Privacy Hub

NSA Legally Harvesting Facebook And Gmail Data From Offshore Data Centers

Obama NSA
It's a secret to nobody that the NSA invades the privacy of Americans daily, but what's astounding is how much they harvest and how few restrictions are placed on them. The Washington Post released an article on how the NSA takes advantage of offshore data centers to harvest from companies like Facebook and Google, who use those offshore centers to help distribute their traffic and data loads, and how these actions haven't been authorized by Congress...and don't need to be. 

The agency avoids the restrictions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intercepting contact lists from access points “all over the world,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the classified program. “None of those are on U.S. territory.”

Because of the method employed, the agency is not legally required or technically able to restrict its intake to contact lists belonging to specified foreign intelligence targets, he said.

Should anyone be concerned that all of this questionably-obtained data would be misused, never fear: there are accountability measures in place.

A senior U.S. intelligence official said the privacy of Americans is protected, despite mass collection, because “we have checks and balances built into our tools.”

NSA analysts, he said, may not search within the contacts database or distribute information from it unless they can “make the case that something in there is a valid foreign intelligence target in and of itself.”

The Patriot Act provides a lot of the authority for the NSA to engage in these privacy invasions with little oversight or accountability. For their part, Google and Facebook did not opt in to this data collection.

“We have neither knowledge of nor participation in this mass collection of web-mail addresses or chat lists by the government,” said Google spokeswoman Niki Fenwick.

Facebook spokeswoman Jodi Seth said that “we did not know and did not assist” in the NSA’s interception of contact lists.

The NSA is reaping some small measure of karmic retribution, however.

Spam has proven to be a significant problem for the NSA — clogging databases with information that holds no foreign intelligence value. The majority of all e-mails, one NSA document says, “are SPAM from ‘fake’ addresses and never ‘delivered’ to targets.”

The NSA, Data Privacy, and Gay Rights


130606-NSA-headquarters-tight-730aYou don't have to be a libertarian to get angry at the jaw-dropping revelations that the American intelligence apparatus has been mining data from various U.S. Internet companies. Many of us are aware that private and public entities know quite a bit about us; data mining, after all, is how the Google banner, Amazon book recommendations, and Facebook sidebar ads work. But few -- outside those of us who study digital privacy -- realized the scope of the NSA's reach. 

The government's intelligence gathering program -- called PRISM -- is ostensibly trying to achieve the worthy goal of preventing terror attacks. But the Kafka-esque bureaucracy it's creating could turn dangerous in the wrong hands. We've seen it before, during red scares that targeted Jews, blacks, gays, intellectuals, and other liberals; so let's not fall into the abyss of complacency by passing off the NSA's behavior as just something that makes us feel safer.

These kinds of privacy invasions have a less direct relationship to the gay community than raids of gay bars or anti-gay employment discrimination or bans on the freedom to marry. But even if it is true that the government only targeted foreigners abroad and did not discriminate on whose data it was gathering, the sweeping nature of NSA data gathering and this troubling example of the lag between our technology and our privacy protections should especially worry traditionally victimized groups.

Privacy law and the gay community have a long history. The explicit elucidation of a constitutional right to sexual privacy in the 1960s helped give us important precedents like the right to access contraception, the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, and the right to engage in private, consensual sex with someone of the same sex without being thrown in jail. Yet, over the years, our privacy has been invaded to stop the dissemination of gay-related political or cultural speech through the mail, to force us to disclose our memberships in community organizations that advanced gay rights, and to fire us from our jobs when our personal sexual orientation becomes known. 

Privacy is essential for the full realization of gay rights. Why? It's not because we need to hide who we are or hide our sexual conduct.

Let's discuss AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "The NSA, Data Privacy, and Gay Rights" »

What Does Your Phone Company Have On You? - VIDEO


What does your phone company have on you? Malte Spitz wanted to find out and received 35,830 lines of code -- "a detailed, nearly minute-by-minute account of half a year of his life."

Watch his TED Talk on self-determination in the digital age, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "What Does Your Phone Company Have On You? - VIDEO" »

NEWS: Google Spies, Cheney Betrays, Preacher Molests, Spielberg Loses: VIDEO

EvilTowleroad-roadicon In a week, Google will begin to store records of all your Googlings. Here's how to clear your Google records before it happens.

Towleroad-roadicon The Family Research Council is angry with Dick Cheney for supporting marriage equality. Apparently his duty should be to them, not his daughter:

In 2000, Dick Cheney might have considered Philadelphia’s most famous son, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin’s own son was the royal Governor of New Jersey. It was a patronage job Ben had secured for him. When his son remained loyal to the Crown, Benjamin Franklin did not refuse to sign the Declaration of Independence citing a “personal situation.” That’s one of the many reasons why we remember Ben Franklin with admiration and respect.

Dick Cheney is said to be worth hundreds of millions. His family may not suffer the devastation that comes from the breakdown of marriage. But in his recent book, Coming Apart, Charles Murray shows how the loss of marriage for the white working class in America has already had catastrophic consequences. If we seek the reason behind the great disparities in wealth that the Occupy crowd is howling about, we need look no further than the collapse of marriage. In this great cultural clash, Dick Cheney has enlisted with the forces of dissolution.

Towleroad-roadicon Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire calls Obama the "inspiration" for Washington marriage equality:

"I think we probably have succeeded as much as we have because of his leadership. He's used the bully pulpit," Gregoire said at the White House Friday. "He's been the inspiration that allowed the state of Washington recognize that we need to have equality."

"It's because of what he's been able to do that I actually think in large part we were able to achieve what we did. So I don't criticize. To the contrary, I thank the president for his leadership on GLBT issues," she told reporters after a meeting between Obama and Democratic governors.

Towleroad-roadicon Once again, Rick Santorum's old utterances make news:

In remarks last year at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen in Warner, N.H., Santorum had told the crowd of J.F.K.’s famous 1960 address [on the separation of church and state] to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, “Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. You should read the speech.”

TellerTowleroad-roadicon Fez of The Ron and Fez Show comes out.

Towleroad-roadicon Lucy Lawless arrested in oil ship protest.

Towleroad-roadicon Six simple animations explain the basics of critical thought.

Towleroad-roadicon Teller: What magicians and neuroscientists do and do npt have in common.

Towleroad-roadicon A preacher plead guilty to "lewd conduct" and "lewd molestation," and is no longer allowed to interact with minors. So the church where he preaches did the honorable thing: It banned kids.

Towleroad-roadicon Identified: The remains of the last unaccounted-for service member in Iraq. He was a translator:

The remains of Staff Sgt. Ahmed al-Taie, who was 41 when militiamen seized him on Oct. 23, 2006, were positively identified at the military's mortuary in Dover, Del., the Army said in a statement released Sunday. Army officials said they had no further details about the circumstances surrounding his death or the discovery of his remains.

Towleroad-roadicon (Reading this makes me remember a bone-chilling feature by George Packer about the difficulties faced by Iraqi translators during the war. Definitely one of last decade's best pieces of journalism. It was called "Betrayed." If you haven't read it, find it here.)

Towleroad-roadicon ... and if that depresses you, watch this full-screen, in HD if possible. Music, stars, and time. Beautiful.

Towleroad-roadicon It's Oscar night. Your favorite films probably aren't nominated. The Academy is often crazy. AFTER THE JUMP, watch Steven Spielberg learn he's been snubbed for Jaws. 

Continue reading "NEWS: Google Spies, Cheney Betrays, Preacher Molests, Spielberg Loses: VIDEO" »

Judgment Against Creditor For $1.25 Million In HIV Privacy Case

Indiana-Health-Insurance-Emblem An Indiana man has been awarded $1.25 million in a case regarding the disclosure of his HIV status by Internal Medicine Associates. When IMA sued the man for a $326 past-due bill, the details of his case became a matter of public record—as did the fact that he is living with HIV.

In the course of the case, IMA sought to find out how many sexual partners the man's had in order to discredit his claim that they've revealed his status to more people than he has. The Bilerico Project has all the details of what would seem to be a precedent-setting judgment.

TowleTech V. 36

Baiji TowleTech V.32A rare white dolphin called a Baiji which lives in the waters of China has been declared extinct this week after scientists spent six weeks searching the waters with zero sightings. A similar search in 1997 turned up 13 sightings, showing that the dolphin was on the verge of extinction. According to the website of the conservation group involved with the search, the Baiji's death marks a more than disturbing turn of events: "Regarded in China as the 'goddess of the Yangtze', the 20 million year old river dolphin was one of the world's oldest species. The Baiji is the first large mammal brought to extinction as a result of human destruction to their natural habitat and resources."

Images_11 TowleTech V.32Brian Lam put himself and the popular tech blog for which he writes on the line with a surprising claim: that he not only has seen an iPhone, but that it will be announced on Monday. The full text of the post reads: "Gizmodo Knows: iPhone Will Be Announced On Monday. I guarantee it. It isn't what I expected at all. And I've already said too much." Will Apple announce a cell phone Monday or was Gizmodo just trying to get a few extra votes in the Weblog Awards? I suppose one thing is for sure: only Gizmodo knows. Meanwhile Business 2.0 has an insightful article on why the iPhone might not ever happen.

Flare TowleTech V.32Sunspot 930 is at it again! The flamboyant spot sent up a massive solar flare earlier this week that caused a sizable geomagnetic storm here on the blue planet, according to an advisory issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The storm can cause damage to power grids or communication systems, but can also lead to stunning auroras.

TowleTech V.32VoIP provider Skype done gave the world free unlimited calling earlier this year, but it was only ever meant to be temporary and now this year is about over. Still, the flat rate of $29.95 for a year of phone service is a pretty fair deal, and signing up before January cuts that in half for the first year.

WiimoteTowleTech V.32After reports of damage caused by flying Wii controllers, Nintendo recalled the strap on the wireless remote, offering to replace it with a sturdier version. As notes, the company also took the chance to remind users of a little common safety sense when playing. "Hold the Wii Remote firmly and do not let go. For example, in Wii Sports bowling, the proper way to let go of the ball while bowling is to release the "B" button on the Wii Remote—DO NOT LET GO OF THE Wii REMOTE ITSELF."

TowleTech V.32Cingular is testing out a new cell phone in the Big Apple that includes a handy little feature: your credit card. Forget camera or MP3 player -- these new phones have an embedded MasterCard PayPass, which uses RFID that lets you pay by waving the phone in front of a sensor. PayPass sensors are built into registers at McDonalds and AMC theaters and even some Coca-Cola vending machines.

TowleTech V.32One of the reasons that Google is a billion-something dollar a year company is the fact that they sell their internet search technology to businesses for use on their private "intranets." Meanwhile the Goog has made plenty of enemies giving away high-quality products that its competitors were previously charging for, but now Yahoo has stepped up to give them a taste of their own medicine. Yahoo teamed up with IBM to offer a free business-level search tool for private intranets, which can index and search up to 500k documents.

Hanukka TowleTech V.32XM Radio launched a new seasonal station that offers an alternative to the barrage of Christmas music that takes over at this time of year. For 8 days starting tonight, Radio Hanukkah will play Hanukkah-themed songs with interludes by Jewish celebrities. "This could be refreshing. Who knows? Maybe non-Jews will start loving these songs too," said one fan.

TowleTech V.32UCLA alerted 800,000 students, faculty, and alumni to a data breach this week after it was discovered that "a sophisticated computer hacker" illegally accessed a database of personal information that included social security numbers and birthdates.

Rowan TowleTech V.32Photographer and freelance tech writer Jason Rowan posts an efficient write up of the new Nokia N93, a cell phone that includes a 3.2 megapixel digital camera. Said Rowan: "After you get over the techno-lust and nervous fumbling the N93 inspires I started to find the old Ready Steady Pendergrass touch coming back to me."

TowleTech V.32Two major Anti-Virus software makers issued dire warnings about the state of malicious internet attacks and scams in 2007. While email has been the most common avenue to personal data, mobile devices, IM, and social  networking sites all offer new ways to steal identities and scam users, according to Trend Micro and McAffee spokespersons. If my theory that the majority of these evil online deeds are a conspiracy by the companies that sell people protection against them, then surely they're the ones who would know.

Daniel Williford is our TowleTech correspondent.
You can visit him at his blog, Until Today...


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