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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.

Don’t Be Fooled by the DOJ’s Proposed Legislation

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

Don’t Be Fooled by the DOJ’s Proposed Legislation

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

Two years ago, Microsoft refused to comply with a warrant concerning information hosted in Ireland, and the case was brought to court where justices ruled against the tech giant. Recently, however, the 2nd Circuit appeals court ruled in favor of Microsoft, claiming that the US government warrants do not apply to data stored outside of the country.

DOJDespite the ruling, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is now proposing a piece of legislation that would affect Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs), allowing the US government to force companies like Microsoft to unlock a server abroad.

According to the proposed legislation documents, Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik claims that the ideas proposed by the DOJ would help the US government investigate foreigners suspected of being involved in terrorism, urging Vice President Joe Biden to consider having Congress look at the DOJ’s solution.

In a post crafted by a former DOJ lawyer, the proposed legislation would allow the US government to have access to communication from non-US citizens who are located in foreign countries. Pieces of communication subject to the proposed rules would only be available for what the DOJ calls “criminal investigations,” which legalists claim to be helpful, since this restriction could help prevent current MLATs from being used with the purpose of gathering intelligence. Despite the carefully crafted piece of legislation, concessions aren’t enough to cover up for the DOJ’s goals to expand the agency’s reach.

According to Tech Dirt, the DOJ is using this proposed legislation to target laws and statutes that the agency has been abusing for years. Is the DOJ trying to make its work easier?

Take the Wiretap Act for instance, a law that has been rendered toothless ever since the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used a single state judge in California to build a massive wiretapping operation in the Los Angeles suburbs. If the DOJ’s proposed rules are considered and signed into law, remaining restrictions imposed by the Wiretap Act would be lifted for good, making incidents like the one that took place in California more common across the country.

But that’s not all, restrictions imposed by the Stored Communications Act, which was used by the DOJ in its fight against Microsoft, as well as the criminal Pen Register statute would also be lifted under the proposed rules, Tech Dirt reports.

If the DOJ is lucky and Congress goes along with its plan, the dubious wording in the proposed rules would give officials authority to carry searches related to the “prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of serious crime, including terrorism.” Targets of investigations would have to be in countries that have executive agreements with the United States.

According to Tech Dirt, the proposal may superficially seem to cater to privacy advocates, but “The self-written loopholes allow for plenty of ‘search first, ask permission later’ action.” If Tech Dit’s assessment is correct, the proposal rules’ dubious wording could further entrap US citizens, helping the authorities to destroy even more of our liberties in the name of security, while targeting foreign servers in the meantime.

Jailing Journalists Over FOIA Requests Makes Government Less Accountable

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

Jailing Journalists Over FOIA Requests Makes Government Less Accountable

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

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are often treated like a cancer within federal government agencies. For obvious reasons.

LawInstead of handling them directly, federal agencies often stonewall or send them bills they cannot afford, all so that they may avoid releasing what requesters are after. Regardless of how they act, the law requires that federal agencies respond to the requests within 20 days, unless “unusual circumstances” arise.

Recently, federal agents went somewhat further, sending a requester from Georgia to jail.

According to Tech Dirt, Fannin Focus publisher Mark Thomason and his attorney, Russell Stookey, were arrested and charged with attempted identity fraud and identity fraud after filing a records request. The arrest was questioned after news reports claimed the pair had been going after a local judge and members of the court staff prior to the request, questioning the use of racial slur in the courtroom tracing back to Judge Brenda Weaver’s predecessor.

Thomason had acquired the copy of a transcript hoping it would show the district attorney and court deputies attaching the racial slur to the defendant’s name. To his surprise, the transcript had been modified. Once he asked for the audio recording of the hearing, his request was rejected, prompting him to write an article that questioned the court stenographer’s professionalism. That’s when things turned sour.

Once the article was published, the stenographer sued Thomason for defamation, but the suit was dropped, prompting the court employee to motion to recover legal fees, even after having received a check for $16,000 to cover her legal fees from then-Judge Roger Bradley. In order to show the current judge the stenographer had already recovered her legal fees, Thomason filed more requests, but the action backfired when Judge Weaver and the district attorney brought charges against the journalist and his lawyer, claiming that the information should not be made available so the pair wouldn’t “use the banking information on those checks for himself.”

According to Tech Dirt, the judge’s response was to accuse Thomason of seeking to take funds from the judge’s bank account without being able to prove intent. But while in two of the counts of the indictment Thomason and his lawyer are accused of identity fraud and attempted identity fraud, the third count is what causing free speech advocates to lose their minds.

“In short,” Tech Dirt writes, “Judge Weaver claims the requesters lied on their request,” hoping to shield courtroom employees from “what she apparently views as harassing behavior.” If this charge stands and Thomason and his lawyers lose this legal battle, Tech Dirt argues, other journalists might have a hard time seeking public records in the future.

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

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

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?

Did the Government Offer a Contract to New Balance in Exchange for TPP Support?

in Business and Economy, Economic Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online, News You Can Use, Trade & Tarrifs by Alice Salles Comments are off

Did the Government Offer a Contract to New Balance in Exchange for TPP Support?

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

Government has a way of selling incredibly bad economic deals by calling them free trade agreements. Haven’t you noticed?

ShoesThe Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a trade agreement between Pacific Rim countries, including the United States, that hopes to “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.” But according to information released by WikiLeaks, only five of TPP’s 29 sections deal with trade.

At the time, WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange claimed that many of the other sections dealt with Internet regulations, which includes details on what specific type of information Internet service providers will be required to collect once TPP is enacted.

To former congressman Ron Paul, TPP is dangerous because of the several items listed in its sections that benefit special interest groups. Instead of opening up the market, Paul argues, TPP would boost “world government,” meaning that international nations would unite for all the wrong reasons, such as spying on its citizens. Opening up the trade among individuals in different parts of the globe, Paul explains, has little to do with the effort.

To folks at Tech Dirt, TPP has always been bad, mostly because of the issues mentioned previously. But as reports claiming the US government has allegedly pressured a shoe company to back TPP in exchange for exclusive contracts hit the news, we learn that power players behind the TPP might be just as corrupt as the politicians under fire in South America over one of Brazil’s largest embezzlement schemes in recent history.

According to New Balance, an American footwear company from Boston, Massachusetts, the US government allegedly promised the shoe company would get a “big government contract” if the company stood by TPP.

Unfortunately for New Balance, the deal never came through.

According to the Boston Globe story, It wasn’t until 2015 that New Balance chose to stop criticizing the deal. Until then, the company resisted supporting the pact for years. If what New Balance now alleges is true, executives only chose to change their tune after the Department of Defense claimed it would consider choosing New Balance for a contract to outfit recruits.

So far, New Balance hasn’t received any official contract proposal, and New Balance now say Pentagon officials are intentionally delaying the purchase.

While the US government claims that the contract problem is not associated with TPP in any way, the company is now renewing its battle against the TPP. For all the wrong reasons.

According to Tech Dirt, New Balance claims that while most of the uniform purchased for the military is made in the United States, sneakers are the exception. With that in mind, New Balance decided to offer its products to the government, hoping to obtain a contract. That’s when a representative for the current administration “more or less” asked New Balance to accept a compromise version of the trade deal in exchange for a pledge of help in pressuring the Department of Defense to expedite the government’s purchase of American-made shoes.

According to the Defense Department, New Balance didn’t get the contract because its sneakers aren’t durable or inexpensive enough. Regardless of what the government alleges, Tech Dirt claims, the idea that the government may have offered the company deal if it sided with its trade deal is “highly questionable.”

Lawmaker Targets Burner Phones Over Terrorism, Ignores Unintended Consequences Tied to New Restrictions

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

Lawmaker Targets Burner Phones Over Terrorism, Ignores Unintended Consequences Tied to New Restrictions

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

As politicians in Washington DC continue to wage what the late author Gore Vidal called an “idiotic” and “eternal” war on terror, more lawmakers refer to anti-liberty measures to crack down on potential terrorists at home.

Phone A bill known as Closing the Pre-Paid Mobile Device Security Gap Act of 2016 seeks to require consumers looking into buying prepaid burner phones to register and provide identification. Requirements would make it impossible for consumers to purchase the so-called burner phones without providing personal information upon purchase. According to Tech Dirt, the bill’s timing may have something to do with reports claiming that burner phones used by Islamist extremists helped them to evade law enforcement.

Democratic congresswoman Jackie Speier, the same lawmaker who introduced the proposal in Congress, called the prepaid phone “loophole” an “egregious gap in our legal framework.” According to the lawmaker and others who support the bill, allowing consumers to purchase anonymous phones helps terrorists and criminals.

This is not the first time Washington DC has targeted regular consumers in their fight against an abstract enemy. Recently, legislators targeted encrypted phones after reports claimed terrorists had used encryption to evade law enforcement. The encryption reports were later debunked.

According to Tech Dirt, the current proposal doesn’t provide a great deal of information on how legislators want to tackle the burner phone issue. But while the bill’s text remains a secret, the proposal has already been referred to three House committees.

If Speier’s proposal is passed by both the House and the Senate and it ends up making it to the president’s desk, customers would have to always provide their personal details to retailers whenever they purchase a burner phone. But what Tech Dirt writers claim is that, even if the law were to pass, it would do little to keep terrorists or criminals from providing their personal information. Instead, Tech Dirt argues, criminals would continue doing what they have already done in the past by using straw purchases or buying directly from resellers.

Much like the debate about background checks for gun purchases, the idea of forcing retailers to request extra information from prepaid phone consumers is likely to backfire, pushing criminals further into the dark. Another potential consequence of passing this law would be that the poor will be the first to suffer.

Too often, low income consumers choose to purchase burner phones because of credit issues or simply because they do not have the identification requirements needed to open an account with a phone service provider. A burner phone law change would end up inflicting further difficulties on those who are already suffering greatly. Furthermore, boosting restrictions could also push the price of these affordable phones up, which will also end up hurting the poor.

If lawmakers are serious about spotting criminals and targeting them—not common and innocent Americans who may not feel comfortable releasing their personal information in exchange for a cheap cell phone—this bill should be tossed. Quickly.