Posts Tagged ‘surveillance’

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…)

PCLOB flops on Internet spying

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm by

Today, the Privacy & Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) released a major report on the National Security Agency’s Internet surveillance programs. Earlier this year, the PCLOB took a strong stance against telephony spying under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, correctly describing it as both illegal and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the PCLOB’s latest report is a vast disappointment, failing to reflect the same independence apparent in its first report and deferring to the government despite stronger calls for reform from Congress, as well as a recent Supreme Court decision, that should have emboldened the PCLOB.

BORDC is hardly alone in expressing disappointment in the PCLOB’s findings. The American Library Association’s Adam Eisgrau noted that “despite the dictates of the Fourth Amendment, the Board essentially endorses the use of general warrants to search through the content of unimaginable numbers of communications of millions of Americans….”

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Government spying on the peace movement (Part I)

Saturday, June 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm by

The fight against government repression of free speech suffered a setback in Washington State this month, as a judicial ruling in the Panagacos vs. Towery case turned a blind eye to government infiltration of peaceful activist groups. The decision reflects not only the latest failure by the federal judiciary to do its job, but also a disturbing history dating back decades, and over five years in this particular case of constitutional abuses by intelligence and police agencies, as well as the US military.

In July 2009, activists in Olympia, WA went public with the shocking revelation that an intelligence contractor hired by the U.S. Army named John Towery had infiltrated the antiwar group Olympia Port Militarization resistance.

For almost two years, Towery — known to activists by a false name, “John Jacob” — had administered the group’s email listserv, attended meetings and demonstrations and unsuccessfully attempted to coerce young college students to commit acts of violence. Towery’s true identity was discovered by several members of the group after cop-watcher Drew Hendricks combed through thousands of pages of public records using a technique known as “cataloging”.

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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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The House should slow down on a flawed intelligence authorization bill

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm by

This post was originally published by Daniel Schuman from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington on June 23, 2014 and is shared with permission.

On Friday, House leaders placed the Senate’s Intelligence Authorization bill on a fast track that would avoid substantive consideration by the full House, including the ability of representatives to offer amendments. The bill, introduced by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair and surveillance-enthusiast Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was passed by the Senate on June 11 and does not reflect the deep concerns many have regarding the behavior of the intelligence community. A floor vote should be deferred until the House has a full opportunity to work its will, including a rigorous debate on the legislation and the opportunity to consider amendments on the House floor.

Friday afternoon’s Whip Notice contained a notice by the Office of the Majority Leader that the Intelligence Authorization bill would be considered for “suspension” as early as Tuesday. Generally speaking, only non-controversial bills are put on suspension. For suspension bills, just 40 minutes of debate is allowed, with no opportunity for amendment unless an amendment is included in the motion to suspend. Because of these limits on debate, motions to suspend require a two-thirds affirmative vote to pass. The Intelligence Authorization bill should not be considered under suspension; the usual process likely was bypassed after House leaders grew alarmed by successful votes to put limits on the NSA through floor amendments to the Defense Appropriations Act.

What is there to hide?

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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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Judge orders DOJ to disclose secret legal opinions for court review

Monday, June 16, 2014 at 11:57 am by

This post was originally published by Dave Mass at EFF’s Deeplinks blog on May 18, 2014 and is shared with permission.

A federal judge [on June 13] ordered the Department of Justice to hand over key opinions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the “FISA court”) so the judge can directly review whether information about mass surveillance was improperly withheld from the public.

The order is another victory in EFF’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the DOJ, which sought to reveal how the government uses Section 215 of the Patriot Act to secretly gather communications records from millions of American citizens. The suit has already forced the government to release thousands of pages of FISA court opinions, internal executive branch reports, congressional briefings, and other documents concerning Section 215. Documents released as part of the suit have shown the NSA repeatedly misled the FISA court concerning the operation of the bulk call records program, nearly leading the court to terminate the program altogether.

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Cantor’s loss spells trouble for NSA dragnet

Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 9:28 am by

This week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s unprecedented landslide loss to David Brat in their Republican primary contest sent a shockwave through Washington. While observers have suggested that the surprising upset reflected his stance on a variety of issues, BORDC has joined outlets including The Hill and others who observed that Brat sharply distinguished himself from Cantor on civil liberties.

For instance, Brat told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the NSA dragnet ”is a disturbing violation of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy,” and on his campaign website, he addresses several civil liberties at once:

The federal government’s abuse of our freedoms has spun out of control. Whether it is the NSA violating our 4th Amendment Rights by collecting phone records, the IRS violating our 1st Amendment rights by targeting conservative organizations, or President Obama violating our 5th Amendment rights with the indefinite detention of American citizens, our freedoms have been under attack and they must be restored.

Yesterday, the Institute for Public Accuracy quoted BORDC’s Shahid Buttar, who explained that:

For too long, politicians in Washington have blithely ignored their constitutional duties while deferring to executive agencies engaged in a frontal assault on the individual rights guaranteed by our nation’s founders. Eric Cantor’s primary loss to a relatively unknown candidate reflects, at least in part, a transpartisan grassroots rejection of the NSA spying programs that Cantor has staunchly defended.

Given his role in the Republican leadership, he was responsible in part for the behind the scenes, closed-door process that recently gutted the USA FREEDOM Act, and he has long been part of the culture of congressional corruption that continued to defer to executive agencies despite their long-standing and ongoing crimes against the American people.…

Republicans are not the only ones who should take heed: plenty of Democrats are complicit in the crimes of U.S. intelligence agencies, and will risk similar upsets until they start demonstrating independence from the executive branch they are charged to oversee, check, and balance.