Privacy News ArticlesExcerpts of Key Privacy News Articles in Media
A classified 2010 legal certification and other documents indicate the NSA has been given a far more elastic authority than previously known, one that allows it to intercept through U.S. companies not just the communications of its overseas targets but any communications about its targets as well. The certification — approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and included among a set of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — lists 193 countries that would be of valid interest for U.S. intelligence. The certification also permitted the agency to gather intelligence about entities including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The documents underscore the remarkable breadth of potential “foreign intelligence” collection. An affidavit in support of the 2010 foreign-government certification said the NSA believes that foreigners who will be targeted for collection “possess, are expected to receive and/or are likely to communicate foreign intelligence information concerning these foreign powers.” That language could allow for surveillance of academics, journalists and human rights researchers. A Swiss academic who has information on the German government’s position in the run-up to an international trade negotiation, for instance, could be targeted if the government has determined there is a foreign-intelligence need for that information. If a U.S. college professor e-mails the Swiss professor’s e-mail address or phone number to a colleague, the American’s e-mail could be collected as well, under the program’s court-approved rules.
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The Obama administration has been quietly advising local police not to disclose details about surveillance technology they are using to sweep up basic cellphone data from entire neighborhoods. Citing security reasons, the U.S. has intervened in routine state public records cases and criminal trials regarding use of the technology. This has resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose any [information] about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment. One well-known type of this surveillance equipment is known as a Stingray. The equipment tricks cellphones into identifying some of their owners' account information, like a unique subscriber number, and transmitting data to police as if it were a phone company's tower. That allows police to obtain cellphone information without having to ask for help from service providers ... and can locate a phone without the user even making a call or sending a text message. The Obama administration is asking agencies to withhold common information about the equipment, such as how the technology is used and how to turn it on. "These extreme secrecy efforts are in relation to very controversial, local government surveillance practices using highly invasive technology," said Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought for the release of these types of records. "People should have the facts about what the government is doing to them."
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Government agencies are able to listen to phone conversations live and even track the location of citizens without warrants using secret cables connected directly to network equipment, admits Vodafone today. The company said that secret wires have been connected to its network and those belonging to competitors, giving government agencies the ability to tap in to phone and broadband traffic. In many countries this is mandatory for all telecoms companies, it said. Vodafone is today publishing its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report which will describe exactly how the governments it deals with are eavesdropping on citizens. It is calling for an end to the use of “direct access” eavesdropping and transparency on the number of warrants issued giving access to private data. Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, said: "Vodafone is taking a commendable step by taking this issue on at an international scale. And they are trying to identify the legal basis for governments' claimed powers. Governments around the world are unashamedly abusing privacy by demanding access to communications and data, and alarmingly, sometimes granting themselves direct access to the networks. Now that Vodafone has been more open, the entire industry has cover to take the necessary next step of pushing back. Pushing back against bad requests is a start, pushing back against bad laws is the next step. The usefulness of transparency reports hinges on governments abiding by the rule of law. We now know that these reports only provide a limited picture of what is going on.”
Note: For more on government surveillance of the world's population, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
The National Security Agency has never said what it was seeking when it invaded the computers of Petrobras, Brazil’s huge national oil company, but angry Brazilians have guesses: the company’s troves of data on Brazil’s offshore oil reserves, or perhaps its plans for allocating licenses for exploration to foreign companies. Nor has the N.S.A. said what it intended when it got deep into the computer systems of China Telecom, one of the largest providers of mobile phone and Internet services in Chinese cities. But documents released by Edward J. Snowden, the former agency contractor now in exile in Russia, leave little doubt that the main goal was to learn about Chinese military units, whose members cannot resist texting on commercial networks. The agency’s interest in Huawei, the giant Chinese maker of Internet switching equipment, and Pacnet, the Hong Kong-based operator of undersea fiber optic cables, is more obvious: Once inside those companies’ proprietary technology, the N.S.A. would have access to millions of daily conversations and emails that never touch American shores. The [US] government does not deny it routinely spies to advance American economic advantage, which is part of its broad definition of how it protects American national security. While the N.S.A. cannot spy on Airbus and give the results to Boeing, it is free to spy on European or Asian trade negotiators and use the results to help American trade officials — and, by extension, ... American industries.
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Britain’s electronic surveillance agency, Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ], has long presented its collaboration with the National Security Agency’s massive electronic spying efforts as proportionate, carefully monitored, and well within the bounds of privacy laws. But according to a top-secret document in the archive of material provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, GCHQ secretly coveted the NSA’s vast troves of private communications and sought “unsupervised access” to its data as recently as last year. The document, dated April 2013, reveals that GCHQ requested broad new authority to tap into data collected under a law that authorizes a variety of controversial NSA surveillance initiatives, including the PRISM program. PRISM is a system used by the NSA and the FBI to obtain the content of personal emails, chats, photos, videos, and other data processed by nine of the world’s largest internet companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Skype. The arrangement GCHQ proposed would also have provided the British agency with greater access to millions of international phone calls and emails that the NSA siphons directly from phone networks and the internet. The Snowden files do not indicate whether NSA granted GCHQ’s request, but they do show that the NSA was “supportive” of the idea, and that GCHQ was permitted extensive access to PRISM during the London Olympics in 2012. The request for the broad access was communicated at “leadership” level.
Note: For more on the construction of a total surveillance state, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
US intelligence chiefs have confirmed that the National Security Agency has [performed] warrantless searches on Americans’ communications. The NSA's collection programs are ostensibly targeted at foreigners, but in August the Guardian revealed a secret rule change allowing NSA analysts to search for Americans' details within the databases. Now, in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat on the intelligence committee, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has confirmed the use of this legal authority to search for data related to “US persons”. The legal authority to perform the searches, revealed in top-secret NSA documents provided ... by Edward Snowden, was denounced by Wyden as a “backdoor search loophole.” Many of the NSA's most controversial programs collect information under the law affected by the so-called loophole. These include Prism, which allows the agency to collect data from Google, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo and other tech companies, and the agency's Upstream program – a huge network of internet cable taps. Confirmation that the NSA has searched for Americans’ communications in its phone call and email databases complicates President Barack Obama’s initial defenses of the broad surveillance in June. Wyden and Udall [said] “Today’s admission by the Director of National Intelligence is further proof that meaningful surveillance reform must include closing the back-door searches loophole and requiring the intelligence community to show probable cause before deliberately searching through ... the communications of individual Americans."
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The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden. A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance. The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere. In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary. Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage. At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned.
Note: Though technically it is illegal for the NSA to snoop on Americans without good cause, all they have to do is to share this technology with another country like the UK, and then ask the UK to do the snooping and send the results back to them, thereby circumventing the law. For more on NSA surveillance, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
The list of those caught up in the global surveillance net cast by the National Security Agency and its overseas partners, from social media users to foreign heads of state, now includes another entry: US lawyers. A top-secret document, obtained by former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, shows that a US law firm was monitored while representing a foreign government in trade disputes with the United States. The disclosure offers a rare glimpse of a specific instance of Americans ensnared by the eavesdroppers and is of particular interest because US lawyers with clients overseas have expressed growing concern that their confidential communications could be compromised by such surveillance. The government of Indonesia had retained the law firm for help in trade talks, according to the February 2013 document. The NSA’s Australian counterpart, the Australian Signals Directorate, notified the agency that it was conducting surveillance of the talks, including communications between Indonesian officials and the US law firm, and offered to share information. The NSA is banned from targeting Americans, including businesses, law firms, and other organizations based in the United States, for surveillance without warrants, and intelligence officials have repeatedly said the NSA does not use spy services of its partners in the so-called Five Eyes alliance — Australia, Britain, Canada, and New Zealand — to skirt the law. The Australians told officials at an NSA liaison office in Canberra, that “information covered by attorney-client privilege may be included” in the intelligence gathering. Most attorney-client conversations do not get special protections under US law from NSA eavesdropping.
Note: For more on intense deception perpetrated by the intelligence community, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down. The findings are laid out in a 238-page report [that represents] the first major public statement by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which Congress made an independent agency in 2007 and only recently became fully operational. The Obama administration has portrayed the bulk collection program as useful and lawful. But in its report, the board lays out what may be the most detailed critique of the government’s once-secret legal theory behind the program: that a law known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, can be legitimately interpreted as authorizing the N.S.A. to collect all calling records in the country. The program “lacks a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value,” the report said. “As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program.” The report also sheds light on the history of the once-secret bulk collection program. It contains the first official acknowledgment that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court produced no judicial opinion detailing its legal rationale for the program until last August, even though it had been issuing orders to phone companies for the records and to the N.S.A. for how it could handle them since May 2006.
Note: The PCLOB report is titled "Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," and is available here. For more on government attacks to privacy, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents. The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets. The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity. On average, each day the NSA was able to extract: • More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when) • Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts • More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images. • Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users The agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”.
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As a key part of a campaign to embed encryption software that it could crack into widely used computer products, the U.S. National Security Agency arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA, one of the most influential firms in the computer security industry. Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show that the NSA created and promulgated a flawed formula for generating random numbers to create a "back door" in encryption products, the New York Times reported in September. Reuters later reported that RSA became the most important distributor of that formula by rolling it into a software tool called Bsafe that is used to enhance security in personal computers and many other products. Undisclosed until now was that RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract. Although that sum might seem paltry, it represented more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year. The RSA deal shows one way the NSA carried out what Snowden's documents describe as a key strategy for enhancing surveillance: the systematic erosion of security tools. NSA documents released in recent months called for using "commercial relationships" to advance that goal, but did not name any security companies as collaborators.
Note: For more on the realities of intelligence agency activities, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
British and U.S. intelligence officials say they are worried about a "doomsday" cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has stored on a data cloud. The cache contains documents generated by the NSA and other agencies and includes names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel, seven current and former U.S. officials and other sources briefed on the matter said. One source described the cache of still unpublished material as Snowden's "insurance policy" against arrest or physical harm. U.S. officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public. Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories. "The worst is yet to come," said one former U.S. official who follows the investigation closely. Snowden ... is believed to have downloaded between 50,000 and 200,000 classified NSA and British government documents. [It is] estimated that the total number of Snowden documents made public so far is over 500. Glenn Greenwald, who met with Snowden in Hong Kong and was among the first to report on the leaked documents for the Guardian newspaper, said the former NSA contractor had "taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published."
Note: For more on the realities of intelligence agency operations, see the deeply revealing reports from reliable major media sources available here.
The German, French, Spanish and Swedish intelligence services have all developed methods of mass surveillance of internet and phone traffic over the past five years in close partnership with Britain's GCHQ eavesdropping agency. The bulk monitoring is carried out through direct taps into fibre optic cables and the development of covert relationships with telecommunications companies. A loose but growing eavesdropping alliance has allowed intelligence agencies from one country to cultivate ties with corporations from another to facilitate the trawling of the web, according to GCHQ documents leaked by the former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The files also make clear that GCHQ played a leading role in advising its European counterparts how to work around national laws intended to restrict the surveillance power of intelligence agencies. US intelligence officials have insisted the mass monitoring was carried out by the security agencies in the countries involved and shared with the US. The Guardian revealed the existence of GCHQ's Tempora programme, in which the electronic intelligence agency tapped directly into the transatlantic fibre optic cables to carry out bulk surveillance. GCHQ officials expressed admiration for the technical capabilities of German intelligence to do the same thing, [saying] the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) had "huge technological potential and good access to the heart of the internet – they are already seeing some bearers running at 40Gbps and 100Gbps". Bearers is the GCHQ term for the fibre optic cables, and gigabits per second (Gbps) measures the speed at which data runs through them.
What are we to make of Edward Snowden? I know what I once made of him. He was no real whistleblower, I wrote, but “ridiculously cinematic” and “narcissistic” as well. As time has proved, my judgments were just plain wrong. Whatever Snowden is, he is curiously modest and has bent over backward to ensure that the information he has divulged has done as little damage as possible. As a “traitor,” he lacks the requisite intent and menace. But traitor is what Snowden has been roundly called. Harry Reid: “I think Snowden is a traitor.” John Boehner: “He’s a traitor.” Rep. Peter King: “This guy is a traitor; he’s a defector.” And Dick Cheney not only denounced Snowden as a “traitor” but also suggested that he might have shared information with the Chinese. This innuendo, as with Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, is more proof of Cheney’s unerring determination to be cosmically wrong. The early denunciations of Snowden now seem both over the top and beside the point. If he is a traitor, then which side did he betray and to whom does he now owe allegiance? Snowden seems to have sold out to no one. In fact, a knowledgeable source says that Snowden has not even sold his life story and has rebuffed offers of cash for interviews. Maybe his most un-American act is passing up a chance at easy money. Someone ought to look into this. Snowden’s residency in Russia has been forced upon him — he had nowhere else to go. Snowden insists that neither the Russians nor, before them, the Chinese have gotten their grubby hands on his top-secret material.
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Federal grants of $7 million, initially intended to help thwart terror attacks at the port in Oakland, Calif., are instead going to a police initiative that will collect and analyze reams of surveillance data. The new system ... is the latest example of how cities are compiling and processing large amounts of information, known as big data, for routine law enforcement. And the system underscores how technology has enabled the tracking of people in many aspects of life. Like the Oakland effort, other pushes to use new surveillance tools in law enforcement are supported with federal dollars. The New York Police Department, aided by federal financing, has a big data system that links 3,000 surveillance cameras with license plate readers, radiation sensors, criminal databases and terror suspect lists. Police in Massachusetts have used federal money to buy automated license plate scanners. And police in Texas have bought a drone with homeland security money. [Critics] of the Oakland initiative, formally known as the Domain Awareness Center, [say] the program, which will create a central repository of surveillance information, will also gather data about the everyday movements and habits of law-abiding residents. Oakland has a contract with the Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC, to build its system. That company has earned the bulk of its $12 billion in annual revenue from military contracts.
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US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden. The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have broadly compromised the guarantees that internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments. The agencies, the documents reveal, have adopted a battery of methods in their systematic and ongoing assault on what they see as one of the biggest threats to their ability to access huge swathes of internet traffic – "the use of ubiquitous encryption across the internet". Those methods include covert measures to ensure NSA control over setting of international encryption standards, the use of supercomputers to break encryption with "brute force", and – the most closely guarded secret of all – collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves. Through these covert partnerships, the agencies have inserted secret vulnerabilities – known as backdoors or trapdoors – into commercial encryption software. "Backdoors are fundamentally in conflict with good security," said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist and senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. "Backdoors expose all users of a backdoored system, not just intelligence agency targets, to heightened risk of data compromise."
The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance. Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen "terrorism enterprise investigations" into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise. The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials. The revelations about the NYPD's massive spying operations are in documents recently obtained by The Associated Press and part of a new book, Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit... The book ... is based on hundreds of previously unpublished police files and interviews with current and former NYPD, CIA and FBI officials.
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A Texas-based encrypted email service recently revealed to be used by Edward Snowden - Lavabit - announced yesterday it was shutting itself down in order to avoid complying with what it perceives as unjust secret US court orders to provide government access to its users' content. "After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations," the company's founder, Ladar Levinson, wrote in a statement to users posted on the front page of its website. He said the US directive forced on his company "a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit." He chose the latter. CNET's Declan McCullagh ... speculates that Lavabit was served "with [a] federal court order to intercept users' passwords" to allow ongoing monitoring of emails; specifically: "the order can also be to install FedGov-created malware." After challenging the order in district court and losing - all in a secret court proceeding, naturally - Lavabit shut itself down to avoid compliance while it appeals to the Fourth Circuit. What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company.
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During last week’s Black Hat computer security conference in Las Vegas, researchers from iSEC Partners demonstrated a vulnerability in 2012 models of Samsung’s line of Smart TVs, particularly the ones with that come with cameras designed for teleconferencing. The problem with the Samsung TVs highlights a much larger issue: The number of devices connected to the Internet is growing exponentially, and many of them have little or no security in place. Flaws may be found in almost any application on an Internet-connected platform that, if exploited, could allow access to the entire device, and then the user’s full network. Many of these unsecured devices can be found with a simple search. In fact, there’s a search engine devoted just to scouring the so-called “Internet of things” called Shadon. Playing around with it is an eye-opener. For example, in late July a writer for Forbes discovered an entire home automation product line with Internet-connected features that could be set up without a default password, and were visible to search engines. This would enable a hacker to search and find these systems on the Net, then access them at will. To prove her point, Kashmir Hill breached the home automation systems of random strangers, called them on the phone and demonstrated the vulnerability by turning their lights on and off.
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When you're watching TV ... you probably don't think someone could be on the other side watching you back. An alarming security flaw in Samsung's Smart-TVs makes this scenario possible. LAURIE SEGALL [CNN Money/Technology Correspondent]: We've spoken to a lot of folks and they're saying there are major vulnerabilities. YAVOR: One of the things we were able to do with the Smart-TV platform was abuse the browser so that we could actually gain access to the camera that's built into the TV. What we can prove here is that with a little bit of extra code, we can turn the camera on in your browser. This is something we can do invisibly and actually have it run behind the web page you're looking at. I could be sitting at a laptop in a cafe in Paris, and as long as I have a web connection, I would be able to get into your TV and access your camera. AARON GRATTAFIORI [security consultant]: The scary thing about it is that it doesn't give an indication that the camera is on and there is no LED that shows up when the camera is on. So they could actually be watching you and you would never even know. SEGALL: What is a Smart-TV, and why is it a playground, essentially, for hackers? GRATTAFIORI: It's a computer. So instead of being a tube and some other electronics, now it has a web browser and it has a lot of devices running Linux.
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