Category Archives: Mobile Phones

Jim Hightower: NSA Spying Is Here to Stay

Jim Hightower writes for

[...] The three billion phone calls made in the U.S. each day are snatched up by the agency, which stores each call’s metadata (phone numbers of the parties, date and time, length of call, etc.) for five years. Each day telecom giants turn over metadata on every call they have processed. Every out-of-country call and email from (or to) a U.S. citizen is grabbed by NSA computers, and agents are authorized to listen to or read any of them.

The agency searches for and seizes nearly everything we do on the Internet. Without bothering with the constitutional nicety of obtaining a warrant, its XKeyscore program scoops up some 40 billion Internet records every month and adds them to its digital storehouse, including our emails, Google searches, websites visited, Microsoft Word documents sent, etc. NSA’s annual budget includes a quarter-billion dollars for “corporate-partner access” – i.e., payments to obtain this mass of material from corporate computers.

Snowden says that in his days as an analyst, he could sit at his computer and tap into any American’s Internet activity – even the President’s. The sheer volume of information sucked up by the agency is so large that as of 2008, it maintained 150 data processing sites around the world. NSA’s budget is an official secret, but a Snowden document shows that it gets about $11 billion a year in direct appropriations, with more support funneled through the Pentagon and other agencies.

President Obama recently announced an “overhaul” of the NSA’s collection of bulk phone records. The reform may require phone companies to store metadata it collects for 18 months for the NSA’s use with the approval from a special court. This might sound reasonable, but it is still gathering bulk data on millions of innocent Americans – by corporations for the government. And what about Internet, email and other surveillance? NSA is too heavily vested in its programs; it is not going to give up spying on us.


Is The Internet Addictive?

European Court Strikes Down ‘Invasive’ Law Allowing Governments To Collect Private Metadata

From AFP:

barrosoThe European Court of Justice on Tuesday struck down an EU-wide law on how private data can be collected and stored, judging it too invasive — despite its usefulness in combating organized crime and terrorism. By allowing EU governments to access the data, “the directive interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data,” the court said.

The decision to scupper the Data Retention Directive, which was issued in 2006, comes as Europe weighs concerns over electronic snooping in the wake of revelations about systematic US snooping of email and telephone communications. The directive called for the European Union’s 28 member states to store individuals’ Internet, mobile telephone and text metadata — the time, date, duration and destination, but not the content of the communications themselves — for six months to two years, with national intelligence and police agencies having access.



Wearable Tech: The Surveillance Grid Of The Future?

Daniel Taylor writes for Old-Thinker News:

Smartphones are fading. Wearables are next” – CNN Money

Edward Snowden’s now infamous NSA leaks have sparked intense debate across the world. The leaks confirmed what many already knew; The NSA is listening to our phone calls, monitoring social networks and more.

This is only the beginning of an Orwellian, Minority Report future.

In the near future, consumers will be adorning themselves with wearable technology that will weave an incredibly detailed picture of their lives. A cloud of information will float around you with details on sleep habits, what you ate for breakfast, who you are meeting for dinner, your heart rate, and much more. Insurance companies will likely harvest this data to adjust your rates. Governments will undoubtedly hack into this cloud of personal data to track down dissidents. Marketers will have access to a goldmine of personalized information that will be used to market products.

These wearables are sold to the public as a means of making life easier, which they undoubtedly will. With that convenience there will be a price to pay in privacy.


UK Gang Members Love Social Media Too

Joseph Cox writes for Vice:

The criminal underworld isn’t shy when it comes to using social media. Mexican drug cartels intimidate citizens over Twitter, British extremists document jihad holidays on Instagram, and Brazilian drug dealers flaunt their assault rifles and earnings on Facebook.

Those involved in the UK underworld are no different, flaunting pictures of gang tattoos, wads of cash, and sports cars publicly and on pretty much every online platform their phone’s coverage can reach.


Cyber-bullies could face two years in jail under new internet troll rules

Samuel Gibbs reports for the Guardian:

People convicted of cyber-bullying and text message abuse could face up to two years in prison, under plans backed by the government. The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, has backed an amendment to the criminal justice bill that would target new rules at combating trolls that sexually harass and verbally abuse people on the internet or via mobile phones in England and Wales.

The amendment, due to be discussed in parliament on Thursday, was proposed by the Conservative MP for Ealing Central and Acton Angie Bray, after one of her constituents said her 14-year-old daughter had been “verbally raped” by 2,000 obscene texts sent by an older man, who escaped conviction. “Just tabled amendment to criminal justice bill to make life just a bit harder for cyber-bullies and sex pests using texts to harass victims,” said Bray on Twitter.


BBC poll considers web freedoms and surveillance in 17 countries around the world

Psychiatrist links selfie addiction to narcissism and mental illness

Fiona Keating reports for the International Business Times:

Miley Cyrus is no stranger to the selfieThe growing trend of taking smartphone selfies is linked to mental health conditions that focus on a person’s obsession with looks.

According to psychiatrist Dr David Veal: “Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take selfies.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy is used to help a patient to recognise the reasons for his or her compulsive behaviour and then to learn how to moderate it,” he told the Sunday Mirror.

19-year-old Danny Bowman’s selfie addiction spiralled out of control, spending ten hours a day taking up to 200 snaps of himself on his iPhone.


The Pointlessness of Unplugging? You’re Just Ignoring the Real World

Casey Cep writes for The New Yorker:

The fifth annual National Day of Unplugging took place earlier this month. The aim of the event, organized by the nonprofit Reboot, is “to help hyperconnected people of all backgrounds to embrace the ancient ritual of a day of rest.” From sundown on Friday, March 7th, until sundown on Saturday, March 8th, participants abstained from using technology, unplugging themselves from their phones and tablets, computers and televisions… How quickly the digital age turned into the age of technological anxiety, with our beloved devices becoming something to fear, not enjoy. What sex was for the Puritans, technology has become for us. We’ve focussed our collective anxiety on digital excess, and reconnecting with the “real” world around us represents one effort to control it.

And yet the “real” world, like the “real” America, is an insidious idea. It suggests that the selves we are online aren’t authentic, and that the relationships that we forge in digital spaces aren’t meaningful. This is odd, because some of our closest friends and most significant professional connections are people we’ve only ever met on the Internet, and a third of recently married couples met online. It’s odder still because we not only love and socialize online but live and work there, too. Is it any less real when we fall in love and break up over Gchat than when we get fired over e-mail and then find a new job on LinkedIn?


The New Fascism: Terms and Conditions

Thom Hartmann writes for Truthout:

(Photo<a href=""> via Shutterstock</a>)Historically when we talk about fascism we think about Mussolini and his replacement of the elected parliament with corporate representatives. After all, he invented the word “fascism” to describe the merger of corporate and state interests.

And today when we talk about fascism, we talk about how corporations are buying off politicians in Washington, and taking control of our democracy.  But what about fascism that doesn’t even involve governments, except to enforce contracts?

We’re witnessing a new era of fascism, where corporations are creating intrusive and over-bearing terms and conditions that customers click to agree to without even reading. As a result, corporations in America have acquired king-like power, while we’re the poor serfs that must abide by their every rule or else.


Florida Police Hide Use of Cell Phone Tracker From Courts Because Manufacturer Asked

Nathan Freed Wessler writes for the ACLU:

The stingray cell tracking device works by mimicking a real cell phone tower, tricking phones into connecting to it. Credit: Jovianeye / Wiki

The stingray cell tracking device works by mimicking a real cell phone tower, tricking phones into connecting to it. (Credit: Jovianeye / Wiki)

It appears that at least one police department in Florida has failed to tell judges about its use of a cell phone tracking device because the department got the device on loan and promised the manufacturer to keep it all under wraps. But when police use invasive surveillance equipment to surreptitiously sweep up information about the locations and communications of large numbers of people, court oversight and public debate are essential. The devices, likely made by the Florida-based Harris Corporation, are called “stingrays,” and unfortunately this is not the first time the government has tried to hide their use.

So the ACLU and ACLU of Florida have teamed up to break through the veil of secrecy surrounding stingray use by law enforcement in the Sunshine State, last week filing a motion for public access to sealed records in state court, and submitting public records requests to nearly 30 police and sheriffs’ departments across Florida seeking information about their acquisition and use of stingrays (examples here and here).

Also known as “cell site simulators,” stingrays impersonate cell phone towers, prompting phones within range to reveal their precise locations and information about all of the calls and text messages they send and receive. When in use, stingrays sweep up information about innocent people and criminal suspects alike.


California’s Smart Phone ‘Kill Switch’ Proposal Going Nationwide?

Steve Watson writes for Infowars:

A lawmaker in Illinois has introduced a bill that would mandate a ‘kill switch’ in all smart phones, potentially allowing the authorities there to shut them down at will. The bill, introduced by State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, would require any phone bought or sold in the state to have the technology. Providers would also be mandated to insure smart phones against theft if the phone cannot be rendered completely inoperable. The legislation is a replica of a bill recently introduced in California, aimed, according to lawmakers, at discouraging theft of phones and black market trading. Critics have warned, however, that such a system could be abused by government and police in order to stifle dissent.

Even worse, if the system were approved up by one or two states, such as California, manufacturers will undoubtedly push for all states to adopt the technology, to spare themselves more work in producing custom devices for select states. “California is the largest state in the US, and its laws have in the past become de facto national laws,” notes Joe Mullin, adding that wireless industry trade groups have opposed such measures in the past.

Carriers or phone makers will be granted permission to design their own individual form of ‘kill switch’ hardware or software. However, under the legislation, it must have the ability to prevent phone calls, Internet access and the ability to run apps. It must also not allow a reset of the device to factory settings. Retailers will also be punished under the legislation, should they offer devices that do not comply. Companies could face a fine of between $500 and $2,500 per device sold that doesn’t include the technology.

Senators, senior police and local politicians in San Francisco have set about lobbying Apple, Samsung, Google and Microsoft to fit the technology as standard to all devices. Carriers such as AT&T have been the target of lawsuits from regulators alleging that they are not doing enough to prevent smart phone theft because the re-activations of such devices has proved profitable.

Critics of the new proposal maintain, however, that if a carrier can kill your phone remotely, so then can governments, hackers, and anybody else. A scenario where authorities could hijack the technology to shut down communications in a sensitive area in order to limit photo and streaming video coverage, such as at a demonstration or at the scene of unfolding police brutality, is easy to envisage.


Mozilla plans ‘$25 smartphone’ for emerging markets

Mozilla phoneFrom BBC News:

Mozilla has shown off a prototype for a $25 (£15) smartphone that is aimed at the developing world. The company, which is famed mostly for its Firefox browser, has partnered with Chinese low-cost chip maker Spreadtrum.

While not as powerful as more expensive models, the device will run apps and make use of mobile internet.  It would appeal to the sorts of people who currently buy cheap “feature” phones, analysts said.  Feature phones are highly popular in the developing world as a halfway point between “dumb” phones – just voice calls and other basic functions – and fully-fledged smartphones.


Cell Phone Kill Switches Are A Slippery Slope For Abusive Governments

Karl Bode writes for Techdirt:

Last Spring, wireless carriers and the government jointly announced that they’d be collaborating on building a new nationwide database to track stolen phones (specifically the IMEI number). The goal was to reduce the time that stolen phones remain useful, thereby drying up the market for stolen phones and reducing the ability of criminals to use the devices to dodge surveillance. The move came after AT&T was sued for not doing enough to thwart cellphone theft, the lawsuit alleging AT&T was intentionally lax on anti-theft practices because stolen phone re-activations were too profitable. After regulator pressure, AT&T launched new stolen device blocking tools and re-vamped their website with security tips.

Law enforcement has complained that none of these efforts have done much to stop cell theft and resale, in large part because phones stolen here are simply taken overseas and used there. This in turn prompted a push for new “kill switch” legislation in both New York and most recently San Francisco, in addition to a new bill proposed by Senator Amy Klobuchar we discussed last month. While perhaps well-intentioned, all of the bills have one thing in common: they forget that if you can kill your phone remotely, so then can governments, hackers, and anybody else.


China’s e-waste junk brings hazardous effects

New bill demands that smartphones have “kill switch” in case of theft

From Arstechnica:

A California state legislator has introduced SB 962, a bill that would require smartphones sold in the state to include a “kill switch” that would “render inoperable” the phone if it’s not in the possession of the rightful owner.

California is the largest state in the US, and its laws have in the past become de facto national laws. The now-ubiquitous publication of privacy policies on Internet websites, for instance, is the result of a California state law. The state has also led the nation in areas like rules around auto emissions.

While inclusion of the anti-theft technology would be required, the bill also maintains that consumers who wish to disable it be allowed to do so. The proposed law also requires that the phone be able to “withstand a hard reset,” meaning that it can be restored to the condition it was in when it left the factory.


Protesters rally for ‘the day we fight back’ against mass surveillance

From The Guardian:

Tens of thousands of people and organisations were participating in a protest against the NSA’s mass surveillance on Tuesday, bombarding members of Congress with phone calls and emails and holding demonstrations across the globe.

Dubbed “The day we fight back”, the action saw scores of websites, including Reddit, BoingBoing and Mozilla host a widget inviting users to pressure elected officials.

The online demonstration saw more than 18,000 calls placed and 50,000 emails sent to US congressmen and women by midday Tuesday. Physical protests were planned in 15 countries.

“The goal of the day we fight back is to stop mass surveillance by intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency,” said Rainey Reitman, activism director at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which helped organise the events.


Death By Metadata: Jeremy Scahill & Glenn Greenwald Reveal NSA Role in Assassinations Overseas

Maybe the Most Orwellian Text Message a Government’s Ever Sent

Credit: WikimediaFrom VICE:

“Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

That’s a text message that thousands of Ukrainian protesters spontaneously received on their cell phones today, as a new law prohibiting public demonstrations went into effect. It was the regime’s police force, sending protesters the perfectly dystopian text message to accompany the newly minted, perfectly dystopian legislation. In fact, it’s downright Orwellian (and I hate that adjective, and only use it when absolutely necessary, I swear).

But that’s what this is: it’s technology employed to detect noncompliance, to hone in on dissent. The NY Times reports that the “Ukrainian government used telephone technology to pinpoint the locations of cell phones in use near clashes between riot police officers and protesters early on Tuesday.” Near. Using a cell phone near a clash lands you on the regime’s hit list.


Britons hoard almost £11 billion worth of unused phones

Photo: ReutersFrom The Telegraph:

The average British phone user has two unused mobile phones at home, and nearly a third (32 per cent) of the 1,000 adults surveyed owned three or more unloved handsets.

According to, the average handset now fetches £86 when recycled online, meaning that British consumers are missing out on a potential £172 in old devices left gathering dust in a drawer.

The figures reveal a 15 per cent increase on 2013’s average trade-in price of £75, showing that Brits are buying and then trading in increasingly expensive handsets.


NSA collects millions of text messages daily in ‘untargeted’ global sweep

sms1From The Guardian:

The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.

The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.

The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.

The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.

An agency presentation from 2011 – subtitled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit” – reveals the program collected an average of 194 million text messages a day in April of that year. In addition to storing the messages themselves, a further program known as “Prefer” conducted automated analysis on the untargeted communications.


Facebook User Glued To Phone Walks Off Pier

St Kilda's Pier in Melbourne

Police plucked the victim from the ocean close to St Kilda’s pier

From Sky News:

A young tourist in Australia was so engrossed in Facebook on her mobile phone that she walked off the end of a pier and had to be rescued by police.

The woman was on St Kilda’s pier in Melbourne when she was spotted falling into the chilly water of St Kilda’s Bay by passers-by who called the police.

Officers at the shore were able to point out the position of the distressed woman to water police units who rescued her about 20 metres (66ft) from the pier.

When they got to her, she was still holding the phone in her hand, police said.


NSA phone surveillance program likely unconstitutional, federal judge rules

Photograph: Julian Stratenschulte/EPAFrom The Guardian:

A federal judge in Washington ruled on Monday that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency is likely to violate the US constitution, in the most significant legal setback for the agency since the publication of the first surveillance disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Judge Richard Leon declared that the mass collection of metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and was “almost Orwellian” in its scope. In a judgment replete with literary swipes against the NSA, he said James Madison, the architect of the US constitution, would be “aghast” at the scope of the agency’s collection of Americans’ communications data.

The ruling, by the US district court for the District of Columbia, is a blow to the Obama administration, and sets up a legal battle that will drag on for months, almost certainly destined to end up in the supreme court. It was welcomed by campaigners pressing to rein in the NSA, and by Snowden, who issued a rare public statement saying it had vindicated his disclosures. It is also likely to influence other legal challenges to the NSA, currently working their way through federal courts.

The case was brought by Larry Klayman, a conservative lawyer, and Charles Strange, father of a cryptologist killed in Afghanistan when his helicopter was shot down in 2011. His son worked for the NSA and carried out support work for Navy Seal Team Six, the elite force that killed Osama bin Laden.

In Monday’s ruling, the judge concluded that the pair’s constitutional challenge was likely to be successful. In what was the only comfort to the NSA in a stinging judgment, Leon put the ruling on hold, pending an appeal by the government.


Are You Addicted to Technology?

NSA tracking five billion cellphone locations worldwide each day

From The Washington Post:

The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.

The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.

One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.


The Government’s Secret Plan to Shut Off Cellphones and the Internet, Explained


Photoillustration by Matt Connolly

From Mother Jones:

This month, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Department of Homeland Security must make its plan to shut off the internet and cellphone communications available to the American public. You, of course, may now be thinking: What plan?! Though President Barack Obama swiftly disapproved of ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak turning off the internet in his country (to quell widespread civil disobedience) in 2011, the US government has the authority to do the same sort of thing, under a plan that was devised during the George W. Bush administration. Many details of the government’s controversial “kill switch” authority have been classified, such as the conditions under which it can be implemented and how the switch can be used. But thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), DHS has to reveal those details by January 13or mount an appeal. (The smart betting is on an appeal, since DHS has fought to release this information so far.) Yet here’s what we do know about the government’s “kill switch” plan


US bugged Merkel’s phone from 2002 until 2013, report claims

German Chancellor Angela Merkel checks her mobile phone during a session of the Bundestag (30 November 2012)From BBC News:

The US has been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone since 2002, according to a report in Der Spiegel magazine.

The German publication claims to have seen secret documents from the National Security Agency which show Mrs Merkel’s number on a list dating from 2002 – before she became chancellor.

Another report says Mr Obama was told in 2010 about the surveillance.

Meanwhile Washington has seen a protest against the NSA’s spying programme.

Several thousand protesters marched to the US Capitol to demand a limit to the surveillance. Some of them held banners in support of the fugitive former contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed the extent of the NSA’s activities.


Finding Happiness Outside of Material Consumption

The Mexican village ignored by mobile companies built its own network

From BBC News:

The Mexican village of Talea de Castro has long been ignored by Mexico’s mobile phone companies as too remote to put on their networks, but as the BBC’s Will Grant reports, they have responded by building their own.

Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, has a lot of customers.

In Latin America, Carlos Slim’s telecommunications giant, America Movil, has around 262 million subscribers, and in Mexico alone handles more than 70% of the country’s mobile phone users.

But the residents of the tiny coffee-producing village of Talea de Castro are not among them.

For years, the locals have asked the main networks in Mexico to install a mobile phone antenna in the village.

They kept getting the same answer: it was not worth sending an engineer into the remote mountains of Oaxaca for fewer than 10,000 customers.


The Quiet Revolution

From Foreign Policy:

While much attention has focused recently on debating the role of social media in high-profile events like the Arab Spring and the war in Syria, a quieter revolution has been happening around the globe. It’s a revolution in innovation, information, and communication. And it could have big implications for the lives of people from Colombia to Egypt, Kenya to Afghanistan.

This revolution is in the way technologies are being used at the community level to mitigate causes of violence. It’s difficult to think of a single issue in the conflict-management field — election violence, interethnic hatred, land disputes, gender violence, and so on — in which there hasn’t been an effort to use digital media and technology-enabled networks to inflect the causes of conflict.

The catalyst for this quiet revolution comes down to a single reality that is both commonplace and incredible: For the first time in human history, people everywhere — including in impoverished conflict zones — have the ability to take photos, push data, publish text, and send information around the world or down the street with the click of a button. We are all social-media makers now, and the extent to which we see this at work in the peacebuilding field every day cannot be overstated. With well over 6 billion cell-phone subscriptions in the world, and over one-third of the world’s population online, we’ve seen a striking expansion in the tools that peace-builders have at their disposal. Crowd-sourcing, crisis-mapping, micro-blogging — in less than a decade, these have become essential to analysis and decision support across the entire conflict cycle, from prevention to post-conflict stabilization.