Lately the news has had a few articles about how companies like Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo etc. are pushing the government for radical changes to their surveillance policies and demanding better protections for their customers. We have seen new ads focused on explaining how important our data is to them (and in some cases how the other guys are abusing it). The groups lining up and demanding change are many of the same companies that Edward Snowden’s bevy of leaked documents claimed were working hand in hand with the NSA to allow for mass spying on peoples’ data and that in cases where they were not directly cooperating lax security practices allowed for easy retrieval of user information.
When the leaks about how widespread the NSA’s surveillance is hit the news there was (and still is) talk about how much of an impact this would have on privacy. We all knew that having an agency that was able to dig into your online life like the NSA was not a good thing. What was less expected (although some talked about it) is the widespread effect on free speech, and also the economic impact in the form of people moving away from the internet and businesses closing down.
Back in April of this year (2013) we published two articles that countered Apple’s claims that their iMessage application was not as secure as they claimed. The first was after an alleged DEA memo was leaked to CNet. This memo detailed the frustrations of the agency in their inability to acquire text messages sent using Apple iPhones. Sadly for the DEA the “leaked” memo ended up making them look rather foolish as they were trying to get the information from carriers instead of from Apple. Apple countered with their usual, there is no flaw and for many that was that.
There is a pretty interesting story about how the NSA has been targeting the TOR Network for the last couple of days. The news is just another piece of the much larger tapestry of US government surveillance being performed by the National Security Agency. Some of this surveillance appears to be at the behest of the administration while others pieces seem to be generated from within the agency and possibly outside their charter and license. It seems that the NSA is determined to bring all forms of communication under their domain. This is why we were not surprised to hear that the NSA has been working on being able to identify people using the TOR Network since at least 2007 (possibly before that).
Shortly after Edward Snowden revealed the massive surveillance programs being run by the NSA we all were treated to speeches and claims that these programs were essential to national security. These claims further talked about the vital role the NSA plays in protecting the US from the bad guys around the world. Of course they never touched on the violations individual rights protected by the constitution, but that was such a small matter than they felt it was not important.
The fight for internet freedom, privacy and net neutrality has been a rough one. Over the past couple of years we have watched as a parade of laws have trotted past us. SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, and more have all shown us one certain thing; the powers that be have little to no regard for individual freedoms, free speech or the impact of restrictive laws on innovation, technology and the economy as a whole. However there was an underlying trend to these laws that disturbed us and many other privacy and right groups out there. The trend was a general trammeling of the right to free speech when it comes to any online sources; some would even say any source that had an opposing view point. Even the right to have protected sources was slowly being removed if you were an independent blogger (citizen journalist) and this effort is now being expanded.
Google has made the statement that users of Gmail not only have consented to any electronic snooping and scanning of their communication, but have no reasonable expectation that their mail will remain private anyway. The revelation comes through a brief filed by Google to dismiss a data-mining suit against them. In it they describe the act of sending email through their services as if you are handing your letter to someone else. They seem to forget that letters are processed by the post office (or other carrier) and during transit cannot legally be opened. This makes the analogy very inaccurate indeed.
There is a rumor going around (from “sources wishing to remain anonymous”) that claims that US Law Enforcement and the NSA have been asking internet companies for user passwords. The article originally posted by cNet has made the rounds this morning across a few sites; all of them pointing back at the single cNet source. Now on top of everything else that is going on many people are ready to jump on board with this and further denounce the NSA, the FBI, DHS, IRS, and anyone else in the US government with initials. But outside of the claims from a single blogger at cNet are there any other indications that this is a common practice?
Yesterday there was a vote on one of the more important pieces of legislation to go through Congress this year. Despite its importance there was very little media coverage outside the internet and the few sites that are still determined to fight for people’s right to privacy. The bill was named HR 2397 and was introduced by Representative Justin Amash (R MI) and was intended to deny funding to the NSA for any program that allows for broad (warrantless) spying on US Citizens.
Over the last couple of weeks the new has been flooded with articles about the US Government’s surveillance program called PRISM. It is possibly one of the largest invasions of privacy that has been leaked to the general public. What makes this program all the more concerning is that the NSA appears to have cooperation from each of the companies involved. This apparent breach of consumer trust has caused quite a stir and almost all of the companies that were shown in the leaked power point about PRISM have released statements claiming they only cooperate within the limits of the law. This raises an interesting question though; if a broad request is approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wouldn’t a company be within the law to grant access?