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Current Topic: Surveillance

Should AT&T police the Internet? | CNET
Topic: Surveillance 2:39 pm EST, Jan 17, 2008

A decade after the government said that AT&T and other service providers don't have to police their networks for pirated content, the telecommunications giant is voluntarily looking for ways to play traffic cop.

AT&T's plans would turn the nation's largest telephone company into a kind of network cop, a role that some say could turn dangerous for the company. For one, filtering packets to determine whether they contain copyrighted material raises privacy concerns. And AT&T customers who have already been concerned about the company's alleged role in the National Security Agency's domestic spy program, could take their broadband, TV and telephony business to a competitor. Also, AT&T could be opening itself up to a mountain of legal troubles.

Cue the outrage.. Prepare the backlash.

Should AT&T police the Internet? | CNET

Defense Lawyers Cringe at MediaDefender's Child-Porn Patrol Plans
Topic: Surveillance 11:20 am EDT, Sep 27, 2007

But according to the e-mails, MediaDefender planned to unleash a peer-to-peer crawler to search unspecified file-sharing networks for child-porn videos and images based on keywords -- such as "young," "kids" and "taboo" -- provided by the AG's office.

Once suspected image files were found, the software would collect the IP address of the machines trading those files and filter for any addresses based in New York. The data MediaDefender collected would then be sent automatically to the AG's office, where investigators would analyze and investigate it, using a MediaDefender application to visit the IP addresses and download the suspect files.

It's unclear whether MediaDefender planned to download the suspected-child porn itself, or leave that to the AG's investigators. Jeffrey Lerner, spokesman for the New York AG's office, refused to comment on the record about whether MediaDefender was downloading child porn, due to "an ongoing investigation."

If the company knowingly downloaded child porn, it could run afoul of federal law, notwithstanding any arrangement it made with state authorities, legal experts say. Either way, several defense attorneys expressed surprise that a law enforcement agency would outsource any evidence collection to a private company.

"It is bizarre," says Martin Pinales, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "What they're doing is saying, 'We're going to make you a bounty hunter. We're going to pay you to go collect evidence so that in the future we can prosecute somebody.' But (MediaDefender doesn't) have the training of law enforcement."

"It's a growth industry.."

Defense Lawyers Cringe at MediaDefender's Child-Porn Patrol Plans

You have no 4th amendment right to privacy in regard to your physical movements.
Topic: Surveillance 11:23 am EDT, Sep 25, 2007

This morning, you left the house tagged with a tracking device that the government can use to find out where you have been and where you are going.

I'm talking, of course, about your cell phone...

While most courts considering the issue have held that police need "probable cause" to track your movements, a new decision (.pdf) last week out of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts holds that law enforcement need show only "relevance to an ongoing investigation" to get a historical record of your past movement (something like the Jeffy trail in The Family Circus cartoon).

You have no 4th amendment right to privacy in regard to your physical movements.

A Gateway for Hackers | Susan Landau | Washington Post
Topic: Surveillance 4:21 pm EDT, Aug 15, 2007

Susan Landau plants a flag now, so she can say "I told you so" in the years to come.

This change looks reasonable at first, but it could create huge long-term security risks for the United States.

Grant the NSA what it wants, and within 10 years the United States will be vulnerable to attacks from hackers across the globe, as well as the militaries of China, Russia and other nations.

Such threats are not theoretical.

... In simplifying wiretapping for US intelligence, we provide a target for foreign intelligence agencies and possibly rogue hackers.

In its effort to provide policymakers with immediate intelligence, the NSA forgot the critical information security aspect of its mission.

You might consider this a follow-up to the article from Sunday.

A Gateway for Hackers | Susan Landau | Washington Post

U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites -
Topic: Surveillance 4:19 pm EDT, Aug 15, 2007

The U.S.'s top intelligence official has greatly expanded the range of federal and local authorities who can get access to information from the nation's vast network of spy satellites in the U.S.

The decision, made three months ago by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, places for the first time some of the U.S.'s most powerful intelligence-gathering tools at the disposal of domestic security officials. The move was authorized in a May 25 memo sent to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking his department to facilitate access to the spy network on behalf of civilian agencies and law enforcement.

Access to the high-tech surveillance tools would, for the first time, allow Homeland Security and law-enforcement officials to see real-time, high-resolution images and data, which would allow them, for example, to identify smuggler staging areas, a gang safehouse, or possibly even a building being used by would-be terrorists to manufacture chemical weapons.

The domestic usage of surveillance drones has been in question lately too.

The reality of a total surveillance society is more realistic than most people think..

U.S. to Expand Domestic Use Of Spy Satellites -

N.S.A. Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends - New York Times
Topic: Surveillance 8:05 am EDT, Jul 29, 2007

F.B.I. officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency, which was collecting much of the data by eavesdropping on some Americans' international communications and conducting computer searches of foreign-related phone and Internet traffic, that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. Some F.B.I. officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans' privacy.

"We'd chase a number, find it's a school teacher with no indication they've ever been involved in international terrorism - case closed," said one former FBI official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. "After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration."

F.B.I. field agents, who were not told of the domestic surveillance programs, complained they often were given no information about why names or numbers had come under suspicion. A former senior prosecutor, who was familiar with the eavesdropping programs, said intelligence officials turning over the tips "would always say that we had information whose source we can't share, but it indicates that this person has been communicating with a suspected Al Qaeda operative." He said, "I would always wonder, what does 'suspected' mean?"

In response to the F.B.I. complaints, N.S.A. eventually began ranking its tips on a three-point scale, with 3 being the highest priority and 1 the lowest, the officials said. Some tips were considered so hot that they were carried by hand to top F.B.I. officials. But in bureau field offices, the N.S.A. material continued to be viewed as unproductive, prompting agents to joke that a new bunch of tips meant more "calls to Pizza Hut," one official, who supervised field agents, said.

N.S.A. Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends - New York Times

My National Security Letter Gag Order -
Topic: Surveillance 11:36 am EDT, Mar 23, 2007

It is the policy of The Washington Post not to publish anonymous pieces. In this case, an exception has been made because the author -- who would have preferred to be named -- is legally prohibited from disclosing his or her identity in connection with receipt of a national security letter. The Post confirmed the legitimacy of this submission by verifying it with the author's attorney and by reviewing publicly available court documents.


The inspector general's report makes clear that NSL gag orders have had even more pernicious effects. Without the gag orders issued on recipients of the letters, it is doubtful that the FBI would have been able to abuse the NSL power the way that it did. Some recipients would have spoken out about perceived abuses, and the FBI's actions would have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny. To be sure, not all recipients would have spoken out; the inspector general's report suggests that large telecom companies have been all too willing to share sensitive data with the agency -- in at least one case, a telecom company gave the FBI even more information than it asked for. But some recipients would have called attention to abuses, and some abuse would have been deterred.

I found it particularly difficult to be silent about my concerns while Congress was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2005 and early 2006. If I hadn't been under a gag order, I would have contacted members of Congress to discuss my experiences and to advocate changes in the law. The inspector general's report confirms that Congress lacked a complete picture of the problem during a critical time: Even though the NSL statute requires the director of the FBI to fully inform members of the House and Senate about all requests issued under the statute, the FBI significantly underrepresented the number of NSL requests in 2003, 2004 and 2005, according to the report.

I recognize that there may sometimes be a need for secrecy in certain national security investigations. But I've now been under a broad gag order for three years, and other NSL recipients have been silenced for even longer. At some point -- a point we passed long ago -- the secrecy itself becomes a threat to our democracy. In the wake of the recent revelations, I believe more strongly than ever that the secrecy surrounding the government's use of the national security letters power is unwarranted and dangerous. I hope that Congress will at last recognize the same thing.

My National Security Letter Gag Order -

27B Stroke 6 | Google To Anonymize Data
Topic: Surveillance 11:09 pm EDT, Mar 14, 2007

Googleis reversing a long-standing policy to retain all the data on its users indefinitely, and by the end of the year will begin removing identifying data from its search logs after 18 months to two years, depending on the country the servers are located in.

Currently, Google retains indefinitely detailed server logs on its search engine users, including user's IP addresses – which can identify a user's computer, the query, any result that is clicked on, their browser and operating system, among other details. Even if a user never signs up for a Google account, those searches are all tied together through a cookie placed on the user's computer, which currently expires in 2038.

27B Stroke 6 | Google To Anonymize Data

Text message snagging: child's play or cloak and dagger? - The Red Tape Chronicles -
Topic: Surveillance 10:59 pm EST, Mar  8, 2007

Lost in the intriguing story of a Wal-Mart employee who allegedly spied on a New York Times reporter was this tidbit: The "technician" managed to pluck text messages out of the air and read them, according to the company. And these messages weren’t just communications between Wal-Mart employees and a professional journalist covering the firm; innocent bystanders and their messages also were swept up in the spying, it said.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams offered scant details of the spying activities by the fired employee on Monday, but she stated that the text messages were intercepted by the employee using a radio device, then scanned for certain keywords. She declined to elaborate on the technology used to pluck the messages out of thin air, other than to say the radio device pulled down messages within "a mile or so" of the company's headquarters.

She also wouldn’t say how many innocent people had their messages read, other than to say there were only "a handful" of other victims.

On Tuesday, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar confirmed that the text-message prying occurred, but said the company couldn’t reveal any additional details about the incident.

Wal-Mart said on Monday that it believed the employee’s recording of telephone conversations between the New York Times reporter and members of the company’s media relations department broke no laws because it's legal in Arkansas for telephone conversations to be recorded as long as one of the parties involved is aware of the recording.

It is illegal to surreptitiously intercept electronic communications without a warrant under the federal wiretap statues enacted in 1968. In 1986, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act clarified wiretaps laws to extend to interception of signals from modern radio-based devices, explicitly prohibiting the monitoring of cellular phone transmissions by third parties without a court order.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Arkansas is investigating the incident.

Cellular interceptor technology that could pluck text messages from the sky is readily available on the Internet -- for those who have $500,000 or more to burn and can prove they work for a law enforcement agency.

"I'm waiting for the James Bond theme to start playing here," he said. "Minus the James Bond, NSA-type capability, that kind of thing doesn't happen. If messages are sent on a modern, digital network, they are encrypted. You need serious NSA-type capability to do that."

Even that might not be an impossible barrier at a large company like Wal-Mart. Like most Fortune 500 firms, Wal-Mart employs former FBI and CIA agents to work in its corporate security department.

Text message snagging: child's play or cloak and dagger? - The Red Tape Chronicles -

27B Stroke 6 | Massive Gov Data Mining Project
Topic: Surveillance 4:55 pm EST, Mar  6, 2007

The Department of Homeland Security is at work on its own version of a massive, anti-terrorism database-sifting application -- not dissimilar to the Congressionally-halted Total Information Awareness program -- but it may have already run afoul of Congressional auditors by testing the system on data about American citizens that wasn't thoroughly anonymized, according to a story in the Washington Post last week.

Congress's investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, will soon be issuing a report saying that the system, known as Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE), violated basic data privacy practices by re-using citizen data without notice or approval, according to the story. That program got $50 million in funding in 2006, and one employee says it has already helped foil terrorist plots.

What does the system do?

That's hard to say. From what little I've read it sounds like it's supposed to discover terrorists plots in real time and create social network graphics to find leads for investigators by translating news and blog stories into structured information in real time and by monitoring who is communicating with whom in real time.

According to this DHS Workshop paper (.pdf), the system is supposed to be able to handle one billion structured and one million unstructured text messages per hour.

The only data I can think of that would provide one billion structured pieces of information per hour would be the world's phone and internet traffic logs.

That same document also wonders if the system could help solve the following questions:

* Can patterns in the financial transactions of terrorists be detected and exploited?
* What is the structure of power in a group of terrorists?
* What were the main topics of intercepted terrorist messages over the past five years?
* Can a group that is purposely trying to deceive by swapping cell phones with innocents be tracked? In other words, can such changes be tracked over time?

The diagram above comes from this paper (.pdf), which is also related to the ADVISE system.

I bet I have a pretty good idea of what it does..

27B Stroke 6 | Massive Gov Data Mining Project

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