The FBI did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Dustin Volz reports: The Federal Bureau of Investigation has used a secretive authority to compel Internet and telecommunications firms to hand over customer data including an individual’s complete web browsing history and records of all online purchases, a court filing released Monday shows.
The documents are believed to be the first time the government has provided details of its so-called national security letters, which are used by the FBI to conduct electronic surveillance without the need for court approval.
The filing made public Monday was the result of an 11-year-old legal battle waged by Nicholas Merrill, founder of Calyx Internet Access, a hosted service provider, who refused to comply with a national security letter (NSL) he received in 2004.
Merrill told Reuters the release was significant “because the public deserves to know how the government is gathering information without warrants on Americans who are not even suspected of a crime.”
National security letters have been available as a law enforcement tool since the 1970s, but their frequency and breadth expanded dramatically under the USA Patriot Act, which was passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They are almost always accompanied by an open-ended gag order barring companies from disclosing the contents of the demand for customer data. Read the rest of this entry »
Gun Sales Set Record for Sixth Month in a Row
Stephen Gutowski reports: The Federal Bureau of Investigation processed a record number of background checks in the month of October, indicating that gun sales were at an all time high for the sixth month in a row.
“Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the best gun salespeople on the planet. The more they scream for new gun control laws the more guns walk off the shelves at gun stores. To quote the lyrics of Peter, Paul and Mary, ‘When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn.’”
The FBI’s National Instant Background Check System processed 1,976,759 firearms related checks in October. That is a 373,290 increase in checks over last year and a new record for the month. It also makes October the sixth consecutive month to see a record number of checks….(read more)
Source: Washington Free Beacon
A Gallup poll released on October 20 shows that a majority of Americans believe more concealed carry equals less crime.
AWR Hawkins reports: According to Gallup, 56 percent of Americans answered in the affirmative when asked if the U.S. would be safer if “more Americans were allowed to carry concealed weapons if they passed a criminal background check and training course.” 41 percent of respondents said more concealed carry would make the country less safe.
In a pattern that has become very familiar, support for more concealed carry was driven by Republicans and independents. Eighty-two percent of Republicans believe more concealed carry would make the U.S. safer and 56 percent of independents agree. But the majority of Democrats—67 percent—believe more concealed carry would make the U.S. less safe.
On October 21, Breitbart News reported a very similar breakdown by party in a CNN/ORC that looked at Americans’ overarching position on gun control. In that poll, 52 percent of Americans opposed more gun control, while 46 percent support the passage of more gun laws….(read more)
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 20 years, the Web might complete its shift from liberator to oppressor. It’s up to us to prevent that.
“What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?”
For better or for worse, we’ve prioritized things like security, online civility, user interface, and intellectual property interests above freedom and openness. The Internet is less open and more centralized. It’s more regulated. And increasingly it’s less global, and more divided. These trends: centralization, regulation, and globalization are accelerating. And they will define the future of our communications network, unless something dramatic changes.
Twenty years from now,
• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.
• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.
• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security.
•Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control.
It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change course, we need to ask some hard questions and make some difficult decisions.
What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?
How can we stop being afraid and start being sensible about risk? Technology has evolved into a Golden Age for Surveillance. Can technology now establish a balance of power between governments and the governed that would guard against social and political oppression? Given that decisions by private companies define individual rights and security, how can we act on that understanding in a way that protects the public interest and doesn’t squelch innovation? Whose responsibility is digital security? What is the future of the Dream of Internet Freedom?
For me, the Dream of Internet Freedom started in 1984 with Steven Levy’s book “Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” Levy told the story of old school coders and engineers who believed that all information should be freely accessible. They imagined that computers would empower people to make our own decisions about what was right and wrong. Empowering people depended on the design principle of decentralization. Decentralization was built into the very DNA of the early Internet, smart endpoints, but dumb pipes, that would carry whatever brilliant glories the human mind and heart could create to whomever wanted to listen. Read the rest of this entry »
ACLU lawsuit argued the data collection should be stopped because it violates Americans’ privacy rights
WASHINGTON — Devlin Barrett and Damian Paletta report: A federal appeals court ruled Thursday the National Security Agency’s controversial collection of millions of Americans’ phone records isn’t authorized by the Patriot Act, as the Bush and Obama administrations have long maintained.
”The text of (Section 215) cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and … does not authorize the telephone metadata program.’’
The NSA has used the Patriot Act to justify collecting records of nearly every call made in the U.S. and entering them into a database to search for possible contacts among terrorism suspects.
The scope of the program was revealed when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents describing the program, triggering a national debate over the extent of the data collection.
“I am concerned if we throw out some of these programs, now we are at risk. We’re stupid, I got it, in the press, but we shouldn’t put American people at risk.”
— Recently retired NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander
The ruling by the three-judge panel in New York comes at a delicate point in the national debate over government surveillance, as Section 215 of the Patriot Act is due to expire next month and lawmakers are haggling about whether to renew it, modify it, or let it lapse.
The court’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union arguing the data collection should be stopped because it violates Americans’ privacy rights. A lower court judge ruled the program was constitutional, and the civil liberties group appealed, leading to Thursday’s decision.
”The text of (Section 215) cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and … does not authorize the telephone metadata program,’’ the court wrote.
The court declined to address the issue of whether the program violates Americans’ rights, because, they found, it was never properly authorized by existing law.
The judges didn’t order the collection to stop, noting that the legislative debate and the looming expiration of Section 215 will force action on the issue one way or another. The judges also note that if Congress decides to approve some version of the phone data collection program in coming days, then the privacy issue could be revisited in court. Read the rest of this entry »
[BOOKS] Tocqueville’s Nightmare: The Administrative State Emerges in America, 1900-1940, by Daniel R. ErnstPosted: March 4, 2015
Review of TOCQUEVILLE’S NIGHTMARE: The Administrative State Emerges in America, 1900-1940, by Daniel R. Ernst Oxford University Press, 2014
ADRIAN VERMEULE is the John H. Watson Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is the author or co-author of eight books on public law and legal theory, most recently The Constitution of Risk (2014).
Adrian Vermeile writes: Although Dan Ernst ends his account of the emergence of the American administrative state in 1940, the true climax, at least from the lawyer’s point of view, occurs in 1932. In that year the great Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes undertook his titanic effort to forge a charter of compromise, a treaty of peace, between the administrative state and the rule of law. The case was Crowell v. Benson, involving an agency charged with deciding workman’s compensation cases involving injured maritime workers.
“The mid-century attempt to domesticate the American administrative state, described so skillfully by Ernst, ultimately came undone, and it is a live question whether anything else has taken its place.”
Hughes’s opinion in many ways laid down lines of demarcation that were written into the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, the great framework statute or quasi-constitution of the administrative state. It is a tribute to Hughes that his effort created an equilibrium that outlasted the turbulent years of his Chief Justiceship — despite the intervening constitutional revolution of 1937, after which the courts stopped trying to enforce narrow readings of the national government’s power over interstate commerce, and stopped trying to police statutory grants of authority from Congress to the executive (the so-called “nondelegation doctrine”).
Having paid due tribute, however, it must be said that the equilibrium Hughes brought into being is a thing of the past. The line of demarcation between administration and law, the frontier of the administrative state, has shifted markedly, with law giving way to administration across almost every margin identified in Crowell — in large part because law has abnegated its authority to administration. Ernst is not wholly clear about whether the equilibrium he identifies persists all the way into the present, doubtless because the story from 1940 to the present is not the story he is trying to tell. But to understand the significance of his book, it is important to understand that what it offers is a portrait of a particular equilibrium, one that has since vanished. The mid-century attempt to domesticate the American administrative state, described so skillfully by Ernst, ultimately came undone, and it is a live question whether anything else has taken its place.
“Ernst’s narrative is highly readable and strikes just the right balance among the historian’s love of detail, the lawyer’s need for conceptual organization, and the political theorist’s addiction to high-level principles.”
Ernst’s narrative is highly readable and strikes just the right balance among the historian’s love of detail, the lawyer’s need for conceptual organization, and the political theorist’s addiction to high-level principles. Let me begin with the level of political and constitutional theory. The high-level frame of the book is a choice or contest among possible visions of the relationship between law and administration. Traditional lawyers were afflicted by “Tocqueville’s nightmare,” a vision of a centralized administration abusing its powers and trampling on legal rights. (The nightmare persists, of course, as Philip Hamburger’s recent book shows). The main alternatives or competitors may be understood as different conceptions of “the rule of law.”
One alternative, championed by Ernst Freund, was the German idea of the Rechtsstaat — the rule-of-law state founded on clear positive enactments that would fix the metes and bounds “where the sovereign’s will prevailed and where it yielded to the will of the individual” (p. 2). The Rechtsstaat ideal, however, lost out to a different conception of the rule of law, championed by Hughes among others — a modified and updated version of Albert Venn Dicey’s ideal that subjected all official action to review by ordinary common-law courts.
“…perhaps the major expansion of the administrative state since Crowellhas come not in the areas it addressed, but in an area it said almost nothing about: agency rulemaking. Agencies may act like little courts, as in Crowell, or like little legislatures, making general rules with the force and effect of law.”
After the emergence of the administrative state, the original version of the Diceyan ideal was a non-starter. Ernst shows convincingly that even some traditional lawyers came to understand and appreciate the expertise and efficiency of relatively nonpolitical agencies, who were more professional and less liable to be overrun by patronage politics than other potential suppliers of lawmaking, such as legislative committees, and more knowledgeable and less expensive than the common-law judges and the elaborate processes of litigation. Such lawyers reinvented themselves as transactional engineers, shepherding clients through the administrative process — not “officers of the court” but “officers of the state” (6). Yet lawyers like Hughes also worked to translate or adapt Dicey’s commitments in the new environment, developing an approach that retained a crucial role for judicial review of administrative action. As Richard Fallon has observed in a different but related context, the translated Diceyan approach attempted not so much to get every given case right, but instead to provide an overall scheme of review that would suffice to keep the administrative state within the bounds of law. Read the rest of this entry »
Kate Scanlon reports: More Americans support gun rights over gun control, according to a newly released survey by the Pew Research Center.
According to Pew, 52 percent of respondents answered that it is more important to “protect the right of Americans to own guns.” In contrast, 46 percent said that it is more important to “control gun ownership.”
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, 51 percent of Americans supported stricter gun control laws, and 45 percent supported gun rights.
Now, 57 percent of Americans responded that gun ownership does more to “protect people from becoming victims of violent crime,” while 38 percent believe it does more to “put people’s safety at risk.”
Fake Cellphone Towers on Planes Used to Target Criminals, but Also Sift Through Thousands of Other Phones
WASHINGTON—Devlin Barrett reports: The Justice Department is scooping up data from thousands of cellphones through fake communications towers deployed on airplanes, a high-tech hunt for criminal suspects that is snagging a large number of innocent Americans, according to people familiar with the operations.
“The program cuts out phone companies as an intermediary in searching for suspects. Rather than asking a company for cell-tower information to help locate a suspect, which law enforcement has criticized as slow and inaccurate, the government can now get that information itself.”
The U.S. Marshals Service program, which became fully functional around 2007, operates Cessna aircraft from at least five metropolitan-area airports, with a flying range covering most of the U.S. population, according to people familiar with the program.
“Similar devices are used by U.S. military and intelligence officials operating in other countries, including in war zones, where they are sometimes used to locate terrorist suspects, according to people familiar with the work. In the U.S., these people said, the technology has been effective in catching suspected drug dealers and killers. They wouldn’t say which suspects were caught through this method.”
Planes are equipped with devices—some known as “dirtboxes” to law-enforcement officials because of the initials of the Boeing Co. unit that produces them—which mimic cell towers of large telecommunications firms and trick cellphones into reporting their unique registration information. Read the rest of this entry »
Tens of thousands have gathered in Hong Kong for the only major commemoration in China of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.
For BBC News, Juliana Liu reports: The organizers said some 180,000 attended the vigil, but the police put the crowd size at just under 100,000. The city retains civil liberties not permitted to mainland Chinese. The 1989 protesters wanted political reform, but the crackdown was ordered after hardliners won a power struggle within the ruling Communist Party.
In Beijing, the authorities have imposed blanket security, particularly on Tiananmen Square, to prevent any attempts to mark the anniversary.
Dozens of activists were detained in the run-up to the anniversary, with foreign journalists ushered away from the square on Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »
A civil libertarian reflects on the dangers of the surveillance state
By PEGGY NOONAN
What is privacy? Why should we want to hold onto it? Why is it important, necessary, precious?
Is it just some prissy relic of the pretechnological past?
We talk about this now because of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency revelations, and new fears that we are operating, all of us, within what has become or is becoming a massive surveillance state. They log your calls here, they can listen in, they can read your emails. They keep the data in mammoth machines that contain a huge collection of information about you and yours. This of course is in pursuit of a laudable goal, security in the age of terror.
Is it excessive? It certainly appears to be. Does that matter? Yes. Among other reasons: The end of the expectation that citizens’ communications are and will remain private will probably change us as a people, and a country.