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Clean-up doubts: Many Fukushima evacuees may never return home

RT | November 13, 2013

Many of the people who were forced to evacuate after the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant may never return, Japanese lawmakers admitted, overturning initial optimistic government pledges.

A call to admit the grim reality and step back from the ambitious Fukushima decontamination goals came from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition parties. Japan has so far spent $30 billion on the clean-up program, which has proven to be more difficult to carry out than initially expected.

The new plan would be for the government to fund relocation to new homes for those who used to live in the most contaminated areas.

“There will come a time when someone has to say, ‘You won’t be able to live here anymore, but we will make up for it’,” Shigeru Ishiba, the secretary General of Abe’s Liberal Democrat party said in a speech earlier this month.

On Tuesday, evacuees reacted with anger at the government’s admission.

“Politicians should have specified a long time ago the areas where evacuees will not be able to return, and presented plans to help them rebuild their lives elsewhere,” Toshitaka Kakinuma, a 71-year-old evacuee, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

Some 160,000 people escaped the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi, when a powerful earthquake and tsunami transformed the plant into the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. About a third of them are still living in temporary housing. They were promised that this would not last for longer than 3 years.

In August the death toll among the evacuees surpassed the threshold of 1,599 lives, which is how many people in the prefecture were killed by the disaster itself. The displaced residents are suffering from health problems, alcoholism and high rates of suicide.

The Ministry of Environment wanted to decontaminate 11 townships in the affected area, bringing the average annual radiation dose to 20 millisieverts, a level deemed safe by the International Centre for Radiological Protection. It further pledged to pursue a long-term goal reducing it to 1 millisievert per year.

The clean-up, however, has been marred by delays and reports that workers sometimes simply dumped contaminated waste rather than collect it for safe storage, causing the environment ministry push back the deadline. There are also calls on the government to abandon the more ambitious dose target, arguing that it is unrealistic.

Some evacuees said they wouldn’t return even after the first phase of the cleanup, saying the dose of 20 millisieverts per year still poses health risks.

“No matter how much they decontaminate I’m not going back because I have children and it is my responsibility to protect them,” Yumi Ide, a mother of two teenage boys, told Reuters.

The fear of radiation has soared in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, with rallies against the use of nuclear power scoring record attendance. The government shut down all 50 remaining Japanese reactors for safety checks, and there is strong pressure to keep them offline.

The Japanese government is reportedly seeking to borrow an extra $30 billion for the Fukushima cleanup and compensations, which would raise the total cost of the disaster response to $80 billion. The figure does not include the cost of decommissioning reactors to be carried out by the plant operator, Tepco. The company recently complained about the huge expense of the process, which may last at least 30 years.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Environmentalism, Nuclear Power | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Global warming, Typhoon Haiyan and the Philippines

By Michel Chossudovsky | RT | November 14, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), the strongest tropical typhoon ever recorded, has resulted in devastating consequences for the Philippines. The natural disaster took the lives of more than 10,000 people.

An estimated 615,000 residents have been displaced. Up to 4.3 million people have been affected, according to government sources.

The tragedy has become a talking point at Warsaw Climate Change Conference under UN auspices. The plight of Typhoon Haiyan has casually been assigned without evidence to the impacts of global warming.

While there is no scientific evidence that the super typhoon was the consequence of global warming, opening statements at the Warsaw summit hinted in no uncertain terms to a verified casual relationship. The executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), Christiana Figueres, stated (without evidence) that the typhoon was part of the “sobering reality” of global warming.

In turn, the Philippines’ UN representative at the Climate Change talks, Yeb Sano, stated in his address at the opening session that “Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.”

In a bitter irony, the tragedy in the Philippines has contributed to reinforcing a consensus which indirectly feeds the pockets of corporations lobbying for a new deal on carbon trade. ‘Cap-and-trade’ is a multibillion dollar bonanza which is supported by the global warming consensus.

According to UNFCC executive director Christiana Figueres, “We must clarify finance that enables the entire world to move towards low-carbon development…We must launch the construction of a mechanism that helps vulnerable populations to respond to the unanticipated effects of climate change.”

Known and documented, cap-and-trade markets are manipulated. What is at stake is the trade in carbon derivatives which is controlled by powerful financial institutions including JP Morgan Chase. In 2008, Simon Linnett, executive vice-chairman of Rothschild, acknowledged the nature of this multibillion dollar business.

“As a banker, I also welcome the fact that the cap-and-trade system is becoming the dominant methodology for CO2 control. Unlike taxation, or plain regulation, cap-and-trade offers the greatest scope for private sector involvement and innovation,” he said, as quoted by The Telegraph.

Cap-and-trade packaged into derivative products feeds on the global warming consensus. Without it, this multibillion dollar trade would fall flat.

The humanitarian crisis in the Philippines bears no relationship to global warming. The social impacts of Typhoon Haiyan are aggravated due to the lack of infrastructure and social services, not to mention the absence of a coherent housing policy. Those most affected by the typhoon are living in poverty in make-shift homes.

A reduction of CO2 emissions – as suggested by Yeb Sano in his address at the Warsaw summit – will not resolve the plight of an impoverished population.

In the Philippines, the social impacts of natural disasters are invariably exacerbated by a macro-economic policy framework imposed by Manila’s external creditors.

What is at stake is the deadly thrust of neoliberal economic reforms. For more than 25 years – since the demise of the Marcos dictatorship – the International Monetary Fund’s “economic medicine” under the helm of the Washington Consensus has prevailed, largely serving the interests of financial institutions and corporations in mining and agribusiness.

The government of Philippine President Benigno Aquino has embarked upon a renewed wave of austerity measures which involves sweeping privatization and the curtailment of social programs. In turn, a large chunk of the state budget has been redirected to the military, which is collaborating with the Pentagon under Obama’s “Asia Pivot.” This program – which serves the interests of Washington at the expense of the Philippines population – also includes a $1.7 billion purchase of advanced weapons systems.


Deconstructing the hype on Super Typhoon Haiyan – Yolanda

By Paul Homewood | Watts Up With That? | November 13, 2013

Now we have had a few days to reflect on the terrible events of last week, we can start to piece together some of the facts.

First of all, as it is the thing that really matters above all, fatalities. The good news, if it can be termed that, is that the death toll is likely to be around 2000 to 2500, according to the Philippine President. This is much less than the 10,000 originally feared to have died.

As far as the storm itself was concerned, the official statistics from the Philippine Met Agency, PAGASA, remain the same as those issued at the time. The table below compares these with the original satellite estimates put out by the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre, JTWC, and that were subsequently used by the media around the world to claim that Yolanda was the “strongest storm ever”.

PAGASA JTWC
Sustained Wind Speed mph 147 195
Gust mph 171 235

Full article

See also:

Some historical perspectives on Typhoon Haiyan-Yolanda

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama’s Refusal to Respect Iran’s Sovereign and Treaty Rights Continues to Thwart Diplomacy, Leaving America on the Self-Defeating Path to War

Obama-says-refusal-to-lift-debt-ceiling-would-hurt-economy

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett | Going to Tehran | November 12th, 2013

Notwithstanding France’s simultaneously arrogant and craven grandstanding over Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor, the main reason for the failure of last week’s nuclear talks between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 was the Obama administration’s imperious refusal to acknowledge Tehran’s right to enrich uranium under international safeguards. On this point, we want to highlight a recent post by Dan Joyner on Arms Control Law, titled, “Scope, Meaning and Juridical Implication of the NPT Article IV(1) Inalienable Right.”

Dan opens with a favorable reference to our recent post on the issue, see here; he then focuses on how to interpret the NPT Article IV(1) right to peaceful nuclear energy—a subject he has already written about at some length. He usefully inserts an excerpt from his excellent 2011 book, Interpreting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Interpreting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Pages 79-84.  This excerpt lays out Dan’s argument that the right to peaceful use of nuclear technology should be interpreted as “a full, free-standing right of all NNWS [non-nuclear-weapon states] party to the treaty, and not as a contingent right, contrary to the interpretation of some NWS [nuclear-weapon states].” After elaborating this basic point, Dan continues:

“The question of the scope of this right is one that continues to be debated. I have looked to the Lotus principle in international law (see the excerpt from my book) to show that the lawfulness of NNWS’, and in fact all states’, indigenous nuclear fuel cycle activities can be shown to derive from the absence of any prohibition of these activities in international law. This observation will, I have argued, serve to legally justify the full nuclear fuel cycle of activities within a NNWS, subject only to the positive requirements of Articles II and III of the NPT—i.e. no manufacture of nuclear explosive devices, and the conclusion of a safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

The question of just what exactly is the nature and scope of the right recognized in Article IV(1) of the NPT, and what are its juridical implications (e.g. in tension with the UN Security Council’s order in Resolution 1696 for Iran to cease uranium enrichment), is a subject that I have been thinking/researching about recently… These questions actually raise some very deep issues of international law, and analyzing them properly requires serious work… But let me say this here.

Article IV(1) of the NPT states that “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.” In my view, the recognition by over 190 states parties to the NPT that all states have such an inalienable right, which I interpret to include all elements of the full nuclear fuel cycle including uranium enrichment, strongly suggests that the right to peaceful nuclear energy research, production and use is one of the fundamental rights of states in international law. In my view, both fundamental and acquired rights of states should be understood to create in third parties, both states and international organizations, a legal obligation to respect those rights.

This means that other states and international organizations are under an international legal obligation not to act in serious prejudice of states’ rights. In the case of fundamental rights, this reciprocal obligation is of a jus cogens order, meaning that all states and international organizations are under a jus cogens order legal obligation not to act to seriously prejudice the fundamental rights of other states. When states or international organization do act in serious prejudice of a state’s fundamental rights, that action is an internationally wrongful act, and implicates the international responsibility of the acting state or international organization.

According to this analysis, UN Security Council Resolution 1696, which commands Iran to cease uranium enrichment, constitutes a violation of international law, at least as to this particular command, and is void of legal effect (See Article 25 of the UN Charter).

Note that the often heard rebuttal to this argument, which references Article 103 of the UN Charter, is in fact erroneous and inapplicable.  Article 103 of the UN Charter provides that “In the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.” My analysis, which is based on the recognition of a fundamental right of states in international law, and the juridical implication of an obligation in other states and international organizations to respect that right, is unaffected and unanswered by this provision, which merely recognizes that in the case of a conflict between UN member states’ international legal obligations under the Charter, and their obligations deriving from other sources, the Charter obligations trump.  It does not speak to the legal obligations of the Security Council as an organ of an international organization.  Nor does it speak at all to conflicts between the obligations of the UN Charter, and the rights of states in international law. So again, Article 103 of the UN Charter is inapposite and inapplicable to this question.”

Dan’s work on these issues is both breathtakingly clear and, as far as we are concerned, definitive.  (For more of his analysis on the illegality of Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, we refer everyone to his brilliant article, “The Security Council as Legal Hegemon,” published last year in the Georgetown Journal of International Law, see here.)

More immediately, Dan’s work underscores an important reality:  the Obama administration’s hegemonically abusive refusal to recognize Iran’s right to safeguarded enrichment is not just diplomatically and strategically counter-productive—it is illegal.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , | 1 Comment

Soldier killed in Occupied Palestine as Israel calls for “intelligent” settlements

Al-Akhbar | November 13, 2013

A 16-year-old Palestinian stabbed an Israeli soldier to death on a bus on Wednesday in an attack apparently motivated by the jailing of his relatives in Israel, police said.

The death came as Israel backtracked on an announced plan to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank, calling for “intelligent and coordinated” construction despite international condemnation.

The killing, in the town of Afula in Occupied Palestine, follows a surge in violence in the West Bank, where 10 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli troops and three Israelis killed since peace talks resumed in July.

Israel’s northern police commander, Ronny Attia, said the attacker was from the West Bank town of Jenin, and that he was in custody.

According to police, the Palestinian youth did not have a permit to be inside Israel.

“By his account, his uncles are in prison in Israel and this is the reason he decided to carry out the terrorist attack,” Attia said.

Israel refers to many acts of protest against the decades-long occupation – whether violent or non-violent – as terrorism.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the soldier, aged 18, was pronounced dead in hospital.

The attack occurred a day before the one-year anniversary of the Israeli Pillar of Cloud offensive on Gaza, in which six Israelis and more than 100 Palestinian civilians were killed in eight days.

Peace talks orchestrated by US Secretary of State John Kerry have faced serious obstacles, including the high rate of Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons, many in indefinite administrative detention, as well as extensive plans to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

A report by British newspaper The Guardian on Tuesday revealed that Israeli troops conducted mock arrests and raids in the West Bank without informing the local population that their actions were drills, causing extreme distress to many Palestinians.

The attack came as Israel’s Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz urged “coordinated” settlement building, a day after a new plan for settler homes in the West Bank drew international condemnation.

Settlements in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank “must be done in an intelligent and coordinated way,” Steinitz told Israeli public radio on Wednesday.

The settlements are deemed illegal under international law.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Tuesday cancelled plans to build 20,000 new settler homes in the West Bank, hours after their announcement sparked US and Palestinian criticism.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki had said Washington was not only concerned by the initial announcement, but also “surprised” and sought an explanation from Israel.

She repeated the longstanding US position on settlements that “we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”

Netanyahu then ordered Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel “to reconsider all of the steps for evaluating planning potential (for the settler homes) that he distributed without any advance coordination,” the premier’s office said.

(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Norway may ban non-medical circumcision of boys

RT | November 13, 2013

Norway’s Health Ministry is considering a proposal on regulating the circumcision of boys. Some political parties are calling on a complete ban of the practice on minors, a possibility that would affect Jewish and Muslim communities.

Two years ago, the ministry was tasked with reviewing circumcision and how it should be practiced in Norway. It is yet to finalize its stance, but intends to submit its legislative proposal before Easter next year, Health Minister Bent Hoie told Aftenposten, Norway’s largest newspaper.

The issue was brought to public attention after the recent call by Norway Children’s Ombudswoman Anne Lindboe to ban circumcision of boys before age 16, unless the procedure is warranted by medical needs.

“This is not due to any lack of understanding of minorities or religious traditions, but because the procedure is irreversible, painful and risky,” she argued.

Lindboe’s position is shared by some members of the Labor Party, which currently holds the largest share of 55 seats in Norway’s 169-strong legislative and is in opposition to the ruling Conservative-Progress coalition.

“As a modern society, we should work to eliminate practices that expose children and people to unnecessary suffering,” said Labor’s Ruth Mari Grung, who is a member of the parliamentary Committee on Health and Care Services.

A ban is also supported by the Center Party, which has 10 seats in the parliament.

Other parliamentary parties are yet to formulate their official position on the issue. Hoie, a Conservative member, who used to chair the Health Committee before getting his ministerial appointment, voiced concerns that a ban would force the groups practicing ritual circumcision underground, where the procedure would be performed by non-medics and pose greater health risks to the children.

The Norwegian lawmakers also disagree on whether circumcision should be covered by the budget under the national healthcare system. Some parties insist that ritual circumcision should be paid for by parents.

According to the newspaper, an average of about 2,000 Muslim and seven Jewish newborns are circumcised in Norway each year.

Regulation of ritual circumcision in Europe made the headlines in June, when a German court ruled that the procedure constitutes a minor bodily harm and outlawed performing it on minors. The decision sparked nationwide debate on the conflict between religious freedoms and protection of children.

The issue was further stressed in early October, when the Council of Europe branded the practice “a violation of the physical integrity of children” and called on EU members to protect children. The latter should include a ban on performing circumcision on those who cannot consent to it, the non-binding resolution said.

Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Greenland are among the European countries where public debate on ritual circumcision of boys is hotly debated.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bystanders Hit by Police Bullets in New York City Get Little Sympathy and No Compensation

By Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman | AllGov | November 13, 2013

Getting shot has been made that much worse in New York City, where officials have taken a hard-line with bystanders caught in the line of fire of police officers.

Sixteen bystanders have been struck by police bullets in the city since 2011. Time and again, city lawyers have fought lawsuits brought by those wounded in these incidents. They adamantly refuse to settle cases and aggressively act to have them thrown out prior to trial.

NYC’s legal defense is rooted in a 2010 State Court of Appeals ruling that tossed a lawsuit by a bystander shot by police.

“The state’s highest court has recognized that police officers’ split-second decisions to use deadly force must be protected from this kind of second-guessing,” Michael A. Cardozo, who is in charge of the city’s Law Department, said in a statement, after a woman wounded outside the Empire State Building sued.

That incident took place on August 24, 2012, when nine pedestrians were shot by police trying to take down a gunman outside the famed building.

The most recent bystander shooting occurred in September, when two officers near Times Square fired at a man they mistakenly believed had a gun. The man was not wounded, but two female bystanders were, one of whom is now preparing to file a lawsuit.

The lawsuits that are filed by innocent bystanders as a result of officer shootings are referred to by New York City as “no-pay cases,” an indication of how black-and-white city lawyers view these incidents.

Cities across the U.S. handle such cases differently, according to the The New York Times. In Philadelphia in 2008, a $1.8 million dollar settlement was reached after a bystander was fatally wounded as police shot at an armed suspect. A 2010 police shooting of unarmed individuals in Harlem brought about several settlements, including one for $850,000 due to a fatality. The city of Chicago spent six years battling a 13-year-old girl who was hit in the shoulder by police gunfire, before her case made it to trial in 2010.

Legal experts say the cases present a challenge for police trying to protect the public, while not causing more harm than good.

“On the one hand they’re trying to protect people,” Jeffrey L. Seglin, an ethicist and lecturer on public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, told the Times. “On the other hand, you think they would try to take care of people who get hurt in that process. The legal thing isn’t always the right thing.”

To Learn More:

Bystanders Shot by the Police Face an Uphill Fight to Win Lawsuits (by J. David Goodman, New York Times)

Five City Officers Cleared In Shootings of Bystanders (by Ray Rivera, New York Times)

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

The House Intelligence Committee’s Misinformation Campaign About the NSA

By Mark M. Jaycox | EFF | November 12, 2013

Rep. Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), is a busy man. Since June, he (and HPSCI) have been all over the media with press statements, TV appearances, and tweets, relentlessly trying to persuade the public that the National Security Agency (NSA) is merely doing its job when it collects innocent Americans’ calling records, phone calls, and emails.

One such release is a “Myths v. Facts” page tackling the fact and fiction of the NSA’s activities. In addition to collecting phone calls and emails, we now know these practices include deliberately weakening international cryptographic standards and hacking into companies’ data centers, but, unfortunately, the page is misleading and full of NSA talking points. And one statement is downright false.

Wrong Information

In the “Myths v. Facts” page, HPSCI touts company cooperation with the spying programs, writing: the NSA is not stealing data from tech companies without their knowledge. But two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported the exact opposite: the NSA secretly broke into the main links connecting data centers within Yahoo! and Google. Time for an update?

HPSCI is supposed to be informed of significant intelligence activities—and given Rep. Rogers’ wellpublicized concerns over cybersecurity (he introduced a bill called CISPA), we’d expect him to ensure the committee knew of such an attack if he’d been informed. Members of Congress must find out whether HPSCI knew about the attacks on private companies, and if they did, why they published such misinformation.

Word Games

The document also uses two different word games. First, it sets up a straw man by focusing on how the phone records program using Section 215 of the Patriot Act doesn’t collect the content of Americans’ communications. But NSA is using Section 215 to collect “metadata” that reveals every American’s calling records—calls to your doctor, your church, your partner, etc.—which severely chills core Constitutional freedoms.

HPSCI’s site neglects to note that the ongoing leaks provide evidence that, while spying on foreigners, the NSA collects Americans’ phone calls, emails, and other content using Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Instead of discarding emails belonging to innocent Americans’, the NSA keeps the communications. The Intelligence Committee document completely ignores this point by focusing on Section 702’s prohibition of “targeting” Americans. That’s a red herring: regardless of “targeting,” the NSA is still collecting and storing the content of Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.

The “Facts” Continue

HPSCI also tells us that members of Congress were fully aware of the programs. But freshmen members of Congress have noted that that they were not shared important documents before key votes in December 2012 reauthorizing the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. More generally, senior members of Congress have decried briefings by the intelligence community as playing a game of “20 questions.” Just last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI, the Senate counterpart to HPSCI), admitted how hard it is to get straight answers. In a recent article, she noted: “Once it gets started in one administration or two administrations back, it just continues on. They grow, they mutate, whatever it may be. You wouldn’t know to ask, that’s the thing. I wouldn’t have known to ask.”

Lastly, HPSCI says that the NSA isn’tusing the ‘[Business Records]’ program to do extensive data mining on Americans’ phone records.” The Business Records program may not be doing the actual data mining, but as we noted in our recent post on Executive Order 12333, there are secret guidelines that supposedly allow NSA to use the metadata collected under Section 215 and Section 702 to map out social networks. Essentially, the data mining is occurring under a different program that is still secret, and unknown, to the American public.

The Intelligence Committees’ Role in Oversight and Information

HPSCI, like SSCI, was originally created in the 1970s after the Church and Pike committees investigated the activities of the intelligence community, found systemic abuses of privacy and civil liberties, and recommended reforms to prevent those abuses from happening again. Its primary responsibility is to oversee the intelligence community and to inform the public and Congress about the intelligence community’s activities. We need HPSCI to tell the truth. That’s clearly not the case with the supposed “Myths v. Facts” website. And it’s sad to see a committee originally created to rein in the abuses of the intelligence community—as when NSA collected every single telegram leaving the country—tout incorrect or misleading talking points.

Congress Must Investigate

It’s one of the many reasons why Congress must establish a special investigatory committee into the spying as a result of the Intelligence Committee’s inability to release factual information about the spying. A special investigatory committee could look into the NSA’s activities and perform a review of the current oversight regime—paying particular attention to what other information the NSA is collecting about innocent users and how Congress can be better informed. As this document shows, members of Congress and the general public should not rely solely on HPSCI for facts about the NSA’s activities. It also forces us to ask: How much do these intelligence committees really know about what the intelligence community is doing? Do they understand enough about what they don’t know to be able to avoid unwittingly misinforming us?

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazil and Germany Proposed UN Resolution Against Mass Surveillance

By Katitza Rodriguez | EFF | November 12, 2013

On November 7th, Brazil and Germany jointly proposed a preliminary version of a resolution on online privacy at the UN General Assembly. At a time when public outrage over the reach and scope of U.K. and U.S. mass surveillance is at an all time high, the draft resolution is the first official recognition by the UN of the threat that mass surveillance poses to human rights. The draft resolution is significant in many respects but particularly because it condemns “human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance of communications… in particular massive surveillance.”

The draft resolution calls upon all states:

  • To end privacy violations and prevent further privacy incursions and ensure that national laws, practices and procedures conform to existing international human rights obligations,
  • To establish independent national oversight mechanisms capable of maintaining transparency and accountability for state surveillance of communications,
  • Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report to the General Assembly on the protection of the right to privacy.

If adopted, this will be the first General Assembly resolution on the right to privacy since 1988. This represents an excellent opportunity for states to update their understanding of international human rights law in the context of the massive technological developments that have taken place over the last 25 years.

While introducing the draft resolution, the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations New York drew attention to the 24th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) side event organized last September by Germany and Norway. During this meeting, member states engaged in a robust debate of online surveillance. EFF, Privacy International, Human Rights Watch, Access, APC, Article 19 and a coalition of 290 NGOs presented formally the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, a set of principles that provide States with a framework to evaluate whether current or proposed surveillance laws and practices are consistent with human rights. These principles have been cited in the new Mexican telecom reform bill, in op-eds and editorials in different countries, refered by policy makers in Sweden and the United Kingdom, and translated in more than 31 languages. During the 24th HRC, we also submitted an official statement calling on states to ensure that advances in technology do not lead to disproportionate increases in states’ interference with the private lives of individuals.

A few weeks earlier, during the opening of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, made clear the indignation and repudiation in public opinion around the world regarding the revelations of a global network of electronic espionage:

“In Brazil, the situation was even more serious, as it emerged that we were targeted by this intrusion. Personal data of citizens was intercepted indiscriminately. Corporate information – often of high economic and even strategic value – was at the center of espionage activity. Also, Brazilian diplomatic missions, among them the Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Office of the President of the Republic itself, had their communications intercepted.”

We hope that member states join Brazil and Germany in explicitly condemning mass surveillance by supporting the draft resolution as is currently written, and stay vigilant against watering-down of the text by countries who would continue their ubiquitous spying. Now is the time for all concerned citizens to call upon their governments to conform to the principles signed by 290 NGOs. If your organization hasn’t signed it yet, it can do so  here. It’s time to defend the Necessary and Proportionate Principles at the United Nations, and in every other regional or national policy space.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Cell Phone Manufacturers Offer Carefully Worded Denials To Question Of Whether NSA Can Track Powered-Down Cell Phones

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | November 13, 2013

Back in July, a small but disturbing detail on the government’s cell phone tracking abilities was buried inside a larger story detailing the explosive expansion of the NSA post-9/11. Ryan Gallagher at Slate pulled this small paragraph out and highlighted it.

By September 2004, the NSA had developed a technique that was dubbed “The Find” by special operations officers. The technique, the Post reports, was used in Iraq and “enabled the agency to find cellphones even when they were turned off.” This helped identify “thousands of new targets, including members of a burgeoning al-Qaeda-sponsored insurgency in Iraq,” according to members of the special operations unit interviewed by the Post.

Ars Technica reports that some security researchers are calling this statement into question and have contacted cell phone providers for statements on the NSA’s claim. Only a few have responded at this point, and their denials have been worded very specifically.

Google had this to say:

When a mobile device running the Android Operating System is powered off, there is no part of the Operating System that remains on or emits a signal. Google has no way to turn on a device remotely.

Google may not have a way, but that doesn’t mean the NSA doesn’t.

Nokia:

Our devices are designed so that when they are switched off, the radio transceivers within the devices should be powered off. We are not aware of any way they could be re-activated until the user switches the device on again. We believe that this means that the device could not be tracked in the manner suggested in the article you referenced.

Once again, we’re looking at words like “should” and “not aware.” This doesn’t necessarily suggest Nokia does know of methods government agencies could use to track phones that are off, but it doesn’t entirely rule it out either.

Samsung’s response is more interesting. While declaring that all components should be turned off when the phone is powered down, it does acknowledge that malware could trick cell phone users into believing their phone is powered down when it isn’t. Ericsson, which is no longer in the business of producing cell phones (and presumably has less to lose by being forthright), was even more expansive on the subject.

The only electronics normally remaining in operation are the crystal that keeps track of time and some functionality sensing on-button and charger connection. The modem (the cellular communication part) cannot turn on by itself. It is not powered in off-state. Power and clock distribution to the modem is controlled by the application processor in the mobile phone. The application processor only turns on if the user pushes the on-switch. There could, however, be potential risks that once the phone runs there could be means to construct malicious applications that can exploit the phone.

On the plus side, the responding manufacturers seem to be interested in ensuring a powered down phone is actually powered down, rather than just put into a “standby” or “hibernation” mode that could potentially lead to exploitation. But the implicit statement these carefully worded denials make is that anything’s possible. Not being directly “aware” of something isn’t the same thing as a denial.

Even if the odds seem very low that the NSA can track a powered down cell phone, the last few months of leaks have shown the agency has some very surprising capabilities — some of which even stunned engineers working for the companies it surreptitiously slurped data from.

Not only that, but there’s historical evidence via court cases that shows the FBI has used others’ phones as eavesdropping devices by remotely activating them and using the mic to record conversations. As was noted by c|net back in 2006, whatever the FBI utilized apparently worked even when phones were shut off.

The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the “roving bug” was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a suspect’s cell phone.

Kaplan’s opinion said that the eavesdropping technique “functioned whether the phone was powered on or off.” Some handsets can’t be fully powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set.

While the Genovese crime family prosecution appears to be the first time a remote-eavesdropping mechanism has been used in a criminal case, the technique has been discussed in security circles for years.

Short of pulling out the battery (notably not an option in some phones), there seems to be little anyone can do to prevent the device from being tracked and/or used as a listening device. The responding companies listed above have somewhat hedged their answers to the researcher’s questions, most likely not out of any deference to government intelligence agencies, but rather to prevent looking ignorant later if (or when) subsequent leaks make these tactics public knowledge.

Any powered up cell phone performs a lot of legwork for intelligence agencies, supplying a steady stream of location and communications data. If nothing else, the leaks have proven the NSA (and to a slightly lesser extent, the FBI) has an unquenchable thirst for data. If such exploits exist (and they seem to), it would be ridiculous to believe they aren’t being used to their fullest extent.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US govt intel researchers to ‘radically expand’ facial recognition capabilities

RT | November 13, 2013

The United States intelligence community’s research arm is set to launch a program that will thoroughly broaden the capabilities of biometric facial recognition software in order to establish an individual’s identity.

The Janus program of the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) will begin in April 2014 in an effort to “radically expand the range of conditions under which automated face recognition can establish identity,” according to documents released by the agency over the weekend.

Janus “seeks to improve face recognition performance using representations developed from real-world video and images instead of from calibrated and constrained collections. During daily activities, people laugh, smile, frown, yawn and morph their faces into a broad variety of expressions. For each face, these expressions are formed from unique skeletal and musculature features that are similar through one’s lifetime. Janus representations will exploit the full morphological dynamics of the face to enable better matching and faster retrieval.”

Current facial recognition relies mostly on full-frontal, aligned facial views. But, in the words of Military & Aerospace Electronics, Janus will fuse “the rich spatial, temporal, and contextual information available from the multiple views captured by security cameras, cell phone cameras, news video, and other sources referred to as ‘media in the wild.’”

In addition, Janus will take into account aging and incomplete or ambiguous data for its recognition assessment goals.

IARPA was created in 2006 and is a division of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The intelligence agency is modeled after DARPA, the Pentagon’s notorious research arm that fosters technology for future military utilization.

In-Q-Tel, a not-for-profit venture capital firm run by the Central Intelligence Agency, invests in companies that develop facial recognition software.

In an age of ubiquitous surveillance video amid a severe lag of legal protections for privacy, civil liberties advocates are expressing concern.

IARPA’s effort to significantly boost facial recognition capabilities “represents a quantum leap in the amount of surveillance taking place in public places,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, as quoted by USA Today.

Stanley noted that law enforcement and the like could easily run random facial recognition programs over surveillance video to assess the identities of crowds in public places without oversight.

IARPA gave industry representatives a solicitation briefing on the program in June, according to media reports.

Late last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation published a request for information in developing “a roadmap for the FBI’s future video analytics architecture” as the agency prepares to make its high-tech surveillance abilities all the more powerful.

In September, the Department of Homeland Security tested its Biometric Optical Surveillance System (BOSS) at a junior hockey game in Washington state. When it’s fully operational, BOSS could be used to identify a person of interest among a massive crowd in just seconds.

Over the summer, the state of Ohio admitted it had access to a facial recognition database that included all state-wide driver’s license photos and mug shots without the public’s knowledge.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment