LAPD flexes counterterrorism muscle during drill
by Christina Villacorte
Fake explosions and gunfire rocked downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, as police mounted an impressive counterterrorism drill that featured helicopters swooping between buildings and a remote-controlled forklift that carried away a pickup truck loaded with bombs.
"We want the people of Los Angeles to know that we are as ready as we can humanly be," Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck said.
"Does this eliminate all threat? No, but it does get us a long way towards dealing with one if it comes through," he added.
"It was well-planned, and the coordination was absolutely flawless," added Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. "That's what we needed to show the public in Los Angeles: that we're prepared."
The demonstration of LAPD's Multi-Assault Counter-Terrorism Action Capabilities (MACTAC) was the culmination of a counterterrorism conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites.
At exactly 11:15 a.m., police officers engaged a pair of armed terrorists in a firefight on Figueroa Street in front of the hotel, killing them. Reinforcements then arrived in squad cars.
When a second pair of fake terrorists popped up on the Fifth Street bridge next to the hotel, LAPD deployed an AirStar helicopter with a sniper platform.
The chopper glided between buildings, and sharpshooters took out the suspects who had been aiming at the officers in the squad cars below.
A Sheriff's Department Puma helicopter then arrived, carrying SWAT officers who rappeled onto the bridge in search of additional threats.
A third pair of terrorists drove onto Figueroa Street in a red pickup truck, opened fire with assault weapons, and started detonating explosives.
SWAT officers took both of them out, then had the bomb squad defuse their weapons.
A robot approached a fallen suspect to make sure he was no longer a threat, while a remote-controlled BADCAT forklift raised the pickup truck so bomb technicians could check for explosives underneath it.
The 23-minute drill was punctuated by very loud bangs that triggered car alarms in the parking structures nearby. The hovering helicopters caused a downdraft that sent leaves and other debris flying onto streets.
Hundreds of onlookers watched from sidewalks and surrounding buildings, and cheered for the officers once it was over.
"I thought it was an incredibly impressive demonstration of LA's finest," said Allison Windsor, who works for a defense supplier and was a participant at the conference.
"It made me feel safe and think that our city's got it handled if we have something really scary that's going to happen," she said.
Srujana Bairi, a local resident, watched the drill with her 4-year-old son, Tejas, who felt scared by the helicopters.
"It was very near," she said.
LAPD spokesman Commander Andrew Smith said the aim of the drill was to enhance training, and remind the public to be engaged in the fight against terrorism.
"We know that terrorists -- as we saw in Boston -- are capable of acting anywhere so we need to maintain our vigilance," he said. "We need to maintain our edge."
"If the public is not engaged in the fight against terrorism, then we lose a big ally," he added. "If they see something, (they should) say something."
Sheriff Lee Baca said he hopes this display of Los Angeles' counterterrorism capability serves as a deterrent to would-be attackers.
"Part of preventing terrorism to let terrorists know that we're prepared, that we're not just going to let them come in without putting up a good, strong fight that, in the end, they'll lose."
How the government can get your digital data without a warrant
by Theodoric Meyer and Peter Maass
The U.S. government isn't allowed to wiretap American citizens without a warrant from a judge. But there are plenty of legal ways for law enforcement, from the local sheriff to the FBI to the Internal Revenue Service, to snoop on the digital trails you create every day. Authorities can often obtain your emails and texts by going to Google or AT&T with a simple subpoena. Usually you won't even be notified.
A court order recently obtained by the Guardian newspaper also shows the FBI has successfully requested call "metadata" — including the time, duration and location of phone calls — under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act . The court order, signed by senior federal Judge Roger Vinson on April 25, directs Verizon Business Network Service to turn over metadata for all calls to the National Security Agency through July 19.
Two senators introduced legislation in March to update privacy protection for emails, but Congress hasn't taken action on the bill. Meanwhile, here's how law enforcement can track you without a warrant now.
Phone records: Who you called, when you called
How they get it: Listening to your phone calls without a judge's warrant is illegal if you're a U.S. citizen. But police don't need a warrant — which requires showing "probable cause" of a crime — to get just the numbers you called and when you called them, as well as incoming calls, from phone carriers. Instead, police can get courts to sign off on a subpoena, which only requires that the data they're after is relevant to an investigation — a lesser standard of evidence.
What the law says: Police can get phone records without a warrant thanks to Smith v. Maryland , a Supreme Court ruling in 1979, which found that the Constitution's Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure doesn't apply to a list of phone numbers. The New York Times reported last week that the New York's police department "has quietly amassed a trove" of call records by routinely issuing subpoenas for them from phones that had been reported stolen. According to The Times, the records "could conceivably be used for any investigative purpose."
Location data: Your phone is a tracker
How they get it: Many cell phone carriers provide authorities with a phone's location and may charge a fee for doing so. Cell towers track where your phone is at any moment; so can the GPS features in some smartphones. The major cell carriers, including Verizon and AT&T, responded to at least 1.3 million law enforcement requests for cell phone locations, text messages and other data in 2011. Internet service providers can also provide location data that tracks users via their computer's IP address — a unique number assigned to each computer.
What the law says: Many courts have ruled that police don't need a warrant from a judge to get cell phone location data . They only have to show that, under the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (EPCA), the data contains "specific and articulable facts" related to an investigation — again, a lesser standard than probable cause. Delaware, Maryland and Oklahoma have proposed laws that would require police to obtain a warrant for location data; Gov. Jerry Brown of California, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill last September. Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill championed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, which would have updated the ECPA but wouldn't have changed how location data was treated. Leahy and Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, introduced a similar bill last month, which remains in committee. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, introduced a separate bill in the House of Representatives last month that would require a warrant for location data as well as emails.
IP addresses: What computers you used
How they get it: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other webmail providers accumulate massive amounts of data about our digital wanderings. A warrant is needed for access to some emails (see below), but not for the IP addresses of the computers used to log into your mail account or surf the Web. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, those records are kept for at least a year.
What the law says: Police can thank U.S. v. Forrester , a case involving two men trying to set up a drug lab in California, for the ease of access. In the 2007 case , the government successfully argued that tracking IP addresses was no different than installing a device to track every telephone number dialed by a given phone (which is legal). Police only need a court to sign off on a subpoena certifying that the data they're after is relevant to an investigation — the same standard as for cell phone records.
Emails: Messages you sent months ago
How they get it: There's a double standard when it comes to email, one of the most requested types of data. A warrant is needed to get recent emails, but law enforcement can obtain older ones with only a subpoena. Google says it received 16,407 requests for data — including emails sent through its Gmail service — from U.S. law enforcement in 2012. And Microsoft, with its Outlook email service, disclosed last month that it had received 11,073 requests for data last year. Other email providers, such as Yahoo, have not made similar statistics available. In January, Google said that it would lobby in favor of greater protections for email.
What the law says: This is another area where the ECPA comes into play. The law gives greater protection to recent messages than older ones, using a 180-day cutoff. Only a subpoena is required for emails older than that; otherwise, a warrant is necessary. This extends to authorities beyond the FBI and the police. I.R.S. documents released this week by the American Civil Liberties Union suggest that the I.R.S.' Criminal Tax Division reads emails without obtaining a warrant. The bills introduced by Leahy and Lee in the Senate and Lofgren in the House would require a warrant for the authorities to get all emails regardless of age. The Justice Department, which had objected to such a change, said last month that it doesn't any longer.
Email drafts: Drafts are different
How they get it: Communicating through draft emails, à la David Petreaus and Paula Broadwell , seems sneaky. But drafts are actually easier for investigators to get than recently sent emails because the law treats them differently.
What the law says: The ECPA distinguishes between communications — emails, texts, etc. — and stored electronic data. Draft emails fall into the latter, which get less protection under the law. Authorities need only a subpoena for them. The bills introduced by Leahy and Lee in the Senate and Lofgren in the House would change that by requiring a warrant to obtain email drafts.
Text messages: As with emails, so with texts
How they get it: Investigators need only a subpoena, not a warrant, to get text messages more than 180 days old from a cell provider — the same standard as emails. Many carriers charge authorities a fee to provide texts and other information. For texts, Sprint charges $30, for example, while Verizon charges $50.
What the law says: The ECPA also applies to text messages, according to Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is why the rules are similar to those governing emails. But the ECPA doesn't apply when it comes to actually reading texts on someone's phone rather than getting them from a carrier. State courts have split on the issue . Ohio's Supreme Court has ruled that police need a warrant to view the contents of cell phones of people who've been arrested, including texts. But the California Supreme Court has said no warrant is needed. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 declined to clear up the matter.
Cloud data: Documents, photos and other stuff stored online
How they get it: Authorities typically need only a subpoena to get data from Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and other services that allow users to store data on their servers, or "in the cloud," as it's known.
What the law says: The law treats cloud data the same as draft emails — authorities don't need a warrant to get it. But files that you've shared with others — say, a collaboration using Google Docs — might require a warrant under the ECPA if it's considered "communication" rather than stored data. "That's a very hard rule to apply," says Greg Nojeim, a senior counsel with the Center for Democracy & Technology. "It actually makes no sense for the way we communicate today."
Social media: The new privacy frontier
How they get it: When it comes to sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the social networks' privacy policies dictate how cooperative they are in handing over users' data. Facebook says it requires a warrant from a judge to disclose a user's "messages, photos, videos, wall posts, and location information." But it will supply basic information, such as a user's email address or the IP addresses of the computers from which someone recently accessed an account, under a subpoena. Twitter reported in July that it had received 679 requests for user information from U.S. authorities during the first six months of 2012. Twitter says that "non-public information about Twitter users is not released except as lawfully required by appropriate legal process such as a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process."
What the law says: Courts haven't issued a definitive ruling on social media. In September, a Manhattan Criminal Court judge upheld a prosecutor's subpoena for information from Twitter about an Occupy Wall Street protester arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in 2011. It was the first time a judge had allowed prosecutors to use a subpoena to get information from Twitter rather than forcing them to get a warrant; the case is ongoing.
White House defends Verizon phone record collection after secret court order is published
The Obama administration on Thursday acknowledged that it is collecting a massive amount of telephone records from at least one carrier, defending the practice as "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States."
The admission comes after the Guardian newspaper published a secret court order related to the records of millions of Verizon Communications customers on its website on Wednesday.
A senior administration official said the court order pertains only to data such as a telephone number or the length of a call, and not the subscribers' identities or the content of people's telephone calls.
The order marked "Top Secret" and issued by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court directs Verizon's Business Network Services Inc and Verizon Business Services units to hand over electronic data including all calling records on an "ongoing, daily basis" until the order expires on July 19, 2013.
The order can be seen at: r.reuters.com/kap68t
Signed by Judge Roger Vinson at the request of the FBI, the order covers each phone number dialed by all customers and location and routing data, along with the duration and frequency of the calls, but not the contents of the communications.
The disclosure comes as the Obama administration is already under fire on other privacy and First Amendment issues. In particular, it is being criticized for a search of Associated Press journalists' calling records and the emails of a Fox television reporter in leak inquiries.
Verizon spokesman Ed McFadden declined to comment.
Verizon's biggest rival, AT&T Inc, did not provide any immediate comment when asked if the government had made a similar request for its data.
"That's not the society we've built in the United States," said Kurt Opsahl, an attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is suing the NSA over surveillance inside the country. "It's not the society we set forth in the Constitution, and it's not the society we should have."
The order expressly compels Verizon to turn over both international calling records and strictly domestic records, and it forbids disclosure of the order's existence. It refers to mobile and landline numbers, though not explicitly to Verizon's consumer business.
The order is the first concrete evidence that U.S. intelligence officials are continuing a broad campaign of domestic surveillance that began under President George W. Bush and caused great controversy when it was first exposed.
In 2005, the New York Times reported that the NSA was wiretapping Americans without warrants on international calls. Los Angeles Times and USA Today later reported that the agency also had unchecked access to records on domestic calls.
In addition, a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, said that a room accessible only with NSA clearance in the carrier's main San Francisco hub received perfect copies of all transmissions.
Privacy lawsuits against the government are continuing, though cases filed against the phone carriers were dismissed after Congress passed a 2008 law immunizing the companies that complied with government requests. That law also allowed for broader information-seeking, though methods must be approved by the special court handling foreign intelligence matters.
The new order cites legal language from the 2001 U.S. Patriot Act, passed soon after the September 11 attacks, that allows the FBI to seek an order to obtain "any tangible thing," including business records, in pursuit of "foreign intelligence information."
Verizon is the second biggest U.S. telephone company behind AT&T in terms of revenue. The vast majority of Verizon's overseas operations come from its acquisition of MCI Communications, which is also covered by the order although foreign-to-foreign calls are exempted from it.
Opsahl said it was unlikely that Verizon would be the only subject of such an order and that the other major carriers probably had similar orders against them.
It is unclear what the NSA and FBI do with the phone records they collect. If past practices have continued, though, Opsahl said, they are probably mined with sophisticated software in an attempt to figure out close connections between people the agencies consider to be terrorism suspects and their associates.
NSA's PRISM Sounds Like A Darn Good Idea To Me: This Is What Governments Are For
by Tim Worstall , Contributor
There's been a joint investigation by the Washington Post and The Guardian into an NSA program called PRISM. The allegation is that the National Security Agency (NSA) has backdoor access to the systems and data of the major internet firms, Microsoft MSFT +0.5% , Google GOOG +0.49% , Apple AAPL -1.54% , Facebook FB +0.31% and so on, and they routinely use this to monitor what people are saying and doing. With one caveat this is in fact what governments are supposed to do so I'm at something of a loss in understanding why people seem to be getting so outraged about it.
The WaPo piece is here , a couple from The Guardian here and here .
It's worth pointing out that the companies themselves are vehemently denying that the NSA has such backdoor access to the data.
However, senior executives from the internet companies expressed surprise and shock and insisted that no direct access to servers had been offered to any government agency.
The top-secret NSA briefing presentation set out details of the PRISM program, which it said granted access to records such as emails, chat conversations, voice calls, documents and more. The presentation the listed dates when document collection began for each company, and said PRISM enabled “direct access from the servers of these US service providers: Microsoft, Yahoo YHOO +1.71% , Google, Facebook, Paltalk, AOL AOL +3.05% , Skype, YouTube, Apple”.
Senior officials with knowledge of the situation within the tech giants admitted to being confused by the NSA revelations, and said if such data collection was taking place, it was without companies' knowledge.
An Apple spokesman said: “We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers and any agency requesting customer data must get a court order,” he said.
Whether the claim of direct access is true or not is one thing. But the much larger point is that this sort of behaviour is not something that we should be shouting about government doing. It's something that we should be shouting about government not doing. The crucial point is here, from the DNI :
Section 702 is a provision of FISA that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.
As I say that's the important part of it all. The information, the data, may be in the US as a result of the global spread of the internet and the physical location of servers. But the information cannot be about either a US citizen or someone who is in the US. And, if we're prepared to be honest about matters, we do actually want the government to be keeping an eye on foreigners in foreign lands. Which is what they're doing.
Take a step back for a moment. The purpose of the State, the first job it is tasked with, is the protection of that State from external enemies. This is the first principle of even having a State in the first place: to make sure that the populace is protected from the depredations of the foreigners who would do them harm. So the idea that the spies would be attempting to look at the telecoms data of said foreigners shouldn't really surprise us. Indeed, this is something we actually want said State to be doing: this is rather the purpose of having both it and the spies it employs.
The matter is entirely different when such a State uses the same methods to look at its own citizens: this is a gross abuse of power and a serious threat to any form of liberty or freedom. Which is why there are legal protections against it in most free and liberal states. And as we can see with PRISM those safeguards are in place. Data on US citizens or residents might be collected but only as a by-product of collecting it on those foreigners. Who do not have any of those legal or constitutional protections.
It should also be noted that many governments are trying the same thing. I'm sure that the UK's spies at GCHQ are keeping an eye on the Old Enemy across the Channel in France. China certainly seems to be running around the internet looking to see what it can find. And Russian state backed (if even by a blind eye if not actual encouragement) attempts to rootle through the data are well known.
In my native UK there's also an attempt (known as the “Snoopers' Charter” colloquially) to push through government having the powers to do this sort of monitoring on UK citizens and residents. Something to which I'm vehemently opposed as should we all be. But while I'm opposed to my government spying on me I rather assume that foreign governments are going to spy on me*. Just as my own government spies upon foreigners. That's rather the point of having a government in the first place.
That the NSA is looking at as much information and data it can get on what those nefarious foreigners are up to outside the US doesn't seem objectionable to me in the slightest. Indeed, I rather think that that's the purpose of government, to protect us, and it's the reason we hire the spies in the first place. They're doing exactly what they should be: looking for those who would do us, the citizenry, harm and then attempting to prevent them doing so. Sure, the foreigners aren't going to be very happy about it all: but their own governments (or perhaps I should say “ours”) are doing as much of it to US citizens as they can. The dividing line, the where it moves from being entirely reasonable and sensible to being an outrage that must be prevented, is when governments do this sort of thing to their own citizens.
* No, this isn't paranoia or personal aggrandisement. I've had licences for nuclear and dual use goods several times. There will indeed be files on me in several basements around the world .