Entries Tagged "data retention"
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This is a threat I hadn’t thought of before:
Now, experts are warning that photocopiers could be a culprit as well.
That’s because most digital copiers manufactured in the past five years have disk drives—the same kind of data-storage mechanism found in computers—to reproduce documents.
As a result, the seemingly innocuous machines that are commonly used to spit out copies of tax returns for millions of Americans can retain the data being scanned.
If the data on the copier’s disk aren’t protected with encryption or an overwrite mechanism, and if someone with malicious motives gets access to the machine, industry experts say sensitive information from original documents could get into the wrong hands.
The political firestorm over former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley’s salacious instant messages hides another issue, one about privacy. We are rapidly turning into a society where our intimate conversations can be saved and made public later. This represents an enormous loss of freedom and liberty, and the only way to solve the problem is through legislation.
Everyday conversation used to be ephemeral. Whether face-to-face or by phone, we could be reasonably sure that what we said disappeared as soon as we said it. Of course, organized crime bosses worried about phone taps and room bugs, but that was the exception. Privacy was the default assumption.
This has changed. We now type our casual conversations. We chat in e-mail, with instant messages on our computer and SMS messages on our cellphones, and in comments on social networking Web sites like Friendster, LiveJournal, and MySpace. These conversations—with friends, lovers, colleagues, fellow employees—are not ephemeral; they leave their own electronic trails.
We know this intellectually, but we haven’t truly internalized it. We type on, engrossed in conversation, forgetting that we’re being recorded.
Foley’s instant messages were saved by the young men he talked to, but they could have also been saved by the instant messaging service. There are tools that allow both businesses and government agencies to monitor and log IM conversations. E-mail can be saved by your ISP or by the IT department in your corporation. Gmail, for example, saves everything, even if you delete it.
And these conversations can come back to haunt people—in criminal prosecutions, divorce proceedings or simply as embarrassing disclosures. During the 1998 Microsoft anti-trust trial, the prosecution pored over masses of e-mail, looking for a smoking gun. Of course they found things; everyone says things in conversation that, taken out of context, can prove anything.
The moral is clear: If you type it and send it, prepare to explain it in public later.
And voice is no longer a refuge. Face-to-face conversations are still safe, but we know that the National Security Agency is monitoring everyone’s international phone calls. (They said nothing about SMS messages, but one can assume they were monitoring those too.) Routine recording of phone conversations is still rare—certainly the NSA has the capability—but will become more common as telephone calls continue migrating to the IP network.
If you find this disturbing, you should. Fewer conversations are ephemeral, and we’re losing control over the data. We trust our ISPs, employers and cellphone companies with our privacy, but again and again they’ve proven they can’t be trusted. Identity thieves routinely gain access to these repositories of our information. Paris Hilton and other celebrities have been the victims of hackers breaking into their cellphone providers’ networks. Google reads our Gmail and inserts context-dependent ads.
Even worse, normal constitutional protections don’t apply to much of this. The police need a court-issued warrant to search our papers or eavesdrop on our communications, but can simply issue a subpoena—or ask nicely or threateningly—for data of ours that is held by a third party, including stored copies of our communications.
The Justice Department wants to make this problem even worse, by forcing ISPs and others to save our communications—just in case we’re someday the target of an investigation. This is not only bad privacy and security, it’s a blow to our liberty as well. A world without ephemeral conversation is a world without freedom.
We can’t turn back technology; electronic communications are here to stay. But as technology makes our conversations less ephemeral, we need laws to step in and safeguard our privacy. We need a comprehensive data privacy law, protecting our data and communications regardless of where it is stored or how it is processed. We need laws forcing companies to keep it private and to delete it as soon as it is no longer needed.
And we need to remember, whenever we type and send, we’re being watched.
Foley is an anomaly. Most of us do not send instant messages in order to solicit sex with minors. Law enforcement might have a legitimate need to access Foley’s IMs, e-mails and cellphone calling logs, but that’s why there are warrants supported by probable cause—they help ensure that investigations are properly focused on suspected pedophiles, terrorists and other criminals. We saw this in the recent UK terrorist arrests; focused investigations on suspected terrorists foiled the plot, not broad surveillance of everyone without probable cause.
Without legal privacy protections, the world becomes one giant airport security area, where the slightest joke—or comment made years before—lands you in hot water. The world becomes one giant market-research study, where we are all life-long subjects. The world becomes a police state, where we all are assumed to be Foleys and terrorists in the eyes of the government.
This essay originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Gonzales and Mueller asked Google Inc., Time Warner Inc.’s AOL and other companies to preserve the data at a May 26 meeting, citing their value to investigations into child-pornography distribution and terrorism. Internet companies typically keep customer histories for only a few days or weeks.
The Justice Department said Thursday that it was not seeking to have e-mail content archived, just information about the websites people visit and those with whom they correspond.
Note that the Justice Department invoked two of the Four Horsemen of the Internet Apocalypse: child pornographers and terrorists. If they can figure out how to work kidnappers and drug dealers in, they can probably do anything they want.
According to Wired News, the DHS is looking for someone in Congress to sponsor a bill that eliminates congressional oversight over the Secure Flight program.
The bill would allow them to go ahead with the program regardless of GAO’s assessment. (Current law requires them to meet ten criteria set by Congress; the most recent GAO report said that they did not meet nine of them.) The bill would allow them to use commercial data even though they have not demonstrated its effectiveness. (The DHS funding bill passed by both the House and the Senate prohibits them from using commercial data during passenger screening, because there has been absolutely no test results showing that it is effective.)
In this new bill, all that would be required to go ahead with Secure Flight would be for Secretary Chertoff to say so:
Additionally, the proposed changes would permit Secure Flight to be rolled out to the nation’s airports after Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff certifies the program will be effective and not overly invasive. The current bill requires independent congressional investigators to make that determination.
Looks like the DHS, being unable to comply with the law, is trying to change it. This is a rogue program that needs to be stopped.
In other news, the TSA has deleted about three million personal records it used for Secure Flight testing. This seems like a good idea, but it prevents people from knowing what data the government had on them—in violation of the Privacy Act.
Civil liberties activist Bill Scannell says it’s difficult to know whether TSA’s decision to destroy records so swiftly is a housecleaning effort or something else.
“Is the TSA just such an incredibly efficient organization that they’re getting rid of things that are no longer needed?” Scannell said. “Or is this a matter of the destruction of evidence?”
Scannell says it’s a fair question to ask in light of revelations that the TSA already violated the Privacy Act last year when it failed to fully disclose the scope of its testing for Secure Flight and its collection of commercial data on individuals.
My previous essay on Secure Flight is here.
The U.S. Department of Justice is quietly shopping around the explosive idea of requiring Internet service providers to retain records of their customers’ online activities.
Data retention rules could permit police to obtain records of e-mail chatter, Web browsing or chat-room activity months after Internet providers ordinarily would have deleted the logs—that is, if logs were ever kept in the first place. No U.S. law currently mandates that such logs be kept.
I think the big idea here is that the Internet makes a massive surveillance society so easy. And data storage will only get cheaper.
There’s a security problem with many Internet authentication systems that’s never talked about: there’s no way to terminate the authentication.
A couple of months ago, I bought something from an e-commerce site. At the checkout page, I wasn’t able to just type in my credit-card number and make my purchase. Instead, I had to choose a username and password. Usually I don’t like doing that, but in this case I wanted to be able to access my account at a later date. In fact, the password was useful because I needed to return an item I purchased.
Months have passed, and I no longer want an ongoing relationship with the e-commerce site. I don’t want a username and password. I don’t want them to have my credit-card number on file. I’ve received my purchase, I’m happy, and I’m done. But because that username and password have no expiration date associated with them, they never end. It’s not a subscription service, so there’s no mechanism to sever the relationship. I will have access to that e-commerce site for as long as it remembers that username and password.
In other words, I am liable for that account forever.
Traditionally, passwords have indicated an ongoing relationship between a user and some computer service. Sometimes it’s a company employee and the company’s servers. Sometimes it’s an account and an ISP. In both cases, both parties want to continue the relationship, so expiring a password and then forcing the user to choose another is a matter of security.
In cases with this ongoing relationship, the security consideration is damage minimization. Nobody wants some bad guy to learn the password, and everyone wants to minimize the amount of damage he can do if he does. Regularly changing your password is a solution to that problem.
This approach works because both sides want it to; they both want to keep the authentication system working correctly, and minimize attacks.
There’s nothing I can do about this, but a username and password that never expire is another matter entirely. The e-commerce site wants me to establish an account because it increases the chances that I’ll use them again. But I want a way to terminate the business relationship, a way to say: “I am no longer taking responsibility for items purchased using that username and password.”
Near as I can tell, the username and password I typed into that e-commerce site puts my credit card at risk until it expires. If the e-commerce site uses a system that debits amounts from my checking account whenever I place an order, I could be at risk forever. (The US has legal liability limits, but they’re not that useful. According to Regulation E, the electronic transfers regulation, a fraudulent transaction must be reported within two days to cap liability at US$50; within 60 days, it’s capped at $500. Beyond that, you’re out of luck.)
This is wrong. Every e-commerce site should have a way to purchase items without establishing a username and password. I like sites that allow me to make a purchase as a “guest,” without setting up an account.
But just as importantly, every e-commerce site should have a way for customers to terminate their accounts and should allow them to delete their usernames and passwords from the system. It’s okay to market to previous customers. It’s not okay to needlessly put them at financial risk.
This essay also appeared in the Jan/Feb 05 issue of IEEE Security & Privacy.
From an anonymous reader who works for the airline industry in the United States:
There are two initiatives in the works, neither of which leaves me feeling very good about privacy rights.
The first is being put together by the TSA and is called the “Secure Flight Initiative.” An initial test of this program was performed recently and involved each airline listed in the document having to send in passenger information (aka PNR data) for every passenger that “completed a successful domestic trip” during June 2004. A sample of some of the fields that were required to be sent: name, address, phone (if available), itinerary, any comments in the PNR record made by airline personnel, credit card number and expiration date, and any changes made to the booking before the actual flight.
This test data was transmitted to the TSA via physical CD. The requirement was that we “encrypt” it using pkzip (or equivalent) before putting it on the CD. We were to then e-mail the password to the Secure Flight Initiative e-mail address. Although this is far from ideal, it is in fact a big step up. The original process was going to have people simply e-mail the above data to the TSA. They claim to have a secure facility where the data is stored.
As far as the TSA’s retention of the data, the only information we have been given is that as soon as the test phase is over, they will securely delete the data. We were given no choice but had to simply take their word for it.
Rollout of the Secure Flight initiative is scheduled for “next year” sometime. They’re going to start with larger carriers and work their way down to the smaller carriers. It hasn’t been formalized (as far as I know) yet as to what data will be required to be transmitted when. My suspicion is that upon flight takeoff, all PNR data for all passengers on board will be required to be sent. At this point, I still have not heard as to what method will be used for data transmission.
There is another initiative being implemented by the Customs and Border Protection, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. This (unnamed) initiative is essentially the same thing as the Secure Flight program. That’s right—two government agencies are requiring us to transmit the information separately to each of them. So much for information sharing within the government.
Most larger carriers are complying with this directive by simply allowing the CBP access to their records directly within their
reservation systems (often hosted by folks like Sabre, Worldspan, Galileo, etc). Others (such as the airline I work for) are opting to
only transmit the bare requirements without giving direct access to our system. The data is transmitted over a proprietary data network that is used by the airline industry.
There are a couple of differences between the Secure Flight program and the one being instituted by the CBP. The CBP’s program requires that PNR data for all booked passengers be transmitted:
- 72 hours before flight time
- 24 hours before flight time
- 8 hours before flight time
- and then again immediately after flight departure
The other major difference is that it looks as though there will be a requirement that we operate in a way that allows them to send a request for data for any flight at any time which we must send back in an automated fashion.
Oh, and just as a kick in the pants, the airlines are expected to pay the costs for all these data transmissions (to the tune of several thousand dollars a month).
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.