Earlier this week, Firedoglake reported on an internal NSA document circulated on November 22 that provides talking points for employees to defend the NSA to their friends and family. The two-page document includes five main points and a bulleted list of evidence to support each point.
We’ve finally been able to confirm—and force media and government institutions to address—longstanding concerns that Washington has discarded the Constitution and is indiscriminately capturing our internet searches, social media posts, text messages, emails, IP addresses, electronic banking information, and phone calls (content and meta data) without any evidence of wrongdoing. The data from whistleblowers essentially confirmed suspicions that the NSA, for years, has been collecting and archiving records of what every American reads, writes, hears, and says.
Such warrantless bulk data collection sows the seeds for political repression of the ilk we’ve seen it before. The former East Germany and the Soviet Union were historical paragons of authoritarianism. But neither of those regimes had technological capabilities even comparable to the National Security Agency (NSA). With arbitrary detention without trial added to unapologetic profiling according to race, religion, and ideology, there is little to prevent a future American official—at nearly any point in the chain of command—from taking advantage of the profound secrecy and unaccountability across the national security establishment to misuse its powers for dangerous ends.
Today, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee joins a nationwide day of action calling for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a nearly 30 year old law that allows the government to access your email and documents stored in the cloud without a warrant.
In a previous story written by Alok Bhatt about the need to reform the ECPA, he described:
“The severely outdated Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), enacted in 1986 to restrict government access to then-limited digital data, allows warrantless access to messages stored for over 180 days. In a new era of cloud computing, however, this obsolete provision fails to uphold modern expectations of privacy,”
The National Security Agency (NSA) has received widespread attention since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on its domestic surveillance programs that track everything from cellphone calls to porn watching habits. Now it appears that constitutionally offensive data collection extends beyond the NSA to include other national intelligence agencies.
The NY Times recently reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in particular, has built a close, voluntary relationship with AT&T. At the spy agency’s request, AT&T turns over call records and metadata not only for their customers, but also for anyone whose communication was processed by their equipment. All of this has happened without any court order, without a warrant, and with no independent oversight.
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On Wednesday, November 20, the Town Meeting of Brookline, Massachusetts debated an issue at the nexus of national security and local politics: the use of surveillance cameras provided to police by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Since 2009, Brookline police have been operating eleven such cameras. They were provided by a DHS grant through its Urban Areas Security Initiative (UAIS) and are part of an overall network of cameras including Boston and eight surrounding municipalities labeled the Critical Infrastructure Management System (CIMS). Their stated purpose is to provide support for evacuation and other security needs in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency. The DHS website describes CIMS as a system that has “nine, independent and interoperable nodes tied together through a central hub.”
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While Congress mulls over dozens of competing proposals to reign in the NSA’s domestic dragnet spying activities, the agency continues to run circles around Congress and the courts, while continuing to co-opt the Obama White House.
At a time like this, it may help to rememeber some of the pithy reflections on NSA spying that comedians have shared, like:
- “Germany is mad at the United States for the NSA eavesdropping. This, ladies and gentlemen, from the country that gave us the Gestapo.” –David Letterman
- “Due to the government spy scandal, sales of the classic George Orwell book ’1984′ have skyrocketed. So the fallout is worse than we thought. It’s making Americans read.” –Conan O’Brien
- “President Obama said he welcomes a national debate over our surveillance policies. He said that’s a debate we wouldn’t have had five years ago. Five years ago? It’s a debate we wouldn’t have had two weeks ago if they all hadn’t gotten caught.” –Jay Leno
- “Mr. President, no one is saying you broke any laws. We’re just saying it’s a little bit weird you didn’t have to.” –The Daily Show’s John Oliver
If these jokes don’t prompt a laugh at your next cocktail party, consider focusing your friends on the laughable job that Congress has done in overseeing domestic spying over the past decade. Unfortunately, there seem to be no shortage of clowns involved in this ongoing sordid enterprise.
Earlier this week, the New York Times reported on yet another aspect of the NSA domestic dragnet: the government’s covert hacking of data center transmission lines. The story quoted former BORDC Board President Chip Pitts, who served as Chief Legal Officer at Nokia in the 1990s and is now a lecturer at Stanford Law School.
The story explained that:
“People knowledgeable about Google and Yahoo’s infrastructure say they believe that government spies bypassed the big Internet companies and hit them at a weak spot — the fiber-optic cables that connect data centers around the world….
“From Echelon to Total Information Awareness to Prism, all these programs have gone under different names, but in essence do the same thing,” said Chip Pitts, a law lecturer at Stanford University School of Law….
Mr. Pitts said that while working as the chief legal officer at Nokia in the 1990s, he successfully fended off an effort by intelligence agencies to get backdoor access into Nokia’s computer networking equipment….
Commentary by Cindy Cohn and Trevor Timm and published on Deeplinks Blog on November 26, 2013.
We’ve heard from lots of folks who are passionately concerned about the NSA’s mass spying, but are struggling to get their friends and family to understand the problem and join the over a half-million people who have demanded change through stopwatching.us and elsewhere.
Of course, you can show them the Stop Watching Us video and this great segment from Stephen Colbert. And if you’d like a detailed refresher on all the ways NSA is conducing mass surveillance, ProPublica has a handy explainer here.
Nastiness of American torture regime continues to be unveiled: Not only Hollywood, but doctors, California prisons all co-opted for the causeTuesday, November 26, 2013 at 9:43 am by Nicholas Devyatkin
For those who think that the debate surrounding torture ended with the hoopla around the film Zero Dark Thirty, think again. A recent report by the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers (Task Force) lambasted doctors for their participation in torture at Guantanamo Bay. The doctors advised CIA and military interrogators on how to take advantage of prisoners’ fears and insecurities, and how to ultimately destroy their will to resist. The CIA’s Office of Medical Services oversaw and approved waterboarding, among other forms of torture. As Dr. Stephen Xenakis points out in a recent interview,
they were specifically giving the interrogators information on the health condition of the subjects, on vulnerabilities, on ideas about what their psychology was, so that they could be exploited . . . they were going to be exploited to exercise stress and coercion, with the idea that they were going to get better information.
Commentary by Trevor Timm of Electronic Frontier Foundation published on November 25, 2013.
Privacy may not be the only casualty of the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program. Major sectors of the US economy are reporting financial damage as the recent revelations shake consumer confidence and US trade partners distance themselves from companies that may have been compromised by the NSA or, worse, are secretly collaborating with the spy agency. Member of Congress, especially those who champion America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, should take note and rein in the NSA now if they want to stem the damage.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that AT&T’s desired acquisition of the European company Vodafone is in danger due to the company’s well-documented involvement in the NSA’s data-collection programs. European officials said the telecommunications giant would face “intense scrutiny” in its bid to purchase a major cell phone carrier. The Journal went on to say:
“Resistance to such a deal, voiced by officials in interviews across Europe, suggests the impact of the NSA affair could extend beyond the diplomatic sphere and damage US economic interests in key markets.”
In September, analysts at Cisco Systems reported that the fallout “reached another level,” when the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) told companies not to use cryptographic standards that may have been undermined by the NSA’s BULLRUN program. The Cisco analysts said that if cryptography was compromised “it would be a critical blow to trust required across the Internet and the security community.”