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Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Freedom on the Net 2013 | Freedom House - 0 views

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    "Freedom on the Net 2013 is the fourth report in a series of comprehensive studies of internet Freedom around the globe and covers developments in 60 countries that occurred between May 2012 and April 2013. Over 60 researchers, nearly all based in the countries they analyzed, contributed to the project by researching laws and practices relevant to the digital media, testing the Freedomibility of select websites, and interviewing a wide range of sources, among other research activities. This edition's findings indicate that internet Freedom worldwide is in decline, with 34 out of 60 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory during the coverage period. Broad surveillance, new laws controlling web content, and growing arrests of social-media users drove this overall decline in internet Freedom in the past year. Nonetheless, Freedom on the Net 2013 also found that activists are becoming more effective at raising awareness of emerging threats and, in several cases, have helped forestall new repressive measures."
Paul Merrell

Cy Vance's Proposal to Backdoor Encrypted Devices Is Riddled With Vulnerabilities | Just Security - 0 views

  • Less than a week after the attacks in Paris — while the public and policymakers were still reeling, and the investigation had barely gotten off the ground — Cy Vance, Manhattan’s District Attorney, released a policy paper calling for legislation requiring companies to provide the government with backdoor access to their smartphones and other mobile devices. This is the first concrete proposal of this type since September 2014, when FBI Director James Comey reignited the “Crypto Wars” in response to Apple’s and Google’s decisions to use default encryption on their smartphones. Though Comey seized on Apple’s and Google’s decisions to encrypt their devices by default, his concerns are primarily related to end-to-end encryption, which protects communications that are in transit. Vance’s proposal, on the other hand, is only concerned with device encryption, which protects data stored on phones. It is still unclear whether encryption played any role in the Paris attacks, though we do know that the attackers were using unencrypted SMS text messages on the night of the attack, and that some of them were even known to intelligence agencies and had previously been under surveillance. But regardless of whether encryption was used at some point during the planning of the attacks, as I lay out below, prohibiting companies from selling encrypted devices would not prevent criminals or terrorists from being able to access unbreakable encryption. Vance’s primary complaint is that Apple’s and Google’s decisions to provide their customers with more secure devices through encryption interferes with criminal investigations. He claims encryption prevents law enforcement from accessing stored data like iMessages, photos and videos, Internet search histories, and third party app data. He makes several arguments to justify his proposal to build backdoors into encrypted smartphones, but none of them hold water.
  • Before addressing the major privacy, security, and implementation concerns that his proposal raises, it is worth noting that while an increase in use of fully encrypted devices could interfere with some law enforcement investigations, it will help prevent far more crimes — especially smartphone theft, and the consequent potential for identity theft. According to Consumer Reports, in 2014 there were more than two million victims of smartphone theft, and nearly two-thirds of all smartphone users either took no steps to secure their phones or their data or failed to implement passcode access for their phones. Default encryption could reduce instances of theft because perpetrators would no longer be able to break into the phone to steal the data.
  • Vance argues that creating a weakness in encryption to allow law enforcement to access data stored on devices does not raise serious concerns for security and privacy, since in order to exploit the vulnerability one would need access to the actual device. He considers this an acceptable risk, claiming it would not be the same as creating a widespread vulnerability in encryption protecting communications in transit (like emails), and that it would be cheap and easy for companies to implement. But Vance seems to be underestimating the risks involved with his plan. It is increasingly important that smartphones and other devices are protected by the strongest encryption possible. Our devices and the apps on them contain astonishing amounts of personal information, so much that an unprecedented level of harm could be caused if a smartphone or device with an exploitable vulnerability is stolen, not least in the forms of identity fraud and credit card theft. We bank on our phones, and have access to credit card payments with services like Apple Pay. Our contact lists are stored on our phones, including phone numbers, emails, social media accounts, and addresses. Passwords are often stored on people’s phones. And phones and apps are often full of personal details about their lives, from food diaries to logs of favorite places to personal photographs. Symantec conducted a study, where the company spread 50 “lost” phones in public to see what people who picked up the phones would do with them. The company found that 95 percent of those people tried to access the phone, and while nearly 90 percent tried to access private information stored on the phone or in other private accounts such as banking services and email, only 50 percent attempted contacting the owner.
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  • Vance attempts to downplay this serious risk by asserting that anyone can use the “Find My Phone” or Android Device Manager services that allow owners to delete the data on their phones if stolen. However, this does not stand up to scrutiny. These services are effective only when an owner realizes their phone is missing and can take swift action on another computer or device. This delay ensures some period of vulnerability. Encryption, on the other hand, protects everyone immediately and always. Additionally, Vance argues that it is safer to build backdoors into encrypted devices than it is to do so for encrypted communications in transit. It is true that there is a difference in the threats posed by the two types of encryption backdoors that are being debated. However, some manner of widespread vulnerability will inevitably result from a backdoor to encrypted devices. Indeed, the NSA and GCHQ reportedly hacked into a database to obtain cell phone SIM card encryption keys in order defeat the security protecting users’ communications and activities and to conduct surveillance. Clearly, the reality is that the threat of such a breach, whether from a hacker or a nation state actor, is very real. Even if companies go the extra mile and create a different means of access for every phone, such as a separate access key for each phone, significant vulnerabilities will be created. It would still be possible for a malicious actor to gain access to the database containing those keys, which would enable them to defeat the encryption on any smartphone they took possession of. Additionally, the cost of implementation and maintenance of such a complex system could be high.
  • Privacy is another concern that Vance dismisses too easily. Despite Vance’s arguments otherwise, building backdoors into device encryption undermines privacy. Our government does not impose a similar requirement in any other context. Police can enter homes with warrants, but there is no requirement that people record their conversations and interactions just in case they someday become useful in an investigation. The conversations that we once had through disposable letters and in-person conversations now happen over the Internet and on phones. Just because the medium has changed does not mean our right to privacy has.
  • In addition to his weak reasoning for why it would be feasible to create backdoors to encrypted devices without creating undue security risks or harming privacy, Vance makes several flawed policy-based arguments in favor of his proposal. He argues that criminals benefit from devices that are protected by strong encryption. That may be true, but strong encryption is also a critical tool used by billions of average people around the world every day to protect their transactions, communications, and private information. Lawyers, doctors, and journalists rely on encryption to protect their clients, patients, and sources. Government officials, from the President to the directors of the NSA and FBI, and members of Congress, depend on strong encryption for cybersecurity and data security. There are far more innocent Americans who benefit from strong encryption than there are criminals who exploit it. Encryption is also essential to our economy. Device manufacturers could suffer major economic losses if they are prohibited from competing with foreign manufacturers who offer more secure devices. Encryption also protects major companies from corporate and nation-state espionage. As more daily business activities are done on smartphones and other devices, they may now hold highly proprietary or sensitive information. Those devices could be targeted even more than they are now if all that has to be done to access that information is to steal an employee’s smartphone and exploit a vulnerability the manufacturer was required to create.
  • Vance also suggests that the US would be justified in creating such a requirement since other Western nations are contemplating requiring encryption backdoors as well. Regardless of whether other countries are debating similar proposals, we cannot afford a race to the bottom on cybersecurity. Heads of the intelligence community regularly warn that cybersecurity is the top threat to our national security. Strong encryption is our best defense against cyber threats, and following in the footsteps of other countries by weakening that critical tool would do incalculable harm. Furthermore, even if the US or other countries did implement such a proposal, criminals could gain access to devices with strong encryption through the black market. Thus, only innocent people would be negatively affected, and some of those innocent people might even become criminals simply by trying to protect their privacy by securing their data and devices. Finally, Vance argues that David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur for access of Expression and Opinion, supported the idea that court-ordered decryption doesn’t violate human rights, provided certain criteria are met, in his report on the topic. However, in the context of Vance’s proposal, this seems to conflate the concepts of court-ordered decryption and of government-mandated encryption backdoors. The Kaye report was unequivocal about the importance of encryption for free speech and human rights. The report concluded that:
  • States should promote strong encryption and anonymity. National laws should recognize that individuals are free to protect the privacy of their digital communications by using encryption technology and tools that allow anonymity online. … States should not restrict encryption and anonymity, which facilitate and often enable the rights to freedom of opinion and expression. Blanket prohibitions fail to be necessary and proportionate. States should avoid all measures that weaken the security that individuals may enjoy online, such as backdoors, weak encryption standards and key escrows. Additionally, the group of intelligence experts that was hand-picked by the President to issue a report and recommendations on surveillance and technology, concluded that: [R]egarding encryption, the U.S. Government should: (1) fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards; (2) not in any way subvert, undermine, weaken, or make vulnerable generally available commercial software; and (3) increase the use of encryption and urge US companies to do so, in order to better protect data in transit, at rest, in the cloud, and in other storage.
  • The clear consensus among human rights experts and several high-ranking intelligence experts, including the former directors of the NSA, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and DHS, is that mandating encryption backdoors is dangerous. Unaddressed Concerns: Preventing Encrypted Devices from Entering the US and the Slippery Slope In addition to the significant faults in Vance’s arguments in favor of his proposal, he fails to address the question of how such a restriction would be effectively implemented. There is no effective mechanism for preventing code from becoming available for download online, even if it is illegal. One critical issue the Vance proposal fails to address is how the government would prevent, or even identify, encrypted smartphones when individuals bring them into the United States. DHS would have to train customs agents to search the contents of every person’s phone in order to identify whether it is encrypted, and then confiscate the phones that are. Legal and policy considerations aside, this kind of policy is, at the very least, impractical. Preventing strong encryption from entering the US is not like preventing guns or drugs from entering the country — encrypted phones aren’t immediately obvious as is contraband. Millions of people use encrypted devices, and tens of millions more devices are shipped to and sold in the US each year.
  • Finally, there is a real concern that if Vance’s proposal were accepted, it would be the first step down a slippery slope. Right now, his proposal only calls for access to smartphones and devices running mobile operating systems. While this policy in and of itself would cover a number of commonplace devices, it may eventually be expanded to cover laptop and desktop computers, as well as communications in transit. The expansion of this kind of policy is even more worrisome when taking into account the speed at which technology evolves and becomes widely adopted. Ten years ago, the iPhone did not even exist. Who is to say what technology will be commonplace in 10 or 20 years that is not even around today. There is a very real question about how far law enforcement will go to gain access to information. Things that once seemed like merely science fiction, such as wearable technology and artificial intelligence that could be implanted in and work with the human nervous system, are now available. If and when there comes a time when our “smart phone” is not really a device at all, but is rather an implant, surely we would not grant law enforcement access to our minds.
  • Policymakers should dismiss Vance’s proposal to prohibit the use of strong encryption to protect our smartphones and devices in order to ensure law enforcement access. Undermining encryption, regardless of whether it is protecting data in transit or at rest, would take us down a dangerous and harmful path. Instead, law enforcement and the intelligence community should be working to alter their skills and tactics in a fast-evolving technological world so that they are not so dependent on information that will increasingly be protected by encryption.
Paul Merrell

Internet Freedom Expected to Further Decline in 2015 | nsnbc international - 0 views

  • According to a study from Freedom House, the decline of internet Freedom kicked into high-gear in 2014 and is expected to suffer further this year because of opinions derived from 65 nations who have Freedom to the World Wide Web. Since 2010, internet Freedom has been eroded with restrictive applications enacted by governments and censoring of content, website filters and surveillance of user’s online behavior.
  • In 2015, predictions assume that the internet will be further restricted with an estimated “41 countries had either proposed or passed legislation to penalize legitimate forms of speech online.”
Paul Merrell

ACLU Demands Secret Court Hand Over Crucial Rulings On Surveillance Law - 0 views

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a motion to reveal the secret court opinions with “novel or significant interpretations” of surveillance law, in a renewed push for government transparency. The motion, filed Wednesday by the ACLU and Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Freedom Clinic, asks the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which rules on intelligence gathering activities in secret, to release 23 classified decisions it made between 9/11 and the passage of the USA Freedom Act in June 2015. As ACLU National Security Project staff attorney Patrick Toomey explains, the opinions are part of a “much larger collection of hidden rulings on all sorts of government surveillance activities that affect the privacy rights of Americans.” Among them is the court order that the government used to direct Yahoo to secretly scanits users’ emails for “a specific set of characters.” Toomey writes: These court rulings are essential for the public to understand how federal laws are being construed and implemented. They also show how constitutional protections for personal privacy and expressive activities are being enforced by the courts. In other words, Freedom to these opinions is necessary for the public to properly oversee their government.
  • Although the USA Freedom Act requires the release of novel FISA court opinions on surveillance law, the government maintains that the rule does not apply retroactively—thereby protecting the panel from publishing many of its post-9/11 opinions, which helped create an “unprecedented buildup” of secret surveillance laws. Even after National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the scope of mass surveillance in 2013, sparking widespread outcry, dozens of rulings on spying operations remain hidden from the public eye, which stymies efforts to keep the government accountable, civil liberties advocates say. “These rulings are necessary to inform the public about the scope of the government’s surveillance powers today,” the ACLU’s motion states.
  • Toomey writes that the rulings helped influence a number of novel spying activities, including: The government’s use of malware, which it calls “Network Investigative Techniques” The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to weaken or circumvent their own encryption protocols The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to disclose their source code so that it can identify vulnerabilities The government’s use of “cybersignatures” to search through internet communications for evidence of computer intrusions The government’s use of stingray cell-phone tracking devices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) The government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans under FISA Section 702—a controversial authority scheduled to expire in December 2017 The bulk collection of financial records by the CIA and FBI under Section 215 of the Patriot Act Without these rulings being made public, “it simply isn’t possible to understand the government’s claimed authority to conduct surveillance,” Toomey writes. As he told The Intercept on Wednesday, “The people of this country can’t hold the government accountable for its surveillance activities unless they know what our laws allow. These secret court opinions define the limits of the government’s spying powers. Their disclosure is essential for meaningful public oversight in our democracy.”
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Robert McDowell: The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom - WSJ.com - 5 views

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    [Top-down, international regulation is antithetical to the Net, which has flourished under its current governance model. ...]
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    Trying to fix what ain't broken ...
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    I wish it were a matter to "fix" anything... The issue is trying to Control something that comes working fine without such 'control'...
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    You're right. The desire to censor is the real driving force here, I think.
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    A further thought: There is binding and enforceable international law on the subject of freedom of speech and freedom to information in a treaty that has been ratified by all nations other than China, which has signed but not yet ratified the treaty. That treaty's terms might provide a rallying point for at least limiting the ITU's desire to grab power over the Internet. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ("ICCRR") Article 19 provides: "1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. "2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. "3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals." http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm The last exception is broader than what I would prefer. However, while the rights created by by the ICCRR transcend national boundaries, the quoted provision unquestionably stands for the proposition that exception (b) applies only to nations and not to a U.N. body itself. Therefore, there is a very strong argument that content-based both content-based restrictions and changes in the internet's functioning to facilitate such restrictions are beyond the legal jurisdiction of the ITU. I.e., changes in the internet's functioning to facilitate content-based restrictions require consideration of the content types to be restricted. The treaty permits only national level restrictions and arguably, it thereb
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    *Oh, we got -even from before- The Art 27 of The THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS https://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a27 [(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. ...] And, as 'NOBODY' (Repeat 'NOBODY') has demonstrated that sharing affects negatively to creators (more yet, all the contrary), saying that SHARING (in any way the technology allows) is an EXCELLENT way to "participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits." is The Ultimate Truth. http://www.p2pnet.net/story/7566 *'Authorities only want to control the Information Flow... ...Nothing related with the "Defence" of Anything... but their own craving of control.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Protect Global Internet Freedom - 1 views

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    [On December 3rd, the world's governments will meet to update a key treaty of a UN agency called the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Some governments are proposing to extend ITU authority to Internet governance in ways that could threaten Internet openness and innovation, increase access costs, and erode human rights online. We call on civil society organizations and citizens of all nations to sign the following Statement to Protect Global Internet access: ...]
Paul Merrell

Notes from the Fight Against Surveillance and Censorship: 2014 in Review | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 1 views

  • 2014 in Review Series Net Neutrality Takes a Wild Ride 8 Stellar Surveillance Scoops Web Encryption Gets Stronger and More Widespread Big Patent Reform Wins in Court, Defeat (For Now) in Congress International Copyright Law More Time in the Spotlight for NSLs The State of Free Expression Online What We Learned About NSA Spying in 2014—And What We're Fighting to Expose in 2015 "Fair Use Is Working!" Email Encryption Grew Tremendously, but Still Needs Work Spies Vs. Spied, Worldwide The Fight in Congress to End the NSA's Mass Spying Open Access Movement Broadens, Moves Forward Stingrays Go Mainstream Three Vulnerabilities That Rocked the Online Security World Mobile Privacy and Security Takes Two Steps Forward, One Step Back It Was a Pivotal Year in TPP Activism but the Biggest Fight Is Still to Come The Government Spent a Lot of Time in Court Defending NSA Spying Last Year Let's Encrypt (the Entire Web)
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    The Electronic Freedom Foundation just dropped an incredible bunch of articles on the world in the form of their "2014 Year In Review" series. These are major contributions that place an awful lot of information in context. I thought I had been keeping a close eye on the same subject matter, but I'm only part way through the articles and am learning time after time that I had missed really important news having to do with digital Freedom. I can't recommend these articles enough. So far, they are all must-read.  
Paul Merrell

ExposeFacts - For Whistleblowers, Journalism and Democracy - 0 views

  • Launched by the Institute for Public Accuracy in June 2014, ExposeFacts.org represents a new approach for encouraging whistleblowers to disclose information that citizens need to make truly informed decisions in a democracy. From the outset, our message is clear: “Whistleblowers Welcome at ExposeFacts.org.” ExposeFacts aims to shed light on concealed activities that are relevant to human rights, corporate malfeasance, the environment, civil liberties and war. At a time when key provisions of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments are under assault, we are standing up for a free press, privacy, transparency and due process as we seek to reveal official information—whether governmental or corporate—that the public has a right to know. While no software can provide an ironclad guarantee of confidentiality, ExposeFacts—assisted by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and its “SecureDrop” whistleblower submission system—is utilizing the latest technology on behalf of anonymity for anyone submitting materials via the ExposeFacts.org website. As journalists we are committed to the goal of protecting the identity of every source who wishes to remain anonymous.
  • The seasoned editorial board of ExposeFacts will be assessing all the submitted material and, when deemed appropriate, will arrange for journalistic release of information. In exercising its judgment, the editorial board is able to call on the expertise of the ExposeFacts advisory board, which includes more than 40 journalists, whistleblowers, former U.S. government officials and others with wide-ranging expertise. We are proud that Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg was the first person to become a member of the ExposeFacts advisory board. The icon below links to a SecureDrop implementation for ExposeFacts overseen by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and is only Freedomible using the Tor browser. As the Freedom of the Press Foundation notes, no one can guarantee 100 percent security, but this provides a “significantly more secure environment for sources to get information than exists through normal digital channels, but there are always risks.” ExposeFacts follows all guidelines as recommended by Freedom of the Press Foundation, and whistleblowers should too; the SecureDrop onion URL should only be Freedomed with the Tor browser — and, for added security, be running the Tails operating system. Whistleblowers should not log-in to SecureDrop from a home or office Internet connection, but rather from public wifi, preferably one you do not frequent. Whistleblowers should keep to a minimum interacting with whistleblowing-related websites unless they are using such secure software.
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    A new resource site for whistle-blowers. somewhat in the tradition of Wikileaks, but designed for encrypted communications between whistleblowers and journalists.  This one has an impressive board of advisors that includes several names I know and tend to trust, among them former whistle-blowers Daniel Ellsberg, Ray McGovern, Thomas Drake, William Binney, and Ann Wright. Leaked records can only be dropped from a web browser running the Tor anonymizer software and uses the SecureDrop system originally developed by Aaron Schwartz. They strongly recommend using the Tails secure operating system that can be installed to a thumb drive and leaves no tracks on the host machine. https://tails.boum.org/index.en.html Curious, I downloaded Tails and installed it to a virtual machine. It's a heavily customized version of Debian. It has a very nice Gnome desktop and blocks any attempt to connect to an external network by means other than installed software that demands encrypted communications. For example, web sites can only be viewed via the Tor anonymizing proxy network. It does take longer for web pages to load because they are moving over a chain of proxies, but even so it's faster than pages loaded in the dial-up modem days, even for web pages that are loaded with graphics, javascript, and other cruft. E.g., about 2 seconds for New York Times pages. All cookies are treated by default as session cookies so disappear when you close the page or the browser. I love my Linux Mint desktop, but I am thinking hard about switching that box to Tails. I've been looking for methods to send a lot more encrypted stuff down the pipe for NSA to store. Tails looks to make that not only easy, but unavoidable. From what I've gathered so far, if you want to install more software on Tails, it takes about an hour to create a customized version and then update your Tails installation from a new ISO file. Tails has a wonderful odor of having been designed for secure computing. Current
Paul Merrell

From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users' Online Identities - 1 views

  • HERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.” Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs. The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.
  • Amid a renewed push from the U.K. government for more surveillance powers, more than two dozen documents being disclosed today by The Intercept reveal for the first time several major strands of GCHQ’s existing electronic eavesdropping capabilities.
  • The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens — all without a court order or judicial warrant
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  • A huge volume of the Internet data GCHQ collects flows directly into a massive repository named Black Hole, which is at the core of the agency’s online spying operations, storing raw logs of intercepted material before it has been subject to analysis. Black Hole contains data collected by GCHQ as part of bulk “unselected” surveillance, meaning it is not focused on particular “selected” targets and instead includes troves of data indiscriminately swept up about ordinary people’s online activities. Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events” — a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records — with about 10 billion new entries added every day. As of March 2009, the largest slice of data Black Hole held — 41 percent — was about people’s Internet browsing histories. The rest included a combination of email and instant messenger records, details about search engine queries, information about social media activity, logs related to hacking operations, and data on people’s use of tools to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Throughout this period, as smartphone sales started to boom, the frequency of people’s Internet use was steadily increasing. In tandem, British spies were working frantically to bolster their spying capabilities, with plans afoot to expand the size of Black Hole and other repositories to handle an avalanche of new data. By 2010, according to the documents, GCHQ was logging 30 billion metadata records per day. By 2012, collection had increased to 50 billion per day, and work was underway to double capacity to 100 billion. The agency was developing “unprecedented” techniques to perform what it called “population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries in an effort to detect patterns or behaviors deemed suspicious. It was creating what it said would be, by 2013, “the world’s biggest” surveillance engine “to run cyber operations and to access better, more valued data for customers to make a real world difference.”
  • A document from the GCHQ target analysis center (GTAC) shows the Black Hole repository’s structure.
  • The data is searched by GCHQ analysts in a hunt for behavior online that could be connected to terrorism or other criminal activity. But it has also served a broader and more controversial purpose — helping the agency hack into European companies’ computer networks. In the lead up to its secret mission targeting Netherlands-based Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world, GCHQ used MUTANT BROTH in an effort to identify the company’s employees so it could hack into their computers. The system helped the agency analyze intercepted Facebook cookies it believed were associated with Gemalto staff located at offices in France and Poland. GCHQ later successfully infiltrated Gemalto’s internal networks, stealing encryption keys produced by the company that protect the privacy of cell phone communications.
  • Similarly, MUTANT BROTH proved integral to GCHQ’s hack of Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom. The agency entered IP addresses associated with Belgacom into MUTANT BROTH to uncover information about the company’s employees. Cookies associated with the IPs revealed the Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn accounts of three Belgacom engineers, whose computers were then targeted by the agency and infected with malware. The hacking operation resulted in GCHQ gaining deep access into the most sensitive parts of Belgacom’s internal systems, granting British spies the ability to intercept communications passing through the company’s networks.
  • In March, a U.K. parliamentary committee published the findings of an 18-month review of GCHQ’s operations and called for an overhaul of the laws that regulate the spying. The committee raised concerns about the agency gathering what it described as “bulk personal datasets” being held about “a wide range of people.” However, it censored the section of the report describing what these “datasets” contained, despite acknowledging that they “may be highly intrusive.” The Snowden documents shine light on some of the core GCHQ bulk data-gathering programs that the committee was likely referring to — pulling back the veil of secrecy that has shielded some of the agency’s most controversial surveillance operations from public scrutiny. KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH are among the key bulk collection systems. But they do not operate in isolation — and the scope of GCHQ’s spying extends far beyond them.
  • The agency operates a bewildering array of other eavesdropping systems, each serving its own specific purpose and designated a unique code name, such as: SOCIAL ANTHROPOID, which is used to analyze metadata on emails, instant messenger chats, social media connections and conversations, plus “telephony” metadata about phone calls, cell phone locations, text and multimedia messages; MEMORY HOLE, which logs queries entered into search engines and associates each search with an IP address; MARBLED GECKO, which sifts through details about searches people have entered into Google Maps and Google Earth; and INFINITE MONKEYS, which analyzes data about the usage of online bulletin boards and forums. GCHQ has other programs that it uses to analyze the content of intercepted communications, such as the full written body of emails and the audio of phone calls. One of the most important content collection capabilities is TEMPORA, which mines vast amounts of emails, instant messages, voice calls and other communications and makes them accessible through a Google-style search tool named XKEYSCORE.
  • As of September 2012, TEMPORA was collecting “more than 40 billion pieces of content a day” and it was being used to spy on people across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to a top-secret memo outlining the scope of the program. The existence of TEMPORA was first revealed by The Guardian in June 2013. To analyze all of the communications it intercepts and to build a profile of the individuals it is monitoring, GCHQ uses a variety of different tools that can pull together all of the relevant information and make it accessible through a single interface. SAMUEL PEPYS is one such tool, built by the British spies to analyze both the content and metadata of emails, browsing sessions, and instant messages as they are being intercepted in real time. One screenshot of SAMUEL PEPYS in action shows the agency using it to monitor an individual in Sweden who visited a page about GCHQ on the U.S.-based anti-secrecy website Cryptome.
  • Partly due to the U.K.’s geographic location — situated between the United States and the western edge of continental Europe — a large amount of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its territory across international data cables. In 2010, GCHQ noted that what amounted to “25 percent of all Internet traffic” was transiting the U.K. through some 1,600 different cables. The agency said that it could “survey the majority of the 1,600” and “select the most valuable to switch into our processing systems.”
  • According to Joss Wright, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, tapping into the cables allows GCHQ to monitor a large portion of foreign communications. But the cables also transport masses of wholly domestic British emails and online chats, because when anyone in the U.K. sends an email or visits a website, their computer will routinely send and receive data from servers that are located overseas. “I could send a message from my computer here [in England] to my wife’s computer in the next room and on its way it could go through the U.S., France, and other countries,” Wright says. “That’s just the way the Internet is designed.” In other words, Wright adds, that means “a lot” of British data and communications transit across international cables daily, and are liable to be swept into GCHQ’s databases.
  • A map from a classified GCHQ presentation about intercepting communications from undersea cables. GCHQ is authorized to conduct dragnet surveillance of the international data cables through so-called external warrants that are signed off by a government minister. The external warrants permit the agency to monitor communications in foreign countries as well as British citizens’ international calls and emails — for example, a call from Islamabad to London. They prohibit GCHQ from reading or listening to the content of “internal” U.K. to U.K. emails and phone calls, which are supposed to be filtered out from GCHQ’s systems if they are inadvertently intercepted unless additional authorization is granted to scrutinize them. However, the same rules do not apply to metadata. A little-known loophole in the law allows GCHQ to use external warrants to collect and analyze bulk metadata about the emails, phone calls, and Internet browsing activities of British people, citizens of closely allied countries, and others, regardless of whether the data is derived from domestic U.K. to U.K. communications and browsing sessions or otherwise. In March, the existence of this loophole was quietly acknowledged by the U.K. parliamentary committee’s surveillance review, which stated in a section of its report that “special protection and additional safeguards” did not apply to metadata swept up using external warrants and that domestic British metadata could therefore be lawfully “returned as a result of searches” conducted by GCHQ.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, GCHQ appears to have readily exploited this obscure legal technicality. Secret policy guidance papers issued to the agency’s analysts instruct them that they can sift through huge troves of indiscriminately collected metadata records to spy on anyone regardless of their nationality. The guidance makes clear that there is no exemption or extra privacy protection for British people or citizens from countries that are members of the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance that the U.K. is part of alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “If you are searching a purely Events only database such as MUTANT BROTH, the issue of location does not occur,” states one internal GCHQ policy document, which is marked with a “last modified” date of July 2012. The document adds that analysts are free to search the databases for British metadata “without further authorization” by inputing a U.K. “selector,” meaning a unique identifier such as a person’s email or IP address, username, or phone number. Authorization is “not needed for individuals in the U.K.,” another GCHQ document explains, because metadata has been judged “less intrusive than communications content.” All the spies are required to do to mine the metadata troves is write a short “justification” or “reason” for each search they conduct and then click a button on their computer screen.
  • Intelligence GCHQ collects on British persons of interest is shared with domestic security agency MI5, which usually takes the lead on spying operations within the U.K. MI5 conducts its own extensive domestic surveillance as part of a program called DIGINT (digital intelligence).
  • GCHQ’s documents suggest that it typically retains metadata for periods of between 30 days to six months. It stores the content of communications for a shorter period of time, varying between three to 30 days. The retention periods can be extended if deemed necessary for “cyber defense.” One secret policy paper dated from January 2010 lists the wide range of information the agency classes as metadata — including location data that could be used to track your movements, your email, instant messenger, and social networking “buddy lists,” logs showing who you have communicated with by phone or email, the passwords you use to access “communications services” (such as an email account), and information about websites you have viewed.
  • Records showing the full website addresses you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk/what_we_do — are treated as content. But the first part of an address you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk — is treated as metadata. In isolation, a single metadata record of a phone call, email, or website visit may not reveal much about a person’s private life, according to Ethan Zuckerman, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media. But if accumulated and analyzed over a period of weeks or months, these details would be “extremely personal,” he told The Intercept, because they could reveal a person’s movements, habits, religious beliefs, political views, relationships, and even sexual preferences. For Zuckerman, who has studied the social and political ramifications of surveillance, the most concerning aspect of large-scale government data collection is that it can be “corrosive towards democracy” — leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and communication. “Once we know there’s a reasonable chance that we are being watched in one fashion or another it’s hard for that not to have a ‘panopticon effect,’” he said, “where we think and behave differently based on the assumption that people may be watching and paying attention to what we are doing.”
  • When compared to surveillance rules in place in the U.S., GCHQ notes in one document that the U.K. has “a light oversight regime.” The more lax British spying regulations are reflected in secret internal rules that highlight greater restrictions on how NSA databases can be accessed. The NSA’s troves can be searched for data on British citizens, one document states, but they cannot be mined for information about Americans or other citizens from countries in the Five Eyes alliance. No such constraints are placed on GCHQ’s own databases, which can be sifted for records on the phone calls, emails, and Internet usage of Brits, Americans, and citizens from any other country. The scope of GCHQ’s surveillance powers explain in part why Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013 that U.K. surveillance is “worse than the U.S.” In an interview with Der Spiegel in July 2013, Snowden added that British Internet cables were “radioactive” and joked: “Even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.”
  • In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities. “The spread of encryption … threatens our ability to do effective target discovery/development,” says a top-secret report co-authored by an official from the British agency and an NSA employee in 2011. “Pertinent metadata events will be locked within the encrypted channels and difficult, if not impossible, to prise out,” the report says, adding that the agencies were working on a plan that would “(hopefully) allow our Internet Exploitation strategy to prevail.”
Paul Merrell

Building the Technology Stack for Internet Freedom - 1 views

  • Hillary Clinton called for the U.S. to promote Internet freedoms earlier this week and introduced a $25 million fund for technology companies that might help with the task. The New America Foundation has already applied for a grant under the program, which includes a $3.5 million proposal, of which $500,000 will be funded by the New America Foundation itself. The mission? To build the technology stack for a distributed, open-source telecommunications system. The project would combine well-known projects — such as the open source voice projects Asterisk and OpenBTS – with new projects for mesh networking known as The Serval Project — which Kevin covered earlier this month — and Commotion, open-source firmware to enable routers to create an open mesh network. Dan Meredith, a technologist at New America, broke it down for me, and said the hope is to deliver communications in areas where Internet freedom is scarce, but also among populations unable to use communications because of government interference.
Paul Merrell

New Leak Of Final TPP Text Confirms Attack On Freedom Of Expression, Public Health - 0 views

  • Offering a first glimpse of the secret 12-nation “trade” deal in its final form—and fodder for its growing ranks of opponents—WikiLeaks on Friday published the final negotiated text for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)’s Intellectual Property Rights chapter, confirming that the pro-corporate pact would harm freedom of expression by bolstering monopolies while and injure public health by blocking patient freedom to lifesaving medicines. The document is dated October 5, the same day it was announced in Atlanta, Georgia that the member states to the treaty had reached an accord after more than five years of negotiations. Aside from the WikiLeaks publication, the vast majority of the mammoth deal’s contents are still being withheld from the public—which a WikiLeaks press statement suggests is a strategic move by world leaders to forestall public criticism until after the Canadian election on October 19. Initial analyses suggest that many of the chapter’s more troubling provisions, such as broader patent and data protections that pharmaceutical companies use to delay generic competition, have stayed in place since draft versions were leaked in 2014 and 2015. Moreover, it codifies a crackdown on freedom of speech with rules allowing widespread internet censorship.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

EU digital single market: Death by compromise - POLITICO (*) - 0 views

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    By Ryan Heath and Zoya Sheftalovich 6/5/15, 5:30 AM CET Updated 6/5/15, 12:07 PM CET The long-awaited, much-ballyhooed Digital Single Market strategy is set to be published at noon Wednesday by the European Commission. Reaction will be quick, loud and vociferous, but look for clues to the answer to one key question: Will this document really change anything? [*The structure of Media supply/demand keeps on being vertical: Users will only access what Big Companies offer. There must be a way -via watermarking, perhaps- to allow people to consume whatever they want, and fairly monetize it later... If not, the contents will be keep restricted to editors will: that is censorship and restrictions in te age of abundance and access] "A user's guide to the Commission's latest brainstorm. By Ryan Heath and Zoya Sheftalovich 6/5/15, 5:30 AM CET Updated 6/5/15, 12:07 PM CET"
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    By Ryan Heath and Zoya Sheftalovich 6/5/15, 5:30 AM CET Updated 6/5/15, 12:07 PM CET The long-awaited, much-ballyhooed Digital Single Market strategy is set to be published at noon Wednesday by the European Commission. Reaction will be quick, loud and vociferous, but look for clues to the answer to one key question: Will this document really change anything? [*The structure of Media supply/demand keeps on being vertical: Users will only access what Big Companies offer. There must be a way -via watermarking, perhaps- to allow people to consume whatever they want, and fairly monetize it later... If not, the contents will be keep restricted to editors will: that is censorship and restrictions in te age of abundance and access] "A user's guide to the Commission's latest brainstorm. By Ryan Heath and Zoya Sheftalovich 6/5/15, 5:30 AM CET Updated 6/5/15, 12:07 PM CET"
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Gallo report: Copyright dogmatism wins a battle, not the war Submitted on 01 June 2010 | La Quadrature du Net - 1 views

  • Brussels, June 1st 2010 - The vote, in JURI committee of the European Parliament on the Gallo report "Enforcement of intellectual property", including the rapporteur's repressive amendments, reflects the asphyxiating influence of corporate lobbies on EU policy-making. The ALDE group, which had stood for fundamental freedoms on several occasions, this time sided with the entertainment industries. This vote should make EU citizens react and convince MEPs about the stakes of our evolving digital societies. Beyond the vote of the Gallo report in plenary session, there are other upcoming legislative battles where the public interest of creativity and freedom to knowledge can be upheld against an obsolete vision of copyright.
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    Gallo Report on the future of EU copyright: repression or reflexion ? Submitted on 25 May 2010 in * copyright * proposals * Gallo * press release * Read more * Twitter * Facebook * Delicious * Digg * MySpace * Français Paris, May 25th, 2010 - The Gallo Report on the future of "intellectual property rights" (IPR) enforcement will be voted on June 1st, at 9 AM,1 in the Committee for Legal Affairs (JURI) of the European Parliament. Since no compromise was found between the members of the committee, two visions will frontally oppose. While the rapporteur -- French sarkozyst EPP member Marielle Gallo -- is pushing for more repression to tackle online file-sharing, some positive amendments from all the other political groups2 seek to end the dogmatic repression and call for the consideration of alternative schemes to fund creation. Every citizen concerned by the future of copyright in Europe and by the open nature of the Internet should express their views to the Members of the JURI committee3. 1. 1. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/activities/committees/calendarCom.do?langu... 2. 2. http://www.laquadrature.net/wiki/Rapport_Gallo_Amendments 3. 3. La Quadrature's wiki-based tool Political Memorycan be used for this purpose.
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    Perhaps The (Only One) Association that cares about Internet Citizens' Freedoms here in Europe...
Paul Merrell

FBI's secret method of unlocking iPhone may never reach Apple | Reuters - 0 views

  • The FBI may be allowed to withhold information about how it broke into an iPhone belonging to a gunman in the December San Bernardino shootings, despite a U.S. government policy of disclosing technology security flaws discovered by federal agencies. Under the U.S. vulnerabilities equities process, the government is supposed to err in favor of disclosing security issues so companies can devise fixes to protect data. The policy has exceptions for law enforcement, and there are no hard rules about when and how it must be applied.Apple Inc has said it would like the government to share how it cracked the iPhone security protections. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been frustrated by its inability to access data on encrypted phones belonging to criminal suspects, might prefer to keep secret the technique it used to gain access to gunman Syed Farook's phone. The referee is likely to be a White House group formed during the Obama administration to review computer security flaws discovered by federal agencies and decide whether they should be disclosed.
  • Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA and now a lawyer with Steptoe & Johnson, said the review process could be complicated if the cracking method is considered proprietary by the third party that assisted the FBI.Several security researchers have pointed to the Israel-based mobile forensics firm Cellebrite as the likely third party that helped the FBI. That company has repeatedly declined comment.
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    The article is wide of the mark, based on analysis of Executive Branch policy rather than the governing law such as the Freedom of Information Act. And I still find it somewhat ludicrous that a third party with knowledge of the defect could succeed in convincing a court that knowledge of a defect in a company's product is trade-secret proprietary information. "Your honor, my client has discovered a way to break into Mr. Tim Cook's house without a key to his house. That is a valuable trade secret that this Court must keep Mr. Cook from learning." Pow! The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it a crime to Freedom a computer that can connect to the Internet by exploiting a software bug. 
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

#KeepItOn - Access Now - 1 views

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    "in·ter·net shut·down noun | /ˈin(t)ərˌnet ˈSHətˌdoun/ An intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information. Internet shutdowns happen when governments order companies to cut off access to communications tools - like Twitter, SMS, or Facebook. Unfortunately, companies often comply with these government orders, even when they happen during elections."
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Outernet Product Test Location - 0 views

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    [https://www.outernet.is/] "Please tell us where you think Outernet should be switched on first. Remember, Outernet plans to eventually make service available everywhere and always for free. In addition to thinking about what might be a preference for your own local Outernet service, also consider the need to make Outernet as effective as possible from the outset. Think about the greatest impact Outernet could have in radical change as well as how many hypotheses about Outernet could be tested and what aspects of information freedom can be altered. The product test will take place over Ku band and come online in late summer 2014."
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    [https://www.outernet.is/] "Please tell us where you think Outernet should be switched on first. Remember, Outernet plans to eventually make service available everywhere and always for free. In addition to thinking about what might be a preference for your own local Outernet service, also consider the need to make Outernet as effective as possible from the outset. Think about the greatest impact Outernet could have in radical change as well as how many hypotheses about Outernet could be tested and what aspects of information freedom can be altered. The product test will take place over Ku band and come online in late summer 2014."
Paul Merrell

The Fundamentals of US Surveillance: What Edward Snowden Never Told Us? | Global Research - Centre for Research on Globalization - 0 views

  • Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations rocked the world.  According to his detailed reports, the US had launched massive spying programs and was scrutinizing the communications of American citizens in a manner which could only be described as extreme and intense. The US’s reaction was swift and to the point. “”Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” President Obama said when asked about the NSA. As quoted in The Guardian,  Obama went on to say that surveillance programs were “fully overseen not just by Congress but by the Fisa court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them”. However, it appears that Snowden may have missed a pivotal part of the US surveillance program. And in stating that the “nobody” is not listening to our calls, President Obama may have been fudging quite a bit.
  • In fact, Great Britain maintains a “listening post” at NSA HQ. The laws restricting live wiretaps do not apply to foreign countries  and thus this listening post  is not subject to  US law.  In other words, the restrictions upon wiretaps, etc. do not apply to the British listening post.  So when Great Britain hands over the recordings to the NSA, technically speaking, a law is not being broken and technically speaking, the US is not eavesdropping on our each and every call. It is Great Britain which is doing the eavesdropping and turning over these records to US intelligence. According to John Loftus, formerly an attorney with  the Department of Justice and author of a number of books concerning US intelligence activities, back in the late seventies  the USDOJ issued a memorandum proposing an amendment to FISA. Loftus, who recalls seeing  the memo, stated in conversation this week that the DOJ proposed inserting the words “by the NSA” into the FISA law  so the scope of the law would only restrict surveillance by the NSA, not by the British.  Any subsequent sharing of the data culled through the listening posts was strictly outside the arena of FISA. Obama was less than forthcoming when he insisted that “What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not.”
  • According to Loftus, the NSA is indeed listening as Great Britain is turning over the surveillance records en masse to that agency. Loftus states that the arrangement is reciprocal, with the US maintaining a parallel listening post in Great Britain. In an interview this past week, Loftus told this reporter that  he believes that Snowden simply did not know about the arrangement between Britain and the US. As a contractor, said Loftus, Snowden would not have had access to this information and thus his detailed reports on the extent of US spying, including such programs as XKeyscore, which analyzes internet data based on global demographics, and PRISM, under which the telecommunications companies, such as Google, Facebook, et al, are mandated to collect our communications, missed the critical issue of the FISA loophole.
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  • U.S. government officials have defended the program by asserting it cannot be used on domestic targets without a warrant. But once again, the FISA courts and their super-secret warrants  do not apply to foreign government surveillance of US citizens. So all this sturm and drang about whether or not the US is eavesdropping on our communications is, in fact, irrelevant and diversionary.
  • In fact, the USA Freedom Act reinstituted a number of the surveillance protocols of Section 215, including  authorization for  roving wiretaps  and tracking “lone wolf terrorists.”  While mainstream media heralded the passage of the bill as restoring privacy rights which were shredded under 215, privacy advocates have maintained that the bill will do little, if anything, to reverse the  surveillance situation in the US. The NSA went on the record as supporting the Freedom Act, stating it would end bulk collection of telephone metadata. However, in light of the reciprocal agreement between the US and Great Britain, the entire hoopla over NSA surveillance, Section 215, FISA courts and the USA Freedom Act could be seen as a giant smokescreen. If Great Britain is collecting our real time phone conversations and turning them over to the NSA, outside the realm or reach of the above stated laws, then all this posturing over the privacy rights of US citizens and surveillance laws expiring and being resurrected doesn’t amount to a hill of CDs.
Paul Merrell

Most Agencies Falling Short on Mandate for Online Records - 1 views

  • Nearly 20 years after Congress passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments (E-FOIA), only 40 percent of agencies have followed the law's instruction for systematic posting of records released through FOIA in their electronic reading rooms, according to a new FOIA Audit released today by the National Security Archive at www.nsarchive.org to mark Sunshine Week. The Archive team audited all federal agencies with Chief FOIA Officers as well as agency components that handle more than 500 FOIA requests a year — 165 federal offices in all — and found only 67 with online libraries populated with significant numbers of released FOIA documents and regularly updated.
  • Congress called on agencies to embrace disclosure and the digital era nearly two decades ago, with the passage of the 1996 "E-FOIA" amendments. The law mandated that agencies post key sets of records online, provide citizens with detailed guidance on making FOIA requests, and use new information technology to post online proactively records of significant public interest, including those already processed in response to FOIA requests and "likely to become the subject of subsequent requests." Congress believed then, and openness advocates know now, that this kind of proactive disclosure, publishing online the results of FOIA requests as well as agency records that might be requested in the future, is the only tenable solution to FOIA backlogs and delays. Thus the National Security Archive chose to focus on the e-reading rooms of agencies in its latest audit. Even though the majority of federal agencies have not yet embraced proactive disclosure of their FOIA releases, the Archive E-FOIA Audit did find that some real "E-Stars" exist within the federal government, serving as examples to lagging agencies that technology can be harnessed to create state-of-the art FOIA platforms. Unfortunately, our audit also found "E-Delinquents" whose abysmal web performance recalls the teletype era.
  • E-Delinquents include the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, which, despite being mandated to advise the President on technology policy, does not embrace 21st century practices by posting any frequently requested records online. Another E-Delinquent, the Drug Enforcement Administration, insults its website's viewers by claiming that it "does not maintain records appropriate for FOIA Library at this time."
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  • THE E-DELINQUENTS: WORST OVERALL AGENCIES In alphabetical order
  • The federal government has made some progress moving into the digital era. The National Security Archive's last E-FOIA Audit in 2007, " File Not Found," reported that only one in five federal agencies had put online all of the specific requirements mentioned in the E-FOIA amendments, such as guidance on making requests, contact information, and processing regulations. The new E-FOIA Audit finds the number of agencies that have checked those boxes is now much higher — 100 out of 165 — though many (66 in 165) have posted just the bare minimum, especially when posting FOIA responses. An additional 33 agencies even now do not post these types of records at all, clearly thwarting the law's intent.
  • The FOIAonline Members (Department of Commerce, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Labor Relations Authority, Merit Systems Protection Board, National Archives and Records Administration, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, Department of the Navy, General Services Administration, Small Business Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Federal Communications Commission) won their "E-Star" by making past requests and releases searchable via FOIAonline. FOIAonline also allows users to submit their FOIA requests digitally.
  • "The presumption of openness requires the presumption of posting," said Archive director Tom Blanton. "For the new generation, if it's not online, it does not exist." The National Security Archive has conducted fourteen FOIA Audits since 2002. Modeled after the California Sunshine Survey and subsequent state "FOI Audits," the Archive's FOIA Audits use open-government laws to test whether or not agencies are obeying those same laws. Recommendations from previous Archive FOIA Audits have led directly to laws and executive orders which have: set explicit customer service guidelines, mandated FOIA backlog reduction, assigned individualized FOIA tracking numbers, forced agencies to report the average number of days needed to process requests, and revealed the (often embarrassing) ages of the oldest pending FOIA requests. The surveys include:
  • Key Findings
  • Excuses Agencies Give for Poor E-Performance
  • Justice Department guidance undermines the statute. Currently, the FOIA stipulates that documents "likely to become the subject of subsequent requests" must be posted by agencies somewhere in their electronic reading rooms. The Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy defines these records as "frequently requested records… or those which have been released three or more times to FOIA requesters." Of course, it is time-consuming for agencies to develop a system that keeps track of how often a record has been released, which is in part why agencies rarely do so and are often in breach of the law. Troublingly, both the current House and Senate FOIA bills include language that codifies the instructions from the Department of Justice. The National Security Archive believes the addition of this "three or more times" language actually harms the intent of the Freedom of Information Act as it will give agencies an easy excuse ("not requested three times yet!") not to proactively post documents that agency FOIA offices have already spent time, money, and energy processing. We have formally suggested alternate language requiring that agencies generally post "all records, regardless of form or format that have been released in response to a FOIA request."
  • Disabilities Compliance. Despite the E-FOIA Act, many government agencies do not embrace the idea of posting their FOIA responses online. The most common reason agencies give is that it is difficult to post documents in a format that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, also referred to as being "508 compliant," and the 1998 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act that require federal agencies "to make their electronic and information technology (EIT) accessible to people with disabilities." E-Star agencies, however, have proven that 508 compliance is no barrier when the agency has a will to post. All documents posted on FOIAonline are 508 compliant, as are the documents posted by the Department of Defense and the Department of State. In fact, every document created electronically by the US government after 1998 should already be 508 compliant. Even old paper records that are scanned to be processed through FOIA can be made 508 compliant with just a few clicks in Adobe Acrobat, according to this Department of Homeland Security guide (essentially OCRing the text, and including information about where non-textual fields appear). Even if agencies are insistent it is too difficult to OCR older documents that were scanned from paper, they cannot use that excuse with digital records.
  • Privacy. Another commonly articulated concern about posting FOIA releases online is that doing so could inadvertently disclose private information from "first person" FOIA requests. This is a valid concern, and this subset of FOIA requests should not be posted online. (The Justice Department identified "first party" requester rights in 1989. Essentially agencies cannot use the b(6) privacy exemption to redact information if a person requests it for him or herself. An example of a "first person" FOIA would be a person's request for his own immigration file.) Cost and Waste of Resources. There is also a belief that there is little public interest in the majority of FOIA requests processed, and hence it is a waste of resources to post them. This thinking runs counter to the governing principle of the Freedom of Information Act: that government information belongs to US citizens, not US agencies. As such, the reason that a person requests information is immaterial as the agency processes the request; the "interest factor" of a document should also be immaterial when an agency is required to post it online. Some think that posting FOIA releases online is not cost effective. In fact, the opposite is true. It's not cost effective to spend tens (or hundreds) of person hours to search for, review, and redact FOIA requests only to mail it to the requester and have them slip it into their desk drawer and forget about it. That is a waste of resources. The released document should be posted online for any interested party to utilize. This will only become easier as FOIA processing systems evolve to automatically post the documents they track. The State Department earned its "E-Star" status demonstrating this very principle, and spent no new funds and did not hire contractors to build its Electronic Reading Room, instead it built a self-sustaining platform that will save the agency time and money going forward.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Save the Internet - contact your representative today! - 0 views

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    "Defend net neutrality in Europe Your freedom online is threatened by an EU proposal. The fight for the open internet is happening right now in Brussels. "
Paul Merrell

Civil society organisations say no to intellectual property in EU - US trade agreement - Press releases - 0 views

  • Brussels, 18 March 2013 -- More than 35 European and United States civil society organisations insist that a proposed trade agreement between the EU and the US exclude any provisions related to patents, copyright, trademarks, or other forms of so-called "intellectual property". Such provisions could impede citizens' rights to health, culture, and free expression and otherwise affect their daily lives.
  • We, the undersigned, are internet freedom and public health groups, activists, and other public interest leaders dedicated to the rights of all people to freedom cultural and educational resources and affordable medicines, to enjoy a free and open internet, and to benefit from open and needs-driven innovation. First, we insist that the European Union and United States release, in timely and ongoing fashion, any and all negotiating or pre-negotiation texts. We believe that secretive "trade" negotiations are absolutely unacceptable forums for devising binding rules that change national non-trade laws. Second, we insist that the proposed TAFTA exclude any provisions related to patents, copyright, trademarks, data protection, geographical indications, or other forms of so-called "intellectual property". Such provisions could impede our rights to health, culture, and free expression and otherwise affect our daily lives.
  • The civil society organisations also insist that the EU and US will release the negotiating texts of the trade agreement they intend to negotiate. They believe that secretive "trade" negotiations are absolutely unacceptable forums for devising binding rules that change national non-trade laws.
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  • Past trade agreements negotiated by the US and EU have significantly increased the privileges of multinational corporations at the expense of society in general. Provisions in these agreements can, among many other concerns, limit free speech, constrain access to educational materials such as textbooks and academic journals, and, in the case of medicines, raise healthcare costs and contribute to preventable suffering and death. Unless "intellectual property" is excluded from these talks, we fear that the outcome will be an agreement that inflicts the worst of both regimes’ rules on the other party. From a democratic perspective, we believe that important rules governing technology, health, and culture should be debated in the US Congress, the European Parliament, national parliaments, and other transparent forums where all stakeholders can be heard—not in closed negotiations that give privileged access to corporate insiders. The TAFTA negotiations must not lead to a rewriting of patent and copyright rules in a way that tilts the balance even further away from the interests of citizens.
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