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FBI misused surveillance data, spied on its own, FISA ruling finds

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FBI agents ran queries across thousands of US individuals, including potential sources and anyone with access to FBI facilities, against raw metadata from FISA-authorized bulk collection databases.

Enlarge / FBI agents ran queries across thousands of US individuals, including potential sources and anyone with access to FBI facilities, against raw metadata from FISA-authorized bulk collection databases. (credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In an October 2018 ruling unsealed and posted on October 8, 2019 by the Office of the Director of Intelligence, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) found that the employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had inappropriately used data collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The FBI was found to have misused surveillance data to look into American residents, including other FBI employees and their family members, making large-scale queries that did not distinguish between US persons and foreign intelligence targets.

The revelation drew immediate outcry from privacy advocates and renewed calls for the termination of FISA and USA FREEDOM Act that authorized bulk intelligence collection. President Donald Trump signed a bill extending Section 702 collection authorizations for six years in 2018; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence announced earlier this year that the administration would seek the extension of authority for collection of call data granted under the USA FREEDOM Act.

In a statement emailed to Ars Technica, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani, said:

The government should not be able to spy on our calls and emails without a warrant. Any surveillance legislation considered by Congress this year must include reforms that address the disturbing abuses detailed in these opinions. Congress and the courts now have even more reason to prohibit warrantless searches of our information, and to permanently close the door on any collection of information that is not to or from a surveillance target.

Let me Intel-Google that

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling found that the FBI's "querying procedures" for intelligence data did not properly record when the database of intelligence data was searched for information about US persons. "The querying procedures did not require FBI personnel to document the basis for finding that each United States-person query term satisfied the relevant standard—i.e., that queries be reasonably designed to return foreign-inteligence information or evidence of crime," the FISC opinion stated. "Without such documentation and in view of reported instances of non-compliance with that standard, the procedures seemed unreasonable under FISA's definition of 'minimization procedures' and possibly the Fourth Amendment."

Among those instances of "non-compliance" were:

  • Between March 24 and 27, 2017, the FBI ran queries against intelligence data "using identifiers for over 70,000 communications facilities 'associated with' persons with access to FBI facilities and systems," the court noted, "notwithstanding advice from the FBI Office of General Counsel (OGC) that they should not be conducted without the approval of the OGC and the National Security Division of the Department of Justice."
  • On December 1, 2017, a redacted FBI division "conducted over 6,800 queries using the Social Security Numbers of individuals" against raw, unredacted FISA data. A week later, the same unit conducted 1,600 queries using another set of identifiers for US persons. The person who conducted the queries "advised he did not intend to run them against raw FISA information, but nonetheless reviewed raw FISA information returned by them."
  • In February of 2018, the FBI searched raw FISA data for information, with about 30 queries regarding "potential [redacted] sources," and conducted about 45 other queries on people "under consideration as potential sources of information."
  • In an undated event, reported to the Department of Justice's National Security Division in April of 2018, the FBI ran queries against raw FISA metadata using identifiers for "approximately 57,000 individuals" where it was not clear that the information would return foreign intelligence information.
  • Queries against individual US persons were run against the FISA data on a number of occasions, including people about to be served a FISA order—and "a small number of cases in which FBI personnel apparently conducted queries for improper personal reasons—for example, a contract linguist who ran queries on himself, other FBI employees, and relatives."

The court found a huge lack of oversight over the FBI's querying of FISA metadata and ordered the FBI to revise its search procedures. The FISC ruling said that the FISA statutory and Fourth Amendment concerns regarding warrantless searches would be cleared if all queries required written documentation of the basis for a belief by the FBI that searching against a US person's metadata would be "reasonably likely to return foreign-intelligence information or evidence of crime" before anyone at the FBI was allowed access to the contents of FISA data that would be returned by such a search.

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6 days ago
"But definitely trust us with a backdoor into all encryption, tho. We totally promise we won't abuse that one."
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Signs of the Sojourner (Alpha, Crowdfunding)

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Play through conversations by deciding how to follow your partner’s lead.

Signs of the Sojourner is a conversational deck-building game by the small indie studio Echodog, currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo and featuring writing by the excellent Kevin Snow. A polished, substantial demo is available on itch.io.

In short: I saw Kevin Snow’s pitch about this game and thought, neat, any game with Kevin’s writing is worth a look. Then I paid a couple dollars to download the demo from itch — you can of course get it for free, but it seemed polite. Then I played the demo through from start to finish, twice, getting significantly different experiences in the two playthroughs.

When I got to the end of the second play, I was having so much fun that I really felt quite sulky about the fact that this was just a demo and that I can’t play the full game until later.

Since I really want the full game to exist in maximum glory, I backed it and then came over here to tell you about why it’s cool. And as I wrote up this post, I needed a few more screenshots and wound up replaying almost all of the alpha for a third time because I was still having fun and discovering some new things about how the mechanics worked.

When I heard this described as a conversational deck-building game, I was intrigued but not sure what to expect. The two areas of closest adjacent work I can think of are the narrative deck-building projects built in StoryNexus and the conversational mechanics explored by Tea-Powered Games, especially in their forthcoming Elemental Flow. But this works a bit differently from either of those.

The essential concept is a sort of game of dominos. Your partner plays a card that has one or more output symbols; you need to follow that with a card with a matching input symbol.

My childhood friend Elias offers some easy practice at conversation while my deck isn’t yet very diverse.

Each conversation needs a certain number of positive interactions, represented by the white squares in the upper right area of the conversation status bar, in order to succeed.

Here, I’ve had several good interactions with Alexis, and I just need one more to end the scene happily.

If a conversation goes poorly and one partner isn’t able to match the other’s move, your partner will say something defensive, aggressive, or apologetic. The black squares represent the number of these missteps that the conversation can endure, a sort of shared pool of hit points for the dialogue.

Sadly, I didn’t have a card with a purple square on it, so I wasn’t able to play a match for Airat’s comments here.

Conversations that accumulate too many failures end without you gaining everything you might have gained from that character — trade goods, information, or a temporary travel companion.

This conversation got off to a good start, but then we ran into a series of impasses, because the chandler kept wanting to play blue diamonds and I didn’t have enough blue diamond cards in my deck to be able to work with her.

At the end of every conversation, whether it went well or badly, you have a mandatory gain/trash mechanic: you must choose one of your existing deck to get rid of — and you can’t use this opportunity to trash junk cards, about which more in a minute — but you also must pick up a new card that you saw your conversation partner use.

Since your initial deck includes five each of two types of card, at first you’re just using this opportunity to diversify your range of options. But you’re also upgrading: some cards feature some kind of wild-card matching or confer an extra effect when played. These mechanics are mostly narratively meaningful: “observe” lets you see your partner’s hand, making it easier to lead cards that they’ll be able to successfully follow; “clarify” lets you play a card into the middle of the sequence rather than at the end, buying time if you can’t play on the final card. I’m especially excited to try the “elaborate” card I found near the end of the game.

The one piece of this that didn’t come through for me quite as strongly in play is the meaning of the symbols themselves, which Echodog describe thus:

At the end of a conversation sequence, the outcome of the conversation depends on which symbol has been played most during the interaction, but it wasn’t generally clear to me, even on two playthroughs, what difference that made; and typically I was just trying to diversify my hand to match as well as possible, rather than, say, trying to maximize my holdings in empathy.

Even if you aren’t picking up the assigned meanings for the symbols, though, character differences do come through in the mechanics very clearly because your various conversation partners are holding very different decks. You start the game with a lot of circle-circle and circle-triangle cards; your childhood friend Elias has a lot of circle-circle and triangle-circle cards. That means it’s extremely easy to get into patterns with him, either continuous streams of circles or oscillation between circles and triangles.

And, initially, you’re not so well equipped to deal with other characters. But as you adjust your deck to be more generally useful, you may actually find that your changing style of behavior makes your discussions with Elias just a bit less smooth than before, an abstract representation of how we grow apart from people. And he has less growth to offer you, too: when you talk to him, you can only ever “learn” pretty basic cards from him, so after a while, he might be making your deck just a little worse.

He never really becomes hard to talk to — there’s usually a way through, and he’s more forgiving of mistakes than most other characters — and there are usually other rewards for talking to him that make it worth the minor hit to your deck quality. But even the slight change of that relationship is an intriguing thing to see arising naturally from the mechanic.

Meanwhile, other character personalities come through different arrangements of the mechanic. Some characters are really one-note, sticking strongly to a particular symbol and not being interested in others. Some are touchy, tolerating fewer bad interactions before they leave. Some are more easily pleased, considering three turns of chat to be a “success” rather than requiring five.

I haven’t yet learned the route to Old Marae, but it appears on my map because a character mentioned it to me in conversation.

All these encounters are set on a map that gradually opens out, allowing you to visit different trading environments. As in 80 Days, conversation reveals new locations to visit, and new locations contain new people to talk to.

Conversation mechanics tie back to the map via more than just the unlocks, though. For one thing, people in distant towns talk in a different way — at any rate, they have cards with different symbols you may not have seen before — capturing the feeling that you might be out of your depth or just not know what to say about local concerns if you’re far outside your own context.

Tiredness and comfort are also beautifully carried over into the deck mechanics. The longer you travel, especially if you take long journeys in certain parts of the map, the more you accrue junk “fatigue” cards in your deck. They match nothing, cluttering up your hand and making it less likely that you’ll have a way to make the conversation progress successfully. The only way to get rid of them is to return home for a rest.

That second card in my hand is a fatigue card. It matches nothing and crowds out other cards that might be a better fit. Unfortunately, in this case, I have nothing that will let me respond to Ophelia’s blue diamond lead, so I’m about to have a negative interaction with her.

And there’s one particular character in the alpha who’s especially likely to unavoidably pounce on you as soon as you get home from a long journey, demanding a difficult dialogue just when you’re least equipped to handle it. Both times I played this scene, the conversation broke down, because though I was trying my best to be constructive, I just didn’t have the resources right then.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a conversation game represent this effect, and it resonated with me so much. I love talking to people, but when I’m really tired, it becomes substantially harder for me — harder to think what I want to say next, harder to project energy and emotional warmth, harder to interpret social cues from people I don’t already know well.

For a couple years of GDC, I got annoyed with myself because I found networking parties rough going. Then a friend pointed out to me what should have been obvious. I’ve learned a lot of ways of masking and compensating, but I am a massive introvert. Social time drains me, even if I’m truly enjoying it. And 10 PM in a loud room after fourteen hours of other social and intellectual demands is pretty much the worst possible context to expect myself to be sparkly at strangers. I stopped trying to force myself to spend hours at a loud party every night and came up with some other strategies for getting to talk to people that would work better for me.

I feel really seen by this conversation mechanic, is what I’m saying here.

It’s not all mechanics of frustration, though. Partway through the alpha, you get a dog, Thunder. You can have conversation encounters with Thunder, too — but all Thunder’s cards are rainbow pawprint cards that match with everything. It doesn’t matter what you say to Thunder; he will always love you.

Thunder’s deck is nothing but affection.

There’s a lot the conversation mechanic also doesn’t do, in significant difference from most conversational games:

  • portray the protagonist’s speech verbatim at all: we never see a literal representation of anything “you” say
  • allow you to steer to particular topics. Characters want to talk about what they want to talk about, and that will either succeed or fail, but you can’t redirect their course
  • offer you explicit choices where you’re choosing whether or not to do someone a favor or answer a question
  • represent your skills as stats or traits. Everything you’re able to do is represented by the contents of your deck and how you choose to play it

I’m also not entirely sure yet how much statefulness there is in your relationships with other characters; I think I’d need to play beyond the scope of an alpha to find that out.

Anyway. There’s even more I could say here, and I’ve already rattled on quite a long time: about how I like the art style, and how the UI feels very friendly and smooth, and how the setting confronts a climate-changed future but without implying total despair; about how it offers success and failure but in a very gentle way with lots of grades of partial success or interesting consequence to failure, so that you never feel kicked or bullied by the game.

It’s really a generous-spirited and observant piece and I cannot wait for there to be a lot more of it to play.

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11 days ago
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Thirty-Two Short Stories About Jeffrey Epstein

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Today at The Atlantic: link.

Copyright 2017 by the named Popehat author.
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63 days ago
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Adversarial Fashion

4th Amendment Crop Top

The patterns on the goods in this shop are designed to trigger Automated License Plate Readers, injecting junk data in to the systems used by the State and its contractors to monitor and track civilians and their locations.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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65 days ago
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Comic for 2019.08.02

New Cyanide and Happiness Comic
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74 days ago
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Super Mario battle royale returns as ‘DMCA Royale’

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Infringio and Copyright Infringio on the opening screen of <em>DMCA Royale</em>

It’s a-he, Infringio!

Perhaps you heard this week about Mario Royale, the browser-based game that turned a Super Mario Bros. world into a 75-player race. Perhaps you thought to yourself, “Aaaaand this guy is getting a C&D in 3 … 2 …” Perhaps the developer did, too, because shortly after facing the steely gaze of Nintendo’s lawyers, it’s back as DMCA Royale.

Recap: Last week, Mario Royale was found by Kotaku, and its creator, InfernoPlus, was interviewed by Vice. In his game, hordes of players tore through one of three worlds (so, a multi-stage race) in a race to finish first, and while they couldn’t bump into one another they could affect (and even eliminate) others’ progress. Forgiving some serious input lag, it was a brilliant idea, brilliantly inspired by Tetris 99’s proof that anything can be battle royale-ified.

But, with great popularity comes great lawyering. InfernoPlus indicated an awareness of fan games’ short lifespan when they involve Nintendo properties, and appears to have had a plan ready. Version 2.0.0 was “patched” yesterday (with a one-word patch note: “Fuck”) and de-Mariofied. Same day, the game came back and “almost all missing assets have now been recreated by seal team six.” It’s a-miracle!

DMCA Royale now involves the characters Infringio and his brother, Copyright Infringio. All of the assets have been changed to look like a knock-off someone’s grandmother bought from a nice man at the flea market. But as of writing, there are still 691 players online in games.

And patch 2.0.1 delivers a couple of quality-of-life upgrades, too: the game may be launched with the A button on a gamepad (miraculously, Mar— uh, DMCA Royale is a browser game that fully supports gamepads) and there’s a “kid friendly/streamer mode” that strips out players’ self-bestowed names. If you’re unclear why players’ names could be a problem, the “N” button that activates it should give you a hint.

Who knows if the changes are enough to ward off Nintendo’s lawyer-mans; while InfernoPlus’ fear of being sued is no doubt genuine, lawyers also hate work as much as you or I do, so whatever point could be proven by suing may not be worth the bother. InfernoPlus’ addition of “lore” and the changed assets seem to be deliberate enough to support his contention that this is a parody and therefore fair use. But I’m not a lawyer.

You may remember Super Mario Crossover, a flash game that was all the rage when it launched back in (feels really old) 2010. That sucker is still going strong on Newgrounds, and creator Jay Pavlina (of Exploding Rabbit) was able to Kickstart a knockoff called Super Retro Squad. Though that game effectively died in 2014 (later returning as Glitch Strikers, but that still has not launched) everything has still survived, unmolested by lawyerly nastygrams. Perhaps DMCA Royale and Infringio are different enough that people can go back to playing this free game.

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113 days ago
> "Infringio."
"...last name?"
> "Infringio."
"Infringio Infringio? *sigh* ...and you?"
> "Copyright."
"Let me guess, Copyright Copyright?"
> "No, Copyright Infringio!"
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