Tag Archives: National Security

Day 2 of revelations: This time it’s the Internet that’s under surveillance

“Stunned, Angry. Fighting back against the NSA.”

That was the subject line of an email I received today from the EFF following on from yesterdays disclosure that the NSA is grabbing all the telephony data of Verizon and more than likely others as well. Today it doesn’t get better for those of you who have privacy concerns and were outraged by the revelations, in fact it gets considerably worse. Both the Washington Post and the Guardian have reported on another Top Secret program called PRISM which allows the NSA to monitor all internet communications IN REAL TIME.

Justification

The director of National Intelligence, James R. Clapper had this to say:

“The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans”.

He then goes on to say that the reports “contain numerous inaccuracies” without expanding on the point which is a little pointless as it’s all supposed to be Top Secret so there is no chance of the public knowing what those inaccuracies are thus making it a moot point.

To Mr Clapper I have this to say, if it’s entirely legal then why hide it? The reporting of this practice is “reprehensible” and yet the White House and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court deem it necessary to withhold such information from the public? I’d say that’s more reprehensible.

Of course it is all about protecting citizens, whilst single-handedly doing away with any privacy that they had and so it should be allowed (*sarcasm*). There is so much wrong with his quote that it angers me. The contempt that is shown is rather profound in my opinion and it just comes across as “we know best”, insulting the intelligence of millions of people. Now the caveat is I am sure there are many different threats that need to be stopped and I do not envy the security services but there are ways and means and secret programs is not it.

Non-US citizens only – what it means for the rest of the world

The justification gets better later on in the statement. As a way to try and stop the inevitable outrage and rather strong criticisms Clapper states:

“They involve extensive procedures, specifically approved by the court, to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted, and that minimize the acquisition, retention and dissemination of incidentally acquired information about U.S. persons”.

Great! So now it’s only the rest of the world who is being monitored by US intelligence agencies, not Americans themselves so that’s fine. Oh wait…it’s not! If the report is true and I have no reason to believe it’s not, then it implies the following companies are involved: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple. Let’s be realistic here, which country are you aware of that doesn’t use those services on a daily basis? So any other citizen of the world is supposed to just accept this overreaching surveillance program? Arguably the biggest in the world? I sure hope not. It is important to note here, for reasons of accuracy and fairness, that all of the aforementioned companies refute the suggestion that they are going along with this and disclose such information voluntarily.

The statement is also carefully worded with such words as “minimize” and “incidentally acquired”. In short… US citizens are going to be caught up in this as well whether they like it or not, they’ll just do they best not to retain and use it. What about US citizens abroad, does this mean they are fair game? And unless I am missing something what about the homegrown threats that have occurred since 9/11?

Legal?

Whilst the practice might be legal it is done by entities such as the executive, a secret court that rarely publicly publishes its findings and a part of congress which is held in closed session. So much power seems to be concentrated with very little oversight.

What’s next?

My sincere hope is that there is such an outcry and uproar over this news that citizens demand action and there is an unveiling of secrecy around the entire program. There is talk that members of congress intend on putting forward a bill to try and prevent this or at least reduce and curb the power of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. I think it is vital that we let the powers that be that this is not ok. I am not saying that there can’t be compromise but do it in the right way and you might actually have support for the final solution.

Finally how does it affect me?

Well not that I am surprised but any communications that I send back home or that are sent to me are more than likely to have been intercepted by the NSA. My Skype calls will all have been monitored though it’s still not clear if that means the entire content of the call but alas it doesn’t appear that right now there is anything I can do about it but suck it up. I am hopeful that others will for me though – the EFF and ACLU will be heavily involved in fighting this on a national level. Oh and after writing this article I think the idea that I could work for the government or intelligence services are pretty slim! Corporate world for me it is afterall.

Once again…let us know your thoughts and if and how you intend to respond.

National security trumps privacy rights – Verizon forced to hand over telephony data

According to a Top Secret court order, obtained by the Guardian newspaper, one of the biggest US telephone companies has been forced to hand over “telephony metadata” on an ongoing daily basis to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Verizon have to comply with the order which means that they need to provide a list of records of all calls made through their firm in the US. This includes the telephone number of the caller and recipient, the time and duration of the call and also unique identifying information about the phone itself. It stresses that this does NOT include the CONTENT of the call (so what was actually said) or any personal information of the subscriber or customer of that call. Something sound familiar here? It should – it’s basically the same as what the UK government wants to pass in order to “protect National Security”. It is something I recently wrote about here.

What’s even more alarming about this though is the order comes from a court that is held in secret and the order that was made is a gagging order which states that Verizon isn’t allowed to make public any knowledge of this. It was made after an application from the FBI and the information is to be sent to the NSA.

Privacy advocates are outraged after hearing the news with former Vice-President Al Gore even weighing in on the debate. He tweeted

“In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also spoke fiercely against it in the following press release which includes such comments as

“From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies”.

The ACLU are up in court soon to try to find out more information about the “secret interpretation” of the White House when it comes to this type of order. Early July there will be oral arguments in the Southern District of New York. I would love to be there to this played out in court.

It is clear that there is now going to be a real public debates on National Security vs Privacy rights in the US. From a UK perspective, it couldn’t have come at a better time, or worse depending on your viewpoint. It remains to be seen whether such an order will be rescinded but it’s highly unlikely and as yet there has been no formal comment by the White House. I am fairly confident however that there will be an investigation launched to find out who leaked this court order, which is in itself an offense.

I believe while it is vital that we protect national security, we do so in a way that doesn’t diminish who we are or our values. Surveilling our citizens constantly might protect and prevent some attacks, it might not as well. I don’t believe that is enough justification to try and use the methods that are currently being deployed or at least thought of in the Western world. We live in a free, fair, open and democratic society but it’s increasingly worrying about the potential for a possible police state. There is a balancing act, there are no easy answers but I am yet to be convinced that this is the right way to go about it.

We wait and see with interest what will happen but what’s your thoughts? Are you happy with this as long as you think it is helping to protect your security and doesn’t give them your personal information or is this yet another broad overreach that goes against a countries democratic values? Let us know your opinions.

Finally the long awaited court martial begins…

So the long awaited court martial of Pte Bradley Manning has begun in the US. Pte Manning has already pleaded guilty to 10 of the 22 charges but is ready to defend himself against the charge of “aiding the enemy”. This court martial has been one of the most anticipated and long awaited cases that I can remember, most likely due to the massive scale of what happened, the reaction of the US government and the massive media coverage that followed the release.

For those that don’t know, Pte Manning was the person who handed the information to Wikileaks back in 2010 and then the disclosures began, ranging from private diplomatic communications to battlefield reports. The prosecution is going to argue that such disclosures were of “great value” to the enemy  with Osama Bin Laden apparently benefitting from them, that they hurt the national interests of the US and endangered American lives. Manning’s supporters however lay claim that he was a whistleblower with a strong conscience and that he should be protected by those laws and found not guilty.

As it’s a court martial rather than a civilian trial, Pte Manning has elected to be tried by a judge rather than a jury. I would argue that’s probably a smart move as a judge has to be impartial and hear the arguments whereas even though a jury should be, you can understand why perhaps a jury could have already made up their minds in this case given the publicity.

In order to be found guilty of the most severe offense the prosecution has to prove that Manning INTENDED to “aide the enemy” and KNOWINGLY gave such adversaries US intelligence information. Regardless of what you think about the situation, that is going to be a hard sell. It’s quite a stretch to turn around and say that by whistle blowing he helped the enemy. I would argue that, perhaps, it was an unintended consequence but I am reluctant to believe it was deliberate based on what I have read and know thus far. Admittedly I am only going on what is public knowledge at this stage.

The other major point in all of this is what are the consequences of him being found guilty? What would it mean to others who wanted to become a whistleblower and leak classified information in the future if there was a legitimate reason to? Nowadays we live in a very connected world. News travels very fast and goes international quickly so it’s very difficult to contain. You would not be able to keep something off the internet and once it’s on there, it’s basically impossible to get off. Does this mean that if anybody were to attempt such a thing in the future they would be prosecuted? What would have happened about the Watergate scandal? This case and judgement could have far reaching and unintended consequences. We have to ensure that there are protections in place to make sure that there is an avenue there.

I will be keeping a close eye on this case so stay tuned for updates…