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Federal Judge: Only Powered-Off Cell Phones Deserve Privacy Protections

By Chris Soghoian | ACLU | May 15, 2013

A federal magistrate judge in New York recently ruled that cell phone location data deserves no protection under the Fourth Amendment and that accordingly, the government can engage in real-time location surveillance without a search warrant. In an opinion straight from the Twilight Zone, magistrate judge Gary Brown ruled two weeks ago that “cell phone users who fail to turn off their cell phones do not exhibit an expectation of privacy.”

The case in question involved a physician who the DEA believed had issued thousands of prescriptions for pain killers in exchange for cash. In March of this year, the DEA had obtained a warrant for his arrest, and, not knowing where he was, sought an order from magistrate judge Brown forcing the phone company to provide real-time data identifying the location of the physician’s phone.

Although the DEA agents requested a search warrant and the judge found that there was probable cause to believe that the cell phone location data would assist in the location and apprehension of an individual for whom there was already a valid arrest warrant, the judge later published a 30-page opinion further stating that he didn’t think the government needed to seek a search warrant in the first place.

Don’t Want the Government Tracking You? Turn Your Phone Off

In his puzzling opinion, the judge squarely criticizes people naive enough to expect privacy while also leaving their cell phones on when they’re not using them.

Given the ubiquity and celebrity of geolocation technologies, an individual has no legitimate expectation of privacy in the prospective location of a cellular telephone where that individual has failed to protect his privacy by taking the simple expedient of powering it off.

As to control by the user, all of the known tracking technologies may be defeated by merely turning off the phone. Indeed—excluding apathy or inattention—the only reason that users leave cell phones turned on is so that the device can be located to receive calls. Conversely, individuals who do not want to be disturbed by unwanted telephone calls at a particular time or place simply turn their phones off, knowing that they cannot be located.

The Catch-22 here is that the only people who the judge believes would have any reasonable expectation of privacy are those whose phones are turned off (and thus, not generating any location data that the government could access, even with a warrant). And it ignores the necessity of keeping your cell phone turned on for communicating with family or for work.

That consumers are dumb enough to willingly share their location using the “Girls Around Me” app (which the judge specifically calls out by name, although the wrong one), only further justifies covert, warrantless government surveillance:

Given the notoriety surrounding the disclosure of geolocation data to retailers purveying soap powder and blue jeans to mall shoppers, the police searching for David Pogue’s iPhone and, most alarmingly, the creators and users of the Girls Around You app, cell phone users cannot realistically entertain the notion that such information would (or should) be withheld from federal law enforcement agents searching for a fugitive.

This is, in a word, ridiculous. There is a big difference between location information you knowingly share with a select group of friends (or, in fact, the world) and information collected about you without your knowledge or consent. Someone might be happy to share their location with a few friends by “checking in” using Foursquare while at a music festival, but not want law enforcement to access that same information. And, they would still reasonably expect that their location a week later while at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or abortion clinic should remain private. Sharing location data isn’t and shouldn’t be all or nothing.

We are also baffled by the judge’s willingness to tie a reasonable expectation of privacy to the use of a cell phone power button. We’re not sure if the judge has watched the Onion’s spoof news video describing a fictional “Google Opt Out Village” for people who don’t want to be tracked by the advertising company, but the logic in his opinion is consistent with the absurdity of that spoof. If you don’t want Google to track you, stop using all modern technology and move to a remote village. If you don’t want the government to covertly track your phone, turn it off and leave it off. What could be simpler, right?

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

DOJ’s AP Phone Logs Grab Highlights Renewed Need for Shield Law

By Gabe Rottman | ACLU | May 15, 2013

Although the president’s press secretary noted yesterday then-Senator Obama’s support for a federal shield law to protect reporters from having to disclose their sources, he failed to mention how the White House deep-sixed a comprehensive shield bill back in 2009. That bill could have prevented the extraordinary Associated Press subpoena, which was disclosed this week.

Back in 2009, various stakeholders—including Republicans in the House, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), and a broad coalition of free press and public interest groups—came together to support the Free Flow of Information Act. Although not perfect, the original bill contained express safeguards requiring the administration to exhaust all other means of obtaining the information sought and to tailor subpoenas narrowly, along with other safeguards to preserve source anonymity.

While initially backing the legislation, the administration abruptly reversed course in late 2009, demanding that the bill contain what amounted to an exemption for national security leak cases and severely limiting judicial discretion under the measure. The bill died and has yet to be resurrected.

If there ever were a time to resurrect the federal shield law, it is now.

Although the details are still trickling out, it’s clear that a Justice Department leak investigation sought the dial-out records of 20 phone lines belonging to the AP and its reporters. The request covered both the personal mobile and home phones of targeted journalists, as well as office numbers for the AP in New York, Washington, Hartford, and the House of Representatives’ press gallery. More than 100 reporters work at the offices subject to the subpoenas, and the information pulled covered two months. Perhaps most striking, notice of the subpoena was delayed—meaning that the AP had no opportunity to go to court to contest it before the DOJ secured the records.

I haven’t been able to find any cases of similar sweep. In one of the more recent cases involving a leak subpoena for phone records (involving a tip to The New York Times that the offices of two Islamic charities suspected of funding terrorism were about to be raided), the government notified the news outlet in advance, negotiated with the Times at length, and only sought a subpoena as a last resort. The scope of the subpoena was modest compared to the AP request, covering only a couple of weeks of records and only two journalists. That’s a far cry from what happened here.

The notion of a reporter shield or privilege isn’t to protect journalists; it’s to protect the public. When the Bill of Rights was being drafted, America had a vibrant mass media. Indeed, it even had the 18th century equivalent of the blogger (the proverbial “lonely pamphleteer”). The drafters were well aware of the power of a free media to restrain government excess and to undermine the authoritarian impulse. Many recalled, for instance, the case of John Zenger, the colonial printer charged with libel for printing a periodical critical of the New York governor. That prosecution led in part to calls for express protection for freedoms of press and speech in the Constitution.

An essential element of the journalist’s toolkit is the anonymous source, and this is doubly true in the context of national security reporting. As the government itself acknowledges, the current classification system for sensitive national security information is deeply flawed. Not only is there little incentive not to classify something, too often national security is used as an excuse to prevent disclosure of information about embarrassing or illegal activities.

Absent “leaks,” we would never have learned about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its use of CIA “black sites,” and the unlawful torture of detainees in the Iraq War and the so-called “war on terror.” In more recent days, “leaks” have been instrumental in the public disclosure of the Obama administration’s cyberattacks against Iran and its targeted killing program.

And yet, despite the clear public interest in revealing this government misconduct, the Obama administration—the “most transparent administration in history“—will have as one of its legacies an unprecedented crackdown on the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It has prosecuted many more leakers (twice as many as all previous administrations combined), and pursued leak investigations more aggressively than anyone else. The time is ripe for a federal law that would protect reporters from having to disclose their sources (with limited exceptions to ensure due process for criminal defendants and to prevent actual and imminent harm).

The AP scandal casts this need in stark relief.

Update:

The administration has asked Sen. Schumer to reintroduce the Free Flow of Information Act, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) just announced that he will do so in the House, and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced a similar bill today. The administration should certainly be commended for taking proactive steps to prevent this from happening again. That said, the administration can’t get in the way this time. The demand in 2009 for a broad exception for national security leaks cases delayed the bill, and tempered enthusiasm among Democrats for the bill in the face of strong opposition by certain Republicans. The 2013 bill must protect against what happened here with the AP, and it’s not clear that the 2009 White House compromise would have done so.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

Canada not to attend UN disarmament talks under Iran presidency

Press TV – May 15, 2013

Canada says it will not take part in the upcoming UN Conference on Disarmament under the pretext that the Islamic Republic of Iran will be assuming the rotating presidency of the event.

Rick Roth, a spokesman for Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird, announced on Tuesday that Ottawa would sit out the sessions of the conference, which will be chaired by Iran.

The Canadian official further claimed that the Islamic Republic is working against global disarmament goals in countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Iran, which has frequently called for the elimination of all the weapons of mass destruction in the world, will accede to the rotating presidency of the 65-nation Geneva-based conference on May 27, and hand it over to another country on June 23 in alphabetical order.

The conference, which is considered the world’s most important disarmament negotiating forum, seeks to reach an agreement on global nuclear disarmament, preventing arms from spreading to outer space, and stopping the development of other weapons of mass destruction.

Ottawa made the announcement after Erin Pelton, the spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations, said on May 13 that Washington would not send its ambassador to the upcoming UN event under the same pretext.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Militarism | , , | 1 Comment

NYT Runs Editorial Demanding Cuts in Social Security and Medicare in News Section

CEPR | May 14, 2013

The Washington Post long ago abandoned the separation between news and editorials, routinely running pieces advocating cuts in Social Security and Medicare in its news section. It now appears as though the New York Times is following the Post’s lead.

A news story on the budget made repeated assertions that Social Security and Medicare must be cut. At one point it referred to:

“the inevitable pain that comes from curbing those huge and popular programs [Social Security and Medicare].”

Of course there is nothing inevitable about curbing spending on Social Security and Medicare and there is certainly not inevitable pain. The most obvious route for curbing costs in these programs from an economic standpoint would be cutting Medicare payments to drug companies, medical equipment companies, doctors and other providers. This would not be especially painful for anyone who does not derive income from the program.

Clearly the paper was expressing its desire to see these programs cut.

It later added:

“The longer the delay, the sharper and more immediate the changes Washington must eventually make to ease the long-term fiscal squeeze.”

Again, this is an invention of the NYT. There is no evidence that the country is up against any “long-term fiscal squeeze” or that anything would be gained by making cuts now.

The NYT, unlike the Post, generally keeps these sorts of political views on the opinion page. It is unfortunate that it appears to have departed from its standard practice with this article.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Military sexual assault prevention officer accused of running prostitution ring

RT | May 15, 2013

The US military officer overseeing sexual assault prevention at the Fort Hood base in Texas is now under investigation for sexual assault, including allegations of maltreatment of subordinates and running a prostitution ring.

Two senior officials at the Pentagon and a Capitol Hill staffer briefed on the case confirmed to USA Today that a sergeant serving at the Texas military installation, whose name has not been released, is under investigation for abusive sexual contact, forcing a subordinate into prostitution and sexually assaulting at least two others.

The officer has now been relieved of his duties, though charges had yet to be filed. The sergeant oversaw a sexual assault prevention program at the battalion level, and was responsible for a unit of some 800 soldiers.

Both Pentagon officials who confirmed the investigation, including inquiries into the alleged prostitution ring, spoke on condition of anonymity as the case is still ongoing.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reacted with “frustration, anger and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said on Tuesday, following official acknowledgment of the investigation at Fort Hood.

The announcement also comes on the heels of another blow to the armed forces, adding to an ongoing narrative showing a widespread culture of sexual abuse in the American military. Earlier in May, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the officer in charge of the Air Force’s sexual abuse prevention program based at the Pentagon, was arrested for drunkenly groping a woman. Krusinski is set to appear in court in July for sexual battery.

To compound the unwanted attention, Krusinski’s arrest came the same week that the Pentagon released an annual report revealing a 35% increase in unreported sexual assault incidents over two years, totaling 26,000 up from 19,300 in 2010.

Reported sexual assaults of both men and women in the military rose to 3,374 last year, up from 3,192 a year earlier, according to that same Pentagon report. About a quarter of those who were assaulted and received medical attention declined to press charges, which officials cited as an indicator of victims’ fears of retribution.

“Tragically, the depth of the sexual assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report,” said Sen. Carl Levin, (D-MI), who currently chairs the personnel panel of the US Armed Services Committee, in response to Tuesday’s revelation.

Air Force officials have already been criticized for their handling of sexual assault issues. Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh was blasted by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) for blaming “hook-up culture” for contributing to continuing sexual abuse problems.

“To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement. For the second time in a week we are seeing someone who is supposed to be preventing sexual assault being investigated for committing that very act,” said Gillibrand.

“We have to do better by the men and women serving and assure them that they will not be attacked by their colleagues,” she added.

In response to this latest incident, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday ordered the armed services to immediately “re-train, re-credential and re-screen” tens of thousands of recruiters and military sexual assault prevention officers.

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | , , , , | Leave a comment

California cops defend phone confiscations as video of ‘constant bashing’ emerges

RT | May 15, 2013

Mounting pressure from national media and the local community still has not convinced California police to offer any explanation for why they confiscated cell phone video taken by witnesses who say eight or nine officers beat a helpless man to death.

The Kern County Sherriff’s Office has responded to allegations of police brutality only by stonewalling reporters and the family of David Silva, 33, who died last week after witnesses say police took turns hitting the supposedly inebriated man in the head with their batons. Observers who phoned 911 to report the police abuse were later visited by detectives demanding they turn over any footage captured in the early morning hours of Wednesday, May 8.

The seven Kern County deputies officials say were involved in the incident (the number of California Highway Patrol officers present is still unknown) have not been placed on administrative leave, according to the Bakersfield Californian, and department officials have refused to explain why.

“We’re following the same protocol, as far as the administrative process is concerned, that we’d follow in similar-type incidents,” said sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt. Other law enforcement higher-ups echoed a similar sentiment by implying their silence was warranted by an “ongoing investigation” that could last for months.

The cause of death will be announced pending a toxicology report from the coroner as well as microscopic studies. But the delay in explanations fail to account for why witnesses told local and national media outlets that Silva appeared to die in front of them, after a police beating and while a canine unit looked on, apparently ready to intervene if Silva would have been allowed to stand.

Melissa Quair told the Bakersfield Californian that aggressive deputies showed up at her door and blocked the exit as they seized her boyfriend’s phone, which contained video of the beating. She also asserted that her mother was forced to forfeit her phone, even after the police were told it did not contain any supposed evidence.

“They used more force than was needed,” Quair said. “I told them that they didn’t have permission to say who could go in or out of my house. My mom is disabled and has a lot of doctor and medical numbers stored in her phone. But the detective didn’t care and they told my mom to write all her contacts down on a piece of paper and while she did they watched her like hawks.”

Only one poorly-lit video of the beating has surfaced, but 19 blows are visibly delivered by three officers.

“Constant bashing, this is constant bashing,” Chris Silva, brother of the victim, told KBAK-TV after the tape was broadcast on the local news. “You can count, you know – I can’t keep track. And it hurts my head looking at this.”

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stephen Hawking Stuns Israel With Conference Boycott

By James M. Wall | May 14, 2013

University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking stunned Israel last week with his announcement that he would boycott the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem, June 18-20.

Hawking was responding to an incongruity: He had been invited to attend an Israeli conference of scientific, economic and political world leaders under the lofty title: ”The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow”.

Many usual political suspects are expected to speak at the conference, including noted Israeli friends Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Also listed as speakers are Stuart Eizenstat, Larry Summers and David Axelrod. George W. Bush was a speaker for the 2008 inaugural conference.

As a matter of conscience, Hawking will not be there.

What makes this conference such an incongruous event is that it will hold its “Shaping Tomorrow” sessions in close proximity to what is essentially a prison wall built to separate an occupied, entrapped Palestinian population, from the rest of the world.

Is this the future Israel would have us shape? Prison walls enforcing ethnic cleansing?

In his conference withdrawal statement Hawking explained his boycott decision:

“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank” 

“However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.

Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”.

The term “boycott” is part of the Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) non-violent campaign, a grassroots movement launched in 2005 to non-violently bring an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and people.

Israel is holding its fifth conference in close proximity to the Israeli-built prison wall that enforces that occupation.

Stephen Hawking has not been known for political activism. His story unfolded in a different arena. It is a story of  his enormous personal courage and significant achievement as a physicist and cosmologist.

Hawking, who tells his personal story in “Living With ALS“, has to be the most high-profile invitee yet to boycott an Israeli Presidential conference, an event which in the past has attracted little media attention. Hawking has changed that.

In her 2012 Scientific American essay“How Has Stephen Hawking Lived to 70 with ALS?”, (on January 7, 2013, he turned 71) author Katherine Harmon provides background both on Hawking and his disease:

The famous theoretical physicist has helped to bring his ideas about black holes and quantum gravity to a broad public audience. For much of his time in the public eye, though, he has been confined to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system—which he operates with his cheek—and have around-the-clock care.

But like his mind, Hawking’s illness seems to be singular. Most patients with ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the famous baseball player who succumbed to the disease—are diagnosed after the age of 50 and die within five years of their diagnosis. Hawking’s condition was first diagnosed when he was 21, and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday.

But his disease seems hardly to have slowed him down. Hawking spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge. And he is currently the director of research at the school’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology.

Hawking is the sort of high profile public figure whose boycott action is most feared by Israel.

The Guardian takes note of the blow Israel has received to its scientific prestige:

Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.

Witness the speed with which the pro-Israel lobby seized on Cambridge University’s initial false claim that he had withdrawn on health grounds to denounce the boycott movement, and their embarrassment when within a few hours the university shamefacedly corrected itself.

Hawking also made it clear that if he had gone he would have used the occasion to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

While journalists named him “the poster boy of the academic boycott” and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement celebrated, Ha’aretz, the most progressive of the Israeli press, drew attention to the inflammatory language used by the conference organizers, who described themselves as “outraged” rather than that they “regretted” Hawking’s decision.

That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign. And that his stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.

Full article

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | Leave a comment