January 24, 2014

Sleepwalking Into Censorship: How Internet Freedom Is Under Threat

In a US Court last week, the concept of net neutrality received a blow to the head from which it may not recover. Why is this important? Net neutrality is the principle that no content gets preferential treatment on the internet. All data is treated and transmitted in the same way, at the same speed, whether coming from a multi-billion dollar company or from a self-hosted blog. This idea has been a guiding principle in the development of the internet to date, but also something that a couple of big digital players have been fighting hard against. The most active of these are American internet service providers (ISPs) Verizon and Comcast. The Federal Communications Commission is the body set up by US government to regulate companies who provide means of communication to people, originally dealing with telephone companies. ISPs now fall under their jurisdiction.
Verizon have long been challenging the rules they are governed by. Last week, they won a major victory in that battle, forcing the FCC to accept that their application of their own regulations was wrong. You can read the ruling here (PDF).

The Quietus

December 16, 2013

Judge Deals Blow to NSA Phone Spying

WASHINGTON—A federal judge on Monday ruled against the National Security Agency's collection of phone records, saying the program "almost certainly does violate" the Constitution.
However, the ruling will have little immediate effect and faces a lengthy future of court proceedings.

December 12, 2013

Freakishly realistic telemarketing robots are denying they're robots

This is how it starts, people. First we get our chatbots to sound and act realistic — and then we get them to convince everyone they're actually human. Listen to this crazy conversation between Time's Michael Scherer and a telemarketing robot who refuses to admit her true artificial nature.
Recently, Time Washington Bureau Chief Michael Scherer received a phone call from an apparently bright and engaging woman asking him if he wanted a deal on his health insurance. But he soon got the feeling something wasn't quite right.
After asking the telemarketer point blank if she was a real person or a computer-operated robot, she chuckled charmingly and insisted she was real. Looking to press the issue, Scherer asked her a series of questions, which she promptly failed. Such as, "What vegetable is found in tomato soup?" To which she responded by saying she didn't understand the question. When asked what day of the week it was yesterday, she complained of a bad connection (ah, the oldest trick in the book).
Here, listen for yourself:

August 30, 2013

The Black Budget

Covert action. Surveillance. Counterintelligence. The U.S. “black budget” spans over a dozen agencies that make up the National Intelligence Program.

The Washington Post

August 29, 2013

50 years later, hotline to Moscow still relevant

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - The Washington-Moscow Hot Line, used by U.S. and Russian leaders for frank discussions about crises including the 1967 Six-Day War and the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, marks its 50th birthday Thursday with the nations still grappling with competing interests in regional conflicts.
The next crisis could be just around the corner, said Roald Sagdeev, a former director of the Soviet space exploration program who was among the scheduled speakers at Fort Detrick in Frederick, where the Army maintains a satellite link for the hotline.
"It's very important to make sure we can keep this, especially at the time of what's happening in Syria," Sagdeev, now a University of Maryland physics professor, said Wednesday. "We should stay with at least keeping what we have for the rainy day."
Despite popular myth and movie lore, the president doesn't use a red phone to talk with his Russian counterpart. In fact, the connection established in 1963 was for written communications only. A voice component was added two decades later as the system evolved from an undersea telegraph cable to today's exchange of data by both satellite and fiber-optics.


August 21, 2013

Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew

WASHINGTON—The National Security Agency—which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens—has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans' Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say.
The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say. The programs, code-named Blarney, Fairview, Oakstar, Lithium and Stormbrew, among others, filter and gather information at major telecommunications companies. Blarney, for instance, was established with AT&T Inc., T -0.72% former officials say. AT&T declined to comment.


August 8, 2013

Email service Lavabit abruptly shut down citing government interference

Founder of service reportedly used by Edward Snowden said he would not be complicit in 'crimes against the American people'
If you weren't scared already...
This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
The Guardian

June 17, 2013

What We Need to Know About PRISM

A lot remains uncertain about the number of users affected by the NSA PRISM surveillance program that is taking place, the extent to which companies are involved, and how the NSA handles this sensitive data. Does the NSA regularly collect and examine a huge swath of the cloud communications of American and foreign Internet users? Does the agency present evidence and seek careful judicial review to obtain limited amounts of user data related to individual investigations? Or is the answer somewhere in the middle, with queries being constructed such that algorithms scan most or all of the accounts, identifying a smaller set of "interesting" accounts whose contents are sent to the NSA?


U.S. gov't destroyed my chance for fair trial

"If I target for example an email address, for example under FAA 702, and that email address sent something to you, Joe America, the analyst gets it," he said. "All of it. IPs, raw data, content, headers, attachments, everything. And it gets saved for a very long time - and can be extended further with waivers rather than warrants."

 CBS News