Friday, June 06, 2008

Bugging yourself

Recently a senior New South Wales police investigator in Australia was arrested for plotting to import drugs from pantyhose company in Pakistan using bags of rice as a cover. He needed money to cover his gambling debts. The cop's confederates were well known criminals and a psychic. They met in cafes; used the police fax machine to send messages. And they even communicated 'secretly' using Hotmail, through what they imagined to be the highly secure method of sharing passwords in an account and leaving messages in the "Drafts" folder. He was arrested by the Australian feds. They should charge him with stupidity, but I don't think that crime is on the books.

People have an astounding ignorance of their vulnerability to signals intelligence. How commonplace the British government's monitoring of cell phone communications has become is illustrated in by this software company's sales pitch. (Be sure to watch the video. You will never look at your cell phone the same way again.) For as long as a cell phone is turned on, even if you are not making calls, it is trying to stay connected with the network. And the network has to know where it is, in terms of its coverage, in order to route messages to it. This means a constant log of position data is being collected on it all the time. Emergency services exploit this feature to find lost or injured people. But so can anyone with access to the phone company locator database. Like parents who want to know where their children are. Or someone else who wants to sell near real-time information on your whereabouts.

We get worried about the damndest things. Whether it is ok to wiretap terrorist suspects. But maybe the biggest potential actual threats to our privacy are the most ordinary of things. Video surveillance cameras. Cell phones. Company packet sniffers. Filters the entertainment companies want put on your ISP to monitor "bootleg" software. Databases. Especially databases.

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Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

Yeah, its funny how insecure the Internet really is. Its masses of communications that give it the aura of security more than anything else. However, cause sufficient interest in your activities and your communications are wide open.

Even if they can not find out what you are saying, the fact you are exchanging data with suspicious characters is often enough.

Right now in Wisconsin we are going through the emergency communications blues. The citizens of the People's Republic of Madistan are up in arms about how their 911 system is not yet able to pinpoint their location withing a square yard. As they say, careful what you wish for.

6/06/2008 07:21:00 PM  
Blogger Teresita said...

In twenty years, you will walk past a blank wall in an airport, and it will read your embedded RFID chip and instantly offer you a giant wall-sized advertisement tailored exactly to your buying patterns, courtesy of that same RFID chip. Think of it this way, no one will ever get mugged for the cash they haven't carried for years.

6/06/2008 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

Today you are worth what you are. Not the pieces of metal or paper that you might happen to have in your pocket. When you spend with plastic you are spending against a database entry of what you are worth. Buying power is now inextricably linked to identity.

Bill Gates might not have a dime on him. But with the proper identity documents and plastic on him, he could probably buy your neighborhood and everything in it. As long as he was Bill Gates.

And since money is tied to most forms of activity, identity is transitively related to all activity. Whether it is getting an elevator to open to a secure floor, entering a room, logging onto a computer, buying something or just ordering a drink, who you are is everything.

We link activity to our identity on a daily basis. And it all lives in databases. Then we demand privacy. Well, what kind of privacy can you have from the DBO, or database owner, I would like to know.

6/06/2008 08:32:00 PM  
Blogger Andrewdb said...

I believe I have read that the CIA nabbed some alleged bad guy in Italy. See here:

In what has to be one of the worst cases of tradecraft known, it also appears that the CIA agents used cell phones and left them turned on (while also making a lot of other beginner's mistakes). Anyone who has watched a Mafia movie knows that's how they track people - and the Italians did.

6/06/2008 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

I remember when those 400 odd FBI files ended up in a closet of a Clinton minion and how quickly our watch dog media went back to sleep. Obviously, every scandal cannot be Watergate. And I think we all understand how easy it is to put 400 FBI files in our closet and forget they are there -- with the whirl of daily events and what not.

So I thought it is not a matter of whether you love Big Brother, but rather: whose Big Brother do you love?

It will be interesting, with President Obama in charge, who starts worrying about what. How did those 50,000 FBI files end up on that laptop? Well, ah, hmm. Wait for the speech.

But at least we will be suing the phone companies for their cooperation with the wrong Big Brother after 9/11. Billions will go to lawyers and more billions will go to likely terror sympathizers. That'll teach 'em.

6/07/2008 04:14:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

What's more important if you're a struggling banana republic like Nigeria: databases (and all they represent) or food?

6/07/2008 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger South Dakota Lawyer said...

Wretchard: " They should charge him with stupidity, but I don't think that crime is on the books."

Consider the following from Donald E. Westlake's Bad News (pp. 111-12):

Judge T. Wallace Higbee had come to realized that what it was all about was stupidity. All through law school and through his years of private practice, he had believed that the subject was the law itself, but in the last twelve years, since, at the age of fifty-seven, he had been elected to the bench, he had come to realize that all the training and all the experience came down to this: It was his task in this life to acknowledge and then to punish stupidity.

Joe Doakes steals a car, drives it to his girlfriend's house, leaves the engine running while he goes inside to have a oud argument with his girlfriend, causing a neighbor to call the police, who arrive to quiet a domestic dispute but then leave with a car thief, who eventually appears before Judge T. Wallcae Higbee, who gives him two to five in Dannemora. For what? Car theft? No; stupidity.

Bobby Doakes, high on various illegal substances, decides he's thirsty and needs a beer, but it's four in the morining and the convenience store is closed, so he breaks in the back door, drinks several beers, falls asleep in the storeroom, is found there in the morning, and Judge Higbee gives him four to eight for stupidity.

Jane Doakes steals a neighbor's checkbook, kites checks at a supermarket and a drugstore, doesn't think about putting the checkbook back until two days later, by which time the neighbor has discovered the theft and reported it and is on watch, and catches Jane in the act. Two to five for stupidity.

Maybe, Judge Higbee told himself from time to time, maybe in big cities like New York and London there are criminal masterminds, geniuses of crime, and judges forced to shake their heads in admiration at the subtlety and brilliance of the felonious behaviors described to them while handing down their sentences. Maybe, But out here in the world, the only true crime, and it just keeps being committed over and over, is stupidity.

6/07/2008 10:18:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

...maybe in big cities like New York and London there are criminal masterminds, geniuses of crime,...

Like a United States Senator who keeps his stolen graft money in the freezer.

6/07/2008 02:19:00 PM  
Blogger 3Case said...

Once upon a time, when I was a prosecutor, I used to say, "If I could charge criminal stupidity, I'd convict everybody." About 8-10 years ago, when I was defending a client for a hare-brained, big time attempt at insurance fraud (sufficiently inventive to wind up on Forensic Files, the prposecutor said to me, "Ya know, we don't catch the smart ones."

6/07/2008 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

KJL Revues "Don’t Mess with the Zohan"

Full disclosure:
I’ve been to Happy Madison’s Culver City offices and I’ve seen the ping-pong table. I’m partial to these smart, good guys with their love of country, astute awareness of the world they live in, and dedication to entertaining both themselves and others. They know the power of humor and of not taking themselves too seriously — and they’re not afraid to take it to the most un-p.c. of places. “Shut up and make people laugh” might be their motto, and explain a lot of Zohan.

If you’re looking for a serious movie, Don’t Mess with the Zohan is not for you, as the movies’ ads might already have made clear. But if you want to laugh, can handle some cringing, and don’t want to completely leave behind the reality of war in the holiest of lands, Zohan is fresh, fearless, and fun.

“Lather. Rinse. Save the world.”
There have actually been more ridiculous diplomatic efforts in the real world.
When Zohan’s mother announces to her fighting son,

“They’ve been fighting for 2,000 years, it can’t be much longer,” we, along with Zohan, know it will be quite a while yet.

So in the meantime — Muslims, Jews, Christians, all — why not sit down for a few laughs?

6/08/2008 03:14:00 AM  
Blogger jamalystic said...

The end to our privacy is certainly here. As we continue to wire our existence around the present information age, it will be increasingly difficult to maintain privacy. With the cellphone so much a part of our living and now been targeted, it seems the ordinary folks have lost the battle for privacy: Open Season On Bugging Cellphones(

6/23/2008 11:17:00 AM  

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