Encryption can protect personal data from government intrusion, which means the government wants the key to break it.
Gavin Hanson reports: Like it or not, you are your data. In this day and age, your receipts, social media activity, public records, GPS data, and internet search history are the proof of who you are. And while you may have thought you had secrets, the Federal Government would like the rest of them.
The seemingly innocuous pieces of information we trade away every day create a detailed mosaic of our lives used to target advertising and create personality profiles that are exploited by the FBI, political operatives like Cambridge Analytica, and Russian propagandists.
And those are just the legal shenanigans! Instances of malicious hacking that jeopardize social security numbers and other important data are on the rise as well.
Encryption, to oversimplify, is the process of putting your data in a combination locked safe, and it’s becoming more popular. Like all passcodes, these combinations are best stored non-electronically.
Automatically encrypted search engines and internet services simplify the process for users. They protect individuals’ data from hacking, theft, and even the government, but they also retain a repository for all the combinations they use to lock data up.
This is the Trojan horse the NSA means to use to gain access to your private data even when it is encrypted.
But that may soon change.
If the executive agencies have their way, the NSA will have a record of every lock combination in use by every company—a skeleton key, if you will, to gain access to your digital home, papers, effects, and aspects of your person without warrant or probable cause—effectively mandating that companies hand over skeleton keys to the locks that they provide to their users, at any time: what they call “exceptional access.” Read the rest of this entry »
The agency tells a federal judge that it is investigating and ‘sincerely regrets its failure.’
The National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve in connection with pending lawsuits and apparently never took some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information wasn’t destroyed, according to recent court filings.
Word of the NSA’s foul-up is emerging just as Congress has extended for six years the legal authority the agency uses for much of its surveillance work conducted through U.S. internet providers and tech firms. President Donald Trump signed that measure into law Friday.
Since 2007, the NSA has been under court orders to preserve data about certain of its surveillance efforts that came under legal attack following disclosures that President George W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. In addition, the agency has made a series of representations in court over the years about how it is complying with its duties.
However, the NSA told U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in a filing on Thursday night and another little-noticed submission last year that the agency did not preserve the content of internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under the program Bush ordered. To make matters worse, backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016, the NSA said.
“The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data,” NSA’s deputy director of capabilities, identified publicly as “Elizabeth B.,” wrote in a declaration filed in October. “NSA senior management is fully aware of this failure, and the Agency is committed to taking swift action to respond to the loss of this data.”
In DC, perjury is not simply tolerated, it is rewarded. In a city of made men and women, nothing says loyalty quite as much as lying under oath.
Jonathan Turley writes: Former National Intelligence Director James Clapper is about celebrate one of the most important anniversaries of his life. March 13th will be the fifth anniversary of his commission of open perjury before the Senate Intelligence Committee. More importantly, it also happens to be when the statute of limitations runs out — closing any possibility of prosecution for Clapper. As the clock runs out on the Clapper prosecution, Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) have charged that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen committed perjury when she insisted that she could not recall if President Donald Trump called Haiti and African countries a vulgar term. The fact is that perjury is not simply tolerated, it is rewarded, in Washington. In a city of made men and women, nothing says loyalty quite as much as lying under oath.
Even in a city with a notoriously fluid notion of truth, Clapper’s false testimony was a standout. Clapper appeared before the Senate to discuss surveillance programs in the midst of a controversy over warrantless surveillance of the American public. He was asked directly, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions, or hundreds of millions of Americans?” There was no ambiguity or confusion and Clapper responded, “No, sir. … Not wittingly.” That was a lie and Clapper knew it when he said it.
Later, Clapper said that his testimony was “the least untruthful” statement he could make. That would still make it a lie of course but Clapper is a made guy. While feigned shock and disgust, most Democratic leaders notably did not call for his prosecution. Soon Clapper was back testifying and former president Obama even put Clapper on a federal panel to review the very programs that he lied about in Congress. Clapper is now regularly appearing on cable shows which, for example, used Clapper’s word as proof that Trump was lying in saying that there was surveillance of Trump Tower carried out by President Barack Obama. CNN and other networks used Clapper’s assurance without ever mentioning that he previously lied about surveillance programs.
The expiration of the statute of limitations for Clapper will have the benefit of conclusively establishing that some people in this city are above the law. In a 2007 study, author P.J. Meitl found that “[a]lmost no one is prosecuted for lying to Congress.” Indeed, he found only six people convicted of perjury or related charges in relation to Congress, going back to the 1940s.
The problem is not that the perjury statute is never enforced. Rather it is enforced against people without allies in government. Thus, Roger Clemens was prosecuted for untrue statements before Congress. He was not given the option of giving the “least untruthful” answer. Read the rest of this entry »
[VIDEO] New Evidence Obama’s NSA Conducted Illegal Searches; Fallout From NSA Revelations; Hemingway, KrauthammerPosted: May 24, 2017
Strings of code were released to the Internet by a group calling themselves ‘the Shadow Brokers’. They claim the code is a tool that can be used to hack into any computer.
The cache mysteriously surfaced over the weekend and appears to be legitimate.
Ellen Nakashima reports: Some of the most powerful espionage tools created by the National Security Agency’s elite group of hackers have been revealed in recent days, a development that could pose severe consequences for the spy agency’s operations and the security of government and corporate computers.
“Faking this information would be monumentally difficult, there is just such a sheer volume of meaningful stuff. Much of this code should never leave the NSA.”
— Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the University of California at Berkeley
A cache of hacking tools with code names such as Epicbanana, Buzzdirection and Egregiousblunder appeared mysteriously online over the weekend, setting the security world abuzz with speculation over whether the material was legitimate.
The file appeared to be real, according to former NSA personnel who worked in the agency’s hacking division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO).
“Without a doubt, they’re the keys to the kingdom,” said one former TAO employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal operations. “The stuff you’re talking about would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad.”
Said a second former TAO hacker who saw the file: “From what I saw, there was no doubt in my mind that it was legitimate.”
“Without a doubt, they’re the keys to the kingdom. The stuff you’re talking about would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad.”
Strings of code were released to the Internet by a group calling themselves “the Shadow Brokers”. They claim the code is a tool that can be used to hack into any computer.
The file contained 300 megabytes of information, including several “exploits,” or tools for taking control of firewalls in order to control a network, and a number of implants that might, for instance, exfiltrate or modify information.
The exploits are not run-of-the-mill tools to target everyday individuals. They are expensive software used to take over firewalls, such as Cisco and Fortinet, that are used “in the largest and most critical commercial, educational and government agencies around the world,” said Blake Darche, another former TAO operator and now head of security research at Area 1 Security.
The software apparently dates back to 2013 and appears to have been taken then, experts said, citing file creation dates, among other things.
“The tools were posted by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers using file-sharing sites such as BitTorrent and DropBox.”
“What’s clear is that these are highly sophisticated and authentic hacking tools,” said Oren Falkowitz, chief executive of Area 1 Security and another former TAO employee.
Several of the exploits were pieces of computer code that took advantage of “zero-day” or previously unknown flaws or vulnerabilities in firewalls, which appear to be unfixed to this day, said one of the former hackers.
The disclosure of the file means that at least one other party — possibly another country’s spy agency — has had access to the same hacking tools used by the NSA and could deploy them against organizations that are using vulnerable routers and firewalls. It might also see what the NSA is targeting and spying on. And now that the tools are public, as long as the flaws remain unpatched, other hackers can take advantage of them, too.
“The disclosure of the file means that at least one other party — possibly another country’s spy agency — has had access to the same hacking tools used by the NSA and could deploy them against organizations that are using vulnerable routers and firewalls. It might also see what the NSA is targeting and spying on. And now that the tools are public, as long as the flaws remain unpatched, other hackers can take advantage of them, too.”
The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
“Faking this information would be monumentally difficult, there is just such a sheer volume of meaningful stuff,” Nicholas Weaver, a computer security researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, said in an interview. “Much of this code should never leave the NSA.”
The tools were posted by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers using file-sharing sites such as BitTorrent and DropBox. Read the rest of this entry »
In the surveillance area, I believe the public is mostly wrong.
Andrew C. McCarthy writes: Should private companies that provide users with encryption technology be required to assist law-enforcement and intelligence services to defeat that technology? This question is a more pressing one in the wake of November’s Paris terrorist attacks. But it is a very tough question that has vexed both the government and providers of communications services for years.
“The problem is that encryption technology has gotten very tough to crack and very widely available. Consequently, if terrorists or other high-level criminals are using it to carry out schemes that endanger the public, government agents cannot penetrate the communications in real time.”
Part of what makes it so difficult is the new facts of life. As I noted during the debate over the NSA’s bulk-collection of telephone metadata, we are operating in a political environment that is night-and-day different from the aftermath of 9/11. Back then, a frightened public was demanding that the government do a better job of collecting intelligence and thwarting terrorist plots. Of course that sentiment was driven by the mass-murder of nearly 3,000 Americans, coupled with the destruction of the World Trade Center and a strike against the Pentagon. But it also owed in no small measure to the fact that government had done such an incompetent job gathering and “connecting the dots” prior to the attacks. There was a strong public sense that intelligence agencies needed an injection of muscle.
“That they have a legal basis to conduct surveillance is beside the point; all the probable cause in the world won’t help an agent who lacks the know-how to access what he’s been authorized to search.”
Today, the public’s sense tends in the other direction. There have been spectacular abuses of government power (e.g., IRS scandal), and intrusive security precautions infused by political correctness (e.g., airport searches). Americans understandably suspect that government cannot be trusted with enhanced authorities and that many of its tactics are more about the appearance of security than real security.
It is, moreover, no longer sufficient for the national-security right to posit that security measures pass legal muster. The public wants proof that these measures actually and meaningfully improve our security, regardless of whether they are justifiable as a matter of law.
This makes it a very uphill environment in which to suggest, as FBI Director Jim Comey has recently done, that communications providers should provide the government with keys to unlocking their encryption technology – encryption-key repositories or what is often called “backdoor” access.
The problem is that encryption technology has gotten very tough to crack and very widely available. Consequently, if terrorists or other high-level criminals are using it to carry out schemes that endanger the public, government agents cannot penetrate the communications in real time. That they have a legal basis to conduct surveillance is beside the point; all the probable cause in the world won’t help an agent who lacks the know-how to access what he’s been authorized to search. Read the rest of this entry »
Patrick Tucker reports: Your next tinfoil hat will won’t be made of tinfoil. A small company called Conductive Composites out of Utah has developed a flexible material — thin and tough enough for wallpaper or woven fabric — that can keep electronic emissions in and electromagnetic pulses out.
“The material also holds promise for a scalable defense against an electromagnetic pulse weapon. EMPs are a rising concern for the national security community, but not a new one. Soviet research into electromagnetic pulse weapons goes back to 1949, and active experimentation back to the 1970s.”
There are a few ways to snoop on electronic communications. You can hack into a network or you can sniff out radio emissions. If you want to defend against the latter, you can enclose your electronic device or devices within a structure of electrically conductive, (probably metallic) material. The result is something like a force field. The conductive material distributes the electromagnetic energy away from the target in every direction — think of the *splat* you get when you hurl a tomato at a wall. These enclosures are sometimes called Faraday cages after the 18th-century British scientist who discovered electrolysis.
“EMPs entered the public eye via the 2005 James Bond movie GoldenEye, in which an EMP caused massive blackouts and widespread fried electronics.”
Today, Faraday cages are all over the place. In 2013, as the College of Cardinals convened to elect a new Pope, the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel was converted into a Faraday cage so that news of the election couldn’t leak out, no matter how hard the paparazzi tried, and how eager the cardinals were to tweet the proceedings. The military also uses Faraday cages for secure communications: Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities or SCIFs are Faraday cages. You’ll need to be in one to access the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System, or JWICS, the Defense Department’s top-secret internet.
Conductive Composites has created a method to layer nickel on carbon to form a material that’s light and moldable like plastic yet can disperse energy like a traditional metal cage. Read the rest of this entry »
Apple released the iPhone 6 with a new, powerful encryption setting that should make it much harder for law enforcement and surveillance groups like the FBI and the NSA from accessing users’ emails, photos and contacts. After the Edward Snowden revelations last year, privacy-minded users may be happy about the new feature, but the law enforcement community is decidedly not.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, FBI Director James Comey criticized Apple’s encryption, which scrambles information on the new iPhone 6 using a code that could take “more than five-and-a-half years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers,” as Comey said.
Comey accused Apple of creating a means for criminals to evade the law, the New York Times reports. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law,” he said.
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Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.
The Post reviewed roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.
Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.
The material spans President Obama’s first term, from 2009 to 2012, a period of exponential growth for the NSA’s domestic collection.
The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.
Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid interfering with ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks. Read the rest of this entry »
For Washington Free Beacon, Bill Gertz reports: Federal prosecutors recently held discussions with representatives of renegade National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden on a possible deal involving his return to the United States to face charges of stealing more than a million secret NSA documents, according to U.S. officials.
“It remains our position that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the charges filed against him…”
Snowden is currently in Moscow under Russian government protection after fleeing Hawaii, where he worked in NSA’s Kunia facility, for Hong Kong in May 2013. U.S. officials have charged him with stealing an estimated 1.7 million documents from NSA Net and the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS) and providing some materials to news outlets.
“…If he does, he will be accorded full due process and protections.”
— D.O.J. Spokesman Marc Raimondi
Discussions on Snowden’s return were held in the past several weeks between prosecutors in the Justice Department’s National Security Division and Plato Cacheris, a long-time Washington defense lawyer who in the past represented several U.S. spies, including some who reached plea bargains rather than go to trial. Read the rest of this entry »
Ex-CIA Agent Bitch-Slaps Snowden’s Spy Fantasies: ‘Computer Technician with a Walter Mitty Complex’…’Lacking Common Sense’Posted: May 31, 2014
Former CIA Agent: Snowden probably in contact with Russia Since 2007
For The Daily Caller, Giuseppe Macri writes: Distinguished former CIA officer and author Robert Baer said on the BBC’s “Today” radio program Thursday morning that ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden has been in contact with the Russian government for the last seven years.
“He was a systems administrator. When he worked for the CIA in Geneva he was a communicator. That means he sits in an office and relays messages. That’s not a spy.”
“My suspicion is that the Russians were probably in touch with him in Geneva,” Baer said, speculating they first made contact in 2007 while Snowden was stationed in Switzerland with the CIA. “I can’t prove it. But this was such a brilliant operation. And his landing in Moscow just makes old Cold War warriors like me very suspicious.”
“Secondly, the NSA doesn’t have spies overseas. It’s got technicians who sit in American embassies. They are not even analysts.”
Baer also dismissed Snowden’s assertion on his first U.S. television network interview with NBC’s Brian Williams Wednesday that he “was trained as a spy,” and described him as little more than a computer technician with a “Walter Mitty complex” lacking “common sense.” Read the rest of this entry »
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 29, 2014
On Thursday, NSA released the email they said Snowden appeared to be referring to, which the agency says is the only communication from Snowden it could find raising any concerns. It was dated April 8, 2013, three months after Snowden first reached out to journalists anonymously.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Edward Snowden says he repeatedly raised constitutional concerns about National Security Agency surveillance internally, but an NSA search turned up a single email in which Snowden gently asks for “clarification” on a technical legal question about training materials, agency officials said Thursday.
Snowden, a former NSA systems administrator whose leaks have exposed some of the agency’s most sensitive spying operations, called himself a patriot in an interview this week with NBC News‘ Brian Williams. He said he felt he had no choice but to expose what he considered illegal NSA surveillance by leaking secret details to journalists.
NSA officials have said he gained access to some 1.7 million classified documents, though it’s not clear how many he removed from the Hawaii facility where he worked as a contractor.
Asked by Williams whether he first raised his qualms with his bosses, he said, “I reported that there were real problems with the way the NSA was interpreting its legal authorities.” Read the rest of this entry »
“One of the most encouraging aspects of the story has been that there has been a complete breakdown in the traditional, standard divisions between left and right or conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat…”
Glenn Greenwald appeared on Meet the Press, things ended poorly for David Gregory. On Sunday morning, Greenwald appeared on the show for the first time since the contretemps, though NBC put two layers between Greenwald and Gregory, having justice correspondent Pete Williams conduct the interview and fielding the questions from social media.
“…There has been this extremely inspiring bipartisan coalition that has emerged that has demanded that there be constraints imposed on the NSA.”
[Glenn Greenwald‘s book: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State is available from Amazon.com]
The most pointed question asked how Greenweld reconciled his comparison of NSA leaker Edward Snowden to Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, given that Ellsberg stayed to face trial while Snowden fled the U.S. and eventually defected to Russia. He quoted Ellsberg’s op-ed arguing that the justice system had become considerably harsher toward whistleblowers. “If Edward Snowden were to go on trial, he would be rendered incommunicado, he would not be released on bail, he couldn’t argue his case to the public,” Greenwald said. Read the rest of this entry »
Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms fail to safeguard civil liberties
For Reason, Ronald Bailey writes: In January, President Barack Obama made a much-anticipated speech at the Department of Justice outlining proposed reforms of the domestic surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency (NSA). The secretive spy agency has taken a public battering ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden began blowing the whistle on its clandestine collection of basically every American’s telephone records.
“We will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons,” the president proclaimed. Unfortunately, Obama’s proposed changes to domestic surveillance programs are not nearly transparent enough, and fail to adequately protect the privacy of Americans.
In January, the federal government’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent agency charged by Congress with advising the president on the privacy and civil liberties repercussions relating to fighting terrorism, concluded that the NSA’s domestic surveillance “implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value.” How limited? “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”
The oversight board recommended that the surveillance program be terminated. In his speech, the president said that he had consulted with the board. Yet he did not heed its advice.
Instead of ending the unconstitutional domestic telecommunications spying program, Obama offered what he insisted were “a series of concrete and substantial reforms.” These include a new executive order on signals intelligence-that is, data connected with private communications-instructing surveillance agencies that “privacy and civil liberties shall be integral considerations.”
The order further admonishes intelligence bureaucrats to make sure their spying actually provides some benefit greater than the embarrassment officials will surely suffer should they be disclosed. This is the “front page test,” or how officials would feel if what they are doing were reported on the front page of a newspaper. If discovery equals discomfort, then maybe they shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »
Now the Director of National Intelligence admits it would have been better if Washington had acknowledged the surveillance in the first place…
“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset, we wouldn’t have had the problem we had.”
The American public and most members of Congress were kept in the dark for years about a secret U.S. program to collect and store such records of American citizens on a massive scale.The government’s legal interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act that granted the authority for this dragnet collection was itself a state secret.
The program makes it easy for the president to spy on and blackmail his enemies
Glenn Harlan Reynolds writes: Most of the worry about the National Security Agency’s bulk interception of telephone calls, e-mail and the like has centered around threats to privacy. And, in fact, the evidence suggests that if you’ve got a particularly steamy phone- or Skype-sex session going on, it just might wind up being shared by voyeuristic NSA analysts.
But most Americans figure, probably rightly, that the NSA isn’t likely to be interested in their stuff. (Anyone who hacks my e-mail is automatically punished, by having to read it.) There is, however, a class of people who can’t take that disinterest for granted: members of Congress and the judiciary. What they have to say is likely to be pretty interesting to anyone with a political ax to grind. And the ability of the executive branch to snoop on the phone calls of people in the other branches isn’t just a threat to privacy, but a threat to the separation of powers and the Constitution.
Gary Schmitt writes: Thankfully, President Obama is not a doctor. If he was and you happened to visit him in his office and mentioned that you were worried about the potential for lung cancer, he’d immediately put you under, open you up, and pull out a lung—or, at least, that’s the logic that seems to be guiding his decisions on NSA’s collection programs. Yes, no one has found any evidence that NSA has broken the law, invaded constitutionally-protected privacy rights, or is about to. But never mind, it’s the very possibility that someday, somehow, NSA will jump the tracks that requires the president now to unduly complicate the use of what he admits has been an important counterterrorism tool.
Charles Krauthammer praised the president’s NSA speech as the “best use of Obama’s rhetorical powers of dazzling with very little content since the ‘08 campaign.”
On Friday night’s Special Report, Krauthammer characterized President Obama’s reforms to the United States’ surveillance as
“90 percent smoke and mirrors, and very little substantive change, which is what we need.”
Steven Levy writes: My expectations were low when I asked the National Security Agency to cooperate with my story on the impact of Edward Snowden’s leaks on the tech industry. During the 1990s, I had been working on a book, Crypto, which dove deep into cryptography policy, and it took me years — years! — to get an interview with an employee crucial to my narrative. I couldn’t quote him, but he provided invaluable background on the Clipper Chip, an ill-fated NSA encryption runaround that purported to strike a balance between protecting personal privacy and maintaining national security.
Oh, and I was not permitted to interview my Crypto source at the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. I was crushed; I had grown obsessed with the vaunted triple fence surrounding the restricted area and had climactic hopes that I’d get inside. Instead, the meet occurred just outside the headquarters’ heavily guarded perimeter, at the National Cryptologic Museum. (I did buy a cool NSA umbrella in the gift shop.)
This time around, the NSA’s initial comeback was discouraging. The public relations person suggested that perhaps some unidentified officials could provide written responses to a few questions I submitted. A bit later, an agency rep indicated there was the possibility of a phone conversation. But then, rather suddenly, I was asked if I would be interested in an actual visit to meet with a few key officials. And could I do it… later that week?
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and the other tech titans have had to fight for their lives against their own government. An exclusive look inside their year from hell—and why the Internet will never be the same.
Christoph Niemann writes: On June 6, 2013, Washington Post reporters called the communications departments of Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and other Internet companies. The day before, a report in the British newspaper The Guardian had shocked Americans with evidence that the telecommunications giant Verizon had voluntarily handed a database of every call made on its network to the National Security Agency. The piece was by reporter Glenn Greenwald, and the information came from Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old IT consultant who had left the US with hundreds of thousands of documents detailing the NSA’s secret procedures.
Greenwald was the first but not the only journalist that Snowden reached out to. The Post’s Barton Gellman had also connected with him. Now, collaborating with documentary filmmaker and Snowden confidante Laura Poitras, he was going to extend the story to Silicon Valley. Gellman wanted to be the first to expose a top-secret NSA program called Prism. Snowden’s files indicated that some of the biggest companies on the web had granted the NSA and FBI direct access to their servers, giving the agencies the ability to grab a person’s audio, video, photos, emails, and documents. The government urged Gellman not to identify the firms involved, but Gellman thought it was important. “Naming those companies is what would make it real to Americans,” he says. Now a team of Post reporters was reaching out to those companies for comment.
NEW YORK — A federal judge on Friday found that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records is legal and a valuable part of the nation’s arsenal to counter the threat of terrorism and “only works because it collects everything.”
U.S. District Judge William Pauley said in a written opinion that the program “represents the government’s counter-punch” to eliminate al-Qaida’s terror network by connecting fragmented and fleeting communications.
“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Pauley said. “The collection is broad, but the scope of counterterrorism investigations is unprecedented.”
He said the mass collection of phone data “significantly increases the NSA’s capability to detect the faintest patterns left behind by individuals affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations. Armed with all the metadata, NSA can draw connections it might otherwise never be able to find.”
He added that such a program, if unchecked, “imperils the civil liberties of every citizen” and he noted the lively debate about the subject across the nation, in Congress and at the White House.
“The question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is. But the question of whether that program should be conducted is for the other two coordinate branches of government to decide,” he said.
Snowden should have known the Washington rule: Abuse power, and you’ll be protected by those with power. Expose abuse, and you’re on your own.
Steve Chapman writes: If you’re part of the U.S. national security apparatus and you torture someone to death during an interrogation, you can rest easy. Two administrations have furnished get-out-of-jail-free cards absolving you of responsibility for your crime.
But if you’re part of that same U.S. national security apparatus and divulge to the American people information about government activities that are unauthorized, illegal, and quite possibly unconstitutional, you should expect no such mercy.
Commit crimes on behalf of the government? OK. Reveal secret abuses committed by the government? You must be joking. No one has been prosecuted for the dozens of detainees tortured to death by American military and intelligence personnel — but Edward Snowden faces certain indictment if he dares to return to American soil.
That escalated quickly.
Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. The prior high for big government was 65% in 1999 and 2000. Big government has always topped big business and big labor, including in the initial asking in 1965, but just 35% named it at that time.
It wasn’t so very long ago — as in, 2009, hem hem — when Americans’ primary concern for big government as a threat to the country’s future rested at around 55 percent, before hitting 64 percent near the end of 2011 and finally 72 percent today. Whatever do we suppose might have prompted such a thing, I wonder? Gigantic corporate bailouts, Scandalabra, NSA spying, ObamaCare… I don’t even know where to begin.
“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” said the judge, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”
Craig Timberg and Ashkan Soltani report: The cellphone encryption technology used most widely across the world can be easily defeated by the National Security Agency, an internal document shows, giving the agency the means to decode most of the billions of calls and texts that travel over public airwaves every day.
While the military and law enforcement agencies long have been able to hack into individual cellphones, the NSA’s capability appears to be far more sweeping because of the agency’s global signals collection operation. The agency’s ability to crack encryption used by the majority of cellphones in the world offers it wide-ranging powers to listen in on private conversations.
U.S. law prohibits the NSA from collecting the content of conversations between Americans without a court order. But experts say that if the NSA has developed the capacity to easily decode encrypted cellphone conversations, then other nations likely can do the same through their own intelligence services, potentially to Americans’ calls, as well.
Brendan Bordelon reports: A late-night document dump by the Director of National Intelligence revealed yet another harsh rebuke of the National Security Agency (NSA) by a federal judge, who claimed the spy agency “continuously” and “systematically” overcollected data on American citizens.
The release of thousands of previously classified — and heavily redacted — NSA slides and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinions late Monday night includes the original, undated court order authorizing the sweeping surveillance of Americans’ email and internet data, known as the Pen Register and Trap and Trace provision.
But of particular interest is another FISC order — again undated — tasked with renewing that provision. The court denied a large part of that reauthorization request, charging that the NSA repeatedly and routinely collected more data on American citizens than the law empowered them to do.
BERLIN—The cover of this week’s Die Zeit, Germany’s leading newspaper, says it all: “Goodbye, Friends.”
Pacifism is part of Germany’s DNA. But so is confusion about its true friends and adversaries—like Snowden and the NSA.
James Kirchick writes: Illustrated by a broken heart half-painted with the German flag and the other with the American one, the image speaks to the widespread feelings of betrayal many Germans have expressed towards the United States in the wake of revelations made by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden about American spying operations abroad.
Never mind that the claim causing so much outrage—that the United States was sweeping up the personal data of tens of millions of European citizens—proved false. In reality, the records analyzed by the NSA were supplied to them by European intelligence agencies, and were collected in war zones and other locales abroad, not in Europe.
Alex Tabarrok wonders: Did Obama spy on Mitt Romney? As recently as a few weeks ago if anyone had asked me that question I would have consigned them to a right (or left) wing loony bin. Today, the only loonies are those who think the question unreasonable. Indeed, in one sense the answer is clearly yes. Do I think Obama ordered the NSA to spy on Romney for political gain? No. Some people claim that President Obama didn’t even know about the full extent of NSA spying. Indeed, I imagine that President Obama was almost as surprised as the rest of us when he first discovered that we live in a mass surveillance state in which billions of emails, phone calls, facebook metadata and other data are being collected.
The answer is yes, however, if we mean did the NSA spy on political candidates like Mitt Romney. Did Mitt Romney ever speak with Angela Merkel, whose phone the NSA bugged, or any one of the dozens of her advisers that the NSA was also bugging? Did Romney exchange emails with Mexican President Felipe Calderon? Were any of Romney’s emails, photos, texts or other metadata hoovered up by the NSA’s break-in to the Google and Yahoo communications links? Almost certainly the answer is yes. Read the rest of this entry »
Robert Costa reports: In light of a recent report, Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) fears the National Security Agency may be spying on President Barack Obama. “They could well be spying on the president, for all I know,” Paul says, in an interview with National Review Online. “He has a cell phone, and, in fact, my guess is that they have collected data on the president’s phone.”
Paul also believes the federal government may be tracking Pope Francis. “The most important question we need to ask the NSA is, ‘Are you telling us you’re collecting no data on the pope?’ And, ‘Did you collect any information on him when he was the archbishop, while staying in a certain residence in Rome at the time of the election?’ I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
When it comes to Healthcare.gov, President Obama and his minions look like the gang that couldn’t code straight.
But don’t fear for American ingenuity: Other parts of the federal government remain capable of tremendous technological feats.
In one month in late 2012, for instance, the National Security Agency quietly sucked up data on some 60 million phone calls in Spain, and the agency has had a tap on German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone for years now — all without alerting Obama. Read the rest of this entry »
Thousands are marching on the National Mall in Washington, DC to protest covert NSA surveillance operations on the anniversary of the Patriot Act. The organizers are planning to present Congress with a petition which has acquired over 570,000 signatures.
Stop Watching Us is a collective of 100 public advocacy groups, among them the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom Works, as well as individuals like Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei and Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Edward Snowden to expose many of the NSA’s surveillance procedures. The rally is scheduled to begin at 11:30 am local time on October 26 – the 12th anniversary of the US Patriot Act.
“First, we are asking for a congressional investigation so we can shed light on exactly what the National Security Agency is doing. Secondly, we ask for reform of federal surveillance law, specifically Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the state secrets privilege,”Rainey Reitman, EFF activism director and lead organizer for Saturday’s rally told tech news outlet CNET on Friday. Read the rest of this entry »
Famous for having the most successful, least illustrated, most minimally-designed news site in the universe, Matt Drudge occasionally indulges his talent for vivid image making.