Even now – after all of the revelations by Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers – spying apologists say that the reports are “exaggerated” or “overblown”, and that the government only spies on potential bad guys.
In reality, the government is spying on everyone’s digital and old-fashioned communications.
Microsoft has long worked hand-in-hand with the NSA and FBI so that encryption doesn’t block the government’s ability to spy on users of Skype, Outlook, Hotmail and other Microsoft services.
And Microsoft informs intelligence agencies of with information about bugs in its popular softwarebefore it publicly releases a fix, so that information can be used by the government to access computers. (Software vulnerabilities are also sold to the highest bidder.)
A top expert in the ‘microprocessors’ or ‘chips’ inside every computer – having helped start two semiconductor companies and a supercomputer firm – also says:
He would be “surprised” if the US National Security Agency was not embedding “back doors” inside chips produced by Intel and AMD, two of the world’s largest semiconductor firms, giving them the possibility to access and control machines.
[The expert] said when he learned the NSA had secured “pre-encryption stage” access to Microsoft’s email products via the PRISM leaks, he recognised that “pretty much all our computers have a way for the NSA to get inside their hardware” before a user can even think about applying encryption or other defensive measures.
If you have a microphone in your car, that might also open you up to snoopers. As CNET points out:
Surreptitious activation of built-in microphones by the FBI has been done before. A 2003 lawsuit revealed that the FBI was able to surreptitiously turn on the built-in microphones in automotive systems like General Motors’ OnStar to snoop on passengers’ conversations.
When FBI agents remotely activated the system and were listening in, passengers in the vehicle could not tell that their conversations were being monitored.
Watch out: the CIA may soon be spying on you—through your beloved, intelligent household appliances, according to Wired.
In early March, at a meeting for the CIA’s venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, CIA Director David Petraeus reportedly noted that “smart appliances” connected to the Internet could someday be used by the CIA to track individuals. If your grocery-list-generating refrigerator knows when you’re home, the CIA could, too, by using geo-location data from your wired appliances, according to SmartPlanet.
“The current ‘Internet of PCs’ will move, of course, toward an ‘Internet of Things’—of devices of all types—50 to 100 billion of which will be connected to the Internet by 2020,” Petraeus said in his speech. He continued:
Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters—all connected to the next-generation Internet using abundant, low cost, and high-power computing—the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.
ITworld’s Kevin Fogarty thinks that J. Edgar Hoover, were he still with us, would “die of jealousy” upon hearing about the tools soon to be at Petraeus’ disposal.
The government is currently testing systems for use in public spaces which can screen for “pre-crime”. As Nature reports:
Like a lie detector, FAST measures a variety of physiological indicators, ranging from heart rate to the steadiness of a person’s gaze, to judge a subject’s state of mind. But there are major differences from the polygraph. FAST relies on non-contact sensors, so it can measure indicators as someone walks through a corridor at an airport, and it does not depend on active questioning of the subject.
FAST is designed to track and monitor, among other inputs, body movements, voice pitch changes, prosody changes (alterations in the rhythm and intonation of speech), eye movements, body heat changes, and breathing patterns. Occupation and age are also considered. A government source told CNET that blink rate and pupil variation are measured too.
A field test of FAST has been conducted in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast. “It is not an airport, but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting,” DHS spokesman John Verrico told Nature.com in May.
Although DHS has publicly suggested that FAST could be used at airport checkpoints–the Transportation Security Administration is part of the department, after all–the government appears to have grander ambitions. One internal DHS document (PDF) also obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act says a mobile version of FAST “could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or conventions.”
The risk of false positives is very real. As Computer World notes:
Tom Ormerod, a psychologist in the Investigative Expertise Unit at Lancaster University, UK, told Nature, “Even having an iris scan or fingerprint read at immigration is enough to raise the heart rate of most legitimate travelers.” Other critics have been concerned about “false positives.” For example, some travelers might have some of the physical responses that are supposedly signs of mal-intent if they were about to be groped by TSA agents in airport security.
According to the NSA’s former director of global digital data – William Binney – the NSA’s new data storage center in Utah will have so much storage capacity that:
“They would have plenty of space … to store at least something on the order of 100 years worth of the worldwide communications, phones and emails and stuff like that,” Binney asserts, “and then have plenty of space left over to do any kind of parallel processing to try to break codes.”
[But the NSA isn't stopping there.] Despite its capacity, the Utah center does not satisfy NSA’s data demands. Last month, the agency broke ground on its next data farm at its headquarters at Ft. Meade, Md. But that facility will be only two-thirds the size of the mega-complex in Utah.
The documents leaked by Edward Snowden to Glenn Greenwald show:
But what we’re really talking about here is a localized system that prevents any form of electronic communication from taking place without its being stored and monitored by the National Security Agency.
It doesn’t mean that they’re listening to every call, it means they’re storing every call and have the capability to listen to them at any time, and it does mean that they’re collecting millions upon millions upon millions of our phone and email records.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate committee on March 30, 2011, that “technological improvements” now enable the bureau “to pull together past emails and future ones as they come in so that it does not require an individualized search.”
The administration is building a facility in a valley south of Salt Lake City that will have the capacity to store massive amounts of records – a facility that former agency whistleblowers say has no logical purpose if it’s not going to be a vault holding years of phone and Internet data.
Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior executive who challenged the data collection for several years, said the agency’s intent seems obvious.
“One hundred million phone records?” he asked in an interview. “Why would they want that each and every day? Of course they’re storing it.”
Lending credence to his worries, The Guardian’s latest report quoted a document in which Alexander purportedly remarked during a 2008 visit to an NSA intercept station in Britain: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time?”
One former U.S. security consultant, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his connections to government agencies, told McClatchy he has seen agency-installed switches across the country that draw data from the cables.
“Do I know they copied it? Yes,” said the consultant. “Do I know if they kept it? No.”
NSA whistleblower Russel Tice – a key source in the 2005 New York Times report that blew the lid off the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretapping – says that the content and metadata of alldigital communications are being tapped by the NSA.
The NSA not only accesses data directly from the largest internet companies, it also sucks up huge amounts of data straight from undersea cables providing telephone and Internet service to the United States.