Slatest PM: Angry Birds, the "Squeaky Dolphin," and the Rest of Today's NSA News

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 27 2014 5:20 PM

Slatest PM: Angry Birds, the "Squeaky Dolphin," and the Rest of Today's NSA News

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Civil liberties activists hold a rally against surveillance of US citizens as US President Barack Obama is expected to announce reforms of the National Security Agency (NSA) at the Justice Department in Washington on January 17, 2014

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

DoJ to Allow (Some) Disclosure: New York Times: "The Obama administration will allow Internet companies to talk more specifically about when they’re forced to turn over customer data to government agents, the Justice Department said Monday. The new rules resolve legal fights with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Facebook before the nation’s secret surveillance court. But while under the terms of the new arrangement, customers will have a somewhat better idea of how often the government demands information, they still won’t know what’s being collected, or how much. The dispute began last year after a former government contractor, Edward J. Snowden, revealed that F.B.I. and National Security Agency surveillance programs rely heavily on data from U.S. email providers, video-chat services and social-networking companies. Sometimes, FBI agents demand data with administrative subpoenas known as national security letter. Other times, the Justice Department makes the demand under the authority of the surveillance court but without a specific warrant Either way, the justification is typically secret and companies are prohibited from saying much."

Brits Snooping on Angry Birds? Guardian: "The National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have been developing capabilities to take advantage of 'leaky' smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users' private information across the internet, according to top secret documents. The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users' most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger. Many smartphone owners will be unaware of the full extent this information is being shared across the internet, and even the most sophisticated would be unlikely to realise that all of it is available for the spy agencies to collect."

The "Squeaky Dolphin": NBC News (complete with a Greenwald byline): "The British government can tap into the cables carrying the world’s web traffic at will and spy on what people are doing on some of the world’s most popular social media sites, including YouTube, all without the knowledge or consent of the companies. Documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden and obtained by NBC News detail how British cyber spies demonstrated a pilot program to their U.S. partners in 2012 in which they were able to monitor YouTube in real time and collect addresses from the billions of videos watched daily, as well as some user information, for analysis. At the time the documents were printed, they were also able to spy on Facebook and Twitter. Called 'Psychology A New Kind of SIGDEV' (Signals Development), the presentation includes a section that spells out 'Broad real-time monitoring of online activity' of YouTube videos, URLs 'liked' on Facebook, and Blogspot/Blogger visits. The monitoring program is called 'Squeaky Dolphin.'"

It's Monday, January 27th, welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees, and the whole team at @Slatest.

SOTU Scene Setter: Associated Press: "President Barack Obama can only do so much to help his party in this year's midterm elections. Six years in office have taken a toll on his popularity, and aside from raising money, his value on the campaign trail is limited — especially in the states that worry Democrats the most. But the president can set the tone. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama will frame an economic argument his party hopes will help carry them to victory in November. Although not explicitly political, the speech gives Obama an opportunity to issue a rallying cry for economic fairness and expanded opportunity — issues Democrats believe will resonate in races across the country. ... That choice, as Obama portrays it, is between an America where all segments of the population have opportunities to improve their lot and one where prosperity is disproportionately enjoyed by a select few. In the run-up to the State of the Union, Obama has persistently sought to focus the nation's attention on trends of inequality and lower social mobility that he's pledging to address in his final years in office."

Radel Resigns: Washington Post: "Embattled Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) resigned from Congress Monday, months after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge. A first-term congressman, Radel was arrested for cocaine possession in the fall . After reaching a plea agreement, he underwent substance abuse rehabilitation treatment and returned to Congress earlier this month. Despite calls from state party leaders for him to step down, Radel had said he was committed to returning to work. But on Monday, he swiftly changed course and said he would step down later in the day. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Radel said his personal struggles impeded his ability to serve in Congress. He said last year that struggles with alcoholism led him to make an 'extremely irresponsible choice' involving cocaine."

Student Self-Immolation: Denver Post: "A student who set himself on fire in the cafeteria at Standley Lake High School [in suburban Denver] Monday morning is in critical condition at a local hospital. The boy suffered burns over 80 percent of his body, Westminster Fire Department spokeswoman Diana Wilson said. According to police, the boy entered the school at 9300 W. 104th Ave. around 7:15 a.m. and set himself on fire. There were 60 to 70 other students in the cafeteria at the time. None of them were injured, Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said. A cafeteria worker suffered a minor injury when she broke glass to grab a fire extinguisher, Westminster Police spokeswoman Cheri Spottke said. A male custodian used the extinguisher to douse the flames before firefighters arrived at the school."

"Knights Templar" Drug Bust: NBC News/Reuters: "Mexico said on Monday it had caught a leader of the Knights Templar, a violent drug cartel that has created a major security problem for President Enrique Pena Nieto in western Mexico. An official from the Attorney General's office said security forces had captured Dionisio Loya Plancarte, known as "El Tio" (The Uncle), one of the most senior members of the Knights Templar. Plancarte's detention marks the first major capture of the inner circle of the gang, which emerged from a split in another cartel in the western state of Michoacan known as La Familia. ... The Knights have this year been embroiled in confrontations with armed vigilantes in Michoacan, stirring concerns about Pena Nieto's strategy to combat widespread violence in Mexico."

That's all for today. See you back here tomorrow. Until then, tell your friends to subscribe or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.