Tags: Wired

Supreme Court Decision – Electronic Devices Granted Some Protection at Border Crossings

Border crossings are a great place for government bureaucrats to harass the citizenry. Over the past several years, most of us have heard horror stories in this regard. I highlighted several stories of border crossing concerns last year, with the two most interesting being:

Why I Will Never, Ever, Go Back to the United States by Niels Gerson Lohman


If Flying into the UK, Your Phone Can Be Seized and Data Downloaded Without Suspicion

One of the greatest fears of activists, journalists and average citizens alike, is that some border patrol agent can confiscate your electronics on a whim and then use sophisticated software to break your passwords and look through all your personal files and data. Fortunately, the Supreme Court just let stand the ruling by an appellate court, which ruled that a deep forensics analysis of one’s electronics can only occur if there is “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. That’s at least a start in the right direction.

From Wired:

Without issuing a ruling, the justices let stand an appeals court’s decision that U.S. border agents may indeed undertake a search of a traveler’s gadgets content on a whim, just like they could with a suitcase or a vehicle. That is known as the ”border search exception” of United States law, where travelers can be searched without a warrant as they enter the country. The Obama administration has aggressively used this power to search travelers’ laptops, sometimes copying the hard drive before returning the computer.

However, in a rare win for digital privacy, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling last year concluded that a deeper forensic analysis by border officials using software to decrypt password-protected files or to locate deleted files now requires “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity — an outcome the justices refused to tinker with today.

That means, in essence, the authorities must have some facts, rather than a hunch, that illegal activity is afoot to perform a forensic analysis on electronics seized along the border of the western United States.

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Meet the MQ-4C Triton – A New Navy Drone with the Wingspan of a Boeing 757

Spying on humanity’s every electronic move is clearly not good enough for the U.S. government. It is also necessary to be able to surveil the species’ every move from 50,000 feet in the sky. You know, because of the terrorists and all.

The past couple of years have seen many frightening new advances from the U.S. military. From “Atlas” the 6 Foot Tall Humanoid Robot, to “ARGUS” The World’s Highest Resolution Video Surveillance Platform, to domestic drone use, the Department of Defense is hard at work making sure that you can never engage in a private act again without the fear of a hellfire missile landing on your head.

Now here’s the latest…a Northrop Grumman drone with the wingspan of a 757.

From Wired:

A new drone with the mammoth wingspan of a Boeing 757 is set to give the U.S. Navy some serious surveillance power.

Northrop Grumman and the Navy say they’ve just completed the ninth flight trial of the Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS), an improvement upon its predecessor in the Air Force, the Global Hawk.

With its 130-foot wingspan, Triton will provide high-altitude, real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) from a sensor suite that supplies a 360-degree view at a radius of over 2,000 nautical miles, allowing monitoring from higher and farther away than any of its competitors.

Thus far, Triton has completed flights up to 9.4 hours at altitudes of 50,000 feet at the company’s manufacturing facility in Palmdale, California. According to Northrop Grumman, Triton could support missions up to 24 hours.

Now here’s this sucker in the wild.

Sleep tight serfs.

Full article here.

In Liberty,

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Producer of Physical “Casascius” Bitcoins is Being Targeted by the Feds

Meet Mike Caldwell. He is the maker of what seems to be the most popular physical bitcoins on the market, the Casascius coin. All Mr. Caldwell does is have people who want the coins produced send him a certain quantity of bitcoin and then for a $50 fee he puts the private key on a physical coin and sends them back. For this horrible crime of ingenuity and creativity, the U.S. government naturally, has decided to target him. Because they are too busy ignoring the real financial crimes happening out out there…

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From Wired:

Mike Caldwell spent years turning digital currency into physical coins. That may sound like a paradox. But it’s true. He takes bitcoins — the world’s most popular digital currency — and then he mints them here in the physical world. If you added up all the bitcoins Caldwell has minted on behalf of his customers, they would be worth about $82 million.

Basically, these physical bitcoins are novelty items. But by moving the digital currency into the physical realm, he also prevents hackers from stealing the stuff via an online attack. Or at least he did. His run as the premiere bitcoin minter may be at an end. Caldwell has been put on notice by the feds.

Just before Thanksgiving, he says, he received a letter from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FINCEN, the arm of the Treasury Department that dictates how the nation’s anti-money-laundering and financial crime regulations are interpreted. According to FINCEN, Caldwell needs to rethink his business. “They considered my activity to be money transmitting,” Caldwell says. And if you want to transmit money, you must first jump through a lot of state and federal regulatory hoops Caldwell hasn’t jumped through.

But HSBC launders billions for Mexican drug cartels and they can continue their operations no problem.

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Robot Warriors with Automatic Weapons to be Battlefield Ready in Five Years

Northrop Grumman’s CaMEL (Carry-all Mechanized Equipment Landrover), among the armed robots at the rodeo, can be fitted with automatic weapons, anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers. It can run for more than 20 hours on 3.5 gallons of fuel, according to the company, and carry a load of 1,000 pounds. It also can produce power to charge batteries or power other systems.

– From a Wired article published October 18, 2013

What could possibly go wrong? Perfect for “domestic enemies” and tax evaders.

More from Wired:

Robots armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank missiles and even grenade launchers are marching, er, rolling ever closer to the battlefield now that they’ve shown they can actually hit what they’re supposed to.

Four robotics companies — HDT Robotics, iRobot, Northrop Grumman and QinetiQ — recently ran their M240 machine gun-armed robots through a live-fire demo at Fort Benning in what has been dubbed the “Robotic Rodeo.” The point was to give the brass a chance to see just how viable such systems are.

“They’re not just tools, but members of the squad. That’s the goal,” Lt. Col. Willie Smith, chief of Unmanned Ground Vehicles at Fort Benning told Computerworld. “A robot becoming a member of the squad, we see that as a matter of training.”

Read the Full Article »

The True Story Behind Edward Snowden’s Email Service Provider Lavabit

A month ago, the tech world was abuzz with news that Ladar Levison decided to shutter his encrypted email service Lavabit, rather than betray the trust of his clients by selling out their privacy to the U.S. government. The writing was on the wall, and shortly thereafter another encrypted email service, Silent Circle, made a similar decision to shutdown.

Well two months later we finally have some more information about what went down behind the scenes, all of which demonstrate the true American hero that Mr. Levison really is. He can now talk about the events leading up to the shut down of Lavabit and redacted versions of the court pleadings are available online. Yesterday, Wired published an article detailing some of what we have learned. Kevin Poulsen writes:

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan immediately ordered Lavabit to comply, threatening Levison with criminal contempt — which could have potentially put him in jail.

By July 9, Lavabit still hadn’t defeated its security for the government, and prosecutors asked for a summons to be served for Lavabit, and founder Ladar Levison, to be held in contempt “for its disobedience and resistance to these lawful orders.”

The judge also rejected Lavabit’s motion to unseal the record. “This is an ongoing criminal investigation, and there’s no leeway to disclose any information about it.”

In an interesting work-around, Levison complied the next day by turning over the private SSL keys as an 11 page printout in 4-point type. The government, not unreasonably, called the printout “illegible.”

Freakin’ awesome.

“To make use of these keys, the FBI would have to manually input all 2,560 characters, and one incorrect keystroke in this laborious process would render the FBI collection system incapable of collecting decrypted data,” prosecutors wrote.

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MIT Moves to Block the Release of the Aaron Swartz Files

Unfortunately, this is just further proof that most of our celebrated institutions, including prestigious palaces of “higher learning,” are nothing more than apologists and gatekeepers for plutocratic power. It was only a little less than two weeks ago that I wrote a story celebrating how a U.S. judge decided the government must release thousands of pages of secret service files on the late Aaron Swartz. Apparently, MIT isn’t comfortable in the many skeletons they likely have in their closet coming out, so they have moved to block the release. The plaintiff in the case, Kevin Poulsen explains below in a Wired article:

Lawyers representing MIT are filing a motion to intervene in my FOIA lawsuit over thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and coder Aaron Swartz.

I am the plaintiff in this lawsuit. In February, the Secret Service denied in full my request for any files it held on Swartz, citing a FOIA exemption that covers sensitive law enforcement records that are part of an ongoing proceeding. Other requestors reported receiving the same response.

When the agency ignored my administrative appeal, I enlisted David Sobel, a top DC-based FOIA litigator, and we filed suit. Two weeks ago U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered the government to “promptly” begin releasing Swartz’ records. The government told my lawyer that it would release the first batch tomorrow. But minutes ago, Kollar-Kotelly suspended that order at MIT’s urging, to give the university time to make an argument against the release of some of the material.

Read the Full Article »

Good News: Judge Orders U.S. to Release Aaron Swartz’s Secret Service File

What is so disturbing about this aspect of the Aaron Swartz tragedy is the fact that the Secret Service had thousands of pages on Aaron Swartz to begin with.  Considering he was known to all as a kind and gentle soul, what was the Secret Service so worried about?

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is now inescapably clear.  When the U.S. government refers to “national security,” what it actually means is the wealth and power of the status quo, the 0.01%.  That is why a genius such as Aaron Swartz was considered an enemy of the state, and why the government amassed thousands of pages on him and drove him to his death. His genius and kindness was a threat to the corrupt establishment.  As I’ve noted before:  All My Heroes Have FBI Files.  From Wired:

A federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Friday ordered the government to promptly start releasing thousands of pages of Secret Service documents about the late activist and coder Aaron Swartz, following months of roadblocks and delays.

The order was issued in my ongoing FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security – the Secret Service’s parent agency.

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Why the Collection of Metadata is a Very, Very Big Deal

Some people seemed strangely relieved in the wake of the NSA spying scandal when Obama said “no one is listening to your phone calls.” First of all, while they are clearly not listening to everyone’s phone calls, they certainly are listening to certain people’s calls and that isn’t acceptable in a free society.  Second of all, it’s pretty obvious that the one reason they aren’t listening to everyone’s calls is because it wouldn’t be practical or effective.  As Matt Blaze notes in this great article from Wired, the government isn’t primarily tracking metadata rather than content in an attempt to protect privacy, but rather because metadata is the most efficient and effective way in which to spy on and preempt domestic political dissent.  From Wired:

We now know that every day, U.S. phone companies quietly send the government a list of who called whom and when — “telephony metadata” — for every call made on their networks, because of a secret order by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It turns out that this has been going on for seven years (and was even reported by USA Today then); the difference now is that the government — uncharacteristically for such a secret intelligence operation — quickly acknowledged the authenticity of the leaked order and the existence of the metadata collection program.

Should we be worried? At least “nobody is listening to our telephone calls” (so the president himself assured us). People breathed a sigh of relief since first learning of the surveillance because surely there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to such seemingly innocuous information — it’s just metadata, after all. Phew!

With today’s communications technology, is metadata really less revealing than content? Especially when we’re dealing with metadata at the scale that we now know the NSA and FBI are receiving?

Because at such a scale, people’s intuition about the relative invasiveness of content and metadata starts to fail them. Phone records can actually be more revealing than content when someone has as many records and as complete a set of them as the NSA does.

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Guess What’s Hidden in the Immigration Bill? A National Biometric Database for Citizens

Oh just another eight hundred page “bipartisan” bill that nobody will read,  mainstream media will refuse to cover, and that will merely further destroy any remnants of freedom left in these United States.  Never forget the George Carlin quote on bipartisanship:

“Bipartisan usually means that a larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.”

From Wired:

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.

“It starts to change the relationship between the citizen and state, you do have to get permission to do things,” said Chris Calabrese, a congressional lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union. “More fundamentally, it could be the start of keeping a record of all things.”

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A Look into the Malware the FBI Uses to Spy Through Webcams

Really interesting article that discusses a case in which a Texas judge decided to block the FBI from installing malware on suspect’s computer that would allow them to take over the machine’s webcam amongst other malicious things.  While it’s good news that the judge blocked its use, the author accurately points out that: “another of Smith’s reasons was that he could not justifiably issue a warrant on a computer that could be outside of that area. A federal judge may have fewer qualms with that issue.”

Indeed, which is why we should all be acutely aware of the kinds of “tools” the FBI has at its disposal against peaceful dissidents, particularly after they identified Occupy Wall Street activists as “terrorists.”  From Wired:

A Texas judge has blocked the FBI from installing malware on a laptop that would have been able to take over its webcam.

This kind of malware is extremely common elsewhere on the web, of course, but that’s the kind of nefarious, underhand tactic you’d expect from scammers, or even just perverts wanting to spy on women undressing. But the FBI is apparently learning from these techniques, and it wants to install similar malware on the computer of an unknown person they suspect of being guilty of fraud so they can track him down.

Smith described the warrant the FBI sought as “not a garden-variety search warrant”. It wouldn’t have just taken control of the laptop’s webcam — it would also have recorded a heap of personal information, including email and other web activity, personal passwords and files and the laptop’s location. It also aimed to gather “accounting entries reflecting the identification of new fraud victims”.

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