The Internet Superhighway to Serfdom
As I have argued before, web 2.0 technologies have extended the reach and depth of the surveillance society, as public-private partnership. In that sense, I’m a cyber-crank of the Morozov kind. But my analysis of this is only confirmed by what transpires in the a variety of source.
First, someone actually used the term feudalism, which kinda gave me the idea for the title, even though I have wanted to use it for a while as a way of thumbing my nose at the libertarian crowd.
“To use Google+ and Facebook, people yoke themselves to the providers by handing over their data in exchange for use of the services. It’s like a feudal system: the social-networking companies are sustained by the data flooding into them, and gain in power from the exchange. People upload their photos, their messages and other data from their personal life, but the service providers control how that information is presented to the world.
“The users contribute their own content to you for free. You sell it back to them with banner ads put on there. And on top of that, you spy on them to gather profiling data,” says Michiel de Jong, of the Unhosted project to decentralise user data.
Compare this with feudal lords in the Middle Ages — ‘the castles’ — who took in taxes in the form of wheat, cattle and other resources, consumed them and then demanded more. The castles held all the political power and could talk to other castles, while the peasants who lived on their land had little influence, even though the resources they produced kept the castles going.
The online form of feudalism is more insidious. With Google and Facebook, the resources these castles take in — images and search terms, for example — are not used up, as they were in the original system. Instead, the data is analysed again and again, and the castle grows in power with each bite of information.
What makes this modern feudalism powerful is that the key parties are keeping their methods of control from the users.”
That is for the private side of things. On the public side, Morozov’s fears seem to come true as government get savvier as using web 2.0 technologies for their own purposes (and that is not exactly good for democracy, transparency and dissent).
Case in point, Top Secret America:
Welcome to the Panopticon 2.0 (I have wanted to use that one for a long time as well but it does fit).
And where public and private meet, expect massive and militarized expansion of surveillance mechanisms, applied to the civil society, all in the name of security:
“Even most members of Congress are unaware of the extent to which both the military and intelligence community have come to depend on private contractors to provide the software and ingenuity necessary for both conventional and information warfare in the 21st century. In 2005, experts estimated that 30% of the US intelligence budget was being outsourced, and this intelligence contracting industry has grown markedly since.
On the surface, this practice makes sense; the modern military tends not to attract sufficient technical talent for its needs, and in a few notable cases, the once-legendary hackers who run crucial firms have felony convictions that would prevent them from doing equivalent work from inside the state. Meanwhile, competition for projects promotes the incubation of new and more powerful capabilities from within the industry, and the bidding system ensures that the US gets the best of these for the least money – at least, in theory.
But as evidenced by the drone virus affair and other, more serious incidents, the overall contracting process is deeply flawed. The “free market” competition for contracts that would otherwise bring gains is corrupted by the industry’s thorough overlap with its state customers. Former Department of Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff joined the board of directors of contractor BAE Systems ahead of that firm being awarded a $270m contract last week, followed by another US Army contract for $67m; before bringing on the well-connected ex-secretary, the firm was becoming notorious for losing such crucial business.
A glance at the boards and executive listings of similar firms, replete with former military officers and government officials, reveals the revolving door that connects potential clients with a state customer for which money is no object, such money being taxed from an electorate too distracted by other offenses to notice.
This familiar tendency on the part of the US government to spend money it doesn’t have on things it doesn’t get is now directed at developing procedures it shouldn’t use. The intelligence contracting industry, which includes firms that provide security applications to the entire US government and military, has been encouraged lately to direct more of its collective time and capabilities to the task of monitoring, misinforming and sometimes outright attacking American citizens and others abroad – and benefit from the protection of the state and the incompetence of the media in order to make such attacks with impunity.
The Team Themis affair, which united three such firms to go after journalists, activists and WikiLeaks was revealed by Anonymous earlier this year thanks to the seizure of 70,000 emails from coordinating firm HBGary Federal. The little-known and sinister persona management capability – a state-sponsored “sockpuppet” propaganda program – has been found in widespread development; the National Security Agency-linked Endgame Systems has been revealed to offer comprehensive offensive cyber capabilities, with targets in place, to customers other than the US government; a few months ago, I released a report on a worrying surveillance apparatus known as Romas/COIN.
The shift from infrastructure defense to surveillance and offensive capability comes in the wake of the Chinese-orchestrated Aurora attacks against US state and corporate targets – an operation that continues to reveal itself as even more damaging than initially thought as additional targets admit theft of crucial data. The problem with the changing priorities of the US’s cyber-contractor complex are two-fold: by neglecting government systems’ vulnerabilities – and the drone virus provides a perfect instance – the state loses face with adversaries, real or potential, who respect only force; and by treating its own citizenry as the leading threat to its security, it loses the loyalty of those who respect truth and the rule of law.”
The legitimation crisis is a topic I have discussed here repeatedly but it is an important feature of the post-2008 political arena and of what I have come to call the new sociopathy. Combine that to the very real militarization of law enforcement on the ground and you have the ingredients for major social disturbance in reaction to the loss of authority (in the Weberian sense of legitimate power) of the state, see as the coercive arm of corporate entities and a wealthier oligarchy.
And our fear of cybercrime, cyberterrorism or privacy-shattering hackers should not make us forget this:
“In a luxury Washington, DC, hotel last month, governments from around the world gathered to discuss surveillance technology they would rather you did not know about. The annual Intelligence Support Systems (ISS) World Americas conference is a mecca for representatives from intelligence agencies and law enforcement. But to the media or members of the public, it is strictly off limits.
Gone are the days when mere telephone wiretaps satisfied authorities’ intelligence needs. Behind the cloak of secrecy at the ISS World conference, tips are shared about the latest advanced “lawful interception” methods used to spy on citizens – computer hacking, covert bugging and GPS tracking. Smartphones, email, instant message services and free chat services such as Skype have revolutionised communication. This has been matched by the development of increasingly sophisticated surveillance technology.
Among the pioneers is Hampshire-based Gamma International, a core ISS World sponsor. In April, Gamma made headlines when Egyptian activists raided state security offices in Cairo and found documents revealing Gamma had in 2010 offered Hosni Mubarak’s regime spy technology named FinFisher. The “IT intrusion” solutions offered by Gamma would have enabled authorities to infect targeted computers with a spyware virus so they could covertly monitor Skype conversations and other communications.
The use of such methods is more commonly associated with criminal hacking groups, who have used spyware and trojan viruses to infect computers and steal bank details or passwords. But as the internet has grown, intelligence agencies and law enforcement have adopted similar techniques.
Another company that annually attends ISS World is Italian surveillance developer Hacking Team. A small, 35-employee software house based in Milan, Hacking Team’s technology – which costs more than £500,000 for a “medium-sized installation” – gives authorities the ability to break into computers or smartphones, allowing targeted systems to be remotely controlled. It can secretly enable the microphone on a targeted computer and even take clandestine snapshots using its webcam, sending the pictures and audio along with any other information – such as emails, passwords and documents – back to the authorities for inspection. The smartphone version of the software has the ability to track a person’s movements via GPS as well as perform a function described as “remote audio spy”, effectively turning the phone into a bug without its user’s knowledge. The venture capital-backed company boasts that its technology can be used “country-wide” to monitor more than 100,000 targets simultaneously, and cannot be detected by anti-virus software.
Concerns remain, however, that despite export control regulations, western companies have been supplying high-tech surveillance software to countries where there is little or no legislation governing its use. In 2009, for instance, it was reported that American developer SS8 had allegedly supplied the United Arab Emirates with smartphone spyware, after about 100,000 users were sent a bogus software update by telecommunications company Etisalat. The technology, if left undetected, would have enabled authorities to bypass BlackBerry email encryption by mining communications from devices before they were sent.
Computer security researcher Jacob Appelbaum is well aware what it is like to be a target of covert surveillance. He is a core member of the Tor Project, which develops free internet anonymising software used by activists and government dissidents across the Middle East and north Africa to evade government monitoring. A former spokesman for WikiLeaks, Appelbaum has had his own personal emails scrutinised by the US government as part of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the whistleblower organisation. On 13 October he was in attendance at ISS World where he was planning to give a presentation about Tor – only to be ejected after one of the surveillance companies complained about his presence.
Jerry Lucas, the president of the company behind ISS World, TeleStrategies, does not deny surveillance developers that attend his conference supply to repressive regimes. In fact, he is adamant that the manufacturers of surveillance technology, such as Gamma International, SS8 and Hacking Team, should be allowed to sell to whoever they want.
“The surveillance that we display in our conferences, and discuss how to use, is available to any country in the world,” he said. “Do some countries use this technology to suppress political statements? Yes, I would say that’s probably fair to say. But who are the vendors to say that the technology is not being used for good as well as for what you would consider not so good?”
Would he be comfortable in the knowledge that regimes in Zimbabwe and North Korea were purchasing this technology from western companies? “That’s just not my job to determine who’s a bad country and who’s a good country. That’s not our business, we’re not politicians … we’re a for-profit company. Our business is bringing governments together who want to buy this technology.”“
Although this does not need to be so complicated since our phone companies and ISPs are more than willing to provide our data to a variety of agencies. But in this mix of Panopticon and capillary surveillance, it is the global civil society that is the biggest loser.
So, it is logical that some of the resistance to this come from the civil society as well:
“Computer networks proved their organizing power during the recent uprisings in the Middle East, in which Facebook pages amplified street protests that toppled dictators. But those same networks showed their weaknesses as well, such as when the Egyptian government walled off most of its citizens from the Internet in an attempt to silence protesters.
That has led scholars and activists increasingly to consider the Internet’s wiring as a disputed political frontier.
For example, one weekend each month, a small group of computer programmers gathers at a residence here to build a homemade Internet—named Project Byzantium—that could go online if parts of the current global Internet becomes blocked by a repressive government.
He is not the only one with such apprehensions. Next month TheDoctor will join hundreds of like-minded high-tech activists and entrepreneurs in New York at an unusual conference called the Contact Summit. One of the participants is Eben Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School who has built an encryption device and worries about a recent attempt by Wisconsin politicians to search a professor’s e-mail. The summit’s goal is not just to talk about the projects, but also to connect with potential financial backers, recruit programmers, and brainstorm approaches to building parallel Internets and social networks.
The meeting is a sign of the growing momentum of what is called the “free-network movement,” whose leaders are pushing to rewire online networks to make it harder for a government or corporation to exert what some worry is undue control or surveillance. Another key concern is that the Internet has not lived up to its social potential to connect people, and instead has become overrun by marketing and promotion efforts by large corporations.”
And we are back full circle as the activists want to create a bazaar 2.0 to fight the new feudalism:
“One organizer of the Contact Summit, Douglas Rushkoff, compares the disruptive power of the Internet to the impact of bazaars in the Middle Ages.
In his latest book, Program or Be Programmed (OR Books), he argues that the earliest bazaars helped transform feudal society by allowing vigorous information sharing—a low-tech peer-to-peer network. “Everyone was speaking with everybody else, and about all sorts of things and ideas,” he writes. “All this information exchange allowed people to improve on themselves and their situations,” allowing craftsmen to form guilds and share techniques. “As the former peasants rose to become a middle class of merchants and craftspeople, they were no longer dependent on feudal lords for food and protection.”
The Internet has created a bazaar 2.0, says Mr. Rushkoff, accelerating information exchange and giving people the power to organize in new ways.”
As some famous sociologist would say, we have never been modern.
While we associate this experience specifically with celebrities, we arguably all live in a paparazzi culture now. Cameras are ubiquitous, as is the technology to share and publicise pictures instantly. The throb of surveillance plays out in different ways. On the more benign side are the mild nerves many people feel when an email pops up to tell them they have been tagged in a Facebook photo, an image that could be from any moment in their life – recent or historical – now public, and open for comments.
Biometrics: A New Intelligence Discipline-Identity Intelligence Project Office
May 13, 2013
Source: Defense News
The intelligence community is pushing to make biometrically enabled intelligence — the art of identifying people by fingerprints, digital mugshots, iris scans or DNA — a regular part of business.
Biometrics has evolved dramatically during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and is used in countless manhunts, but the discipline has not been fully institutionalized into the intelligence community. Among other issues, various agencies, including the DIA and the FBI, have different ways of looking at the technological breakthroughs.
“The general field or trade of identity intelligence really is in its infancy,” FBI biometrics expert David Cuthbertson told an audience in February.
Right now, biometrics still mostly means fingerprints. That’s the telltale record most commonly left behind by bomb-makers and thieves. The databases of fingerprints are vast: The FBI has 110 million fingerprint records; the Defense Department, 9.5 million; and the Department of Homeland Security, 156 million.
But other technologies are coming online. Facial recognition algorithms could someday riffle through mugshot databases to find matches much as fingerprint algorithms do today. Iris-matching technology is another field under development. Authorities around the world are rapidly switching from fingerprints to iris scans for verifying the identities of travelers and workers, and iris databases are growing. And some biometrics experts are aiming for multimodal biometrics in which fingerprint matches would be combined with facial recognition and other measurements to determine someone’s identity with maximum confidence.
“Increasingly, in the commercial sector and national, state, and local levels, organizations are going to adopt a biometric capability, like an Iris Scan, to confirm an identity because of its reliability,” a Defense Intelligence Agency spokesman said in an emailed statement. DIA officials turned down interview requests.
But the new choices and opportunities are also creating new problems and conflicting priorities. For example, iris scans may prove more convenient, faster and effective for authentication — identifying travelers, workers and officials — but fingerprints remain the standard for forensics. Some worry that as enthusiasm grows for using irises as ID, fingerprint collection may suffer, leaving fewer troves to search through in an investigation.DIA EFFORTS
In October, DIA opened an Identity Intelligence Project Office.
“As we approach the war’s end, we have laid the foundation for fused capabilities in the Forensic and Biometric arenas and have developed strong interagency partnerships,” the DIA spokesman wrote.
Dalton Jones, a retired Army colonel who oversees forensics, biometrics and identity intelligence at DIA, challenged the biometrics community to look for innovative, cheaper technologies to ensure that biometrics and forensics intelligence “continue to mature and endure as robust, force multiplying capabilities in DoD.” He has warned of the“Threat of Disappearing Capabilities” in a “resource constrained environment,” in a briefing available online.
Over the last decade, biometrics has been put to use for improvised explosive device forensics and for identifying and targeting suspected insurgents and terrorists.
“We’ve always used this information for battlefield-type things, where we feed the special operators this information,” said Don Salo, who directs the Pentagon’s Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency. “We also need to look at bringing the intelligence community into our fold, which we have now started to do.”
Salo’s agency includes the Biometrics Identity Management Agency, which is the steward of the Pentagon’s fingerprint database called the Automated Biometrics Identification System. He and Cuthbertson appeared together at an Armed Forces Communication Electronics Association meeting about biometrics.
Domestic Spying And Social Media: Google, Facebook “Back Doors” For Government Wiretaps
By Andre Damon
May 09, 2013
The Obama administration is close to announcing its support for a law that would force Google, Facebook and other Internet communications companies to build back doors for government wiretaps, according to an article in the New York Times Wednesday.
Such a measure would allow intelligence agencies, particularly the FBI, to monitor a vast array of communications, including Facebook messages, chats, and email using services such as Gmail.
The move comes as the National Security Agency’s sprawling new data center in Utah prepares to come online in September of this year. The facility is rumored to store data on the scale of trillions of terabytes, meaning that it can easily house the contents of every personal computer in the world.
Under the terms of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, known as CALEA, hardware used to facilitate Internet and voice communications—the networks through which data is transmitted—must have the technical means to allow the government to conduct wiretaps.
The spying capabilities created in the context of this earlier law made possible the massive illegal domestic spying programs conducted under the Bush administration, and tens of thousands of ongoing secret court-approved wiretaps conducted under Obama. Under Bush, reports emerged that the government was essentially given full access to transmission systems by many Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as AT&T.
US intelligence agencies were satisfied with these capabilities up until around 2010, when, in response to a series of security breaches, services such as Gmail and Facebook enabled encryption by default.
As a result of this move, communications using these services became inaccessible to conventional wiretapping, which relied on intercepting the (now encrypted) data traveling between users and routed by ISPs.
To offset the effects of encryption, the FBI has sought to force companies to create back doors for surveillance, with varying degrees of success. Following its purchase by Microsoft, Skype, the online chat and voice service, last year voluntarily reengineered its architecture to allow the US and other governments to monitor chat communications.
The FBI claims that, under current laws, Internet communications companies can effectively refuse to comply with a court-ordered wiretap by claiming that there is no practical way for them to allow the government to spy on their users’ communications.
The proposed law would force social networks and other communications companies to provide government access or face fines that, according to the Washington Post, would multiply exponentially and threaten companies with bankruptcy.
While keeping silent on the unconstitutional nature of the US government’s vast domestic spying apparatus, groups representing major Silicon Valley corporations have raised concerns about the difficulty of implementing the proposed government wiretapping capabilities, particularly for start-ups and small companies, which behemoths like Facebook and Apple rely on for developing new technologies.
According to the Times, officials are working to reformulate the law to satisfy these concerns while forcing the most widely used services to allow wiretapping.
“While the F.B.I.’s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders,” the Times reported. “The difference, officials say, means that start-ups with a small number of users would have fewer worries about wiretapping issues unless the companies became popular enough to come to the Justice Department’s attention.”
In addition to forcing Internet communications companies to allow wiretapping, the law would also put even more pressure on ISPs to ensure that they do not break the government’s existing wiretapping capabilities by upgrading their systems.
The Obama administration’s drive to expand the government’s wiretapping comes in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, which have been used as the pretext for the implementation of a range of police state measures, including most notably the lockdown of Boston following the blasts.
The Obama administration has claimed that its wiretapping activities are conducted under warrants issued by a FISA court, which essentially rubber-stamp government spying applications. In 2012, the FISA court did not deny a single application for spying.
However, the full extent of the government’s wiretapping programs is kept totally secret, and its real scope is far more sweeping than what has already been admitted.
A hint of the potentially vast extent of domestic spying was indicated by Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, last week, in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett. Burnett asked Clemente if there was any way that the government would be able to implicate the widow of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev in playing a role in the bombing.
Clemente responded by saying, “We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that [phone] conversation. It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her.”
By stating that the evidence would not be admissible in court, Clemente was implying that the evidence was gathered illegally. Faced with skepticism from Burnett about the government’s ability to access such data, Clemente added, “Welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”
Round The Clock Surveillance: Is This The Price Of Living In A ‘Free, Safe’ Society?
Recently by John W. Whitehead: On Target Pressure Points: Militarized Police
Immediately following the devastating 9/11 attacks, which destroyed the illusion of invulnerability which had defined American society since the end of the Cold War, many Americans willingly ceded their rights and liberties to government officials who promised them that the feeling of absolute safety could be restored.
In the 12 years since, we have been subjected to a series of deceptions, subterfuges and scare tactics by the government, all largely aimed at amassing more power for the federal agencies and extending their control over the populace. Starting with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, continuing with the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and coming to a head with the assassination of American citizens abroad, the importing of drones and other weapons of compliance, and the rise in domestic surveillance, we have witnessed the onslaught of a full-blown crisis in government.
Still Americans have gone along with these assaults on their freedoms unquestioningly.
Now, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, we are once again being assured that if we only give up a few more liberties and what little remains of our privacy, we will achieve that elusive sense of security we’ve yet to attain. This is the same song and dance that comes after every tragedy, and it’s that same song and dance which has left us buying into the illusion that we are a free, safe society.
The reality of life in America tells a different tale, however. For example, in a May 2013 interview with CNN, former FBI counterterrorism agent Tim Clemente disclosed that the federal government is keeping track of all digital communications that occur within the United States, whether or not those communicating are American citizens, and whether or not they have a warrant to do so.
Clemente dropped his bombshell during a CNN interview about authorities’ attempts to determine the nature of communications between deceased Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his widow Katherine Russell. In the course of that conversation, Clemente revealed that federal officials will not only be able to access any voicemails that may have been left by either party, but that the entirety of the phone conversations they had will be at federal agents’ finger tips.
“We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation,” stated Clemente. “All of that stuff [meaning phone conversations occurring in America] is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.” A few days later, Clemente was asked to clarify his comments, at which point he said, “There is a way to look at all digital communications in the past. No digital communication is secure.”
In other words, there is no form of digital communication that the government cannot and does not monitor – phone calls, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook posts, internet video chats, etc., are all accessible, trackable and downloadable by federal agents.
At one time, such actions by the government would not only have been viewed as unacceptable, they would also have been considered illegal. However, government officials have been engaged in an ongoing attempt to legitimize these actions by passing laws that make the lives of all Americans an open book for government agents. For example, while the nation was caught up in the drama of the Boston bombing and the ensuing military-style occupation of the city by local and federal police, Congress passed a little-noticed piece of legislation known as the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).
In short, the law dismantles any notion of privacy on the internet, opening every action one undertakes online, whether emailing, shopping, banking, or just browsing, to scrutiny by government agents. While CISPA has yet to clear the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the spirit of it is alive and well. In fact, officials in the Obama administration have for some time now been authorizing corporate information sharing and spying in secret through the use of executive orders and other tactics.
The Justice Department, for instance, has been issuing so-called “2511 letters” to various internet service providers like AT&T, which immunize them from being prosecuted under federal wiretapping laws for providing the federal government with private information. Despite federal court rulings to the contrary, the Department of Justice continues to assert that it does not require a warrant to access Americans’ emails, Facebook chats, and other forms of digital communication.
These government-initiated spying programs depend in large part on the willingness of corporations to hand over personal information about their customers to government officials.
Aside from allowing government agents backdoor access to American communications, corporations are also working on technologies to allow government agents even easier access to Americans’ communications.
For example, Google has filed a patent for a “Policy Violation Checker,” software which would monitor an individual’s communications as they type them out, whether in an email, an Excel spreadsheet or some other digital document, then alert the individual, and potentially their employer or a government agent, if they type any “problematic phrases” which “present policy violations, have legal implications, or are otherwise troublesome to a company, business, or individual.”
The reality is this: we no longer live in a free society. Having traded our freedoms for a phantom promise of security, we now find ourselves imprisoned in a virtual cage of cameras, wiretaps and watchful government eyes. All the while, the world around us is no safer than when we started on this journey more than a decade ago. Indeed, it well may be that we are living in a far more dangerous world, not so much because the terrorist threat is any greater but because the government itself has become the greater threat to our freedoms.
May 14, 2013
Copyright © 2013 The Rutherford Institute