Thursday, November 15, 2012

Online Privacy Issue Is Also in Play in Petraeus Scandal, Count every vote on Prop 37!

 
 
Online Privacy Issue Is Also in Play in Petraeus Scandal
The F.B.I. investigation that toppled the director of the C.I.A. and has now entangled the top American commander in Afghanistan underscores a danger that civil libertarians have long warned about: that in policing the Web for crime, espionage and sabotage, government investigators will unavoidably invade the private lives of Americans.
 
On the Internet, and especially in e-mails, text messages, social network postings and online photos, the work lives and personal lives of Americans are inextricably mixed. Private, personal messages are stored for years on computer servers, available to be discovered by investigators who may be looking into completely unrelated matters.

In the current F.B.I. case, a Tampa, Fla., woman, Jill Kelley, a friend both of David H. Petraeus, the former C.I.A. director, and Gen. John R. Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, was disturbed by a half-dozen anonymous e-mails she had received in June. She took them to an F.B.I. agent whose acquaintance with Ms. Kelley (he had sent her shirtless photos of himself — electronically, of course) eventually prompted his bosses to order him to stay away from the investigation.

But a squad of investigators at the bureau’s Tampa office, in consultation with prosecutors, opened a cyberstalking inquiry. Although that investigation is still open, law enforcement officials have said that criminal charges appear unlikely.

In the meantime, however, there has been a cascade of unintended consequences. What began as a private, and far from momentous, conflict between two women, Ms. Kelley and Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s biographer and the reported author of the harassing e-mails, has had incalculable public costs.

The C.I.A. is suddenly without a permanent director at a time of urgent intelligence challenges in Syria, Iran, Libya and beyond. The leader of the American-led effort to prevent a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is distracted, at the least, by an inquiry into his e-mail exchanges with Ms. Kelley by the Defense Department’s inspector general.

For privacy advocates, the case sets off alarms.

“There should be an investigation not of the personal behavior of General Petraeus and General Allen, but of what surveillance powers the F.B.I. used to look into their private lives,” Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview. “This is a textbook example of the blurring of lines between the private and the public.”

Law enforcement officials have said they used only ordinary methods in the case, which might have included grand jury subpoenas and search warrants. As the complainant, Ms. Kelley presumably granted F.B.I. specialists access to her computer, which they would have needed in their hunt for clues to the identity of the sender of the anonymous e-mails. While they were looking, they discovered General Allen’s e-mails, which F.B.I. superiors found “potentially inappropriate” and decided should be shared with the Defense Department.

In a parallel process, the investigators gained access, probably using a search warrant, to Ms. Broadwell’s Gmail account. There they found messages that turned out to be from Mr. Petraeus.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said the chain of unexpected disclosures was not unusual in computer-centric cases.

“It’s a particular problem with cyberinvestigations — they rapidly become open-ended because there’s such a huge quantity of information available and it’s so easily searchable,” he said, adding, “If the C.I.A. director can get caught, it’s pretty much open season on everyone else.”

For years now, as national security officials and experts have warned of a Pearl Harbor cyberattack that could fray the electrical grid or collapse stock markets, policy makers have jostled over which agencies should be assigned the delicate task of monitoring the Internet for dangerous intrusions.

Advocates of civil liberties have been especially wary of the National Security Agency, whose expertise is unrivaled but whose immense surveillance capabilities they see as frightening. They have successfully urged that the Department of Homeland Security take the leading role in cybersecurity.

That is in part because the D.H.S., if far from entirely open to public scrutiny, is much less secretive than the N.S.A., the eavesdropping and code-breaking agency. To this day, N.S.A. officials have revealed almost nothing about the warrantless wiretapping it conducted inside the United States in the hunt for terrorists in the years after 2001, even after the secret program was disclosed by The New York Times in 2005 and set off a political firestorm.

The hazards of the Web as record keeper, of course, are a familiar topic. New college graduates find that their Facebook postings give would-be employers pause. Husbands discover wives’ infidelity by spotting incriminating e-mails on a shared computer. Teachers lose their jobs over impulsive Twitter comments.

But the events of the last few days have shown how law enforcement investigators who plunge into the private territories of cyberspace looking for one thing can find something else altogether, with astonishingly destructive results.

Some people may applaud those results, at least in part. By having a secret extramarital affair, for instance, Mr. Petraeus was arguably making himself vulnerable to blackmail, which would be a serious concern for a top intelligence officer. What if Russian or Chinese intelligence, rather than the F.B.I., had discovered the e-mails between the C.I.A. director and Ms. Broadwell?

Likewise, military law prohibits adultery — which General Allen’s associates say he denies committing — and some kinds of relationships. So should an officer’s privacy really be total?

But some commentators have renewed an argument that a puritanical American culture overreacts to sexual transgressions that have little relevance to job performance. “Most Americans were dismayed that General Petraeus resigned,” said Mr. Romero of the A.C.L.U.

That old debate now takes place in a new age of electronic information. The public shaming that labeled the adulterer in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” might now be accomplished by an F.B.I. search warrant or an N.S.A. satellite dish.

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Below is an email from Linda Masterson, a MoveOn member in Felton, California, who created a petition on SignOn.org, the nonprofit site that allows anyone to start their own online petition. If you have concerns or feedback about this petition, click here.


Dear California MoveOn member, According to investigative journalist Jon Rappoport, more than one million votes on Prop 37 (the GMO labeling initiative) in California have gone uncounted to date. Since the margin of "victory" is about 600,000 votes, this means Prop 37 may conceivably have passed.

Rappoport called the voter registrar offices in the largest California counties and nearly 1.7 million votes remain uncounted in Santa Clara, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Orange Counties alone. It is still unknown how many votes are uncounted in other California counties.

Click here to sign the petition: Count every vote on Prop 37.

I created a petition on SignOn.org to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, which says:

We petition Debra Bowen, secretary of state of California, to require that ALL votes cast in the November 6 election be counted immediately. We specifically demand that ALL ballots in the following counties be counted and recorded: Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, and Santa Clara. We demand that the results of this complete ballot counting be made public immediately.

Click here to add your name to this petition, and then pass it along to your friends.

Thanks!

–Linda Masterson

This petition was created on SignOn.org, the progressive, nonprofit petition site. SignOn.org is sponsored by MoveOn Civic Action, which is not responsible for the contents of this or other petitions posted on the site. Linda Masterson didn't pay us to send this email—we never rent or sell the MoveOn.org list.

Want to support our work? MoveOn Civic Action is entirely funded by our 7 million members—no corporate contributions, no big checks from CEOs. And our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. Chip in here.


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