The Switchboard: Five tech policy stories you need to read today

August 22, 2013

(Jon Elswick/AP)

The NSA scooped up thousands of e-mails from U.S. citizens. Our own Ellen Nakashima reports that the National Security Agency collected massive amounts of "wholly domestic" electronic communications over a period of several years without the knowledge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. "'For the first time, the government has now advised the court that the volume and nature of the information it has been collecting is fundamentally different from what the court had been led to believe,' John D. Bates, then the surveillance court’s chief judge, wrote in his Oct. 3, 2011, opinion." The court opinion adds to criticism that the FISC does not provide an effective check on the NSA.

Glenn Greenwald's partner was threatened with jail over his social media passwords. David Miranda, the longtime partner of The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, recently spent nine hours in detention by British authorities. Now he claims that the police demanded he hand over the passwords to his e-mail and social media accounts. "David Miranda said his interrogators threatened he could go to prison if he did not cooperate."

What United Airlines knows about you and what they don't want to know. An expansive privacy policy lets United share your information with third parties, according to Forbes' Adam Tanner. "By combining the information they know about where you travel with outside commercial data from data brokers such as Acxiom or Experian, airlines today have more intimate insights on their travelers than ever before." Other carriers, meanwhile, such as Delta or American, have more limited policies.

German government warns not to use Windows 8, citing backdoors. Germany's economic ministry has warned internally against using Windows 8 over security concerns, according to a leaked document obtained by Die Zeit. "Microsoft could decide which programs can be installed on the computer, make already established programs unusable and subsequently help intelligence to control other computers," according to a translation of Die Zeit's report.

The IRS is running pirate software, send in the BSA for blood. "The IRS was running two dozen software products that it could not produce licenses for," TorrentFreak reports. "Maybe it’s time to put them head to head with the Business Software Alliance for a settlement battle royal."

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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Timothy B. Lee · August 21, 2013