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“Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. …it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life.” – Edward Snowden
In my previous article Do No Evil Google – Censor & Snitch for the StateI addressed my experience with censorship through direct and indirect means by Google, other media related corporations and the Deep State they choose to protect, promote and perpetuate through propaganda. I found it interesting that websites heavily dependent on Google Adsense revenue who normally publish my articles either didn’t publish it or released it at a time when the least amount of visitors would see it. The almighty dollar usually wins out over truth in our one dimensional degenerate capitalism society, driven by greed, consumerism, gluttony and debt.
In this article I’ll examine how Google, Microsoft, Facebook Verizon and the rest of the internet based mega-corporations have consciously cooperated with the NSA and the rest of the surveillance state to violate the Fourth Amendment rights of every American. Our Founding Fathers had plenty of experience with authoritarian overlords who had no hesitation in kicking in the doors of private citizens to search and seize whatever they desired. The men who formulated the Constitution and Bill of Rights were clear and concise in their language. They laid out the right of all citizens to privacy in one perfectly succinct sentence. The putrid den of vipers in Congress today would use 10,000 sentences to insure this right would be null and void.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Media mouthpieces for the Deep State use their platform to lie, misinform and obscure the truth about a basic right owed to all Americans. They claim we have a living Constitution, while they methodically and systematically murder it. The only rights that matter are the rights of the invisible government of rich powerful men who pull the strings in this corporate fascist surveillance state. Justice Potter Stewart illuminated the Fourth Amendment in the 1967 Katz case. He concludedthe Fourth Amendment protects people, not places.
A “search” occurs for purposes of the Fourth Amendment when the government violates a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Katz’s reasonable expectation of privacy thus provided the basis to rule the government’s intrusion, though electronic means rather than physical entry, was a search covered by the Fourth Amendment, and thus necessitated a warrant. Today, our Big Brother government controllers use the Constitution and Fourth Amendment to wipe their asses, while goliath media corporations cooperate to keep the profits flowing.
“Even though we don’t know which companies the NSA has compromised – or by what means – knowing that they could have compromised any of them is enough to make us mistrustful of all of them. This is going to make it hard for large companies like Google and Microsoft to get back the trust they lost. Even if they succeed in limiting government surveillance. Even if they succeed in improving their own internal security. The best they’ll be able to say is: “We have secured ourselves from the NSA, except for the parts that we either don’t know about or can’t talk about.” – Bruce Schneier
The profane alliance between big banks, big corporations, and big government has created the Big Brother surveillance society we are living under today. And 95% of the populace is either willfully ignorant or perfectly happy with a boot stomping on their face forever. We have willingly become hopelessly enslaved while believing we are free. We think we are free to buy whatever clothes, iGadgets, baubles and trinkets we desire, while becoming imprisoned in the chains of credit card debt hawked by Wall Street bankers. We think we are free to pursue higher education, while being saddled with government peddled non-dischargeable student loan debt and few job opportunities. We think we are free to buy/lease whatever new vehicle we choose every three years, while falling into the trap of lifetime monthly payments to the financial elite. We imagine ourselves free to live in a 4,500 sq foot McMansion, 50 feet from another McMansion, while Wall Street creatively lures you into the shackles of an epoch of debt. We believe we live in a country admired for its morality and freedom, while in actuality the world despises us for our hubris, meddling, murdering and hypocrisy.
We assumed we were free to communicate with other citizens, utilizing the amazing technological advances of the past twenty five years, in accordance with the freedoms guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. American patriot Edward Snowden has revealed how wrong this assumption has proven to be. The puppeteers who control the politicians and government apparatchiks have no interest in allowing citizens privacy, freedom, liberty or free speech. They have a four pronged approach to controlling the masses.
- Use media propaganda and modern day bread and circuses (toxic processed food, reality TV, sports, movies) to amuse and confuse the government educated, eyes wide shut, populace.
- Use wars on poverty, drugs, and terror to keep the willfully ignorant masses cowering in fear, begging for more government programs, and pleading for more laws, regulations and statutes, which strip our freedoms, liberties and rights.
- Highly compensate the intellectuals, media pundits, economists, and thought leaders to promote the agenda of the ruling class. Truth is of no concern. Propaganda, misinformation, outright lies, and spinning a storyline are the techniques of choice to keep the masses bemused, confused and defused.
- As the Brave New World techniques begin to fail and more people are awakened to the increasing tyranny of an unelected invisible government, Orwellian techniques are instituted. The metadata collection by the NSA, with the cooperation of corporate America, is being done to intimidate those who might voice discontent and provide the controllers with the means to eliminate opposition and freedom of speech.
A population unable or unwilling to think critically doesn’t comprehend the extreme danger to our civil liberties from the unwarranted intrusion into our private lives by a surveillance police state bent on bribing, coercing and silencing dissent, truth and First Amendment rights. Civil libertarian, John Whitehead, captures the essence of our plight.
“Intrinsically, privacy is precious to the extent that it is a component of a liberty. Part of citizenship in a free society is the expectation that one’s personal affairs and physical person are inviolable so long as one remains within the law. A robust concept of freedom includes the freedom from constant and intrusive government surveillance of one’s life. From this perspective, Fourth Amendment violations are objectionable for the simple fact that the government is doing something it has no license to do–that is, invading the privacy of a law-abiding citizen by monitoring their daily activities and laying hands on their person without any evidence of wrongdoing.
Privacy is also instrumental in nature. This aspect of the right highlights the pernicious effects, rather than the inherent illegitimacy, of intrusive, suspicionless surveillance. For example, encroachments on individual privacy undermine democratic institutions by chilling free speech. When citizens–especially those espousing unpopular viewpoints–are aware that the intimate details of their personal lives are pervasively monitored by government, or even that they could be singled out for discriminatory treatment by government officials as a result of their First Amendment expressive activities, they are less likely to freely express their dissident views.” – John W. Whitehead – A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State
Do No Evil, Unless it is Profitable
“I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” – Edward Snowden
It’s amazing how corporate principles, codes of conduct, ethics, and morality can be cast aside by men when their wealth and power is dependent upon casting them aside. Google’s Do No Evil slogan is now a bad joke as they have consistently ignored their own motto by doing business with evil governments, bowing down to the demands of authoritarian surveillance states, and willingly handing over the private information of people to the government. They have done this in order to boost their profits and enrich their executives. The 120 million internet users in China are too big of a market, with vast profit potential, for Google to pass up over a little torture, murder, and repression by the Chinese government. Google bowed to the Chinese government and produced a censored, state-approved version of its search portal, enabling filters that block search terms such as Tibet, Taiwanese independence, Tiananmen Square protests, Falun Gong movement, freedom, democracy, political protest and prevent the engine from finding certain websites banned by the state. It also does not offer its blog or e-mail services in China in order to comply with government restrictions denying free speech. I guess evil is in the eye of the shareholder.
Human rights groups are the only ones who have called out Google for their hypocrisy, censorship of free speech and worshiping at the altar of the almighty yuan. Google is not alone in kowtowing to the authoritarian regime in China, as Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and any other internet provider must agree to censorship and turning over private information to the authorities. Microsoft shut down the U.S. hosted, pseudonymous blog of a Chinese journalist, and Yahoo turned over to the Chinese government personal e-mail files of an online dissident who was subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison. These corporate tools of the state care not that China is still one of the most repressive countries on Earth, with tens of thousands jailed dissidents and political prisoners, as well as being a serial abuser of copyright laws.
The Communist Party’s propaganda department has ramped up operations at Office 1106, an organization which trawls cyberspace for subversion. All websites, bloggers and bulletin-board operators must register with the government and Beijing has a special internet police force responsible for shutting down “unacceptable” sites, blocking foreign news sites and jailing people for online postings. The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders described Google’s acquiescence to authoritarianism as “a black day for freedom of expression in China”. They realized this was the first step on a downward path to loss of freedom around the world:
“But they continue to justify themselves by saying their presence has a long-term benefit. Yet the internet in China is becoming more and more isolated from the outside world and freedom of expression there is shrinking.”
The Free Tibet Campaign describes Google’s surrender as an endorsement of censorship and repression. “With this move, Google’s motto ‘do no evil’ is in smithereens,” said the campaign’s spokeswoman Alison Reynolds. “This also further contradicts those political leaders who attempt to convince us that foreign business can change China for the better.” Google Earth does not recognize the word Tibet. These corporations use the predictable spin that it will notify users when access had been restricted and argues that it could play a more useful role in China by participating than by boycotting it. Tell that to the thousands of freedom fighters languishing in gulags. We know Google willingly censors on behalf of governments. Based on the revelations from Edward Snowden, you can be sure Google provides the identities of Chinese citizens who voice dissenting opinions about the Chinese government directly to the Chinese secret police. We are all enemies of the state and subject to surveillance, censorship and ultimately imprisonment. We are living in a modern technological dystopian nightmare, with no hope of awakening.
“The world is not sliding, but galloping into a new transnational dystopia. This development has not been properly recognized outside of national security circles. It has been hidden by secrecy, complexity and scale. The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen. The internet is a threat to human civilization.
These transformations have come about silently, because those who know what is going on work in the global surveillance industry and have no incentives to speak out. Left to its own trajectory, within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may already be there.
While many writers have considered what the internet means for global civilization, they are wrong. They are wrong because they do not have the sense of perspective that direct experience brings. They are wrong because they have never met the enemy.” – Julian Assange –Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet
Big Google and the Surveillance State
“Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security, to law and order and the like.” – William O. Douglas – Points of Rebellion, 1969
“We have seen segments of our Government, in their attitudes and action, adopt tactics unworthy of a democracy, and occasionally reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. We have seen a consistent pattern in which programs initiated with limited goals, such as preventing criminal violence or identifying foreign spies, were expanded to what witnesses characterized as “vacuum cleaners”, sweeping in information about lawful activities of American citizens. The tendency of intelligence activities to expand beyond their initial scope is a theme which runs through every aspect of our investigative findings. Intelligence collection programs naturally generate ever-increasing demands for new data. And once intelligence has been collected, there are strong pressures to use it against the target.” ― Church Committee -1975
William O. Douglas and Frank Church foresaw the overreach of the surveillance state decades before Edward Snowden nobly sacrificed his future and risked his life to reveal the vast illegal collection of private phone calls, texts, emails, downloads, and every electronic communication of every person in America by a secret government agency operating in the shadows. The Chinese experience was a prelude to how Google, Yahoo, Verizon and the rest of the corporate internet/telecommunication complex would do whatever was demanded by the all-powerful NSA in order to expand their profits and avoid the ire of the Deep State.
Edward Snowden threw a monkey wrench into the well- oiled gears of the cooperative efforts of the NSA, the British NSA – GCHQ, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Verizon, etc. to conduct the greatest mass spying program in world history. The denials, finger pointing, obfuscation, and outright lies by government bureaucrats, politicians and corporate executives came fast and furious after Snowden’s revelations. They were caught red handed committing illegal acts, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Denial press releases regarding knowledge of this mass spying scheme from Google and Facebook appeared to be written by the same maggot public relations firm, as they were virtually identical.
The reactions of Google and Yahoo were reminiscent of Captain Renault declaring “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” in Casablanca.
“We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone to intercept data from our private fiber networks, and it underscores the need for urgent reform.” – Google
“We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.” – Yahoo
These faux expressions of outrage and surprise have been revealed by Snowden to be disingenuous and insincere. Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian verified the authenticity of a 41-slide NSA PowerPoint presentation, classified as top secret, used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the PRISM program. The presentation claims “collection directly from the servers” of nine major US service providers, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and Apple. The presentation also claims the program is run with the assistance of these companies.
Once they were caught in a lie, Google and the rest of the co-conspirators in this crime tried to backtrack and say they were just obeying their masters at the NSA. In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”
Google is supposed to be the most highly advanced cutting edge tech company on the planet, but somehow their entire system is unencrypted and available to anyone with the means to access it. That sure seems convenient. They have plausible deniability, while allowing the NSA to syphon every piece of electronic communication on its networks. No wonder this NSA diagram had a big smiley face on it.
Detail of an internal “NSA presentation slide” published by the Washington Post. The sketch shows where the public Internet meets the private cloud maintained by Google, and points out — with a smiley face — that the data within the cloud is unencrypted.
The documents released by Snowden forced Google to admit to willingly providing data, names and communications directly to the NSA. Google has a special server drop-box for the NSA where requested and approved files are placed to be taken by the NSA via secure FTP. Some printed records are delivered by hand. How much data passes through this hand-off process isn’t known because the company has refused to reveal that information.
With all the brainpower at Google HQ it is beyond laughable to believe they had no idea the NSA was collecting metadata on such a vast scale. They allowed this to happen with a wink and a nod in order to keep profits flowing. Google, Yahoo and the rest of the captured high tech industry sold out the American people for profits. They were willing participants in the largest crime in U.S. history, and there are no repercussions or prosecutions because their co-conspirators are the very government who would have to prosecute them.
The supposedly legal aspect of this spying program allows the NSA to gather huge amounts of Internet communications by legally compelling U.S. tech companies, including Google, to cooperate with officials and turn over all data that matches secret court approved search queries. This is authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. PRISM operations are overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). None of this was known prior to Edward Snowden nobly deciding he could not let this go on in good conscience. Neither the government, Google nor the other communications companies would have ever revealed this program. Of course, the non-legal vacuuming of metadata is far worse and has no support whatsoever under the U.S. Constitution.
To give you some perspective on the scale of this criminal enterprise, NSA analysts processed more than 180 million records within a time span of 30 days from Google’s metadata system. The NSA gained access to who sent the message, who received the message, what the message contained and all audio and video sent on this system. The NSA secretly tapped into the private fiber-optic networks that connect Google’s and Yahoo’s worldwide data centers, allowing the spy agency to suck up “at will” bulk metadata and content belonging to users of the companies’ services.
Under a program called MUSCULAR, a joint project with British NSA counterpart the GCHQ, the NSA takes advantage of overseas taps to intercept data flowing within Google’s and Yahoo’s geographically distributed data “clouds,” where multiple copies of user data are stored unencrypted. Google “PREF” cookies, which can help identify a user’s web browser and serve up personalized ads allows NSA to single out an individual’s communications among the sea of Internet data in order to send out software that can hack that person’s computer.
The question is why is our government doing this? Are they doing it for our protection or for our subjugation? The War on Terror is really a cover for corporate fascists to further enrich themselves and gain a stranglehold on the government and financial system. There is little or no threat from terrorists in this country. The few psychopaths out there cannot impact this country in a major way. But, fear can be used by those in power to solidify their control over the masses. Before 9/11 it would have seemed unthinkable for our country to descend into a dystopian society, surrendering privacy, anonymity and individualism.
This bulk collection of private communications is their ace in the hole. Anyone who dares to question authority, resist the establishment or voice a dissenting opinion can be discredited and destroyed with personal information gathered by the NSA. One method for undermining those deemed “radicalizers” by the NSA is to document their online porn habits. The documents released by Snowden reveal NSA plans to blackmail non-conformists, as explained by Glenn Greenwald.
“Among the vulnerabilities listed by the NSA that can be effectively exploited are ‘viewing sexually explicit material online’ and ‘using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls.’ “
If the Deep State cannot bribe you with cash, they will invade your privacy and use personal communications to bribe you. Censorship can be exercised through many channels. The saddest part thus far is the lack of outrage by the American people. The majority of mouth breathing techno-narcissists in this country have never heard of Edward Snowden. They don’t realize he is the Paul Revere of the next American Revolution. They don’t understand the implications of not standing and fighting during this Fourth Turning. Unless enough people stand up and say NO, we will end up with turnkey tyranny.
“The great fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things… And in the months ahead, the years ahead, it’s only going to get worse. The NSA will say that… because of the crisis, the dangers that we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power, and there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny.” – Edward Snowden
In the final segment of this three part article – Fourth Turning: The People vs Big Brother – I’ll discuss how I think this all fits into the Fourth Turning Crisis we are currently experiencing.
MPs talk metadata 9:44
Privacy vs. security 6:47
The head of Canada’s communications surveillance agency defended its use of metadata Monday and argued a test using Canadian passengers’ data — revealed by CBC News last week — didn’t run in real-time and wasn’t an actual operation.
John Forster, chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada, defended the cybersecurity agency over revelations contained in a document released by U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Forster appeared before the Senate national defence committee amid the report that CSEC used airport Wi-Fi to track the movements of Canadian passengers, including where they’d been before the airport.
Forster said the agency used metadata to develop a model that showed they could track an internet user’s network activity “around a public access mode,” and that the tracking didn’t happen in real time.
Metadata reveal a trove of information including, for example, the location and telephone numbers of all calls a person makes and receives. It does not include the content of the call, which would legally be considered a private communication and cannot be intercepted without a warrant.
“This exercise involved a snapshot of historic metadata collected from the global internet. There was no data collected through any monitoring of the operations of any airport. Just a part of our normal global collection,” he said.
“We weren’t targeting or trying to find anyone or monitoring individuals’ movements in real time. The purpose of it was to build an analytical model of typical patterns of network activity around a public access mode,” Forster said.
The spy chief said the agency also uses metadata to ensure it isn’t inadvertently directing investigative efforts at a Canadian phone number or IP address. The agency is supposed to stick to foreign intelligence, not domestic.
Is metadata discarded?
Metadata, Forster said, is essential to CSEC’s work. But he said the agency doesn’t use it to build profiles on Canadians, and that its own staff would report CSEC to its commissioner watchdog if the agency started tracking Canadians.
Speaking to reporters after the committee meeting, Forster allowed that Canadian metadata is being collected.
“There are foreign and Canadian information mixed together in the internet,” he said, responding to a question about whether the agency picks up data belonging to Canadians.
The collection of metadata was approved by a ministerial directive, Forster said. The first directive was issued in 2005 under a Liberal government, with the latest one issued in 2011 under the Conservatives.
Asked whether the data collected for the model had been discarded, Forster referred to a directive about how long it could be stored.
“After a maximum amount of time that data, if it hasn’t already been discarded, is discarded,” he said.
CSIS denies mass surveillance
Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said the law needs to be updated to include metadata, a term that appears nowhere in the current act.
“So it is fiction to say that the act authorizes metadata. It’s an interpretation — the way I interpret it, any interception is not permitted,” Cavoukian told Evan Solomon, host of CBC News Network’sPower & Politics.
The head of Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told senators the agency doesn’t perform mass surveillance of Canadians.
What is ‘metadata’?
Metadata refers to information used to order or describe data, rather than the data itself. In the case of modern communications, it is the digital traces created when a phone call is made, an email or text is sent or a webpage is accessed — but it does not contain the content or conversation that was exchanged in those calls, messages or web surfing.
To use a less modern example, a library card catalogue contains the metadata for the books in a library.
However, metadata can include a lot of information, including the date, time, duration and location of a communication, the wireless device ID or internet address of the device that was used and the IDs or addresses of devices on the other end of the message or call — and even keywords or “tags” that relate to the information being exchanged.
“I can assure you that CSIS warrants authorized by the Federal Court do not allow the mass surveillance of Canadians and we do not engage in such activities,” Michel Coulombe said.
“Our warrants are directed against specific individuals who pose a threat to the security of Canada, a threshold that is clearly articulated in the CSIS Act.”
Earlier, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s national security adviser, Stephen Rigby, defended the collection of Canadians’ metadata by Canada’s surveillance agency, calling it “data about data.”
Rigby said he is “not totally persuaded” that Canada’s spy agencies tapped into airport Wi-Fi.
“I think that the document that has been released clearly indicates that there has been collection of metadata,” Rigby said.
“That is a well-known fact.… It does not represent a compromise of private communications by Canadians. It’s data about data,” making it “well within the legal parameters” of agency operations, he said.
Canada’s interim privacy commissioner, Chantal Bernier, said in a report last week that she had serious concerns about how spy agencies use social media to collect information. Bernier said the potential for privacy invasion calls for commensurate protection, including an updated law.
130 Canadian extremists abroad
Michel Coulombe, the head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, says his agency is aware of more than 130 Canadians working abroad in support of extremist activities. He says it’s his number 1 security concern.
“Currently, CSIS is aware of over 130 Canadians who are abroad in support of extremist activities, including approximately 30 in Syria alone. Such individuals’ activities vary widely, ranging from paramilitary activity, training in weapons and explosives, and logistical support, to terrorist fundraising and studying in extremist madrassas.
“Some never achieve their intent and simply return home. Thus their depth of experience varies widely, making some individuals much more concerning than others. The service actively investigates such individuals, however, I must be clear in stating that such investigations are inherently challenging and gaps in our understanding are unavoidable. The number of individuals overseas are in constant flux. Their motivations are difficult to ascertain and their movement against sometimes isolated terrain are difficult to track.”
Rigby said Bernier presented Parliament with some interesting ideas, but that the current controls “are reasonably robust.”
“I think to a certain extent there’s been a lot of public debate about some of the actions of our security agencies as a result of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures,” he said.
“I’m not persuaded at the end of the day that all of them are 100 per cent accurate.”
Rigby said Bernier’s ability to audit CSIS and CSEC is a check in itself.
“I think that the annual reports that are tabled by the commissioner, by SIRC [CSIS’s review body the Security Intelligence Review Committee] and by the director of CSIS, for example, all represent opportunities to comment on privacy issues and the checks that are in place to assure Canadians that they have reasonable privacy protections in place,” he said.
‘That, simply put, is spying’
Opposition members in the House of Commons have long demanded more parliamentary oversight of the country’s national security agencies.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris tabled a motion last fall to create a parliamentary committee to determine the best way to oversee CSEC and CSIS. The motion was defeated.
Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter is tabling a motion in the House Tuesday to order CSEC to end all illegal monitoring of Canadians and increase proper oversight of the cybersecurity agency via a national security parliamentary committee.
“When Canadian citizens transferring through airports and using Wi-Fi have their metadata collected, that, simply put, is spying,” Easter said in the House Monday.
A report by the commissioner from last June, Easter said, noted that some activities may have been directed at Canadians.
NSA collects millions of text messages daily in ‘untargeted’ global sweep | World news | theguardian.com
The National Security Agency has collected almost 200 million text messages a day from across the globe, using them to extract data including location, contact networks and credit card details, according to top-secret documents.
The untargeted collection and storage of SMS messages – including their contacts – is revealed in a joint investigation between the Guardian and the UK’s Channel 4 News based on material provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The documents also reveal the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA database to search the metadata of “untargeted and unwarranted” communications belonging to people in the UK.
The NSA program, codenamed Dishfire, collects “pretty much everything it can”, according to GCHQ documents, rather than merely storing the communications of existing surveillance targets.
The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people’s travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more – including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity.
An agency presentation from 2011 – subtitled “SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit” – reveals the program collected an average of 194 million text messages a day in April of that year. In addition to storing the messages themselves, a further program known as “Prefer” conducted automated analysis on the untargeted communications.
The Prefer program uses automated text messages such as missed call alerts or texts sent with international roaming charges to extract information, which the agency describes as “content-derived metadata”, and explains that “such gems are not in current metadata stores and would enhance current analytics”.
On average, each day the NSA was able to extract:
• More than 5 million missed-call alerts, for use in contact-chaining analysis (working out someone’s social network from who they contact and when)
• Details of 1.6 million border crossings a day, from network roaming alerts
• More than 110,000 names, from electronic business cards, which also included the ability to extract and save images.
• Over 800,000 financial transactions, either through text-to-text payments or linking credit cards to phone users
The agency was also able to extract geolocation data from more than 76,000 text messages a day, including from “requests by people for route info” and “setting up meetings”. Other travel information was obtained from itinerary texts sent by travel companies, even including cancellations and delays to travel plans.
Communications from US phone numbers, the documents suggest, were removed (or “minimized”) from the database – but those of other countries, including the UK, were retained.
The revelation the NSA is collecting and extracting personal information from hundreds of millions of global text messages a day is likely to intensify international pressure on US president Barack Obama, who on Friday is set to give his response to the report of his NSA review panel.
While US attention has focused on whether the NSA’s controversial phone metadata program will be discontinued, the panel also suggested US spy agencies should pay more consideration to the privacy rights of foreigners, and reconsider spying efforts against allied heads of state and diplomats.
In a statement to the Guardian, a spokeswoman for the NSA said any implication that the agency’s collection was “arbitrary and unconstrained is false”. The agency’s capabilities were directed only against “valid foreign intelligence targets” and were subject to stringent legal safeguards, she said.
The ways in which the UK spy agency GCHQ has made use of the NSA Dishfire database also seems likely to raise questions on the scope of its powers.
While GCHQ is not allowed to search through the content of messages without a warrant – though the contents are stored rather than deleted or “minimized” from the database – the agency’s lawyers decided analysts were able to see who UK phone numbers had been texting, and search for them in the database.
The GCHQ memo sets out in clear terms what the agency’s access to Dishfire allows it to do, before handling how UK communications should be treated. The unique property of Dishfire, it states, is how much untargeted or unselected information it stores.
“In contrast to [most] GCHQ equivalents, DISHFIRE contains a large volume of unselected SMS traffic,” it states (emphasis original). “This makes it particularly useful for the development of new targets, since it is possible to examine the content of messages sent months or even years before the target was known to be of interest.”
It later explains in plain terms how useful this capability can be. Comparing Dishfire favourably to a GCHQ counterpart which only collects against phone numbers that have specifically been targeted, it states “Dishfire collects pretty much everything it can, so you can see SMS from a selector which is not targeted”.
The document also states the database allows for broad, bulk searches of keywords which could result in a high number of hits, rather than just narrow searches against particular phone numbers: “It is also possible to search against the content in bulk (e.g. for a name or home telephone number) if the target’s mobile phone number is not known.”
Analysts are warned to be careful when searching content for terms relating to UK citizens or people currently residing in the UK, as these searches could be successful but would not be legal without a warrant or similar targeting authority.
However, a note from GCHQ’s operational legalities team, dated May 2008, states agents can search Dishfire for “events” data relating to UK numbers – who is contacting who, and when.
“You may run a search of UK numbers in DISHFIRE in order to retrieve only events data,” the note states, before setting out how an analyst can prevent himself seeing the content of messages when he searches – by toggling a single setting on the search tool.
Once this is done, the document continues, “this will now enable you to run a search without displaying the content of the SMS, especially useful for untargeted and unwarranted UK numbers.”
A separate document gives a sense of how large-scale each Dishfire search can be, asking analysts to restrain their searches to no more than 1,800 phone numbers at a time.
The note warns analysts they must be careful to make sure they use the form’s toggle before searching, as otherwise the database will return the content of the UK messages – which would, without a warrant, cause the analyst to “unlawfully be seeing the content of the SMS”.
The note also adds that the NSA automatically removes all “US-related SMS” from the database, so it is not available for searching.
A GCHQ spokesman refused to comment on any particular matters, but said all its intelligence activities were in compliance with UK law and oversight.
But Vodafone, one of the world’s largest mobile phone companies with operations in 25 countries including Britain, greeted the latest revelations with shock.
“It’s the first we’ve heard about it and naturally we’re shocked and surprised,” the group’s privacy officer and head of legal for privacy, security and content standards told Channel 4 News.
“What you’re describing sounds concerning to us because the regime that we are required to comply with is very clear and we will only disclose information to governments where we are legally compelled to do so, won’t go beyond the law and comply with due process.
“But what you’re describing is something that sounds as if that’s been circumvented. And for us as a business this is anathema because our whole business is founded on protecting privacy as a fundamental imperative.”
He said the company would be challenging the UK government over this. “From our perspective, the law is there to protect our customers and it doesn’t sound as if that is what is necessarily happening.”
The NSA’s access to, and storage of, the content of communications of UK citizens may also be contentious in the light of earlier Guardian revelations that the agency was drafting policies to facilitate spying on the citizens of its allies, including the UK and Australia, which would – if enacted – enable the agency to search its databases for UK citizens without informing GCHQ or UK politicians.
The documents seen by the Guardian were from an internal Wikipedia-style guide to the NSA program provided for GCHQ analysts, and noted the Dishfire program was “operational” at the time the site was accessed, in 2012.
The documents do not, however, state whether any rules were subsequently changed, or give estimates of how many UK text messages are collected or stored in the Dishfire system, or from where they are being intercepted.
In the statement, the NSA spokeswoman said: “As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA’s collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false.
“NSA’s activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements.
“Dishfire is a system that processes and stores lawfully collected SMS data. Because some SMS data of US persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA’s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for US persons exist across the entire process concerning the use, handling, retention, and dissemination of SMS data in Dishfire.
“In addition, NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process.”
The agency draws a distinction between the bulk collection of communications and the use of that data to monitor or find specific targets.
A spokesman for GCHQ refused to respond to any specific queries regarding Dishfire, but said the agency complied with UK law and regulators.
“It is a longstanding policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters,” he said. “Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.”
GCHQ also directed the Guardian towards a statement made to the House of Commons in June 2013 by foreign secretary William Hague, in response to revelations of the agency’s use of the Prism program.
“Any data obtained by us from the US involving UK nationals is subject to proper UK statutory controls and safeguards, including the relevant sections of the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act,” Hague told MPs.
Image via Wikimedia
At the end of this week President Obama is expected to finally answer the mounting calls to curtail the NSA’s bloated power to invade its citizens’ privacy by spying on millions of Americans’ communications. But the president is going to have a hard time falling back on the old standby explanation that massive data collection is a necessary evil to protect the country from terrorism.
A new analysis of terrorism charges in the US found that the NSA’s dragnet domestic surveillance “had no discernible impact” on preventing terrorist acts. Instead, the majority of threats over the last decade were detected by regular old intelligence and law enforcement methods—tips, informants, CIA and FBI ops, routine law enforcement.
The nonprofit think tank New America Foundation published a report today after investigating the 227 Al Qaeda-affiliated people or groups that have been charged for committing an act of terrorism in the US since 9/11. It found just 17 of the cases were credited to NSA surveillance, and just one conviction came out of the government’s extra-controversial practice of spying on its own citizens. And that charge, against San Diego cab driver Basaaly Moalin, was for sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia. There was no threat of an actual attack.
This is hardly the first time experts have searched for a link between bulk metadata collection and foiled terrorist plots and come up empty-handed. So far, the only real value in collecting and monitoring billions of US phone records has been to provide extra support in investigations already underway by the FBI or another agency, or to verify that a rumored threat isn’t real (the “peace of mind” metric), the report found.
But that hasn’t stopped NSA officials and the Obama administration from drumming up a connection between terrorist attacks and surveillance to defend the agency’s snooping.
Shortly after Edward Snowden blew the lid off the classified PRISM program and the backlash heated up, officials claimed the mass surveillance tactics had thwarted 54 terrorist plots. NSA Director Keith Alexander trotted out this number in his testimony before Congress and the president echoed the line to the press.
Eventually that claim was found to be grossly exaggerated and Alexander walked back the statement, admitting the cases weren’t actually terrorist plots per se. He traded in the words “plots” and “attacks” for “events” and “activities.” But the 50+ number was already pretty well-circulated through the press.
Of course, government talking points on the issue also strategically tie the unpopular spy ops to the attack on 9/11. Officials were told to use lines like, “NSA and its partners must make sure we connect the dots so that the nation is never attacked again like it was on 9/11,” and “I much prefer to be here today explaining these programs than explaining another 9/11 event that we were not able to prevent,” Al Jazeera revealed.
But even though the attack on the World Trade Center was used as justification for expanding the intelligence community’s powers in the first place, the new report suggests that the 9/11 hijackers didn’t succeed by totally blindsiding the US, but because the government bungled the early warnings.
“The overall problem for US counterterrorism officials is not that they need the information from the bulk collection of phone data, but that they don’t sufficiently understand or widely share the information they already possess that is derived from conventional law enforcement and intelligence techniques,” wrote New American Foundation National Security Director Peter Bergen.
Now it’s over a decade later and the US government has backdoor access into basically the entire digiverse, with no evidence to prove the dubious data collection is doing anything at all useful. Last month, Obama’s advisory panel determined the agency’s spy operations are “not essential to preventing attacks,” and handed him 46 recommendations for reforming the programs. Unfortunately, sources say the president has embraced the terrorism justification and isn’t expected to make any major moves to narrow the scope of domestic surveillance, just call for minor changes to reassure Americans that their civil liberties aren’t being trampled.
- Why The “It’s Just Metadata” Argument Is False (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere (ncrenegade.com)
- Should Canadians worry about data snooping? (cbc.ca)
- “metadata” (urbanmapping.com)
- NSA taps all phonecall metadata, emails, chat, video chat, IM and basically all electronic activity (nextbigfuture.com)
- Paul Revere’s Metadata (balloon-juice.com)
- Why “It’s just metadata” is so much pablum (themoderatevoice.com)