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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.

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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Tech companies could force NSA reform if they wanted to. Why haven't they?


President Obama at meeting with executives from leading tech companies at the White House in Washington December 17, 2013. Pictured are (L-R): Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Obama, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Pictured are (L-R): Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Obama, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque.

In a Guardian op-ed, Trevor Timm writes:

The CEOs of the major tech companies came out of the gate swinging 10 months ago, complaining loudly about how NSA surveillance has been destroying privacy and ruining their business. They still are. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called the US a "threat" to the Internet, and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, called some of the NSA tactics "outrageous" and potentially "illegal". They and their fellow Silicon Valley powerhouses – from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft and Apple and more – formed a coalition calling for surveillance reform and had conversations with the White House. But for all their talk, the public has come away empty handed.

Read: Silicon Valley could force NSA reform, tomorrow. What's taking so long? [The Guardian. Trevor is executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation, of which I am a proud board member.]

LA Sheriffs launch crowdsourced crowd control: LEEDIR, a surveillance app that uses your photos and videos



A monitor displaying videos and photos uploaded to LEEDIR (Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository) on April 10, 2014. The app that allows civilians to upload material to law enforcement after a disaster or emergency. Erika Aguilar, KPCC

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department today unveiled a software program that allows US law enforcement agencies who adopt it to solicit and gather videos and photos of "emergency events" from the public.

Under the leadership of disgraced former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, the department is said to have conceptualized the web service and smartphone app, which was built by Citizen Global with Amazon. It's called LEEDIR, an acronym for Large Emergency Event Digital Information Repository. Citizen Global brands it as "public safety through crowdsourcing."

In today's announcement, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, and the Boston Marathon bombings were mentioned as scenarios in which LEEDIR could help law enforcement respond to disasters or large-scale public security threats. One might also imagine large citizen protests like Occupy Wall Street being the focus of such crowdsourced surveillance.

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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.

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

Online test-proctoring: educational spyware that lets third parties secretly watch and listen to you through your computer

Rebecca from EFF writes, "How would you feel about having your computer taken over by online test-taking software - complete with proctors peering through your laptop camera? Reporters at the Spartan Daily (the student paper for San Jose State University) have an interesting story about new software in use there, and the legitimate concerns that some students have. The data-broker connection is especially chilling to those worried about their personal information." The company's response? "We're a customer service business, so it’s really not advantageous for us to violate that trust." Oh, well, so long as that's sorted out then.

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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Big Data Kafka: US Government Watchlists and the secrecy whose justification is a secret


In the ACLU's new paper U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences [PDF], the group describes strange world of terrorist watchlists, including no-fly lists, where it's nearly impossible to discover if you're on a list, and nearly impossible to find out why you're on a list, and nearly impossible to get removed from a list. As the ACLU points out, this is Orwell by way of Kafka, where we're not allowed to know what surveillance is taking place or why surveillance is taking place -- and we're not allowed to know why we're not allowed to know.

The ACLU says that the national terrorism watchlist has 1.1 million names on it, and an AP report from 2012 found 21,000 people on the no-fly list. Recently, Rahinah Ibrahim became the first person to be officially, publicly removed from a no-fly list, after the government was forced to admit that she'd been placed there due to a bureaucratic error. All through the Ibrahim case, the government argued that disclosing any facts about her no-fly status would endanger national security, but ultimately it was obvious that the only potential risk was that the government's sloppiness would be disclosed. The state was willing to spend millions of dollars and ruin an innocent person's life rather than admitting that an FBI agent literally ticked the wrong box.

In the 13 years since 9/11, one person has managed to successfully challenge the system of secret and unaccountable watchlists. It's clear that she wasn't the only person who deserved to be removed, though. This is Big Data Kafka: the algorithm says you're guilty, and you're not allowed to see the data or the algorithm because it was not designed to work if the people who it judged knew about its parameters.

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