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Pete Seeger and the NSA February 4, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, History, Police.
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Roger’s note: Of course, the recent revelations about NSA outdoing George Orwell is no laughing matter.  But if you need a moment of lightness today, click in the first paragraph on Pete’s testimony before HUAC.  It reads like a Monty Python skit.  With the persecutions of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden among others, and the hounding to death of Aaron Swartz, the U.S. government is just getting started in putting its mega data collection to use.  When the political protests heat up to the next level, I believe we are going to see the same kind of witch hunts that we saw under the era of Joseph McCarthy, only much worse.  Those who lived through that period of history can tell you what it is like to be persecuted by the government for your First Amendment protected beliefs.  Perhaps what is most frightening is the militarization of local police departments, and we saw what state violence against legitimate political protest will look like during the brutal repression of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.  Whether you are brought up before a Kafkaesque like official United States government kangaroo court or bashed over the head with police baton or run down by a Homeland Security issues armored vehicle, the chilling result is the same: fascism in our day.  
That it occurs under the auspices of the affable and articulate constitutional lawyer who is the first Black American president or the feisty and charming soon to be first woman American president, will not do much to soften the blow.

 

Published on Tuesday, February 4, 2014 by Deeplinks Blog/EFF

by Cindy Cohn

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.

Pete Seeger, 1955, testimony pursuant to subpoena before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Pete Seeger (Image: EFF)

The world lost a clear, strong voice for peace, justice, and community with the death of singer and activist Pete Seegerlast week. While Seeger was known as an outspoken musician not shy about airing his political opinions, it’s also important to remember he was once persecuted for those opinions, despite breaking no law. And the telling of this story should give pause to those who claim to be unconcerned about the government’s metadata seizure and search programs that reveal our associations to the government today.

In 1955, Seeger was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he defiantly refused to answer questions about others who he associated with and who shared his political beliefs and associations, believing Congress was violating his First Amendment rights. He was especially concerned about revealing his associations:

I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business. . . .  But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them.

But if the same thing were to happen today, a Congressional subpoena and a public hearing wouldn’t be necessary for the government to learn all of our associations and other “private affairs.” Since the NSA has been collecting and keeping them, they could just get that same information from their own storehouses of our records.

According to the Constitution, the government is supposed to meet a high standard before collecting this private information about our associations, especially the political ones that the Congressmen were demanding of Seeger. For instance, under the First Amendment, it must“serve compelling state interests, unrelated to the suppression of ideas, that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms.”

It doesn’t matter whether the government wants associations to look for possibly “illegal” activities of civil rights activists, Communist sympathizers, anarchists, trade unionists, war resisters, gun rights activists, environmental activists, drug legalization advocates, or wants to go after legitimate criminals and potential terrorists, if the government can’t justify the collection of this “metadata” on this “strict scrutiny” standard, they’re not allowed to collect any of it. Yet right now, they collect all of it.

We’re still learning of all the ways the government is able to track our associations without anything like the due process and standards required by the First and Fourth Amendments, but it is the centerpiece of the NSA’s mass telephone records collection program under Patriot Act section 215, which EFF is fighting with our First Unitarian Church v. NSA case that focuses on the right of association.  Our lead client, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, had its own role in resisting the House Un-American Activities Committee. It’s also part and parcel of the mass collection of content and metadata of people all around the world under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. And it’s a real concern even if the companies hold the data, as we’ve seen with the FBI’s self-certified National Security Lettersand the Hemisphere program, where AT&T employees are embedded in government investigations so that they can more readily search through our phone records for the FBI, the DEA and others.

Each of these programs effectively allows the government to do to you what Pete Seeger refused to let them do to him—track your associations, beliefs and other private affairs without proper legal protections.  And they can do this at scale that was unimaginable in 1955, thanks to the digital nature of our communications, the digital tools that allow them to search automatically rather than by hand and the fact that so much more about these private affairs is in the hands of third parties like our phone and internet companies.

While Seeger escaped jail, he was convicted of contempt for his failure to answer these questions. Thankfully Joseph McCarthy and the Un-American Activities Committees were later widely condemned, and Americans understandably look back sadly and with embarrassment on time when the Committee forced Americans to reveal their own associations, along with the associations and beliefs of others.  With the passing of moral and artistic heroes like Seeger, we should redouble our efforts to make sure that our “private affairs” remain safe and the government’s ability to access them remains subject to careful controls.

Join us on February 11 for the day we fight back against mass surveillance.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Cindy Cohn

Cindy Cohn is legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as its general counsel, coordinating over 40 national class action lawsuits against the telecommunications carriers and the government seeking to stop warrantless NSA surveillance

Federal Judge Orders ‘Compassionate Release’ of Attorney Lynne Stewart January 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Media.
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Roger’s note: amidst all the crap, some good news from a judge for a change.

 

alg-stewart-jpg

 

 

‘Today’s small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented.’

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A federal judge ordered the “compassionate release” of former defense lawyer Lynne Stewart on Tuesday on the grounds that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer with a life expectancy of less than 18 months.Lynn Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter, right, protests with others outside a Manhattan court in August (Reuters)

Stewart, 74, who is known for representing underserved and unpopular defendants, has served four years out of a ten-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center Carswell (FMC Carswell) in Fort Worth, Texas, in connection with her defense of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart allegedly helped pass messages between Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric convicted of planning terror attacks, and an organization designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States Secretary of State.

Presiding Judge John Koeltl wrote that Stewart’s “terminal medical condition and very limited life expectancy constitute extraordinary and compelling reasons that warrant the requested reduction [of her sentence.]… It is further ordered that the defendant shall be released from the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons as soon as her medical condition permits, the release plan is implemented and travel arrangements can be made.”

Stewart left prison on Tuesday and headed for New York City to live with her family.

Jill Shellow, Stewart’s attorney, told CNN her client’s supporters were “overjoyed that she will spend her remaining days with her family.”

“From arrest to sentencing, Lynne Stewart’s case was used by the Department of Justice to send a chilling message to attorneys: think twice about who you represent!” said Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, of which Stewart was a member. “Today’s small measure of justice does little to repair the damage wrought by the government’s unjust prosecution of an advocate whose service to society has been widely documented.”

Robert J. Boyle, one of Lynne Stewart’s attorneys added, “We are gratified and thankful that the government has agreed to Lynne’s compassionate release request. She has dedicated her life to fighting for justice for the underserved and unpopular. Lynne can now return home to her family and to the community that loves her.”

The Revolutionaries in Our Midst November 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: as with many of the articles I read on the Internet, readers’ comments are often a valuable source of opinion and ideas.  For the comments on this article, you can go to the source at:http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/11/11-0.

 

 

NEW YORK—Jeremy Hammond sat in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center last week in a small room reserved for visits from attorneys. He was wearing an oversized prison jumpsuit. The brown hair of the lanky 6-footer fell over his ears, and he had a wispy beard. He spoke with the intensity and clarity one would expect from one of the nation’s most important political prisoners.

Jeremy Hammond is shown in this March 5, 2012 booking photo from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department in Chicago. (Photo: AP Photo/Cook County Sheriff’s Department))

On Friday the 28-year-old activist will appear for sentencing in the Southern District Court of New York in Manhattan. After having made a plea agreement, he faces the possibility of a 10-year sentence for hacking into the Texas-based private security firm Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, which does work for the Homeland Security Department, the Marine Corps, the Defense Intelligence Agency and numerous corporations including Dow Chemical and Raytheon.

Four others involved in the hacking have been convicted in Britain, and they were sentenced to less time combined—the longest sentence was 32 months—than the potential 120-month sentence that lies before Hammond.

Hammond turned the pilfered information over to the website WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone and other publications. The 3 million email exchanges, once made public, exposed the private security firm’s infiltration, monitoring and surveillance of protesters and dissidents, especially in the Occupy movement, on behalf of corporations and the national security state. And, perhaps most important, the information provided chilling evidence that anti-terrorism laws are being routinely used by the federal government to criminalize nonviolent, democratic dissent and falsely link dissidents to international terrorist organizations. Hammond sought no financial gain. He got none.

The email exchanges Hammond made public were entered as evidence in my lawsuit against President Barack Obama over Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Section 1021 permits the military to seize citizens who are deemed by the state to be terrorists, strip them of due process and hold them indefinitely in military facilities. Alexa O’Brien, a content strategist and journalist who co-founded US Day of Rage, an organization created to reform the election process, was one of my co-plaintiffs. Stratfor officials attempted, we know because of the Hammond leaks, to falsely link her and her organization to Islamic radicals and websites as well as to jihadist ideology, putting her at risk of detention under the new law. Judge Katherine B. Forrest ruled, in part because of the leak, that we plaintiffs had a credible fear, and she nullified the law, a decision that an appellate court overturned when the Obama administration appealed it.

Freedom of the press and legal protection for those who expose government abuses and lies have been obliterated by the corporate state. The resulting self-exile of investigative journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Jacob Appelbaum and Laura Poitras, along with the indictment of Barret Brown, illustrate this. All acts of resistance—including nonviolent protest—have been conflated by the corporate state with terrorism. The mainstream, commercial press has been emasculated through the Obama administration’s repeated use of the Espionage Act to charge and sentence traditional whistle-blowers. Governmental officials with a conscience are too frightened to reach out to mainstream reporters, knowing that the authorities’ wholesale capturing and storing of electronic forms of communication make them easily identifiable. Elected officials and the courts no longer impose restraint or practice oversight. The last line of defense lies with those such as Hammond, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning who are capable of burrowing into the records of the security and surveillance state and have the courage to pass them on to the public. But the price of resistance is high.

“In these times of secrecy and abuse of power there is only one solution—transparency,” wrote Sarah Harrison, the British journalist who accompanied Snowden to Russia and who also has gone into exile, in Berlin. “If our governments are so compromised that they will not tell us the truth, then we must step forward to grasp it. Provided with the unequivocal proof of primary source documents people can fight back. If our governments will not give this information to us, then we must take it for ourselves.”

“When whistleblowers come forward we need to fight for them, so others will be encouraged,” she went on. “When they are gagged, we must be their voice. When they are hunted, we must be their shield. When they are locked away, we must free them. Giving us the truth is not a crime. This is our data, our information, our history. We must fight to own it. Courage is contagious.”

Hammond knows this contagion. He was living at home in Chicago in 2010 under a 7-a.m.-to-7-p.m. curfew for a variety of acts of civil disobedience when Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning was arrested for giving WikiLeaks secret information about military war crimes and government lies. Hammond at the time was running social aid programs to feed the hungry and send books to prisoners. He had, like Manning, displayed a remarkable aptitude for science, math and computer languages at a young age. He hacked into the computers at a local Apple store at 16. He hacked into the computer science department’s website at the University of Illinois-Chicago as a freshman, a prank that saw the university refuse to allow him to return for his sophomore year. He was an early backer of “cyber-liberation” and in 2004 started an “electronic-disobedience journal” he named Hack This Zine. He called on hackers in a speech at the 2004 DefCon convention in Las Vegas to use their skills to disrupt that year’s Republican National Convention. He was, by the time of his 2012 arrest, one of the shadowy stars of the hacktivist underground, dominated by groups such as Anonymous and WikiLeaks in which anonymity, stringent security and frequent changes of aliases alone ensured success and survival. Manning’s courage prompted Hammond to his own act of cyber civil disobedience, although he knew his chances of being caught were high.

“I saw what Chelsea Manning did,” Hammond said when we spoke last Wednesday, seated at a metal table. “Through her hacking she became a contender, a world changer. She took tremendous risks to show the ugly truth about war. I asked myself, if she could make that risk shouldn’t I make that risk? Wasn’t it wrong to sit comfortably by, working on the websites of Food Not Bombs, while I had the skills to do something similar? I too could make a difference. It was her courage that prompted me to act.”

Hammond—who has black-inked tattoos on each forearm, one the open-source movement’s symbol known as the “glider” and the other the shi hexagram from the I Ching—is steeped in radical thought. As a teenager, he swiftly migrated politically from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party to the militancy of the Black Bloc anarchists. He was an avid reader in high school of material put out by CrimethInc, an anarchist collective that publishes anarchist literature and manifestos. He has molded himself after old radicals such as Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman and black revolutionaries such as George Jackson, Elaine Brown and Assata Shakur, as well as members of the Weather Underground. He said that while he was in Chicago he made numerous trips to Waldheim Cemetery to visit the Haymarket Martyrs Monument, which honors four anarchists who were hanged in 1887 and others who took part in the labor wars. On the 16-foot-high granite monument are the final words of one of the condemned men, August Spies. It reads: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voice you are throttling today.” Emma Goldman is buried nearby.

Hammond became well known to the government for a variety of acts of civil disobedience over the last decade. These ranged from painting anti-war graffiti on Chicago walls to protesting at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York to hacking into the right-wing website Protest Warrior, for which he was sentenced to two years in the Federal Correctional Institute at Greenville, Ill.

Hammond spent months within the Occupy movement in Chicago. He embraced its “leaderless, non-hierarchical structures such as general assemblies and consensus, and occupying public spaces.” But he was highly critical of what he said were the “vague politics” in Occupy that allowed it to include followers of the libertarian Ron Paul, some in the tea party, as well as “reformist liberals and Democrats.” Hammond said he was not interested in any movement that “only wanted a ‘nicer’ form of capitalism and favored legal reforms, not revolution.” He remains rooted in the ethos of the Black Bloc.

“Being incarcerated has really opened my eyes to the reality of the criminal justice system,” he said, “that it is not a criminal justice system about public safety or rehabilitation, but reaping profits through mass incarceration. There are two kinds of justice—one for the rich and the powerful who get away with the big crimes, then for everyone else, especially people of color and the impoverished. There is no such thing as a fair trial. In over 80 percent of the cases people are pressured to plea out instead of exercising their right to trial, under the threat of lengthier sentences. I believe no satisfactory reforms are possible. We need to close all prisons and release everybody unconditionally.”

He said he hoped his act of resistance would encourage others, just as Manning’s courage had inspired him. He said activists should “know and accept the worst possible repercussion” before carrying out an action and should be “aware of mass counterintelligence/surveillance operations targeting our movements.” An informant posing as a comrade, Hector Xavier Monsegur, known online as “Sabu,” turned Hammond and his co-defendants in to the FBI. Monsegur stored data retrieved by Hammond on an external server in New York. This tenuous New York connection allowed the government to try Hammond in New York for hacking from his home in Chicago into a private security firm based in Texas. New York is the center of the government’s probes into cyber-warfare; it is where federal authorities apparently wanted Hammond to be investigated and charged.

Hammond said he will continue to resist from within prison. A series of minor infractions, as well as testing positive with other prisoners on his tier for marijuana that had been smuggled into the facility, has resulted in his losing social visits for the next two years and spending “time in the box [solitary confinement].” He is allowed to see journalists, but my request to interview him took two months to be approved. He said prison involves “a lot of boredom.” He plays chess, teaches guitar and helps other prisoners study for their GED. When I saw him, he was working on the statement, a personal manifesto, that he will read in court this week.

He insisted he did not see himself as different from prisoners, especially poor prisoners of color, who are in for common crimes, especially drug-related crimes. He said most inmates are political prisoners, caged unjustly by a system of totalitarian capitalism that has snuffed out basic opportunities for democratic dissent and economic survival.

“The majority of people in prison did what they had to do to survive,” he said. “Most were poor. They got caught up in the war on drugs, which is how you make money if you are poor. The real reason they get locked in prison for so long is so corporations can continue to make big profits. It is not about justice. I do not draw distinctions between us.”

“Jail is essentially enduring harassment and dehumanizing conditions with frequent lockdowns and shakedowns,” he said. “You have to constantly fight for respect from the guards, sometimes getting yourself thrown in the box. However, I will not change the way I live because I am locked up. I will continue to be defiant, agitating and organizing whenever possible.”

He said resistance must be a way of life. He intends to return to community organizing when he is released, although he said he will work to stay out of prison. “The truth,” he said, “will always come out.” He cautioned activists to be hyper-vigilant and aware that “one mistake can be permanent.” But he added, “Don’t let paranoia or fear deter you from activism. Do the down thing!”

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

As Europe erupts over US spying, NSA chief says government must stop media October 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Democracy, Media, Surveillance State, Whistle-blowing.
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With General Alexander calling for NSA reporting to be halted, US and UK credibility as guardians of press freedom is crushed

 

NSA director Gen Keith Alexander.

NSA Director General Keith Alexander, earlier this month. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

 

The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.

As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

There are three points worth making about these latest developments.

First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.

Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that’s true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the “crime” of blowing the whistle on all of this?

If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn’t they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?

Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?

Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.

Can even President Obama and his most devoted loyalists continue to maintain, with a straight face, that this is all about Terrorism? That is what this superb new Foreign Affairs essay by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore means when it argues that the Manning and Snowden leaks are putting an end to the ability of the US to use hypocrisy as a key weapon in its soft power.

Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA’s director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):

The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of “selling” his agency’s documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

“I think it’s wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn’t make sense,” Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department’s “Armed With Science” blog.

“We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don’t know how to do that. That’s more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it’s wrong to allow this to go on,” the NSA director declared. [My italics]

There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called “the first amendment”.

I’d love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to “come up with a way of stopping” the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?

Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.

Worse Than Nixon? Committee to Protect Journalists Warns About Obama Crackdown on Press Freedom October 11, 2013

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ROGER’S NOTE: THIS IS THE PRESIDENT WHO PROMISED MORE TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT.  THIS IS THE PRESIDENT WHO IS QUICK TO ACCUSE THE ECUADORIAN AND VENEZUELAN GOVERNMENTS OF SUPPRESSING FREEDOM OF THE PRESS.

http://www.democracynow.org, October 11, 2013

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we shift gears and turn to the first report on press freedom in the United States ever published by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which usually advocates for press freedoms overseas—and the news isn’t good. Titled “The Obama Administration and the Press,” the report looks at the many ways President Obama has ushered in a paralyzing climate of fear for both reporters and their sources. Among the cases it details, six government employees, plus two contractors, including Edward Snowden, have faced felony criminal prosecutions since 2009 under the 1917 Espionage Act for leaking classified information to the press, compared with just three prosecutions in all previous U.S. administrations. The Department of Justice has also secretly subpoenaed and seized Associated Press reporters’ phone logs and emails, and New York Times reporter James Risen was ordered to testify against a former CIA officer who provided leaked information to him, or Risen would go to jail.

The new report is written by Leonard Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post. He spoke with dozens of journalists who told him officials are, quote, “reluctant to discuss even unclassified information … because they fear that leak investigations and government surveillance make it more difficult for reporters to protect them as sources.” It comes as Glenn Greenwald, columnist for Britain’s Guardian newspaper who is based in Brazil, and his partner David Miranda testified before a Brazilian Senate committee this week about his work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who remains in Russia while he’s wanted in the U.S. on espionage charges.

GLENN GREENWALD: [translated] In reality, there is a war against journalism and the process of transparency. And this war is with the government of the United States and its closest allies, mostly the British government. They are doing a lot of things against the freedom of press to hide this whole report, which generally the United States or English government say these things only happen in China or Iran or Russia, but now we can see that the United States government is doing these exact same things.

AMY GOODMAN: That of course wasn’t Glenn Greenwald’s voice that you mainly heard, because Glenn Greenwald was speaking Portuguese in the Brazilian hearing. This comes as the Obama administration seized the emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen as part of probes into the leaking of classified information. In May, President Obama said he made no apologies for seeking to crack down on leaks.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk. I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me, as commander-in-chief, not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Leonard Downie, former executive editor of The Washington Post, author of this new report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,” commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Leonard Downie’s 44 years at The Washington Post included overseeing much of its Watergate coverage. During the 17 years he served as executive editor, the paper won 25 Pulitzer Prizes. He’s now is a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Leonard Downie, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about your findings, this comprehensive, first-time report of the Committee to Protect Journalists on press freedom here in the United States.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I found that these leaks investigations and a program called the Insider Threat Program, instituted since the Bradley Manning leaks, that requires government employees to monitor each other to make sure that they’re not leaking information to anyone, including journalists, to have really frightened government officials. Many, many reporters that I interviewed here in Washington say that government officials are afraid to talk to them. They’re afraid that their telephone conversations and their email exchanges would be monitored. That is to say that investigators could come in later, as they did in several leaks investigations, and use their telephone and email records in order to find the contacts between government officials and reporters. So they’re simply scared to talk to reporters.

And this, this is not good, because—I just heard the president saying that he was concerned about the safety of our troops and our intelligence officers. It’s important that responsible, knowledgeable government officials be able to talk to reporters about these matters, so that, among other things, they can alert reporters to information that might be harmful to national security or harmful to human life, in which case no responsible news organization would publish those.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I guess I was most surprised by—you know, I’m used to reporters complaining about access, because we all want more access than we can get all the time, and that’s understandable. But I was surprised by the pervasiveness of this administration’s control over the—over information, by how much it discourages leaks of all kinds and not just classified information leaks, and how much it does not allow for unauthorized contacts with the press, if it can help it, and how much it uses social media and other digital means—websites and so on—to put out a lot of its own story, a lot of its own information, that makes the administration look good, while restricting access to information that would hold the government accountable for its actions.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Downie, for this report you spoke with New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane—we also—

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —just interviewed him—who said sources are now scared to death to even talk about unclassified, everyday issues. He said, quote, “There’s a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone,” Shane said. “It’s having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.” That was Scott Shane of The New York Times. Leonard Downie?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Yes, that’s exactly what he told me. And this is exactly what I heard from dozens of reporters around Washington, from news executives, and even from some former government officials, who are concerned, as I said earlier, about the fact that there—that it’s important that knowledgeable reporters, like Scott Shane, who know so much about national security, and his editors, who can make good decisions about what to publish—if they’re cut off from this information, it’s important for them—but here’s a good example. Look at how much the administration has revealed now about the NSA surveillance program, only because Edward Snowden provided that information to the press. The press published it, and that forced the administration to make public information about this program that Americans ought to have so that they can make decisions about it.

AMY GOODMAN: In May, reporters asked President Obama whether his administration’s probe of the emails of Associated Press reporters and editors’ emails recalls President Richard Nixon’s targeting of the press when it attempted to block The New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War leaked to the paper by whistleblower Dan Ellsberg. This is part of the exchange.

REPORTER: I’d like to ask you about the Justice Department.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mm-hmm.

REPORTER: Do you believe that the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists this week, or before, that was announced recently this week, was an overreach? And do you still have full confidence in your attorney general? Should we interpret yesterday’s renewed interest by the White House in a media shield law as a response to that? And more broadly, how do you feel about comparisons by some of your critics of this week’s scandals to those that happened under the Nixon administration?

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, yeah, I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons. And you can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions. My concern is making sure that if there’s a problem in the government, that we fix it. That’s my responsibility. And that’s what we’re going to do.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is White House spokesperson Jay Carney questioned in May about the AP spying scandal and the Obama administration’s prosecutions of whistleblowers.

REPORTER: This administration in the last four years has prosecuted twice as many leakers as every previous administration combined. How does that reflect balance?

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I would say that the president is committed to the press’s ability to pursue information, to defending the First Amendment. He is also, as a citizen and as commander-in-chief, committed to the proposition that we cannot allow classified information to be—that can do harm to our national security interests or to endanger individuals, to be—to be leaked. And that is a balance that has to be struck.

REPORTER: But the record of the last four years does not suggest balance.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: That’s your opinion, Ari, but I—

REPORTER: No, it’s twice as many prosecutions as all previous administrations combined. That’s not even close.

PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: I understand that there—you know, that there were ongoing investigations that preceded this administration. But I—again, I’m not going to—I can tell you what the president’s views are, and the president’s views include his defense of the First Amendment, his belief that journalists ought to be able to pursue information in an unfettered way. And that is backed up by his support for a media shield law, both as senator and as president. And it is also true that he believes a balance needs to be struck between those goals and the need to protect classified information.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can respond to both of those, Leonard Downie? Of course, that’s White House spokesperson Jay Carney—

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —who is the former Washington bureau chief of Time magazine.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Yes, and I interviewed him for my report, and he stated responses like those you just heard.

First, there’s too much that’s classified. The president himself has said repeatedly in the past that too much information is classified. It’s not just information that might be harmful to national security or human life; it’s just lots and lots, millions and millions and millions of documents and pieces of information that are classified that shouldn’t be. Obviously that preceded this administration, but it’s not improved during this administration.

The president promised to have the most transparent government in American history. He promised to reduce overclassification. He promised to make it easier to obtain government information through the Freedom of Information Act. And so far, none of these promises have been kept. So, part of the reason for why I agreed to do this report for the Committee to Protect Journalists is I would like to alert the president to the fact that this is one of the most—this is one of the first promises he made. He signed presidential directives about open government his first day in office. These are not being carried out by his administration. He still has time for his legacy to make good on these promises.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the Justice Department acknowledging seizing the work, home and cellphone records used by almost a hundred reporters and editors at the Associated Press. The phones targeted included the general AP office numbers in New York City, in Washington, D.C., in Hartford, Connecticut, and the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, which of course means that many other reporters were speaking on it—the action coming as part of a probe into leaks behind an AP story on a U.S. intelligence operation.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: This has had a chilling effect on both government officials, government sources and journalists. And it’s not the only one of these investigations in which such records were secretly subpoenaed and seized—half of these eight investigations that took place. So, reporters and sources know that records have been seized in the past, and as a result, reporters told me, people are afraid to talk to them on the telephone, they’re afraid to engage in email traffic with them, and the reporters themselves are concerned about putting their sources at risk by conducting telephone and email conversations with them, which means we have to go back to secret meetings, like the—you know, the underground garage meetings with Deep Throat during Watergate. Reporters are trying to figure out if they can encrypt their email, but we now know that NSA is trying to figure out how to—how to get past the encryption. So, reporters are very, very worried about putting their sources in jeopardy merely by trying to talk to them about the people’s business.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the Insider Threat Program?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: The Insider Threat Program, which was first described by the McClatchy Newspapers last summer, is a presidential order that came after the Manning case. The government was very, very concerned about other Mannings somewhere in the government, because so much—so much of this information is digitally available to clever people. And so, they instituted this program where they ordered every government department and every agency to order their employees—and there are directives that have gone out, which McClatchy Newspapers obtained, that instruct employees to monitor each other to make sure that there are no leaks of classified information. And it’s been interpreted by some of the agencies, as you look at their plans, to go beyond classified information to information about anything that’s going on in that agency.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you think, overall, Leonard Downie, the press have been impacted? I mean, going back to this point that the Committee to Protect Journalists has never issued a report on press freedom in the United States before.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: Correct, correct. This has had a chilling effect on not just coverage of national security, but coverage of the government generally. Along with the other policies of the administration, in which they have exercised such tight control over their message, over their information, it makes it very difficult for the press to hold the administration accountable for its actions. Now, that doesn’t mean reporters are going to stop. And even though they complain to me, they’re still out there working aggressively, and there still is good coverage of a lot of things. But we don’t know what we’ve not been able to find out about how this government works, in order to hold it accountable to the American people. If the president said he wants to be able to have his government held accountable to the American people, then I think they should change their policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Why is President Obama doing this? I mean, you hear the questions of Jay Carney. I mean, under the Obama administration, more than twice the number of journalists and sources have been gone after, prosecuted, than all administrations combined.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: There are two different patterns here. One began with 9/11, and in fairness to the administration, the PATRIOT Act was passed under George Bush. Some of these leaks investigations did begin during the Bush administration, as Jay Carney said, although then they reached fruition and with prosecutions under the Obama administration. And new investigations began, like the one with the Associated Press and Fox News that you’ve talked about. So, that atmosphere of being concerned about national security leaks and pressure from the intelligence community to stop these kinds of leaks, it began during the Bush administration, has accelerated during the Obama administration.

At the same time, the Obama people discovered during the two election campaigns that very tight message control, in which they try to get their news out to people, news that they generate out to Americans, but make it more difficult for reporters to hold them accountable, worked very well during the campaigns. And they’ve been much more successful than previous administrations at carrying that control over into the workings of government itself once they took office. Other administrations have tried this, but they’ve not been as successful at it.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Downie—

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: And the third—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: I’m sorry. And the third factor is, is obviously, you know, the new digital world we live in, which gives them much more levers for controlling the message than we’ve ever had before.

AMY GOODMAN: What needs to be done, very quickly?

LEONARD DOWNIE JR.: The president needs to keep his promises. He needs to reduce overclassification. He needs to make it easier to obtain information through the Freedom of Information Act. He needs to put the word out that government officials should be allowed to talk to the press unless it’s something that’s going to be harmful to national security.

AMY GOODMAN: Leonard Downie, I want to thank you for being with us, former executive editor of The Washington Post, author of the new report, “The Obama Administration and the Press,” commissioned by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the first time the CPJ has looked at freedom of the press in the United States. We’ll link to that report at democracynow.org. We’ll be back in a minute.

Banning Books On the Truth of the Human Condition ‘Cause (Eww) Sex, Death and Racism September 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Education, North Carolina, Racism.
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Last week, good ole North Carolina, whose wacko right-wing majority has been some busy passing laws that hurt women, minorities, the poor and the environment, got a nice jump on National Banned Books Week by banning of Ralph Ellison’s  Invisible Man, which Ellison described in his speech accepting the National Book Award as “a return to the mood of personal moral responsibility for democracy.” Ellison’s classic about American racism, about being “a man of substance, of flesh and bone,” who is not seen because he’s black, was evidently banned after one parent complained it was “not so innocent…filthier….too much for teenagers”; school board members agreed it was “a hard read” that “didn’t (have) any literary value.” Banning books is a time-tested, spirit-deadening tradition in fearful communities; there were 464 challenges to books reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, with The Bluest Eye and Persopolis perhaps the most recently banned. In the past, almost half of what are widely viewed as the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been banned or challenged, including The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple, 1984, Ulysses, Sophie’s  Choice, Rabbit Run, Slaughterhouse-Five, A Farewell to Arms, and An American Tragedy, which it is.

“I am an invisible man…No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”

A Free-Speech Victory at the ‘University of Nike’ September 22, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, Labor.
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Friday Sep 20, 2013 6:12 pm

 

By Rebecca Burns

The University of Oregon’s ‘Football Performance Center,’ which was paid for by Nike founder (and U of O alum) Phil Knight. (Photo by Wolfram Burner via Flickr)  

 

The “University of Nike” sounds like an institution straight out of a dystopian novel. But that moniker has actually been embraced by the University of Oregon, where Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight is one of the school’s most important donors. A gleaming new football center, complete with a locker room requiring biometric thumbprints to enter, isn’t the only sign of the corporation’s influence on campus: During negotiations with the school’s faculty union over its first-ever contract, critics say that the university pulled out some fancy footwork meant to preserve the patronage of Nike and other major donors, including provisions that would have narrowed protections for faculty who speak out against university policies. But an ultimate victory this week by the union, which faculty voted to form last year, helped beat back these measures and uphold the academic freedoms that are increasingly endangered by campuses’ corporate ties.

Unionization rates among U.S. faculty members are traditionally lower than those of their counterparts in other countries, and faculty at private colleges and universities are barred from collective bargaining entirely. But the tussle at the University of Oregon demonstrated that dwellers of the Ivory Tower are also workers under attack—and that their ability to take collective action is essential to the future of higher education.

During the past week, several proposals advanced by the Oregon administration have alarmed campus free-speech advocates and captured national attention. Colleen Flaherty reported at Inside Higher Education on the attempt to insert a “civility” clause into a section of the contract on “faculty responsibilities,” a measure that the watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE) says is often abused on campuses in order to “punish unpopular viewpoints.” Even after this proposal was withdrawn last week, City University of New York Professor Corey Robin, who blogs about the politics of higher education, noted that the administration’s insistence on its right to monitor faculty e-mails and even review non-work e-mails “to the extent that they address work-related subjects” represented a “draconian assault on faculty autonomy and privacy.”

Another proposal to limit the ability of faculty members to consult for outside organizations when the Provost deemed it “contrary to the university’s best interests” drew particular concerns that the administration might kow-tow to corporate donors eager to silence their academic critics. Given that Oregon’s Board of Trustees includes “CEOs from the state’s timber and construction industries, the wife of the CEO of Microsoft, and a retired executive from Nike,” wrote Robin, “it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a professor is forbidden by the provost from consulting with an organization critical of Nike’s labor policies or Microsoft’s market practices.”

But at a bargaining session on Wednesday, the administration backed off these measures, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that also includes average salary increases of 11.75% over the two-year agreement. United Academics (UA), which is comprised of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, also won new contract protections for contingent faculty. Full details of the agreement have not yet been released, but Susan Anderson, a German professor and member of the bargaining committee, tells In These Times that it includes “robust protections” for free speech, including language referring to the First Amendment. The union will vote on whether to ratify the contract on October 8.

In a statement released yesterday by the university, U of O President Michael Gottfredson said that he also welcomed the agreement: “Our students benefit from the talents of professors who share their knowledge and passion for research and scholarship every day and this first contract reflects a fiscally responsible agreement that rewards excellence and invests in our faculty—strengthening the University of Oregon for all of our community.”

The administration’s shift is a particularly significant one because its initial proposal eschewed a union demand to guarantee the right to free speech outside the classroom, including where this concerns debate about institutional policies. Instead, Flaherty notes, the university’s proposal “decouples academic freedom and free speech, addressing them separately. Academic freedom is ‘necessary to teaching and research,’ it says, with no mention of the role of academics in speaking out if not related directly to teaching and research.”

The ability of faculty members to criticize university policies was a key tenet of academic freedom when the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) codified the concept in 1940. But the free-speech rights of university faculty have fallen into murky territory since 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that public employees were not entitled to these rights for speech “pursuant to their official duties.” The Supreme Court did not address whether this ruling applied to professors at public universities, leaving the question in a legal limbo. Advocates are hopeful that a decision earlier this month from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco—which ruled that a controversial proposal circulated by a former Washington State University Professor David Demers to overhaul the school’s communications department should have constituted protected speech—will form the basis for more robust protections in the future.

But apart from legal uncertainty, academic freedom faces another threat: the growing reliance of universities on corporate patronage. To make up for stunning shortfalls in state funding, public universities have both hiked tuition and courted investment by private donors. “When universities are dependent on the money of private donors, administrators may feel pressure to enact policies that jeopardize the status of the university as a place of free inquiry,” says Anderson. Oregon has already seen this kind of influence wielded—the university reportedly terminated its involvement in the anti-sweatshop Workers’ Rights Consortium following pressure from Nike’s Knight.

Yet in the face of creeping academic commercialism, writes Jen Washburn, author of University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, the AAUP and other advocates have been slow to respond, adhering to a “narrow, individualistic interpretation of academic freedom” that disregards the broader politics of today’s universities.

According to Joe Lowndes, an associate professor of political science and member of the union’s organizing committee, the contract fight at the University of Oregon “has shown that a unionized faculty can, among other things, act to safeguard academic freedom—a freedom we have learned not to take for granted within the changing structure of American higher education.”

 

 

Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.

Miranda Detention: ‘Blatant Attack on Press Freedom’ August 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Democracy, Media, Whistle-blowing.
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A Commentary by Laura Poitras

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/laura-poitras-on-british-attacks-on-press-freedom-and-the-nsa-affair-a-918592.html

The detention of David Miranda — partner of the Guardian journalist involved in the NSA revelations — and the destruction of hard drives in the British newspaper’s basement reveal one thing: Governments do not want their citizens to be informed when it comes to the topic of surveillance.

I woke up last Sunday in Berlin to an email from Glenn Greenwald with only one sentence: “I need to talk to you ASAP.”

 

For the past three months, Glenn and I have been reporting on the NSA disclosures revealed to us by Edward Snowden.I went online to the encrypted channel that Glenn and I use to communicate. He told me that he had just received a call telling him that his partner David Miranda was being detained at London’s Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act. David was traveling from Berlin where he had come to work with me. For the next six hours I was online with Glenn as he tried to find out what was happening to the person he loves most in the world.

Glenn’s reporting on the NSA story is made possible by the love and courage of David. When Glenn and I traveled to Hong Kong to meet Edward Snowden, Glenn and David spoke daily. Reporting on the most secret abuses of governments does not come without moments of fear. There was a turning point in Hong Kong before Glenn published the first story about the Verizon court order that exposed the NSA’s spying on Americans. It was David who told Glenn: “You need to do this. If you don’t do this, you will never be able to live with yourself.”

As Glenn and I exchanged messages between Rio and Berlin, David was being interrogated in London about our NSA reporting. Glenn said several times: “I actually cannot believe they are doing this.” I kept thinking I wish it were me. Having documented and reported on abuses of government power post 9/11, we both thought we’d reached a point where nothing would shock us. We were wrong — using pernicious terrorism laws to target the people we love and work with, this shocked us.

Attack on Press Freedom

Reporting on this story means some things can only be said in person, and still it is hard to know you can escape surveillance. David was traveling to meet me on behalf of the Guardian newspaper, which has taken the lead on publishing the NSA stories. We now know that David’s detention was ordered at the highest levels of the British government, including the Prime Minister. We also know the US government was given advance warning that David would be detained and interrogated.

The NSA has special relationships with the spy agencies from the so-called “Five-Eyes” nations, which include Britain’s GCHQ. Weeks before David was detained, agents from GCHQ entered the offices of the Guardian newspaper and oversaw the destruction of several hard drives which contained disclosures made by Snowden. This action was also authorized at the highest levels of the UK government. Included on those drives were documents detailing GCHQ’s massive domestic spying program called “Tempora.”

This program deploys NSA’s XKeyscore “DeepDive” internet buffer technology which slows down the internet to allow GCHQ to spy on global communications, including those of UK citizens. Tempora relies on the “corporate partnership” of UK telecoms, including British Telecommunications and Vodafone. Revealing the secret partnerships between spy agencies and telecoms entrusted with the private communications of citizens is journalism, not terrorism.

The UK government’s destruction of material provided by a source to a news organization will surely be remembered as of the most blatant government attacks on press freedom.

Border Interrogations

As the hours went by on Sunday, Guardian lawyers searched to find where David was being held; the Brazilian ambassador in London could get no information; and Glenn struggled with whether he should go public or work behind the scenes to make sure David would be released and not arrested. I have never been through a hostage negotiation, but this certainly felt like one. David was finally released after nine hours. He was forced to hand over all electronics.

Using border crossings to target journalism is not new to me. I experienced it for the first time in 2006 in Vienna, when I was traveling from the Sarajevo Film Festival back to New York. I was put in a van and driven to a security room, searched, and interrogated. The Austrian security agents told me I was stopped at the request of the US government. When I landed in New York I was again searched and interrogated.

Since then I have lost count of how many times I have been interrogated at the US border all because of my reporting on post 9/11 issues. I’ve had electronics seized, notebooks photocopied, and have been threatened with handcuffs for taking notes. I moved to Berlin to edit my next film because I do not feel I can keep source material safe in my own country.

At the moment I live in what used to be East Berlin. It feels strange to come to the former home of the Stasi to expose the dangers of government surveillance, but being here gives me hope. There is a deep historical memory among Germans of what happens to societies when its government targets and spies on its own citizens. The public outcry in Germany to the NSA disclosures has been enormous.

Threat To Democracy

 

Because of the disclosures made by Edward Snowden, we have for the first time an international debate on the scope of government surveillance. Almost daily for the past three months citizens learn of new unlawful surveillance programs being secretly run by their governments. All of our reporting has been in the public interest, and none has caused harm.David’s detention and the destruction of the hard drives in the Guardian‘s basement reveal one thing: Our governments do not want citizens to be informed when it comes to the topic of surveillance. The governments of the United States, Britain, Germany, and others would like this debate to go away. It won’t.

Glenn and I, with the full support of David and others, will continue to work on the disclosures made by Snowden, as will the Guardian, SPIEGEL, the Washington Post, their reporters and their loved ones, and many other news organizations who believe vast unchecked secret government surveillance powers are a threat to democracy.

Email service used by Snowden shuts itself down, warns against using US-based companies August 9, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Democracy, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: Sorry to repeat this story so soon, but this article expands  on the issure in an important way.

 

Edward Snowden: ‘Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren’t fighting for our interests the same way’

 

 

A Texas-based encrypted email service recently revealed to be used by Edward Snowden – Lavabit – announced yesterday it was shutting itself down in order to avoid complying with what it perceives as unjust secret US court orders to provide government access to its users’ content. “After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations,” the company’s founder, Ladar Levinson, wrote in a statement to users posted on the front page of its website. He said the US directive forced on his company “a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit.” He chose the latter.

CNET’s Declan McCullagh smartly speculates that Lavabit was served “with [a] federal court order to intercept users’ (Snowden?) passwords” to allow ongoing monitoring of emails; specifically: “the order can also be to install FedGov-created malware.” After challenging the order in district court and losing – all in a secret court proceeding, naturally – Lavabit shut itself down to avoid compliance while it appeals to the Fourth Circuit.

This morning, Silent Circle, a US-based secure online communication service, followed suit by shutting its own encrypted email service. Although it said it had not yet been served with any court order, the company, in a statement by its founder, internet security guru Phil Zimmerman, said: “We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.”

What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Just as is true for people who receive National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company. Thus we get hostage-message-sounding missives like this:

I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on – the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.”

Does that sound like a message coming from a citizen of a healthy and free country? Secret courts issuing secret rulings invariably in favor of the US government that those most affected are barred by law from discussing? Is there anyone incapable at this point of seeing what the United States has become? Here’s the very sound advice issued by Lavabit’s founder:

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.

As security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in a great Bloomberg column last week, this is one of the key aspects of the NSA disclosures: the vast public-private surveillance partnership. That’s what makes Lavabit’s stance so heroic: as our reporting has demonstrated, most US-based tech and telecom companies (though not all) meekly submit to the US government’s dictates and cooperate extensively and enthusiastically with the NSA to ensure access to your communications.

Snowden, who told me today that he found Lavabit’s stand “inspiring”, added:

“Ladar Levison and his team suspended the operations of their 10 year old business rather than violate the Constitutional rights of their roughly 400,000 users. The President, Congress, and the Courts have forgotten that the costs of bad policy are always borne by ordinary citizens, and it is our job to remind them that there are limits to what we will pay.

“America cannot succeed as a country where individuals like Mr. Levison have to relocate their businesses abroad to be successful. Employees and leaders at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren’t fighting for our interests the same way small businesses are. The defense they have offered to this point is that they were compelled by laws they do not agree with, but one day of downtime for the coalition of their services could achieve what a hundred Lavabits could not.

“When Congress returns to session in September, let us take note of whether the internet industry’s statements and lobbyists – which were invisible in the lead-up to the Conyers-Amash vote – emerge on the side of the Free Internet or the NSA and its Intelligence Committees in Congress.”

The growing (and accurate) perception that most US-based companies are not to be trusted with the privacy of electronic communications poses a real threat to those companies’ financial interests. A report issued this week by the Technology and Innovation Foundation estimated that the US cloud computing industry, by itself, could lose between $21 billion to $35 billion due to reporting about the industry’s ties to the NSA. It also notes that other nations’ officials have been issuing the same kind of warnings to their citizens about US-based companies as the one issued by Lavabit yesterday:

And after the recent PRISM leaks, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich declared publicly, ‘whoever fears their communication is being intercepted in any way should use services that don’t go through American servers.’ Similarly, Jörg-Uwe Hahn, a German Justice Minister, called for a boycott of US companies.”

The US-based internet industry knows that the recent transparency brought to the NSA is a threat to their business interests. This week, several leading Silicon Valley and telecom executives met with President Obama to discuss their “surveillance partnership”. But the meeting was – naturally – held in total secrecy. Why shouldn’t the agreements and collaborations between these companies and the NSA for access to customer communications not be open and public?

Obviously, the Obama administration, telecom giants, and the internet industry are not going to be moved by appeals to transparency, privacy and basic accountability. But perhaps they’ll consider the damage being done to the industry’s global reputation and business interests by constructing a ubiquitous spying system with the NSA and doing it all in secret.

It’s well past time to think about what all this reflects about the US. As the New York Times Editorial Page put it today, referencing a front-page report from Charlie Savage enabled by NSA documents we published: “Apparently no espionage tool that Congress gives the National Security Agency is big enough or intrusive enough to satisfy the agency’s inexhaustible appetite for delving into the communications of Americans.” The NYT added:

Time and again, the NSA has pushed past the limits that lawmakers thought they had imposed to prevent it from invading basic privacy, as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

I know it’s much more fun and self-satisfying to talk about Vladimir Putin and depict him as this omnipotent cartoon villain. Talking about the flaws of others is always an effective tactic for avoiding our own, and as a bonus in this case, we get to and re-live Cold War glory by doing it. The best part of all is that we get to punish another country for the Supreme Sin: defying the dictates of the US leader.

[Note how a country's human rights problems becomes of interest to the US political and media class only when that country defies the US: hence, all the now-forgotten focus on Ecuador's press freedom record when it granted asylum to Julian Assange and considered doing so for Edward Snowden, while the truly repressive and deeply US-supported Saudi regime barely rates a mention. Americans love to feign sudden concern over a country's human rights abuses as a tool for punishing that country for disobedience to imperial dictates and for being distracted from their own government's abuses: Russia grants asylum to Snowden --> Russia is terrible to gays! But maybe it's more constructive for US media figures and Americans generally to think about what's happening to their own country and the abuses of the own government, the one for which they bear responsibility and over which they can exercise actual influence.]

Lavabit has taken an impressive and bold stand against the US government, sacrificing its self-interest for the privacy rights of its users. Those inclined to do so can return that support by helping it with lawyers’ fees to fight the US government’s orders, via this paypal link provided in the company’s statement.

One of the most remarkable, and I think enduring, aspects of the NSA stories is how much open defiance there has been of the US government. Numerous countries around the world have waved away threats, from Hong Kong and Russia to multiple Latin American nations. Populations around the world are expressing serious indignation at the NSA and at their own government to the extent they have collaborated. And now Lavabit has shut itself down rather than participate in what it calls “crimes against the American people”, and in doing so, has gone to the legal limits in order to tell us all what has happened. There will undoubtedly be more acts inspired by Snowden’s initial choice to unravel his own life to make the world aware of what the US government has been doing in the dark.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Lavabit, Email Service Reportedly Used by Snowden, Shuts Down August 9, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Whistle-blowing.
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by Abby Zimet

Offering the elusive explanation that he wanted to avoid “being complicit in crimes against the American people,” Lavabit founder Ladar Levison has suspended operations, evidently the first time a service provider has publicly closed down rather than cooperate with court-ordered government surveillance. In a statement on his site, Levison notes, “I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot….the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise.” He also suggests he is preparing a legal fight, offers a link to a legal defense fund – “Defending the Constitution is expensive!” – and ends with a warning. More on the implications for other possible NSA targets here.

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: Without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

 

 

  • galen066

    Hurrah for Mr. Levinson and his principled stand.

    Now the thousands of other Lavabit E-mail users know to blame the NSA for screwing them over.

  • yohocoma

    “…I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

    I strongly recommend against anyone having a physical tie to the United States, especially with their body.

  • drone1

    hat tip to mr. levison for doing the hard, but right, thing. one of the few examples of an ethical business decision in an unethical time. and most importantly, he’s right. there’s no safe info provider in the US or with ties to the US.

  • minitrue

    “I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot….the First Amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise.”

    What he is telling us (without telling us) is that he, or his company received a Nazional Security Letter which tells you to do something, turn over documents or records, allow surveillance, etc. The other thing these letters do is forbid you to tell anyone that the letter even exists let alone what it orders you to do. Huge fines and imprisonment for breaking this Fascistic dictum.

    Many people have gotten these things. The Nazional Surveillance Aparat hands them out like popcorn at a county fair. Likewise Homeland (In)Security and the FBI. When you get one of these damned things, you are to do whatever it tells you to, then are not supposed to ever admit you got it, or that it exists, anywhere.

    The Fourth Reich is certainly trying to sew things up before we get too restive.
    ;-})

  • readytotransform minitrue

    Is that the same as a ‘gag’ order?

  • Avatar
    RedRavenSounds minitrue

    That is patently vile and illegal – but then who needs laws when you have super dee dooper State secret courts, and letters which you do not have a say in which gags you………This is where we are ladies and gentlemen. Again, I ask everyone to please watch “Good Night and Good Luck” This is the precise tactic used against Milo Radulovich (who was this man? I ask you to find out. ) – See it Now (before its to late). Steve, I suspect you know who he was.

  • Avatar
    Tom Carberry

    Congratulations to Ladar Levinson for sticking to his principles. Things should work out for him. I expect most of the other email providers will shut down, unless of course the government forgets to ask them for our stuff.

    Don’t worry. Every thing will work out. Just because the 1% has almost everything, doesn’t mean they want more. They wouldn’t want absolute control of all electronic communications. Who really would want something like that? Full spectrum dominance can’t really mean that.

    Trust Barack Obama. Has he ever lied to you?

  • Avatar
    Aneesia

    You Sir are a hero. The rest of the media are cowards.They would sell out their mother to a rapist…the best analogy of what they are doing and the type of human feces that the media moguls are.

  • Avatar
    Daedalus Trust

    For anyone watching and following the obliteration of freedom of speech, the Constitution and freedom in general in the US, it shouldn’t be surprising that Levison issued an “elusive explanation” – Given the recent turn of events with WikiLeaks, Manning, Snowden and the other whistleblowers, anyone with a half an ounce of brain can understand why.

    Coincidentally, Tor will be next. Our gracious defenders at the FBI have devised a program to specifically attack Tor and have been relentlessly at it. Still, the USG has the Chutzpah to criticize China. I guess it’s the competition they hate and the threat to their hegemony as the world’s foremost hackers…next to ISreal that is.

    “Feds Are Suspects in New Malware That Attacks Tor Anonymity”

    http://www.wired.com/threatlev…

  • Avatar
    Cangle

    This sounds so sane, so very sane, thank you Mr. Levison.

  • Avatar
    0utof0rder

    And today on NPR, about a minute and a half was spent on the NSA spying revelations. It went something like this:

    Interviewer, “So are we to expect now that most or all Internet activity and emails are monitored by the NSA? Are they collecting and reading everyone’s email?”

    New York Times Reporter, “No that would be illegal. The government can not read Amercians email without a warrant. There is no proof of of that.”

    END OF INTERVIEW

    Then the next 30 something minutes were spent discussing the resurgence of Al Queda all across the middle east and how many plots we have foiled so far.

    It was incredible.

  • Avatar
    Ferdinand Artego

    I hope this is the beginning of the end to the US government spy operation.

  • Avatar
    Harley Burton

    The more effective evil at work, right before our very eyes.

    Can anyone honestly see the Democrats reacting so meekly to stuff like this if Romney were in charge?

  • Avatar
    Abigail00

    Levison’s principled action will have economic consequences for the U.S. economy. No individual or company wanting to use like services will ever use a US based provider, thus business moves elsewhere. Were congress ever to concern itself with the issue, it will be because of the risks to the economy, not the people’s rights.

  • Avatar
    revlimid

    The United States is getting more paranoid and dangerous everyday and once again we see that the patriot act does indeed supercede the constitution which Americans claim to love.

  • Avatar
    dogsface

    For what it is worth…here is what I would do. I call it information
    overload.

    Everyone has to be involved …..just send out emails using the trigger words, bomb, terrorist, plot, murder…. or whatever. Give them so much ‘crap’ the system becomes unmanageable.

    The system is unmanaged now and to make it worse the access to
    the system by the lower echelon minions makes for great nationwide rumor spreading. Stay tuned.

    Then we can always wish for gigantic some Sun spots……or we learn how to generate and aim our very own EMP’s. Electromagnetic pulses. Ta da!

  • Avatar
    NC_Tom

    This REALLY sucks. I was a Lavabit user for a few years now. I used that email address in dozens and dozens of places and now I have to find another somewhat secure email service, ( overseas), and change everything to point there.

    Although it will be a pain to do this, it appears it is necessary because, despite what Obomba says, the government really is reading all our emails.

  • Avatar
    bgrbill

    This guy is worthy of respect . Remember murdered, investigative journalist Danny Casolaro. He was looking into the ‘Octopus’ and set to meet a ‘source’ when found in the bathtub of his motel in Martinsburg , WV. The key words are ‘ Inslaw Affair’ and Promis software. This was the precursor of ‘Total Information Awareness’ and today’s N.S.A. revelations. Any search engine will provide the details. In the words of the great Satchell Paige…” Don’t look back…”. It is not paranoia when there are forces out to eliminate all opposition.

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