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Paul Merrell

NZ Prime Minister John Key Retracts Vow to Resign if Mass Surveillance Is Shown - 0 views

  • In August 2013, as evidence emerged of the active participation by New Zealand in the “Five Eyes” mass surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden, the country’s conservative Prime Minister, John Key, vehemently denied that his government engages in such spying. He went beyond mere denials, expressly vowing to resign if it were ever proven that his government engages in mass surveillance of New Zealanders. He issued that denial, and the accompanying resignation vow, in order to reassure the country over fears provoked by a new bill he advocated to increase the surveillance powers of that country’s spying agency, Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) — a bill that passed by one vote thanks to the Prime Minister’s guarantees that the new law would not permit mass surveillance.
  • Since then, a mountain of evidence has been presented that indisputably proves that New Zealand does exactly that which Prime Minister Key vehemently denied — exactly that which he said he would resign if it were proven was done. Last September, we reported on a secret program of mass surveillance at least partially implemented by the Key government that was designed to exploit the very law that Key was publicly insisting did not permit mass surveillance. At the time, Snowden, citing that report as well as his own personal knowledge of GCSB’s participation in the mass surveillance tool XKEYSCORE, wrote in an article for The Intercept: Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. . . . The prime minister’s claim to the public, that “there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance” is false. The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.
  • A series of new reports last week by New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager, working with my Intercept colleague Ryan Gallagher, has added substantial proof demonstrating GCSB’s widespread use of mass surveillance. An article last week in The New Zealand Herald demonstrated that “New Zealand’s electronic surveillance agency, the GCSB, has dramatically expanded its spying operations during the years of John Key’s National Government and is automatically funnelling vast amounts of intelligence to the US National Security Agency.” Specifically, its “intelligence base at Waihopai has moved to ‘full-take collection,’ indiscriminately intercepting Asia-Pacific communications and providing them en masse to the NSA through the controversial NSA intelligence system XKeyscore, which is used to monitor emails and internet browsing habits.” Moreover, the documents “reveal that most of the targets are not security threats to New Zealand, as has been suggested by the Government,” but “instead, the GCSB directs its spying against a surprising array of New Zealand’s friends, trading partners and close Pacific neighbours.” A second report late last week published jointly by Hager and The Intercept detailed the role played by GCSB’s Waihopai base in aiding NSA’s mass surveillance activities in the Pacific (as Hager was working with The Intercept on these stories, his house was raided by New Zealand police for 10 hours, ostensibly to find Hager’s source for a story he published that was politically damaging to Key).
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  • That the New Zealand government engages in precisely the mass surveillance activities Key vehemently denied is now barely in dispute. Indeed, a former director of GCSB under Key, Sir Bruce Ferguson, while denying any abuse of New Zealander’s communications, now admits that the agency engages in mass surveillance.
  • Meanwhile, Russel Norman, the head of the country’s Green Party, said in response to these stories that New Zealand is “committing crimes” against its neighbors in the Pacific by subjecting them to mass surveillance, and insists that the Key government broke the law because that dragnet necessarily includes the communications of New Zealand citizens when they travel in the region.
  • So now that it’s proven that New Zealand does exactly that which Prime Minister Key vowed would cause him to resign if it were proven, is he preparing his resignation speech? No: that’s something a political official with a minimal amount of integrity would do. Instead — even as he now refuses to say what he has repeatedly said before: that GCSB does not engage in mass surveillance — he’s simply retracting his pledge as though it were a minor irritant, something to be casually tossed aside:
  • When asked late last week whether New Zealanders have a right to know what their government is doing in the realm of digital surveillance, the Prime Minister said: “as a general rule, no.” And he expressly refuses to say whether New Zealand is doing that which he swore repeatedly it was not doing, as this excellent interview from Radio New Zealand sets forth: Interviewer: “Nicky Hager’s revelations late last week . . . have stoked fears that New Zealanders’ communications are being indiscriminately caught in that net. . . . The Prime Minister, John Key, has in the past promised to resign if it were found to be mass surveillance of New Zealanders . . . Earlier, Mr. Key was unable to give me an assurance that mass collection of communications from New Zealanders in the Pacific was not taking place.” PM Key: “No, I can’t. I read the transcript [of former GCSB Director Bruce Ferguson’s interview] – I didn’t hear the interview – but I read the transcript, and you know, look, there’s a variety of interpretations – I’m not going to critique–”
  • Interviewer: “OK, I’m not asking for a critique. Let’s listen to what Bruce Ferguson did tell us on Friday:” Ferguson: “The whole method of surveillance these days, is sort of a mass collection situation – individualized: that is mission impossible.” Interviewer: “And he repeated that several times, using the analogy of a net which scoops up all the information. . . . I’m not asking for a critique with respect to him. Can you confirm whether he is right or wrong?” Key: “Uh, well I’m not going to go and critique the guy. And I’m not going to give a view of whether he’s right or wrong” . . . . Interviewer: “So is there mass collection of personal data of New Zealand citizens in the Pacific or not?” Key: “I’m just not going to comment on where we have particular targets, except to say that where we go and collect particular information, there is always a good reason for that.”
  • From “I will resign if it’s shown we engage in mass surveillance of New Zealanders” to “I won’t say if we’re doing it” and “I won’t quit either way despite my prior pledges.” Listen to the whole interview: both to see the type of adversarial questioning to which U.S. political leaders are so rarely subjected, but also to see just how obfuscating Key’s answers are. The history of reporting from the Snowden archive has been one of serial dishonesty from numerous governments: such as the way European officials at first pretended to be outraged victims of NSA only for it to be revealed that, in many ways, they are active collaborators in the very system they were denouncing. But, outside of the U.S. and U.K. itself, the Key government has easily been the most dishonest over the last 20 months: one of the most shocking stories I’ve seen during this time was how the Prime Minister simultaneously plotted in secret to exploit the 2013 proposed law to implement mass surveillance at exactly the same time that he persuaded the public to support it by explicitly insisting that it would not allow mass surveillance. But overtly reneging on a public pledge to resign is a new level of political scandal. Key was just re-elected for his third term, and like any political official who stays in power too long, he has the despot’s mentality that he’s beyond all ethical norms and constraints. But by the admission of his own former GCSB chief, he has now been caught red-handed doing exactly that which he swore to the public would cause him to resign if it were proven. If nothing else, the New Zealand media ought to treat that public deception from its highest political official with the level of seriousness it deserves.
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    It seems the U.S. is not the only nation that has liars for head of state. 
Paul Merrell

European Human Rights Court Deals a Heavy Blow to the Lawfulness of Bulk Surveillance | Just Security - 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.
Paul Merrell

How Edward Snowden Changed Everything | The Nation - 0 views

  • Ben Wizner, who is perhaps best known as Edward Snowden’s lawyer, directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. Wizner, who joined the ACLU in August 2001, one month before the 9/11 attacks, has been a force in the legal battles against torture, watch lists, and extraordinary rendition since the beginning of the global “war on terror.” Ad Policy On October 15, we met with Wizner in an upstate New York pub to discuss the state of privacy advocacy today. In sometimes sardonic tones, he talked about the transition from litigating on issues of torture to privacy advocacy, differences between corporate and state-sponsored surveillance, recent developments in state legislatures and the federal government, and some of the obstacles impeding civil liberties litigation. The interview has been edited and abridged for publication.
  • en Wizner, who is perhaps best known as Edward Snowden’s lawyer, directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project. Wizner, who joined the ACLU in August 2001, one month before the 9/11 attacks, has been a force in the legal battles against torture, watch lists, and extraordinary rendition since the beginning of the global “war on terror.” Ad Policy On October 15, we met with Wizner in an upstate New York pub to discuss the state of privacy advocacy today. In sometimes sardonic tones, he talked about the transition from litigating on issues of torture to privacy advocacy, differences between corporate and state-sponsored surveillance, recent developments in state legislatures and the federal government, and some of the obstacles impeding civil liberties litigation. The interview has been edited and abridged for publication.
  • Many of the technologies, both military technologies and surveillance technologies, that are developed for purposes of policing the empire find their way back home and get repurposed. You saw this in Ferguson, where we had military equipment in the streets to police nonviolent civil unrest, and we’re seeing this with surveillance technologies, where things that are deployed for use in war zones are now commonly in the arsenals of local police departments. For example, a cellphone surveillance tool that we call the StingRay—which mimics a cellphone tower and communicates with all the phones around—was really developed as a military technology to help identify targets. Now, because it’s so inexpensive, and because there is a surplus of these things that are being developed, it ends up getting pushed down into local communities without local democratic consent or control.
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  • SG & TP: How do you see the current state of the right to privacy? BW: I joked when I took this job that I was relieved that I was going to be working on the Fourth Amendment, because finally I’d have a chance to win. That was intended as gallows humor; the Fourth Amendment had been a dishrag for the last several decades, largely because of the war on drugs. The joke in civil liberties circles was, “What amendment?” But I was able to make this joke because I was coming to Fourth Amendment litigation from something even worse, which was trying to sue the CIA for torture, or targeted killings, or various things where the invariable outcome was some kind of non-justiciability ruling. We weren’t even reaching the merits at all. It turns out that my gallows humor joke was prescient.
  • The truth is that over the last few years, we’ve seen some of the most important Fourth Amendment decisions from the Supreme Court in perhaps half a century. Certainly, I think the Jones decision in 2012 [U.S. v. Jones], which held that GPS tracking was a Fourth Amendment search, was the most important Fourth Amendment decision since Katz in 1967 [Katz v. United States], in terms of starting a revolution in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence signifying that changes in technology were not just differences in degree, but they were differences in kind, and require the Court to grapple with it in a different way. Just two years later, you saw the Court holding that police can’t search your phone incident to an arrest without getting a warrant [Riley v. California]. Since 2012, at the level of Supreme Court jurisprudence, we’re seeing a recognition that technology has required a rethinking of the Fourth Amendment at the state and local level. We’re seeing a wave of privacy legislation that’s really passing beneath the radar for people who are not paying close attention. It’s not just happening in liberal states like California; it’s happening in red states like Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. And purple states like Colorado and Maine. You see as many libertarians and conservatives pushing these new rules as you see liberals. It really has cut across at least party lines, if not ideologies. My overall point here is that with respect to constraints on government surveillance—I should be more specific—law-enforcement government surveillance—momentum has been on our side in a way that has surprised even me.
  • Do you think that increased privacy protections will happen on the state level before they happen on the federal level? BW: I think so. For example, look at what occurred with the death penalty and the Supreme Court’s recent Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. The question under the Eighth Amendment is, “Is the practice cruel and unusual?” The Court has looked at what it calls “evolving standards of decency” [Trop v. Dulles, 1958]. It matters to the Court, when it’s deciding whether a juvenile can be executed or if a juvenile can get life without parole, what’s going on in the states. It was important to the litigants in those cases to be able to show that even if most states allowed the bad practice, the momentum was in the other direction. The states that were legislating on this most recently were liberalizing their rules, were making it harder to execute people under 18 or to lock them up without the possibility of parole. I think you’re going to see the same thing with Fourth Amendment and privacy jurisprudence, even though the Court doesn’t have a specific doctrine like “evolving standards of decency.” The Court uses this much-maligned test, “Do individuals have a reasonable expectation of privacy?” We’ll advance the argument, I think successfully, that part of what the Court should look at in considering whether an expectation of privacy is reasonable is showing what’s going on in the states. If we can show that a dozen or eighteen state legislatures have enacted a constitutional protection that doesn’t exist in federal constitutional law, I think that that will influence the Supreme Court.
  • The question is will it also influence Congress. I think there the answer is also “yes.” If you’re a member of the House or the Senate from Montana, and you see that your state legislature and your Republican governor have enacted privacy legislation, you’re not going to be worried about voting in that direction. I think this is one of those places where, unlike civil rights, where you saw most of the action at the federal level and then getting forced down to the states, we’re going to see more action at the state level getting funneled up to the federal government.
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    A must-read. Ben Wizner discusses the current climate in the courts in government surveillance cases and how Edward Snowden's disclosures have affected that, and much more. Wizner is not only Edward Snowden's lawyer, he is also the coordinator of all ACLU litigation on electronic surveillance matters.
Paul Merrell

Edward Snowden Explains How To Reclaim Your Privacy - 0 views

  • Micah Lee: What are some operational security practices you think everyone should adopt? Just useful stuff for average people. Edward Snowden: [Opsec] is important even if you’re not worried about the NSA. Because when you think about who the victims of surveillance are, on a day-to-day basis, you’re thinking about people who are in abusive spousal relationships, you’re thinking about people who are concerned about stalkers, you’re thinking about children who are concerned about their parents overhearing things. It’s to reclaim a level of privacy. The first step that anyone could take is to encrypt their phone calls and their text messages. You can do that through the smartphone app Signal, by Open Whisper Systems. It’s free, and you can just download it immediately. And anybody you’re talking to now, their communications, if it’s intercepted, can’t be read by adversaries. [Signal is available for iOS and Android, and, unlike a lot of security tools, is very easy to use.] You should encrypt your hard disk, so that if your computer is stolen the information isn’t obtainable to an adversary — pictures, where you live, where you work, where your kids are, where you go to school. [I’ve written a guide to encrypting your disk on Windows, Mac, and Linux.] Use a password manager. One of the main things that gets people’s private information exposed, not necessarily to the most powerful adversaries, but to the most common ones, are data dumps. Your credentials may be revealed because some service you stopped using in 2007 gets hacked, and your password that you were using for that one site also works for your Gmail account. A password manager allows you to create unique passwords for every site that are unbreakable, but you don’t have the burden of memorizing them. [The password manager KeePassX is free, open source, cross-platform, and never stores anything in the cloud.]
  • The other thing there is two-factor authentication. The value of this is if someone does steal your password, or it’s left or exposed somewhere … [two-factor authentication] allows the provider to send you a secondary means of authentication — a text message or something like that. [If you enable two-factor authentication, an attacker needs both your password as the first factor and a physical device, like your phone, as your second factor, to login to your account. Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, GitHub, Battle.net, and tons of other services all support two-factor authentication.]
  • We should armor ourselves using systems we can rely on every day. This doesn’t need to be an extraordinary lifestyle change. It doesn’t have to be something that is disruptive. It should be invisible, it should be atmospheric, it should be something that happens painlessly, effortlessly. This is why I like apps like Signal, because they’re low friction. It doesn’t require you to re-order your life. It doesn’t require you to change your method of communications. You can use it right now to talk to your friends.
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  • Lee: What do you think about Tor? Do you think that everyone should be familiar with it, or do you think that it’s only a use-it-if-you-need-it thing? Snowden: I think Tor is the most important privacy-enhancing technology project being used today. I use Tor personally all the time. We know it works from at least one anecdotal case that’s fairly familiar to most people at this point. That’s not to say that Tor is bulletproof. What Tor does is it provides a measure of security and allows you to disassociate your physical location. … But the basic idea, the concept of Tor that is so valuable, is that it’s run by volunteers. Anyone can create a new node on the network, whether it’s an entry node, a middle router, or an exit point, on the basis of their willingness to accept some risk. The voluntary nature of this network means that it is survivable, it’s resistant, it’s flexible. [Tor Browser is a great way to selectively use Tor to look something up and not leave a trace that you did it. It can also help bypass censorship when you’re on a network where certain sites are blocked. If you want to get more involved, you can volunteer to run your own Tor node, as I do, and support the diversity of the Tor network.]
  • Lee: So that is all stuff that everybody should be doing. What about people who have exceptional threat models, like future intelligence-community whistleblowers, and other people who have nation-state adversaries? Maybe journalists, in some cases, or activists, or people like that? Snowden: So the first answer is that you can’t learn this from a single article. The needs of every individual in a high-risk environment are different. And the capabilities of the adversary are constantly improving. The tooling changes as well. What really matters is to be conscious of the principles of compromise. How can the adversary, in general, gain access to information that is sensitive to you? What kinds of things do you need to protect? Because of course you don’t need to hide everything from the adversary. You don’t need to live a paranoid life, off the grid, in hiding, in the woods in Montana. What we do need to protect are the facts of our activities, our beliefs, and our lives that could be used against us in manners that are contrary to our interests. So when we think about this for whistleblowers, for example, if you witnessed some kind of wrongdoing and you need to reveal this information, and you believe there are people that want to interfere with that, you need to think about how to compartmentalize that.
  • Tell no one who doesn’t need to know. [Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend of several years, didn’t know that he had been collecting documents to leak to journalists until she heard about it on the news, like everyone else.] When we talk about whistleblowers and what to do, you want to think about tools for protecting your identity, protecting the existence of the relationship from any type of conventional communication system. You want to use something like SecureDrop, over the Tor network, so there is no connection between the computer that you are using at the time — preferably with a non-persistent operating system like Tails, so you’ve left no forensic trace on the machine you’re using, which hopefully is a disposable machine that you can get rid of afterward, that can’t be found in a raid, that can’t be analyzed or anything like that — so that the only outcome of your operational activities are the stories reported by the journalists. [SecureDrop is a whistleblower submission system. Here is a guide to using The Intercept’s SecureDrop server as safely as possible.]
  • And this is to be sure that whoever has been engaging in this wrongdoing cannot distract from the controversy by pointing to your physical identity. Instead they have to deal with the facts of the controversy rather than the actors that are involved in it. Lee: What about for people who are, like, in a repressive regime and are trying to … Snowden: Use Tor. Lee: Use Tor? Snowden: If you’re not using Tor you’re doing it wrong. Now, there is a counterpoint here where the use of privacy-enhancing technologies in certain areas can actually single you out for additional surveillance through the exercise of repressive measures. This is why it’s so critical for developers who are working on security-enhancing tools to not make their protocols stand out.
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    Lots more in the interview that I didn't highlight. This is a must-read.
Paul Merrell

Operation Socialist: How GCHQ Spies Hacked Belgium's Largest Telco - 0 views

  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. It was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • The full story about GCHQ’s infiltration of Belgacom, however, has never been told. Key details about the attack have remained shrouded in mystery—and the scope of the attack unclear. Now, in partnership with Dutch and Belgian newspapers NRC Handelsblad and De Standaard, The Intercept has pieced together the first full reconstruction of events that took place before, during, and after the secret GCHQ hacking operation. Based on new documents from the Snowden archive and interviews with sources familiar with the malware investigation at Belgacom, The Intercept and its partners have established that the attack on Belgacom was more aggressive and far-reaching than previously thought. It occurred in stages between 2010 and 2011, each time penetrating deeper into Belgacom’s systems, eventually compromising the very core of the company’s networks.
  • Snowden told The Intercept that the latest revelations amounted to unprecedented “smoking-gun attribution for a governmental cyber attack against critical infrastructure.” The Belgacom hack, he said, is the “first documented example to show one EU member state mounting a cyber attack on another…a breathtaking example of the scale of the state-sponsored hacking problem.”
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  • When the incoming emails stopped arriving, it seemed innocuous at first. But it would eventually become clear that this was no routine technical problem. Inside a row of gray office buildings in Brussels, a major hacking attack was in progress. And the perpetrators were British government spies. It was in the summer of 2012 that the anomalies were initially detected by employees at Belgium’s largest telecommunications provider, Belgacom. But it wasn’t until a year later, in June 2013, that the company’s security experts were able to figure out what was going on. The computer systems of Belgacom had been infected with a highly sophisticated malware, and it was disguising itself as legitimate Microsoft software while quietly stealing data. Last year, documents from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that British surveillance agency Government Communications Headquarters was behind the attack, codenamed Operation Socialist. And in November, The Intercept revealed that the malware found on Belgacom’s systems was one of the most advanced spy tools ever identified by security researchers, who named it “Regin.”
  • Publicly, Belgacom has played down the extent of the compromise, insisting that only its internal systems were breached and that customers’ data was never found to have been at risk. But secret GCHQ documents show the agency gained access far beyond Belgacom’s internal employee computers and was able to grab encrypted and unencrypted streams of private communications handled by the company. Belgacom invested several million dollars in its efforts to clean-up its systems and beef-up its security after the attack. However, The Intercept has learned that sources familiar with the malware investigation at the company are uncomfortable with how the clean-up operation was handled—and they believe parts of the GCHQ malware were never fully removed.
  • The revelations about the scope of the hacking operation will likely alarm Belgacom’s customers across the world. The company operates a large number of data links internationally (see interactive map below), and it serves millions of people across Europe as well as officials from top institutions including the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council. The new details will also be closely scrutinized by a federal prosecutor in Belgium, who is currently carrying out a criminal investigation into the attack on the company. Sophia in ’t Veld, a Dutch politician who chaired the European Parliament’s recent inquiry into mass surveillance exposed by Snowden, told The Intercept that she believes the British government should face sanctions if the latest disclosures are proven.
  • What sets the secret British infiltration of Belgacom apart is that it was perpetrated against a close ally—and is backed up by a series of top-secret documents, which The Intercept is now publishing.
  • Between 2009 and 2011, GCHQ worked with its allies to develop sophisticated new tools and technologies it could use to scan global networks for weaknesses and then penetrate them. According to top-secret GCHQ documents, the agency wanted to adopt the aggressive new methods in part to counter the use of privacy-protecting encryption—what it described as the “encryption problem.” When communications are sent across networks in encrypted format, it makes it much harder for the spies to intercept and make sense of emails, phone calls, text messages, internet chats, and browsing sessions. For GCHQ, there was a simple solution. The agency decided that, where possible, it would find ways to hack into communication networks to grab traffic before it’s encrypted.
  • The Snowden documents show that GCHQ wanted to gain access to Belgacom so that it could spy on phones used by surveillance targets travelling in Europe. But the agency also had an ulterior motive. Once it had hacked into Belgacom’s systems, GCHQ planned to break into data links connecting Belgacom and its international partners, monitoring communications transmitted between Europe and the rest of the world. A map in the GCHQ documents, named “Belgacom_connections,” highlights the company’s reach across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, illustrating why British spies deemed it of such high value.
  • Documents published with this article: Automated NOC detection Mobile Networks in My NOC World Making network sense of the encryption problem Stargate CNE requirements NAC review – October to December 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2011 GCHQ NAC review – April to June 2011 GCHQ NAC review – July to September 2011 GCHQ NAC review – January to March 2012 GCHQ Hopscotch Belgacom connections
Paul Merrell

How Secret Partners Expand NSA's Surveillance Dragnet - The Intercept - 0 views

  • Huge volumes of private emails, phone calls, and internet chats are being intercepted by the National Security Agency with the secret cooperation of more foreign governments than previously known, according to newly disclosed documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden. The classified files, revealed today by the Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information in a reporting collaboration with The Intercept, shed light on how the NSA’s surveillance of global communications has expanded under a clandestine program, known as RAMPART-A, that depends on the participation of a growing network of intelligence agencies.
  • It has already been widely reported that the NSA works closely with eavesdropping agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia as part of the so-called Five Eyes surveillance alliance. But the latest Snowden documents show that a number of other countries, described by the NSA as “third-party partners,” are playing an increasingly important role – by secretly allowing the NSA to install surveillance equipment on their fiber-optic cables. The NSA documents state that under RAMPART-A, foreign partners “provide access to cables and host U.S. equipment.” This allows the agency to covertly tap into “congestion points around the world” where it says it can intercept the content of phone calls, faxes, e-mails, internet chats, data from virtual private networks, and calls made using Voice over IP software like Skype.
  • The program, which the secret files show cost U.S. taxpayers about $170 million between 2011 and 2013, sweeps up a vast amount of communications at lightning speed. According to the intelligence community’s classified “Black Budget” for 2013, RAMPART-A enables the NSA to tap into three terabits of data every second as the data flows across the compromised cables – the equivalent of being able to download about 5,400 uncompressed high-definition movies every minute. In an emailed statement, the NSA declined to comment on the RAMPART-A program. “The fact that the U.S. government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all,” said NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines. “NSA’s efforts are focused on ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States, its citizens, and our allies through the pursuit of valid foreign intelligence targets only.”
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  • The secret documents reveal that the NSA has set up at least 13 RAMPART-A sites, nine of which were active in 2013. Three of the largest – codenamed AZUREPHOENIX, SPINNERET and MOONLIGHTPATH – mine data from some 70 different cables or networks. The precise geographic locations of the sites and the countries cooperating with the program are among the most carefully guarded of the NSA’s secrets, and these details are not contained in the Snowden files. However, the documents point towards some of the countries involved – Denmark and Germany among them. An NSA memo prepared for a 2012 meeting between the then-NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander, and his Danish counterpart noted that the NSA had a longstanding partnership with the country’s intelligence service on a special “cable access” program. Another document, dated from 2013 and first published by Der Spiegel on Wednesday, describes a German cable access point under a program that was operated by the NSA, the German intelligence service BND, and an unnamed third partner.
  • The Danish and German operations appear to be associated with RAMPART-A because it is the only NSA cable-access initiative that depends on the cooperation of third-party partners. Other NSA operations tap cables without the consent or knowledge of the countries that host the cables, or are operated from within the United States with the assistance of American telecommunications companies that have international links. One secret NSA document notes that most of the RAMPART-A projects are operated by the partners “under the cover of an overt comsat effort,” suggesting that the tapping of the fiber-optic cables takes place at Cold War-era eavesdropping stations in the host countries, usually identifiable by their large white satellite dishes and radomes. A shortlist of other countries potentially involved in the RAMPART-A operation is contained in the Snowden archive. A classified presentation dated 2013, published recently in Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald’s book No Place To Hide, revealed that the NSA had top-secret spying agreements with 33 third-party countries, including Denmark, Germany, and 15 other European Union member states:
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    Don't miss the slide with the names of the NSA-partner nations. Lots of E.U. member nations.
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    Very good info. Lucky me I came across your site by accident (stumbleupon). I have saved it for later. I Hate NSA's Surveilances. http://watchlive.us/movie/watch-Venus-in-Fur-online.html Howdy! I could have sworn I've visited this website before but after looking at many of the articles I realized it's new to me. Nonetheless, I'm certainly pleased I found it and I'll be book-marking it and checking back often. <
Paul Merrell

The Latest Rules on How Long NSA Can Keep Americans' Encrypted Data Look Too Familiar | Just Security - 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.&nbsp;
  • 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

Memo to Potential Whistleblowers: If You See Something, Say Something | Global Research - 0 views

  • Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing creates a moral frequency that vast numbers of people are eager to hear. We don’t want our lives, communities, country and world continually damaged by the deadening silences of fear and conformity. I’ve met many whistleblowers over the years, and they’ve been extraordinarily ordinary. None were applying for halos or sainthood. All experienced anguish before deciding that continuous inaction had a price that was too high. All suffered negative consequences as well as relief after they spoke up and took action. All made the world better with their courage. Whistleblowers don’t sign up to be whistleblowers. Almost always, they begin their work as true believers in the system that conscience later compels them to challenge. “It took years of involvement with a mendacious war policy, evidence of which was apparent to me as early as 2003, before I found the courage to follow my conscience,” Matthew Hoh recalled this week.“It is not an easy or light decision for anyone to make, but we need members of our military, development, diplomatic and intelligence community to speak out if we are ever to have a just and sound foreign policy.”
  • Hoh describes his record this way: “After over 11 continuous years of service with the U.S. military and U.S. government, nearly six of those years overseas, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as positions within the Secretary of the Navy’s Office as a White House Liaison, and as a consultant for the State Department’s Iraq Desk, I resigned from my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of war in 2009.” Another former Department of State official, the ex-diplomat and retired Army colonel Ann Wright, who resigned in protest of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, is crossing paths with Hoh on Friday as they do the honors at a ribbon-cutting — half a block from the State Department headquarters in Washington — for a billboard with a picture of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Big-lettered words begin by referring to the years he waited before releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. “Don’t do what I did,”&nbsp;Ellsberg says on the billboard.&nbsp; “Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.
  • The&nbsp;billboard&nbsp;– sponsored by the ExposeFacts organization, which launched this week — will spread to other prominent locations in Washington and beyond. As an organizer for ExposeFacts, I’m glad to report that outreach to potential whistleblowers is just getting started. (For details, visit ExposeFacts.org.) We’re propelled by the kind of hopeful determination that Hoh expressed the day before the billboard ribbon-cutting when he said: “I trust ExposeFacts and its efforts will encourage others to follow their conscience and do what is right.” The journalist&nbsp;Kevin Gosztola, who has astutely covered a range of whistleblower issues for years, pointed this week to the imperative of opening up news media. “There is an important role for ExposeFacts to play in not only forcing more transparency, but also inspiring more media organizations to engage in adversarial journalism,” he&nbsp;wrote. “Such journalism is called for in the face of wars, environmental destruction, escalating poverty, egregious abuses in the justice system, corporate control of government, and national security state secrecy. Perhaps a truly successful organization could inspire U.S. media organizations to play much more of a watchdog role than a lapdog role when covering powerful institutions in government.”
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  • Overall, we desperately need to nurture and propagate a steadfast culture of outspoken whistleblowing. A central motto of the AIDS activist movement dating back to the 1980s –&nbsp;Silence = Death&nbsp;– remains urgently relevant in a vast array of realms. Whether the problems involve perpetual war, corporate malfeasance, climate change, institutionalized racism, patterns of sexual assault, toxic pollution or countless other ills, none can be alleviated without bringing grim realities into the light. “All governments lie,” Ellsberg says in a&nbsp;video statement&nbsp;released for the launch of ExposeFacts, “and they all like to work in the dark as far as the public is concerned, in terms of their own decision-making, their planning — and to be able to allege, falsely, unanimity in addressing their problems, as if no one who had knowledge of the full facts inside could disagree with the policy the president or the leader of the state is announcing.” Ellsberg adds: “A country that wants to be a democracy has to be able to penetrate that secrecy, with the help of conscientious individuals who understand in this country that their duty to the Constitution and to the civil liberties and to the welfare of this country definitely surmount their obligation to their bosses, to a given administration, or in some cases to their promise of secrecy.”
  • Right now, our potential for democracy owes a lot to people like NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Kirk Wiebe, and EPA whistleblower Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. When they spoke at the June 4&nbsp;news conference&nbsp;in Washington that launched ExposeFacts, their brave clarity was inspiring. Antidotes to the poisons of cynicism and passive despair can emerge from organizing to help create a better world. The process requires applying a single standard to the real actions of institutions and individuals, no matter how big their budgets or grand their power. What cannot withstand the light of day should not be suffered in silence. If you see something, say something.
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    While some governments -- my own included -- attempt to impose an Orwellian Dark State of ubiquitous secret surveillance, secret wars, the rule of oligarchs, and public ignorance, the Edward Snowden leaks fanned the flames of the countering War on Ignorance that had been kept alive by civil libertarians. Only days after the U.S. Supreme Court denied review in a case where a reporter had been ordered to reveal his source of information for a book on the Dark State under the penalties for contempt of court (a long stretch in jail), a new web site is launched for communications between sources and journalists where the source's names never need to be revealed. This article is part of the publicity for that new weapon fielded by the civil libertarian side in the War Against Ignorance.  Hurrah!
Paul Merrell

Data Transfer Pact Between U.S. and Europe Is Ruled Invalid - The New York Times - 0 views

  • Europe’s highest court on Tuesday struck down an international agreement that allowed companies to move digital information like people’s web search histories and social media updates between the European Union and the United States. The decision left the international operations of companies like Google and Facebook in a sort of legal limbo even as their services continued working as usual.The ruling, by the European Court of Justice, said the so-called safe harbor agreement was flawed because it allowed American government authorities to gain routine access to Europeans’ online information. The court said leaks from Edward J. Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency, made it clear that American intelligence agencies had almost unfettered access to the data, infringing on Europeans’ rights to privacy. The court said data protection regulators in each of the European Union’s 28 countries should have oversight over how companies collect and use online information of their countries’ citizens. European countries have widely varying stances towards privacy.
  • Data protection advocates hailed the ruling. Industry executives and trade groups, though, said the decision left a huge amount of uncertainty for big companies, many of which rely on the easy flow of data for lucrative businesses like online advertising. They called on the European Commission to complete a new safe harbor agreement with the United States, a deal that has been negotiated for more than two years and could limit the fallout from the court’s decision.
  • Some European officials and many of the big technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, tried to play down the impact of the ruling. The companies kept their services running, saying that other agreements with the European Union should provide an adequate legal foundation.But those other agreements are now expected to be examined and questioned by some of Europe’s national privacy watchdogs. The potential inquiries could make it hard for companies to transfer Europeans’ information overseas under the current data arrangements. And the ruling appeared to leave smaller companies with fewer legal resources vulnerable to potential privacy violations.
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  • “We can’t assume that anything is now safe,” Brian Hengesbaugh, a privacy lawyer with Baker &amp; McKenzie in Chicago who helped to negotiate the original safe harbor agreement. “The ruling is so sweepingly broad that any mechanism used to transfer data from Europe could be under threat.”At issue is the sort of personal data that people create when they post something on Facebook or other social media; when they do web searches on Google; or when they order products or buy movies from Amazon or Apple. Such data is hugely valuable to companies, which use it in a broad range of ways, including tailoring advertisements to individuals and promoting products or services based on users’ online activities.The data-transfer ruling does not apply solely to tech companies. It also affects any organization with international operations, such as when a company has employees in more than one region and needs to transfer payroll information or allow workers to manage their employee benefits online.
  • But it was unclear how bulletproof those treaties would be under the new ruling, which cannot be appealed and went into effect immediately. Europe’s privacy watchdogs, for example, remain divided over how to police American tech companies.France and Germany, where companies like Facebook and Google have huge numbers of users and have already been subject to other privacy rulings, are among the countries that have sought more aggressive protections for their citizens’ personal data. Britain and Ireland, among others, have been supportive of Safe Harbor, and many large American tech companies have set up overseas headquarters in Ireland.
  • “For those who are willing to take on big companies, this ruling will have empowered them to act,” said Ot van Daalen, a Dutch privacy lawyer at Project Moore, who has been a vocal advocate for stricter data protection rules. The safe harbor agreement has been in place since 2000, enabling American tech companies to compile data generated by their European clients in web searches, social media posts and other online activities.
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    Another take on it from EFF: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/10/europes-court-justice-nsa-surveilance Expected since the Court's Advocate General released an opinion last week, presaging today's opinion.  Very big bucks involved behind the scenes because removing U.S.-based internet companies from the scene in the E.U. would pave the way for growth of E.U.-based companies.  The way forward for the U.S. companies is even more dicey because of a case now pending in the U.S.  The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is about to decide a related case in which Microsoft was ordered by the lower court to produce email records stored on a server in Ireland. . Should the Second Circuit uphold the order and the Supreme Court deny review, then under the principles announced today by the Court in the E.U., no U.S.-based company could ever be allowed to have "possession, custody, or control" of the data of E.U. citizens. You can bet that the E.U. case will weigh heavily in the Second Circuit's deliberations.  The E.U. decision is by far and away the largest legal event yet flowing out of the Edward Snowden disclosures, tectonic in scale. Up to now, Congress has succeeded in confining all NSA reforms to apply only to U.S. citizens. But now the large U.S. internet companies, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Dropbox, etc., face the loss of all Europe as a market. Congress *will* be forced by their lobbying power to extend privacy protections to "non-U.S. persons."  Thank you again, Edward Snowden.
Paul Merrell

Popular Security Software Came Under Relentless NSA and GCHQ Attacks - The Intercept - 0 views

  • The National Security Agency and its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, have worked to subvert anti-virus and other security software in order to track users and infiltrate networks, according to documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The spy agencies have reverse engineered software products, sometimes under questionable legal authority, and monitored web and email traffic in order to discreetly thwart anti-virus software and obtain intelligence from companies about security software and users of such software. One security software maker repeatedly singled out in the documents is Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab, which has a holding registered in the U.K., claims more than 270,000 corporate clients, and says it protects more than 400 million people with its products. British spies aimed to thwart Kaspersky software in part through a technique known as software reverse engineering, or SRE, according to a top-secret warrant renewal request. The NSA has also studied Kaspersky Lab’s software for weaknesses, obtaining sensitive customer information by monitoring communications between the software and Kaspersky servers, according to a draft top-secret report. The U.S. spy agency also appears to have examined emails inbound to security software companies flagging new viruses and vulnerabilities.
  • The efforts to compromise security software were of particular importance because such software is relied upon to defend against an array of digital threats and is typically more trusted by the operating system than other applications, running with elevated privileges that allow more vectors for surveillance and attack. Spy agencies seem to be engaged in a digital game of cat and mouse with anti-virus software companies; the U.S. and U.K. have aggressively probed for weaknesses in software deployed by the companies, which have themselves exposed sophisticated state-sponsored malware.
  • The requested warrant, provided under Section 5 of the U.K.’s 1994 Intelligence Services Act, must be renewed by a government minister every six months. The document published today is a renewal request for a warrant valid from July 7, 2008 until January 7, 2009. The request seeks authorization for GCHQ activities that “involve modifying commercially available software to enable interception, decryption and other related tasks, or ‘reverse engineering’ software.”
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  • The NSA, like GCHQ, has studied Kaspersky Lab’s software for weaknesses. In 2008, an NSA research team discovered that Kaspersky software was transmitting sensitive user information back to the company’s servers, which could easily be intercepted and employed to track users, according to a draft of a top-secret report. The information was embedded in “User-Agent” strings included in the headers of Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP, requests. Such headers are typically sent at the beginning of a web request to identify the type of software and computer issuing the request.
  • According to the draft report, NSA researchers found that the strings could be used to uniquely identify the computing devices belonging to Kaspersky customers. They determined that “Kaspersky User-Agent strings contain encoded versions of the Kaspersky serial numbers and that part of the User-Agent string can be used as a machine identifier.” They also noted that the “User-Agent” strings may contain “information about services contracted for or configurations.” Such data could be used to passively track a computer to&nbsp;determine if a target is running Kaspersky software and thus potentially susceptible to a particular attack without risking detection.
  • Another way the NSA targets foreign anti-virus companies appears to be to monitor their email traffic for reports of new vulnerabilities and malware. A 2010 presentation on “Project CAMBERDADA” shows the content of an email flagging a malware file, which was sent to various anti-virus companies by François Picard of the Montréal-based consulting and web hosting company NewRoma. The presentation of the email suggests that the NSA is reading such messages to discover new flaws&nbsp;in anti-virus software. Picard, contacted by The Intercept, was unaware his email had fallen into the hands of the NSA. He said that he regularly sends out notification of new viruses and malware to anti-virus companies, and that he likely sent the email in question to at least two dozen such outfits. He also said he never sends such notifications to government agencies. “It is strange the NSA would show an email like mine in a presentation,” he added.
  • The NSA presentation goes on to state that its signals intelligence yields about 10 new “potentially malicious files per day for malware triage.” This is a tiny fraction of the hostile software that is processed.&nbsp;Kaspersky says it detects 325,000 new malicious files every day, and an internal GCHQ document indicates that its own system “collect[s] around 100,000,000 malware events per day.” After obtaining the files, the NSA analysts “[c]heck Kaspersky AV to see if they continue to let any of these virus files through their Anti-Virus product.” The NSA’s Tailored Access Operations unit “can repurpose the malware,” presumably before the anti-virus software has been updated to defend against the threat.
  • The Project CAMBERDADA presentation lists 23 additional AV companies from all over the world under “More Targets!” Those companies include Check Point software, a pioneering maker of corporate firewalls based Israel, whose government is a U.S. ally. Notably omitted are the American anti-virus brands McAfee and Symantec and the British company Sophos.
  • As government spies have sought to evade anti-virus software, the anti-virus firms themselves have exposed malware created by government spies. Among them, Kaspersky appears to be the sharpest thorn in the side of government hackers. In the past few years, the company has proven to be a prolific hunter of state-sponsored malware, playing a role in the discovery and/or analysis of various pieces of malware reportedly linked to government hackers, including the superviruses Flame, which Kaspersky flagged in 2012; Gauss, also detected in 2012; Stuxnet, discovered by another company in 2010; and Regin, revealed by Symantec. In February, the Russian firm announced its biggest find yet: the “Equation Group,” an organization that has deployed espionage tools widely believed to have been created by the NSA and hidden on hard drives from leading brands, according to Kaspersky. In a report, the company called it “the most advanced threat actor we have seen” and “probably one of the most sophisticated cyber attack groups in the world.”
  • Hacks deployed by the Equation Group operated undetected for as long as 14 to 19 years, burrowing into the hard drive firmware of sensitive computer systems around the world, according to Kaspersky. Governments, militaries, technology companies, nuclear research centers, media outlets and financial institutions in 30 countries were among those reportedly infected. Kaspersky estimates that the Equation Group could have implants in tens of thousands of computers, but documents published last year by The Intercept suggest the NSA was scaling up their implant capabilities to potentially infect millions of computers with malware. Kaspersky’s adversarial relationship with Western intelligence services is sometimes framed in more sinister terms; the firm has been accused of working too closely with the Russian intelligence service FSB. That accusation is partly due to the company’s apparent success in uncovering NSA malware, and partly due to the fact that its founder, Eugene Kaspersky, was educated by a KGB-backed school in the 1980s before&nbsp;working for the Russian military.
  • Kaspersky has repeatedly denied the insinuations and accusations. In a recent blog post, responding to a Bloomberg article, he complained that his company was being subjected to “sensationalist … conspiracy theories,” sarcastically noting that “for some reason they forgot our reports” on&nbsp;an array of malware that trace back to Russian developers. He continued, “It’s very hard for a company with Russian roots to become successful in the&nbsp;U.S., European and other markets. Nobody trusts us — by default.”
  • Documents published with this article: Kaspersky User-Agent Strings — NSA Project CAMBERDADA — NSA NDIST — GCHQ’s Developing Cyber Defence Mission GCHQ Application for Renewal of Warrant GPW/1160 Software Reverse Engineering — GCHQ Reverse Engineering — GCHQ Wiki Malware Analysis &amp; Reverse Engineering — ACNO Skill Levels — GCHQ
Paul Merrell

'Shadow Brokers' give away more NSA hacking tools - 0 views

  • The elusive Shadow Brokers didn't have much luck selling the NSA's hacking tools, so they're giving more of the software away -- to everyone. In a Medium post, the mysterious team supplied the password for an encrypted file containing many of the Equation Group surveillance tools swiped back in 2016. Supposedly, the group posted the content in "protest" at President Trump turning his back on the people who voted for him. The leaked data appears to check out, according to researchers, but some of it is a couple of decades old and focused on platforms like Linux. If anything, the leak might backfire. Edward Snowden notes that while the leak is "nowhere near" representing the NSA's complete tool set, there's enough that the NSA should "instantly identify" where and how the kit leaked. This doesn't mean the Shadow Brokers themselves are about to face capture. However, this may give the agency info it needs to both connect the dots (how much of a role did NSA contractor Harold Thomas Martin III play in the online leak, for instance?) and prevent a repeat incident.Does this open a can of worms? It's hard to say -- researchers are still combing over the data. If there are any hacks that can be made useful, though, this could be problematic for server operators worried about cybercrime. If nothing else, it shows that the Shadow Brokers didn't reveal their full hand.
Paul Merrell

How To Keep NSA Computers From Turning Your Phone Conversations Into Searchable Text - The Intercept - 0 views

  • As soon as my article about how NSA computers can now turn phone conversations into searchable text came out on Tuesday, people started asking me: What should I do if I don’t want them doing that to mine? The solution, as it is to so many other outrageously invasive U.S. government tactics exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is, of course, Congressional legislation. I kid, I kid. No, the real solution is end-to-end encryption, preferably of the unbreakable kind. And as luck would have it, you can have exactly that on your mobile phone, for the price of zero dollars and zero cents.
  • The Intercept’s Micah Lee wrote about this&nbsp;in March, in an article titled: “You Should Really Consider Installing Signal, an Encrypted Messaging App for iPhone.” (Signal is for iPhone and iPads, and encrypts both voice and texts; RedPhone is the Android version of the voice product; TextSecure&nbsp;is the Android version of the text product.) As Lee explains, the open source software group known as Open Whisper Systems, which makes all three, is gaining a reputation for combining trustworthy encryption with ease of use and mobile convenience. Nobody – not your mobile provider, your ISP or the phone manufacturer — can promise you that your phone conversations won’t be intercepted in transit. That leaves end-to-end encryption – using a trustworthy app whose makers themselves literally cannot break the encryption — your best play.
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