Electronic Warrantless Surveillance: What IT Should Know - InformationWeek
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8/26/2015
06:06 AM
Pablo Valerio
Pablo Valerio
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Electronic Warrantless Surveillance: What IT Should Know

Today, in the name of public safety, federal and local government agencies are piling up advanced technologies to monitor people, with little regard for the basic principles of privacy. Here's what businesses and individuals need to know.

14 Security Fails That Cost Executives Their Jobs
14 Security Fails That Cost Executives Their Jobs
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

In 1972, the US Supreme Court ruled that an individual's right to privacy could only be breached by a court order, not at the discretion of law enforcement agencies. The majority in the case wrote: "The Fourth Amendment contemplates a prior judicial judgment, not the risk that executive discretion may be reasonably exercised."

A lot has happened in the 40-plus years since that decision.

Recently, San Jose city leaders approved a study of a plan to place license-plate readers on garbage trucks. Since garbage trucks go around every street of the city at least once a week, the trucks can be used to locate parked vehicles in places where police cruisers usually don't go. Garbage truck drivers wouldn't see the information collected.

The ALPR (Automatic License Plate Recognition) device would send its data directly to the police, who could then build a massive database of cars parked on the street. San Jose already has six ALPR systems mounted on police cars and has set aside $68,400 for more units next year.

This is just one example of law enforcement agencies' ongoing desire to deploy technologies to monitor people's location and movements without obtaining a warrant.

Automatic License (or Number) Plate Recognition has been around for several years.

[Is your car watching you? See With Great IoT Comes Great Insecurity.]

In the United Kingdom, a CCTV network -- with more than 15,000 cameras in the London area alone -- can be used to track vehicle movements in real time. The data is stored for five years and can be analyzed by intelligence services and used as evidence in a criminal case. When the system became operational in 2006, the ANPR center in north London was already able to store 50 million plate reads per day.

In the United States, many cities and towns have been purchasing ALPR systems for local police with grants from the US Department of Transportation.

(Image: stnazkul/iStockphoto)

(Image: stnazkul/iStockphoto)

At the same time, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are working hard to raise awareness about the potential threat to citizens' privacy.

But the device with the most power to track people is the very cellphone that we carry around all day.

Keeping Track Of You

Even before the explosion of smartphones, and especially after Apple's introduction of the iPhone, carriers were already tracking people's phones using cellular location technology.

In 2010, Malte Spitz, a German Green Party politician, went to court to find out how much location data his provider, T-Mobile (Deutsche Telecom), was collecting and retaining through tracking his cellphone. The results astonished him: From September 2009 to February 2010, T-Mobile had stored his location more than 35,000 times, including on train rides.

Spitz decided to publish the data to show the public what kind of surveillance cellphone users are subject to every minute. "I want to show the political message that this kind of data retention is really, really big, and you can really look into the life of people for six months and see what they are doing where they are," Spitz said in 2011.

The ease in accessing tracking data makes some people believe there is no harm in it.

However, location-tracking and movement data is very sensitive information. It can be used for profiling and reveal relationships: It would be very easy for organizations with access to the information to track the people we meet, cross-reference databases with the location of our contacts, and check our location when we update our Facebook status, send/receive email, or just text messages.

Last year in Barcelona, during a policy workshop of the EU funded project RESPECT (Rules, Expectations Security through Privacy-Enhanced Convenient Technologies), Ian Readhead, chief executive of the UK Association of Chief Police Officers, declared that police forces in the UK were extremely happy that "everyone is always carrying a cellphone in their pockets."

One disturbing technology is the so-called "Dirtbox" (whose name comes from Digital Receiver Technology, a subsidiary of Boeing).

The Dirtbox and Stingray are both types of "IMSI catchers" (named for the system used by networks to identify individual cellphones), which act as fake cellphone towers and get phones in the area to link to them. Those devices, installed on small planes and unmarked vehicles, are being used to scan data from the cellphones of thousands of Americans who are not targets of any investigation.

Recently, the US Justice Department announced that it would start disclosing more about the use of those cellphone-tracking devices. Agencies such as the FBI, which for years didn't bother to get warrants to track suspects using those technologies, have begun requesting them from judges.

Continued on the next page.

Pablo Valerio has been in the IT industry for 25+ years, mostly working for American companies in Europe. Over the years he has developed channels, established operations, and served as European general manager for several companies. While primarily based in Spain, he has ... View Full Bio
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zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2015 | 10:05:10 AM
Re: Electronic Warrantless Surveillance: What IT Should Know
I'm often ambivalent about the supposed privacy concerns in each and every technology that comes out. I know my social media providers sell my anonymous data to generate their profits. I know I could technically be agreeing to some unfavorable terms when I click 'accept' on a free WiFi hotspots - I'm okay with all that. I think consumers are getting a pretty fair deal in many cases. Regardless of all that, I applaud your continued dedication to keeping an eye out for the public's rights, Pablo, and the practices you describe here I will wholeheartedly agree leave a bad taste in my mouth. The more pervasive the technology becomes, the less we can do about it. Once we let it slip by without speaking up, it may be too late. Thank you for raising awareness here.
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2015 | 7:35:05 AM
Re: Law Enforcement wants backdoor access
Good luck with that FBI. Any backdoor opens up a hole for hackers and other countries to invade the encryption just as the FBI does. These organisations aren't tight enough to avoid leaks. Just look at Edward Snowden absconding with the NSA's dirty laundry. 
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
8/30/2015 | 8:39:46 AM
Re: Wheelie Bad Warrantless Surveilance
A7,

This is true of virtually any big ticket industry today(attracting workers with Questionable ethics).

Not really surprising one bit.

The more interesting thing would be to figure out how many such scumbags are sitting in Law enforcement today.

LOL!

Sad but true reality.

 

 
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
8/30/2015 | 8:30:01 AM
Re: London cameras
RoadCrime,

I am not at all surprised this is the current state of Police Enforcement Infrastructure in the UK.

Given the parlous nature of UKs Finances(its basically bankrupt today and neither does it have the advantage of the World's Reserve Currency Status) there is little doubt that it will struggle to finance Various sorts of Infrastructure.

This is a Good thing and Gives hope to ordinary people who believe very strongly in Civil Liberties worldwide.

Ultimately the State will over-reach(as it is doing currently) and stretch its limited resources beyond breaking point at which it will have to reform or change its behavior.

The end reality otherwise is collapse as we are seeing in Brazil,Venezuela,Argentina,Indonesia,Malaysia and even China today.

 
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
8/30/2015 | 8:20:14 AM
Re: Wheelie Bad Warrantless Surveilance
Pablo,

The UN Chief was not off the mark with his comments.

Have you tried the Diffusion Plugin from Firefox?

The first time I used it  just blew my mind!

Most common websites ship our personal data to so many-many different places its a massive battle to find out exactly where it goes.

How much do you want to bet that the Feds also keep track of all this data ??

LOL!

I could use a Proxy and TOR but then access all my favorite SItes becomes a pain(because of Slow Networks).

LOL!!!

Same thing is also happening on the Cellphone Data collection front today,especially after the NSA+GCHQ tag-team hacked Gemalto-firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/02/19/great-sim-heist

But the best response came from the US Court of Appeals recently- firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/08/28/court-cant-rule-nsa-bulk-collection-dont-know-whose-data-collected


Beyond Laughable what these clowns(the Judiciary,the Executive and the Legislature) have turned America into today.

Excellent example of passing the buck on without anyone taking responsibility for anything.


 
Ashu001
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Ashu001,
User Rank: Ninja
8/30/2015 | 8:00:39 AM
The Judge Lisa Lenihan had absolutely the right idea
Pablo,

The Judge-Madam Lisa definitely had the right idea HERE-

Judge Lisa of the US District Court for Western Pennsylvania, wrote an opinion about a law enforcement request to access location records held by a cellphone carrier. She said, "permitting surreptitious conversion of a cellphone into a tracking device without probable cause raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns, especially when the phone is monitored in the home or other places where privacy is reasonably expected."

Lenihan added, "Law enforcement's investigative intrusions on our private lives, in the interests of social order and safety, should not be unduly hindered, but must be balanced by appropriate degrees of accountability and judicial review."

Wish everyone in Govenment could stick to such Basic Guidelines and avoid unneccesary collection of Privacy Data in the name of "Data Collection Efforts".


We really have become very much a surveillance State here in US and Europe and we are'nt exactly much better for it.

Look at the recent Virginia TV Reporter shooting for instance;if you would have asked any of the Shooters Friends and Family they would all say he had a serious Psychological Problem which could be dangerous to folks around him.

Why did Law Authorities not use all that Data they tracked on him to isolate him earlier?

All This Online Surveillance has just become a Tool for Governments to push their wasteful agendas.

Remember how Obama used to track the Tea Party here in America ?


Things are about to get much worse(than they already are) on The Personal Privacy front thanks to the IoT Wave which is sweeping Global Tech markets today.

I am not really surprised one bit that Osama Bin Laden refused to have anything to do with Digital Technology (which was the single-most reason he managed to escape America's clutches for so long).

It would genuinely be a sad day(from a Techie point of view) if eventually going back intime is the only way to avoid the Surveillance State.

 

 
Pablo Valerio
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Pablo Valerio,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2015 | 7:44:20 AM
Re: Wheelie Bad Warrantless Surveilance
@Stratustician, that's right, we have become so used to surveillance that it doesn't bother us anymore.

Recently the UN has appointed a new Privacy chief, from Europe, an university researcher that was the head of some European projects, including RESPECT. I hope he does a good job exposing some of the most controversial programs.

There is an interesting story in The Guardian:

Digital surveillance 'worse than Orwell', says new UN privacy chief 
Whoopty
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Whoopty,
User Rank: Ninja
8/27/2015 | 7:17:08 AM
Re: London cameras
That's what's so weird. You'd imagine that with the way camera traps can earn money for local forces so easily, they would be really diligant in making sure they all worked. 
RoadCrimeUK
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RoadCrimeUK,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/27/2015 | 5:54:47 AM
Re: London cameras
The figure is actually a lot higher, from my knowledge somewhere in the region of 85%, but is it not that they dont work, it for two reasons:-

1) Old wet-film cameras have run out of film

2) Police move the active enforcement component of the systems between sites, as they simply dont ave the resources to have all cameras enforcing at the same time. These cameras still trigger then you speed past as they are still collecting speed data so hence provided a deturant. It a simple question of which one is live and which on is not.

 

 
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
8/26/2015 | 3:13:48 PM
Re: Wheelie Bad Warrantless Surveilance
I think this just leads to a general lack of caring for many consumers.  We've become so accustomed to being recorded, monitored and caught on camera that we just have learned to accept it since the reality is that even if we fight the companies we *know* are doing it, there is no incentive for them to change unless there is enough of a petition (and then honestly, very little will still change).  Not to mention the data being tracked or collected without our knowledge.  For a tech-savvy generation, we really don't seem to care enough about how that technology is going to haunt us in the future.
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