Tag Archives: Drones

Mass Surveillance Is The Handmaiden of Unending War

endless-war

This week, I’m pleading with my legislators to not go to war, a process that lays bare the assumptions underlying both militarism and mass surveillance.

After trillions of dollars and millions of lives wasted in the Middle East, we are somehow politically no farther forward than we were in 2002.

Like back then, the leaders of both parties are banging the drums of war and raising the spectre of an unchastised enemy becoming a haven for terrorists to attack American soil.

Congress is united that Something Must Be Done.

The Something is apparently, again, bombing brown people to kingdom come.

Once again, a compliant media is concerned mostly with how much war they can push for how quickly, not with interrogating the powerful on why this is such a goddamn emergency that the only option is war. They are running solemn editorials asking whether President Obama is showing enough kneejerk belligerence (known in Washington as “leadership”) or not quite enough and the effect of said insufficient kneejerk belligerence on the goddamn midterms and the goddamn presidential election two years hence.

Yes, I get it. Who controls the US Senate is interesting. Who gets to sit in the Oval Office is also interesting. But you’d think that the thousands who will surely die from our bombs would also be interesting, and would have some weight in American decisions.

They do not; they count for nothing, or even less than nothing; they are “roaches“. And it is more or less taboo to talk about how “eradicating” them, in Rick Perry‘s phrase, might well come back to bite us, even when ISIS enjoys vigorous recruitment and funding precisely because we have been bombing in the Middle East for a decade now and have very little good to show for it.

A coldly rational assessment of the last decade of bombing suggests that US interests have not been advanced as a result; the US is no better loved; instead, we have put those we love in harm’s way, and have tortured and imprisoned and killed on an enormous scale, and for some reason it has only generated more hostility and suspicion. Why should we ever have expected it to be otherwise? Why expect it to be otherwise now?

How about this for a cheaper and more effective suggestion?

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At HOPE X: Artist Essam Attia, cool research, and Restore The Fourth!

The tenth biennial Hackers on Planet Earth Conference starts today and runs through Sunday at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC.

We’ll be there as part of the Restore The Fourth delegation (I’m the national chair of Restore The Fourth). I and Zaki Manian will be hosting a radio show 10am-11am on Radio Statler, the HOPE community radio station. We’re honored to have on our show controversial Maine-born artist Essam Attia. If you can’t be at the conference, check out the stream on radio.hope.net!

You can also check out the Restore The Fourth booth (I’ll be covering it Saturday afternoon), sign up as a member here ($60 individual/$20 student), or come hear a talk on our research into the effects of the Snowden revelations on search engine behavior.

See below the fold for more on the Attia case!

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One Ring To Rule Them All: Surveillance and the Massachusetts Governor’s Race

While most Massachusetts voters are digging out from a ferocious winter storm, state politics goes on. In particular, ten brave souls are running for this November’s election for Massachusetts governor – five Democrats, two Republicans and three Independents. It seems recently that candidates campaigning against the surveillance state have been getting some traction, probably because most people think there aren’t enough constraints on invasive government surveillance and like candidates better who promise to do something about it.

So, it’s worthwhile for us to do again what we did in the MA-05 race, and question the candidates closely on the kinds of surveillance topics the governor can affect. Notably, we’ll be covering the wiretapping expansion, state monitoring of social media, state retention of an array of data on people not suspected of any crime, the militarization of law enforcement, and warrant requirements.

We’ll report back here on the responses we receive, covering Republicans, Independents and Democrats separately. When all candidates of one affiliation have responded, we will post a comparison of their views.

Meanwhile, here are all of the candidates’ websites, for you to assess their positions on other issues. Enjoy!

Republicans: Baker, Fisher.
Independents: Falchuk, Faraone, McCormick
Democrats: Avellone, Berwick, Coakley, Grossman, Kayyem

New England mobilizes against the surveillance state: Updates from ME, NH and RI

In the states and the cities of New England, unparalleled, cross-partisan, cross-racial coalitions are forming, bringing together libertarians, Tea Party people, technologists, peace and environmental activists, Occupy folks, veterans’ groups, people of color, religious groups and progressive Democrats. The nation may never have seen people of such disparate views united under one banner.

Three examples from just this last month:

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Drawing The Line On Drones: Maine, Massachusetts legislators ponder when drones can be used without a warrant

drone_constitution

Scott Thistle at the Bangor Daily News reports that the Maine Senate is now considering a bill regulating the use of drones.

The bill is the result of consultations including legislators of both parties, the ACLU of Maine, and the Defense of Liberty PAC. It imposes a one-year moratorium on the use of drones by law enforcement in Maine, “except in emergencies”, pending a report from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy on how they could be used. However, the ACLU of Maine is unhappy with the version that has just passed out of the Judiciary Committee on a 7-6 vote, because it would in some circumstances allow police to operate drones without getting a Fourth Amendment compliant warrant. According to Thistle, the bill also does not make clear whether a drone could collect incidental footage that could later be used against a person other than the suspect detailed in a warrant.

There is also a Drone Privacy Act making its way through the Massachusetts legislature, though it is at an earlier stage and has the ACLU of Massachusetts’ strong support.

Perhaps the reason why the Maine bill has lost the support of the ACLU of Maine is that the “emergency exceptions” where a warrant is not required are rather broader in the Maine bill than in the Massachusetts bill. In Maine, the exceptions even include “conspiratorial activity that threatens the national security interest or is characteristic of organized crime”, which is vague, non-imminent, and broad enough to drive a truck through. The Massachusetts bill does not contain exceptions for those things.

Shenna Bellows, executive director of the ACLU of Maine, also objects to letting the police-run Criminal Justice Academy set the detailed rules for drone use. She states the problem plainly enough:

“The ACLU thinks that law enforcement should have a warrant before spying on Mainers with a drone and the [attorney general] does not. That’s the one issue where we cannot compromise.”

Good on you, Ms. Bellows. You have our full support.

Drowning in Data, Starved for Wisdom: The surveillance state cannot meaningfully assess terrorism risks

In this movie, we're Brad.

Pity the analysts.

The NSA has just vigorously denied that their new Utah Data Center, intended for storing and processing intelligence data, will be used to spy on US citizens. The center will have a capacity of at least one yottabyte, and will provide employment for 100-200 people. With the most generous assumptions [200 employees, all employed only on reviewing the data, only one yottabyte of data, ten years to collect the yottabyte, 5GB per movie], each employee would be responsible on average for reviewing 4500 billion terabytes, or approximately 23 million years’ worth of Blu-ray quality movies, every year.

 

Must...keep...watching...my...country...needs...me

Must…keep…watching…my…country…needs…me

This astounding and continually increasing mismatch shows that we are well beyond the point where law enforcement is able to have a human review a manageable amount of the data in its possession potentially relating to terrorist threats. Computer processing power doubles every two years, but law enforcement employment is rising at a rate of about 7% every ten years, and nobody’s going to pay for it to double every two years instead. Purely machine-based review inevitably carries with it a far higher probability that important things will be missed, even if we were to suppose that the data was entirely accurate to begin with – which it certainly is not.

So why is anybody surprised that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects and one of around 750,000 people in the TIDE database, was not stopped at the border? That facial recognition software wasn’t able to flag him as a match for a suspect? That the fusion centers, intended to synthesize data into actionable “suspicious activity reports”, flag things too late for them to be of any use? That the Air Force is panicking a little at not having enough people to process the data provided by our drone fleet?

It’s in this context, then, that we should understand the calls for more surveillance after the Boston Marathon attacks for what they are. More cameras, more surveillance drones and more wiretapping, without many more humans to process the data, will make this problem worse, not better. These calls are being driven not by a realistic assessment that surveillance will help prevent the next attack, but by the internal incentives of the players in this market. Neither the drone manufacturers, nor law enforcement, nor elected officials, have an interest in being the ones to call a halt. So instead they’re promoting automation – automated drones, automated surveillance, and email scanning software techniques.

They are missing something very simple. We don’t need a terrorism database with 750,000 names on it. There are not 750,000 people out there who pose any sort of realistic threat to America. If the “terrorism watch list” were limited by law to a thousand records, then law enforcement would have to focus only on the thousand most serious threats. Given the real and likely manpower of the federal government, and the rarity of actual terrorism, that’s more than enough. If law enforcement used the power of the Fourth Amendment, instead of trying to find ways round it, it could focus more on the highest-probability threats.

Yes, they would miss stuff. That’s inevitable under both a tight and a loose system. But a tight system has the added advantages that it protects more people’s liberties, and costs a lot less.

UPDATE: With the help of a New Yorker fact-checker, the figure of “400 billion terabytes” above has been corrected to “500 billion terabytes”.

Panel Discussion on Privacy and Security, BU, April 24

If you are in the BU area on Wednesday evening, come by to hear interesting speakers talking about privacy and security in the wake of the Boston Marathon attacks. Panelists will include Alex Marthews (that’s me!), James O’Keefe of the Massachusetts Pirate Party, and Gregg Housh. RSVP here.

bu_event_flyer

Microscope Monday: Massachusetts’ new drone privacy bill

A microscope, steampunk style.

A microscope, steampunk style.

Since our earlier analysis of the repellent new bill expanding electronic wiretapping was well-received, we’re starting an official series analyzing proposed Massachusetts legislation, called “Microscope Monday”.

In honor of the efforts to organize a new drone privacy group here in Massachusetts, this week’s bill is S. 1664 (Hedlund) / H. 1357 (Garry), “An act to regulate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles”.

State Senator Robert Hedlund is introducing this legislation in the Massachusetts Senate. Hedlund is a Republican and is the Assistant Minority Leader. His district covers Cohasset, Duxbury, Hingham, Hull, Marshfield, Norwell, Scituate and Weymouth. State Representative Colleen Garry is introducing the legislation in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. She is a Democrat, and her district covers Dracut and Tyngsborough.

This is not a long bill, but it’s a good one, and we at Digital Fourth commend the sponsors for introducing it. It’s currently in the Committee on the Judiciary (House) and the Committee on Transportation (Senate).

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That Didn’t Take Long: Fugitive Accused Cop-Killer Christopher Dorner Accused of “Domestic Terrorism”, Will Become First US Citizen on US Soil Targeted By Drones

If you needed any further evidence that it’s unwise to permit electronic surveillance to catch “terrorists”, USA Today has just provided it:

Dorner has been accused by police of the shooting deaths of three people, one of them a police officer and another the daughter of a former officer. […LAPD Police Chief Charlie] Beck said. “This is an act, and make no mistake about it, of domestic terrorism. This is a man who has targeted those who we entrust to protect the public. His actions cannot go unanswered.”

Dorner certainly seems to be guilty of multiple murders, and to have a beef with the LAPD over racist practices he witnessed as a serving police officer. But it seems that the chief of the nation’s second-largest police force has no goddamn clue what terrorism is.

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