The government is spying on us through our computers, phones, cars, buses, streetlights, at airports and on the street, via mobile scanners and drones, through our smart meters, and in many other ways. Even now – after all of the revelations by Edward Snowden, Bill Binney, and other whistleblowers – spying apologists say that the reports are “exaggerated” or “overblown”, and that the government only spies on potential bad guys. In reality, the government is spying on everyone’s digital and old-fashioned communications. For example, the government is photographing the outside information on every piece of snail mail. The government is spying on you through your phone … and may even remotely turn on your camera and microphone when your phone is off.
As one example, the NSA has inserted its code into Android’s operating system … bugging three-quarters of the world’s smartphones. Google – or the NSA – can remotely turn on your phone’s camera and recorder at any time. Moreover, Google knows just about every WiFi password in the world … and so the NSA does as well, since it spies so widely on Google. But it’s not just the Android. In reality, the NSA can spy on just about everyone’s smart phone.
Cell towers track where your phone is at any moment, and the major cell carriers, including Verizon and AT&T, responded to at least 1.3 million law enforcement requests for cell phone locations and other data in 2011. (And – given that your smartphone routinely sends your location information back to Apple or Google – it would be child’s play for the government to track your location that way.) Your iPhone, or other brand of smartphone is spying on virtually everything you do (ProPublica notes: “That’s No Phone. That’s My Tracker“). Remember, that might be happening even when your phone is turned off.
The government might be spying on you through your computer’s webcam or microphone. The government might also be spying on you through the “smart meter” on your own home. NSA also sometimes uses “man-in-the-middle” tactics, to pretend that it is Google or other popular websites to grab your information. The FBI wants a backdoor to all software. But leading European computer publication Heise said in 1999 that the NSA had already built a backdoor into all Windows software.
Microsoft has long worked hand-in-hand with the NSA and FBI so that encryption doesn’t block the government’s ability to spy on users of Skype, Outlook, Hotmail and other Microsoft services. And Microsoft informs intelligence agencies of with information about bugs in its popular software before it publicly releases a fix, so that information can be used by the government to access computers. (Software vulnerabilities are also sold to the highest bidder.) A top expert in the ‘microprocessors’ or ‘chips’ inside every computer – having helped start two semiconductor companies and a supercomputer firm – also says:
He would be “surprised” if the US National Security Agency was not embedding “back doors” inside chips produced by Intel and AMD, two of the world’s largest semiconductor firms, giving them the possibility to access and control machines.
***[The expert] said when he learned the NSA had secured “pre-encryption stage” access to Microsoft’s email products via the PRISM leaks, he recognized that “pretty much all our computers have a way for the NSA to get inside their hardware” before a user can even think about applying encryption or other defensive measures.
Leading security experts say that the NSA might have put a backdoor in all encryption standards years ago. … meaning that the NSA could easily hack into all encrypted communications. And the NSA hacks into encrypted “VPN” connections. It’s gotten so bad that some of the largest encryption companies are warning that their encryption tools are compromised. “Black boxes” are currently installed in between 90% and 96% of all new cars. And starting in 2014, all new cars will include black boxes that can track your location.
There are some people out there that are still operating under the assumption that the data on their cellphones is safe from the prying eyes of law enforcement authorities. That actually has not been true for a long time, and now a new tool is enabling them to unlock virtually any cellphone. The following comes from WHIO…
Law enforcement agencies are using a mysterious new tool to unlock the cellphones of criminal suspects and access their text messages, emails and voice messages. Some agencies around the country, concerned about security, are not even acknowledging use of the devices. Adding to the secrecy surrounding the new tool, one of the companies that makes and sells the devices to police and government agencies does not display their products on the company website.
License plate readers mounted on police cars allow police to gather millions of records on drivers … including photos of them in their cars. If you have a microphone in your car, that might also open you up to snoopers. As CNET points out:
Surreptitious activation of built-in microphones by the FBI has been done before. A 2003 lawsuit revealed that the FBI was able to surreptitiously turn on the built-in microphones in automotive systems like General Motors’ OnStar to snoop on passengers’ conversations.
When FBI agents remotely activated the system and were listening in, passengers in the vehicle could not tell that their conversations were being monitored.
Three major Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) companies have created a mind-boggling database of 14 billion license plates that allows law enforcement to track anyone in real-time. The Digital Recognition Network (DRN) has a database of over 8 billion license plates and boasts about sending customers (law enforcement) live vehicle location alerts.
A security expert and former NSA software developer says that hackers can access private surveillance cameras. Given that the NSA apparently already monitors public cameras using facial recognition software (and see this), and that the FBI is building a system which will track “public and private surveillance cameras around the country”, we can assume that government agencies might already be hacking into private surveillance cameras.
Watch out: the CIA may soon be spying on you—through your beloved, intelligent household appliances, according to Wired.
In early March, at a meeting for the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, CIA Director David Petraeus reportedly noted that “smart appliances” connected to the Internet could someday be used by the CIA to track individuals. If your grocery-list-generating refrigerator knows when you’re home, the CIA could, too, by using geo-location data from your wired appliances, according to SmartPlanet.
“The current ‘Internet of PCs’ will move, of course, toward an ‘Internet of Things’—of devices of all types—50 to 100 billion of which will be connected to the Internet by 2020,” Petraeus said in his speech. He continued:
Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters—all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low cost, and high-power computing—the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.
ITworld’s Kevin Fogarty thinks that J. Edgar Hoover, were he still with us, would “die of jealousy” upon hearing about the tools soon to be at Petraeus’ disposal.
And they’re probably bluffing and exaggerating, but the Department of Homeland Security claims they will soon be able to know your adrenaline level, what you ate for breakfast and what you’re thinking … from 164 feet away. (In addition, people will probably soon be swallowing tracking devices for medical purposes)
The government is currently testing systems for use in public spaces which can screen for “pre-crime”. As Nature reports:
Like a lie detector, FAST measures a variety of physiological indicators, ranging from heart rate to the steadiness of a person’s gaze, to judge a subject’s state of mind. But there are major differences from the polygraph. FAST relies on non-contact sensors, so it can measure indicators as someone walks through a corridor at an airport, and it does not depend on active questioning of the subject.
CBS News points out:
FAST is designed to track and monitor, among other inputs, body movements, voice pitch changes, prosody changes (alterations in the rhythm and intonation of speech), eye movements, body heat changes, and breathing patterns. Occupation and age are also considered. A government source told CNET that blink rate and pupil variation are measured too.
A field test of FAST has been conducted in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast. “It is not an airport, but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting,” DHS spokesman John Verrico told Nature.com in May.
Although DHS has publicly suggested that FAST could be used at airport checkpoints–the Transportation Security Administration is part of the department, after all–the government appears to have grander ambitions. One internal DHS document (PDF) also obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act says a mobile version of FAST “could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”
The risk of false positives is very real. As Computer World notes:
Tom Ormerod, a psychologist in the Investigative Expertise Unit at Lancaster University, UK, told Nature, “Even having an iris scan or fingerprint read at immigration is enough to raise the heart rate of most legitimate travelers.” Other critics have been concerned about “false positives.” For example, some travelers might have some of the physical responses that are supposedly signs of mal-intent if they were about to be groped by TSA agents in airport security.
Various “pre-crime” sensing devices have already been deployed in public spaces in the U.S.
The government has also worked on artificial intelligence for “pre-crime” detection on the Web. And given that programs which can figure out your emotions are being developed using your webcam, every change in facial expression could be tracked.
According to the NSA’s former director of global digital data – William Binney – the NSA’s new data storage center in Utah will have so much storage capacity that:
“They would have plenty of space … to store at least something on the order of 100 years worth of the worldwide communications, phones and emails and stuff like that,” Binney asserts, “and then have plenty of space left over to do any kind of parallel processing to try to break codes.”
***[But the NSA isn’t stopping there.] Despite its capacity, the Utah center does not satisfy NSA’s data demands. Last month, the agency broke ground on its next data farm at its headquarters at Ft. Meade, Md. But that facility will be only two-thirds the size of the mega-complex in Utah.
The NSA is building next-generation quantum computers to process all of the data.
NBC News reports:
NBC News has learned that under the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the government has been collecting records on every phone call made in the U.S.
The documents leaked by Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald show:
But what we’re really talking about here is a localized system that prevents any form of electronic communication from taking place without its being stored and monitored by the National Security Agency.
It doesn’t mean that they’re listening to every call, it means they’re storing every call and have the capability to listen to them at any time, and it does mean that they’re collecting millions upon millions upon millions of our phone and email records.
In addition, a government expert told the Washington Post that the government “quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.” (And see this.) A top NSA executive confirmed to Washington’s Blog that the NSA is intercepting and storing virtually all digital communications on the Internet.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate committee on March 30, 2011, that “technological improvements” now enable the bureau “to pull together past emails and future ones as they come in so that it does not require an individualized search.”
The administration is building a facility in a valley south of Salt Lake City that will have the capacity to store massive amounts of records – a facility that former agency whistleblowers say has no logical purpose if it’s not going to be a vault holding years of phone and Internet data.
Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior executive who challenged the data collection for several years, said the agency’s intent seems obvious.
“One hundred million phone records?” he asked in an interview. “Why would they want that each and every day? Of course they’re storing it.”
Lending credence to his worries, The Guardian’s latest report quoted a document in which Alexander purportedly remarked during a 2008 visit to an NSA intercept station in Britain: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?”
One former U.S. security consultant, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his connections to government agencies, told McClatchy he has seen agency-installed switches across the country that draw data from the cables.
“Do I know they copied it? Yes,” said the consultant. “Do I know if they kept it? No.”
NSA whistleblower Russel Tice – a key source in the 2005 New York Times report that blew the lid off the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretapping – says that the content and metadata of all digital communications are being tapped by the NSA.
The NSA not only accesses data directly from the largest internet companies, it also sucks up huge amounts of data straight from undersea cables providing telephone and Internet service to the United States.
After all, the government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act so that “everything” is deemed relevant … so the government can spy on everyone.
The NSA isn’t the only agency which is conducting massive spying.
The Wall Street Journal notes:
The rules now allow the little-known National Counterterrorism Center to … copy entire government databases—flight records, casino-employee lists, the names of Americans hosting foreign-exchange students and many others. The agency has new authority to keep data about innocent U.S. citizens for up to five years, and to analyze it for suspicious patterns of behavior. Previously, both were prohibited. Data about Americans “reasonably believed to constitute terrorism information” may be permanently retained.
The changes also allow databases of U.S. civilian information to be given to foreign governments for analysis of their own. In effect, U.S. and foreign governments would be using the information to look for clues that people might commit future crimes.
“It’s breathtaking” in its scope, said a former senior administration official familiar with the White House debate.
Gazillions. That’s the number of times the federal government has spied on Americans since 9/11 through the use of drones, legal search warrants, illegal search warrants, federal agent-written search warrants and just plain government spying. This is according to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who, when he asked the government to tell him what it was doing to violate our privacy, was given a classified briefing. The senator — one of just a few in the U.S. Senate who believes that the Constitution means what it says — was required by federal law to agree not to reveal what spies and bureaucrats told him during the briefing.
Even if the US government weren’t recording all of that data, England’s GCHQ spy agency is … and is sharing it with the NSA.
Private contractors can also view all of your data … and the government isn’t keeping track of which contractors see your data and which don’t. And because background checks regarding some contractors are falsified, it is hard to know the types of people that might have your information.
And top NSA and FBI experts say that the government can retroactively search all of the collected information on someone since 9/11 if they suspect someone of wrongdoing … or want to frame him.
The American government is in fact collecting and storing virtually every phone call, purchases, email, text message, internet searches, social media communications, health information, employment history, travel and student records, and virtually all other information of every American.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA spies on Americans’ credit card transactions. Senators Wyden and Udall – both on the Senate Intelligence Committee, with access to all of the top-secret information about the government’s spying programs – write:
Section 215 of the Patriot Act can be used to collect any type of records whatsoever … including information on credit card purchases, medical records, library records, firearm sales records, financial information and a range of other sensitive subjects.
The IRS will be spying on Americans’ shopping records, travel, social interactions, health records and files from other government investigators.
The Consumer Financial Protection Board will also spy on the finances of millions of Americans.
As Washington Monthly noted in 2004, Congress chopped off the head of the Total Information Awareness program … but the program returned as a many-headed hydra:
A program can survive even when the media, the public, and most of Congress wants it killed. It turns out that, while the language in the bill shutting down TIA was clear, a new line had been inserted during conference—no one knew by whom—allowing “certain processing, analysis, and collaboration tools” to continue.
….Thanks to the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, which had lobbied for the provision, TIA didn’t die—it metastasized. As the AP reported in February [of 2004], the new language simply outsourced many TIA programs to other intelligence offices and buried them in the so-called “black budget.” What’s more, today, several agencies are pursuing data mining projects independent of TIA, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the CIA, the Transportation Security Administration, and NASA….Even with TIA ostensibly shut down, many of the private contractors who worked on the program can continue their research with few controls.
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