Tag: Surveillance

What is iCOP? Not What You Think


I almost choked on my beverage in the car when I heard an ad from cyber-security guru Kim Commando, warning that the government has enlisted the United States Post Office to spy on our social media content and report it back to certain agencies. Then the same story was being discussed on two different radio stations. From Business Insider:

According to a Yahoo News report, the law-enforcement arm of the US Postal Service is running a “covert” program that monitors Americans’ social media posts for “inflammatory” content and then passes those posts along to other government agencies.

The surveillance effort, which falls under the agency’s Postal Inspection Service, is known as the Internet Covert Operations Program, or iCop, the outlet reported. Prior to the Yahoo News Wednesday report, details of the program had not been made public.

Filing Cabinets Full of Betrayals


When Anna Funder visited the former East Germany in 1994–five years after the Wall came down–she found it to be a very strange place, “a place lost in time. It wouldn’t have surprised me if things had tasted different here–apples like pears, say, or wine like blood.” The German Democratic Republic, as it called itself, had been a suffocating surveillance state, dedicated to the monitoring and control of every aspect of its citizens’ lives–enforced by a huge organization known as the Ministry for State Security, Staatssicherheit, abbreviated Stasi.

Funder wrote of her experiences and observations in a 2003 book, Stasiland.

Health, Privacy, and Shin Bet Surveillance


Israel is re-opening the economy, and the world is watching our success story against COVID-19. Many parameters probably played a role in reducing the health impact of the virus. Still, it seems that closing the borders early and the outstanding behavior of the population are the main factors. The overwhelming majority of Israelis agreed to make drastic changes to save lives. This behavior isn’t unusual, Israelis live permanently in a state of emergency, almost instinctively, we come together in solidarity and unity at times of danger. But, the citizens also dictated the end of the strict lockdowns when the economic and emotional cost became unbearable. As days passed, and the virus felt less devastating than previously thought citizens demanded an end of the restrictions, leaving no choice to our government than to relax the most coercive legislation.

However, there is a tool that our government used during this crisis: military-grade surveillance on private citizens, and even as we return to our “normal” life, this monitoring persists. The use of such surveillance was defended as a tool for saving lives through contact tracing of the infection. It turns out that this system, operated by the Shin Bet, only helped reveal a minuscule number of cases. Despite those poor results, we are still under full surveillance even after the containment of the virus and return to “normal” activities. Detailed information about every single aspect of our life is being watched and stored by government agencies. They know who we meet, how long we spend with our friends, where we shop, where we walk. They trace every action we take during the day. It’s often described as one of the most intrusive surveillance systems in the world and with the exception of China, no other countries have deployed such monitoring in their fight against COVID-19.

In fact, until a few weeks ago, this type of surveillance had only been used against suspected terrorists. Have we all become suspected terrorists in the eyes of our government?

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For this week’s Big Ideas with Ben Weingarten podcast, my guest was Rich Higgins. Higgins, an expert in unconventional warfare and combatting terrorism with over 20 years experience at senior levels of the Defense Department, and early supporter of President Trump, served as director for strategic planning in President Trump’s National Security Council (NSC). Preview Open

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Richard Epstein parses the memo recently released by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, a document that they claim shows impropriety in the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America enjoy watching Nancy Pelosi get drowned out by amnesty activists who think she and Chuck Schumer are not doing enough for people who are in the U.S. illegally.  They also discuss the revelation that the feds did in fact wiretap former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 election.  And they have no problem with President Trump referring to Kim Jong-Un as “Rocket Man,” given that decades of professional diplomatic statements have achieved so little.

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America begin by discussing the interesting circumstances surrounding the discovery of Tom Brady’s stolen Superbowl jersey, but then get to the real news.  They are excited to see Neil Gorsuch begin his Supreme Court confirmation hearings.  They also react to the heads of the FBI and NSA say they have no evidence suggesting Pres. Obama ordered surveillance on Trump Tower.  And they shake their heads as only 43 percent of Americans can name one Supreme Court justice.

Two Different Uses of Big Data and Mass Surveillance


shutterstock_340300073The first comes from The Economist and describes how intelligence agencies, the military, and police are using data and electronic surveillance to fight terrorism at home and jihad abroad:

Thanks to the clever use of software, tips from … [terrorist] manuals obtained by intelligence agencies are proving increasingly valuable to counter-terrorist forces deployed both in the West and abroad. Technologists are modifying existing mapping software to produce “geographic profiling” programs that show which areas should be searched or put under surveillance first in the hunt for hideouts, bomb workshops and weapons caches. “Declaration of Jihad Against the Country’s Tyrants”, for example, was a cornerstone of Building Intent, a geoprofiling program developed … for America’s defence department. In addition to terrorist guidelines on which buildings to use, software such as Building Intent is fed the co-ordinates of bombings and other actions thought related to the group of interest. These are useful because such groups are often reluctant to conduct operations far from their bases, be it to save time, to remain in familiar or friendly territory, or to reduce the likelihood of encountering a checkpoint.

The second, via Conor Friedersdorf, profiles a company whose business is photographing and geotagging as many car license plates as they can and selling access to their database:

Robot Cops Menace the Malls of Silicon Valley



My big problem with public spaces is that there aren’t enough cameras watching Every Single Move I Make. Thankfully, a Silicon Valley startup is correcting this Orwellian oversight by creating a fleet of robot cops that are not at all menacing. (Seriously, guys, couldn’t you have made the eyes glow red?) One look at these real-life Daleks and all I hear is Exterminate! Exterminate!

Knightscope’s K5 security bots … have broadcasting and sophisticated monitoring capabilities to keep public spaces in check as they rove through open areas, halls and corridors for suspicious activity.

China: Harbinger of a Brave New World


shutterstock_275764925Totalitarianism is a function of technology. Prior to recent times, governments might claim to be absolute, but they did not have the record-keeping, administrative capacity to make good on that claim. Now they can do so far more easily than ever before — without hiring armies of spies. All that they have to do is follow the population on the Internet and use computers to collect and analyze the data. What Google can do, governments can do — and in Xi Jinping’s China that is what they are going to do. As The Weekly Standard reports,

China’s Communist government is rolling out a plan to assign everyone in the country “citizenship scores.” According to the ACLU, “China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, ‘authoritarianism, gamified.’ ” In the system, everyone is measured by a score ranging from 350 to 950, and that score is linked to a national ID card. In addition to measuring your financial credit, it will also measure political compliance. Expressing the wrong opinion—or merely having friends who express the wrong opinion—will hurt your score. The higher your score, the more privileges the government will grant you.

To do this, of course, the Chinese government needs help, and that is where private enterprise comes in. Alibaba and Tencent are set to administer the plan; and, if you hold stock in Yahoo, you are party to this as well.

The NSA and our Allies


480px-National_Security_Agency.svgAsked how the United States could better undermine good will from our allies — particularly, among commercially successful, technically savvy nations with small-l liberal values — one would be hard-pressed to find a better answer than to cite (essentially) unlimited powers of surveillance, coupled with the stated belief that technology companies should be encouraged/required to provide our intelligence services with backdoor access to their databases. For good measure, emphasize that we consider these methods to be in accordance with the fairly radical demands of the Fourth Amendment as it relates to our own citizens. Then, add that our supposed good judgement and self-restraint did not stop us from tapping the personal phone of the head of state of one of our closest allies, who just happens to have grown up under a government infamous for tyrannical surveillance.

Unfortunately, that is precisely the situation we find ourselves in and — unsurprisingly — it has consequences:

Judges at the European Union’s top court struck down the so-called safe-harbor accord after an Austrian law student complained about how U.S. security services can gain unfettered access to Facebook Inc. customer information sent to the U.S. Other U.S. companies, including Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc., may also be effected.

Shaun’s Musings: The Internet and Privacy


My father bought the house’s first computer in 1995. Before then, I had used a rickety old typewriter with a flying ‘g’ that seemed to eat the ink cartridges faster than I could replace them. Happy with my father’s new purchase, I set to work on writing a novel. We had AOL in those days, but the Internet was not anywhere near where it is today. On the first day I started using the Internet, my father sat down with me and gave me a good piece of advice that I have never forgotten. “The Internet is a public place,” he told me. “I don’t care what website says it’s private. Automatically assume that everything you write, buy, and look at online will still be visible twenty years from now.”

That advice came in handy years later when I lost an entire manuscript I had saved since I was sixteen. Remembering that I had shared the file with some friends in order to gain some feedback, I was quickly able to find and download it. The date? May, 1997, just weeks before I graduated high school.

The Conceptual Difficulties of the NSA Case


shutterstock_160092761Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an exhaustive opinion in which Judge Gerard Lynch held that the bulk collection of metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA) was not authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That provision provides in so many words that the Director of the FBI or his designated agent may:

…make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.

At issue in this decision was whether this language was sufficiently broad to permit the vast collection of the metadata and, further, whether and when the individuals who claim grievances for those collection activities are in a position to challenge the standard practice of the NSA under these sections.

What the Second Circuit Got Right


1154px-National_Security_Agency_headquarters,_Fort_Meade,_MarylandI agree with much of what John Yoo says in his recent post about “the blindness of the left… to the dire threat of foreign terrorism that has appeared again on our shores.” Although I disagree with his conclusions, John does an excellent job of laying out the policy reasons why he thinks the federal government should engage in bulk data collection.

But the policy arguments should be irrelevant to our analysis of the Second Circuit’s decision in ACLU v. Clapper. The question before the Court was simply whether the bulk data collection program is authorized under statutory and constitutional provisions. Surely, conservatives don’t want judges substituting their own policy preferences for the plain language of the law. And on the basic legal question before it, the Second Circuit got it right.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act allows the government to seize “any tangible things” but only when the FBI can establish that the “things” sought are “relevant to an authorized investigation.” The bulk data collection, however, is not connected to any ongoing investigation: it is data that is collected in the event that it may come in useful in some future investigation (and, in the meantime, is shared with other law enforcement officials to make arrests that they couldn’t make if they had to get warrants). So, on the plain language of the statute, the government’s program fails, as has been argued by Randy Barnett and Jim Harper, not exactly wild-eyed liberals.

Snowden, Eminem, and New Zealand’s Election


402px-Edward-Snowden-FOPF-2014In his relentless drive for relevancy, NSA-leaker Edward Snowden has injected himself into New Zealand’s politics on the eve of its general election. Appearing on Monday via video link at an event hosted by fellow fugitive Kim Dotcom — who is wanted by U.S. prosecutors on piracy charges — Snowden alleged that Prime Minister John Key and senior government officials lied to the public about the activities of New Zealand’s spy agency, the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB).

Snowden — who was joined by the reporter-activist Glenn Greenwald and Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame — claimed that the GCSB was planning to implement a system of mass surveillance of its citizens with the help of the NSA. According to Snowden, the GCSB “is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, sattelite, radio and phone networks”.

How does Snowden claim to know this? As an NSA analyst, he had access to a mass communication tool known as “XKEYSCORE” that the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand use to share data. The government has been quick to repudiate the veracity of the allegations regarding this specific program. After Snowden attempted to substantiate his claims with stolen NSA files, Key declassified relevant documents.

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I have had the misfortune of knowing two individuals in my life who I can confidently call narcissistic sociopaths.  Their moral disregard for even their closest relatives and friends is shocking. They are as cruel to children and elders as to peers. At their best, they are either dismissive or manipulative. When angered, often by […]

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I’ve been researching Stingrays the past few days. Have you heard of these? Generically called “IMSI Catchers” for technical reasons I won’t get into here, the name “Stingray” is the tradename for a product sold by the Harris Corporation. A Stingray is a device that poses as a cell tower to any phones in the […]

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Your Government Is Phone Tapping An Entire Nation. Are You Okay With This?


shutterstock_90519055As of 2013, the United States government “has been recording and storing nearly all the domestic (and international) phone calls from two or more target countries as of 2013.” If anybody had any doubts, the good people of WikiLeaks, who are doing God’s work, revealed that one of those countries is Afghanistan.

Your government is phone tapping an entire country’s worth of phones. This program, they claim, is vital, to keeping our drone wars going.

So, in order to keep a war going that we shouldn’t be in anymore, in a place we shouldn’t be involved anymore, we — you and I — are doing this. Privacy is a fundamental human right. We are violating the fundamental human rights of an entire nation of people, in order to keep a war going in a place we shouldn’t be in, to accomplish… what exactly?