Intelligence agencies follow targets using cookies installed by Google, typically to track users for commercial advertising purposes, to follow suspects online and target them with malware. You can read more about this story here.
In this video I discuss the NSA’s ability to use massive numbers of cell location records to determine if anyone, including US citizens, are co-traveling with targets of surveillance. You can read more about this story here.
I recently submitted comments to the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies along with 46 other leading technologists. The mission of this Review Group is to assess whether technological advances, specifically technical data collection capabilities, have undermined the public trust. (Spoiler alert: they have.)
Our comments focused on the need for a technical expert to advise the panel on how online systems work and what the implications are of tapping into them. We also expressed our concern that the NSA’s efforts to subvert encryption and to plant backdoors undermine security for everyone online. Most importantly, our comments include a number of technical questions that we feel this panel should focus on and, when possible, ask that the intelligence community provide answers. You can read the full comments here.
The panel’s work was affected by last week’s government shutdown. It’s not clear how this delay will impact their timeline for a final report, if at all, but I don’t expect to hear answers to our questions soon.
I was recently invited to be a visiting fellow at Bits of Freedom in Amsterdam. This was a great opportunity to gain insight into the European privacy debate, not to mention escape the DC summer and visit an amazing city full of bicycles.
Bits of Freedom is a digital rights organization, not unlike the EFF in the United States. They are a mix of lawyers, activists, and tech folk who work at the intersection of technology and human rights. BoF focuses on issues such as transparency, active hacking, net neutrality, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The staff employ a variety of tools to meet their goals including FOIA, government transparency reports, advocacy campaigns, and direct lobbying to, “influence legislation and self-regulation” both in the Netherlands and across the EU.
My visit focused on learning from the experts here as well as providing some of my own perspective. [Read more…]
I will be commenting on the role of technology in these programs, focused on how the limits of technology suggest that claims that surveillance programs can avoid targeting Americans are probably overstated. [Read more…]
Improved technology enabled the NSA’s mass surveillance programs and future improvements will make collecting data on citizens easier and easier.
Recent revelations about the extent of surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency come as no surprise to those with a technical background in the workings of digital communications. The leaked documents show how the NSA has taken advantage of the increased use of digital communications and cloud services, coupled with outdated privacy laws, to expand and streamline their surveillance programs. This is a predictable response to the shrinking cost and growing efficiency of surveillance brought about by new technology. The extent to which technology has reduced the time and cost necessary to conduct surveillance should play an important role in our national discussion of this issue.
The American public previously, maybe unknowingly, relied on technical and financial barriers to protect them from large-scale surveillance by the government. These implicit protections have quickly eroded in recent years as technology industry advances have reached intelligence agencies, and digital communications technology has spread through society. As a result, we now have to replace these “naturally occurring” boundaries and refactor the law to protect our privacy.