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Paul Merrell

Obama lawyers asked secret court to ignore public court's decision on spying | US news ... - 0 views

  • The Obama administration has asked a secret surveillance court to ignore a federal court that found bulk surveillance illegal and to once again grant the National Security Agency the power to collect the phone records of millions of Americans for six months. The legal request, filed nearly four hours after Barack Obama vowed to sign a new law banning precisely the bulk collection he asks the secret court to approve, also suggests that the administration may not necessarily comply with any potential court order demanding that the collection stop.
  • But Carlin asked the Fisa court to set aside a landmark declaration by the second circuit court of appeals. Decided on 7 May, the appeals court ruled that the government had erroneously interpreted the Patriot Act’s authorization of data collection as “relevant” to an ongoing investigation to permit bulk collection. Carlin, in his filing, wrote that the Patriot Act provision remained “in effect” during the transition period. “This court may certainly consider ACLU v Clapper as part of its evaluation of the government’s application, but second circuit rulings do not constitute controlling precedent for this court,” Carlin wrote in the 2 June application. Instead, the government asked the court to rely on its own body of once-secret precedent stretching back to 2006, which Carlin called “the better interpretation of the statute”.
  • But the Fisa court must first decide whether the new bulk-surveillance request is lawful. On Friday, the conservative group FreedomWorks filed a rare motion before the Fisa court, asking it to reject the government’s surveillance request as a violation of the fourth amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Fisa court judge Michael Moseman gave the justice department until this coming Friday to respond – and explicitly barred the government from arguing that FreedomWorks lacks the standing to petition the secret court.
Paul Merrell

ACLU Demands Secret Court Hand Over Crucial Rulings On Surveillance Law - 0 views

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a motion to reveal the secret court opinions with “novel or significant interpretations” of surveillance law, in a renewed push for government transparency. The motion, filed Wednesday by the ACLU and Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, asks the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which rules on intelligence gathering activities in secret, to release 23 classified decisions it made between 9/11 and the passage of the USA Freedom Act in June 2015. As ACLU National Security Project staff attorney Patrick Toomey explains, the opinions are part of a “much larger collection of hidden rulings on all sorts of government surveillance activities that affect the privacy rights of Americans.” Among them is the court order that the government used to direct Yahoo to secretly scanits users’ emails for “a specific set of characters.” Toomey writes: These court rulings are essential for the public to understand how federal laws are being construed and implemented. They also show how constitutional protections for personal privacy and expressive activities are being enforced by the courts. In other words, access to these opinions is necessary for the public to properly oversee their government.
  • Although the USA Freedom Act requires the release of novel FISA court opinions on surveillance law, the government maintains that the rule does not apply retroactively—thereby protecting the panel from publishing many of its post-9/11 opinions, which helped create an “unprecedented buildup” of secret surveillance laws. Even after National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the scope of mass surveillance in 2013, sparking widespread outcry, dozens of rulings on spying operations remain hidden from the public eye, which stymies efforts to keep the government accountable, civil liberties advocates say. “These rulings are necessary to inform the public about the scope of the government’s surveillance powers today,” the ACLU’s motion states.
  • Toomey writes that the rulings helped influence a number of novel spying activities, including: The government’s use of malware, which it calls “Network Investigative Techniques” The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to weaken or circumvent their own encryption protocols The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to disclose their source code so that it can identify vulnerabilities The government’s use of “cybersignatures” to search through internet communications for evidence of computer intrusions The government’s use of stingray cell-phone tracking devices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) The government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans under FISA Section 702—a controversial authority scheduled to expire in December 2017 The bulk collection of financial records by the CIA and FBI under Section 215 of the Patriot Act Without these rulings being made public, “it simply isn’t possible to understand the government’s claimed authority to conduct surveillance,” Toomey writes. As he told The Intercept on Wednesday, “The people of this country can’t hold the government accountable for its surveillance activities unless they know what our laws allow. These secret court opinions define the limits of the government’s spying powers. Their disclosure is essential for meaningful public oversight in our democracy.”
Paul Merrell

The Fundamentals of US Surveillance: What Edward Snowden Never Told Us? | Global Resear... - 0 views

  • Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations rocked the world.  According to his detailed reports, the US had launched massive spying programs and was scrutinizing the communications of American citizens in a manner which could only be described as extreme and intense. The US’s reaction was swift and to the point. “”Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” President Obama said when asked about the NSA. As quoted in The Guardian,  Obama went on to say that surveillance programs were “fully overseen not just by Congress but by the Fisa court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them”. However, it appears that Snowden may have missed a pivotal part of the US surveillance program. And in stating that the “nobody” is not listening to our calls, President Obama may have been fudging quite a bit.
  • In fact, Great Britain maintains a “listening post” at NSA HQ. The laws restricting live wiretaps do not apply to foreign countries  and thus this listening post  is not subject to  US law.  In other words, the restrictions upon wiretaps, etc. do not apply to the British listening post.  So when Great Britain hands over the recordings to the NSA, technically speaking, a law is not being broken and technically speaking, the US is not eavesdropping on our each and every call. It is Great Britain which is doing the eavesdropping and turning over these records to US intelligence. According to John Loftus, formerly an attorney with  the Department of Justice and author of a number of books concerning US intelligence activities, back in the late seventies  the USDOJ issued a memorandum proposing an amendment to FISA. Loftus, who recalls seeing  the memo, stated in conversation this week that the DOJ proposed inserting the words “by the NSA” into the FISA law  so the scope of the law would only restrict surveillance by the NSA, not by the British.  Any subsequent sharing of the data culled through the listening posts was strictly outside the arena of FISA. Obama was less than forthcoming when he insisted that “What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not.”
  • According to Loftus, the NSA is indeed listening as Great Britain is turning over the surveillance records en masse to that agency. Loftus states that the arrangement is reciprocal, with the US maintaining a parallel listening post in Great Britain. In an interview this past week, Loftus told this reporter that  he believes that Snowden simply did not know about the arrangement between Britain and the US. As a contractor, said Loftus, Snowden would not have had access to this information and thus his detailed reports on the extent of US spying, including such programs as XKeyscore, which analyzes internet data based on global demographics, and PRISM, under which the telecommunications companies, such as Google, Facebook, et al, are mandated to collect our communications, missed the critical issue of the FISA loophole.
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  • U.S. government officials have defended the program by asserting it cannot be used on domestic targets without a warrant. But once again, the FISA courts and their super-secret warrants  do not apply to foreign government surveillance of US citizens. So all this sturm and drang about whether or not the US is eavesdropping on our communications is, in fact, irrelevant and diversionary.
  • In fact, the USA Freedom Act reinstituted a number of the surveillance protocols of Section 215, including  authorization for  roving wiretaps  and tracking “lone wolf terrorists.”  While mainstream media heralded the passage of the bill as restoring privacy rights which were shredded under 215, privacy advocates have maintained that the bill will do little, if anything, to reverse the  surveillance situation in the US. The NSA went on the record as supporting the Freedom Act, stating it would end bulk collection of telephone metadata. However, in light of the reciprocal agreement between the US and Great Britain, the entire hoopla over NSA surveillance, Section 215, FISA courts and the USA Freedom Act could be seen as a giant smokescreen. If Great Britain is collecting our real time phone conversations and turning them over to the NSA, outside the realm or reach of the above stated laws, then all this posturing over the privacy rights of US citizens and surveillance laws expiring and being resurrected doesn’t amount to a hill of CDs.
Paul Merrell

European Human Rights Court Deals a Heavy Blow to the Lawfulness of Bulk Surveillance |... - 0 views

  • In a seminal decision updating and consolidating its previous jurisprudence on surveillance, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights took a sideways swing at mass surveillance programs last week, reiterating the centrality of “reasonable suspicion” to the authorization process and the need to ensure interception warrants are targeted to an individual or premises. The decision in Zakharov v. Russia — coming on the heels of the European Court of Justice’s strongly-worded condemnation in Schrems of interception systems that provide States with “generalised access” to the content of communications — is another blow to governments across Europe and the United States that continue to argue for the legitimacy and lawfulness of bulk collection programs. It also provoked the ire of the Russian government, prompting an immediate legislative move to give the Russian constitution precedence over Strasbourg judgments. The Grand Chamber’s judgment in Zakharov is especially notable because its subject matter — the Russian SORM system of interception, which includes the installation of equipment on telecommunications networks that subsequently enables the State direct access to the communications transiting through those networks — is similar in many ways to the interception systems currently enjoying public and judicial scrutiny in the United States, France, and the United Kingdom. Zakharov also provides a timely opportunity to compare the differences between UK and Russian law: Namely, Russian law requires prior independent authorization of interception measures, whereas neither the proposed UK law nor the existing legislative framework do.
  • The decision is lengthy and comprises a useful restatement and harmonization of the Court’s approach to standing (which it calls “victim status”) in surveillance cases, which is markedly different from that taken by the US Supreme Court. (Indeed, Judge Dedov’s separate but concurring opinion notes the contrast with Clapper v. Amnesty International.) It also addresses at length issues of supervision and oversight, as well as the role played by notification in ensuring the effectiveness of remedies. (Marko Milanovic discusses many of these issues here.) For the purpose of the ongoing debate around the legitimacy of bulk surveillance regimes under international human rights law, however, three particular conclusions of the Court are critical.
  • The Court took issue with legislation permitting the interception of communications for broad national, military, or economic security purposes (as well as for “ecological security” in the Russian case), absent any indication of the particular circumstances under which an individual’s communications may be intercepted. It said that such broadly worded statutes confer an “almost unlimited degree of discretion in determining which events or acts constitute such a threat and whether that threat is serious enough to justify secret surveillance” (para. 248). Such discretion cannot be unbounded. It can be limited through the requirement for prior judicial authorization of interception measures (para. 249). Non-judicial authorities may also be competent to authorize interception, provided they are sufficiently independent from the executive (para. 258). What is important, the Court said, is that the entity authorizing interception must be “capable of verifying the existence of a reasonable suspicion against the person concerned, in particular, whether there are factual indications for suspecting that person of planning, committing or having committed criminal acts or other acts that may give rise to secret surveillance measures, such as, for example, acts endangering national security” (para. 260). This finding clearly constitutes a significant threshold which a number of existing and pending European surveillance laws would not meet. For example, the existence of individualized reasonable suspicion runs contrary to the premise of signals intelligence programs where communications are intercepted in bulk; by definition, those programs collect information without any consideration of individualized suspicion. Yet the Court was clearly articulating the principle with national security-driven surveillance in mind, and with the knowledge that interception of communications in Russia is conducted by Russian intelligence on behalf of law enforcement agencies.
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  • This element of the Grand Chamber’s decision distinguishes it from prior jurisprudence of the Court, namely the decisions of the Third Section in Weber and Saravia v. Germany (2006) and of the Fourth Section in Liberty and Ors v. United Kingdom (2008). In both cases, the Court considered legislative frameworks which enable bulk interception of communications. (In the German case, the Court used the term “strategic monitoring,” while it referred to “more general programmes of surveillance” in Liberty.) In the latter case, the Fourth Section sought to depart from earlier European Commission of Human Rights — the court of first instance until 1998 — decisions which developed the requirements of the law in the context of surveillance measures targeted at specific individuals or addresses. It took note of the Weber decision which “was itself concerned with generalized ‘strategic monitoring’, rather than the monitoring of individuals” and concluded that there was no “ground to apply different principles concerning the accessibility and clarity of the rules governing the interception of individual communications, on the one hand, and more general programmes of surveillance, on the other” (para. 63). The Court in Liberty made no mention of any need for any prior or reasonable suspicion at all.
  • In Weber, reasonable suspicion was addressed only at the post-interception stage; that is, under the German system, bulk intercepted data could be transmitted from the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) to law enforcement authorities without any prior suspicion. The Court found that the transmission of personal data without any specific prior suspicion, “in order to allow the institution of criminal proceedings against those being monitored” constituted a fairly serious interference with individuals’ privacy rights that could only be remedied by safeguards and protections limiting the extent to which such data could be used (para. 125). (In the context of that case, the Court found that Germany’s protections and restrictions were sufficient.) When you compare the language from these three cases, it would appear that the Grand Chamber in Zakharov is reasserting the requirement for individualized reasonable suspicion, including in national security cases, with full knowledge of the nature of surveillance considered by the Court in its two recent bulk interception cases.
  • The requirement of reasonable suspicion is bolstered by the Grand Chamber’s subsequent finding in Zakharov that the interception authorization (e.g., the court order or warrant) “must clearly identify a specific person to be placed under surveillance or a single set of premises as the premises in respect of which the authorisation is ordered. Such identification may be made by names, addresses, telephone numbers or other relevant information” (para. 264). In making this finding, it references paragraphs from Liberty describing the broad nature of the bulk interception warrants under British law. In that case, it was this description that led the Court to find the British legislation possessed insufficient clarity on the scope or manner of exercise of the State’s discretion to intercept communications. In one sense, therefore, the Grand Chamber seems to be retroactively annotating the Fourth Section’s Liberty decision so that it might become consistent with its decision in Zakharov. Without this revision, the Court would otherwise appear to depart to some extent — arguably, purposefully — from both Liberty and Weber.
  • Finally, the Grand Chamber took issue with the direct nature of the access enjoyed by Russian intelligence under the SORM system. The Court noted that this contributed to rendering oversight ineffective, despite the existence of a requirement for prior judicial authorization. Absent an obligation to demonstrate such prior authorization to the communications service provider, the likelihood that the system would be abused through “improper action by a dishonest, negligent or overly zealous official” was quite high (para. 270). Accordingly, “the requirement to show an interception authorisation to the communications service provider before obtaining access to a person’s communications is one of the important safeguards against abuse by the law-enforcement authorities” (para. 269). Again, this requirement arguably creates an unconquerable barrier for a number of modern bulk interception systems, which rely on the use of broad warrants to authorize the installation of, for example, fiber optic cable taps that facilitate the interception of all communications that cross those cables. In the United Kingdom, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation David Anderson revealed in his essential inquiry into British surveillance in 2015, there are only 20 such warrants in existence at any time. Even if these 20 warrants are served on the relevant communications service providers upon the installation of cable taps, the nature of bulk interception deprives this of any genuine meaning, making the safeguard an empty one. Once a tap is installed for the purposes of bulk interception, the provider is cut out of the equation and can no longer play the role the Court found so crucial in Zakharov.
  • The Zakharov case not only levels a serious blow at bulk, untargeted surveillance regimes, it suggests the Grand Chamber’s intention to actively craft European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence in a manner that curtails such regimes. Any suggestion that the Grand Chamber’s decision was issued in ignorance of the technical capabilities or intentions of States and the continued preference for bulk interception systems should be dispelled; the oral argument in the case took place in September 2014, at a time when the Court had already indicated its intention to accord priority to cases arising out of the Snowden revelations. Indeed, the Court referenced such forthcoming cases in the fact sheet it issued after the Zakharov judgment was released. Any remaining doubt is eradicated through an inspection of the multiple references to the Snowden revelations in the judgment itself. In the main judgment, the Court excerpted text from the Director of the European Union Agency for Human Rights discussing Snowden, and in the separate opinion issued by Judge Dedov, he goes so far as to quote Edward Snowden: “With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear. As a society, we rediscover that the value of the right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects.”
  • The full implications of the Zakharov decision remain to be seen. However, it is likely we will not have to wait long to know whether the Grand Chamber intends to see the demise of bulk collection schemes; the three UK cases (Big Brother Watch & Ors v. United Kingdom, Bureau of Investigative Journalism & Alice Ross v. United Kingdom, and 10 Human Rights Organisations v. United Kingdom) pending before the Court have been fast-tracked, indicating the Court’s willingness to continue to confront the compliance of bulk collection schemes with human rights law. It is my hope that the approach in Zakharov hints at the Court’s conviction that bulk collection schemes lie beyond the bounds of permissible State surveillance.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

EFF Victory Results in Release of Secret Court Opinion Finding NSA Surveillance Unconst... - 1 views

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    "Update: In response to EFF's FOIA lawsuit, the government has released the 2011 FISA court opinion ruling some NSA surveillance unconstitutional. For over a year, EFF has been fighting the government in federal court to force the public release of an 86-page opinion of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Issued in October 2011, the secret court's opinion found that surveillance conducted by the NSA under the FISA Amendments Act was unconstitutional and violated "the spirit of" federal law."
Paul Merrell

Tech firms and privacy groups press for curbs on NSA surveillance powers - The Washingt... - 0 views

  • The nation’s top technology firms and a coalition of privacy groups are urging Congress to place curbs on government surveillance in the face of a fast-approaching deadline for legislative action. A set of key Patriot Act surveillance authorities expire June 1, but the effective date is May 21 — the last day before Congress breaks for a Memorial Day recess. In a letter to be sent Wednesday to the Obama administration and senior lawmakers, the coalition vowed to oppose any legislation that, among other things, does not ban the “bulk collection” of Americans’ phone records and other data.
  • We know that there are some in Congress who think that they can get away with reauthorizing the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act without any reforms at all,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director of New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, a privacy group that organized the effort. “This letter draws a line in the sand that makes clear that the privacy community and the Internet industry do not intend to let that happen without a fight.” At issue is the bulk collection of Americans’ data by intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency. The NSA’s daily gathering of millions of records logging phone call times, lengths and other “metadata” stirred controversy when it was revealed in June 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The records are placed in a database that can, with a judge’s permission, be searched for links to foreign terrorists.They do not include the content of conversations.
  • That program, placed under federal surveillance court oversight in 2006, was authorized by the court in secret under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — one of the expiring provisions. The public outcry that ensued after the program was disclosed forced President Obama in January 2014 to call for an end to the NSA’s storage of the data. He also appealed to Congress to find a way to preserve the agency’s access to the data for counterterrorism information.
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  • Despite growing opposition in some quarters to ending the NSA’s program, a “clean” authorization — one that would enable its continuation without any changes — is unlikely, lawmakers from both parties say. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a leading opponent of the NSA’s program in its current format, said he would be “surprised if there are 60 votes” in the Senate for that. In the House, where there is bipartisan support for reining in surveillance, it’s a longer shot still. “It’s a toxic vote back in your district to reauthorize the Patriot Act, if you don’t get some reforms” with it, said Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). The House last fall passed the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the NSA program, but the Senate failed to advance its own version.The House and Senate judiciary committees are working to come up with new bipartisan legislation to be introduced soon.
  • The tech firms and privacy groups’ demands are a baseline, they say. Besides ending bulk collection, they want companies to have the right to be more transparent in reporting on national security requests and greater declassification of opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
  • Some legal experts have pointed to a little-noticed clause in the Patriot Act that would appear to allow bulk collection to continue even if the authority is not renewed. Administration officials have conceded privately that a legal case probably could be made for that, but politically it would be a tough sell. On Tuesday, a White House spokesman indicated the administration would not seek to exploit that clause. “If Section 215 sunsets, we will not continue the bulk telephony metadata program,” National Security Council spokesman Edward Price said in a statement first reported by Reuters. Price added that allowing Section 215 to expire would result in the loss of a “critical national security tool” used in investigations that do not involve the bulk collection of data. “That is why we have underscored the imperative of Congressional action in the coming weeks, and we welcome the opportunity to work with lawmakers on such legislation,” he said.
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    I omitted some stuff about opposition to sunsetting the provisions. They  seem to forget, as does Obama, that the proponents of the FISA Court's expansive reading of section 215 have not yet come up with a single instance where 215-derived data caught a single terrorist or prevented a single act of terrorism. Which means that if that data is of some use, it ain't in fighting terrorism, the purpose of the section.  Patriot Act § 215 is codified as 50 USCS § 1861, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/50/1861 That section authorizes the FBI to obtain an iorder from the FISA Court "requiring the production of *any tangible things* (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)."  Specific examples (a non-exclusive list) include: the production of library circulation records, library patron lists, book sales records, book customer lists, firearms sales records, tax return records, educational records, or medical records containing information that would identify a person." The Court can order that the recipient of the order tell no one of its receipt of the order or its response to it.   In other words, this is about way more than your telephone metadata. Do you trust the NSA with your medical records? 
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Big Metadata: Repeat after Big Brother: metadata is harmless - 1 views

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    "American Thinker ^ | 06/13/2013 | Tom Bruner Posted on Thu 13 Jun 2013 03:53:26 PM CEST by SeekAndFind The National Security Agency (NSA) is obtaining a complete set of users' phone records from Verizon by means of a secret court order under the auspices of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), so reports the UK Guardian. We are assured by President Obama that no one is actually listening to the calls. This is being overseen by the FISA court, you see. That would be the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court overseeing a program to gather data about domestic phone calls. But the kind of data being collected by the government is just metadata, and so nothing to worry about. So says Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)."
Paul Merrell

Rand Paul Is Right: NSA Routinely Monitors Americans' Communications Without Warrants - 0 views

  • On Sunday’s Face the Nation, Sen. Rand Paul was asked about President Trump’s accusation that President Obama ordered the NSA to wiretap his calls. The Kentucky senator expressed skepticism about the mechanics of Trump’s specific charge, saying: “I doubt that Trump was a target directly of any kind of eavesdropping.” But he then made a broader and more crucial point about how the U.S. government spies on Americans’ communications — a point that is deliberately obscured and concealed by U.S. government defenders. Paul explained how the NSA routinely and deliberately spies on Americans’ communications — listens to their calls and reads their emails — without a judicial warrant of any kind: The way it works is, the FISA court, through Section 702, wiretaps foreigners and then [NSA] listens to Americans. It is a backdoor search of Americans. And because they have so much data, they can tap — type Donald Trump into their vast resources of people they are tapping overseas, and they get all of his phone calls. And so they did this to President Obama. They — 1,227 times eavesdrops on President Obama’s phone calls. Then they mask him. But here is the problem. And General Hayden said this the other day. He said even low-level employees can unmask the caller. That is probably what happened to Flynn. They are not targeting Americans. They are targeting foreigners. But they are doing it purposefully to get to Americans.
  • Paul’s explanation is absolutely correct. That the NSA is empowered to spy on Americans’ communications without a warrant — in direct contravention of the core Fourth Amendment guarantee that “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause” — is the dirty little secret of the U.S. Surveillance State. As I documented at the height of the controversy over the Snowden reporting, top government officials — including President Obama — constantly deceived (and still deceive) the public by falsely telling them that their communications cannot be monitored without a warrant. Responding to the furor created over the first set of Snowden reports about domestic spying, Obama sought to reassure Americans by telling Charlie Rose: “What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls … by law and by rule, and unless they … go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause.” The right-wing chairman of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, GOP Rep. Mike Rogers, echoed Obama, telling CNN the NSA “is not listening to Americans’ phone calls. If it did, it is illegal. It is breaking the law.” Those statements are categorically false. A key purpose of the new 2008 FISA law — which then-Senator Obama voted for during the 2008 general election after breaking his primary-race promise to filibuster it — was to legalize the once-controversial Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program, which the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing in 2005. The crux of the Bush/Cheney controversy was that they ordered NSA to listen to Americans’ international telephone calls without warrants — which was illegal at the time — and the 2008 law purported to make that type of domestic warrantless spying legal.
Paul Merrell

The Latest Rules on How Long NSA Can Keep Americans' Encrypted Data Look Too Familiar |... - 0 views

  • Does the National Security Agency (NSA) have the authority to collect and keep all encrypted Internet traffic for as long as is necessary to decrypt that traffic? That was a question first raised in June 2013, after the minimization procedures governing telephone and Internet records collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were disclosed by Edward Snowden. The issue quickly receded into the background, however, as the world struggled to keep up with the deluge of surveillance disclosures. The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2015, which passed Congress this last December, should bring the question back to the fore. It established retention guidelines for communications collected under Executive Order 12333 and included an exception that allows NSA to keep ‘incidentally’ collected encrypted communications for an indefinite period of time. This creates a massive loophole in the guidelines. NSA’s retention of encrypted communications deserves further consideration today, now that these retention guidelines have been written into law. It has become increasingly clear over the last year that surveillance reform will be driven by technological change—specifically by the growing use of encryption technologies. Therefore, any legislation touching on encryption should receive close scrutiny.
  • Section 309 of the intel authorization bill describes “procedures for the retention of incidentally acquired communications.” It establishes retention guidelines for surveillance programs that are “reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of [telephone or electronic communications] to or from a United States person.” Communications to or from a United States person are ‘incidentally’ collected because the U.S. person is not the actual target of the collection. Section 309 states that these incidentally collected communications must be deleted after five years unless they meet a number of exceptions. One of these exceptions is that “the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning.” This exception appears to be directly lifted from NSA’s minimization procedures for data collected under Section 702 of FISA, which were declassified in 2013. 
  • While Section 309 specifically applies to collection taking place under E.O. 12333, not FISA, several of the exceptions described in Section 309 closely match exceptions in the FISA minimization procedures. That includes the exception for “enciphered” communications. Those minimization procedures almost certainly served as a model for these retention guidelines and will likely shape how this new language is interpreted by the Executive Branch. Section 309 also asks the heads of each relevant member of the intelligence community to develop procedures to ensure compliance with new retention requirements. I expect those procedures to look a lot like the FISA minimization guidelines.
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  • This language is broad, circular, and technically incoherent, so it takes some effort to parse appropriately. When the minimization procedures were disclosed in 2013, this language was interpreted by outside commentators to mean that NSA may keep all encrypted data that has been incidentally collected under Section 702 for at least as long as is necessary to decrypt that data. Is this the correct interpretation? I think so. It is important to realize that the language above isn’t just broad. It seems purposefully broad. The part regarding relevance seems to mirror the rationale NSA has used to justify its bulk phone records collection program. Under that program, all phone records were relevant because some of those records could be valuable to terrorism investigations and (allegedly) it isn’t possible to collect only those valuable records. This is the “to find a needle a haystack, you first have to have the haystack” argument. The same argument could be applied to encrypted data and might be at play here.
  • This exception doesn’t just apply to encrypted data that might be relevant to a current foreign intelligence investigation. It also applies to cases in which the encrypted data is likely to become relevant to a future intelligence requirement. This is some remarkably generous language. It seems one could justify keeping any type of encrypted data under this exception. Upon close reading, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these procedures were written carefully to allow NSA to collect and keep a broad category of encrypted data under the rationale that this data might contain the communications of NSA targets and that it might be decrypted in the future. If NSA isn’t doing this today, then whoever wrote these minimization procedures wanted to at least ensure that NSA has the authority to do this tomorrow.
  • There are a few additional observations that are worth making regarding these nominally new retention guidelines and Section 702 collection. First, the concept of incidental collection as it has typically been used makes very little sense when applied to encrypted data. The way that NSA’s Section 702 upstream “about” collection is understood to work is that technology installed on the network does some sort of pattern match on Internet traffic; say that an NSA target uses example@gmail.com to communicate. NSA would then search content of emails for references to example@gmail.com. This could notionally result in a lot of incidental collection of U.S. persons’ communications whenever the email that references example@gmail.com is somehow mixed together with emails that have nothing to do with the target. This type of incidental collection isn’t possible when the data is encrypted because it won’t be possible to search and find example@gmail.com in the body of an email. Instead, example@gmail.com will have been turned into some alternative, indecipherable string of bits on the network. Incidental collection shouldn’t occur because the pattern match can’t occur in the first place. This demonstrates that, when communications are encrypted, it will be much harder for NSA to search Internet traffic for a unique ID associated with a specific target.
  • This lends further credence to the conclusion above: rather than doing targeted collection against specific individuals, NSA is collecting, or plans to collect, a broad class of data that is encrypted. For example, NSA might collect all PGP encrypted emails or all Tor traffic. In those cases, NSA could search Internet traffic for patterns associated with specific types of communications, rather than specific individuals’ communications. This would technically meet the definition of incidental collection because such activity would result in the collection of communications of U.S. persons who aren’t the actual targets of surveillance. Collection of all Tor traffic would entail a lot of this “incidental” collection because the communications of NSA targets would be mixed with the communications of a large number of non-target U.S. persons. However, this “incidental” collection is inconsistent with how the term is typically used, which is to refer to over-collection resulting from targeted surveillance programs. If NSA were collecting all Tor traffic, that activity wouldn’t actually be targeted, and so any resulting over-collection wouldn’t actually be incidental. Moreover, greater use of encryption by the general public would result in an ever-growing amount of this type of incidental collection.
  • This type of collection would also be inconsistent with representations of Section 702 upstream collection that have been made to the public and to Congress. Intelligence officials have repeatedly suggested that search terms used as part of this program have a high degree of specificity. They have also argued that the program is an example of targeted rather than bulk collection. ODNI General Counsel Robert Litt, in a March 2014 meeting before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, stated that “there is either a misconception or a mischaracterization commonly repeated that Section 702 is a form of bulk collection. It is not bulk collection. It is targeted collection based on selectors such as telephone numbers or email addresses where there’s reason to believe that the selector is relevant to a foreign intelligence purpose.” The collection of Internet traffic based on patterns associated with types of communications would be bulk collection; more akin to NSA’s collection of phone records en mass than it is to targeted collection focused on specific individuals. Moreover, this type of collection would certainly fall within the definition of bulk collection provided just last week by the National Academy of Sciences: “collection in which a significant portion of the retained data pertains to identifiers that are not targets at the time of collection.”
  • The Section 702 minimization procedures, which will serve as a template for any new retention guidelines established for E.O. 12333 collection, create a large loophole for encrypted communications. With everything from email to Internet browsing to real-time communications moving to encrypted formats, an ever-growing amount of Internet traffic will fall within this loophole.
  •  
    Tucked into a budget authorization act in December without press notice. Section 309 (the Act is linked from the article) appears to be very broad authority for the NSA to intercept any form of telephone or other electronic information in bulk. There are far more exceptions from the five-year retention limitation than the encrypted information exception. When reading this, keep in mind that the U.S. intelligence community plays semantic games to obfuscate what it does. One of its word plays is that communications are not "collected" until an analyst looks at or listens to partiuclar data, even though the data will be searched to find information countless times before it becomes "collected." That searching was the major basis for a decision by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. that bulk collection of telephone communications was unconstitutional: Under the Fourth Amendment, a "search" or "seizure" requiring a judicial warrant occurs no later than when the information is intercepted. That case is on appeal, has been briefed and argued, and a decision could come any time now. Similar cases are pending in two other courts of appeals. Also, an important definition from the new Intelligence Authorization Act: "(a) DEFINITIONS.-In this section: (1) COVERED COMMUNICATION.-The term ''covered communication'' means any nonpublic telephone or electronic communication acquired without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication, including communications in electronic storage."       
Paul Merrell

Court gave NSA broad leeway in surveillance, documents show - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • Virtually no foreign government is off-limits for the National Security Agency, which has been authorized to intercept information “concerning” all but four countries, according to top-secret documents. The United States has long had broad no-spying arrangements with those four countries — Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — in a group known collectively with the United States as the Five Eyes. But a classified 2010 legal certification and other documents indicate the NSA has been given a far more elastic authority than previously known, one that allows it to intercept through U.S. companies not just the communications of its overseas targets but any communications about its targets as well.
  • The certification — approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and included among a set of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — lists 193 countries that would be of valid interest for U.S. intelligence. The certification also permitted the agency to gather intelligence about entities including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The NSA is not necessarily targeting all the countries or organizations identified in the certification, the affidavits and an accompanying exhibit; it has only been given authority to do so. Still, the privacy implications are far-reaching, civil liberties advocates say, because of the wide spectrum of people who might be engaged in communication about foreign governments and entities and whose communications might be of interest to the United States.
  • That language could allow for surveillance of academics, journalists and human rights researchers. A Swiss academic who has information on the German government’s position in the run-up to an international trade negotiation, for instance, could be targeted if the government has determined there is a foreign-intelligence need for that information. If a U.S. college professor e-mails the Swiss professor’s e-mail address or phone number to a colleague, the American’s e-mail could be collected as well, under the program’s court-approved rules
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  • On Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a transparency report stating that in 2013 the government targeted nearly 90,000 foreign individuals or organizations for foreign surveillance under the program. Some tech-industry lawyers say the number is relatively low, considering that several billion people use U.S. e-mail services.
  • Still, some lawmakers are concerned that the potential for intrusions on Americans’ privacy has grown under the 2008 law because the government is intercepting not just communications of its targets but communications about its targets as well. The expansiveness of the foreign-powers certification increases that concern.
  • In a 2011 FISA court opinion, a judge using an NSA-provided sample estimated that the agency could be collecting as many as 46,000 wholly domestic e-mails a year that mentioned a particular target’s e-mail address or phone number, in what is referred to as “about” collection. “When Congress passed Section 702 back in 2008, most members of Congress had no idea that the government was collecting Americans’ communications simply because they contained a particular individual’s contact information,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has co-sponsored ­legislation to narrow “about” collection authority, said in an e-mail to The Washington Post. “If ‘about the target’ collection were limited to genuine national security threats, there would be very little privacy impact. In fact, this collection is much broader than that, and it is scooping up huge amounts of Americans’ wholly domestic communications.”
  • The only reason the court has oversight of the NSA program is that Congress in 2008 gave the government a new authority to gather intelligence from U.S. companies that own the Internet cables running through the United States, former officials noted. Edgar, the former privacy officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said ultimately he believes the authority should be narrowed. “There are valid privacy concerns with leaving these collection decisions entirely in the executive branch,” he said. “There shouldn’t be broad collection, using this authority, of foreign government information without any meaningful judicial role that defines the limits of what can be collected.”
Paul Merrell

In Hearing on Internet Surveillance, Nobody Knows How Many Americans Impacted in Data C... - 0 views

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee held an open hearing today on the FISA Amendments Act, the law that ostensibly authorizes the digital surveillance of hundreds of millions of people both in the United States and around the world. Section 702 of the law, scheduled to expire next year, is designed to allow U.S. intelligence services to collect signals intelligence on foreign targets related to our national security interests. However—thanks to the leaks of many whistleblowers including Edward Snowden, the work of investigative journalists, and statements by public officials—we now know that the FISA Amendments Act has been used to sweep up data on hundreds of millions of people who have no connection to a terrorist investigation, including countless Americans. What do we mean by “countless”? As became increasingly clear in the hearing today, the exact number of Americans impacted by this surveillance is unknown. Senator Franken asked the panel of witnesses, “Is it possible for the government to provide an exact count of how many United States persons have been swept up in Section 702 surveillance? And if not the exact count, then what about an estimate?”
  • Elizabeth Goitein, the Brennan Center director whose articulate and thought-provoking testimony was the highlight of the hearing, noted that at this time an exact number would be difficult to provide. However, she asserted that an estimate should be possible for most if not all of the government’s surveillance programs. None of the other panel participants—which included David Medine and Rachel Brand of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board as well as Matthew Olsen of IronNet Cybersecurity and attorney Kenneth Wainstein—offered an estimate. Today’s hearing reaffirmed that it is not only the American people who are left in the dark about how many people or accounts are impacted by the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of the Internet. Even vital oversight committees in Congress like the Senate Judiciary Committee are left to speculate about just how far-reaching this surveillance is. It's part of the reason why we urged the House Judiciary Committee to demand that the Intelligence Community provide the public with a number. 
  • The lack of information makes rigorous oversight of the programs all but impossible. As Senator Franken put it in the hearing today, “When the public lacks even a rough sense of the scope of the government’s surveillance program, they have no way of knowing if the government is striking the right balance, whether we are safeguarding our national security without trampling on our citizens’ fundamental privacy rights. But the public can’t know if we succeed in striking that balance if they don’t even have the most basic information about our major surveillance programs."  Senator Patrick Leahy also questioned the panel about the “minimization procedures” associated with this type of surveillance, the privacy safeguard that is intended to ensure that irrelevant data and data on American citizens is swiftly deleted. Senator Leahy asked the panel: “Do you believe the current minimization procedures ensure that data about innocent Americans is deleted? Is that enough?”  David Medine, who recently announced his pending retirement from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, answered unequivocally:
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  • Senator Leahy, they don’t. The minimization procedures call for the deletion of innocent Americans’ information upon discovery to determine whether it has any foreign intelligence value. But what the board’s report found is that in fact information is never deleted. It sits in the databases for 5 years, or sometimes longer. And so the minimization doesn’t really address the privacy concerns of incidentally collected communications—again, where there’s been no warrant at all in the process… In the United States, we simply can’t read people’s emails and listen to their phone calls without court approval, and the same should be true when the government shifts its attention to Americans under this program. One of the most startling exchanges from the hearing today came toward the end of the session, when Senator Dianne Feinstein—who also sits on the Intelligence Committee—seemed taken aback by Ms. Goitein’s mention of “backdoor searches.” 
  • Feinstein: Wow, wow. What do you call it? What’s a backdoor search? Goitein: Backdoor search is when the FBI or any other agency targets a U.S. person for a search of data that was collected under Section 702, which is supposed to be targeted against foreigners overseas. Feinstein: Regardless of the minimization that was properly carried out. Goitein: Well the data is searched in its unminimized form. So the FBI gets raw data, the NSA, the CIA get raw data. And they search that raw data using U.S. person identifiers. That’s what I’m referring to as backdoor searches. It’s deeply concerning that any member of Congress, much less a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, might not be aware of the problem surrounding backdoor searches. In April 2014, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged the searches of this data, which Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall termed “the ‘back-door search’ loophole in section 702.” The public was so incensed that the House of Representatives passed an amendment to that year's defense appropriations bill effectively banning the warrantless backdoor searches. Nonetheless, in the hearing today it seemed like Senator Feinstein might not recognize or appreciate the serious implications of allowing U.S. law enforcement agencies to query the raw data collected through these Internet surveillance programs. Hopefully today’s testimony helped convince the Senator that there is more to this topic than what she’s hearing in jargon-filled classified security briefings.
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    The 4th Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and *particularly describing the place to be searched, and the* persons or *things to be seized."* So much for the particularized description of the place to be searched and the thngs to be seized.  Fah! Who needs a Constitution, anyway .... 
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

USA Freedom Act Passes: What We Celebrate, What We Mourn, and Where We Go Fro... - 0 views

  • The Senate passed the USA Freedom Act today by 67-32, marking the first time in over thirty years that both houses of Congress have approved a bill placing real restrictions and oversight on the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers. The weakening amendments to the legislation proposed by NSA defender Senate Majority Mitch McConnell were defeated, and we have every reason to believe that President Obama will sign USA Freedom into law. Technology users everywhere should celebrate, knowing that the NSA will be a little more hampered in its surveillance overreach, and both the NSA and the FISA court will be more transparent and accountable than it was before the USA Freedom Act. It’s no secret that we wanted more. In the wake of the damning evidence of surveillance abuses disclosed by Edward Snowden, Congress had an opportunity to champion comprehensive surveillance reform and undertake a thorough investigation, like it did with the Church Committee. Congress could have tried to completely end mass surveillance and taken numerous other steps to rein in the NSA and FBI. This bill was the result of compromise and strong leadership by Sens. Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee and Reps. Robert Goodlatte, Jim Sensenbrenner, and John Conyers. It’s not the bill EFF would have written, and in light of the Second Circuit's thoughtful opinion, we withdrew our support from the bill in an effort to spur Congress to strengthen some of its privacy protections and out of concern about language added to the bill at the behest of the intelligence community. Even so, we’re celebrating. We’re celebrating because, however small, this bill marks a day that some said could never happen—a day when the NSA saw its surveillance power reduced by Congress. And we’re hoping that this could be a turning point in the fight to rein in the NSA.
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    [The Senate passed the USA Freedom Act today by 67-32, marking the first time in over thirty years that both houses of Congress have approved a bill placing real restrictions and oversight on the National Security Agency's surveillance powers. The weakening amendments to the legislation proposed by NSA defender Senate Majority Mitch McConnell were defeated, and we have every reason to believe that President Obama will sign USA Freedom into law. Technology users everywhere should celebrate, knowing that the NSA will be a little more hampered in its surveillance overreach, and both the NSA and the FISA court will be more transparent and accountable than it was before the USA Freedom Act. ...]
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Senators To Obama: Hey You Can End Bulk Phone Data Collection Today; Obama: Ha, Ha, Ha,... - 0 views

  •  
    "from the well,-that-was-an-idea dept This morning, a group of Senators, Mark Udall, Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich, sent President Obama a letter reminding him that he can live up to his promise to end bulk phone record collection today by simply having the DOJ not seek to renew the court order from the FISA Court getting the phone operators to hand over that data. "
Paul Merrell

Bulk Collection Under Section 215 Has Ended… What's Next? | Just Security - 0 views

  • The first (and thus far only) roll-back of post-9/11 surveillance authorities was implemented over the weekend: The National Security Agency shuttered its program for collecting and holding the metadata of Americans’ phone calls under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. While bulk collection under Section 215 has ended, the government can obtain access to this information under the procedures specified in the USA Freedom Act. Indeed, some experts have argued that the Agency likely has access to more metadata because its earlier dragnet didn’t cover cell phones or Internet calling. In addition, the metadata of calls made by an individual in the United States to someone overseas and vice versa can still be collected in bulk — this takes place abroad under Executive Order 12333. No doubt the NSA wishes that this was the end of the surveillance reform story and the Paris attacks initially gave them an opening. John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, implied that the attacks were somehow related to “hand wringing” about spying and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill to delay the shut down of the 215 program. Opponents of encryption were quick to say: “I told you so.”
  • But the facts that have emerged thus far tell a different story. It appears that much of the planning took place IRL (that’s “in real life” for those of you who don’t have teenagers). The attackers, several of whom were on law enforcement’s radar, communicated openly over the Internet. If France ever has a 9/11 Commission-type inquiry, it could well conclude that the Paris attacks were a failure of the intelligence agencies rather than a failure of intelligence authorities. Despite the passage of the USA Freedom Act, US surveillance authorities have remained largely intact. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act — which is the basis of programs like PRISM and the NSA’s Upstream collection of information from Internet cables — sunsets in the summer of 2017. While it’s difficult to predict the political environment that far out, meaningful reform of Section 702 faces significant obstacles. Unlike the Section 215 program, which was clearly aimed at Americans, Section 702 is supposedly targeted at foreigners and only picks up information about Americans “incidentally.” The NSA has refused to provide an estimate of how many Americans’ information it collects under Section 702, despite repeated requests from lawmakers and most recently a large cohort of advocates. The Section 215 program was held illegal by two federal courts (here and here), but civil attempts to challenge Section 702 have run into standing barriers. Finally, while two review panels concluded that the Section 215 program provided little counterterrorism benefit (here and here), they found that the Section 702 program had been useful.
  • There is, nonetheless, some pressure to narrow the reach of Section 702. The recent decision by the European Court of Justice in the safe harbor case suggests that data flows between Europe and the US may be restricted unless the PRISM program is modified to protect the information of Europeans (see here, here, and here for discussion of the decision and reform options). Pressure from Internet companies whose business is suffering — estimates run to the tune of $35 to 180 billion — as a result of disclosures about NSA spying may also nudge lawmakers towards reform. One of the courts currently considering criminal cases which rely on evidence derived from Section 702 surveillance may hold the program unconstitutional either on the basis of the Fourth Amendment or Article III for the reasons set out in this Brennan Center report. A federal district court in Colorado recently rejected such a challenge, although as explained in Steve’s post, the decision did not seriously explore the issues. Further litigation in the European courts too could have an impact on the debate.
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  • The US intelligence community’s broadest surveillance authorities are enshrined in Executive Order 12333, which primarily covers the interception of electronic communications overseas. The Order authorizes the collection, retention, and dissemination of “foreign intelligence” information, which includes information “relating to the capabilities, intentions or activities of foreign powers, organizations or persons.” In other words, so long as they are operating outside the US, intelligence agencies are authorized to collect information about any foreign person — and, of course, any Americans with whom they communicate. The NSA has conceded that EO 12333 is the basis of most of its surveillance. While public information about these programs is limited, a few highlights give a sense of the breadth of EO 12333 operations: The NSA gathers information about every cell phone call made to, from, and within the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and Afghanistan, and possibly other countries. A joint US-UK program tapped into the cables connecting internal Yahoo and Google networks to gather e-mail address books and contact lists from their customers. Another US-UK collaboration collected images from video chats among Yahoo users and possibly other webcam services. The NSA collects both the content and metadata of hundreds of millions of text messages from around the world. By tapping into the cables that connect global networks, the NSA has created a database of the location of hundreds of millions of mobile phones outside the US.
  • Given its scope, EO 12333 is clearly critical to those seeking serious surveillance reform. The path to reform is, however, less clear. There is no sunset provision that requires action by Congress and creates an opportunity for exposing privacy risks. Even in the unlikely event that Congress was inclined to intervene, it would have to address questions about the extent of its constitutional authority to regulate overseas surveillance. To the best of my knowledge, there is no litigation challenging EO 12333 and the government doesn’t give notice to criminal defendants when it uses evidence derived from surveillance under the order, so the likelihood of a court ruling is slim. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is currently reviewing two programs under EO 12333, but it is anticipated that much of its report will be classified (although it has promised a less detailed unclassified version as well). While the short-term outlook for additional surveillance reform is challenging, from a longer-term perspective, the distinctions that our law makes between Americans and non-Americans and between domestic and foreign collection cannot stand indefinitely. If the Fourth Amendment is to meaningfully protect Americans’ privacy, the courts and Congress must come to grips with this reality.
Paul Merrell

U.S. Says It Spied on 89,000 Targets Last Year, But the Number Is Deceptive | Threat Le... - 0 views

  • About 89,000 foreigners or organizations were targeted for spying under a U.S. surveillance order last year, according to a new transparency report. The report was released for the first time Friday by the Office of the Director of Intelligence, upon order of the president, in the wake of surveillance leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. But the report, which covers only surveillance orders issued in 2013, doesn’t tell the whole story about how many individuals the spying targeted or how many Americans were caught in the surveillance that targeted foreigners. Civil liberties groups say the real number is likely “orders of magnitude” larger than this. “Even if it was an honest definition of ‘target’—that is, an individual instead of a group—that also is not encompassing those who are ancillary to a target and are caught up in the dragnet,” says Kurt Opsahl, deputy general counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
  • The report, remarkably, shows that the government obtained just one order last year under Section 702 of FISA—which allows for bulk collection of data on foreigners—and that this one order covered 89,138 targets. But, as the report notes, “target” can refer to “an individual person, a group, an organization composed of multiple individuals or a foreign power that possesses or is likely to communicate foreign intelligence information.” Furthermore, Section 702 orders are actually certificates issued by the FISA Court that can cover surveillance of an entire facility. And since, as the government points out in its report, the government cannot know how many people use a facility, the figure only “reflects an estimate of the number of known users of particular facilities (sometimes referred to as selectors) subject to intelligence collection under those Certifications,” the report notes.
  • “If you’re actually trying to get a sense of the number of human beings affected or the number of Americans affected, the number of people affected is vastly, vastly larger,” says Julian Sanchez, senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “And how many of those are Americans is impossible to say. But [although] you may not think you are routinely communicating with foreign persons, [this] is not any kind of assurance that your communications are not part of the traffic subject to interception.” Sanchez points out that each individual targeted is likely communicating with dozens or hundred of others, whose communications will be picked up in the surveillance. “And probably a lot of these targets are not individuals but entire web sites or companies. While [a company like the Chinese firm] Huawei might be a target, thousands of emails used by thousands of employees will be swept up.” How many of those employees might be American or communicating with Americans is unknown.
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  • Also revealed in today’s report is the number of times the government has queried the controversial phone records database it created by collecting the phone records of every subscriber from U.S. providers. According to the report, the government used 423 “selectors” to search its massive phone records database, which includes records going back to at least 2006 when the program began. A search involves querying a specific phone number or device ID that appears in the database. The government has long maintained that its collection of phone records isn’t a violation of its authority, since it only views the records of specific individuals targeted in an investigation. But such searches, even if targeted at phone numbers used by foreigners, would include calls made to and from Americans as well as calls exchanged with people two or three hops out from the targeted number.
  • In its report, the government indicated that the 423 selectors involved just 248 “known or presumed” Americans whose information was collected by the agency in the database. But Opsahl says that both of these numbers are deceptive given what we know about the database and how it’s been used. “We know it’s affecting millions of people,” he points out. But “then we have estimated numbers of affected people [that are just] in the three digits. That requires some effort [on the government's part] to find a way to do the definition of the number [in such a way] to make it as small as possible.”
  • One additional figure today’s report covers is the number of National Security Letters the government issued last year to businesses to obtain data on accountholders and users—19,212. NSLs are written demands from the FBI that compel internet service providers, credit companies, financial institutions and others to hand over confidential records about their customers, such as subscriber information, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, websites visited, and more. These letters are a powerful tool because they do not require court approval, and they come with a built-in gag order, preventing recipients from disclosing to anyone that they have received an NSL. An FBI agent looking into a possible anti-terrorism case can self-issue an NSL to a credit bureau, ISP, or phone company with only the sign-off of the Special Agent in Charge of their office. The FBI has merely to assert that the information is “relevant” to an investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.
  • The FBI has issued hundreds of thousands of NSLs over the years and has been reprimanded for abusing them. Last year a federal judge ruled that the use of NSLs is unconstitutional, due to the gag order that accompanies them, and ordered the government to stop using them. Her ruling, however, was stayed pending the government’s appeal.
  • According to the government’s report today, the 19,000 NSLs issued last year involved more than 38,000 requests for information.
Paul Merrell

UN Report Finds Mass Surveillance Violates International Treaties and Privacy Rights - ... - 0 views

  • The United Nations’ top official for counter-terrorism and human rights (known as the “Special Rapporteur”) issued a formal report to the U.N. General Assembly today that condemns mass electronic surveillance as a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions. “The hard truth is that the use of mass surveillance technology effectively does away with the right to privacy of communications on the Internet altogether,” the report concluded. Central to the Rapporteur’s findings is the distinction between “targeted surveillance” — which “depend[s] upon the existence of prior suspicion of the targeted individual or organization” — and “mass surveillance,” whereby “states with high levels of Internet penetration can [] gain access to the telephone and e-mail content of an effectively unlimited number of users and maintain an overview of Internet activity associated with particular websites.” In a system of “mass surveillance,” the report explained, “all of this is possible without any prior suspicion related to a specific individual or organization. The communications of literally every Internet user are potentially open for inspection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the States concerned.”
  • Mass surveillance thus “amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications,” it declared. As a result, “it is incompatible with existing concepts of privacy for States to collect all communications or metadata all the time indiscriminately.” In concluding that mass surveillance impinges core privacy rights, the report was primarily focused on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty enacted by the General Assembly in 1966, to which all of the members of the “Five Eyes” alliance are signatories. The U.S. ratified the treaty in 1992, albeit with various reservations that allowed for the continuation of the death penalty and which rendered its domestic law supreme. With the exception of the U.S.’s Persian Gulf allies (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar), virtually every major country has signed the treaty. Article 17 of the Covenant guarantees the right of privacy, the defining protection of which, the report explained, is “that individuals have the right to share information and ideas with one another without interference by the State, secure in the knowledge that their communication will reach and be read by the intended recipients alone.”
  • The report’s key conclusion is that this core right is impinged by mass surveillance programs: “Bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right guaranteed by article 17. In the absence of a formal derogation from States’ obligations under the Covenant, these programs pose a direct and ongoing challenge to an established norm of international law.” The report recognized that protecting citizens from terrorism attacks is a vital duty of every state, and that the right of privacy is not absolute, as it can be compromised when doing so is “necessary” to serve “compelling” purposes. It noted: “There may be a compelling counter-terrorism justification for the radical re-evaluation of Internet privacy rights that these practices necessitate. ” But the report was adamant that no such justifications have ever been demonstrated by any member state using mass surveillance: “The States engaging in mass surveillance have so far failed to provide a detailed and evidence-based public justification for its necessity, and almost no States have enacted explicit domestic legislation to authorize its use.”
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  • Instead, explained the Rapporteur, states have relied on vague claims whose validity cannot be assessed because of the secrecy behind which these programs are hidden: “The arguments in favor of a complete abrogation of the right to privacy on the Internet have not been made publicly by the States concerned or subjected to informed scrutiny and debate.” About the ongoing secrecy surrounding the programs, the report explained that “states deploying this technology retain a monopoly of information about its impact,” which is “a form of conceptual censorship … that precludes informed debate.” A June report from the High Commissioner for Human Rights similarly noted “the disturbing lack of governmental transparency associated with surveillance policies, laws and practices, which hinders any effort to assess their coherence with international human rights law and to ensure accountability.” The rejection of the “terrorism” justification for mass surveillance as devoid of evidence echoes virtually every other formal investigation into these programs. A federal judge last December found that the U.S. Government was unable to “cite a single case in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack.” Later that month, President Obama’s own Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies concluded that mass surveillance “was not essential to preventing attacks” and information used to detect plots “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”
  • Three Democratic Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote in The New York Times that “the usefulness of the bulk collection program has been greatly exaggerated” and “we have yet to see any proof that it provides real, unique value in protecting national security.” A study by the centrist New America Foundation found that mass metadata collection “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism” and, where plots were disrupted, “traditional law enforcement and investigative methods provided the tip or evidence to initiate the case.” It labeled the NSA’s claims to the contrary as “overblown and even misleading.” While worthless in counter-terrorism policies, the UN report warned that allowing mass surveillance to persist with no transparency creates “an ever present danger of ‘purpose creep,’ by which measures justified on counter-terrorism grounds are made available for use by public authorities for much less weighty public interest purposes.” Citing the UK as one example, the report warned that, already, “a wide range of public bodies have access to communications data, for a wide variety of purposes, often without judicial authorization or meaningful independent oversight.”
  • The report was most scathing in its rejection of a key argument often made by American defenders of the NSA: that mass surveillance is justified because Americans are given special protections (the requirement of a FISA court order for targeted surveillance) which non-Americans (95% of the world) do not enjoy. Not only does this scheme fail to render mass surveillance legal, but it itself constitutes a separate violation of international treaties (emphasis added): The Special Rapporteur concurs with the High Commissioner for Human Rights that where States penetrate infrastructure located outside their territorial jurisdiction, they remain bound by their obligations under the Covenant. Moreover, article 26 of the Covenant prohibits discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, nationality and citizenship. The Special Rapporteur thus considers that States are legally obliged to afford the same privacy protection for nationals and non-nationals and for those within and outside their jurisdiction. Asymmetrical privacy protection regimes are a clear violation of the requirements of the Covenant.
  • That principle — that the right of internet privacy belongs to all individuals, not just Americans — was invoked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden when he explained in a June, 2013 interview at The Guardian why he disclosed documents showing global surveillance rather than just the surveillance of Americans: “More fundamentally, the ‘US Persons’ protection in general is a distraction from the power and danger of this system. Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it’s only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%.” The U.N. Rapporteur was clear that these systematic privacy violations are the result of a union between governments and tech corporations: “States increasingly rely on the private sector to facilitate digital surveillance. This is not confined to the enactment of mandatory data retention legislation. Corporates [sic] have also been directly complicit in operationalizing bulk access technology through the design of communications infrastructure that facilitates mass surveillance. ”
  • The latest finding adds to the growing number of international formal rulings that the mass surveillance programs of the U.S. and its partners are illegal. In January, the European parliament’s civil liberties committee condemned such programs in “the strongest possible terms.” In April, the European Court of Justice ruled that European legislation on data retention contravened EU privacy rights. A top secret memo from the GCHQ, published last year by The Guardian, explicitly stated that one key reason for concealing these programs was fear of a “damaging public debate” and specifically “legal challenges against the current regime.” The report ended with a call for far greater transparency along with new protections for privacy in the digital age. Continuation of the status quo, it warned, imposes “a risk that systematic interference with the security of digital communications will continue to proliferate without any serious consideration being given to the implications of the wholesale abandonment of the right to online privacy.” The urgency of these reforms is underscored, explained the Rapporteur, by a conclusion of the United States Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that “permitting the government to routinely collect the calling records of the entire nation fundamentally shifts the balance of power between the state and its citizens.”
Paul Merrell

Shaking My Head - Medium - 0 views

  • Last month, at the request of the Department of Justice, the Courts approved changes to the obscure Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs search and seizure. By the nature of this obscure bureaucratic process, these rules become law unless Congress rejects the changes before December 1, 2016.Today I, along with my colleagues Senators Paul from Kentucky, Baldwin from Wisconsin, and Daines and Tester from Montana, am introducing the Stopping Mass Hacking (SMH) Act (bill, summary), a bill to protect millions of law-abiding Americans from a massive expansion of government hacking and surveillance. Join the conversation with #SMHact.
  • For law enforcement to conduct a remote electronic search, they generally need to plant malware in — i.e. hack — a device. These rule changes will allow the government to search millions of computers with the warrant of a single judge. To me, that’s clearly a policy change that’s outside the scope of an “administrative change,” and it is something that Congress should consider. An agency with the record of the Justice Department shouldn’t be able to wave its arms and grant itself entirely new powers.
  • These changes say that if law enforcement doesn’t know where an electronic device is located, a magistrate judge will now have the the authority to issue a warrant to remotely search the device, anywhere in the world. While it may be appropriate to address the issue of allowing a remote electronic search for a device at an unknown location, Congress needs to consider what protections must be in place to protect Americans’ digital security and privacy. This is a new and uncertain area of law, so there needs to be full and careful debate. The ACLU has a thorough discussion of the Fourth Amendment ramifications and the technological questions at issue with these kinds of searches.The second part of the change to Rule 41 would give a magistrate judge the authority to issue a single warrant that would authorize the search of an unlimited number — potentially thousands or millions — of devices, located anywhere in the world. These changes would dramatically expand the government’s hacking and surveillance authority. The American public should understand that these changes won’t just affect criminals: computer security experts and civil liberties advocates say the amendments would also dramatically expand the government’s ability to hack the electronic devices of law-abiding Americans if their devices were affected by a computer attack. Devices will be subject to search if their owners were victims of a botnet attack — so the government will be treating victims of hacking the same way they treat the perpetrators.
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  • As the Center on Democracy and Technology has noted, there are approximately 500 million computers that fall under this rule. The public doesn’t know nearly enough about how law enforcement executes these hacks, and what risks these types of searches will pose. By compromising the computer’s system, the search might leave it open to other attackers or damage the computer they are searching.Don’t take it from me that this will impact your security, read more from security researchers Steven Bellovin, Matt Blaze and Susan Landau.Finally, these changes to Rule 41 would also give some types of electronic searches different, weaker notification requirements than physical searches. Under this new Rule, they are only required to make “reasonable efforts” to notify people that their computers were searched. This raises the possibility of the FBI hacking into a cyber attack victim’s computer and not telling them about it until afterward, if at all.
Paul Merrell

Guest Post: NSA Reform - The Consequences of Failure | Just Security - 0 views

  • In the absence of real reform, people and institutions at home and abroad are taking matters into their own hands. In America, the NSA’s overreach is changing the way we communicate with and relate to each other. In order to evade government surveillance, more and more Americans are employing encryption technology.  The veritable explosion of new secure messaging apps like Surespot, OpenWhisper’s collaboration with WhatsApp, the development and deployment of open source anti-surveillance tools like Detekt, the creation of organizationally-sponsored “surveillance self-defense” guides, the push to universalize the https protocol, anti-surveillance book events featuring free encryption workshops— are manifestations of the rise of the personal encryption and pro-privacy digital resistance movement. Its political implications are clear: Americans, along with people around the world, increasingly see the United States government’s overreaching surveillance activities as a threat to be blocked.
  • The federal government’s vacuum-cleaner approach to surveillance—manifested in Title II of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and EO 12333—has backfired in these respects, and the emergence of this digital resistance movement is one result. Indeed, the existence and proliferation of social networks hold the potential to help this movement spread faster and to more of the general public than would have been possible in decades past. This is evidenced by the growing concern worldwide about governments’ ability to access reams of information about people’s lives with relative ease. As one measure, compared to a year ago, 41% of online users in North America now avoid certain Internet sites and applications, 16% change who they communicate with, and 24% censor what they say online. Those numbers, if anywhere close to accurate, are a major concern for democratic society.
  • Even if commercially available privacy technology proves capable of providing a genuine shield against warrantless or otherwise illegal surveillance by the United States government, it will remain a treatment for the symptom, not a cure for the underlying legal and constitutional malady. In April 2014, a Harris poll of US adults showed that in response to the Snowden revelations, “Almost half of respondents (47%) said that they have changed their online behavior and think more carefully about where they go, what they say, and what they do online.” Set aside for a moment that just the federal government’s collection of the data of innocent Americans is itself likely a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Harris poll is just one of numerous studies highlighting the collateral damage to American society and politics from NSA’s excesses: segments of our population are now fearful of even associating with individuals or organizations executive branch officials deem controversial or suspicious. Nearly half of Americans say they have changed their online behavior out of a fear of what the federal government might do with their personal information. The Constitution’s free association guarantee has been damaged by the Surveillance State’s very operation.
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  • The failure of the Congress and the courts to end the surveillance state, despite the repeated efforts by a huge range of political and public interest actors to effect that change through the political process, is only fueling the growing resistance movement. Federal officials understand this, which is why they are trying—desperately and in the view of some, underhandedly—to shut down this digital resistance movement. This action/reaction cycle is exactly what it appears to be: an escalating conflict between the American public and its government. Without comprehensive surveillance authority reforms (including a journalist “shield law” and ironclad whistleblower protections for Intelligence Community contractors) that are verifiable and enforceable, that conflict will only continue.
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