By Matt Agorist – June 23,2016
In 2014, the FBI announced their plans to launch a massive database containing 52 million images of faces, in order to keep tabs on Americans through a biometric facial recognition program known as Next Generation Identification (NGI). However, according to an exhaustive report by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO), the program is far larger than they claimed, and ominous.
According to the report, the system actually contains about 411 million photos, only 30 million of those are “civil and criminal mugshots.” The overwhelming majority of images in the FBI database are of innocent people.
According to the GAO Report, as reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, FBI’s Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) Services unit not only has access to FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) face recognition database of nearly 30 million civil and criminal mug shot photos, but also has access to the State Department’s Visa and Passport databases, the Defense Department’s biometric database, and the drivers license databases of at least 16 states. Totaling 411.9 million images, this is an unprecedented number of photographs, most of which are of Americans and foreigners who have committed no crimes.
The agency has done nothing to make sure innocent people are kept out of their search results, according to the report.
As EFF notes, face recognition is notoriously inaccurate across the board and may also misidentify African Americans and ethnic minorities, young people, and women at higher rates than whites, older people, and men, respectively.
Also, when the GAO pointed out that agencies contributing data to the program might have lower accuracy than the FBI, the Justice Department responded by saying, “there is value in searching all available external databases, regardless of their level of accuracy.”
The FBI has been hiding this information from the public as well, in egregious violation of federal law and the FBI’s own policy.
According to EFF, the GAO report criticized the FBI for rolling out these massive face recognition capabilities without ever explaining the privacy implications of its actions to the public. Federal law and Department of Justice policies require the FBI to complete a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) of all programs that collect data on Americans, both at the beginning of development and any time there’s significant change to the program. While the FBI produced a PIA in 2008, when it first started planning out the face recognition component of NGI, it didn’t update that PIA until late 2015—seven years later and well after it began making significant changes to the program. It also failed to produce a PIA for the FACE Services unit until May 2015—three years after FACE began supporting FBI with face recognition searches. As GAO notes, the whole point of PIAs is to give the public notice of the privacy implications of data collection programs and to ensure that privacy protections are built into the system from the start. The FBI failed at this.
The FBI, in its reply to the GAO report, said the bureau “has established practices that protect privacy and civil liberties beyond the requirements of the law.”
“The FBI fully recognizes that the automated nature of face recognition technology and the sheer number of photos now available for searching raise important privacy and civil liberties considerations. For that reason, the FBI has made privacy and civil liberties integral to every decision from the inception regarding its use of face recognition technology,” the bureau added.
Apparently, keeping a massive database of facial images of innocent Americans to spy on them using hidden cameras for unknown reasons is “protecting privacy and civil liberties” if you are the FBI.
Aside from being entirely unethical, illegal, and a death blow to privacy, the database is a glaring failure. As Ars Technica notes, the system “utterly failed in the Boston bombing manhunt.”
It seems the U.S. government knows no limit as to how low they will go to ‘protect’ you from terrorism. The state’s tendency of problem, reaction, solution only serves to erode liberties while furthering the problem.
If the U.S. truly had any interest whatsoever in preventing terrorism, they would stop creating it.
Matt Agorist is the co-founder of TheFreeThoughtProject.com, where this articlefirst appeared. He is an honorably discharged veteran of the USMC and former intelligence operator directly tasked by the NSA. This prior experience gives him unique insight into the world of government corruption and the American police state. Agorist has been an independent journalist for over a decade and has been featured on mainstream networks around the world.
By Derrick Broze – June 17, 2016
A federal court has ruled that the city of Seattle cannot release information related to hidden surveillance cameras operated by the FBI.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard issued a temporary restraining order preventing Seattle from releasing any further information about the purpose and location of surveillance cameras hidden throughout the city. The ruling comes after the U.S. Department of Justice sued Seattle officials for releasing some documents related to surveillance cameras the Federal Bureau of Investigations had placed on utility poles. The bureau has argued that disclosing details could damage ongoing investigations.
“The city said it had planned to release the information pursuant to public records requests by news reporters and a privacy activist. The state Public Records Act typically exempts “specific intelligence information” from disclosure if its release would compromise effective law enforcement,” TheWashington Post reported.
The people of Seattle have a history of fighting for privacy. In 2013 residents responded to the Seattle Police Department’s purchase of two drones by unanimously passing an ordinance requiring any city department intending to acquire surveillance equipment to get council approval. The drones have since been returned. Still, the law has an exception that allows police to acquire surveillance equipment for a criminal investigation.
Phil Mocek, the privacy activist who filed records requests for information about the cameras, told the Post that Seattle City Light may have broken the law. “It appears a security manager at Seattle City Light has been running a rogue surveillance camera scheme, allowing federal agencies to install surveillance cameras and personally maintaining an inventory of those cameras,” Mocek said. “If that’s what’s happening, the public should know about it.”
These surveillance cameras installed on utility poles of Seattle are not the first time the federal government has been caught secretly monitoring the public. Activist Post reported on Jeff Harp, a former FBI special agent and security analyst, in San Francisco who recently told KPIX 5 News that FBI agents regularly hide microphones in indiscriminate locations for surveillance purposes. Harp says that between March 2010 and January 2011, FBI agents hid microphones inside light fixtures and at a bus stop outside the Oakland Courthouse without a warrant to record conversations. The FBI is reportedly attempting to catch real estate investors involved in fraud.
“They put microphones under rocks, they put microphones in trees, they plant microphones in equipment,” Harp said. “I mean, there’s microphones that are planted in places that people don’t think about, because that’s the intent!”
As Harp pointed out, “An agent can’t just go out and grab a recording device and plant it somewhere without authorization from a supervisor or special agent in charge.” The decision to plant microphones had to come from high-ranking authorities with the bureau.
The FBI has also been caught hiding bugs near the San Mateo County Courthouse. In 2015, The Recorder reported that in 2009 and 2010, the FBI hid bugs inside a metal sprinkler control box attached to the wall, and in a vehicle parked on the street.
In another recent story, Activist Post asked‘Why Is The Federal Government Installing Mysterious Boxes On Utility Poles?’. We looked at the case of Phoenix resident Brian Clegg, who was concerned about a box he witnessed being installed on a power pole. Clegg said the box was facing his house and he believed it may have had cameras inside. The pole was owned by Arizona’s largest power provider, SRP, who claimed no one had permission to put the box on their pole. Brian Clegg says shortly afterwards SRP sent a crew to remove the box.
Shortly after ABC15 investigated the matter, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, acknowledged installing the box as part of an ongoing investigation. Officials with the ATF would not provide details about their alleged investigation and would not confirm if they were conducting surveillance in the area.
It’s time to wake up, brothers and sisters. The United States is a Surveillance State paid for by the American taxpayer. What will you do to save privacy in the minds of the coming generations? Can freedom survive the erosion of civil liberties and the concept of privacy? That all depends on the actions you take today. It’s time to build something new.
By Jay Syrmopoulos – June 19, 2016
Recently, an expert has come out to claim that Facebook may be listening in on your conversations. Kelli Burns, a mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, believes the app might be using people’s microphones to gather data on the content of people’s conversations.
Facebook admits that the app is capable of listening to what’s happening around it — but claims the feature simply identifies what people are listening to or watching as means of conveniently posting about it.
Professor Burns has said that the tool appears to be using the audio it gathers not simply to help out users, but might be doing so to listen in to discussions and serve them with relevant advertising. She says that to test the feature, she discussed certain topics around the phone and then found that the site appeared to show relevant ads.Though Professor Burns said she was not convinced that Facebook is listening in on conversations – it may have been that she was searching for the same things that she chose to discuss around the phone – but she said that it wouldn’t be a surprising move from the site.
The claim chimes with anecdotal reports online that the site appears to show ads for things that people have mentioned in passing.
Facebook admits that their app can listen to audio and collects audio information from users – but that the two aren’t combined, and that no audio data is stored or correlated with advertising.
“Facebook does not use microphone audio to inform advertising or News Feed stories in any way. Businesses are able to serve relevant ads based on people’s interests and other demographic information, but not through audio collection,” said Facebook in a recent blog post. “We only access your microphone if you have given our app permission and if you are actively using a specific feature that requires audio. This might include recording a video or using an optional feature we introduced two years ago to include music or other audio in your status updates.”
Although Facebook claims they do not listen in on conversations, the catch here is that Facebook does have access to your phone’s microphone — as giving permission to access your microphone is a requirement to be able to download the site’s mobile app – thus giving the company the ability to access your phone’s mic at any time.
According to a report in Forbes:
This is not the first time Facebook was accused of listening to conversations using smartphone microphones. Reddit user NewHoustonian started a discussion last year about whether the Facebook app was listening to conversations for advertising purposes. NewHoustonian started off the discussion with a post — which has since been removed — about how he suspects the Facebook app was listening to him because he started seeing pest control ads after talking to his girlfriend about killing a cockroach. That Reddit thread now has over 1,700 comments in regards to Facebook listening to conversations and several of those comments refer to similar experiences.
Additionally, police in Belgium have warned citizens to not use Facebook’s recently added Reactions feature if they are concerned about safeguarding their personal privacy.
Whether or not Facebook is actually listening is debatable, but the ability to listen certainly exists given the fact that each person with the mobile app has already given the company permission to access their phone’s microphone. Thankfully, there is an easy solution for those that don’t trust the social media giant with access to their microphone.
One simple way is to uninstall the app altogether and simply access Facebook from the mobile site itself, thus never having to give any permissions to access your data or microphone.
Another fix is to turn off the microphone in a phone’s settings, which is relatively easy to do. Since this is done at the operating system level, doing so will mean that Facebook loses the ability to access your microphone completely.
On an iPhone this can be done by entering the app’s settings, going to privacy and then switching the slider for the microphone to the off position; on an Android phone, go to settings and then privacy, App permissions, Microphone, and from there you can change the permissions that the Facebook app is given.
While Facebook claims that they may not be actively listening to your conversations, the idea that you have given permission for the company to access your microphone and text message data simply by downloading and installing the app is certainly disconcerting for those completely unaware that they have given such privacy-shattering permissions to Facebook.
Image Credit: Anthony Freda Art
By John Vibes – May 26, 2016
It was recently reported that the Chicago Police Department has implemented an Orwellian new program that targets innocent citizens based on indicators that they might be a person who has the potential to carry out a crime. Similar to dystopian films like Minority Report, a complex computer algorithm will track and catalog every citizen in the city, and use private data about each person to determine whether or not they could be a potential criminal.
Once an innocent civilian has been labeled as a threat, they are then notified that they have been marked as a potential criminal and that they are now under police surveillance.
This disturbing program has quietly been in place for over three years, and in that time, government agents have visited the homes of more than 1,300 innocent people who had high numbers on the list, to inform them that they are now regarded as potential criminals. According to the New York Times, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says that officials this year are stepping up those visits, with at least 1,000 more people.
“We are targeting the correct individuals. We just need our judicial partners and our state legislators to hold these people accountable,” Johnson insisted.
However, activists and advocates of civil liberties are not convinced.
Karen Sheley, the director of the Police Practices Project of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, has pointed out that these innocent people are being flagged based on criteria that haven’t even been publicly established.
“We’re concerned about this. There’s a database of citizens built on unknown factors, and there’s no way for people to challenge being on the list. How do you get on the list in the first place? We think it’s dangerous to single out somebody based on secret police information,” Sheley said.
The current program is said to only target individuals who seem to show a high risk of being involved in a shooting. However, it is also important to point out that most laws, especially the bad ones, aren’t even focused on primary violations of life or property, but are instead focused on secondary actions that are seen as causal factors for these violations.
It certainly should be illegal to harm people or their property, but most modern societies, in an apparent attempt to take preventative measures, have outlawed actions that could be a precursor to actual criminal activity.
Some have referred to this concept as “pre-crime.” The idea is that people should be punished if they behave in a way that someone else is uncomfortable with, even if they have not harmed anyone.
These types of laws would include: all drug laws, all gun laws, seatbelt laws, intellectual property and other victimless, non-violent crimes, where no person has been harmed, and no property has been stolen or damaged.
Drugs are illegal, we are told, because their use could lead to actual crime. Guns are highly restricted because someone could get hurt. Seatbelt laws are imposed because someone could get hurt. And, intellectual property is imposed because someone may lose their investment. The arguments in favor of these laws are all overblown or flat out wrong, but the fear of future crime is always used to justify bad laws that have no basis in justice or restitution.
Our entire justice system is made up of this nonsense, which persecutes people who have not hurt anyone or anything because their actions apparently indicate that they will do something harmful in the future. To begin to target individuals before they have even done anything is taking this idea of pre-crime a step further, ushering in a new age of Orwellian surveillance.
Also Read: Minority Report Is Here: Chicago Residents Get Police Visit Based on Pre-Crime Surveillance List (1st stage introduced 2013)
John Vibes is an author and researcher who organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference. He also has a publishing company where he offers a censorship free platform for both fiction and non-fiction writers. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can purchase his books, or get your own book published at his website http://www.JohnVibes.com. John Vibes writes for TheFreeThoughtProject.com, where this article first appeared.
By Kevin Samson – MAY 16, 2016
It seems that every rock overturned reveals a new depth to government spying on its own citizens – in this case, literally.
Major cities have uncovered several secret operations in recent years that have sparked outrage. In 2013, Seattle police were forced to deactivate a hidden WiFi mesh network system that was funded by Homeland Security. This past month a Phoenix, Arizona resident documented a strange box that appeared on his utility pole; it was later claimed by the bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice – the ATF would neither confirm nor deny ongoing surveillance in the area.
Now the heavily populated Bay Area of San Francisco, home to nearly 1 million residents and countless millions more visitors, has been exposed to have been part of an ongoing operation to secretly record public conversations, perhaps dating from 2010. Emphasis added:
Jeff Harp, a KPIX 5 security analyst and former FBI special agent said, “They put microphones under rocks, they put microphones in trees, they plant microphones in equipment. I mean, there’s microphones that are planted in places that people don’t think about, because that’s the intent!
Worse, it appears to have been done without a warrant as part of an investigation into alleged fraudulent activity committed by a group of real estate investors. Why exactly this should subject the public at large to potentially have their private conversations recorded as well has not yet been fully explained.
The expectation of privacy while in public space is becoming more hotly debated as continuous data collection is increasingly accepted as part of our digital world. I have previously written about the specific threat to civil liberties that blanket WiFi coverage poses. New York City is turning thousands of its payphones into WiFi hotspots, while “Smart Pavement” is set for a massive roll-out across the UK. This is occurring at the same time that NY senator Schumer has called for a federal investigation into high-tech billboards that spy on the public through facial recognition and mobile phone location data. Some assume all of this is being done for advertising purposes, but it’s also been revealed that many countries are using this to measure and manipulate political opinion.
We are clearly heading into very dangerous territory as all of our data is being opened up for scrutiny by government, while its own operations are being done in secret using the malleable framework of crime and terrorism to justify the means to its ends.
The good news is that an increasingly aware public, as well as a rising number of courageous whistleblowers, are shining new light about the depths to which our civil liberties are being erased.
Stay vigilant and take something from the government’s playbook – if you see something, say something.
-by Kevin Samson
If there is ever a perfect example of dual-use technology, it is WiFi connectivity. I’ve already covered the mounting evidence that our ubiquitous gadgets and wireless connections are doing irreparable physical harm, especially to the young and to pregnant women, but the concern about surveillance is running a parallel track.
Recent announcements in the UK and in New York City have shown that governments are working with private corporations to blanket entire cities with WiFi connectivity. Naturally they are appealing to people’s love of technology for entertainment and business to push this agenda forward.
However, beneath the surface is the development of tracking technologies that specifically use WiFi as a pervasive method of surveilling every single person who is in range – in some cases regardless of even having a connected device.
Well, sure enough, once the technology already has been committed to a full roll-out, here come the announcements about other uses that put everyone in the crosshairs … of course now in the name of stopping crime and terrorism.
As the UK’s Mail Online reports:
Fingerprints and DNA are key evidence in identifying criminals, but crime scene investigators of the future may add Wi-fi to their toolkit for tracking down lawbreakers.
If police were able seize Wi-fi devices at the scene of a crime, they could have access to vital information which could place people at the scene at the time an incident took place.
Dan Blackman, a PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University in Australia, and technical adviser to Western Australia Police, thinks police are missing out by not using this key source of information. (emphasis added)
Firstly, the idea that police just now realized that WiFi can be used in this manner is patently absurd. In 2013, Seattle police were forced to deactivate a hidden WiFi mesh network system that was funded by Homeland Security.
Other technologies that can use WiFi to see people hidden behind walls have been in development for some time. But that will only be used for emergency response, protecting babies and the elderly, and gaming apps, right?
Wrong. What is really happening is that people have become more wise to the threat that governments pose to their civil liberties and are becoming familiar with the hidden ways that they are being tracked. Rather than try to impose more surveillance through secrecy alone, governments are now selling it through the appeal to convenience, efficiency and most importantly security. It’s the same tactic that has been used in banking, travel, event attendance, online activity, and any other area where security can at any moment override citizens’ rights to freely move about without being tracked, traced and databased.
And, evidently, your home router can also be used to violate your 5th Amendment:
Routers, for example, capture ‘chatter’ from smartphones, tablets and wearables, including successful and failed attempts to log onto a network, as well as the time they attempted to connect.
In addition, routers capture a media access control (MAC) address from mobile devices, which are unique identifiers for each phone, laptop or tablet that try to connect to the network.
Mr Blackman described the information from Wi-Fi devices as ‘gold’ in terms of evidence for court. (emphasis added)
Indeed, information has become a gold mine: our personal information is being targeted by authoritarians and advertisers as a new type of currency.
It is now the responsibility of the liberty-minded to take steps to protect one’s information as though it truly was a gold hoard … and share this information to let others know that this WiFi roll-out is a bait-and-switch that needs to be opposed as vigorously as any secret program that has so far been uncovered.
Here are just a few resources to get you started to secure your data. If you have other tactics to recommend, please leave them in the comment section below.
- Beat the Data Thieves With These Privacy Measures
- NSA-Proof Your Cloud Storage Data With SkyCrypt
- How to Disappear Off the Grid Completely (Ad)