Posts tagged surveillance
There are few pictures of us together. Very few were taken by us; neither of us are much for selfies. Those that do exist, we ask our friends to keep offline. We know that the vague and soft anonymity of our relationship probably won’t last forever. And I doubt there will ever be a surfeit of digital connections between us. Our phones trace the paths we walk together, existing in telecom databases (and more recently, in WhatsApp’s logfiles) long after we’ve moved on. Their cell tower and GPS logs are like a pair of maze paths with no walls, lines coming together and parting, and coming together again. But what we said on those walks is lost, even to us. Only the feelings, memories, and paths remain.
We don’t take our other valuables with us when we travel—we leave the important stuff at home, or in a safe place. But Facebook and Google don’t give us similar control over our valuable data. With these online services, it’s all or nothing. We need a ‘trip mode’ for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers. Not only would such a feature protect people forced to give their passwords at the border, but it would mitigate the many additional threats to privacy they face when they use their social media accounts away from home. Both Facebook and Google make lofty claims about user safety, but they’ve done little to show they take the darkening political climate around the world seriously. A ‘trip mode’ would be a chance for them to demonstrate their commitment to user safety beyond press releases and anodyne letters of support. The only people who can offer reliable protection against invasive data searches at national borders are the billion-dollar companies who control the servers. They have the technology, the expertise, and the legal muscle to protect their users. All that’s missing is the will.
While Clapper grudgingly accepts the damage the Snowden affair has done to his own reputation, he worries more deeply about the impact it’s had on the intelligence workforce. He hates the thought that America might turn on his employees. He fears that, in the same way the nation and Congress turned their backs on the CIA officers who ran the agency’s “black sites” and torture program in the wake of 9/11, the country will one day turn on the people who carry out drone attacks. “I worry that people will decide retroactively that killing people with drones was wrong, and that will lead us to criticize, indict, and try people who helped kill with drones,” he says. “I find it really bothersome to set a moral standard retrospectively,” he says. “People raise all sorts of good questions about things America has done. Everyone now agrees that interning Japanese [Americans] in World War II was egregious—but at the time it seemed like it was in the best interests of the country.”
Last Thursday, with friends and colleagues from Open Rights Group, I spent a few hours at the Adult Provider Network’s Age Verification Demonstration (“the demo”) to watch demonstrations of technologies which attempt to fulfil Age Verification requirements for access to online porn in the UK. Specifically: Age Verification (“AV”) is a requirement of part 3 of the Digital Economy Bill that seeks to “prevent access by persons under the age of 18” to “pornographic material available on the internet on a commercial basis”. There are many contentious social and business issues related to AV[…] there are many open questions and many criticisms of the Digital Economy Bill’s provisions; but to date there appears to have been no critical appraisal of the proposed technologies for AV, and so that is what I seek to address in this posting.
just a few weeks after his hack, I asked him if he wanted to do an interview with some colleagues from VICE Canada, who were working on a documentary on the growing market of cyber mercenaries, companies that sell hacking and spying tools to police and intelligence agencies all over the world. After some back and forth, Phineas Fisher agreed—with one strange condition. “I’ll do a video interview if you get kermit the frog (or a homemade non-trademark violating puppet) and a voice actor to read lines I type in chat,” Phineas Fisher told me. And so, our friends in Canada got a homemade puppet and chatted with Phineas Fisher in his first-ever extended interview.
*When you wanna be “anti-surveillance” in the most spectacular, hey-look-at-me, Dutch performance-artist kinda way
Daniel Rigmaiden is the man who first discovered Stingray while he was in prison facing charges of tax fraud. In an attempt to live off the grid, Rigmaiden had concocted a scheme where he would file tax returns for dead people. He did so for quite a while — making sure to cover his tracks — and was able to rake in thousands of dollars. Despite his intense meticulousness to details, Rigmaiden was ultimately caught by the authorities. Yet he didn’t understand how they became hip to his ways. He used a slew of fake IDs, maintained almost no public identity, and even lived in the woods. The only weak link, he thought, was the cellular AirCard he used to access the internet. But, given that he only used fake identities and anonymized his web browsing, Rigmaiden did not understand how they tracked him down. And so he began to research.
“Key to the success of the spycam missions are the animatronic cameras cleverly disguised as lifesize penguins which can silently infiltrate the colonies to record the penguins’ often emotional, and sometimes amusing, behaviour.“
“This is the concept behind Uninvited Guests, a short film released last month by design firm Superflux. Commissioned by ThingTank, a research project focused on the design and business of the Internet of Things, the film offers cautionary musings on the future smart home. How will we coexist with the data-gathering, service-oriented objects supposedly designed to make our lives better? As Thomas’ smart bed incessantly relays messages to his phone, prompting him to get to sleep by 10PM, it’s impossible not to feel his frustration. You root for him as he struggles to win his life back, concocting ways to dupe the objects—and his children—into thinking he’s accomplishing his daily goals. Ultimately, however, it’s hard to celebrate his successes as a true triumph of human agency, as he’s now locked into leading a double life: the one he wants to live, and the one his objects demand of him.”
Predictive policing software packages are being adopted across mainland Europe, too. In Germany, researchers at the Institute for Pattern-based Prediction Techniques (IfmPt) in Oberhausen have developed a system for tackling burglaries. Precobs works by analysing data on the location, approximate date, modus operandi and stolen items from robberies going back up to 10 years. Based on this information, Precobs then predicts where burglaries are likely to happen next. This is tightly defined, within a radius of about 250 metres, and a predicted time window for the crime of between 24 hours and 7 days. Officers are then advised to focus their resources in a flagged area.
Since libertarian ideology is often at odds with social solutions, holding private enterprise as an ideal and viewing private provisioning as best, the solutions presented are often pushing more entrepreneurship and voluntarism and ever more responsibilization. We just need a new start-up, or some new code, or some magical new business model! This is what Evgeny Morozov calls Solutionism, the belief that all difficulties have benign solutions, often of a technocratic nature. Morozov provides an example “when a Silicon Valley company tries to solve the problem of obesity by building a smart fork that will tell you that you’re eating too quickly, this […] puts the onus for reform on the individual.”
Documents published on November 25, 2014 by Süddeutsche Zeitung revealed more specific details about submarine cables currently tapped by GCHQ. Previous reporting had made it clear that GCHQ had submarine cable taps created in collusion with companies like Vodafone and BT Cable, but not which specific cables. Seeing Telegeography publishes landing point maps and submarine cable maps it seemed like a worthwhile exercise to better understand what, exactly, the reach of GCHQ’s submarine cable tapping might look like.
Across Singapore’s national ministries and departments today, armies of civil servants use scenario-based planning and big-data analysis from RAHS for a host of applications beyond fending off bombs and bugs. They use it to plan procurement cycles and budgets, make economic forecasts, inform immigration policy, study housing markets, and develop education plans for Singaporean schoolchildren – and they are looking to analyze Facebook posts, Twitter messages, and other social media in an attempt to “gauge the nation’s mood” about everything from government social programs to the potential for civil unrest. In other words, Singapore has become a laboratory not only for testing how mass surveillance and big-data analysis might prevent terrorism, but for determining whether technology can be used to engineer a more harmonious society.
If ZunZuneo looks ridiculous in retrospect, it’s because 2011 is a different country. We now know U.S. security apparatus may threaten the “open Internet” as much as an oppressive government, if not more. Clinton’s speeches as secretary of state dwell on freedom of expression but not freedom from surveillance, and now—following the NSA revelations—we have a good idea why. Beyond all this, as sociologist Zeynep Tufecki writes, it’s likely that the failure of ZunZuneo will threaten online activism abroad, even if it’s not associated with the U.S. government.
The system, eerily reminiscent of the telescreens evoked in George Orwell’s 1984, was used for experiments in automated facial recognition, to monitor GCHQ’s existing targets, and to discover new targets of interest. Such searches could be used to try to find terror suspects or criminals making use of multiple, anonymous user IDs. Rather than collecting webcam chats in their entirety, the program saved one image every five minutes from the users’ feeds, partly to comply with human rights legislation, and also to avoid overloading GCHQ’s servers. The documents describe these users as “unselected” – intelligence agency parlance for bulk rather than targeted collection.
“About six years ago I found a discussion forum online where users were sharing techniques for accessing various devices that were all networked through the internet. A large part of the discussion surrounded the ability to access unsecured webcam control panels, which had at some point been indexed though the search robots at Google. Interestingly, even control panels that required a password were sometimes very easily bypassed by a default user & password combination from the original device settings. At some point I started making screen captures [with] the webcams I was able to access. Sometimes it would be an image of a dog in a cage, or a tired employee behind a cash register in a convenience store… fairly uneventful moments, but every camera that successfully loaded felt like I was viewing a portal into another world, a space only accessible though digital means.
Using this methodology, I eventually accessed the control panel for this camera, which offered almost complete pan & tilt options, a 21x optical zoom, focus control, and exposure adjustments. The level of control was unparalleled compared to the other cameras I was accessing.
Gasping for oxygen in the noxious air that so often enshrouds northern China is never pleasant. What really twists the knife is that the state media often refer to it simply as “fog,” not pollution, as though it came wafting in on a zephyr, and wasn’t belched by a smokestack in Hebei. Well here’s some vindication for anyone who ever found this annoying. The Chinese government has realized that whatever it is clogging the atmosphere, it’s rendering government surveillance cameras ineffective (paywall), reports the South China Morning Post. Since that compromises national security, the government has hired two teams of scientists to come up with a fix, says the newspaper. But one reason they’re flummoxed by their assignment is that the haze is not simply “fog,” says Yang Aiping, a digital imaging expert and leader of one of the teams.
In asking all states to confine themselves to only surveil as a law enforcement tactic, and to in effect do no international intelligence work (for intelligence can clearly not operate within these bound), the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communication Surveillance ask for nothing less than the end of the Westphalian compromise and the creation of a new fundamental theory of geopolitical power and the monopoly on violence.
Selbst die Zentrale der Vereinten Nationen in New York wurde vom US-Geheimdienst NSA abgehört, obwohl ein Abkommen genau das untersagt. Auch das US-Konsulat in Frankfurt diente als Lauschposten.
The classified documents, which SPIEGEL has seen, demonstrate how systematically the Americans target other countries and institutions like the EU, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and the UN. They show how the NSA infiltrated the Europeans’ internal computer network between New York and Washington, used US embassies abroad to intercept communications and eavesdropped on video conferences of UN diplomats. The surveillance is intensive and well-organized – and it has little or nothing to do with counter-terrorism.
So, hacker culture is kind of at a crossroads. For a long time it was totally cool that, you know what, I don’t really want to be political, because I just like to reverse code and it’s a lot of fun, and I don’t really have time for politics cause I spend thirteen hours a day looking at Shell code and socialism takes too long. That was great for a while, but we don’t get to be apolitical anymore. Because If you’re doing security work, if you’re doing development work and you are apolitical, then you are aiding the existing centralizing structure. If you’re doing security work and you are apolitical, you are almost certainly working for an organization that exists in a great part to prop up existing companies and existing power structures. Who here has worked for a a security consultancy? Not that many people, ok. I don’t know anybody who has worked for a security consultancy where that consultancy has not done work for someone in the defense industry. There are probably a few, and I guarantee you that those consultancies that have done no work that is defense industry related, have taken an active political position, that we will not touch anything that is remotely fishy. If you’re apolitical, you’re aiding the enemy.
Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal – or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law – but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we’re living in a police state.
Most of us who expose an inconvenient truth know that we will be attacked for it and ridiculed. And every trick in the book of maintaining power will be applied to silence us. It’s no big deal. The beauty of it is that, usually, these attempts gives us a chance to see the actual face of power and to understand, with real-time examples, how healthy or unhealthy our democracies have become.
For correspondents who report from conflict zones or on underground activism in repressive regimes, the risks are extremely high. Recently, two excellent investigative series—by The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News—and the release of a large trove of surveillance industry documents by Wikileaks dubbed “The Spy files,” provided a glimpse of just how sophisticated off-the-shelf monitoring technologies have become. Western companies have sold mass Web and e-mail surveillance technology to Libya and Syria, for instance, and in Egypt, activists found specialized software that allowed the government to listen in to Skype conversations. In Bahrain, meanwhile, technology sold by Nokia Siemens allowed the government to monitor cell-phone conversations and text messages.
Seeing the world through the eyes of the Man in the Google Glasses, though, suggests a more political reason for pessimism. In his classic 1953 work, “The Quest for Community,” the sociologist Robert Nisbet argued that in eras of intense individualism and weak communal ties, the human need for belonging tends to empower central governments as never before. An atomized, rootless population is more likely to embrace authoritarian ideologies, and more likely to seek the protection of an omnicompetent state.