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Change We Can Believe In, XXX

March 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Expanding the Security State

Good news: our government has expanded its powers to spy on us. On Thursday, Attorney General Holder signed new guidelines for the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). As Charlie Savage explained in the Friday NYT,

The guidelines will lengthen to five years — from 180 days — the amount of time the center can retain private information about Americans when there is no suspicion that they are tied to terrorism, intelligence officials said. The guidelines are also expected to result in the center making more copies of entire databases and “data mining them” using complex algorithms to search for patterns that could indicate a threat.

[snip]

They set up three tracks by which the center could retrieve information gathered by another agency: by doing a limited search itself for certain data, by asking another agency to perform such a search, or — in cases whether neither was sufficient — by replicating the database and analyzing the information itself.

The new guidelines keep that structure in place, but put greater emphasis on the third track, while also relaxing restrictions on how long data on Americans who have no known tie to terrorism may be stored. The old guidelines said data on innocent Americans must be deleted promptly, which the agency interpreted to mean if no tie to terrorism was detected within 180 days.

The new guidelines are intended to allow the center to hold on to information about Americans for up to five years, although the agencies that collected the information — and can negotiate about how it will be used — may place a shorter life span on it.

To understand the meaning of this, let’s turn to the blogger emptywheel, who read through the guidelines and provided a preliminary analysis in a post on Friday. Her analysis is short. I recommend reading it in full. Her main theme is that the guidelines “allow the NCTC to obtain information on US persons, dump it into their datamining, and then ultimately pass it on. In this, I’ll show how, by magic of cynical bureaucracy, the government is about to turn non-terrorist data into terrorist data.”

Emptywheel takes us through some key passages, describing how the document “blathers on about how NCTC also has the responsibility to request information and pass it on. This is the legal language they’re going to translate to mean the opposite of what it says.” She highlights the following passage from the guidelines —

NCTC’s analytic and integration efforts … at times require it to access and review datasets that are identified as including non-terrorism information in order to identify and obtain “terrorism information,” as defined in section 1016 of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA) of 2004, as amended. “Non-terrorism information” for purposes of these Guidelines includes information pertaining exclusively to domestic terrorism, as well as information maintained by other executive departments and agencies that has not been identified as “terrorism information” as defined by IRTPA. [emptywheel’s emphasis]

— and identifies the sleight of hand:

Note that bolded section is not a citation from existing law. It is, instead, NCTC turning NCTC’s authority to sometimes get domestic terrorism information into authority to get any dataset maintained by any executive agency that NCTC believes might include some information that might be terrorism information.

Those of us in the US Government’s tax, social security, HHS, immigration, military, and other federal databases? We’ve all, by bureaucratic magic, been turned into domestic terrorists.

So in addition to all of us in government databases–that is, all of us–being deemed domestic terrorists, the data the government keeps to track our travel, our taxes, our benefits, our identity? It just got transformed from bureaucratic data into national security intelligence.

Not exactly a surprise, but now this policy has been approved by our attorney general (and president).

Categories: Law, Security

From the TSA Front

July 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Gail and Joel had some business this past week in North Carolina. They flew Delta to Raleigh-Durham Airport (RDU) on Tuesday and returned Friday night. The outbound trip was routine. It included a very short layover in Detroit, with potential for trouble, but the flight into Detroit arrived early, and they had no checked luggage, so there was no problem at all, and the next leg, to RDU, was early too.

The return trip on Friday, via Atlanta, was not so pleasant, thanks to the TSA and Delta. This isn’t my story to tell, since I wasn’t a part of it, so I will be brief. But I don’t want the unpleasantries to pass without comment.

Things got off to a bad start at RDU, when Gail and Joel went through security. One line, which appeared to be slower, led through a standard screening lane. The other, which they chose, had both standard screening and one of the famed Rapiscan machines. Apparently, people were selected for the rapiscan on essentially a first-come, first-served basis. Once a scannee walked out of it, the next available person would be sent in. Others passing through in the interim would receive standard scanning.

Through this random process, Joel was directed to the rapiscanner. He declined, as is his right. As has been well reported, no one really has a clue how safe those things are. Or how secure the images are. Why endure it? But, as was also well reported back when it was in the news during the holidays last year, if one invokes one’s right to bypass the rapiscanner, one is subjected to a vigorous and intimate frisking. Plus, just for the heck of it, one may also be subject to rudeness and harassment. Joel got an extra dose of that. Again, this isn’t my story, and I don’t have all the facts, but one example of the harassment was a detailed examination of his carry-on bag (his only bag for the trip), prompting the TSA harasser to question him about his 3 ounce bottles of contact solution and to bring the supervisor over for a closer look. Everyone knows 3 ounces is the limit, and Joel was within that limit, but they chose to make a fuss about it nonetheless. (And let’s not even get into the idiocy of the 3 ounce limit and the broader issue of the ratcheting up of airport security, so that once some dumb regulation is introduced, it is never removed.)

While Gail waited for Joel, she watched an older woman in a wheelchair being sent into the rapiscanner. What’s especially interesting about this is that just the day before, the ABC-affiliated TV station in Raleigh reported on a similar incident:

A 94-year-old wheelchair-bound Florida woman says a search she went through at Raleigh/Durham International Airport went too far.

Marian Peterson said it happened July 6 as she went through a TSA security checkpoint before boarding a flight home.

Peterson said she was selected for extra screening. First, security officers lifted her out of her wheelchair and helped her stand in a full body scanner. Then, she was given a physical pat down.

“They took me to one side and they patted me down, and they made me stand for, with my arms out, for over 10 minutes,” she said. “I was beginning to feel that I wasn’t going to be able to continue to stand, I was going to fall down or something.”

We would have missed this story if Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic writer and blogger, hadn’t posted about it on Friday, more or less as Gail and Joel were at RDU. Goldberg has been one of the best commentators in recent years on airport security excess. Joel saw the story yesterday morning and thought for a moment that it was about the very woman who was rapiscanned right after him, but of course the timing was off, since the reported incident took place earlier in the month. In any case, as Goldberg noted, the story was part of “today’s news of the absurd.” And there’s no evidence that the absurdity will end.

Things didn’t get better for Gail and Joel. Once they cleared security, Gail and Joel were able to get on an earlier flight to Atlanta, but this just gave them a three-hour layover. And that layover became longer when Delta had some equipment problem that they didn’t fully explain, as a result of which they had to switch airplanes. Apparently, because the new one had a different configuration, some seat reassigning was necessary, as Gail and Joel discovered when they were stopped at the gate as they were about to board. The machine scanned their boarding passes, sent some sort of signal, and they were told to step aside. Except there was no room to step aside. With the delay in boarding, everyone had been invited to board at once and there was chaos. Gail had managed to secure seats in exit rows when she did the online check-in, but now she and Joel were re-assigned to the rear of the plane.

There’s more. But I’ll stop. They did eventually arrive in Seattle and I drove them home.

Categories: Security, Travel

Gabrielle Giffords

January 8, 2011 Leave a comment

[Joshua Lott for The New York Times]

I’ve been doing my best to find more details about today’s shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson: updating the NYT article, going to Tucson TV station websites, refreshing my RSS feeds, looking every few minutes at The Daily Dish for Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging. I suppose we’ll all know soon enough the identity and motives of the attempted (or perhaps ultimately successful) assassin.


At Sullivan’s live-blogging site now are the items on left and right from the campaign of Giffords’ opponent last year, and the item below from SarahPAC, with Giffords as one of 20 members of Congress in the crosshairs.

(Sullivan writes, “Various Palin sites are frantically removing various incendiary materials – which is both gratifying, but also, it seems to me, an acknowledgment of previous rhetorical excess.”)

How can it be that our far right wing gets to control the use of the word “terrorist”? If you’re a Moslem and you look different, you’re a terrorist, even if you’re a US citizen. But a white American who flies a plane into a federal office building, or murders a doctor who performs abortions, or — I fear — assassinates a member of Congress is … what? A patriot?

Let’s take, for instance, Peter King, himself a member of Congress, who with the change in control of the House is now the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. As reported in mid-December, he

is planning to open a Congressional inquiry into what he calls “the radicalization” of the Muslim community … responding to what he has described as frequent concerns raised by law enforcement officials that Muslim leaders have been uncooperative in terror investigations.

Yet, King was himself a long-time supporter of the IRA. As Alex Massie wrote a year ago:

King has been on a tear since the attempted Christmas Day bombing, attacking the Obama administration at every turn. Earlier this week, he was asked what more President Obama could do to reassure Americans in the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day bomb plot. King’s response? “I think one main thing would be to—just himself to use the word ‘terrorism’ more often.” Even by the standards of the House of Representatives, this is impressively bone-headed.

For decades, King was one of the keenest, most reliable American voices supporting the Irish Republican Army during its long and murderous campaign.

Still, many members of Congress are stupid and the people, bless them, seem quite unconcerned by that. What’s more galling is that King presents himself as a hawk on security issues who, like so many so-called conservatives, is an enthusiastic supporter of torture and, should it prove necessary, nuclear weapons. Listening to King talk about al Qaeda, you could be forgiven for thinking that he’s the terrorists’ most implacable enemy.

Which would be funny if it weren’t such a sour joke. For years, King, who represents a chunk of New York’s Long Island, was in fact the terrorists’ best friend. King wasn’t merely an apologist for terrorism, he was an enthusiastic supporter of terrorism.

Of course it was Irish, not Islamic terrorism that King championed. So that’s different. Right? For decades, King was one of the keenest, most reliable American voices supporting the Irish Republican Army during its long and murderous campaign.

According to King, the terrorist movement was “the legitimate voice of occupied Ireland.”

There’s terrorism, and there’s patriotism. Terrorism is what Moslems do. Patriotism is what white Christian Americans do. Or so it seems.

Categories: Life, Politics, Security

Security Theater

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

[Photo by Patrick Smith]

I’ve written before about airport security theater, and I’ve linked before to Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot blog at Salon. (Smith’s latest post, from two days ago, brings news that the TSA, in a rare loosening of security rules, is allowing airlines to hand out plastic kiddie wings again.) I would like here to bring to your attention a longer piece Smith has written.

The over-riding theme of Smith’s essay is that the heightened airport security rules of the past decade have more to do with us and our fears than with heightened dangers in the sky, a point he makes by reviewing a series of pre-9/11 air crimes starting in 1970. One of the longer stories in the essay is a recounting of Smith’s experience with TSA officials when they find in his bag the standard knife that his airline distributes to first- and business-class customers on the plane itself.

Much of what Smith says will be familiar. And exasperating. Yet, it is worth reading as an excellent overview of the madness of contemporary security theater. Here’s a passage about the limits on carrying liquids through security that got my attention.

The three-once container rule is silly enough — after all, what’s to stop somebody from carrying several small bottles each full of the same substance — but consider for a moment the hypocrisy of TSA’s confiscation policy. At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away. The agency seems to be saying that it knows these items are harmless, but it’s going to steal them anyway and either you accept it or you don’t fly.

Yes, of course! The TSA isn’t serious. They don’t actually think your liquids are dangerous. But they’re going to mechanically apply the rule that you can’t carry too large a container on, then throw your confiscated, non-dangerous container in the trash. What better example is there that this is pure theater?

Categories: Security, Travel

Scan This

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

My last post, written last Sunday night from the O’Hare Hilton, was a bit unfocused. Let me see if I can do better with this one.

Before writing the last post, I had planned for days to discuss the full-body backscatter scanners used at airport security by the TSA, the unattractive alternative of being groped, and the puzzle of what I would choose to do when I went through security at SeaTac on the way to Chicago. I never did write the intended post. And I had no idea the issue would explode into what might have been the most covered news story of the past week. (No, not the issue of what decision I would make. The issue of the idiotic TSA requirements.) “Don’t touch my junk” has become the phrase of the day, and even right-wing nut cases (I mean you, Charles Krauthammer) who traditionally adore all possible security measures — privacy, what’s that? — seem to have re-discovered their libertarian roots.

In my post last Sunday, I touched on the scanner issue only in passing, observing that I didn’t have to scanning and groping that morning because I ended up on a security line that used the traditional metal detectors rather than the scanners. But now I have a TSA story to tell, a different kind of story. I’ll get to it in a moment. Let me first review the circumstances of my trip.

I flew into O’Hare Sunday for the eighth consecutive November in order to attend the annual board meeting Monday for Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico. The meeting is always held in the Athens-Berlin meeting rooms on the mezzanine level of the O’Hare Hilton, with breakfast from 8:30 to 9:00 and the meeting itself from 9:00 to around 3:00. For years, I would fly home on a United flight that would depart around 5:30 PM, but United has dropped that flight. Last year, Gail and I took an American flight with a departure around 4:00 PM. (We were both there because we scheduled our France-Italy trip so that we could stop in O’Hare on our return to Seattle.) But this year the only options were a cluster of flights on assorted airlines around 3:00 or 3:15 PM or another cluster around 8:00 or 8:15 PM. One option would force me to leave the meeting at least an hour before its end; the other would give me 5 hours or more to kill at O’Hare.

I agonized about what to do for a couple of weeks, then went with United’s 3:20 departure. Hanging out at O’Hare didn’t seem too attractive, and I’m not so essential a participant at the meeting that I would be missed if I left a little early. But I knew another issue would await me — just how much time should I allow to get from the Hilton through the underground passageways to the United terminal and then through security? I knew in particular that I would be fretting about this in the closing minutes of my time at the meeting. To minimize fret, I decided ahead of time that I would leave at 2:00. No point fretting when my departure time was pre-ordained. I would enjoy the meeting until that moment, then rush over to United and allow the fretting to begin. Anyway, how bad could it be?

Well, I’m about to tell you. But one more piece of background first.

When I checked in online from home Saturday night for the flight to Chicago, the United website gave me a choice. I could print a boarding pass, or I could have an electronic, scannable boarding pass sent to my mobile device. I thought — at last! I could use put the boarding pass on my iPhone screen and board that way. This isn’t new technology, but it’s not widely in use, and I was eager to try it for the first time. The webpage also had a link to click in order to find out what airports you could use an e-boarding pass at. I clicked, discovered that Seattle was in the list of airports where this feature was not yet available but would be coming. O’Hare was listed as having it already. Oh well. I dutifully printed out my boarding pass, but I looked forward to using the e-pass on my way back.

Sunday afternoon, in my room at the O’Hare Hilton, I checked in for Monday’s return flight, and this time I clicked on the option to have the e-pass sent to me by email. I checked the iPhone email, opened the message from United, and clicked on a link that opened on my iPhone browser. There was the scannable block pictured at the top of this post, below which were the flight details. I was in business.

Let’s move to Monday afternoon. At 1:55, with my 2:00 departure from the meeting approaching, I started to the process of checking the time on my iPhone regularly. I must have checked roughly every 45 seconds. When 2:00 came around, I got up, grabbed my bags and jacket, and left the room. Down the stairs to the lobby level, over to the escalator, down to the basement level, out to the main underground passageway, up to the United terminal baggage claim level, left turn, 50 yard walk to the up escalator (a routine that has become familiar to me over the years), up to the departure level. It’s 2:06. I think, what if the e-pass doesn’t work? Why not put my credit card in one of the United kiosks and print out a paper pass. Alas, the kiosk won’t read my card. On try four, it does. Then I push the buttons to the point where I ask it to print my boarding documents, and it says it can’t. Hmm. Maybe once one has an e-pass, one can’t get a paper pass. Anyway, time is passing. Let’s get through security.

I go to the main security entrance, show somebody there my phone with the scannable square, and he says that’s fine, just go through and make sure to go left. But there must be hundreds in line, and I had used United mileage to upgrade to first class, so I ask where the first class line is. Actually, I knew. It’s way down at the end of the building, which is where he points me. I race over there and discover a line that, while much shorter than the standard line, is not short at all. Priority boarding it’s called. It snakes back and forth about four times before leading to the lone TSA agent, who is doing that stare-at-your-pass-and-license thing. I’m starting to get anxious.

I suppose it took 10 minutes to snake through, during which time I got to study the options once one passes the ID inspection. There are two conveyor belt lines, to the left and to the right. Most people go right. Left is shorter. But right has a body scanner. The odd thing is, not everyone is going through it. Most go through the traditional metal detectors. A handful are directed to the scanner. I figure I’ll just choose the conveyor belt to the left when the time comes.

It’s maybe 2:22 now. I reach the ID guy. I show him my phone and he says he can’t read it. One needs to read it with a scanning tool, and he doesn’t have one. I should go way back to the left, toward the main security line ID checkers, whom I can reach by walking along a wall, squeezing past the main flow of people heading to the conveyor belts. And then, once my phone is scanned, I can return to the priority line’s conveyor belts.

Anxiety increasing. I do as I’m told, squeeze pass a hundred people, reach the regular ID checkers from behind, get the attention of one of them, approach (in effect cutting ahead of the line, except I’m coming to it from the other direction), and show him my phone. He looks at me like I’m out of my mind, shrugs, and says he can’t scan it. I explain that I was told to come this way from the priority line. He shrugs again, not too concerned, and says there’s only one scanner, and it’s at the other end. He suggests I go out and get a paper pass. I ask if I’ll have to get in the line again. I don’t know that he gave a clear answer to that, but I point out that I didn’t want to miss my flight. Again, not his problem. Finally he says he’ll have to get his supervisor. He speaks into some walkie-talkie, no response, takes the next person in line, then stands up, looks around, spots Connie over by one of the conveyor belts, and shouts to her. She’s busy taking people’s bags and orienting them correctly on the belt. She nods at him, spends another minute and a half handling bags, then heads in some big circle away from the conveyor belt and possibly toward us, though I can’t be sure. She has to pass through some area accessible only to TSA staff, then emerges near us, fusses with something on the other TSA ID checker’s counter, looks at my guy, finds that he needs a scanner, and then she disappears back to that private TSA area again. I have no idea what she’s doing, but she clearly is in no hurry to help me. I ask my guy again what my options are. He says look, he asked his lead for help, she’ll ask her lead, and her lead may have to ask his lead, and so on. I can’t tell if he’s serious or just being an ass. But he obviously isn’t too concerned about my plight. I ask if I could just be interviewed, answer some standard questions. No, my pass needs scanning. I explain that United said this would work. He suggests, in effect, that I should complain to United, it’s not his or TSA’s problem. I say okay, if I get a printed pass, can I come right back? He says sure.

It’s getting later and later. I race out some non-standard security exit, head to a machine, and this time it will let me print my boarding documents. I run back to the exit, the two TSA people there move to stop me. I point to the ID guy, say he knows me, he sent me out to get a printed pass. They look at him, he nods, they let me through, I run up to him. Connie is back. She starts to shout at me to stop, but I point to my guy, he nods to her, and she lets me be. I hand him my boarding pass. But now a new panic. Where’s my license? I can’t find it. It’s not in my wallet. Turns out, I had been carrying it up against my iPhone the whole time, the two held tightly together, and he sees it. He pulls it out of my hand, gives it a quick look, hands it back. I’m through.

Now back to priority security to get on one of the two conveyor belt lines. This time they are both far longer than when I left them behind. I choose one, which doesn’t move for about two minutes. Some problem with someone’s bag I guess. But I see myself missing my flight. Should I cut 15 people, say I’m about to miss the flight, and ask to be let in? It’s 2:30. My flight is 3:20, boarding at 2:50. I’m probably okay. The line begins to move. Slowly. I get through, get my laptop and iPad back in my bag, my iPhone back in my pocket, my shoes back on.

It’s 2:38. B-9. B-9. Where’s gate B-9. Ah, right in front of me. I have somehow come out of security directly in front of my gate. I’m going to make my plane! I search unsuccessfully for a nearby men’s room, then remember that in the B concourse, I need to walk a ways from the center to find one. To heck with it. I get on line at the priority boarding area, and 5 minutes later we’re boarding.

All that anxiety for nothing.

But really, how was I to know? When I got to the TSA ID guy and he got Connie and she came over, then walked off without a word, I was not convinced that I was ever going to get through security. They so obviously didn’t care about my problem, which was between me and United.

So, by the way, what’s the deal United? Why roll out e-boarding passes, offer the option of downloading one when you check in, but not tell you that your options for getting the pass read by TSA are extremely limited? There’s no apparent coordination with TSA to lead you to the right place. There are no signs directing you to a line that can handle it. You’re pretty much on your own.

I won’t have to think hard next time. I’ll just print my boarding pass. And maybe leave the meeting earlier.

Categories: Security, Technology, Travel

Change We Can Believe In, III

July 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Change we can believe in: Expanded e-mail surveillance

The Washington Post reported Thursday that:

The Obama administration is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual’s Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

The administration wants to add just four words — “electronic communication transactional records” — to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge’s approval. Government lawyers say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user’s browser history. It does not include, the lawyers hasten to point out, the “content” of e-mail or other Internet communication.

But what officials portray as a technical clarification designed to remedy a legal ambiguity strikes industry lawyers and privacy advocates as an expansion of the power the government wields through so-called national security letters. These missives, which can be issued by an FBI field office on its own authority, require the recipient to provide the requested information and to keep the request secret. They are the mechanism the government would use to obtain the electronic records.

As we become a country permanently at war, the authority the federal government requires in order to ensure our national security continues to expand, as relentlessly under Obama as under Bush. We can believe in that.

Here are excerpts from a NYT editorial yesterday:

The administration’s request, reported Thursday in The Washington Post, is an unnecessary and disappointing step backward toward more intrusive surveillance from a president who promised something very different during the 2008 campaign. . . .

President Obama campaigned for office on an explicit promise to rein in these abuses. “There is no reason we cannot fight terrorism while maintaining our civil liberties,” his campaign wrote in a 2008 position paper. “As president, Barack Obama would revisit the Patriot Act to ensure that there is real and robust oversight of tools like National Security Letters, sneak-and-peek searches, and the use of the material witness provision.”

Where is the “robust oversight” that voters were promised? Earlier this year, the administration successfully pushed for crucial provisions of the Patriot Act to be renewed for another year without changing a word. Voters had every right to expect the president would roll back authority that had been clearly abused, like national security letters. But instead of implementing reasonable civil liberties protections, like taking requests for e-mail surveillance before a judge, the administration is proposing changes to the law that would allow huge numbers of new electronic communications to be examined with no judicial oversight.

Categories: Government, Law, Security

They’re Watching Us!

December 9, 2009 Leave a comment

Six years ago next month, we began the process of buying a new car for Gail. We soon settled on a particular model, and then had to decide on features and color, given those the dealer could get in. We were somewhat flexible on color. Our principal criterion was that we didn’t want the navigation package. We wanted the other standard multi-feature package, the one that gives you heated front seats and leather interior and a few other “luxury” items. But we didn’t want the navigation package for three reasons: we didn’t think we needed it — we sort of know our way around; why pay for something you don’t need?; but most important, Gail didn’t want the car to be equipped with GPS. I kept tellling her this could be useful, but she was adamant that she didn’t want them watching her. Paranoia or reality? Who knows? Remember the Mel Gibson character in Conspiracy Theory? He turned out to be right. Why bet against him?

Since most of the cars the dealer brought in had the navigation feature, we would have to wait. No problem. Our salesman identified a particular vehicle on its way from Japan and earmarked it for us. Or so he said.

Weeks went by. Eventually he said something had gone wrong and the car wasn’t coming to the dealer. Or maybe it was going to another customer. Whatever. We found whatever he said a little hard to take seriously. Whatever the issue, he was back to telling us that a car with everything we wanted was now available, and as a bonus, it had navigation too! He seemed to have forgotten the whole point, that we were waiting a month so we could do without navigation. We decided to take a look. And then, great car bargainer that I am, I managed to get them to agree to a big discount on the navigation. Gail, in turn, sucked it up and decided she could live with GPS.

Five years and 9+ months later, she couldn’t be happier. She has struck up a friendship with the disembodied woman who tells her how to get places. She finds the navigation more useful than she ever imagined. But best of all, with navigation and the accompanying screen in the dash, you get a rear camera that shows what’s behind you when the car is in reverse. The car I bought three years ago has this too. One quickly comes to appreciate it.

Are they watching? We moved beyond that.

Silly us. As you may have read last week, thanks to the work of Indiana University graduate student Christopher Soghoian,

Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement agencies with its customers’ (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.

Read more in his post on the subject. See also emptywheel’s post two days ago, in which she points out that Sprint may have made a significant amount of money from this service. She concludes, “You see, these companies only look like telecom companies. Really, they’re telecom and surveillance companies. The question is, how much telecom is it, and how much surveillance?” And see Scott Horton’s post yesterday at Harper’s. I’ll conclude with one passage from Horton.

In 1999, Congress passed a law requiring annual reporting of “pen registers and tap and trace devices” so that Congress could monitor the use of new technologies for electronic surveillance. This reporting requirement is imposed on the Department of Justice. However, Soghoian notes (I believe correctly) that the Justice Department has simply ignored the law and the obligations it imposes. This is one area in which the Justice Department apparently feels free to do what it wishes, including violating criminal statutes, whenever it feels national security is challenged. It is also free to rope telecommunications service providers into collaboration, assuring them that it will use its law enforcement monopoly to insure that criminal statutes they are jointly violating will not be enforced. This was the criminal enterprise engineered by the Bush Justice Department to subvert FISA. But so far there is little evidence of the Obama Administration charting a different course, or insisting on accountability for their predecessors.

Categories: Government, Law, Movies, Security