Posts Tagged ‘civil liberties’

How the NSA’s surveillance programs undermine Internet security

Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 11:41 am by

Over the last year, nearly all the news and outrcy about the National Security (NSA) has focused on its programs to collect phone records and spy on Internet communications.  However, the NSA is also engaging in secretly undermining essential encryption tools and standards and, among other things,  putting backdoors into computer hardware and software products.

Not only have they stockpiled the vulnerabilities in commercial software we use every day rather than attempting to fix those security flaws, they have been putting spyware into computers around the world by impersonating popular sights like Facebook and LinkedIn.  They have even gone so far as to hack into Google and Yahoo’s private data links.

Congress has finally started paying attention to these disturbing actions.  In June, the House voted to approve two amendments to defund the NSA’s attempted to undermine encryption standards and to insert surveillance backdoors into the communications technologies we rely on.  Repesentatives Zoe Lofgren and Alan Grayson sponsored these amendments. (more…)

BORDC joins ACLU brief challenging NYPD spying

Monday, July 14, 2014 at 12:57 pm by

Last Thursday, BORDC signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey in the case of Hassan, et al., v. City of New York, which challenges the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) surveillance of Muslims, mosques, and Muslim-owned businesses in New Jersey. The brief, which was submitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, explained that the lower court erred when it issued a decision in February dismissing the plaintiffs’ claims.

hassan

Other organizations on the brief included Latino Justice PRLDEF, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Garden State Bar Association, the Hispanic Bar Association, and the Association of Black Women Lawyers of New Jersey.

“When a person presents evidence that a government agency has singled them out for harsher treatment because of their race, ethnicity or religion, the government bears a heavy burden of justifying its actions,” stated Rutgers Law School-Newark’s Acting Dean Ronald Chen, who is serving as the ACLU-NJ’s cooperating counsel in the case. “The plaintiffs deserve to have their day in court to challenge being profiled by the NYPD.” (more…)

From cops to soldiers: the American police state and the militarization of law enforcement.

Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm by

These are busy times for the Border Patrol, the custom agents, immigration folks; but if we are going to send these agencies to fight a war on drugs, to fight a war against illegal behavior, we have to send them the proper tools.

– Then-Mayor of San Diego, Bob Filner

Since President Richard Nixon declared the War on Drugs in June 1971, the United States has spent nearly $1 trillion on a vicious campaign that has served as a means to subjugate, terrorize, and control. Nonviolent drug abuse violations remain the single most common offense, accounting for over 1.5 million individuals arrested in 2012.

SWAT

With the rate of unsolved homicides skyrocketing over the past 50 years, it is has become increasingly clear that the failed War on Drugs has only perpetuated violence on the streets of America’s most destitute communities. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff, “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.” Despite the seemingly obvious facts that speak against these tough-on-crime policies, the war wages on throughout the nation, as low-income communities and communities of color continue to be targeted in an effort to destabilize the urban family.

This rise of militarism in American policing has come about without public discussion, and is often accompanied with a lack of both local and federal oversight. Maryland stands as the only state in the country that requires law enforcement agencies with a SWAT team to submit semi-annual deployment information, a law that was enacted after a small-town mayor was held at gunpoint for hours by the Prince George County SWAT team on false pretenses.  The SWAT team proceeded to murder two of his dogs.

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The Court finally shows up for work (Part I)

Thursday, June 26, 2014 at 6:11 pm by

The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Riley v. California and US v Wurie has been hailed as a breakthrough for digital privacy, and it is. Lost in most celebration of the Court finally joining the 20th century, however, is an understanding of how it got there. Why this ruling came down in 2014 is crucial to understand for future debates over any number of issues.

A watershed case: the Court acknowledges digital privacy

Riley represents the first time the Supreme Court has even attempted to meaningfully embrace the privacy issues presented by the digital age.

A recent prior case, US vs Jones, addressed GPS tracking by local police. Jones vindicated checks on runaway executive power, though not on privacy grounds. While the Jones ruling rejected extended police GPS surveillance without a warrant, it did so on property grounds, protecting for landowners interests denied to others (namely, anyone who parks a car on a street, rather than behind a fence).

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“The fault line is shifting”

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm by

Earlier this week, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar appeared on The Big Picture with host Thom Hartmann to explain what he described as a “game changer” on congressional NSA reform, and to relate how members of Congress found “an alternative outlet for their outrage” about NSA spying.

Shahid explained that:

The last thing that had happened in Congress was a very meager version of the USA Freedom Act passing the House, and that could ultimately [do] more harm than good. The amendments to the House Defense Appropriations bill last week…reflected essentially a response by members of Congress who were frustrated by the White House and the Republican leadership of the House gutting the USA Freedom Act, and finding an alternative outlet for their outrage….

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House moves to rein in NSA Internet surveillance

Friday, June 20, 2014 at 11:13 am by

A year after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed pervasive dragnet spying by the National Security Agency, Congress has finally begun to take action. Last night, the House “unexpectedly and overwhelmingly” voted in favor of a measure imposing two major limits on the NSA’s domestic dragnet.

By a wide and revealing margin, 293 Representatives came together across party lines to approve an amendment to a military spending bill that — if ultimately signed into law after agreement in the Senate – could deny funding to two particular NSA abuses.

First, the amendment aims to effectively prohibit NSA queries taking advantage of a “backdoor search loophole” (in which the NSA collects information about Americans by designating a foreigner with whom they communicate as the ”target” of their search). It would also prohibit the NSA from building security vulnerabilities into tech products made in the US, as it has for “computers, hard drives, routers, and other devices from companies such as Cisco, Dell, Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor, Samsung and Huawei.”

Members of Congress from both major parties expressed the widespread popular outrage underlying the vote. According to a joint statement by Representatives Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Lofgren (D-CA), and Massie (R-KY), “Americans have become increasingly alarmed with the breadth of unwarranted government surveillance programs.” Rep. Massie also put it more colorfully, explaining that ”The American people are sick of being spied on,” evoking the words of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who sharply criticized “this dragnet spying on millions of Americans.”

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Retired Air Force officer exhorts Americans to challenge “Fortress America”

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 11:06 am by

Reflecting on his 20 years of military service as a US Air Force officer, and noting the dramatic changes in both law & culture over the past decade, Lt. Colonel (ret.) William J. Astore wrote last week about the acquiescence of Americans to what he describes as “Fortress America.” In Uncle Sam Doesn’t Want You—He Already Has You, Astore exhorts Americans to challenge the national security state in order to preserve basic liberty principles.

Referencing young people who may not recall an era in which privacy was ever respected, he explains:

Many of the college students I’ve taught recently take such a loss of privacy for granted. They have no idea what’s gone missing from their lives and so don’t value what they’ve lost or, if they fret about it at all, console themselves with magical thinking—incantations like “I’ve done nothing wrong, so I’ve got nothing to hide.” They have little sense of how capricious governments can be about the definition of “wrong.”

Astore goes on to note the sycophancy of Hollywood, reflected in movies repeatedly glorifying US intelligence agencies despite their serial crimes, in sharp contrast to the films of the 1970s and 1980s that offered storylines and narratives more reflective of the agencies actual behavior.

He also takes on border security and police militarization:

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Senate Intel Committee exhorted to move beyond USA Freedom Act

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm by

Last week, on June 5, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held a hearing on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and legislative proposals to reform its provisions to address systemic abuses by the National Security Agency (NSA). C-SPAN recorded the hearing, and has posted both video and full text of the testimony and exchanges with Senators.

Harley Geiger from the Center for Democracy & Technology delivered especially informative testimony, explaining that:

Although questions remain and further debate is needed in many areas, a near consensus has emerged on a critical issue that has been of central focus to the American public: The government’s bulk collection of records of phone calls and emails to, from and within the United States is both intrusive and unnecessary, and Congress must act to prohibit this activity.

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New study confirms: domestic terror prosecutions contrived

Monday, June 9, 2014 at 11:08 am by

Last week, the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and Project SALAM (Support And Legal Advocacy for Muslims) released a 175-page study of the government’s prosecution strategy in domestic terrorism cases. The study, Inventing Terrorists: The Lawfare of Preemptive Prosecution, reveals that the era of J. Edgar Hoover may be less far removed from the Bureau’s operations than most observers realize. The introduction explains that:

[T]he war on terror has been largely a charade designed to make the American public believe that a terrorist army is loose in the U.S., when the truth is that most of the people convicted of terrorism-related crimes posed no danger to the U.S. and were entrapped by a preventive strategy known as preemptive prosecution.

This week, they will host a press conference to discuss their discoveries on on Thursday, June 12 at 11 a.m. in New York City at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Anyone interested is invited to attend.

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NSA collects biometric data, prompting creative countermeasures

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at 7:27 am by

Along with investigative journalist Laura Pointras, James Risen from the New York Times (who is facing prosecution for protecting the confidentiality of his sources in the face of yet another whistleblower investigation) produced a report this Sunday based on the latest among the Snowden revelations. In particular, Poitras & Risen reveal that the NSA is collecting and maintaining a vast image database of faces for use with facial recognition software.

As they explain in their report:

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.

Facial recognition software deployed for surveillance and intelligence gathering is not merely constitutionally questionable, it is also really, really creepy. Your face is not “data,” it is you. More than any personal email or racy text message, your biometric information is the most personal data you possess. By rendering faces into ones and zeros, the NSA objectifies and commodifies the body itself.

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