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FBI Pushes The Limits of Their Power – Again

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With growing concerns about our privacy, it seems a shame we have to look out not just for the criminals, but also to our government. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has once again pushed the boundaries of their power. In a letter, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and staffer Sen. Chuck Grassley expressed concerns and requested clarification on a number of issues with a recent change in policy by the Feds.

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In their letter, the senators requested more information on what policies are in place to protect the privacy of mobile phone users information that is gathered using IMSI catchers. An IMSI catcher is a surveillance tool used by law enforcement to trick people’s phones into sending out data to the FBI. It works by mimicking a cell phone tower and getting the phone to connect to it. When a phone connects to it, the operator can “ping” the phone in order to locate it. Law enforcement uses these Devices to help locate suspects and aid in search-and-rescue efforts.

Also read: The Government Keeps ‘Stingray’ IMSI Catchers Secret

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FBIPrivacy Doesn’t Exist

While the FBI’s current policy states that it needs to obtain a search warrant, there are three big cases in which they do not. The senator’s letter points these out:

For example, we understand that the FBI’s new policy requires FBI agents to obtain a search warrant whenever a cell-site simulator is used as part of a FBI investigation or operation, unless one of several exceptions apply, including (among others): (1) cases that pose an imminent danger to public safety, (2) cases that involve a fugitive, or (3) cases in which the technology is used in public places or other locations at which the FBI deems there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

The most obvious concern is that anyone with their phone in public is as risk of having their data scooped up and the FBI’s ability to protect that data. Recent news showed that the FBI is mounting these tools on small aeroplanes and gathers data from thousands of phones in a single flight.

Leahy and Grassley also expressed concerns about the leniency in the Feds policy:

We have concerns about the scope of the exceptions. Specifically, we are concerned about whether the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have adequately considered the privacy interests of other individuals who are not the targets of the interception, but whose information is nevertheless being collected when these devices are being used. We understand that the FBI believes that it can address these interests by maintaining that information for a short period of time and purging the information after it has been collected. But there is a question as to whether this sufficiently safeguards privacy interests.

The FBI and the Obama Administration has been treating privacy in public as if it doesn’t exist. The Obama Administration argued that putting GPS trackers on cars without a warrant was OK arguing that people shouldn’t expect privacy while driving in public. Along with updating their policy to allow for wide-range phone interception, the FBI petitioned for new power allowing them to hack into a computer and carry out surveillance around the world more easily.

It’s one thing to overhear a conversation in public; it’s an entirely different to have your line tapped and your text messages intercepted just because you are within the vicinity of a suspect. Unless we keep law enforcement and government in check, they will continue to push their authority and annihilate any privacy altogether.

Images from Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock.

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Cybersecurity

Proposed Law Would Require U.S. Companies to Unlock Encryption under Court Order

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The encryption controversy in the U.S. isn’t going away anytime soon. Two U.S. senators have proposed requiring companies to unlock encrypted technology when a court calls on them to do so, changing the current law and escalating a conflict between the technology industry and the U.S. government, according to The Wall Street Journal.

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Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Richard Burr

The conflict that arose when a federal court ordered Apple to help unlock an iPhone used in a terror attack has fueled the encryption controversy.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., the panel’s vice chairman, have proposed legislation that addresses one of the most difficult issues facing policymakers, which is how to address the use of private technology on behalf of law enforcement.

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Law Requires Compliance

The “discussion draft” requires companies served with a court order to give such information or technical assistance when the government wants to obtain encrypted material.

A company would have to help the government if the data has become unintelligible on account of a feature or service that is owned, provided by or created by the covered entity or a third party on the covered entity’s behalf.

Congress has faced pressure to balance privacy and security in regards to encryption. The courts have struggled with the issue, most recently in conflicts between Apple Inc. and the Justice Department over defendants’ encrypted iPhones.

Privacy Versus Security

Burr said he has long believed data is too insecure and he feels strongly that consumers have the right to find solutions protecting their information, which involves strong encryption. He said he does not think those solutions should be above the law.

Sen. Diane Feinstein

Sen. Diane Feinstein

Apple chose not to comment on the proposal. The draft’s chances for adoption are considered slim in the short term.

Apple and other technology companies have opposed any rule that they should help circumvent encryption, which is currently commonplace in smartphones and other devices.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and other lawmakers have said they would oppose any efforts to weaken encryption.

Wyden said the legislation would prohibit Americans from protecting themselves as much as possible. He said it would outlaw the best types of encryption and weaken cybersecurity for millions.

Other lawmakers from both parties, supported by law enforcement officials, said Congress has to intervene due to concerns that criminals and terrorists use encryption tools to conceal crimes and plan attacks.

A wide range of companies would have to comply with the requirement if it becomes law, including software manufacturers, remote communication companies and electronic communication companies.

Technology Companies Object

Technology companies oppose undermining encryption and have said that to comply with court orders they would need to alter how they encrypt messages, which would likely require them to retain access to keys that unlock communication. Many companies do not currently have such keys.

Industry leaders also say weakening encryption would make it easier for foreign governments and hackers to get consumers’ data or private messages.

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Business

Is the FBI Warrant against Apple Legally Suspect?

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The Wall Street Journal has come out today in favor of Apple in its legal fight with the FBI in an editorial titled “Apple is Right on Encryption.” The editorial notes that the FBI is invoking a law that only allows them to exercise powers Congress has granted, which in this case it has not. The newspaper says the case is not about privacy but about security for all Americans. 

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A California judge ordered the company to design a custom version of its operating software to disable certain security features and allow the FBI to break the password. Apple has cooperated with the probe but argues that forcing it to write new code is illegal.

Judges Must Follow Laws

The FBI’s assertion that its order is a run-of-the-mill search warrant is false, the editorial argues. The FBI is invoking the 1789 All Writs Act, which grants judges the authority to enforce their orders as “necessary or appropriate.” But the All Writs Act is not a license for anything judges want to do. They can only exercise powers granted by Congress.

Laws of Congress already obligate telecoms, for example, to assist in surveillance collection. But Congress never said the courts can command companies to provide digital forensics or build programs for the FBI, even if needed for a search.

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Congress could require companies to create “back doors” into their devices. In the absence of congressional action, however, courts cannot commandeer third parties ex post facto.

An Extraordinary FBI Request

The FBI’s request is extraordinary since the iPhone security methods were legal when they were created and still are. Apple has no more relation to the data on terrorist’s phone than Ford does to a bank robber who uses a Ford as a getaway vehicle.

If the government can require a manufacturer to invent intellectual property that does not exist in order to invade its own products, there is no limiting legal principle.

Order Sets Bad Precedent

Apple is not merely being asked to crack “one phone in the entire world,” as presidential candidate Marco Rubio asserts, the editorial notes. The Justice Department is demanding Apple provide software retrofits in at least a dozen public cases, and local and state prosecutors have stacks of backlogged iPhones they want unlocked too.

If Apple now writes the desired program, the technique will be used in investigations having nothing to do with terrorism as other prosecutors will use the same argument. Such is the “back door by degrees” that Apple CEO Tim Cook has described.

FBI Director James Comey told Congress last week the Apple case was “unlikely to be a trailblazer” and “instructive for other courts.” This is a contradiction.

Also read: FBI director admits mistakes were made with Apple iPhone after San Bernardino attack

The FBI Has Other Options

One question is why the phone wasn’t sent immediately to the National Security Agency, which has a formidable decryption unit. Federal specialists probably can hack the phone without Apple’s services, especially considering it is an older model.

This case isn’t about privacy; it’s about the security of all Americans.

Terrorists and criminals will always be able to find an underground encrypted communication channel, so regulating back doors into legal devices accomplishes little national-security benefit.

If Congress is really going to outlaw stronger encryption for law-abiding Americans, it would be a far more dangerous precedent for the courts to do so without guidance from Capitol Hill.

If the debate really is critical to protecting public safety, Comey should appeal to Congress to change the law instead of insisting the courts should resolve a major policy dispute on his behalf.

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Breaches

U.K. Police Arrest Teen Following Hacks Of High-Level U.S. Intelligence Officials

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Police in the United Kingdom arrested a teenager suspected of breaching U.S. intelligence officials’ accounts, according to phys.org, a science, research and technology news site. The arrest followed news reports of hacking attacks against CIA, FBI, White House, Homeland Security and other government agencies claimed by someone using the name “Cracka.”

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A police spokesperson said they arrested a 16-year-old boy on Tuesday in East Midlands on charges including suspected conspiracy to commit unauthorized access to computer material and to commit unauthorized acts with intent to repair.

Arrest Linked To Hacking?

The police spokesperson did not connect the arrest to the widely-reported hacking attacks on U.S. intelligence officials, but Motherboard, CNN and other sources said the hacking of U.S. officials was linked to the suspect.

Brian Hale, a spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed a hack against James Clapper, the national intelligence director, to Motherboard on Tuesday.

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‘Free Palestine’ Fields Clapper’s Calls

“Cracka” contacted Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, a writer at Motherboard, claiming to have accessed a series of Clapper’s accounts, including his personal email, his wife’s Yahoo email, and his home phone number.

“Cracka” gave the Motherboard writer a phone number he claimed was Clapper’s home phone number. When Franceschi-Bicchierai called the number on Monday evening, he got an answer from Paul Larudee, the co-founder of the Free Palestine Movement. Larudee told the writer that he had been getting calls for Clapper for the last hour after an anonymous caller told him that he had set Clapper’s number to forward calls to him. Larudee said that one of the callers said he was sitting in Clapper’s house next to his wife.

“Cracka” told Motherboard he switched the settings on the home phone to reroute calls to the Free Palestine Movement based in California.

The FBI declined to comment.

U.S. Intelligence Officials Hacked

Government officials reported last month Clapper’s online accounts were hacked a few months after John Brennan, CIA director, also suffered an attack.

Brennan said in October he was outraged that attackers accessed his personal AOL email account. WikiLeaks released information from the hack, including policy recommendations on Pakistan and Afganistan as well as family phone numbers and addresses.

Hackers told Wired Magazine in October they were able to fool Verizon using falsified employee identification numbers to gain access to Brennan’s AOL account, Hacked reported. The hacking group’s Twitter account was decorated with screenshots from the hack.

A back and forth of account resetting took place three times before the hackers called Brennan’s personal phone number. They claimed Brennan asked what they wanted, and the hackers told him, “We just want Palestine to be free and for you to stop killing innocent people.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s Comcast account was also compromised though it appears the hackers didn’t get much further than that with his account.

Also read: WikiLeaks and CIA Chief Brennan’s emails: the roundup so far

WikiLeaks Releases Dump On Brennan

WikiLeaks released the “Unidentified Brennan Group,” a table of 22 people including Brennan along with prominent figures in Homeland Security and former CIA employees, Hacked reported. The release also contained information about Brennan’s previous employers – the Analysis Corporation along with details of the 22 people such as previous employment, compensation, security clearance, etc.
Another document revealed a comprehensive dossier on an FBI agent, taken directly from Brennan’s personal email. FBI agent Donovan J. Leighton was the FBI program manager for the FBI’s counterterrorism division in the Arabian Peninsula.

WikiLeaks also published e-mails taken from the Stratfor breach, a private firm dealing with global intelligence operations. One of the emails taken from the company revealed: “Brennan is behind the witch hunts of investigative journalists learning information from inside the beltway sources.”

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