Surveillance

  • EncryptionTech companies urge rejection of push by FBI, DOJ for electronic devices “backdoors”

    In a 19 May letter to President Barack Obama, a group of Silicon Valley tech companies, cyber-security experts, and privacy advocacy groups urged the president to reject the implementation of “backdoors” in smartphone and computer encryption. The letter offered evidence of the  strong objection of the tech industry to demands from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to allow secret backdoor passages into consumer electronics, which would make it possible for law enforcement to read encrypted private communications and data.

  • SurveillanceHouse-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • DronesLawmakers pledge to continue supporting Center of Excellence for drone research

    Lawmakers pledge to continue support for FAA Center of Excellence (COE) for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE), a consortium of universities headed by Mississippi State University (MSU), to lead the UAS COE. The FAA expects the COE to begin research in 2015 and be fully operational in 2016 in its exploration of evolving new technological developments regarding unmanned aircraft and their uses, including detect-and-avoid technology, low-altitude operations safety, privacy safeguards, and other areas. Research will also involve the deployment of UAS for emergency response, biofuel and clean fuel technologies, law enforcement activities, and agricultural and environmental monitoring.

  • SurveillanceHouse overwhelmingly votes for overhauling NSA phone metadata bulk collection program

    The House yesterday voted overwhelmingly to ban the bulk collection of American phone metadata, as lawmakers increase the pressure to reform one of the more controversial data collection programs of the National Security Agency (NSA). The program was revealed as a result of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The House voted 338-88 in favor of the USA Freedom Act — the second time the House has voted for a more restrictive data collection scheme. Supporters of surveillance reform are more confident that there will be a majority in the Senate to support a similar measure. The House bill has already gained the support of the White House and the intelligence community. The Senate does not have much time, as the Patriot Act – which includes Section 215 which governs the NSA surveillance program – expires at the end of the month. Leading civil liberties organizations, however, have criticized the bill as not going far enough.

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  • SurveillanceThe FBI violated its own rules in surveillance of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists

    More than eighty pages of internal FBI documents dated from November 2012 to June 2014, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the FBI breached its own investigation rules when it spied on protesters opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Agents in the FBI’s Houston field office failed to get approval before they cultivated informants and opened files on pipeline protesters — a violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming excessively involved in sensitive political issues.

  • ImmigrationDHS deportations undermine efforts to get immigrants to provide leads on radical suspects

    DHS counterterrorism teams rely on cooperation from immigrant communities to obtain leads on radical individuals and pending terrorism plots, but many of these communities are becoming more wary of federal law enforcement as the number of deportations increase. “It’s ironic that you’ve got them coming in and trying to get information from our communities even as they’re detaining and deporting us at an alarming rate,” says one immigration activist. “That trust is just not going to be there. You can’t have it both ways.”

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  • DronesDrones could reach one million U.S. flights a day in twenty years

    The United States will reach one million unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flights per day within the next twenty years, given the right regulatory environment, according to new economic research. Only hobbyists and the do-it-yourself community now are allowed to fly UAS in the United States, enough to fuel a robust U.S. consumer market with the potential to reach $250 million by 2018. However, if the FAA remains on track to complete its line-of-sight rules for commercial operators within three years, the research foresees another $200 million in growth. Additionally, with the continued development of “sense and avoid” technology and FAA rules that foster “beyond-line-of-sight” operations, the U.S. UAS industry could become a $1 billion market.

  • DronesU.S. Navy successfully demonstrates autonomous, swarming UAVs

    A new era in autonomy and unmanned systems for naval operations is on the horizon, as U.S. Navy officials last month announced recent technology demonstrations of swarming unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — part of the Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program. LOCUST can launch swarming UAVs to autonomously overwhelm an adversary.

  • SurveillanceCourt rules NSA bulk metadata collection exceeded Patriot Act’s Section 215

    On Thursday, a three-judge panel from the New York-based 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by Judge William Pauley, which found that the controversial NSA bulk collection of domestic phone metadata was legal and could not be subject to judicial review. That section, which the appeals court ruled the NSA program exceeded, will expire on 1 June. The judges did not address the issue of whether the NSA program violated the Constitution, instead waiting for Congress to decide how to proceed after the program’s 1 June expiration.

  • SurveillanceNSA accepts proposed Congressional curbs on bulk data collection

    The NSA’s domestic bulk phone metadata collection program, authorized under Section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, is set to expire on 1 June. Congress is now gearing up to pass new legislation, called the USA Freedom Act, to curb the NSA’s ability to store domestic phone metadata, instead keeping the information with telecommunications companies. NSA officials have welcomed the proposed restrictions, saying many within the agency doubted the effectiveness of its bulk metadata collection program.

  • Intelligence analysisNew mathematical logic to help intelligence services cope with uncertainty

    Intelligence analysts are constantly struggling with the reliability of circumstantial evidence. The sources may be unreliable or directly misleading. When intelligence services in one country attempt to find out what another country is planning to do, they need to take into account the credibility of the information. The fact that the information tends to be incomplete and the circumstantial evidence often is contradictory does not make things any easier. “It is therefore essential to assess all information, evidence, facts and circumstances in a way that reflects this situation,” says a Norwegian mathematician who has developed a new type of mathematical logic to help improve the analytical tools in the hands of intelligence services worldwide. The U.S. Army has already expressed its interest and the new approach.

  • DronesDespite persistent questions, support for use of drones against terrorists remains strong

    The CIA counterterrorism program which captured, interrogated, and tortured al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons was criticized by lawmakers, including Senate Democrats who questioned the secrecy of the program. Many of those same lawmakers overwhelmingly support CIA targeted drone missions aimed at killing terror suspects and militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. Some lawmakers say it is time to move the drone program to the Pentagon. “I can understand when it was a very small operation why it would be done by the intelligence agency, such as U-2s and other reconnaissance aircraft, for many years,” says Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). “Now it’s reached the point where it’s an integral part of the conflict and a very essential one, so I think it should be conducted and oversight and administered by the Department of Defense.”

  • Domestic terrorismFusion centers, created to fight domestic terrorism, suffering from mission creep: Critics

    Years before the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement agencies throughout the country, alarmed by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, began to monitor and investigate signs of domestic terrorism. That increased monitoring, and the need for coordination among various law enforcement agencies, gave rise to the fusion centers. A new report, which is supported by current and former law enforcement and government officials, concludes that post-9/11, fusion centers and the FBI teams which work with them shifted their focus from domestic terrorism to global terrorism and other crimes, including drug trafficking.Experts say that at a time when the number of domestic terrorism threats, many of which are linked to right-wing extremist groups, is surging, law enforcement must refocus their attention on the threats from within.

  • Emerging threatsEmerging threats require a new social contract between the state, citizens: Study

    Technological advancements create opportunities for governments and the private sector, but they also pose a threat to individual privacy and individual – and public — safety, which most Americans look to the government to protect. The authors of a new book on emerging threats argue that while, at one time, “the government used to be our sole provider of security,” companies which store troves of private information are also key to Americans’ privacy and security. They say that the United States may need a new social contract between the state and its citizens on matters of security and privacy. “The old social contract has its roots in the security dilemmas of the Enlightenment era,” they write. “In our new era, everyone is simultaneously vulnerable to attack and menacing to others. That requires a different, more complex social contract — one that we are just starting to imagine.”

  • SurveillanceFBI, NSA want surveillance measures to remain in reauthorized Patriot Act

    On 1 June, Section 215 of the U.S.A Patriot Act, which permits law enforcement and intelligence agencies to collect certain customers’ records from U.S. businesses including communications and credit card firms, is set to expire. Congress has been debating whether to reauthorize the section of the act or pass measures that will curb the level of surveillance it currently grants. In recent days, representatives from the NSA and the FBI have been meeting with legislators to inform them of the importance of Section 215, still both chambers of Congress seem to be uncertain on how to move forward.