The New American
by C. Mitchell Shaw
If you are currently a Microsoft user running either Windows 7 or 8, you are eligible for a free upgrade to the “new and improved” Windows 10. But before you upgrade, be aware that it’s free as in price, not as in liberty. Many of the new features and settings of Windows 10 have been deemed spyware by computer security experts. It’s one thing to have programs and applications spying on you. It’s another thing altogether to have your operating system designed to do it.
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.
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.
Interests and favorites. We collect data about your interests and favorites, such as the teams you follow in a sports app, the stocks you track in a finance app, or the favorite cities you add to a weather app. In addition to those you explicitly provide, your interests and favorites may also be inferred or derived from other data we collect.
That is a lot of information about users. But it doesn’t end there. Microsoft also collects data on people who may not even use Microsoft products or services:
Contacts and relationships. We collect data about your contacts and relationships if you use a Microsoft service to manage contacts, or to communicate or interact with other people or organizations.
But what about the data actually stored on the PC? That is covered in the Privacy Agreement as well. Here’s a hint; When Microsoft says, “Your privacy is important to us,” it means the company wants to take your privacy from you and use your personal information for its own purposes. The agreement says:
Finally, 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.
If you are not comforted by Microsoft’s “good faith” assurances, you are probably thinking correctly. Considering the company’s record dealing with users’ data and the depth of snooping that the Microsoft Privacy Agreement allows, “good faith” isn’t what it used to be.
Since all these policies apply to all Microsoft products and services — including Windows 7 and 8 — what makes Windows 10 different? When Windows 10 is installed, the default settings will allow all data to be collected and shared with Microsoft. Because users agree to this by simply clicking a button when they install the operating system, and because it is all turned on by default, most of the millions of Windows users will have no idea that they have given Microsoft nearly unlimited access to everything they do on their computers.
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.
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 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.]
by Deirdre Fulton
Newly disclosed National Security Agency documents show that the U.S. government’s relationship with telecom giant AT&T has been considered “unique and especially productive,” according to a joint investigation by the New York Times and ProPublica published Saturday.
The news organizations, whose team of journalists included Laura Poitras and James Risen, report that AT&T’s cooperation has involved a broad range of classified activities. The revelations are based on a trove of documents provided to the Times and ProPublica by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
AT&T has given the NSA access, “through several methods covered under different legal rules,” to billions of emails, metadata records, and cellphone call records as they have flowed across its domestic networks, according to the reporting.
“The NSA’s top-secret budget in 2013 for the AT&T partnership was more than twice that of the next-largest such program, according to the documents,” the investigation revealed. “The company installed surveillance equipment in at least 17 of its Internet hubs on American soil, far more than its similarly sized competitor, Verizon. And its engineers were the first to try out new surveillance technologies invented by the eavesdropping agency.”
The direct link to AT&T isn’t explicit in the documents, as the corporate partnerships are referred to by code names. However, an analysis of “Fairview” program documents by the Times and ProPublica “reveals a constellation of evidence that points to AT&T as that program’s partner,” the article states. Several former intelligence officials confirmed that finding.
Privacy rights groups reacted to the news with outrage, if not surprise.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said the reports “confirm what EFF’s Jewel v. NSA lawsuit has claimed since 2008—that the NSA and AT&T have collaborated to build a domestic surveillance infrastructure, resulting in unconstitutional seizure and search of of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of Americans’ Internet communications.”
Furthermore, said EFF executive director Cindy Cohn, the documents “convincingly demolish the government’s core response” to the Jewel lawsuit—that EFF cannot prove that AT&T’s facilities were used in the mass surveillance.
”It’s long past time that the NSA and AT&T came clean with the American people,” Cohn declared. “It’s also time that the public U.S. courts decide whether these modern general searches are consistent with the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure.”
In its response to what it described as a “blockbuster” story, the progressive phone company CREDO Mobile declared: “It’s beyond disturbing though sadly not surprising what’s being reported about a secret government relationship with AT&T that NSA documents describe as ‘highly collaborative’ and a ‘partnership, not a contractual relationship’.”
“CREDO Mobile supports full repeal of the illegal surveillance state as the only way to protect Americans from illegal government spying,” CREDO vice president Becky Bond continued, “and we challenge AT&T to demonstrate concern for its customers’ constitutional rights by joining us in public support of repealing both the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act.”
Mint Press News
By Sean Nevins
“What we often see is police departments or local law enforcement agencies grabbing technologies without any policies in place for it, not asking anybody’s permission, just sort of getting it, [and] starting to implement it,” a digital rights activist tells MintPress.
Fast on the heels revelations of dragnet surveillance devices used by the likes of the National Security Agency and the CIA, another set of tools used by local police in communities across the United States is invading the privacy of the American public, tracking their movements.
“If you were to put an automatic license plate reader next to a road that people have to use to get to a demonstration, you could have a list of every single person who attended that demonstration. That’s really concerning,” Nadia Kayyali, a digital rights activist and lawyer, told MintPress News.
An automatic license plate reader (ALPR) is a high-speed camera that reads and captures an image of every license plate that comes into its view. Like biometric collection devices and “Stingrays,” ALPRs are just one of the devices used by local police to track, identify and monitor Americans.
ALPRs, privacy and the Fourth Amendment
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration granted hundreds of thousands of dollars to state and local police to procure ALPRs, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported last month.
The ACLU’s website states that ALPRs are being used by the NHTSA for highway safety purposes, but it is unclear whether law enforcement agencies might also be using them for non-safety purposes.
“The NHTSA should not be funding police technology for surveillance purposes and it should not let law enforcement apply for funding to decrease traffic fatalities and then turn around and use those funds to track people not suspected of any crime,” wrote Bennett Stein of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police conducted a privacy impact assessment of ALPRs in 2009. They found that there are no uniform policies police departments have to abide when using the technology. Ultimately, the IACP concluded, this could result in the technology being “mismanaged or misinterpreted with real-world consequences.”
The IACP report continues: “Moreover, the potential misuse of [license plate reader] LPR data may expose agencies operating such systems to civil liability and negative public perceptions.”
One effect of ALPRs, which the report describes as “chilling,” is their potential to leverage surveillance as a form of social control.
“Specifically, the risk is that individuals will become more cautious in the exercise of their protected rights of expression, protest, association, and political participation because they consider themselves under constant surveillance,” states the report.
ALPRs can also record and collect intimate details about people’s lives, such as their attendance at meetings for addiction or counseling, doctor visits, and participation at political protests, explains the report.
“It’s similar to phone metadata, that especially when you are keeping this data for a long time and you are putting it in a database you can actually end up getting a lot of information about somebody,” Kayyali said, referencing revelations by Edward Snowden in 2013 that the NSA was spying on Americans. The bulk collection of this data by the NSA was ruled as unlawful by a U.S. appeals court in May of this year.
Kayyali told MintPress the Fourth Amendment is intended to protect citizens from this kind of surveillance, noting: “The principle of the issue that if you’re not doing anything wrong you shouldn’t have to be concerned that government is recording all your movement.”
“We have privacy as a way to guard against government overreach,” she asserted.
Biometrics and “Stingrays”
Other devices being employed by various law enforcement agencies across the country, including biometric collection devices and “Stingrays.’’
Biometric devices are gadgets that collect personally identifying physiological information, such as fingerprints and facial features, or record behavioral characteristics for identifying traits, like unique mannerisms and lifestyle patterns.
The danger here is the forfeiture of anonymity and diminished privacy of U.S. citizens at the hands of law enforcement and the industries that promote the spread of these technologies.
“Stingrays,” meanwhile, mimic cellphone towers, allowing police to extract identifying information from people’s cellphones.
“When used to track a suspect’s cell phone, they also gather information about the phones of countless bystanders who happen to be nearby,” the ACLU explains on its website.
Stingray is the brand name for an international mobile subscriber identity locator, a device which can monitor who someone is calling, when he or she made the call, and the location of the caller. And some can even capture conversations, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to defending civil liberties in the digital world
So what can you do?
To help answer this question, the EFF and Muckrock, a collaborative news site that brings together journalists, researchers, activists, and regular citizens to request, analyze and share government documents, launched a website last week. The website, “Street Level Surveillance,” acts as a kind of clearinghouse for local police spy technology.
“This is designed to help everybody from journalists to activists to lawyers who are working on these issues,” Dave Maass, an investigative researcher with the EFF, told MintPress. “It is designed to benefit people in the community, whether those are people acting on their own behalves, people who serve as watchdogs, or defend the rights of everyday people.”
The website features information about surveillance tools used by local law enforcement agencies all over the U.S., how they’re used, the hidden dangers they pose, as well as news and other research on those devices.
The website also invites readers to actively participate in countering surveillance by filing a public records request to determine what kind of biometric technologies are being used in their own communities.
“How do you fight the surveillance state on the local level? One way is to gather intel on the intelligence gatherers,” the site advises. “This information is useful because it can help structure policy debates. Public records requests can also influence agencies. Government officials are more apt to act responsibly when they know they’re being watched.”
Grassroots efforts to end surveillance
Maass also urges the public to counter surveillance measures by local police by advocating against such measures to policymakers in local communities.
“Advocating with your policymakers, whether that’s your city council, your board of supervisors — I mean, these are important things, and the more information that’s out there, the more debate is fueled,” he said.
Nadia Kayyali, the digital rights activist and lawyer, told MintPress she hopes this kind of advocacy results in local governments slowing down their acquisition of surveillance technologies. She said, “They really need to stop, take a step back, and say, ‘Why are we adopting these? What problem are we trying to solve? Is this really the best way to do it?’”
She also wants the federal government to stop providing the funds that enable local law enforcement agencies to purchase these technologies without questioning whether those agencies will use them wisely.
Echoing Kayyali, Maass says this is the main problem. He explained:
“What we often see is police departments or local law enforcement agencies grabbing technologies without any policies in place for it, not asking anybody’s permission, just sort of getting it, [and] starting to implement it.”
Privacy issues are rarely brought up, he continued, and when they are, it’s not until after people realize what’s going on. But at that point, he says, it’s difficult to get lawmakers and city council members to take powers away from the police because they don’t want to be seen as being soft on crime.
“It’s really important to have this debate before the technology is purchased so informed decisions can be made about purchasing the technology,” he said.
The New American
by Alex Newman
The Orwellian cities of the future being designed and imposed right this instant all over the world — so-called “Smart Cities” — will be watching you. In fact, they already are watching you. And unless humanity takes action soon to rein in its would-be omniscient rulers, the technological dystopia being erected all around you will ensure that governments and dictators know virtually everything about everyone — perhaps more than individuals know even about themselves. The plot to create the total surveillance state under the guise of making cities “smart” will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars, too. But the price tag in terms of lost privacy and liberty will be far higher.
As the concept of “smart” cities continues to evolve with technology, countless definitions and terms to describe the scheming have been proposed. Discussing a planned “smart” city in South Korea, Frederic Ojardias, Ph.D., at Seoul National University’s Graduate School of International Studies said the concept is simple. “The city is filled with sensors and cameras at every corner (monitoring temperature, traffic, electricity) that are all interconnected and linked to a central ‘brain’ that computes all this information in real time in order to optimize the management of the city, minute by minute,” he said to describe the vision.
According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, “smart cities” bring together technology, government, and society to enable a smart economy, smart environment, smart living, smart governance, and more. There are also a number of technologies associated with smart cities. Among them: “Intelligent lighting; Smart building controls; Wireless charging for automobiles; Facial recognition; Wind turbines; Intelligent Buildings; A connected self-aware environment;” and much more.
And that is just the beginning, with tech giants coming up with new technology every day that could be used to improve lives — or destroy liberty and privacy. Already, the former head of the NSA and CIA has been boasting that “we kill people based on metadata.” With “smart” cities providing unfathomable amounts of data to authorities, Americans can expect the lawlessness to continue accelerating if nothing changes.
Of course, “smart” technology is already ubiquitous, from so-called “smart” phones that double as portable espionage devices to “smart” meters used (when they are not exploding at least) to spy on people’s water and electricity use. Smart TVs now spy on their users, too. Schools are doing it as well. According to news reports, in London, data gathered from cameras is cross-referenced with government lists of people who have paid their driving fees, allowing violators to be identified and punished. Authorities in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Stockholm, and other cities are also openly and purposely trying to become “smart.” In South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, fully “smart” cities are being designed and built from the ground up.
With facial-recognition software now extremely advanced, and billions of people around the world posting their data and pictures online through social-networking services, hand-held “smart” technology has already created potentially totalitarian tools far beyond anything George Orwell could have imagined in his worst nightmares. Even years ago, U.S. cities were exposed rolling out so-called “Intellistreets” streetlights that double as Big Brother espionage tools to listen in on conversations. Entire smart cities are the next logical step, and the establishment is going all out to promote them as it works to abolish cash and shift everything online at the same time.
During a recent visit to India, for example, Obama pledged some $4 billion in U.S. taxpayer “investments and loans” to help Indian authorities build infrastructure, including $2 billion for the government there to create “smart cities.” Speaking to a large crowd, Obama said America was committed to the “smart cities” concept, linked to United Nations “sustainability” programs such as Agenda 21, and would help the Indian government pay to build them. To start with, 100 Indian cities are going to be made “smart.”
“We are ready to join you in building new infrastructure … roads and airports, the ports and bullet trains to propel India into the future,” Obama told Indians, without offering any hints on where the debt-riddled federal government would get the funds to propel India into the future or why U.S. taxpayers should fund it. “We are ready to help design smart cities.” Critics lambasted the scheme from all angles, pointing out that the U.S. government is already drowning in debt and that the whole “sustainability” theme behind the radical “smart cities” agenda represents a major threat to liberty, markets, and more.
Around the same time, arch sustainability profiteer (and self-styled inventor of the Internet) Al Gore joined with former Mexican President Felipe Calderón at the World Economic Forum to demand that all cities worldwide be made “smart.” For a mere $90 trillion (as a starting point), the two globalist crusaders against carbon dioxide explained, every city in the world could be made much denser — a so-called “smart city” in which citizens would be packed in like sardines, and hence, easier to control.
Under the Gore-Calderón vision, personal transportation such as cars would be phased out as the “smart cities” of the future force everyone to either walk or rely on government-run transportation to get around. Ironically, perhaps, more than 1,700 private jets descended on Davos for the confab so its occupants could plot new ways to reduce the CO2 emissions of the unwashed masses as they are corralled into their “smart” cities (often at gunpoint). Of course, the plan to pack humans into tiny cities is not new, and has been advancing under UN “Agenda 21” and other schemes for more than two decades. And the UN has been promoting “smart” cities since at least 2009, when UN chief Ban Ki Moon called for “better, more equitable urban planning” and “new ideas from smart cities around the world” to guide “sustainable urbanization.”
Alleged benefits of the interconnected ecosystem of data-gathering technology, such as better traffic management, catching criminals, and a smaller “carbon footprint” for city residents, are being shouted from the rooftops by those seeking to push the agenda — governments, profiteers, futurists, and others. Businesses, too, will be able to harness the gargantuan amounts of data being produced to target individual consumers. The darker side of the shift toward intelligence-gathering everything, everywhere, however, has been largely buried from public discourse — not to mention the dangers of combining all of the information with emerging “artificial intelligence” technologies.
In a recent puff piece promoting the potential benefits of “smart cities” in the Wall Street Journal, CEO Mike Weston with the “data-science” consulting firm Profusion offered some terrifying insight into the awesome powers that will be available to the rulers of these future Orwellian cities. “In a fully ‘smart’ city, every movement an individual makes can be tracked,” Weston observed, noting that governments and municipalities from Boston to Beijing were pledging billions of tax dollars to the plot. “The data will reveal where she works, how she commutes, her shopping habits, places she visits and her proximity to other people.”
While Weston focuses largely on the profit opportunities surrounding all of that data for marketers, and ethical concerns for businesses, the same data will also enable authorities to compile unimaginably detailed profiles of every single individual. “By analyzing this information using data-science techniques, a company could learn not only the day-to-day routine of an individual but also his preferences, behavior and emotional state,” the CEO explained. “Private companies could know more about people than they know about themselves.” And, of course, so could governments, hacker spies working for the regime in Beijing, and even private-sector criminals with access to the surveillance data.
Weston claims that a smart city “doesn’t have to be as Orwellian as it sounds.” That is true. But considering governments’ track records on snooping — think NSA, KGB, Stasi, and so on — the likelihood of smart cities not ending up as Orwellian as they sound is probably slim to none. With the added “smartness” of emerging technologies, and with some two thirds of humanity expected to live in cities within a few decades, the possibilities for controlling and oppressing mankind in previously unimaginable ways are almost endless. Rulers will soon, if they do not already, be able to know more about the individuals they rule than those individuals know themselves.
Of course, technology, in and of itself, is not the problem or the threat. Instead, the threat comes from totalitarian-minded governments, globalists, politicians, dictators, and bureaucrats anxious to further oppress the public and further empower themselves. From the UN and the World Bank to the Obama administration and the European Union super-state, the establishment is planning to bring “smartness” to a city near you in the near future. Based on their track record so far, however, it should be beyond clear that the “smart” cities are a dumb and dangerous idea — especially if you value liberty and privacy.
Alex Newman, a foreign correspondent for The New American, is currently based in Europe. He can be reached at email@example.com