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Paul Merrell

Exclusive: Inside America's Plan to Kill Online Privacy Rights Everywhere | The Cable - 0 views

  • The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable. The diplomatic battle is playing out in an obscure U.N. General Assembly committee that is considering a proposal by Brazil and Germany to place constraints on unchecked internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence services. American representatives have made it clear that they won't tolerate such checks on their global surveillance network. The stakes are high, particularly in Washington -- which is seeking to contain an international backlash against NSA spying -- and in Brasilia, where Brazilian President Dilma Roussef is personally involved in monitoring the U.N. negotiations.
  • The Brazilian and German initiative seeks to apply the right to privacy, which is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to online communications. Their proposal, first revealed by The Cable, affirms a "right to privacy that is not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy, family, home, or correspondence." It notes that while public safety may "justify the gathering and protection of certain sensitive information," nations "must ensure full compliance" with international human rights laws. A final version the text is scheduled to be presented to U.N. members on Wednesday evening and the resolution is expected to be adopted next week. A draft of the resolution, which was obtained by The Cable, calls on states to "to respect and protect the right to privacy," asserting that the "same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy." It also requests the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, present the U.N. General Assembly next year with a report on the protection and promotion of the right to privacy, a provision that will ensure the issue remains on the front burner.
  • Publicly, U.S. representatives say they're open to an affirmation of privacy rights. "The United States takes very seriously our international legal obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said in an email. "We have been actively and constructively negotiating to ensure that the resolution promotes human rights and is consistent with those obligations." But privately, American diplomats are pushing hard to kill a provision of the Brazilian and German draft which states that "extraterritorial surveillance" and mass interception of communications, personal information, and metadata may constitute a violation of human rights. The United States and its allies, according to diplomats, outside observers, and documents, contend that the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to foreign espionage.
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  • n recent days, the United States circulated to its allies a confidential paper highlighting American objectives in the negotiations, "Right to Privacy in the Digital Age -- U.S. Redlines." It calls for changing the Brazilian and German text so "that references to privacy rights are referring explicitly to States' obligations under ICCPR and remove suggestion that such obligations apply extraterritorially." In other words: America wants to make sure it preserves the right to spy overseas. The U.S. paper also calls on governments to promote amendments that would weaken Brazil's and Germany's contention that some "highly intrusive" acts of online espionage may constitute a violation of freedom of expression. Instead, the United States wants to limit the focus to illegal surveillance -- which the American government claims it never, ever does. Collecting information on tens of millions of people around the world is perfectly acceptable, the Obama administration has repeatedly said. It's authorized by U.S. statute, overseen by Congress, and approved by American courts.
  • "Recall that the USG's [U.S. government's] collection activities that have been disclosed are lawful collections done in a manner protective of privacy rights," the paper states. "So a paragraph expressing concern about illegal surveillance is one with which we would agree." The privacy resolution, like most General Assembly decisions, is neither legally binding nor enforceable by any international court. But international lawyers say it is important because it creates the basis for an international consensus -- referred to as "soft law" -- that over time will make it harder and harder for the United States to argue that its mass collection of foreigners' data is lawful and in conformity with human rights norms. "They want to be able to say ‘we haven't broken the law, we're not breaking the law, and we won't break the law,'" said Dinah PoKempner, the general counsel for Human Rights Watch, who has been tracking the negotiations. The United States, she added, wants to be able to maintain that "we have the freedom to scoop up anything we want through the massive surveillance of foreigners because we have no legal obligations."
  • The United States negotiators have been pressing their case behind the scenes, raising concerns that the assertion of extraterritorial human rights could constrain America's effort to go after international terrorists. But Washington has remained relatively muted about their concerns in the U.N. negotiating sessions. According to one diplomat, "the United States has been very much in the backseat," leaving it to its allies, Australia, Britain, and Canada, to take the lead. There is no extraterritorial obligation on states "to comply with human rights," explained one diplomat who supports the U.S. position. "The obligation is on states to uphold the human rights of citizens within their territory and areas of their jurisdictions."
  • The position, according to Jamil Dakwar, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Human Rights Program, has little international backing. The International Court of Justice, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, and the European Court have all asserted that states do have an obligation to comply with human rights laws beyond their own borders, he noted. "Governments do have obligation beyond their territories," said Dakwar, particularly in situations, like the Guantanamo Bay detention center, where the United States exercises "effective control" over the lives of the detainees. Both PoKempner and Dakwar suggested that courts may also judge that the U.S. dominance of the Internet places special legal obligations on it to ensure the protection of users' human rights.
  • "It's clear that when the United States is conducting surveillance, these decisions and operations start in the United States, the servers are at NSA headquarters, and the capabilities are mainly in the United States," he said. "To argue that they have no human rights obligations overseas is dangerous because it sends a message that there is void in terms of human rights protection outside countries territory. It's going back to the idea that you can create a legal black hole where there is no applicable law." There were signs emerging on Wednesday that America may have been making ground in pressing the Brazilians and Germans to back on one of its toughest provisions. In an effort to address the concerns of the U.S. and its allies, Brazil and Germany agreed to soften the language suggesting that mass surveillance may constitute a violation of human rights. Instead, it simply deep "concern at the negative impact" that extraterritorial surveillance "may have on the exercise of and enjoyment of human rights." The U.S., however, has not yet indicated it would support the revised proposal.
  • The concession "is regrettable. But it’s not the end of the battle by any means," said Human Rights Watch’s PoKempner. She added that there will soon be another opportunity to corral America's spies: a U.N. discussion on possible human rights violations as a result of extraterritorial surveillance will soon be taken up by the U.N. High commissioner.
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    Woo-hoo! Go get'em, U.N.
Paul Merrell

US websites should inform EU citizens about NSA surveillance, says report - 0 views

  • All existing data sharing agreements between Europe and the US should be revoked, and US web site providers should prominently inform European citizens that their data may be subject to government surveillance, according to the recommendations of a briefing report for the European Parliament. The report was produced in response to revelations about the US National Security Agency (NSA) snooping on internet traffic, and aims to highlight the subsequent effect on European Union (EU) citizens' rights.
  • The report warns that EU data protection authorities have failed to understand the “structural shift of data sovereignty implied by cloud computing”, and the associated risks to the rights of EU citizens. It suggests “a full industrial policy for development of an autonomous European cloud computing capacity” should be set up to reduce exposure of EU data to NSA surveillance that is undertaken by the use of US legislation that forces US-based cloud providers to provide access to data they hold.
  • To put pressure on the US government, the report recommends that US websites should ask EU citizens for their consent before gathering data that could be used by the NSA. “Prominent notices should be displayed by every US web site offering services in the EU to inform consent to collect data from EU citizens. The users should be made aware that the data may be subject to surveillance by the US government for any purpose which furthers US foreign policy,” it said. “A consent requirement will raise EU citizen awareness and favour growth of services solely within EU jurisdiction. This will thus have economic impact on US business and increase pressure on the US government to reach a settlement.”
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  • Other recommendations include the EU offering protection and rewards for whistleblowers, including “strong guarantees of immunity and asylum”. Such a move would be seen as a direct response to the plight of Edward Snowden, the former NSA analyst who leaked documents that revealed the extent of the NSA’s global internet surveillance programmes. The report also says that, “Encryption is futile to defend against NSA accessing data processed by US clouds,” and that there is “no technical solution to the problem”. It calls for the EU to press for changes to US law.
  • “It seems that the only solution which can be trusted to resolve the Prism affair must involve changes to the law of the US, and this should be the strategic objective of the EU,” it said. The report was produced for the European Parliament committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs, and comes before the latest hearing of an inquiry into electronic mass surveillance of EU citizens, due to take place in Brussels on 24 September.
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    Yee-haw! E.U. sanctuary and rewards for NSA whistle-blowers. Mandatory warnings for customers of U.S. cloud services that their data may be turned over to the NSA. Pouring more gasoline on the NSA diplomatic fire. 
Paul Merrell

Surveillance scandal rips through hacker community | Security & Privacy - CNET News - 0 views

  • One security start-up that had an encounter with the FBI was Wickr, a privacy-forward text messaging app for the iPhone with an Android version in private beta. Wickr's co-founder Nico Sell told CNET at Defcon, "Wickr has been approached by the FBI and asked for a backdoor. We said, 'No.'" The mistrust runs deep. "Even if [the NSA] stood up tomorrow and said that [they] have eliminated these programs," said Marlinspike, "How could we believe them? How can we believe that anything they say is true?" Where does security innovation go next? The immediate future of information security innovation most likely lies in software that provides an existing service but with heightened privacy protections, such as webmail that doesn't mine you for personal data.
  • Wickr's Sell thinks that her company has hit upon a privacy innovation that a few others are also doing, but many will soon follow: the company itself doesn't store user data. "[The FBI] would have to force us to build a new app. With the current app there's no way," she said, that they could incorporate backdoor access to Wickr users' texts or metadata. "Even if you trust the NSA 100 percent that they're going to use [your data] correctly," Sell said, "Do you trust that they're going to be able to keep it safe from hackers? What if somebody gets that database and posts it online?" To that end, she said, people will start seeing privacy innovation for services that don't currently provide it. Calling it "social networks 2.0," she said that social network competitors will arise that do a better job of protecting their customer's privacy and predicted that some that succeed will do so because of their emphasis on privacy. Abine's recent MaskMe browser add-on and mobile app for creating disposable e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and credit cards is another example of a service that doesn't have access to its own users' data.
  • The issue with balancing privacy and surveillance is that the wireless carriers are not interested in privacy, he said. "They've been providing wiretapping for 100 years. Apple may in the next year protect voice calls," he said, and said that the best hope for ending widespread government surveillance will be the makers of mobile operating systems like Apple and Google. Not all upcoming security innovation will be focused on that kind of privacy protection. Security researcher Brandon Wiley showed off at Defcon a protocol he calls Dust that can obfuscate different kinds of network traffic, with the end goal of preventing censorship. "I only make products about letting you say what you want to say anywhere in the world," such as content critical of governments, he said. Encryption can hide the specifics of the traffic, but some governments have figured out that they can simply block all encrypted traffic, he said. The Dust protocol would change that, he said, making it hard to tell the difference between encrypted and unencrypted traffic. It's hard to build encryption into pre-existing products, Wiley said. "I think people are going to make easy-to-use, encrypted apps, and that's going to be the future."
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  • Stamos predicted changes in services that companies with cloud storage offer, including offering customers the ability to store their data outside of the U.S. "If they want to stay competitive, they're going to have to," he said. But, he cautioned, "It's impossible to do a cloud-based ad supported service." Soghoian added, "The only way to keep a service running is to pay them money." This, he said, is going to give rise to a new wave of ad-free, privacy protective subscription services.
  • Companies could face severe consequences from their security experts, said Stamos, if the in-house experts find out that they've been lied to about providing government access to customer data. You could see "lots of resignations and maybe publicly," he said. "It wouldn't hurt their reputations to go out in a blaze of glory." Perhaps not surprisingly, Marlinspike sounded a hopeful call for non-destructive activism on Defcon's 21st anniversary. "As hackers, we don't have a lot of influence on policy. I hope that's something that we can focus our energy on," he said.
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    NSA as the cause of the next major disruption in the social networking service industry?  Grief ahead for Google? Note the point made that: "It's impossible to do a cloud-based ad supported service" where the encryption/decryption takes place on the client side. 
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