Privacy and Surveillance

Full 2nd Circ. Won’t Take Up Challenge To No-Fly Suit Ruling

A group of Muslim immigrants who said they were placed on the no-fly list for refusing to work as government informants won a victory Thursday at the Second Circuit, when all but three judges agreed not to reconsider an appeal panel’s earlier decision to send the case back to district court…

Read this piece in its entirety at Law360.

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Wendy’s Inks $50M Deal To End Hacked Payment Data Claims

The Wendy’s Co. has promised to dish out $50 million to settle a proposed class action brought by a group of financial institutions over a 2016 payment card data breach, according to documents filed Wednesday in Pennsylvania federal court…

Read this piece in its entirety at Law360.

Fitness App Users Take Another Run At Ad Co. Spying Suit

A suit alleging mobile advertising company Kiip Inc. spied on users of a smartphone running application is taking a second lap, this time in Illinois state court, after a pair of app users on Friday rebooted a proposed class action that was largely thrown out by a federal judge last year…

Read this piece in its entirety at Law360.

Walmart Sued After Ill. High Court Ruling On Biometric Privacy

A proposed class of Walmart Inc. employees sued the retail giant on Monday in Illinois state court, alleging that the company illegally collected their fingerprints without consent, days after the state’s Supreme Court ruled plaintiffs don’t need to allege actual harm to mount such suits…

Read this piece in its entirety at Law360.

Pros and cons of Mexico’s telecom reform

On 14 July 2014, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed into law a new set of telecommunications reforms. While the legislation takes important steps forward in a number of areas, some activists and non-governmental organizations are expressing concern over certain provisions…

Read this piece in its entirety at Southern Pulse.

Kerry’s Remarks Show US Hypocrisy on Venezuela

In remarks delivered to the Freedom Online Coalition Conference via teleconference yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said, “In Venezuela, the government has used security forces to disrupt peaceful protests and limit freedoms of expression and assembly. And this has included blocking access to selected websites and limiting access to internet service in certain parts of the country.”

The Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua fired back today saying, “The Bolivarian government rejects [Kerry’s] statements…Violent groups encouraged by the government of the United States burned a communications center. So, we reject this baseless and misguided statement…”

There have been reports in the past that Venezuela has exercised censorship over the internet, but in general, the portrayal of Venezuela’s hostility toward freedom of speech is overblown.

Nevertheless, let’s examine the hypocrisy of Secretary Kerry’s assertions – first, the claim that “the government has used security forces to disrupt peaceful protests.” As I’ve noted before, not all of the anti-government protesters in Venezuela are peaceful – and some have said outright that they are not.

During the Occupy protests of 2011 in the United States, reports of police brutality against peaceful protesters were routine. In one particularly egregious instance, a police officer at the University of California Davis pepper-sprayed a group of non-violent protesters while being filmed by an onlooker. A few weeks later, an 84-year-old woman was among those pepper-sprayed during a march in Seattle. Occupy activist Cecily McMillan elbowed a New York City police officer who violently grabbed her breast at a demonstration in March 2012. She was then beaten severely, suffered a seizure and was initially refused medical treatment by the police. McMillan currently faces up to seven years in prison for “assaulting” the officer.

This is not to say that police abuse is acceptable. Obviously, it’s not. But as journalist Chris Hedges recently wrote of the Occupy protests:

I saw police routinely shove protesters and beat them with batons. I saw activists slammed against police cars…I saw, and was caught up in, mass arrests in which those around me were handcuffed and then thrown violently onto the sidewalk. The police often blasted pepper spray into faces from inches away, temporarily blinding the victims. This violence, carried out against nonviolent protesters, came amid draconian city ordinances that effectively outlawed protest and banned demonstrators from public spaces…The message the state delivered is clear: Do not dissent.

The point is, this is not a problem to which the United States is immune – and, for what it’s worth, the Venezuelan government is investigating officers involved in abuses of demonstrators.

Now, how about “limiting access to internet service in certain parts of the country”?

Under a plan devised during the administration of George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security apparently has the capability to do exactly that. The agency is currently fighting a lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center to divulge the details, but according to an executive order issued in July 2012, DHS can shut down communications networks during national emergencies.

Also, it’s not as though American officials have never shut down communications networks in the event of protests. In 2011, the San Francisco public transit agency known as BART shut down the subway system’s wireless network, presumably to thwart protests against the killing of a homeless man by police.

Whatever you make of Secretary Kerry’s claims about the Venezuelan government’s “terror campaign against its own citizens“, it is undeniably hypocritical for US officials to lambast a foreign government for “us[ing] security forces to disrupt peaceful protests and limit[ing] freedoms of expression and assembly,” when their own government has engaged in similar behavior so recently.

Yup, the CIA Spied on Congress

Need a break from the news about the NSA spying on pretty much everybody? OK. Here’s some news about the CIA spying on congressional staffers.

For four years, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – the legislative body tasked with “oversee[ing] and mak[ing] continuing studies of the intelligence activities and programs of the United States Government” – had been reviewing documents related to the CIA’s torture program. In 2012, the committee voted to approve a 6,000-page report derived from that research, which noted national security hawk and committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein called “one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States Senate.”

According to the ACLU:

[T]he report found that the CIA misled Congress, the Justice Department, and President George W. Bush about the “effectiveness” of torture methods such as waterboarding, shackling in painful positions, and slamming detainees against walls. The report also reportedly found that those abuses did not help locate Osama bin Laden or thwart any terrorist plots, and were in fact counterproductive.

Thus far, the CIA and the White House have resisted declassifying the report, despite calls to do so from many media outlets and human rights groups. However, according to sources familiar with the document, it is “a withering indictment of the program and…the agency’s brutal interrogation methods.”

This would help explain why the intelligence agency was allegedly spying on the congressional staffers investigating that program. According to reporting from McClatchy, the CIA allowed staffers from the intelligence committee to view classified documents “vetted by CIA officials and contractors” on “secure” computers at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, VA.

The senate staffers apparently took some of these documents out of the facility. The CIA knew this because they were monitoring the “secure” computers being used by the staffers. When the agency confronted the senate panel about the removal of the material, the staff used their powers of deductive reasoning to determine they had been spied on.

This is problematic from a number of standpoints. For one, the CIA has no legal authority to do domestic spying. Moreover, they were surveilling the very people tasked with holding them accountable. Also, the CIA has admitted that it is subject to the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a law that makes hacking into government data networks illegal.

So basically, the CIA pointlessly tortured people and tried to cover it up. Then, congress tried to carry out its oversight duties. The CIA illegally monitored those efforts and pushed back against releasing the panel’s damning findings. To make matters worse, the agency investigating the CIA’s shady conduct is…the CIA. Oh, and they’ve asked the Justice Department to investigate the staffers who took the documents.

The democratically-elected oversight committee was trying to do its legally-mandated job while being illegally spied on by an unelected spy agency trying to thwart its efforts? It’s hard to wrap your mind around the absurdity of this situation.

Thankfully, the Intel Committee does not appear to be prepared to take this lying down. Stay tuned. This should be fun to watch.