The NSA Won A Defunding Battle, But It Could Lose The War

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The National Security Agency has lost the political support it needs to maintain its controversial Internet and phone dragnet spying operation. Yesterday, July 24th, the House of Representatives nearly ratified the most brazen amendment to completely cut off funds for any broad NSA spying program (failing 205-217). With more time to build grassroots momentum and craft a less brute-force law curtailing NSA spy powers, the next bill will likely have enough support to win the day.

With only a few days to prepare, Representative Justin Amash managed to gain traction for an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would deny the NSA the ability to use funds toward programs that broadly spied on Americans. The surprise was that a majority of Democrats bucked their own leader, President Obama, in support of the Amendment, 111-83.

Just seen how close the Amash amendment vote was (217-205). Amazing shift in momentum on NSA surveillance among lawmakers.


James Ball (@jamesrbuk) July 25, 2013

Since the revelation that the NSA was collecting phone records and Internet browsing behavior en masse, supporters of the the Domestic spying program have worried that the laws would not be renewed. Specifically, the NSA gets its legal authority from section 215 of the 9/11-era Patriot Act.

Section 215 expires at the end of 2015,” Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, told his colleagues during a Congressional hearing this month. “Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed. There are not the votes in the House of Representatives to renew Section 215 . In other words, come 2015, Congress will be unlikely to renew the law that permits the NSA’s controversial program.

Over the past month, there have been a few laws proposed to limit the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans. Representative Steve Cohen’s FISA Accountability Act, for instance, would require both Congress and the Supreme Court justices to appoint new judges to the court that approves NSA spying request (FISA), rather than give conservative Chief Justice John Roberts the authority to appoint them himself. The FISA Court approves nearly every single NSA spying request, and this would, in theory, appoint judges who are more 4th-Amendment friendly (currently, there are 10 Republican judges and 1 Democrat, according to Wonkblog).

Unfortunately for NSA critics, none of the proposals came up to a full vote, so House members never had to declare whether they were for or against the status quo.

Now, we have definitive evidence that nearly half Democrats and Republicans support a radical reduction in NSA surveillance capabilities. A much greater percentage probably agree that there should be some change.

At the very least, it’s unlikely that the legal basis of the NSA dragnet will make it past the Patriot Act’s 2015 renewal date. In anticipation of this loss, the intelligence agencies will likely have to find some kind of compromise that will pass congress, rather than risk losing all of their powers.

Those who voted against Amash’s amendment today should be very (very) worried about the angry mobs they will face back home. The American populace has a particular talent for making life difficult for members when they hold town halls. Below is a video of the some of the angry town halls that House members faced during the 2009 health-care debate:


Yesterday, we published a list of representatives who voted down Amash’s amendment. Expect these representatives to feel the heat. The momentum is on the side of change, which means that NSA’s golden age of spying will likely be coming to an end.

Pfc. Bradley Manning’s Trial Comes To An End As The Government Alleges He ‘Aided The Enemy’

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While the world has become fixated on the NSA’s domestic and foreign surveillance activities in the past months, the trial of Private First Class Bradley Manning is coming to a close. Concluding arguments were heard today. The government, as BoingBoing notes, is trying to convict Manning using the Espionage Act, and slap him with the charge of ‘aiding the enemy.’ Manning has plead guilty to “lesser” charges.

We in technology must pay attention to those willing to leak from the government, given that such information has played a key role in the shaping of public opinion regarding piracy and privacy among other issues. The Snowden effect is material, and critical.

Firedoglake has done a masterful job of not only reporting on the case, but also live-blogging as much as possible.

The government alleges that Manning leaked not out of a desire to spread knowledge of government and military misdeed, but instead out of a lust for fame. His pride, it was asserted, was proven because the government produced a picture of a smiling Manning. Hard evidence, certainly.

At the same time, as Nathan Fuller pointed out, “Govt repeating over & over #Manning was obsessed about his own fame, craved notoriety. At same time arguing further he kept identity hidden.” If you can untangle the logic behind that argument, you are a better person than I.

Regarding the Collateral Murder video that showed needless civilian deaths, the government, according to Firedoglake merely stated that the clip contained “actions and experiences of service members conducting a wartime mission.” The government put a price on the “worth” of the Afghanistan and Iraq Logs that Wikileaks released to the public at $1.3 million and $1.9 million, respectively.

The idea of prosecuting Manning for “aiding the enemy” is worrisome, as it is an around-the-side charge: Manning provided information to the enemy because he gave it to a journalistic organization that published it, allowing the “enemy” to read it; this would make all leakers and whistle blowers potentially legally damnable on the same charge. If we set that precedent, investigative journalism will take a body blow.

From a pure journalism perspective, current treatment of reporters inside the courtroom would be laughable if it weren’t so blatantly intimidatory. I quote, to preserve the original voice, Alexa O’Brien:

Journalists sending me emails telling me soldier stationed right behind me with a gun. I tell you, OVER THE TOP JUDGE LIND #Manning

And, for taste, Kevin Gosztola:

Armed military police officer leans over my shoulder & informs me not to have browser windows open during court proceedings #Manning

So, we aren’t being fed what could be called a full dish of the proceedings, because armed folks are telling people to knock it the hell off. We can disagree all evening about the guilt of Mannning, and the efficacy of leaks to the national discourse, and their potential denigration of our national security, but at least we can agree that threatening the press with soldiers isn’t in the best of taste.

When the verdict is given, we’ll update this post and bring you the news. That is, if the government allows the press to report it.

Top Image Credit: Cristian Ram rez

Here’s Video Of The House Debate That Almost Passed An Amendment Cutting At The NSA’s Domestic Surveillance

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Yesterday, an amendment proposed by Rep. Amash that would have dramatically undermined the NSA’s authority to collect records on the phone calls of American citizens failed to pass. Proponents of the amendment claimed that it protected the Fourth Amendment rights of the public. Those opposed argued that it would erode national security.

The debate back and forth was perhaps the best encapsulation of the current conversation in Congress concerning the pervasive surveillance of the NSA that has recently become better known, mostly through the prism of leaks from the now fugitive Edward Snowden. That information has divided Congressional representatives and senators, demanding that they choose a side, at least rhetorically, on the issue.

Yesterday was a further step in the direction of accountability, albeit only in the lower chamber of Congress. The members had to vote yes or no on whether to defund a known – and previously lied about – program that collects private data on Americans sans their status as party to an investigation.

You’ve read coverage on the NSA for months, with commentary of all sorts taking positions on both the digital and telephonic collection practices of the agency. The following debate isn’t a cable news segment stacked with paid pundits, half-neck analysts, or think-tank hacks. Instead, this is our Congress, arguing with itself, about how to handle our privacy.

The amendment failed 205-217. That’s a defeat, but those in favor of its passage were greater in number than many, myself included, anticipated.

Enjoy [Debate begins at 16:40]:

Top Image Credit: Zoe Rudisill

12 Innocent Topics That Britain’s New Hyper-Censored Internet Will Probably Block

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British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed the democratized world’s most aggressive anti-porn laws. Unfortunately, in order to restrict access to something as ubiquitous as porn, he’ll likely have to block most of the Internet.

To protect “children and their innocence,” Cameron has proposed new regulations that will filter online porn by default and completely exclude blacklisted terms from search engines. While details are still scant, all new Wi-Fi routers will automatically filter porn, and millions of existing Internet users will have to opt-in through some type of online consent form to access adult material.

Various Internet and child-protection groups have argued that the ban will not disrupt the secret file-sharing networks of pedophiles, or the cultural factors that enable the worst forms of illicit pornography. But the most glaring issue is just how broad censors must be to completely block out something as ubiquitous as porn.

As a happy accident, my Mac broke this week, and I only have access to a stripped-down Safari Internet browser in Apple’s recovery mode. By default, Apple’s strictest parental controls were enabled, and I’ve found myself blocked off from most of the Internet. Here are a few things I can’t search for on Bing.

BLOCKED: “Child Pornography Prevention Programs”
BLOCKED: “Rick Santorum”
BLOCKED: “Weiner Sex Scandal”
BLOCKED: “TechCrunch.com”
BLOCKED: “Dick Costolo” (CEO of Twitter)
BLOCKED: “Jefferson sex with slaves”
BLOCKED: “Tumblr’s porn problem”
BLOCKED: “Sexual reconstructive surgery”
BLOCKED: “How to tell my boyfriend I don’t want to have sex”
BLOCKED: “How to put on a condom”
BLOCKED: “Pussy Riot”
BLOCKED: “Adult Film Industry and expansion of broadband”

Yep, that’s right, Apple blocks this website probably because we occasionally use curse words and have written about sexual issues. It also blocks out Russia’s fiery dissidents, Pussy Riot, scrubs America’s unsavory history, and would effectively block anyone from learning about the CEO of Twitter or a handful of candidates for higher office.

Cameron seems aware of the problem and has hinted at a solution that prompts users for safer alternatives. A query like “child sex” would prompt a pop-up like “Did you mean child sex education?”

The problem with this approach is that the world isn’t PG-13. Politics, business, and personal health regularly intersect with adult issues. The (very) savvy engineers at Apple have already discovered that you have to apply a tourniquet to the First Amendment to effectively block children from seeing naughty pictures.

In fact, I couldn’t even search for the story about Cameron wanting to block porn. I only accessed it because it was on the front page of Google News. Under Cameron’s Internet, I’ll have great difficulty reading about his own policies after it fades from the front pages.

Even if citizens feel comfortable opting in to a porn-friendly Internet in their own homes, they’d still be blocked from airport Wi-Fi, city Wi-Fi and public libraries.

I’m sympathetic to Cameron’s concerns. Porn is not society’s proudest creation. But this has to be the dumbest Internet policy I’ve ever heard of. And I read about this stuff for a living.

U.S. To Russia: We Won’t Kill Or Torture Snowden

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The CrunchGov Essential is a scannable roundup of technology’s influence on the day’s big issues. Below a feature post, we present the most thoughtful, outrageous, and inspiring stories told through the web’s best content. Sign up for the morning newsletter here.

The U.S. has pledged not to seek the death penalty for NSA-whistleblower Edward Snowden. To persuade the Minister of Justice to give up Snowden, it appears that Eric Holder had to ironically assure Russian authorities that it will respect human rights.

“The United States would not seek the death penalty for Mr. Snowden should he return to the United States,” he wrote. “We believe these assurances eliminate these asserted grounds for Mr. Snowden’s claim that he should be treated as a refugee or granted asylum, temporary or otherwise.”

For good measure, he wrote that “Mr. Snowden will not be tortured. Torture is unlawful in the United States.”

Snowden is currently holed up in Moscow Airport, seeking asylum from the United States.

U.S. State Department employees tell me that the NSA spying affair is seriously harming their ability to negotiate human rights issues with authoritarian governments around the world. Apparently, the perception of hypocrisy does not put the U.S. in a compelling position.

The Essential: Anti-NSA Debate In Congress, Manning Trial Closes, Navy’s Kinect Sexual Assault Solution, FOD for Obamacare

Anti-NSA Debate [TechCrunch]

-Watch Congress debate whether the NSA’s dragnet spying operation should be defunded


Manning Trial Closes [TechCrunch]

Creepy having armed MPs in camo patrolling behind each row of reporters & looking over shoulders as we take notes on Manning trial today


Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) July 25, 2013

-The trial of Wikileaks Source Pfc. Bradley Manning ended yesterday
-Prosecutors argued that Manning leaked information out of lust for fame
-Manning faces life in prison for “aiding the enemy”

Using Kinect To Stop Sexual Assaults [Verge]

-The military awarded a contract to build a video game anti-rape simulator
-“The system will not use pre-programmed branching scenarios to determine the responses for the avatar. It will instead animate a human agent using a [Kinect] interface”

Funny Or Die Is Making A Pro-Obama Care Video [Mother Jones]

-Viral sketch comedy startup, Funny or Die, met with celebrities at the White House to design a pro-Obamacare video, aimed at getting young people to sign up for insurance.

Miscellaneous Funny:

Blink three times if you're being held against your will guys. RT @katetaylornyt: The Weiner volunteers at the forum. http://t.co/T8ve5Jlf0q


Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) July 25, 2013