China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying
China has dismissed the recent allegation by the US that the Chinese military has been involved in hacking a US security firm, describing Washington’s approach on the issue as unconstructive.
A private US cyber security firm accused a unit of China’s military on Monday of hacking attempts to access information on US satellite and aerospace programs, Xinhua reported.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying rejected the allegation at a press briefing on Tuesday.
“I have noticed the report you mentioned, its wording and style looks familiar, citing the names of the hackers and their claims of their military identity,” she said, responding to a question about US reports alleging Chinese hacking attempts. “Have you ever seen thieves bearing a name tag saying ‘thieves?’” she said.
Washington had issued an indictment against five Chinese military officers on charges of cyber theft earlier on May 19.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman further challenged the integrity of the US allegations against her country, referring to the massive American espionage efforts across the globe as part of its PRISM program under the US National Security Agency (NSA).
The program, which was revealed by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden in 2013, showed that the US was spying on the phone and email communications of top world leaders, including those of Washington’s allied countries as well as China.
“The US is a hacking empire,” Hua said. “It is not constructive for the US to attack others instead of repenting and correcting its own mistakes.”
The Chinese official further pointed out that cyber attacks are a global challenge – transnational and anonymous in nature – requiring cooperation among all countries to be countered.
Former NSA counsel and surveillance/security state hypeman Stewart Baker has had just about enough of Techdirt making “distorted claims” about his statements for the “purposes of making money.” To counter this, he’s sent a “right to be forgotten” request to Google stating the following:
Reason this link violates the right to be forgotten:
This link is inappropriate. It compiles stories making many distorted claims about my political views. Political views are a particularly sensitive form of personal data. The stories are written by men who disagree with me, and they are assembled for the purpose of making money for a website, a purpose that cannot outweigh my interest in controlling the presentation of sensitive data about myself.
Baker’s certainly not hoping for Techdirt’s posts on him to be de-listed (although I imagine he’d indulge in a chuckle or two if they went down). He’s mocking the ridiculousness of the “right to be forgotten” ruling Google is now attempting to comply with. He has submitted other requests as well over such things as outdated photos and “inaccurate” statements as the kickoff to an informal “hack” of a bad law.
I feel bad for Google, which is stuck trying to administer this preposterous ruling. But that shouldn’t prevent us from showing quite concretely how preposterous it is.
I propose a contest. Let’s all ask for takedowns. The person who makes the most outrageous (and successful) takedown request will win a “worst abuse of privacy law” prize, otherwise known as a Privy.
Stewart’s takedown request targeting Techdirt is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but it does highlight the sort of abuse that should be expected when government bodies attempt to force the internet to bend to their will. Granting a “right to be forgotten” pretty much ensures that a majority of the requests will be no more legitimate than Baker’s.
Multiple advocates for the law have compared it with the infamous DMCA takedown notice, something that has also been routinely abused. But at least the DMCA takedown carries with it the (almost never enforced) charge of perjury for issuing bogus takedowns. The RTBF form simply asks for a copy of the submitter’s identification. There’s nothing in it to discourage abuse of the system. If you don’t like something someone has said about you on the web, just fill out a webform.
While we at Techdirt disagree with most of what Stewart Baker says, at least his position on privacy remains consistent. His “Privys” — an “award” given to the worst or most hypocritical abuser of privacy laws — have generally been awarded to worthy recipients, usually people who tend to think these laws exist to save them from their own embarrassments.
As for the “right to be forgotten,” it appears as though requests may be forwarded to Chilling Effects. On June 6th, this test post showed up in the database.
A request has been made to remove one or more links from a search page under European “right to be forgotten” rules, following Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos, Mario Costeja Gonzalez.
The body of the post contains nothing but the word “TEST” but this seems to indicate that an attempt will be made to publish takedown attempts. At this point, it’s impossible to say how much information will be redacted, or if the European Commission will even allow this sort of transparency. Google is also toying with appending messages to the bottom of search results pages indicating that link(s) may have been removed due to “RTBF” requests. If this works like DMCA requests do, then a link to Chilling Effects database will be provided. These measures won’t necessarily deter abuse, but they will make it much easier to track.
The German government has been trying to avoid upsetting either the US by denouncing the large-scale surveillance being carried out by the NSA in its country, or the German people by not denouncing it. It finds itself in the same quandary as regards opening a formal investigation into the spying, which is probably why it has held off for so long. But now, the German authorities have come up with a sort of compromise, as GigaOM reports:
Germany’s federal prosecutor has launched the country’s first formal investigation into the activities of the NSA in Germany, specifically the U.S. intelligence agency’s reported bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
Harald Range said on Wednesday that the other potential avenue of investigation — that of the surveillance of the German people — remained open, though no investigation was being launched yet due to a lack of evidence.
Leaving aside the question just how much evidence the federal prosecutor needs before he investigates whether the German people have been subjected to US surveillance — a signed confession from President Obama perhaps? — the other issue here is the astonishing lack of sensitivity this move displays. The German government seems to be saying that spying is outrageous and must be investigated immediately if it’s directed against the powerful; but if it’s against the little people, then, well, sorry: we need more evidence before we could possibly risk upsetting the US.
A federal judge who ordered the National Security Agency to retain all records of its secret telephone surveillance related to an ongoing case has reversed the order – just a day after it was issued.
“In order to protect national security programs, I cannot issue a ruling at this time. The Court rescinds the June 5 order,” US District Judge Jeffrey White said from the bench on Friday.
The NSA had been prohibited from destroying any of its records of communications surveillance on Thursday – specifically under the government’s Section 702 program.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has been used by the NSA to justify widespread collection of phone calls and emails.
White first ordered that the agency retain records in March, to which the NSA responded that it was legally obliged to destroy all documents after a five year period.
White issued the temporary restraining order (TRO) in March to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, on Thursday, EFF filed an emergency motion, stating that in the past week interactions with government lawyers demonstrated that the destruction of records had continued.
Records could form a basis of evidence for two pending lawsuits posing a challenge to the surveillance program. One was filed by AT&T customers and the other by 23 Californian organizations.
The case – Jewel v. NSA the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the NSA and other government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers.
The Friday hearing saw lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) going up against lawyers from the Department of Justice.
The case has stagnated in the court system for several years. In 2008, the original complaint was filed against AT&T and the government, which it was alleged, was involved in “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency and other Defendants in concert with major telecommunications companies.”
Evidence pre-dated Snowden’s revelations in June 2013, and was based on evidence from former San Francisco AT&T technician Mark Klein in 2006.
“I don’t want the preservation effects to get in the way of national security, but I don’t want national security to checkmate our case,” Cindy Cohn, an EFF attorney, told the court, reported arstechnica.
Justice department lawyers sought a stay. They argued that phone records and internet programs were separate. Section 702 allows the government access to emails and Facebook messages. The lawyers said that their compliance would put the program at risk.
Remember When Venezuela and Bolivia Kicked the U.S. DEA Out of Their Countries, Accusing It of Espionage? Looks Like They Were Right…
In their latest article on U.S. government spying for The Intercept, Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras review and publish leaked documents that show that the U.S. government may have used the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to aid the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on U.S. citizens and non-citizens in foreign countries. The NSA is shown to have assisted the DEA with efforts to capture narcotraffickers, but the leaked documents also refer to “a vibrant two-way information sharing relationship” between the two intelligence agencies, implying that the DEA shares its information with the NSA to aid with non-drug-related spying. This may explain how the NSA has gathered not just metadata but also the full-take audio from “virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.”
The authors write,
The DEA has long been in a unique position to help the NSA gain backdoor access to foreign phone networks. “DEA has close relationships with foreign government counterparts and vetted foreign partners,” the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts reported in a 2004 memo. Indeed, with more than 80 international offices, the DEA is one of the most widely deployed U.S. agencies around the globe.
But what many foreign governments fail to realize is that U.S. drug agents don’t confine themselves to simply fighting narcotics traffickers. “DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent who works with the drug-reform advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”
What’s more, Selander adds, the NSA has aided the DEA for years on surveillance operations. “On our reports, there’s drug information and then there’s non-drug information,” he says. “So countries let us in because they don’t view us, really, as a spy organization.”
While the documents accompanying the article reveal detailed information that has never before been available to the public, this is not the first time that the DEA has faced allegations of spying.
In 2005, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela stopped cooperating with the DEA after accusing it of espionage in his country. At the time, a State Department spokesperson responded by saying, “the accusations that somehow the Drug Enforcement Agency is involved in espionage are baseless. There’s no substance or justification for them.” Using arguments that would change very little over the next nine years, a State Department official said at the time, “I think it’s pretty clear to us that the motivation for this is not the accusation itself or not what they state is the problem. The motivation is an effort to detract from the government’s increasingly deficient record of cooperation.”
Three years later, President Evo Morales expelled the DEA from Bolivia saying, “there were DEA agents who worked to conduct political espionage.” He also said, “we can control ourselves internally. We don’t need any spying from anybody.” The State Department spokesperson said in response, “the charges that have been made are just patently absurd. We reject them categorically”, and the news agency EFE reported that “Washington has repeatedly denied that the DEA has been involved in any activities in Bolivia apart from the war on drugs.”
Few of the press reports from 2005 or 2008 took these accusations seriously, and the State Department dismissed the allegations categorically, but in 2008, CEPR’s co-director Mark Weisbrot wrote that “To the Bolivians, the U.S. is using the “war on drugs” throughout Latin America mainly as an excuse to get boots on the ground, and establish ties with local military and police forces.” To this list, we can now add access to national phone and communication networks, and storage of the content of phone calls.
Germany’s Chancellor Merkel is in the White House for the first time since it was revealed the NSA monitored her personal communications. During bilateral talks with Barack Obama, Merkel is expected to broach sanctions on Russia and US spying.
Relations between Washington and Berlin are showing signs of tensions, as German companies call for a halt to sanctions on Russia. Furthermore, Germany is still reeling from the NSA spy revelations that affected millions of German citizens, as well as high-ranking businessmen and politicians.
Merkel reiterated earlier this week that Germany would support any further financial sanctions against Russia. However, growing calls from the German business sector may force her to change her policy in Friday’s meeting.
“The Germans are very clear they are not going to pursue factions that hurt German industry. That would be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Michael Hudson professor of Economics at the University of Missouri to RT.
Indeed, some major corporate figures have already spoken out against a potential escalation of the sanctions, maintaining they will do more harm than good to the German economy.
“If there’s a single message we have as business leaders, then it’s this: sit down at the negotiating table and resolve these matters peacefully,” Eckhard Cordes told a recent conference in Berlin. Cordes is a former Daimler AG executive who now heads the Ostauschuss, German industry’s branch for Eastern Europe, reported the Wall Street Journal.
So far the US, EU, Canada and Japan have imposed sanction on Russia for its alleged role in the unrest in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has denied claims it is involved in the unrest and has pointed the finger at Washington for orchestrating the situation in Ukraine as part of its geopolitical strategy in the region.
The espionage antics of the US National Security Agency remain a bone of contention between Berlin and Washington. It emerged earlier in April that Merkel had been denied access to her NSA file, following reports the agency had monitored her personal communications. The revelations had a profound effect on German society, prompting calls for Washington to account for its actions.
“First the US denied spying on Merkel’s cell phone, then admitted it, now it just continues, because Obama says ‘we reserve the right to collect information.’ I just see Angela Merkel going to the US to pick up new instructions,” Ken Jebson, Redaktion radio host told RT’s Peter Oliver.
While WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafsson, said the German government’s lack of resolve over the NSA spy scandal is indicative of European cowardice in the face of US dominance.
“I think the proof of the cowardice of governments and politicians and their unwillingness to tackle this in a meaningful way, despite what they say publicly, was when European countries closed their airspace and forced the presidential plane of Evo Morales to land in Austria, on a hunch that Edward Snowden was on board,” he told RT.
Earlier this year Washington pledged that it would no longer spy on world leaders, but stated it would still gather information on the intentions of foreign powers through its espionage programs.
New York – The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would not hear Center for Constitutional Rights v. Obama, a lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of people within the United States. The suit sought an injunction ordering the government to destroy any records of surveillance that it still retains from the illegal NSA program. The Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in response to the Court’s decision:
The Supreme Court’s refusal to review this case guarantees that the federal courts will never address a fundamental question: Was the warrantless surveillance program the NSA carried out on President Bush’s orders legal? The Court’s decision also guarantees that the Obama administration, which has for the last five years refused to take any position on that question, will now never have to answer either.
Despite mounting evidence of government spying on attorneys’ privileged communications, the Court yesterday declined to review the lower court’s determination that CCR attorneys’ fears of surveillance under President Bush’s NSA program, which involved no review by judges or Congress and flew directly in the face of express criminal prohibitions, were too “speculative” to allow CCR to challenge the program in court.
The Court’s decision comes as increasing evidence suggests the government has been surveilling attorney-client communications for some time. The New York Times recently reported that in 2013 the NSA surveilled law firm Mayer Brown while it represented the government of Indonesia in trade talks with the United States. In 2008, The Times reported Justice Department officials had confirmed that attorney-client communications in terrorism cases were sometimes subject to surveillance. And a document accidentally released to an Islamic charity in 2004 indicated that the D.C.-based attorneys for the charity had been subject to surveillance while speaking to their clients.
A memo released by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicated that the government only excludes attorney-client communications from collection when the client is under actual indictment in the United States. Communications of attorneys not directly with a client (for example, with expert witnesses or investigators abroad), or with a client not formally charged in the United States (including, for example, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ many Guantanamo detainee clients, none of whom are charged in federal courts) might now be subject to surveillance under broad orders issued under the current FISA statute.
The Verge had a story last week (expanding on an August report from the Chicago Tribune that I’d missed) that the Chicago police have created a list of the “400 most dangerous people in Chicago.” The Trib reported on one fellow, who had no criminal arrests, expressing surprise over having received a visit from the police and being told he was on this list. A 17-year-old girl was also shocked when told she was on the list.
The database, according to the Verge, is based on historic crime information, disturbance calls, and suspicious person reports. The CPD’s list is heavily based on social network analysis (which is interesting considering the debates now swirling around the uses of metadata and the analysis such data enables). A sociologist whose work inspired the list, Andrew Papachristos, told the author of a Chicago Magazine piece (which goes into some interesting depth on some of the theory behind the list): “It’s not just about your friends and who you’re hanging out with, it’s actually the structure of these networks that matter.”
The list was funded through a Justice Department grant known as “Two Degrees of Association.” (At least that’s one less hop than the NSA uses.)
I’m still consistently surprised how often things we worry about in the abstract actually show up in the real world. For years, privacy advocates have been warning about how databases might be mined by the authorities for information used to label, sort, and prejudge people. True, there are all too many precedents for this sort of thing, including the CAPPS II program proposed early in the Bush Administration, the nation’s terrorist watch lists, various police gang lists, and the Automated Targeting System. The TSA’s Pre-Check whitelist is also a cousin of this kind of program. All are based on using various information sources and grinding them through one or another logic engines to spit out a judgment about individuals and their supposed dangerousness or safeness as a human being. But still, this program amazes me in how starkly it replicates the kinds of things we have been warning about in many different contexts.
Just two weeks ago, for example, I was asked by several news outlets what we think about police officers using Google Glass. I told them that Glass is basically a body camera, and that the issues were the same as those outlined in our white paper on police use of that technology. The principal difference between Glass and the body cameras being marketed to police is that Glass can also display information. I said this shouldn’t be a problem—unless (I added almost apologetically because of the slightly fanciful nature of this point) the police started using them with face recognition to display some kind of rating or warning for individuals who have been somehow determined to be untrustworthy.
“Of course, that’s not a problem today,” I said, “it’s more of a futuristic concern.”
Ha! Barely a week later, that scenario doesn’t seem so futuristic any more to me, especially at a time when some want to use face recognition to warn them when someone on a blacklist tries to enter a store or school. (True, Google doesn’t currently permit FaceRec apps on Glass, but it’s unclear how long that will last.)
Some further points and questions about Chicago’s heat list:
- The principal problem with flagging suspicious individuals in this way may be the risk of guilt by association. Although we don’t know how valid, accurate, and fair the algorithm is, it’s important to note that even if its measures were valid statistically—that one particular individual really does have an increased risk of crime because of certain things about his or her life—it may still constitute guilt-by-association for a person who actually remains innocent. It is simply not fair for people to be subject to punishments and disadvantages because of the groups they belong to or what other people in similar circumstances tend to do. I keep going back to the example of the man whose credit rating was lowered because the other customers of a store where he shopped had poor repayment histories.
- Why should the police restrict their hotlist to 400? Why not 4,000 or 40,000? In fact, why not give every citizen a rating, between 1 and 100 say, of how “risky” they might be? Then the police could program their Google Glass to display that score hovering above the head of every person who comes into their field of vision. This is a path it’s all too easy to see the police sliding down, and one we should not take even the first steps towards.
- Remember too the point that (as I made here) there are a vast number of laws on the books, many complicated and obscure, and anyone who is scrutinized closely enough by the authorities is far more likely to actually be found to have run afoul of some law than a person who isn’t. In that respect inclusion on the list could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- Will the Chicago police carry out any kind of analysis to measure how effective this technique is? Will they look at the success of their predictions, search for any discriminatory effects, or attempt to find out whether these rankings become a self-fulfilling prophesy? The police often have little inclination to do any such things—to adopt rigorous criteria for measuring whether their new toys and gizmos are providing a good return on investment. Purely from an oversight point of view, every aspect of this program would ideally be made public so the world could scrutinize it—certainly the algorithm. Privacy concerns, however, suggest that the names of individuals who are (quite possibly totally unfairly) flagged by these algorithms not be made public, nor any personal data that is being fed into the algorithms.
- A Chicago police commander is quoted as saying, “If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there.” This framing begs the question at the heart of this approach: is it valid and accurate? Such circular logic is genuinely frightening when it comes from a police officer talking about matters of guilt and innocence.
- It’s true that there could be a fine line between laudable efforts to identify and help “at-risk youth,” and efforts to tag some people with labels that are used to discriminate and stigmatize. Research on the “epidemiology of violence” could be valuable if used as part of a public health approach to crime. But if it’s part of a criminal justice “pre-crime” approach, then that’s where the problems arise.
Overall, the key question is this: will being flagged by these systems lead to good things in a person’s life, like increased support, opportunities, and chances to escape crime—or bad things, such as surveillance and prejudicial encounters with the police? Unfortunately, there are all too many reasons to worry that this program will veer towards the worst nightmares of those who have been closely watching the growth of the data-based society.
In the wake of President Obama’s promise to stop spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US intelligence has switched its attention to her top government officials, a German newspaper reported.
Washington’s relations with Germany were strained last year after revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting mass surveillance in Germany and even tapped the mobile phone of Chancellor Merkel.
Facing the German outrage, President Barack Obama pledged that the US would stop spying on the leader of the European country, which is among the closest and most powerful allies of America.
After the promise was made, the NSA has stepped up surveillance of senior German officials, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BamS) reported on Sunday.
“We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor’s communication directly,” it quoted a top NSA employee in Germany as saying.
BamS said the NSA had 297 employees stationed in Germany and was surveying 320 key individuals, most of them German decision-makers involved in politics and business.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is of particular interest to the US, the report said, because he is a close aide of Merkel, who seeks his advice on many issues and was rumored to be promoting his candidacy for the post of NATO secretary-general.
A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry told the newspaper it would not comment on the “allegations of unnamed individuals.”
Privacy issues are a very sensitive area in Germany, which holds the memory of invasive state surveillance practices by the Nazi government and later by the Communist government in the former East Germany.
Part of the outrage in Germany was caused by the allegation that US intelligence is using its surveillance capabilities not only to provide national security, but also to gain business advantage for American companies over their foreign competitors.
Berlin has been pushing for a ‘no-spying deal’ with the US for months, but so far with little success. Germany is also advocating the creation of a European computer network which would allow communication traffic not to pass through US-based servers and thus avoid the NSA tapping.
Mass surveillance of electronic communications is a vast, new, government intrusion on the privacy of innocent people worldwide. It is a violation of International human rights law. Without checks and balances, its use will continue to spread from country to country, corrupting democracies and empowering dictators.
That’s why, today, on February 11th, around the world, from Argentina to Uganda, from Colombia to the Philippines, the people of the Internet have united to fight back.
The Day We Fight Back’s main global action is to sign and promote the 13 Principles, a set of fundamental rules that, in clear language, tells lawmakers and governments how to apply existing human rights law to these new forms of surveillance. With the support of thousands of Net users, we’ll use your voice to demand that all governments comply with their obligation to protect privacy against unchecked surveillance.
But there’s more to today’s global action than the Principles. Hundreds of digital rights and privacy groups, thousands of individual Net users, in dozens of countries, have come together to protest surveillance by governments at home and abroad. Here’s just a sampling of the campaigns and events happening today:
In Argentina, the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles and Vía Libre Foundation is suing the Argentinian Congressional surveillance oversight commission for withholding basic information on surveillance practices in the country.
In Australia, a coalition of groups under the banner Citizens Not Suspects, is joining to demand a government investigation of the practices of the notorious “Five Eyes” countries — the nations, including Australia, which share intelligence with the NSA.
In Brazil, where the upcoming Marco Civil bill promises to encode human rights into the country’s Internet law, citizens are renewing their demands to include strong privacy protections.
In Canada, more than 45 major organizations, and tens of thousands of Canadians are calling their elected representatives to stop illegal spying by Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canada’s spying agency.
Colombians have launched “Internet sin Chuzadas”, a campaign calling for the end of unchecked surveillance at home and abroad.
France’s La Quadrature Du Net have started an NSA Observer program to inform people of the NSA’s global surveillance. The Philippines’ Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) is organizing a day of mass action against the country’s draconian Cybercrime Prevention Act.
In Serbia, SHARE Foundation, one of the earliest supporters of the 13 Principles, is renewing their campaign against surveillance locally and internationally.
In Uganda, Unwanted Witness will be urging their local telephone companies to stop sharing private data with politicians.
And in the United Kingdom, a huge coalition of Britain’s privacy groups is launching DontSpyOnUs.org.uk, to pressure the UK’s GCHQ to stop its global mass surveillance apparatus.
In the US? Call Congress today.
Dial 202-552-0505 or click here to enter your phone number and have our call tool connect you
Calling Congress takes just five minutes and is the most effective action you can take right now to let your elected officials know that mass surveillance must end.
Here’s what you should say:
I’d like Senator/Representative __ to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3361/S. 1599, the USA Freedom Act. I would also like you to oppose S. 1631, the so-called FISA Improvements Act. Moreover, I’d like you to work to prevent the NSA from undermining encryption standards and to protect the privacy rights of non-Americans.
Where ever you live, can join them: you can visit Necessary And Proportionate, the home of the 13 Principles, and add your name to our action, and find out what is happening in your own country. Write your own posts of opposition, and spread the word through the hashtag #stopspying .
The prominent Democratic website Think Progress recently took aim at the anti-NSA surveillance movement with a warning to “Beware of Libertarians Bearing Gifts”. The blog suggests bipartisan alliances between civil liberties advocates and libertarians will sink the New Deal, which some might say is already taking on a bit of water.
The direct target of authors Zack Beauchamp and Ian Millhiser is the Offnow.org coalition, a partnership anchored by the right-wing Tenth Amendment Center and the left-wing Bill of Rights Defense Committee.*
The premise of Offnow is local legislation in states, counties, and universities to make it policy to dis-invest in mass surveillance. Twelve state legislatures have introduced versions of the 4th Amendment Act (Alaska, Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington). The big target is Utah, home of the huge Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, where the provision of 1.7 million gallons of water by the state every day cools the huge supercomputers.
Think Progress’s objection to turning off the utilities on the NSA emanates from a liberal nightmare of a state like Texas darkening health clinics for poor people or cutting off water supplies to voting rights attorneys.
Let me be clear. I buy the idea that nutty contingents of the Tea Party might advocate for such things. Texas’s recent foray into fetal survival within the carcass of a deceased woman is evidence to never say never. But there is one basic difference.
Mass blanket surveillance of telephone metadata, email and Internet searches without individualized warrants and probable cause, is unconstitutional. The Bill of Rights doesn’t allow it. Congress didn’t approve it. The American public didn’t know about it until a certain contractor took a trip to Hong Kong. The idea Think Progress is embracing – the rogue activities of the NSA are established government policy – isn’t true.
Even the unaccountable secret FISC court has agreed: “The Obama administration, under pressure from continued NSA leaks, declassified documents Wednesday showing the agency scooped up tens of thousands of emails and other online communications from Americans beginning in 2008 that it wasn’t allowed to target, and was told to stop by the secret court that oversees the program”.
The Dems at The Center for American Progress also seem stricken by an attack of amnesia about the long tradition of local disinvestment movements to impact American policy – by progressives.
The anti-apartheid movement advocated for disinvestment in South Africa under apartheid from both private and public sources including state universities. By 1984, 53 U.S institutions divested, by 1987, 128 including the University of California. By the end of 1989, 26 states, 22 counties and over 90 cities had taken some form of binding economic action against companies doing business in South Africa. Most of this pre-dated the 1986 Comprehensive Apartheid Act by Congress.
Over 110 American cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities that will provide limited or no local cooperation with the Secure Communities deportation program run by the Department of Homeland Security.
Vermont, the state most often described as a progressive Disneyland has developed a virtual cottage industry in defying the federal government. In just the last few years, the state has authorized hemp growing without a permit, passed a law prohibiting patent trolling not addressed by the US Patent Act, opted out of the Affordable Care Act, and has considered a GMO labeling bill, currently stalled by litigation threats from Monsanto.
If the New Deal is sinking, the most progressive state in the nation appears to be steadily poking holes in the hull of the boat.
In the latest version of “you’re with us or you’re against us”, the Center for American Progress has embraced an a-historical definition of progressivism that prioritizes not sleeping with the enemy over principled dissent against unconstitutional activities.
The last line of the Think Progress article is “Ideology matters”.
Does it really matter more than justice?
*Disclaimer: Media Alliance, my organization, recently joined the Offnow coalition.
Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance (www.media-alliance.org), an Oakland CA-based democratic communications advocacy organization. Research assistance with this article was provided by Alexander Houk.