Privacy SOS

Threatening tweets, “secret” drone wars, costly surveillance state expansion and more

  • SEEN A THREATENING TWEET? ALERT THE SECRET SERVICE: The Secret Service took to Twitter after the last presidential debate to ask people to report any suspicious or threatening tweets to their local SS office. As of Wednesday October 24 the agency hadn't received any reports, but it is prepared to subpoena Twitter for the location information of any subscribers who say things it thinks violate a law barring threats against the President. More.
  • THE WASHINGTON POST SERIES ON "SECRET" DRONE WARS AND BRENNAN'S "MORAL RECTITUDE": If you haven't already, read the first two pieces (one, two) in a tripartite series on the Obama administration's extrajudicial assassination by drone campaigns. Yesterday I wrote about how the Orwellian named "Disposition Matrix" is run by the NCTC, highlighting that the housing of such a Kill Matrix at an agency in possession of too much information about ordinary US persons is troubling to say the least. Glenn Greenwald hit all the right notes in a broader analysis of the story. Marcy Wheeler today penned a must read analysis of the second piece in the series, which focuses largely on John Brennan, whom she has dubbed the Assassination Czar.
  • SURVEILLANCE STATE ADVANCEMENT COST US $690 BILLION SINCE 9/11: Scott Shane of the NYT looks at the enormous amount of money the US has spent on surveillance and security since 9/11 — not including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've covered many of these expenditures here, not least among them the quiet but hugely significant transformation of local police departments into militarized, securitized organizations invested in "predictive intelligence" and "counterinsurgency" in place of traditional community policing efforts. As Shane says in the NYT, it's been very difficult for the public to assess the value of many so-called "counterterrorism" programs because of the secrecy surrounding them. But we know that one facet of this unchecked spending — the development of fusion centers nationwide — has been found to have produced zero valuable public safety benefit while seriously undermining our civil liberties and privacy. Our own public records work here in Boston has unfortunately confirmed that national trend.
  • SUPREME COURT WILL DECIDE IF WE CAN CHALLENGE WARRANTLESS GOVERNMENT SURVEILLANCE ON A VAST SCALE: Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU will defend the organization's challenge to the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program in oral argument before the Supreme Court on Monday, October 29, 2012. The question before the court on Monday is not whether the spying is legal or illegal (this is known as the "merits"), but rather whether we have any right to challenge the spying absent conclusive proof that we have been targeted by the government (in other words, it is a hearing on "standing"). NSA whistleblower Bill Binney this week co-authored an op-ed for Politico arguing that the nation's highest court is the "last bulwark" against unchecked surveillance in the United States and must allow the lawsuit to proceed to the battle over the merits. Read background on the ACLU challenge here. If you are frustrated by the lack of media attention to this crucial issue, write your local newspaper to raise it and urge them to cover Monday's hearing.
  • BIG-BROTHER IS LOOKING FOR A CYBER ATTACK PRETEXT TO CRACK DOWN: Last week Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the nation that we face a "cyber Pearl Harbor" that could seriously damage our electronic and physical infrastructure — such an attack could be "as damaging as 9/11," he said. No matter that the DOD is engaged in various offensive cyberwar operations that inherently undermine its defensive posture on the cyber security front. Here's a look at what these dire cyberwar predictions could mean for civil liberties. Meanwhile, having failed to usher its "cyber security" legislation through the Congress, the White House continues work on an executive order that will reportedly accomplish many of the same goals. 
  • JUDGE QUESTIONS WARRANTLESS USE OF CELL PHONE SURVEILLANCE DEVICE: A Texas judge has pushed back against US attorneys' warrantless requests to use "Stingray" surveillance devices. The use of technologies that necessarily implicate hundreds or thousands of innocent people in surveillance targeting just one or a small group constitutes "a very broad and invasive search," wrote Judge Brian Owsley. The "ruling involves requests for "cell tower dumps" — information on all the cellphones in a range of a given tower for a certain period," writes the WSJ. (Read more on the Texas decisions.) Last summer at the Hope 9 hacker conference, security expert Steven Rambam said that the NYPD routinely uses these devices to suck up the cell phone information of everyone present at OWS demonstrations. If you are especially interested in this issue, take a look at documents ACLU technologist Chris Soghoian received from the Department of Homeland Security; among them are pages pertaining to the Stingray device.

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