A decade of fear-mongering has brought power and wealth to those who have been most skillful at hyping the terrorist threat. Fear sells. Fear has convinced the White House and Congress to pour hundreds of billions of dollars — more money than anyone knows what to do with — into counterterrorism and homeland security programs, often with little management or oversight, and often to the detriment of the Americans they are supposed to protect. Fear is hard to question. It is central to the financial well-being of countless federal bureaucrats, contractors, subcontractors, consultants, analysts, and pundits. Fear generates funds.
FCC Commissioners have called for an expansion of strong data encryption, in a direct challenge to the demands of the FBI and NSA to require so-called “back door” encryption keys that would allow the government to breach encrypted communications. Most encryption experts believe that any insertion of such back doors would place at risk virtually all encrypted data. If the government uses the back doors, the bad guys can do the same.
According to FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny, encryption is absolutely necessary if the so-called Internet of Things is ever to become a reality. Writing for HuffPo, McSweeny praises the steps that companies like Apple have taken to provide end-to-end encryption and notes that encrypting devices is one of the only way to secure smartphones, tablets, and laptops against the loss of potentially critical information if the device is physically stolen. In her Op/ed, Sweeny notes:
If consumers cannot trust the security of their devices, we could end up stymieing innovation and introducing needless risk into our personal security. In this environment, policy makers should carefully weigh the potential impact of any proposals that may weaken privacy and security protections for consumers.
Compare that against Cyrus Vance’s comments from earlier this summer:
This defendant’s appreciation of the safety that the iOS 8 operating system afforded him is surely shared by criminal defendants in every jurisdiction in America charged with all manner of crimes, including rape, kidnapping, robbery, promotion of child pornography, larceny, and presumably by those interested in committing acts of terrorism. Criminal defendants across the nation are the principal beneficiaries of iOS 8, and the safety of all American communities is imperiled by it.
- U.N. privacy watchdog slams anti-encryption ‘Times’ op-ed (dailydot.com)
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement official rounded up a large number of Muslim immigrants and held them in jail for 3 to 8 months, under virtual lockdown. The immigrants challenged the treatment and now the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that their rights were seriously violated. Interestingly, among the defendants in the case include John Ashcroft, then A.G., and Robert S. Mueller III, then head of the FBI.
Saying that high-ranking Bush administration officials may have taken part in grave constitutional violations after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal appeals court in New York on Wednesday revived a long-running lawsuit brought by immigrants, most of them Muslim, who said they were subjected to beatings, humiliating searches and other abuses in a Brooklyn detention center.
“The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy,” Judges Rosemary S. Pooler and Richard C. Wesley wrote in a joint opinion for a divided three-judge panel of the court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
“Holding individuals in solitary confinement 23 hours a day with regular strip-searches because their perceived faith or race placed them in the group targeted for recruitment by Al Qaeda violated the detainees’ constitutional rights,” the judges said.
The case, filed as a class action in 2002, was the first broad legal challenge to the policies and practices that swept hundreds of mostly Muslim men into the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn on immigration violations in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.
- Second Circuit Rules That High-Level Bush Officials May be Sued For Post-9/11 Round-up of Immigrants (lawfareblog.com)
- Federal Appeals Court Revives Lawsuit Against Bush Officials for Post-9/11 Abuse of Immigration Detainees (firedoglake.com)
- Major Second Circuit Ruling Sides With Immigrants Subjected to Post-9/11 Roundup (justsecurity.org)
Tech behemoths including Apple and Google and leading cryptologists are urging President Obama to reject any government proposal that alters the security of smartphones and other communications devices so that law enforcement can view decrypted data.
In a letter to be sent Tuesday and obtained by The Washington Post, a coalition of tech firms, security experts and others appeal to the White House to protect privacy rights as it considers how to address law enforcement’s need to access data that is increasingly encrypted.
“Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” said the letter, signed by more than 140 tech companies, prominent technologists and civil society groups.
The letter comes as senior law enforcement officials warn about the threat to public safety from a loss of access to data and communications. Apple and Google last year announced they were offering forms of smartphone encryption so secure that even law enforcement agencies could not gain access — even with a warrant.
* * *
FBI and Justice Department officials say they support the use of encryption but want a way for officials to get the lawful access they need.
Many technologists say there is no way to do so without building a separate key to unlock the data — often called a “backdoor,” which they say amounts to a vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers and foreign governments.
The letter is signed by three of the five members of a presidential review group appointed by Obama in 2013 to assess technology policies in the wake of leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The signatories urge Obama to follow the group’s unanimous recommendation that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards” and not “in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.
Richard A. Clarke, former cybersecurity adviser to President George W. Bush and one of three review group members to sign the letter, noted that a similar effort by the government in the 1990s to require phone companies to build a backdoor for encrypted voice calls was rebuffed. “If they couldn’t pull it off at the end of the Cold War, they sure as hell aren’t going to pull it off now,” he said.
You should take moment to read the referenced letter, and its list of signatories. It is imperative for the future of the Internet and the protection of civil liberties that weakened encryption not be implemented,
- Google and Apple urge Obama to block smartphone surveillance (telegraph.co.uk)
- Texas Bill to Stop Cellphone Location Tracking Without a Warrant Passes House Committee (tenthamendmentcenter.com)
- Apple, Google urge Obama to reject encryption back doors (pcworld.com)
While a lot can happen before the expiration of the Patriot Act on June 1, it looks like Congress (or at the least the House) are prepared for major reductions in US domestic spying and surveillance.
After more than a decade of wrenching national debate over the intrusiveness of government intelligence agencies, a bipartisan wave of support has gathered to sharply limit the federal government’s sweeps of phone and Internet records.
On Thursday, a bill that would overhaul thePatriot Act and curtail the so-called metadata surveillance exposed by Edward J. Snowden was overwhelmingly passed by the House Judiciary Committee and was heading to almost certain passage in that chamber this month.
An identical bill in the Senate — introduced with the support of five Republicans — is gaining support over the objection of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who is facing the prospect of his first policy defeat since ascending this year to majority leader.
The push for reform is the strongest demonstration yet of a decade-long shift from a singular focus on national security at the expense of civil liberties to a new balance in the post-Snowden era.
Under the bipartisan bills in the House and Senate, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection, and sweeps that had operated under the guise of so-called National Security Letters issued by the F.B.I. would end. The data would instead be stored by the phone companies themselves, and could be accessed by intelligence agencies only after approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court.
The legislation would also create a panel of experts to advise the FISA court on privacy, civil liberties, and technology matters, while requiring the declassification of all significant FISA court opinions.
More details from the Times here.
- America’s Librarians ‘inimically against’ PATRIOT Act Extension (reason.com)
- USA Freedom Act, NSA-reform legislation, heads to Congress (dailydot.com)
- Patriot Act Renewal Divides GOP Establishment From Libertarian Conservatives (washington.cbslocal.com)
- Jacob Sullum on the Need to Control NSA Snooping (reason.com)
The Guardian is reporting the the FBI is seeking a federal court rules change that would allow it to infiltrate virtually any computer anywhere in the course of an investigation.
The regulatory body to which the Department of Justice has applied to make the rule change, the advisory committee on criminal rules, will meet for the first time on November 5 to discuss the issue. The panel will be addressed by a slew of technology experts and privacy advocates concerned about the possible ramifications were the proposals allowed to go into effect next year.
“This is a giant step forward for the FBI’s operational capabilities, without any consideration of the policy implications. To be seeking these powers at a time of heightened international concern about US surveillance is an especially brazen and potentially dangerous move,” said Ahmed Ghappour, an expert in computer law at University of California, Hastings college of the law, who will be addressing next week’s hearing.
The proposed operating changes related to rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure, the terms under which the FBI is allowed to conduct searches under court-approved warrants. Under existing wording, warrants have to be highly focused on specific locations where suspected criminal activity is occurring and approved by judges located in that same district.
But under the proposed amendment, a judge can issue a warrant that would allow the FBI to hack into any computer, no matter where it is located. The change is designed specifically to help federal investigators carry out surveillance on computers that have been “anonymized” – that is, their location has been hidden using tools such as Tor.
The amendment inserts a clause that would allow a judge to issue warrants to gain “remote access” to computers “located within or outside that district” (emphasis added) in cases in which the “district where the media or information is located has been concealed through technological means”. The expanded powers to stray across district boundaries would apply to any criminal investigation, not just to terrorist cases as at present.
This is biggest proposed expansion of FBI power in history and it is the last thing this country needs. It would be a huge expansion of the already privacy-killing surveillance state operating in the shadows.
The New York Times published an editorial calling out the FBI for deceitful (and illegal) actions in recent cases. The heart of the complaint is that the FBI has purposefully, in at least one case, blocked Internet access to persons it wanted to investigate, and when such people called the problem in to the hotel front desk where they were saying, FBI personnel responded. The FBI agents did get a warrant, but they did not inform the judge that they themselves turned off the Internet access.
Although one of the defendants in the case, Wei Seng Phua, a Malaysian citizen, had been arrested in Macau earlier this year for running an illegal sports-gambling business, the agents did not have probable cause to believe anything illegal was happening in two of the rooms they searched. And a federal prosecutor had initially warned the agents not to use trickery because of the “consent issue.” In fact, a previous ruse by the agents had failed when a person in one of the rooms refused to let them in.
In a separate case out of Seattle, F.B.I. agents pretended to be journalists in a 2007 investigation of high school bomb threats, according to documentsrecently uncovered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Agents there concocted a fake online news article by The Associated Press about the threats. They sent a link to the Myspace page of a student they suspected of making the threats, and when he opened the link, it downloaded malware that enabled the agents to track him down and arrest him. The A.P. is rightly outraged and has protested the F.B.I.’s misappropriation of its name as undermining “the most fundamental component of a free press — its independence.”
The F.B.I. has a history of pushing the limits that protect Americans’ civil liberties. And it has continued to broaden agents’ investigative powers in troubling ways. The deceptive tactics used in Las Vegas and Seattle, if not prohibited by the agency or blocked by courts, risk opening the door to constitutional abuses on a much wider scale.
This is amazing (and more than a little creepy). According to an article in the Wall Street Journal:
Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.
This is outrageous. And remember, this is only the files maintained by the FBI. There is seemingly no way to get such files purged at any point in time.
As FBI Director James Comey threatens to go to Congress to have back doors built into virtually all technology, it is probably a good time to remember that we have been down this road before.
In 1994, during the Clinton Administration, a huge battle was waged. On one side was the federal government, which sought to require that technology devices have a back door built in. The back door was created in a computer chip called the Clipper chip. On the other side of the battle were private citizens, well schooled in the risks that such back doors raise. Ultimately, the Clipper chip was not approved.
The New York Times, in an article from June, 1994, laid out the crux of the fight then underway:
The Clipper chip has prompted what might be considered the first holy war of the information highway. Two weeks ago, the war got bloodier, as a researcher circulated a report that the chip might have a serious technical flaw. But at its heart, the issue is political, not technical. The Cypherpunks consider the Clipper the lever that Big Brother is using to pry into the conversations, messages and transactions of the computer age. These high-tech Paul Reveres are trying to mobilize America against the evil portent of a “cyberspace police state,” as one of their Internet jeremiads put it. Joining them in the battle is a formidable force, including almost all of the communications and computer industries, many members of Congress and political columnists of all stripes. The anti-Clipper aggregation is an equal-opportunity club, uniting the American Civil Liberties Union and Rush Limbaugh.
The Clipper’s defenders, who are largely in the Government, believe it represents the last chance to protect personal safety and national security against a developing information anarchy that fosters criminals, terrorists and foreign foes. Its adherents pose it as the answer, or at least part of the answer, to a problem created by an increasingly sophisticated application of an age-old technology: cryptography, the use of secret codes.
* * *
The idea is to give the Government means to override other people’s codes, according to a concept called “key escrow.” Employing normal cryptography, two parties can communicate in total privacy, with both of them using a digital “key” to encrypt and decipher the conversation or message. A potential eavesdropper has no key and therefore cannot understand the conversation or read the data transmission. But with Clipper, an additional key — created at the time the equipment is manufactured — is held by the Government in escrow. With a court-approved wiretap, an agency like the F.B.I. could listen in. By adding Clipper chips to telephones, we could have a system that assures communications will be private — from everybody but the Government.
And that’s what rankles Clipper’s many critics. Why, they ask, should people accused of no crime have to give Government the keys to their private communications? Why shouldn’t the market rather than Government determine what sort of cryptosystem wins favor. And isn’t it true that the use of key escrow will make our technology so unattractive to the international marketplace that the United States will lose its edge in the lucrative telecommunications and computer fields? Clipper might clip the entire economy.
The article is worth a full read, particularly if you are unfamiliar with the history. It shows that time and again, the government seeks to collect digital information without regard to the adverse consequences to privacy and human dignity. The government’s arguments in favor of the Clipper chip back door are virtually word-for-word consistent with the claims from James Comey:
When illustrating the Government’s need to control crypto, Jim Kallstrom, the agent in charge of the special operations division of the New York office of the F.B.I., quickly shifts the discussion to the personal: “Are you married? Do you have a child? O.K., someone kidnaps one of your kids and they are holding your kid in this fortress up in the Bronx. Now, we have probable cause that your child is inside this fortress. We have a search warrant. But for some reason, we cannot get in there. They made it out of some new metal, or something, right? Nothing’ll cut it, right? And there are guys in there, laughing at us. That’s what the basis of this issue really is — we’ve got a situation now where a technology has become so sophisticated that the whole notion of a legal process is at stake here!”
FBI director James Comey delivered a speech yesterday at the Brookings Institution. His speech was a cry to require so-called “back doors” in virtually all technology encryption program to allow law enforcement to acquire otherwise private data. His claim is that otherwise law enforcement cannot effectively go after child pornographers and kidnappers, not terrorists. He tries to rename the FBI’s proposed back door into a front door.
There is a misconception that building a lawful intercept solution into a system requires a so-called “back door,” one that foreign adversaries and hackers may try to exploit.
But that isn’t true. We aren’t seeking a back-door approach. We want to use the front door, with clarity and transparency, and with clear guidance provided by law. We are completely comfortable with court orders and legal process—front doors that provide the evidence and information we need to investigate crime and prevent terrorist attacks.
Of course, a door is a door. And any designed path around encryption opens the user to great risk of intrusion by others than the FBI. Strong encryption is a public safety issue and individuals are not required to give law enforcement keys to their house. Further, crimes have been successfully prosecuted by law enforcement for years and years without eavesdropping on citizens.
Comey spoke at length about the Snowden disclosures and how encryption in response to that was screwing up the FBI’s easy access to private user data.
In the wake of the Snowden disclosures, the prevailing view is that the government is sweeping up all of our communications. That is not true. And unfortunately, the idea that the government has access to all communications at all times has extended—unfairly—to the investigations of law enforcement agencies that obtain individual warrants, approved by judges, to intercept the communications of suspected criminals.
Some believe that the FBI has these phenomenal capabilities to access any information at any time—that we can get what we want, when we want it, by flipping some sort of switch. It may be true in the movies or on TV. It is simply not the case in real life.
It frustrates me, because I want people to understand that law enforcement needs to be able to access communications and information to bring people to justice. We do so pursuant to the rule of law, with clear guidance and strict oversight. But even with lawful authority, we may not be able to access the evidence and the information we need.
Basically, he is arguing that any access that the FBI might find helpful must be put in place, and encryption be damned. It is a position of self-entitlement. As I mentioned above, law enforcement for years has lived without the ability to immediately reach all private data, which is what he is seeking.
Of course, he ends his talk with a threat to go to Congress to secure what he says he needs:
We also need a regulatory or legislative fix to create a level playing field, so that all communication service providers are held to the same standard and so that those of us in law enforcement, national security, and public safety can continue to do the job you have entrusted us to do, in the way you would want us to.
In response to that threat, I found the following tweets by Congressman Justin Amash on point:
Keep dreaming. “@HuffingtonPost: FBI director calls on Congress to “fix” phone encryption by Apple and Google http://t.co/r0t5BN3Ayb”
10/16/14, 6:38 PM
The FBI director should be working to protect our rights, not seeking new ways to violate our rights. http://t.co/xvhAl3keWa
10/16/14, 6:45 PM
- FBI boss: We don’t want a backdoor, we want the front door to your phone (go.theregister.com)
- The FBI Wants Internet Wiretapping Powers (nationaljournal.com)
Here is an excerpt from the FBI announcement:
As part of NGI’s full operational capability, the NGI team is introducing two new services: Rap Back and the Interstate Photo System (IPS). Rap Back is a functionality that enables authorized entities the ability to receive ongoing status notifications of any criminal history reported on individuals holding positions of trust, such as school teachers. Law enforcement agencies, probation and parole offices, and other criminal justice entities will also greatly improve their effectiveness by being advised of subsequent criminal activity of persons under investigation or supervision. The IPS facial recognition service will provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities. This effort is a significant step forward for the criminal justice community in utilizing biometrics as an investigative enabler.
Vice News has more detailed information and reaction from the civil liberties community. Excerpt:
The Next Generation Identification (NGI) system is a vast, centralized surveillance tool — and the stuff of totalitarian dystopia: fingerprint databases, iris scan details, more than 50 million images used for facial recognition (a.k.a. “faceprints”), and the capacity to hoard information of individualizing details like gait, voice pattern, and tattoos. Yet aside from a flurry of pained press releases from privacy groups and civil libertarians, the news of Big Brother’s ascension was met not with a yell but a whimper.
Such is the nature of a surveillance empire that was not built in a day. The NGI system took eight years and cost $1 billion in tax-payer funded contracts with companies like Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems to reach full capacity. It was constructed in large part from already existing law enforcement, Defense Department, and Homeland Security databases and biometric technologies. While staggering in scope, the system has been creeping into fruition, perhaps accounting for the muted response from the outrage machine — which has also burned itself out on more than a year’s worth of revelations about the NSA.
There is plenty to be concerned about with the FBI’s system, especially if we still entertain the idea that the agency’s primary goal is criminal investigation, not general civilian surveillance. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has noted that the FBI’s biometric databases are not limited to those who have been arrested. “You could become a suspect in a criminal case merely because you applied for a job that required you to submit a photo with your background check.” Indeed, the FBI’s NGI announcement included details about its “Rap Back” program, which specifically monitors and targets individuals in “positions of trust.”
If you were thinking “positions of trust” encompassed, say, municipal police forces around the country, think again. Rap Back monitors “non-criminal justice applicants, employees, volunteers, and licensees; Individuals under the supervision or investigation of criminal justice agencies.” In other words, as TechDirt notes, the system does not target employees of criminal justice agencies; just those under their “supervision,” like “parolees and those on probation.”
The NGI is a huge invasion of Americans’ privacy and, if it actually works, further embeds the surveillance state here in America.
Glenn Greenwald, writing in The Intercept, has listed by name several Americans who were secretly surveilled by the NSA and the FBI, based on information provided by Edward Snowden. This type of surveillance was (and probably continues to be) collected by [mis-]applying laws that are directed at terrorists. The Intercept story is worth a read.
According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:
- Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;
- Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;
- Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;
- Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;
- Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.
The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.
Several of those named are featured in video interviews in Greenwald’s story. One example is this video interview of Faisal Gill:
Under current law, an American citizen can only be directly targeted by the FBI or CIA if such agencies seek a warrant in the FISA court. Warrants are notoriously easy to acquire in public court, but the FISA court has never publicly disclosed any such warrants, although they most certainly exist.
Needless to say, this is abuse of process and will only be stopped if and when the FISA laws are changed to require open hearings of all FISA court proceedings. And now, these targeted individuals will have standing to sue the intelligence agencies over the spying activities because they have proof, via the Edward Snowden documents, that they were in fact surveilled.
When Edward Snowden turned over a trove of NSA documents last year, he explained that he included the spreadsheet of monitored emails because he wanted to give people subjected to electronic surveillance the opportunity to challenge the spying as unconstitutional. For years, the government has succeeded in having such challenges dismissed on the ground that the various plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they could not prove that they were personally targeted.
Thanks to Snowden’s disclosures, those seeking to obtain such a ruling now have specific cases of surveillance against American citizens to examine. So do those charged with reforming the FISA process. Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, served on the recent White House intelligence review panel convened to address concerns raised by the Snowden revelations. If he had seen the NSA spreadsheet, Clarke says, he would have asked more questions about the process, and reviewed individual FISA warrants.
“Knowing that, I would specifically ask the Justice Department: How many American citizens are there active FISAs on now?” he says. “And without naming names, tell me what categories they fall into—how many are counterterrorism, counterintelligence, espionage cases? We’d want to go through [some applications], and frankly, we didn’t. It’s not something that five part-time guys can do—rummage through thousands of FISA warrants.”
- NSA and FBI spied on prominent Muslim American leaders (boingboing.net)
- Latest Snowden Leaks: FBI Targeted Muslim-American Lawyers (wired.com)
- The Intercept finally publishes its “finale”: Naming five US Muslims monitored by the government (pando.com)
- The NSA and FBI Spied on Prominent Muslim Americans, Leaked Documents Show (time.com)
- Prominent Muslim-Americans came under NSA and FBI surveillance, report claims (gigaom.com)
The Wall Street Journal is reporting on the “outrage” in a Georgetown gated community over Janet Yellen‘s security detail. A number of residents are appalled at the “blue” uniforms worn by the detail, how fat many of the security forces are and that some of them actually smoke. FBI Director Robert Mueller also lives in the community. The article screams “parody,” but it is not.
As neighbors tell it, earlier this year, the security detail protecting new Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellenbarreled through the cul-de-sac where she lives in oversize vans loaded with guns, cameras and takeout pizza. It established an “armed camp” next door to Ms. Forman’s townhome, according to a written bill of grievances presented by concerned neighbors deeming the uniformed police presence “uncomfortable for residents of various religious persuasions,” such as Quakers.
Security trucks, it continued, “weighing approximately 7,000 pounds each” sit idling on the street for “approximately 22 minutes daily” at each Yellen morning pickup. When Ms. Yellen leaves her home, a second truck then “speedily pulls out of the security driveway…all the while spilling fluid onto the street, which has now left a permanent stain.” Hillandale bylaws expressly prohibit car fluid spills in the common areas.
Neighbors seem especially put off by the aesthetics of the security detail, in particular their blue uniforms and—in the words of one resident—”doughnut bellies.”
* * *
“Bob Mueller, who you would think would have a much more dangerous job dealing with terrorists all over the world, had people who were businesslike, didn’t socialize and waited for him outside the gate,” says one unhappy resident, sitting in a living room decorated in chintz, silk topiary and family silver. “Now we have this group, overweight, wearing the most ridiculous blue uniforms with the most ridiculous blue caps, and they have guns that are visible.” She declined to be named because she is worried about federal-government reprisals.
As the guards watch over Ms. Yellen, locals watch over the guards, saying they have seen them smoking, schlepping fast food and breaking the 15 m.p.h. speed limit.
Mr. Shawn and his family live down the street from the armed newcomers. “Some neighbors say it’s great, all the security that is in the neighborhood,” he says. “But these characters are only here for Janet Yellen. They’re not going to be distracted by robbers, rapists or any other thing. Besides, these guys couldn’t catch a thief if their lives depended on it.”
- Neighborhood Beef: Top Complaints About Janet Yellen According to her Neighbors (dc.curbed.com)
- Fed chief moves in; there goes the neighborhood (cnbc.com)
- Monday Evening Open Thread: More Rich-People Problems (balloon-juice.com)
Kudos to Microsoft. The company successfully challenged the issuance of a National Security Letter (NSL) by the FBI with respect to one of Microsoft’s customers. Such letters routinely prohibit any disclosure of the letter to anyone else. In this case, the FBI backed down, which they have done a few times in the past after losing in court. In addition, Microsoft also secured a ruling from the trial court judge to disclose several related documents and a ruling that the NSL statutes are facially unconstitutional.
In a significant victory for transparency and free speech, a federal judge in Seattle granted Microsoft permission to unseal documents related to an FBI investigation into one of its cloud customers.
The case relates to a National Security Letter issued to Microsoft in 2013 that ordered the company to turn over information about one of its enterprise customers, whose identity remains a secret. The customer stores data on Microsoft’s Office 365, a service that lets companies keep email and work collaboration tools in the cloud.
Under the terms of the security letter, Microsoft was barred from disclosing the request to its customer or even describing the letter’s existence. These so-called “gag orders” have been an ongoing source of contention between the tech industry and the government, especially in the wake of leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Microsoft challenged the letter in court, saying the law the FBI used to obtain it violated the First Amendment, and was an unreasonable ban on free speech. In response, the FBI withdrew the demand for the letter — effectively backing down.
In a show of further legal courage, however, Microsoft returned to court to seek permission to disclose information about the process. In response, U.S. District Judge Richard Jones issued an order requiring three documents to be unsealed: Microsoft’s petition challenging the security letter; an agreement between Microsoft and the Justice Department over the FBI letter; and Jones’ unsealing order.
One of the unsealed documents is Microsoft’s petition challenging the NSL. This could be helpful to other recipients of NSLs in additional challenges to the practice. The judge himself ruled that anyone believing they have a right to challenge the order is welcome to file suit. You can read the unsealed documents here. You can read a terrific blog post written by Brad Smith, Microsoft General Counsel, regarding the case here.
Kudos to Microsoft both for going to the effort and expense of challenging the order and for winning the case.
- New success in protecting customer rights unsealed today (blogs.technet.com)
- Microsoft challenged an FBI National Security Letter, and won (zdnet.com)
- Microsoft challenges FBI gag order — and wins (cnet.com)
- Microsoft challenged an FBI gag order and won (theverge.com)
- Microsoft swats away FBI request for Office 365 subscriber data (go.theregister.com)
- Microsoft Challenged A National Security Letter That Included A Gag Order And Won (techcrunch.com)
Declan McCullagh, writing at Wired Threat Level, has revealed yet another metadata collection program being forced on telecommunications companies. In this case the data is metadata related to use of the Internet, rather than telephones. It is based on the contorted legal rational for the telephone metadata collection program: in the view of the DOJ it is perfectly constitutional to collect metadata held by third parties. If Congress doesn’t act to over-ride the DOJ view, then virtually all information about you that is held by anyone else is opening to seizure without probable cause or a warrant. The massive increase in the volume such third-party records made possible by the information revolution is such a fundamental change that, at least as a policy matter, such records should be protected and require a subpoena to collect.
The U.S. government is quietly pressuring telecommunications providers to install eavesdropping technology deep inside companies’ internal networks to facilitate surveillance efforts.
FBI officials have been sparring with carriers, a process that has on occasion included threats of contempt of court, in a bid to deploy government-provided software capable of intercepting and analyzing entire communications streams. The FBI’s legal position during these discussions is that the software’s real-time interception of metadata is authorized under the Patriot Act.
Attempts by the FBI to install what it internally refers to as “port reader” software, which have not been previously disclosed, were described to CNET in interviews over the last few weeks. One former government official said the software used to be known internally as the “harvesting program.”
Carriers are “extra-cautious” and are resisting installation of the FBI’s port reader software, an industry participant in the discussions said, in part because of the privacy and security risks of unknown surveillance technology operating on an sensitive internal network.
It’s “an interception device by definition,” said the industry participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because court proceedings are sealed. “If magistrates knew more, they would approve less.” It’s unclear whether any carriers have installed port readers, and at least one is actively opposing the installation.
In a statement from a spokesman, the FBI said it has the legal authority to use alternate methods to collect Internet metadata, including source and destination IP addresses: “In circumstances where a provider is unable to comply with a court order utilizing its own technical solution(s), law enforcement may offer to provide technical assistance to meet the obligation of the court order.”
Court says (2006) FedGov can do live monitoring of email accounts, including To: and From: lines, without a warrant: https://t.co/gmEbvQklKr
— Declan McCullagh (@declanm) August 2, 2013