‘NSA has carte blanche to hack computers'
The NSA appears to be making its own decisions about how democratic governments should be operating, what policies they follow and in general doesn't trust them to do their jobs, Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, told RT.
The latest revelations from Edward Snowden, published in Germany's Der Spiegel, show that the NSA is not only listening to people's phone calls and reading their e-mails, but actually has a special unit dedicated to bugging computers even before they get to the stores. Chips are installed in computers to be sold in geographical areas that the NSA deems to be worth spying on, the newspaper reports.
RT: Do the latest NSA revelations mean we can't even trust our own laptops?
Jim Killock: Sometimes it will mean that some people shouldn't trust their laptops, but also governments have to [watch] their own security organizations, and parts of what Der Spiegel's articles described today is how the NSA is hacking the Mexican government in order to find out more about how the Mexicans are dealing with drug issues, and so on. I think it's really quite dangerous and dramatic because the NSA appears to be making its own decisions about how the democratic governments should be operating, their policies and not trusting them to do their job.
RT: Who could be the target of this operation to intercept laptops? Are we talking about foreign governments or individuals as well?
JK: Well, I think if we're talking about altering people's hardware and pre-installing viruses, I imagine that's a fairly small number of devices. But we don't know exactly how this is policed when the courts give individual authorizations or more likely they are giving a general authorization to the NSA to hack the equipment as they like. We need to know a lot about that, because that's how you can control some of that behavior. But what these articles told about really is a whole department extremely well-resourced, employing some dozens of people and going up to hundreds of people in the next year or two to hack networks, individual people's computer equipment and writing viruses like the Stocknet virus, which was used to hack the Iranian government's nuclear facilities but also the Belgium National Telecoms provider in order to obtain information about the European Commission and the European Parliament, we suspect. These are very large operations targeted at individuals, governments and network providers to get all kinds of access to the information.
RT: Bugging personal computers is certainly illegal. So how could the NSA be arguing that it's OK? What could be the possible argument to legitimize this?
JK: I think that's exactly the question we need to hear the answer from the NSA. It is possible sometimes to make an argument that if someone is really a very serious, dangerous criminal, then maybe that person should have his or her computer hacked. But what I think we'll probably find is that this is wider than that, certainly when we talk about governments, it's necessarily wider than that. We'll probably find that the supervision about these choices is not very sophisticated and doesn't deal with individual cases – it is probably a blanket permission. And that's where you get a lot of danger.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
NATION: Law enforcement fatalities dip to lowest level in six decades
Law enforcement officer fatalities dropped for the second year in a row to the lowest level in six decades and the number of officers killed in firearms-related incidents this year was the fewest since the 1800s, according to preliminary data compiled and released Monday in an annual research bulletin published by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
According to the report, 111 federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officers were killed in the line of duty nationwide in 2013.
This was the fewest number of fatalities for the law enforcement profession since 1959 when 110 officers died.
This year's total was eight percent fewer than 2012 when 121 officers made the ultimate sacrifice.
“The only good news is zero deaths, but this very significant drop in law enforcement fatalities the past two years is extremely encouraging,” declared NLEOMF Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Craig W. Floyd.
“Our organization, in partnership with others, is working hard to create a new culture of safety in law enforcement that no longer accepts deaths and injuries as an unavoidable part of the job,” Floyd said. “This year's officer fatality report is strong evidence that this intensified effort to promote law enforcement safety is making a difference.”
The No. 1 cause of officer fatalities in 2013 was traffic-related incidents, which claimed 46 lives, according to the report.
Thirty-three officers were killed in firearms-related incidents this past year, which was a 33 percent drop from 2012 and is the lowest number since 1887 when 27 officers were shot to death, the report showed.
Thirty-two officers died due to other causes in 2013, including 14 who suffered heart attacks while performing their duties.
Just two years ago, officer fatalities spiked to 169, which led to a number of new initiatives aimed at promoting law enforcement safety.
Among them were: an increasing number of agencies requiring officers to wear bullet-resistant vests; the formation of the National Officer Safety and Wellness Group by the U.S. Department of Justice; and the VALOR program launched by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to provide training to help prevent violence against officers and to help officers survive violent encounters when they do occur.
Since 2011, all categories of officer fatalities have dropped by 34 percent and firearms-related deaths have declined by 54 percent.
Key data as of Dec. 29, 2013:
Traffic-related incidents declined 4 percent in 2013 (46) compared to 2012 (48). Of these 46 officers, 31 were killed in auto crashes, 11 were struck outside their vehicle, and four were killed in motorcycle crashes.
Firearms-related fatalities declined by 33 percent in 2013 (33) compared to 2012 (49). Of the 33 officers, seven officers were shot and killed in ambush attacks, six officers were shot and killed while responding to a disturbance call, five officers were killed while conducting an investigative activity, three officers were killed while responding to a domestic disturbance call, three officers were feloniously killed during a traffic stop, three officers were shot and killed while responding to a robbery in progress and three officers were killed while attempting to arrest a suspect. Two officers were inadvertently shot and killed and one officer was killed during a burglary in progress.
Of the 32 officers who died due to other causes, 18 were caused by job-related illnesses; six officers fell to their death or died as a result of an injury sustained in a fall, two officers drowned while attempting to assist victims during a flash flood, two officers were stabbed to death, one officer was killed in a helicopter crash, one officer was killed in a boat related accident, one officer was killed by an explosive device and an officer was electrocuted.
During the past year, more officers were killed in Texas (13) than any other state; followed by California (10); Mississippi and New York (7); and Arkansas (6).
Nine officers killed in 2013 served with federal law enforcement agencies. Nine of the officers who died during the past year served with correctional agencies. Four of the 111 fatalities were female. On average, the officers who died in 2013 were 42 years old and had served for 13 years.
The statistics released by the NLEOMF are based on preliminary data compiled and do not represent a final or complete list of individual officers who will be added to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in 2014.
For a complete copy of the preliminary report on 2013 law enforcement fatalities, visit www.LawMemorial.org/ResearchBulletin .
On the Real and Present Need For a Citizens Public Safety Review Board
by Steve Pleich
Citizen Oversight of Law Enforcement a Must
I have recently begun to read the very excellent treatise by local journalist John Malkin on the need for citizen oversight of law enforcement. But that work was completed in the early 1990s and the more I read John's observations about law enforcement, public safety and the role that citizens can play in both, the more I wondered what relationship that template and those observations had to present day Santa Cruz and to our common interest in the protection of individual rights, efficient community policing and the pursuit of public safety.
In my time as city resident and candidate for public office, I have seen a growing concern for public safety coupled with an expanding public mandate for law enforcement to use whatever means and methods they thought best to insure the safety of our community. Indeed, one does not need to be a social scientist to understand that the dynamic balance between protections of individual liberties and the need for public safety has shifted dramatically over the past few years. Particularly in light of the horrific incidents of violence that visited our city in the recent past, I have watched our elected officials support a marked and noteworthy increase in the number of sworn officers serving in the police department while seeming little concerned about the chilling effect heightened police presence inevitably brings. But it is not the expansion of the police department or the overarching presence of law enforcement in our community that concerns me most. It is the almost complete lack of citizen participation in the development of these policies and the complete absence of civilian oversight of this ever-expanding aspect of our community that occupies my thoughts and prompts these observations.
In his treatise, John rightfully observes that police officer training is almost entirely devoted to intelligence gathering, weapons proficiency and police procedure. They are only tangentially trained in nonviolent conflict resolution and community relations. And here I will say that this is not their fault. The officer on the street is only as good as the training he or she receives and clearly they are not receiving the kind of training and input that would create not only an enlightened police force mindful of individual liberties, but a more efficient one as well.
Every incoming police administration in recent times has called for a policy of community partnership to bridge the perceived divide between law enforcement and the citizenry it is sworn to serve. In point of fact, if this chasm were not real and existing, there would be no need to call attention to it as a matter of departmental policy. But what the department has failed to recognize is that our community also knows a few things about public safety. It knows that law enforcement alone cannot make the community safe. It knows that true public safety can only be developed and sustained in an atmosphere of trust and accountability. It knows that individual liberties are a bedrock value that must be honored and preserved. And it knows that community engagement is the foundation of wise and forward thinking public safety policy. So the question becomes: If we accept these statements as true, how are we to actualize them in ways that best benefit our community? And this brings us full circle to my original question: Do we have a present need for a Citizens Public Safety Review Board?
My answer is “Yes”.
I respectfully suggest the creation of a civilian review board tasked with oversight of our police department. Understand that when I say “oversight” I do not mean control. Such a board would be committed to ensuring that the City of Santa Cruz has a police department that acts with integrity and administers justice fairly and evenhandedly. However, to insure the independence of such a body, the board would directly consult with and advise the police department and would pass along advisory opinions to council for informational purposes only. That is the only way to “depoliticize” the process while creating a clear line of accountability between the community and the police department. This is a bold notion and one that requires the full measure of trust, accountability and community partnership that I have previously alluded to.
As so what form will this new, modern Citizens Public Safety Review Board take? If, as we say, the board is to be composed of citizen representatives charged with the review of police policies and procedures, it cannot, for example, be restricted to consideration of already completed internal police investigations into allegations of police misconduct. A truly reformist board must be given the power to conduct parallel investigations to supplement and inform those conducted by Internal Affairs. Although ultimate decisions would continue to be the province of the department and its chain of command, a civilian review board with independent investigative authority would have the power to make recommendations to the Chief concerning disposition and discipline.
On issues of operational policy and commitment of resources, any such board would need to have direct input to achieve any degree of real effectiveness. The obvious benefit of this input would be that resource allocation and priorities would more accurately reflect the community's concern about how best to police and make safe our city. For example, if the board felt that public safety would best be served by spending more money on gang suppression and less on petty theft investigations, resources could be allocated accordingly. If the board recommended more money be devoted to the investigation of sexual assaults and less to enforcement of downtown behavior ordinances then that too could drive fundamental reallocation of resources. These are matters upon which reasonable minds will surely differ and will ultimately be the product on a long and comprehensive public input and review process. But it is a conversation we must have if a truly effective oversight process is ever to become a functional part of protecting individual liberties while making the community safe as a whole.
Finally, I will say this. I have always found some considerable fault with the idea that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. And I say this just as the past specter of "Code Blue" may once again be rearing its hateful head. With due respect to Mr. Malkin, what I have observed from his work and the labors of others has certainly informed this process, but cannot in these modern times guide it. I believe we must make our own history and take from it the lessons we learn along the way. It is in that spirit that I offer the concept of a Civilian Public Safety Review Board for the consideration of the community.