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Stop Spying on Seattle Coalition

Project for Open Government teams up with Seattle Campaign for Liberty to take on the Illegal Spy Mesh Network

In light of the recent discovery of an illegal surveillance mesh-network installation in Seattle, Project for Open Government has decided to team up with Seattle Campaign for Liberty to fight this outrageous invasion of privacy.

The Seattle Police Department received a 2.7 million dollar grant from the Department of Homeland Security, to install a wireless mesh-network which tracks, records and sends personal information from wireless devices (your cell phone and/or computer) which its network can pick up within range.

Project for Open Government is a national organization with its primary objective being to build a voting constituency on privacy. Recent revelations provided by Edward Snowden has proven that the U.S. government has been illegally collecting communications on every American in complete violation to the 4th Amendment. Our elected politicians need to be held accountable to uphold the constitution that they swore to, the day they took office. Project for Open Government is committed to educating the public and influencing elections on the matter of personal privacy for Americans.

Personal privacy for Americans all across the country will be affected by the developments in Seattle in the coming months and is why Project for Open Government is taking it on. More and more local police departments throughout the U.S. have been receiving federal money to install new surveillance technologies which have never been seen or used before. Neccesary pressure and actions need to fiercely be applied to new programs like the one in Seattle, so it does not succeed and duplicate programs be installed in other cities throughout the country.

There is a unique opportunity for a win and actually taking this illegal spy grid down in Seattle. The Seattle City Council and Mayor are claiming they were unaware of the wireless mesh-network, which was installed by the police department and funded by the DHS. It has been stated that it is temporarily turned off until the City Council approves a draft policy of the project in December. If the people of Seattle are successful with applying enough pressure, with the support of Americans from all across the country, the city council will have no choice but to reject the policy in December.

The urgency of this situation in Seattle to stop new surveillance technologies is vital for our country at whole.

Project for Open Government hopes it can count on your support as we are excited for the opportunity we face to demonstrate the opposition America has towards the surveillance state.

Bitcoin explodes after positive Senate hearing comments

The US dollar price of bitcoin skyrocketed to a new record of $779.00 as of the start of this writing, after federal financial regulators and law enforcement expressed positive views regarding the virtual currency at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Monday.

(CLick image below to watch video.)

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Bitcoin opened the week at $519 on the major bitcoin exchange, Mt. Gox, and slowly climbed to nearly $670 through the day as statements prepared to be read at the Senate committee hearing by representatives of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Networks (FinCEN), the Secret Service and the Department of Justice leaked out. By the start of the hearing at 3 PM Eastern time, the price had settled around $620.

Feds like bitcoin

The tone of the hearing panelists was generally positive, both about the potential good that bitcoin and other virtual currencies can play in the future economy, as well as their respective department’s capabilities to sniff out criminals who try to exploit the pseudo-anonymous aspects of the virtual cash.

Committee Chair, Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, heard opening statements and then directed his first question at Jennifer Shasky-Calvery, Director of Financial Crimes Enforcement at FinCEN. He asked whether the doom-and-gloom concerns policy makers had during the early days of the internet were analogous to where we stand today with bitcoin. Ms. Shasky (as she preferred to be named) said that, despite the “gaps” new technologies like bitcoin create in the financial system, his would likely prove an “apt analysis” as long as bitcoin and other virtual currencies are able to ‘fit within the pre-existing regulatory regime.”

Mythili Raman, Assistant Attorney General the of the US DOJ Criminal Division, concurred, adding that in the view of the DOJ, “virtual currencies are not inherently illegal.”

And with that, bitcoin’s price began its meteoric rise.

Regulators struggle with bitcoin

The opening statements of the panelists echoed Carper’s concerns about squashing a potential valuable technology to the US economy, while also highlighting some concerns about how the nascent technology can be used.

This site has risen againEdward Lowery, head of the Secret Service’s Criminal Investigative Division, pointed out that a variety of criminals heavily use digital currencies, including bitcoin. Ms. Shasky said that criminals like the “reasonable” anonymity bitcoin allows, as well as its ease of use and irreversible transactions. She also suggested that bitcoin’s developers may have intended to facilitate money laundering in creating the technology, and that it is so far effective at allowing users to avoid FinCEN regulations.

Ms. Raman concurred, adding that bitcoin’s “virtual anonymity” impeded the DOJ’s main tactic in tracking internet criminals: following the money.

Senator Carper asked the panel whether federal agencies’ ability to keep up with criminal early adopters of groundbreaking technologies in the past would apply to virtual currencies.

All three panelists pointed to the shutdown of e-Gold, Liberty Reserve and the recent shutdown of the bitcoin-supporting Silk Road website as evidence that the current regulations and existing criminal laws against drug trafficking and other crimes show they are already affective and are quickly catching up. However, Mr. Lowery added fuel to bitcoin’s price ignition by pointing out that major cyber criminals, mostly in Eastern Europe, seem to prefer more centralized online money services, like the now defunct Liberty Reserve, to the decentralized, P2P-style bitcoin.

However, while all three agencies will be aggressively trying to police virtual currency users and businesses, they acknowledged it will be no easy task. Mr. Lowery pointed to three key elements that make websites like Silk Road hard to counter: the anonymous nature of the “deep web,” the pseudo-anonymity of digital currencies, and what Mr. Lowery called “bulletproof hosting”: a term used for offshore hosting companies in countries with weak law enforcement agencies.

It is the ability of virtual currencies to be transferred into actual currencies that regulators see as the technology’s weakness. Both Mr. Lowery and Ms. Shasky emphasized that companies that want to trade bitcoin for cash or participate in the US banking system must register with FinCEN as a money transmission service, comply with anti-money laundering laws and keep strong records of their users so potential illegal activity can be reported. Mr. Lowery said that companies following this advice would be unlikely to find themselves targeted or investigated by regulators.

All agreed that bitcoin would become more mainstream, and in becoming so, the entire US law enforcement apparatus and agency equivalents abroad would become more unified in policing its use.

None of the panelists at the hearing would comment as to whether the federal government will ultimately view virtual currencies as commodities, securities or bona fide currencies. As far as responding to GAO concerns about how to guarantee the collection taxes off of bitcoin profits and income, all three departments will leave those determinations to the IRS.

Virtual currency oversight a “priority” for the Obama Administration

According to representatives on the panel, both the DOJ and FinCEN expect current law to be adequate to regulate bitcoin. Nevertheless, both the DOJ and FinCEN would like to see even greater regulation, if possible. This makes sense considering Ms. Shasky’s comment that the Obama Administration “has made oversight of virtual currencies a priority.”

FinCEN, in particular, seems to hold a somewhat arrogant and naive view of the US’ role in the global economy and Washington’s ability to impose regulations on businesses without negative side effects.

When Sen. Carper asked Ms. Shasky if steep regulations could push US innovators to relocate offshore, and if so if that would damage the economy, she said businesses who leave the country to avoid Washington’s regulatory burdens would find any gain from leaving “short lived.” She said that while the US and Germany are ahead of the rest of the world in regulating virtual currencies, the rest of the world will catch up, as will US regulators in general, allowing innovations and jobs to stay in the US.

Ms. Shasky arrogantly claimed that the ability to be a financial institution in the US “is a privilege.” While this like-it-or-leave it attitude may force many entrepreneurs into submission, many have already accepted that the future promise of bitcoin is greatest outside of the United States.

However, all of this matters why? To quote Ms. Shasky: “Virtual currencies will survive and become a significant player” in the future of the US economy.

Now that we all agree, does this open the door to the $1000 or $10,000 price for one bitcoin that many enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are calling for? Right now the price just cracked $900.

Update: Bitcoin seems to now be coming back to Earth, a bit. As of 8:31 ET it’s at $683.


Project for Open Government Supports USA FREEDOM Act

Project for Open Government has committed to support the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, sponsored in the US House of Representatives by Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and in the US Senate by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.

Given the vital information relayed to us through the press by patriot Edward Snowden about how the NSA and other US intelligence agencies disregard the law and violate Americans’ privacy, we find it refreshing that there are some lawmakers willing to curtail the ability of the intelligence agencies to infringe upon the freedoms of the people guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The USA FREEDOM act does several things we like, though it does not nearly go far enough in protecting the privacy of Americans from an overstepping and abusive government.

Currently, the NSA states that it uses section 702 of FISA to collect and search communications of targets from overseas.  The NSA performs searches on a foreign target as a sender, receiver, or conduct a broad search through bulk communications.  Since the current amendments to FISA do not clearly state what authority the NSA has or doesn’t have to perform these searches, the USA FREEDOM act reaches to define and limit these interpretations.

For one, this bill would not allow the NSA to continue the wide range of surveillance and searching on vague terms for targets intelligence, justified because it is positioned overseas.  Instead, the searching and bulk collection could only be legal if it was related to weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

According to Rep. Sensenbrenner’s website, the changes are meant to prohibit “reverse targeting” which is the goal of obtaining information on Americans through targeting foreigners.  In addition, the bill would require to filter and discard information accidently collected on Americans.  These are good restrictions, but Project for Open Government would like to see the term “terrorism” defined in more detail.

The USA FREEDOM act requires of the involvement of more persons reporting on and appealing the decisions of the FISA court. This is an improvement to the current secrecy of decisions held from the public and congress.

The first person is the Special Advocate in the FISA court, which is a new office which the USA FREEDOM act creates. The special advocate’s role would be to be to review government orders and contest them as well.  What is notably significant though, is the special advocate’s authority to appeal cases to the Supreme Court.  The position is appointed by the Supreme Court from a list provided by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).

In addition to the special advocate’s role to the FISA court, the Attorney General would now be required to disclose ”significant decisions” to the public.  These “significant decisions” would include construction or interpretation of the law pertaining to cases and rulings.

Inspector generals would now be reporting on the use of the laws and how effective they were at solving national security threats.  Companies would be allowed to report on how many government requests they’ve received for access to their customer data.

Increased protections would be accessible for those who are harmed from National Security Letters.  Currently, recipients of NSLs cannot speak about the order at all or even acknowdlege that they have received one.  The USA FREEDOM act changes this slightly.  Now, if asked by the recipient of a NSL and only if the recipeient requests the government would be required to seek judicial review.  The judicial review standard would also go under a few reforms.  One being that the challenges be resolved promptly.

The best thing this bill does is end bulk collections from section 215 of the Patriot Act.  The NSA would now need to show that they are looking for a specific person and not just sweeping up all data.  They would have to show the FISA court judge, that the person was an agent of a foreign power, and that they were engaged in a subject for investigation.

This bill is a decent start to the major reforms which must happen to protect the American peoples’ privacy rights outlaid in the U.S. Constitution.

How has your congressman voted on privacy?

Over the past several years, our elected representatives have had many opportunities to vote in favor to protect your privacy or on amendments and/or bills that take it away.  Since the Snowden revelations being released in June, there has been one significant vote, which is known as the “Amash Amendment.”  Scroll over the states on the map to see the split on votes from the house.  Click on your state to get a more extensive voting record of your congressman including, FISA, CISPA, and the Patriot Act.

NSA Website Hacked! Suspected “Anonymous” DDoS attack


US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

The NSA has had it’s webisite hacked, the Russian news organization, Russia Today, is reporting.


Some users on Twitter allegedly loosely affiliated with the online hacker group Anonymous have made comments suggesting the amorphous group may be responsible.

“Twitter users @AnonymousOwn3r and @TruthIzSexy both were quick to comment on the matter, and implied that a distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, may have been waged as an act of protest against the NSA… Allegations that those users participated in the DDoS — a method of over-loading a website with too much traffic — are currently unverified…”


These sorts of reactions are expected, and we can probably expect to see more of this in the future as the government digs its heels in on spying. However, the work of Project for Open government, as well as other organizations comprising the Stonsa-site-ddos-attack-.sip Watching Us Coalition provide more effective and long-lasting approaches and solutions to the issue of the NSA and federal government’s out-of-control abuses of our privacy and our liberties.

Find out more about how you can help defeat domestic surveillance here. Sign up to help out here. And give your most generous donation to the fight here. (We thank every donor who gives a gift of $50 or more with this shirt to support Edward Snowden!) We’re excited to say we also accept Bitcoin!

The partner organizations of the Stop Watching Us Coalition will be holding a rally in Washington D.C. tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. If you’re in the area, you must attend! Get more info here.


Stop Watching Us Coalition Rally

stop-watching-usProject for Open Government is proud to join the Stop Watching Us coalition. We will be participating in the coalition’s rally this Saturday, October 26 to show Congress that Americans will not allow the NSA or any government organization to engage in warrantless spying on the public.

Dozens of organizations across the political spectrum have come together to fight against the abuses by the NSA, just as they did in the past during the fights against the proposed SOPA and CISPA legislation which would have erased the 1st and 4th Amendments, respectively. Going forward, our participation in this coalition fits perfectly with our mission to defend whistleblowers, keep people’s privacy secure, domestic surveillance restricted and government open for all to see.

One of the key member organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has produced the following video to promote the rally.

The Stop Watching Us Coalition has collected over half a million petitions that will be delivered to Congress “to remind them that they work for us — and we won’t tolerate mass surveillance any longer.”

Prior to the rally there will be a march. People will gather in Washiington, D.C. this Saturday morning in front of Union Station at 11:30 a.m. by the Christopher Columbus Memorial Fountain in Columbus Circle. From there, participants will march to the National Mall, in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool where the rally will take place. More details and directions here.

Speakers at the Rally will include:

•    Congressman Justin Amash
•    Former senior NSA executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake
•    Social critic Naomi Wolf
•    Indie pop senation YACHT
•    Lt. Dan Choi, LGBT advocate and U.S. veteran
•    Rainey Reitman, EFF
•    Bruce Schneier, internationally renowned security technologist
•    Craig Aaron, Free Press
•    Kymone Freeman, Director of the National Black LUV Fest
•    Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
•    Khaliah Barnes, EPIC
•    Shahid Buttar, Bill of Rights Defense Committee
•    Malachi Byrd, DC Youth Poetry Slam Team
•    Wafa Ben Hassine, writer and human rights advocate
•    Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich
•    Laura Murphy, ACLU
•    NOT4PROPHET, Hip Hop MC and community organizer
•    Black Alley, DC-based soul-garage band

If you need a  ride or want to organize a carpool, this page has information on buses leaving from Philadelphia and New York, as well as rides being organized and people who still need a ride.

So come join Project for Open Government and the rest of the Stop Watching Us Coalition tomorrow between 1:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and help us tell Congress that we won’t be spied on.

TSA Targets You Automatically


You probably never thought the TSA would be interested in your property records, or that they may share your travel information with creditors to help them collect a debt. But these are just two of the many examples of how the corporate surveillance state benefits from the federal government’s obsession with knowing and tracking everything about us.

This New York Times article highlights another TSA assault on our freedom and privacy, and features a New York urban planner who travels frequently for work. The man has been detained “eight times since June.” Why? He’s been “flagged” by the TSA’s database, for what he doesn’t know, and he can’t get his record cleared.

The program in question here is the Department of Homeland Security’s “Automated Targeting System.” It was initially set up to screen foreign travelers entering the United States. Now, after the typical “mission creep” that all security branches enjoy, the scope of the program has expanded this “targeting” to all travelers, even those not leaving the country – but specifically those with a passport. Apparently, merely having a passport is enough to make you a likely terrorist suspect.

What the TSA calls an “intelligence-driven, risk-based analysis” is apparently using no human intelligence; “secret computer rules, not humans, are the ones flagging people.”

In order to determine if you’re going to blow up a plane, an evil army of droid sleuths pores over your personal data, including but not limited to:

car registrations; employment information; tax identification numbers; past travel itineraries; property records; physical characteristics; and other law enforcement or intelligence information.

TSA bots start with your passport number, and then scour through data happily shared by the airlines, such as your “travel itinerary, length of stay abroad and type of travel document, like a passport. If an airline has a traveler’s passport number on file, it is required to share that information with the T.S.A., even for a domestic flight.” The TSA will also be informed if a passenger “is a member of the airline’s frequent-flier program and has access to details about past travel reservations, known as passenger name records.”

The airlines, of course, are happy to comply. “The airline industry has supported the expansion of PreCheck and using data about travelers to decide who should receive more or less scrutiny at checkpoints.” PreCheck is the TSA’s program that urges Americans to give up their fingerprints and anything else they can think of, and in return they can keep their shoes on and their laptops in their bags at the airport.

As troubling as all this is, it gets worse. Not only do the people who steal things out of your bags at the airport get access to your personal data, but the TSA and DHS spread around your personal details to “federal, state and local authorities; foreign governments; law enforcement and intelligence agencies — and in some cases, private companies for purposes unrelated to security or travel.”

We’re not kidding. Insult to injury in this case means that your records may be shared with “a debt collection agency for the purpose of debt collection.”

What does your credit history have to do with terrorism?