By Travis West
NSA responds to ABA demand for clarification regarding surveillance of privileged communications
After revelations that intelligence agencies may be spying on privileged communications between lawyers and their clients, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) wrote a letter to the National Security Agency (“NSA”) demanding that the agency clarify its policies regarding the collection of potentially confidential information. The ABA expressed concern that the NSA may be infringing on “the bedrock legal principle” of attorney-client privilege. The NSA responded that it “has afforded, and will continue to afford, appropriate protection to privileged attorney-client communications,” pointing, as an example, to its Section 702 Minimization Procedures for collecting data in a criminal proceeding under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. 50 U.S.C. § 1881a.
In response, ABA President James Silkenat voiced the organization’s appreciation for “the NSA’s expression of respect for the attorney-client privilege” and indicated that the ABA “looks forward to continuing a constructive dialogue” with the agency. At the same time, as reported by Lawfare Blog, the ABA now offers a course for lawyers on how to prevent spying on their communications – both “abroad and at home.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) expressed disappointment with the NSA’s lack of clarity in its response to the ABA and with the ABA’s quiet acceptance of that response. With respect to government surveillance of privileged communications, the EFF predicts that the “only real dialogue now can be in courtrooms and in Congress.”
United States to turn over control of Domain Name System
In a surprising move, the United States National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) announced that it would be turning over control of the root Domain Name System (“DNS”) to international control in 2015. Currently, the DNS is run by the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”), who received the contract to run the system from the NTIA, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The DNS comprises technology that translates a human-readable website name, such as “www.google.com” to a device-readable IP address, like 188.8.131.52. The controller of the DNS possesses great power, since it could remove a domain name and thus make it impossible for people to find the associated website. While the United States has not exercised that power, many countries have feared the possibility.
The United States has planned to relinquish control of the root DNS to the international community since the 1990s, originally hoping for the transition to take place in 2000. The recent announcement comes shortly before the April 2014 ICANN meeting, at which Brazil was expected to propose its own DNS, which would have lead to a fracturing of the Internet. The United States’ relinquishing control of the DNS should scuttle those efforts. However, the United States did not announce what form of governance will now oversee the DNS, raising questions about which companies or international organizations have the technical expertise required to administer the the system.
Turkey bans Twitter with limited success
Within hours of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s promise to “wipe out” Twitter, Turkey’s courts ordered Twitter blocked nationwide. The court order arrived shortly after recordings allegedly showing corruption in Erdogan’s inner circle appeared on social media. The ban – accomplished by a change in the Domain Name Service (“DNS”) hosted by Turkish network providers – initially proved ineffective. Almost 3 million tweets were posted in Turkey in the first 24 hours following the ban, and Twitter itself posted workarounds to the DNS ban. However, the Turkish government has now extended the block to the IP addresses of Twitter in Turkey, which has forced users to install Tor or a VPN client to get around the ban.