TIME New Zealand

Snowden: NSA Collected Data on New Zealand Citizens

Edward Snowden Julian Assange Kim Dotcom Moment of Truth
Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Internet Party leader Laila Harre, Robert Amsterdam, Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom discuss the revelations about New Zealand's mass surveillance at Auckland Town Hall in Auckland, New Zealand on Sept. 15, 2014. Hannah Peters—Getty Images

New Zealand prime minister denies his government helped U.S. collect data on private citizens by gaining access to undersea cables

Documents released by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden purport to show U.S. and New Zealand officials have collected Internet data via underwater cables that connect New Zealand, Australia and North America.

The documents, reported by The Intercept and the Sydney Morning Herald, are said to show the program, called “Speargun,” had initially been implemented in 2012 or early 2013 by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) of New Zealand.

The GCSB was alleged to have gained covert access to a Trans-Pacific undersea cable network through which data is transmitted between Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Hawaii, to allow the NSA to harvest data.

Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key denies that the GCSB has participated in mass surveillance of citizens, though he reportedly would not discuss the existence of the program New Zealand reportedly used to conduct surveillance.

Snowden said in an interview with The Intercept website, which first reported the program’s existence, that the Prime Minister was fully aware of the program. “The Prime Minister’s claim to the public, that ‘there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance’, is false,” Snowden said. “The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.”

[Sydney Morning Herald]

TIME privacy

U.S. Threatened Yahoo With Massive Fines Over User Data

Yahoo's Headquarters In Sunnyvale, California
A sign is posted in front of the Yahoo! headquarters on May 23, 2014 in Sunnyvale, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Yahoo tried to fight the government's requests for user information

The U.S. government threatened Yahoo with a $250,000-a-day fine in 2008 if the tech company did not comply with requests for user information, according to roughly 1,500 pages of newly released legal documents.

“We refused to comply with what we viewed as unconstitutional and overbroad surveillance and challenged the U.S. Government’s authority,” Yahoo’s General Counsel Ron Bell wrote in a Tumblr post published on Thursday. “The released documents underscore how we had to fight every step of the way to challenge the U.S. Government’s surveillance efforts.”

Yahoo’s multiple challenges against the government were unsuccessful however, and the company started providing user data to PRISM, the controversial National Security Agency program that was shut down in 2011 and revealed to the public by Edward Snowden in 2013, the Washington Post reports.

Yahoo felt these government requests, which asked for data about whom and when users outside of the U.S. emailed (though not email content itself), bypassed required court reviews of each surveillance target.

Federal Judge William C. Bryson of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review ordered the unsealing of the documents as part of a move to declassify cases and documents that established the legal basis for the PRISM program.

MONEY Odd Spending

Meet the Drivers Making Toll Booth Lines Even Longer This Weekend

Line of cars waiting up at a toll
Bay Bridge Joshua McKerrow—AP

For some drivers, the fear of scams, overcharging, and government surveillance still outweighs the benefits of E-ZPass. They pay cash because they like talking to toll takers, too.

“Why would anyone NOT have E-ZPass?”

That question was posted at a Yelp forum … in 2007. The puzzled, frustrated individual asking the question pointed out that E-ZPass is “free and it saves so much time. It also reduces traffic for everyone. Someone, please please please tell me why everyone doesn’t have it?”

And yet, here we are, seven years later, with one of the year’s busiest road trip weekends upon us, and there will still be drivers backed up in gigantic lines at toll booths to pay cash—clogging up traffic in general while they’re at it—because they don’t have E-ZPass accounts. If anything, it’s even more difficult now to get around by car without an E-ZPass or another toll-paying transponder from a corresponding program, what with the expansion of cashless toll roads across the country. So what gives?

The Boston Globe recently reached out and talked with some “conscientious objectors” who refused to get on board with E-ZPass. Their reasons for sticking with cash and enduring longer-than-necessary waits at toll booths include:

They are concerned about government surveillance. They are apprehensive about erroneous fees charged automatically to their credit cards. They disapprove of eliminating good jobs held by toll takers for decades. And they would miss the small social exchanges with toll takers, the face-to-face contact, as they pass over their fare.

Is there validity to these concerns? Well, sure, there’s some. One of the big reasons states are pushing for cashless tolls is because doing so allows them to cut costs by getting rid of toll taker salaries. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to take a stance to help protect these workers and human contact in general in an increasingly cold, impersonal, automated world.

As for privacy and mistakes that could cost account holders money, there’s some evidence that they too are of legitimate concern. Occasionally, credit card errors or payment mix-ups result in huge bills for account holders. In one notorious case in the Seattle area, a couple with a Good to Go pass—a program that’s similar to E-ZPass—got hit with a bill for $8,346.82 because when their bank merged, the pass account was never updated, and tolls went unpaid for months. (The fines for nonpayment far surpassed the actual tolls themselves.)

By far, though, the biggest thing motivating E-ZPass refuseniks is the privacy issue. Bloggers have raised alarm bells by spreading word that the police and other authorities track E-ZPass travels all over metropolitan areas, not just at spots where tolls are paid. This summer, states such as Pennsylvania warned that phishing scammers somehow got hold of the email addresses of E-ZPass holders and were trying to get more personal information via fraudulent messages. The FTC later issued a national warning about phishing scams related to E-ZPass.

“Do I really want the government to keep a paper record on my comings and goings? No,” one E-ZPass-refusing driver told the Boston Globe. “It’s a slippery slope. Where does it end? I don’t like the trend.”

Still, considering the recent history of NSA surveillance programs and the news that a billion passwords were stolen by Russian hackers, it’s not like dumping your E-ZPass account is suddenly going to protect you from all forms of identity theft and other scams. In fact, privacy and Internet security experts generally say that everyday transactions like credit card payments and logging into email and other online accounts should be of far higher concern than using an E-ZPass.

None of this negates the need to be vigilant about protecting one’s personal information, of course. All in all, most people understand the individual’s fear of hackers and discomfort with government surveillance. Most people respect the individual’s right to make a stand about protecting privacy and workers’ jobs. It’s just that the vast majority of drivers would prefer that people wouldn’t be making this stand during Labor Day Weekend, when doing so makes already crowded roads and annoying tolls even more of a pain.

TIME cybersecurity

Surveillance in the Movies: Fact vs. Fiction

Experts at a hacker conference answer the question every spy-movie watcher has asked: “Can they really do that?”

For those of us who don’t work at a spy agency, the “intel” we’ve gathered on what state surveillance is like comes primarily from movies and TV shows. But just how realistic are those portrayals? A panel of experts at Defcon, one of the world’s top hacker conferences taking place in Las Vegas over the weekend, had some answers.

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

“You’re collecting all this hay. How many needles are you finding in the hay?” says Kevin Bankston, policy director for the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, describing the practice of bulk collection. The answer? Not many. Bulk collection has led to “one case where they convicted a cabdriver in San Diego for donating less than $10,000 to a Somali terror group,” Bankston said. “So the question is: Is it worth collecting all of our phone records for that conviction?”

When it comes specifically to this Simpsons clip, Nicole Ozer, technology and civil liberties policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, says there have indeed been cases of “local surveillance being rolled out in the buses.”

The Bourne Supremacy (2004)

No clip available online, but, to summarize: high-tech devices listening in on conversations around the world pick up on a single phrase — “blackbriar” — that tips off the government.

“As a civil libertarian, this movie was like cinematic crack to me,” Bankston said. With the quantity of data the NSA intercepts and the data-mining abilities of modern computers, picking out a keyword from a random conversation overheard by a surveillance program is not far fetched, he said. “This is not fiction.”

Brazil (1985)

The scene above depicts government agents discussing the use of surveillance tools to eavesdrop on a love interest.

“This brings me back to my days inside the belly of the beast,” says Timothy Edgar, who from 2006 to 2009 served as the first deputy for civil liberties in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “It’s a very realistic depiction of the kinds of compliance issues we had to address,” he said, though in reality “the technology was only slightly more obsolete.” According to Edgar, a review of NSA practices by the agency’s inspector general found that over a 10-year period there were 12 instances of intentional misuse of NSA surveillance, all relating to love interests.

The Dark Knight (2008)

A program that uses the microphones in the cell phones to create a sonar map of the city is mostly, but not entirely, insane.

“It’s a great mixture of actual plausible technology and really stupid technology,” Bankston said. Law-enforcement and intelligence agencies routinely take control of cell phones by remote in order to turn on microphones and cameras to spy on targets, but doing so with every phone in town at once would probably overwhelm the network. Bankston adds that if 30 million citizens of Gotham brought a class-action lawsuit against Bruce Wayne for this violation of the Wiretap Act, he’d be on the hook, per damages prescribed in the law, for $300 billion.

The Company You Keep (2012)

“This is a pretty straightforward depiction of cell-phone tracking,” Bankston said, which is “routinely done by local law enforcement, as well as the Feds, as well as the intelligence community.”

Minority Report (2002)

This kind of government search — thermal imaging followed by spider robots scurrying through a building and terrifying its inhabitants — is clearly unconstitutional, not to mention creepy. What’s interesting, Edgar notes, is the question of why it’s creepy.

“Is it the fact that they could find Tom Cruise by extracting this data from people in the apartment or the fact that they did it in a creepy way?” he said. (I.e., with bots that look like insects many find terrifying in their own right.) “What if we could just extract the data from the Internet of things that [were] already in your house?” With our homes becoming smarter and more wired, it’s easy to see how timely that question is.

Enemy of the State (1998)

In this scene, the head of the NSA tries to persuade a Congressman not to stop a bill that would give the agency broad new surveillance powers. The Congressman makes the argument — which we hear echoed today by firms like Google and Facebook — that the surveillance state doesn’t just invade privacy, but is bad for business at companies that depend on the trust of clients, including people outside the U.S.

Bankston noted that in the film, (spoiler alert) the NSA goes on to assassinate the Congressman. Edgar pointed out that any such assassination attempt would clearly step on Central Intelligence Agency toes.

“They would object very strongly to the NSA’s doing that,” he said.

TIME Security

Yahoo Is Making It Harder for the NSA to Read Your Emails

Encryption will help your messages stay private

Yahoo announced Thursday it will encrypt its email service by early next year, joining Google and Microsoft in an effort to create an email system that prevents government officials and hackers from reading users’ messages. It’s a major step for Yahoo in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, and it reflects the commitment of the major technology companies to securing users’ data.

With Yahoo’s announcement, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, email encryption will protect nearly one billion email users. There are 110 million Yahoo email users and over 425 million unique users of Google’s Gmail service. Microsoft says there are over 400 million active Outlook.com and Hotmail accounts. Widespread email encryption of the kind Yahoo is announcing is a huge blow to government surveillance techniques, like those employed by the National Security Agency.

“For Internet users, this is a huge deal,” said Jeremy Gillula, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Before, the NSA was able to easily gather up tons and tons of email.” But, with Yahoo’s planned encryption service, “the NSA can’t read and analyze everyone’s emails without discernment,” Gillula said.

Yahoo will base its encryption on what’s known as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption, which relies on every user having both a public and private encryption key. The public encryption key, to which any other email user will have access, encrypts plain email text into a complicated code. Then a user’s private code decrypts the code back into plain text when it arrives in their inbox. Each of the keys act almost like x and y variables in an equation: even though you know the public key x, you won’t be able to break the equation, because you still need the private key y. Essentially, the only people who can read your emails become you and the person to whom you’re sending them.

The tech titans’ steps towards encryption means that email users can be confident the only people reading their emails are the intended recipients. But for major tech companies, it also means regaining customers’ trust — particularly abroad, where intense scrutiny over American companies’ vulnerability to National Security Agency snooping could lead firms like Oracle, IBM and Hewlett-Packard to lose billions of dollars in contracts.

There are holes in the big technology companies’ encryption plans, however. Encryption doesn’t protect subject lines, or the data about who sends and receives messages, the Wall Street Journal reports. That leaves your email about as vulnerable as your phone records under the NSA’s mass collection of calling metadata—most of the content of your messages is safe, but who you called is not.

On top of that, the NSA is working on ways to circumvent different kinds of encryption used to protect emails and financial transactions, according to documents that Snowden leaked last year. U.S. and British intelligence agencies have already cracked some of the online encryption methods hundreds of millions of people use to protect their data, the Guardian and others reported last year. And the NSA is quietly working on a super powerful quantum computer intended to break encryption codes.

However, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Gillula, Yahoo is likely to be clever about what kind of encryption it uses, and PGP encryption is still thought to prevent mass sweeps of large volumes of email — even if the NSA can already crack PGP encryption, as some commentators believe, using it will almost certainly slow the agency down, while protecting emails from lesser-equipped would-be snoopers.

“Now the NSA has to think about what they want to collect, as opposed to searching through everyone’s email and doing it in a mass way,” said Gillula.

Yahoo still has to figure out the details of its planned encryption program. Will it store the private keys on its own servers, making them vulnerable to internal theft and sweeping government warrants? Or will it allow each email user to store the private keys locally, adding a level of inconvenience for users? Whatever Yahoo decides to do, its announcement is a major step forward for Internet privacy, and likely unwelcome news for the intelligence community.

TIME National Security

Reports: Snowden Granted 3 More Years in Russia

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden poses for a photo during an interview in an undisclosed location in December 2013 in Moscow.
Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in an undisclosed location in Moscow, December 2013. Barton Gellman—Getty Images

"If I could go anywhere in the world, that place would be home," Snowden said in an interview in May.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden received permission to stay in Russia for an additional three years, his lawyer told local media Thursday, amid the worst U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.

Snowden revealed troves of classified information on the American government’s surveillance activities before fleeing the U.S. more than a year ago. He was shortly thereafter granted temporary asylum in Russia, which expired Aug. 1.

His lawyer in Russia, Anatoly Kucherena, was quoted in Russian news agencies saying Snowden received an extended temporary residency for three years, the Associated Press reports. However, Snowden has not received political asylum, which would allow him to stay indefinitely. Kucherena said applying for political asylum requires a separate process, but Kucherena did not say whether Snowden had begun that procedure.

The lawyer’s statements in Russia could not be immediately confirmed.

Snowden faces charges of espionage in the U.S., but Russia, which does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S., has refused to hand him over. The case was a major source of tension between the two countries even before relations deteriorated further following Russia’s annexation of Crimea earlier this year and its suspected support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

[AP]

TIME privacy

MIT Researchers Can Spy on Your Conversations With a Potato-Chip Bag

There's eavesdropping, and then there's this

There’s a new threat to privacy lurking in our midst: potato-chip bags, which scientists can watch closely to figure out what you’re saying in conversations.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Microsoft and Adobe can reconstruct intelligible audio of speech by videotaping and analyzing the tiny vibrations of objects — like potato-chip bags — thanks to a new algorithm they’ve developed.

“When sound hits an object, it causes the object to vibrate,” said Abe Davis, an MIT graduate student and the first author of a paper that presents the findings, in a statement. “The motion of this vibration creates a very subtle visual signal that’s usually invisible to the naked eye. People didn’t realize that this information was there.”

In one experiment, researchers were able to reconstruct audio by filming the potato-chip bag from behind soundproof glass 15 ft. away. In another experiment, they were able to gather helpful audio by studying the vibrations of other substances, such as plant leaves, aluminum foil and a glass of water.

The researchers’ methods, which typically require high-speed cameras that can take several thousand frames per second, can gather information about the number of speakers in a room, the gender of the speakers and the identity of the speakers, assuming they are given prior information about speakers’ voices.

Once you pop, the spying don’t stop.

TIME intelligence

Senate NSA Reform Bill Earns Cautious Praise From Privacy Advocates

NSA Surveillance-Privacy Report
The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md., June 6, 2013. Patrick Semansky—AP

Senator Leahy’s USA Freedom Act carries stronger reforms than a version passed out of the House earlier this year

Advocates for reform of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities cautiously hailed the USA Freedom Act, put forth in the Senate on Tuesday, as a major step in reforming controversial programs at the agency.

“We commend the Senate Democratic and Republican co-sponsors of this version of the USA Freedom Act, which significantly constrains the out-of-control surveillance authorities exposed by Edward Snowden,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “While this bill is not perfect, it is the beginning of the real NSA reform that the public has been craving since the Patriot Act became law in 2001.”

Introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, the USA Freedom Act would impose new restrictions on so-called bulk surveillance of American cell-phone records and Internet traffic, banning the practice of vacuuming up all cell-phone metadata from a particular area or phone-service provider, for instance. The legislation also places restrictions on what business records the government can collect, imposes new transparency requirements on the government, and creates a position of a special privacy advocate to represent civil-liberties interests in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secretive body that oversees NSA surveillance activities.

Many in the technology industry, where business has been threatened by investors skittish at NSA snooping on Internet traffic in the U.S., have joined calls for serious NSA reform. Privacy advocates contend that the exposed surveillance efforts also weaken security protocols of American companies.

The bill “would go a long way toward stemming the costs of the NSA’s spying programs and restoring trust in the American Internet industry,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “But ensuring that a strong version of USA Freedom becomes law is only the first step toward repairing the damage that the NSA has done to America’s tech economy, its foreign relationships, and the security of the Internet itself.”

Compared with similar legislation passed in May by the House, also called the USA Freedom Act, the Leahy bill goes significantly further in curbing what civil-liberties groups see as extraconstitutional overreach by the NSA since passage of the 2001 Patriot Act gave the spy agency broad new surveillance powers. Privacy advocates pulled support for the House bill before it came to a vote, after substantial changes to the measure gutted the bill of key reform provisions. It’s unclear if the Senate will take up the Leahy bill before the November midterm elections.

TIME National Security

Government Spying Hurts Journalists and Lawyers, Report Says

A Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union report suggests NSA snooping prevents sources talking to journalists and compromises the relationships between defense attorneys and their clients

Updated at 4:51 p.m.

National Security Agency surveillance in the U.S. has seriously hurt the ability of journalists to cover national security issues and of attorneys, particularly defense lawyers, to represent their clients, according to a new report out Monday.

Based on interviews in the United States with 46 journalists, 42 practicing attorneys, and five current or former senior government officials, the report seeks to document the tangible impact of NSA surveillance on Americans revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In particular, the report cites the degree to which the Obama administration’s tough crackdown on unauthorized leaks, in combination with revelations about the extent of government surveillance on Americans’ cell phones and online communications, has caused sources to vanish for national security reporters.

“Sources are worried that being connected to a journalists through some sort of electronic record will be seen as suspicious and that they will be punished as a result,” said study author Alex Sinha, a fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, which jointly issued the report. “As a result sources are less willing to talk to the press about anything, including unclassified matters that could be of significant public concern,” he said.

“I had a source whom I’ve known for years whom I wanted to talk to about a particular subject and this person said, ‘It’s not classified but I can’t talk about it because if they find out they’ll kill me,’ [figuratively speaking]” longtime National Security Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers Jonathan Landay said for the report.

“It’s a terrible time to be covering government,” Tom Gjelten, a National Public Radio employee for more than 30 years, said. TIME was not listed among the news outlets from which reporters, many of whom chose to remain anonymous, were interviewed for the report.

Defense attorneys, who represent clients charged with a wide variety of offenses including terrorism, drug and financial crimes, among others, described how U.S. government surveillance has forced them to take extraordinary and often cumbersome measures to protect the privacy of sources and clients.

Such measures might include the use of complex encryption technologies, disposable “burner” cell phones, so called “air-gapped” computers, which are never connected to the internet as a precaution against hacking and surveillance, and in some cases abandoning electronic communications entirely.

“I’ll be damned if I have to start acting like a drug dealer in order to protect my client’s confidentiality,” said national security defense attorney Tom Durkin for the report.

“We are fearful that our communications with witnesses abroad are monitored [and] might put people in harm’s way,” said Jason Wright, who has represented terrorism clients as a military defense attorney before the Guantánamo commissions.

A report released earlier this month by The New America Foundation argues the NSA deliberately weakens cybersecurity, making online communications, study authors argue, less secure in general. The NSA has “minimization procedures” designed to limit the exposure of “US Persons”—Americans at home or abroad and others legally inside the United States—to the NSA’s wide-net surveillance programs. Privacy advocates contend they are insufficient and that, in any case, it’s impossible to verify their effectiveness because the details remain secret.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence told TIME that, contrary to revealing a decrease in press freedom, the Snowden leaks are evidence that journalism in the United States remains robust and unencumbered.

“The Intelligence Community, like all Americans, supports a free and robust press,” said Jeffrey Anchukaitis, spokesperson for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “The events of the last year demonstrate that the IC’s foreign intelligence surveillance activities clearly have not prevented vigorous reporting on intelligence activities. U.S. intelligence activities are focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets to help defend the nation, not on intimidating or inhibiting journalists. Likewise, the IC recognizes the importance of the attorney-client privilege, and has procedures in place to ensure that appropriate protection is given to privileged attorney-client communications.”

To address problems raised in the report, HRW and the ACLU recommend reforming U.S. surveillance practices, reducing state secrecy in general and limitations on official contact with journalists, enhanced whistleblower protections and strengthened minimization procedures.

The report comes just days before the expected unveiling in the Senate of the latest iteration of the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform NSA surveillance practices. An earlier House version of the bill was significantly gutted of reform measures, leading privacy advocates to pull support for the bill and try instead to get more substantial reforms through the Senate.

TIME National Security

The NSA Shared Sexually Explicit Photographs, Says Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden Gives First Interview In Russia
Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden poses for a photo during an interview in an undisclosed location in December 2013 in Moscow. Barton Gellman/Getty Images

For some agents, Snowden says, the racy images were one of the "fringe benefits of surveillance positions"

Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor turned whistle-blower, claims that “incredibly weak” oversight of U.S. surveillance programs enabled military personnel to obtain sexually explicit photos of people under surveillance and to sometimes share them with others.

In an interview with the Guardian, Snowden talked about the impact of poor auditing systems within the NSA. He claimed many people sifting through monitored communications were 18 to 22 years old and suddenly put in a position of extraordinary responsibility that was sometimes abused.

“In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work, for example an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive,” said Snowden.

“So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: ‘Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way,’” he said.

Snowden, who lives in Moscow after being granted temporary asylum last year, added that this information is never reported and nobody knows about it because of inadequate oversight.

He said the interception of intimate images was “routine enough” and described it as “sort of the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.”

He added, “The mere seizure of that communication by itself was an abuse. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communication stream, from the intended recipient, and given to the government without any specific authorization, without any specific need, is itself a violation of your rights.”

NSA spokeswoman Vaneé Vines gave a comment to the New York Times on the allegations. The Times paraphrased her as saying that “the agency had zero tolerance for willful violations of authority or professional standards, and that it would respond as appropriate to any credible allegations of misconduct.”

[The Guardian]

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