domestic spying

Stop Obama from spying on innocent Americans

 STOP. SPYING. ON. ME.

In a “surprising and sudden move,” the House Judiciary Committee will mark up an amended version of the USA FREEDOM Act on Wednesday.

As reported in National Journal:

The maneuver [by the House Judiciary Committee] may also be a counter to plans the House Intelligence Committee has to push forward a competing bill that privacy advocates say would not go far enough to curb the government’s sweeping surveillance programs.

Indeed, just hours after the Freedom Act earned a markup date, the Intelligence Committee announced it, too, would move forward with a markup of its own NSA bill—the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act—on Thursday.

The more aggressive Freedom Act is sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the one-time mastermind behind the post-9/11 Patriot Act, from which both the Obama and Bush administrations have derived much of the legal authority for their surveillance programs. Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, has vocally condemned NSA spying since Edward Snowden’s leaks surfaced last June. The bill has long been supported by privacy and civil-liberties groups who view it as the best legislative reform package in Congress.

The Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman notes possible tension between attempts to pass two different (but related) bills:

The Tactics of the Enemy

Peggy Noonan has a great column in The Wall Street Journal about the domestic spying at the National Security Agency (NSA) that, it turns out, may have been a little broader and a little more illegal than previously suspected. The Washington Post reported yesterday that new documents and an internal audit indicate that NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008”:

The documents provided by Snowden offer only glimpses of those questions. Some reports make clear that an unauthorized search produced no records. But a single “incident” in February 2012 involved the unlawful retention of 3,032 files that the surveillance court had ordered the NSA to destroy, according to the May 2012 audit. Each file contained an undisclosed number of telephone call records.

One of the documents sheds new light on a statement by NSA Director Keith B. Alexander last year that “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens.”

Some Obama administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have defended Alexander with assertions that the agency’s internal definition of “data” does not cover “metadata” such as the trillions of American call records that the NSA is now known to have collected and stored since 2006. Those records include the telephone numbers of the parties and the times and durations of conversations, among other details, but not their content or the names of callers.

Hillary says we must trust our Government

David Fayram (CC)

Hillary Clinton is starting a whirlwind tour to promote the concept of trusting the government, and touting the merits of transparency in government. While it might be very tempting to consider this a really ironic punchline of a joke, that’s really what the former Secretary of State is doing.

On a practical level, it does make some sense that Hillary would consider it necessary to restore the nation’s faith in its government. As to whether or not she really “gets” why she is absolutely the wrong person to attempt to deliver that message will undoubtedly remain a mystery. Yes, it is very likely that detractors from the right will regularly lampoon her with comments including her infamous statement on Benghazi - “What difference does it make?” That will be enjoyable in the short term, but given the nature of the public and mainstream media, it is foolish to expect that will be enough to defuse her attempts to lie her way to a reasonable chance at seating herself in the Oval Office.

Make no mistake, that is exactly what this tour is about. It has nearly nothing to do with its stated aim. Hillary will be out there making it clear that while she’s somewhat the same as her former boss, she isn’t for the cloak and dagger activities of this administration that have been called “phony scandals” in an attempt to keep them out of the public eye. If that isn’t her gameplan, then she really doesn’t have any intention of running in 2016.

Big Brother Alert! Your neighbor could be an undercover federal agent.

Next Door Neighbor

Shocking revelations from “records and interviews” reveal at least 40 federal agencies are using undercover officers to infiltrate everyday scenarios including having them pose “as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers to ferret out wrongdoing,” according to a New York Times report.

From the story:

At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity, according to officials familiar with the practice.

At the Internal Revenue Service, dozens of undercover agents chase suspected tax evaders worldwide, by posing as tax preparers or accountants or drug dealers or yacht buyers, court records show.

At the Agriculture Department, more than 100 undercover agents pose as food stamp recipients at thousands of neighborhood stores to spot suspicious vendors and fraud, officials said.

Undercover work, inherently invasive and sometimes dangerous, was once largely the domain of the F.B.I. and a few other law enforcement agencies at the federal level. But outside public view, changes in policies and tactics over the last decade have resulted in undercover teams run by agencies in virtually every corner of the federal government, according to officials, former agents and documents.

Twitter sues feds in effort to reveal how many times the government attempts to spy on you each year

Twitter

It appears that Twitter — of all the tech companies with whom millions of Americans interact daily — is again one of the only among the giants to actually make good on their promise to protect user data, even if it’s just by being transparent about what they’re being asked to share.

Twitter is suing the United States government, claiming its First Amendment rights are being violated. The case, filed Tuesday in the Northern District Court of California against both the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, concerns the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) Twitter receives from the feds every year. These NSLs demand that Twitter hand over user information.

The gist of the case is that Twitter wants to include the exact number of requests it receives every year in its annual transparency reports. But right now, it is not allowed to. Thanks to the way current non-disclosure provisions are set up, Twitter is prohibited from sharing exactly how many NSLs it receives every year. Service providers like Twitter, Google, and Facebook can only provide a rough range or a percentage increase.

This isn’t the first time that tech companies have filed suit on this issue, of course, with Google and Facebook among others waving fists earlier in 2014 that were, perhaps a little too easily, met with compromises until the suit was eventually dropped. Twitter was conspicuously absent during that pushback.

NSA spying hurting Obama with young voters

Young people and Obama

Young Americans like their privacy, and they would be grateful if President Barack Obama would stop spying on them, thank you very much.

That’s what the The Hill noted yesterday as they looked at a couple of different polls released since the NSA surveillance controversy became news, one of which showed a drop in President Obama’s approval rating and the other showing support for Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower:

Some polls show a double-digit drop in Obama’s approval rating since Edward Snowden revealed NSA secrets, weakening the president ahead of fall fights with congressional Republicans over the budget and immigration.

Polling taken by The Economist and YouGov finds a 14-point swing in Obama’s approval and disapproval rating among voters aged 18-29 in surveys taken immediately before the NSA revelations and last week. Overall, the swing in Obama’s approval rating moves just four points.

A USA Today/Pew Research poll released in June found that young voters were significantly more likely to support Snowden’s decision to leak classified material. While 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said exposing the surveillance programs served the public good, just 36 percent of those over 65 said the same.

Americans under 29 said by a 50-44 percent margin the U.S. should not pursue a criminal case against him, while every other age bracket said the government should. Younger Americans were also more likely than any other age group to disapprove of the NSA’s surveillance programs overall.

Obama backing down from NSA surveillance programs?

Could President Barack Obama scale back the expansive surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA)? While he has defended the controversial program, claiming that collection innocent Americans’ phone records was necessary to combat the threat of terrorism, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) told The New York Times that that President Obama may be re-thinking the NSA’s surveillance program due to privacy concerns:

Signs of a popular backlash against the security agency’s large-scale collection of the personal data of Americans have convinced a leading privacy advocate in Congress that the Obama administration may soon begin to back away from the most aggressive components of the agency’s domestic surveillance programs.
[…]
“I have a feeling that the administration is getting concerned about the bulk phone records collection, and that they are thinking about whether to move administratively to stop it,” he said. He added he believed that the continuing controversy prompted by [NSA leaker Edward] Snowden had changed the political calculus in Congress over the balance between security and civil liberties, which has been heavily weighted toward security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I think we are making a comeback,” Mr. Wyden said, referring to privacy and civil liberties advocates.

5 items in the PRISM report you need to read

Last week, the Congressional Research Service released a report on the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programs. Essentially, it is a “What You Need To Know, Mr. Representative” memo, mostly a summary of issues that have already been discussed publicly at length. It is nonetheless a useful document for the public to catch up on what is known.

Packed in its 15 pages are a number of interesting datapoints, with these being the big things you should know:

1. The standard for investigation is subjective.

The report notes the authority to investigate and take someone’s domestic phone records is invoked by crossing a very low bar. Section 50 USC § 1861 (b)(2)(a) asks that an investigator submit “a statement of facts showing there are reasonable grounds to believe” an investigation is necessary. The report notes there is no statutory definition of “reasonable grounds,” though it speculates that the standard is probably less stringent than “probable cause” and may be merely a synonym for “reasonable suspicion.”

Moreover, federal statute authorizes law enforcement to obtain personal communications data if “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that data is “relevant and material to an ongoing investigation.” There’s no definition of relevancy, either. Relevancy, instead, is “generally understood” (the report’s words) to require “only that the information sought would tend to prove or disprove a fact at issue.”

In today’s surveillance world, that doesn’t serve as much of a check on government snooping. If agents believe your records of ordering pizza (or ordering pornography) may disprove or prove some fact at issue, then they’ll be sure to get those records.


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