Tech Thoughts Daily Net News – November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving tech support survival kit;  NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family;  Don’t Get Screwed on Black Friday;  How to shop online safely;  The Best Products of 2014;  Thanksgiving Travel 101: Download These Free E-Books;  How to record your webcam with VLC;  Must-have Android apps for holiday cooking and baking;  How secure is Docker?  Digital Privacy Is “The New Frontier Of Human Rights”;  Why Don’t We Finish Our Favorite Video Games?  Gift Guide For The Childless Who Have To Buy Gifts For Children;  Google Pulls Anti-Gay ‘Ass Hunter’ Game From Play Store.

Thanksgiving tech support survival kit (2014 edition) – Thanksgiving is a time of year which sees “the techies” and “the non-techies” come together, and chances are that you being the techie, the non-techies will spot you and hunt you down — The Walking Dead style, albeit slower thanks to the tryptophan — in search of “help”. With this in mind, I’ve put together what I call a “Turkey Day” tech support survival kit. While I’ve called it a “Turkey Day” kit — I’m certain that it will work just as well at other times of year — this seems to be the time of year when the techie’s superhero skills are in greatest demand.

Digital Privacy Is “The New Frontier Of Human Rights” – The impact of mass, digitally-enabled state surveillance upon individuals’ privacy has been described as “the new frontier of human rights” by Member of the European Parliament, Claude Moraes, who was giving an annual lecture on behalf of the Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy at the London School of Economics on Friday.

Regin: The super-spyware the security industry has been silent about: NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family – A public autopsy of sophisticated intelligence-gathering spyware Regin is causing waves today in the computer security world. But here’s a question no one’s answering: given this super-malware first popped up in 2008, why has everyone in the antivirus industry kept quiet about it until now? Has it really taken them years to reverse engineer it?

Intel and McAfee plan to kill PC passwords with new biometric authentication – Forget typing in passwords, Intel wants you to use your body to log into email and online bank accounts. McAfee software that will use biometric technology to authenticate users will be available for download by the end of the year, said Kirk Skaugen, senior vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group at Intel, last week. “Your biometrics basically eliminate the need for you to enter passwords for Windows log in and eventually all your websites ever again,” Skaugen said.

Don’t Get Screwed on Black Friday – Black Friday is a big shopping day, but don’t rush to swipe your plastic as soon as the doors open on Friday (or Thanksgiving Day). A lot of the deals that seem awesome aren’t that good at all, and the ones that are good probably aren’t the ones meant to catch your eye. These rules can help you get through Black Friday with your money and your humanity intact, and still allow for a little Thanksgiving weekend relaxation.

How to shop online safely – With some simple tips, make shopping online a safer experience this holiday season. Like any transaction, there are security issues to keep in mind when buying online, but with some common sense you can minimize the risk. Even if you consider yourself a seasoned online shopper, it’s always worth a reminder to make sure your experience is the safest it can be.

8 Netflix Tricks You Just Can’t Live Without – One of the main reasons Netflix is so popular is because of its simplicity. It’s painfully easy to queue up a movie on your laptop, video game console or mobile device and start watching in mere seconds. But that simplicity means there are a lot of features to Netflix that the average customer may not be using. Here, we’ve rounded up some useful tips to help you get the most out of Netflix.

The Best Products of 2014 – With more than 1,850 reviews under our collective belts in the PC Labs so far this year—228 of them in October alone—we’re feeling pretty good headed into the holidays. But it’s no time to slack off. Instead, we tapped our expert analysts and editors and asked them to name a single product that kicks major ass in each category we review. The result is before you: The Best Products of 2014.

If Windows virtual memory is too low, you can increase it, but there are trade-offs – Virtual memory can expand your PC’s capabilities, but it will also slow it down. Understanding the swap file will help you make the right decision.

How to record your webcam with VLC – Whether you want to make a few YouTube videos, or you’re practicing a speech, recording yourself with VLC is easy and offers lots of formatting options. The recording function in VLC can be turned on and off at will, or switched to a set and forget mode. This allows you to use the feature for a number of purposes, including studying your own abilities on camera, setting up a temporary security feed (hard drive space allowing), or just making a video for the Web. Check out these steps for recording video from your webcam.

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T-Mobile Music Freedom Adds Google Play, Xbox Music – You can now stream music on your mobile devices from Google Play Music and Xbox Music without eating away at all your data. The self-proclaimed “un-carrier” on Monday announced it has added both services to its Music Freedom program, along with SoundCloud and 11 others. The list includes a range of services that should suit all tastes covering everything from EDM, Caribbean, and Bollywood: RadioTunes, Digitally Imported, Fit Radio, Fresca Radio, JazzRadio, Live365, Mad Genius Radio, RadioPup, radio.com, RockRadio, Saavn.

Google Pulls Anti-Gay ‘Ass Hunter’ Game From Play Store – Google has removed a highly disturbing anti-gay game from its Google Play app store, but only after thousands of Android users downloaded it. The game, named Ass Hunter, encouraged players hunt and shoot naked homosexual men. A Google spokesperson confirmed that the app is no longer available in the Play store.

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Thanksgiving Travel 101: Download These Free E-Books – Lucky for you, there are a number of books available for free on various e-book platforms. Hopefully you won’t be stranded for so long that you have time to read them all, but there should be enough options to keep your mind off the fact that you’re in the middle seat or stuck in a five-mile traffic jam.

Must-have Android apps for holiday cooking and baking – All the recipes and drink suggestions you could ever need can fit on your Android phone, thanks to a plethora of cooking apps in the Play Store. From the many options out there, I’ve uncovered four of the most useful Android apps that can help you prepare a fabulous meal no matter if you’re a pro in the kitchen or barely know your way around a whisk.

Microsoft has pushed out Windows 10 9879 to ‘slow’ ring users – Microsoft has released Windows 10 build 9879 to the ‘slow’ ring which means that all Windows Insider groups now have access to the latest build of Windows 10.

Hush smart earplugs block out unwanted sounds while still letting you hear – There are many reasons that people need earplugs, and not all of them are reasons you might expect. People need earplugs in very loud situations, such as shooting guns or at a loud racetrack for sure, but there are other reasons in the home that people use them as well when it’s important that you still be able to hear sounds around you, such as sleeping. For situations like this, a new set of earplugs called Hush smart earplugs have debuted. Hush smart earplugs are on Kickstarter seeking $100,000 and have raised $191,000 so far with 28 days to go. A pledge of $115 or more will get you a pair of Hush earplugs estimated to ship in May 2015.

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Slack now lets employers tap workers’ private chats – Slack, whose chat app aims to help workers get stuff done, might now have them running scared, knowing the boss could access their chats. The company’s upcoming paid Plus plan will include an optional feature called Compliance Exports, announced Monday, which will let administrators access their team’s communications, encompassing public and private messages.

Five Android 5.0 Lollipop annoyances Google should fix immediately – The 5.0 release of Android, dubbed Lollipop, is the biggest thing to happen to Android in years—possibly ever. The design and features have been revamped, and attention to detail is evident throughout. However, even our beloved Google is not perfect, and that means there are some bugs and just plain odd decisions in Android 5.0. Let’s check out five of the most annoying little quirks in Lollipop and see how they might be fixed.

Report: Apple iCloud dogged by ‘organizational issues’ – As far as cloud storage solutions go, Apple’s iCloud is among the oddest. A company with massive resources and deep pockets should be able to provide a clean, cohesive experience for users. They can’t; iCould and iDrive are just not as good as other cloud storage offerings. From layout to syncing — even down to pricing — iCloud is a mis-hit from Apple. They’re sticking with it, though, so a silver lining exists. A new report details why the cloud in front of iCloud is so dark, though.

Security:

Sony’s own Backup & Restore app hacked, taken over – When you have a smartphone, you’d like to trust that the apps coming straight form the manufacturer of that phone are secure. More to the point, you’d probably safely assume any software designed to access your information stored in your phone would be something that couldn’t be compromised in any way. A new report suggests Sony’s own backup and restore app has been hacked, but that’s not even the most sensational news. Hackers have taken over the app entirely, even claiming ownership in Google Play.

How secure is Docker? If you’re not running version 1.3.2, NOT VERY – A nasty vulnerability has been discovered in the Docker application containerization software for Linux that could allow an attacker to gain elevated privileges and execute code remotely on affected systems. The bug, which has been corrected in Docker 1.3.2, affects all previous versions of the software. “No remediation is available for older versions of Docker and users are advised to upgrade,” the company said in a security advisory on Monday.

The Most Sophisticated Android Botnet – The botnet, called NotCompatible.C by Lookout’s researchers, has been in the news before. It made their list of the top four Android threats not long ago. However, the current report is a deep dive that reveals exactly what sets this botnet apart.

Hackers shut down Sony Pictures’ computers and are blackmailing the studio – Today, employees across the Sony Pictures offices were greeted with a strange picture as they tried to login to their computers. Since this afternoon, computers at the company have been completely unresponsive, showing a glowering CGI skeleton, a series of URL addresses, and a threatening message from a hacker group that identifies itself as #GOP. Dozens of Sony Twitter accounts were also commandeered to tweet out similar messages, although Sony seems to have regained control of those accounts. Early reports from Sony employees suggest the studio has yet to regain computer access.

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Craigslist DNS hijacked, redirected at infamous “prank” site for hours – Many Craigslist visitors found themselves here—before their traffic brought the board down. At least some Craigslist visitors found their Web requests redirected toward an underground Web forum previously associated with selling stolen celebrity photos and other malicious activities. In a blog post, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster said that the DNS records for Craigslist sites were altered to direct incoming traffic to what he characterized as “various non-craigslist sites.” The account was restored, and while the DNS records have been corrected at the registrar, some DNS servers were still redirecting traffic to other servers as late as this afternoon.

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A Hacking Group Is Attacking Canadian Government Websites to Exonerate an Alleged Teen Swatter – Over the weekend, the websites belonging to the Toronto Police Service, the Ottawa Police, the Canadian Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the City of Ottawa were all hit with distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks by a hacker group that goes by the name Aerith. According to a press release published by Aerith earlier today, these attacks are meant to call attention to the arrest of a teenage boy in Ottawa, who was charged with 60 criminal acts after being accused of fabricating em​ergencies to get the attention of authorities (otherwise known as swatting). Aerith claims the Ottawa Police have the wrong guy.

E-Cigarettes could be bad for your computer’s health when it’s a vehicle for malware – As if quitting smoking isn’t hard enough already for those who opt to kick the habit, keeping the price down on the expensive e-cigarette alternative can also be bad for your computer’s health and a headache for IT system administrators everywhere too. A user on Reddit posted a strange story in the r/talesfromtechsupport subreddit about an executive at a unnamed “large corporation”, country unknown, suffering from a malware infection on his workstation despite having latest virus and anti malware programs in place, the cause of the infection had them scratching their heads. Finally after exhausting all options the IT worker asked the executive: “Have there been any changes in your life recently”? The executive answer[ed] “Well yes, I quit smoking two weeks ago and switched to e-cigarettes”.

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How to create seamless mobile security for employees – Frustrated employees will figure out how to get around disruptive and clunky security procedures. Here’s how three organizations created a secure and seamless mobile experience for end users.

Confessions of a smartphone thief – Almost 2 billion people around the world use smartphones — typically worth hundreds of dollars a pop on the black market. A former smartphone thief explains their allure to street criminals.

Company News:

Bah humbug: Redbox jacks rental prices by up to 50 percent – Redbox’s DVD rental prices are increasing by a full 25 percent on December 2, as the Wall Street Journal first reported. DVD rental prices are increasing from $1.20 to $1.50 per night. Other rental types are being jacked by even higher percentages, with Blu-ray disc rentals going from $1.50 to $2 and video-game rentals increasing from $2 to $3 per night. (The game-rentals price increase goes into effect in January.)

US taxmen won’t say WHY they’re probing Microsoft. So Redmond is suing the IRS – The US Internal Revenue Service has been digging into Microsoft’s tax records from 2004 through 2009, and Redmond has filed a lawsuit against the government to find out why. In documents [PDF] filed with the US District Court of the District of Columbia on Monday, Microsoft alleges that the IRS has failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the agency’s contract with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, a law firm hired to investigate the software giant.

iPhone sales set to PLUMMET: Bleak times ahead for Apple – Ming the Merciless has predicted Apple will face a grim start to 2015 with iPhone sales plummeting by up to a third. Ming-Chi Kuo of analyst outfit KGI Securities has predicted that iPhone sales will surge ahead of Christmas, reaching a height of a total of 71.5 million units for the fourth quarter. Yet after the Christmas crackers have been pulled and Auld Lang Syne has been sung, Cupertino will face a bleak midwinter as predicted shipments dwindle to a comparatively measly 49.4 million units in the first quarter of 2015.

Samsung Ponders Executive Shakeup As Galaxy S5 Sales Fall 40% Short Of Expectations – Samsung is looking long and hard at its top executive team with changes in mind, the Wall Street Journal reports, following Galaxy S5 devices sales that have underperformed company expectations by as much as 40 percent. The total sales for the S5, this year’s Samsung flagship device, are at around 12 million, compared to 16 million for the Galaxy S4.

FCC: T-Mobile to show honest stats on speed tests – With most data plans, throttling is something we all have to live with. At some point in the month, you might hit a threshold that downshifts your downloads, but to what extent? Most are left guessing at why that video won’t load, frustrated by the entire experience. Today, the FCC announces that T-Mobile has agreed to provide a clearer picture on what throttling means for you, and will release accurate details on throttled customer data speeds, rather than potential speeds your device isn’t getting.

Games and Entertainment:

Windows Phone users get Rovio’s Angry Birds games for free for a limited time – Windows Phone users will be happy to know that all of the Angry Birds games are now available for free. This is a limited time offer and perfect timing for the holidays.

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Counter-Strike pro players banned for cheating – The world of professional gaming is in a bit of an upheaval, with multiple professional Counter-Strike players finding themselves banned after being discovered cheating. The spat is said to have started when the E-Sports Entertainment Association’s tools banned Simon “smn” Beck for cheating. This caught the attention of Valve, which then received details from the ESEA and used that to upgrade its own anti-cheat tools. That, then, resulted in multiple players being caught, including professionals players.

Activision using copyright notices to take down Call of Duty exploit videos – Over the weekend, popular gaming video network Machinima issued a warning to its creators, telling them that “Activision is being particularly vigilant about their Call of Duty videos lately, issuing strikes on videos showing glitches… please be careful.” Under YouTube’s copyright strike system, accounts start losing certain privileges after a single copyright strike goes through, and could be banned altogether after three such strikes (though strikes can be challenged or expunged by going through Youtube’s Copyright School).

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Why Don’t We Finish Our Favorite Video Games? – It hopefully hasn’t escaped your attention that one of the best—if not the best—games of 2013, Grand Theft Auto V, is about to complete its transfer from previous-gen systems to the visual razzle-dazzle of the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC platforms. To those who never played it the first time, who have hung on for these beautiful-looking ports, I promise you: so much fun. GTAV is a deep game of epic exploration, funny dialogue, intense action and frenetic car chases. And so much more. And yet, not everyone who enjoyed the early hours of GTAV stayed for the duration—just as only some 70 percent of those with internet-connected systems actually involved themselves in the game’s separate GTA Online component.

Gamer captains an amazing starship from his living room – Using a custom rig that includes three projectors, this gamer has transformed his gaming space into a full-sized cockpit for Elite: Dangerous.

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Off Topic (Sort of):

FAA tipped to require pilot license for commercial drone use – The issue of commercial drone usage is (slowly) nearing an end, and that end could come in the form of fairly severe restrictions. The Wall Street Journal has reported that the Federal Aviation Administration will soon propose regulations on commercial drone usage — including for small and ultra-light drones — by the end of the year, and among the regulations will be a requirement that operators have a license and undergo pilot certification training, which likely includes learning to pilot manned aircraft.

The ‘Brief History Of Graphics’ Video Series – A video series by Stuart Brown of XboxAhoy has created one of the nicest mini-documentaries I’ve watched in a while. The five-part series that looks at computer graphics from Pong to Galaxian to Street Fighter and beyond. The whole series – complete with Brown’s soothing brogue – is a great look at the history of game graphics and the tools that programmers used to build some amazing classics. The series starts with the difference between vector and raster graphics – essentially Star Wars-like line graphics vs. blocky pixel sprites – and how the advent of color pushed the arguably superior vector graphics into the dustbin of history.

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A Gift Guide For The Childless Who Have To Buy Gifts For Children – Buying toys for kids is like trying to help a couple of strangers carry a couch up two flights of steps. While your assistance may be appreciated, in theory, you’re probably going to end up doing something wrong. To that end, we present five toys that are, in theory, amazing (and I like all of them and you should, if the child in question is old enough to handle them, buy them) but that will frustrate parents of most children to no end. I present a toy gift guide for the childless!

1,300-year-old book of Egyptian magic deciphered – Researchers have decoded an ancient Egyptian book of spells they are calling an “Egyptian Handbook of Ritual Power.” It contains incantations for everything from attaining success in a businessventure, to love spells, to curing disease. The 20 page illustrated codex is thought to date from the 7th or 8th century, some 1,300 years ago, which seems to have been a pivotal time for the history of mysticism in that area of the world. The codex is written in Coptic and comes from a time before the rise of Islam in the Middle East.

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Something to think about:

“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain.”

–      Mark Twain“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, Chapter 2

Today’s Free Downloads:

Freebie Notes – Freebie Notes is a great little program for users who just want sticky notes with an alarm timer.

With Freebie Notes you can:

create electronic notes (stickers) – unlimited number of sticky notes!

edit sticky notes in the advanced mode

specify the date and time of reminder

customize the default parameters of electronic notes (their size, text, background and title color, position on the desktop, transparency)

be sure that it is a really free product

be sure that it has no ads, banners and any other spyware programs

save the text of a note to a file

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SideSlide – SideSlide is an advanced, portable, unobtrusive, dockable, skinnable, instantly accessible, highly configurable Desktop Extension on Steroids! Clean desktop clutter and make your computer friendlier and faster than ever before. With unique use of containers and various innovative features, SideSlide lets you get instant access to everything you have and much more. The program respects your system and keeps all of its configuration files in a single folder.

Features:

Instantly accessible and adjustable workspace that stays out of your way until you need it.

Add multiple shortcuts, commands, URLs, RSS news feeds, pictures, reminders and notes.

Resizable, detachable, foldable and shrinkable containers extend the workspace beyond the limits of the screen.

Mouse & keyboard support with a full-blown keyboard launcher and directory navigator.

RSS news feed functionality allows you to track what you are interested in the most.

Keep your eyes on multiple picture slideshows that are easily added.

Floating, colorful notes are quickly created and adjusted in bulk or separately.

Shortcuts can be tagged for additional functionality and organization.

Various ways of launching multiple shortcuts with a single click.

Link containers to actual folders on disk (launch, move, copy and delete files).

Shortcuts, URLs, text and pictures from Windows or your browser can be dragged & dropped in the workspace.

A growing online library with ready-made RSS news feed and shortcut containers.

Every style and setting in the entire program and for each individual object can be customized.

Fancy special effects that don’t slow you down.

Comes with multiple themes and wallpapers and you can also define your own style.

Supports portable setup and the ability to load objects from a relative path.

Much more…

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In Pursuit of Freedom – The Pushback Continues:

Secret Malware in European Union Attack Linked to U.S. and British Intelligence – Complex malware known as Regin is the suspected technology behind sophisticated cyberattacks conducted by U.S. and British intelligence agencies on the European Union and a Belgian telecommunications company, according to security industry sources and technical analysis conducted by The Intercept.

Regin was found on infected internal computer systems and email servers at Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian phone and internet provider, following reports last year that the company was targeted in a top-secret surveillance operation carried out by British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, industry sources told The Intercept.

The malware, which steals data from infected systems and disguises itself as legitimate Microsoft software, has also been identified on the same European Union computer systems that were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The hacking operations against Belgacom and the European Union were first revealed last year through documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The specific malware used in the attacks has never been disclosed, however.

UK Government Pushes IP-Matching In Latest Digital Counter-Terror Measure – ISPs and mobile operators will be forced to retain information linking IP addresses to individuals for 12 months under U.K. government counter-terrorism plans expected to be detailed next week.

The IP-matching measure will be included in the government’s forthcoming Anti-Terrorism and Security Bill. This follows another failed attempt by the government last year to push through a so-called ‘Snoopers’ Charter’ — aka the Communications Data Bill.

That legislation would have forced companies to retain data about people’s online conversations, social media activity, calls and texts for 12 months but the coalition’s junior partner, the Liberal Democrats, baulked at supporting what they dubbed an “illiberal” bill.

However they are evidently comfortable with IP-matching — describing the measure today as “good news”. The Lib Dems also supported emergency data retention legislation – requiring Internet and phone companies to keep records of customer metadata — which was pushed through Parliament by the U.K. government this July, after the European Court of Justice struck down European data retention powers on the grounds that they were too broad.

That Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (aka DRIP) was criticized for being overly broad, vague and Draconian. It was also rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny, despite the ECJ ruling being handed down months earlier, in April — leading to accusations of a ‘surveillance stitch-up’.

Most people have heard of Snowden, few have changed habits as a result – New worldwide survey results conducted by a Canadian think tank show that most people around the world (60 percent) have heard of Edward Snowden, but just over a third have “have taken steps to protect their online privacy and security as a result of his revelations.”

The study, which was released Monday by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), surveyed over 23,000 people in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, and the United States. The survey did not break out respondents by nationality.

The figures varied widely: 94 percent of Germans surveyed heard of the National Security Agency whistleblower, while only 76 percent of Americans had. Kenya rounded out the bottom of the list at 14 percent. Globally, this resulted in an average of 60 percent.

Have the 14,000 people familiar with Snowden done anything with this knowledge? Some people have tried to learn more about encryption and other ways to improve security online. India led the pack in this area with 69 percent, followed by Mexico and China. Amongst Americans, only 36 percent of people took steps to protect privacy. The worldwide mean came in at 39 percent.

NSA privacy chief defends agency’s surveillance – The U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance programs are legal and under close scrutiny by other parts of the government, the agency’s internal privacy watchdog said Monday in an online Q&A.

NSA surveillance and data collection programs conform to the U.S. Constitution, Rebecca Richards, the agency’s first civil liberties and privacy director, wrote during an hour-plus Q&A on Tumblr.

The NSA operates under rules that “ensure that its activities fall within the parameters of the Constitution,” Richards wrote when asked why she believes the surveillance programs are constitutional.

“The oversight regime governing NSA is extensive, spanning all three branches of government,” she added. “The fact that NSA created my job highlights the value and importance NSA leadership places on privacy and civil liberties protections.”

Critics have said some NSA surveillance programs violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.

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