Archive for Privacy

Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Snowden. Photo by Laura Poitras / Praxis Films CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

The Guardian has a lengthy read about a Department of Defense figure involved in handling DoD whistleblowers. So far, John Crane has escaped the media spotlight surrounding the case of Edward Snowden. Crane worked in the Department of Defense’s inspector general office for handling internal whistleblowers when – ten years before Snowden – Thomas Drake came to report the same illegal activities Snowden revealed to the press. Mark Hertsgaard sets the stage:

Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed.

Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored.

According to the account Crane gave to Hertsgaard, DoD officials first illegally disclosed Crane’s identity to the Justice Department, then “withheld (and perhaps destroyed) evidence after Drake was indicted; finally, they lied about all this to a federal judge.”

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Thank you for not asking

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This should come as no surprise:

Internet traffic to Wikipedia pages summarizing knowledge about terror groups and their tools plunged nearly 30 percent after revelations of widespread Web monitoring by the U.S. National Security Agency, suggesting that concerns about government snooping are hurting the ordinary pursuit of information.

A forthcoming paper in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal analyzes the fall in traffic, arguing that it provides the most direct evidence to date of a so-called “chilling effect,” or negative impact on legal conduct, from the intelligence practices disclosed by fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Author Jonathon Penney, a fellow at the University of Toronto’s interdisciplinary Citizen Lab, examined monthly views of Wikipedia articles on 48 topics identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as subjects that they track on social media, including Al Qaeda, dirty bombs and jihad.

The study should support the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the National Security Agency last year:

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Derp from above

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As the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill makes its way through the Senate this week, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have been arguing for new rules that would limit cargo pilots’ flight time to nine hours between rests. We don’t want any accidents.

“Fatigue is a killer,” Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who executed the 2009 emergency airliner landing in the Hudson River, told a press conference. Then again, if you are a drone pilot in the business of deliberately killing people, working six or seven days a week, twelve hours a day is not a problem.

The drone program remains controversial and has its detractors and defenders. Al Jazeera English this week published the confessions of former Air Force drone technician, Cian Westmoreland. He and three other former operators last year called on the president to stop the program, calling the strategy “self-defeating,” one that propagates anti-US hatred. Not to mention his own nightmares:

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Cracked: FBI drops Apple case

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Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik arrive in Chicago on July 27, 2014. U.S. Government

Richard Clark said the FBI really did not need Apple’s help to break into the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone. The former U.S. counterterrorism official and security adviser to the White House told NPR he believed the NSA could do it, no problem, but that the FBI was “not as interested in solving the problem as they are in getting a legal precedent.” Edward Snowden said the same via Twitter.

The FBI just proved them right (the Guardian):

The US government dropped its court fight against Apple after the FBI successfully pulled data from the iPhone of San Bernardino gunman Syed Farook, according to court records.

The development effectively ended a six-week legal battle poised to shape digital privacy for years to come. Instead, Silicon Valley and Washington are poised to return to a simmering cold war over the balance between privacy and law enforcement in the age of apps.

Justice Department lawyers wrote in a court filing Monday evening that they no longer needed Apple’s help in getting around the security countermeasures on Farook’s device.

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Drone protester jailed as drones drop from the sky

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Graphic from Remotely Operated Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System, FAA website

Graphic from Remotely Operated Aircraft Operations in the National Airspace System, FAA website

Bill Moyers reports that Grady Flores, a 59-year-old peace activist in New York state, has begun serving a six-month prison sentence:

And what exactly did Grady Flores do to warrant spending the next six months in jail? She photographed a peaceful protest outside Hancock Field Air National Guard Base near Syracuse, New York. The base is where the US trains pilots to launch drone strikes in the Middle East, particularly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. It wasn’t a crime for her to be taking pictures of the demonstration, but when she briefly and unintentionally — yes, unintentionally — stepped onto a road that belongs to the base, she violated what authorities called “an order of protection,” which had been issued in 2012 to forbid protesters from approaching the home or workplace of Col. Earl Evans, a commander of the 174th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard. She had never met Evans, never threatened him, never showed any intention of harming him.

Nonetheless, a town justice, David Gideon, issued the order to “protect” the Colonel from the activists. That’s right — the commander of a major military operation, piloting drones on lethal missions half-way around the world, requested a court order of protection against a group of mostly gray-haired demonstrators whom he had never met. In stepping briefly on the roadway at the base, Grady Flores violated that order, despite the fact that, as she says, “We weren’t at the security gate. We were out at the roadway.”

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No privacy issues here. Drone along.

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Both Digby and I have written about the growing drone industry before with some reservation. A nightmare for civil liberties? Privacy issues? Aw, c’mon, but they are so cewl! Everyone will want one for Christmas this year:

You’re probably getting a drone for Christmas this year, whether you want one or not. Aviation Week reports that, at a recent industry summit, Rich Swayze of the Federal Aviation Administration said that the agency expects up to 1 million unmanned aerial vehicles to be sold during this year’s holiday season. Swayze’s prediction, if true, is simultaneously great and terrible news for the drone industry. It’s great news because, hooray, money! It’s terrible news because some of these drones will be gifted to kids, and idiots, and others who know and care little for safety and decorum.

Justin Peters has a series at Slate called Future Tense that looks at drones. The project supported by the Omidyar Network and Humanity United includes a drone primer from sponsor New America here. Everybody is so excited about what they’ll get for Christmas that still no one seems worried about a fleet of military surveillance drones in our airspace.

As we have noted before, and as the Washington Post reported last year, the military is planning to fly its large fleet of military drones from 144 U.S. sites. If the Air Force gets its way, the Reapers will soon be sharing the friendly skies with your mother’s flight to Cleveland. “With my flight to Cleveland,” another blogger exclaimed at a conference last weekend:

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Facebook’s aerospace team

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Now there’s a phrase to give one pause. This just came in over the transom:

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Facebook says it will begin test flights later this year for a solar-powered drone with a wingspan as big as a Boeing 737, in the next stage of its campaign to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

Engineers at the giant social network say they’ve built a drone with a 140-foot wingspan that weighs less than 1,000 pounds. Designed to fly at high altitudes for up to three months, it will use lasers to send Internet signals to stations on the ground.

Facebook’s engineers at engineers at Connectivity Lab are designing a laser-based communications system to deliver the Internet to remote regions of the world the NSA cannot currently monitor from ?Fort Meade or Bluffdale.

The plan calls for using helium balloons to lift each drone into the air, Parikh said. The drones are designed to climb to 90,000 feet, safely above commercial airliners and thunderstorms, where they will fly in circles through the day. At night, he said, they will settle to about 60,000 feet to conserve battery power.

Each drone will fly in a circle with a radius of about 3 kilometers, which the engineers hope will enable it to provide Internet service to an area with a radius of about 50 kilometers.

Facebook drones at 90,000 feet. Amazon delivery drones below 400 feet. Large military drones in between — commingled with your Aunt Millie’s flight to Omaha. Amateur idiots anywhere, anytime. And one FAA NextGen air traffic control system to rule them all. (They’re only having a little trouble meeting the September 2015 deadline for writing those rules.) And c’mon, Zuckerberg, right? No worries. Not until one takes down an airliner or crashes into a school.

Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. — Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)

And instant communications. Anywhere. Anytime. It’s been a dream of techies since at least George Orwell.

But, you know, all that hardware to maintain. So much needless expense. TPC had a better idea for handling that little problem back in 1967:

(h/t Barry)

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“A nightmare for civil liberties”

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The FAA, drone opponents, and testified Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on a proposed rule for opening the national airspace to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Clogging the air with drones both large and small, private, commercial, police, and military poses a logistical, regulatory, and privacy challenge. Or maybe a nightmare.

People poised to make money off the commercial technology want their licenses now, and they think the FAA is taking too long to think. The military and the FAA’s NextGen program have been at odds over delays in adapting its proposed, new air traffic control system to include a fleet of military drones it was not designed for. A single U2 spy plane flying in and out of Los Angeles air space last year crashed the local traffic control system. But whateva. Reapers gotta reap and Predators gotta prey.

Most of the focus yesterday was on how soon an Amazon drone will be able to deliver a six pack to your doorstep for the big game. (And it’s still cold!)

The Guardian reports:

The limitations of the licenses would hurt Amazon, the company’s vice-president of global public policy, Paul Misener, told Congress. Misener said his company was actively working to make drone delivery a reality and that the rule’s restriction on operating drones out of the user’s line of sight would hamper progress. “Our respectful disagreement with the FAA is that we believe that kind of operation can be considered right now,” he said.

Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology warned the assembled legislators that they must heed privacy concerns before making the skies free for drones.

“Here is a nightmare scenario for civil liberties: a network of law enforcement UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] with sensors capable of identifying and tracking individuals monitors populated outdoor areas on a constant, pervasive basis for generalized public safety purposes. At the same time, commercial UAS platforms record footage of virtually anyone who steps out of her home, even if the individual remains on private property. This may seem an unlikely future to some. However, few existing laws would stand in the way, and the public does not yet trust the discretion of government or the UAS industry to prevent such scenarios from approaching reality,” he said.

Clearly an alarmist, that last guy. I mean, beer. Oh, right.

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McConnell v. Snowden

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Passage of the USA Freedom Act does not end the debate about privacy and government spying. It is hardly a speed bump. The FBI surveillance flights reported yesterday demonstrated that. As Digby observed last night, “And just wait until the drone fleet gets going…
The last time the press exposed a fleet of government aircraft operating behind shell corporations, the aircraft were ferrying terrorism suspects to exotic CIA “black sites” or foreign prisons for torture.

But the debate in the Senate over the Patriot Act was not about that. What Dan Froomkin wrote last week about the Patriot Act debate and
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell bears repeating:

Anybody paying attention knows it’s not a policy debate. The reasons McConnell and others cite for wanting to extend the program as is — despite the fact that it’s flatly illegal, essentially useless, and spectacularly invasive — are laughable. In fact, the compromise they’re willing to fight to the death to oppose was actually proposed by the NSA.

The issue is they just don’t want Snowden officially vindicated, by an act of Congress.

That is to say, they damned well don’t care that what’s being done is illegal. They only care that it got exposed. Which is something, I guess. Wall Street doesn’t even care that much.

The Republican “meltdown” over failure to renew the Patriot Act included what Sen. Barbara Boxer described on All In with Chris Hayes last night as a temper tantrum by McConnell. The Senate Majority leader even committed a messaging faux pas by repeating a headline calling his failure “a resounding victory for Edward Snowden.” Bad move.

The Guardian this morning calls the reforms’ passage a vindication for Snowden. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden noted that more needs to be done:

“This is the only beginning. There is a lot more to do,” Wyden told reporters after the vote. “We’re going to have very vigorous debate about the flawed idea of the FBI director to require companies to build weaknesses into their products. We’re going to try to close the backdoor search loophole – this is part of the Fisa Act and is going to be increasingly important, because Americans are going to have their emails swept up increasingly as global communications systems begin to merge.”

He also pointed to a proposal in the House “to make sure government agencies don’t turn cell phones of Americans into tracking devices” as another target for NSA reformers.

Meantime, watch the skies.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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This is How That Happened

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by Barry Summers

Late in 2013, I was reading a press release from a local state legislator, which publicized his being named chair of a new NC House committee. At the bottom, he listed all the other committees he was currently on, and just on a whim, I compared it to the official list of committees on his legislative website. There was exactly one missing from the press release: “House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems”. That got me curious, and that’s how I eventually came to be the only member of the public sitting in an NCGA hearing room full of military, law enforcement, and drone industry representatives, and being stared at by an angry NSA contractor. Yikes…

2007 – 2012: “We want a fully integrated environment.”

RQ-4/MQ-4 Global Hawk. U.S. Air Force photo by Bobbi Zapka. Public Domain Image courtesy Wikipedia.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, it became clear to the Department of Defense that they would have to start planning for the day when most of those drones that they had come to depend on overseas, would have to come home. And they don’t have enough segregated, military airspace in the continental US to fly them all, for training, research, etc.

Pentagon working with FAA to open U.S. airspace to combat drones:

“With a growing fleet of combat drones in its arsenal, the Pentagon is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace to its robotic aircraft.”… “The stuff from Afghanistan is going to come back,” Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of ranges, bases and airspace, said at the conference. The Department of Defense “doesn’t want a segregated environment. We want a fully integrated environment.”

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