Tag Archives: Electronic Wiretaps

July 4, 10am: Restore The Fourth MA!

restorethe4th

Over 150 people are already coming to the rally to Restore the Fourth tomorrow in Boston. Thousands more will be rallying across the country. But this is Massachusetts. We invented the Fourth Amendment, and people will be watching Boston more than any other city tomorrow. Come with us and let the government know that we don’t need their fearmongering, and will not allow them to take our liberties.

Schedule
09:00 – 10:00: Gathering outside the Old State House in preparation for the day.
10:00 – 11:00: Listening reverently to the Declaration of Independence. Be respectful: save the protesting for after.
11:00 – 12:00: Talking with the crowds that gathered for the reading, followed by a peaceful “Cease and Desist” action at mobile stores to protest at their cooperation with the NSA. Then to Boston Common.
12:00 – 13:00: We’ll be demonstrating on the Common, as well as gathering signatures against the upcoming MA wiretapping bill. This bill aims to expand the Commonwealth’s use of electronic surveillance against its residents.
13:00 – 14:00: Make our way to Dewey Square.
14:30 – 17:00: March throughout Boston including Faneuil Hall and the Esplanade.

What to bring
Water (in clear plastic containers)
Fliers if you can print them (don’t print too many, they’ll likely get thrown away)
SIGNS. Lots of signs. Here are some ideas we came up with for some slogans.
Restore the Fourth!
No Warrant, No Search
Repeal the Patriot Act / NDAA
Don’t Spy on Me
Abolish DHS
No “Random” Searches
Save Edward Snowden
No Secret Courts

NSA To Lawmakers: We Own You And Your Secrets

zod_sorority

Are you a lawmaker? Maybe, a lawmaker with aspirations for higher office? Maybe you’d like to be President someday? Do you think the NSA spying programs are just peachy because Terrorism? Well, why don’t you just punch yourself in the face right now?

Let’s you and I have a little talk about those aspirations you have, with close reference to this week’s revelations from NSA whistleblower Russ Tice, shall we?

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#MassWiretap: The AG’s Office Responds

After I posted an article giving Digital Fourth’s view on the wiretapping law on Blue Mass Group, Massachusetts’ largest Democratic blog, we got some attention from Mr. Brad Puffer, Director of Communications for the Mass Attorney General’s office. They seem put out. Maybe they didn’t like the lede, “Coakley Channeling the NSA?” 🙂

The above blog post includes inaccuracies that are highly misleading about the changes our office has proposed to the currently outdated Massachusetts wiretap law. Updating the wiretap law is a critical tool to combatting gang violence, gun violence, human trafficking, and many other violent crimes that undermine public safety in our communities. And equally important to what it does, is what it does not do. One thing it does not do is alter in any way the many safeguards already put in place under the current wiretap statute to protect against abuse.

I will explain some of the benefits of this new law further below, but first want to correct some of the inaccuracies in this blog post:
1) The proposed update to the wiretap law does not legalize mass interception of telecommunication switching stations. Each wiretap must be applied for and authorized individually by a Superior Court judge.
2) Marijuana possession is not eligible for a wiretap. Only serious designated felonies in the statute would be covered. According to federal law, only crimes with a minimum one year prison sentence are eligible for a wiretap.

The current wiretap law has not been updated since 1968, back when criminal activity and technology was vastly different. In 1968, the law was focused on “organized crime.” A 2011 SJC decision that upheld the suppression of statements obtained by a wire interception during a murder investigation stated very clearly that the investigation and prosecution of some of today’s most destructive crimes, including street violence, are hampered by this antiquated statute. The SJC urged an update to the law.

The updates we seek are common-sense and concise, including:

• Bringing the law up to date with technology: The legislation acknowledges that today communication is largely electronic and wireless. By updating the definition of “wire communication,” the bill makes explicit the law’s application to cellular and text technology without tailoring the definition so narrowly as to foreclose future technological developments.
• Removing the organized crime requirement: Currently, criminal activity that is the subject of a wiretap must have a connection to organized crime. The majority of street violence and gun crimes today, though often tied to looser organizations, nevertheless lack the traditional hallmarks of organized crime.
• Including additional violent or egregious crimes as designated offenses: Prior to seeking a warrant for a wiretap, law enforcement must establish probable cause that a “designated offense,” as defined in the statute, has been committed. The current list of designated offenses does not include some of the most violent and egregious crimes that law enforcement must investigate and prosecute today—and that the Legislature has correctly passed since the law’s inception— including human trafficking; firearms offenses; and child pornography offenses.

The law also maintains extensive safeguards that already exist under current law. First, any wiretap must be requested and signed by either the elected Attorney General or District Attorney and then authorized by a Superior Court judge. The judge can only authorize a wiretap for serious felonies where there is probable cause that a designated offense has been committed, and after all other investigative techniques have been exhausted or will not be successful. There are additional safeguards that ensure that only the conversations with direct correlation to the alleged crime are recorded and then permissible in any legal action.

For all of these reasons, these updates are supported by district attorneys, police, mayors, and many other community leaders who know that the only way that we will be able to better keep our communities safe is to give our investigators effective tools, with proper safeguards, to take the most dangerous criminals off the streets.

You can find more information about the proposed bill here:
http://www.mass.gov/ago/news-and-updates/press-releases/2013/2013-01-28-wiretap-legislation.html

Sincerely,
Brad Puffer
Director of Communications
Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley

Did we hit a nerve here?

Let’s take the assertions in the Puffer piece one by one.

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Get Your Data Out Of The US Now: NSA’s “PRISM” System Reveals How Insecure Your Data Really Is

surveillance_flag

As if yesterday’s explosive revelations about NSA’s ongoing interception of all of Americans’ phone calls weren’t enough, yesterday evening another top secret document was released (see here for screenshots), documenting for the first time that NSA had persuaded every major tech company with the exception (so far) of Twitter to allow them real-time access to their central data servers, and therefore to the private content of communications of the vast majority of Americans. It started in 2007 with Microsoft (surprise, surprise), and most recently enlisted Apple in 2012.

(Oh, it includes AOL too? Well, that’s thoughtful. Maybe they wanted to address the criticism that they weren’t focusing enough on the threat from the remote backwoods?)

So let’s take you through the PRISM scandal, and why it means that you should really shift your communications and company documents to being hosted outside of the US.

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Can You Hear Us Now? Colonial-Style General Warrants Return To America

Glenn Greenwald in the British newspaper The Guardian has published a leaked Top Secret order dating from the day of the Boston Marathon bombings providing evidence of intrusive cellphone surveillance dating from at least 2007. In the order, the NSA directs Verizon to send to it daily the metadata on ALL CELLPHONE CALLS – the calling number, the receiving number, and the location and duration of each call.

Gone now are the pathetic pretences that the NSA “doesn’t target Americans”, or that warrantless wiretapping is just about foreign terrorists. Nobody can claim ignorance any longer. The NSA is spying on all of us, and has careened far out of the control of the Constitution.

The text of the Fourth Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Why was this important to the Founders? Because royal administrations in the early and mid-18th century would take out “writs of assistance” to suppress dissent. Writs of assistance imposed no limitations on law enforcement, and could cover a whole town. Colonial agents could ransack everyone’s houses, looking for evidence of any lawbreaking. Writs of assistance also effectively suppressed the political activity of people who had done nothing wrong. So when the time came to write state constitutions and then the federal constitution, the Founders were very anxious to make sure that nothing like this kind of general warrant would ever be allowed in the United States.

Today’s news proved that they failed. The Writ of Assistance has returned, and the airwaves are full of fearful authoritarians justifying it. Do we really love our chains that much?

The NSA order, justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, doesn’t even pretend to limit the order’s scope. There’s no particular target. There’s no limitation of place. Calls between two grandmothers in Peoria are covered just as much as calls between members of suspected terrorist cells. The NSA doesn’t care. They want everything, so that they can criminalize us via algorithm.

Do you think this order is the only one? Sucker. This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The NSA has prepared an enormous data center in Utah to hold precisely this kind of data on your communications. Why should we suppose that they limited these orders to Verizon Wireless in particular?

Stand up! Call your senators and representatives, and get involved with Digital Fourth. If not now, when?

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.

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Stingrays Can Do More Than You Ever Imagined: Law Enforcement, Cellphone Interceptions, and Countermeasures

Previously, we reported on the existence of stingrays, also known as `IMSI catchers’, which are used by law enforcement as mobile cellphone towers. Stingrays intercept location and other data from all cellphones in the area, redirecting the traffic from regular cellphone towers. They can be used to get cellphone data without having even to go through phone companies to get it.

Thanks to the case US v. Rigmaiden and terrific reporting from Kim Zetter on the Threat Level blog at Wired, we now have a much more comprehensive picture of how they work and what they can do. It turns out that Stingrays have been around for longer, can do much more and are much more widespread than we might have supposed, and that how much they are really used may well be unknown to the courts.

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Microscope Monday: Massachusetts’ proposed Electronic Privacy Act (S. 796 / HD 1014)

microscope

Howdy and good morning, lovers of the Internet freedoms!

It’s time for another in our “Microscope Mondays” series, where we take a good hard look at pending legislation here in Massachusetts relevant to surveillance. Previously, we’ve covered a praiseworthy effort to restrict the use of drones for law enforcement purposes and Martha Coakley’s should-be-better-known “Let’s Wiretap All Of The Things Even Though Crime Is Down” bill. This week, it’s the turn of S. 796 / H. 1684, “An Act Updating Privacy Protections for Personal Electronic Information”, sponsored by Senator Karen Spilka and departing Representative Marty Walz.

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Not A Clown Car Law: Comparing Massachusetts’ Electronic Wiretapping Laws to Connecticut’s

The way you hear Martha Coakley tell it, Massachusetts’ laws relating to when you can and cannot issue an electronic wiretapping warrant are about as effective as using a clown car to fly folks to the moon. They were passed in the 1960s, man! Don’t you know you can’t trust any law over 30?

Of course, the Bill of Rights is nearly 220 years old, and many people seem somehow to find it important despite being oldy oldy old old. So we figured, why don’t we take a look at what other comparable states do, and see if Massachusetts’ laws look comically outdated compared to them?

Let’s try our friends over in dull-but-wealthy Connecticut! What does Nutmeg State law enforcement have to do to get their donut-frosting-smeared mitts on one of those sweet, sweet electronic wiretapping warrants?

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