Category Archives: Privacy

Threat of Surveillance Grows as New York City Installs “Gun Shot Detector” Listening Devices

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced an expansion to a pilot program that uses “gun shot detector” microphones as part of an ongoing effort to more efficiently respond to crime.

Mayor De Blasio announced the expansion at a press conference at New York Police Department headquarters. The program will cost $1.5 million to install 300 listening devices around the precincts with the highest rates of gun violence. The devices are already live in the Bronx and should be operational in Brooklyn soon.  The microphones are attached to lamp posts and utility poles and connected through a wireless network called ShotSpotter. New York City is the latest to join more than sixty cities with the technology, including Oakland; San Francisco; Washington, DC; and Milwaukee police.

The ShotSpotter program records noises believed to be gun shots and then relays the date, time, location, and a recording to police officers. ShotSpotter sensors are connected to thousands of cameras as part of New York City’s Domain Awareness System.

Critics believe the devices will surreptitiously record innocent individuals conversations. It has already been shown that the devices can record conversations of those walking in range of the microphones. In 2014 CBS San Francisco reported that the Oakland Police Department was able to record a dying man’s last words using the ShotSpotter system. Oakland Privacy Working Group lawyer Brian Hofer told CBS that the OPD originally denied the ShotSpotter’s ability to record voices. A similar situation took place in New Bedford, Mass., and proved that the devices do invade privacy.

 As cash-strapped police departments are fighting for basic necessities like salaries for more officers, critics wonder if the system is cost efficient. As recently as 2012, police departments could purchase the SpotShotter system for a yearly subscription costing around $40,000 to $60,000 per square mile. In Oakland the system costs the police department $264,000 a year. This has lead to Oakland police discussing putting an end to the program because officers believe it to be redundant since citizens often call the police when a shooting happens.  In San Francisco the program was recently expanded as recorders were added to more telephone and light poles.

ShotSpotter conducted its own study which claims that its microphones recorded 8,769 gun shot incidents in Oakland during 2012 and 2013. According to the company’s numbers, residents only reported 1,136 incidents. These statistics are part of the reason law enforcement want to continue funding these projects.

For most Americans the ShotSpotter will be another unknown,  small price to pay for living in a world of relative security and contentment. For those who are witnessing the growing Surveillance State this represents another tool for the increasingly voyeuristic governments of the world. These listening devices will work great with StingRay Cellphone surveillance, drone aircraft, Automatic License Plate Readers, and a number of other tools being used by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Only an informed and educated populace can resist the death march of privacy.


Report Exposes CIA’s Attempts to Hack Apple Devices

A report released on Tuesday by The Intercept asserted that researchers within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have been engaged in a “multi-year, sustained effort” to sabotage the security of Apple’s iPhones and iPads, using a variety of methods including creating dummy software targeted towards developers and attempting to crack Apple’s encryption keys. The Intercept based its report on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

According to The Intercept, the researchers discussed ways to exploit security flaws of the devices at a secret annual meeting called the Trusted Computing Base Jamboree. It is claimed that the researchers created a modified version of Xcode, Apple’s development software that is used to create apps. The modified version of Xcode would let the CIA, NSA and other agencies to access apps created by developers using the modified software:

“The researchers boasted that they had discovered a way to manipulate Xcode so that it could serve as a conduit for infecting and extracting private data from devices on which users had installed apps that were built with the poisoned Xcode. In other words, by manipulating Xcode, the spies could compromise the devices and private data of anyone with apps made by a poisoned developer — potentially millions of people.”

The Intercept reported that the researchers had also made efforts to utilize keylogging software, which would record every stroke typed by a user affected by the software.

The documents provided by Snowden do not specify that the CIA’s efforts to break into Apple devices have been successful. The CIA and NSA have not yet responded to The Intercept’s report.

“Spies gonna spy,” Steven Bellovin, a former U.S. Federal Trade Commission chief technologist who is now a professor at Columbia University, told The Intercept. “I’m never surprised by what intelligence agencies do to get information. They’re going to go where the info is, and as it moves, they’ll adjust their tactics. Their attitude is basically amoral: whatever works is OK.”

According to The Intercept, government agencies have desired the continuous ability to “bypass security tools built into wireless devices.” Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, made a pledge last year to protect the privacy of Apple users, especially from all government agencies. On Apple’s website, Cook wrote that “I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

Apple declined to respond to the report from The Intercept, and instead referred the publication to the company’s previous privacy statements.

Former Libertarian gubernatorial candidate argues against Real ID Act

A judge put the brakes on Libertarian Party candidate Adrian Wyllie’s argument against a new Florida driver’s license law on Monday.

Wyllie, who ran unsuccessfully for Florida governor, said that the driver’s license law violated citizens’ privacy.

A Collier, Fla. judge quickly denied his claim.

Wyllie agreed to plead no contest and received a $150 fine, with no probation or jail time.

“I applaud you for trying to fight for your honest conviction,” Collier County Judge Mike Carr said to Wyllie during the hearing.

“I am very disappointed with the outcome here,” said Wyllie after the hearing.

He said a stand had to be taken on Constitutional grounds, saying that new driver’s license requirements, in particular Real ID, is an invasion of privacy. WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral

Senator Joins Americans Questioning the Use of Stingray Cellphone Surveillance

Speaking from the Senate floor, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida discussed how the technology “poses a grave threat to consumers’ cellphone and Internet privacy.” Nelson sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, asking why the company behind the StingRay has been able to secure special restrictions on who has access to details of the devices.

[pull_quote_center]It’s time for us to stand up for the individual citizen of this country and their right to privacy. – Senator Nelson[/pull_quote_center]

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“The Stingray is a brand name of an IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) catcher targeted and sold to law enforcement. A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower—to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not— and tricks your phone into connecting to it. As a result, the government can figure out who, when and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.”

Police officers can use the devices to track your cellphone’s signal.  Once the signal is located the stingray can provide a general location on the map and police officers can drive around (or in one case, walk door to door) until they get a signal from your phone. This has civil liberties advocates up in arms over the potential for misuse of the tools.

Senator Nelson is seeking answers on whether or not the FCC  sought oversight to make sure the devices are being used in the way Harris Corp, the manufacturer of the devices, claimed they would. The Senator also asked for an update from a “task force” formed by the FCC that was supposed to look into the many questions surrounding the use of StingRays and similar devices.

[pull_quote_center]When this device is turned over to local law enforcement, are they being adequately trained on…judicial protections?[/pull_quote_center]

Senator Nelson is the first to discuss the technology on the Senate floor but not the first Senator to seek answers on how the devices are being used. In early January  leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that they were seeking details from the Obama administration regarding federal law enforcement’s use of cell phone surveillance technology. In a bi-partisan letter to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, Senators Patrick Leahy and Chuck Grassley requested more information about a recent policy change by the FBI regarding how surveillance equipment is used. 

Secrecy Around Stingrays

Although the technology has been growing in use, the public’s knowledge has not increased. A heavy veil of secrecy exists between the FBI, the FCC, and Harris Corp. While a small number of journalists and privacy advocates have been researching and filing open records requests, the authorities have continued to stonewall all requests, ensuring that very little information is released to the public.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a report detailing how law enforcement agencies around the United States are actively working to keep the public in the dark about the use of Stingray cellphone surveillance technology. The EFF reviewed a year’s worth of public record requests from various media organizations, and court records related to the government’s use of the tools also known as cell site simulators. The advocacy organization said they were “not just worried about how invasive these devices can be, but also that the government has been less than forthright with judges about how and when they use” stingrays.

In September, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the maker of the Stingray for allegedly misrepresenting information regarding data collection capabilities. According to documents obtained during a Freedom of Information Request by the ACLU of Northern California, Florida-based Harris Corporation misled the FCC about the frequency of use for the Stingray.

In an email from June 24, 2010, an employee with Harris told the FCC that the devices (Stingfish in this case) “purpose is only to provide state/local law enforcement officials with authority to utilize this equipment in emergency situations.” However, the ACLU reports, “records released by the Tallahassee, Florida, Police Department explain that in nearly 200 cases since 2007 where the department used a StingRay, only 29 percent involved emergencies; most of the rest involved criminal investigations in which there was ample time to seek some sort of authorization from a judge.”

There has also been at least once instance where the FBI stepped in to demand that local police departments notify the federal agency when open records requests are filed in relation to the technology. Documents released to the Minnesota Star Tribune show that the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) agreed to  “immediately notify the FBI” if information was requested via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), or other information requests. The 2012 contract shows that Assistant BCA Superintendent David Bjerga agreed the agency “will immediately be provided to the FBI in order to allow sufficient time for the FBI to intervene to protect the equipment/technology and information from disclosure and potential compromise.”

In an incredible exercise over federal authority, the US Marshals intervened in a public records request to the Sarasota Police Department. The ACLU of  Florida was seeking information on the technology when they received a letter claiming that the records were now the Marshals and could not be released.

Even courts have been unwilling or unable to force the release of information. In December a judge in Arizona ruled that the state’s public records law do not require the Tucson Police Department (TPD) to release records related to stingrays, or cell-site simulators.

Another point of contention is the use of non-disclosure agreements by Harris Corp. The corporation and police departments around the nation have been criticized for signing the agreements which allow them to keep quiet on the devices.  Local police departments have become subordinate to Harris and, even in court cases in front of a judge, are not allowed to speak on the details of their arrangements. 

We do know that the technology has made it into the hands of at least 47 agencies in 19 states, according to the ACLU. At least 12 federal agencies are known to use the devices. (Check out this helpful map to find out if your state has them.)

The Houston Police Department has received attention recently after multiple reports (here and here) on the departments use of the tools. The HPD has been using some form of surveillance hardware since at least 2007, according to records obtained by Truthout. However, much like other cities, when HPD Chief Charles McClelland is questioned on Stingrays he refuses to confirm or deny their existence, yet expects the public to accept this reassurances that the department takes proper constitutional protections when using surveillance technology.

There has been some resistance to the secrecy, however. At least one judge has now begun requiring law enforcement agencies to specifically ask for permission when using the technology. The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Pierce County’s 22 Superior Court judges “now require language in pen register applications that spells out police intend to use the device.” Police departments have also begun requesting updated equipment that will upgrade “the Stingray system to track 4G LTE Phones”, as AT&T and other cellular providers prepare to shutdown their 2G networks.

Just last month the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department announced that they would reveal details on how they are using the tools. The news came after an investigation by The Charlotte Observer and pressure from defense attorneys and privacy advocates who feared the police were unfairly targeting innocent bystanders with the technology. The CMPD will also make changes to its program, including disclosing to judges exactly how they track cellphones and allowing those accused of crimes to learn if police used a stingray to arrest them. The Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office will also be releasing the results of a review of hundreds of criminal cases.

Just last week the ACLU in Florida released damning evidence showing that Florida law enforcement agencies have been granting themselves authorization without first getting a warrant based on probable cause. When the departments do pursue a warrant through a judge, they often do not specifically mention the Stingray, or cell site simulator, but rather use vague and generic terms. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has spent more than $3 million on Stingrays since 2008.

Until Americans are properly informed on the existence of cell site simulators, how the technology works, and in what capacity law enforcement are using the tools, we cannot have an informed discussion on the legality of such surveillance. At this point it is imperative that free minds around the country investigate and expose agencies that refuse to honor their constitutional oaths, and commitment to the public. Only from a place of awareness can we empower ourselves and those in our communities.

For more information check out this Guide to Stingray Technology.

Massive New Spy Leak: An Overview

Leaks Out of South Africa Cover Spy Operations Worldwide

by Jason Ditz, February 23, 2015

In what is being called the “largest intelligence leak since Snowden,” media outlets al-Jazeera and The Guardian have obtained hundreds of confidential spy cables leaked out of the South African SSA.

The cables detail SSA correspondence with the CIA, Britain’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, and other nations. The following are the stories that have been released out of the leaks so far.

Mossad Concludes Netanyahu Wrong About Iran’s Nuclear Program
Stories: al-Jazeera, The Guardian

In 2012, Netanyahu declared Iran was a year away from nuclear weapons. Remember the iconic photo of Netanyahu at the UN with the ridiculous cartoon bomb? Weeks later Mossad shared information with the South African government that contradicted the claim, said Iran wasn’t even attempting to produce nuclear arms, and had never tried to enrich any uranium to anywhere near weapons grade.

Of course we knew all that long before Netanyahu made the claim. It seems like Mossad knew it too, but Netanyahu wasn’t going to let facts get in the way of a good speech.

Israel Stole South African Missile Technology
Story: al-Jazeera

In 2010, documents reveal, Israel acquired stolen South African anti-tank missile plans. South African intelligence helped to cover up the theft, and kept prosecutors from releasing information about Israeli involvement when charging the thieves.

South African officials told reporters at the time that Israel had been approached but “was not interested.” The leak shows that not only was Israel interested, it bought the blueprints and Mossad got ahold of them. Mossad agreed to return the plans after they were caught, but only on the condition that Israeli middlemen involved would not be charged.

Abbas Tries to Kill the Goldstone Report
Stories: al-Jazeera, The Guardian

After the 2008-09 Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, Judge Richard Goldstone was charged with investigating and reporting on the war crimes therein. You may remember this, as Israeli officials threatened the UN over the report and accused Goldstone, a South African Jew, of being an anti-semite.

South African cables report that even though Abbas did not, and indeed could not, publicly take a stand, he was privately lobbying against the Goldstone Report, fearing Israel would use it as an excuse to kill the peace process, and also fearing that pointing out war crimes committed against Hamas territory would strengthen Hamas’ bargaining position.

Iran Is No Threat to South Africa, But US Still Forced Them to Monitor Iranian Dealings
Stories: al-Jazeera, The Guardian

Even though South African intelligence openly confirmed Iran posed no “discernible threat” to South African interests, Heavy US pressure forced them to follow through on dubious sanctions, and to dedicate huge amounts of resources to spying on every Iranian diplomat in the nation, as well as a large number of ethnic Persians.

Years of investigations turned up very little, and ended with the conclusion that Iran must not consider Africa a high priority.

CIA Tries to Get Access to Hamas
Story: The Guardian

Even though the US government had banned all contact with Hamas, the CIA sought South African help in establishing contact with Hamas, asking the South African SSA to assist them in gaining access.

MI6 Blocked a South African Company’s Deal With an Iranian Petrochemical Company
Story: The Guardian

South African company Electric Resistance Furnaces (ERFCO) was blocked from a contract with an Iranian petrochemical company by British MI6, which claimed the company was trying to buy equipment for rocket production. ERFCO was never given evidence that the company was doing anything illegal, but was heavily pressured by British intelligence to stop the deals, which they did.

The Federal Government is Storing Hundreds of Millions of American License Plate Records

The American Civil Liberties Union has revealed the existence of a national program operated by the Drug Enforcement Administration  that collects and analyzes license plate information.

According to heavily redacted documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act Requests, the DEA has gathered as many as 343 million records in the National License Plate Recognition program.

The initiative allows the DEA to connect its Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) and collected data with that of law enforcement agencies around the nation. Using the Department of Homeland Security’s Fusion Centers this program only adds to the growing list of data collection by the US government.

ALPR’s are used to gather license plate, time, date and location, that can be used to create a detailed map of what individuals are doing. The devices can be attached to light poles, or toll booths, as well as on top of or inside law enforcement vehicles. In 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that the five previous years the Department of Homeland Security distributed over $50 million in grants to fund the acquisition of license plate readers.

One document shows the DEA has at least 100 license plate readers in eight states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. Law enforcement in Southern California’s San Diego and Imperial Counties and New Jersey are among the agencies providing the DEA with data. The program opened to local and state partners in 2009.

The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is one of the federal agencies working with the DEA. The documents also reveal the program mining license plate reader data “to identify travel patterns.”  The DEA has established 100 license plate readers in eight states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. A 2010 document also explains that the DEA had by then set up 41 plate reader monitoring stations throughout Texas, New Mexico, and California.

The new information came as the result of public records requests, and FOIA requests filed by the ACLU in 2012. The ACLU discussed the specific danger of the federal government using such tools.

“With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that.”

A 2011 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found that of the more than 70 police departments surveyed, 70 percent used ALPR technology and 85 percent expected to be using or increasing use of the technology within the next five years. Some believe that by 2016 as much as 25 percent of police vehicles will come equipped with the cameras.

Government agencies are not the only groups interested in this data, however. Recently, it was discovered that  repossession, or “Repo” companies were using license plate readers to gather data. Once the companies take possession of a vehicle from delinquent owners the companies use the LPR’s to gather data which can then be sold to the highest bidder.

Jennifer Lynch, attorney with the  Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern over the database of information being sold to banks, insurance companies and law enforcement agencies. “These private companies have amassed databases of over a billion records,” she said.

In early 2014, the EFF and the ACLU of Southern California filed the opening brief  in their lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. The lawsuit deals with how the law enforcement agencies are using Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) to gather information. The two watchdog agencies attempted to argue that the two departments are illegally keeping quiet on how the information is used.

Soon after a judge would rule in agreement with with law enforcement, claiming that the data caught by the readers should not be released to the public. The LAPD and LASD argued that 100 percent of the information was part of an investigation and therefore should not be released.

The LAPD and LASD have been called “two of the biggest gatherers of automatic license plate recognition information,” by LA Weekly. The ALPR gather information and officers from the LASD or LAPD can access up to 26 other police agenices in the county as they search for a hit in the system.

I have previously written for on the danger of ALPR’s and “hot lists”.

Departments and officers can create lists of “vehicles of interest” and alert other ALPR users when the vehicle is spotted. Officers can search individuals plates numbers in the ALPR system to track during their shift. There seems to be no prerequisite of reasonable suspicion or a warrant needed to be added to such a list. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department manual on the ALPR offers more insight into the program.

As with many emerging technologies the future is still being written and opportunities for corruption and abuse are plenty. In 2009 the BBC reported on the case of John Cat. Catt is a regular attendee of anti-war protests in his home town, Brighton. His vehicle was tagged by police at one of the events and he was added to a “hotlist”. He said later while on a trip to London he was pulled over by anti-terror police. He was threatened with arrest if he did not cooperate and answer the questions of the police.

A recent investigation by Mudrock and the Boston Globe revealed that the Boston Police Department violated its own policies by failing to follow up on leads that were flagged by the ALPR scans. Public records requests by MudRock found that the BPD also collected information on its own officers. The BPD has reportedly stopped responding to email and phone calls seeking documents that they are required to disclose.”

For more information check out the ACLU’s report “You Are Being Tracked: License Plate Readers Explained”

The Police and the Feds Are Using Radars to See Into Your Home

Law enforcement agencies from around the United States, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the US Marshals Service, are using radar device to look through walls and into the  homes of unsuspecting Americans.

These tools have been in use since at least 2012 and have cost $180,000, according to federal contract records. The radars use radio waves to capture movements such as breathing from more than 50 feet away.

USA Today reported on the devices:

“The device the Marshals Service and others are using, known as the Range-R, looks like a sophisticated stud-finder. Its display shows whether it has detected movement on the other side of a wall and, if so, how far away it is — but it does not show a picture of what’s happening inside. The Range-R’s maker, L-3 Communications, estimates it has sold about 200 devices to 50 law enforcement agencies at a cost of about $6,000 each.”

Some of the more advanced radars are capable of displaying three-dimensional images of where people are located in a building. Others are made to be mounted on drones. The tools themselves use radio waves to zero in on movements. This includes something as taking a breath from more than 50 feet away.

Privacy and legal issues are now being raised in relation to the technology. Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist, told USA Today, “The idea that the government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what’s inside is problematic. Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that officers cannot use technology to peek inside the house of an individual without first securing a search warrant. The high court specifically mentioned thermal cameras and radar-based systems.  In December a federal appeals judge in Denver helped bring the issues to light by exposing the use of the radar. Officers used a radar to look into the home a of a man who was wanted for a parole violation. The judge stated that “the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.”

Like many other tools being used by local police and a host of federal agencies, the radars originated in Iraq and Afghanistan. As part of the federal 1033 program they have seen action on the battlefield and now on the streets of America.

Americans are now faced with monitoring and surveillance from Stingray Cell Site Simulators, Automatic License Plate Readers (this and this),  Fusion Centers, snooping on the internet, “Gun Shot Detector” recording devices, and much more. Is this what freedom looks like?

DEA Kept Secret Database of Americans’ Phone Calls

Collected Calls to Countries ‘Linked to Drug Trafficking’

by Jason Ditz, January 16, 2015

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was revealed to have conducted secret surveillance of Americans’ phone calls overseas, in an operation that was totally separate from the already publicized NSA program.
The Justice Department revealed the secret database in a criminal case this week, saying the DEA had been collecting information about Americans who were making calls to “certain countries” that they’d linked to drug trafficking.

The scope of the program remains uncertain, as only its base existence was revealed in the case, and the fact that Iran was one of the countries targeted in the program.

The program was active for years, though the Justice Department claims they ended the program in September of 2013. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D – VT) is pressing for additional information on the scheme.

GOP Senators Cite Paris Shooting To Rally Against Curbing NSA Power

Several Republican Senators warned against hindering the National Security Agency’s capabilities in Washington last week, and have called for strengthening the NSA in response to the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris last week.

“I hope the effect of that is that people realize… the pendulum has swung way too far after [leaker Edward Snowden],” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who was recently elected as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, regarding public opinion about the NSA’s authority following the Paris shooting. “Hopefully people realize that the NSA plays a very, very important role in keeping Americans safe, and my guess there will be less of a desire to hamstring them unnecessarily,” Corker told reporters last week.

Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who was recently named chairman of the Intelligence Committee, criticized the Obama administration for failing to rally public support of gathering intelligence, saying that Obama’s past language “does not adequately convey to the American people how severe the threat is from terrorism and that public support of what our intelligence committee does is really crucial to the long term effectiveness of our entire community.”

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said that budget cuts to agencies such as the NSA have hindered intelligence gathering. “I know that the NSA has been thwarted in their capabilities because of sequestration,” McCain said. “They have not been able to do many of the things they have wanted to do because of the impact of sequestration.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has been remarkably vocal in his fear of future terror attacks and criticism of the Obama administration for its performance in dealing with extremist groups. “I fear we can expect and must prepare for more attacks like this in the future,” Graham tweeted.

In a statement, Graham said that “Through a combination of poor policy choices made by the Obama Administration regarding detention and interrogation policies, and budget cuts approved by the Congress with President Obama’s support, I believe our national security infrastructure designed to prevent these types of attacks from occurring is under siege.”

The USA Freedom Act, an NSA reform bill, was rejected by the Senate last November. Many Republicans had voted against the bill fearing that reforms to the NSA, even those that ended bulk phone data collection of innocent Americans, would leave the US vulnerable to terror attacks. In the next five months, Congress is slated to reauthorize a portion of the Patriot Act that authorizes the NSA to collect the phone data of virtually all Americans without a warrant.

Senator Rand Paul, (R-KY), said that he’s in favor of the NSA but “I think the American people are not in favor of having all their phone data collected without a warrant.”

NSA Chief Pushes Bill Granting New Powers

Ruppersberger Reintroduces CISPA, Citing North Korea

by Jason Ditz, January 09, 2015
For years privacy advocates have been pushing against the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which eliminates all privacy protections on the sharing of private information so long as it is done for “cybersecurity purposes.”

CISPA has failed in the past, but is back again, with Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D – MD), its longtime advocate, reintroducing it and citing the hack of Sony Pictures, putatively by North Korea, as justification for new powers.

The NSA is understandably all over this as well, since it will give the companies it works with carte blanche to share data with them without legal ramifications so long as they can play the cybersecurity card.

It is the eagerness for government agencies to get these new powers and access to information that is likely informing their decision to blame North Korea for the Sony hack, as a foreign attack would be a far better sell for granting them new powers than the likely facts, that Sony was attacked by a disgruntled former employee and a handful of other hackers.

Amash: Most “Egregious” Violation of Privacy Law Just Passed By Congress

With next to no debate, Congress may have quietly passed a bill authorizing the executive branch access to nearly all communications by Americans.

Congressman Justin Amash attempted to rally members of Congress against the bill saying it is one of the most egregious attacks on rule of law that he has seen since becoming a member of Congress.

Ben Swann has more on the legislation and how it managed to be passed with almost no one noticing.

New Illinois “Eavesdropping Law” Distorts Ability To Record Law Enforcement

A new anti-eavesdropping bill, which would replace a former law that had been struck down as unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in March, passed the state’s House and Senate last week. The new legislation has been identified by proponents as reform aimed at protecting private conversations, but the imprecise language contained in the law could create new confusion regarding the ability of citizens to record encounters with police and public officials.

The state’s previous law had prohibited the recording of any conversation without consent from all parties involved, which was presumed to protect private conversations from being documented. However, the law applied to all conversations that were unreasonably expected to be private, and one critical consequence of the law was the inability to record interaction with law enforcement and other government officials for the sake of “privacy”.

The old statute criminalized “the recording of conversations that cannot be deemed private: a loud argument on the street, a political debate on a college quad, yelling fans at an athletic event, or any conversation loud enough that the speakers should expect to be heard by others,” according to the court’s opinion. “None of these examples implicate privacy interests, yet the statute makes it a felony to audio record each one.”

The new bill was introduced on December 2nd as an amendment to another existing, unrelated bill. All of the content of the unrelated bill was removed and then replaced with the restrictions on recording.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), a sponsor of the new bill, said that “The most important thing the bill does is to restore Illinois to a standard that requires everyone in a private conversation to consent to a recording” and claimed the bill satisfies “the Supreme Court requirement by limiting that to conversations where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Although the Associated Press has reported that the new bill “attempts to protect people from surreptitious and improper recording of their conversations without infringing on the rights of others to disseminate what others say,” independent research organization Illinois Policy Institute has criticized this new bill’s obscure wording, calling the new version “nearly as bad as the old one.”

According to the Illinois Policy Institute, “Under the new bill, a citizen could rarely be sure whether recording any given conversation without permission is legal. The bill would make it a felony to surreptitiously record any ‘private conversation,’ which it defines as any ‘oral communication between 2 or more persons,’ where at least one person involved had a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy.” Illinois Policy noted that the law does not clarify when someone should have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and does not explain what qualifies as a “public encounter”.

The new bill would classify unlawful recording of police, an attorney general, assistant attorney general, state’s attorney, assistant state’s attorney or a judge a Class 3 felony, which can result in a 2-4 year prison sentence. Unlawful recording of a citizen would be classified as a Class 4 felony, which could result in 1-3 years in prison. A felony conviction and subsequent prison sentence has the ability to deter people from recording encounters, especially if they are unsure when it is legal to record conversations.

The bill currently awaits the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn. It is available to read here.

Obama Extends NSA Spying Powers Yet Again

Nine Months Later, Promises of Reform Still Unmet

by Jason Ditz, December 08, 2014
Back in March, Attorney General Eric Holder was promising that the Justice Department was on track to reform the NSA surveillance powers by the deadline of March 28, less than two weeks later. It didn’t happen.
A 90-day extension came and went, and then another 90-day extension was tacked on to that, pushing the deadline for the reform of the mass surveillance to December 5.This time, when the deadline rolled around there was so little expectation of actual reform that its approach was barely even covered. Even the administration seemingly gave it a miss over the weekend Unsurprisingly, it was extended yet again with no real hint of reforms coming.

Other than a brief, failed attempt to pass a toothless version of a reform bill in the Senate, the notion that NSA mass surveillance is ever going to get altered in a meaningful way is looking more dubious all the time.

The statement expressed support for working with the new, more pro-surveillance Congress on “reforms,” which will be even weaker than the last failed bill. Though there are still some in Congress pushing against the wholesale data mining to the American public, for now it seems that extending the deadline indefinitely is simply the new normal.

Truth in Media: A Constitutional Republic Allows Us To Take Back Power From Government

It has been all of 10 weeks since Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor revealed the collection of information on hundreds of millions of Americans by the NSA.

10 weeks and the fallout for the NSA could be just the beginning thanks to what appears to be a growing push for restoring American liberty.

The first step towards truth is to be informed.

Since Edward Snowden revealed the collection of American phone and email records and conversations, there has been debate throughout the country, debate in the media, debate among politicians and debate among the public.

How much is too much?

Right now, members of Congress are considering 11 legislative measures that would on some level reign in the National Security Agency.

The proposals range from entirely defunding the NSA, to repealing or rolling back the bills that the NSA claim give them the power and authority to spy on Americans who have committed no crime. Remember, the NSA has claimed that the prism program is authorized by the FISA and Patriot Acts.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the author of the Patriot Act is one of those who wants the NSA brought into line. Sensenbrenner says that the way the NSA has interpreted the Patriot Act was never envisaged when it was passed.

But what Sensenbrenner now claims is necessary is for the NSA to be blocked from spying on Americans, and accessing phone and email records without a warrant and without some legal justification.

Congressman Sensenbrenner and the rest of Congress had their chance to move exactly that kind of control forward.

The Republican Congressman from Michigan, Justin Amash authored an amendment to the Defense appropriations bill just weeks ago.

It was called the Amash/Conyers Amendment, also called the Liberty Amendment and it attempted to ban the NSA from collecting the anonymous telephone and email records of Americans who are not under investigation for any crime.

Amash argues that the NSA is violating the Fourth Amendment, which guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Both Republicans and Democrats got behind the Amash amendment but others did not and the amendment failed by a narrow margin of 217-205.

So you might ask…why didn’t more members of Congress get behind this amendment? One of those who did not is Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann.

She stood against the amendment saying,

“We need to win the war on terror and defeat the goals and aims of Islamic jihad and for that reason I will be voting no on Representative Amash’s amendment,”

Amash argues that the NSA cannot legally seize a company such as Verizon’s phone records because it violates an individual’s privacy rights.

But Congresswoman Bachmann says that is not true. “There is no expectation of privacy,”

she says, technically, the government is requesting to see a business’s internal records, which is what the NSA does.
“Individuals do not own the records, the records do not belong to the individual,” but the phone company itself. “There’s no Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy on right to the business records exception.”

But that point is debatable. The “government”, for instance, the IRS isn’t asking to see Verizon’s financials. In this case the NSA is demanding access to private information and despite what Congresswoman Bachmann says, that information is not Verizon’s alone. It is information that is gathered under a contract agreement with the customer and nothing in the terms of service agreement explicitly states that government agencies will be reviewing that personal information.

Interesting that Congresswoman Bachmann who believes that Obamacare is a huge intrusion into the private lives of Americans does not believe that Verizon customers have a right to privacy.

But what you need to know actually goes back to what Congressman Sensenbrenner said about the Patriot Act.

Remember, I told you that he claims he had no idea the Patriot Act would be used in this way by the NSA. Well that is the lesson that needs to come from all this.

The Patriot Act was rushed into law just after September 11th, 2001 as Congress threw its hands in the air and decided that safety was more important than liberty. Government agencies took a law that allowed the Constitution to be trampled and handed a blank check to government agencies. 12 years later, we’re surprised that the feds are abusing that power?
Some people say that once you give government a power they will never give it back and that is true. But that doesn’t mean that power can’t be taken back. That is the beauty of a constitutional republic.

NSA’s Criminal Activity


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Read for yourself, Patriot Act section 215:


Patriot Act