Senate Votes Today On Bill Extension That Enables Warrantless Spying

Weekly Axis Of Easy #32

In this issue:
  • DNS Leak Disclosure
  • Facebook to prioritize “trustworthy” news
  • Iranian government in Chinese-style internet crackdown
  • “Swat Call” prankster charged with Involuntary Manslaughter
  • FBI Chief calls “unbreakable encryption” an urgent public safety issue
  • Senate votes today on bill extension that enables warrantless spying

DNS Leak Disclosure

Over the summer and in November a couple of our name servers were sporadically allowing zone transfers. Turns out we uncovered a bug in the BIND software which has now been fixed by the maintainers.  We’ve posted an explanation, including why we’re disclosing this in January instead of last November.

Facebook to prioritize “trustworthy” news, downplay paid content

Facebook is considering a major shift in the way it prioritizes news in your feeds, in which they would adopt a scoring system based on public polling of trustworthiness of given sites, and whether people are “willing to pay” for specific sources. The original story was in WSJ behind a paywall, the only other references I could find that weren’t from out in tin-foil-hat-land or the extreme side of the political spectrum were Daily Beast here and Fox News here (both articles are pretty middle-of-the-road)

Then there is this Techcrunch article which talks more about an impending shift of weighting in Facebook feed from content publishers and news outlets to posts from friends and family in order to encourage more engagement.

Iranian government in Chinese-style internet crackdown

As reported last week, mass protests across Iran were dampened somewhere when the government stepped in to throttle or even shutdown strategic social media networks like Telegram.  The Intercept has a good article outlining the landscape in that country, including the dynamic between the government built NIN network and the wider global internet.

“Swat Call” prankster charged with Involuntary Manslaughter

Tyler Bariss, the 25-year old Californian known as “SWAuTistic” who called in a “Swatting” attack in Kansas resulting in the death of a 28-year old father of two, has been charged with “Involuntary Manslaughter” and faces a maximum of 11 years in prison. He has also been charged in Calgary with public mischief and fraud related to separate swatting calls there.

FBI Chief calls “unbreakable encryption” an urgent public safety issue

FBI Director Christopher Wray called his agency’s inability to break powerful encryption, as an “urgent public safety issue”, citing that in 7,800 instances last year the agency was unable to inspect encrypted devices despite possessing the lawful prerequisites to do so. This debate will not go away, I’ve weighed in on this before.


If the various government agencies hadn’t degraded their credibility via wholesale, ubiquitous and illegal surveillance of the citizenry then maybe there would be more receptivity to their plight, but as it stands now, we all know where this is headed: all knowing, all seeing survelliance. Further – this is headed in a familiar direction – even if all manufacturers and platforms weakened security via government accessible backdoors, criminals and terrorists would simply move to their own “outlaw” encryption tools since the knowledge is already “out there”.

On that note…

Senate votes today on bill extension that enables warrantless spying

Despite that we live in perhaps the most politically polarized climate in memory, both US political parties found their spirit of bipartisanship last week when Congress approved  an extension to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It allows the NSA to tap US citizens’ communications with foreign nationals, without a warrant, so long as the NSA is actually “targeting” the foreign national.

The Senate vote is today. Rand Paul is threatening to lead a bipartisan group with Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden to filibuster it, but I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t pass. As I mused going into the election – which candidate is the pro-privacy, anti-surveillance candidate? Neither.

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