Posted: June 17th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Government | No Comments » | 0 views
President Obama finally took a sit-down interview on the National Security Agency scandal and we’ve pasted a partial transcript below. Disappointingly, most of it is (very) generic and defensive. But, there is one important takeaway: President Obama couldn’t answer whether oversight courts (FISA) have ever rejected a single NSA spying request.
PBS’s Charlie Rose asked, pointedly, “has FISA court turned down any request?”
The president appears to bumble through the answer, “The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.”
This is problematic, since leaker Edward Snowden has claimed that the FISA courts are essentially a “rubber stamp” for any NSA investigations. As a result, they routinely exploit legal and technical loopholes to spy on Americans with direct and indirect ties to foreign suspects.
The rest of the partial transcript shows Obama defending the program, claiming that it doesn’t permit broad spying on U.S. citizens, and touting his civil liberties record.
Transcript below (via BuzzFeed):
Barack Obama: Well, in the end, and what I’ve said, and I continue to believe, is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice. That doesn’t mean that there are not tradeoffs involved in any given program, in any given action that we take. So all of us make a decision that we go through a whole bunch of security at airports, which when we were growing up that wasn’t the case…. And so that’s a tradeoff we make, the same way we make a tradeoff about drunk driving. We say, “Occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.” To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom. I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports.
Charlie Rose: But there is a balance here.
Barack Obama: But there is a balance, so I’m going to get to your — get to your question. The way I view it, my job is both to protect the American people and to protect the American way of life, which includes our privacy. And so every program that we engage in, what I’ve said is “Let’s examine and make sure that we’re making the right tradeoffs.” Now, with respect to the NSA, a government agency that has been in the intelligence gathering business for a very long time —
Charlie Rose: Bigger and better than everybody else.
Barack Obama: Bigger and better than everybody else, and we should take pride in that because they’re extraordinary professionals; they are dedicated to keeping the American people safe. What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they — and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI — go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause….
So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule. There are two programs that were revealed by Mr. Snowden, allegedly, since there’s a criminal investigation taking place, and they caused all the ruckus. Program number one, called the 2015 Program, what that does is it gets data from the service providers like a Verizon in bulk, and basically you have call pairs. You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number. There are no names. There is no content in that database. All it is, is the number pairs, when those calls took place, how long they took place. So that database is sitting there. Now, if the NSA through some other sources, maybe through the FBI, maybe through a tip that went to the CIA, maybe through the NYPD. Get a number that where there’s a reasonable, articulable suspicion that this might involve foreign terrorist activity related to Al-Qaeda and some other international terrorist actors. Then, what the NSA can do is it can query that database to see did any of the — did this number pop up? Did they make any other calls? And if they did, those calls will be spit out. A report will be produced. It will be turned over to the FBI. At no point is any content revealed because there’s no content that —
Charlie Rose: So I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing.
Barack Obama: Well, let me — let me finish, because I don’t. So, what happens is that the FBI — if, in fact, it now wants to get content; if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone — it’s got to go to the FISA court with probable cause and ask for a warrant.
Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?
Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.
Charlie Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?
Barack Obama: It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court…. The whole point of my concern, before I was president — because some people say, “Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.” Dick Cheney sometimes says, “Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.” My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee — but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.
Now, one last point I want to make, because what you’ll hear is people say, “Okay, we have no evidence that it has been abused so far.” And they say, “Let’s even grant that Obama’s not abusing it, that all these processes — DOJ is examining it. It’s being renewed periodically, et cetera — the very fact that there is all this data in bulk, it has the enormous potential for abuse,” because they’ll say, you know, “You can — when you start looking at metadata, even if you don’t know the names, you can match it up, if there’s a call to an oncologist, and there’s a call to a lawyer, and — you can pair that up and figure out maybe this person’s dying, and they’re writing their will, and you can yield all this information.” All of that is true. Except for the fact that for the government, under the program right now, to do that, it would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that.
Charlie Rose: So, what are you going to change? Are you going to issue any kind of instructions to the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. Clapper, and say, “I want you to change it at least in this way”?
Barack Obama: Here’s what we need to do. But before I say that — and I know that we’re running out of time, but I want to make sure I get very clear on this. Because there has been a lot of mis-information out there. There is a second program called the 702 program. And what that does is that does not apply to any U.S. person. Has to be a foreign entity. It can only be narrowly related to counter-terrorism, weapons proliferation, cyber hacking or attacks, and a select number of identifiers — phone numbers, emails, et cetera. Those — and the process has all been approved by the courts — you can send to providers — the Yahoos or the Googles, what have you. And in the same way that you present essentially a warrant. And what will happen then is that you there can obtain content. But again, that does not apply to U.S. persons. And it’s only in these very narrow bands. So, you asked, what should we do? …What I’ve said is — is that what is a legitimate concern — a legitimate critique — is that because these are classified programs — even though we have all these systems of checks and balances, Congress is overseeing it, federal courts are overseeing it — despite all that, the public may not fully know. And that can make the public kind of nervous, right? Because they say, “Well, Obama says it’s okay — or Congress says it’s okay. I don’t know who this judge is. I’m nervous about it.” What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, number one. And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today, people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at because frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.
Number two. I’ve stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, made up of independent citizens including some fierce civil libertarians. I’ll be meeting with them. And what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.
Charlie Rose: Let me just ask you this. If someone leaks all this information about NSA surveillance, as Mr. Snowden did…. Did it cause national security damage to the United States, and therefore, should he be prosecuted?
Barack Obama: I’m not going to comment on prosecution…. The case has been referred to the DOJ for criminal investigation… and possible extradition. I will leave it up to them to answer those questions.
Posted: June 17th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | No Comments » | 0 views
The most famous man on the lam, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has answered reader questions in a live Q&A on the Guardian’s blog. Snowden skyrocketed to international fame/infamy after leaking a top-secret court order about the National Security Agency’s collection of all U.S. Verizon phone records.
After disappearing from his Hong Kong hideaway, Snowden resurfaced for the online Q&A. You can read the full transcript on The Guardian; we’ve summarized the best of it below (edited for brevity and clarity).
Passion, Righteous Passion
“All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.”
On Tech Company Denials
“Their denials went through several revisions as it become more and more clear they were misleading and included identical, specific language across companies….They are legally compelled to comply and maintain their silence in regard to specifics of the program, but that does not comply them from ethical obligation. If for example Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple refused to provide this cooperation with the Intelligence Community, what do you think the government would do? Shut them down?”
On Traitor Accusations
“I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target….I have had no contact with the Chinese government. Just like with the Guardian and the Washington Post, I only work with journalists.”
“Further, it’s important to bear in mind I’m being called a traitor by men like former Vice President Dick Cheney…Being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is the highest honor you can give an American”
Encryption Works, Kind Of
“Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.”
Context: There are several popular applications to skirt government snooping, but none are perfect. Apple claims, for instance, that because only the sender and receiver of an iMessage SMS can decrypt the data on their respective devices (end-to-end decryption), their service is NSA-proof. End-to-end encryption is far more difficult when the sender and receiver are using different services that may be tapped by the NSA. For secure Internet surfing, the popular anonymous web browser TOR has a thorough how-to blog post. But, if Snowden is to be believed, the NSA has ways of finding most people even with encrypted services.
Mainstream Media: Hot Girlfriend > Massive Surveillance
“Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.”
Mandatory pat-on-the-back: TechCrunch has never posted pictures of Snowden’s girlfriend (and, no, we’re not going to link to them either).
Hope, We Believed In It. Now, not so much
“Obama’s campaign promises and election gave me faith that he would lead us toward fixing the problems he outlined in his quest for votes. Many Americans felt similarly. Unfortunately, shortly after assuming power, he closed the door on investigating systemic violations of law, deepened and expanded several abusive programs, and refused to spend the political capital to end the kind of human rights violations like we see in Guantanamo, where men still sit without charge.”
NSA and Warrant-less Monitoring
“NSA likes to use “domestic” as a weasel word here for a number of reasons. The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis … “warrant” is more of a templated form they fill out and send to a reliable judge with a rubber stamp.”
No, He Really Isn’t A Spy
“Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.”
Posted: June 16th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Government | No Comments » | 0 views
The week’s news has been a fear-mongering marathon between civil libertarians who are convinced we’re on the road to becoming North Korea, and security hawks who are building bunkers for the inevitable post-cyberattack hell scape. Unfortunately, because the most important facts about the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs are top secret, the entire debate has consisted of fear-driven hypotheticals. We can’t change that fact.
But! We can make NSA disaster scenarios easier to compare by detailing the relative harms of privacy invasion vs. terrorist threats in a handy guide on their probability and scope. In ascending order of paranoia, I compare privacy vs. security trade-offs, and conclude with a section that makes sense of why some people fear surveillance more than terrorists.
Paranoia Level: Reads A Newspaper - Defense Tax Bill Vs. Fear Staycations
Cost Comparison: $85 Billion Vs. $75 Billion
We know for sure that both defense and fear of terrorists is burning a hole in America’s pocketbook. Terrorist-driven aversion to flying and tourism has resulted in an estimated $85 billion in lost revenue, according to Eli Berman, an associate professor of economics at University of California, San Diego. In a bit of delightful parity, the combined cost of the U.S. intelligence apparatus is $75 billion, including $1.7 billion for the NSA’s massive new 1-million-square-foot Utah campus, which houses all the servers it needs to retain America’s vast collection of porn, Justin Bieber tweets and cat videos.
Paranoia Level: Has Purell on a keychain - Stealing Company Secrets Vs. Self-Censorship
Cost: Innovation Vs. Open Dialogue
“Surveillance inclines us to the mainstream and the boring,” wrote Washington University law professor Neil Richards, who argues that the watch-tower effect of omnipresent government spying throttles open dialogue. Personally, I do find myself avoiding the word “terrorist” in emails because I have a vague sense I’ll get flagged by some government agency.
On the security side, some are reasonably worried about theft of company secrets. We know that Chinese hackers are fans of corporate espionage; in one instance, stolen data from Coca-Cola preceded their failed $2.4 billion acquisition of the China Huiyuan Juice Group. According to security firm Mandiant, the Chinese top-level hacking unit, was “busy rummaging through their computers in an apparent effort to learn more about Coca-Cola’s negotiation strategy.”
It’s just as possible that the Russian and Middle Eastern terror cells being tracked by the NSA are also stealing corporate secrets, which could cause more widespread piracy and throttling of innovation.
Paranoia Level: Glenn Beck fan - Whistleblower Blackmail vs. Stopping Small Scale Attack
Cost: Hundres of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars vs. Hundres of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars
For the most part, the NSA only targets terrorist suspects — the rest of the data collects cobwebs on a faceless server. But civil liberty critics worry that nefarious middle managers at the NSA could blackmail whistleblowers or policymakers that threaten their agenda. Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly worried:
“Did you hear about the IRS scandal? Did you hear about the IRS taking personal information and feeding it out to left-wing websites?… You’re telling me that can’t happen here? It absolutely can happen! So, for example, some conservative senator calls Trixie at the Hot Licks Massage Parlor, guess who knows it? And guess who can put it out any time they want?”
To get a handle on how bad this kind of blackmail could be, the greatest email scandal ever uncovered outed Army General David Patreaus after the FBI found saucy messages between him and a mistress. Arguably the largest whistleblower was Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg. Both Patreaus and Ellsberg had major impacts on two foreign wars — Petraeus executed the successful Iraqi Surge and Ellsberg accelerated public pressure to pull out from Vietnam. Taken together, it’s reasonable to assume that without their contributions, hundreds of more soldiers might have been killed and hundreds of millions of dollars more would have been wasted.
On the other hand, NSA hawks claim that Internet and phone snooping foiled “dozens” of terrorist attacks, including Najibullah Zazi’s failed plot to bomb the New York subway. All told, that’s probably hundreds of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in infrustructure repair saved.
Paranoia Level: Tinfoil — Orwellian Tyranny vs. Nuclear War
Costs: A life not worth living vs. actually not living
If you hold survivalist training in your end-of-days bunker, chances are this next category feels like home. The libertarian op-eds are rife with insinuations that America is on the fast track to a perpetual 1984-style tyranny — or what they call Tuesday in North Korea.
“This isn’t an argument about how tyranny is inevitable. It is an attempt to grab America by the shoulders, give it a good shake, and say: Yes, it could happen here, with enough historical amnesia, carelessness, and bad luck,” warned the very sharp and otherwise level-headed resident libertarian at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf, in a (popular) post titled, “All the Infrastructure a Tyrant Would Need, Courtesy of Bush and Obama.”
If you think government monitoring Instagrams of quinoa waffles at Manhattan brunches is a one-way ticket to Orwellian dystopia, then the cost of the NSA’s spying program is the end of self-government as we know it.
On the other hand, if you’d like to see the TSA conduct more cavity searches, you probably think a police state is the only way to stop a real-life Jack Bauer plotline from happening. 4th-Amendment fanclub president Dick Cheney predicted a “high probability” of a nuclear or biological attack that kills “hundreds of thousands of Americans” unless programs like the NSA keep constant watch over Americans.
But we think Cheney’s being modest: if we did suffer a nuclear attack, we’d have to retaliate against someone, and that could spark an armed conflict between the entire Middle East and their Asian supporters. So as long as we’re wearing a tinfoil hat, let’s just go ahead and admit that we’re talking about all-out thermonuclear war.
The Psychology Of Which Scenario You Think Is Plausible
Ultimately, skepticism is a visceral reaction: there’s no purely fact-based way of thinking about the future. Without sufficient information, we reasonably fall back on our assumptions about the way the world operates. For instance, we know that free-market enthusiasts are more fearful of government regulation than climate change.
While there isn’t any good evidence about why some people fear the NSA more than others, Yale’s Cultural Cognition lab has my favorite political typology for predicting what kinds of programs we support. They divide political worldviews into four categories:
- Authoritarian (think Dick Cheney and his tradition-loving social conservatives)
- Individualists (libertarians)
- Egalitarians (social justice fans and card-carrying members of the ACLU)
- Communitarians (many have suggested Obama is a Communitarian, an ideology that stresses active citizenship, decentralization, and collective good)
If you have individualist or egalitarian tendencies, chances are the NSA freaks you out. This helps explain why the traditional rivals, Glenn Beck (Individualist) and Michael Moore (Equalitarian), have found rare common ground in opposition to government surveillance.
If you tend to be more collectivist, either because you have a compulsive need for stability (Authoritarian), or you think everyone has an obligation to contribute to the public good (Communitarian), chances are that you don’t fear invasions of privacy (Disclosure: I have very strong Communitarian tendencies).
To be sure, we have no other choice but to go with our political instincts. The debate over the NSA is entirely hypothetical; the public has no evidence on how surveillance has been abused or leveraged to stop terrorists.
So what’s the lesson? Be respectful and open-minded. Without evidence, we’re all equally irrational.
[Images: Flickr/thematthewknot/Carolyn Tiry/Kelly Teague]
Posted: June 14th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | No Comments » | 0 views
Square CEO Jack Dorsey and the Mayors of New York City and San Francisco announced today that they will be collaborating on a digital technology summit, to be hosted on September 30th in the Big Apple. At a press conference at Square this afternoon, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee gave a few details about the upcoming summit, which will bring together industry stakeholders for a big-think meeting of how to solve social issues.
NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is in town to give the Stanford commencement speech, stole the press event with a few jokes about Dorsey’s “plans” to run for his job. Talking about Dorsey’s hypothetical campaign, Bloomberg said he could have “140 character campaign speeches; six-second campaign videos, and your pledge that everyone can pay their taxes using Square.”
For good measure, in response to Mayor Lee prodding New York City about snow problems, Bloomberg joked, “Climate change has taken away the snow so we really haven’t had much.”
I asked Mayor Bloomberg about New York’s legal warfare against sharing economy apps, such as Uber and Airbnb, and he responded that, “regulation becomes a crutch… It’s the old entrenched industries, under the shield of regulation,” that prevent meaningful competition. No word on how exactly he’ll support them, other than wanting to “F***ing destroy” the taxi industry.
We’ll see if actions follow words. Or conferences.
Vine via @Obrien.
Posted: June 14th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | No Comments » | 0 views
T-Mobile and Verizon reportedly refused to kowtow to the National Security Agency’s demand to collect all phone call records. According to the Wall Street Journal, because T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless are owned by European parent companies, they were able to successfully refuse the NSA’s court order.
“T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless don’t participate in their own collection programs because of legal complications stemming, in part, from their foreign ownership. Germany’s Deutsche Telekom AG owns 74% of T-Mobile. Verizon Wireless is a joint-venture of Verizon Communications Inc. with the U.K.’s Vodafone Group PLC, which owns a 45% stake,” explain Danny Yadron and Evan Perez in their article.
For those who aren’t fans of the NSA’s record-keeping, the Post says that the NSA can still likely capture 99 percent of the phone data anyway, since most traffic is routed through the U.S.
The Journal report is somewhat curious, since the original story from The Guardian was about a leaked court order specifically for Verizon. Only later did we learn that the U.S. was collecting call records from all major carriers. Ironically, it could be that the court order went through, but Verizon was successfully able to combat the NSA’s demands.
Either way, Europe could be a problem for U.S. spying ambitions, as the European Union has vowed to fight their attempts. As more facts come to light, things are going to get harder for the NSA.
Posted: June 13th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Government | No Comments » | 0 views
I just got flashbacks of seeing congressmen debate on C-SPAN whether there were, in fact, any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Only a decade ago, Members of select intelligence committees saw identical pieces of evidence and came to vastly different conclusions. Now, it’s happening again with the National Security Agency: Senator Mark Udall has written, “We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence.”
Udall, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and his tech-savvy, privacy-happy counterpart, Senator Ron Wyden (CrunchGov Grade: A), have come out swinging against claims that the NSA’s Internet and phone snooping have actually had any of the alleged benefits.
“As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does. We hope that President Obama will probe the basis for these assertions, as we have,” the two wrote.
The strongly-worded letter is in response to the NSA director claiming that its sweeping programs have prevented dozens of terrorist attacks. Of course, the evidence will only be disclosed to members of congress behind closed doors. Most leading members of congress, such as Democratic California Senator Diane Feinstein, came out in support of the NSA’s projects soon after they were revealed. So, for citizens, that means you need to pick which Senator you believe–on blind faith–and start cheering them on.
Let’s hope that we’re not reliving the weapons of mass destruction debate and that there’s some facts that everyone can agree on.
Posted: June 12th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Government | No Comments » | 0 views
First Amendment pioneer and current Republican U.S. Congressman Peter King thinks that journalists should be punished for publishing the leaked documents about the National Security Agency’s top-secret spying program. Unfazed by Anderson Coopers perfect jaw-line, Representative King said in a CNN interview:
“Actually, if they–if they knew that this was classified information–I think action should be taken, especially on something of this magnitude. I know that the whole issue of leaks has been gone into over the last month. I think something on this magnitude, there is an obligation, both moral but also legal, I believe, against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security. As a practical matter, I–I guess it happened in the past several years, a number of reporters who have been prosecuted under us, so the answer is yes to your question.”
It should be noted that since the landmark 1971 case, The New York Times Co. vs. the United States, the Supreme Court has held that newspapers could not be punished for publishing leaks like the Pentagon Papers.
In fairness to King, he has been remarkably consistent with his outrage. In 2010, he thought prosecutors should go after both WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange and The Times for publishing the leaked cables.
The only person to likely be prosecuted is the whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was last seen in Hong Kong before disappearing.
Posted: June 11th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Government | No Comments » | 0 views
[Update: Someone from Google has responded to us (by tweet!) We'll update this post as we get more questions answered]
Google made headlines today for a letter to the federal government requesting the right to release more information on compliance with spy orders. The letter claims that if the public knew how many requests for data the National Security Agency demanded, they would dispel rumors that it’s giving away sweeping access to federal spies.
“We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide,” wrote Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond.
I’m calling BS. Google’s transparency reports only disclose the number of requests made of each service. In understanding FISA orders, it’s important to realize that it’s possible for one court order to gather troves of data. “FISA orders can range from inquiries about specific people to a broad sweep for intelligence, like logs of certain search terms, lawyers who work with the orders said,” explained The New York Times.
As a case in point, the leaked court order to allow the government to collect phone records of all U.S. Verizon calls could have been a single, solitary FISA request.
“It’s not necessarily the case that disclosing raw numbers will be helpful, but it depends on the type of order they receive,” explains Mark Rumold of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “In the business records context (the Verizon order), the government disclosed raw numbers, but that didn’t provide meaningful information because they were using a single order to obtain records on millions.”
The good folks at the EFF are right in that any step towards more transparency is helpful. As the EFF reminds me, Google has been a laudable industry pioneer in disclosing censorship requests, and helping to bring public attention to America’s growing spying apparatus.
But this latest letter doesn’t give us any indication that disclosing the number of requests would help. We reached out to Google and have yet to receive a response.
Google responded to us, saying that they would like to include the number of users affected, as they currently do on the transparency reports. ”We know that sometimes a single government request can cover more than one user or account. That’s why the Transparency Report today includes, for criminal requests and National Security letters, the number of requests and the number of users/accounts affected. We would certainly like to extend that approach to any additional kinds of legal requests we add to the Transparency Report in the future,” a Google representative wrote to us in an email.
The problem is, if the Times article is to be believed, the NSA can request data on search logs, which means it could scan millions of users. Even under the best scenario, the NSA couldn’t have let Google do this, because it would be tantamount to disclosing how many services it’s sweeping. In other words, Google’s letter is asking for permission to essentially reveal the PRISM program itself.
The letter, then, is a more roundabout way of telling the American people that Google is gagged and, therefore, can’t control wild speculation. I’m sympathetic to Google’s situation, even if the letter itself seems an odd way of expressing their frustration.
More importantly, it doesn’t get us any closer to meaningful public oversight. We don’t know what data is being requested, if it’s being abused, or if it’s effective. In other words, we still lack solutions.
Posted: June 11th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Government | No Comments » | 0 views
Americans deserve answers about the National Security Agency’s spying practices. I urge readers to sign an official WeThePeople White House petition for President Obama to sit down with the journalist who helped unmask the NSA’s controversial programs: Glenn Greenwald.
If the president is serious about his commitment to transparency and open dialogue, he should do a one-on-one interview with one of his most respected critics for a candid discussion. The American people deserve nothing less than a conversation about surveillance that we know will be informed, pointed and civil.
“Giving law enforcement the tools that they need to investigate suspicious activities is one thing,” said then-Senator Obama in 2005. “But doing it without any real oversight seriously jeopardizes the rights of all Americans, and the ideals America stands for.”
The press is one of the United States’ most cherished institutions of government accountability. If you agree, ask your friends and followers to sign the petition.
After a petition gets 100k signatures, the administration promises a response. So, regardless of their decision, we’ll learn something valuable–and that seem like enough of a reason to sign.
Posted: June 10th, 2013 | Author: Gregory Ferenstein | Filed under: TechCrunch | Tags: Government | No Comments » | 0 views
Despite the conniption fit over the National Security Agency’s Internet snooping, most Americans are perfectly okay with Big Brother spying on them. “A majority of Americans – 56 percent – say the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism,” explains a new Pew Report.
An overwhelming majority of Americans also feel, generally, that it’s more important to “Investigating Terrorist threats” than “Not intrude on privacy.” (62 percent vs. 34 percent). Indeed, the Hawkish margin has been steady for 6 years.
If I were President Obama, I’d start wearing a Pew t-shirt to all my press conferences, because anyway you slice this data, it’s an inescapable endorsement for his controversial policies (for the record: I’m not a fan of the NSA’s secrecy).
Americans, however, get a bit more constitutionally queasy when it comes to email snooping: a slight majority (47 percent vs. 52 percent) do not believe the government should be able to monitor everyone’s email.
While especially young citizens are more snooping-averse, the majority of all age groups support monitoring everyone’s online activity if authorities think it will prevent a terrorist attack.
As expected, people who follow the news “very closely” are more concerned about civil liberties than national security (31 percent vs. 21 percent).
Interestingly enough, there’s a been a noticeable partisan shift between the Obama and Bush administrations. In 2006, 53 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats supported email monitoring, yet seven years later, it’s the complete reverse (45 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats support email monitoring).
I conclude this post knowing that I might be hammered by my colleagues: The press isn’t always representative of the people. Our job is to be critical. As we criticize President Obama for his civil liberties record, we should be mindful that he may be following his mandate as an elected official to represent the people. Again, I’m not a fan of the NSA secrecy. However, any intellectually honest writer has to admit that public opinion complicates widespread criticism of President Obama’s national security strategy.