This is a follow-up post to my last on the topic of privacy and government surveillance. In this post we’ll look at some government programs and technologies to prove that privacy has long been dead. We’ll unfortunately only scratch the surface of what the total surveillance state is capable of (more posts on this topic will follow). My aim for now is to educate those that are not yet aware of their privacy’s death. That is, those whose minds are still in the matrix.
A good starting point
If you think it’s not possible for the government to intercept, query and rank ALL electronic communications, then let’s look at some recent admissions by public servants (aka. “government officials”) that claim this is exactly what they are doing. (With some quick research you’ll find more whistleblowers on this.)
Just this past week, a former FBI counterterrorism agent was twice on CNN admitting that all phone calls are essentially archived and can be called up and listened to as needed. You can watch the clips of him saying this here.
Corroborating this, NSA whistleblower William Binney made headline news last year over his resignation from the NSA in 2001 because of their unconstitutional practices. Binney was reportedly one of the best mathematicians and code breakers the NSA ever had and he worked for DoD’s foreign signals intel agency for over 30 years. He resigned because the U.S. government began violating the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights (remember the PATRIOT Act?) by deploying foreign intelligence gathering equipment for domestic operation against the entire population. I highly recommend viewing this 12-minute interview he did in December 2012. Here is an incredible admission from Binney, suggesting that the government is building dossiers on each person:
Domestically, they’re pulling together all the data about virtually every U.S. citizen in the country and assembling that information, building communities that you have relationships with, and knowledge about you; what your activities are; what you’re doing.
Before going further, I want to say that in my opinion it is a criminal government that breaks the very laws it is designed to uphold. Maintaining dossiers on law-abiding citizens is the behaviour of a fascistic, totalitarian regime. We have a duty to resist and throw off such tyranny.
Known government programs
Let’s now look at some interesting government surveillance programs that have been made public over the years.
ECHELON – This is a massive, worldwide collection system capable of intercepting and inspecting content of telephone calls, faxes, e-mails and other data traffic globally. It was first launched in the 1960’s and is run by the Anglo-American Establishment: Australia (Defence Signals Directorate), New Zealand (Government Communications Security Bureau), Canada (Communications Security Establishment), the United States (National Security Agency), and the United Kingdom (Government Communications Headquarters). In the intelligence community they are referred to as the “Five Eyes”. In 2000, the European Parliament conducted an investigation into ECHELON with a concluding report. A contact on the inside confirmed to me that the U.S. runs the satellites, the data is pulled down to the U.K., Canada does analysis of and dissemination of pertinent intelligence. The system uses lexicons to prioritize data onto various lists and actual human analysts are required to look at certain lists (in the future we’ll look at evidence of what gets you on a list – I’m sure this blog post is flagged on some escalated list). One final thing on ECHELON and that is the April 2012 issue of WIRED magazine had an exclusive report on the massive $2 billion NSA facility in Utah. Could this be part of ECHELON? I believe so. The cover of the issue had the following to say:
Deep in the Utah desert, the National Security Agency is building the country’s biggest spy centre. It’s the final piece of a secret surveillance network that will intercept and store your phone calls, emails, Google searches… (Watch what you say.)
Total Information Awareness – In 2002 in the U.S., the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched the Information Awareness Office to work on surveillance for identifying and tracking “terrorists”. It was lead by a former NSA guy (surprise, surprise). They had a few name changes (Total/Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA)) and were supposedly shut down in 2003 after Congress cut funding. Clearly they morphed. The office called for intelligence gathering and analysis “among people, organizations, places, and things.” Kind of sounds like Facebook and your smart phone doesn’t it? It also called for biometric programs and cameras with multiple means of identity extraction (facial recognition, for example). We certainly do see the cameras going up, and we’ll get into biometrics in a later post. In case you’re thinking that the public servants behind this were well intentioned, here’s a picture of TIA’s loving logo:
Information Sharing & Analysis Centers (ISACs) – ISACs are not so much of a mass surveillance program, but they do indeed fit into this Orwellian surveillance scheme. It is interesting to look at the relationship between government and private companies on this issue. I shouldn’t exclusively focus on government because there is great evidence of corporations getting in on the fun too. For instance, there’s a thriving secret new industry of an estimated 160 intelligence contractors that are in the so-called mass surveillance industry. Furthermore, we know that big companies hold plenty of our personal data. Industry analysts are now reporting that the vast majority of the Fortune 100 want to begin this year “monetizing their data”. What does this mean you ask? It means selling data they hold on their customers to other companies, possibly ones in foreign countries, and also to the government of course. The government has long been in the business of working with private companies for data collection. ISACs are just one example of this. I’m not asserting that ISACs have anything to do with selling data to the government (we’ll get into that issue in another post), but these are great examples of the popular so-called “public-private partnerships” (read: Fascist teaming of central government with elite businesses). From what I can tell, they operate as round tables essentially and they provide no real transparency. I believe the FBI runs the ISACs, but it could be DHS. There are ISACs for a dozen or so industries (health, transportation, water, etc.). Cybersecurity threats is an obvious topic for them, but I wonder what else they discuss under the banner of “sharing and analysis”. To show you where these folks have loyalties, here is the old logo (a new one was released in the last year) of the Financial Services ISAC (which is meeting in Toronto in late June):
We’ve established now that data collection is happening on a massive scale, and that government and corporations are in on the fun. But just what can they do with that data? We won’t spend much time in this post examining the correlation and analysis capabilities (referred to in the industry as “Big Data”… makes sense: Big Brother -> Big Data), but we’ll look at two quick examples so you get the idea:
GeoTime – This is an analysis software used by folks in law enforcement, intelligence and even insurance to investigate individuals and events. It has powerful pattern detection for analyzing “patterns of life” (in Newspeak, behavior detection). These are behavioural traits such as one’s movement and speed of travel over time, communications and transactions, interactions and meetings with others, regularities and exceptions. You can see a few demonstrations of the software on short videos here.
Recorded Future – This is a software company financially backed by Google and the CIA that provides insights and analysis of relationships between people, places and organizations using publicly sourced data (meaning data that it obtains from scouring the World Wide Wiretap… uh, I mean Web). In one of its many applications, it is used to predict stocks. It is also used to track entities or movements, as you can see with this example where it was used to track and analyze the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011, which you can view a quick demo of here. One of the interesting but creepy things about it is its predictive analytics (it can actually generate predictions based on your history).
We are just scratching the surface in this post. We didn’t talk much about remote listening, Facebook, Google, “location services”, biometrics and how the latest generation of consumer tech has face and voice recognition embedded. Yes, from flat screen TVs in your living room or bedroom, to your digital cameras, gaming consoles and smart phones, all these cute and convenient gadgets that bring you so much entertainment and joy (and distraction) are good for harvesting data and determining what you do, what and who you know and what you believe.
Big Brother has incredibly powerful tools. Big Brother is indeed using these tools. Big Brother is however, for the time being, still wearing that velvet glove over his iron fist.
This post is not intended to chill your speech. I believe we must hold true to our inalienable, inherent rights to privacy and freedom of expression and speech. Knowing that they are listening, I like to frequently talk to them and remind them that what they’re doing is criminal.
There’s still lots to uncover here and future posts will get deeper into the technology so that we can truly understand the world we’re now living in.