NSA tapped fiber cables to collect data

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The National Security Agency, which collected cellphone and online data from technology companies, also tapped fiber cables, The Washington Post said Wednesday.

The newspaper said it has obtained a classified NSA slide listing “two types of collection,” showing the agency had a data collection category called “Upstream” that accessed “communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past.”

That was in addition to PRISM, which collects information from technology companies and has been widely reported by the Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper…

A former judge on the secret U.S. court overseeing government surveillance requests says he was shocked by changes forcing the court to OK blanket surveillance.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court “has turned into something like an administrative agency,” retired U.S. District Judge James Robertson testified during a hearing of a federal oversight board, directed by President Barack Obama to examine government spying and civil liberties after rogue National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden leaked significant information about the NSA’s spying program.

“A judge needs to hear both sides of a case,” Robertson, who served on the secret surveillance court from 2002 to 2005, told the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in the first public hearings since Snowden’s revelations.

What FISA does is not adjudication, but approval,” Robertson said, referring to the court by its shorthand moniker, after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that created it.

“This works just fine when it deals with individual applications for warrants,” Robertson continued. “But the 2008 amendment has turned the FISA court into administrative agency making rules for others to follow.

“It is not the bailiwick of judges to make policy,” he said…

Robertson testified Tuesday he was “stunned” by the Times report, which said the FISA court had created a secret body of law empowering the NSA to amass vast amounts of data on Americans while pursuing not only terrorism suspects, but also people possibly involved in espionage, cyberattacks and nuclear proliferation.

He said he was originally impressed with how “careful, fastidious and scrupulous” the court process was but said with the court’s expanded role, the so-called ex parte system, in which only the federal government is allowed to make its case before the court, needed immediate reform.

This was the first time a current or former FISA judge had the courage to speak out publicly. FISA judges until now were anonymous – and defended the court. Obedient as you would expect.

CFPB to sanction banks using loan shark collection methods

Banks supervised by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now face penalties if they mistreat consumers while collecting debts, the U.S. agency said today.

The new policy, part of a crackdown on debt-collection practices the agency announced last year, will plug a gap in federal anti-harassment law that generally excluded creditors who collected debt themselves, rather than hiring third parties to do the work…

Is it clear to you, now, why Congressional Republicans worked so diligently trying to stop enactment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? The only consumer who means anything to Republicans and Tea Party populists is someone investing a minimum of seven figures at a pop. The rest of us aren’t worth noticing.

“It doesn’t matter who is collecting the debt — unfair, deceptive or abusive practices are illegal,” Richard Cordray, the CFPB director, said in an e-mailed statement…

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created by the Dodd-Frank law of 2010, supervises banks with assets over $10 billion, ranging from JPMorgan (JPM)to regional players like Lafayette, Louisiana-based Iberiabank Corp. (IBCK), for compliance with federal consumer-protection rules. It also oversees non-bank financial firms, such as credit bureaus, payday lenders and debt collectors.

The agency has signaled that it would take action against lending and debt-collection practices that take advantage of ill-informed or vulnerable consumers. In addition to reviewing debt-collection practices, the agency is scrutinizing payday and other small-dollar loans, overdraft fees, and discrimination in auto lending. As part of its efforts to identify problem areas for consumers, the agency is collecting and reviewing large amounts of consumer-transaction data…gasp!…a practice that has been criticized by lawmakers and financial industry firms.

Improper collection practices include threatening a consumer with actions a collector cannot take, such as arrest, or lying about who owns the debt or the amount, Cordray said. A second bulletin warns companies to be cautious in making statements about how paying a debt affects a person’s creditworthiness…

The CFPB is also opening its consumer-complaint system, which has included credit cards, mortgages and bank accounts, to debt collection, Cordray said.

In addition to filing a complaint against the debt collector, consumers can direct the complaint against the creditor that originated the loan.

Overdue; but, then, banks and lending institutions realized a long time ago it’s in their interest to own as many Democrats as Republicans. Especially on the state level.

In recent years, though, with the phony populism of the Tea Party and the Congressional tilt to Hoover-era politics and the Supreme Court endorsing easy money for the purchase of politicians, the worst robber barons of American capitalism figure they can buy politicians more efficiently by mostly sticking with Republicans.

I admit it is nice to see a namby-pamby set of regulations like Dodd-Frank begin to have some positive effect for ordinary workingclass Americans.

Prize-winning Shed of the Year

Gizmag sends out its heartfelt congratulations to Alex Holland, winner of this year’s coveted Shed of the Year award for his solar-powered nautically-themed shed built almost entirely from salvaged materials. The crowning glory is a 14-ft boat which has been left whole and inverted to form the roof. A 20-W solar panel powers the creature comforts inside.

To create the shed’s frame, the boat was fixed atop four telegraph poles plonked judiciously on a hillside amid Wales’ Cambrian Mountains. (The views aren’t at all bad, either). Aluminum-framed windows were salvaged from a 1940s caravan, and others were “borrowed” from Holland’s farmhouse. Walls are a mixture of corrugated metal and, for a taste of the Neolithic, wattle and daub.

Inside things take a turn for the high tech. The shed’s PV panel feeds a battery which provides power to LED lighting and a 12-V sound system – the only new item in the construction. The shed also boasts a plumbed Belfast sink (the generous, cuboid-shaped ones), and a 19th century wood burning stove for heat fitted with a chimney fashioned from the queen pole of an old circus big top.

Where sheds end and (sometimes pretentious) “micro-dwellings” begin is anyone’s guess, but it’s refreshing to come across a modestly-sized building designed for purposes other than commenting on the inherent tension between built and natural environments or seeking to blur the boundary between the indoors and the outdoors. Holland’s motive? “We have discovered that the shed is an ideal space for middle aged women to get drunk and dance wildly under the stars and we intend to pursue this policy!” he writes, at Readersheds.co.uk. “It is also an ideal place for me to sit whilst our 3 dogs run around our field exercising themselves.”

Best part: What Mr. Holland intends next –

Holland intends to spend the £1,000 winnings (more than twice the cost of building the shed) on a wind turbine “to give me enough electricity to make ice in the fridge for gin and tonics, and to ensure the cider and beers are always chilled.”