Ulysses pacts and spying hacks: warrant canaries and binary transparency

As the world's governments exercise exciting new gag-order snooping warrants that companies can never, ever talk about, companies are trying out a variety of "Ulysses pacts" that automatically disclose secret spying orders, putting them out of business. Read the rest

Secret court will let NSA do mass surveillance for another six months

Congress allowed Section 215 of the Patriot Act to sunset in June, terminating one of the absurd legal justifications for one of the NSA's domestic mass surveillance programs. Read the rest

USA Freedom Act: the good, the bad, and what's next

With the sunsetting of Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the passage of the USA Freedom Act, Congress has, for the first time since the 1970s, put limits on the surveillance powers of America's spooks. Read the rest

PATRIOT Act expires -- now what?

For the first time since its passage in 2001, Congress has declined to renew section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which provided for mass, warrantless surveillance -- now what happens? Read the rest

Librarians: privacy's champions

Libraries have always been places where people gathered for intellectual inquiry, where communities could form around emerging ideologies that challenged the status quo. Read the rest

Canarywatch: fine-grained, high-alert system to detect and reveal secret government snooping

In the age of secret government snooping warrants -- which come with gag orders prohibiting their recipients from revealing their existence -- "warrant canaries" have emerged as the best way to keep an eye on out-of-control, unaccountable spying, and now they've gotten better. Read the rest

Google fought gag order over Wikileaks emails

The company says that it fought the warrants and their gag orders, and the reason they weren't able to follow Twitter's suit by disclosing the warrants' existence was that prosecutors were furious over the public backlash when Twitter got to disclose. Read the rest

EFF makes DoJ admit it lied in court about FBI secret warrants

Department of Justice lawyers told a judge that when the FBI gives one of its secret National Security Letters to a company, the company is allowed to reveal the NSL's existence and discuss its quality -- it lied. Read the rest

Apple's Patriot-Act-detecting "warrant canary" dies

It's been less than a day since the company published its new, excellent privacy policy -- but Gigaom has noticed that the latest Apple transparency report, covering Jan 1-Jun 30 2014, has eliminated the line that says that the company has received no secret Patriot Act "section 215" requests, which come with gag orders prohibiting companies from discussing them. Read the rest

Twelve triple three: Secret history of Reagan's exec order that spawned mass surveillance

Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12333 in 1981, reversing the Carter and Ford reforms of government surveillance (sparked by the Church Commission, convened in the wake of Nixon's wiretapping scandal); GWB expanded it twice more, once during each term. Read the rest

NSA and FBI spied on prominent Muslim American leaders

A newly disclosed Snowden leak reveals that the NSA targeted at least five prominent Muslim American leaders, including a former Republican Congressional nominee who served in GW Bush's Department of Homeland Security. Read the rest

Leaked US independent surveillance watchdog report concludes NSA program is illegal and recommends shut-down

The forthcoming report of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the arm's-length body established by the Congress to investigate NSA spying, has leaked, with details appearing in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

From its pages, we learn that the board views the NSA's metadata collection program -- which was revealed by Edward Snowden -- as illegal, without "a viable legal foundation under Section 215, implicates constitutional concerns under the First and Fourth Amendments, raises serious threats to privacy and civil liberties as a policy matter, and has shown only limited value…As a result, the board recommends that the government end the program."

The report goes farther than the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (whose recommendations Obama ignored) and even farther than the policies announced by the President himself.

The Board also found that NSA metadata collection didn't stop any terrorist attacks, and would not have been useful in preventing the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest

13-year-old filmmaker's documentary on NSA spying

Dave from the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes, "I escort a lot of TV crews in and out of the building at EFF. Few have been as efficient and polite as Ben Blum, a 13-year-old San Francisco independent YouTube producer who interviewed EFF's Parker Higgins for this short documentary. Pitched to us as an entry in a C-Span competition about what issues Congress should deal with in 2014, Data Obsession breaks down the controversy over domestic surveillance with help from AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein.

Data Obsession - A Look Inside Government Surveillance (Thanks, Dave!) Read the rest

Rubberstamping FISA court can't be expected to actually oversee surveillance

As we wait to hear Obama's plan to reform the NSA, spare a thought for the poor rubberstamping judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, who are charged with the solemn duty of granting permission for pretty much every stupid, overreaching surveillance plan America's spooks bring before it in its secretive, unaccountable chambers. These hardworking civil servants have sounded the alarm that any burden on them to actually pay attention to whether surveillance is proportional, necessary and legal would put an undue strain on them: "Even if additional financial, personnel, and physical resources were provided, any substantial increase in workload could nonetheless prove disruptive to the Courts' ability to perform their duties." Oh, diddums. Read the rest

VPN company shuts down after Lavabit case demonstrates threat of state-ordered, secret self-sabotage

Cryptoseal has shut down Cryptoseal Privacy, a VPN product advertised as a privacy tool, citing the action against Lavabit, the privacy-oriented email provider used by Edward Snowden. Court documents released in the wake of Lavabit's shut-down showed that the US government believes that it has the power to order service providers to redesign their systems to make it possible to spy on users. Cryptoseal had been operating under the assumption that since it had no way of spying on its users, it was immune to wiretap orders, and the revelation that they may be forced to break their system's security was enough to put them off altogether. Like Lavabit, Cryptoseal was unwilling to advertise a service that was immune from snooping if they might someday be forced to secretly redesign their systems to make snooping possible. Read the rest

Unsealed Lavabit docs show that Feds demanded SSL keys

Lavabit founder Ladar Levison speaking at the 2013 Liberty Political Action Conference (LPAC) in Chantilly, Virginia. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Edward Snowden. Photo: The Guardian/Reuters.

Ever since Lavabit, the privacy-oriented email provider used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, shut down abruptly in August, we've been wondering what, exactly, the Feds had demanded of founder Ladar Levison. As he wrote in his cryptic note, he felt that he was facing an order that would make him "complicit in crimes against the American people" but he was legally unable to say more.

But now, thanks to unsealed records, we're able to get some insight into what the NSA and the Feds demanded of Lavabit (and, presumably, of other companies that have not shut down): first they asked him to decrypt the communications of one of their customers (almost certainly Edward Snowden). When they were told that this wasn't technically possible, they demanded that the system be modified to make it possible, and when Lavabit balked, they got a court order requiring that Lavabit turn over its SSL keys, compromising all of the company's users' communications. Funnily enough, Levison "complied" with this court-order by turning over the keys as 11 pages of 4-point type, but the court didn't go for that. Read the rest

Report: Justice ethics watchdog didn't look into judges' NSA concerns

"In response to a FOIA request from USA TODAY, the Justice Department said its ethics office never looked into complaints from two federal judges that they had been misled about NSA surveillance," reports USA Today's Brian Heath. An email exchange between the reporter and a Justice rep published at Cryptome.org reveals that the government clearly did not want this story published. Read the rest

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