A sweeping new anti-terrorism bill drafted by the Justice Department would dramatically increase government electronic surveillance and data collection abilities, and impose the first-ever federal criminal penalties for using encryption in the U.S.
The Societal Costs of Surveillance: on living under the neighbors' ever present watchful eyes.
It was 1992, and I had been renting her apartment in Prague for about a year. I had gone to the former Eastern Bloc shortly after graduate school on a United States government fellowship, and I felt it my duty to show by example how the free world worked. I thought I had been a model tenant. I kept the place neat, I paid my rent faithfully, I even made sure to put out fresh flowers when I knew she was coming over.
But that was the problem: I didn't always know she was coming over. She used to come in when I wasn't home, on tips from the neighbors.
Daily we provide new information about ourselves, when shopping, travelling, communicating on the Internet or telephone, or even when we are simply eating out at a local restaurant. The collection of information is a constant in our lives, with the commercial sector profiling every aspect of our behaviour, from the insurance policies we purchase to the beer we drink. Much of this data is gathered without consumers being aware of the extent to which their privacy and anonymity are being compromised. Whilst the criminal fraternity may also wish to misuse our personal information for fraud or theft, the motives of the largest agencies collating this data are much less obvious or transparent. A recent series of reports to the European Parliament has identified the emergence of new technologies of political control. Such technology can watch and listen to our every move, this is not fiction, although the key player, the US National Security Agency is the same secretive organisation that features in the movie, 'Enemy of the State'. The technology now exists to industrialise such surveillance procedures, with the NSA base at Menwith Hill (UK) having the capability to tap an estimated 2 million phone calls, faxes and emails per hour. Once analysed using artificial intelligence systems such as Memex, this information can be used to build a massive machinery of political supervision with little political oversight or accountability.
A brief look at the historical development of this concept is instructive. Twenty years ago, the British Society for Social Responsibility of Scientists (BSSRS) warned about the dangers of a new technology of political control. BSSRS defined this technology as "a new type of weaponry"..."It is the product of the application of science and technology to the problem of neutralising the state's internal enemies. It is mainly directed at civilian populations, and is not intended to kill (and only rarely does). It is aimed as much at hearts and minds as at bodies." For these scientists, "This new weaponry ranges from means of monitoring internal dissent to devices for controlling demonstrations; from new techniques of interrogation to methods of prisoner control. The intended and actual effects of these new technological aids are both broader and more complex than the more lethal weaponry they complement."
[via abuddhas memes]
Making friends with Big Brother?: on the mixed promises of ambient intelligence, or ubiquitous computing, research. The technology will require sensors essentially everywhere so that systems will know where (and who) people are in order to provide the services they require. The downside is of course the continual tracking that implies.
There is no doubt recent advances in information and communication technologies have had a major impact on the way we live, work and interact with each other. Yet if computer technology of the present has raised some concern over privacy, that of the future should lead us to near panic. Research into "ambient intelligence", a network of hidden intelligent interfaces that recognise our presence and mould our environment to our immediate needs, could bring about an even more radical change.
Nationwide identity systems have been proposed as a solution for problems from counterterrorism to fraud detection to enabling electoral reforms. In the wake of September 11, 2001, and renewed interest in the topic, the Committee on Authentication Technologies and Their Privacy Implications of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board developed this short report as part of its ongoing study process, in order to raise questions and catalyze a broader debate about such systems. The committee believes that serious and sustained analysis and discussion of the complex constellation of issues presented by nationwide identity systems are needed. Understanding the goals of such a system is a primary consideration. Indeed, before any decisions can be made about whether to attempt some kind of nationwide identity system, the question of what is being discussed (and why) must be answered.
[via Divinest Sense]
In the Name of Homeland Security, Telecom Firms Are Deluged With Subpoenas: on the rapid increase of subpoenas for telecom and ISP subscriber records being made under the PATRIOT Act.
Behind the rising pressure for the fullest use of new technology and surveillance is homeland security. As police and intelligence agencies seek to deter future terrorist threats, the government is testing the limits of the expanded authority Congress provided when it passed the Patriot Act with broad bipartisan support in October.
"The amount of subpoenas that carriers receive today is roughly doubling every month -- we're talking about hundreds of thousands of subpoenas for customer records -- stuff that used to require a judge's approval," said Albert Gidari, a Seattle-based expert in privacy and security law who represents numerous technology companies.
Back in 1984, we congratulated ourselves on the difference between our lives of liberty and democracy and the dystopian universe George Orwell imagined in his landmark novel, a place where government-operated televisions spied on their viewers and hidden cameras monitored private lives. But while we smugly engaged in what amounted to nearly two decades of back-slapping, engineers were developing biometric technologies that could remake our society into Orwell's Oceania, all in the name of progress. The most disturbing of these technologies are facial recognition systems, computer-powered cameras that can identify an individual based on facial characteristics captured by the camera's lens.
Fighting Terror With Databases: on the expansion of domestic intelligence-gathering as part of the War on Terror.
In fact, the now-completed interviews and upcoming interrogations of Middle Eastern immigrants who have ignored deportation orders are only the most visible pieces of a broad effort to expand the war on terrorism through domestic intelligence-gathering. The effort will marry 21st-century technology with tactics not seen since the 1950s and '60s, according to federal documents and interviews with informed sources.
The intelligence-gathering system being born will ultimately combine more than $100 million in new funding, powerful new terrorism laws, an expanded role for local police and state-of-the-art computer networks that will link federal agents with thousands of police departments. Local authorities may soon be empowered to obtain virtually all of the FBI's most sensitive information under laws being considered in Congress.
The new role for local police is one of the most significant aspects of the new system. On the FBI's behalf, local police conducted many of the voluntary interviews, returning local law enforcement for the first time in 25 years to the sensitive job of gathering intelligence on political and religious groups suspected of violence.
[via Red Rock Eater]
The Search & Seizure of Electronic Information: The Law Before and After the USA Patriot Act - the Association of Research Libraries presents a table outlining the changes to how different types of information can be acquired by the government. [via BookNotes]
The FAA is planning to test a air passenger screening system which will tie together information on passengers' travel history, living arrangements, and other personal information in order to assign a "threat score" to each passenger. A high score means a passenger gets a more thorough security screening.
The government's plan is to establish a computer network linking every reservation system in the United States to private and government databases. The network would use data-mining and predictive software to profile passenger activity and intuit obscure clues about potential threats, even before the scheduled day of flight.
It might find, for instance, that one man used a debit card to buy tickets for four other men who sit in separate parts of the same plane -- four men who have shared addresses in the past. Or it might discern an array of unusual links and travel habits among passengers on different flights.
National ID in development: on efforts by some government agencies to push through a national ID system while public opinion is still in their favor.
The Wall Street Journal has a front
page column today (subscription required) on the National Research Center for College and
University Admissions, which collects annual in-class surveys of
high school students. The stated goal is for "colleges, universities,
and other organizations" to help the kids transition to college. What
is apparently a surprise to many, including students and officials at participating
high schools, is that, according to the article, among the "other organizations" is American Student List, which
resells the list to businesses which use the data for direct
marketing: magazines, newspapers, credit card companies, etc.
Update: Politech has excerpts from the article.