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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

Google, ACLU call to delay government hacking rule | TheHill - 0 views

  • A coalition of 26 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Google, signed a letter Monday asking lawmakers to delay a measure that would expand the government’s hacking authority. The letter asks Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump voices confidence on infrastructure plan GOP leaders to Obama: Leave Iran policy to Trump GOP debates going big on tax reform MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidNevada can’t trust Trump to protect public lands Sanders, Warren face tough decision on Trump Google, ACLU call to delay government hacking rule MORE (D-Nev.), plus House Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTrump voices confidence on infrastructure plan GOP leaders to Obama: Leave Iran policy to Trump GOP debates going big on tax reform MORE (R-Wis.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to further review proposed changes to Rule 41 and delay its implementation until July 1, 2017. ADVERTISEMENTThe Department of Justice’s alterations to the rule would allow law enforcement to use a single warrant to hack multiple devices beyond the jurisdiction that the warrant was issued in. The FBI used such a tactic to apprehend users of the child pornography dark website, Playpen. It took control of the dark website for two weeks and after securing two warrants, installed malware on Playpen users computers to acquire their identities. But the signatories of the letter — which include advocacy groups, companies and trade associations — are raising questions about the effects of the change. 
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    ".. no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Fourth Amendment. The changes to Rule 41 ignore the particularity requirement by allowing the government to search computers that are not particularly identified in multiple locations not particularly identifed, in other words, a general warrant that is precisely the reason the particularity requirement was adopted to outlaw.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

UK Culture Secretary: Search Engines Must Magically Stop Piracy Or Else! | Techdirt - 1 views

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    "from the good-luck-with-that dept You'd think that after years and years of pointless banter along these lines that people in power would understand just how ridiculous they sound when they try to blame search engines for infringement. TorrentFreak points out that the UK's Culture Secretary Sajid Javid gave a barn raising speech to folks from the British recording industry. "
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    # ! ...No Idea of how the Internet (and the #Culture) work # ! or just another desperate -and useless- anti-culture measure. [#Clue: Pe@ple wants #more #accessible, #cheaper... and -essentially- #Better stuff. They (us) deserve it and can be easily #done.]
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

France Implements Administrative Net Censorship | La Quadrature du Net - 0 views

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    "Paris, February 6, 2015 - After review by the French Cabinet last Wednesday, the implementation decree for the administrative blocking of pedopornographic and terrorist websites was published today. This decree implements the provisions of to the Loppsi Act (15 March 2011) and the "Terrorism" Act (13 November 2014), both of which La Quadrature du Net opposed. It gives the government the power to directly order French telecom operators to block access to websites deemed to convey content relating to child abuse or terrorism, without any court order."
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    "Paris, February 6, 2015 - After review by the French Cabinet last Wednesday, the implementation decree for the administrative blocking of pedopornographic and terrorist websites was published today. This decree implements the provisions of to the Loppsi Act (15 March 2011) and the "Terrorism" Act (13 November 2014), both of which La Quadrature du Net opposed. It gives the government the power to directly order French telecom operators to block access to websites deemed to convey content relating to child abuse or terrorism, without any court order."
Paul Merrell

Assange Keeps Warning Of AI Censorship, And It's Time We Started Listening - 0 views

  • Where power is not overtly totalitarian, wealthy elites have bought up all media, first in print, then radio, then television, and used it to advance narratives that are favorable to their interests. Not until humanity gained widespread access to the internet has our species had the ability to freely and easily share ideas and information on a large scale without regulation by the iron-fisted grip of power. This newfound ability arguably had a direct impact on the election for the most powerful elected office in the most powerful government in the world in 2016, as a leak publishing outlet combined with alternative and social media enabled ordinary Americans to tell one another their own stories about what they thought was going on in their country.This newly democratized narrative-generating power of the masses gave those in power an immense fright, and they’ve been working to restore the old order of power controlling information ever since. And the editor-in-chief of the aforementioned leak publishing outlet, WikiLeaks, has been repeatedly trying to warn us about this coming development.
  • In a statement that was recently read during the “Organising Resistance to Internet Censorship” webinar, sponsored by the World Socialist Web Site, Assange warned of how “digital super states” like Facebook and Google have been working to “re-establish discourse control”, giving authority over how ideas and information are shared back to those in power.Assange went on to say that the manipulative attempts of world power structures to regain control of discourse in the information age has been “operating at a scale, speed, and increasingly at a subtlety, that appears likely to eclipse human counter-measures.”What this means is that using increasingly more advanced forms of artificial intelligence, power structures are becoming more and more capable of controlling the ideas and information that people are able to access and share with one another, hide information which goes against the interests of those power structures and elevate narratives which support those interests, all of course while maintaining the illusion of freedom and lively debate.
  • To be clear, this is already happening. Due to a recent shift in Google’s “evaluation methods”, traffic to left-leaning and anti-establishment websites has plummeted, with sites like WikiLeaks, Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News, Truthout, and WSWS losing up to 70 percent of the views they were getting prior to the changes. Powerful billionaire oligarchs Pierre Omidyar and George Soros are openly financing the development of “an automated fact-checking system” (AI) to hide “fake news” from the public.
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  • To make matters even worse, there’s no way to know the exact extent to which this is going on, because we know that we can absolutely count on the digital super states in question to lie about it. In the lead-up to the 2016 election, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was asked point-blank if Twitter was obstructing the #DNCLeaks from trending, a hashtag people were using to build awareness of the DNC emails which had just been published by WikiLeaks, and Dorsey flatly denied it. More than a year later, we learned from a prepared testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism by Twitter’s acting general counsel Sean J. Edgett that this was completely false and Twitter had indeed been doing exactly that to protect the interests of US political structures by sheltering the public from information allegedly gathered by Russian hackers.
  • Imagine going back to a world like the Middle Ages where you only knew the things your king wanted you to know, except you could still watch innocuous kitten videos on Youtube. That appears to be where we may be headed, and if that happens the possibility of any populist movement arising to hold power to account may be effectively locked out from the realm of possibility forever.To claim that these powerful new media corporations are just private companies practicing their freedom to determine what happens on their property is to bury your head in the sand and ignore the extent to which these digital super states are already inextricably interwoven with existing power structures. In a corporatist system of government, which America unquestionably has, corporate censorship is government censorship, of an even more pernicious strain than if Jeff Sessions were touring the country burning books. The more advanced artificial intelligence becomes, the more adept these power structures will become at manipulating us. Time to start paying very close attention to this.
Paul Merrell

Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments - 0 views

  • In September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country. The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials. Indeed, Israeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders
  • Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government.
  • What this means is obvious: that the U.S. government — meaning, at the moment, the Trump administration — has the unilateral and unchecked power to force the removal of anyone it wants from Facebook and Instagram by simply including them on a sanctions list. Does anyone think this is a good outcome? Does anyone trust the Trump administration — or any other government — to compel social media platforms to delete and block anyone it wants to be silenced? As the ACLU’s Jennifer Granick told the Times: It’s not a law that appears to be written or designed to deal with the special situations where it’s lawful or appropriate to repress speech. … This sanctions law is being used to suppress speech with little consideration of the free expression values and the special risks of blocking speech, as opposed to blocking commerce or funds as the sanctions was designed to do. That’s really problematic.
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  • As is always true of censorship, there is one, and only one, principle driving all of this: power. Facebook will submit to and obey the censorship demands of governments and officials who actually wield power over it, while ignoring those who do not. That’s why declared enemies of the U.S. and Israeli governments are vulnerable to censorship ignoring by Facebook, whereas U.S and Israeli officials (and their most tyrannical and repressive allies) are not
  • All of this illustrates that the same severe dangers from state censorship are raised at least as much by the pleas for Silicon Valley giants to more actively censor “bad speech.” Calls for state censorship may often be well-intentioned — a desire to protect marginalized groups from damaging “hate speech” — yet, predictably, they are far more often used against marginalized groups: to censor them rather than protect them. One need merely look at how hate speech laws are used in Europe, or on U.S. college campuses, to see that the censorship victims are often critics of European wars, or activists against Israeli occupation, or advocates for minority rights.
  • It’s hard to believe that anyone’s ideal view of the internet entails vesting power in the U.S. government, the Israeli government, and other world powers to decide who may be heard on it and who must be suppressed. But increasingly, in the name of pleading with internet companies to protect us, that’s exactly what is happening.
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