domestic surveillance

Chamber of Commerce stops waging war against conservatives for a minute to team up with the ACLU to back email privacy bill

Chamber of Commerce Meme

United Liberty has covered at length the ongoing battles between free-market, pro-liberty conservatives and Chamber of Commerce-backed Republicans throughout the primary process this cycle and in the hall of Congress. From Justin Amash’s contentious primary to the upcoming vote to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, there are a number of skirmishes that highlight the growing rift within the Republican Party.

Will the GOP be the party of Big Business or the party of all business? That outcome is to be determined.

But in nearly every one of these battles, the Chamber of Commerce has been opposed to the pro-liberty wing of the Republican Party… until now.

Kansas Republican Kevin Yoder and Colorado Democrat Jared Polis introduced legislation to update the 1986 Electrontic Privacy Communications Act, an antiquated law governing electronic communications that allows law enforcement to obtain and read your emails without a warrant.

The bill now has 218 co-sponsors, or a majority of Members of the House.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports:

End the idol worship: Ideas over men

Statue of Freedom

In the final minutes of the 2005 film, V for Vendetta, Peter Creedy, the head of the dystopian government’s secret police, fires several rounds into the Guy Fawkes-masked protagonist, V, fearing for his life.

“Why won’t you die?!” he shouts as his revolver reaches an empty chamber. “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh,” V says. “Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.”

While he got the attention of the repressed people of England and encouraged them to stand up against a cronyist government and the surveillance state, V was a faceless symbol of an idea — an idea he hoped would live on after he died.

Edward Snowden got Americans’ attention last June after he, through journalist Glenn Greenwald, blew the whistle on National Security Agency’s vast surveillance apparatus. The disclosures continued throughout the last year and will, reportedly, end with a grand finale in the coming days when Greenwald releases a list of names the controversial intelligence agency has targeted for spying.

Just last week, Snowden, who is living a seclusion in Russia, gave an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, the whistleblower’s first with a U.S.-based television network, in which, when asked, he said that he thought himself to be a patriot.

“Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen from the violations and encroachments from adversaries,” Snowden told Williams. “And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries, they can be bad policies.”

NSA knew about and used Heartbleed web exploit

The tech web has been abuzz this week about what has been dubbed “Heartbleed,” a code exploit in the OpenSSL encryption system, which could have allowed hackers and cyberterrorists to access login credentials from some of the biggest websites in the world over the last two years. Lists were quickly constructed to explain to users which sites were affected and which passwords they needed to change immediately.

It turns out the NSA has known about the Heartbleed vulnerability for years, but never warned anyone that millions of Americans’ online identities could be at risk. Indeed, not only did they not sound the alarm, the  NSA used the bug to access those online accounts in its already questionable surveillance activities.

Proposed NSA reforms close one loophole while leaving others open

President Barack Obama rolled out a proposal earlier this week that would end the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk phone metadata collection program. The House Intelligence Committee has a proposal of its own purports to achieve the same end.

The proposal pushed by the White House has been received with cautious optimism from civil libertarians, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). They like what they’ve heard, but have explained that the devil is in the details.

Others, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), have pointed out that there’s already a proposal in Congress, the USA FREEDOM Act, that would end bulk data collection. Privacy advocates, however, have panned the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, which is backed by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

In Wednesday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute, discussed and dissected both President Obama and the House Intelligence Committee’s proposal, finding them to be welcome news. But he also pointed out that both measures still leave open the possibility of access to Americans’ personal information.

Why Republicans should follow Rand Paul’s lead

The Republican Party seems poised for a successful mid-term election. There has even been talk of a building “Republican wave,” should voter dissatisfaction intensify and solidify, though its far too early to say for sure what will happen.

But if a “Republican wave” does indeed happen this fall and the party takes control of the Senate, a goal that has proved to be out of reach in the past two cycles, GOP leaders and talking heads should be cautious in overstating what it means.

Yes, President Barack Obama is plagued by low approval ratings and rejection of Obamacare, his signature domestic achievement. Voters aren’t too thrilled about the state of the economy or his handling of foreign policy.

But Republicans must realize that electoral success this doesn’t mean that voters have embraced the party, as polls almost universally show. In a two-party system at a time of malaise, the party not in control is the beneficiary of voter anger. This was true in 2006 when Democrats won control of Congress. It was true in 2010 when Republicans gained 63 seats on their way to winning the House of Representatives.

There is no denying that the Republican Party has a very real messaging problem, and party leaders realize it. That’s why the Republican National Committee released a report, The Growth and Opportunity Project, to try to figure out what went wrong in the 2012 election as well as try to find solutions to expand its reach.

Though that “autopsy,” so to speak, raised some excellent points, it alienated many of the grassroots activists that compromise part of the Republican base.

Collection of Phone Records Expansion: Unintended Consequence of NSA Lawsuits

The government may have to expand its surveillance programs following news concerning several lawsuits filed against the NSA. Why? Because the NSA will have to avoid destructing phone records in order to preserve evidence requested by a number of lawyers involved in NSA-related lawsuits.

The unexpected change in plans would force the NSA to keep all phone records it collects, which would mean that the agency would have to expand its programs and database in order to respond to requirements put forward for litigation purposes.

ACLU’s lawyer Patrick Toomey, who’s involved in the lawsuit against the government’s unconstitutional surveillance programs, says that the lawsuit was filed precisely to ensure that the telephone data collection programs are not expanded, but ended for good. According to the lawyer, the government never discussed the possibility of an expansion of the data collection program just to respond to litigation requirements.

It would be especially difficult for anybody to consider the government would use this excuse to expand the program when President Barack Obama just ordered senior officials to leave the data collection to the phone companies that log the calls. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will have to give the heads up on expending the data collection program, which would not be a problem for the government.

Has NSA spying poisoned the growing cloud computing industry?

Domestic spying by our nation’s security services have truly injured our nation’s commitment to civil liberties, and have made us all wonder how safe our privacy truly is. The revelations made by Edward Snowden—plus further discoveries such as the NSA intercepting computer purchases to install transmitters to track and spy on consumers, and turning on your webcam to look at you without your knowledge—have triggered demonstrations across the country, a rise in awareness of privacy software such as Tor and use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Yet people I talk to—both in the real world and in cyberspace—are cynical about the chances of genuine reform, and it always comes back to this: Does it hurt big business?

Such is life when our economy is as corporatist as it is. Things will only change if the big corporations that stand to make a ton of cash feel threatened. Even though there have been some noise made by Verizon, Google, Apple, and other companies, most people shrug these off as just public relations, just throwing a bone to their privacy minded consumers but not actually changing anything on the back-end. However, as a recent paper by the R Street Institute’s (disclosure: I am an associate policy analyst there) Steven Titch explains, NSA spying may have potentially poisoned one of the greatest developments of the Web 2.0: cloud computing.

Americans Value Privacy Over Security, Survey Results Suggest

President Obama’s claim to be responding to people’s concerns related to the NSA’s surveillance programs hasn’t gained momentum, mainly because most Americans still believe that his promised reforms will do nothing to address the real problems.

According to Politico, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that over 60 percent of people who participated said they value privacy over surveillance tactics disguised as anti-terror protections carried out by agencies like the National Security Agency. Since the last time this question was asked of respondents back in August by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the percentage of Americans that claimed to value privacy over security has gone up two points.

Since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made his revelations public, President Obama has been scrambling to gain the public’s trust back but none of his efforts seems to be paying off. He has recently promised to review NSA’s surveillance system by ensuring that new limits are going to be imposed to the intelligence committee. According to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Obama’s reforms are not going to be effective mostly because the President has misdiagnosed the problem.

According to the most recent poll, only 34% of respondents claimed to support Obama’s reform proposals concerning the FISA court procedures and the creation of a panel of attorneys that would offer counter-arguments to the government, while only 17% say Obama’s proposal to move collected phone data out of the NSA’s hands is valid.

Tennessee Legislator Introduces Fourth Amendment Protection Act, Joins Seven Other States

Lawmakers in at least seven states are taking the fight against the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs to state capitols. All bills introduced locally to keep the states from cooperating with the federal government were based on the Off Now Coalition’s model bill.

Tennessee has now joined Washington, Kansas, California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri and Indiana in the battle to keep the federal government’s advances against privacy from spreading. The bill introduced by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) would keep the state from providing water and electricity to an NSA facility or any other federal agency “claiming the power to authorize the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant.”

The bill would prohibit the state of Tennessee from taking part in any effort to abuse the Fourth Amendment by ensuring that the NSA does not obtain any local material support, which is fundamental to the smooth operation of their facilities. The bill would also ensure that data gathered without a warrant and shared with local law enforcement agencies, cannot be used as evidence in state court. Any local public University in Tennessee would be prohibited from serving as recruiting grounds to the NSA. The agency would also be kept from using universities as research facilities.

Obama To Talk NSA Reforms Friday, It May Disappoint You

President Obama is expected to present his proposal addressing reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA) this Friday following a lengthy review of the agency in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations last summer of agency data collection.

But, as James Oliphant writes in the National Journal, don’t expect to see anything really concrete addressing the overreach of the agencies’ powers into the lives of ordinary Americans. Not likely from a man who is now promoting a “9/11 justification” for the NSA program:

To lay the groundwork for that position, aides to the president told the Los Angeles Times this weekend that the NSA’s metadata collection scheme could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. What’s more, Obama has adopted that “9/11 justification” for the NSA program, the paper reported.

That’s a blinking-red signal that the administration is not about to be accused of making the country more vulnerable by tampering with such a preventive weapon. Remember that George W. Bush, a Republican, walked back his warrantless wiretapping program in 2007 after a public outcry. This president, a Democrat, isn’t going to follow suit—especially given the new instability in Iraq and worries about the vacuum left by the coming pullout from Afghanistan.


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