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Google asks secret court to lift gag order on govt surveillance, cites First Amendment rights

Paul Sakuma, File/Associated Press – FILE – In this April 12, 2012 file photo, Google workers ride bikes outside of Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, sharply challenged the federal government’s gag order on its Internet surveillance program, citing what it described as a First Amendment right to divulge how many requests it receives from the government for data about its.

Google on Tuesday sharply challenged the federal government’s gag order on its Internet surveillance program, citing what it described as a First Amendment right to divulge how many requests it receives from the government for data about its customers in the name of national security.

The move came in a legal motion filed in the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and was aimed at mending Google’s reputation after it was identified this month as one of nine U.S. Internet companies that gave the National Security Agency access to data on its customers. Revelations about the program, known as PRISM, by a former NSA contractor has cracked open a broader debate about the privacy of American’s communications from government monitoring.

The publication of such data requests would answer questions about the number of Google users or accounts affected by U.S. intelligence activities. But it wouldn’t answer more critical questions on how much data is being disclosed, including whether information belonging to Americans has been swept up into investigations on a foreign targets.
“Google’s reputation and business has been harmed by the false or misleading reports in the media, and Google’s users are concerned by the allegations,” according to the company’s motion. “Google must respond to such claims with more than generalities.”

Google has previously disclosed the number of data requests it receives from civilian law enforcement. Read More


Governement working on draft to restrict social media in Turkey

A regulation for social media crimes are needed, Güler says. DHA photo

A regulation for social media crimes are needed, Güler says. DHA photo

The Turkish government launched yesterday a study to restrict social media, an attempt that has been inspired by the Gezi protests that have spread across the country.

The Justice Ministry has started working on a draft on crimes over the Internet, ministry sources told the Hürriyet Daily News yesterday. “International implementations regarding the issue are being inspected,” the source said.

Yesterday’s remarks by Interior Minister Muammer Güler also confirmed that social media websites are on the government’s radar, as the protesters who have been shaking the country for nearly 20 days have widely used social media as a tool to organize demonstrations. The police are making efforts on this issue, Güler told a group of journalists in Ankara, noting that some people had been detained in İzmir because of their allegedly provocative tweets during the protests.

Search for senders

“We have a study on those who provoke the public via manipulations with false news and lead them to actions that would threaten the security of life and property by using Twitter, Facebook or other tools of the social media,” Güler said. “Still, we think that the issue needs a separate regulation,” he said.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has already taken a bold stance against Twitter, calling the micro-blogging site a “troublemaker” on June 2.

Citizens cannot be permitted to conduct a “witch hunt” over Twitter, President Abdullah Gül said June 7, according to Turkish Bar Association head Metin Feyzioğlu, who met with the head of state over the Gezi Park protests. “In this process, everyone needs to act responsibly and with restraint. I will not allow a witch hunt over Twitter. I will be following the judicial and executive investigation,” Gül said, according to Feyzioğlu.

Read More

Google reveals number of National Security Letters sent in last 4 years

Google has revealed the number of National Security Letters (NSL) that it has received in the last four years alone. The numbers are a general estimate of NSLs sent to Google by the government. The FBI sends NSLs to various entities, including businesses, internet service providers, credit card companies, and more. They demand that those entities deliver confidential information about their customers such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, purchase history, web history, and more. Anything is fair game as long as it pertains to the FBI’s investigation.

Google received up to 4000 NSLs for over 9000 users accounts

Google has received 0-999 NSLs each year for the past 4 years from the FBI. Google isn’t allowed to release the exact amount legally because the numbers may interfere with the FBI’s investigations, but it is able to provide a range. In 2009, the FBI asked Google to deliver confidential information from over 1000-1999 of its users. In 2010, it was asked to deliver info on 2000-2999 users, and in 2011 and 2012, it was asked to deliver info on 1000-1999 users each year.

National Security Letters can be issued by the FBI even without a court order, which makes them powerful and abusive. The Electronic Frontier Foundation stated, “Of all the dangerous government surveillance powers that were expanded by the USA Patriot Act, the National Security Letter… is one of the most frightening and invasive.” Many people have voiced their concerns over the NSLs and their extensive use.  Read More

Government wants mechanism to prevent social websites’ misuse

The government is working with social networking websites to create an institutional mechanism to prevent their misuse, Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said Wednesday.

He was reacting to the recent online hate campaign targeting people from the northeast.

“We have to make efforts in consultation with the websites and impress upon them to create an institutional mechanism to prevent misuse of technology,” Sibal told reporters outside Parliament House, adding that some websites have agreed to share user information with the government.

According to the minister, if there was misuse of technology there should be provision for punishment, which currently was not available.

“Now we have to decide the steps we have to take under our laws on how we can take it forward so that we can seek help from these websites in the coming days. We can identify those who have misused these website and punish them,” he said.

Social networking website Facebook Tuesday said it is working with the government to remove “hateful content” that is widely being perceived to spark communal tension across the country.

Another firm, Google has also said it has extended support to the Indian government in removing the content that might incite violence.  Read More


Fannie Mae names Timothy Mayopoulos as new CEO

Fannie Mae, based in Washington, says Mayopoulos, 53, will become president and chief executive on June 18. He replaces Michael J. Williams, who announced in January that he would step down after a successor was found.

The government rescued Fannie and smaller sibling Freddie Mac in September 2008 after the two companies absorbed huge losses on risky mortgages that threatened to topple them. Since then, a federal regulator has controlled the two companies’ financial decisions.

So far, Fannie and Freddie have cost taxpayers about $170 billion — the largest bailout of the financial crisis. It could cost roughly $260 billion more to support the companies through 2014, after subtracting dividend payments, according to the government.

Mayopoulos will be the third CEO of Fannie Mae since the government takeover. Williams oversaw the restructuring of Fannie’s foreclosure-prevention efforts and managed the troubled company’s reorganization.

In his executive roles, Mayopoulos has managed Fannie’s human resources policies, communications and marketing, and government relations, the company said Tuesday.

Pressure has been building for the government to eliminate or transform Fannie and Freddie and reduce taxpayers’ exposure to further losses.  Read More

Senators say Secret Service scandal could reflect agency’s culture

As soon as a Senate hearing into the Secret Service prostitution scandal began, it was clear there would be no rehabilitation of the agency’s reputation.

In fact, by the time the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee session concluded, skeptical senators on both sides of the aisle had painted Director Mark Sullivan as a good administrator but one hopelessly naive about what his agents do away from home.

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan testified Wednesday before a Senate committee, publicly apologizing for the first time for the Colombia prostitution scandal.

Of course, there is no proof that the scandal involving a dozen agents who allegedly patronized prostitutes, while advancing President Obama’s trip to Colombia, represents standard operating procedure.

But the senators also don’t believe it was a one-time fling.

“It is hard for many people, including me, I will admit, to believe that on one night in April 2012 in Cartagena, Colombia, 12 Secret Service agents there to protect the president suddenly and spontaneously did something they or other agents had never done before, which is gone out in groups of two, three or four to four different nightclubs or strip clubs, drink to excess, and then bring foreign national women back to their hotel rooms,” said Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

Questions reflected a persistent concern: Instead of an aberration, does Cartagena indicate a culture of loose living by agents on the road?  Read More

IRS forms show charity’s money isn’t going to disabled vets

A national charity that vows to help disabled veterans and their families has spent tens of millions on marketing services, all the while doling out massive amounts of candy, hand sanitizer bottles and many other unnecessary items to veteran aid groups, according to a CNN investigation.

The Disabled National Veterans Foundation, based in Washington, D.C., and founded in 2007, received about $55.9 million in donations since it began operations in 2007, according to publicly available IRS 990 forms.

Yet according to the DNVF’s tax filings with the IRS, almost none of that money has wound up in the hands of American veterans.

Instead, the charity made significant payments to Quadriga Art LLC, which owns two direct-mail fundraising companies hired by the DNVF to help garner donations, according to publicly available IRS 990 forms.

Those forms show the charity paid Quadriga and its subsidiary, Brickmill Marketing Services, nearly $61 million from 2008 until 2010, which was the last year public records were available.  Read More

Mozilla Slams CISPA, Breaking Silicon Valley’s Silence On Cybersecurity Bill

While the Internet has been bristling with anger over the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, the Internet industry has been either silent or quietly supportive of the controversial bill. With one exception.

Late Tuesday, Mozilla’s Privacy and Public Policy lead sent me the following statement:

While we wholeheartedly support a more secure Internet, CISPA has a broad and alarming reach that goes far beyond Internet security. The bill infringes on our privacy, includes vague definitions of cybersecurity, and grants immunities to companies and government that are too broad around information misuse. We hope the Senate takes the time to fully and openly consider these issues with stakeholder input before moving forward with this legislation.

CISPA was introduced to the House in Novemeber with the intention of allowing more sharing of cybersecurity threat information between the private sector and the government, but has since been criticized for a provision that would also allow firms to share users’ private data with agencies like the National Security Agency or the Department of Homeland security without regard for any previous privacy laws.

Just before its passage last Thursday, the House added new amendments broadening that sharing to not just information about cyberattacks but also any case that involves computer “crime,” exploitation of minors or even “the protection of individuals from the danger of death or serious bodily harm.”  Read More

How the Government is Threatening Your Business – and What To Do About It

A Pakistani money dealer counts US dollar note...Government financial policies – and a lingering aversion to addressing the national debt – could spell trouble for your business. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

Think the national debt won’t impact your business? Think again. As James Kwak, co-author (with Simon Johnson) of White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You, revealed to me in a recent interview, “It’s quite plausible [the national debt] will start having serious economic effects within the next 5-10 years.” The government’s mix of high spending and deep tax cuts risks one of two negative consequences. The first, says Kwak, is that “over time, if the national debt stays high, investors will lose confidence in the federal government and interest rates will go up, which affects everybody because it makes it harder to do things like borrow money to build factories. Or the other possibility is the Federal Reserve might start creating a lot of money in order to fund the national debt and that could cause inflation.” Either outcome is bad for the economy – and your business.  Read More

President Obama Threatens to Veto CISPA Cybersecurity Bill

If the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, better known as CISPA, reached President Obama’s desk in its current form, he would veto the bill, according to a statement from the White House.

CISPA, says the White House, would allow the government and the intelligence community unfettered access to Americans’ personal information and data, sacrificing individuals’ personal privacy and civil liberties.

CISPA is designed to allow private firms to share information about cybersecurity threats with one another and with the federal government. The bill’s advocates call such information sharing a necessary step in defending the U.S.’s networks from a “digital Pearl Harbor,” while opponents argue that sharing puts the civil liberties and personal privacy of Internet users in jeopardy.

“[CISPA] would allow broad sharing of information with governmental entities without establishing requirements for both industry and the government to minimize and protect personally identifiable information,” reads the statement.

The White House also believes that CISPA would allow private companies to share users’ information with one another — unhindered by adequate supervision or transparency — while simultaneously shielding them from lawsuits that spring up as a result of that information sharing.

“Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held legally accountable for failing to safeguard personal information adequately,” reads the statement. “The broad liability protection not only removes a strong incentive to improving cybersecurity, it also potentially undermines our Nation’s economic, national security, and public safety interests.”  Read More

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