Cyborg Unplug

Plug in anti surveillance device that detects and stops potential data infringement in your workplace:

Cyborg Unplug is a wireless anti-surveillance system for the home and workplace. ‘Plug to Unplug’, it detects and kicks devices known to pose a risk to personal privacy from your local wireless network, breaking uploads and streams. Detected devices currently include: Google Glass, Dropcam, small drones/copters, wireless ‘spy’ microphones and various other network-dependent surveillance devices.

Cyborg Unplug comes hot on the heels of, a script written by Julian Oliver to detect and disconnect Google’s Glass device from a locally owned and administered network. Following broad coverage in the press, the script struck a chord with countless people all over the world that felt either frustrated or threatened by the growing use and abuse of covert, camera-enabled computer technology.

Available to pre-order on 30th September

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The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post. We can’t let them make up the rules

Innocent people’s lives are being ruined. Why isn’t anyone watching the watchlist?

Aug. 30 2014

The US government’s web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be.

As we were reminded again just this week, you can be pulled into the National Security Agency’s database quietly and quickly, and the consequences can be long and enduring. Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information.

This kind of data sharing, however, isn’t limited to the latest from Edward Snowden’s NSA files. It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors.

The watchlist tracks “known” and “suspected” terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the US government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information – including a Facebook or Twitter post – to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.

Of the 680,000 individuals on that FBI master list, roughly 40% have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”, according to the Intercept. These individuals don’t even have a connection – as the government loosely defines it – to a designated terrorist group, but they are still branded as suspected terrorists.

The absurdities don’t end there. Take Dearborn, Michigan, a city with a population under 100,000 that is known for its large Arab American community – and has more watchlisted residents than any other city in America except New York.

These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard – so-called “reasonable suspicion” – in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.

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Where there is good journalism, there will be scoops

As of 12:45 pm today, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux published a new in-depth piece at The Intercept called "Watch Commander: Barack Obama’s Secret Terrorist-Tracking System, by the Numbers" examining the government’s Terrorist Screening Database, as discovered in classified documents the news outlet obtained. The article breaks down the system piece by piece, with startling observations from classified documents.

The second-highest concentration of people designated as “known or suspected terrorists” by the government is in Dearborn, Mich.—a city of 96,000 that has the largest percentage of Arab-American residents in the country.

Even if you don’t live in Dearborn, you should be concerned. 

…officials don’t need “concrete facts” or “irrefutable evidence” to secretly place someone on the list—only a vague and elastic standard of “reasonable suspicion.

According to information from the documents, during the Obama administration, there are more people in the TIDE (Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment) than ever before (an even bigger system with an even lower bar for making the list), there are 47,000 people on the government’s “No Fly” list, as well as a disproportionate about of suspects on the watchlist based on their assumed terrorist group affiliation (see above pie chart). Which is skewed, because the estimated size of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, for example, is significantly smaller than the amount of people on the AQI watchlist:


If this information doesn’t make you want to put on a tinfoil hat and anti-surveillance coat and go off the grid for a while, on top of all of that, the story itself was scooped by a government agency and handed to the AP. The AP story in question, written by Eileen Sullivan, came out just minutes before the Intercept piece. 

From HuffPo:

The government, it turned out, had “spoiled the scoop,” an informally forbidden practice in the world of journalism. To spoil a scoop, the subject of a story, when asked for comment, tips off a different, typically friendlier outlet in the hopes of diminishing the attention the first outlet would have received. Tuesday’s AP story was much friendlier to the government’s position, explaining the surge of individuals added to the watch list as an ongoing response to a foiled terror plot.

As Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, told The Intercept, 

We’re getting into Minority Report territory when being friends with the wrong person can mean the government puts you in a database and adds DMV photos, iris scans, and face recognition technology to track you secretly and without your knowledge.

TLDNR; We’re probably all on a secret watchlist. And as soon as we find out we are, the government will know we know


Images: Chart via The Intercept ”Who’s on the watchlist?” that breaks down the list by affiliated terrorist group, and screenshot from Ryan Devereaux’s Twitter.

Secret Surveillance Battle Between Yahoo and the U.S. Government Revealed

Sep. 11 2014

Update: The office of the Director of National Intelligence has released many of the declassified documents from the Yahoo litigation

More than 1,000 pages documenting a secret court battle between Yahoo and the government over warrantless surveillance will soon be released, the company said Thursday afternoon.

In 2007, Yahoo fought back against the government’s demand for information on certain overseas customers, saying that the request was over-broad and violated the constitution.

Yahoo’s challenge ultimately failed, knocked down by both the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, which oversees secret government spying) and its review court. The company then became one of the first to hand over information to the NSA’s PRISM program, which allowed the government access to records of internet users’ chats, emails, and search histories, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The targeted user was supposed to be foreign, but U.S. communications could still be swept up in the effort. Google, YouTube, AOL, and Skype were also among the companies that provided communications data to PRISM. According to the Washington Post, the government used the FISC court’s decision in the Yahoo case to pressure those others to comply.

In a statement on the company tumblr, Yahoo’s general counsel wrote that the government at one point threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 per day if it did not release the data. That revelation is among the 1,500 pages of documents that the company plans to post shortly, he said. Also included is the original FISC opinion from 2008 forcing Yahoo to acquiesce to the government’s  demands.

The legal fight has mostly been hidden from view, with the heavily redacted exception of the review court’s order upholding the FISC decision. Yahoo’s name was even blacked out in that order, and not revealed until 2013. Yahoo asked for declassification of the court materials, and in August, the government finished its redactions. The FISC review court ordered the declassified material be released today—but it’s still mostly documents from the review, not the original challenge. Yahoo said it is still pushing for the rest of the case to be made public.

"The rulebook, which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of “reasonable suspicion” as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat."

In the thirteen years since 9/11, terrorism has certainly occurred—but for the most part, it hasn’t been committed by Muslims. Based on data provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the perpetrators are far more likely to be members of anti-government or white power movements. They are typically white and identify as Christian, if they profess any religion at all.

And yet the NYPD didn’t monitor churches. It didn’t infiltrate Christian student clubs. And, unless there’s a bug in my office I don’t know about, white Americans haven’t been targeted according to “ancestries of interest.”

Instead, the NYPD monitored the daily habits of hundreds of people simply because they were Muslim. There is still no evidence that the NYPD created the program because it had identified a specific threat—unless, of course, you believe the very presence of Muslims in the United States constitutes a threat.

Big Brother 3.0: FBI Launches Facial Recognition Program

Bureau calls system “fully operational” despite one-fifth false positive rate

Sep. 16 2014

The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced on Monday that its facial recognition software, Next Generation Identification (NGI), is “fully operational,” cementing the launch of a program that civil rights groups warn could risk turning innocent civilians into criminal suspects.

"The IPS facial recognition service will provide the nation’s law enforcement community with an investigative tool that provides an image-searching capability of photographs associated with criminal identities," the bureau said in a press release. “This effort is a significant step forward for the criminal justice community in utilizing biometrics as an investigative enabler.”

NGI was initially developed to expand the FBI’s biometric identification capabilities, but will eventually replace the bureau’s current fingerprinting system. The program’s database holds more than 100 million individual records that link fingerprints, iris scans and facial-recognition data with personal information, legal status, home addresses, and other private details, and will obtain 52 million facial recognition images by 2015. One individual may be linked to multiple images, including those that come from employment records, DMV photos, and background check databases.

Civil rights and privacy watchdogs have criticized the program for its invasive—and inaccurate—tactics. The system, a billion-dollar investment that has been in development with Lockheed Martin for three years, was found to identify the wrong individual 20 percent of the time, a statistic which increases over time and as the database expands, the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered. Another report obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) found that the system had an 85 percent success rate when searches were made among clear, front-facing images with no obstructions.

By compiling mugshots and DMV photos in the same database, the bureau risks identifying citizens with no records as potential criminal suspects, EFF said, adding, “This is not how our system of justice was designed and should not be a system that Americans tacitly consent to move towards.”

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For Sale Soon: The World’s First Google Glass Detector

Later this month, Oliver says he’ll start taking pre-orders for Cyborg Unplug, a gadget no bigger than a laptop charger that plugs into a wall and patrols the local Wi-Fi network for connected Google Glass devices, along with other potential surveillance gadgets like Google Dropcams, Wi-Fi-enabled drone copters, and certain wireless microphones. When it detects one of those devices, it can be programmed to flash an alert with an LED light, play a sound through connected speakers, and even ping the Cyborg Unplug owner’s smartphone through an Android app, as well as silently booting those potential spy devices from the network.

Oliver says Cyborg Unplug will also offer an “All Out Mode.” With that more aggressive setting switched on, the plug will seek out and disconnect nearby surveillance devices on any network it connects to, including Glass’s wireless connection to their owners’ phones. That’s a more legally ambiguous use of the gadget that Oliver says he doesn’t recommend. “Please note that this latter mode may not be legal within your jurisdiction,” reads a disclaimer on Cyborg Unplug’s website. “We take no responsibility for the trouble you get yourself into if you choose to deploy your Cyborg Unplug in this mode.”

The privacy wars are escalating. The alarm feature is interesting. But I find it most interesting that the device is capable of scanning and connecting to non-owned networks. I assume those networks will need to be open. If this is somehow able to block devices on secure connections that would be really interesting from a rights perspective. And of course, this does nothing for people storing pictures and media locally without being connected to Wi-Fi.