Change to Surveillance Reform Bill Could Nullify Ban on Mass Record Collection

The USA FREEDOM Act, the
surveillance reform bill that was
unanimously approved
by the House judiciary and intelligence
committees earlier this month, has been
revised
at the Obama administration’s request to loosen its
restrictions on data collection. The version approved by the
committees said demands for records, whether pursued through secret
court orders under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act or through the
administrative subpoenas known as national security letters, had to
be based on a “specific selection term”—defined as “a term used to
uniquely describe a person, entity or account.” That provision was
aimed at banning the sort of mass collection that the National
Security Agency (NSA) used to build its controversial database of
telephone records. Instead of collecting information about the
entire population, the government would have to specify a target
(although in the case of phone records it still could have obtained
information about calls made and received by people up to two
“hops” away from the target). But the
new version
of the bill, which is the one that will go to the
House floor, redefines “specific selection term” as “a discrete
term” that “limit[s] the scope of the information or tangible
things sought.”

While the White House insists that the bill still bans mass
collection of records, the practical impact of this revision could
be dramatic. The bill says a “specific selection term” could be “a
term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address,
or device,” but it does not limit the meaning of the phrase to such
narrowly targeted data collection. Suppose the FBI,
acting on behalf of the NSA, seeks a Section 215 order for
information about every phone call made outside of Idaho. The
exclusion of Idaho could be interpreted as a discrete term limiting
the scope of the information sought.

If that scenario seems far-fetched, so does arguing that
information about every single call made by every single person in
the United States is “relevant” to a terrorism investigation
because some of those people might be terrorists. Yet that is the
argument the government made, and it was secretly accepted by the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which approved mass
collection orders under Section 215 on that basis. As Harley
Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology,

tells
The New York Times,
The government has shown remarkable capacity to
creatively interpret terms that appeared clear, like ‘relevant,’
and this definition is ambiguous enough that it allows, if not
entire-population-scale collection, large-scale collection.”
 Acknowledging that danger, the latest version of the bill
requires that any FISC decision construing “specific selection
term” be publicly disclosed, at least in summary form.

The way that phrase is interpreted will determine the
scope of government access not just to phone records but to every
other kind of information that can be obtained through national
security letters or Section 215 orders. National security letters,
which do not require judicial approval, can be used to demand credit
reports and financial information as well as email and telephone
metadata. Section 215
specifically mentions medical, educational, library, book sale, gun
purchase, and tax records. But it is applies to “any tangible
things,” so it it
covers
all sorts of records held by third parties, including
information about credit card purchases, cell phone locations,
travel, and online behavior. Under the interpretation that the
Obama administration used to justify the NSA’s phone record
dragnet, the government is authorized to collect not just some but
all such records, pertaining to every American, whether or not
there is any reason to suspect him of involvement in terrorism. As
Deputy Attorney General James Cole
explained
last year, “If you’re looking for the needle in the
haystack, you have to have the entire haystack to look
through.” Given the definition of “specific selection term”
demanded by the administration, that requirement could amount to
nothing more than leaving behind a few pieces of straw.

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High School Senior Won’t Be Banned from Graduation for Yearbook Chemistry Joke After All

but can you make a bomb from them?Mundy’s Mill High School senior Paris Gray
of Clayton County, Georgia, will be graduating after all. Gray

received an in-school suspension and was barred
from a “senior
walk” after administrators figured out that a list of chemical
elements she included in her yearbook blurb translated (by their
periodical symbols) to “BaCK ThAt AsS UP,” a reference to a 1998
song by the artist Juvenile. She said an assistant principal told
her she would not be allowed to give a previously scheduled speech
at graduation because of the yearbook comments.

Gray also pointed out no editors or administrators flagged the
comment ahead of time. It shouldn’t have taken any educator more
than a few seconds of googling to figure out what the line “When
the going gets tough, just remember to Barium, Carbon,
Potassium, Thorium, Astatine, Arsenic, Sulfur, Utranium,
Phospheros” meant, typos notwithstanding. Using the periodic table
to spell a message out isn’t quite “Whiskey Tango
Foxtrot
” but neither is it Navajo.

Gray’s story
got a lot of media attention
and now the school is, uh, backing
up, saying that the threat of Gray being punished by limiting her
participation at graduation was a miscommunication and that

she’d be allowed
to give her graduation speech after all.
Perhaps the school only ever intended to give her an “in-school
suspension” and bar her from a single senior event. It could also
be that the attention given to the school’s overreaction to an
obscure reference that included a minor profanity forced
administrators to think twice about what they were doing.

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China Bans Windows 8 From Government Computers After Leaked Warning By Germany About Backdoor To The NSA

The unthinkable just happened to Microsoft in China.

China’s Central Government Procurement Center posted a notice on its website about the use of energy-saving products. Embedded in that innocuous notice was a categorical ban on installing Microsoft Windows 8 on any government computer.

The state-owned Xinhua news agency then reported the ban, emphasizing that it was to ensure computer security. Last month Microsoft stopped updating Windows XP, which makes it more vulnerable to viruses and hacking. XP is still installed on about half of the desktops in China, according to Reuters. So a switch to a new operating system will be necessary for security reasons. But it won’t be Windows 8.

Microsoft refused to comment. “Neither the government nor Xinhua elaborated on how the ban supported the use of energy-saving products, or how it ensured security,” Reuters explained.

Microsoft’s sales in China have been strangled for years by competition from bootlegged copies of its software. But this is worse. The ban on installing Windows 8 on government computers likely includes computers of state-owned or state-controlled enterprises, hence much of China’s corporate glory – the largest banks, the defense sector, telecom… plus computers of anyone who wants to follow the government’s security recommendations.

So was this the first strike of a broad array of measures the Chinese government would inflict on American corporations in retaliation for the indictment of five Chinese military officials that the Justice Department had announced with such media-savvy fanfare?

The Chinese are furious about the indictments. And they appear in a peculiar light after the Snowden revelations detailed the extent of NSA’s worldwide, seamless, borderless dragnet that attempts to capture just about anything that anyone – including you and me – is doing, saying, or writing anywhere. Last year, when the Chinese government learned that American hardware and software had been compromised for spying purposes in cooperation with the NSA, it retaliated against IBM [NSA Revelations Kill IBM Hardware Sales in China], Cisco [NSA Spying Crushes US Tech Companies in Emerging Markets (“An Industry Phenomenon,” Says Cisco’s Chambers)], and numerous others. These American companies are still paying the price: crashing revenues in what used to be their growth markets – China, Russia, and Brazil.

But the notice of the ban appeared last week – before the indictments.

It followed the German government’s warning to its agencies last summer not to install Windows 8 (which I reported here). The gist is this: Experts at the German Federal Office for Security in Information Technology (BSI), the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and the Federal Administration warned unequivocally against using computers with Windows 8 equipped with the “special surveillance chip” TPM 2.0. One of the documents specified, “Due to the loss of full sovereignty over the information technology, the security objectives of ‘confidentiality’ and ‘integrity’ can no longer be guaranteed.”

Turns out, Windows 8 with TPM 2.0 allows Microsoft to control the computer remotely through a built-in backdoor. Keys to that backdoor are likely accessible to the NSA.

Called ironically “Trusted Computing,” the backdoor was developed by the Trusted Computing Group, founded by AMD, Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Wave Systems. At its core is a chip, the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), that works with Windows. Its purpose is Digital Rights Management and computer security. The system decides what software was legally obtained and allows it to run; and it disables other software, such as bootlegged copies or viruses. The process is governed by Windows, and through remote access, by Microsoft.

What is new about TPM 2.0 is that it’s activated by default when the computer boots up. The user cannot turn it off. Microsoft decides what software can run on the computer, and the user cannot influence it. Windows governs TPM 2.0. What Microsoft does remotely is not visible to the user. Users of Windows 8 with TPM 2.0 surrender control over their machines the moment they turn it on. And there are indications that Microsoft or chip manufacturers pass the backdoor keys to the NSA and allow it to control those computers (my entire report, and my report on the German government’s subsequent confirmation).  

That backdoor (with NSA access) is what China was reacting to.

Chinese IT experts had also read about the German warning. It just took them a while to examine the issues, sort out the details, evaluate alternatives, and make a decision. Now they came out not just with a warning, but with a categorical ban on Windows 8. And like Germany, they think Windows 7, which uses the older version of TPM, is still OK.

That Microsoft’s flagship operating system is officially banned from all government computers, and therefore also from millions of computers at state-owned or state-controlled companies, and by inference from computers in critical industries, such as banking, is an elephantine fiasco for Microsoft as it’s trying to grab its share of China’s $324 billion IT market. And other countries, like Russia and Brazil, may follow the Chinese example, as they've done before. This time, Microsoft is losing out not because of competition from bootlegged versions of its own products, but because of its cooperation with the NSA.

Speaking of spying. Sunday, when no one was supposed to pay attention, PayPal sent its account holders an innocuous-sounding email with the artfully bland title, “Notice of Policy Updates.” PayPal didn’t want people to read it – lest they think the NSA is by comparison a group of choirboys. Read…. I Just Got PayPal’s New Absolutely-No-Privacy-Ever Policy




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Vid: Overpopulation is a Myth – Q&A with Misconception Filmmaker Jessica Yu

“Are we asking the right questions, or are we still in this old
mindset where we think it’s all about overpopulation? Because it’s
not,” says Jessica Yu, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker behind
the new documentary
Misconception
.

“Overpopulation is a Myth: Q&A with Misconception Filmmaker
Jessica Yu” is the latest offering from Reason TV. Watch the video
above for a discussion of Yu’s film, failed government population
control policies, how empowering individuals to make their own
choices solves social problems, and more. Approximately 10 minutes.
Interview by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Jim Epstein.

Scroll down for downloadable versions of this video, and
subscribe to Reason TV’s
YouTube channel
for daily content like this.

View this article.

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John Stossel Shows His Optimistic Side

Are you worried about the future? It can be hard not to be. If
you watch the news, you mostly see violence, disasters, danger, and
other forms of pessimism porn. “I won Emmys hyping risks,” writes
John Stossel, “but stopped winning them when I wised up and started
reporting on the overhyping of risks.”

Optimism isn’t just an attitude, Stossel argues—it’s an accurate
assessment of how well the human race has fared over the past
several hundred years. We were taught to think the future was
bleak, yet time and again, humanity survived doomsday. Not just
survived, we flourish.

View this article.

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BlackRock’s Fink Warns Housing More “Unsound” Now Than During Last Bubble

More than half a decade after the collapse, and with talking heads proclaiming the recovery as strong as ever and the Fed remarking on the housing market’s foundational pillar to that recovery, BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink has a few words of warning for the exuberant – the US housing market is “structurally more unsound” today that before the last financial crisis. As the data comes in weaker and weaker, despite hopes for a post-weather bounce, the fact that the US housing market is “more dependent on Fannie and Freddie than we were before the crisis,” is a problem for the US taxpayer and – unlike Mel Watt‘s ‘free credit for everyone’ approach to expanding the GSE’s role, Fink says with strong underwriting standards, ownership of affordable homes can again become a foundation for American families. So Watt’s easy ‘Subprime 2.0’ or Fink’s hard ‘American Dream’.

 

As Bloomberg reports,

BlackRock’s Chief Executive Officer Laurence D. Fink said the U.S. housing market is “structurally more unsound” today than before the financial crisis because it depends more on government-backed mortgage companies such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

 

“We’re more dependent on Fannie and Freddie than we were before the crisis,” Fink said today at a conference held by the Investment Company Institute in Washington, noting that he was one of the first Freddie Mac bond traders on Wall Street.

 

Fink co-founded BlackRock in 1988 after a career at First Boston Corp., now part of Credit Suisse AG, where he was known for his work slicing and pooling mortgages and selling them as bonds. Fink, who has built New York-based BlackRock into a $4.4 trillion money manager, said today that with strong underwriting standards, ownership of affordable homes can again become a foundation for American families.

But how is this possible? Eveyone say the banks are in great shape? That housing is recovering? That everything is on its way back to normal? As Fink highlights… it is not and we are well on our way to Subprime 2.0 if the administration gets their way.




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David Rosenberg And Goldman Sachs Refuse To Pay $250,000 To Listen To A “Fee-Deflating” Bernanke

As we have reported frequently over the past few months, the ‘with and wisdom’ not to mention the ‘foresight’ of Chairsatan Emeritus Ben “subprime is contained” Bernanke is now available for a fee. A $250,000 fee. For this amount one can join the company of such Fed-frontrunning hedge fund luminaries as David Tepper and Michael Novogratz who, side by side Bernanke at Le Bernardin, heard him says that there would be “no rate normalization” during his lifetime, just in case anyone was wondering what the state of the US “recovery” was.

According to the NYT, “The setting was so intimate that the group took up just one of the four-star restaurant’s three private dining rooms.”

Some recently “nervous” people overcontemplated the whole thing and imagined there were hidden signs to be caught.

David A. Tepper, founder of the $20 billion hedge fund Appaloosa Management, who was also at the Le Bernardin dinner, expressed regret that he did not trade on Mr. Bernanke’s guidance at the dinner.

 

“He gave this stuff out, but I didn’t realize what he was saying at the time, so I didn’t do a great trade,” Mr. Tepper said at the conference in Las Vegas last week.

That’s ok David, he didn’t realize what he was saying at the time either.

Unfortunately, Bernanke will continue to get paid handsomely for “as long as it takes” for the “experts” to realize that Bernanke is as clueless about the economy now as he was during his time at the Fed, and that no actionable information can be extracted from him:

“He’s being paid … for sharing his wisdom and predictions, and presumably not to exert his influence on the Fed,” he added. This will go on “until he’s proven to not be all that clairvoyant.”

And yet, the days of Bernanke’s “non-Giffen good” speech circuit may come to an end far sooner than the ex-Chairsatan wishes: “UBS and Goldman Sachs considered his fees too high, according to two people briefed on the discussions between Mr. Bernanke’s representative and the banks but not authorized to speak about either publicly.”

Others were quick to point out the obvious. According to infamous bear now uber-bull, whose recent short bonds call leaves a bit to be desired, David Rosenberg, “You can spend $250,000 for Bernanke’s time at a private dinner, or you could just sit down and read what people like Janet Yellen and Mark Carney have to say,” Mr. Rosenberg said, referring to the governor of the Bank of England. “You can actually do that for free and pretty much draw the same conclusions.

Spot on: then again, one can also not pay thousands of dollars to subscribe to newsletters of writers whose bullish “opinion” is regurgitated for free 24/7 by CNBC anchors.

But the worst news is that actual, not implied, deflation in demand for Bernanke speeches is already appearing:

Since his busy week jetting around the world in March, Mr. Bernanke has made several other appearances, including at a private equity conference hosted by the Blackstone Group a few weeks ago. He is scheduled to speak in Pennsylvania at the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce’s annual event on May 28, where members will pay $225 for a ticket.

Alas, at $225 a ticket, this means that his next speaking venue better be filled to the brim (by Amish listeners?) to satisfy the generic $250,000 speaking fee. And since that means that Bernanke’s insight will be extensively diluted (get it), it means that the willingness of people to listen to what he has to say will plummet, alongside the real disposable income of the US middle class as overseen by none other than Bernanke himself.

Indeed, this is one deflation which we are confident the Fed Chairman wishes he was 100% certain he could stop in 15 minutes. Sadly, like in the case of everything else relating to Bernanke, when paying for smoke and mirrors it is only a matter of time before everyone, even the uber-richer poseurs, realize that the product they are buying is nothing but a cheap commodity.




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Obama Administration to Release Drone Memo; #StandWithRand Sees Short Sequel

Sen. Rand Paul, in more filibustery days.Soon, once the Obama administration
has redacted what it sees fit to redact for national security
reasons, we will finally get to see the Department of Justice’s

legal justification for killing American citizens overseas
with
drones without the benefit of any sort of trial. All it took was a
court order and the possibility that the Senate wouldn’t approve an
appellant court nominee due to his role in crafting this memo to
make it happen. Easy!

David Barron, the nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
1st Circuit, faced a possible filibuster or hold this week from
senators wanting to bring about an end to some of the
administration’s secret justifications for drone use. Sen. Rand
Paul (R-Ky.)
warned
he would put a hold on the nomination, but Senate
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he thinks he has the votes
now to get Barron his judgeship. We will see today. Paul took to
the Senate floor this morning showing he has no interest in
supporting Barron. Bring on “StandwithRand 2: Still About the
Drones.” Actually, no. Though Rand spoke at length this morning,
changes to the filibuster rules (which he also criticized during
his speech) ensured that we didn’t get a repeat of Paul’s 2013
attempt to delay voting on John Brennan’s nomination as director of
the CIA.  

Paul nevertheless did speak at length this morning about his
concerns that Barron and the Obama Administration’s extrajudicial
drone strikes challenge years of jurisprudence that places such a
strong emphasis on the rights of the accused to have a trial. That
Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born al Qaeda leader, was in all
likelihood guilty of plotting harm against his own country, was not
the point: “We’re talking about not even having the protection of a
trial. Are we comfortable killing them based on accusations that no
jury has reviewed?” He pointed to the history of American leaders
treated with honor for defending the accused, such as John Adams
defending the British soldiers accused of the Boston massacre. He
called the use of drones to kill targets “sophisticated
vigilantism.” If you missed his speech (what, you have something
better to do than watch C-Span?), his Twitter account excerpted
choice quotes.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had sued, along with
The New York Times, to get access to the drone strike
memo. The ACLU is hoping the
report will open folks’ eyes
:

“We hope this report signals a broader shift in the
administration’s approach to the official secrecy surrounding its
targeted killing program,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel
Jaffer, who argued the FOIA lawsuit before the Second Circuit Court
of Appeals.

“The release of this memo will allow the public to better
understand the scope of the authority that the government is
claiming. We will continue to argue in court for the public release
of the other targeted killing memos and related documents.”

Given it took both of the other branches of the government to
force the administration to accept some more transparency in
revealing its guidelines for assassinating its own citizens, I am
not expecting a broader shift in the administration’s approach to
secrecy. And even so, if Reid is correct, the Senate stands poised
to approve Barron anyway. Though it is a problem that the memo was
kept classified, the justifications were pretty poorly kept
secrets. We actually know why the administration thinks it can
execute citizens overseas (it did not believe they would be able to
get to al-Awlaki to arrest him and put him on trial). The
concealing of the memo doesn’t resolve the problem that our
president believes he has the power to do this. That’s what really
makes Paul’s comments this morning so important. Revealing the
actual memo is only the first step towards trying to put an end to
this behavior.

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