National Security Agency

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.

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.

Federal judge dismisses legal challenge to NSA surveillance

A federal district judge ruled this morning that the National Security Agency’s phone metadata surveillance program is constitutional and dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

In a 53-page opinion, U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley acknowledged that the NSA phone surveillance program “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States.” But he opined that the program could have prevented the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“As the September 11th attacks demonstrate, the cost of missing such a thread can be horrific,” wrote Pauley in ACLU v. Clapper. “Technology allowed al-Qaeda to operate decentralized and plot international terrorist attack remotely.”

“The bulk telephony metadata collection program represents the Government’s counter-punch: connecting fragmented and fleeting communications to re-construct and eliminate al-Qaeda’s terror network,” he added.

Pauley acknowledged that there have been “unintentional violations of guidelines,” but dismissed this at “human error” and “incredibly complex computer programs that support this vital tool.” He also wrote that the program is “subject to executive and congressional oversight” and “monitoring” by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

Pauley was appointed to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in May 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton. He was confirmed by the Senate in October 1998. The court on which Pauley serves is based in New York City.

White House releases brutal panel report on NSA spying

Just two days after a federal judge issued a scathing opinion in which he said the NSA phone metadata program is “likely unconstitutional,” the White House released the report from the five-member panel tasked with reviewing the agency’s data collection methods.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology recommending 46 changes, some of which are significant, to the how the NSA gathers intelligence. The suggestions in the 303-page report, Liberty and Security in a Changing World, are non-binding.

“We have emphasized the need to develop principles designed to create strong foundations for the future,” said the panel members a letter to President Barack Obama. “Although we have explored past and current practices, and while that exploration has informed our recommendations, this Report should not be taken as a general review of, or as an attempt to provide a detailed assessment of, those practices.”

“We recognize that our forty-six recommendations, developed over a relatively short period of time, will require careful assessment by a wide range of relevant officials, with close reference to the likely consequences. Our goal has been to establish broad understandings and principles that can provide helpful orientation during the coming months, years, and decades,” the members added.

Initial reports indicated that the panel would suggest that the agency dismantle its vast controversial and heavily criticized phone record database, which stores information on virtually every American. Indeed, the panel even says that “the current storage by the government of bulk meta-data creates potential risks to public trust, personal privacy, and civil liberty.”

Tech firms finally call for NSA surveillance reforms

After months of mostly silence on the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection programs, which includes obtaining information of Americans’ phone calls and Internet records, leading tech firms have finally spoken out and launched a campaign for reform.

A half dozen firms — including Facebook, Google, Twiter, and Microsoft — have written letter to President Barack Obama and members of Congress in which they explain that the federal government must reform laws to protect Americans’ privacy. The firms have also launched a website — ReformGovernmentSurveillance.com — that outlines the principles of reform.

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide,” wrote the firms in the letter. “The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

“For our part, we are focused on keeping users’ data secure — deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope,” the letter continues.

WSJ: NSA programs cover 75% of Internet traffic, keeps some e-mail content

The National Security Agency’s Internet communications surveillance is so vast that it can reach nearly 75% of all online communications, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

President Barack Obama has gone to great lengths recently to downplay the NSA’s surveillance apparatus, telling Americans that the government isn’t spying on them and publicly discussing reforms that would protect privacy. But the Wall Street Journal’s report indicates that the snooping programs do in fact retain both email and phone communications between American citizens.

“The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say,” noted the Wall Street Journal.

“The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S.,” the paper added. “But officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.”

Leftist hypocrisy on free speech and government surveillance

One truth about politics: when those who have taken up one side of an issue are forced to accept and defend that same issue, should it suit their needs to do so, the acknowledgement of their previous criticism will be generally non-existent.

Take the histrionics surrounding 2010’s Citizens United decision — “Corporations aren’t people! They shouldn’t have First Amendment rights! Elections will be bought and sold by evil dark money special interest groups! Those with the most cash will always win!”

Forgetting for a moment that Barack Obama managed to get re-elected despite the impressive amount of money that was raised to support Mitt Romney via super PACs that were not associated with his actual campaign, this idea that corporations — really just groups of people — shouldn’t retain First Amendment speech rights is proving quite the interesting conundrum for those who both HATED the Citizens United decision but now find themselves DESPISING that National Security Agency’s (NSA) peek under the hood at millions of lines of metadata on American citizens’ phone records.

Because corporations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Google are taking the uncomfortable action of invoking their First Amendment speech rights to file suit, in the case of the former, and in requesting the release of records showing exactly how persistent the government was in insisting that the search giant provide them private information on American citizens.

Michael Turk wrote a terrific blog post detailing a similarly terrific piece on the ACLU v. Clapper case by Wendy Kaminer at The Atlantic at his blog, Kung Fu Quip:

Legal or Not, Data-Mining Poses a Threat to Civil Liberties

Roger Pilon and Richard Epstein are out with an op-ed that argues that the data-mining and surveillance programs we’ve become aware of over the past week aren’t really as big a deal as many libertarians and conservatives are making them out to be:

President Barack Obama is under harsh attack for stating the obvious: No amount of government ingenuity will guarantee the American people 100 percent security, 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. He was answering a burst of more heated responses from left and right alike to the “news” that for years the National Security Agency has been collecting metadata about Americans’ phone calls and certain foreign Internet communications.

Legally, the president is on secure footing under the Patriot Act, which Congress passed shortly after 9/11 and has since reauthorized by large bipartisan majorities. As he stressed, the program has enjoyed the continued support of all three branches of the federal government. It has been free of political abuse since its inception. And as he rightly added, this nation has real problems if its people, at least here, can’t trust the combined actions of the executive branch and the Congress, backstopped by federal judges sworn to protect our individual liberties secured by the Bill of Rights.

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.”


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