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Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

The iPhone 5s: the Start of Widespread Genetic Tech?

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 25th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

(Image credit: The Denver Post)

 

In case you missed it, the new iPhone went on sale recently. Normally this wouldn’t be even remotely newsworthy, but this iPhone is different: it comes with a fingerprint sensor.

The iPhone 5s (Apple’s latest offering) is able to read and store the fingerprint of the owner and if chosen, other people as well. I can’t possibly be the only one who smells something fishy here: hot on the heels of the Snowden leaks, the new must-have product just so happens to have this technology?

“But so what?” you say. It’s just a fingerprint, and those are taken all the time; for jobs, arrests, etc. so why does this even matter? Personally, I don’t think the actual data does, after all, I just said fingerprints are taken all the time, but this is huge for the “surveillance culture” we have creeping up on us: for the first time ever, there is the widespread use of a technology that uses a genetic marker to identify people on a regular basis. While I’ll admit that “fingerprints” and “genetic marker” generally aren’t lumped together as synonymous, “DNA” and “genetic marker” usually are, and that’s what this technology is paving the way for. That sounds far off into the future, but DNA-verification has been around for a while, it’s only a matter of time before it reaches the general public. What’s more, while it’s not generally accepted that specific genetic information can be reliably determined from a fingerprint, DNA-verification could pave the way for corporations to target ads with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth. Got a cold? (For those not familiar, the common cold– like any virus– can actually make slight alterations to genes) Your iPhone 151s could one day be offering you coupons for CVS before you know you’re sick.

Something to ponder as you go about your day.

NSA Took a “Look-See” at Al Jazeera’s Internal Communications

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 1st, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Digital-surveillance-image-via-Shutterstock.jpg

(Image Credit: The Raw Story)

Since all the headlines are being dominated by the Syria situation, there isn’t a lot of current material for me to write about in my column, so this week, I’ll quickly touch on the favorite punching bag for the tech world at the moment: the NSA. A while ago, it was revealed by some of the documents Edward Snowden obtained and then released that the agency had hacked into Al Jazeera’s internal correspondences. The information comes a week after the revelations that the NSA had hacked into UN video calls.

I understand that “Al Jazeera” and “Al Qaeda” share an “Al” prefix, but seriously? It’s a news network, not a terrorism organization. The report cited communications sent to the network by “interesting targets” as the reason for the hacking. Even if the so-called “interesting targets” were anything/anyone that should be on the U.S.’s radar, it is unacceptable that the government is/was able to tap into a news source’s communications, no matter how “anti-American” their bias may be.

While anyone could probably guess what I think about this from the above paragraph, I think it’s worth mentioning that this seems to be part of a bigger pattern recently: as we learn more about the PRISM program and the NSA in general, the doomsayers’ predictions are starting to come true. As I said earlier, a while back it was revealed that the NSA spied on the UN video conferences, which is worthy on an article itself, but I’ll only invoke the fact that we are friendly and cooperative with the UN for now; the news that the PRISM program was used by low-level NSA employees; and also that NSA employees had regularly used the program to spy on their love interests, among other notable pieces of Snowden’s leaks. Taken separately, these are “only” egregious, but taken together, the chilling effects on personal liberties are potentially massive.

Personally, I think it’s time for another Amash Amendment to go up for a vote; this needs to stop.

Amash Amendment Fails: Close But No Wired-for-Sound Cigar

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

(Image Credit: Florida Today)

 

Well, I was kind of hoping to be writing about a win for the Amash Amendment, but I suppose a loss will have to do. In case you missed it, the U.S. House of Representatives voted and ultimately defeated (205-217 with 12 abstaining) an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would have taken away funding for the NSA’s blanket telephone spying. The day before the vote, the White House and NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander held “emergency meetings” to urge Congress to vote against it.

 

Me being… me, I have to admit that I’m more than a little disappointed that this amendment didn’t pass. It would have been a quick and clean way to put a full stop to blanket phone surveillance while still allowing for targeted surveillance of suspects under investigation. That said, when the White House is scared enough to hold “emergency meetings” ahead of domestic spying prevention votes, I get hopeful. As the advocacy organization Demand Progress put it: “even though we lost, the other side is flipping out right now.” Not bad for an amendment that was voted on only two days after it left committee.

 

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that more or less, the vast majority of people are against the NSA’s surveillance programs (multiple ones have been revealed now: PRISM, ECHELON, BLARNEY, etc.) but it appears as though the tide is only starting to turn on the issue. Obama has welcomed “discussion” on the issue, but it seems almost impossible to have a well-formed discussion about it since the programs are already in place and running: it’s like a kid asking a parent’s permission to eat a cookie after he’s already started eating the cookie. As for curbing the surveillance programs, we might have to wait for the 2014 election cycle: all House seats and 33 Senate ones are up for grabs and at the rate the “spying discussion” is going, it could hopefully become a major issue.

 

In the meantime however, I would remain hopeful: the Amash Amendment might have failed, but that was only looking at phone surveillance, which has historically been less antagonizing than Internet surveillance. It might be just a tick away from justifiable to retain phone metadata, but I have a feeling that Internet surveillance won’t go over so well when the time comes.

 

 

Snowden Episode II

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 4th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

2013 Mike Kanoff

I’ve been away from the Edward Snowden story for a while, so this week, I thought I’d touch on it again and see what’s changed. After a somewhat-tense departure from Hong Kong, Snowden has been in international limbo for a week, stranded at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since the U.S. government revoked his passport, which left him with no valid travel documents, and now he cannot enter any other country or leave the waiting area of the airport. During his time cooped up, he has been busy applying for political asylum from 21 countries. Additionally, Wikileaks, the online leaking platform famous for the cases of Bradley Manning and its founder, Julian Assange, has announced its support of Snowden and has joined in helping him with his asylum requests.

 

While the man himself continues to be immobilized, the NSA leaks have shown no signs of stopping: it has recently been reported that the controversial NSA programs have not been confined to the U.S., with some European Union member countries finding bugs in embassies and network intrusions believed to be linked to the NSA after a document Snowden released named foreign embassies and missions as possible “targets.”

 

I guess I’ll start with the big question: where will Snowden go? Russia has offered to let him stay, but with the catch that he “stop doing work that is aimed at harming our American partners.” Putin’s offer seems more than a little suspicious, but could be a subtle concession to America while remaining in a strong position at the negotiating table, since Russia doesn’t really do extraditions, or he could be hedging his bets. Regardless, for the moment, Snowden will not be turned over the the U.S. Also, a handful of nations have replied to Snowden’s requests for asylum with the message that he must be on their soil to make such a request, but Bolivia has said that it would favorably consider his application, without explicitly demanding he be on their soil, which led many to believe that Bolivia could be the country to grant Snowden asylum. Wednesday (local time), the Bolivian president’s plane from Russia heading home was disallowed clearance over French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese airspace because of a rumor that Snowden may have been on board, as speculated by the announcement of possible asylum. That story is still developing at time of writing, but it was released that Snowden was indeed not on the plane when it circled back and landed in Vienna.

 

Personally, I’m hoping that we find out in a couple days that he was in a secret compartment or something and actually made it to Bolivia; with the assertions of U.S. spying in the EU (which I will get to shortly) and the global nature of the Internet and the NSA’s spying thereof, and not to mention Biden’s request for Ecuador to deny Snowden’s application, it seems to me that the U.S. is starting to play dirty. Therefore, if the U.S. is violating the human rights to privacy and to seek asylum, I say it’s fair game if Snowden gets sneaked into a country willing to protect him. Snowden himself alleges that the U.S. is “wheeling and dealing” with his case, and I’m inclined to agree, though there is very little evidence at this time other than Biden’s talk with Correa.

 

So while Snowden himself is trying to find a safe haven, his leaks are doing anything but hiding. It was revealed that the U.S. has been spying on not just ourselves, but our European allies. Allegedly, the NSA has bugged EU buildings in New York, D.C., and most shockingly, Brussels. Additionally, it was revealed that the NSA was allegedly tapping the calls, texts, and emails of most EU allies, with the only exception being Britain. Unfortunately, this story is still developing at time of writing, but should these allegations prove to be true, EU member states Germany and France have already warned of severe repercussions, and it would be logical to expect others to join them.

 

I think we can safely say this isn’t just about terrorism any more. Last time I checked, the EU was very distinctly not a hotbed of terrorism or related activities. What’s more, the EU and its member states are our allies. I’m pretty mad (putting it lightly) that my own government is spying on me. I can only imagine the outrage to be felt by Europeans should it be confirmed that not only is another government spying on them, but an allied government. The president has released a statement along the lines of “everybody who runs intelligence services does this, not just us,” and I’ll concede that he’s right, but we’re talking about our allies, our friends on the international stage. I could see this with China, Saudi Arabia, Russia: our “friends” friends, but this is the EU– we have almost identical goals, we’ve covered each other’s backs for decades– friends don’t spy on friends.

 

I’m left asking “why?” We don’t need to spy on the EU: they’ll tell us what we want to know within reason. Even if they were hiding something, so what? We’re so deeply intertwined that if anything bad happens to one, it affects the other. If it’s anything that’s only good for the EU without being good for the U.S., well… we deal with other countries too; we’re not in an exclusive relationship. Bottom line– I see absolutely no reason to spy on the EU: the European Union is thoroughly uninteresting in terms of threats to the U.S.’s security.

 

A quick parting remark on the home front: people like myself, who have gotten pretty angry with the NSA’s revealed activities, are staging nation-wide and Internet-wide rallies to try to “Restore the Fourth,” on… you guessed it, the 4th of July, and apparently there are a lot of us. I’m not quite sure we’ll have the massive turnout or presence that Egypt just experienced, but here’s hoping for the best. For more information visit http://www.restorethefourth.net/, or if you prefer to save your anti-spying sentiment for a non-holiday, that’s cool too. Either way, enjoy your 4th!

The NSA Leaks A Week Later: What Next?

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 13th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

Over the weekend it was revealed that the whistleblower behind the NSA leaks was a man named Edward Snowden. Snowden is presumably in Hong Kong, although there hasn’t been any confirmation yet, other than the fact that he checked out of a hotel there recently. There has also been chatter about Snowden having a bid for political asylum, though there has been no official confirmation or denial of such asylum at the time of writing, be it from China, Iceland, or Russia, the three nations allegedly weighing the possibility, with only Russia officially “considering” asylum.

 

That’s all well and good, but what about his homeland, the U.S.? Already, some members of congress are calling for his head, Obama is trying to do damage control, and as stated above, Snowden isn’t even in the country. On the other side, there is already a whitehouse.gov petition to pardon him, even without any charge of wrongdoing so far, and privacy advocates are taking a break from performing the “I Told You So Dance” to show support of the person behind the information.

 

I don’t want this to be another article entirely about whistleblowers, so I’ll shift to the leaks themselves–I wrote last week about the notion that some things shouldn’t be classified to begin with, but this leak goes beyond that. The PRISM program and the Verizon (and I would assume other major telecoms companies) data mining efforts shouldn’t have even been started, and for revealing them, I thank Snowden very much.

 

I believe the best part of these leaks is the re-ignition of the discussion of privacy vs. safety: at what point does “anti-terrorism” become too invasive? At some point during the show last week, I asked “what terrorism?” and by that I was questioning how many terrorism plots were, or even could be, foiled by this type of surveillance. I realize that the CIA/FBI/DHS/etc. have to keep some things secret, but I believe that if they want to even propose this type of surveillance, there had better be concrete, publicly available evidence that it works, and even then, there is no reason that the government needs the metadata on every call. Heck, I call in to Counterpoint from over 1500 miles away for an hour once a week, and I’m sure that could be construed as “odd,” even though I can say with 100% certainty that I am not a terrorist.

 

But what about the one in a million who is a terrorist? Surely we can’t just let him/her continue uninhibited. Do we trust that the government and police can catch most of them? Do we trust each other to be on the lookout for bomb/etc. factories across the country? In all honesty, I don’t know what we can do to stop terrorist attacks from ever happening again, but just because there isn’t an alternative idea at this point in time does not make the surveillance state is a good idea. I can live with the current airport security; it’s a pain, but it’s only a little overzealous. I can get behind the occasional wiretap, but I think a warrant should be required beforehand. I draw the line at the public camera system/Trapwire and Internet monitoring in any form; the first is far too invasive, and the second is too easy for the actual intended targets to circumvent and only harms the bystanders.

 

We have to accept that there are people out there that want to hurt us, be it from some bastardized form of an otherwise peaceful religion, or from run-of-the-mill psychopathy, and I’ll admit that I don’t know how to stop them 100% of the time, but what I do know is that turning America into an Orwellian state out of fear of terrorism would be “letting the terrorists win,” and I’m sure I’m blowing these programs a little out of proportion, but one of the hallmarks of such a state is total surveillance, which, thanks to Snowden, we know is closer than we thought it was last week.

Counterpoint Recap 06/08: PRISM and Privacy

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | June 9th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

Photo Credit: The Young Turks

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On Friday, the Counterpoint team had a field day with the news that NSA has a program, PRISM, which listens to phone calls a la Verizon and stores information through frequently visited websites such as Facebook and Google. Most of us came to the consensus that the government doesn’t care about your photos from that keg party you went to freshman year. (Unless that keg party was hosted by al-Qaeda)

Jordan (Counterpoint contributor), however, stressed that this was a severe violation of Americans’ privacy and Constitutional rights. National security policies like this are an extension of the Bush-era Patriot Act and make us all question: what happened to Obama’s vision of “change”? The more we learn about Obama, the more we see the lines are blurring between him and former President Bush. While Obama’s rhetoric on national security issues are much more rooted in liberalism, he continues to extend and expand Bush-era foreign policy (Can you say drone program? Gitmo? Counterinsurgency?)

Mr. Obama, your words and your actions are saying two different things. We all knew he was a bit naïve and optimistic, but we still put our faith in yet another leader to get us out of crisis. In defense of Obama, I’ll say that once you become president and are continuously briefed on every possible national security threat, you may not be singing “Kumbaya” when thousands of American lives are at risk—including your own. I don’t know this from personal experience but we can only give the President the benefit of the doubt.

My question for the American people that are upset over the PRISM program is this: If you feel this is a violation of your rights, what do you plan on doing to fix it?

Will you go out and protest like our Turkish cousins in Istanbul? Where something as simple as the demolition of a park, ignited a larger-movement against a government encroaching on their citizens’ democratic rights. Are you ready to get hit with tear gas and water cannons? Or will you just gripe about it over Facebook and over the coffee table?

Call me when you have an answer. Remember, Obama is listening.

 

Listen to a clip of our discussion of this topic on the show below.  Counterpoint airs live every Friday from 1-2pm ET.

Counterpoint Clip: NSA Surveillance by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Sometimes Leaks Shouldn’t Be Fixed

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 6th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

On June 3rd, the trial of Bradley Manning finally began, just a touch over three years since his arrest. He is charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, and in turn to enemies of the U.S., via the nature of the Internet’s global availability. Among the leaked information, was the “Collateral Murder” footage of a U.S. helicopter gunning down four journalists and two kids, and reports confirming the Granai Airstrike, which killed anywhere between 86 and 147 civilians, most of which were apparently women and children, and a good number of diplomatic cables containing information that embarrassed the U.S. government.

I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the recent crackdown on whistle-blowers in general, not just Manning. While I have said before that I am a staunch defender of personal privacy, I’ll admit to having lopsided standards when comparing personal privacy to governmental privacy. I believe that Manning should be applauded for showing something that, quite frankly, needed to be exposed: I believe that the American people have a right to know who we have killed half way across the world while fighting a war against an abstract concept (terrorism), and furthermore, I believe that even if these incidents were accidental, that they shouldn’t just be swept under the rug and classified because they might embarrass a few officials. We’re not all babies, I don’t think anyone who knows we’re at war expects us to not have at least some civilian casualties, and I think that the American people can certainly “handle the truth,” even if it is unpleasant.

But moving away from Manning specifically, there seems to be a recent shift towards this head-in-the-sand idea: that dissenting or even leaking is not okay. From the Obama administration’s six uses of the Espionage Act– more than all other presidents combined– to the Patriot Act, to even the recent DOJ scandal(s). What I am gathering from these, among others, is that it’s no longer completely okay to speak out, or else a whistle-blower, or even just a dutiful reporter, risks getting caught up in the vortex, as we’ve seen with the AP scandal recently. Add in just the chilling effects alone from the Patriot Act and it looks to me like we’re nibbling away at the first amendment. To the argument that this is just all in the name of counter-terrorism and that we should have more faith in the government, I counter with “once you give it up, you aren’t getting it back”; the Espionage Act has been around since 1917, almost 100 years ago, and the Patriot Act just got extended in 2011 to last four more years, but I will concede that this government-press scandal will probably blow over, though I’m not so sure leakers will bother coming to the press for quite some time.