Tag Archives: Edward Snowden

British intelligence reveals policy for mass surveillance of Facebook, Twitter, more

Britain’s top counter-terrorism official has been forced to reveal a secret government policy justifying the mass surveillance of every Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Google user in the United Kingdom, according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty and other human rights groups published the policy, described in a statement by Charles Farr, director General of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, following a legal challenge against the British government.

The document reveals that GCHQ — the British Government Communications Headquarters — believes it is entitled to indiscriminately intercept web searches by British residents or communications between British residents.

“British citizens will be alarmed to see their government justifying industrial-scale intrusion into their communications,” said Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International’s senior director for law and policy. “The public should demand an end to this wholesale violation of their right to privacy.”

The government’s approach, which had to date not been made explicitly clear, defines almost all communications via Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as all web searches via Google, to be “external communications” because they use Web-based “platforms” based in the USA.

The distinction between “internal” and “external” communications is crucial. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which regulates the surveillance powers of public bodies, “internal” communications may only be intercepted under a specific warrant.

These warrants should only be granted where there is some suspicion of unlawful activity. However, an individual’s “external communications” may be intercepted indiscriminately, even where there are no grounds to suspect any wrongdoing.

“The security services consider that they’re entitled to read, listen and analyze all our communications on Facebook, Google and other US-based platforms,” said James Welch, legal director of Liberty in the UK.

“If there was any remaining doubt that UK snooping laws need a radical overhaul there should be no longer. The agencies are operating in a legal and ethical vacuum; why the deafening silence from our elected representatives?”

By defining the use of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media as “external communications”, British residents are being deprived of essential safeguards.

But the government’s approach may also give room for GCHQ to intercept all communications in and out of the UK. The documents suggest that: 

• GCHQ is intercepting all communications – emails, text messages and communications sent by “platforms” such as Facebook and Google – before determining whether they fall into the “internal” or “external” categories.

• The government considers that almost all Facebook and other social media communications and Google searches will always fall within the “external” category, even when such communications are between two people in the UK.

• Classifying communications as “external” allows the government to search through, read, listen to and look at each of them. The key restriction on what they do with communications that they classify as “external” is that they cannot search through such communications using keywords or terms that mention a specific British person or residence. 

• Even though the government is conducting mass surveillance — intercepting and scanning through all communications in order to work out whether they are internal or external — they consider that such interception “has less importance” than whether a person actually reads the communication, which is where the government believes “the substantive interference with privacy arises”. 

• The government believes that, even when privacy violations happen, it is not an “active intrusion” because the analyst reading or listening to an individual’s communication will inevitably forget about it anyway. 

The document’s publication follows revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the UK’s global digital surveillance activities.

It was obtained by rights groups Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union and Pakistani organization Bytes for All, as part of an ongoing lawsuit seeking to establish the extent to which the UK government has been monitoring their online activity.

Charles Farr is the government’s key witness in the case, which will be heard by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in July. Farr’s analysis is the first time the government has openly commented on how it can use the vague legal framework provided by RIPA to scoop up posts and tweets through its mass surveillance program, TEMPORA.

Partner of gay reporter at center of NSA leak detained

The partner of a journalist who received leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden was detained for nearly nine hours on Aug. 18 under anti-terror legislation at London’s Heathrow Airport.

David Miranda, the partner of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, was held for nearly the maximum time authorities are allowed to detain individuals under the Terrorism Act’s Schedule 7, which authorizes security agencies to stop and question people at borders. Greenwald said Miranda’s cellphone, laptops and memory sticks were confiscated.

“This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism,” Greenwald said in a post on the Guardian website. “It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic.”

Greenwald has written a series of stories about the NSA’s electronic surveillance programs based on files handed over by Snowden. The former contractor fled the United States and is now in Russia, where he has received temporary asylum.

The 28-year-old Miranda was returning home to Brazil from Germany, where he was staying with Laura Poitras, a U.S. filmmaker who has worked with Greenwald on the NSA story, Greenwald said in his post. He also said British authorities had “zero suspicion” that Miranda was linked to a terror group and instead interrogated him about the NSA reporting and the contents of the electronic equipment he was carrying.

“If the U.K. and U.S. governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded,” he said. “If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further.”

London police acknowledged that they had detained a 28-year-old man at 8:05 a.m. He was released at 5 p.m. without being arrested, the Metropolitan Police Service said.

“They kept David detained right up until the last minute: for the full 9 hours, something they very rarely do. Only at the last minute did they finally release him,” Greenwald said. “This was obviously designed to send a message of intimidation to those of us working journalistically on reporting on the NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ.”

The Home Office says in a report released last year that more than 97 percent of those questioned under Schedule 7 are detained for less than an hour. Less than a tenth of 1 percent are held for more than six hours. Some 230,236 people were questioned under Schedule 7 from April 2009 through March 2012.

Schedule 7 is designed to help authorities determine whether people crossing U.K. borders have been involved in the “commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” according to the Home Office report. Border agents are not required to have reasonable suspicion before detaining a traveler.

Examining officers may require travelers to answer questions or provide documents. Detainees may be held for up to nine hours if they refuse to cooperate, the Home Office report said.

Greenwald’s post said the Guardian sent lawyers to the airport. Detainees have the right to legal representation, though publicly funded legal advice is not guaranteed.

The Brazilian government expressed “grave concern” over the detention of Miranda, Greenwald’s partner with whom he’s in a civil union. The pair lives in Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Miranda was “detained and held incommunicado.”

The statement went on to say that the foreign ministry considered the detention “unjustifiable, as it involves an individual against whom there are no accusations that could possibly legitimize the use of such legislation.”

IOC VP: Snubs? Snowden? Anti-gay laws? No problem for Olympics

The Winter Olympics in Sochi should not be affected by the heightened political tensions between the United States and Russia over Edward Snowden, gay rights and other issues, a vice president of the IOC said this week.

“If there are political tensions arising, it wouldn’t be the first time before an Olympic Games, and in the main, Olympic Games overcome political tensions,” IOC vice president Craig Reedie of Britain told The Associated Press.

Reedie downplayed the impact of President Barack Obama’s decision to call off a Moscow summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The snub follows Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Snowden, the National Security Agency leaker, in defiance of Obama’s repeated requests.

Obama’s decision also reflects strained ties with Russia over missile defense, Syria, human rights and other issues. He canceled the summit with Putin exactly six months before the start of the Olympics in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in southern Russia.

“I think the games are quite clearly an occasion which encourages peace among nations and I’m pretty sure, despite pressures at the moment, that’s what will appear to the world in February next year,” Reedie said in a telephone interview.

Reedie also cited the global situation before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which were held just months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.

“There must have been a question mark over that after what happened to New York, and the games went ahead,” Reedie said.

The International Olympic Committee official also said the 2008 Beijing Olympics were a “triumph” despite the pre-games controversies over China’s record on human rights, Tibet and press freedoms.

“It’s happened twice in recent years,” Reedie said. “I think it’s far too early to say what’s going on at the moment is going to be massively problematic.”

The buildup to the Sochi Games, scheduled for Feb. 7-23, has also been overshadowed recently by criticism of Russia’s new anti-gay legislation. The law, which was signed by Putin in June, bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.”

Obama said he had “no patience” with countries which discriminate against gay people.

While some critics have called for a boycott of the Sochi Olympics, the IOC is quietly negotiating with Russian officials to make sure the law does not affect the games. Russia is also hosting the world track and field championships, which start Saturday in Moscow.

“I would hope wise counsel would be taken because they (Russia) have much to gain from a successful world athletics championships and have much to gain from a successful Olympic Games and (2018) World Cup,” Reedie said. “It is in their interests to have a decade of sport.”

Gays at heart of government whistleblowing

While Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was preparing for his trial at Fort Meade, Md., a woman declaring, “I am Bradley Manning,” marched outside the U.S. embassy in London. Another woman declaring, “I am Bradley Manning,” marched in Seoul and a man declaring, “I am Bradley Manning,” marched in Berlin.

The demonstrations in solidarity with Manning occurred in 24 cities on four continents on June 1, two days before the Army intelligence analyst went on trial in a military court.

Manning, arrested in 2007 while stationed in Iraq, is on trial for passing more than 700,000 classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks. If convicted of the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, Manning could be sentenced to life in prison.

The government claims the soldier revealed sensitive information about troop movement, code words and the identity of suspects that endangered lives and possibly reached the now-dead Osama bin Laden.

“This is a case about a soldier who systematically harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from classified databases and then dumped that information onto the Internet into the hands of the enemy,” prosecutor Capt. Joe Morrow said on the first day of the trial.

Manning’s defense team, however, maintains that damage from the leak was minimal.

And Manning’s supporters maintain the leaked information exposed war crimes, helped spur an end to the war in Iraq and fueled the Arab Spring.

The openly gay soldier’s arrest and prosecution have not been an issue for the nation’s largest LGBT groups. Searches for “Bradley Manning” on websites for the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN or National Gay and Lesbian Task Force yield no statements, news releases or other references.

The ACLU and Amnesty International, however, have monitored the Manning case.

The ACLU maintains the government is overreaching with the charge of aiding the enemy. “The crux of the government’s case against Manning – that he leaked sensitive documents without authorization – in no way depends on branding him a traitor,” said Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “In its zeal to throw the book at Manning, the government has so overreached that its ‘success’ would turn thousands of loyal soldiers into criminals.”

Amnesty, which has dispatched a monitor to Maryland for a trial that is expected to last until August, has said the government must allow Manning to use a public interest defense. “The court must allow Manning to explain in full his motives for releasing the information to WikiLeaks,” said Anne FitzGerald, Amnesty director of research and crisis response. “Manning should have been allowed to explain how, in his opinion, the public interest in being made aware of the information he disclosed outweighed the government’s interest in keeping it confidential.”

Manning already has pleaded guilty to 10 charges after the judge ruled he could not argue he was acting in the public interest.

Out reporter scoops Snowden

In mid-June, with Manning on trial at Fort Meade, another big whistleblower story broke. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, 29, leaked to the press documents about a U.S. government spying operation to monitor Americans’ telephone and online communications.

Glenn Greenwald, the U.S. journalist who scooped the NSA surveillance story, writes for The Guardian in London and resides in Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian husband because that country recognizes their marriage. Greenwald recently told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that U.S. government-sanctioned discrimination against gays fed his watchdog tenacity. “When you grow up with any kind of real challenge that forces you to evaluate your relationship to these conventions and things that you’re taught … you start to question what that system is,” he said. “Is it really valid in the way that it’s rejecting me or is it the system itself that is corrupted? I think that lends itself to a much more critical eye that you end up casting upon things that you’re taught are indisputably true.”

He’s applied this approach as he’s followed the Manning case, becoming one of the more prominent critics of the government’s prosecution. Greenwald’s focus on the conditions in which Manning was being detained led to an investigation by the U.N. high official on torture and denunciations from Amnesty International and the ACLU, which said that Manning’s treatment “in military custody is in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment and serves no purpose other than to degrade, humiliate and traumatize him.”

Greenwald called Manning a “whistle-blower acting with the noblest of motives” and “a national hero similar to Daniel Ellsberg.”

The famed Ellsberg supported the Vietnam War until he began working on the secret Defense Department study that became known as the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the U.S. government repeatedly misled citizens about the war. He photocopied the 7,000-page study and provided it to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1970 and then provided the papers to The New York Times and other newspapers in 1971. 

The Nixon administration lost its campaign to block the Times from publishing the papers in an epic First Amendment fight, and the 12 felony charges against Ellsberg were dropped in 1973 on the grounds of governmental misconduct against him – misconduct that played a role in the conviction of several White House aides and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, who sought to discredit the whistleblower by circulating rumors of his homosexuality.

Ellsberg also calls Manning a hero and said his trial is one of the “defining issues of the 21st century.”

No pride?

Ellsberg wanted to represent Manning in the San Francisco Pride Parade – before the organizers overturned a committee vote naming Manning the grand marshal.

Both Ellsberg and Greenwald criticized parade organizers for the veto, which was decried as authoritarian, cowardly and a sellout.

San Francisco’s Pride march is among the oldest in the world. Today it draws hundreds of thousands of people and is sponsored by more than a dozen companies, including Clear Channel, Wells Fargo, Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Bank of America.

Earlier this year, there was an announcement that a committee of former San Francisco Pride grand marshals elected Manning to be their 2013 grand marshal.

The vote was hailed by some, denounced by others.

Two days later, San Francisco Pride president Lisa Williams issued a news release stating Manning was not a grand marshal, that his nomination was a “mistake” and that the Pride staffer who prematurely contacted Manning was “disciplined.” The statement said, “Manning is facing the military justice system of this country. We all await the decision of that system. However, until that time, even the hint of support for actions which placed in harm’s way the lives of our men and women in uniform – and countless others, military and civilian alike – will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country.”

Manning’s advocates responded with newspaper op-eds and ads, as well as a complaint to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. The complaint stated, “Because of the extraordinary material he leaked, and because of the way the Pentagon has treated Manning, Manning has become an international cause celebre for human rights activists, the peace movement, LGBTQ veterans and countless academics, intellectuals, artists, scientists, diplomats, etc., who believe that Manning’s actions constitute courageous whistle blowing, and that the Pentagon’s treatment of Manning has amounted to torture under international law.”

The complaint, which was rejected, also said Manning opposed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was twice nominated for a Nobel Peace prize and also was nominated by The Guardian’s readers for 2012 Person of the Year.

The information published by WikiLeaks revealed thousands of reports of prisoner torture filed against the Iraqi Security Forces, including whippings and sexual assaults. Also revealed was the existence of a 2004 order not to investigate abuse allegations, reports that U.S. defense contractors were complicit in child trafficking, that the U.S. government kept a tally of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan (although the Bush and Obama administration denied there was a count), and that Egypt’s notorious State Security Service received FBI training in Quantico, Va. Perhaps the best-known WikiLeaks release was the classified video in which soldiers in a U.S. Apache helicopter repeatedly ask permission to fire on civilians in New Baghdad and then joke about the 11 dead adults.

Defense attorney David Combs, in his opening statement at the trial, said Manning believed the information he provided WikiLeaks “showed how we valued human life. He was troubled by that. He believed that if the American public saw it, they too would be troubled.”

Some who signed the San Francisco ad, op-ed and complaint, such as Lt. Dan Choi, who was arrested at the White House for protesting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, belong to a new generation of activists.

Progressive celebrities also have taken up the cause. More than 20 actors, authors, musicians and prominent activists – Oliver Stone, Russell Brand, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Moby, Roger Waters, Alice Walker, Angela Davis and Choi – recently appeared in a 5-minute “I am Bradley Manning” video.

Following the controversy, San Francisco resident Eve Ann Greer said she’s attended 20 Pride parades but considered boycotting this year’s event. “The government’s mistreatment of Bradley Manning is absolutely wrong. But the community’s mistreatment really saddens me. We’ve come so far in equality for people but, my God, we’ve lost so much along the way,” Greer said.

Greer said she changed her mind about staying away and instead plans to parade on June 30 with a sign. It will read, “I am Bradley Manning.”

Follow WiG on Facebook and Twitter.