Modern technology allows the creation of massive surveillance systems, the capabilities of which surpass even the most lurid fantasies found in famous dystopian science fiction novels of the XX century. These technologies are already being implemented in the so-called developed countries of the world. At the same time, governments legally entitle their security services to spy on anyone and everyone, with or without cause.
Despite regular platitudes about inalienable rights and freedoms, those who rule the developed countries rigorously defend the present world order That is, the right of a super-rich minority to live a life of overwhelming luxury at the expense of the rest of the world. using the latest in modern surveillance technology. Here we offer only a few examples that became public knowledge during the last several months.
FBI's Quiet Plan to Begin Mass Hacking
The Tor Project blog
Senator Ron Wyden delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate on Thursday calling for passage of a bill that would annul new rules for judges. These rules will give the FBI authority to hack millions of people's computers with a single search warrant, regardless of where the device is located.
The Stop Mass Hacking Act (S. 2952, H.R. 5321), which has bipartisan support, is composed of a single sentence:
To prevent the proposed amendments to rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure from taking effect.
Wyden's bill attempts to stop the upcoming changes to Rule 41, set to take effect in less than 90 days.
The changes to Rule 41 would allow judges to grant warrants to search and seize electronic media located outside of their home districts when the location of the information is “concealed through technological means."
For instance, when a person is using Tor.
The broad search warrants allowable under these new rules will apply to people using Tor in any country—even if they are journalists, members of a legislature, or human rights activists. The FBI will be permitted to hack into a person’s computer or phone remotely and to search through and remove their data. The FBI will be able to introduce malware into computers. It will create vulnerabilities that will leave users exposed.
To quote a tweet from Daniel Shuman of the NGO Demand Progress, «Even if you like mass FBI hacking, shouldn't the Senate hold a hearing first before it automatically becomes law?»
We are at a critical point in the United States regarding surveillance law. Some public officials, like those at the US Department of Justice (the FBI is a department of DOJ), understand very well how surveillance technology works and the implications of the Rule 41 changes. But the judges who must approve these warrants under the new rules vary widely in their technical expertise and understanding of how these decisions affect the larger Constitutional issues of search and seizure. Rule 41 will allow savvy law enforcement officials to seek those judges who don't yet understand the tech.
Similarly, there are many members of Congress who don't yet understand either the technology or its impact on democratic institutions and values. Some understand that Tor and encryption are currently used by politicians, judges, and even the FBI to keep their communications private--but others do not. Some—but not all—know that privacy tools like Tor can help enforce the separation of powers by preventing one branch of government from spying on another. Some know that a back door for one good guy is eventually a back door for multiple bad guys. Many others do not.
So some US officials can take advantage of this ignorance in order to expand their power. And since the FBI works for the Department of Justice, and the Department of Justice works for the White House, Rule 41 gives new surveillance power to the Administrative branch of US government. New power over millions of people--that Congress never discussed or approved.
Why go through Congress, the reasoning goes, and risk public exposure, debate, and possible defeat, when law enforcement can tweak a rulebook and get the same new hacking power?
The Digital Big Brother
Protests against mass police surveillance.
Many of the systems being offered for sale to law enforcement agencies across the US, and around the world, were developed by defence giants for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is a small selection.
These methods are often implemented and used clandestinely, only coming to the attention of the public when yet another scandal erupts or a protest happens.
Stingray fake phone masts
About the size of a suitcase, Stingrays work by pretending to be a phone tower in order to strip data from nearby devices, enabling police to track suspects without a warrant. They are also capable of accessing the content of calls and texts. The next generation of the device, Hailstorm, is now on the market.
Number plate readers
Police cars mounted with automatic number plate readers are thought to be in use in many US cities, gathering data on the location and movements of drivers. Research in Oakland found black neighbourhoods were being disproportionally targeted.
Crime prediction software
Software is being used by police in the US and UK that analyses crime statistics to predict where it will happen next. Microsoft, IBM and Hitachi are among the big players moving into this market. The latest Hitachi «crime visualisation» software - effectively a Domain Awareness Centre on your computer desktop - is being trialled in Washington DC and is demonstrated in this YouTube video. There is also growing concern about the use of social media analysis software, which monitors hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #PoliceBrutality to identify «threats to public safety».
Surveillance enabled light bulbs
LED light bulbs marketed as energy-efficient upgrades to existing light bulbs on city streets that can contain tiny cameras and microphones linked to a central monitoring station.
Through the wall sensors
These use radar to peer through the walls of buildings - currently precise enough to show how many people are in a particular room.
X-Ray, or 'backscatter" vans
Mobile units that use X-ray radiation to see underneath clothing and car exteriors.
The use of light aircraft to record continuous high definition footage of a city - recently discovered, and stopped, in Baltimore, following a public outcry. Police departments across the US, and in cities around the world, are also buying drones for surveillance.
Shotspotter microphones have been around for more than a decade and are thought to be in use in at least 90 US cities. They are designed to improve police response times but there are concerns they could be used to listen in to conversations.
Mass Surveillance Legalized in Europe
German lawmakers today approved a controversial bill that will enhance scrutiny over intelligence agencies.
The bill was introduced by the ruling great coalition, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), after leaked documents showed German intelligence services had helped the U.S. National Security Agency gather information on European politicians, EU institutions and companies.
The new regulation foresees a panel composed of two judges and a federal prosecutor who must give the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) the authorization to spy on foreign organizations, including EU institutions and other member countries, Deutsche Welle reported.
The panel will also be allowed to investigate alleged abuse of power by the intelligence agency, according to the radio channel.
Lawmakers from opposition parties criticized the legislation, saying it legalized mass spying.
MP Martina Renner from left-wing party Die Linke said the new rules would allow secret services to spy on German citizens with little control from authorities, news agency dpa reported.
Hans Christian Ströbele, an MP from the Green Party, said the great coalition missed its chance to rein in intelligence services and gave them a license to pursue their former activities instead, according to news magazine Focus.
Lawmakers from the SPD and the CDU said the law would allow control over the intelligence agencies’ work.
“We need a strong intelligence service that is seriously and broadly controlled,” said Clemens Binniger, the CDU lawmaker that chairs the parliamentary committee in charge of controlling the secret services, Focus reported.