I just don’t buy this argument that, you know, this hurts national security. I covered al-Qaeda for The New York Times, and, believe me, they know they’re being monitored. The whole idea that somehow it comes as a great surprise to jihadist groups that their emails, websites and phone calls are being tracked is absurd. This is—we’re talking about the wholesale collection of information on virtually most of the American public, and the consequences of that are truly terrifying. At that point, we are in essence snuffing out the capacity of any kind of investigation into the inner workings of power. And to throw out this notion that it harmed—this harmed national security, there’s no evidence for that, in the same way that there is no evidence that the information that Bradley Manning leaked in any way harmed national security. It didn’t. What the security and surveillance state is doing is playing on fear and using that fear to accrue to themselves tremendous forms of power that in a civil society, in a democracy, they should never have. And that’s the battle that’s underway right now, and, frankly, we’re losing.Chris Hedges (via azspot)
President Barack Obama signed legislation Thursday granting the public the right to automatically display on their Facebook feeds what they’re watching on Netflix.
It’s great news for those wanting to flood their Facebook feeds with whatever time-suck they’re watching. But it’s bad news for privacy. Lawmakers cut from the legislative package language requiring the authorities to get a warrant to read your e-mail or other data stored in the cloud. [++]
When Congress passed a bill last February allowing unmanned drones to fly American skies it became only a matter of time before UAVs patrolled U.S. cities for local law enforcement.
While most drones in the U.S. are flown along the Mexican border, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office wants to put them over metro Orlando within the next few months. The Greater Orlando metropolitan area is home to more than 2 million residents and is Florida’s third largest city.
Sheriff’s spokesman Jeff Williamson … would not say exactly how the drones would be used, he wrote in an email that they might be deployed when looking for explosives, barricaded suspects and to inspect “hostile/inaccessible terrain” or at train accidents.
As for civil-rights concerns, Williamson wrote, “The OCSO has the privacy of its citizenry as a foremost concern. The device will only be put into operations on the command of the high risk incident commander.”
The sheriff still needs the County Commission to sign off on the request before it goes to the FAA for approval. The federal agency should have no problem accommodating as it was ordered by Congress to get as many drones as possible into the air by November, and be able to handle 30,000 UAVs by 2020.
Here’s how it happens: The defense contractors see dollar signs, buy themselves a bouquet of Congress critters, and then suddenly we have an ‘urgent’ civilian need for military equipment. It will keep us ‘safe’. Sure, there’ll be a few major collisions and ‘accidents,’ but it will become generally accepted as the New Normal. And once that’s firmly ensconced in the public mind as necessary, we’ll then develop an urgent need for armed drones.
Government surveillance of citizens’ online lives is rising sharply around the world, according to Google’s latest report on requests to remove content and hand over user data to official agencies.
In the first six months of this year, authorities worldwide made 20,939 requests for access to personal data from Google users, including search results, access to Gmail accounts and removal of YouTube videos. Requests have risen steeply from a low of 12,539 in the last six months of 2009, when Google first published its Transparency Report.
Authorities made 1,791 requests for Google to remove 17,746 pieces of content in the first half of 2012, almost twice as many as the 949 requests made in the same period last year, and up from 1,048 requests made in the last six months of 2011.
“This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: government surveillance is on the rise,”Google said in a blogpost.
One of the sharpest rises came in requests from Turkey, which held an election on 12 June 2011. Google reported a 1,013% rise in requests from Turkish authorities in the latest reporting period, including 148 requests to remove 426 YouTube videos, Blogger blogs, one Google document and one search result. The contested items allegedly criticised Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the first president of Turkey), the government or “national identity and values”. Google restricted Turkish users from accessing 63% of the YouTube videos. It did not remove the other content.
The US accounted for the most requests, as it has consistently since the report was launched. US authorities asked for private details of Google users on 7,969 occasions, up from 6,321 in the last reporting period. The number is more than a third of the 20,938 requests for users’ details worldwide. Google fully or partially complied with 90% of those requests.
We’ve mentioned it before and we’ll mention it again and again: the digital tools that help liberate are also used to repress, and are often put in the hands of authoritarian regimes by Western companies.
For all of the good this technology has done, activists are also beginning to understand the harm it can do. As Evgeny Morozov wrote in The Net Delusion, his book on the Internet’s darker sides, “Denying that greater information flows, combined with advanced technologies … can result in the overall strengthening of authoritarian regimes is a dangerous path to take, if only because it numbs us to potential regulatory interventions and the need to rein in our own Western corporate excesses.”
The communications devices activists use are not as safe as they might believe, and dozens of companies — many of them based in North America and Europe — are selling technology to authoritarian governments that can be used against democratic movements. Such tools can exploit security flaws in the activists’ technology, intercept a user’s communications, or even pinpoint their location. In many cases, this technology has led to the arrest, torture, and even death of individuals whose only “crime” was exercising their universal right to free speech. And, in most of these cases, the public knew nothing about it.
Recent investigations by the WallStreetJournal and BloombergNews have revealed just how expansively these technologies are already being used. Intelligence agencies throughout the Middle East can today scan, catalogue, and read virtually every email in their country. The technology even allows them to change emails while en route to their recipient, as Tunisian authorities sometimes did before the revolution.
The WikiLeaks submission system may still be incommunicado, but the secret-spilling site woke up on Thursday to release a trove of marketing documents from surveillance companies hawking their wares to governments — though many were previously published by the Wall Street Journal or were already publicly available on the web.
The site published 287 documents that it says are part of a larger cache of hundreds of such documents that reveal price lists, manuals and marketing claims from companies like Blue Coat, whose spying technology is being used by Syria, as well as Nokia-Siemens, Lucent and other large technology firms that have been criticized in the past for selling their wares to oppressive regimes.
In a longread, the Washington Post explores how Western surveillance technology that listens in on cell phone calls, monitors Internet activity, takes pictures of people while they use their computers and otherwise tracks people while it hacks their digital devices, ends up in the hands of the world’s most repressive regimes.
Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur Jerry Lucas hosted his first trade show for makers of surveillance gear at the McLean Hilton in May 2002. Thirty-five people attended.
Nine years later, Lucas holds five events annually across the world, drawing hundreds of vendors and thousands of potential buyers for an industry that he estimates sells $5 billion of the latest tracking, monitoring and eavesdropping technology each year. Along the way these events have earned an evocative nickname: The Wiretappers’ Ball.
The products of what Lucas calls the “lawful intercept” industry are developed mainly in Western nations such as the United States but are sold throughout the world with few restrictions. This burgeoning trade has alarmed human rights activists and privacy advocates, who call for greater regulation because the technology has ended up in the hands of repressive governments such as those of Syria, Iran and China…
…But the overwhelming U.S. government response has been to engage in the event not as a potential regulator, but as a customer.
The list of attendees for this year’s U.S. Wiretappers’ Ball, held in October at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, included more than 20 federal agencies, Lucas said. Representatives of 43 countries also were there, he said, as were many people from state and local law enforcement agencies. Journalists and members of the public were excluded.
Via Reuters, from an Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi:
Internet companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook are increasingly co-opted for surveillance work as the information they gather proves irresistible to law enforcement agencies, Web experts said this week.
Although such companies try to keep their users’ information private, their business models depend on exploiting it to sell targeted advertising, and when governments demand they hand it over, they have little choice but to comply.
Suggestions that BlackBerry maker RIM might give user data to British police after its messenger service was used to coordinate riots this summer caused outrage — as has the spying on social media users by more oppressive governments…
…Demands from governments for Internet companies to hand over user information have become routine, according to online privacy researcher and activist Christopher Soghoian, who makes extensive use of freedom-of-information requests in his work.
“Every decent-sized U.S. telecoms and Internet company has a team that does nothing but respond to requests for information,” Soghoian told Reuters in an interview.
Soghoian estimates that U.S. Internet and telecoms companies may receive about 300,000 such requests in connection with law enforcement each year — but public information is scarce.
Somewhere arguments about Internet privacy just got more academic.
The emergence of entities like WikiLeaks (which single-handedley jeopardizes pervasive government and corporate secrecy) and Anonymous (which has repeatedly targeted entitiesthat seek to impede the free flow of communication and information) underscores the way in which this conflict is a genuine “war.” The U.S. Government’s efforts to destroy WikiLeaks and harass its supporters have been well-documented. Meanwhile, the U.S. seeks to expand its own power to launch devastating cyber attacks: there is ampleevidence suggesting its involvement in the Stuxnet attacks on Iran, as well as reason to believe that some government agency was responsible for thesophisticated cyber-attack that knocked WikiLeaks off U.S. servers (attacks the U.S. Government tellingly never condemned, let alone investigated). Yet simultaneously, the DOJ and other Western law enforcement agencies have pursued Anonymous with extreme vigor. That is the definition of a war over Internet control: the government wants the unilateral power to cyber-attack and shut down those who pose a threat ot it, while destroying those who resists those efforts.
Under the guise of fighting child pornography, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Thursday that would require internet service providers to collect and retain records about Internet users’ activity. The 19 to 10 vote represents a victory for conservative Republicans, who made data retention their first major technology initiative after last fall’s elections. A last-minute rewrite of the bill expands the information that commercial Internet providers are required to store to include customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses. Per dissenting Rep. John Conyers (D-MI): ‘The bill is mislabeled… This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.’
For months, two Senators have screamed bloody murder that the government holds a secret legal interpretation of the Patriot Act so broad that it amounts to a whole different law giving the feds massive domestic surveillance powers. Now, a measure by Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall would force the U.S. intelligence chief, and by extension the entire intelligence community, to admit that they went too far in their Patriot Act interpretations — if they don’t find a way to wiggle out of it.