Ontario police's Big Data assigns secret guilt to people looking for jobs, crossing borders


There are no effective legal limits on when and to whom police can disclose unproven charges against you, 911 calls involving mental health incidents, and similar sensitive and prejudicial information; people have been denied employment, been turned back at the US border and suffered many other harms because Ontario cops send this stuff far and wide.

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Surveillance state: the NSA doesn't stand alone


The NSA is supposed to be America's offshore spy agency, forbidden from spying on Americans. But as an important article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Nadia Kayyali points out, the FBI, DEA and other US agencies have closely integrated the NSA into their own efforts, using the NSA's mass surveillance to gather intelligence on Americans -- as Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide discloses, the NSA isn't a stand-alone agency, it is part of an overarching surveillance state.

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Kafka, meet Orwell: Lavabit's founder explains why he shut down his company

Writing in the Guardian, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison recounts the events that led to his decision to shutter his company in August 2013. Lavabit provided secure, private email for over 400,000 people, including Edward Snowden, and the legal process by which the FBI sought to spy on its users is a terrifying mix of Orwell -- wanting to snoop on all 400,000 -- and Kafka -- not allowing Levison legal representation and prohibiting him from discussing the issue with anyone who might help him navigate the appropriate law.

Levison discloses more than I've yet seen about the nature of the feds' demands, but more important are the disclosures about the legal shenanigans he was subjected to. In fact, his description of the legal process is a kind of bas relief of the kind of legal services that those of us fighting the excesses of the global war on terror might need: a list of attorneys who are qualified to represent future Lavabits, warrant canaries for the services we rely upon; and, of course, substantive reform to the judicial processes laid out in the Patriot Act.

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Clapper's ban on talking about leaks makes life difficult for crypto profs with cleared students

When James Clapper banned intelligence agency employees from discussing or acknowledging the existence of leaked docs (including the Snowden docs), he made life very hard for university professors like Matt Blaze, a security expert whose classes often have students with security clearance.

My own books -- which deal with leaks like these -- are taught at West Point at a course whose instructors include a member of US Cyber Command. I imagine a rule like this would make future inclusion on the curriculum difficult, if not impossible.

UK cops officially detained David Miranda for thoughtcrime

David Miranda is journalist Glenn Greenwald's boyfriend, but he's best known for being detained under the Section 7 of the UK Terrorism Act while changing planes at Heathrow. The cops held Miranda for nine hours, the maximum allowed under law, without access to counsel, using powers intended to allow the detention of people suspected of connections to terrorism. But it was clear to everyone that Miranda wasn't connected to terrorism -- rather, the UK establishment was attempting to intimidate people connected to the Snowden leaks through arbitrary detention and harassment.

Now that Miranda's lawyers are chasing down the people responsible, we're getting a more detailed picture of the process that led up to Miranda's detention. Before a Section 7 detention takes place, British cops have to file a form called a Port Circular Notice, and several drafts of the Notice used to detain Miranda have come to light.

The final draft argues that Miranda should be detained under terrorism law because "...the disclosure or threat of disclosure is designed to influence a government, and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism."

In other words: thoughtcrime.

Section 7 originated under the New Labour government, and was refined and perfected by the Tory/LibDem coalition.

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Orwell explains Nineteen Eighty-Four

In a 1944 letter to Noel Willmett, George Orwell laid out the thesis behind his next book, Nineteen Eight-Four, railing against the inevitable rise of Stalin, Anglo-American millionaires and "all sorts of petty fuhrers" who will prosper by means of anti-democratic caste systems. He explains that he supports going to war against Hitler as the lesser of two evils, but makes it clear that the great threat to the world is authoritarianism and its attendant systematic falsification of history, accepted by the intelligentsia so long as it is being undertaken by people on "our side."

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More on the NSA's weird, deceptive, indefensible definition of "targeted surveillance"

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mark Rumold has detailed analysis of yesterday's story about the bizarre, misleading way that the NSA uses the word "targeted" in discussions of "targeted surveillance." It comes down to this: the NSA and its defenders continue to claim that the organization only spies on foreigners when they're off US soil, and not on Americans or people in America (why this should comfort those of us who are neither Americans nor in America is a mystery to me).

But they harvest every word read and written on the Internet, including private communications, and scan it to see if it matches the name of someone they're looking at -- say, Vladimir Putin. Anyone whose communications contain the name or other details of the foreign target can also be spied upon, and the NSA says this doesn't constitute domestic spying. So they're not spying on all Americans, just every American who's ever mentioned the name of a foreigner -- and to accomplish this, they read every word everyone writes, but they're using a computer to do it, so it doesn't count.

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Official City of Melbourne IP address used for biased edits to Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne prior to local election


Someone using the City of Melbourne's IP block has been introducing biased edits to the Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne, attempting to erase the record of council's resolve to remove Occupy, and trying to smear the Occupy protest by removing the adjective "peaceful" from the page. The edits were made anonymously, but Wikipedia publishes IP addresses for anonymous contributors, and the IP address in question, 203.26.235.14, is registered to the city.

Proof of attacks on Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page, attempts to change history and evidence in on-going federal court cases. More importantly the edits were made during the last week of MCC’s 2012 elections. A quick tidy up of MCC’s image just before the election. Anyone who didn’t think Melbourne City Council (MCC) was (and still is) opposed to Occupy Melbourne either has their head in the sand, is plainly lying or delusional.

The smoking gun, proof Melbourne City Council is behind the IP address 203.26.235.14 editing Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page. The timing of this edit is far from coincidental. 21st October, the one year anniversary of the brutal city square eviction and just days before the 2012 Melbourne city council elections, where Robert Doyle sought and gained re-election.

Melbourne City Council cyber war against Occupy Melbourne (Thanks, Occupy Melbourne!)

Hitchens and Orwell

The Humanist's Anthony Lock on why Christopher Hitchens' overwhelming hatred of totalitarianism puts him squarely in Orwell's tradition of leftist apostasy: "Try as best as you can, he challenged us, to not allow one belief to squander clear thinking about another ... [or] a kind of worship whereby anything deemed negative against the topic or person, even the act of criticizing, is illicit. This is totalitarian, he warned: a control over one’s head and what can be said, creating corrosive preconceptions."

Why the DHS's pre-crime biometric profiling is doomed to fail, and will doom passengers with its failures


In The Atlantic, Alexander Furnas debunks the DHS's proposal for a "precrime" screening system that will attempt to predict which passengers are likely to commit crimes, and single those people out for additional screening. FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technology) "will remotely monitor physiological and behavioral cues, like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyze these cues algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with nefarious intentions." They'll build the biometric "bad intentions" profile by asking experimental subjects to carry out bad deeds and monitoring their vital signs. It's a mess, scientifically, and it will falsely accuse millions of innocent people of planning terrorist attacks.

First, predictive software of this kind is undermined by a simple statistical problem known as the false-positive paradox. Any system designed to spot terrorists before they commit an act of terrorism is, necessarily, looking for a needle in a haystack. As the adage would suggest, it turns out that this is an incredibly difficult thing to do. Here is why: let's assume for a moment that 1 in 1,000,000 people is a terrorist about to commit a crime. Terrorists are actually probably much much more rare, or we would have a whole lot more acts of terrorism, given the daily throughput of the global transportation system. Now lets imagine the FAST algorithm correctly classifies 99.99 percent of observations -- an incredibly high rate of accuracy for any big data-based predictive model. Even with this unbelievable level of accuracy, the system would still falsely accuse 99 people of being terrorists for every one terrorist it finds. Given that none of these people would have actually committed a terrorist act yet distinguishing the innocent false positives from the guilty might be a non-trivial, and invasive task.

Of course FAST has nowhere near a 99.99 percent accuracy rate. I imagine much of the work being done here is classified, but a writeup in Nature reported that the first round of field tests had a 70 percent accuracy rate. From the available material it is difficult to determine exactly what this number means. There are a couple of ways to interpret this, since both the write-up and the DHS documentation (all pdfs) are unclear. This might mean that the current iteration of FAST correctly classifies 70 percent of people it observes -- which would produce false positives at an abysmal rate, given the rarity of terrorists in the population. The other way of interpreting this reported result is that FAST will call a terrorist a terrorist 70 percent of the time. This second option tells us nothing about the rate of false positives, but it would likely be quite high. In either case, it is likely that the false-positive paradox would be in full force for FAST, ensuring that any real terrorists identified are lost in a sea of falsely accused innocents.

Homeland Security's 'Pre-Crime' Screening Will Never Work

(Image: Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from double-m2's photostream)