Category Archives: Privacy

Quote of the day: A matter of perspective. . .


From From Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program, writing for Medium:

It’s deeply disturbing that, 15 years after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government’s sense of justice is so skewed that while not a single person has been prosecuted for torture or unlawful drone killings, it is Edward Snowden who faces decades behinds bars.

So, while we witness the vilification of Edward Snowden, this is happening:

  • The architects of CIA torture celebrate their abuses, safe in the knowledge they likely won’t ever be prosecuted.
  • 61 men languish at Guantanamo, many locked away without charges for more than a decade, and they may die there.
  • Drone strikes have killed scores, including a woman struck by Hellfire missiles and blown to bits before the eyes of her grandchildren, and yet her death has never even been acknowledged by the U.S. government.

Wednesday September 14th marked the 15th year that U.S. intelligence and defense agencies have used the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force, a law passed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, as a permission slip for human rights abuses.

These out of control agencies, unchecked by the courts and Congress, violating human rights with impunity — this is why Edward Snowden had to speak out, why it’s ludicrous to suggest he could have worked within this desperately broken system, a system where human rights abuses are systematically ignored and sometimes covered up.

Headline of the day II: He spies on you, but. . .


Facebook, the most popular social media platform in history, requires users to let the software spy on their most intimate habits.

But don’t you day try to do the same to the guy who runs it, because he’ll spend millions to stop you.

Irony, anyone?

From the London Daily Mail:

Palo Alto REJECTS Mark Zuckerberg’s bid to demolish neighboring homes and create a family compound after he spent $30m on properties next to his house

  • Facebook founder filed paperwork with the city of Palo Alto in May, stating his intentions to tear down and rebuild four neighboring homes
  • Architectural review board rejected the plans saying a giant compound will violate zoning codes and ideal land use 
  • Plans shows that Zuckerberg will tear down the four homes and rebuild them as smaller properties
  • Zuckerberg bought the four properties in 2013, after a developer threatened to build a house with views right into the billionaire’s bedroom

New studies reveal extent of corporate power grab


Corporations have replaced nation-state’s as the globes real sources of power. But unlike governments, which are nominally responsible to their citizens, corporations answer to nothing other than the bottom line.

While governments, at least in theory, evaluate their success by the extent to which they meet the needs of the public for security and survival, corporations see those same citizens as simply resources to be mind for profit.

The measures corporations take to extract that wealth aren’t limited by the need to ensure the well being of the public. Indeed, the only limits on their avarice are imposed by the governments they increasingly control both by their capture of the electoral process and their ability to demand those governments implement international agreements ceding state sorverignty to corporate boards.

Two new studies point to the success of the corporate agenda, first in capturing global wealth, and, second, in seizing the instruments of state used to monitor and control the citizenry.

The corporate capture of global wealth

First, from Global Justice Now, a report on the dramatic rise of corporate financial power, a power that exceeds that of the world’s nation states:

10 biggest corporations make more money than most countries in the world combined

  • 69 of top 100 economic entities are corporations not countries
  • Walmart, Apple, Shell richer than Russia, Belgium, Sweden
  • British government told: stop supporting your corporations, support your people

Corporations have increased their wealth vis-à-vis countries according to new figures released by Global Justice Now. The campaign group found that 69 of the world’s top economic entities are corporations rather than countries in 2015*. They also discovered that the world’s top 10 corporations – a list that includes Walmart, Shell and Apple – have a combined revenue of more than the 180 ‘poorest’ countries combined in the list which include Ireland, Indonesia, Israel, Colombia, Greece, South Africa, Iraq and Vietnam.

The figures are worse than last year, when 63 of the top economic entities were corporations. When looking at the top 200 economic entities, the figures are even more extreme, with 153 being corporations.

Global Justice Now released the figures in order to increase pressure on the British government ahead of a UN working group, led by Ecuador, established to draw up a binding treaty to ensure transnational corporations abide by the full range of human rights responsibilities. Campaigners are calling for the treaty to be legally enforceable at a national and global level. Britain doesn’t support the process, and has repeatedly vetoed and opposed such proposal in the past.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said:

“The vast wealth and power of corporations is at the heart of so many of the world’s problems – like inequality and climate change. The drive for short-term profits today seems to trump basic human rights for millions of people on the planet. These figures show the problem is getting worse.

Corporations captures government’s secret functions

And the second instance of the corporate seizure of government power, this time focusing on the power to set the most secret agendas of the exercise of power in the secret exercise of power and the ability to invade the most intimate areas of privacy.

From an enlightening essay by veteran journalist Tim Shorrock for The Nation:

The recent integration of two military contractors into a $10 billion behemoth is the latest in a wave of mergers and acquisitions that have transformed America’s privatized, high-tech intelligence system into what looks like an old-fashioned monopoly.

In August, Leidos Holdings, a major contractor for the Pentagon and the National Security Agency, completed a long-planned merger with the Information Systems & Global Solutions division of Lockheed Martin, the global military giant. The 8,000 operatives employed by the new company do everything from analyzing signals for the NSA to tracking down suspected enemy fighters for US Special Forces in the Middle East and Africa.

>snip<

Leidos is now the largest of five corporations that together employ nearly 80 percent of the private-sector employees contracted to work for US spy and surveillance agencies.

This is incredibly risky for a country so dependent on intelligence to fight global wars and prevent domestic attacks.

Yes, that’s 80 percent. For the first time since spy agencies began outsourcing their core analytic and operational work in the late 1990s, the bulk of the contracted work goes to a handful of companies: Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSRA, SAIC, and CACI International. This concentration of “pure plays”—a Wall Street term for companies that makes one product for a single market—marks a fundamental shift in an industry that was once a highly diverse mix of large military contractors, small and medium technology companies, and tiny “Beltway Bandits” surrounding Washington, D.C.

[T]hese developments are incredibly risky for a country more dependent than ever on intelligence to fight global wars and prevent domestic attacks. “The problem with just five companies providing the lion’s share of contractors is that the client, the U.S. government, won’t have much alternative when a company screws up,” says David Isenberg, the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.

Moreover, the fact that much of this privatized work is top secret—and is generally underreported in the press—undermines the accountability and transparency of our spy agencies. That should deeply concern the American public.

What’s the source of that power?

We close with a quote from a 20 April 2015 essay or Harper’s by New America Foundation scholar Lee Drutman:

Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). It’s a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.

Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.

Add in the disastrous corporate agenda set by the U.S. Supreme Court and we are looking at nothing less than a de facto and de jure coup in the most powerful nation the planet has ever seen.

The only question is whether or not it will take a second American revolution to restore the balance we have lost.

Quote of the day II: Barack Obama, Biggest Brother


From James Bamford, America’s preeminent journalist of the world of government eavesdropping, writing for Foreign Policy:

Over his two terms, Obama has created the most powerful surveillance state the world has ever seen. Although other leaders may have created more oppressive spying regimes, none has come close to constructing one of equivalent size, breadth, cost, and intrusiveness. From 22,300 miles in space, where seven Advanced Orion crafts now orbit; to a 1-million-square-foot building in the Utah desert that stores data intercepted from personal phones, emails, and social media accounts; to taps along the millions of miles of undersea cables that encircle the Earth like yarn, U.S. surveillance has expanded exponentially since Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009.

The effort to wire the world — or to achieve “extreme reach,” in the NRO’s parlance — has cost American taxpayers more than $100 billion. Obama has justified the gargantuan expense by arguing that “there are some trade-offs involved” in keeping the country safe. “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said in June 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed widespread government spying on Americans’ phone calls.

Since Snowden’s leaks, pundits and experts (myself included) have debated the legality and ethics of the U.S. surveillance apparatus. Yet has the president’s blueprint for spying succeeded on its own terms? An examination of the unprecedented architecture reveals that the Obama administration may only have drowned itself in data. What’s more, in trying to right the ship, America’s intelligence culture has grown frenzied. Agencies are ever seeking to get bigger, move faster, and pry deeper to keep pace with the enormous quantity of information being generated the world over and with the new tactics and technologies intended to shield it from spies.

This race is a defining feature of Obama’s legacy — and one that threatens to become never-ending, even after he’s left the White House.

Quote of the day: Was NSA ‘hack’ an inside job?


The posting of a catalog offering the supersecret National Security Agency’s hacking tools has been blamed on Russia by the Obama administration, but America’s most respected journalist covering the NSA beat writes that rather than a Russia hack, the raid on the NSA’s family jewels was more likely an inside job.

From James Bamford, writing for Reuters:

Like a bank robber’s tool kit for breaking into a vault, cyber exploitation tools, with codenames like EPICBANANA and BUZZDIRECTION, are designed to break into computer systems and networks. Just as the bank robber hopes to find a crack in the vault that has never been discovered, hackers search for digital cracks, or “exploits,” in computer programs like Windows.

The most valuable are “zero day” exploits, meaning there have been zero days since Windows has discovered the “crack” in their programs. Through this crack, the hacker would be able to get into a system and exploit it, by stealing information, until the breach is eventually discovered and patched. According to the former NSA officials who viewed the Shadow Broker files, they contained a number of exploits, including zero-day exploits that the NSA often pays thousands of dollars for to private hacking groups.

The reasons given for laying the blame on Russia appear less convincing, however. “This is probably some Russian mind game, down to the bogus accent,” James A. Lewis, a computer expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, told the New York Times. Why the Russians would engage in such a mind game, he never explained.

Rather than the NSA hacking tools being snatched as a result of a sophisticated cyber operation by Russia or some other nation, it seems more likely that an employee stole them. Experts who have analyzed the files suspect that they date to October 2013, five months after Edward Snowden left his contractor position with the NSA and fled to Hong Kong carrying flash drives containing hundreds of thousands of pages of NSA documents.

So, if Snowden could not have stolen the hacking tools, there are indications that after he departed in May 2013, someone else did, possibly someone assigned to the agency’s highly sensitive Tailored Access Operations.

>snip<

[W]e now have entered a period many have warned about, when NSA’s cyber weapons could be stolen like loose nukes and used against us. It opens the door to criminal hackers, cyber anarchists and hostile foreign governments that can use the tools to gain access to thousands of computers in order to steal data, plant malware and cause chaos.

It’s one more reason why NSA may prove to be one of Washington’s greatest liabilities rather than assets.

Japan focuses on saving your privacy on the IoT


And what, pray tell, is the IoT?

It’s the Internet of Things, all those devices in your home with wireless connections to the Internet.

And to protect your privacy, only a Trumpian solution seems to work.

In other words, you’ll have to build a wall.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun:

BLOG Wall

More from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

In preparation for the spread of the internet of things [IoT], the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry will develop a “protective wall” to safeguard home electronics connected to the internet from cyber-attacks, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

There has been an increasing number of cases in which IoT devices at home are hacked and used as a base for cyber-attacks. The ministry plans to build a system, or protective wall, on the internet to prevent unauthorized operation of devices and stop them being infected with viruses, according to sources.

Development expenses totaling several hundred million yen will be incorporated in the second supplementary budget for fiscal 2016. In cooperation with electronics makers and telecommunications carriers, the ministry aims to put the system into practical use within a year or two.

It is difficult to improve the security of home electronics such as televisions, security cameras and routers by upgrading their software. While industrial IoT devices and personal computers are guarded with a protective wall or software, many consumer IoT devices are vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

The ministry plans to build a system on the internet in which access to all consumer IoT devices via the internet must go through a protective wall. Any unauthorized communication will be blocked. If there is a security problem with a consumer IoT device, a warning will be issued. The ministry aims to have the system protect existing IoT products as well.

Clinton Foundation may have been hacked, too


And if they were, we can’t wait to see what’s revealed.

From Reuters:

Bill and Hillary Clinton’s charitable foundation hired the security firm FireEye to examine its data systems after seeing indications they might have been hacked, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

So far, no message or document hacked from the New York-based Clinton Foundation has surfaced in public, the sources said.

One of the sources and two U.S. security officials said that like hackers who targeted the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democrats’ congressional fundraising committee, the hackers appear to have used “spear phishing” techniques to gain access to the foundation’s network.

These techniques include creating bogus emails or websites in an effort to gain access to Clinton Foundation staffers’ emails and then to the foundation itself.