The Guardian: NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens’ emails and phone calls

The National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases under a legal authority enabling it to search for US citizens’ email and phone calls without a warrant, according to a top-secret document passed to the Guardian by Edward Snowden.

The previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans’ communications using their name or other identifying information. Senator Ron Wyden told the Guardian that the law provides the NSA with a loophole potentially allowing “warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans”.

The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs.

The intelligence data is being gathered under Section 702 of the of the Fisa Amendments Act (FAA), which gives the NSA authority to target without warrant the communications of foreign targets, who must be non-US citizens and outside the US at the point of collection.

The communications of Americans in direct contact with foreign targets can also be collected without a warrant, and the intelligence agencies acknowledge that purely domestic communications can also be inadvertently swept into its databases. That process is known as “incidental collection” in surveillance parlance.

But this is the first evidence that the NSA has permission to search those databases for specific US individuals’ communications.

A secret glossary document provided to operatives in the NSA’s Special Source Operations division – which runs the Prism program and large-scale cable intercepts through corporate partnerships with technology companies – details an update to the “minimization” procedures that govern how the agency must handle the communications of US persons. That group is defined as both American citizens and foreigners located in the US.

“While the FAA 702 minimization procedures approved on 3 October 2011 now allow for use of certain United States person names and identifiers as query terms when reviewing collected FAA 702 data,” the glossary states, “analysts may NOT/NOT [not repeat not] implement any USP [US persons] queries until an effective oversight process has been developed by NSA and agreed to by DOJ/ODNI [Office of the Director of National Intelligence].”

The term “identifiers” is NSA jargon for information relating to an individual, such as telephone number, email address, IP address and username as well as their name.

The document – which is undated, though metadata suggests this version was last updated in June 2012 – does not say whether the oversight process it mentions has been established or whether any searches against US person names have taken place.


Click below for the full article.

Politico: Al Qaeda’s return complicates civil liberties debate

From left: Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, Ted Cruz, Mark Udall and Justin Amash are pictured in this composite image. | AP Photos, Reuters

Al Qaeda’s back, and its timing couldn’t be worse for the Republicans who are  taking on the national security wing of their party.

Edward Snowden reignited a debate over privacy and civil liberties that had  fizzled in recent years. Just last week, civil libertarians were even picking up  momentum on proposals to restrict the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ phone  records thanks to renewed attention in the media.

But that was before the serious new Al Qaeda threats that have  forced the shuttering of exploding clothes — because this is exactly the time when  they say the public needs to be reminded not to undermine the privacy rights of  law-abiding Americans.


Click below for the full article.


The Washington Post: Here’s how Iran censors the Internet

Discussion of Internet censorship usually focuses on China and its “Great Firewall.” But the Chinese Communist Party isn’t the only regime that censors its Internet. Iran does too.

Little is known about Iran’s censorship system because Iranian citizens who probe the network from inside the country risk reprisals from the government. But earlier this year, two anonymous Iranians teamed up with Alex Halderman, a computer science professor at the University of Michigan, to conduct one of the first systematic studies of Iranian Internet censorship to be published outside Iran. Halderman presented his findings at a Tuesday talk at the Usenix Security conference in Washington, D.C.

Iran has an extensive list of blacklisted sites. Users who attempt to visit a banned site see a notice that looks something like this:

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 9.55.18 AM

What gets censored? To find out, the researchers attempted to visit the sites on Alexa’s top 500 lists in various categories. Almost half of the 500 most popular sites on the Internet are censored. Unsurprisingly, the theocratic Iranian regime censors pornographic Web sites most heavily. But a high percentage of sites in the “art,” “society,” and “news” categories are also blocked:


In addition to banning particular sites, the Iranian network also filters traffic based on its content. In one test, the researchers created a file called sex.htm that was hosted outside the United States. Access to this page from inside Iran was blocked.

The Iranian Internet is also configured to discourage the use of certain encrypted protocols. Web traffic is allowed through at full speed. Traffic that uses the encrypted SSH protocol, which can be used to “tunnel” other types of traffic out of the country, run at less than 20 percent of the network’s full speed. Traffic the Iranian firewall doesn’t recognize is throttled even more dramatically, and gets cut off altogether after about 60 seconds.


Click below for the full article. Man Who Could’ve Been Facing Third Strike After Being Caught Sleeping in His Car Alleges Police Brutality in Lawsuit

Like mandatory minimums, three strike laws were passed in an effort by politicians to appear “tough on crime” by limiting the ability of judges perceived as being too lenient from determining appropriate sentencing. Combined with anti-drug laws, such sentencing laws help keep US prisons overcrowded.

Today’s example of the intersection of drug laws, tough sentencing, and police encounters via the Houston Chronicle:

Police Chief Henry Porretto said [Reginald] Davis had been convicted on two previous drug charges and was facing a possible third strike. He said Davis grabbed something from the seat of the car and put it in his pocket before fleeing. An internal police investigation completed before Davis filed a complaint determined that officers used necessary force, Poretto said.
The lawsuit [filed by Davis] alleges that on March 19 Davis was asleep in his car on the seawall, illegal in Galveston without a camping permit. Santos allegedly awakened Davis at 1:45 a.m. and asked him to place his hands on the hood of the police car. Davis ran onto the beach, was tased and tackled as he staggered to his feet, according to the lawsuit. Davis alleges that Santos, Chapman and three other officers beat him as he lay in the surf and forced his head under water.

In the lawsuit, Davis says he was unaware of the city ordinance when he parked at the seawall to sleep after realizing he was a lot more tired than he thought.

Click below for the full article. TSA: Bringing Its Watchful, Officious and Useless, Eyes Everywhere in America

Amarand Agasi / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The New York Times notes an annoying trendtoward total police state in America, with “the Transportation Security Administration’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads — VIPR teams for short — assigned to perform random security sweeps.”

Yes, what sounds like a second-rate terror-crime cartel that a minor Marvel superhero might be punching out is roaming the land:

With little fanfare, the agency best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals. Not everyone is happy.

T.S.A. and local law enforcement officials say the teams are a critical component of the nation’s counterterrorism efforts, but some members of Congress, auditors at the Department of Homeland Security and civil liberties groups are sounding alarms. The teams are also raising hackles among passengers who call them unnecessary and intrusive….

Civil liberties groups say that the VIPR teams have little to do with the agency’s original mission to provide security screenings at airports and that in some cases their actions amount to warrantless searches in violation of constitutional protections.

Ha, how naive, says TSA—what constitutional protections? Was that a common phrase back in a bygone century? We are living POST 9/11 now, suckers!

T.S.A. officials respond that the random searches are “special needs” or “administrative searches” that are exempt from probable cause because they further the government’s need to prevent terrorist attacks.

Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the T.S.A. has grown to an agency of 56,000 people at 450 American airports. The VIPR teams were started in 2005, in part as a reaction to the Madrid train bombing in 2004 that killed 191 people.

The program now has a $100 million annual budget and is growing rapidly, increasing to several hundred people and 37 teams last year, up from 10 teams in 2008. T.S.A. records show that the teams ran more than 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and search operations with local law enforcement outside of airports last year, including those at the Indianapolis 500 and the Democratic and Republican national political conventions.

The teams, which are typically composed of federal air marshals, explosives experts and baggage inspectors, move through crowds with bomb-sniffing dogs, randomly stop passengers and ask security questions. There is usually a specially trained undercover plainclothes member who monitors crowds for suspicious behavior, said Kimberly F. Thompson, a T.S.A. spokeswoman. Some team members are former members of the military and police forces.

God knows what level of totally normal appalled alarm at these gestapo tactics would seem “suspicious.” But don’t worry. The magic rock is working–no bears!