Aletho News

ΑΛΗΘΩΣ

LAPD considers deploying unmanned drones for ‘tactical events’

DF-X6_59

RT | June 6, 2014

Defending the decision to pursue unmanned drones to assist in police work, the LAPD – who say they will cooperate with privacy groups on the matter – said the devices are being purchased by citizens, so why not allow law enforcement to use it as well?

At a news conference Thursday at LAPD headquarters, Chief Charlie Beck revealed the unmanned drones could assist police forces in “standoffs, perimeters, suspects hiding…and other tactical events.”

“We’re interested in those applications,” he said.

Beck responded to criticism of the plans by human rights and privacy groups by explaining that the technology is already “in the hands of private citizens” and corporations, so why shouldn’t law enforcement experiment with the devices as well?

“When retailers start talking about using them to deliver packages, we would be silly not to at least have a discussion of whether we want to use them in law enforcement,” the police chief said.

In December, Amazon and UPS announced ambitious plans to start testing UAVs for making home deliveries.

Late last month, the LAPD received two Draganflyer X6 unmanned drones as a ‘gift’ from the Seattle Police Department, in what seems to have been an effort by the latter to avoid public uproar.

Seattle authorities purchased the UAVs for $82,000 in 2010, funded by grants from the Department of Homeland Security. However, neither the city council nor the public was aware of the police drone program until a 2012 lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the department’s application for operation certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The resulting public outcry over the drones forced the mayor to terminate the program in February 2013.

“These vehicles were purchased by the Seattle Police Department using federal grants. There was no cost to the city of Los Angeles,” police said.

Each remote-controlled vehicle is 3 feet (90cm) wide, has three rotors and can carry a video camera.

In order to calm public suspicion that the drones will infringe upon privacy rights, Beck said the LAPD would work closely with the American Civil Liberties Union during the “vetting process” of the UAVs.

“I will not sacrifice public support for a piece of police equipment,” Beck said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “We’re going to thoroughly vet the public’s opinion on the use of the aerial surveillance platforms.”

The LAPD added it would seek approval from the Police Commission before unleashing the drones above Los Angeles.

Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, issued a statement: “The Los Angeles Police Department asked the ACLU of Southern California to meet and articulate our concerns about the privacy issues raised by the use of drones. We agreed to do so… However, at this point the ACLU SoCal has no plans to participate in any process to craft policies for LAPD’s use of drones, nor have we been formally invited to lead a team of advocates to help craft such policies.”

“As the ACLU has previously said, we question whether any marginal benefits of drones programs justify the serious threat to privacy they pose.”

June 6, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment

Court Decision Exempts Secret Memo From FOIA, Sets Stage For Future Secret Laws To Go Unchallenged

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | January 6, 2014

The “most transparent administration” received another win for continued secrecy, thanks to an appeals court decision that allowed it to continue to withhold a DOJ memo that created an exploitable loophole in consumer data privacy protections.

The document at issue is a classified memo issued by the Office of Legal Counsel on Jan. 8, 2010. A report later that year by the Justice Department’s inspector general at the time, Glenn A. Fine, disclosed the memo’s existence and its broad conclusion that telephone companies may voluntarily provide records to the government “without legal process or a qualifying emergency,” notwithstanding the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

The EFF has been engaged with the government over the release of this document since 2011, when a district court judge ruled the document was exempt from FOIA requests because it was part of executive branch “internal deliberations.” In other words, despite the fact that the OLC memos can be considered legally binding (and exempt those following the memos’ advice or instructions from legal repercussions), the memo is not considered “working law.” The EFF has argued that these memos are not “deliberative,” but are rather secret laws deployed in such a fashion as to avoid being exposed by FOIA requests.

The presiding judge explained his decision with this reasoning.

“Even if the O.L.C. opinion describes the legal parameters of what the F.B.I. is permitted to do, it does not state or determine the F.B.I.’s policy,” Judge Harry T. Edwards wrote in the decision on Friday. “The F.B.I. was free to decline to adopt the investigative tactics deemed legally permissible in the O.L.C. opinion.”

According to the FBI, it did decline to follow the memo’s parameters.

The bureau, which has abandoned exigent letters, said that it did not employ the legal theory outlined in the memo when using the letters, and that it had no plans to use it in the future.

But the DOJ’s arguments for keeping the memo secret calls the FBI’s assertion into question.

During the litigation, the Justice Department also told the court that parts of the memo contained classified information, “highly specific in nature and known to very few individuals,” about a secret intelligence-gathering technique that the F.B.I. is using against “hostile entities.”

Either the FBI is utilizing the memo’s legal theories or the memo covers so much ground that the FBI is using something entirely unrelated, making the first statement truthful as far as it extends to exigent letters only.

Judge Edwards’ rationale gives the government every reason to utilize the Office of Legal Counsel to provide it with the legal justification it needs to deploy questionable tactics and programs. (Previous OLC memos were used to justify warrantless wiretaps and “brutal questioning of detainees.”) The ruling makes it easier for any OLC memo to be exempted from FOIA requests, providing for even more government secrecy.

David Sobel, a lawyer for the EFF, called the ruling “troubling,” describing the office’s memos as a body of “secret law” that the public has a right to know about. He said he hoped the ruling would reinvigorate efforts among some lawmakers to enact a law opening such memos to greater scrutiny outside the executive branch.

“It’s kind of hard to imagine how a different case in the D.C. Circuit is likely to have a different outcome in light of this opinion,” he said.

Because the document remains a secret, its true significance remains a source of speculation. The New York Times says the memo is most likely the legal basis for the CIA’s voluntary agreement with AT&T, which allows the agency to search its massive database of international calls (and tip local numbers to the FBI for further investigation). And it’s not as if this secret memo is the only tool the government has for demanding data. The FBI may have abandoned “exigent letters” but it’s still using National Security Letters to obtain data without a court order. (No mention is made of the FBI’s exigent Post-It notes or over-the-shoulder database searches.)

The DOJ is understandably pleased with this decision as it plays to its obfuscatory tendencies. This is also a dubious win for this administration — and those that follow. Having an in-house agency on tap that can create new laws and interpretations of existing statutes without having to risk having its legally-binding memos scrutinized by the public will be a tool too powerful for many to ignore.

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | 1 Comment

Supreme Court blocks challenge to NSA phone tracking

RT | November 18, 2013

The Supreme Court announced Monday morning that it would not be considering at this time a complaint filed months earlier that challenged the legality of the National Security Agency’s dragnet telephone surveillance program.

The high court issued a notice early Monday without comment acknowledging that it would not be weighing in on a matter introduced this past June by a privacy watchdog group after NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed evidence showing that the United States intelligence agency was collecting metadata pertaining to the phone calls of millions of American customers of the telecommunications company Verizon on a regular basis.

That disclosure — the first of many NSA documents leaked by Mr. Snowden — prompted the Washington, DC-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, to ask the Supreme Court to consider taking action that would end the collection of phone records on a major scale.

When EPIC filed their petition in June, they wrote, “We believe that the NSA’s collection of domestic communications contravenes the First and Fourth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and violates several federal privacy laws, including the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 as amended.”

“We ask the NSA to immediately suspend collection of solely domestic communications pending the competition of a public rulemaking as required by law. We intend to renew our request each week until we receive your response,” EPIC said.

Five months later, though, the Supreme Court said this week that it would not be hearing EPIC’s plea. A document began circulating early Monday in which the high court listed the petition filed by the privacy advocates as denied.

With other cases still pending, however, alternative routes may eventually lead to reform of the NSA’s habits on some level. Lower courts are still in the midst of deciding what action they will take with regards to similar lawsuits filed by other groups in response to the Snowden leaks and the revelations they made possible. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and conservative legal activist Larry Klayman have filed separate civil lawsuits in various US District Courts challenging the NSA’s program, all of which are still pending.

Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the EFF, told the Washington Post only weeks after the first Snowden leak appeared that the disclosures had been a “tremendous boon” to other matters being litigated, and pointed to no fewer than five previously-filed complaints challenging various government-led surveillance programs.

“Now that this secret surveillance program has been disclosed, and now that Congressional leaders and legal scholars agree it is unlawful, we have a chance for the Supreme Court to weigh in,” EPIC lead counsel Alan Butler told The Verge on Monday.

November 18, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , , , , , , | 1 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

EFF to New York Times: Don’t Get Fooled Again by Claims of NSA Spying “Legality”

By Cindy Cohn | EFF | November 11, 2013

Over the weekend, the New York Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, published a piece investigating the Times’ thirteen month delay in the publication of a bombshell report on the Bush Administration’s domestic mass surveillance program back in 2004 and 2005. Sullivan’s revisitation of the issue in light of what we’ve learned since this summer about the NSA was a great public service.

We now know that the government lied to the New York Times about the legality of its spying to delay the publication of the story that would eventually win the Pulitzer Prize, hiding a tremendous fight inside the government about the legality of the spying.  The report also contains an important new admission from former NSA chief—and its current public booster—General Michael Hayden, that “he can’t prove any harm to national security from the publication of the eavesdropping stories — then or now.”  We hope Mr. Hayden will now revise the many hyperbolic statements he has made to the contrary.

Yet as the folks who, along with the ACLU, have been leading the lawsuits against NSA spying since early 2006, we need to point out a big problem with the New York Times’ characterization of the current mass spying.

The piece quotes Eric Lichtblau as saying that, as a result of the revelations, Congress made “all this stuff” legal, then adds: “There may be public outrage over the latest wave of surveillance revelations, but the government has a helpful defense: Hey, it’s legal.”

Not so.  The government’s claims of “legality” are wrong, have been strongly criticized by national security law professors, and are currently being challenged in court by EFF, ACLU, and EPIC, among others. The Times dis-serves its audience by repeating them as if they were true.

In fact, the ACLU has a hearing in New York on Friday, November 22, in its key challenge to one of those “legal” claims: that the NSA’s indiscriminately collecting telephone records is “legal” under a convoluted interpretation of the section 215 of the 2001 Patriot Act that mentions neither telephone records nor the NSA. To try to make it fit, the government attempts to redefine the limits on production of “relevant” things to allow the collection of massive amounts of “irrelevant” information. In other words, by a plain reading of the statute, what the NSA is currently doing in collecting massive amounts of telephone records on an ongoing basis is not legal.

And that’s not even addressing the Fourth Amendment problems with mass, suspicionless seizure of records of our calls with doctors, business associates, churches, friends and lovers, records that can create an extremely intimate portrait of our lives and political activities. The government’s claim that the Fourth Amendment is not triggered by the ongoing collection of this sensitive information in an untargeted mass is far from settled.

The Fourth Amendment isn’t even the only amendment the NSA is violating. EFF focused on the First Amendment in our motion for partial summary judgment against the mass telephone records collection program we filed in California last Wednesday. The motion features declarations from 22 associations, from the California Gun Owners to Patient Privacy Rights to People for the American Way to the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, attesting to the First Amendment chilling effect from the collection of telephone records.

Also not “legal” is the mass collection of communications, including content, that the government claims is justified by section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. That’s the law Lichtblau references, passed in 2008 after the Times revelations.  Section 702 also doesn’t say that mass, untargeted surveillance of Americans is allowed. To the contrary, 702 expressly forbids the government from intentionally acquiring any communications that are purely domestic. The NSA’s “upstream” access, tapping into the domestic fiber optic cables of AT&T and other carriers that carry the content of our emails, web searches, social networking posts and many of our phone calls, plainly violates section 702 and also violates the Constitution.  EFF will be presenting these arguments before an open, adversarial public federal court starting in the spring.

These points were made well by former EFF attorney Jennifer Granick of Stanford and Professor Christopher Sprigman of the University of Virgnia in a piece in the Times in June, so it’s surprising that the Times simply repeated the government’s conclusions without question.

In short, nowhere in federal law, before or after the Times story in 2005, has Congress ever openly authorized the mass spying on Americans that is taking place. EFF is still fighting to force the release of the key FISA Court rulings, so we don’t know the specifics, but the fact that the government has convinced the secret, non-adversarial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to sign off, apparently based on contorted statutory interpretation, doesn’t change that. These questions need to be presented in the public courts where rule of law and due process rules are clear.

The piece admits that the Times was taken in by claims of “legality” in 2004. It shouldn’t get fooled again by government claims of “legality” of mass surveillance.

November 12, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NSA, no way! Anti-spying sentiments on the rise amid steady stream of disclosures

RT | September 11, 2013

The National Security Agency isn’t making many friends, apparently: a new poll published this week suggests that a majority of Americans continue to have complaints with the NSA’s surveillance practices amid a myriad of recent disclosures.

According to the results of survey released this week by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, anti-NSA sentiment remains rampant in the United States more than three months after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden first began disclosing top-secret documents exposing the inner-workings of a vast surveillance apparatus operated by America’s premier spy agency. Meanwhile, concerns regarding those practices are growing amid members of Congress and even independent coalitions.

Polling conducted by the AP and NORC last month and released on Tuesday suggest that 56 percent of Americans surveyed oppose the NSA’s collection of telephone records, and 54 percent said they were against the practices that put Internet metadata into the hands of federal investigators.

A confused poll earlier this year in July by the PEW Research Center found that 44 percent of Americans disapproved of the NSA program, with half of the country not opposing the surveillance methods.

Now only 34 percent — or roughly one-third of those polled — say they are okay with the dragnet collection of metadata, or raw information including information on the sender and recipient, time and location pertaining to emails and phone calls. Additionally, 53 percent of Americans polled from a group of 1,008 adults say the federal government is doing a good job of ensuring freedom, a drop in seven percentage points since 2011. That earlier study concluded that 40 percent of Americans thought the government was doing a good job of protecting privacy, and today that number is down to 34 percent.

The AP poll also concluded that an overwhelming 71 percent of those asked opposed US officials eavesdropping on calls without warrant, and 62 percent said they were against the monitoring of email content.

Results from the latest poll were published on Tuesday, one day before the UK’s Guardian newspaper published the latest top-secret document in a series of classified leaks attributed to Snowden since early June. On Wednesday morning, the Guardian published a NSA memo from 2009 in which it’s revealed how US intelligence officials have shared raw data collected from American persons with Israeli counterparts without domestic agents even analyzing that information before it changes hands.

Commenting to the AP, Trevor Timm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation suggested the recent NSA disclosures undoubtedly have influenced the public’s perception of the US intelligence community and the way it conducts itself.

“For the first time, the public is able to see what’s going on behind closed doors and it’s changing minds,” Timm told the AP.

The EFF, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and more than two dozen other entities, are named as plaintiffs in a collection of lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s surveillance programs. Attorneys for the EFF are representing plaintiffs in the matter of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, which grew in size this week when five new organizations signed on to sue the White House. The EFF announced on Tuesday this week that Acorn Active Media, the Charity and Security Network, the National Lawyers Guild, Patient Privacy Rights and The Shalom Center have all signed on to the suit, which attorneys say challenges the government’s surveillance alleged abuse of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect bulk telephone metadata — an activity first disclosed on June 5 after Snowden leaked documents to the Guardian and Washington Post.

“The First Amendment guarantees the freedom to associate and express political views as a group,” EFF legal director Cindy Cohn said in a statement. “The NSA undermines that right when it collects, without any particular target, the phone records of innocent Americans and the organizations in which they participate. In order to advocate effectively, these organizations must have the ability to protect the privacy of their employees and members.”

Also signing on in support of NSA reform is US Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California), who only this week announced he’d be seeking changes in the way America conducts surveillance operations. Issa previously voted against a measure proposed by colleague Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) which would have aimed to thwart the NSA’s now-infamous practices, but this week wrote a letter to Congress saying lawmakers on Capitol Hill should debate those policies once again as leaks continue to raise concerns.

“Now that it has been publicly acknowledged that the communications of Americans were included in the NSA’s data collection program, likely violating their Fourth Amendment rights, Congress must respond in a manner that both increases the transparency of the agency’s programs and reinforces the constitutional protections of our citizens,” Issa wrote in a letter first published by Politico.

“We’re very pleased that Chairman Issa supports our amendment,” Amash spokesman Will Adams told US News & World Report. “If the Amash amendment does get taken up by the House and it does pass this fall, it will put pressure on the committees to start passing comprehensive reforms.”

The Amash Amendment would have barred the NSA from using the PATRIOT Act provision at the center of First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA to collect the phone records of all Americans. It was defeated in the House last month by a 12 vote margin.

September 12, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Declassified FISA Court Opinion Shows NSA Lied Repeatedly To The Court As Well

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | August 21, 2013

The EFF finally gets to step away from one of its many legal battles with the government with its hands held aloft in victory and clutching a long-hidden FISA court opinion.

For over a year, EFF has been fighting the government in federal court to force the public release of an 86-page opinion of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Issued in October 2011, the secret court’s opinion found that surveillance conducted by the NSA under the FISA Amendments Act was unconstitutional and violated “the spirit of” federal law.

Beyond the many instances of NSA malfeasance, the most damning aspect of the opinion is its lack of effect on future behavior. What does make it past the redaction details repeated wrongdoing that even the FISA Court, long perceived to be the NSA’s rubber stamp, found egregious.

A footnote on page 16 points out that the agency had “substantially misrepresented” the extent of its “major collection program” (including the harvesting of “internet transactions”) for the third time in less than three years. The same set of footnotes attacks the so-called “big business records” collection, accusing the agency of using a “flawed depiction” of how it used the data to basically fleece the FISA court since the program’s inception in 2006.

Then there’s this pair of concluding sentences, which severely undercut anyone’s arguments that the FISA Court is a reliable form of oversight.

Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA has been repeatedly running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the standard for querying. The Court concluded that this requirement had been “so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall… regime has never functioned effectively.”

Other pages detail more concerns, including misrepresentation of the methods used in 702 collections, which the opinion claims “fundamentally alters the Court’s understanding of the scope of the collection.”

As the Washington Post points out, this opinion, which details many instances in which the NSA flat out lied to the court, lends some credence to statements made by presiding judge Reggie Walton, who claimed the court was limited to making decisions based on information the NSA provided. This opinion appears to detail the NSA setting up its own complicit court system, intentionally misleading it in order to continue its surveillance programs unabated.

The only problem with accepting Walton’s narrative completely is the fact that, despite this opinion, the court granted every request that year (2011) and then proceeded to do the same the following year. The court was lied to but still kept giving the agency the thumbs-up on each new court order.

The leaks keep coming and keep pointing to the same conclusion: the NSA has acted as a law unto itself. And all the while it continues to point at its “overseers,” which include Congress (which has been lied to directly by the agency when not having information withheld from it by the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee) and the FISA Court (which has been lied to directly and is hampered by its reliance on the NSA’s data and narratives — which pretty much just means more lying).

And despite all this evidence that the NSA’s “oversight” is nearly completely compromised, the defenders, including those within the agency, continue to insist the system is working the way it should. In their eyes, maybe it is.

August 21, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama administration drowning in lawsuits filed over NSA surveillance

RT | July 16, 2013

Attorneys for the Electronic Frontier Foundation have sued the Obama administration and are demanding the White House stop the dragnet surveillance programs operated by the National Security Agency.

Both the White House and Congress have weighed in on the case of Edward Snowden and the revelations he’s made by leaking National Security Agency documents. Now the courts are having their turn to opine, and with opportunities aplenty.

Day by day, new lawsuits waged against the United States government are being filed in federal court, and with the same regularity President Barack Obama and the preceding administration are being charged with vast constitutional violations alleged to have occurred through the NSA spy programs exposed by Mr. Snowden.

The recent disclosures made by Snowden have generated commotion in Congress and the White House alike. The Department of Justice has asked for the 30-year-old former Booz Allen Hamilton worker to be extradited to the US to face charges of espionage, and members of both the House and Senate have already held their share of emergency hearings in the wake of Snowden’s series of disclosures detailing the vast surveillance programs waged by the US in utmost secrecy. But with the executive and legislative branches left worrying about how to handle the source of the leaks — and if the policies publicized should have existed in the first place — the courts could soon settle some disputes that stand to shape the way the US conducts surveillance of its own citizens.

Both longstanding arguments and just-filed claims have garnered the attention of the judicial branch in the weeks since the Guardian newspaper first began publishing leaked NSA documents attributed to Snowden on June 6. But while the courts have relied previously on stalling or stifling cases that challenge Uncle Sam’s spy efforts, civil liberties experts say the time may be near for some highly anticipated arguments to finally be heard. Now on the heels of lawsuits filed by the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, groups are coming out of the woodwork to wage a legal battle against the White House.

The most recent example came this week when a coalition of various organizations filed suit together against the Obama administration by challenging “an illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet electronic surveillance, specifically the bulk acquisition, collection, storage, retention and searching of telephone communications information.” Represented by attorneys from the EFF and others, the plaintiffs in the latest case filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court include an array of groups, such as: First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles; Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Calguns Foundation; California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees; Council on Islamic Relations; Franklin Armory; Free Press; Free Software Foundation; Greenpeace; Human Rights Watch; Media Alliance; National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; Open Technology Institute; People for the American Way, Public Knowledge; Students for Sensible Drug Policy; TechFreedom; and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the EFF, told the Washington Post that the NSA leaks credited to Snowden have been a “tremendous boon” to the plaintiffs in recently filed court cases challenging the surveillance state. The courts are currently pondering at least five important cases, Cohn told the Post, which could, once and for all, bring some other issues up for discussion.

Since June 6, the American Civil Liberties Union, a Verizon Wireless customer and the founder of conservative group Judicial Watch have all filed federal lawsuits against the government’s collection of telephony metadata, a practice that puts basic call records into the government’s hands without a specific warrant ever required and reported to the media by Mr. Snowden. Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch has also sued over another revelation made by Snowden — the PRISM Internet eavesdropping program — and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, or EPIC, has asked the Supreme Court to vacate the order compelling Verizon Business Network Services to send metadata to the feds.

Perhaps most important, however, is a California federal court’s recent decision to shut down the government’s request to stop the case of Jewel vs. NSA from proceeding. That debate first began in 2008 when Jewel, a former AT&T customer, challenged the government’s “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance” as exposed by a whistleblower at the telecom company. That case has seen roadblock after roadblock during the last five years, but all that changed earlier this month.  The government long argued that Jewel v. NSA can’t go up for discussion because the issues at hand are privileged as ‘state secrets’ and can’t be brought into the public realm.

“[T]he disclosure of sensitive intelligence sources and methods . . . reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave harm to national security,” the government wrote in one earlier filing. “The very purpose of these cases is to put at issue whether the NSA undertook certain alleged activities under presidential authorization after 9/11, and whether those activities continue today. At every stage, from standing to the merits, highly classified and properly privileged intelligence sources and methods are at risk of disclosure. The law is clear, however, that where litigation risks or requires the disclosure of information that reasonably could be expected to harm national security, dismissal is required.”

Following Snowden’s recent disclosures, though, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California ruled on July 8 that there’s a way for those cases to still be heard.

“The court rightly found that the traditional legal system can determine the legality of the mass, dragnet surveillance of innocent Americans and rejected the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege to have the case dismissed,” the EFF’s Cohn, who is working on the case, said in a statement issued at the time of the ruling. “Over the last month, we came face-to-face with new details of mass, untargeted collection of phone and Internet records, substantially confirmed by the Director of National Intelligence. Today’s decision sets the stage for finally getting a ruling that can stop the dragnet surveillance and restore Americans’ constitutional rights.”

Weighing in weeks later to the Post, Cohn said that outcome could have more of an impact than many might imagine. “It’s tremendous, because anything that allows these cases to proceed is important,” she said.

Speaking to the New York Times this week, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Jameel Jaffer said that until now the government has operated a “shell game” to shield it’s surveillance programs from litigation. “[T]he statute has been shielded from judicial review, and controversial and far-reaching surveillance authorities have been placed beyond the reach of the Constitution,” he said.

Should Cohn’s prediction come true, though, the courts could decide to weigh in and reshape the way the government currently conducts surveillance.

According to University of Pittsburgh law professor Jules Lobel, a victory there could come in more than one way. “There is a broader function to these lawsuits than simply winning in court,” he told the Post. “The government has to respond, and forcing them to go before a court might make them want to change aspects of the programs.”

“The government does things to avoid embarrassment,’’ he added, “and lawsuits are a key pressure point.’’

Interviews to the Post and the Times come just days after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), a long-time member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he thought the revelations made by Snowden may influence the White House to reconsider their surveillance practices before the courts can even have their chance.

“I have a feeling that the administration is getting concerned about the bulk phone records collection, and that they are thinking about whether to move administratively to stop it,” Sen. Wyden told the Times.

“I think we are making a comeback,” he said.

July 16, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Border Patrol Set to Weaponize Drones

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov |July 07, 2013

When Customs and Border Protection (CPB) first got its drones, the rationale for the acquisition was that the unmanned aircraft would help improve monitoring and surveillance along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But now, CPB may be thinking about arming its Predator drones with “non-lethal weapons.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtained a report produced by CPB in 2010 that shows the agency has considered equipping its Predators with “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets of interest. Given the date of the report, it is possible that the weaponization has already taken place.

Predators were first developed for the U.S. military in the 1990s, and are designed to fire missiles, such as the Hellfire. It is unclear at this time what kind of weaponization CPB has in mind for the drones.

Whatever their plans are, “CBP needs to assure the public that it will not equip its Predators with any weapons—lethal or otherwise,” wrote EFF’s Jennifer Lynch. If it doesn’t, Congress should halt the expansion of CBP’s Predator drone program, EFF argues.

July 7, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Restore the Fourth’: Reddit, Mozilla, thousands of people set for July 4 NSA spying protest

RT | July 3, 2013

Thousands of websites will launch a July 4 online protest against the NSA surveillance programs. Reddit, WordPress, and Mozilla will take part in the ‘Restore the Fourth’ campaign online, while live protests take place in cities across the US.

‘Restore the Fourth’ is aimed at restoring the fundamentals of the Fourth Amendment – the part of the Bill of Rights which protects citizens against unlawful searches and seizures. Participants will display an online banner which reads, “This 4th of July, we stand by the 4th Amendment and against the U.S. government’s surveillance of internet users.”

The campaign, which was spawned on Reddit, has the support of several privacy and press freedom advocacy organizations, including Mozilla, Free Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and ColorOfChange.org.

The rally was largely organized by Fight for the Future – another non-profit agency which fights against internet censorship. The organization’s co-founder, Tiffiniy Cheng, said in a statement that “the NSA programs that have been exposed are blatantly unconstitutional, and have a detrimental effect on free speech and freedom of press worldwide.” The rally is expected to be Fight for the Future’s largest online mobilization since its actions against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

But the protest doesn’t stop online. Organizers are planning live protests in dozens of US cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta. Doug MacArthur, a member of Restore the Fourth’s national board and moderator on Reddit’s r/news, expects between 10,000 and 20,000 people to take part in the protests in the nation’s larger cities.

MacArthur stressed the need for the protest, largely because mainstream media is failing to adequately cover the NSA leaks and what that means for everyday citizens.

“I think if you are on social media right now and political blogs, this might seem like it’s an issue that’s all over the political blogs. But if you turn on CNN or Fox or MSNBC, you’ll see that a lot of the more mainstream channels aren’t covering this as much as you might be assuming. So I really think it’s important we get more citizens aware of this issue,” he said, as quoted by Mashable.

Free Press CEO and President Craig Aaron echoed MacArthur’s sentiments. “We need to bring these government and corporate activities into the light of day, and the only way that will happen is if millions more people get involved and demand accountability, demand change, demand the truth,” he said in a Tuesday press conference.

However, it’s not just internet activists getting involved in the fight – one Hollywood celebrity has been very vocal in expressing his views on the NSA’s surveillance practices.

“How long do we expect rational people to accept using terrorism to justify and excuse endless executive and state power?” actor John Cusack said during a press conference announcing the protests. “Why are so many in our government, our press, our intellectual class afraid of an informed public?”

Cusack, who is a board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, complained that many of those defending the NSA surveillance programs are focusing on supposed character flaws of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden instead of questioning the program’s legality.

Harvey Anderson, senior vice president of business and legal affairs at Mozilla, agrees with Cusack. He said in a statement that the spotlight on Snowden is a “big distraction to avoid focusing on the invasions that have actually been occurring.” The lack of transparency about the surveillance programs “undermines the openness of the internet,” he added.

There has been a massive outcry against the surveillance practices since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked sensitive information in May. In just three weeks, StopWatching.us has collected more than 531,000 signatures from people calling for Congress to fully disclose details about the NSA surveillance programs.

Snowden is currently held up in the international transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport. He is unable to travel as his passport is invalid. Washington has issued an extradition order against Snowden, calling for international cooperation in returning him to American soil.

The whistleblower has so far made asylum requests for more than a dozen countries, with ten nations already denying him refuge. Venezuela says it will consider Snowden’s request when it is received.

July 4, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Government Says Secret Court Opinion on Law Underlying PRISM Program Needs to Stay Secret

By Mark Rumold and David Sobel | EFF | June 7, 2013

In a rare public filing in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the Justice Department today urged continued secrecy for a 2011 FISC opinion that found the National Security Agency’s surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act to be unconstitutional.  Significantly, the surveillance at issue was carried out under the same controversial legal authority that underlies the NSA’s recently-revealed PRISM program.

EFF filed a suit under the Freedom of Information Act in August 2012, seeking disclosure of the FISC ruling.  Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall revealed the existence of the opinion, which found that collection activities under FISA Section 702  “circumvented the spirit of the law” and violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. But, at the time, the Senators were not permitted to discuss the details publicly. Section 702 has taken on new importance this week, as it appears to form the basis for the extensive PRISM surveillance program reported recently in the Guardian and the Washington Post.

The government has seeked to block EFF’s FOIA suit by arguing that only the FISC, itself, can release the opinion.  In an effort to remove that roadblock, EFF filed a motion with the FISC on April 22 seeking the surveillance court’s consent to disclosure, should the document be found to be otherwise subject to release under FOIA.  In its response filed with the FISC today, the government offers a circular argument, asserting that only the Executive Branch can de-classify the opinion, but that it is somehow prohibited by the FISC rules from doing so.

The government’s argument is guaranteed to make heads spin. DOJ earlier argued that it lacks discretion to release the FISC opinion without the FISC’s consent, but DOJ now argues that if the FISC were to agree with EFF, “the consequence would be that the Government could release the opinion or any portion of it in its discretion.”  But FISC material is classified solely because the Executive Branch demands that it be, so release of the opinion has always been a matter of Executive discretion.

Frankly, it’s difficult to understand what DOJ is saying. The Government seems to have a knee-jerk inclination towards secrecy, one that often – as in this case – simply defies logic. The government’s bottom line is this: their rules trump the public’s statutory rights. But it’s not the province of the Executive branch to determine which rights citizens get to assert.

The events of the past week have demonstrated that the public is angry about the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. EFF hoped the public outcry might lead the government to rethink it’s position in this case (and, notably, DOJ has in two other EFF cases). But, for now, the government is digging in its heels and refusing to budge. But a democracy demands more. When the government acts unconstitutionally, the public has a fundamental right to review, understand, and correct that government action. Despite the DOJ’s filing today, EFF intends to keep fighting against the government’s secret surveillance practices.

June 8, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | 1 Comment

EFF Fights to Protect Electronic Reserves at College Libraries

By Corynne McSherry | EFF | April 25, 2013

When college professors want students to read a small part of a book, they put that book on reserve at the library, so everyone can get access to the bit of information they need without having to buy the entire expensive work. Advances in technology have made this even easier for students: librarians have created electronic reserves, allowing online access to a digital version of the excerpt.  But the publishing world has come down hard on these electronic reserves in a lawsuit aimed at Georgia State University (GSU), insisting that libraries must pay fees for excerpts they make available digitally to students. In an amicus brief filed on behalf of several national library associations today, EFF argues that electronic reserves must be protected to serve the public interest and preserve librarians’ and students’ fair-use rights.

This case started back in 2008, when the Association of American Publishers (AAP) recruited three plaintiffs to sue GSU for copyright infringement in their electronic reserves. GSU promptly updated its procedures to conform to fair use guidelines the AAP itself had helped draft for other universities. But instead of declaring victory, the plaintiffs continued to pursue this case, even taking it up on appeal when their claims were rejected by a federal district court.

In the amicus brief filed today, EFF urges the appeals court to see what the district court saw: the vast majority of uses at issue were protected fair uses. Moreover, as a practical matter, the licensing market the publishers say they want to create for e-reserves will never emergenot least because libraries can’t afford to participate in it. Even assuming that libraries could pay such fees, requiring this would thwart the purpose of copyright by undermining the overall market for scholarship. Given libraries’ stagnant or shrinking budgets, any new spending for licenses must be reallocated from existing expenditures, and the most likely source of reallocated funds is the budget for collections. An excerpt license requirement thus will harm the market for new scholarly works, as the works assigned for student reading are likely to be more established pieces written by well-known academics. Libraries’ total investment in scholarship will be the same but resources will be diverted away from new works to redundant payments for existing ones, in direct contradiction of copyright’s purpose of “promot[ing] progress.”

A win for the publishers here would be a Pyrrhic victory at best for them, and a significant loss for the public interest.  We hope the appellate court agrees that copyright law does not require forcing libraries to make reading a handful of pages either extraordinarily expensive or inordinately difficult for college students.

Files

georgiastateamicibriefconformed.pdf

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , | Comments Off on EFF Fights to Protect Electronic Reserves at College Libraries