Tag Archives: surveillance

Privacy Advocates Express Fears About Next Generation Light Bulbs

The American Civil Liberties Union is warning about the potential dangers of “Smart-City” projects that include the use of LED light bulbs and technology that could be used to monitor innocent civilians.

The New York Times reports that a number of companies are investing in Smart-Grid LEDs as major cities prepare to convert their public lighting systems:

“Using a combination of LEDs and big data technology, public lighting is the potential backbone of a system that could use billions of fixtures to collect data about traffic congestion at an intersection or a consumer walking down the cereal aisle, to name just a couple of applications.

Sensity Systems, a small start-up that builds and manages smart-lighting networks, is announcing on Monday that it has attracted money and partnerships from a group of major businesses, including Simon Property Group, the leading mall developer; General Electric; Cisco; and Acuity Brands, a leading maker of LED lighting.”

The Times goes on to say that Sensity has already installed its systems in Newark; Bangalore, India; Adelaide, Australia; and Albertslund, a Copenhagen suburb. The lights can be outfitted with sensors that can detect a range of activities, including motion, traffic congestion, pollutants, gunshots or, locate a particular shopper at a store.

Despite the perceived benefits of LED bulbs, the technology can be turned into a tool for surveillance. The ACLU stated that they strongly oppose “the creation of infrastructures for ubiquitous mass surveillance including the widespread deployment of lightbulb spying technology.Given the limited use of the product as a lighting device and the broad scope of its tracking and surveillance features, what this product really appears to be is a mass surveillance device being disguised as an LED light bulb.”

The spread of surveillance light bulbs is not a new phenomenon, however. Earlier this year TruthInMedia reported that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio 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.

What are your thoughts? Do the benefits outweigh the dangers? Can we trust the government to use these tools for benevolent purposes?

U.S. Senate Wants to Censor “Terrorist Activity” on Social Media Sites

The Senate Intelligence Committee has approved a new measure which would force social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to report content that is believed to be connected to “terrorist activity”.

The Washington Post reported that the measure will be included as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2016. The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the measure in a closed session on Wednesday July 1st. The measure is supposed to help intelligence and law enforcement officials detect terror threats.

The Post reports:

“It would not require companies to monitor their sites if they do not already do so, said a committee aide, who requested anonymity because the bill has not yet been filed. The measure applies to “electronic communication service providers,” which includes e-mail services such as Google and Yahoo.”

The bill would require any online company that “obtains actual knowledge of any terrorist activity . . . shall provide to the appropriate authorities the facts or circumstances of the alleged terrorist activity.”

Google, Facebook and Twitter declined to comment to The Post, however, “anonymous industry officials” reportedly called the measure a bad idea.

Gregory Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, told The Post he believed the measure would erode privacy in the name of fighting terrorism.

“If it becomes law, their natural tendency will be to err on the side of reporting anything that might be characterized as ‘terrorist activity’ even if it is not. And their duty to report will chill speech on the Internet that relates to terrorism.”

The U.S. government already maintains a massive surveillance state, including a number of programs that gather internet user data. This latest measure would only further codify the government’s ability to force private companies to hand over sensitive information.

Uber Bans Guns, New York Driver Robbed at Gunpoint

Within weeks of announcing that the company would not allow drivers to carry guns, an Uber driver in New York has been robbed at gunpoint.

The Anti Media recently reported that Uber announced that they will be firing any drivers who are caught violating the new policy—which apparently went into effect nearly two weeks ago—because they contend that an unarmed driver makes their customers feel more safe.

Now the New York Daily News reports that a 22-year old Uber driver was robbed with a gun by a potential passenger. The driver stopped “on 67th Ave. and Burns St. in Rego Park just after midnight” to meet his client. When the man got in the car he pointed a rifle at the driver, demanding all his money. The driver gave the man $60 and ran.  Uber says they are investigating.

The story is vastly different from a recent scene in Chicago where an Uber driver defended a crowd of people from a shooter. In April TruthInMedia reported:

“An Uber driver in Chicago with a concealed carry license defended himself and a group of pedestrians against a man who opened fire on a crowded street Friday night, a state attorney said in court on Sunday.

Assistant State Attorney Barry Quinn said that 22-year-old Everardo Custodio began shooting at a group of pedestrians shortly before midnight Friday, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The driver, who has a state-issued firearm owner’s identification card, pulled out a shotgun and fired six times, hitting Custodio in the shin, knee and lower back, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.”

The bad publicity for Uber comes as the company has faced a wave of backlash in recent weeks for the possible monitoring of its drivers.

When Uber announced an upcoming policy change taking place on July 15, the company noted that in addition to collecting information on drivers when they use the service, they “may also collect the precise location of your device when the app is running in the foreground or background.” The announcement sparked fears that the company would monitor sensitive data about drivers even when they were not operating the phone app.

In response to the announcement, the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the policy change.

“Uber will claim the right to collect personal information and detailed location data of American consumers, even when they are not using the service,” EPIC said in its complaint.

A spokeswoman for Uber said there was “no basis for this complaint” and that the company hasn’t made a final decision about whether to track user phones when the apps are inactive.

The company is not only working to track drivers in the U.S., indeed Uber has already been tracking the activities of drivers in China.

Earlier this month, the Chinese city of Hangzhou was the center of protests by local taxi drivers against Uber. The taxi drivers say Uber is unfair competition. According to The Wall Street Journal, Uber sent to messages to its drivers in Hangzhou warning them not to go to the protest and for any drivers in the area to leave immediately. Uber said it would use GPS to find out which drivers refused to leave and cancel contracts accordingly. Uber claimed this was done to “maintain social order.”

This is not the first time the company has come under fire for discussing tracking individuals. In November 2014, Uber’s Senior Vice President of Business Emil Michael discussed spending “a million dollars” to hire researchers to investigate journalists who write unfavorably about the company. BuzzFeed reported:

“That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.”

What does all this mean for Uber? What does it mean for ride sharing? Leave your thoughts below.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal Vetoes License Plate Reader Surveillance Bill

On Friday, Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal vetoed SB250, a bill aimed at “using automatic license plate recognition systems to identify stolen vehicles
and uninsured motorists.” The bill, which previously passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the Louisiana State Legislature, was originally introduced by State Senator Ronnie Johns (R-Lake Charles).

According to The Times-Picayune, if the bill had become law, automatic license plate scanners would have been placed on mobile trailers, bridges, and law enforcement vehicles in 9 Louisiana parishes at a cost of $5 million. The legislation would have allowed law enforcement agencies and their contractors to store the data collected by the scanners for up to 60 days. A private contractor providing the equipment would have been allowed to collect 30% of the revenues raised by license plate readers.

A statement by Governor Jindal read, “Senate Bill No. 250 would authorize the use of automatic license plate reader camera surveillance programs in various parishes throughout the state. The personal information captured by these cameras, which includes a person’s vehicle location, would be retained in a central database and accessible to not only participating law enforcement agencies but other specified private entities for a period of time regardless of whether or not the system detects that a person is in violation of vehicle insurance requirements. Camera programs such as these that make private information readily available beyond the scope of law enforcement, pose a fundamental risk to personal privacy and create large pools of information belonging to law abiding citizens that unfortunately can be extremely vulnerable to theft or misuse… For these reasons, I have vetoed Senate Bill No. 250 and hereby return it to the Senate.

[RELATED: FBI Invested in License-Plate Reader Tech Despite Privacy Concerns]

The Times-Picayune estimates that 25% of Louisiana’s motorists are uninsured.

Privacy advocates worry that the cameras, which scan the license plates of all vehicles passing through a particular location, provide too much information about the whereabouts and movements of law-abiding citizens.

Analysis of a similar program in Oakland, CA by Ars Technica found that it was ineffective at its intended purpose and significantly affected the privacy of innocents. “Earlier this year, Ars obtained 4.6 million LPR records collected by the police in Oakland, Calif. over four years and learned that just 0.16 percent of those reads were ‘hits.’ We discovered that such data is incredibly revelatory. We were able to find the city block where a member of the city council lives using nothing but the database, a related data visualization tool, and his license plate number,” wrote Ars Technica’s Cyrus Farivar.

FBI Claims They Are Not Responsible for Secrecy on ‘StingRay’ Surveillance

For the last decade local police across the nation have been purchasing and training in the use of cell site simulators, alternatively known as Stingrays. TruthInMedia has written extensively on how the devices are being used to track suspected criminals while largely operating without oversight from local, state, or federal authorities. Exactly how the devices operate and what data they collect and/or save has been unknown because a vast amount of secrecy surrounding the tools.

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

“THE STINGRAY IS A BRAND NAME OF AN IMSI (INTERNATIONAL MOBILE SUBSCRIBER IDENTITY) CATCHER TARGETED AND SOLD TO LAW ENFORCEMENT.

A STINGRAY WORKS BY MASQUERADING AS A CELL PHONE TOWER—TO WHICH YOUR MOBILE PHONE SENDS SIGNALS TO EVERY 7 TO 15 SECONDS WHETHER YOU ARE ON A CALL OR NOT— AND TRICKS YOUR PHONE INTO CONNECTING TO IT. AS A RESULT, THE GOVERNMENT CAN FIGURE OUT WHO, WHEN AND TO WHERE YOU ARE CALLING, THE PRECISE LOCATION OF EVERY DEVICE WITHIN THE RANGE, AND WITH SOME DEVICES, EVEN CAPTURE THE CONTENT OF YOUR CONVERSATIONS.”

Police officers can use the devices to track your cellphones signal.  Once the signal is located the stingray can provide a general location on the map and police officers can drive around (or in one case, walk door to door) until they get a signal from your phone. This has civil liberties advocates up in arms over the potential for misuse of the tools.

Both the Harris Corporation that manufactures the StingRay and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) require police to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDA) related to the use of the devices. Through these NDAs local police departments have become subordinate to Harris and even in court cases in front of a judge, are not allowed to speak on the details of their arrangements. 

However, a spokesman with the FBI recently said the agreements are not supposed to prevent police from disclosing that have used StingRays. FBI spokesman Christopher Allen told The Washington Post that only as “a last resort” would the bureau require state and local police to drop pending cases rather than reveal new information on the use of the devices.

“The FBI’s concern is with protecting the law enforcement sensitive details regarding the tradecraft and capabilities of the device,” FBI spokesmsan Christopher Allen said in the statement.

Even if Allen’s statements are taken at face value there is still the issue of law enforcement interpreting the agreements to mean that they should not reveal any details.

“The reality is the FBI has made officers sign a non-disclosure agreement that says they may not disclose any information about the technology in a trial,” John Sawicki, a lawyer in Tallahassee, Fla. told the Post.

Nathan Wessler, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the information was insignificant, “coming only after significant details of this technology have been outed by the press.”

The comments from the FBI come after the Justice Department announced it would be reviewing its policies for use of cell-site simulators.

Should the FBI be trusted?

Should we trust the FBI’s statements that this level of secrecy will only be used in an emergency? If the statement is incorrect it would be consistent with past lies told by Harris corp and other agencies involved in the use of the tools.

In September 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate the maker of the Stingray for allegedly misrepresenting information regarding data collection capabilities. According to documents obtained during a Freedom of Information Request by the ACLU of Northern California, Florida-based Harris Corporation misled the FCC about the frequency of use for the Stingray.

In an email from June 24, 2010, an employee with Harris told the FCC that the devices (Stingfish in this case) “purpose is only to provide state/local law enforcement officials with authority to utilize this equipment in emergency situations.”

However, the ACLU reports, “records released by the Tallahassee, Florida, Police Department explain that in nearly 200 cases since 2007 where the department used a StingRay, only 29 percent involved emergencies; most of the rest involved criminal investigations in which there was ample time to seek some sort of authorization from a judge.”

A recent document dump in New York state provided some details on the law enforcement’s use of Stingrays but was a reminder of how difficult it has been to obtain details on surveillance tools. It was revealed that state police had spent around $640,000 on stingray equipment and training. Beyond the cost of the devices little else is known, because NY State Police claim there are no records on the use of Stingrays. This includes policies, guidelines, records related to use in investigations, or copies of court orders.

This absence of records might make sense if the State Police bought the device but never used it,” the New York Civil Liberties Union writes. “But this seems unlikely given the recent investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment upgrades and training.

For more information check out this Guide to Stingray Technology.

“We Are Always Listening”: Anti-NSA Campaign Gone Too Far?

The conversations of New York City residents and visitors are being secretly collected in several public locations throughout the city, according to an anonymous body satirically posing as a contractor for the NSA:

“Citizens don’t seem to mind this monitoring, so we’re hiding recorders in public places in hopes of gathering information to help win the war on terror. We’ve started with NYC as a pilot program, but hope to roll the initiative out all across The Homeland.”

The group is apparently aiming to send a startling message to people who may be uninformed or apathetic about the NSA’s controversial practice of collecting phone records of Americans in bulk. They are sending that message by fighting fire with fire: placing and concealing recorders all over NYC and publishing the content online.

There are currently six published recordings on the website “We Are Always Listening” as of Thursday morning that have ostensibly captured conversations caught in locations including restaurants and bars. One published conversation, which allegedly took place at the Building on Bond restaurant in Brooklyn, bears the title “We’re Listening as You Discuss Your Most Intimate Moments; A fetish-fueled hookup reveals perversions which shall be kept on file.” Another conversation picked up at the Brindle Room restaurant allegedly exposed “Asians belittling other Asians for sounding too Asian.”

Each recording identifies the location of the recording device, the conversation’s “terrorism status”, and the current status of the device.

The group sent WIRED an email ahead of its launch on Wednesday, claiming to have covertly planted dozens of microcassette recorders throughout various locations NYC over the year. “The NSA employs many 3rd party contractors, [and] we consider ourselves to be contractors of this nature, albeit in a unpaid and unsanctioned capacity,” stated the email. “We can attest to the fact all people recorded are NOT actors and are not knowingly involved in the project in any way.”

In addition to the recordings, the website has a link titled “Angry?” which directs visitors to an ACLU page. That page contains a contact form to send to Congress requesting the expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision used by the NSA to collect American phone records.

The intent of the group’s mission seems to be aimed at drawing attention to the issue of massive government surveillance. But is this campaign going to effectively promote the idea of protecting citizen privacy?

Surveillance State: FBI Spied on Keystone Pipeline Activists

The Keystone XL Pipeline is once again making headlines. The project, which proposes creating a 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada’s tar sands region to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, has been heavily debated among Democrats and Republicans for President Obama’s entire presidency. However, this time the controversy revolves around the Federal Bureau of Investigations monitoring of activists in Houston, Texas.

A new report from The Guardian reveals that the FBI violated its own internal regulations by spying on the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group working to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline and highlight dangers to the communities near the proposed pipeline.  A bill in favor of TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline was recently vetoed by President Obama. Shortly after, the Senate failed to override the President’s veto, leaving the project in limbo.
The documents show that the bureau did not get proper approval before working with informants and opening files on protesters. The FBI also worked with TransCanada, promising to share “any pertinent intelligence regarding any threats” to the pipeline or the company.

The Guardian and Earth Island First Journal received 80 pages of documents from the FBI via a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Guardian reports:

“The documents reveal that one FBI investigation, run from its Houston field office, amounted to “substantial non-compliance” of Department of Justice rules that govern how the agency should handle sensitive matters.

One FBI memo, which set out the rationale for investigating campaigners in the Houston area, touted the economic advantages of the pipeline while labelling its opponents “environmental extremists”.”

Under the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, the bureau outlines how special care must be taken for investigations that target elected officials, journalists and political organizations.

In order to launch an investigation into “sensitive investigative matters”, the bureau must first get approval of both the chief division counsel (CDC), the top lawyer in the field office, and the special agent in charge (SAC).

This investigation apparently took place without approval from the CDC and SAC in the Houston field office.

From November 2012 to June 2014, the FBI monitored the activist group, identifying members who took pictures of oil infrastructure, and maintained at least one informant. One of the documents refer to a source who had “good access and a history of reliable reporting”.

The FBI claims the situation was a failure that was fixed and reported internally.

 

Whatever your position on the politics of the Keystone XL Pipeline, it seems obvious that federal agencies like the FBI are largely ignoring their own rules to pursue a policy of assumed guilt. Activists practicing constitutionally protected activity continue to be targets of illegal investigations. At what point do Americans say enough is enough?

 

 

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.

 

Jeb Bush Supports NSA Surveillance Program to “Keep Us Safe”

Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida and rumored 2016 GOP Presidential candidate, defended the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program on Wednesday, calling it “hugely important” in the United States’ long-term battle against terrorism.

Bush addressed the surveillance program, which was enacted during the presidency of his brother George W. Bush, during a speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

For the life of me, I don’t understand – the debate has gotten off track, where we’re not understanding and protecting,” said Bush.  “We do protect our civil liberties, but this is a hugely important program to use these technologies to keep us safe.

While trying to set himself apart from his brother, with comments such as “I am my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences” and “new circumstances require new approaches,” Jeb Bush towed the same line of thought regarding the NSA’s data collect and the “war on terror.

We must be prepared for a long-term commitment to fight this battle,” said Bush. “That requires responsible intelligence gathering and analysis, including the NSA metadata program, which contributes to awareness of potential terror cells and interdiction efforts on a global scale.”

Bush added that while the U.S. can respond to terrorist attacks “on many levels,” he feels the NSA’s surveillance program helps to prevent them. “The threats of the twenty-first century will not be the same as the threats of the twentieth and it is critical that we adapt to this change,” Bush said.

The Guardian noted that Bush’s stance on the program differed from Kentucky senator Rand Paul, another rumored 2016 GOP Presidential candidate. In March 2014, Reuters reported that Paul condemned the U.S. government’s massive surveillance program during a speech to students at the University of California, Berkeley.

“I’m not here to tell you what to be. I am here to tell you, though, that your rights, especially your right to privacy, are under assault,” said Paul. “I believe what you do on your cellphone is none of their damn business.

Report: NSA Bracing for Major New Leaks

New Leaks Not Related to Edward Snowden

by Jason Ditz, February 15, 2015

Though the NSA is characteristically not discussing the matter publicly, reports citing private comments from the officials say that the agency is bracing for “major” new leaks.

The leaks, according to the reports, are not related to Edward Snowden’s releases, and interestingly weren’t leaked by any insiders at all.

Rather, they are going to be technical data about how the NSA surveils people, and were uncovered by an unnamed cyber security firm operating outside of the United States.

It will be interesting to see how the administration reacts in that case. President Obama has been extremely hostile to whistleblowers within agencies, but with the data uncovered by people who weren’t working for the NSA or the US government to begin with, their options seem limited.

DEA Kept Secret Database of Americans’ Phone Calls

Collected Calls to Countries ‘Linked to Drug Trafficking’

by Jason Ditz, January 16, 2015

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was revealed to have conducted secret surveillance of Americans’ phone calls overseas, in an operation that was totally separate from the already publicized NSA program.
The Justice Department revealed the secret database in a criminal case this week, saying the DEA had been collecting information about Americans who were making calls to “certain countries” that they’d linked to drug trafficking.

The scope of the program remains uncertain, as only its base existence was revealed in the case, and the fact that Iran was one of the countries targeted in the program.

The program was active for years, though the Justice Department claims they ended the program in September of 2013. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D – VT) is pressing for additional information on the scheme.

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.”

 

Obama Extends NSA Spying Powers Yet Again

Nine Months Later, Promises of Reform Still Unmet

by Jason Ditz, December 08, 2014
Back in March, Attorney General Eric Holder was promising that the Justice Department was on track to reform the NSA surveillance powers by the deadline of March 28, less than two weeks later. It didn’t happen.
A 90-day extension came and went, and then another 90-day extension was tacked on to that, pushing the deadline for the reform of the mass surveillance to December 5.This time, when the deadline rolled around there was so little expectation of actual reform that its approach was barely even covered. Even the administration seemingly gave it a miss over the weekend Unsurprisingly, it was extended yet again with no real hint of reforms coming.

Other than a brief, failed attempt to pass a toothless version of a reform bill in the Senate, the notion that NSA mass surveillance is ever going to get altered in a meaningful way is looking more dubious all the time.

The statement expressed support for working with the new, more pro-surveillance Congress on “reforms,” which will be even weaker than the last failed bill. Though there are still some in Congress pushing against the wholesale data mining to the American public, for now it seems that extending the deadline indefinitely is simply the new normal.

New Malware Tool Aims to Detect Government Surveillance

EFF, Amnesty International Back Effort to Stop Surveillance

by Jason Ditz, November 20, 2014
Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other groups are throwing their weight behind a new open-source software malware detection project called Detekt.

Unlike the more all-purpose antivirus and anti-malware programs, Detekt centers around detecting and warning end users of surveillance malware of the sort known to be used by government.The revelations of NSA surveillance last year by Edward Snowden has brought new attention to the problem of government surveillance, and nations across the planet are using malware utilities to spy on civilians. The Detekt program was developed by Claudio Guarnieri, who has previously developed other programs related to the analysis of malware. Detekt is designed only for Windows-based computers, which of course are the most commonly used and subsequently most commonly targeted.

Detekt is available at resistsurveillance.org, and the source is available at github. The program’s authors warn it may not detect the newest revisions of government surveillance malware, but that it may help weed out some of the most common.

Latest Assault On Privacy: Grocery Store Shelves That Watch You

Beginning in 2015, “retail surveillance” could become very common in grocery stores.

Mondelez, the company that owns many major food brands like Chips Ahoy and Ritz, has developed high-tech shelves with built-in cameras. The cameras will be watching as you shop to “gather intelligence.”

This “intelligence” will include basic information like your age and sex.

The idea is to figure out which types of people tend to buy different brands and food products. This way, the company can better market its products to various segments of the population.

A large database will eventually be built with all of the collected information about grocery store customers’ preferences, organized by age and sex.

At this time, Mondelez is the only company that has confirmed plans to move forward with retail surveillance. If it proves to be a valuable marketing technique, however, it is likely that many others will follow in its path.

Do you think retail surveillance violates our privacy?

On one hand, grocery stores and Mondelez are private companies so they can do whatever they want. If you do not feel comfortable with retail surveillance, you can simply choose not to shop at the stores that use it.

On the other hand, however, retail surveillance (if proven to be a valuable marketing tool) could become so prevalent that it is eventually used in almost all grocery stores. This would leave shoppers with very little choice.

Tell us what you think of retail surveillance in the comments section below.

Payback: Group Protests Government Spying By Tracking Obama At All Times

Many Americans are outraged over the privacy-invading programs run by US intelligence agencies. Such programs have collected thousands of communications from innocent, unknowing Americans.

Now, one group has decided to get payback on President Obama, who previously promised to run the “most transparent administration” in history.

They are doing this through a new project called “Where is Obama,” which gives the exact location of the president at all times.

Kim Asendorf, Ole Fach, Kyle McDonald and Jonas Lund are the project’s founders.

McDonald said the group sought to challenge government surveillance through the project, and were inspired by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He said, “The same way the press made the leaks a story about tracking Snowden, we wanted to turn it into a story about tracking Obama. To show how ridiculous it is to pin stories like this down to a single person, and to give people the feeling that maybe we have the same power that the government does, if only we organize ourselves. With that power, how do we want to use it? Who do we want to track? Will we emulate the government, antagonize them, or reject their example completely?”

In order for the site to work properly, it needs a large base of users. Users give Obama’s location on Google maps. The group asserts that with this information from a significant number of people, “a probable position of President (can be) calculated using a complex algorithm.” If no one has reported his location, it is assumed that Obama is in the White House.

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The site represents the American people’s anger over the federal government’s size and scope, specifically related to privacy.

The group said, “The position of the president is a state secret. The White House website shows only Barack Obama’s schedule from the current day, but never dates beyond. The accuracy of this information is controversial. Obama, on the other hand, knows your entire calendar.”

Perhaps most importantly, the project aims to move towards a more transparent government — as Obama initially campaigned on. “Every person in the world can now participate in the supervision of the President,” the group pointed out.