Yahoo Prevails in Secretive Surveillance Court Battle

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The public is getting a broader glimpse at the still-secretive world of government data collection

Yahoo said Thursday it won release of 1,500 pages of documents filed in a secretive surveillance court. It said the documents stem from an unsuccessful lawsuit it brought in 2008 challenging the government’s right to demand user information.Yahoo Headquarters

“At one point, the U.S. Government threatened the imposition of $250,000 in fines per day if we refused to comply.”

— Ron Bell, Yahoo’s lawyer

The company won a victory last year when portions of previously-closed documents were ordered public. As it noted Thursday, disclosures from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are “extremely rare.”

The documents are a public relations victory for Yahoo: They show it resisting orders to comply with the surveillance programs.

“Yahoo has not complied with the directives because of concerns that the directives require Yahoo to assist in conducting warrantless surveillance that is likely to capture private communications of United States citizens located in the U.S. and abroad,” Yahoo wrote in a legal document, arguing the orders violated “the privacy of U.S. citizens.”

The government put great pressure on Yahoo to comply with its order, the company said. Read the rest of this entry »


Zuckerberg Says He Called Obama To Express Frustration Over NSA Surveillance

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Happier times: Zuckerberg sitting to Obama’s right at a White House dinner in 2011.

Andy Greenberg writes:  Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first name that comes to mind as a champion of privacy. But the seemingly endless revelations of NSA surveillance programs has inspired Facebook’s founder to call up no less than President Obama himself to defend his users from government intrusion.

“They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst…”

— Zuckerberg’s statement

Facebook-Mark-Zuckerberg-jpgOn Thursday Zuckerberg posted a statement on Facebook calling on the U.S. government to take more measures to respect users’ privacy and security. “The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat,” reads his statement. “I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.”

“We work together to create this secure environment and make our shared space even better for the world,” Zuckerberg’s statement reads. “This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government…”

Though Zuckerberg never explicitly names the NSA in his statement, his comments follow news of NSA programs that have potentially allowed spying on Facebook users for years–particularly the majority of those users outside the United States. The initial stories on the NSA’s PRISM program last July cited NSA slides that made Facebook appear to have given direct backdoor access to its servers, a notion Zuckerberg and others have vehemently denied.

[Check out Andy Greenberg’s book This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers” at Amazon]

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Government default? It’s already happened, twice

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Tim Cavanaugh writes:  Although President Barack Obama and the establishment media routinely describe a potential federal default as “unprecedented,” the United States government has flaked on its debt service several times, and one expert says the current default has already begun.

The historical default precedents should be of limited comfort to Obama, however. One of the deadbeat presidents was the commander in chief during a disastrous war that saw Washington, D.C. occupied and the White House burned to the ground. The other was Jimmy Carter.

According to Connie Cass of Associated Press, the U.S. government “briefly stiffed some of its creditors on at least two occasions.” The first default took place in November 1814, during the administration of James Madison, America’s tiniest chief executive. Just a few months after the British conquest of Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812, the Treasury was unable to move enough precious metal to service its debt, and missed interest payments on bonds. Boston bondholders, according to Wayne State College history professor Don Hickey, were paid off in short-term interest-bearing treasury notes or more bonds. These debt service troubles, and the war, were resolved within a few months.

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Analysis: Beijing should cut back its lending to Washington

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Mr Social Justice meets Mr. Economic Reality

David Li writes: China is America’s single largest foreign creditor, holding about 8 per cent of the stock of US Treasuries. Most Chinese netizens and opinion makers are not knowledgeable about the country’s budget dispute. But almost all Chinese people understand that the US government has been playing the world economic game to its advantage.

The US issues, at rates of almost zero, Treasuries that are bought by investors all over the world. So long as the federal government increases the debt stock at a pace slower than the US gross domestic product growth rate (usually 2-4 per cent a year) minus the real interest rate (zero, or even negative in recent years), it can roll over the debt almost for ever, never worrying about paying it back.

What is intriguing to most Chinese analysts is that Congress and the White House do not seem to understand the game’s benefits. The evidence is the US budgetary mess. Bitter fights over government budgets are commonplace among politicians all over the world. This is a good thing. But a technical default OF some of the existing Treasury bonds would be the beginning of the end for the wonderful game the US federal government has been playing. Read the rest of this entry »