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How would the NC restroom law be handled in a libertarian society?

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How would the NC restroom law be handled in a libertarian society?

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Question:

Considering the recent flap regarding the restroom law passed in North Carolina (and being considered elsewhere), how would this be handled in a libertarian society?

restroom Answer:

In a libertarian society, most—if not all—bathrooms would be privately owned, since government would be very limited. Owners could decide who could use them and who could not.

If some business owners decided to discriminate on the basis of color, gender, or religion, their competitors would likely advertise their willingness to serve everyone, gaining the loyalty of the groups discriminated against. Profits would go up for those who were willing to serve all, while they’d go down for those who discriminated. Business owners would have to choose between their pocketbooks and their prejudices. Historically, most choose their pocketbook.

Indeed, segregation became law in the post-Civil War south precisely because businesses were serving the ex-slaves to an extent that caused resentment. Business owners who wanted to discriminate didn’t like losing their profits to their more open-minded competition. They, along with whites who wanted separate facilities, lobbied government to force businesses to segregate their facilities.

A government strong enough to ban discrimination is powerful enough to implement it as well. Those who wish to discriminate and those who don’t will lobby against each other for control. When private service providers decide who can and can’t use their facilities, people vote with their dollars to support the businesses that express their own viewpoint. No lobbying is necessary!

FBI Refuses to Disclose Details on Software Security Flaw; What Does the Gov’t Have to Hide?

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FBI Refuses to Disclose Details on Software Security Flaw; What Does the Gov’t Have to Hide?

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The fight ignited by Apple continues, as the feud between the tech industry and the US government warms up because Mozilla, the software company behind the popular browser Firefox, is now pressing the feds to disclose information pertaining to a potential security flaw.

FBIMozilla filed a motion with the US district court requesting information on potential Firefox vulnerabilities that could expose users and their data to major privacy infringement risks. The info was unearthed during a criminal investigation carried out by the FBI in which officials hacked into a Dark Web child pornography website in February 2015. During some time, the website was run by FBI officers from inside of a government facility in Virginia. But once the investigation was finalized, vulnerabilities that allowed for this hack were kept secret.

According to Mozilla, if the issues unearthed aren’t addressed by the tech companies, users’ privacy could be under attack. Since the Tor Browser is “built on the same base code as the open-source Firefox browser,” Mozilla believes the vulnerabilities should be shared with the group.

In Mozilla’s motion, the group claims that the government has “refused to tell Mozilla whether the vulnerability at issue in this case involves a Mozilla product,” prompting the company to inquire further in order to protect its users.

The fact the government used an exploit that hasn’t been unveiled makes government officials more likely to use the same artifice to “compromise users and systems running the browser,” a reality Mozilla seems to refuse to accept. According to Mozilla Corporation’s chief legal and business officer Denelle Dixon-Thayer, even the “judge in this case ordered the government to disclose the vulnerability to the defense team but not to any of the entities that could actually fix the vulnerability.” To the company, the judge’s decision makes no sense “because it doesn’t allow the vulnerability to be fixed before it is more widely disclosed.”

But as Tech Dirt has reported, once the judge ordered the FBI to turn over information on the hacking tool to the defense team, the feds refused. Instead of standing his ground, Judge Robert J. Bryan reversed course, allowing the FBI to keep the information under wraps.

According to Motherboard, the judge met with the government in order to learn more about the FBI’s reasoning in this case after the ruling, which prompted his decision to reverse his position. While Bryan “still thinks the defense has a reason to see that code,” he cannot ensure this will actually happen.

Tech Dirt believes there’s “a 0% chance of the FBI voluntarily turning this information over to the defense,” but Mozilla is pressing on anyway. Whether the FBI will be successful in keeping this information from the public is a matter of time.

What’s left to ask is: Why is the FBI so invested in keeping important information on data security from those who develop software that protect us from hackers?

Vermont Legislature Sends Sweeping Privacy Bill to Governor’s Desk

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Vermont Legislature Sends Sweeping Privacy Bill to Governor’s Desk

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

In Vermont, legislators are beginning to fight the federal government’s power grab by passing legislation that would hinder federal surveillance programs.

DronesIf the Tenth Amendment Center is correct, the activism sprung from the growing anti-surveillance spirit sparked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden may have helped to push the Vermont legislature to pass a bill that would boost the state’s privacy protections in the state.

As it now stands, the bill’s text bans the warrantless use of stingray technology to track phone location, restricts the police’s use of surveillance drones, and keeps law enforcement from having warrantless access to user data from service providers.

Senate Bill 155, which was filed in December by Sens. Tim Ashe, Joe Benning, and Dick Sears originally addressed the state’s law enforcement’s use of drones by stipulating certain restrictions concerning the law enforcement’s data sharing and storage policies gathered through the use of Automated License Plate Recognition (ALPR) technologies. While in review, however, both the Senate and the House added amendments to S.155, limiting warrantless collection of electronic data and warrantless use of stingray devices. With the bill as it now is written, the ALPR law in the state could change significantly.

According to TAC’s Mike Maharrey, stingray programs are vastly funded by the US federal government, giving state and local law enforcement agencies extra incentives to make use of the intrusive technology, considering states don’t have to squeeze any extra funding to cover the use of these systems locally. But for agencies to have access to the technologies, the federal government requires agencies to sign non-disclosure agreements. As a result, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and even judges are kept out of the loop.

A recent trial demonstrated how these non-disclosure agreements hurt investigations.

According to an article on the Baltimore Sun, Detective Emmanuel Cabreja refused to answer questions when pressed to give information on the device used during the investigation. After the local detective cited a non-disclosure agreement, the judge threatened to hold him in contempt if the information wasn’t unveiled. Instead of caving in, prosecutors withdrew the evidence, which is what the feds instruct prosecutors to do in similar cases.

According to privacysos.org, the FBI often allows criminals to go unpunished rather than having to face “a possible scenario where a defendant brings a Fourth Amendment challenge to warrantless stingray spying.”

While the federal government allows states to make use of these technologies under the guise of the war on terror, the technology is used primarily for routine criminal investigations, a fact that has been revealed by the Tacoma Police Department.

Maharrey argues that the federal government’s network of drones, which are funded by the American taxpayer, is increasingly cornering innocent individuals, infringing on their right to privacy, which is guaranteed by the US Constitution. With pieces of legislation like S.155, states may stand a chance at fighting the federal government’s overreach.

Both chambers have passed S.155, and the bill now awaits to be sent to the governor’s desk. ​

To Resist Tyranny, We Must Celebrate and Stand By Our Whistleblowers

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To Resist Tyranny, We Must Celebrate and Stand By Our Whistleblowers

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The need for transparency was an important talking point during the 2008 presidential elections, but once the current administration had an opportunity to handle information leaked by whistleblowers such as former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in a constitutional manner, making sure that the National Security Agency’s disregard for privacy was investigated, the Barack Obama administration decided to, instead, start one of the most effective anti-whistleblower campaigns in the history of the United States.

SnowdenAccording to Tech Dirt, the current administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all other administrations combined. And what the most recent case of official mishandling of another NSA whistleblower proves is that officials are oblivious of what due process is all about.

Recently, Foreign Policy reported, another NSA whistleblower attempted to “go through the proper channels” in order to report issues she felt that should be addressed by her superiors. Instead of investigating her complaints, the FBI raided her house.

According to Foreign Policy, the FBI suspended the whistleblower’s clearances without giving her any reason. The publication also explained that she “wasn’t allowed at work, and for two years, the NSA made her ‘call every day like a criminal, checking in every morning before 8.’”

The report continues:

“[Elham] Khorasani went to the agency only for interrogations, she says: eight or nine sessions that ran at least five hours each. She was asked about her family, her travel, and her contacts.”

According to Khorasani, the “special” treatment she received from the FBI only came after the NSA whistleblower set up a meeting with Thomas Drake, another whistleblower prosecuted by the current administration. She had decided to meet with Drake in order to learn more on how she should proceed to make an effective complaint regarding what she calls an unfair reassignment. Once she contacted Drake, he explained that too much time had already passed, and that her efforts would be fruitless from that point on.

He allegedly told her that she had “the bull’s-eyes on” her. “You’re done.”

Khorasani’s story may have been covered by Foreign Policy, but countless others haven’t been pursued. Unfortunately, she’s not the only one to have suffered increased scrutiny over her decision to pursue proper channels in order to have her complaints investigated. According to Foreign Policy’s James Bamford, people under suspicion of misconduct such as Khorasani are often given a special red badge, which replaces the blue card used by employees and contractors with access to secure facilities.

This sort of scarlet letter, Foreign Policy reports, often forces employees to live in “purgatory.” During the entire process, they are never told why they are under scrutiny. And in many cases, they are given jobs inside the gardening department or at the NSA’s museum.

To Tech Dirt, the United States doesn’t have enough whistleblowers because the “proper channels” simply don’t work, which is what the Khorasani case shows us.

If more people within the US government had more incentives to speak out and more often, we would be able to hold our officials accountable. “Unrestrained power may be many things,” Edward Snowden wrote recently, “but it’s not American… We, the people, are ultimately the strongest and most reliable check on the power of government.”

If resistance to tyranny is what we’re looking for, Snowden contends, “Change has to flow from the bottom to the top.”

California Legislators Move to Ban Warrantless Drone Surveillance

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California Legislators Move to Ban Warrantless Drone Surveillance

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Drones are all the rage again, for very good reasons.

dronesAccording to the Tenth Amendment Center, California legislators have taken an important pro-privacy stance by considering a bill that restricts warrantless drone surveillance in the Golden State. Assembly Bill 1820 would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using drones to spy on suspects without a warrant. The bill also helps to thwart federal surveillance, serving as what many like to call a nullification tool against the federal government’s intractable and unconstitutional thirst for control.

Introduced by Assemblyman Bill Quirk, a Democrat from California’s 20th district, AB 1820 unanimously passed a second Assembly committee last week. If signed into law, the piece of legislation would prohibit law enforcement from making use of drone surveillance over private property without a warrant while also establishing that, in some cases, the property owner must give officers express permission before the drone is launched. Weaponized drones could also be banned from the Golden State if AB 1820 were to pass.

While privacy advocates have reason to celebrate and hope for the best in this case, Tenth Amendment Center’s advocates are particularly excited about the bill’s impact on the federal surveillance state.

According to the organization’s blog, AB 1820 thwarts the federal government’s surveillance plans by keeping California from being tempted by the federal government’s perverse incentives.

Currently, funding for drones comes from the federal government. Once the handouts are transferred to state officials and drones are used in local investigations, information gathered by local officials is fed into fusion centers used in a federal program known as the Information Sharing Environment, which was created in 2004 as part of the country’s fruitless War on Terror. The information scored by ISE is then shared with other agencies. The fact some of this information is extracted in an unconstitutional and illegal fashion is never taken into consideration.

According to the Tenth Amendment Center, the federal government “encourages and funds a network of drones at the state and local level across the U.S.,” making the passage of this bill a step toward breaking the federal government’s influx of Californians’ personal data.

With the restrictions proposed by AB 1820, data available to the feds is limited, forcing them to attempt to get the data they need on their own. Without the resources from the states, the federal government is hit with a burdensome blow, effectively hurting the surveillance state and helping to protect your right to privacy.

While the bill is a step in the right direction, Tenth Amendment Center reports that it does allow for certain exceptions involving warrant requirements in emergency situations in which the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle could prevent immediate danger of death or injury to individuals. The bill also establishes that drones can be deployed over private properties in the event of natural disasters.

The Assembly Committee on Public Safety passed AB 1820 without a single nay while California’s Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection passed the proposal 6-5. Now, the bill is expected to move to the Appropriations committee, where lawmakers will review the legislation.

Why Florida’s Asset Forfeiture Reforms Don’t Go Far Enough

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Why Florida’s Asset Forfeiture Reforms Don’t Go Far Enough

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

If you only got your news from major publications such as the Huffington Post, you wouldn’t have learned that Senate Bill 1044, which was signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott this past Friday, does nothing to help Floridians protect their property from unlawful seizures from law enforcement agencies.

According to Tenth Amendment’s Mike Maharrey, the bill was a step in the right direction. But while the new law attempts to do the right thing, it doesn’t go far enough. It also fails to close the federal loophole that renders state reforms meaningless.

Florida According to SB 1044’s text, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that property being targeted for seizure is linked to a crime before forfeiture is justified.

The bill also states that suspects must be formally prosecuted and convicted of a crime before asset forfeiture can be implemented. But due to the committee hearing process, Maharrey explains, the bill was somewhat diluted before the final text was sent to the governor’s desk.

Instead of applying the conviction requirements evenly, amendments added to the bill ended up trimming said requirements. Now, all that the law requires is an arrest before most assets are seized. To Maharrey, the fact the bill got a great deal of support from politicians from both sides of the aisles is proof that “reforms didn’t go as far as needed.”

But what the bill does get right can be easily neutralized by federal law.

The fact SB 1044 only restricts state agencies, Maharrey argues, gives local law enforcement officials and prosecutors a choice. Instead of taking on asset forfeiture by using their own resources, Florida can simply hand the case over to the federal government, rendering reforms passed into law toothless when it comes to protecting Floridians’ property from government abuse.

The Department of Justice has seized more than $4.5 billion from property owners across the country, which now sits in the agency’s civil asset forfeiture fund. According to the Institute for Justice, that represents a 4,700 percent increase over the last generation. When added to the Treasury Department’s civil asset forfeiture fund, the numbers are even more staggering. According to Cato Institute, the government took more than $5 billion from Americans in 2014 alone, making this the first time in history that the government has seized more money than burglars stole from private citizens.

According to Tenth Amendment’s Maharrey, the federal government is fighting hard to keep civil asset forfeiture laws in place because “the feds recognize paying state and local police agencies directly in cash for handling their enforcement would reveal their weakness.” Unless the federal government’s Equitable Sharing Program, which the Department of Justice has just launched once again, is slashed for good, state and local police will always have incentives to take part in the practice of seizing private property.

Until then, efforts like Florida’s must be celebrated, but not considered our only way out. State reforms will only be effective if they keep local agencies from having access to the stolen gifts presented by the federal government’s poorly written laws.

Innocent Grandma In Hospital After Botched Police Raid

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Innocent Grandma In Hospital After Botched Police Raid

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In what may as well be the hundredth time this type of incident happens, a grandmother from Chicago, Illinois went through the scariest moments of her life when a police officer broke down her door unexpectedly while searching for someone else.

The 82-year-old ended up in the hospital after the scare.

GrandmaAccording to Washington Post’s Radley Balko, the great-grandmother from Chicago claims police raided her home while searching for a man she wasn’t acquainted with. In an interview for ABC News, the 82-year-old Elizabeth Harrison said the police “were there with the guns drawn: ‘Put your hands up! Put your hands up! Put your hands up!’” They asked for a “young man that they were looking for. And they would not take no for an answer that I didn’t know him.”

As officers explained Harrison and her family they could file a claim to have the poor old lady’s door fixed, the man officers had been looking for walked right up to them, telling the inefficient policemen that he lived at 126, not 136, Harrison’s address.

Despite finally catching the suspect, officers didn’t even take him into custody, claiming there wasn’t enough evidence for an arrest.

After the incident, the elderly woman was rushed to the hospital where a doctor is now monitoring her heart due to the frightening encounter.

In his article, Balko claims that this is not the first time this type of accident happens.

In 2014, a botched New Hampshire drug raid resulted in the shooting of another grandmother. No charges were brought against the federal agent and the victim survived. In 2010, another grandmother was surprised by federal agents in another botched drug raid. She survived the encounter, but her dog wasn’t as lucky.

During a 2014 police raid in Virginia, a 75-year-old grandmother was restrained, even as she told officers she had nothing to do with their investigation. Officers initially broke down her door and accused her of selling drugs. Despite the fact investigators never found anything on her, the grandmother said officers never apologized for what they did.

While these examples all involve botched raids that did not result in fatalities, the story of a 57-year-old grandmother from Harlem doesn’t have the same happy ending. In 2003, the New York Times reported that a botched raid in Harlem resulted in the death of Alberta Spruill. She had done nothing wrong and the city later paid her family $1.6 million for the mistaken raid.

From the New York Times piece:

“The settlement was notable not so much for the amount as for the speed with which it was reached. It came a mere five and a half months after Ms. Spruill, a longtime city employee, died of a heart attack induced by the use of the grenade in a no-knock raid on her apartment, which the police had been told was used by a drug dealer. At the time, the drug dealer was already in custody.”

The family of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was also paid millions after their grandmother was killed in a botched November 2006 drug raid but the family of an 84-year-old grandma from Texas whose life was also taken during a police raid, weren’t as lucky.

Snowden: Bulk Data Collection is Ineffective, Promotes Insecurity and Oppression

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Snowden: Bulk Data Collection is Ineffective, Promotes Insecurity and Oppression

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

As the country watches the battle between the FBI and Apple unfold, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden uses his notoriety to bring attention to the surveillance problem publicly.

During an interview with the Spanish TV channel Sexta, Snowden gave his two cents on the subject, extending his commentary to the realm of bulk data collection and why it never works.

SnowdenDuring the interview, Snowden claimed that what Washington D.C. believes to be the most effective way to deter terrorists doesn’t pass the smell test.

“In the wake of the revelations of mass surveillance,” Snowden explained, “[US] President [Barack Obama] appointed two independent commissions to review the efficiency of these [surveillance] programs, what they really did and what effect they had in combating terrorism.” What they found, Snowden continued, was that none of the surveillance programs carried out by Washington “stopped a single terrorist attack and never made a concrete difference in a terrorist investigation.”

When looking into how the CIA and NSA have violated the US Constitution for ten years by snooping on Americans’ private communications without ever producing warrants, Snowden continued, “we must ask ourselves: Was it ever worth it?”

With news showing surveillance programs are used for purposes other than fighting terrorism, it’s difficult to ignore the whistleblower’s claims. Especially since the current administration seems unwilling to put an end to its ineffective programs.

Nowadays, bulk data collection is “more aggressive and invasive” than ever before, Snowden told Sexta. “Law enforcement and intelligence structures do not any longer bother to pick up a suspect and hack his cell phone, they cut into all lines and communications” instead. To the whistleblower, this is a clear violation of innocent people’s rights, since federal agents attack the “heart of the society” instead of following tangible evidence.

The debate revolving around privacy and bulk data collection often misses the importance of privacy in a free society. Something that Snowden likes to revisit often. During the interview, he explained this angle of the debate by reminding the reporter that “it is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say, … There are rights that provide value to you even if you’re not actively engaged in them in that moment.”

Currently, Americans are struggling to identify exactly what is and isn’t the best way to go about the surveillance subject. As the public is bombarded with divisive, autocratic rhetoric tied to the presidential campaign, many become oblivious, ignoring their surveillance-related concerns.

Understanding that existing tools like the Internet will always be abused by criminals, and that the federal government is incapable of keeping tabs on what citizens are doing at all times is all part of the problem. Famed economist F. A. Hayek talked extensively about the knowledge problem, explaining that the importance of knowledge of individual circumstances is often minimized by state officials, and the results are often bad to freedom since central planners like to claim they know just what they need to do to solve whatever problem is at hand.

Much like economic problems, which often become much worse as government intervention gets a boost, more surveillance has the same effect, forcing criminals to take part in even more obscure communication methods in order to remain untraceable. The unintended consequences are seldom discussed, but it’s the American individual who pays the price.

If Snowden and many other privacy advocates are right, the federal government’s efforts against terrorism could benefit greatly from a privacy-centered policy. After all, sacrificing freedom in the name of a false sense of security makes us both less safe and less free.

No, the FBI Does Not Want to Simply Break Into a Terrorist’s Phone

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No, the FBI Does Not Want to Simply Break Into a Terrorist’s Phone

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

The case involving the FBI and Apple continues to draw immense media attention. But what many outlets have chosen to mostly ignore is the fact that one of the most important claims made by the FBI is actually fraudulent.

At least that’s what the American Civil Liberties Union is claiming.

Phone In the FBI’s court order handed to Apple, the federal agency claims that it requires Apple’s assistance to unlock the iPhone 5c that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter. Syed Rizwan Farook is tied to the December terrorist attack against government workers in San Bernardino, California that left 14 people dead, and the FBI has his phone in their possession for investigative purposes.

One of the most pressing demands made by the FBI involved Apple disabling the iPhone’s “auto-erase” security feature, an action that would render Apple’s security features vulnerable to future attacks.

The auto-erase system works by protecting user data from hackers, not destroying it. By wiping the key to the phone data after ten failed passcode attempts, the system keeps would-be snoopers from having immediate access to the phone’s information. And the FBI claimed it was afraid of losing the information contained in the San Bernardino shooter’s phone in case Apple chose not to comply.

According to ACLU’s Daniel Kahn Gillmor, however, the FBI’s concern isn’t warranted. Instead of referring to Apple for assistance, Gillmor explains, the FBI should simply back up part of the phone before attempting to guess the passcode. Instead of taking that step, however, the FBI decided to press Apple, urging the tech giant to “bypass or disable the auto-erase function whether or not it has been enabled.”

In his post for ACLU’s website, Gillmor claims the FBI already knows how to bypass the security system. He also claims that a close look at how the FBI claims the auto-erase feature works may offer important clues as to what the agency actually wants with this request.

Before Apple’s Tim Cook issued a formal statement explaining why he refused to comply with the FBI’s requests and just a few days before the court order was issued, the government issued a strongly worded motion to compel. In this motion, the FBI explains what the auto-erase feature does.

The document reads:

“The FBI has been unable to make attempts to determine the passcode to access the SUBJECT DEVICE because Apple has written, or ‘coded,’ its operating systems with a user-enabled ‘auto-erase function’ that would, if enabled, result in the permanent destruction of the required encryption key material after 10 failed attempts at the [sic] entering the correct passcode (meaning that, after 10 failed attempts, the information on the device becomes permanently inaccessible)…”

By using the “permanently inaccessible” term, Gillmor explains, the FBI may be attempting to add urgency to its request, causing Apple to panic before the order. But there’s a problem with how the government explains how the feature works, which means that the FBI may not be disclosing its intentions.

Instead of making the data “permanently inaccessible,” Gillmor explains, the system built into the iPhone to protect the user’s data works by protecting the data from immediate access when a hacker or snooper attempts to guess the passcode ten times. Instead of destroying the data, the system actually destroys one of the keys that protects the data, making that particular data unreadable. What is erased is the “file system key,” which is stored in what Apple calls “Effaceable Storage,” a part of the phone’s flash memory. But the destruction is not exactly a serious issue. According to Apple’s iOS Security Guide, the key is designed to be “erased on demand (by the user, with the ‘Erase all content and settings’ option, or by a user or administrator issuing a remote wipe command…” So what the feature concerning the FBI really protects is a key, not the actual data.

According to Gillmor, the FBI is scared of losing access to the system key, not the data, and yet its officials wrote a request that made a very different claim.

“All the FBI needs to do to avoid any irreversible auto erase,” Gillmor explains, “is simply to copy that flash memory (which includes the Effaceable Storage) before it tries 10 passcode attempts.”

Then, officials will have the ability to re-try guessing the passcode as many times as it is necessary for them to break the code. Once they have access, they can restore the data from its backup copy.

Gillmor closes his article by claiming that what the FBI wants to do is to “weaken the ecosystem we all depend on for maintenance of our all-too-vulnerable devices.” So if the federal agents are so concerned about our security, how come they are so invested in rendering the systems that protect us useless?

Apple Wins Court Battle Against FBI, and the Immorality of the Surveillance State is Exposed

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 Apple Wins Court Battle Against FBI, and the Immorality of the Surveillance State is Exposed

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

As privacy advocates urge the federal government to stop pressuring Apple to create a backdoor to its iPhone, a move that would essentially undermine the company’s own encryption software, the company has just won big in a federal court.

iPhoneAccording to The Intercept, the ongoing battle between the tech company and the surveillance state could turn out bitter for the federal agency since a New York federal magistrate judge has just rejected one of the US government’s requests.

The criminal case involves an iPhone whose encrypted system has put its data out of the reach of the FBI. Apple was asked to aid investigators, but Magistrate Judge James Orenstein ruled against the government’s request.

The iPhone in question belongs to Jun Feng. Back in October, he pleaded guilty to drug charges. While the Drug Enforcement Administration seized Feng’s phone, it claimed it was unable to access its data. As both the DEA and the FBI tried to break the code, they also claimed they were unable to overcome Apple’s security measures.

As a result, a motion was filed, and the company was ordered to assist the investigation “under the authority of the All Writs Act,” a piece of legislation that is also being used by the FBI to force Apple to help investigators with the phone belonging to the San Bernardino killers.

Apple rejected the request on both cases. According to The Intercept, the government has requested the company to aid investigators in at least nine other occasions.

Using previous decisions pertaining to the interpretation of the All Writs Act, Judge Orenstein concluded that “imposing on Apple the obligation to assist the government’s investigation against its will” was not justified by the law. The question raised by the government’s requests, Judge Orenstein added, is whether the All Writs Act gives a court the power to compel Apple to perform work that goes against its will. Apple, the private party in the matter, has no alleged involvement with the criminal activity involving Feng, therefore the federal government has no legal means to compel Apple to create a backdoor to its product.

To Glenn Greenwald, the privacy advocate and journalist involved with the dissemination of information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Orenstein’s ruling clarifies that the purpose of the request put forth by the FBI is not directly tied to the data evidence. Instead, Greenwald argues, FBI wants to broaden its authority, giving the federal government precedential authority to force other tech companies to undermine their own security systems in future investigations.

To privacy—and liberty—advocates, Apple’s decision makes sense.

In an article for the Foundation for Economic Education, Andrea Castillo explains that Apple has decided to put its consumers first. A move that goes against the attitude embraced by many corporations that “serve as quiet collaborators for the surveillance state to avoid retribution from the government.”

To Dr. Ron Paul, the former congressman and founder of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, the United States is not East Germany. Complying with the FBI’s order would represent a major threat to liberty.

If Greenwald is right, the recent court ruling could help privacy advocates in their fight against the federal government’s overreach. But is the over reliance on the courts the best move?

Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) have both claimed that the FBI’s request is unconstitutional. The recent court ruling may confirm the fact the FBI wanted more than a simple aid in their investigations, but the fact the requests were unconstitutional—and immoral—should be enough to give anyone enough reasons to say no to the surveillance state.

Libertarian Law Firm Fights Eminent Domain Abuse in North Carolina

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Libertarian Law Firm Fights Eminent Domain Abuse in North Carolina

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Property rights just won big in North Carolina.

With the help of Institute for Justice, a non-profit libertarian public interest law firm, property owners in Mt. Airy, NC created an organization to keep local officials from violating property owners’ rights. The Mt. Airy Property Rights Alliance (MAPRA), as they are now called, were able to put an end to the city’s plan to use privately owned property in their redevelopment effort recently. And IJ wants you to know how it all went down.

NorthCarolinaThe grassroots movement was launched when the city decided to include privately owned businesses and homes in the redevelopment plan put together by the Mt. Airy Redevelopment Commission, a committee created by the City Board of Commissioners.

The original plan was to give the new board the authority to initiate efforts to redevelop government-owned property in the city. But the newly-created commission had other plans. That’s when private properties were added to the mix.

When the city began eyeing an abandoned factory known as the Spencer’s property, a building that had once been a children’s clothing manufacturer, everyone started to pay attention.

In September of 2015, the redevelopment commission notified that the Westside Redevelopment Plan announced that at least 20 privately owned properties had been declared “blighted.” The 20 new parcels, along with the former factory, made it to the final list of properties targeted by the city’s new commission. If owners didn’t cooperate, the commission would authorize eminent domain, and properties would become officially condemned. At the time, Commissioner Steve Yokeley told The Mount Airy News that owners who weren’t “interested in developing” their property on their own would have their property taken away.

But eminent domain is designated as a public tool, which is to say, officials often make use of it to build roads and bridges, not to pick and choose which corporations or constructors get to develop a designated area for economic purposes.

In order to fight the local officials, IJ and MAPRA targeted the media without mercy.

By launching a major PR campaign and having the media focus on the eminent domain issue, the two groups forced the city commission to debate the case at every subsequent meeting. The result was eye-popping.

As the media helped grassroots organization make the inclusion of private properties in the new development plan a hot topic, the four of the five city commissioners, as well as the mayor were pressured to go against the city plan during their reelection campaigns. Once the elections were over, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to dissolve the Mt. Airy Redevelopment Commission. As the board took on the responsibility of taking on the project on their own, they decided to redraw the boundaries of the redevelopment plan, and all privately owned properties remained protected.

Eminent domain is the central subject of Steven Greenhut’s book Abuse of Power: How the government misuses eminent domain. According to Greenhut, major corporations and developers often refer to local government officials whenever they see an opportunity to earn big on the expense of property they do not own. The Mt. Airy case is a great example.

With the help of a strong and aggressive PR campaign, IJ and MAPRA beat the local government officials, giving private property owners a reason to hope that the same could be done again.

VA Property Owners Win Eminent Domain, Freedom of Speech Cases

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VA Property Owners Win Eminent Domain, Freedom of Speech Cases

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

fight between a Virginia public university and a private radio station has ignited an impromptu debate on eminent domain abuse. And while eminent domain laws and their consequences are seldom discussed by the mainstream media, people start to pay attention when both private property and freedom of speech are threatened.

Recently, a Virginia court sided with property owners who had been threatened with eminent domain laws in Norfolk, VA.

Eminent Domain

A local radio station known as Central Radio Company was targeted by the city in what appears to be an effort to expand Old Dominion (ODU), a public university. But the radio station wasn’t the only business on the hit list. A privately-owned apartment building was also under threat.

It all started in 1998, when the Norfolk City Council approved the Hampton Boulevard Redevelopment Project, which gave ODU the legal means to expand eastward. Up until when the plan was approved, the area was a mix of commercial and industrial properties, but it also counted with a few privately owned student apartments. But since the land wasn’t being used for educational purposes only, ODU pushed local housing authorities to resort to eminent domain laws.

At the time, Virginia’s law allowed authorities to take properties away from its rightful owners for economic development purposes as long as most targeted properties had been deemed condemned due to decay. Since then, local housing authorities acquired more than 160 properties, which were all turned over to the university’s real estate foundation. The spot is now home to ODU’s Ted Constant Convocation Center, a research park, and a cluster of apartment buildings and businesses for students.

But as the university moved to push Central Radio Company and two other companies out of their land, they fought back.

In 2011, PKO Ventures, the owner of apartment buildings under threat, Central Radio, and Norva Plastics took the battle against the university to a Circuit Court, but the effort was unsuccessful.

In June, PKO appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. The company argued that recent changes to the state eminent domain law prohibited ODU from pushing property owners out of the area.

In 2007, the General Assembly adopted changes to the state law that limited the authority’s use of eminent domain. After the changes, local authorities were prohibited from taking land for economic development.

But the changes also affected how authorities were expected to target properties that had been condemned for blight, making the condemnation of entire areas illegal. Only specific properties were allowed to be taken, and only if they had been deemed condemned over decay. While the changes were adopted in July of 2007, the assembly added a provision that allowed agencies in the middle of projects to continue to acquire land. The provision had an expiration date: July 2010.

While the housing authority argued that resorting to eminent domain against PKO and others was legal because proceedings started prior to the deadline, landowners claimed their plots hadn’t been formally acquired until later.

As this legal fight continued, another one had just started to brew.

Central Radio had had a large sign placed on the side of its building promoting its opposition to eminent domain abuse. In light of the ongoing legal battle, the city eventually decided to go after Central Radio by claiming that the company was in violation of city advertising statuses.

A second lawsuit was filed by the radio company, arguing that the city’s claims hoped to undermine the company’s First Amendment rights. The 4th Circuit Appeals Court first sided with the city, but once Central Radio petitioned the case to the Supreme Court, the 4th Circuit Appeals Court was forced to take the case back.

Before booting the case back to the appeals court, the Supreme Court ordered it to take Reed v. Town of Gilbert into account. The Supreme Court had recently ruled in favor of the private party in the case, reaffirming that government entities have no right to impose content-based restrictions on speech.

The appeals court finally sided with Norfolk’s Central Radio.

With both of these decisions, the region’s property owners have finally won their long battle against eminent domain abuse in the region, while also fighting for freedom of speech.

 

Supreme Court Ignores Privacy Group’s Request to Disclose DHS’s Cellphone Shutdown Policy

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Supreme Court Ignores Privacy Group’s Request to Disclose DHS’s Cellphone Shutdown Policy

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Do you think the Department of Homeland Security keeps us safe? What about the Supreme Court? Do you believe it upholds the Constitution as it should?

Recently, a petition from the Electronic Privacy Information Center demanding the DHS to release its plan to close mobile phone services in the wake of disasters was set aside by the Supreme Court.

With the snub, the highest court of the land refused to look at the federal appeals court’s May ruling that upholds the secrecy surrounding DHS’s plan. If the ruling remains in place, DHS officers are not required to disclose details concerning Standard Operating Procedure 303, which outlines the guidelines that private and commercial wireless networks are required to follow during the service shutdown and restoration processes in the event of what the DHS describes as a “national crisis.”

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

The appeals court used the Freedom of Information Act to keep the DHS from disclosing the plan in May, claiming that allowing details from SPP 303 to become public would put the safety of Americans at risk.

The factor that prompted the privacy group to act involved a full shutdown of cellphone service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system during what EPIC calls a peaceful protest back in 2011. At the time, EPIC demanded DHS to divulge the contents of SOP 303, but the agency refused. Later, the case was taken to a district court in Washington, D.C., where the judge ruled in favor of the privacy group. Soon after, the federal appeals court overturned the district court’s ruling, claiming the SOP 303 is a “voluntary process” designed to protect Americans during “critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.”

According to the heavily redacted version of the shutdown policy obtained by EPIC, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials have access to the powers granted by SOP 303. Despite the overreach and the policy’s restrictions on individuals’ communication devices without proper warning, document details are not accessible to Americans.

If a peaceful protest is enough of a reason to shut down the phone service of countless individuals who may have not even been part of the incident, privacy groups like EPIC want to make sure the DHS opens SOP 303′s contents for discussion.

By infringing the individual’s right to privacy without due process, the DHS is acting unconstitutionally, despite the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore EPIC’s petition.

If the American people are not made aware of the Supreme Court’s decision to ignore privacy concerns and government abuse, agencies like DHS will continue to abuse its powers.

Trashing the restrictions on government imposed by the US Constitution will not make us safe.

According to the Cato Institute, DHS is responsible for increasing bureaucracy while not improving the efficacy of Department of Homeland Security’s programs. In a perfect world, the DHS’s inefficiency alone would be enough to have it slashed.

As taxpayers foot the bill, agencies like the DHS work relentlessly to keep Americans from having access to policies that impact them directly. If privacy groups like EPIC are not able to push the Supreme Court to rule on this matter, what are other ways we should go about demanding our privacy is fully restored?

NSA Spied on Israel to Counter Criticism of Iran Deal, Communications with U.S. Lawmakers Intercepted

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NSA Spied on Israel to Counter Criticism of Iran Deal, Communications with U.S. Lawmakers Intercepted

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The National Security Agency is bracing for another heavy round of criticism. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the controversial intelligence agency spied on Israeli leaders while the United States was ironing out a nuclear agreement with Iran. But the spying apparatus also captured communications between Israeli and members of Congress.

NSA

President Barack Obama and the NSA have already come under fire for spying on leaders of countries that are allied with the United States, such as Brazil, Germany, and Mexico. The White House was reportedly unaware of the NSA’s activities, which came to light in the summer of 2013.

President Obama, in early 2014, pledged to stop snooping on the United States’ allies. “The leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue,” he said, “I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance.” The only exceptions to the prohibition were countries that served a national security interest. Among them was Israel.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the NSA has continued to spy on Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a fierce critic of the nuclear agreement that the United States worked out with Iran. Netanyahu brought his concerns against the deal to Washington in March during a speech to a joint session of Congress.

The intelligence received by the NSA, according to the report, was used to “counter” Netanyahu’s criticism of the agreement with Iran. Inadvertently or not, the NSA “also swept up the contents of some of [Israel leaders’] private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”

The intercepts revealed that Israel was coordinating with U.S.-based groups to criticize the Iran deal. “The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. [Israeli Ambassador Ron] Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal,” the report explained.

It’s unclear which lawmakers’ communications were intercepted by the NSA. But the report could reignite the already fiery debate in the halls of Congress and on the campaign trail over the intelligence agency’s snooping, as well as renewed criticism of the Iran deal and the Obama administration’s already stressed relationship Israel and Netanyahu.

The Debate Over NSA Spying is Finished. Or is it?

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The Debate Over NSA Spying is Finished. Or is it?

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On Tuesday, the United States Senate gave final passage to the USA Freedom Act, but not without drama on the floor of the upper chamber. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered three amendments that, if passed, would have weakened the bill.

With the support of hawks in the Senate Republican Conference, McConnell proposed amendments that would have increased the transition period from three to six months, removed essential transparency requirements, and required private companies to notify the federal government if they changed their data retention policies. Each of the amendments failed, falling short of the majority needed for passage.

After the USA Freedom Act passed with significant bipartisan support, a visibly irritated McConnell railed against the bill from the floor, lecturing his colleagues that the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” doesn’t cover phone records.

uncle-sam-watching-you-feature

“No content. No names. No listening to the phone calls of law-abiding citizens. We are talking about call data records,” said McConnell. “And these are the provider’s records, which is not what the Fourth Amendment speaks to. It speaks to: ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.’”

Part of the legal justification for bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is grounded in a little-known 1979 case, Smith v. Maryland, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the installation of the pen register on the phone of Michael Lee Smith without a warrant was not a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. But as Jim Harper of the Cato Institute has explained, this interpretation of the case is wildly misleading.

“It is not possible to argue honestly that the facts of Smith are anything like the NSA’s bulk data collection. The police had weighty evidence implicating one man. The telephone company voluntarily applied a pen register, collecting analog information about the use of one phone line by that one suspect,” Harper wrote in August 2013. “I can’t think of a factual situation that could be at a further extreme than NSA’s telephone calling surveillance program.”

Add to Harper’s point that Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act allowed only the collection of records related to specific investigation into terrorism. It didn’t permit the bulk collection of all phone records of every American, a fact that was noted recently by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although several organizations and tech companies backed the USA Freedom Act, the bill wasn’t without opposition because it didn’t go far enough to protect Americans’ privacy. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., made his opposition clear because he wanted the ability to offer amendments to strengthen the bill.

Others, like Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., believe the USA Freedom Act merely shifts the method of bulk collection from the National Security Agency to private phone companies. The USA Freedom Act, Amash said after it passed the House of Representatives in mid-May, “actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data.”

But with debate on the USA Freedom Act now over, at least for now, President Barack Obama’s signature on the bill, some may be asking what’s next. The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the administration is seeking to restart the bulk collection program “temporarily” to transition “the domestic surveillance effort to the telephone companies that generate the so-called ‘call detail records’ the government seeks to access.”

So, just to be clear, the administration will, according to The Guardian, “argue it needs to restart the program in order to end it.” Add that one to the growing list of Orwellian statements from this administration, and put it right under “if you like your health plan, you can keep it” and “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Don’t be surprised when Garland is used as an excuse to renew the Patriot Act

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Don’t be surprised when Garland is used as an excuse to renew the Patriot Act

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Supporters of the NSA’s domestic spying programs say that a vast data collection effort is needed more than ever to prevent terrorist attacks in the United States, but they are unable to point to any specific example of foiled terrorist plots through these unconstitutional, privacy-violating programs.

In June 2013, Gen. Keith Alexander, then the Director of the NSA, claimed that the spying programs prevented “potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.” Testifying before a Senate committee in October of the same year, Alexander backtracked after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) grilled him for misleading the American public.

Spy

“There is no evidence that [bulk] phone records collection helped to thwart dozens or even several terrorist plots,” said Leahy. “These weren’t all plots and they weren’t all foiled. Would you agree with that, yes or no?” he asked the NSA chief.

Alexander, realizing he had been put on the spot for peddling misinformation, simply replied, “Yes.”

Of course Alexander was more honest than his colleague, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who lied about the NSA domestic surveillance program in a March 2013 Senate hearing. He was accused of perjury, although the allegation went nowhere in a Congress filled with pro-surveillance members.

Two government panels – President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board – have since determined that NSA’s domestic spying programs have not played a role in thwarting terrorist attacks.

The attack on Sunday evening in Garland, Texas at the “Draw Muhammad” event hosted by an anti-Islam organization will undoubtedly be used as a reason to reauthorize a soon-to-expire provision, Section 215, of the USA PATRIOT Act by which the federal government claims the vast authority to spy on Americans.

But such claims should be met with a large dose of skepticism. One of the suspects involved in the attack had already come across the FBI’s radar. The United States’ top law enforcement agency began investigating him in 2006 on the suspicion that he wanted to join a terrorist group in Somalia.

The alleged attacker lied to federal authorities. He was convicted in 2010 of making false statements and sentenced to three years of probation. He was, however, able to avoid being placed on the “no-fly” list.

The alleged attackers in Garland are precisely are the needle for which the federal government claims that it needs the haystack, and intelligence and law enforcement officials failed to prevent what could have been a mass murder.

The NSA’s resources are spread too thin. Collecting the phone calls of virtually every American – the proverbial “haystack” – even if the people on the call are not suspected of any terrorist involvement, not only betrays the constitutionally protected rights defined by the Fourth Amendment, but also makes Americans less safe because intelligence agencies may not be able to connect the dots efficiently and effectively.

Rather than using the Garland attack as tool to further reauthorization of Section 215, which expires on June 1, lawmakers should seriously reexamine the approach to intelligence, requiring agencies like the NSA to focus on actual terrorism suspects as opposed to innocent Americans calling their families and friends.

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