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Current Topic: Civil Liberties

F.B.I. Data Mining Reached Beyond Initial Targets - New York Times
Topic: Civil Liberties 7:33 pm EDT, Sep  8, 2007

The F.B.I. cast a much wider net in its terrorism investigations than it has previously acknowledged by relying on telecommunications companies to analyze phone-call patterns of the associates of Americans who had come under suspicion, according to newly obtained bureau records.

The documents indicate that the Federal Bureau of Investigation used secret demands for records to obtain data not only on individuals it saw as targets but also details on their “community of interest” — the network of people that the target in turn was in contact with. The bureau stopped the practice early this year in part because of broader questions raised about its aggressive use of the records demands, which are known as national security letters, officials said Friday after being asked about it.

The community of interest data sought by the F.B.I. is central to a data-mining technique intelligence officials call link analysis. Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, American counterterrorism officials have turned more frequently to the technique, using communications patterns and other data to identify suspects who may not have any other known links to extremists.

Mike Kortan, a spokesman for the F.B.I., said in a statement Saturday in response to an article posted on The Times’s Web site on the bureau’s use of the community-of-interest requests that “it is important to emphasize that it is no longer being used pending the development of an appropriate oversight and approval policy, was used infrequently and was never used for e-mail communications.”

“Getting a computer to spit out a hundred names doesn’t have any meaning if you don’t know what you’re looking for,” said Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent who is now a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. “If they’re telling the telephone company, ‘You do the investigation and tell us what you find,’ the relevance to the investigation is being determined by someone outside the F.B.I.”

At least someone is objecting to making the phone company part of the IC, rather than just an asset of the IC. That's a little bit better than "checks and balances kill people, so just trust us."

F.B.I. Data Mining Reached Beyond Initial Targets - New York Times

Victory in Poulsen FOIA case
Topic: Civil Liberties 6:49 pm EST, Jan 18, 2007

In April of 2006, Wired News editor Kevin Poulsen sued the United States Customs and Border Patrol under the Freedom of Information Act. Poulsen won the case, and yesterday the trial court granted Poulsen $66,000 in attorney’s fees.

Poulsen had asked CBP to disclose under the FOIA documents about a computer failure suffered by the US VISIT system, which was established to screen foreign nationals entering the country against terrorist watch lists. CBP refused, then asked Poulsen to drop his request, then denied the request. claiming that if the public knew what caused the outage, it would harm national security, among other reasons. Poulsen believed that if the problem was fixed, as it should have been, the public had a right to know why the US VISIT computers were malfunctioning.

On summary judgment, Judge Ilston in the Northern District of California ordered CBP to release documents and the documents revealed that the computers were infected with the Zotob worm, a common Microsoft Windows vulnerability.

The Zotob infection and CBP’s management of it was one of many technological and bureaucratic problems that ultimately led the government to abandon the US VISIT program, after almost two years and $1.7 billion dollars. Talk about information the public has a right to know.

Jennifer Granick has the full story.

Victory in Poulsen FOIA case

YouTube - Martin Luther King Jr - I have a dream speech - Aug 28 1963
Topic: Civil Liberties 5:51 am EST, Jan 15, 2007

In honor of MLK day and to take the edge of the last post, here is a video of the "I have a dream speech."

YouTube - Martin Luther King Jr - I have a dream speech - Aug 28 1963

27B Stroke 6 | Dem's Privacy Changes in 9/11 Bill Challenge Administration
Topic: Civil Liberties 5:17 pm EST, Jan  9, 2007

Ryan Singel at 27B Stroke 6 chimes in on an element of the Democrats' 911 bill. This sounds really good to me.

Most notably, the bill removes the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board from the White House -- turning it into an independent agency. Currently the 5-member board serves at the pleasure of the president and only the chair and vice-chair need Senate confirmation. Critics charge that the board has no independence and since it serves inside the White House, can only effectively work as an insider, even though its charged with and attempting to be a public-facing board. These contradictions were glaringly obvious in their first public meeting in December, when it refused to take questions from the press and admitted the panel knew, but would not reveal, the number of Americans targeted yearly by the President's warrantless spying program.

The Democratic Congress's idea of what the panel should look like may well lead to a veto or a court challenge. Each member would serve for a six-year term (meaning they could not be fired), the board would have to report to a bevy of Congressional oversight committees, no more than three members can be from the same political party, and the board can issue its own subpoenas to require people not in the government to turn over records.

Additionally, other agencies, including all intelligence agencies, will have to appoint privacy and civil liberties officers, who themselves will have to report often to Congress and the Privacy and Civil Liberties boards on their activities and investigations. The chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, currently the only privacy officer mandated by Congress, also gets expanded powers to issue outside subpoenas and use the same powers as the Inspector General to force cooperation from Homeland Security employees.

27B Stroke 6 | Dem's Privacy Changes in 9/11 Bill Challenge Administration

Gonzales attacks ruling against domestic spying -
Topic: Civil Liberties 6:35 pm EST, Nov 18, 2006

"Its definition of freedom -- one utterly divorced from civic responsibility -- is superficial and is itself a grave threat to the liberty and security of the American people."

Apparently asking the executive to comply with acts of Congress is "utterly divorced from civic responsibility."

Gonzales attacks ruling against domestic spying -

The Volokh Conspiracy - District Court Holds That Border Searches of Computers Require Reasonable Suspicion:
Topic: Civil Liberties 12:20 am EDT, Oct 12, 2006

If the Ninth Circuit does agree with Judge Pregerson that computer searches are "non routine," there's a decent chance that this case would be the first computer search and seizure case to get to the Supreme Court.

Sweet! I find the prospect of random laptop searches at borders to be offensive to the idea of a free society on many levels. Finally, someone has argued, and a court has accepted the arguement, that this isn't Constitutional. Now, we'll get to find out if the higher courts agree. Its on!

The Volokh Conspiracy - District Court Holds That Border Searches of Computers Require Reasonable Suspicion:

War Room - - The intelligence report cites 'leftist' groups as a terror threat
Topic: Civil Liberties 1:07 am EDT, Sep 29, 2006

Prior to 9/11, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil was in Oklahoma City, where Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in pursuit of his right-wing, anti-federal-government agenda. But there is nothing in the NIE findings about right-wing or anti-government groups. Instead, there is a rather stark warning about the danger of "leftist" groups using the Internet to engage in terrorist attacks against the United States. Is there any basis at all for that warning?

There have been scattered reports over the last several years that the Bush administration's anti-terrorism programs have targeted domestic political groups solely because such groups espouse views contrary to the administration's. That this claim about "leftist" terrorist groups made it into the NIE summary is particularly significant in light of the torture and detention bill that is likely soon to be enacted into law. That bill defines "enemy combatant" very broadly (and the definition may be even broader by the time it is enacted) and could easily encompass domestic groups perceived by the administration to be supporting a "terrorist agenda."

Similarly, the administration has claimed previously that it eavesdrops on the conversations of Americans only where there is reasonable grounds (as judged by the administration) to believe that one of the parties is affiliated with a terrorist group. Does that include "leftist" groups that use the Internet to organize? This NIE finding gives rise to this critical question: Are "leftist" groups one of the principal targets on the anti-terrorism agenda of the Bush administration, and if so, aren't the implications rather disturbing?

Disturbing indeed..

27B Stroke 6 also noted that the Cyber Storm readiness exercise was constructed to deal with a "leftist" threat.

War Room - - The intelligence report cites 'leftist' groups as a terror threat

Balkinization: Imagine Giving Donald Rumsfeld Unbounded Discretion to Detain You Indefinitely
Topic: Civil Liberties 12:11 am EDT, Sep 29, 2006

Yesterday I explained that the definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" (UEC) in the latest draft of the detainee bill was so ridiculously broad and open-ended that it could not possibly be intended to establish the authority of the Executive to militarily detain all persons so defined. But it appears I underestimated the gall and recklessness of the Administration and Congress, because there seems to be a fairly widespread understanding that the definition would do just that.

There is a healthy debate in the thread here about just exactly what these words mean, and lots of good links to more information.

Balkinization: Imagine Giving Donald Rumsfeld Unbounded Discretion to Detain You Indefinitely

Hard To Do Any Worse
Topic: Civil Liberties 4:35 pm EDT, Sep 28, 2006

BURIED IN THE complex Senate compromise on detainee treatment is a real shocker, reaching far beyond the legal struggles about foreign terrorist suspects in the Guantanamo Bay fortress. The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

Oh Fuck...

Hard To Do Any Worse

Gonzales Wants New Web Rules, Attorney General: ISPs Should Preserve Customer Info To Help Fight Kid Porn - CBS News
Topic: Civil Liberties 9:29 pm EDT, Sep 19, 2006

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday that Congress should require Internet service providers to preserve customer records, asserting that prosecutors need them to fight child pornography.

This has nothing to do with child pornography... That's just the ball it's easiest to play the game with.

Gonzales Wants New Web Rules, Attorney General: ISPs Should Preserve Customer Info To Help Fight Kid Porn - CBS News

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