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Paul Merrell

Facebook unveils cryptocurrency Libra | Time - 0 views

  • As it continues to explore new business models that may work in a world focused on privacy rather than broadly sharing data online, Facebook on Tuesday revealed plans for its own global digital currency, Libra, which aims to allow users to make purchases or send money with close to zero transaction fees. Facebook said it hopes Libra will make it easier for the estimated 1.7 billion unbanked adults worldwide to access banking services and transfer money electronically. “Just as people can use their phones to message friends anywhere in the world today, with Libra, the same can be done with money — instantly, securely and at a low cost,” Facebook said in a Libra white paper.
  • Users will be able to make transactions with Libra by 2020, Facebook says, both through a standalone app called Calibra as well as with Facebook’s own family of apps. Unlike bitcoin and some similar offerings, the price of Libra is tied to low-risk assets, which should prevent the speculative behavior and wild price swings plaguing other digital currencies. The currency will be overseen by the Libra Association, a Switzerland-based collective of more than a dozen companies, including Visa, Uber and Mastercard, each of whom have invested at least $10 million in the technology. Users of Libra will pay $1 to use Libra which will sit in a bank account and earn interest which will pay the Libra Association.
Paul Merrell

The Supreme Court's Groundbreaking Privacy Victory for the Digital Age | American Civil Liberties Union - 0 views

  • The Supreme Court on Friday handed down what is arguably the most consequential privacy decision of the digital age, ruling that police need a warrant before they can seize people’s sensitive location information stored by cellphone companies. The case specifically concerns the privacy of cellphone location data, but the ruling has broad implications for government access to all manner of information collected about people and stored by the purveyors of popular technologies. In its decision, the court rejects the government’s expansive argument that people lose their privacy rights merely by using those technologies. Carpenter v. U.S., which was argued by the ACLU, involves Timothy Carpenter, who was convicted in 2013 of a string of burglaries in Detroit. To tie Carpenter to the burglaries, FBI agents obtained — without seeking a warrant — months’ worth of his location information from Carpenter’s cellphone company. They got almost 13,000 data points tracking Carpenter’s whereabouts during that period, revealing where he slept, when he attended church, and much more. Indeed, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in Friday’s decision, “when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user.”.
  • The government’s argument that it needed no warrant for these records extends far beyond cellphone location information, to any data generated by modern technologies and held by private companies rather than in our own homes or pockets. To make their case, government lawyers relied on an outdated, 1970s-era legal doctrine that says that once someone shares information with a “third party” — in Carpenter’s case, a cellphone company — that data is no longer protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court made abundantly clear that this doctrine has its limits and cannot serve as a carte blanche for the government seizure of any data of its choosing without judicial oversight.
  • The ACLU argued the agents had violated Carpenter’s Fourth Amendment rights when they obtained such detailed records without a warrant based on probable cause. In a decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court agreed, recognizing that the Fourth Amendment must apply to records of such unprecedented breadth and sensitivity: Mapping a cell phone’s location over the course of 127 days provides an all-encompassing record of the holder’s whereabouts. As with GPS information, the timestamped data provides an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his particular movements, but through them his ‘familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.’
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  • While the decision extends in the immediate term only to historical cellphone location data, the Supreme Court’s reasoning opens the door to the protection of the many other kinds of data generated by popular technologies. Today’s decision provides a groundbreaking update to privacy rights that the digital age has rendered vulnerable to abuse by the government’s appetite for surveillance. It recognizes that “cell phones and the services they provide are ‘such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life’ that carrying one is indispensable to participation in modern society.” And it helps ensure that we don’t have to give up those rights if we want to participate in modern life. 
Paul Merrell

Tripling Its Collection, NSA Sucked Up Over 530 Million US Collection Records in 2017 - 0 views

  • he National Security Agency (NSA) collected over 530 million phone records of Americans in 2017—that's three times the amount the spy agency sucked up in 2016. The figures were released Friday in an annual report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). It shows that the number of "call detail records" the agency collected from telecommunications providers during Trump's first year in office was 534 million, compared to 151 million the year prior. "The intelligence community's transparency has yet to extend to explaining dramatic increases in their phone," said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Open Technology Institute. The content of the calls itself is not collected but so-called "metadata," which, as Gizmodo notes, "is supposedly anonymous, but it can easily be used to identify an individual. The information can also be paired with other publicly available information from social media and other sources to paint a surprisingly detailed picture of a person's life." The report also revealed that the agency, using its controversial Section 702 authority, increased the number of foreign targets of warrantless surveillance. It was 129,080 in 2017 compared to 106,469 in 2016. As digital rights group EFF noted earlier this year, Under Section 702, the NSA collects billions of communications, including those belonging to innocent Americans who are not actually targeted. These communications are then placed in databases that other intelligence and law enforcement agencies can access—for purposes unrelated to national security—without a warrant or any judicial review. "Overall," Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at the Project On Government Oversight, said to ZDNet, "the numbers show that the scale of warrantless surveillance is growing at a significant rate, but ODNI still won't tell Americans how much it affects them."
Paul Merrell

Forget About Siri and Alexa - When It Comes to Voice Identification, the "NSA Reigns Supreme" - 0 views

  • These and other classified documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA has developed technology not just to record and transcribe private conversations but to automatically identify the speakers. Americans most regularly encounter this technology, known as speaker recognition, or speaker identification, when they wake up Amazon’s Alexa or call their bank. But a decade before voice commands like “Hello Siri” and “OK Google” became common household phrases, the NSA was using speaker recognition to monitor terrorists, politicians, drug lords, spies, and even agency employees. The technology works by analyzing the physical and behavioral features that make each person’s voice distinctive, such as the pitch, shape of the mouth, and length of the larynx. An algorithm then creates a dynamic computer model of the individual’s vocal characteristics. This is what’s popularly referred to as a “voiceprint.” The entire process — capturing a few spoken words, turning those words into a voiceprint, and comparing that representation to other “voiceprints” already stored in the database — can happen almost instantaneously. Although the NSA is known to rely on finger and face prints to identify targets, voiceprints, according to a 2008 agency document, are “where NSA reigns supreme.” It’s not difficult to see why. By intercepting and recording millions of overseas telephone conversations, video teleconferences, and internet calls — in addition to capturing, with or without warrants, the domestic conversations of Americans — the NSA has built an unrivaled phone of distinct voices. Documents from the Snowden archive reveal that analysts fed some of these recordings to speaker recognition algorithms that could connect individuals to their past utterances, even when they had used unknown phone numbers, secret code words, or multiple languages.
  • The classified documents, dating from 2004 to 2012, show the NSA refining increasingly sophisticated iterations of its speaker recognition technology. They confirm the uses of speaker recognition in counterterrorism operations and overseas drug busts. And they suggest that the agency planned to deploy the technology not just to retroactively identify spies like Pelton but to prevent whistleblowers like Snowden.
Paul Merrell

US State Police Have Spent Millions on Israeli Phone Cracking Tech | Motherboard - 0 views

  • This is part of a Motherboard mini-series on the proliferation of phone cracking technology, the people behind it, and who is buying it. Follow along here.When cops have a phone to break into, they just might pull a small, laptop-sized device out of a rugged briefcase. After plugging the phone in with a cable, and a few taps of a touch-screen, the cops have now bypassed the phone’s passcode. Almost like magic, they now have access to call logs, text messages, and in some cases even deleted data.State police forces and highway patrols in the US have collectively spent millions of dollars on this sort of technology to break into and extract data from mobile phones, according to documents obtained by Motherboard. Over 2,000 pages of invoices, purchase orders, communications, and other documents lay out in unprecedented detail how one company in particular has cornered the trade in mobile phone forensics equipment across the United States.Cellebrite, an Israel-based firm, sells tools that can pull data from most mobile phones on the market, such as contact lists, emails, and wiped messages. Cellebrite's products can also circumvent the passcode locks or other security protections on many current mobile phones. The gear is typically used to gather evidence from a criminal suspect's device after it has been seized, and although not many public examples of abuse are available, Cellebrite’s tools have been used by non-US authorities to prosecute dissidents.Previous reports have focused on federal agencies' acquisition of Cellebrite tools. But as smartphones have proliferated and increasingly become the digital center of our lives, the demand and supply of mobile forensics tools has trickled down to more local bodies.
Paul Merrell

European Court of Justice rules against mass data retention in EU | News | DW.COM | 21.12.2016 - 0 views

  • The ECJ has ruled that governments cannot force telecom firms to keep all customer data. The ruling, which says the laws violate basic privacy rights, comes as governments call for greater powers for spy agencies.
  • The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ruled on Wednesday that laws allowing for the blanket collection and retention of location and traffic data are in breach of EU law. In their decision, the justices wrote that storing such data, which includes text message senders and recipients and call histories, allows for "very precise conclusions to be drawn concerning the private lives of the persons whose data has been retained." "Such national legislation exceeds the limits of what is strictly necessary and cannot be considered to be justified within a democratic society," the Luxembourg-based court said. EU member states seeking to fight a "serious crime" are allowed to retain data in a targeted manner but must be subject to prior review by a court or independent body, the EU's top court said. Exceptions can be made in urgent cases. The decision came amidst growing calls from EU governments for security agencies to be given greater powers with the goal of preventing or investigating attacks. Privacy advocates, on the other hand, said mass data retention is ineffective in combating such crimes.
  • The court's decision was a response to challenges against data retention laws in Britain and Sweden on the ground that they were no longer valid after the court previously struck down an EU-wide data retention law in 2014. In Sweden, the law requires telecommunications companies to retain all their customers' traffic and location data, without exception, the ECJ said. British law allows authorities to ask firms to keep all communication data for a maximum 12-month period. In the UK, politicians filed a legal challenge against a surveillance law which passed in 2014, part of which was suspended by a British court. British lawmakers then passed the Investigatory Powers Act - the so-called "snooper's charter." A German data retention law, which came into effect at the end of 2015, requires telecommunications companies to store telephone and internet use for 10 weeks, after which point the data must be deleted. The German law also stipulates a shorter storage time of four weeks for location data which results from mobile phone calls. It remains to be seen what effect the ECJ ruling will have on Germany's blanket data retention measures.
Paul Merrell

ACLU Demands Secret Court Hand Over Crucial Rulings On Surveillance Law - 0 views

  • The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a motion to reveal the secret court opinions with “novel or significant interpretations” of surveillance law, in a renewed push for government transparency. The motion, filed Wednesday by the ACLU and Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, asks the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, which rules on intelligence gathering activities in secret, to release 23 classified decisions it made between 9/11 and the passage of the USA Freedom Act in June 2015. As ACLU National Security Project staff attorney Patrick Toomey explains, the opinions are part of a “much larger collection of hidden rulings on all sorts of government surveillance activities that affect the privacy rights of Americans.” Among them is the court order that the government used to direct Yahoo to secretly scanits users’ emails for “a specific set of characters.” Toomey writes: These court rulings are essential for the public to understand how federal laws are being construed and implemented. They also show how constitutional protections for personal privacy and expressive activities are being enforced by the courts. In other words, access to these opinions is necessary for the public to properly oversee their government.
  • Although the USA Freedom Act requires the release of novel FISA court opinions on surveillance law, the government maintains that the rule does not apply retroactively—thereby protecting the panel from publishing many of its post-9/11 opinions, which helped create an “unprecedented buildup” of secret surveillance laws. Even after National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the scope of mass surveillance in 2013, sparking widespread outcry, dozens of rulings on spying operations remain hidden from the public eye, which stymies efforts to keep the government accountable, civil liberties advocates say. “These rulings are necessary to inform the public about the scope of the government’s surveillance powers today,” the ACLU’s motion states.
  • Toomey writes that the rulings helped influence a number of novel spying activities, including: The government’s use of malware, which it calls “Network Investigative Techniques” The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to weaken or circumvent their own encryption protocols The government’s efforts to compel technology companies to disclose their source code so that it can identify vulnerabilities The government’s use of “cybersignatures” to search through internet communications for evidence of computer intrusions The government’s use of stingray cell-phone tracking devices under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) The government’s warrantless surveillance of Americans under FISA Section 702—a controversial authority scheduled to expire in December 2017 The bulk phone of financial records by the CIA and FBI under Section 215 of the Patriot Act Without these rulings being made public, “it simply isn’t possible to understand the government’s claimed authority to conduct surveillance,” Toomey writes. As he told The Intercept on Wednesday, “The people of this country can’t hold the government accountable for its surveillance activities unless they know what our laws allow. These secret court opinions define the limits of the government’s spying powers. Their disclosure is essential for meaningful public oversight in our democracy.”
Paul Merrell

Feds Claim They Can Enter a House and Demand Fingerprints to Unlock Everyone's Phones - 0 views

  • Under the Fourth Amendment, Americans are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, but according to one group of federal prosecutors, just being in the wrong house at the wrong time is cause enough to make every single person inside provide their fingerprints and unlock their phones.Back in 2014, a Virginia Circuit Court ruled that while suspects cannot be forced to provide phone passcodes, biometric data like fingerprints doesn’t have the same constitutional protection. Since then, multiple law enforcement agencies have tried to force individual suspects to unlock their phones with their fingers, but none have claimed the sweeping authority found in a Justice Department memorandum recently uncovered by Forbes.
  • In the court document filed earlier this year, federal prosecutors in California argued that a warrant for a mass finger-unlocking was constitutionally sound even though “the government does not know ahead of time the identity of every digital device or every fingerprint (or indeed, every other piece of evidence) that it will find in the search” because “it has demonstrated probable cause that evidence may exist at the search location.” Criminal defense lawyer Marina Medvin, however, disagreed. Advertisement Advertisement “They want the ability to get a warrant on the assumption that they will learn more after they have a warrant,” Medvin told Forbes. “This would be an unbelievably audacious abuse of power if it were permitted.”Unfortunately, other documents related to the case were not publicly available, so its unclear if the search was actually executed. Even so, Medvin believes the memorandum sets a deeply troubling precedent, using older case law regarding the collection of fingerprint evidence to request complete access to the “amazing amount of information” found on a cellcollection.
Paul Merrell

Civil Rights Coalition files FCC Complaint Against Baltimore Police Department for Illegally Using Stingrays to Disrupt Cellular Communications | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 0 views

  • This week the Center for Media Justice, ColorOfChange.org, and New America’s Open Technology Institute filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission alleging the Baltimore police are violating the federal Communications Act by using cell site simulators, also known as Stingrays, that disrupt cellphone calls and interfere with the cellular network—and are doing so in a way that has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Stingrays operate by mimicking a cell tower and directing all cellphones in a given area to route communications through the Stingray instead of the nearby tower. They are especially pernicious surveillance tools because they collect information on every single phone in a given area—not just the suspect’s phone—this means they allow the police to conduct indiscriminate, dragnet searches. They are also able to locate people inside traditionally-protected private spaces like homes, doctors’ offices, or places of worship. Stingrays can also be configured to capture the content of communications. Because Stingrays operate on the same spectrum as cellular networks but are not actually transmitting communications the way a cell tower would, they interfere with cell phone communications within as much as a 500 meter radius of the device (Baltimore’s devices may be limited to 200 meters). This means that any important phone call placed or text message sent within that radius may not get through. As the complaint notes, “[d]epending on the nature of an emergency, it may be urgently necessary for a caller to reach, for example, a parent or child, doctor, psychiatrist, school, hospital, poison control center, or suicide prevention hotline.” But these and even 911 calls could be blocked.
  • The Baltimore Police Department could be among the most prolific users of cell site simulator technology in the country. A Baltimore detective testified last year that the BPD used Stingrays 4,300 times between 2007 and 2015. Like other law enforcement agencies, Baltimore has used its devices for major and minor crimes—everything from trying to locate a man who had kidnapped two small children to trying to find another man who took his wife’s cellphone during an argument (and later returned it). According to logs obtained by USA Today, the Baltimore PD also used its Stingrays to locate witnesses, to investigate unarmed robberies, and for mysterious “other” purposes. And like other law enforcement agencies, the Baltimore PD has regularly withheld information about Stingrays from defense attorneys, judges, and the public. Moreover, according to the FCC complaint, the Baltimore PD’s use of Stingrays disproportionately impacts African American communities. Coming on the heels of a scathing Department of Justice report finding “BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Constitution or federal law,” this may not be surprising, but it still should be shocking. The DOJ’s investigation found that BPD not only regularly makes unconstitutional stops and arrests and uses excessive force within African-American communities but also retaliates against people for constitutionally protected expression, and uses enforcement strategies that produce “severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans.”
  • Adding Stingrays to this mix means that these same communities are subject to more surveillance that chills speech and are less able to make 911 and other emergency calls than communities where the police aren’t regularly using Stingrays. A map included in the FCC complaint shows exactly how this is impacting Baltimore’s African-American communities. It plots hundreds of addresses where USA Today discovered BPD was using Stingrays over a map of Baltimore’s black population based on 2010 Census data included in the DOJ’s recent report:
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  • The Communications Act gives the FCC the authority to regulate radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable communications in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. This includes being responsible for protecting cellphone networks from disruption and ensuring that emergency calls can be completed under any circumstances. And it requires the FCC to ensure that access to networks is available “to all people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.” Considering that the spectrum law enforcement is utilizing without permission is public property leased to private companies for the purpose of providing them next generation wireless communications, it goes without saying that the FCC has a duty to act.
  • But we should not assume that the Baltimore Police Department is an outlier—EFF has found that law enforcement has been secretly using stingrays for years and across the country. No community should have to speculate as to whether such a powerful surveillance technology is being used on its residents. Thus, we also ask the FCC to engage in a rule-making proceeding that addresses not only the problem of harmful interference but also the duty of every police department to use Stingrays in a constitutional way, and to publicly disclose—not hide—the facts around acquisition and use of this powerful wireless surveillance technology.  Anyone can support the complaint by tweeting at FCC Commissioners or by signing the petitions hosted by Color of Change or MAG-Net.
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    An important test case on the constitutionality of stingray mobile device surveillance.
Paul Merrell

What to Do About Lawless Government Hacking and the Weakening of Digital Security | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 0 views

  • In our society, the rule of law sets limits on what government can and cannot do, no matter how important its goals. To give a simple example, even when chasing a fleeing murder suspect, the police have a duty not to endanger bystanders. The government should pay the same care to our safety in pursuing threats online, but right now we don’t have clear, enforceable rules for government activities like hacking and "digital sabotage." And this is no abstract question—these actions increasingly endanger everyone’s security
  • The problem became especially clear this year during the San Bernardino case, involving the FBI’s demand that Apple rewrite its iOS operating system to defeat security features on a locked iPhone. Ultimately the FBI exploited an existing vulnerability in iOS and accessed the contents of the Phone with the help of an "outside party." Then, with no public process or discussion of the tradeoffs involved, the government refused to tell Apple about the flaw. Despite the obvious fact that the security of the computers and networks we all use is both collective and interwoven—other iPhones used by millions of innocent people presumably have the same vulnerability—the government chose to withhold information Apple could have used to improve the security of its Phones. Other examples include intelligence activities like Stuxnet and Bullrun, and law enforcement investigations like the FBI’s mass use of malware against Tor users engaged in criminal behavior. These activities are often disproportionate to stopping legitimate threats, resulting in unpatched software for millions of innocent users, overbroad surveillance, and other collateral effects.  That’s why we’re working on a positive agenda to confront governmental threats to digital security. Put more directly, we’re calling on lawyers, advocates, technologists, and the public to demand a public discussion of whether, when, and how governments can be empowered to break into our computers, Phones, and other devices; sabotage and subvert basic security protocols; and stockpile and exploit software flaws and vulnerabilities.  
  • Smart people in academia and elsewhere have been thinking and writing about these issues for years. But it’s time to take the next step and make clear, public rules that carry the force of law to ensure that the government weighs the tradeoffs and reaches the right decisions. This long post outlines some of the things that can be done. It frames the issue, then describes some of the key areas where EFF is already pursuing this agenda—in particular formalizing the rules for disclosing vulnerabilities and setting out narrow limits for the use of government malware. Finally it lays out where we think the debate should go from here.   
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    "In our society, the rule of law sets limits on what government can and cannot do, no matter how important its goals. "
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    It's not often that I disagree with EFF's positions, but on this one I do. The government should be prohibited from exploiting computer vulnerabilities and should be required to immediately report all vulnerabilities discovered to the relevant developers of hardware or software. It's been one long slippery slope since the Supreme Court first approved wiretapping in Olmstead v. United States, 277 US 438 (1928), https://goo.gl/NJevsr (.) Left undecided to this day is whether we have a right to whisper privately, a right that is undeniable. All communications intercept cases since Olmstead fly directly in the face of that right.
Paul Merrell

In Hearing on Internet Surveillance, Nobody Knows How Many Americans Impacted in Data Collection | Electronic Frontier Foundation - 0 views

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee held an open hearing today on the FISA Amendments Act, the law that ostensibly authorizes the digital surveillance of hundreds of millions of people both in the United States and around the world. Section 702 of the law, scheduled to expire next year, is designed to allow U.S. intelligence services to collect signals intelligence on foreign targets related to our national security interests. However—thanks to the leaks of many whistleblowers including Edward Snowden, the work of investigative journalists, and statements by public officials—we now know that the FISA Amendments Act has been used to sweep up data on hundreds of millions of people who have no connection to a terrorist investigation, including countless Americans. What do we mean by “countless”? As became increasingly clear in the hearing today, the exact number of Americans impacted by this surveillance is unknown. Senator Franken asked the panel of witnesses, “Is it possible for the government to provide an exact count of how many United States persons have been swept up in Section 702 surveillance? And if not the exact count, then what about an estimate?”
  • Elizabeth Goitein, the Brennan Center director whose articulate and thought-provoking testimony was the highlight of the hearing, noted that at this time an exact number would be difficult to provide. However, she asserted that an estimate should be possible for most if not all of the government’s surveillance programs. None of the other panel participants—which included David Medine and Rachel Brand of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board as well as Matthew Olsen of IronNet Cybersecurity and attorney Kenneth Wainstein—offered an estimate. Today’s hearing reaffirmed that it is not only the American people who are left in the dark about how many people or accounts are impacted by the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of the Internet. Even vital oversight committees in Congress like the Senate Judiciary Committee are left to speculate about just how far-reaching this surveillance is. It's part of the reason why we urged the House Judiciary Committee to demand that the Intelligence Community provide the public with a number. 
  • The lack of information makes rigorous oversight of the programs all but impossible. As Senator Franken put it in the hearing today, “When the public lacks even a rough sense of the scope of the government’s surveillance program, they have no way of knowing if the government is striking the right balance, whether we are safeguarding our national security without trampling on our citizens’ fundamental privacy rights. But the public can’t know if we succeed in striking that balance if they don’t even have the most basic information about our major surveillance programs."  Senator Patrick Leahy also questioned the panel about the “minimization procedures” associated with this type of surveillance, the privacy safeguard that is intended to ensure that irrelevant data and data on American citizens is swiftly deleted. Senator Leahy asked the panel: “Do you believe the current minimization procedures ensure that data about innocent Americans is deleted? Is that enough?”  David Medine, who recently announced his pending retirement from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, answered unequivocally:
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  • Senator Leahy, they don’t. The minimization procedures call for the deletion of innocent Americans’ information upon discovery to determine whether it has any foreign intelligence value. But what the board’s report found is that in fact information is never deleted. It sits in the databases for 5 years, or sometimes longer. And so the minimization doesn’t really address the privacy concerns of incidentally collected communications—again, where there’s been no warrant at all in the process… In the United States, we simply can’t read people’s emails and listen to their phone calls without court approval, and the same should be true when the government shifts its attention to Americans under this program. One of the most startling exchanges from the hearing today came toward the end of the session, when Senator Dianne Feinstein—who also sits on the Intelligence Committee—seemed taken aback by Ms. Goitein’s mention of “backdoor searches.” 
  • Feinstein: Wow, wow. What do you call it? What’s a backdoor search? Goitein: Backdoor search is when the FBI or any other agency targets a U.S. person for a search of data that was collected under Section 702, which is supposed to be targeted against foreigners overseas. Feinstein: Regardless of the minimization that was properly carried out. Goitein: Well the data is searched in its unminimized form. So the FBI gets raw data, the NSA, the CIA get raw data. And they search that raw data using U.S. person identifiers. That’s what I’m referring to as backdoor searches. It’s deeply concerning that any member of Congress, much less a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, might not be aware of the problem surrounding backdoor searches. In April 2014, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged the searches of this data, which Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall termed “the ‘back-door search’ loophole in section 702.” The public was so incensed that the House of Representatives passed an amendment to that year's defense appropriations bill effectively banning the warrantless backdoor searches. Nonetheless, in the hearing today it seemed like Senator Feinstein might not recognize or appreciate the serious implications of allowing U.S. law enforcement agencies to query the raw data collected through these Internet surveillance programs. Hopefully today’s testimony helped convince the Senator that there is more to this topic than what she’s hearing in jargon-filled classified security briefings.
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    The 4th Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and *particularly describing the place to be searched, and the* persons or *things to be seized."* So much for the particularized description of the place to be searched and the thngs to be seized.  Fah! Who needs a Constitution, anyway .... 
Paul Merrell

Bulk Collection Under Section 215 Has Ended… What's Next? | Just Security - 0 views

  • The first (and thus far only) roll-back of post-9/11 surveillance authorities was implemented over the weekend: The National Security Agency shuttered its program for collecting and holding the metadata of Americans’ phone calls under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. While bulk phone under Section 215 has ended, the government can obtain access to this information under the procedures specified in the USA Freedom Act. Indeed, some experts have argued that the Agency likely has access to more metadata because its earlier dragnet didn’t cover cell phones or Internet calling. In addition, the metadata of calls made by an individual in the United States to someone overseas and vice versa can still be collected in bulk — this takes place abroad under Executive Order 12333. No doubt the NSA wishes that this was the end of the surveillance reform story and the Paris attacks initially gave them an opening. John Brennan, the Director of the CIA, implied that the attacks were somehow related to “hand wringing” about spying and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill to delay the shut down of the 215 program. Opponents of encryption were quick to say: “I told you so.”
  • But the facts that have emerged thus far tell a different story. It appears that much of the planning took place IRL (that’s “in real life” for those of you who don’t have teenagers). The attackers, several of whom were on law enforcement’s radar, communicated openly over the Internet. If France ever has a 9/11 Commission-type inquiry, it could well conclude that the Paris attacks were a failure of the intelligence agencies rather than a failure of intelligence authorities. Despite the passage of the USA Freedom Act, US surveillance authorities have remained largely intact. Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act — which is the basis of programs like PRISM and the NSA’s Upstream collection of information from Internet cables — sunsets in the summer of 2017. While it’s difficult to predict the political environment that far out, meaningful reform of Section 702 faces significant obstacles. Unlike the Section 215 program, which was clearly aimed at Americans, Section 702 is supposedly targeted at foreigners and only picks up information about Americans “incidentally.” The NSA has refused to provide an estimate of how many Americans’ information it collects under Section 702, despite repeated requests from lawmakers and most recently a large cohort of advocates. The Section 215 program was held illegal by two federal courts (here and here), but civil attempts to challenge Section 702 have run into standing barriers. Finally, while two review panels concluded that the Section 215 program provided little counterterrorism benefit (here and here), they found that the Section 702 program had been useful.
  • There is, nonetheless, some pressure to narrow the reach of Section 702. The recent decision by the European Court of Justice in the safe harbor case suggests that data flows between Europe and the US may be restricted unless the PRISM program is modified to protect the information of Europeans (see here, here, and here for discussion of the decision and reform options). Pressure from Internet companies whose business is suffering — estimates run to the tune of $35 to 180 billion — as a result of disclosures about NSA spying may also nudge lawmakers towards reform. One of the courts currently considering criminal cases which rely on evidence derived from Section 702 surveillance may hold the program unconstitutional either on the basis of the Fourth Amendment or Article III for the reasons set out in this Brennan Center report. A federal district court in Colorado recently rejected such a challenge, although as explained in Steve’s post, the decision did not seriously explore the issues. Further litigation in the European courts too could have an impact on the debate.
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  • The US intelligence community’s broadest surveillance authorities are enshrined in Executive Order 12333, which primarily covers the interception of electronic communications overseas. The Order authorizes the collection, retention, and dissemination of “foreign intelligence” information, which includes information “relating to the capabilities, intentions or activities of foreign powers, organizations or persons.” In other words, so long as they are operating outside the US, intelligence agencies are authorized to collect information about any foreign person — and, of course, any Americans with whom they communicate. The NSA has conceded that EO 12333 is the basis of most of its surveillance. While public information about these programs is limited, a few highlights give a sense of the breadth of EO 12333 operations: The NSA gathers information about every cell collection call made to, from, and within the Bahamas, Mexico, Kenya, the Philippines, and Afghanistan, and possibly other countries. A joint US-UK program tapped into the cables connecting internal Yahoo and Google networks to gather e-mail address books and contact lists from their customers. Another US-UK collaboration collected images from video chats among Yahoo users and possibly other webcam services. The NSA collects both the content and metadata of hundreds of millions of text messages from around the world. By tapping into the cables that connect global networks, the NSA has created a database of the location of hundreds of millions of mobile collections outside the US.
  • Given its scope, EO 12333 is clearly critical to those seeking serious surveillance reform. The path to reform is, however, less clear. There is no sunset provision that requires action by Congress and creates an opportunity for exposing privacy risks. Even in the unlikely event that Congress was inclined to intervene, it would have to address questions about the extent of its constitutional authority to regulate overseas surveillance. To the best of my knowledge, there is no litigation challenging EO 12333 and the government doesn’t give notice to criminal defendants when it uses evidence derived from surveillance under the order, so the likelihood of a court ruling is slim. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is currently reviewing two programs under EO 12333, but it is anticipated that much of its report will be classified (although it has promised a less detailed unclassified version as well). While the short-term outlook for additional surveillance reform is challenging, from a longer-term perspective, the distinctions that our law makes between Americans and non-Americans and between domestic and foreign collection cannot stand indefinitely. If the Fourth Amendment is to meaningfully protect Americans’ privacy, the courts and Congress must come to grips with this reality.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Yes, the NSA Worried About Whether Spying Would Backfire | WIRED - 1 views

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    ""For all the time I worked on all of these issues, this was a constant discussion," Olsen says. "How do we calibrate what we're trying to do for the country with how to protect civil liberties and privacy?""
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    NSA can't credibly claim surprise at how people reacted to the Snowden disclosures. NSA's spying on U.S. citizens was first uncovered by the Senate's Church Committee in about 1976. Congress enacted legslation unequivocally telling NSA and the Defense Department that spying on Americans was not to happen again (and that the CIA was to immediately cease spying within the territorial boundaries of the U.S.). Then came the Total Information Awareness scandal, when Congress discovered that DoD was right back at it again, this time operating from under the cover of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Congress responded by abolishing the program and eliminating the job position of its director, former Admiral John Poindexter of Iran/Contra scandal fame. But rather than complying with the abolition order, most of the TIA program's staff, hardware, software, and data was simply transferred to NSA. NSA, of course, persuaded the Justice Department to secretly reinterpret key provisions of the Patriot Act more broadly than a First Grade preschooler would allow to continue spying on U.S. citizens. Indeed, anyone whose college education included the assignment to read and discuss George Orwell's 1984 would have known that NSA's program had drastically outgrown the limits of what a free society would tolerate. So this is really about deliberate defiance of the limits established by the Constitution and Congressional enactments, not about anything even remotely legal or morally acceptable. The fact that Congress did not react strongly after the Snowden disclosures, as it had after the Church Committee's report and discovery of the TIA program raises a strong suspicion that members of Congress have been blackmailed into submission using information about them gathered via NSA surveillance. We know from whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Russell Tice that members of Congress were surveilled by NSA, yet not even that violation has been taken up by Congress. Instead
Paul Merrell

Edward Snowden Explains How To Reclaim Your Privacy - 0 views

  • Micah Lee: What are some operational security practices you think everyone should adopt? Just useful stuff for average people. Edward Snowden: [Opsec] is important even if you’re not worried about the NSA. Because when you think about who the victims of surveillance are, on a day-to-day basis, you’re thinking about people who are in abusive spousal relationships, you’re thinking about people who are concerned about stalkers, you’re thinking about children who are concerned about their parents overhearing things. It’s to reclaim a level of privacy. The first step that anyone could take is to encrypt their phone calls and their text messages. You can do that through the smartphone app Signal, by Open Whisper Systems. It’s free, and you can just download it immediately. And anybody you’re talking to now, their communications, if it’s intercepted, can’t be read by adversaries. [Signal is available for iOS and Android, and, unlike a lot of security tools, is very easy to use.] You should encrypt your hard disk, so that if your computer is stolen the information isn’t obtainable to an adversary — pictures, where you live, where you work, where your kids are, where you go to school. [I’ve written a guide to encrypting your disk on Windows, Mac, and Linux.] Use a password manager. One of the main things that gets people’s private information exposed, not necessarily to the most powerful adversaries, but to the most common ones, are data dumps. Your credentials may be revealed because some service you stopped using in 2007 gets hacked, and your password that you were using for that one site also works for your Gmail account. A password manager allows you to create unique passwords for every site that are unbreakable, but you don’t have the burden of memorizing them. [The password manager KeePassX is free, open source, cross-platform, and never stores anything in the cloud.]
  • The other thing there is two-factor authentication. The value of this is if someone does steal your password, or it’s left or exposed somewhere … [two-factor authentication] allows the provider to send you a secondary means of authentication — a text message or something like that. [If you enable two-factor authentication, an attacker needs both your password as the first factor and a physical device, like your phone, as your second factor, to login to your account. Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, GitHub, Battle.net, and tons of other services all support two-factor authentication.]
  • We should armor ourselves using systems we can rely on every day. This doesn’t need to be an extraordinary lifestyle change. It doesn’t have to be something that is disruptive. It should be invisible, it should be atmospheric, it should be something that happens painlessly, effortlessly. This is why I like apps like Signal, because they’re low friction. It doesn’t require you to re-order your life. It doesn’t require you to change your method of communications. You can use it right now to talk to your friends.
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  • Lee: What do you think about Tor? Do you think that everyone should be familiar with it, or do you think that it’s only a use-it-if-you-need-it thing? Snowden: I think Tor is the most important privacy-enhancing technology project being used today. I use Tor personally all the time. We know it works from at least one anecdotal case that’s fairly familiar to most people at this point. That’s not to say that Tor is bulletproof. What Tor does is it provides a measure of security and allows you to disassociate your physical location. … But the basic idea, the concept of Tor that is so valuable, is that it’s run by volunteers. Anyone can create a new node on the network, whether it’s an entry node, a middle router, or an exit point, on the basis of their willingness to accept some risk. The voluntary nature of this network means that it is survivable, it’s resistant, it’s flexible. [Tor Browser is a great way to selectively use Tor to look something up and not leave a trace that you did it. It can also help bypass censorship when you’re on a network where certain sites are blocked. If you want to get more involved, you can volunteer to run your own Tor node, as I do, and support the diversity of the Tor network.]
  • Lee: So that is all stuff that everybody should be doing. What about people who have exceptional threat models, like future intelligence-community whistleblowers, and other people who have nation-state adversaries? Maybe journalists, in some cases, or activists, or people like that? Snowden: So the first answer is that you can’t learn this from a single article. The needs of every individual in a high-risk environment are different. And the capabilities of the adversary are constantly improving. The tooling changes as well. What really matters is to be conscious of the principles of compromise. How can the adversary, in general, gain access to information that is sensitive to you? What kinds of things do you need to protect? Because of course you don’t need to hide everything from the adversary. You don’t need to live a paranoid life, off the grid, in hiding, in the woods in Montana. What we do need to protect are the facts of our activities, our beliefs, and our lives that could be used against us in manners that are contrary to our interests. So when we think about this for whistleblowers, for example, if you witnessed some kind of wrongdoing and you need to reveal this information, and you believe there are people that want to interfere with that, you need to think about how to compartmentalize that.
  • Tell no one who doesn’t need to know. [Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend of several years, didn’t know that he had been collecting documents to leak to journalists until she heard about it on the news, like everyone else.] When we talk about whistleblowers and what to do, you want to think about tools for protecting your identity, protecting the existence of the relationship from any type of conventional communication system. You want to use something like SecureDrop, over the Tor network, so there is no connection between the computer that you are using at the time — preferably with a non-persistent operating system like Tails, so you’ve left no forensic trace on the machine you’re using, which hopefully is a disposable machine that you can get rid of afterward, that can’t be found in a raid, that can’t be analyzed or anything like that — so that the only outcome of your operational activities are the stories reported by the journalists. [SecureDrop is a whistleblower submission system. Here is a guide to using The Intercept’s SecureDrop server as safely as possible.]
  • And this is to be sure that whoever has been engaging in this wrongdoing cannot distract from the controversy by pointing to your physical identity. Instead they have to deal with the facts of the controversy rather than the actors that are involved in it. Lee: What about for people who are, like, in a repressive regime and are trying to … Snowden: Use Tor. Lee: Use Tor? Snowden: If you’re not using Tor you’re doing it wrong. Now, there is a counterpoint here where the use of privacy-enhancing technologies in certain areas can actually single you out for additional surveillance through the exercise of repressive measures. This is why it’s so critical for developers who are working on security-enhancing tools to not make their protocols stand out.
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    Lots more in the interview that I didn't highlight. This is a must-read.
Paul Merrell

The All Writs Act, Software Licenses, and Why Judges Should Ask More Questions | Just Security - 0 views

  • Pending before federal magistrate judge James Orenstein is the government’s request for an order obligating Apple, Inc. to unlock an iPhone and thereby assist prosecutors in decrypting data the government has seized and is authorized to search pursuant to a warrant. In an order questioning the government’s purported legal basis for this request, the All Writs Act of 1789 (AWA), Judge Orenstein asked Apple for a brief informing the court whether the request would be technically feasible and/or burdensome. After Apple filed, the court asked it to file a brief discussing whether the government had legal grounds under the AWA to compel Apple’s assistance. Apple filed that brief and the government filed a reply brief last week in the lead-up to a hearing this morning.
  • We’ve long been concerned about whether end users own software under the law. Software owners have rights of adaptation and first sale enshrined in copyright law. But software publishers have claimed that end users are merely licensees, and our rights under copyright law can be waived by mass-market end user license agreements, or EULAs. Over the years, Granick has argued that users should retain their rights even if mass-market licenses purport to take them away. The government’s brief takes advantage of Apple’s EULA for iOS to argue that Apple, the software publisher, is responsible for iPhones around the world. Apple’s EULA states that when you buy an iPhone, you’re not buying the iOS software it runs, you’re just licensing it from Apple. The government argues that having designed a passcode feature into a copy of software which it owns and licenses rather than sells, Apple can be compelled under the All Writs Act to bypass the passcode on a defendant’s iPhone pursuant to a search warrant and thereby access the software owned by Apple. Apple’s supplemental brief argues that in defining its users’ contractual rights vis-à-vis Apple with regard to Apple’s intellectual property, Apple in no way waived its own due process rights vis-à-vis the government with regard to users’ devices. Apple’s brief compares this argument to forcing a car manufacturer to “provide law enforcement with access to the vehicle or to alter its functionality at the government’s request” merely because the car contains licensed software. 
  • This is an interesting twist on the decades-long EULA versus users’ rights fight. As far as we know, this is the first time that the government has piggybacked on EULAs to try to compel software companies to provide assistance to law enforcement. Under the government’s interpretation of the All Writs Act, anyone who makes software could be dragooned into assisting the government in investigating users of the software. If the court adopts this view, it would give investigators immense power. The quotidian aspects of our lives increasingly involve software (from our cars to our TVs to our health to our home appliances), and most of that software is arguably licensed, not bought. Conscripting software makers to collect information on us would afford the government access to the most intimate information about us, on the strength of some words in some license agreements that people never read. (And no wonder: The iPhone’s EULA came to over 300 pages when the government filed it as an exhibit to its brief.)
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  • The government’s brief does not acknowledge the sweeping implications of its arguments. It tries to portray its requested unlocking order as narrow and modest, because it “would not require Apple to make any changes to its software or hardware, … [or] to introduce any new ability to access data on its phones. It would simply require Apple to use its existing capability to bypass the passcode on a passcode-locked iOS 7 phone[.]” But that undersells the implications of the legal argument the government is making: that anything a company already can do, it could be compelled to do under the All Writs Act in order to assist law enforcement. Were that the law, the blow to users’ trust in their encrypted devices, services, and products would be little different than if Apple and other companies were legally required to design backdoors into their encryption mechanisms (an idea the government just can’t seem to drop, its assurances in this brief notwithstanding). Entities around the world won’t buy security software if its makers cannot be trusted not to hand over their users’ secrets to the US government. That’s what makes the encryption in iOS 8 and later versions, which Apple has told the court it “would not have the technical ability” to bypass, so powerful — and so despised by the government: Because no matter how broadly the All Writs Act extends, no court can compel Apple to do the impossible.
Gonzalo San Gil, PhD.

Path cleared for judge to block NSA phone surveillance program - POLITICO [# ! Via] - 1 views

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    [By Josh Gerstein 10/06/15 07:17 PM EDT A federal judge who seems keen on blocking the National Security Agency's phone records phone program has a clear path to doing so after a federal appeals court removed a potential obstacle Tuesday. ...]
Paul Merrell

NSA head: We need bulk collection | TheHill - 0 views

  • The head of the National Security Agency on Thursday told Senate lawmakers that preventing his agency from collecting Americans’ information in bulk would make it harder to do its job.Under questioning before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Adm. Michael Rogers agreed that ending bulk collection would “significantly reduce [his] operational capabilities.”ADVERTISEMENT“Right now, bulk collection gives us the ability ... to generate insights as to what’s going on,” Rogers told the committee.The NSA head also referenced a January report from the National Academy of Sciences that concluded there is “no software technique that will fully substitute for bulk collection” because of the ability to search through the storehouse of old information. “That independent, impartial, scientifically-founded body came back and said no, under the current structure there is no real replacement,” Rogers said.Rogers was questioned on Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee who has become its most vocal privacy hawk.
  • In response to the NSA head’s comments, Wyden pointed to a 2013 White House review group, which found that one controversial NSA bulk collection program “was not essential to preventing attacks” and that the information obtained by the NSA “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using” other means.The debate follows on a congressional clash earlier this year over the NSA’s bulk collection of records about the collection calls of millions of Americans. The records contained information about whom people called and when but not what they talked about.
  • After a brief lapsing of some portions of the Patriot Act, Congress eventually reined in the NSA by forcing it to go through the courts to search private phone companies’ records for a narrower set of records. Many privacy advocates treated the new law, called the USA Freedom Act, as a significant victory, through national security hawks worried that it would make it harder for the NSA to track terrorists.Under the new system — which has not gone into effect yet — the amount of time it takes to obtain those records “is probably going to be longer I suspect,” Rogers said.Though the phone records database has been the NSA’s most prominent bulk phone program, it is not the only one. The agency’s phone of vast amounts of Internet data has alarmed many privacy advocates and is the target of a current lawsuit from Wikipedia and the American Civil Liberties Union. 
Paul Merrell

Wikipedia takes feds to court over spying | TheHill - 0 views

  • The foundation behind Wikipedia is suing the U.S. government over spying that it says violates core provisions of the Constitution.The Wikimedia Foundation joined forces on Tuesday with a slew of human rights groups, The Nation magazine and other organizations in a lawsuit accusing the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department of violating the constitutional protections for freedom of speech and privacy.
  • If successful, the lawsuit could land a crippling blow to the web of secretive spying powers wielded by the NSA and exposed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago. Despite initial outrage after Snowden’s leaks, Congress has yet to make any serious reforms to the NSA, and many of the programs continue largely unchanged.The lawsuit targets the NSA’s “upstream” surveillance program, which taps into the fiber cables that make up the backbone of the global Internet and allows the agency to collect vast amounts of information about people on the Web.“As a result, whenever someone overseas views or edits a Wikipedia page, it’s likely that the N.S.A. is tracking that activity — including the content of what was read or typed, as well as other information that can be linked to the person’s physical location and possible identity,” Tretikov and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales wrote in a joint New York Times op-ed announcing the lawsuit. Because the operations are largely overseen solely by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which operates out of the public eye and has been accused of acting as a rubber stamp for intelligence agencies — the foundation accused the NSA of violating the guarantees of a fair legal system.In addition to the Wikimedia Foundation and The Nation, the other groups joining the lawsuit are the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Pen American Center, the Global Fund for Women, the Rutherford Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America. The groups are being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • In 2013, a lawsuit against similar surveillance powers brought by Amnesty International was tossed out by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the organization was not affected by the spying and had no standing to sue. That decision came before Snowden’s leaks later that summer, however, which included a slide featuring Wikipedia’s logo alongside those of Facebook, Yahoo, Google and other top websites. That should be more than enough grounds for a successful suit, the foundation said. In addition to the new suit, there are also a handful of other outstanding legal challenges to the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ collection records, a different program that has inspired some of the most heated antipathy. Those suits are all pending in appeals courts around the country.
Paul Merrell

Profiled From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users' Online Identities | Global Research - Centre for Research on Globalization - 0 views

  • One system builds profiles showing people’s web browsing histories. Another analyzes instant messenger communications, emails, Skype calls, text messages, cell phone locations, and social media interactions. Separate programs were built to keep tabs on “suspicious” Google searches and usage of Google Maps. The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens  all without a court order or judicial warrant.
  • The power of KARMA POLICE was illustrated in 2009, when GCHQ launched a top-secret operation to collect intelligence about people using the Internet to listen to radio shows. The agency used a sample of nearly 7 million metadata records, gathered over a period of three months, to observe the listening habits of more than 200,000 people across 185 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., Ireland, Canada, Mexico, Spain, the Netherlands, France, and Germany.
  • GCHQ’s documents indicate that the plans for KARMA POLICE were drawn up between 2007 and 2008. The system was designed to provide the agency with “either (a) a web browsing profile for every visible user on the Internet, or (b) a user profile for every visible website on the Internet.” The origin of the surveillance system’s name is not discussed in the documents. But KARMA POLICE is also the name of a popular song released in 1997 by the Grammy Award-winning British band Radiohead, suggesting the spies may have been fans. A verse repeated throughout the hit song includes the lyric, “This is what you’ll get, when you mess with us.”
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  • GCHQ vacuums up the website browsing histories using “probes” that tap into the international fiber-optic cables that transport Internet traffic across the world. A huge volume of the Internet data GCHQ collects flows directly into a massive repository named Black Hole, which is at the core of the agency’s online spying operations, storing raw logs of intercepted material before it has been subject to analysis. Black Hole contains data collected by GCHQ as part of bulk “unselected” surveillance, meaning it is not focused on particular “selected” targets and instead includes troves of data indiscriminately swept up about ordinary people’s online activities. Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events”  a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records  with about 10 billion new entries added every day. As of March 2009, the largest slice of data Black Hole held  41 percent  was about people’s Internet browsing histories. The rest included a combination of email and instant messenger records, details about search engine queries, information about social media activity, logs related to hacking operations, and data on people’s use of tools to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Throughout this period, as smartphone sales started to boom, the frequency of people’s Internet use was steadily increasing. In tandem, British spies were working frantically to bolster their spying capabilities, with plans afoot to expand the size of Black Hole and other repositories to handle an avalanche of new data. By 2010, according to the documents, GCHQ was logging 30 billion metadata records per day. By 2012, phone had increased to 50 billion per day, and work was underway to double capacity to 100 billion. The agency was developing “unprecedented” techniques to perform what it called “population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries in an effort to detect patterns or behaviors deemed suspicious. It was creating what it saidwould be, by 2013, “the world’s biggest” surveillance engine “to run cyber operations and to access better, more valued data for customers to make a real world difference.” HERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.” Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs.
  • The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.
Paul Merrell

From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users' Online Identities - 1 views

  • HERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.” Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs. The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.
  • Amid a renewed push from the U.K. government for more surveillance powers, more than two dozen documents being disclosed today by The Intercept reveal for the first time several major strands of GCHQ’s existing electronic eavesdropping capabilities.
  • The surveillance is underpinned by an opaque legal regime that has authorized GCHQ to sift through huge archives of metadata about the private phone calls, emails and Internet browsing logs of Brits, Americans, and any other citizens — all without a court order or judicial warrant
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  • A huge volume of the Internet data GCHQ collects flows directly into a massive repository named Black Hole, which is at the core of the agency’s online spying operations, storing raw logs of intercepted material before it has been subject to analysis. Black Hole contains data collected by GCHQ as part of bulk “unselected” surveillance, meaning it is not focused on particular “selected” targets and instead includes troves of data indiscriminately swept up about ordinary people’s online activities. Between August 2007 and March 2009, GCHQ documents say that Black Hole was used to store more than 1.1 trillion “events” — a term the agency uses to refer to metadata records — with about 10 billion new entries added every day. As of March 2009, the largest slice of data Black Hole held — 41 percent — was about people’s Internet browsing histories. The rest included a combination of email and instant messenger records, details about search engine queries, information about social media activity, logs related to hacking operations, and data on people’s use of tools to browse the Internet anonymously.
  • Throughout this period, as smartphone sales started to boom, the frequency of people’s Internet use was steadily increasing. In tandem, British spies were working frantically to bolster their spying capabilities, with plans afoot to expand the size of Black Hole and other repositories to handle an avalanche of new data. By 2010, according to the documents, GCHQ was logging 30 billion metadata records per day. By 2012, phone had increased to 50 billion per day, and work was underway to double capacity to 100 billion. The agency was developing “unprecedented” techniques to perform what it called “population-scale” data mining, monitoring all communications across entire countries in an effort to detect patterns or behaviors deemed suspicious. It was creating what it said would be, by 2013, “the world’s biggest” surveillance engine “to run cyber operations and to access better, more valued data for customers to make a real world difference.”
  • A document from the GCHQ target analysis center (GTAC) shows the Black Hole repository’s structure.
  • The data is searched by GCHQ analysts in a hunt for behavior online that could be connected to terrorism or other criminal activity. But it has also served a broader and more controversial purpose — helping the agency hack into European companies’ computer networks. In the lead up to its secret mission targeting Netherlands-based Gemalto, the largest SIM card manufacturer in the world, GCHQ used MUTANT BROTH in an effort to identify the company’s employees so it could hack into their computers. The system helped the agency analyze intercepted Facebook cookies it believed were associated with Gemalto staff located at offices in France and Poland. GCHQ later successfully infiltrated Gemalto’s internal networks, stealing encryption keys produced by the company that protect the privacy of cell phone communications.
  • Similarly, MUTANT BROTH proved integral to GCHQ’s hack of Belgian telecommunications provider Belgacom. The agency entered IP addresses associated with Belgacom into MUTANT BROTH to uncover information about the company’s employees. Cookies associated with the IPs revealed the Google, Yahoo, and LinkedIn accounts of three Belgacom engineers, whose computers were then targeted by the agency and infected with malware. The hacking operation resulted in GCHQ gaining deep access into the most sensitive parts of Belgacom’s internal systems, granting British spies the ability to intercept communications passing through the company’s networks.
  • In March, a U.K. parliamentary committee published the findings of an 18-month review of GCHQ’s operations and called for an overhaul of the laws that regulate the spying. The committee raised concerns about the agency gathering what it described as “bulk personal datasets” being held about “a wide range of people.” However, it censored the section of the report describing what these “datasets” contained, despite acknowledging that they “may be highly intrusive.” The Snowden documents shine light on some of the core GCHQ bulk data-gathering programs that the committee was likely referring to — pulling back the veil of secrecy that has shielded some of the agency’s most controversial surveillance operations from public scrutiny. KARMA POLICE and MUTANT BROTH are among the key bulk collection systems. But they do not operate in isolation — and the scope of GCHQ’s spying extends far beyond them.
  • The agency operates a bewildering array of other eavesdropping systems, each serving its own specific purpose and designated a unique code name, such as: SOCIAL ANTHROPOID, which is used to analyze metadata on emails, instant messenger chats, social media connections and conversations, plus “telephony” metadata about phone calls, cell phone locations, text and multimedia messages; MEMORY HOLE, which logs queries entered into search engines and associates each search with an IP address; MARBLED GECKO, which sifts through details about searches people have entered into Google Maps and Google Earth; and INFINITE MONKEYS, which analyzes data about the usage of online bulletin boards and forums. GCHQ has other programs that it uses to analyze the content of intercepted communications, such as the full written body of emails and the audio of phone calls. One of the most important content phone capabilities is TEMPORA, which mines vast amounts of emails, instant messages, voice calls and other communications and makes them accessible through a Google-style search tool named XKEYSCORE.
  • As of September 2012, TEMPORA was collecting “more than 40 billion pieces of content a day” and it was being used to spy on people across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, according to a top-secret memo outlining the scope of the program. The existence of TEMPORA was first revealed by The Guardian in June 2013. To analyze all of the communications it intercepts and to build a profile of the individuals it is monitoring, GCHQ uses a variety of different tools that can pull together all of the relevant information and make it accessible through a single interface. SAMUEL PEPYS is one such tool, built by the British spies to analyze both the content and metadata of emails, browsing sessions, and instant messages as they are being intercepted in real time. One screenshot of SAMUEL PEPYS in action shows the agency using it to monitor an individual in Sweden who visited a page about GCHQ on the U.S.-based anti-secrecy website Cryptome.
  • Partly due to the U.K.’s geographic location — situated between the United States and the western edge of continental Europe — a large amount of the world’s Internet traffic passes through its territory across international data cables. In 2010, GCHQ noted that what amounted to “25 percent of all Internet traffic” was transiting the U.K. through some 1,600 different cables. The agency said that it could “survey the majority of the 1,600” and “select the most valuable to switch into our processing systems.”
  • According to Joss Wright, a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Internet Institute, tapping into the cables allows GCHQ to monitor a large portion of foreign communications. But the cables also transport masses of wholly domestic British emails and online chats, because when anyone in the U.K. sends an email or visits a website, their computer will routinely send and receive data from servers that are located overseas. “I could send a message from my computer here [in England] to my wife’s computer in the next room and on its way it could go through the U.S., France, and other countries,” Wright says. “That’s just the way the Internet is designed.” In other words, Wright adds, that means “a lot” of British data and communications transit across international cables daily, and are liable to be swept into GCHQ’s databases.
  • A map from a classified GCHQ presentation about intercepting communications from undersea cables. GCHQ is authorized to conduct dragnet surveillance of the international data cables through so-called external warrants that are signed off by a government minister. The external warrants permit the agency to monitor communications in foreign countries as well as British citizens’ international calls and emails — for example, a call from Islamabad to London. They prohibit GCHQ from reading or listening to the content of “internal” U.K. to U.K. emails and phone calls, which are supposed to be filtered out from GCHQ’s systems if they are inadvertently intercepted unless additional authorization is granted to scrutinize them. However, the same rules do not apply to metadata. A little-known loophole in the law allows GCHQ to use external warrants to collect and analyze bulk metadata about the emails, phone calls, and Internet browsing activities of British people, citizens of closely allied countries, and others, regardless of whether the data is derived from domestic U.K. to U.K. communications and browsing sessions or otherwise. In March, the existence of this loophole was quietly acknowledged by the U.K. parliamentary committee’s surveillance review, which stated in a section of its report that “special protection and additional safeguards” did not apply to metadata swept up using external warrants and that domestic British metadata could therefore be lawfully “returned as a result of searches” conducted by GCHQ.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, GCHQ appears to have readily exploited this obscure legal technicality. Secret policy guidance papers issued to the agency’s analysts instruct them that they can sift through huge troves of indiscriminately collected metadata records to spy on anyone regardless of their nationality. The guidance makes clear that there is no exemption or extra privacy protection for British people or citizens from countries that are members of the Five Eyes, a surveillance alliance that the U.K. is part of alongside the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. “If you are searching a purely Events only database such as MUTANT BROTH, the issue of location does not occur,” states one internal GCHQ policy document, which is marked with a “last modified” date of July 2012. The document adds that analysts are free to search the databases for British metadata “without further authorization” by inputing a U.K. “selector,” meaning a unique identifier such as a person’s email or IP address, username, or phone number. Authorization is “not needed for individuals in the U.K.,” another GCHQ document explains, because metadata has been judged “less intrusive than communications content.” All the spies are required to do to mine the metadata troves is write a short “justification” or “reason” for each search they conduct and then click a button on their computer screen.
  • Intelligence GCHQ collects on British persons of interest is shared with domestic security agency MI5, which usually takes the lead on spying operations within the U.K. MI5 conducts its own extensive domestic surveillance as part of a program called DIGINT (digital intelligence).
  • GCHQ’s documents suggest that it typically retains metadata for periods of between 30 days to six months. It stores the content of communications for a shorter period of time, varying between three to 30 days. The retention periods can be extended if deemed necessary for “cyber defense.” One secret policy paper dated from January 2010 lists the wide range of information the agency classes as metadata — including location data that could be used to track your movements, your email, instant messenger, and social networking “buddy lists,” logs showing who you have communicated with by phone or email, the passwords you use to access “communications services” (such as an email account), and information about websites you have viewed.
  • Records showing the full website addresses you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk/what_we_do — are treated as content. But the first part of an address you have visited — for instance, www.gchq.gov.uk — is treated as metadata. In isolation, a single metadata record of a phone call, email, or website visit may not reveal much about a person’s private life, according to Ethan Zuckerman, director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media. But if accumulated and analyzed over a period of weeks or months, these details would be “extremely personal,” he told The Intercept, because they could reveal a person’s movements, habits, religious beliefs, political views, relationships, and even sexual preferences. For Zuckerman, who has studied the social and political ramifications of surveillance, the most concerning aspect of large-scale government data phone is that it can be “corrosive towards democracy” — leading to a chilling effect on freedom of expression and communication. “Once we know there’s a reasonable chance that we are being watched in one fashion or another it’s hard for that not to have a ‘panopticon effect,’” he said, “where we think and behave differently based on the assumption that people may be watching and paying attention to what we are doing.”
  • When compared to surveillance rules in place in the U.S., GCHQ notes in one document that the U.K. has “a light oversight regime.” The more lax British spying regulations are reflected in secret internal rules that highlight greater restrictions on how NSA databases can be accessed. The NSA’s troves can be searched for data on British citizens, one document states, but they cannot be mined for information about Americans or other citizens from countries in the Five Eyes alliance. No such constraints are placed on GCHQ’s own databases, which can be sifted for records on the phone calls, emails, and Internet usage of Brits, Americans, and citizens from any other country. The scope of GCHQ’s surveillance powers explain in part why Snowden told The Guardian in June 2013 that U.K. surveillance is “worse than the U.S.” In an interview with Der Spiegel in July 2013, Snowden added that British Internet cables were “radioactive” and joked: “Even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.”
  • In recent years, the biggest barrier to GCHQ’s mass collection of data does not appear to have come in the form of legal or policy restrictions. Rather, it is the increased use of encryption technology that protects the privacy of communications that has posed the biggest potential hindrance to the agency’s activities. “The spread of encryption … threatens our ability to do effective target discovery/development,” says a top-secret report co-authored by an official from the British agency and an NSA employee in 2011. “Pertinent metadata events will be locked within the encrypted channels and difficult, if not impossible, to prise out,” the report says, adding that the agencies were working on a plan that would “(hopefully) allow our Internet Exploitation strategy to prevail.”
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