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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

EFF Pries More Information on Zero Days from the Government's Grasp | Electronic Fronti... - 0 views

  • Until just last week, the U.S. government kept up the charade that its use of a stockpile of security vulnerabilities for hacking was a closely held secret.1 In fact, in response to EFF’s FOIA suit to get access to the official U.S. policy on zero days, the government redacted every single reference to “offensive” use of vulnerabilities. To add insult to injury, the government’s claim was that even admitting to offensive use would cause damage to national security. Now, in the face of EFF’s brief marshaling overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the charade is over. In response to EFF’s motion for summary judgment, the government has disclosed a new version of the Vulnerabilities Equities Process, minus many of the worst redactions. First and foremost, it now admits that the “discovery of vulnerabilities in commercial information technology may present competing ‘equities’ for the [government’s] offensive and defensive mission.” That might seem painfully obvious—a flaw or backdoor in a Juniper router is dangerous for anyone running a network, whether that network is in the U.S. or Iran. But the government’s failure to adequately weigh these “competing equities” was so severe that in 2013 a group of experts appointed by President Obama recommended that the policy favor disclosure “in almost all instances for widely used code.” [.pdf].
  • The newly disclosed version of the Vulnerabilities Equities Process (VEP) also officially confirms what everyone already knew: the use of zero days isn’t confined to the spies. Rather, the policy states that the “law enforcement community may want to use information pertaining to a vulnerability for similar offensive or defensive purposes but for the ultimate end of law enforcement.” Similarly it explains that “counterintelligence equities can be defensive, offensive, and/or law enforcement-related” and may “also have prosecutorial responsibilities.” Given that the government is currently prosecuting users for committing crimes over Tor hidden services, and that it identified these individuals using vulnerabilities called a “Network Investigative Technique”, this too doesn’t exactly come as a shocker. Just a few weeks ago, the government swore that even acknowledging the mere fact that it uses vulnerabilities offensively “could be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.” That’s a standard move in FOIA cases involving classified information, even though the government unnecessarily classifies documents at an astounding rate. In this case, the government relented only after nearly a year and a half of litigation by EFF. The government would be well advised to stop relying on such weak secrecy claims—it only risks undermining its own credibility.
  • The new version of the VEP also reveals significantly more information about the general process the government follows when a vulnerability is identified. In a nutshell, an agency that discovers a zero day is responsible for invoking the VEP, which then provides for centralized coordination and weighing of equities among all affected agencies. Along with a declaration from an official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, this new information provides more background on the reasons why the government decided to develop an overarching zero day policy in the first place: it “recognized that not all organizations see the entire picture of vulnerabilities, and each organization may have its own equities and concerns regarding the prioritization of patches and fixes, as well as its own distinct mission obligations.” We now know the VEP was finalized in February 2010, but the government apparently failed to implement it in any substantial way, prompting the presidential review group’s recommendation to prioritize disclosure over offensive hacking. We’re glad to have forced a little more transparency on this important issue, but the government is still foolishly holding on to a few last redactions, including refusing to name which agencies participate in the VEP. That’s just not supportable, and we’ll be in court next month to argue that the names of these agencies must be disclosed. 
Paul Merrell

The Government's Secret Plan to Shut Off Cellphones and the Internet, Explained | Conne... - 1 views

  • This month, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must make its plan to shut off the Internet and cellphone communications available to the American public. You, of course, may now be thinking: What plan?! Though President Barack Obama swiftly disapproved of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak turning off the Internet in his country (to quell widespread civil disobedience) in 2011, the US government has the authority to do the same sort of thing, under a plan that was devised during the George W. Bush administration. Many details of the government’s controversial “kill switch” authority have been classified, such as the conditions under which it can be implemented and how the switch can be used. But thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), DHS has to reveal those details by December 12 — or mount an appeal. (The smart betting is on an appeal, since DHS has fought to release this information so far.) Yet here’s what we do know about the government’s “kill switch” plan:
  • What are the constitutional problems? Civil liberties advocates argue that kill switches violate the First Amendment and pose a problem because they aren’t subject to rigorous judicial and congressional oversight. “There is no court in the loop at all, at any stage in the SOP 303 process,” according to the Center for Democracy and Technology. ”The executive branch, untethered by the checks and balances of court oversight, clear instruction from Congress, or transparency to the public, is free to act as it will and in secret.” David Jacobs of EPIC says, “Cutting off communications imposes a prior restraint on speech, so the First Amendment imposes the strictest of limitations…We don’t know how DHS thinks [the kill switch] is consistent with the First Amendment.” He adds, “Such a policy, unbounded by clear rules and oversight, just invites abuse.”
Paul Merrell

EPIC - EPIC Prevails in FOIA Case About "Internet Kill Switch" - 0 views

  • In a Freedom of Information Act case brought by EPIC against the Department of Homeland Security, a federal court has ruled that the DHS may not withhold the agency's plan to deactivate wireless communications networks in a crisis. EPIC had sought "Standard Operating Procedure 303," also known as the "internet Kill Switch," to determine whether the agency's plan could adversely impact free speech or public safety. EPIC filed the FOIA lawsuit in 2012 after the the technique was used by police in San Francisco to shut down cell service for protesters at a BART station, who had gathered peacefully to object to police practices. The federal court determined that the agency wrongly claimed that it could withhold SOP 303 as a "technique for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions." The phrase, the court explained, "refers only to acts by law enforcement after or during the prevention of a crime, not crime prevention techniques." The court repeatedly emphasized that FOIA exemptions are to be read narrowly. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (SOP 303) and EPIC: FOIA.
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    Talk about a prior restraint of speech! The link at the bottom of the quoted portion takes you to a page with the relevant court records.
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