Posts Tagged ‘National Security Agency’

Today’s speech by the president: A missed opportunity

Friday, January 17, 2014 at 3:58 pm by

US-POLITICS-EDUCATION-OBAMAThe Bill of Rights Defense Committee issued the following statement in response to the president’s speech about proposed reforms to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance and bulk data collection programs.

Shahid Buttar, BORDC executive director remarked:

“The reforms announced by the president today are a meager step in the right direction, but far from enough to fix the NSA’s assault on the rights of hundreds of millions of Americans.

Requiring the NSA to secure judicial approval in order to query its massive databases is the very least the president could require. Allowing bulk collection to continue, whether by the NSA or private corporations, will undermine freedom of thought and erode democracy.”

Buttar also noted that:

“The president’s own review board, as well as the privacy and civil liberties board, and the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, have issued dozens of recommendations, most of which the president has continued to ignore.

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Civil liberties movement wins by losing a key House vote

Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 7:43 am by

Since Senator Rand Paul’s groundbreaking filibuster of the CIA Director’s nomination this spring, the national security state has been on its heels in the face of rising transpartisan criticism from Americans who remember our nation’s founding values.

That criticism reached new heights on Wednesday night, when an amendment  nearly passed to the House Defense appropriations bill that would have de-funded dragnet spying by the National Security Agency.

On the one hand, the amendment, proposed by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and supported by a broad coalition including House Judiciary Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), was ultimately rejected.

On the other hand, it was defeated by only a narrow margin, 217-205. In the context of a sustained lobbying blitz by the NSA with active support from the White House, the bipartisan block led by Conyers & Amash came remarkably close to a  dramatic legislative victory, which augers well for future votes on surveillance issues.

[Updates: See the final vote tally, and how your representative voted, here. Among any number of other ways to analyze these results, it would be accurate to observe that Democratic leaders, along with Bay Area and Chicago Democrats representing safe blue seats who were outspoken about NSA abuses under the Bush administration, comprised the NSA's entire margin of victory.]

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Google, NSLs, and the future of privacy

Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 8:31 am by

In a court ruling on May 20, in San Francisco, CA, Google was ordered to comply with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) requests for private user information through the use of National Security Letters, a counter-terrorism measure implemented after the passing of the USA PATRIOT Act.

Judge Susan Illston, who ultimately decided against Google’s contention that the FBI’s probing was unconstitutional, ruled against the letters in a case filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in March–citing the letters as unconstitutional.

The new ruling comes at the heels of Google executives, Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, releasing a manifesto titled The New Digital Age. Schmidt & Cohen touch on the importance technology has, and will have, on future developments in trading and politics, suggesting that the deterioration of privacy will help “open” democratic governments understand their constituents while arguing that “companies responsible for storing this data have a responsibility to ensure its security, and that will not change.”

They also reflect their views on the “importance of a guiding hand in the new digital age.” Cohen and Schmidt go on to say:

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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.

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The internet says no to CISPA, but will Congress?

Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 10:26 am by

This week, BORDC participated in the week of action against CISPA,the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Participants ranged from civil liberties advocates to major companies. Craigslist, Firefox, and Reddit all displayed anti-CISPA messages that allowed users to connect with online action opportunities. Since the week of action began, the list of supporters has continued to grow daily.

As we wrote several weeks ago, CISPA is back in front of Congress after it elicited significant opposition from the privacy and civil liberties world last year. Even those who argue that some form of cybersecurity is needed acknowledge that there are serious flaws in CISPA as written. The bill is riddled with problematic provisions, including immunity from civil or criminal liability for companies who share users’ private information with the government, the ability to use intelligence information information they receive from the government for reasons completely unrelated to cybersecurity, including  commercial purposes, and authorization to share information directly with the National Security Agency.

While many of the major corporations that supported the bill last year have maintained that support, there is one noteable absence: Facebook. While the company has not come out in vocal opposition, Facebook reps did tell Cnet that the company: “prefer[s] a legislative ‘balance’ that ensures ‘the privacy of our users.’” Microsoft is also absent from the list of CISPA supporters this year, while other big corporations like AT&T and IBM continue to support the legislation.

That support has not only taken the form of letters sent to the House Intelligence Committee. One of the sponsors of the bill, Rep. Mike Rogers (MI-08-R) made a major gaffe this week. He retweeted a a story that revealed that members of the House Intelligence Committee “have received, on average, 15 times more money in campaign contributions from pro-CISPA organizations than from anti-CISPA organizations.” He deleted his tweet 23 minutes later, but not before the Sunlight Foundation got a screen shot of it. His tweet is a prime example of why CISPA is so concerning; it is being driven by the lobbying of corporations with horrible privacy track records that will be shielded from liability and potentially make millions off shared information.

At this point, it is likely that a vote on CISPA will take place in mid-April, which means there is still plenty of time to contact your representative to tell them what you know about the bill. Be sure to watch our blog, as well as BORDC ally EFF’s homepage for continuing updates.

News Digest 1/8/13

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm by

Will Obama’s second term finally fulfill his 2008 promises? (Part I)

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:17 am by

This is the first part in a series examining opportunities for the Obama administration to return, in the wake of the 2012 election, to the president’s promises from the 2008 campaign to restore liberty and security. Part II and part III are also available.

President Obama’s reelection has sparked an onslaught of analysis attempting to define the agenda for his second term. Will it reflect the vision of restoring liberty and security on which the president ran in 2008, or the disappointing passivity towards the national security state that characterized his first term?

More to the point, will President Obama’s legacy include emerging American authoritarianism, or instead the recovery of constitutional freedoms lost over the past decade? While machinations in Washington will of course influence the answer, We the People will play a crucial role, well beyond the 2012 election, in determining the outcome.

Obama’s legacy of constitutional violations

With the broad strokes that history affords the past, any president’s legacy usually shrinks within a decade to two or three elements. For instance, Clinton is remembered for presiding over the tech boom and resulting federal surplus, dismantling welfare and escalating mass incarceration, and surviving a partisan impeachment effort prompted by sophomoric sexual indiscretion.

George H. W. Bush’s legacy includes the first Iraq war, failing to energize the economy, and a premature pledge not to raise taxes. We remember Ronald Reagan for overcoming the Soviet Union and its satellites (even if his methods ensured the contemporary budget crisis, created al-Qaeda, and emboldened Iran), heralding “morning in America” to end a recession, and after surviving an assassination attempt, conveniently growing unable to recall more or less anything about compounding scandals that stained his second term.

In these broad strokes, President Obama’s legacy will likely include memories of the historic debate over healthcare policy in 2009, and the recurring budget crises that, combined with GOP intransigence, have periodically brought Washington to a standstill under his administration. The most enduring part of his legacy, however, will be the entrenchment of the national security state on his watch.

Beyond merely failing to reverse the trajectory of the Bush-Cheney administration, Obama’s first term extended it, pioneering new abuses while entrenching old ones.

Unlike Obama, Bush & Cheney never asserted the authority to kill US citizens based on their speech.

Unlike Obama, Bush & Cheney never signed into a law a statute granting the military the power to detain any American without evidence or proof of crime.

While Bush & Cheney violated international law by authorizing torture, it took the Obama administration to decide  that such criminal acts would go unpunished (or even investigated), ensuring their recurrence and nailing the coffin of international human rights.

The Obama administration’s prosecution of whistleblowers who sacrifice their jobs to defend the public interest has reached unprecedented levels, as have deportations of undocumented workers, their families, and occasionally, even US citizens. Rather than repudiate the Bush & Cheney paradigm, Obama has unfortunately perpetuated it.

A former President’s warning

50 years ago, a president with the deepest military roots among any who has held office since then–no mere General, but the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower — issued a disturbing warning about a threat to our democracy posed by “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” that, together, he described as “the military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower said, in no uncertain terms, that:

“[W]e must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Ike observed the larval stages of a dynamic that has grown only more pernicious since he left office. In the decade since 9/11, under Presidents Bush and Obama alike, our military-industrial complex has initiated not only various military conflicts abroad, but also a domestic war on the constitutional rights of the American people.

Secret and increasingly immune to public accountability, if not above the law altogether, and insulated from accountability by elected leaders from each of the major political parties, an alphabet soup of federal agencies has emerged to pursue a duplicative, wasteful, and constitutionally abusive national security agenda.

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2012 Secrecy Report: only government secrets are safe

Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 9:52 am by

When it comes to the inner-workings of and decisions made by our government, many Americans feel out of the loop. Whether one believes that Washington should disclose more information given the difficult aftermath of an economic recession and an ever-developing conflict in the Middle East, or that the lack of transparency is crucial to our national security, one question would be wise to ask: Is our government excessively secretive?

The 2012 Secrecy Report, a document authored collaboratively by Patrice McDermott, Amy Bennett and Abby Paulson of Open the Government.org, discusses the federal government’s expensive and suspicious preoccupation with keeping information classified.

In maintaining secrecy surrounding matters of national security, the government has been remarkably diligent. The report specifically speaks of National Security Letters (NSLs), which are FBI requests for private information about persons (of entire groups) of interest. Expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act, NSLs can demand the disclosure of private information about anyone at any given time, with or without probable cause, even from third parties.

These information “requests” are not like search warrants issued by local law enforcement agencies. A recent article in the ABA Journal shines a light on how significantly the two differ and the response NSLs are garnering. According to the 2012 Secrecy Report, the Justice Department says the government issued 16,511 NSLs on 7201 Americans in 2011, requesting data from internet service providers, telecommunications companies, etc. In 2010, there were a staggering 24,287 requests. Examples like March 2012 Patriot award winner Nick Merrill from the Calyx Institute are especially worth emulating at a time like this.

The report also points out that the Obama Admininstration “urged Congress to renew provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act (FAA) that are set to expire at the end of this year.” Even beyond the unchecked intrusion of NSLs, the current administration is pushing for a provision that would make court orders unnecessary for surveillance of “entire categories of non-U.S. persons who are located abroad.”

While extending its own secrecy, our federal government has taken steps to ensure that, soon, you won’t be able to have secrets of your own.

U.S. Army Engineers build Big Brother Headquarters

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 5:25 pm by

The latest threat to the constitutionally guaranteed privacy of Americans and blatant affront to our deductive reasoning is the construction of a 1million sq. ft. facility known as the Utah Data Center. This facility will be among the largest of its kind and will effectively serve as a primary source of data collection for the federal government, specifically the National Security Agency, as early as September 2013. Like other intrusions, the development of the UDC is being presented as a defensive measure, yet another necessary increase of national security. However, there is cause for concern and has been much warranted criticism that this data retrieval epicentre will further violate the privacy of millions of people, domestically and abroad.

Salt Lake Data Center

James Bamford, investigative journalist and author of The Shadow Factory: the Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, recently appeared on The Young Turks to discuss the project. In the interview, Bamford said, “This will be an enormous center to store all of the surveillance that NSA is doing, all the eavesdropping on email, telephone calls, tweets, internet searches, [etc].”

When questioned by The Young Turks about the widespread fears of government intrusion and what their surveillance actually entails, the National Security Agency responded by saying, “…one of the biggest misconceptions about NSA is that we are unlawfully listening in on , or reading emails of, U.S. citizens. This is simply not the case. ”

Bamford, however, claims that email eavesdropping is merely the tip of the iceberg.

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Uncle Sam is watching you

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 11:40 am by

This week, Congress prepares to abuse the Constitution again, by extending its 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). With the House of Representatives poised to vote today on a premature five year extension, will members remember what they heard when theatrically reading the Constitution on the House floor, or instead entrench the Bush-Cheney legacy beyond even the next administration?

I'm Watching You

When Congress first voted back in 2008 to give the National Security Agency the power to eavesdrop on any—in other words, every–American without any reason for individual suspicion, it did so without a full picture of what it allowed. Indeed, the full contours of the program remain secret even today.

The only reason the NSA’s spying powers have survived this long is because courts have refused to consider claims that they are unconstitutionally invasive. The Supreme Court will consider one such case this fall — which, if successful, will merely allow the several year process of a litigation challenge to finally begin.

Even though much of it remains shrouded in secrecy, we do know a few things about the NSA’s warrantless spying program authorized by FISA.

We know that it began illegally, without any authorization by Congress and in clear violation of the FISA law crafted by Congress in the 1970s to stop our government from spying on Americans.

We know it is so vast and unchecked that, nearly ten years ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to authorize it, even despite coercion from the Bush White House.

We know that an architect of the program, alarmed at how his work was co-opted to abuse the rights of Americans, blew a whistle about fraud and waste, only to face prosecution by the Obama Administration for espionage–until a federal court ultimately told the government to stop chasing a loyal servant of the American people.

We know that the NSA has violated even this incredibly permissive law, abusing its own powers and the rights of untold numbers of Americans. Our government has admitted to that much, without offering any way to know how widespread those violations have been — or remain.

We know that the executive branch currently interprets parts of other surveillance laws in secret, allowing government activities even beyond the intentions of their authors.

We know that congressional Democrats–including then Senator Obama–joined their Republican colleagues in 2008 to approve FISA, even while both parties paid lip service about defending constitutional values in Washington. Despite the partisan rancor apparent on many issues, Congress marches in lockstep on national security, elevating government power well beyond constitutional limits.

We know that, despite Washington’s wrangling over the budget crisis, the NSA has never justified its massive costs to the American people. In fact, Congress knows neither what the program costs, nor when the NSA’s program has actually helped national security, let alone whether those costs are justified!

We know that FISA has enabled the most pervasive state surveillance system ever known to humankind. The only settings in which powers like it have ever existed are dystopian science fiction novels.

Even the former Soviet Union and contemporary China, for all their efforts to control their people, lacked the resources to conduct the kind of monitoring that the NSA does every day — not only on terror suspects, but on you and your family.

We also know that the Obama administration has supported the Bush-Cheney NSA policy, extending it once before — even though Senator Obama, before winning the White House, promised at one point to vote against it. Until President Obama signed a 2011 law granting our military the potential power to detain any American indefinitely without proof of crime, FISA was the high water mark of the post 9-11 national security state.

Finally, we know that the American people can still defend our rights when aroused. Earlier this year, a grassroots firestorm stopped SOPA and PIPA before they transformed the Internet.

Congress already gave our government the power to conduct mass domestic spying by approving FISA four years ago, but a grassroots clamor this fall could stop that power from being renewed in the Senate — or at least force Congress to finally do its job and ask tough questions that should have been answered long ago, before writing the NSA yet another blank check.