Archive for Privacy


No privacy issues here. Drone along.

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Both Digby and I have written about the growing drone industry before with some reservation. A nightmare for civil liberties? Privacy issues? Aw, c’mon, but they are so cewl! Everyone will want one for Christmas this year:

You’re probably getting a drone for Christmas this year, whether you want one or not. Aviation Week reports that, at a recent industry summit, Rich Swayze of the Federal Aviation Administration said that the agency expects up to 1 million unmanned aerial vehicles to be sold during this year’s holiday season. Swayze’s prediction, if true, is simultaneously great and terrible news for the drone industry. It’s great news because, hooray, money! It’s terrible news because some of these drones will be gifted to kids, and idiots, and others who know and care little for safety and decorum.

Justin Peters has a series at Slate called Future Tense that looks at drones. The project supported by the Omidyar Network and Humanity United includes a drone primer from sponsor New America here. Everybody is so excited about what they’ll get for Christmas that still no one seems worried about a fleet of military surveillance drones in our airspace.

As we have noted before, and as the Washington Post reported last year, the military is planning to fly its large fleet of military drones from 144 U.S. sites. If the Air Force gets its way, the Reapers will soon be sharing the friendly skies with your mother’s flight to Cleveland. “With my flight to Cleveland,” another blogger exclaimed at a conference last weekend:

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Facebook’s aerospace team

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Now there’s a phrase to give one pause. This just came in over the transom:

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Facebook says it will begin test flights later this year for a solar-powered drone with a wingspan as big as a Boeing 737, in the next stage of its campaign to deliver Internet connectivity to remote parts of the world.

Engineers at the giant social network say they’ve built a drone with a 140-foot wingspan that weighs less than 1,000 pounds. Designed to fly at high altitudes for up to three months, it will use lasers to send Internet signals to stations on the ground.

Facebook’s engineers at engineers at Connectivity Lab are designing a laser-based communications system to deliver the Internet to remote regions of the world the NSA cannot currently monitor from ?Fort Meade or Bluffdale.

The plan calls for using helium balloons to lift each drone into the air, Parikh said. The drones are designed to climb to 90,000 feet, safely above commercial airliners and thunderstorms, where they will fly in circles through the day. At night, he said, they will settle to about 60,000 feet to conserve battery power.

Each drone will fly in a circle with a radius of about 3 kilometers, which the engineers hope will enable it to provide Internet service to an area with a radius of about 50 kilometers.

Facebook drones at 90,000 feet. Amazon delivery drones below 400 feet. Large military drones in between — commingled with your Aunt Millie’s flight to Omaha. Amateur idiots anywhere, anytime. And one FAA NextGen air traffic control system to rule them all. (They’re only having a little trouble meeting the September 2015 deadline for writing those rules.) And c’mon, Zuckerberg, right? No worries. Not until one takes down an airliner or crashes into a school.

Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. — Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)

And instant communications. Anywhere. Anytime. It’s been a dream of techies since at least George Orwell.

But, you know, all that hardware to maintain. So much needless expense. TPC had a better idea for handling that little problem back in 1967:

(h/t Barry)

Categories : News, Privacy, Satire, Science
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“A nightmare for civil liberties”

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The FAA, drone opponents, and testified Wednesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on a proposed rule for opening the national airspace to unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Clogging the air with drones both large and small, private, commercial, police, and military poses a logistical, regulatory, and privacy challenge. Or maybe a nightmare.

People poised to make money off the commercial technology want their licenses now, and they think the FAA is taking too long to think. The military and the FAA’s NextGen program have been at odds over delays in adapting its proposed, new air traffic control system to include a fleet of military drones it was not designed for. A single U2 spy plane flying in and out of Los Angeles air space last year crashed the local traffic control system. But whateva. Reapers gotta reap and Predators gotta prey.

Most of the focus yesterday was on how soon an Amazon drone will be able to deliver a six pack to your doorstep for the big game. (And it’s still cold!)

The Guardian reports:

The limitations of the licenses would hurt Amazon, the company’s vice-president of global public policy, Paul Misener, told Congress. Misener said his company was actively working to make drone delivery a reality and that the rule’s restriction on operating drones out of the user’s line of sight would hamper progress. “Our respectful disagreement with the FAA is that we believe that kind of operation can be considered right now,” he said.

Harley Geiger of the Center for Democracy and Technology warned the assembled legislators that they must heed privacy concerns before making the skies free for drones.

“Here is a nightmare scenario for civil liberties: a network of law enforcement UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] with sensors capable of identifying and tracking individuals monitors populated outdoor areas on a constant, pervasive basis for generalized public safety purposes. At the same time, commercial UAS platforms record footage of virtually anyone who steps out of her home, even if the individual remains on private property. This may seem an unlikely future to some. However, few existing laws would stand in the way, and the public does not yet trust the discretion of government or the UAS industry to prevent such scenarios from approaching reality,” he said.

Clearly an alarmist, that last guy. I mean, beer. Oh, right.

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McConnell v. Snowden

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Passage of the USA Freedom Act does not end the debate about privacy and government spying. It is hardly a speed bump. The FBI surveillance flights reported yesterday demonstrated that. As Digby observed last night, “And just wait until the drone fleet gets going…
The last time the press exposed a fleet of government aircraft operating behind shell corporations, the aircraft were ferrying terrorism suspects to exotic CIA “black sites” or foreign prisons for torture.

But the debate in the Senate over the Patriot Act was not about that. What Dan Froomkin wrote last week about the Patriot Act debate and
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell bears repeating:

Anybody paying attention knows it’s not a policy debate. The reasons McConnell and others cite for wanting to extend the program as is — despite the fact that it’s flatly illegal, essentially useless, and spectacularly invasive — are laughable. In fact, the compromise they’re willing to fight to the death to oppose was actually proposed by the NSA.

The issue is they just don’t want Snowden officially vindicated, by an act of Congress.

That is to say, they damned well don’t care that what’s being done is illegal. They only care that it got exposed. Which is something, I guess. Wall Street doesn’t even care that much.

The Republican “meltdown” over failure to renew the Patriot Act included what Sen. Barbara Boxer described on All In with Chris Hayes last night as a temper tantrum by McConnell. The Senate Majority leader even committed a messaging faux pas by repeating a headline calling his failure “a resounding victory for Edward Snowden.” Bad move.

The Guardian this morning calls the reforms’ passage a vindication for Snowden. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden noted that more needs to be done:

“This is the only beginning. There is a lot more to do,” Wyden told reporters after the vote. “We’re going to have very vigorous debate about the flawed idea of the FBI director to require companies to build weaknesses into their products. We’re going to try to close the backdoor search loophole – this is part of the Fisa Act and is going to be increasingly important, because Americans are going to have their emails swept up increasingly as global communications systems begin to merge.”

He also pointed to a proposal in the House “to make sure government agencies don’t turn cell phones of Americans into tracking devices” as another target for NSA reformers.

Meantime, watch the skies.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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This is How That Happened

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by Barry Summers

Late in 2013, I was reading a press release from a local state legislator, which publicized his being named chair of a new NC House committee. At the bottom, he listed all the other committees he was currently on, and just on a whim, I compared it to the official list of committees on his legislative website. There was exactly one missing from the press release: “House Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems”. That got me curious, and that’s how I eventually came to be the only member of the public sitting in an NCGA hearing room full of military, law enforcement, and drone industry representatives, and being stared at by an angry NSA contractor. Yikes…

2007 – 2012: “We want a fully integrated environment.”

RQ-4/MQ-4 Global Hawk. U.S. Air Force photo by Bobbi Zapka. Public Domain Image courtesy Wikipedia.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, it became clear to the Department of Defense that they would have to start planning for the day when most of those drones that they had come to depend on overseas, would have to come home. And they don’t have enough segregated, military airspace in the continental US to fly them all, for training, research, etc.

Pentagon working with FAA to open U.S. airspace to combat drones:

“With a growing fleet of combat drones in its arsenal, the Pentagon is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace to its robotic aircraft.”… “The stuff from Afghanistan is going to come back,” Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of ranges, bases and airspace, said at the conference. The Department of Defense “doesn’t want a segregated environment. We want a fully integrated environment.”

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Look! Up in the sky!

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Commercial drones. Those GoPro-equipped gadgets for hobbyists, news crews, professional photographers, and drunk, off-duty, intelligence employees. Maybe even for Amazon package deliveries. (In your fever dreams, maybe.) The FAA announced proposed rules governing their use on Sunday:

The U.S. aviation regulator proposed rules on Sunday for commercial drone flights that would lift some restrictions but would still bar activities such as the delivery of packages and inspection of pipelines that have been eyed by companies as a potentially breakthrough use of the technology.

The long-awaited draft rules from the Federal Aviation Administration would require unmanned aircraft pilots to obtain special pilot certificates, stay away from bystanders and fly only during the day. They limit flying speed to 100 miles per hour (160 kph) and the altitude to 500 feet (152 meters) above ground level.

Just a tentative toe in the water, a camel’s nose under the tent. But it’s an announcement that will send eager technophiles rushing to buy the latest in remote-control spy-ware, and encourage what NPR reported last night could be a $2 billion commercial drone sector. These rules also are meant to prepare the public for further expansion of the program and assuage privacy concerns, etc., etc.

Drone testing and approval has been in the pipeline since at least late 2013:

The FAA has already permitted approximately 300 “public organizations” to fly drones, said FAA spokesperson Alison Duquette in an interview with Common Dreams. This includes drones used by law enforcement and Customs and Border Enforcement for the purpose of aerial surveillance.

Duquette said she would not disclose the numbers of drones in U.S. airspace armed with military grade weapons or spying capabilities.

Excuse me? But worry not, officials said Sunday:

“Today’s proposed rule is the next step in integrating unmanned aircraft systems into our nation’s airspace.” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a conference call with reporters. “We are doing everything that we can to safely integrate these aircraft while ensuring that America remains the leader in aviation safety and technology.”


“From entertainment, to energy, to agriculture there are a host of industries interested in using UAS to improve their business,” Anthony Foxx, secretary of the Transportation Department said. “But for us at U.S. DOT the first threshold always is and must be keeping the American people safe as we move to integrate these new types of aircraft into our skies.”

Yes, but. Lest you think — as yesterday’s reports suggest — we’re just talking about hobbyists, Eyewitness News, or even the police flying plastic toys in commercial airspace, there’s a little more to it (from February 2012):

“We’re going to bring aircraft back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we’re going to train in the [continental U.S.],” said Steve Pennington, the Air Force’s director of ranges, bases and airspace, and executive director of the Defense Department’s FAA policy board. “So the challenge is how to fly in nonsegregated airspace.”

The Pentagon too has been working with the FAA to open up U.S. airspace to its fleet of big-boy toys, nearly 7,500 combat drones (also from February 2012):

The vast majority of the military’s drones are small — similar to hobby aircraft. The FAA is working on proposed rules for integrating these drones, which are being eyed by law enforcement and private business to provide aerial surveillance. The FAA expects to release the proposal on small drones this spring.

But the Pentagon is concerned about flying hundreds of larger drones, including Global Hawks as well as MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers, both made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway.

And last week Congress approved legislation that requires the FAA to have a plan to integrate drones of all kinds into national airspace on a wide scale by 2015.

The Department of Homeland Security announced its intention to double its fleet of Predators in late 2012. If Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Atomics have their way, there could be 30,000 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)
in U.S. airspace by 2020.

Maybe like me, you first remember the phrase “unmanned aerial vehicles” from George W. Bush’s scaremongering, Cincinnati speech about Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and WMDs in October 2002. Back then, we were supposed to soil ourselves and go to war over the prospect of military UAVs in our skies. Ah, but we were young and foolish then.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a Predator!

(h/t Barry Summers)

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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I woke up in the middle of the night with that line in my head, sat down at the piano and had written it in half an hour. The tune itself is generic, an aggregate of hundreds of others, but the words are interesting. It sounds like a comforting love song. I didn’t realize at the time how sinister it is. I think I was thinking of Big Brother, surveillance and control.


As other states across the country, North Carolina is looking at ways to implement legislation that would allow drone use in the state. The FAA is still attempting to define how they might safely share the skies with other aircraft. Equipped with a GoPro camera, small drones seem like nifty tools for photographers and hobbyists. But given the growing surveillance state revealed by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, it is natural that civil liberties groups – and even the T-party – are wary of their use by the government against civilians. It didn’t help that one of the sites chosen for early testing in the state belongs to the private security company formerly known as Blackwater.

This morning, the Winston-Salem Journal begins a 3-part series on how drones have been promoted in North Carolina, and by whom.

Imagine: You’re having an open-invitation BBQ in your own backyard. Friends can bring friends. Anyone can come. Thanks to newly enacted legislation, local and state law enforcement agencies are allowed to show up, too, without a warrant, to spy on you with drones.

It seems an unlikely scenario. Yet, a staff attorney at the state General Assembly’s Research Division, confirmed that it could happen. At a BBQ, “a Moral Monday planning session at a friend’s house” or “a conservative Tea Party gathering.”

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Peek-a-boo, we spy you

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Why don’t the spy agencies just give their next eavesdropping program a name like “Big Brother” and be done with it? Der Spiegel began its weekend report on the hacking of Deutsche Telekom with the cutsey names British and American spooks give to various Internet snooping programs: “Evil Olive” or “Egoistic Giraffe.” Or the Johnny Depp-ish “Treasure Map,” with a logo featuring a skull with glowing eye holes. [Emphasis mine.]

Treasure Map is anything but harmless entertainment. Rather, it is the mandate for a massive raid on the digital world. It aims to map the Internet, and not just the large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. It also seeks to identify the devices across which our data flows, so-called routers.

Furthermore, every single end device that is connected to the Internet somewhere in the world — every smartphone, tablet and computer — is to be made visible. Such a map doesn’t just reveal one treasure. There are millions of them.

Soon, they’ll teach your smartphone to bark out commands and lead you in morning calisthenics:

“Smith! 6079 Smith W.! Yes, you! Bend lower, please! You can do better than that. You’re not trying. Lower, please! That’s better, comrade.”

But before getting to that, according documents from Britain’s GCHQ leaked by Edward Snowden, the plan is to map out the entire geography of the worldwide Internet. And not just the hardware.

Treasure Map allows for the creation of an “interactive map of the global Internet” in “near real-time,” the document notes. Employees of the so-called “FiveEyes” intelligence agencies from Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which cooperate closely with the American agency NSA, can install and use the program on their own computers. One can imagine it as a kind of Google Earth for global data traffic, a bird’s eye view of the planet’s digital arteries.

Unless your are Angela Merkel, the spying revealed by Snowden has, for the most part, always seemed abstract, theoretical. Here, it gets personal. Der Spiegel reviewed some of the Snowden documents with staff from a German telecom, Stellar. In Der Spiegel’s video (watch it here), we see the engineers “visibly shocked” as they realize not only have their systems been hacked and client passwords compromised, but key engineers sitting in the room have been “tasked” for surveillance because of their level of access to the network. Pointing to a name in one of the Treasure Map documents, the reporter says, “That’s you,” to the stunned guy sitting across the table. The security breach, the engineer explains, would allow the spy agency to remotely see “the exact point on the globe that a customer is located.”

Don’t you feel safer knowing you’re paying the salaries of the Americans doing the same? That they work for you?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : International, Privacy
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Drones Over Your Homes

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So in North Carolina’s capitol, one of Charlie Pierce’s Laboratories Of Democracy, Gov. Pat McCrory is rushing to fix items in the budget he signed just days ago. Like a “provision that would stop automatically paying for enrollment growth at public schools.” 

It’s just another of those items slipped anonymously into a must-pass budget bill. Among the hidden pearls is this ALEC-inspired gem found by Asheville-based activist Barry Summers. He wrote about it this week in the Asheville Citizen-Times: 

H1099 was never heard by any Senate committee, but it has become State law nonetheless. It allows warrantless drone surveillance at all public events (including those on private property) or any place which is in “plain view” of a law enforcement officer. It has other loopholes and deficiencies which taken altogether, make a mockery of the “right-to-privacy” anywhere but inside your home with the shades drawn tight.

More at Hullabaloo.

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Feeling Violated?

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They see London.
They see France.
Baby pics you sent your aunt.

The Washington Post reports today,

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by theNational Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Love letters and baby pictures of innocent bystanders, Edward Snowden told the Post, of no intelligence value today, continue to be stored by the NSA. As late as May, the NSA had denied Snowden had access to FISA content.

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

As a piping engineer, work searches including terms such as nipple (threaded pipe nipple), diaphragm (valve type), or just “pipe” can get your account flagged by an overzealous corporate “nanny watch” program scanning for drug- or sex-related searches. Joking about anything terrorist-related in an airport can get you hauled aside and questioned. Heaven help you if you comment on any Middle East-related news in an email to the wrong person.

Ah, freedom.

Categories : International, Privacy
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