Court Upholds Google-NSA Relationship Secrecy

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld the National Security Agency’s decision to withhold from the public documents confirming or denying any relationship it has with Google concerning encryption and cybersecurity.

That’s despite the fact that Google itself admitted it turned to “U.S. authorities,” which obviously includes the NSA, after the search giant’s Chinese operation was deeply hacked. Former NSA chief Mike McConnell told the Washington Post that collaboration between the NSA and private companies like Google was “inevitable.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, invoking the Freedom of Information Act, had sought such documents following the January 2010 cyberattack on Google that targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The attack was among the considerations that prompted Google to consider abandoning China, and Google announced that it was “working with the relevant U.S. authorities.”

The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post followed up, saying Google had contacted the NSA following the attack.

EPIC sought documents seeking to know what type of collaboration there was between Google and the NSA and, among other things, records of communication between the NSA and Google concerning Google’s e-mail service Gmail.

In response, the NSA invoked a so-called “Glomar” response, in which the agency neither confirmed nor denied the existence of records on the topic at all. EPIC sued and lost in the lower courts.

On appeal, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit sided with the NSA’s conclusion that admitting the existence of relevant documents would harm national security (.pdf).

Judge Janice Rogers Brown, in a 3-0 opinion, sided with the government’s contention that acknowledging any records “might reveal whether the NSA investigated the threat,” or “deemed the threat a concern to the security of the U.S. government.”

If we removed all the legalese, the appellate court upheld the government’s often-said contention that, “if we told you, we’d have to kill you.”

Photo: DonkeyHotey/Flickr

More Americans Worried About Cybarmegeddon Than Terrorism, Study Finds

Photo: Adrian Boliston/Flickr

More Americans want the presidential candidates to focus on protecting the government and the electrical grid against hackers than fighting terrorism groups.

That’s according to a new security study by Unisys (.pdf), which found that the three highest priorities for Americans when it comes to security issues in the presidential campaign are:

  1. Protecting government computer systems against hackers and criminals (74 percent)
  2. Protecting our electric power grid, water utilities and transportation systems against computer or terrorist attacks (73 percent)
  3. Homeland security issues such as terrorism (68 percent)

The survey, based off a random phone survey of 1,000 households in America, asked, “How important is it for a candidate to emphasize the following issues in the upcoming 2012 presidential election?” along with a set of questions about how worried Americans were about other security issues, such as identity theft and online fraud.

Threat Level is conflicted by the results. Should we cry over proof of the success of the security-industrial complex’s PR campaign to convince Americans that cybarmegeddon is near? Or do we rejoice that Americans seem to finally be rejecting post-9/11 fear mongering?

And we wonder whether Mat Honan will update the name of his fantastic Obama-idealization parody site from BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle to BarackObamaIsYourNewFirewall.

FBI Surreptitiously Returns Seized Server

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Remember that server the FBI seized from a hosting company in New York in an effort to uncover the identity of people who were sending bomb threats about the University of Pittsburgh?

Surveillance cameras caught FBI agents returning the hardware, and plugging it in, without telling the owners.

No, the ISP that owns the server is not going to continue using it. And yes, they’re having it examined for spyware the FBI might have installed. MSNBC’s Bob Sullivan has the report.

Busted Camcording Piracy Group Sought Street Cred

A 28-year-old California man has pleaded guilty to a single count of criminal copyright infringement for being part of an in-theater camcording group known as IMAGiNE, whose goal was mostly internet cred, not money.

Sean Lovelady faces a maximum 5-year term when sentenced later this year. Under the terms of his Wednesday plea, he agreed to cooperate (.pdf) with the authorities for a potentially reduced term.

Lovelady, one of four men indicted (.pdf) last month in connection to the scheme, was accused of audio-recording films such as Friends With Benefits and Captain America: The First Avenger. Others in the group would record the film at a theater with a camcorder. Then the sound and video would be combined into a full-featured movie, the authorities said.

While the group allegedly took an undisclosed amount of “donations” via PayPal for their services, the main motive appears to be street cred, the authorities said.

“The conspirators informally identified themselves as the IMAGiNE Group and sought, among other things, to be the premier group to first release to the internet copies of new motion pictures only showing in movie theaters,” according to the indictment in the Easter District of Virginia.

Other films the group recorded and uploaded included The Men Who Stare at Goats, Avatar, Clash of the Titans, Iron Man 2, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and, among others, The Green Hornet.

Assistant Attorney General Breuer said in a statement that the group “sought to become the leading source of pirated movies on the internet.”

That’s a bit over-the-top, given that camcorder releases are of much lower quality than copies ripped from DVDs, don’t look very good even on laptop-sized screens and are a poor replacement for a theater experience.

The authorities said the group utilized servers in France, Canada and the United States to offer in-theater-only movies from websites like unleashthe.net, pure-imagination.us and pure-imagination.info.

The indictment said the group accepted donations “to fund expenses, including the cost of renting servers used by the conspirators, and to accept payments for the unauthorized distribution and sale of pirated copies of copyrighted works.”

The indictment alleges that the IMAGiNE Group’s websites included member profiles, a torrent tracker, discussion forums and a message board.