Category Archives: Privacy

U.S. to let spy agencies scour Americans’ finances

open quoteThe Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters.

The proposed plan represents a major step by U.S. intelligence agencies to spot and track down terrorist networks and crime syndicates by bringing together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence. The plan, which legal experts say is permissible under U.S. law, is nonetheless likely to trigger intense criticism from privacy advocates.

Financial institutions that operate in the United States are required by law to file reports of “suspicious customer activity,” such as large money transfers or unusually structured bank accounts, to Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).close quote (Read more)

The Drones Are Watching and Waiting

open quote For the moment, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has blocked the use of unmanned aircraft for surveillance purposes, due to concern about clogging the skies with flying robots that crash more often than piloted aircraft.

The folks at the FAA are being pressured to lighten up and permit the use of drones by government agencies. The result of that pressure is HR 658, which authorizes appropriations for the FAA through fiscal 2014, and buried in it are the provisions to begin a “drone-apalooza” with 30,000 unmanned aircraft.

According to Jay Stanley of the ACLU, “This bill would push the nation willy-nilly toward an era of aerial surveillance, without any steps to protect the traditional privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and expected.”

Among other things, HR 658 will require the FAA to streamline its process within 90 days for government agencies to operate drones. The bill requires the FAA to allow government public safety agencies to operate drones weighing 4.4 pounds or less, as long as certain other conditions are met. The agency will be required to establish a pilot program within six months to create half a dozen test zones for integrating drones “into the national airspace system.”close quote (Read more)

Jeffrey Tucker: “Imagine a time when the government knew nothing about the money in your bank.”

open quoteImagine a time when the government knew nothing about the money in your bank. It cared nothing about how much you made, where you made it, and what you did with it. You could take your earnings in gold, silver, paper, or anything else, and never filed a sheet with the government. How you earned a living was none of the business of the political class. For that matter, your bank account could be under a false name and absolutely no one cared. This was the world of a mere 100 years ago in the United States. That’s why it was called the “land for the free.”close quote

Game to destroy CCTV cameras: vandalism or valid protest?

open quote those tired of being watched by the authorities in Berlin; points are awarded for the number of cameras destroyed and bonus scores are given for particularly imaginative modes of destruction. Axes, ropes and pitchforks are all encouraged.

The rules of Camover are simple: mobilise a crew and think of a name that starts with “command”, “brigade” or “cell”, followed by the moniker of a historical figure (Van der Lubbe, a Dutch bricklayer convicted of setting fire to the Reichstag in 1933, is one name being used). Then destroy as many CCTV cameras as you can. Concealing your identity, while not essential, is recommended. Finally, video your trail of destruction and post it on the game’s website – although even keeping track of the homepage can be a challenge in itself, as it is continually being shut down.close quote (Read more)

U.S. Spy Law Authorizes Mass Surveillance of European Citizens: Report

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Europeans, take note: The U.S. government has granted itself authority to secretly snoop on you.

That’s according to a new report produced for the European Parliament, which has warned that a U.S. spy law renewed late last year authorizes “purely political surveillance on foreigners’ data” if it is stored using U.S. cloud services like those provided by Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

Europeans were previously alarmed by the fact that the PATRIOT Act could be used to obtain data on citizens outside the United States. But this time the focus is a different law—the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Amendments Act—which poses a “much graver risk to EU data sovereignty than other laws hitherto considered by EU policy-makers,” according to the recently published report, Fighting Cyber Crime and Protecting Privacy in the Cloud, produced by the Centre for the Study of Conflicts, Liberty and Security.

The FISA Amendments Act was introduced in 2008, retroactively legalizing a controversial “warrantless wiretapping” program initiated following 9/11 by the Bush administration. Late last month, it was renewed through 2017. During that process, there was heated debate over how it may violate Americans’ privacy. But citizens in foreign jurisdictions have even greater cause for concern, says the report’s co-author, Caspar Bowden, who was formerly chief privacy adviser to Microsoft Europe.
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GOP and Feinstein join to fulfill Obama’s demand for renewed warrantless eavesdropping

open quoteTo this day, many people identify mid-2008 as the time they realized what type of politician Barack Obama actually is. Six months before, when seeking the Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Obama unambiguously vowed that he would filibuster “any bill” that retroactively immunized the telecom industry for having participated in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.

But in July 2008, once he had secured the nomination, a bill came before the Senate that did exactly that – the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – and Obama not only failed to filibuster as promised, but far worse, he voted against the filibuster brought by other Senators, and then voted in favor of enacting the bill itself. That blatant, unblinking violation of his own clear promise – actively supporting a bill he had sworn months earlier he would block from a vote – caused a serious rift even in the middle of an election year between Obama and his own supporters.

Critically, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 did much more than shield lawbreaking telecoms from all forms of legal accountability. Jointly written by Dick Cheney and then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, it also legalized vast new, sweeping and almost certainly unconstitutional forms of warrantless government eavesdropping.

In doing so, the new 2008 law gutted the 30-year-old FISA statute that had been enacted to prevent the decades of severe spying abuses discovered by the mid-1970s Church Committee: by simply barring the government from eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from a court. Worst of all, the 2008 law legalized most of what Democrats had spent years pretending was such a scandal: the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program secretly implemented by George Bush after the 9/11 attack. In other words, the warrantless eavesdropping “scandal” that led to a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times reporters who revealed it ended not with investigations or prosecutions for those who illegally spied on Americans, but with the Congressional GOP joining with key Democrats (including Obama) to legalize most of what Bush and Cheney had done. Ever since, the Obama DOJ has invoked secrecy and standing doctrines to prevent any courts from ruling on whether the warrantless eavesdropping powers granted by the 2008 law violate the Constitution.

The 2008 FISA law provided that it would expire in four years unless renewed. Yesterday, the Senate debated its renewal. Several Senators – Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon along with Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul – each attempted to attach amendments to the law simply to provide some modest amounts of transparency and oversight to ensure that the government’s warrantless eavesdropping powers were constrained and checked from abuse.

Just consider how modest these amendments were. Along with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. Wyden has spent two years warning Americans that the government’s eavesdropping powers are being interpreted (by secret court decisions and the Executive Branch) far more broadly than they would ever suspect, and that, as a result, these eavesdropping powers are being applied far more invasively and extensively than is commonly understood.

As a result, Wyden yesterday had two amendments: one that would simply require the NSA to give a general estimate of how many Americans are having their communications intercepted under this law (information the NSA has steadfastly refused to provide), and another which would state that the NSA is barred from eavesdropping on Americans on US soil without a warrant. Merkley’s amendment would compel the public release of secret judicial rulings from the FISA court which purport to interpret the scope of the eavesdropping law on the ground that “secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance”; the Obama administration has refused to release a single such opinion even though the court, “on at least one occasion”, found that the government was violating the Fourth Amendment in how it was using the law to eavesdrop on Americans.

But the Obama White House opposed all amendments, demanding a “clean” renewal of the law without any oversight or transparency reforms. Earlier this month, the GOP-led House complied by passing a reform-free version of the law’s renewal, and sent the bill Obama wanted to the Senate, where it was debated yesterday afternoon.

The Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, took the lead in attacking Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul with the most foul Cheneyite accusations, and demanded renewal of the FISA law without any reforms. And then predictably, in virtually identical 37-54 votes, Feinstein and her conservative-Democratic comrades joined with virtually the entire GOP caucus (except for three Senators: Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller) to reject each one of the proposed amendments and thus give Obama exactly what he demanded: reform-free renewal of the law (while a few Democratic Senators have displayed genuine, sustained commitment to these issues, most Democrats who voted against FISA renewal yesterday did so symbolically and half-heartedly, knowing and not caring that they would lose as evidenced by the lack of an attempted filibuster).

In other words, Obama successfully relied on Senate Republicans (the ones his supporters depict as the Root of All Evil) along with a dozen of the most militaristic Democrats to ensure that he can continue to eavesdrop on Americans without any warrants, transparency or real oversight. That’s the standard coalition that has spent the last four years extending Bush/Cheney theories, eroding core liberties and entrenching endless militarism: Obama + the GOP caucus + Feinstein-type Democrats. As Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, put it to the Huffington Post: “I bet [Bush] is laughing his ass off.”close quote (Read more)

FBI begins installation of $1 billion face recognition system across America

open quoteBirthmarks, be damned: the FBI has officially started rolling out a state-of-the-art face recognition project that will assist in their effort to accumulate and archive information about each and every American at a cost of a billion dollars.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has reached a milestone in the development of their Next Generation Identification (NGI) program and is now implementing the intelligence database in unidentified locales across the country, New Scientist reports in an article this week. The FBI first outlined the project back in 2005, explaining to the Justice Department in an August 2006 document (.pdf) that their new system will eventually serve as an upgrade to the current Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) that keeps track of citizens with criminal records across America . close quote (Read more)

12 Million Apple IDs on FBI Agent’s laptop???

open quoteFollowing the FBI’s denials that an agent’s laptop was breached to grab 12 million Apple UDIDs, a small app publisher in Florida has confirmed that it was the source of the device identifiers. The CEO of Blue Toad said his company had reported the breach, which reportedly occurred in the last two weeks, to law enforcement. “We’re pretty apologetic to the people who relied on us to keep this information secure,” Chief Executive Paul Hart told NBC. Read the full story and its privacy implications here.close quote (Read more)

Court Upholds Domestic Drone Use in Arrest of American Citizen

open quoteA North Dakota court has preliminarily upheld the first-ever use of an unmanned drone to assist in the arrest of an American citizen.

A judge denied a request to dismiss charges Wednesday against Rodney Brossart, a man arrested last year after a 16-hour standoff with police at his Lakota, N.D., ranch. Brossart’s lawyer argued that law enforcement’s “warrantless use of [an] unmanned military-like surveillance aircraft” and “outrageous governmental conduct” warranted dismissal of the case, according to court documents obtained by U.S. News.close quote (Read more)

Anonymous calls for shut-down of TrapWire to start this Saturday

open quoteWhile details of a futuristic and frightening global surveillance network called TrapWire are discovered, members of the Anonymous collective are calling for people everywhere to voice their opposition and help end the system, starting this Saturday.

“As we learn about TrapWire and similar systems in the surveillance industry, it becomes more apparent that we must, at all costs, shut this system down and render it useless,” active members of the loose-knit hacktivist collective Anonymous write in a press release issued early Thursday. Starting with this weekend, the group is asking for anyone that is concerned with TrapWire and the acceleration of the world into a full-fledged surveillance state to make sure their voices are heard — peacefully.

Only one week after RT first broke news of TrapWire, an intricate global intelligence infrastructure discussed in emails claimed to be compromised from Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, activists around the world have denounced the state-of-the-art surveillance system that is believed to be in use at certain locales internationally. close quote (Read more)

Online Crypto for made easy! Keep their eyes off your email!

open quoteShanghai’s leading code slinger, David Veksler, who is also a good friend and long-time collaborator on all things digital, has come up with something wonderfully subversive. It is an encrypted messaging service that takes a giant step toward making cryptography available to the rest of us.

It is called cryptabyte.com. It is the first, easy-to-use, web-based service to provide absolutely uncrackable security in communications and file sharing. It’s a free product for now, and will probably remain so, but I have hopes that he can eventually commercialize it, if only to insure its viability over time.

This new technology is a brilliant example of a theme I’ve been turning over in my mind, namely, how technology is blazing new trails to give us freer lives even in times of rising state despotism the world over. It is becoming clearer by the day that it is not the politicians or even the intellectuals who are going to save civilization but the entrepreneurs and the digital cowboys who are liberating humanity in practical ways, every day.close quote (Read more)

EPA Using Drones to Spy on Cattle Ranchers in Nebraska and Iowa

open quoteObama’s Environmental Protection Agency is using aerial drones to spy on farmers in Nebraska and Iowa. The surveillance came under scrutiny last week when Nebraska’s congressional delegation sent a joint letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

On Friday, EPA officialdom in “Region 7” responded to the letter.

“Courts, including the Supreme Court, have found similar types of flights to be legal (for example to take aerial photographs of a chemical manufacturing facility) and EPA would use such flights in appropriate instances to protect people and the environment from violations of the Clean Water Act,” the agency said in response to the letter.

“They are just way on the outer limits of any authority they’ve been granted,” said Mike Johanns, a Republican senator from Nebraska.

In fact, the EPA has absolutely zero authority and is an unconstitutional entity of an ever-expanding and rogue federal government. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution does not authorize Congress to legislate in the area of the environment. Under the Tenth Amendment, this authority is granted to the states and their legislatures, not the federal government.

The EPA has not addressed the constitutional question, including its wanton violation of probable cause under the Fourth Amendment. It merely states that it has authority to surveil the private property of farmers and ranchers.close quote (Read more)