Last week, artist Michelle Pred celebrated the anniversary of the Patriot Act by dressing up as an old-timey Pan Am flight attendant (she wore her mother's old Pan Am hat!) and handing out "Official Air Travel Replacement Knives" to people waiting for their bags at SFO (she had 50 knives, but it took more than 50 tries to give them away, as more than half of the people she approached refused to engage with her). Read the rest
In early 2015, Reddit published a transparency report that contained heading for National Security Requests, noting, "As of January 29, 2015, reddit has never received a National Security Letter, an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or any other classified request for user information." Read the rest
The UK Prime Minister has seized on the tragic deaths and injuries in Paris as an excuse to terroise Britons into allowing him to pass his Snoopers Charter, a sweeping, badly written surveillance bill that will end security research in the UK, cause Internet bills to soar, and riddle critical software with back-doors, threatening anyone who reveals these vulnerabilities, even in court, with a year in prison. Read the rest
Calyx is a privacy-oriented ISP. In 2004, the FBI brought its owner, Nicholas Merrill, a National Security Letter -- one of the USA Patriot Act's secret search warrants, which comes with a gag order prohibiting the recipient from ever disclosing its existence.
Merrill has fought the gag order for 11 years, refusing to give up despite government attempts to get the case booted and to run up the court costs beyond Merrill's ability to pay.
He had a partial victory in 2010, when he and the ACLU won a court victory that allowed him to disclose some elements of the NSL, but left important details -- including the categories of information the FBI believes it can request under an NSL -- still secret. This latest victory overturns that restriction.
The judge in this case, Judge Victor Marrero, also presided over a 2007 case that overturned part of the Patriot Act, requiring investigators to go through the courts in order to get NSLs. In his Calyx decision, he condemned the government's secrecy as "extreme and overly broad."
Read the rest
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero’s decision invalidated the gag order in full, finding no “good reason” to prevent Merrill from speaking about any aspect of the NSL, particularly an attachment to the NSL that lists the specific types of “electronic communication transactional records” (“ECTR”) that the FBI believed it was authorized to demand. The FBI has long refused to clarify what kinds of information it sweeps up under the rubric of ECTR, a phrase that appears in the NSL statute but is not publicly defined anywhere.
There's a chance the PATRIOT Act will end tonight at midnight. If that happens, the NSA will no longer enjoy the right to gather phone records of innocent Americans. And there's more. Here's a list of other liberties that government agencies will have to forfeit. Read the rest
After an all-night session, Rand Paul [R-KY] and Ron Wyden [D-OR] tag-teamed majority leader Mitch McConnell [R-KY] and beat him to the mat -- he has abandoned the current legislative effort to extend section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes mass surveillance and is set to expire on June 1. Read the rest
Madeline Ashby writes, "I wrote this column about Canada's Bill C-51, which would allow Canada's spy agency CSIS to detain people for simply 'promoting' terrorism, promises it can wipe terrorist content from the Internet, expands no-fly lists, and is basically a piece of Patriot Act fanfic. I thought you guys might like to know that years after Bush left office, his fans are trying to keep the tradition alive." Read the rest
Writing in the Guardian, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison recounts the events that led to his decision to shutter his company in August 2013. Lavabit provided secure, private email for over 400,000 people, including Edward Snowden, and the legal process by which the FBI sought to spy on its users is a terrifying mix of Orwell -- wanting to snoop on all 400,000 -- and Kafka -- not allowing Levison legal representation and prohibiting him from discussing the issue with anyone who might help him navigate the appropriate law.
Levison discloses more than I've yet seen about the nature of the feds' demands, but more important are the disclosures about the legal shenanigans he was subjected to. In fact, his description of the legal process is a kind of bas relief of the kind of legal services that those of us fighting the excesses of the global war on terror might need: a list of attorneys who are qualified to represent future Lavabits, warrant canaries for the services we rely upon; and, of course, substantive reform to the judicial processes laid out in the Patriot Act. Read the rest
We've blogged before about artist Hasan Elahi, who learned in 2008 that he was being tracked as a terror suspect by the U.S. for undisclosed reasons. He has never been charged with a crime, but that's hardly needed these days, thanks to the Patriot Act (which recently turned 10). The New York Times this weekend ran a sort of manifesto from Elahi, in which he describes how he transformed this extraordinary act of surveillance into an extraordinary work of art.
In an era in which everything is archived and tracked, the best way to maintain privacy may be to give it up. Information agencies operate in an industry that values data. Restricted access to information is what makes it valuable. If I cut out the middleman and flood the market with my information, the intelligence the F.B.I. has on me will be of no value. Making my private information public devalues the currency of the information the intelligence gatherers have collected.
Also: Clive Thompson wrote this feature about him in Wired back in 2008.
(IMAGE: Top, art by Elahi which incorporates surveillance data about his location and activities. Middle, one of the FBI surveillance images of his whereabouts. Bottom, Mr. Elahi, via Wikipedia.)