Tag Archives: privacy

The NSA Just Admitted That Their Data Collection Systems Are Too Complex for Even Them to Control

If you weren’t aware, the NSA is facing a bunch of lawsuits over their overzealous surveillance programs, which were revealed last summer by Edward Snowden.

One of these lawsuits, Jewel v. NSA, was actually filed before the revelations. The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of novelist Carolyn Jewel and a number of other ATT customers, challenges the constitutionality of the NSA programs which were collecting data on American’s telephone and internet activity.

Carolyn Jewel, lead plaintiff in the case against the NSA, outside her home (Photo: Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

As part of the lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who represents the plaintiffs) filed a number of motions to prevent the NSA from destroying data that the EFF planned to use as evidence.

This past Friday, during a hearing over the issue, NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett argued that holding on to the info would be too burdensome for the NSA, saying,

“A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information.”

NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett

Ledgett continued by arguing that the complexity of the NSA’s surveillance programs meant that efforts by the NSA to preserve their own data might not even work. Not surprisingly, he also tried to get his way using scare tactics, saying that trying to preserve the data would cause,

“an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States.”

The EFF was surprised by Ledgett’s argument, since the NSA had already been ordered to preserve the data back in 2009. On top of that, a second restraining order was filed in March to prevent destruction of data.

Either way, the EFF’s legal advisor, Cindy Cohn, isn’t buying Ledgett’s arguments. In a recent interview she had this to say about the concerns he raised:

“To me, it demonstrates that once the government has custody of this information even they can’t keep track of it anymore even for purposes of what they don’t want to destroy… With the huge amounts of data that they’re gathering it’s not surprising to me that it’s difficult to keep track– that’s why I think it’s so dangerous for them to be collecting all this data en masse.”

The EFF has said that there is “no doubt” that the NSA has already destroyed some of the information they requested for the lawsuit, but the actual amount data that has been destroyed thus far is unclear.

Read the full story from The Washington Post here.

The FAA Just Approved The United States’ First Commercial Drone to… BP?

When you think of drones, you probably think of covert military strikes or black ops surveillance. Some of you might even think of Amazon’s drone delivery system:

So it comes as a surprise to most people hearing that the Federal Aviation Administration approved the first commercial use of drones to none other than oil mega-giant British Petroleum, better known as BP.

The drone, designed by California-based drone manufacturer AeroVironment, made its first commercial flight in Alaska this past Sunday (6/8/2014).

The drone is a Puma-AE (All Environment) model, which is actually one of the most widely-used models in the U.S. military. It measures five feet long and has a 9-foot wingspan.

The Puma-AE drone (Image courtesy of AeroVironment)
The Puma-AE drone (Image courtesy of AeroVironment)

AeroVironment agreed to a five-year contract with BP. Though the drone will do some 3D-mapping and wildlife monitoring (as well as the occasional search-and-rescue mission), its main purpose will be to patrol hundreds of miles of oil pipelines in Alaska.

One of the main reasons that the FAA gave BP approval for the drone is that it will be flying predominantly over uninhabited wilderness; using drones in urban areas raises many more questions about safety and privacy.

Despite the fact that the National Transportation Safety Board actually ruled in March that the FAA had no jurisdiction to regulate small autonomous and remote-controlled aircraft, this approval suggests that the FAA intends to do just that.

Read more from Gizmodo here.

#ResetTheNet Campaign: Major Websites Unite To Encourage Widespread Encryption Usage

Just last month, the House gutted the FREEDOM Act, which was put in place after the Snowden revelations to prevent mass cellular surveillance of American citizens in the future.

Internet and privacy activists alike have grown tired of the government’s empty promises about protecting internet privacy. So they decided to launch a campaign to take the issue out of Washington’s hands and put into the hands of the public.

The campaign, known as #ResetTheNet, was initiated by Fight for the Future, and encourages websites and individuals to start using encryption to protect their data. It kicks off today on the one year anniversary of the Edward Snowden revelations of NSA surveillance last year.

Hundreds of websites and other organizations are participating, including Reddit, Imgur, Mozilla, Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Google, who initially refrained from joining, has now endorsed the campaign, and added that they will be, “releasing email encryption tools and data, and supporting real surveillance reform.”

The goal is to not only educate people about encryption but to actually provide them with the online resources to begin encrypting their own information. The campaign’s splash page, which is displayed on many of the participating sites, includes lists of good encryption software and tips for both computers and mobile devices.

Some of the companies participating in the campaign. Click to enlarge
Some of the companies participating in the campaign. Click to enlarge

While encryption definitely makes your data significantly more secure, it is not completely impervious- the NSA has whole departments dedicated to cracking encrypted info.

However, organizers of the campaign believe that if encryption starts to become fairly common, the government simply will not have the resources to be trying to break through everyone’s encryption, forcing them to give up on mass internet surveillance.

Yesterday, Edward Snowden issued a statement with his support for the campaign. He ended it like this:

The official website for the campaign is resetthenet.org. The organizer’s also released this video explaining the campaign:

Read more from RT here.

BONUS: The battle for net neutrality is also being waged right now. After approving a “fast-track” plan which would allow large corporations to pay for preferred real estate (ie. more visibility) on the internet, the FCC invited the public to comment for 120 days before they make their final decision.

Comedian and political satirist John Oliver used his new HBO series, Last Week Tonight, to explain what net neutrality is, why it’s so important, and how the major cable companies pushing to make it happen are screwing the consumer.

Oliver urged all of the internet trolls to take advantage of the FCC invitation to comment, saying,

“…for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction.”

The massive comment volume following the airing of Oliver’s show crashed the FCC website for a while.

Check out video of Oliver’s net neutrality segment below:

WikiLeaks Reveals the Other “Mystery” Country Under Total NSA Phone Surveillance: Afghanistan

This past Tuesday, The Higher Learning reported on an article from The Intercept which revealed (via documents released to them by Edward Snowden) that the NSA has been monitoring and recording virtually every single phone conversation in the Bahamas.

In their article, The Intercept admitted that the documents named another country as also being monitored under this extremely invasive program, but chose not to release the identity of the country because they worried that the revelation would almost certainly cause deaths.

Despite their worries, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed that his organization would reveal the identity of the mystery country. Yesterday, he delivered on his promise:

The revelation has sparked worry amongst the intelligence community, who don’t believe that WikiLeaks has full access to the Snowden documents.

It’s still unclear whether someone sent them a copy of the documents or whether they just got a tip from someone working with The Intercept. The leak site Cryptome even suggested that WikiLeaks may have just assumed that Afghanistan was the mystery country based off other already public information.

The MYSTIC Program was also collecting metadata from Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines

I must say I don’t think many people will be shocked to hear that the NSA has Afghanistan under heavy surveillance. Personally, I think the surveillance in the Bahamas is much more odd and unwarranted.

However, I do understand why The Intercept and Edward Snowden were worried about revealing Afghanistan. It’s highly likely that this revelation will be used to help fuel anti-American sentiment in the already unstable country. Whether or not that leads to violence remains to be seen.

Read more from Time here.