Revealing Media Articles on Privacy Matters
Whistleblower exposes spying on Americans
2009-01-22, MSNBC Countdown With Keith Olberman
OLBERMANN: A former analyst at the National Security Agency [has] 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Note: For many disturbing reports on threats to civil liberties, click here.
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." 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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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