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by davidl

Apple Shareholders Fight NSA Bulk Surveillance

6:20 am in Uncategorized by davidl

Apple users, fans, employees and especially shareholders —

Apple needs our help resisting intrusive bulk surveillance of its users by the NSA and other international spies.

A group of concerned shareholders is working with Apple to develop concrete ways to help.  Collaborating with Restore the Fourth, we’ve submitted a draft shareholder proposal and have begun engaging with executives there amid a new Apple commitment to transparency.

We will address the board and shareholders at Apple’s February 2014 annual shareholder meeting.  We’re preparing the final draft of our shareholder proposal, and we want your input.

I’m alerting my favorite Apple watchers, current or former employees, passionate users of its services, security nerds, etc. – and soliciting feedback on these ideas and support in this effort.

The final proposal, to be submitted in two weeks, must be under 500 words.


Last week Apple made a public vow to maximize its transparency about privacy in its services. For one, Apple sought to reveal aggregate numeric information about how Apple handles government information requests.  Only the USA declined to fully cooperate.

Amid these revelations about specific Account Requests (with individual targets) and Device Requests (e.g. tracking of stolen devices) Apple hasn’t included data on widely reported US attempts at bulk and suspicionless surveillance of Apple networks, users’ data and metadata.  But we’ve been able to learn more.

Last month Ladar Levison, founder of the encrypted email service Lavabit used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, was finally ungagged by US federal courts and able to reveal government tactics employed to secretly gain access to service providers’ private user data.

  • FBI agents verbally demanded Levison deliver the digital SSL key that would provide access to his more than 400,000 users’ communication data, without a court order or warrant justifying the need for such a key, under threat of crippling fines and imprisonment
  • Levison was gagged – forbidden to communicate about the demands under similar threats
  • Levison was ordered to comply with a pen register trap order to install spying equipment on his network

Believing these requests to be unconstitutional violations of his customers’ privacy, Levison shut down the Lavabit service rather than betray his customers’ trust or be punished with imprisonment and growing fines.  These facts, not revealed in detail until last month, provide a glimpse of how the US government deals with ISPs like Lavabit and iCloud.

In conversations with attorneys, Apple has been unable to reveal whether it has received FBI visits, bulk surveillance court orders, warrants, or pen register traps on any subset of its 350 million iCloud users.  We don’t know conclusively whether Apple is under the kinds of threats and gag orders Lavabit received.  But it is reasonable to assume it is cooperating with such government requests, whether executives consider them constitutional and legal or not.

Apple executives and employees may already be gagged hostages.  We aim to free them.

If en masse, shareholders compel Apple to take reasonable precautions to protect its users – such as revoking SSL keys and other digital certificates that may have been compromised by intruders – it’s not clear any government can prevent Apple from doing it.

More important, if Apple is truly committed to its users’ privacy and trust, it needn’t wait for shareholders to compel it.  Like any bank whose credit card database has been compromised, Apple has a duty to protect its customers from intruders, and faces potential criminal liability if it is complicit, negligent, or otherwise fails to do so.

Thus we are pursuing this to protect against threats to our beneficial investments in Apple.

Apple can, TODAY, begin revoking SSL keys, update its IT procedures, and take other steps to improve users’ privacy, amid evident ongoing attempts to compromise its network.

Here’s a segment from the previous shareholder proposal draft, which helped recruit Apple executives’ cooperation:

Diminished trust inevitably slows the adoption of core Apple data services like iCloud and product features like Touch ID, for example. Specifically, users have no way to know which vows about Touch ID data made by Apple today may be reversed in the enforcement of a secret court order or National Security Letter tomorrow.

Failing to acknowledge and address these realities can cause the company serious ongoing financial harm, particularly in international markets. Instead, by addressing these issues forthrightly Apple can win back the trust of customers, provide leadership, offer competitive advantages, and strengthen the entire industry — as Apple has done before.

A week later we were contacted by Apple attorneys and Apple’s new transparency and privacy initiative was launched.

Stay tuned…

by davidl

Rep Mike Thompson: Don’t Record Us, We’ll Record You – Audio

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by davidl

Part 2 – includes audio, and how Rep Thompson could have prevented Snowden’s leaks
Don’t miss Part 1

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA)

The other day as Restore the Fourth visited Rep Mike Thompson’s office, we unexpectedly recorded his staff’s view that whereas citizens’ private calls should be monitored with no suspicion or warrant, his staff’s conversations with voters should only be recorded with advance permission.  In the recording we hear staffers refusing to address the group’s main concern – what role the Congressman thinks warrants should have in surveillance – and instead spending a full minute trying to get a journalist to turn off his recorder.  It was stunning and kind of hilarious.

And in the same meeting, we discovered Rep Thompson could have singlehandedly prevented the Snowden leaks, but chose not to.

First, great news: to end the NSA’s warrantless surveillance programs this fall, just 7 folks in Congress need to change their votes from “NO” to “YES” on the Amash-Conyers Amendment that was narrowly defeated last month.

Rep Thompson is one of just 10 California Democrats who voted against Amash-Conyers and its requirement for warrants; moreover, he was on the Intelligence Committee that was supposed to be providing NSA oversight these past 6 years – the key “Congressional oversight” that the president boasts about in every speech defending the NSA.  California senior Senator Feinstein has been similarly keeping thousands of abuses and breaches secret – or failed to learn about them at all.

The vast majority of Democratic California Congressmen – 27 Reps – already voted for Amash-Conyers to end warrantless surveillance, but Rep Mike Thompson’s committee has been standing in the way in several ways – including, misleading others in Congress by withholding documents, and insisting there have been no abuses – until they’re revealed in the newspapers.  On the day of our meeting, NSA defenders’ other “oversight” claim was being fully debunked too – as we learned judges for the secret FISA court had secretly ruled some programs unconstitutional, and had expressed outrage over misleading reports and deceptions that have continued for years in the dark.

We previously wrote a bit about our meeting here, where Thompson’s staff reacted to a journalist’s recorder by saying, with a severe irony deficiency, “I would have preferred it if you had asked if I could be recorded.”

Here is that recording, with some context:

And the recording reveals a larger context: when a Representative like Thompson’s staff is visited by constituents, accountability isn’t the staff’s goal.  They’d rather not answer any questions, especially about the specifics of legislation he voted on or the reasoning behind the vote.  In fact, they would vastly prefer any such discussion to be secret, off the record, or not happen at all.

They generally achieve this by offering to be Good Listeners while treating any effort to obtain information as impolite or argumentative.  When discussing the NSA, they of course also say that the answers to most questions are secret, and even secret from them.  While touting Thompson’s “Blue Dog fiscal conservatism” they insist they have no clue what any of these programs cost.  They took notes as we spoke, but we have yet to receive the promised answers to any of our questions from last Wednesday.

They did admit that most of the calls from voters on the Amash-Conyers Amendment were in favor of passing it and ending warrantless NSA surveillance – but they also say they didn’t get many calls.  That’s why it’s important to contact his office by email (zip 95401 won’t be ignored), by phone at (707) 542-7182, and ideally, attend the rally this Wednesday at his office:  Protest Rep Mike Thompson’s NSA Support this Wed Aug 28  – We’ll gather in front of Rep. Thompson’s office starting at 4:30 pm. Vigil begins at 5:00 pm. Speakers begin at 5:30 pm. — Speakers will include civil liberties attorneys, policy analysts, community leaders and activists.

Rep Thompson Could Have Prevented Snowden Leaks
Restore the Fourth’s Gareth Scott made an important point in the meeting: Edward Snowden did not want to throw away his career and risk his life – and would never have done it if the US public had been able to learn the truth about NSA abuses without his help.  Snowden watched Director of National Intelligence James Clapper commit felony perjury under oath in Congress – and waited for weeks to see if the lie would be corrected by Thompson or anyone else on the Committee who knew the truth.


Only then did Snowden give up on “Congressional oversight” and book his ticket for Hong Kong.

We went on to point out that Thompson was one of the only people in the country who knew better and could have corrected any of the lies without being busted as a whistleblower traitor.  Thanks to the Speech or Debate Clause in the Constitution, he can’t be prosecuted for anything he says on the House Floor.  (Thompson’s staff didn’t seem to know what that was.)  It’s the same rule that let brave Senator Mike Gravel read aloud from the Pentagon Papers to reveal classified lies.

If Rep Mike Thompson had simply had the integrity and courage to stand up and say, “I know what James Clapper said isn’t true,” Snowden’s revelations would never have happened.
Thompson’s staff looked very troubled but did not disagree.

by davidl

Restore the Fourth at “NSA Oversight” Rep Mike Thompson’s office

1:11 am in Uncategorized by davidl

Part 1: Congressman who provides “oversight” of NSA claims to know nothing, operates entirely in secret
Don’t miss Part 2, “Don’t Record Us, We’ll Record You” with audio. 

Congressman MIke Thompson (D-CA)

Astonishing meeting at Congressman Mike Thompson’s office in Santa Rosa.  Thompson is the only rep here in northern California (aside from obedient party leader Pelosi) who voted against the Amash-Conyers amendment, which says what the Constitution says: that no one should be subjected to intrusive surveillance without a proper warrant.  I was there with three other Restore the Fourth activists: two locals (Casey Chartier and me) and two who had driven up from San Francisco, Zaki Manian and Gareth Scott. I barely knew them – brilliant collaborators!

It turns out Mike Thompson is one of a handful of Congressman who was supposed to be providing oversight of the NSA on our behalf for the past 6 years. He is one of just 5 House Intelligence Committee members who knew first hand that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was lying to the public and Congress when he answered, under oath, that no data was being collected on millions of Americans. Thompson kept this felony perjury secret.  (There’s a second handful in the Senate Committee, including Wyden and Udall who’ve been sounding the alarm with gags on for two years, and Senator Feinstein, who has been unplugging the alarm and begging them to shut up.)

Two Thompson staffers, a young man and a woman senior staffer, greeted us as we introduced ourselves.  It had taken weeks to set up the meeting, with many of Casey’s efforts disappearing, perhaps into a Congressional spam box. We had many questions for Thompson’s staff. I set my laptop on the table so I could refer to questions and take notes.

Since it was our first meeting I was hoping to break the ice by eliciting something nice about Thompson’s oversight thus far – a success story or two from the staff. A few days earlier, after a report of thousands of NSA breaches of even its vast current authority, Thompson and Pelosi had both rushed out press releases. Thompson’s was worded to suggest he knows absolutely nothing about the programs aside from what he read in the Washington Post last week. “Reports indicate … if accurate, this is outrageous, … all incidents of non-compliance, if substantiated…”

But since he also spoke of “the need for aggressive oversight of the NSA’s intelligence gathering activities” I imagined his staff might have an anecdote or fact to share in that area, however vague, after his 6 years in that oft-vaunted oversight role.

His staff quickly assured us they had never seen any evidence of oversight of the NSA by Thompson. The only staff member with clearance to know anything about his Intelligence or NSA work was in Washington.

Priceless, illuminating – and suddenly I realized I hadn’t turned on my recorder yet. I popped my phone out of my pocket, started up a new Voice Memo with a loud “DING!” and set it on the table beside my laptop.

The long, slow burn from both staff members was equally priceless. They froze, then moved in slow motion, neither daring to look up as Casey and Zaki continued to speak. If only there’d been a video camera on too.

The conversation continued for a bit – until we asked why Thompson had a problem with the Amash-Conyers Amendment. “Because it was either/or, up or down, turn on the lights turn off the lights,” the senior staffer answered.

As I asked, “What would be wrong with requiring a warrant?” she cut me off: “Here is the thing that we’re not going to do in this meeting — we’re not going to get in an argument.” I agreed. But she did not want another word said about warrants, and cut me off again, glaring at the iPhone.

And I would have preferred it if you had asked if I could be recorded.

Funny. That’s exactly what hundreds of millions of Americans and about 6 billion foreigners are saying – but about secret recordings of their private, personal conversations.

Several more amazing things happened, almost all recorded, but it’s late and that will have to wait for Part 2. I hope to write up the rest of this exciting meeting later in the week.

North Bay folks: on August 28th at 5PM there will be rally outside Mike Thompson’s office:

Vigil in Support of Civil Liberties & Protest Rep. Mike Thompson’s support of NSA Spying on Americans

Tell Congressman Thompson we reject his support of NSA spying on We the People

Restore the Fourth will be there, and it will be fun.  If you’re local, can you make it?  If not, please share what’s up with your own Reps and Senators in Congress.

Don’t miss Part 2, “Don’t Record Us, We’ll Record You” with audio.