Tag Archives: Edward Snowden

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.

#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.

The CIA vs. The Senate: Spying and Surveillance Takes A New Turn

Diane Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. When Edward Snowden made his revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance program, Feinstein criticized him, saying she believed the program was not only constitutional but necessary to protect the country from attack.

But after the CIA spied on her Senate Committee, she changed her tune quite a bit. Today she took to the Senate floor to warn that the increasing power of the CIA threatens the Constitutional division of power.

Feinstein after speaking with the Senate (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Feinstein after speaking with the Senate (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Here’s the background story.

Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee has been investigating the CIA since December of 2007, when the New York Times revealed that the agency had destroyed tapes of its agents using “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Feinstein recalled her first briefing on this issue:

“The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”

Feinstein said that the CIA did everything they could to hinder the investigation, including hiring a team of, “outside contractors–who otherwise would not have had access to these sensitive documents,” to read through all the documents (6.2 million pages worth) multiple times.

Also, while this was going on, documents that Senate staffers found and marked as interesting would then mysteriously disappear from the CIA’s system.

Black Sites. Source: Wikimedia Commons
“Black Sites”- countries that hosted secret CIA prisons outside US jurisdiction. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It got so bad that the Senate committee decided to move the investigation from the CIA-leased facility that had been hosting them to a Senate office building.

Defending the decision to move the investigation, Feinstein said,

“As I have detailed, the CIA has previously withheld and destroyed information about its Detention and Interrogation Program … there was a need to preserve and protect the Internal Panetta Review in the committee’s own secure spaces.”

The CIA responded by hacking the computers the committee was using at the old site, and then having their top lawyer file a crimes report with the Department of Justice against the committee’s staff.

This really got Feinstein going. Here’s her response:

“I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center–the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the Detention and Interrogation Program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study. And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff–the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers–including the acting general counsel himself–provided inaccurate information to the Justice Department about the program.”

Edward Snowden, who spoke at South by Southwest Interactive Festival yesterday, called out Feinstein for being a hypocrite, comparing her to German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern. But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

White House Spokesman Jay Carney (Photo: AP)
White House Spokesman Jay Carney (Photo: AP)

Where’s the president in all this mess? Well, Obama has avoided speaking directly about it, but White House spokesman Jay Carney said,

“The president has great confidence in [current CIA director] John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in our professionals at the CIA.”

Read more from the Huffington Post here.

Feature image courtesy of Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Highlights from Snowden’s FIRST LIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW at SXSW (+Full Video)

As part of the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival which kicked off this past weekend in Austin, Texas (my current home), organizers set up a video skype conference with NSA mass-surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden

Snowden is currently in Russia, where he was granted asylum from the US government.

Here’s a few notable quotes from that interview. The full video is at the end.

  • Snowden told attendees that they were “firefighters”, saying,

“The NSA … they’re setting fire to the future of the Internet…The result has been an adversarial Internet.”

  • Discussing the nature of the surveillance:

“It’s nothing we asked for…It’s not something we wanted.”

  • He dismissed the idea that his revelations have threatened our national security, saying,

“These things are improving national security. We rely on the ability to trust our communications.”

  • He also said that the mass monitoring actually made threat prevention less effective:

“We’ve actually had tremendous intelligence failures because we’ve been monitoring everybody’s communications rather than suspects…What did we get from bulk collections? We got nothing.”

  • He said that the checks on the power of our national intelligence community are ineffective:

“We have an oversight that could work. The overseers aren’t interested in oversight.”

  • When asked if he would do it again, he replied,

“Would I do this again? The answer is absolutely yes. I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution and I saw that the Constitution was violated on a massive scale.”

Here’s the full video.

Read more from Yahoo! News here.




China Publishes US Human Rights Record After Being Criticized In US Report

About a week ago, the US State Department published its annual report on the state of human rights worldwide. In their report, they highlighted China, saying that despite some positive reforms,

“China continued its crackdown on human rights activists, increased repression in ethnic Tibetan and Uighur areas, and continued to severely restrict the freedoms of expression, religion, association, and assembly.”

Apparently, the Chinese government got sick of being called out by the US, and responded the next day by releasing a list of the US’s own human rights violations.

China’s State Council Information Office (Photo: Xinhua News)

In the foreword, China’s State Council (who published the report) says,

“The State Department of the United States, which posed as “the world judge of human rights,” made arbitrary attacks and irresponsible remarks on the human rights situation in almost 200 countries and regions again in its just-released Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013. However, the U.S. carefully concealed and avoided mentioning its own human rights problems.”

The report is expansive, but focuses on a few major issues:

  • The privacy violations of the mass-surveillance NSA programs revealed by Edward Snowden
  • Civilian casualties as a result of drone strikes (particularly in Pakistan, where drone strikes have killed 926 civilians since 2004)
  • The “cruel and unusual” punishment of long-term isolation of prisoners in solitary confinement (some for up to 40 years) and torture of prisoners by US officials abroad
  • Mass murders and rampant gun violence within the US

Read a full transcript of the report here.

Read more from Reuters about the US Human Rights report that prompted the Chinese response here.

University in Scotland Says Edward Snowden Should Be “Honored” and Elects Him as University Rector

The University of Glasgow has elected Edward Snowden as University Rector (the students’ elected representative),

Founded in 1451, The University of Glasgow is located in Scotland. Also according to the Glasgow’s website  the University is the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world.

According to BBC the role of the University Rector is…

 to attend the university court, which administers resources, work with the students’ representative council, and to bring student concerns to the attention of university management.”

This may be a small admin position at an abroad University, but it does stand as another indicator that other countries do not agree with the United State’s whistleblower laws.

 Edward Snowden fled the US last May and has been in asylum in Russia ever since. In a previous post on the Higher Learning I discussed more in detail about Edward Snowden’s situation with his asylum in Russia and his possible return home.

Mainly, Snowden is not returning to the US right now because our government would prosecute him. The University of Glasgow felt quite the opposite about this stating…

we’ve shown that we oppose mass surveillance and intrusion to our private lives and that also we stand in solidarity – that we believe whistleblowers should be honoured and they’re heroes rather than traitors.”

The University actually has a pretty awesome campus. Check Out some pics of it below.