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ACLU: Police Use of Face-Recognition Tech is ‘Violating Americans’ Civil Rights’

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ACLU: Police Use of Face-Recognition Tech is ‘Violating Americans’ Civil Rights’

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The American Civil Liberties Union, along the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, sent a letter to the Justice Department expressing concerns over federal, state, and local police use of facial recognition technology.

FaceThe letter claims that a recent study carried out by the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law shows that “law enforcement use of face recognition technology is having a disparate impact on communities of color, potentially exacerbating and entrenching existing policing disparities.”

Adding that said systems are powerful, the letter explained that a Federal Bureau of Investigation study from 2012 shows that the technology is “5 to 10 percent less accurate on African Americans than Caucasians.” By reaching out to the Justice Department, the ACLU plus over 50 other groups are asking the government to investigate police practices associated with the technology because of the system’s inaccuracies.

While the ACLU has not argued for an end to the use of the technology, the organization’s legislative counsel, Singh Guliani, said that, unless “meaningful safeguards are in place,” the use of the technology could be putting the privacy of Americans at risk.

Mentioning the fact that half of all U.S. adults are in government face recognition databases, Guliani added that allowing law enforcement to use these technologies without clear policies may lead to abuse.

According to the Georgetown report mentioned by the ACLU, abuse may come in different shapes and sizes.

Because many law enforcement agencies employ the technology in a continuous fashion, scanning individuals on real-time, researchers believe that this type of approach may violate people’s privacy simply because law enforcement is collecting footage of law-abiding citizens without seeking a warrant beforehand. In the report, the Center on Privacy & Technology team explains that this type of use is “generalized and invisible.” In many instances, the research team adds, abuse may lead to stifling of free speech.

Out of the 52 agencies using the system, the research team found at least one department using the face recognition tool to track individuals engaged in political, religious, or other type of “protected free speech.” But because of the lack of oversight, many departments do not have access to data on the use of the technology, making it difficult for researchers to identify other instances of abuse.

All of these problems are “unprecedented and highly problematic,” researchers added in the report.

In the group’s letter, the ACLU argued that the problems raised by the Georgetown study are “particularly disturbing” when we consider that federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies have been using these technologies for routine investigations without any oversight.

Considering law enforcement has been under heavy scrutiny recently over the use and abuse of “voodoo science,”  it’s easy to see how the ACLU has reason to mistrust law enforcement with the use of such a powerful tool.

Speech Censorship Is Bad, Even If It Targets Terrorists

in First Amendment, Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Property Rights by Alice Salles Comments are off

Speech Censorship Is Bad, Even If It Targets Terrorists

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

Censorship never works. Especially when it comes to speech that is considered offensive or criminal. Why? Because when individuals are given a platform where they may express themselves openly, they become more visible, giving others who disagree with their methods or philosophy an opportunity to spot them and stay out of their way.

TwitterBut when fear is at play, people tend to lose grasp of their emotions and what could have turned into a reasonable debate turns into a witch hunt.

As politicians and others urge companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to crack down on users who identify as Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) fighters and sympathizers, encouraging these users to be banned from their platforms, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) admits that banning ISIS users from online platforms pushes them “to a place where they’re less able to proselytize broadly but more able to communicate in a secure way.” Meaning that, when users are blocked from Twitter, it makes it difficult for law enforcement to track them down.

Who would have thought?

According to Tech Dirt, intelligence officials are usually able to get good intelligence from paying attention to social media accounts from ISIS fighters. But in spite of what many consider to be a risk associated with how easily ISIS fighters are able to recruit by keeping active accounts on social media, Tech Dirt points out that nearly every single study on radicalization shows that online recruitment is not as effective as many would think.

Silencing users might help to keep social media websites “clean” from speech we find offensive, but instead of making us safe, it just pushes individuals who follow dreadful philosophies into the shadows, making it harder for us to spot them and keep an eye on what they are up to next.

When translated into enforcement, the banishment of users from online platforms only makes it hard for officials to track terrorists down.

As US officials continue to press private tech companies to open backdoors so that law enforcement is able to closely spy on American citizens, public pressure to ban offensive speech adds fuel to the fire, oftentimes giving officials reasons to lobby for the expansion of government’s spying powers.

Instead of allowing our feelings to speak louder than reason, we must always remember that what may seem as the best solution superficially might not produce the desired outcome. No matter how many times we implement the same policy.

Oakland Officers Fail to Find Suspect Through Surveillance so Feds Step In—All Without a Warrant

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

Oakland Officers Fail to Find Suspect Through Surveillance so Feds Step In—All Without a Warrant

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

In Oakland, California, feds were caught helping local police departments to spy on suspects without warrants. And in at least one instance, the individual targeted, Purvis Ellis, wasn’t even the main suspect in the murder case that led to his capture.

OaklandAccording to Tech Dirt, court documents obtained by Ars Technica show that the Oakland Police Department used stingray technology without seeking a warrant first against Ellis in 2013. The use of the device was deployed in order to catch the suspect who had been associated with the attempted murder of officer Eric Karsserboom.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stingrays “are invasive cell phone surveillance devices that mimic cell phone towers and send out signals to trick cell phones in the area into transmitting their locations and identifying information.”

Oakland police attempted to use an older version of the device in 2013 to find one of the suspects in the attempted killing of a police officer, but officials were unsuccessful. They then reached out to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), asking federal agents to step in. Promptly after, FBI officials were able to locate the suspect using a more advanced stingray technology.

But despite the successful operation, state and federal officers failed to follow the constitution, ignoring the need for a warrant.

During the suspect’s trial, both the FBI and the Oakland PD stated that they didn’t need to obtain a warrant at the time due to “exigent circumstances.” In the FBI case, officials also claim the warrant requirement was not in place at the time of the operation, making the evidence obtained through surveillance tactics less likely to be tossed by a judge.

Nevertheless, news sources were finally able to report on this story since the judge presiding over the suspect’s prosecution ordered the government to submit detailed information on how Ellis was located. But despite the commotion surrounding Ellis, he has not been accused of actually shooting the officer, prompting privacy advocates to wonder whether the police has used the same surveillance tactics in other similar cases, targeting individuals who have not been accused of a crime and going to the lengths both the FBI and the Oakland PD went to keep this a secret.

Two years after the 2013 incident, the Oakland Police Department tried to secure a grant from the Department of Homeland Security in order to upgrade their stingray technology, suggesting that local police had been invested in this type of surveillance tactics long after the Ellis case. The technology local officials had at the time was unable to locate the suspect, but the latest system used by the FBI got the job done pretty quickly.

But details regarding why the suspect was targeted and why only his phone was intercepted were never revealed. All we know up until now is that two law enforcement agencies suspended the potential suspect’s rights to privacy, even as they knew that he hadn’t shot the officer.

Whether Ellis was directly involved in the attempted murder remains a mystery. But what should also be addressed in this case is the fact that individuals who haven’t been formally accused of a crime nor charged are being targeted by both local and federal law enforcement agents who continue to ignore the unconstitutionality of their actions.

States have been pushing their own anti-federal surveillance laws as the nullification movement initiated by groups like the Tenth Amendment Center gains more ground. But the American individual’s privacy rights won’t be truly upheld until federal agencies have been stripped of their surveillance powers.

Judges Ignore FBI’s Law-Breaking Ways, Acting Outside of Their Jurisdiction

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

Judges Ignore FBI’s Law-Breaking Ways, Acting Outside of Their Jurisdiction

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

The problem with certain government policies (or should I say all of them?) is that, prior to being enacted, neither lawmakers nor members of the press ask the question: What are the long-term, unintended consequences of signing it into law? But in many other cases, oversight is so spotty that entire governmental agencies are given a green light to act as both the lawmaker and enforcer, making matters even worse.

FBI

During a recent child porn investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) deployed a hacking tool known as Network Investigative Technique (NIT), which allows officials to obtain the real IP addresses of certain website users. But the warrant used to deploy this tech was later ruled as invalid and unconstitutional by judges in Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Kansas. Despite the courts’ review, the FBI was given a pass, as judges simply placed the blame at the feet of the judges issuing the warrants instead of penalizing the FBI for making the move.

Now, we’re learning that the malware used by the FBI is breaking its own rules by giving officials access to computers from users around the globe.

According to Motherboard, at least 50 Austrian IP addresses were targeted by federal intelligence officials, giving US authorities the means to pursue suspects outside of the country’s jurisdiction, effectively exceeding the agency’s own Rule 41(b), which allows for remote access searches without notice or special justification.

Tech Dirt reports that the FBI’s hacking tool has now been responsible for the targeting of individual IP numbers in Greece, Denmark, Colombia, Chile, and the UK, even though “the FBI gave no indication in its affidavit that it would possibly be carrying out extraterritorial searches.” In this case, the FBI failed to report that individuals being targeted were located in areas outside of the magistrate’s jurisdiction. And that is a huge problem.

But the targeting of individuals both in America and abroad is wrong—and unconstitutional.

Remote access of a series of computers without consent or specific justification has a name: Mass surveillance. An issue that has already been settled by the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution. Individuals should be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures due to the 4th Amendment, so why is the FBI being given the freedom to act outside of its jurisdiction while also going against the law of the land?

In a free society, the work of law enforcement should always be difficult. Not because officers are to be mistrusted in general, but because people with power ought to be mistrusted. Regardless of what role they play. That’s why the presumption of innocence is a feature and not a bug in a country where liberty reigns.

Unless we are willing to annihilate any trace of freedom we still have, we should never let this type of abuse of power go unchecked. No matter how scared you may be of potential criminals.

Personal responsibility is still the best defense against criminals.

Remember: the FBI Is Still Trying to Have Full Access to NSA’s ‘Unfiltered’ Data

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

Remember: the FBI Is Still Trying to Have Full Access to NSA’s ‘Unfiltered’ Data

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

As the country follows the cries of politicians in Washington doing their best to undermine our security and freedom in the name of the war on terror, don’t forget that, just a few months before the deadly Orlando shooting, the Obama administration was reportedly looking into allowing the National Security Agency (NSA) to share data on private communications with other intelligence agencies without the benefit of privacy protections.

NSAOn paper, access to the contents of phone calls, emails, satellite transmissions, and communications between individuals abroad gathered by NSA employees is restricted, meaning that agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are not allowed to use data collected by the NSA without due process. But due to executive order 12333, an order signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 that binds US intelligence agencies to cooperate with CIA requests for information, the NSA may soon be sharing information on innocent Americans with the FBI.

According to the New York Times, the current administration is interested in expanding the NSA’s reach by giving the intelligence community access to unprocessed information pertaining to countless Americans who were never accused of any crime to begin with. But by augmenting the intelligence community’s access to more information, the haystack becomes much larger, making it harder for officials to find the needle.

According to Alexander Abdo, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, the country should not be allowing the NSA to “spread that information further in the government” if protections on people’s personal information are not being erected. But according to the spokesman for the office of the Director of National Intelligence, the final rules under consideration by the current administration would help to “ensure that they protect privacy civil liberties and constitutional rights while enabling the sharing of information that is important to protect national security.”

Despite the US government’s claims that officials are doing all in their power to protect innocent Americans from the government’s overreach, abuse exists. Giving agencies such as the NSA and the FBI blanket access to the private information of others has and will continue to backfire, allowing employees and officials to abuse their power whenever possible.

The framework under review by the current administration has been under development since when President George W. Bush triggered the change but now, the Obama administration is carrying on with the task of developing a framework to put the changes in motion. And as officials work on a way of continuing the NSA’s involvement with the country’s war on drugs while boosting the agency’s role, progressive and conservative politicians, and even presidential candidates, continue to justify their support for mass surveillance by evoking the war on terror.

Expect to hear more on this and other efforts to boost the surveillance state, especially after the tragic killing of Pulse club goers in Orlando, Florida.

As Gun Buying Rates Shoot Up, Gun Haters Forget We’re Not All Bitter, Old, White Men

in Gun Rights, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty by Advocates HQ Comments are off

As Gun Buying Rates Shoot Up, Gun Haters Forget We’re Not All Bitter, Old, White Men

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

The employment rate may be dropping, but the gun sales rate is pretty darn high.

According to reports produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), its officials completed a record 1,870,000 background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in May alone. That’s a major hike, especially when compared to last year’s May checks, which added up to 300,000.

GunsIn 2015, more than 23 million checks were performed by FBI officials all through the year, making last year the record year for gun sales so far. But while the 2015 numbers are, indeed, high, the May 2016 statistics may show that the gun buying tend may be far from over.

While the numbers presented by the report only reflect gun sales carried out by licensed dealers, it still shows that Americans are buying more guns than they have in the past, offering a glimpse into the behavior of the American public that appears to often conflict with the policies supported by their politicians of choice.

To pundits at The Week, however, nothing makes a difference. What is pushing these sales is fear, that’s all.

But while that might be true in some cases, considering that the threat to private property and personal freedoms often makes us fear what’s ahead, prompting us to act accordingly, the fear many anti-gun rights proponents often talk about when analyzing gun owners and their behavior has nothing to do with personal choices.

To many, there’s a boogey man scaring all of the white folks in the neck of the woods into buying more guns and his name is President Barack Obama. Funny enough, not one single gun buyer was ever interviewed on this subject before The Week’s quick-to-judge writer, Marc Ambinder, wrote his assessment. What he seems to ignore is that, while over one million guns were sold in May, not one of the consumers behind these purchases has claimed to be afraid of the current or future presidents.

Individuals have different reasons to protect themselves, but to those who subscribe to collectivist theories, this fact is not to be considered. Instead, The Week’s Ambinder suggests, what we must keep in mind is that what helps pro-gun right groups thrive is a “climate of fear.” Property or personal defense, a love for hunting or collecting are all good enough reasons to buy a gun, but no, fear is what motivates all of them.

Contrary to what many believe, owning guns and smoking pot are examples of activities that require no government regulation.

If I purchase bubble gum because I like to chew it, nobody will ask me why. So why do people question me when I purchase a gun? Do I look menacing?

While the growing number of gun owners continues to baffle bashers of gun rights, many seem happy to jump on the anti-drug war train, especially when talking pot, completely oblivious of how truly inconsistent their views are.

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?

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

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

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.”

The Solution to Detroit’s Corruption Scheme is Less Government

in Issues, Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

The Solution to Detroit’s Corruption Scheme is Less Government

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

Certain municipalities in the United States look a lot like South America these days.

According to a CBS affiliate, the public school system in Detroit is facing bribery and fraud charges associated with some of its current and former principals.

DetroitTwo months ago, ex-principal Kenyetta Wilbourn Snapp—also from Detroit—pleaded guilty after being accused of pocketing a $58,050 bribe from a local vendor. She was sentenced to 46 months in prison. Paulette Horton, a 60-year-old consultant, also admitted to being part of the scheme. She allegedly played the part of the middleman between Snapp and other contractors and vendors seeking to seal deals with Detroit’s public schools.

The most recent corruption case involves 12 principals, a school district vendor, and an administrator. They are all being accused of participating in corruption schemes involving payments in exchange for exclusive contracts between businesses and public schools.

The legal charges were brought against the educators by the federal government. US Attorney Barbara McQuade, along with other FBI and IRS officials, made a public statement about the case on Tuesday. During the press conference, she claimed that the corruption case is a “punch in the gut.”

If the legal charges tied to the latest corruption case stick, suspects would be implicated in a nearly $1 million bribery and kickback scheme.

Detroit Free Press explains that the legal ordeal revolves around Norman Shy, a 74-year-old businessman who’s being accused of paying $908,500 in kickbacks and bribes to 12 Detroit Public School principals. These same schools used Shy as their school supply vendor for the last 13 years. The exclusivity deals with Shy helped him milk $2.7 million from Detroit’s public schools over the years. According to prosecutors, Shy kept the contracts going thanks to his personal transactions with school principals.

Recently, Michigan legislators passed a bill securing $48.7 million to the Detroit Public School (DPS) system, ensuring local schools wouldn’t run out of cash. To Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, a Republican from Mt. Pleasant, the state should pass “strong financial and academic reforms” as “a part of any long-term solution to decades of DPS failures.” But unless the root of corruption is unmasked, and legislators finally admit that the very existence of government regulations is why corruption continues to take place, any reform will only lead to a momentary—and feeble—solution.

In a piece for Mises.org, David R. Henderson explains that “the reason so much corruption occurs in government is that government officials hand out so much in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, permits and regulatory exceptions.” Having power to make decisions for others while nobody’s watching makes corruption more likely to occur. To Henderson, this is the main reason why “private corruption often occurs in corporate purchasing departments.”

If federal prosecutors and Michigan legislators are serious about tackling this issue and putting an end to corruption, they must first focus on putting an end to favoritism. And the only day of accomplishing that is by reducing government grant giving.

Fixing Detroit’s corruption disease will involve a great deal of courage, especially when you consider that the government would have to relinquish control over the economy and education so the incentives are removed from the equation. As Henderson explained, the “sure cure for corruption is to reduce or even eliminate official power over the economy.”

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

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

 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.

Counter-Terrorism ‘Experts’ Failed to Identify Threat Prior to San Bernardino Attack

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, National Defense, News You Can Use by Alice Salles Comments are off

Counter-Terrorism ‘Experts’ Failed to Identify Threat Prior to San Bernardino Attack

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

The deadly San Bernardino attack prompted everyone from presidential candidates to media personalities to focus on the threat of Islamic radicals committing terrorist attacks at home. But in their quest to focus only on the religion as the root of terrorism here and abroad, many ignored the fact that both San Bernardino and Riverside counties held the First Annual Inland Terrorism Liaison Officer Conference just weeks before the San Bernardino shooters killed 14 people and injured other 22.

The region, The Intercept’s Jana Winter argues, has become home to a hub of counter-terrorism training groups, where countless people are taught to identify would-be terrorists before they actually put their plans into action.

FBI

Law enforcement, public officials, and several members of the private sector have access to these trainings. Yet nobody was able to identify the two attackers in time to avoid bloodshed.

As Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik planned to carry their attack, locals who were part of these trainings just 25 miles from where the attacks took place were unable to identify what experts call “behavioral indicators” of potential terrorists. Such indicators are a central part of the US counter-terrorism prevention strategy.

According to Michael German, a former FBI agent who’s now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, behavioral indicators used by law enforcement to fight terrorism rely “on generalized correlations found in selectively chosen terrorists without using control groups to see how often the correlated behaviors identified occur in the non-terrorist population.” To the former FBI agent, the theories that back the counter-terrorism trainings are flawed:

“The FBI, [National Counter-Terrorism Center], and [Department of Homeland Security] promote these theories despite the fact they have been refuted in numerous academic studies over the past 20 years.”
Even as groups debunk the US counter-terrorism effort to use behavioral indicators to identify potential terrorists, the industry is and has been blooming in California in recent years.

The Joint Regional Intelligence Center, which is a Los Angeles chapter of InfraGard (an FBI-backed group), is known for having produced dozens of Official Use Only intelligence bulletins that focus solely on behavior indicators.

In 2002, California hosted the first Terrorism Liaison Officer program, an initiative that enlists community members and representatives of the private sector to be the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism community nationwide. While the program was first launched out of the Los Angeles chapter of InfraGard, it has been since expanded to the entire nation.

In 2013, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors renewed its contract with InfraGard’s LA chapter by signing a new $2,530,000 deal with the group, which was later extended through 2018. CT Watch, one of the companies hired by InfraGard to conduct counter-terrorism trainings, is famous for its “Threat of ISIS and radicalization in the homeland” seminar. CT Watch’s director, Roque “Rocky” Wicker, says that behavior indicators work, “you just need to train the right people.”

Other training sessions held recently in Riverside include “The Stealth Jihad in the United States,” “How to assess the threat posed by a potential lone wolf attacker,” and “Behavior threat assessment: preventing the Active Shooter.” All of these sessions took place on October 22, a few weeks before the December attack in San Bernardino.

Despite California’s long lasting relationship with the counter-terrorism effort, none of the well-trained officers or community members in the region were able to identify the terrorists operating from San Bernardino.

Should we, as Americans, allow the government to continue using the same failed tactics to keep us safe? Better yet, should we allow our tax dollars to go to groups that claim to know what they are doing, even as they fail to contain potential threats at home repeatedly?

These are some of the tough questions we should be asking our presidential candidates this year.

FIRED! SC School Resource Officer Assaults Student

in Liberator Online, News You Can Use by Chloe Anagnos Comments are off

FIRED! SC School Resource Officer Assaults Student

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

On Monday, Oct. 26, a video surfaced on the Internet of a South Carolina school resource officer throwing a female student across a classroom.

The incident occurred at the Spring Valley High School in Columbia, witnesses said, when the unnamed African-American student refused to put away her cell phone and then refused to leave the classroom after being asked by the teacher and school principal.

The officer was then summoned and asked her to leave again. She refused, and he told her she was under arrest.

The video then shows the officer violently knocking the student down, flipping her desk over her, and pulling her across the floor.

The incident was filmed by a fellow student and was uploaded to YouTube. The video made its way around social media, prompting the hashtag #AssaultAtSpringValleyHigh.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott suspended Deputy Ben Fields after the incident, and fired him Wednesday.

Lott said that Senior Deputy Ben Fields “did not follow proper procedure”.

He “should not have thrown a student – he could have done a lot of things he was trained to do, he was not trained to throw a student,” Sheriff Lott said.

Lott said he had received expressions of support for the officer from some parents and school officials. Officer Fields had received a “Culture of Excellence” award last year by an elementary school where he was also assigned.

But Sheriff Lott said the officer had “lost control” and had not handled this incident correctly.

“That is not proper technique and should not be used in law enforcement. And based on that, that is a violation of our policy and approximately 20 minutes ago Officer Ben Fields was terminated from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.”

He said complaints had been made about Officer Fields during his time at the school – some had been upheld and some had not.

Legal action has been taken three times against the officer, according to Associated Press:

  • 2013: An expelled student claims Fields targeted black students and falsely accused him of being a gang member in 2013. Fields will go to trial in January.
  • 2009: A woman filed a lawsuit, which was later dismissed, accusing Fields of battery and violating her rights during a 2006 arrest.
  • 2005: A federal jury found in Officer Fields’ favor after a black couple accused him of excessive force and battery during a noise complaint arrest.

The deputy has not been criminally charged but the Federal Bureau of Investigation and justice department have opened a civil rights investigation into the arrest.

Fellow students at the school have tweeted claims that they have seen him behaving in a similar manner in the past, but this was the first time such an incident was caught on camera.

Sheriff Lott has said the girl was unhurt in the incident aside from a carpet burn.

However, the girl’s attorney, Todd Rutherford, told ABC’s Good Morning America that she “has a cast on her arm, she has neck and back injuries” as well as a plaster on her forehead because of the carpet burn.

Sheriff Lott said he would “not describe the officer as remorseful, but he was sorry that the whole thing occurred”.

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

in Foreign Policy, Liberator Online, National Defense, News You Can Use, Personal Liberty, Property Rights by Jackson Jones Comments are off

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

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

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.

They Said It… With Judge Napolitano, Seth Meyers, and More

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It section in Volume 19, No. 20 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

OBAMA’S ILLEGAL WAR: “The war against the Islamic State is now illegal. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 gave President Obama 60 days to gain consent from Congress and required him to end ‘hostilities’ within 30 days if he failed to do so. This 90-day clock expired this week.” — Bruce Ackerman. professor of law and political science at Yale University, “Congress must act as Obama’s war against the Islamic State hits an expiration date,” Washington Post Nov. 7 2014.

MEET THE NEW BOSS, SAME AS THE OLD BOSS: “In case you didn’t notice, the new Congress is likely to be closer to President Obama’s views on executive power, surveillance, transparency.” — post-election tweet from Atlantic.com journalist Conor Friedersdorf, Nov. 5, 2014.

Judge Andrew NapolitanoTWEEDLEDUMB AND TWEEDLEDUMBER: “The two major political parties are more alike than they are different. On the two paramount issues of our day — war and debt — they are identical. With the exception of Democratic progressives and Republican libertarians, the two parties stand for perpetual war and perpetual debt. Both stances increase the power of the government, and each invites present and future destruction.” — Judge Andrew Napolitano, “More Culture Wars,” syndicated column, Nov. 6, 2014.

COINCIDENCE? “New Hampshire has among the least restrictive gun laws in the U.S. and the lowest homicide rate of any state.” — tweet from the Free State Project, Nov. 11, 2014.

YOUR FBI FILE: “Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database. … Over the past years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates.” — reporters Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller, “For More Teens, Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, 2014.


VA BLUES:

Seth Meyers“It’s been announced that a Union soldier who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War will be awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama over 151 years after his death. Even better, he finally got an appointment at the VA hospital.” — Seth Meyers, “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” Nov. 6, 2014.

They Said It… With Ron Paul, The Libertarian Party and More

in Communicating Liberty by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It section in Volume 19, No. 19 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

UBER BRINGS WEALTH TO THE MASSES: “Once, only the privileged few, the studio bosses and pampered starlets, could afford to have a chauffeur and a waiting car to transport them around sprawling Los Angeles. Now anyone with a credit card can enjoy that freedom. … A short ride through downtown in UberX, the company’s lower-priced service, introduced here last spring, can cost as little as $4.” — journalist Melena Ryzik, “How Uber Is Changing Night Life in Los Angeles,” New York Times, Oct. 31, 2014.

RON PAUL FEELS A DRAFT:
Ron Paul“As the burden of our hyper-interventionist foreign policy increases, it is increasingly likely that there will be serious attempts to reinstate the military draft. … This is an issue that has long united authoritarians on the left and right. … It is baffling that conservatives who (properly) oppose raising taxes would support any form of national service, including the military draft. It is similarly baffling that liberals who oppose government interference with our personal lives would support mandatory national service. Mandatory national service is a totalitarian policy that should be rejected by all who value liberty.” — Ron Paul, “National Service is Anti-Liberty and Un-American,” weekly column, Oct. 19, 2014.

CIA NAZIS: “In the decades after World War II, the CIA and other United States agencies employed at least a thousand Nazis as Cold War spies and informants and, as recently as the 1990s, concealed the government’s ties to some still living in America, newly disclosed records and interviews show.

“At the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, law enforcement and intelligence leaders like J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI and Allen Dulles at the CIA aggressively recruited onetime Nazis of all ranks as secret, anti-Soviet ‘assets,’ declassified records show. They believed the ex-Nazis’ intelligence value against the Russians outweighed what one official called ‘moral lapses’ in their service to the Third Reich.”  — Eric Lichtblau, “In Cold War, U.S. Spy Agencies Used 1,000 Nazis,” New York Times, Oct. 26, 2014.

THE LIBERTARIAN PARTY AND THE BALANCE OF POWER: “Libertarian candidates may have decided the winner in at least six federal and governor races, despite record-shattering spending levels in support of the Democratic and Republican candidates. Each race where a Libertarian threatens to affect the outcome of an election puts pressure on the old parties to move in a libertarian direction by reducing government’s size, scope, and authority.

“It’s also a sign that more Americans reject the argument that there’s any substantial difference between Democratic and Republican politicians. Voters are seeing that which of the two wins is of little consequence.” — Libertarian Party,  post-election blog post, “Libertarians play key role in highly contested races,” Nov. 5, 2014.

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.

Surveillance, Safety… and Rabbit Hunting

in Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 8 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

For the past year or so liberty-loving Americans have been appalled by the revelations of Rabbit HuntingEdward Snowden and others about the secret and unconstitutional spying programs the federal government is engaged in.

Ironically, we’ve also learned that the programs have been spectacularly ineffective. As the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said earlier this year:

“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack.”

And that reminds me of a story…

Federal Rabbit Hunting

The NSA, the CIA and the FBI were fighting among themselves, each arguing that they were the best and most qualified at apprehending terrorists.

Finally the president decided to settle the argument with a simple test. He would release a rabbit into a forest, and give each agency a chance to find and capture it.

The NSA went first. They placed cameras throughout the forest. They eavesdropped on every animal, plant and mineral. NSA drones circled the forest, filming every leaf on every tree. After three months of extensive investigations the NSA concluded that there was no rabbit in the forest at all. But they warned the president that 300 other kinds of animals and insects were behaving strangely and the whole forest needed round-the-clock surveillance.

Then the CIA went in. They captured numerous innocent animals and questioned them harshly, but got no information. After two weeks with no leads they burned the forest to the ground, killing everything in it. “The rabbit had it coming,” one agent said. (Later, the NSA sent the president a classified tape showing the rabbit hopping away from the forest just before it was destroyed.)

Finally the FBI had their chance. They went into another forest chosen by the president. Just two hours later they proudly emerged — holding a ruffled, badly frightened raccoon. The raccoon shouted: “Okay! Okay! I’m a rabbit! I’m a rabbit!”

* * *
Tired of the surveillance state? See this issue’s Intellectual Ammunition column to learn about “Reset The Net,” a worldwide effort to preserve free speech and liberty on the Internet by taking simple steps to shut off the government’s mass surveillance capabilities. You’re invited to take part.

They Said It… With George Will, Peggy Noonan, and More

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It.. section in Volume 18, No. 15 of the Liberator OnlineSubscribe here!)

YOUR CELL PHONE NOW WORKS FOR THE FBI:
Peggy Noonan“The FBI is able to remotely activate microphones on phones running Android software. They can now record conversations in this way. They can do the same with microphones in laptops. They can get to you in a lot of ways! Does this make you nervous? If not, why not?” – Peggy Noonan, “Why Christie Is Wrong,” Wall Street Journal blogs, August 5, 2013.

Bill of Rights

WHAT FIRST AMENDMENT?: “Asked to name the five specific freedoms in the First Amendment, 59% of Americans could name freedom of speech, followed by 24% who could name freedom of religion, 14% freedom of the press, 11% the right to assemble, and 4% the right to petition. Thirty-six percent of Americans cannot name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” – The First Amendment Center reporting findings of its annual national survey of American attitudes about the First Amendment.

CHILLINOIS: “Today Illinois became the 20th state to legalize [medical] marijuana. The state also changed its name to Chillinois.” — Conan O’Brien, August 1, 2013.

THE “LIBERTARIAN MOMENT” IS HERE: “From issues such as same-sex marriage and legal marijuana to restrictions on government spying and U.S. intervention in foreign affairs, the nation is engaged in a new ‘libertarian moment,’ politicians and political scientists say.” — reporters Dave Helling and Steve Kraske, “Nation has arrived at a new ‘libertarian moment,’ experts say,” Kansas City Star, August 4, 2012.

GEORGE WILL DEFENDS LIBERTARIANISM AGAINST “DANGEROUS” GOV. CHRISTIE:
George Will“What libertarianism says — it comes in many flavors and many degrees of severity, and it basically says before the government abridges the freedom of an individual or the freedom of several individuals contracting together, that government ought to have (A) a compelling reason; and (B) a constitutional warrant for doing so. Now, if Mr. Christie thinks that’s a dangerous thought, a number of people are going to say that Mr. Christie himself may be dangerous.” — pundit George Will responding to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s recent attacks on libertarianism, on ABC’s “This Week,” August 4, 2013.

JAY LENO ON OBAMACARE LIES: “The Obama administration has admitted that, under Obamacare, you might not be able to keep your doctor. At first the president guaranteed you’d be able to keep your doctor, and now they’re saying you ‘might’ be able to. Today Obama changed his slogan from ‘Yes we can’ to ‘Perhaps we could try. Can’t promise anything.’” — Jay Leno, July 24, 2013.

JAY LENO GIVES THANKS: “Detroit has become the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy. What happened was Detroit’s population dropped something like 70 percent, but the government got bigger. The tax base got smaller, but the government got bigger. Thank God that kind of thing could never happen in Washington.” — Jay Leno, July 22, 2013.