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Monday, November 5, 2012

Federal Judge BLOCKS FBI’s Attempts to Hold Back Information on Troubling Internet Surveillance Program

In a somewhat surprising move, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg refused to allow the government to continue to keep their drive to require Internet providers to build backdoors into their systems for government surveillance under a veil of secrecy.

This is especially shocking because a federal judge just ruled that police can place surveillance cameras on private property without a search warrant and another federal judge quickly overturned a previous decision blocking the indefinite detention provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012.

The program, known as the “Going Dark,” is, according to Threat Level, aimed at “extend[ing] [the government’s] ability to wiretap virtually all forms of electronic communications.”

Judge Seeborg ruled on October 30 that the federal government “did not adequately respond to a Freedom of Information Act request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation,” according to CNET.

Seeborg ordered a “further review of the materials previously withheld” in the lawsuit seeking information on the “Going Dark” program.

The FBI’s program is aimed at actually forcing major companies including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to alter their systems in order to guarantee easy wiretap access.

One might point out that such a system is likely already in place in the case of Google, given their relationship to the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government entities.

Some could very well consider this FBI program even more troubling than it might otherwise be due to the dramatic increase in warrantless surveillance over recent years.

“We must ensure that our ability to obtain communications pursuant to court order is not eroded,” Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, to a Senate Committee in September, according to CNET.

Many companies are “are not required to build or maintain intercept capabilities” as of right now, according to Mueller, as if it is the responsibility of companies to enable illegal government surveillance.

The FBI argues that lawful investigations are hindered by Internet companies not being required to have backdoor surveillance systems in place in advance or because their systems prevent such surveillance.

This effort is nothing new, evidenced by the FBI requesting Internet giants to support new legislation which would require various websites and VoIP, instant messaging, email and social networking providers to put a system in place allowing for backdoor surveillance.

Mueller later confirmed that the bureau is indeed pushing for “some form of legislation” that would work towards such a requirement.

The ruling from Seeborg also requires the FBI to make it clear which documents related to Going Dark are actually being withheld from public scrutiny. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has rightly called the FBI’s efforts to keep this program under wraps unreasonable and confusing.

Seeborg stated that both sides have 15 days to “meet and confer to negotiate a timetable for the FBI to complete [the revisions required].”

Unfortunately, Seeborg stopped short of actually ruling on what information must be turned over.

Currently the Department of Justice has only made 707 pages available of 2,662 pages that might be relevant and those released pages are heavily redacted, according to the EFF.

Indeed, the EFF pointed out that some pages had been removed entirely, in clear violation of the oft-abused open-government laws.

“Publicity (adverse or otherwise) regarding any internal FBI development projects (e.g. National Electronic Surveillance Strategy), and legislative strategy to make amendments to outdated laws, that these congressional staffers, and DOJ representatives, may be requested to provide input on, may seriously prejudice their effectiveness in helping on other developmental projects, and legislative strategies,” argued David Hardy, the section chief for the FBI’s record management division.

“These employees may have to give input on the development of strategy plans, like developing ways to enhance ELSUR [electronic surveillance] capabilities through legislative amendments,” Hardy continued. “The publicity associated with the release of these congressional staffers involved with an FBI developmental project could trigger hostility toward a particular employee.”

While the FBI remains tight-lipped on the decision, EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch said, “It’s nice to have a court say the government can’t do that.”

Lynch also stated that Seeborg’s ruling shows that the federal government indeed has to at least “make an effort” to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The EFF requested the entirety of the records relating to Going Dark back in 2009 and in the second FOIA request filed in 2010 they requested examples of the surveillance allegedly being hindered by various social networks and VoIP services like Skype.

The EFF also sought documents relating the congressional briefings and meetings with representatives of the industry dealing with the Going Dark program.

However, the effort on the FBI’s part has a long history dating back almost ten years ago with a lobbying effort focusing on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The FBI’s Electronic Surveillance Technology Section sought to force broadband providers to provide increasingly efficient and standardized surveillance facilities for the government, a request which was granted soon after by the FCC and upheld in 2006 by a federal appeals court.

If the FBI’s wishes are granted, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) of 1994 would be amended in order to include Internet companies as well as telecommunications providers currently covered by the law.

The FBI claims that expanding CALEA wouldn’t actually be expanding or creating a new wiretapping law since a court order would, at least in principle, still be required.

“But privacy groups and civil libertarians — and Internet companies — are hardly likely to embrace the idea,” Declan McCullagh points out in his article for CNET.

The battle over increasingly easy government surveillance will not likely end soon and based on the troubling precedents established as of late, the chances of the Constitution being honored over the interests of the federal government seem slim, at best.


Report Reveals Japanese Nuclear Safety Experts Received Large Sums of Money From Nuclear Industry

Destroyed unit 3 reactor building of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is seen in Fukushima prefecture, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. (Issei Kato)
While the “profoundly man-made disaster” at the Fukushima nuclear power plant continues unabated with independent experts continually blocked from gaining access, it has now been revealed that the six members of a Japanese government team drafting the new nuclear reactor safety standards have received tens of thousands of dollars from the nuclear industry.

According to a report put out by Japan’s Kyodo News a whopping four out of six experts on the panel drafting new safety standards have received funds from companies directly involved in the nuclear industry.

The grants, donations and compensation range from 3 million yen (around $37,290) to over 27 million yen (around $335,600) each, according to data released by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).

While the NRA claimed that the members of the panel “have been selected in line with rules, and there should be no problem,” Kyodo News rightly points out that critics “say the members’ judgments might be swayed by the wishes of donors, exposing safety regulations to the risk of being watered down.”

Indeed it seems so painfully obvious that it is somewhat laughable to even qualify such a statement with the word “might.”

The NRA requires experts like the ones assigned to draft the new safety standards to disclose the funds they receive but they have “no rules for disqualifying them in light of such information,” according to AFP.

One of the experts, Akira Yamaguchi, a professor at Osaka University, received at least 27.14 million yen in both donations and research grants from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd., a company which just happens to manufacture nuclear plant equipment, along with “other relevant entities,” according to the report.

Akio Yamamoto, a professor at Nagoya University, received 10.1 million yen, also from a builder and operator of nuclear plants, Japan Atomic Power Co., along with other companies.

Yutaka Abe, a professor at Tsukuba University, received 5 million yen from various entities including a laboratory of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the same company behind the atrocious Fukushima disaster.

Tomoyuki Sugiyama, a Japan Atomic Energy Agency researcher, received 3 million yen from Nuclear Fuel Industries, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the spent fuel pool at reactor four remains precarious and technology is being developed which, in theory at least, could assist the disturbingly slow cleanup process.

TEPCO, in what appears to be an attempt to maintain at least some shred of legitimacy, “plans to set up a regional headquarters in Fukushima prefecture to better oversee local reconstruction, decontamination and compensation payments, Kyodo and other media said,” according to AFP.


I am a Nuclear Reactor and this is What I Know

By Christina Consolo

Contributing writer for End the Lie and host of Nuked Radio

You know me. There are lots of us around. We sit behind concrete walls and high fences, and most of us can boast of a killer view.

My outside is pretty plain, but inside I have 10,000 parts. As a nuke plant, you are lucky, because you almost always get waterfront property. This is so if my insides ever get too hot, or the power goes out (oops!) it’s easy to scoop up water and dump it on me.

If my emergency diesel generators go out, which happens a lot, they can sometimes use fire hoses to cool me off, too. I’m glad the NRC spokesman brought that up the other day when Hurricane Sandy happened. A lot of people were probably worried about that. This exact same thing happened to some of my friends in Japan! Fire hoses seemed to work OK for them, but I’m not sure, because no one really talks about it. I think there might have been some explosions or something. Man do they have a nice view from there though! And I heard Pacific sushi is really good!

Some us of are right next to big cities too, so we never get lonely. When people see you a lot, it makes you seem like you belong. Sometimes they paint pretty pictures on us, to make us look more friendly! I hope they paint some birds and butterflies on me, I don’t see too many of those around anymore.

Some days I look around me and I see all that wind, water, and sun and I wonder why people haven’t used those things to generate power, too. Maybe they are just lazy. After all, they use it like crazy in third-world countries like Morocco!

I wish I didn’t vent so much steam too, because it really obscures my view. Some days its really bad, especially if we have a hot shutdown. But people have to work inside of me so I can work properly and things don’t “melt down”. Radiation in the steam is pretty small, so unless you go outside a lot, you’re probably OK. I’m not sure why so many kids around here keep getting brain cancer though. Maybe they sit too close to the TV.

Even if we don’t sit by a big city, we still aren’t lonely. There are lots of security guards around, in case a nun tries to throw blood on us or something! Lots of people don’t seem to like us, probably because they think we are dangerous. But that’s silly, there have only been a few big accidents that have happened, like Chernobyl and Fukushima, which killed lots of people, poisoned the environment forever (and made the ones that didn’t die sick!), or caused deformities in their kids. But when you think about how great nuclear power is, it all evens out!

Most of those people that live around nuclear reactors are poor anyway. The people that own me, probably don’t think they really count. And of course, the 99 other nuclear accidents that have happened most people don’t even know about, even though they’re listed on Wikipedia. They don’t like us to talk about it either. And you never ever talk about the spent fuel and nuclear waste! Or how precarious the fuel pools are, especially in the 23 Mark 1 BWR reactors in the US, the same style as Fukushima! That freaks people out a lot!

I hear some people that work inside me getting scared though, because we break down so much. All you have to do is look at the NRC event notification page to see! But it’s not my fault that I’m old! My owners don’t want to spend the money to fix me up right! They just fix stuff when it breaks. Hopefully it won’t be a big break, because then people will talk probably about us even more.

I’m actually not too worried about the election either, because it looks like both Obama and Romney are big fans of nuclear power. All of their friends are the people that own us. Their friends all own the news media too, so since we give them lots of money, they don’t talk bad about us. Now the Green Party, those people are just plain scary. They could possibly “shut us down”. But no one really listens to them. Most people are too busy watching TV I think. I should know, I make all that electricity for them!

The really funny thing is, electricity isn’t even the reason I was made… I was made to be a bomb-making factory! I kick out plutonium like a person craps after a big meal at a dirty taco stand! Then people from the government come along, scoop up this plutonium, and take it to labs all over the country. There, they figure out ways it can be used against other countries we don’t like, or the countries whose oil we want. Too bad our soldiers get sick from it too. I guess my owners must not care about them either.

Even if people got really mad at us, the NRC, who is like the babysitter that lets you get away with stuff your parents won’t, will re-license me endlessly so I can stay here forever. So I’m really not too worried about things. I would really hate to lose this view!

Maybe they will paint some fish on me too, because all the ones around here seem to be dead.