Tag Archives: Spying

Is It Too E-Z For The State To Spy On NY Drivers?

By Kerry Picket

Those convenient toll-paying tags on your windshield may be coughing up more information than drivers realize. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state’s E-ZPass tollbooth transponders also transmit location information about drivers to areas all over New York City, despite the absence of toll plazas.

The NYCLU confirmed the pass tags were transmitting the information by installing a device in a car that would make a sound anytime it detected a signal that used the same frequency as the E-ZPass. According to the NYCLU, the sound went off all over Midtown and lower Manhattan.

“Though we weren’t at any toll plazas, something was reading the E-ZPass tag in our car,” the group stated.

Collecting driver information through E-ZPass scanners has been done before, Staten Island Live reports, and the NYC Department of Transportation confirms it anonymously collects data from drivers, as one can see from the real time information on the DOT website.

“DOT takes our responsibility to protect privacy seriously and these readers are only used to gather traffic information so that we can improve mobility in the city. The data does not have identifying information for an individual,” DOT spokeswoman Bonny Tsang told Staten Island Live.

In the meantime, the NYCLU has filed New York Freedom of Information Law requests to see why so many E-Z pass readers are in areas not associated with a toll booth.

Facebook Is Tracking You Even When You Aren’t Logged In

Washington D.C.- Facebook is once again under scrutiny over its privacy protocols, this time after apparently violating European laws by tracking users’ internet activity after they have logged out of the website.

The tactic, known as frictionless sharing, tracks users’ activities on the web and shares it with other companies.

Ben Swann talks to legal analyst and media personality Michael Lebron, better known as ‘Lionel,’ to get further insight into the report.

Threat of Surveillance Grows as New York City Installs “Gun Shot Detector” Listening Devices

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced an expansion to a pilot program that uses “gun shot detector” microphones as part of an ongoing effort to more efficiently respond to crime.

Mayor De Blasio announced the expansion at a press conference at New York Police Department headquarters. The program will cost $1.5 million to install 300 listening devices around the precincts with the highest rates of gun violence. The devices are already live in the Bronx and should be operational in Brooklyn soon.  The microphones are attached to lamp posts and utility poles and connected through a wireless network called ShotSpotter. New York City is the latest to join more than sixty cities with the technology, including Oakland; San Francisco; Washington, DC; and Milwaukee police.

The ShotSpotter program records noises believed to be gun shots and then relays the date, time, location, and a recording to police officers. ShotSpotter sensors are connected to thousands of cameras as part of New York City’s Domain Awareness System.

Critics believe the devices will surreptitiously record innocent individuals conversations. It has already been shown that the devices can record conversations of those walking in range of the microphones. In 2014 CBS San Francisco reported that the Oakland Police Department was able to record a dying man’s last words using the ShotSpotter system. Oakland Privacy Working Group lawyer Brian Hofer told CBS that the OPD originally denied the ShotSpotter’s ability to record voices. A similar situation took place in New Bedford, Mass., and proved that the devices do invade privacy.

 As cash-strapped police departments are fighting for basic necessities like salaries for more officers, critics wonder if the system is cost efficient. As recently as 2012, police departments could purchase the SpotShotter system for a yearly subscription costing around $40,000 to $60,000 per square mile. In Oakland the system costs the police department $264,000 a year. This has lead to Oakland police discussing putting an end to the program because officers believe it to be redundant since citizens often call the police when a shooting happens.  In San Francisco the program was recently expanded as recorders were added to more telephone and light poles.

ShotSpotter conducted its own study which claims that its microphones recorded 8,769 gun shot incidents in Oakland during 2012 and 2013. According to the company’s numbers, residents only reported 1,136 incidents. These statistics are part of the reason law enforcement want to continue funding these projects.

For most Americans the ShotSpotter will be another unknown,  small price to pay for living in a world of relative security and contentment. For those who are witnessing the growing Surveillance State this represents another tool for the increasingly voyeuristic governments of the world. These listening devices will work great with StingRay Cellphone surveillance, drone aircraft, Automatic License Plate Readers, and a number of other tools being used by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Only an informed and educated populace can resist the death march of privacy.


New Snowden Documents Reveal American and British Spies Hacked SIM Card Manufacturer

New documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal the National Security Agency (NSA) and the British GCHQ hacked into a SIM card manufacturer in the Netherlands and now has access to encryption keys that allow monitoring of voice calls and metadata.

The Intercept released the new documents which detail the existence of the Mobile Handset Exploitation Team (MHET), a team formed in April 2010 to study and target cellphones and hack computer networks of manufacturers of SIM cards. The team specifically targeted  Gemalto, a SIM card manufacturer based in the Netherlands that produces SIM cards for 450 wireless companies, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Gemalto has operations in 85 countries around the world. 

Internal slides from the NSA and GCHQ show that the team was after encryption keys that “live in” the SIM cards. By possessing these keys the spy agencies are able to access wireless networks without leaving any clues and without the need for a warrant. Beyond simply accessing current communications, accessing “authentication servers” allows the agencies to unlock past encrypted communications they may not have had the ability to decrypt. One agent wrote on a slide that he was “very happy with the data so far and [was] working through the vast quantity of product.”

The 2010 document refers to this as “PCS Harvesting at Scale,” or harvesting large amounts of encryption keys as the data passed between the wireless providers and the “SIM card personalisation centres,” such as Gemalto. The NSA boasted at having the ability to process 12 to 22 million keys per second. The spy agency was aiming to process more than 50 million per second. These keys are processed and made available for use against surveillance targets.

Indeed, the GCHQ specifically targeted individuals in key positions within Gemalto and began accessing their emails in hopes of following their trail into the SIM card manufacturers servers. The team of spies even wrote a script which allowed them to access private communications of employees for telecommunication and SIM “personalization” companies in search of technical terms that might be used in assigning encryption keys to cellphone customers.

Paul Beverly, a Gemalto executive vice president, told The Intercept he believed,“The most important thing for me is to understand exactly how this was done, so we can take every measure to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and also to make sure that there’s no impact on the telecom operators that we have served in a very trusted manner for many years.”

More than likely the NSA and the GCHQ violated international law every time they covertly accessed the emails of employees in foreign nations. Dutch officials are already calling for an investigation into who knew the American and British agencies were conducting such a program, and if so, under what doctrine is such a policy allowed.

As Edward Snowden continues to unveil disturbing uses of surveillance against innocent users of the technology, it is important to remain educated and informed about the way global governments target their own citizenry. Learning to encrypt your communications and watch what you say on the phone becomes largely useless when the government has access to the SIM card itself. What is a free person to do in the Surveillance State of 2015? How can we find balance between freedom and security?

Leave your thoughts below.


Wife of American Imprisoned in Iran Details His Arrest – EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

WASHINGTON—February 15, 2015 – When Naghmeh Abedini married her husband Saeed in Iran, she never dreamed she would raise their future children as a single mother in Boise, Idaho, while her husband languished for years in an Iranian prison.

A native of Iran, Naghmeh and her family left when she was nine years old and spent a year in California before relocating to Boise. Her father was educated in the United States and obtained his master’s degree at Oregon State University prior to taking his family out of Iran. “He had a green card,” says Naghmeh, “We were not refugees.”

The real reason they left Iran, however, was due to the radicalization of their Muslim faith in the school system. “My brother was being brainwashed in elementary school,” says Naghmeh, “They started war recruiting for Jihad when he was eight years old.” Students were told that if they died for the cause they would “get to meet God.” They were forced to run through active mine fields as a school exercise. The land mines would occasionally detonate. “The government arrested any parents who complained,” says Naghmeh, “So our parents quietly packed up and left.”

Her parents were unhappy with the school system in California, also, and hoped a move to a smaller city would help preserve their culture and Muslim faith. Within ten years in Boise, however, both of Naghmeh’s parents, along with herself, her brother, and a sister had converted to Christianity.

In 2001, Naghmeh spent a year in Iran. Just before she returned to Boise, her cousin invited her to a government-approved Christian church service. She heard Saeed Abedini speak and was intrigued by his passion, so she introduced herself and asked him if he would watch out for her cousins. Later, she learned that Saeed was a pastor and a leader of the growing house church movement. He was also a former Muslim who once desired to kill Christians, but he converted in 2000. When she returned to Iran in 2003 for another visit, the sparks flew between them. He proposed marriage in June of that year, and they were married in Iran the following June in a government-sanctioned Christian church.

The Abedini’s life together in Iran was cut short when the country experienced a regime change in 2005 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to power. Known for his religious hardline stances, Ahmadinejad was a main figure in the Alliance of Builders of Islamic Iran party, usually shortened to Abadgaran and widely regarded as the political front for the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Revolutionary Guards.) The latter group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2007.

After Ahmadinejad was elected, the church the Abedinis married in was forced to close, as were other Christian churches in Iran, despite current law allowing the peaceful gathering of religious minorities. Overnight, Christians were seemingly not welcome or tolerated in the country, so the couple moved together to Boise. Their daughter Rebekka was born in 2006 and their son Jacob arrived in 2008, the same year Saeed became an ordained minister through the American Evangelistic Association.

In 2009, the entire family decided to visit Iran together and see Saeed’s family, as it had been four years since he had seen his parents who had yet to meet their grandchildren. When the Boise-based Abedini family arrived at the airport to fly home to Idaho, Saeed was arrested by Iranian intelligence police. “Please leave Iran,” Saeed told his wife and children, “It will make it easier on me.”

The Abedinis are American citizens. Saeed, age 35, has not seen his children or his wife since June 2012.
The Abedinis are American citizens. Saeed, age 35, has not seen his children or his wife since June 2012.

Saeed was placed on house arrest for a month in his parents’ home while investigators determined whether or not he was still establishing Christian church groups. Before he was released, the police advised him to focus on humanitarian efforts—a move that inspired Saeed to use his grandfather’s land and an existing building to open an orphanage in the Iranian city of Rasht.

Back in Idaho, Saeed began a three-year process riddled with paperwork hurdles and setbacks in an attempt to open the orphanage he envisioned. He visited Iran ten more times in an effort to complete the approval process for the orphanage. Naghmeh, Rebekah, and Jacob joined him in October 2011, as the Abedinis were convinced that the orphanage was close to being opened. “We really wanted our kids to be able to meet the orphans,” Naghmeh recalls. However, by February 2012, the approval was still pending. The Abedinis returned to Boise once more. Four months later, Saeed traveled to Iran to finish the orphanage once and for all. “That was the last time I saw him,” says Naghmeh.

He was due to return to Boise on July 29. However, on July 27, Saeed was arrested on a bus in Turkey after looking at land in Georgia. He was placed under house arrest once again. The Iranian government seized his U.S. Passport and he was questioned for months about his activities, without being charged with a crime.

He thought he would be able to resolve his detainment with one last interrogation, scheduled for September 26 at a location to be determined by a 9:00 a.m. phone call that same day. However, Revolutionary Guards forces raided his parents’ house in Tehran at 6:00 a.m. and took Saeed to an unknown location. Four days later, it was revealed that he was in solitary confinement at the notorious Evin Prison. Saeed was accused of “corrupting a whole generation against Islam,” a reference to his pre-Revolution house church activities.

Saeed was charged with undermining the national security of Iran. At his trial on January 21, 2013, Saeed and his attorney were only given one day to make their defense. He was convicted by Judge Pir-Abassi of Branch 26 of the Islamic Revolutionary Court, and sentenced a week later to eight years in prison. Revolutionary Court trials are not public, there is no jury, and a single judge decides the cases—which are final and not eligible for appeal. Details about court proceedings are revealed at the sole discretion of the court. The government says it will release Saeed if he converts back to Islam, but he refuses.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is representing Naghmeh and her children. “This is a real travesty—a mockery of justice,” said ACLJ’s Executive Director Jordan Sekulow. “From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights.”

Naghmeh Abedini has received tremendous support from both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as she seeks her husband's release from a dangerous Iranian prison.
Naghmeh Abedini has received tremendous support from both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as she seeks her husband’s release from a dangerous Iranian prison.

Saeed Abedini has been reportedly beaten and tortured during his incarceration and is now housed in the Rajaei Shahr prison in Karaj, his sudden move a possible indication of defiance toward President Hassan Rouhani by the Revolutionary Guard. Saeed is denied any electronic or voice communications with the outside world, but his parents visit him almost weekly, bring him letters from home, and send his letters out—including one to President Obama just before this year’s National Prayer Breakfast.

Naghmeh is hopeful due to extensive support from Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, as well as remarks made by President Obama, that her husband’s release will be secured during upcoming negotiations with Iran. “We’re in a good place,” she says, “If Iran wants to make a deal, I want to make sure Saeed is not left behind.”

Former scientist jailed for attempting to sell nuclear bomb secrets

A former scientist who worked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, has been sentenced to five years in prison for attempting to give nuclear secrets to Venezuelan operatives.

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 79, pleaded guilty in 2013 to charges of espionage for delivering the nuclear plans to FBI agents. Mascheroni, who thought the FBI agents were with the Venezuelan government, also said he would build 40 nuclear bombs for Venezuela in exchange for “money and power,” according to St. Louis Today.

“I’m going to be the boss with money and power,” Mascheroni, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, reportedly said in recordings the FBI released Wednesday. “I’m not an American anymore. This is it.”

According to the BBC, Mascheroni said Venezuela would be able to establish a secret underground nuclear reactor in order to enrich plutonium, and he said the country would be able to produce a nuclear power plant as well.

John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security, told the Telegraph, “The public trusts that the government will do all it can to safeguard ‘Restricted Data’ from being unlawfully transmitted to foreign nations not entitled to receive it.” 

The “Restricted Data” included information concerning the manufacturing, design, and use of atomic weapons, as well as information involving the production of special nuclear material to create energy.

New Mexico US Attorney Damon Martinez also said, “Those who work at our country’s national laboratories are charged with safeguarding that sensitive information, and we must and will vigorously prosecute anyone who compromises our nation’s nuclear secrets for profit.”

Mascheroni is sentenced to five years in jail, while his wife Marjorie, who also worked for LANL and pleaded guilty to similar charges, will face one year is jail.

The Federal Government is Storing Hundreds of Millions of American License Plate Records

The American Civil Liberties Union has revealed the existence of a national program operated by the Drug Enforcement Administration  that collects and analyzes license plate information.

According to heavily redacted documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act Requests, the DEA has gathered as many as 343 million records in the National License Plate Recognition program.

The initiative allows the DEA to connect its Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPRs) and collected data with that of law enforcement agencies around the nation. Using the Department of Homeland Security’s Fusion Centers this program only adds to the growing list of data collection by the US government.

ALPR’s are used to gather license plate, time, date and location, that can be used to create a detailed map of what individuals are doing. The devices can be attached to light poles, or toll booths, as well as on top of or inside law enforcement vehicles. In 2012 the Wall Street Journal reported that the five previous years the Department of Homeland Security distributed over $50 million in grants to fund the acquisition of license plate readers.

One document shows the DEA has at least 100 license plate readers in eight states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. Law enforcement in Southern California’s San Diego and Imperial Counties and New Jersey are among the agencies providing the DEA with data. The program opened to local and state partners in 2009.

The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is one of the federal agencies working with the DEA. The documents also reveal the program mining license plate reader data “to identify travel patterns.”  The DEA has established 100 license plate readers in eight states, including California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey. A 2010 document also explains that the DEA had by then set up 41 plate reader monitoring stations throughout Texas, New Mexico, and California.

The new information came as the result of public records requests, and FOIA requests filed by the ACLU in 2012. The ACLU discussed the specific danger of the federal government using such tools.

“With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country — and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that.”

A 2011 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum found that of the more than 70 police departments surveyed, 70 percent used ALPR technology and 85 percent expected to be using or increasing use of the technology within the next five years. Some believe that by 2016 as much as 25 percent of police vehicles will come equipped with the cameras.

Government agencies are not the only groups interested in this data, however. Recently, it was discovered that  repossession, or “Repo” companies were using license plate readers to gather data. Once the companies take possession of a vehicle from delinquent owners the companies use the LPR’s to gather data which can then be sold to the highest bidder.

Jennifer Lynch, attorney with the  Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern over the database of information being sold to banks, insurance companies and law enforcement agencies. “These private companies have amassed databases of over a billion records,” she said.

In early 2014, the EFF and the ACLU of Southern California filed the opening brief  in their lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff Department. The lawsuit deals with how the law enforcement agencies are using Automatic License Plate Readers (ALPR) to gather information. The two watchdog agencies attempted to argue that the two departments are illegally keeping quiet on how the information is used.

Soon after a judge would rule in agreement with with law enforcement, claiming that the data caught by the readers should not be released to the public. The LAPD and LASD argued that 100 percent of the information was part of an investigation and therefore should not be released.

The LAPD and LASD have been called “two of the biggest gatherers of automatic license plate recognition information,” by LA Weekly. The ALPR gather information and officers from the LASD or LAPD can access up to 26 other police agenices in the county as they search for a hit in the system.

I have previously written for BenSwann.com on the danger of ALPR’s and “hot lists”.

Departments and officers can create lists of “vehicles of interest” and alert other ALPR users when the vehicle is spotted. Officers can search individuals plates numbers in the ALPR system to track during their shift. There seems to be no prerequisite of reasonable suspicion or a warrant needed to be added to such a list. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department manual on the ALPR offers more insight into the program.

As with many emerging technologies the future is still being written and opportunities for corruption and abuse are plenty. In 2009 the BBC reported on the case of John Cat. Catt is a regular attendee of anti-war protests in his home town, Brighton. His vehicle was tagged by police at one of the events and he was added to a “hotlist”. He said later while on a trip to London he was pulled over by anti-terror police. He was threatened with arrest if he did not cooperate and answer the questions of the police.

A recent investigation by Mudrock and the Boston Globe revealed that the Boston Police Department violated its own policies by failing to follow up on leads that were flagged by the ALPR scans. Public records requests by MudRock found that the BPD also collected information on its own officers. The BPD has reportedly stopped responding to email and phone calls seeking documents that they are required to disclose.”

For more information check out the ACLU’s report “You Are Being Tracked: License Plate Readers Explained”

DOUBLE STANDARD: Will Petraeus Face Charges? Senators Say He Has “Suffered Enough”

Washington DC- Two prosecutors for the Department of Justice have recommended that an indictment be brought against David Petraeus. Petraeus reportedly shared his email account and classified information with a lover who also happened to be his biographer.

As you might remember Petraeus, the four-star general who led the surge in Afghanistan and in Iraq under President’s Bush and Obama also became for a short time the director of the CIA. While head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Petraeus is suspected of illegally sharing classified materials with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, an Army Reserve officer with whom he was having an affair. Federal agents found classified documents on Broadwell’s computer and at her home, raising the question of how she obtained those materials.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder refused to say Sunday whether he would indict Petraeus despite reports saying charges were imminent.

Most interesting, however is the parade of U.S. Senators who have come to the defense of Petraeus including Sen. John McCain and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein tells CNN’s State of the Union that she not only supports Petraeus but that she believes he has “suffered enough”. In the video above, Feinstein explains that Petraeus has “lost his job already”.

It is important to note however that Feinstein, believes that Julian Assange, “Should be vigorously prosecuted for espionage”. The Senator also believes that Edward Snowden “violated his oath and violated the law”, calling the exposure of the NSA spying program “treason”.

It is worth nothing that in Snowden’s case he revealed the NSA program to the American public, on whom the program was illegally spying. Snowden’s revelations whether you agree with them or not, was not for personal gain. On the other hand, Petraeus’ sharing of information was not a revelation to the person with whom it was shared. Rather it was allowing classified information to be handed over to a girlfriend for the sake of scoring points.

Even so, Feinstein doesn’t feel that Petraeus needs to suffer anymore.

The Intercept has pointed out that Petraeus isn’t actually suffering at all after having compromised classified information. “David Petraeus, the person who Feinstein said has “suffered enough,” was hired last year by the $73 billion investment fund KKR to be Chairman of its newly created KKR Global Institute, on top of the $220,000/year pension he receives from the U.S. Army and the teaching position he holds at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Let us all pause for a moment to lament the deep suffering of this man, and the grave injustice of inflicting any further deprivation upon him.”

US Postal Service Surveillance Program Under Fire for Unjustified Snooping

Following leaks exposing the fact that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans’ digital communications in an indiscriminate and warrantless fashion, SFGate is reporting that the United States Postal Service has also been compiling Americans’ mail records into a nationwide dragnet and giving those records to law enforcement agencies at all levels of government for reasons that are being called “unjustified.” Under the US Postal Service’s mail covers program, the cover of every piece of mail is photographed, and the subsequent image stored in a database just in case law enforcement might need it at a later date.

The data collected allows law enforcement and other government officials to monitor to whom and where an individual is sending mail. However, postal officials are not allowed to open mail and investigate its contents without a warrant. The Washington Post noted that, at a November 19 hearing before the House of Representatives, USPS Deputy Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb indicated that the agency she oversees approved 99.8 percent of last year’s 6000 outside requests by government officials for citizens’ mail records. An internal audit presented at the hearing noted that, in 13 percent of cases, the records requests were approved for inappropriate reasons. 20 percent of the requests were honored without approval from higher-ups, and officials ignored guidelines requiring them to purge records after an expiration date and conduct yearly reviews of the program. According to SFGate, the US Postal Service approved around 50,000 total requests for citizens’ mail records, including probes by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and internal queries by USPS officials.

In one case, the USPS allegedly approved a politically-motivated request by Maricopa County, AZ Sheriff Joe Arpaio for activist Mary Rose Wilcox’ mail records. Political opponents Wilcox and Arpaio are at odds with each other over their opposing views on immigration.

Timothy Edgar with the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University told The Washington Post that these revelations “shake our confidence in longstanding principles of privacy and civil liberties.”

The US Postal Service originally asked that Whitcomb not publicize her findings and argued that doing so would expose “investigative techniques and related information which could compromise ongoing criminal investigations.” When she did, the government-run mail carrier admitted that the criticisms in her report had merit and that it would work to resolve the issues, first by beginning to look more closely at records requests. Said a letter issued by the USPS on the subject, “All standard operating procedures will be reviewed, revised and adopted as practice.”


Interpol Plans to Launch Global Anti-Terror Facial Recognition System in 2015

Interpol, a non-governmental organization promoting international cooperation between law enforcement agencies, hosted a conference on October 14 and 15 at which experts on facial recognition technology were invited to plan the development of a global facial recognition system. The system, which would allow police worldwide to share biometric data and compare faces captured on video cameras with a single global list of photos, is slated for launch in 2015. Interpol officials hope that its member nations will use the system to monitor the activities of international travelers at airports, border crossings, and immigration screenings in an effort to watch for terror suspects. Biometrics contractor Safran Morpho has been tapped to develop the system. The above-embedded promotional video by Safran Morpho demonstrates a 3D facial recognition checkpoint solution developed by the firm.

A press release on Interpol’s website stated, “The two-day meeting (14 and 15 October) gathered 24 technical and biometrics experts and examiners from 16 countries who produced a ‘best practice guide’ for the quality, format and transmission of images to be used in facial recognition. It will be circulated to all 190 INTERPOL member countries to serve as a guideline for improving the quality of images necessary for accurate and effective facial recognition.”

Michael Parker, spokesman for the civil liberties group NO2ID which opposes facial recognition checks, told The Guardian, “[Interpol’s facial recognition plan] is a move away from seeking specific persons to GCHQ-style bulk interception of information… There’s already a fair amount of information collected in terms of passenger records. This is the next step. Law enforcement agencies want the most efficient systems but there has to be a balance between security and privacy.”

In the US, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently launched its Next Generation Identification program, which is a national biometric database including facial, iris, and fingerprint recognition data. The FBI estimates that, by 2015, its database will contain private data on up to 4.3 million Americans who have not been accused of a crime. The NGI program is expected to expand to include a nationwide DNA dragnet system to which officers can upload samples collected on the go with portable rapid DNA scanners.

According to Interpol’s press release, “In 2015, INTERPOL will host its first facial recognition symposium to increase awareness of facial recognition activities among member countries and to encourage the sharing of facial images with the new database.”

The possibility that the FBI might share private biometric data on Americans with an international non-governmental organization introduces new questions as to what effect such a move would have on citizens’ privacy and US national sovereignty and security. Could Interpol’s system produce false positives that cause innocent Americans to face criminal charges in foreign countries that lack America’s human rights protections? What defense will the database have against hackers? Under what legal basis does Interpol have the authority to collect private data on individuals without their consent given its status as a non-governmental organization? Will Americans some day be required to have their faces scanned, photographed, stored in a database by Interpol, and subsequently shared with law enforcement agencies worldwide in order to fly on an airplane?

It is not yet known whether the FBI plans to upload the 52 million photos it estimates it will have by 2015 into Interpol’s global master list.

FBI Facial Recognition System Is Now Fully Operational

According to MyFoxNY, the Federal Bureau of Investigation just launched its Next Generation Identification program, which is made up of two databases called Rap Back and Interstate Photo System. The Interstate Photo System facial recognition service, according to a press release by the FBI, “will provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities.” Rap Back delivers criminal record status updates on individual suspects of interest who might have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in other jurisdictions. The above-embedded animated video by NMA News Direct breaks down some of the details of the program.

The Verge points out concerns that civil liberties advocates have raised over the nationwide facial recognition database’s inclusion of photographs of citizens that have not been accused of crimes. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the FBI plans on acquiring over 52 million photos of Americans for this database by 2015. In addition to traditionally-included biometric content like mug shots and fingerprints of criminals, the FBI has been including photos of non-criminals in the system, which are being taken from records of background checks that include photographs or fingerprints, like those sometimes required for employment at certain types of jobs. The EFF notes that the FBI estimated that, by 2015, it would have 4.3 million photos of non-criminals in its databases.

Said Jennifer Lynch in her paper for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “This means that even if you have never been arrested for a crime, if your employer requires you to submit a photo as part of your background check, your face image could be searched—and you could be implicated as a criminal suspect—just by virtue of having that image in the non-criminal file.” Lynch also argued that the system relies on low resolution images and is often inaccurate, which, combined with its inclusion of non-criminals in the database, could lead to false arrests, “…the FBI has disclaimed responsibility for accuracy, stating that ‘[t]he candidate list is an investigative lead not an identification.'” The system provides the top 50 possible facial matches to each image searched, meaning, if the true match does not exist in the database, a similar-looking false positive could be investigated simply because it appears in the database.

The facial recognition system is capable of analyzing videos to identify individual faces amid a crowd of people, leading civil liberties advocates to worry that the Interstate Photo System could one day be used to monitor Americans’ activities over publicly-positioned closed-circuit television spy cameras. The FBI hopes to expand these biometric databases in a multimodal way, incorporating retina scans, fingerprints, and facial and voice recognition data into master files on individuals. Over 18,000 law enforcement agencies will be able to access the Next Generation Identification program.

Dept. of Homeland Security Tells Companies to Spy on Their Customers

Thirteen years to the day after the tragic 9/11 attacks, authorities continue to project suspicions on law-abiding citizens who have not been accused of crimes, rather than known terrorists. According to The Washington Times, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said that DHS will be issuing new instructions to retailers this week that encourage them to spy on their customers’ transactions in an effort to catch individuals who might be planning a terrorist attack. Johnson characterized the effort as a continuation of the controversial “if you see something, say something” campaign that pushes citizens to snoop on one another.

Secretary Johnson specified that retailers should be trained on how to identify a “long list” of products that could be used to make a bomb. However, he has yet to clarify how retail employees, who are rarely trained in advanced chemistry, would be able to spot bomb-making materials in a check-out line. If the plan were to count on companies to analyze their sales records to find individuals who bought combinations of explosive precursors, costly point-of-sale software upgrades would have to be made, and that strategy would only catch potential terrorists that identify themselves during the transaction by, for example, paying for items using a credit card in their own name, rather than cash.

During a question-and-answer session that followed a speech by Secretary Johnson at Wednesday’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, reporter Lucy Komisar asked, “Taking up what you said about concern about homegrown terrorism… How do you deal with the fact that some budding terrorists can very easily go to some state where there are very few restrictions, none really enforced, get assault weapons, get handguns, walk around in the street with them, walk around even in an airport with them? Isn’t this a huge hole in your protection of people in this country when terrorists in this country can get lethal weapons right here and turn them on us?”

Secretary Johnson replied, “Without directly commenting on various gun control ideas out there… I am concerned, and, put handguns aside for a moment, put assault weapons aside for a moment, I am concerned about how easy it is for somebody to buy, in an open fashion, materials, explosives, precursors to explosives, pressure cookers that can be used to cause mass destruction, mass violence. We saw an example of that in Boston last year… We can’t and we shouldn’t prohibit the sale of a pressure cooker. We can sensitize retail businesses to be on guard for suspicious behavior by those who buy this kind of stuff, and, so one of the reasons I am concerned about domestic-based acts of mass violence is the ease with which somebody can assemble things that in and of themselves are not dangerous but you put them all together… and then you combine that with some of the learning on the internet that various groups put out… it combines for a serious concern and a serious homeland security concern, and so I… have decided that we need to make, as a large part of the homeland security mission, countering violent extremism at home.” Aside from the example of the pressure cooker, Johnson did not yet specify which products are considered explosive precursors. DHS will issue the new guidelines this week, which are expected to include tips on how to identify potential terrorists among retail customers.

Civil liberties advocates often worry that comments like these by authorities could drive citizens to a state of paranoia, leading fear-stricken people to report benign activities to law enforcement. As an example, an African-American man was recently fatally shot by police in a Walmart while holding a toy BB gun that he intended to purchase from the store after a panicked couple reported him to police in a way that led officers to believe that he was an active shooter about to begin a rampage.

Video of DHS Secretary Johnson’s entire speech at Wednesday’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting can be seen in the above-embedded video. The question-and-answer portion from which the above quote was taken begins at around the 38:05 mark.

Cops in CA Allegedly Abused Police Database to Spy on Tinder Matches

According to Daily Republic, two officers with California’s Fairfield Police Department, Detective Jacob Glashoff and Sergeant Stephen Ruiz, are under investigation and facing felony charges for allegedly abusing the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, a database containing private information on citizens from various state and federal agencies, to spy on their online dating matches found on sites including Tinder and Match.com. The pair could face up to four years in prison if convicted. Though the officers’ alleged transgressions are currently under review by the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force and the California Department of Justice, both remain on duty.

Back in June of this year, another detective working with Glashoff and Ruiz reported the pair to authorities for using Tinder on the job over a period of several months. Investigators checked their computers and determined that, in addition to Tinder and Match.com, which both officers were visiting at work, Ruiz had been using eHarmony and Care.com as well. The detective who turned them in also described a situation in which Ruiz was seen displaying an online dating profile and the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System on screen at the same time, discussing his dating match’s criminal record in front of other officers. A mysterious cellphone was also recovered at the detectives’ workplace containing personal photos of Glashoff and screenshots from the law enforcement database.

Daily Republic notes that detectives working with Glashoff and Ruiz claimed to have heard them discussing ways in which to delete the activity logs from their computers. In another instance, Glashoff was heard worrying aloud about his computer, his employment status at work, and whether or not he could find another job.

Police Chief Walt Tibbet recently issued a statement on the investigation, “Information was brought to us, (which) if it were to be true, could be criminal in nature. Out of fairness and individuals’ rights and to maintain organizational integrity, an investigation was begun by another law enforcement entity for the possible criminal aspects.”

Back in September of 2013, Fox News reported on an internal investigation that found that agents working at the National Security Agency had similarly abused that spy agency’s tools to keep tabs on their love interests.

Militants in Gaza publicly execute alleged spies

As fighting commences in Gaza following the week-long truce and funeral processions for the family of a Hamas military leader, Hamas militants have publicly executed 18 Palestinians for allegedly spying for Israel.

Seven of those executed were lined up in front of a crowd of hundreds outside of the Omari mosque on Palestine Square, with bags over their heads and their hands bound.  Each was shot with automatic rifles for those present to see.  The other 11 were executed by militants at an abandoned police station in Gaza, according to YNetNews.

One eye-witness to the Omari mosque executions told reporters, according to the Independent, the executioners told the crowd those who were executed, “had sold their souls to the enemy for a cheap price.”

The names of those killed were not released to the public, as Hamas said they wanted to protect the families of those killed.

These killings are reportedly the beginning of new crackdowns on Israeli collaborators in Gaza.  According to ABC News, rally cries for people to “[choke] the neck of the collaborators,” have also been heard throughout the area.

Hamas security services made a post to their website, Al Majd, saying from now on, people who are suspected of being spies would not have a court hearing to determine their innocence or guilt.  Rather, these individuals will be dealt with “in the field,” meaning soldiers will decide the fate of those who are accused of being spies.

This same site said those who had been executed had “confessed” to their alleged crimes against the people of Palestine.  Their crimes included reporting on the movement of military commanders and providing the locations of resistance fighters throughout Gaza.

Another pro-Hamas website made a post following the executions saying, “The resistance has begun an operation called ‘strangling the necks’, targeting collaborators who aid the (Israeli) occupation, kill our people and destroy houses.”

These executions come a day after Israeli forces tracked down and killed three high-ranking Hamas commanders, according to the Mirror.

Mark Zuckerberg “Calls Obama” To Say How Mad He Is About NSA Spying

On the heels of the revelation that the NSA impersonated Facebook to Infect Millions of Computers, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message on Facebook that he called President Obama to express how mad he is about NSA Spying.

Here is the message Zuckerberg posted:

“As the world becomes more complex and governments everywhere struggle, trust in the internet is more important today than ever.

The internet is our shared space. It helps us connect. It spreads opportunity. It enables us to learn. It gives us a voice. It makes us stronger and safer together.

To keep the internet strong, we need to keep it secure. That’s why at Facebook we spend a lot of our energy making our services and the whole internet safer and more secure. We encrypt communications, we use secure protocols for traffic, we encourage people to use multiple factors for authentication and we go out of our way to help fix issues we find in other people’s services.

The internet works because most people and companies do the same. We work together to create this secure environment and make our shared space even better for the world.

This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the US government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.
The US government should be the champion for the internet, not a threat. They need to be much more transparent about what they’re doing, or otherwise people will believe the worst.

I’ve called President Obama to express my frustration over the damage the government is creating for all of our future. Unfortunately, it seems like it will take a very long time for true full reform.

So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure. I’m committed to seeing this happen, and you can count on Facebook to do our part.”

CIA Spies On Congress, Blocks Release of Report About Torture For Over A Year

The big headline across the country- members of the Senate Intelligence Committee accuse the CIA of undermining the Constitution and spying on them.   Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the CIA hacked into a computer system designed for Congress in order to monitor an investigation into torture and CIA secret overseas prisons.

“The CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution,”Feinstein said. “It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities.”

On this point, Sen. Feinstein is correct. An investigation by McClatchy reveals that the CIA was attempting to monitor an investigation by Congress that took some four years to compose and cost $40 million. An investigation that delves into Bush Administration era torture techniques and secret prisons that the CIA misled Congress about for years.  More on that in a minute.

Sen. Feinstein is also correct that the CIA must be subject to oversight by Congress and is not above the law.  But neither is any other government agency including the NSA which has been spying on every American.  Simply because those Americans are not members of Congress does not mean that they are not entitled to privacy.  Rightfully, Feinstein has been called out for her hypocrisy by Edward Snowden who points out in a statement to NBC News,

“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern, but it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

But all of this debate over the CIA spying on Congress is actually secondary to the real story.  The congressional report which spans some 6,300 pages, reports on the CIA’s use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons.  In addition, according to McClatchy, the report details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, that according to public statements by committee members.

Whats more, that report, which is said to be a searing indictment of the CIA has been completed for 15 months and has not yet been released.  Why?  Because the CIA is holding it up.  That’s right.  The same agency that is the subject of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee is also preventing the report about its activities from being released.

Senator Mark Udall has now called on President Obama to strip the CIA of control over how much of the Senate report should be made public.   Sen. Udall went a step further by making clear in a letter to President Obama that the President himself is already aware of the CIA spying on Congress to monitor that report saying,

“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight powers and for our democracy.”