communications

We Already Knew About NSA’s PRISM Program

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using a program called PRISM to collect “metadata,” under a broad interpretation of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, to spy on Americans’ phone records and online data, even if they aren’t accused or suspected of a crime.

These revelations are nothing new, actually; we are just now getting the details. A YEAR AGO, Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) reported at WIRED’s Dangerroom:

“On at least one occasion,” the intelligence shop has approved Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to say, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court found that “minimization procedures” used by the government while it was collecting intelligence were “unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

At the time, Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez elaborated:

“The standard procedure for FISA surveillance is that “large amounts of information are collected by automatic recording to be minimized after the fact.” The court elaborated: “Virtually all information seized, whether by electronic surveillance or physical search, is minimized hours, days, or weeks after collection.”

Netflix Blocking Internet Access to HD Movies

At the Consumer Electronic Show two weeks ago, Netflix announced that it would block consumer access to high definition and 3D movies (HD) for customers of Internet service providers (ISPs) that Netflix disfavors. Netflix’s goal is to coerce ISPs into paying for a free Internet fast lane for Netflix content. If Netflix succeeds, it would harm Internet consumers and competition among video streaming providers. It would also fundamentally alter the economics and openness of the Internet, “where consumers make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others.”

Ironically, Netflix’s strategy is a variant of the doomsday narrative spun by net neutrality activists over the last decade. Their narrative assumes ISPs will use their gatekeeper control to block their customers from accessing Internet content distributed by competitors. Of course, ISPs have never blocked consumer access to competitive Internet content. Now that the FCC has distorted the Internet marketplace through the adoption of asymmetric net neutrality rules, Netflix, the dominant streaming video provider, has decided to block consumer access to its content.

On Digital Privacy, Congress’ Offer Is This: Nothing

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

It had the makings of a shockingly reasonable legislative bargain: Two outdated federal privacy statutes would be reformed together, removing some unnecessarily stringent restrictions on sharing video records while finally imposing a clear warrant requirement for government searches of e-mail and other private files stored in the “cloud.” Then Congress, perhaps in homage to Darth Vader, decided to alter the deal: A bill weakening the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 has been sent to the president for his signature, but without the corresponding badly-needed reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.

Should We Use the “One Ring” to Control the Internet?

Three rings for the broadcast-kings filling the sky,
Seven for the cable-lords in their head-end halls,
Nine for the telco-men doomed to die,
One for the White House to make its calls
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie,
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them,
One ring to bring them all and without the Court bind them,
On Capitol Hill where the powers lie.

Myths resonate because they illustrate existential truths. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical tale, the Lord of the Rings, the evil Lord Sauron imbued an otherwise very ordinary ring – the “One Ring”– with an extraordinary power: It could influence thought. When Sauron wore the One Ring, he could control the lords of the free peoples of Middle Earth through lesser “rings of power” he helped create. The extraordinary power of the One Ring was also its weakness: It eventually corrupted all who wore it, even those with good intentions. This duality is the central truth in Tolkien’s tale.

It is also central to current debates about freedom of expression and the Internet.

FCC Should State the Obvious: Telephone Service Is Not a Monopoly

Given the rate at which telephone companies are losing customers when they cannot raise prices as a regulatory matter, it is preposterous to continue presuming that they could raise prices as an economic matter.

Today, the United States Telecom Association (USTA) asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to declare that incumbent telephone companies are no longer monopolies. Ten years ago, when most households had “plain old telephone service,” this request would have seemed preposterous. Today, when only one in three homes have a phone line, it is merely stating the obvious: Switched telephone service has no market power at all.

The FCC already knows that plain old telephone service is no longer a “dominant” service (“dominance” is more likely when a service has a market share exceeding 60%). Last year, the FCC’s Technological Advisory Council found that the legacy, circuit switched telephone network “no longer functions as a universal communications infrastructure” and telephone service “does not provide anything close to the services and capabilities” of wired and wireless broadband Internet access services.

Surprise! 90% of Internet users caught up in NSA dragnet surveillance aren’t suspected of any wrongdoing

Don't Spy on Me

The NSA apologists have told Americans countless times that the agency’s collection programs target only those believed to be involved in terrorist activity. Though they admit that Americans are caught up in the dragnet overseas surveillance, administration officials and lawmakers who defend the NSA insist that these instances are limited.

But a report from Barton Gellman, Julie Tate and Ashkan Soltani at the Washington Post explains that online communications and information of thousands of innocent people — including American citizens — were swept up by the NSA (emphasis added):

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Stop Congress from allowing Obama’s NSA to collect more of your personal data

Yes we scan

At a time when the National Security Agency can collect the phone records and communications of millions of innocent Americans without a warrant or cause, the Senate Intelligence Committee is pushing a measure that would allow the controversial agency to access more of our personal information.

Privacy and public interest organizations have come out strongly against the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), a measure that will make it easier for businesses to share information with the federal government, including the NSA.

In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and committee members, the organizations explained how CISA poses a risk to Americans’ privacy.

“Over the last year,” the letter states, “the public has learned that the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies have significantly stretched the meaning of statutory provisions of law in order to gather sensitive information on hundreds of millions of Americans.”

The organizations behind the letter include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreedomWorks, and the R Street Institute.

The organizations explain that the NSA simply isn’t an honest player when it comes to Americans’ civil liberties. The intelligence agency has searched Americans’ communications without a warrant using laws that authorize the surveillance of only people outside of the United States and has exploited vulnerabilities in tech firms’ software and programs.

Today in Liberty: Obamacare’s missing Millennials, data review urges privacy law reform

“The strongest continuous thread in America’s political tradition is skepticism about government.” — George Will

— Just 28 percent of Obamacare enrollees are Millennials: The Obama administration finished first Obamacare open enrollment period far short of its target for 18 to 34-year-olds. The administration estimated that it needed between 38 to 40 percent of enrollments to be from Millennials for the risk pools to be sustainable. It got 28 percent. “The administration is still touting 8 million sign-ups—technically 8.019 million—when the official open enrollment period of October 2013 through March 2014 is combined with stragglers who came in during the special enrollment period through April 19,” Peter Suderman explains, based on the latest figures. “It’s still the case that just 28 percent of those sign-ups were between the ages of 18 and 34, far short of the administration’s target of 39 percent. State-by-state variation remains significant, with some states seeing robust sign-up activity and others posting relatively weak numbers.”

It turns out people don’t like being spied on after all

See Video

Did you know that the federal government can get access to your emails because of a loophole in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (ECPA). The loophole means that after 180 days, your emails lose protected status and can be accessed by third-party providers without a warrant.

This video, produced by End180Days.org, offers a humorous and informative take on the very serious issue of electronic privacy. Three measures that would close the loophole have been introduced in Congress. United Liberty has covered two of them, ECPA Amendments Act (Leahy-Lee) and the Email Privacy Act (Polis-Yoder-Graves).

Retransmission Consent Complaints Don’t Withstand Market Analysis

broadcast

It appears that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is returning to a competition-based approach to communications regulation. Chairman Wheeler’s emphasis on “competition, competition, competition” indicates his intent to intervene in communications markets only when it is necessary to correct a market failure.

I expect most on both sides of the political spectrum would welcome a return to rigorous market analysis at the FCC, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. The American Television Alliance (ATVA), whose FCC petition wouldn’t withstand even a cursory market power analysis, is sure to be among the displeased.


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