Google Responds to Warrants for “About” Searches

One of the things we learned from the Snowden documents is that the NSA conducts “about” searches. That is, searches based on activities and not identifiers. A normal search would be on a name, or IP address, or phone number. An about search would something like “show me anyone that has used this particular name in a communications,” or “show me anyone who was at this particular location within this time frame.” These searches are legal when conducted for the purpose of foreign surveillance, but the worry about using them domestically is that they are unconstitutionally broad. After all, the only way to know who said a particular name is to know what everyone said, and the only way to know who was at a particular location is to know where everyone was. The very nature of these searches requires mass surveillance.

The FBI does not conduct mass surveillance. But many US corporations do, as a normal part of their business model. And the FBI uses that surveillance infrastructure to conduct its own about searches. Here’s an arson case where the FBI asked Google who searched for a particular street address:

Homeland Security special agent Sylvette Reynoso testified that her team began by asking Google to produce a list of public IP addresses used to google the home of the victim in the run-up to the arson. The Chocolate Factory [Google] complied with the warrant, and gave the investigators the list. As Reynoso put it:

On June 15, 2020, the Honorable Ramon E. Reyes, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, authorized a search warrant to Google for users who had searched the address of the Residence close in time to the arson.

The records indicated two IPv6 addresses had been used to search for the address three times: one the day before the SUV was set on fire, and the other two about an hour before the attack. The IPv6 addresses were traced to Verizon Wireless, which told the investigators that the addresses were in use by an account belonging to Williams.

Google’s response is that this is rare:

While word of these sort of requests for the identities of people making specific searches will raise the eyebrows of privacy-conscious users, Google told The Register the warrants are a very rare occurrence, and its team fights overly broad or vague requests.

“We vigorously protect the privacy of our users while supporting the important work of law enforcement,” Google’s director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado told us. “We require a warrant and push to narrow the scope of these particular demands when overly broad, including by objecting in court when appropriate.

“These data demands represent less than one per cent of total warrants and a small fraction of the overall legal demands for user data that we currently receive.”

Here’s another example of what seems to be about data leading to a false arrest.

According to the lawsuit, police investigating the murder knew months before they arrested Molina that the location data obtained from Google often showed him in two places at once, and that he was not the only person who drove the Honda registered under his name.

Avondale police knew almost two months before they arrested Molina that another man ­ his stepfather ­ sometimes drove Molina’s white Honda. On October 25, 2018, police obtained records showing that Molina’s Honda had been impounded earlier that year after Molina’s stepfather was caught driving the car without a license.

Data obtained by Avondale police from Google did show that a device logged into Molina’s Google account was in the area at the time of Knight’s murder. Yet on a different date, the location data from Google also showed that Molina was at a retirement community in Scottsdale (where his mother worked) while debit card records showed that Molina had made a purchase at a Walmart across town at the exact same time.

Molina’s attorneys argue that this and other instances like it should have made it clear to Avondale police that Google’s account-location data is not always reliable in determining the actual location of a person.

“About” searches might be rare, but that doesn’t make them a good idea. We have knowingly and willingly built the architecture of a police state, just so companies can show us ads. (And it is increasingly apparent that the advertising-supported Internet is heading for a crash.)

Posted on October 13, 2020 at 6:20 AM36 Comments


Ergo Sum October 13, 2020 8:40 AM


We have unknowingly allowed corporations to build up their surveillance networks. We have believed their corporate motto of, “Do no Evil, “What goes on your device…”, etc. The government(s) allowed them as well, since they did not need to establish their own surveillance networks. In some, regulations provide sinancial support for these corporations for “enhancing” their surveillance capabilities. All the LEOs need a warrants and they have access to a trove of data about the the person of interest.

Are governments utilizing corporate surveillance systems for establishing a police state? You bet… All governments do this, some more than others, but all of them do it…

The Internet already had a “.com”, or I used to call it “.con”, era and it survived. The Internet is not heading for a crash, may be ad companies, search engines, etc., are, but the Internet will survive this “crash” as well.

User October 13, 2020 9:01 AM

Actually Bruce, even searches based on identifiers require mass surveillance, in that to lookup a particular phone number or IP address you need to collect all phone numbers or IP addresses in use.

I think what distinguishes look ups by identifiers vs about searches is that for the former you don’t have to collect the full text or full message associated with the identifier, you can just collect all the metadata for each message and from the point in time after a lookup you can then zero in on collecting all the messages associated with a particular identifier (of course if you want to do backwards-in-time lookup searches you must collect the full data or messages for everyone, not just the metadata.)

Brant Aples October 13, 2020 9:11 AM

Troubling, although I notice that fewer people laugh at me for using a Faraday bag these days.

Timothy Collett October 13, 2020 9:14 AM

But phone numbers and IP addresses are already handed out by a central authority, by their very nature. That authority is not “conducting mass surveillance” to know at least something about who holds each one—it’s doing its job. And not even in the sense that Google is “doing its job” by gathering data on everyone—phone numbers and IP(v4) addresses could not, given the current structure of the systems they operate in, function without that central authority.

Arlen October 13, 2020 9:17 AM

” The FBI does not conduct mass surveillance.”

… how have you determined this to be true ?

Clive Robinson October 13, 2020 9:42 AM

@ Bruce,

And it is increasingly apparent that the advertising-supported Internet is heading for a crash.

Funny I predicted the same thing back in the mid 1990’s when doing an MSc. I had basically looked into ways of doing “micro-charging” not just for non governmental income but social/infrustructure income and governmental taxation.

The “Reader” was not happy about the fact that I said the only model that could eventually work sustainably was that almost directly equivalent to the telephone network charging model.

And guess what a quater of a century later I’ve still not realy seen anything to change my mind… Ohvand the fact that the likes of Alphabet (Google) etc are desperatly looking at other income models, kind of tells a story that people should not just listen to but think on.

Jeroen October 13, 2020 9:56 AM

I actually had questions (playing devil’s advocate) somewhat regarding this subject after reading Barton Gellman’s book Dark Mirror, specifically:
– How do you know which data you mustn’t collect / throw away after collection if you don’t have a database of which data belongs to who?
– Should you defer these kind of searches to private companies, knowing that these companies might withhold information based on political pressure from foreign governments? Or even if the companies in question are based in the USA, or have an office there?

After reading a bit more online I think the answer to the second question was that the NSA hacked/hacks Google/Microsoft/etc. irregardless of whether they comply with warrants or cooperate via PRISM.
The first question is still a brainteaser to me. The simplest solution would be to simply state that only targeted surveillance should be permitted, but for certain situations this seems a bit short-sighted in my opinion. The more targeted search will create the smallest haystack, but in the end you do need a haystack.

Clive Robinson October 13, 2020 10:06 AM

@ Arlen,

With regards,

”The FBI does not conduct mass surveillance.”

Technicaly depending not just on how you define “mass surveillance” but more basic technical reasons,no they don’t, and I’m sure for legal reasons they will say they don’t anyway.

But then they when you think about it they do not have to, they don’t even need a warrant, just a National Security Letter, signed by a field officer.

Because all those records that the companies keep are in effect “Third Party Business records”.

So there would have to be some quite serious reason to make them expend the extra resources to conduct any other form of surveillance mass or otherwise.

@ Bruce, ALL,

Something to consider,

If as more people are predicting the bottom will fall out of corporate grabbing of PII and they stop doining it for plain old economic reasons (storage is expensive).

What happens to the many Law Enforcment Organisations that have become dependent on such sources to be able to do their jobs…

For the moment they are “Free Riding”, but what are they or more correctly the legislators going to do when “Free Riding” is effectively stopped?

It’s something that people need to seriously consider, because it’s become clear the US Government are going to force such things onto the industry. We can see this starting with the attack on E2EE. Where the politicians are “calling on industry” to do the impossible, that is they are “externalizing the risk” onto others, who can only fail… Thus take the blaim and no doubt the punishment…

Clive Robinson October 13, 2020 10:20 AM

@ Jeroen,

The more targeted search will create the smallest haystack, but in the end you do need a haystack.

And there you have the “rabit hole”…

My father would have quoted the old saw about “There’s more than one way to skin a cat” and gone on to say “and so it it with hay making”.

Thus along with the size of the haystack, you should also consider how the hay was “reaped and stooked” as well.

After all there is only so much one man can do with a scythe and ball of twine, but give a team combine harvesters and the prairie will soon be gone.

Clive Robinson October 13, 2020 10:33 AM

@ Timothy Collett,

phone numbers and IP(v4) addresses could not, given the current structure of the systems they operate in, function without that central authority.

Is an incorrect conclusion based on a faulty assumption of the “current structure”,

But phone numbers and IP addresses are already handed out by a central authority, by their very nature. That authority is not “conducting mass surveillance” to know at least something about who holds each one—it’s doing its job.

Whilst the first sentence is correct the second is a false assumption.

All such a central authority needs to know when you get down to it is,

“The number or address has been uniquely issued”

They have absolutly no need to know to whom, what or why, just that it is nolonger available.

If you doubt such a system can work, then consider as an example the physicall address of where you live, your residence has a unique street address but it is unconnected with you with regards the process of issuing it.

Edmund Burke October 13, 2020 10:38 AM

I think you don’t know what a police state is. There is this religion now, that “mass surveillance” is supposed to be the epitome of evil, and a particular category of tech-interested people sound really, really pissed off when anything happens that falls (according to them) in that huge and so very vague category.

As if owning a computer, and wandering around the Internet, was a pass to be immune from police attention.

You say this happened so that Google might show us ads. But that’s wrong. It happened so that people who committed arson and murder could be prosecuted.

Those are not minor crimes. Finding and punishing arsonists and murderers is conducive to the better good of society at large. You fail to explain why doing this, in that particular case, caused harm, and to whom.

In fact, the two incidents your describe are not different from what used to happen one century ago. How is this different from police work before the Internet even existed ?

What police would do, looking for arsonists and murderers, would be painstakingly combing through the vicinity, asking questions to people, checking their whereabouts, and, yes, this would include many perfectly innocent citizens. Many innocent citizens would be asked to provide proof of what they were doing this particular day, where they were at that time, etc.

This was, and is, in order to eliminate people who were not the culprits, and therefore find the perpetrator.

Suddenly now, because “Snowden” (who is a traitor to his country, this needs to be repeated as often as necessary), the police is supposed not to do its work, not to hunt criminals, because that would be “surveillance”, and “surveillance” is bad.

While indeed, police powers may be abused, and we should be careful that this doesn’t happen, the particular examples you chose show exactly what’s wrong with the Snowden and anti-police cult.

Clive Robinson October 13, 2020 10:57 AM

@ Edmund Burke,

But that’s wrong. It happened so that people who committed arson and murder could be prosecuted.

And there your argunent stalks falls apart and fails compleatly.

@Bruce is right and you are very definitely wrong.

Crime happens if a murderer can not use a gun they will use a knife or a baseball bat, etc etc. We know that.

Thus this crime was goibg to happen after somebody decided that it was a solution to a problem.

They happen to use Google because it was more convenient than finding out the information any other way (which would have been more sensible).

The authorities “went on a fishing trip” that they could only do because Google kept such records.

You however want to argue from effect back to cause, that is neither science or sensible, vut it is lazy behaviour leading to false assunptiins by you.

Adrian October 13, 2020 1:06 PM

Before the courts ruled that a warrant is necessary to get a “tower dump,” a local detective told me they commonly used them to find not only suspects but also possible witnesses. If a crime happened at 1:30 AM on a street in a business district, going door-to-door is unlikely to turn up anyone who saw anything. Calling a list of phone numbers that pinged the closest cell tower around 1:30 AM has a much higher payoff.

The bit about the bad location data is interesting as well. If we’re going to troll through databases to find people, everyone from the cop to the judge and the juror needs to realize that databases are chock full of errors.

Cell phones routinely miss the closest tower and instead get handed off to more distant ones, even if only for a moment. In some cultures, phones are pooled and shared among family members. Algorithms that try to match up users from one session to another session (e.g., via browser fingerprinting) are inherently imperfect. If you’re going to try to establish a connection between a person and a digital footprint, you’re going to need corroborating evidence.

lurker October 13, 2020 2:03 PM

@Clive, EdmundB

c’mon guys, this is chicken and egg stuff, not haystacks. Did G help the criminal commit the crime? or did G help the cops catch the crim? Answer, both. Does this render G’s moral responsibility neutral? Hardly, but it must help boost G’s ego that they share an initial with a popular deity. These are problems of human inability to keep up with the advance of technology. Perhaps they will be solved by the Kurzweil singularity.

SpaceLifeForm October 13, 2020 2:45 PM

@ Jeroen, Clive

About Trickbot.

It's about Halloween.

Attribution is hard.

Sumptin, sumptin, about masks, outfits.

Coordinated or not?

Did they really all meet about the same time before heading out and about to collect treats?

Or was there some group that mingled in with another at about the right time to distract from visiting the house which they knew had the really good candy?


Sancho_P October 13, 2020 5:17 PM

@Edmund Burke

”While indeed, police powers may be abused, and we should be careful that this doesn’t happen, the particular examples you chose show exactly what’s wrong with the Snowden and anti-police cult.”

I think no one here is pushing “anti-police cult”, our issue goes with your “police powers may be abused” and your weak “should be careful”.
Are we careful?

See, our society is based on mutual respect and trust. But as everywhere in nature we have good, bad and undecided individuals among us, just as it happens with apples and pears.
Funnily these three groups are everywhere in our society, from priests over the police to carpenters and politicians, even within our judges.

So our society has set up rules (legal systems) and organisations to check and guide us individuals through troubled waters.

This system is and was always, all over the world, based on deterrence, not, as often confused, on punishment:

It’s difficult to identify the few bad ones, but it’s both, necessary and too late.
Too late because the harm was already done, no punishment can bring back the loved one, the personal intactness or the lost property.

So the most valuable point is to guide the numerous undecided before they become bad ones.

Of course that’s the hardest part, much harder than identifying the murder: It is called crime prevention.
Crime prevention doesn’t have a particular target (like a murder) but a very effective weapon: Deterrence.

Deterrence doesn’t mean to hide behind keyboard and screen, big locks or speed cameras everybody knows of.
Deterrence means presence in life, showing face, knocking on doors, asking people and show up on the street, probably helping the old lady at the crosswalk.

Finding the murder and arsonist is great but of little, singular benefit.
OK, likely you are a cop, probably it’s your personal benefit.
– Bad system.

Clandestinely searching the Net and listen to phone calls / conversation isn’t deterrence.
Deterrence would be: Hey, your behaviour in … was suspicious, we’ve checked your line / contacts for the last 10 days by warrant 123, all OK, sorry, bro.
– This would include control, too!

Be open, transparent – And foremost, be honest. Both sides.

Btw., listen to Clandestino (by Manu Chao), superb version, text is from the other side:

NotAGoodMan October 13, 2020 5:30 PM

What troubles me is not the ease with which Police find the culprit, or the widespread surveillance, but the ease with which a false trail can be laid.

If you’re the bad guy, a criminal, and you’re going to commit arson, murder, whatever. Well, why not use your victim’s Ex’s WIFI to run a few searches? Why not connect up with your patsy’s MAC? Or spoof their SIM card?

This sort of thing is very easy to do. And it’s really hard to prove you’re innocent once you’re presumed guilty, no matter what the movies tell you.

Troubling indeed!

Clive Robinson October 13, 2020 5:53 PM

@ lurker,

c’mon guys, this is chicken and egg stuff, not haystacks.

Not my choice of metaphor but @Jeroen’s and I only used it in reply to him, not the person using “Edmund Burke” to hide behind.

Sorry to be pedantic, but as you know someone else on another thread was making untruthful statments aboutvwhat I had said to try and push their rather pathetic agenda forward (without success) so I’ll nip such a possability in the bud right now.

But the point @Bruce made that the person hiding behind “Edmond Burke” as a handle tried to argue against is very valid.

It is not Google’s job to provide any law enforcment agency with a wide ranging list of suspects (directly or indirectly). Especially when it is well known that Google’s data is far from reliable, easily poisoned and not exactly difficult to falsify.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, electronic devices and the IP addresses they use are “not people” and should never ever be treated as such. As we know the US Government has sanctioned the murder of innocent people in primary acts of war against other nations based on exactly such stupidity.

The US Government has said in one way or another that they see the use of drones in US border areas to be a good thing. As you should know the definition of border area is a zone that reaches 100miles into the US thus covers by far the greater majority of the US citizens. Consider what might happen? Currently it’s fairky easy to “SWAT” people and innocent people have been harned or killed, how much easier would that be using a drone?

After all fully fledged ambassadors on peace missions have been killed by US politicians and their appointees via drones on just mear whims…

This is not something that will get better untill it is stopped.

The first step would be to ensure such politicians and their appointees never have either the position or power to act on their whims.

The second would be to get considerably better fully independent of politicians, their appointees, and others in government oversight, on any who might be alowed such power (though it would be stupid to alow such power to anyone).

The third would be to ensure that such oversight had very real and very frightening teeth via legislation.

After all do you want the next innocent victim of such stupidity to be from your family, other loved ones, friends, colleagues, or others you know?

Because unless those steps are taken it is very much going to happen to someone over and over again…

But remember, I’m not talking about “what might happen” but “what has happened” (remember the footage of the journalists getting attacked that Wikileaks released?). But most importantly “what is happening” right now as US policy…

Clive Robinson October 13, 2020 6:29 PM

@ Sancho_P,

With regards the comment of the person hiding behind “Edmond Burke” of,

”While indeed, police powers may be abused, and we should be careful that this doesn’t happen, the particular examples you chose show exactly what’s wrong with the Snowden and anti-police cult.”

He might freely call Ed Snowden a traitor, but he ignores his own argument.

What Ed Snowden’s trove showed above all other things was the institutionalised and very deliberate ignoring of all oversight.

Thus his argument fails yet again as it does in several other places.

You can not have the idea of “be careful that this [abuse] doesn’t happen”, unless there is some way to check that the abuse is not going on.

That very failure was happening thousands of times a day at the very least, with whole systems being very deliberatly being built to do exactly what the then oversight system was supposed to stop.

It almost certainly would have been many many times worse today than it allegedly is, prevented by the Ed Snowden trove.

So either the person behind the “Edmond Burke” id is deluding themselves or they are trying basic FUD techniques to make what are thinly disguised “Party Political” commentary shoetky before an election. One of the very much trumpeted against “Faux News” techniques that @Bruce Schneier has baned for very good reason after the all out mess of four years ago.

David October 13, 2020 6:44 PM

from :

“When you access DuckDuckGo (or any Web site), your Web browser automatically sends information about your computer, e.g. your User agent and IP address.

Because this information could be used to link you to your searches, we do not log (store) it at all. “

AMan October 13, 2020 6:56 PM

@NotAGoodMan – you make the most important point here – it would also be good to know how much weight this type of evidence carries in the court of law with judges and jurors who may not fully understand the ease by which this type of evidence can be concocted.

Anonymous October 13, 2020 8:13 PM

Talking of the quantity of warrants involving keyword matches means nothing. How many users do these searches respond to?

The wording of Google’s representative makes me wary that they know the situation is bad and they’re using PR language to mitigate risk of a backlash.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasons October 14, 2020 12:21 AM

Asserting that Edward Snowden is/was a traitor requires one to check their Faux Patriotism and bumper stickers at the door. A persistent argument about the legal, moral, or ethical nature of Snowden’s actions, an argument that demonstrates an inconsistency and misunderstanding or ignorance of Madison’s doctrinal thesis supported and made plain by Thomas Paine’s rational—then you haven’t read either of their writings. In essence, it is to assert and proclaim “An informed citizenry is NOT important or necessary for the maintenance of a democratic constitutional republic.”

Snowden was and is correct, and at the time of the disclosures I offered the moniker CITIZEN. I see nothing heroic in doing the right thing. Of course I also don’t see how the state justifies its persecution of someone following the law and its spirit. What is embarrassing and shameful is the complete legal dodge mounted by the NSA’s legal counsel both pre and post-Snowden. And this year a court ruling agreed with the legal basis claimed under Snowden’s complaint, citing his claim(s) from the bench and before the court. The presiding judge offered the government the rebuke it so desperately deserves. Legal masturbation is just as it sounds and looks, and the Government specializes in it. It is unacceptable that bad faith jurists and appellant proctors argue such nonsense, and it sounds something like:

“That up is up, when it is up, but, only after, it is down, and, back, is up—it reasons that when stationary, up is up, but up is down otherwise or until duly authorized by congress or a special agent in charge of sundry BS.

In Principal Law, as in the Constitution, “GUARANTEEING FREEDOM FROM UNREASONABLE SEARCH/SEIZURE” is never compatible with OLC or legal at CIA/FBI/NSA thoughtful INTERPRETATIONS” offered at hearings or the FISCR. The FISA Court even stated as much in the Memo of April 2011 (BATES) and the later report of 11 October 2013. The aforementioned agencies insistence that the language ALL TANGIBLE THINGS[1], and, ALL PERSONS is somehow constrained is beyond credulity. When the language out of these agencies is so broad, congress cannot correct with an unlawful statute that does not turn down the fourth amendment. Only a constitutional amendment can alter the breadth and scope of any constitutional language in either the articles or rights. Snowden proved that the fourth amendment has been rendered unnecessary for all intents and purposes.

[1] Memorandum, Jn re Application of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for an Order Requiring the Production of Tangible Things From [Redacted], Docket No. BR 13-158 (Oct. 11, 2013)

Clive Robinson October 14, 2020 2:56 AM

@ name.withheld…,

Back in 1964, the Britsh invaded America yet again figuratively speaking with the works of a Mr McCartney amongst others[1].

One such was given voice by Peter and Gordon, and titled “A world without love” which for those who can not remember it can be heard,

Whilst from back in a more innocent time when teenage angst was about other teenagers, as I was humming along to it this morning, it struck me that with a few word changes it would suddenly be rather more contemporary…

[1] It was not a one way thing, you did send us Booker T and the M.G.s “Soul Limbo” that I suspect nearly everyone in Britain has heard every summer untill recently, and as the house band of Stax on hundreds of other records as well, with Donald “duck” Dunn even appearing in a film that has got cult status even over here, and has given us the iconi tag line of “Putting the band back together” “The Blues Brothers”.

JonKnowsNothing October 14, 2020 3:58 AM


re: Your assertion that the Police Do Not do their jobs…

Most of your complaint is that the police do not do their jobs. I find this argument to fail even the lowest test.

The police do their jobs just fine.

What the police/LEAs want, is to do a different job. One that is not described in the hiring manual. They want this different job to be nice and easy, indoors and sanitary, no face masks for COVID-19 needed, and to never have to do any of the that manual labor stuff because is so demeaning to rub shoulders with the lesser people who live lives different from themselves.

There is another department of the police/LEAs that want very much to rub shoulders, heads, necks, hands and torsos into the ground as soon as they get the uniform on. This is also not in the hiring manual but HR doesn’t seem to be able to update the uniformed behaviors.

As to their success level, both groups are doing very well thank you.

The USA prisons are overflowing, the courts are packed M-F or whenever a judge is available, our SCOTUS gets several months of vacation a year and there is no shortage of funds to pay for prosecutions or prosecutors who desire now to be Presidents-In-Waiting.

All three of these sectors of the economy are booming even though 30,000,000 USA Citizens are unemployed and about 30% or so, will never work again due to the 50year high tide marker.

Given that we have no more room in the prison-of-hard-knocks, your argument that the Police Do Not Do their jobs, is clearly Not Correct.

One way we could advance the entire argument is to out-source all LEAs/Federal/State/County/City to China. They have a vast apparatus in place with real working software and real working hardware and they have constructed entire prison-cities for the free re-education of large portions of their population. I’m sure we could arrange a good discount on the full package. We can reduce all this big government wastage on folks that cannot follow the basic rules and get a higher quality higher tech solution tailored for the .05%.

We could even send £350MILL from our savings, to our cousins in the UK for their NHS, as Boris has forgotten where he put the check book.

I’m sure Ronnie would approve, he never liked Big Government.

broomstick October 14, 2020 6:10 AM

I’ve found the comment thread interesting, but it all seems to skirt what I thought was the biggest takeaway from the post: This is another proven example of government authorities using warrants to obtain access to types of information (information clearly classed as mass collection in other contexts) that democratically elected legislators and executives have determined they cannot legally gather on their own.

Full marks to the police for trying to do the best job they can with the tools available, but this is clearly a loophole that should be closed.

Sancho_P October 14, 2020 4:38 PM

@Clive Robinson re Edmund Burke

Shooting the messenger is both, confirming the message and acknowledge of guilt.
So that’s OK.

What I wanted to correct is the egocentric view of importance:

With all due respect for our garbage collectors, it can’t be stressed enough, the most important part would be to avoid garbage.

Sancho_P October 14, 2020 4:40 PM

”… this is clearly a loophole that should be closed.”

Um, it is very valuable to collect the garbage.
But as it is now:
– It doesn’t deter because it is clandestinely done.
– It is out of control because it’s not transparent.
– It fosters the “we” and “they” group thinking, breaking our society.

“… that democratically elected legislators and executives have determined they cannot legally gather [the information] on their own.”
Perhaps they are crammed between thirst of re-election and bribery?
That’s not a blueprint for honesty.

Electrospaces October 14, 2020 4:55 PM

It seems that in the introduction of Mr. Schneier’s post things are mixed up:

  • The NSA conducted “about” collection as part of its Upstream program (which is filtering data streams from backbone cables). This happened with specific identifiers like phone numbers and email addresses, which picked out emails and similar communications “to” and “from” the targeted addresses, but in case of “about” collection, the system also picked out messages in which the selector was merely mentioned by third parties. The NSA halted this kind of “about” collection of American emails and texts in 2017:
  • The “about searches” which Mr. Schneier describes as “searches based on activities and not identifiers” are actually the “soft selector” (like keywords) and boolean searches that NSA analysts can conduct using the XKEYSCORE system. This allows them to find targets that are communicating anonymously, i.e. without using the email addresses and phone numbers which they know NSA is monitoring. This system is used extensively for the NSA’s foreign collection and there are no indications that this method was used domestically.

Clive Robinson October 14, 2020 6:15 PM

@ Sancho_P,

Shooting the messenger

Not exactly.

The person behind the Edmond Burke handle, has a viewpoint, that others may or may not agree with (to hold a viewpoint is their right).

The fact that the viewpoint has been so badly presented with so many flaws in the arguments does not help them convince others of the validity of their view point.

Thus pointing out the failings is a way of educating them to either,

1, Present their viewpoint with more care.

2, Perhaps give them food for thought thus modify their viewpoint.

But it also,

3, warns others to not just take the viewpoint on trust.

But to analyze it as well thus see any logical inconsistances or worse with the argument.

So hopefully others gain a little knowledge and skills.

So potentially a winning situation for several people.

Clive Robinson October 14, 2020 6:35 PM

@ Electrospaces,

The “about searches” which Mr. Schneier describes as “searches based on activities and not identifiers” are actually the “soft selector” (like keywords) and boolean searches that NSA analysts can conduct using the XKEYSCORE system.

It’s not just the NSA. Remember they used the FBI with NSL’s as a front but the FBI carries out it’s own intetests as well.

Part of which is pulling cellphone tower records, that have nothing what so ever to do with communications covert or otherwise, but do have everything to do with those around a given physical location during a given time frame.

In otherwords a “fishing trip” to trawl out persons who will become suspects or witnesses.

@ ALL,

This kind of trawl is very different than “door to door canvassing” which is a traditional “shoe leather” activity of police and detectives.

Door to door is based on people at fixed locations, getting cell tower pings is getting people on the move, something that could not be previously done. The best was ro put up those “Did you see … Please call” signs.

Usually people at fixed locations can not be treated as suspicious in a court, as they are expected to be there and thus have good reason to be there.

People on the move however are easy to treat as suspicious because they would not normally be “expected to be there” which immediately gives rise to suspicion with the “Why were they there?” question, which can be mistreated in so many ways so very easily…

randy October 18, 2020 11:48 PM

And one again I gotta ask… why isn’t EVERYONE on the Internet using a VPN?

Wouldn’t that make this kind of surveillance useless? Because Google cannot correlate any search with an user-specific IP address, if thousands of people are using the same IP address for their proxy.

I cannot understand why people don’t take basic problems. The Internet today is like sex in the 70s. Nobody’s using protection. The AIDs epidemic is imminent, but no one realizes it yet.

JonKnowsNothing October 19, 2020 3:52 AM


re: why isn’t EVERYONE on the Internet using a VPN?

Perhaps because the NSA can crack them by the thousands? If the NSA can do it, so can the rest of the lot: Good Bad and Ugly.

It depends on what you are trying to achieve. Most of the time it’s

  The Emperor Has No Clothes But He Has Your Debit Card On File.

1&1~=Umm October 19, 2020 4:08 AM


“why isn’t EVERYONE on the Internet using a VPN?”

Because VPN’s are just as vulnerable to tracking by those just before and just after the VPN and obviously by the VPN owner.

But also by those with a deeper ownership of the routers (NSA and Five Eyes) and switching of the major backbones and switching nodes of the Internet.

The likes of Google know this, which is why they are buying backbone infrastructure to many parts of the world and others are building and deploying satellites, and even looking into certain types of drone technology.

A VPN is like curtains across your window. You might not be able to see out, but with IR / Thermal imaging they can still see in. Oh and incase you stop the IR transmission they still have backscatter radar and similar to look through your walls.

If you want to hide traffic on the Internet you have to build an entire bew network on top of it that works by a rather different set of rules than the current IP and lower network protocols work.

How to make a “traffic analysis restricting network” has been discussed on this blog before, try searching for “Fleet Broadcast” on this blog.

xcv October 21, 2020 5:56 PM

Homeland Security special agent Sylvette Reynoso testified that her team began by asking Google to produce a list of public IP addresses used to google the home of the victim in the run-up to the arson. The Chocolate Factory [Google] complied with the warrant, and gave the investigators the list. As Reynoso put it:

She needs to go on a diet. That much chocolate isn’t healthy for you.

On June 15, 2020, the Honorable Ramon E. Reyes, Jr., United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, authorized a search warrant to Google for users who had searched the address of the Residence close in time to the arson.

I don’t know what’s wrong here, but something is a little bit off. Either his hair’s too long to authorize a search warrant, or else he’s falling off the bench so drunk can’t find his own address on his way home from work.

There’s a party going on, and it’s alibi time.

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