What it's like inside the CIA during Donald Trump's "Deep State" purge

One of the strangest contradictory sensations of the Trump era is the man's relationship towards and with the various U.S. intelligence agencies. In many cases, Trump's broad criticisms about the unaccountable and seemingly limitless scope of intelligence gathering are valid. Or would be, anyway, if the man actually cared about those issues for any reason beyond his larger tantrum over the way those agencies have undermined his ego. Or if he wasn't simultaneously trying to use that same wide jurisdiction to target his own political enemies.

In other words, Trump's not necessarily wrong about the potential abuses of secret and/or warrantless surveillance (or "wiretapping" as he puts it). But he's only mad about those things because they can be used to threaten him and his friends, instead of reinforcing his hunches. Otherwise, illegal spying and invasions of privacy are totally fine with him—as long as they target the right people.

There are moments, then, where it becomes a case of "My enemy's enemy is my friend" — except that "friend" is also an enemy of sorts, which further complicates the whole mess. Case in point: this recent Just Security post by Douglas London, a former CIA operative. In it, London talks about the way that the CIA's priorities have been forced to shift from general intelligence gathering to just kind of soothing Trump's ego, and retroactively justifying all of the man's random baseless instincts:

The revealing and most disconcerting aspect of this episode was not that Pompeo presumed the worst from his workforce before getting the full story, nor his vicious dressing down of a dedicated senior official and decorated officer.

Read the rest

Ireland suspects Russia is trying to crack transatlantic fiber-optic ocean bed cables

“Russia has sent intelligence agents to Ireland to map the precise location of the fibre-optic, ocean-bed cables that connect Europe to America,” Ireland's security agency suspects, according to this report in The Times of London.

“This has raised concerns that Russian agents are checking the cables for weak points, with a view to tapping or even damaging them in the future.”

Irish security officials believe Russia may be targeting Ireland as a regional base for military intelligence operations because the country's counterintelligence abilities are limited, and Moscow presumably views Ireland as a vulnerable spot.

Additionally, various tech giants that have placed their offices in Dublin to evade U.S. taxes might be juicy targets for Vladimir Putin's corporate espionage programs.

Excerpt:

Ireland is the landing point for undersea cables which carry internet traffic between America, Britain and Europe. The cables enable millions of people to communicate and allow financial transactions to take place seamlessly.

Garda and military sources believe the agents were sent by the GRU, the military intelligence branch of the Russian armed forces which was blamed for the nerve agent attack in Britain on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer.

Read more: Russian agents plunge to new ocean depths in Ireland to crack transatlantic cables

[thetimes.co.uk] Read the rest

Coronavirus exposes China's surveillance state

The so-called Wuhan Coronavirus has killed more than 700 people, mostly in Mainland China, and the outbreak continues to spread with new cases on new continents. In China, Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV is also exposing the surveillance state -- apps show locations of the infected, heat-sensing cameras spot feverish disease suspects, and identify them even with ubiquitous paper face masks on. Read the rest

Trump's immigration enforcement agents use cellphone location data to track individuals for detention - WSJ

A commercial database that maps the movements of millions of cellphones is being used by immigration and border authorities to round up undesirable immigrants for detention and deportation. Read the rest

Ring doorbell app packed with third-party trackers

[My EFF colleague Bill Budington has a fantastic report on all the ways that Ring surveils its own customers. Caveat emptor, indeed. -Cory]

Ring isn't just a product that allows users to surveil their neighbors. The company also uses it to surveil its customers. Read the rest

London cops announce citywide facial recognition cameras

In 2018, London's Metropolitan Police Force announced trials of a facial recognition system that could be married to the city's legendarily invasive CCTV thicket; the tests failed 98% of the time and led to arrests of people who opted out by covering their faces. Read the rest

Surveillance is the new blooming onion at Outback Steakhouse

The friendly surface-level rationale behind any mass data collection via surveillance is improved efficiency through metrics. With the right amount of the data, and the right analysts working through it, you can optimize pretty much any process. From a business perspective, this could potentially present new ways to work smarter, instead of working harder — increasing profits and productivity through better decision-making, which ultimately makes everyone happier.

In that context, it makes sense why a chain restaurant like Outback Steakhouse might be interested in implementing its own mini surveillance state. So far it's only limited to a single franchise in Portland, Oregon which is operated by Evergreen Restaurant Group. But Evergreen also owns some 40-other Outback Steakhouses throughout the country, which means this small pilot program could seen be expanded, if the suits think the metrics work out in their favor.

This particular surveillance experiment relies on facial recognition and other technology provided by Presto Vision, who claims to offer "real-time actionable restaurant insights." From Wired:

According to Presto CEO Rajat Suri, Presto Vision takes advantage of preexisting surveillance cameras that many restaurants already have installed. The system uses machine learning to analyze footage of restaurant staff at work and interacting with guests. It aims to track metrics like how often a server tends to their tables or how long it takes for food to come out. At the end of a shift, managers receive an email of the compiled statistics, which they can then use to identify problems and infer whether servers, hostesses, and kitchen staff are adequately doing their jobs.

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Facial recognition isn't just bad because it invades privacy: it's because privacy invasions fuel discrimination

Bruce Schneier writes in the New York Times that banning facial recognition (as cities like San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, Brookline and Somerville have done) is not enough: there are plenty of other ways to automatically recognize people (gait detection, high-resolution photos of hands that reveal fingerprints, voiceprints, etc), and these will all be used for the same purpose that makes facial recognition bad for our world: to sort us into different categories and treat us different based on those categories. Read the rest

China: Unsecured facial recognition database leaks, thousands of kids from 20 schools, half are majority Tibetan areas

An unsecured facial recognition database that contained info on thousands of children from 20 schools in China, half of which are located in historically ethnic Tibetan areas, has been found online. Read the rest

FBI honors MLK Jr. Day by celebrating man they gaslit, surveilled, tried to drive to suicide

The time is always right to do what is right, that's true. But the timing of this is a pretty ugly retcon—especially after a new trove of FBI files on Martin Luther King, Jr. were just released six months ago, painting an ugly picture of frequent sexual misconduct. Read the rest

Amnesty vs. NSO Group Israel spyware lawsuit goes behind closed doors

In Israel on Thursday, a court ordered closed-door hearings in the legal bid by Amnesty International to stop the global export of NSO Group surveillance software, which Amnesty and other human rights groups say is sold to autocratic regimes around the world to spy on journalists and dissidents, and target them more efficiently for imprisonment and assassination.

We've written a lot previously about NSO Group here on Boing Boing.. Read the rest

Google re-integrates Xiaomi, China firm says Google Nest Hubs connected to its security cameras can no longer access feeds from random homes

China technologi firm Xiaomi says it has fully resolved the security issue that led to Google 'disabling' integration across its platforms.

Xiaomi cameras connected to its security cameras were showing feeds from random homes . Now that the Chinese firm says it's all sorted out, Google integrations are now re-enabled.

I'm sure everything is totally fine. Read the rest

Toronto business and government signal full support for Sidewalk Labs' dominance of the city and beyond

Dan Doctoroff and Stephen Diamond could hardly suppress their affection for each other at their January 13 joint luncheon address hosted by the Toronto Region Board of Trade. Read the rest

Boris the Babybot: a picture book about resisting surveillance

Privacy activst Murray Hunter's picture book Boris the Babybot tells the story of Boris, a robot whose job it is track all the babies and send their likenesses and preferences back to the factory so that its owners can make money by deciding who's a good baby and who's a bad baby. Read the rest

A company that makes spy-tech for cops threatened to sue Vice for publishing its sales literature (because Iran!)

Special Services Group makes surveillance crapgadgets for cops and spies: cameras and mics hidden in tombstones, vacuum cleaners, children's car-seats, and other everyday items. Muckrock's Beryl Lipton used a Freedom of Information Act request to get a copy of "Black Book," SSG's massive sales brochure out of the Irvine police department, with minimal redactions. Read the rest

Multiple Amazon employees have been fired for spying on Ring owners' cameras

Ring's response to a group of US senators who questioned the company about its privacy practices reveals that the Amazon subsidiary has had to fire multiple employees who were caught spying on customers' surveillance doorbell cameras and other Ring surveillance footage. Read the rest

After random surveillance images started to show up on users' devices, Google blocked Xiaomi from running Assistant or Google Home

Last week, a redditor posted that "When I load the Xiaomi camera in my Google home hub I get stills from other people's homes!!" The post included video of the user's tablet showing stills of strangers in their homes, including some of strangers asleep in their bedrooms. Read the rest

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