The Switchboard: Officials release court order that authorized NSA surveillance

November 19, 2013

NSA headquarters at Fort Meade. (NSA)

Published every weekday, the Switchboard highlights five tech stories you need to read.

Court order that allowed NSA surveillance is revealed for first time. "The order by the FISA court, almost certainly its first ruling on the controversial program and published only in heavily redacted form, shows that it granted permission for the trawl in part because of the type of devices used for the surveillance," reports The Guardian's Spencer Ackerman. "Even the judge approving the spying called it a 'novel use' of government authorities." Ackerman explains that the surveillance devices in question are known as the pen register and trap-and-trace, which typically are used to monitor the calling metadata of an individual, rather than of wide swaths of people.

Schumer wants to extend ban on 3D-printed plastic guns. 'The Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, first announced by [Sen.. Charles] Schumer  in May, aims to extend the 1988 ban on undetectable firearms to any gun or receiver that would not be detectable by walk-through metal detectors or would not generate an accurately shaped image on an x-ray machine," Computerworld reports. "The existing Undetectable Firearms Act expires on Dec. 9."

Google to pay $17 million to settle states' Safari probe. "Google Inc will pay $17 million to settle allegations by 37 states and the District of Colombia that it secretly tracked Web users by placing special digital files on the Web browsers of their smartphones," Reuters reports. "The Safari Web browser used on iPhones and iPads automatically blocks third-party cookies, but Google altered the computer code of its cookies and was able to circumvent the blocks between June 2011 and February 2012, according to the states' allegations."

Court orders ISPs to block Russia's Facebook and Rapidgator. "A court in Italy has ordered a nationwide blackout of massive Russian social network vKontakte," according to TorrentFreak. "Issued by the Court of Rome, the order was handed down following complaints from a movie distribution company controlled by former Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi."

Obama's secret attempt to ban cell phone unlocking, while claiming to support it. A provision in a leaked international trade document "shows that while the White House was championing restoring free market principles to phones, the U.S. proposed that the TPP lock in the process that allowed the Librarian of Congress to rule this technology as illegal through international law," writes Derek Khanna for Slate. "This would make potential reforms like H.R. 1892 impossible. It should be noted that Canada did submit an amendment proposal that could allow unlocking, but neither the United States nor any other country supported it."

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post.
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Timothy B. Lee · November 18, 2013