Tag: big brother

ISPs will be US spooks’ eyes and ears

big-brother-1984The Senate Intelligence Committee secretly voted on June 24 in favour of legislation requiring ISPs and social media sites to report suspected terrorist activities.

The legislation was approved in a closed-door hearing, and is “classified” but will be made public when the law heads to the Senate.

The FBI is apparently worried about American teens being susceptible to the Islamic State’s online recruitment tactics. Twitter has removed tens of thousands of these terror propaganda accounts, which violate its terms of service.

Ironically the legislation is modelled after a 2008 law, the Protect Our Children Act. That measure requires Internet companies to report images of child porn, and information identifying who trades it, to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

That quasi-government agency then alerts either the FBI or local law enforcement about the identities of online child pornographers.

This confirms the fear that laws that start out “protecting children” end up being used for something nastier. What it means is that ISPs and social networks will have to scan ordinary people’s mail and messages looking for evidence of IS or similar activities. It will be similar to what the US government was doing before, but was ruled illegal.

The bill does not demand that online companies remove content, requires Internet firms that obtain actual knowledge of any terrorist activity to provide to the appropriate authorities the facts or circumstances of the alleged terrorist activity.

The terrorist activity could be a tweet, a YouTube video, an account, or a communication.

Twitter, Google, and Facebook haven’t publicly taken a position on the new legislation, probably because they have not read it yet and only heard about it through the Washington Post.

CIA spied on US politicians sent to investigate it

Not satisfied with spying on politicians from other countries, it seems that the CIA was snooping on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee which had been sent to investigate its antics.

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein is furious and accused the agency of breaking laws and breaching constitutional principles in an alleged effort to undermine the panel’s multi-year investigation of a controversial torture programme.

Feinstein said that the CIA secretly removed documents, searched computers used by the committee and attempted to intimidate congressional investigators by having the FBI arrest them.

Feinstein described the escalating conflict as a “defining moment” for Congress’s role in overseeing the nation’s intelligence agencies and cited “grave concerns” that the CIA had “violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.”

All this is happening after the committee nears completion of a 6,000-page report that is expected to serve as a scathing historical record of the agency’s use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation methods on terrorism suspects held at secret CIA prisons overseas after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Feinstein said her committee would soon deliver the report to the White House and push for declassification of a document that lays bare “the horrible details of the CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”

The CIA and the committee are at odds over the report’s conclusions about the effectiveness of the interrogation program and the way the CIA handled the investigation.

The CIA set up a secret facility in Northern Virginia with computers where committee investigators were promised unfettered access to millions of operational cables, executive memos and other files on the interrogation programme.

But it seems there was a row over whether agency employees or committee staff members sabotaged the committee’s efforts from the outset, loading a massive amount of files on computers with no index, structure or ability to search.

Over a period of years, investigators pored over more than 6.2 million classified records furnished by the CIA, using a search tool that agency technical experts agreed to install.

But the CIA said the committee gained access to a set of documents that the agency never intended to share. They claim the politicians much have done something to get those documents. A security firewall was breached. They figured out a work-around to get it.

Feinstein was careful not to say precisely how they were obtained. “We don’t know whether the documents were provided intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally by the CIA, or intentionally by a whistleblower.

In other words, the CIA is jolly upset that its cunning plan to hamper the investigation by dumping huge amounts of paperwork on the committee failed because a whistle-blower showed members of the committee what was important.

It referred the matter to the Department of Justice (DoJ) effectively accusing the investigating committee of spying on the US. Feinstein points out that the referral was made by one of the CIA executives who happens to appear rather a lot in its investigation – one Robert Eatinger who is the CIA’s acting general counsel.

Eatinger previously served as the top lawyer for the department that ran the CIA’s secret prisons, and who “is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in the study.” So we guess he has no reason to shut the politicians up by threatening to have them arrested. 

The government is watching you

A top hacker for Kaspersky Lab’s Global Research and Analysis Team has said that users should assume that their computers are being watched by at least one government and act accordingly.

Costin Raiu has been carrying out the research into APTs and targeted attacks and he has first-hand knowledge of the depth and breadth of the tactics that government attackers are using.

He said that he works under the principle that his computer is owned by at least three governments and he is not actually joking.

He told Threatpost that if you assume you’re owned then you’ll be more cautious about what you do It doesn’t always work, but it can’t hurt.

Last year showed that intelligence agencies have spent the last decade systematically penetrating virtually every portion of the Internet and are conducting surveillance and exploitation on a scale that a year ago would have seemed inconceivable to all but the most paranoid.

Raiu said that it is not a matter of just chucking your laptop out the window. All you have to do is assume that what you are reading and writing is being seen by the government and act accordingly.

After all most of what you write is not going to bother any government agency.  Why would a government care that you watch rather too much Russian donkey porn? It is when you want to otherthrow the government that it might pay attention.  



French spying indignation is faked

When word got out that the NSA was spying on the French, the government acted with the characteristic outrage we would expect from cheesy eating surrender merchants who happen to own a nuke or two.

It turned out that the French intelligence services operated a similar system, with similarly minimal oversight.  While the US is thinking of reining in its spooks because of the public outcry, the French are expanding the programme.

With little public debate, the legislature approved a law that critics warn will markedly expand electronic surveillance of French residents and businesses.

The move was buried under a routine military spending bill.  It defines the conditions under which intelligence agencies may gain access to or record telephone conversations, emails, Internet activity, personal location data and other electronic communications.

According to the New York Times, under the law there is none of the messy judicial oversight and allows electronic surveillance for a broad range of purposes, including “national security,” the protection of France’s “scientific and economic potential” and prevention of “terrorism” or “criminality”.

The French government argues that the law, which does not take effect until 2015, does little to expand intelligence powers and claims that those rules have been in place for years.

Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian admitted that the law did effectively expand the existing regime and it reinforces oversight as compared with the current situation.

But this means that the French Government, which was founded in a coup, where they stuck a cake eating monarch’s head on a spike, is not about Liberty at all.

The government has either staked out rights to a vast new range of surveillance practices, or acknowledged that it has already been collecting far more data, under far less regulated circumstances, than people knew about.

Clémence Bectarte, a lawyer for the International Federation for Human Rights told the New York Times that since anything can be placed under the heading ‘national security,’ the government could spy on who it liked.

“There should have been a parliamentary commission and a real public debate,” she said.

British spooks spoofed Slashdot and LinkedIn

British spooks used spoof sites of Slashdot and LinkedIn to distribute spying malware, a German newspaper has claimed.

Der Spiegel claims that the British signals intelligence spy agency has used a “quantum insert” technique as a way to target employees of two companies that are GRX (Global Roaming Exchange) providers.

The article was penned by Laura Poitras, a hackette who has access to the documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

GRX is a major hub for mobile Internet traffic when they globally roam. There are about 24 GRX providers globally and it seems that this attack specifically targeted administrators and engineers of Comfone and Mach.

GCHQ used spoofed versions of LinkedIn and Slashdot pages to serve malware to targets using the same methods to target “nine salaried employees” of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the global oil cartel.

It had been believed that GCHQ had hit Belgacom International Carrier Services (BICS), a subsidiary of the Belgian telecom giant Belgacom earlier this year. BICS is another one of the few GRX providers worldwide.

What the Snowden documents have been revealing is how the British have been acting as the NSA’s eyes and ears on Europe. It would appear that the NSA has been acting a little more aggressively than its US counterparts to silence press reports of the Snowden material.

Black suited men from GCHQ smashed hard drives of Guardian reporters in a somewhat desperate bid to censor the press. President Barrak Obama admitted that there is no way he would get away with that sort of attack on the press in the US. 

Internet freedom is dying

Internet freedom is going the way of the dodo, the dinosaur and the MP3 player thanks to government enforcers, according to a new study.

A report, penned by the advocacy group Freedom House, looked at online trends in 60 countries.

It noted that despite a pushback from activists that successfully blocked some governments’ repressive laws, internet freedom plummeted in the last year.

In 35 of the countries monitored, governments had expanded their legal and technical spying powers over the internet.

Broad surveillance, new laws controlling web content and growing arrests of social media users drove a worldwide decline in internet freedom in the past year, the report concluded.

Iceland has the most internet freedom while China, Cuba and Iran had the least.

Declines in online freedom were led by three democracies – Brazil, India and the United States.

Revelations by Edward Snowden showed that changes in US online freedom were eroding faster than Blackberry’s bottom line.

However, the US still made it to fourth in Freedom House’s list.

Some of the governments have acted against the internet because social media was used to organise national protests.

Since May 2012, 24 countries have adopted some form of legislation restricting internet freedom. Bangladesh imposed a prison sentence of 14 years on a group of bloggers for writing posts critical of Islam.

Bahrain has arrested 10 people for “insulting the king on Twitter,” a teen in Morocco was jailed for 18 months for “attacking the nation’s sacred values” over a Facebook post that ridiculed the king. A woman in India was arrested for “liking” a friend’s Facebook status, the report said.

Sanja Kelly, project director for Freedom on the Net at Freedom House said that blocking and filtering remain the preferred methods of censorship in many countries, but governments are increasingly looking at who is saying what online and finding ways to punish them.

Laws restricting online freedom were blocked with a combination of pressure from advocates, lawyers, businesses, politicians and the international community, the report says.

This is the third consecutive year internet freedom has declined, according to Freedom House. 

UK government claims it is right to hassle the press

The UK’s government claims it is doing the right thing hassling the press by holding their family hostage.

In a statement, the British government defended its moves to use anti-terrorism powers to lock up David Miranda at a London airport. Miranda is the partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who is threatening to provide scoops from the cache of Edward Snowden.

Home Secretary Theresa May said Miranda was held to prevent stolen data aiding terrorists.

Talking to Reuters, May claimed that it was “absolutely right” that if the police believe somebody is in possession of highly sensitive, stolen information that could help terrorists, that could risk lives, lead to a potential loss of life, the police are able to act – and that’s what the law lets them do.

In a statement of the utterly obvious, she admitted that an independent reviewer was looking into the police conduct but said that she knew all about the decision to lock up Miranda.

The United States said Britain gave it a “heads up” but it did not ask for Miranda to be questioned.

The other weak point about May’s comments is that if Miranda was arrested because the police were worried about terrorism, they forgot to actually ask him any questions about it.

Miranda said the officers who questioned him didn’t ask him one question that could be linked to terrorism.

Yesterday it was reported that the UK government had entered the Guardian’s offices and destroyed hard drives containing Snowden material. 

The British action even surprised the White House, with spokesman John Earnest hinting that it was a little extreme.

He could not see US authorities invading a newspaper and destroying hard drives to protect national security, like the British had done.

“That’s very difficult to imagine a scenario in which that would be appropriate,” Earnest told reporters.

So May should know that she is on hiding to nowhere when her actions are being dubbed by right wing nutjobs in the US as a tad extreme. 

Londoners stalked by data harvesting recycle bins

The unique identifying numbers of over half a million smartphones have been recorded by a network of recycling bins in central London.

The data, which included the “movement, type, direction, and speed of unique devices”, was recorded from smartphones that had their wi-fi on.

Although the Big Brother-esque rubbish bins are not harvesting data for an invasive totalitarian government, they are harvesting data. They’re a proof-of-concept project, named Presence Orb, demonstrating the possibility for targeted personal advertising.

Targeted advertising is frequently sold to the public as a way to narrow down ads to fit personal user profiles – so you only see relevant information. But this can require knowing a fair amount about an individual, and could in fact reduce personal choice if you are bombarded with adverts that market research and some algorithm has decided are best fitted to you.

The idea is to bring cookie profiling into the real world, QZ reports.

Renew, the start-up behind the project, said the system provides an unparalleled insight into the past behaviour of users such as entry and exit points, “dwell” times, places of work, places of interest, and affinity to other devices. It should provide a compelling reach data base for predictive analytics such as likely places to eat, drink, and personal habits. Presence Orb is described as “a cookie for the real world”.

In one of the most surveilled countries in Europe it is perhaps unsurprising such a project launched in Britain’s capital.

In tests running between 21-24 May and 2-9 June, over four million events were captured, with over 530,000 unique devices captured.

Renew operates roughly 100 recycling bins around London, primarily in the City of London, which double up as digital advertising boards. Twelve of those bins were fitted with tracking devices.

If you don’t want to be involved in the project, which many people are unlikely to know about, you can opt out by visiting the Presence Orb website which has instructions on how to prevent your phone’s MAC address being picked up by the technology. 

Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “This is shameless snooping for profit with absolutely no interest in respecting peoples’ privacy.

“It is wholly wrong for companies we have absolutely no relationship with to turn our mobile phones into tracking devices without our permission or knowledge. If the Government did this there would rightly be uproar.

“I expect the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate this scheme urgently to address what is clearly a serious infringement on our privacy.” 

Apple patents tech to let cops switch off iPhone video, camera and wi-fi

Police forces around the world have had the problem that when their officers get a bit carried away and start pepper spraying tied captives there is someone on hand filming the event on their mobile phones.

While six police lay into prone grannies on the floor with long batons, the pictures can be on the net in seconds, meaning supervisors have to answer embarrassing questions.

But they may not need to fear scrutiny much longer – Apple has patented a piece of technology which would allow government and police to block transmission of information, including video and photographs, whenever they like.

All the coppers have to do is decide that a public gathering or venue is deemed “sensitive”, and needs to be “protected from externalities” and Apple will switch off all its gear.

The police can then get on with the very difficult task of kettling protesters without having to worry about a few beating anyone to death.

Apple insists that the affected sites are mostly cinemas, theatres, concert grounds and similar locations, but it does admit that it could be used in “covert police or government operations which may require complete ‘blackout’ conditions”.

According to RT it could also be used to prevent whistleblowers like Edward Snowden from taking pictures and broadcasting them on the interent.

Apple said that the wireless transmission of sensitive information to a remote source is one example of a threat to security.

But it said that this sensitive information could be anything from classified government information to questions or answers to an examination administered in an academic setting.

Apple patented the means to transmit an encoded signal to all wireless devices, commanding them to disable recording functions.

The policies would be activated by GPS, and wi-fi or mobile base-stations, which would ring-fence (“geofence”) around a building or a “sensitive area” to prevent phone cameras from taking pictures or recording video.

Odd that the company made famous by its 1984 Big Brother video can’t really see what it is doing. Perhaps its own secretive culture and an overzealous security treatment of its staff have fostered sympathy for Big Brother after all.




I warned you all about PRISM

A telecommunications technician has a sense of déjà vu over the recent whistleblowing on the US government’s PRISM Big Brother programme by Edward Snowden.

For those with long memories, humanity was warned about government data mining by Mark Klein in 2006. He said AT&T was allowing US spies to siphon vast amounts of customer data without warrants.

Klein’s allegations launched dozens of consumer lawsuits in early 2006 against the government and telecommunications companies. Nothing changed of course, and Snowden’s allegations prove that the situation has become worse. Klein’s case also showed how difficult it would be for anyone to score a prosecution, such as the one the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the government in New York Federal Court on Tuesday, against the government or telecommunications companies.

All the cases launched against the government were tossed out in 2008 when Congress granted the telecommunications industry retroactive immunity from legal challenges, which the Supreme Court upheld.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Klein said that he warned whoever he could. He was angry then and he is even angrier now.

In 2002, a visitor to his AT&T office in San Francisco identified himself as an NSA representative. The official interviewed Klein’s colleague, who said he was given top-secret government clearance soon after the encounter.

A year later when Klein he saw the colleague installing a special room, which only that person was allowed to enter.

When the colleague retired in 2004, he gave Mr Klein several documents, including highly technical wiring diagrams. The diagrams showed AT&T’s electronic communications flowed through a “splitter” which created identical copies of the digital material.

One copy continued on to its intended destination of consumer email in-boxes, phones and the like. The other copy flowed into the secret room.

It was clear that the NSA was looking at everything and not just foreign communications.

What gets Klein cross about the Snowden disclosures is that the government painted him as a nobody, a technician who was merely speculating.

Now it is clear with an actual copy of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order, the story is undeniable.

The fact that the spooks are monitoring social media sites such as Facebook might have gained the attention of more people who weren’t bothered by his initial leak.

Meanwhile the US government is starting to wonder why it did not work out why Snowden was not a security risk. Apparently when he was working for Dell, he was often moaning fairly publically about government spying on the comments section of Ars Technica. Reuters found one of his postings on February 4, 2010 where he talked about a major technology company that allegedly was giving the US government access to its computer servers.