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EU spending over $400m on secret drone project – Civil rights group

surveillance drone

RT | February 12, 2014

The EU is investing hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros in the development of surveillance drones without political oversight, a report claims. The authors of the document warn the EU is secretly encouraging “the further militarization” of the region.

A report entitled ‘Eurodrones Inc.’ published by rights group Statewatch describes how the EU is channeling taxpayers’ money into surveillance drone projects without their knowledge.

“More than 315 million euro ($430 million) has so far been spent in EU research funding on drone technology or drones geared towards a specific purpose such as policing or border control,” writes the report.

However, the document points out that the research funding is largely “invisible” to the people and parliaments of Europe and lacks the proper political oversight. According to the report this was achieved by a secret budget line that was included in new EU legislation on air traffic control for this year.

The report describes a 20-year roadmap that aims to introduce surveillance drones into EU airspace and highlights that this plan is being shaped by “thinly accountable officials” and representatives of large corporations.

“The EU’s emerging drone policy has come about following years of successful lobbying by defense and security companies and their associates,” said co-author of the report Chris Jones in a statement on Statewatch’s website, adding that these are the same defense and security contractors that have the most to gain.

The drones in question would engage in civilian surveillance activities, such as border patrols and the search for criminals. However, Statewatch is concerned that the convert nature of the program lends itself to the “further militarization” of the European Union.

Calling for “proper democratization” and the opening of public debate on the issue, the report notes the EU turned a blind eye to a European Commission statement in 2012 that declared the development of unmanned surveillance craft should be more transparent.

It recommended the issue be discussed with a number of organizations, including the European Group on Ethics, the LIBE Committee of the European Parliament or the European Agency for Fundamental Rights and Data Protection Supervisor.

“Yet none of these bodies have been involved,” writes the report. “Their absence from policy debates means that many of the conversations the EU should be having about drones – such as what they should and should not be used for, and how to prevent further militarization and the deployment of fully autonomous weaponized drones – have been all but ignored.”

Although the authors of the report do not outwardly criticize research into drones, they do stress the fact that the current program is too “heavily skewed toward the interests of the big defense contractors.”

They argue that this could lead to “unwarranted state surveillance and repression,” as well as enhanced prospects for combat drone research for a global arms race.

“It’s easy to see why people are so excited about drones: there are many positive things they could be used for,” said co-author Ben Hayes. He concluded that given the “clear implications” for civil liberties in the balance, the EU has a “moral and legal obligation” to uphold fundamental rights and the rule of law.

February 12, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Independent review board: NSA phone data collection ‘illegal’

Press TV – January 23, 2014

An independent review board working to protect Americans’ civil liberties and privacy has concluded that the US National Security Agency’s phone data collection program is illegal and should be stopped.

In a 238-page report to be issued on Thursday, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has said that a law known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act “does not provide an adequate basis to support” the NSA’s program for collecting billions of Americans’ phone records on a daily basis.

The report, which was obtained by The Washington Post and The New York Times, also says that there has been no single instance in which the US government’s spying program contributed to the discovery of a terrorist threat to the United States.

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,” the report said.

“Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack,” it added.

While the board had shared its conclusions with US President Barack Obama prior to his speech on Friday, the report is in contrast to Obama’s speech which portrayed the program as useful and lawful.

During his speech on Friday in which Obama promised some modest changes to the NSA’s spying programs, the US President did not indicate that the phone data collection program should be stopped. He said the NSA’s database of phone records should be moved out of government hands and be kept by private phone companies.

However, the PCLOB says the program should be shut down.

“Cessation of the program would eliminate the privacy and civil liberties concerns associated with bulk collection,” said the board in its report.

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Leave a comment

DHS defends suspicionless searches of laptops and cell phones

RT | June 6, 2013

The United States government doesn’t need a reason to seize and search the cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices of Americans entering the country, according to a Department of Homeland Security document provided to the press this week.

The DHS has long insisted that border agents and immigration officers are allowed to collect the electronics of US citizens crossing into the country without reason or cause, but a December 2011 document made public this week once and for all shines a light on a sparsely discussed security-measure that has attracted the attention of privacy advocates and others who’ve equated the practice as a constitutional violation.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Associated Press jointly filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the document earlier this year after the DHS published a two-page executive summary briefly explaining the results of an audit conducted by the department’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. In that statement, the DHS auditor concluded that Customs and Border Protection agents and officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement were not violating either the First or Fourth Amendments to the US Constitution by seizing the electronics of Americans without clear suspicion of a crime.

“We conclude that CBP’s and ICE’s current border search policies comply with the Fourth Amendment,” Tamara Kessler wrote for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the summary. “We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits.”

Now with the full 23-page paper in their possession — albeit a version that’s seen a fair share of redactions — the AP and ACLU have published the document in order to expose a post-9/11 policy that has remained intact under President Barack Obama, but to little discussion.

“This is striking,” ACLU fellow Brian Hauss wrote Wednesday, “because it is the first time, as far as we know, that the government has explained why purely suspicionless searches supposedly enhance security.”

The government’s reasoning, according to the document, is that the blanketing ability to collect and assess the devices of anyone thought to be entering the country is crucial to thwart high crimes. That being said, the government attests that requiring actual probable cause before seizing a device would, in the eyes of the DHS, hinder their ability to counter terrorism.

“[A]dding a heightened [suspicion-based] threshold requirement could be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefit,” the document found. “First, commonplace decisions to search electronic devices might be opened to litigation challenging the reasons for the search. In addition to interfering with a carefully constructed border security system, the litigation could directly undermine national security by requiring the government to produce sensitive investigative and national security information to justify some of the most critical searches.”

“Even a policy change entirely unenforceable by courts might be problematic,” it continued. “Under a reasonable suspicion requirement, officers might hesitate to search an individual’s device without the presence of articulable factors capable of being formally defended, despite having an intuition or hunch based on experience that justified a search.”

Speaking to AP, ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump said the government’s reasoning is “just not good enough” and demonstrates purely inadequate reasoning.

“A purely suspicionless search opens the door to ethnic profiling,” Crump said.

Hauss, the legal fellow for the group’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said the government’s line of thought in defending the policy is faulty for a few different reasons. “DHS claims that giving Americans the opportunity to challenge laptop searches in court would lead to the divulgence of national security secrets, but this is obviously wrong,” he wrote. “The government has numerous resources at its disposal to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information. The ‘state secrets privilege,’ to take just one example that is used in court cases, has been criticized on many grounds, but no one has ever seriously suggested that its protections are too anemic. Although DHS might fear the prospect of being called into open court to explain its actions, executive accountability before the law is the bedrock on which our system of constitutional self-government is built.”

Last year, the US Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling that legally permitted the use of suspicionless roadblocks anywhere within 100 miles of an international border, subjecting nearly 200 million Americans around the country to spontaneous and sporadic inspections of vehicles and their possessions.

On Tuesday, ACLU spokesperson Peter Boogaard told Bloomberg News that a 2009 policy change restricted how long the DHS can hold on to seized electronics. Earlier this week, though, it was suggested that the department did not necessarily see any problems with duplicating that information to be held on to indefinitely.

David House, a founding member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, sued the DHS in 2011 after his computer and cell phone were seized after an international flight he was on landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. On behalf of the ACLU, House sued DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano on the accusation that his belongings were searched solely on the basis of his association with the Support Network, an organization that has paid in full the legal bills for the 25-year-old Army private accused of committing espionage and aiding terrorists by sharing sensitive files with the website WikiLeaks. House’s devices were held for 49 days by ICE — longer than the 30 days allowed legally — and the contents of those electronics were copied by investigations. House dropped his lawsuit last after the DHS agreed to delete its copy of the data.

“They’re giving us exactly what we wanted,” House told Wired.

June 7, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Comments Off on DHS defends suspicionless searches of laptops and cell phones

Senate Report: Counterterrorism “Fusion Centers” Invade Innocent Americans’ Privacy and Don’t Stop Terrorism

By Mark M. Jaycox and Trevor Timm | Electronic Frontier Foundation | October 9, 2012

The Department of Homeland Security’s 70 counterterrrorism “fusion centers” produce “predominantly useless information,” “a bunch of crap,” while “running afoul of departmental guidelines meant to guard against civil liberties” and are “possibly in violation of the Privacy Act.”

These may sound like the words of EFF, but in fact, these conclusions come from a new report issued by a US Senate committee. At the cost of up to $1.4 billion, these fusion centers are supposed to facilitate local law enforcement sharing of valuable counterterrorism information to DHS, but according to the report, they do almost everything but.

DHS described its fusion centers as “one of the centerpieces of [its] counterterrorism strategy” and its database was supposed to be a central repository of known or “appropriately suspected” terrorists. In theory, local law enforcement officers, in conjunction with DHS officials, conduct surveillance and write up a report—known as a Homeland Intelligence Report (HIR)—for DHS to review. If credible, DHS would then spread the information to the larger intelligence community.

Yet, the Senate report found the fusion centers failed to uncover a single terrorist threat. Instead, like so many post-9/11 surveillance laws passed under the vague guise of “national security,” the system was overwhelmingly used for ordinary criminal investigations, while at the same time facilitating an egregious amount of violations of innocent Americans’ rights.

An entire section of the Senate report is dedicated to Privacy Act violations and the collection of information completely unrelated to any criminal or terrorist activity in the HIRs. In one instance, a DHS intelligence officer filed a draft report about a US citizen who appeared at a Muslim organization to deliver a day-long motivational talk and a lecture on positive parenting. In another, one intelligence officer decided to report on two men who were fishing at the US-Mexican border. A reviewer commented, “I… think that this should never have been nominated for production, nor passed through three reviews.” A report was even initiated on a motorcycle group for passing out leaflets informing members of their legal rights. A reviewer commented, “The advice given to the groups’ members is protected by the First Amendment.”

Over and over again the Senate report quotes reviewers chastising DHS officials for recording constitutionally protected activities and for publishing such reports. One reviewer wrote, “The number of things that scare me about this report are almost too many to write into this [review] form.” In some cases, DHS retained cancelled draft reports that may have contained information in violation of the Privacy Act for a year or more after the date of the reports’ cancellation. Worse, the intelligence officials responsible “faced no apparent sanction for their transgressions.”

While it’s commendable the Senate exposing these civil liberties violations, the problems detailed in the report are not new. Since the government started its various information sharing programs after 9/11, media organizations have extensively documented how, when they’re not being outright abused by local law enforcement, are overwhelmingly used for ordinary investigations that had nothing to do with terrorism. EFF has long warned that completely innocent Americans’ privacy has become collateral damage in the government’s thirst to collect more and more digital information on its own citizens.

Even DHS’ own internal audits of the fusion centers showed they didn’t work, according to the Senate report. The privacy disaster is also a boondoggle for taxpayers: DHS can’t account for much of the money it spent on the program, estimating they spent between $289 million and $1.4 billion—a discrepancy of more than $900 million dollars.

Despite these facts, Attorney General Eric Holder issued new guidelines in March for the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) that  dramatically expanded the NCTC’s information sharing powers. The NCTC can now mirror entire federal databases containing personal information and hold onto the information for ten times longer than they could before—even if the person is not suspected of any involvement in terrorism. Journalist Marcy Wheeler summed up the new guidelines at the time, saying, “So…the data the government keeps to track our travel, our taxes, our benefits, our identity? It just got transformed from bureaucratic data into national security intelligence.”

Now that the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has issued this unusually harsh report lambasting the same type of information sharing centers, Eric Holder should also rescind his new data retention guidelines for NCTC counterterrorism centers until new safeguards are put in place. EFF also joins the ACLU’s call for full Congressional hearings on the DHS fusion centers. In fact, the government should issue a moratorium on all fusion centers until this problem is fixed. Local governments can also prevent their law enforcement agencies from participating.

While “information sharing” centers were sold to the American people as providing “a vital role in keeping communities safe all across America,” it’s clear all they’ve done is play a vital role in violating American’s civil liberties.

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Senate Report: Counterterrorism “Fusion Centers” Invade Innocent Americans’ Privacy and Don’t Stop Terrorism

Strangling Civil Liberties, One Twist at a Time

A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford | March 7, 2012

There is a constituency for the right to assemble and protest in this country, but it appears as if that constituency has very little representation in the U.S. Congress. The Senate unanimously passed a law that has significant ramifications for the Occupy movement or anyone else that wants to exercise their First Amendment rights. H.R. 347 is also known as the Trespass Bill. Only three members of the House voted against it, all of them Republicans, including presidential contender Ron Paul. None of the major civil liberties organizations raised a fuss, either, but the silence will surely come back to haunt us.

The bill makes it a federal crime punishable by a year in prison for “trespassing” on places where someone under protection of the Secret Service is also present, and up to ten years if a weapon is involved, or someone is seriously injured. The restrictions cover not just the president, but also presidential candidates and foreign dignitaries and heads of state. The new version of the law makes protesters subject to felony prosecution even if they were unaware that people protected by the Secret Service were in the area. Rather than demonstrators freely congregating to protest the presence of their least favored presidential politicians, or to loudly demand that visiting foreign leaders go back home, would-be protesters would be best-advised by their lawyers to stay as far away as possible or face a long stretch in prison. Surely, that stands the right to peacefully assemble on its head.

Even more ominously, the new law allows the Department of Homeland Security to designate whole areas as part of a so-called National Security Event Zone, off limits to protest. The United National Anti-War Coalition and others that are planning to demonstrate at the meeting of NATO nations, in Chicago, in late May, will almost certainly be confronted with, not only Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s aggressive protest containment policies, but a Homeland Security declaration putting large areas under a federal protective bubble, with even more serious criminal consequences. In the real, often chaotic whirl of mass outdoor protest, with police pushing crowds from place to place, and protesters trying to make themselves heard, large numbers of demonstrators could find themselves in a federal no-go zone. Under the old rules, the harshest penalties could be imposed only on those who “willfully” crossed into a National Security Event Zone. The new Trespass Bill omits the word “willfully,” so that anyone who is caught “trespassing” in the Zone, whether they knew it was restricted or not, is liable for felony prosecution. This brings to mind the mass arrests of Occupy demonstrators on Brooklyn Bridge, last year. Many in the crowd thought they were being escorted across the bridge by police, and were not willfully trespassing. Under the federal bill, lack of willfulness is no excuse.

What is more disturbing than the potential Bill of Rights-eroding aspects of the legislation, is the Congress’s cavalier attitude towards civil liberties. There was no debate. The only No votes came from Tea Party Republicans. Democrats behaved as if nothing important was happening, just as when President Bill Clinton first came up with the idea National Security Event Zones – where the public, by law, has nothing to say.

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment