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Profile: Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 [CBS News, 2/27/2000] which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. [Washington Post, 12/22/1988] “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” [NineMSN, 5/23/1999]
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” [CBS News, 2/27/2000]
Entity Tags: Greenpeace, Wayne Madsen, Glyn Ford, Echelon, Communications Security Establishment, Central Intelligence Agency, Amnesty International, Strom Thurmond, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Steve Kroft, Princess Diana, Mike Frost, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Newsham, National Security Agency, Robert “Bob” Barr, House Intelligence Committee, Porter J. Goss, Ilich RamÃrez Sanchez
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The FBI dramatically escalates its warrantless wiretaps of US citizens, most without the proper paperwork or oversight. The public will not learn of the FBI wiretapping program until October 2005, when classified documents will be made available to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an advocacy group that will sue the Justice Department for records relating to the Patriot Act. According to those documents, which are heavily redacted, the FBI conducts clandestine surveillance on some US residents for 18 months and even longer. The FBI will also internally investigate at least 287 violations of its use of secret surveillance against US citizens. One target will be kept under surveillance for over five years, including a 15-month stretch where the FBI fails to notify Justice Department lawyers after the subject moves from New York to Detroit. According to an FBI investigation, that delay is a violation of department guidelines and will prevent the department “from exercising its responsibility for oversight and approval of an ongoing foreign counterintelligence investigation of a US person.” Other cases involve agents obtaining e-mails after warrants expire, seizing bank records without authorization, and conducting improper “unconsented physical search(es).” EPIC’s general counsel, David Sobel, will say in October 2005 that the classified documents indicate possible misconduct by the FBI in counterintelligence investigations, and highlight the need for greater congressional oversight of clandestine surveillance within the United States. “We’re seeing what might be the tip of the iceberg at the FBI and across the intelligence community,” Sobel will say. “It indicates that the existing mechanisms do not appear adequate to prevent abuses or to ensure the public that abuses that are identified are treated seriously and remedied.” The FBI will counter by insisting that all of the infractions are minor, mostly what it calls administrative errors, and that any information obtained improperly is quarantined and eventually destroyed. One senior FBI official will say, “Every investigator wants to make sure that their investigation is handled appropriately, because they’re not going to be allowed to keep information that they didn’t have the proper authority to obtain. But that is a relatively uncommon occurrence. The vast majority of the potential [violations] reported have to do with administrative timelines and time frames for renewing orders.” Catherine Lotrionte, the counsel for the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which is tasked with overseeing the FBI’s domestic surveillance operations, will refuse to disclose any details of any of the FBI violations, saying most of its work is classified and covered by executive privilege. The surveillance operations are conducted under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978), whose threshold for such surveillance is lower than for criminal warrants. In 2004 alone, over 1,700 new cases will be opened by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. [Washington Post, 10/24/2005] Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, in its first-ever ruling, overturns a ruling by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (see May 17, 2002) that stopped the Justice Department from being granted sweeping new powers to conduct domestic surveillance on US citizens. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/18/2002; FindLaw, 11/18/2002 ]
'Rubber Stamp' - The ACLU’s Ann Beeson says of the ruling, “We are deeply disappointed with the decision, which suggests that this special court exists only to rubberstamp government applications for intrusive surveillance warrants. “As of today, the Attorney General can suspend the ordinary requirements of the Fourth Amendment in order to listen in on phone calls, read e-mails, and conduct secret searches of Americans’ homes and offices.” The ACLU and other civil liberties organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking that the original ruling stand. The ACLU and its partners are considering appealing the decision to the Supreme Court, as well as asking Congress to legislate tighter restrictions on the Justice Department’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance. Beeson notes that appealing the FISA Review Court’s decision might be impossible: “This is a major Constitutional decision that will affect every American’s privacy rights, yet there is no way anyone but the government can automatically appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. Hearing a one-sided argument and doing so in secret goes against the traditions of fairness and open government that have been the hallmark of our democracy.” The FISC Review Court is a special three-judge panel appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist in accordance with provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The judges include appellate court justices Laurence Silberman, Edward Leavy, and Ralph Guy, Jr. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/18/2002]
Law Professor Slams Ruling - Law professor Raneta Lawson Mack is highly critical of the ruling. Mack writes that the court twisted its reasoning upon itself in order to give the Justice Department what it asked for. It misrepresented the facts and legal arguments of the case. It gratuitously insulted the ACLU and other “friends of the court” in its ruling. It wrote that the entire FISA law is constitutional even though its standards conflict with the Fourth Amendment. To justify its ruling from a legislative standpoint, the Review Court cherrypicked statements by legislators that supported the Justice Department’s stance while ignoring those from other viewpoints. It called the Bush administration’s efforts to challenge the “firewall” between law enforcement and foreign intelligence as “heroic,” even though the Justice Department, Congress, and FISA itself recognizes and accepts the dichotomy. It accepted without question or evidence the government’s contention that false, misleading, or inaccurate FBI affidavits in numerous FISA applications were a result of “confusion within the Justice Department over implementation” of the firewall procedures that the Justice Department itself drafted and implemented. Mack writes that the court failed entirely to grapple with one key question that, if considered, would, in her opinion, “easily have laid bare the Executive Branch’s thinly-veiled quest for unconstrained authority to invade the privacy of US citizens with minimal oversight.” The question is, “why would the government need to alter procedures for obtaining FISA warrants when the lower FISA court had never rejected an application? Indeed, according to the lower FISA court opinion the court had ‘reviewed and approved several thousand FISA applications, including many hundreds of surveillances and searches of US persons [and had] long accepted and approved minimization procedures authorizing in-depth information sharing and coordination with criminal prosecutors.’” The lower court ruling provided for coordination and sharing of information between law enforcement and government agencies, Mack notes, and writes that in light of that finding, “can the government seriously contend that the minimization procedures that it drafted in 1995, which the lower FISA court dutifully adopted, were too restrictive, warranting a still more lenient approach?” Mack considers the ruling to be “legally unsound.” She is appalled by the Review Court’s groundless implication that FISA hindered the ability of the FBI to anticipate and perhaps prevent the 9/11 attacks. “What the lower FISA court recognized and, indeed, what all Americans should legitimately fear is that the Executive branch is disingenuously using its September 11th failures in conjunction with the hastily drafted and poorly crafted Patriot Act to ‘give the government a powerful engine for the collection of foreign intelligence information targeting US persons.’ By adhering to the minimization procedures, the lower FISA court merely sought to assure that the balance between legitimate national security concerns and individual privacy was not disturbed by seemingly unconstrained executive power.… [T]here is… no question that a secret FISA appellate court structure, with judges hand selected by the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, that hears only the government’s evidence, and grants only the government a right to appeal is a singularly inappropriate forum to resolve issues that threaten the fundamental rights and values of all US citizens. The only question that remains is how much further our justice system will be derailed in pursuit of the war on terrorism.” [Jurist, 11/26/2002]
Entity Tags: Ralph Guy, Jr., Raneta Lawson Mack, William Rehnquist, US Department of Justice, Open Society Institute, US Supreme Court, Laurence Silberman, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Center for National Security Studies, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, Ann Beeson, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Edward Leavy, Electronic Privacy Information Center
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Katharine Gun. [Source: BBC]Katharine Gun, a 29-year old translator for British intelligence’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), leaks the National Security Agency memo documenting the NSA’s electronic and physical surveillance of numerous UN delegates to the Security Council (see January 31, 2003). Gun will be arrested on March 8 and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act (see March 9, 2003). Gun leaks the memo, [BBC, 9/15/2004] written by the NSA’s Frank Koza and sent to several US allies via its ECHELON global surveillance system, to Britain’s Observer, which spends weeks verifying the document’s veracity before running the story on March 2. Former NSA intelligence officer Wayne Madsen, now of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the leak illustrates the deep unhappiness among several US allies’ intelligence agencies over US and British attempts to allege ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “My feeling is that this was an authorized leak,” Madsen says. “I’ve been hearing for months of people in the US and British intelligence community who are deeply concerned about their governments ‘cooking’ intelligence to link Iraq to al-Qaeda.’ While surveillance of delegates and other officials at the UN is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, [Observer, 3/9/2003] intelligence experts acknowledge that the US and other nations routinely conduct at least some sort of surveillance on UN members. “One would have to have the innocence of an unborn child to believe that espionage doesn’t go on every day at the United Nations,” says one such expert, Loch Johnson. “From a purist point of view, it’s unfortunate in a way, because after all, we’re the host nation for the United Nations. But the reality is, Europeans and everyone else engages in espionage in New York City, much of it focused on the United Nations.” Experts say what is unprecedented is the leak itself, especially in its timeliness and detail. [Baltimore Sun, 3/4/2003]
Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times, writes in January 2004, “I can only admire the more timely, courageous action of Katherine Gun…who risked her career and freedom to expose an illegal plan to win official and public support for an illegal war, before that war had started. Her revelation of a classified document urging British intelligence to help the US bug the phones of all the members of the UN security council to manipulate their votes on the war may have been critical in denying the invasion a false cloak of legitimacy.…She did what she could, in time for it to make a difference, as indeed others should have done, and still can. I have no doubt that there are thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now—the Pentagon Papers of Iraq—whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq.…Exposing governmental lies carries a heavy personal risk, even in our democracies. But that risk can be worthwhile when a war’s-worth of lives is at stake.” [Guardian, 1/27/2004]
Entity Tags: United Nations, Observer, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Wayne Madsen, Loch Johnson, United Nations Security Council, Government Communications Headquarters, Daniel Ellsberg, Katherine Gun, Al-Qaeda, Echelon, National Security Agency, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Frank Koza
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The Justice Department opens an investigation into the leak of classified information about the Bush domestic surveillance program. The investigation focuses on disclosures to the New York Times about the secret warrantless wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency since shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). The White House claims that the Justice Department initiated the investigation on its own after receiving a request from the NSA, and that it was not even informed of the investigation until the decision had already been made. But White House spokesman Trent Duffy hails the investigation, and implicitly accuses the Times of aiding and abetting terrorists by printing its stories. “The leaking of classified information is a serious issue,” Duffy says. “The fact is that al-Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] President Bush fuels the attack on the Times when he says, “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Many outside of the administration have accused the wiretapping program, which functions without external oversight or court warrants, of being illegal, and Bush of breaking the law by authorizing it. Administration officials insist that Bush has the power to make such a decision, both under the Constitution’s war powers provision and under the post-9/11 Congressional authorization to use military force against terrorism, even though, as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recalls, Congress explicitly refused to give Bush the authority to take military action inside the US itself (see December 21-22, 2005). And, in a recent letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the White House claimed that the nation’s security needs outweigh the needs of the citizenry to be secure from secret government surveillance. [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] Others disagree. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Anthony Romero says, “President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of US citizens. But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law.” And Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the NSA should be the focus of an investigation to determine if it broke federal surveillance laws. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project suggests a middle course. His group does not object to a limited investigation into the leak of classified information, but, he says, if the administration does “a blanket witch hunt, which I fear, it would trample all over good government laws” designed to protect government workers who expose wrongdoing. “The whole reason we have whistle-blower laws is so that government workers can act as the public’s eyes and ears to expose illegality or abuse of power.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Ultimately, this leak investigation may not achieve much, according to law professor Carl Tobias. “It doesn’t seem to me that this leak investigation will take on the importance of the Plame case,” Tobias says. “The bigger story here is still the one about domestic spying and whether the president intends, as he said, to continue doing it.” [Washington Post, 12/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Anthony D. Romero, Tom Devine, Trent Duffy, American Civil Liberties Union, Al-Qaeda, Tom Daschle, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Carl Tobias, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Government Accountability Project, George W. Bush, Marc Rotenberg, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), angered by the Bush administration’s counterattack against government and media members who have helped to expose its warrantless wiretapping operation (see December 15-31, 2005) and having prepared evidence to prove his knowledge of AT&T’s complicity with the NSA in setting in motion that operation (see December 31, 2005), begins searching for a civil liberties group that might be interested in his work. He quickly determines that two organizations, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), might be his best choices. Reluctant to use the telephone for fear of surveillance, he visits the EPIC offices, where he gives a lawyer a copy of the CD containing his evidence, printouts, and a disk copy of his PGP privacy key for public dissemination. He will later say that the lawyer on site is “polite” but shows little interest. When two weeks go by without any contact from EPIC, he journeys to San Francisco to the EFF offices with his documentation in hand. The reception at EFF is far different from the polite disinterest evidenced at EPIC. Executive director Shari Steele escorts him to speak with senior attorneys Kevin Bankston and Lee Tien. The EFF staffers tell Klein that their organization is already preparing a lawsuit against AT&T for illegally providing its customers’ telephone records to the government (see January 31, 2006), and his evidence will be very useful in the suit. Klein later writes, “I felt a sense of relief, that I had found the right place: a group that wanted to take on this fight.” EFF’s initial lawsuit does not include Klein’s material, but the organization will use it in the court proceedings. [Klein, 2009, pp. 55-56]
The US interagency National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) maintains a watch list of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects, a number that has more than quadrupled since the the list was created in 2003 by merging other watch lists together. NCTC officials estimate that, due to aliases, some 200,000 individuals are represented on the list. The main US watch list at the time of 9/11 had 60,000 names on it (see December 11, 1999). An administration official says, “The vast majority are non-US persons and do not live in the US.” However, officials refuse to state how many on the list are US citizens and how many names on the list were obtained through the controversial wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). Civil liberties and privacy advocates claim that the scale of the list heightens their concerns that watch lists include the names of large numbers of innocent people. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he cannot discuss specifics but says, “Information is collected, information is retained, and information disseminated in a way to protect the privacy interests of all Americans.” A September 2003 presidential directive instructs agencies to supply data for the list only about people who are “known or appropriately suspected to be… engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the scope of the NCTC list highlights the “false positive” problem, in which innocent people have been stopped from flying because their names are wrongly included or are similar to suspects’ names. “If there are that many people on the list, a lot of them probably shouldn’t be there. But how are they ever going to get off?” [Washington Post, 2/15/2006] Numerous problems with the list will be found in 2006 (see March 2006).
A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]
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