Privacy Media Articles
Excerpts of Key Privacy Media Articles from Major Media
Below are many highly revealing excerpts of important privacy articles reported in the mainstream media suggesting a cover-up.
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For an index to revealing excerpts of media articles on several dozen engaging topics, click here
Are all telephone calls recorded and accessible to the US government?
2013-05-04, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
CNN's Out Front with Erin Burnett [has been] focused on the possible involvement in the Boston Marathon attack of Katherine Russell, the 24-year-old American widow of the deceased suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Anonymous government officials are claiming that they are now focused on telephone calls between Russell and Tsarnaev that took place both before and after the attack to determine if she had prior knowledge of the plot or participated in any way. Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could: BURNETT: There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them? CLEMENTE: No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. We certainly can find that out. BURNETT: So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible. CLEMENTE: No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not. On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that "all digital communications in the past" are recorded and stored. All digital communications - meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like - are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.
Note: All of our communications have been monitored by government computers for years. BBC News reported in this this 1999 article about the Echelon network which monitors all communications globally. For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on government and corporate threats to privacy, click here.
Domestic drones and their unique dangers
2013-03-29, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
The use of drones by domestic US law enforcement agencies is growing rapidly, both in terms of numbers and types of usage. As a result, civil liberties and privacy groups led by the ACLU ... have been devoting increasing efforts to publicizing their unique dangers and agitating for statutory limits. The belief that weaponized drones won't be used on US soil is patently irrational. Police departments are already speaking openly about how their drones "could be equipped to carry nonlethal weapons such as Tasers or a bean-bag gun." The drone industry has already developed and is now aggressively marketing precisely such weaponized drones for domestic law enforcement use. Domestic weaponized drones will be much smaller and cheaper, as well as more agile - but just as lethal [as the large missile-firing drones used by the US military overseas]. The nation's leading manufacturer of small "unmanned aircraft systems" (UAS) ... is AeroVironment, Inc. (AV). AV is now focused on drone products - such as the "Qube" - that are so small that they can be "transported in the trunk of a police vehicle or carried in a backpack." AV's website ... touts a February, 2013 Defense News article describing how much the US Army loves [its] "Switchblade" [drone]. Time Magazine heralded this tiny drone weapon as "one of the best inventions of 2012", gushing: "the Switchblade drone can be carried into battle in a backpack. It's a kamikaze: the person controlling it uses a real-time video feed from the drone to crash it into a precise target. Its tiny warhead detonates on impact."
Note: This important article also discusses drones used by government agencies such as police for purposes of continuous surveillance. But it misses entirely another major dimension: privately owned and controlled drones, which are becoming dirt cheap and within the reach of virtually anyone. Will the new "DroneWorld" in the making combine the worst features of the Police State with the Wild West?
U.S. to let spy agencies scour Americans' finances
2013-03-13, Chicago Tribune/Reuters
The 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. The proposed plan represents a major step by U.S. intelligence agencies to spot and track down [targeted persons] by bringing together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence. 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). The Federal Bureau of Investigation already has full access to the database. However, intelligence agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, currently have to make case-by-case requests for information to FinCEN. The Treasury plan would give spy agencies the ability to analyze more raw financial data than they have ever had before. Financial institutions file more than 15 million "suspicious activity reports" every year, according to Treasury. Banks, for instance, are required to report all personal cash transactions exceeding $10,000.
Note: For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on the games intelligence agencies play, click here.
Raytheon software trolls social networks
2013-02-12, San Francisco Chronicle (SF's leading newspaper)
Raytheon, a Massachusetts defense contractor, has built tracking software that pulls information from social networks, according to a video obtained by the Guardian newspaper in London. "[Raytheon] has acknowledged the technology was shared with U.S. government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort, in 2010, to help build a national security system capable of analyzing 'trillions of entities' from cyberspace." Using public data from Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare, the software - called RIOT, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology - apparently gathers uploaded information and forms a profile of a person's every move that was registered with one of the websites.
The video obtained by the newspaper starts with a demonstration by Raytheon's "principal investigator," Brian Urch, showing how easy it is to track an employee named Nick - a real person - based on all the places he has checked in using his smartphone. "When people take pictures and post them on the Internet using their smartphones, the phone will actually embed the latitude and longitude in the header data - so we're going to take advantage of that," Urch says. "So now we know where Nick's gone ... and now we'll predict where he'll be in the future." Urch goes on to analyze - using graphs and calendars - where Nick likes to spend his personal time and make predictions about his behavior. "If you ever wanted to get a hold of his laptop, you might want to visit the gym at 6 a.m. on Monday," Urch says with alarming casualness.
Note: To read the full Guardian article, click here.
TSA removing 'virtual strip search' body scanners
Airport body scanners that produce graphic images of travelers' bodies will be removed from checkpoints by June, the Transportation Security Administration says, ending what critics called "virtual strip searches." Passengers will continue to pass through machines that display a generic outline of the human body, raising fewer privacy concerns. The TSA move came after Rapiscan, the manufacturer of the 174 so-called "backscatter" machines, acknowledged it could not meet a congressional-ordered deadline to install privacy software on the machines. "It is big news," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. "It removes the concern that people are being viewed naked by the TSA screener." Currently, the TSA uses the 174 backscatter machines in 30 airports, and has another 76 units in storage. It uses millimeter wave machines in 170 airports. The decision to remove the backscatter machine will make moot, at least temporarily, travelers' concerns about the health effects of the machines. Backscatter machines use X-rays, while millimeter wave machines use radio waves. The TSA has long maintained both machines are safe, but recently signed an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences to study the scanners. The study will continue even though the machines are being pulled, the TSA said, because they could be reintroduced in the future.
Note: Each of those machines cost $175,000. Someone sure made a lot of money on these machines which had a very short lifespan.
Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy
2012-12-29, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
New documents prove what was once dismissed as paranoid fantasy: totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent. It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves – was coordinated with the big banks themselves. The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, in a groundbreaking scoop that should once more shame major US media outlets (why are nonprofits now some of the only entities in America left breaking major civil liberties news?), filed this request. The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.
Note: For analysis of these amazing documents revealing the use of joint government and corporate counterterrorism structures against peaceful protestors of financial corruption, click here and here. For a Democracy Now! video segment on this, click here.
GOP and Feinstein join to fulfill Obama's demand for renewed warrantless eavesdropping
2012-12-28, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 did much more than shield lawbreaking telecoms from all forms of legal accountability. It also legalized vast new, sweeping and almost certainly unconstitutional forms of warrantless government eavesdropping. [The] 2008 law gutted the 30-year-old FISA statute that had [barred] the government from eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from a court. Worst of all, the 2008 law legalized ... the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program secretly implemented by George Bush after the 9/11 attack. 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. The Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein ... 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 ... to reject each one of the proposed amendments and thus give Obama exactly what he demanded: reform-free renewal of the law.
Note: For analysis of this Senate vote, click here. For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on government assaults on privacy, click here.
F.B.I. Counterterrorism Agents Monitored Occupy Movement
2012-12-25, New York Times
The Federal Bureau of Investigation used counterterrorism agents to investigate the Occupy Wall Street movement, including its communications and planning, according to newly disclosed agency records. The F.B.I. records show that as early as September 2011, an agent from a counterterrorism task force in New York notified officials of two landmarks in Lower Manhattan — Federal Hall and the Museum of American Finance — “that their building was identified as a point of interest for the Occupy Wall Street.” In the following months, F.B.I. personnel around the country were routinely involved in exchanging information about the movement with businesses, local law-enforcement agencies and universities. An October 2011 memo from the bureau’s Jacksonville, Fla., field office was titled Domain Program Management Domestic Terrorist. The memo said agents discussed “past and upcoming meetings” of the movement, and its spread. It said agents should contact Occupy Wall Street activists to ascertain whether people who attended their events had “violent tendencies.” Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the F.B.I. has come under criticism for deploying counterterrorism agents to conduct surveillance and gather intelligence on organizations active in environmental, animal-cruelty and poverty issues. The records were obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a civil-rights organization in Washington, through a Freedom of Information request to the F.B.I.
Note: For analysis of these amazing documents revealing the use of joint government and corporate counterterrorism structures against peaceful protestors of financial corruption, click here and here. For a Democracy Now! video segment on this, click here.
U.S. Terrorism Agency to Tap a Vast Database of Citizens
2012-12-12, Wall Street Journal
Through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews with officials at numerous agencies, The Wall Street Journal has reconstructed the clash over the counterterrorism program within the administration of President Barack Obama. The attorney general [has] signed the changes into effect. The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to examine the government files of U.S. citizens for possible criminal behavior, even if there is no reason to suspect them. That is a departure from past practice, which barred the agency from storing information about ordinary Americans unless a person was a terror suspect or related to an investigation. Now, NCTC can copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited. Data about Americans "reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information" may be permanently retained. "It's breathtaking" in its scope, said a former senior administration official. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution says that searches of "persons, houses, papers and effects" shouldn't be conducted without "probable cause" that a crime has been committed.
Note: This article requires subscription to view at the link above. To read it for free, click here. For analysis of this sweeping increase in government privacy invasions, click here. For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on government privacy invasions, click here.
Push to step up domestic use of drones
2012-11-27, San Francisco Chronicle (SF's leading newspapers)
Are unmanned aircraft, known to have difficulty avoiding collisions, safe to use in America's crowded airspace? And would their widespread use for surveillance result in unconstitutional invasions of privacy? Experts say neither question has been answered satisfactorily. Yet the federal government is rushing to open America's skies to tens of thousands of the drones - pushed to do so by a law championed by manufacturers of the unmanned aircraft. The 60-member House of Representatives' "drone caucus" - officially, the House Unmanned Systems Caucus - has helped push that agenda. And over the last four years, caucus members have drawn nearly $8 million in drone-related campaign contributions. Domestic use of drones began with limited aerial patrols of the nation's borders by Customs and Border Patrol authorities. But the industry and its allies pushed for more, leading to provisions in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act, signed into law on Feb. 14 of this year. The law requires the FAA to fully integrate the unmanned aerial vehicles into national airspace by September 2015. The FAA has predicted that 30,000 drones could be flying in the United States in less than 20 years. House members from California, Texas, Virginia and New York on the bipartisan "drone caucus" received the lion's share of the funds channeled to lawmakers from dozens of firms that are members of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Note: For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on drone killings and other war crimes committed by the US in its wars of aggression in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, click here.
FBI's abuse of the surveillance state is the real scandal needing investigation
2012-11-13, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
The Petraeus scandal is receiving intense media scrutiny. Several of the emerging revelations are genuinely valuable, particularly those involving the conduct of the FBI and the reach of the US surveillance state. The FBI investigation began when Jill Kelley - a Tampa socialite friendly with Petraeus (and apparently very friendly with Gen. John Allen, the four-star U.S. commander of the war in Afghanistan) - received a half-dozen or so anonymous emails that she found vaguely threatening. She then informed a friend of hers who was an FBI agent, and a major FBI investigation was then launched that set out to determine the identity of the anonymous emailer. What is most striking is how sweeping, probing and invasive the FBI's investigation then became, all without any evidence of any actual crime - or the need for any search warrant. The FBI traced all of [Paula] Broadwell's physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They also discovered "alleged inappropriate communication" to Kelley from Gen. Allen, who is not only the top commander in Afghanistan but was also just nominated by President Obama to be the Commander of US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (a nomination now "on hold"). This is a surveillance state run amok. It also highlights how any remnants of internet anonymity have been all but obliterated by the union between the state and technology companies.
Note: For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on government surveillance, click here.
Rented computers secretly photographed users having sex
2012-09-26, BBC News
Rented computers from seven different companies secretly took photographs of their users, US authorities have said. The companies used software made by US company Designerware which could track key strokes and other personal data. The software, called PC Rental Agent, captured people engaging in "intimate acts", including sex. It is believed that PC Rental Agent has been installed in approximately 420,000 computers worldwide. The Federal Trade Commission ruling concerned a feature in the software, called Detective Mode, which would typically become activated if the user was late in returning equipment, or failed to pay for use. Detective Mode would assist the rental store in locating the overdue computer in order to pursue its return. Part of the process involved a pop-up window designed to look like a software registration screen. It would request personal information such as email addresses and telephone numbers that could then be used to pursue the users for payment and/or the return of equipment. In addition, the FTC said the software had access to much more sensitive information, including: usernames and passwords for email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions. Among the other data collected were social security numbers; medical records; private emails to doctors; bank and credit card statements. Webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home were also found. In the FTC's formal complaint document, it said the software had captured "couples engaged in sexual activities".
Note: Do you think other companies or intelligence agencies might be conducting similar monitoring? For more on this, click here.
2012-08-23, New York Times
[William] Binney, a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency turned whistle-blower, ... described details about Stellar Wind, the N.S.A.’s top-secret domestic spying program begun after 9/11, which was so controversial that it nearly caused top Justice Department officials to resign in protest, in 2004. “The decision must have been made in September 2001,” Mr. Binney told me [and] cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. “That’s when the equipment started coming in.” He resigned over this in 2001 and began speaking out publicly in the last year. [Binney] is among a group of N.S.A. whistle-blowers, including Thomas A. Drake, who have each risked everything — their freedom, livelihoods and personal relationships — to warn Americans about the dangers of N.S.A. domestic spying. The N.S.A. has technical abilities that are nearly impossible to defend against if you are targeted. The 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which oversees the N.S.A. activities, are up for renewal in December. Two members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado ... have been warning about “secret interpretations” of laws and backdoor “loopholes” that allow the government to collect our private communications. Thirteen senators have signed a letter expressing concern about a “loophole” in the law that permits the collection of United States data. The A.C.L.U. and other groups have also challenged the constitutionality of the law, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case on Oct. 29.
Note: The video about this on the NY Times webpage at the link above is quite revealing. One potent comment of this 32-year NSA veteran in the video is "They wanted to highly classify the extreme impeachable crimes they were committing." For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on government and corporate surveillance, click here.
The new totalitarianism of surveillance technology
2012-08-15, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
Last week, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to unveil a major new police surveillance infrastructure, developed by Microsoft. The Domain Awareness System links existing police databases with live video feeds, including cameras using vehicle license plate recognition software. No mention was made of whether the system plans to use – or already uses – facial recognition software. But, at present, there is no law to prevent US government and law enforcement agencies from building facial recognition databases. And we know from industry newsletters that the US military, law enforcement, and the department of homeland security are betting heavily on facial recognition technology. As PC World notes, Facebook itself is a market leader in the technology – but military and security agencies are close behind. According to Homeland Security Newswire, billions of dollars are being invested in the development and manufacture of various biometric technologies capable of detecting and identifying anyone, anywhere in the world – via iris-scanning systems, already in use; foot-scanning technology (really); voice pattern ID software, and so on. What is very obvious is that this technology will not be applied merely to people under arrest, or to people under surveillance in accordance with the fourth amendment. No, the "targets" here [include] everyone. In the name of "national security", the capacity is being built to identify, track and document any citizen constantly and continuously.
Note: For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on civil liberties, click here.
Trapwire surveillance system exposed in document leak
2012-08-13, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
[Trapwire is] a CCTV surveillance system that recognises people from their face or walk and analyses whether they might be about to commit a terrorist or criminal act. According to documents released online by WikiLeaks [it] is being used in a number of countries to try to monitor people and threats. Founded by former CIA agents, Trapwire uses data from a network of CCTV systems and numberplate readers to figure out the threat level in huge numbers of locations. The documents outlining Trapwire's existence and its deployment in the US were apparently obtained in a hack of computer systems belonging to the intelligence company Stratfor at the end of last year. Documents from the US department of homeland security show that it paid $832,000 to deploy Trapwire in Washington DC and Seattle. Stratfor describes Trapwire as "a unique, predictive software system designed to detect patterns of pre-attack surveillance and logistical planning". It serves "a wide range of law enforcement personnel and public and private security officials domestically and internationally", Stratfor says. Some have expressed doubts that Trapwire could really forecast [future] acts based on data from cameras. The claims might seem overblown, but then the idea that the US could have an international monitoring system seemed absurd until the discovery of the Echelon system, used by the US to eavesdrop on electronic communications internationally.
Note: For more on the growing use of this secret technology, click here. For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on privacy, click here.
TSA defies the courts
2012-07-18, Washington Times
The days of secrecy at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may be coming to an end. It’s a widely held belief that the agency’s hasty embrace of expensive, X-rated x-ray machines has more to do with closed-door lobbying efforts of manufacturers than a deliberate consideration of the devices’ merits. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [has] pushed for some transparency by asking the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to compel the agency to hold a public notice-and-comment period on the use of pornographic scanners, as the law requires. EPIC has a good case because on July 15, 2011, the D.C. Circuit issued a ruling insisting TSA “promptly” come into compliance with Administrative Procedure Act requirements regarding public hearings. TSA believed it wasn’t subject to such rules because the virtual strip-searching of women, children and the elderly is an essential security operation. The last thing TSA wants is the public-relations disaster of having to collect and publish the horror tales from Americans subjected to humiliation from the nude photography and intrusive “pat-down” groping sessions. It’s time to admit the post-Sept. 11 experiment in having the government take over airport screening duties has been a colossal flop. TSA has defied the Administrative Procedures Act, an appellate court, the public will and common decency. It’s not enough just to pull the plug on the scanners; the plug should be pulled on TSA itself.
Note: According to this PBS report, "European Union regulators recently banned any body scanner that uses X-rays, 'in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens' health and safety.'" It also states, "The TSA tested the devices behind closed doors, without scrutiny from independent scientists." For lots more on this topic important to all air travelers, click here.
New Homeland Security Laser Scanner Reads People At Molecular Level
2012-07-11, CBS-DC (Washington DC CBS affiliate)
The Department of Homeland Security will soon be using a laser at airports that can detect everything about you from over 160 feet away. This laser-based scanner ... could read everything from a person’s adrenaline levels, to traces of gun powder on a person’s clothes, to illegal substances — and it can all be done without a physical search. It also could be used on multiple people at a time, eliminating random searches at airports. The scanner is called the Picosecond Programmable Laser. The device works by blasting its target with lasers which vibrate molecules that are then read by the machine that determine what substances a person has been exposed to. The inventor of this invasive technology is Genia Photonics. Active since 2009, they hold 30 patents on laser technology designed for scanning. In 2011, they formed a partnership with In-Q-Tel, a company chartered by the CIA and Congress to build “a bridge between the Agency and a new set of technology innovators.” Although the technology could be used by “Big Brother,” Genia Photonics states that the device could be far more beneficial being used for medical purposes to check for cancer in real time, lipids detection, and patient monitoring.
Note: For deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources on government threats to privacy, click here.
Drones over America. Are they spying on you?
2012-06-16, Christian Science Monitor
Most Americans have gotten used to regular news reports about military and CIA drones attacking terrorist suspects – including US citizens – in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere abroad. But picture thousands of drone aircraft buzzing around the United States. By some government estimates, as many as 30,000 drones could be part of intelligence gathering and law enforcement here in the United States within the next ten years. Operated by agencies down to the local level, this would be in addition to the 110 current and planned drone activity sites run by the military services in 39 states, reported this week by the Federation of American Scientists, a non-government research project. Civil libertarians warn that “unmanned aircraft carrying cameras raise the prospect of a significant new avenue for the surveillance of American life,” as the American Civil Liberties Union put it in a report last December. “The technology is quickly becoming cheaper and more powerful, interest in deploying drones among police departments is increasing, and our privacy laws are not strong enough to ensure that the new technology will be used responsibly and consistently with democratic values,” reported the ACLU. “In short, all the pieces appear to be lining up for the eventual introduction of routine aerial surveillance in American life.”
Note: For deeper analysis of the threats posed to American citizens by military and police drones in the skies, click here. For information on a federal recent law compelling the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to fly in US skies, click here. For more information on the use of drones by police in the US, click here. For lots more from reliable sources on surveillance in the US, click here.
Drones, computers new weapons of US shadow wars
2012-06-16, MSNBC/Associated Press
Drone aircraft spy on and attack terrorists with no pilot in harm's way. Small teams of special operations troops quietly train and advise foreign forces. Viruses sent from computers to foreign networks strike silently, with no American fingerprint. It's war in the shadows, with the U.S. public largely in the dark. The high-tech warfare allows Obama to target what the administration sees as the greatest threats to U.S. security, without the cost and liabilities of sending a swarm of ground troops to capture territory; some of them almost certainly would come home maimed or dead. But it also raises questions about accountability and the implications for international norms regarding the use of force outside of traditional armed conflict. "Congressional oversight of these operations appears to be cursory and insufficient," said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy issues for the Federation of American Scientists, a private group. "It is Congress' responsibility to declare war under the Constitution, but instead it appears to have adopted a largely passive role while the executive takes the initiative in war fighting," Aftergood said in an interview. That's partly because lawmakers relinquished their authority by passing a law just after the Sept. 11 [attacks]. In this shroud of secrecy, leaks to the news media of classified details about certain covert operations have led to charges that the White House orchestrated the revelations to bolster Obama's national security credentials and thereby improve his re-election chances.
Note: For deeper analysis of the threats posed to American citizens by military and police drones in the skies, click here. For information on a federal recent law compelling the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to fly in US skies, click here. For more information on the use of drones by police in the US, click here. For lots more from reliable sources on surveillance in the US, click here.
Cispa will give US unprecedented access, internet privacy advocates warn
2012-04-18, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
Washington looks set to wave through new cybersecurity legislation next week that opponents fear will wipe out decades of privacy protections at a stroke. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa) will be discussed in the House of Representatives next week and already has the support of 100 House members. It will be the first such bill to go to a vote since the collapse of the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in January after global protests and a concerted campaign by internet giants such as Google, Wikipedia and Twitter. The author of the new bill, Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House intelligence committee, has said it is aimed at tracking the nefarious activities of hackers, terrorists and foreign states, especially China. But its critics charge the bill will affect ordinary citizens and overturn the privacy protections they now enjoy. Opponents fear the way it is currently drafted will open up ordinary citizens to unprecedented scrutiny. The bill uses the wording: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law," a phrase that if it became law would trump all existing legislation, according to critics. In one section, the bill defines "efforts to degrade, disrupt or destroy" a network as an area that would trigger a Cispa investigation. Opponents argue something as simple as downloading a large file – a movie for example – could potentially be defined as an effort to "degrade" a network. The bill also exempts companies from any liability for handing over private information.
Note: For lots more on government and corporate threats to civil liberties, click here.
Supreme Court Ruling Allows Strip Searches for Any Arrest
2012-04-02, New York Times
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled by a 5-to-4 vote that officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, joined by the court’s conservative wing, wrote that courts are in no position to second-guess the judgments of correctional officials. The procedures endorsed by the majority are forbidden by statute in at least 10 states. According to a supporting brief filed by the American Bar Association, international human rights treaties also ban the procedures. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the four dissenters, said the strip searches the majority allowed were “a serious affront to human dignity and to individual privacy” and should be used only when there was good reason to do so. Justice Breyer said that the Fourth Amendment should be understood to bar strip searches of people arrested for minor offenses not involving drugs or violence, unless officials had a reasonable suspicion that they were carrying contraband. People have been subjected to “the humiliation of a visual strip search” after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell. A nun was strip-searched ... after an arrest for trespassing during an antiwar demonstration. In a study of 23,000 people admitted to a correctional facility in Orange County, N.Y., using that standard, there was at most one instance of contraband detected that would not otherwise have been found.
Note: For an abundance of major media articles showing severe erosion of civil liberties, click here.
Email and web use 'to be monitored' under new laws
2012-04-01, BBC News
The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon. Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time. The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it. Tory MP David Davis called it "an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people". A new law ... would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant. But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited. Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary David Davis said it would make it easier for the government "to eavesdrop on vast numbers of people". "What this is talking about doing is not focusing on terrorists or criminals, it's absolutely everybody's emails, phone calls, web access..." He said that until now anyone wishing to monitor communications had been required to gain permission from a magistrate. Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, called the move "an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran". The previous Labour government attempted to introduce a central, government-run database of everyone's phone calls and emails, but eventually dropped the bid after widespread anger.
Note: For more on this from BBC, click here. Though this is interesting news, many know that the government has had easy access to all people's emails, phone calls, and more for many years through systems like echelon and more. For an abundance of major media articles showing how many of the power elite want to create a big-brother society, click here.
U.S. Relaxes Limits on Use of Data in Terror Analysis
2012-03-23, New York Times
The Obama administration is moving to relax restrictions on how counterterrorism analysts may retrieve, store and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. [has] signed new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center. The guidelines will lengthen to five years — from 180 days — the amount of time the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said. The guidelines are also expected to result in the center making more copies of entire databases and “data mining them.” They also set off civil-liberties concerns among privacy advocates who invoked the “Total Information Awareness” program. That program, proposed early in the George W. Bush administration and partially shut down by Congress after an outcry, proposed fusing vast archives of electronic records — like travel records, credit card transactions, phone calls and more. “We’re all in the dark, and for all we know it could be a rerun of Total Information Awareness, which would have allowed the government to make a computerized database of everything on everybody,” said Kate Martin, the director of the Center for National Security Studies, who criticized the administration for not making the draft guidelines public for scrutiny ahead of time.
Note: For excellent and insightful analyses of the disturbing growth of government surveillance and secrecy described in this NYT report, click here and here and here and here.
Drones Set Sights on U.S. Skies
2012-02-18, New York Times
A new federal law, signed by the president on [February 14], compels the Federal Aviation Administration to allow drones to be used for all sorts of commercial endeavors. Local police and emergency services will also be freer to send up their own drones. But while businesses, and drone manufacturers especially, are celebrating the opening of the skies to these unmanned aerial vehicles, the law raises new worries about how much detail the drones will capture about lives down below — and what will be done with that information. Some questions likely to come up: Can a drone flying over a house pick up heat from a lamp used to grow marijuana inside, or take pictures from outside someone’s third-floor fire escape? Can images taken from a drone be sold to a third party, and how long can they be kept? The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups are calling for new protections against what the A.C.L.U. has said could be “routine aerial surveillance of American life.”
The new law, part of a broader financing bill for the F.A.A., came after intense lobbying by drone makers and potential customers. These manufacturers have been awaiting lucrative new opportunities at home. The market for drones is valued at $5.9 billion and is expected to double in the next decade, according to industry figures. Drones can cost millions of dollars for the most sophisticated varieties to as little as $300 for one that can be piloted from an iPhone.
Note: For more information on the use of drones by police in the US, click here. For more on the threats to civil liberties created by this new law, click here. For lots more from reliable sources on surveillance in the US, click here.
Governments turn to hacking techniques for surveillance of citizens
2011-11-01, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
In a luxury Washington, DC, hotel last month, governments from around the world gathered to discuss surveillance technology they would rather you did not know about. The annual Intelligence Support Systems (ISS) World Americas conference is a mecca for representatives from intelligence agencies and law enforcement. But to the media or members of the public, it is strictly off limits. Behind the cloak of secrecy at the ISS World conference, tips are shared about the latest advanced ... methods used to spy on citizens – computer hacking, covert bugging and GPS tracking. The use of such methods is more commonly associated with criminal hacking groups, who have used spyware and trojan viruses to infect computers and steal bank details or passwords. But as the internet has grown, intelligence agencies and law enforcement have adopted similar techniques. "The current method of choice would seem to be spyware, or trojan horses," said Chris Soghoian, a Washington-based surveillance and privacy expert. "When there are five or six conferences held in closed locations every year, where telecommunications companies, surveillance companies and government ministers meet in secret to cut deals, buy equipment, and discuss the latest methods to intercept their citizens' communications – that I think meets the level of concern," he said. "Decades of history show that surveillance powers are abused – usually for political purposes."
Note: For more on corporate and government threats to privacy and civil liberties, click here and here.
How the US government secretly reads your email
2011-10-11, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
Somewhere, a US government official is reading through a list of those who sent or received an email from Jacob Appelbaum, a 28-year-old computer science researcher at the University of Washington who volunteered for WikiLeaks. Among those listed will be my name, a journalist who interviewed Appelbaum for a book about the digital revolution. Appelbaum is a spokesman for Tor, a free internet anonymising software that helps people defend themselves against internet surveillance. He's spent five years teaching activists around the world how to install and use the service to avoid being monitored by repressive governments. Now, Appelbaum finds himself a target of his own government as a result of his friendship with Julian Assange and the fact WikiLeaks used the Tor software. Appelbaum has not been charged with any wrongdoing; nor has the government shown probable cause that he is guilty of any criminal offence. That matters not a jot, because, as the law stands, government officials don't need a search warrant to access our digital data. Searching someone's home requires a warrant that can only be obtained by proving probable cause, but digital searches require no such burden of proof. Most people are not aware of the ease with which governments – free, open and so-called democratic – can access and peruse our private communications.
Note: For key reports on government threats to privacy from major media sources, click here.
Social Media History Becomes a New Job Hurdle
2011-07-21, New York Times
Companies have long used criminal background checks, credit reports and even searches on Google and LinkedIn to probe the previous lives of prospective employees. Now, some companies are requiring job candidates to also pass a social media background check. A year-old start-up, Social Intelligence, scrapes the Internet for everything prospective employees may have said or done online in the past seven years. Then it assembles a dossier with examples of professional honors and charitable work, along with negative information that meets specific criteria: online evidence of racist remarks; references to drugs; sexually explicit photos, text messages or videos; flagrant displays of weapons or bombs and clearly identifiable violent activity. The service ... alarms privacy advocates who say that it invites employers to look at information that may not be relevant to job performance. And what relevant unflattering information has led to job offers being withdrawn or not made? Marc S. Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, ... said that employers were entitled to gather information to make a determination about job-related expertise, but he expressed concern that “employers should not be judging what people in their private lives do away from the workplace.”
Note: For key reports from major media sources on government threats to privacy and civil liberties, click here and here.
Police to begin iPhone iris scans amid privacy concerns
2011-07-20, Chicago Tribune/Reuters News
Dozens of police departments nationwide are gearing up to use a tech company's already controversial iris- and facial-scanning device that slides over an iPhone and helps identify a person or track criminal suspects. Its use has set off alarms with some who are concerned about possible civil liberties and privacy issues. The smartphone-based scanner, named Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, is made by BI2 Technologies in Plymouth, Massachusetts. An iris scan, which detects unique patterns in a person's eyes, can reduce to seconds the time it takes to identify a suspect in custody. When attached to an iPhone, MORIS can photograph a person's face and run the image through software that hunts for a match in a BI2-managed database of U.S. criminal records. Constitutional rights advocates are concerned, in part because the device can accurately scan an individual's face from up to four feet away, potentially without a person's being aware of it. Experts also say that before police administer an iris scan, they should have probable cause a crime has been committed. "What we don't want is for them to become a general surveillance tool, where the police start using them routinely on the general public, collecting biometric information on innocent people," said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the national ACLU in Washington, D.C.
Note: For key reports from major media sources on government threats to privacy and civil liberties, click here and here.
To Track Militants, U.S. Has System That Never Forgets a Face
2011-07-14, New York Times
With little notice and only occasional complaints, the American military and local authorities have been engaged in an ambitious effort to record biometric identifying information on a remarkable number of people in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly men of fighting age. Information about more than 1.5 million Afghans has been put in databases operated by American, NATO and local forces. In Iraq, an even larger number of people, and a larger percentage of the population, have been registered. Data have been gathered on roughly 2.2 million Iraqis. A citizen in Afghanistan or Iraq would almost have to spend every minute in a home village and never seek government services to avoid ever crossing paths with a biometric system. What is different from traditional fingerprinting is that the government can scan through millions of digital files in a matter of seconds. While the systems are attractive to American law enforcement agencies, there is serious legal and political opposition to imposing routine collection on American citizens. Various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have discussed biometric scanning, and many have even spent money on hand-held devices. But the proposed uses are much more limited, with questions being raised about constitutional rights of privacy and protection from warrantless searches.
Note: Many new technologies for domestic population control are developed, deployed, and tested by the US military in war theaters abroad, and then shared with police agencies in the US. For many examples see our "Non-lethal" Weapons article archive available here.
War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs
2011-06-20, New York Times
Military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones ... to the size of insects and birds. The drones in development ... are designed to replicate the flight mechanics of moths, hawks and other inhabitants of the natural world. “We’re looking at how you hide in plain sight,” said Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, as he held up a prototype of a mechanical hawk that in the future might carry out espionage or kill. An explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars. Predator drones ... are by now a brand name, known and feared around the world. But far less known is the sheer size, variety and audaciousness of a rapidly expanding drone universe, along with the dilemmas that come with it. The Pentagon now has some 7,000 aerial drones, compared with fewer than 50 a decade ago. Within the next decade the Air Force anticipates a decrease in manned aircraft but expects its number of “multirole” aerial drones like the Reaper — the ones that spy as well as strike — to nearly quadruple, to 536. Already the Air Force is training more remote pilots, 350 this year alone, than fighter and bomber pilots combined. “It’s a growth market,” said Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer. The Pentagon has asked Congress for nearly $5 billion for drones next year, and by 2030 envisions ever more stuff of science fiction: “spy flies” equipped with sensors and microcameras to detect enemies
Note: Ashton B. Carter, CIA director John Deutch, and executive director of the 9/11 Commission Philip Zelikow co-authored a 1998 article in the journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs, titled "Catastrophic Terrorism". It predicted, years in advance, a massive attack on the World Trade Center that would result in loss of civil liberties, detention without charge, torture, and endless wars abroad. The Pentagon's weapons-buying spree, now including billions of dollars for drones to be used over US soil, and for which Carter is the "chief weapons buyer," would have been impossible without the 9/11 attacks.
Senators sound alarm over Patriot Act extension
2011-06-02, Chicago Tribune
When two senators warned that the Patriot Act is being interpreted in a secret way that would alarm Americans if they knew the details, civil liberties activists could only speculate about what they meant. The activists' fear: that the government is using the anti-terrorism law to collect vast troves of personal information, including cellphone records, on Americans who have no link to terrorism. Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, both Democrats, proclaimed that the Patriot Act's surveillance powers are being used far more expansively than most Americans realize. "Today the American people do not know how their government interprets the language of the Patriot Act," Wyden said. "Someday they are going to find out, and a lot of them are going to be stunned. Some of them will undoubtedly ask their senators: 'Did you know what this law actually did? Why didn't you know? Wasn't it your job to know, before you voted on it?'" The warnings by two lawmakers with access to secret information underscore the extent to which government surveillance is shielded from view, in an age when nearly every American leaves a digital trail through the Internet and mobile devices. A clue about Wyden's concerns may be found in a separate bill he is proposing, to forbid the government from tracking, without a court order, the location of Americans through the GPS signals given out by their cellphones.
Note: For key reports from major media sources on government surveillance and other threats to privacy and civil liberties, click here and here.
Turning camera on police activities is good thing
2011-05-20, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
What's good for the police apparently isn't good for the people - or so the law enforcement community would have us believe when it comes to surveillance. That's a concise summary of a new trend noted by National Public Radio last week - the trend whereby law enforcement officials have been trying to prevent civilians from using cell phone cameras in public places as a means of deterring police brutality. Oddly, the effort - which employs both forcible arrests of videographers and legal proceedings against them - comes at a time when the American Civil Liberties Union reports that "an increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems." The assault on civil liberties in America is a very real problem. As USA Today reported under the headline "Police brutality cases on rise since 9/11," situations "in which police, prison guards and other law enforcement authorities have used excessive force or other tactics to violate victims' civil rights increased 25 percent" between 2001 and 2007. Last year alone, more than 1,500 officers were involved in excessive force complaints, according to the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on government and police threats to civil liberties and privacy, click here and here.
Former Miss USA: I was 'molested' by the TSA
2011-04-29, USA Today
Weeks after generating an uproar for the aggressive screening of a six-year-old child in New Orleans, the TSA is again facing criticism for an enhanced pat-down. Former Miss USA Susie Castillo says she was "molested" by a TSA screener at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after declining to go through a body scanner due to radiation concerns. According to a detailed account from the Dallas Morning News, Castillo wrote "My private area was grazed four times!" on a complaint card after the screening. Castillo immediately shot a tearful video recounting the episode more explicitly and posted it on YouTube. The Boston Herald quotes from the video: "That's why I'm crying, that's why I'm so upset. They're making me choose to either get molested, because that's what I feel like, or go through this machine that's completely unhealthy and dangerous." TSA spokesman Luis Casanova defended the screening procedure. "Everything [the screener] did was according to protocol," Casanova said.
Note: For key articles on increasing reductions of civil liberties by governments, click here.
iPhone keeps record of everywhere you go
2011-04-20, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
Security researchers have discovered that Apple's iPhone keeps track of where you go – and saves every detail of it to a secret file on the device which is then copied to the owner's computer when the two are synchronised. The file contains the latitude and longitude of the phone's recorded coordinates along with a timestamp, meaning that anyone who stole the phone or the computer could discover details about the owner's movements using a simple program. For some phones, there could be almost a year's worth of data stored, as the recording of data seems to have started with Apple's iOS 4 update to the phone's operating system, released in June 2010. "Apple has made it possible for almost anybody – a jealous spouse, a private detective – with access to your phone or computer to get detailed information about where you've been," said Pete Warden, one of the researchers. Only the iPhone records the user's location in this way, say Warden and Alasdair Allan, the data scientists who discovered the file and are presenting their findings at the Where 2.0 conference in San Francisco on [April 20]. "Alasdair has looked for similar tracking code in [Google's] Android phones and couldn't find any," said Warden.
Note: For key reports from reliable sources on threats to privacy, click here.
Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media
2011-03-17, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives. The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same. Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions.
Note: The Pentagon claims that the "fake persona" software will not be used on social networks in the United States, because that would break laws against using propaganda on US citizens. How much credence should be given to this assurance?
Documents Reveal TSA Research Proposal To Body-Scan Pedestrians, Train Passengers
2011-03-02, Forbes blog
Giving Transportation Security Administration agents a peek under your clothes may soon be a practice that goes well beyond airport checkpoints. Newly uncovered documents show that as early as 2006, the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets. The non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [has] published documents it obtained from the Department of Homeland Security showing that from 2006 to 2008 the agency planned a study of of new anti-terrorism technologies. The projects range from what the DHS describes as “a walk through x-ray screening system that could be deployed at entrances to special events” ... to “covert inspection of moving subjects” employing the same backscatter imaging technology currently used in American airports. The 173-page collection of contracts and reports, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, includes contracts with Siemens Corporations, Northeastern University, and Rapiscan Systems. One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements. It’s not clear to what degree the technologies outlined in the DHS documents have been implemented.
Note: When WantToKnow.info manager Fred Burks worked as a language interpreter with the US State Department, he accompanied foreign dignitaries on ride-alongs with police where they were already using equipment like this over 10 years ago in clear violation of privacy laws. For other major media articles revealing clear violations of civil liberties, click here.
Schools use GPS to track students who skip
Skipping class, though frowned upon, is practically a rite of passage for young teens, but thanks to an elaborate system involving GPS being used by some school districts, it is practically being eliminated completely. The Orange County Register reports that the Anaheim Union High School District in California is currently participating in a pilot program which involves using a combination of Global Positioning System technology, automated telephone reminders, and one-on-one coaching to cut down on truancy. It's similar to programs being used in Baltimore and San Antonio. Basically any students in the seventh- or eighth-grade who have four or more unexcused absences over the course of a school year can be put into the Anaheim program. They will be assigned a GPS tracking device about the size of a cell phone, and they'll need to use it regularly, the newspaper said. It's worth noting that while this anti-truancy program is very elaborate and almost invasive, it is [promoted as] optional. Students and their parents are offered the chance to voluntarily participate in the "monitoring as a way to avoid continuation school or prosecution with a potential stay in juvenile hall." On top of that, parents would also be avoiding the $2,000 fine that can come from turning a blind eye to truancy if a school district chooses to pursue the issue.
Note: For other revealing media articles on microchips being used to invade privacy, click here. To better understand a program of elements within the power elite to microchip the entire population, click here.
WikiLeaks: U.S. Spied on NATO's Top Official
2011-02-11, CBS News/Associated Press
Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables appear to show that the United States has been snooping on NATO's top official using secret sources on his own staff. Confidential cables from the U.S. mission to NATO released [on February 11] by WikiLeaks, ... said American diplomats received information on the private conversations of Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen from "a member of the NATO international staff." Instead of the staffer's name, the phrase "strictly protect" was inserted in a cable dated Sept. 10, 2009. The cable dealt with Fogh Rasmussen's proposal to improve ties with Russia by establishing contacts with the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-dominated security alliance. The cable was signed off by U.S. ambassador Ivo Daalder. There has been no known [previous] case in the past of a nation spying on the secretary-general.
Google Comes Under Fire for 'Secret' Relationship with NSA
2011-01-25, Yahoo News/PC World
Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group largely focused in recent years on Google's privacy practices, has called [for] a congressional investigation into the Internet giant's "cozy" relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration. In a letter sent [on January 24], Consumer Watchdog asked Representative Darrell Issa, the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to investigate the relationship between Google and several government agencies. "We believe Google has inappropriately benefited from close ties to the administration," the letter said. "It should not get special treatment and access because of a special relationship with the administration." Consumer Watchdog's latest complaints about the relationship of Google and the Obama administration are outlined in a 32-page report [which] questions Google's relationship with the U.S. National Security Agency and calls for the company to be more open about what consumer information it shares with the spy agency.
Ex-Minn. governor sues over body scans, pat-downs
2011-01-24, Washington Post/Associated Press
Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is suing the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, saying full-body scans and pat-downs at airport checkpoints are violating his rights. Ventura filed his lawsuit [on January 24] in federal court in Minnesota. He says the new security measures violate his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. He's asking a federal court to order officials to stop subjecting him to these searches. Ventura was governor of Minnesota from 1999 through 2002. He now hosts the television program "Conspiracy Theory." The lawsuit says Ventura had a hip replacement in 2008, and his titanium implant sets off metal detectors.
Note: Jesse Ventura is one of the heros of our time. Do a video search on his name to watch episodes of his amazingly revealing "Conspiracy Theory" programs.
Domestic use of aerial drones by law enforcement likely to prompt privacy debate
2011-01-23, Washington Post
The suspect's house, just west of this city, sat on a hilltop at the end of a steep, exposed driveway. Agents with the Texas Department of Public Safety believed the man inside had a large stash of drugs and a cache of weapons. The Texas agents did what no state or local law enforcement agency had done before in a high-risk operation: They launched a drone. A bird-size device called a Wasp floated hundreds of feet into the sky and instantly beamed live video to agents on the ground. The SWAT team stormed the house and arrested the suspect. "The nice thing is it's covert," said Bill C. Nabors Jr., chief pilot with the Texas DPS, "You don't hear it, and unless you know what you're looking for, you can't see it." The drone technology that has revolutionized warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is entering the national airspace. The operation outside Austin presaged what could prove to be one of the most far-reaching and potentially controversial uses of drones: as a new and relatively cheap surveillance tool in domestic law enforcement. By 2013, the FAA expects to have formulated new rules that would allow police across the country to routinely fly lightweight, unarmed drones up to 400 feet above the ground - high enough for them to be largely invisible eyes in the sky. Such technology could allow police to record the activities of the public below with high-resolution, infrared and thermal-imaging cameras.
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on government and corporate threats to privacy, click here.
Undercover police cleared 'to have sex with activists'
2011-01-22, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers
Undercover police officers routinely adopted a tactic of "promiscuity" with the blessing of senior commanders, according to a former agent who worked in a secretive unit of the Metropolitan police for four years. The former undercover policeman claims that sexual relationships with activists were sanctioned for both men and women officers infiltrating anarchist, leftwing and environmental groups. Sex was a tool to help officers blend in, the officer claimed, and was widely used as a technique to glean intelligence. He said undercover officers, particularly those infiltrating environmental and leftwing groups, viewed having sex with a large number of partners "as part of the job". His comments contradict claims last week from the Association of Chief Police Officers that operatives were absolutely forbidden to sleep with activists. The claims follow the unmasking of undercover PC Mark Kennedy, who had sexual relationships with several women during the seven years he spent infiltrating a ring of environmental activists. Another two covert officers have been named in the past fortnight who also had sex with the protesters they were sent to spy on, fuelling allegations that senior officers had authorised sleeping around as a legitimate means of gathering intelligence.
Note: For a comprehensive overview of the still-ongoing revelations about police provocateur Mark Kennedy and his cohorts in the UK police infiltration of environmental and related activist groups, click here.
AT&T Case Asks High Court to Assign Privacy Rights to Companies
A business privacy case that comes before the U.S. Supreme Court today may rekindle a debate among the justices over whether corporations are like people, even to the point of suffering embarrassment. The case ... pits the Obama administration against AT&T Inc. over the release of documents stemming from a government investigation of the company. The question is whether corporations can invoke a Freedom of Information Act provision that protects against invasions of “personal privacy.” In siding with AT&T, a lower court said companies can be embarrassed and stigmatized just like human beings -- a contention the Obama administration scoffed at. The court’s divisions were on display when it considered whether to overturn decades-old restrictions on corporate campaign spending. During arguments in 2009, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that judges “created corporations as persons” and that they might have been wrong to have “imbued a creature of state law with human characteristics.” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that “a corporation, after all, is not endowed by its creator with inalienable rights.” The court majority disagreed, ruling in a 5-4 decision that corporations have the same constitutional right to spend money on campaign ads as individuals do.
Note: For lots more on government and corporate corruption, click here and here.
Plain-clothes officers 'were deployed at G20 demo'
Scotland Yard has admitted giving MPs inaccurate information by denying "covert officers" were deployed at London's G20 protests in April 2009. In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said it had established that covert officers had been deployed to the protests. The letter came after ... the unmasking of undercover policeman Mark Kennedy, who attended many demonstrations during seven years living as a spy among green activists. Giving evidence at the select committee in 2009, Commander Bob Broadhurst told MPs then: "The only officers we deploy for intelligence purposes at public order are forward intelligence team officers who are wearing full police uniforms with a yellow jacket with blue shoulders. There were no plain clothes officers deployed at all." The Met statement released on Wednesday said: "Having made thorough checks on the back of recent media reporting we have now established that covert officers were deployed during the G20 protests. Therefore the information that was given by Commander Bob Broadhurst to the Home Affairs Select Committee saying that 'We had no plain-clothes officers deployed within the crowd' was not accurate."
Note: For lots more on the police provocateur Mark Kennedy, click here.
Icelandic MP fights US demand for her Twitter account details
2011-01-08, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
A member of parliament in Iceland who is also a former WikiLeaks volunteer says the US justice department has ordered Twitter to hand over her private messages. Birgitta Jonsdottir, an MP for the Movement in Iceland, said last night on Twitter that the "USA government wants to know about all my tweets and more since november 1st 2009. Do they realize I am a member of parliament in Iceland?" She said she was starting a legal fight to stop the US getting hold of her messages, after being told by Twitter that a subpoena had been issued. She added that the US authorities had requested personal information from Twitter as well as her private messages and that she was now assessing her legal position. "It's not just about my information. It's a warning for anyone who had anything to do with WikiLeaks. It is completely unacceptable for the US justice department to flex its muscles like this. I am lucky, I'm a representative in parliament. But what of other people? It's my duty to do whatever I can to stop this abuse."
Note: For a New York Times article with more on this, click here.
2010-12-20, Washington Post
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators. The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing. The months-long investigation [by The Washington Post], based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents, found that: * Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America. * The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. * Law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies. * The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.
Note: This report is part of a series, "Top Secret America," by The Washington Post. For more, click here.
TSA Under Fire for New Security Procedures
2010-11-22, ABC News
The Transportation Security Administration has come under fire for new body scanners and what some say are highly invasive pat-downs. Thomas Sawyer, a bladder cancer survivor, said he was humiliated after a pat-down broke his urostomy bag, leaving the 61-year-old covered in his own urine. Sawyer said he warned the TSA officials twice that the pat-down could break the seal. Cathy Bossi, a long-time flight attendant and breast cancer survivor, said the TSA made her take off her prosthetic breast. "She put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?' I said 'It's a prosthesis because I've had a breast cancer,'" Bossi said. "And she said, 'You'll need to show me that.'" In recent days, several passengers have come forward to tell such shocking stories about their experiences with TSA officers. An ABC News employee said she was subject to a "demeaning" search at Newark Liberty International Airport Sunday morning. "The woman who checked me reached her hands inside my underwear and felt her way around," she said. "It was basically worse than going to the gynecologist. It was embarrassing. It was demeaning. It was inappropriate." The head of the Transportation Security Administration John Pistole ... has said the TSA would not change its pat-down procedures.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on increasing threats to privacy, click here.
Growing backlash against TSA body scanners, pat-downs
A growing pilot and passenger revolt over full-body scans and what many consider intrusive pat-downs couldn't have come at a worse time for the nation's air travel system.
Thanksgiving, the busiest travel time of the year, is less than two weeks away.
Grassroots groups are urging travelers to either not fly or to protest by opting out of the full-body scanners and undergo time-consuming pat-downs instead. Some pilots, passengers and flight attendants have chosen to opt out of the revealing scans. One online group, National Opt Out Day calls for a day of protest against the scanners on Wednesday, November 24, the busiest travel day of the year. Another group argues the TSA should remove the scanners from all airports. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)... is taking legal action. Pilots' unions for US Airways and American Airlines are urging their members to avoid full-body scanning at airport security checkpoints, citing health risks and concerns about intrusiveness and security officer behavior. "Pilots should NOT submit to AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) screening," wrote Capt. Mike Cleary, president of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association. "Frequent exposure to TSA-operated scanner devices may subject pilots to significant health risks," Cleary wrote. The website We Won't Fly urgers travelers to "Act now. Travel with Dignity."
Note: For a powerful, one-minute video showing just how invasive these searches are, click here.
Pilots Refusing to Use Full Body Scanners or Submit to Patdown
2010-11-09, ABC News
Two of the largest pilots' unions in the nation are urging commercial pilots to rebel against current airport screening rules. In late October, the Transport Security Administration implemented more invasive patdown rules. Travelers and pilots were faced with a new dilemma -- have a revealing, full-body scan or what some are calling an X-rated patdown. Pilots are piping mad over the options, saying the full-body scanners emit dangerous levels of radiation and that the alternative public patdown is disgraceful for a pilot in uniform. Some pilots have said they felt so violated after a patdown, they were unfit to fly. The patdowns, implemented Oct. 29, allow TSA officers to pat down passengers with the front of their hands, instead of the backs of their hands. A security expert who demonstrated the new procedure on a mannequin for ABC News explained the changes. "You go down the body and up to the breast portion," said Charles Slepian of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center. "If it's a female passenger, you're going to see if there's anything in the bra." The new patdown protocol could be used at any of the nation's 450 airports on passengers who require additional screening. Tens of thousands of passengers are submitted to patdowns and full-body scanners every day. More than 300 full-body scanners are being used at 65 airports across the country.
Note: And what about the general public having to submit to being groped?
Look out, your medicine is watching you
2010-11-08, Fox News/Reuters
Novartis AG plans to seek regulatory approval within 18 months for a pioneering tablet containing an embedded microchip, bringing the concept of "smart-pill" technology a step closer.
The initial program will use one of the Swiss firm's established drugs taken by transplant patients to avoid organ rejection. But Trevor Mundel, global head of development, believes the concept can be applied to many other pills. Novartis agreed in January to spend $24 million to secure access to chip-in-a-pill technology developed by privately owned Proteus Biomedical of Redwood City, California, putting it ahead of rivals. The biotech start-up's ingestible chips are activated by stomach acid and send information to a small patch worn on the patient's skin, which can transmit data to a smartphone or send it over the Internet to a doctor. Because the tiny chips are added to existing drugs, Novartis does not expect to have to conduct full-scale clinical trials to prove the new products work. Instead, it aims to do so-called bioequivalence tests to show they are the same as the original. A bigger issue may be what checks should be put in place to protect patients' personal medical data as it is transmitted from inside their bodies by wireless and Bluetooth.
Note: It's interesting that Fox News was the only major media to pick up this revealing Reuters story. This article seriously underplays the privacy concerns raised by this new corporate strategy. For more on this, click here. For many key reports on corporate and governmental threats to privacy, click here. For more on the dangers of microchips from reliable sources, click here.
From protester to senator, FBI tracked Paul Wellstone
2010-10-25, Minnesota Public Radio
It started with a fingerprint of a 25-year-old college professor who opposed the Vietnam War and ended with a search for his remains, 32 years later, in a wooded area near Eveleth, Minn. The FBI's files on Paul and Sheila Wellstone [show that] the FBI initially took interest in Wellstone as part of the broader surveillance of the American left ... and, in the end, [sifted] through the wreckage of the fatal plane crash that killed Wellstone and seven others eight years ago. Wellstone's surviving sons declined to comment on the documents, which were obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by MPR News. The FBI did not include 76 pages related to the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that investigated the crash. A request for those records is pending. Coleen Rowley, the 9/11 whistleblower and former chief legal advisor in the FBI's Minneapolis office, said the documents from 1970 shed light on the FBI's far-reaching efforts to quash political dissent. "I think this really is valuable … because it's basically history repeating what we have right now," she said, noting the recent FBI raids at the homes of several anti-war organizers in Minneapolis. Wellstone's arrest occurred less than a year before the official end of Cointelpro, a series of secret domestic surveillance programs created by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to monitor and disrupt groups deemed to be a threat to national security.
Note: For insights into the deeper implications of Senator Wellstone's mysterious plane crash, click here.
Every email and website to be stored
2010-10-20, The Telegraph (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
Every email, phone call and website visit is to be recorded and stored after the Coalition Government revived controversial Big Brother snooping plans. It will allow security services and the police to spy on the activities of every Briton who uses a phone or the internet. Moves to make every communications provider store details for at least a year will be unveiled later this year sparking fresh fears over a return of the surveillance state. It comes despite the Coalition Agreement promised to "end the storage of internet and email records without good reason". The plans are expected to involve service providers storing all users details for a set period of time. That will allow the security and police authorities to track every phone call, email, text message and website visit made by the public if they argue it is needed to tackle crime or terrorism. The information will include who is contacting whom, when and where and which websites are visited, but not the content of the conversations or messages. The move was buried in the Government's Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on increasing government and corporate threats to privacy, click here.
GPS tracker in car inflames privacy debate
2010-10-16, Seattle Times/Associated Press
Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old computer salesman and community-college student, took his car in for an oil change earlier this month and his mechanic spotted an odd wire hanging from the undercarriage. The wire was attached to a strange magnetic device that puzzled Afifi and the mechanic. They freed it from the car and posted images of it online, asking for help in identifying it. Two days later, FBI agents arrived at Afifi's Santa Clara apartment and demanded the return of their property — a global-positioning-system tracking device now at the center of a raging legal debate over privacy rights. One federal judge wrote that the widespread use of the device was straight out of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four." By holding that this kind of surveillance doesn't impair an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, the panel hands the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives," wrote Alex Kozinski, the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a blistering dissent in which a three-judge panel from his court ruled that search warrants weren't necessary for GPS tracking. In his dissent, Chief Judge Kozinski noted that GPS technology is far different from tailing a suspect on a public road, which requires the active participation of investigators. "The devices create a permanent electronic record that can be compared, contrasted and coordinated to deduce all manner of private information about individuals," Kozinksi wrote.
Note: For an AP photo of this device, click here.
Federal Agents Urged to 'Friend' People on Social Networks, Memo Reveals
2010-10-14, Fox News
A privacy watchdog has uncovered a government memo that encourages federal agents to befriend people on a variety of social networks, to take advantage of their readiness to share -- and to spy on them. In response to a Freedom of Information request, the government released a handful of documents, including a May 2008 memo detailing how social-networking sites are exploited by the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS). Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Digg had not commented on the report, which details the official government program to spy via social networking. Other websites the government is spying on include ... Craigslist and Wikipedia, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which filed the FOIA request. "Narcissistic tendencies in many people fuel a need to have a large group of 'friends' link to their pages, and many of these people accept cyber-friends that they don't even know," stated one of the documents obtained by the EFF. "This provides an excellent vantage point for FDNS to observe the daily life of [members]," it said. Among the networks specifically cited for analysis "were general social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Flickr, as well as sites that focus specifically on certain demographic groups such as MiGente and BlackPlanet, news sites such as NPR, and political commentary sites DailyKos," the EFF wrote.
Note: For more information, read the full report at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
'Feds radiating Americans'? Mobile X-ray vans hit US streets
2010-09-29, Christian Science Monitor
News that the US is buying custom-made vans packed with something called backscatter X-ray capacity has riled privacy advocates and sparked internet worries about "feds radiating Americans." American Science & Engineering, a Billerica, Mass.-company, tells Forbes it [has] sold more than 500 ZBVs, or Z Backscatter Vans, to US and foreign governments. The Department of Defense has bought the most for war zone use, but US law enforcement has also deployed the vans to [use] inside the US, according to Joe Reiss, a company spokesman. On [September 28], a counterterror operation snarled truck traffic on I-20 near Atlanta, where Department of Homeland Security teams used mobile X-ray technology to check the contents of truck trailers. Authorities said the inspections weren't prompted by any specific threat. Backscatter X-ray is already part of an ongoing national debate about its use in so-called full body scanners being deployed in many US airports. [Critics] worry that radiating Americans without their knowledge is evidence of gradually eroding constitutional protections in the post-9/11 age. "This is another way in which the government is capturing information they may lose control over. I just have some real problems with the idea of even beginning a campaign of rolling surveillance of American citizens, which is what this essentially is said [Vermont-based privacy expert Frederick Lane, author of American Privacy.]
Note: For further reports from reliable sources on the militarization of US police forces, click here.
U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet
2010-09-27, New York Times
Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone. Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages. James X. Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an Internet policy group, said the proposal had “huge implications” and challenged “fundamental elements of the Internet revolution” — including its decentralized design. “They are really asking for the authority to redesign services that take advantage of the unique, and now pervasive, architecture of the Internet,” he said. “They basically want to turn back the clock and make Internet services function the way that the telephone system used to function.”
Note: For an analysis of this new government move to spy on US citizens, click here. For lots more from reliable sources on disturbing government threats to privacy and civil liberties, click here and here.
Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer
2010-09-14, New York Times
That photo of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. riding one of the first desegregated buses in Montgomery, Ala.? He took it. The well-known image of black sanitation workers carrying “I Am a Man” signs in Memphis? His. He was there in Room 306 of the Lorraine Hotel, Dr. King’s room, on the night he was assassinated. But now an unsettling asterisk must be added to the legacy of Ernest C. Withers, one of the most celebrated photographers of the civil rights era: He was a paid F.B.I. informer. On [September 12], The Commercial Appeal in Memphis published the results of a two-year investigation that showed Mr. Withers, who died in 2007 at age 85, had collaborated closely with two F.B.I. agents in the 1960s to keep tabs on the civil rights movement. From at least 1968 to 1970, Mr. Withers, who was black, provided photographs, biographical information and scheduling details to two F.B.I. agents in the bureau’s Memphis domestic surveillance program, Howell Lowe and William H. Lawrence, according to numerous reports summarizing their meetings. The reports were obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act and posted on its Web site. While he was growing close to top civil rights leaders, Mr. Withers was also meeting regularly with the F.B.I. agents, disclosing details about plans for marches and political beliefs of the leaders, even personal information like the leaders’ car tag numbers.
Note: For a fascinating CNN interview with civil rights leader and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young on this issue, click here. For key reports from reliable sources raising unanswered questions about the assassination of Martin Luther King and other major US political leaders, click here.
U.S. drones to watch entire Mexico border from September 1
The U.S. government will have unmanned surveillance aircraft monitoring the whole southwest border with Mexico from September 1, as it ramps up border security in this election year. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said U.S. Customs and Border Protection would begin flying a Predator B drone out of Corpus Christi, Texas, on [that date], extending the reach of the agency's unmanned surveillance aircraft across the length of the nearly 2,000 mile border with Mexico. "With the deployment of the Predator in Texas, we will now be able to cover the southwest border from the El Centro sector in California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, providing critical aerial surveillance assistance to personnel on the ground," Napolitano said during a conference call. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama signed a $600 million bill that would fund some 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and other law enforcement officials along the border, as well as paying for two more unmanned drones. The Predator B drones are made by defense contractor General Atomics. They carry equipment including sophisticated day and night vision cameras that operators use to detect drug and human smugglers, and can stay aloft for up to 30 hours at a time.
Note: How long will it be before aerial surveillance drones, now positioned over the southern border of the US, are deployed in other parts of the country?
The Government Can Use GPS to Track Your Moves
2010-08-25, Time magazine
Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn't violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn't tracking your movements. That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant. It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell. It is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich. Plenty of liberals have objected to this kind of spying, but it is the conservative Chief Judge Kozinski who has done so most passionately. "1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it's here at last," he lamented in his dissent. And invoking Orwell's totalitarian dystopia where privacy is essentially nonexistent, he warned: "Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we're living in Oceania."
Note: For key reports from reliable souces on increasing government threats to civil liberties, click here.
Big Brother: Eye-scanners being installed across one Mexican city
2010-08-19, USA Today
Mexico's sixth-largest city, Leon, is on the road to ... a future in which everyone is tracked wherever they go. Fast Company reports that U.S. biometrics firm Global Rainmakers and its Mexican partner announced yesterday that they have begun installing iris-scanning technology in the city of more than 1 million in Guanajuato state. The companies aim ... to create "the most secure city in the world." The first phase concentrates on law enforcement and security checkpoints. Then the iris scanners, which the firms say can "identify humans in motion and at a distance while ensuring liveness," will fill malls, pharmacies, mass transit, medical centers and banks, "among other public and private locations," Fast Company writes. "In the future, whether it's entering your home, opening your car, entering your workspace, getting a pharmacy prescription refilled, or having your medical records pulled up, everything will come off that unique key that is your iris," says Jeff Carter, CDO of Global Rainmakers. Before coming to GRI, Carter headed a think tank partnership between Bank of America, Harvard, and MIT. "Every person, place, and thing on this planet will be connected [to the iris system] within the next 10 years," he says.
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on threats to privacy, click here.
Tracking The Companies That Track You Online
One of the fastest-growing online businesses is the business of spying on Internet users by using sophisticated software to track movements through the Web, so that the information can be sold to advertisers. Julia Angwin recently led a team of reporters from The Wall Street Journal in analyzing the tracking software. They discovered that nearly all of the most commonly visited websites gather information in real time about the behavior of online users. The Journal series identified more than 100 tracking companies, data brokers and advertising networks collecting data — which are then sold on a stock market-like exchange to online advertisers. Angwin explains how consumer surveillance works, how users can disable the tracking software — and how advertisers are continually evolving to keep up with the data they receive. She notes that many Internet users are unaware that their information is being tracked and then traded. "Most people that we have heard from since writing these stories did not know what was going on," Angwin explains. "So when you go to a website, you're not thinking about the fact that they might have relationships with all different types of monitoring firms, and those firms are installing things that are invisible to you on your computer."
Note: Julia Angwin is senior technology editor of The Wall Street Journal, and author of the book, Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America. For lots more on growing threats to privacy, click here.
Judges Divided Over Rising GPS Surveillance
2010-08-14, New York Times
The growing use by the police of new technologies that make surveillance far easier and cheaper to conduct is raising difficult questions about the scope of constitutional privacy rights. The issue is whether the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches covers a device that records a suspect’s movements for weeks or months without any need for an officer to trail him. The GPS tracking dispute coincides with a burst of other technological tools that expand police monitoring abilities — including ... the widely discussed prospect of linking face-recognition computer programs to the proliferating number of surveillance cameras. Some legal scholars ... have called for a fundamental rethinking of how to apply Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the 21st century. Traditionally, courts have held that the Fourth Amendment does not cover the trailing of a suspect because people have no expectation of privacy for actions exposed to public view. On [August 12], five judges on the San Francisco appeals court dissented from a decision not to re-hear a ruling upholding the warrantless use of GPS trackers. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski characterized the tactic as “creepy and un-American” and contended that its capabilities handed “the government the power to track the movements of every one of us, every day of our lives.”
Note: For lots more on threats to civil liberties and privacy, click here and here.
Breaking a Promise on Surveillance
2010-07-30, New York Times
It is just a technical matter, the Obama administration says: We just need to make a slight change in a law to make clear that we have the right to see the names of anyone’s e-mail correspondents and their Web browsing history without the messy complication of asking a judge for permission. It is far more than a technical change. The administration’s request, reported [on July 29] in The Washington Post, is an unnecessary and disappointing step backward toward more intrusive surveillance from a president who promised something very different during the 2008 campaign. To get this information, the F.B.I. simply has to ask for it in the form of a national security letter, which is an administrative request that does not require a judge’s signature. The F.B.I. used these letters hundreds of thousands of times to demand records of phone calls and other communications, and the Pentagon used them to get records from banks and consumer credit agencies. Internal investigations of both agencies found widespread misuse of the power, and little oversight into how it was wielded. President Obama campaigned for office on an explicit promise to rein in these abuses. But instead of implementing reasonable civil liberties protections, like taking requests for e-mail surveillance before a judge, the administration is proposing changes to the law that would allow huge numbers of new electronic communications to be examined with no judicial oversight.
Note: For key reports on the growing government and corporate threats to privacy, click here.
U.S. Plans Cyber Shield for Utilities, Companies
2010-07-08, Wall Street Journal
The federal government is launching an expansive program dubbed "Perfect Citizen" to detect cyber assaults on private companies and government agencies running such critical infrastructure as the electricity grid and nuclear-power plants. The surveillance by the National Security Agency, the government's chief eavesdropping agency, would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack. Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. recently won a classified contract for the initial phase of the surveillance effort valued at up to $100 million. Some industry and government officials familiar with the program see Perfect Citizen as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs. One internal Raytheon email, the text of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal [said,] "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother." Raytheon declined to comment on this email. The information gathered by Perfect Citizen could also have applications beyond the critical infrastructure sector, officials said, serving as a data bank that would also help companies and agencies who call upon NSA for help with investigations of cyber attacks, as Google did when it sustained a major attack late last year.
Note: For key reports of government and corporate surveillance from reliable sources, click here.
Man infects himself with computer virus
2010-05-26, MSNBC News
University of Reading researcher Mark Gasson has become the first human known to be infected by a computer virus. The virus, infecting a chip implanted in Gasson's hand, passed into a laboratory computer. From there, the infection could have spread into other computer chips found in building access cards. All this was intentional, in an experiment to see how simple radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips like those used for tracking animals can host and spread technological diseases. The research from the British university shows that as implantable bionic devices such as pacemakers get more sophisticated in the years ahead, their security and the safety of the patients whose lives depend on them will become increasingly important, said Gasson. "We should start to think of these devices as miniature computers," Gasson said. And just like everyday computers, they can get sick. "I don’t think for us that (infectious technological agents) would be a particularly new concept, but implants in our bodies will make it a lot more real," Gasson told TechNewsDaily. "A denial-of-service attack on a pacemaker, if such a thing were possible, would of course be very detrimental."
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on the dangers of microchip implant technologies, click here.
Digital Photocopiers Loaded With Secrets
2010-04-15, CBS News
At a warehouse in New Jersey, 6,000 used copy machines sit ready to be sold. Almost every one of them holds a secret. Nearly every digital copier built since 2002 contains a hard drive ... storing an image of every document copied, scanned, or emailed by the machine. In the process, it's turned an office staple into a digital time-bomb packed with highly-personal or sensitive data. If you're in the identity theft business it seems this would be a pot of gold. "The type of information we see on these machines with the social security numbers, birth certificates, bank records, income tax forms," John Juntunen said, "that information would be very valuable." Juntunen's Sacramento-based company Digital Copier Security developed software called "INFOSWEEP" that can scrub all the data on hard drives. He's been trying to warn people about the potential risk - with no luck. All the major [digital copier] manufacturers told us they offer security or encryption packages on their products. One product from Sharp automatically erases an image from the hard drive. It costs $500. But evidence keeps piling up in warehouses that many businesses are unwilling to pay for such protection, and that the average American is completely unaware of the dangers posed by digital copiers.
Note: For lots more from reliable sources on threats to privacy, click here.
Security Checks on Flights to U.S. to Be Revamped
2010-04-02, New York Times
President Obama has signed off on new security protocols for people flying to the United States, establishing a system that uses intelligence information and assessment of threats to identify passengers who could have links to terrorism. The system, which will be put in place this month, applies only to travelers flying into the United States. Officials said intelligence information from a variety of United States agencies would be made available to foreign airlines, whose employees and security officials would have wide latitude to stop passengers, or not. Currently, the only information typically checked before a passenger boards an airplane is the name, date of birth and nationality — information found in a passport, which is compared against the terror watch lists. But the Homeland Security Department separately already collects much more information on the travel patterns of passengers headed to the United States, including other stops made on the way to an American airport, how the passenger paid for the ticket as well as other details contained in the reservation, like what hotel a passenger might be staying in, or if he or she is traveling alone.
Note: For many disturbing reports from major media sources on increasing governmental threats to civil liberties, click here.
Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal
2010-04-01, New York Times
A federal judge ruled [on March 31] that the National Security Agency's program of surveillance without warrants was illegal, rejecting the Obama administration's effort to keep shrouded in secrecy one of the most disputed counterterrorism policies of former President George W. Bush. In a 45-page opinion, Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled that the government had violated a 1978 federal statute requiring court approval for domestic surveillance when it intercepted phone calls of Al Haramain, a now-defunct Islamic charity in Oregon, and of two lawyers representing it in 2004. Declaring that the plaintiffs had been 'subjected to unlawful surveillance,' the judge said the government was liable to pay them damages. The ruling by Judge Walker, the chief judge of the Federal District Court in San Francisco, rejected the Justice Department's claim ' first asserted by the Bush administration and continued under President Obama ' that the charity's lawsuit should be dismissed without a ruling on the merits because allowing it to go forward could reveal state secrets. The judge characterized that expansive use of the so-called state-secrets privilege as amounting to 'unfettered executive-branch discretion' that had 'obvious potential for governmental abuse and overreaching.'
Note: For illumination of the dark world of state secrecy, click here.
Technology Coalition Seeks Stronger Privacy Laws
2010-03-31, New York Times
A broad coalition of technology companies, including AT&T, Google and Microsoft, and advocacy groups from across the political spectrum said Tuesday that it would push Congress to strengthen online privacy laws to protect private digital information from government access. The group, calling itself the Digital Due Process coalition, said it wanted to ensure that as millions of people moved private documents from their filing cabinets and personal computers to the Web, those documents remain protected from easy access by law enforcement and other government authorities.
The coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, wants law enforcement agencies to use a search warrant approved by a judge or a magistrate rather than rely on a simple subpoena from a prosecutor to obtain a citizen’s online data. The group also said that it wanted to safeguard location-based information collected by cellphone companies and applications providers. forcement agencies and the Obama administration.
Note: For many key articles from reliable sources on privacy issues in the new age of surveillance, click here.
Crackdown on dangerous dogs to make microchips compulsory for all
2010-03-09, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
All dogs are to be compulsorily microchipped so that their owners can be more easily traced under a crackdown on dangerous dogs. Under the scheme a microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin of the dog between its shoulder blades. The chip contains a unique code number, the dog's name, age, breed and health as well as the owner's name, address and phone number. When the chip is "read" by a handheld scanner the code number is revealed and the details can be checked on a national database. The measures will be set out by the home secretary, Alan Johnson, who will point to rising public concern that "status dogs" are being used by some irresponsible owners to intimidate communities or as a weapon by gangs. If the scheme were made compulsory owners would face a fine for failing to microchip their dogs.
Note: Once all dogs are required to be microchipped, what will come next? To be informed of some disturbing plans to microchip all of us, click here. For lots more on microchipping from reliable sources, click here.
Watching Certain People
2010-03-02, New York Times
From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them. Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police. “They have been collecting the names and all sorts of other information about everybody who is stopped and frisked on the streets,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the department’s stop-and-frisk policy and its compiling of data on people who are innocent. “This is a massive database of innocent, overwhelmingly black and Latino people,” she said. Police Commissioner Kelly has made it clear that this monstrous database, growing by a half-million or so stops each year, is to be a permanent feature of the department’s operations.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on serious threats to civil liberties, click here.
What Microsoft knows and keeps about you
2010-02-25, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
It's time to reflect on the immense powers Americans have ceded to the government and [the] potential for abuse by federal, state and local authorities. The global Internet and telecommunications infrastructure provides massive information on almost ... every person on the planet. One power truly stands out --- the all-encompassing reach and technological capabilities of the US National Security Agency. If you want to be secure, don't use a phone, a computer, credit card or any other technologically linked system because it guarantees that Big Brother will find you. Big Brother is not just the government. Most consumer "spying" comes from subpoenas and requests from non-terrorist-related federal, state, local agency requests and non-governmental private litigation and discovery. Simply put, a subpoena issued by a court in support of private litigation and discovery may have the same impact on an individual as the full force of the NSA. What information is typically requested from a company by say a plaintiff's lawyer during some discovery phase? Well, it's everything. In fact, it's generally a fishing expedition for every log file, every uploaded video, photo, chat session and anything else they can get their hands on.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on the continuing development of a global society under Big Brother's constant gaze, click here.
The People We Pay to Look Over Our Shoulders
2010-02-23, New York Times
The world of modern eavesdropping, or signals intelligence ... for many years ... operated in the shadows. The Puzzle Palace, the 1983 best seller by James Bamford that remains the benchmark study of the N.S.A., first pulled back the curtain to provide a glint of unwanted sunlight on the place. As each operation has come to light, an anxious public has wanted to know whether this powerful new surveillance model was undermining traditional notions of privacy and civil liberties. Just whom is the government watching? And who is watching the watchers? It has been left to outsiders — journalists, authors, civil rights advocates and privacy groups — to keep tabs on the watchers and to bring public scrutiny to once-secret programs. For the spymasters, this spotlight was decidedly unwelcome. Mike McConnell, a director of intelligence in the Bush administration, ... is one of the recurring characters in The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State by Shane Harris. Mr. Harris, with some success, does what Mr. McConnell and others in the intelligence world have found so objectionable: he watches the watchers. At its best The Watchers provides an insightful glimpse into how Washington works and how ideas are marketed and sold in the back rooms of power, whether the product being peddled is widgets or a radical model for intelligence gathering.
Note: For more insights into the activities of Big Brother, click here.
Law enforcement is tracking Americans' cell phones in real time
2010-02-19, Newsweek magazine
Law enforcement is tracking Americans' cell phones in real time—without the benefit of a warrant. Amid all the furor over the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program a few years ago, a mini-revolt was brewing over another type of federal snooping that was getting no public attention at all. Federal prosecutors were seeking what seemed to be unusually sensitive records: internal data from telecommunications companies that showed the locations of their customers' cell phones—sometimes in real time, sometimes after the fact. Prosecutors "were using the cell phone as a surreptitious tracking device," said Stephen W. Smith, a federal magistrate in Houston. "And I started asking the U.S. Attorney's Office, 'What is the legal authority for this? What is the legal standard for getting this information?'" Those questions are now at the core of a constitutional clash between President Obama's Justice Department and civil libertarians alarmed by what they see as the government's relentless intrusion into the private lives of citizens. There are numerous other fronts in the privacy wars—about the content of e-mails, for instance, and access to bank records and credit-card transactions. The Feds now can quietly get all that information. But cell-phone tracking is among the more unsettling forms of government surveillance, conjuring up Orwellian images of Big Brother secretly following your movements through the small device in your pocket.
Note: For many key reports from major media sources on the disturbing trend toward increasing government and corporate surveillance, click here.
The government has your baby's DNA
2010-02-04, CNN News
When Annie Brown's daughter, Isabel, was a month old, her pediatrician asked Brown and her husband to sit down because he had some bad news to tell them: Isabel carried a gene that put her at risk for cystic fibrosis. While grateful to have the information -- Isabel received further testing and she doesn't have the disease -- the Mankato, Minnesota, couple wondered how the doctor knew about Isabel's genes in the first place. After all, they'd never consented to genetic testing. It's simple, the pediatrician answered: Newborn babies in the United States are routinely screened for a panel of genetic diseases. Since the testing is mandated by the government, it's often done without the parents' consent, according to Brad Therrell, director of the National Newborn Screening & Genetics Resource Center. In many states, such as Florida, where Isabel was born, babies' DNA is stored indefinitely, according to the resource center. Many parents don't realize their baby's DNA is being stored in a government lab, but sometimes when they find out, as the Browns did, they take action. Parents in Texas, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits, and these parents' concerns are sparking a new debate about whether it's appropriate for a baby's genetic blueprint to be in the government's possession.
Note: For many reliable reports on the increasing governmental and corporate threats to privacy, click here.
FBI broke law for years in phone record searches
2010-01-19, Washington Post
The FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records, according to internal bureau memos and interviews. FBI officials issued approvals after the fact to justify their actions. E-mails obtained by The Washington Post detail how counterterrorism officials inside FBI headquarters did not follow their own procedures that were put in place to protect civil liberties. A Justice Department inspector general's report due out this month is expected to conclude that the FBI frequently violated the law with its emergency requests. FBI officials said they thought that nearly all of the requests involved terrorism investigations. FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni said ... that the FBI technically violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act when agents invoked nonexistent emergencies to collect records.
Note: The FBI, by admitting that "nearly all" of the phone records they obtained were related to "terrorism investigations," make it clear that some were not. But they used claims of "terrorism emergency" to obtain them. These they then assert were merely "technical" violations. For many disturbing reports from major media sources on the increasing threats to civil liberties under the pretext of the "war on terrorism," click here.
Meet Mikey, 8: U.S. Has Him on Watch List
2010-01-14, New York Times
The Transportation Security Administration ... has on its web site a “mythbuster” that tries to reassure the public. Myth: The No-Fly list includes an 8-year-old boy. Buster: No 8-year-old is on a T.S.A. watch list. “Meet Mikey Hicks,” said Najlah Feanny Hicks, introducing her 8-year-old son, a New Jersey Cub Scout and frequent traveler who has seldom boarded a plane without a hassle because he shares the name of a suspicious person. “It’s not a myth.” Hicks’s mother initially sensed trouble when he was a baby and she could not get a seat for him on their flight to Florida at an airport kiosk; airline officials explained that his name “was on the list,” she recalled. The first time he was patted down, at Newark Liberty International Airport, Mikey was 2. He cried. After years of long delays and waits for supervisors at every airport ticket counter, this year’s vacation to the Bahamas badly shook up the family. Mikey was frisked on the way there, then more aggressively on the way home. “Up your arms, down your arms, up your crotch — someone is patting your 8-year-old down like he’s a criminal,” Mrs. Hicks recounted. It is true that Mikey is not on the federal government’s “no-fly” list, which includes about 2,500 people, less than 10 percent of them from the United States. But his name appears to be among some 13,500 on the larger “selectee” list, which sets off a high level of security screening.
Note: For many reports from major media sources on the extreme loss of liberties brought about by the highly touted "war on terrorism," click here.
The future of brain-controlled devices
Researchers are already using brain-computer interfaces to aid the disabled, treat diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and provide therapy for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Work is under way on devices that may eventually let you communicate with friends telepathically, give you superhuman hearing and vision or even let you download data directly into your brain, a la "The Matrix." Researchers are practically giddy over the prospects. "We don't know what the limits are yet," says Melody Moore Jackson, director of Georgia Tech University's BrainLab. At the root of all this technology is the 3-pound generator we all carry in our head. It produces electricity at the microvolt level. But the signals are strong enough to move robots, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs -- with the help of an external processor. One of the more controversial uses under development is telepathy. It would require at least two people to be implanted with electrodes that send and receive signals. DARPA, the Pentagon's technology research division, is currently working on an initiative called "Silent Talk," which would let soldiers on secret missions communicate with their thoughts alone. This stealth component is attractive, but naysayers fear that such soldiers could become manipulated for evil means.
Note: Remember that secret military research such as that undertaken by DARPA is often years ahead of capabilities publicly acknowledged.
Brussels gives CIA the power to search UK bank records
2009-12-06, Times of London
The CIA is to be given broad access to the bank records of millions of Britons under a European Union plan to fight terrorism. The Brussels agreement, which will come into force in two months’ time, requires the 27 EU member states to grant requests for banking information made by the United States under its terrorist finance tracking programme. The EU said it had agreed that Europeans would be compelled to release the information to the CIA “as a matter of urgency”. The records will be kept in a US database for five years before being deleted. Critics say the system is “lopsided” because there is no reciprocal arrangement under which the UK authorities can easily access the bank accounts of US citizens. They also say the plan to sift through cross-border and domestic EU bank accounts gives US intelligence more scope to consult our bank accounts than is granted to law enforcement agencies in the UK or the rest of Europe. This weekend civil liberties groups and privacy campaigners said the surveillance programme, introduced as an emergency measure in 2001, was being imposed on Britain without a proper debate.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “The massive scope for transferring personal information from Europe to the United States is extremely worrying, especially in the absence of public debate or parliamentary scrutiny either at EU or domestic level.
Note: For reports from major media sources on erosion of privacy by governments and corporations, click here.
A list for those who complain
2009-11-29, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
In spring 2007, as one of many American air travelers who were inconvenienced when our names popped up on a federal "watch list," I never could get straight answers from my government. Was this a mistake, or was I being flagged for some reason? How many Americans were on that watch list? What were the criteria for getting on it? I filed my appeal with the Department of Homeland Security's Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP). The Department of Homeland Security received 75,315 requests for redress under the TRIP program as of Oct. 31. Of those requests, 49,826 have been adjudicated, 7,217 are under review, and 18,272 are awaiting supporting documentation, according to the DHS. "Absolutely, the system didn't work as well as it should have," said Suzanne Trevino, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration. Once an airline receives a passenger's control number, along with full name, date of birth and gender, that information is transmitted to the government for clearance. Fewer than 2,500 known and suspected terrorists are actually on the "no fly" list, according to Trevino. And less than 10 percent of them are Americans. [Yet] the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center has acknowledged that its watch list has more than 1 million entries of names and aliases representing about 400,000 people [with] with an average of 1,600 people who presented a "reasonable suspicion" being added every day.
Note: For many revealing reports from major media sources on the worsening threats to civil liberties, click here.
State to 'spy' on every phone call, email and web search
2009-11-10, The Telegraph (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
Every phone call, text message, email and website visit made by private citizens is to be stored for a year and will be available for monitoring by government bodies. All telecoms companies and internet service providers will be required by law to keep a record of every customer's personal communications, showing who they have contacted, when and where, as well as the websites they have visited. Despite widespread opposition to the increasing amount of surveillance in Britain, 653 public bodies will be given access to the information, including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the ambulance service, fire authorities and even prison governors. They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to obtain the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority. The Government announced yesterday it was pressing ahead with privately held "Big Brother" databases that opposition leaders said amounted to "state-spying" and a form of "covert surveillance" on the public. It is doing so despite its own consultation showing that it has little public support. The new rules ... will not only force communications companies to keep their records for longer, but to expand the type of data they keep to include details of every website their customers visit.
Note: For many more reports from major media sources on the disturbing trend toward increasing government and corporate surveillance and loss of privacy, click here.
Justice Dept. Asked For News Site's Visitor Lists
2009-11-10, CBS News
In a case that raises questions about online journalism and privacy rights, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a formal request to an independent news site ordering it to provide details of all reader visits on a certain day. The grand jury subpoena also required the Philadelphia-based Indymedia.us Web site "not to disclose the existence of this request" unless authorized by the Justice Department, a gag order that presents an unusual quandary for any news organization. Kristina Clair, a 34-year old Linux administrator living in Philadelphia who provides free server space for Indymedia.us, said she was shocked to receive the Justice Department's subpoena. The subpoena ... demanded "all IP traffic to and from www.indymedia.us" on June 25, 2008. It instructed Clair to "include IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information," including e-mail addresses, physical addresses, registered accounts, and Indymedia readers' Social Security Numbers, bank account numbers, [and] credit card numbers. Clair [called] the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, which represented her at no cost. Making this investigation more mysterious is that Indymedia.us is an aggregation site, meaning articles that appear on it were published somewhere else first, and there's no hint about what sparked the criminal probe. Clair, the system administrator, says that no IP (Internet Protocol) addresses are recorded for Indymedia.us, and non-IP address logs are kept for a few weeks and then discarded. "This is the first time we've seen them try to get the IP address of everyone who visited a particular site," [EFF's Kevin] Bankston said. "That it was a news organization was an additional troubling fact that implicates First Amendment rights."
Note: For many reports from major media sources of growing government threats to civil liberties, click here.
U.S. readies plan to ID departing visitors
2009-11-08, Washingon Post
The Department of Homeland Security is finalizing a proposal to collect fingerprints or eye scans from all foreign travelers at U.S. airports as they leave the country, officials said, a costly screening program that airlines have opposed. The plan ... would collect fingerprints at airport security checkpoints, departure gates or terminal kiosks, allowing the government to track when roughly 35 million foreign visitors a year. In a concession to industry, DHS said it probably will drop plans to require airlines to pay for the bulk of the program and is looking to cut costs, which could reach $1 billion to $2 billion over a decade, largely to be paid by taxpayers or foreign travelers. In addition, the program would not operate for now at land borders, where 80 percent of noncitizens enter and leave the country, because fingerprinting travelers there could cost billions more and significantly delay commerce. Congress focused on inbound travelers after the [September 11, 2001 attacks,] appropriating $3 billion since 2003 on the US-VISIT tracking program. The program collects biological identifiers, such as fingerprints and digital photographs, from all arriving foreigners except Canadians and Mexicans with special border-crossing cards. By the time Bush administration officials unveiled a $3.5 billion program in April 2008, however, political impetus for changes had weakened.
Note: For many reports from major media sources of growing government threats to civil liberties, click here.
Who's in Big Brother's Database?
2009-11-05, New York Review of Books
On a remote edge of Utah's dry and arid high desert ... hard-hatted construction workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build [a] mammoth $2 billion structure. It's being built by the ultra-secret National Security Agency ... to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and [electronic data trails of all kinds]. The NSA is also completing work on another data archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome. Just how much information will be stored in these windowless cybertemples? A recent report prepared by the MITRE Corporation, a Pentagon think tank, [states] "Sensor data volume could potentially increase to the level of Yottabytes [10-to-the-24th-power bytes] by 2015." Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite "libraries," the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be — or may one day become — a terrorist. Emerging [after 9/11] as the most powerful chief the spy world has ever known was the director of the NSA. He is in charge of an organization three times the size of the CIA and empowered in 2008 by Congress to spy on Americans to an unprecedented degree. These new centers in Utah, Texas, and possibly elsewhere will likely become the centralized repositories for the data intercepted by the NSA in America's version of the "big brother database."
Note: James Bamford, the author of this review of a new book on the history of the NSA, has himself written three important books on the agency. For many revealing reports from reliable sources on the developing capacity by government and corporate surveillance to construct a "Big Brother" states, click here.
Loosening of F.B.I. Rules Stirs Privacy Concerns
2009-10-29, New York Times
After a Somali-American teenager from Minneapolis committed a suicide bombing in Africa in October 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began investigating whether a Somali Islamist group had recruited him on United States soil. Instead of collecting information only on people about whom they had a tip or links to the teenager, agents fanned out to scrutinize Somali communities. The operation unfolded as the Bush administration was relaxing some domestic intelligence-gathering rules. The F.B.I.’s interpretation of those rules was recently made public when it released, in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, its “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide.” The disclosure of the manual has opened the widest window yet onto how agents have been given greater power in the post-Sept. 11 era. But the manual’s details have alarmed privacy advocates. “It raises fundamental questions about whether a domestic intelligence agency can protect civil liberties if they feel they have a right to collect broad personal information about people they don’t even suspect of wrongdoing,” said Mike German, a former F.B.I. agent who now works for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The manual authorizes agents to open an “assessment” to “proactively” seek information about whether people or organizations are involved in national security threats. Assessments permit agents to use potentially intrusive techniques, like sending confidential informants to infiltrate organizations and following and photographing targets in public. When selecting targets, agents are permitted to consider political speech or religion as one criterion.
Note: To read the FBI's recently-released and redacted new "Domestic Investigations and Operation Guide", described by the New York Times as giving "F.B.I. agents the most power in national security matters that they have had since the post-Watergate era," click here.
Arrest Puts Focus on Protesters’ Texting
2009-10-05, New York Times
As demonstrations have evolved with the help of text messages and online social networks, so too has the response of law enforcement. On Thursday, F.B.I. agents descended on a house in Jackson Heights, Queens [NY], and spent 16 hours searching it. The most likely reason for the raid: a man who lived there had helped coordinate communications among protesters at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh. The man, Elliot Madison, 41, a social worker who has described himself as an anarchist, had been arrested in Pittsburgh on Sept. 24 and charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime. The Pennsylvania State Police said he was found in a hotel room with computers and police scanners while using the social-networking site Twitter to spread information about police movements. He has denied wrongdoing. American protesters first made widespread use of mass text messages in New York, during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Messages, sent as events unfolded, allowed demonstrators and others to react quickly to word of arrests, police mobilizations and roving rallies. Mass texting has since become a valued tool among protesters, particularly at large-scale demonstrations. Mr. Madison [may be] the first to be charged criminally while sending information electronically to protesters about the police. “He and a friend were part of a communications network among people protesting the G-20,” Mr. Madison’s lawyer, Martin Stolar, said on Saturday. “There’s absolutely nothing that he’s done that should subject him to any criminal liability.”
Note: For many reports from reliable sources on increasing government erosion of civil liberties, click here.
Electronic border control
2009-10-02, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Suppose you're returning home from a vacation in Cancun. A customs agent asks you to open your suitcase so he can check its contents. So far, so good. Now, the agent asks you to log on to your laptop so he can read your e-mails and personal files and examine which Web sites you've visited. He makes a copy of your hard drive so the government can comb through its contents. You've done nothing to give the agent any cause for suspicion. That can't be legal - can it? Until recently, it would not have been allowed. Long-standing customs directives prohibited agents from reading travelers' personal documents unless they reasonably suspected them to be merchandise or evidence of illegal activity. Then the Bush administration changed the rules, allowing agents to "review and analyze" the contents of electronic devices, including laptops, cell phones and BlackBerrys "absent individualized suspicion." Agents also could make copies of the devices' contents and share them with other government agencies. In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in May, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano promised to review the policy.
Homeland Security has now released a new policy - and it is the same as the Bush policy in almost every relevant respect. The government may still search electronic devices without reasonable suspicion, retain copies indefinitely to complete its search and share information with other agencies. Both administrations have cited national security to justify suspicionless searches. There's no evidence, however, that a suspicionless search has ever turned up a security threat.
Note: The author of this op-ed, Elizabeth Goitein, is the director of the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. For lots more on how politicians use "national security" as a means to protect their own manipulations at the expense of the public good, click here.
Big business and security
2009-09-28, The Guardian (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
The European security research programme (ESRP) has a €1.4bn EU budget and its twin objectives are to enhance European security and foster the growth of a globally competitive security industry in Europe. Unfortunately, in its haste to cash-in on the homeland security boom, the EU has effectively outsourced the design of its security research agenda to some of the corporations that have the most to gain from its implementation. It has created bodies outside the formal structure of the EU, beyond parliamentary scrutiny and democratic control. The result is a public research programme designed by lobbyists, for lobbyists, with corporations invited to shape the objectives and annual priorities, and then apply for the money on offer. ESRP was the brainchild of the "group of personalities", an EU advisory body convened in 2003 that included some of Europe's largest defence and IT contractors alongside the likes of NATO, the EU military committee and the Rand Corporation. The group's primary concern was the scale of the US government's investment in homeland security R&D, which meant that the US was "taking a lead" in the development of security "technologies and equipment which … could meet a number of Europe's needs", putting US multinationals in "a very strong competitive position".
Note: The author of this article, Ben Hayes, has written a detailed report, NeoConOpticon: the EU Security-Industrial Complex published by Statewatch and the Transnational Institute.
VeriChip shares jump after H1N1 patent license win
Shares of VeriChip Corp tripled after the company said it had been granted an exclusive license to two patents, which will help it to develop implantable virus detection systems in humans. The patents, held by VeriChip partner Receptors LLC, relate to biosensors that can detect the H1N1 and other viruses. The technology will combine with VeriChip's implantable radio frequency identification devices to develop virus triage detection systems. The triage system will provide multiple levels of identification -- the first will identify the agent as virus or non-virus, the second level will classify the virus and alert the user to the presence of pandemic threat viruses and the third level will identify the precise pathogen, VeriChip said in a white paper published May 7, 2009. Shares of VeriChip were up 186 percent.
Note: Beware of efforts to scare you into getting microchipped for your own safety. Click here for more on this. For more on pharmaceutical corporation profiteering from swine flu vaccines, click here.
Patriot Act Provisions Get Obama Support
2009-09-15, ABC News
The Justice Department has indicated that the Obama administration is in support of renewing [three] controversial sections of the USA Patriot Act that expire later this year. The provisions that will expire in December include Section 206, that allows "roving" wiretaps so FBI agents can tap multiple phones or computers (with court authorization) that a specific person (target) may use. Another expiring provision, Section 215, is the so-called "library provision," which allows investigators to obtain [library, medical, business, banking and other] records with approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And the final provision which was nicknamed the "Lone Wolf" authorization, allows intelligence gathering of people not suspected of being part of a foreign government or known terrorist organization. Critics of the Patriot Act protested loudly that the FBI could obtain individuals' library records under the legislation. [But] section 215 is much more expansive than reviewing a suspected terrorist's summer reading list. [It] allows the FBI to obtain any business record, "any tangible things," like credit card and bank statements and also allows access to medical and mental health records. The provision has been used to obtain communication and subscriber information to help set up surveillance and monitoring of computers and telephones.
Note: The American Library Association, the national organization of professional librarians, was the first and strongest defender of civil liberties after the passage of the PATRIOT Act. For a discussion of the concerns of professional librarians over this decision by the Obama administration, click here.
Bush's Search Policy For Travelers Is Kept
2009-08-28, Washington Post
The Obama administration will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search -- without suspicion of wrongdoing -- the contents of a traveler's laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device. The policy, disclosed ... in a pair of Department of Homeland Security directives, describes more fully than did the Bush administration the procedures by which travelers' laptops, iPods, cameras and other digital devices can be searched and seized when they cross a U.S. border. And it sets time limits for completing searches. Representatives of civil liberties and travelers groups say they see little substantive difference between the Bush-era policy, which prompted controversy, and this one. "It's a disappointing ratification of the suspicionless search policy put in place by the Bush administration," said Catherine Crump, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It doesn't deal with the fundamental problem, which is that under the policy, government officials are free to search people's laptops and cellphones for any reason whatsoever." "Under the policy begun by Bush and now continued by Obama, the government can open your laptop and read your medical records, financial records, e-mails, work product and personal correspondence -- all without any suspicion of illegal activity," said Elizabeth Goitein, who leads the liberty and national security project at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice.
Note: For important revelations of government threats to civil liberties, click here.
President Obama in 'snooping' row over US car scrappage scheme
2009-08-07, Times of London (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
President Obama's effort to revive the American car industry with a "cash-for-clunkers" scheme has become embroiled in a row over government snooping. The problems arose after the Department of Transportation claimed that when dealers logged on to the clunkers website their computers – and everything on them – become the property of the US Government. "This application provides access to the Department of Transportation (DoT) CARS system," the warning message read. "When logged on to the CARS system, your computer is considered a Federal computer system and is the property of the United States Government. Any or all uses of this system and all files on this system may be intercepted, monitored, recorded, copied, audited, inspected, and disclosed to authorised CARS, DoT, and law enforcement personnel, as well as authorised officials of other agencies, both domestic and foreign." By the time the disclaimer had been circulated widely on blogs, posted on YouTube and become the subject of a ferocious on-air editorial by the conservative Fox News host Glenn Beck, the Department of Transportation had issued a statement saying that "we are working to revise the language". No explanation was given as to why the original disclaimer was worded so aggressively. Members of the general public do not need to log on to the website so were not asked to agree to the same conditions as dealers. Mr Obama's ... critics argue that the controversy is another example of the intrusiveness that will accompany the President's plans to expand the role of government in the lives of Americans.
Note: Watch a revealing Fox news video report of this unbelievable development at this link. Big Brother at work.
As government tags passports, licenses, critics fear privacy is 'chipped' away
2009-07-11, Los Angeles Times
Climbing into his Volvo, outfitted with a Matrics antenna and a Motorola reader he'd bought on eBay for $190, Chris Paget cruised the streets of San Francisco with this objective: To read the identity cards of strangers, wirelessly, without ever leaving his car. It took him 20 minutes to strike hacker's gold. Zipping past Fisherman's Wharf, his scanner detected, then downloaded to his laptop, the unique serial numbers of two pedestrians' electronic U.S. passport cards embedded with radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags. Within an hour, he'd "skimmed" the identifiers of four more of the new, microchipped PASS cards from a distance of 20 feet. Paget's February experiment demonstrated something privacy advocates had feared for years: That RFID, coupled with other technologies, could make people trackable without their knowledge or consent. He filmed his drive-by heist, and soon his video went viral on the Web, intensifying a debate over a push by government, federal and state, to put tracking technologies in identity documents and over their potential to erode privacy. With advances in tracking technologies coming at an ever-faster rate, critics say, it won't be long before governments could be able to identify and track anyone in real time, 24-7, from a cafe in Paris to the shores of California. The key to getting such a system to work, these opponents say, is making sure everyone carries an RFID tag linked to a biometric data file. On June 1, it became mandatory for Americans entering the United States by land or sea from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean to present identity documents embedded with RFID tags, though conventional passports remain valid until they expire.
Note: For lots more on corporate and government surveillance, click here.
Cybersecurity Plan to Involve NSA, Telecoms
2009-07-03, Washington Post
The Obama administration will proceed with a Bush-era plan to use National Security Agency assistance in screening government computer traffic on private-sector networks, with AT&T as the likely test site, according to three current and former government officials. President Obama said in May that government efforts to protect computer systems from attack would not involve "monitoring private-sector networks or Internet traffic," and Department of Homeland Security officials say the new program will scrutinize only data going to or from government systems. But the program has provoked debate within DHS, the officials said, because of uncertainty about whether private data can be shielded from unauthorized scrutiny, how much of a role NSA should play and whether the agency's involvement in warrantless wiretapping during George W. Bush's presidency would draw controversy. Each time a private citizen visited a "dot-gov" Web site or sent an e-mail to a civilian government employee, that action would be screened for potential harm to the network. Under a classified pilot program approved during the Bush administration, NSA data and hardware would be used to protect the networks of some civilian government agencies. Part of an initiative known as Einstein 3, the plan called for telecommunications companies to route the Internet traffic of civilian agencies through a monitoring box that would search for and block computer codes designed to penetrate or otherwise compromise networks. AT&T, the world's largest telecommunications firm, was the Bush administration's choice to participate in the test. AT&T officials declined to comment. The prospect of NSA involvement in cybersecurity ... fuels concerns about unwarranted government snooping into private communication."
Note: For lots more on government and corporate threats to privacy, click here and here.
E-Mail Surveillance Renews Concerns in Congress
2009-06-17, New York Times
The National Security Agency is facing renewed scrutiny over the extent of its domestic surveillance program, with critics in Congress saying its recent intercepts of the private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged, current and former officials said. Since April, when it was disclosed that the intercepts of some private communications of Americans went beyond legal limits in late 2008 and early 2009, several Congressional committees have been investigating. Those inquiries have led to concerns in Congress about the agency’s ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis, officials said. Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation. Both the former analyst’s account and the rising concern among some members of Congress about the N.S.A.’s recent operation are raising fresh questions about the spy agency. Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic communications. In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent. “Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said.
Note: For lots more from major media sources on the ever-increasing government and coroporate threats to privacy, click here.
Pentagon Plans New Arm to Wage Cyberspace Wars
2009-05-29, New York Times
The Pentagon plans to create a new military command for cyberspace ... stepping up preparations by the armed forces to conduct both offensive and defensive computer warfare. White House officials say Mr. Obama has not yet been formally presented with the Pentagon plan. But he is expected to sign a classified order in coming weeks that will create the military cybercommand, officials said. It is a recognition that the United States already has a growing number of computer weapons in its arsenal and must prepare strategies for their use — as a deterrent or alongside conventional weapons — in a wide variety of possible future conflicts. [A] main dispute has been over whether the Pentagon or the National Security Agency should take the lead in preparing for and fighting cyberbattles. Under one proposal still being debated, parts of the N.S.A. would be integrated into the military command so they could operate jointly. A classified set of presidential directives is expected to lay out the military’s new responsibilities and how it coordinates its mission with that of the N.S.A., where most of the expertise on digital warfare resides today. The decision to create a cybercommand is a major step beyond the actions taken by the Bush administration, which authorized several computer-based attacks but never resolved the question of how the government would prepare for a new era of warfare fought over digital networks. Officials declined to describe potential offensive operations, but said they now viewed cyberspace as comparable to more traditional battlefields.
Note: Combine this with the BBC's revealing article on US plans to fight the Internet, and there is reason for concern. For lots more on new developments in modern war planning, click here.
Judge rejects bid to derail wiretap challenge
2009-04-18, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
A San Francisco federal judge rejected on Friday the Obama administration's attempt to derail a challenge to former President George W. Bush's electronic surveillance program by withholding a critical wiretap document. President Obama's Justice Department had appeared to defy a previous order by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to allow lawyers for an Islamic organization to see the classified document, which reportedly showed that the group had been wiretapped. The document, which the government accidentally sent to the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, could establish its right to sue over the legality of the program. Justice Department lawyers told Walker in February that he had no power to enforce his order, and indicated they would remove the document from his files if he planned to disclose it to Al-Haramain's lawyers. But after a federal appeals court denied the department's request to intervene, Walker told the government Friday to cooperate. "The United States should now comply with the court's orders," the judge said. He told lawyers for the administration and Al-Haramain to work out a protective order by May 8 that would maintain the document's secrecy after it had been shown to the Islamic group's lawyers. If the two sides can't agree, Walker said, he will issue his own protective order "under which this case may resume forward progress." The case is one of two before Walker challenging the constitutionality of the program that Bush secretly authorized in 2001 to intercept phone calls and e-mails between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists without seeking a court warrant, as required by a 1978 law.
Note: For more reports on government secrecy from reliable sources, click here.
Control of Cybersecurity Becomes Divisive Issue
2009-04-17, New York Times
The National Security Agency has been campaigning to lead the government’s rapidly growing cybersecurity programs, raising privacy and civil liberties concerns among some officials who fear that the move could give the spy agency too much control over government computer networks. The security agency’s interest in taking over the dominant role has met resistance, including the resignation of the Homeland Security Department official who was until last month in charge of coordinating cybersecurity efforts throughout the government. Rod Beckstrom, who resigned in March as director of the National Cyber Security Center at the Homeland Security Department, said ... that he feared that the N.S.A.’s push for a greater role in guarding the government’s computer systems could give it the power to collect and analyze every e-mail message, text message and Google search conducted by every employee in every federal agency. Mr. Beckstrom said he believed that an intelligence service that is supposed to focus on foreign targets should not be given so much control over the flow of information within the United States government. To detect threats against the computer infrastructure — including hackers, viruses and intrusions by foreign agents and terrorists — cybersecurity guardians must have virtually unlimited access to networks. Mr. Beckstrom argues that those responsibilities should be divided among agencies. “I have very serious concerns about the concentration of too much power in one agency,” he said. “Power over information is so important, and it is so difficult to monitor, that we need to have checks and balances.”
Note: For further disturbing reports from reliable sources on government efforts to establish total surveillance systems, click here.
Officials Say U.S. Wiretaps Exceeded Law
2009-04-16, New York Times
The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews. Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic. The legal and operational problems surrounding the N.S.A.’s surveillance activities have come under scrutiny from the Obama administration, Congressional intelligence committees and a secret national security court. Congressional investigators say they hope to determine if any violations of Americans’ privacy occurred. It is not clear to what extent the agency may have actively listened in on conversations or read e-mail messages of Americans without proper court authority, rather than simply obtained access to them. While the N.S.A.’s operations in recent months have come under examination, new details are also emerging about earlier domestic-surveillance activities, including the agency’s attempt to wiretap a member of Congress, without court approval, on an overseas trip. After a contentious three-year debate that was set off by the disclosure in 2005 of the program of wiretapping without warrants that President George W. Bush approved after the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress gave the N.S.A. broad new authority to collect, without court-approved warrants, vast streams of international phone and e-mail traffic as it passed through American telecommunications gateways.
Note: For further disturbing reports from reliable sources on government efforts to establish total surveillance systems, click here.
Obama administration defending Bush secrets
2009-02-16, MSNBC/Associated Press
Despite President Barack Obama's vow to open government more than ever, the Justice Department is defending Bush administration decisions to keep secret many documents about domestic wiretapping, data collection on travelers and U.S. citizens, and interrogation of suspected terrorists. "The signs in the last few days are not ... encouraging," said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed several lawsuits seeking the Bush administration's legal rationales for warrantless domestic wiretapping and for its treatment of terrorism detainees. The documents sought in these lawsuits "are in many cases the documents that the public most needs to see," Jaffer said. "It makes no sense to say that these documents are somehow exempt from President Obama's directives." Groups that advocate open government, civil liberties and privacy were overjoyed that Obama on his first day in office reversed the FOIA policy imposed by Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft. Obama pledged "an unprecedented level of openness in government" and ordered new FOIA guidelines written with a "presumption in favor of disclosure." But Justice's actions in courts since then have cast doubt on how far the new administration will go. "This is not change," said ACLU executive director Anthony Romero. "President Obama's Justice Department has disappointingly reneged" on his promise to end "abuse of state secrets."
Note: For lots more on state secrecy from reliable, verifiable sources, click here.
Warning over 'surveillance state'
2009-02-06, BBC News
Electronic surveillance and collection of personal data are "pervasive" in British society and threaten to undermine democracy, peers [in the House of Lords] have warned. CCTV cameras and the DNA database were two examples of threats to privacy, the Lords constitution committee said. It called for compensation for people subject to illegal surveillance. Civil liberties campaigners have warned about the risks of a "surveillance society" in which the state acquires ever-greater powers to track people's movements and retain personal data. In its report, the Lords constitution committee said growth in surveillance by both the state and the private sector risked threatening people's right to privacy, which it said was "an essential pre-requisite to the exercise of individual freedom". People were often unaware of the scale of personal information held and exchanged by public bodies, it said. "There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards every detail about us being recorded and pored over by the state," committee chairman and Tory peer Lord Goodlad said. "The huge rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and other organisations risks undermining the long-standing tradition of privacy and individual freedom which are vital for democracy," Lord Goodlad added. Human rights campaigners Liberty welcomed the report.
Note: For key reports from major media sources on growing threats to privacy from governments and corporations, click here.
Whistleblower exposes spying on Americans
2009-01-22, MSNBC Countdown With Keith Olberman
OLBERMANN: It has taken less than 24 hours after the Bush presidency ended for a former analyst at the National Security Agency to come forward to reveal new allegations about how this nation was spied on by its own government. Russell Tice [reveals] that under the collar of fighting terrorism, the Bush administration was also targeting specific groups of Americans for surveillance. TICE: The National Security Agency had access to all Americans‘ communications, faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. They monitored all communications. What was done was a sort of an ability to look at the meta data, the signaling data for communications, and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected. Basically, filtering out sort of like sweeping everything with that meta data, and then cutting down ultimately what you are going to look at and what is going to be collected, and in the long run have an analyst look at, you know, needles in a haystack for what might be of interest. OLBERMANN: I mention that you say specific groups were targeted. What group or groups can you tell us about? TICE: [Some of the groups they] collected on were U.S. news organizations and reporters and journalists. The collection ... was 24/7, and you know, 365 days a year, and it made no sense.
Note: To watch this revealing clip on video, click here. For many reports on government surveillance and invasions of privacy, click here.
Intelligence Agencies' Databases Set to Be Linked
2009-01-22, Wall Street Journal
U.S. spy agencies' sensitive data should soon be linked by Google-like search systems.
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has launched a sweeping technology program to knit together the thousands of databases across all 16 spy agencies. After years of bureaucratic snafus, intelligence analysts will be able to search through secret intelligence files the same way they can search public data on the Internet. Linking up the 16 agencies is the challenge at the heart of the job of director of national intelligence, created after 9/11. The new information program also is designed to include Facebook-like social-networking programs and classified news feeds. It includes enhanced security measures to ensure that only appropriately cleared people can access the network. The price tag is expected to be in the billions of dollars. The impact for analysts, Mr. McConnell says, "will be staggering." Not only will analysts have vastly more data to examine, potentially inaccurate intelligence will stand out more clearly, he said. Today, an analyst's query might scan only 5% of the total intelligence data in the U.S. government, said a senior intelligence official. Even when analysts find documents, they sometimes can't read them without protracted negotiations to gain access. Under the new system, an analyst would likely search about 95% of the data, the official said.
Note: For key reports from reliable sources on the hidden realities of the War on Terror, click here.
Let's face it, soon Big Brother will have no trouble recognising you
2009-01-13, Times of London
This is the year when automated face-recognition finally goes mainstream, and it's about time we considered its social and political implications. Researchers are developing sharply accurate scanners that monitor faces in 3D and software that analyses skin texture to turn tiny wrinkles, blemishes and spots into a numerical formula. The strongest face-recognition algorithms are now considered more accurate than most humans - and already the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers have held discussions about the possibility of linking such systems with automatic car-numberplate recognition and public-transport databases. Join everything together via the internet, and voilŕ - the nation's population, down to the individual Times reader, can be conveniently and automatically monitored in real time. So let's understand this: governments and police are planning to implement increasingly accurate surveillance technologies that are unnoticeable, cheap, pervasive, ubiquitous, and searchable in real time. And private businesses, from bars to workplaces, will also operate such systems, whose data trail may well be sold on or leaked to third parties - let's say, insurance companies that have an interest in knowing about your unhealthy lifestyle, or your ex-spouse who wants evidence that you can afford higher maintenance payments.
Note: For disturbing reports on threats to privacy from major media sources, click here.
More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying
2009-01-04, Washington Post
The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes. Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation. One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights." The [surveillance] ... confirmed the fears of civil liberties groups that have warned about domestic spying since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "No one was thinking this was al-Qaeda," said Stephen H. Sachs, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to review the case. "But 9/11 created an atmosphere where cutting corners was easier." Maryland has not been alone. The FBI and police departments in several cities, including Denver in 2002 and New York before the 2004 Republican National Convention, also responded to [dissent] by spying on activists.
Note: For wide coverage from reliable sources of disturbing threats to civil liberties, click here.
Boston launches flu shot tracking
2008-11-21, Boston Globe
Using technology originally developed for mass disasters, Boston disease trackers are embarking on a novel experiment - one of the first in the country - aimed at eventually creating a citywide registry of everyone who has had a flu vaccination. The resulting vaccination map would allow swift intervention in neighborhoods left vulnerable to the fast-moving respiratory illness. The trial starts this afternoon, when several hundred people are expected to queue up for immunizations at the headquarters of the Boston Public Health Commission. Each of them will get a bracelet printed with a unique identifier code. Information about the vaccine's recipients, and the shot, will be entered into handheld devices similar to those used by delivery truck drivers. Infectious disease specialists in Boston and elsewhere predicted that the registry approach could prove even more useful if something more sinister strikes: a bioterrorism attack or the long-feared arrival of a global flu epidemic. In such crises, the registry could be used to track who received a special vaccine or antidote to a deadly germ. "Anything you can do to better pinpoint who's vaccinated and who's not, that's absolutely vital," said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota. "I wish more cities were doing this kind of thing." When people arrive for their shots, they will get an ID bracelet with a barcode. Next, basic information - name, age, gender, address - will be entered into the patient tracking database. There will be electronic records, too, of who gave the vaccine and whether it was injected into the right arm or the left, and time-stamped for that day.
Note: For more on the serious risks and dangers posed by vaccines, click here and here.
Tapping your cell phone
2008-11-13, WTHR-TV (Indianapolis NBC affiliate)
Imagine someone watching your every move, hearing everything you say and knowing where you are at every moment. If you have a cell phone, it could happen to you. After four months of harassing phone calls, Courtney Kuykendall was afraid to answer her cell phone. The Tacoma, Washington, teenager was receiving graphic, violent threats at all hours.
And when she and her family changed their cell phone numbers and got new phones, the calls continued. Using deep scratchy voices, anonymous stalkers literally took control of the Kuykendall's cell phones, repeatedly threatened Courtney with murder and rape, and began following the family's every move. "They're listening to us and recording us," Courtney's mother, Heather Kuykendall, told NBC's Today Show. "We know that because they will record us and play it back as a voicemail."
How is something like this possible? Just take a look on the internet. That's where you'll find the latest spy technology for cell phones. Spyware marketers claim you can tap into someone's calls, read their text messages and track their movements "anywhere, anytime." Security experts say it's no internet hoax."It's real, and it is pretty creepy," said Rick Mislan, a former military intelligence officer who now teaches cyber forensics at Purdue University's Department of Computer and Information Technology. Mislan has examined thousands of cell phones inside Purdue's Cyber Forensics Lab, and he says spy software can now make even the most high-tech cell phone vulnerable. "I think a lot of people think their cell phone calls are very secure but our privacy isn't always what we think it is."
Note: For lots more on increasing corporate and governmental threats to privacy, click here.
Government black boxes will 'collect every email'
2008-11-05, The Independent (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
Internet "black boxes" will be used to collect every email and web visit in the UK under the Government's plans for a giant "big brother" database, The Independent has learnt.
Home Office officials have told senior figures from the internet and telecommunications industries that the "black box" technology could automatically retain and store raw data from the web before transferring it to a giant central database controlled by the Government. Plans to create a database holding information about every phone call, email and internet visit made in the UK have provoked a huge public outcry. Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, described it as "step too far" and the Government's own terrorism watchdog said that as a "raw idea" it was "awful". News that the Government is already preparing the ground by trying to allay the concerns of the internet industry is bound to raise suspicions about ministers' true intentions. Further details of the database emerged on Monday at a meeting of internet service providers (ISPs) in London where representatives from BT, AOL Europe, O2 and BSkyB were given a PowerPoint presentation of the issues and the technology surrounding the Government's Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), the name given by the Home Office to the database proposal. "It was clear the 'back box' is the technology the Government will use to hold all the data. But what isn't clear is what the Home Secretary, GCHQ and the security services intend to do with all this information in the future," said a source close to the meeting.
Note: For lots more on threats to privacy from reliable sources, click here.
Interpol wants facial recognition database to catch suspects
2008-10-20, The Guardian (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
Interpol is planning to expand its role into the mass screening of passengers moving around the world by creating a face recognition database. Every year more than 800 million international travellers fail to undergo "the most basic scrutiny" to check whether their identity documents have been stolen, the global policing cooperation body has warned. Senior figures want a system that lets immigration officials capture digital images of passengers and immediately cross-check them against a database of pictures of [alleged] terror suspects, international criminals and fugitives. The UK's first automated face recognition gates -- matching passengers to their digital image in the latest generation of passports -- began operating at Manchester airport in August. Mark Branchflower, head of Interpol's fingerprint unit, will this week unveil proposals in London for the creation of biometric identification systems that could be linked to such immigration checks. The civil liberties group No2ID, which campaigns against identity cards, expressed alarm at the plans. "This is a move away from seeking specific persons to GCHQ-style bulk interception of information," warned spokesman Michael Parker. "This is the next step. Law enforcement agencies want the most efficient systems but there has to be a balance between security and privacy."
Note: For many disturbing reports on increasing threats to privacy, click here.
Passports will be needed to buy mobile phones
2008-10-19, Times of London
Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance. Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society. A compulsory national register for the owners of all 72m mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database. Whitehall officials have raised the idea of a register containing the names and addresses of everyone who buys a phone in recent talks with Vodafone and other telephone companies, insiders say. The move is targeted at monitoring the owners of Britain’s estimated 40m prepaid mobile phones. They can be purchased with cash by customers who do not wish to give their names, addresses or credit card details. The pay-as-you-go phones are popular with criminals ... because their anonymity shields their activities from the authorities. But they are also used by thousands of law-abiding citizens who wish to communicate in private. The move aims to close a loophole in plans being drawn up by GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham, to create a huge database to monitor and store the internet browsing habits, e-mail and telephone records of everyone in Britain.
Note: For many disturbing reports on increasing threats to privacy, click here.
Wiretap lawsuit defense challenged in court
2008-10-18, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper
Civil liberties groups started a legal challenge ... to the new federal law designed to dismiss their wiretapping suits against telecommunications companies, saying the statute violates phone customers' constitutional rights and tramples on judicial authority. The law ... granted retroactive protection to AT&T, Verizon and other companies against lawsuits accusing them of illegally sharing their telephone and e-mail networks and millions of customer records with the National Security Agency. Almost 40 such suits from around the nation are pending before Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco. The law requires him to dismiss the cases if the Justice Department tells him the companies had cooperated in a surveillance program authorized by President Bush. Details of the department's filing and the judge's dismissal order are to be kept secret. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation attacked the secrecy requirements and argued that Congress and President Bush lack authority to order courts to whitewash constitutional violations. "If Congress can give the executive the power to exclude the judiciary from considering the constitutional claims of millions of Americans ... then the judiciary will no longer be functioning as a coequal branch of government," Cindy Cohn, the foundation's legal director, said in court papers. She said the law's secrecy makes the proceedings one-sided. "Due process requires more than the chance to shadow-box with the government," Cohn wrote.
Note: For many reports from reliable, verifiable sources on threats to civil liberties, click here.
The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America
2008-10-14, Washington Post
By exploring the current, post-9/11 operations of the NSA [National Security Agency, James] Bamford ... goes where congressional oversight committees and investigative journalists still struggle to go. [When] the Bush administration declared its ... global war on terror, Congress agreed to most of the White House's demands. According to Bamford, the NSA's expanded powers and resources enabled it to collect communications both inside and outside the United States. He quotes a former NSA employee as a witness to the agency's spying on the conversations of Americans who have no connection to terrorism. After suing the NSA for documents, [Bamford] obtained considerable evidence that telecommunication companies (with the notable exception of Qwest) knowingly violated U.S. law by cooperating with the NSA to tap fiber optic lines. In impressive detail, The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America tells how private contractors, including some little-known entities with foreign owners, have done the sensitive work of storing and processing the voices and written data of Americans and non-Americans alike. In the book, he offers new revelations about the National Security Agency's counterterrorism tactics, including its controversial domestic surveillance programs. Bamford warns of worse to come: 'There is now the capacity to make tyranny total in America. Only law ensures that we never fall into that abyss -- the abyss from which there is no return.'"
Note: Bamford is the author of two other books on the NSA: Body of Secrets and The Puzzle Palace.
Exclusive: Inside Account of U.S. Eavesdropping on Americans
2008-10-09, ABC News
Hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia. "These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003. She said US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and "collected on" as they called their offices or homes in the United States. Another intercept operator, former Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk, 39, said he and his fellow intercept operators listened into hundreds of Americans picked up using phones in Baghdad's Green Zone from late 2003 to November 2007. Both former intercept operators came forward at first to speak with investigative journalist [James] Bamford for a book on the NSA, The Shadow Factory, to be published next week. "It's extremely rare," said Bamford, who has written two previous books on the NSA, including the landmark Puzzle Palace which first revealed the existence of the super secret spy agency. "Both of them felt that what they were doing was illegal and improper, and immoral, and it shouldn't be done, and that's what forces whistleblowers."
Note: For many reports from major media sources of disturbing threats to privacy, click here.
New, controversial FBI guidelines go into effect
2008-10-05, Agence France Presse
US Attorney General Michael Mukasey has signed new guidelines for FBI operations he said are designed to better protect the country from terrorist attacks, but that raise concern of some lawmakers and civil rights groups. The new, revised regulations -- the original version met strong criticism from congressional committees last month -- comprise 50 pages dealing with five areas of FBI investigation, including criminal, national security and foreign intelligence. Despite Mukasey's assurances that the new regulations "reflect consultation with Congress as well as privacy and civil liberties groups," not all concerns over their effect on privacy rights were dispelled. [The] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Democrat Patrick Leahy, said the new guidelines expand the FBI's powers of surveillance. "It appears that with these guidelines, the attorney general is once again giving the FBI broad new powers to conduct surveillance and use other intrusive investigative techniques on Americans without requiring any indication of wrongdoing or any approval even from FBI supervisors," Leahy said in a statement. "The American people deserve a ... Justice Department that does not sacrifice or endanger their rights and privacy," he added. The American Civil Liberties Union, who had called for an investigation into the first version of the FBI regulations, said the new rules "reduce standards for beginning 'assessments.'" "More troubling still," it added, "the guidelines allow a person's race or ethnic background to be used as a factor in opening an investigation, a move that the ACLU believes may institute a racial profiling as a matter of policy."
Note: For many reports on increasing government surveillance and threats to privacy, click here.
Satellite-Surveillance Program to Begin Despite Privacy Concerns
2008-10-01, Wall Street Journal
The Department of Homeland Security will proceed with the first phase of a controversial satellite-surveillance program, even though an independent review found the department hasn't yet ensured the program will comply with privacy laws. Congress provided partial funding for the program in a little-debated $634 billion spending measure that will fund the government until early March. For the past year, the Bush administration had been fighting Democratic lawmakers over the spy program, known as the National Applications Office. The program is designed to provide federal, state and local officials with extensive access to spy-satellite imagery.
Since the department proposed the program a year ago, several Democratic lawmakers have said that turning the spy lens on America could violate Americans' privacy and civil liberties unless adequate safeguards were required. A new [but classified] 60-page Government Accountability Office report said the department "lacks assurance that NAO operations will comply with applicable laws and privacy and civil liberties standards." The report cites gaps in privacy safeguards. The department, it found, lacks controls to prevent improper use of domestic-intelligence data by other agencies and provided insufficient assurance that requests for classified information will be fully reviewed to ensure it can be legally provided. But the bill Congress approved, which President George W. Bush signed into law Tuesday, allows the department to launch a limited version.
Note: For many reports from major media sources of disturbing threats to privacy, click here.
Feds give customs agents free hand to seize travelers' documents
2008-09-24, Feds give customs agents free hand to seize travelers' documents
The Bush administration has overturned a 22-year-old policy and now allows customs agents to seize, read and copy documents from travelers at airports and borders without suspicion of wrongdoing, civil rights lawyers in San Francisco said Tuesday in releasing records obtained in a lawsuit. The records also indicate that the government gives customs agents unlimited authority to question travelers about their religious beliefs and political opinions, said lawyers from the Asian Law Caucus and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They said they had asked the Department of Homeland Security for details of any policy that would guide or limit such questioning and received no reply. "We're concerned that people of South Asian or Muslim-looking background are being targeted inappropriately" for questioning and searches, said Asian Law Caucus attorney Shirin Sinnar. The Bay Area legal groups filed a Freedom of Information Act suit against the government in February, seeking documents on the policies that govern searches and questioning of international travelers. The organizations said they had received more than 20 complaints in the previous year, mostly from South Asians and Muslims. The travelers said customs agents regularly singled them out when they returned from abroad, looked at their papers and laptop computers, and asked them such questions as whom they had seen on their trips, whether they attended mosques and whether they hated the U.S. government.
Note: For many reports from major media sources of rising threats to civil liberties, click here.
Agency and Bush Are Sued Over Domestic Surveillance
2008-09-18, New York Times
A privacy group filed a class-action lawsuit on Thursday against the National Security Agency, President Bush and other officials, seeking to halt what it describes as illegal surveillance of Americans’ telephone and Internet traffic. The lawsuit parallels a legal action brought against the AT&T Corporation in 2006 by the same nonprofit group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, charging that the company gave the N.S.A. access to its communications lines and customer records without proper warrants. Congress derailed that lawsuit this year by passing legislation granting immunity to telecommunications companies that had provided assistance to the agency, though the foundation has said it intends to challenge the constitutionality of the new law. A lawyer with the foundation, Kevin S. Bankston, said the new suit opened a “second front” against a “massively illegal fishing expedition through AT&T’s domestic networks and databases of customer records.” When Mr. Bush started the program in late 2001, the N.S.A. began eavesdropping inside the United States without court warrants for the first time since 1978, when Congress created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to oversee such intelligence collection. The suit’s plaintiffs are five AT&T customers, but it is filed on behalf of all customers. Like the 2006 suit, it is based in part on information from Mark Klein, a former AT&T technician who says he saw what he believed to be equipment installed by the N.S.A. at a company communications hub in San Francisco allowing the agency to filter a huge volume of Internet traffic.
Note: For many disturbing reports from major media sources of threats to privacy, click here.
A New Rush to Spy
2008-08-22, New York Times
There is apparently no limit to the Bush administration’s desire to invade Americans’ privacy in the name of national security. According to members of Congress, Attorney General Michael Mukasey is preparing to give the F.B.I. broad new authority to investigate Americans — without any clear basis for suspicion that they are committing a crime. Opening the door to sweeping investigations of this kind would be an invitation to the government to spy on people based on their race, religion or political activities. Mr. Mukasey has not revealed the new guidelines. But according to senators whose staff have been given limited briefings, the rules may also authorize the F.B.I. to use an array of problematic investigative techniques. Among these are pretext interviews, in which agents do not honestly represent themselves while questioning a subject’s neighbors and work colleagues. The F.B.I. has a long history of abusing its authority to spy on domestic groups, including civil rights and anti-war activists, and there is a real danger that the new rules would revive those dark days. Clearly, the Bush administration cannot be trusted to get the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties right. It has repeatedly engaged in improper and illegal domestic spying — notably in the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program. The F.B.I. and the White House no doubt want to push the changes through before a new president is elected. There is no reason to rush to adopt rules that have such important civil liberties implications.
Internet Providers' New Tool Raises Deep Privacy Concerns
2008-08-21, Washington Post
If you're reading this story on our Web site, I don't know what you did online before you reached this page. But your Internet provider might if it engages in something called deep packet inspection. That phrase may sound like what the Transportation Security Administration does to uncooperative airline passengers, but on the Internet it means a thorough and automatic inspection of online traffic -- not just where you've been but also what you've seen. Peering inside the digital packets of data zipping across the Internet -- in real time, for tens of thousands of users at once -- was commercially impractical until recently. But the ceaseless march of processing power has made it feasible. Unsurprisingly, companies have been trying to turn this potential into profit. By tracking users' Web habits this closely, they can gain a much more detailed picture of their interests -- and then display precisely targeted, premium-priced ads. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently asked dozens of providers to explain whether they had done any such testing. Most companies said they had yet to try the technology and had no plans to do so. (Although AT&T allowed that "if done properly," deep packet inspection "could prove quite valuable to consumers.") Taking these companies at their word, what's there to worry about? Systems such as deep packet inspection unnerve a lot of Internet users for sound reasons. One is, of course, the immensely greater surveillance they allow. Another concern is the difficulty of circumventing this constant tracking. The machinery of deep packet inspection hides out of reach in your provider's servers.
Citizens' U.S. Border Crossings Tracked
2008-08-20, Washington Post
The federal government has been using its system of border checkpoints to greatly expand a database on travelers entering the country by collecting information on all U.S. citizens crossing by land, compiling data that will be stored for 15 years and may be used in criminal and intelligence investigations. The Border Crossing Information system, disclosed last month by the Department of Homeland Security in a Federal Register notice, ... reflects the growing number of government systems containing personal information on Americans that can be shared for a broad range of law enforcement and intelligence purposes, some of which are exempt from some Privacy Act protections. While international air passenger data has long been captured this way, Customs and Border Protection agents only this year began to log the arrivals of all U.S. citizens across land borders, through which about three-quarters of border entries occur. The volume of people entering the country by land prevented compiling such a database until recently. But the advent of machine-readable identification documents, which the government mandates eventually for everyone crossing the border, has made gathering the information more feasible. Critics say the moves exemplify efforts by the Bush administration in its final months to cement an unprecedented expansion of data gathering for national security and intelligence purposes. The data could be used beyond determining whether a person may enter the United States. For instance, information may be shared with foreign agencies when relevant to their hiring or contracting decisions.
U.S. May Ease Police Spy Rules
2008-08-16, Washington Post
The Justice Department has proposed a new domestic spying measure that would make it easier for state and local police to collect intelligence about Americans, share the sensitive data with federal agencies and retain it for at least 10 years. Law enforcement agencies would be allowed to target groups as well as individuals, and to launch a criminal intelligence investigation based on the suspicion that a target is engaged in terrorism or providing material support to terrorists. They also could share results with a constellation of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and others in many cases. Michael German, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposed rule may [permit] police to collect intelligence even when no underlying crime is suspected. German, an FBI agent for 16 years, said easing established limits on intelligence-gathering would lead to abuses against peaceful political dissenters. He pointed to reports in the past six years that undercover New York police officers infiltrated protest groups before the 2004 Republican National Convention; that California state agents eavesdropped on peace, animal rights and labor activists; and that Denver police spied on Amnesty International and others before being discovered. "If police officers no longer see themselves as engaged in protecting their communities from criminals and instead as domestic intelligence agents working on behalf of the CIA, they will be encouraged to collect more information," German said. "It turns police officers into spies on behalf of the federal government."
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Civil liberties: Outrage at New York police plan to track vehicles
2008-08-14, The Guardian (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
The Big Apple is turning into Big Brother, civil liberties groups have warned in response to a new plan from New York city's police chiefs to photograph every vehicle entering Manhattan and hold the details on a massive database. As well as placing cameras at all tunnels and bridges into Manhattan, the 36-page plan, called Operation Sentinel, calls for a security ring to be erected at Ground Zero and for a 50-mile buffer zone around the city within which mobile units would search for nuclear or "dirty" bombs. [The] 3,000 cameras that could be mounted as a result of the plans of the New York police ... have provoked outrage in the United States. Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the idea of tracking the movements of millions of people was "an assault on the country's historical respect for the right to privacy and the freedom to be left alone". The NYCLU is pressing the New York police to release further details of its intentions under freedom of information laws. The toughest element of the scheme relates to preparations to secure Ground Zero once the six-hectare site is rebuilt and open to the public again. Those measures include moveable roadblocks, security cameras across lower Manhattan and an underground bomb-screening centre through which all delivery vehicles would have to pass. The plan to video the number plates of every vehicle would be applied to all points of entry into Manhattan, including the main Brooklyn-Battery, Holland, Lincoln and Midtown tunnels and Brooklyn, Manhattan and other bridges.
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FBI plans to loosen post-Watergate FBI rules
2008-08-13, Minneapolis Star-Tribune/McClatchy News Service
Attorney General Michael Mukasey confirmed plans ... to loosen post-Watergate restrictions on the FBI's national security and criminal investigations. Mukasey said he expected criticism of the new rules because "they expressly authorize the FBI to engage in intelligence collection inside the United States." The Justice Department ... is expected to publicly release the final version within several more weeks. Even then, portions are expected to remain classified for national security reasons. Nonetheless, Mukasey provided enough detail Wednesday to alarm civil libertarians. Michael German, a former veteran FBI agent who is now policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if Mukasey moves ahead with the new rules as he describes them, he'll be weakening restrictions originally put in place after the Watergate scandal to rein in the FBI's domestic Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. "I'm concerned with the way the attorney general frames the problem," German said. "He talks about 'arbitrary or irrelevant differences' between criminal and national security investigations but these were corrections originally designed to prevent the type of overreach the FBI engaged in for years." German said recent events demonstrated that Mukasey needed to strengthen the FBI's guidelines, not "water them down. ... What the attorney general is doing is expanding the bureau's intelligence collection without addressing the mismanagement within the FBI. If you have an agency collecting more with less oversight, it's only going to get worse."
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Police Turn to Secret Weapon: GPS Device
2008-08-13, Washington Post
Across the country, police are using GPS devices to snare [criminal suspects], often without a warrant or court order. Privacy advocates said tracking suspects electronically constitutes illegal search and seizure, violating Fourth Amendment rights of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and is another step toward George Orwell's Big Brother society. With the ... ever-declining cost of the technology, many analysts believe that police will increasingly rely on GPS ... and that the public will hear little about it. "I've seen them in cases from New York City to small towns -- whoever can afford to get the equipment and plant it on a car," said John Wesley Hall, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "And of course, it's easy to do. You can sneak up on a car and plant it at any time." Details on how police use GPS usually become public when the use of the device is challenged in court. Leibig said GPS should be held to a different standard because it provides greater detail. "While it may be true that police can conduct surveillance of people on a public street without violating their rights, tracking a person everywhere they go and keeping a computer record of it for days and days without that person knowing is a completely different type of intrusion," he said. Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty program, considers GPS monitoring, along with license plate readers, toll transponders and video cameras with face-recognition technology, part of the same trend toward "an always-on, surveillance society."
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Some Web Firms Say They Track Behavior Without Explicit Consent
2008-08-12, Washington Post
Several Internet and broadband companies have acknowledged using targeted-advertising technology without explicitly informing customers, according to letters released yesterday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The revelations came in response to a bipartisan inquiry of how more than 30 Internet companies might have gathered data to target customers. Some privacy advocates and lawmakers said the disclosures help build a case for an overarching online-privacy law. "Increasingly, there are no limits technologically as to what a company can do in terms of collecting information . . . and then selling it as a commodity to other providers," said committee member Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). "Our responsibility is to make sure that we create a law that, regardless of the technology, includes a set of legal guarantees that consumers have with respect to their information." Markey said he and his colleagues plan to introduce legislation next year, a sort of online-privacy Bill of Rights, that would require that consumers must opt in to the tracking of their online behavior and the collection and sharing of their personal data. Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said lawmakers are beginning to understand the convergence across platforms. "People are starting to see: 'Oh, we have these different industries that are collecting the same types of information to profile individuals and the devices they use on the network," he said. "Internet. Cellphones. Cable. Any way you tap into the network, concerns are raised."
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Prescription Data Used To Assess Consumers
2008-08-04, Washington Post
Health and life insurance companies have access to a powerful new tool for evaluating whether to cover individual consumers: a health "credit report" drawn from databases containing prescription drug records on more than 200 million Americans. Collecting and analyzing personal health information in commercial databases is a fledgling industry, but one poised to take off as the nation enters the age of electronic medical records. Some insurers have already begun testing systems that tap into not only prescription drug information, but also data about patients held by clinical and pathological laboratories. Privacy and consumer advocates fear [the trend] it is taking place largely outside the scrutiny of federal health regulators and lawmakers. The practice also illustrates how electronic data gathered for one purpose can be used and marketed for another -- often without consumers' knowledge, privacy advocates say. And they argue that although consumers sign consent forms, they effectively have to authorize the data release if they want insurance. "As health care moves into the digital age, there are more and more companies holding vast amounts of patients' health information," said Joy Pritts, research professor at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute. "Most people don't even know these [companies] exist. Unfortunately the federal health privacy rule does not cover many of them." Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said, "We've got to stop these practices before the marketplace is fully developed and patients lose all control over their medical information."
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Travelers' Laptops May Be Detained At Border: No Suspicion Required
2008-08-01, Washington Post
Federal agents may take a traveler's laptop computer or other electronic device to an off-site location for an unspecified period of time without any suspicion of wrongdoing, as part of border search policies the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed. Also, officials may share copies of the laptop's contents with other agencies and private entities for language translation, data decryption or other reasons, according to the policies, dated July 16 and issued by two DHS agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "The policies . . . are truly alarming," said Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who is probing the government's border search practices. He said he intends to introduce legislation soon that would require reasonable suspicion for border searches, as well as prohibit profiling on race, religion or national origin. DHS officials said the newly disclosed policies ... apply to anyone entering the country, including U.S. citizens. Civil liberties and business travel groups have pressed the government to disclose its procedures as an increasing number of international travelers have reported that their laptops, cellphones and other digital devices had been taken -- for months, in at least one case -- and their contents examined. The policies cover "any device capable of storing information in digital or analog form," including hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, and video and audio tapes. They also cover "all papers and other written documentation," including books, pamphlets and "written materials commonly referred to as 'pocket trash' or 'pocket litter.' "
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Prosecutor turned up on U.S. terror watch list
2008-07-14, USA Today/Associated Press
The Justice Department's former top criminal prosecutor says the U.S. government's terror watch list likely has caused thousands of innocent Americans to be questioned, searched or otherwise hassled. Former Assistant Attorney General Jim Robinson would know: he is one of them. Robinson joined [with] the American Civil Liberties Union on Monday to urge fixing the list that's supposed to identify suspected terrorists. "It's a pain in the neck, and significantly interferes with my travel arrangements," said Robinson, the head of the Justice Department's criminal division during the Clinton administration. He believes his name matches that of someone who was put on the list in early 2005, and is routinely delayed while flying — despite having his own government top-secret security clearances renewed last year. He [said] "I expect my story is similar to hundreds of thousands of people who are on this list who find themselves inconvenienced." [The watch list] was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to consolidate 12 existing lists. Audits of the watch list over the last several years ... have concluded that it has mistakenly flagged innocent people whose names are similar to those on it. More than 30,000 airline passengers had asked the Homeland Security Department to clear their names from the list as of October 2006. The ACLU predicted the watch list would include 1 million names as early as Monday. The civil liberties group reached that number by citing the 700,000 records on the watch list as of last September and adding 20,000 names each month, as forecast by the Justice Department's inspector general.
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Civil liberties group criticizes new FBI authority
2008-07-02, Boston Globe/Associated Press
Nearly 40 years ago, the FBI was roundly criticized for investigating Americans without evidence [that] they had broken any laws. Now, critics fear the FBI may be gearing up to do it again. Tentative Justice Department guidelines, to be released later this summer, would let agents investigate people whose backgrounds -- and potentially their race or ethnicity -- match the traits of terrorists. Such profiling ... echoes the FBI's now-defunct COINTELPRO, an operation under Director J. Edgar Hoover in the 1950s and 1960s to monitor and disrupt groups with communist and socialist ties. Before it was shut down in 1971, the domestic spying operation -- formally known as Counterintelligence Programs -- had expanded to include civil rights groups, anti-war activists, ... state legislators and journalists. Among the FBI's targets were Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and John Lennon, along with members of black [political] groups ... and student protesters. The new proposal to allow investigations of Americans with no evidence of wrongdoing is "COINTELPRO for the 21st century," said Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But this is much more insidious because it could involve more people. In the days of COINTELPRO, they were watching only a few people. Now they could be watching everyone."
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The Business of Intelligence Gathering
2008-06-15, New York Times
America is ruled by an “intelligence-industrial complex” whose allegiance is not to the taxpaying public but to a cabal of private-sector contractors. That is the central thesis of Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing by Tim Shorrock, ... an investigative journalist. His book [provides a] disturbing overview of the intelligence community, also known as “the I.C.” Mr. Shorrock says our government is outsourcing 70 percent of its intelligence budget, or more than $42 billion a year, to a “secret army” of corporate vendors. Because of accelerated privatization efforts after 9/11, these companies are participating in covert operations and intelligence-gathering activities that were considered “inherently governmental” functions reserved for agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, he says. Some of the book’s most intriguing assertions concern the permeating influence of the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. In 2006, Mr. Shorrock reports, Booz Allen amassed $3.7 billion in revenue, much of which came from classified government contracts exempt from public oversight. Among its more than 18,000 employees are R. James Woolsey, the former C.I.A. director, and Joan Dempsey, a former longtime United States intelligence official who declared in a 2004 speech, “I like to refer to Booz Allen as the shadow I.C.” The “revolving door” between Booz Allen and the I.C. is personified by Mike McConnell, who joined the firm after serving as head of the National Security Agency under President Bill Clinton, only to return as director of national intelligence under President Bush.
Note: For revealing reports on government corruption from reliable sources, click here.
Unmarked chopper patrols New York City from above
2008-05-24, CBS News/Associated Press
On a cloudless spring day, the NYPD helicopter soars over the city, its sights set on the Statue of Liberty. A dramatic close-up of Lady Liberty's frozen gaze fills one of three flat-screen computer monitors mounted on a console. Hundreds of sightseers below are oblivious to the fact that a helicopter is peering down on them from a mile and a half away. "They don't even know we're here," said crew chief John Diaz, speaking into a headset over the din of the aircraft's engine. The helicopter's unmarked paint job belies what's inside: an arsenal of sophisticated surveillance and tracking equipment powerful enough to read license plates — or scan pedestrians' faces — from high above the nation's largest metropolis. "It looks like just another helicopter in the sky," said Assistant Police Chief Charles Kammerdener, who oversees the department's aviation unit. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly has said that no other U.S. law enforcement agency "has anything that comes close" to the surveillance chopper, which was designed by engineers at Bell Helicopter and computer technicians based on NYPD specifications. The $10 million helicopter is just part of the department's efforts to adopt cutting-edge technology for its [surveillance] operations. The NYPD also plans to spend tens of millions of dollars strengthening security in the lower Manhattan business district with a network of closed-circuit television cameras and license-plate readers posted at bridges, tunnels and other entry points. Civil rights advocates are skeptical about the push for more surveillance, arguing it reflects the NYPD's evolution into ad hoc spy agency.
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Online warfare research outlined
2008-05-15, Washington Times
Procurement documents released by the U.S. Air Force give a rare glimpse into Pentagon plans for developing an offensive cyber-war capacity that can infiltrate, steal data from and, if necessary, take down enemy information-technology networks. The Broad Area Announcement, posted ... by the Air Force Research Laboratory's Information Directorate, outlines a two-year, $11 million effort to develop capabilities to "access ... any remotely located open or closed computer information systems," lurk on them "completely undetected," "stealthily exfiltrate information" from them and ultimately "be able to affect computer information systems through Deceive, Deny, Disrupt, Degrade, Destroy (D5) effects." "Of interest," the announcement says, "are any and all techniques to enable user and/or root-level access to both fixed [and] mobile computing platforms ... [and] methodologies to enable access to any and all operating systems, patch levels, applications and hardware." The announcement is the latest stage in the Air Force's effort to develop a cyber-war capability and establish itself as the service that delivers U.S. military power in cyberspace. Last year, the Air Force announced it was setting up a Cyberspace Command ... and was developing military doctrine for the prosecution of cyber-war operations. The developments highlight the murky legal territory on which the cyber-wars of the future will be fought. More important, because of the difficulties in identifying attackers and immediately quantifying damage from a cyber-attack, it can be hard to determine when such attacks constitute an act of war as opposed to crime or even vandalism.
Domestic spying far outpaces terrorism prosecutions
2008-05-12, Los Angeles Times
The number of Americans being secretly wiretapped or having their financial and other records reviewed by the government has continued to increase as officials aggressively use powers approved after the Sept. 11 attacks. But the number of terrorism prosecutions ending up in court -- one measure of the effectiveness of such sleuthing -- has continued to decline, in some cases precipitously. The trends, visible in new government data and a private analysis of Justice Department records, are worrisome to civil liberties groups and some legal scholars. They say it is further evidence that the government has compromised the privacy rights of ordinary citizens without much to show for it. The Bush administration has been seeking to expand its ability to gather intelligence without prior court approval. The [Justice] department ... reported a sharp rise in the use of national security letters by the FBI -- from 9,254 in 2005 to 12,583 in 2006, the latest data available. The letters seek customer information from banks, Internet providers and phone companies. They have caused a stir because consumers do not have a right to know that their information is being disclosed and the letters are issued without court oversight. Civil liberties groups say the new data reveal a disturbing consequence of the government's post-Sept. 11 expanded surveillance capabilities. "The number of Americans being investigated dwarfs any legitimate number of actual terrorism prosecutions, and that is extremely troubling," said Lisa Graves, deputy director of the Center for National Security Studies, a Washington-based civil liberties group.
Note: For many reports from major media sources that question the reality of the "terror" threat, click here.
FBI Backs Off From Secret Order for Data After Lawsuit
2008-05-08, Washington Post
The FBI has withdrawn a secret administrative order seeking the name, address and online activity of a patron of the Internet Archive after the San Francisco-based digital library filed suit to block the action. It is one of only three known instances in which the FBI has backed off from such a data demand, known as a "national security letter," or NSL, which is not subject to judicial approval and whose recipient is barred from disclosing the order's existence. NSLs are served on phone companies, Internet service providers and other electronic communications service providers, but because of the gag order provision, the public has little way to know about them. FBI officials now issue about 50,000 such orders a year. The order against the Internet Archive was served Nov. 26, and the nonprofit challenged it based on a provision of the reauthorized USA Patriot Act, which protects libraries from such requests. The privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation represented the archive in the suit, which was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union. The archive also alleged that the gag order that accompanied the data demand violated the Constitution. As part of their settlement, the FBI agreed to drop the gag order and the archive agreed to withdraw the complaint. The case was unsealed Monday. Yesterday, redacted versions of key documents were filed, allowing the parties to discuss the case. "We see this as an unqualified success," said Brewster Kahle, the archive's co-founder and digital librarian. "The goal here was to help other recipients of NSLs to understand that you can push back."
Note: The Internet Archive has now posted excellent information on how to deal with cases like this at http://government.zdnet.com/?p=3795. Three cheers for the Internet Archive!
Bush Lawyer Won't Say if Congress can Limit President's Power
2008-04-24, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
A Bush administration lawyer resisted a San Francisco federal judge's attempts Wednesday to get him to say whether Congress can limit the president's wiretap authority in terrorism and espionage cases, calling the question simplistic. "You can't possibly make that judgment on the public record" without knowing the still-secret details of the electronic surveillance program that President Bush approved in 2001, Justice Department attorney Anthony Coppolino said at a crucial hearing in a wiretapping lawsuit. Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker didn't rule immediately on the government's request to dismiss the suit by an Islamic charity in Oregon, which says a document that federal authorities accidentally released showed it was wiretapped. But Walker, in an extensive exchange with Coppolino, said Congress had spoken clearly in a 1978 law that required the government to obtain a warrant from a secret court before it could conduct electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists or spies. "The president is obliged to follow what Congress has mandated," Walker said. The case may determine whether any U.S. court can judge the legality of Bush's covert order to the National Security Agency to intercept phone calls and e-mails between Americans and suspected foreign terrorists without seeking judicial approval. After Bush acknowledged the existence of the program, Congress temporarily extended it in August and now is debating whether to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits for their past cooperation. Most lawsuits challenging the program have been dismissed because the plaintiffs were unable to show that they had been wiretapped.
Note: For many disturbing reports of increasing threats to civil liberties, click here.
Administration Set to Use New Spy Program in U.S.
2008-04-12, Washington Post
The Bush administration said yesterday that it plans to start using the nation's most advanced spy technology for domestic purposes soon, rebuffing challenges by House Democrats over the idea's legal authority. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said his department will activate his department's new domestic satellite surveillance office in stages, starting as soon as possible. Sophisticated overhead sensor data will be used for law enforcement once privacy and civil rights concerns are resolved, he said. His statements marked a fresh determination to operate the department's new National Applications Office. But Congress delayed launch of the new office last October. Critics cited its potential to expand the role of military assets in domestic law enforcement, to turn new or as-yet-undeveloped technologies against Americans without adequate public debate, and to divert the existing civilian and scientific focus of some satellite work to security uses. Democrats say Chertoff has not spelled out what federal laws govern the NAO, whose funding and size are classified. Congress barred Homeland Security from funding the office until its investigators could review the office's operating procedures and safeguards. The department submitted answers on Thursday, but some lawmakers promptly said the response was inadequate. [Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee] said, "We still don't know whether the NAO will pass constitutional muster since no legal framework has been provided."
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Centers Tap Into Personal Databases
2008-04-02, Washington Post
Intelligence centers run by states across the country have access to personal information about millions of Americans, including unlisted cellphone numbers, insurance claims, driver's license photographs and credit reports, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post. One center also has access to top-secret data systems at the CIA, the document shows, though it's not clear what information those systems contain. Dozens of the organizations known as fusion centers were created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The centers use law enforcement analysts and sophisticated computer systems to compile, or fuse, disparate tips and clues and pass along the refined information to other agencies. Though officials have publicly discussed the fusion centers' importance to national security, they have generally declined to elaborate on the centers' activities. But a document that lists resources used by the fusion centers shows how a dozen of the organizations in the northeastern United States rely far more on access to commercial and government databases than had previously been disclosed. The list of information resources was part of a survey conducted last year, officials familiar with the effort said. It shows that, like most police agencies, the fusion centers have subscriptions to private information-broker services that keep records about Americans' locations, financial holdings, associates, relatives, firearms licenses and the like. "Fusion centers have grown, really, off the radar screen of public accountability," said Jim Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonpartisan watchdog group in the District. "Congress and the state legislatures need to get a handle over what is going on at all these fusion centers."
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Colorado Proposes Tough Law on Executive Accountability
2008-04-01, New York Times
For 30 years, Lew Ellingson loved being a telephone man. His job splicing phone cables was one that he says gave him “a true sense of accomplishment,” first for Northwestern Bell, then US West and finally Qwest Communications International. But by the time Mr. Ellingson retired from Qwest last year at 52, he had grown angry. An insider trading scandal had damaged the company’s reputation, and the life savings of former colleagues had evaporated in the face of Qwest’s stock troubles. “It was a good place,” he said wistfully. “And then something like this happened.” Now, Mr. Ellingson is the public face of a proposed ballot measure in Colorado that seeks to create what supporters hope will be the nation’s toughest corporate fraud law. Buttressed by local advocacy groups and criticized by a Colorado business organization, the measure would make business executives criminally responsible if their companies run afoul of the law. It would also permit any Colorado resident to sue the executives under such circumstances. Proceeds from successful suits would go to the state. If passed by voters in November, the proposal would leave top business officers [with] unprecedented individual accountability, said Mr. Ellingson. “If nothing else, these folks in charge of the corporations and companies will think twice about cutting corners to make themselves look more profitable than they really are,” he said. The plight of Mr. Ellingson’s former employer, Qwest, based in Denver, was a motivation for the proposal. Last April, a jury in Denver convicted Qwest’s former chief executive, Joseph P. Nacchio, of 19 of 42 counts of insider trading. Mr. Nacchio was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $19 million and forfeit $52 million in money he earned from stock sales in 2001.
Note: As reported in the Washington Post, Joseph P. Nacchio, the former Qwest CEO, has claimed that he was singled out for prosecution because he refused to cooperate with the National Security Agency's electronic surveillance of American citizens, which began before 9/11.
ACLU: Military using FBI to skirt restrictions
2008-04-01, MSNBC/Associated Press
The military is using the FBI to skirt legal restrictions on domestic surveillance to obtain private records of Americans' Internet service providers, financial institutions and telephone companies, the ACLU said Tuesday. The American Civil Liberties Union based its conclusion on a review of more than 1,000 documents turned over by the Defense Department after it sued the agency last year for documents related to national security letters. The letters are investigative tools used to compel businesses to turn over customer information without a judge's order or grand jury subpoena. ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman said the documents the civil rights group studied "make us incredibly concerned that the FBI and DoD might be collaborating to evade limits" placed on the Defense Department's use of the letters. Goodman, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, said the military is allowed to demand financial and credit records in certain instances but does not have the authority to get e-mail and phone records or lists of Web sites that people have visited. That is the kind of information that the FBI can get by using a national security letter, she said. "That's why we're particularly concerned. The DoD may be accessing the kinds of records they are not allowed to get," she said. Goodman also noted that legal limits are placed on the Defense Department "because the military doing domestic investigations tends to make us leery.
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Google has lots to do with intelligence
2008-03-30, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
When the nation's intelligence agencies wanted a computer network to better share information ... they turned to a big name in the technology industry to supply some of the equipment: Google Inc. The Mountain View company sold the agencies servers for searching documents. Many of the contracts are for search appliances - servers for storing and searching internal documents. Agencies can use the devices to create their own mini-Googles on intranets made up entirely of government data. Additionally, Google has had success licensing a souped-up version of its aerial mapping service, Google Earth. Spy agencies are using Google equipment as the backbone of Intellipedia, a network aimed at helping agents share intelligence. [The system] is maintained by the director of national intelligence and is accessible only to the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and an alphabet soup of other intelligence agencies and offices. Google supplies the computer servers that support the network, as well as the search software that allows users to sift through messages and data. Because of the complexities of doing business with the government, Google uses resellers to process orders on its behalf. Google takes care of the sales, marketing and management of the accounts. Google is one of many technology vendors vying for government contracts. On occasion, Google is the target of conspiracy theories from bloggers who say it is working with spy agencies more closely than simply selling search equipment.
Every bank transaction triggers snooping
2008-03-26, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta's leading newspaper)
The sad saga of [Eliot] Spitzer should concern every American. The web of snooping in which federal investigators and regulators are now able to ensnare any person who engages in any form of financial transaction has become so complex and pervasive that almost no person anywhere in the world can escape its clutches. The seeds of this modern-day Orwellian financial web were sown in the late 1960s and early 1970s when such expansive federal laws as the Bank Secrecy Act were enacted. Designed as tools to ferret out organized crime figures, major drug traffickers and international money launderers, this family of far-reaching regulatory-cum-criminal laws initially was used largely as intended. Many of the “Suspicious Activity Reports” (or SARs) required by the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, for example, were largely ignored by investigators and prosecutors, who viewed them as burdensome and difficult to catalog and utilize. Two events have conspired to change all that. First, the advent of digital technology has elevated dramatically the ability of the government to gather, analyze, manipulate, retrieve and disseminate the SAR data. The second factor ... was, of course, the events of 9/11 and the ensuing USA Patriot Act. These two things institutionalized fear as the driving force in virtually all federal policies, including those relating to financial reporting. [A section of] the Patriot Act — has been interpreted by banking examiners to require banks to profile their customers and the full range of their transactions, regardless of amount. These “know your customer” regulations are among the most insidious of this entire class of invasive federal laws and regulations.
Note: This informative article is by former US Congressman Bob Barr, who has become a crusader against the excesses of the PATRIOT Act.
2008-03-24, Newsweek magazine
When Congress passed the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, law-enforcement agencies hailed it as a powerful tool to help track down the confederates of Osama bin Laden. No one expected it would end up helping to snag the likes of Eliot Spitzer. In the fine print were provisions that gave the Treasury Department authority to demand more information from banks about their customers' financial transactions. But Treasury went further. It issued stringent new regulations that required banks themselves to look for unusual transactions (such as odd patterns of cash withdrawals or wire transfers) and submit SARs—Suspicious Activity Reports—to the government. Facing potentially stiff penalties if they didn't comply, banks and other financial institutions installed sophisticated software to detect anomalies among millions of daily transactions. They began ranking the risk levels of their customers ... based on complex formulas that included ... whether an account holder was a "politically exposed person" [PEP]. At first focused on potentially crooked foreign officials, the PEP lists expanded to include many U.S. politicians and public officials who were conceivably vulnerable to corruption. Federal prosecutors around the country routinely scour the SARs for potential leads. One of those leads led to Spitzer. Last summer New York's North Fork Bank, where Spitzer had an account, filed a SAR about unusual money transfers he had made. The governor called attention to himself by asking the bank to transfer money in someone else's name. The SAR was not itself evidence that Spitzer had committed a crime. But it made the Feds curious enough to follow the money.
Note: This story provides useful information about how the PATRIOT Act has been applied since its passage. The reasons for the investigation of Eliot Spitzer, leading to his resignation, may not have been so simple, however, given his many powerful enemies in government and on Wall Street.
Why Hospitals Want Your Credit Report
2008-03-18, Wall Street Journal
In a development that consumer groups say raises privacy issues, a growing number of hospitals are mining patients' personal financial information to figure out how likely they are to pay their bills. Some hospitals are peering into patients' credit reports, which contain information on people's lines of credit, debts and payment histories. Other hospitals are contracting with outside services that predict a patient's income and whether he or she is likely to walk away from a medical bill. Hospitals often use these services when patients are uninsured or have big out-of-pocket costs despite having health insurance. Consumer advocates say the practice creates the potential for hospitals to misuse the information by denying or cutting back on patients' care if they can't pay. What's more, hospitals could scour a patient's financial records for credit lines and encourage the patient to tap them, despite high interest rates or other costs. "It has the potential to put people at risk financially," says Mark Rukavina, executive director of the Access Project, a research and advocacy group that focuses on medical debt. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or Hipaa, a federal law that has patient-privacy provisions, doesn't bar hospitals from providing patient payment histories to consumer reporting agencies. It's unclear how much latitude hospitals have to legally check a patient's financial information. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, hospitals are allowed to obtain patients' credit reports if they get their permission, says Rebecca Kuehn, an assistant director in the Federal Trade Commission's division of privacy and identity protection.
Note: For many other revelations of privacy abuses from reliable, verifiable sources, click here.
National Dragnet Is a Click Away
2008-03-06, Washington Post
Several thousand law enforcement agencies are creating the foundation of a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information. As federal authorities struggled to meet information-sharing mandates after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, police agencies from Alaska and California to the Washington region poured millions of ... records into shared digital repositories called data warehouses, giving investigators and analysts new power to discern links among people, patterns of behavior and other hidden clues. Those network efforts will begin expanding further this month, as some local and state agencies connect to a fledgling Justice Department system called the National Data Exchange, or N-DEx. The expanding police systems illustrate the prominent roles that private companies play in homeland security and counterterrorism efforts. They also underscore how the use of new data -- and data surveillance -- is evolving faster than the public's understanding or the laws intended to check government power and protect civil liberties. Three decades ago, Congress imposed limits on domestic intelligence activity after revelations that the FBI, Army, local police and others had misused their authority for years to build troves of personal dossiers and monitor political activists and other law-abiding Americans. Since those reforms, police and federal authorities have observed a wall between law enforcement information-gathering, relating to crimes and prosecutions, and more open-ended intelligence that relates to national security and [politics]. That wall is fast eroding following the passage of laws expanding surveillance authorities, the push for information-sharing networks, and the expectation that local and state police will play larger roles.
Note: For many revealing reports from reliable sources of serious threats to civil liberties, click here.
The FBI Deputizes Business
2008-02-07, Common Dreams
Today, more than 23,000 representatives of private industry are working quietly with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The members of this rapidly growing group, called InfraGard, receive secret warnings of terrorist threats before the public does -- and, at least on one occasion, before elected officials. In return, they provide information to the government, which alarms the ACLU. But there may be more to it than that. One business executive, who showed me his InfraGard card, told me they have permission to "shoot to kill"ť in the event of martial law. In November 2001, InfraGard had around 1,700 members. As of late January, InfraGard had 23,682 members, according to its website, www.infragard.net, which adds that "350 of our nation's Fortune 500 have a representative in InfraGard."ť FBI Director Robert Mueller addressed an InfraGard convention on August 9, 2005. He urged InfraGard members to contact the FBI if they "note suspicious activity or an unusual event." And he said they could sic the FBI on "disgruntled employees who will use knowledge gained on the job against their employers."ť
Note: We don't normally use Common Dreams as a news source, but as this news is so important and the major media failed to report it, we decided to include this article here. For a revealing report by the ACLU on this key topic, click here. For important reports from major media sources on threats to civil liberties, click here.
Spies' Battleground Turns Virtual
2008-02-06, Washington Post
U.S. intelligence officials are [now claiming] that popular Internet services that enable computer users to adopt cartoon-like personas in three-dimensional online spaces also are creating security vulnerabilities by opening novel ways ... to move money, organize and conduct corporate espionage. Over the last few years, "virtual worlds" such as Second Life and other role-playing games have become home to millions of computer-generated personas known as avatars. By directing their avatars, people can take on alternate personalities, socialize, explore and earn and spend money across uncharted online landscapes. Nascent economies have sprung to life in these 3-D worlds, complete with currency, banks and shopping malls. Corporations and government agencies have opened animated virtual offices, and a growing number of organizations hold meetings where avatars gather and converse in newly minted conference centers. Intelligence officials ... say they're convinced that the qualities that many computer users find so attractive about virtual worlds -- including anonymity, global access and the expanded ability to make financial transfers outside normal channels -- have turned them into seedbeds for transnational threats. The government's growing concern seems likely to make virtual worlds the next battlefield in the struggle over the proper limits on the government's quest to [expand] data collection and analysis and the surveillance of commercial computer systems. Virtual worlds could also become an actual battlefield. The intelligence community has begun contemplating how to use Second Life and other such communities as platforms for cyber weapons.
Microchips Everywhere: a Future Vision
2008-01-29, Seattle Times/Associated Press
Here's a vision of the not-so-distant future: Microchips with antennas will be embedded in virtually everything you buy, wear, drive and read, allowing retailers and law enforcement to track consumer items -- and, by extension, consumers -- wherever they go, from a distance. A seamless, global network of electronic "sniffers" will scan radio tags in myriad public settings, identifying people and their tastes instantly so that customized ads, "live spam," may be beamed at them. In "Smart Homes," sensors built into walls, floors and appliances will inventory possessions, record eating habits, monitor medicine cabinets -- all the while, silently reporting data to marketers eager for a peek into the occupants' private lives. Science fiction? In truth, much of the radio frequency identification [RFID] technology that enables objects and people to be tagged and tracked wirelessly already exists -- and new and potentially intrusive uses of it are being patented, perfected and deployed. Some of the world's largest corporations are vested in the success of RFID technology, which couples highly miniaturized computers with radio antennas to broadcast information about sales and buyers to company databases. Already, microchips are turning up in some computer printers, car keys and tires, on shampoo bottles and department store clothing tags. They're also in library books and "contactless" payment cards. With tags in so many objects, relaying information to databases that can be linked to credit and bank cards, almost no aspect of life may soon be safe from the prying eyes of corporations and governments, says Mark Rasch, former head of the computer-crime unit of the U.S. Justice Department.
Note: For lots more on microchip implants, click here.
Greater Use of Privilege Spurs Concern
2008-01-29, Washington Post
The U.S. government has been increasing its use of the state secrets privilege to avoid disclosure of classified information in civil lawsuits. Some legal scholars and members of Congress contend that the Bush administration has employed it excessively as it intervened in cases that could expose information about sensitive programs. These include the rendition of detainees to foreign countries for interrogation and cases related to the National Security Agency's use of warrantless wiretaps. The privilege allows the government to argue that lawsuits -- and the information potentially revealed by them -- could damage national security. It gives judges the power to prevent information from reaching public view or to dismiss cases even if they appear to have merit. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) ... cited statistics that show the Bush administration has used the state secrets privilege substantially more, on a percentage basis, than previous administrations to block or dismiss lawsuits. Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation ... said "The administration is attempting to use the privilege as a back-door immunity to obtain dismissal of any case that attempts to put the NSA wiretapping issue in front of a judge. It is no secret such a program existed."
Note: For many disturbing reports on government secrecy from reliable sources, click here.
Like FBI, CIA Has Used Secret 'Letters'
2008-01-25, Washington Post
For three years, the Bush administration has drawn fire from civil liberties groups over its use of national security letters, a kind of administrative subpoena that compels private businesses such as telecommunications companies to turn over information to the government. After the 2001 USA Patriot Act loosened the guidelines, the FBI issued tens of thousands of such requests, something critics say amounts to warrantless spying on Americans who have not been charged with crimes. Now, newly released documents shed light on the use of the letters by the CIA. The spy agency has employed them to obtain financial information about U.S. residents and does so under extraordinary secrecy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained copies of CIA letters under the Freedom of Information Act. The CIA's requests for financial records come with "gag orders" on the recipients, said ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman. In many cases, she said, the recipient is not allowed to keep a copy of the letter or even take notes about the information turned over to the CIA. The ACLU posted copies of some of the letters on its Web site. In most cases, nearly all the text had been redacted by CIA censors.
Note: For many powerful reports on the growing threats to civil liberties, click here.
Schweitzer seeks other governors to oppose REAL ID
2008-01-19, Associated Press
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is urging a third of the nation's governors to join him in opposing the implementation of a national identification card, saying they can force Congress to change it. Schweitzer, who last year said "no, nope, no way, hell no" to the federal plan calling for national driver's licenses under the REAL ID Act, sent a letter yesterday to 17 other governors asking them to oppose a Department of Homeland Security effort to penalize states that have not adopted the mandate. Homeland Security has said recently that travelers from states that have not adopted the license will have to use a passport or certain types of federal border-crossing cards if they want to avoid a vigorous secondary screening at airport security.
Inquisition at JPL
2008-01-16, Los Angeles Times
For the last four years, two robot rovers operated from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge have been moving across the surface of Mars, taking photographs and collecting information. It's an epic event in the history of exploration, one of many for which JPL's 7,000 civilian scientists and engineers are responsible -- when they're not fending off the U.S. government's attempts to conduct an intimidating and probably illegal inquisition into the intimate details of their lives. The problem began -- as so many have -- in the security mania that gripped the Bush administration after 9/11. Presidential Directive No. 12, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, directed federal agencies to adopt a uniform badge that could be used by employees and contractors to gain access to government facilities. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin ... directed Caltech, which has a contract to run JPL for NASA, to make sure all of the lab's employees complied. The government demanded that the scientists, in order to get the badges, fill out questionnaires on their personal lives and waive the privacy of their financial, medical and psychiatric records. The government also wanted permission to gather information about them by interviewing third parties. Twenty-eight of JPL's senior scientists sued in federal court to stop the government and Caltech from forcing them to agree to the background checks as the price of keeping their jobs. They point out that Griffin is one of those who remain skeptical that human actions contribute to global warming, and that some of JPL's near-Earth science has played a critical role in establishing the empirical case to the contrary. They see the background checks as the first step toward establishing a system of intimidation that might be used to silence inconvenient science.
Note: For many disturbing reports on threats to our civil liberties, click here.
Microsoft seeks patent for office 'spy' software
2008-01-16, Times of London
Microsoft is developing Big Brother-style software capable of remotely monitoring a worker’s productivity, physical wellbeing and competence. The Times has seen a patent application filed by the company for a computer system that links workers to their computers via wireless sensors that measure their metabolism. The system would allow managers to monitor employees’ performance by measuring their heart rate, body temperature, movement, facial expression and blood pressure. Unions said they fear that employees could be dismissed on the basis of a computer’s assessment of their physiological state. This is believed to be the first time a company has proposed developing such software for mainstream workplaces. Microsoft submitted a patent application in the US for a “unique monitoring system” that could link workers to their computers. Wireless sensors could read “heart rate, galvanic skin response, EMG, brain signals, respiration rate, body temperature, movement facial movements, facial expressions and blood pressure”, the application states. The system could also “automatically detect frustration or stress in the user”. Physical changes to an employee would be matched to an individual psychological profile based on a worker’s weight, age and health. If the system picked up an increase in heart rate or facial expressions suggestive of stress or frustration, it would tell management. Civil liberties groups and privacy lawyers strongly criticised the potential of the system for “taking the idea of monitoring people at work to a new level”.
Note: For revealing reports from major media sources on the increasing surveillance of all aspects of society by secret government and corporate programs, click here.
New rules on licenses pit states against feds
Residents of at least 17 states are suddenly stuck in the middle of a fight between the Bush administration and state governments over post-September 11 security rules for driver's licenses -- a dispute that, by May, could leave millions of people unable to use their licenses to board planes or enter federal buildings. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who unveiled final details of the REAL ID Act's rules on Friday, said that if states want their licenses to remain valid for air travel after May 2008, those states must seek a waiver indicating they want more time to comply with the legislation. Chertoff said that in instances where a particular state doesn't seek a waiver, its residents will have to use a passport or a newly created federal passport card if they want to avoid a vigorous secondary screening at airport security. Chertoff spoke as he discussed the details of the administration's plan to improve security for driver's licenses in all 50 states -- an effort delayed due to opposition from states worried about the cost and civil libertarians upset about what they believe are invasions of privacy. Under the rules announced Friday, Americans born after Dec. 1, 1964, will have to get more secure driver's licenses in the next six years. The American Civil Liberties Union has fiercely objected to the effort, particularly the sharing of personal data among government agencies. In its written objection to the law, the ACLU claims REAL ID amounts to the "first-ever national identity card system," which "would irreparably damage the fabric of American life."
FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics
2007-12-22, Washington Post
The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad. Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to ... identify [people]. The increasing use of biometrics for identification is raising questions about the ability of Americans to avoid unwanted scrutiny. It is drawing criticism from those who worry that people's bodies will become de facto national identification cards. "It's going to be an essential component of tracking," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's enabling the Always On Surveillance Society." The FBI's biometric database ... communicates with the Terrorist Screening Center's database of suspects and the National Crime Information Center database, which is the FBI's master criminal database of felons, fugitives and terrorism suspects. At the West Virginia University Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR) ... researchers are working on capturing images of people's irises at distances of up to 15 feet, and of faces from as far away as 200 yards. Soon, those researchers will do biometric research for the FBI. Covert iris- and face-image capture is several years away, but it is of great interest to government agencies.
Note: For many important major-media reports on threats to privacy, click here.
The Court That May Not Be Heard
2007-12-15, New York Times
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the special court that reviews government requests for warrants to spy on suspected foreign agents in the United States, seems to have forgotten that its job is to ensure that the government is accountable for following the law — not to help the Bush administration keep its secrets. Last week, the court denied a request by the American Civil Liberties Union to release portions of past rulings that would explain how it has interpreted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The court should share its legal reasoning with the public. After the 9/11 attacks, the National Security Agency for years engaged in domestic spying that violated both FISA and the Constitution. Earlier this year, after a court ruled that the program was illegal, the Bush administration said that in the future it would conduct surveillance with the approval of the intelligence court. At the same time, it announced that a judge of the court had issued orders setting out how the program could proceed. The administration has repeatedly referred to these orders, but has refused to make them public. As a result, it is impossible for the American people — and even some members of Congress — to know how the court reached its conclusions, or the state of the law with respect to domestic surveillance. The idea of courts developing law in secret and handing down legal principles that the public cannot know about should not be part of the American legal system. That is especially true when the subject matter is as important as the government spying on its citizens, an issue the founders — who drafted the Fourth Amendment — cared about deeply. The people have a right to know how the act, which is in the process of being revised, is being interpreted so they can tell their elected representatives what they think the law should be.
"A Blow at the Core of Fourth Amendment Protections"
2007-11-28, New York Times
The Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches, but for this protection to have practical meaning, the courts must enforce it. This week, the Supreme Court let stand a disturbing ruling out of California that allows law enforcement to barge into people’s homes without a warrant. The case has not prompted much outrage, perhaps because the people whose privacy is being invaded are welfare recipients, but it is a serious setback for the privacy rights of all Americans. San Diego County’s district attorney has a program called Project 100% that is intended to reduce welfare fraud. Applicants for welfare benefits are visited by law enforcement agents, who show up unannounced and examine the family’s home, including the insides of cabinets and closets. The program does not meet the standards set out by the Fourth Amendment. For a search to be reasonable, there generally must be some kind of individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. These searches are done in the homes of people who have merely applied for welfare and have done nothing to arouse suspicion. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, rejected a challenge brought by welfare recipients. In ruling that the program does not violate the Constitution, the majority made the bizarre assertion that the home visits are not “searches.” It is a fun-house mirrors version of constitutional analysis for a court to say that government agents are not conducting a search when they show up unannounced in a person’s home and rifle through her bedroom dresser. Judge Harry Pregerson, writing for himself and six other Ninth Circuit judges who voted to reconsider the case, got it right. The majority decision upholding Project 100%, Judge Pregerson wrote, “strikes an unprecedented blow at the core of Fourth Amendment protections.” When the government is allowed to show up unannounced without a warrant and search people’s homes, it is bad news for all of us.
Houston Police Drone Aircraft
Transcript: [Suzanne] MALVEAUX: A Texas mystery solved -- at least partially. We now know Houston police are going to start using unmanned drone aircraft. But the question remains, well, for what? Stephen Dean of CNN affiliate KPRC has got an exclusive look. STEPHEN DEAN, KPRC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): HPD [Houston Police Dept.], the federal Department of Homeland Security and other invited guests all watching to see how this drone could be used for police work in and around Houston. We tracked that drone from News Chopper 2. And that drone was able to use a high-powered camera to track us. Those cameras can actually look into people's homes or even follow them in moving cars -- which raises all sorts of new questions. HPD quickly hustled together a news conference when it realized our cameras were there for the entire secret test. Executive Assistant Chief Martha Mantabo admits that could mean covert police action. But she says it's too early to tell what else HPD will do with the aircraft. We asked, are these drones headed for ticketing speeders from the sky? MONTALVO: I'm not ruling anything out. DEAN: Back at the secret test site, police helicopter pilots claimed the entire air space was restricted and even threatened our local 2 Investigates pilot with action from the FAA if we didn't leave. But we checked with FAA several times and there never was a flight restriction. That leaves some to wonder whether the police are now ready to use terrorism fears since 911 to push the envelope further into our private lives.
Note: To watch the video of secret police work in action, click here.
Cellphone Tracking Powers on Request
2007-11-23, Washington Post
Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers. In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives. The requests and orders are sealed at the government's request, so it is difficult to know how often the orders are issued or denied. "Most people don't realize it, but they're carrying a tracking device in their pocket," said Kevin Bankston of the privacy advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Cellphones can reveal very precise information about your location, and yet legal protections are very much up in the air." In a stinging opinion this month, a federal judge in Texas denied a request by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent for data that would identify a drug trafficker's phone location by using the carrier's E911 tracking capability. E911 tracking systems read signals sent to satellites from a phone's Global Positioning System (GPS) chip or triangulated radio signals sent from phones to cell towers. "Law enforcement routinely now requests carriers to continuously 'ping' wireless devices of suspects to locate them when a call is not being made . . . so law enforcement can triangulate the precise location of a device and [seek] the location of all associates communicating with a target," wrote Christopher Guttman-McCabe, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA -- the Wireless Association.
Note: For many major media reports on serious new threats to civil liberties, click here.
Big Brother Spying on Americans' Internet Data?
2007-11-07, ABC News
According to a former AT&T employee, the government has warrantless access to a great deal of Internet traffic should they care to take a peek. As information is traded between users it flows also into a locked, secret room on the sixth floor of AT&T's San Francisco offices and other rooms around the country -- where the U.S. government can sift through and find the information it wants, former AT&T employee Mark Klein alleged Wednesday at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "An exact copy of all Internet traffic that flowed through critical AT&T cables -- e-mails, documents, pictures, Web browsing, voice-over-Internet phone conversations, everything -- was being diverted to equipment inside the secret room," he said. Klein ... said that as an AT&T technician overseeing Internet operations in San Francisco, he helped maintain optical splitters that diverted data en route to and from AT&T customers. One day he found that the splitters were hard-wired into a secret room on the sixth floor. Documents he obtained [from] AT&T showed that highly sophisticated data mining equipment was kept there. Conversations he had with other technicians and the AT&T documents led Klein to believe there are 15 to 20 such sites nationwide, including in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Diego and Atlanta, he said. Brian Reid, a former Stanford electrical engineering professor who appeared with Klein, said the NSA would logically collect phone and Internet data simultaneously because of the way fiber optic cables are intertwined. He said ... the system described by Klein suggests a "wholesale, dragnet surveillance." Of the major telecom companies, only Qwest is known to have rejected government requests for access to data. Former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio, appealing an insider trading conviction last month, said the government was seeking access to data even before Sept. 11.
Librarians Say Surveillance Bills Lack Adequate Oversight
2007-11-02, Washington Post
A little-remarked feature of pending legislation on domestic surveillance has provoked alarm among university and public librarians who say it could allow federal intelligence-gathering on library patrons without sufficient court oversight.
Draft House and Senate bills would allow the government to compel any "communications service provider" to provide access to e-mails and other electronic information within the United States. The Justice Department has previously said that "providers" may include libraries, causing three major university and library groups to worry that the government's ability to monitor people targeted for surveillance without a warrant would chill students' and faculty members' online research activities.
"It is fundamental that when a user enters the library, physically or electronically," said Jim Neal, the head librarian at Columbia University, "their use of the collections, print or electronic, their communications on library servers and computers, is not going to be subjected to surveillance unless the courts have authorized it." The librarians said their concern about such monitoring is rooted in recent history. In the summer of 2005, FBI agents handed an administrative subpoena called a national security letter (NSL) to a Connecticut librarian, and demanded subscriber, billing and other information on patrons who used a specific computer at a branch library. NSLs can be approved by certain FBI agents without court approval. The agents ordered the librarian to keep the demand secret. But he refused to produce the records, and his employer filed suit, challenging the gag order. A federal judge in September 2005 declared the gag order unconstitutional. The Association of Research Libraries, ... the American Library Association ... and the Association of American Universities ... each say they seek to amend the draft bills to make clear that the term "communications provider" does not include libraries.
Note: For more eye-opening reports from major media sources on the erosion of civil liberties, click here.
Companies Seeking Immunity Donate to Senator
2007-10-23, New York Times
Executives at the two biggest phone companies contributed more than $42,000 in political donations to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV this year while seeking his support for legal immunity for businesses participating in National Security Agency eavesdropping. The surge in contributions came from a Who’s Who of executives at the companies, AT&T and Verizon, starting with the chief executives and including at least 50 executives and lawyers at the two utilities, according to campaign finance reports. The money came primarily from a fund-raiser that Verizon held for Mr. Rockefeller in March in New York and another that AT&T sponsored for him in May in San Antonio. Mr. Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, [has emerged] as the most important supporter of immunity in [the Senate]. Mr. Rockefeller’s office said ... that the sharp increases in contributions from the telecommunications executives had no influence on his support for the immunity provision. “Any suggestion that Senator Rockefeller would make policy decisions based on campaign contributions is patently false,” Wendy Morigi, a spokeswoman for him, said. AT&T and Verizon have been lobbying hard to insulate themselves from suits over their reported roles in the security agency program by gaining legal immunity from Congress. The effort included meetings with Mr. Rockefeller and other members of the intelligence panels. Mr. Rockefeller received little in the way of contributions from AT&T or Verizon executives before this year, reporting $4,050 from 2002 through 2006. From last March to June, he collected a total of $42,850 from executives at the two companies. The increase was first reported by the online journal Wired, using data compiled by the Web site OpenSecrets.org. [Telecommunications] industry executives have given significant contributions to a number of other Washington politicians, including two presidential contenders, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain.
Privacy Lost: These Phones Can Find You
2007-10-23, New York Times
Two new questions arise, courtesy of the latest advancement in cellphone technology: Do you want your friends, family, or colleagues to know where you are at any given time? And do you want to know where they are? Obvious benefits come to mind. Parents can take advantage of the Global Positioning System chips embedded in many cellphones to track the whereabouts of their phone-toting children. And for teenagers and 20-somethings, who are fond of sharing their comings and goings on the Internet, youth-oriented services like Loopt and Buddy Beacon are a natural next step. But ... if G.P.S. [makes] it harder to get lost, new cellphone services are now making it harder to hide. “There are massive changes going on in society, particularly among young people who feel comfortable sharing information in a digital society,” said Kevin Bankston, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We seem to be getting into a period where people are closely watching each other,” he said. “There are privacy risks we haven’t begun to grapple with.” What if a boss asks an employee to use the service? Almost 55 percent of all mobile phones sold today in the United States have the technology that makes such friend- and family-tracking services possible. Consumers can turn off their service, making them invisible to people in their social-mapping network. Still, the G.P.S. service embedded in the phone means that your whereabouts are not a complete mystery. “There is a Big Brother component,” said Charles S. Golvin, a wireless analyst. “The thinking goes that if my friends can find me, the telephone company knows my location all the time, too.”
Note: For revealing major media reports of privacy risks and invasions, click here.
Immunity for Telecoms May Set Bad Precedent, Legal Scholars Say
2007-10-22, Washington Post
When previous Republican administrations were accused of illegality in the FBI and CIA spying abuses of the 1970s or the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, Democrats in Congress launched investigations or pushed for legislative reforms. But last week, faced with admissions by several telecommunication companies that they assisted the Bush administration in warrantless spying on Americans, leaders of the Senate intelligence committee took a much different tack -- proposing legislation that would grant those companies retroactive immunity from prosecution or lawsuits. The proposal marks the second time in recent years that Congress has moved toward providing legal immunity for past actions that may have been illegal. The Military Commissions Act, passed by a GOP-led Congress in September 2006, provided retroactive immunity for CIA interrogators who could have been accused of war crimes for mistreating detainees. Legal experts say the granting of such retroactive immunity by Congress is unusual, particularly in a case involving private companies. "It's particularly unusual in the case of the telecoms because you don't really know what you're immunizing," said Louis Fisher, a specialist in constitutional law with the Law Library of the Library of Congress. Civil liberties groups and many academics argue that Congress is allowing the government to cover up possible wrongdoing and is inappropriately interfering in disputes that the courts should decide. The American Civil Liberties Union [said] in a news release Friday that "the administration is trying to cover its tracks."
From Casinos to Counterterrorism
2007-10-22, Washington Post
[Las Vegas], famous for being America's playground, has also become its security lab. Like nowhere else in the United States, Las Vegas has embraced the twin trends of data mining and high-tech surveillance, with arguably more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country. Even the city's cabs and monorail have cameras. Some privacy advocates view the city as a harbinger of things to come. In secret rooms in casinos across Las Vegas, surveillance specialists are busy analyzing information about players and employees. Relying on thousands of cameras in nearly every cranny of the casinos, they evaluate ... behavior. They ping names against databases that share information with other casinos, sometimes using facial-recognition software to validate a match. And in the marketing suites, casino staffers track players' every wager, every win or loss, the better to target high-rollers for special treatment and low- and middle-rollers for promotions. "You could almost look at Vegas as the incubator of a whole host of surveillance technologies," said James X. Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology. Those technologies, he said, have spread to other commercial venues: malls, stadiums, amusement parks. After Sept. 11, 2001, several airports tested facial-recognition software, with little success. But the government is continuing to invest in biometric technologies. "We often hear of the surveillance technology du jour, but what we're seeing now in America is a collection of surveillance technologies that work together," said Barry Steinhardt, the American Civil Liberties Union's technology and liberty project director. "It isn't just video surveillance or face recognition or license plate readers or RFID chips. It's that all these technologies are converging to create a surveillance society."
Note: For revealing major media reports of privacy risks and invasions, click here.
Strict Visa Regulations Discourage Visiting Artists
2007-10-20, Washington Post
The Halle Orchestra, one of Great Britain's oldest symphony orchestras, has not toured the United States in more than a decade, so spirits were high when the group secured dates at Lincoln Center and in Upstate New York for performances last winter. But when the orchestra learned that to get their entry visas, all 85 musicians -- every last cellist, oboist and piccolo player -- would have to travel from their Manchester headquarters to the U.S. Embassy in London for personal interviews, electronic fingerprinting and facial-recognition scans, it scrapped the trip. Budgeting for airfare and travel costs to New York was one thing, but simply getting everyone to the embassy at the same time, along with hotel bills and fees for the visas themselves, would have cost an additional $80,000, said marketing director Andy Ryans. "It was very simply money that we didn't have," Ryans explained. "We were desperate to go to the States, but our hands were absolutely tied." Theirs aren't the only ones. To perform in this country, foreign artists of all stripes -- punk rockers, ballet dancers, folk musicians, acrobats -- are funneled through a one-size-fits-all "nonimmigrant" visa process whose costs and complications have become prohibitive, according to booking agents, managers and presenters, such as the Kennedy Center, who program and market the performers. Visiting businesspeople face similar security hurdles put in place since Sept. 11, 2001. But artists' visa petitions also require substantial documentation to satisfy the "sustained international recognition" requirement for the type of visa (called a "P-1") issued to many performing artists. Arts organizations say they have become reluctant to book foreign performers because of the risk of bureaucratic snags. Soon after Sept. 11, the State Department rolled out its Biometric Visa Program, requiring all applicants to undergo fingerprinting and have photographs taken at the nearest U.S. consulate each time they apply.
Pentagon Review Faults Bank Record Demands
2007-10-14, New York Times
An internal Pentagon review this year found systemic problems ... in the military’s efforts to obtain records from American banks and consumer credit agencies in terrorism and espionage investigations, according to Pentagon documents. The newly disclosed documents, totaling more than 1,000 pages, provide additional confirmation of the military’s expanding use of what are known as national security letters under powers claimed under the Patriot Act. The documents show that the military has issued at least 270 of the letters since 2005, and about 500 in all since 2001. The documents were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by two private advocacy groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The New York Times first disclosed the military’s use of the letters in January, and senior members of Congress and civil liberties groups criticized the practice on grounds that it seemed to conflict with traditional Pentagon rules against domestic law enforcement operations. The documents raise a number of apparent discrepancies between the Defense Department’s internal practices and what officials have said publicly and to Congress about their use of the letters. The documents suggest, for instance, that military officials used the F.B.I. to collect records for what started as purely military investigations. And the documents also leave open the possibility that records could be gathered on nonmilitary personnel in the course of the investigations. Civil liberties advocates said recent controversy over the Department of Defense’s collection of information on antiwar protesters made them suspicious of the assertion that the letters had been used exclusively to focus on military personnel. “We are very skeptical that the D.O.D. is voluntarily limiting its own surveillance power,” said Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney for the A.C.L.U..
Former CEO Says U.S. Punished Phone Firm
2007-10-13, Washington Post
A former Qwest Communications International executive, appealing a conviction for insider trading, has alleged that the government withdrew opportunities for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars after Qwest refused to participate in an unidentified National Security Agency program that the company thought might be illegal. Former chief executive Joseph P. Nacchio, convicted in April of 19 counts of insider trading, said the NSA approached Qwest more than six months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks ... about participating in a warrantless surveillance program to gather information about Americans' phone records. In the court filings disclosed this week, Nacchio suggests that Qwest's refusal to take part in that program led the government to cancel a separate, lucrative contract with the NSA in retribution. He is using the allegation to try to show why his stock sale should not have been considered improper. He has claimed in court papers that he had been optimistic that Qwest would overcome weak sales because of the expected top-secret contract with the government. Nacchio's account, which places the NSA proposal at a meeting on Feb. 27, 2001, suggests that the Bush administration was seeking to enlist telecommunications firms in programs without court oversight before the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 attacks have been cited by the government as the main impetus for its warrantless surveillance efforts. In May 2006, USA Today reported that the NSA had been secretly collecting the phone-call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by major telecom firms. Qwest, it reported, declined to participate because of fears that the program lacked legal standing.
Note: The Bush Administration has claimed that the NSA surveillance of the American public was a necessary response to the attacks of 9/11. But this story reveals that the surveillance began before 9/11, shortly after Bush took office. The obvious question is, why? For many other reliable, verifiable reports that suggest the official explanation of the events of 9/11 is false, click here.
Dragonfly or Insect Spy? Scientists at Work on Robobugs
2007-10-09, Washington Post
Vanessa Alarcon saw them while working at an antiwar rally in Lafayette Square last month. "I heard someone say, 'Oh my god, look at those,' " the college senior from New York recalled. "I look up and I'm like, 'What the hell is that?' They looked kind of like dragonflies or little helicopters. But I mean, those are not insects." Out in the crowd, Bernard Crane saw them, too. "I'd never seen anything like it in my life," the Washington lawyer said. "They were large for dragonflies. I thought, 'Is that mechanical, or is that alive?' " Some suspect the insectlike drones are high-tech surveillance tools, perhaps deployed by the Department of Homeland Security. No agency admits to having deployed insect-size spy drones. But a number of U.S. government and private entities acknowledge they are trying. So what was seen by Crane, Alarcon and a handful of others at the D.C. march -- and as far back as 2004, during the Republican National Convention in New York, when one observant ... peace-march participant described on the Web "a jet-black dragonfly hovering about 10 feet off the ground, precisely in the middle of 7th Avenue . . . watching us?" Three people at the D.C. event independently described a row of spheres, the size of small berries, attached along the tails of the big dragonflies -- an accoutrement that [Jerry Louton, an entomologist at the National Museum of Natural History,] could not explain. And all reported seeing at least three maneuvering in unison. "Dragonflies never fly in a pack," he said. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice said her group is investigating witness reports and has filed Freedom of Information Act requests with several federal agencies. If such devices are being used to spy on political activists, she said, "it would be a significant violation of people's civil rights."
Note: To read further reliable reports of threats to our civil liberties, click here.
Spies Prep Reporters on Protecting Secrets
2007-09-27, New York Sun
Frustrated by press leaks about its most sensitive electronic surveillance work, the secretive National Security Agency convened an unprecedented series of off-the-record "seminars" in recent years to teach reporters about the damage caused by such leaks and to discourage reporting that could interfere with the agency's mission to spy on America's enemies. The half-day classes featured high-ranking NSA officials highlighting objectionable passages in published stories and offering "an innocuous rewrite" that officials said maintained the "overall thrust" of the articles but omitted details that could disclose the agency's techniques, according to course outlines obtained by The New York Sun. Dubbed "SIGINT 101," using the NSA's shorthand for signals intelligence, the seminar was presented "a handful of times" between approximately 2002 and 2004. The syllabi make clear that the sessions, which took place at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md., were conceived of ... as part of a campaign to limit the damage caused by leaks of sensitive intelligence. During one sensitive discussion, journalists were to be told they could not take any notes. The exact substitutions of language that the NSA proposed were deleted from the syllabi released to the Sun under the Freedom of Information Act. In 2005, following the publication of a New York Times story on a secret program for warrantless wiretapping ... Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss crusaded against leaks at the CIA and later told a Senate committee that he hoped reporters would be called before grand juries to identify their sources. Attorney General Gonzales also discussed the "possibility" of prosecuting journalists who wrote stories based on leaked intelligence. The syllabi, which are marked as drafts, list presenters including the director of the NSA at the time, General Michael Hayden, [now director of the CIA].
Collecting of Details on Travelers Documented
2007-09-22, Washington Post
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials. The personal travel records are meant to be stored for as long as 15 years, [by] the Department of Homeland Security's ... Automated Targeting System. But new details about the information being retained suggest that the government is monitoring the personal habits of travelers more closely than it has previously acknowledged. The details were learned when a group of activists requested copies of official records on their own travel. Those records included a description of a book on marijuana that one of them carried and small flashlights bearing the symbol of a marijuana leaf. Civil liberties advocates have alleged that the type of information preserved by the department raises alarms about the government's ability to intrude into the lives of ordinary people. The millions of travelers whose records are kept by the government are generally unaware of what their records say, and the government has not created an effective mechanism for reviewing the data and correcting any errors, activists said. The activists alleged that the data collection effort, as carried out now, violates the Privacy Act, which bars the gathering of data related to Americans' exercise of their First Amendment rights, such as their choice of reading material or persons with whom to associate. They also expressed concern that such personal data could one day be used to impede their right to travel.
The nation’s biggest telecommunications companies, working closely with the White House, have mounted a secretive lobbying campaign to get Congress to quickly approve a measure wiping out all private lawsuits against them for assisting the U.S. intelligence community’s warrantless surveillance programs. The campaign — which involves some of Washington's most prominent lobbying and law firms — has taken on new urgency in recent weeks because of fears that a U.S. appellate court in San Francisco is poised to rule that the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed. If that happens, the telecom companies say, they may be forced to terminate their cooperation with the U.S. intelligence community — or risk potentially crippling damage awards for allegedly turning over personal information about their customers to the government without a judicial warrant. But critics say the language proposed by the White House — drafted in close cooperation with the industry officials — is so extraordinarily broad that it would provide retroactive immunity for all past telecom actions related to the surveillance program. Its practical effect, they argue, would be to shut down any independent judicial or state inquires into how the companies have assisted the government in eavesdropping on the telephone calls and e-mails of U.S. residents in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks. “It’s clear the goal is to kill our case," said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, [which] filed the main lawsuit against the telecoms after The New York Times first disclosed, in December 2005, that President Bush had approved a secret program to monitor the phone conversations of U.S. residents without first seeking judicial warrants. “I find it a little shocking that Congress would participate in the covering up of what has been going on," added Cohn.
Searching Passengers' Faces For Subtle Cues to Terror
2007-09-19, Washington Post
Looking for signs of "stress, fear and deception" among the hundreds of passengers shuffling past him at Orlando International Airport one day last month, security screener Edgar Medina immediately focused on four casually dressed men trying to catch a flight to Minneapolis. One of the men, in particular, was giving obvious signs of trying to hide something, Medina said. After obtaining the passengers' ID cards and boarding passes, the Transportation Security Administration officer quickly determined the men were illegal immigrants traveling with fake Florida driver's licenses. They were detained. The otherwise mundane arrests Aug. 13 illustrated an increasingly popular tactic in the government's effort to fight terrorism: detecting lawbreakers or potential terrorists by their behavior. The TSA has embraced the strategy, training 600 of its screeners ... in detection techniques. The TSA's teams are the most publicly acknowledged effort by the government or the private sector to come up with strategies and technology to detect lawbreakers or terrorists before they commit a crime. Other technologies under development or being deployed include machines that detect stress in voices and software that scans video images to match the faces of passengers with those of known terrorists. The government is testing other technology that can see through clothing with ... electromagnetic waves. TSA's growing reliance on detecting behavior and the close study of passengers' expressions concerns civil liberties groups and members of Congress. "The problem is behavioral characteristics will be found where you look for them," said John Reinstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
An Opportunity for Wall St. in China’s Surveillance Boom
2007-09-07, New York Times
Li Runsen, the powerful technology director of China’s ministry of public security, is best known for leading Project Golden Shield, China’s intensive effort to strengthen police control over the Internet. But last month Mr. Li took an additional title: director for China Security and Surveillance Technology, a fast-growing company that installs and sometimes operates surveillance systems for Chinese police agencies, jails and banks, among other customers. The company has just been approved for a listing on the New York Stock Exchange. The company’s listing and Mr. Li’s membership on its board are just the latest signs of ever-closer ties among Wall Street, surveillance companies and the Chinese government’s security apparatus. Wall Street analysts now follow the growth of companies that install surveillance systems providing Chinese police stations with 24-hour video feeds from nearby Internet cafes. Hedge fund money from the United States has paid for the development of not just better video cameras, but face-recognition software and even newer behavior-recognition software designed to spot the beginnings of a street protest and notify police. Executives of Chinese surveillance companies say they are helping their government reduce street crime, preserve social stability and prevent terrorism. They note that London has a more sophisticated surveillance system, although the Chinese system will soon be far more extensive. Wall Street executives also defend the industry as necessary to keep the peace at a time of rapid change in China. They point out that New York has begun experimenting with surveillance cameras in Lower Manhattan and other areas of the city.
Spy Satellites Turned on the U.S.
2007-09-06, ABC News
Traditionally, powerful spy satellites have been used to search for strategic threats overseas. But now the Department of Homeland Security has developed a new office to use the satellites to [monitor the US itself]. [DHS] officials ... faced extensive criticism [in Congress] about the privacy and civil liberty concerns of the new office, called the National Applications Office. [House Homeland Security] Committee members expressed concern about abuse of the satellite imagery, charging that Homeland Security had not informed the oversight committee about the program. "What's most disturbing is learning about it from The Wall Street Journal," said Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. The lawmakers also expressed concern about using military capabilities for U.S. law enforcement and Homeland Security operations, potentially a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from serving as a law enforcement body within the United States. Committee members said that in addition to not being informed about the National Applications Office program, they had not yet been provided with documents defining the limits and legal guidance about the program. [They] sent a letter to Homeland Security saying, "We are so concerned that ... we are calling for a moratorium on the program. Today's testimony made clear that there is effectively no legal framework governing the domestic use of satellite imagery for the various purposes envisioned by the department."
U.S. Cites ‘Secrets’ Privilege to Stop Suit on Banking Records
2007-08-31, New York Times
The Bush administration ... plans to turn again to a legal tool, the “state secrets” privilege, to try to stop a suit against a Belgian banking cooperative [known as Swift] that secretly supplied millions of private financial records to the United States government. The “state secrets” privilege, allowing the government to shut down litigation on national security grounds, was once rarely used. The Bush administration has turned to it more than 30 times, seeking to end public discussion of cases like the claims of an F.B.I. whistle-blower and the abduction of a German terrorism suspect. Most notably, the administration has sought to use the privilege to kill numerous suits against telecommunications carriers over the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping program. Swift is considered the nerve center of the global banking industry, routing trillions of dollars each day among banks, brokerage houses and other financial institutions. Its partnership with Washington ... gave Central Intelligence Agency and Treasury Department officials access to millions of records on international banking transactions. Months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Swift began turning over large chunks of its database in response to a series of unusually broad subpoenas from the Treasury Department. Two American banking customers ... sued Swift on invasion-of-privacy grounds. [Steven E. Schwarz, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the Swift program] “is an Orwellian example of government overreaching and unfettered access to private financial information that is not consistent with the values upon which our country was founded. We’ve seen a real erosion of the ‘state secrets’ privilege in the last year. I think it is from overuse. We’ve seen it used in record numbers, in situations where it was inappropriate, and the courts are starting to recognize that.”
Telecom Firms Helped With Government's Warrantless Wiretaps
2007-08-24, Washington Post
The Bush administration acknowledged for the first time that telecommunications companies assisted the government's warrantless surveillance program and were being sued as a result, an admission some legal experts say could complicate the government's bid to halt numerous lawsuits challenging the program's legality. "[U]nder the president's program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us," Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in an interview with the El Paso Times. His statement could help plaintiffs in dozens of lawsuits against the telecom companies, which allege that the companies participated in a wiretapping program that violated Americans' privacy rights. David Kris, a former Justice Department official, ... said McConnell's admission makes it difficult to argue that the phone companies' cooperation with the government is a state secret. "It's going to be tough to continue to call it 'alleged' when he's just admitted it," Kris said. McConnell has just added to "the list of publicly available facts that are no longer state secrets," increasing the plaintiffs' chances that their cases can proceed, Kris said. McConnell's statement "does serious damage to the government's state secrets claims that are at the heart of its defenses," said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Bruce Fein, an associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, said that McConnell's disclosure shows that "an important element of a program can be discussed publicly and openly without endangering the nation. These Cassandran cries that the earth is going to fall every time you have a discussion simply are not borne out by the facts," he said.
Concerns Raised on Wider Spying Under New Law
2007-08-19, New York Times
Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records. “This may give the administration even more authority than people thought,” said David Kris, a former senior Justice Department lawyer in the Bush and Clinton administrations. Several legal experts said that by redefining the meaning of “electronic surveillance,” the new law narrows the types of communications covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, by indirectly giving the government the power to use intelligence collection methods far beyond wiretapping that previously required court approval if conducted inside the United States. These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns. For instance, the legislation would allow the government, under certain circumstances, to demand the business records of an American in Chicago without a warrant if it asserts that the search concerns its surveillance of a person who is in Paris, experts said. Some civil rights advocates said they suspected that the administration made the language of the bill intentionally vague to allow it even broader discretion over wiretapping decisions. The end result ... is that the legislation may grant the government the right to collect a range of information on American citizens inside the United States without warrants, as long as the administration asserts that the spying concerns the monitoring of a person believed to be overseas.
Defense Agency Proposes Outsourcing More Spying
2007-08-19, Washington Post
The Defense Intelligence Agency is preparing to pay private contractors up to $1 billion to conduct core intelligence tasks of analysis and collection over the next five years, an amount that would set a record in the outsourcing of such functions by the Pentagon's top spying agency. The proposed contracts ... reflect a continuing expansion of the Defense Department's intelligence-related work and fit a well-established pattern of Bush administration transfers of government work to private contractors. Since 2000, the value of federal contracts signed by all agencies each year has more than doubled to reach $412 billion, with the largest growth at the Defense Department. Outsourcing particularly accelerated among intelligence agencies after the [Sept. 11] 2001 terrorist attacks. The DIA's action comes a few months after CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, acting under pressure from Congress, announced a program to cut the agency's hiring of outside contractors by at least 10 percent. The DIA is the country's major manager and producer of foreign military intelligence, with more than 11,000 military and civilian employees worldwide and a budget of nearly $1 billion. It has its own analysts from the various services as well as collectors of human intelligence in the Defense HUMINT Service. DIA also manages the Defense attaches stationed in embassies all over the world. Unlike the CIA, the DIA outsources the major analytical products known as all-source intelligence reports, a senior intelligence official said.
Domestic Use of Spy Satellites To Widen
2007-08-16, Washington Post
The Bush administration has approved a plan to expand domestic access to some of the most powerful tools of 21st-century spycraft, giving law enforcement officials and others the ability to view data obtained from satellite and aircraft sensors that can see through cloud cover and even penetrate buildings and underground bunkers. A program approved by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security will allow broader domestic use of secret overhead imagery beginning as early as this fall, with the expectation that state and local law enforcement officials will eventually be able to tap into technology once largely restricted to foreign surveillance. But the program ... quickly provoked opposition from civil liberties advocates, who said the government is crossing a well-established line against the use of military assets in domestic law enforcement.
The administration's decision would provide domestic authorities with unprecedented access to high-resolution, real-time satellite photos. They could also have access to much more. Civil liberties groups quickly condemned the move, which Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, ... likened to "Big Brother in the sky. They want to turn these enormous spy capabilities ... onto Americans. They are laying the bricks one at a time for a police state." Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, said that ... oversight for the program was woefully inadequate. Enhanced access "shouldn't be adopted at all costs because it comes with risk to privacy and to the integrity of our political institutions," he said.
A chip on my shoulder
2007-08-12, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
The ability to blend vast databases containing personal information -- and the sophistication of tracking devices that can announce your presence along with myriad vital statistics when you cross a bridge or enter a room -- have brought Americans to a crossroads. Do we shrug and concede that privacy is lost -- "get over it," as one titan of tech declared so bluntly? Or do we look for ways to draw the line, to identify means and places where employers and governments should not dare to tread? One such place: Our bodies. Life has begun to imitate art -- as in the futuristic film "Minority Report" -- with the refinement of toothpick-thick microchips that can be implanted in your arm and packed with loads of personally identifiable information that can be beamed to the world. These radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices -- or "talking bar codes" -- amount to miniature antennas that transmit the types of information that might otherwise be held on a swipe card. Even if you've shrugged through the debates about warrantless wiretapping and said "what the heck" at the prospect that everything from your spending habits to your Web site travels are being compiled and crunched for commercial purposes, you might think twice about letting your employer insert a microchip under your skin as a condition of getting a job. As of today, it is both a technical and a legal possibility. Just last year, a ... provider of video-surveillance equipment inserted ... microchips into the arms of two employees. Those two workers volunteered, but it's not hard to imagine the lightbulbs going off in Corporate America. Is Joe really making a sales call or is he taking in a baseball game at AT&T Park? How many smoke breaks is Mary taking? Amazingly, there is no California law against "chipping" workers as a condition of employment.
Note: For many reliable reports from the major media on the potential dangers of microchips, click here.
China Enacting a High-Tech Plan to Track People
2007-08-12, New York Times
At least 20,000 police surveillance cameras are being installed along streets here [in Shenzhen] in southern China and will soon be guided by sophisticated computer software from an American-financed company to recognize automatically the faces of police suspects and detect unusual activity. Starting this month in a port neighborhood and then spreading across Shenzhen, a city of 12.4 million people, residency cards fitted with powerful computer chips programmed by the same company will be issued to most citizens.
Data on the chip will include not just the citizen’s name and address but also work history, educational background, religion, ethnicity, police record, medical insurance status and landlord’s phone number. Even personal reproductive history will be included, for enforcement of China’s controversial “one child” policy. Plans are being studied to add credit histories, subway travel payments and small purchases charged to the card. Security experts describe China’s plans as the world’s largest effort to meld cutting-edge computer technology with police work to track the activities of a population. But they say the technology can be used to violate civil rights. “We have a very good relationship with U.S. companies like I.B.M., Cisco, H.P., Dell,” said Robin Huang, the chief operating officer of China Public Security. “All of these U.S. companies work with us to build our system together.” The role of American companies in helping Chinese security forces has periodically been controversial in the United States. Executives from Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems testified in February 2006 at a Congressional hearing called to review whether they had deliberately designed their systems to help the Chinese state muzzle dissidents on the Internet; they denied having done so.
US doles out millions for street cameras
2007-08-12, Boston Globe
The Department of Homeland Security is funneling millions of dollars to local governments nationwide for purchasing high-tech video camera networks, accelerating the rise of a "surveillance society" in which the sense of freedom that stems from being anonymous in public will be lost, privacy rights advocates warn. The department ... has doled out millions on surveillance cameras, transforming city streets and parks into places under constant observation. A Globe [investigation] shows that a large number of new surveillance systems, costing at least tens and probably hundreds of millions of dollars, are being simultaneously installed around the country as part of homeland security grants. Federal money is helping New York, Baltimore, and Chicago build massive surveillance systems that may also link thousands of privately owned security cameras. Boston has installed about 500 cameras in the MBTA system, funded in part with homeland security funds. Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said [the] Homeland Security Department is the primary driver in spreading surveillance cameras, making their adoption more attractive by offering federal money to city and state leaders. The proliferation of cameras could mean that Americans will feel less free because legal public behavior -- attending a political rally, entering a doctor's office, or even joking with friends in a park -- will leave a permanent record, retrievable by authorities at any time.
Same Agencies to Run, Oversee Surveillance Program
2007-08-07, Washington Post
The Bush administration plans to leave oversight of its expanded foreign eavesdropping program to the same government officials who supervise the surveillance activities and to the intelligence personnel who carry them out, senior government officials said yesterday. The law, which permits intercepting Americans' calls and e-mails without a warrant if the communications involve overseas transmission, gives Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales responsibility for creating the broad procedures determining whose telephone calls and e-mails are collected. It also gives McConnell and Gonzales the role of assessing compliance with those procedures. The law ... does not contain provisions for outside oversight -- unlike an earlier House measure that called for audits every 60 days by the Justice Department's inspector general. The controversial changes to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were approved by both chambers of the Democratic-controlled Congress despite privacy concerns raised by Democratic leaders and civil liberties advocacy groups. Central to the new program is the collection of foreign intelligence from "communication service providers," which the officials declined to identify, citing secrecy concerns. Under the new law, the attorney general is required to draw up the governing procedures for surveillance activity, for approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Once the procedures are established, the attorney general and director of national intelligence will formally certify that the collection of data is authorized. But the certification will be placed under seal "unless the certification is necessary to determine the legality of the acquisition," according to the law signed by Bush.
Bush administration defends spy law
2007-08-07, Los Angeles Times
The Bush administration rushed to defend new espionage legislation Monday amid growing concern that the changes could lead to increased spying by U.S. intelligence agencies on American citizens. But officials declined to provide details about how the new capabilities might be used by the National Security Agency and other spy services. And in many cases, they could point only to internal monitoring mechanisms to prevent abuse of the new rules that appear to give the government greater authority to tap into the traffic flowing across U.S. telecommunications networks. Officials rejected assertions that the new capabilities would enable the government to cast electronic "drift nets" that might ensnare U.S. citizens [and] that the new legislation would amount to the expansion of a controversial — and critics contend unconstitutional — warrantless wiretapping program that President Bush authorized after the 9/11 attacks. Intelligence experts said there were an array of provisions in the new legislation that appeared to make it possible for the government to engage in intelligence-collection activities that the Bush administration officials were discounting. "They are trying to shift the terms of the debate to their intentions and away from the meaning of the new law," said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence policy analyst at the Federation of American Scientists. "The new law gives them authority to do far more than simply surveil foreign communications abroad," he said. "It expands the surveillance program beyond terrorism to encompass foreign intelligence. It permits the monitoring of communications of a U.S. person as long as he or she is not the primary target. And it effectively removes judicial supervision of the surveillance process."
The Fear of Fear Itself
2007-08-07, New York Times
It was appalling to watch over the last few days as Congress — now led by Democrats — caved in to yet another unnecessary and dangerous expansion of President Bush’s powers, this time to spy on Americans in violation of basic constitutional rights. Many of the 16 Democrats in the Senate and 41 in the House who voted for the bill said that they had acted in the name of national security, but the only security at play was their job security. What [do] the Democrats ... plan to do with their majority in Congress if they are too scared of Republican campaign ads to use it to protect the Constitution and restrain an out-of-control president[?] The White House and its allies on Capitol Hill railroaded Congress into voting a vast expansion of the president’s powers. They gave the director of national intelligence and the attorney general authority to intercept — without warrant, court supervision or accountability — any telephone call or e-mail message that moves in, out of or through the United States as long as there is a “reasonable belief” that one party is not in the United States. While serving little purpose, the new law has real dangers. It would allow the government to intercept, without a warrant, every communication into or out of any country, including the United States. The Democratic majority has made strides on other issues like children’s health insurance against White House opposition. As important as these measures are, they do not excuse the Democrats from remedying the damage Mr. Bush has done to civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. That is their most important duty.
Bush Signs Law to Widen Legal Reach for Wiretapping
2007-08-06, New York Times
President Bush signed into law ... legislation that broadly [expands] the government’s authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants. The law [goes] far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists [and will] sharply alter the legal limits on the government’s ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States. The new law for the first time [provides] a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens. “This more or less legalizes the N.S.A. program,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington. Previously, the government needed search warrants approved by a special intelligence court to eavesdrop on ... electronic communications between individuals inside the United States and people overseas. The new law gives the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the power to approve the international surveillance, rather than the special intelligence court. The law also gave the administration greater power to force telecommunications companies to cooperate with such spying operations. The companies can now be compelled to cooperate by orders from the attorney general and the director of national intelligence.
Ruling Limited Spying Efforts
2007-08-03, Washington Post
A federal intelligence court judge earlier this year secretly declared a key element of the Bush administration's wiretapping efforts illegal, according to a lawmaker and government sources, providing a previously unstated rationale for fevered efforts by congressional lawmakers this week to expand the president's spying powers. House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) disclosed elements of the court's decision in remarks ... to Fox News as he was promoting the administration-backed wiretapping legislation. The judge, whose name could not be learned, concluded early this year that the government had overstepped its authority in attempting to broadly surveil communications between two locations overseas that are passed through routing stations in the United States. The decision was both a political and practical blow to the administration, which had long held that all of the National Security Agency's enhanced surveillance efforts since 2001 were legal. The administration for years had declined to subject those efforts to the jurisdiction of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and after it finally did so in January the court ruled that the administration's legal judgment was at least partly wrong. The practical effect has been to block the NSA's efforts to collect information from a large volume of foreign calls and e-mails that passes through U.S. communications nodes clustered around New York and California. Both Democrats and Republicans have signaled they are eager to fix that problem through amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). An unstated facet of the program is that anyone the foreigner is calling inside the United States, as long as that person is not the primary target, would also be wiretapped.
Stampeding Congress, Again
2007-08-03, New York Times
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not feel bound by the law or the Constitution. It cannot even be trusted to properly use the enhanced powers it was legally granted after the attacks. Yet, once again, President Bush has been trying to stampede Congress into a completely unnecessary expansion of his power to spy on Americans. The fight is over the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires the government to obtain a warrant before eavesdropping on electronic communications that involve someone in the United States. Mr. Bush decided after 9/11 that he was no longer going to obey that law. He authorized the National Security Agency to intercept international telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans and other residents of this country without a court order. He told the public nothing and Congress next to nothing about what he was doing, until The Times disclosed the spying in December 2005. Ever since, the White House has tried to pressure Congress into legalizing Mr. Bush’s rogue operation. The administration and its ... supporters in Congress argue that American intelligence is blinded by FISA and have seized on neatly timed warnings of heightened terrorist activity to scare everyone. It is vital for Americans, especially lawmakers, to resist that argument. It is pure propaganda. [The question at issue is] whether we are a nation ruled by law, or the whims of men in power.
A Push to Rewrite Wiretap Law
2007-08-01, Washington Post
The Bush administration is pressing Congress this week for the authority to intercept, without a court order, any international phone call or e-mail between a surveillance target outside the United States and any person in the United States. It would also give the attorney general sole authority to order the interception of communications for up to one year as long as he certifies that the surveillance is directed at a person outside the United States. Civil liberties and privacy groups have denounced the administration's proposal, which they say would effectively allow the National Security Agency to revive a warrantless surveillance program conducted in secret from 2001 until late 2005. They say it would also give the government authority to force carriers to turn over any international communications into and out of the United States without a court order. An unstated facet of the program is that anyone the foreigner is calling inside the United States, as long as that person is not the primary target, would also be wiretapped. Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office [said], "What the administration is really going after is the Americans. Even if the primary target is overseas, they want to be able to wiretap Americans without a warrant." The proposal would also allow the NSA to ... have access to the entire stream of communications without the phone company sorting, said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. "It's a 'trust us' system," she said. "Give us access and trust us."
NSA Spying Part of Broader Effort
2007-08-01, Washington Post
The Bush administration's chief intelligence official said yesterday that President Bush authorized a series of secret surveillance activities under a single executive order in late 2001. The disclosure makes clear that a controversial National Security Agency program was part of a much broader operation than the president previously described. The disclosure by Mike McConnell [is] the first time that the administration has publicly acknowledged that Bush's order included undisclosed activities beyond the warrantless surveillance of e-mails and phone calls that Bush confirmed in December 2005. McConnell [disclosed] that the executive order following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks included "a number of . . . intelligence activities" and that a name routinely used by the administration -- the Terrorist Surveillance Program -- applied only to "one particular aspect of these activities, and nothing more. This is the only aspect of the NSA activities that can be discussed publicly, because it is the only aspect of those various activities whose existence has been officially acknowledged." News reports ... have detailed a range of activities linked to the program, including the use of data mining to identify surveillance targets and the participation of telecommunication companies in turning over millions of phone records. Kate Martin ... of the Center for National Security Studies, said the new disclosures show that ... administration officials have "repeatedly misled the Congress and the American public" about the extent of NSA surveillance efforts. "They have repeatedly tried to give the false impression that the surveillance was narrow and justified," Martin said. "Why did it take accusations of perjury before the DNI disclosed that there is indeed other, presumably broader and more questionable, surveillance?"
FBI Proposes Building Network of U.S. Informants
2007-07-25, ABC News blog
The FBI is taking cues from the CIA to recruit thousands of covert informants in the United States as part of a sprawling effort to boost its intelligence capabilities. According to a recent unclassified report to Congress, the FBI expects its informants to provide secrets about possible terrorists and foreign spies, although some may also be expected to aid with criminal investigations, in the tradition of law enforcement confidential informants. The FBI said the push was driven by a 2004 directive from President Bush ordering the bureau to improve its counterterrorism efforts by boosting its human intelligence capabilities. The aggressive push for more secret informants appears to be part of a new effort to grow its intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. Other recent proposals include expanding its collection and analysis of data on U.S. persons, retaining years' worth of Americans' phone records and even increasing so-called "black bag" secret entry operations.
To handle the increase in so-called human sources, the FBI also plans to overhaul its database system, so it can manage records and verify the accuracy of information from "more than 15,000" informants, according to the document. The bureau has arranged to use elements of CIA training to teach FBI agents about "Source Targeting and Development," the report states. The courses will train FBI special agents on the "comprehensive tradecraft" needed to identify, recruit and manage these "confidential human sources."
Alarm at US right to highly personal data
2007-07-22, The Observer (U.K.)
Highly sensitive information about the religious beliefs, political opinions and even the sex life of Britons travelling to the United States is to be made available to US authorities when the European Commission agrees to a new system of checking passengers. The EC is in the final stages of agreeing a new Passenger Name Record system with the US which will allow American officials to access detailed biographical information about passengers entering international airports. Civil liberty groups warn it will have serious consequences for European passengers. In a strongly worded document drawn up in response to the plan that will affect the 4 million-plus Britons who travel to the US every year, the EU parliament said it 'notes with concern that sensitive data (ie personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health or sex life of individuals) will be made available to the DHS.' The US will be able to hold the records of European passengers for 15 years compared with the current three year limit. The EU parliament said it was concerned the data would lead to 'a significant risk of massive profiling and data mining, which is incompatible with basic European principles and is a practice still under discussion in the US congress.' Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, has written to the EC expressing his 'grave concern' at the plan, which he describes as 'without legal precedent' and one that puts 'European data protection rights at risk'. Hustinx warns: 'Data on EU citizens will be readily accessible to a broad range of US agencies and there is no limitation to what US authorities are allowed to do with the data.'
In Intelligence World, A Mute Watchdog
2007-07-15, Washington Post
An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration's counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress. The President's Intelligence Oversight Board -- the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community -- is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes "may be unlawful." The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration. The board's mandate is to provide independent oversight, so the absence of such communications has prompted critics to question whether the board was doing its job. "It's now apparent that the IOB was not actively employed in the early part of the administration. And it was a crucial period when its counsel would seem to have been needed the most," said Anthony Harrington, who served as the board's chairman for most of the Clinton administration. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) added: "It is deeply disturbing that this administration seems to spend so much of its energy and resources trying to find ways to ignore any check and balance on its authority and avoid accountability to Congress and the American public."
'Code Orange' for press freedom
2007-07-15, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
The arguments against a federal shield law might be frightening if they were not so ludicrous.
There are two ways to reassure yourself that legislation to allow journalists to protect the identity of confidential sources will not be exploited by terrorists, thugs, identity thieves, sleazy sleuths and anarchists who expose trade secrets.
One is to look at the experience of 49 state laws that grant varying levels of protection for journalists using anonymous sources.
The other is to read the bill.
"The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007,'' sponsored by Reps. Mike Pence, R-Ind., and Rick Boucher, D-Va., does not provide an absolute right for journalists to protect their sources. Under their HR2102, a journalist could be forced by the courts to reveal his or her source if the disclosure involved:
-- A threat to national security.
-- A threat of imminent death or significant [bodily] harm to a person.
-- A trade secret of significant value.
-- Personal financial or health information.
[The] Justice Department, which has wielded subpoenas and threats of jail time against journalists in pursuing government leaks, has never liked the idea of a shield law. So it was hardly a surprise when it recently testified against HR2102. What was eye-poppingly outrageous was a Justice official's straight-faced attempt to suggest that criminals or terrorists would invoke the bill's protection for journalists to thwart prosecutors.
"Totally absurd," House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said of the terrorism argument. However, the dangers that overzealous prosecutors pose to a free and independent press that Pence calls "essential to an informed" electorate are very real and growing. As Pence put it, "there may never be another Deep Throat" if whistle-blowers become worried that journalists cannot keep a promise of confidentiality.
FBI Plans Initiative To Profile Terrorists
2007-07-11, Washington Post
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is developing a computer-profiling system that would enable investigators to target possible terror suspects. The System to Assess Risk, or STAR, assigns risk scores to possible suspects based on a variety of information, similar to the way a credit bureau assigns a rating based on a consumer's spending behavior and debt. The program focuses on foreign suspects but also includes data about some U.S. residents. Some lawmakers said ... that the report raises new questions about the government's power to use personal information and intelligence without accountability. "The Bush administration has expanded the use of this technology, often in secret, to collect and sift through Americans' most sensitive personal information," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The use of data mining in the war on terror has sparked criticism. An airplane-passenger screening program called CAPPS II was revamped and renamed because of civil liberty concerns. An effort to collect Americans' personal and financial data called Total Information Awareness was killed. Law enforcement and national security officials have continued working on other programs to use computers to sift through information for signs of threats. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, flags travelers entering and leaving the United States who may be potential suspects through a risk-assessment program called the Automated Targeting System.
FBI Would Skirt the Law With Proposed Phone Record Program, Experts Say
2007-07-10, ABC News blog
A proposed new FBI program would skirt federal laws by paying private companies to hold millions of phone and Internet records which the bureau is barred from keeping itself, experts say. The $5 million project would apparently pay private firms to store at least two years' worth of telephone and Internet activity by millions of Americans, few of whom would ever be considered a suspect in any terrorism, intelligence or criminal matter. The FBI is barred by law from collecting and storing such data if it has no connection to a specific investigation or intelligence matter. In recent years the bureau has tried to encourage telecommunications firms to voluntarily store such information, but corporations have balked at the cost of keeping records they don't need. "The government isn't allowed to warehouse the information, and the companies don't want to, so this creates a business incentive for the companies to warehouse it, so the government can access it later," said Mike German, a policy expert on national security and privacy issues for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "It's a public-private partnership that puts civil liberties to the test." In March, an FBI official identified the companies as Verizon, MCI and AT&T. Even the bureau's own top lawyer said she found the [FBI's] behavior "disturbing," noting that when requesting access to phone company records, it repeatedly referenced "emergency" situations that did not exist, falsely claimed grand juries had subpoenaed information and failed to keep records on much of its own activity.
Judges OK warrantless monitoring of Web use
2007-07-07, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Federal agents do not need a search warrant to monitor a suspect's computer use and determine the e-mail addresses and Web pages the suspect is contacting, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. In a drug case from San Diego County, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco likened computer surveillance to the "pen register" devices that officers use to pinpoint the phone numbers a suspect dials, without listening to the phone calls themselves. In Friday's ruling, the court said computer users should know that they lose privacy protections with e-mail and Web site addresses when they are communicated to the company whose equipment carries the messages. The search is no more intrusive than officers' examination of a list of phone numbers or the outside of a mailed package, neither of which requires a warrant, Judge Raymond Fisher said in the 3-0 ruling. Defense lawyer Michael Crowley disagreed. His client, Dennis Alba, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted of operating a laboratory in Escondido that manufactured the drug ecstasy. Some of the evidence against Alba came from agents' tracking of his computer use. The court upheld his conviction and sentence. Expert evidence in Alba's case showed that the Web addresses obtained by federal agents included page numbers that allowed the agents to determine what someone read online, Crowley said. The ruling "further erodes our privacy," the attorney said. "The great political marketplace of ideas is the Internet, and the government has unbridled access to it."
Note: So now every email you send and read can be monitored legally. Why didn't this make news headlines?
Lawsuit Against Wiretaps Rejected
2007-07-07, Washington Post
A federal appeals court removed a serious legal challenge to the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program yesterday, overruling the only judge who held that a controversial surveillance effort by the National Security Agency was unconstitutional. Two members of a three-judge panel ... ordered the dismissal of a major lawsuit that challenged the wiretapping, which President Bush authorized secretly to eavesdrop on communications ... shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The court did not rule on the spying program's legality. Instead, it declared that the American Civil Liberties Union and the others who brought the case -- including academics, lawyers and journalists -- did not have the standing to sue because they could not demonstrate that they had been direct targets of the clandestine surveillance. The decision vacates a ruling in the case made last August by a U.S. District Court judge in Detroit, who ruled that the administration's program to monitor private communications violated the Bill of Rights and a 1970s federal law. Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU's legal director, said: "As a result of today's decision, the Bush administration has been left free to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which Congress adopted almost 30 years ago to prevent the executive branch from engaging in precisely this kind of unchecked surveillance."
FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data
2007-06-14, Washington Post
An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism. The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002. The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files. Two dozen of the newly-discovered violations involved agents' requests for information that U.S. law did not allow them to have. The results confirmed what ... critics feared, namely that many agents did not ... follow the required legal procedures and paperwork requirements when collecting personal information with one of the most sensitive and powerful intelligence-gathering tools of the post-Sept. 11 era -- the National Security Letter, or NSL. Such letters are uniformly secret and amount to nonnegotiable demands for personal information -- demands that are not reviewed in advance by a judge. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress substantially eased the rules for issuing NSLs, [leading] to an explosive growth in the use of the letters. More than 19,000 such letters were issued in 2005 seeking 47,000 pieces of information, mostly from telecommunications companies.
Doctors, Legislators Resist Drugmakers' Prying Eyes
2007-05-22, Washington Post
Pediatrician Rupin Thakkar's first inkling that the pharmaceutical industry was peering over his shoulder ... came in a letter from a drug representative about the generic drops Thakkar prescribes to treat infectious pinkeye. In the letter, the salesperson wrote that Thakkar was causing his patients to miss more days of school than they would if he put them on Vigamox, a more expensive brand-name medicine made by Alcon Laboratories. "My initial thought was 'How does she know what I'm prescribing?' " Thakkar said. "It feels intrusive ... I just feel strongly that medical encounters need to be private." He is not alone. Many doctors object to drugmakers' common practice of contracting with data-mining companies to track exactly which medicines physicians prescribe and in what quantities -- information marketers and salespeople use to fine-tune their efforts. The concerns are not merely about privacy. Proponents say using such detailed data for drug marketing serves mainly to influence physicians to prescribe more expensive medicines, not necessarily to provide the best treatment. "We don't like the practice, and we want it to stop," said Jean Silver-Isenstadt, executive director of the National Physicians Alliance. (Thakkar is on the group's board of directors.) "We think it's a contaminant to the doctor-patient relationship, and it's driving up costs." The American Medical Association makes millions of dollars each year by helping data-mining companies link prescribing data to individual physicians. It does so by licensing access to the AMA Physician Masterfile, a database containing names, birth dates, educational background, specialties and addresses for more than 800,000 doctors.
Note: For more reliable, verifiable information about major corruption in the drug industry, click here.
A third 'will refuse ID checks'
2007-04-04, BBC News
One in three people are expected not to cooperate with identity card checks, Home Office papers from 2004 suggest. The working assumptions were revealed in the documents published by the Department for Work and Pensions under the Freedom of Information laws. They show that the assumption was that the cards, due to be introduced on a voluntary basis from 2008, would become compulsory to own - though not carry - in 2014. Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten had asked for the information to be made public when he was the party's home affairs spokesman in 2004. The department had resisted his request, which came under the Freedom of Information Act. But the department was ordered to release the data by the Information Commissioner - a decision which was subsequently backed by the Information Tribunal.
Note: Why do you think the government was so keen on keeping this information secret? For more, click here.
Man with tuberculosis jailed for not wearing mask
2007-04-03, CNN/Associated Press
Behind the county hospital's tall cinderblock walls, a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient ... sits in a jail cell equipped with a ventilation system that keeps germs from escaping. Robert Daniels has been locked up indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of his life, since last July. But he has not been charged with a crime. Instead, he suffers from an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. It is considered virtually untreatable. County health authorities obtained a court order to lock him up as a danger to the public because ... he did not heed doctors' instructions to wear a mask in public. "I'm being treated worse than an inmate," Daniels said. "I'm all alone. Four walls. Even the door to my room has been locked. I haven't seen my reflection in months." He said sheriff's deputies will not let him take a shower -- he cleans himself with wet wipes -- and have taken away his television, radio, personal phone and computer. His only visitors are masked medical staff members who come in to give him his medication. Though Daniels' confinement is extremely rare, health experts say it is a situation that U.S. public health officials may have to confront more and more because of the spread of drug-resistant TB and the emergence of diseases such as SARS and avian flu.
Note: If the above link fails, click here. What possible reason is there for taking away this man's TV, radio, cell phone, and computer? Are we being prepared for mass quarantines and imprisonment due to disease? For more, click here.
Police Log Confirms FBI Role In Arrests
2007-04-03, Washington Post
A secret FBI intelligence unit helped detain a group of war protesters in a downtown Washington parking garage in April 2002 and interrogated some of them on videotape about their political and religious beliefs. [Washington] D.C. police said authorities only recently found the logs of police responses to that day's events. That discovery came after three years of police assurances in federal court that no such records or logs existed showing the FBI's role. The FBI and D.C. police said they had no records of such an incident. And police told a federal court that no FBI agents were present when officers arrested more than 20 protesters that afternoon for trespassing; police viewed them as suspicious for milling around the parking garage entrance. Similar intelligence-gathering operations have been reported in New York, where a local police intelligence unit tried to infiltrate groups planning to protest at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and in Colorado, where records surfaced showing that the FBI collected names and license plates of people protesting timber industry practices at a 2002 industry convention.
[N.Y.] City Police Spied Broadly Before G.O.P. Convention
2007-03-25, New York Times
For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews. From Albuquerque to Montreal, San Francisco to Miami, undercover New York police officers attended meetings of political groups, posing as sympathizers or fellow activists. They made friends, shared meals, swapped e-mail messages and then filed daily reports with the department’s Intelligence Division. In hundreds of reports stamped “N.Y.P.D. Secret,” the Intelligence Division chronicled the views and plans of people who had no apparent intention of breaking the law. These included members of street theater companies, church groups and antiwar organizations. Three New York City elected officials were cited in the reports. In at least some cases, intelligence on what appeared to be lawful activity was shared with police departments in other cities. In addition to sharing information with other police departments, New York undercover officers were active themselves in at least 15 places outside New York — including California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montreal, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, D.C. — and in Europe. To date, as the boundaries of the department’s expanded powers continue to be debated, police officials have provided only glimpses of its intelligence-gathering.
My National Security Letter Gag Order
2007-03-23, Washington Post
The Justice Department's inspector general revealed on March 9 that the FBI has been systematically abusing one of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act: the expanded power to issue "national security letters." It no doubt surprised most Americans to learn that between 2003 and 2005 the FBI issued more than 140,000 specific demands under this provision. It did not, however, come as any surprise to me. Three years ago, I received a national security letter (NSL) in my capacity as the president of a small Internet access and consulting business. The letter ordered me to provide sensitive information about one of my clients. There was no indication that a judge had reviewed or approved the letter, and it turned out that none had. The letter came with a gag provision that prohibited me from telling anyone, including my client, that the FBI was seeking this information. Based on the context of the demand -- a context that the FBI still won't let me discuss publicly -- I suspected that the FBI was abusing its power. Living under the gag order has been stressful and surreal. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, I must hide all aspects of my involvement in the case -- including the mere fact that I received an NSL -- from my colleagues, my family and my friends. When I meet with my attorneys I cannot tell my girlfriend where I am going or where I have been. I hide any papers related to the case in a place where she will not look. When clients and friends ask me whether I am the one challenging the constitutionality of the NSL statute, I have no choice but to look them in the eye and lie. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy.
Whistle-blower Had to Fight NSA, LA Times to Tell Story
2007-03-06, ABC News
Whistle-blower AT&T technician Mark Klein says his effort to reveal alleged government surveillance of domestic Internet traffic was blocked not only by U.S. intelligence officials but also by the top editors of the Los Angeles Times. Klein describes how he stumbled across "secret NSA rooms" being installed at an AT&T switching center in San Francisco and later heard of similar rooms in at least six other cities. Eventually, Klein says he decided to take his documents to the Los Angeles Times, to blow the whistle on what he calls "an illegal and Orwellian project." But after working for two months with LA Times reporter Joe Menn, Klein says he was told the story had been killed at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and then-director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden. Klein says he then took his AT&T documents to The New York Times, which published its exclusive account last April. In the court case against AT&T, Negroponte formally invoked the "state secrets privilege," claiming the lawsuit and the information from Klein and others could "cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States." The Los Angeles Times' decision was made by the paper's editor at the time, Dean Baquet, now the Washington bureau chief of The New York Times. As the new Washington bureau chief of The New York Times, Baquet now oversees the reporters who have broken most of the major stories involving the government surveillance program, often over objections from the government.
Note: So after the NY Times has the guts to report this important story, the man who was responsible for the censorship at the LA Times is transferred to the very position in the NY Times where he can now block future stories there. For why this case of blatant media censorship isn't making headlines, click here.
Going to Canada? Check your past
2007-02-23, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Welcome to the new world of border security. Unsuspecting Americans are turning up at the Canadian border expecting clear sailing, only to find that their past -- sometimes their distant past -- is suddenly an issue. There was a time not long ago when a trip across the border from the United States to Canada was accomplished with a wink and a wave of a driver's license. Those days are over. Take the case of 55-year-old Lake Tahoe resident Greg Felsch. Stopped at the border in Vancouver this month at the start of a planned five-day ski trip, he was sent back to the United States because of a DUI conviction seven years ago. Not that he had any idea what was going on when he was told at customs: "Your next stop is immigration." Felsch was ushered into a room. "There must have been 75 people in line," he says. "We were there for three hours. One woman was in tears. A guy was sent back for having a medical marijuana card. I felt like a felon with an ankle bracelet." Or ask the well-to-do East Bay couple who flew to British Columbia this month for an eight-day ski vacation at the famed Whistler Chateau, where rooms run to $500 a night. They'd made the trip many times, but were surprised at the border to be told that the husband would have to report to "secondary" immigration. There, in a room he estimates was filled with 60 other concerned travelers, he was told he was "a person who was inadmissible to Canada." The problem? A conviction for marijuana possession ... in 1975. This is just the beginning. Soon other nations will be able to look into your past when you want to travel there.
An Orwellian solution to kids skipping school
2007-02-20, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta's leading newspaper)
Let's say your teenager is a habitual truant and there is nothing you can do about it. A Washington area politician thinks he might have the solution: Fit the child with a Global Positioning System chip, then have police track him down. "It allows them to get caught easier," said Maryland Delegate Doyle Niemann (D-Prince George's), who recently co-sponsored legislation in the House that would use electronic surveillance as part of a broader truancy reduction plan. "It's going to be done unobtrusively. The chips are tiny and can be put into a hospital ID band or a necklace." Niemann's legislation mirrors a bill sponsored by state Sen. Gwendolyn Britt (D-Prince George's). Both would provide truants and their parents with better access to social services, such as mental health evaluations and help with schoolwork. Electronic monitoring would be a last resort. Still, the prospect of tagging children and using them in some "catch and release" hunt by police casts a pall over everything that's good about the plan. Odd how billions and billions of dollars keep going to a war that almost nobody wants, but there's never enough to fund the educational programs that nearly everybody says are needed. Aimed solely at students in Prince George's — the only predominantly black county in the Washington area — the truancy effort is called a "pilot program," a first-of-its-kind experiment. It would cost $400,000 to keep track of about 660 students a year.
Note: For more reliable information on the push to microchip the entire population, click here.
Gonzales says the Constitution doesn't guarantee habeas corpus
2007-01-24, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
One of the Bush administration's most far-reaching assertions of government power was revealed quietly last week when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified that habeas corpus -- the right to go to federal court and challenge one's imprisonment -- is not protected by the Constitution. "The Constitution doesn't say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas," Gonzales told Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 17. Gonzales acknowledged that the Constitution declares "habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless ... in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it." But he insisted that "there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution." Specter was incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn't exist -- a right, he noted, that was first recognized in medieval England as a shield against the king's power to dispatch troublesome subjects to royal dungeons. Later in the hearing, Gonzales described habeas corpus as "one of our most cherished rights'' and noted that Congress had protected that right in the 1789 law that established the federal court system. But he never budged from his position on the absence of constitutional protection -- a position that seemingly would leave Congress free to reduce habeas corpus rights or repeal them altogether.
Journalist in legal battle with military
2007-01-05, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
The questions from the civilian spokesman at Fort Lewis started sounding suspicious to Sarah Olson. He had called to ask the Oakland freelance journalist about the accuracy of quotes in her story about Lt. Ehren Watada, which had appeared on the liberal Web site Truthout.org. As the telephone conversation progressed, Olson realized that the military was using her to fortify its case against Watada, whom it was prosecuting as the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq. While Watada faces a court-martial next month for conduct unbecoming an officer, the U.S. military pursues Olson. Last month, military prosecutors subpoenaed the 31-year-old writer and radio journalist, asking her to appear at his court-martial, scheduled to begin next month, to verify what Watada said. If Olson doesn't testify, she faces six months in jail or a $500 fine and a felony charge for a story she was paid $300 to write. Olson doesn't want to be part of a legal action that she believes limits someone's free speech. She came to journalism six years ago ... hoping to create more places for dissenting or seldom-heard voices, not fewer. "Journalists should not be asked to participate in the prosecution of political speech," Olson said. [She] isn't being asked to reveal unpublished work. "What I don't understand is why they (prosecutors) can't get this information digitally," said Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice. Olson doesn't have a problem with journalists testifying in court. She doesn't want journalists to be coerced to testify in cases that could limit free speech.
Note: Truthout.org is one of the main sources of our information. Interesting that one of their reporters should be targeted in this way. For stories by 20 award-winning journalists on how the media is controlled, click here.
Bush Claims Right to Open Mail
2007-01-04, Washington Post
The New York Daily News today reports on a signing statement President Bush quietly issued two weeks ago, in which he asserts his right to open mail without a warrant. Signing statements have historically been used by presidents mostly to explain how they intend to enforce the laws passed by Congress; Bush has used them to quietly assert his right to ignore those laws. The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a 'signing statement' that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions. That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act ... explicitly reinforced protections of first-class mail from searches without a court's approval. Here is the signing statement in question. Here is information on the bill in question. Are these signing statements just a bunch of ideological bluster from overenthusiastic White House lawyers -- or are they actually emboldening administration officials to flout the laws passed by Congress? If the latter, Bush's unprecedented use of these statements constitutes a genuine Constitutional crisis.
Gitmo detainees denied witnesses: Lawyer calls legal proceedings ‘shams’
2006-11-16, MSNBC/Associated Press
The U.S. military called no witnesses, withheld evidence from detainees and usually reached a decision within a day as it determined that hundreds of men detained at Guantanamo Bay were “enemy combatants,” according to a new report. The analysis of transcripts and records...found that hearings that determined whether a prisoner should remain in custody gave the accused little opportunity to contest allegations against him. “These were not hearings. These were shams,” said Mark Denbeaux, an attorney and Seton Hall University law professor who along with his son, Joshua, is the author of the report. The military held Combatant Status Review Tribunals for 558 detainees...between July 2004 and January 2005 and found all but 38 were enemy combatants. Handcuffed detainees appeared before a panel of three officers with no defense attorney, only a military “personal representative.” Representatives said nothing in the hearings 14 percent of the time and made no “substantive” comments in 30 percent. In 74 percent of the cases, the government denied requests to call witnesses who were detained at the prison. The report is based on transcripts...released earlier this year in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit... The Military Commissions Act, which President Bush signed on Oct. 17, strips all non-U.S. citizens held under suspicion of being an enemy combatant of their right to challenge their detention in civilian courts with petitions of habeas corpus.
Privacy under attack, but does anybody care?
2006-10-16, MSNBC News
Only a tiny fraction of Americans – 7 percent, according to a recent survey by The Ponemon Institute – change any behaviors in an effort to preserve their privacy. Few people turn down a discount at toll booths to avoid using the EZ-Pass system that can track automobile movements. And few turn down supermarket loyalty cards. Privacy will remain in the headlines in the months to come, as states implement the federal government’s Real ID Act, which will effectively create a national identification program by requiring new high-tech standards for driver’s licenses and ID cards. The “right to be left alone” is a decidedly conservative -- even Libertarian -- principle. People are now well aware there are video cameras and Internet cookies everywhere, [yet] there is abundant evidence that people live their lives ignorant of the monitoring. People write e-mails and type instant messages they never expect anyone to see. Just ask Mark Foley or even Bill Gates, whose e-mails were a cornerstone of the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Microsoft. It is also impossible to deny that Americans are now being watched more than at any time in history. But there is another point in the discussion about which there is little disagreement: The debate over how much privacy we are willing to give up never occurred.
Bush Says He Can Edit Security Reports
2006-10-05, ABC News/Associate Press
President Bush, again defying Congress, says he has the power to edit the Homeland Security Department's reports about whether it obeys privacy rules while handling background checks, ID cards and watchlists. In the law Bush signed Wednesday, Congress stated no one but the privacy officer could alter, delay or prohibit the mandatory annual report on Homeland Security department activities that affect privacy, including complaints. But Bush, in a signing statement attached to the agency's 2007 spending bill, said he will interpret that section "in a manner consistent with the President's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch." The American Bar Association and members of Congress have said Bush uses signing statements excessively as a way to expand his power. Bush's signing statement Wednesday challenges several other provisions in the Homeland Security spending bill. Bush, for example, said he'd disregard a requirement that the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency must have at least five years experience and "demonstrated ability in and knowledge of emergency management and homeland security."
Bush Blocked Ethics Inquiry, Gonzales Says
2006-07-19, New York Times
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that President Bush had personally decided to block the Justice Department ethics unit from examining the role played by government lawyers in approving the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program. Mr. Gonzales made the assertion in response to questioning from Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the committee. Mr. Specter said the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department had to call off an investigation into the conduct of department lawyers who evaluated the surveillance program because the unit was denied clearance to review classified documents. Representative Zoe Lofgren...said Tuesday that she was shocked that Mr. Bush had blocked the clearances of lawyers from that office. "The president's latest action shows that he is willing to be personally involved in the cover-up of suspected illegal activity," Ms. Lofgren said.
2006-07-19, Washington Post
The attorney general's startling revelation that President Bush personally blocked a Justice Department investigation into the administration's controversial secret domestic spying programs hasn't gotten the attention it deserves. Bush's move -- denying the requisite security clearances to attorneys from the department's ethics office -- is unprecedented in that office's history. It also comes in stark contrast to the enthusiastic way in which security clearances were dished out to...those charged with finding out who leaked information about the program to the press. Time and time again, Bush and his aides have selectively leaked or declassified secret intelligence findings that served their political agenda -- while aggressively asserting the need to keep secret the information that would tend to discredit them. Some legal experts and members of Congress who have questioned the legality of the NSA program said Bush's move to quash the Justice probe represents a politically motivated interference in Justice Department affairs. The government has in effect curtailed an investigation of itself and hardly anyone has noticed. It has not caused much interest in Congress, or on the nation's editorial pages, or the even in the blogosphere, which takes pride in causing a stir about things that should but nobody else has yet taken notice."
Note: As noted in our key summary Building a Brighter Future, "Secrecy leads to control through preventing the exposure of hidden agendas, and through breeding distrust, suspicion, and paranoia in the world."
Blair laid bare: the article that may get you arrested
2006-06-29, Independent (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
In the guise of fighting terrorism and maintaining public order, Tony Blair's Government has quietly and systematically taken power from Parliament and the British people. The author charts a nine-year assault on civil liberties that reveals the danger of trading freedom for security. A new law...says that no one may demonstrate within a kilometre...of Parliament Square if they have not first acquired written permission. This effectively places the entire centre of British government...off-limits to the protesters. Blair...turns out to have an authoritarian streak. What is remarkable...is the harm his government has done to the unwritten British constitution in those nine years, without anyone really noticing, without the press objecting or the public mounting mass protests. Last year...I started to notice trends in Blair's legislation...to put in place all the necessary laws for total surveillance of society. The right not to be tried twice for the same offence...no longer exists. The presumption of innocence is compromised. The ID card [and] centralised database...will log and store details of every important action in a person's life. "You and I will carry them because we are upright citizens. But a terrorist ...will be carrying yours." Once a person is arrested he or she may be fingerprinted and photographed by the police and have a DNA sample removed with an oral swab - by force if necessary...before that person has been found guilty of any crime, whether it be dropping litter or shooting someone.
2006-06-22, ABC News/Reuters
A Leap of Faith, Off a Cliff
2006-06-15, New York Times
The Bush administration told a judge in Detroit that the president's warrantless domestic spying is legal and constitutional, but refused to say why. The judge should just take his word for it, the lawyer said, because merely talking about it would endanger America. Today, Senator Arlen Specter wants his Judiciary Committee to take an even more outlandish leap of faith for an administration that has shown it does not deserve it. Mr. Specter wants the committee to approve a bill he drafted that tinkers dangerously with the rules on wiretapping, even though the president has said the law doesn't apply to him anyway, and even though Mr. Specter and most of the panel are just as much in the dark as that judge in Detroit. The bill could well diminish the power of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, which was passed in 1978 to prevent just the sort of abuse that Mr. Bush's program represents. This is not a time to offer the administration a chance to steamroll Congress into endorsing its decision to ignore the 1978 intelligence act and shred constitutional principles on warrants and on the separation of powers. This is a time for Congress to finally hold Mr. Bush accountable for his extralegal behavior and stop it.
Officials Sued Over Phone Records Access
2006-06-14, Los Angeles Times/Associated Pres
The federal government sued the New Jersey attorney general and other state officials Wednesday to stop them from seeking information about telephone companies' cooperation with the National Security Agency. The unusual filing...is the latest effort by federal authorities to halt legal proceedings aimed at revealing whether and how often AT&T, Verizon and other phone companies have provided customer records to the NSA without a court order. New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber, a Democrat, and other officials sent subpoenas to five carriers on May 17, asking for documents that would explain whether they supplied customer records to the NSA, the lawsuit said. The subpoenas followed by a few days a USA Today report that the phone companies had complied with the secretive agency's request for the phone records of millions of ordinary Americans after the Sept. 11 attacks. The Justice Department said more than 20 lawsuits have been filed around the country alleging that the phone companies illegally assisted the NSA. The government says sensitive national security information would be revealed if judges allow those cases to proceed. In this matter, the federal government said the New Jersey officials are treading on federal turf and that the companies, if forced to comply with the subpoenas, would be confirming or denying the existence of the program. President Bush and other top federal officials have refused to do that.
Informed Consent Waived in Public Crisis
2006-06-08, CBS News/Associated Press
In a public health emergency, suspected victims would no longer have to give permission before experimental tests could be run to determine why they're sick, under a federal rule published Wednesday. Privacy experts called the exception unnecessary, ripe for abuse and an override of state informed-consent laws. Health care workers will be free to run experimental tests on blood and other samples taken from people who have fallen sick as a result of a bioterrorist attack, bird flu outbreak, detonation of a dirty bomb or any other life-threatening public health emergency, according to the rule issued by the Food and Drug Administration. The rule took effect Wednesday but remains subject to public comment until Aug. 7. The FDA said it published the rule without first seeking comments because it would hinder the response to an outbreak of bird flu or other public health emergency.
Invoking Secrets Privilege Becomes a More Popular Legal Tactic
2006-06-04, New York Times
Facing a wave of litigation challenging its eavesdropping at home and its handling of terror suspects abroad, the Bush administration is increasingly turning to a legal tactic that swiftly torpedoes most lawsuits: the state secrets privilege. Officials have used the privilege...to ask the courts to throw out three legal challenges to the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program. The privilege claim, in which the government says any discussion of a lawsuit's accusations would endanger national security, has short-circuited judicial scrutiny and public debate. While the privilege...was once used to shield sensitive documents or witnesses from disclosure, it is now often used to try to snuff out lawsuits at their inception. "If the very people you're suing are the ones who get to use the state secrets privilege, it's a stacked deck," said Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut. Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest University...said the administration's legal strategy "raises profound legal and policy questions." Under Mr. Bush, the secrets privilege has been used to block a lawsuit by a translator at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sibel Edmonds, who was fired after accusing colleagues of security breaches. Two lawsuits challenging the government's practice of rendition, in which terror suspects are seized and delivered to detention centers overseas, were dismissed after the government raised the secrets privilege.
Note: Sibel Edmonds is one of several whistleblowers with powerfully incriminating information on 9/11 who have been silenced with tactics like those mentioned above. To learn more about this critical case which has been blocked, see http://www.WantToKnow.info/050131sibeledmonds
The war on free press
2006-05-24, Boston Globe
JOURNALISTS. Our attorney general is coming for us. On Sunday, Alberto Gonzales told ABC's "This Week" that he would consider prosecuting reporters who get their hands on classified information and break news about President Bush's terrorist surveillance program. "There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility. We have an obligation to enforce those laws." Asked...if The New York Times should be prosecuted for its initial story on government surveillance without warrants, Gonzales said, "We are engaged now in an investigation about what would be the appropriate course of action." This is the same administration that...has already set the presidential record in claiming the authority to circumvent the law in more than 750 cases. Gonzales...issued the infamous "torture memo" that advised President Bush to throw the Geneva Convention into the trash can for detainees in the war on terror. Gonzales...helped the administration block and drag its feet on the release of presidential papers from Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Gonzales helped to withhold or delay highly classified documents from the president's own 9/11 Commission and from...the energy task force of Vice President Dick Cheney. The actions of Gonzales show how little the Bush administration promotes the rights of the press. With every pronouncement, freedom is disappearing, in incremental steps.
NSA Whistleblower Alleges Illegal Spying
2006-05-11, ABC News
Russell Tice, a longtime insider at the National Security Agency, is now a whistleblower the agency would like to keep quiet. For 20 years, Tice worked in the shadows as he helped the United States spy on other people's conversations around the world. "I specialized in what's called special access programs," Tice said of his job. "We called them 'black world' programs and operations." But now, Tice tells ABC News that some of those secret "black world" operations run by the NSA were operated in ways that he believes violated the law. He is prepared to tell Congress all he knows about the alleged wrongdoing in these programs run by the Defense Department and the NSA. Tice says the technology exists to track and sort through every domestic and international phone call...and to search for key words or phrases that a terrorist might use. President Bush has admitted that he gave orders that allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on a small number of Americans without the usual requisite warrants. But Tice disagrees. He says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions. The NSA revoked Tice's security clearance in May of last year based on what it called psychological concerns and later dismissed him. Tice calls that bunk and says that's the way the NSA deals with troublemakers and whistleblowers.
Note: For many years, both the U.S. and U.K. denied the existence of Echelon, which according to the BBC article below is a "spying network that can eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/503224.stm
Congress Demands NSA Spying Answers
2006-05-11, CBS News
Congressional Republicans and Democrats demanded answers from the Bush administration Thursday about a government spy agency secretly collecting records of ordinary Americans' phone calls to build a database of every call made within the country. This database affects as many as 200 million Americans. AT&T Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., and BellSouth Corp. telephone companies began turning over records of tens of millions of their customers' phone calls to the NSA program shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 'We have reached a privacy crisis,' said Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-MA, the ranking Democrat on the House Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee. 'The N.S.A. stands for Now Spying on Americans.' Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News Channel: "The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers, how does that fit into following the enemy?" The Justice Department has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the NSA refused to grant its lawyers the necessary security clearance. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility [said] they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program.
Note: Who gave the NSA power to stop the Justice Department from performing an inquiry?
FBI Keeps Watch on Activists
2006-03-27, Los Angeles Times
The FBI, while waging a highly publicized war against terrorism, has spent resources gathering information on antiwar and environmental protesters and on activists who feed vegetarian meals to the homeless, the agency's internal memos show. For years, the FBI's definition of terrorism has included violence against property. That definition has led FBI investigations to online discussion boards, organizing meetings and demonstrations of a wide range of activist groups. The FBI's encounters with activists are described in hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act after agents visited several activists before the 2004 political conventions. ACLU attorneys acknowledge that the FBI memos are heavily redacted and contain incomplete portraits of some cases. Still, the attorneys say, the documents show that the FBI has monitored groups that were not suspected of any crime. FBI officials respond that there is nothing improper about agents attending a meeting or demonstration.
IRS plans to allow preparers to sell data
2006-03-21, Philadelphia Enquirer (Philadelphia's leading newspaper)
The IRS is quietly moving to loosen the once-inviolable privacy of federal income-tax returns. If it succeeds, accountants and other tax-return preparers will be able to sell information from individual returns - or even entire returns - to marketers and data brokers. The change is raising alarm among consumer and privacy-rights advocates. It was included in a set of proposed rules that the Treasury Department and the IRS published...where the official notice labeled them "not a significant regulatory action." The proposed rules...would require a tax preparer to obtain written consent before selling tax information. Critics call the changes a dangerous breach in personal and financial privacy. They say the requirement for signed consent would prove meaningless for many taxpayers, especially those hurriedly reviewing stacks of documents before a filing deadline.The IRS first announced the proposal in a news release the day before the official notice was published, headlined: "IRS Issues Proposed Regulations to Safeguard Taxpayer Information."
Pay too much and you could raise the alarm
2006-02-23, Providence Journal (the leading newspaper in Rhode Island)
Walter Soehnge is a retired Texas schoolteacher. What got him so upset might seem trivial to some people who have learned to accept small infringements on their freedom as just part of the way things are in this age of terror-fed paranoia. The balance on their JCPenney Platinum MasterCard had gotten to an unhealthy level. So they sent in a large payment, a check for $6,522. And an alarm went off. A red flag went up. The Soehnges' behavior was found questionable. After sending in the check, they checked online to see if their account had been duly credited. They learned that the check had arrived, but the amount available for credit on their account hadn't changed. They were told, as they moved up the managerial ladder at the call center, that the amount they had sent in was much larger than their normal monthly payment. And if the increase hits a certain percentage higher than that normal payment, Homeland Security has to be notified. And the money doesn't move until the threat alert is lifted. Walter called television stations, the American Civil Liberties Union and me. And he went on the Internet to see what he could learn. He learned about changes in something called the Bank Privacy Act. "The more I'm on, the scarier it gets," he said. "It's scary how easily someone in Homeland Security can get permission to spy."
US group implants electronic tags in workers
2006-02-13, MSNBC/Financial Times
An Ohio company has embedded silicon chips in two of its employees - the first known case in which US workers have been "tagged" electronically as a way of identifying them. A private video surveillance company said it was testing the technology as a way of controlling access to a room where it holds security video footage for government agencies and the police. Embedding slivers of silicon in workers is likely to add to the controversy over RFID technology, widely seen as one of the next big growth industries. RFID chips – inexpensive radio transmitters that give off a unique identifying signal – have been implanted in pets or attached to goods so they can be tracked in transit. "There are very serious privacy and civil liberty issues of having people permanently numbered," said Liz McIntyre, who campaigns against the use of identification technology. "There's nothing pulsing or sending out a signal," said Mr Darks, who has had a chip in his own arm. "It's not a GPS chip. My wife can't tell where I am." The technology's defenders say it is acceptable as long as it is not compulsory. But critics say any implanted device could be used to track the "wearer" without their knowledge.
We are moving ever closer to the era of mind control
2006-02-06, The Guardian (one of the UK's leading newspapers)
There is increasing military interest in the development of techniques that can survey and possibly manipulate the mental processes of potential enemies, or enhance the potential of one's own troops. There is nothing new about such an interest. In the US, it stretches back at least half a century. Impressed by claims that the Soviet Union was developing psychological warfare, the CIA and the Defence Advanced Projects Agency (Darpa) began their own programmes. Early experiments included the clandestine feeding of LSD to their own operatives and attempts at 'brain-washing'. By the 1960s, Darpa, along with the US Navy, was funding almost all US research into 'artificial intelligence', in order to develop methods and technologies for the 'automated battlefield' and the 'intelligent soldier'. Contracts were let and patents taken out on techniques aimed at recording signals from the brains of enemy personnel at a distance, in order to 'read their minds'. These efforts have burgeoned in the aftermath of the so-called 'war on terror'. The step beyond reading thoughts is to attempt to control them directly. A new technique - transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) - has begun to generate interest. This focuses an intense magnetic field on specific brain regions, and has been shown to affect thoughts, perceptions and behaviour.
Note: These technologies are far more developed than this article suggests. For reliable, verifiable information on these little-known "non-lethal" weapons: http://www.WantToKnow.info/mindcontrol10pg#nonlethal
They were loyal conservatives and Bush appointees. They fought a quiet battle to rein in the president's power in the war on terror. And they paid a price for it. James Comey...resigned as deputy attorney general in the summer of 2005. Comey's farewell speech...contained...an unusual passage. Comey thanked "people who came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were the people committed to getting it right....Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to right, but they wouldn't have it any other way." These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, [they] fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray -- as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story...is a quietly dramatic profile in courage.
Note: If you want to understand the complexities involved behind the scenes at the top levels of US politics, I most highly recommend reading this entire article. It is five webpages in length.
The Other Big Brother
The Pentagon has its own domestic spying program. Even its leaders say the outfit may have gone too far. Late on a June afternoon in 2004, a motley group of about 10 peace activists showed up outside the Houston headquarters of Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. The demonstrators wore papier-mache masks and handed out free peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they left work. The idea, according to organizer Scott Parkin, was to call attention to allegations that the company was overcharging on a food contract for troops in Iraq. To U.S. Army analysts at the top-secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the peanut-butter protest was regarded as a potential threat to national security. A Defense document shows that Army analysts wrote a report on the Halliburton protest and stored it in CIFA's database. There are now questions about whether CIFA exceeded its authority and conducted unauthorized spying on innocent people and organizations. The deputy Defense secretary now acknowledges that...reports may have contained information on U.S. citizens and groups that never should have been retained. The number of reports with names of U.S. persons could be in the thousands, says a senior Pentagon official.
NSA used city police as trackers
2006-01-13, Baltimore Sun
The National Security Agency used law enforcement agencies, including the Baltimore Police Department, to track members of a city anti-war group as they prepared for protests outside the sprawling Fort Meade facility, internal NSA documents show. The target of the clandestine surveillance was the Baltimore Pledge of Resistance, a group...whose members include many veteran city peace activists with a history of nonviolent civil disobedience. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, members of the group say, their protests have come under increasing scrutiny by federal and local law enforcement officials working on behalf of the NSA. An internal NSA e-mail, posted on two Internet sites this week, shows how operatives with the "Baltimore Intel Unit" provided a minute-by-minute account of Pledge of Resistances' preparations for a July 3, 2004. "****UPDATE: 11:55 HRS. S/A V------- ADVISED THE PROTESTORS LEFT 4600 YORK ROAD EN ROUTE TO THE NSA CAMPUS ... S/A V----- REPORTED FIVE OR SIX PEOPLE IN A BLUE VAN WITH BLACK BALLOONS, ANTI-WAR SIGNS AND A POSSIBLE HELIUM TANK." Some legal analysts and administration critics say the agency's actions violate the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
NSA Whistleblower Alleges Illegal Spying
2006-01-10, ABC News
Russell Tice, a longtime insider at the National Security Agency, is now a whistleblower the agency would like to keep quiet. For 20 years, Tice worked in the shadows. "I specialized in what's called special access programs," Tice said of his job. "We called them 'black world' programs and operations." Some of those secret "black world" operations run by the NSA were operated in ways that he believes violated the law. He is prepared to tell Congress all he knows. Tice says the technology exists to track and sort through every domestic and international phone call...and to search for key words or phrases that a terrorist might use. Tice...says the number of Americans subject to eavesdropping by the NSA could be in the millions if the full range of secret NSA programs is used. "For most Americans [who] placed an overseas communication, more than likely they were sucked into that vacuum." He told ABC News that he was a source for the [New York] Times. But Tice maintains that his conscience is clear. "We need to clean up the intelligence community. We've had abuses, and they need to be addressed." The NSA revoked Tice's security clearance in May of last year based on what it called psychological concerns and later dismissed him. Tice calls that bunk and says that's the way the NSA deals with troublemakers and whistleblowers.
Behind the Eavesdropping Story, a Loud Silence
2006-01-01, New York Times
The New York Times's explanation of its decision to report, after what it said was a one-year delay, that the National Security Agency is eavesdropping domestically without court-approved warrants was woefully inadequate. And I have had unusual difficulty getting a better explanation for readers, despite the paper's repeated pledges of greater transparency. For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making. My queries concerned the timing of the exclusive Dec. 16 article about President Bush's secret decision in the months after 9/11 to authorize the warrantless eavesdropping on Americans in the United States. I e-mailed a list of 28 questions to Bill Keller, the executive editor [of the New York Times], on Dec. 19, three days after the article appeared. He promptly declined to respond to them. I then sent the same questions to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, who also declined to respond. They held out no hope for a fuller explanation in the future. The top Times people involved in the final decisions [are] refusing to talk and urging everyone else to remain silent.
The Agency That Could Be Big Brother
2005-12-25, New York Times
Deep in a remote, fog-layered hollow near Sugar Grove, W.Va., hidden by fortress-like mountains, sits the country's largest eavesdropping bug. The station's large parabolic dishes secretly and silently sweep in millions of private telephone calls and e-mail messages an hour. Run by the ultrasecret National Security Agency, the listening post intercepts all international communications entering the eastern United States. Another N.S.A. listening post, in Yakima,Wash., eavesdrops on the western half of the country. According to John E. McLaughlin, who as the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the fall of 2001 was among the first briefed on the program, this eavesdropping was the most secret operation in the entire intelligence network, complete with its own code word - which itself is secret. Jokingly referred to as "No Such Agency," the N.S.A. was created in absolute secrecy in 1952 by President Harry S. Truman. But the agency is still struggling to adjust to the war on terror. At home, it increases pressure on the agency to bypass civil liberties and skirt formal legal channels of criminal investigation. Originally created to spy on foreign adversaries, the N.S.A. was never supposed to be turned inward.
Note: Don't miss the amazing article on Operation Northwoods by the author of this article, former ABC producer James Bamford. It details the 1962 plans of the Pentagon chiefs to foment terrorism in the US as a pretext for war with Cuba. See http://www.WantToknow.info/010501operationnorthwoods
F.B.I. Watched Activist Groups, New Files Show
2005-12-20, New York Times
Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief. One F.B.I. document...talks of the Catholic Workers group's "semi-communistic ideology." The documents...came as part of a series of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The latest batch of documents...totals more than 2,300 pages and centers on references in internal files to a handful of groups, including PETA, the environmental group Greenpeace and the Catholic Workers group, which promotes antipoverty efforts and social causes. Many of the investigative documents turned over by the bureau are heavily edited. The documents indicate that in some cases, the F.B.I. has used employees, interns and other confidential informants within groups like PETA and Greenpeace to develop leads on potential criminal activity and has downloaded material from the groups' Web sites, in addition to monitoring their protests.
National Security Watch: Disquieted whistleblowers
2005-10-11, U.S. News and World Report
The first annual National Security Whistleblowers Conference...has to be one of the more unusual gatherings of intelligence veterans in recent years. The nearly 20 current or former officials from the FBI, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and even the supersecret National Security Agency who make up the core of the conference share an unusual distinction: They are all deeply out of favor with their longtime employers. Most cannot discuss the allegations they are making in detail because the specifics are highly classified. The agencies they work for also refuse to answer questions. The current and former officials at the conference said that today's climate in Washington has never been worse for whistleblowers. One of the biggest names of the conference never even uttered a word. Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer is the military intelligence operative who...went public with a controversial claim that a year before September 11, his top-secret task force "Able
Danger" was able to identify the man who later turned out to be the lead hijacker [on 9/11]. Shaffer was slated to speak but instead sat quietly by as his lawyer, Mark Zaid, spoke for him. "Tony is not allowed to talk," Zaid said. "He is gagged from talking to Congress." The conference was organized by Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator who was pushed out of the bureau after raising accusations of wrongdoing by other FBI translators. She has been barred from discussing the details of her case by the FBI. She created the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition www.nswbc.org to bring whistleblowers like her together to push for legal reforms.
Note: For a detailed article in Vanity Fair on Sibel Edmonds' courageous efforts to expose the truth, click here. For the whistleblowing action which drew international media attention by WantToKnow.info founder Fred Burks, click here.
ID cards could be used for mass surveillance system
2005-08-18, The Independent (One of the UK's leading newspapers)
The Government is creating a system of "mass public surveillance" capable of tracking every adult in Britain without their consent, MPs say. They warn that people who have never committed a crime can be "electronically monitored" without their knowledge. Biometric facial scans, which will be compulsory with ID cards, are to be put on a national database which can then be matched with images from CCTV. The database of faces will enable police and security services to track individuals regardless of whether they have broken the law. CCTV surveillance footage from streets, shops and even shopping centres could be cross-referenced with photographs of every adult in the UK once the ID cards Bill becomes law. Biometric facial scans, iris scans and fingerprints of all adults in the UK will be stored on a national database. Civil liberties groups say the plans are a "dangerous" threat to people's privacy. Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said the plans were being brought in by the Government without informing the public.
Tommy Thompson Is His Own Best Ad
2005-07-25, U.S. News and World Report
We bet that former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson wishes he had gone to work for Breyers or Hershey's. To set a good example, he's preparing to consume his new company's product--VeriChip Corp's flesh-embedded medical radio chip. "It doesn't cause any pain," he assures us, explaining that a rice-size chip will be inserted into his arm. The chip stores coding that makes the user's health records available worldwide. Hospitals wave a radio wand over the arm to get the info. "People are dying all the time," he says, "because they can't access their medical information overseas."
Pentagon Creating Student Database
2005-06-23, Washington Post
The Defense Department began working yesterday with a private marketing firm to create a database of high school students ages 16 to 18 and all college students to help the military identify potential recruits. The program is provoking a furor among privacy advocates. The new database will include personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages, ethnicity and what subjects the students are studying. "The purpose of the system is to provide a single central facility within the Department of Defense to compile, process and distribute files of individuals who meet age and minimum school requirements for military service." Some information on high school students already is given to military recruiters in a separate program under provisions of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act. Recruiters have been using the information to contact students at home, angering some parents and school districts around the country.
Students ordered to wear tracking tags
2005-02-09, MSNBC News
The only grade school in this rural town is requiring students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move. Some parents are outraged, fearing it will rob their children of privacy. The badges introduced at Brittan Elementary School on Jan. 18 rely on the same radio frequency and scanner technology that companies use to track livestock and product inventory. The system was imposed, without parental input, by the school as a way to simplify attendance-taking and potentially reduce vandalism and improve student safety. Some parents see a system that can monitor their children's movements on campus as something straight out of Orwell. This latest adaptation of radio frequency ID technology was developed by InCom Corp., a local company co-founded by the parent of a former Brittan student, and some parents are suspicious about the financial relationship between the school and the company. InCom has paid the school several thousand dollars for agreeing to the experiment, and has promised a royalty from each sale if the system takes off, said the company's co-founder, Michael Dobson, who works as a technology specialist in the town's high school.
Passports go electronic with new microchip
2004-12-09, Christian Science Monitor
The US passport is about to go electronic, with a tiny microchip embedded in its cover. The chip is the latest outpost in the battle to outwit tamperers. But it's also one that worries privacy advocates. The RFID (radio frequency identification) chip in each passport will contain the same personal data as now appear on the inside pages - name, date of birth, place of birth, issuing office - and a digitized version of the photo. But the 64K chip will be read remotely. And there's the rub. The scenario, privacy advocates say, could be as simple as you standing in line with your passport as someone walks by innocuously carrying a briefcase. Inside that case, a microchip reader could be skimming data from your passport to be used for identity theft. Or maybe authorities or terrorists want to see who's gathered in a crowd and surreptitiously survey your ID and track you. Why not choose a contact chip, where there would be no possibility of skimming, asks Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project. "There was another way to go, which was to put an electronic strip in the passport that would require contact." The State Department says it's just following international standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), under the umbrella of the United Nations. The ICAO specified the RFID ... at the behest of the United States. All countries that are part of the US visa-waiver program must use the new passports by Oct. 26, 2005. Mr. Steinhardt ... says the US pushed through the standards against the reservations of the Europeans. "Bush says at the G8 meeting, 'We have to adhere to the global standard,' as though we had nothing to do with it," he says in exasperation.
Note: If the above link fails, click here. For more on the risk of RFID chips, click here.
Scientists Find Ways to Make Us Slaves
2004-10-17, WantToKnow.info/London Times
Scientists have discovered a way of manipulating a gene that turns animals into drones that do not become bored with repetitive tasks. The experiments, conducted on monkeys, are the first to demonstrate that animal behaviour can be permanently changed, turning the subjects from aggressive to "compliant" creatures. The genes are identical in humans and although the discovery could help to treat depression and other types of mental illness, it will raise images of the Epsilon caste from Aldous Huxley's futuristic novel Brave New World. The experiments... involved blocking the effect of a gene called D2 in a particular part of the brain. This cut off the link between the rhesus monkeys' motivation and reward. Instead of speeding up with the approach of a deadline or the prospect of a "treat," the monkeys in the experiment could be made to work just as enthusiastically for long periods. The scientists say the identical technique would apply to humans. [They] found that they could make the monkeys work their hardest and fastest all the time, without any complaint or sign of slacking, just by manipulating D2 so that they forgot about the expectation of reward. Methods of manipulating human physical and psychological traits are just around the corner, and the technology will emerge first as a lucrative add-on available from in vitro fertilization clinics. "There's no doubt we will be able to influence behaviour," said Julian Savulescu, a professor of ethics at Oxford University.
Note: For lots more reliable information on how human behavior is already being manipulated, click here.
RNC [Republican National Convention] to Feature Unusual Forms of Sound
2004-08-25, ABC News
Outside the convention hall, New York City police plan to control protesters using a device that directs sound for up to 1,500 feet in a spotlight-like beam. Meanwhile, a display of former Republican presidents inside the hall will feature campaign speeches that are funneled to listeners through highly focused audio beams. Both technologies feature unprecedented manipulation of sound, but for very different purposes. And while both technologies have unique, "gee-whiz" factors, some remain uneasy with the idea of using sound to control crowds. When in weapon mode, LRAD blasts a tightly controlled stream of caustic sound that can be turned up to high enough levels to trigger nausea or possibly fainting. LRAD ... has been used by the U.S. military in Iraq and at sea as a non-lethal force. In these settings, operators can use the device not only to convey orders, but also as a weapon. In tests, police have shown how they can convey orders in a normal voice to someone as far as four blocks away. The sound beam is even equipped with a viewfinder so the operator can precisely target the audio by finding a person in cross hairs. Rather than using pure volume to throw sound far, the LRAD reaches distant ears by focusing the audio beam. Wherever the beam makes contact with air, the air molecules interact in a way that isolates the original audible sound. So if you're standing in front of the ultrasonic sound wave, you can hear the sound. If you're a few inches away, you hear nothing. Already, some Coca-Cola machines in Japan are equipped with the technology so passers-by hear the enticing sound of soda being poured into a glass of ice.
Note: For more reliable information on these "non-lethal weapons," click here.
Technology gets under clubbers' skin
2004-06-09, CNN News
Queuing to get into one nightclub in Spain could soon be a thing of the past for regular customers thanks to a tiny computer chip implanted under their skin. The technology, known as a VeriChip, also means nightclubbers can leave their cash and cards at home and buy drinks using a scanner. The bill can then be paid later. Clubbers who want to join the scheme at Baja Beach Club in Barcelona pay 125 euros (about US $150) for the VeriChip -- about the size of a grain of rice -- to be implanted in their body. Then when they pass through a scanner the chip is activated and it emits a signal containing the individual's number, which is then transmitted to a secure data storage site. The club's director, Conrad Chase, said he began using the VeriChip, made by Applied Digital Solutions, in March 2004 because he needed something similar to a VIP card and wanted to provide his customers with better service. He said 10 of the club's regular customers, including himself, have been implanted with the chip, and predicted more would follow. "I know many people who want to be implanted," said Chase. "Almost everybody now has a piercing, tattoos or silicone. Why not get the chip and be original?" Chase said VeriChip could also boost security by speeding up checks at airports, for example. He denied the scheme had any drawbacks. The VeriChip is an in-house debit card and contains no personal information.
Note: Why is the media so upbeat about this? The article raises very few questions, yet seems to promote microchip implants in humans as the wave of the future for commerce.
America's Deep, Dark Secret
2004-05-02, CBS 60 Minutes
Starting in the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands of American children were warehoused in institutions by state governments. And the federal government did nothing to stop it. The justification? The kids had been labeled feeble-minded, and were put away in conditions that can only be described as unspeakable. A large proportion of the kids who were locked up were not retarded at all. They were simply poor, uneducated kids with no place to go, who ended up in institutions like the Fernald School in Waltham, Mass. The Fernald School, and others like it, was part of a popular American movement in the early 20th century called the Eugenics movement. The idea was to separate people considered to be genetically inferior from the rest of society, to prevent them from reproducing. Eugenics is usually associated with Nazi Germany, but in fact, it started in America. Not only that, it continued here long after Hitler's Germany was in ruins. Few of the attendants [at Fernald] showed any kindness. And ... there was sexual abuse. The place was tailor made for it. The school [also] allowed them to be used as human guinea pigs. In 1994 Senate hearings, it came out that scientists from MIT had been giving radioactive oatmeal to the boys ... in a nutrition study for Quaker Oats. All they knew is that they'd been asked to join a science club. The boys were recruited with special treats [like] extra milk. “But they forgot to mention the milk was radioactive,” says David White-Lief, an attorney who worked on the state task force investigating the science club. “These experiments, because of the lack of informed consent, violated the Nuremburg Code established just 10 years earlier,” says White-Lief.
Note: The extreme racism of the Nazis was quite popular among certain groups in the U.S. For lots more on how these ideas came to pervade some groups in U.S. intelligence services, click here. For a powerful list of military and government sponsored experiments on human guinea pigs with links for verification, click here.
A Real Chip On Your Shoulder
2003-07-17, CBS News/Associated Press
A U.S. company launched Thursday in Mexico the sale of microchips that can be implanted under a person's skin and used to confirm everything from health history to identity. The microchips ... went on sale last year in the United States. The microchip, the size of a grain of rice, is implanted in the arm or hip and can contain information on everything from a person's blood type to their name. In a two-hour presentation, Palm Beach, Florida-based Applied Digital Solutions Inc. introduced reporters to the VeriChip and used a syringe-like device and local anesthetic to implant a sample in the right arm of employee Carlos Altamirano. “It doesn't hurt at all,” he said. “The whole process is just painless.” Antonio Aceves, the director of the Mexican company charged with distributing the chip here, said that in the first year of sales, the company hoped to implant chips in 10,000 people and ensure that at least 70 percent of all hospitals had the technology to read the devices. One chip costs $150 and has a $50 annual fee. Users can update and manage their chips' information by calling a 24-hour customer service line. The VeriChip can track subjects who are within 5 miles, but officials want to develop a new chip that can use satellite technology to track people who are farther away and may have been kidnapped. While the idea of using the chip to track people has raised privacy concerns in the United States, the idea has been popular with Mexicans. The company hopes to have the new anti-kidnapping chip developed by 2003.
Your life at your fingertips — courtesy of the Pentagon
2003-06-02, USA Today/Associated Press
Coming to you soon from the Pentagon: the diary to end all diaries — a multimedia, digital record of everywhere you go and everything you see, hear, read, say and touch. Known as LifeLog, the project has been put out for contractor bids by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, the agency that helped build the Internet and that is now developing the next generation of [surveillance] tools. The agency ... [considers] LifeLog ... a tool to capture "one person's experience in and interactions with the world" through a camera, microphone and sensors worn by the user. Everything from heartbeats to travel to Internet chatting would be recorded.
The goal is to create breakthrough software that helps analyze behavior, habits and routines, according to Pentagon documents reviewed by The Associated Press. The products of the unclassified project would be available to both the private sector and other government agencies — a concern to privacy advocates. John Pike of Global Security.org, a defense analysis group, is dubious the project has military application. "I have a much easier time understanding how Big Brother would want this than how (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld would use it," Pike said. "They have not identified a military application."
Note: For more on this at Wired, click here.
Professor has nightmare vision of global positioning technology
2003-05-07, WantToKnow.info/Kansas City Star (Leading newspaper of Kansas City)
Jerome Dobson is not joking. The University of Kansas research professor, a respected leader in the field of geographic information technologies [speculates about] "geoslavery" -- a form of technological human control that could make "George Orwell's `Big Brother' nightmare ... look amateurish." He's talking about overlords electronically punishing errant workers. He's talking about the possibility of people hooked to, tracked by, and potentially shocked or burned using inexpensive electronic bracelets, manacles or implants. Dobson worked for 26 years at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory creating, for the government, the maps used in global tracking. He is the president of the American Geographical Society. And he is not alone in his thoughts. [In] the journal published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a paper titled "Geoslavery" is co-written by Dobson and Peter F. Fisher, British editor of the International Journal of Geographical Information Science. "Human tracking systems, currently sold commercially without restrictions, already empower those who would be masters. Safeguards have not yet evolved to protect those destined to be slaves," they wrote. With a laptop computer, employers can keep track of their drivers' every move. Implanted chips ... keep track of livestock or pets. Whereify Wireless Inc. sells its GPS Kids Locator for $400. The device, which also looks like a watch, can be locked to a child's wrist. Dobson said that ... none of the companies was thinking of anything nefarious. [Yet he] worries that where there is an evil will, there is an evil way. He hopes [to ] create debate and perhaps legislation or safeguards around the technology that will keep it from being misused.
Military enforces 'Semper Fido' with microchips
2002-08-15, Christian Science Monitor
Abandoned pets are a growing part of the military culture. Dogs and cats are dropped off in remote corners of the post at a rate of more than 20 a week. But the US Armed Forces are fighting back. Adopting a Big Brother approach, the military is implanting microchips in cats and dogs that live on government land – as much for animal control as for owner control. Says Fort Polk, La., Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky L. Jones of the soldier who abandons a pet, "with the chip you can't hide." Fort Polk has used the chip to track down soldiers who have abandoned their pets and forced them to pay an adoption fee. "It's a way to control our stray animal population and protect our working force, too," says Capt. Steven Baty, a veterinarian at Fort Carson, Colo., where microchipping has been mandatory since 1998. The tiny chips, the size of a grain of rice, are injected under the skin on an animal's neck and contain a bar code that can be scanned and read by humane societies and veterinary clinics nationwide. The procedure costs about $15, takes two to three seconds, and is no more painful than a typical vaccination. Microchip enforcement varies by base. At Fort Polk, La., animal controllers are part of a weekly housing patrol, joining inspectors who check to make sure lawns are cut and that soldiers aren't violating housing regulations. The animal controller carries a portable scanner and runs the wand over dogs and cats, looking for numbers to light up the small screen. If the pets don't have a microchip, soldiers are warned, and if they don't comply, their animals are taken away.
Note: The Monitor removed this article from their website. To see a copy of it on the Internet archive, click here.
E-mail users warned over spy network
2001-05-29, BBC News
Computer users across Europe should encrypt all their e-mails, to avoid being spied on by a UK-US eavesdropping network, say Euro-MPs. The tentacles of the Echelon network stretch so far that the UK's involvement could constitute a breach of human rights, they say. The Euro-MPs have been studying Echelon for almost a year, after allegations that it has been used by the US to commit industrial espionage against European firms. They conclude that Echelon - whose existence is not officially acknowledged - is reading millions of e-mails and faxes sent every day by ordinary people. The US has denied the system even exists, and the UK refuses to give details, except to say that communications interception is a vital tool in the fight against "dangers to society". The Echelon operation is based at Fort Meade in Maryland, America, and at the UK's spy centre, GCHQ in Cheltenham.
Note: For another revealing BBC News report on Echelon, click here.
Echelon spy network revealed
1999-11-03, BBC News
Imagine a global spying network that can eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet. It sounds like science fiction, but it's true. Two of the chief protagonists - Britain and America - officially deny its existence. But the BBC has confirmation from the Australian Government that such a network really does exist and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are calling for an inquiry. The base is linked directly to the headquarters of the US National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Mead in Maryland, and it is also linked to a series of other listening posts scattered across the world, like Britain's own GCHQ. The power of the network, codenamed Echelon, is astounding. Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism. The network is so secret that the British and American Governments refuse to admit that Echelon even exists. But another ally, Australia, has decided not to be so coy. The man who oversees Australia's security services, Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Bill Blick, has confirmed to the BBC that their Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) does form part of the network. Asked if they are then passed on to countries like Britain and America, he said: "They might be in certain circumstances." But the system is so widespread all sorts of private communications, often of a sensitive commercial nature, are hoovered up and analysed.
Note: For a powerful, well documented 20-page paper in the Federal Communications Law Journal providing strong evidence that this program is unconstitutional, click here.
Professor Feels Himself Become Closer to the Machine
1998-09-23, ABC News
When Kevin Warwick enters his office building on the campus of Reading University, strange things happen. As Warwick heads down the main hall, lights turn on. When he turns to the right, an office door unbolts and opens. Each step is clocked and recorded. The building knows who he is, where he is, and what he expects to happen. The building [even] says, “Hello Professor Warwick.” The structure knows Warwick because of the electrical fuse-sized “smart card” implanted in his left arm. In Britain, he’s been dubbed “The Cyborg Man,” the first person known to have a microchip implanted in his body for communication with outside machines. Warwick predicts chip implants will one day replace time cards, criminal tracking devices, even credit cards. Capable of carrying huge amounts of data, they may, he says, one day be used to identify individuals by Social Security numbers, blood type, even their banking information. No one knows yet how the body will respond to this type of invasion. Warwick is not blind to the ethical questions of this technology. Implants ostensibly designed to clock workers in and out might be misused to monitor where people are at all times and who they are meeting. Governments could move to use implants instead of I.D. cards and passports, but what would stop them from using this new science to invade privacy? “I feel mentally different. When I am in the building I feel much more closely connected with the computer.
Note: Those who would like to control the public named these implants "smart cards" to encourage us to accept them. For more reliable information on important topic, click here and here.