The social network Twitter is in the middle of a dispute pitting counter-terrorism and security against privacy and free speech.
The issue is how far authorities can go when lives could be at risk.
Twitter was subpoenaed late Tuesday as part of a New York Police Department investigation into threats reminiscent of the July 20 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in which 12 people were killed and dozens wounded.
Researchers Use WiFi Radar to Covertly Monitor the Movement of People Through Walls
By Madison Ruppert
In today’s world, the seeming safety and privacy provided by four walls and a roof is quickly diminishing with microchips enabling mobile devices to see through walls, microchips allowing mobile devices to provide ultra-precise location information, the hijacking of cell phone cameras and even stealthily recording sound and other environmental information, supposedly for advertising purposes.
Of course, those examples represent just one of the many ways in which our privacy is being invaded and diminished with a vengeance in the United States today.
Now new method is being explored by researchers which could allow people to use so-called “bistatic WiFi radar” at a distance in order to covertly detect and monitor people moving behind walls.
The researchers published the findings in a paper called “Through-the-Wall Sensing of Personnel Using Passive Bistatic WiFi Radar at Standoff Distances” in IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, volume 50, Issue 4.
The emphasis appears to be the ability to detect people “uncooperatively and covertly,” something which is also becoming increasingly important in facial recognition technology and other biometric technologies.
The researchers, who are affiliated with the Department of Security and Crime Science at the University College London in the United Kingdom, have demonstrated the first successful through-the-wall (TTW) detection of moving people using passive WiFi radar.
The experiments carried out by the researchers included various situations involving target personnel moving around inside a building within the coverage area of a WiFi access point.
The targeted individuals inside the building were then monitored from outside using a 2.4-GHz passive multistatic receiver. The data was then processed offline in order to yield information about the targets.
Currently, the biggest limitation on the system is the signal-to-interference ratio, or SIR. However, the researchers have already demonstrated a way to suppress this interference considerably.
This method is based on the CLEAN algorithm, normally used in radio astronomy and is, according to the researchers, capable of improving the SIR by around 19 dB, which is quite considerable.
The findings of the researchers have left them quite optimistic about the potential applications of this privacy-destroying technology.
Indeed, they went as far as to state, “These encouraging initial findings demonstrate the potential for using passive WiFi radar as a low-cost TTW detection sensor with widespread applicability.”
In other words, passive WiFi radar could be leveraged in order to monitor the movements of people through walls in a widespread and cost-efficient manner.
Making surveillance increasingly cost effective seems to be a high priority for the intelligence community and the industry which is supported by it.
This can be seen in moves towards low-cost solutions (which allow for increasing ubiquity of surveillance) including the $50 spy computer known as the F-BOMB, the rise of remote biometrics and behavior detection in CCTV systems, along with advances in “behavioral recognition” software systems for surveillance.
All of these advances are an effort to expand the United States government’s massive illegal surveillance program, which was recently exposed in court by former National Security Agency (NSA) employees, through lowering the amount of human and monetary resources needed to carry out widespread surveillance.
If this type of technology can prove to be useful in that effort, I believe it is safe to say that it will indeed be used for that purpose, despite the fact that even the government now admits that they breached the 4th Amendment on at least one occasion.
This article originally appeared on End the Lie
Some employers and psychologists say staying away from social media is ‘suspicious’
Facebook has become such a pervasive force in modern society that increasing numbers of employers, and even some psychologists, believe people who aren’t on social networking sites are ‘suspicious.’
The German magazine Der Taggspiegel went so far as to point out that accused theater shooter James Holmes and Norwegian mass murder Anders Behring Breivik have common ground in their lack of Facebook profiles.
On a more tangible level, Forbes.com reports that human resources departments across the country are becoming more wary of young job candidates who don’t use the site.
The common concern among bosses is that a lack of Facebook could mean the applicant’s account could be so full of red flags that it had to be deleted.
Slate.com tech reporter Farhad Manjoo wrote in an advice column that young people shouldn’t date anyone who isn’t on Facebook.
After defeat of cybersecurity bill, Obama weighs executive order
Senate Republicans recently blocked cybersecurity legislation, but the issue might not be dead after all.
The White House hasn’t ruled out issuing an executive order to strengthen the nation’s defenses against cyber attacks if Congress refuses to act.
“In the wake of Congressional inaction and Republican stall tactics, unfortunately, we will continue to be hamstrung by outdated and inadequate statutory authorities that the legislation would have fixed,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in an emailed response to whether the president is considering a cybersecurity order.
“Moving forward, the President is determined to do absolutely everything we can to better protect our nation against today’s cyber threats and we will do that,” Carney said.
Homeland Security Issuing Its Own DMCA Takedowns On YouTube To Stifle Speech
(TECH DIRT) We recently wrote about the fight over copyright/fair use in political videos. In the comments, someone anonymous pointed us to a YouTube page including a typical takedown notice.. Here’s a screenshot.
This is actually the first time I can recall that I’ve seen a takedown that had “multiple” takedown notices. So it’s interesting that YouTube even has such an error message. But what really caught my attention was the second claimant listed. United States Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security? Issuing copyright takedowns? For what it’s worth, the commenter who submitted this pointed us to another video, which they claim is the same as what was taken down. I have no idea if it’s the same video or not, but it is some idiotic conspiracy mongering, taking one comment from a reporter completely out of context, and pretending President Obama said it, when he did not. I never understand conspiracy theories like that, but that’s really neither here nor there.
The real question is why is Homeland Security issuing takedowns? Works produced by the federal government, of course, can’t have copyright. However, it is possible for the government to hold copyrights — mainly if someone else gets it and assigns it to the government. So it’s possible that happened here, though it still seems like a strange move. If the video is the same as the other one pointed to, it’s just conspiracy theory claptrap, and I don’t see why DHS would even bother issuing a takedown.
But, even if we assume that the copyright itself and the takedown were legit, does this seem reasonable at all? Having a government agency directly using a copyright claim to take down a video? Especially when that group is DHS — in which national internet censor ICE exists. Giving it the power to censor videos too just seems like it’s going way too far. It’s not as if Homeland Security is going to bring the work “to market” to make money, so it’s not like there’s an “impact on the market” for the work. The only reason to issue the takedown — no matter how accurate the claim is — is to silence speech. A government organization using a government-granted monopoly to stifle speech may be all too common, but that doesn’t mean it should pass by unremarked upon.
I reached out to people at YouTube to see if they could explain why DHS appears to be issuing DMCA takedowns, and got back the equivalent of a “no comment.” I also reached out to Homeland Security, who at first seemed interested in looking into the details and then completely stopped responding to emails. Having not received further communication from them in over a week at this point, I’m just going with the post as is, in the hopes that maybe someone out there can explain why the federal government is using copyright to censor speech?
VA purchased spying software, used it on employees
(VNN) According to government records, the FDA, DEA and VA within the last five years all bought software from SpectorSoft Corp., a Vero Beach, Fla.-based company that on its website describes itself as providing “PC/Internet monitoring and surveillance products” for users including the government.
Employee surveillance raises concerns for whistleblowers, but Bob Walsh—a friend of the Veterans Today network—has been telling veterans’ advocates and other attorneys for years that the VA spies on VA employees and attorneys representing veterans who believe their objectives and goals are helping veterans rightfully obtain benefits.
Walsh is a a former VA staff attorney (1990-92), Army veteran and now veterans’ advocate.
A piece just out by Jenna Greene and Todd Ruger at the National Law Journal reports “Government-contract records show that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) purchased spy software from the same company that supplied the FDA’s computer monitoring program, according to the database USAspending.gov.”
Alerted to the Greene-Ruger piece, attorney Walsh said, “Not only did VA purchase the (SpectorSoft) software, they used it. On two occasions I busted VA streaming my emails. I have every confidence that I was not the only victim of this illegal surveillance. The VA conducts illegal electronic surveillance as well as they process disability claims. Which is with total ineptitude. So I have confirmation that they were doing it, and Greene and Ruger are shining some light in the corners so the rats will run.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is under fire by Congress for monitoring the personal email accounts of agency scientists, but government-contract records show it’s not the only agency that’s taken steps to spy on its workers.
Government-contract records show that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) purchased spy software from the same company that supplied the FDA’s computer monitoring program, according to the database USAspending.gov. A V.A. spokeswoman said the contract was issued in 2008 by a regional division of the Veterans Integrated Service Network that covers parts of six states in the Northeast, but she was not immediately able to say how the program was being used.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also has purchased the software. Agency spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said via email it is used “for law enforcement purposes, not for monitoring employee communication.”
However, the program is specifically marketed to employers and parents as a way to “monitor your children or employees from anywhere.” Dearden also said DEA employees “are aware that communications through and matters stored on official equipment can be monitored and reviewed.”
The key legal issue for all the agencies, the one that’s landed the FDA in the hot seat, is how far managers can go when monitoring employee computer use without compromising protected whistleblower activity.
The issue has the potential to be a minefield. Americans are increasingly mixing work and personal uses on office computers and cellphones, and courts are still deciding where to draw the line between employee privacy and employer snooping.
In the highest-profile case, six former FDA scientists have sued the agency, alleging that the government violated their privacy rights, and that they were fired in retaliation for raising concerns about the agency’s approval of medical imaging devices. The FDA says they were fired for disclosing confidential information. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has taken the lead in Congress, demanding to know the name of the FDA lawyer who authorized the surveillance.
Grassley’s investigators, after hearing of the V.A. and DEA purchases of the software from The National Law Journal, said they would likely expand their inquiry into how and why those agencies use it, Grassley spokeswoman Jill Gerber said. Grassley’s staff is focusing on whether the monitoring is excessive, being used for a legitimate purpose and complies with privacy and stored-communications laws.
Dearden said the DEA “is aware of protections afforded to whistleblowers and does not monitor or check for that kind of activity.”
Still, the idea that government agencies may secretly monitor everything employees do online has raised the hackles of those who advocate for whistleblowers. “If the FDA is allowed to spy on, intimidate or retaliate against its employees, it raises concerns about any agency’s ability to do the same thing,” said Aaron Colangelo, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to participate as an amicus party on behalf of the scientists. “It undermines public health, environmental protection and workers’ rights. There’s a real risk of chilling protected activity.”
But Arnold & Porter partner Daniel Kracov, who represents companies before the FDA, counters that it’s also imperative that federal employees don’t disclose confidential information. “If [agencies] don’t police that, it’s a critical problem for industry,” he said. “There’s a legitimate public policy reason to protect this information. It protects innovation.”
According to government records, the FDA, DEA and V.A. within the last five years all bought software from SpectorSoft Corp., a Vero Beach, Fla.-based company that on its website describes itself as providing “PC/Internet monitoring and surveillance products” for users including the government. The “eBlaster” software purchased by the DEA in 2011 for $8,692, for example, boasts it will “immediately go to work by automatically recording EVERYTHING your children and employees do online” including all keystrokes typed, websites visited, both sides of chats and instant messages, online searches and emails sent and received.
The contracts database shows the V.A. in 2011 spent $3,161 on the “Spector” program (“records every detail of what they do on the computer”), as well as $140 in 2008 for “two additional licenses for monitoring software.” The underlying contract for the 2008 licenses is not listed. A V.A. spokeswoman said the 2008 contract is for a network of 10 V.A. medical centers and 43 community-based outpatient clinics that serve veterans in 104 counties throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, and parts of New York and Ohio. The spokeswoman said she was unable to add details regarding why these outpatient clinics might need the spying software, or what its exact uses have been.
According to the database, the FDA’s parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spent $100 in 2007 for “renewal of support/upgrades” for the software and $295 in 2011, but available records don’t distinguish the original purchase from the agency’s other commercial software buys.
Lawyers agree that agency managers can legally monitor how employees use their government computers — at least to some extent. The FDA, for example, is explicit in its warning when computer users log on that they have no expectation of privacy. “At any time, and for any lawful government purpose, the government may monitor, intercept, and search and seize any communication or data transiting or stored on this information system,” the warning states.
The question is: How does an agency make sure it’s not also interfering or retaliating against whistleblower activity? Courts have held that whistleblowing by public employees constitutes protected speech under the First Amendment, and that agencies may not fire workers for expressing concerns about waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement or public safety.
Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers, including those at the FDA, said via email that the repercussions of the spying program go beyond strict whistleblowing activity.
“The actions of agency management have negatively impacted employee morale and resulted in significant concerns about agency management practices,” Kelley wrote. “For example, in light of what has happened at FDA, some employees voiced to [the union] their reluctance to report wrongdoing, for fear of retaliation.”
Kelley said the union was unaware of other agencies using comparable software to monitor their employees.
PRIVACY GRAY AREA
Aside from whistleblowing, there is a big gray area of workplace privacy rights that courts are still trying to sort out, according to Alan Butler, appellate advocacy counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. For instance, can employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy if they use a work cellphone to send an email to their spouse using a personal account?
In the U.S. Supreme Court case City of Ontario, Cal. v. Quon, the Center filed an amicus brief arguing that the government should have limits on what it can collect, since work devices such as smartphones collect and store an enormous amount of personal data unrelated to workplace activities, such as location data on the weekends. The case was about pagers, and the court refused to consider broader issues because technology, and how it’s used, was still developing.
Increasingly, electronic devices have multiple uses and are being used for a mixture of personal and professional reasons, so employees act as if they expect some degree of privacy, Butler said. “You can’t look at a device and say, ‘That’s your work phone, or that’s your personal phone,’ ” he said. “It’s just dangerous [for the government] to assume nothing is private, when individuals’ actions show that’s not what they expect.”
In the FDA case, Grassley demanded to know which attorney at the agency gave legal justification for the surveillance program. He said he will be forwarding information to the Department of Justice, along with other investigative agencies, to see if the FDA broke the law by targeting and retaliating against whistleblowers.
Grassley said in a letter to the FDA this month that his office has been told that an attorney was consulted about the legal viability of an FDA surveillance campaign and issued a memo detailing his or her conclusions. Grassley’s letter did not give any clue as to how his office received information on the memo, or identify which specific attorney authored it.
The FDA told Grassley this month that the surveillance program began in 2010, when Ralph Tyler was FDA chief counsel. Tyler, now a partner at Venable, did not return multiple calls seeking comment.
Such a memo could have come from lawyers at any level in the FDA or HHS, according to Peter Barton Hutt, senior counsel to Covington & Burling and former FDA chief counsel. “It could have been all of the above or any of the above. There is no hierarchical structure that determines who may say what,” he said. “This could have been with consultation from general counsel of the department, it could have been with consultation with FDA chief counsel, could have been only in consultation with the associate chief counsel.”
On July 14, a New York Times story detailed how the FDA’s initial surveillance operation against several of its scientists eventually morphed into a broader effort to stifle critics of the agency, including outside scientists, journalists and members of Congress. One of the congressional offices the whistleblowers had sent emails to was Grassley’s.
“It is evident from the documents I have obtained that FDA did in fact target communications with Congress for monitoring and then took adverse personnel actions against FDA whistleblowers who were communicating with Congress,” Grassley said. “FDA’s misconduct cannot be ignored.”
The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that investigates whistleblower-reprisal allegations, weighed in on the legal issue in June. “While lawful agency monitoring of employee communications serves legitimate purposes, federal law also protects the ability of workers to exercise their legal rights to disclose wrongdoing without fear of retaliation,” Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner wrote.
The letter, distributed to government agencies, called monitoring “highly problematic” especially when deliberately targeting an employee’s emails or computer files “simply because the employee made a protected disclosure.”
FDA spokeswoman Erica Jefferson, when asked for comment on the letter and the lawyer who authored it, said only that the agency was looking into Grassley’s letter. The HHS public affairs office referred all questions to Jefferson.
Grassley’s office concedes that an agency might have a legitimate need to monitor employee computer and email use, spokeswoman Gerber said in an email — take for instance the infamous U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission employee who spent hours each day watching pornography on his work computer.
“My colleagues are very interested in the DEA and V.A. use of the monitoring software,” Gerber said. “We likely will make some inquiries.”
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