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.
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.
- Smartphone ’kill switch’ bill receives pushback from wireless industry
- Kill Switches: Phones Just The Start
- Smartphone Kill Switch Could Become Federal Law
- New bill demands that smartphones have “kill switch” in case of theft
- California Bill Would Require Antitheft Technology for Cellphones
- Class Claims AT&T Aids & Abets Cellphone Thieves, for the Profit
- Apple Granted Patent To Disable Cameras According To Location
- Google Patent Seeks to Transmit Your Cellphone Videos to Law Enforcement
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 SellMyMobile.com, 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Edward Snowden says judge’s ruling vindicates NSA surveillance disclosures
- Glenn Greenwald’s appearance on CNN’s Anderson Cooper
- This Court Case Could Kneecap the NSA
- By cracking cellphone code, NSA has capacity for decoding private conversations
- NSA Collects Leaked Location Data from Mobile Apps in Ad-Targeting Efforts
- New Android threats could turn some phones into remote bugging devices
- New documents show how the NSA infers relationships based on mobile location data
- Study suggests NSA can legally access majority of American phone data
- Cellphone data spying: It’s not just the NSA
- NSA Defends Cellphone Tracking: Reagan Authorized It
- CNN: If the NSA wasn’t tracking everyone’s cell phone wouldn’t we say the government was negligent?
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.
- How the NSA is tracking people right now
- Tower Dumps Could Give Your Cell Data to Police
- Secure Smartphones: Has the NSA Scandal Created a New Industry?
- Since When Are Your Phone Calls Private, Government Lawyer Asks
- Federal government urges judge not to pull plug on massive phone data collection program
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 13—or 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
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.
- Media reports suggest Obama knew NSA spied on Merkel (DW)
- Top German spy chiefs to go to Washington for talks (BBC)
- Israel, Not US, Likely Behind Attempt to Hack French President (Antiwar)
- Germany and France warn NSA spying fallout jeopardises fight against terror (Guardian)
- NSA spying scandal threatens to hamper US foreign policy (AP)
- Mexican ex-minister: Spied-on leaders should see intercepted material (AFP)
- Italian PM says spying by allies unacceptable (Reuters)
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.
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.
Here’s a scary moment that brings home how distracting electronic devices can be: a man pulled out a gun on a crowded San Francisco commuter train, started waving it around… And nobody noticed because they were looking at their phones.
Sadly the altercation, which took place in San Francisco on September 23, SFGate reports, left one person dead. Police allege that a man named Nikhom Thephakaysone, who has since been arrested and charged, shot and killed 20-year-old Justin Valdez on a light-rail commuter train in an apparently random attack.
Video of the event shows the man brandishing a gun openly, pulling it out several times, raising it and pointing it across the aisle and using the hand holding the weapon to wipe his nose. Although the train was full of commuters, no one seemed to notice.
- Video: I Forgot My Phone
- Social Media’s Dual-Edged Sword: Narcissism vs. Self-Esteem (Psychology Today)
- Esteem Issues Determine How People Put Their Best Facebook Forward (Science Daily)
- Device curbs Facebook use via shock to wrist (Click Colorado)
- Samsung Unveils Galaxy Gear Smartwatch (WSJ)
- Smartphones May Help Pedestrians Dodge Cars (Newser)
The world’s first fair-trade smartphone will be unveiled to the public in London this week, marking a leap forward in ethical technology. The Dutch firm behind the phone said it had worked closely with pressure groups to ensure the smartphone, called Fairphone, was the most ethically sourced product available.
Smartphone makers such as Apple and Samsung have in the past been criticised for failing to reveal that their products were made from resources mined in conflict zones and manufactured in Far East factories where labour practices have been called into question.
The new handset, with a screen size of 4.3 inches (10.9cm), half-way between the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy SIII, will retail at £272, but is not available until December. Almost 15,000 have already been pre-ordered. Potential customers will be able to handle the new product at the London Design Festival on Wednesday
A number of minerals used in smartphones often come from conflict zones, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The three Ts – tantalum, tin and tungsten – in particular, are extracted from mines in the region and armed groups controlling them are alleged to benefit, with profits fuelling the fighting.
Fairphone’s tin and tantalum are extracted from conflict-free mines – those where profits aren’t used for the purchase of arms.
More than a million British kids get their first mobile phone by the time they’re five years old, according to new research from uSwitch.com, the independent price comparison and switching service. The average age for children to get their first mobile is 11 years and 8 months – soon after starting secondary school.
When shopping for handsets, parents will spend £246 on themselves, while they’ll only fork out an average £125 on their kids’ phones – enough to cover the cost of an entry-level smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy Ace or BlackBerry Curve 9320. However, 15% of kids under 16 have mobiles worth more than their parents’. SIM-free handsets above the £245 mark include bestselling smartphones like the Nokia Lumia 900 and the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini.
US and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.
The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have broadly compromised the guarantees that internet companies have given consumers to reassure them that their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments.
The agencies, the documents reveal, have adopted a battery of methods in their systematic and ongoing assault on what they see as one of the biggest threats to their ability to access huge swathes of internet traffic – “the use of ubiquitous encryption across the internet”.
Those methods include covert measures to ensure NSA control over setting of international encryption standards, the use of supercomputers to break encryption with “brute force”, and – the most closely guarded secret of all – collaboration with technology companies and internet service providers themselves.
Through these covert partnerships, the agencies have inserted secret vulnerabilities – known as backdoors or trapdoors – into commercial encryption software.
The files, from both the NSA and GCHQ, were obtained by the Guardian, and the details are being published today in partnership with the New York Times and ProPublica.
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- NSA encryption story, Latin American fallout and US/UK attacks on press freedoms (Glenn Greenwald)
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- Obama Packs Surveillance Review Board With D.C. Insiders (New American)
- NSA act like they are at war with ordinary US citizens (RT)
- NSA Blackmailing Corporate Media?: Interview with Russ Tice (Breaking the Set)
- President Obama Says He Learns What NSA Is Doing From The Press, Then Goes To NSA For Details (Techdirt)
- Obama administration had restrictions on NSA reversed in 2011 (Washington Post)
- NSA Revelations Cast Doubt on the Entire Tech Industry (Wired)
- NSA paid millions to Internet companies to cover surveillance program costs (RT)
- Patriot Act Author Says NSA Is Abusing Spy Law (Wired)
- Snowden leaks only tip of the iceberg (DW)
- A List Of Online Encryption Tools That The NSA Has Already Foiled (NY Times)
- NSA surveillance: A guide to staying secure (Guardian)
- Secret NSA docs show wiretapping of UN (RT)
- The NSA never takes ‘no’ for an answer (Reuters)
- UK asked N.Y. Times to destroy Snowden material (Reuters)
For Americans concerned about their privacy, the NSA data grabs are daunting, but what about the data grabs happening inside your own home, perpetrated not by the government, but by your coffee machine?
Consider every appliance and every piece of home electronics that you own. Does it gather data about how you use it? Does it connect to the Internet? If so, it could be used to spy on you. Your mobile devices, your TV, and now various other types of home appliances can be wired into a network that can track you. If those networks are hacked, information about your habits and behaviors could be available to people with nefarious goals. The same technological innovation that empowers us also makes us vulnerable to those who would exploit such advances against us.
[...] The effort to start using Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) began nearly 10 years ago but has been besieged by technical challenges and bureaucratic red tape.
After 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency began researching ways to create a comprehensive, Internet-based system that would incorporate alerts for TV, radio, websites, automatic phone systems, social media, mobile phones and digital signs among other things. The goal is for IPAWS to also reach non-English speakers and people who are hearing-impaired.
In the wake of the failed federal response to Hurricane Katrina, former President George W. Bush ordered a sweeping technological overhaul of the nation’s warnings for natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
The Public Alert and Warning System lawmandated FEMA to modernize the antiquated broadcast-based national emergency alert system (EAS) and implement an integrated approach. Send alerts “to the American people through as many communication pathways as practicable,” Bush wrote in the 2006 order.
After years of setbacks by what a 2009 GAO report called “shifting program goals, lack of continuity in planning, staff turnover, and poorly organized program information from which to make management decisions,” the wireless alert portion of IPAWS is finally being used by the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and a handful of state and local agencies. For example, emergency managers in New York and Massachusetts sent alerts during Superstorm Sandy and the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.
Most smartphones and some tablets sold in the past two years — roughly 320 million currently active devices — can now receive the location-based alerts, which are transmitted on an exclusive frequency not subject to traffic delays.
All WEA-enabled devices are automatically programmed to receive the warnings for missing children and impending danger (e.g., weather and earthquakes) unless the user adjusts the settings or asks the carrier to turn them off.