Georgetown has a new report on the highly secretive bulk surveillance activities of ICE in the US:
When you think about government surveillance in the United States, you likely think of the National Security Agency or the FBI. You might even think of a powerful police agency, such as the New York Police Department. But unless you or someone you love has been targeted for deportation, you probably don’t immediately think of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This report argues that you should. Our two-year investigation, including hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests and a comprehensive review of ICE’s contracting and procurement records, reveals that ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency. Since its founding in 2003, ICE has not only been building its own capacity to use surveillance to carry out deportations but has also played a key role in the federal government’s larger push to amass as much information as possible about all of our lives. By reaching into the digital records of state and local governments and buying databases with billions of data points from private companies, ICE has created a surveillance infrastructure that enables it to pull detailed dossiers on nearly anyone, seemingly at any time. In its efforts to arrest and deport, ICE has—without any judicial, legislative or public oversight—reached into datasets containing personal information about the vast majority of people living in the U.S., whose records can end up in the hands of immigration enforcement simply because they apply for driver’s licenses; drive on the roads; or sign up with their local utilities to get access to heat, water and electricity.
ICE has built its dragnet surveillance system by crossing legal and ethical lines, leveraging the trust that people place in state agencies and essential service providers, and exploiting the vulnerability of people who volunteer their information to reunite with their families. Despite the incredible scope and evident civil rights implications of ICE’s surveillance practices, the agency has managed to shroud those practices in near-total secrecy, evading enforcement of even the handful of laws and policies that could be invoked to impose limitations. Federal and state lawmakers, for the most part, have yet to confront this reality.
EDITED TO ADD (5/13): A news article.
Posted on May 11, 2022 at 9:24 AM •
FinFisher has shut down operations. This is the spyware company whose products were used, among other things, to spy on Turkish and Bahraini political opposition.
Posted on April 6, 2022 at 9:38 AM •
The malicious uses of these technologies are scary:
Police reportedly arrived on the scene last week and found the man crouched beside the woman’s passenger side door. According to the police, the man had, at some point, wrapped his Apple Watch across the spokes of the woman’s passenger side front car wheel and then used the Watch to track her movements. When police eventually confronted him, he admitted the Watch was his. Now, he’s reportedly being charged with attaching an electronic tracking device to the woman’s vehicle.
Posted on March 30, 2022 at 6:29 AM •
Yet another method of surveillance:
Radar can detect you moving closer to a computer and entering its personal space. This might mean the computer can then choose to perform certain actions, like booting up the screen without requiring you to press a button. This kind of interaction already exists in current Google Nest smart displays, though instead of radar, Google employs ultrasonic sound waves to measure a person’s distance from the device. When a Nest Hub notices you’re moving closer, it highlights current reminders, calendar events, or other important notifications.
Proximity alone isn’t enough. What if you just ended up walking past the machine and looking in a different direction? To solve this, Soli can capture greater subtleties in movements and gestures, such as body orientation, the pathway you might be taking, and the direction your head is facing—aided by machine learning algorithms that further refine the data. All this rich radar information helps it better guess if you are indeed about to start an interaction with the device, and what the type of engagement might be.
The ATAP team chose to use radar because it’s one of the more privacy-friendly methods of gathering rich spatial data. (It also has really low latency, works in the dark, and external factors like sound or temperature don’t affect it.) Unlike a camera, radar doesn’t capture and store distinguishable images of your body, your face, or other means of identification. “It’s more like an advanced motion sensor,” Giusti says. Soli has a detectable range of around 9 feet—less than most cameras—but multiple gadgets in your home with the Soli sensor could effectively blanket your space and create an effective mesh network for tracking your whereabouts in a home.
“Privacy-friendly” is a relative term.
These technologies are coming. They’re going to be an essential part of the Internet of Things.
Posted on March 8, 2022 at 6:01 AM •
TechCrunch is reporting—but not describing in detail—a vulnerability in a series of stalkerware apps that exposes personal information of the victims. The vulnerability isn’t in the apps installed on the victims’ phones, but in the website the stalker goes to view the information the app collects. The article is worth reading, less for the description of the vulnerability and more for the shadowy string of companies behind these stalkerware apps.
Posted on March 2, 2022 at 6:25 AM •
A Berlin-based company has developed an AirTag clone that bypasses Apple’s anti-stalker security systems. Source code for these AirTag clones is available online.
So now we have several problems with the system. Apple’s anti-stalker security only works with iPhones. (Apple wrote an Android app that can detect AirTags, but how many people are going to download it?) And now non-AirTags can piggyback on Apple’s system without triggering the alarms.
Apple didn’t think this through nearly as well as it claims to have. I think the general problem is one that I have written about before: designers just don’t have intimate threats in mind when building these systems.
Posted on February 23, 2022 at 6:28 AM •
A reporter interviews a Uyghur human-rights advocate, and uses the Otter.ai transcription app.
The next day, I received an odd note from Otter.ai, the automated transcription app that I had used to record the interview. It read: “Hey Phelim, to help us improve your Otter’s experience, what was the purpose of this particular recording with titled ‘Mustafa Aksu’ created at ‘2021-11-08 11:02:41’?”
Customer service or Chinese surveillance? Turns out it’s hard to tell.
EDITED TO ADD (3/12): Another article.
Posted on February 17, 2022 at 10:40 AM •
Two US senators claim that the CIA has been running an unregulated—and almost certainly illegal—mass surveillance program on Americans.
The senator’s statement. Some declassified information from the CIA.
No real details yet.
Posted on February 15, 2022 at 9:56 AM •
Senators have reintroduced the EARN IT Act, requiring social media companies (among others) to administer a massive surveillance operation on their users:
A group of lawmakers led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have re-introduced the EARN IT Act, an incredibly unpopular bill from 2020 that was dropped in the face of overwhelming opposition. Let’s be clear: the new EARN IT Act would pave the way for a massive new surveillance system, run by private companies, that would roll back some of the most important privacy and security features in technology used by people around the globe. It’s a framework for private actors to scan every message sent online and report violations to law enforcement. And it might not stop there. The EARN IT Act could ensure that anything hosted online—backups, websites, cloud photos, and more—is scanned.
Posted on February 4, 2022 at 9:44 AM •
China is mandating that athletes download and use a health and travel app when they attend the Winter Olympics next month. Citizen Lab examined the app and found it riddled with security holes.
- MY2022, an app mandated for use by all attendees of the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, has a simple but devastating flaw where encryption protecting users’ voice audio and file transfers can be trivially sidestepped. Health customs forms which transmit passport details, demographic information, and medical and travel history are also vulnerable. Server responses can also be spoofed, allowing an attacker to display fake instructions to users.
- MY2022 is fairly straightforward about the types of data it collects from users in its public-facing documents. However, as the app collects a range of highly sensitive medical information, it is unclear with whom or which organization(s) it shares this information.
- MY2022 includes features that allow users to report “politically sensitive” content. The app also includes a censorship keyword list, which, while presently inactive, targets a variety of political topics including domestic issues such as Xinjiang and Tibet as well as references to Chinese government agencies.
- While the vendor did not respond to our security disclosure, we find that the app’s security deficits may not only violate Google’s Unwanted Software Policy and Apple’s App Store guidelines but also China’s own laws and national standards pertaining to privacy protection, providing potential avenues for future redress.
It’s not clear whether the security flaws were intentional or not, but the report speculated that proper encryption might interfere with some of China’s ubiquitous online surveillance tools, especially systems that allow local authorities to snoop on phones using public wireless networks or internet cafes. Still, the researchers added that the flaws were probably unintentional, because the government will already be receiving data from the app, so there wouldn’t be a need to intercept the data as it was being transferred.
The app also included a list of 2,422 political keywords, described within the code as “illegalwords.txt,” that worked as a keyword censorship list, according to Citizen Lab. The researchers said the list appeared to be a latent function that the app’s chat and file transfer function was not actively using.
The US government has already advised athletes to leave their personal phones and laptops home and bring burners.
Posted on January 21, 2022 at 6:06 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.