As we noted over the weekend, the US has now thrown in the towel on the ill-fated (and that’s putting it lightly) strategy of training Syrian fighters and sending them into battle only to be captured and killed by other Syrian fighters who the US also trained.
The Pentagon’s effort to recruit 5,400 properly “vetted” anti-ISIS rebels by the end of the year ended in tears when the entire world laughed until it cried after word got out that only “four or five” of these fighters were actually still around. The rest are apparently either captured, killed, lost in the desert, or fighting for someone else. Continue reading »
The following story is another example of how our typical response to tragedy as Americans is to overreact and turn to complicated, unnecessary solutions to simple problems.
There was recently a tragic death in California of an autistic student who was found dead on a school bus after being left alone when a substitute driver failed to notice him sleeping on one of the seats. In response, the Antelope Valley Schools Transportation Agency (AVSTA) has decided to implement an iris scanning program on special needs buses. So why do I think this is worth highlighting? Continue reading »
It is now legal for law enforcement in North Dakota to fly drones armed with everything from Tasers to tear gas thanks to a last-minute push by a pro-police lobbyist.
With all the concern over the militarization of police in the past year, no one noticed that the state became the first in the union to allow police to equip drones with “less than lethal” weapons. House Bill 1328 wasn’t drafted that way, but then a lobbyist representing law enforcement—tight with a booming drone industry—got his hands on it.
You could see the writing on the walls years ago. In an increasingly authoritarian, lawless, surveillance state like America, it was always inevitable that drones would be weaponized. In North Dakota, this is now a reality.
SAN DIEGO — Facial recognition software, which American military and intelligence agencies used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify potential terrorists, is being eagerly adopted by dozens of police departments around the country to pursue drug dealers, prostitutes and other conventional criminal suspects. But because it is being used with few guidelines and with little oversight or public disclosure, it is raising questions of privacy and concerns about potential misuse.
Law enforcement officers say the technology is much faster than fingerprinting at identifying suspects, although it is unclear how much it is helping the police make arrests.
Much of the shift is being driven by today’s enhanced data-collection and analysis power. Ocean’s three new billboards in Birmingham, shaped like large human eyes, will broadcast ads like regular digital billboards, but have the ability to change based on how many of a certain group are within “eyesight” of the camera.
But software will analyze the feeds to pick up facial features and how long a person looked at an advertisement, according to Olivier Duizabo, chief executive of Quividi, the company that made the software.
I assume many of you have seen the movie Minority Report. For those who haven’t, there’s a famous scene during which the protagonist, John Anderton, who works in the department of Precrime, walks through a mall and is bombarded with personalized billboards. The year is 2054. If what is happening in England is any indication, it’s not going to take anywhere near that long.
Before getting into today’s story, here’s the relevant clip from the movie: Continue reading »
The police and surveillance state predicted in the forward-looking 1940s classic “1984” by George Orwell, has slowly, but steadily, come to fruition. However, like a frog sitting idly in a pan of steadily-warming water, too many Americans still seem unaware that the slow boil of big government is killing their constitutional liberties.
The latest sign of this stealth takeover of civil rights and freedom was epitomized in recent Senate testimony by FBI Director James Comey, who voiced his objections to civilian use of encryption to protect personal data – information the government has no automatic right to obtain.Continue reading »
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton responds to question about big money in politics with ‘a flavorless mush of platitudes’
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has been vocal on the campaign trail about the scourge of big money in politics, said on Sunday he would push legislation in Congress to provide public funding of elections.
“We’re going to introduce legislation which will allow people to run for office without having to beg money from the wealthy and the powerful,” Sanders told a crowd of about 300 people at a town meeting in Rollinsford, New Hampshire. Continue reading »
Minority Report, eat your heart out. The real system is worse than anyone could have imagined.
By now, everybody knows that the NSA and a host of other alphabet agencies are spying on Americans, collecting virtually every piece of communications data they exchange, regardless of whether or not they are “doing anything wrong.”
But what are they doing with it?
Apart from its value in consumer and marketing fields, the data is used to create “threat assessments” and put a black mark on the record of anyone who the authorities deem troublesome that will follow them throughout their career, and make it harder for individuals to get a job, qualify for a loan, travel, or enjoy the rights of a (now once) free society.
The US National Security Agency tapped the telephones of 29 Brazilian government top officials as well as waged economic espionage against the country by listening in to calls of those managing Brazilian economy, WikiLeaks claims in a new release.
A top secret NSA target list published by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks on July 4 contains 29 key Brazilian government phone numbers. The list of those selected for intensive interception includes not only President Dilma Rousseff but also her assistant, her secretary, her chief of staff, her Palace office and even the phone in her presidential jet. Continue reading »
Churches are joining the widening club of entities using Big Brother-style facial recognition software to track people. And they are doing so in secret, according to a producer of a specialized program designed for religious institutions.
In just four months, some 30 churches around the world, from Indonesia and India to Portugal and the US have started using facial recognition software called Churchix, says Moshe Greenshpan, the CEO of Israel- and Las Vegas-based company Face-Six that sells the technology. The program is a derivative of other products his company offers to clients, such as law enforcement, public venues and retail outlets. Continue reading »
One of my great pleasures in life is attending conferences on fields I’m intrigued by, but know nothing about. (A second pleasure is writing about these events.) So when my friend Kate Crawford invited me to a daylong “Listening Machine Summit,” I could hardly refuse.
What’s a listening machine? The example of everyone’s lips was Hello Barbie, a version of the impossibly proportioned doll that will listen to your child speak and respond in kind. Here’s how The Washington Post described the doll back in March: “At a recent New York toy fair, a Mattel representative introduced the newest version of Barbie by saying: ‘Welcome to New York, Barbie.’ The doll, named Hello Barbie, responded: ‘I love New York! Don’t you? Tell me, what’s your favorite part about the city? The food, fashion, or the sights?’ Continue reading »
Just when we thought the absurdity that marks every single day of Obama’s reign could not possibly be surpassed, we learned that 4 hours (3 hours and 47 minutes to be precise) after the US president vowed to sign a new law banning bulk data collection by the NSA (named, for purely grotesque reasons, the “USA Freedom Act“), the Obama administration asked the secret Fisa surveillance court to ignore a federal court that found bulk surveillance illegal and to once again grant the National Security Agency the power to collect the phone records of millions of Americans for six months.
Or, as the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, who spotted this glaring page out of Josef Stalin’s playbook, summarized it: Continue reading »
Orwellian Language – the Slide toward “Velvet Glove” Fascism Continues
Sometimes we get the feeling the ruling elites are investing the laws they enact with a kind of impertinent, slap-in-your-face black humor. How else to explain the Orwellian names given to the liberty-crushing laws that have been put in place since the “war on terror” started? Continue reading »
If you’re one of those people that gets a bit vocal about politics, you’ll be interested to know that your Facebook, Twitter and personal blog are about to begin being monitored for references to the Government.
Ministers announced yesterday that the Government had awarded a contract to five companies who will monitor what people tweet, post to Facebook or blog about the Government and provide updates to Whitehall in real time.
Officials and ministers will provide a list of keywords and topics to the companies so that they know what to monitor. Continue reading »
WASHINGTON —Without public notice or debate, the Obama administration has expanded theNational Security Agency‘s warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international Internet traffic to search for evidence of malicious computer hacking, according to classified N.S.A. documents.Continue reading »
“The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back. “ – Senator Frank Church (1975)
One of the United States government’s top counterterrorism officials says Congress must help investigators crack the encrypted communications of terrorists as groups like the so-called Islamic State ramp-up their online recruitment efforts.
On Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Michael Steinbach, the assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterterrorism division, told the House Homeland Security Committee that the FBI is “imploring for Congress to help” law enforcement with its quest to decrypt digital communications. Continue reading »
The FBI is operating its own air force, sending low-flying planes across the US. The aircraft carry video and cellphone surveillance technology, and are hidden behind bogus companies that are actually fronts for the government, AP has revealed.
According to the news agency, the surveillance tools on board are typically used without a judge’s approval. The flights are widespread, spanning across the United States. Continue reading »
As US mass surveillance continues to make headlines, one man has had enough. Philip Zimmermann, creator of one of the most widely-used encryption systems, has moved his company to Switzerland, claiming societies need to “roll back” surveillance tactics.
Expressing his concerns about mass surveillance, Zimmerman told the Guardian that “every dystopian society has excessive surveillance, but now we see even Western democracies like the US and England moving that way.”
Zimmerman is the inventor of the encryption program Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), as well as the co-founder of three-year-old encryption start-up Silent Circle. Continue reading »
“FBI agents can’t point to any major terrorism cases they’ve cracked thanks to the key snooping powers in the Patriot Act, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report Thursday that could complicate efforts to keep key parts of the law operating...Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that between 2004 and 2009, the FBI tripled its use of bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows government agents to compel businesses to turn over records and documents, and increasingly scooped up records of Americans who had no ties to official terrorism investigations.”
The UK government has quietly passed new legislation that exempts GCHQ, police, and other intelligence officers from prosecution for hacking into computers and mobile phones.
While major or controversial legislative changes usually go through normal parliamentary process (i.e. democratic debate) before being passed into law, in this case an amendment to the Computer Misuse Act was snuck in under the radar as secondary legislation. According to Privacy International, “It appears no regulators, commissioners responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies, the Information Commissioner’s Office, industry, NGOs or the public were notified or consulted about the proposed legislative changes… There was no public debate.” Continue reading »
Actually, it’s always under attack. That’s the smart attitude to take as the spotlight has been turned up on technology like the Tor-anonymizing network. Threats from governments and hackers around the world have pushed Tor’s decade-old hidden service technology to its limits.
To stay ahead in the security race, Tor is building the next-generation Dark Net in part with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. military agency charged with inventing the cutting edge of new technology. Continue reading »
The U.S. government started keeping secret records of Americans’ international telephone calls nearly a decade before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, harvesting billions of calls in a program that provided a blueprint for the far broader National Security Agency surveillance that followed.
For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed logs of virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries linked to drug trafficking, current and former officials involved with the operation said. Continue reading »
There are very few government checks on what America’s sweeping surveillance programs are capable of doing. John Oliver sits down with Edward Snowden to discuss the NSA, the balance between privacy and security, and dick-pics.
In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.
The new proposal by Facebook carries another risk for publishers: the loss of valuable consumer data. When readers click on an article, an array of tracking tools allow the host site to collect valuable information on who they are, how often they visit and what else they have done on the web.
And if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic — a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors’, and over time readers might avoid those sites.
Last night, I came across an incredibly important article from the New York Times, which described Facebook’s plan to provide direct access to other websites’ content in exchange for some sort of advertising partnership. The implications of this are so huge that at this point I have far more questions than answers.
The exceptionally broad new surveillance bill lets the government do nearly unlimited warrantless mass surveillance, even of lawyer-client privileged communications, and bans warrant canaries, making it an offense to “disclose information about the existence or non-existence” of a warrant to spy on journalists.
Despite that move away from retaining communications metadata by the EU and continuing concerns in the US about the National Security Agency’s bulk phone metadata spying program, the Australian government was able to push through the amendments implementing data retention thanks to the support of the main opposition party. Labor agreed to vote in favor of the Bill once a requirement to use special “journalist information warrants” was introduced for access to journalists’ metadata, with a view to shielding their sources. No warrant is required for obtaining the metadata of other classes of users, not even privileged communications between lawyers and their clients. Even for journalists, the extra protection is weak, and the definition of what constitutes a journalist is rather narrow—bloggers and occasional writers are probably not covered. Continue reading »
While a source of much schadenfreude by its neighbors and casual onlookers, Turkey has become a glaring example of what happens to a formerly respectable nation as it devolves entirely into a banana republic with not only authoritarian overtones but a police state to boot. And earlier today, Turkey’s conversion to a full blown police state was complete when, after weeks of heated debates and brawls in parliament, Turkey’s government passed a security package expanding police powers, along with an online surveillance law and a discretionary fund for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to fund covert operations.
In other words, president Erdogan has just voted himself quasi-dictatorial powers with a private police force to defend him. Continue reading »