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Obama Defends U.S. Surveillance Program As Trade-Off For Security

By Reuters | Jun.07, 2013 | 8:59 PM

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday staunchly defended the sweeping U.S. government surveillance of Americans' phone and internet activity, calling it a modest encroachment on privacy that was necessary to defend the United States from attack.

Obama said the programs were "trade-offs" designed to strike a balance between privacy concerns and keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks. He said they were supervised by federal judges and Congress, and that lawmakers had been briefed.

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program is about," Obama told reporters during a visit to California's Silicon Valley.

"In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance," Obama said. "There are trade-offs involved."



Republicans Trying to Pink-Slip Obama’s D.C. Court Picks

In April 2005, U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered a lecture at the University of Virginia School of Law entitled, “What Makes the D.C. Circuit Different?”

Roberts, an alumnus of the federal appeals court in Washington, explained the D.C. Circuit’s “unique character” as a judicial body “with special responsibility to review legal challenges to the conduct of the national government.” He noted the court hears a disproportionate number of appeals from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, and other “alphabet soup” regulatory agencies.

On June 4, a combative-sounding President Barack Obama announced his choices for all three openings and pre-emptively chastised Senate Republicans for blocking some of his previous choices for the court.

“This is not about principled opposition,” the president said. “It’s about partisan obstruction.”

When Republicans returned fire, they augmented finger-pointing about politicizing the judiciary with an argument about manpower: they said they oppose Obama’s nominees because the judges aren’t needed.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa is pushing a bill that would eliminate the D.C. Circuit’s three vacancies on the theory that the court is underworked. He proposes to do away with one judgeship and transfer the other two to circuits with heavier caseloads.




REPORTS: U.S. Mining Data From 9 Major Tech Firms... MICROSOFT, YAHOO, FACEBOOK, APPLE, GOOGLE, SKYPE, AOL, YOUTUBE... REPORT: AT&T, Sprint Also Handing Over Phone Data... Credit Card Providers, Too!

America, here's hoping you've had enough time to be come to terms with the National Security Agency scooping up all of your metadata pertaining to all of the phone calls you've been making with Verizon, because here comes the next fun news about the government's far-reaching panopticon of total information surveillance, courtesy of Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras of The Washington Post:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.
The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

The Washington Post obtained "briefing slides" from an "internal presentation on the Silicon Valley operation, intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate," from a "career intelligence officer" who cited "firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities," as the reason for the disclosure. These materials described PRISM as "the most prolific contributor to the President's Daily Brief" and the NSA's "leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports." The Post, goes on to report that while PRISM allows the NSA to collect "anything it likes" from the available data, it is in practice not utilized as a "dragnet" per se:

Analysts who use the system from a Web portal at Fort Meade key in “selectors,” or search terms, that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s “foreignness.” That is not a very stringent test. Training materials obtained by the Post instruct new analysts to submit accidentally collected U.S. content for a quarterly report, “but it’s nothing to worry about.”
One may nevertheless worry about this thing that is "nothing to worry about."

Gellman and Poitras include a detailed history of the PRISM program, along with an explanation of how the system works and the extent to which the technology companies involved offer "resistance" to the data mining, so go read the whole thing.

MORE if you can handle it...


President Obama’s Dragnet (New York Times Editorial)

Within hours of the disclosure that the federal authorities routinely collect data on phone calls Americans make, regardless of whether they have any bearing on a counterterrorism investigation, the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights.

Those reassurances have never been persuasive — whether on secret warrants to scoop up a news agency’s phone records or secret orders to kill an American suspected of terrorism — especially coming from a president who once promised transparency and accountability. The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.

Based on an article in The Guardian published Wednesday night, we now know the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to obtain a secret warrant to compel Verizon’s business services division to turn over data on every single call that went through its system. We know that this particular order was a routine extension of surveillance that has been going on for years, and it seems very likely that it extends beyond Verizon’s business division. There is every reason to believe the federal government has been collecting every bit of information about every American’s phone calls except the words actually exchanged in those calls.

A senior administration official quoted in The Times offered the lame observation that the information does not include the name of any caller, as though there would be the slightest difficulty in matching numbers to names. He said the information “has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats,” because it allows the government “to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”



Wish Fresh Momentum, Syrian Regime Turns Sights On Densely Populated Heartland

With fresh momentum from the capture of a strategic town in western Syria, President Bashar Assad's forces have turned their sights to driving rebel fighters from the country's densely populated heartland, including the cities of Homs and Aleppo.

The latest battlefield success, due in large part to Lebanese Hezbollah fighters' increasing role and the West's continued reluctance to arm the rebels, raises the possibility that Assad can cling to power for years, even if he won't be able to recapture all of the country.

Government troops pressed ahead Thursday with an aggressive military offensive in Homs province, seizing control of the village of Dabaa just north of Qusair, near the border with Lebanon. Hundreds of rebel fighters who had been entrenched in Qusair for more than a year fled Wednesday after a punishing three-week assault, retreating to surrounding areas.

The regime triumph in Qusair, a key crossroads town of supply lines between Damascus and western and northern Syria, showcased the potentially game-changing role of Hezbollah in Syria's civil war and was openly celebrated in the militant group's strongholds in Lebanon and in Damascus, the seat of Assad's power.

Syrian state-run media portrayed Qusair's fall as a turning point in the more than two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people.



Anthony Weiner Gets Into Shouting Match in First Confrontation Over Sexting Scandal

He’s back. An explosive Anthony Weiner received his first serious criticism from voters over the sexting scandal that forced him to resign from Congress Wednesday night–sparking a shouting match that marked the most heated moment of his campaign to date.

Mr. Weiner had given his usual stump speech touting middle class jobs and his book of policy proposals at a New Kings Democrats candidates forum in Williamsburg when the floor was opened to questions.

The second came from Chris Owens, a Brownstone Brooklyn district leader and a supporter of one of Mr. Weiner’s electoral rivals, who berated Mr. Weiner for his conduct.

“I have a three word question, ‘How dare you?’” he began, seething as he spoke. “I’m a parent, I’ve got two sons. I represent the Democratic Party. I am outraged and disgusted by you, both by what you did and by the fact that you have the arrogance to run for mayor now. And the only reason why you’re running for mayor is because you have this money that you’re going to lose.”

Mr. Owens then pivoted into the scandal.



Study: Blacks 9 Times More Likely Than Whites To Be Arrested For Pot In NYC

The New York Civil Liberties Union published a research report (PDF) Thursday detailing the vast racial disparities in the state’s marijuana enforcement regime, finding that black New Yorkers are, in some parts of the state, up to 9 times more likely to be arrested for pot than whites.

The NYCLU’s report follows an American Civil Liberties Union study published Monday that found non-whites nationwide are more than four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana despite higher usage rates among whites.

The NYCLU report found that the New York had by far the most marijuana arrests in the nation in 2010, beating even Texas and more than doubling the national average in spite of possession being decriminalized since 1977.

Though simple possession is a violation-level offense, so-called “stop and frisk” searches involve officers asking subjects to empty their pockets, and many caught with marijuana at that point have been subjected to an enhanced charge of displaying the drug in public, a misdemeanor crime.

Though New York officials from the chief of police in NYC all the way up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) have called for a reduction in marijuana arrests, critics of the policy say officers continue to “manufacture” criminal charges against people they catch in possession of the drug.



Chicago 9-Year-Old Boy Shot In Chest: ‘Mommy, I’m Shot’

A 9-year-old boy in Chicago was struck in the chest by a stray bullet Wednesday afternoon while riding in his mother’s car. According to the Chicago Tribune, the unknown shooter was aiming at the boyfriend of the boy’s mother, who was riding in the front passenger seat. No one else in the car was hurt.

Tykeece Hilliard reportedly cried, “Mommy, I’m shot!” from the back seat as blood poured from his chest. His mother rushed him to Comer Children’s Hospital, a few blocks away, where he underwent surgery and is expected to recover.

The boy was among 11 people who were shot in Chicago within an eight-hour span on Wednesday. His mother told police she was driving on Chicago’s South Side when she heard as many as five gunshots, then realized her child was hurt.

Police believe that someone on the street recognized the intended victim or the red Aveo he was riding in and opened fire. Other children were riding in the car, but the 9-year-old boy was the only person struck by bullets.

The boy’s grandmother told WGN-TV, “It just hurts that my grandbaby is laying in the hospital. I’m just praying for the best, that my grandbaby pulls through this because it’s killing me, it’s hurting me.”



America's Surveillance State: Anger Swells After Data Revelations

Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 6 June 2013 16.01 EDT

The scale of America's surveillance state was laid bare on Wednesday as senior politicians revealed that the US counter-terrorism effort had swept up swaths of personal data from the phone calls of millions of citizens for years.

After the revelation by the Guardian of a sweeping secret court order that authorised the FBI to seize all call records from a subsidiary of Verizon, the Obama administration sought to defuse mounting anger over what critics described as the broadest surveillance ruling ever issued.

A White House spokesman said that laws governing such orders "are something that have been in place for a number of years now" and were vital for protecting national security. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the Verizon court order had been in place for seven years. "People want the homeland kept safe," Feinstein said.

But as the implications of the blanket approval for obtaining phone data reverberated around Washington and beyond, anger grew among other politicians.

Intelligence committee member Mark Udall, who has previously warned in broad terms about the scale of government snooping, said: "This sort of widescale surveillance should concern all of us and is the kind of government overreach I've said Americans would find shocking." Former vice-president Al Gore described the "secret blanket surveillance" as "obscenely outrageous".



Rape And Sexual Assault Run Rampant In Juvenile Justice System: Justice Department Survey

By Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica

Hundreds of teen-agers are raped or sexually assaulted during their stays in the country’s juvenile detention facilities, and many of them are victimized repeatedly, according to a U.S. Department of Justice survey.

The teens are most often assaulted by staff members working at the facilities, and fully 20 percent of those victimized by the men and women charged with protecting and counseling them said they had been violated on more than 10 occasions.

“Today’s report illustrates the fundamental failure of many juvenile detention facilities to keep their youth safe,” said Louisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, a California-based health and human rights organization.

The Justice Department survey 2014 covering both secure juvenile detention facilities and group homes, the less restrictive settings into which troubled youngsters are often ordered 2014 involved more than 8,500 boys and girls. In all, 1,720 of those surveyed reported being sexually assaulted.

Allen Beck, the author of the report, said that the rates of staff-on-inmate abuse among juveniles are “about three times higher than what we find in the adult arena.”


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