The Equation Of The Internet

The NSA stories of the past few days haven’t surprised me. Everything, but the exact names of the companies, has been written about on some of the geekier sites. I’ve even written about it on the blog.

These NSA projects are very troubling. How can this and the 4th Amendment co-exist?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Let me explain the equation of the Internet. It’s there, implicit, not spoken. We agree to allow the Internet to know everything about us as long as it never uses it against us.

Let’s face it, your cable company, Google, Facebook and a bunch of other entities you don’t even know exist, know everything about you.

They know what size you wear and what styles you like. They know the porn you view. They know if you’re pregnant or dating or lonely. They know when you’re sick. They always know where you are.

They know more about you than your mom or your spouse. It could be argued they know you better than you do!

It’s creepy they know this, but mostly they make life better. It’s a trade we make.

The government, on the other hand, has punitive powers. It can punish. We have all seen examples of mistakes made.

Imagine the government’s enforcement powers, triggered like a Google search. Usually a good match. Not always.

I don’t want my government doing this.

Maybe it’s time we had access to the databases we appear in? We need an Internet ‘credit report’ law.

Unhappily, The Walls Have Ears

I’ve been trading emails back-and-forth with the bank providing our mortgage in California. The sidebar on my Gmail page has two ads for financing. Google/Gmail knows what’s going on.

It’s no secret you are being followed incessantly as you traipse across the Internet. Sometimes the result of this data mining is beneficial, sometimes not.

It’s always creepy.

Last year the New York Times revealed how Target knew customers were expecting without asking.

As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

It’s upsetting that Google, Facebook, Target and an untold number of data brokers know. It’s even worse when it’s the government.

News reports in December 2005 first revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications. Those news reports, combined with a USA Today story in May 2006 and the statements of several members of Congress, revealed that the NSA is also receiving wholesale copies of American’s telephone and other communications records. All of these surveillance activities are in violation of the privacy safeguards established by Congress and the US Constitution.

That’s the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s spin in the last sentence, but I agree. The 4th Amendment has this covered.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Of course the 4th offers no protection when it’s disregarded!

Beyond that, what’s promised and what’s delivered are often two different things. Recently a former FBI agent appeared with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

More recently, two sources familiar with the investigation told CNN that Russell had spoken with Tamerlan after his picture appeared on national television April 18.

What exactly the two said remains under investigation, the sources said.

Investigators may be able to recover the conversation, said Tom Clemente, a former counterterrorism agent for the FBI.

“We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday, adding that “all of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

“It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her,” he said.

Some folks doubt what Clemente claims, but even if it can’t be done now it’s aspirational. Certainly the government is looking for easy snoop access wherever they can get it.

The FBI has been lobbying top internet companies like Yahoo and Google to support a proposal that would force them to provide backdoors for government surveillance –

I am not one of those people who worries about government gone wild. I am much more worried about government employees connecting the wrong dots and making bad assumptions. I don’t want to be undone by some bug in the system. Even a tiny error rate (or a small number of agents with an agenda), multiplied by our 314 million citizens, could cause trouble for millions.

Mistakes already happen.

Officials say an 18-month-old girl was mistakenly pulled off a JetBlue flight before it left Fort Lauderdale because airline employees thought her name was on the U.S. no-fly list.

You can check your credit report and undo errors. You can’t do that when you’ve been surveilled. Most likely you won’t even know.

When data is secret and conclusions drawn based on secondary or tertiary actions there’s nothing you can do. That’s wrong.

I wonder if writing this will get me watched?

The Bomber Will Be Found

“We will go to the ends of the earth to find the subject or subjects responsible for this despicable crime.” – Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge FBI Boston office.

I am not a Polyanna. I am certain the Patriot Day bomber will be found. He will be found thorough technology.

face-recognitionThe state of the art on facial recognition has advanced greatly over the past few years. There are commercial systems for sale which find individual faces and track them over time from video! Law enforcement has been buying this stuff like crazy.

There is no doubt the finish line for the Boston Marathon will produces hours, maybe days, of video. In the past that would have presented a daunting task. No more. Beefy computers will ingest that data and ask for more!

Most of us are unaware of the daily surveillance we undergo. Personally, I find it creepy. Walk the streets of Manhattan, look up and you’ll find cameras nearly everywhere. It’s less here in the hinterland, but there’s still plenty.

Here’s what the FBI and Boston Police have going for them: The bombs (inside pressure cookers, inside backpacks) could not have been on the ground long. Someone will be spotted walking with them.

Once they pick up the scent the FBI will be able to go to other, more distant, cameras to find where the suspect went. I assume suspect images will be cross matched against customs and other photo databases. Remember, your digital photograph is held at the DMV.

This type of technology was in use in 2001 at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa. Face-recognition software surreptitiously scanned everyone passing through turnstiles and flashed probable matches with the mugs of known criminals on the screens of a police control room.

There are few technologies in real life that work like CSI. This is one of them.

I pray I’m right.