Posts Tagged ‘domestic surveillance’

President Obama defends the intelligence establishment

Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 11:40 am by

PCLOBLast Friday, January 17, President Obama delivered an extensive speech acknowledging the disturbing history of government surveillance, while proposing meager reforms that would fail to address most of the wide-ranging concerns prompted by the Snowden disclosures.

The Boston Globe published an editorial, “Obama chooses to tweak NSA, rather than embrace reform,” citing BORDC’s Shahid Buttar. According to The Globe:

The most meaningful reform [that President Obama] announced was a new requirement that permission be obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court each time US officials want to search the database of phone and Internet records that the government holds….

Lastly, Obama asked Congress to change the rules of the intelligence court to carve out a role for privacy advocates. Currently, judges only hear from one side. These are important changes. But the fundamental question of whether the government should collect and retain massive amounts of data on private citizens remains unresolved. While Obama’s NSA review board urged the government to stop the mass collection of data — and have phone companies hold the data instead — Obama seemed determined to ensure that the government maintain access to it.


New York Times quotes former BORDC leader

Thursday, November 28, 2013 at 9:29 am by

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….

 It went on to quote Mr. Pitts:
“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….

One year later, Boston police surveillance of antiwar activists not accounted for

Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 9:30 am by

new-boston-police-department-car-630The New York Police Department (NYPD) has been scrutinized following the revelation one month ago that it designated entire mosques as “terrorism enterprises.” This allowed  them to conduct surveillance on anyone praying at these mosques, including sending  undercover informants into them. NYPD confidential documents even peddled the idea of placing agents in leadership positions at mosques and Arab cultural organizations. Such actions are part of a national context in which police departments violate the first amendment rights of citizens in the name of fighting terrorism. A prime example is the lack of accountability or explanation from the Boston Police Department (BPD) one year after its surveillance of local anti-war organizations became public.

In October 2012 it was revealed that the BPD placed local anti-war groups under surveillance with no plausible connections to criminal activity. One year later many questions remain about the scope of the BPD’s breach of privacy. What was the purpose of such surveillance and how was it done?  Are antiwar activists continuing to have their protected free speech rights violated?  Has information on antiwar groups been passed on to national databases, perhaps stored permanently?


Texas takes steps to restrict surveillance drones

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 7:44 am by

This guest blog post was written by Imad Khan.
On June 14, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed HB 912 into law, putting restrictions on the use of drones by law enforcement officials. This is a historic moment, especially in the wake of leaks from the NSA’s wiretapping schemes, confirming that Texas will not allow dragnet surveillance abuses by law enforcement agencies within the state’s jurisdiction.

It’s quite impressive that this bill came into law considering how powerfully its opposition challenged the measure’s sponsors and supporters. It took the cooperation of multiple parties to push this through, and Texas should be seen as a model for the rest of the country in regards to drones.

With the onset of the PATRIOT Act, it became apparent that technology could be used to violate civil liberties in the name of security. Many have scrutinized the PATRIOT Act, and later measures, for giving the executive branch overarching power without any congressional oversight. Legislatures across the country are trying to address the growing sources of civil liberties abuses by presenting bills that ensure some semblance of protection from arbitrary surveillance. Texas Representative Lance Gooden has done just that.


Overlooked reasons why NSA secrecy is senseless and offensive

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 10:48 am by

Last night, I appeared alongside renowned investigator James Bamford, whistleblower advocate Jesselyn Radack, and privacy and open government expert Ginger McCall on Thom Hartmann’s television program The Big Picture. Video from our interview (my first comments start at 7:05) is below, and here’s audio from my appearance on WBAI’s Five O’Clock Shadow with Robert Knight just a few hours earlier.

Several issues remain muted in much of the discussion about the NSA, its offensive and unAmerican spying programs, and the escalating crisis in the Washington establishment favoring imperial executive power over the constitutional legacy of the Republic created by our founders.

I address issues relating to executive secrecy, and one relating to corruption, below.


Constitution in Crisis::BORDC’s May Newsletter

Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm by

Constitution in Crisis

May 2013, Vol. 12 No. 05

View this newsletter as a webpage:

Department of Justice seizes phone records of journalists


Grassroots News

Law and Policy

New Resources and Opportunities


House committee hears domestic drones concerns

Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 9:42 am by

On May 17, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, held a hearing to address the growing concerns surrounding the domestic use of drones. The committee featured three witnesses, John Villasenor of the Brookings Institution, Gregory McNeal, professor at Pepperdine Law School, Tracey Maclin of Boston University School of Law and Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


Generally ,the witnesses differed on the extent to which new legislation was needed to address the privacy concerns raised by the coming proliferation of domestic drones. Professor McNeal suggested that existing Fourth Amendment law covering search and seizure would be sufficient to uphold privacy in the face of changed brought by drones. The other panelists, and seemingly many members of the committee, agreed that at least some additional legislation from Congress would be necessary to assure that Americans do not lose their rights to privacy as technology makes widespread surveillance easier, cheaper and more discreet.

The witnesses identified several key Supreme Court cases that serve as guideposts for current constitutional law on aerial surveillance and tracking. In California v. Ciraolo, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers could use evidence obtained by flying a plane over a person’s fenced property, even though they did not have a warrant. In United States v. Jones, the Court found that attaching a GPS tracker to a car and monitoring its movements for four weeks was a violation of the target’s privacy. In Kyllo v. United States, the court found that when “the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would  previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a ‘search’ and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.”


News Digest 03/01/13

Friday, March 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Clapper v Amnesty: Courts and Congress v Our Constitution

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 11:18 am by

Tuesday’s decision by the Supreme Court in Clapper vs Amnesty Int’l reflects judicial formalism at its worst. The decision abandons fundamental rights and the courts’ constitutional mandate, while placing government agencies above the law, so long as they commit their abuses in secret.

Clapper is a constitutional travesty of the highest order, reflecting the erosion of privacy, judicial independence, and constitutional government all at once. By allowing executive secrecy to insulate violations from review, five Justices of the Supreme Court have effectively killed what shreds once remained of the Fourth Amendment.

Every American should be gravely concerned, and anyone who still considers America “the land of the free” should carefully reconsider their assumptions. Several elements of the decision are disturbing, especially when viewed in a broader context beyond the case itself.

Most obviously disappointing is the result of the ruling, not only for the plaintiffs, but also anyone who uses the phone system or Internet.

A scandal in plain sight

The Clapper saga started with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was first passed in the 1970s to restrict domestic spying by government agencies. It was prompted by decades of abuses by the FBI, CIA, and other agencies that Congress investigated and found conducting “a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at suppressing the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association,” including a documented government campaign to “neutralize” Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.

In 2002, the Bush administration authorized the National Security Agency (the NSA) to begin a secret warrantless wiretapping program in clear violation of the FISA law. It remained secret, at one point prompting a dramatic intra-executive showdown and threats of a mass resignation by Justice Department officials under the Bush administration, until the New York Times exposed the program in late 2005.

Aside from generating an earthquake across Washington, the first results of the Times‘ expose included government threats to prosecute the journalists. Their only “crime” was exposing the public to an issue that should never have been secret in the first place.  While prosecutors thankfully opted not to prosecute Lichtblau & Risen, others continued to face prosecution for pursuing transparency in the public interest.

In the middle of the 2008 presidential election race, Congress amended FISA to permit what the original statute had been passed to prohibit. Rather than require the agency to comply with the long-standing law, however, Congress instead watered down the law to allow the agency’s abuses to continue.

Congress’ 2008 amendments to FISA doomed oversight. As the dissenting Justices in Clapper observed, the 2008 amendments allow NSA monitoring not only of agents of a foreign power, but also law-abiding Americans. Congress in 2008 also removed FISA’s original requirement for the NSA to identify specific targets and locations for surveillance, enabling the agency to conduct bulk collection, or dragnet surveillance. Finally, the 2008 amendments subsidized corporate crime, extending a corporate subsidy in the form of immunity from lawsuits alleging privacy violations, ensuring that telecommunications companies could continue facilitating unconstitutional surveillance without fearing lawsuits from a justifiably hostile public.

That was the context in which a group of activists, journalists, and lawyers among the most likely suspects for NSA surveillance filed suit.


Supreme Court places National Security Agency above the law

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 5:43 pm by

The Supreme Court Says NO to the People5-4 decision in Clapper vs. Amnesty allows mass warrantless wiretapping to continue

Today, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decided, in a monumental 5-4 case, that the secrecy of government surveillance can perversely insulate dragnet warrantless wiretapping scheme from judicial review. In one fell swoop, the case effectively invites the government to continue spying on law-abiding Americans en masse, renders the judiciary institutionally complicit in constitutional violations, and places the National Security Agency (NSA) above the law.

(Read the full decision online)

The NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program caused an earthquake when first revealed in 2005, by New York Times journalists who risked prosecution to alert the public to a secret government scheme to wiretap the entire phone system and the Internet.

Having previously prompted threats of a mass resignation by Justice Department officials under the Bush administration, the program was sensibly struck down as unconstitutional by multiple federal courts, only to be reversed on appeal. Today’s decision allows government surveillance to continue in secret, without meaningful checks and balances.

While five Justices claimed that alternative sources of review are available, their finding buries the court’s head in the sand. For instance, SCOTUS defers to the secret FISA court, which according to the Director of National Intelligence, has previously found parts of the NSA’s program unconstitutional. Yet despite repeated requests, even Congress does not know the details of that judicial decision, let alone whether and how the program has been modified to satisfy constitutional limits.

According to BORDC’s Shahid Buttar:

The Clapper decision is a constitutional travesty of the highest order, reflecting the erosion of privacy, judicial independence, and constitutional government. By allowing executive secrecy to insulate violations from review, five Justices of the Supreme Court have effectively killed what shreds once remained of the Fourth Amendment. Every  American should be gravely concerned, and anyone who still considers America “the land of the free” should carefully reconsider their assumptions.

Congress must reverse its premature decision to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to provide the check on executive abuses that the Court has abdicated.

Buttar has written about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping scheme since Congress amended the FISA statute in 2008, for sources including Huffington Post.

BORDC has covered more recent developments, including the recent re-authorization of the 2008 FISA amendments by Congress.