Tag Archives: NSA

Taking Short Break From Denouncing Trump Authoritarianism, House Dems Join With GOP to ‘Violate the Privacy Rights of Everyone in United States’

“Democratic leadership in the House—who say that Trump is currently abusing his power to go after his political enemies—just helped him pass dangerous domestic surveillance powers.”

By Jon Queally, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 1-11-2018

“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

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Victory for Civil Liberties as GOP Push to Expand NSA Spying Declared Dead—For Now

“Just like that, in less than 12 hours, last-ditch efforts to cram an NSA surveillance expansion bill were delayed—and possibly derailed. Your voices are heard. Keep it up.”

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for CommonDreams. Published 12-20-2017

“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

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Why whistleblowers are essential to democracy

In a functioning democracy, it is absolutely crucial for power to be held to account. For this we need whistleblowers.

By Rebecca Sentance. Published 2-3-2017 by openDemocracy

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

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Obama Went Unchallenged, Now Donald Trump Will Have a ‘Kill List’

‘Instead of dismantling the surveillance state and war machine, the Obama administration and Democrats institutionalized it—and it will soon be in the hands of a maniac’

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-10-2016

"Obama had a kill list," wrote journalist Jeremy Scahill on Twitter. "Now Trump will." (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

“Obama had a kill list,” wrote journalist Jeremy Scahill on Twitter. “Now Trump will.” (Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr/cc)

Powers that went largely unchallenged during the Obama administration are now in the hands of President-elect Donald Trump—and that’s a frightening prospect.

From expanding mass surveillance to justifying drone kill lists, President Barack Obama “not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them,” as commentator and law professor Jonathan Turley wrote in 2011. Continue reading

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‘Shameful’: Yahoo Spied on Email Customers at Government’s Request

Rights groups said the news proves “the failure of U.S. government reforms to curb NSA’s tendency to try and indiscriminately vacuum up the world’s data.”

By Lauren McCauley and Deirdre Fulton, staff writers for Common Dreams. Published 10-4-2016

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)

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,Reuters reported 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

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After the NSA hack: Cybersecurity in an even more vulnerable world

Nir Kshetri, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

Cybersecurity just got even more difficult. Charis Tsevis/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Cybersecurity just got even more difficult. Charis Tsevis/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

It is looking increasingly likely that computer hackers have in fact successfully attacked what had been the pinnacle of cybersecurity – the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). A few days ago, reports began emerging of claims by a hacking group called the Shadow Brokers that it had breached the network of, and accessed critical digital content from, computers used by the Equation Group. This attracted more than the usual amount of attention because the Equation Group is widely believed to be a spying element of the NSA.

It is possible – perhaps even likely – that Shadow Brokers is a group of hackers linked to the Russian government.

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.

Hacked: the world’s best cyberintelligence agency. National Security Agency

But the NSA’s other key digital asset is a collection of very sophisticated, often custom-designed, hacking, analysis and surveillance software. The agency uses these tools to break into computer networks at home and abroad to spy on specific targets and the public at large.

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.

What is the Equation Group?

The Equation Group has been closely watched since its existence was first revealed in an early 2015 report by security researchers at Kaspersky Lab, a Russian-based computer security company. Cyberattacks using the Equation Group’s signature methods have been carried out since 2001, using extremely specific customized techniques.

In addition to engineering the attacks to ensure a very low risk of detection, they maintain a close watch on their targets to ensure their surveillance does in fact go undetected. And the number of targets they choose is very small – tens of thousands of computers as opposed to the hundreds of thousands or even tens of millions of machines hacked in other major attacks.

Equation Group’s targets included government and diplomatic institutions, companies in diverse sectors as well as individuals in more than 30 countries.

Kaspersky Lab reports that China and Russia are among the countries most infected by the Equation Group’s hacking tools. Among the alleged targets were the Russian natural gas company Gazprom and the airline Aeroflot. Likewise, China’s major mobile companies and universities were allegedly victimized by the NSA.

Who hacks whom?

Cyberweapons and their capabilities are becoming an increasing part of international relations, forming part of foreign policy decisions and even sparking what has been called a “cyber arms race.”

The Shadow Brokers attack may be a part of this global interplay. The U.S. government is considering economic sanctions against Russia, in response to the alleged cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee computers by two Russian intelligence agencies. Those same attackers are believed to have been behind the 2015 cyberattacks on the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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.

The Conversation

Nir Kshetri, Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Three Years After Snowden, Bipartisan Coalition Demands Congress End Warrantless Spying

“The Snowden leaks caused a sea change in the policy landscape related to surveillance,” writes watchdog, from the recent passage of the USA Freedom Act to the coming showdown in Congress over Section 702.

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-6-2016

"There can be no renewal of Section 702 unless warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private lives is stopped," declared bipartisan coalition End702. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/cc/flickr)

“There can be no renewal of Section 702 unless warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private lives is stopped,” declared bipartisan coalition End702. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/cc/flickr)

Three years ago on Monday, the world was shattered by news that the United States was conducting sweeping, warrantless surveillance of people, heads of state, and organizations across the globe.

To mark the anniversary of those revelations, brought forth by a then-unknown contractor working for the National Security Administration (NSA), a coalition of public interest groups have launched a new campaign fighting for the expiration of the law that the government claims authorizes its mass spying. Continue reading

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High-Ranking Official Reveals How Pentagon Punishes Whistleblowers

A DoD official blows the whistle on how the U.S. government has repeatedly—and illegally—quashed whistleblowers

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-22-2016

John Crane described how the Pentagon illegally represses whistleblowers—and revealed how the same internal office tasked with protecting whistleblowers has set about betraying them. (Photo: Screenshot/The Guardian)

John Crane described how the Pentagon illegally represses whistleblowers—and revealed how the same internal office tasked with protecting whistleblowers has set about betraying them. (Photo: Screenshot/The Guardian)

Pentagon officials tasked with protecting whistleblowers have lied under oath, illegally destroyed documents, and gone out of their way to ruin people’s careers and lives for attempting to raise concerns about government abuses of power, according to a high-ranking Department of Defense (DoD) official, John Crane, who went public with his story on Sunday.

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Leaked Encryption Draft Bill ‘Ignores Economic, Security, and Technical Reality’

“This bill makes effective cybersecurity illegal.”

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-8-2016

"This bill is a clear threat to everyone's privacy and security," said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the ACLU. (Photo: Laura Bittner/flickr/cc)

“This bill is a clear threat to everyone’s privacy and security,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the ACLU. (Photo: Laura Bittner/flickr/cc)

A draft of a proposed bill mandating companies give, under a court order, the government access to encrypted data is being derided by technology experts as “ludicrous,” as it “ignores technical reality” and threatens everyone’s security.

The Hill reports that it obtained a discussion draft of the legislation, and others have posted the purported 9-page draft online.

The bill’s proposers, Senators Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Dianne Feinstein (D-California), top Democratic on the committee, neither disavowed the document nor confirmed its legitimacy, the Wall Street Journal reports. Continue reading

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Chomsky, Snowden, Greenwald on Privacy in the Age of Surveillance

Panel discussion challenges the rhetoric that national security requires that governments can access individual communications.

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-26-2016

Photo via Facebook

Photo via Facebook

What is privacy and what is an individual’s right to it?

That is the question that renowned linguist and MIT professor Noam Chomsky, National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, and Intercept co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald sought to answer on Friday evening as the three (virtually) shared a stage for a panel discussion at the University of Arizona in Tuscon.

Coming amid the FBI’s public battle against Apple as well as days after the bombings in Brussels last week, which have spurred another round of calls for heightened security and surveillance, the conversation challenged the rhetoric that national security requires that governments can access individual communications. Continue reading

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