Tag: Transparency

That Which Can Be Destroyed by the Truth, Should Be

A number of California police departments are ignoring the law and refusing to information about their surveillance technology  documents, claiming copyright.

Let me the first to call bull sh%$:

California police are refusing to release documents about the surveillance technology it uses, despite a new law that requires their release.

On January 1, SB 978 went into effect, which requires the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to “conspicuously” publish all law enforcement agency training materials. The agency has said that it will not comply on copyright grounds.

Any attempt to download training materials concerning facial recognition technology or automated license plate readers (ALPRs), as well as materials relating to courses on the use of force, lead to a Word document that reads “The course presented has claimed copyright for the expanded course online.”

This is complete crap.

They don’t want the public about the technological terror that they have created, because they are afraid that the public will want to take away their new toys.

The police can go Cheney themselves.

*Credit to the author, P.C. Hodgell’s from her novel Seeker’s Mask.

It’s a Start

Maryland just passed a law requiring that the state pension fund publicly report all fees charged to it by Wall Street.

While this is not my preferred solution, I would prefer the Banksters be kicked out of public pensions completely, but I think that this is a step to that path:

A new Maryland law requires greater transparency in disclosing millions of dollars in fees paid by the state’s pension system to Wall Street investment firms.

The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System has reported paying about $370 million annually in fees to the firms that invest its $51 billion in assets.

But the real amount of fees paid is anywhere from $460 million to $570 million. That’s because so-called “carried interest fees” — a cut of the Maryland fund’s profits that goes to the outside investment managers — have not been not disclosed publicly.

That’s about to change.

At one point, the legislation sought to cap the amount of fees the firms could charge the pension system, but it was amended to become a bill requiring greater disclosure. Both chambers of the General Assembly passed the revised bipartisan legislation unanimously and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed it into law.

The pension system now must publicly disclose the amount it pays in carried interest fees by the end of each calendar year. The first report, due Dec. 31, will include the fees from fiscal years 2015 through 2019.

It’s a start.

The FBI Says ¯_(ツ)_/¯

With the rise of white supremacist and white nationalist groups in the age of Trump, it is increasingly obvious that law enforcement is generally supportive of these movements.

So, count me as dubious of the honesty of the FBI when its for response to an FOIA request on its files on the notorious Nazi website Stormfront was, “Oops, I lost everything,”particularly when their response, which were just reprints of a previous request, took 2½ years to provide:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that it had lost many of its files on the neo-Nazi website Stormfront, MuckRock reported.

Journalist Emma Best filed a FOIA request more than two years ago for the FBI’s information on Stormfront, at one point the most prominent white supremacist website. After years of back-and-forth, the bureau finally responded with just 104 pages. The organization acknowledged that there were likely more files, but that they couldn’t locate them.

Best requested rolling release, which meant that the papers that she did receive, which had already been processed for another request, should have taken 2½ weeks, not 2½ years.

Additionally, she requested that a search be made at field offices that was not done.

You can see the (maddening) exchanges with the FBI over this here.

Do I believe that the FBI slow-walked this request?  Yes.

Do I believe that the FBI is actively supporting white supremacists? No.

Do I believe that the FBI is concerned that some of its agents, contractors, or paid informants might be actively supporting white supremacists, and a review of the records might reveal that?  Yes.

In any case, it’s a profoundly troubling development.

Pass the Popcorn

The New York legislature just passed a bill authorizing Congressional access to Donald Trump’s state tax returns, and Governor Andrew “Rat Faced Andy” Cuomo is expected to sign it:

New York State lawmakers on Wednesday gave their final approval to a bill that would clear a path for Congress to obtain President Trump’s state tax returns, injecting another element into a tortuous battle over the president’s refusal to release his taxes.

The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and regular critic of Mr. Trump’s policies and behavior, will authorize state tax officials to release the president’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees.

The returns — filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters — would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns, though it remained unclear whether those congressional committees would use such new power in their investigations.

The Legislature’s actions put the state in a bit of uncharted legal territory; Mr. Trump has said that he is ready to take the fight over his federal tax returns to the Supreme Court, and it seems likely that he would seek to contest New York’s maneuver.

Republicans have called the effort in Albany a “bill of attainder” — an unconstitutional piece of legislation aimed at a single person or group — while also decrying the potential invasion of privacy, suggesting that federal officials would conduct improper “fishing expeditions.”


Once signed into law by Mr. Cuomo, the legislation would require the commissioner of the New York Department of Taxation and Finance to release returns to the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the Joint Committee on Taxation for any “specified and legitimate legislative purpose.” Such a request would be have to be made it writing, and only after a request for federal returns has been made to the Treasury Department.

While the bill clearly targets Donald Trump’s particular circumstances, it does not appear to my non lawyer eyes to rise to the level of a bill of attainder.

The real question is whether any of the members of the Ways and Means Committee have the stones to actually make the request, as the other two committees would have such a request blocked by Republicans.

My guess is that Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) won’t have the requisite intestinal fortitude to actually make a formal request, because Democrats.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

The top federal ethics watchdog has rejected U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s 2017 financial disclosure form.

The Office of Government Ethics declined to certify Ross’s latest financial disclosure because after reporting that he had sold off his shares in BankUnited Inc. that year, he actually sold the stock in October 2018. According to a later filing, he said he mistakenly believed that the shares had been sold earlier.

In a letter sent to the Commerce Department’s top ethics officer, OGE Director Emory Rounds wrote that Ross’s 2017 report,“inaccurately reported that he sold all of his stock when in fact he had not done so.” Rounds also said that Ross was not in compliance with his ethics agreement when he filed the annual report in 2018.


OGE has no enforcement authority, and relies on inspectors general or the Justice Department to investigate whether federal ethics rules or conflict of interest laws have been broken. In his letter, Rounds said that Maggi had informed him that Commerce was providing its inspector general with copies of all of Ross’s financial disclosure reports.

Ross may have the dubious distinction of being the flat-out worst member of the Trump cabinet.

He is, after all, the mook who suggested that furloughed federal workers take out bank loans to address their missed paychecks.

The Further Adventures of Everyone’s Favorite Slum Lord

I am referring, of course, to Jared Kushner, who is being sued for an exceptional level of slum lord sliminess.

They have been trying to move the suit to Federal court, where the jury would be less sympathetic.

Unfortunately for him, being in Federal court would require his company to reveal all the investors, and a judge has ruled that this information would not be kept under seal, so going to stay in Maryland state court:

Jared Kushner’s family real estate company has backtracked on its effort to have a lawsuit filed against it by tenants of its Baltimore-area apartment complexes moved to federal court, after a judge ruled that this transfer would require it to reveal the identities of its investment partners.

The tenants’ class-action lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City in September, four months after a ProPublica article co-published with the New York Times Magazine described the highly aggressive tactics used by Kushner Companies to pursue tenants and former tenants over allegedly unpaid rent or broken leases. The lawsuit alleged that Kushner Companies, which owns 15 large apartment complexes in the Baltimore area, was improperly piling late fees and court fees onto tenants’ bills, often in excess of state limits, and using the threat of immediate eviction to force payment.

In early November, the various Kushner affiliates named in the lawsuit filed a request to have the case moved from the state court, where it would be heard by a Baltimore City jury, to the federal courts, where it would be heard by a jury drawn from a broader geographic swath of Maryland. To get approval for this request, Kushner Companies had to show that none of the investors it has brought in as partners on the complexes are based in Maryland.

The Kushner affiliates also filed a motion in federal court seeking to have the list of the investment partners shielded from public view, citing the high degree of media interest in Jared Kushner, who as Kushner Companies CEO presided over the purchase of the complexes before moving into the White House to serve as senior advisor to President Donald Trump, his father-in-law. “Given the tenor of the media’s reporting of this case, including politically-motivated innuendo no doubt intended to disparage the First Family, there is foreseeable risk of prejudice to the privacy rights and reputations of innocent private investors,” the Kushner lawyers wrote.

So, who do you think that his investors are?

For real estate in general, and the Kushners in particular, helping people launder money with real estate is a core operating principle.

My guess is that it would be mobsters, drug lords, with Saudis, Chinese, and Russian oligarchs thrown in as a garnish.

Well, We Finally Knows What Makes a Federal Judge Call Bullsh%$ on the FBI

The FBI was saying that it needed 17 years to accomodate a Freedom of Information Act request.

The judge was having none of it:

Getting answers to Freedom of Information Act requests is often a protracted and tiring process, but how long a wait is too long?

One federal judge just came up with an answer: 17 years.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler bluntly rejected the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s proposal that documentary filmmaker Nina Seavey wait until the year 2034 to get all the law enforcement agency’s records for a request pertaining surveillance of anti-war and civil rights activists in the 1960s and 1970s.

The request involved an unusually large amount of material — about 110,000 pages of records at the FBI and more at other agencies — but Seavey said waiting almost two decades for the complete files wasn’t viable for her.

You can run the numbers: 110,000 pages taking 17 years with 50 weeks a year working 5 days a week, and you hve a processing rate of less than 26 pages a day.

This is bullsh%$, and it’s a coverup in an attempt to protect the reputation of J. Edgar Hoover, who should be remembered primarily as a Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria

“Literally, they were talking 17 years out. I’m 60 years old. You can’t do that math,” the George Washington University professor and documentarian told POLITICO this week. “It wasn’t going to work for me.”

The FBI said it has a policy of processing and releasing large requests at a pace of 500 pages a month, while Seavey, represented by D.C. transparency lawyer Jeffrey Light, had proposed 5,000 pages a month. (At one point, the FBI thought it had about 150,000 pages of responsive records, which would’ve meant a 25-year wait.)

Justice Department lawyers and the FBI argued that going faster than 500 pages a month would disrupt the agency’s workflow and create the possibility of a few massive requests effectively shutting down the rest of the their FOIA operation.

Kessler didn’t buy it.


Ultimately, Kessler ordered the FBI to process 2,850 pages a month, which should get Seavey the records she’s seeking within three years.


It’s not the first FOIA case to produce staggering estimates of how long the government would need to make records public. Last year, the State Department rebuffed a request for emails of aides to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying it could take 75 years to work through the material.

Yeah, that’s a f%$3ing coverup too, but tragically, it was a coverup of basically nothing driven by unreasoning paranoia, which created the appearance of guilt.

Good News in Florids ……… Wait ……… What? Florida?

Actually it is good news, not another Florida Man story.

A court in Florida has ruled that, unlike a physical examination of brakes and tires of a vehicle, authorities need a warrant to extract data from vehicle black boxes:

An interesting decision has been reached by the Florida Appeals Court as to Fourth Amendment protections for vehicle “black boxes.” The black boxes — which are a mandatory requirement in new vehicles — record a variety of data in the event of a crash. (h/t FourthAmendment.com)

Charles Worsham Jr. was the driver in a crash in which his passenger was killed. His vehicle was seized and impounded by police. Twelve days later, police accessed the data in the black box without obtaining a warrant. Worsham challenged the lawfulness of the warrantless search. The police maintained the black box was full of third-party records which required no warrant or consent from the vehicle’s owner.

The court sees the issue differently. In a relative rarity, the state Appeals Court decides [PDF] to get out ahead of the issue, rather than wait for precedential decisions to trickle down from the federal courts. It looks at the data harvested by the black box and suggests the amount gathered will only increase in the coming years. Rather than wait until then to make a call on the Fourth Amendment merits, it draws the line now.

Citing the Supreme Court’s Riley decision (which introduced a warrant requirement for cell phone searches), the court concludes the crash data contained in the black box has an expectation of privacy.

A car’s black box is analogous to other electronic storage devices for which courts have recognized a reasonable expectation of privacy. Modern technology facilitates the storage of large quantities of information on small, portable devices. The emerging trend is to require a warrant to search these devices.
Although electronic data recorders do not yet store the same quantity of information as a cell phone, nor is it of the same personal nature, the rationale for requiring a warrant to search a cell phone is informative in determining whether a warrant is necessary to search an immobilized vehicle’s data recorder. These recorders document more than what is voluntarily conveyed to the public and the information is inherently different from the tangible “mechanical” parts of a vehicle. Just as cell phones evolved to contain more and more personal information, as the electronic systems in cars have gotten more complex, the data recorders are able to record more information.

Also of importance is the difficulty of extracting the information from the black boxes.

Extracting and interpreting the information from a car’s black box is not like putting a car on a lift and examining the brakes or tires. Because the recorded data is not exposed to the public, and because the stored data is so difficult to extract and interpret, we hold there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in that information, protected by the Fourth Amendment, which required law enforcement in the absence of exigent circumstances to obtain a warrant before extracting the information from an impounded vehicle.

Not only that, but recent legislation (the Driver Privacy Act of 2015) specifically states that the contents of data recorders belong to the vehicle’s owner, not the manufacturer or any other third party.


Quote of the Day

But I do think one thing that has happened is that during the Cold War, for good or ill, Americans believed that they were the force of good. That belief is a lot harder to sustain in this day and age, for a range of reasons (not least the warrantless wiretapping and torture that Hayden facilitated). So just maybe the values remain the same, but America has changed?

Marcy Wheeler, noting that Hayden’s blame of millennials for leaks is not based in reality.

Wikileaks Explains Why the Internet of Things Sucks

Another document dump from Wikileaks, this revealing how the CIA hacks into PCs, phones, and smart televisions:

In what appears to be the largest leak of C.I.A documents in history, WikiLeaks released on Tuesday thousands of pages describing sophisticated software tools and techniques used by the agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions.

The documents amount to a detailed, highly technical catalog of tools. They include instructions for compromising a wide range of common computer tools for use in spying: the online calling service Skype; Wi-Fi networks; documents in PDF format; and even commercial antivirus programs of the kind used by millions of people to protect their computers.

A program called Wrecking Crew explains how to crash a targeted computer, and another tells how to steal passwords using the autocomplete function on Internet Explorer. Other programs were called CrunchyLimeSkies, ElderPiggy, AngerQuake and McNugget.

The document dump was the latest coup for the antisecrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which uses its hacking abilities to carry out espionage against foreign targets.

The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first installment in a larger collection of secret C.I.A. material, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, many of them partly redacted by WikiLeaks editors to avoid disclosing the actual code for cyberweapons. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, the group claimed.

In one revelation that may especially trouble the tech world if confirmed, WikiLeaks said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services have managed to compromise both Apple and Android smartphones, allowing their officers to bypass the encryption on popular services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate smartphones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

If you are wondering why you are constantly hearing of some large organization being hacked, one reason is that our state security apparatus refuses to patch holes, because they use them to spy on the rest of us:


Some of the attacks are what are known as “zero days” — exploitation paths hackers can use that vendors are completely unaware of, giving the vendors no time — zero days — to fix their products. WikiLeaks said the documents indicate the CIA has violated commitments made by the Obama administration to disclose serious software vulnerabilities to vendors to improve the security of their products. The administration developed a system called the Vulnerabilities Equities Process to allow various government entities to help determine when it’s better for national security to disclose unpatched vulnerabilities and when it’s better to take advantage of them to hunt targets.

At least some civil liberties advocates agree with the WikiLeaks assessment. “Access Now condemns the stockpiling of vulnerabilities, calls for limits on government hacking and protections for human rights, and urges immediate reforms to the Vulnerabilities Equities Process,” Nathan White, senior legislative manager for digital rights group Access Now, wrote in response to the new leak in a press release.

Iterestingly enough, it appears that the hacking tools were not actually classified:


But Wikileaks also suggests that, because the CIA doesn’t classify its attack tools, it leaves them more vulnerable to theft.

In what is surely one of the most astounding intelligence own goals in living memory, the CIA structured its classification regime such that for the most market valuable part of “Vault 7” — the CIA’s weaponized malware (implants + zero days), Listening Posts (LP), and Command and Control (C2) systems — the agency has little legal recourse.

The CIA made these systems unclassified.

Why the CIA chose to make its cyberarsenal unclassified reveals how concepts developed for military use do not easily crossover to the ‘battlefield’ of cyber ‘war’.

To attack its targets, the CIA usually requires that its implants communicate with their control programs over the internet. If CIA implants, Command & Control and Listening Post software were classified, then CIA officers could be prosecuted or dismissed for violating rules that prohibit placing classified information onto the Internet. Consequently the CIA has secretly made most of its cyber spying/war code unclassified. The U.S. government is not able to assert copyright either, due to restrictions in the U.S. Constitution. This means that cyber ‘arms’ manufactures and computer hackers can freely “pirate” these ‘weapons’ if they are obtained. The CIA has primarily had to rely on obfuscation to protect its malware secrets.

This is why offensive cyber war is something to be avoided, because any weapon you devise becomes immediately available to the enemy to be deployed against you.

If you find a bug, it should get fixed, because if you can use, so can anyone else.

Oh Snap

It appears that the European Commission got a legal opinion about the ISDS (Investor State Dispute System) that is central to the TTIP, the TPP, the CETA, and they were told that it was illegal under EU law.

We cannot be certain, but the fact that the EC is refusing to release the opinion and they are now being sued over this:

The European Commission faces an EU court battle to keep secret its lawyers’ analysis on whether the controversial investor-state-dispute (ISDS) clause in draft trade deals with the USA and Canada is illegal.

ClientEarth, an NGO of environmental lawyers, has slapped the Commission with a lawsuit after applying for the legal opinion using EU transparency rules.

It received heavily redacted documents that make it impossible to see the analysis of whether ISDS is legal under EU law. The redactions will be embarrassing for an institution that regularly claims to be the most transparent in the world and far more so than national governments.

ISDS is controversial because critics argue it will allow powerful multinationals to sue governments in international tribunals, which can have a chilling effect on their willingness to regulate in the public interest.

The Commission claims that the black-out is needed to protect its negotiations with the US on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) but that will now be tested by judges in the EU’s General Court in Luxembourg. The executive is mandated by member states to handle free trade agreement talks.


Were the Commission to be ultimately forced to publish analysis that found ISDS was incompatible with EU law, it could call the much-debated TTIP deal into question.

A legal precedent would also be set but the Commission would be able to appeal any decision to the European Court of Justice, which has so far resisted calls to issue an opinion on the clause’s legality.


The London-based NGO argues that ISDS is a “discriminatory legal tool” that creates an alternative legal system and may not be compatible with EU law.

The German Association of Judges and European Association of Judges have also expressed strong reservations. The Belgian parliament of Wallonia has called on the ECJ to give an opinion on the issue.

Lets be clear on this:  Secrecy here is not about negotiating positions.  It is about deceiving the general public and promulgating a deal which will hurt ordinary folk for the benefit of banksters and other rent seekers.