Tag Archive: NSA

Beyond Whistleblowing

edFrom Crimethinc.

Citizenfour is just the latest expression of public fascination with the figure of the whistleblower. Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Drake, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden—the whistleblower defects from within the halls of power to inform us about how power is being misused, delivering forbidden information to the people like the holy fire of Prometheus.

But can the whistleblower save us? Is whistleblowing enough? What limitations are coded into a strategy of social change based around whistleblowing, and what would it take to go beyond them?

Certainly, whistleblowers look good compared to the institutions they expose. Faith in authorities of all stripes is at an all-time low, and for good reason. In a news clip in Citizenfour, we see Obama claim to have ordered an inquiry into the NSA before Snowden’s revelations surfaced, petulantly implying that he was Snowden before Snowden. The President calls cynically for a “fact-based” discussion—when the only useful source of facts has been the illegal leaks of the man he is decrying. It is difficult to imagine a starker contrast between courage and cynicism.

Yet it’s one thing to unmask tyrants—it’s another thing to depose them. (more…)

How the Surveillance State Changes Our Everyday Lives

 “Mass surveillance is the elegant oppression, a panopticon without bars. Its cage is... behind the eyes—in the mind.” Under authority's gaze, many people become smaller, more obedient, less daring.

Under authority’s gaze, many people become smaller, more obedient, less daring.

From Vice/ By Molly Crabapple

George Orwell’s 1984 opens with Winston Smith carving out a pocket of privacy by crouching in a corner of his apartment where the telescreen—and thus Big Brother—can’t see and writing a diary entry. These days, that Stalin-inspired nightmare seems quaint.

We carry our personal telescreens around with us, and take it for granted that if someone wants to watch us, they can.There is nowhere to hide, even in the Hong Kong hotel room where Laura Poitras filmed Edward Snowden talking to Glenn Greenwald about the revelations about the NSA the whistleblower unleashed on the world. At one point in Citizenfour, Poitras’s film about the surveillance state and Snowden, an impatient Snowden yanks the hotel phone’s plug from the wall. All VoIP phones can be bugged, he explains, tossing away the cord. The NSA could know what he ordered from room service.

Much of Citizenfour was shot over the eight days that Poitras and Greenwald spent with Snowden. In contrast to the gray poverty of 1984‘s Oceania, the documentary’s dystopian setting is sleekly modern. Poitras shoots NSA data centers, Occupy Wall Street privacy training sessions, and the posh no-placeness of the business-class hotel. Snowden proves what the two journalists already suspected and, thanks to him, we all now know: The US government is spying on everyone. He then trains them in the cumbersome feints with which they might evade its gaze. (more…)

For hacker Jeremy Hammond, prison is a temporary inconvenience

hacker hammondThe political activist and Anonymous hacker has big plans after his release from prison, scheduled for 2020

From Aljazeera

MANCHESTER, Ky. – Dozens of websites – many belonging to law enforcement organizations – escaped planned destruction and defacement when the FBI arrested high-profile hacker Jeremy Hammond in 2012.

“I was at the peak of my work,” Hammond told America Tonight from a medium-security, federal prison facility in Kentucky. “It’s a shame I got caught when I did.”

The political activist and computer whiz said he had already breached dozens of vulnerable websites and was “halfway finished” with preparations for a full-fledged cyberattack when federal authorities disrupted his plans. He said he was going to launch new online attacks every week. Most of his targets never even knew they were his would-be victims.

“F*ck FBI Friday,” he chuckled. “It was only heating up by the time I was arrested.”


The US government doesn’t want you to know how the cops are tracking you

stopitFrom The Guardian

All across America, from Florida to Colorado and back again, the country’s increasingly militarized local police forces are using a secretive technology to vacuum up cellphone data from entire neighborhoods – including from people inside their own homes – almost always without a warrant. This week, numerous investigations by major news agencies revealed the US government is now taking unbelievable measures to make sure you never find out about it. But a landmark court ruling for privacy could soon force the cops to stop, even as the Obama administration fights to keep its latest tool for mass surveillance a secret.

So-called International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) catchers – more often called their popular brand name, “Stingray” – have long been the talk of the civil liberties crowd, for the indiscriminate and invasive way these roving devices conduct surveillance. Essentially, Stingrays act as fake cellphone towers (usually mounted in a mobile police truck) that police can point toward any given area and force every phone in the area to connect to it. So even if you’re not making a call, police can find out who you’ve been calling, and for how long, as well as your precise location. As Nathan Freed Wessler of the ACLU explained on Thursday, “In one Florida case, a police officer explained in court that he ‘quite literally stood in front of every door and window’ with his stingray to track the phones inside a large apartment complex.”

Yet these mass surveillance devices have largely stayed out of the public eye, thanks to the federal government and local police refusing to disclose they’re using them in the first place – sometimes, shockingly, even to judges. As the Associated Press reported this week, the Obama administration has been telling local cops to keep information on Stingrays secret from members of the news media, even when it seems like local public records laws would mandate their disclosure. The AP noted: (more…)

N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images

selfieFrom Corporate Media

The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents.

The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed.

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document. (more…)

N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens

nsa_eyeFrom New York Times

WASHINGTON — Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.

Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, testified on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.

The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.

The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners. (more…)

N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web

nsa-spying-logoFrom New York Times

The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents.

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. (more…)

NSA to Fire 90% of System Administrators to Eliminate Future Leaks

nsa-35From Business Insider

The National Security Agency, hit by disclosures of classified data by former contractor Edward Snowden, said Thursday it intends to eliminate about 90 percent of its system administrators to reduce the number of people with access to secret information.

Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, the U.S. spy agency charged with monitoring foreign electronic communications, told a cybersecurity conference in New York City that automating much of the work would improve security.

“What we’re in the process of doing – not fast enough – is reducing our system administrators by about 90 percent,” he said.

The remarks came as the agency is facing scrutiny after Snowden, who had been one of about 1,000 system administrators who help run the agency’s networks, leaked classified details about surveillance programs to the press. (more…)

Why ‘I Have Nothing to Hide’ Is the Wrong Way to Think About Surveillance

watchingFrom Wired /By Moxie Marlinspike

Suddenly, it feels like 2000 again. Back then, surveillance programs like CarnivoreEchelon, and Total Information Awareness helped spark a surge in electronic privacy awareness. Now a decade later, the recent discovery of programs like PRISMBoundless Informant, and FISA orders are catalyzing renewed concern.

The programs of the past can be characterized as “proximate surveillance,” in which the government attempted to use technology to directly monitor communication themselves. The programs of this decade mark the transition to “oblique surveillance,” in which the government more often just goes to the places where information has been accumulating on its own, such as email providers, search engines, social networks, and telecoms.

Both then and now, privacy advocates have typically come into conflict with a persistent tension, in which many individuals don’t understand why they should be concerned about surveillance if they have nothing to hide. It’s even less clear in the world of “oblique” surveillance, given that apologists will always frame our use of information-gathering services like a mobile phone plan or Gmail as a choice. (more…)