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Canadian Coins Contain Spy Devices January 11, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Surveillance, Technology.
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The Defense Department is warning its American contractor employees about a new espionage threat seemingly straight from Hollywood: It discovered Canadian coins with tiny radio-frequency transmitters hidden inside.

Ted Bridis Associated Press

Well, here’s an oddity. The US Defense Department has warned its contractors that their movement may be under surveillance from that most unlikely of transmitters, Canadian currency.

Exhibiting what has by now become a usual parsimony with the facts, the Department has not disclosed what denominations contain the tiny RFID devices, and the US government has not yet accused Canada of mounting an offensive operation . The Canadians, not surprisingly, are as surprised as it is possible to be. They are not among the usual suspects. which according to this AP report, include China, Russia, and even France- all countries that run espionage organizations with this type of capability.

At least the coins don’t contain polonium, or broadcast audible programs from Radio Havana. What next?

Tags: Warning | Transmitters | Threat | seemingly | report | Radio-frequency | hidden | Espionage | Employees | discovered | devices | CONTRACTOR | COINS | Spy | Politics | hollywood | department | Defense | CANADIAN | Canada | American


Is the NSA in Your OS? January 10, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Coporate Policies, Surveillance.
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When Microsoft introduces its long-awaited Windows Vista operating system this month, it will have an unlikely partner to thank for making its flagship product safe and secure for millions of computer users across the world: the National Security Agency.

Washington Post

Microsoft has acknowledged receiving security help in the manufacture of Windows Vista from the National Security Agency. That is the same agency that brought us unannounced and unwarranted (literally) domestic spying, and so the idea of a corporate-government collaboration on the construction of an OS that will soon be in widespread use is, to some of us, not exactly comforting, and I am unabashedly one of those people who turns a little green given the idea that a company with a large, to say nothing of dominating, potential to collaborate with the government on creating back doors for unauthorized access to my hard drive may be doing just that.

Of course, there is no overt reason to think that Microsoft has willingly allowed such intrusions, nor is the collaboration any reason to run out and buy a computer from Apple, whose OSX was also developed with help from the NSA. The problem is, we don’t have any evidence that the NSA is not up to something both nefarious and secret. Their recent track record is enough to induce skepticism about their motives, and they are certainly powerful enough to compel corporate silence.

In short, while we cannot say that the NSA is up to something bad, we cannot gain any peace of mind from their recent record. And that distrust is the high price of their secret spying.

Tags: long-awaited | users | unlikely | SECURE | PARTNER | operating | Millions | making | introduces | FLAGSHIP | Computer | windows | Vista | Pros | Politics | Microsoft | called | agency

John Lennon’s FBI Files Released December 21, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Censorship, Surveillance.
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Clearly a man who sang Imagine all the people/Living life in peace was a major league subversive, but still the FBI could not quite nail John Lennon. An American historian has finally won his 25-year campaign to expose the FBI’s pursuit of the ex-Beatle – but the last 10 pages, released only after a string of court cases, don’t quite make spy thriller reading.

The Guardian

The last few pages of John Lennon’s  FBI files, released after years of effort by the historian Jon Wiener, show that while Lennon imagined, the FBI suffered from an acute case of over-imagining. In the early 1970’s , the FBI recruited two Brits to befriend Lennon and persuade him to fund a leftwing bookshop in London. He turned them down, and the FBI concluded that there was “no certain proof” that Lennon had funded subversion. The FBI cited national security reasons for not releasing all of the files to Wiener, who said yesterday that “the claims the FBI has been making ( to support denial of access to the files ) were absurd.”

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DHS Program Violates Law December 9, 2006

Posted by publicpolitics in Surveillance.
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The Department of Homeland Security violated a congressional funding ban when it continued to develop a computerized program that creates risk assessments of travelers entering and leaving the United States, according to lawmakers and privacy advocates


The Automated Targeting System is a collection of data mining procedures designed to identify terrorist risk factors in the the profiles of anyone entering or leaving the United State by air. Three years ago, Representative Martin Sabo ( D- Minn) wrote a prohibition on the testing and development of such programs into homeland security funding legislation. Unless DHS bought the programs off the shelf without testing or development, the ATS is in clear violation of the Sabo prohibitions. If the DHS did buy the programs and implement them , the department is in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Privacy advocates and others claim that the program is illegal under the 1974 Privacy Act because customs officials target U. S. travelers and share data with other agencies, absent any public notification. DHS claims that notification was “implicit” in another program.

The ATS was developed in the 90’s as a means of combating drug smuggling, and expanded after 9/11. Profiled travelers are not allowed to see their risk assessments, and must file Freedom of Information Acts to see the original documents that form the basis of the assessment.. The profiles can stay on the record for up to 40 years, and two years ago the program was expanded to include some land travelers.

The department announced an extended public comment period from Dec 4th to Dec 29th, and incoming chairs of the Senate and House homeland security committees, Sen Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn) and Rep Bennie Thompson (D-Miss) have called for administrative hearings or additional briefings.The Buisness Travel Coalition has also expressed strong objections to the program.

Michael Chertoff , among others, has expressed surprise to the intensity of the criticism. He should know better by now- the public will object when citizens are under surveillance, without prior cause, without notification, without access to the assessments of a perpetually watching government. The accumulation of such data is disaster that is both happening and waiting to happen, and will probably do absolutely no good at all in preventing terrorist attacks, since any reasonably prudent terrorist group would probably try to use virgin, or near virgin travelers, And this kind of mass profiling is bound to create a great deal of noise, since there are many more nonterrorists than terrorists, and like birthdays, many of the good citizens will share some subset of characteristics with terrorists. Of course, DHS got into this pickle by trying to be more explicit about what it is up to- the problem is , the department did not go far enough. Lawmakers and citizen groups feel that they have been deceived, but it need not have been so. We all want procedures that have a good chance of catching people intent on killing us, but we want our representatives to know what they are and to have remedies for data mining mistakes and overshoot. Not everyone has to know everything about DHS watching procedures, but our legislators should always have access to how what we know is collected and used, and we should, as citizens, have the right to meaningful objection to the surveillance and police powers of the state.

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