Tag Archives: NSA

Weekly summary of the controversies of PRISM

Trying to write up a summary of the weeks events relating to PRISM is not easy. As I started writing this an email came in from a friend telling me about another revelation in today’s Guardian newspaper and that brings me nicely onto my first point.

More classified material to come…

We don’t know when this will end. It is obvious that there are still some more very revealing stories to be told yet and the Guardian are going to do a trip feed approach. You can hardly blame them for this. The question is what on earth could there be? Well it appears that GCHQ (the equivalent of America’s NSA) were spying on foreign dignitaries during the G20 summit in London back in 2009. I don’t intend on going into much detail about this as it deserves its own piece but it shows that the PRISM and related programs are very far reaching.

Snowden has also spoke about how the US has been hacking certain Chinese institutions and launching cyber attacks there. This is obviously going to be yet another embarrassment to the White House especially given the recent summit between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart in California. One thing is clear – China has gone from being indifferent to the scandal to very interested indeed. It also brings into question though what Snowdens intentions are? This moves away from the philosophical idea that it was purely to spark a debate on citizens liberty, privacy and freedoms and more into the realm of politics.

Declassified information by NSA

What I have found interesting, and it is a stark difference to the past, is how the intelligence services have declassified information so that they can provide further details to back up their claims. I cannot remember a time in the past when this has been the case. The cynic would have you believe that they are only providing the information they want you to know and the rest will remain “classified” to “protect national security” which therefore alleviates the ability to have a full and open debate on the issue that the White House says is keen to see. Furthermore there was a closed doors briefing given to the entire Senate last week. Very few details have emerged from it though other than some senators obviously feeling that the NSA are right in their actions.

Snowden unable to enter the UK

Another telling sign that the British government are worried is that an alert has been issued by the Risk and Liaison Overseas Network at the UK Border Agency which is ultimately governed by the Home Office. This procedure is normally used when a person already has clearance to enter the country either by already holding a valid visa or not needing a visa due to an agreement between the UK and the citizens country. The alert stated that airlines would be liable to a £2,000 charge which is in the form of a fine. On top of that the airline responsible would be liable for the costs of the persons detention and removal. This is valid under Section 40 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

The apparent justification for the alert is because Snowden is apparently “highly likely to be denied entry to the UK“, although they do not state why. I would assume, having looked through the immigration rules, specifically part 9 that deals with refusing entry, that the reason would fall under the following category:

(6) where the Secretary of State has personally directed that the exclusion of a person from the United Kingdom is conducive to the public good;

I have to reiterate though that this is only an assumption and a personal opinion as nobody knows the reason behind it given that it’s not been disclosed. You can also find out more information about it here.

Disclosures from Technology companies on requests

Finally we have the disclosures from the various different technology companies stating how many requests they had received. The government have not given them permission to break it down into sub categories so currently they are unable to say how many relate to FISA requests. Google are fighting this saying:

We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users.

and they have the support of Twitter as well with their Legal Director, Benjamin Lee tweeting

We agree with @Google: It’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests—including FISA disclosures—separately.

But in the meantime we know the following:

  • Facebook said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests covering between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.
  • Microsoft said it received between 6,000 and 7,000 requests from US government agencies affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 customer accounts.
  • Apple said it received requests for information linked to between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices between December and the end of May.

Whilst that may be a sizable chuck, it’s not as bad as I was expecting to be honest. I hope that it can be broken down into more specific categories so we can gain a better understand.

I wonder what this week will bring…

Why PRISM is not Obama’s greatest moment but there’s still hope

Coming from someone who is a staunch Democrat and a strong liberal, it saddens me to see the position that President Obama has taken regarding the NSA leaks. Over the past four years I have defended him constantly when people have thrown shots at him but now I find myself in the precarious position of agreeing with his detractors. I’ve gone from a supporter to question what on earth he is doing and what damage has been done?

I feel angry at his broken promises, barefaced lies and downright foolish behavior. My anger probably stems from the statement attributed to the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden when he said

the election of Barack Obama in 2008 gave hope that there would be real reforms.

When these reforms were not forthcoming Snowden got disillusioned and he

watched as Obama advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.

It was with this in mind that he made the decision to go ahead and make, very publicly, the knowledge that he had knowing full well what might happen to him. For anyone who hasn’t read the article where he discusses and justifies his actions then I encourage you to do so. It can be found here.

Snowden is currently in Hong Kong waiting to see what his fate may be. Personally I hope that he is classed as a whistleblower and offered the protections that I think he deserves. The overreach of this surveillance program goes against the very fabric of American society and its values. He was right to make this public and yet now he has the most powerful government in the world after him. I’m glad I’m not in his situation but I will say he is brave and unlike Obama seems to practice what he preaches. There is already an internet movement to back him with a petition being created offering him a full and frank pardon by the White House.

How can Obama get up in a morning, look at himself in the mirror and say he is being true to himself and to his party? He is right when he says that you cannot have 100% security and 100% privacy and of course there should be compromise but he is gravely mistaken if he believes that he has reacted that balance with his actions.

I am not of the belief that his presidency is over though. He has always been a man of great strength, character and reason. Now is the time to show it by admitting you made a mistake, having a real open and honest debate and shaping the future with the American people included. After all Mr President you work on behalf of the people!

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.