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Edward Snowden: "Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama"


Vladimir Putin during the nationwide phone-in in Moscow. Photograph: RIA Novosti/Reuters

Today's question-and-answer session on Russian TV between NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not go as Snowden had hoped. "I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him," Snowden says in an op-blog in the Guardian:

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Snowden asks Putin about surveillance in Russia on televised call-in show (video)

So, this happened.

“I’d like to ask you,” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asked Russian leader Vladimir Putin on a televised call-in show, “does Russia intercept, store or analyze in any way the communications of millions of individuals?” Putin, a former KGB agent and head of Russia's intelligence service, spoke about what they had in common: spycraft.

“Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent,” the president replied. “I used to work for an intelligence service. Let’s speak professionally.”

“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” Mr. Putin said. “You have to get a court’s permission first.” He noted that terrorists use electronic communications and that Russia had to respond to that threat.

“Of course we do this,” Mr. Putin said. “But we don’t use this on such a massive scale and I hope that we won’t.”

“But what is most important,” Mr. Putin concluded, “is that the special services, thank God, are under a strict control of the government and the society, and their activities are regulated by law.”

More in this New York Times report.

Video: Bart Gellman and Cory opening for Ed Snowden at SXSW

Last month, Barton Gellman and I opened for Edward Snowden's first-ever public appearance, at the SXSW conference in Austin. The kind folks at SXSW have put the video online (the Snowden video itself was already up). I think we did a good job of framing the big questions raised by the Snowden leaks.

A Vindication for the Public: Guardian and Washington Post Win Pulitzer Prize (A statement from Edward Snowden)

I am grateful to the committee for their recognition of the efforts of those involved in the last year's reporting, and join others around the world in congratulating Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, Ewen MacAskill, and all of the others at the Guardian and Washington Post on winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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US to Angela Merkel: no, you can't see your NSA file but we promise we aren't spying on you anymore


Photo: Reuters

The US is refusing to allow German chancellor Angela Merkel to see her NSA file, or obtain any answers to questions from Germany about US surveillance activities involving the European leader's communications. She is due to visit Washington and meet Barack Obama in three weeks. It will be her first visit to the American capital since documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the NSA had been spying on her phone. theguardian.com.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras enter the US for first time since Snowden leaks

A first since they began reporting on the material leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, landing in the United States. There have been concerns that the US might detain them if they entered the country.

(Disclosure: I'm on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation with all three)

NSA spies on human rights groups, including those in the USA

During video testimony to the Council of Europe, whistleblower Edward Snowden reiterated that the NSA targets human rights groups, including those in the USA, for surveillance. It uses its Xkeyscore technology to "fingerprint" communications from these groups and targets them for deep surveillance. Groups that have been targeted in this way include UNICEF and many others. Cory 23

EU's highest court strikes down mass surveillance under the Data Retention Directive

The European Court of Justice, the highest court in the EU, has invalidated the European Parliament's Data Retention Directive, which required phone companies and ISPs to store your clicks, email subjects and to/from info, your location data, and other sensitive "metadata" for up to two years. The ECJ cited the UN Human Rights Committee's condemnation of this sort of data-retention and its call for the USA to halt its surveillance. We have Digital Rights Ireland and AK Vorrat Austria to thank for the ruling.

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Yahoo beefs up security in two meaningful and important ways

Yahoo has taken some serious steps towards protecting user-privacy, writes the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Seth Schoen. After revelations that the NSA and GCHQ had hacked its services, intercepted private video-chats, and harvesting mass data from its fiber optic links, the company has added forward secrecy and STARTTLS to its roster of default-on security measures. Of the two, forward secrecy is the most interesting, as it protects the privacy of old intercepted Yahoo data even if the company loses control of its keys. Bravo, Yahoo! Cory 7

Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists


Sarah Harrison, a British journalist who's worked with Wikileaks and the Snowden papers, writes that she will not enter the UK any longer because the nation's overbroad anti-terror laws, combined with the court decision that validates using them to detain journalists who are not suspected of terrorism under any reasonable definition of the term, means that she fears begin detained at the airport and then jailed as a terrorist when she refuses to decrypt her files and grant police access to her online accounts. Under the UK's Terrorism Act of 2000, journalists who write because they hope to expose and halt corruption are liable to being jailed as terrorists because they report on leaks in a way that is "designed to influence the government." And "the government," according to the Act, is any government, anywhere in the world -- meaning that journalists who report on leaks that embarrass any government in the world can be treated as terrorists in the UK.

Nor is this an idle risk: Glenn Greenwald's partner, David Miranda, was detained under terrorism rules when he transited through the UK, and a UK judge subsequently found that the detention was justified on these grounds, even though no one suggests that Miranda is involved in terrorism in any way. As Harrison writes, "Britain is turning into a country that can't tell its terrorists from its journalists."

The final paragraphs of Harrison's editorial sum it up neatly:

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Animation: How Google views user privacy

Mark from Screen Novelties sends us "This little animation we did for Google regarding user privacy. We happened to direct this at the same time the whole Snowden/NSA stuff went down last year. Google finally decided to release this to the public a few days ago. Just wanted to share. It's done in stop motion to give the feeling of the old school board games."

Way of a Warrant

Eric Schmidt on the NSA* (*translated from original bullshitese)

Bruce Schneier: "At SXSW earlier this month, CEO Eric Schmidt tried to reassure the audience by saying that he was 'pretty sure that information within Google is now safe from any government's prying eyes.' A more accurate statement might be, 'Your data is safe from governments, except for the ways we don't know about and the ways we cannot tell you about. And, of course, we still have complete access to it all, and can sell it at will to whomever we want.'" Cory 22

NSA wiretapped 122 world leaders; GCHQ penetrated German satellite companies for mass surveillance potential


Newly disclosed documents from the trove Edward Snowden provided to journalists reveal the existence of the "Nymrod" database that listed 122 world leaders, many from nations friendly to the USA, that were spied upon by the NSA. Included in the list is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was already known to have been wiretapped by the NSA thanks to an earlier disclosure. Nymrod's "Target Knowledge Database" combed through the NSA's pool of global intercepts to amass dossiers of private communications -- emails, faxes, calls and Internet traffic -- related to the leaders.

Additionally, the UK spy agency GCHQ infiltrated and compromised two German satellite communications companies -- Stellar and Cetel -- and IABG, a company that supplied them with equipment. It wiretapped their senior executives as well. None of these companies are accused of having done anything amiss, but were targeted by British spies because their services carried Internet traffic and were a convenient "access chokepoint" from which to conduct mass-surveillance programs.

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Microsoft changes policy: won't read your Hotmail anymore to track down copyright infringement or theft without a court order


Microsoft read the email of Hotmail users without a warrant, in order to catch someone who'd leaked some Microsoft software. When they were caught out, the pointed out that they'd always reserved the right to read Hotmail users' email, and tried to reassure other Hotmail users by saying that they were beefing up the internal process by which they decided whose mail to read and when.

Now, citing the "'post-Snowden era' in which people rightly focus on the ways others use their personal information," the company has announced that it will not read its users' email anymore when investigating theft or copyright violations -- instead, it will refer this sort of thing to the police in future (they still reserve the right to read your Hotmail messages without a court order under other circumstances).

As Techdirt's Mike Masnick points out, this is a most welcome change. The message announcing the change by Brad Smith (General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs) is thoughtful and forthright. It announces a future round-table on the questions raised by the company's snooping that the Electronic Frontier Foundation can participate in.

Smith asks a seemingly rhetorical question: "What is the best way to strike the balance in other circumstances that involve, on the one hand, consumer privacy interests, and on the other hand, protecting people and the security of Internet services they use?" That is indeed a fascinating question, but in the specific case of Hotmail, I feel like it has a pretty obvious answer: change your terms of service so that you promise not to read your customers' email without a court order. Then, if you think there's a situation that warrants invading your customers' privacy, get a court order. This is just basic rule-of-law stuff, and it's the kind of thing you'd hope Microsoft's General Counsel would find obvious.

The fact that the question is being raised casts more light on Microsoft's extensive "Scroogled" campaign, which (rightly) took Google to task for having a business-model that was predicated on harvesting titanic amounts of personal data. The takeaway here is that while Microsoft's business-model (at the moment) is less privacy-invading than Google's, that is not due to any inherent squeamishness about spying on people -- rather, it's just a practical upshot of its longstanding practices.

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Obama administration will make tiny, nearly meaningless changes to illegal bulk phone spying


The Obama administration will unveil a plan to sunset the bulk collection of US telephone data by American spies. Instead, it will plunder data that the carriers are required to retain for 18 months (America's spies currently warehouse phone data for five years) on the strength of warrants issued by its secret, rubberstamp Foreign Intelligence "court." This won't take place for at least 90 days, and for those 90 days, the administration expects the "court" to renew the spies' power to harvest bulk phone data as it has until now (despite that fact that Obama's appointed independent commission concluded that this program is illegal). Spies will only be able to explore phone data within two "hops" of their persons of interest, rather than the "three hop" rule they claim they've followed until now. Civil liberties groups are very slightly cheered by all this news.

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