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White House To Authorise Phone Companies Hold Call Data

US media reported White House moves to legally transfer responsibility for the storage of call data to telephone companies from the practice today, where it is collected and held by National Security Agency.
Under the proposed system, NSA can access data from the companies if required. Phone companies are authorised to hold records up to 18 months unlike now where NSA holds records it collects up to five years.

“Both of these options pose difficult problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns,” Associated Press (AP) reported President Barack Obama saying, Tuesday. The New York Timesfirst reported on the story, Monday.
Phone companies earlier balked at the proposal fearing they could be held liable if individuals sued them for providing data on NSA’s request. During discussions they insisted that legislation be put in place that allows them to transfer such data to the NSA upon request.
NSA’s bulk collection of phone data was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.
“Under the administration’s pending legislative proposal, officials would have to obtain phone records by getting individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Times report said. The new court orders would require companies to provide those records swiftly and to make available continuing data related to the order when new calls are placed or received,” AP said.
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World According To Obama: Praise King But Beef Up NSA

                 (Pic Courtesy PEN America)

President Barack Obama’s statement last Friday on the reforms on National Security Agency spying on US citizens and people overseas through mass metadata gathering of phone calls and internet content has had mixed reactions. 
While some believed it was that was a significant step forward in a tightly contested environment between national security and civil liberties, proponents of media freedom and human rights disagree. They say the reforms were far from adequate.
‘King Obama and Surveillance Today’ looks at media freedom in the context of another event that held the attention of American this week: Martin Luther King Day. Obama is a self-confessed admirer and votary of King. Yet King stood for universal and indivisible human rights. Further, he was the subject of FBI Director Edgar J. Hoover’s undying hatred and as such subject of surveillance of the Bureau.
“Obama specifically referred to the FBI’s war on King in his speech on Friday detailing surveillance reforms. But it makes little sense for the president to open the door on the deeply flawed surveillance program that plagued King while making cosmetic reforms to his own far-flung surveillance program,” writes Deji Olukotun in his blog post to PEN America.
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State Control Of Internet Freedom – Cure Worse Malady?

(pic courtesy

New draft legislation was introduced by European Union lawmakers to ensure data protection from foreign spying, as new details surfaced on US surveillance of French phone records. Earlier, Mexico and Brazil expressed outrage on NSA spying on their leaders. But as states erect protection through new regulations to circumvent US law that forces American companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to surrender data to the NSA, thoughtful voices ask whether the cure might be worse than the malady. 

On Monday October 21, the EU’s Committee Civil Liberties Commission passed draft laws under which US companies such as Google etc. will have to adhere to new rules protecting data transferred to third countries if they are to operate in Europe.
“The measure makes America’s secret court orders powerless, forcing companies based outside the EU – such Google and Yahoo – to comply with European data protection laws if they operate in Europe.  Fines running into billions of Euros are set to discourage anyone from violating the new rules,” said the news website Russia Today RT.
Asked by RT in an interview what this meant for the average person Alexander Dix, the Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection said, “The rights of European citizens will be strengthened if this measure is adopted in Europe. There will still be problems to effectively control and monitor what intelligence services are doing but the problem is much larger than this I think because Google … and all the other big American companies need strict rules which they have to attain to, when they want to do business in Europe. They will certainly have to because the sanctions envisaged by the European Commission and the parliament are so heavy that they will certainly think twice before starting to break these rules.”
Meanwhile, Washington Post reported this morning that as reports surfaced in the French newspaper Le Monde of US siphoning over 70 million phone records in France, the Obama administration was “scrambling” to mitigate the damage. The Post said that President Obama had spoken by phone to his French counterpart Francois Hollande, “to discuss what the White House called ‘recent disclosures in the press – some of which have distorted our activities and some of which raise legitimate questions for our friends and allies.'”
The revelations came as Secretary of State John Kerry is in Paris. The Post quoted him saying at a press conference, “‘Our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens. This work is going to continue, as well as our very close consultations with our friends here in France.'”
However, the US Ambassador in France Charles Rivkin was summoned to the French Foreign Ministry as outrage mounted with the US action labelled as “shocking” and “unacceptable.” RT quoted the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius telling the media, “We must quickly assure that these practices aren’t repeated.”
While these go on in the domain of international politics, Tom Gjelten in a comment to the US-based NPRwebsite asks whether the reaction of countries like Brazil to redesign the architecture of the internet by increasing governmental control would actually harm privacy more than protect it.
Gjelten says that before NSA began spying on the Internet, it was only minimally governed by institutions such as Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Although ICANN was set up by the US, and companies such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook were American-owned, global internet freedom was respected to some extent due legislation such as the First Amendment and a culture of free speech.
Gjelten quotes Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert who has worked with Britain’s Guardiannewspaper in reporting on NSA surveillance activities and acknowledges that spying has been detrimental to the openness of the internet. “The NSA’s actions embolden these people to say, ‘We need more sovereign control,’ Schneier says. ‘This is bad. We really need a global Internet.'”
Gjelten continues, “Some of the countries pushing for more international control over the Internet were never all that supportive of Internet freedom, like Russia and China. But they’ve now been joined by countries like Brazil, whose president, Dilma Rousseff, was furious when she read reports that she was herself an NSA target.”

The row over internet surveillance set off primarily by NSA contractor Edward Snowden has yet to settle. As it expands it has sharpened the debate over the control states have over private citizens and their freedom, while protecting national security. Let’s see where it goes.

Vietnam Blogger Quan Jailed For 30 Months

Public protests against jailing of Le Quoc Quan (Pic BBC/AFP)

Vietnam’s dissident and blogger Le Quoc Quan, 41, whose most recent brush with the law came when he criticised the preeminent position enjoyed by the Communist Party under the country’s constitution, was jailed for 30 months and imposed an a fine of US$59,000, the BBC reported today. He has vehemently protests his innocence.

Quan who was arrested in December in Hanoi, was not charged with political crimes, but with tax evasion. “Although charged with tax evasion, it was clear that the real reason for his arrest was his blogging and his calls for political pluralism, religious freedom and civil rights,” said the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF).
“This clearly politically-motivated sentence is designed to gag and punish a dissident and is part of a strategy orchestrated by the Communist Party to persecute all independent news and information providers in Vietnam,” continues the RSF statement.
RSF also said that Nguyen Van Hai, another blogger, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment on tax evasion charges, but an additional 12 year sentence was imposed on the eve of his release, this time for anti-government propaganda.
BBC reported following his sentence Quan had said, “I have long been denouncing and fighting against corruption, bureaucracy and the stagnation that is doing harm to this country… I’m the victim of political acts,” before the live feed was cut off.
Meanwhile, RSF that has documented press freedom issues in Vietnam – “Vietnam: Programmed death of Freedom of Information” – and spearheaded a petition campaign demanding the release of 35 bloggers and netizens jailed in the country, tried to meet Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during his visit to Paris in September, but was rebuffed.
“During the ongoing ‘France-Vietnam Year’ celebrations, dedicated above all to strengthening business ties, we think it is important to know about the deplorable state of freedom of information in Vietnam, where the authorities deal ruthlessly with anyone who calls for multiparty democracy, investigates Communist Party corruption or speaks out on environmental issues,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general, RSF.
 “Strengthening business ties” was also attributed to US President Barack Obama soft pedalling issues of human rights issues, including Quan, when meeting his Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang at the Oval Office on July 26. Commentators said the US’s interest in building trade ties with Southeast Asian countries – Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could be one reason, while the others suggest military-strategic priorities to counter China’s emerging great power status in the region.
Prior to the meeting, human rights and media freedom watchdogs in a letter to Obama said, “Given the great importance of international attention to the effort to secure Mr Quan’s freedom, and to enable him to return to his indispensable human rights work, we hope you will seize the opportunity of President Sang’s upcoming visit to request the immediate release of Mr Quan.”
Before his detention from December last year Quan was arrested in March 2007 after completing a stint as Reagan Fascell Fellow at Washington DC’s National Endowment for Democracy. He was released without charges after being detained for 100 days. He was arrested again in 2011 and released without charges. In August 2012 he was severely injured in an assault. (Please see here)
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Vietnam that had nine journalists imprisoned in 2012, one of the worst records in any part of the world. According to the RSF Press Freedom Index, Vietnam ranks 172nd of 179 countries in 20012