The American Bear


I.B.M.’s Watson, the supercomputing technology that defeated human Jeopardy! champions in 2011, is a prime example of the power of data-intensive artificial intelligence. Watson-style computing, analysts said, is precisely the technology that would make the ambitious data-collection program of the N.S.A. seem practical. Computers could instantly sift through the mass of Internet communications data, see patterns of suspicious online behavior and thus narrow the hunt for terrorists. Both the N.S.A. and the Central Intelligence Agency have been testing Watson in the last two years, said a consultant who has advised the government and asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak. Revelations Give Look at Spy Agency’s Wider Reach

U.S. intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program | The Washington Post

Yesterday it was Verizon and cell phone records. Today:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

An internal presentation on the Silicon Valley operation, intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year. According to the briefing slides, obtained by The Washington Post, “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM” as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.

That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.

The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Dropbox , the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as “coming soon.”

Government officials declined to comment for this story.

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The section on ‘repressive autocracies’ describes, disapprovingly, various repressive surveillance measures: legislation to insert back doors into software to enable spying on citizens, monitoring of social networks and the collection of intelligence on entire populations. All of these are already in widespread use in the United States. In fact, some of those measures — like the push to require every social-network profile to be linked to a real name — were spearheaded by Google itself. The Banality of Google’s ‘Don’t Be Evil’ (via azspot)

(via azspot)

Judge orders Google to comply with FBI's secret NSL demands | CNET

A federal judge has ruled that Google must comply with the FBI’s warrantless requests for confidential user data, despite the search company’s arguments that the secret demands are illegal.

CNET has learned that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco rejected Google’s request to modify or throw out 19 so-called National Security Letters, a warrantless electronic data-gathering technique used by the FBI that does not need a judge’s approval. Her ruling came after a pair of top FBI officials, including an assistant director, submitted classified affidavits.

The litigation taking place behind closed doors in Illston’s courtroom — a closed-to-the-public hearing was held on May 10 — could set new ground rules curbing the FBI’s warrantless access to information that Internet and other companies hold on behalf of their users. The FBI issued 192,499 of the demands from 2003 to 2006, and 97 percent of NSLs include a mandatory gag order.

It wasn’t a complete win for the Justice Department, however: Illston all but invited Google to try again, stressing that the company has only raised broad arguments, not ones “specific to the 19 NSLs at issue.” She also reserved judgment on two of the 19 NSLs, saying she wanted the government to “provide further information” prior to making a decision.

NSLs are controversial because they allow FBI officials to send secret requests to Web and telecommunications companies requesting “name, address, length of service,” and other account information about users as long as it’s relevant to a national security investigation. No court approval is required, and disclosing the existence of the FBI’s secret requests is not permitted.

Because of the extreme secrecy requirements, documents in the San Francisco case remain almost entirely under seal. Even Google’s identity is redacted from Illston’s four-page opinion, which was dated May 20 and remained undisclosed until now. But, citing initial filings, Bloomberg disclosed last month that it was Google that had initiated the legal challenge.

While the FBI’s authority to levy NSL demands predates the Patriot Act, it was that controversial 2001 law that dramatically expanded NSLs by broadening their use beyond espionage-related investigations. The Patriot Act also authorized FBI officials across the country, instead of only in Washington, D.C., to send NSLs. [more]

FBI's Latest Proposal for a Wiretap-Ready Internet Should Be Trashed | Julian Sanchez

“The FBI’s plan would effectively make an entire category of emerging secure platforms — such as the encrypted voice app Silent Circle or the Dropbox-like cloud storage service Spider Oak — illegal overnight.”

The FBI has some strange ideas about how to “update” federal surveillance laws: They’re calling for legislation to penalize online services that provide users with too much security.

I’m not kidding. The proposal was revealed in The Washington Post last week — and a couple days ago, a front-page story in The New York Times reported the Obama administration is preparing to back it.

Why? Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI have long feared their wiretap capabilities would begin “going dark” as criminals and terrorists — along with ordinary citizens — shift from telephone networks, which are required to be wiretap-ready under the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), to the dizzying array of online communications platforms available today.

While it’s not yet clear how dire the going-dark scenario really is, the statutory “cure” proposed by the FBI — with fines starting at $25,000 a day for companies that aren’t wiretap capable — would surely be worse than the disease.

The FBI’s misguided proposal would impose costly burdens on thousands of companies (and threaten to entirely kill those whose business model centers on providing highly secure encrypted communications), while making cloud solutions less attractive to businesses and users. It would aid totalitarian governments eager to spy on their citizens while distorting business decisions about software design. Perhaps worst of all, it would treat millions of law-abiding users with legitimate security needs as presumed criminals — while doing little to hamper actual criminals.

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Google’s Spymasters Are Now Worried About Your Secrets

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “The Dark Side of the Digital Revolution,” makes for very scary reading. It is not so much because of what he and co-author Jared Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, have to say about how dictators can use new information technology to suppress dissent; we know those guys are evil. What is truly frightening is that the techniques of the totalitarian state are the same ones pioneered by so-called democracies where commercial companies, like Google, have made a hash of the individual’s constitutionally guaranteed right to be secure in his or her private space.

The dictators, mired in more technologically primitive societies, didn’t develop the fearsome new implements of control of the National Security State. Google and other leaders in this field of massively mined and shared information did. As the authors concede and expand on in their new book:

“Despite the expense, everything a regime would need to build an incredibly intimidating digital police state—including software that facilitates data mining and real-time monitoring of citizens—is commercially available right now. … Companies that sell data-mining software, surveillance cameras and other products will flaunt their work with one government to attract new business. It’s the digital analog to arms sales. …”

The Google execs have inadvertently let us in on the world that they inhabit, where the data mining of individual preferences—for such interests as sex and politics—can be cross filed and tabulated by supercomputers to be exploited for commercial gain. The drive for ever more detailed information on individual behavior is on with a vengeance in the profit-driven world of data mining, as anyone who observes the ads that mysteriously pop up during Internet browsing sessions well knows. But that invasive technology is now undergoing a massive revolutionary upgrade provided by the collection of vast numbers of biometric markers.

“Don’t think the data being collected by autocracies is limited to Facebook posts or Twitter comments,” Schmidt and Cohen warn. “The most important data they will collect in the future is biometric information, which can be used to identify individuals through their unique physical and biological attributes. Fingerprints, photographs and DNA testing are all familiar biometric data types today. … With cloud computing, it takes just seconds to compare millions of faces. … By indexing our biometric signatures, some governments will try to track our every move and word, both physically and digitally.” [++]

Senate committee advances bill to prevent warantless email searches |

A bipartisan committee voted on Thursday to advance a bill to clamp down on warrantless government searches of email and other private electronic information.

The bill seeks to modify the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and require government and law enforcement agencies to get a judge’s approval in most cases in order to access electronic communications. A vote is now expected next month, but while the bill has cross-party support law officials, regulators and some senators are pushing for amendments to weaken its impact.

Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, co-sponsor of the bill with Utah’s Republican senator Mike Lee, said: “I think Americans are very concerned about unwanted intrusions into our private lives in cyberspace. There’s no question if someone wants to go into your house and go through your files and draws you are going to need a search warrant. But if you have those same files in the cloud you ought to have the same sense of privacy.”


Google Sees More Government Requests to Remove Content Than Ever Before

In the latest edition of its Transparency Report, released this morning, Google revealed that the final six months of 2012 saw an increase in government requests to remove content — often YouTube videos. All told, Google received 2,285 such requests (compared with 1,811 during the first half of 2012) that named a total of 24,179 pieces of content for removal (compared with 18,070 in the preceding period).

» via The Atlantic


Google Sees More Government Requests to Remove Content Than Ever Before

In the latest edition of its Transparency Report, released this morning, Google revealed that the final six months of 2012 saw an increase in government requests to remove content — often YouTube videos. All told, Google received 2,285 such requests (compared with 1,811 during the first half of 2012) that named a total of 24,179 pieces of content for removal (compared with 18,070 in the preceding period).

» via The Atlantic

Obama’s CISPA privacy surprise |

It’s a sign of just how badly the Obama administration’s record on civil liberties is regarded that the first reaction to the news that the White House is threatening to veto the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) was a sense of surprise.

CISPA is designed to make it easier for private companies to share information about “cybersecurity” issues — hacker attacks, Chinese sabotage, etc. — with government agencies. Under CISPA companies such as Facebook or Microsoft could freely hand over personal information — emails, texts, news feed postings — without having to worry about potential negative consequences, including litigation from outraged users. Naturally, CISPA enjoys wide support from by the tech lobby; IBM sent more than 200 executives to Washington this week to push for its passage. The bill also enjoys bipartisan backing. The House of Representatives is set to vote on the bill either Wednesday or Thursday.

But the White House wants stronger protections for privacy and civil liberties, and stated flatly on Tuesday that “if the bill, as currently crafted, were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

The Administration… remains concerned that the bill does not require private entities to take reasonable steps to remove irrelevant personal information when sending cybersecurity data to the government or other private sector entities. Citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable – and not granted immunity – for failing to safeguard personal information adequately.

Privacy activists are delighted by the news. Even if the House ends up passing the bill as it stands, opposition from the White House could doom the legislation’s chances of being taken up in the Senate — a replay of what happened last year, when an earlier version of CISPA failed to become law.

The way to understand these huge empires—Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon—is they’re all like continents of the world. Imagine it’s the late 19th century. They’ve each got a continent—North America, South America, Asia, Africa. And their continent is their gusher monopoly basis, where they’re the monopoly, they get these huge profits. And then they use those profits in order to branch out and take attacks on the other continents to get a bigger chunk of it, because they really know everyone’s out to take over the world, but they’re the only players in the game. If you don’t have a continent, you’re not a player. And what’s happened on the Internet, too, is that with the rise of patents that these companies use to basically prevent newcomers from coming in, in addition to network economics, it’s become much more closed off than it was 10 or 15 years ago. A lot of the—Google has been the first to admit: ‘We could never start Google today; we’d have to go through so many lawsuits just to even get out of our office. It would be unthinkable.’ Robert McChesney (via azspot)

(via azspot)