The NSA's Vast Spying Regime Does Not Pass Constitutional Muster

It often appears that the only time Democrats and Republicans can agree on anything, it tends to result in the launching of new wars, or building more prisons, or further eroding constitutional rights and civil liberties.  This could not be more clear in the bipartisan defense of the unconstitutional surveillance and spying regime that has been constructed in the United States over the last decade(s).  An op-ed in the New York Times calls it what it is: criminal.  Excerpt:
The Fourth Amendment obliges the government to demonstrate probable cause before conducting invasive surveillance. There is simply no precedent under the Constitution for the government’s seizing such vast amounts of revealing data on innocent Americans’ communications. 

The government has made a mockery of that protection by relying on select Supreme Court cases, decided before the era of the public Internet and cellphones, to argue that citizens have no expectation of privacy in either phone metadata or in e-mails or other private electronic messages that it stores with third parties . . . 

We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.

Documents Reveal Widespread Email Surveillance by US Government for Past Decade

A few years ago, actually, even just a few weeks ago, anyone who suggested that email correspondence and internet traffic were being monitored by the government would have been labeled a nut or conspiracy theorist.  But they would have been right.  From The Guardian:
The Obama administration for more than two years permitted the National Security Agency to continue collecting vast amounts of records detailing the email and internet usage of Americans, according to secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The documents indicate that under the program, launched in 2001, a federal judge sitting on the secret surveillance panel called the Fisa court would approve a bulk collection order for internet metadata "every 90 days". A senior administration official confirmed the program, stating that it ended in 2011.

The collection of these records began under the Bush administration's wide-ranging warrantless surveillance program, collectively known by the NSA codename Stellar Wind.

Remote Desktop Feature Added to Google Hangout

From Geekosystem:
Getting started with Hangouts Remote Desktop is pretty basic. We just gave it a test drive, and everything went smoothly. The feature can be installed as an app in the hangout itself. It’s found under the “Add Apps” tab on the left of the screen. Once one person enables Remote Desktop, the other party can choose to accept or reject it. Now you’re free to click around the other person’s screen.

Privacy Tools: Free Web Browsers With Strong Privacy Protections and Tools provides listings of free alternatives to proprietary software produced by companies known to be collaborating with global spying and intelligence operations that compromise their users' privacy.  If you are using Apple Safaro, Google Chrome or Microsoft Internet Explorer, you are perhaps inadvertently compromising your own data security and internet privacy due to the fact that these corporations are known to collaborate with global surveillance and spying operations.  Alternatives include:

Tor Browser Bundle
Gnuzilla and IceCat

NSA Scandal: If Your Data Are Encrypted, They are Being Collected

If you secure any data you send over the internet encrypting them, you probably have a backup copy somewhere at the NSA.  From Tech Dirt:
There's been plenty of commentary concerning the latest NSA leak concerning its FISA court-approved "rules" for when it can keep data, and when it needs to delete it. As many of you pointed out in the comments to that piece -- and many others are now exploring -- the rules seem to clearly say that if your data is encrypted, the NSA can keep it.  Specifically, the minimization procedures say that the NSA has to destroy the communication it receives once it's determined as domestic unless they can demonstrate a few facts about it.

Firefox Will Offer Better Internet Privacy and Anti-Tracking Tools

From the Washington Post:
The maker of the popular Firefox browser is moving ahead with plans to block the most common forms of Internet tracking, allowing hundreds of millions of users to eventually limit who watches their movements across the Web, company officials said Wednesday.

Firefox’s developers made the decision despite intense resistance from advertising groups, which have argued that tracking is essential to delivering well-targeted, lucrative ads that pay for many popular Internet services.

Widespread release of the blocking technology remains months away. But officials at Mozilla, the nonprofit group that makes Firefox, spoke confidently Wednesday about the growing sophistication of tools they are building to limit the placement of “cookies” in users’ browsers. . . .

Google Files Suit Against FISA and NSA Gag Orders

From the Washington Post:
Google asked the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday to ease long-standing gag orders over data requests the court makes, arguing that the company has a constitutional right to speak about information it is forced to give the government.

The legal filing, which invokes the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, is the latest move by the California-based tech giant to protect its reputation in the aftermath of news reports about broad National Security Agency surveillance of Internet traffic.

Texas Becomes First State to Require a Warrant for Email Searches

If you naively believed your email is protected from unreasonable and unwarranted search and seizure by the government, you could perhaps be forgiven, since most people likely consider their email to be the kind of "papers and effects" that would be explicitly covered by Fourth Amendment protections.  But nothing is further from the truth.  Rather, law enforcement agencies are more likely to consider a person's email to be akin to a public, and publicly accessible record or document.  This is, in fact, the basis for many spying and snooping programs.  Texas has now become the first state to pass a law requiring a warrant for email searches.  Of course, citizens in Texas are still not safe from the Federal Government, which still considers everyone's email fair game.  The new Texas law should, of course, be unnecessary, since email and all other electronic documentation should be automatically considered part of an individual's "papers and effects", but we live under the rule of the Democratic and Republican parties, where one cannot take anything for granted, even the constitution.  From Ars Technica:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed a bill giving Texans more privacy over their inboxes than anywhere else in the United States.  On Friday, Perry signed HB 2268, effective immediately. The law shields residents of the Lone Star State from snooping by state and local law enforcement without a warrant. The bill's e-mail amendment was written by Jonathan Stickland, a 29-year-old Republican who represents an area between Dallas and Ft. Worth.
Under the much-maligned 1986-era Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), federal law enforcement agencies are only required to get a warrant to access recent e-mails before they are opened by the recipient.  As we've noted many times before, there are no such provisions in federal law once the e-mail has been opened or if it has sat in an inbox, unopened, for 180 days. In March 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) acknowledged in a Congressional hearing that this distinction no longer makes sense and the DOJ would support revisions to ECPA.

Apple Reveals Government Data Requests

Following on the heels of other big tech companies, Apple has released information regarding requests for data by government agencies.  From the BBC:
The firm said it received requests for information linked to between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices between December and the end of May.  It said the demands included "national security matters" among other information. Microsoft and Facebook published similar numbers last week.  But Google and Twitter have said that such disclosures are not helpful.

NSA Admits to Widespread Warrantless Wiretapping

From CNET:
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.  Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."  If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

How the Courts are Undermining the Bill of Rights

The New York Times reports how a judge in a secret court forced Yahoo to hand over records to the government without a warrant. Excerpt:
In a secret court in Washington, Yahoo’s top lawyers made their case. The government had sought help in spying on certain foreign users, without a warrant, and Yahoo had refused, saying the broad requests were unconstitutional.

The judges disagreed. That left Yahoo two choices: Hand over the data or break the law.  So Yahoo became part of the National Security Agency’s secret Internet surveillance program, Prism, according to leaked N.S.A. documents, as did seven other Internet companies. 
The Fourth Amendment is not the only Constitutional protection that is under attack from all three branches of the government.  The First Amendment is also a favored target.  The Supreme Court has also just ruled that there is no freedom of assembly in the plaza in front of the Supreme Court's building.  Excerpt:
The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a new regulation barring most demonstrations on the plaza in front of the courthouse.  The regulation did not significantly alter the court’s longstanding restrictions on protests on its plaza. It appeared, rather, to be a reaction to a decision issued Tuesday by a federal judge, which narrowed the applicability of a 1949 federal law barring “processions or assemblages” or the display of “a flag, banner or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice a party, organization or movement” in the Supreme Court building or on its grounds.

Devil's Pact Between Government and Business

From Bloomberg News:
Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said.

These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency. The role of private companies has come under intense scrutiny since his disclosure this month that the NSA is collecting millions of U.S. residents’ telephone records and the computer communications of foreigners from Google Inc (GOOG). and other Internet companies under court order. 

U.S. Senator Would Call for Censorship of All Mail

As if you needed any more evidence that the Republican and Democratic parties represent a grave threat to basic Constitutional rights and liberties, consider the fact that Senator Lindsey Graham now states that if he would support censoring all our mail if he thought it were necessary to protect national security.  From Yahoo:
Sen. Lindsey Graham would propose censoring Americans' "snail" mail if he thought it would help protect national security, the South Carolina Republican said Tuesday. But for now, he says he doesn't think it's necessary.
It is outrageous that a U.S. Senator would so brazenly and casually suggest that the violation of basic rights and liberties in such a casual manner.  The leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties are a threat to the people and Constitution of the United States.  

Mozilla Launches Campaign to End Rampant Digital Surveillance

From the Mozilla Foundation blog:
Last week, media reports emerged that the US government is requiring vast amounts of data from Internet and phone companies via top secret surveillance programs. The revelations, which confirm many of our worst fears, raise serious questions about individual privacy protections, checks on government power and court orders impacting some of the most popular Web services.

Today Mozilla is launching StopWatching.Us — a campaign sponsored by a broad coalition of organizations from across the political and technical spectrum calling on citizens and organizations from around the world to demand a full accounting of the extent to which our online data, communications and interactions are being monitored.

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against NSA Phone Suerveillance

From the ACLU:
In the wake of the past week's revelations about the NSA's unprecedented mass surveillance of phone calls, today the ACLU filed a lawsuit charging that the program violates Americans' constitutional rights of free speech, association, and privacy.

This lawsuit comes a day after we submitted a motion to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) seeking the release of secret court opinions on the Patriot Act's Section 215, which has been interpreted to authorize this warrantless and suspicionless collection of phone records . . .

The ACLU's complaint filed today explains that the dragnet surveillance the government is carrying out under Section 215 infringes upon the ACLU's First Amendment rights, including the twin liberties of free expression and free association. The nature of the ACLU's work—in areas like access to reproductive services, racial discrimination, the rights of immigrants, national security, and more—means that many of the people who call the ACLU wish to keep their contact with the organization confidential. Yet if the government is collecting a vast trove of ACLU phone records—and it has reportedly been doing so for as long as seven years—many people may reasonably think twice before communicating with us.

Enemies of the People?

Since Edward Snowden revealed himself last week as the source of the leaked documents detailing the extent of the National Security Administration's vast spying and surveillance apparatus, ardent supporters of the surveillance society and police state have been out in force, accusing the young analyst and systems administrator of treason and even calling for his execution.  However, it is clearly apparent that those who support the indefinite expansion of the surveillance society and national security police state are the true traitors to the United States Constitution, as they demonstrate with their overt contempt for the Bill of Rights in general and the Fourth Amendment in particular.  As Democrats and Republicans unite in opposition to the right to be secure in one's person, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure, it becomes ever clearer who the real enemies of the people and Constitution of the United States are. 

The Bizarro Character of the Surveillance Society

Glenn Greenwald on the current state of the surveillance society being constructed by the Democratic and Republican parties:
The way things are supposed to work is that we're supposed to know virtually everything about what they do: that's why they're called public servants. They're supposed to know virtually nothing about what we do: that's why we're called private individuals.

This dynamic - the hallmark of a healthy and free society - has been radically reversed. Now, they know everything about what we do, and are constantly building systems to know more. Meanwhile, we know less and less about what they do, as they build walls of secrecy behind which they function. That's the imbalance that needs to come to an end. No democracy can be healthy and functional if the most consequential acts of those who wield political power are completely unknown to those to whom they are supposed to be accountable.

New Details Emerge on How Tech Companies Are Forced to Enable Government Sying

From the New York Times:
When government officials came to Silicon Valley to demand easier ways for the world’s largest Internet companies to turn over user data as part of a secret surveillance program, the companies bristled. In the end, though, many cooperated at least a bit. . . .

The negotiations shed a light on how Internet companies, increasingly at the center of people’s personal lives, interact with the spy agencies that look to their vast trove of information — e-mails, videos, online chats, photos and search queries — for intelligence. They illustrate how intricately the government and tech companies work together, and the depth of their behind-the-scenes transactions.

U.S. Government Surveillance Programs Are a Threat to the Privacy of Individuals Worldwide

In case you didn't realize it already. From Politico:
The journalist who broke the news that the government is monitoring vast quantities of American phone records is claiming the U.S. is building a “massive” snooping apparatus committed to destroying privacy worldwide.

“There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world,” charged Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for the British newspaper “The Guardian,” speaking on CNN. “That is not hyperbole. That is their objective.”

Federal Government's War on the Fourth Amendment as Bad as Expected

The U.S. Federal Government under the dictatorship of the Democratic and Republican parties, and in partnership with their corporate allies, represent a grave and direct threat against the people and Constitution of the United States.  From the Washington Post:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post. . . .

NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

Federal Government Caught in Massive Spying Operation

The war on the Fourth Amendment continues.  From The Guardian:
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.  The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries. . . .

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

Access to the Internet is a Human Right

In an interview with The Verge, outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski states that communication over the internet is a "basic right."  Excerpt:
The most important thing for people to understand is that the basic rule that people have a right to send information over the internet — even when they are using a wireless device — is part of the framework. If a carrier blocks a consumer's access to the internet, they are violating our rules.

Trojon Virus Continuing to Spread Via Facebook

Just in case you needed to be reminded that you should always be cognizant of the links you click, the New York Times reports on a six year old piece of malware that continues to dupe Facebook users and drain bank accounts.  Excerpt:
a six-year-old so-called Trojan horse program that drains bank accounts is alive and well on Facebook.  Zeus is a particularly nasty Trojan horse that has infected millions of computers, most of them in the United States. Once Zeus has compromised a computer, it stays dormant until a victim logs into a bank site, and then it steals the victim’s passwords and drains the victim’s accounts. In some cases, it can even replace a bank’s Web site with its own page, in order to get even more information– such as a Social Security number– that can be sold on the black market.

Why Can't We Access Our Own Data?

Today, many if not most people understand that we are under constant surveillance in one way or another, whether by a public surveillance camera or our own cell phones.  What if you wanted to start collecting that data on yourself?  From the New York Times:
OUR mobile carriers know our locations: where our phones travel during working hours and leisure time, where they reside overnight when we sleep. Verizon Wireless even sells demographic profiles of customer groups — including ZIP codes for where they “live, work, shop and more” — to marketers. But when I called my wireless providers, Verizon and T-Mobile, last week in search of data on my comings and goings, call-center agents told me that their companies didn’t share customers’ own location logs with them without a subpoena. . . .

Maine House Passes Law Requiring Warrants for Police to Track Cell Phones

One might think that the strict language of the Fourth Amendment on illegal search and seizure would mean that it would be unconstitutional for police to track anyone's cell phone without a warrant.  But you would be wrong, as the Bill of Rights has been systematically undermined by the Democratic and Republican parties in the Congress.  Some states are pushing back, however.  A new bill Maine would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to track a person's cell phone.  From Slate:
Lawmakers in Maine are putting themselves at the forefront of efforts to curb excessive surveillance by instituting new privacy safeguards.  On Wednesday, the state House voted 113-28 in favor of legislation that would in all but exceptional cases prohibit law enforcement agencies from tracking cellphones without a warrant. If enacted, LD 415 would make Maine the first state in the country to require authorities to obtain a search warrant before tracking cellphones or other GPS-enabled devices. The law would also require that law enforcement agencies notify a person that she was tracked within three days, unless they can prove that secrecy is necessary, in which case a delay can be granted for up to 180 days. LD 415 would additionally require the publication of an annual report online detailing the number of times location data were sought by law enforcement agencies.