Loss of Privacy

Keeping you informed on recent losses to privacy and civil rights worldwide.

Browsing Posts tagged surveillance

Though the US Senate was forced to debate the renewal of FISA in public, it still came away voting, by a 73-23 margin, to renew the controversial law while rejecting all of the privacy amendments that had been recommended.

The rejected amendments were proposed by Senators Ron Wyden, Rand Paul, Jeff Merkley, and Patrick Leahy.

Wyden’s, which was shot down 52-43, would have forced the National Security Agency to reveal an estimate of how many Americans are affected by FISA. The NSA has argued that the enforcement of this regulation would violate the privacy of American citizens. There was a second Wyden amendment clarifying that FISA does not give the government the authority to commandeer the domestic communication of American citizens. It’s not clear if this was bundled with his other amendment.

Paul’s amendment attempted to protect the communication data of American citizens held by third-parties (e.g. emails stored in Google’s Gmail). It would have required that prosecutors provide probable cause and acquire a warrant before accessing information from third party sources. It lost lost 79-12.

The Merkley amendment would have required the Attorney General to disclose court cases in which FISA was deployed, but ultimately failed to pass with a 54-37 vote.

The Leahy amendment sought to shorten the bill’s tenure from five to three years but failed as well, 52-38.

Consider the fact that terrorists know how to use encryption, FISA is no longer about finding and stopping terrorism, if that truly was even their goal. This is about spying on Americans and have permission and the blessing of Washington to do it.

As was mentioned in the video, innocent people can get caught up in this and the government appears to be fine with that happening. The fourth amendment states that a person cannot be searched without a warrant. This includes whatever you do online, on the telephone, or purchase in person at store. This is only allowed after you are suspected of a crime. FISA, however, is worded so poorly, that it can be interpreted as allowing the monitoring of civilians for anything that the NSA could remotely tie to terrorism.

So, why should anyone care about whether the government knows what they purchase on Amazon or the local hardware store? Those in power can use that information to cause harm to a person. The information could be used to sell to a third party or employers. What if an individual works for a company that doesn’t adhere to the personal or political beliefs of an employee? That employee, who does not flaunt what they are doing, could now have that information spread around without context causing personal harm to the individual.

What if a person supports causes their family doesn’t agree with? It’s not that hard to “accidentally” release that you supported the local gay pride parade. Once the information is sold on to third parties, there is no way to control who has your information nor what they will do with it. Although these are all hypothetical situations that could happen, what happens when something more serious, such as a stalker, obtains this information?

The entire point of having the fourth amendment and the need for warrants is to prevent innocent people from getting caught up in a situation that they are not involved in and know nothing about. FISA removes these protections, which makes it harmful to every citizen in America, regardless as to whether or not they are ever personally harmed. To make matters worse, a citizen would have a difficult time taking FISA to the Supreme Court because, in such cases, you are required to show standing. In order to show standing, you must prove that your fourth amendment rights have been violated. You cannot get proof from the NSA because FISA allows them to say the proof is a matter of national security and, therefore, they cannot give you proof that your fourth amendment rights have been violated.

Even though it is thought that, once a person is identified as a US citizen, data collection must stop, that is not what is happening.

From the Supreme Court, presented in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA:

JUSTICE GINSBURG: Mr. Jaffer, could you be clear on the expanded authority under the FAA? As I understood it, it’s not like in [FISA], where a target was identified and…the court decided whether there was probable cause. Under this new statute, the Government doesn’t say who is the particular person or the particular location. So, there isn’t that check. There isn’t that check.

The individual does not need to be identified, therefore, there is no way to know if the person identified is an American or not and, thus, data collection can continue.

MR. JAFFER: That’s absolutely right, Justice Ginsburg…The whole point of the statute was to remove those tests, to remove the probable cause requirement, and to remove the facilities requirement, the requirement that the Government identify to the court the facilities to be monitored. So those are gone.

That’s why we use the phrase “dragnet surveillance.” I know the Government doesn’t accept that label, but it concedes that the statute allows what it calls categorical surveillance, which…is essentially the surveillance that the plaintiffs here are concerned about.

Instead of protecting Americans’ privacy from warrantless surveillance, the bill was changed to give retroactive immunity to telecoms and dragnet surveillance after the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping was made public.

Don’t count on the president to veto the renewal of FISA either. He has stated numerous times that he is in favor of such legislation. Most people knew that FISA was going to be renewed. They just hoped that they amendments would have put common sense checks and accountability into the law.

CNN video and C-Span video links.

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The US Senate has the opportunity to hear discussion before a vote on renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, but they might not even bother. Although reauthorizing FISA and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) would allow the government to warrantlessly wiretap the emails and phones of millions of Americans, one Republican senator has asked his colleagues on Capitiol Hill to approve the bill without debate. Will Congress skip discussions in order to renew FISA for another five years? Liz Wahl speaks with RT producer Adriana Usero about what the FISA vote means for personal privacy in the US.


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RT talks to William Binney, whistleblower and former NSA crypto-mathematician who served in the agency for decades. Virtual privacy in US, Petraeus affair and whistleblowers’ odds in fight against the authorities are among key topics of this exclusive interview.


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SAS Software, which is the UK branch of an American company has said that they have developed software that is capable of profiling all passengers and cargo to assess if they are suspicious and possibly a terrorist.

Risk profiling is a controversial topic. It means identifying a person or group of people who are more likely to act in a certain way than the rest of the population, based on an analysis of their background and past behaviour.

When it comes to airline security, some believe this makes perfect sense.

Others, though, say this smacks of prejudice and would inevitably lead to unacceptable racial or religious profiling – singling out someone because, say, they happen to be Muslim or born in Yemen.

SAS Software says that there is a difference between racial profiling and risk profiling. It claims that there is no data that is passed to the border agency when they are coming into the country. What is being passed on is their nationality based on their passport and their point of origin where their flight is concerned.

The programme works by feeding in data about passengers or cargo, including the Advanced Passenger Information (API) that airlines heading to Britain are obliged to send to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) at “wheels up” – the exact moment the aircraft lifts off from the airport of departure.

Profiling is profiling. You’re building up a profile on a person based on where they travel and spit out information that can be completely inaccurate. The Advanced Passenger Information System records all your travel information. So, if I am a businessman from Yemen and travel for work to Cuba. A week later I travel to Russia, then on to China, all for my business. A month later, I take a much needed vacation to the United Kingdom, this new program will flag me as suspicious due to the amount of travel and possible locations I’ve traveled to. So what does the Advanced Passenger Information require of me when I travel to the United Kingdom?

Full name (last name, first name, middle name if applicable)
Date of birth
Country of residence
Travel document type (normally passport)
Travel document number (expiry date and country of issue for passport)

This doesn’t make anyone safer. In fact, it puts us more at risk and we should, instead, be using a truly randomized system that checks 8-10% of the traveling public. By utilizing a system such as this, any terrorist who wants to accomplish their task merely needs to find someone who is of low risk. The terrorist will learn quickly how to game the system and will be less likely to be caught. Instead of harassing nice old ladies from Britain, the UK will now be harassing nice old ladies from the Middle East. The terrorists have plenty of ways of harming a country. They don’t need airports to accomplish their missions, but those in authority over the citizenry and subjects are far too paranoid to ever realize this.

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