No, Edward Snowden had not sparked a global debate about privacy – that had been under way already – but terrorist targets GCHQ had been tracking had learned from his revelations with heavens knows what consequences, he said.
We’ve been noting for years: when Senator Ron Wyden says that (1) there’s a secret interpretation of a law that is at odds with the public’s understanding of it, or (2) that government officials are lying, you should pay attention.
Back in January, we pointed out that just after US and EU law enforcement officials started freaking out about mobile encryption and demanding backdoors, that China was also saying that it wanted to require backdoors for itself in encrypted products. Now, President Obama claims he’s upset about this, saying that he’s spoken directly with China’s President Xi Jinping about it:
In an interview with Reuters, Obama said he was concerned about Beijing’s plans for a far-reaching counterterrorism law that would require technology firms to hand over encryption keys, the passcodes that help protect data, and install security “backdoors” in their systems to give Chinese authorities surveillance access.
“This is something that I’ve raised directly with President Xi,” Obama said. “We have made it very clear to them that this is something they are going to have to change if they are to do business with the United States.”
This comes right after the US Trade Rep Michael Froman issued a statement criticizing China for doing the same damn thing that the US DOJ is arguing the US should be doing:
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman issued a statement on Thursday criticizing the banking rules, saying they “are not about security – they are about protectionism and favoring Chinese companies”.
“The Administration is aggressively working to have China walk back from these troubling regulations,” Froman said.
Those claims would sound a hell of a lot stronger if they weren’t coming immediately after DOJ officials from Attorney General Eric Holder to FBI Director James Comey had more or less argued for the exact same thing.
Attorney General Holder raised some eyebrows earlier this week when answering a question about his Justice Department’s notorious crackdown on leaks, and by extension the press, most notably saying this about its notorious pursuit of New York Times reporter James Risen, while claiming the DOJ did nothing wrong:
If you look at the last case involving Mr. Risen, the way in which that case was handled after the new policies were put in place [is] an example of how the Justice Department can proceed.
The District Sentinel aptly took apart most of Holder’s comments, and they also provoked a stinging rebuke from Risen himself last night on Twitter. However, I think the facts of Risen’s case deserve a closer look to see just how unbelievable Holder’s statement is.
Let’s recap: since the very start of the Obama administration (read: for SIX years), the Justice Department was trying to subpoena James Risen. It fought for him to testify at a grand jury of CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, which he refused to do, and when they were rejected by the court, it fought to have him testify in Sterling’s trial. They fought Risen on this all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Also, keep in mind, while the “new” media/leak guidelines that Holder bragged about are certainly a step forward, the old guidelines that applied to Risen’s case should have protected him just the same from the start—if they were actually enforced. He doesn’t get to pretend the preceding five and a half years didn’t happen just because he stregthened the Justice Department’s rules after public protest.
The case cost Risen and his publisher an untold fortune in legal fees, dominated his life, took away from time he could’ve spent reporting, and likely cost the taxpayers millions of dollars.
Along the way, we found out that the government had spied on virtually every aspect of James Risen’s digital life from phone calls, to emails, to credit card statements, bank records and more. (By the way, we still have no idea how they got this information. That’s secret.)
The Justice Department argued in court that not only was there no reporter’s privilege whatsoever — either embedded in the First Amendment or in Fourth Circuit common law — but also that journalists protecting sources was analogous to protecting drug dealers from prosecution.
Marcy Wheeler has picked up on an interesting claim made in the CIA’s “We Did Nothing Wrong” report. This report — an in-house investigation of the CIA’s snooping on/hacking Senate staffers during the compilation of the Torture Report — tossed out the Inspector General’s findings and cleared the agency of any misconduct. It then went on to disingenuously claim that it was the Senate, not the CIA, that broke the rules.
According to the CIA’s investigators, Senate staffers accessed documents they weren’t supposed to see, apparently by “abusing” the shared network set up explicitly for the Torture Report compilation. What Wheeler spotted — in a very thorough fisking of the CIA investigative report by Katherine Hawkins of Just Security — is the attempted criminalization of Google searches.