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Paul Merrell

Challenge to data transfer tool used by Facebook will go to Europe's top court | TechCr... - 1 views

  • The five-week court hearing in what is a complex case delving into detail on US surveillance operations took place in February. The court issued its ruling today. The 153-page ruling starts by noting “this is an unusual case”, before going into a detailed discussion of the arguments and concluding that the DPC’s concerns about the validity of SCCs should be referred to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling. Schrems is also the man responsible for bringing, in 2013, a legal challenge that ultimately struck down Safe Harbor — the legal mechanism that had oiled the pipe for EU-US personal data flows for fifteen years before the ECJ ruled it to be invalid in October 2015. Schrems’ argument had centered on U.S. government mass surveillance programs, as disclosed via the Snowden leaks, being incompatible with fundamental European privacy rights. After the ECJ struck down Safe Harbor he then sought to apply the same arguments against Facebook’s use of SCCs — returning to Ireland to make the complaint as that’s where the company has its European HQ. It’s worth noting that the European Commission has since replaced Safe Harbor with a new (and it claims more robust) data transfer mechanism, called the EU-US Privacy Shield — which is now, as Safe Harbor was, used by thousands of businesses. Although that too is facing legal challenges as critics continue to argue there is a core problem of incompatibility between two distinct legal regimes where EU privacy rights collide with US mass surveillance.
  • In a written statement on the ruling Schrems added: “I welcome the judgement by the Irish High Court. It is important that a neutral Court outside of the US has summarized the facts on US surveillance in a judgement, after diving through more than 45,000 pages of documents in a five week hearing.
  • Making a video statement outside court in Dublin today, Schrems said the Irish court had dismissed Facebook’s argument that the US government does not undertake any surveillance.
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  • Schrems’ Safe Harbor challenge also started in the Irish Court before being ultimately referred to the ECJ. So there’s more than a little legal deja vu here, especially given the latest development in the case. In its ruling on the SCC issue, the Irish Court noted that a US ombudsperson position created under Privacy Shield to handle EU citizens complaints about companies’ handling of their data is not enough to overcome what it described as “well founded concerns” raised by the DPC regarding the adequacy of the protections for EU citizens data.
  • On Facebook, he also said: “In simple terms, US law requires Facebook to help the NSA with mass surveillance and EU law prohibits just that. As Facebook is subject to both jurisdictions, they got themselves in a legal dilemma that they cannot possibly solve in the long run.”
  • While Schrems’ original complaint pertained to Facebook, the Irish DPC’s position means many more companies that use the mechanism could face disruption if SCCs are ultimately invalidated as a result of the legal challenge to their validity.
Paul Merrell

Spies and internet giants are in the same business: surveillance. But we can stop them ... - 0 views

  • On Tuesday, the European court of justice, Europe’s supreme court, lobbed a grenade into the cosy, quasi-monopolistic world of the giant American internet companies. It did so by declaring invalid a decision made by the European commission in 2000 that US companies complying with its “safe harbour privacy principles” would be allowed to transfer personal data from the EU to the US. This judgment may not strike you as a big deal. You may also think that it has nothing to do with you. Wrong on both counts, but to see why, some background might be useful. The key thing to understand is that European and American views about the protection of personal data are radically different. We Europeans are very hot on it, whereas our American friends are – how shall I put it? – more relaxed.
  • Given that personal data constitutes the fuel on which internet companies such as Google and Facebook run, this meant that their exponential growth in the US market was greatly facilitated by that country’s tolerant data-protection laws. Once these companies embarked on global expansion, however, things got stickier. It was clear that the exploitation of personal data that is the core business of these outfits would be more difficult in Europe, especially given that their cloud-computing architectures involved constantly shuttling their users’ data between server farms in different parts of the world. Since Europe is a big market and millions of its citizens wished to use Facebook et al, the European commission obligingly came up with the “safe harbour” idea, which allowed companies complying with its seven principles to process the personal data of European citizens. The circle having been thus neatly squared, Facebook and friends continued merrily on their progress towards world domination. But then in the summer of 2013, Edward Snowden broke cover and revealed what really goes on in the mysterious world of cloud computing. At which point, an Austrian Facebook user, one Maximilian Schrems, realising that some or all of the data he had entrusted to Facebook was being transferred from its Irish subsidiary to servers in the United States, lodged a complaint with the Irish data protection commissioner. Schrems argued that, in the light of the Snowden revelations, the law and practice of the United States did not offer sufficient protection against surveillance of the data transferred to that country by the government.
  • The Irish data commissioner rejected the complaint on the grounds that the European commission’s safe harbour decision meant that the US ensured an adequate level of protection of Schrems’s personal data. Schrems disagreed, the case went to the Irish high court and thence to the European court of justice. On Tuesday, the court decided that the safe harbour agreement was invalid. At which point the balloon went up. “This is,” writes Professor Lorna Woods, an expert on these matters, “a judgment with very far-reaching implications, not just for governments but for companies the business model of which is based on data flows. It reiterates the significance of data protection as a human right and underlines that protection must be at a high level.”
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  • This is classic lawyerly understatement. My hunch is that if you were to visit the legal departments of many internet companies today you would find people changing their underpants at regular intervals. For the big names of the search and social media worlds this is a nightmare scenario. For those of us who take a more detached view of their activities, however, it is an encouraging development. For one thing, it provides yet another confirmation of the sterling service that Snowden has rendered to civil society. His revelations have prompted a wide-ranging reassessment of where our dependence on networking technology has taken us and stimulated some long-overdue thinking about how we might reassert some measure of democratic control over that technology. Snowden has forced us into having conversations that we needed to have. Although his revelations are primarily about government surveillance, they also indirectly highlight the symbiotic relationship between the US National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ on the one hand and the giant internet companies on the other. For, in the end, both the intelligence agencies and the tech companies are in the same business, namely surveillance.
  • And both groups, oddly enough, provide the same kind of justification for what they do: that their surveillance is both necessary (for national security in the case of governments, for economic viability in the case of the companies) and conducted within the law. We need to test both justifications and the great thing about the European court of justice judgment is that it starts us off on that conversation.
Paul Merrell

Whistleblowers File $100 Million Suit against NSA, FBI - WhoWhatWhy - 0 views

  • In a $100 million lawsuit that has garnered virtually no public attention, five National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblowers are accusing the federal government of illegally retaliating against them for alerting the NSA and Congress to a waste of taxpayer funds that benefitted a well-connected contractor.The lawsuit tells the story of the infancy of the NSA’s efforts to surveil the Internet. Back then, there were two programs for the spying agency to choose from — and the first was called ThinThread. It had been developed internally, was comparatively inexpensive, had been tested and proven to be effective, and included safeguards preventing the spying on Americans without a court warrant. The other was called Trailblazer. It did not include such safeguards, had not yet been shown to be effective, and cost 1,000 times more than ThinThread. Instead of being developed internally, it was to be outsourced to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a politically connected contractor.The NSA chose Trailblazer.
  • In response, four NSA employees who had worked on ThinThread, as well as a congressional staffer, alerted Congress and the Office of the Inspector General of the NSA that the agency was wasting taxpayer funds. That is when their troubles began, according to the lawsuit.It alleges that the defendants, which include the NSA, FBI, and the Department of Justice, as well as individuals associated with them, “knowingly and intentionally fabricated” a claim that the plaintiffs leaked classified information to New York Times reporters Eric Lichtblau and James Risen.“[The defendants] used this fabricated claim for retaliation, illegal searches and seizures, physical invasion of their residences and places of business, temporary false imprisonment, the confiscation of their property, cancellation of security clearances leading to the loss of their jobs and employment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, harassment and intimidation,” the lawsuit alleges.It also states that the defendants should have known that the plaintiffs were not the leaks because the NSA “was tracking all domestic telephone calls for the supposed purpose of protecting national security.”
  • The plaintiffs are former NSA employees Thomas Drake, Ed Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe, William Binney, and former congressional staffer Diane Roark. They seek “punitive damages in excess of $100 million because of Defendants [sic] callous and reckless indifference and malicious acts …” as well as well as an additional $15 million for lost wages and to cover costs.Larry Klayman, the prominent conservative public interest attorney and founder of Judicial Watch, filed the suit on August 20th. However, it is expected to be amended this week, and it is possible that additional publicity for the case will be sought then.
Paul Merrell

NSA Doesn't Want Court That Found Phone Dragnet Illegal to Actually Do Anything About It - 1 views

  • The National Security Agency doesn’t think it’s relevant that its dragnet of American telephone data — information on who’s calling who, when, and for how long — was ruled illegal back in May. An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit is asking the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which reached that conclusion, to immediately enjoin the program. But the U.S. government responded on Monday evening, saying that Congressional passage of the USA Freedom Act trumped the earlier ruling. The Freedom Act ordered an end to the program — but with a six-month wind-down period.
  • The ACLU still maintains that even temporary revival is a blatant infringement on American’s legal rights. “We strongly disagree with the government’s claim that recent reform legislation was meant to give the NSA’s phone-records dragnet a new lease on life,” said Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU’s deputy legal director in a statement. “The appeals court should order the NSA to end this surveillance now.  It’s unlawful and it’s an entirely unnecessary intrusion into the privacy of millions of people.” On Monday, the Obama administration announced that at the same time the National Security Agency ends the dragnet, it will also stop perusing the vast archive of data collected by the program. Read the U.S. government brief responding to the ACLU below:
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    Go ACLU!
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

Months After Appeals Argued, NSA Cases Twist in the Wind - US News - 0 views

  • Three cases that likely lay the groundwork for a major privacy battle at the U.S. Supreme Court are pending before federal appeals courts, whose judges are taking their time announcing whether they believe the dragnet collection of Americans' phone records is legal. It’s been more than five months since the American Civil Liberties Union argued against the National Security Agency program in New York, three months since legal activist Larry Klayman defended his thus far unprecedented preliminary injunction win in Washington, D.C., and two months since Idaho nurse Anna Smith’s case was heard by appeals judges in Seattle. At the district court level, judges handed down decisions about a month after oral arguments in the cases. It’s unclear what accounts for the delay. It’s possible judges are meticulously crafting opinions that are likely to receive wide coverage, or that members of the three-judge panels are clashing on the appropriate decision.
  • Attorneys involved in the cases understandably are reluctant to criticize the courts, but all express hope for speedy resolution of their fights against alleged violations of Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights.
  • Though it’s difficult to accurately predict court decisions based on oral arguments, opponents of the mass surveillance program may have reason for optimism.
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  • Two executive branch review panels have found the dragnet phone program has had minimal value for catching terrorists, its stated purpose. After years of presiding over the collection and months of publicly defending it, President Barack Obama pivoted last year and asked Congress to pass legislation ending the program. A measure to do so failed last year.
Paul Merrell

Court upholds NSA snooping | TheHill - 0 views

  • A district court in California has issued a ruling in favor of the National Security Agency in a long-running case over the spy agency’s collection of Internet records.The challenge against the controversial Upstream program was tossed out because additional defense from the government would have required “impermissible disclosure of state secret information,” Judge Jeffrey White wrote in his decision.ADVERTISEMENTUnder the program — details of which were revealed through leaks from Edward Snowden and others — the NSA taps into the fiber cables that make up the backbone of the Internet and gathers information about people's online and phone communications. The agency then filters out communications of U.S. citizens, whose data is protected with legal defenses not extended to foreigners, and searches for “selectors” tied to a terrorist or other target.In 2008, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the government over the program on behalf of five AT&T customers, who said that the collection violated the constitutional protections to privacy and free speech.
  • But “substantial details” about the program still remain classified, White, an appointee under former President George W. Bush, wrote in his decision. Moving forward with the merits of a trial would risk “exceptionally grave damage to national security,” he added. <A HREF="http://ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?rt=tf_mfw&ServiceVersion=20070822&MarketPlace=US&ID=V20070822%2FUS%2Fthehill07-20%2F8001%2Fdffbe72d-f425-4b83-b07e-357ae9d405f6&Operation=NoScript">Amazon.com Widgets</A> The government has been “persuasive” in using its state secrets privilege, he continued, which allows it to withhold evidence from a case that could severely jeopardize national security.   In addition to saying that the program appeared constitutional, the judge also found that the AT&T customers did not even have the standing to sue the NSA over its data gathering.While they may be AT&T customers, White wrote that the evidence presented to the court was “insufficient to establish that the Upstream collection process operates in the manner” that they say it does, which makes it impossible to tell if their information was indeed collected in the NSA program.  The decision is a stinging rebuke to critics of the NSA, who have seen public interest in their cause slowly fade in the months since Snowden’s revelations.
  • The EFF on Tuesday evening said that it was considering next steps and noted that the court focused on just one program, not the totality of the NSA’s controversial operations.“It would be a travesty of justice if our clients are denied their day in court over the ‘secrecy’ of a program that has been front-page news for nearly a decade,” the group said in a statement.“We will continue to fight to end NSA mass surveillance.”The name of the case is Jewel v. NSA. 
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    The article should have mentioned that the decision was on cross-motions for *partial* summary judgment. The Jewel case will proceed on other plaintiff claims. 
Paul Merrell

Another judge upholds NSA call tracking - POLITICO.com - 0 views

  • A federal judge in Idaho has upheld the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's program that gathers massive quanities of data on the telephone calls of Americans. The ruling Tuesday from U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill leaves the federal government with two wins in lawsuits decided since the program was revealed about a year ago by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden. In addition, one judge handling a criminal case ruled that the surveillance did not violate the Constitution. Opponents of the program have only one win: U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon's ruling in December that the program likely violates the Fourth Amendment. In the new decision, Winmill said binding precedent in the Ninth Circuit holds that call and email metadata are not protected by the Constitution and no warrant is needed to obtain it.
  • "The weight of the authority favors the NSA," wrote Winmill, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. Winmill took note of Leon's contrary decision and called it eloquent, but concluded it departs from current Supreme Court precedent — though perhaps not for long. "Judge Leon’s decision should serve as a template for a Supreme Court opinion. And it might yet," Winmill wrote as he threw out the lawsuit brought by an Idaho registered nurse who objected to the gathering of data on her phone calls. Winmill's opinion (posted here) does not address an argument put forward by some critics of the program, including some lawmakers: that the metadata program violates federal law because it does not fit squarely within the language of the statute used to authorize it.
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    A partial win for the public. The judge makes plain that he disagrees with pre-Snowden disclosure precedent and recommends that the Supreme Court adopt the reasoning of Judge Richard Leon's ruling that finds the NSA call-metadata violative of the Fourth Amendment. The judge says his hands are tied by prior decisions in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that gave an expansive reading to Smith v. Maryland.
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