March 12, 2012
“Be careful – you might want to just post funny, goofy, and mindless drivel on your social media pages just in case they want to come after you.” –KTRN
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of a 12-year-old middle school student who was detained and interrogated by Minnesota school officials who demanded her Facebook and email passwords.
According to CNN, the girl claims she was “‘intimidated, frightened, humiliated and sobbing while she was detained in the small school room’ as she watched a counselor, a deputy, and another school employee pore over her private communications.”
The “interrogation” of the student stemmed from an incident where the girl wrote on her Facebook wall that hall monitors in the school were being “mean” to her and that she hated them, which the school determined was enough justification to demand a review of all her private communications.
February 20th, 2012
By: Steve Watson
The British government has dusted off previously shelved plans to create huge databases, enabling spy agencies to monitor every phone call, email and text message as well as websites visited by everyone in the country.
The Telegraph reports that under the plans, the government will force every communications network to store the data for one year. The plans also extend to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and gaming sites.
The plans, drawn up by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the government’s secret eavesdropping agency, may be officially announced as soon as May, according to details seen by the Telegraph. Those agencies would have real time access to the records kept by companies such as Vodafone and British Telecom.
The records would allow the spy agencies to monitor the “who, when and where” of every phone call, text message and email sent, while also allowing for internet browsing histories to be matched to IP addresses.
Unassumingly titled the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), the new scheme is set to be implemented under anti-terrorism laws, with the spy agencies saying it will allow them to more closely monitor suspects ahead of the London 2012 Olympics in July.
Critics and civil liberties advocates are calling for mass opposition to the plans, noting that the scheme is open to abuse not only by spy agencies and communications companies themselves, but also by hackers and online criminals.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a civil liberties campaign organization, said: “This would be a systematic effort to spy on all of our digital communications.
“No state in history has been able to gather the level of information proposed – it’s a way of collecting everything about who we talk to just in case something turns up.” Killock added.
Gus Hosein, of Privacy International, said: “This will be ripe for hacking. Every hacker, every malicious threat, every foreign government is going to want access to this.
“And if communications providers have a government mandate to start collecting this information they will be incredibly tempted to start monitoring this data themselves so they can compete with Google and Facebook.”
“The internet companies will be told to store who you are friends with and interact with. While this may appear innocuous it requires the active interception of every single communication you make, and this has never been done in a democratic society.” Hosein urged.
The Open Rights Group has an online anti-CCDP petition, which describes the plan as “pointless,” “expensive,” and “illegal” and urges the public to come together to oppose it.
Back in 2008, the government announced its intention to create a massive central database, gathering details on every text sent, e-mail sent, phone call made and website visited by everyone in the UK.
The programme, known as the “Interception Modernisation Programme”, would have allowed spy chiefs at GCHQ, the centre for Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) activities, to effectively place a “live tap” on every electronic communication in Britain in the name of preventing terrorism.
Following outcry over the announcement, the government suggested that it was scaling down the plans, with then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stating that there were “absolutely no plans for a single central store” of communications data.
However, as the “climbdown” was celebrated by civil liberties advocates and the plan was “replaced” by new laws requiring ISPs to store details of emails and internet telephony for just 12 months, fresh details emerged indicating the government was implementing a big brother spy system that far outstrips the original public announcement.
The London Times published leaked details of a secret mass internet surveillance project known as “Mastering the Internet” (MTI).
Costing hundreds of millions in public funds, the system continued to be implemented by GCHQ with the aid of American defence giant Lockheed Martin and British IT firm Detica, which has close ties to the intelligence agencies.
A group of over 300 internet service providers and telecommunications firms attempted to fight back over the radical plans, describing the proposals as an unwarranted invasion of people’s privacy.
Currently, any interception of a communication in Britain must be authorised by a warrant signed by the home secretary or a minister of equivalent rank. Only individuals who are the subject of police or security service investigations may be subject to surveillance.
If the GCHQ’s MTI project is completed, black-box probes would be placed at critical traffic junctions with internet service providers and telephone companies, allowing eavesdroppers to instantly monitor the communications of every person in the country without the need for a warrant.
Even if you believe GCHQ’s denial that it has any plans to create a huge monitoring system, the current law under the RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) allows hundreds of government agencies access to the records of every internet provider in the country.
If the plans go ahead, every internet user will be given a unique ID code and all their data will be stored in one place. Government agencies such as the police and security services will have access to the data should they request it with respect to criminal or terrorist investigations.
This is clearly the next step in an incremental program to implement an already exposed full scale big brother spy system designed to completely obliterate privacy, a fundamental right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is also clear that the Anglo-American establishment is in lock step when it comes to monitoring and restricting freedom of communications.
A similar plan is fully in the works in the US, in the guise of The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act, which passed votes in both the House and the Senate in 2011.
The legislation, currently still up for debate, will force Internet providers to store information on all their customers and share it with the federal government and law enforcement agencies.
Described by privacy experts as a “stalking horse for a massive expansion of federal power”, the bill was significantly beefed at the last minute before passing a House Judiciary committee vote to include the enforced retention of customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers, as well as IP addresses.
For The Full Story Go To Info Wars
March 21st, 2011
Electronic Frontier Foundation
The U.S. government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers including AT&T, has engaged in a massive program of illegal dragnet surveillance of domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001.
News reports in December 2005 first revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications. Those news reports, plus a USA Today story in May 2006 and the statements of several members of Congress, revealed that the NSA is also receiving wholesale copies of their telephone and other communications records. All of these surveillance activities are in violation of the privacy safeguards established by Congress and the U.S. Constitution.
The evidence also shows that the government did not act alone. EFF has obtained whistleblower evidence [PDF] from former AT&T technician Mark Klein showing that AT&T is cooperating with the illegal surveillance. The undisputed documents show that AT&T installed a fiberoptic splitter at its facility at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco that makes copies of all emails, web browsing, and other Internet traffic to and from AT&T customers, and provides those copies to the NSA. This copying includes both domestic and international Internet activities of AT&T customers. As one expert observed, “this isn’t a wiretap, it’s a country-tap.”
EFF is fighting these illegal activities on multiple fronts. In Hepting v. AT&T, EFF filed the first case against a telecom for violating its customers’ privacy. In addition, EFF is representing victims of the illegal surveillance program in Jewel v. NSA, a lawsuit filed in September 2008 against the government seeking to stop the warrantless wiretapping and hold the government officials behind the program accountable.
EFF is not alone in this fight. There are multiple cases challenging various parts of the illegal surveillance against both the telecoms and the government. This page collects information on EFF’s cases as well as cases brought by individuals, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and of Illinois, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and others.
March 3rd, 2011
AOL Small Business
By: Rieva Lesonsky
Does it often seem like you spend your whole day working, but get nothing done? Well, you’re not imagining it. A new survey confirms it — you really are accomplishing nothing. (That uncomfortable office chair doesn’t help matters, either.) Here’s a closer look at some of the latest small-business surveys.
Busy Doing Nothing
Employees at small and midsize businesses spend 50 percent of their day on “necessary, yet unproductive” tasks like filing, communications and dealing with correspondence, according to a survey by Webtorials for business communications company Fonality.
The study of “knowledge workers” — the largest staff component for most SMBs (or the business owners themselves) — found that 36 percent spend their time trying to contact customers, partners or colleagues, find information or schedule a meeting. They spend 14 percent of their time duplicating information (forwarding e-mails or calling to confirm if a communication was received) and managing unwanted communications such as spam e-mails or unsolicited phone calls.
I can so relate to this survey. There are too many days I feel like 99 percent of my time is spent on this stuff, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone.
Are your employees grumpy? Maybe they just need better chairs. One-third of U.S. workers say they would be more pleasant to work with if they had better ergonomic furniture, according to a survey from Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples.
Eighty-six percent of workers say they suffer discomfort from their current furniture and equipment, which is no surprise, since a whopping 77 percent of companies don’t consider ergonomics when purchasing furniture. But small changes can make big differences: With more comfortable furniture, nearly half of workers say they’d be more productive, and 35 percent say they’d be less stressed.
Sounds like buying your staff new chairs would be a small price to pay for increased productivity.
Maybe They Have Better Chairs?
Despite having a critical view of the economy (rating it 47 on a scale of 1 to 100), U.S. CFOs are showing signs of optimism when it comes to their own companies. Almost half of corporate CFOs (47 percent) say their companies plan to hire in 2011, up from 28 percent last year, according to the CFO Outlook survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Forty-four percent plan to hire permanent employees, while 13 percent plan to add contract workers. Some say they plan to hire both. With trends in the past few years favoring contract workers, I’m a bit surprised by the strong showing for permanent employees — but I’m happy to see it. More people working floats all businesses’ boats.
July 15, 2010
By: John F. Harris
The imminent passage of financial reform, just a couple months after the passage of comprehensive health care, should decisively end the narrative that President Obama represents a Jimmy Carter-style case of naïve hope crushed by the inability to master Washington.
Yet the mystery remains: Having moved swiftly toward achieving the very policy objectives he promised voters as a candidate, Obama is still widely perceived as flirting with a failed presidency.
Eric Alterman, in a column that drew wide notice, wrote in The Nation that most liberals think the president is a “big disappointment.” House Democrats are in near-insurrection after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated the obvious — that the party has a chance of losing the House under Obama’s watch. And independent voters have turned decisively against the man they helped elect 21 months ago — a trend unlikely to be reversed before November.
This is an odd reversal of expectations. When he came into office, the assumption even among some Democrats was that he was a dazzling politician and communicator who might prove too unseasoned at governance to win substantive achievements.
The reality is the opposite. You can argue over whether Obama’s achievements are good or bad on the merits. But especially after Thursday’s vote you can’t argue that Obama is not getting things done. To the contrary, he has, as promised, covered the uninsured, tightened regulations, started to wind down the war in Iraq and shifted focus and resources to Afghanistan, injected more competition into the education system and edged closer to a big energy bill.
The problem is that he and his West Wing turn out to be not especially good at politics, or communications — in other words, largely ineffective at the very things on which their campaign reputation was built. And the promises he made in two years of campaigning turn out to be much less appealing as actual policies.
“I tell you, it’s very frustrating that it’s not breaking through, when you look at these things and their scale,” said a top Obama adviser, who spoke on background to offer a candid take on the state of play. “Can you imagine if Bill Clinton had achieved even one of these? Part of it is because we are divided, even on the left…And part of it is the culture of immediate gratification.”
But there are many other reasons for Obama’s woes. Based on interviews with officials in the administration and on Capitol Hill, and with Democratic operatives around town, here are a half-dozen reasons why Obama is perceived as failing to win over the public, even though by most conventional measures he is clearly succeeding:
The flight of independents
Obama sees himself as a different kind of Democrat, one who transcends ideology but is basically a centrist. By some measures, his self-image fits. His war and anti-terrorism policies are remarkably similar to those advocated by the man he blames for most the country’s problems: George W. Bush. He’s butting heads with the teachers unions by enticing states to quit rewarding teachers on tenure instead of merit. On immigration, he stresses border security instead of amnesty for illegal immigrants.
But on the issues voters care most about — the economy, jobs and spending — Obama has shown himself to be a big-government liberal. This reality is killing him with independent-minded voters — a trend that started one year ago and has gotten much worse of late. On the eve of his inaugural address, nearly six in 10 independents approved of his job performance. By late July of 2009 — right around the time Obama was talking up health care and pressuring Democrats to vote on cap-and-trade legislation — independents started to take flight.
Many never returned. For the first time in his presidency, Obama’s approval among independents dropped below 40 percent in the past two weeks, according to the widely respected Gallup surveys.
A recent poll by Democrat Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps found that 57 percent of likely voters regard Obama as “too liberal.”
“The key thing here is the economy and the unemployment rate hangs over everything,” another top White House official told us. “Until that gets better, for most people, they will be frustrated.”
The ideology conundrum
Even as Obama pays the price for liberal positions, he doesn’t manage to reap what should be the rewards. That’s because he has never adequately reckoned with the divisions in his own party and taken a clear stand of his own. During the campaign, he avoided the whole question of whether he is centrist “new Democrat” or a “traditional liberal” by insisting the debate was irrelevant, and uniting the party around Bush hatred and the power of his own biography.
But on a score of questions — how long to pursue war in Afghanistan, how much to emphasize deficit reduction versus stimulus, whether to court the business community or condemn it — the Democrats’ internal debate is relevant. By failing to clarify and speak often about his larger philosophy, in the way that Bill Clinton often did, and instead responding tactically to circumstances on Capitol Hill or in any day’s news cycle, Obama pays a price.
What is Obamaism? Conservatives think he stands for backdoor socialism. Liberals think he is a sell-out. Independents think he is a president with no clear compass who is breaking the bank with excessive spending.
Every move Obama makes, whether he is accommodating the center or the left, is interpreted through the prism of process and derided as reactive and expedient.
The tactical improvisation leaves even many Obama supporters saying they “don’t know what he really stands for” — as though there could somehow be a mystery as to where he stands after nearly a trillion dollars in stimulus spending and two landmark pieces of legislation passed within 18 months.
The likability factor
Many Democrats on the Hill don’t much like Obama, or at least his circle of advisers. They think the White House makes them take tough votes, but doesn’t care that much about the problems those votes leave politicians facing in tough races in 2010. Numerous Democrats have complained privately that Obama only cares about Obama — a view reinforced by Gibbs’s public admission that Democrats could lose the House.
It was no coincidence that Majority Leader Harry Reid this week criticized Obama for not being tough enough in some legislative showdowns — and that Democrats leaked word that Nancy Pelosi ripped into a top White House official about the Gibbs comments.
In what would surprise media critics outside Washington, many reporters don’t much like Obama or his gang either. They accurately perceive the contempt with which they are held by his White House, an attitude that undoubtedly flows from the top. Insults and blustery non-responses, f-bombs flying, are common in how West Wing aides speak to reporters.
In a transactional city like Washington, personal relations usually only matter at the margins. But in a poor political climate those margins can be important, and there’s no mistaking that across the capital there are many people who seem to be enjoying the president’s travails, and cheering whenever he takes a cream pie to the face.
As individuals, most of the people who work in this West Wing are plainly decent and hard-working folks, who say the modern media echo chamber leaves them no choice but to be aggressive.
But collectively Obama has recruited a team with an uncommonly brash personality.
His West Wing is unsteady
A lot of attention was paid to how Obama surrounded himself with powerful and skilled personalities in his Cabinet: Hillary Clinton at State and Robert Gates at the Pentagon sit atop that list.
But Democrats privately complain that the real power center — the West Wing staff — isn’t nearly as impressive. A common gripe on the Hill and on the lobbying corridor is that the communications team isn’t great at communicating, the speech-writing team isn’t great at speech writing (exemplified by Obama’s flaccid Oval Office speech last month on the BP spill and energy policy) and the political team often botches the politics.
The criticism is probably unfair on several fronts. It would be impossible for the best of communicators to offer clarity and convincing words when the country is locked in two wars, wrestling with a once-in-a-lifetime oil spill and mired in high unemployment. But the White House didn’t help its cause by wrongly predicting a record-sized stimulus plan would hold unemployment below 8 percent and then waffling on its commitment to deficit reduction while signing into law massive expansions of the federal government. As for the big speeches, Obama is often the main author.
The political team is rightly knocked for hamhandedness. The White House failed to clear the Senate primary field in Arkansas, Colorado and Pennsylvania — even after dangling government jobs to help its preferred candidate in two of them. And it couldn’t land the candidate it wanted to run for Obama’s old seat. But, then again, it is operating in a political environment in which the establishment has very little control in many of the biggest races.
Obama is swimming up Niagara until joblessness improves. But, even while Obama doesn’t directly control the economy, he has not been a disciplined or effective communicator about the state of the economy and his prescriptions for it. People will tolerate a weak economy if they feel there is an upward trajectory. But Obama has not managed to instill that confidence. “The economy is off the charts on what people care about — nothing is a close second,” one of the advisers said.
The unemployment rate is expected to remain near 9.5 percent through the election, which is a big reason that some White House officials are even more pessimistic than Gibbs about the chances of keeping control of the House.
It doesn’t matter that Republicans such as Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) say Obama’s policies helped avert a worse economic calamity than most Americans will ever realize — or that the federal government is turning a profit on some of the investments it made in bailing out companies in 2009. No politician can escape the gravitational pull of bad employment numbers and economic figures in real-time.
The liberal echo chamber
Polls show most self-described liberals still strongly support Obama. But an elite group of commentators on the left — many of whom are unhappy with him and are rewarded with more attention by being critical of a fellow Democrat — has a disproportionate influence on perceptions.
The liberal blogosphere grew in response to Bush. But it is still a movement marked by immaturity and impetuousness — unaccustomed to its own side holding power and the responsibilities and choices that come with that.
So many liberals seem shocked and dismayed that Obama is governing as a self-protective politician first and a liberal second, even though that is also how he campaigned. The liberal blogs cheer the fact that Stan McChrystal’s scalp has been replaced with David Petraeus’s, even though both men are equally hawkish on Afghanistan, but barely clapped for the passage of health care. They treat the firing of a blogger from the Washington Post as an event of historic significance, while largely averting their gaze from the fact that major losses for Democrats in the fall elections would virtually kill hopes for progressive legislation over the next couple years.
In private conversations, White House officials are contemptuous of what they see as liberal lamentations unhinged from historical context or contemporary political realities.
The BP cam
Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) beat his chest to force BP to make public the footage of gushing oil from an underwater camera. Democrats celebrated that as a victory for public accountability. But it was actually a painful defeat for Obama. The camera produced an indelible image played 24-7 on cable that highlighted how ineffectual Obama was for two months in stopping this catastrophe.
Obama is not responsible for the leak, and realistically there was little he could do to expedite the repair. But for an irritable public the Gulf coast debacle was a reminder — horribly timed from Obama’s perspective — that big business and big government are often a problem, not a solution.
January 7, 2010
By Barbara Hollingsworth
As much as $9.5 million in federal stimulus dollars went to 14 zip codes in Virginia that don’t exist or are in other states, Old Dominion Watchdog (http://virginia.watchdog.org) reports. The fake zip codes were listed on Recovery.gov, the federal Web site that is supposed to track how the stimulus money is being used.
The phony zip codes are a new wrinkle in Recovery.gov’s increasingly tattered credibility. In November, Ed Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said a rash of phantom congressional districts found on the website were the result of confusion by fund recipients, who apparently didn’t know who their congressman was.
But who would give millions of dollars to somebody who doesn’t even know their own zip code?
December 21, 2009
The Wall Street Journal
By Siobahn Gorman, Yochi J. Dreazen, and August Cole
Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.
Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.
U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.
The drone intercepts mark the emergence of a shadow cyber war within the U.S.-led conflicts overseas. They also point to a potentially serious vulnerability in Washington’s growing network of unmanned drones, which have become the American weapon of choice in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Obama administration has come to rely heavily on the unmanned drones because they allow the U.S. to safely monitor and stalk insurgent targets in areas where sending American troops would be either politically untenable or too risky.
The stolen video feeds also indicate that U.S. adversaries continue to find simple ways of counteracting sophisticated American military technologies.
U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds. In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.
In the summer 2009 incident, the military found “days and days and hours and hours of proof” that the feeds were being intercepted and shared with multiple extremist groups, the person said. “It is part of their kit now.”
A senior defense official said that James Clapper, the Pentagon’s intelligence chief, assessed the Iraq intercepts at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and concluded they represented a shortcoming to the security of the drone network.
“There did appear to be a vulnerability,” the defense official said. “There’s been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it, but there’s an issue that we can take care of and we’re doing so.”
Senior military and intelligence officials said the U.S. was working to encrypt all of its drone video feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but said it wasn’t yet clear if the problem had been completely resolved.
Some of the most detailed evidence of intercepted feeds has been discovered in Iraq, but adversaries have also intercepted drone video feeds in Afghanistan, according to people briefed on the matter. These intercept techniques could be employed in other locations where the U.S. is using pilotless planes, such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, they said.
The Pentagon is deploying record numbers of drones to Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration’s troop surge there. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversees the Air Force’s unmanned aviation program, said some of the drones would employ a sophisticated new camera system called “Gorgon Stare,” which allows a single aerial vehicle to transmit back at least 10 separate video feeds simultaneously.
December 15, 2009
By Amy Coopes
Australia said Tuesday it would push ahead with a mandatory China-style plan to filter the Internet, despite widespread criticism that it will strangle free speech and is doomed to fail.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said new laws would be introduced to ban access to “refused classification” (RC) sites featuring criminal content such as child sex abuse, bestiality, rape and detailed drug use.
Blacklisted sites would be determined by an independent classification body via a “public complaint” process, said Conroy, admitting there was “no silver bullet solution to cyber-safety”.
Internet user groups, the pornography industry and others have strongly opposed the plan, saying any such measure would be impractical to enforce, block access to some legitimate websites and slow down Internet speeds.
But Conroy said a seven-month trial had concluded that blocking could be done with 100 percent accuracy and negligible impact to connection speeds.
Internet service providers (ISPs) would be offered grants to offer additional filters of, for example, X-rated content and gambling sites, but Conroy said that would not be compulsory.
“Through a combination of additional resources for education and awareness, mandatory Internet filtering of RC-rated content, and optional ISP-level filtering, we have a package that balances safety for families and the benefits of the digital revolution,” he said.
While Australia is not alone in moving to censor online content, experts question the proposed filter’s scope and ethical ramifications.
It is potentially the first among Western democracies to mandate internet filtering through formal legislation.
Online rights group Electronic Frontiers Australia said there were grave censorship questions about what would be blocked, and who would decide.
“What we’re talking about is a filter that can only intercept accidental access to prohibited material,” said spokesman Colin Jacobs.
“Any motivated user will be able to get around it, it will be quite easy, so who is this being targeted at?”
The Greens party said it was deeply concerned about the open-ended nature of the filter, dubbing it the “thin end of the wedge” for censorship.
The centre-left Labor party does not hold a majority in the upper house and will need the Greens vote to pass the laws, which will be introduced to parliament in August 2010.
In July Beijing abruptly postponed a plan to install Internet filtering software on all computers sold in China after a storm of protest.
But the communist government maintains broad Internet censorship under a system of controls dubbed the “Great Firewall of China”.