Who “owns” your cellphone service?

❝ If you are somehow under the impression that you — the customer — are in control over the security, privacy and integrity of your mobile phone service, think again…

No, a series of recent court cases and unfortunate developments highlight the sad reality that the wireless industry today has all but ceded control over this vital national resource to cybercriminals, scammers, corrupt employees and plain old corporate greed.

Just one example

❝ On Tuesday, Google announced that an unceasing deluge of automated robocalls had doomed a feature of its Google Voice service that sends transcripts of voicemails via text message.

Google said “certain carriers” are blocking the delivery of these messages because all too often the transcripts resulted from unsolicited robocalls, and that as a result the feature would be discontinued by Aug. 9. This is especially rich given that one big reason people use Google Voice in the first place is to screen unwanted communications from robocalls, mainly because the major wireless carriers have shown themselves incapable or else unwilling to do much to stem the tide of robocalls targeting their customers.

I shan’t say there are no corporations dedicated to greed over anything else. Certainly, there is nothing like the number who would claim to be such. Telcos, in particular – from the earliest operator-based services to solid state whizbangs promising the world from the imitation 5G systems we’ll be limited to in the GOUSA – would have invented corruption if the Old Testament hadn’t beaten them to it.

Cellular companies fight to throttle firefighters phones if they use them too much during an emergency


Justin Sullivan/Getty

❝ The US mobile industry’s top lobbying group is opposing a proposed California state law that would prohibit throttling of fire departments and other public safety agencies during emergencies…

The group’s letter also suggested that the industry would sue the state if the bill is passed in its current form, saying the bill would result in “serious unintended consequences, including needless litigation.”

❝ CTIA represents Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and other carriers.

❝ State Assemblymember Marc Levine proposed the bill in response to Verizon throttling an “unlimited” data plan used by Santa Clara County firefighters last year during the state’s largest-ever wildfire.

Profits still come before people in the minds of the most backwards segments of American capitalism. And you ain’t going to find much more backwards than American Telcos.

Wife’s Fitbit leads to husband’s murder arrest


That’s hubby in the middleMark Mirko/AP

❝ A Connecticut man accused in his wife’s murder might have gotten away with it — if not for the victim’s Fitbit fitness tracker and other electronic devices…

Richard Dabate, 40, was charged this month with felony murder, tampering with physical evidence and making false statements following his wife Connie’s December 2015 death at their home in Ellington…

❝ Dabate called 911 reporting that his wife was the victim of a home invasion, alleging that she was shot dead by a “tall, obese man” with a deep voice like actor Vin Diesel’s, sporting “camouflage and a mask,” according to an arrest warrant.

Dabate alleged her death took place more than an hour before her Fitbit-tracked movements revealed. CCTV footage also showed her visiting a local gym the morning she died.

❝ Investigators uncovered text messages between the couple, as well as the suspect and his reported pregnant mistress — thought to be a main motive behind the suspected domestic homicide.

One year before the murder, Dabate texted his wife saying, “I want a divorce,” around the time bank statement records obtained by the Hartford Courant showed credit card charges from hotels, strip clubs and floral purchases for his girlfriend.

❝ State police used an analysis of the home’s “alarm system, computers, cellphones, social media postings and Connie Dabate’s Fitbit to create a timeline that contradicted Richard Dabate’s statements to police,” the warrant cited.

Gotta love it when family gadgets testify against you. 🙂

The evidence is clear: film police confrontations! Always. Every time.

❝ Video won’t solve everything, but it sure seems effective at holding cops accountable.

With first-degree manslaughter charges filed against the Tulsa, Oklahoma, police officer who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, there is now a clear, recurring theme in police shooting cases: Video — whether from a body, cellphone, or dashboard camera — truly works for holding police accountable.

❝ Now, video doesn’t always work perfectly. There are still issues with how the public can access video maintained by the police — like in North Carolina, where police shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott, but have so far refused to release video of the shooting. And there are valid concerns surrounding privacy, how and when officers can turn cameras on, cases where cameras don’t work or aren’t at the right angle, and more.

❝ But when the camera is on, the public can see the situation unfold, and investigators can examine the video as evidence, there have now been multiple cases in which the video seemingly led to charges against a police officer — a real attempt to hold cops accountable for wrongdoing.

Time and time again, the video won the day. In the past, the public and prosecutors would have had to rely on a police officer’s account and maybe some eyewitnesses’ testimony to decide whether a shooting was justified — and almost always side with police in such cases, because the public by and large saw cops as trustworthy. Now, we have video to show just how dishonest police can be after they kill someone.

Still, these are charges. The police officers involved in these shootings will still need to go to trial and be convicted before they’re truly punished for the shootings…

❝ The National Police Misconduct Reporting Project analyzed 3,238 criminal cases against police officers from April 2009 through December 2010. They found that only 33 percent were convicted, and only 36 percent of officers who were convicted ended up serving prison sentences. Both of those are about half the rate at which members of the public are convicted or incarcerated.

❝ But video evidence has proliferated over the past few years, thanks to cameras on mobile devices and more police departments adopting body cameras and dashboard cameras. Video managed to lead to charges in cases where there likely wouldn’t have been charges before. Maybe it will lead to convictions where there wouldn’t have been convictions before…

Still, the charges are, by themselves, important. They signal to police that prosecutors and the public are more serious about holding them accountable.

Police misconduct against minority communities is the rule rather than the exception. Anyone who has lived on those streets knows who rules – and the rules of law and equal rights do not apply. Easy access to video technology is slowly proving that point to the larger community of Americans.

If I’m sitting and chatting with another geek about mobile phones one of the first things I let them know about is the ACLU mobile justice project. How to load an app on their cellphone that instantly communicates to a protected server via cloud and cell services. Record that video! It’s safe even if someone in a blue uniform decides to confiscate and destroy your phone.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Homeland Security tries to go fishing in journalist’s cellphones — she calls their bluff!

Maria Abi-Habib

Borders are arbitrary, human-made constructs. Sure, the lines on a map seem almost pre-ordained, but they change within lifetimes, and get redefined by governments in all sorts of weird little ways. Maria Abi-Habib, a journalist who reports on the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal, found out just how arbitrary borders can be. Flying from Beirut to a wedding in Los Angeles, she writes that she was pulled aside by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, who screened her for an extra hour and then demanded access to her cellphones.

❝ “[The agent] handed me a DHS document, a photo of which I’ve attached. It basically says the U.S. government has the right to seize my phones and my rights as a U.S. citizen (or citizen of the world) go out the window. This law applies at any point of entry into the U.S., whether naval, air or land and extends for 100 miles into the US from the border or formal points of entry. So, all of NY city for instance. If they forgot to ask you at JFK airport for your phones, but you’re having a drink in Manhattan the next day, you technically fall under this authority. And because they are acting under the pretense to protect the US from terrorism, you have to give it up.

“So I called their bluff.

“You’ll have to call The Wall Street Journal’s lawyers, as those phones are the property of WSJ,” I told her, calmly.

Abi-Habib’s full post is worth reading, especially for the section on technology at the end. In Abi-Habib’s case, she was able to get through without divulging her contacts or any information on her phone thanks to the threat of legal action from a major newspaper. Her advice for securing phones is to use encryption as a baseline, but that anything truly sensitive should be transferred to paper and secured physically, then deleted from the phone.

I hope there aren’t many folks out there who remain gullible enough to think “Homeland Security” has an interest in protecting the rights of ordinary citizens. Remember, these creeps – whichever alphabet flavor, DHS, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. – all think they’re above the law and you.

Cell phones and brain cancer – another round of crap science headlines


I don’t mind radiation as much as the feeling of being watching all the time…

It’s the moment we’ve all been dreading. Initial findings from a massive federal study, released on Thursday, suggest that radio-frequency (RF) radiation, the type emitted by cellphones, can cause cancer.

…To present the authorized opposing viewpoint. I’m going to outsource it to Aaron Carroll, who’s pretty annoyed:

It was a rat study….9 hours a day, seven days a week….At the end of the study, survival was lower in the control group of males than in all the exposed males. Survival was lower in the control group of females for two of the three exposed groups. Yet no headlines blared that cell phones extend life

….I didn’t see any sample size calculation….power calculation….about 14%. This means that false positives are very likely. The cancer difference was only seen in females, not males. The incidence of brain cancer in the exposed groups was well within the historical range…

Also, this: Cell phones are UBIQUITOUS in the United States. If they were causing cancer, we would expect to see rates of cancer going up, right? That’s not what we’re seeing. They’ve been decreasing since the late 1980’s…

On the other hand, maybe it’s not the cell phones at all. Maybe it’s the cell towers. Has everyone here read Waldo? Maybe you should.

No doubt there are conspiracy nutballs on eBay offering up tinfoil-shrouded earphones at this very minute. Someone has to make a profit from lousy journalism.

Lightning strikes kill 40 in 24 hours in Bangladesh

At least 40 people have been killed by lightning strikes in Bangladesh within 24 hours as violent thunderstorms rumbled across the country.

The Bangladesh Meteorological Department said the storms caused disruption across 14 districts including Dhaka. Their spokesman told DPA news agency that most of the fatalities occurred due to a lack of awareness…

Two 20-year-old students were killed during a football match in Dhaka’s Jatrabari neighboughhood. Eight others were injured as the lightning bolt struck the ground.

The Hindu, a daily newspaper, reported that the casualties included a number of children who were playing in open grounds during the rain, but most of the victims were farmers working in their fields.

The rains do help to break the intense heat experienced ahead of the monsoon rains. However, the downpours are often accompanied by thunder and lightning.

Bangladesh’s Disaster Management Department has now launched a campaign to create awareness among people so that they remain inside during thunderstorms. Lightning kills around 300 people each year across the country.

Government responses to disasters like this often seem bogus. There is little in Bangladesh approximating a modern communications network – excepting cellphones, mobiles. Most cellphones in my neck of the prairie come with emergency warning systems turned-on by default. Local or state government can send me a warning on a moments notice. Probably the least expensive implementation of a warning system there can be.

California coppers have been snooping your cellphones at Disneyland

The Anaheim Police Department has acknowledged in new documents that it uses surveillance devices known as Dirtboxes — plane-mounted stingrays — on aircraft flying above the Southern California city that is home to Disneyland, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

According to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Anaheim Police Department have owned the Dirtbox since 2009 and a ground-based stingray since 2011, and may have loaned out the equipment to other cities across Orange County in the nearly seven years it has possessed the equipment.

This cell phone spying program — which potentially affects the privacy of everyone from Orange County’s 3 million residents to the 16 million people who visit Disneyland every year — shows the dangers of allowing law enforcement to secretly acquire surveillance technology,” says Matt Cagle, technology and civil liberties policy attorney for ACLU-NC

Stingrays and Dirtboxes are mobile surveillance systems that impersonate a legitimate cell phone tower in order to trick mobile phones and other mobile devices in their vicinity into connecting to them and revealing their unique ID and location. Stingrays emit a signal that is stronger than that of other cell towers in the vicinity in order to force devices to establish a connection with them. Stingrays don’t just pick up the IDs of targeted devices, however. Every phone within range will contact the system, revealing their ID.

The use of stingrays by local law enforcement agencies has been widespread for many years. But the use of the more invasive Dirtboxes has largely been limited to federal law enforcement, though at least two large cities were known before to be using them…Subsequent news reports revealed that Los Angeles and Chicago local police departments possessed Dirtboxes as well. Anaheim is the smallest city known to have one.

Dirtbags using dirtboxes. Something poetic about that, I guess.

Feds using fake cellphone towers on planes — gathering everyone’s data

An agency of the U.S. Justice Department is gathering data from thousands of cell phones, including both criminal suspects and innocent Americans, by using fake communications towers on airplanes, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The program run by the U.S. Marshals Service began operations in 2007 and uses Cessna planes flying from at least five major airports and covering most of the U.S. population, the newspaper said…

The planes use devices made by Boeing Co that mimic the cell phone towers used by major telecommunications companies and trick mobile phones into revealing their unique registration data, the report said.

The devices, nicknamed “dirtboxes,” can collect information from tens of thousands of cell phones in a single flight, which occur on a regular basis…

The program is similar to one used by the National Security Agency which collects the phone records of millions of Americans in order to find a single person or a handful of people.

It smells just as bad.

The Journal cited the people familiar with the program as saying that the device used in the program decides which phones belong to suspects and “lets go” of non-suspect phones…

It also bypasses telephone companies, allowing authorities to locate suspects directly, people with knowledge of the program said.

The Journal quoted Christopher Soghoian, chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, as calling it “a dragnet surveillance program. It’s inexcusable and it’s likely, to the extent judges are authorizing it, they have no idea of the scale of it.”

The program stinks on ice.

Even if tame judges authorize fishing expeditions involving everyone’s phones – that doesn’t make the procedure any less of an invasion of privacy. Whether authorizing the NSA or US Marshals Service it is simply one more instance of our government corrupting the constitutional standing of our individual rights.

The excuses are the same as ever. Still invalid. Still contemptible.

Thanks, Mike

SCOTUS rules coppers must get a warrant to search cellphones

Coppers snooping cellphones

In an emphatic defense of privacy in the digital age, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police generally may not search the cellphones of people they arrest without first getting search warrants.

Cellphones are unlike anything else police may find on someone they arrest, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court. They are “not just another technological convenience,” he said, but ubiquitous, increasingly powerful computers that contain vast quantities of personal, sensitive information.

“With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans the privacies of life,” Roberts declared. So the message to police about what they should do before rummaging through a cellphone’s contents following an arrest is simple: “Get a warrant…”

The Obama administration and the state of California, defending cellphone searches, said the phones should have no greater protection from a search than anything else police find. But the defendants in the current cases, backed by civil libertarians, librarians and news media groups, argued that cellphones, especially smartphones, can store troves of sensitive personal information.

“By recognizing that the digital revolution has transformed our expectations of privacy, today’s decision is itself revolutionary and will help to protect the privacy rights of all Americans,” said American Civil Liberties Union legal director Steven Shapiro…

In the cases decided Wednesday, one defendant carried a smartphone, while the other carried an older flip phone. The police looked through both without first getting search warrants…

A ride on horseback and a flight to the moon both “are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together,” Roberts said…

The decision will protect cellphones from warrantless searches going forward, but it may not be of much help to defendants in pending cases, or those whose convictions are final, said lawyer Gerry Morris…He said that courts could allow evidence to be used from police searches of cellphones that were done in “good faith” and relied on the law as it stood when the searches were conducted.

Still a two-fold victory. We’ve acquired the sort of protection many folks – from geeks to civil libertarians – agree we need in a digital age. Now, the task remains to take the modernized version of privacy and stick in the eye of paranoids ranging from the White House and Congress to the NSA.