Today’s walk on the dark side begins with the latest in provoked [by Edward Snowden] political posturing from the New York Times:
Obama Calls for Overhaul of N.S.A.’s Phone Data Collection Program
President Obama, declaring that advances in technology had made it harder “to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties,” announced carefully calculated changes to surveillance policies on Friday, saying he would restrict the ability of intelligence agencies to gain access to telephone data, and would ultimately move that data out of the hands of the government.
But Mr. Obama left in place significant elements of the broad surveillance net assembled by the National Security Agency, and left the implementation of many of his changes up to Congress and the intelligence agencies themselves.
Another take, from The Guardian:
Obama presents NSA reforms with plan to end government storage of call data
- President stops short of ending controversial bulk collection
- Obama assures allied foreign leaders on NSA surveillance
- Reforms also include added Fisa court safeguards
US president Barack Obama forcefully defended the embattled National Security Agency on Friday in a speech that outlined a series of surveillance reforms but stopped well short of demanding an end to the bulk collection of American phone data.
In his widely anticipated address at the Justice Department on the future course of US surveillance policy, Obama said the government should no longer hold databases of every call record made in the United States, citing the “potential for abuse”.
But Obama did not say what should replace the databases and made it clear the intelligence agencies should still be able to access call records information in some unspecified way, signalling a new round in the battle between privacy advocates and the NSA’s allies.
Still another take, also from The Guardian:
Obama’s NSA ‘reforms’ are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public
- Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place
In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America’s most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama’s much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for “reforming” the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.
The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are “serious questions that have been raised”. They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic “reforms” so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.
And seen from Germany by TheLocal.de:
Obama: We won’t tap allies’ phones
US president Barack Obama announced on Friday in a speech that he would restrict the NSA’s powers. It will no longer be allowed to monitor phones of allied country leaders, including Germany.
The National Security Agency (NSA) will have to get the permission of a special court to view mass telephone data, Obama said from Washington, in a hotly anticipated speech following Edward Snowden’s revealing of the country’s mass spying programmes.
Mass data will also no longer be stored by the NSA, making it harder to access, he said. This curbing should “protect the privacy and civil liberties, no matter their nationality or where they are.”
A laconic techie take from The Register:
Obama reveals tiny NSA reforms … aka reforming your view of the NSA
- Prez announces tweaks here and there for ordinary American citizens
From TheHill, a critical take:
Critics: Obama spy plan keeps status quo for NSA
Privacy rights advocates and tech companies on Friday dismissed President Obama’s proposed overhaul of government surveillance as preserving the status quo.
CNN parses semantics:
Despite Obama’s NSA changes, phone records still collected
After the firestorm over Edward Snowden’s disclosure of U.S. surveillance programs, the most contentious aspect revealed by last year’s classified leaks will continue under reforms announced Friday by President Barack Obama.
Someone will still collect records of the numbers and times of phone calls by every American.
While access to the those records will be tightened and they may be shifted from the National Security Agency to elsewhere, the storage of the phone metadata goes on.
The Guardian gets itchy:
US telecoms giants express unease about proposed NSA metadata reforms
- AT&T concerned US may force company to retain data
- Tech firms hail ‘positive progress’ on privacy protections
Privately, telecoms executives have expressed concern that they will be forced to retain customers’ metadata – information about call duration, recipients and location. Speaking anonymously, one executive said the firms were concerned about how long they would have to keep data, which government agencies would have access to it and what protections they would have should there be legal challenges to their retention or distribution of the information.
The Verge has the predictable praise:
Intelligence and defense leaders offer support for Obama’s NSA reforms
President Obama today announced his approach to reforming some government surveillance practices, and at least for right now, the US intelligence and defense communities are supportive of those ideas. Both Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have issued statements vouching for the changes outlined in Obama’s speech. “These programs must always balance the need to defend our national security with the responsibility to preserve America’s individual liberties, and the President’s decisions and recommendations will do that,” said Hagel in a statement.
Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee respectively, also seemed happy with Obama’s speech. According to a joint statement, they “look forward to working with the president to increase confidence in these programs.” Not everyone was impressed with Obama’s remarks. Senator Rand Paul said the new strategy basically amounts to “the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration.”
Roseate musing from The Guardian:
NSA critics in Congress sense reform momentum after Obama speech
- Three new co-sponsors for USA Freedom Act
- Sensenbrenner: ‘Reform cannot be done by presidential fiat’
Critics of National Security Agency surveillance are hoping President Barack Obama’s call to stop government collection of telephone data will give fresh momentum to legislation aimed at banning the practice entirely.
On Friday, three new co-sponsors joined the 120 congressmen who have already backed the so-called USA Freedom Act, but their reform bill faces tough competition from rival lawmakers who claim the president’s broad support for the NSA favours separate efforts to protect its powers.
Reviews from abroad via The Guardian:
Obama NSA reforms receive mixed response in Europe and Brazil
- EU commissioner says speech is a step in right direction, but German ex-minister says changes fail to tackle root problem
Europeans were largely underwhelmed by Barack Obama’s speech on limited reform of US espionage practices, saying the measures did not go far enough to address concerns over American snooping on its European allies.
A compendium of the eurocommentariat from the McClatchy Foreign Staff:
European commentators see little to praise in Obama’s NSA changes
President Barack Obama’s highly anticipated revisions to the National Security Agency international spying program didn’t come close to satisfying European commentators.
The French newspaper Le Monde called them “timid and partial.” The British newspaper The Guardian referred to them as “sleight of hand.” The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel called them “Refoermchen,” meaning less than a real reform, or a “tiny reform.” The Russian news agency Novosti reminded its audience that “neither the reform nor the statement would have happened without the leaks from Edward Snowden,” a former NSA contract worker who began leaking secret files back in June. The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau simply noted in a headline: “Obama disappoints the world.”
The reason? The speech made it clear to Europeans that the Obama administration intends to continue to collect almost as much data as it always has, but has promised not to use it unless necessary. To Europeans, who since last summer have grown increasingly distrustful of the intentions of the American spy program, such words are of little comfort.
So what did the tech companies get?
As expected, they will have more freedom to disclose the number and the nature of requests from the government for data related to national-security concerns. So we can expect more detailed transparency reports from the companies showing that they only provide a fraction of their information to the government.
Additionally, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will add members with expertise in civil liberties and technology and will declassify more of its decisions.
BuzzFeed gets to the bottom of it:
America’s Spies Want Edward Snowden Dead
- “I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official told BuzzFeed.
The NSA leaker is enemy No. 1 among those inside the intelligence world.
Edward Snowden has made some dangerous enemies. As the American intelligence community struggles to contain the public damage done by the former National Security Agency contractor’s revelations of mass domestic spying, intelligence operators have continued to seethe in very personal terms against the 30-year-old whistle-blower.
“In a world where I would not be restricted from killing an American, I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed. “A lot of people share this sentiment.”
Also drawing considerable attention was the latest Snowden leak from The Guardian:
NSA collects millions of text messages daily in ‘untargeted’ global sweep
- NSA extracts location, contacts and financial transactions
- ‘Dishfire’ program sweeps up ‘pretty much everything it can’
- GCHQ using database to search metadata from UK numbers
The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.
The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.
The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.
The Wire sums up:
NSA on Text Messages: ‘A Goldmine to Exploit’
If you were curious: Yes, the National Security Agency is collecting and filtering text messages to the tune of 194 million a day. It’s a collection of data that one agency slide, obtained by The Guardian from leaker Edward Snowden, called “a goldmine to exploit.”
The Guardian details the NSA’s text message collection infrastructure in a new report, including its massive scale.
- The agencies collect 194 million messages a day.
- They include 76,000 geocoordinates for users, thanks to people seeking directions or setting up meetings.
- The agencies track 1.6 million border crossings and 5,000-plus occurrences in which someone is traveling.
- They’re able to link hundreds of thousands of financial transactions.
- They collect over 5 million missed call alerts, which then get pushed into the “contact-chaining” system, building out the NSA’s ad hoc social network.
More from The Guardian:
NSA leaks: Dishfire revelations expose the flaws in British laws on surveillance
How can we have a meaningful debate about excessive snooping when so much information is a state secret?
What we have no words for we cannot discuss except crudely. The latest revelation about the security services brings a new word to our growing vocabulary: Dishfire. This week’s exposé reveals the NSA collecting and extracting personal information from hundreds of millions of text messages a day. While messages from US phone numbers are removed from the database, documents show GCHQ used it to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to British citizens.
We are not so much free citizens, innocent until proven guilty, but rather, as one of the Dishfire slides says, a “rich data set awaiting exploitation”. Prism, Tempora, Upstream, Bullrun – as our language grows we begin to speak with greater clarity. We move from James Bond fantasies to a greater understanding of what the intelligence services actually do in our name and with our money. Is indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance the best way to protect democracy?
NSA Dishfire presentation on text message collection – key extracts
A pre-Obamacast declaration from The Hill:
Sen. Leahy on NSA claim: ‘Baloney’
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Thursday the National Security Agency’s claim that they’re “very protective” of Americans’ information is “baloney.”
Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown” that the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program has not thwarted a single terrorist attack.
President Obama, NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander, and lawmakers, such as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), have said the program has helped stop at least 50 terrorist plots.
“The other thing that keeps striking me is that [the NSA says] ‘we’re very protective of this information.’ Baloney,” Leahy said. “They weren’t protective enough that they could stop a sub-contractor, Mr. Snowden, from stealing millions of their biggest secrets. To this day, they still don’t know all of what he’s stolen.”
Leahy has introduced several bills that would change the NSA’s operations. One bill, the USA Freedom Act, would end the NSA’s metadata program.
After the jump, European blowback, German inquiries, NSA-tech-enabled hackers, compliant corporations, direct action claims, lethal attack on the press, another Mideast causus belli debunked, Asian crises hit the textbooks, claims, zones, corporate espionage, a Google setback, and more. . . Continue reading