• Tag Archives surveillance
  • Stop the Border Surveillance Bill

    EFF opposes a new federal bill that would dramatically expand dragnet biometric and other surveillance of U.S. citizens and immigrants alike at and near the U.S. border. Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) introduced S. 1757, styled the Building America’s Trust Act, in August.

    EFF’s opposition letter objects to the following provisions of the bill:

    Biometric Border Screening. The bill would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to collect biometric information from all people who exit the U.S., including U.S. and foreign citizens. This would entrench and expand DHS’s existing program of facial recognition of all international travelers who take certain outgoing flights from U.S. airports. EFF opposes such biometric border screening, given the sensitivity of biometric information, the threat it will be stolen or misused, and the hazard of mission creep.

    Collection of Immigrants’ DNA. The bill would require DHS to collect DNA and other biometric information from “any individual filing an application, petition, or other request for immigration benefit or status.” EFF has long opposed dragnet biometric surveillance of immigrants. DNA surveillance raises special concerns, because DNA can expose sensitive information about familial history and health issues.

    Dissemination of Immigrants’ Biometrics. The bill would require DHS to share its biometric information about immigrants with the FBI, the Defense Department, and the State Department. It also would require DHS to store its voiceprints and iris scans of immigrants in a manner compatible with state and local law enforcement database. EFF opposes this dissemination of immigrants’ biometrics. The greater the distribution, the greater the risks of theft, employee misuse, and mission creep.

    Screening Social Media of Visa Applicants. The bill would require DHS to review the social media accounts of visa applicants from “high risk countries.” EFF opposes existing DHS and State Department programs of screening social media of foreign visitors. These programs threaten the digital privacy and free speech of innocent foreign travelers, and the many U.S. citizens who communicate with them. The bill would entrench and expand these programs. Also, it is all too likely that the bill’s focus on “high risk countries” will invite “extreme vetting” of visitors from Muslim nations.

    Drones Near the Border. The bill would require DHS and the Defense Department to deploy drones at the U.S. border. This will invariably capture the faces and license plates of the vast number of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who live close the border.

    ALPRs Near the Border. The bill would appropriate $125 million to upgrade the automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) deployed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ALPRs collect massive amounts of sensitive location information about identifiable law-abiding people. It is unclear whether the bill’s new ALPR surveillance would be limited to cars that actually cross the U.S. border, or would also apply more broadly to cars at CBP’s many interior checkpoints, some located as far as 100 miles from the border. CBP should not track people’s movements merely because they live and work near the border.

    Source: Stop the Border Surveillance Bill | Electronic Frontier Foundation


  • Trump’s FBI Pick Has a Troubling History on Digital Liberties

    President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray, will begin his confirmation process next week, giving lawmakers an opportunity to press him on his previous statements about expansive surveillance authorities and aggressive copyright prosecution.

    Defense of the USA PATRIOT Act

    During his tenure as Assistant Attorney General in the Bush Administration, Wray vocally defended a range of controversial provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act—including Section 215, which would later provide the basis for the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata.

    When Wray went before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2003 to defend the PATRIOT Act, a Department of Justice document indicated that Section 215’s business records provision had never been used. Wray insisted that was a sign of restraint: “We try to use these provisions sparingly, only in those instances where we feel that this is the only tool that we can use.” In fact, as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) made clear in its report on the bulk metadata program, Section 215 was sitting fallow because the Bush Administration was already collecting much of that data—without statutory authorization.

    Granted, Wray didn’t have all of the information about that secretive wiretapping program until 2004, which we’ll get into below. Still, his insistence that Section 215 was just an effort to bring counterterrorism powers in line with ordinary criminal authorities reflected a concerning lack of skepticism about the risk of abuse. The same holds for his defense of a range of other PATRIOT Act provisions: “sneak and peek” warrants that allow law enforcement to search first and serve notice later; a reduced bar for obtaining a FISA warrant that one district court later found inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment; and a vaguely worded expansion of the kind of Internet data, some of it potentially very sensitive, that can be collected with a pen/trap order.

    Experience teaches that broad grants of surveillance authority are invariably abused, as the PATRIOT Act has been. During Wray’s confirmation process, lawmakers should press him on his insistence that the Act “helped preserve and protect liberty and freedom, not erode them.”

    Outstanding Questions about STELLARWIND

    President Bush’s sweeping constellation of warrantless surveillance programs, codenamed STELLARWIND, played a key role in the mythos that surrounded the last two FBI Directors. Wray was reputedly one of the senior Justice Department officials ready to resign if then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey chose to do so over STELLARWIND’s legality—though Wray himself wasn’t aware of its existence at the time. Wray has since praised then-FBI Director Bob Mueller’s willingness to challenge President Bush over those surveillance programs, telling WIRED, “I think that the great thing about [people with] strong moral compasses is that they don’t have to hand-wring. When they’re uncomfortable, they know what they have to do.”

    But when Wray was confronted with a constitutional concern about those intelligence efforts, his response, as reflected in a 2009 inspector general report, seems to have been underwhelming. Wray was read into STELLARWIND in 2004 to address concerns that the government—in working to preserve the spying program’s secrecy—was failing to disclose potentially exculpatory material to which criminal defendants were entitled under the Constitution. As the Justice Department’s Inspector General later found, “[T]he Department made little effort to understand and comply with its discovery obligations with Stellar Wind-derived information for the first several years of the program.” What legal analysis had been conducted was, the IG would later write, “factually flawed and inadequate.”

    Wray and another attorney in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division were tasked with reviewing it. But beyond ordering the other attorney to write a memo of his own, it’s not clear Wray took any action to remedy the problem. While the memo recommended further research, there seems to have been no follow up. Four years after Wray left the Justice Department, its Inspector General would write that efforts to comply with the Constitution and other legal responsibilities “are not complete and do not fully ensure that the government has met its discovery obligations.”

    Before he’s given the top job at the country’s law enforcement agency, Wray should have to square his praise for officials willing to challenge unconstitutional surveillance with his apparent inaction on a constitutional question about the rights of defendants swept up in spying programs.

    Aggressive Copyright Prosecutions

    As Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Wray also oversaw and touted the Justice Department’s aggressive prosecutions for intellectual property infringement, some of them alarmingly trivial. In 2004, for instance, Wray named a guilty plea from a defendant who shared a pre-release copy of “The Hulk” in a chat room as one of the most significant intellectual property prosecutions of the year. That emphasis seems disproportionate, to say the least. As Senator Leahy put it in the same Judiciary Committee hearing, “That movie sank like a rock at the box office. Within a couple of weeks, they probably could not have given away the copies.” Still, the impact on the defendant was very real—including six months’ home confinement.

    In a climate in which copyright law is increasingly abused to chill and deter speech online, Wray’s past comments are cause for concern. Lawmakers should press him to commit to reasonable enforcement and respect for free expression protections.

    An Obligation to Explain—and Reconsider

    If confirmed, Christopher Wray will lead an agency with vast power to intrude on fundamental digital liberties. During his last tour in government service, he expressed views that should concern everyday Internet users. During this upcoming confirmation process, we expect lawmakers to review Wray’s record, and we hope he will disavow some of his more dangerous views on the government surveillance activities that we know to violate our core civil liberties.

  • Congress Needs to End Warrantless Spying, Not Make It Permanent

    Lawmakers are getting serious about renewing the U.S. government’s Internet spying powers, so we need to get serious about stopping their bad proposals.

    First out of the gate is a bill from Sen. Tom Cotton, an ardent defender of government surveillance. His bill would not just reauthorize, but make permanent the expiring measure that the government says justifies the warrantless surveillance of innocent Americans’ online communications—Section 702, as enacted by the FISA Amendments Act. His bill (S. 1297) is supported by several Republicans in the Senate, including Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr and Sens. John Cornyn, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham.

    Section 702 surveillance violates the privacy rights of millions of people. This warrantless spying should not be allowed to continue, let alone be made permanent as is.

    As originally enacted, Section 702 expires every few years, giving lawmakers the chance to reexamine the broad spying powers that impact their constituents. This is especially crucial as technology evolves and as more information about how the surveillance authority is actually used comes to light, whether through government publication or in the press.

    If Congress were to approve Cotton’s bill, lawmakers would not only be ignoring their constituents’ privacy concerns, but they would also be ceding their obligation to regularly review, debate, and update the law. That is not acceptable.

    Luckily, there’s already opposition to the proposal to make Section 702 permanent. During recent hearings at the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees on Section 702 surveillance, Sen. Dianne Feinstein—who has historically been sympathetic to the intelligence community—said she could not support a bill that makes Section 702 permanent.

    Now we need other members of Congress to make the same stand. We cannot accept lawmakers ignoring our privacy concerns and their responsibility to review surveillance law, and our lawmakers need to hear that.



    Sign our petition today and tell Congress to oppose S. 1297 and the permanent reauthorization of Section 702 spying.

    TAKE ACTION

    TELL CONGRESS TO END WARRANTLESS SURVEILLANCE

    Source: Congress Needs to End Warrantless Spying, Not Make It Permanent | Electronic Frontier Foundation