5 Changes President Obama Wants To Make to NSA’s Surveillance Programs

In a major address this morning, President Obama tried to soothe Americans’ fears about NSA spying by promising these changes.

By Davey Alba

President Barack Obama speaks about the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department, on January 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Earlier this morning, President Obama spoke about a number of reforms he wants to make to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, which have been widely criticized since Edward Snowden’s leaked on the extent of agency’s spying operations. Almost every week now, it seems, new revelations emerge, ranging from the bulk collection of telephone metadata to capturing information from computers that aren’t even connected to the Internet through radio waves sent out by the machines.

With dissent mounting, President Obama took to the podium once more to try to mitigate public concerns. Here are the five crucial things you need to know about the announcement. (You can also read the full text of Obama’s speech here, or read the presidential policy directive on surveillance, which has been posted online.)

1. An End to the NSA’s Bulk Data Collection Program

The biggest reform announced today was the end of the bulk data collection program under section 215 of the Patriot Act. Quick refresher: This was the program that enabled the NSA to review the telephone connections of many Americans‚Äînot the actual content of the phone calls, but the phone numbers and the times and lengths of the calls. That may seem benign, but one can glean a huge amount of information from this metadata, and the revelation was arguably the most important Snowden leak. According to President Obama, this program will come to a halt. It’s unclear how long it will take before bulk data collection is completely overhauled‚Äîthe process could take months if not more‚Äîbut in the meantime, new restrictions will be put into place to limit the government’s access to this data.

2. Continued Access to Call Records Under a New System

President Obama doesn’t want to cut off the government’s access to this data completely, though. The government will establish a new system for holding the phone records, but it’s so far unclear what form that system will take. Some possibilities mentioned included asking the phone companies to hold onto customer data and hand it over to the government whenever a court order mandates it, or creating an entirely new body that would act as the keeper of the massive database of phone records.

3. New Limitations on Spying on U.S. Allies

The Snowden documents revealed that the NSA had digital snooped on foreign leaders, most famously German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose cell phone was being monitored. Obama has ordered that that the heads of states that are friendly with the United States will be completely off-limits for electronic surveillance by the government. Of course, this measure is a bit murky; why gets to decide who are the “close” allies of the U.S.?

4. A Panel of Public Advocates for Cases in Surveillance Courts

If Obama’s recommendation comes to fruition, third-party public advocates will be present at each request for data in the FISA courts‚Äîthose special federal courts that handle secret requests for surveillance warrants against suspected enemies of the U.S. However, this initiative requires action by Congress before it can become standard procedure.

5. Privacy Protections for Foreigners

Obama is also calling for a reform of the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals, which allows the government to snatch up communications of foreigners who have information about national security. The President says that unless there is a major threat to national security, foreigners shouldn’t have a reason to fear being spied on. The rules will be developed and crystallized in the next few months.

Read more: 5 Changes President Obama Wants To Make to NSA’s Surveillance Programs – Popular Mechanics
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Intel’s Bay Trail CPU will usher Android into the 64-bit era this spring


Sure, 64-bit support is all the rage nowadays in the mobile space, what with Apple setting off a trend with the introduction of the iPhone 5s. Now, according to Intel’s CEO, tablets running Google’s operating system are next and will soon be available with 64-bit compatibility. During an earnings call yesterday, Intel chief Brian Krzanich said that Android tablets using the company’s new Atom-basedBay Trail processor are set to hit the market as early as this spring, bringing alonga technology which so far has been limited to Windows 8.1 devices. It’s also worth noting that while 64-bit slates may be arriving soon, the number of Android applications optimized to take advantage of the feature will be very low at first. Still, chances are developers will quickly take care of this as more and more 64-bit-ready phones and tablets start to become available.

SOURCE: Ars Technica

full story: http://www.engadget.com/2014/01/17/android-tablets-64-bit-intel-bay-trail/


Firefox may beat Google to a web-based slate: Hello, Firefox OS tablet


firefox os tabletSUMMARY: I’ve been waiting for a web-based tablet and it looks like it’s coming soon. But it’s not the Chrome tablet I was expecting. Instead, meet the first slate in the Firefox OS tablet program.

I’ve been clamoring for a web-based tablet over the past year and one company is finally going to deliver it. Only it’s not from who I expected: Mozilla has a Firefox OS slate prototype in the works. Mozilla’s Asa Dotzler shared the tablet information on Thursday, where it was picked up by Liliputing.

Based on Dotzler’s post, the first tablet will have relatively meager hardware when compared to today’s high-end tablets. The 10.1-inch IPS display will only have 1280 x 800 resolution, for example. And an older ARM Cortex A7 Quad-Core 1.0GHz chip paired with 2 GB of memory will power the device. Local storage is found in 16 GB of flash memory and the device will have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, as well as a GPS for location services. The slate also has a pair of cameras: 2-megapixels in the front and 5-megapixels in the back.

firefox os tablet

While the device may seem relatively underpowered, I see it as a solid reference design for the Mozilla team to demonstrate and mature its Firefox OS platform. And I’d also expect a web-based platform wouldn’t need super-powerful (read: energy hungry) hardware to perform admirably. The Google Chromebooks with ARM-based chips are a good example that adequate performance can be had without a desktop-class chip.

My hope was actually for Google to have created a 2-in-1 Chrome tablet by now: A laptop dock with a removable tablet screen for example. That hasn’t happened yet.While I continue waiting for this, I’ll be keen to get my hands on one of the Firefox OS tablets to see what the experience is like.

full story: http://gigaom.com/2014/01/17/firefox-may-beat-google-to-a-web-based-slate-hello-firefox-os-tablet/

NSA collects millions of text messages daily in ‘untargeted’ global sweep

• NSA extracts location, contacts and financial transactions
• ‘Dishfire’ program sweeps up ‘pretty much everything it can’
• GCHQ using database to search metadata from UK numbers

by  in New York

Texting on BlackBerry mobile phone

The NSA has made extensive use of its text message database to extract information on people under no suspicion of illegal activity. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA

The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.

The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.

The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.

The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.

An agency presentation from 2011 – subtitled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit” – reveals the program collected an average of 194 million text messages a day in April of that year. In addition to storing the messages themselves, a further program known as “Prefer” conducted automated analysis on the untargeted communications.


An NSA presentation from 2011 on the agency’s Dishfire program to collect millions of text messages daily. Photograph: Guardian

The Prefer program uses automated text messages such as missed call alerts or texts sent with international roaming charges to extract information, which the agency describes as “content-derived metadata”, and explains that “such gems are not in current metadata stores and would enhance current analytics”.

On average, each day the NSA was able to extract:

• More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when)

• Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts

• More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images.

• Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users

The agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”. Other travel information was obtained from itinerary texts sent by travel companies, even including cancellations and delays to travel plans.


A slide on the Dishfire program describes the ‘analytic gems’ of collected metadata. Photograph: Guardian

Communications from US phone numbers, the documents suggest, were removed (or “minimized”) from the database – but those of other countries, including the UK, were retained.

The revelation the NSA is collecting and extracting personal information from hundreds of millions of global text messages a day is likely to intensify international pressure on US president Barack Obama, who on Friday is set to give his response to the report of his NSA review panel.

While US attention has focused on whether the NSA’s controversial phone metadata program will be discontinued, the panel also suggested US spy agencies should pay more consideration to the privacy rights of foreigners, and reconsider spying efforts against allied heads of state and diplomats.

In a statement to the Guardian, a spokeswoman for the NSA said any implication that the agency’s collection was “arbitrary and unconstrained is false”. The agency’s capabilities were directed only against “valid foreign intelligence targets” and were subject to stringent legal safeguards, she said.

The ways in which the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA Dishfire database also seems likely to raise questions on the scope of its powers.

While GCHQ is not allowed to search through the content of messages without a warrant – though the contents are stored rather than deleted or “minimized” from the database – the agency’s lawyers decided analysts were able to see who UK phone numbers had been texting, and search for them in the database.

The GCHQ memo sets out in clear terms what the agency’s access to Dishfire allows it to do, before handling how UK communications should be treated. The unique property of Dishfire, it states, is how much untargeted or unselected information it stores.

“In contrast to [most] GCHQ equivalents, DISHFIRE contains a large volume of unselected SMS traffic,” it states (emphasis original). “This makes it particularly useful for the development of new targets, since it is possible to examine the content of messages sent months or even years before the target was known to be of interest.”

It later explains in plain terms how useful this capability can be. Comparing Dishfire favourably to a GCHQ counterpart which only collects against phone numbers that have specifically been targeted, it states “Dishfire collects pretty much everything it can, so you can see SMS from a selector which is not targeted”.

The document also states the database allows for broad, bulk searches of keywords which could result in a high number of hits, rather than just narrow searches against particular phone numbers: “It is also possible to search against the content in bulk (e.g. for a name or home telephone number) if the target’s mobile phone number is not known.”

Analysts are warned to be careful when searching content for terms relating to UK citizens or people currently residing in the UK, as these searches could be successful but would not be legal without a warrant or similar targeting authority.

However, a note from GCHQ’s operational legalities team, dated May 2008, states agents can search Dishfire for “events” data relating to UK numbers – who is contacting who, and when.

“You may run a search of UK numbers in DISHFIRE in order to retrieve only events data,” the note states, before setting out how an analyst can prevent himself seeing the content of messages when he searches – by toggling a single setting on the search tool.

Once this is done, the document continues, “this will now enable you to run a search without displaying the content of the SMS, especially useful for untargeted and unwarranted UK numbers.”

A separate document gives a sense of how large-scale each Dishfire search can be, asking analysts to restrain their searches to no more than 1,800 phone numbers at a time.


An NSA slide on the ‘Prefer’ program reveals the program collected an average of 194 million text messages a day in April 2011. Photograph: Guardian

The note warns analysts they must be careful to make sure they use the form’s toggle before searching, as otherwise the database will return the content of the UK messages – which would, without a warrant, cause the analyst to “unlawfully be seeing the content of the SMS”.

The note also adds that the NSA automatically removes all “US-related SMS” from the database, so it is not available for searching.

A GCHQ spokesman refused to comment on any particular matters, but said all its intelligence activities were in compliance with UK law and oversight.

But Vodafone, one of the world’s largest mobile phone companies with operations in 25 countries including Britain, greeted the latest revelations with shock.

“It’s the first we’ve heard about it and naturally we’re shocked and surprised,” the group’s privacy officer and head of legal for privacy, security and content standards told Channel 4 News.

“What you’re describing sounds concerning to us because the regime that we are required to comply with is very clear and we will only disclose information to governments where we are legally compelled to do so, won’t go beyond the law and comply with due process.

“But what you’re describing is something that sounds as if that’s been circumvented. And for us as a business this is anathema because our whole business is founded on protecting privacy as a fundamental imperative.”

He said the company would be challenging the UK government over this. “From our perspective, the law is there to protect our customers and it doesn’t sound as if that is what is necessarily happening.”

The NSA’s access to, and storage of, the content of communications of UK citizens may also be contentious in the light of earlier Guardian revelations that the agency was drafting policies to facilitate spying on the citizens of its allies, including the UK and Australia, which would – if enacted – enable the agency to search its databases for UK citizens without informing GCHQ or UK politicians.

The documents seen by the Guardian were from an internal Wikipedia-style guide to the NSA program provided for GCHQ analysts, and noted the Dishfire program was “operational” at the time the site was accessed, in 2012.

The documents do not, however, state whether any rules were subsequently changed, or give estimates of how many UK text messages are collected or stored in the Dishfire system, or from where they are being intercepted.

In the statement, the NSA spokeswoman said: “As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA’s collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.

“NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.

“Dishfire is a system that processes and stores lawfully collected SMS data. Because some SMS data of US persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA’s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for US persons exist across the entire process concerning the use, handling, retention, and dissemination of SMS data in Dishfire.

“In addition, NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process.”

The agency draws a distinction between the bulk collection of communications and the use of that data to monitor or find specific targets.

A spokesman for GCHQ refused to respond to any specific queries regarding Dishfire, but said the agency complied with UK law and regulators.

“It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters,” he said. “Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.”

GCHQ also directed the Guardian towards a statement made to the House of Commons in June 2013 by foreign secretary William Hague, in response to revelations of the agency’s use of the Prism program.

“Any data obtained by us from the US involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards, including the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act,” Hague told MPs.

full story: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/16/nsa-collects-millions-text-messages-daily-untargeted-global-sweep

Google Unveils Smart Contact Lens Project to Monitor Glucose

By Brian Womack

Google Inc. is diversifying into contacts lenses — smart ones.

The Mountain View, California-based company said in a blog post yesterday that it’s testing an ocular device that’s designed to measure glucose levels in tears, as the company pursues long-term projects at its secretive X Lab research group. The lenses use a tiny wireless chip and glucose sensor to provide readings once per second, project co-founders Brian Otis and Babak Parviz wrote in the post.

Google is expanding beyond its core search-engine business by investing in new technologies that can lead to new business opportunities, including the Google Glass devices, driverless cars and high-altitude air balloons to provide wireless Internet access. The contact lenses could address the challenges of diabetes, including the process of getting readings from blood, the company said in the post.

“It’s still early days for this technology, but we’ve completed multiple clinical research studies which are helping to refine our prototype,” Otis and Parviz wrote. “We’ve always said that we’d seek out projects that seem a bit speculative or strange.”

Bloomberg News reported last week that Otis and Google employees with connections to the X Lab had met with Food and Drug Administration officials who regulate eye devices and diagnostics for heart conditions.

Smart Lenses

Otis is on leave to Google from the University of Washington in Seattle, where he is an associate professor in the electrical engineering department, according to the university’s website. Otis has worked on biosensors and holds a patent that involves a wireless powered contact lens with a biosensor.

Parviz was involved in the Google Glass project and has talked about putting displays on contact lenses, including lenses that monitor wearers’ health.

In 2012, the two were among the co-authors in a paper titled “Glucose Sensor for Wireless Contact-Lens Tear Glucose Monitoring” for the IEEE Journal of Solid-State Circuits.

Google said in the post that it’s in discussions with the FDA and will need to do more work to make the lenses a viable product. The company said it plans to look for partners to bring devices like these to market.

The lenses may be able to act as an early warning system for wearers, Otis and Parviz said in the post. Tiny LED lights could be integrated to light up if glucose levels significantly deviate from certain thresholds, they added.

The company declined to comment beyond the post or make anyone available for interviews.

Google is committed to making bets on research and development even if they don’t deliver significant profits and revenue, Chief Executive Officer Larry Page has said.

“Our main job is to figure out how to obviously invest more to achieve greater outcomes for the world, for the company,” Page said during a call with analysts last July. “And I think those opportunities are clearly there.”

full story: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-17/google-unveils-smart-contact-lens-project-to-monitor-glucose.html