Category Archives: Law

2016 proved a black year for personal privacy


In brief, new laws and executive orders have given uintelligence agencies in the U.S. and U.K. unprecedented powers to gather a near-infinite harvest of the digital traces of our lives.

And in the U.S., gleanings once accessible only to a handful of political, military, and diplomatic elites will now be open to a host of law enforcement agencies.

From the New York Times:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

More from the Intercept:

The change was in the works long before there was any expectation that someone like Trump might become president. The last-minute adoption of the procedures is one of many examples of the Obama administration making new executive powers established by the Bush administration permanent, on the assumption that the executive branch could be trusted to police itself.

Executive Order 12333, often referred to as “twelve triple-three,” has attracted less debate than congressional wiretapping laws, but serves as authorization for the NSA’s most massive surveillance programs — far more than the NSA’s other programs combined. Under 12333, the NSA taps phone and internet backbones throughout the world, records the phone calls of entire countries, vacuums up traffic from Google and Yahoo’s data centers overseas, and more.

In 2014, The Intercept revealed that the NSA uses 12333 as a legal basis for an internal NSA search engine that spans more than 850 billion phone and internet records and contains the unfiltered private information of millions of Americans.

In 2014, a former state department official described NSA surveillance under 12333 as a “universe of collection and storage” beyond what Congress has authorized.

And a Snooper’s Charter takes effect in the U.K.

It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, more familiarly known as the Snooper’s Charter [full text here].

The Guardian reported on the measure’s passage on 19 November:

A bill giving the UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world has passed into law with barely a whimper, meeting only token resistance over the past 12 months from inside parliament and barely any from outside.

The Investigatory Powers Act, passed on Thursday, legalises a whole range of tools for snooping and hacking by the security services unmatched by any other country in western Europe or even the US.

The security agencies and police began the year braced for at least some opposition, rehearsing arguments for the debate. In the end, faced with public apathy and an opposition in disarray, the government did not have to make a single substantial concession to the privacy lobby.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”

One major organization, the National Council for Civil Liberties [counterpart of the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S.], is on the legal offensive.

From their website:

Liberty is launching a landmark legal challenge to the extreme mass surveillance powers in the Government’s new Investigatory Powers Act – which lets the state monitor everybody’s web history and email, text and phone records, and hack computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale.

Liberty is seeking a High Court judicial review of the core bulk powers in the so-called Snoopers’ Charter – and calling on the public to help it take on the challenge by donating via crowdfunding platform CrowdJustice.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “Last year, this Government exploited fear and distraction to quietly create the most extreme surveillance regime of any democracy in history. Hundreds of thousands of people have since called for this Act’s repeal because they see it for what it is – an unprecedented, unjustified assault on our freedom.

“We hope anybody with an interest in defending our democracy, privacy, press freedom, fair trials, protest rights, free speech and the safety and cybersecurity of everyone in the UK will support this crowdfunded challenge, and make 2017 the year we reclaim our rights.”

The Investigatory Powers Act passed in an atmosphere of shambolic political opposition last year, despite the Government failing to provide any evidence that such indiscriminate powers were lawful or necessary to prevent or detect crime. A petition calling for its repeal

Liberty will seek to challenge the lawfulness of the following powers, which it believes breach the public’s rights:

  • the Act lets police and agencies access, control and alter electronic devices like computers, phones and tablets on an industrial scale, regardless of whether their owners are suspected of involvement in crime – leaving them vulnerable to further attack by hackers.
  • the Act allows the state to read texts, online messages and emails and listen in on calls en masse, without requiring suspicion of criminal activity.

Bulk acquisition of everybody’s communications data and internet history

  • the Act forces communications companies and service providers to hand over records of everybody’s emails, phone calls and texts and entire web browsing history to state agencies to store, data-mine and profile at its will. This provides a goldmine of valuable personal information for criminal hackers and foreign spies.
  • the Act lets agencies acquire and link vast databases held by the public or private sector. These contain details on religion, ethnic origin, sexuality, political leanings and health problems, potentially on the entire population – and are ripe for abuse and discrimination.

The secret agreements giving those new laws more power

From a review [open access] of the implications of revelations contained in the Snowden leaks in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology:

The US and UK’s signals intelligence agencies, National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), have gained access to very large volumes of Internet communications and data, for extremely broad ‘foreign intelligence’ purposes. A declassified 2011 US court order shows that NSA was already accessing more than 250 million ‘Internet communications’ each year. GCHQ is recording 3 days of international Internet traffic transiting the UK and 30 days of ‘metadata’ about these communications, and has gained access to ‘the majority’ of European Internet and telephone communications. NSA and GCHQ ‘collection’ of data is via intercepts of Internet traffic flowing through international fibre optic cables operated by telecommunications companies, and through automated searches carried out by Internet companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook on their internal systems, as well as the provision of complete records of all US telephone calls by AT&T, Verizon and others. NSA Director Keith Alexander asked his staff in 2008: ‘Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?’—and they have set out to implement this vision.

The US and UK laws compel this cooperation by telecommunications and Internet companies (including ‘cloud computing’ providers that increasingly provide the infrastructure for Internet services).5 Other European governments cooperate with the USA–UK–Canada–Australia–New Zealand ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance, notably an additional four countries in a ‘9-Eyes’ group (France, The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark) and a further five (Germany, Sweden, Spain, Belgium and Italy) in a ‘14-Eyes’ configuration.

NSA has further bugged EU offices and computer networks in Washington DC and New York, and gained access to UN internal videoconferencing systems. It has interception equipment and staff (jointly with the CIA) at 80 US embassies.

NSA has compromised at least 85,000 ‘strategically chosen’ machines in computer networks around the world; each device ‘in some cases … opens the door to hundreds or thousands of others.’ A new automated system is capable of managing ‘potentially millions’ of compromised machines for intelligence gathering and ‘active attack’. NSA conducted 231 ‘offensive operations’ in 2011, which represents ‘an evolution in policy, which in the past sought to preserve an international norm against acts of aggression in cyberspace, in part because U.S. economic and military power depend so heavily on computers’. NSA is spending $250 million each year to sabotage security standards and systems so that it can maintain access to encrypted data. GCHQ has developed methods to access encrypted data communications to Hotmail, Google, Facebook and Yahoo!

And if is those international agreements that magnify the impact of the increased panoptical powers in the United States and Great Britain.

And foremost among those pacts in the UKUSA Agreement, an accord granting London and Washington unparalleled access to each others intelligence gleanings.

Headline of the day: Assange offers U.S. a deal


From the London Daily Mail:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange agrees to extradition if Barack Obama releases U.S. military whistleblower Chelsea Manning

  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to agree to be extradited to United States if President Obama grants Chelsea Manning clemency
  • Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking U.S. military documents
  • WikiLeaks tweeted on Thursday saying Assange will agree to extradition
  • He has been in Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012

Nicotine-based pesticides, bees, and the deniers


Nicotine, as we all know by now, is a powerful poison.

blog-black-leafSo powerful that on 22 November 1963 [yes, that day] the Central Intelligence Agency once sent an agent to kill Fidel Castro with a syringe disguised as a fountain pen and filled  Black Leaf 40, a powerful nicotine-based insecticide that our father used the stuff to kill mites on his roses.

Black Leaf 40 is no longer with us, following a 1992 ban on its use by the Environmental Protection Agency — you know, the department Trump wanted to eliminate — because of its widespread long-term environmental hazards as well as it’s propensity to poison people.

But the ban on Black Leaf 40 didn’t stop the widespread current use of nicotine-based insecticides, using nicotine-based chemicals called neonicotinoids.

How widespread is their use here in the U.S.?

Consider this chart from How Neonicotinoids Can Kill Bees — The Science Behind the Role These Insecticides Play in Harming Bees, a very informative new report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation:

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

Estimated Annual Agricultural Use of Neonicotinoids in the United States: 1994–2014

More from the report’s Executive Summary:

Neonicotinoids have been adopted for use on an extensive variety of farm crops as well as ornamental landscape plants. They are the most widely used group of insecticides in the world, and have been for a decade. Developed as alternatives for organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, neonicotinoids are compounds that affect the nervous system of insects, humans, and other animals. Although less acutely toxic to mammals and other vertebrates than older insecticides, neonicotinoids are highly toxic in small quantities to many invertebrates, including beneficial insects such as bees.

The impact of this class of insecticides on pollinating insects such as honey bees and native bees is a cause for concern. Because they are systemic chemicals absorbed into the plant, neonicotinoids can be present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators that feed on them. The potentially long-lasting presence of neonicotinoids in plants, although useful from a pest management standpoint, makes it possible for these chemicals to harm pollinators even when the initial application is made weeks before the bloom period. In addition, depending on the compound, rate, and method of application, neonicotinoids can persist in the soil and be continually taken in by plants for a very long periods of time.

Across Europe and North America, a possible link to honey bee die-offs has made neonicotinoids controversial. In December 2013, the European Union significantly limited the use of clothianidin, imiadcloprid, and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops. In the United States, Canada, and elsewhere, local, state, and federal decision makers are also taking steps to protect pollinators from neonicotinoids. For example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service phased out all uses of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuges lands starting in January 2016.

The European Union has banned the used of three neonicotinoids —  clothianidin, thiamethoxam and imidacloprid — and restricted the use of a fourth, fipronil.

Given that bees are responsible for pollinating much of the food we eat, impacts on apians is a cause for deep concern.

A Colorado city bans nicotine-derivative insecticides

More on the good reasons for concern, as summarized in the following, taken from  Boulder, Colorado city government website section on protecting pollinators:

One group of pesticides, the neonicotinoid insecticides (also called neonics), stand out as a major contributing factor to the catastrophic loss of bees and other animals. Neonicotinoid insecticides are extremely toxic to pollinators at very low doses. They are absorbed and taken up by the plant, ending up in all plant tissues, including the nectar and pollen collected by pollinators and the seeds, fruits, and leaves eaten by other animals. These products are often applied as soil treatments in the form of granules or drenches, where they can persist for many years and continue to contaminate plants, kill earthworms and other important beneficial soil organisms, and run off into surface water where they can kill aquatic invertebrates. An  analysis by a consortium of independent scientists from around the globe reviewed more than 800 peer-reviewed studies and concluded that neonicotinoid insecticides pose a significant risk to the world’s pollinators, worms, birds and other animals and that immediate action is needed. Studies conclude that pesticide application rates that regulatory agencies consider protective to the environment actually harm aquatic organisms found in surface waters (dragonflies mayflies, snails and other animals that form the base of the food chain and a healthy, clean watershed) and build up in soils to levels that can kill soil organisms.

The city was so concerned that in May 2015, the city banned use of the chemicals on city land and urged similar actions by individuals, corporations, and state and federal government as well.

Canada to ban a popular neonicotnoid

One of the most widely used neonicitinoids in imidacloprid, and back in November CBC News reported that the Canadian government’s health agency is proposing a nationwide band on the substance based on its impacts on bees:

“Based on currently available information, the continued high-volume use of imidacloprid in agricultural areas is not sustainable,” the assessment states.

It proposes phasing out all agricultural uses of imidacloprid, and a majority of other uses, over the next three to five years.

“I’m really surprised,” said Mark Winston, a professor of apiculture at Simon Fraser University and senior fellow at the university’s Centre for Dialogue.

“To take an action to phase out a chemical that is so ubiquitous, and for which there is so much lobbying pressure from industry, I think that’s a really bold move.”

After the jump, impacts from use on one crop, the industry denial machine, and bee behavioral impacts. . . Continue reading

Images of the day: Whistle while you work


First a tweet from security researcher Dan Staples, taking it to the man:

blog-nsa-shirt

And the image on his T-shirt [which you can find online here]:

blog-nsa-shirt-2

Advertising works when it comes to kids drinking


Back when esnl was a kid, hard liquor advertisements simply didn’t appear on television, though beer ads were prominent in the evenings and hard liquor ads were featured in adult general interest magazines.

The reason was simple: Alcohol [at least in the forms that didn’t come in cans] was a drug and children shouldn’t be exposed to enticements to use the stuff.

But the old rule has been breached, and ads for whiskey, vodka, and tequila are now prominent on the television screen alongside those beer ads, thanks to millions of lobbying dollars and boozy dinners with regulators and legislators.

But a new review [open access] of studies of the impact of alcohol ads on children confirms that rationale, as reported in the article’s abstract:

Twelve studies (ranging in duration from 9 months to 8 years), following nine unique cohorts not reported on previously involving 35 219 participants from Europe, Asia and North America, met inclusion criteria. All 12 found evidence of a positive association between level of marketing exposure and level of youth alcohol consumption. Some found significant associations between youth exposure to alcohol marketing and initiation of alcohol use (odds ratios ranging from 1.00 to 1.69), and there were clear associations between exposure and subsequent binge or hazardous drinking (odds ratios ranging from 1.38 to 2.15). Mediators included marketing receptivity, brand recognition and alcohol expectancies. Levels of marketing exposure among younger adolescents were similar to those found among older adolescents and young adults.

More on the study and its findings from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

A new analysis of 12 long-term studies published since 2008 from across the globe finds that young people under the legal drinking age who are more exposed to alcohol marketing appear more likely to start drinking early and also to engage in binge drinking.

A 2008 analysis established a link between exposure to alcohol marketing and drinking behavior in young people. This new systematic review — the first in nearly a decade — identifies 12 additional studies, broadening and strengthening the science in this area. All of the new studies found an association between level of marketing exposure and youth drinking behavior and found that exposure to ads was even more strongly associated with progression to binge drinking than with initiation of alcohol use.

The research was led by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and published in a special issue of the journal Addiction focused entirely on alcohol marketing and public health.

“This latest review of the scientific literature adds stronger evidence to the claim that exposure to alcohol marketing among youth is linked to more underage youth drinking and, in particular, binge drinking,” says study leader David Jernigan, PhD, the director of CAMY and an associate professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Bloomberg School. “Studies are documenting this exposure, which includes marketing and ads on television, the internet and social media, as well as on the radio, in magazines and at sporting and other events.”

Binge drinking, defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as consuming four or more drinks within two hours for women and five or more drinks for men, is associated with a long list of negative public health consequences, including sexual assaults, violence, attempted suicide and illicit drug use.

Alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for males ages 15 to 24 in nearly every region of the world, and females of the same age in the wealthy countries and the Americas. In the United States, excessive alcohol use is responsible for an average of 4,350 deaths every year among people under the legal drinking age of 21.

Continue reading

Headline of the day II: All in the TrumpFamily™


Call it the nepotism loophole.

From the London Daily Mail:

Donald Trump appoints ‘incredibly successful’ son-in-law Jared Kushner to White House as ‘Senior Advisor’ – but he won’t be paid a penny to avoid nepotism laws

  • Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was named ‘senior advisor to the president’ on Monday
  • Kushner was instrumental in Trump’s campaign and had signaled that he planned to move to Washington and work for the president-elect 
  • He has been separating himself from his global real estate business, while he and Ivanka Trump have settled on a Washington, D.C., home

Gasolinazo protests swell south of the border


Protests against the gasiloinazo, the gasoline price hike mandated by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in the wake of the partial privatization of the Mexican state oil monopoly Pemex. continue to flare, with the death toll at six as authorities crack down.

We follow developments through a series of stories from teleSUR English, starting with a story on events through Sunday:

A new wave of protests against a hike in gas prices in Mexico began Sunday, as the nationwide mobilizations enter its second week and spread to at least 25 states.

Because of the protests, that are blocking highways throughout Mexico, freeways in California are being affected and some are again being closed Sunday night. The southbound 5 and 805 freeways which lead to the San Ysidro Port of Entry are being closed, according to the California Highway Patrol. Cars that are traveling to Mexico will have to go via 905 Freeway to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.

On Saturday, thousands marched across 15 of 31 states in the country and the Federal District. Among the largest demonstrations were 20,000 protesters who gathered in Puebla, 5,000 in Guadalajara and 1,000 in Tapachula.

Since the protests broke out beginning on Jan. 1, clashes between police and protesters and looting have left six people dead, 1,500 arrested, 420 businesses affected and several roads blocked.

The government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced in the last week of December that the price of gasoline would spike by 20 percent and diesel by 16 percent. Peña Nieto has said that the price hikes are the only option available and that the cost changes respond to international prices and are not a result of his neoliberal reforms.

Protesters take over the border

Another story highlights one of the more spectacular actions:

Chanting “Peña out,” tens of thousands of protesters are demanding the resignation of the nation’s most unpopular president in a quarter of a century.

Hundreds of protesters against a 20 percent gas hike took over the U.S. border crossing in Tijuana, letting cars pass without customs checks, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Mexico to once again demand the resignation of embattled President Enrique Peña Nieto over the so-called “gasolinazo” price hike that has hit the country’s poorest communities.

The protests were largely peaceful but police fired tear gas in Tijuana and the nearby town of Rosarito, where demonstrations were most tense, but the police repression in Tijuana was not enough to stop the action, which targetted El Chaparral, the border crossing into California, according to Radio Zapote.

The biggest actions took place in the country’s three main cities: Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara, but mass rallies have also been registered in the central states of Puebla, Queretaro, Morelos as well as the northern territories of Chihuahua and Baja California.

Chanting “Peña out,” many of the protesters gathered in the cities main boulevards. In Mexico City, people marched from the iconic Independence monument toward the main Zocalo square.

In Rosarito, Baja California, police beat and kicked protesters, tweeted reporter Andrea Noel.

A church calls for moderation

The subject of the third story:

In response to the unrest, the Episcopal Church has called on the government, legislators and political parties to “reconsider” the gasolinazo and resolve the conflict “intelligently and creatively.”

In a conference held Monday, the Secretary-General of the Mexican Episcopal Church, Alfonso Miranda Guardiola, warned the government that “the disposition to build peace and the common good is the best way to strengthen our unity.”

The National Commission of Human Rights, CNDH, echoed the sentiments of the church, arguing economic security should not come at the cost of social security.

In the communique, released Monday, the CDNH said “the economic stability of the country is important but not at the cost of social security.”

While criticizing the “looting” and “vandalism,” the group defended the demonstrators right to “freedom of expression and social protest.”

The human rights organization ended its statement, calling upon Nieto’s government to “design and implement measures to control spending that will effectively combat corruption and impunity … without directly affecting the economy of the people and their families.”

Meanwhile, social organization Somos Mas filed a complaint Tuesday with the attorney general’s office, accusing those responsible for the gasolinazo of “committing illicit acts that threaten the Mexican people.”

And the economy suffers as inflation rises

With the gasolinazo certain to make things worseAnd fourth and final story, posted today:

Mexico’s December annual inflation rose at the fastest pace in two years, data showed on Monday, boosting chances the central bank will raise interest rates again at a time when prices are expected to be further fanned by a hike in fuel costs.

Consumer prices rose 3.36 percent from December 2015, national statistics agency INEGI said on Monday, the highest rate since December 2014, and above the central bank’s 3 percent target.

The figure was below the 3.4 percent analysts forecast in a Reuters poll but up from 3.31 percent in November.

Consumer prices should rise faster after a double-digit hike in gasoline prices went into effect this month, some analysts said. The increase has spurred protests and blockades throughout the country.

“We expect a much more accentuated rise in January,” CitiBanamex said in a note, citing energy prices and a weak peso. The bank said inflation would surge beyond 4.6 percent on an annual basis.