Shhh… Spies Vs Silicon Valley

Check out the following Guardian article:

Spies helped build Silicon Valley. Now the tables are turning

David Cameron wants US tech sector companies to do more to fight terrorism. But they’ve grown too powerful to listen

Gordon Corera
Wednesday 29 July 2015

If you want to understand how modern British and American intelligence services operate, you could do worse than visit the new exhibition that opens at Bletchley Park this week. It tells the story of code-breaking in the first world war, which paved the way not just for the better-known success story of world war two, but also GCHQ and the NSA’s modern day bulk interception.

A century ago, just as today, intelligence services and network providers used to enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Britain, for example, exploited its dominance of the telegraph system to spy after its companies had built an imperial web of cables that wrapped itself around the world. Britain’s first offensive act of the conflict was to cut Germany’s own undersea cables and install “secret censors” in British company offices around the world that looked out for enemy communications. A staggering 80m cable messages were subject to “censorship” during the war.

In recent decades the US has enjoyed a similar ability to spy on the world thanks to its role in building the internet – what the NSA called “home field advantage”. This worked via two channels. The first was fibre-optic cables passing through either American or British territory, allowing intelligence agencies to install the modern equivalent of secret censors: computerised black boxes that could filter data to look for emails based on “selectors”. The second channel was Silicon Valley – which had thrived thanks to massive Pentagon and NSA subsidies. People around the world sent their communications and stored their data with American companies, whose business model often involved collecting, analysing and monetising that data. This attracted spies like bears to honey. And so Prism was born – requiring the companies themselves to run selectors across their own data. 45,000 selectors were running in 2012. Put together with cable-tapping, this meant that nearly 90,000 people around the world were being spied on.

Building the internet allowed the US to export its values, import other countries’ information through spying and make a lot of money for American corporations along the way. But the relationships have fractured. The Snowden disclosures were one reason – exposure led tech companies to back away from quiet cooperation and make privacy a selling point (even competing with each other as seen in Apple’s CEO blast against Google recently).

At the same time, Isis’s use of social media has increased the state’s desire to get more from these companies, leading to growing tension. It was notable that David Cameron’s speech on extremism last week singled out tech companies for criticism. When their commercial models are built around tracking our likes and dislikes, why do they say it’s too difficult to help when it comes to the fight against terrorism, the prime minister asked.

A big problem for the spies is that during the first world war the cable companies that helped Britain knew who was boss. Today it is more complex. An angry Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook told President Obama that his administration “blew it” when it tried to defend Prism by saying it was only used to spy on foreigners. After all, most of Facebook and Silicon Valley’s customers are foreigners.

The British government criticised Facebook for not spotting private messages from one of the men who went on to kill Lee Rigby. This is the kind of thing Cameron wants the companies to do more on. But whose job is it to spy? The companies are nervous of signing up to a system in which it is their job to scan their customers’ data and proactively report suspicious content, effectively outsourcing the act of spying (and not just the collection of data) to the private sector. Such a deal, tech companies fear, could set a dangerous precedent: if you help Britain when it comes to national security, what do you do when China or Russia come knocking?

On his first day as director of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan launched a volley against Silicon Valley, accusing it of acting as “command and control” for groups like Isis. But since then, the tone has been more conciliatory. What Hannigan may have realised is that companies have the upper hand, partly because the data is with US companies that are subject to US laws. To avoid the Russia and China issue, they assert their co-operation is voluntary and there is not much the British state can do about it.

It was notable that in his speech, Cameron didn’t threaten new legislation. Why? Because he knows that power relations between governments and corporations have shifted since the first world war: modern tech firms are too big to be pushed around.

If they have a vulnerability, it’s their dependence on customers: verbal volleys from politicians and spies are a sign that the real battleground is now public opinion. Companies are gambling that focusing on privacy will win them the trust of the public, while governments in London and Washington are hoping that talking about terrorism will pressure companies to cooperate more. Who wins this tug of war may depend on events that neither party can control, including the prevalence of terrorist attacks. Whatever the case, the old alliance between Silicon Valley and the spies is no more.

Shhh… The Guardian Bagged An Emmy

Congratulations to The Guardian for winning an Emmy award in New York Tuesday night for its groundbreaking coverage on the Snowden revelations.

The multimedia interactive feature NSA Decoded by The Guardian emerged the winner in the new approaches: current news category at the news and documentary Emmy awards.

The interactive coverage, which includes interviews and discussions with key players like journalist Glenn Greenwald, former NSA employees, senators and members of US congress, helps the audience understand the facts and implications of Edward Snowden’s disclosures last year about the NSA’s mass surveillance program.

The Guardian has also won in April, along with the Washington Post, the Pulitzer prize for public service for their groundbreaking coverage of the Snowden revelations.

Shhh…. Court Documents Revealed NSA Threatened Yahoo to Provide Metadata

The US government once threatened to fine internet giant Yahoo with fines of US$250,000 a day in 2008 for every day it failed and balked at demand for user data to support government mass surveillance programs that the company believed was unconstitutional, according to numerous media reports citing court documents unsealed Thursday, adding further concrete insights into how the federal authorities forced American tech companies to take part in the controversial NSA’s PRISM program as revealed by the Snowden revelations last year which were initially denied by those companies and the American government.

The 1500-pages of documents reportedly revealed how Yahoo waged and eventually lost a secretive legal battle as government attorneys held firm that Yahoo holds no legal standing on users’ privacy issues – and also warned the company not to inform users the government snoops on their communications metadata.

Yahoo challenged and lost its case – first at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and subsequently at an appeals court, the Foreign Intelligence Court of Review – and finally complied with the government demands, which were later extended to other major players in the US tech industry, including Google, Apple and Facebook – see photo below (Credit: Picture taken from the book “No Place to Hide” by Glenn Greenwald).

Glenn-pg108

According to Greenwald in his recent book:

“The court [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court] is one of the most secretive institutions in the government. All of its rulings are automatically designated top secret, and only a small handful of people are authorized to access its decisions.”

And according to one of the documents Greenwald received from NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden:

“It ordered Verizon Business to turn over to the NSA “all call detail records” for “communications (i) between the United States and abroad; and (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

And:

“Moreover, the court order specified that the bulk collection of American telephone records was authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Almost more than the ruling itself, this radical interpretation of the Patriot Act was especially shocking.”

It remains to be seen if similar court documents relating to other US tech companies would soon emerge.

If I Were Snowden

The Art of Hiding and Being Undetectable

The world knows by now Edward Snowden, the former private contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked revelations of massive US clandestine electronic surveillance and eavesdropping programs, is still at large in Hong Kong.

You might wonder how Snowden managed to remain obscure, both in the physical and cyber spheres.

Hong Kong, a former British colony now a major global financial center and Special Administrative Region of China, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with a population of over seven million spread over just 1,104 square kilometers.

But it is precisely for these reasons that Hong Kong may be the ideal place. One could be easily spotted or located or one could capitalize on the dense crowd and modern infrastructure to negotiate his way unnoticed in the physical, digital and cyber dimensions.

And Snowden sure knows how to do that.

So what would you do if you were Snowden or if you simply needed to hide and remain undetectable for a period of time?

Please read the full column here and there.

The Enemies of the US

Take your pick: Edward Snowden, Internet and phone service providers, or just everybody?

The furor over the past week about how US intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have for years scooped up massive loads of private communications data raises one critical and distressing question.

Who, worldwide and in the US, are the general public supposed to trust now that it seems all forms of digital and cyber communications risk being read by the American authorities? The Americans, it seems, don’t believe it’s that big a deal. By 62-34, according to the latest poll by Pew Research and the Washington Post, they say it’s more important to investigate the threats than protect their privacy. But what about the rest of the world?

The immediate acknowledgement, rather than point blank denial, of the massive clandestine eavesdropping programs is no doubt alarming even for those long suspicious of such covert undertakings. But the more disturbing part is that the official response amounts to plain outright lies.

Please read this entire Opinion Column here.