The House of Representatives cast a deeply disappointing vote today to extend NSA spying powers for the next six years by a 256-164 margin. In a
related vote, the House also failed to adopt meaningful reforms on how the government sweeps up large swaths of data that predictably include Americans' communications.
Because of these votes, broad NSA surveillance of the Internet will likely continue, and the government will still have access to Americans' emails, chat logs, and browsing history without a warrant. Because of these votes, this surveillance will
continue to operate in a dark corner, routinely violating the Fourth Amendment and other core constitutional protections.
This is a disappointment to EFF and all our supporters who, for weeks, have spoken to defend privacy. And this is a disappointment for the dozens of Congress members who have tried to rein NSA surveillance in, asking that the intelligence
community merely follow the Constitution.
Today's House vote concerned S. 139, a bill to extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a powerful surveillance authority the NSA relies on to sweep up countless Americans' electronic communications. EFF vehemently
opposed S. 139 for its failure to enact true reform of Section 702.
As passed by the House today, the bill:
Endorses nearly all warrantless searches of databases containing Americans' communications collected under Section 702.
Provides a narrow and seemingly useless warrant requirement that applies only for searches in some later-stage criminal investigations, a circumstance which the FBI itself has said almost never happens.
Allows for the restarting of "about" collection, an invasive type of surveillance that the NSA ended last year after being criticized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for privacy violations.
Sunsets in six years, delaying Congress' best opportunity to debate the limits NSA surveillance.
Sadly, the House's approval of S. 139 was its second failure today. The first was in the House's inability to pass an amendment--through a 183-233 vote--that would have replaced the text of S. 139 with the text of the USA Rights Act, a bill that
EFF is proud to support. You can read about that bill here
The amendment to replace the text of S. 139 with the USA Rights Act was introduced by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and included more than 40 cosponsors from sides of the aisle. Its defeat came from both Republicans and
S. 139 now heads to the Senate, which we expect to vote by January 19. The Senate has already considered stronger bills
to rein in NSA surveillance, and we call on the Senate to reject this terrible bill coming out of the House.
A new undercover video from a group of conservative investigative journalists appears to show Twitter staff and former
employees talking about how they censor content they disagree with.
James O'Keefe, Project Veritas founder, posted a video showing an undercover reporter speaking to Abhinov Vadrevu, a former Twitter software engineer, at a San Francisco restaurant on January 3.
There, he discussed a technique referred to as shadow banning, which means that users' content is quietly blocked without them ever knowing about it. Their tweets would still appear to their followers, but it wouldn't appear in search results or
anywhere else on Twitter. So posters just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it.
Olinda Hassan, a policy manager for Twitter's Trust and Safety team, was filmed talking about development of a system for down ranking shitty people.
Another Twitter engineer claimed that staff already have tools to censor pro-Trump or conservative content. One Twitter engineer appeared to suggest that the social network was trying to ban, like, a way of talking. Anyone found to be aggressive
or negative will just vanish.
Every single conversation is going to be rated by a machine and the machine is going to say whether or not it's a positive thing or a negative thing, Twitter software engineer Steven Pierre was filmed on December 8 saying as he discussed the
development of an automated censure system.
In the latest undercover Project Veritas video investigation, eight current and former Twitter employees are on camera explaining steps the social media giant is taking to censor political content that they don't like.
Last September, Swiss legislators approved changes to its gambling laws will introduce website blocking for foreign
competitors to Switzerland's own gambling industry.
This domain-blocking plan, set to take effect in 2019, met with pushback from Swiss ISPs and civil libertarians, who decided Swiss voters should have a say in this flirtation with authoritarian censorship. Swiss law allows voters a referendum on
contentious legislation provided 50k citizens sign the necessary petition within 100 days of the law's passage.
On Tuesday, Swiss media outlet Blick reported that a coalition of three political parties and the Internet Society Switzerland Chapter had so far collected around 65k signatures, of which 25k have been certified by the state. The group has
until January 18 to certify the additional 25k signatures needed for the referendum to be approved.
Andri Silberschmidt, president of the youth organization of Switzerland's Free Democratic Party, told Blick that his group was intent on combatting digital isolation, mindful that once a government starts banning what its citizens can do online,
even tighter restrictions are usually not far behind. Freedom for the economy and the internet, has great support in Switzerland.
The local casino industry, which has long complained that its falling revenue was due to competition from international gambling sites. But the most recent data from the Swiss Federation of Casinos showed the nation's 21 licensed brick-and-mortar
casinos posted a modest year-on-year revenue gain in 2016. Lottery and sports betting revenue enjoyed even larger gains in 2016, rising 8.3% year-on-year. So it appears that there are bluffs to call.
Twitter said that it would not ban a world leader, Donald Trump, from its platform....BUT... that it reserved the right to delete official statements by heads of state of sovereign nations as it saw fit
Germany's justice minister fell victim to the rules he himself championed against online
social media when one of his tweets was deleted following several complaints.
The censored tweet dated back to 2010, when Heiko Maas was not yet minister. in the tweet he had called Thilo Sarrazin, a politician who wrote a controversial book on Muslim immigrants, an idiot.
Maas told Bild on Monday that he did not receive any information from Twitter about why the tweet was deleted, or whether it would be deleted from Twitter.
Germany meanwhile signalled on Monday it was open to amending the controversial law which combats online hate speech. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said an evaluation would be carried out within six months to examine how well the new law
Germany's NetzDG internet censorship law has been in force since the New Year and has already sparked multiple controversies. Opposition
parties across the political spectrum already say its time for change.
Senior figures in the rival Free Democratic (FDP), Green and Left parties on Sunday demanded lawmakers replace Germany's recently passed online hate speech law. The call comes after Twitter decided to delete allegedly offensive statements by
far-right politicians and suspend the account of a German satirical magazine.
The last few days have emphatically shown that private companies cannot correctly determine whether a questionable online statement is illegal, satirical or tasteless yet still democratically legitimate, the FDP's general secretary Nicola Beer
told Germany weekly Die Welt am Sonntag .
Beer said Germany needed a law similar to the one the FDP proposed before Christmas that would give an appropriately endowed authority the right to enforce the rule of law online rather than give private companies the right to determine the
illegality of flagged content.
Green Party Chairwoman Simone Peter has also called for a replacement law that would take away the right of private companies to make decisions regarding flagged content. He said:
It is not acceptable for US companies such as Twitter to influence freedom of expression or press freedoms in Germany. Last year, we proposed a clear legal alternative that would hold platforms such as Twitter accountable without making them
Greens' internet policy spokesman, Konstantin von Notz, also criticized the current statute, telling the newspaper that the need for reform the law was overdue.
Left leader Sarah Wagenknecht added:
The law is a slap in the face of all democratic principles because, in a constitutional state, courts rather than private companies make decisions about what is lawful and what is not.
Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FFC), Ajit Pai, has been forced to cancel his scheduled appearance at the world's
biggest tech conference, CES, after receiving death threats.
That's according to a report by Recode, which cites two agency sources familiar with the matter. This seems to be in response to the disgraceful FCC decision to scrap the US government's net neutrality rules, made in December last year.
For those not up-to-date, net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers should enable equal levels of access to all web services. The decision enables big business to assert a lot more control over the internet and to let them
charge websites and customers for differing levels of service.
The Twitter account of German satirical magazine Titanic was blocked after it parodied anti-Muslim
comments by AfD MP Beatrix von Storch.
She accused police of trying to appease the barbaric, Muslim, rapist hordes of men by putting out a tweet in Arabic.
On Tuesday night, the magazine published a tweet parodying von Storch, saying:
The last thing that I want is mollified barbarian, Muslim, gang-raping hordes of men.
Titanic said on Wednesday its Twitter account had been blocked over the message, presumably as a result of a new law requiring social media sites to immediately block hateful comments on threat of massive fines. There is no time allowed or
economic reason for assessing the merits of censorship claims, so social media companies are just censoring everything on demand, just in case.
China's social media giants are ramping up efforts to get their users to snitch on people circulating taboo content.
China's tech giant Tencent said it was hiring 200 content censors to form what the company is calling a penguin patrol unit, after the company's penguin mascot. The brigade, made of 10 journalists, 70 writers who use Tencent's content platforms,
and 120 regular internet users, will flag content that transgresses China's repressive censorship rules.
Reviewers will be required to make at least 300 snitch reports each month about transgressive information, including porn, sensational headlines, plagiarism, fake news, or old news. Those who complete the mission will get 30 virtual coins which
can be used to purchase items on Tencent's QQ chat app. Those who fail to meet the reporting quota three times will be booted from the unit.
The UK government slipped out its impact assessment of the upcoming porn censorship law during the Christmas break. The new law requires porn websites to be blocked in the UK when they don't implement age verification.
The measures are currently due to come into force in May but it seems a tight schedule as even the rules for acceptable age verification systems have not yet been published.
The report contains some interesting costings and assessment of the expected harms to be inflicted on porn viewers and British adult businesses.
The document notes the unpopularity of the age verification requirements with a public consultation finding that 54% of respondents did not support the introduction of a law to require age verification.
However, the government has forged ahead, with the aim of stopping kids accessing porn on the grounds that such content could distress them or harm their development.
The governments censorship rules will be enforced by the BBFC, in its new role as the UK porn censor although it prefers the descriptor: age-verification regulator . The government states that the censorship job will initially be funded by
the government, and the government is assuming this will cost £4.5 million based upon a range of estimates from 1 million to 8 million.
The government has bizarrely assumed that the BBFC will ban just 1 to 60 sites in a year. The additional work for ISPs to block these sites is estimated £100,000 to £500,000 for each ISP. Probably to be absorbed by larger companies, but will be an
expensive problem for smaller companies who do not currently implement any blocking systems.
Interestingly the government notes that there wont be any impact on UK adult businesses notionally because they should have already implemented age verification under ATVOD and Ofcom censorship rules. In reality it will have little impact on UK
businesses because they have already been decimated by the ATVOD and Ofcom rules and have mostly closed down or moved abroad.
Te key section of the document summarising expected harms is as follows.
The policy option set out above also gives rise to the following risks:
Deterring adults from consuming content as a result of privacy/ fraud concerns linked to inputting ID data into sites and apps, also some adults may not be able to prove their age online;
Development of alternative payment systems and technological work-arounds could mean porn providers do not comply with new law, and enforcement is impossible as they are based overseas, so the policy goal would not be
The assumption that ISPs will comply with the direction of the regulator;
Reputational risks including Government censorship, over-regulation, freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
The potential for online fraud could raise significantly, as criminals adapt approaches in order to make use of false AV systems / spoof websites and access user data;
The potential ability of children, particularly older children, to bypass age verification controls is a risk. However, whilst no system will be perfect, and alternative routes such as virtual private networks and
peer-to-peer sharing of content may enable some under-18s to see this content, Ofcom research indicates that the numbers of children bypassing network level filters, for example, is very low (ca. 1%).
Adults (and some children) may be pushed towards using ToR and related systems to avoid AV where they could be exposed to illegal and extreme material that they otherwise would never have come into contact with.
The list does not seem to include the potential for blackmail from user data sold by porn firms, or else stolen by hackers. And mischievously, politicians could be one of the groups most open to blackmail for money or favours.
Another notable omission, is that the government does not seem overly concerned about mass VPN usage. I would have thought that the secret services wanting to monitor terrorists would not be pleased if a couple of million people stared to use
encrypted VPNs. Perhaps it shows that the likes of GCHQ can already see into what goes on behind VPNs.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has warned Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat to tighten up their age controls and kick off underage users.
The ICO stepped in after it became aware that millions of British children join the platform before they were 13. New ICO guidelines state that social media giants must examine whether they put children at risk -- by showing minors adverts for
alcohol or gambling, for example.
The guidance, which is under consultation, also calls on the firms to do a better job of kicking underage users off their platforms, and to stop or deter children from sharing their information online.
Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, threatened:
Whether designing services to provide protection for children or having a system to verify age, organisations, including social media companies, need to change the way they offer services to children.
It's also vital that we ensure children's interests and rights are protected online in the same way they are in all other aspects of life.
In November, an Ofcom report revealed that half of British 12-year-olds and more than a quarter of ten-year-olds have their own social media profiles. At the moment, all the major web giants demand that users are over 13 before they get an account
-- but they do next to nothing to enforce that rule.
Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat insist it is unrealistic to have to verify the age of users under the age of 18.
The ICO does not seem to have addressed the enormity of their demand. Facebook and social networks are the very essence of smart phones. If children aren't allowed to share things, how does any website or app feed up news and articles to anyone if
it does now what the reader likes nor who is linked to that person. Typing in what you want to see is no longer practical or desirable, so the basic idea of sending people more of what they have already shown they liked is the only game in town.
Of course the kids could play games all day instead, but maybe that has a downside too.
Germany starts enforcing an internet censorship law where contested content has to be taken down pronto by
social media who will suffer massive fines of they don't comply.
The law is supposedly targeted at obviously illegal hate speech, but surely it will be used to take down content anyone doesn't like for any reason. The threats of fines and short time allowed simply means that websites will opt for the easiest
and most economic policy, and that is to take down anything contested.
The new law states the sites that do not remove obviously illegal posts could face fines of up to 50m euro. The law gives the networks 24 hours to act after they have been told about law-breaking material.
Social networks and media sites with more than two million members will fall under the law's provisions. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will be the law's main focus but it is also likely to be applied to Reddit, Tumblr and Russian social network
VK. Other sites such as Vimeo and Flickr could also be caught up in its provisions.
Facebook has reportedly recruited several hundred staff in Germany to deal with reports about content that breaks the NetzDG and to do a better job of monitoring what people post.
Update: First examples of fair free speech being censored in Germany
Sophie Passmann is an unlikely poster child for Germany's new online hate speech laws.
The 24-year-old comedian from Cologne posted a satirical message on Twitter early on New Year's Day, mocking the German far right's fear that the hundreds of thousands of immigrants that have entered the country in recent years would endanger
Germany's culture. Instead of entertaining her more than 14,000 Twitter followers , Passmann's tweet was blocked within nine hours by the American social media giant, telling users in Germany that Passmann's message had run afoul of local laws.
Germany's rightwing AfD party have been busy with political posters pointing out that they will be the likely victims of censorship
under Germany's new law.
And they will certainly have a good claim. The new law will surely over censor, and any complaint will end up in a censored post, regardless of the merits of the claim. A slightly UnPC post by AfD is likely to be blocked, and so the AfD will
rightly be able to highlight the censorship.
The publicity for examples of censorship will surely chime with a significant proportion of the German population, and so will add to the general level of disaffection with the political elite.
Perhaps Germany ought to at least ensure that censorship should be based on the merits of the case, not implemented by a commercial company who only cares about the cheapest possible method of meeting the censorship requirements.
Emmanuel Macron has vowed to introduce a law to censor 'fake news' on the internet during French election
campaigns. He claimed he wanted new legislation for social media platforms during election periods in order to protect democracy.
For fake news published during election seasons, an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website, Macron said. If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules.
He said France's media censor, the CSA, would be empowered to fight against any attempt at destabilisation by TV stations controlled or influenced by foreign states. Macron said he wanted to act against what he called propaganda articulated
by thousands of social media accounts.
Macron has an axe to grind about fake news, during the election campaign in spring 2017 he filed a legal complaint after Le Pen, the Front National leader, referred to fake stories about him placing funds in an offshore account in the Bahamas.
Also a bogus website resembling the site of the Belgian newspaper Le Soir reported that Saudi Arabia was financing Macron's campaign. Le Soir totally distanced itself from the report.
Britain's security minister Ben Wallace has threatened technology firms such as Facebook, YouTube and Google with punitive
taxation if they fail to cooperate with the government on fighting online extremism.
Ben Wallace said that Britain was spending hundreds of millions of pounds on human surveillance and de-radicalisation programmes because tech giants were failing to remove extremist content online quick enough.
Wallace said the companies were ruthless profiteers, despite sitting on beanbags in T-shirts, who sold on details of its users to loan companies but would fail to give the same information to the government.
Because of encryption and because of radicalisation, the cost of that is heaped on law enforcement agencies, Wallace told the Sunday Times. I have to have more human surveillance. It's costing hundreds of millions of pounds. If they [tech firms]
continue to be less than co-operative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivising them or compensating for their inaction.
Because content is not taken down as quickly as they could do, we're having to de-radicalise people who have been radicalised. That's costing millions. They [the firms] can't get away with that and we should look at all options, including tax.
Maybe its a good idea to extract a significantly higher tax take from the vast sums of money being siphoned out of the UK economy straight into the hands of American big business. But it seems a little hopeful to claim that quicker blocking of
terrorist related material will 'solve' the UK's terrorism problem.
One suspects that terrorism is a little more entrenched in society, and that terrorism will continue pretty much unabated even if the government get its way with quicker takedowns. There might even be a scope for some very expensive legal bluff
calling, should expensive censorship measures get taken, and it turns out that the government blame conjecture is provably wrong.