Privacy

More evidence that we must be vigilant: Barack Obama begs cops to stop reminding Americans they’re under constant surveillance

We have all heard of the now infamous technology known as “stingrays,” which law enforcement uses to track cell phones.

The military and local law enforcement agencies have been making use of this technology for years. The devices are used by law enforcement to trick cell phones into giving in details on its identification and location. This process takes place once the tool used by the authorities mimics a cell phone tower. The target then receives electronic signals that transform the phone into a tracking instrument.

Stingrays are reportedly used by law enforcement when officers are not willing to contact the phone companies during an investigation. They ignore a few steps of the operation, ignore any need for warrants, which they have already ruled unnecessary when using stingrays, and focus on obtaining information on a potential suspect by going straight for the target’s phone.

Some of the most recent coverage the use of these technologies has obtained was linked to the special motion filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU filed the motion in the Florida state court to obtain access to information on why law enforcement was using this technology, but federal authorities were having none of it.

According to Wired, U.S. Marshals grabbed the files before ACLU even had the chance to review any documents.

Whether this technology is widely and consistently used by law enforcement across the country or not, privacy proponents are not ignoring its capacity. Now, however, new revelations seem to indicate the real scope of the matter.

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.

Supreme Court Rejects NSA Phone Spying Case

After U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon’s preliminary injunction was issued back in December, which kept the NSA from gathering metadata pertaining to certain Verizon customers who took part in a lawsuit filed by conservative legal activist Larry Klayman, the Supreme Court decided to refrain from reviewing the case.

According to Judge Leon’s ruling, the Justice Department didn’t produce enough evidence to make him believe that the massive surveillance program was justified, which led to his decision to call the NSA’s surveillance programs unconstitutional.

The decision was announced Monday.

Per the rules of the court, at least four of the nine justices must agree on taking up the cause for a full review before it’s accepted, but since the process failed to grant the case a go, the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program remains unchecked by the Supreme Court.

The debate over President Barack Obama’s proposal to change how data gathered by private companies will be stored has also sparked this administration’s harshest critics, especially when it comes to the unconstitutional surveillance programs carried out by the NSA.

House NSA reformer: “There’s more than enough votes to pass the FREEDOM Act”

A leading critic of the NSA bulk data collection program says the votes exist in the House of Representatives to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, a sweeping measure that would end bulk data collection and protect Americans’ privacy rights.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) told The Hill last week that he would offer an amendment to address the NSA bulk meta collection programs if the White House and House Intelligence Committee proposal fall short. Now that he’s had time to review them, the Michigan Republican believes the dueling measures don’t stop bulk data collection at all.

“The proposals from the White House and the Intelligence Committee don’t really make much of a difference. They don’t actually stop bulk collection,” Amash said in an interview on Wednesday. “They transfer where the data is held, but the government can still access it in basically the same way.”

Amash supports the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced in October by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI). This measure would not only end the bulk data collection program, it would also close loopholes the NSA could use to access Americans’ personal records.

The USA FREEDOM Act has broad, bipartisan support — a rarity in Washington these days — but it’s currently stalled in the House Judiciary Committee, though Amash notes that it has “a lot of support” from its members.

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.

Yes, Rand Paul is the future of the GOP

Over at the American Spectator, Reid Smith and Jamie Weinstein (so much for that “I before E” rule, right?), debate whether Rand Paul is the future of the Republican Party.

Smith takes the pro-Paul position in his part, “A New Age of Liberty,” in which he touts the libertarian scion’s innovative tactics and positions and success in just three years in the Senate. Weinstein takes the anti-Paul side, under the head “GOP Less Libertarian Thank You Think,” using more concrete examples, but making less sense doing it.

Weinstein’s main point against Rand Paul is ideological, and no surprise, focuses on the area where he differs most sharply with  party leadership: foreign policy. He argues that while Paul turned heads with his drone filibuster and then helped defeat the authorization of force in Syria resolution, the Syria result was an exception, and the continued support for military action against Iranian nuclear capability is the rule. Paul didn’t tilt the party more isolationist, Weinstein claims, people just didn’t like the options in Syria. While a convincing argument, we have another data point now with which we can test this theory: Ukraine.

Followingly less than a year after the Syria debate, 56% of Americans say we should “not get too involved” in Russia’s annexation of Ukraine either. And while 67% of Republicans disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the situation so far, 50% say it’s important we don’t get involved.

Snowden raised concerns with supervisors before going to the press

It’s still hard for some of us to grasp the motives behind Edward Snowden’s decision to go straight to the press.

Some question why government officials were never warned that pressing concerns related to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs had to be addressed , and some even question the goals behind the final disclosure of the confidential programs to the press.

While all questions are valid and should be addressed timely, recent reports show that Snowden’s recent testimony to the European Parliament assured the public that his concerns had been discussed with at least 10 officials before he decided to go to the press. According to the report, Snowden would have a hard time pursuing any further whistleblowing mainly because of his status as a contractor.

According to the testimony, the decision to go to the press to leak confidential documents only came to Snowden after he exhausted all other formal avenues.

When asked about the circumstances, Snowden replied that he “had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them.” Edward Snowden’s status as an employee of a private company hired by the U.S. government makes it impossible for the contractor to be protected by whistleblower laws, which are only valid to U.S. government direct employees.

Snowden claimed that because he encountered these legal issues, he feared he “would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.”

New America Foundation, Google, and the Obama Administration.

Google Inside

Google claims its business philosophy is the simple, warm-and-fuzzy, “Don’t be evil.” But behind the scenes, the data-trolling and -selling operations the company perpetrates on end-users could hardly be considered noble; at best they might be called self-serving, and at worst a violation of privacy. And now, the corporate juggernaut is using its connections to a high-level lobbyist foundation to buy positive spin and government influence to protect one of its biggest cash cows.

The New York Times recently ran this article, defining Google+, Google’s social network hub that now acts as the backbone of its universal login services. It’s become the easiest method by which Google can track online behavior and commercialize marketing profiles of web users to online advertisers:

Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.

The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.

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.

 


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