Today’s collection of tales from the dark side begins with more symbol than substance, via the Guardian:
Obama-backed surveillance reform bill introduced in US Senate
- Patrick Leahy’s popular bill contains stricter privacy measures than the USA Freedom Act, which the House passed in May
A surveillance reform bill backed by the Obama administration was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday, raising the possibility that Congress could this year take the National Security Agency out of the business of collecting and storing all US phone data.
Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, the bill is a counterpart to the USA Freedom Act, which the House of Representatives passed in May, but contains some stricter privacy measures and broader transparency requirements – the absence of which caused civil libertarians, privacy groups and technology firms to abandon their support for the House version. Many of them are backing Leahy’s bill.
The question underlying the legislation is “whether we are in control of our own government or the other way around,” Leahy, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said on the Senate floor.
From Truthdig, and why are we not surprised?:
NSA Court Judges Invest in Verizon While Surveillance Warps Law and Journalism
We must never be surprised when we learn once again that our lawmakers and law interpreters are in bed with the country’s largest corporations—this is how the American government now operates. A July 25 article in Vice includes documentation that shows three judges from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, the tribunal that evaluates the legality of the NSA’s practices, own stock in Verizon. Although there doesn’t seem to be a direct financial incentive for judges to allow the NSA to rifle through the data (our data) of a company in which they have invested, it does show the intimate relationship the NSA, the FISA Court and Verizon share.
Specifically, the article states: “On May 28 last year, Judge James Zagel, a FISA Court member since 2008, purchased stock in Verizon. In June of this year, Zagel signed off on a government request to the FISA Court to renew the ongoing metadata collection program.” The piece goes on to say that FISA Court Judges Susan Wright and Dennis Saylor also own shares in the company, and although Vice wasn’t able to obtain accurate numbers for the amount invested, it appears to be in the thousands of dollars.
The Vice article notes that judges are supposed to remove themselves from cases in which they might have a “financial stake in the outcome” or from any case in which they might find it difficult to be impartial. The Verge also pointed out that telecommunication companies like Verizon receive millions of dollars from the government in their “record-sharing deals.”
Personal Privacy Is Only One of the Costs of NSA Surveillance
There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping have had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance.
These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.
“Too often, we have discussed the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs through the distorting lens of a simplistic ‘security versus privacy’ narrative,” said Danielle Kehl, policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute and primary author of the report. “But if you look closer, the more accurate story is that in the name of security, we’re trading away not only privacy, but also the U.S. tech economy, internet openness, America’s foreign policy interests and cybersecurity.”
And a reminder of Feinstein’s nature, this time as vulture capitalist via Pueblo Lands:
Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein Make Big Investment in Foreclosure to Rental Housing
I’ve reported for a while now on the phenomenon of the Wall Street landlord. During the depths of the foreclosure crisis private equity firms and real estate investors bought up thousands of single family homes in Florida, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia, and especially California. These investors did quick rehabs on these properties and then rented them out, often to households that lost their homes between 2008 and 2013 due to the global financial crash. These elite investors bet that housing prices would rebound, and thanks to the actions of the US Federal Reserve and Treasury Department they did. They also bet that there would be a shift in America’s housing market toward more renter demand. Households that lost their savings and jobs have been forced into the rental market, creating an opportunity for those with capital to obtain higher returns on real estate.
One of the biggest investors in foreclosed single family homes has been Colony Capital, the private equity firm controlled by Thomas Barrack, Jr. Colony has purchased thousands of foreclosed houses in California and other states. Colony has also sustained recent complaints from tenants who accuse the company and its rental property managers of running slum housing and charging above-market rents. Activists in Los Angeles and other cities are now pressing local and federal officials to take a closer look at the Wall Street landlord business.
But some Washington D.C. insiders have already done due diligence with respect to the new corporate landlords. A recent financial disclosure filing by Richard C. Blum, husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, shows that Blum and Feinstein have made a major investment in Barrack’s Colony American Homes. As a member of the University of California Board of Regents Blum is required to disclose his economic interests each year. In his filing for 2014, Blum listed an investment in Colony American Homes Holdings, LP of over $1,000,000, making Blum and Feinstein major owners of one of the largest Wall Street landlord corporations.
From SECURITYWEEK, another cost of Big Brotherism run amok:
NSA Surveillance Programs Directly Damage Internet Security: Report
- “The NSA has both weakened overall trust in the network and directly harmed the security of the Internet.”
A report published by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute on Tuesday details the impact of NSA surveillance activities on the United Sates economy, foreign policy and Internet security.
There have been numerous discussions on the intelligence agency’s controversial spying programs over the past year, ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden started leaking classified information obtained from the organization’s systems. However, the Open Technology Institute argues that most discussions have revolved around the impact of surveillance programs on privacy and civil liberties, and not so much on how they affect the interests of the United States and the global Internet community.
The 64-page paper focuses on the costs to cybersecurity, the direct economic costs to U.S businesses, the economic and technological costs of data localization and data protection proposals, and political costs to American foreign policy.
Motherboard adds up other costs:
NSA Spying Will Cost US Tech Titans Billions, and That’s Just the Start
The National Security Agency spying scandal will cost the US technology and telecommunications industries billions of dollars in coming years if potential clients—including corporations and governments—take their business elsewhere following revelations of rampant US surveillance, according to a new study.
The financial cost to US corporate giants like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, AT&T and Verizon is just the tip of the iceberg.
The NSA spying scandal, which was prompted by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosure of classified documents, has already harmed US foreign policy efforts, jeopardized key relationships with US allies, and imperiled the ambitious US Internet Freedom Agenda, according to the report, which was published Tuesday by New America’s Open Technology Institute.
The basic architecture of the global internet could also be at risk if governments close off their networks in response to US surveillance efforts, the report warns.
From TechWeekEurope, a notable deal:
BlackBerry Buys Secusmart – The Firm That NSA-Proofed Merkel’s Phone
BlackBerry is to buy the German anti-eavesdropping solutions provider, Secusmart GmbH, which is already its partner in providing secure phones for Angela Merkel and other German officials.
BlackBerrywants to maintain its reuptation for security and capitalise on concerns about the snooping habits of the NSA, exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. In 2013 it was revealed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a target of NSA eavesdropping, a move that soured Germany’s relationship with the US. However, it is believed that any attempts to crack her encryption likely failed, thanks to an ongoing agreement with Secusmart to provide BlackBerry phones with heightened security to German agencies and politicians.
BlackBerry announced the acquisition of Secusmart, for an undisclosed sum, and confirmed reports that the two organisation had previously collaborated to produce Secusmart-equipped BlackBerry phones for German government agencies, as well as German government leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel.
From Techdirt, advice from Big Brother:
UK Government Report Recommends Ending Online Anonymity
- from the dangerous-and-stupid dept
Every so often, people who don’t really understand the importance of anonymity or how it enables free speech (especially among marginalized people), think they have a brilliant idea: “just end real anonymity online.” They don’t seem to understand just how shortsighted such an idea is. It’s one that stems from the privilege of being in power. And who knows that particular privilege better than members of the House of Lords in the UK — a group that is more or less defined by excess privilege?
The Communications Committee of the House of Lords has now issued a report concerning “social media and criminal offenses” in which they basically recommend scrapping anonymity online. It’s not a true “real names” proposal — as the idea is that web services would be required to collect real names at signup, but then could allow those users to do things pseudonymously or anonymously. But, still, their actions could then easily be traced back to a real person if the “powers that be” deemed it necessary. Here’s the key bit:
From our perspective in the United Kingdom, if the behaviour which is currently criminal is to remain criminal and also capable of prosecution, we consider that it would be proportionate to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts but that it is also proportionate to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously. There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect. We recognise that this is a difficult question, especially as it relates to jurisdiction and enforcement.
And a German pol feels the heat, via EurActiv:
German minister under attack over Snowden remarks
Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas has advised US whistleblower Edward Snowden to return to the United States, sparking outrage from opposition parties in the Bundestag. EurActiv Germany reports.
Maas has sparked criticism for suggesting Snowden should go back to the US amid an ongoing debate about whether the former National Security Agency (NSA) employee should testify in Germany on US surveillance activities.
“As we have heard, Snowden’s lawyers are in negotiations with American officials and looking into the possibility of Snowden returning to the US to go on trial,” Maas told the news agency DPA in Berlin.
“From Snowden’s point of view, I can completely understand this,” he said.
Homeland Security News Wire sounds an insecurity alert:
U.S. faces serious future threats in space
Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, said last week that U.S. dominance in space will be challenged by very real threats in the years ahead. The general said that those threats might consist of “jammers, lasers and tactical space nukes,” with any of these challenges exponentially more dangerous than in the past as the technology becomes more common.
Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, said last week that U.S. dominance in space will be challenged by very real threats in the years ahead.
As Defense One reports, the general also added that those threats might consist of “jammers, lasers and tactical space nukes,” with any of these challenges exponentially more dangerous thhan in the past as the technology becomes more common.
Off to Asia, starting with an Indian Watergate? From the Economic Times:
Nitin Gadkari bugging issue set to rock Parliament on Thursday again
Congress is set to keep up the heat on BJP over alleged bugging of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s house with the opposition party deciding to raise it aggressively in parliament for the second consecutive day tomorrow pressing for a discussion on the issue.
“We will raise it in Parliament tomorrow as well. There has to be a discussion on it, which culminates into an inquiry by a judge. We doubt that some internal agency is involved in the bugging.
“If a minister is being snooped, then it raises doubts that leaders of Opposition parties and other important personalities may also be facing it. That is why we say the inquiry should be done by a judge. The investigation has to be credible,” Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters here.
Chinese internal security eruption from South China Morning Post:
Dozens of axe-wielding attackers shot dead by police during attacks in Xinjiang
Assailants wielding axes are shot dead by police during ‘organised and premeditated’ violence
Dozens of people, ethnic Han and Uygur, were killed or injured in at least one terror attack in the restive Xinjiang region early on Monday, state media reported late last night.
Xinhua said that a group of assailants, wielding knives and axes, attacked the government office and police station in Elixku township in Kashgar’s Yarkand, or Shache, county. Some attacked residents in neighbouring Huangdi township, the report said.
Police said they shot dead dozens of the attackers, describing the incident as an “organised and premeditated” act of terror.
Gaming in the Asian Game of Zones from the Japan Times:
India naval drill with Japan, U.S. seen as signal to China
Traffic at the Maritime Self-Defense Force base at Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, is typically dominated by Japanese and U.S. warships, but in July it saw an unusual variety of vessel. An Indian frigate and destroyer docked en route to joint exercises in the Western Pacific.
The INS Shivalik and INS Ranvijay’s appearance at the port near Nagasaki showed Japan’s interest in developing ties with the South Asian nation as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government faces deepening tensions with China. Japan for the third time joined the U.S. and India in the annual Malabar drills that usually are held in the Bay of Bengal.
With Abe loosening limits on his nation’s military, the exercises that conclude Wednesday showcase Japan’s expanding naval profile as China pushes maritime claims in disputed areas of the East and South China Seas. For newly installed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan’s attention adds to that of China itself, in an opportunity to expand his own country’s sway.
Another Japanese gambit, via Want China Times:
Japan and Brazil to make joint statement against China: Kyodo
Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff are to announce a joint statement on August 1 which will include mention of counter-measures against China, reports Japan’s Kyodo International News on July 27.
A leaked draft of the statement says that both Japan and Brazil respect rule of law and that China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea last November and its growing aggression in the East and South China seas require counter measures. The draft states that “conflicts in the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully and in line with international law without the use of force or threat,” according to the report. The statement also says Japan and Brazil will cooperate in their efforts to reform the UN Security Council.
Both Sankei Shimbun and Nikkei Japan Review interpreted Abe’s visit shortly after Xi’s visits to the same region in early July, as intended to strengthen Japan’s influence in Latin America and to counter growing Chinese power there.
And for our final item, the wild card, upping ante. From the Japan Times:
North Korea may be closer to full ICBM test: U.S. think tank
- Leading U.S. think tank says North Korea may conduct flight test soon
Fresh satellite images suggest North Korea might be wrapping up engine trials on an intercontinental ballistic missile, fueling speculation of a full-scale flight test to come, a U.S. think tank said Wednesday.
Development of a working ICBM would be a game-changing step, bringing the continental United States into range and adding a whole new threat level to the North’s regular nuclear-strike warnings.
“The rocket engine test program may wind down by the end of this year,” The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said on its closely followed 38 North website. “If the engine tests are concluded, the next stage in development of the KN-08 road-mobile ICBM may be full-scale flight tests of the missile.”