Surveillance

  • CIA sued over records surrounding the 1962 arrest of Nelson Mandela

    Ryan Shapiro, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Ph.D. candidate, filed a lawsuit yesterday (Tuesday) against the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) over the spy agency’s failure to comply with his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records on the late Nelson Mandela. Shapiro wants to know why the CIA viewed Mandela as a threat to American security, and what actions the agency took to thwart Mandela’s efforts to advance racial justice and democracy in South Africa.

  • For oppressive regimes, the Internet is another tool of repression

    Claims that the Internet will “democratize” the global village are not supported by just-published research. Instead, non-democratic governments simply exploit the networks to spy on and control their citizens more effectively and efficiently than they did before. A study of Internet use – and misuse – around the world found that the Internet, rather than being the great democratizing “carrot,” it is yet another stick with which authoritarian, and supposedly non-authoritarian, governments can beat their citizens into submission.

  • FAA approves testing, developing standards for commercial use of drones

    The Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) yesterday (Monday) has authorized test sites for UAVs. The FAA has selected six institutions to run the tests and operate the test sites. The test sites are part of a program to develop safety and operational rules for drones by the end of 2015, as mandated by Congress. Experts anticipate an exponential growth of drone use in the agriculture and law enforcement sectors. Analysts predict that more than 70,000 jobs would be created in the first three years after Congress approves drone use in U.S. skies, and that the global commercial drone market will reach $89 billion in the next decade.

  • Judge rules NSA’s collection of telephony metadata is legal

    A federal judge on Friday ruled that the collection of large amounts of phone metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA) is legal. The decision by Judge William H. Pauley III in New York adds yet another legal interpretation to an increasingly contentious debate over the legality of the NSA collection programs. In just eleven days, two judges and a presidential review panel reached significantly different conclusions about key issues related to the NSA surveillance program, among them the intelligence value of the data the program collects, the privacy interests – and expectations — at stake, and the constitutionality of the program in its present form.

  • Telephony metadata: Matching numbers to names

    Explaining why American should not be worried about the NSA collection of telephony metadata, President Obama, in a PBS interview, said: “You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number…. [T]here are no names … in that database.” Two Stanford graduate students set out to discover just how much effort it would take to identify the names of phone number owners. Their answer: a trivial amount of effort. themselves the task out to find out. Querying the Yelp, Google Places, and Facebook directories, and running their sample numbers with Intelius, a cheap consumer-oriented service, they matched 91 percent of the sample numbers with the number owners. “If a few academic researchers can get this far this quickly, it’s difficult to believe the NSA would have any trouble identifying the overwhelming majority of American phone numbers,” they write.

  • Declassified documents strongly argue for keeping NSA programs secret

    On Saturday, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, declassified a set of ten court documents which show that both the Bush and Obama administrations assert that that some of the more sensitive NSA surveillance programs should be kept secret. The administration declassified the documents following a court order related to two lawsuits filed the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The Bush and Obama administration strenuously reject the EFF’s charge that they were running a “dragnet surveillance.” Both administrations contend that the collection programs with explicit limits and minimization procedures which effectively protected the Constitutional rights of Americans.

  • Review panel calls for prohibiting NSA bulk collection of phone metadata

    A 300-page report prepared for President Barack Obama made forty-six recommendations for better management of, and different guiding rules for, U.S. surveillance programs. Among the report’s recommendations: The NSA should be banned from attempting to undermine the security of the Internet and prohibited from collecting telephone records in bulk; spying on foreign leaders should require an authorization from a higher level then is currently the case; the government should be banned from undermining encryption. The president will announce by 28 January which of the forty-six recommendations he would accept.

  • Cold War to cyber war, here’s how weapon exports are controlled

    It was reported last week that the U.K. government is pushing for new restrictions on software — in particular, on tools that would prevent surveillance by the state. This was the focus of negotiations to incorporate cyber security technologies into the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies. Wassenaar was born of the Cold War in 1996. The idea was to inhibit the Soviets (and Chinese) by preventing the export of military equipment and the technology that could be used to make, maintain or defeat that equipment. The push to include cybersecurity in Wassenaar negotiations is unlikely to be effective but will reassure nervous politicians and officials.

  • Federal judge: NSA's collection program violates Constitution

    A federal judge, describing the NSA metadata collection program as “almost Orwellian,” yesterday ruled that the program which systematically collects and keeps records of all Americans’ phone calls most likely violates the Constitution. “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Richard J. Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

  • Boston Police has suspended use of license plate scanners

    TheBoston Police Department (BPD) has suspended its use of license plate scanners which enable law enforcement agencies automatically to scan vehicles for traffic or criminal violations. The announcement comes after an investigation raised privacy concerns regarding whether BPD is capable of securing the data collected from the license plate scanners. The investigation also revealed that information on wanted vehicles captured by the scanners was not followed.

  • James Bond drank too much to perform at the level depicted in books, movies

    A detailed examination of James Bond’s books shows that Bond’s weekly alcohol intake is over four times the recommended limit for an adult male, putting him at high risk of several alcohol related diseases, such as alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis, impotence, and alcohol-induced tremor, and an early death. The medical team concluded that it would not be realistic to expect Bond to have the capacity to perform (in all aspects of life) at his high level of alcohol intake.

  • Improving the national ballistic data base

    A team of researchers identified a number of areas of improvement in a national database of forensic ballistics evidence used to link guns to violent crimes. The report, just released by the National Institute of Justice, already has led to improvements in the system called the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN), which is operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

  • Police cell-phone tracking raises privacy concerns

    Law enforcement agencies around the country are using the International Mobile Subscriber Identity locator (IMSI catcher), known as Stingray, to track cellphone users for the purpose of assisting criminal investigations. Stingray masquerades as a cellphone tower, tricking phones into sending it a signal that law enforcement can later use to identify the serial number of the phone and track the subscriber or cellphone user. Privacy advocates are worried about widespread police tracking of cellphones and violations of privacy.

  • NSA planted sleeper malware in 50,000 computer networks

    The NSA has planted 50,000 sleeper malware packages – in effect, digital sleeper agents – in more than 50,000 computer networks around the world. The agents, controlled by the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, can be activated on command to harvest information of cause disruption. To plant the digital agents, the NSA employed methods typically used by Internet scammers and fraudsters.

  • Texas terror case may hinge on reason for a FISA warrant

    The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed in 1978, was the center of a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals trial last Thursday in New Orleans. The case involves Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a former Texas Tech student serving a life sentence for an attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. At trial, federal prosecutors described Aldawsari as a “lone wolf” terrorist planning to wage a personal “holy war” from Lubbock, Texas. In the application for the warrants, however, prosecutors identified Aldawsari to a FISA court judge as an “agent of a foreign power.”