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February 27 2014


February 24 2014


February 18 2014


February 17 2014


February 12 2014

NSA Protest Day Drives More Than 200K Emails And Calls To Congress
Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 2.59.33 PMA planned day of protest against the NSA's surveillance efforts called "The Day We Fight Back" got off to a strong start. So far, more than 69,000 phone calls have been placed to Congressional representatives, along with more than 140,000 emails as part of the effort. In-person protests are planned, as well, both in the United States and abroad.

February 11 2014

Dropbox Outlines Its Principles For Handling Government Data Requests
Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 12.57.22 PMJoining other leading technology firms, Dropbox today detailed the number of national security requests it received in the preceding 12 months for user data of its customers: 0-249.
Tags: TC dropbox NSA

SOPA Vs NSA Protests, In Pictures

Today, a coalition of websites promised an Internet-wide protest against the National Security Agency, similar to the mass blackouts that rose up against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Every major Internet company has come out forcefully against the bulk collection of Internet and phone data, so how did today’s protest stack up against SOPA? Here it is, in images of front pages (SOPA on top, NSA on bottom in each comparison):

Reddit, popular content aggregator

SOPA protest

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 10.44.55 AM

NSA protest

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 10.43.33 AM

Wikipedia, crowdsourced encyclopedia

SOPA protest


NSA protest

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 10.46.32 AM

Boing Boing, Blog of Internet news and culture

SOPA protest


NSA protest

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 10.49.17 AM

Google, search engine and lots of other stuff

SOPA protest


NSA protest (Google did put up a blog post explaining their position)

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XKCD, super-awesome web comic

SOPA protest


NSA protest (link to today’s comic on updating software)

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Mostly Subdued, Slightly Different

The NSA protests are strategically different than SOPA. During SOPA, major websites completely took their sites offline or blacked out their front pages. Today’s protests put an easier call to action in the bottom half of the screen, such as a way to contact one’s Congressional representative.

But, anyway you slice the strategy, today is far more subdued. To be sure, this isn’t the first time a civil liberties-related protest has failed to capture the same SOPA outrage, either from profit or nonprofit websites.

During the last attempt against a failed cyber security bill, Reddit Co-Founder, Alexis Ohanian, explained to me: ”The big reason is the imminent threat of shutting down things we love (like reddit, all of social media etc) that sopa/pipa provided. Whereas the obliteration of 4th amendment rights to privacy online isn’t as blatant, sadly, so it’s harder to rally around.”

Edward Snowden’s NSA Revelations Win Crunchie For Biggest Social Impact
IMG_9968Tonight at the Crunchies, Edward Snowden’s massive leak of NSA material won the Biggest Social Impact category. Besting rivals like and CrowdTilt, Snowden’s successful efforts to demask the mass surveillance undertaken by the National Security Administration on both global and United States citizens has ignited a worldwide discussion surrounding privacy and the proper role of government. That Snowden won, therefore, is no surprise. This is doubly true among the tech-heavy bent of Crunchies voters. The technology industry itself has been a target of the NSA’s work through programs like PRISM and others. MUSCULAR, an NSA effort to tap the data lines between Google datacenters on foreign soil, is just one example of how tech companies have come under the larger cloud of the state. Naturally, Snowden wasn’t able to pick up the award in person. Other groups nominated in the category were StopWatching.Us, a protest group against surveillance;, an effort to help kids learn to code; CrowdTilt, a group funding tool; and Watsi, a crowdfunding platform working to bring healthcare to the underprivileged. The pace of revelations from the Snowden trove has slowed in recent weeks, but the impact of what he shook loose from the United States government has led to government inquiry, lawsuits and just, perhaps, real coming change. IMAGE BY FLICKR USER MW238 UNDER CC BY 2.0 LICENSE (IMAGE HAS BEEN CROPPED) 

February 10 2014

Rep. Peter King: Security Reforms At The NSA Will Prevent Future Snowdens
Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 4.10.50 PMFollowing a stinging report in the New York Times explaining how Edward Snowden was able to collect his trove of top-secret government documents, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y) this morning took to the Sunday show Face The Nation to make the following claim (full transcript): “A lot that have has been changed; there is monitoring now of what goes on. Snowden would not be able to do it again in the future.” How did Snowden do it? He used automated software that an intelligence official likened to a “web crawler” to the Times, meaning that his collection was, to quote the same individual, “quite automated.” So, over a period of time, Snowden was able to stash top-secret government secrets on auto pilot. That’s embarrassing. Rep. King has an explanation of how the country’s spies couldn’t spot the gap in their own defense: I think this is very reminiscent of what happened with Hanson, the FBI spy, where the FBI, the NSA are so concerned about outside forces penetrating their system that they just did not take the proper precautions internally. And part of that also is because people such as Snowden and others in his position, they want them to have the facility to be able to move quickly, to get things done. And so there were not the restrictions on them that there should have been. There are two elements to the above that are worth highlighting: First, that there was precedent that was ignored by the NSA in regards to the potential of internal threats to the integrity of its data. And, because the NSA wants its workers — internal, and external alike it would appear — to be able to move “quickly,” proper safeguards were not put into place. This is perhaps not as strong a defense as was intended. If your argument is predicated on the NSA being able to move quickly, admitting that “restrictions” that “should have been” in place were not due to an internal bias to action over oversight isn’t calming. (Rep. King recently told CNN, in the wake of the President’s speech proposing reforms that “So long as the NSA can move quickly to protect us against plots, that’s all that is necessary: That the data is there, and the NSA is able to move quickly.”) The takeaway from the above is that given the new strictures, provided competence at the agency in patching
Tags: TC NSA snowden

February 04 2014

Those NSA Transparency Reports From Google Aren’t So Transparent
Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 3.57.41 PMGoogle, Facebook, Microsoft and LinkedIn all made headlines today for releasing "transparency" reports about the number of users for which the U.S. government has requested data. We now know that major Internet companies have given up personal information from between 0-15,999 user accounts, but we don't know what exactly was given up or whether additional data was taken without the companies' knowledge.

February 03 2014

Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google And Yahoo Join Apple In Revealing More On NSA Requests
FILE PHOTO  NSA Compiles Massive Database Of Private Phone CallsAll the big tech companies are opening up a bit more about requests made by the U.S. National Security Agency, with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and LinkedIn detailing new info included in their respective transparency reports today. The new reports now include how many requests for the data of its members it has received from the government, how many total users were affected, and what percentage of those receive a response from the company. Apple released similar data last week alongside its earning call, and there’s a reason for the timing that’s non-coincidental: A change to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act just put into effect now allows the companies to share more specifics around what kind of information they’re sharing and being asked to share by the government. The increased transparency was put into effect last week, in a ruling addressed to the legal counsel of all those companies listed above. These new reports will be updated every six months, which is also stipulated in the new ruling, subject to changes in the degree of transparency legally allowed by the government. The rules allow for the information around number of FISA orders for content, non-content (i.e. age, name and location) and number of customer accounts to be narrowed only by blocks of 1,000 or more, and the number of customer accounts affected to be reported in chunks of 250. It’s not pulling back the curtain entirely, but it is a step towards greater transparency. This is likely part of U.S. President Obama’s efforts to introduce surveillance reforms, but hopefully it’s just the start, because I imagine this will leave a lot of interested observers hungry for more.

January 31 2014

Obama Says Intelligence Director Who Fibbed To Congress “Should Have Been More Careful”
140130162854-tapper-obama-wi-sit-cnn-jpg-story-topPresident Obama diplomatically defended embattled Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who is accused of lying to Congress about the existence of the National Security Agency's spying program.

January 28 2014

Users Should Be Able To Sue Tech Companies Over Spying, Says Sen. Rand Paul
11901944963_be9b3b799d_cLibertarian hero and presidential hopeful Senator Rand Paul tells me that tech companies should not be granted legal immunity from consumers suing them over government spying. The Patriot Act infamously gave telecommunications companies immunity from being sued for allowing Intelligence agencies to tap phone and Internet lines. NSA head General Keith Alexander is pressuring Congress to extend even more vague protections for tech companies, but Paul hints that Google, Facebook and Twitter should have to pay for any illicit programs. “I don’t like immunity. I think, really, you should honor your contract,” Paul told me at the State of The Net Conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Paul did not offer more details about how exactly this opinion could find it in legislation. Tech companies are often compelled to turn over data and gagged from speaking about the coerced cooperation. In other instances (if they are to be believed), tech companies were unaware of surveillance of undersea cables. Still, in other instances, tech companies could be more cooperative with agencies on activity that is eventually deemed illegal. The immunity of telecom companies was upheld in Hepting v. AT&T, but both Paul and the NSA feel there isn’t sufficient coverage for this latest spying scandal. “This is something they [tech companies] may not like me for, but we made a mistake in the Patriot Act by saying that we immunize the telephone companies and Internet people from being sued. I want a contract with Google and I want them to adhere to that contract.” Notably, if either Paul’s bill to end bulk collection passes, or his lawsuit against the NSA is upheld, this might not be much of an issue. Interestingly enough, however, Paul said that there should not be any government restrictions on the way tech companies collect personal data, so long as users agree to it. Google especially has come under intense scrutiny for changing the way they treat user data, despite notifying users. Paul, it appears, will be a friend to the big tech companies when it comes to privacy regulations. We’ll have more on our interview with Senator Paul on Libertarianism and Silicon Valley soon. [Image Credit: Flickr User Gage Skidmore]
Google-Backed Developer Group Slams Newly Uncovered NSA App Spying
Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 9.48.19 AMThe Application Developers Alliance, which counts Google and AT&T as members according to its website, has condemned recent NSA revelations concerning data collection efforts by the government from apps, saying that the news “damages” its industry, and “undermines the hard work of app developer entrepreneurs everywhere.” Yesterday, newly reveled efforts by the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ, to collect user information from certain mobile applications relit the discussion concerning privacy, data integrity, and the limits of government surveillance. The documents behind the leak, provided by Edward Snowden, allow the government to, in the words of The Guardian, “piggyback [on] commercial data collection for their own purposes.” This isn’t great news for developers, naturally, because government intrusion into data provided to applications by users likely undermines users’ interest in sharing their information with apps in general. If you think the NSA might hoover up whatever you share, you’ll likely share less. And, apps can better target ads — read: make more money — if they know more about you. So, the less you trust the integrity of your information, the less money developers can make from you, in a sense. This means that the NSA’s efforts could introduce drag into a market sector that is quickly growing. If so, it would be another example of the NSA’s activities being real in the sense that their damage is no longer theoretical (the much worried chilling of the press) or philosophical (self censorship and the like), but actual, and now. Here’s the Application Developers Alliance’s full statement on the situation: Uninhibited collection of consumers’ personal data by governments hacking into apps is unacceptable. Developers are surprised and disappointed to learn that personal information entrusted to them by users has been secretly collected and stored. This surveillance damages our entire industry and undermines the hard work of app developer entrepreneurs everywhere.” I think that it is fair to say that given the sheer wealth and political power of modern technology companies, the more irked they become at the NSA and its activities, the more likely we are to see change. Google et al have become large, well monied political players. Money is speech, after all. And we’ve seen that tech companies can enact governmental change in the recent decision by the government to loosen the rules regarding sharing how many requests for user data that they receive. Several large firms were willing to
Tags: TC NSA
Rovio Denies Providing Angry Birds User Data To The NSA, Points Finger At Third-Party Ad Networks
angrybirds_bigA new report originating from the ongoing Snowden document trove presents the terrifying possibility that our casual gaming habits offer government surveillance agencies a look at some key personal data, including but not limited to age, location and even sexual orientation. Angry Birds is cited by name by the documents as an example of the type of so-called "leaky" apps that can act as a source for this sort of information.

January 27 2014

Department Of Justice Will Allow Big Tech Companies To Disclose Detailed Numbers Of Surveillance Requests
US-Department-Of-JusticeApple today released more details on the requests it receives from government surveillance agencies after the Department Of Justice releaxed limits on disclosures. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and LinkedIn today were given the right to disclose more details on the data requests and orders they receive from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court after suing the government for months to declassify these numbers.

January 25 2014

The Obama Administration’s Frustrating NSA Week
Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 5.41.13 PMWhile Congress and the nation at large have done little except talk and embark on preliminary legal skirmishes regarding the United States’ mass surveillance practices, the forces in favor of reform and change had a decent week, while the Obama administration did not. The President’s speech one week ago on proposed changes to NSA practices was met with skepticism. A sample headline detailing the response: “Jon Stewart skewers Obama’s vague, rambling NSA speech.” The Post was sedate but firm: “Obama goal for quick revamp of NSA program may be unworkable, some U.S. officials fear.” If the President had hoped that his reform proposals — including mild curtailment of the phone metadata program, some sort of protection for the privacy of foreign citizens and the like — would placate those opposed to the NSA, he was certainly disappointed. Praise could be found for the President, but in the form of a backhanded compliment. Republican Rep. Peter King was content with the speech, because it didn’t seem to propose meaningful change: “I didn’t think any changes were called for, any so-called reforms, but the fact is the ones that the President made today are really minimal. [...] So long as the NSA can move quickly to protect us against plots, that’s all that is necessary: That the data is there, and the NSA is able to move quickly.”  Impressive accolades. When the forces arrayed against change think you are doing fine, you aren’t pushing for much change. Also this week the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board lit into the NSA’s bulk collection program, saying that it lacked firm legal footing. The White House was left to somewhat lamely argue that it “simply disagree[s] with the board’s analysis on the legality of the program.” The group also attacked the key reason for keeping the program: Its efficacy. The group’s report contained the following, as the Washington Post quoted: “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.” This week Russia announced that it would not expel Edward Snowden, and that the choice to leave would be his to make. So, if the administration had hoped that
Tags: Crunch-gov TC NSA

January 24 2014

The Republican National Committee Blasts The NSA’s “Dragnet” Surveillance
Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 11.04.43 AMThe Republican National Committee (RNC) has passed a resolution condemning the NSA's mass surveillance, pushing back heavily on the actions of the security apparatus of the U.S. The resolution contains strong language in favor of privacy, the broad protections of the Fourth Amendment, and limited government.
Snowden Answers Our Burning Data Collection Question: What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
SnowdenNational Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is answering the Internet’s burning questions. Surprisingly, he was even gracious enough to answer my question: “What’s the worst and most realistic harm from bulk collection of data? Why do you think it outweighs national security?” Snowden, who was granted protection in Russia from American prosecution, has been somewhat press-averse, only holding a few select media interviews. This time, he went directly to netizens to respond to President Obama’s big national security speech last week. I posted the full response Snowden gave me below. In essence, he argues that the government’s bulk storage of our digital lives causes self-censorship and opens up the potential for severe abuse. “Study after study has show that human behavior changes when we know we’re being watched. Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively *are* less free,” he wrote. He also notes that mass-spying, “enables a capability called “retroactive investigation,” where once you come to the government’s attention, they’ve got a very complete record of your daily activity going back, under current law, often as far as five years.” I generally think Snowden is right, but the problem with his answer is that it doesn’t help us weigh these harms against the possibility of stopping a terrorist. There will most definitely be government abuse and Americans have already started censoring themselves. On the other hand, in the next 30 years, it’s possible this system could prevent one or two terrorists attacks, potentially saving dozens of lives and billions in economic losses. As far as I’ve been able to find, the available “studies” that Snowden alludes to are only moderately helpful. For instance, one experimental study found that pervasively monitored participants were less likely to engage conversations that were neutral or critical of their peers. Personally, I do find myself watching my words over email since Snowden leaked the documents, despite the fact that the NSA doesn’t care much about me. The idea of pervasive surveillance has been popular at least since hipster god-father and post-modern idol, philosopher Michel Foucault conceptualized the problems of an all-seeing authority that could randomly spy on individuals, ominously known as the Panopticon. In practice, America’s former colonial master, the British, have had a public version of the Panopticon since the 1970′s, with their Closed-Circuit TV system (CCTV). CCTV does stop some crime, though it still happens. Many citizens simply forget that
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