This morning we have yet another article detailing a warrantless surveillance program by the National Security Agency that contradicts representations made by President Barack Obama and members of Congress. You may recall how Obama has tried to get citizens to embrace a new surveillance-friendly model of privacy after the disclosure of massive surveillance of citizens, including programs acquiring every call made by citizens. Various Democratic members came forward to admit that they knew of such programs and not to be afraid . . . they have our backs. Yet every story that has surfaced has contradicted claims that such programs are limited and do not involve the content of communications in emails and messages. The latest program being reported is called XKeyscore and is described as scouring emails, chat rooms, and browsing histories . . . all without a warrant. In the meantime, citizens in polls are saying that they are more concerned with the threat of their own government to their privacy than the threat of terrorism. Once again, citizens learned of this program not from their representative or their media but largely from the foreign press and the disclosures of Edward Snowden.
Of course, media allies of the President are expressing exasperation with people like Snowden in keeping them from moving on to other subjects and away from the eradication of privacy in America.
The NSA for its part has denied reports “of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true.” Something tells me it is the “unchecked” that the agency is stressing. The Obama Administration is infamous for replacing due process and privacy guarantees with its own self-evaluation and monitoring guarantees.
This program is described as allowing the agency access to “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet” in “real time.”
As these reports mount, the Democratic Party remains largely silent. While there was a highly orchestrated vote on the surveillance program recently (that predictably failed by just a few votes), the Democratic Party has now joined prior Bush supporters in attacking the most fundamental protections of U.S. citizens. The winner is a growing security state that employs hundreds of thousands and pours hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of agencies and their contractors. Citizens have become the subjects of such programs like raw material for an insatiable and unstoppable surveillance machine.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald has detailed how low-level employees have access to such material. My guess is that the NSA will focus on that issue rather than the existence of these programs. It is now a common technique of the Obama Administration: focusing on the procedures rather than the privacy concerns. We are likely to hear about criteria and internal reviews as part of the “trust me I am Obama” approach to authoritarian powers. After all, they got away with that in announcing a policy allowing Obama to vaporize U.S. citizens based on his sole authority.
With Congress now fully supporting this surveillance state, citizens are left with a dangerous vacuum in our constitutional system. The federal courts have created a blind spot where they bar judicial review on the basis of increasingly narrow standing rules and classification barriers. Even reading about these issues is difficult. As we have been discussing, the U.S. media has largely yielded to demands of the White House not to call Snowden a whistleblower and we often have to read about these programs from foreign sources like the Guardian.
How did we come to this point as a nation?
89 thoughts on “Meet XKeyscore: The Latest Massive Surveillance Program Of U.S. . . . As Reported In The Foreign Media”
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Sling, thanks for that comedic post. Hilarious!
By JENNIFER VALENTINO-DEVRIES and DANNY YADRON
Law-enforcement officials in the U.S. are expanding the use of tools routinely used by computer hackers to gather information on suspects, bringing the criminal wiretap into the cyber age.
Federal agencies have largely kept quiet about these capabilities, but court documents and interviews with people involved in the programs provide new details about the hacking tools, including spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web links—techniques more commonly associated with attacks by criminals.
People familiar with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s programs say that the use of hacking tools under court orders has grown as agents seek to keep up with suspects who use new communications technology, including some types of online chat and encryption tools. The use of such communications, which can’t be wiretapped like a phone, is called “going dark” among law enforcement.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment.
The FBI develops some hacking tools internally and purchases others from the private sector. With such technology, the bureau can remotely activate the microphones in phones running Google Inc.’s Android software to record conversations, one former U.S. official said. It can do the same to microphones in laptops without the user knowing, the person said. Google declined to comment.
The bureau typically uses hacking in cases involving organized crime, child pornography or counterterrorism, a former U.S. official said. It is loath to use these tools when investigating hackers, out of fear the suspect will discover and publicize the technique, the person said.
The FBI has been developing hacking tools for more than a decade, but rarely discloses its techniques publicly in legal cases.
Earlier this year, a federal warrant application in a Texas identity-theft case sought to use software to extract files and covertly take photos using a computer’s camera, according to court documents. The judge denied the application, saying, among other things, that he wanted more information on how data collected from the computer would be minimized to remove information on innocent people.
Since at least 2005, the FBI has been using “web bugs” that can gather a computer’s Internet address, lists of programs running and other data, according to documents disclosed in 2011. The FBI used that type of tool in 2007 to trace a person who was eventually convicted of emailing bomb threats in Washington state, for example.
The FBI “hires people who have hacking skill, and they purchase tools that are capable of doing these things,” said a former official in the agency’s cyber division. The tools are used when other surveillance methods won’t work: “When you do, it’s because you don’t have any other choice,” the official said.
Surveillance technologies are coming under increased scrutiny after disclosures about data collection by the National Security Agency. The NSA gathers bulk data on millions of Americans, but former U.S. officials say law-enforcement hacking is targeted at very specific cases and used sparingly.
Still, civil-liberties advocates say there should be clear legal guidelines to ensure hacking tools aren’t misused. “People should understand that local cops are going to be hacking into surveillance targets,” said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. “We should have a debate about that.”
Mr. Soghoian, who is presenting on the topic Friday at the DefCon hacking conference in Las Vegas, said information about the practice is slipping out as a small industry has emerged to sell hacking tools to law enforcement. He has found posts and resumes on social networks in which people discuss their work at private companies helping the FBI with surveillance.
A search warrant would be required to get content such as files from a suspect’s computer, said Mark Eckenwiler, a senior counsel at Perkins Coie LLP who until December was the Justice Department’s primary authority on federal criminal surveillance law. Continuing surveillance would necessitate an even stricter standard, the kind used to grant wiretaps.
But if the software gathers only communications-routing “metadata”—like Internet protocol addresses or the “to” and “from” lines in emails—a court order under a lower standard might suffice if the program is delivered remotely, such as through an Internet link, he said. That is because nobody is physically touching the suspect’s property, he added.
An official at the Justice Department said it determines what legal authority to seek for such surveillance “on a case-by-case basis.” But the official added that the department’s approach is exemplified by the 2007 Washington bomb-threat case, in which the government sought a warrant even though no agents touched the computer and the spyware gathered only metadata.
In 2001, the FBI faced criticism from civil-liberties advocates for declining to disclose how it installed a program to record the keystrokes on the computer of mobster Nicodemo Scarfo Jr. to capture a password he was using to encrypt a document. He was eventually convicted.
A group at the FBI called the Remote Operations Unit takes a leading role in the bureau’s hacking efforts, according to former officials.
Officers often install surveillance tools on computers remotely, using a document or link that loads software when the person clicks or views it. In some cases, the government has secretly gained physical access to suspects’ machines and installed malicious software using a thumb drive, a former U.S. official said.
The bureau has controls to ensure only “relevant data” are scooped up, the person said. A screening team goes through all of the data pulled from the hack to determine what is relevant, then hands off that material to the case team and stops working on the case.
The FBI employs a number of hackers who write custom surveillance software, and also buys software from the private sector, former U.S. officials said.
Italian company HackingTeam SRL opened a sales office in Annapolis, Md., more than a year ago to target North and South America. HackingTeam provides software that can extract information from phones and computers and send it back to a monitoring system. The company declined to disclose its clients or say whether any are in the U.S.
U.K.-based Gamma International offers computer exploits, which take advantage of holes in software to deliver spying tools, according to people familiar with the company. Gamma has marketed “0 day exploits”—meaning that the software maker doesn’t yet know about the security hole—for software including Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer, those people said. Gamma, which has marketed its products in the U.S., didn’t respond to requests for comment, nor did MicrosoftFBI Taps Hacker Tactics to Spy on Suspects
Dad says you’re spying us online
We are a fascist nation; government run by huge international business for the benefit of both. We are just here to pay for it.
You May Have ‘Nothing to Hide’ But You Still Have Something to Fear
By Alex Abdo, Staff Attorney, ACLU National Security Project at 10:17am
In the wake of recent news that the NSA is spying on Americans, I have been particularly struck by the argument that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.”
At first blush, this argument might seem sound – after all, if the government is merely conducting anti-terrorism surveillance, non-terrorists shouldn’t be affected, right? But if you look more closely, you’ll see this idea is full of holes.
The “nothing to hide” argument mistakenly suggests that privacy is something only criminals desire. In fact, we choose to do many things in private – sing in the shower, make love, confide in family and friends – even though they are not wrong or illegal. Who would not be embarrassed if all of their most intimate details were exposed? Fences and curtains are ways to ensure a measure of privacy, not indicators of criminal behavior. Privacy is a fundamental part of a dignified life.
The “nothing to hide” argument also has things backwards when it suggests that we are all worthy of suspicion until proven otherwise. Our system of justice treats us all as innocent until proven guilty. That applies in everyday life – when the government wants to spy on our daily activities and private conversations – as much as it applies in court. The state bears the burden of showing there is a good reason for suspicion, not the other way around. The refrain “nothing to hide” should not be a license for sweeping government surveillance.
Even if you think you have nothing to hide, you may indeed have something to fear. You might fear for yourself. As Kafka so chillingly illustrates in “The Trial,” the prospect of unwarranted government pursuit is terrifying. Or you might fear for our society. Living under the constant gaze of government surveillance can produce long-lasting social harm: if citizens are just a little more fearful, a little less likely to freely associate, a little less likely to dissent – the aggregate chilling effect can close what was once an open society.
Government surveillance can also have a direct harm on others – think of human rights workers or journalists who must work with people who fear government scrutiny, not because of wrongdoing but for political reasons. Imagine a liberal group arguing that in the wake of the recent IRS scandal, it has nothing to fear because the IRS is interested only in conservative groups. This argument would be myopic, missing the wider risks of government overreaching. (Need proof? The IRS has now admitted that it scrutinized liberal groups, too.)
Perhaps you remain unconvinced. You are sure that you have nothing to hide and you never will. You think my concerns about chilled speech and democratic accountability are overblown, and you think privacy concerns are exaggerated and unlikely to affect you or our society in any case.
But – and this is the biggest hole in the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” argument – how can you know for sure?
In fact, you have no idea if you have something to fear or not, because you do not know what the government does with the data it collects. If the government keeps secret what it is collecting about you or why, you cannot correct potential errors. And if you know anything about our justice system, you know that errors are common. Transparency is partly about making sure the government’s actions – its outputs – can be evaluated; but transparency is also about making sure the government’s information – its inputs – is accurate.
When the government operates in secret, it is hard to know anything with confidence. There is, however, one thing you can say with 100% confidence: we need to know more.
We need to know more about what information the government is collecting about millions of innocent Americans. We need to know more about the secret legal interpretations that the government is relying on to monitor our communications. And we need to know more about what the government does with the trillions of bits of electronic data it is amassing in its files. We need these answers because, even if we have nothing to hide, that does not mean we want to live in a society where nothing is private.
End of ACLU posting
“Reps. Conyers & Massie on Bipartisan Campaign Against NSA Spying; Call for James Clapper to Resign”
“No More Kangaroo Courts If These Spy Bills Pass”
Posted By Shane Harris, John Reed Thursday, August 1, 2013
(Thanks for the PBS link, Juris.)
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