July 27, 2015

MPAA Emails Expose Dirty Media Attack Against Google

Posted: 27 Jul 2015 02:59 AM PDT

Late last year leaked documents revealed that the MPAA helped Mississippi Attorney General (AG) Jim Hood to revive SOPA-like censorship efforts in the United States.

In a retaliatory move Google sued the Attorney General, hoping to find out more about the secret plan. The company also demanded copies of internal communications from the MPAA which are now revealing how far the anti-Google camp planned to go.

Emails between the MPAA and two of AG Hood’s top lawyers include a proposal that outlines how the parties could attack Google. In particular, they aim to smear Google through an advanced PR campaign involving high-profile news outlets such as The Today Show and The Wall Street Journal.

With help from Comcast and News Corp, they planned to hire a PR firm to “attack” Google and others who resisted the planned anti-piracy efforts. To hide links to the MPAA and the AG’s office, this firm should be hired through a seemingly unaffiliated nonprofit organization, the emails suggest.

“This PR firm can be funded through a nonprofit dedicated to IP issues. The ‘live buys’ should be available for the media to see, followed by a segment the next day on the Today Show (David green can help with this),” the plan reads (pdf).

The Today Show feature would be followed up by a statement from a large Google investor calling on the company to do more to tackle the piracy problem.

“After the Today Show segment, you want to have a large investor of Google (George can help us determine that) come forward and say that Google needs to change its behavior/demand reform.”

In addition, a planted piece in the Wall Street Journal should suggest that Google’s stock would lose value if the company doesn’t give in to the demands.

“Next, you want NewsCorp to develop and place an editorial in the WSJ emphasizing that Google’s stock will lose value in the face of a sustained attack by AGs and noting some of the possible causes of action we have developed,” the plan notes.

Previously, the MPAA accused Google of waging an “ongoing public relations war,” but the above shows that the Hollywood group is no different.

On top of the PR-campaign the plan also reveals details on how the parties would taint Google before the National Association of Attorneys General.

Through a series of live taped segments they would show how easy it is for minors to pirate R-rated movies, buy heroin and order an assault weapon with the help of Google’s search engine.

Finally, the plan includes a “final step” where Attorney General Hood would issue a civil investigatory demand to Google.

In its court filing (pdf) Google uses the information above to argue that the AG’s civil investigatory demand was not the basis of a legitimate investigation. Instead, it was another tool pressuring the company to implement more stringent anti-piracy measures.

Given this new information, Google hopes that the court will compel Fox, NBC and Viacom to hand over relevant internal documents, as they were “plainly privy” to the secretive campaign.

It’s now up to the judge to decide how to proceed, but based on the emails above, the MPAA and the AG’s office have some explaining to do.

Source: TorrentFreak, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and the best VPN services.

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July 27, 2013

How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages


• Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism
• Outlook.com encryption unlocked even before official launch
• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls
• Company says it is legally compelled to comply

Skype logo

Skype worked with intelligence agencies last year to allow Prism to collect video and audio conversations. Photograph: Patrick Sinkel/AP

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.

The documents show that:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;

• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.

The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers’ privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.

In a statement, Microsoft said: “When we upgrade or update products we aren’t absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands.” The company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data “only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers”.

In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have “direct access” through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans’ communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.

Since Prism’s existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into their systems.

Microsoft’s latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: “Your privacy is our priority.”

Similarly, Skype’s privacy policy states: “Skype is committed to respecting your privacy and the confidentiality of your personal data, traffic data and communications content.”

But internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.

The latest documents come from the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the “crown jewel” of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.

The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft’s Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year.

Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats

A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: “MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal” with the issue. “These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012.”

Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.

Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. “For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption.”

Microsoft’s co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked “for many months” with the FBI – which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.

The document describes how this access “means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many analysts may not have known about”.

The NSA explained that “this new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response”. It continued: “This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established.”

A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. “The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking processes.”

The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.

One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. “The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete ‘picture’,” it says.

Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.

According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.

The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and collection began on 6 February. “Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete,” the document stated, praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. “Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system.”

ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise many Skype users. “In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users about their inability to perform wiretaps,” he said. “It’s hard to square Microsoft’s secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google.”

The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.

The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism, using software that “enables our partners to see which selectors [search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism”.

The document continues: “The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism collection of any selector…” As a result, the author notes: “these two activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!”

In its statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said:

We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.

Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.

Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.

In a joint statement, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA, said:

The articles describe court-ordered surveillance – and a US company’s efforts to comply with these legally mandated requirements. The US operates its programs under a strict oversight regime, with careful monitoring by the courts, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence. Not all countries have equivalent oversight requirements to protect civil liberties and privacy.

They added: “In practice, US companies put energy, focus and commitment into consistently protecting the privacy of their customers around the world, while meeting their obligations under the laws of the US and other countries in which they operate.”

• This article was amended on 11 July 2013 to reflect information from Microsoft that it did not make any changes to Skype to allow Prism collection on or around July 2012.

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June 7, 2013

Stunned. Angry. Fighting back against NSA spying.

EFFector! Electronic Frontier Foundation

In our 641st issue:

In most issues of EFFector, we give an overview of all the work we're doing at EFF right now. This week, we’re taking a deep dive into a single issue: new revelations of a massive domestic surveillance program leaked to the Guardian and Washington Post.

Last night, we received confirmation from a report in the Guardian that the National Security Agency (NSA) is currently collecting the call records of every Verizon customer in America. The NSA order forces Verizon to provide "on an ongoing daily basis" all call records for any call "wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls” and any call made "between the United States and abroad."

And that’s not all. Today, the Washington Post and the Guardian published reports based on information provided by a career intelligence officer showing how the NSA and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies. The government is extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

Mounting Evidence of the NSA Warrantless Surveillance

EFF has so much evidence of the surveillance now that we've created a timeline.

In brief, America first learned about the secret surveillance in a 2005 New York Times exposé which disclosed one aspect of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. We learned that the Bush Administration had been illegally tapping phone lines in the U.S. without warrants or court permission immediately following the 9/11 attacks. President Bush himself admitted at least some of what the government was doing.

In early 2006, EFF received photos and blueprints from former AT&T technician Mark Klein. These undisputed documents show that AT&T installed a fiberoptic splitter at its facility in San Francisco which sends copies of all AT&T customers’ emails, web browsing, and other Internet traffic to the NSA.

Later in 2006, USA Today and a number of other newspapers published a story disclosing that the NSA had compiled a massive database of call records from American telecommunications companies, which included AT&T, Verizon, and Bell South. This was confirmed by a number of members of Congress.

Information has continued to trickle out over time. In 2009, the New York Times reported the NSA was still collecting purely domestic communications in a "significant and systematic" way after the FISA Amendments Act was passed in 2008.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Verizon

The news of the last few days has confirmed the records portion of the surveillance, and gave us some additional hints about the government’s arguments in support of its actions.  The secret court order issued to Verizon was a Section 215 order (50 U.S.C. sec. 1861), a controversial legal instrument greatly expanded when George Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law on October 26, 2001. It allows the government to seek "any tangible things" in connection with an authorized investigation and is often known as the "business records" provision of FISA.

Section 215 allows for secret court orders to records that are "relevant" to a government investigation – a far lower threshold and more expansive reach than a warrant based on probable cause.  The list of possible "tangible things" the government can obtain is seemingly limitless, and could include everything from driver’s license records to Internet browsing history.

We've long suspected that the government has been using Section 215 to conduct dragnet surveillance. Now we have incontrovertible evidence. Senator Ron Wyden has warned that "when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry."

Senator Wyden is right.

What EFF is Doing

First of all, we're leading the charge to stop the NSA’s domestic surveillance program in the courts. Since 2006, EFF has challenged the NSA surveillance in two landmark lawsuits, Hepting v. AT&T and Jewel v. NSA. These cases, in which we represent AT&T customers, include both the wiretapping claims arising from the fiberoptic splitter that Mark Klein found and the scooping up of communications records referred to in the Verizon order. We also have fought back against other PATRIOT Act surveillance abuses, including bringing a case that resulted in National Security Letters being declared unconstitutional — which is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

We’re also fighting for transparency. In 2011, we filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Justice for records about the government’s secret interpretation of Section 215. Last week we submitted a brief to the secret FISA court itself in that case.

And we're pushing for legislative reform. We've organized tens of thousands of concerned citizens to speak out against the surveillance powers in the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act, and now we’re calling on the public to demand a full, public accounting of the government's surveillance programs.

Join the Fight

We're asking individuals to email Congress right away to tell them in the strongest possible terms that you do not consent to dragnet domestic surveillance. Tell your elected officials that you object to this mass domestic spying program. Demand that they initiate a full-scale, public investigation immediately with the results of the investigation made public as much as possible. Demand that the public officials responsible for this program are held to account. Click here to speak out now.

And we’re also asking individuals to support our work. Become an EFF member today and join the fight to defend fundamental liberties in the digital world.

Learn more

NSA Spying Overview

Timeline of NSA Spying

Frequently Asked Questions

State Secrets Privilege

Washington Post story on Internet surveillance

Guardian story on Internet surveillance

Guardian story on phone record surveillance

Supported by Members

Our members make it possible for EFF to bring legal and technological expertise into crucial battles about online rights. Whether defending free speech online or challenging unconstitutional surveillance, your participation makes a difference. Every donation gives technology users who value freedom online a stronger voice and more formidable advocate.

If you aren't already, please consider becoming an EFF member today.

Donate Today


Editor: Rainey Reitman, Activist

EFFector is a publication of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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The NSA, Verizon And The Future of Domestic Spying

June 06, 2013 1:00 PM  

According to a top-secret court order obtained by The Guardian, the National Security Agency has collected the phone records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers since late April. The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman explains the coming debate over the scale of domestic spying operations.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Later in the program, we'll continue our series of conversations and look ahead with NPR's Deborah Amos, who's been covering the war in Syria. But we begin today with a court order obtained by The Guardian's U.S. team, which authorizes the National Security Agency to collect information on billions of phone calls made by U.S. Verizon customers since late April.

The order is unusually broad and has already inflamed controversy over civil liberties, the Patriot Act and the little-known court that authorized the data collection. Critics like the ACLU say there is no possible justification for such a sweeping search. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Mike Rogers, said today that phone records sweeps like the one reported today had stopped what he described as a significant terrorist against the United States within the past few years.

Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian's U.S. national security editor, joins us here in Studio 42. Thanks very much for coming in today.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Thanks very much for having me.

CONAN: And since your story came out, we've had confirmation: A, that it's accurate; and B, that this kind of thing has been going on for, what, six or seven years.

ACKERMAN: For seven years is what members of Congress are now saying, raising the very interesting question of whether they knew precisely of the scope of metadata, so-called metadata collection that the NSA has been collecting.

CONAN: Well, let us inform ourselves. Metadata, what does that mean?

ACKERMAN: Yes, that's a great question. This gets a little jargony sometimes. Think of metadata as everything that isn't in the direct substance of our conversation, so not what it is that you and I are talking about right now but perhaps the mechanisms by which we are talking, the IP addresses, the phone numbers, the duration of the call, the frequency of interaction between us.

CONAN: So if you are collecting metadata, you might know that I called you at such and such a time, the call lasted so long, it was routed through these particular servers and that I called from Union Station, and you received it in – at Capitol Hill.

ACKERMAN: That's correct, and from that you can learn quite a great deal of identifying information about either ends of our phone call. I can find out particularly, if I look through other publicly available records, I can probably get your name, I can probably get your address, I can probably get your Social Security number, I can probably get your driver's license.

CONAN: If there's a TV camera up there, you could probably get my picture.

ACKERMAN: That's right.

CONAN: But you're being swarmed by billions of calls, maybe a billion calls a day. This is a three-month period. How do you sort through all that data?

ACKERMAN: You'll need essentially algorithms to determine when all that data is collected and tagged digitally, ultimately mechanisms like that for sorting through it. It's a tremendous amount of information.

CONAN: And computers sweep through it looking for particular patterns?

ACKERMAN: That's right.

CONAN: All right, so what can be gleaned from that information when there's so much of it?

ACKERMAN: Think about how often you talk to close associates, friends, people that you're related to, that you have longstanding connections with. That's the sort of thing I can infer from your call patterns based on the duration they take place and based on the frequency with which they take place. And when you're potentially investigating something, that information becomes rather important for understanding who someone that you might be collecting information on is talking to.

However, from the order that we acquired, there's no indication that they are in fact searching for anything specific. This is all potentially tens of millions if not more of information that goes across Verizon's pipes.

CONAN: And Verizon, they said today if such an order was issued, we're not allowed to talk about it. We are, however, had such an order been issued, required to comply with it and required not to say anything about it.

ACKERMAN: That's right. This order comes from a very secretive court called the FISA court. It's supposed to be the only judicial mechanism by which the government's surveillance efforts are checked. However, that court refuses to…

CONAN: Domestic surveillance.

ACKERMAN: Domestic surveillance, that's right. It refuses nearly no government requests. These orders occur in secret. What's called third party businesses and that sort of thing that are required to comply with it cannot publicly discuss the fact that they've been issued these orders.

The document that we acquired and we publish says that it cannot be declassified for another 30 years.

CONAN: And is there any reason to believe that all the other telephone companies aren't complying with similar orders?

ACKERMAN: I'd hate to speculate, but it would be very surprising.

CONAN: I wanted to read you some quotes from the White House spokesman, who is on a place with the president en route to California, I guess: The intelligence community is conducting court-authorized intelligence activities pursuant to public statute with the knowledge and oversight of Congress. That's according to Josh Earnest, traveling with the president to North Carolina.

An order relating to the collection of massive amounts of phone records made public, quote, "does not allow the government to listen in on anyone's telephone calls, nor did the information include the content of any communication nor the name of any subscriber."

ACKERMAN: Yes, but again when you learn the metadata around you, it's something of a cold comfort not to have your name attached to it because it's easily – it gives you quite a great deal of information as a basis for then finding that out. It's an open question.

CONAN: Now the timing of this, it was issued shortly after the bombing in Boston and the shootout that followed there. Is there any reason to believe it's connected with that?

ACKERMAN: I'd hate to speculate on that.

CONAN: OK, now that we know that these kinds of searches have been going on for the past seven years, and there have been hints about this from a couple of Democratic senators who have been complaining publicly but not allowed to say publicly what they were talking about until your report came out.

ACKERMAN: This is an interesting thing. In 2011, shortly before Congress took up the debate about reauthorizing the Patriot Act, I had an interview with Senator Ron Wyden, who is one of the Senate's premiere civil libertarians, and he told me that although he couldn't talk about publicly what in fact he was about to tell me that the government had an interpretation of its powers under the Patriot Act for surveillance that were far broader than what it had been saying publicly and what it expected Congress to vote on, that he considered this so important, that it was essentially a secret law, something substantially different from the public debate about the Patriot Act.

CONAN: And concern is not limited to Democrats on Capitol Hill. Early this morning, Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois had Attorney General Eric Holder before him in testimony that had been previously scheduled, not called on this, but asked the attorney general about what he called the, quote, "Verizon scandal."

SENATOR MARK KIRK: Could you assure to us that no phones inside the Capitol were monitored of members of Congress that would give a future executive branch, if they started pulling this kind of thing up, would give them unique leverage over the legislature?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: With all due respect, Senator, I don't think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue. I'd be more than glad to come back in an appropriate setting to discuss the issues that you have raised. But in this open forum, I don't…

KIRK: I would interrupt you and say the correct answer would be to say no, we stayed within our lane, and I'm assuring you we did not spy on members of Congress.

CONAN: And an appropriate forum, the attorney general's word, that means a secret session.

ACKERMAN: Yeah, I mean, I wonder if members of Congress are Verizon subscribers.

CONAN: Many possibly are, and it's interesting that this is coming from both sides of the aisle. Then of course you hear also from members of the intelligence committees, the people who were briefed on these operations, who are saying wait a minute, this has saved lives. These kinds of operations in the past have saved lives. These are authorized by the law, authorized by a court, this is perfectly legal, and we knew about it.

ACKERMAN: They have made that argument. It'll be interesting to see if there is any public disclosure that would substantiate that. It would also be interesting to find out if members of Congress even on those committees had the understanding of what in fact the scope of the surveillance they say they authorized was.

CONAN: Because if you were looking for certain phone numbers, certain individuals, it's a little easier to understand the intrusion. For billions of calls over a three-month period, it sounds like a giant fishing expedition.

ACKERMAN: And there's no reason to believe, when members of Congress are saying this has been happening for seven years, that that particular three-month period wouldn't have previously been reauthorized and won't be reauthorized in the future.

CONAN: So that there could have been a sequence of three-month authorization periods by the FISA court.

ACKERMAN: It's possible, given that this is what members of Congress are saying publicly about the length this surveillance has been occurring.

CONAN: Tell us a little bit about the FISA court. This is authorized again under a law by Congress.

ACKERMAN: That's correct. The 1978 foreign intelligence surveillance act, which is supposed to bind surveillance conducted by the government to ensure that individual Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing are not swept up in these rather broad and powerful government dragnets. It was a creation after some reforms by Congress in the 1970s to correct some abuses of the intelligence community.

And it operates entirely in secret. Members are appointed for I believe seven-year terms. And the scope of what they discuss is not adversarial. So the government pleads its case, but there's no one else, unlike elsewhere in the judicial system, to make counterarguments. And its decisions are almost never publicly known.

The scope of these decisions, we've now had reason to believe and now see, are very broad, and they almost never refuse a government request. In the last year, it had just come out publicly, they have I believe seen maybe something on the order of over 1,800 requests from the government for surveillance and refused none of them.

CONAN: And so as this goes ahead, the kind of controversy that's been generated today, do you think it is going to force the administration to be more forthcoming not only with what it's doing and why but what it has learned from these sweeps in the past?

ACKERMAN: We'll see.

CONAN: And as you go ahead, would you expect now that there would be public hearings about this?

ACKERMAN: Judging from the reaction in Congress, it's certainly possible. You've got a number of legislators, as you've pointed out, who are saying look, this is nothing new, nothing to see here, move along, and then others who are quite disturbed, particularly civil libertarian members of Congress that the government could be doing something like this for so many millions of Americans, potentially.

CONAN: And does this tie into the kinds of intrusive investigations that we've heard complaints about in recent weeks, as the administration has looked into phone records of reporters and various other issues?

ACKERMAN: Well, if they've looked into phone records of reporters, and now you've got a court order that shows that all subscriber data, that all communications that track over Verizon's pipes are collectable by the NSA, that in fact Verizon has to turn them over, I would be very interested to know how you could separate one from the other.

CONAN: Would you fear that your records might be looked into to find out who leaked you this document, this classified document?

ACKERMAN: I don't want to talk about that.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much, we appreciate your time today, and we will follow the story with interest.

ACKERMAN: Thanks very much.

CONAN: More on this story later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. We were just speaking with Spencer Ackerman, national security editor for the British newspaper The Guardian, its U.S. unit. He joined us here in Studio 42. After a short break, NPR's Deb Amos joins us for the next in our series of looking ahead conversation. Syria is her beat. We'll be right back with her to talk about that country's future and how it may affect the entire region. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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March 29, 2012

New Counterorrism Guidelines Gives Authorities Vast Access to Private Info of Innocent Americans

March 25, 2012 | By Trevor Timm

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed expansive new guidelines for terrorism analysts, allowing the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) to mirror entire federal databases containing personal information and hold onto the information for an extended period of time—even if the person is not suspected of any involvement in terrorism. (Read the guidelines here ).

Despite the “terrorism” justification, the new rules affect every single American.  The agency now has free rein to, as the New York Times’ Charlie Savage put it, “retrieve, store and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats ” and expands the amount of time the government can keep private information on innocent individuals by a factor of ten.

From the New York Times :

The guidelines will lengthen to five years — from 180 days — the amount of time the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said. The guidelines are also expected to result in the center making more copies of entire databases and “data mining them” using complex algorithms to search for patterns that could indicate a threat. (emphasis ours)

Journalist Marcy Wheeler summed the new guidelines up nicely saying, “So…the data the government keeps to track our travel, our taxes, our benefits, our identity? It just got transformed from bureaucratic data into national security intelligence.”

The administration claims that the changes in the rules for the NCTC—as well as for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), which oversees the nation’s intelligence agencies—are in response to the government’s failure to connect the dots in the so-called “underwear bomber” case at the end of 2009, yet there was no explanation of how holding onto innocent Americans’ private data for five years would have stopped the bombing attempt.

Disturbingly, “oversight” for these expansive new guidelines is being directed by the DNI’s "Civil Liberties Protection Officer" Joel Alexander, who is so concerned about Americans’ privacy and civil liberties that he, as Marcy Wheeler notes, found no civil liberties concerns with the National Security Agency’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program when he reviewed it during President George W. Bush’s administration.

As other civil liberties organizations have noted, the new guidelines are reminiscent of the Orwellian-sounding “Total Information Awareness ” program George Bush tried but failed to get through Congress in 2003—again in the name of defending the nation from terrorists. The program, as the New York Times explained , sparked an “outcry” and partially shut down Congress because it “proposed fusing vast archives of electronic records — like travel records, credit card transactions, phone calls and more — and searching for patterns of a hidden terrorist cell.”

The New York Times reported , the new NCTC guidelines “are silent about the use of commercial data — like credit card and travel records — that may have been acquired by other agencies,” but information first obtained by private corporations has ended up in federal databases before. In one example, Wired Magazine found FBI databases contained “200 million records transferred from private data brokers like ChoicePoint, 55,000 entries on customers of Wyndham hotels, and numerous other travel and commercial records.” The FBI would be one of the agencies sharing intelligence with the NCTC.

Despite Congress’ utter rejection of the “Total Information Awareness” program (TIA) in 2003, this is the second time this month the administration has been accused of instituting the program piecemeal. In his detailed report on the NSA’s new “data center” in Utah, Wired Magazine’s James Bamford remarked that the new data storage complex is “the realization” of the TIA program, as it’s expected to store and catalog “all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches.”

Unfortunately, the new NCTC guidelines are yet another example of the government using the word “terrorism” to infringe on the rights of innocent Americans. Aside from the NSA’s aforementioned warrantless wiretapping program, we have seen the Patriot Act overwhelmingly used in criminal investigations not involving terrorism, despite its original stated purpose. As PBS Frontline’s Azmat Khan noted in response to the new guidelines, investigative journalist Dana Priest has previously reported how “many states have yet to use their vast and growing anti-terror apparatus to capture any terrorists; instead the government has built a massive database that collects, stores and analyzes information on thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.” 

This problem has been well documented for years, yet Congress and both the Bush and Obama administrations have continued to use terrorism as a justification for expansive laws, and Americans’ constitutional rights have become collateral damage. 

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