Privacy SOS

Tech and surveillance news bites

Keep your wifi turned off when you are walking around in public. Businesses large and small are keeping track of your movements using your wifi signal. Al Jazeera reports: “Turnstyle Solutions is a Toronto-based consumer analytics startup that primarily helps small businesses learn more about their patrons. What makes them unique, however, is they aren’t simply trying to poll customers or review purchases. They’re using the one-of-a-kind IDs in every cell phone to track when people enter an establishment, how long they stay, and where else they may have traveled in a given day.” Worse yet, advanced adversaries can use your open wifi connection to intercept your communications or obtain other sensitive information from your phone. Unfortunately, at least one court has ruled that this “data sniffing” doesn’t violate prohibitions on conducting secret wiretaps. If you aren’t using it to connect to the internet, turn your phone's wifi off.

DHS shares images and video collected from its predator drones internally and with outside agencies, including the FBI, through a password-protected, web based data sharing system called “Big Pipe”.  In addition to using the system to share data in real-time during law enforcement investigations, Customs and Border Patrol uses the Big Pipe system to share data collected by drones that fly on the southwest border, in operations aimed at identifying and detaining undocumented immigrants who cross over from Mexico. “CBP deploys a [drone] stationed along the Southwestern border in Sierra Vista, AZ, with the Wide Area Surveillance System (WASS). WASS uses a sensor mounted to the wing of a [drone] to sweep large areas of border territory (approximately six kilometers in width) as the aircraft moves along its flight path. WASS alerts CBP to the existence of persons and/or vehicles along the border and provides coordinates to determine their location. The [drone] pilot and sensor operator can then inform ground units of the location so that Border Patrol may coordinate an interdiction of the persons or vehicles. WASS provides a radar sensor image, which CBP may share through Big Pipe during operation.”

The FBI wants to fuse your biometrics into one complete profile. Having invested billions in its ‘Next Generation Identification’ system, which aims to collect and facilitate the sharing of biometric data on millions of Americans, the FBI is seeking to beef up its biometric capabilities. A newly released request for information asks computer scientists to come up with ways of integrating multiple biometrics into one profile, as well as analyzing and geotagging them. The request calls for proposals outlining: “Multimodal biometric systems that fuse multiple biometrics (such as, but not limited to, fingerprints, face, voice, iris, tattoos, handwriting) in rendering identification/non-identification determinations; Information to fuse multiple biographical metadata algorithms along with biometric image algorithms to enhance speed of search and quality of findings. In addition, search results should include the level of confidence associated with returned candidate list; Incorporation of geo-tagging and geo-location mapping searching capabilities.”

Law enforcement agencies have been using military-grade cell phone sniffing technology for years in secret. From my colleague Linda Lye at the ACLU of Northern California: “The acquisition of these devices is shrouded in secrecy and driven by federal grant money, which undermines local democratic oversight. Their actual use by local law enforcement reflects the all too common phenomenon of mission creep: Although the justification for acquiring these devices is “fighting terrorism,” agencies seem to be using them for ordinary criminal law enforcement.” Read more.

The Government Accountability Office this week released a report saying that the DHS plan to spend between $500-700 million on more border surveillance might be a total waste of money, but DHS is going to do it anyway. DHS already blew about one billion dollars on a failed border surveillance initiative called SBInet. Despite the record of failure, the head of the agency’s technology programs rejected the GAO report’s findings. Keeping accurate records of how the technology is used would add a layer of bureaucracy to the CBP operations at the border, he said, and therefore shouldn’t be done.

The surveillance-industrial complex descends on campuses. Georgia Tech university police plan to spend $300k adding hundreds of surveillance cameras to a centralized campus spy network. Ultimately the system will include about 730 cameras, spread throughout the campus. Walter Warner, Manager of the GA Tech Police Operations Center told reporters, "Eventually we'll pretty much have every area of campus covered. I’m pretty sure that as the technology grows and people become more aware of it, other police departments, other college campuses will utilize this kind of technology.”

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.