Category Archives: Government Secrecy

CISPA: Your Privacy At Severe Risk Of Government‑Corporate Surveillance

Following up on the earlier CISPA post, Anjali Dalal of AlterNet has a concentrated summary of CISPA and all the last-minute amendments applied last Thursday evening before the bill was passed unexpectedly by the House. Many of the amendments appear to have been inserted (and others deleted) in defiance of reservations expressed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology, all of whom were at least in theory invited to “participate” in amending the bill. Here’s Dalal:

Learning their lesson from SOPA, the House decided to invite civil liberties constituencies to the table so as to avoid having to witness another implosion of a major legislative goal. As a result, a number of amendments were introduced that began to address some of the most egregious parts of the bill, and, in response, some members of the civil liberties community decided to withhold further, vocal opposition. Then, on Thursday evening, it all fell apart. As Josh Smith at the National Journal described, the CISPA that was passed by the House on Thursday didn’t reflect this negotiation: …

Ah, the grand Republican tradition, let everyone have their say and then pass whatever they damned well please. “We listened to you!” they will doubtless protest. Yes, fuck them dead, they did. An overwhelming number of the amendments ultimately incorporated were Republican, while most Democratic amendments were omitted by the Republican-dominated House Rules Committee.

The linked AlterNet article discusses quite a few amendments. All I can say on a quick reading is that the words “warrantless” and “immunity” appear often, allowing warrantless searches by corporations (!) to be reported to government agencies with immunity for the corporations involved. These GOP guys ‘n’ gals really, really don’t like the “no search without a warrant” principle, and they really, really do like subcontracting legitimately government-only activities to private corporations.

Do you get the feeling that that pompous, ritualistic reading of the Constitution at the opening of the last House session was totally lost on the members of one party, and maybe some of the other party’s members as well?

Does anybody know the status of Obama’s original threat to veto this bill if it crosses his desk? Has he caved yet?

CISPA Passes House On Hurried-Up Vote After Surprise Changes Effectively Eviscerating Fourth Amendment Online

Remember Dan Quayle? Remember how we laughed at him? In our brave new world under our new overlords (whom I, for one, do NOT welcome), Quayle has had the last laugh. Here is Leigh Beaden of TechDirt on the sudden passage of CISPA, and the same author on the Quayle amendment to CISPA.

If this bill becomes law (for what it’s worth, Obama has issued a veto threat), companies that partner with DoD and NSA agencies can gather information on American citizens online without a warrant and with no application of the Fourth Amendment, just by listing certain keywords in their justification for the acquisition. It’s easier for me simply to hand you off to the ACLU for their initial impressions of the bill as passed in the House yesterday:

The House of Representatives just passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), a dangerously overbroad bill that would allow companies to share our private and sensitive information with the government without a warrant and without proper oversight. CISPA gives companies the authority to share that information with the National Security Agency or other elements of the Department of Defense, who could keep it forever. The Obama administration issued a veto threat on CISPA earlier this week.

In a statement that we issued just after the House vote, ACLU legislative counsel Michelle Richardson stated, “CISPA goes too far for little reason. Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.”

Obscurity indeed… either that’s where the bill will go, or where your privacy will go; we can’t have both.

It seems to me that we must have had “Americans” in our midst for several decades just waiting for an opportunity to repudiate the Bill of Rights and turn our form of government into something most of us would regard as totalitarian. The “global war on terror” seems to have provided that opportunity, and these un‑Americans have whipped out their swords and begun whacking away at the freedoms listed in our fundamental document. Personally, I expect the worst. If you feel otherwise, please let me know. If you “welcome our new overlords,” please fuck yourself with a corkscrew.

(H/T Avedon.)

AFTERTHOUGHT: the wiki is also worth reading, especially the quotes from the bill’s opponents outside of Congress.

Obama’s Government Cracks Down

… on whistleblowers and on those who leak information to the press and media that may be uncomplimentary to the administration. Chris Hedges tells you what has happened, and what in all likelihood will happen next. I’ll offer just one short quotation:

We have very little space left to maneuver. The iron doors of the corporate state are slamming shut. And a conviction of Bradley Manning, or any of the five others charged by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act of 1917 with passing government secrets to the press, would effectively terminate public knowledge of the internal workings of the corporate state.

What we live under cannot be called democracy. What we will live under if the Supreme Court upholds the use of the Espionage Act to punish those who expose war crimes and state lies will be a species of corporate fascism. And this closed society is, perhaps, only a few weeks or months away.

If you’re a journalist with both the ability and a need to leak unpleasant facts about the Obama government, you’d better have your passport updated and an escape route planned. Obama’s behavior to date makes it clear he has no intention of tolerating uncomplimentary leaks at all, and is either about to try (e.g., Bradley Manning) or seeks to arrest and try anyone who commits the unpardonable sin (in Obama’s opinion) of leaking to the press.

I doubt this is going to get any better no matter who becomes president next year, but I’m damned surely not going to vote for Obama again. Fascism is unacceptable from a Democrat or a Republican; I don’t care which does the deed.

What Does American Justice Guarantee Gitmo Defendants: The Great Writ, Or A Crock Of Shit?

Attorney Leonard C. Goodman writes about the deliberate government sabotaging of his client’s application for habeas corpus. The client, Shawali Khan, … well, I’ll let Goodman summarize the case. From Goodman’s post on In These Times:

My client, Shawali Khan, is an uneducated Afghan man who grew up on an orchard outside of Kandahar. In 2002, Khan was captured by Afghan warlords and turned over to the Americans. At that time, the U.S. government was paying bounties of about $10,000 to Afghans who turned in al-Qaeda fighters. No actual evidence or corroboration was required.

Khan was sent to Gitmo in 2003, based on the word of a single informant. At his habeas hearing in 2010, the government called no witnesses but merely introduced “intelligence reports” indicating that an unidentified Afghan informant had told an unidentified American intelligence officer that Khan was an al-Qaeda-linked insurgent.

Federal appellate courts have ruled in other Guantánamo cases that the government’s evidence must be presumed accurate, thus putting the burden on Khan’s volunteer lawyers to establish that the informant is unreliable. First we demanded the informant’s file to see how much he was paid and what his reputation was for truth telling. But the government said the file was not “reasonably” available. So we asked for the informant’s name so that our Afghan investigator could investigate. But the government refused to declassify the informant’s name.

And so it goes, from bad to worse to obscene. If you believe in the American system of justice as it was known before the “war on terror,” have yourself a stiff drink before you read the whole post. Oh, and there’s this tidbit, regarding defense requests for the government’s discovery regarding an inculpatory note allegedly found in Khan’s possession when Americans took custody of him (added: remember, Khan is illiterate):

The government’s “summary” [offered to the defense in lieu of the note, or a copy of the note, or even the actual text of the note, or even the full secret intelligence report on the note] of the secret intelligence report describing the missing handwritten note [allegedly taken from Khan when he was turned over to Americans, later “disappeared”] is still classified, but I can report that when, in April 2011, WikiLeaks released Khan’s official Pentagon file, it established that the government’s summary was false.

This simply will not do. The Obama administration’s process of “justice” for Guantánamo detainees is no better than, indeed, if possible, worse than the travesty of genuine justice put up by the George W. Bush administration. The “great writ” is, depending on which account you believe, over 800 years old, and now two presidents in the span of 12 years have seen fit to eviscerate it in cases where the defendants are alleged to be “terrorists.”

If this deterioration of the very basis of our legal system is not arrested, America is on a downhill path straight to Hell.

New Technology Enables Government To Strip Away Civil Liberties More Easily And Effectively

Jeralyn Merritt, whom I really should read more often:

Via Spencer Ackerman at Wired, West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has proudly announced the state’s new snitching App is available on iTunes.

[A] project of the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center, the app sends submitted information, including photos and texts, to the Fusion Center where the information can help authorities react to and prevent incidents from occurring.

What’s wrong with this? As Spencer says:

There’s nothing in the app to stop you from snapping a picture of your annoying neighbor and sending it to the attention of federal and state counterterrorism agents in West Virginia, who can keep information on your neighbor’s face, body and perhaps his vehicle for an unspecified period of time.

As Spencer notes, W. Virginia is hardly a hotbed of terrorism. And this isn’t just happening in West Virginia. The Department of Homeland Security has its “If You See Something, Say Something” program. Here is its current list of partners.

One last bit from Jeralyn:

Key questions: How long is information retained? What are the procedures for the review, purge, and destruction of information? How does an individual find out what information has been submitted and collected about him or her? What information can be shared with third parties outside of government?

In the Sixties, there was a quip, “Don’t turn on your neighbor… turn on your neighbor!” These days, the quip still applies… with the meanings of “turn on” switched. O tempora, o mores!

AFTERTHOUGHT: Or perhaps it’s simply “Don’t turn on your neighbor… turn in your neighbor!”

Another Bipartisan ‘Grand Bargain’?

The mind recoils. But apparently it’s in the works, probably to be sprung on us after the elections. According to David Dayen, The Hill (see below for link) says that, in Dayen’s words, “Republicans have joined a bipartisan working group that is preparing a document on deficit reduction.” Yes, of course, some Democrats… with full White House support… are rumored to be ready and willing to cut “Medicare and other social programs” (Dayen).

Not surprisingly, this is apparently in part the work of Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House minority whipped. Whip, I mean… yeah, whipped. Damn, I did it again! I wonder why that keeps coming out…

Then there’s this, which Dayen quotes from The Hill:

The core House group of roughly 10 negotiators is derived from a larger Gang of 100 lawmakers led by Reps. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Health Shuler (D-N.C.), who urged the debt supercommittee to strike a grand bargain last year.

And it’s all being negotiated… and apparently already drafted… in secret. That seems to be the pattern of legislation lately: we peasants don’t get to see the action. Sometimes we get to see it after it’s in place as law; sometimes not even that. Sometimes it’s implemented in trials held in ordinary courts at law; sometimes it’s litigated in secret courts. (I have no reason to believe this particular law will be secret, only the process of legislating it.) I never thought I’d live to see the day. But it’s here: we not only do not control our government, we aren’t even witnesses to it.

I’ve never been a fan of “bipartisanship” … why have parties, if they don’t oppose each other? But even if “bipartisanship” is something I have to accept as today’s reality… why all the secretiveness? If the shit is about to hit the fan, can’t we be given at least a minimal opportunity to duck?

DHS Tracks OWS

Rolling Stone has the story:

As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year, opens with the observation that “mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas.” While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that “large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement.”

The five-page report – contained in 5 million newly leaked documents examined by Rolling Stone in an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks – goes on to sum up the history of Occupy Wall Street and assess its “impact” on everything from financial services to government facilities. Many of the observations are benign, and appear to have been culled from publicly available sources. …

This has to have been done primarily for its intimidation value… and DHS knows that. There is not even the remotest actual threat by OWS to America’s security; indeed, there’s far more threat from the police clad in riot gear and armed with clubs, pepper spray, flash-bangs, tasers, LRADs, etc. But if the notion can be conveyed to the public that there is a threat, then DHS itself has fired a shot across the bow of OWS. And that can’t be good news for our rights and civil liberties.

H/T Michael Moore.

AFTERTHOUGHT: here (.pdf) is the document itself. If you read far enough, you’ll find that DHS is sourcing its info on the use of social media and internet technologies to… get this… Daily Kos. Smile, folks; Big Brother and all that…


There’s A Drone In Your Future

… or maybe your present; it’s hard to tell with today’s lack of regulations on drone use. But with high probability there’s at least a drone in your future:

Washington – A bill passed last week allocating more than $63 billion to the Federal Aviation Administration would increase the existence of drones in civilian airspace across America and is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

As America’s drone war begins a new surge in Pakistan, the U.S. House and Senate have both approved the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act bill, a bill which would pressure the FAA to weaken rules currently in place on domestic drone authority, and allow American skies to be filled with tens of thousands of drones.

If the new bill becomes law, up to 30,000 drones could by flying in U.S. airspace by decade’s end. The Senate passed the bill by a 75-20 margin. Civil liberties groups have spoken out on the measure, stating the new legislation offers no restrictions on drone surveillance operations by police and federal agencies and could put us on track toward a “surveillance society.”

Well, so much for those backyard sunbathing parties… the rest of the article is as discouraging as the quoted part.

Seriously… I will not take this lying down. I will stand up, extend my old tennis racket as far as my arm can reach, …

H/T Avedon.

Ghost Of J. Edgar Hoover Lives… FBI Releases File On Steve Jobs

Think about it a minute. What possible rational basis could the FBI have for releasing Jobs’s file now that he is dead?

Of course the reports are mixed, ranging from scathing criticism to grudging and even heartfelt praise. The criticisms are no surprise, either; many of them had appeared in his published biography. It was no secret that Jobs used psychedelic drugs. It was no secret that he had a daughter out of wedlock, whom he did not initially support as one might think he should have. It was hardly a secret that he was not always the most straightforward person in business dealings. And it was well-known that the technology on which Apple made its fortune was initially developed not through Jobs’s often-reported “vision” but instead at Xerox-PARC, where management was insufficiently foresighted to realize what they had.

But really, what the fuck? The man is dead; who is he harming now? Your tax dollars that funded the FBI’s dossier have already long since been poured directly down the drain. Who is the FBI aiming at? Who in the FBI had a vendetta? This sounds so very much like the reported behavior of the late FBI director that I wonder if his ghost haunts the halls, whispering to current officials what things they should keep illegally secret and what things they should release with a splash.

AFTERTHOUGHT: As I read the released Jobs documents, I can’t help remembering my 2003 doggerel titled “(Redacted)“.

What Kind Of State Do Americans Live In?

I’ve been thinking about that question in light of recent events. Is America a…

  1. Surveillance State?
  2. Police State?
  3. Fascist State?
  4. All of the above?

I think I’d have to go with D.

Surveillance state? Ever since we discovered that AT&T and other companies assisted the NSA in warrantless surveillance of our international phone calls… or maybe since the FBI started attaching GPS devices secretly to people’s cars without bothering to obtain a warrant first… or maybe from the time the FBI (again) started hammering librarians for individual users’ circulation records… aw, hell, pick any one, or two, or three… we’ve been a surveillance state at least since then.

Police state? I suppose that’s been brewing for a while, but it has become far more visible in incidents of police violence against the Occupy movement… yet another bit of knowledge provided to us by Occupy members at great personal cost to themselves.

Fascist state? Face it: since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations own the whole damn place… bye-bye democracy.

Well, at least now you know: We live in a surveillance-supported police-controlled fascist/corporatist state.

Have a nice day! [/snark]

ASIDE: DO NOT use the same Google search window for more than one query! Google tracks the previous question as well as the one you asked this time. Yes, I can see the reason they may want to do that: people tend to enter a succession of related questions, and the prior-question information doubtless helps their search engine learn what kinds of things to prefetch. But do you really want that kind of info being accumulated somewhere? Even if you trust Google, what if, say, a US House committee chaired by say, P. King or D. Issa subpoenaed all of Google’s search records? It’s worth the trouble: close the browser window and open another one before you do another search. This is particularly important when you are constructing a search URL to use in your blog. For example, hover over the link “police violence against the Occupy movement” above and notice that the search string pertains to that and only that. Believe me, when I first did it, the string was much, much longer and included at least one of my prior search strings.