Disinformation and Propaganda Amendment to Defense Authorization

December 26, 2016

This is not directly related to our core FISA issue of warrantless wiretapping, but it is clearly of importance to those of us who appreciate truth in media and journalistic standards that include independence and honesty, who prefer our editorial opinions on the Op-Ed page (or Web0site equivalent), not disguised as “hard news”, which we expect to be fact-based reporting.

It was called the “Ministry of Truth” by George Orwell, and some suggest that it is coming to the U.S.A. State Department,  authorized by an amendment to a defense authorization bill that allows the federal government to spread propaganda not just internationally, as it has long done, but also domestically‚ to U.S.A. citizens, using materials created for foreign audiences in support of government policies that might be unpopular here at home—wars, for instance.

The bipartisan bill, which was introduced by Senators Portman and Murphy in March, will . . . .establish an interagency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. To support these efforts, the bill also creates a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other experts outside government who are engaged in counter-propaganda related work. (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-12-24/obama-signs-countering-disinformation-and-propaganda-act-law)

Here is an article with more information: http://vigilantcitizen.com/latestnews/new-bill-legalizes-government-propaganda-and-disinformation-on-american-citizens/

and, from that article, this:

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

This amendment would

essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

Interestingly, the Smith-Mundt Act was passed shortly after the end of World War II—presumably to rein in the war-propaganda machine?

It seems to me that something so substantial deserved more attention than it was given, both when passed by the Senate back in March and at its passage by the House of Representatives on the Friday before Christmas and quick signature by the president that same day.  It is disturbing that this was quietly done, as described in that same article:

“I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing,” says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law. According to this source, the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”

The new law would give sweeping powers to the government to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

In a society that relies so completely on checks and balances, on oversight, it is troubling in the extreme to see current limitations removed—particularly just before the inauguration of a president-elect noted for misrepresentations and extremist rhetoric in his use of media.

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GPS Privacy Legislation after the PATRIOT Act

November 26, 2016

This post is more a request for information than a provision of same.

I was discussing cell-phone privacy, and a friend mentioned that since the World Trade Center attacks all cell phones have GPS location devices that are trackable even when off.  I was not sure of the accuracy of that statement (though we all know that the so-called PATRIOT Act was a vast overreaction and overreach), so I went hunting for current law.

I did not find much; I did find a government site from 2014 that had a link to a page about pending legislation; that page was updated 2 months ago (28 Oct. 2016).  Here is the link:
http://www.gps.gov/policy/legislation/gps-act/

The original page (www.gps.gov/policy) also had information on the 2012 Jones decision and on lower-court rulings, including one that required a warrant for GPS-based vehicle trackers (later vacated and to be reheard, according to the site today [26 Nov. 2016]).

I think we have some work to do, between all the other ball-juggling that is happening: Electoral College, vote recounts, proposals for mass registration and deportations, Dakota Access water-protector repression, racist appointments, etc.  Already, many folks are talking about the need for encrypting e-mails and phone conversations/messages—is that actually useful, or just an illusion because Internet Service Providers give everything to the government, anyway?


Please Sign: An e-mail message from Ron Wyden

October 5, 2016

The group that originally began this Web site/blog was concerned with the expansion of government surveillance outside that allowed by the FISA Court; then-Senator Obama voted in favor of warrantless wiretapping in July 2008, and as his administration closes 8 years later it seems that the FBI is about to get new surveillance abilities. We supported Barack Obama in 2008, drifted away to various degrees by 2012, and largely moved on to individual projects. However, when something related comes up, one of us will pop over here to spread the word. Here is the correspondence from Sen. Wyden:

An obscure committee in the federal bureaucracy recently voted to allow the FBI to hack into your personal devices and access your personal data without obtaining an individual warrant to do so.

The changes approved by the Judicial Conference Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules to what is known as “Rule 41” would allow the government to get a single warrant to hack into an unlimited number of computers and digital devices owned by law-abiding Americans if their device was merely affected by criminal activity.

This dramatic and constitutionally questionable expansion of the government’s hacking and surveillance authority is poised to go into effect on December 1 – unless Congress acts. Such a change should be debated by Congress in the light of day – not handed down by unelected bureaucrats.

Here is the link to Sen. Wyden’s petition: https://standtallforamerica.com/petition/stop-mass-hacking/e/


FCC’s Net Neutrality Regulations Survive Challenge

June 14, 2016

A panel of judges ruled today to uphold the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules—which prohibit blocking legal content or throttling based on type, as well as disallowing the so-called “fast lanes” for preferred content. Although the rules do not include mobile services that do not include streaming that does not count against a user’s data cap, they nonetheless protect the basic concept of an Internet that “plays fair”, allowing users free choice of the legal content they choose without artificial, marketing-based restrictions. Score one for us! (and keep watching in case we need to defend this further)


The “techie” side of “Getting It Right”

November 13, 2009

The following posting is intended as part of the background information for a forthcoming Get FISA Right chat on the technological issues in “getting FISA right” or more generally balancing needed foreign intelligence gathering with the rights reserved and protected in the Constitution. We eagerly seek your comments here and your participation in the chat. Please post as comments here not only critiques of this posting, but also any ideas regarding who should participate in such a discussion, when we should hold it and any of the ideas that should be discussed.

We will also discuss the logistics of the chat at our next regular organization conference call or two Please join us.

— Jim Burrows

Introduction

One of the knottiest problems in “getting FISA right” is the question of precisely how to insure that our Constitutionally guaranteed rights are protected while any email is being spied upon. It’s a purely technical problem in one sense, but one that has huge repercussions in the Constitutional and political areas. As a dedicated nerd and and civil libertarian, let me see if I can lay it out clearly.

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