Posts tagged surveillance
Posts tagged surveillance
Rachel Maddow; A voice FOR Big Brother
Why do people even pay attention to her any more?
Just imagine her “reporting” on what Winston Smith went through in 1984;
RACHEL MADDOW: “[…] Smith was then escorted to the 101 room where he underwent some interrogation methods. These methods involved rats, harmless furry, adorable rats that Smith had some irrational fear of.
Irrational fear is the problem here and the Ministry Of Truth needed to let Mr. Smith know that his fears, skepticism and outright conspiracy theories in regards to Big Brother were irrational.
We can’t allow people like Mr. Smith going around making unwarranted claims against Big Brother, I mean has Big Brother ever harmed you? There are no proof to this or any of Mr. Smith’s allegations. His anxieties, his troubles with Big Brother were and continue to be unwarranted.
But lets get to the heart of the matter; what Mr. Smith was really doing was sewing the seeds of doubt against the strength of Big Brother, these doubts could have strengthened our enemies - giving them the confidence to fight harder. As you can see, this is problematic. The Ministry of Truth had to step in, they don’t want any harm brought to any of you and if Mr. Smith persisted with his doubts, that very well would have happened.
What if WInston Smith had spread his doubts to our enemies? Perhaps they could have recruited him to share information about Big Brother that they could have exploited! Big Brother has never done anything wrong - and yet we have this man developing a portrayal of Big Brother that is contrary to all we know about Big Brother. Winston Smith was rewriting Big Brothers history based solely on his own delusions and conspiracy theories.
Folks, this is why we have the Ministry of Truth - to protect ourselves from characters like this Winston Smith.
It’s time for a commercial break, when we come back we will be discussing a new miracle drug that will cure ALL of our ailments. Big Brother calls it “SOMA”. What is it and when will it be available? All that after the break.”
Juan Cole | Domestic Surveillance, Drone, US politics
The police state, a term first coined in the mid-19th century in German (Polizeistaat), is characterized by a standing political police, by intense domestic surveillance and by restrictions on the movements of citizens. Police states are on a spectrum, and unfortunately in the past decade the United States has moved toward police-stateness in small but key ways. Here are the signs:
1. The United States National Security Administration recently requisitioned all Verizon phone records in the US for a period of 3 months. Your telephone records (who you called and for how long) say a great deal about you. This is a form of mass surveillance.
2. The US has assigned 250 NSA agents to sift through a massive further British database of US telecommunications and email, derived from attaching packet analyzers to transatlantic fiber optic cables.
3. The Federal government claims the right to examine the contents of the laptops of US citizens whenever the enter the United States, in contravention of the Fourth Amendment. Some 60 million Americans travel abroad annually.
4. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Those in prison have grown from 220 per 100,000 population to over 700 per 100,000 population since 1980. The US holds over two million inmates, and has 6 million people at any one time under carceral supervision– more than were in Stalin’s Gulag. State spending on prisons has risen at 6 times the rate of spending on higher education.
5. Some 6 million persons convicted of felonies have been disenfranchised and cannot vote. Most are not in prison. Because of the ‘war on drugs,’ many of these persons are not actually guilty of serious crimes. The practice hits the poor and minorities. Some 7 percent of African-Americans is ineligible to vote, but less than 2 percent of whites is.
6. Police can take DNA samples of all arrestees on serious crimes, whether they are proven guilty or not. Even Justice Scalia believes the ruling opens the door for DNA sample collection for all arrests. Some 13 million Americans are arrested annually, 1.6 million on drugs charges and half of those on marijuana charges.
7. American police are becoming militarized, with SWAT teams proliferating, and use of drones, GPS tracking devices, and military equipment, as well as participation of National Guards in the ‘war on drugs.’
8. Legislators are increasingly attempting to criminalize public protest, as with a current bill that would make it a crime knowingly to ‘trespass’ in security zones where persons are found who are under secret service protection. Authorities have sometimes also attempted to restrict public protesters to “protest zones”, thus keeping them out of the view of news cameras.
9. The USA PATRIOT Act institutes gag orders that are a violation of the 1st Amendment,forbidding persons and companies from revealing that the government has secretly asked for surveillance records.
10. The same act allows government agencies (including the Pentagon) to issue “National Security Letters” without any warrant, making broad and unspecific demands for records on large numbers of persons.
On May 29 2012 the news in Utah aired this segment on the RFID chip. The government wants chip kids to get them to go to school. They say that it’s to bring revenue to the school district. People in Mexico are already using it on their kids beause of kidnappers. Meny people think that the tchnology is not a good idea. Proof that kids that are in school means more money for district.
Systems that can identify emotions in images of faces might soon collate millions of peoples’ reactions to events and could even replace opinion polls
IF THE computers we stare at all day could read our faces, they would probably know us better than anyone.
That vision may not be so far off. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab are developing software that can read the feelings behind facial expressions. In some cases, the computers outperform people. The software could lead to empathetic devices and is being used to evaluate and develop better adverts.
But the commercial uses are just “the low-hanging fruit”, says Rana el Kaliouby, a member of the Media Lab’s Affective Computing group. The software is getting so good and so easy to use that it could collate millions of peoples’ reactions to an event as they sit watching it at home, potentially replacing opinion polls, influencing elections and perhaps fuelling revolutions.
"I feel like this technology can enable us to give everybody a non-verbal voice, leverage the power of the crowd," el Kaliouby says. She and her colleagues have developed a program called MindReader that can interpret expressions on the basis of a few seconds of video. The software tracks 22 points around the mouth, eyes and nose, and notes the texture, colour, shape and movement of facial features. The researchers used machine-learning techniques to train the software to tell the difference between happiness and sadness, boredom and interest, disgust and contempt. In tests to appear in the IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, the software proved to be better than humans at telling joyful smiles from frustrated smiles. A commercial version of the system, called Affdex, is now being used to test adverts (see “Like what you see?”).
Collecting emotional reactions in real time from millions of people could profoundly affect public polling. El Kaliouby, who is originally from Egypt, was in Cairo during the uprising against then-president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. She was startled that Mubarak seemed to think people liked his presidency, despite clear evidence to the contrary.
"She thought maybe Mubarak didn’t think a million people was a big enough response to believe that people are upset," lab director Rosalind Picard said at the lab’s spring meeting on 25 April. "There are 80 million people in Egypt, and most of them were not there. If we could allow them the opportunity to safely and anonymously opt in and give their non-verbal feedback and join that conversation, that would be very powerful."
Pollsters could even collect facial reactions on the streets, or analyse the reaction of an audience listening to a politician’s speech. Picard’s group recently ran an MIT-wide experiment called Mood Meter, placing cameras all over campus to gauge the general mood. To preserve privacy, the cameras didn’t store any video or record faces - they just counted the number of people in the frame, and how many were smiling.
Frank Newport, editor in chief of political polling firm Gallup, headquartered in Washington DC, says such software could be useful. “There’s no question that emotions and instincts have an impact in politics,” he says. “We’re certainly open to looking at anything along those lines.” But he’d want to know how well facial responses predict actual votes.
Picard worries that the technology might have a dark side. “My fear is that some of these dictators would want to blow away the village that doesn’t like them,” she says. It would be important to protect the identities and IP addresses of viewers, she says.
Olympic mascots are often controversial. Usually this is because they are weird blobby cartoon characters with goofy names that seem to have been dreamed up by creators who mainlined Mountain Dew Code Red while watching 24 straight hours of Pokemon. The official mascot for the 2012 Olympics, set in London, has that going for it but is also controversial for an entirely different reason. London, the premiere panoptic city was one of the first to blanket itself with CCTV cameras; its heavy security and surveillance cordon is nicknamed theRing of Steel. London decided to make its surveillance yen a dominant feature of its otherwise goofy mascots. “Wenlock” and “Mandeville” both have a huge single eye made out of a camera lens so that they can “record everything.” Image at right is from the official London Olympics website.
In case that’s too subtle for you, the Olympic organizers have offered a dress-up version of Wenlock in a policeman outfit. “This has to be a joke. Please let this be a joke,” tweeted a privacy enthusiast I follow on Twitter, linking to this:
It is not in fact a joke; Surveillance State Wenlock also shows up on the official shopping page for the London 2012 Olympics. The origin story for the sibling surveillance enthusiasts is that “they were fashioned from droplets of the steel used to build the Olympic stadium,” reports the Guardian, saying the Olympic Committee passed over “anthropomorphic pigeons, an animated tea pot and a Big Ben with arms and legs” to choose the all-seeing mascots.
A surveillance mascot is appropriate for the 2012 Games. This Olympics will certainly win a gold medal for security measures. From the Guardian:
The London Olympics will host the biggest mobilisation of military and security forces seen in the UK since the second world war. More troops – around 13,500 – will be deployed than are currently at war in Afghanistan. The growing security force is being estimated at anything between 24,000 and 49,000 in total. Such is the secrecy that no one seems to know for sure.
During the Games an aircraft carrier will dock on the Thames. Surface-to-air missile systems will scan the skies. Unmanned drones, thankfully without lethal missiles, will loiter above the gleaming stadiums and opening and closing ceremonies. RAF Typhoon Eurofighters will fly from RAF Northolt. A thousand armed US diplomatic and FBI agents and 55 dog teams will patrol an Olympic zone partitioned off from the wider city by an 11-mile, £80m, 5,000-volt electric fence…
London is also being wired up with a new range of scanners, biometric ID cards, number-plate and facial-recognition CCTV systems, disease tracking systems, new police control centres and checkpoints. These will intensify the sense of lockdown in a city which is already a byword across the world for remarkably intensive surveillance.
Criminals, beware the gardener.
This city has a new way of fighting crime: Employees who are out and about, trimming trees or picking up litter on the beach, are officially on the lookout for signs of a crime.
A group of about 70 landscapers and garbage truck drivers got training from the Broward Sheriff’s Office this week so they know what to look for. Another group of about 35 will train next week.
BSO calls the program Operation B.O.L.O. When an employee reports something suspicious, on-duty BSO deputies will drive to the scene. If the information leads to an arrest, the employee gets a reward of up to $100.
"We’re targeting employees out and about throughout the day, who can be an extra set of eyes and ears," said BSO Deerfield Police Chief Pete Sudler. "There’s no doubt while they’re out there, things are going on around them they’re not trained to spot yet."
The program is the first of its kind in South Florida, Sudler said, though there are similar programs in Illinois, Texas and in Central Florida. He’s never heard of a city paying employees for good information, though.
The program is funded by BSO’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is made up of funds seized during investigations. By Florida law, the trust fund must be spent on special programs or crime prevention and can’t be used to defray normal operating costs for a police department.
An initial allocation of $5,000 will cover the program for now. How quickly that money disappears will measure the program’s effectiveness, Sudler said.
Arrests in crimes including burglaries, robberies and drug deals will bank employees the full $100. Lesser crimes and tips that less directly lead to an arrest would pay a little less, with the payment determined on a case-by-case basis.
The training emphasized how to spot a property crime. A big spike in property crimes, especially daytime burglaries, over the past two years inspired the program. Burglaries of a residence rose from 323 incidents in 2009 to 499 incidents in 2011.
"Most of our residential burglaries happen during the day, because people are out of their house," Sudler said. "That is why this initiative is key, because most of the people we’re training are working from the morning to the evening, which is our target time."
Some pearls of crime-spotting wisdom from the class: If someone pulls up to a house and goes straight into the backyard, there’s a chance he or she is a burglar; a vehicle backed into a driveway with the driver waiting inside very well may be a getaway car; and someone driving seemingly aimlessly around a neighborhood might be looking for a burglary target.
The training also briefs employees on what to look for if they think they’re seeing a crime. Physical descriptions of the people involved, including what they’re wearing. What direction they take off in, if they leave the scene. What the car looks like, if they’re driving. Plate numbers.
Operation B.O.L.O. is a good move, said Michelle Lane, a resident of Deerfield Beach's Cove neighborhood.
Homeowners in the Cove are very aware of the city’s burglary spike, and Lane has held crime watch parties at her home to discuss how residents can help fight crime.
"Anything that helps fight crime I think is a good idea," she said.
BSO already has some experience in putting non-cops on patrol. It trained more than 225 of Waste Management's garbage truck drivers in March to spot crimes as they drive their dawn routes.
Waste Management asked BSO to partner with it for that program, which is called, aptly, Waste Watch. That program is expected to expand to Palm Beach County in the fall, said Dawn McCormick, a spokeswoman for Waste Management.
That program inspired this one, Sudler said.
"Law enforcement can’t do this alone," he said. "We need the help from the community, from city employees. And a majority of city employees we’re training are residents of the city too. What better way to give back than to help the police reduce the crime in the city you work in and you live in?"
Spy School — a Tampa Bay History Center program specially designed for teens — will instruct youngsters about surveillance, information gathering and disguise.
Agents and experts will teach children ages 12 to 18, offering tips on how to enter the espionage career field.
The two-part spy series is part of the history center’s traveling exhibition, “Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America.” Spy School begins Saturday and offers a guided tour with curator Rodney Kite-Powell.
The program costs $60 per student but history center members get a $5 discount.
The Tampa Bay area might not seem like an obvious spy hub. But many retired FBI, CIA and military members live in the area, and one of the nation’s more high-profile spy court cases unfolded in 2001 in a U.S. District Court in Tampa. Also, United States Special Operations Command is based in Tampa.
For information on Spy School, call (813) 675-8960 or email Jennifer Tyson, the center’s assistant curator of education, at jtyson @tampabayhistorycenter .org.
Side Note: It won’t be long before the DHS and Pentagon use this “oops! I didn’t mean to” excuse when they start killing Americans using these same drones they are accidentally spying on Americans with.
As long as the Air Force pinky-swears it didn’t mean to, its drone fleet can keep tabs on the movements of Americans, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Yemen. And it can hold data on them for 90 days — studying it to see if the people it accidentally spied upon are actually legitimate targets of domestic surveillance.
The Air Force, like the rest of the military and the CIA, isn’t supposed to conduct “nonconsensual surveillance” on Americans domestically, according to an Apr. 23 instruction from the flying service. But should the drones taking off over American soil accidentally keep their cameras rolling and their sensors engaged, well … that’s a different story.
“Collected imagery may incidentally include US persons or private property without consent,” reads the instruction (.pdf), unearthed by the secrecy scholar Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. That kind of “incidental” spying won’t be immediately purged, however. The Air Force has “a period not to exceed 90 days” to get rid of it — while it determines “whether that information may be collected under the provisions” of a Pentagon directive that authorizes limited domestic spying.
In other words, if an Air Force drone accidentally spies on an American citizen, the Air Force will have three months to figure out if it was legally allowed to put that person under surveillance in the first place.
Not all domestic drone surveillance is that ominous. “Air Force components may, at times, require newly collected or archived domestic imagery to perform certain missions,” the Air Force concluded. Acceptable surveillance includes flying drones over natural disasters; studying environmental changes; or keeping tabs above a domestic military base. Even those missions, however, raise “policy and legal concerns that require careful consideration, analysis and coordination with legal counsel.”
The potential trouble with those local intelligence missions is once the drones’ powerful sensors and cameras sweep up imagery and other data from Americans nearby, the Air Force won’t simply erase the tapes. It’ll start analyzing whether the people it’s recorded are, among other things, “persons or organizations reasonably believed to be engaged or about to engage, in international terrorist or international narcotics activities.” Suddenly, accidental spying provides an entrance point into deliberate investigations, all done without a warrant.
And it doesn’t stop with the Air Force. “U.S. person information in the possession of an Air Force intelligence component may be disseminated pursuant to law, a court order,” or the Pentagon directive that governs acceptable domestic surveillance. So what begins as a drone flight over, say, a national park to spot forest fires could end up with a dossier on campers getting passed on to law enforcement.
All this is sure to spark a greater debate about the use of drones and other military surveillance migrating from the warzones of Iraq and Afghanistan back home. The Department of Homeland Security — which is lukewarm on its fleet of spy drones — is expanding its use of powerful, military-grade camera systems. And police departments across the country are beginning to buy and fly drones from the military. Now the Air Force’s powerful spy tools could creep into your backyard in a different way.
There’s an irony here. The directive is actually designed to make sure that Air Force personnel involved in surveillance don’t start spying on their fellow citizens. It instructs that “Questionable Intelligence Activities … that may violate the law, any executive order or Presidential directive” have to be reported immediately up the chain of command. But what’s most questionable might be the kind of local spying the Air Force considers legit.
Tom Cruise made “pre-crime’” a futuresque and controversial method of law enforcement in the 2002 movie Minority Report.
Ten years later, the idea of preemptively identifying a criminal — particularly an inside threat — is taking shape within the U.S. Defense Department, reports Joe Gould at Army Times.
Whether it’s a low-ranking soldier intent on dumping secret information to WikiLeaks, or a rogue Sergeant going on a shooting rampage, insider threats can seriously plague the military and the government as a whole.
Taking a novel approach, the Pentagon is spearheading research into studying the predictive behavior of personnel in the lead-up to a betrayal.
From Army Times:
The Army’s efforts dovetail with a broader federal government initiative. President Obama signed an executive order last October that established an Insider Threat Task Force to develop a government wide program to deter, detect and mitigate insider threats.
Among other responsibilities, it would create policies for safeguarding classified information and networks, and for auditing and monitoring users.
In January, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget issued a memo directing government agencies that deal with classified information to ensure they adhere to security rules enacted after the WikiLeaks debacle.
Beyond technical solutions, the document asks agencies to create their own “insider threat program” to monitor employees for “behavioral changes” suggesting they might leak sensitive information.
Gould points to a DARPA research solicitation for Suspected Malicious Insider Threat Elimination (SMITE) which would track employees’ actions on their networked computers — in particular, seemingly insignificant “observational data of no immediate relevance” — to determine if the user’s overall behavior is leading to something malicious.
"Forensic-like techniques can be used to find clues, gather and evaluate evidence and combine them deductively. Many attacks are combinations of directly observable and inferred events,” states the solicitation, emphasizing the word “inferred”.
Behavioral studies try to “look beyond computers to spot the point when a good soldier turns” — whether the attack at hand is an information leak, or even a homicide.
A solicitation for another program — Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales, or ADAMS — uses accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan to frame the problem. It asks how to sift for anomalies through millions of data points — the emails and text messages on Fort Hood, for instance — using a unique algorithm, to rank threats and learn based on user feedback.
The Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon sheds light on what kind of character profile a once trusted employee-turned-threat would display. There are two noteworthy profiles of someone who would steal and leak intellectual information from his/her workplace:
All of the government’s ongoing research and exploration into “computer forensics” will culminate in new standards of defense against internal attacks later this year. The Insider Threat Task Force is expected to be unveiled in October.
In the wake of the biggest dump of classified information in the history of the Army, the brass is searching for ways to watch what every soldier is doing on his or her Army computer.
The Army wants to look at keystrokes, downloads and Web searches on computers that soldiers use.
Maj. Gen. Steven Smith, chief of the Army Cyber Directorate, said the software was one of his chief priorities, joking that it would take the place of a lower-tech solution: “A guy with a large bat behind every user as they go to search the Internet.”
“Now we’ve been in the news — I don’t know if you’ve seen it — with a little insider threat issue,” Smith continued.
Smith did not mention Pfc. Bradley Manning by name. However, the effort comes in the wake of the former intelligence analyst’s alleged leak of hundreds of thousands of pages of classified documents to the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks in 2009 and 2010. Manning faces a military trial on 22 counts, including aiding the enemy.
According to Smith, the Army will soon shop for software pre-programmed to detect a user’s abnormal behavior and record it, catching malicious insiders in the act. Though it is unclear how broadly the Army plans to adopt the program, the Army has more than 900,000 users on its computers.
Smith explained how it might work.
“So I’m on the South American desk, doing intelligence work and all of a sudden I start going around to China, let’s say,” Smith said. “That might be an anomaly, it might be justified, but I would sure like to know that and let someone make a decision, almost at the speed of thought.”
The scenario echoes the allegations against Manning: As an intelligence analyst charged with researching the Shiite threat to Iraqi elections, Manning raided classified networks for State Department cables, Afghanistan and Iraq war logs and video from a helicopter attack, according to courtroom testimony.
Software of the type Smith describes is at various stages of development in the public and private sectors. Such software could spy on virtually any activity on a desktop depending on its programming, to detect when a soldier searches outside of his or her job description, downloads massive amounts of data from a shared hard drive or moves the data onto a removable drive.
The program could respond by recording the activity, alerting an administrator, shutting down the user’s access, or by feeding the person “dummy data” to watch what they do next, said Charles Beard, a cybersecurity executive with the defense firm SAIC’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance group.
“It’s a giant game of cat and mouse with some of these actors,” Beard said.
What’s exciting, Smith said, is the possibility of detecting problems as they happen, on what cybersecurity experts call “zero day,” as opposed to after the fact.
“We don’t want to be forensics experts. We want to catch it at the perimeter,” Smith said. “We want to catch this before it has a chance to be exploited.”
As part of the coordinated biometric border control program, including Secure Communities, a new mobile device called SEEK II has been ordered by Customs and Border Protection.
The Federal Biometric ID program which was announced by ICE back in February of 2011 was introduced under the guise of tracking immigrants who have been booked for crimes by local police.
However, it was quickly revealed through Freedom of Information Act requests by several justice organizations that the program was secretly intended for American citizens as well.
The Secure Communities program itself has expanded well beyond its California testing grounds, and can now be found in 27 states. It has been mandated by the Federal government that all states need to comply by 2013. (Source)
ICE has been under investigation for misrepresenting its intentions regarding Secure Communities, while the role of the FBI and its push to make mandatory what could have been voluntary, only furthers the suspicion that forcing states to obey a Federal dictate has intentions that far surpass documenting and deporting illegal and dangerous individuals.
'The compact, portable solution is designed for rugged field use, making it quick and easy for military, border control and U.S. government agencies to identify subjects and verify their identities in the field,' explains Cross Match on its Website.The potential abuse of biometric database systems has led the Center for Constitutional Rights to issue a four-page fact sheet; part of which states a scope of concern that extends even beyond law enforcement abuse:
The accumulation of information in such large databases creates targets for hackers, disgruntled insiders, and national enemies. Information collection projects like NGI greatly endanger national security and leave us vulnerable to identity theft. Using biometric link identifiers introduces the risk that information gathered for one purpose will be used for completely unrelated purposes, without our knowledge or consent, and in blatant violation of our privacy rights. (Source, PDF)Nearly all of the technology of tyranny has been introduced through supposed border control measures, while the border actually stays perfectly wide open. We have seen drones move from border control to inland functions over America with 63 bases now revealed.
DARPA is at it again. This time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has announced plans to create nanochips for monitoring troops health on the battlefield.
Kate Knibbs at Mobiledia reports the sensors are targeted at preventing illness and disease, the two causes of most troops medical evacuations.
What seems like a simple way of cutting costs and increasing efficiency has some people concerned that this is the first step in a “computer chips for all” scenario.
Bob Unruh at WND reports one of those opponents, Katherine Albrecht, co-author of Spychips says “It’s never going to happen that the government at gunpoint says, ‘You’re going to have a tracking chip. It’s always in incremental steps. If you can put a microchip in someone that doesn’t track them … everybody looks and says, ‘Come on, it’ll be interesting seeing where we go.’”
She said it was expected that captive audiences, such as prisoners and troops, would be the first subjected to the requirement, which would make it easier for the general populace to accept it as well. “It’s interesting,” she said. “I’m stunned how this younger generation is OK. They don’t see the problem. … ‘Why wouldn’t everyone want to be tracked?’”
But she said Americans will have to decide to say no to incremental advances, or by the time officials finally roll out the idea of chips for all, whether they want them or not, it will be too late to decide. “The analogy that I draw is [that of a train], and if I’m in California and I do not want to wind up in New City, every stop brings me closer,” she said. “At some point I have to get off the train.”
DARPA is calling the effort ”a truly disruptive innovation,” that could help the U.S. fight healthier and more efficiently than its adversaries.
CNET‘s excellent technology reporter, Declan McCullagh, reports on ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to force the Internet industry to provide the U.S. Government with “backdoor” access to all forms of Internet communication:
The FBI is asking Internet companies not to oppose a controversial proposal that would require firms, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, to build in backdoors for government surveillance… . That included a scheduled trip this month to the West Coast — which was subsequently postponed — to meet with Internet companies’ CEOs and top lawyers… .
The FBI general counsel’s office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.
“If you create a service, product, or app that allows a user to communicate, you get the privilege of adding that extra coding,” an industry representative who has reviewed the FBI’s draft legislation told CNET.
As for the substance of this policy, I wrote about this back in September, 2010, when it first revealed that the Obama administration was preparing legislation to mandate that “all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct ‘peer to peer’ messaging like Skype” — be designed to ensure government surveillance access. This isn’t about expanding the scope of the government’s legal surveillance powers — numerous legislative changes since 2001 have already accomplished that quite nicely — but is about ensuring the government’s physical ability to intrude into all forms of Internet communication.
What was most amazing to me back when I first wrote about these Obama administration efforts was that a mere six weeks earlier, a major controversy had erupted when Saudi Arabia and the UAE bothannounced a ban on BlackBerries on the ground that they were physically unable to monitor the communications conducted on those devices. Since Blackberry communication data are sent directly to servers in Canada and the company which operates Blackberry — Research in Motion — refused to turn the data over to those governments, “authorities [in those two tyrannies] decided to ban Blackberry services rather than continue to allow an uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information within their borders.” As I wrote at the time: “that’s the core mindset of the Omnipotent Surveillance State: above all else, what is strictly prohibited is the ability of citizens to communicate in private; we can’t have any ‘uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information’.”
In response to that controversy, the Obama administration actuallycondemned the Saudi and UAE ban, calling it “a dangerous precedent” and a threat to “democracy, human rights and freedom of information.” Yet six weeks later, the very same Obama administration embraced exactly the same rationale — that it is intolerable for any human interaction to take place beyond the prying eyes and ears of the government — when it proposed its mandatory “backdoor access” for all forms of Internet communication. Indeed, the UAE pointed out that the U.S. — as usual — was condemning exactly that which it itself was doing:
Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States, said [the Obama administration’s] comments were disappointing and contradict the U.S. government’s own approach to telecommunication regulation.
“In fact, the UAE is exercising its sovereign right and is asking for exactly the same regulatory compliance — and with the same principles of judicial and regulatory oversight — that Blackberry grants the U.S. and other governments and nothing more,” Otaiba said.
“Importantly, the UAE requires the same compliance as the U.S. for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement.”
A week after the announced ban by the Saudis and UAE, The New York Times published an Op-Ed by Richard Falkenrath — a top-level Homeland Security official in the Bush administration and current principal in the private firm of former Bush DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff — expressing support for the UAE’s Blackberry ban. Falkenrath explained that “[a]mong law enforcement investigators and intelligence officers [in the U.S.], the Emirates’ decision met with approval, admiration and perhaps even a touch of envy.” The Obama administration — by essentially seeking to ban any Internet technology that allows communication to take place beyond its reach — is working hard to ensure that its own Surveillance State apparatus keeps up with those of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The FBI claims this requirement is merely an extension of current law that mandates that all telecommunications carriers provide government surveillance access to telephone conversations when a search warrant is obtained, and that failure to extend this requirement to Interent communications will risk “Going Dark” with important investigations. There are many reasons why this claim is false.
For one, as surveillance expert Julian Sanchez explained to me in October, the U.S. Government does not need “backdoor” access to all Interent communications in order to surveil even individuals using encrypted communications; instead they can simply obtain end-user surveillance to do so: “if the FBI has an individual target and fear he’ll use encryption, they can do a covert entry under a traditional search warrant and install a keylogger on his computer.” Moreover, the problem cited by the FBI to justify this new power is a total pretext: “investigators encountered encrypted communications only one time during 2009′s wiretaps” and, even then, “the state investigators told the court that the encryption did not prevent them from getting the plain text of the messages.” As usual, fear-mongering over national security and other threats is the instrument to justify massive new surveillance powers that will extend far beyond their claimed function.
Sanchez explains that the true value of requiring back-door access for all Internet communications is full-scale access to all communications: “If you want to sift through communications in bulk, it’s only going to be feasible with a systemic backdoor.” McCullagh notes that Joe Biden has been unsuccessfully attempting to ban encrypted communications, or at least require full-scale government access, since well before 9/11. As for why this proposed bill is far more intrusive and dangerous than current law requiring all telephone communications to be subject to government surveillance, see Sanchez’s analysis here. The ACLU makes similar points here about why this proposal is so dangerous, and describes the numerous ways it extends far beyond current authorities concerning government access to telephone communications.
Moreover, for anyone who defends the Obama administration here and insists that the U.S. Government simply must have access to all forms of human communication: does that also apply to in-person communication? Should home and apartment builders be required to install monitors in every room they build to ensure that the Government can surveil all human communications in order to prevent threats to national security and public safety? I believe someone oncewrote a book about where this mindset inevitably leads. The very idea that no human communication should ever be allowed to take place beyond the reach of the Government is definitive authoritarianism, which is why Saudi Arabia and the UAE — and their American patron-ally — have so vigorously embraced it.
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