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NSA Tag

Reuters has reported that Yahoo! secretly scanned customers' emails on behalf of the NSA and the FBI. The company even "built a custom software program" to monitor the emails for specific information:
Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency's demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time. It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

Rand Paul inhabits a unique position in the Republican Party. While he's conservative on some issues, his Libertarian views on others put him at odds with the establishment. His recent filibuster on the Patriot Act is a prime example. Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard voiced his thoughts on the issue in an appearance on ABC News Sunday. I'm not sure this is a fair line of attack. Evan McMurry of Mediaite has the story:
Kristol: Liberal Democrats Had Rand Paul’s Policies Before He Did A This Week panel noted that Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) #standswithRand (sigh) over the NSA’s bulk collection of communications data and criminal justice reform, causing Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol to call for a point of clarification. “That’s not fair to Keith,” Kristol said. “Rand stands with Keith. Seriously. They had these positions first. Rand Paul has decided that he wants to be a liberal Democrat, undercut necessary intelligence collection and weaken law enforcement services, and Rand Paul thinks that’s going to sell in the Republican primary.
Here's the video:

The Patriot Act expanded the government's ability to keep an eye on American citizens---and their data. Through special permissions granted by the FBI through "national security letters," U.S. spy agencies are able to access user data owned by tech companies, while at the same time barring those companies from disclosing to users and shareholders what data has been requested. Fortunately, appeals judges across the country are siding with tech companies against the FBI in a series of lawsuits challenging the gag orders. Via Bloomberg Law:
“More and more service providers are issuing transparency reports,” said Kurt Opsahl, an attorney with Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose clients are seeking an end to the letters. “Many would like to say what national security” demands they’re getting. The gag provision violates free-speech rights, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco ruled in March 2013 in a lawsuit brought by a phone-service provider that received such a letter. She put her ruling on hold while the government appeals it. Because recipients of the letters are forbidden from discussing them openly, the identity of the phone company isn’t public.
The Justice Department's argument centers on the idea that national security concerns trump the general First Amendment rights of tech companies; they say that if companies are allowed to disclose which agency is looking at what data, terrorists will be able to gain inside information into national security investigations, and thus, that the government has a compelling interest in keeping this information classified. Tech companies' main concerns center on the indefinite nature of the gag order, which is also leaving judges questioning the heart of the Justice Department's argument:

How expansive is electronic espionage? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly does not have a computer in his office, does not use email and does not have a private phone. I read a while ago that he even uses hand signals in some situations, although I can't find the link now. There's every reason to believe many major national intelligence agencies have similar capabilities, they just don't have Edward Snowdens willing or able to walk off with the proof. You know, imprisoned or dead families could be the consequence elsewhere. So frustrated with U.S. snooping is Germany that it is considering going to old school typewriters, via The Guardian, Germany 'may revert to typewriters' to counter hi-tech espionage:
German politicians are considering a return to using manual typewriters for sensitive documents in the wake of the US surveillance scandal. The head of the Bundestag's parliamentary inquiry into NSA activity in Germany said in an interview with the Morgenmagazin TV programme that he and his colleagues were seriously thinking of ditching email completely. Asked "Are you considering typewriters" by the interviewer on Monday night, the Christian Democrat politican Patrick Sensburg said: "As a matter of fact, we have – and not electronic models either". "Really?", the surprised interviewer checked. "Yes, no joke", Sensburg responded.
While typewriters might be harder to spy on, they hardly are foolproof, as the U.S. Embassy in Moscow discovered back in the day (1986): Soviets Bug Typewriters in U.S. Embassy * * * Soviets Bug Typewriters in U.S. Embassy sounds More on the typewriter espionage here:

After an extraordinary four-month data-crunching investigation of material leaked by Edward Snowden, the Washington Post let off some fireworks this Fourth of July weekend. Their investigation proves that the National Security Agency (NSA) has monitored many more ordinary Americans' internet usage than non-American foreigners under suspicion of terrorist activities.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else. Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents. The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.

The Director of National Intelligence indicated Monday that the federal government probably should have been more transparent in the first place about its collection of phone records. In an interview with the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake, James Clapper reflected on how the program may have been received differently had general information about it been shared with the public from the outset. From the Daily Beast, Spy Chief: We Should’ve Told You We Track Your Calls:
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said. “What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”
It's difficult to know whether or not the American public would have accepted the program as another security necessity.  But I'd agree that a more extensive public debate about the general nature of the program probably would have been more productive at the outset.

Obama just completed his speech on NSA reforms. Below the key video portion of the speech (full text here). I found this part to be a key dose of reality often lacking from the debate:
First, everyone who has looked at these problems, including skeptics of existing programs, recognizes that we have real enemies and threats, and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber-threats without some capability to penetrate digital communications – whether it's to unravel a terrorist plot; to intercept malware that targets a stock exchange; to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised; or to ensure that hackers do not empty your bank accounts. Moreover, we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies. There is a reason why blackberries and I-Phones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room. We know that the intelligence services of other countries – including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures – are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, intercept our emails, or compromise our systems. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world's only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities; and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.
Whether the "reforms" are meaningful in protecting the privacy of law-abiding Americans is another questions.

We reported last week on how Judge Leon in the District of Columbia ruled against the government, preliminarily, on NSA mass data surveillance. I cautioned against the media assumption that the ruling would survive: The judge issued a preliminary injunction, but stayed his decision pending appeal....

Edward Snowden and the NSA debate seem to have lost some significant momentum on Twitter in light of the current discussion about what the US will or won't be doing about the situation in Syria. Business Insider noticed that Syria Tensions Have Knocked The NSA Spying...

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