TIME National Security

Snowden: NSA’s Email Release Is Incomplete

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is interviewed by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in a still image taken from video during an interview by the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters

The former intelligence contractor says he wrote many more emails that officials have chosen not to reveal, and that the single release after so many denials “shows the NSA feels it has something to hide”

The email released by the National Security Agency (NSA) that Edward Snowden sent to its Office of the General Counsel is only one of many, the whistle-blower said in an interview with the Washington Post.

“Today’s strangely tailored and incomplete leak only shows the NSA feels it has something to hide,” Snowden said.

On Thursday, the NSA released the email dated April 5, 2013, in which Snowden — who then worked as an intelligence contractor — asks whether regulations from different institutions take precedence over each other, and whether Executive Orders can outweigh federal statute.

The email’s release is the first acknowledgement that Snowden did contact officials before leaking information about widespread surveillance by the agency, though the NSA maintains that he did not raise concerns about mass data collection before going rogue.

“I’m glad they’ve shown they have access to records they claimed just a few months ago did not exist, and I hope we’ll see the rest of them very soon,” Snowden said.

As the release comes “after more than a year of denying any such contact existed,” he added, it “raises serious concerns” about the NSA.

“It reveals as false the NSA’s claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that ‘after extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention,’” the 30-year-old told the Post.

Snowden says he sent many more emails to other officials raising concerns about illegal surveillance.

[The Washington Post]

TIME justice

Rise of the Private Surveillance State

Street graffiti by elusive graffiti artist Banksy is seen on a wall in central London
Street graffiti by elusive graffiti artist Banksy is seen on a wall, next to a CCTV camera, in central London on Nov. 25, 2008. Toby Melville—Reuters

Secretive data brokers have amassed thousands of details on virtually every household in the country.

Think you get to surf the internet for free these days? Think again. There’s a good chance you’re paying for the privilege with a little piece of your privacy, according to a Federal Trade Commission report released Tuesday. The ads you see on web pages are often automatically chosen to reflect your interests, based on collected bits and pieces of information you have made public as you go about your life online, and off.

And who’s doing the collecting? Data brokers, the largely unregulated middlemen in the privacy-for-personalization transaction at the heart of the digital economy. The FTC’s report, based on the responses of nine major data brokers to orders issued to them by the commission in 2012, shows just how far those companies have gone in amassing a huge information mosaic of Americans’ lives.

Of the nine data brokers, one data broker’s database has information on 1.4 billion consumer transactions and over 700 billion aggregated data elements; another data broker’s database covers one trillion dollars in consumer transactions; and yet another data broker adds three billion new records each month to its databases. Most importantly, data brokers hold a vast array of information on individual consumers. For example, one of the nine data brokers has 3000 data segments for nearly every U.S. consumer.

Among those thousands of “data segments” are seemingly private details, the report finds, like:

  • What kind of clothes you buy
  • Which charities you give to
  • What kind of pets you own
  • What movies you like to see
  • How big your house is
  • What kind of car you drive
  • Whether you’re liberal or conservative
  • Where you’re thinking of going on vacation
  • What kind of stocks you invest in
  • Whether you smoke
  • What kind of over-the-counter drugs you buy

The FTC found that consumers benefit from many of the purposes for which data brokers collect and use data. “Data broker products help to prevent fraud, improve product offerings, and deliver tailored advertisements to consumers. Risk mitigation products provide significant benefits to consumers by, for example, helping prevent fraudsters from impersonating unsuspecting consumers. Marketing products benefit consumers by allowing them to more easily find and enjoy the goods and services they need and prefer. In addition, consumers benefit from increased and innovative product offerings fueled by increased competition from small businesses that are able to connect with consumers they may not have otherwise been able to reach. Similarly, people search products allow individuals to connect with old classmates, neighbors, and friends.”

But the dangers are real, too. Consumers could be “denied the ability to conclude a transaction based on an error in a risk mitigation product,” without having any recourse to correct the mistake. Lower marketing scores could result in “different levels of service from companies.” The FTC also concluded that stored data on consumers could be vulnerable to “unscrupoulous actors” who could use the private data “to predict passwords, challenge questions, or other authentication credentials.”

The FTC found “a fundamental lack of transparency about data broker industry practices.” The brokers collect thousands of pieces of information about individual Americans’ lives, creating detailed mosaics of who they are and what they do, analyzing and sharing it with clients in multiple industries. But “all of this activity takes place behind the scenes, without consumers’ knowledge.”

The FTC says there is little it can do to mitigate the danger other than report on it. The Fourth Amendment and multiple federal laws constrain what the National Security Agency can do with the masses of data Edward Snowden revealed the government collects on Americans and others. But the law governing the use of personal data by commercial entities doesn’t cover marketing. So while Snowden imagines a dystopian future in which the government uses its collected information to endanger Americans, it seems that future already exists in the commercial realm.

TIME Surveillance

The New Cop on the Beat May Be a Bot

Knightscope K5 promises enhanced policing capabilities, courts controversy

Have we as a species learned nothing from Robocop?

A Silicon Valley company called Knightscope is currently testing a prototype robot designed to detect and monitor criminal activity, much the way a police officer or a security guard would.

The Knightscope K5 is a five-foot-tall autonomous robot (one presumes that its resemblance to a Dalek is merely coincidental) that roams around your neighborhood, observing and gathering data and trying to predict where and when criminal activity will occur.

It carries no weaponry, but it has a pretty complete sensor package that includes thermal imaging, license plate reading and facial recognition.

This takes public surveillance a step beyond stationary cameras, and the challenges to personal privacy are clear. The K5 could do a whole lot of good by deterring crime, especially in neighborhoods that lack the resources to field an adequate police presence.

But where do you draw the line?

TIME National Security

NYPD Nixes Muslim Spy Unit

Authorities have ended a widely criticized surveillance initiative that collected details about Muslim communities after a re-evaluation by the city's new police commissioner. The deacde-long program never produced leads about possible terrorist activity

The New York Police Department has shuttered a program designed to spy on Muslim communities, the department announced on Tuesday.

The surveillance initiative, which began in 2003 and was once known as the Demographics Unit, sent detectives into neighborhoods with Muslim populations to eavesdrop on conversations and record detailed information about where and how Muslims spent their time. The decision to end the program signifies a re-evaluation of the department’s post-9/11 intelligence policies by the city’s new police commissioner, William Bratton, the New York Times reports.

The department’s activities attracted both criticism from the FBI and civil rights organizations as well as multiple federal lawsuits.

“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York, told the Times. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the café where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”

The NYPD has admitted that its tactics never generated a lead about possible terrorist activity.

[NYT]

TIME Journalism

Greenwald, Poitras Return to U.S. For First Time Since Snowden NSA Revelations

Glenn Greenwald arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Glenn Greenwald arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, April 11, 2014. John Minchillo—AP

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras return to America for the first time since breaking the Edward Snowden story to receive the George Polk Award. They will share the journalism honor with The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill and The Washington Post's Barton Gellman

Two American journalists who reported on the National Security Agency documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden arrived back in the U.S. Friday for the first time since their reporting on those files was first published.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who broke the Snowden story and met with the whistleblower in Hong Kong, are in New York City to receive the prestigious George Polk Award. Greenwald, formerly a columnist for The Guardian and now a partner in the upcoming First Look Media venture, and Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, will share the journalism award with Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, the Huffington Post reports.

Greenwald, who currently resides in Rio de Janeiro, told The Huffington Post that he wanted to return to the U.S. because “certain factions in the U.S. government have deliberately intensified the threatening climate for journalists.” He noted that language used by government officials suggested that reporters who investigated Snowden’s documents were complicit with him.

Greenwald and Poitras, who lives in Berlin, expected to be detained immediately upon their arrival Friday, but they left John F. Kennedy International Airport without incident.

[BoingBoing]

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Obama to Propose Ending NSA Phone Data Collection

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md.
The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md. Reuters

The White House is set to propose major changes to the NSA's oft-criticized bulk collection of data from millions of Americans' phone calls, in the Obama administration's most significant response yet to outrage over domestic surveillance

President Barack Obama is set to announce a new proposal to scale back one of the most sweeping and controversial domestic surveillance programs in U.S. history, according to multiple reports.

The proposal, which will be presented to Congress, would end the National Security Agency’s collection of vast amounts of data about U.S. phone calls, according to the New York Times, which first reported the plan.

The Obama proposal is the most significant White House effort yet to address the global furor that was sparked after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked reams of classified documents about the NSA’s secret snooping programs. The proposal would end the NSA’s bulk collection of so-called phone metadata, which includes the number the target called, when the call was made and how long the conversation lasted.

The NSA phone-metadata-collection program was part of a secret U.S. surveillance system that former President George W. Bush approved after the 9/11 attacks. It remained hidden from the public until the Snowden revelations.

Under the Obama proposal, the phone records would instead be retained by phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon. Those companies would not be required to retain the data for a longer period of time than they do now, the Times said. The proposed policy shift was not unexpected — it was one of the major recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, which delivered its report in December.

(MORE: NSA Spying Scandal Could Cost U.S. Tech Giants Billions)

The timing of the White House proposal is also not a surprise. The current court order authorizing the NSA program — which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) must approve every three months — expires on Friday. The U.S. has decided to renew the NSA metadata-collection program for at least one more 90-day cycle, the Times said. The purpose of the program is to identify possible terrorist threats to the U.S., but government officials have offered scant evidence that the system has actually thwarted any major terrorist attacks.

On Tuesday, Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican, and Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Maryland Democrat, will introduce bipartisan legislation also designed to scale back the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata. The two lawmakers told the Washington Post on Monday that their goal is that their bill “can be the compromise vehicle that arrives at the President’s desk.”

The White House proposal differs from the Rogers-Ruppersberger legislation in key respects. The former would maintain FISC oversight with respect to individual phone-record orders, while the latter “would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the NSA to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval,” the Times said. Obama called on Congress in a press conference Tuesday to “pass the enabling legislation quickly,” saying his proposal would address many of critics’ concerns.

Instead of collecting and storing the phone records of millions of Americans, the White House proposes to obtain “individual orders” from the FISC that apply “only to records linked to phone numbers a judge agrees are likely tied to terrorism,” the Times reported. Under the current policy, the NSA holds the phone data for five years, under authorization by Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The proposal will not require that phone companies retain the data “longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require,” the paper reported, after intelligence agencies determined that the impact of that change “would be small because older data is less important.”

Under the new system, the FISC would require the phone companies to “swiftly provide” phone records “on a continuing basis,” including data about “any new calls placed or received after the order is received,” the Times reported. The new system would also allow the U.S. to seek phone records for people “two calls, or ‘hops,’ removed” from the original number that is being scrutinized, according to the paper.

Lauren Weinstein, a tech-policy expert and privacy advocate, expressed guarded optimism about the White House proposal. “On its face, this sounds like a definite improvement over the status quo of the program, but the devil will be in the details,” Weinstein says.

Reached by TIME, representatives of Verizon and AT&T both declined to comment on the White House proposal. Earlier this year, AT&T and Verizon began issuing so-called transparency reports providing data on the number of law-enforcement requests for customer information that the company receives in the U.S. and other countries. Those reports do not separately disclose information about orders made under FISA, but instead combine such orders with other government requests.

TIME Surveillance

VIDEO: Jimmy Carter Believes NSA Is Reading His Emails

The former President tells NBC's "Meet the Press" he now communicates with foreign leaders by snail mail

Former President Jimmy Carter told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that he has his own system to avoiding being monitored by the National Security Agency, which is under scrutiny following leaks from its former contractor Edward Snowden: “When I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I would type or write the letter myself, put it in the post office and mail it.” He added that the spy agency had abused its authority.

TIME Surveillance

Seattle Police to Use Facial Recognition Software

Security Camera
Getty Images

Seattle will become the nation's largest city to employ the emerging technology, although privacy experts expressed concerns that information about people not suspected of criminal activity could be gathered and misused

The Seattle Police Department will soon use facial recognition software allowing officers to compare photos captured by surveillance cameras with an existing database of 350,000 mug shots. Seattle will become the nation’s largest city to employ the emerging technology and its use will be watched closely by other municipalities.

“I think it’s a sign of what’s to come,” says Stephen Rushin, an expert in surveillance and law enforcement technology at the University of Illinois College of Law.

Seattle police have wanted to use facial-recognition technologies for several years to replace manually comparing hundreds of thousands of mug shots with images captured by the city’s network of surveillance cameras. But privacy experts expressed concerns that information about people not suspected of criminal activity could be gathered and misused.

“Whenever you’re accumulating large amounts of data, you have the potential for abuse,” Rushin says. “It could be used to unfairly implicate innocent people.”

The ACLU says it had serious reservations about making sure use of the facial recognition software was limited to people reasonably suspected of criminal activity, and that the police department agreed to track which officers used the software to prevent it from being deployed broadly. The Seattle City Council voted to approve the program this week after the ACLU dropped its objection.

The city is using a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to fund the program. There’s little data about how many police departments are using facial recognition, but Rushin says it’s likely in the single-digit percentile of police departments.

Though the ACLU signed off, it remains wary. “We’re still concerned about the possibility for abuse,” says Doug Honig of the ACLU of Washington.

TIME Google

Google Will Start Encrypting Your Searches

Google privacy concerns
A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on Jan. 30, 2014 in Mountain View, Calif. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The tech behemoth plans to make users' searches more private as part of the company's broader campaign to push back against hackers and government surveillance. They've already started in China as a show of defiance against the country's infamous censors

Google is making users’ searches more private as part of the company’s larger efforts to improve information security in light of last year’s revelations regarding government surveillance in the U.S.

Google will introduce encrypted search results globally on a yet-unannounced release schedule. However, Google has already started encrypting searches of Chinese users in defiance of that country’s tight censorship regime, The Washington Post reports. The move represents a shot at Beijing in Google’s standoff with Chinese authorities over unmet demands that the company send Chinese users to government-approved sites. In 2010, Google moved its Chinese operation to semi-autonomous Hong Kong and now accounts for only five percent of China’s search market.

Google’s steps to encrypt search results follow a decision to encrypt Internet traffic between its data centers after Edward Snowden, working with journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and others, revealed last year the extent of National Security Agency surveillance of web traffic in the U.S.

“The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks. Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world,” a Google spokesperson told the Post. “This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards.”

[The Washington Post]

TIME politics

Five Ways Dianne Feinstein Has Kicked Butt

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs, March 11, 2014.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs, March 11, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

She knew Harvey Milk, she roasted Ted Cruz, and she made Hillary and Barack make up

In case you didn’t know already, Tuesday’s speech made it clear that Senator Dianne Feinstein is a lean, mean spybusting machine. The longtime California Senator and Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly turned on the CIA Tuesday when she accused the spy agency of illegally hacking into Senate computers used to investigate Bush-era intelligence practices.

But this isn’t the first time Feinstein has spoken truth to power. Here are a few of her greatest hits:

1) You wouldn’t know it from her speech Tuesday, but Feinstein had a late night Monday night. That’s because the octogenarian was part of an all-night congressional session to raise awareness about climate change. “If we do nothing, the Sierra Nevada spring snowpack could drop by as much as 60 to 80 percent by the end of the century, eliminating the water source for nearly 16 million people,” the Senator said.

2) It was Feinstein who tried to push an assault weapons ban through Congress after the Newtown shootings, but her ban failed in a 40-60 vote. In her final appeal to her colleagues to vote to ban assault weapons, she demanded that the rest of the Senate “show some guts.” “The most important duty a government has is to protect its citizens’ safety,” she said. “When 20 beautiful first-graders are slaughtered, our government has failed that duty.” She spoke next to an image of the front page of the New York Daily News that read “Shame on U.S.”

3) In her continued fight for an assault weapons ban, Feinstein delivered an epic takedown of colleague Ted Cruz when he tried to mansplain the Constitution to her (via Daily Beast)

“One, I’m not a sixth grader,” Feinstein said. “Senator, I’ve been on this Committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in and I saw people shot with these weapons.

“I’m not a lawyer,” she added, “but after 20 years, I’ve been up close and personal with the Constitution. I have great respect for it. … So I, you know, it’s fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I’ve been here for a long time.”

“I thank you for the lecture. Incidentally, this does not prohibit — you used the word ‘prohibit’ – it exempts 2,271 weapons. Isn’t that enough for the people of the United States? Do they need a bazooka? Do they need other high-powered weapons that other people use in close combat? I don’t think so.”

BOOM! Who needs a bazooka when you have Dianne Feinstein?

4) She worked closely with gay rights leader Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and she was there the day they were assassinated by ex-supervisor Dan White in 1978. White murdered Milk and Moscone because he wanted his government seat back, and when Feinstein learned that Moscone was planning to give it to someone else, she tried to track down White to explain the situation. She described that day to the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I saw him come in. I said, ‘Dan, can I talk to you?’ And he went by, and I heard the door close, and I heard the shots and smelled the cordite, and I came out of my office. Dan went right by me. Nobody was around, every door was closed.

“I went down the hall. I opened the wrong door. I opened (Milk’s) door. I found Harvey on his stomach. I tried to get a pulse and put my finger through a bullet hole. He was clearly dead.”

Feinstein later went on to replace Moscone as Mayor of San Francisco.

MORE: Top Lawmaker Accuses CIA of Illegally Snooping on Senate

5) She’s also a peacemaker: Feinstein hosted the first meeting between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama after Obama nabbed the 2008 nomination. She set up two chairs and put out some water, and then left the candidates alone to talk it out:

“You know, this is a deeply personal time too. You are sorting out your feelings. Hillary’s is going to be giving a big speech tomorrow. Barack is trying to put things together for a major presidential campaign. So, there are a lot of decompression, nerve-endings, all these things that need to kind of come together and I think the opportunity to sit down, just the two of them, have an hour together was positive.”

Keep doing what you’re doing, Dianne!

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser