Looking Back and Moving Forward
It's been six months since we launched this site, hoping to alert readers to threats to their rights and freedoms, and to provide examples of everyday citizens taking action to preserve them. Sadly, there have been more of the former than the latter but there have been success stories worth sharing. These efforts are still gaining traction and moving forward, and we thought it worthwhile to bring you updates.
- "Message in a Picture," the Android app giving its users the ability to protect their text data using virtually unbreakable layered encryption, has entered beta phase and is now available to select users for download from the GooglePlay store. If you have not received an invitation to join the beta test group, don't worry. The app should likely be available for general use in the next few weeks.
- Stephen Stamboulieh, the man suing the Department of Justice and the BATFE in Hollis v Holder, concluded oral argument on April 23rd against the government's call for a summary dismissal. It remains to be seen whether the judge hearing the case agreed but, giving the tone of questioning and the lackluster performance of the defendants' counsel, there is strong reason to believe the case will proceed - and much of the ATF's dirty laundry will be aired. The suit is now being supported - and funded - by The Heller Foundation, and those of you wishing to donate to the effort may do so here.
- ProtonMail, the Swiss-based and free encrypted email service,continues to grow in popularity and has been adding servers and features. Their most recent release - v 1.16 - includes the ability to encrypt attachments as well as mail text, and provides enhancements for better organizing through archive folders and messages labeling. They've also fixed a number of bugs affecting mobile users, improved their crypto library, sped up encryption/decryption times, and improved spam detection and prevention. Turnaround time from invite to a live account is now averaging just under four weeks.
- Public disclosure - and outrage - appears to be having an effect on the use of Stingray devices, manufactured and sold by Florida-based Harris Corporation. These devices indiscriminately "trick" cell phones in a geographic area into connecting to them - allowing Stingray operators to not only intercept texts and calls but also to access data stored on the phone. When their use first came to light, Harris and Federal agencies such as the FBI and US Marshals' Service went to disturbing lengths to prevent disclosure of any technical details about the devices abilities and deployment. In the last six months, however, we have seen judges put teeth in their demands for details, as well as law enforcement brass proactively working with their local judiciaries to ensure the devices were only used in a constitutional manner. Now we have word that a state government board scrapped plans to purchase Stingrays, rejecting an offer of Federal funds for the acquisition. The primary sticking point? "After many hours of back and forth it became clear that they [Harris] weren't going to consent to a contract in an attempt to keep everything secret and non-discoverable and that's not something we could live with as a public agency...." Kudos to Santa Clara County's Board of Commissioners for their integrity.
- On the matter of government addiction to domestic surveillance, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit this past week declared the broad collection of private communication by the NSA to be illegal, despite attempts to justify the broad and warrantless surveillance under the Patriot Act. While this does not immediately halt such collections, it does lay the legal groundwork for an end of the program, even if the Act is renewed.
- Now is also an excellent time to remind you that the Patriot Act will expire in June unless reauthorized. And, as expected, there is a tremendous push - in secret, classified hearings, of course - to do exactly that. "Republican leaders of the House intelligence committee arranged for NSA and FBI representatives to hold secret briefings for members of Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Staff did not name the officials addressing legislators." If you have not contacted your elected officials to insist in the clearest terms possible that you disapprove of its renewal, you cannot claim innocence in further abuses.
We'll see what the next six months bring.