Microsoft: Windows 10 Reports on Users; Can’t Be Stopped

Posted on Updated on

The New American
by C. Mitchell Shaw


When Microsoft released Windows 10 on July 29, the new operating system was already mired in controversy due to the way it monitors users’ activities and reports back to Microsoft. Many news sites including The New American wrote about the spyware features of Windows 10. Some considered that reporting to be little more than fanciful conspiracy theories and exaggerations.

With recent admissions from the Redmond, California, software giant, however, it is now clear that those reports were accurate and that Windows 10 — as an operating system — is spyware.

From the outset, Microsoft decided on the previously unheard of move of making the new operating system available free of charge in a rolling update to all current users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 via Windows update. Many wondered why the company would give away licenses to use the new operating system. As The New American reported at the time:

It appears that the reason is simple: greater data-mining opportunities. Windows operating systems have long included security weaknesses that leave users vulnerable to spying and data-mining from others. What is different with the newest iteration of Windows is that Microsoft is directly involved in that spying and data-mining and has built the entire operating system in such a way as to allow it.

The Microsoft Services Agreement and its accompanying documents, to which one must agree before installing or using any Microsoft product or service, run roughly 40,000 words and would take 110 pages to print. Agreeing to these documents grants Microsoft the right to read, save, and share anything stored on or accessed using any computer running Microsoft Windows, as well as any computer using any Microsoft products or services.

What this means is that users who “upgrade” to Windows 10 or who purchase a PC with Windows 10 preinstalled have already agreed to allow Microsoft to read every e-mail, private message, calendar entry, document, and any other text; to view all photos, videos, charts, graphs, and any other graphic; to monitor and record all web traffic, searches, and downloads; and capture all keystrokes. Microsoft is then able to save and share that information at its discretion. As The Microsoft Privacy Policy puts it:

We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary.

Privacy advocates pointed out the ludicrous danger of having an operating system that is itself spyware. Microsoft apologists attempted to brush those concerns aside, saying the dangers were being blown out of proportion. After all, they said, turning these “features” off is a simple matter of changing the privacy settings.

As we said then, it is not such a simple matter. In fact it is an incredibly laborious task, and in some instances may not even be possible:

Because Windows 10 is set up to allow all this data collection by default, disabling data collection (where it is even possible to do so) will also disable most of the features that are the main selling points of the operating system. In addition, it is an arduous and time-consuming process involving going through at least 13 different screens in the privacy settings.

Many Microsoft users elected to keep their current operating systems and refused the “update” when they were notified that it was available to them. In late August, Microsoft — in an apparent move to broaden its spyware capabilities — changed the way it sends software updates to PCs running Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. Software updates, which had previously included a description with enough detail to allow users to make an informed decision about whether or not to install the update, began simply coming in without any description of the update or what it does. The new description said only that the update “includes improvements to enhance the functionality of Windows.”

At about the same time, as we reported:

To make matters worse, Microsoft seems to be rolling out updates to Windows 7 and 8 that bring them into line with the “spyware” elements of Windows 10. Because Microsoft’s Services Agreement and Privacy Policy apply to all products and services offered by Microsoft, it looks as though the company is expanding its spying to include Windows 7and 8. The New American covered the specifics of these agreements in a previous article. According to, “new updates that are being deployed to all Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 machines will turn their computers into a big piece of spyware, just like” Windows 10.

Again, privacy advocates and Microsoft apologists disagreed. Those on the privacy side of the fence cried foul. Those on the Microsoft side said the answer was to disable the updates and keep using Windows 7, 8, or 8.1. After all, no one is being forced to update or accept new “features.” Except the problem with turning off automatic updates is that it can leave computers even more vulnerable to attacks and viruses, since the gaping security holes, for which Windows is famous, would never be patched.

Then, in mid-September, Microsoft users began getting the entire Windows 10 “upgrade” downloaded and installed on their PCs via those automatic updates — even if they had declined the download. Microsoft was simply going to make that decision for them. The files were downloaded to a hidden folder and the user was given a notification that their “upgrade” was ready. All they had to do was start the installation. Or not. Because in multiple cases, users would restart their PCs only to find Windows 10 was fully installed and operational.

As Forbes reported:

Microsoft changed the ‘Optional’ upgrade status of Windows 10 without any warning. The subtle change simply ticked the box beside the upgrade by default in Windows Update on Windows 7 and Windows 8. This meant an upgrade to Windows 10 would be automatically performed the next time the user installed any Important updates.

Microsoft has implemented a two-phase plan to force Windows 10 on all users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. The first phase is to change the classification of the Windows 10 update to “Optional,” which will cause all users who have their PCs set to accept all updates (the recommended setting) to download and install Windows 10 automatically. This step is already in place. The next phase, which is set to begin in early 2016, will change the classification of the Windows 10 download to “Recommended.” This is the default setting for all PCs running Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. What this means is that all but the most tech savvy users will be forced into Windows 10.

Some still argued that this is not really that big an issue, because Windows 10 is better and people are going to upgrade eventually anyway. This just makes it easier. Besides, all that stuff about Microsoft spying on you through your PC is just a goofy conspiracy theory anyway, right?


In late October, PCWorld reported that Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore admitted that it is not possible to turn off all those surveillance settings. They are part of the operating system and that is that. “In the case of knowing that our system that we’ve created is crashing, or is having serious performance problems, we view that as so helpful to the ecosystem, and so not an issue of personal privacy, that today, we collect that data so that we make that experience better for everyone,” he said. He went on to assert that the surveillance settings that cannot be turned off are not about privacy, saying, “In the cases where we’ve not provided options, we feel that those things have to do with the health of the system, and are not personal information or are not related to privacy.”

That rings a little hollow after reading those sections of the The Microsoft Privacy Policy that allow Microsoft to scan the entire contents of users’ hard drives and capture keystrokes while monitoring web traffic and reading e-mails.

As many users finally get their fill of Microsoft’s heavy-handed policies that threaten both privacy and liberty, many of them are looking for alternatives and finding that Linux — which in almost all cases is free to download and install — fits the bill nicely. As this writer has said before about the differences between Windows and Linux:

By way of comparison, users who install any of the various distributions of the Linux operating system do not consent to any such agreements. In fact, the closest thing in Linux to any of this is a feature in Ubuntu that allows users to search Amazon from their desktop screen. That feature is easily disabled by clicking a single button.

Maybe users of Windows 7 and 8 who are concerned about privacy and liberty should consider declining Microsoft’s offer for a free upgrade and simply “upgrade” to Linux.

In fact, in an article last year about how users can secure their PCs and data against surveillance by both overreaching governments and nosy corporations, this writer recommended replacing Windows with Linux. With the recent revelations about what Microsoft is doing, it may be worthwhile for more people to take a look at that option.

[In the interest of fairness, the writer of this article has been a Linux user for several years and does not use any Microsoft products or services. This article was written on his System76 Bonobo Extreme running Ubuntu 14.04 using LibreOffice 4.2.]

The New American

How Do You Prepare a Child for Life in the American Police State?

Posted on Updated on

The Rutherford Institute
By John W. Whitehead


“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf.” ― Alfred Hitchcock

In an age dominated with news of school shootings, school lockdowns, police shootings of unarmed citizens (including children), SWAT team raids gone awry (leaving children devastated and damaged), reports of school resource officers tasering and shackling unruly students, and public schools undergoing lockdowns and active drills, I find myself wrestling with the question: how do you prepare a child for life in the American police state?

Every parent lives with a fear of the dangers that prey on young children: the predators who lurk at bus stops and playgrounds, the traffickers who make a living by selling young bodies, the peddlers who push drugs that ensnare and addict, the gangs that deal in violence and bullets, the drunk drivers, the school bullies, the madmen with guns, the diseases that can end a life before it’s truly begun, the cynicism of a modern age that can tarnish innocence, and the greed of a corporate age that makes its living by trading on young consumers.

It’s difficult enough raising a child in a world ravaged by war, disease, poverty and hate, but when you add the police state into the mix—with its battlefield mindset, weaponry, rigidity, surveillance, fascism, indoctrination, violence, etc.—it becomes near impossible to guard against the toxic stress of police shootings, SWAT team raids, students being tasered and shackled, lockdown drills, and a growing unease that some of the monsters of our age come dressed in government uniforms.

Children are taught from an early age that there are consequences for their actions. Hurt somebody, lie, steal, cheat, etc., and you will get punished. But how do you explain to a child that a police officer can shoot someone who was doing nothing wrong and get away with it? That a cop can lie, steal, cheat, or kill and still not be punished?

Kids understand accidents: sometimes drinks get spilled, dishes get broken, people slip and fall and hurt themselves, or you bump into someone without meaning to, and they get hurt. As long as it wasn’t intentional and done with malice, you forgive them and you move on. Police shootings of unarmed people—of children and old people and disabled people—can’t just be shrugged off as accidents, however.

Tamir Rice was no accident. Cleveland police shot and killed the 12-year-old, who was seen playing on a playground with a pellet gun. Surveillance footage shows police shooting the boy two seconds after getting out of a moving patrol car. Incredibly, the shooting was deemed “reasonable” and “justified” by two law enforcement experts who concluded that the police use of force “did not violate Tamir’s constitutional rights.”

Aiyana Jones was also no accident. The 7-year-old was killed after a Detroit SWAT team launched a flash-bang grenade into her family’s apartment, broke through the door and opened fire, hitting the little girl who was asleep on the living room couch. The cops weren’t even in the right apartment. Ironically, on the same day that President Obama refused to stop equipping police with the very same kinds of military weapons and gear used to raid Aiyana’s home, it was reported that the police officer who shot and killed the little girl would not face involuntary manslaughter charges.

Obama insists that $263 million to purchase body cameras for police will prevent any further erosions of trust, but a body camera would not have prevented Aiyana from being shot in the head. Indeed, the entire sorry affair was captured on camera: a TV crew was filming the raid for an episode of The First 48, a true-crime reality show in which homicide detectives have 48 hours to crack a case.

While that $263 million will make Taser International, the manufacturer of the body cameras, a whole lot richer, it’s doubtful it would have prevented a SWAT team from shooting 14-month-old Sincere in the shoulder and hand and killing his mother.

No body camera could have stopped a Georgia SWAT team from launching a flash-bang grenade into the house in which Baby Bou Bou, his three sisters and his parents were staying. The grenade landed in the 2-year-old’s crib, burning a hole in his chest and leaving him with scarring that a lifetime of surgeries will not be able to easily undo.

No body camera could have prevented 10-year-old Dakota Corbitt from being shot by a Georgia police officer who tried to shoot an inquisitive dog, missed, and hit the young boy, instead.

When police shot 4-year-old Ava Ellis in the leg, shattering the bone, it actually was an accident, but it was an accident that could have been prevented. Police reported to Ava’s house after being told that Ava’s mother, who had cut her arm, was in need of a paramedic. Cops claimed that the family pet charged the officer who was approaching the house, causing him to fire his gun and hit the little girl.

Alberto Sepulveda, 11, died from one “accidental” shotgun round to the back, after a SWAT team raided his parents’ home. Thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez Cruz was shot 7 times in 10 seconds by a California police officer who mistook the boy’s toy gun for an assault rifle. Christopher Roupe, 17, was shot and killed after opening the door to a police officer. The officer, mistaking the Wii remote control in Roupe’s hand for a gun, shot him in the chest.

These children are more than grim statistics on a police blotter. They are the heartbreaking casualties of the government’s endless, deadly wars on terror, on drugs, and on the American people themselves.

Not even the children who survive their encounters with police escape unscathed. Increasingly, their lives are daily lessons in compliance and terror, meted out with every SWAT team raid, roadside strip search, and school drill.

Who is calculating the damage being done to the young people forced to watch as their homes are trashed and their dogs are shot during SWAT team raids? A Minnesota SWAT team actually burst into one family’s house, shot the family’s dog, handcuffed the children and forced them to “sit next to the carcass of their dead and bloody pet for more than an hour.” They later claimed it was the wrong house.

More than 80% of American communities have their own SWAT teams, with more than 80,000 of these paramilitary raids are carried out every year. That translates to more than 200 SWAT team raids every day in which police crash through doors, damage private property, terrorize adults and children alike, kill family pets, assault or shoot anyone that is perceived as threatening—and all in the pursuit of someone merely suspected of a crime, usually some small amount of drugs.

What are we to tell our nation’s children about the role of police in their lives? Do you parrot the government line that police officers are community helpers who are to be trusted and obeyed at all times? Do you caution them to steer clear of a police officer, warning them that any interactions could have disastrous consequences? Or is there some happy medium between the two that, while being neither fairy tale nor horror story, can serve as a cautionary tale for young people who will encounter police at virtually every turn?

No matter what you say, there can be no avoiding the hands-on lessons being taught in the schools about the role of police in our lives, ranging from active shooter drills and school-wide lockdowns to incidents in which children engaging in typically childlike behavior are suspended (for shooting an imaginary “arrow” at a fellow classmate), handcuffed (for being disruptive at school), arrested (for throwing water balloons as part of a school prank), and even tasered (for not obeying instructions).

For example, a middle school in Washington State went on lockdown after a student brought a toy gun to class. A Boston high school went into lockdown for four hours after a bullet was discovered in a classroom. A North Carolina elementary school locked down and called in police after a fifth grader reported seeing an unfamiliar man in the school (it turned out to be a parent).

Better safe than sorry is the rationale offered to those who worry that these drills are terrorizing and traumatizing young children. As journalist Dahlia Lithwick points out: “I don’t recall any serious national public dialogue about lockdown protocols or how they became the norm. It seems simply to have begun, modeling itself on the lockdowns that occur during prison riots, and then spread until school lockdowns and lockdown drills are as common for our children as fire drills, and as routine as duck-and-cover drills were in the 1950s.”

These drills have, indeed, become routine.

As the New York Times reports: “Most states have passed laws requiring schools to devise safety plans, and several states, including Michigan, Kentucky and North Dakota, specifically require lockdown drills. Some drills are as simple as a principal making an announcement and students sitting quietly in a darkened classroom. At other schools, police officers and school officials playact a shooting, stalking through the halls like gunmen and testing whether doors have been locked.”

Police officers at a Florida middle school carried out an active shooter drill in an effort to educate students about how to respond in the event of an actual shooting crisis. Two armed officers, guns loaded and drawn, burst into classrooms, terrorizing the students and placing the school into lockdown mode.

What is particularly chilling is how effective these lessons in compliance are in indoctrinating young people to accept their role in the police state, either as criminals or prison guards. If these exercises are intended to instill fear and compliance into young people, they’re working.

Sociologist Alice Goffman understands how far-reaching the impact of such “exercises” can be on young people. For six years, Goffman lived in a low-income urban neighborhood, documenting the impact such an environment—a microcosm of the police state—on its residents. Her account of neighborhood children playing cops and robbers speaks volumes about how constant exposure to pat downs, strip searches, surveillance and arrests can result in a populace that meekly allows itself to be prodded, poked and stripped.

As journalist Malcolm Gladwell writing for the New Yorker reports:

Goffman sometimes saw young children playing the age-old game of cops and robbers in the street, only the child acting the part of the robber wouldn’t even bother to run away: I saw children give up running and simply stick their hands behind their back, as if in handcuffs; push their body up against a car without being asked; or lie flat on the ground and put their hands over their head. The children yelled, “I’m going to lock you up! I’m going to lock you up, and you ain’t never coming home!” I once saw a six-year-old pull another child’s pants down to do a “cavity search.”

Clearly, our children are getting the message, but it’s not the message that was intended by those who fomented a revolution and wrote our founding documents. Their philosophy was that the police work for us, and “we the people” are the masters, and they are to be our servants. Now that has been turned on its head, fueled by our fears (some legitimate, some hyped along by the government and its media mouthpieces) about the terrors and terrorists that lurk among us.

It’s getting harder by the day to tell young people that we live in a nation that values freedom and which is governed by the rule of law without feeling like a teller of tall tales. Yet as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, unless something changes and soon for the young people growing up, there will be nothing left of freedom as we have known it but a fairy tale without a happy ending.

The Rutherford Institute

The Fundamentals of US Surveillance: What Edward Snowden Never Told Us?

Posted on Updated on

New Eastern Outlook
by Janet Phelan

25543332Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations rocked the world.  According to his detailed reports, the US had launched massive spying programs and was scrutinizing the communications of American citizens in a manner which could only be described as extreme and intense.

The US’s reaction was swift and to the point. “”Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” President Obama said when asked about the NSA. As quoted in The Guardian,  Obama went on to say that surveillance programs were “fully overseen not just by Congress but by the Fisa court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not abusing them”.

However, it appears that Snowden may have missed a pivotal part of the US surveillance program. And in stating that the “nobody” is not listening to our calls, President Obama may have been fudging quite a bit.

In fact, Great Britain maintains a “listening post” at NSA HQ. The laws restricting live wiretaps do not apply to foreign countries  and thus this listening post  is not subject to  US law.  In other words, the restrictions upon wiretaps, etc. do not apply to the British listening post.  So when Great Britain hands over the recordings to the NSA, technically speaking, a law is not being broken and technically speaking, the US is not eavesdropping on our each and every call.

It is Great Britain which is doing the eavesdropping and turning over these records to US intelligence.

According to John Loftus, formerly an attorney with  the Department of Justice and author of a number of books concerning US intelligence activities, back in the late seventies  the USDOJ issued a memorandum proposing an amendment to FISA. Loftus, who recalls seeing  the memo, stated in conversation this week that the DOJ proposed inserting the words “by the NSA” into the FISA law  so the scope of the law would only restrict surveillance by the NSA, not by the British.  Any subsequent sharing of the data culled through the listening posts was strictly outside the arena of FISA.

Obama was less than forthcoming when he insisted that “What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not.”

According to Loftus, the NSA is indeed listening as Great Britain is turning over the surveillance records en masse to that agency. Loftus states that the arrangement is reciprocal, with the US maintaining a parallel listening post in Great Britain.

In an interview this past week, Loftus told this reporter that  he believes that Snowden simply did not know about the arrangement between Britain and the US. As a contractor, said Loftus, Snowden would not have had access to this information and thus his detailed reports on the extent of US spying, including such programs as XKeyscore, which analyzes internet data based on global demographics, and PRISM, under which the telecommunications companies, such as Google, Facebook, et al, are mandated to collect our communications, missed the critical issue of the FISA loophole.

Under PRISM, said Snowden, the US has “deputized” corporate telecoms to do its dirty work for them.  PRISM, declared Snowden was indeed about content, rather than metadata.

However, other reports indicated that PRISM was not collecting telephone conversations and was  only collecting targeted internet communications. The most detailed description of the PRISM program was released in a report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) on July 2, 2014. The report disclosed that “ these internet communications are not collected in bulk, but in a targeted way: only communications that are to or from specific selectors, like e-mail addresses, can be gathered. Under PRISM, there’s no collection based upon keywords or names.”( (Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Report on the Surveillance Program Operated Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, July 2, 2014).

U.S. government officials have defended the program by asserting it cannot be used on domestic targets without a warrant. But once again, the FISA courts and their super-secret warrants  do not apply to foreign government surveillance of US citizens. So all this sturm and drang about whether or not the US is eavesdropping on our communications is, in fact, irrelevant and diversionary.

Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which authorized extensive surveillance capabilities, expired in June of 2015. Within one day,  it was  replaced by the misnamed USA Freedom Act.  In a widely disseminated tweet, President Obama stated “Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security.”

In fact, the USA Freedom Act reinstituted a number of the surveillance protocols of Section 215, including  authorization for  roving wiretaps  and tracking “lone wolf terrorists.”  While mainstream media heralded the passage of the bill as restoring privacy rights which were shredded under 215, privacy advocates have maintained that the bill will do little, if anything, to reverse the  surveillance situation in the US. The NSA went on the record as supporting the Freedom Act, stating it would end bulk collection of telephone metadata.

However, in light of the reciprocal agreement between the US and Great Britain, the entire hoopla over NSA surveillance, Section 215, FISA courts and the USA Freedom Act could be seen as a giant smokescreen. If Great Britain is collecting our real time phone conversations and turning them over to the NSA, outside the realm or reach of the above stated laws, then all this posturing over the privacy rights of US citizens and surveillance laws expiring and being resurrected doesn’t amount to a hill of CDs.

The NSA was contacted with a query about the GB listening post, as was British intelligence. A GCHQ  spokesperson  stated: Our response is that we do not comment on intelligence matters.” The NSA also declined to comment.

Janet C. Phelan, investigative journalist and human rights defender that has traveled pretty extensively over the Asian region, an author of a tell-all book EXILE, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

New Eastern Outlook

Microsoft Forces Windows 10 “Upgrade” Even When Users Refuse It

Posted on Updated on

The New American
by C. Mitchell Shaw


As more and more people have become aware of the spyware nature of Windows 10, many have decided not to take Microsoft up on their “free upgrade.” People all over the world decided to either switch to some other operating system (such as Linux) or just stay with Windows 7, 8, or 8.1. Now Microsoft admits that it is forcing the update to those who are using those previous versions of Windows, even if they have declined the “upgrade.”

Last week several tech news websites reported that users are getting the updates as part of the “automatic updates” to Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, even though many of these users declined the offer to download and install Windows 10. As reported:

You might be in the process of acquiring Windows 10 — whether you want the free upgrade or not. Microsoft has confirmed that it is “helping upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they need” in the event that owners decide to migrate to the new OS, even if they have heretofore passed up on “reserving” their free upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.

As The New American reported previously, “Many of the new features and settings of Windows 10 have been deemed spyware by computer security experts.” In fact, according to the Microsoft Services Agreement and its accompanying documents — to which one must agree in order to use any Microsoft products or services — the software giant of Redmond, Washington, is allowed unhindered access to view, save, and share any data stored on or accessed using any computer running Microsoft Windows. As we wrote in that article:

To install the Windows 10 upgrade, users must agree to the Microsoft Services Agreement and its accompanying documents. Few will ever read the terms of these documents since they span some 40,000 words and would run 110 pages if printed. As is to be expected, most of the terms are written in legalese and are not overly easy to understand. There are some parts of the terms that users need to be aware of, though, because agreeing to them grants Microsoft the right to read, save, and share anything stored on or accessed using any computer running Microsoft Windows as well as any computer using Microsoft products or services.

When many users declined the upgrade, Microsoft changed the way it issues updates to Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. Initially, the company stopped providing anything that resembled adequate release notes to explain to users what the update is or what it does. Then, Microsoft began rolling out updates that bring Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 into line with the “spyware” elements of Windows 10. As we reported:

Because Microsoft’s Services Agreement and Privacy Policy apply to all products and services offered by Microsoft, it looks as though the company is expanding its spying to include Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. According to, “new updates that are being deployed to all Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 machines will turn their computers into a big piece of spyware, just like” Windows 10. As the article explains:

The updates in question are KB3075249 and KB3080149. If installed, these updates are known to report your data back to Microsoft servers, without user interaction. KB3075249 Microsoft Update adds telemetry points to “consent.exe” in Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, allowing for remote monitoring of everything that happens within the operating system. KB3080149 ensures that all “down-level devices” receive the same updates and treatment as Windows 10 boxes get.

So, now that Microsoft has convinced some 50 million users to “update” to Windows 10 (with more than 14 million of them doing it in only the first 24 hours the download was available), it seems to have its sights set on those who have heeded the warnings about Windows 10 being spyware. By sending these Windows updates — many of which will be downloaded and installed by default — Microsoft is expanding its spyware empire.

Since then, Microsoft has taken the unheard of approach of sending the Windows 10 installer files to any computer running Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 that has automatic updates enabled. It appears that even the scores of millions of users who have “upgraded” to Windows 10 (at the expense of their liberty and privacy) are not enough for Gates and company. Even with the ability to turn on many of Windows 10’s spyware features in Windows 7, 8, and 8.1, the company wants more. Windows 10 is better able to accomplish the data-mining Microsoft wants because, as we previously reported:

When Microsoft announced the “free” upgrade, many were left wondering why the Redmond giant would give away licenses to use the new operating system. Now it appears that the reason is simple: greater data-mining opportunities. Windows operating systems have long included security weaknesses that leave users vulnerable to spying and data-mining from others. What is different with the newest iteration of Windows is that Microsoft is directly involved in that spying and data-mining and has built the entire operating system in such a way as to allow it.

Besides the obvious issues involved in forcing an update to computer users who don’t want it, there is the fact that the files involved take up some 6GB of storage. Downloading such files can cause serious problems for users who don’t have unlimited Internet access. Several users have reported going over their monthly limits because they were not even aware of the downloads. Others have complained that the files slowed down their Internet connections.

Microsoft has set this up in such a way that the downloaded files are hidden from easy view. Deleting them requires a little more than basic computer skills, but it can be done. The real issue, however, is the fact that the whole Windows 10 fiasco shows that Microsoft is not acting in a way that is worthy of trust. Users can remove the files, refuse to update to Windows 10, delete questionable updates that come in to their Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 machines, and hope that Microsoft doesn’t already have another plan in action to force spyware back onto their machines, but is it worth it?

This writer has suggested what he feels is a better solution: switch to an operating system that respects your liberty and privacy. Many are finding Linux to be the best choice. As we previously reported about the difference between Microsoft and Linux:

By way of comparison, users who install any of the various distributions of the Linux operating system do not consent to any such agreements. In fact, the closest thing in Linux to any of this is a feature in Ubuntu that allows users to search Amazon from their desktop screen. That feature is easily disabled by clicking a single button.

Maybe users of Windows 7 and 8 who are concerned about privacy and liberty should consider declining Microsoft’s offer for a free upgrade and simply “upgrade” to Linux.

Considering the lengths (and depths) to which Microsoft is willing to go to force its spyware on users, migrating to an operating system that is more trustworthy may not be merely optional anymore. It’s starting to look like a necessity.


[In the interest of fairness, the writer of this article has been a Linux user for several years and does not use any Microsoft products or services. This article was written on his System76 Bonobo Extreme running Ubuntu 14.04 using LibreOffice 4.2.]

The New American

Police Departments Use Secret Tool to Spy on Mobile Phones

Posted on Updated on

The New American
by C. Mitchell Shaw


Local police all over the country are using highly sophisticated, very expensive surveillance tools to capture information from cell tower traffic from the innocent and the guilty alike. The devices they use were originally touted as “tools for combating terrorism.” Now they are being used as the shortest path in solving even the most petty crimes.

USA Today is reporting that cell-site simulators, known as “stingrays” are being used at an increasingly alarming rate to capture information about all mobile phones within the area where the device is being used. There are obvious issues with the use of these devices as it relates to privacy. The stingray does not target particular phones, but instead vacuums up all data from all phones in the radius of the coverage of the device. That means that even if police were using it in the most extreme situations — say to track a kidnapper or known terrorist — there would still be legitimate privacy concerns.

Those concerns are amplified by the fact that police use stingrays for everything from serious crimes, such as those mentioned above, to petty crimes such as simple burglary and prank phone calls. Police are using these devices as the shortest path because it is easier than conducting an old-fashioned investigation. The result is that police are becoming accustomed to the ease and convenience of these tools and are using them more and more. The city of Baltimore alone has used its stingray 4,300 times since 2007. That is at least 11 times per week. The majority of those cases were for petty crimes.

If Baltimore is any indication of the frequency with which police across the country are using these tools, the problem is gargantuan. More than 50 police departments have and use stingrays. It is certain that other departments are overusing these surveillance tools. Often there is no search warrant obtained for their use — a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of freedom from “unreasonable searches and seizures” and the requirement that police have “probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation” to obtain a warrant which must “particularly [describe] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Joel Hruska wrote in his piece for

Police often fail to submit a warrant request — one police department in Florida has admitted to using a stingray more than 200 times since 2010 without ever getting a warrant for its use. These devices are indiscriminate — in rare cases, such as a stolen cell phone, police may know in advance precisely which device to target, but in the majority of scenarios they’re fishing for bait to see what they can find.

The stingray — which is about the size of a large suitcase — is transported in either a surveillance van or a police car. It acts as a “man-in-the-middle” by mimicking a cell tower and fooling any mobile phone in the area into connecting to it. It then harvests info from the phone including the number of the phone, the number the phone is calling or texting, the location of the phone, and information about the phone itself. Once the stingray has that information, it relays the connection to the nearest real tower in the area. The only things that might alert a mobile phone user to the “man-in-middle” attack by a stingray would be a sudden dip in battery power or a slight delay in network speeds. The stingray sends a command to the phone to increase antennae power to maximum, and it takes an extra bit of time to grab what it wants and forward the connection to a real tower.

USA Today interviewed one officer in Baltimore about the use of these devices and their effectiveness. He said the stingrays help solve cases. “We’re out riding around every day,” said one officer assigned to the surveillance unit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the department’s non-disclosure agreement with the FBI. “We grab a lot of people, and we close a lot of cases.”

But the reality is that there is more to the story than that.

While the use of stingrays does bring about arrests, many of the cases are dropped or reduced to get a conviction on lesser charges in exchange for a confession. Why is that? Because police departments have to sign non-disclosure agreements with the FBI to even obtain or use stingrays. As a result, police often do not — cannot — disclose (even to prosecutors) that they used the device. This means that police are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to testifying in court. If the officer discloses the fact that the reason he knew where to find the suspect was that he used a stingray to sniff out his phone, the officer could be liable for violating the non-disclosure agreement. If he testifies falsely, he would be guilty of perjury. So the case is either dropped or the charges are reduced.

One example of this was highlighted in the article and shows the futility of relying on these devices.

Prosecutors have certainly agreed to forgo evidence officers gathered after using a stingray. At a court hearing in November, a lawyer for a robbery suspect pressed one of the detectives assigned to the surveillance team, for information about how the police had found a phone and gun prosecutors wanted to use as evidence against his client. Haley refused to explain, citing the non-disclosure agreement. “You don’t have a non-disclosure agreement with the court,” Judge replied and threatened to hold the detective in contempt if he did not answer.

Prosecutors quickly agreed to forgo the evidence rather than let the questioning continue. “I don’t think Det. Haley wants to see a cell today,” Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel said.

The lesson many defendants and lawyers will take away from this is to press that same question in their cases. The likelihood is great that if such a device was used at all, the case will disintegrate.

The electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — an organization dedicated to preserving digital liberty — has been working for years to expose the use of these surveillance tools. EFF lawyer Hanni Fakhoury said, “The problem is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it be some super-secret national security terrorist finder and then use it to solve petty crimes.”

EFF has launched a fairly aggressive campaign against all “street-level surveillance.” The Street-Level Surveillance Project (SLS) encourages citizens to hold police accountable and provides tools to do just that. EFF lists stingrays, automatic license plate readers, biometrics, and other technologies used by police which threaten privacy and liberty.

Their website says:

The SLS Project addresses an information gap that has developed as law enforcement agencies deploy sophisticated technology products that are supposed to target criminals but that in fact scoop up private information about millions of ordinary, law-abiding citizens who aren’t suspected of committing crimes. Government agencies are less than forthcoming about how they use these tools, which are becoming more and more sophisticated every year, and often hide the facts about their use from the public.

Hopefully, as more cases fall apart because of questions about the use of stingrays, and as the public becomes more aware, their use will fall out of favor, and police will get back to conducting investigations the way they used to. Citizens need to demand it.

The New American

Study: 15% Of Wireless Users Now Tracked By Stealth Headers, Or ‘Zombie Cookies’

Posted on Updated on

Tech Dirt

Earlier this year AT&T and Verizon were caught modifying wireless user traffic to inject unique identifier headers (UIDH). This allowed the carriers to ignore a user’s privacy preferences on the browser level and track all online behavior. In Verizon’s case, the practice wasn’t discovered for two years after implementation, and the carrier only integrated a working opt out mechanism only after another six months of public criticism. Verizon and AT&T of course denied that these headers could be abused by third parties. Shortly thereafter it was illustrated that it was relatively easy for these headers to be abused by third parties.

While the fracas over these “stealth” or “zombie” cookies has quieted down since, a new study suggests use of such stealth tracking is increasing around the world as carriers push to nab their share of the advertising pie. Consumer advocacy group Access has been running a website called, which analyzes user traffic to determine whether or not carriers are fiddling with their packets to track online behavior. According to a new study from the group (pdf) examining around 200,000 such tests, about 15% of site visitors were being tracked by the carriers in this fashion all over the globe:
Globally, the report notes that AT&T, Bell Canada, Bharti Airtel, Cricket, Telefonica de España, Verizon, Viettel Peru S.a.c., Vodafone NL, and Vodafone Spain are all now using stealth headers. In many of these instances there’s no opt-out mechanisms in place for users, or the opt-in mechanisms that exist don’t actually work. Most regulators meanwhile don’t even realize this technology exists, much less have any plan to protect user privacy via hard opt-out requirements. The practice itself, and the stored data, the group’s authors note, makes a delicious target for hackers and the intelligence community alike:

“Using tracking headers also raises concerns related to data retention. When “honey pots” of sensitive information, such as data on browsing, location, and phone numbers, are collected and stored, they attract malicious hacking and government surveillance. This kind of collection and retention of user data is unsustainable and unwise, and creates unmanageable risks for businesses and customers alike.”

The W3C Consortium recently agreed, noting that stealth carrier tracking header injection is basically a privacy nightmare in the making that undermines user trust in the entire Internet:

“The aggregate effect of unsanctioned tracking is to undermine user trust in the Web itself. Moreover, if browsers cannot isolate activity between sites and offer users control over their data, they are unable to act as trusted agents for the user. Notably, unsanctioned tracking can be harmful even if non-identifying data is shared, because it provides the linkage among disparate information streams across contextual boundaries. For example the sharing of an opaque fingerprint among a set of unrelated online purchases can provide enough information to enable advertisers to determine that user of that browser is pregnant — and hence to target her with pregnancy-specific advertisements even before she has disclosed her pregnancy.

This is what has been happening while the marketing, tech and telecom industries bickered, prattled and grandstanded over do not track protections — that this technology makes irrelevant anyway. And while companies like Verizon have repeatedly claimed that no privacy or transparency guidelines are necessary because “public shame” will keep them honest, keep in mind that it took security researchers two years before they even realized that the telco was doing this. It took another six months of pressure for Verizon to heed calls for basic opt-out mechanisms most Verizon users don’t know exist. It makes you wonder: just how long will it take the press and public to realize future iterations of stealth tracking technology are being used?

Document: The Rise of Mobile Tracking Headers: How Telcos Around the World Are Threatening Your Privacy

Tech Dirt

What’s Up With WhatsApp? ‘Private’ Chats Not So Private After All

Posted on Updated on

Sputnik News


Another social media storm is brewing on how private your private messages really are. WhatsApp recently hit the headlines in Britain amid reports the Prime Minister wanted to ban the messenger service because it uses encrypted data which preserves users’ privacy.

This is data that Britain’s Prime Minister and UK Home Office want access to so that they can stop criminals and potential terrorists from operating in a so-called “safe place”.

“There shouldn’t be a guaranteed safe space for terrorists, criminals and pedophiles to operate beyond the reach of the law,” said a Downing Street statement.

But it appears WhatsApp isn’t so safe, after all.

A new report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) titled ‘Who Has Your Back? 2015: Protecting Your Data From Government Requests’ has found that WhatsApp, the instant chat service owned by Facebook, failed to meet industry best practices, communicate government data demands to its users, and to disclose its policies on data retention, as well as disclosing the extent of government content removal requests it receives.

“Although the EFF gave the company a full year to prepare for its inclusion in the report, it has adopted none of the best practices we’ve identified as part of this report,” says according to the foundation.

Meanwhile, all but three of the tech companies evaluated by EFF openly opposed backdoors for authorities to garner encrypted information.

“One of the big trends we’re seeing across the tech industry is a rejection of government-mandated security weaknesses. In fact, 21 of the 24 companies we evaluated took a public position opposing backdoors. This is a powerful statement from the technology community.”

Meanwhile, Britain is pressing ahead with a new Communications Data Bill, nicknamed the ‘Snooper’s Charter’. The legislation, proposed by Home Secretary Theresa May would require Internet Service Providers and mobile phone companies to keep records of each user’s communications data.

This means, every instant chat, every telephone call, every email and even what you browse for on Google would be stored for at least 12 months. The bill has been beaten back before by privacy campaigners and former Deputy Prime Minister and LibDem leader Nick Clegg. But May wants this new piece of legislation introduced by the next parliament.

So according to the report, if you don’t fancy any prying eyes on your WhatsApp chats, switch to Dropbox, Adobe, Apple, Wikimedia, WordPress and Yahoo instead.

Sputnik News