The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act Restricts Congress, Not Surveillance



  • The FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017—legislation meant to extend government surveillance powers—squanders several opportunities for meaningful reform and, astonishingly, manages to push civil liberties backwards. The bill is a gift to the intelligence community, restricting surveillance reforms, not surveillance itself.

    The bill (S. 2010) was introduced October 25 by Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) as an attempt to reauthorize Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. That law authorizes surveillance that ensnares the communications of countless Americans, and it is the justification used by agencies like the FBI to search through those collected American communications without first obtaining a warrant. Section 702 will expire at the end of this year unless Congress reauthorizes it.

    Other proposed legislation in the House and Senate has used Section 702’s sunset as a moment to move surveillance reform forward, demanding at least minor protections to how 702-collected American communications are accessed. In contrast, Senator Burr’s bill uses Section 702’s sunset as an opportunity codify some of the intelligence community’s more contentious practices while also neglecting the refined conversations on surveillance happening in Congress today.

    Here is a breakdown of the bill.

    “About” Collection

    Much of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act (the “Burr bill” for short) deals with a type of surveillance called “about” collection, a practice in which the NSA searches Internet traffic for any mentions of foreign intelligence surveillance targets. As an example, the NSA could search for mentions of a target’s email address. But the communications being searched do not have to be addressed to or from that email address, the communications would simply need to include the address in their text. This is not normal for communications surveillance.

    Importantly, nothing in Section 702 today mentions or even hints at “about” collection, and it wasn’t until 2013 that we learned about it. A 2011 opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—which provides judicial review for the Section 702 program—found this practice to be unconstitutional without strict post-collection rules to limit its retention and use.

    Indeed, it is a practice the NSA ended in April precisely “to reduce the chance that it would acquire communications of U.S. persons or others who are not in direct contact with a foreign intelligence target.” Alarmingly, it is a practice the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act defines expansively and provides guidelines for restarting.

    According to the bill, should the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence decide that “about” collection needs to start up again, all they need to do is ask specified Congressional committees. Then, a 30-day clock begins ticking. It’s up to Congress to act before the clock stops.

    In those 30 days, at least one committee—including the House Judiciary Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—must draft, vote, and pass legislation that specifically disallows the continuation of “about” collection, working against the requests of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

    If Congress fails to pass such legislation in 30 days, “about” collection can restart.

    The 30-day period has more restrictions. If legislation is referred to any House committee because of the committee’s oversight obligations, that committee must report the legislation to the House of Representatives within 10 legislative days. If the Senate moves legislation forward, “consideration of the qualifying legislation, and all amendments, debatable motions, and appeals in connection therewith, shall be limited to not more than 10 hours,” the bill says.

    Limiting discussion on “about” collection to just 10 hours—when members of Congress have struggled with it for years—is reckless. It robs Congress of the ability to accurately debate a practice whose detractors even include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)—the judicial body that reviews and approves Section 702 surveillance.

    Worse, the Burr bill includes a process to skirt legislative approval of “about” collection in emergencies. If Congress has not already disapproved “about” collection within the 30-day period, and if the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence determine that such “about” collection is necessary for an emergency, they can obtain approval from the FISC without Congress.

    And if during the FISC approval process, Congress passes legislation preventing “about” collection—effectively creating both approval and disapproval from two separate bodies—the Burr bill provides no clarity on what happens next. Any Congressional efforts to protect American communications could be thrown aside.

    These are restrictions on Congress, not surveillance—as well as an open invitation to restart “about” searching.

    What Else is Wrong?

    The Burr bill includes an 8-year sunset period, the longest period included in current Section 702 reauthorization bills. The USA Liberty Act—introduced in the House—sunsets in six years. The USA Rights Act—introduced in the Senate—sunsets in four.

    The Burr bill also allows Section 702-collected data to be used in criminal proceedings against U.S. persons so long as the Attorney General determines that the crime involves a multitude of subjects. Those subjects include death, kidnapping, seriously bodily injury, incapacitation or destruction of critical infrastructure, and human trafficking. The Attorney General can also determine that the crime involves “cybersecurity,” a vague term open to broad abuse.

    The Attorney General’s determinations in these situations are not subject to judicial review.

    The bill also includes a small number of reporting requirements for the FBI Director and the FISC. These are minor improvements that are greatly outweighed by the bill’s larger problems.

    No Protections from Warrantless Searching of American Communications

    The Burr bill fails to protect U.S. persons from warrantless searches of their communications by intelligence agencies like the FBI and CIA.

    The NSA conducts surveillance on foreign individuals living outside the United States by collecting communications both sent to and from them. Often, U.S. persons are communicating with these individuals, and those communications are swept up by the NSA as well. Those communications are then stored in a massive database that can be searched by outside agencies like the FBI and CIA. These unconstitutional searches do not require a warrant and are called “backdoor” searches because they skirt U.S. persons’ Fourth Amendment rights.

    The USA Liberty Act, which we have written extensively about, creates a warrant requirement when government agents look through Section 702-collected data for evidence of a crime, but not for searches for foreign intelligence. The USA Rights Act creates warrant requirements for all searches of American communications within Section 702-collected data, with “emergency situation” exemptions that require judicial oversight.

    The Burr bill offers nothing.

    No Whistleblower Protections

    The Burr bill also fails to extend workplace retaliation protections to intelligence community contractors who report what they believe is illegal behavior within the workforce. This protection, while limited, is offered by the USA Liberty Act. The USA Rights Act takes a different approach, approving new, safe reporting channels for internal government whistleblowers.

    What’s Next?

    The Burr bill has already gone through markup in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. This means that it could be taken up for a floor vote by the Senate.

    Your voice is paramount right now. As 2017 ends, Congress is slammed with packages on debt, spending, and disaster relief—all which require votes in less than six weeks. To cut through the log jam, members of Congress could potentially attach the Burr bill to other legislation, robbing surveillance reform of its own vote. It’s a maneuver that Senator Burr himself, according to a Politico report, approves.

    Just because this bill is ready, doesn’t mean it’s good. Far from it, actually.

    We need your help to stop this surveillance extension bill. Please tell your Senators that the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 is unacceptable.

    Tell them surveillance requires reform, not regression.

    Take action today.

    Related Cases: Jewel v. NSA





Tmux Commands

screen and tmux

A comparison of the features (or more-so just a table of notes for accessing some of those features) for GNU screen and BSD-licensed tmux.

The formatting here is simple enough to understand (I would hope). ^ means ctrl+, so ^x is ctrl+x. M- means meta (generally left-alt or escape)+, so M-x is left-alt+x

It should be noted that this is no where near a full feature-set of either group. This - being a cheat-sheet - is just to point out the most very basic features to get you on the road.

Trust the developers and manpage writers more than me. This document is originally from 2009 when tmux was still new - since then both of these programs have had many updates and features added (not all of which have been dutifully noted here).

Action tmux screen
start a new session tmux OR
tmux new OR
tmux new-session
screen
re-attach a detached session tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen-r
re-attach an attached session (detaching it from elsewhere) tmux attach -d OR
tmux attach-session -d
screen -dr
re-attach an attached session (keeping it attached elsewhere) tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen -x
detach from currently attached session ^b d OR
^b :detach
^a ^d OR
^a :detach
rename-window to newname ^b , <newname> OR
^b :rename-window <newn>
^a A <newname>
list windows ^b w ^a w
list windows in chooseable menu ^a "
go to window # ^b # ^a #
go to last-active window ^b l ^a ^a
go to next window ^b n ^a n
go to previous window ^b p ^a p
see keybindings ^b ? ^a ?
list sessions ^b s OR
tmux ls OR
tmux list-sessions
screen -ls
toggle visual bell ^a ^g
create another window ^b c ^a c
exit current shell/window ^d ^d
split window/pane horizontally ^b " ^a S
split window/pane vertically ^b % ^a |
switch to other pane ^b o ^a <tab>
kill the current pane ^b x OR (logout/^D)
collapse the current pane/split (but leave processes running) ^a X
cycle location of panes ^b ^o
swap current pane with previous ^b {
swap current pane with next ^b }
show time ^b t
show numeric values of panes ^b q
toggle zoom-state of current pane (maximize/return current pane) ^b z
break the current pane out of its window (to form new window) ^b !
re-arrange current panels within same window (different layouts) ^b [space]
Kill the current window (and all panes within) ^b killw [target-window]
  • Criteo is an ad company. You may not have heard of them, but they do retargeting, the type of ads that pursue users across the web, beseeching them to purchase a product they once viewed or have already bought. To identify users across websites, Criteo relies on cross-site tracking using cookies and other methods to follow users as they browse. This has led them to try and circumvent the privacy features in Apple’s Safari browser which protects its users from such tracking. Despite this apparently antagonistic attitude towards user privacy, Criteo has also been whitelisted by the Acceptable Ads initiative. This means that their ads are unblocked by popular adblockers such as Adblock and Adblock Plus. Criteo pays Eyeo, the operator of Acceptable Ads, for this whitelisting and must comply with their format requirements. But this also means they can track any user of these adblockers who has not disabled Acceptable Ads, even if they have installed privacy tools such as EasyPrivacy with the intention of protecting themselves. EFF is concerned about Criteo’s continued anti-privacy actions and their continued inclusion in Acceptable Ads.

    Safari Shuts out Third Party Cookies…

    All popular browsers give users control over who gets to set cookies, but Safari is the only one that blocks third-party cookies (those set by a domain other than the site you are visiting) by default. (Safari’s choice is important because only 5-10% of users ever change default settings in software.) Criteo relies on third-party cookies. Since users have little reason to visit Criteo’s own website, the company gets its cookies onto users’ machines through its integration on many online retail websites. Safari’s cookie blocking is a major problem for Criteo, especially given the large and lucrative nature of iPhone’s user base. Rather than accept this, Criteo has repeatedly implemented ways to defeat Safari’s privacy protections.

    One workaround researchers detected Criteo using was to redirect users from sites where their service was present to their own. For example, if you visited wintercoats.com and clicked on a product category, you would be first diverted to criteo.com and then redirected to wintercoats.com/down-filled. Although imperceptible to the user, this detour was enough to persuade the browser that criteo.com is a site you chose to visit, and therefore a first party entitled to set a cookie rather than a third party. Criteo applied for a patent on this method in August 2013.

    …And Closes the Backdoor

    Last summer, however, Apple unveiled a new version of Safari with more sophisticated cookie handling—called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)—which killed off the redirect technique as a means to circumvent the cookie controls. The browser now analyzes if the user has engaged with a website in a meaningful way before allowing it to set a cookie. The announcement triggered panic among advertising companies, whose trade association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, denounced the feature and rushed out technical recommendations to work around it. Obviously the level of user “interaction” with Criteo during the redirect described above fails ITP’s test, which meant Criteo was locked out again.

    It appears that Criteo’s response was to abandon cookies for Safari users and to generate a persistent identifier by piggybacking on a key user safety technology called HSTS. When a browser connects to a site via HTTPS (i.e. a site that supports encryption), the site can respond with an HTTP Strict Transport Security policy (HSTS), instructing the browser to only contact it using HTTPS. Without a HSTS policy, your browser might try to connect to the site over regular old unencrypted HTTP in the future—and thus be vulnerable to a downgrade attack. Criteo used HSTS to sneak data into the browser cache to produce an identifier it could use to recognize the individual’s browser and profile them. This approach relied on the fact that it is difficult to clear HSTS data in Safari, requiring the user to purge the cache entirely to delete the identifier. For EFF, it is especially worrisome that Criteo used a technique that pits privacy protection against user security interests by targeting HSTS. Use of this mechanism was documented by Gotham City Research, an investment firm who have bet against Criteo’s stock.

    In early December, Apple released an update to iOS and Safari which disabled Criteo’s ability to exploit HSTS. This led to Criteo revising down their revenue forecasts and a sharp fall in their share price.

    How is Criteo Acceptable Advertising”****?

    "… w__e sort of seek the consent of users, just like we had done before_."__1_ - Erich Eichmann, CEO Criteo

    _"Only users who don’t already have a Criteo identifier will see the header or footer, and it is displayed only once per device. Thanks to [the?] Criteo advertisers network, most of your users would have already accepted our services on the website of another of our partner. On average, only 5% of your users will see the headers or footers, and for those who do, the typical opt-out rate is less than .2%._" - Criteo Support Center

    Criteo styles itself as a leader in privacy practices, yet they have dedicated significant engineering resources to circumventing privacy tools. They claim to have obtained user consent to tracking based on a minimal warning delivered in what we believe to be a highly confusing context. When a user first visits a site containing Criteo’s script, they received a small notice stating, _"_Click any link to use Criteo’s cross-site tracking technology." If the user continues to use the site, they are deemed to have consented. Little wonder that Criteo can boast of a low opt-out rate to their clients.

    Due to their observed behaviour prior to the ITP episode, Criteo’s incorporation into the Acceptable Ads in December 2015 aroused criticism among users of ad blockers. We have written elsewhere about how Acceptable Ads creates a clash of interests between adblocking companies and their users, especially those concerned with their privacy. But Criteo’s participation in Acceptable Ads brings into focus the substantive problem with the program itself. The criteria for Acceptable Ads are concerned chiefly with format and aesthetic aspects (e.g. How big is the ad? How visually intrusive? Does it blink?) and excludes privacy concerns. Retargeting is unpopular and mocked by users, in part because it wears its creepy tracking practices on its sleeve. Our view is that Criteo’s bad behavior should exclude its products from being deemed “acceptable” in any way.

    The fact that the Acceptable Ads Initiative has approved Criteo’s user-tracking-by-misusing-security-features ads is indicative of the privacy problems we believe to be at the heart of the Acceptable Ads program. In March this year, Eyeo announced an Acceptable Ads Committee that will control the criteria for Acceptable Ads in the future. The Committee should start by instituting a rule which excludes companies that circumvent explicit privacy tools or exploit user security technologies for the purpose of tracking.

    1. http://criteo.investorroom.com/download/Transcript_Q3+2017+Earnings_EDITED.pdf

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/12/arms-race-against-trackers-safari-leads-criteo-30

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  • Have you ever sent a motivational text to a friend? If you have, perhaps you tailored your message to an activity or location by saying “Good luck in the race!” or “Have fun in New York!” Now, imagine doing this automatically with a compuuuter. What a great invention. Actually, no. That’s not a good invention, it’s our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.

    U.S. Patent No. 9,069,648 is titled “Systems and methods for delivering activity based suggestive (ABS) messages.” The patent describes sending “motivational messages,” based “on the current or anticipated activity of the user,” to a “personal electronic device.” The patent provides examples such as sending the message “don’t give up” when the user is running up a hill. The examples aren’t limited to health or exercise. For example, the patent suggests sending messages like “do not fear” and “God is with you” when a “user enters a dangerous neighborhood.”

    The patent’s description of its invention is filled with silly, non-standard acronyms like ABS for “activity based suggestive” messages or EBIF for “electronic based intelligence function.” These silly acronyms create an illusion of complexity where plain, descriptive language would reveal the mundane nature of the supposed invention. For example, what the patent grandly calls EBIF appears to be nothing more than standard computer processing.

    The ’648 patent is owned by Motivational Health Messaging LLC. While this may be a new company, at least one of the people behind it has been involved in massive patent trolling campaigns before. And the two named inventors have both been inventors on patents that trolls have asserted hundreds of times. One is also an inventor listed on patents asserted by infamous patent troll Shipping and Transit LLC. The other named inventor is the inventor on the patents asserted by Electronic Communication Technologies LLC. Those two entities (with their predecessors) brought over 700 lawsuits, many against very small businesses. In other words, the ’648 patent has been issued to Troll Co. at 1 Troll Street, Troll Town, Trollida USA.

    We believe that the claims of the ’648 patent are clearly invalid under the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, which held abstract ideas do not become eligible for a patent merely because they are implemented in conventional computer technology. Indeed, the patent repeatedly emphasizes that the claimed methods are not tied to any particular hardware or software. For example, it states:

    The software and software logic described in this document … which comprises an ordered listing of executable instructions for implementing logical functions, can be embodied in any non-transitory computer-readable medium for use by or in connection with an instruction execution system, apparatus, or device, such as a computer-based system, processor-containing system, or other system that can fetch the instructions from the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device and execute the instructions.

    The ’648 patent issued on June 30, 2015, a full year after the Supreme Court’s Alice ruling. Despite this, the patent examiner never even discussed the decision. If Alice is to mean anything at all, it has to be applied to an application like this one.

    In our view, if Motivational Health Messaging asserts its patent in court, any defendant that fought back should prevail under Alice. Indeed, we would hope that the court would strongly consider awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant in such a case. Shipping & Transit has now had two fee awards made against it for asserting patents that are clearly invalid under Alice. And the Federal Circuit recently held that fee awards can be appropriate when patent owners make objectively unreasonable argument concerning Alice.

    In addition to the problems under Alice, we believe the claims of the ’648 patent should have been rejected as obvious. When the application was filed in 2012, there was nothing new about sending motivational messages or automatically tailoring messages to things like location. In one proposed embodiment, the patent suggests that a “user walking to a hole may be delivered ABS messages, including reminders or instructions on how to play a particular hole.” But golf apps were already doing this. The Patent Office didn’t consider any real-world mobile phone applications when reviewing the application.

    If you want to look for prior art yourself, Unified Patents is running a crowdsourcing contest to find the best prior art to invalidate the ’648 patent. Aside from the warm feelings that come from fighting patent trolls, there is a $2000 prize pool.

    Despite the weakness of its patent, Motivational Health Messaging LLC might still send out demand letters. If you receive such a letter, you can contact EFF and we can help you find counsel.

    We have long complained that the Patent Office promotes patent trolling by granting obvious and/or abstract software patents. The history of the ’648 patent shows how the Patent Office’s failure to properly review applications leads to bad patents falling into the hands of trolls.

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