Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Terrorist" label for asylum seekers in Real ID Act language

Prospective Real ID Act language for "Tier 3" asylum seekers may create hardship

BTC - Immigration relations in conjunction with the Real ID Act have proven beastly in the past. This report reflects on those who may suffer unintended labeling or consequences from Real ID's language.

For Human Rights First


The lives of thousands of refugees in the US are also in limbo. Human rights observers say changes to US immigration law within the PATRIOT Act and REAL ID Act have created an overly broad definition of terrorist - and now thousands of people fleeing repression and war-torn countries are being denied their applications for asylum, permanent residence, and family reunification.

Anwen Hughes is a researcher with Human Rights First.

"These include, for example, people who engaged in ordinary military activity against an opposing army, people who fought for the independence of countries that have now been independent for a long time, like Eritrea or Bangladesh, people who were fighting really awful regimes in their countries, people who had fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, people who had fought to try to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In some cases people were doing these things with the support of the United States or at the behest of the United States.”

Hughes is the author of a new report on this issue. The data she collected shows some 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers affected by the broad definition of terrorism used by US immigration officials. Hughes said the statutory definition of this "Tier III terrorist organization" is any group of two or more people who have used a weapon for any unlawful purpose other than personal monetary gain. Hughes says Congress needs to act on this issue now.

"One of the small fixes would be to eliminate the immigration law concept of a non-designated, or Tier 3 as we’ve been calling it, terrorist organization because that has broadened the scope of this problem more than, basically, anything else. We also believe that the definition of terrorist activity under the immigration law is overwhelmingly broad and needs to be focused more so that it’s actually targeting the activities that the government means to target instead of targeting everybody else as well."

Some 7500 refugees and asylum seekers' have their cases currently on hold with the Department of Homeland Security. For those the US does deny or deport, Hughes says there's another indirect impact -- these people will have a much harder time getting refugee status in another country, after being labeled a "terrorist" by the United States. To read the full Human Rights First report click on the link to open the PDF document at:

TX Officials deem Fusion Center Database "defective"

BTC - Observe use of the word "flogging". IBM has a long troubled history of being associated with datalust. The computing giant's public-private program is ailing and privacy advocates are being asked directly for input.

c/o Austin

Data center deal unsustainable, examiner says.

"If IBM isn't making money and (the Department of Information Resources) and the state agencies aren't getting good service, it is not going to be successful," said Glenn Davidson of the consulting firm EquaTerra.

The developments Friday come three years after the state awarded the massive contract to IBM to modernize and consolidate state data centers that house servers and mainframe computers. The objective was to reduce costs and safeguard data during disasters or terrorist attacks. State agencies quickly began complaining of problems, including poor service, data losses and additional expenses.

IBM spokesman Jeff Tieszen said Friday that substantial progress has been made in some areas and reiterated that the company is committed to the success of the project.

While the price tag of the project won't change, the responsibilities of IBM and its deadlines will, Robinson said. The specifics will be negotiated in a new agreement with IBM that is expected to be worked out by February.

The original seven-year contract, which began in 2007, was sold as a way to save the state $176 million by merging the data center operations of 27 state agencies into two upgraded and streamlined facilities.

While that concept is still sound, EquaTerra found that the contract and its implementation were fundamentally flawed, and both the state and IBM share the blame.

First, everyone underestimated how old and obsolete the state's existing technology was.

Next, the contract was based on a "one-size-fits-all" approach that ignored the particular needs of individual agencies.

That led to frustration, with almost all the agencies' information technology directors saying this past spring that they were dissatisfied with IBM's service.

Under the revised contract, the state agencies involved will be given more control over the process to ensure that their needs are met and that they are more invested in the project's success, Robinson said.

"The agencies should be helping to drive this initiative, not just be customers of (the Department of Information Resources)," Davidson said.

John Cox, chief information officer for the Texas Education Agency, said the consultant's independent assessment has been "sorely needed."

Cox said he is optimistic that "all of the players are on board moving to get this turned around."

In addition to the agency's complaints, IBM has endured a public flogging for many problems it attributes to poor conditions inherited from the state.

Morale is low. Turnover is high. And the relationship was dysfunctional from the start, the consultant found.

"State agencies, DIR and IBM team members involved in using, managing and delivering the services are exhausted and highly stressed," according to the consultant's report.

"This combination of low morale and intractable issues ... has resulted in the emergence of hostile and sometime aggressive behaviors by team members from all sides."

IBM has been under the gun for over a year to fix the problems.

Last year, Gov. Rick Perry temporarily halted work on the project after a significant loss of data at the attorney general's office. IBM was warned at the time that its contract could be in jeopardy if the problems were not remedied.

The problems persisted and a 13-day server outage at the secretary of state's office in August prompted officials to pull the elections system out of the consolidation because of fears that a similar outage could compromise an election.

Robinson, who worked for Perry until taking the interim director position in September, said she would not lay the blame for the problems solely at the feet of IBM or any other participant.

"I'm not going to fingerpoint," she said.

These kinds of problems are not uncommon for big information technology projects. About two-thirds of such projects fail to meet the stated objectives, bust the budget or miss the deadline, according to oft-cited industry research by the Standish Group called the Chaos Report.

That is true for public and private projects alike, but public sector stumbles tend to happen in the glare of the spotlight.

John Miri, a technology consultant who was previously an executive at the Department of Information Resources, said state technology officials across the country are watching Texas right now.

None of the facts or conclusions in the EquaTerra report is particularly new to anyone who has been working on this problem, and the report acknowledges as much, Miri said.

"What is bold about this report is that DIR is speaking so directly and candidly with the public," Miri said. "Sharing this type of information with the wider community is going to get people engaged, and that's a big part of solving this problem."

What is next for Texas' $863 million contract with IBM?

Negotiate a new final agreement by February 2010. The scope and timing of the contract will change but not the price tag.

Complete consolidation of the data centers by December 2010.; 445-3618

Friday, November 13, 2009

Indymedia winning database battle with FBI and EFF Successfully Fight Back Against Bogus FBI Subpoena

A police fishing expedition has been fought successfully over the course of the past year by one of the system administrators and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), largely in secret due to dodgy gag orders -- which actually didn't have any real legal standing to begin with. Earlier this year, U.S. attorneys issued a federal grand jury subpoena to sysadmin Kristina Clair demanding “all IP traffic to and from" for a particular date, potentially identifying every person who visited any news story on the Indymedia site. EFF argued that the overly broad demand for Internet records not only violated federal privacy law but also violated Clair’s First Amendment rights, by ordering her not to disclose the existence of the subpoena without a U.S. attorney’s permission.

OP-ED: Reflecting on the Wall

The Harvard Crimson

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. As we recognize the historic occasion of East Germany’s opening, America quietly completes construction of its own wall. The southern border barrier between the United States and Mexico covers 670 miles of southwestern desert between Mexico and the four states it borders. Like the Berlin Wall, the border wall is emblematic of much more than just a boundary between countries. Cutting indiscriminately across ecologically-priceless land, it has become a symbol of governmental disregard for environmental protection.

The Bush Administration began the project in 2006 as the most recent attempt to stem the tide of illegal immigration, and it now nears completion; at 630 of 670 miles completed, Obama shows no signs that he intends to halt construction of the final portions. Humanitarians and budget hawks have blasted the wall as ineffective and enormously costly. With a final price tag of more than $4 billion and $6.5 billion in estimated maintenance expenses over the next 20 years, the direct, measured costs alone are immense. However, to discuss the project’s environmental impact, one must recognize the systematic neglect of environmental laws that occurred during its construction.

The Real ID Act of 2005 allowed the Department of Homeland Security to construct infrastructure along our nation’s borders with immunity from all government laws and regulations. Using the power granted under this act, the Secretary waived the impact assessment requirements of both the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Protection Act. Thus, the border wall’s construction—which took place on some of the most ecologically valuable land in the country—went ahead without any consideration of its impact on the native species that call this area home.

Not surprisingly, this wall has wreaked havoc on the ecosystems of the area. It cuts off migration routes for species such as the Sonoma Pronghorn, already endangered, whose population has crashed to as few as 31 individuals. If congress had not exempted the border patrol from the ESA, this damage would have been sufficient to stop or dramatically alter the construction plans. Instead, building the wall has categorically ignored environmental damage and, as a result, threatened the survival of the only known pair of breeding jaguars in the United States.

Are environmental concerns sufficient reasons to stop this construction? Perhaps not. There are severe economic and social costs to unchecked illegal immigration. However, the wall should not have received blanket exemption from environmental regulation. The Obama administration claims it will step up to the plate to combat global climate change, yet their silent acquiescence to the destruction of the southwestern desert throws this commitment into question.

These may seem unrelated and, thus, some might understand how the Administration can separate climate change policy from broader environmental concerns. Their logic: Climate change is a global threat while the wall only damages a small section of desert. However, this view ignores the reality that the southwestern desert is a globally unique and important biosphere recognized by both The Nature Conservancy and the United Nations. Indeed, the wall threatens the San Pedro River, one of TNC’s eight “Last Great Places” in the world. Climate change is an issue so large that addressing it will entail broad behavioral changes—this, in turn, requires a new environmental consciousness. We cannot flip a switch and fix climate change, as it remains too pervasive for easy solutions. Only by considering the environmental impacts associated with all of our actions can we to truly address this global crisis.

Endeavors like the border wall demonstrate very clearly that this new consciousness does not yet exist. Unfortunately, this project has not occurred in isolation. The U.S. Navy conducts sonar testing that has little practical benefit but inflicts proven, lethal affects on marine mammals. Until the government shows a willingness to seriously consider environmental costs in all its decisions, the commitment to fight climate change is little more than empty words.

The fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago signaled a sea change in international policy and kick started a period of unprecedented global openness. While the border wall does not have this same public resonance, stopping its construction would be a first step toward creating a new environmental consciousness within the U.S. government. This sea change would prove no less significant than that which occurred after the fall in Germany. The last 20 years have seen international barriers shrink on an unprecedented scale; the next 20 must see environmental consciousness of the same scale.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The DNA Question

BTC - Classic conflict of interests here, crime prevention authorities believe wholeheartedly and mistakenly that you would trade privacy for your security. On this slope is CODIS, or a Combined DNA Index System.

In Washington state, Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, testified this year in favor of a DNA-on-arrest bill, but said it never made it out of committee.

"We view the DNA database as a tremendous crime-prevention tool. Stranger rapists don't just do it once," said Pierce. "People get focused on the idea of individual freedoms and protecting privacy, but most of the public, if they understood how the database works, would gladly trade that off for the crime prevention benefits."

c/o The

In all 50 states, DNA is collected from some, if not all, convicted felons, and added to the FBI's ever-growing database. Some states, like New Hampshire, limit collection to cases of murder, sexual assault and robbery. In 21 states (see chart), legislators have mandated the collection of DNA in all felony arrests. The motivation behind the change is simple: Collecting DNA on arrest rather than conviction will get a lot more people into the database a lot faster. Bigger database, more DNA on file, more matches, more convictions.

But the push to expand the DNA database has drawn battle lines in the remaining 29 states without DNA on arrest, including Connecticut, where the American Civil Liberties Union has opposed and defeated the measure twice.

"The problem with taking DNA samples from arrestees is basically the presumption of innocence until proven guilty," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. "The cornerstone of the criminal justice system is turned on its head when innocent people are included in the DNA data bank."

In Washington state, Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, testified this year in favor of a DNA-on-arrest bill, but said it never made it out of committee.

"We view the DNA database as a tremendous crime-prevention tool. Stranger rapists don't just do it once," said Pierce. "People get focused on the idea of individual freedoms and protecting privacy, but most of the public, if they understood how the database works, would gladly trade that off for the crime prevention benefits."

Karen Foster, DNA Chair for the Surviving Parents Coalition, hopes the story of Howard Dean Jamison will help to motivate Connecticut legislators in 2010 to join the 21 other states that have DNA on arrest. The coalition is made up of parents with children who have been abducted, sexually assaulted or murdered, or who are still missing.

But Schneider insists that in addition to constitutional concerns, the time and money spent on an "unchecked expansion" of the DNA database would be better spent on initiatives like more community policing.

"This huge expansion of the DNA database is unlikely to make us safer," said Schneider. "DNA is only found at a small fraction of crime scenes."

Like Schneider, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is opposed to collecting DNA on arrest.

"The governor's preference is for swabbing to be done post-conviction, but immediately post-conviction," said spokesman Rich Harris. "In the past, swabs were often not taken until an inmate was preparing to leave the system. The sooner the information is in the system, the sooner investigators can use the information."

There are some heavy hitters, however, including state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who believe the legislature should take up DNA on arrest again in 2010, and pass it.

"I have supported and backed expanded use of DNA by law enforcement," said Blumenthal. "It provides a powerful tool that can both convict and exonerate, depending on the facts and circumstances, and I support expanding its use consistent with Constitutional protections."

The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, based in West Hartford, is in favor of collecting DNA on arrest as well. In fact, Cromwell Police Chief Anthony Salvatore, legislative co-chair for the association, says he'd like to see a law that allows DNA to be collected not only for felony arrests, but for all criminal arrests, including misdemeanors.

"From the point of view of law enforcement, the more samples we have, the better," said Chief Jim Strillacci of West Hartford, Salvatore's co-chair. "We elect lawmakers to make judgments on moral issues. We're a country based on individual freedom. We don't want to take rights away unduly."

Blumenthal's point that DNA can exonerate as well as convict is made by many of the advocates of DNA on arrest. But at The Innocence Project in New York City, which has exonerated 245 people through the use of DNA since its founding in 1992, Policy Director Stephen Saloom says the organization is actually not focused on expanding the DNA database.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Big Brother is Getting Bigger

I find it difficult to imagine that anyone reading Orwell’s masterpiece [1984] put the book down and said, “Wow. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could live like that?” But if we don’t consider all of the aspects of double-edged technologies, and if we get too caught up in convenience or too scared to accept less than the most intrusive security, that’s the world we’re going to live in.
c/o Lady Liberty for Liberty for All

In George Orwell’s classic “1984,” Big Brother was the personification of Big Government. He was always there to protect citizens and to steer them in the “right” direction “for their own good.” To maintain the status quo (i.e. government as the ultimate authority), Orwell’s Big Brother did everything from rewriting history and redefining language to engaging in constant prophylactic surveillance of citizens on the streets and in their homes.

In the world of “1984,” thorough records were kept on each and every citizen, and paranoia and fear alone ensured that Big Brother’s control was absolute even when his technological eyes might randomly be turned elsewhere. Those few who dared rail against such things were re-educated using tools ranging from mere propaganda to outright torture.

Is it any wonder, then, that more and more people are talking about Big Brother these days?

If redefining words or rewriting history is “Big Brotherish,” we must take note of recent developments.

The manipulation of history isn’t new, nor is it as difficult as you might think when you consider that history is typically written by the victor. A prime example is the virtual hero worship of President Abraham Lincoln who is credited with ending slavery in America. The reality of Lincoln’s actions leading up to and during the Civil War aren’t quite so glorious.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Secret copyright treaty leaks. It's very bad.

c/o Boing Boing

The internet chapter of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a secret copyright treaty whose text Obama's administration refused to disclose due to "national security" concerns, has leaked. It's bad. It says:

* That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn't infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.
* That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet -- and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living -- if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.
* That the whole world must adopt US-style "notice-and-takedown" rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused -- again, without evidence or trial -- of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.
* Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM)

The ACTA Internet Chapter: Putting the Pieces Together

PATRIOT/State Secrets Reform bill passes House

c/o EFF
by Kevin Bankston

After a long two days of legislative battle, the House Judiciary Committee just finished its second day of debate on Chairman Conyers' PATRIOT reform bill, HR 3845 (see our wrap-up of the first day). Thanks in no small part to those of you who used our action alert, the Committee rejected almost all amendments that would have weakened the bill's reforms and voted to recommend the bill to the House floor by a vote of 16 to 10.

Even better, the Committee kept going after it was finished with PATRIOT to consider Representative Nadler's State Secret Protection Act (HR 984), which would reform the state secrets privilege that the government has repeatedly used to try and throw EFF's warrantless wiretapping cases out of court. After an impassioned defense by Mr. Nadler, who described how the government has used the privilege like a "magic incantation" to cover-up wrongdoing and warned that state secrecy "is the greatest threat to liberty at present," the bill passed with even better numbers than the PATRIOT bill, 18 to 12!

It was, to say the least, a busy couple of days in the House Judiciary Committee. If you want the entire blow-by-blow of both day's meetings, check out our Twitter stream at @EFF.

Admittedly, the PATRIOT bill isn't all we had hoped for — as we described yesterday, it's been weakened in a number of ways due to quiet pressure from the Obama Administration — but it passed through the Committee with most of its major reforms intact, and it is a substantial improvement over the PATRIOT bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. Meanwhile, the state secrets reform bill made it through the committee without being watered down at all, with only a few technical changes. Thanks and congratulations to the representatives and activists that worked so hard to make that happen.

Eyes now turn to the Senate, where the Senate Judiciary Committee's PATRIOT Bill (S. 1692) will soon land on the floor, and to the House Intelligence Committee, which will soon be marking-up its own competing PATRIOT bill with much fewer reforms (HR 3969). So, the war is far from over. But two important battles were won today.