The last few days have seen extraordinary scenes in the House of Representatives.
Arab-American Republican Congressman Justin Amash, who at the age of 33 should have almost zero influence in the House, brought forward an amendment to ensure that the government’s collection of records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act is limited to those records that pertain to a person who is subject to an investigation under that provision.
Over 150 people are already coming to the rally to Restore the Fourth tomorrow in Boston. Thousands more will be rallying across the country. But this is Massachusetts. We invented the Fourth Amendment, and people will be watching Boston more than any other city tomorrow. Come with us and let the government know that we don’t need their fearmongering, and will not allow them to take our liberties.
09:00 – 10:00: Gathering outside the Old State House in preparation for the day.
10:00 – 11:00: Listening reverently to the Declaration of Independence. Be respectful: save the protesting for after.
11:00 – 12:00: Talking with the crowds that gathered for the reading, followed by a peaceful “Cease and Desist” action at mobile stores to protest at their cooperation with the NSA. Then to Boston Common.
12:00 – 13:00: We’ll be demonstrating on the Common, as well as gathering signatures against the upcoming MA wiretapping bill. This bill aims to expand the Commonwealth’s use of electronic surveillance against its residents.
13:00 – 14:00: Make our way to Dewey Square.
14:30 – 17:00: March throughout Boston including Faneuil Hall and the Esplanade.
What to bring
Water (in clear plastic containers)
Fliers if you can print them (don’t print too many, they’ll likely get thrown away)
SIGNS. Lots of signs. Here are some ideas we came up with for some slogans.
Restore the Fourth!
No Warrant, No Search
Repeal the Patriot Act / NDAA
Don’t Spy on Me
No “Random” Searches
Save Edward Snowden
No Secret Courts
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.
Glenn Greenwald in the British newspaper The Guardian has published a leaked Top Secret orderdating 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?
Nobody needs to be reminded about the Boston Marathon tragedy, and many of you heard about Cameron D’Ambrosio from Methuen, MA, who was taken into police custody in response to a Facebook post. I’m sure many, like myself, read about his case and assumed that they would “catch and release” him and put it out of mind. After all, it’s not really that shocking for an 18-year-old high school kid who aspires to be a hip hop artist to say stupid things.
The FBI has a new proposal afoot to require communications companies doing business in the US to make their communications technologies “wiretap-ready”, to avoid the “going-dark problem”. From Charlie Savage at the New York Times, six hours ago:
The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations. […]
Currently, such orders instruct recipients to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, leaving wiggle room for companies to say they tried but could not make the technology work. Under the new proposal, providers could be ordered to comply, and judges could impose fines if they did not.
Under the proposal, officials said, for a company to be eligible for the strictest deadlines and fines — starting at $25,000 a day — it must first have been put on notice that it needed surveillance capabilities, triggering a 30-day period to consult with the government on any technical problems.
Lord forbid that private companies should offer services that can’t be wiretapped by the government. If the FBI finds itself unable to routinely spy on the communications of people not yet suspected of any crime, that’s a feature, not a bug, and is in fact what the Fourth Amendment requires.
In America, this manic need to collect every iota of data is “helping defeat the terrorists” and “protecting the homeland”. When other countries do it, though, it’s a whole different story. Read on!
Citizen! Were you under the misapprehension that the terrorist-sympathizing Supreme Court had ruled long ago that law enforcement had to get an actual warrant before accessing the content of your phone calls? Has that thought been keeping you up at night, because it allows people to express potentially un-American thoughts without the FBI being able to listen in and protect us? Well, fear no longer: your friendly neighborhood G-Man is on the case!
The NSA has just vigorously denied that their new Utah Data Center, intended for storing and processing intelligence data, will be used to spy on US citizens. The center will have a capacity of at least one yottabyte, and will provide employment for 100-200 people. With the most generous assumptions [200 employees, all employed only on reviewing the data, only one yottabyte of data, ten years to collect the yottabyte, 5GB per movie], each employee would be responsible on average for reviewing 4500 billion terabytes, or approximately 23 million years’ worth of Blu-ray quality movies, every year.
This astounding and continually increasing mismatch shows that we are well beyond the point where law enforcement is able to have a human review a manageable amount of the data in its possession potentially relating to terrorist threats. Computer processing power doubles every two years, but law enforcement employment is rising at a rate of about 7% every ten years, and nobody’s going to pay for it to double every two years instead. Purely machine-based review inevitably carries with it a far higher probability that important things will be missed, even if we were to suppose that the data was entirely accurate to begin with – which it certainly is not.
So why is anybody surprised that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects and one of around 750,000 people in the TIDE database, was not stopped at the border? That facial recognition software wasn’t able to flag him as a match for a suspect? That the fusion centers, intended to synthesize data into actionable “suspicious activity reports”, flag things too late for them to be of any use? That the Air Force is panicking a little at not having enough people to process the data provided by our drone fleet?
They are missing something very simple. We don’t need a terrorism database with 750,000 names on it. There are not 750,000 people out there who pose any sort of realistic threat to America. If the “terrorism watch list” were limited by law to a thousand records, then law enforcement would have to focus only on the thousand most serious threats. Given the real and likely manpower of the federal government, and the rarity of actual terrorism, that’s more than enough. If law enforcement used the power of the Fourth Amendment, instead of trying to find ways round it, it could focus more on the highest-probability threats.
Yes, they would miss stuff. That’s inevitable under both a tight and a loose system. But a tight system has the added advantages that it protects more people’s liberties, and costs a lot less.
UPDATE: With the help of a New Yorker fact-checker, the figure of “400 billion terabytes” above has been corrected to “500 billion terabytes”.
If you are in the BU area on Wednesday evening, come by to hear interesting speakers talking about privacy and security in the wake of the Boston Marathon attacks. Panelists will include Alex Marthews (that’s me!), James O’Keefe of the Massachusetts Pirate Party, and Gregg Housh. RSVP here.
The Boston Marathon attacks have brought to the surface some of the best and the worst in Massachusetts.
On the one side, many news sources reported responsibly and refused to speculate too quickly and without foundation about who the bombers were or why they might have done what they did. There seems at this stage good evidence on which to base the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Above all, he was taken into custody quickly and alive, and Bostonians will be able to learn more about the motivations behind the attacks.
This is the blog for the Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights, so unsurprisingly I’m going to focus on some of the Fourth Amendment issues arising out of the attacks; principally, the stop of the Saudi marathoner and the search of his apartment in Revere, and the constitutional issues raised when a householder refuses entry to law enforcement during house-to-house searches for a fugitive.