Warrantless searches persist, just ask Yahoo
A fresh round of leaks allegedly provided by Yahoo employees spurned reports that last year Yahoo built software for US Intel agencies to aid the Internet giant’s cooperation with government groups to spy on millions of its own customers.
The leaks prompted Yahoo to write a letter to the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, stating: “Recent news stories have provoked broad speculation about Yahoo’s approach and about the activities and representations of the US government.”
The letter continued: “That speculation results in part from a lack of transparency and because U.S. laws significantly constrain — and severely punish — companies’ ability to speak for themselves about national security-related orders even in ways that do not compromise U.S. government investigations.”
The higher ups at Yahoo explained they had an obligation to its customers to clarify their connections with US intelligence. It “is intended to set a stronger precedent of transparency for our users and all citizens who could be affected by government requests for user data.”
Yahoo also asked intelligence agencies to inform the media when they request data and declassify those requests for its customers and the public in general.
Yahoo has been under heavy fire from its customers who were not told that 500 million email accounts had been hacked in 2014. This is a more likely reason for Yahoo’s call for transparency. Court costs and lengthy litigation cut into the company’s bottom line and they are looking for “high cover” from the federal government.
The ongoing saga of government spying and computer hacking falls on the heels of Apple’s questionable modus operandi of allegedly creating software and/or hardware access or “backdoors” for the federal government’s spies.
Last year, Intel whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed that the CIA and other federal agencies have spent five years and millions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to crack the encryption of Apple products. Behind the scenes, Apple has criticized the government’s actions and claims they are unwilling to aid government surveillance by “softening” its encryption or allowing a “backdoor” into its operating systems for which millions of consumers pay a much steeper price tag for the added security.
And after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino last year, Apple was asked, again, to hack into an encrypted Apple iPhone, it declined and the FBI hired a private contractor (hacker) to break into the phone demonstrating that encryption-breaking capabilities already exist.
Snowden also claims the CIA has already found its own access point to Apple’s OSX software. Unbeknownst to many American’s, this reporter has been writing for several years about In-Q-Tel (link here), the CIA’s own joint venture firm, that invests taxpayer money in the latest technologies and garners an interest or control of developing technologies.
However, trolling US citizens’ emails through providers is an issue the US Congress must take up if there is any chance of transparency and change. An example came in 2014 when Congress seemed unconcerned with invasive laws or the interpretations of such laws by federal agencies to the detriment of Americans. The federal government harshly revised its rules and demanded Lavabit, a technology firm, turn over private passwords and security keys to federal investigators.
Lavabit, an encrypted email service provider, gained unwanted notoriety by being the service that once delivered NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s secure emails. Lavabit defied a Department of Justice demand to turn over its encryption key for secure users by closing shop. As the feds latest privacy target, the secure email provider shuttered operations rather than give up the encryption codes to its 400,000 subscribers, as Lavabit’s founder, Ladar Levison, made the difficult financial decision based on ethical concerns for his clients.
According to the search warrant, the government demanded “all information necessary to decrypt communications sent to or from the Lavabit e-mail account [redacted] including encryption keys and SSL keys.” That court ruling put into motion a plan that Levison said he made in the presence of his attorney that he would rather than shutter his company than sell out his clients. “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit,” he explained.
On top of that, a virtual gag order was placed on the case forcing the young entrepreneur to carefully construct his response to the media. “We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me to resurrect Lavabit as an American company.” So far Lavabit remains dead, but they did file a court document on behalf of Apple this year, stating his company received similar treatment from the feds.
It remains to be seen if Yahoo’s government woes will result in the loss of 500 million email accounts, but it does highlight that the dysfunctional Congress has failed to take up the warrantless search issue for more than three years.
With the clock ticking, NSA whistleblower William Binney said the cozy government data collection relationships of CIA, NSA, and private sector firms should concern Americans. “If you have information on everybody on the planet that means you might have material to blackmail them or influence them, one way or the other, to make a decision that you want them to make.”
He further explained the dangers of massive data collection. “See that’s the reason why I have been coming out publicly, because where I see it going is a Totalitarian State. I mean you (have) got the NSA doing all the collection of materials on all its (US) citizens, that’s what the SS, the Gestapo, the Stasi, the KGB, and the MVD did. That’s the whole thing, I mean I was there and I watched the people, I worked there for 30 years.”
One must wonder how the federal law of Posse Comitatus (Title 18 U.S.C. § 1385) does not arise when the NSA, a Department of Defense enterprise, conducts warrantless searches of American communications to aid law enforcement in the prosecution of crimes.