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Paul Merrell

White House, Intel Chiefs Want To Make Digital Spying Law Permanent | HuffPost - 0 views

  • The White House and U.S. intelligence chiefs Wednesday backed making permanent a law that allows for the collection of digital communications of foreigners overseas, escalating a fight in Congress over privacy and security. The law, enshrined in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is due to expire on December 31 unless Congress votes to reauthorize it, but is considered vital by U.S. intelligence agencies. Privacy advocates have criticized the law though for allowing the incidental collection of data belonging to millions of Americans without a search warrant. The push to make the law permanent may lead to a contentious debate over renewal of Section 702 in Congress, where lawmakers in both parties are deeply divided over whether to adopt transparency and oversight reforms
  • Reuters reported in March that the Trump administration supported renewal of Section 702 without any changes, citing an unnamed White House official, but it was not clear at the time whether it wanted the law made permanent.
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

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 .... 
Paul Merrell

PATRIOT Act spying programs on death watch - Seung Min Kim and Kate Tummarello - POLITICO - 0 views

  • With only days left to act and Rand Paul threatening a filibuster, Senate Republicans remain deeply divided over the future of the PATRIOT Act and have no clear path to keep key government spying authorities from expiring at the end of the month. Crucial parts of the PATRIOT Act, including a provision authorizing the government’s controversial bulk collection of American phone records, first revealed by Edward Snowden, are due to lapse May 31. That means Congress has barely a week to figure out a fix before before lawmakers leave town for Memorial Day recess at the end of the next week. Story Continued Below The prospects of a deal look grim: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday night proposed just a two-month extension of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions to give the two sides more time to negotiate, but even that was immediately dismissed by critics of the program.
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    A must-read. The major danger is that the the Senate could pass the USA Freedom Act, which has already been passed by the House. Passage of that Act, despite its name, would be bad news for civil liberties.  Now is the time to let your Congress critters know that you want them to fight to the Patriot Act provisions expire on May 31, without any replacement legislation.  Keep in mind that Section 502 does not apply just to telephone metadata. It authorizes the FBI to gather without notice to their victims "any tangible thing", specifically including as examples "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 breadth of the section is illustrated by telephone metadata not even being mentioned in the section.  NSA going after your medical records souand far fetched? Former NSA technical director William Binney says they're already doing it: "Binney alludes to even more extreme intelligence practices that are not yet public knowledge, including the collection of Americans' medical data, the collection and use of client-attorney conversations, and law enforcement agencies' "direct access," without oversight, to NSA databases." https://consortiumnews.com/2015/03/05/seeing-the-stasi-through-nsa-eyes/ So please, contact your Congress critters right now and tell them to sunset the Patriot Act NOW. This will be decided in the next few days so the sooner you contact them the better. 
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.
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    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

Stop The NSA's Backdoor: Call Congress Today To Support Key Amendment | Techdirt - 0 views

  • Last week, we noted that there was an effort underway to introduce an amendment for this week's Defense Appropriations bill in the House that would effectively limit some of the most nefarious aspects of the NSA's ability to spy on Americans via two different types of backdoors: (1) so-called "backdoor searches" on Americans' information collected under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and (2) mandating tech companies build in backdoors to their technology for the NSA to go snooping. The Defense Appropriations bill is expected to hit the House floor sometime soon, under open rules, meaning that the amendment in question won't be blocked by the House Rules Committee, as happens on a variety of other bills.
  • The amendment has powerful bipartisan backing, sponsored by Reps. James Sensenbrenner, Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren, along with co-sponsors Reps. Conyers, Poe, Gabbard, Jordan, O’Rourke, Amash, and Holt. Having Sensenbrenner bring out this amendment is a big deal. This amendment would restore at least one aspect of the USA Freedom Act that was stripped out at the last minute under pressure from the White House. Sensenbrenner sponsoring this bill highlights that he's clearly not satisfied with how his own bill got twisted and watered down from the original, and he's still working to put back in some of the protections that were removed. Conyers is a powerful force on the other side of the aisle, whose support for the USA Freedom Act was seen by some as a signal that the bill was "okay" to vote on. Having both of them support this Amendment suggests that neither were really that satisfied with the bill and felt pressured into supporting it.
  • While this Amendment doesn't fix everything, it is an important chance for members of Congress to show that they really do support protecting Americans' privacy. But they need to know that. Please contact your Representative today to let them know you want them to support this amendment. The EFF and others have set up a website, ShutTheBackDoor.net, to help you contact your official. Please do so today.
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    "from the speak-up-now dept Last week, we noted that there was an effort underway to introduce an amendment for this week's Defense Appropriations bill in the House that would effectively limit some of the most nefarious aspects of the NSA's ability to spy on Americans via two different types of backdoors: (1) so-called "backdoor searches" on Americans' information collected under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and (2) mandating tech companies build in backdoors to their technology for the NSA to go snooping."
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    "from the speak-up-now dept Last week, we noted that there was an effort underway to introduce an amendment for this week's Defense Appropriations bill in the House that would effectively limit some of the most nefarious aspects of the NSA's ability to spy on Americans via two different types of backdoors: (1) so-called "backdoor searches" on Americans' information collected under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and (2) mandating tech companies build in backdoors to their technology for the NSA to go snooping."
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    Word is that the vote will happen today. If your Congress-critter needs persuading, it's time to jump at that telephone and send a few volts their way. 
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