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The Government Keeps ‘Stingray’ IMSI Catchers Secret

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Many people worry about the government’s use of IMSI catchers or cell site simulators. These devices are commonly called “Stingrays” after a device manufactured by the Harris Corporation, IMSI catchers appear to be legitimate cell phone towers, tricking phones nearby to connect to the Stingray, which permits tracking the phone’s location in real time. Not only are the devices invasive, but the government has not disclosed much information about how and when they use these devices.

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Also read: OTR Team Strikes Again with Dagstuhl Privacy Preserving Presence Protocol P (DP5)

Federal Agencies Keep Stingrays Secret

Harris CorporationLaw enforcement has been very discreet about the details of stingrays and actively sought to protect those secrets. In a lot of public records requests, the public learned that Harris Corporation requires law enforcement to sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to reference Stingrays. In addition to the non-disclosure agreement, federal agencies have told local cities and police to keep details of Stingrays secret. The US Marshals have physically intervened to keep information from going public. Police agencies across the country have hidden their use of IMSI catchers from judges that provide police oversight.

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In Sarasota, Florida internal police emails revealed that officers hid their use of Stingrays from judges. One officer withdrew a warrant affidavit that mentioned an IMSI catcher.

Judges in Tacoma, Washington signed over 170 orders that unknowingly authorized Stingray use from 2009 to 2014. Judges learned that they were approving IMSI catchers from local newspapers.

In a case in Baltimore, Maryland, prosecutors were forced to abandon their use of Stingray evidence after a judge threatened to hold a police officer in contempt for refusing to testify about the IMSI catcher.

In a report by the Wall Street Journal, a secret US Marshals surveillance program was revealed. The program attaches IMSI catchers named “DRTboxes” to airplanes to track suspects, though they also gather data from a much larger number of innocent people in the process, all without anyone knowing. The WSJ report prompted a letter from US senators to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security demanding information.

Though they are heavily unregulated, Stingrays will likely have strict rules and regulations in 2015 due to the highly invasive nature of the devices. IMSI catchers are dangerous and breach the privacy of anyone that is unfortunate enough to be by one when the police are using it.

Images from Harris Corporation and Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Eugene Wang

    January 13, 2015 at 3:36 am

    Time to lobby for a bill that forbids government agencies from signing NDA’s. Who’s with me?

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House Pushes Forward With Trump Tax Plan Amid Dissent

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The U.S. House of Representatives is pushing hard to move President Trump’s tax proposal through the legislative process, even as growing dissent rattles confidence in the landmark bill.

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Congressional Analysis

An analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded Tuesday that tax cuts for lower- and middle-income Americans would fade over the next decade at a faster rate than those for high earners. The analysis found that four out of every five tax filers earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would receive tax relief from the bill in 2019. However, by 2027, that figure would drop to 60%.

Meanwhile, those earning more than $1 million would also see their tax savings fade, albeit at a slower rate than the smaller income brackets. In 2019, about three-quarters of those earning $1 million-plus will get tax relief, a figure that drops to two-thirds in 2027.

The conclusion could spark another round of debate as the Trump administration seeks to push forward on tax reform this year. The tax plan has faced attack from both sides of the political divide, with high-tax state Republicans criticizing individual deductions for state and local taxes.

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The reform bill, which promises to reduce the number of tax brackets, cut the corporate tax rate and implement a one-time repatriation fee, has been described as the most ambitious since the Reagan administration. Through Reagan’s tax reform, the U.S. economy managed to grow by an average of 3.4% annually until the beginning of the Obama administration. And that includes three recessions between the two presidents.

To his credit, President Jimmy Carer before him implemented the biggest regulatory overhaul in postwar history.

Mid-Terms Loom

Republicans have good reason to raise questions about Trump’s tax reform, especially those in high-tax states such as California. Already faced with a difficult re-election next year, California’s GOP Representative Darrell Issa said he wouldn’t endorse changes that “may make it the tremendous burden felt by California taxpayers even worse.”

Republican Ed Gillespie of Virginia was defeated in state elections on Tuesday, a clear sign that the GOP-controlled Congress is under attack. South Carolina is seen as an important barometer of the Democrats’ chances of winning in crucial swing states ahead of next year’s midterms.

Democrat Ralph Northam will be the next governor of Virgina, various news outlets reported late Tuesday.

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Libertarian Speaks: Ron Paul Says U.S. Government Should Not Intervene in Cryptocurrency

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The U.S. government has no place intervening in cryptocurrency, according to former U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul.

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In an interview with Kitco on Oct. 27, Paul said the government should “stay out” of bitcoin if people want to use it. The former Congressman acknowledged that he didn’t know much about cryptocurrency, but that he was “amazed” by the market’s growth.

“I take some very strong political positions on competing currencies,” Paul said, when asked if he was a believer of cryptocurrency. “And if you can come up with a competing currency, and there is no fraud, I think it should be.”

Although a lot has been said about bitcoin’s black market roots, Paul says government involvement shouldn’t be a given. That message has been lost on several nations, which have grown uneasy about the growth and widespread adoption of cryptocurrency. Major economies like  China, South Korea and Russia have already stepped in to halt the expansion of crypto-assets.  However, most policymakers appear to be open to regulating cryptocurrency insofar as its criminal elements can be controlled.

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Libertarians like Ron Paul are very weary of government involvement in all aspects of life. It should therefore come as no surprise that bitcoin and its altcoin competitors have received strong buy-in from the libertarian, free market community. While the United States has a strong libertarian presence across key segments of its society, this has largely failed to translate into meaningful political reform.

Bitcoin’s market capitalization climbed back above $100 billion over the weekend, with the sum of all coins valued at around $179 billion. Cryptocurrency is by far the fastest growing asset class of 2017, dwarfing stocks, crude oil and other traditional financial assets.

“I am amazed,” Paul said, ” at all the capitalization on these cryptocurrencies. It’s a huge amount of money.”

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Draft of U.S. Tax Bill Coming Within Days, According to GOP Lawmaker

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It won’t be long now before congressional Republicans table their first draft bill to reform the U.S. tax code, according to House conservative Mark Meadows. GOP lawmakers are under the gun to meet President Trump’s ambitious goal of delivering a major tax overhaul by the end of 2017.

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Draft Bill Coming in Less Than Ten Days

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows says the House Ways and Means Committee has promised to release a preliminary tax bill about seven days after this Thursday’s vote on a budget resolution. Based on that timeline, the tax bill should be published on or before Nov. 3, according to Bloomberg.

Last week, Republicans stuck together to pass a 2018 budget plan that many say is the preamble to tax reform. The budget resolution was approved by a 51-49 vote. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone GOP member to vote against the measure.

Before giving the final approval, lawmakers must go through another voting process that will begin Thursday and run into Friday morning.

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The new plan, which was first unveiled by the White House this past spring, is pursuing drastic changes to the tax regime. This includes reducing the number of tax brackets, slashing the corporate tax rate and instilling a one-time repatriation tax to encourage multinationals to bring offshore profits back home.

Challenges Remain

President Trump and fellow Republicans face numerous challenges implementing the most ambitious tax reform of a generation. This includes balancing promises of major overhaul against a self-imposed $1.5 trillion limit on the size of those cuts over the decade.

Analysts say that President Trump has considerable leeway to influence the proposal, but that the ultimate penning of the bill is a legislative process. This means it will be Congress, not the president, that will put the final details together.

Tax overhaul was a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign. Combined with deregulation of key industries and massive infrastructure spending, tax breaks are expected to boost economic growth and make the U.S. more resilient to cyclical downturns.

That’s exactly what happened under the Reagan tax cut more than three decades ago. Although often maligned today, the Reagan tax plan laid the foundation for 25 years of strong, noninflationary growth. The U.S. economy grew an average of 3.4% annually between Reagan and Obama despite three recessions. To be sure, President Carter also helped lay the foundation by leading the biggest deregulatory effort in the postwar era.

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