A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘1984 was a Warning not a Blueprint’ tag

The Walls Have Ears

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It’s tough to avoid the gaze of Big Brother. As this article sent to me by Steven demonstrates, Big Brother even watches where he’s not supposed to:

KANSAS CITY, Kan.– The federal public defender’s office has asked for the release of 67 inmates from a Kansas federal prison and plans to seek freedom for more than 150 others because authorities secretly recorded conversations between prisoners and their attorneys that are supposed to be private.

Most of the federal inmates are being held on drug or firearms-related cases.

The practice first came to light in a prison contraband case during which criminal defense lawyers discovered the privately run Leavenworth Detention Center was routinely recording meetings and phone conversations between attorneys and clients, which are confidential under the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. A court-appointed expert was brought in to independently investigate whether prosecutors had improperly listened to the recordings.

Once again we have a demonstration of the fact that the Constitution is nothing more than a piece of paper. It is incapable of enforcing the rules that it displays and thus powerless to stop individuals from violating those rules. Here is where constitutionalists tend to point out that while the rules were violated, now that the violation is known it is being corrected. To that I point out that the violation isn’t guaranteed to be corrected and, more importantly, even if the violation is corrected, those who are in prison because of those violations can never get the years of their life back (and will likely receive little in the way of compensation).

This is not to say that parts of the Constitution, such as the Bill of Rights, aren’t nice concepts but to point out that they are simply concepts. Far too often people, especially libertarians and conservatives, fall into the trap of attributing almost godlike powers to it. So while the Constitution guarantees certain protections against state surveillance, those guarantees aren’t actual guarantees and you must operate as if you are under state surveillance even when you’re in situations where you’re supposed to be legally protected from it.

Making Surveillance Easy

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We’re only a few days away from yet another “most important election in our lifetime.” Since the Republicans are in power, the Democrats and their sympathizers are pissed and when they’re pissed it’s not uncommon for them to protest (Remember the last time they were out of power? They actually protested the wars that the party in power started! Those were the days!). Nobody likes it when people protest again them so the party in power wants to keep tabs on the people who might take action against them. Fortunately for them, most protesters make this easy:

The United States government is accelerating efforts to monitor social media to preempt major anti-government protests in the US, according to scientific research, official government documents, and patent filings reviewed by Motherboard. The social media posts of American citizens who don’t like President Donald Trump are the focus of the latest US military-funded research. The research, funded by the US Army and co-authored by a researcher based at the West Point Military Academy, is part of a wider effort by the Trump administration to consolidate the US military’s role and influence on domestic intelligence.

The vast scale of this effort is reflected in a number of government social media surveillance patents granted this year, which relate to a spy program that the Trump administration outsourced to a private company last year. Experts interviewed by Motherboard say that the Pentagon’s new technology research may have played a role in amendments this April to the Joint Chiefs of Staff homeland defense doctrine, which widen the Pentagon’s role in providing intelligence for domestic “emergencies,” including an “insurrection.”

A couple of years ago a few friends and I had the opportunity to advise some protesters on avoiding government surveillance. They were using Facebook to organize and plan their protests. We had to explain to them that using Facebook for that purpose meant that every local law enforcement agency was likely receiving real-time updates on their plans. We made several recommendations, most of which involved moving planning from social media to more secure forms of communications (Signal, RetroShare, etc.). In the end they thanked us for our advice, decided that using anything but Facebook was too difficult (which made me suspect that there were undercover law enforcers amongst them), and kept handing law enforcement real-time information.

The moral of the story is that government agencies pour resources into social media surveillance because it works because most protesters are more concerned about convenience than operational security.

Obedience School

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To open with one of St. George Carlin’s best monologues:

There’s a reason for this, there’s a reason education sucks, and it’s the same reason it will never ever ever be fixed.

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They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fuckin’ years ago. They don’t want that. You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.

The public schooling system here in the United States has nothing to do with education. Whatever education a child may receive is merely accidental. What the public schooling system is meant to do is create obedient subjects:

Late Friday afternoon, I received a notice from the Plano Independent School District, which runs the middle school our youngest daughter attends in Dallas, describing a new policy authorizing “random, suspicion-less metal detector searches” of students in grades 6 through 12. The district plans to use “both walk-through and hand-held metal detectors” on “random groups of students,” who will be required to “remove all metallic items from their pockets and person.” In addition, “backpacks, bags and personal items capable of concealing a weapon will be opened and inspected for the presence of weapons.” Any student “who refuses to comply with the search process will be removed from campus and subject to disciplinary consequences.”

Most students are subjected to a civics class where the Bill of Rights is explained. One may worry that learning about something like the Fourth Amendment may convince a student that they have protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, which is why the students are also taught that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to them. When I was in school the line was that since we weren’t yet adults, the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to us. The school mentioned in the article has opted to go with a more demonstrative strategy by subjecting students to completely random searches.

The end goal is to create a population that believes it is free without actually being free. After these students graduate they will be used to rolling over for random searches so when law enforcers demand that they submit, the vast majority of them will without question.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 24th, 2018 at 10:30 am

The Fake Facebook Profiles of Law Enforcement

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Do you remember that really hot chick who tried to friend you on Facebook? The one who claimed to be single and horny? There’s a good chance that “she” was a cop:

Police officers around the country, in departments large and small, working for federal, state and local agencies, use undercover Facebook accounts to watch protesters, track gang members, lure child predators and snare thieves, according to court records, police trainers and officers themselves. Some maintain several of these accounts at a time. The tactic violates Facebook’s terms of use, and the company says it disables fake accounts whenever it discovers them. But that is about all it can do: Fake accounts are not against the law, and the information gleaned by the police can be used as evidence in criminal and civil cases.

Investigators know this, which is why the accounts continue to flourish.

This should come as a surprise to approximately nobody. Law enforcers have been busy turning this country into a surveillance state. Meanwhile, Facebook has been busy collecting every shred of personal information about as many people as it can. They’re a match made in Heaven, or more aptly Hell.

The best defense against this, other than not using Facebook, is to only add people whose identity you have personally verified. That doesn’t necessarily mean that a person you know in real life isn’t an undercover cop, but verifying identities will at least cut down on the low level efforts to surveil you.

Live Streaming Summary Executions

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The Company Formerly Known as Taser (Axon) has announced a new line of body cameras that allow law enforcers to live stream their antics:

Police officers wearing new cameras by Axon, the U.S.’s largest body camera supplier, will soon be able to send live video from their cameras back to base and elsewhere, potentially enhancing officers’ situational awareness and expanding police surveillance.

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Axon plans to test the device, the Axon Body 3, with a group of agencies early next year and ship to U.S. customers in the summer. (The initial price of $699 doesn’t include other costs, like a subscription to Axon’s Evidence.com data management system.) A built-in antenna transmits HD video over dedicated 4G LTE cellular networks, while another feature triggers the camera to start recording and alerts command staff once an officer has fired their weapon, a possible corrective to the problem of officers forgetting to switch them on.

Now the whole department can tune in for the summary execution of the unarmed black man!

Less you mistakenly believe that this live streaming capability might give oversight committees the ability to oversee law enforcers by randomly activating the live streaming capability, never fear, the live streaming capability can only be activated when the officer wearing the camera enables it:

Giving supervisors the ability to live-stream from officers’ chests has raised privacy concerns among police too. Axon’s system does not allow supervisors to remotely begin live-streaming from an officer’s camera unless it is in recording mode–that is, once an officer presses a large button in the center of the camera or is activated automatically by the sound of a gunshot, for instance. The video streams will also be limited to those with permission through the Evidence.com software.

That’s a relief! I was almost worried that there was a chance that an overseer might randomly activate an officer’s body camera can catch them doing something unlawful!

Of course the live video is streamed to Evidence.com, which is a service geared towards preventing the use of collected evidence from being used to defend an accused party or from bring charges against a law enforcer who has been caught doing something illegal.

Axon has covered all of its bases. There’s no possibility that these new features will be used to hold law enforcers accountable, which will make them popular with law enforcement departments.

Living in a Surveillance State

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People often argue about whether Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four more accurately predicted our current predicament. I tend to believe that both books predicted different aspects of the present. Governments have certainly invested heavily in dumbing down and distracting the population in order to make them more docile and therefore easier to rule. But they have also invested heavily in ensuring that they can watch everything you do wherever you go:

The next time you drive past one of those road signs with a digital readout showing how fast you’re going, don’t simply assume it’s there to remind you not to speed. It may actually be capturing your license plate data.

According to recently released US federal contracting data, the Drug Enforcement Administration will be expanding the footprint of its nationwide surveillance network with the purchase of “multiple” trailer-mounted speed displays “to be retrofitted as mobile LPR [License Plate Reader] platforms.” The DEA is buying them from RU2 Systems Inc., a private Mesa, Arizona company. How much it’s spending on the signs has been redacted.

This is why I laugh at people who leave their cellphone at home when they “don’t want to be tracked.” If you drive your vehicle somewhere, there’s an ever increasing chance that the license plate will be recorded by a government scanner. If you take public transit, there’s an almost guaranteed chance that your face will be caught on a surveillance cameras inside of the vehicle (and an ever increasing chance that facial recognition software will automatically identify you). If you walk, you’ll likely be recorded on any number of private and public surveillance cameras (which, again, are more and more being tied to facial recognition software to automatically identify you).

Everything has pros and cons. One of the cons of technology becoming more powerful and cheaper is that surveillance technology has become more powerful and cheaper. Tracking an individual, especially in metropolitan areas, is trivial. Fortunately, surveillance is a cat and mouse game. One of the pros of technology becoming more powerful and cheaper is that countersurveillance technology is becoming more powerful and cheaper.

Your Password, Please

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Since I live in the United States, I spend most of my time lambasting its government’s infringements on privacy. But the United States doesn’t have a monopoly on violating individuals’ privacy. Every government has an interesting in violating rights. The hot privacy violation at the moment is demanding access to cell phones. Cell phones are becoming more integrated into our daily lives every day, which makes them a treasure trove of personal information. Here in the United States the government has made several efforts to force cell phone manufacturers to include a backdoor it can access. New Zealand has taken a different approach. If you don’t hand over your password to law enforcers, you will be fined:

New Zealand privacy activists have raised concerns over a new law that imposes a fine of up to NZ$5,000 (more than $3,200) for travelers—citizens and foreigners alike—who decline to unlock their digital devices when entering the country. (Presumably your phone would be seized anyway if it came to that.)

The Southern Pacific nation is believed to be the first in the world to impose such a law.

As a general rule, especially when crossing borders, it’s best to travel with clean devices and access whatever information you need remotely when you arrive at your destination. For example, instead of storing contract information on your cell phone when traveling, you might consider have your contract information on a remotely accessible server. When you get to your destination, you can log into the server and grab the phone numbers you need when you need them. When you’re ready to leave the country, you can factory reset your phone so your call log is erased.

Such a plan isn’t bulletproof. A factory reset phone is suspicious in of itself. Unfortunately there are no silver bullets. Every defensive measure has a list of pros and cons. You have to decide which set of pros and cons best fit your situation.

Written by Christopher Burg

October 5th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Marijuana You Say? Case Dismissed!

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Do you remember the Dallas law enforcers that went to Botham Jean’s apartment to plant, err, find evidence to assassinate his character? This is probably going to come as a shock but they found something:

One of the warrants became a public record Thursday afternoon when it was returned to the judge who signed it. It was shortly after Jean’s funeral had ended. It listed several items found in Jean’s apartment, including a small amount of marijuana.

I can see the courtroom now. The officer’s defense attorney mentions that the search warrant resulted in the discovery of marijuana. The judge says, “Marijuana you say?” He then taps his gavel and says, “Case dismissed!”

Truth be told, the discovery of marijuana is irrelevant to the case at hand. Even if Officer Guyger was aware that Jean was in possession of cannabis, she had no warrant to enter the premise. Without a warrant or an invitation, which she never claimed to be given, she was in his dwelling unlawfully. But I’m sure the discovery of cannabis will give all of the boot lickers their much needed reason to defend Officer Guyger’s actions and that’s what the warrant was all about, assassinating Jean’s character.

Don’t Trust Snoops

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Software that allows family members to spy on one another is big business. But how far can you trust a company that specializes in enabling abusers to keep a constant eye on their victims? Not surprisingly, such companies can’t be trusted very much:

mSpy, the makers of a software-as-a-service product that claims to help more than a million paying customers spy on the mobile devices of their kids and partners, has leaked millions of sensitive records online, including passwords, call logs, text messages, contacts, notes and location data secretly collected from phones running the stealthy spyware.

Less than a week ago, security researcher Nitish Shah directed KrebsOnSecurity to an open database on the Web that allowed anyone to query up-to-the-minute mSpy records for both customer transactions at mSpy’s site and for mobile phone data collected by mSpy’s software. The database required no authentication.

Oops.

I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised by this. Companies that make software aimed at allowing family members to spy on one another already have, at least in my opinion, a pretty flexible moral framework. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of the data collected by mSpy was stored in plaintext in order to make it easily accessible to other buyers.

Written by Christopher Burg

September 11th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Love It or Leave It… If You Can

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Love it or leave it is a common phrase used by nationalistic Americans who would rather tell people who criticize their beloved country to get the fuck out than acknowledge its imperfection. What these individuals don’t stop to consider is that getting out isn’t necessarily easy and it’s becoming more difficult everyday:

PHARR, Texas – On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.

His official U.S. birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.

But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.

As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown on their citizenship.

It’s pretty difficult to leave without a passport.

This is another sign of something that nationalists often fail to acknowledge, the United States is a police state. Controlling passports and other forms of travel papers has been a beloved strategy of tyrannical regimes to keep people from fleeing to greener pastures. The Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic were especially notorious for this. In fact in those two countries merely requesting official permission to leave could land you on a secret police watch list. Even if it didn’t, your chances of getting permission were slim unless your communist credentials were solid or you had some collateral (i.e. family members) to put up to ensure your return.

As the United States government continues to tighten the cuffs it has placed on the wrists of population, passport denials for citizens will become more frequent. This, of course, will be sold as necessary for national security but it will really be about stopping tax cattle from taking their wealth outside of the government’s power to steal it.