Washington Post: US Agencies Collect Online Data Secretly

A secret program run by the FBI and the National Security Agency called PRISM hadn’t been disclosed until recently, news reports claim.

According to the Washington Post, the agencies are “tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”

This piece of information comes on the heels of reports concerning government agencies collecting phone records from millions of Verizon users.

The Post reported that in spite of the secrecy surrounding PRISM, participating companies have been engaging in the operation knowingly. A spokesperson for Facebook, however, told reporters from CNBC that the company does not provide the government with any direct access to its servers. Despite the company’s claim, the Post reported that Facebook is one of the companies that participates in PRISM.

Other companies include Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, PalTalk, AOL, YouTube, Skype, and even Apple.

When asked about PRISM, Apple responded it wasn’t aware of the program. According to the company, any government agency that requests customer data must first present a court order. Apple said that providing the government or any other agency with data or access to the company’s servers is not their practice.

There is No Defense for Blatantly Tossing Aside the Fourth Amendment

Fourth Amendment

The response from the Obama Administration and Senators from both parties to the NSA’s seizing of millions of Verizon customers’ phone records has been typical. They’ve explained that members of Congress had been briefed on the program, that it’s part of a datamining effort that has been going on since 2007, and that there is nothing new under the sun.

In an effort to dismiss concerns, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) noted that the program was legal under provisions of the PATRIOT Act and said that the NSA was “protecting America.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is among the first in Washington to trade away civil liberties for security, said that he is “glad” the NSA is collecting phone records. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) urged people bothered by the program to “calm down.”

NSA Probably has Your Phone Records

NSA Spying

Just last week a friend joked, “Between you, me, and the NSA reading this text message right now.” It’s a joke that has become common in the post-9/11 world, but we got a sobering reminder as to why it’s no longer funny.

The National Security Agency (NSA) obtained a court order in April requiring Verizon to turn over phone records of all calls on its network for no apparent reason at all. Glenn Greenwald broke the story last night at The Guardian (emphasis mine):

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 document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

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.

Susan Rice to Serve as Obama’s National Security Advisor

Susan Rice

Despite her role in administration’s blatantly false narrative after last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice will serve as the next National Secrutiy Advisor to President Barack Obama. And because the post is not a cabinet-level position, Rice will not be subject to confirmation or hearings by the Senate.

The White House acknowledged that Rice would be appointed to the post after Tom Donilon, who has held the role since 2010, announced his resignation this morning. Rice was nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of State late last year, but she was forced to withdraw due to the backlash from Senators over her role in the false Benghazi narrative.

In the aftermath of incident at American outpost in Benghazi that claimed the lives of four Americans, Rice appeared on Sunday talk shows and toed the Obama Administration’s line that it was a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Muslim YouTube that spiraled out-of-control. It was later revealed that Benghazi was, in fact, a pre-planned terrorist attack.

The talking points Rice used on those shows have turned out to be controversial because references to terrorism and al-Qaeda were removed. The Obama Administration almost immediately knew that it was a terrorist attack carried out by an al-Qaeda-connected group, but doctored the talking points to reflect a manufactured narrative nearly two months before an election.

The Senate’s Rushed Debate on NSA Spying Powers

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

As I write, the Senate is gathering in an unusual special session to debate the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, which I discussed in a recent Cato podcast. Unfortunately, as Sen. Ron Wyden pointed out in opening the discussion, this sparsely-attended holiday session is likely to be the only full floor debate on sweeping surveillance legislation that has been in force for four years already (during which we know it has already been used unconstitutionally), and is all but certain to be renewed for another five. That’s especially disturbing given that, when the House debated the law back in September, its strongest supporters revealed themselves to be profoundly confused about what the law does, and just how much warrantless spying on the communications of American citizens it permits, despite being nominally restricted to “foreign targets.”

Rubio: Bush “did a fantasic job” as president

If you listen to Sean Hannity and others in the conservative movement, it’s clear that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is their pick to serve as Mitt Romney’s running mate this fall. They say that he offers a contrast to Romney that will bring a needed balance and excitement to the ticket to help motivate Republicans to go to the polls this fall.

It may be true that Rubio is much more conservative than Romney, but there should be some hesitation on the part of conservatives due to recent comments by Rubio where he said that George W. Bush “did a fantastic job” as president.

I’m not naive enough to believe that Bush isn’t a hero to conservatives for various reasons, let alone that Barack Obama, who frequently blames his predecessor for many of his own failures, makes that easy to do. But from a fiscal perspective, Bush’s presidency was a disaster, and that isn’t limited to the 2008 financial crisis. While some would defend Bush’s big spending as a necessity due to the so-called “war on terror,” Veronique de Rugy noted in her analysis on spending under Bush, domestic spending alone went up by more than 20% in his first term. He expanded Medicare, adding more in unfunded liabilities to the already unsustainable government-run health insurance program.

Conor Friedersdorf also explains some of the problems with the statement made by Rubio in context of, not just fiscal issues, but also foreign policy:

Big Brother wrapped as “Perfect Citizen”

At the same time legislation currently in the Senate would give the president expansive power over the Internet during an emergency, the National Security Agency (NSA) has developed a program, dubbed “Perfect Citizen,” to detect cyber attacks on the United States:

The surveillance by the National Security Agency, the government’s chief eavesdropping agency, would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack, though it wouldn’t persistently monitor the whole system, these people said.

Defense contractor Raytheon Corp. recently won a classified contract for the initial phase of the surveillance effort valued at up to $100 million, said a person familiar with the project.
Some industry and government officials familiar with the program see Perfect Citizen as an intrusion by the NSA into domestic affairs, while others say it is an important program to combat an emerging security threat that only the NSA is equipped to provide.

“The overall purpose of the [program] is our Government…feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security,” said one internal Raytheon email, the text of which was seen by The Wall Street Journal. “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.”

Over at Cato at Liberty, Jim Harper points out that no congressional oversight has been established, nor public hearing to see if such a program is truly warranted:

NSA wiretapping found to be illegal

A federal judge has ruled that the wiretapping of American citizens by the National Security Agency was illegal:

U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker said the plaintiffs provided enough evidence to show “they were subjected to warrantless electronic surveillance” by the National Security Agency.

The judge’s 45-page ruling focused narrowly on the case involving the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, touching vaguely on the larger question of the program’s legality.

Nonetheless, Al-Haramain lawyer Jon Eisenberg said the ruling had larger implications.

“By virtue of finding what the Bush administration did to our clients was illegal, he found that the Terrorist Surveillance Program was unlawful,” Eisenberg said.

This incarnation of the wiretapping program ended in 2008, but parts were reauthorized the same year. The constitutionality of current wiretapping rules, as the article notes, have been upheld.

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