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France’s Emergency Powers: The New Normal

Just Security:

The new, six-month extension of emergency powers creates France’s longest state of emergency since the Algerian War in the 1950s. The new law restores or extends previous emergency provisions, such as empowering police to carry out raids and local authorities to place suspects under house arrest without prior judicial approval. It also expands those powers, for example allowing the police to search luggage and vehicles without judicial warrants. In addition it reinstates warrantless seizures of computer and cellphone data that France’s highest legal authority had struck down as unconstitutional, adding a few restrictions that still fall short of judicial oversight.

In separate reports in February, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International documented more than three dozen cases in which the use of these emergency powers violated universal rights to liberty, privacy, or freedoms of movement, association and expression. The two groups also found that the emergency acts lost suspects jobs, traumatized children, and damaged homes. The vast majority of those targeted were Muslims. Those interviewed said the actions left them feeling stigmatized and eroded their trust in the French authorities. The latest version of the emergency law risks compounding these effects.

The decisions to advance unconstitutional and discriminatory ‘security’ laws and policies following serious crimes threaten to undermine democracies while potentially strengthening states. But worryingly there are fewer and fewer loud voices for the rough and tumble consequences of maintaining a democratic form of governance as opposed to those who assert that a powerful state apparatus is needed if normalcy is to exist. The result may be the sleepwalking from governments for and by the people, to those that protect citizen-serfs and harshly discriminate against difference.

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On Encryption and Terrorists

On Encryption and Terrorists:

I’ve come to see encryption as the natural extension a computer scientist can give a democracy. A permeation of the simple assurance that you can carry out your life freely and privately, as enshrined in the constitutions and charters of France, Lebanon as well as the United States. To take away these guarantees doesn’t work. It doesn’t produce better intelligence. It’s not why our intelligence isn’t competing in the first place. But it does help terrorist groups destroy the moral character of our politics from within, when out of fear, we forsake our principles.

If we take every car off the street, every iPhone out of people’s pockets and every single plane out of the sky, it wouldn’t do anything to stop terrorism. Terrorism isn’t about means, but about ends. It’s not about the technology but about the anger, the ignorance that holds a firm grip over the actor’s mind.

Nadim’s explanation of what encryption is used for, and his correlates between using encryption or automobiles for terror-related activties, is amongst the clearest I’ve read. It’s worth the 5-7 minutes it’ll take you to read.

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Secret Courts, Secret Evidence, and American Justice

Techdirt has recently covered a just shameful decision out of the US. The case involved an alleged domestic terror suspect who the FBI helped in every way to plan a bombing in Chicago. From the article:

Daoud’s lawyers made a much more thorough request for the evidence obtained via the FAA. As they note, there may be significant problems with the FISA information, including, but not limited to the FISA application for electronic surveillance may fail to establish probable cause that Dauoud was “an agent of a foreign power.” As they note, he was an American citizen and school student in suburban Chicago. They also suggest the FISA application may have contained material falsehoods or omissions and might violate the 4th Amendment. The surveillance also may have violated the FISA law. There are many other reasons they bring up as well.

The Justice Department (of course) argued that it shouldn’t have to hand over any of this info, in part because it’s classified and in part because they’re not going to use that evidence against Daoud.

Unfortunately, the court wasted little time in agreeing with the feds that they don’t need to turn over the evidence collected under FISA.

Just to be clear, this means that a secret court approved the secret surveillance of a domestically situated American citizen, and then refused to disclose the collected evidence. The American defendant, then, cannot know the totality of evidence that the state collected. This evidence might have played a key role in subsequent investigative efforts and, as a result, may have ‘poisoned’ the subsequent evidence.

Of course, we seemingly won’t ever know if such a poisoning theorem is true or not. All we’ll know is that American courts permit the state to engage in secret surveillance without disclosing what was collected to defence attorneys. And declare all subsequent proceedings as a ‘fair’ trial environment.

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Good, Brief, Interview on Trust and Security

An excellent piece from Bruce Schneier, in interview, concerning the relationship between trust and security. It’s short, so just go read it. For a taste:

My primary concerns are threats from the powerful. I’m not worried about criminals, even organised crime. Or terrorists, even organised terrorists. Those groups have always existed, always will, and they’ll always operate on the fringes of society. Societal pressures have done a good job of keeping them that way. It’s much more dangerous when those in power use that power to subvert trust. Specifically, I am thinking of governments and corporations.