Why Obama Should Pardon NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden

Some people might not like his tactics, but Edward Snowden has done great things for privacy rights, says Freedom of the Press Foundation’s Trevor Timm. That’s why it’s time for him to come home.

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By Nerti U. Qatja@VOP_Today


In an article published on October 06  writes for Ideas TedSome of the biggest human rights organizations in the world — the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others — recently launched a campaigncalling on President Obama to pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

I’m lucky enough to work with Snowden regularly. In 2014, he joined the board of directors at Freedom of the Press Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on protecting the rights of journalists and whistleblowers around the world, where I serve as executive director. Late last year, we named him our board president. He is currently working on several technology projects that aim to protect journalists in dangerous places around the world, such as war zones or authoritarian regimes. He already released a research project that aims to make a safer and more secure cell phone earlier this summer, and we plan on making some more announcements soon.

So with the campaign to pardon him picking up steam, I thought it might be a good time to look back on all of the good Snowden has done for our privacy rights.

One of Snowden’s first public appearances after he came forward as the whistleblower who revealed the US government’s vast and secret surveillance network was at TED in Vancouver, in 2014. TED curator Chris Anderson held an illuminating half-hour conversation with Snowden, in which he articulated why he decided to come forward and reveal to the public what our government was secretly doing under our name.

“The public has gotten to know him for the person that he is: thoughtful, articulate, empathetic, passionate, and someone who cares deeply about the rights of every citizen.”

Since then, a lot has happened as a direct result of the disclosures he made to the Guardian and the Washington Post — both of which would go on to win Pulitzer Prizes for Public Service. A federal appeals court ruled the NSA’s mass phone surveillance — the once-secret program that tracked every single phone call made in the US — was illegal. In June 2015, Congress, despite its inability to agree on virtually any issue facing our country, passed the first reform of the United States’ intelligence agencies since the 1970s. And his revelations shepherded in a sea change in public opinion about online privacy.

But his impact has probably most been felt in the technology sector: tech giants such as Apple and Facebook have started encrypting billions of people’s communications by default, providing a key protection that not only protects citizens against mass surveillance by governments around the world, but also acts as a bulwark against the sort of cybersecurity risks that seem to make headlines daily.

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Snowden has also become an accomplished public speaker, keynoting conferences around the world. In the process, the public has gotten to know him for the person he is: thoughtful, articulate, empathetic, passionate and someone who cares deeply about the rights of every citizen.

Naturally, a lot of people — even those who are sympathetic to Snowden — have suggested that if he truly is a whistleblower he should come back to the United States and make his case to a jury. Unfortunately, because of the draconian and unjust law he is charged under, the Espionage Act, this is impossible. Because of the way the law is written — it was meant for World War I spies, not journalists’ sources — a public interest defense is not allowed. He would be barred by the judge from telling the jury his motives for informing the American public. Neither would he be able to tell them how much the American public has benefitted from his leaks, nor that there was no evidence of harm to national security due to his actions.

Right now, his best hope lies in a pardon from President Obama in his final months in office. While we know the chances of a pardon are low, we also know that President Obama is looking towards his legacy. By considering a pardon for Snowden, he could start to reverse one of the most disappointing aspects of his presidency: the record number of prosecutions his Justice Department has conducted of whistleblowers.

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Exclusive: Yahoo Secretly Scanned Users’ Emails For The NSA and FBI

Yahoo Inc last year secretly built a custom software program to search all of its customers’ incoming emails for specific information provided by U.S. intelligence officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

By Nerti U. Qatja@VOP_Today


Reuters reports: The company complied with a classified U.S. government directive, scanning hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts at the behest of the National Security Agency or FBI, said two former employees and a third person apprised of the events.

Some surveillance experts said this represents the first case to surface of a U.S. Internet company agreeing to a spy agency’s demand by searching all arriving messages, as opposed to examining stored messages or scanning a small number of accounts in real time.

It is not known what information intelligence officials were looking for, only that they wanted Yahoo to search for a set of characters. That could mean a phrase in an email or an attachment, said the sources, who did not want to be identified.

Reuters was unable to determine what data Yahoo may have handed over, if any, and if intelligence officials had approached other email providers besides Yahoo with this kind of request.

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According to the two former employees, Yahoo Chief Executive Marissa Mayer’s decision to obey the directive roiled some senior executives and led to the June 2015 departure of Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos, who now holds the top security job at Facebook Inc.”Yahoo is a law abiding company, and complies with the laws of the United States,” the company said in a brief statement in response to Reuters questions about the demand. Yahoo declined any further comment.

Through a Facebook spokesman, Stamos declined a request for an interview.

The NSA referred questions to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which declined to comment.

The demand to search Yahoo Mail accounts came in the form of a classified directive sent to the company’s legal team, according to the three people familiar with the matter.

U.S. phone and Internet companies are known to have handed over bulk customer data to intelligence agencies. But some former government officials and private surveillance experts said they had not previously seen either such a broad directive for real-time Web collection or one that required the creation of a new computer program.

“I’ve never seen that, a wiretap in real time on a ‘selector,'” said Albert Gidari, a lawyer who represented phone and Internet companies on surveillance issues for 20 years before moving to Stanford University this year. A selector refers to a type of search term used to zero in on specific information.

“It would be really difficult for a provider to do that,” he added.

Experts said it was likely that the NSA or FBI had approached other Internet companies with the same demand, since they evidently did not know what email accounts were being used by the target. The NSA usually makes requests for domestic surveillance through the FBI, so it is hard to know which agency is seeking the information.

Reuters was unable to confirm whether the 2015 demand went to other companies, or if any complied.

Alphabet Inc’s Google and Microsoft Corp, two major U.S. email service providers, did not respond to requests for comment.

CHALLENGING THE NSA

Under laws including the 2008 amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, intelligence agencies can ask U.S. phone and Internet companies to provide customer data to aid foreign intelligence-gathering efforts for a variety of reasons, including prevention of terrorist attacks.

Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and others have exposed the extent of electronic surveillance and led U.S. authorities to modestly scale back some of the programs, in part to protect privacy rights.

Companies including Yahoo have challenged some classified surveillance before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal.

Some FISA experts said Yahoo could have tried to fight last year’s directive on at least two grounds: the breadth of the demand and the necessity of writing a special program to search all customers’ emails in transit.

Apple Inc made a similar argument earlier this year when it refused to create a special program to break into an encrypted iPhone used in the 2015 San Bernardino massacre. The FBI dropped the case after it unlocked the phone with the help of a third party, so no precedent was set.

Other FISA experts defended Yahoo’s decision to comply, saying nothing prohibited the surveillance court from ordering a search for a specific term instead of a specific account. So-called “upstream” bulk collection from phone carriers based on content was found to be legal, they said, and the same logic could apply to Web companies’ mail.

As tech companies become better at encrypting data, they are likely to face more such requests from spy agencies.

Former NSA General Counsel Stewart Baker said email providers “have the power to encrypt it all, and with that comes added responsibility to do some of the work that had been done by the intelligence agencies.”

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange: Facebook is CIA Spying Machine

Facebook is “the most appalling spying machine ever invented,” according WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who recently spoke with Russia Today, while awaiting extradition from England to Sweden on sexual assault charges.

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By Nerti U. Qatja@VOP_Today


“Here we have the world’s most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations, their communications with each other, and their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to US Intelligence,” said Assange during the interview.

Assange asserts that Google, Yahoo and other US-based technology companies are also complicit in the US government’s aims to keep watch over the world’s citizens.

“Facebook, Google, Yahoo, all these major US organizations have built-in infaces for US intelligence,” he said. “It’s not a matter of serving a subpoena, they have an interface they have developed for US Intelligence to use. Now, is the case that Facebook is run by US Intelligence? No, it’s not like that. It’s simply that US Intelligence is able to bring to bear legal and political pressure to them. It’s costly for them to hand out individual records, one by one, so they have automated the process.”

Assange goes on to say that anytime anyone adds information to their Facebook profile they “are doing free work for US intelligence agencies.”

“The WikiLeaks founders’ proclamations of tech giants’ Big Brother operations follows recent revelations that Apple, Microsoft and Google collect location-related information about customers who use devices that run their iOS, Windows Phone 7 and Android mobile operating systems.”

Revelations about so-called Location-gate sparked outrage (and a lawsuit) among customers, who were appalled that their mobile devices were used to keep track of their approximate movements.

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The uproar caused Apple CEO Steve Jobs to respond to the criticism, saying that “Apple is not tracking your iPhone.” Instead, “Apple is now collecting anonymous traffic data to build a crowd-sourced traffic database with the goal of providing iPhone users an improved traffic service in the next couple of years,” according to statement posted on the company’s website.

With the public becoming seemingly more wary of its supposedly “private” data being used by corporations, is Facebook the next to face its collective wrath?

Watch the full Assange interview below (Facebook comments begin around the 2:00 mark):

Boom: FBI Has Secretly Hacked Americans For 20 Years: Report

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been spying on American citizens using various hacking techniques for two decades, yet many details about its data collection practices are still secret, a new report shows.

By Anthony Von Dari@VOP Today


The hacking history is almost impossible to document, however, because the hacking happens mostly in secret, The Wired magazine reported.

“Search warrants granting permission to hack get issued using vague, obtuse language that hides what’s really happening, and defense attorneys rarely challenge the hacking tools and techniques in court,” the report said.

“As a result, little is known about the invasive tools the bureau, and other law enforcement agencies, use or how they use them.”

The new report shows that the National Security Agency (NSA) isn’t the only agency conducting spying operations.

Countless leaks by American whistleblower Edward Snowden have detailed the highly sophisticated tools used by the NSA to collect data in bulk from unsuspecting people, including American citizens.

The Wired has put together a list of the known hacking operations the FBI has conducted over the years, offering a glimpse at how FBI computer intrusion techniques have developed over the years.

The FBI’s first known computer surveillance tool was an Internet traffic sniffer named Carnivore that got installed on network backbones—with the permission of Internet service providers.

The tool was custom-built to filter and copy metadata and/or the content of communications to and from a surveillance target.

In 2001, reporters got wind of Magic Lantern, the code name for an FBI keystroke logging, the action of recording (logging) the keys struck on a keyboard, typically covertly, so that the person using the keyboard is unaware that their actions are being monitored.

Around the same time, the FBI began using a surveillance tool called CIPAV—Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier—designed to collect a computer’s IP and MAC address.

The spying tool also collected an inventory of all open ports and software installed on the machine, as well as registry information, the username of anyone logged in and the last URL visited by the machine.

In 2012, the FBI began using a trick favored by criminal hackers, drive-by downloads, also known as watering hole attacks, which involves embedding spyware on a website, infecting the computers of all visitors to the site.

How To Check If You’ve Been Hacked Within Seconds

Even if your password is a bit more complicated that “qwerty,” your information is always out there in the big, bad world of the Internet. Just this week, it was revealed that hundreds of millions of account details had been stolen from many popular email services and websites.

By Anthony Von Dari@VOP Today


So, if you’re worried or curious that your account could be compromised, head over to haveibeenpwned.com.

Simply by tapping in your email address or username, you’ll instantly be able to find out whether any information from your account has been leaked.

If there is “no pwnage found” on your accounts, it’s still not a bad idea to change your password regularly.

Click HERE


Microsoft Admits Windows 10 Auto-Spying Can’t Be Disabled

Much has been made about NSA spying and bulk data collection of American citizens, as well as an increasing loss of privacy in the face of the new digital Big Brother State – but amazingly, few are really aware of the fact that even the NSA needs working partners in crime to carry out their assault on American freedoms guaranteed in the US Constitution, specifically those enshrined in the 4th Amendment.

By Anthony Von Dari@VOP Today – Source: Forbes


One such partner in crime appears to be Microsoft Corporation based in Redmond, near Seattle. Upon further examination, it appears that Microsoft’s new “operating” (policing) system,Windows 10, has given itself permission to watch your every move through its built-in spying feature.

You have to ask yourself: how out of touch is Microsoft that, in light of the Edward Snowden revelations and the rest too – that it would have the outright gall to build a back door into its latest OS and make it a nonnegotiable clause in the customer’s the Terms and Conditions?

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Techworm confirms the brazen move by Gatestown product engineers:

“As more and more users are jumping the queue to download the Windows 10 through the Windows Insider Program, almost all of them have forgotten to check the Privacy Policy and Terms and Conditions users accept while downloading the Windows 10.  If you study the privacy policy you will be startled at the amount of freedom you are giving Microsoft to spy on you.”

According to its Terms and Conditions, Microsoft has all but invited itself into your private domain 24/7:

Microsoft collects information about you, your devices, applications and networks, and your use of those devices, applications and networks. Examples of data we collect include your name, email address, preferences and interests; browsing, search and file history; phone call and SMS data; device configuration and sensor data; and application usage.”

According the Forbes writer Gordon Kelly, “.. despite offering some options to turn elements of tracking off, core data collection simply cannot be stopped.”

Speaking to PC World, Microsoft VP Joe Belfiore admitted, “In the cases where we’ve not provided options, we feel that those things have to do with the health of the system,” he said. “In the case of knowing that our system that we’ve created is crashing, or is having serious performance problems, we view that as so helpful to the ecosystem and so not an issue of personal privacy, that today we collect that data so that we make that experience better for everyone.”

Now you have to ask yourself the question: how tight is Microsoft’s top brass with spy chiefs at the NSA?

Earlier this summer, we learned how NSA spying relies on AT&T’s “extreme willingness to help”, which should give us an idea of the scale of corporate collusion with the NSA.

In the wake of the early Snowden releases, The Guardian laid the foundation to this narrative:

One slide in the undated PowerPoint presentation, published as part of the Guardian’s NSA Files: Decoded project, illustrates the number of intelligence reports being generated from data collected from the companies. In the five weeks from June 5 2010, the period covered by the document, data from Yahoo generated by far the most reports, followed by Microsoft and then Google. Between them, the three companies accounted for more than 2,000 reports in that period – all but a tiny fraction of the total produced under one of the NSA’s main foreign intelligence authorities, the Fisa Amendments Act (FAA).”

In addition to all this, you have the issue of whether or not Microsoft has embedded a heavy-handed ‘TPP‘ backdoor access clause in its privacy terms as well. The following was brought to light by a Reddit user recently:

Here is there Privacy Statement where they state:

Finally, we will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to:

  1. comply with applicable law or respond to valid legal process, including from law enforcement or other government agencies;
  2. protect our customers, for example to prevent spam or attempts to defraud users of the services, or to help prevent the loss of life or serious injury of anyone;
  3. operate and maintain the security of our services, including to prevent or stop an attack on our computer systems or networks; or
  4. protect the rights or property of Microsoft, including enforcing the terms governing the use of the services – however, if we receive information indicating that someone is using our services to traffic in stolen intellectual or physical property of Microsoft, we will not inspect a customer’s private content ourselves, but we may refer the matter to law enforcement.

Yeah I don’t want to give them access to ANY of my hard drives contents. Is there any way to turn this off?”

So, Microsoft has been at it for quite sometime.

Considering how this company has enjoyed a license to print money since the late 1980’s, you would think that they would be more appreciative of the millions of customers who have made so many millionaires, and billionaires in Seattle and beyond. You’d think that Microsoft might just stand up for the privacy of the little man, right?

Microsoft Admits Windows 10 Auto-Spying Can’t Be Disabled

You’d think so, but then again… you might be wrong.