Big Brother In Mother Russia: Putin's New Anti-Terror Bill Wants ALL The Data

Oh, Vlad.  Just when the rest of the world is getting really good at pretending we want to value human rights and raise awareness, you have to go and sign into law an anti-"terrorism" bill so rights-infringey, even some of the pro-Kremlin crowd thinks it goes too far…

Big Comrade is watching you...
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The new Russian law, which reported Edward Snowden openly decrying as the “Big Brother Law”, gives a pervasive proliferation of powers to the Putin reign.  The legislation, as summarized by the BBC, includes the following edicts:

"1) telecoms companies must keep copies of customers’ phone calls and text messages for six months;
2) phone and text records (but not the messages themselves) must be kept for three years;
3) online services (such as social networks) must keep message records for one year;
4) online services that encrypt data must help security services decrypt any message sent by users, or face a fine;
5) failing to report knowledge of a crime will become a criminal offence – punishable by up to a year in prison;
6) inciting or expressing approval of terrorism online will be regarded as publishing such comments in mass media – punishable by up to seven years in prison; and
7) children aged over 14 can be held criminally liable for 10 new charges such as taking part in terrorism."

If that doesn’t sound ominous enough, the law also demands criminal liability for keeping silent regarding knowledge of any crime that someone “has been planning, is perpetrating, or has perpetrated.”

Careful, Vlad, your KGB roots are showing.
Oh're proud of that.
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And don’t think the persecution stops at freedom of phones and online data.  New restrictions have been proposed against missionary work, relegating such good deeds to be carried out exclusively at approved locations, and only by officially-sanctioned organizations.

The law is different from the Western model, if not in spirit then in letter, regarding how the data is collected.  Advocates of the bill argue that the blanket collection of data would make it less targeted than American law, which requires warrants to specifically seek out data for prosecution (although come on, we all know they’re hanging on to all of it anyway.)

After passing the law, Putin emailed this image
to the White House, bearing the caption,
"Suck it, Obama.  My surveillance state's bigger than yours."
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Also, this.
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Russian companies, particularly those requiring updated data storage, have already opposed the bill due to its economic (if not humane) stressors, and many have written to Russia’s upper house of Parliamentdeclaring the laws “technically and economically unfeasible.”  The Russian VPN service Private Internet Access claims it will leave the market due to the new laws, as the new storage necessities alone could bankrupt even a major provider. 

But hey, Putin’s approval rating is still apparently somewhere around 80%...and if you think it should be otherwise, best not to talk about it on the phone…or internet…or around anyone who uses those things…

"No, seriously, please speak out against the state...
...these guys are getting the munchies."
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Federal Appeals Court Rules NSA Wiretapping Illegal; NSA Turns Up The Volume, Puts Hands Over Ears, Says "La La La"

Of course, all privacy-prone American citizens have known this for some time:  the NSA's phone-call compendium is unnecessary, unaffiliated with capturing ANY terrorists EVER, and is overall downright creepy.  Thankfully, today, a federal appeals court ruled it illegal.

They listen to everything, but this is the only thing they need to hear.
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According to Reuters, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said that even the much-maligned Patriot Act was no excuse for the NSA to go snooping around our phone conversations (and texts, and picture messages.)

Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch, whom all Americans should buy a beer for, confirmed the ruling in a 97-page decision that the Nude Snapshots Agency's skullduggery is illegal.  Judge Lynch stated, "Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans. We would expect such a momentous decision to be preceded by substantial debate, and expressed in unmistakable language. There is no evidence of such a debate."

Pleads ignorance to massive malfeasance.
Leaves the wiretap tape rolling.
Leader of the "home of the brave"?!
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However, the appeals court did not rule on whether the actions were unconstitutional, nor did they call for a halt to the program (which is due to expire, along with the rest of the Patriot Act, on June 1st.)  Lynch explained that this would give Congress a chance to formally and officially decide what types of surveillance are acceptable (and, you know, LETTING US KNOW ABOUT IT THIS TIME.)  If Congress reauthorizes the objectionable Section 215 of the Patriot Act (the supposedly surveillance-enabling bit), further litigation could lead to the Supreme Court.

Other federal appeals courts in Washington D.C. and California are examining the case, which had previously been ruled lawful in December 2013 by district Judge William Pauley in Manhattan.  The NSA is currently getting away with their wiretapping weirdness thanks to secret approvals from a "national security court" established in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Apparently we're really good at all of this by now, and have been for some time.
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The case was brought to court by the American Civil Liberties Union.  One of their lawyers, Alex Abdo, was passionate about Thursday's verdict.

"Mass surveillance does not make us any safer, and it is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy necessary in a free society," he correctly noted.

Somewhere in Russia, Edward Snowden should be cracking a bottle of vodka and celebrating just a little,
or a lot, or at least enough to forget that he's still in fucking Russia
because America's government brutally proved that they cannot handle the truth.
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Bugs, Drugs, and Thugs: DEA Phone Tap Protocol From 1992 Onward Paved Way For Current NSA Programs

Many compelling arguments have been offered as evidence to stop the NSA and other agencies from spying on American (and others') phone calls.  Constitutional rights infringement, invasion of privacy, and simply wasting time and manpower are all noteworthy points that the programs should be stopped.  However, nothing justifies the removal of this century's scaled-up security state better than history itself:  powers-that-be have been monitoring calls for decades, and it didn't stop terrorists one bit...

It didn't really stop drug dealers that much, either.
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According to, it has recently come to light that a phone surveillance program operated by the DEA was in effect since at least 1992 (a.k.a. nearly a decade before 9/11.)  The oft-trotted argument that such spying would thwart terrorists is now patently incorrect.  Government claims that no pre-9/11 phone calls from American citizens were retained and assessed for data is not just misinformation, it is an outright lie.

The DEA's program, which culled the calls of "millions" according to Brad Heath of USA Today, forged the architecture for the NSA's later onslaught.  While the DEA's program claimed to only monitor the phone numbers and associated emails for links to trade in various drug-producing nations, the secrecy of the program strongly hints that more thorough examinations of the material were taking place.  At times, they were even more invasive than the current NSA program.

Numerous attempts to repel them failed.
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According to Heath's report, "The DEA used its data collection extensively and in ways that the NSA is now prohibited from doing. Agents gathered the records without court approval, searched them more often in a day than the spy agency does in a year and automatically linked the numbers the agency gathered to large electronic collections of investigative reports, domestic call records accumulated by its agents and intelligence data from overseas. The result was "a treasure trove of very important information on trafficking," former DEA administrator Thomas Constantine said in an interview."

Heath's report also mentions that the DEA's phone program, which commenced in 1992 at the behest of then-president George H.W. Bush, was smoothly approved but not closely tended to.  According to Heath, "It was approved by top Justice Department officials in four presidential administrations and detailed in occasional briefings to members of Congress but otherwise had little independent oversight, according to officials involved with running it."

Maybe a few stuck to the law...maybe not.
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When phone companies argued that the data being mined was too extensive, there were rebuttals for that as well.  In 1998, the DEA told Sprint that, "the initiative has been determined to be legally appropriate" and that their appropriation of call data was, "appropriate and required by law." The data  was claimed officially "to focus scarce investigative resources by means of sophisticated pattern and link analysis."

Since DEA subpoenas do not require a judge's approval, numerous instances of pulling in call data were used to "tip" agents onto the trail of suspected dealers. "We knew we were stretching the definition," a former official involved said.

However, at least the DEA used their information to target people, not just hold it like the Phone of Damocles over citizens' heads.  As a vote to maintain Section 215 of the Patriot Act draws near, we would do well to use these findings to make citizens understand a critical point: even when we DID use targeted information on suspected criminals, it didn't stop terrorism.  So how is blanket mass-surveillance expected to do any better?

This isn't helping or protecting anyone.
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The Big Daddy Of Big Data: U.S. Appoints First-Ever "Chief Data Scientist"

Due to the vast influx of intelligence from many forms of modern media, treasuring our data technology is now a job that requires a major position in the United States government.  Meet America's chief cyber crusader, D.J. Patil...

Patil's official title is the extravagant "Chief Data Scientist and Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy." That's a lot of data. According to, however, Patil has been well prepared to upload the job thanks to stints at LinkedIn, eBay, PayPal, Skype, and Greylock Partners (a venture capital firm.) He also worked with the Department of Defense in anticipating threats via social media analysis. Yes, America, this man is handling a fistful of your stats.

"Wow, around Valentine's Day you stalked a LOT of exes on Facebook."
-D.J. Patil
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Patil's official position puts him in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, with US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith as his boss. His major current plan is to work on applying information gleaned from many of the "big data" sources, particularly focusing on the healthcare system.

Smith downplayed the insidious nature of a now-official cog in the machine who tends to the rivers of possibly ill-gotten "big data" that flow through the minds of our supposedly "innovative" government. She stated today on the White House's blog that, "Across our great nation, we’ve begun to see an acceleration of the power of data to deliver value. From early open data work by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which provides data that enables weather forecasts to come directly to our mobile phones, to powering GPS systems that feed geospatial data to countless apps and services — government data has supported a transformation in the way we live today for the better."

We'll see about that. Of course, they'll see first, because they have a Chief Data Scientist.

Knowledge is facts, wisdom is application, and big data is all the hard evidence.
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Patil's experience is not a singular one: other techies of his Silicon Valley ilk are also currently helping revamp the federal government's IT and intelligence collection/analysis methods. It seems we can only hope that they actually have the nation's best interests and security in mind, unlike other agencies who seem to mostly enjoy trolling for your nudies (HI NSA!  DID YOU LIKE THE VALENTINE?)

Some more data from Big Data.  And there's lots more where that came from.
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The government's significant investments in "big data" matrices need oversight, and Patil is watching it all. He will also be advising on tech policy and practices, so this could be the man to blame if your electronic privacy continues to be violated (spoiler alert: they're not stopping, they're just making it look better.)

SOMEONE had to handle this insane amount of intel.
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And make no mistake, this is not just a job to Patil...he loves what he does, and wants you to love him for it too. In 2012, Patil declared “data scientist” as the sexiest job of the 21st century in a co-authored Harvard Review article.  His life's mantra?  "If you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it.”  Well, now he can measure everything.  But how are we going to know what's getting whom...and why?  Maybe the American public need some other, more impartial data scientists of our own...perhaps a system of techs and balances?

This is D.J. Patil.  No need for any more introductions, he already knows everything about you.
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We See What You Did There: Edward Snowden Given Human Rights Award By Sweden

While the United States remains steadfast in putting Edward Snowden in the "whistleblower spy" archive of history, other nations consider his efforts a laudable fight against the subtle tyranny of the surveillance state.  This week in Sweden, Snowden was awarded the Right Livelihood award, a humanitarian recognition of his work to free Americans (and others) from the zoo of Big Brother's surveillance amusement.

And we, in good conscience, shouldn't let them.
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According to the Guardian UK, Snowden was not physically able to attend the ceremony, as he considered it a threat to his safety (he is wanted on charges under the Espionage Act in the United States, whose notorious record of "renditions" would have rightly worried Snowden.)  However, he spoke with the committee via teleconference from Moscow, where he is currently living in exile.  In a show of solidarity for Mr. Snowden's deplorably alienated circumstances, none of his family members would accept the award in his absence, noting only that someday Snowden himself should be able to do so.

Informed and angry.  He's not wrong.
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The award jury noted that Snowden was being commended “for his courage and skill in revealing the unprecedented extent of state surveillance violating basic democratic processes and constitutional rights."

No one cares you have nothing to hide.  Something can be used against you.
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President Barack Obama, who did not comment on Snowden's award, had previously campaigned with a strong intent to protect American whistleblowers.

They spelled Obama's name wrong, but everything else about this is sadly correct.
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Grounding Big Brother: Amnesty International Releases Anti-Government-Spyware Detection Software

Are you a closet revolutionary who is constantly aware of the deterioration of society and informs themself on ways it can be fixed?  Are you a casual bystander who once googled a song by a band that prided themselves on questioning authority?  Are you just paranoid as hell that the Man is out to get you?  Now, you can stop governmental cyber-peeping for sure, thanks to new technology released by Amnesty International.

As reported by the BBC, it is no secret that governments use "sophisticated spying tools that could grab images from webcams or listen via microphones to monitor people." Amnesty International knows how wrong that is, and has released the Detekt software to combat Big Brother's unsavory advances. Detekt scans your computer for government-grade spyware that might be missed (or intentionally looked over) by other more mainstream virus or malware detectors.

They're not this overt, but they are this unpleasant.
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Created through a collaboration between Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy International and Digitale Gesellschaft, the free software is designed to operate on Windows (the platform which most spied-on people are apparently using.) Its availability should be helpful in putting a damper on the $5 billion international government spyware market.

That's your tax money, getting spent to indiscriminately spy.  Kill the idea that this could ever be acceptable.
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"People think the uses of spyware by governments are isolated cases. They are not," said Claudio Guarnieri, the German creator of Detekt. "Their discovery is isolated...Spyware is becoming the final solution for surveillance operations to overcome encryption.

"The real problem is nobody really asked the public whether that's acceptable and some countries are legitimizing their use without considering the consequences and inherent issues."

One of those inherent issues being that average civilians shouldn't be covertly spied on by their government.  Better fire up the Detekt, we probably just got put on a list.

There is nothing noble about blindly swinging a cyber bat at peoples' computers, hoping a pinata of prosecutable info will explode.  Even if it did, that candy is probably supposed to be helping the people.
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ACLU and Human Rights Watch To NSA: Stop Spying On Journalists, Sources

Two human rights groups have come forward to voice their worries over hyper-invasive government monitoring derailing the efforts of many assiduous journalists.  As reported by the Washington Post, the ever-encroaching surveillance network that spies on emails, phone calls, and other digital data is making journalists' jobs harder and those willing to tell their stories more paranoid.

Both Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union came forward today to support a report decrying both the NSA's broad scope of operations as well as Obama's policy of locking up whistleblowers.  This combination, they say, is infringing on confidentiality not just between reporters and their subjects but even up to lawyers and their criminal defendants.  Both activist groups called for greater transparency regarding the methods of collecting, storing, and analyzing citizens' data.

ABC reporter Brian Ross, one of the 46 journalists, 42 lawyers, and assorted security professionals who presented the anti-surveillance report, mentioned that he now begins phone conversations with the phrase, "I'm a U.S. citizen, are you?"  This is due to laws (though many are currently up for debate) restricting the unfettered surveillance of Americans.  However the government maintains all of their watchdoggery is for "national security", and their constant worries about letting classified information leak have grown undeniably overbearing.  Hopefully thanks to this report, those that monitor our calls will soon be getting called out.

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No Cash For Spy Stash: The NSA Loses Government Funds For Domestic Peeping; Foreign Spyware

Will a lack of "backdoor funding" deter the NSA in any way from spying on citizens at home and abroad? Soon the world will have a chance to find out.

As reported by, on June 19th the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2015 that will prevent the NSA from using government funds to stock information obtained while stalking both Americans and foreign citizens not expressly under warrant.

An open letter from several civil liberties groups to the House Of Representatives regarding the vote stated, "...These measures would make appreciable changes that would advance government surveillance reform and help rebuild lost trust among internet users and businesses, while also preserving national security and intelligence authorities."

This is an important breakthrough, with many foreign citizens recently extra-suspicious of the NSA thanks to discoveries of wireless routers sold in Europe being tainted by American spyware (subsequent hacks and defenses have already been issued to quell this problem.) But will removing Uncle Sam's wallet from Big Brother's pocket really slow down the spying?

Now they'll have to raise funds just as shady as they are.

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Government To Local Police: Shhh About The Surveillance

It's no longer a secret that the US government routinely, deliberately and invasively spies on their citizens with no regard as to privacy or pertinence of information. Now, it is emerging that they are actively trying to cover their tracks on a local level, as even average officers are using surveillance gear with extreme impunity.

The federal government has been oddly intervening at local public records and criminal trials that deal with information gained in a possibly over-invasive manner, which as Top Tech News reports, "resulted in police departments withholding materials or heavily censoring documents in rare instances when they disclose anything about the purchase and use of such powerful surveillance equipment."

One popular piece of such technology, the Stingray, reroutes the target's call and metadata to the police's receiver instead of a cell phone tower, bringing up serious questions of infractions on the Constitutional rights of those who are being listened to. Various affadavits and documents point to the federal government overtly refusing to answer questions about such technology's locations, design and operations prove that they are trying to cover up a plot that is legally-questionable and lucrative (both informationally for the feds and financially for Harris Corp....the Stingray accounted for nearly one-third of it's parent company's $5 billion in revenue.)

Unsurprisingly, the government and local departments' excuse for their secrecy is "security."

Dissonantly, President Obama claims he is welcoming debates on surveillance and transparency. Dial any number at all to talk to him regarding your feelings...if there's a Stingray nearby, the government will be happy hear you out. 


Surprise, Surprise: Vodafone Reveals Secret Government Wiretaps

From The Telegraph:
Government agencies are able to listen to phone conversations live and even track the location of citizens without warrants using secret cables connected directly to network equipment, admits Vodafone today.
The company said that secret wires have been connected to its network and those belonging to competitors, giving government agencies the ability to tap in to phone and broadband traffic. In many countries this is mandatory for all telecoms companies, it said.
Vodafone is today publishing its first Law Enforcement Disclosure Report which will describe exactly how the governments it deals with are eavesdropping on citizens. It is calling for an end to the use of “direct access” eavesdropping and transparency on the number of warrants issued giving access to private data.
Of course, anyone who has been paying attention knows that this is not really news, since it has been known for years that governments have been secretly tapping the telephony  backbone.  What is new in the present instance is that the company itself has revealed the illegal wiretaps rather than continue to engage in a conspiracy against its own users aided and abetted by criminal governments.  If this is news to you, you might consider looking into AT&T Room 641A.

White House and Congress Seek to Provide Further Immunity to Telecoms for Participation in Unconstitutional Wiretapping Programs

According to recent reports, the Democrats and Republicans in the White House and Congress are, once again, crafting legislation to provide immunity to telecommunications corporations that conspire with government agencies to undermine the Constitutional rights of US citizens.  If this story sounds familiar, that's because it is. The White House and Congress did the same thing back in 2008 to protect companies that were facilitating the government's illegal and unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping programs. Now the degenerates in the Democratic and Republican parties are seeking to do the same for companies that conspire with the NSA to undermine the security of all our persons, houses, papers and effects.  From The Guardian:
The White House has asked legislators crafting competing reforms of the National Security Agency to provide legal immunity for telecommunications firms that provide the government with customer data, the Guardian has learned.

In a statement of principles privately delivered to lawmakers some weeks ago to guide surveillance reforms, the White House said it wanted legislation protecting “any person who complies in good faith with an order to produce records” from legal liability for complying with court orders for phone records to the government once the NSA no longer collects the data in bulk.

Florida: Big Business and Big Government Collude to Further Undermine the Constitution of the United States

The government of the United States honors its illegal commitments to corporations over its supposed commitment to upholding the Constitution of the United States.  If this doesn't make your blood boil, you are probably a fascist.  From Ars Technica:
A police department in Florida failed to tell judges about its use of a cell phone tracking tool "because the department got the device on loan and promised the manufacturer to keep it all under wraps," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a blog post today.
The device was likely a "Stingray," which is made by the Florida-based Harris Corporation. Stingrays impersonate cell phone towers in order to compel phones to "reveal their precise locations and information about all of the calls and text messages they send and receive," the ACLU noted. "When in use, stingrays sweep up information about innocent people and criminal suspects alike."

The tracking technology was used by the Tallahassee Police Department in September 2008 to locate a man accused of rape and the theft of a purse, which contained the alleged victim's cell phone. The man, James L. Thomas, was convicted of sexual battery and theft, but he filed an appeal "contending that evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and article I, section 12 of the Florida Constitution, was introduced against him at trial," according to a court ruling in November 2013 that reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial.

Police "did not want to obtain a search warrant because they did not want to reveal information about the technology they used to track the cell phone signal," the District Court of Appeal ruling said. "The prosecutor told the court that a law enforcement officer 'would tell you that there is a nondisclosure agreement that they’ve agreed with the company.'"
All government employees who participated in these despicable acts should be tried for treason.  

Tech Firms Publish Redacted Info on Government Spying

From Ars Technica:
Today, several companies including Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Microsoft are revealing the first information about the amount of user data they're handing over to FISA requests. The disclosures are very broad data that just gives a range of how many users had information requested on them. But it's a small victory for the group of companies, which pushed to be allowed to publish more about the data collection when they petitioned the intelligence court back in August.

Is the GMail Model Legally a Wiretapping Scheme?

According to at least one court, it may well be.  From Wired:
A federal judge today found that Google may have breached federal and California wiretapping laws for machine-scanning Gmail messages as part of its business model to create user profiles and provide targeted advertising.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh was rendered in a proposed class-action alleging Google wiretaps Gmail as part of its business model. Google sought to have the federal case in California dismissed under a section of the Wiretap Act that authorizes email providers to intercept messages if the interception facilitated the message’s delivery or was incidental to the functioning of the service in general.

Technologically Illiterate Court Claims Use of Open Wifi Is Wiretapping

While government agencies illegally and routinely spy on our everyday communications without repercussion, a court has ruled that sniffing open wifi signals may be considered wiretapping.  From Tech Dirt:
A couple years ago, we were disappointed to see a judge take the technologically wrong stance that data transmitted over WiFi is not a "radio communication," thereby making sniffing of unencrypted WiFi signals potentially a form of wiretapping. Indeed, based on that, the court eventually ruled that Google's infamous WiFi sniffing could be a violation of wiretap laws. This is wrong on so many levels... and tragically, an appeals court has now upheld the lower court's ruling.

There are serious problems with this. Under no reasonable view is WiFi not a radio communication first of all. That's exactly what it is. Second, sniffing unencrypted packets on an open network is a perfectly normal thing to do. The data is unencrypted and it's done on a network that is decidedly open. It's like saying it's "wiretapping" for turning on your radio and having it catch the signals your neighbor is broadcasting. That's not wiretapping. Third, even the court here admits that based on this ruling, parts of the law don't make any sense, because it renders those parts superfluous. Generally speaking, when a court ruling would render a part of a law completely superfluous, it means that the court misinterpreted the law . . . 

Three Degrees of Separation from the NSA

If everyone is only six degrees of separation away from Kevin Bacon, according to the rules of the old game, how many degrees of separation do you think you are from a terrorist?  Officials at the NSA have admitted to a Congressional panel that they claim the prerogative to spy on everyone within three degrees of communicative separation from an individual they believe (with 51% certainty) may have a connection to some kind of terrorist activity.  That's a lot of people.  From the Guardian:
The National Security Agency revealed to an angry congressional panel on Wednesday that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.

John C Inglis, the deputy director of the surveillance agency, told a member of the House judiciary committee that NSA analysts can perform "a second or third hop query" through its collections of telephone data and internet records in order to find connections to terrorist organizations.

"Hops" refers to a technical term indicating connections between people. A three-hop query means that the NSA can look at data not only from a suspected terrorist, but from everyone that suspect communicated with, and then from everyone those people communicated with, and then from everyone all of those people communicated with.
Inglis did not elaborate, nor did the members of the House panel – many of whom expressed concern and even anger at the NSA – explore the legal and privacy implications of the breadth of "three-hop" analysis.

Lawsuit Against Mass Electronic Surveillance to Proceed

From the EFF:
A federal judge today rejected the U.S. government's latest attempt to dismiss the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) long-running challenge to the government's illegal dragnet surveillance programs. Today's ruling means the allegations at the heart of the Jewel case move forward under the supervision of a public federal court.

"The court rightly found that the traditional legal system can determine the legality of the mass, dragnet surveillance of innocent Americans and rejected the government's invocation of the state secrets privilege to have the case dismissed," said Cindy Cohn, EFF's Legal Director. "Over the last month, we came face-to-face with new details of mass, untargeted collection of phone and Internet records, substantially confirmed by the Director of National Intelligence. Today's decision sets the stage for finally getting a ruling that can stop the dragnet surveillance and restore Americans' constitutional rights."

The NSA's Vast Spying Regime Does Not Pass Constitutional Muster

It often appears that the only time Democrats and Republicans can agree on anything, it tends to result in the launching of new wars, or building more prisons, or further eroding constitutional rights and civil liberties.  This could not be more clear in the bipartisan defense of the unconstitutional surveillance and spying regime that has been constructed in the United States over the last decade(s).  An op-ed in the New York Times calls it what it is: criminal.  Excerpt:
The Fourth Amendment obliges the government to demonstrate probable cause before conducting invasive surveillance. There is simply no precedent under the Constitution for the government’s seizing such vast amounts of revealing data on innocent Americans’ communications. 

The government has made a mockery of that protection by relying on select Supreme Court cases, decided before the era of the public Internet and cellphones, to argue that citizens have no expectation of privacy in either phone metadata or in e-mails or other private electronic messages that it stores with third parties . . . 

We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.

Documents Reveal Widespread Email Surveillance by US Government for Past Decade

A few years ago, actually, even just a few weeks ago, anyone who suggested that email correspondence and internet traffic were being monitored by the government would have been labeled a nut or conspiracy theorist.  But they would have been right.  From The Guardian:
The Obama administration for more than two years permitted the National Security Agency to continue collecting vast amounts of records detailing the email and internet usage of Americans, according to secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

The documents indicate that under the program, launched in 2001, a federal judge sitting on the secret surveillance panel called the Fisa court would approve a bulk collection order for internet metadata "every 90 days". A senior administration official confirmed the program, stating that it ended in 2011.

The collection of these records began under the Bush administration's wide-ranging warrantless surveillance program, collectively known by the NSA codename Stellar Wind.

Texas Becomes First State to Require a Warrant for Email Searches

If you naively believed your email is protected from unreasonable and unwarranted search and seizure by the government, you could perhaps be forgiven, since most people likely consider their email to be the kind of "papers and effects" that would be explicitly covered by Fourth Amendment protections.  But nothing is further from the truth.  Rather, law enforcement agencies are more likely to consider a person's email to be akin to a public, and publicly accessible record or document.  This is, in fact, the basis for many spying and snooping programs.  Texas has now become the first state to pass a law requiring a warrant for email searches.  Of course, citizens in Texas are still not safe from the Federal Government, which still considers everyone's email fair game.  The new Texas law should, of course, be unnecessary, since email and all other electronic documentation should be automatically considered part of an individual's "papers and effects", but we live under the rule of the Democratic and Republican parties, where one cannot take anything for granted, even the constitution.  From Ars Technica:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed a bill giving Texans more privacy over their inboxes than anywhere else in the United States.  On Friday, Perry signed HB 2268, effective immediately. The law shields residents of the Lone Star State from snooping by state and local law enforcement without a warrant. The bill's e-mail amendment was written by Jonathan Stickland, a 29-year-old Republican who represents an area between Dallas and Ft. Worth.
Under the much-maligned 1986-era Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), federal law enforcement agencies are only required to get a warrant to access recent e-mails before they are opened by the recipient.  As we've noted many times before, there are no such provisions in federal law once the e-mail has been opened or if it has sat in an inbox, unopened, for 180 days. In March 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) acknowledged in a Congressional hearing that this distinction no longer makes sense and the DOJ would support revisions to ECPA.

NSA Admits to Widespread Warrantless Wiretapping

From CNET:
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls.  Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed this week that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."  If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.

U.S. Government Surveillance Programs Are a Threat to the Privacy of Individuals Worldwide

In case you didn't realize it already. From Politico:
The journalist who broke the news that the government is monitoring vast quantities of American phone records is claiming the U.S. is building a “massive” snooping apparatus committed to destroying privacy worldwide.

“There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world,” charged Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for the British newspaper “The Guardian,” speaking on CNN. “That is not hyperbole. That is their objective.”

Federal Government's War on the Fourth Amendment as Bad as Expected

The U.S. Federal Government under the dictatorship of the Democratic and Republican parties, and in partnership with their corporate allies, represent a grave and direct threat against the people and Constitution of the United States.  From the Washington Post:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post. . . .

NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

Federal Government Caught in Massive Spying Operation

The war on the Fourth Amendment continues.  From The Guardian:
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.  The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries. . . .

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.


Federal Government Continues Push to Disembowel the Fourth Amendment

The Department of Justice, the FBI and federal judges are continuing their push to disembowel the Fourth Amendment, submitting the United States Constitution to death by a thousand cuts.  In secret hearings, federal officials are arguing to federal judges that the Constitution simply does not apply to them, and these judges agree.  Of course, the legislature does not object, since the Democratic and Republican parties are strong proponents of the national security police state and surveillance society, and the bulk of the public simply don't care.  From CNET:
CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco rejected Google's request to modify or throw out 19 so-called National Security Letters, a warrantless electronic data-gathering technique used by the FBI that does not need a judge's approval. Her ruling came after a pair of top FBI officials, including an assistant director, submitted classified affidavits.

The litigation taking place behind closed doors in Illston's courtroom -- a closed-to-the-public hearing was held on May 10 -- could set new ground rules curbing the FBI's warrantless access to information that Internet and other companies hold on behalf of their users. The FBI issued 192,499 of the demands from 2003 to 2006, and 97 percent of NSLs include a mandatory gag order.

Texas Set to Enact New Bill Protecting Email from Government Snooping

From Ars Technica:
Assuming that Texas Governor Rick Perry does not veto it, the Lone Star State appears set to enact the nation’s strongest e-mail privacy bill. The proposed legislation requires state law enforcement agencies to get a warrant for all e-mails regardless of the age of the e-mail.

On Tuesday, the Texas bill (HB 2268) was sent to Gov. Perry’s desk, and he has until June 16, 2013 to sign it or veto it. If he does neither, it will pass automatically and take effect on September 1, 2013. The bill would give Texans more privacy over their inbox to shield against state-level snooping, but the bill would not protect against federal investigations. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature earlier this year without a single "nay" vote.
Despite the Texas law, all Americans remain vulnerable to email snooping attacks from the federal government. 

The FBI Is a Threat to Your Security

There are probably not many people who would argue that everyone should be less safe, but that is effectively what the FBI wants with its demands for new internet spying capabilities.  From the Washington Post:
The FBI is pushing for expanded power to eavesdrop on private Internet communications. The law enforcement agency wants to force online service providers to build wiretapping capabilities into their products. But a group of prominent computer security experts argues that mandating “back doors” in online communications products is likely to compromise the security of Americans’ computers and could even pose a threat to national security.

The fundamental problem is that eavesdropping facilities are a double-edged sword. They make it easier for the U.S. government to spy on the bad guys. But they also make it easier for the bad guys to hack our computers and spy on us. And, the researchers say, the Internet’s decentralized architecture makes it particularly hard to build effective and secure wiretapping capabilities online.

Why is it still legal for the government to access and read your email without a warrant?

It is quite likely that many if not most people are under the false impression that their email is private and secure.  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  In many ways, an email is akin to a postcard.  While it is in transit from the sender to the addressee, it can be read by anyone who sees it or otherwise intercepts it along the way.  Numerous government agencies, including law enforcement and even the IRS, claim that they do not need a warrant if they want to comb through your emails.  Some lawmakers are slowly beginning to recognize that this represents a threat to the Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure.  From Techdirt:
Today, in a markup for reform of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in the Senate, the Senate Judiciary Committee very quickly (like 10 minutes after it started) approved an amendment offered by Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee, which would amend the law to make it so that law enforcement needs to get a warrant if it's accessing your email.
However, the Orwellians among us need not fear.  The Justice Department is already working to help internet service providers to evade illegal wiretapping laws.  From The Verge:
 Internal government documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center have revealed that the US Department of Justice is secretly helping AT&T and other service providers evade wiretapping laws so that the US government can conduct surveillance on parts of their networks. The legal immunity comes from authorizations granted by the Justice Department through special "2511" letters that absolve carriers in the event that the surveillance is found to run afoul of federal law. . . .

It won't be the first time that AT&T cooperated so directly with law enforcement. It was given retroactive immunity for its role in NSA surveillance programs under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. That law was passed two years after AT&T technician Mark Klein revealed evidence that the telecom had cooperated with the NSA, installing routing equipment inside a secret room at a network hub in San Francisco.

CISPA: Your Data Will Be Shared Without a Warrant

Major technology and Web companies — not limited to Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft — will not be allowed to promise to protect users' privacy should CISPA pass Congress. For those out of the loop, CISPA will allow private sector firms to search personal and sensitive user data of ordinary U.S. residents to identify this so-called "threat information", and to then share that information with each other and the US government — without the need for a court-ordered warrant. . . . those who signed up to services under the explicit terms that data would not be shared — with perhaps the exception of the U.S. government if a valid court order or subpoena is served — would no longer have such rights going forward.

Government Believes It Can Read Your Emails and Text Messages Without a Warrant

Among the greatest dangers to the rights and liberties of the people of the United States is the sustained assault on the Fourth Amendment being waged by agencies and individuals at all levels of the government.  For example, the IRS claims it can read your email without a warrant, because you have no expectation of privacy.  From CNET:
The Internal Revenue Service doesn't believe it needs a search warrant to read your e-mail.  Newly disclosed documents prepared by IRS lawyers say that Americans enjoy "generally no privacy" in their e-mail, Facebook chats, Twitter direct messages, and similar online communications -- meaning that they can be perused without obtaining a search warrant signed by a judge. 
Police take the very same liberties with your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.  From the EFF:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) urged the Washington State Supreme Court Monday to recognize that text messages are "the 21st Century phone call" and require that law enforcement officers obtain a warrant before reading texts on someone's phone. . . . In this case, police seized a cell phone during a drug investigation and monitored incoming messages. Officers responded to several texts, setting up meetings that resulted in two arrests, without first getting a warrant. Prosecutors have argued that no warrant was required because there should be no expectation of privacy in text messages, as anyone can pick up someone else's phone and read what's stored there. 
If you do not see a problem with a government that believes it has the right to monitor all of your electronic communications, perhaps you should re-read the constitution and brush up on the history of totalitarianism. 

Anti-Spying Bill Introducded into House

It is highly probable that most Americans believe that information they send and receive from their own private cells phones an email accounts is private, and protected against government snoops and illegal searches and seizures by the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment.  They are mistaken.  There is a distinct group of Americans who believe the exact opposite: law enforcement and the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties in the US Congress.  From CNET:
The FBI and other police agencies would be required to obtain search warrants before reading Americans' e-mail or tracking their mobile devices under a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today.

It's not a new proposal: Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat whose district includes the heart of Silicon Valley, announced almost exactly the same measure last fall. But because the clock ran out without Congress acting, she's trying a second time.

"Fourth Amendment protections don't stop at the Internet," Lofgren said in a statement today. "Americans expect Constitutional protections to extend to their online communications and location data."

Last year's version had zero co-sponsors, making it more of a symbolic measure than something designed to move quickly through a GOP-dominated House. This time, Lofgren's bill (PDF) has two other sponsors, including a Republican, Ted Poe of Texas.


Texans Lead the Charge Against Government Moblie Spying

From Ars Technica:
Privacy experts say that a pair of new mobile privacy bills recently introduced in Texas are among the “most sweeping” ever seen. And they say the proposed legislation offers better protection than a related privacy bill introduced this week in Congress.

If passed, the new bills would establish a well-defined, probable-cause-driven warrant requirement for all location information. That's not just data from GPS, but potentially pen register, tap and trace, and tower location data as well. Such data would be disclosed to law enforcement "if there is probable cause to believe the records disclosing location information will provide evidence in a criminal investigation."

Further, the bills would require an annual transparency report from mobile carriers to the public and to the state government.  Under current federal case law and statute, law enforcement generally has broad warrantless powers to not only track suspects in real-time based on their phone data, but also to access records of where and when calls were made or text messages were sent or received—and all of this is provided by the carriers.
Under the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, and the US Supreme Court have demonstrated themselves to be dangerous threats to Constitutional rights and liberties in the United States.  It is long past time for the people and the states to push back.

Who Will Protect the People from State-Sponsored Hackers?

In his State of the Union Address last night, President Obama emphasized the importance of protecting the country's computer networks from hackers "who steal people's identities and infiltrate private email."  But who will protect the people from US government agencies which are reading their emails, conducting illegal searches of their papers and effects, and engaging in warrantless wiretapping?  From the President's State of the Union Address:
America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.  


Canadian Public Deafeats US Style Warrantless Wiretapping Bill

While many among the US public appear to be glad that the federal government is illegally wiretapping their electronic communications, the same cannot be said of the Canadians.  From the CBC:
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says the controversial Bill C-30, known as the online surveillance or warrantless wiretapping bill, won't go ahead due to opposition from the public.

The bill, which was known as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, was designed to help police combat child pornography. But civil liberties and privacy groups — even the federal privacy commissioner — said the bill violated the rights of Canadians.

Opponents lobbied strenuously against C-30, saying it was an overly broad, "Big Brother" piece of legislation that would strip all Canadians of the right to privacy.
The bill would have required internet service providers to maintain systems to allow police to intercept and track online communications without a warrant.

Illegal Surveillance on the Basis of Secret Laws Should be Repugnant to a Free People

President John F. Kennedy famously stated, "The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings."  Unfortunately, today, this is no longer the case among our elected representatives in the legislative and executive branches of government, who wield secrecy like a weapon in their ongoing war against the constitutional rights and liberties of the people.  From the EFF:
As 2012 came to a close, Congress reauthorized the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) for another 5 years. Yes, the same FAA under which the government co unconstitutional surveillance; the same FAA for which the government refuses to estimate the number of Americans who have been spied on; and yes, the same FAA that has been interpreted in substantial ways within secret court opinions. . . . 

Senators have repeatedly complained that provisions of FISA have been secretly interpreted in ways that differ markedly from the language of the statute. These interpretations, according to the Senators, are contained in opinions issued by the FISC.
But perplexingly, both the executive branch and other members of the Senate have taken the position that, despite the secrecy of the FISC opinions, those opinions do not constitute “the law” or “secret law.” . . .  
But this much is clear: when a court issues an opinion containing a significant interpretation of a public statute, that court’s opinion is the law. When the court’s opinion is withheld from the public, that opinion is a “secret,” even if the statute the opinion interprets is already publicly available. Because a court’s opinion constitutes the “law,” refusing to disclose those opinions to the public results in “secret law.”
The basis for the government’s secrecy claim is irrelevant: the law is still “secret” whether the opinion is classified, protected by the attorney-client privilege, or kept secret for any other of the host of legal privileges available to the government.
The only relevant issue is whether the law is publicly disclosed. And EFF joins with Senators Merkley, Wyden, Udall, Paul, and the other 33 Senators that voted to support this simple principle: when the government interprets federal surveillance law in a way that fundamentally affects citizens rights, that interpretation must be disclosed.

The FBI Demands Back Door Internet Surveillance

The Republican-Democrat war on the fourth amendment continues apace.  From CNET:
The FBI is renewing its request for new Internet surveillance laws, saying technological advances hinder surveillance and warning that companies should be required to build in back doors for police. 
"We must ensure that our ability to obtain communications pursuant to court order is not eroded," FBI director Robert Mueller told a U.S. Senate committee this week. Currently, he said, many communications providers "are not required to build or maintain intercept capabilities." 
Mueller's prepared remarks reignite a long-simmering debate pitting the values of privacy, limited government, and freedom to innovate against law enforcement requests that often find a receptive audience on Capitol Hill. Two days ago, for instance, senators delayed voting on a privacy bill that would require search warrants for e-mail after sheriffs and district attorneys objected.  
In May, CNET disclosed that the FBI is asking Internet companies not to oppose a proposed law that would require firms, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, to build in back doors for government surveillance. The bureau's draft proposal would require that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.

New Law Prepares Way for Massive Surveillance Program in Europe and Around the World

From Slate:
Europeans, take note: The U.S. government has granted itself authority to secretly snoop on you.
That’s according to a new report produced for the European Parliament, which has warned that a U.S. spy law renewed late last year authorizes “purely political surveillance on foreigners' data” if it is stored using U.S. cloud services like those provided by Google, Microsoft and Facebook. 
Europeans were previously alarmed by the fact that the PATRIOT Act could be used to obtain data on citizens outside the United States. But this time the focus is a different law—the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Amendments Act—which poses a “much graver risk to EU data sovereignty than other laws hitherto considered by EU policy-makers,” according to the recently published report, Fighting Cyber Crime and Protecting Privacy in the Cloud, produced by the Centre for the Study of Conflicts, Liberty and Security. 
The FISA Amendments Act was introduced in 2008, retroactively legalizing a controversial “warrantless wiretapping” program initiated following 9/11 by the Bush administration. Late last month, it was renewed through 2017. During that process, there was heated debate over how it may violate Americans’ privacy. But citizens in foreign jurisdictions have even greater cause for concern, says the report’s co-author, Caspar Bowden, who was formerly chief privacy adviser to Microsoft Europe. 
According to Bowden, the 2008 FISA amendment created a power of “mass surveillance” specifically targeted at the data of non-U.S. persons located outside America, which applies to cloud computing . . .

Secret Laws, Secret Courts and Illegal Wiretapping

From Techdirt:
The folks over at the CATO Institute have put together a short five minute video onthe rush by the federal government to renew the FISA Amendments Act, with no changes, which effectively has sanctioned warrantless wiretapping on millions of Americans. Even though the plain language of the bill suggests it only should be used on foreigners, it's become clear that thanks to weasel language in the bill, and a "secret" interpretation by a secret court, the definition of "targeting" foreigners has been interpreted to mean any communication that might possibly somehow shed light on some sort of illegal activity that might possibly maybe involve foreigners sometimes in some manner. As such, it seems likely that the NSA, in particular, has used this bill and its secret interpretation to sweep up huge databases of information about Americans, even as most people (including many in Congress) believe the bill only is used to spy on foreigners.

Senate Still Wants Warrantless Wiretapping

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The Senate is about to vote on an extension of the controversial FISA Amendments Act—the unconstitutional law that allows the NSA to warrantless spy on Americans speaking to people abroad. Yet you wouldn't know it by watching CSPAN because the Senate isn't debating it.
When Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act in 2008, despite deep privacy concerns by Americans across the political spectrum, they included an expiration date of December 31, 2012 to ensure that the law would get a thorough review. Yet Senate leaders have so far refused to schedule any time on the Senate floor for debate or consideration of vital privacy-protecting amendments. Worse, they won't even tell the American public when they're going to vote on it. It's possible they may vote on this bill—with no privacy protective changes—without any debate at all, and we won't know until it is happening. 
Contact your Senators today to tell them how important this is.
The FISA Amendments Act continues to be controversial; key portions of it were challenged in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court this term. In brief, the law allows the government to get secret FISA court orders—orders that do not require probable cause like regular warrants—for any emails or phone calls going to and from overseas. 
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