying is required by the Constitution. “What the public has to remember is a NSL is asking for your information, but it’s not asking it from you,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice. “The vast majority of these things go to the very large telecommunications and financial companies who have a large stake in maintaining a good relationship with the government because they’re heavily regulated entities.”
  • So, German said, “the number of NSLs that would be exposed as a result of the release of the gag order is probably very few. The person whose records are being obtained is the one who should receive some notification.” A time limit on gags going forward also raises the question of whether past gag orders will now be withdrawn. “Obviously there are at this point literally hundreds of thousands of National Security Letters that are more than three years old,” said Sanchez. Individual review is therefore unlikely, but there ought to be some recourse, he said. And the further back you go, “it becomes increasingly implausible that a significant percentage of those are going to entail some dire national security risk.” The NSL program has a troubled history. The absolute secrecy of the program and resulting lack of accountability led to systemic abuse as documented by repeated inspector-general investigations, including improperly authorized NSLs, factual misstatements in the NSLs, improper requests under NSL statutes, requests for information based on First Amendment protected activity, “after-the-fact” blanket NSLs to “cover” illegal requests, and hundreds of NSLs for “community of interest” or “calling circle” information without any determination that the telephone numbers were relevant to authorized national security investigations.
  • Obama’s own hand-selected “Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies” recommended in December 2013 that NSLs should only be issued after judicial review — just like warrants — and that any gag should end within 180 days barring judicial re-approval. But FBI director James Comey objected to the idea, calling NSLs “a very important tool that is essential to the work we do.” His argument evidently prevailed with Obama.
  • NSLs have managed to stay largely under the American public’s radar. But, Crocker says, “pretty much every time I bring it up and give the thumbnail, people are shocked. Then you go into how many are issued every year, and they go crazy.” Want to send me your old NSL and see if we can set a new precedent? Here’s how to reach me. And here’s how to leak to me.
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