Category Archives: Surveillance

The StingRay Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written, by Olivia Donaldson

Imagine you are in the middle of your typical day-to-day activities. Maybe you are driving, spending time with family, or working. If you are like most people, your phone is at your side on a daily basis. Little do you know that, at any time, police and law enforcement could be looking at information stored on your phone. You haven’t done anything wrong. You haven’t been asked for permission. You aren’t suspected of any crime.The StingRay

Police have the power to collect your location along with the numbers of your incoming and outgoing calls and intercept the content of call and text communication. They can do all of this without you ever knowing about it.

At least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays.

How? They use a shoebox-sized device called a StingRay. This device (also called an IMSI catcher) mimics cell phone towers, prompting all the phones in the area to connect to it even if the phones aren’t in use.

The police use StingRays to track down and implicate perpetrators of mainly domestic crimes. The devices can be mounted in vehicles, drones, helicopters, and airplanes, allowing police to gain highly specific information on the location of any particular phone, down to a particular apartment complex or hotel room.

Quietly, StingRay use is growing throughout local and federal law enforcement with little to no oversight. The ACLU has discovered that at least 68 agencies in 23 different states own StingRays, but says that this “dramatically underrepresents the actual use of StingRays by law enforcement agencies nationwide.”

The Violation

Information from potentially thousands of phones is being collected every time a StingRay is used. Signals are sent into the homes, bags, and pockets of innocent individuals. The Electronic Frontier Foundation likens this to the Pre-Revolutionary War practice of soldiers going door-to-door, searching without suspicion.

To continue reading: The StingRay Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

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Supreme court cellphone case puts free speech – not just privacy – at risk, by Jameel Jaffer and Alexander Abdo

If the government can track where you are without a warrant, it will obviously violate your right to privacy, but it could also impinge on a variety of other rights. From Jameel Jaffer and Alexander Abdo at theguardian.com:

Carpenter v United States has rightly prompted concerns over surveillance. But it could also have drastic implications for personal freedom in the digital age

Police stand outside the supreme court in Washington.
Police stand outside the supreme court in Washington. Justices will soon address questions over the warrantless use of cellphone information. Photograph: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Less appreciated is the significance of the case for rights protected by the first amendment. The parties’ briefs make little mention of the first amendment, instead framing the dispute – for understandable reasons – as one about the right to privacy. Yet the court’s resolution of the case is likely to have far-reaching implications for the freedoms of speech, press and association.

The case, Carpenter v United States, arises out of the government’s prosecution of Timothy Carpenter for a series of armed robberies carried out in south-eastern Michigan and north-western Ohio several years ago. In the course of its investigation of the crimes, the government ordered Carpenter’s cellphone provider to turn over data it had collected relating to Carpenter’s movements. In response, the provider produced 186 pages listing every call that Carpenter had made over a 127-day period, as well as coordinates indicating where Carpenter had been at the beginning and end of each of those calls.

Importantly, it turned over these records even though the government had not obtained a warrant based on probable cause. Carpenter asked the court to suppress the government’s evidence under the fourth amendment, which protects the right to privacy.

To continue reading: Supreme court cellphone case puts free speech – not just privacy – at risk

Congress poised to jam through reauthorization of mass surveillance, by Jason Pye and Sean Vitka

Congress must reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by year’s end or it will expire. That would certainly not be the end of the world, since most of the proposed reauthorizations make it still easier for the government to spy on Americans. From Jason Pye and Sean Vitka at thehill.com:

Congress doesn’t have much time left on the legislative calendar for the year, but there’s still a lot on the agenda to get across the finish line. In the few remaining days, Republicans hope to pass a tax reform bill and either another short-term continuing resolution or an omnibus to fund the government.

Another item on the agenda is the reauthorization of Title VII of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including the controversial Section 702.

The current authorization for Section 702 expires on December 31, and it’s the first time Congress has faced this reauthorization since Edward Snowden’s earth-shattering disclosures about the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance apparatus. Committees in the Senate and House have competing proposals to reauthorize the program. But with the clock running out, Congress once again appears to be poised to jam through reauthorization.

Passed in 1978, FISA allows federal intelligence agencies to collect the electronic communications of foreign persons to surveil for certain illicit activities, including terrorism. But not all of the electronic communications collected by the National Security Agency (NSA) are those of foreign persons.

According to a 2014 Washington Post report, 90 percent of account holders whose communications were collected were not the intended targets. “Many of them were Americans,” the Post explained. “Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.”

Civil libertarians have urged Congress to take this reauthorization as an opportunity to implement meaningful reforms to shield innocent Americans from mass surveillance while ensuring that federal intelligence agencies have the tools they need to protect the United States from foreign threats. Some in Congress, however, seem committed to running roughshod over the Fourth Amendment.

To continue reading: Congress poised to jam through reauthorization of mass surveillance

Media Silent as Fed Committee Quietly Passes Act Allowing Warrantless Searches, by Rachel Blevins

The evisceration of Americans’ remaining civil liberties continues unimpeded. From Rachel Blevins at thefreethoughtproject.com:

It has been over one month since the latest dangerous piece of legislation meant to infringe on Americans’ constitutional rights was introduced, and Congress is now moving forward with the bill that will have serious ramifications for all Americans by blatantly violating the freedoms guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment if it becomes law.

The USA Liberty Act has passed the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 27-8, and as Congressman Justin Amash noted, all privacy advocates should be concerned about the overwhelming support the bill is receiving from Congress.

The Liberty Act passed committee 27-8. It allows the government to search our private data without a warrant—in violation of the 4th Amendment,” Amash wrote on Twitter. “It’s another bill, like the Freedom Act, that furthers violations of our rights under the guise of protecting our rights.”

The passed committee 27-8. It allows the government to search our private data without a warrant—in violation of the . It’s another bill, like the , that furthers violations of our rights under the guise of protecting our rights.

As Amash implied, the USA Liberty Act provides the opposite of “Liberty” for Americans. Instead, the purpose of the bill is to reauthorize and create additional loopholes for Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2017.

Amash also noted that the USA Liberty Act is yet another piece of legislation that “furthers violations of our rights under the guise of protecting our rights.” He compared it to the USA Freedom Act, which was passed under similar circumstances in June 2015.

To continue reading: Media Silent as Fed Committee Quietly Passes Act Allowing Warrantless Searches

The Friendly Faces of Fascism, by Robert Gore

Like flies drawn to steaming manure, tycoons are drawn to politics and government, all in the interests of a better world, of course.

There are two modes of human interaction: voluntary and involuntary. The symbol of the former is the market; the symbol of the latter is government. Historically, the pendulum has swung back and forth. Since the early 1900s the pendulum has swung towards government and the involuntary. Humanity’s future hinges on whether or not it will swing back. Ominously, many of the biggest beneficiaries of voluntary free choice are ideologically opposed to it.

It may seem paradoxical that Mark Zuckerberg, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Tim Cook, among others, build fortunes on the voluntary choices of billions of customers, then join forces with those aligned against voluntary choice. Silicon Valley used to be almost a libertarian outpost, now it’s a bastion of statism. However, there are skewed rationales for it, lodged in the nature of government and business in the 21st century, psychology, and historical precedent.

Government has become so big and all-pervasive that once a business reaches a certain size, it’s going to run into the behemoth blob. Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft are huge, and aside from Apple, they dominate their markets. (Apple had a little under 15 percent of the smart phone market in the first quarter of 2017). Computers and the internet are at the heart of the national security state, and Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft are the heart of social media, search, smartphones, communications, and business computing. Along with Amazon, they all have significant roles in cloud data storage. In its voracious quest for information with which to track, blackmail, and subjugate the citizenry, it was inevitable the government would turn to these treasure troves.

How does a company say no to the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Defense, the NSA, and other intrusive government agencies? With difficulty. The “war on terrorism and drugs” rhetoric probably doesn’t cut any mustard, but as Senator Chuck Schumer said, the agencies, “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” You get along by going along. Large shareholders—hedge, pension, and mutual funds—and the corporate collections of cowards known as boards of directors would take a dim view of a CEO who for ideological reasons fought a quixotic and ultimately unprofitable battle with the federal government over something as trivial as a principle.

Let’s not forget that the government has $4 trillion a year to throw around. Amazon received a $600 million dollar contract from the CIA in 2013. Tucked into the latest National Defense Authorization Act is an amendment authorizing $54 billion in online purchases by the government. Amazon will undoubtedly get the lion’s share. The government buys billions of dollars worth of computer and smart phone hardware and software every year. It also buys a lot of advertising, and Facebook and Google are the dominant online advertising platforms. You have to keep a customer that large satisfied.

Beyond payola, there’s publicity, prestige, pride, politics, and power. The first thing you do once you’ve acquired your tens of billions is set up a tax-exempt foundation. Founder and foundation then dive head first into the pool of altruistic goop into which anyone who acquires any measure of fame and fortune in contemporary America dives. It simply won’t do to say you’ve accomplished all you’ve accomplished for yourself. You must find a cause greater than yourself and proclaim your devotion to it.

That incantation serves several purposes. Bill Gates transformed from evil monopolist to philanthropic saint after he established his foundation and retired from Microsoft to devote his efforts full-time to it. Once you’ve acquired the halo, you’re ready to grab the power to which you’re wealth and superior intellect entitle you. Like flies drawn to steaming manure, tycoons are drawn to politics and government, all in the interests of a better world, of course.

There’s nothing new about this. In America, the prototype is John D. Rockefeller. He used state of the art refining technology, ruthless negotiating tactics, industrial consolidation, bribery, and governmental suppression of competitors to become the nation’s first billionaire. Rockefeller was a charter member of the oligarchy that guided the US into central banking, the income tax, foreign interventionism, and its nascent empire in the first few decades of the 1900s. His foundation sheltered his fortune from taxes, gave a bunch of money to worthy causes, burnished his image, augmented his power, and promoted world government organs like the Council on Foreign Relations and, after his death, the Trilateral Commission.

Anyone who gets involved with the behemoth blob wants power, the ability to use force to direct the actions of others. Any shred of a morality that recoils at coercively exacting involuntary compliance is abandoned. Involvement with the corrupt obscenity that is our government means either a conscious or unconscious surrender to the Dark Side paradigm: might makes the only wrong and right.

At the heart of it lies a simple truth: governments can anything they want to you if they claim they’re doing it for you. The altruistic veneer conceals every horror, from history’s bloodthirstiest regimes down to nanny state bureaucrats dictating toilets’ flush capacity. A warm place in hell is reserved for those who covet power under cover of professed good intentions. The hottest fires are reserved for those give it to them, surrendering without protest control of their own lives.

Once the government has assumed control, the entrepreneurs and executives of ostensibly private businesses toe the government’s line. It’s the only way to survive and indeed thrive under fascism, the correct label for the current system. All under cover of noble aims and approved good causes, of course. In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand drew a sharp distinction between her competent champions of freedom and the incompetent toadies of soul-crushing altruism, collectivism, and statism. In real life freedom’s biggest beneficiaries have become some of its biggest—because of their competence and gargantuan fortunes— enemies.

The gravest threats to the most basic civil liberties—freedom of thought, expression, and transaction—come from the technology giants. Not simply because they’re the dominant commercial, communications and computing platforms, but because they’ve aligned themselves with the government. They’re engaging in creeping censorship, gathering massive amounts of data, cooperating with the surveillance state, and propagating propaganda. Call it the Orwellian or Panopticon state: Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft will be invaluable in establishing it. We’re at least halfway there. No surprise that these companies have been stock market leaders. It’s the first rule of fascist investing: buy the companies the government favors.

Italian economist and philosopher Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) argued that regardless of the label given to a system of government, a ruling class always emerges and enriches itself. There are no historical counterexamples, certainly not 2017 America. What’s historically unprecedented, however, is the power and control America’s technological oligarchy can potentially exercise, and the relative weakness of those who champion freedom and warn of impending involuntary servitude. The louder the oligarchs proclaim their good intentions and hail tomorrow’s better world, the graver the threat becomes.

The Story of a Man Who

Did It For Himself

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The Surveillance State: An Inexorable March Toward Totalitarianism, by Jeremiah Johnson

The surveillance state gets creepier and creepier, and it’s even creepier in China. From Jeremiah Johnson at shtfplan.com:

mass-surveillance2

Gizmodo released an article entitled US Homeland Security Wants Facial Recognition to Identify People in Moving Cars,” on 11/2/17 by Matt Novak. The Surveillance State has slowed down its rate of growth since the President took office, however, it has not halted that growth. Instead, it lies festering below the veneer of daily events, inexorably growing its tentacles and extending their reach. Akin to an infestation of weeds, the roots are deep within the fabric of our communications networks: telephones, CCTV (Closed-Circuit Television) cameras, the Internet…all are thoroughly permeated.

Here is an excerpt from that article:

The proposed program would allow Homeland Security to maintain a database of everyone who leaves and enters the US that would now include photos taken by spying robot-cameras at every border crossing. Not only does DHS want this new facial recognition program to work without anyone having to exit their vehicle, the agency wants it to work even if the travelers are wearing things like sunglasses and hats. DHS also wants it to work without cars having to stop.

Seems they really want our information for their database. There is something more. One of the readers on the article’s website who uses the handle Artiofab posted this comment that is important, as he lives on the Texas border with Mexico:

 “11/02/17 12:31pm  Hi everybody I live near the US-MX border so I’m happy to give informed opinions on this topic, since I know that a lot of the audience at Gizmodo dot com apparently lives closer to the US-CA border.

Near the US-MX border along major US highways there are these interior checkpoints. If you’re traveling “into” the US (e.g., if you’re in New Mexico and you’re driving north) you stop your car, a USBP agent asks if you’re all US citizens, you say yes, they let you keep going.

(I have no personal anecdote about what happens if you don’t say yes. I have some secondhand anecdote about what happens if you are transporting a small amount of substances that the US considers illegal. But that’s tangential…)  If you’re traveling “towards” Mexico, you don’t have to stop. Instead you drive past one of these.

surveillance

To continue reading: The Surveillance State: An Inexorable March Toward Totalitarianism

Stabbing With Their Steely Knives, They Just Can’t Kill the Beast, by Doug “Uncola” Lynn

Saving the best for last. From the always interesting Doug “Uncola” Lynn at theburningplatform.com:

 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor…

– Ezekiel 28: 15-17

In horror stories originating from the times of the first songs there have always been common enemies.  Creatures of sinister intelligence, blind violence, disingenuity, clever crafters of schemes, or often containing the capacity for all of these; lurking in the dark, or hidden in plain sight, but always waiting and watching.  Little Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs suffered through the antics of wily wolves. Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel agonized before the wicked wills of warted witches; and with Jack of Beanstalk fame it was jeering giants who longed to grind his bones for bread, alive or dead.  Star Wars had Darth Vader and the Lords of the Sith, whereas it was the evil eye of Sauron that ruled over J.R.R Tolkien’s shadowy land of Mordor.  And for most of the world’s religions today it remains Lucifer, the morning star, who fell from heaven by the weight of a prideful heart and now reigns as the Prince and Power of the Air; tempting, taunting, and tantalizing, all of mankind.

In every story, there are heroes and villains introduced and funneled into the friction of rising action that results in a climax followed by the falling action which precedes any resolution.  Also known as the Five Elements of a Plot, these components are the sine qua non of universal story telling across any genre or medium.

To continue reading: Stabbing With Their Steely Knives, They Just Can’t Kill the Beast