What’s Up with the Secret Cybersecurity Plans, Senators Ask DHS

The government’s new cyber-security “Manhattan Project” is so secretive that a key Senate oversight panel has been reduced to writing a letter to beg for answers to the most basic questions, such as what’s going on, what’s the point and what about privacy laws.

The Senate Homeland Security committee wants to know, for example, what is the goal of Homeland Security’s new National Cyber Security Center. They also want to know why it is that in March, DHS announced that Silicon Valley evangelist and security novice Rod Beckstrom would direct the center, when up to that point DHS said the mere existence of the center was classified.

Those are just two sub-questions out of a list of 17 multi-part questions centrist Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) sent to DHS in a letter Friday.

In fact, although the two say they asked for a briefing five months ago on what the center does, DHS has yet to explain its latest acronym.

The panel, noted it was pleased with the new focus on cyber security, but questioned Homeland Security’s request to triple the center’s cyber-security budget to about $200 million.
They cited concerns about the secrecy around the project, its reliance on contractors for the operation of the center and lack of dialogue with private companies that specialize in internet security.

That center is just one small part of the government’s new found interest in computer security, a project dubbed the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative, which has been rumored to eventually get some $30 billion in funding.

Little is known about the initiative since it was created via a secret presidential order in January, though the Washington Post reports that portions of it may be made public soon.

Read moreWhat’s Up with the Secret Cybersecurity Plans, Senators Ask DHS

Spy Grid Part Of Consumer Technology

Tech savy proponents might think it’s great, meanwhile skeptics and naysayers still deny its existence, but microphones and internal listening devices are being installed in hi-tech hardware, and have been for several years.

Motorola released a fact sheet concerning their next generation HD cable boxes and broadband devices and admitted that:

This innovative plug-and-play technology enables broadband operators to offer consumers a way to control their digital services by voice commands with no complicated set-up or the need for training. Consumers can “talk” to their TV through a remote which incorporates a microphone. By just spoken commands, they can navigate digital programming, the IPG and on-demand services using phrases like “scan sports” or “find movies with Julia Roberts”. From a consumer’s perspective, the solution only requires a small receiver which attaches to the cable set-top to receive signals from the enhanced remote. The technology, which recognizes over 100,000 phrases and deciphers multiple languages, has been field tested in an alpha deployment on the Motorola DCT2000 digital set-top platform.”

The next generation equipment is being fused by Motorola into their ‘AgileTv‘ program, which will allow customers to use voice commands to search and choose programs, listen to music, order movies, etc etc. The program is called ‘PromptU’ and promises to allow seamless voice recognition in order to remove tedious typing and scanning by customers to find what they want. The PromptU spoken search is described as:

“Phones can support more content than ever, and subscribers want it all: ringtones, games, wallpapers, songs and videos. There are hundreds of thousands of titles, and the selection grows daily. Yet subscribers don’t buy as much as they could, because looking for content with text searches, or endless scrolling and clicking, is frustrating. Too many searches are abandoned or not even attempted. Promptu Spoken Search™ changes everything. With Promptu finding content as easy as asking for it. For example, requesting “Tiger Woods,” “Coldplay,” “Spiderman,” or any other favorite from a mobile handset returns on-target search results instantly, from across all types of content. So subscribers find everything they want, and discover all kinds of related titles to buy in the process.”

Last year Microsoft also acquired its own listening technology in the Tellme Networks which will allow consumers to choose and interact with multimedia via voice recognition software over their own systems. Of course what they won’t tell you is how these voice recognition commands will be interpreted, which of course will be done by internal audio devices called microphones – implemented into the hardware via remotes, boxes, or even ones as small as mobiles and pdas.

Bill Gates has been championing this next generation, interactive technology, and in his Strategic Account Summit speech last year, he glowed over the introduction and acceptance of this new technology by customers. Apparently, the industry is ecstatic that the privacy concerns aren’t presenting any kind of hurdle for consumers who are only intent on getting things that are bigger, faster, and in higher resolution. As long as it blinks and lets them veg out, all the better.

Web 2.0 should actually be called World 2.0 and will incorporate technology into every aspect of our lives, even more so than it is now. The next generation of cable boxes, internet, IPTV, VOIP, iphones, PDAs, and mobiles are all being absorbed into the control grid; and the cameras, microphones and other spy technology is just being pitched to the public as a product feature, rather than the all-invasive big brother hardware that it is. Private companies don’t mind it because it allows more focused marketing strategies, ie more profits for the bottom line; and of course governments love it because it allows them to circumvent privacy rights by integrating with companies in order to use this technology grid to spy on its own people.

But to simplify it all, yes, microphones exist in our cable boxes and computers, and will continue to be used, whether we accept it or not. The corporations are listening, the governments are listening; are you?

05-02-2008
Ethan Allen

Source: Rogue Government

National “DNA warehouse” bill passes

Passing the House of Representatives on a voice vote, S. 1858 has been sent to President Bush for signature. The Newborn Genetic Screening bill was passed by the Senate last December.

The bill violates the U.S. Constitution and the Nuremberg Code, writes Twila Brase, president of the Citizen’s Council on Health Care (CCHC). “The DNA taken at birth from every citizen is essentially owned by the government, and every citizen becomes a potential subject of government-sponsored genetic research,” she states. “It does not require consent and there are no requirements to inform parents about the warehousing of their child’s DNA for the purpose of genetic research. Already, in Minnesota, the state health department reports that 42,210 children of the 780,000 whose DNA is housed in the Minnesota ‘DNA warehouse’ have been subjected to genetic research without their parents’ knowledge or consent.”

The federal government lacks the Constitutional authority as well as the competence to develop a newborn screening program, states Rep. Ron Paul, M.D. (R-TX). He states that all hospitals will probably scrap their own newborn testing program and adopt the federal model, whatever its flaws, to avoid the loss of federal funding.

“Drafters of the legislation made no effort to ensure that these newborn screening programs do not violate the privacy rights of parents and children,” Dr. Paul noted.

Ms. Brase has called on President Bush to veto the bill.

Additional information:

Source: Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

The Police Disguises Cameras As Fire Hydrants

It’s like something dreamed up by East Germany’s Stasi.

In Florida, Sheriff Sgt. Ken Sonier “watches those who don’t want to be seen,” according to News-Press. Of course, in a healthy, non-brainwashed society most us would not take kindly to being watched, no matter the reason, but in the post-9/11 world far too many of us have bought into the idea we are somehow obliged to surrender our privacy in order to combat the terrorists, never mind we don’t have a good idea who the terrorists are. Fox News now tells us they have blond hair and blue eyes.

Sonier and the Lee County cops are busy installing “custom-made cameras” in fire hydrants, on exit signs in apartment buildings, and metal underneath cars. “Citizens don’t know what we do,” bragged Lee County Sheriff Lt. Gary Desrosiers of the Technical Investigations Unit. “And that’s a good thing.” It was presumably a good thing in East Germany, too, or so the fascist control freaks who once ran that country no doubt believed.

“The annual budget for the TIU is about $10 million, but that includes salaries and maintenance on all the department’s cell phones, laptops and equipment. Most of the equipment purchased is with federal grants.” More specifically, Department of Homeland Security grants.

“In Cape Coral, police accepted a $50,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to purchase a Video Detective. It is capable of recording audio, video and stills from blocks away and can clean up images and sound recordings turned in as evidence. Now grainy footage of a bank robbery suspect becomes as clear as a yearbook photo.”

Read moreThe Police Disguises Cameras As Fire Hydrants

State busybodies want to pry into your bedroom secrets

Government inspectors are to ask us intimate questions about our sex lives, it was revealed.

More than half a million people every year will be asked about their past and present sexual partners, contraception and how long couples have lived together before marriage.

The 2,000 questions are part of the Integrated Household Survey, and the responses will be logged with respondents’ names and addresses.

Civil servants insist that the sensitive personal information will be made anonymous once the files arrive at the Office of National Statistics, where they will then be held on a secure server.

But campaigners last night branded the survey “intrusive” and another example of Labour’s “surveillance state”.

The survey will cost £3.5 million to carry out each year and will see inspectors randomly visit up to 200,000 homes to question each occupant.

They will ask 35 questions on contraception alone, covering vasectomies, the pill and if respondents have ever used the “morning after” pill.

Other intimate questions include the exact dates when previous relationships ended, precise monthly earnings and details of any second jobs or bonuses.

Investigators will also ask about the health of any children in the household.

One insensitive question asks: “Have you ever had a baby – even one who lived for a short time?”

Interviewers are then told: “Exclude: Any stillborn; include: Any who lived for a short time.”

Read moreState busybodies want to pry into your bedroom secrets

Body Scanners at Airports in NYC and LA

Airports in New York and Los Angeles have become the latest equipped with body scanners that allow security screeners to peer beneath a passenger’s clothing to detect concealed weapons.

The machines, which are about the size of a revolving door, use low-energy electromagnetic waves to produce a computerized image of a traveler’s entire body.

Passengers step in and lift their arms. The scans only take a minute, and Transportation Security Administration officials say the procedure is less invasive than a physical frisk for knives, bombs or guns.

Someday, the “millimeter wave” scans might replace metal detectors, but for now they are being used selectively.

Los Angeles International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York saw their first scanners installed Thursday, each at a single checkpoint. Phoenix Sky-Harbor International Airport got one of the machines in October.

Modest travelers may have concerns about the images.

The black and white, three-dimensional scans aren’t as vivid as a photograph, but they do reveal some of the more intimate curves of the human form, maybe with as much clarity as an impressionist sculpture by Auguste Rodin.

Read moreBody Scanners at Airports in NYC and LA

Chertoff Says Fingerprints Aren’t ‘Personal Data’

Our guest blogger, Peter Swire, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as the Clinton Administration’s Chief Counselor for Privacy.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has badly stumbled in discussing the Bush administration’s push to create stricter identity systems. Chertoff was recently in Canada discussing, among other topics, the so-called “Server in the Sky” program to share fingerprint databases among the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and Australia.

In a recent briefing with Canadian press (which has yet to be picked up in the U.S.), Chertoff made the startling statement that fingerprints are “not particularly private”:

QUESTION: Some are raising that the privacy aspects of this thing, you know, sharing of that kind of data, very personal data, among four countries is quite a scary thing.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: Well, first of all, a fingerprint is hardly personal data because you leave it on glasses and silverware and articles all over the world, they’re like footprints. They’re not particularly private.

Many of us should rightfully be surprised that our fingerprints aren’t considered “personal data” by the head of DHS. Even more importantly, DHS itself disagrees. In its definition of “personally identifiable information” — the information that triggers a Privacy Impact Assessment when used by government — the Department specifically lists: “biometric identifiers (e.g., fingerprints).”

Chertoff’s comments have drawn sharp criticism from Jennifer Stoddart, the Canadian official in charge of privacy issues. “Fingerprints constitute extremely personal information for which there is clearly a high expectation of privacy,” Stoddart said.

There are compelling reasons to treat fingerprints as “extremely personal information.” The strongest reason is that fingerprints, if not used carefully, will become the biggest source of identity theft. Fingerprints shared in databases all over the world won’t stay secret for long, and identity thieves will take advantage.

A quick web search on “fake fingerprints” turns up cheap and easy methods for do-it-at-home fake fingerprints. As discussed by noted security expert Bruce Schneier, one technique is available for under $10. It was tried “against eleven commercially available fingerprint biometric systems, and was able to reliably fool all of them.” Secretary Chertoff either doesn’t know about these clear results or chooses to ignore them. He said in Canada: “It’s very difficult to fake a fingerprint.”

Chertoff’s argument about leaving fingerprints lying around on “glasses and silverware” is also beside the point. Today, we leave our Social Security numbers lying around with every employer and numerous others. Yet the fact that SSNs (or fingerprints) are widely known exposes us to risk.

There have been numerous questions raised about how this Administration is treating our personal information. Secretary Chertoff’s comments show a new reason to worry — they don’t think it’s “personal” at all.

Peter Swire

Source: thinkprogress.org

We spied on 36,000 customers using the internet, admits BT

BT tested secret “spyware” on tens of thousands of its broadband customers without their knowledge, it admitted yesterday.

It carried out covert trials of a system which monitors every internet page a user visits.

Companies can exploit such data to target users with tailored online advertisements.

An investigation into the affair has been started by the Information Commissioner, the personal data watchdog.

Privacy campaigners reacted with horror, accusing BT of illegal interception on a huge scale. Yesterday, the company was forced to admit that it had monitored the web browsing habits of 36,000 customers.

The scandal came to light only after some customers stumbled across tell-tale signs of spying. At first, they were wrongly told a software virus was to blame.


BT carried out undercover trials of a system which records every website a customer visits (below)

Executives insisted they had not broken the law and said no “personally identifiable information” had been shared or divulged.

BT said it randomly chose 36,000 broadband users for a “small-scale technical trial” in 2006 and 2007.

The monitoring system, developed by U.S. software company Phorm, accesses information from a computer.

It then scans every website a customer visits, silently checking for keywords and building up a unique picture of their interests.

If a user searches online to buy a holiday or expensive TV, for example, or looks for internet dating services or advice on weight loss, the Phorm system will add all the information to their file.

One BT customer who spotted unexplained problems with his computer was told repeatedly by BT helpdesk staff that a virus was to blame.

Read moreWe spied on 36,000 customers using the internet, admits BT