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NSA Contractors Join Privacy Shield

21 February, 2017 - 10:26

Did you really think that the European Union would protect your privacy? Don’t be so naive.

The US-EU Privacy Shield program is supposed to give EU citizens greater data protections. As I wrote previously, the Privacy Shield program has several legal loopholes, which makes it look a bit like a block of Swiss cheese.

To add insult to injury, not only does the Privacy Shield fail to protect people’s private data, even NSA contractors are invited to join the party! The Privacy Shield program gives these NSA contractors the ability to transfer personal data stored in the EU to the US. From watching international news over the past few years, you may remember how Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. Snowden exposed how the US government had access to read your emails and to listen in on your phone calls.

Including NSA contractors on the list of Privacy Shield is a bit like letting the fox guard your henhouse. While some of the NSA contractors are signed up only to share human resources data, their inclusion in the program does nothing to improve Privacy Shield’s already dismal public image. The companies on the list are allowed to submit a self-assessment to ensure their compliance with Privacy Shield. In practice, this means that these companies have little or no independent oversight.

The following NSA contractors have joined the Privacy Shield program: BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.

With the inclusion of NSA contractors in the Privacy Shield program, it is rather obvious that the US government cares nothing for data protection. While Europeans are lulled into a false sense of security with Privacy Shield, the US continues to build its surveillance state.

BAE Systems

In 2013, BAE Systems won a multi-year contract with the NSA for high performance computing. The contract is valued at $127 million. A leaked top-secret document outlines the NSA’s surveillance priorities for 2012-2016. One of the NSA’s stated goals is to use high performance computing to crack encryption. As a goal, the document states that the NSA plans to “Dynamically integrate endpoint, midpoint, industrial-enabled, and cryptanalytic capabilities to reach previously inaccessible targets in support of exploitation, cyber defense, and cyber operations.” In other words, the NSA plans to use its high performance computing program to broaden its surveillance capabilities, and BAE Systems is helping.


The American telecom, AT&T, built a secret room in one of its centers to facilitate NSA spying. In 2006, an AT&T technician blew the whistle and revealed the NSA’s massive spying operations. The NSA used a device to sift through massive amounts of data from the internet’s backbone. The device was made by a company called Narus. In 2010, Boeing acquired Narus.

In 2008, Boeing acquired Digital Receiver Technology (DRT). The NSA used DRT equipment to track people’s locations by their cellphone signals. Some DRT devices also have the ability to listen in on cellphone conversations and jam cellphone signals. Several DRT devices appear in the NSA’s surveillance catalog.

General Dynamics

In 2014, the Intercept revealed that the NSA was recording virtually every phone call in the Bahamas. The program is called SOMALGET, which is part of a broader surveillance program called MYSTIC. The broader surveillance program, MYSTIC, collects phone call metadata from several countries including Mexico, Kenya, and the Phillipines. General Dynamics had an 8 year contract valued at $51 million to process data for the MYSTIC program.

Lockheed Martin

In 1988, Margaret Newsham, a software engineer for Lockheed Martin, blew the whistle on a massive NSA spying program. The NSA was intercepting phone calls and electronic data in a surveillance program called ECHELON. While working for Lockheed Martin, Newsham was helping to create software that ran the ECHELON program. Newsham also revealed that the NSA was listening to phone calls of a US Congressman.

The US military’s research arm, DARPA, awarded contracts for the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program. The TIA program would collect massive amounts of data and use a predictive policing model. In other words, TIA used automated analysis to identify people as potential terrorists. In a very eery sense, it was the film Minority Report becoming reality. DARPA gave Lockheed Martin 23 contracts valued at $27 million for the TIA program. Several branches of the US government were involved in the TIA program, including the NSA. In 2012, the New York Times revealed that the NSA was running a program very similar to the TIA. The full extent of the TIA’s legacy would not be revealed until the Snowden leaks in 2013.

Northrop Grumman

In 2000, the NSA launched the Trailblazer project. The aim of Trailblazer was to update the old Cold War era interception technology employed by the NSA. The Trailblazer project was mired in scandal. The NSA had wasted over a billion dollars for a program that did not work. Northrop Grumman was one of the contractors working on the failed Trailblazer project.

The Trailblazer project was terminated in 2006. The next year, the NSA awarded Northrop Grumman a $220 million contract. The contract was to help the NSA manage the vast amounts of data it collected from its surveillance programs.


In 2009, the NSA founded the US Cyber Command. The new command center would focus on defensive as well as offensive cyber warfare. Raytheon posted job advertisements for “cyber warriors” to work at locations near known NSA sites.

In 2010, the NSA awarded Raytheon a classified $100 million contract for the Perfect Citizen program. The program would place sensors, to detect cyber attacks, in the backbone infrastructure of public utilities. A Raytheon employee criticized the program with the following words in an email: “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.” The NSA rather comically claimed that Perfect Citizen would not be used for spying; however, privacy advocates were worried that the program would be used for domestic surveillance.




The text of this article is released into the public domain. You are free to translate and republish the text of this article. Featured picture is CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Flicker user jrothphotos. Secondary picture CC by EFF.

Printouts from PrivacyShield.gov website, link.

Categories: International

Privacy Shield: More Holes than Swiss Cheese

13 February, 2017 - 22:44

What if your most intimate and private information was for sale to anyone in the world? What if anyone could find out your political beliefs, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, or even your medical history? In the US, it is legal for the private sector to collect and sell these types of personal information, and the government is powerless to stop it. Due to the US’ lack of general data protection laws, Europeans’ personal information could wind up in the hands of unscrupulous data brokers and for sale on the global market. Data transfers from the EU to the US is cause for on-going controversy, because the EU considers data protection to be a fundamental right.

In testimony before the US Congress, Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum detailed abuses by data brokers. MEDbase200 sold personal information on rape survivors and people with an HIV positive status for $79.00 per thousand names. Addresses of domestic violence shelters are supposed to be kept secret, but FirstMark sold lists of these shelters online. DMDatabases sold comprehensive databases detailing patients’ medical conditions and which prescription medications they were taking.

Data brokers obtain personal information from various sources. Many US companies rather shamelessly sell information on their customers. Data brokers can also collect information online through tracking cookies, mobile app data, social media postings, and online surveys. Data brokers also sell each other vast amounts of data, making it virtually impossible to figure out who originally collected the information.

EU regulators should have pause for concern that social media sites are now partnering with American data brokers. Especially controversial is Facebook’s partnership with data broker Acxiom. After the 9/11 terror acts, Acxiom lobbied the US government to weaken the few and limited federal privacy protections in the US. In 2001, Acxiom proposed to establish a government surveillance programs to crawl the internet and gather intelligence from websites. The US Department of Defense also considered partnering with Acxiom to build a large surveillance database. In 2003, Acxiom was embroiled in controversy when it worked with the US Department of Homeland Security on a proposed system to give airline passengers color-coded ratings based on the likelihood of being a terrorist. Despite holding vast amounts of personal data, Acxiom has been the victim of numerous data breaches, with computer hackers stealing large amounts of information.

Starting in 2000, the US-EU Safe Harbor agreement allowed companies in the EU to send personal data to the US. In 2015, the EU Court of Justice struck down the legal basis for the Safe Harbor agreement, because the agreement failed to provide adequate data protections. The US and the EU quickly negotiated a new agreement called Privacy Shield to allow the continued flow of data from the EU to the US.

The new US-EU Privacy Shield agreement is a complete disaster. The agreement’s greatest weakness is that the Privacy Shield program is completely voluntary. An American company with no subsidiaries in the EU could refuse to sign up for Privacy Shield and can ignore EU data protection authorities. The US government is powerless to stop data collection over the internet, which is completely legal in the US.

Even when a company voluntary signs up for the Privacy Shield program, it requires the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce the rules. This year, President Trump has the authority to nominate four FTC commissioners (out of five commissioners total). Considering President Trump’s history, his nominations for the FTC will be extremely business-friendly, and the new commissioners may do everything in their power to stop any consumer protections (including Privacy Shield). On the rare instance that the FTC would actually investigate a company for failing to comply with the Privacy Shield framework, the FTC would have to prove that the data is covered under Privacy Shield.  In the US, data brokers repackage and sell data so many times that it may be difficult or impossible for the FTC to ever prove where the data originally came from.

Recently, President Trump named Maureen Ohlhausen as acting Chair for the FTC. Ohlhausen has previously criticized the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) proposal to require ISP (internet service providers) to obtain consent before sharing customers’ private data with data brokers and other third parties. Ohlhausen argued that the FCC’s proposal would harm consumers by offering too many privacy protections. With Ohlhausen as acting Chair, the FTC will likely fail to enforce the Privacy Shield framework.

The Privacy Shield framework does nothing to stop the US government’s mass surveillance and bulk collection of data. In a letter included in the Privacy Shield notice, the former Secretary of State, John Kerry, promises to establish an ombudsperson to take complaints regarding US government surveillance practices. A close reading of the memorandum reveals that the Privacy Shield ombudsperson has no legal authority to investigate or provide independent oversight. The memorandum also mentions several OIGs (Office of Inspector Generals) and the PCLOB (Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board), which are the same mechanisms that failed to protect people from the NSA’s mass surveillance in the first place.

The Privacy Shield notice also includes a letter from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The letter cites PPD-28 (Presidential Policy Directive-28) as limiting the US government’s surveillance efforts. It is difficult to independently verify what PPD-28 actually contains, since some portions of the directive are classified. The PPD-28 was signed by President Obama, who is no longer in office. President Trump is not required to follow PPD-28, and he can secretly overturn the directive at any time without any public notice.

The US government has no international legal obligations to enforce Privacy Shield. The Privacy Shield framework is a voluntary program, operated by the US Department of Commerce, which could be rescinded at any time. It is hard to imagine how the EU ever approved an agreement so dreadful as Privacy Shield. I cringe thinking that the EU completely lacks an understanding of the US Constitution and how the American government operates. Before ever entering another agreement with the US, the EU needs to first hire some extremely well-read American lawyers as advisors.

As it stands, the Privacy Shield framework leaves EU consumers’ personal data open to abuse, with few or no rights to recourse and redress. If the EU is serious about data protection, it should immediately suspend the Privacy Shield framework. Access to the EU market is of paramount importance to many American businesses. Using its economic leverage, the EU should pressure the US to reform its legal code to ensure better data protection.


For further reading:

GAO report on data brokers, link

FTC report on data brokers, link

Featured image: CC-BY-NC-ND, thenoodleator

Categories: International

2016: The Year That Icelandic Pirates Shook The System

9 January, 2017 - 07:00

2016 will be remembered for the unprecedented and monumental acceptance of the pirate movement by citizens at a national level!

We are very happy to see that the first decade of the pirate movement was completed and celebrated by a great electoral success; The officially recorded 14.48% of the votes in favor of the Pirate party of Iceland (PP-IS), on last October’s parliamentary elections! PPIS reached new heights for the pirate movement by electing 10 MPs, and by receiving a mandate from the president of Iceland in order to form a governmental coalition.

As we are now entering the second decade of the movement, anything is open to happen!

But, if there was a prize of “political and electoral behavior,” then surely this year it would be given to the 27.449 Icelander voters who deliberately rejected the traditional parties and preferred to vote in favor of the Pirate party, in favor of the new politics that express the digital age, and in step with the modern world in which we live in.

That world stands for simple things, that can be done easily without any high cost! Things like transparency, the protection of privacy, the reviewing of the legislation on copyright and patents, net neutrality, the change of governance model to that of the direct participation of citizens at all levels and phases of consultation and decision-making,

Thanks to them, the voice of the new world will be heard in the parliament!

Thanks to them, it is now proven that 27.449 people can really shake up the system of traditional politics worldwide, by voting for a party which is named “The Pirate party”! Icelanders pushed international and national mainstream media to write extended articles on the pirate movement and empowered the voice of a new world that emerges, slowly but steadily, and takes its place in decision making centers.

Big chance for the Pirates in Iceland to form a government

After the elections, no party in Iceland held a majority to form a government. The president gave a mandate to the first party in votes to start searching for a coalition government. But there was no positive outcome, so the “Left Greens”, the second party in votes, received the mandate. PPIS participated in that second round of unproductive talks on the establishment of a 5 parties coalition government with the “Left Greens”.

Those 5 parties hold a majority of 34 (out of 63) seats divided as follows:

Left Green Movement (10)
Pirate Party (10)
Regeneration (7)
Bright Future (4)
Social Democratic Alliance (3)

Then the mandate was given to PP-IS, third party in votes. Birgitta Jonsdottir, MP and party leader, received it on Friday, 2nd of December and PP-IS started a new round of negotiations. Pirates of Iceland held in their hands a great opportunity, the greatest ever given to a Pirate party, to form a government! Despite the initial optimism, Pirates finally failed and returned the mandate but set new heights for the pirate movement.

If all negotiations went well, then PPIS would have achieved something inconceivable! It would have been the first Pirate Party participating in governmental seats, 10 years since the establishment of the Pirate movement and only 4 years after the founding of the party itself!

Birgitta’s meeting with Snowden and Lessig in Moscow, filmed by French director

Taking a secret trip to Moscow, Birgitta Jonsdottir met with Edward Snowden and Lawrence Lessig, lawyer, activist, founder of Creative Commons, for the needs of a documentary film by Flore Vasseur, French journalist and director. The filming took 3 hours and Birgitta said in her interview to grapevine.is “We just wanted to talk about the state of democracy. But there we were—three ordinary citizens who decided to do something…”

Also, “Alternative party” from Denmark made a documentary on the Icelandic pirates. Uffe and Rasmus, 2 members of the party, visited Rejkavik during the elections to find out the agenda behind the success of PPIS! What did they learn from the Pirates? As they say at the end of their documentary: “Reset the system”, “Be the change”, “Give the power to the people”!

Categories: International

PPIS Ranked Third But Won The Elections In Effect

3 November, 2016 - 05:29

Although Pirate Party of Iceland (PP-IS) finally ranked third in the number of votes, it gained so much more publicity than any other party and having an open possibility to be part of the next government, it can be considered to have won the elections practically!

After the recent failure of Berlin Pirates in September, who lost 15 seats in the parliament of Berlin, the tripling of the number of seats held by PP-IS was what the Pirate movement needed to recover morale. In only three and a half years since its entering parliament, PP-IS has increased its share of the vote from 5,1% to 14,98%. The Pirates now have 10 MP’s, seven more than 2013 and now have representatives from all the regions of the country. PP-IS still remains the only Pirate party that has representatives in a national parliament. They are valid players at the table of power and under certain circumstances could to participate in the next government.

Besides this great electoral success, the most important thing for the Pirate movement is the great mobilization, support and solidarity shown by Pirates globally. Since April, when it became clear that there will be snap elections in Iceland, Pirates from many parties declared themselves willing  to help in any way they could with the election campaign. A few days prior the election date many Pirates traveled to Iceland to experience this historic moment.

On election day and especially the night, many parties were organized throughout the world to watch the results. In cities such as Helsinki, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Delft, Groningen, Dusseldorf, Berlin, London (Canada) and in Luxembourg Pirates celebrated.

Of course the main party was in Reykjavik where Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Pirate movement, Julia Reda, Pirate MEP, Icelandic pirates and many other pirates from Sweden, Germany, New Zealand, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Italy created a cheering atmosphere that was live streamed.

See more pictures from the events at piratesforiceland.party

The media were gripped by frenzy about the Pirate movement

There were countless references in the media about PP-IS even when another party was leading in the polls! It is striking how the international mainstream media informed their readers who were hungry to read more about the Pirate party. Although the Pirates were surpassed in the number of votes it is the only party that readers will remember a long time after the event!

In the long term, all that publicity will have an great impact in the electoral influence of the Pirate parties in countries, where already Pirate parties exist and will inspire people to create Pirate parties in countries where there are none.

There were reports in countries such as Finland, Greece, Serbia, Spain, New Zealand, Netherlands, Slovenia, Russia, Japan, France, Portugal, of course in Sweden, the birthplace of the Pirate movement, with intense interest. In Israel, the Israeli left newspaper featured it and a Pirate was invited to talk about the elections on Israeli TV! For a complete world press coverage take a look at scoop.it

Τhe key features of the elections

1) No party has a simple majority needed to form a government because none of them received needed  32 seats out of 63 in the Althingi (Icelandic Parliament). Thus all elected parties will have to negotiate. PP-IS announced , two days before the election, the results of negotiations with theLeft – Green Movement, Bright Future and the Social Democratic Alliance (now representing 27 seats). The Independence and Progressive Parties gathered 29 seats but can’t form a majority government. Viðreisn (Reform) which is a new party, gained 7 seats and is the “kingmaker” of the election. The leader of Reform has stated that his party will not co-operate with the outgoing government.

The final results are:

Independence Party (54,990) 29.00% 21 seats

Left-Green Movement (30,166) 15.91% 10 seats

Pirate Party (27,449) 14.48% 10 seats

Progressive Party (21,791) 11.49% 8 seats

Reform (19,870) 10.48% 7 seats

Bright Future (13,578) 7.16% 4 seats

Social Democratic Alliance (10,893) 5.74% 3 seats

People’s Party (6,707) 3.54 % No seats

Dawn (3,275) 1.7% No seats

People’s Front of Iceland (575) 0.30% No seats

Icelandic National Front (303) 0.16% No seats

Humanist Party (33) 0.02% No seats

Invalid/blank votes 5,574

Total 195,204

Registered voters 246,515 Turnout 79.19%

2) The resounding failure of the polls to accurately portray the voting intention of Icelanders. Not one poll predicted the results of the elections. They forecast that the Independence Party would rank in the 1st place but no poll said that the Pirates would finally be third in votes. Instead all polls anticipated they would surely be second.

3) 48% of the Althingi consisted of women MPs making it the most gender equal parliament ever! The Icelandic parliament has 30 women MPs, a unique record in the history of Iceland and the world’s parliamentary history. The MP’s of PP-IS are equal 5 men and 5 women!

4) The turnout of the voters was low for Icelandic standards. It was below 80% . Itcould have been even higher if the elections were held in April, when the weather in Iceland is better.

The political landscape after the elections

The day after the elections four Pirate MPs, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Smári McCarthy, Björn Leví Gunnarsson, Halldóra Mogensen, gave a press conference commenting on the outcome of the elections and what the Pirate Party is going to do. According to the them the landscape after the elections is complicated not only in the political level but in practicality, because it’s the first time that seven parties have representatives in the parliament.

“It’s a very tight issue, we have to proceed with a lot of negotiations and compromise but it’s very interesting times for democracy. Pirates are open to compromise but not with the parties that were in the government. We need a long term vision, where we’re going as a society and that’s something that the Pirate Party has been working on for years. We focus on inspiring the general public to participate and co-create our society, on empowering people to be part of the change and we work to give people easy ways to participate”, pirates said among others.

PPIS also reported on its website:

“…Icelandic Pirates are overjoyed to have now secured a Pirate representative to Alþingi from every single one of Iceland’s six electorate districts, with first-time representatives in North West, North East and South districts, and additional four representatives being elected in the capital districts Reykjavik South, Reykjavik North and South West (Kópavogur, Garðabær, Hafnarfjörður, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær). The Pirate Party of Iceland would like to thank the scores of international Pirates that have visited us here in Iceland from thirteen different countries, including Sweden, Australia, Slovenia, Germany, USA and Canada for their help and wonderful company and thanks to the people that have sent us countless greetings and yarrr’s from all over the world…”

Meet the 10 Pirate MP’s of PP-IS

PP-IS elected Pirate MP’s in all the regions of Iceland as it follows:

Reykjavik North (3)

Birgitta Jónsdóttir is a poetician and one of the founders of the Pirate Party in Iceland. She has been an MP for both the “Movement” and PP-IS. Birgitta has worked in diverse functions, including office administrative and work, organization of artistic events of various kinds, layout of books, graphics, translation, journalism, writing, etc. Birgitta has a keen interest in the working procedures of the Parliament and its responsibility. She herself says: “I am interested in setting up a Standing Committee of Parliament for the cross-party consensus, having long-term goals, such as e.g. the restoration of health care, changes in education in the spirit of Finnish, pensions, sustainability and electrical / methane cars fuel.”

Björn Leví Gunnarsson reelected MP. He gave great emphasis on equal weighting of votes nationwide. He became a software specialist in educational institutions after he obtained his master’s degree in the United States but he held various jobs, including teaching in elementary school. “Society expects more responsibility, more information, more cooperation. The system will not be fair unless people become responsible. The system will not be honest unless everyone has access to information. The system will not be human but with more cooperation.”

Halldóra Mogensen has been a

parliamentrydeputy and she has, among others, submitted a resolution on unconditional basic income. A profound sense of justice and a desire to benefit her community benefit have been the dominant driving forces in her life. “My key issue is about to eliminate poverty and provide equal opportunities for the individual and be truly free. It concerns me to come to the necessary constitutional changes and update our systems in line with the opportunities that technological advances offer”

Reykjavik South (2)

Ásta Guðrún Helgadóttir 26 years old and a reelected MP. In the Parliament, she has undertaken a variety of issues in many fields and made an impact on the ownership of Landsbanki. Moreover, she has kept track of the copyright for the parliamentary group and has been working closely with pirate MEP Julia Reda. In recent years, she has devoted herself to the work related in one way or another to democracy, freedom of speech and changes in the constitution to reflect the democratic society of the 21st century better. Asta is a historian by training.

Gunnar Hrafn Jónsson 35 years has worked as a journalist. He has  a BSc in Social Sciences and lived in UK and Netherlands, China, Germany and Iceland. After moving home in 2006 he was a journalist with the “Reykjavik Grapevine” and then a reporter on “RUV“. He has a 3 years old daughter and he is a real bun but overcame his stand-up comedy contest funniest man in Iceland in 2012

Southwest (2)

Jón Þór Ólafsson Former pirate MP, he made headlines when he left the parliament and returned to work on asphalt. He is married and has two children. During this term of office he got busy, among others, with health care, the EU membership application, fishing quotas and debt issues. He believes it is urgent to create a powerful competitive environment in Iceland, rebuild the health system and improve the lot of the elderly and disabled. “I became member of  the Pirats when I realized that the Pirate Party stands for human rights protection and democratic reforms of our time.”

Þórhildur Sunna Ævarsdóttir She has graduated from the University of Utrecht in international and human rights law. Her key issues concerning the rights of those who are disadvantaged in society, the adoption of a new constitution and the restoration of health care. She lives in Mosfellsbær. “Human rights of minorities and marginalized individuals are my particular areas of interest. In my work I concentrate on the rights of refugees, people with disabilities, prisoners and drug users, along with the rights of people with mental disorders and psychiatric illness.”

Northwest (1)

Eva Pandora Baldursdóttir Born in Sauðárkrókur in 1990, has a Bachelor degree in Business Administration from the University of Iceland, completed one year in MA in Cultural Management at the University of Bifrost and has an MPA degree in public administration at the University of Iceland. She registered with the Progressive Party from the age of 16 when she started to get interested in politics but when she met the Pirate Party a few months before the last parliamentary elections she saw immediately that the strategy and values of the Pirates matched hers. Since then, her interest in politics grown and the issues that remain in focus with her are health, education, housing, corruption, agriculture and equality.

Northeast (1)

Einar Aðalsteinn Brynjólfsson He has mostly been teaching, of which the last seven years in High School. Einar has worked in various jobs, in fishing, the programming of radio stations, proofreading and guidance.

South (1)

Smári McCarthy was the Technical Director of Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project  which was involved in the Panama Papers. In recent years he mainly worked in freedom of information and democracy projects. Smári has developed various open source software, including the Wasa2il which was nominated for the Prix Ars Electronica awards in 2013. He writes a lot, among other things, for journals such as “Arc” and “New Internationalist”, but has also written essays for Bergeron’s Children, Mediando la Democracia, The End of Artificial Scarcity.

All images from piratar.is and piratar.island (facebook) CC BY-SA

Categories: International

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