January 7, 2009

Glenn Greenwald on a Roll [1:35 pm]

Not that it’s going to make one whit of difference — but I’m glad that someone’s at least paying attention: The DOJ pursues the “real criminal” in the NSA spying scandal

Meanwhile, the only person to pay any price from this rampant lawbreaking – Tom Tamm — is the one with infinitely less power than all of them, the one who risked his job security and even freedom to bring to the nations attention the fact that our highest government officials were deliberately committing felonies in how they spied on us.  Those who broke the law and those who actively enabled it — the Cheneys and Haydens and Rockefellers and Pelosis and Harmans — all protect one another, and have virtually every political and media elite righteously demand that nothing be done to them.  

But there is not a peep of protest over the ongoing, life-destroying persecution of the former DOJ lawyer whose conscience compelled him to do what those cowardly Democratic leaders would not do:  take action to uncover rampant criminality at the highest levels of our government.  Harry Reid is a real tough guy when it comes to the momentous goal of preventing Roland Burris from entering the Senate. Dianne Feinstein is enraged over the grave injustice that she was not told in advance about the new CIA Director.  Is it even possible to envision a Democratic Congressional leader — many of whom eagerly enabled most of the abuses of the last eight years undertaken by the Bush administration — objecting to the ongoing persecution of this whistle-blower, someone who did the job they were all either afraid or unwilling to do?

That’s Americas justice system in a nutshell:  the President who deliberately and knowingly violated our 30-year-old law making it a felony offense to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants has the entire political and media class eagerly defend him against prosecution.  Those who enabled him — in both parties — block investigations into what was done. [...]

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December 15, 2008

Saying “Enough?” [10:24 am]

Or something else? Brookline wary of surveillance cameras (pdf)

Even as eight other cities and towns across Greater Boston prepare to more than double, to 183, the number of security cameras monitoring their streets, Brookline is threatening to reject the cameras, as town officials confront a brewing rebellion of residents decrying the rise of a “surveillance society.”

[...] “The overarching concern is what kind of society are we creating, where general police surveillance cameras are in operation,” said Sarah Wunsch, an attorney for the ACLU. “You cannot assume that we will always be a free society, and we are putting the structures in place that would allow a very different United States of America from the one we have lived in.”

Wunsch, a Brookline resident, scoffed at the notion of the cameras’ use as a traffic management tool during an emergency.

“The people who live in town laugh at that because the town can’t prevent gridlock at rush hour,” she said. “To say these cameras are going to help traffic during an evacuation is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Using cameras for that purpose, most people think, is crazy.”

Brookline Police Chief Daniel C. O’Leary said the cameras could help manage traffic and investigate crime. “It’s a valuable tool that I don’t want to lose, and I think the value goes beyond just managing an evacuation,” he said. “There are everyday uses that a lot of people could benefit from.”

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November 20, 2008

Skills: Check. Grasp of Consequences/Implications: (I’ll Get Back To You). [9:50 am]

And yet, if the headline is to be believed, nothing to worry about: Teenagers’ Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing (pdf)

“It may look as though kids are wasting a lot of time hanging out with new media, whether it’s on MySpace or sending instant messages,” said Mizuko Ito, lead researcher on the study, “Living and Learning With New Media.” “But their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.”

The study, conducted from 2005 to last summer, describes new-media usage but does not measure its effects.

“It certainly rings true that new media are inextricably woven into young people’s lives,” said Vicki Rideout, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation and director of its program for the study of media and health. “Ethnographic studies like this are good at describing how young people fit social media into their lives. What they can’t do is document effects. This highlights the need for larger, nationally representative studies.”

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October 16, 2008

Setting An Example for the World [5:55 pm]

Why it’s not called Total Information Awareness is beyond meL Britain Considers Database for Telephone and E-Mail Traffic (pdf)

The British government is considering setting up a database of all phone and e-mail traffic in the country as part of a high-tech strategy to fight terrorism and crime, its senior law enforcement official said Wednesday.

The official, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, said Britain’s police and security services needed new ways to collect and store records of phone calls, e-mail messages and Internet traffic.

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October 2, 2008

Just Because You’re Paranoid [6:59 am]

It doesn’t mean that someone’s not watching you. The technology that makes it possible to communicate makes it possible to monitor the communication, too. It all depends on how you decide to employ it: Huge System for Web Surveillance Discovered in China (pdf)

A group of Canadian human-rights activists and computer security researchers has discovered a huge surveillance system in China that monitors and archives certain Internet text conversations that include politically charged words.

[...] The researchers were able to download and analyze copies of the surveillance data because the Chinese computers were improperly configured, leaving them accessible. The researchers said they did not know who was operating the surveillance system, but they said they suspected that it was the Chinese wireless firm, possibly with cooperation from Chinese police.

Independent executives from the instant message industry say the discovery is an indication of a spiraling computer war that is tracking the introduction of new communications technologies.

“I can see an arms race going on,” said Pat Peterson, vice president for technology at Cisco’s Ironport group, which provides messaging security systems. “China is one of the more wired places of the world and they are fighting a war with their populace.”

And, hey, don’t hardware vendors market their equipments’ capabilities to “shape” traffic? It’s just a matter of how, and why. Of course, see also Jim Fallows on the Great Firewall on how a surveilled population devises response strategies.

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September 23, 2008

Some More Shoes Drop [6:22 am]

Expanded Powers to Search Travelers at Border Detailed (pdf)

In July, the Department of Homeland Security disclosed policies that showed that federal agents may copy books, documents, and the data on laptops and other electronic devices without suspecting a traveler of wrongdoing. But what DHS did not disclose was that since 1986 and until last year, the government generally required a higher standard: Federal agents needed probable cause that a law was being broken before they could copy material a traveler was bringing into the country.

The changes are part of a broader trend across the government to harness technology in the fight against terrorism. But they are taking place largely without public input or review, critics said, raising concerns that federal border agents are acting without proper guidelines or oversight and that policies are being adopted that do not adequately protect travelers’ civil liberties when they are being questioned or their belongings searched.

[...] In July 2007, the government dropped the requirement that there be reasonable suspicion to review material but specified that the review had to take place in connection with laws enforced by CBP, according to a copy of a policy the groups obtained.

Then, this July, the government issued its broadest policy to date regarding information searches at the border, allowing documents and electronic devices to be detained for an unspecified period. Moreover, they may now be copied without any suspicion of wrongdoing, the lowest legal standard.

See these earlier posts: “Unreasonable Search and Seizure” and Electronic Devices and Searches

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The NYTimes Dives Into Social Networking [6:03 am]

TimesPeople FAQ - The New York Times

What is TimesPeople?

TimesPeople is a social network for Times readers. But it’s not a social network like Facebook or MySpace — you won’t have Times friends, and it won’t get you Times dates. Instead, you’ll assemble a network of Times readers. Then you’ll be able to share interesting things on NYTimes.com with others in the network. For example, when you recommend an article, comment on a blog post, or rate a movie or restaurant, these activities will become visible to other TimesPeople users in a special toolbar at the top of every NYTimes.com page. You’ll also have a personal page that keeps track of your TimesPeople activities and lets you browse your network of readers.

TimesPeople is a great way to discover things on NYTimes.com that you might not otherwise have found and to share your discoveries with other NYTimes.com readers.

How does TimesPeople work?

Once you have signed up, TimesPeople begins to collect the public actions you take on NYTimes.com. Other readers can choose to see your activity, and you can choose to see theirs. You’ll have several ways to begin building your network: use the built-in search box, select from a list of suggested users you might know, or import your e-mail contacts. And you’ll continue to expand your network simply by using TimesPeople and encountering other readers.

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September 19, 2008

Sneaking Around [7:51 am]

“If I told you how big the problem was, I’d have to kill you.” Excellent — another excuse to duck oversight. I look forward to finding out what the next one will be: Cyber Attack Data-Sharing Is Lacking, Congress Told (pdf)

U.S. intelligence agencies are unable to share information about foreign cyber attacks against companies for fear of jeopardizing intelligence-gathering sources and methods, cyber security expert Paul B. Kurtz told lawmakers yesterday.

Kurtz, who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton and Bush administrations, spoke at the first open hearing on cyber security held by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. [...]

Some testimony has been posted:

  • Paul Kurtz
    Former Senior Director, Critical Infrastructure Protection
    White House Homeland Security Council

  • Amit Yoran
    Former Director, National Cyber Security Division
    Department of Homeland Security

  • John Nagengast
    Former Assistant Deputy Director
    National Security Agency

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September 18, 2008

Hoist [7:43 am]

Glenn Greenwald has a field day: What does Sarah Palin have to hide in her Yahoo emails?

Some adolescent criminal (in mentality if not age) yesterday hacked into a Yahoo account used by Sarah Palin for both personal and business email, and various sites — including Gawker — posted some of the emails online. [...]

[I]t’s really a wondrous, and repugnant, sight to behold the Bush-following lynch mobs on the Right melodramatically defend the Virtues of Privacy and the Rule of Law. These, of course, are the same authoritarians who have cheered on every last expansion of the Lawless Surveillance State of the last eight years — put their fists in the air with glee as the Federal Government seized the power to listen to innocent Americans’ telephone calls; read our emails; obtain our banking, credit card, and library records; and create vast data bases of every call we make and receive and every prescription we fill and every instance of travel and other vast categories of information that remain largely unknown — all without warrants or oversight of any kind and often in clear violation of the law.

The same political faction which today is prancing around in full-throated fits of melodramatic hysteria and Victim mode (their absolute favorite state of being) over the sanctity of Sarah Palin’s privacy are the same ones who scoffed with indifference as it was revealed during the Bush era that the FBI systematically abused its Patriot Act powers to gather and store private information on thousands of innocent Americans; that Homeland Security officials illegally infiltrated and monitored peaceful, law-abiding left-wing groups devoted to peace activism, civil liberties and other political agendas disliked by the state; and that the telephone calls of journalists and lawyers have been illegally and repeatedly monitored.

And the same Surveillance State Worshipper leading today’s screeching — Michelle Makin — spent the last several years attacking those who objected to the President’s illegal spying program as “privacy crusaders” and “constitutional absolutists” and “civil liberties absolutists”.

Shouldn’t these same people be standing today up and insisting that if Sarah Palin has done nothing wrong, then she should have nothing to hide? [...]

[...] Last night, O’Reilly angrily lamented that “we have no privacy left in this country anymore.” That’s the very same Bill O’Reilly who went on television last October to gravely warn that John Edwards was a “Far Leftist” and detailed all the dark things that would happen if Edwards were elected President:

Would you support President John Edwards? Remember, no coerced interrogation, civilian lawyers in courts for captured overseas terrorists, no branding the Iranian guards terrorists, and no phone surveillance without a specific warrant.

Nice to see him having so much fun with this — I just don’t know if irony is really a workable political advocacy strategy. But it would be nice to see some of the proponents for the surveillance state squirm, even a little bit.

More info: Palin’s Yahoo e-mail account hacked

See also Hacking Sarah Palin from Slate and Hackers leak e-mails from Palin account (pdf), both of which go into more detail into the interesting issue surrounding the decision by Alaskan officials to use private email accounts to conduct state business, rather than using the accounts supplied by the state for business use. Also Hackers Access Palin’s Personal E-Mail, Post Some Online (pdf)

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September 15, 2008

A Privacy Decision Facing An Uphill Fight [9:42 am]

Judge Limits Searches Using Cellphone Data (pdf)

The government must obtain a warrant based on probable cause of criminal activity before directing a wireless provider to turn over records that show where customers used their cellphones, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, in the first opinion by a federal district court on the issue.

Judge Terrence F. McVerry of the Western District of Pennsylvania rejected the government’s argument that historical cellphone tower location data did not require probable cause.

The ruling could begin to establish the standard for such requests, which industry lawyers say are routine as more people carry cellphones that reveal their locations. Around the country, magistrate judges, who handle matters such as search warrants, have expressed concern about the lack of guidance.

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Facebook? MySpace? Why Not Go All Out! [8:07 am]

Spit Parties for Folks Who Want to Break Their Own DNA Code

COMPREHENSIVE DNA tests may one day be a normal part of medical care, but right now 23andMe’s efforts to make genetic testing an impulse buy disturbs many researchers.

“People think if you have money to spend on this, why not buy a test instead of a model train for Christmas,” said Dr. Alan Guttmacher, acting director of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. “It can be neat and fun, but it can also have deep psychological implications, both for how you view yourself and how others view you, depending on who else has access to the information.”

Ms. Wojcicki and Linda Avey, the company’s other founder, say their chief goal is to advance science by compiling a database of genetic information that medical researchers can tap (while protecting customers’ anonymity). Customers cannot opt out of having their information anonymously shared, but they can refuse to participate in surveys focusing on specific traits.

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September 5, 2008

Leaning Into The Punch [2:17 pm]

An exploration of what you get, and what you lose, when you decide to play the game: Magazine Preview - I’m So Totally, Digitally Close to You

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.

“It’s like I can distantly read everyone’s mind,” Haley went on to say. “I love that. I feel like I’m getting to something raw about my friends. It’s like I’ve got this heads-up display for them.” It can also lead to more real-life contact, because when one member of Haley’s group decides to go out to a bar or see a band and Twitters about his plans, the others see it, and some decide to drop by — ad hoc, self-organizing socializing. And when they do socialize face to face, it feels oddly as if they’ve never actually been apart. They don’t need to ask, “So, what have you been up to?” because they already know. Instead, they’ll begin discussing something that one of the friends Twittered that afternoon, as if picking up a conversation in the middle.

Facebook and Twitter may have pushed things into overdrive, but the idea of using communication tools as a form of “co-presence” has been around for a while. [...]

[...] Online awareness inevitably leads to a curious question: What sort of relationships are these? What does it mean to have hundreds of “friends” on Facebook? What kind of friends are they, anyway?

[...] “If anything, it’s identity-constraining now,” Tufekci told me. “You can’t play with your identity if your audience is always checking up on you. I had a student who posted that she was downloading some Pearl Jam, and someone wrote on her wall, ‘Oh, right, ha-ha — I know you, and you’re not into that.’ ” She laughed. “You know that old cartoon? ‘On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog’? On the Internet today, everybody knows you’re a dog! If you don’t want people to know you’re a dog, you’d better stay away from a keyboard.”

Or, as Leisa Reichelt, a consultant in London who writes regularly about ambient tools, put it to me: “Can you imagine a Facebook for children in kindergarten, and they never lose touch with those kids for the rest of their lives? What’s that going to do to them?” Young people today are already developing an attitude toward their privacy that is simultaneously vigilant and laissez-faire. They curate their online personas as carefully as possible, knowing that everyone is watching — but they have also learned to shrug and accept the limits of what they can control.

It is easy to become unsettled by privacy-eroding aspects of awareness tools. But there is another — quite different — result of all this incessant updating: a culture of people who know much more about themselves. [...]

A new name for dataveillance, eh? “Ambient awareness,” indeed.

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The Joys of Being Chattel [11:14 am]

Life as a child in the age of dataveillance — becoming acculturated to 24-7 “helicopter parenting:” Online tools let parents peer into their kids’ school day (pdf)

It’s tough sending little Bobby or Suzy back to school. Parents may worry what kinds of teachers their children will encounter, whether they’ll be as smart as their classmates and whether bullies will steal their lunch money.

But technology is helping eliminate some of the guesswork about what happens after kids climb onto the bus. Increasingly common Web programs let parents track lunch-money spending, schoolwork habits and tardiness.

“There’s this black box — a child goes away and comes home, what happened during this time?” said Shelley Pasnik, director of the nonprofit Center for Children and Technology in New York. “Now, new information and communications technology allows for the mystery of what transpires on any given day to unravel.”

[...] “This isn’t surveillance software,” [Brent Bingham, vice president of product marketing at Pearson School Systems, ] said. “Parents are really interested in the benefits that come with timely communication.”

And, to tie to a related current narrative, see: Bristol’s Body, Sarah’s Choice: Abortion, Teen Motherhood, and Parental Authority in Slate — also Bristol’s Choice: Republicans and the Illusion of Reproductive Choice

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September 4, 2008

NebuAd Pullback [7:32 am]

NebuAd Halts Plans For Web Tracking (pdf)

Tech firm NebuAd has put on hold plans to widely deploy an online advertising technology that tracks consumers every Web click while Congress reviews privacy concerns associated with the technique.

The Silicon Valley company announced this week that founder and chief executive Bob Dykes was resigning. His departure comes as a number of Internet companies have suspended or canceled trials of NebuAds controversial tracking technique, known as deep-packet inspection, marketed to companies seeking to target ads to Web users.

Related: Candidates’ Web Sites Get to Know the Voters (pdf)

How did the campaign know which readers to send ads to? Although both the Obama and John McCain campaigns are reluctant to discuss details, the ability to identify sympathetic voters based on their Internet habits, and then to target them with ads as they move across the Web, is one of the defining aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign.

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August 21, 2008

WaPo Column on Deep Packet Inspection [8:15 am]

Rob Pegoraro - Internet Providers’ New Tool Raises Deep Privacy Concerns (pdf)

Taking these companies at their word, what’s there to worry about? We trade privacy for convenience all the time. We visit sites that keep far less detailed records of our comings and goings with “cookies” — the small placeholder text files they drop on our hard drives. Millions of people subject themselves to more intensive scrutiny when they use Google’s Gmail service, which scans the text of each message to place more relevant ads.

If deep packet inspection lives up to its promises, it might even yield a cash benefit. Internet providers using this technology could afford to offer customers a deal: Accept this scrutiny, and we’ll knock $10 a month off your bill.

But systems such as deep packet inspection unnerve a lot of Internet users for sound reasons.

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Just In Case You Thought There Were Restrictions On Surveillance [7:57 am]

Hey, we really *are* “Suspected Terrorists.” (even more links) I think I need a button: New Guidelines Would Give F.B.I. Broader Powers

A Justice Department plan would loosen restrictions on the Federal Bureau of Investigation to allow agents to open a national security or criminal investigation against someone without any clear basis for suspicion, Democratic lawmakers briefed on the details said Wednesday.

The plan, which could be made public next month, has already generated intense interest and speculation. Little is known about its precise language, but civil liberties advocates say they fear it could give the government even broader license to open terrorism investigations.

Will this be enough to get Obama to draw the line? *hah*

Later: A New York Times editorial — A New Rush to Spy

The F.B.I. has a long history of abusing its authority to spy on domestic groups, including civil rights and anti-war activists, and there is a real danger that the new rules would revive those dark days.

Clearly, the Bush administration cannot be trusted to get the balance between law enforcement and civil liberties right. It has repeatedly engaged in improper and illegal domestic spying — notably in the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

The F.B.I. and the White House no doubt want to push the changes through before a new president is elected. There is no reason to rush to adopt rules that have such important civil liberties implications.

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August 20, 2008

If It’s Good Enough for Doctors … [7:29 am]

We can hope it’ll be good enough for us: Data miners fight law that shields doctors (pdf)

Companies like IMS Health Inc., based in Norwalk, Conn., have built an industry around gathering prescription data and selling the information to pharmaceutical companies for millions of dollars each year. Pfizer Inc., Merck & Co. Inc., and nearly every other drug maker uses the data to identify which doctors are prescribing their drugs and which are prescribing the competition. When freebie-wielding salespeople show up at their offices, most doctors don’t know they’re being targeted based on their own prescribing habits.

But the political tide may be turning against IMS Health and competitors like Verispan, a unit of Surveillance Data Inc. After years of steady growth, they are fighting against laws in three New England states to keep prescribing information out of their hands.

Judges in Maine and New Hampshire have handed the companies early victories, declaring laws aimed at stopping the commercial use of prescription data unconstitutional. But an impending decision by the federal appeals court in Boston could overturn those actions and open the door to more restrictions nationwide.

Related headache for those who want to lean into the punch: California Licenses 2 Companies to Offer Gene Services

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August 19, 2008

Slate’s Manjoo on Behavioral Targeting [4:36 pm]

Behavioral ad targeting, Web companies’ favorite new way to invade your privacy.

Though theyre all approaching it in different ways, a bunch of large Internet firms—including ISPs like Charter and AT&T and Web companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, and perhaps even Google—are crawling toward adopting “behavioral targeting” systems. Predictably, privacy advocates are pushing lawmakers to outlaw or significantly limit this sort of invasive advertising. Proponents of behavioral targeting defend the practice in much the same way Charter did—Web surfers will benefit from close monitoring of our habits because well soon be getting more “relevant” ads. Considering the large networks that Web companies now manage and the money they can make by selling ads tailored to your surfing habits, it seems obvious that behavioral targeting will soon rule the Internet ad market. As the targeted-ad boom approaches, we Web surfers need to prepare ourselves—and think of how we might be able to take advantage even as we have targets on our backs.

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August 12, 2008

Spy v Spy [3:10 pm]

You can play at home! Spying on other peoples computers

The good ol Internet: always coming up with new solutions to old problems. Modern man suspects wife is up to something. Modern man installs PC Pandora, a spyware application that records keystrokes, takes surreptitious screen shots, and monitors chat sessions—all for the low, low price of $49.95. Success Modern man writes a congratulatory note to the company, which it posts on its “testimonials” page:

My wife of 25 years came out of the blue after Christmas this past year and requested a divorce without much explanation. I was devastated, so I purchased your product. It only took two days to find out she has been living a dark secret life for several years as a submissive love slave to a dominant male partner in the BDSM world meeting him at least once a month. She was blown out of the water when I told her everything I knew about her lifestyle even down to the name and email address of the person she is involved with. Answered all my questions. She has no clue and thinks I spent $$$$$$ on a private investigator.

Despite modern mans feelings of triumph, its hard to see any winners there. Its easier than ever to spy on our spouses, co-workers, boyfriends, and roommates. But does this make us happier and wiser or just more neurotic and creepy? [...]

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Gutting FISA, Retroactive Immunity — Working Out Well, I See [9:03 am]

F.B.I.’s Use of Phone Records Shows Need to Protect the Press, Senators Say

Last week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation disclosed to the two newspapers that it had improperly obtained the phone records of reporters in their Indonesian bureaus in 2004 by using emergency records demands from telephone providers as part of an investigation. Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the bureau, made personal calls to Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times, and Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Post, to apologize.

But the ranking senators on the Judiciary Committee, Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said that was not enough.

[...] The phone records were apparently obtained as part of a terrorism investigation, but the agency has not explained what it was investigating or why the reporters’ phone records were considered relevant.

Of course, the real question is why are they only worried about the First Amendment implications (and, thus, the protection of the Press) and forgetting about the Fourth?

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