Brian O’Neill writes: For people not intimately involved in national security debates, and who haven’t closely followed how we arrived at the modern security state, the decade-and-a-half following the surreal terror of September 11 have felt like an unmoored drift, a country floating aimlessly, if recklessly, down a river of indecision. The internet’s rising ubiquity, followed by the dominance of social media, allowed many of us to unwittingly shrug off privacy concerns, while simultaneously ignoring others’ indefinite detention, the torture of strangers, and sky-borne assassination overseas, until we looked around and the sky was speckled with revelations. It’s easy to feel like the new relationship we have with our government “only just happened.”
In Rogue Justice, Karen Greenberg, the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law, puts that feeling of aimless drift mostly to rest. This detailed and meticulously researched book shows how the willingness to make every citizen a suspect, and to give the executive branch immense powers to surveil, detain, torture, and murder were not just a product of collective fear and indifference, but the deliberate actions of a surprisingly small group of people. I say “mostly” because the decisions were made by officials within the Bush and (to a lesser extent) Obama administrations, but they were also enabled by the assumed (and granted) complicity of many others.
This complicity came from careerists worried about rocking the boat, politicians in both parties worried about being painted as weak on terror (with notable and noble exceptions), and to an uncomfortable extent, the general public. The terrorist attacks in 2001 made everyone realize that anyone could be a target, but we didn’t see — or didn’t want to see — that in a very real way, we also became a target of the government. Many of the policies enacted in the wake of 9/11 made everyone a suspect as much as a target. Through official secrecy aided by general indifference, we allowed ourselves to be passively dragooned into being on both sides of a war. [Continue reading…]
Anna Borshchevskaya writes: On June 7, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed controversial anti-terrorism legislation known in Russia as the “Yarovaya law,” named after its leading co-author, prominent member of Putin’s United Russia party Irina Yarovaya.
The law is reminiscent of Soviet-era surveillance. It will also likely contribute to crippling the Russian economy. According to Russian and Western sources, it allows for jailing children as young as 14 for a variety of vaguely-worded reasons, and significantly raises the costs of internet and telecommunications. Russia’s human rights activists and opposition politicians described the law as “unconstitutional.” Russia’s Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights urged Putin not to sign the law.
“Hello, brave new world with expensive Internet, with jails for children, with global surveillance and prison terms for non-snitching,” wrote politician Dmitry Gudkov in his Facebook page after Putin signed the law. Gudkov, one of Russia’s few real opposition parliamentarians, was outspoken in June and urged his colleagues to vote against the law last month. The Duma (lower house of parliament) began the discussion of the bill in May of this year and both the upper and lower houses of parliament approved the bill in late June without genuine debate on the issue.
Among other things, reportedly, the law requires Internet and telecom providers to store recordings of all of their customers’ data and communications for six months. In addition, the law requires them to store all metadata for three years. Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB) would have access to this information and, as Gudkov pointed out in June, it may easily leak into the black market. This requirement, according to Russia’s cellphone providers, for example, will increase costs for consumers at least two- to three-fold.
The law also introduces criminal liability for “failure to report a crime” that someone “has been planning, is perpetrating, or has perpetrated.” Moreover, under the new law, children as young as 14 can face up to a year in prison for such a “failure” and for other reasons related to extremism, terrorism and participation in massive riots (all of which can be virtually anything in Russia, since the law is vague). As Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director Human Rights Watch Russia program director pointed out in June before Putin signed the law, “it’s not clear what ‘planning’ stands for or what level of knowledge needs to be proved to hold a person liable.” Such ambiguity is the hallmark of Russia’s laws in the last several years when Putin began a massive crackdown on Russia’s civil society when he returned to his third presidential term in 2012 amidst the largest protests since the break-up of the Soviet Union. [Continue reading…]
If you use a credit card, your daily activities are under continuous surveillance. Information gathered from each transaction is monitored and analysed, not by the NSA, but by the financial companies themselves.
Most cardholders who are aware of this are grateful for the fact. It means that if or when you get a phone call or text message from the company telling you they’ve noticed suspicious activity on your account, the chances are that the warning is warranted and some fraud can get snipped in the bud.
Suppose your online activity was being monitored in an analogous way — not to spot fraud but instead to spot symptoms of undiagnosed disease — would you welcome this kind of surveillance?
Right now, this is a hypothetical question, but it probably won’t be long before automated health-tracking systems emerge. Perhaps health insurance companies will offer a discount to individuals who opt-in for the service.
The hyperbole surrounding the issue of surveillance usually looks at it through the lens of the intelligence agencies and political oppression, but what may in the long run be much more significant, socially, is the kind of benign surveillance that caters to our needs — that makes life easier by anticipating our needs.
Needs easily met create an expanding field of things we take for granted, but with that comes a diminishing state of awareness. For some people, the fewer their cares, the more creative they become, but more often it seems like ease fuels a hunger for stimulation and distraction.
The surveillance state we are moving into is not one where we are at much risk of getting whisked away by the secret police, but rather it is one in which we are likely to submerge deeper and deeper into the oblivion of convenience.
The New York Times reports: Microsoft scientists have demonstrated that by analyzing large samples of search engine queries they may in some cases be able to identify internet users who are suffering from pancreatic cancer, even before they have received a diagnosis of the disease.
The scientists said they hoped their work could lead to early detection of cancer. Their study was published on Tuesday in The Journal of Oncology Practice by Dr. Eric Horvitz and Dr. Ryen White, the Microsoft researchers, and John Paparrizos, a Columbia University graduate student.
“We asked ourselves, ‘If we heard the whispers of people online, would it provide strong evidence or a clue that something’s going on?’” Dr. Horvitz said.
The researchers focused on searches conducted on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, that indicated someone had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. From there, they worked backward, looking for earlier queries that could have shown that the Bing user was experiencing symptoms before the diagnosis. Those early searches, they believe, can be warning flags. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration is seeking to amend surveillance law to give the FBI explicit authority to access a person’s Internet browser history and other electronic data without a warrant in terrorism and spy cases.
The administration made a similar effort six years ago but dropped it after concerns were raised by privacy advocates and the tech industry.
FBI Director James B. Comey has characterized the legislation as a fix to “a typo” in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which he says has led some tech firms to refuse to provide data that Congress intended them to provide.
But tech firms and privacy advocates say the bureau is seeking an expansion of surveillance powers that infringes on Americans’ privacy. [Continue reading…]
David Kushner reports: The Blackwater of surveillance, the Hacking Team is among the world’s few dozen private contractors feeding a clandestine, multibillion-dollar industry that arms the world’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies with spyware. Comprised of around 40 engineers and salespeople who peddle its goods to more than 40 nations, the Hacking Team epitomizes what Reporters Without Borders, the international anti-censorship group, dubs the “era of digital mercenaries.”
The Italian company’s tools — “the hacking suite for governmental interception,” its website claims — are marketed for fighting criminals and terrorists. But there, on Marquis-Boire’s computer screen, was chilling proof that the Hacking Team’s software was also being used against dissidents. It was just the latest example of what Marquis-Boire saw as a worrying trend: corrupt regimes using surveillance companies’ wares for anti-democratic purposes.
When Citizen Lab published its findings in the October 2012 report “Backdoors are Forever: Hacking Team and the Targeting of Dissent?” the group also documented traces of the company’s spyware in a document sent to Ahmed Mansoor, a pro-democracy activist in the United Arab Emirates. Privacy advocates and human rights organizations were alarmed. “By fueling and legitimizing this global trade, we are creating a Pandora’s box,” Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told Bloomberg.
The Hacking Team, however, showed no signs of standing down. “Frankly, the evidence that the Citizen Lab report presents in this case doesn’t suggest anything inappropriately done by us,” company spokesman Eric Rabe told the Globe and Mail.
As media and activists speculated about which countries the Italian firm served, the founder and CEO of the Hacking Team, David Vincenzetti — from his sleek, white office inside an unsuspecting residential building in Milan — took the bad press in stride. He joked with his colleagues in a private email that he was responsible for the “evilest technology” in the world.
A tall, lean 48-year-old Italian with a taste for expensive steak and designer suits, Vincenzetti has transformed himself over the past decade from an under-ground hacker working out of a windowless basement into a mogul worth millions. He is nothing if not militant about what he defines as justice: Julian Assange, the embattled founder of WikiLeaks, is “a criminal who by all means should be arrested, expatriated to the United States, and judged there”; whistleblower Chelsea Manning is “another lunatic”; Edward Snowden “should go to jail, absolutely.”
“Privacy is very important,” Vincenzetti says on a recent February morning in Milan, pausing to sip his espresso. “But national security is much more important.”
Vincenzetti’s position has come at a high cost. Disturbing incidents have been left in his wake: a spy’s suicide, dissidents’ arrests, and countless human rights abuses. “If I had known how crazy and dangerous he is,” Guido Landi, a former employee, says, “I would never have joined the Hacking Team.” [Continue reading…]
Electronic Frontier Foundation: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) yesterday, which would require the government to get a probable cause warrant from a judge before obtaining private communications and documents stored online with companies such as Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.
The bill provides a long-overdue update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), first passed in 1986. The bill also codifies the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in U.S. v. Warshak, which held that the Fourth Amendment demands that the government first obtain a warrant before accessing emails stored with cloud service providers.
The House vote is historic, given that H.R. 699 has an amazing 315 cosponsors, almost three quarters of the entire House. The House voted unanimously, following a unanimous vote by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Britain’s intelligence agencies have been secretly collecting bulk personal data since the late 1990s and privately admit they have gathered information on people who are “unlikely to be of intelligence or security interest”.
Disclosure of internal MI5, MI6 and GCHQ documents reveals the agencies’ growing reliance on amassing data as a prime source of intelligence even as they concede that such “intrusive” practices can invade the privacy of individuals.
A cache of more than 100 memorandums, forms and policy papers, obtained by Privacy International during a legal challenge over the lawfulness of surveillance, demonstrates that collection of bulk data has been going on for longer than previously disclosed while public knowledge of the process was suppressed for more than 15 years.
The files show that GCHQ, the government’s electronic eavesdropping centre based in Cheltenham, was collecting and developing bulk data sets as early as 1998 under powers granted by section 94 of the 1984 Telecommunications Act.
The documents offer a unique insight into the way MI5, MI6, and GCHQ go about collecting and storing bulk data on individuals, as well as authorising discovery of journalists’ sources.
Bulk personal data includes information extracted from passports, travel records, financial data, telephone calls, emails and many other open or covert sources. Often they are “fused” together to help pinpoint suspects. [Continue reading…]
The Local reports: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden could have been acting under the influence of the Russian government, the heads of Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies said on Friday.
“It’s very remarkable that he exclusively published files about the work of the NSA with the BND [Germany’s foreign intelligence service] or the British secret service GCHQ,” BND head Gerhard Schindler told Focus magazine.
“Leaking the secret service files is an attempt to drive a wedge between western Europe and the USA – the biggest since the Second World War,” Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (Verfassungsschutz), told Focus in the double interview. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Big technology companies have usually played a defensive game with government prosecutors in their legal fight over customer information, fighting or bowing to requests for information one case at a time.
But now, in a move that could broaden the debate over the balance between customer privacy and law enforcement needs, Microsoft is going on the offense.
The software giant is suing the Justice Department, challenging its frequent use of secrecy orders that prevent Microsoft from telling people when the government obtains a warrant to read their emails.
In its suit, filed Thursday morning in Federal District Court in Seattle, Microsoft’s home turf, the company asserts that the gag order statute in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 — as employed today by federal prosecutors and the courts — is unconstitutional. [Continue reading…]
Karen Turner reports: A new study shows that knowledge of government surveillance causes people to self-censor their dissenting opinions online. The research offers a sobering look at the oft-touted “democratizing” effect of social media and Internet access that bolsters minority opinion.
The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, studied the effects of subtle reminders of mass surveillance on its subjects. The majority of participants reacted by suppressing opinions that they perceived to be in the minority. This research illustrates the silencing effect of participants’ dissenting opinions in the wake of widespread knowledge of government surveillance, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
The “spiral of silence” is a well-researched phenomenon in which people suppress unpopular opinions to fit in and avoid social isolation. It has been looked at in the context of social media and the echo-chamber effect, in which we tailor our opinions to fit the online activity of our Facebook and Twitter friends. But this study adds a new layer by explicitly examining how government surveillance affects self-censorship. [Continue reading…]
The Hill reports: A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is expressing alarm at reported changes at the National Security Agency that would allow the intelligence service’s information to be used for policing efforts in the United States.
“If media accounts are true, this radical policy shift by the NSA would be unconstitutional, and dangerous,” Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) wrote in a letter to the spy agency this week. “The proposed shift in the relationship between our intelligence agencies and the American people should not be done in secret.
“NSA’s mission has never been, and should never be, domestic policing or domestic spying.” [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The UK is setting a bad example to the rest of the world with proposed changes to the law on surveillance, the United Nations special rapporteur on privacy has said.
The criticism by rapporteur Joseph Cannataci is made in a report presented to the UN Human Rights Council. The report deals with privacy concerns worldwide but Cannataci, concerned about developments in the UK, has devoted a section to the British bill.
He says the British government has failed to recognise the consequences of legitimising bulk data collection or mass surveillance. Instead of legitimising it, the government should be outlawing it, he says. [Continue reading…]
We use our smartphones so much these days, it almost feels like they have become extensions of ourselves, boosting our capacity to calculate and remember. What might come of this closer union of human and technological device? If police can serve a warrant to search your phone, and we see these devices as extensions of ourselves, how long until investigators one day serve a warrant to search your mind?
This line of thinking was roused by the FBI’s legal efforts to force Apple to help them access an iPhone that belonged to a suspected terrorist – something Apple says would undermine the security of its products. This is one of several similar cases, and part of a larger effort by the FBI and intelligence agencies, to ensure they can access a variety of now common devices.
One of the ironies of Libertarianism in America is its soft-spot for Capitalism — as though anything that brands itself free, like free-enterprise, actually promotes freedom. Libertarians never tire of warning about the threats posed by the NSA and other intrusive government agencies, while the coercive and covert power of commerce generates far less fury.
Yet anyone who is genuinely concerned about infringements on civil liberties through electronic systems of surveillance, probably needs to be more wary of business than they are of government.
Most of the data the government collects gets poured into digital black holes — the data being collected for business applications, however, is constantly being mined to extract all its value.
Government might be watching you, but business is telling you where to go.
The New York Times reports: Pass a billboard while driving in the next few months, and there is a good chance the company that owns it will know you were there and what you did afterward.
Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, which has tens of thousands of billboards across the United States, will announce on Monday that it has partnered with several companies, including AT&T, to track people’s travel patterns and behaviors through their mobile phones.
By aggregating the trove of data from these companies, Clear Channel Outdoor hopes to provide advertisers with detailed information about the people who pass its billboards to help them plan more effective, targeted campaigns. With the data and analytics, Clear Channel Outdoor could determine the average age and gender of the people who are seeing a particular billboard in, say, Boston at a certain time and whether they subsequently visit a store. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The Department of Homeland Security, at the urging of Congress, is building tools to more aggressively examine the social media accounts of all visa applicants and those seeking asylum or refugee status in the United States for possible ties to terrorist organizations.
Posts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media can reveal a wealth of information that can be used to identify potential terrorists, but experts say the department faces an array of technical, logistical and language barriers in trying to analyze the millions of records generated every day.
After the December mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., “we saw that our efforts are not as robust as they need to be,” Francis X. Taylor, under secretary for intelligence and analysis, the top counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security, said at a congressional hearing.
Travel industry officials and immigration rights advocates say the new policy carries the peril of making someone who posts legitimate criticism of American foreign policy or who has friends or followers who express sympathy toward terrorists subject to unwarranted scrutiny.
Their concerns underline the mounting challenge for law enforcement agencies that are trying to keep pace with the speed and scope of technology as terrorists turn to social media as an essential tool.
“We haven’t seen the policy, but it is a concern considering the already lengthy and opaque process that refugees have to go through,” said Melanie Nezer of HIAS, a group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. “It could keep out people who are not a threat.” Several trade organizations in the travel industry said they had similar concerns.
The attackers in San Bernardino, Tashfeen Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, had exchanged private online messages discussing their commitment to jihad and martyrdom, law enforcement officials said. But they did not post any public messages about their plans on Facebook or other social media platforms, officials said. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Russia asked on Monday to fly surveillance planes equipped with high-powered digital cameras over the United States, fueling a long-simmering debate among Pentagon and intelligence officials over Russia’s intentions to use such flights to spy on American power plants, communications networks and other critical infrastructure.
Russia has for years conducted unarmed observation flights over the United States — as the United States does over Russia — as part of the Open Skies Treaty that was signed in 1992 by both nations and 32 other countries at the end of the Cold War, and entered into force a decade later. Although the treaty and the flights, unfamiliar to most Americans, amount to officially sanctioned spying, their goal has been to foster transparency about military activity and to reduce the risk of war and miscalculation, especially in Europe.
Now some senior American intelligence and military officials say the new digital technology combined with shifting Russian flight plans would violate the spirit of the treaty. Some Republicans also expressed alarm. [Continue reading…]
USA Today reports: Retired four-star general Michael Hayden, who as director of the NSA installed and still defends the controversial surveillance program to collect telephone metadata on millions of Americans, says he opposes proposals to force Apple and other tech companies to install “back doors” in digital devices to help law enforcement.
In an emerging court battle over access to information on the iPhone owned by one of the San Bernardino attackers, Hayden says “the burden of proof is on Apple” to show that limited cooperation with investigators would open the door to broader privacy invasions. Apple is being asked not to decrypt information on the smartphone but rather to override the operating system so investigators could try an endless series of passwords to unlock it.
“In this specific case, I’m trending toward the government, but I’ve got to tell you in general I oppose the government’s effort, personified by FBI Director Jim Comey,” Hayden told Capital Download in an interview about his memoir, Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror. “Jim would like a back door available to American law enforcement in all devices globally. And, frankly, I think on balance that actually harms American safety and security, even though it might make Jim’s job a bit easier in some specific circumstances.”[Continue reading…]