Bomb Threat at NSA’s Massive Top-Secret Data Center Halts Construction

Photo: Name Withheld; Digital Manipulation: Jesse Lenz

A bomb threat at the NSA’s spanking new massive data center in Utah has led authorities to evacuate workers, according to the Associated Press.

Bomb-sniffing dogs have reportedly been brought in to search for anything suspicious. Workers were evacuated around 11:30 Monday morning.

The facility, being built at Utah’s Camp Williams, was the focus of an extensive recent Wired article written by NSA expert James Bamford.

Under construction by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors with top-secret clearances since January, the controversial, heavily fortified $2 billion Utah Data Center is slated to be up and running by September 2013. Its purpose will be “to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks,” according to Bamford.

Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

BitTorrent Inc. Sues Germany’s BitTorrent Co. for Infringement

BitTorrent Inc. of San Francisco, the developer of the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, claims in a federal lawsuit that a German company is ripping off its intellectual property.

San Francisco-based BitTorrent Inc. says its peer-based “branded products and services are used by hundreds of millions of people in the United States and internationally to find, share, and move digital media.” According to a trademark infringement and cybersquatting suit in San Francisco, it claims BitTorrent Marketing GmbH, a German company, is capitalizing on the BitTorrent name and duping users into thinking they are doing business with the real BitTorrent company.

BitTorrent file sharing, aka torrenting, is a protocol often used by online pirates to obtain free music, games and software.

In addition to providing a file-sharing client, BitTorrent Inc. also offers some paid services, including antivirus software, media players and file converters. A BitTorrent Inc. set-top box is in the works that allows people to torrent files right on their televisions.

The company has a registered trademark in the United States of the BitTorrent name, according to last week’s suit.

The German version of its namesake, according to the suit, illegally owns hundreds of infringing domains, some of which redirect to bittorrent.net, which is not owned by the San Francisco company.

According to the suit:

“Defendant is capitalizing on misdirected users who are seeking to avail themselves of BitTorrent’s products and services and are instead led to defendant’s BitTorrent website (through defendant’s use of the infringing domain names.) Users are then presented with offers to access and download digital media and content that they would typically find through plaintiff’s BitTorrent client and protocol, and likely sign up and pay for the services available through defendant’s BitTorrent website under the misimpression that such services are offered by, sponsored by, or affiliated with plaintiff.”

The suit adds that the German company has “an intent to confuse consumers and profit from the goodwill and consumer recognition associated with plaintiff and its BitTorrent trademark.”

The German company has registered the BitTorrent name in Germany and the European Community, which the American company is challenging.

In January, the American company announced that the file-sharing client had 150 million monthly users.

The suit, which demands millions in monetary damages, seeks forfeiture of BitTorrent-like domains and demands that the German company stop using the BitTorrent namesake.

Bram Cohen, a computer programmer, unveiled the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol in 2001. Four years later, Cohen agreed to remove copyrighted material from the official BitTorrent Inc. search engine, although other popular, uncensored search engines remain, including The Pirate Bay.

California Considers Bill to Require Permission to Collect, Analyze DNA

Photo: Bietenduevel/Wikimedia

California is considering a proposed bill that would guard against surreptitious DNA testing by requiring authorities to obtain written permission from California citizens before collecting, analyzing, storing or sharing their genetic information.

The bill, the Genetic Information Privacy Act, was authored by California State Senator Alex Padilla and would require that any genetic data obtained with permission be used only for the specific purpose granted by the DNA owner. Genetic information and samples would have to be destroyed once the specified project proposed for collecting and testing the material was completed.

But some academics and research scientists are opposed to the bill because they say it would thwart genomic research that can help combat diseases by preventing large datasets from being re-used for different studies not specified at the time permission was obtained, according to Nature.

The University of California is opposed to the bill, writing in a letter to the Legislature that it could dramatically increase the administrative costs of research by up to $594,000 annually by forcing researchers to collect new data for each study or track down thousands of former test subjects, including those whose data was anonymized, to obtain their authorization to use the same data for new studies.

California is not the first state to consider protections for genetic material. Minnesota passed a law in 2006 that also requires written consent for collection, storage, analysis and sharing of genetic information. Law makers in Alabama, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Vermont have also proposed bills that would define genetic data as personal property.

The California Senate Appropriations Committee is will decide by May 25 whether the potential fiscal impacts outweigh its merits.

High Court to Hear Warrantless Eavesdropping Challenge

The "secret room" in AT&T's Folsom Street office in San Francisco is believed to be one of several internet wiretapping facilities at AT&T offices around the country feeding data to the National Security Agency without warrants. Photo: Mark Klein

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide whether to halt a legal challenge to a once-secret warrantless surveillance program targeting Americans’ communications that Congress eventually legalized in 2008.

The announcement is a win for the Obama administration, which like its predecessor, argues that government wiretapping programs and laws can’t be challenged in court.

At issue is the FISA Amendments Act, (.pdf) the subject of lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, that authorizes the government to electronically eavesdrop on Americans’ phone calls and e-mails without a probable-cause warrant so long as one of the parties to the communication is outside the United States. The communications may be intercepted “to acquire foreign intelligence information.”

That bill was signed into law in July 2008, and the ACLU filed suit immediately. Then-senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama voted for the measure, though he said the bill was flawed and that he would push to amend it if elected. Instead, Obama, as president, simply continued the Bush administration’s legal tactics aimed at crushing any judicial scrutiny of the wiretapping program.

After a surprise appellate court decision last year that reinstated the ACLU’s challenge, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court to overturn the decision. The government said the ACLU and a host of other groups don’t have the legal standing to bring the case because they have no evidence they or their overseas clients are being targeted.

Without comment, the justices agreed to review the lower court’s decision at a yet-to-be determined date. It marks the first time the Supreme Court has agreed to review any case touching on the eavesdropping program that was secretly employed in the wake of 9/11 by the Bush administration, and eventually largely codified into law four years ago.

A lower court ruled the ACLU, Amnesty International, Global Fund for Women, Global Rights, Human Rights Watch, International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association, The Nation magazine, PEN American Center, Service Employees International Union and other plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case, because they could not demonstrate that they were subject to the eavesdropping.

The groups appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that they often work with overseas dissidents who might be targets of the National Security Agency program. Instead of speaking with those people on the phone or through e-mails, the groups asserted that they have had to make expensive overseas trips in a bid to maintain attorney-client confidentiality.

The plaintiffs, some of them journalists, also claim the 2008 legislation chills their speech, and violates their Fourth Amendment privacy rights.

Without ruling on the merits of the case, the appeals court agreed with the plaintiffs last year that they have ample reason to fear the surveillance program, and thus have legal standing to pursue their claim.

The Obama administration disagreed.

“Respondents’ inability to show an imminent interception of their communications cannot be cured by the asserted chilling effect resulting from their fear of such surveillance,” the government wrote (.pdf) the Supreme Court in a petition.

But even if the Supreme Court sides with the ACLU, that does not necessarily mean the constitutionality of the FISA Amendments Act would be litigated.

The lawsuit would return to the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl in New York, where, if past is prologue, the Obama administration likely would play its trump card: an assertion of the powerful state secrets privilege that lets the executive branch effectively kill lawsuits by claiming they threaten to expose national security secrets.

The courts tend to defer to such claims. But in a rare exception in 2008, a San Francisco federal judge refused to throw out a wiretapping lawsuit against AT&T under the state secrets privilege. The AT&T lawsuit was later killed anyway, because the FISA Amendments Act also granted the phone companies retroactive legal immunity for their alleged participation in the NSA spying program.

The FISA Amendments Act generally requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court to rubber-stamp terror-related electronic surveillance requests. The government does not have to identify the target or facility to be monitored. It can begin surveillance a week before making the request, and the surveillance can continue during the appeals process if, in a rare case, the secret FISA court rejects the surveillance application.