The New New Internet
National Day of Unplugging lasted from sunset on Friday, March 1 to sunset on Saturday, March 2. But judging from the smartphones, Macbooks, and tablets at the third annual Theorizing the Web conference, no attendees took them up on the challenge.
This past weekend was the first time the conference has been held in New York City, at the CUNY Graduate Center near Herald Square.
Gatherings of this sort are typically insular, academic affairs, but organizers Nathan Jurgenson and PJ Rey, both sociology grad students at the University of Maryland-College Park, have attempted to broaden the tent to include bloggers, writers, and journalists of all stripes. “We wanted to create the sort of conference we would want to attend,” said Mr. Rey.
Privacy is Dead
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun implementing a $1 billion face recognition program that will probably scare everyone outside of law enforcement. NewScientist reports that the Next Generation Identification (NGI) program will lump iris scans, biometrics, DNA and even voice prints into one formidable profiling tool and some states are already using the program in a limited fashion. The whole thing will be in effect across the country in about 2 years. NewScientist addresses the privacy problem:
Privacy is Dead
“CryptoParty” sounds like an event involving strangers in balaclavas and Guy Fawkes masks sipping cocktails and staring unblinkingly at each other. That might be fun, but a CryptoParty is really, according to this wiki, a gathering of “Interested parties with computers and the desire to learn to use the most basic crypto programs.” CryptoParties are practical efforts to assist private citizens in learning how to combat what many activists contend is a creeping Orwellian surveillance state in developed countries worldwide.
In a post published a few days ago, the Australian edition of SC Magazine elaborated:
Google engineer Morgan Marquis-Boire and Ph.D. computer science student Bill Marczak introduced New York Times readers today to FinSpy, one of the scariest spyware packages you’ve probably never heard of. Mr. Marquis-Boire and Mr. Marczak have been on FinSpy’s trail, mapping all its nasty flavors, since earlier this year. The software suite is available to law enforcement for legitimate investigative use, but the researchers have found it is also being used by oppressive governments to track the communications, activities and personal connections of political dissidents.
In a report linked by the Times, Mr. Marquis-Boire and Mr. Marczak detail how they first learned of the spyware as a Trojan payload attached to emails sent to Bahraini human rights activists, then began peeling apart its other, much creepier uses–tracking everything a target does with a smart phone. Pretty much any smart phone. The researchers’ list of what FinSpy Mobile can do is chilling:
It may seem that the government keeping an eye on every bit of data flowing across the Internet is an improbably vast form of surveillance, too expensive to manage. Ars Technica informs us that it is terrifyingly easy to nose around inside all our emails, chats and site visits, using a series of functions that include deep packet inspection (DPI). DPI is hardware capability that has been used by no less than that paragon of democracy, the Libyan government under Muammar Gaddafi.
Deep packet inspection is useful because it keeps networks safe. However, it can also reveal the entirety of a web user’s digital trail. If your data flashing through your Internet provider’s routers is like a car going through a stoplight, data packet inspection is performing the function of the traffic cam that captures your plate number. But when used for snooping, data packet inspection doesn’t just snapshot a random packet, it works full-time. This is why DPI’s usefulness in probing data was feared by opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
As Ars Technica’s Sean Gallagher reports, however, deep packet inspection is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to total data surveillance. There are services, Gallagher writes, that offer “Google-sized surveillance“:
15 Minutes Into the Future
Just last week, news broke that the NYPD would soon begin rolling out new tech that brings together information streams like CCTV footage and criminal databases. Developed in partnership with Microsoft, it’s dubbed (with disturbing blandness) the “Domain Awareness System.”
Today, Mayor Bloomberg makes it official with an announcement. However, there’s a little detail that’s new: New York gets a 30 percent cut of any future sales to other cities, which’ll go to counter-terrorism and crime-prevention programs. (That sounds to us like a whole lot of surveillance cameras.)
The official announcement explains the system like so:
Be prepared to have whatever nominal notions of privacy you entertained about your cell phone usage shattered: A report produced by cell phone carriers in response to a congressional inquiry shows an alarming uptick in data requests by law enforcement over the last five years.
The New York Times obtained a copy of the report, stating that this is the first time data about cell surveillance has been collected on this scale, and that carriers are responding to thousands of requests daily.