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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

Section 215 and "Fruitless" (?!?) Constitutional Adjudication | Just Security - 0 views

  • This morning, the Second Circuit issued a follow-on ruling to its May decision in ACLU v. Clapper (which had held that the NSA’s bulk telephone records program was unlawful insofar as it had not properly been authorized by Congress). In a nutshell, today’s ruling rejects the ACLU’s request for an injunction against the continued operation of the program for the duration of the 180-day transitional period (which ends on November 29) from the old program to the quite different collection regime authorized by the USA Freedom Act. As the Second Circuit (in my view, quite correctly) concluded, “Regardless of whether the bulk telephone metadata program was illegal prior to May, as we have held, and whether it would be illegal after November 29, as Congress has now explicitly provided, it is clear that Congress intended to authorize it during the transitionary period.” So far, so good. But remember that the ACLU’s challenge to bulk collection was mounted on both statutory and constitutional grounds, the latter of which the Second Circuit was able to avoid in its earlier ruling because of its conclusion that, prior to the enactment of the USA Freedom Act, bulk collection was unauthorized by Congress. Now that it has held that it is authorized during the transitional period, that therefore tees up, quite unavoidably, whether bulk collection violates the Fourth Amendment. But rather than decide that (momentous) question, the Second Circuit ducked:
  • We agree with the government that we ought not meddle with Congress’s considered decision regarding the transition away from bulk telephone metadata collection, and also find that addressing these issues at this time would not be a prudent use of judicial authority. We need not, and should not, decide such momentous constitutional issues based on a request for such narrow and temporary relief. To do so would take more time than the brief transition period remaining for the telephone metadata program, at which point, any ruling on the constitutionality of the demised program would be fruitless. In other words, because any constitutional violation is short-lived, and because it results from the “considered decision” of Congress, it would be fruitless to actually resolve the constitutionality of bulk collection during the transitional period.
  • Hopefully, it won’t take a lot of convincing for folks to understand just how wrong-headed this is. For starters, if the plaintiffs are correct, they are currently being subjected to unconstitutional government surveillance for which they are entitled to a remedy. The fact that this surveillance has a limited shelf-life (and/or that Congress was complicit in it) doesn’t in any way ameliorate the constitutional violation — which is exactly why the Supreme Court has, for generations, recognized an exception to mootness doctrine for constitutional violations that, owing to their short duration, are “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” Indeed, in this very same opinion, the Second Circuit first held that the ACLU’s challenge isn’t moot, only to then invokes mootness-like principles to justify not resolving the constitutional claim. It can’t be both; either the constitutional challenge is moot, or it isn’t. But more generally, the notion that constitutional adjudication of a claim with a short shelf-life is “fruitless” utterly misses the significance of the establishment of forward-looking judicial precedent, especially in a day and age in which courts are allowed to (and routinely do) avoid resolving the merits of constitutional claims in cases in which the relevant precedent is not “clearly established.” Maybe, if this were the kind of constitutional question that was unlikely to recur, there’d be more to the Second Circuit’s avoidance of the issue in this case. But whether and to what extent the Fourth Amendment applies to information we voluntarily provide to third parties is hardly that kind of question, and the Second Circuit’s unconvincing refusal to answer that question in a context in which it is quite squarely presented is nothing short of feckless.
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

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 Access 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, access 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.”
Paul Merrell

US pushing local cops to stay mum on surveillance - Yahoo News - 0 views

  • WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods, The Associated Press has learned. Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment. Federal involvement in local open records proceedings is unusual. It comes at a time when President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance and called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified federal surveillance programs.
  • One well-known type of this surveillance equipment is known as a Stingray, an innovative way for law enforcement to track cellphones used by suspects and gather evidence. The equipment tricks cellphones into identifying some of their owners' account information, like a unique subscriber number, and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company's tower. That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask for help from service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T, and can locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message. But without more details about how the technology works and under what circumstances it's used, it's unclear whether the technology might violate a person's constitutional rights or whether it's a good investment of taxpayer dollars. Interviews, court records and public-records requests show the Obama administration is asking agencies to withhold common information about the equipment, such as how the technology is used and how to turn it on. That pushback has come in the form of FBI affidavits and consultation in local criminal cases.
  • "These extreme secrecy efforts are in relation to very controversial, local government surveillance practices using highly invasive technology," said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought for the release of these types of records. "If public participation means anything, people should have the facts about what the government is doing to them." Harris Corp., a key manufacturer of this equipment, built a secrecy element into its authorization agreement with the Federal Communications Commission in 2011. That authorization has an unusual requirement: that local law enforcement "coordinate with the FBI the acquisition and use of the equipment." Companies like Harris need FCC authorization in order to sell wireless equipment that could interfere with radio frequencies. A spokesman from Harris Corp. said the company will not discuss its products for the Defense Department and law enforcement agencies, although public filings showed government sales of communications systems such as the Stingray accounted for nearly one-third of its $5 billion in revenue. "As a government contractor, our solutions are regulated and their use is restricted," spokesman Jim Burke said.
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  • Local police agencies have been denying access to records about this surveillance equipment under state public records laws. Agencies in San Diego, Chicago and Oakland County, Michigan, for instance, declined to tell the AP what devices they purchased, how much they cost and with whom they shared information. San Diego police released a heavily censored purchasing document. Oakland officials said police-secrecy exemptions and attorney-client privilege keep their hands tied. It was unclear whether the Obama administration interfered in the AP requests. "It's troubling to think the FBI can just trump the state's open records law," said Ginger McCall, director of the open government project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. McCall suspects the surveillance would not pass constitutional muster. "The vast amount of information it sweeps in is totally irrelevant to the investigation," she said.
  • A court case challenging the public release of information from the Tucson Police Department includes an affidavit from an FBI special agent, Bradley Morrison, who said the disclosure would "result in the FBI's inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity because through public disclosures, this technology has been rendered essentially useless for future investigations." Morrison said revealing any information about the technology would violate a federal homeland security law about information-sharing and arms-control laws — legal arguments that that outside lawyers and transparency experts said are specious and don't comport with court cases on the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. The FBI did not answer questions about its role in states' open records proceedings.
  • But a former Justice Department official said the federal government should be making this argument in federal court, not a state level where different public records laws apply. "The federal government appears to be attempting to assert a federal interest in the information being sought, but it's going about it the wrong way," said Dan Metcalfe, the former director of the Justice Department's office of information and privacy. Currently Metcalfe is the executive director of American University's law school Collaboration on Government Secrecy project. A criminal case in Tallahassee cites the same homeland security laws in Morrison's affidavit, court records show, and prosecutors told the court they consulted with the FBI to keep portions of a transcript sealed. That transcript, released earlier this month, revealed that Stingrays "force" cellphones to register their location and identifying information with the police device and enables officers to track calls whenever the phone is on.
  • One law enforcement official familiar with the Tucson lawsuit, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak about internal discussions, said federal lawyers told Tucson police they couldn't hand over a PowerPoint presentation made by local officers about how to operate the Stingray device. Federal officials forwarded Morrison's affidavit for use in the Tucson police department's reply to the lawsuit, rather than requesting the case be moved to federal court. In Sarasota, Florida, the U.S. Marshals Service confiscated local records on the use of the surveillance equipment, removing the documents from the reach of Florida's expansive open-records law after the ACLU asked under Florida law to see the documents. The ACLU has asked a judge to intervene. The Marshals Service said it deputized the officer as a federal agent and therefore the records weren't accessible under Florida law.
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    The Florida case is particularly interesting because Florida is within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has just ruled that law enforcement must obtain a search warrant from a court before using equipment to determine a cell phone's location.  
Paul Merrell

Google book-scanning project legal, says U.S. appeals court | Reuters - 0 views

  • A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that Google's massive effort to scan millions of books for an online library does not violate copyright law, rejecting claims from a group of authors that the project illegally deprives them of revenue.The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York rejected infringement claims from the Authors Guild and several individual writers, and found that the project provides a public service without violating intellectual property law.
  • Google argued that the effort would actually boost book sales by making it easier for readers to find works, while introducing them to books they might not otherwise have seen.A lawyer for the authors did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Google had said it could face billions of dollars in potential damages if the authors prevailed. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, who oversaw the case at the lower court level, dismissed the litigation in 2013, prompting the authors' appeal.Chin found Google's scanning of tens of millions of books and posting "snippets" online constituted "fair use" under U.S. copyright law.A unanimous three-judge appeals panel said the case "tests the boundaries of fair use," but found Google's practices were ultimately allowed under the law. "Google’s division of the page into tiny snippets is designed to show the searcher just enough context surrounding the searched term to help her evaluate whether the book falls within the scope of her interest (without revealing so much as to threaten the author’s copyright interests)," Circuit Judge Pierre Leval wrote for the court.
  • The 2nd Circuit had previously rejected a similar lawsuit from the Authors Guild in June 2014 against a consortium of universities and research libraries that built a searchable online database of millions of scanned works.The case is Authors Guild v. Google Inc, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 13-4829.
Paul Merrell

Civil Rights Coalition files FCC Complaint Against Baltimore Police Department for Illegally Using Stingrays to Disrupt Cellular Communications | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 0 views

  • This week the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange.org, and New America’s Open Technology Institute filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission alleging the Baltimore police are violating the federal Communications Act by using cell site simulators, also known as Stingrays, that disrupt cellphone calls and interfere with the cellular network—and are doing so in a way that has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Stingrays operate by mimicking a cell tower and directing all cellphones in a given area to route communications through the Stingray instead of the nearby tower. They are especially pernicious surveillance tools because they collect information on every single phone in a given area—not just the suspect’s phone—this means they allow the police to conduct indiscriminate, dragnet searches. They are also able to locate people inside traditionally-protected private spaces like homes, doctors’ offices, or places of worship. Stingrays can also be configured to capture the content of communications. Because Stingrays operate on the same spectrum as cellular networks but are not actually transmitting communications the way a cell tower would, they interfere with cell phone communications within as much as a 500 meter radius of the device (Baltimore’s devices may be limited to 200 meters). This means that any important phone call placed or text message sent within that radius may not get through. As the complaint notes, “[d]epending on the nature of an emergency, it may be urgently necessary for a caller to reach, for example, a parent or child, doctor, psychiatrist, school, hospital, poison control center, or suicide prevention hotline.” But these and even 911 calls could be blocked.
  • The Baltimore Police Department could be among the most prolific users of cell site simulator technology in the country. A Baltimore detective testified last year that the BPD used Stingrays 4,300 times between 2007 and 2015. Like other law enforcement agencies, Baltimore has used its devices for major and minor crimes—everything from trying to locate a man who had kidnapped two small children to trying to find another man who took his wife’s cellphone during an argument (and later returned it). According to logs obtained by USA Today, the Baltimore PD also used its Stingrays to locate witnesses, to investigate unarmed robberies, and for mysterious “other” purposes. And like other law enforcement agencies, the Baltimore PD has regularly withheld information about Stingrays from defense attorneys, judges, and the public. Moreover, according to the FCC complaint, the Baltimore PD’s use of Stingrays disproportionately impacts African American communities. Coming on the heels of a scathing Department of Justice report finding “BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law,” this may not be surprising, but it still should be shocking. The DOJ’s investigation found that BPD not only regularly makes unconstitutional stops and arrests and uses excessive force within African-American communities but also retaliates against people for constitutionally protected expression, and uses enforcement strategies that produce “severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans.”
  • Adding Stingrays to this mix means that these same communities are subject to more surveillance that chills speech and are less able to make 911 and other emergency calls than communities where the police aren’t regularly using Stingrays. A map included in the FCC complaint shows exactly how this is impacting Baltimore’s African-American communities. It plots hundreds of addresses where USA Today discovered BPD was using Stingrays over a map of Baltimore’s black population based on 2010 Census data included in the DOJ’s recent report:
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  • The Communications Act gives the FCC the authority to regulate radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable communications in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. This includes being responsible for protecting cellphone networks from disruption and ensuring that emergency calls can be completed under any circumstances. And it requires the FCC to ensure that access to networks is available “to all people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.” Considering that the spectrum law enforcement is utilizing without permission is public property leased to private companies for the purpose of providing them next generation wireless communications, it goes without saying that the FCC has a duty to act.
  • But we should not assume that the Baltimore Police Department is an outlier—EFF has found that law enforcement has been secretly using stingrays for years and across the country. No community should have to speculate as to whether such a powerful surveillance technology is being used on its residents. Thus, we also ask the FCC to engage in a rule-making proceeding that addresses not only the problem of harmful interference but also the duty of every police department to use Stingrays in a constitutional way, and to publicly disclose—not hide—the facts around acquisition and use of this powerful wireless surveillance technology.  Anyone can support the complaint by tweeting at FCC Commissioners or by signing the petitions hosted by Color of Change or MAG-Net.
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    An important test case on the constitutionality of stingray mobile device surveillance.
Paul Merrell

Bulk Collection Under Section 215 Has Ended… What's Next? | Just Security - 0 views

  • The first (and thus far only) roll-back of post-9/11 surveillance authorities was implemented over the weekend: The National Security Agency shuttered its program for collecting and holding the metadata of Americans’ phone calls under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. While bulk collection under Section 215 has ended, the government can obtain access to this information under the procedures specified in the USA Freedom Act. Indeed, some experts have argued that the Agency likely has access to more metadata because its earlier dragnet didn’t cover cell phones or Internet calling. In addition, the metadata of calls made by an individual in the United States to someone overseas and vice versa can still be collected in bulk — this takes place abroad under Executive Order 12333. No doubt the NSA wishes that this was the end of the surveillance reform story and the Paris attacks initially gave them an opening. John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, implied that the attacks were somehow related to “hand wringing” about spying and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill to delay the shut down of the 215 program. Opponents of encryption were quick to say: “I told you so.”
  • But the facts that have emerged thus far tell a different story. It appears that much of the planning took place IRL (that’s “in real life” for those of you who don’t have teenagers). The attackers, several of whom were on law enforcement’s radar, communicated openly over the Internet. If France ever has a 9/11 Commission-type inquiry, it could well conclude that the Paris attacks were a failure of the intelligence agencies rather than a failure of intelligence authorities. Despite the passage of the USA Freedom Act, US surveillance authorities have remained largely intact. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act — which is the basis of programs like PRISM and the NSA’s Upstream collection of information from Internet cables — sunsets in the summer of 2017. While it’s difficult to predict the political environment that far out, meaningful reform of Section 702 faces significant obstacles. Unlike the Section 215 program, which was clearly aimed at Americans, Section 702 is supposedly targeted at foreigners and only picks up information about Americans “incidentally.” The NSA has refused to provide an estimate of how many Americans’ information it collects under Section 702, despite repeated requests from lawmakers and most recently a large cohort of advocates. The Section 215 program was held illegal by two federal courts (here and here), but civil attempts to challenge Section 702 have run into standing barriers. Finally, while two review panels concluded that the Section 215 program provided little counterterrorism benefit (here and here), they found that the Section 702 program had been useful.
  • There is, nonetheless, some pressure to narrow the reach of Section 702. The recent decision by the European Court of Justice in the safe harbor case suggests that data flows between Europe and the US may be restricted unless the PRISM program is modified to protect the information of Europeans (see here, here, and here for discussion of the decision and reform options). Pressure from Internet companies whose business is suffering — estimates run to the tune of $35 to 180 billion — as a result of disclosures about NSA spying may also nudge lawmakers towards reform. One of the courts currently considering criminal cases which rely on evidence derived from Section 702 surveillance may hold the program unconstitutional either on the basis of the Fourth Amendment or Article III for the reasons set out in this Brennan Center report. A federal district court in Colorado recently rejected such a challenge, although as explained in Steve’s post, the decision did not seriously explore the issues. Further litigation in the European courts too could have an impact on the debate.
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  • The US intelligence community’s broadest surveillance authorities are enshrined in Executive Order 12333, which primarily covers the interception of electronic communications overseas. The Order authorizes the collection, retention, and dissemination of “foreign intelligence” information, which includes information “relating to the capabilities, intentions or activities of foreign powers, organizations or persons.” In other words, so long as they are operating outside the US, intelligence agencies are authorized to collect information about any foreign person — and, of course, any Americans with whom they communicate. The NSA has conceded that EO 12333 is the basis of most of its surveillance. While public information about these programs is limited, a few highlights give a sense of the breadth of EO 12333 operations: The NSA gathers information about every cell phone call made to, from, and within the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and Afghanistan, and possibly other countries. A joint US-UK program tapped into the cables connecting internal Yahoo and Google networks to gather e-mail address books and contact lists from their customers. Another US-UK collaboration collected images from video chats among Yahoo users and possibly other webcam services. The NSA collects both the content and metadata of hundreds of millions of text messages from around the world. By tapping into the cables that connect global networks, the NSA has created a database of the location of hundreds of millions of mobile phones outside the US.
  • Given its scope, EO 12333 is clearly critical to those seeking serious surveillance reform. The path to reform is, however, less clear. There is no sunset provision that requires action by Congress and creates an opportunity for exposing privacy risks. Even in the unlikely event that Congress was inclined to intervene, it would have to address questions about the extent of its constitutional authority to regulate overseas surveillance. To the best of my knowledge, there is no litigation challenging EO 12333 and the government doesn’t give notice to criminal defendants when it uses evidence derived from surveillance under the order, so the likelihood of a court ruling is slim. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is currently reviewing two programs under EO 12333, but it is anticipated that much of its report will be classified (although it has promised a less detailed unclassified version as well). While the short-term outlook for additional surveillance reform is challenging, from a longer-term perspective, the distinctions that our law makes between Americans and non-Americans and between domestic and foreign collection cannot stand indefinitely. If the Fourth Amendment is to meaningfully protect Americans’ privacy, the courts and Congress must come to grips with this reality.
Paul Merrell

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

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

Wikipedia takes feds to court over spying | TheHill - 0 views

  • The foundation behind Wikipedia is suing the U.S. government over spying that it says violates core provisions of the Constitution.The Wikimedia Foundation joined forces on Tuesday with a slew of human rights groups, The Nation magazine and other organizations in a lawsuit accusing the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department of violating the constitutional protections for freedom of speech and privacy.
  • If successful, the lawsuit could land a crippling blow to the web of secretive spying powers wielded by the NSA and exposed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago. Despite initial outrage after Snowden’s leaks, Congress has yet to make any serious reforms to the NSA, and many of the programs continue largely unchanged.The lawsuit targets the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance program, which taps into the fiber cables that make up the backbone of the global Internet and allows the agency to collect vast amounts of information about people on the Web.“As a result, whenever someone overseas views or edits a Wikipedia page, it’s likely that the N.S.A. is tracking that activity — including the content of what was read or typed, as well as other information that can be linked to the person’s physical location and possible identity,” Tretikov and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote in a joint New York Times op-ed announcing the lawsuit. Because the operations are largely overseen solely by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which operates out of the public eye and has been accused of acting as a rubber stamp for intelligence agencies — the foundation accused the NSA of violating the guarantees of a fair legal system.In addition to the Wikimedia Foundation and The Nation, the other groups joining the lawsuit are the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Pen American Center, the Global Fund for Women, the Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America. The groups are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • In 2013, a lawsuit against similar surveillance powers brought by Amnesty International was tossed out by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the organization was not affected by the spying and had no standing to sue. That decision came before Snowden’s leaks later that summer, however, which included a slide featuring Wikipedia’s logo alongside those of Facebook, Yahoo, Google and other top websites. That should be more than enough grounds for a successful suit, the foundation said. In addition to the new suit, there are also a handful of other outstanding legal challenges to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, a different program that has inspired some of the most heated antipathy. Those suits are all pending in appeals courts around the country.
Paul Merrell

Spies and internet giants are in the same business: surveillance. But we can stop them | John Naughton | Comment is free | The Guardian - 0 views

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

Obama lawyers asked secret court to ignore public court's decision on spying | US news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • The Obama administration has asked a secret surveillance court to ignore a federal court that found bulk surveillance illegal and to once again grant the National Security Agency the power to collect the phone records of millions of Americans for six months. The legal request, filed nearly four hours after Barack Obama vowed to sign a new law banning precisely the bulk collection he asks the secret court to approve, also suggests that the administration may not necessarily comply with any potential court order demanding that the collection stop.
  • But Carlin asked the Fisa court to set aside a landmark declaration by the second circuit court of appeals. Decided on 7 May, the appeals court ruled that the government had erroneously interpreted the Patriot Act’s authorization of data collection as “relevant” to an ongoing investigation to permit bulk collection. Carlin, in his filing, wrote that the Patriot Act provision remained “in effect” during the transition period. “This court may certainly consider ACLU v Clapper as part of its evaluation of the government’s application, but second circuit rulings do not constitute controlling precedent for this court,” Carlin wrote in the 2 June application. Instead, the government asked the court to rely on its own body of once-secret precedent stretching back to 2006, which Carlin called “the better interpretation of the statute”.
  • But the Fisa court must first decide whether the new bulk-surveillance request is lawful. On Friday, the conservative group FreedomWorks filed a rare motion before the Fisa court, asking it to reject the government’s surveillance request as a violation of the fourth amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. Fisa court judge Michael Moseman gave the justice department until this coming Friday to respond – and explicitly barred the government from arguing that FreedomWorks lacks the standing to petition the secret court.
Paul Merrell

It's A-OK for FBI agents to silence web giants, says appeals court * The Register - 1 views

  • Gagging orders in the FBI's National Security Letters are all above board and constitutional, a California court has ruled. These security letters are typically sent to internet giants demanding information on whoever is behind a username or email address. Crucially, these requests include clauses that prevent the organizations from warning specific subscribers that they are under surveillance by the Feds. Cloudflare and Credo Mobile aren't happy with that, and – with the help of rights warriors at the EFF – challenged the gagging orders. Despite earlier successes in their legal battle, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled [PDF] on Monday that the gagging orders do not trample on First Amendment rights.
  • The FBI dishes out thousands of National Security Letters (NSLs) every year; they can simply be issued by a special agent in charge in a bureau field office, and don’t require judicial review. They allow the Feds to obtain the name, address, and records of any services used – but not the contents of conversations – plus billing records of a person, and forbid the hosting company from telling the subject, meaning those under investigation can’t challenge the decision. It used to be the case that companies couldn’t even mention the existence of the NSL system for fear of prosecution. However, in 2013 a US district court in San Francisco ruled that such extreme gagging violated the First Amendment. That decision came after Google, and later others, started publishing the number of NSL orders that had been received, in defiance of the law. In 2015 the Obama administration amended the law to allow companies limited rights to disclose NSL orders, and to set a three-year limit for the gagging order. It also set up a framework for companies to challenge the legitimacy of NSL subpoenas, and it was these changes that caused the appeals court verdict in favor of the government.
Paul Merrell

Microsoft Says U.S. Is Abusing Secret Warrants - 0 views

  • “WE APPRECIATE THAT there are times when secrecy around a government warrant is needed,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post on Thursday. “But based on the many secrecy orders we have received, we question whether these orders are grounded in specific facts that truly demand secrecy. To the contrary, it appears that the issuance of secrecy orders has become too routine.” With those words, Smith announced that Microsoft was suing the Department of Justice for the right to inform its customers when the government is reading their emails. The last big fight between the Justice Department and Silicon Valley was started by law enforcement, when the FBI demanded that Apple unlock a phone used by San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook. This time, Microsoft is going on the offensive. The move is welcomed by privacy activists as a step forward for transparency — though it’s also for business reasons.
  • Secret government searches are eroding people’s trust in the cloud, Smith wrote — including large and small businesses now keeping massive amounts of records online. “The transition to the cloud does not alter people’s expectations of privacy and should not alter the fundamental constitutional requirement that the government must — with few exceptions — give notice when it searches and seizes private information or communications,” he wrote. According to the complaint, Microsoft received 5,624 federal demands for customer information or data in the past 18 months. Almost half — 2,576 — came with gag orders, and almost half of those — 1,752 — had “no fixed end date” by which Microsoft would no longer be sworn to secrecy. These requests, though signed off on by a judge, qualify as unconstitutional searches, the attorneys argue. It “violates both the Fourth Amendment, which affords people and businesses the right to know if the government searches or seizes their property, and the First Amendment, which enshrines Microsoft’s rights to talk to its customers and to discuss how the government conducts its investigations — subject only to restraints narrowly tailored to serve compelling government interests,” they wrote.
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    The Fourth Amendment argument that people have a right to know when their property has been searched or seized is particularly interesting to me. If adopted by the Courts, that could spell the end of surveillance gag orders. 
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