Category Archives: Privacy

DiFi loses fight over digital backdoor demands


From Reuters:

After a rampage that left 14 people dead in San Bernardino, key U.S. lawmakers pledged to seek a law requiring technology companies to give law enforcement agencies a “back door” to encrypted communications and electronic devices, such as the iPhone used by one of the shooters.

Now, only months later, much of the support is gone, and the push for legislation dead, according to sources in congressional offices, the administration and the tech sector.

Draft legislation that Senators Richard Burr and Dianne Feinstein, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Intelligence Committee, had circulated weeks ago likely will not be introduced this year and, even if it were, would stand no chance of advancing, the sources said.

Key among the problems was the lack of White House support for legislation in spite of a high-profile court showdown between the Justice Department and Apple Inc over the suspect iPhone, according to Congressional and Obama Administration officials and outside observers.

Someone was very happy:

BLOG Snowden

Spooky news: Here’s lookin’ at you kid


Two items of note in the world of spooky panoptical perception, including a nasty bit of corporate spyware that targets your kids.

First, from the Intercept, news of a bill that would give the FBI the right to look at your email data and more, all without a warrant or even eventual disclosure to the target of their snooping:

A provision snuck into the still-secret text of the Senate’s annual intelligence authorization would give the FBI the ability to demand individuals’ email data and possibly web-surfing history from their service providers without a warrant and in complete secrecy.

If passed, the change would expand the reach of the FBI’s already highly controversial national security letters. The FBI is currently allowed to get certain types of information with NSLs—most commonly information about the name, address, and call information associated with a phone number or details about a bank account.

Since a 2008 Justice Department legal opinion, the FBI has not been allowed to use NSLs to demand “electronic communication transaction records” such as email subject lines and other metadata, or URLs visited.

The spy bill passed the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, with the provision in it. The lone no vote came from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who wrote in a statement that one of its provisions “would allow any FBI field office to demand email records without a court order, a major expansion of federal surveillance powers.”

And then there’s this, a little corporate cyber-pedophilia — except this time it isn’t your child’s body they’re lusting for, but her thoughts.

From the Guardian:

In a promotional video for Amazon’s Echo virtual assistant device, a young girl no older than 12 asks excitedly: “Is it for me?”. The voice-controlled speaker can search the web for information, answer questions and even tell kids’ jokes. “It’s for everyone,” enthuses her on-screen dad.

Except that it isn’t. An investigation by the Guardian has found that despite Amazon marketing the Echo to families with young children, the device is likely to contravene the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), set up to regulate the collection and use of personal information from anyone younger than 13.

Along with Google, Apple and others promoting voice-activated artificial intelligence systems to young children, the company could now face multimillion-dollar fines.

“This is part of the initial wave of marketing to children using the internet of things,” says Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group that helped write the law. “It is exactly why the law was enacted in the first place, to protect young people from pervasive data collection.”

Whistleblower retaliation claim backs Snowden


While both Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton insists whistleblowers have nothing to fear in they take their allegation of official abuse through official channels, new revelations back up Edward Snowden’s contention that he acted out of fear of retaliation if he followed the official doctrine.

From the Guardian:

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing.

The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media.

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.”

Whistleblowers, including Drake, had exposed the secret NSA programs implemented after 9./11 intercepting, without legally mandated warrants, the communications of American citizens.

There was strong pressure for prosecution of the others even after Drake had plead guilty and received no jail time.

From Der Spiegel, an account of what happened next, during the Obama administration:

John Crane remembers his boss, in an internal meeting, presenting the idea of passing the names of the whistleblowers on to the Justice Department officials investigating the case. Crane says he objected at the time and noted that this would be in violation of the legally guaranteed protection of anonymity for whistleblowers. The dispute continued outside the meeting room and he finally even pulled out his pamphlet with the law written on it. Crane says his boss answered by saying that he was in charge of relations with the Justice Department and that he would deal with it as he saw fit.

Those affected, the Pentagon and the Office of the Inspector General declined to respond in detail to SPIEGEL inquiries about the events. Crane’s former boss cited his oath of confidentiality. He said he was confident that an investigation into the events would show he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

Crane’s suspicions continued to grow, especially after important documents pertaining to the Drake case disappeared from the inspector general’s office. Drake’s lawyer Jesselyn Raddack asked the court to demand the documents, saying they would prove that Drake was only in possession of the NSA documents on his private computer because he wanted to provide them to the inspector general. This would have granted Drake source protection and prevented him from prosecution.

But the files could allegedly no longer be found in the Office of the Inspector General — it was claimed that they had been shredded. Staff had accidently “fucked up,” Crane remembers one of his superiors telling him before adding that Crane needed to be a “team player.” Crane’s superior told the judge that the disappearance of the files had resulted from an error made during the routine elimination of files. Crane didn’t believe a word of it. He was convinced that that files had been deliberately destroyed. “Lying to a judge during criminal proceedings is a punishable offense,” he says.

Crane decided against being a “team player.” He stopped toeing the line, he countered and complained. He also sent the message that he would not keep silent. As had been the case with Drake, this would result in painful personal consequences for Crane. In 2013, the then-inspector general ordered him into her office and slid his termination papers across the table. In front of the office, a security guard stripped him of his ID card.

Spooky metdata can reveal your deepest secrets


When the NSA and other intelligence agencies say you shouldn’t be concerned because they only want to collect your metadata, you’re right to be suspicious their claims that such data is “harmless” and reveals nothing consequential about matters you’d prefer to keep to yourself.

Indeed, the very fact they want to collect should tell you something in and of itself.

And now comes confirmation that metadata can, in fact,  be quite revealing.

From Stanford University:

Most people might not give telephone metadata – the numbers you dial, the length of your calls – a second thought. Some government officials probably view it as similarly trivial, which is why this information can be obtained without a warrant.

But a new analysis [open source — esnl] by Stanford computer scientists shows that it is possible to identify a person’s private information – such as health details – from metadata alone. Additionally, following metadata “hops” from one person’s communications can involve thousands of other people.

The researchers set out to fill knowledge gaps within the National Security Agency’s current phone metadata program, which has drawn conflicting assertions about its privacy impacts. The law currently treats call content and metadata separately and makes it easier for government agencies to obtain metadata, in part because it assumes that it shouldn’t be possible to infer specific sensitive details about people based on metadata alone.

The findings, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provide the first empirical data on the privacy properties of telephone metadata. Preliminary versions of the work, previously made available online, have already played a role in federal surveillance policy and have been cited in litigation filings and letters to legislators in both the United States and abroad. The final work could be used to help make more informed policy decisions about government surveillance and consumer data privacy.

The computer scientists built a smartphone application that retrieved the previous call and text message metadata – the numbers, times and lengths of communications – from more than 800 volunteers’ smartphone logs. In total, participants provided records of more than 250,000 calls and 1.2 million texts. The researchers then used a combination of inexpensive automated and manual processes to illustrate both the extent of the reach – how many people would be involved in a scan of a single person – and the level of sensitive information that can be gleaned about each user.

From a small selection of the users, the Stanford researchers were able to infer, for instance, that a person who placed several calls to a cardiologist, a local drugstore and a cardiac arrhythmia monitoring device hotline likely suffers from cardiac arrhythmia. Another study participant likely owns an AR semiautomatic rifle, based on frequent calls to a local firearms dealer that prominently advertises AR semiautomatic rifles and to the customer support hotline of a major firearm manufacturer that produces these rifles.

There’s more, after the jump. . .

Continue reading

Massive Internet shifts from fear, privacy worries


Nearly half of Internet users from 41,000 households surveyed by the Department of Commerce report  they have stopped doing basic things online — ranging from posting on social media sites to expressing themselves on public forum and making online purchases.

Here’s the full report from Rafi Goldberg, policy analyst for the agency’s Office of Policy Analysis and Development of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration:

Every day, billions of people around the world use the Internet to share ideas, conduct financial transactions, and keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. Users send and store personal medical data, business communications, and even intimate conversations over this global network. But for the Internet to grow and thrive, users must continue to trust that their personal information will be secure and their privacy protected.

NTIA’s analysis of recent data shows that Americans are increasingly concerned about online security and privacy at a time when data breaches, cybersecurity incidents, and controversies over the privacy of online services have become more prominent. These concerns are prompting some Americans to limit their online activity, according to data collected for NTIA in July 2015 by the U.S. Census Bureau. This survey included several privacy and security questions, which were asked of more than 41,000 households that reported having at least one Internet user.

Perhaps the most direct threat to maintaining consumer trust is negative personal experience. Nineteen percent of Internet-using households—representing nearly 19 million households—reported that they had been affected by an online security breach, identity theft, or similar malicious activity during the 12 months prior to the July 2015 survey. Security breaches appear to be more common among the most intensive Internet-using households. For example, while 9 percent of online households that used just one type of computing device (either a desktop, laptop, tablet, Internet-connected mobile phone, wearable device, or TV-connected device) reported security breaches, 31 percent of those using at least five different types of devices suffered this experience (see Figure 1).

BLOG Web 1

Similarly, 22 percent of Internet-using households that used a mobile data plan to go online outside the home experienced an online security breach, compared with 11 percent of those not using data plans while outside the home. Perhaps not surprisingly, these figures suggest the prevalence of data breaches is higher among segments of our population that are constantly connected.

Online Households Are Concerned About a Range of Privacy and Security Risks

NTIA also asked households to identify what concerned them the most about online privacy and security risks. Interviewers did not suggest possible answers when asking this question, and respondents were free to give multiple answers or to say that they had no concerns. Despite the lack of prompting, 84 percent of online households named at least one concern they had about online privacy and security risks, and 40 percent cited at least two different concerns. By far the most frequent concern—shared by 63 percent of online households—was identity theft. Other common concerns included credit card or banking fraud, data collection or tracking by online services, loss of control over personal data, data collection or tracking by government, and threats to personal safety (see Figure 2).

BLOG Web 2

Privacy and security concerns were even more prevalent among online households that had been affected by a security breach during the year prior to the survey. Seventy percent of such households named identity theft as one of the issues that concerned them the most, compared with 62 percent of their peers that had not experienced a breach. We observed the same pattern across the board; for example, 30 percent of breach-affected online households were concerned about data collection or tracking by online services, versus 21 percent of their unaffected counterparts.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

A remarkable interview with a great journalist


If any single journalist embodies the finest traditions of American reportage, it’s Seymour Hersh, the son of East European immigrants who rose to the heights of his calling and continues to break major stories at the age of 79.

His latest book, The Killing of Osama Bin Laden, exposes the lies of the Obama administration and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used to conceal the reality of the extrajudicial murder of Pakistani political prisoner Osama bin Laden.

In this wide-ranging interview by Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, Hersch answers questions not only about the killing of America’s most wanted man, but also about the dark side of America’s war on Syria, the duplicity of American politicians, covert operations, and the nature of journalism itself.

It’s the finest interview of Hersch we’ve even seen, and it’s well worth your time.

From TYT Interviews:

Seymour Hersh Interview With The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur

Program notes:

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks interviews the premier investigative journalist of his generation, Seymour Hersh. Seymour Hersh is the author of ten books, including his latest, titled “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden.” Read some of Seymour Hersh’s work http://www.newyorker.com/contributors…

In this TYT interview Seymour Hersh and Cenk Uygur cover a range of topics, including:

  • Why did the Osama bin Laden operation go down the way it did? Why not take him alive? Should the perpetrators – from Seal Team 6 to Obama himself-be prosecuted for murder?
  • The politics around the death of Osama bin Laden.
  • Why were Osama bin Laden’s wives never questioned by US interrogators?
  • Oil’s impact on foreign policy, in particular Turkey and ISIS.
  • Conspiracy theories and the U.S. government spying on the public.
  • How he became an investigative reporter and developed his style and approach.
  • His thoughts on the state of investigative journalism today.
  • What benefit does the US get from our alliance with Saudi Arabia? What about Israel?
  • What do you think was Saudi Arabia’s involvement in planning and funding the 9/11 attacks?
  • What is the US objective in Syria? Do we have any hope of accomplishing it?

Follow Seymour Hersh on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SeymourHersh
Follow Cenk Uygur on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CenkUygur

Quote of the day: Corrupting the Commerce Clause


We begin with a quotation from the Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 — the Commerce Clause — and its declaration that “The Congress shall have Power

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes

And with that. on to the QOTD itself. . .

From Corey Robin, prolific author and Corey Robin is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, writing at his blog:

Since the 1990s, legal conservatives have been engaged in a two-front war against legal liberalism.

Throughout the twentieth century, the Commerce Clause was the primary constitutional instrument of American liberalism. It underwrote the New Deal, the right to organize unions, the Civil Rights Act, and anti-discrimination in the workplace. Beginning in the 1990s, conservatives have beaten back the Commerce Clause. Where legal liberals expanded the meaning of commerce to include not only the entirety of the economy but also what affected that economy—whether it be racial segregation, violence against women, or handgun possession near schools—legal conservatives have sought to radically restrict the meaning of commerce to, in some cases, simple trade or “exchange for value.” In taking away this constitutional instrument from American liberalism, legal conservatives seek to restrict the ability of the government to regulate or involve itself in the economy as it had under the New Deal.

In tandem with this effort to restrict the meaning of commerce, legal conservatives have radically sought to expand the First Amendment protections of commercial speech. Commercial speech—think advertising, though it extends far beyond advertising—was initially deemed by the Court not to be worthy of First Amendment protection. Then, in the 1970s, it acquired some First Amendment protection on the grounds that consumers were entitled to receive information about products of interest and concern to them. This, it should be noted, was an argument pioneered by liberals on the Supreme Court; Justice Rehnquist, the Court’s staunchest conservative, resisted that move. More recently, however, conservatives have discovered the utility of the argument. If commercial transactions can be re-described as either modes of speech or involving significant elements of speech—and, when you think about it, what commercial transaction does not involve speech?—and if that speech is deserving of First Amendment protection, the state’s ability to regulate virtually every part of the economy will be radically restricted.

That, in a nutshell, is the conservative constitutional agenda against the liberal state: restrict the meaning of commerce and the scope of the Commerce Clause, expand the meaning of commercial speech and the scope of the First Amendment’s protections.