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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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Protecting Journalists And HRDs From Digital Surveillance

As new evidence emerged from documents collected by whistleblower Edward Snowden on how American and British spy agencies NSA and GCHQ had secretly monitored WikiLeaks and its founder Juian Assange after his site published classified information on the Afghan war, the New York-based Freedom House on Wednesday released a report on how journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) could better protect themselves from secret surveillance.
The report, ‘What Next: The Quest to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in a Digital World’ also addressed how donors and international support groups defending human rights could collaborate to effectively prevent government surveillance of journalists and HRDs.

The report is the result of a two-day conference in Mexico City in November, “which brought together over 60 policymakers, donors, and activists to explore the full range of emerging threats and best strategies to overcome them; take an honest look at what is and is not working; and chart a path forward for more proactive and realistic solutions to build the resilience, sustainability, and relevance of HRDs and their movements.”
Freedom House’s key recommendations include:
  • Civil society groups should invest resources into a more holistic approach to security training and assistance that addresses HRDs’ physical, digital, psycho-social, and other vulnerabilities.
  • Human rights organizations, technologists and donors should incorporate security protocols into their own practices. For donors, this means forcefully espousing human rights principles as a core of foreign policy and development aid, and making them key talking points when engaging with repressive regimes.
  • Donors, technologists and human rights organizations should focus less on funding new digital security tools and more on training HRDs in the use of existing tools, to emphasize changing behaviors that put them at risk and focusing on contingency planning and security protocols.
  • Donors should use coordinated engagements with countries in which HRDs and other targeted populations are under attack to stress the state’s responsibility to protect these populations. Foreign assistance to these countries should be conditioned on, and provide support for, their implementation of measures to protect targeted populations.
 Meanwhile, speaking on the documents on the WikiLeaks site, the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RWB/RSF) said, “The NSA’s surveillance, the US government’s attempts to bring judicial proceedings against WikiLeaks and the criminalization of the website’s publisher, Julian Assange, constitute a violation of freedom of information.
WikiLeaks cannot be prosecuted for exercising the right to gather and publish information, a right guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
RSF said there were three secret documents, collected by Snowden and published by Glenn Greenwald and Ray Gallagher, on the surveillance. The first detailed how GCHQ had monitored visitors to the site using the programme TEMPORA, after entering it by secretly acquiring IP addresses of visitors.
The second document revealed efforts by the US to treat Assange as a criminal. “The document reveals that, after WikiLeaks published the Afghan War Logs, ‘the United States on August 10 urged other nations with forces in Afghanistan, including Australia, United Kingdom, and Germany, to consider filling criminal charges against Julian Assange,'” said RSF.
“According to a third classified document, the US government considered designating WikiLeaksas a ‘malicious foreign actor,’ which would allow it to be subjected to much more extensive electronic surveillance,” said RSF.

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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Freedom Of The Press Foundation’s Fight To Protect Journalists From Eveasdroppers

Even as the past week saw at new developments to curb NSA’s surveillance programmes to mass collect metadata of phone call records and content of personal communications via the internet, journalists threatened by government agencies to use phone records to trace their sources of information, are developing new tools to outwit the spies.
Among them is Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) that is improving encryption tools by crowd-funding it. According to the PBS blog MediaShift, tools include the TOR Project, Tails, RedPhone and TextSecure, and LEAP Encryption Access Project.
“[i]ncreasingly, law enforcement doesn’t need to have journalists testify in court because they could get a secret subpoena to look at their phone records and metadata. So what we need from journalists now to protect sources are new tools that can head off that kind of surveillance as well as reforming the laws that allow that kind of surveillance to happen,” said Josh Stearns, a board member of FPF in conversation with MakeShift’s Denise Lu.
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UN Committee Adopts Resolution Against Mass Internet Surveillance

The United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee unanimously adopted a resolution on November 26 reaffirming privacy as a human right and that it is an integral aspect in individuals exercising their freedom of expression. Although the resolution has largely symbolic value, the United States and its allies successfully lobbied to delete a clause in an earlier draft stating that mass surveillance is a violation of human rights.    

The resolution, sponsored by Brazil and Germany, would extend to all people the right to privacy and to protect them from unlawful surveillance. Earlier this year, documents collected by Edward Snowden revealed that US’s National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the communications of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel among millions of others, when trawling for electronic communication data from phone records and the and internet.
“Brazil’s Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said the resolution ‘establishes for the first time that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium, and therefore need to be protected online and offline,'” said an Associated Press (AP) report on the resolution.
AP said the unanimous adoption of the resolution in the 50-member Third Committee (Social Humanitarian and Cultural Rights) meant that it would also pass the 193-member UN General Assembly. However, UNGA “resolutions aren’t legally binding but reflect world opinion and carry political weight,” AP said.
But unanimity in the Committee was achieved only after the US, Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand comprising the ‘five eyes’ network that share intelligence, succeeded in diluting the resolution by lobbying to delete a clause stating that mass interception and collection of personal data constituted a human rights violation.
“[w]e must note that the resolution was weakened by the United States and its allies who stripped out a sentence that explicitly defined mass surveillance as a violation of human rights. The US also tried (and failed) to remove any suggestion that privacy protestions apply extraterritorially. The final text of the draft resolution noted that states have only ‘deep concerns’ with the ‘negative impacts’ of surveillance and collection of personal data, at home and abroad, when carried out on a mass scale,” said the US-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that studies digital censorship.
EFF also said “[t]he draft resolution is important in restating an already accepted international legal principle: states must comply with their own commitments under human rights law when exercising their power outside their borders. In other words, if a state is conducting extraterritorial surveillance it remains bound to upholding the right to privacy for everyone.”
The resolution also establishes the principle that privacy is essential for the right to the freedom of expression. EFF quoted UN Special Rapporteur of the Freedom of Expression Frank LaRue’s report that says, “Undue interference with individuals’ privacy can both directly and indirectly limit the free development and exchange of ideas…. An infringement upon one right can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.”
To read the Resolution click here