Tag Archives: Nsa

Clark Primary Victory May Be Good For Digital Privacy

In a seven-way primary with an all-star cast, Sen. Katherine Clark won the nomination for Democratic candidate for the U. S. House in my own district of MA-5, one of the most Democratic districts in the nation (D+22).

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She now faces Boston resident Frank Addivinola in the general, but it would essentially take a meteor strike for her to not head to Congress.

Here at Digital Fourth, we’ve been tough on Sen. Clark for her cosponsorship of Martha Coakley’s proposal to expand electronic wiretapping. Our #MassWiretap campaign gathered over 4,000 signatures against that bill, and it became an issue in the campaign, producing third-party negative ads against her from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

Curiously, though, there’s an argument that Sen. Clark’s victory in the primary may be positive for digital privacy. Let me explain.

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Test Your Power: Rally Against Mass Spying, Sat 10/26 in DC

stopwatchingus

Mass surveillance getting you down? Feel like the federal government doesn’t trust you, and wants access to everything you do, say, or even think? Then come on out with us in the nation’s biggest ever rally against mass spying, on Oct. 26 in Washington, DC!

We’re calling for Congress to:

Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;

Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;

Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.

Without our pressure, the very best we can hope for is for the government to become marginally more transparent about how they are spying on our every moment. The Obama administration has not supported any changes to the NSA’s actual programs, and has done its best to block meaningful discussion of reform.

Maybe you’re content simply with knowing what abuses are being committed against you. We’re going to DC to send the message that the abuses themselves must end. The only kind of surveillance that the Fourth Amendment allows is also the only kind that really works: surveillance of individuals, based on probable cause of their involvement in an actual crime. Anything beyond that is a grave threat to our freedom to live our own lives as we wish.

Sign up to attend or volunteer here. And if you can’t make it to DC that day, here’s a link for other ways you can help.

UPDATE: Our new article on the rally gives much more detail.

Now We’re Talking: Rep. Rush Holt (D-PA) files “Surveillance State Repeal Act”

In response to a groundswell of public horror at the intrusiveness and enormous scale of the surveillance state, President Obama appointed a blue-ribbon panel to consider changes – not to the programs themselves, God forbid, because Terror, but changes to how much we know about how much the government is spying on us.

Once again, as is so often the case, “Yes Minister” tells us what’s going on:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: … I am fully seized of your aims and of course I will do my utmost to see that they are put into practice.
James Hacker: If you would.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: And to that end, I recommend that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we’ll be in the position to think through the various implications and arrive at a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action which might well have unforeseen repercussions.
James Hacker: You mean no.

Fortunately, some members of Congress are wise enough to see through this charade. Among them is progressive Democrat and physicist Dr. Rush Holt (D-PA), who has filed the “Surveillance State Repeal Act“.

Unlike more mealy-mouthed efforts at “reform”, this one strikes at the guts of the problem: the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act themselves. Simply put, without these Acts, the kind of mass surveillance conducted by the NSA would no longer have any figleaf of legality. The FISA Amendments Act’s main purpose was to legalize what the government had already been doing, and immunize from prosecution the companies who had colluded with the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance of Americans. Then-Senator Obama (this is always worth pointing out) voted for it. He has never sincerely opposed mass government surveillance, he doesn’t oppose it now, and he will do his best to secure an outcome where nothing about what the NSA is actually doing has to change. And I say this as someone who voted for him in 2012, based on our agreement on many non-surveillance-related issues.

So, please call your congressmember and ask them to cosponsor Rep. Holt’s excellent bill, which also provides better protections for government whistleblowers. And if you’re in DC toward the end of October, please sign up to come and protest for surveillance reform with the Stopwatching.us coalition.

Oh, That’s Just Great: NSA Breaks the Internet, Reduces Job Creation By 24,000/Year

One huge question for legislators and the public to understand is: how does pervasive US government surveillance damage the tech industry itself? The Boston area’s economy depends hugely on the health of the tech industry. The United States as a whole benefits enormously from the dominance of US tech firms like Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, Adobe, Amazon and too many others to name.

Now that we have had a few months since the beginning of the Snowden revelations in June, analysts are beginning to come out with some answers. It seems that the economic impact could be enormous.

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NSA To Lawmakers: We Own You And Your Secrets

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Are you a lawmaker? Maybe, a lawmaker with aspirations for higher office? Maybe you’d like to be President someday? Do you think the NSA spying programs are just peachy because Terrorism? Well, why don’t you just punch yourself in the face right now?

Let’s you and I have a little talk about those aspirations you have, with close reference to this week’s revelations from NSA whistleblower Russ Tice, shall we?

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Get Your Data Out Of The US Now: NSA’s “PRISM” System Reveals How Insecure Your Data Really Is

surveillance_flag

As if yesterday’s explosive revelations about NSA’s ongoing interception of all of Americans’ phone calls weren’t enough, yesterday evening another top secret document was released (see here for screenshots), documenting for the first time that NSA had persuaded every major tech company with the exception (so far) of Twitter to allow them real-time access to their central data servers, and therefore to the private content of communications of the vast majority of Americans. It started in 2007 with Microsoft (surprise, surprise), and most recently enlisted Apple in 2012.

(Oh, it includes AOL too? Well, that’s thoughtful. Maybe they wanted to address the criticism that they weren’t focusing enough on the threat from the remote backwoods?)

So let’s take you through the PRISM scandal, and why it means that you should really shift your communications and company documents to being hosted outside of the US.

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Can You Hear Us Now? Colonial-Style General Warrants Return To America

Glenn Greenwald in the British newspaper The Guardian has published a leaked Top Secret order dating from the day of the Boston Marathon bombings providing evidence of intrusive cellphone surveillance dating from at least 2007. In the order, the NSA directs Verizon to send to it daily the metadata on ALL CELLPHONE CALLS – the calling number, the receiving number, and the location and duration of each call.

Gone now are the pathetic pretences that the NSA “doesn’t target Americans”, or that warrantless wiretapping is just about foreign terrorists. Nobody can claim ignorance any longer. The NSA is spying on all of us, and has careened far out of the control of the Constitution.

The text of the Fourth Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Why was this important to the Founders? Because royal administrations in the early and mid-18th century would take out “writs of assistance” to suppress dissent. Writs of assistance imposed no limitations on law enforcement, and could cover a whole town. Colonial agents could ransack everyone’s houses, looking for evidence of any lawbreaking. Writs of assistance also effectively suppressed the political activity of people who had done nothing wrong. So when the time came to write state constitutions and then the federal constitution, the Founders were very anxious to make sure that nothing like this kind of general warrant would ever be allowed in the United States.

Today’s news proved that they failed. The Writ of Assistance has returned, and the airwaves are full of fearful authoritarians justifying it. Do we really love our chains that much?

The NSA order, justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, doesn’t even pretend to limit the order’s scope. There’s no particular target. There’s no limitation of place. Calls between two grandmothers in Peoria are covered just as much as calls between members of suspected terrorist cells. The NSA doesn’t care. They want everything, so that they can criminalize us via algorithm.

Do you think this order is the only one? Sucker. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The NSA has prepared an enormous data center in Utah to hold precisely this kind of data on your communications. Why should we suppose that they limited these orders to Verizon Wireless in particular?

Stand up! Call your senators and representatives, and get involved with Digital Fourth. If not now, when?

Maryland v. King: Supreme Court Rules That Warrantless DNA Swabs of Arrestees Are A-OK

hollowmen

[Originally published before the ruling; text and headline updated to reflect it. – Ed.]

The Supreme Court is considering the case Maryland v. King (thanks to Jennifer Wagner at Genomics Law Report for an excellent and detailed analysis), which turns on whether law enforcement needs a warrant to take the DNA of someone arrested and charged with, but not yet convicted of a crime. Maryland AG Douglas Gansler has argued to NPR that the privacy intrusion involved is negligible:

“They’re presumed innocent when they’re handcuffed; they’re presumed innocent when they’re strip-searched; and they’re presumed innocent when they’re sitting in jail awaiting trial,” he observes. “Those are far greater invasions of privacy than touching a Q-tip to the inside of your cheek for a second.”

The cheek swab taken from Mr. King came up with a hit for a six-year-old rape case. King was convicted of that charge, and is serving life in prison. King’s attorney, Kannon Shanmugam, argues that the intrusiveness of the search comes from the fact that the search was capable of disclosing a wide array of deeply personal information, and was taken at a time when his client had not been charged with any crime:

“The default rule under the Fourth Amendment is that when a search takes place, it has to be supported either by a warrant issued by a magistrate or by some level of individualized suspicion”

In this case, two very different conceptions of the Fourth Amendment collide. It was once the case that the physical intrusiveness of a search more or less tracked with the amount of information about the arrestee that the search would disclose. Fourth Amendment jurisprudence built up a careful set of rules regarding stops, patdowns and strip-searches, each of which would disclose more than the last and received correspondingly more careful scrutiny.

That relationship is now breaking down. People with smartphones carry their whole lives in a readily searchable object in their pocket, and searching that object is, in all ways but the physical, more intrusive than a strip search. Here, Gansler argues that because a cheek swab is easily taken and doesn’t even properly penetrate the body, it deserves less Fourth Amendment protection; Shanmugam argues that because the cheek swab can disclose information on which his client’s freedom may turn, it deserves the highest Constitutional protection. Read More →

By 2020, Commercial Vendors Will Offer Quantum Encryption

From the cover of Physics World magazine, March 2013

From the cover of Physics World magazine, March 2013

One of the major problems with challenging the surveillance state is that it is extremely difficult to prove legally that you have been under surveillance. The only people able to prove it are the government themselves, or (in highly unusual cases) people to whom the government has accidentally disclosed that they are under surveillance.

What if, then, there were a commercially available solution that was able to prove that you were under surveillance, and that changed encryption keys so rapidly that your data could be vulnerable at most for a few seconds before becoming secure again? This is the promise of quantum encryption systems.

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