Cyrus Farivar

Researchers ask federal court to unseal years of surveillance records

Two lawyers and legal researchers based at Stanford University have formally asked a federal court in San Francisco to unseal numerous records of surveillance-related cases, as a way to better understand how authorities seek such powers from judges.

This courthouse is responsible for the entire Northern District of California, which includes the region where tech companies such as Twitter, Apple, and Google, are based. According to the petition, Jennifer Granick and Riana Pfefferkorn were partly inspired by a number of high-profile privacy cases that have unfolded in recent years, ranging from Lavabit to Apple’s battle with the Department of Justice. In their 45-page petition, they specifically say that they don’t need all sealed surveillance records, simply those that should have been unsealed—which, unfortunately, doesn’t always happen automatically.

Commissioner Rosenworcel: “Something’s not right” with Wi-Fi at debate

One of the members of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, has asked the agency to investigate the ban on journalists’ Wi-Fi personal hotspots at the presidential debate held at Hofstra University. The host venue demanded that journalists pay $200 to access the event’s Wi-Fi and were told to shut down their own hotspots or leave the debate. At least one photo showed a handheld device that was being used to scan for and locate “rogue” Wi-Fi networks.

"My office has asked the @FCC Enforcement Bureau to investigate, figure out what happened," Commissioner Rosenworcel tweeted. "Something not right with #WiFi situation at @HofstraU last night." Karla Schuster, a spokeswoman for Hofstra University, said, "The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the criteria for services and requires that a completely separate network from the University’s network be built to support the media and journalists. This is necessary due to the volume of Wi-Fi activity and the need to avoid interference. The Rate Card fee of $200 for Wi-Fi access is to help defray the costs and the charge for the service does not cover the cost of the buildout. For Wi-Fi to perform optimally the system must be tuned with each access point and antenna. When other Wi-Fi access points are placed within the environment the result is poorer service for all. To avoid unauthorized access points that could interfere, anyone who has a device that emits RF frequency must register the device. Whenever a RF-emitting device was located, the technician notified the individual to visit the RF desk located in the Hall. The CPD RF engineer would determine if the device could broadcast without interference."

Journalists must fork over $200 for Wi-Fi at presidential debate

News organizations attending Sept 26’s presidential debate must pay $200 for a “Secure Wireless Internet Connection” at Hofstra University in New York state. While profiteering during a high-profile occasion such as this is not unheard of—$15 for a patch cable?—what’s worse is that event staff at Hofstra University are reportedly using a $2,000 device to actively scan for hotspots and other ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks. Politico reporter Kenneth Vogel said that journalists are essentially being given an ultimatum: use your own hotspot and get “tossed” from the debate site. (Of course, this problem can simply be solved via a Bluetooth or USB tether from an active smartphone to a laptop.)

Hofstra's action may be unlawful under an advisory published by the Federal Communications Commission in January 2015 which found that "willful or malicious interference with Wi-Fi hotspots is illegal." The FCC fined fined Marriott $600,000 in October 2014 for blocking customers’ personal Wi-Fi hotspots at a Nashville (TN) branch. Although Marriott paid the fine, it remained defiant and filed a request for rulemaking with the commission, asking that Wi-Fi blocking be permitted. Marriott’s reasoning was that it could better manage the security of its own network if it blocked unauthorized Wi-Fi broadcasts.

Lawsuit: Who did the FBI pay to get into the San Bernardino attacker’s iPhone?

A trio of major media entities—The Associated Press, USA Today, and Vice Media—sued the FBI in an attempt to force the agency to reveal details from a mysterious deal that the agency struck in order to bust into a seized iPhone used by a now-deceased terrorist. In April 2016, FBI Director James Comey suggested that his agency paid over $1.3 million to an unnamed company to unlock the iPhone 5C that was used by Syed Farook Rizwan, the man behind an attack in San Bernardino (CA) in December 2015.

The Department of Justice and Apple were set to square off in federal court in California in March 2016 before the hearing was called off. The government soon announced that it had been shown a new technique to unlock the phone and no longer needed Apple's help. The DOJ previously received a court order that would have compelled Apple to create an entirely new customized iOS to allow investigators to brute force the passcode on the device. Apple, for its part, forcefully argued that this was a significant government overreach.

Mobile industry urges judges to overturn Berkeley’s radiation warning

Two titans of the legal world faced off Sept 13 before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a case that pits the cell phone industry against the city of Berkeley (CA). If the court ends up reversing a lower court’s earlier decision and ruling in favor of CTIA - The Wireless Association, it would overturn a new Berkeley city law that aims to alert cell phone users about possible radiation risks by forcing retailers to post signs in their stores. That law went into effect earlier in 2016 after the cell phone trade group sued to halt it.

Earlier in 2016, a federal judge ruled in favor of the defendants in CTIA v. City of Berkeley, allowing a municipal ordinance to stand, with one small revision. The Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), meanwhile, has argued that this violates the industry’s First Amendment rights, as it compels speech. “This is confusing,” Ted Olson, a former solicitor general under the George W. Bush administration, argued before the 9th Circuit on behalf of CTIA. “What the [Federal Communications Commission] says, your honors, with respect to its findings of cell phones used in the US is that they are safe. What Berkeley's message says is: ‘Watch out!’” Olson, who previously made similar arguments before the US District Court level, repeated his claim that this government-required notice was a “burden on speech.” “There’s a reason why Berkeley put the word ‘safety’ in there, it’s to send an alarm,” he said.

After moving money around, Google paid tiny amount in European taxes

Google continues to expand its use of legal, but questionable, tax shenanigans as a way to minimize its overseas tax burden.

According to Irish media reports, in 2013 Google Ireland Limited paid an effective tax rate of just 0.16 percent on €17 billion ($22.8 billion) revenue, which came to a mere €27.7 million ($37.2 million). Google paid €11.7 billion in “administrative expenses,” which The Irish Times reports “largely refers to royalties paid to other Google entities, some of which are ultimately controlled from tax havens such as Bermuda.”

Courts may hear challenges to secret cell tracking devices after new ruling

Legal experts say that the landmark Supreme Court decision protecting cell phone privacy does not have any immediate implications for the use of cell tracking devices, known as stingrays.

But the court’s ruling could point the way forward for future judicial consideration.

Relatively little is known about how, exactly, stingrays are used by law enforcement agencies nationwide, although new documents have recently been released showing how they have been purchased and used in some limited instances. Worse still, cops have lied to courts about their use. Not only can stingrays be used to determine location, they can also be used to intercept calls and text messages.

Brian Pascal, a research fellow at the University of California, Hastings, told Ars that he didn’t think that this new ruling would impact metadata gathered via stingrays. FBI spokesperson Christopher Allen sent Ars a recent affidavit outlining the agency's position on why so little information has been publicly disclosed.

Gov’t must give up 5 secret surveillance docs for court to review, judge orders

In a key transparency case, a federal judge has ordered the United States government to hand over four orders and one opinion from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) published in secret between 2005 and 2008.

US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers will then review those documents in private.

The case, known as Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Department of Justice, hinges on which, if any, documents from the FISC should be made public.

The original lawsuit dates back to October 2011, when the EFF asked the government to handover “all reports, memoranda, guidance, presentations, legal briefs, e-mails or any other record” pertaining to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

The EFF and the DOJ faced off in federal court in Oakland, California in early June -- EFF attorney Mark Rumold asked the judge to review the FISC’s orders, and decide which ones must be released. The court is now moving in that direction.

Satellite company gets government OK to sell higher-resolution images

DigitalGlobe, the only American provider of high-resolution satellite imagery, announced that it had received permission from the United States Department of Commerce to sell its “highest-quality” images.

DigitalGlobe already has two orbiting satellites that can provide images of 41 cm and 46 cm and will be able to release new images from those satellites immediately. The company has another satellite launch planned for August 2014; that satellite can image objects with a resolution of 31 cm (just over a foot). Under the new government regulations, however, DigitalGlobe won’t be able to sell imagery from the new bird until six months after launch.

The Colorado-based firm is one of the top providers of satellite images to the United States National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (USNGIA).

Judge: NSA doesn’t have to keep all data as part of key surveillance lawsuit

The federal judge that had temporarily ordered the National Security Agency to preserve all evidence in a longstanding surveillance case, including data gathered specifically under the government’s Section 702 program, has now reversed that order.

“In order to protect national security programs, I cannot issue a ruling at this time. The Court rescinds the June 5 order,” said Judge Jeffrey White said.