Hackers and Journalists Unite!

At the 10th biennial Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE X) conference, one of the premiere get-togethers of the digital world, it was clear that the nefarious forces the cyberworld is now most concerned with are lodged within our own government.

The 'War' Against Whistleblowers

Under the current presidential administration, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has brought espionage prosecutions against more people for alleged mishandling of classified information than all previous administrations combined, a New York conference was told Friday. “I think this war on whistleblowers, this war on journalists, and this war on hacktivists is really a war for [control of] information,” human rights attorney Jesselyn Redack said at the 10th biennial Hackers on Planet Earth (HOPE X) conference. Redack, a former whistleblower herself, who now represents many of the country's most infamous spillers of government secrets, cited the dogged pursuit by the DOJ of intelligence and military whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, hackers like Barrett Brown, and journalists like James Risen. Such efforts are emblematic of the determined efforts of President Barack Obama's administration to make examples of those who reveal uncomfortable government secrets, she said. So far, she noted, the government has launched eight prosecutions under the 1917 Espionage Act since Obama took office in 2008. Prior to Obama's presidency, there had been just three Espionage Act cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media.

Beware the Plugged-In Cop

Local police agencies are using rapidly emerging surveillance technology to collect, store and share information about “everyday Americans…on a level that has never happened before,” says Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Lynch spoke at the annual convention of the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) in San Francisco this week at a panel sponsored by Criminal Justice Journalists. Lynch, whose San Francisco-based nonprofit serves as a civil liberties watchdog, said the data collection is driven by the availability of cheap electronic gadgetry and a post- 9/11 police focus on terrorism. She said her organization sees the trend across the breadth of American law enforcement agencies, in cities big and small. “I think every police department in America has the potential to delve into it,” Lynch said, noting that the use of such surveillance tools is more likely when there is a “commander who happens to be an electronics buff.”

“House Of Cards” Accused Of Getting Key Surveillance Issue Wrong

In its new season, the political drama “House of Cards” touches on issues of government surveillance and law enforcement access to phone and Internet data. AlJazeera.com reports that privacy experts are criticizing the program for getting a key aspect of law enforcement’s surveillance authority wrong. The script for a D.C. police officer in one early episode reads, “Even if we got the case reopened, which isn’t gonna happen, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a warrant for phone data?” Privacy advocates say a warrant is seldom necessary for federal, state and local law enforcement officials to access phone metadata. The “House of Cards” character in this scene would simply have to ask the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to issue an administrative subpoena.

Size Of Credit Data Breaches Mean “We Can No Longer Do Nothing”–Senator

The sheer size and frequency of credit card data breaches at Target, Neiman Marcus and other companies are prompting study of legislative options to keep sophisticated cyberthefts from happening, NPR reports. “If anything, we’ve learned from this major, major breach that we can no longer do nothing,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “We have to take action.” The bad guys who stole data from as many as 110 million Target customers are so good at what they do that even the most modern security programs couldn’t detect them. If security software can’t keep up, hopes for regulation to stop fraud are slim.

Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Challenge to NSA Phone, Internet Sweeps

The Supreme Court today refused to consider a challenge to the National Security Agency's global sweep of telephone and electronic communications. SCOTUSBlog said it was the first such test case to reach the court since former NSA analyst Edward Snowden began releasing secret papers disclosing details of that surveillance. The Court made no comment as it turned aside an unusual request by an advocacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The plea was filed directly in the high court without prior lower court action. The group sought to direct a judge of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to vacate an order issued in April requiring a branch of the telephone giant Verizon to turn over to the government a vast array of data, including sweeps of U.S. telephone calls and Internet exchanges.

Caution: Your GPS Ankle Bracelet Is Listening

When defense lawyer Fermín L. Arraiza-Navas sat down with a prospective client in San Juan, Puerto Rico last April, he casually asked the man about the Global Positioning System (GPS) ankle bracelet that he was wearing as a condition for his bail. The reply was just as casual. “They speak to me through that thing,” the man said. It wasn’t the first time the lawyer encountered GPS bracelets with apparently extraordinary powers. He told the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Reporting (CPIPR) that a previous defendant’s GPS ankle bracelet started to vibrate during a meeting with him.

The Spy in the Mosque

How far can police go in surveilling ethnic groups that they believe are associated with terrorism? New York City attorney Peter Farrell argued in court yesterday that the global nature of Islamic terrorism requires police to gather as much information as possible, at times as quickly as possible, in ethnic neighborhoods and mosques—even if there's no prior evidence of a crime plot. “Prudence dictates, and common sense frankly, that the department find out if violence would ricochet here,” Farrell said during a federal court in which the New York Police Department's (NYPD) post 9-11 counter-terrorism strategy of spying on Muslims in public places such as mosques and at student association meetings was challenged. The hearing was the latest tiff in a bitter, four-decades-long struggle between the city and civil rights advocates in the case that led to the so-called “Handschu guidelines “— established in 1985 to govern how the NYPD may conduct surveillance and other forms of intelligence-gathering. The case, which started in 1971 as a challenge to surveillance of anti-war activists the year before, has been revisited by civil rights lawyers several times since.

FBI Uses Computer Hacking Techniques In Organized Crime, Porn, Terror Cases

Law-enforcement officials are expanding use of tools used by computer hackers to gather information on suspects, bringing the criminal wiretap into the cyber age, reports the Wall Street Journal. Officials have kept quiet about these capabilities, but court documents and interviews provide new details about hacking tools that include spyware delivered to computers and phones through email or Web links. The use of hacking tools under court orders has grown as agents try to keep up with suspects who use new technology, including some types of online chat and encryption tools. The use of communications that can’t be wiretapped like a phone is called “going dark” among law enforcement. The FBI develops some hacking tools internally and buys others from the private sector.

Can the Fourth Amendment Protect You From NSA Snooping?

Is it really constitutional for the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect “metadata” on Americans' phone usage? You've probably seen talking heads shouting back and forth about it, and wondered whether someone could just please give you a straightforward, accurate, thousand-word primer on the underlying constitutional doctrine. Well, here's your primer. I hope it's helpful, at least as a starter for cocktail party conversations. The Fourth Amendment forbids “unreasonable searches.”