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


A patent troll, as depicted by the Internet Association.

U.S. spy network’s successes, failures and objectives detailed in ‘black budget’ summary. "The $52.6 billion 'black budget' for fiscal 2013, obtained by The Washington Post from former ­intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny," report our Post colleagues. "The 178-page budget summary for the National Intelligence Program details the successes, failures and objectives of the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community, which has 107,035 employees. The summary describes cutting-edge technologies, agent recruiting and ongoing operations."

How “cell tower dumps” caught the High Country Bandits—and why it matters. In recent years, law enforcement officials have begun using a technique called "tower dumps," asking cell phone providers to produce a list of everyone within range of a cell phone tower at a particular point in time. Ars Technica reports on one case where the feds used this technique to catch a pair of Texas bank robbers, and discusses the legal standards governing the use of this technique by the police.

The NSA has its own team of elite hackers. Tailored Access Operations is "a highly secret but incredibly important NSA program that collects intelligence about foreign targets by hacking into their computers, stealing data, and monitoring communications," reports Switch writer Andrea Peterson. "TAO is also responsible for developing programs that could destroy or damage foreign computers and networks via cyberattacks if commanded to do so by the president." She digs through LinkedIn and finds several current or former intelligence agency employees who have acknowledged that TAO is a computer hacking operation.

French judiciary opens “preliminary investigation” of NSA spying. "The French national prosecutor’s office in Paris has opened a 'preliminary investigation' into the National Security Agency’s (NSA) PRISM surveillance program," reports Ars Technica. "The inquiry has been underway for over a month, but it's only now being publicly disclosed through an anonymous judicial source. The investigation began on July 16 to investigate the 'illicit collection of personal data' of French citizens."

Industry ad campaign targets 'patent trolls.' "Four industry lobbying groups announced a print and radio ad campaign on Thursday urging Congress to crack down on 'patent trolls,'" the Hill reports. "The groups claim that patent trolls — firms that use bogus patent infringement claims to extort settlements out of businesses — are draining $80 billion from the U.S. economy every year and destroying jobs."

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Brian Fung · August 29, 2013