Entries Tagged "courts"

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Scanning People's Intentions

Here’s an article on a brain scanning technique that reads people’s intentions.

There’s not a lot of detail, but my guess is that it doesn’t work very well. But that’s not really the point. If it doesn’t work today, it will in five, ten, twenty years; it will work eventually.

What we need to do, today, is debate the legality and ethics of these sorts of interrogations:

“These techniques are emerging and we need an ethical debate about the implications, so that one day we’re not surprised and overwhelmed and caught on the wrong foot by what they can do. These things are going to come to us in the next few years and we should really be prepared,” Professor Haynes told the Guardian.

The use of brain scanners to judge whether people are likely to commit crimes is a contentious issue that society should tackle now, according to Prof Haynes. “We see the danger that this might become compulsory one day, but we have to be aware that if we prohibit it, we are also denying people who aren’t going to commit any crime the possibility of proving their innocence.”

More discussion along these lines is in the article. And I wrote about this sort of thing in 2005, in the context of Judge Roberts’ confirmation hearings.

Posted on February 15, 2007 at 6:32 AMView Comments

SWIFT Violates Legal Privacy Protections

This is a good summary of the SWIFT privacy case:

This week, the Article 29 group—a panel of European Commissioners for Freedom, Security, and Justice—ruled that the interbank money transfer service SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) has failed to respect the provisions of the EU Data Protection directive by transferring personal financial data to the US in a manner the press release describes as “hidden, systematic, massive, and long-term.”

Posted on February 13, 2007 at 7:49 AMView Comments

Eyewitness Identification Reform

According to this article, “Mistaken eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions.” Given what I’ve been reading recently about memory and the brain, this does not surprise me at all.

New Mexico is currently debating a bill reforming eyewitness identification procedures:

Under the proposed regulations, an eyewitness must provide a written description before a lineup takes place; there must be at least six individuals in a live lineup and 10 photos in a photographic line-up; and the members of the lineup must be shown sequentially rather than simultaneously.

The bill would also restrict the amount of time in which law enforcement could bring a suspect by for a physical identification by a victim or witness to within one hour after the crime was reported. Anything beyond one hour would require a lineup with multiple photos or people.

I don’t have access to any of the psychological or criminology studies that back these reforms up, but the bill is being supported by the right sorts of people.

Posted on February 7, 2007 at 6:38 AMView Comments

Islam on Trial

Prophetic Justice,” by Amy Waldman (The Atlantic Monthly, Oct 2006) is a fascinating article about terrorism trials in the U.S. where the prosecution attempts to prove that the defendant was planning on committing an act of terrorism. Very often, the trials hinge on different interpretations of Islam, Islamic scripture, and Islamic belief—and often we are essentially putting the religion on trial.

Reading it, I was struck with the eliminationist rhetoric coming out of the Christian Right in the U.S. today, and how it would fare under the same level of scrutiny.

It’s a long article, but well worth reading. There are many problems with prosecuting people for thoughtcrimes, and the article discusses some of them.

Posted on January 29, 2007 at 6:55 AMView Comments

On the "War on Terror" Rhetoric

Echoing what I said in my previous post, Sir Ken Macdonald—the UK’s “director of public prosecutions”—has spoken out against the “war on terror”:

He said: “London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ‘soldiers’. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’.

“The fight against terrorism on the streets of Britain is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws and the winning of justice for those damaged by their infringement.”

Sir Ken, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, told members of the Criminal Bar Association it should be an article of faith that crimes of terrorism are dealt with by criminal justice and that a “culture of legislative restraint in the area of terrorist crime is central to the existence of an efficient and human rights compatible process”.

He said: “We wouldn’t get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law – upon which everything else depends.”

Exactly. This is not a job for the military, it’s a job for the police.

Posted on January 26, 2007 at 6:56 AMView Comments

Ensuring the Accuracy of Electronic Voting Machines

A Florida judge ruled (text of the ruling) that the defeated candidate has no right to examine the source code in the voting machines that determined the winner in a disputed Congressional race.

Meanwhile:

A laboratory that has tested most of the nation’s electronic voting systems has been temporarily barred from approving new machines after federal officials found that it was not following its quality-control procedures and could not document that it was conducting all the required tests.

That company is Ciber Inc.

Is it just me, or are things starting to make absolutely no sense?

Posted on January 4, 2007 at 12:06 PMView Comments

Remotely Eavesdropping on Cell Phone Microphones

I give a talk called “The Future of Privacy,” where I talk about current and future technological developments that erode our privacy. One of the things I talk about is auditory eavesdropping, and I hypothesize that a cell phone microphone could be turned on surreptitiously and remotely.

I never had any actual evidence one way or the other, but the technique has surfaced in an organized crime prosecution:

The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the “roving bug” was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a suspect’s cell phone.

Kaplan’s opinion said that the eavesdropping technique “functioned whether the phone was powered on or off.” Some handsets can’t be fully powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set.

Seems that the technique is to download eavesdropping software into the phone:

The U.S. Commerce Department’s security office warns that “a cellular telephone can be turned into a microphone and transmitter for the purpose of listening to conversations in the vicinity of the phone.” An article in the Financial Times last year said mobile providers can “remotely install a piece of software on to any handset, without the owner’s knowledge, which will activate the microphone even when its owner is not making a call.”

Nextel and Samsung handsets and the Motorola Razr are especially vulnerable to software downloads that activate their microphones, said James Atkinson, a counter-surveillance consultant who has worked closely with government agencies. “They can be remotely accessed and made to transmit room audio all the time,” he said. “You can do that without having physical access to the phone.”

[…]

Details of how the Nextel bugs worked are sketchy. Court documents, including an affidavit (p1) and (p2) prepared by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kolodner in September 2003, refer to them as a “listening device placed in the cellular telephone.” That phrase could refer to software or hardware.

One private investigator interviewed by CNET News.com, Skipp Porteous of Sherlock Investigations in New York, said he believed the FBI planted a physical bug somewhere in the Nextel handset and did not remotely activate the microphone.

“They had to have physical possession of the phone to do it,” Porteous said. “There are several ways that they could have gotten physical possession. Then they monitored the bug from fairly near by.”

But other experts thought microphone activation is the more likely scenario, mostly because the battery in a tiny bug would not have lasted a year and because court documents say the bug works anywhere “within the United States”—in other words, outside the range of a nearby FBI agent armed with a radio receiver.

In addition, a paranoid Mafioso likely would be suspicious of any ploy to get him to hand over a cell phone so a bug could be planted. And Kolodner’s affidavit seeking a court order lists Ardito’s phone number, his 15-digit International Mobile Subscriber Identifier, and lists Nextel Communications as the service provider, all of which would be unnecessary if a physical bug were being planted.

A BBC article from 2004 reported that intelligence agencies routinely employ the remote-activation method. “A mobile sitting on the desk of a politician or businessman can act as a powerful, undetectable bug,” the article said, “enabling them to be activated at a later date to pick up sounds even when the receiver is down.”

For its part, Nextel said through spokesman Travis Sowders: “We’re not aware of this investigation, and we weren’t asked to participate.”

EDITED TO ADD (12/12): Another article.

Posted on December 5, 2006 at 6:29 AM

Hacking Indictment

It’s been a while since I’ve seen one of these sorts of news stories:

A Romanian man has been indicted on charges of hacking into more than 150 U.S. government computers, causing disruptions that cost NASA, the Energy Department and the Navy nearly $1.5 million.

The federal indictment charged Victor Faur, 26, of Arad, Romania, with nine counts of computer intrusion and one count of conspiracy. He faces up to 54 years in prison if convicted of all counts, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, on Thursday.

Faur was being prosecuted by authorities in Romania on separate computer hacking charges, Mrozek said, and will be brought to Los Angeles upon resolution of that case. It was not known whether Faur had retained a lawyer in the United States.

Posted on December 4, 2006 at 12:48 PMView Comments

The Zotob Worm and the DHS

On August 18 of last year, the Zotob worm badly infected computers at the Department of Homeland Security, particularly the 1,300 workstations running the US-VISIT application at border crossings. Wired News filed a Freedom of Information Act request for details, which was denied.

After we sued, CBP released three internal documents, totaling five pages, and a copy of Microsoft’s security bulletin on the plug-and-play vulnerability. Though heavily redacted, the documents were enough to establish that Zotob had infiltrated US-VISIT after CBP made the strategic decision to leave the workstations unpatched. Virtually every other detail was blacked out. In the ensuing court proceedings, CBP claimed the redactions were necessary to protect the security of its computers, and acknowledged it had an additional 12 documents, totaling hundreds of pages, which it withheld entirely on the same grounds.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston reviewed all the documents in chambers, and ordered an additional four documents to be released last month. The court also directed DHS to reveal much of what it had previously hidden beneath thick black pen strokes in the original five pages.

“Although defendant repeatedly asserts that this information would render the CBP computer system vulnerable, defendant has not articulated how this general information would do so,” Illston wrote in her ruling (emphasis is lllston’s).

The details say nothing about the technical details of the computer systems, and only point to the incompetence of the DHS in handling the incident.

Details are in the Wired News article.

Posted on November 6, 2006 at 12:11 PMView Comments

Faulty Data and the Arar Case

Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian citizen. On September 26, 2002, he tried to fly from Switzerland to Toronto. Changing planes in New York, he was detained by the U.S. authorities, and eventually shipped to Syria where he was tortured. He’s 100% innocent. (Background here.)

The Canadian government has completed its “Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar,” the results of which are public. From their press release:

On Maher Arar, the Commissioner comes to one important conclusion: “I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada.”

Certainly something that everyone who supports the U.S.’s right to detain and torture people without having to demonstrate their guilt should think about. But what’s more interesting to readers of this blog is the role that inaccurate data played in the deportation and ultimately torture of an innocent man.

Privacy International summarizes the report. These are among their bullet points:

  • The RCMP provided the U.S. with an entire database of information relating to a terrorism investigation (three CDs of information), in a way that did not comply with RCMP policies that require screening for relevance, reliability, and personal information. In fact, this action was without precedent.
  • The RCMP provided the U.S. with inaccurate information about Arar that portrayed him in an infairly negative fashion and overstated his importance to a RCMP investigation. They included some “erroneous notes.”
  • While he was detained in the U.S., the RCMP provided information regarding him to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “some of which portrayed him in an inaccurate and unfair way.” The RCMP provided inaccurate information to the U.S. authorities that tended to link Arar to other terrorist suspects; and told the U.S. authorities that Arar had previously refused to be interviewed, which was also incorrect; and the RCMP also said that soon after refusing the interview he suddenly left Canada for Tunisia. “The statement about the refusal to be interviewed had the potential to arouse suspicion, especially among law enforcement officers, that Mr. Arar had something to hide.” The RCMP’s information to the U.S. authorities also placed Arar in the vicinity of Washington DC on September 11, 2001 when he was instead in California.

Judicial oversight is a security mechanism. It prevents the police from incarcerating the wrong person. The point of habeas corpus is that the police need to present their evidence in front of a neutral third party, and not indefinitely detain or torture people just because they believe they’re guilty. We are all less secure if we water down these security measures.

Posted on September 29, 2006 at 7:06 AMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.