Archive for the ‘spying’ Category

Delaware Police Unveil Newest Security Cameras, But Citizens Revolt As Rights Questioned

November 17, 2017 Leave a comment


Delaware police cruisers are being  equipped with a “dashcam on steroids.” Able to read license plates and identify faces, police call the upgraded security cameras an “extra set of eyes.” As the newest technology is unveiled, civil rights groups fear a citizen’s revolution over “profiling” and “misuse of data” questions.

“Smart” cameras hooked up with artificial intelligence are being rolled out with the goal of helping police recognize fugitives, missing children, and wandering seniors. According to David Hinojosa, “the video feeds will be analyzed using artificial intelligence to identify vehicles by license plate or other features,” he says. “We are helping officers keep their focus on their jobs.” His company, Coban Technologies, is installing the cutting edge equipment.

The Coban system acts as “a digital evidence hub” that can “consolidate digital evidence from multiple sources, including up to six HD quality cameras, body cameras, and other sources.” With FOCUS H1, the system allows third-party applications to “identify a wide range of objects, such as vehicle make and model, faces, weapons, dangerous movements or behaviors, and other artificial intelligence based applications.”

One of Hinojosa’s competitors, Deep Science, uses a similar system to “help retail stores detect in real time if an armed robbery is in progress, by identifying guns or masked assailants.” The company has several test projects running with American retailers to sound an alarm if it detects a robbery, fire or other detectable threats.

The biggest advantage comes from the computer’s unlimited attention span, “A common problem is that security guards get bored,” a Deep Science co-founder and former Pentagon engineer explains. Their technology, he says, “can monitor for threats more efficiently and at a lower cost than human security guards.”

Advances in the way computers recognize objects make it possible for algorithms to recognize weapons, specify vehicle makes and models, read license plates, and identify individuals as an aid to human law enforcement officers and security guards.

The biggest challenge used to be “video is unstructured, it’s not searchable, you had to go through hundreds of hours of video with fast forward and rewind.” That’s been solved, Israeli company Briefcam claims. “We detect, track, extract and classify each object in the video. So it becomes a database.” The benefit is since video camera feeds can now be monitored by bots in real time, authorities can “quickly find targets from video surveillance.”

Automation also eliminates missed recognition due to human inattention. “It’s not only saving time. In many cases, they wouldn’t be able to do it because people who watch video become ineffective after 10 to 20 minutes,” Amit Gavish from Briefcam says.

Computer graphics card maker Nvidia has two different “supercomputing modules,” Jetson and Metropolis, that nearly 50 individual partners use for security-related tasks. One partner, Umbo Computer Vision, “has developed an AI-enhanced security monitoring system which can be used at schools, hotels or other locations, analyzing video to detect intrusions and threats in real-time, and sending alerts to a security guard’s computer or phone.”

Nvidia’s product manager, Saurabh Jain, explains that “the same computer vision technologies are used for self-driving vehicles, drones, and other autonomous systems, to recognize and interpret the surrounding environment.”

A Russian startup, Vision Labs uses Nvidia’s facial recognition equipment to spot shoplifters in stores and identify unwanted “problem customers” in casinos. They can work with clients everywhere, project manager Vadim Killmnichenko boasts. “We can deploy this anywhere through the cloud.”

Banks are one place Vision Labs is deployed. Facial recognition tools are being used to prevent fraud by detecting “if someone is using a false identity.”

All this increased technology comes with a price. Marc Rotenberg is concerned about the privacy risks associated with the rapid growth in AI technology. “Some of these techniques can be helpful but there are huge privacy issues when systems are designed to capture identity and make a determination based on personal data,” the president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center warns. “That’s where issues of secret profiling, bias, and accuracy enter the picture.”

Rotenberg believes if AI systems are to be used in criminal investigations, they need to be tightly monitored to “ensure legal safeguards, transparency, and procedural rights.” Shelly Kramer of Futurum Research agrees. Noting that “AI holds great promise for law enforcement, be it for surveillance, scanning social media for threats, or using ‘bots’ as lie detectors,” she writes in her blog. “With that encouraging promise, though, comes a host of risks and responsibilities.”


Video: Couple Proves Facebook Is Secretly Listening To Your Conversations

November 16, 2017 1 comment

Some conspiracy theories are harder to dismiss out of hand — like the idea that Facebook is using your phone’s microphone to listen in on your conversations to serve you ads relevant to your interests. There are reports that claim if you use Facebook messenger, you are being recorded even when not on the phone.

While Facebook has been listening to your conversations since 2014, Kelli Burns, a communications professor at the University of South Florida, told The Independent in 2016 that Facebook could be listening in on users’ conversations all of the time to serve them with relevant advertising.

On its part, the social network admitted it uses peoples’ microphones, not for ad-targeting purposes but only as a way of seeing what they are listening to or watching and suggesting that they post about it. Facebook, which has a history of disrespecting users’ privacy, also revealed an easy way to revoke its access to your microphone. Here’s how to stop Facebook from listening to you on your phone.

So, is Facebook recording your conversations? The best evidence against the ‘conspiracy theory’ that Facebook is listening to your conversations is that Facebook strenuously denies it. But you will find it difficult to dismiss this conspiracy theory as totally crazy because there’s evidence that smartphone settings can be easily circumvented to allow surreptitious spying.

Well, if Facebook ads pop up with the same content as your conversations, it definitely feels like Facebook listened to your conversations. A video showing a couple’s successful attempt to get Facebook to show them cat food ads by talking constantly about cat food went viral last summer, and recently made the rounds on Reddit again.

Suspecting Facebook was listening in to his conversations, YouTube user Neville (who has no cats and who has never searched for cats or cat food) conducted a simple experiment.

“My wife and I took a random subject we had NEVER every talked about or searched online and talked about it while her iPhone was on in the background. Two days later, our Facebook advertising completely changed over to cat food for a few days.”

Creepy, yes, but is it true? The couple, obviously, says yes, and many Internet users agree.


“Stingray On Steroids”: $300,000 Project From Texas National Guard Under Scrutiny

November 15, 2017 Leave a comment

The Texas National Guard has used over $373,000 from drug related asset forfeitures on a state of the art air craft. The National Guard has purchased 2 Drt-1301C and installed them on a pair of RC-26 surveillance planes.

The Drt, affectionally referred to as the Dirt Box, is designed to mimic a cell phone tower. The Dirt Box has the ability to connect to 10,000 phones simultaneously and record conversations in real time.

“The Texas Observer” acquired documents that detail the capabilities and functions of these devices. All smart phones within a one third mile are tricked into connecting to it. Once connected, the operator has access to the users location, people called, texts and pictures.

This invasion can be done remotely and neither the victim or the cell phone provider will be aware of the attack. The planes are not commissioned for use against ordinary citizens.

The National Guard is planning on using these two air crafts for counter narcotics operations. The Department of Justice issued regulations in 2015 to permit this kind of surveillance with probable cause. The Texas National Guard is pushing the boundaries of the legal limits because the National Guard is a military force. They may not have the legal authority to use these devices for spying purposes.

Police forces across the nation use these devices from Los Angeles to Chicago. The United States Marshalls fly these Dirt Boxes on Cessna planes, which fly across the nation.

The predecessor technology to the Dirt Box is called the Stingray. Stingray’s have a long history of use with police departments in the United States. Powerful in their own right, a Stingray is a cardboard box juxtaposed to the Dirt Box.

Recently studies have shown that Stingrays are statistically used on low income, minority communities. In September 2017 a federal court has ruled that a warrant is required before one can be used.

The older Stingrays are not capable of capturing content. The DRT box will ensnare everything from everybody. Civil liberties advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, are issuing statements to comment on the constitutionality of these practices.

When asked, the National Guard refused to speak about the process in which a warrant was obtained prior to the use of the electronic eavesdropping devices. It is hard to imagine how different modern society would be today without the efforts of mass surveillance.

The majority of mass shooters in the United States over the past decade has been on an FBI watch list. Simply because someone is being watched doesn’t mean they are going to be prevented from carrying out an attack or trafficking.

For every person that slips through the cracks, it is nice to believe that our agencies apprehend four score that. Since the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001, and the passing of the Patriot Act, American citizens have come under extreme scrutiny.

The legality of such actions has been called into question in the past. Many intelligence agencies still undoubtedly use blanket surveillance to sweep a wide swatch of information with or without obtaining warrants.

What these agencies do with the information they collect seems to be the larger issue. Our tech companies and Silicon Valley already sell all the information they collect to third parties.

If our Intelligence Community begins to sell all their information to third parties or foreign entities, a revolution would ensue.  Trading privacy for security can only work when protections are set up for the people.

Privacy is a right that should not be forfeited lightly. Security is a privilege that we entrust entirely to our government. Where our personal security is outlined in the Second amendment, the right of privacy is adhered to in the Fourth Amendment.

Justin William O. Douglas found that the right of privacy is outlined in the bill of rights. Protection from self-incrimination in the Fifth Amendment, and freedom of association listed in the First Amendment are a few the justice named.

Justice Arthur Goldberg proclaimed that privacy is a right of protection from government intrusion. The justice had listed the Ninth Amendment citing that the right of privacy was reserved for the people. Other Supreme Justices took note that privacy is protected under due process of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Smart Devices Are Snitching On Owners And Rewriting The Criminal Justice System

October 14, 2017 Leave a comment


A new type of court case is slowly but steadily emerging within the American legal system: alleged crimes being detected from data supplied by smart devices.

Several cases over the last few years have focused on data transmitted within the modern smart home, while a couple of others add an extra dimension of police completely reconstructing a crime scene based upon data collected from the home as well as the various Internet-connected devices that we wear.

The very nature of the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution appears to be at stake.

In December of last year an Arkansas murder case made headlines not so much for the death itself, but how a suspect was brought into custody. James Bates hosted a party at his Bentonville home on the night of November 21st, 2015. At some point during the event a man drowned in a hot tub on the property. Bates claimed to have found the victim the next morning when he awoke, stating that it was a tragic accident, but Arkansas police obtained smart water meter readings that showed an anomaly between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Based solely on this data – and obtained without a warrant – Bates was arrested and charged with 1st degree murder.

Somewhat ironically, James Bates subsequently requested recordings from his Amazon Echo to defend himself against these charges, which resulted in Amazon waiving their standard privacy conditions.

A second case followed wherein we saw a police narrative emerge that a crime had been prevented by a home’s smart system. A domestic dispute resulted in Eduardo Barros allegedly wielding a firearm against his girlfriend and threatening to kill her. However, during the argument he exclaimed, “Did you call the sheriffs?” This activated a voice-controlled sound system in his home and dialed 911. After an hours-long standoff, the suspect was taken into custody and charged. Law enforcement was quick to hail the smart technology as having “saved a life.”  But it was the presiding judge who shook privacy advocates by accepting the evidence regardless of how it was obtained, saying that there was indeed probable cause for the arrest without a warrant.

But it is the bizarre case of Richard Dabate, as recounted in the Chicago Tribune that offers up new complexities in the argument about how far police should be able to go in obtaining information and using it to investigate crimes.

Two days before Christmas, 2015, Connecticut police received a distress call from a man who claimed that an intruder killed his wife and tortured him. He was found in the home’s basement tied to a chair and bleeding. Richard told an apparently detailed story of the events that led up to the break-in, which included recounting how his smartphone alerted him to the intrusion while driving to work. He stated that he sent an e-mail to his company and gave the time of his arrival home at around 8:45 a.m. He says he entered the home and confronted the intruder. Meanwhile, his wife returned from a morning exercise class. Richard claims that he told his wife to run, but she was pursued and shot by the intruder, upon which the man dragged Richard to the basement, tied him to a chair and tortured him. The details of how he managed to dial 911 after fending off the attacker were even more dramatic: “Richard said he crawled upstairs with the chair still attached, activated the panic alarm, called 911 and collapsed. The firefighter found him soon after.”

During the course of the investigation, police realized that Richard’s wife Connie was wearing a Fitbit – a wearable device with a feature that tracks how many steps a person takes while exercising or going about their daily activities. The numbers didn’t match according to Richard’s account of what had happened, differing by a wide margin. Nor did the records from Richard’s smart key, which show that his alarm was activated at 8:50 a.m., then turned off at 8:59 p.m – from his basement. His email, which he claimed was sent from the road, actually showed that he sent it from his home IP address. Richard was arrested and now awaits judgment after pleading not guilty.

The Tribune noted one additional case where even a man’s pacemaker snitched him out to police. He claimed that he woke up to his house on fire, but after police summoned records of his cardiac rhythm, he was found to have been awake at the time the blaze began. He was arrested and charged for arson and insurance fraud.

The cases thus far seem to highlight instances where justice very well could have been served upon the guilty. Is this a sign that the American justice system is being diligent with the cases it pursues? Or is the precedent being set to drastically widen the scope in the future, opening the door for false arrests based upon faulty digital readings and/or hacks?

Ninety-nine percent of crime will now have a digital component … We have these little sensors all over. We’re wearing them and they’re in our homes. — Jonathan Rajewski, a digital forensics instructor at Champlain College in Vermont. (Source)

It will definitely be something in five or 10 years, in every case, we will look to see if this information is available —  Virginia State Police Special Agent Robert Brown III of the High Technology Division. (Source)

US Intelligence Unit Accused Of Illegally Spying On Americans’ Financial Records

October 8, 2017 Leave a comment

The Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been illegally rifling through and filing away the private financial records of US citizens, Treasury employees alleged. “This is such an invasion of privacy,” said one official.

The intelligence division at the Treasury Department has repeatedly and systematically violated domestic surveillance laws by snooping on the private financial records of US citizens and companies, according to government sources.

Over the past year, at least a dozen employees in another branch of the Treasury Department, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, have warned officials and Congress that US citizens’ and residents’ banking and financial data has been illegally searched and stored. And the breach, some sources said, extended to other intelligence agencies, such as the National Security Agency, whose officers used the Treasury’s intelligence division as an illegal back door to gain access to American citizens’ financial records. The NSA said that any allegations that it “is operating outside of its authorities and knowingly violating U.S. persons’ privacy and civil liberties is categorically false.”

In response to detailed questions, the Treasury Department at first issued a one-sentence reply stating that its various branches “operate in a manner consistent with applicable legal authorities.” Several hours after this story published, the department issued a more forceful denial: “The BuzzFeed story is flat out wrong. An unsourced suggestion that an office within Treasury is engaged in illegal spying on Americans is unfounded and completely off-base.” It added that “OIA and FinCEN share important information and operate within the bounds of statute.”

Still, the Treasury Department’s Office of the Inspector General said it has launched a review of the issue. Rich Delmar, a lawyer in that office, offered no further comment.

But a senior Treasury official, who is not authorized to speak on the matter so requested anonymity, did not mince words: “This is domestic spying.”

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

Afp Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

Sources said the spying had been going on under President Barack Obama, but the Donald Trump appointees who now control how the department conducts intelligence operations are Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker.

At issue is the collection and dissemination of information from a vast database of mostly US citizens’ banking and financial records that banks turn over to the government each day. Banks and other financial institutions are required, under the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, to report suspicious transactions and cash transactions over $10,000. The database is maintained by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, a bank regulator charged with combatting money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes. Under the law, it has unfettered powers to peruse and retain the data.

In contrast to FinCEN, Treasury’s intelligence division, known as the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, or OIA, is charged with monitoring suspicious financial activity that occurs outside the US. Under a seminal Reagan-era executive order, a line runs through the Treasury Department and all other federal agencies separating law enforcement, which targets domestic crimes, from intelligence agencies, which focus on foreign threats and can surveil US citizens only in limited ways and by following stringent guidelines.

FinCEN officials have accused their counterparts at OIA, an intelligence unit, of violating this separation by illegally collecting and retaining domestic financial information from the banking database. Some sources have also charged that OIA analysts have, in a further legal breach, been calling up financial institutions to make inquiries about individual bank accounts and transactions involving US citizens. Sources said the banks have complied with the requests because they are under the impression they are giving the information to FinCEN, which they are required to do.

One source recalled an instance from 2016 in which OIA personnel, inserting themselves into a domestic money-laundering case, sought information from a Delaware financial institution. In other cases, according to a second source, FinCEN gave OIA reports with the names of US citizens and companies blacked out. OIA obtained those names by calling the banks, then used those names to search the banking database for more information on those American citizens and firms.

“This is such an invasion of privacy.” —Treasury Department official

Sources also claimed that OIA has opened a back door to officers from other intelligence agencies throughout the government, including the the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Officials from those agencies have been coming to work at OIA for short periods of time, sometimes for as little as a week, and thereby getting unrestricted access to information on US citizens that they otherwise could not collect without strict oversight.

“This is such an invasion of privacy,” said another Treasury Department official, who, lacking authorization to speak on the matter, asked not to be named. This person predicted that banks “would lose their minds” if they knew that their customers’ records were being used by government intelligence officers who did not have the legal authority to do so.

The Defense Intelligence Agency did not respond to a request for comment. CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said, “Suggestions that the Agency may be improperly collecting and retaining US persons data through the mechanisms you described are completely inaccurate.”

Sources claimed the unauthorized inspection and possession of Americans’ financial data have been going on for years but only became controversial in 2016, when officials at FinCEN learned about it and began objecting. Early last year, Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, which oversees OIA, proposed transferring much of FinCEN’s work to OIA.

In a bureaucratic turf war, FinCEN officials objected to the proposal, which would have shifted numerous employees and a portion of FinCEN’s budget to OIA. They said the move was illegal without prior approval from Congress.

Instead of being given the guidelines, sources said, they were removed from an email chain about the issue.

And they claimed that OIA, because it is part of the US intelligence community, could not legally collect information on US citizens and residents unless it complied with a landmark executive order known as 12333. Signed by President Ronald Reagan and later revised and reissued by President George W. Bush, this order sets the rules for how intelligence agencies can operate. Before any agency can collect, retain, and disseminate intelligence on American citizens, that agency must establish privacy guidelines, and those guidelines, in turn, must be approved by the attorney general after consulting with the director of national intelligence. OIA, which was established in 2004, has never completed this process. Even so, it must follow rules designed to protect the civil rights and privacy of American citizens.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the attorney general declined to comment.

Also, sources said, under an agreement between the two branches of Treasury, OIA is allowed to access FinCEN’s banking database for specific foreign intelligence purposes. But, these sources said, OIA has been going far beyond those limits, flouting both this agreement and the executive order.

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Last summer, FinCEN officials asked to review OIA’s guidelines required under the executive order. Instead of being given the guidelines, sources said, they were removed from an email chain about the issue.

In September, a high-ranking attorney for the Treasury Department, Paul Ahern, got into a heated exchange at a meeting with at least a half-dozen FinCEN employees. He told them that OIA had the authority to access and use the data because it had preliminary, draft guidelines, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. In fact, more than a month would pass before the guidelines were written, according to a first draft reviewed by BuzzFeed News. To this day, the guidelines have not been finalized.

Ahern, sources said, also informed FinCEN officials that OIA had already been collecting information on US citizens. Many FinCEN officials were aghast because they believed that was illegal.

A Treasury Department spokesperson declined to make Ahern available for comment, and referred back to the department’s statement that all its offices act “in a manner consistent with applicable legal authorities.” The former head of OIA, S. Leslie Ireland, who resigned last year, did not respond to a request for comment. This month, she was named to the board of directors of banking giant Citigroup. The company declined comment.

Some FinCEN officials said they were instructed not to speak to Congress about their domestic spying concerns and other issues. They did anyway.

Some FinCEN officials said they were instructed not to speak to Congress about their domestic spying concerns and other issues. They did anyway.

In October of 2016, Rep. Sean Duffy, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, sent a letter to then-Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew asking for OIA’s legal authority to collect and retain domestic information.

Nearly one year later, the Congressman has yet to receive an answer, according to a committee staffer.

Officials at FinCEN said that after they began raising alarms, OIA began shutting them off from classified networks. That lack of access, which BuzzFeed News reported last week, meant FinCEN officials were unable to fully respond to law enforcement agencies during several live terrorist attacks over the last year. It also prevented FinCEN from fully complying with the Senate investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. ●


This story has been updated to reflect statements that were issued after the story was published from the Treasury Department and the National Security Agency.

NSA says it would need to scale down spying program ahead of expiration

October 2, 2017 Leave a comment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. National Security Agency would need to begin winding down what it considers its most valuable intelligence program before its expiration at year-end if the U.S. Congress leaves its reauthorization in limbo, the agency’s deputy director said on Friday.

The possibility the U.S. government may begin losing access to the surveillance authority even before it would officially lapse on Dec. 31 is likely to increase pressure on lawmakers to quickly renew the law.

“We would have to be looking to work with our mission partners in the government as well as the companies to start scaling down in advance,” George Barnes, the deputy director of the NSA, said at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security event.

“We would, definitely. The last thing we would want to do is conduct any operation … if we did not have an active statute in place,” Barnes said in response to a question asked by Reuters. “We would have to work the dates backwards to make sure we didn’t cross the line.”

Asked about the remarks by Barnes, an NSA spokesman said the agency fully expects Congress to reauthorize the program.

The law, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, allows U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on, and store vast amounts of, digital communications from foreign suspects living outside of the United States.

It is considered a critical national security tool by U.S. officials, who say it supports priorities ranging from counterterrorism to cyber security.

But the program, classified details of which were exposed by 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, also incidentally scoops up communications of Americans for a variety of technical reasons, including if they communicate with a foreign target living overseas. Those communications can then be subject to searches from analysts without a warrant.

The scenario articulated by Barnes resembles one that occurred two years ago, when portions of a separate law, the Patriot Act, that allowed the NSA to collect bulk domestic phone metadata were expiring.

Gridlocked over whether to enact reforms, U.S. lawmakers briefly let that Patriot Act lapse. The NSA said it had to begin winding down the program about a week before its expiration.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is working on legislation to reform aspects of Section 702, but many Republicans, supported by the White House, want to renew the law without changes and make it permanent.

Samantha Power sought to unmask Americans on almost daily basis, sources say

September 22, 2017 Leave a comment

Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was ‘unmasking’ at such a rapid pace in the final months of the Obama administration that she averaged more than one request for every working day in 2016 – and even sought information in the days leading up to President Trump’s inauguration, multiple sources close to the matter told Fox News.

Two sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said the requests to identify Americans whose names surfaced in foreign intelligence reporting, known as unmasking, exceeded 260 last year. One source indicatedthis occurred in the final days of the Obama White House.

The details emerged ahead of an expected appearance by Power next month on Capitol Hill. She is one of several Obama administration officials facing congressional scrutiny for their role in seeking the identities of Trump associates in intelligence reports – but the interest in her actions is particularly high.

In a July 27 letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said the committee had learned “that one official, whose position had no apparent intelligence-related function, made hundreds of unmasking requests during the final year of the Obama Administration.”

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