Archive for Privacy


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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No ID Required To Buy An Election, Just To Vote In One

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The GOP insists you prove your identity to vote. But if you want to spend millions to sway U.S. elections, they’ll protect your anonymity, even if you are a non-citizen. Harold Meyerson writes:

Voter suppression has become the linchpin of Republican strategy. After Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, the GOP was briefly abuzz with talk of expanding the party’s appeal to young and Latino voters. Instead, the party doubled down on its opposition to immigration reform and its support for cultural conservatism — positions tantamount to electoral suicide unless the youth and minority vote can be suppressed.

Meyerson discusses the “interstate shell games” wealthy right-wing donors play to prevent the public from knowing the their identities as the sources of so much negative campaign “speech.”

But you may need a court order to get the documentation they insist you must produce before you can exercise your right to vote. This passes for common sense in some sectors.

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Here’s another rude awakening. (Like you needed one.) Stay tuned for the debunk.

Michele Catalano was looking for information online about pressure cookers. Her husband, in the same time frame, was Googling backpacks. Wednesday morning, six men from a joint terrorism task force showed up at their house to see if they were terrorists. Which prompts the question: How’d the government know what they were Googling?

If the Catalanos had really had something to hide, the authorities might have arrived with a ram and drawn weapons. Butt they didn’t, so it’s all good.

Thursday afternoon, Atlantic was still unsure which “joint terrorism task force” dropped by for a casual search of the Long Island home.

Welcome to the United States of Suspects. Can you smell the freedom? This is your government on secrecy and undisclosed budgets:

One hundred times a week, groups of six armed men drive to houses in three black SUVs, conducting consented-if-casual searches of the property perhaps in part because of things people looked up online.

But the NSA doesn’t collect data on Americans, so this certainly won’t happen to you.

No, no, no. You don’t have all the facts we can’t give you, says the NSA.

Well, you can rest easy. The Suffolk County Police Department insists it wasn’t the NSA sniffing the Catalanos’ home web surfing that prompted the police visit. They claim it was a search performed on a work computer, just citizens informing on citizens:

Suffolk County Criminal Intelligence Detectives received a tip from a Bay Shore based computer company regarding suspicious computer searches conducted by a recently released employee. The former employee’s computer searches took place on this employee’s workplace computer. On that computer, the employee searched the terms “pressure cooker bombs” and “backpacks.”

After interviewing the company representatives, Suffolk County Police Detectives visited the subject’s home to ask about the suspicious internet searches. The incident was investigated by Suffolk County Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Detectives and was determined to be non-criminal in nature.

What a relief! I mean, there used to be this country named East Germany known for citizens informing on one another. Does anyone else remember that? There was a wall or something. I vaguely remember watching it being torn down on TV in 1989. I was beginning to think some American entrepreneurs bought it and moved it to the U.S. as an attraction. And Stasi with it.

Meanwhile the Edward Snowden saga continues, with allegations that the NSA can review “emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

Now, as I understand it, some people in this country get all hot and bothered about big gummint programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The idea that We the People are asked to pay out large chunks of money on expensive medical procedures just to keep fellow Americans nearing the end of their tenure on Earth from dying for a few more weeks fails any kind of rational cost-benefit analysis.

But We the People spending we don’t know and it would be unpatriotic and a threat to national security to ask how many hundreds of billions each year on a national security apparatus that employs they can’t tell you how many people to snoop into your Amazon purchases and emails because you might be a terrorist in the name of keeping even one more American from dying in a terrorist incident perpetrated by we don’t know who until one happens and we couldn’t tell you anyway and We the People can’t cost-benefit the program because we don’t know what we get for our money and if you tell anyone how much it costs you’ll be prosecuted, the same people who think big-gummint spending on end-of-life medical care for old people makes no sense think this does.

(Cross-posted from Crooks and Liars.)

Categories : National, Parties, Privacy
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NSFW from Lee Camp:


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Two Speeches

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It occurred to me tonight to juxtapose two speeches. I was reminded of the first by Digby, who posted The Day of Affirmation speech by Robert Kennedy, from 1966. That led me to remember the second, the famous “Yes We Can” speech by President Obama which was his message upon coming in second in the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton early in 2008. Read More→

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Colonist v. Royalist

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Maybe it was the flurry of ALEC-backed legislation in Raleigh. Or maybe the vote suppression legislation. But something about Moral Mondays in Raleigh reminded me of this post from March 2011 as events unfolded in Madison, WI:

Colonist or Royalist?

It’s what every American should be asking themselves this week. The Tea Party too.

Do you stand with the modern-day British East India Corporations and their masters (the Kochs, the Olins, the Bradleys and other royals that want to unmake the American Century and rig American democracy like they rigged the financial markets)? Or do you stand with the people in your community? Who do you serve?

It’s pretty clear who Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP leadership in Wisconsin serves. They and their brethren and Forbes 400 patrons have declared open war on the middle class, with rafts of industry ghost-written legislation in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana — in about half the states. To strip the collective bargaining rights of political enemies, to defund public schools (and teachers), to suppress the vote by requiring photo IDs (Jim Crow, Jr.), to dissolve elected local governments in a corporate coup d’état, to arrogate sweeping executive authority over state agencies in a single unelected … tzar(?), to transfer tax dollars from the poor and middle class to give tax breaks to corporations, the works — all supported by the same press-shy billionaire ideologues behind Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council. As the fake “Koch” phone call demonstrated, they don’t care about your jobs or your economy, and they don’t care about you.

So where do you stand? Colonist or Royalist?

Pretty sure those guys are followers, not leaders. Look, this is a movement named for a famously expensive act of vandalism against the private assets of the British East India Company, probably the largest corporation of its day. A company so in bed with the British government — and Members of Parliament — that their tax subsidies were allowing them to undercut the price of illegal tea smuggled in from Holland. This pissed off the smugglers. Royally.

It’s hard to imagine the Walter Mittys in that video lifting a finger against their corporate overlords like the patriots they fancy thyemselves. I’d charge them with false advertising, but they’ve helped their masters see to it that there’s little funding for enforcement of consumer protection laws against corporations. Pretty much the sort of thing going on in Raleigh right now.

Go figure.

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