Surveillance, Control and Repression
The UK based surveillance technology manufacturing company, Gamma Group, was uncovered in July 2012 to have created spyware called FinSpy Moblie that monitors and retains all mobile phone data of a particular target. (They also produced FinSpy for other e-devices.) Gamma Group sells the surveillance spyware to governments, including repressive regimes from Turkmenistan to Bahrain, which in turn monitor activists. The spyware is a Trojan, which thus requires the target to unknowingly download the program, disguised as some innocuous file, onto a phone. The spyware has many capabilities including documenting an address book, intercepting, recording and storing all voice calls, phone call logs, SMS and GPS locations. There are many stories of anti-government activists in Bahrain, UAE, and elsewhere having been violently attacked and detained after the governments uncovered information about the individuals through FinSpy, Remote Control System developed by Milan Based HackingTeam, and other spyware programs.
Security and privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian and others have gathered more information demonstrating that Skype misleads its customers by not countering the general erroneous public perception that the platform is impenetrable to government, police, and judicial spying and monitoring. Skype is proven to have given upon request by government agencies online chats, user information (billing, IP address, email address, account info), private encryption keys, and phone call numbers of individuals. Skype’s management of passwords and encryption keys demonstrates that Skype or government agencies have the ability to impersonate customers or individuals through man in the middle attacks (also with assistance from telecom companies), thus demonstrating that the service is an unsafe and insecure method of communication.
The NYC District Attorney submitted a subpoena to Twitter for the contents of Malcolm Harris’ tweets, as well as his IP addresses, contacts, and other information. The DA didn’t need to get a warrant to gather this information, and other court rulings have argued that individuals have no expectation of privacy or constitutional protection when they put information on third party public internet sites like social media platforms. The Twitter info is to be used in trial against Harris for charges of disorderly conduct at an Occupy Wall Street protest on the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2011. After months of resisting the subpoena and fighting it in court, Twitter handed over Harris’ data in order to avoid contempt of court. However, Twitter has on other occasions turned over customer data to police and government agencies.
In January 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled in the case U.S. v. Jones that the FBI violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Antoine Jones, a convicted drug dealer who was to be sentenced to a life term in jail, by placing a GPS tracking device on his car monitoring his movements for 4 months giving the agency a long term view of all his activities. Police and other agencies are now required to receive probable cause warrants from judges in order to affix a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car for long term spying, which constitutes a “search”. In response to the ruling, the FBI was forced to pull 3000 GPS tracking devices that were in use at the time that were not administered with a warrant. However, in September, the Obama administration through the Department of Justice argued in the retrial of Jones that the FBI’s acquisition of his phone location records from 2005 from the phone company were legally acquired without a warrant, and that “a cell phone user has no expectation of privacy in cell site information”. These cell phone data locations were gathered from the phone transmitting a signal to a cell phone tower when a call connected, and recorded in the company’s files. The FBI compelled the provider to release the info. Courts have not ruled in a unanimous fashion nor have they created a uniform law or standard as to whether a probable cause warrant to obtain cell site data is necessary. Furthermore, ACLU requests for info on how 230 police departments obtain personal internet and cell data on suspects reveal wide ranging and disparate surveillance tactics often conducted without probable cause and little oversight. In another case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Fourth Amendment provides no protection against “searches” and seizures of GPS tracking data for shorter lengths of time. In the case of Melvin Skinner, a suspected drug courier, police compelled the phone company to provide 3 days worth of GPS data, which was acquired without a warrant or probable cause, and led to his house being searched and his arrest. In the summer, during a congressional inquiry, mobile phone service providers revealed that in 2011 alone they received 1.3 million law enforcement request for individual’s phone data, including SMS and GPS locations. These requests require no judicial oversight and are done through subpoenas that compel companies to give up the information. The DOJ use of warrantless internet and telephone surveillance has vastly expanded, through several techniques. Pen registers obtain in real time ‘non-content information’ of outbound phone calls and internet communication, while trap-and-trace acquires the same info for in-bound information, and both techniques require no probable cause warrant, with a judge simply signing off on requests by police or government agencies. Cell phone tracking is cheap compared to secretly installed GPS tracking devices, and with the wide ranging powers to monitor individuals and groups given to the NSA, and government, the FBI and police through the Patriot Act, these rulings have implications for all cell phone users, who should consider how all aspects of their daily lives can be recorded and monitored through the massive regime of surveillance.
After choosing not to publish a groundbreaking story at the request of the Bush administration in 2004, the New York Times finally published in 2005 after Bush won re-election that the Bush administration, the NSA, and all telecommunication companies were illegally spying on the internet and phone activities of citizens and residents in the US and internationally in violation of the law. The illegal spying program was instituted after 9/11 supposedly to monitor “terrorists” but in fact targeted a vast number of people. In an unprecedented move, Congress passed with vast bi-partisan support an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2008 that gave telecom companies retroactive immunity for all criminal and civil liability for the crimes they had committed. Nevertheless, the companies were sued by various groups, including the EFF and the ACLU, but the courts routinely ruled to uphold the legality of the FISA amendment. On October 9, 2012, the US Supreme Court dismissed without comment the lawsuit (Hepting v. AT&T) against the NSA warrantless spying program. Thus, neither the telecom companies nor government officials have ever been convicted for their illegal spying activities. Both the Bush and Obama administrations maintained that phone and internet surveillance of people is a “state secret” and should not be litigated or scrutinized by any oversight (congressional, judicial) by claiming that such review would endanger “national security”.
The British government proposed the Communications Data Bill in June 2012 that would require all ISPs and mobile phone providers to collect and store data for 12 months of every single person’s phone and internet activities. The bill also identifies which agencies would have access to the data, and outlines a system to share the personal data of individuals to those with access.
Another strategy for surveillance is the use of Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) to monitor the movement of a tagged individual, or in a different scenario, the tracking of animals, especially livestock such as cows, in the National Animal Identification System. In Richmond, CA, federal funding was used to RFID tag elementary school children’s clothing in order to track their movements on campus, while several other schools in CA and Texas mandate that students must carry ID cards with RFIDs. The RFIDs are not encrypted, thus the data could be illegally accessed. Although it is claimed that the RFID monitoring is only at school, it is possible that monitoring could happen off campus. Interestingly, AT&T is the biggest marketer of this application of RFIDs, and hopes to expand it from a limited number of schools to nation wide distribution.
The US Congress and Pres. Obama have enacted in Dec. 2011 an extremely repressive law, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which applies to all people through the world. The NDAA grants the president the exclusive power to indefinitely detain in military custody any accused “terrorists”, any person who is accused of being part of “associated forces”, and any person suspected of providing “material support to terrorists”. Prisoners could be held their entire lives in indefinite military detention, and never have access to any form of judicial appeal of their incarceration. The NDAA allows the president to in theory detain US citizens and legal residents in indefinite military detention on US soil or abroad. Eight journalists and activists including former NYT reporter Chris Hedges, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Alexa O’Brien, journalist covering Wikileaks, Kai Wargalla, activist with Occupy London, Jennifer Bolen, and Noam Chomsky filed a lawsuit to stop the implementation of provision 102 of the NDAA. They argued that due to their journalistic or writing activities, including interviewing suspected “terrorists” or reading material online written by accused “terrorist” groups, they could in theory be indefinitely detained due to the broadness and vagueness of the law. In September, a federal court judge in NY issued a permanent injunction against the provision for indefinite detention in the NDAA (but not an injunction against the entire NDAA). The Obama DOJ immediately appealed the judge’s ruling in an ongoing legal case, since Obama, like Bush, wants the power to indefinitely detain people anywhere in the world. However, the president already has the power to indefinitely detain a narrower defined group of people, those accused “terrorists” suspected of being involved in the 9/11 attacks and those who aided or harbored them, as authorized by the AUMF.
With “terrorism” and “terrorist” being the most elastic, changeable, and manipulated word in American political discourse, a new congressional study on domestic “terrorism” has recommended that lawmakers create a formal list of “domestic terrorist threats” that would be equivalent to the State Department’s official list of foreign terrorist organizations. It is entirely possible that direct action groups of any political persuasion, including those on the ‘left’ such as animal liberation groups like ALF and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, or Earth Liberation Front, or various anarchist, communist or autonomous groups, could be designated without any due process to be “domestic terrorist groups”. If that was the case, then it is possible that indefinite military detention could be used to imprison members of those groups and their supporters. Of course there is already an enacted law, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which designates certain activities, including the destruction of private property and the release of animals, as “terrorism”.
In another extension of presidential power, far beyond even that which Bush claimed, Obama has killed US citizens suspected of “terrorism” without any due process or formal criminal allegation. US citizens murdered upon the order of the President include in September 2011 Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16 year old son, Abdulrahman, and several others. The Obama administration has compiled a kill list of US citizens to be assassinated anywhere in the world.
Compiled by Nemeton
- You have only one question to ask yourself: do I give good data-set? Even automatic doors don't notice us The security camera is slotted into the space left by an omniscient god. But this is a deity that's had to downgrade its ambitions and if god is love, this one…
- Largely unnoticed by the public the Labour government has been sneaking in “anti-terrorist” legislation in the wake of the Omagh bombing and is planning to sharpen their knives even further with new proposed laws. It becomes clear that ‘new’ Labour has been put into power because it is even more…
- Nail Bombs and Bio-Politics Military intelligence isn’t what it used to be but so what, Human intelligence isn’t what it used to be either John Cale, Sabotage On Bank Holiday Monday May 3, jubilant headlines announced the arrest of David Copeland, a 22 year-old engineer from Farnborough, for the nail…