Press freedom advocates have obtained and released federal government documents detailing an invasive process officials can use to spy on journalists. (Photo: ACLU)
Journalists and free press advocates are responding with alarm to newly released documents revealing the U.S. government’s secret rules for using Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders to spy on reporters, calling the revelations “important” and “terrifying.”
The documents—obtained and released by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University through an ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed last November—confirm long held suspicions that federal officials can target journalists with FISA orders. Continue reading →
MintPress speaks with legal expert and law professor Ryan Alford, who warns that hidden within the recent Supreme Court ruling on the Trump administration’s “Muslim travel ban” is a massive power giveaway to the executive branch that allows any president to order the mass detention of American citizens without worrying about a challenge from the courts.
Though the recent Supreme Court ruling on Trump vs. Hawaii, which upholds President Trump’s “Muslim ban,” has been widely covered by the press, very few outlets – if any – have explored some truly unnerving implications hidden within the court’s majority opinion. In order to explore these implications further, MintPress spoke to Ryan Alford, Associate Professor at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law and author of Permanent State of Emergency: Unchecked Executive Power and the Demise of the Rule of Law.
MPN: Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, talks a lot about whether the judicial branch even has the authority to rule over executive orders like Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban.” Is he accurate in asserting that the Supreme Court has limited authority in this matter or is this another power giveaway to the executive branch? Continue reading →
“The most important surveillance story you will see for years just went online, revealing how AT&T became the internet’s biggest enemy, secretly collaborating against its customers and partners to destroy your privacy.”
That was how whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden reacted to the publication of an explosive story by The Intercept on Monday, which reveals for the first time how “fortress-like” AT&T buildings located in eight major American cities have played a central role in a massive National Security Agency (NSA) spying program “that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory.” Continue reading →
Critics warns that proposed federal legislation “would let police access our data without having to comply with the Fourth Amendment.” (Photo: Fight for the Future/Twitter)
Civil libertarians and digital rights advocates are alarmed about an “insidious” and “dangerous” piece of federal legislation that the ACLU warns “threatens activists abroad, individuals here in the U.S., and would empower Attorney General Sessions in new disturbing ways.”
The Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data or CLOUD Act (S. 2383 and H.R. 4943), as David Ruiz at Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains, would establish a “new backdoor for cross-border data [that] mirrors another backdoor under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, an invasive NSA surveillance authority for foreign intelligence gathering” recently reauthorized by Congress. Continue reading →
“It seems rather odd, to put that mildly,” wrote journalist Glenn Greenwald, “to simultaneously insist that Trump is a traitorous agent or enslaved tool of an adversarial foreign power to whom he reports back, and then vote to give Trump extremely invasive, largely unchecked domestic spying power.” (Image: EFF)
Despite spending much of the last twelve months denouncing the legitimate threat posed by President Donald Trump’s penchant for authoritarian policies and behavior, 65 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday joined with 191 Republicans in passing a bill that advocates of civil liberties warn will lead to the wholesale violation ‘of privacy rights for everyone in the United States.’
While the final vote on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (or S.139)—which included renewal of the controversial Section 702 which allows government agencies to spy on the emails, text messages, and other electronic communications of Americans and foreigners without a warrant—was 256 to 164 in favor of passage, the partisan breakdown revealed that Republicans in the majority needed a great deal of Democratic support in order to have it pass.Continue reading →
“Like with the tax bill and healthcare, House Republicans are now trying to pass an awful NSA surveillance expansion bill within hours of releasing the text and with zero debate,” Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm warned in a tweet on Tuesday. (Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr/cc)
Civil libertarians and internet freedom groups declared tentative victory on Wednesday after House Republicans announced that they have—at least for now—abandoned efforts to sneak through a measure that would have reauthorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and vastly expanded NSA spying powers.
A number of prominent groups and public figures—including Fight for the Future, the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF), and Edward Snowden—have been working to call attention to the legislation in recent days amid the flurry of tax and budget developments. Continue reading →
Free Chelsea Manning.Grafitti in Vienna, Austria, 2014. Wikicommons/smuconlaw.
On January 17, 2017, whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence was commuted to seven years from her date of arrest, in one of President Obama’s last acts before leaving office. At the time of her commutation, Private Manning had spent more time behind bars than any other person in US history who had disclosed information considered to be in the public interest.
The information leaked by Chelsea Manning – videos, diplomatic cables and reports relating to the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan – exposed corruption and human rights abuses, and is widely regarded to have been a catalyst for the Arab Spring that began in December 2010. Continue reading →
Snowden and others react to new allegations that Yahoo scanned all of its customers incoming emails last year on behalf of the government. (Image: Esther Vargas/flickr/cc)
In an astounding and “unprecedented” new account of U.S. government surveillance,Reutersreported Tuesday that Yahoo secretly scanned all of its customer’s incoming emails for a specific set of characters, per request of the National Security Agency (NSA) or FBI.
The news agency broke the investigation after speaking with “two former employees and a third person apprised of the events,” who described how the email giant complied with the vast government directive and built a custom software program to scan hundreds of millions of accounts for a “specific set of characters.” Continue reading →
Shadow Brokers posted online some examples of the data it said it had stolen, including scripts and instructions for breaking through firewall protection. Cybersecurity analysts poring over that information are confident that the material is in fact from Equation Group. This news raises a bigger question: What are the consequences if the Equation Group – and by extension the NSA – were actually hacked?
What has been breached?
The NSA holds a massive amount of data, including information on U.S. citizens’ and foreign nationals’ phone calls, social connections, emails, web-browsing sessions, online searches and other communications. How much data? NSA’s Utah data center alone is reported to have a storage capacity of 5 zetabytes – 1 trillion gigabytes. However, judging from what has been made public of what has been stolen by Shadow Brokers, this massive data trove has not been breached.
The Shadow Brokers have claimed to have copies of this software and information on security vulnerabilities the NSA uses in its attacks, including instructions for breaking into computer networks. If true, these would be of very high strategic value to someone seeking to defend against cyberattacks, or wanting to conduct their own.
If the material Shadow Brokers have stolen can link cyberattacks on Gazprom, Aeroflot and other Russian targets with the NSA, Russia can argue to the international community that the U.S. is not an innocent victim, as it claims to be. That could weaken support for its sanctions proposal.
Russia and China, among other adversaries, have used similar evidence in this way in the past. Edward Snowden’s revelation of the U.S. PRISM surveillance program, monitoring vast amounts of internet traffic, became an important turning point in China-U.S. cyberrelations. Commenting on the NSA’s alleged hacking of China’s major mobile companies and universities, an editorial in China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency noted: “These, along with previous allegations, are clearly troubling signs. They demonstrate that the United States, which has long been trying to play innocent as a victim of cyberattacks, has turned out to be the biggest villain in our age.”
In general, allegations and counterallegations have been persistent themes in Chinese-American interactions about cybercrimes and cybersecurity. China’s approach shifted toward more offensive strategies following Snowden’s revelation of the PRISM surveillance program. It is likely that this hack of cyberweapons may provide China and other U.S. adversaries with even more solid evidence to prove American involvement in cyberattacks against foreign targets.
Cyberattack tools now more widely available
There are other dangers too. Hackers now have access to extremely sophisticated tools and information to launch cyberattacks against military, political and economic targets worldwide. The NSA hack thus may lead to further insecurity of cyberspace.
The attack is also further proof of the cybersecurity industry’s axiom about the highly asymmetric probabilities of successful attack and successful defense: Attackers need to succeed only once; defenders have to be perfect every time. As sophisticated as NSA’s highly secure network is, the agency cannot ever fully protect itself from cyberattackers. Either these attackers have already gotten in, or some other group will be the first to do so in the future.
Actors with fewer financial and technical resources can compromise high-value targets. What will come of this attack remains to be seen, but the potential for profound and wide-ranging, even global, effects is clear.