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100 Years Ago: Why Bankers Created the Fed :: The Circle Bastiat

100 Years Ago: Why Bankers Created the Fed :: The Circle Bastiat.

Christopher Westley writes in today’s Mises Daily, on the Fed’s 100th birthday:

The boom and bust cycle, explained by the Austrian School in such detail, became worse and worse in the period leading up to 1913. And with the rise of Progressive Era spending on war and welfare, and with the pressure on banks to inflate to finance this activity, the boom and bust cycles worsened even more. If there was one saving grace about this period it would be that banks were forced to internalize their losses. When banks faced runs on their currencies, private financiers would bail them out. But this arrangement didn’t last, so when the losses grew, those financiers would secretly organize to reintroduce central banking to America, thus engineering an urgent need for a new “lender of last resort.” The result was the Federal Reserve.

This was the implicit socialization of the banking industry in the United States. People called the Federal Reserve Act the Currency Bill, because it was to create a bureaucracy that would assume the currency-creating duties of member banks.

It was like the Patriot Act, in that both were centralizing bills that were written years in advance by people who were waiting for the appropriate political environment in which to introduce them. It was like our current health care bills, in which cartelized firms in private industry wrote chunks of the legislation behind closed doors long before they were introduced in Congress.

 

Seven Crucial Questions That ’60 Minutes’ Failed to Ask the NSA | Motherboard

Seven Crucial Questions That ’60 Minutes’ Failed to Ask the NSA | Motherboard.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander during 60 Minutes’ look at the agency

One of the most difficult questions facing journalists is how one stays objective when given deep access. When a subject opens his or her doors and rolls out the full hospitality routine, it’s easy to feel sympathetic or even beholden to a source, which can color reporting. It’s human nature, but it’s easily countered: You make sure you’ve talked to a variety of outside sources, and you ask questions that don’t simply take a subject’s claims at face value, which doesn’t necessarily mean being combative. It’s just the job.

Last night, while trumpeting its unprecedented access to the NSA, 60 Minutes did none of those things. In a segment that discussed the NSA’s activities without interviewing a single outside source, 60 Minutes largely defaulted to lobbing softball questions to NSA Director Keith Alexander—who naturally denied the veracity of the wealth of reporting from this year on documents leaked by Edward Snowden—while taking a breathless tour of the NSA’s facilities, watching an NSA whiz kid solve a Rubik’s cube, and calling Snowden a weirdo who could help China blow up the US economy.

The correspondent for the segment, John Miller, was touted by CBS as being the “ultimate insider,” likely due to the fact that he was formerly the FBI’s national spokesman, after which he worked in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. While that surely means he’s well-informed and well-connected, it also means he’s more likely to be sympathetic to Alexander’s side of the story, which led to exchanges where Miller asked questions designed to allow Alexander to refute previous reporting from the likes of the Guardian, Washington Post, and New York Times, without any follow up.

60 Minutes indeed did get incredible access to the NSA, which was cool to see, but which made its empty questioning all the more disappointing. It’s also worrisome: 60 Minutes has huge reach, and for any viewer who hasn’t been following the NSA saga obsessively, last night’s segment made it sound like some sketchy guy named Snowden ran off to Russia with a bunch of documents that will now hamper the NSA’s mission to fight terrorism and China, while privacy and legal concerns were swept under the rug. So, in the interest of setting the record straight, here are seven questions that 60 Minutes should have asked:

How are FISA restrictions interpreted by the NSA?

Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the NSA may collect phone call metadata in bulk as long as it’s proven relevant to a specific investigation and “adequate minimization procedures” are taken. These requirements, and the resulting approval of metadata collection, is overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret court that, after being accused of being a rubber stamp, has called out the NSA for willfully misleading the court about the scope of the agency’s activities. The end result? The NSA collects millions upon millions of phone records every year.

How does the NSA reconcile this descrepancy? Miller tried to ask:

John Miller: A judge in the FISA court, which is the court that secretly hears the NSA cases and approves or disapproves your requests. Said the NSA systematically transgressed both its own court-appointed limits in bulk Internet data collection programs.

Gen. Keith Alexander: There was nobody willfully or knowingly trying to break the law.

That’s a pretty weak denial, one which Miller didn’t follow up on. It’s also not true: The NSA has knowingly disciplined employees for illegally spying on Americans. More importantly, how does the NSA argue that collecting bulk metadata fits under “minimization” procedures? Aside from saying data has to be stored in bulk to be effective—which is hardly an argument that anything is minimized—Alexander didn’t have to say.

The first half of the segment

What can the agency actually do with metadata?

Alexander justified bulk data collection by saying it’s just anonymous data on phone numbers, call duration, and time; in other words, he says it should be of no concern to regular Americans because it doesn’t really say much. But the NSA stores five years worth of call data, which would be a strange choice if it was worthless. What can the agency actually do with it?

Miller didn’t really ask, but thankfully the incredible value of metadata has been explained before. On its own, it can reveal a lot about a person’s personal life, and combined with the billions of social interactions the NSA collects every day, can paint a pretty clear portrait of who a person interacts with and what their interests are. But Alexander played metadata off like it’s essentially worthless, an argument Miller was too ready to accept.

What do privacy advocates say about the NSA?

It’s pretty clear that 60 Minutes traded access to the NSA’s facilities for a puff piece on what it does, much as it did with Amazon’s drone announcement last week. But as much as the Amazon segment reeked of straight-up PR, doing a soft segment is far worse when it concerns the most important politics story of the year. Not only did 60 Minutes manage to avoid interviewing a single outside source in the segment, Miller never once mentions the series of lawsuits from big-time advocacy groups that have been levied against the NSA. Ignoring those makes it even harder for viewers to understand that the NSA is even doing anything controversial, which is a fundamental failure of the piece.

Why did Snowden have such incredible access?

In the piece, Snowden’s trove of some 1.7 million documents is mentioned as having severe national security ramifications, especially with regards to the NSA’s capabilites and interests in sensitive countries, like China or Iran. That’s not a particularly surprising claim, but how did one man get such access?

The 60 Minutes segment doesn’t fully address that point. According to Rick Ledgett, the man doing damage assessment on the leaks, “the people who control that, the access to those machines, are called system administrators and they have passwords that give them the ability to go around those–security measures and that’s what Snowden did.”

The segment also tries to paint Snowden as a weirdo, such as this curious exchange:

At home, they discovered Snowden had some strange habits.

Rick Ledgett: He would work on the computer with a hood that covered the computer screen and covered his head and shoulders, so that he could work and his girlfriend couldn’t see what he was doing.

John Miller: That’s pretty strange, sitting at your computer kind of covered by a sheet over your head and the screen?

Rick Ledgett: Agreed.

That 60 Minutes is investigating Snowden’s personality is fine—he’s an important figure, after all—but makes you wonder. How does Snowden—an outside contractor who had been working with the NSA for mere months, and one who apparently acted strangely enough to comment on—get access to so many documents? Is the NSA changing procedures? The answer isn’t clear.

What is the NSA’s relationship with the US tech industry?

From the beginning of the Snowden-NSA saga, US tech companies have been implicated, knowingly or not. But whether or not the companies had any involvement, the revelation that the NSA has incredible access to US tech companies, by court order or not, has huge ramifications for the US tech sector.

The 60 Minutes segment notes that replacing all the computers Snowden touched cost tens of millions of dollars, but makes no mention of reports suggesting the NSA’s activities will cost the US tech sector tens of billions. While Miller notes that the CEOs of eight major tech companies called for new limits on the NSA, he doesn’t ask Alexander about it. Instead, Miller sets up Alexander to refute prior media reports.

For example, there was this exchange regarding the Post’s blockbuster report about the NSA accessing Google and Yahoo data centers, which caused uproar from both companies:

John Miller: One of the Snowden leaks involved the concept that NSA had tunneled into the foreign data centers of major U.S. Internet providers. Did the leak describe it the right way?

Gen. Keith Alexander: No, that’s not correct. We do target terrorist communications. And terrorists use communications from Google, from Yahoo, and from other service providers. So our objective is to collect those communications no matter where they are.

But we’re not going into a facility or targeting Google as an entity or Yahoo as an entity. But we will collect those communications of terrorists that flow on that network.

And that was that. If Miller asked any follow-up questions, it never made the final cut.

Part two of the segment

What is the US’s approach to cyberwar?

At one point, the segment veered off into a discussion of state-sponsored cyberattacks, and 60 Minutes repeats claims from the NSA that it stopped an attack from China called the BIOS Plot. Debora Plunkett, the NSA’s director of cyber defense, explained that by bricking computers, China could have hacked its way into economic destruction:

Debora Plunkett: That’s right. Think about the impact of that across the entire globe. It could literally take down the U.S. economy.

John Miller: I don’t mean to be flip about this. But it has a kind of a little Dr. Evil quality– to it that, “I’m going to develop a program that can destroy every computer in the world.” It sounds almost unbelievable.

Debora Plunkett: Don’t be fooled. There are absolutely nation states who have the capability and the intentions to do just that.

China is indeed building a hacker army, but what about the US? The section about China’s hacking capabilities seems designed to help defend the NSA’s activities, but it’s also important to note that the US has offensive capabilites as well. Have we already forgotten about Stuxnet? Asking about the NSA’s own approaches, rather than scare-mongering, would have been far more valuable.

What’s the future look like?

Alexander is expected to retire soon, which Miller doesn’t ask about. Miller does ask whether or not Alexander tried to resign, which the Wall Street Journal previously reported. Alexander confirmed that he tried, saying that “Well, I offered to resign. And they said, ‘We don’t see a reason that you should resign. We haven’t found anybody there doing anything wrong. In fact, this could have happened to anybody in the community.'”

It’s fairly shocking in its own right that the Director of National Intelligence and Secretary of Defense, to whom Alexander presumably sent his resignation, said that such a massive leak could have happened to anyone. Is the sanctity of secret intelligence documents so fragile?

The 60 Minutes segment goes on to explain that the NSA regularly gives Top Secret clearances to high school kids, which seems a strange choice at the very least. But beyond that, what will the NSA change? Miller doesn’t ask, instead asking about Alexander’s potential loss of power (which wouldn’t matter if he retires), and to which Alexander responds with an aside about terrorism:

John Miller: After all of this controversy, you could come out of this with less authority than you went into it. What does that say?

Gen. Keith Alexander: Well, my concern on that is specially what’s going on in the Middle East, what you see going on in Syria, what we see going on– Egypt, Libya, Iraq, it’s much more unstable, the probability that a terrorist attack will occur is going up. And this is precisely the time that we should not step back from the tools that we’ve given our analysts to detect these types of attacks.

There are plenty of other questions the 60 Minutes segment could have asked. Two big ones are whether or not the PRISM program can collect as much as Snowden’s docs say it does, as well as following up on Alexander’s claim that the NSA didn’t have metadata collection capabilities before 9/11, which whistleblowers say is false. (Feel free to add more in the comments.)

But I think the above seven are the most damning to 60 Minutes’ report, because by not asking them, the segment glosses over the key aspects of the NSA controversy. For an average viewer watching last night, what was the takeaway? That some computer weirdo named Snowden stole documents that could help China destroy the US with computers, and that everything you may have heard about the NSA’s spying in newspapers isn’t exactly true.

It’s no surprise that a guy who was once the FBI’s PR man would be sympathetic towards the national security world, but by presenting such a soft and one-sided report—literally one-sided, as there wasn’t a single outside source, which is appallingly shoddy journalism for such a contentious story—60 Minutes did its viewers a disservice.

 

Federal Judge Strikes Down NSA’s Bulk Metadata Program: “I Cannot Imagine a More ‘Indiscriminate’ and ‘Arbitrary Invasion’ Than This Systematic and High-Tech Collection and Retention of Personal Data On Virtually Every Single Citizen” Washington’s Blog

Federal Judge Strikes Down NSA’s Bulk Metadata Program: “I Cannot Imagine a More ‘Indiscriminate’ and ‘Arbitrary Invasion’ Than This Systematic and High-Tech Collection and Retention of Personal Data On Virtually Every Single Citizen” Washington’s Blog.

“The Government Does Not Cite A Single Instance In Which Analysis Of The NSA’s Bulk Metadata Collection Actually Stopped An Imminent Attack”

A federal court has just struck down the NSA’s bulk metadata spying program today.

The court notes:

The Government does not cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection actually stopped an imminent attack, or otherwise aided the Government in achieving any objective that was time-sensitive in nature.

***

There is no indication that these revelations were immediately useful or that they prevented an impending attack.

***

I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism.

***

The Fourth Amendment typically requires “a neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and the public,” and it is offended by “general warrants” and laws that allow searches to be conducted “indiscriminately and without regard to their connection with [a] crime under investigation.”

I cannot imagine a more “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary invasion” than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval. Surely, such a program infringes on “that degree of privacy” that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Indeed, I have little doubt that the author of our Constitution, James Madison, who cautioned us to beware “the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power,” would be aghast.

The judge is right:

 

CIA Database Tracks All US Money Transfers | Zero Hedge

CIA Database Tracks All US Money Transfers | Zero Hedge.

While hardly as dramatic as ongoing revelations of Big NSA Brother probing every aspect of Americans’ lives, overnight the WSJ reported that in addition to the complete loss of privacy – which should now be taken for granted – the CIA has been added to the list of entities that scrutinize every online interaction, and is “building a vast database of international money transfers, including Western Union, that includes millions of Americans’ financial and personal data, officials familiar with the program say.” The program will be (and is) carried out under the same provision of the Patriot Act that enables the National Security Agency to collect nearly all American phone records. In other words, instead of being upfront that all the CIA, and administration, care about is tracking large flows of money that may have “evaded” taxation, and is traditionally used by expats to send modest amounts of money back to their host countries, what the CIA is instead focusing on is whether mom and pop are using Western Union to deposit $500 in Al-Qaeda’s account in Afghanistan.

The WSJ explains as much:

The data is obtained from companies in bulk, then placed in a dedicated database. Then, court-ordered rules are applied to “minimize,” or mask, the information about people in the U.S. unless that information is deemed to be of foreign-intelligence interest, a former U.S. official said.

 

limited number of analysts are allowed to search the database with queries that meet court-approved standards. This is similar to the way NSA handles its phone-data program.

 

 

The CIA, as a foreign-intelligence agency, is barred from targeting Americans in its intelligence collection. But it can conduct domestic operations for foreign intelligence purposes. The CIA program is meant to fill what U.S. officials see as an important gap in their ability to track terrorist financing world-wide, current and former U.S. officials said.

 

The program serves as the latest example of blurred lines between foreign and domestic intelligence as technology globalizes many activities carried out by citizens and terrorists alike. The CIA program also demonstrates how other U.S. spy agencies, aside from the NSA, are using the same legal authority to collect data such as details of financial transactions.

Ah yes, “limited number.” And since every single American is a potential sponsor of terrorism, it is only logical that this latest dragnet covers absolutely every single US citizen. And in the outlier case that the CIA also taps, investigates, records, and just happens to forward to the IRS, every single money transfer originating or terminating in the US, oh well.

The data collected by the CIA doesn’t include any transactions that are solely domestic, and the majority of records collected are solely foreign, but they include those to and from the U.S., as well. In some cases, it does include data beyond basic financial records, such as U.S. Social Security numbers, which can be used to tie the financial activity to a specific person. That has raised concerns among some lawmakers who learned about the program this summer, according to officials briefed on the matter.

What is peculiar is that unlike wire transfers which are virtually unlimited in size, and scrutinized by all relevant, and irrelevant, authorities money transfers are for the most part tiny and anything that is of a more sizable amount, over $3000, is already subject to the microscope treatment:

Money transfer forms differ depending on location and type. But they ask for the names, addresses and telephone numbers of senders and receivers. Depending on the transfer, senders and receivers also may be asked to provide the date and place of their birth. In most locations in the U.S., people sending $1,000 or more must provide an ID such as a driver’s license. People sending $3,000 or more must provide additional ID, such as a Social Security number or passport.

However, it appears the small transfer limit did not trouble Al-Qaeda:

The money-transfer program appears to have been inspired by details of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist plot, in which the al Qaeda hijackers were able to move about $300,000 to U.S.-based bank accounts without arousing suspicion. In part, it was because the transactions were comparably small and fit the pattern of the remittances used by immigrants or foreign visitors to send money home.

 

Some of the transfers were between bank accounts, but some moved through person-to-person transfers. In 2000, Sept. 11 plot facilitator Ramzi Binalshibh made a series of transfers, totaling more than $10,000, from Germany to the U.S., where they were collected by hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi. Two transfers were through MoneyGram and two through Western Union.

And while hardly as dramatic in the grand scheme of things, the WSJ report shows just how much, or little, personal privacy hinges on one simple word:

That program was institutionalized by 2006 and continues under a controversial authority tucked into a part of the Patriot Act known as Section 215. That law permits the government to obtain “tangible things,” including records, as long as the government shows it is reasonable to believe they are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation.

 

Under that provision, the U.S. government secretly interpreted the term “relevant” to permit collection of records on millions of people not necessarily under suspicion. That secret interpretation, used to justify the legality of the phone-records program, was brought to light in the wake of the revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

 

The interpretation also was used by CIA as the legal underpinning of its bulk financial-records effort under the money-transfer program, officials said.

One doesn’t need to clarify that just like with the NSA, the CIA is logging, recording and analyzing every single money transfer of even the most nominal amount. Which, quite simply, continues to build an architecture for the full tracing of all electronic monetary transactions in the US. Because once every flow of funds is logged at even the most micro level, the US will be able to not only regulate and supervise, but to implement any type of capital and fund flow controls it desires. Which it will in due course.

 

The Fed’s 100-Year War Against Gold (And Economic Common Sense) | Zero Hedge

The Fed’s 100-Year War Against Gold (And Economic Common Sense) | Zero Hedge.

On December 23, 2013, the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed) will celebrate its 100th birthday, so we thought it was time to take a look at the Fed’s real accomplishment, and the practices and policies it has employed during this time to rob the public of its wealth. The criticism is directed not only at the world’s most powerful central bank – the Fed – but also at the concept of central banks in general, because they are the antithesis of fiscal responsibility and financial constraint as represented by gold and a gold standard. The Fed was sold to the public in much the same way as the Patriot Act was sold after 9/11 – as a sacrifice of personal freedom for the promise of greater government protection. Instead of providing protection, the Fed has robbed the public through the hidden tax of inflation brought about by currency devaluation.

Via Bullion Management Group’s Nick Barisheff,

The Fed is, unlike any other federal agency, owned by private and public shareholders – mainly large banks and influential banking families. It operates with as much opacity as possible, and only in the past two decades has the public become aware of this deception, thanks in large part to former Congressman Dr. Ron Paul, and the advent of the Internet.

The build-up of massive amounts of debt will result in the end of the U.S. dollar as the world’s de facto reserve currency. This should come as no surprise: Previous world reserve currencies, starting with Portuguese real in 1450 and continuing through five reserve currencies to the British pound, which capitulated its position in 1920, have had a lifespan of between eighty and 110 years. The U.S. dollar succeeded the British pound, but its peg to gold was broken domestically in 1933, and internationally in 1971, when President Nixon closed the gold window. This resulted in unrestricted and exponential debt creation that will likely see the U.S. dollar’s reserve currency status end sooner rather than later.

Why the Fed Hates Gold

The Fed has many reasons for being at war with gold:

1. Gold restricts a country’s ability to create unlimited amounts of fiat currency.

 

2. The gold held by the Fed and the United States has not been officially audited since 1953; there are several credible indications that this gold has been leased or swapped, and probably has several claims of ownership. Germany’s Bundesbank was told in January 2013 that it would have to wait seven years to repatriate 300 tonnes of its gold currently held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The only plausible explanation for this delay is that the gold is not available.

 

3. Gold is the only money that exists outside the control of politicians and bankers. The Fed would like to control all aspects of the global economy, and gold is the last defense of the individual who wishes to protect his or her wealth.

 

4. Historically, gold serves as the most stable measure of purchasing power. Gold owners begin to measure risk in terms of ounces of gold, and this provides a broader perspective — the “gold perspective.” It takes into account factors that are considered unquantifiable through the narrower “fiat perspective” that banks and financial media prefer to use. It also shows up real inflation.

Two Policies the Fed Uses to Rob Savers and Taxpayers

Under the gold standard, governments are more transparent in raising funds through direct taxation. Under a fiat system and a central bank, they have to be much more secretive. There are two policies or practices currently being used to transfer wealth from the public to the government. These are:

1. Financial Repression

 

Financial repression is a hidden form of wealth confiscation that employs three tactics:

 

(i) indirect taxation through inflation;
(ii) the involuntary assumption of government debt by the taxpayer (like the Fed’s purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac CDOs);
(iii) debasement or inflation brought about through unbridled currency creation and capital controls; and

2. Government’s Position on Bail-ins and the Illusion of FDIC Insurance

Many believe their bank deposits are insured against bank failure, as this is the Fed’s main argument for its existence. This is far from the truth, since the FDIC could only cover .008 percent of the banks’ derivative losses in the event of major bank failures. Banks legally see depositors as “unsecured creditors,” as proven by the Cyprus bail-in.

The Fed’s Real Accomplishment

When measured against gold, the U.S. dollar has lost 96 percent of its purchasing power since the Fed’s inception in 1913. This is mainly through currency debasement, which leads to inflation. Real inflation, if measured using the original basket of goods used until the Boskin Commission in 1995 changed the rules, is running about 6 percent higher than is officially acknowledged, according to John Williams of ShadowStats.com. The CPI used to measure a “fixed standard of living” with a fixed basket of goods. Today, it measures the cost of living with a constantly changing basket of goods, measured with metrics that are themselves constantly changing.

History shows countries following the gold standard have a higher standard of living, stronger morals, and an aversion to costly wars.

Thanks to the Fed’s irresponsibility, foreign governments and investors are exiting the dollar and U.S. Treasuries, leaving the Fed as the buyer of last resort. This has painted the Fed into a corner, because it will be difficult, if not impossible, to curtail its bond and CDO purchases through its QE program, or to raise interest rates without crashing the markets.

When economists and historians can objectively look back at this past century, they will likely find the Fed, as well as the world’s other central banks, indirectly or directly responsible for:

• Personal income tax (introduced the same year as the Federal Reserve Act)
• Two world wars
• Several smaller unproductive wars
• The expropriation of U.S. gold in 1934
• The Great Depression
• Loss of morality in money and government
• Expansion of government to unprecedented levels
• The many economic bubbles that left countless investors ruined
• The decimation of the U.S. dollar’s purchasing power
• The spread of moral hazard throughout the global financial community
• Destruction of the middle class
• Migration of gold from West to East
The main thesis  is that gold will continue rising because several exponential, long-term and irreversible trends will continue forcing the need for greater and greater government debt, and government debt is the main driver of the price of gold, as we can see in Figure 1. For the past decade, debt and the gold price have shared a conspicuously close relationship.

Total Public Debt Outstanding

 

These trends—the rising and aging population, dwindling natural resources, outsourcing and movement away from the U.S. dollar—continue to develop.

As the following in-depth presentation notes, this has been going on since the Fed’s inception:

 

The Federal Reserve Centennial Anniversary_Ext_Formatted_Final_13.11.13.pdf

 

PRISM is driving the uptake of privacy services, but there’s no simple solution to beating the NSA|Washington’s Blog

Washington’s Blog. (source)

This article was written by IVPN’s Nick Pearson. IVPN is an online privacy platform, and Electronic Frontier Foundation member, dedicated to protecting online freedoms and online privacy.

While Edward Snowden’s PRISM revelations failed to spark much widespread outrage among the general public, an apparent spike in the uptake of Virtual Private Networks suggests the online privacy market could be entering a golden period. But when commerce is driven by fear there is plenty of opportunity for exploitation and many privacy-concerned citizens may be lulled into a false sense of security over services that won’t protect their data.

In the two months after the NSA’s spying programme was uncovered by the Guardian, IVPN – the Virtual Private Network platform I work for – saw a 56% increase in sign-ups to our platform. Following this spike we decided to run a survey, asking our subscribers what motivated them to sign-up to a VPN. Out of the eight anti-online privacy programmes we listed (ranging from SOPA to the Patriot Act) PRISM came top by a clear margin, with a 28% share of the vote. These findings werebacked-up from a number of other VPNs, who  said they’ve also seen an increase in interest since the revelations. Not to mention the much publicized numbers released by privacy-orientated search engine DuckDuckGo, which reported a 50% traffic increase in the wake of PRISM.

The fact internet users are becoming more privacy-conscious is certainly encouraging, but readers who are technically minded may have already spotted a slight problem with the above findings: VPNs won’t protect you from the type of surveillance detailed in Snowden’s leaked documents.

PRISM involved creating backdoors into major online services, allowing the NSA to monitor the content of emails and other communications. VPNs will prevent evesdroppers from knowing where you’re located and the contents of your traffic. But they won’t prevent someone accessing Google’s or Facebook’s servers, where your personal information is stored.

But the problem goes deeper than this. Some VPNs have been disingenuously cashing in on privacy fears before the emergence of PRISM –  and are continuing to do so. To understand how, you need to understand how VPNs protect your privacy beyond that of an ISP. The vast majority of ISPs operate a data retention policy of some kind. This means they store information on users, such as your IP address (which uniquely identifies you) and web logs (which record every website you’ve visited). In Europedata retention is mandated and there are some in Washington who want to take the same route. But even though it’s not written into law, we know US ISPs retain data anyway, in order to cooperate with law enforcement investigations.

VPN privacy-services supposedly offer protection from this data retention, by keeping logs for no more than a few days (or in some cases a few minutes). If there’s no data stored then it’s impossible for a VPN to cooperate with law enforcement requests to access it. Many VPN customers sign-up because they assume this is the case. But it’s frequently not. In fact, some VPNs have even worse data retention policies than ISPs. For instance HideMyAss, which is perhaps the most popular VPN on the market,retains data for two years, and this was only acknowledged after the company handed a hacker over to the FBI.

Despite PRISM being met with some cynicism by the population, the rising interest in privacy tools suggests the wider community is not quite as apathetic toward privacy as we may think. But at the same time we should not fall into the trap of believing there is a magic bullet to solve the problem of overzealous government surveillance. Even widely used, open source, tools such as TOR have their vulnerabilities. The best tools in the fight to reclaim our online freedoms are education and the support of activist organisations – such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation – in order to continue to pressure our political system and keep the issue on its agenda.

 

Celebrities, Whistleblowers, Politicians Release Anti-NSA Ad For Rally Against Surveillance | Occupy.com

Celebrities, Whistleblowers, Politicians Release Anti-NSA Ad For Rally Against Surveillance | Occupy.com. (source/link)

The NSA is spying on our personal communications. It’s operating without any meaningful oversight. On October 26, the 12th anniversary of the signing of the USA Patriot Act, we’re holding the largest rally yet against NSA surveillance.

We’ll be handing more than a half-million petitions to Congress to remind them that they work for us — and we won’t tolerate mass surveillance any longer.

A stellar group of whistleblowers, activists, researchers and others from both sides of the political spectrum will be speaking at this historic event. The list includes:

  • Congressman Justin Amash
  • Former senior NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake
  • Social critic Naomi Wolf
  • Jona Bechtolt, from electro-punk band YACHT
  • Claire L. Evans, also from YACHT
  • Lt. Dan Choi, LGBT advocate and U.S. veteran
  • Rainey Reitman, EFF
  • Bruce Schneier, internationally renowned security technologist
  • Craig Aaron, Free Press
  • Kymone Freeman, Director of the National Black LUV Fest
  • Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
  • Khalilah Barnes, EPIC
  • Shahid Buttar, Bill of Rights Defense Committee
  • Malachi Byrd, D.C. Youth Poetry Slam Team
  • Wafa Ben Hassine, writer and human rights advocate
  • Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich
  • Laura Murphy, ACLU
  • NOT4PROPHET, Hip Hop MC and community organizer
  • Black Alley, D.C.-based soul-garage band

Location: Marchers will gather in front of Union Station at 11:30 a.m. by the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain in Columbus Circle. Shortly after noon we’ll march to the National Mall at 3rd Street and Madison Dr. NW, in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, where there will be a stage set up for our rally speakers, musicians, and performers.

Read more.

StopWatching.us is a coalition of more than 100 public advocacy organizations and companies from across the political spectrum. We came together in June 2013 to demand the U.S. Congress investigate the full extent of the NSA’s spying programs. Go here to read our letter to U.S. Congress demanding accountability and reform.

Originally published by Stop Watching Us

oliver stone

 

NSA Website Hacked Ahead Of “Stop Watching Us” Rally | Zero Hedge

NSA Website Hacked Ahead Of “Stop Watching Us” Rally | Zero Hedge. (source)

Update: As of 6:30 pm Eastern, the NSA’s website has been down for 5 hours.

Following our earlier comments on the vulnerabilities of the Obamacare websites, the fact that the United States National Security Agency suddenly went offline Friday is still surprising. As RT reports,NSA.gov has been unavailable globally as of late Friday afternoon, and Twitter accounts belonging to people loosely affiliated with the Anonymous hacktivism movement have suggested they are responsible.

It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that there is a major “Stop Watching Us” rally scheduled for Saturday in Washington, DC.

where the following letter was sent to Congress:

Dear Members of Congress,

We write to express our concern about recent reports published in the Guardian and the Washington Post, and acknowledged by the Obama Administration, which reveal secret spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) on phone records and Internet activity of people in the United States.

The Washington Post and the Guardian recently published reports based on information provided by an intelligence contractor showing how the NSA and the FBI are gaining broad access to data collected by nine of the leading U.S. Internet companies and sharing this information with foreign governments. As reported, the U.S. government is extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. As a result, the contents of communications of people both abroad and in the U.S. can be swept in without any suspicion of crime or association with a terrorist organization.

Leaked reports also published by the Guardian and confirmed by the Administration reveal that the NSA is also abusing a controversial section of the PATRIOT Act to collect the call records of millions of Verizon customers. The data collected by the NSA includes every call made, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other “identifying information” for millions of Verizon customers, including entirely domestic calls, regardless of whether those customers have ever been suspected of a crime. The Wall Street Journal has reported that other major carriers, including AT&T and Sprint, are subject to similar secret orders.

This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously, guard against unreasonable searches and seizures, and protect their right to privacy.

We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs. We call on Congress to immediately and publicly:

  1. Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;
  2. Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;
  3. Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Via RT,

Twitter users @AnonymousOwn3r and @TruthIzSexy both were quick to comment on the matter, and implied that a distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, may have been waged as an act of protest against the NSA

So If it’s a attack comming from me, or maybe from a country? won’t say! It’s just looks like a start of a cyber war

— Anonymous Own3r (@AnonymousOwn3r) October 25, 2013

‘Sir’ @BarackObama you haz problem? Perhaps you should check your national fucking security cos the NSA wont load? http://t.co/e6P0NHQYcO xD

— S.3xe (@TruthIzSexy) October 25, 2013

Allegations that those users participated in the DDoS — a method of over-loading a website with too much traffic — are currently unverified, and @AnonymousOwn3r has previously taken credit for downing websites in a similar fashion, although those claims have been largest contested.

The question, of course, is whether this is retalization from Europe (or Brazil) for the ‘denied’ allegations over spying?

Fact Or Fiction: NSA Unveils “Internal Patriot Discovery” Protocol | Zero Hedge

Fact Or Fiction: NSA Unveils “Internal Patriot Discovery” Protocol | Zero Hedge. (source/link)

Rather than go to exhaustive lengths identifying the “terrorists,” we identify (based on every piece of data you have ever touched in your life) the ‘patriots’ and thus, by process of elimination find the real terrorists…

VIDEO

 

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