Tagged: FBI

Bush, government spies, Obama — you have only yourselves to blame for Apple’s spy-proof iPhone

If the government wants to listen in on your phone calls, it can. That’s the crux of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 1994: It requires wireless carriers to keep the possibility open of wiretapping their networks. In 2005, the act was expanded to include VoIP and broadband providers.

But Calea has never been expanded from phone networks to phones themselves, and now phone makers—first Apple (AAPL), then Android—are releasing handsets with encryption that makes it impossible for the handset maker to retrieve data from the phone, warrant or no. The government is not happy. “What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law,” FBI director James Comey said last week. But there’s not much he or other branches of law enforcement can do to stop it, absent some help from Congress…

The lawmakers may not be as accommodating as they once were. Revelations about National Security Agency spying have made sanctioned surveillance into a political hot potato: The FBI’s recent push for further technological backdoors in Internet communications seems to have died last year. “Something happened,” recounted Christopher Soghoian of the ACLU at the hacker conference Defcon this summer. “Calea 2, which is the D.C. nickname for this backdoor proposal, for now is dead. It is dead in the water; no politician wants to touch that kind of surveillance for now. So thank you very much, Edward Snowden.”

If the public reaction to Snowden and Operation Prism killed political momentum to expand government power, it also pushed companies such as Apple to develop stronger encryption security in the first place. Assurances that the legal system alone is sufficient to protect privacy seem less credible than they have in the past, and Silicon Valley doesn’t want its reputation to suffer by appearing not to stand up for its users. If government officials are unhappy about this latest turn of events, they have only themselves to blame.

That portion of Congress not entirely consumed with theocracy, bigotry, the John Wayne theory of history – remains governed by cowardice. Fence-sitters and papier mache liberals have always been easy targets for the arrogant superpatriot brigade to tip over like a drunken heifer. Today, maybe not so easy.

Both the nutball Right and please-please-reelect-me Left know their base is pissed off about the NSA, the track record of the last two presidents and their lack of defense on the playing field of constitutional protections for the 98%. Minority caucuses, bona fide peaceniks, the few legitimate progressives in Congress know from decades of assault from every quarter that they haven’t any rights. So, it looks possible for a spell that technology and principles might prevail over political opportunism.

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Sorry, NSA – we’re not able to decrypt user info – Apple

Among the privacy policies outlined by Apple in a new privacy policy webpage on Wednesday is an iOS 8 feature that makes it technically impossible for the company to decrypt a device to harvest user data, even if law enforcement agencies request it…

In a document (PDF link) meant to guide law enforcement officers in requesting user information, Apple notes that it no longer stores encryption keys for devices with iOS 8, meaning agencies are unable to gain access even with a valid search warrant. This includes data store on a physical device protected by a passcode, including photos, call history, contacts and more.

“Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” Apple said on its new webpage dedicated to privacy policies. “So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

The safeguards do not apply to other services including iCloud, however, meaning any data stored offsite is fair game for government seizure. Still, the security implementation will likely be seen as a step in the right direction, especially given the current political climate following revelations of governmental “snooping” activities.

Overdue. As Edward Snowden suggested, encryption is still one of the best ways to frustrate government snooping. A standard that other tech companies might emulate even if it gets in the way of their monetization of your data.

Do you know about the decline in crime?

violent crime

Here’s a narrative you rarely hear: Our lives are safer. This message is so rarely heard that half of all respondents to a recent YouGov poll suggested that the violent crime rate had risen over the past two decades. The reality, of course, is that it has fallen enormously.

The decline in violent crime is one of the most striking trends over recent decades; the rate has declined roughly by half since 1993…

These trends aren’t caused by changes in our willingness to report crime to the police. We see an even more significant decline in violent crime in data derived from surveys asking people whether they’ve been the victims of certain crimes over the past year. The National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the rate of violent victimizations has declined by 67 percent since 1993. This reflects a 70 percent decline in rape and sexual assault; a 66 percent decline in robbery; a 77 percent decline in aggravated assault; and a 64 percent decline in simple assault. This survey has nothing to say about the decline in homicide, for obvious reasons…

It’s an unfortunate fact that media reporting on individual crimes yields a relentlessly dismal drumbeat of downbeat news. But even as each reported crime yields a story that is terrifying enough to shape our perceptions, the truth is that none of them tells us much about the broader trends. Far better to ignore the anecdotes and focus instead on the big picture, and the hard data tells us: There’s been a remarkable decline in crime.

There are beaucoup theories aimed at trying to determine scientifically the whys and wherefores of this decline. It is, after all, a good thing. Worth continuing – whatever it is we’re doing right.

Or you could just follow the lead of neo-Conservatives, neo-Confederates, neo-Nutballs and lay it off on a conspiracy by the mainstream media and New World Order politicians in Washington, DC, to hide the deadly truth.

Brits beg Obama for Special Dispensation over participation in US torture program


Preppie Crimelords

The government stands accused of seeking to conceal Britain’s role in extraordinary rendition, ahead of the release of a declassified intelligence report that exposes the use of torture at US secret prisons around the world.

The Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation programme, due to be released in days, will confirm that the US tortured terrorist suspects after 9/11…

Now, in a letter to the human rights group Reprieve, former foreign secretary William Hague has confirmed that the UK government has held discussions with the US about what it intends to reveal in the report which, according to al-Jazeera, acknowledges that the British territory of Diego Garcia was used for extraordinary rendition…

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve, accused the UK government of seeking to redact embarrassing information: “This shows that the UK government is attempting to censor the US Senate’s torture report. In plain English, it is a request to the US to keep Britain’s role in rendition out of the public domain.”

Lawyers representing a number of terrorist suspects held at Guantánamo Bay believe their clients were rendered via Diego Garcia. Papers found in Libya indicated that the US planned to transport Abdul-Hakim Belhaj, an opponent of Muammar Gaddafi, and his wife via the territory, an atoll in the Indian Ocean leased by Britain to the US. The government has denied Belhaj was rendered via Diego Garcia, but there are suspicions that others were held on the atoll.

Crider said the UK’s attempts to lobby the US into redacting parts of the report “turns the government’s defence in the Libyan renditions case of Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife entirely on its head”…

“The government protested America would be angered if this kidnap case ever went to trial – and now we learn the British government is leaning on the Americans not to air Britain’s dirty laundry. It exposes their litigation stance as mere posturing,” she added.

Confirmation that a British territory was involved in extraordinary rendition could leave the government vulnerable to legal action. Last month the European court of human rights ruled that the Polish government actively assisted the CIA’s European “black site” programme, which saw detainees interrogated in secret prisons across the continent…

The judges concluded that not only was Poland “informed of and involved in the preparation and execution of the [High Value Detainee] Programme on its territory”, but also “for all practical purposes, facilitated the whole process, created the conditions for it to happen and made no attempt to prevent it”, prompting lawyers to ask what else it has been used for since.

The exposure of how far Tony Blair would go to maintain the UK as the United States’ 51st state will open that nation to more than embarrassment for their crimes. Criminal prosecution of the kind already historically required against the United States – should proceed against co-conspirators. Breaking treaties, abrogating human rights on a global scale should have consequences. Citizens of countries committing such crimes have a responsibility to speak out, to demand that the thugs in charge of government should bear the responsibility for those crimes.

Tony Blair and William Hague deserve prison time as much as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Facts are no longer needed for you to qualify as a “terrorist”

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire “categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list…

The rulebook [.pdf takes a while to download], which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date.

Long, detailed article. Read the whole thing if you need more convincing about a government that considers every citizen in every nation – including our own – to be a potential saboteur and terrorist. Paranoia strikes deep, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. Constitution be damned.

Thanks, Mike

Snowden addresses HOPE Conference


Barton Gellman/Getty Images/AP

Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of major U.S. surveillance programs, called on supporters at a hacking conference to spur development of easy-to-use technologies to subvert government surveillance programs around the globe.

Snowden, who addressed conference attendees on Saturday via video link from Moscow, said he intends to devote much of his time to promoting such technologies, including ones that allow people to communicate anonymously and encrypt their messages…

At the HOPE hacking conference, several talks detailed approaches for thwarting government surveillance, including a system known as SecureDrop that is designed to allow people to anonymously leak documents to journalists.

Attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation answered questions about pending litigation with the NSA, including efforts to stop collection of phone records that were disclosed through Snowden’s leaks.

Snowden is seen as a hero by a large segment of the community of hackers attending the HOPE conference [and the nation and the world], which includes computer experts, anti-surveillance activists, artists and other types of hackers.

HOPE in this case stands for Hackers On Planet Earth.

And if you think every kind of government snoop wasn’t doing their best to photogrqph, record and trace everyone at the conference – you’re still living in cloud cuckoo-land — watching Father Knows Best on TV.

Vials of deadly smallpox from 1950s found in federal storage

Stray vials of the deadly smallpox virus from the 1950s have been discovered at a federal lab near Washington, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday, the second lapse discovered in a month involving a deadly pathogen at a government facility.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that workers discovered the vials in a cardboard box on July 1 while clearing out an old lab on the National Institutes of Health campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

The six glass vials contained freeze-dried smallpox virus and were sealed with melted glass. The vials appeared intact and there is no evidence that lab workers or the general public are at risk…

The mishandling of smallpox follows the CDC’s recent mishap in which the agency believed it may have transferred live anthrax samples to a CDC lab that was not equipped to handle them, potentially exposing dozens of employees to the pathogen.

The CDC is testing the vials to see if the smallpox is viable and could make someone sick, said Skinner. After those tests, which could take up to two weeks, the samples will be destroyed, CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said…

The CDC said it has notified WHO about the discovery. If the specimens turn out to be viable, the CDC said it will invite the WHO to witness the destruction of the smallpox samples.

Skinner said the CDC is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine how and when the samples were prepared and how they came to be stored and forgotten in the FDA lab.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Osterholm said the discovery of abandoned vials of smallpox is a reminder to labs globally to take stock of what is in their freezers.

I sense the plot for yet another less-than-stellar movie made for the SyFy Channel.

Thanks, Mike

Your tax dollars at work: The FBI guide to acronyms and slang

They may be the most feared group of investigators in the world, but FBI agents still need a hand understanding internet slang like LOL and BRB, it has been revealed.

Agents who find themselves baffled by abbreviations on message boards or social media have an extensive guide to turn to, which has been released to the public under Freedom of Information laws.

The document – which is 83 pages long – includes 2,800 translations, from everyday terms such as LOL (‘laughing out loud’) and BRB (‘be right back’).

Any crack investigators left scratching their heads at 2DAY or L8R also have them helpfully parsed to ‘today’ and ‘later’, according to the document published by Muckrock.

But as well as the commonplace and the obvious, it also features lengthier and more exotic examples like PMYMHMMFSWGAD (‘Pardon me, you must have mistaken me for someone who gives a damn’) or EOTWAWKI (‘end of the world as we know it’).

Some seem particular appropriate to agents working in counter-intelligences, who may not be surprised to find their targets writing phrases like SIW (‘someone is watching’) and IKWYL (‘I know where you live’).

One particularly relevant – and worrying – entry is IITYWIMIWHTKY (‘If I tell you what it means I will have to kill you’).

The instructional forward notes — The list has about 2,800 entries you should find useful in your work – or for keeping up with your children and/or grandchildren.

Now reflect for a moment on the fact the FBI [a] had to write a limited edition field manual to explain acronyms that you can look up online – and [b] classified it so the public didn’t have access to it. Cripes, I wonder just how much this little exercise in bureaucratic nonsense cost us?

Is Google buying satellites to spy on you? — gasp!


National Reconnaissance Office — Fifty years of vigilance from above

With the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature itself.

But this acquisition will also demand assurances from Google that it will incorporate privacy safeguards into its vast new view of the world. Already Google gets a lot of flack for tracking user behavior online. With Skybox’s satellites, Google may gain a window into your everyday life even if you don’t use Google at all.

Not too often do we get the paranoid response BEFORE the technical part of an article.

In a statement, Google has said that, in the short term, it plans to use Skybox’s satellites to keep Google Maps up to date. And, in the future, the company says, it could use them to help spread internet access to remote areas, something that will help improve the reach of its existing services.

But imagine all the other things Google could do turns its artificial intelligence expertise onto a constant stream of images beamed down from above…

One Skybox insider told David Samuels that satellite images alone could be used to estimate any country’s major economic indicators. Take, for example, this Skybox case study of Saudi oil reserves measured from space. Now consider the insights that could come from marrying that visual data with Google’s Knowledge Graph, leveraging all the company’s algorithmic might. Google could learn all kinds of new things about the world.

But it could also learn all kinds of new things about you. Skybox can take photos from 500 miles up with a sub-one-meter resolution of the ground below. That isn’t likely to sit well with privacy activists who already don’t trust Google. What does the right to be forgotten mean when Google can always see you anyway?

Skybox’s pedigree likely won’t help assuage anyone who likes a good conspiracy theory. According to Samuels, one of the company’s co-founders, John Fenwick, had previously worked as as a liaison in Congress for the National Reconnaissance Office, “the ultrasecret spy agency that manages much of America’s most exotic space toys.” A major investor had worked as an intelligence officer in the French army, while its CEO held previous jobs that brought him into close contact with the Department of Defense…

Yes, these worries are legitimate. As legitimate as worrying about your DirecTV DVR listening in on conversation in the living room – or Microsoft Link turning over travel information in your new car to the NSA.

If Google finds ways of using these satellites that ends up making users’ lives more interesting and convenient, most people are unlikely to object, just like revelations of NSA surveillance haven’t exactly dented Gmail’s market share. But people may find the idea of Google looking down from the heavens on their physical selves more discomfiting than peering through their browsers at their virtual personas. After all, putting an all-seeing Google eye in space gives a whole new meaning to “do not track.”

It’s not the paranoia that I question. It’s the ignorance. Apparently, ignorance about how long governments have had this capability in spades. I learned both Soviet and American spy satellites were capable of reading the license plate on my car – in 1965. The US project started in 1957. I doubt that David Samuels or Marcus Wohlsen were born yet.

I don’t doubt Skybox has advanced beyond the software and hardware pioneered by Itek and whoever did Soviet satellite optics. But, if you think the alphabet soup of federally-funded spies and snoops haven’t been updating and upgrading – with a lot more moolah than a startup less than a decade in the air – you’re kidding yourself.

I don’t doubt there are or will be the occasional near-Earth project that’s cheap enough to attract Uncle Sugar’s spooks. Maybe there might be a view of something snapped at just the right place and time. I just don’t think relying on conspiracy theory to explain a half-billion$ purchase – especially when the spies who it for a living have a half-century head start. And all the taxpayers in the country to fund their work.

Maybe folks are primarily worried about Google spying for its own end…”imagine all the other things Google could do” could be all this is about. But, it’s still a heckuva lot cheaper to lease time or buy info from eyes in the sky than to acquire your own NASA. Unless, um, maybe you’d like to sell Android satphones to half the folks in Africa or South Asia and the Middle East.

The Edward Snowden interview with NBC’s Brian Williams


Click to reach interview at NBC News site

Of course, there is a commercial before you get to part 1. And NBC News offers a page full of government punditry trying to counter the Snowden revelations. Just because Brian Williams scored the beat of the year with his interview of Edward Snowden – and did it in a fashion worthy of Edward R. Murrow – doesn’t transform NBC/Universal/ComCast into a bastion of free speech and democracy.

They’re covering their butts in predictable fashion.

Meanwhile –

Let me repeat my reaction right after the interview:

First, let me give credit where due to NBC and Brian Williams. I expected something better than Fox Noise or John Kerry. I was able to watch an essentially Socratic interview with interesting questions generally free of jingoism and pap. Maybe I should drop by and watch this wee corner of network television once in a while. At least on this single important issue, they did American journalism proud.

Second, Ed Snowden was about what I expected ideologically. Pretty much a centrist libertarian – that’s with a small “L” – who cares about the history and standards of our constitution. He was much more articulate and detailed in his defense of civil disobedience against a distorted and hypocritical government – than I expected. He was kinder to the pimps who malign him than I ever could be – but, then, he’s dedicated to a single issue, our privacy, our freedom to be Americans in the traditional sense that our government used to support. He did a great job.

I expect nutballs on the Right to be out of their mind with hating this interview. I expect Democrat apologists for the policies of Bush and Obama to be equally incensed. I’m confident those who supported Snowden before tonight – as I have – will continue. And will recommend – as I do – that you watch the video of the interview and draw your own conclusions.