Thursday, July 17, 2014

Government Has Created Massive Spy Apparatus: 6 Chilling Examples/US Government Says Online Data Not Protected by 4th Amendment

Published on Alternet (

AlterNet [1] / By Alex Kane [2]

Government Has Created Massive Spy Apparatus: 6 Chilling Examples

July 14, 2014 |

Civil liberties advocates filed a lawsuit last week [3]challenging the U.S. government’s national database of “suspicious activities,” one of a handful of ways the U.S. tracks its citizenry in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The surveillance in question is called the Suspicious Activity Reporting database, which is run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. It has grown exponentially under the Bush and Obama administrations, and today there are over 20,000 “suspicious activity” reports. In practice, this means that many innocuous activities—like taking photographs in public or buying a large number of computers—are filed as suspicious, leading law enforcement to track people down and question them. The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized the database [4] for opening “the door to racial profiling and other improper police behavior.”

Filed by the ACLU and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, the plaintiffs of the lawsuit are varied. One is James Prigoff [5], who was stopped by security guards after photographing a public work of art. The security guards reported his activity to a law enforcement agency, who then put him in the Suspicious Activity Reporting database. He was eventually questioned by a Joint Terrorism Task Force agent. Another is an Egyptian-American named Khaled Ibrahim who in 2011 tried to buy computers in bulk from Best Buy.

Ibrahim was reported to the police and now his name is in the database.

The lawsuit states that it is far too easy for innocent people to be swept up in the database, and that the dissemination of information across the federal government runs counter to Justice Department standards.

The Suspicious Activity Reporting database is only one of the tools and data collections the U.S. government has amassed since 9/11. Muslims have borne the brunt of the surveillance, but many Americans of all stripes have been swept up in the terrorism hysteria.
Here’s 5 other ways the U.S. government is spying on you.

1. Phone metadata.By now, Edward Snowden has become a household name, and that’s largely because of his major first disclosure: the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone metadata. On June 6, 2013, Glenn Greenwald, then of the Guardian, reported that documents [6] given to him by whistleblower Snowden revealed that the NSA was collecting all phone records of Verizon users.

Verizon handed over this data because of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order. Soon after this first disclosure, news outlets reported that other phone companies did the same, meaning that the metadata of millions of Americans was collected by the U.S. While collecting metadata does not mean the collection of the content of phone calls, metadata does tell a lot. As The Guardian explained [7], metadata includes the “date and time you called somebody or the location from which you last accessed your email.”

2. Internet data. NSA surveillance also sweeps up Internet data, keeping with the agency’s mission to “collect it all,” as one NSA official put it to the Washington Post. [8] They collect Internet metadata and other forms of communications through a variety of programs.

One is PRISM, in which the NSA collects the communications of users of a variety of online services like Facebook, Google and Yahoo. Separately, from 2001-2001, the NSA collected e-mail metadata in bulk and stored it. While that program has ceased to exist, The Guardian has reported that [9] “some collection of Americans' online records continues today.”

And in early July, the Washington Post [10]reported that the vast majority of Internet communications the NSA collects is from ordinary people, including Americans.

3. NSA spying on individuals. The NSA’s collection of Internet and phone data is indiscriminate. It sweeps up the data of millions of people in what it claims is a search for clues to disrupt terrorist attacks.
But the NSA can also directly target individual Americans for surveillance--and it has, as a report in The Intercept by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain revealed in July [11]. The Intercept reported that five Muslim-American leaders, including civil rights activists and lawyers, were directly monitored by the NSA. It’s unclear what court authority the NSA was operating under. Government officials have reportedly said at least one of the five Muslim-Americans was spied on without a warrant.

4. Blanket law enforcement spying on Muslims. The NSA is not alone in targeting individuals who are seemingly spied on only because they are Muslim. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York Police Department also engage in spying on whole Muslim communities.

In 2012, the ACLU revealed that the San Francisco FBI was using a community “outreach” program to collect and store data on Muslims. FBI agents traveled to mosques to ostensibly talk about issues like hate crimes. But the agency also collected information on Muslims’ religious beliefs, travel, location of mosques and more. The collected data was disseminated to other law enforcement agencies.

And since September 11, the NYPD has engaged in its own blanket spy program targeting Muslims. The Intelligence Division’s Demographics Unit, which was shut down this year, sent plainclothes officers into Muslim businesses and eavesdropped on conversations, putting those in police files. These officers also “mapped” the Muslim community, listing where all Muslim-owned businesses are.

The NYPD continues to use informants to spy on the Muslim community. NYPD informants have infiltrated mosques, student groups and more, collecting information on many innocent people.

5. GPS tracking. Recent years have seen law enforcement increasingly turn to global positioning systems. The police use GPS tools like trackers to record suspects’ movements. Law enforcement can also track a person by obtaining cell phone location data.

Before a recent court decision, the police were placing GPS trackers without a warrant approved by a judge. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement installation of a tracking device targeting a drug dealer was unconstitutional, but they left the door open as to whether the police needed a warrant to use the GPS device. But in October 2013, an appeals court ruled that the police do need to obtain a warrant to place a GPS tracker on a suspect.

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[12] on
Government Has Created Massive Spy Apparatus: 6 Chilling Examples

Lee writes: "A couple months ago, a New York judge ruled that US search warrants applied to digital information even if they were stored overseas."

The US government does not believe you have privacy rights with data stored online. (illustration: Wired)

US Government Says Online Data Not Protected by 4th Amendment

By Nicole Lee, Engadget
15 July 14

A couple months ago, a New York judge ruled that US search warrants applied to digital information even if they were stored overseas. The decision came about as part of an effort to dig up a Microsoft user's account information stored on a server in Dublin, Ireland.

Microsoft responded to the ruling and challenged it, stating that the government's longstanding views of digital content on foreign servers are wrong, and that the protections applied to physical materials should be extended to digital content. In briefs filed last week, however, the US government countered. It states that according to the Stored Communications Act (SCA), content stored online simply do not have the same Fourth Amendment protections as physical data:
Overseas records must be disclosed domestically when a valid subpoena, order, or warrant compels their production. The disclosure of records under such circumstances has never been considered tantamount to a physical search under Fourth Amendment principles, and Microsoft is mistaken to argue that the SCA provides for an overseas search here. As there is no overseas search or seizure, Microsoft's reliance on principles of extra-territoriality and comity falls wide of the mark.

From the Justice Department's point of view, this law is necessary in an age where "fraudsters" and "hackers" use electronic communications in not just the U.S. but abroad as well. Indeed, the Microsoft account in this case is in relation to a drug-trafficking investigation.

However, Microsoft believes there are wide-ranging implications for such a statement, and it's not the only company that thinks so. Verizon also responded, stating that this would create "dramatic conflict with foreign data protection laws" and Apple and Cisco joined in by saying this could potentially damage international relations. In the meantime, a senior counsel for the Irish Supreme Court offered that a "Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty" be pursued so that the US government can get at the email account in question.

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