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UC at San Diego Sued to Enforce First Amendment Rights

in First Amendment, Freedom On Campus, Liberator Online by Advocates HQ Comments are off

UC at San Diego Sued to Enforce First Amendment Rights

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

Last week, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit claiming the University of California at San Diego and the Associated Students Council defunded student organizations in retaliation for a controversial article published by a satirical paper, The Koala.

KoalaThe student paper, which has been published at UCSD since 1982, made fun of politically correct or “PC” culture last November in an article entitled, “UCSD Unveils News Dangerous Space on Campus.”

It mocked the use of “safe spaces,” repeatedly used the “N-word,” and mentioned the opening of a “dangerous space” to accommodate “individuals who do not like feeling safe…continuing the university’s theme of inclusion and equality.”

In a 22-3 vote on Nov. 18, the student government association eliminated funding for all 13 active student-funded media outlets on campus. Gabe Cohen, editor-in-chief of the satirical newspaper The Koala, known for its vulgar shock-value humor, said his publication is being targeted specifically.

The council’s vote came the same day UC San Diego administrators posted an online denouncement of The Koala as “profoundly repugnant, repulsive, attacking and cruel.”

Cohen criticized the budget cut, calling it as “thinly veiled censorship” aimed at The Koala in particular. He pointed out that The Koala’s $3,000 annual budget makes up a small portion of the total student government budget — less than one percent.

“The decision sends a dangerous message to the campus, which is essentially, ‘If we don’t like what you’re saying, we’ll do everything we can to shut you up, even if that means harming innocents in the process,’” he said. “A.S. hoped this would make us go bow down and go away, but in reality they challenged a belligerent drunk to a fist fight.”

So far, The Koala has raised $1,000 in addition to securing advertising contracts, Cohen said, adding that San Diego State University’s chapter of the publication draws its funding solely from ad revenues, “proving it is not impossible to run without school funding,” he said.

Now, with help from the ACLU, Koala staffers hope to overturn the cut by taking legal action.

The ACLU’s legal filing quotes extensively from the Bias Incident Report Forms, submitted to the college by students offended by The Koala’s article.

“[The publication] propagates insensitive mindsets with its sexist and racist comments masked under cruel humor,” one complaint said. “Screen works to make sure that there is no propagation of these attitudes.”

Another complaint demanded the university “immediately take the initiative to end any hate speech, actions or crimes that offend any groups represented on this campus.”

The Bias Response Incident Reports apparently prompted action, with one administrator noting, “we do not typically receive so many reports regarding single issue.” The student government responded by ending funding for all printed student media, even though it continues to pay for other forms of speech like forums and events with speakers.

The ACLU argues that “however offensive or outrageous it may have been, the article remains protected speech on topical issues of public concern, including but not necessarily limited to the nature, purpose, and appropriateness of trigger warnings and safe spaces on college and university campuses.”

Cohen agrees.

“Part of attending a university is learning through considering opinions and voices that differ from your own, which you might not agree with,” he said. “Cutting funding to print media is a slippery step in the direction of anti-intellectualism and paternalism that should have no place on this campus.”

A motion for a preliminary injunction will be heard in federal court on July 18, 2016.

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

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

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?

As Presidential Candidates Promise to Use Torture, Pentagon Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

As Presidential Candidates Promise to Use Torture, Pentagon Releases Photos of Detainee Abuse

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

The Pentagon recently released nearly 200 photos related to its investigation into the US use—and abuse—of torture against detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to The Intercept, the released images are the most innocuous of the more than 2,000 images the government has been fighting to keep confidential.

The pictures were taken between 2003 and 2006. Most of them are close-up shots of detainees’ limbs. Some of them show scabs or bruises. Faces are covered with black bars to keep the detainees’ identities under wraps.

Torture

According to government attorneys, the release of the 2,000 photos documenting the abuse would harm national security. Admitting that the actions perpetrated by US forces against detainees are used as a recruitment tool, government attorneys have argued that the release of the bulk of images would be used as propaganda by the Islamic State or al Qaeda.

In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force the Defense Department to release the 2,000 photographs in the agency’s possession. The request was filed after images from the prison at Abu Ghraib leaked.

According to Vice News, many of the unreleased images show soldiers posing with dead bodies, while others show soldiers punching and kicking prisoners. Many allegedly show detainees stripping naked next to female guards. None of those incidents were documented in the 198 photos released by the Pentagon in response to ACLU’s lawsuit.

To Katherine Hawkins, the senior counsel at the Constitution Project, released images “are only about 10 percent, and presumably the least graphic 10 percent, of the larger set the ACLU sued for.” Despite the lack of graphic content, Hawkins says released photos are enough to prove US forces abused their power.

While the Barack Obama administration initially promised to release the images by 2009, it changed its stance.

The change of heart is reportedly due to pressure from the top US commander in Iraq, Bush-era holdovers at the Defense Department, and the then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

After the change of policy, the administration reported that the publication of the images would not add “any additional benefit” to the public understanding of what happened. The administration reported that abuse was perpetrated by “a small number of individuals.” The administration also confirmed that the release of the images would “inflame anti-American opinion,” which could put troops in danger.

The Defense Department has claimed that the investigations tied to the released images were associated with 14 allegations of abuse that resulted in “some form of disciplinary action.” At least 65 service members were reprimanded in some capacity.

As presidential election debates force candidates to share their views on torture and whether US forces should make use of it in the country’s efforts to combat terrorism, many believe candidates sound somewhat desperate to please the pro-war crowd. Among conservatives, however, many have made the case against torture in the past by claiming that the policy signals that the “beacon of freedom is lowering the legal bar on what it means to be a human being.”

Senator Rand Paul, one of the few Republican presidential candidates who made anti-torture comments in the past, has recently dropped out of the race. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has had different opinions on the use of torture in the past, while Senator Bernie Sanders opposes the practice.

Despite the antiwar rhetoric, candidates like Sanders have voted to fund wars and US bombing campaigns in the past.

Without a consistent voice against torture and intervention in the election cycle, Americans lose the opportunity to hear different perspectives. With so many candidates making pro-torture comments, it’s hard to see the mainstream political discourse shifting any time soon.

Are You on the Fed’s Terrorist Watchlist?

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

You can be pulled into the NSA’s database, put on a terrorist watchlist, and receive discriminatory treatment from local, state, and national law enforcement agents — without warning or notice, and for something as innocent as a Facebook or Twitter post.

So reports journalist Arjun Sethi in a shocking story in The Guardian, August 30, entitled, appropriately enough, “The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post.”

“Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information. …

“It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors…

“The Terrorist Screening Database watchlist tracks ‘known’ and ‘suspected’ terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the U.S. government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information — including a Facebook or Twitter post — to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.”

Indeed, according to the investigative journalism website The Intercept, the Terrorist Screening Database has about 680,000 people on it — and more than 40 percent are described by the government itself as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That’s a whopping 280,000 people.

Continues the Guardian: “These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard — so-called ‘reasonable suspicion’ — in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.

“Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard because it requires neither ‘concrete evidence’ nor ‘irrefutable evidence.’ Instead, an official is permitted to consider ‘reasonable inferences’ and ‘to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience.’”

Further, the loose rules allow watchlisting without even the minimum standard of  reasonable suspicion. Non-citizens can be watchlisted just for being associated with a watchlisted person, even if the relationship is totally innocent. If a source or tipster describes a non-citizen as an “extremist,” a “militant,” or some similar term, and the FBI can make some vague connection, this could be enough to watchlist a person. The watchlist designation is secret, so no one is able to challenge these allegations.

But being on the watchlist can bring terrible consequences, notes the Guardian:

“Life on the master watchlist can trigger enhanced screening at borders and airports; being on the No Fly List, which is a subset of the larger terrorist watchlist, can prevent airline travel altogether. The watchlist can separate family members for months or years, isolate individuals from friends and associates, and ruin employment prospects.

“Being branded a terrorism suspect also has far-reaching privacy implications. The watchlist is widely accessible, and government officials routinely collect the biometric data of watchlisted individuals, including their fingerprints and DNA strands. Law enforcement has likewise been directed to gather any and all available evidence when encountering watchlisted individuals, including receipts, business cards, health information and bank statements. …

“A watchlist based on poor standards and secret processes raises major constitutional concerns, including the right to travel freely and not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.”

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, agrees: “We’re getting into Minority Report territory when being friends with the wrong person can mean the government puts you in a database and adds DMV photos, iris scans, and face recognition technology to track you secretly and without your knowledge. The fact that this information can be shared with agencies from the CIA to the NYPD, which are not known for protecting civil liberties, brings us closer to an invasive and rights-violating government surveillance society at home and abroad.”

The Guardian concludes with a question you’re probably already asking yourself:

“Indeed, you can’t help but wonder: are you already on the watchlist?”

Read the next article from this issue here.

Go back to the full issue here.

Marijuana Shockers Propel New Re-Legalization Effort

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“The Uncovery” is a new online program by the American Civil Liberties Union designed to facilitate mass online activism in support of marijuana re-legalization.

The UncoveryThe Uncovery website lets users select facts about the failures of marijuana prohibition, both national and state by state, and convert these facts into customized graphic messages they can share on social media and send to legislators — all in sixty seconds or less.

Among the sobering facts offered by The Uncovery:

  • Police in the U.S. make a marijuana arrest every 37 seconds.
  • Police made over 8 million marijuana arrests total nationwide between 2001 and 2010.
  • 88% of all marijuana arrests are for marijuana possession.
  • States spent an estimated $496 million incarcerating people for marijuana possession in 2010.
  • States spent an estimated $1.4 billion adjudicating marijuana possession cases in 2010.
  • States spent an estimated $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana laws in 2010.
  • States spent over $1.7 billion on police enforcement of marijuana laws in 2010.
  • In 2010, police made 889,133 marijuana arrests — 300,000 more arrests than they made for all violent crimes.
  • Between 2002 and 2011, the government spent billions enforcing marijuana laws. In that time, marijuana use increased from 6.2% to 7%.
  • 9 out of 10 U.S. adults believe people who possess or use small amounts of marijuana should not face jail time.
  • 52% of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
  • Since legalizing marijuana in 2012, Washington State projects it will raise more than $500 million in marijuana-related revenues annually.
  • More than 42% of all Americans report having tried marijuana in their lifetime.
  • The world’s largest jailer, the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population.
  • Black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates, but Blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
  • In New York and Texas in 2010, 97% of all marijuana arrests were for possession.
  • 62% of all marijuana arrests in 2010 were of people 24 years old or younger.
  • Between 1995 and 2010, police increased the number of marijuana arrests they made nationwide by 51%.
  • 52% of all drug arrests in 2010 were for marijuana.
  • If current trends continue, the government will spend almost $20 billion enforcing marijuana laws in the next five years.

Learn more at TheUncovery.org