House advances Email Privacy Act, setting the stage for vital privacy reform

Electronic Frontier Foundation: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) yesterday, which would require the government to get a probable cause warrant from a judge before obtaining private communications and documents stored online with companies such as Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.

The bill provides a long-overdue update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), first passed in 1986. The bill also codifies the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in U.S. v. Warshak, which held that the Fourth Amendment demands that the government first obtain a warrant before accessing emails stored with cloud service providers.

The House vote is historic, given that H.R. 699 has an amazing 315 cosponsors, almost three quarters of the entire House. The House voted unanimously, following a unanimous vote by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. [Continue reading…]

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What cyberwar against ISIS should look like

Fred Kaplan writes: Pentagon officials have publicly said, in recent weeks, that they’re hitting ISIS not only with bullets and bombs but also with cyberoffensive operations. “We are dropping cyberbombs,” Robert Work, deputy secretary of defense, is quoted as proclaiming in Monday’s New York Times. Similar, if less colorful, statements have been made by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and,a week ago, President Obama.

What does it mean? And what effects are these new weapons having on the overall war? After dropping his “cyberbombs” bombshell, Work said, “We have never done that before.” But in fact, the United States has done it before, against Iraqi insurgents, including al-Qaida fighters, back in 2007. And, as I discovered while researching my book Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War, the effects were devastating.

Standard accounts have credited President George W. Bush’s troop surge and Gen. David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy for turning the Iraq conflict in the coalition’s favor in 2007. These accounts aren’t wrong, as far as they go, but they leave out another crucial factor — cyberoffensive warfare, as conducted by the Joint Special Operations Command and the National Security Agency. [Continue reading…]

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Snowden seeks assurance from Norway it won’t extradite him

The Wall Street Journal reports: Edward Snowden, the former defense contractor charged by U.S. authorities for leaking classified documents to the media, is seeking assurance that Norway won’t extradite him if he comes here to collect a free-speech prize.

Mr. Snowden, who resides in Russia, has petitioned a Norwegian court, asking it to rule that the espionage charges filed by the U.S. Justice Department against him wouldn’t constitute grounds for extradition.

The Schjodt law firm, which filed the motion with the Oslo District Court on Mr. Snowden’s behalf, said Thursday that political crimes were formally excluded from a bilateral treaty and other rules governing extradition between Norway and the U.S.

“Mr. Snowden’s whistleblower activities must undoubtedly be seen as matters of political character,” the law firm said in its motion to the court.

The law firm said it has evidence that the U.S. has filed an extradition request to Norwegian authorities in the event Mr. Snowden arrives in Norway.

A spokesman at Norway’s Justice Ministry declined to comment on a court matter. The court said it hadn’t yet received Mr. Snowden’s documents. The U.S. Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Debates inside and outside the courts over Mr. Snowden’s petition could challenge relations between the U.S. and the small Nordic country, traditionally a strong U.S. ally but also a strong advocate of whistleblower rights. [Continue reading…]

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German spies imply Snowden leaked files for Russia

The Local reports: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden could have been acting under the influence of the Russian government, the heads of Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies said on Friday.

“It’s very remarkable that he exclusively published files about the work of the NSA with the BND [Germany’s foreign intelligence service] or the British secret service GCHQ,” BND head Gerhard Schindler told Focus magazine.

“Leaking the secret service files is an attempt to drive a wedge between western Europe and the USA – the biggest since the Second World War,” Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz), told Focus in the double interview. [Continue reading…]

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Intelligence community olive branch on data sharing greeted with skepticism

The Intercept reports: Top intelligence community lawyer Robert Litt has offered a rare olive branch to privacy advocates, in the form of information.

In a post on one of the intelligence community’s favorite blogs on Wednesday, Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, outlined new intelligence data-sharing guidelines that he said will be released soon.

The post, on Just Security, was essentially a response to reporting last month from the New York Times’s Charlie Savage that the NSA would soon be sharing with other government agencies the raw, unfiltered intelligence from the depths of its massive overseas spying programs.

“There has been a lot of speculation about the content of proposed procedures that are being drafted to authorize the sharing of unevaluated signals intelligence,” Litt wrote.

The New York Times story raised concerns that the data, which inevitably includes information about Americans, would become too easily accessible by intelligence agencies including the FBI, potentially leading to fishing expeditions. [Continue reading…]

BuzzFeed reports: Just days after breaking into a terrorist’s iPhone using a mysterious third-party technique, FBI officials on Friday told local law enforcement agencies it will assist them with unlocking phones and other electronic devices.

The advisory, obtained by BuzzFeed News, was sent in response to law enforcement inquiries about its new method of unlocking devices — a technique the FBI said was successful at gaining access to the iPhone 5C belonging to one of the shooters in the deadly San Bernardino, California, attack.

“In mid-March, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking the iPhone,” the message said. “That method for unlocking that specific iPhone proved successful.” [Continue reading…]

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Mass surveillance silences minority opinions, according to study

Karen Turner reports: A new study shows that knowledge of government surveillance causes people to self-censor their dissenting opinions online. The research offers a sobering look at the oft-touted “democratizing” effect of social media and Internet access that bolsters minority opinion.

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, studied the effects of subtle reminders of mass surveillance on its subjects. The majority of participants reacted by suppressing opinions that they perceived to be in the minority. This research illustrates the silencing effect of participants’ dissenting opinions in the wake of widespread knowledge of government surveillance, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.

The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends. But this study adds a new layer by explicitly examining how government surveillance affects self-censorship. [Continue reading…]

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Lawmakers warn of ‘radical’ move by NSA to share information

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The Hill reports: A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is expressing alarm at reported changes at the National Security Agency that would allow the intelligence service’s information to be used for policing efforts in the United States.

“If media accounts are true, this radical policy shift by the NSA would be unconstitutional, and dangerous,” Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) wrote in a letter to the spy agency this week. “The proposed shift in the relationship between our intelligence agencies and the American people should not be done in secret.

“NSA’s mission has never been, and should never be, domestic policing or domestic spying.” [Continue reading…]

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Corrected: Edward Snowden ‘ready to return to States’

Correction: Oops! This story is a year old.

AFP reports: Edward Snowden, the fugitive whistleblower who has been given refuge in Russia, is willing to return to the United States if he is given a fair trial, his lawyer said Tuesday.

“He is thinking about it. He has a desire to return and we are doing everything we can to make it happen,” Anatoly Kucherena, the Russian lawyer who represents the former National Security Agency contractor, told a news conference.

Snowden was given political asylum in Russia in the summer of 2013 after the US revoked his passport. He now leads a reclusive life there.

“With a group of lawyers from other countries, we are working on the question of his return to America,” Kucherena said.

“Snowden is ready to return to the States, but on the condition that he is given a guarantee of a legal and impartial trial,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Warnings about risks posed by encryption have been wildly overblown by intelligence agencies, says report

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The New York Times reports: For more than two years the F.B.I. and intelligence agencies have warned that encrypted communications are creating a “going dark” crisis that will keep them from tracking terrorists and kidnappers.

Now, a study in which current and former intelligence officials participated concludes that the warning is wildly overblown, and that a raft of new technologies — like television sets with microphones and web-connected cars — are creating ample opportunities for the government to track suspects, many of them worrying.

“ ‘Going dark’ does not aptly describe the long-term landscape for government surveillance,” concludes the study, to be published Monday by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard.

The study argues that the phrase ignores the flood of new technologies “being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity” that are expected to become the subject of court orders and subpoenas, and are already the target of the National Security Agency as it places “implants” into networks around the world to monitor communications abroad. [Continue reading…]

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The color of surveillance

Alvaro Bedoya writes: Every day, we hear about the power and promise of pervasive surveillance. We are losing sight of its victims. Instead, an NSA debate that could have surfaced a long line of black, Latino, Asian, and Muslim victims of surveillance was cast as an argument between the U.S. military and Snowden — national security versus the hackers.

This narrow focus may have blinded Congress to a little known but especially troubling aspect of the NSA scandal. In June 2013, the headlines were that the NSA was logging everyone’s phone calls. We now know that the NSA’s call records program — the single largest domestic spying program in our nation’s history — was effectively beta-tested for almost a decade on American immigrants.

In 1992, the Drug Enforcement Administration began a call records program that’s considered the blueprint for the NSA’s program, which began after Sept. 11 and received court approval in 2006. The DEA program logged virtually all calls made from the United States to a list of countries, regardless of who made them or why. Over time, 116 countries were added to that list — including Mexico and most of Central and South America. This means that for almost a decade before the NSA call records program, countless immigrants’ calls were tracked by the DEA when they called home. This is particularly true for Hispanic immigrants, who make up a large part of what is now the largest minority group in the country. We do not know what transpired in Congress’ closed-door discussions about the NSA or DEA call records programs, but public debates largely ignored these facts.

The next NSA debate will peak at the end of 2017. That’s the expiration date of another surveillance law that allows the government to read — without a warrant — certain messages stored on companies’ U.S. servers where at least one party to the communication was a foreigner living abroad. Will Congress probe the likely disparate impact of this law? If not, when will Congress reckon with the color of surveillance? [Continue reading…]

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NSA’s targeting of Israeli leaders also caught private conversations between U.S. lawmakers and Israel lobby

The Wall Street Journal reports: President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs.

But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S., pursuing a nuclear arms agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Mr. Netanyahu and his aides that inflamed mistrust between the two countries and planted a political minefield at home when Mr. Netanyahu later took his campaign against the deal to Capitol Hill.

The National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. That raised fears — an “Oh-shit moment,” one senior U.S. official said — that the executive branch would be accused of spying on Congress.

White House officials believed the intercepted information could be valuable to counter Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign. They also recognized that asking for it was politically risky. So, wary of a paper trail stemming from a request, the White House let the NSA decide what to share and what to withhold, officials said. “We didn’t say, ‘Do it,’ ” a senior U.S. official said. “We didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ ”

Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations — learned through Israeli spying operations — to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts. [Continue reading…]

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After Paris attacks, CIA director rekindles debate over surveillance

Scott Shane writes: A diabolical range of recent attacks claimed by the Islamic State — a Russian airliner blown up in Egypt, a double suicide bombing in Beirut and Friday’s ghastly assaults on Paris — has rekindled a debate over the proper limits of government surveillance in an age of terrorist mayhem.

On Monday, in unusually raw language, John Brennan, the C.I.A. director, denounced what he called “hand-wringing” over intrusive government spying and said leaks about intelligence programs had made it harder to identify the “murderous sociopaths” of the Islamic State.

Mr. Brennan appeared to be speaking mainly of the disclosures since 2013 of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance of phone and Internet communications by Edward J. Snowden, which prompted sharp criticism, lawsuits and new restrictions on electronic spying in the United States and in Europe.

In the wake of the 129 deaths in Paris, Mr. Brennan and some other officials sounded eager to reopen a clamorous argument over surveillance in which critics of the spy agencies had seemed to hold an advantage in recent years.

“As far as I know, there’s no evidence the French lacked some kind of surveillance authority that would have made a difference,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “When we’ve invested new powers in the government in response to events like the Paris attacks, they have often been abused.”

The debate over the proper limits on government dates to the origins of the United States, with periodic overreaching in the name of security being curtailed in the interest of liberty. This era of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in some ways resembles battles that American and European authorities fought in the late 1800s with anarchists who carried out a wave of assassinations and bombings, provoking a huge increase in police powers, said Audrey Kurth Cronin, a historian of terrorism at George Mason University.

Since then, there were the excesses of McCarthyism exploiting fears of Communist infiltration in the 1950s, the exposure of domestic spying and C.I.A. assassination plots in the 1970s, and the battles over torture, secret detention and drone strikes since Sept. 11, 2001. [Continue reading…]

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Judge deals a blow to NSA data collection program

The New York Times reports: A federal judge on Monday partly blocked the National Security Agency’s program that systematically collects Americans’ domestic phone records in bulk just weeks before the agency was scheduled to shut it down and replace it. The judge said the program was most likely unconstitutional.

In a separate case challenging the program, a federal appeals court in New York on Oct. 30 had declined to weigh in on the constitutional issues, saying it would be imprudent to interfere with an orderly transition to a replacement system after Nov. 29.

But on Monday, in a 43-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of United States District Court for the District of Columbia wrote that the constitutional issues were too important to leave unanswered in the history of the program, which traces back to after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and came to light in 2013 in leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor. [Continue reading…]

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British government’s new plans for mass surveillance welcomed by opposition

The Guardian reports: New surveillance powers will be given to the police and security services, allowing them to access records tracking every UK citizen’s use of the internet without any judicial check, under the provisions of the draft investigatory powers bill unveiled by Theresa May.

It includes new powers requiring internet and phone companies to keep “internet connection records” – tracking every website visited but not every page – for a maximum of 12 months but will not require a warrant for the police, security services or other bodies to access the data. Local authorities will be banned from accessing internet records.

The proposed legislation will also introduce a “double-lock” on the ministerial approval of interception warrants with a new panel of seven judicial commissioners – probably retired judges – given a veto before they can come into force.

But the details of the bill make clear that this new safeguard for the most intrusive powers to spy on the content of people’s conversations and messages will not apply in “urgent cases” – defined as up to five days – where judicial approval is not possible.

The draft investigatory powers bill published on Wednesday by the home secretary aims to provide a “comprehensive and comprehensible” overhaul of Britain’s fragmented surveillance laws. It comes two-and-a-half years after the disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden of the scale of secret mass surveillance of the global traffic in confidential personal data carried out by Britain’s GCHQ and the US’s National Security Agency (NSA).

It will replace the current system of three separate commissioners with a senior judge as a single investigatory powers commissioner.

May told MPs that the introduction of the most controversial power – the storage of everyone’s internet connection records tracking the websites they have visited, which is banned as too intrusive in the US and every European country including Britain – was “simply the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill”.

Her recommendations were broadly welcomed by the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, but received a more cautious welcome from the former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis, the former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and Nick Clegg, the former deputy prime minister. [Continue reading…]

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If you’re not paranoid, you’re crazy

Walter Kirn writes: I knew we’d bought walnuts at the store that week, and I wanted to add some to my oatmeal. I called to my wife and asked her where she’d put them. She was washing her face in the bathroom, running the faucet, and must not have heard me—she didn’t answer. I found the bag of nuts without her help and stirred a handful into my bowl. My phone was charging on the counter. Bored, I picked it up to check the app that wirelessly grabs data from the fitness band I’d started wearing a month earlier. I saw that I’d slept for almost eight hours the night before but had gotten a mere two hours of “deep sleep.” I saw that I’d reached exactly 30 percent of my day’s goal of 13,000 steps. And then I noticed a message in a small window reserved for miscellaneous health tips. “Walnuts,” it read. It told me to eat more walnuts.

It was probably a coincidence, a fluke. Still, it caused me to glance down at my wristband and then at my phone, a brand-new model with many unknown, untested capabilities. Had my phone picked up my words through its mic and somehow relayed them to my wristband, which then signaled the app?

The devices spoke to each other behind my back—I’d known they would when I “paired” them—but suddenly I was wary of their relationship. Who else did they talk to, and about what? And what happened to their conversations? Were they temporarily archived, promptly scrubbed, or forever incorporated into the “cloud,” that ghostly entity with the too-disarming name?

It was the winter of 2013, and these “walnut moments” had been multiplying—jarring little nudges from beyond that occurred whenever I went online. One night the previous summer, I’d driven to meet a friend at an art gallery in Hollywood, my first visit to a gallery in years. The next morning, in my inbox, several spam e-mails urged me to invest in art. That was an easy one to figure out: I’d typed the name of the gallery into Google Maps. Another simple one to trace was the stream of invitations to drug and alcohol rehab centers that I’d been getting ever since I’d consulted an online calendar of Los Angeles–area Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Since membership in AA is supposed to be confidential, these e‑mails irked me. Their presumptuous, heart-to-heart tone bugged me too. Was I tired of my misery and hopelessness? Hadn’t I caused my loved ones enough pain? [Continue reading…]

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