February 20, 2012
By Steve Watson
“The UK government is just as bad as the US. The real question is what government is actually good? Is there any leaders int the world who actually care about the people?” –KTRN
The British government has dusted off previously shelved plans to create huge databases, enabling spy agencies to monitor every phone call, email and text message as well as websites visited by everyone in the country.
The Telegraph reports that under the plans, the government will force every communications network to store the data for one year. The plans also extend to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and gaming sites.
The plans, drawn up by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the government’s secret eavesdropping agency, may be officially announced as soon as May, according to details seen by the Telegraph. Those agencies would have real time access to the records kept by companies such as Vodafone and British Telecom.
The records would allow the spy agencies to monitor the “who, when and where” of every phone call, text message and email sent, while also allowing for internet browsing histories to be matched to IP addresses.
Unassumingly titled the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), the new scheme is set to be implemented under anti-terrorism laws, with the spy agencies saying it will allow them to more closely monitor suspects ahead of the London 2012 Olympics in July.
Critics and civil liberties advocates are calling for mass opposition to the plans, noting that the scheme is open to abuse not only by spy agencies and communications companies themselves, but also by hackers and online criminals.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a civil liberties campaign organisation, said: “This would be a systematic effort to spy on all of our digital communications.
“No state in history has been able to gather the level of information proposed – it’s a way of collecting everything about who we talk to just in case something turns up.” Killock added.
October 11th, 2010
The Houston Chronicle
By: Jennifer Radcliffe
Radio frequency identification — the same technology used to monitor cattle — is tracking students in the Spring and Santa Fe school districts.
Identification badges for some students in both school districts now include tracking devices that allow campus administrators to keep tabs on students’ whereabouts on campus. School leaders say the devices improve security and increase attendance rates.
“It’s a wonderful asset,” said Veronica Vijil, principal of Bailey Middle School in Spring, one of the campuses that introduced the high-tech badges this fall.
But some parents and privacy advocates question whether the technology could have unintended consequences. The tags remind them of George Orwell’s Big Brother, and they worry that hackers could figure a way to track students after they leave school.
Identity theft and stalking could become serious concerns, some said.
“There’s real questions about the security risks involved with these gadgets,” said Dotty Griffith, public education director for the ACLU of Texas. “Readers can skim information. To the best of my knowledge, these things are not foolproof. We constantly see cases where people are skimming, hacking and stealing identities from sophisticated systems.”
The American Civil Liberties Union fought the use of this technology in 2005 – when a rural elementary school in California was thought to be the first in the U.S. to introduce the badges. The program was dismantled because of parental concern.
Just last month, another district in California used federal stimulus money to buy tags for preschool students, drawing national attention and outrage.
Yet, the program has been quietly growing in the Houston area.
Spring has been steadily expanding the system since December 2008. Currently, about 13,500 of the district’s 36,000 students have the upgraded badges, which are just slightly thicker than the average ID tag to allow for the special chip.
Chip readers placed strategically on campuses and on school buses can pick up where a student is – or at least where they left their badge. The readers cannot track students once they leave school property, said Christine Porter, Spring’s associate superintendent for financial services.
The biggest benefit so far has been recovering attendance funding at middle and high schools. Every day, the district uses the tracking system to check on the whereabouts of students counted absent by classroom teachers. Oftentimes, the student is somewhere else on campus, allowing the district to recover $194,000 in state funding since December 2008.
The technology easily pays for itself within about three years at secondary schools, Porter said.
Students haven’t complained much about the new badges. Most are used to being electronically monitored; their campuses have had surveillance cameras for years.
“It feels like someone’s watching you at all times,” said Jacorey Jackson, 11, a sixth-grader at Bailey Middle School.
Advantages and risks
Classmate Kamryn Jefferson admitted that it feels a bit awkward to know adults can track her every movement on campus, but she understands the benefits. “It makes you mindful knowing you could get caught if you do something wrong,” she added.
In case of a fire, administrators would be able to see if any students are trapped inside a building. If a student disappears, they’ll know exactly when they left campus.
Without fanfare, the Santa Fe school district followed Spring’s lead and introduced the special ID tags at their secondary schools this fall. They’ve received few complaints about the mandatory badges.
“It’s a very secure system,” said Patti Hanssard, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe ISD. “There’s no data to confirm that there’s any health or safety risks.”
Parent Jennifer Alvarez said she has several concerns about the technology – from whether the chips could have negative health implications to whether predators could hack into the system.
“While we can control our district and have good intent, we do not control other outside persons,” she said. “The system ultimately puts students at a safety risk if bad intent is acted upon – a factor we do not control.”
State officials were surprised to learn about the technology, and urged districts to offer an alternative to families with concern.
“They can’t deny a kid an education for refusing to use it,” Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Cul- bertson said. “They can take disciplinary action, but they can’t deny an education.”
Security expert Kenneth Trump said schools also should be prepared for unintended glitches as they introduce the new technology.
“Too often we see well-intended ideas implemented and a year or two down the road, our assessments find huge disparities in what people believe is being done and what is actually happening in day-to-day practice,” he said. “School security equipment gets installed and there is a lot of buzz about it, and two years down the road it is not in use, not being used properly, or out-of-service due to the lack of ongoing funds for maintenance, repair, replacement or day-to-day operating costs.”
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August 27th, 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Senior citizens who take antipsychotic drugs are twice as likely to contract pneumonia as seniors who do not take the drugs, according to a study conducted by researchers from Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Anti-psychotics are prescribed too frequently without doctors thinking about the consequences,” said Steve Field, chair of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of General Practitioners. “This paper yet again gives us evidence why we should not prescribe them unless absolutely necessary and if you do you should closely monitor the patient.”
Researchers examined the health records of 1,944 residents of the Netherlands over the age of 65 who had been treated at one of more than 300 general practices. In the Netherlands, medical records include not only visits to a specific doctor, but visits to all doctors, hospitals and outpatient clinics.
The researchers found that patients taking antipsychotic drugs were twice as likely to contract pneumonia as those who did not take the drugs. The pneumonia risk was highest during the first week of drug treatment.
The relationship between antipsychotic use and pneumonia was strong in users of both typical and atypical antipsychotics, although the risk from the newer (atypical) drugs was slightly lower.
The use of antipsychotic drugs in elderly patients has become an issue of growing concern. Although the drugs are designed for the treatment of disorders such as schizophrenia, they have become increasingly popular for unapproved use on patients suffering from dementia. Yet recent studies have shown that elderly dementia patients who take the drugs are significantly more likely to die from heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia than patients who do not take them.
Of the patients in the current study taking antipsychotics, only 5 percent had been prescribed the drugs for schizophrenia. The vast majority had been given the drugs in response to dementia-linked behavioral or psychological disorders.
July 30, 2010
by Noah Schachtman
The investment arms of the CIA and Google are both backing a company that monitors the web in real time — and says it uses that information to predict the future.
The company is called Recorded Future, and it scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents — both present and still-to-come. In a white paper, the company says its temporal analytics engine “goes beyond search” by “looking at the ‘invisible links’ between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events.”
The idea is to figure out for each incident who was involved, where it happened and when it might go down. Recorded Future then plots that chatter, showing online “momentum” for any given event.
“The cool thing is, you can actually predict the curve, in many cases,” says company CEO Christopher Ahlberg, a former Swedish Army Ranger with a PhD in computer science.
Which naturally makes the 16-person Cambridge, Massachusetts, firm attractive to Google Ventures, the search giant’s investment division, and to In-Q-Tel, which handles similar duties for the CIA and the wider intelligence community.
It’s not the very first time Google has done business with America’s spy agencies. Long before it reportedly enlisted the help of the National Security Agency to secure its networks, Google sold equipment to the secret signals-intelligence group. In-Q-Tel backed the mapping firm Keyhole, which was bought by Google in 2004 — and then became the backbone for Google Earth.
This appears to be the first time, however, that the intelligence community and Google have funded the same startup, at the same time. No one is accusing Google of directly collaborating with the CIA. But the investments are bound to be fodder for critics of Google, who already see the search giant as overly cozy with the U.S. government, and worry that the company is starting to forget its “don’t be evil” mantra.
America’s spy services have become increasingly interested in mining “open source intelligence” — information that’s publicly available, but often hidden in the daily avalanche of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports.
“Secret information isn’t always the brass ring in our profession,” then CIA-director General Michael Hayden told a conference in 2008. “In fact, there’s a real satisfaction in solving a problem or answering a tough question with information that someone was dumb enough to leave out in the open.”
U.S. spy agencies, through In-Q-Tel, have invested in a number of firms to help them better find that information. Visible Technologies crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. Attensity applies the rules of grammar to the so-called “unstructured text” of the web to make it more easily digestible by government databases. Keyhole (now Google Earth) is a staple of the targeting cells in military-intelligence units.
Recorded Future strips from web pages the people, places and activities they mention. The company examines when and where these events happened (“spatial and temporal analysis”) and the tone of the document (“sentiment analysis”). Then it applies some artificial-intelligence algorithms to tease out connections between the players. Recorded Future maintains an index with more than 100 million events, hosted on Amazon.com servers. The analysis, however, is on the living web.
“We’re right there as it happens,” Ahlberg told Danger Room as he clicked through a demonstration. “We can assemble actual real-time dossiers on people.”
Recorded Future certainly has the potential to spot events and trends early. Take the case of Hezbollah’s long-range missiles. On March 21, Israeli President Shimon Peres leveled the allegation that the terror group had Scud-like weapons. Scouring Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s past statements, Recorded Future found corroborating evidence from a month prior that appeared to back up Peres’ accusations.
That’s one of several hypothetical cases Recorded Future runs in its blog devoted to intelligence analysis. But it’s safe to assume that the company already has at least one spy agency’s attention. In-Q-Tel doesn’t make investments in firms without an “end customer” ready to test out that company’s products.
Both Google Ventures and In-Q-Tel made their investments in 2009, shortly after the company was founded. The exact amounts weren’t disclosed, but were under $10 million each. Google’s investment came to light earlier this year online. In-Q-Tel, which often announces its new holdings in press releases, quietly uploaded a brief mention of its investment a few weeks ago.
Both In-Q-Tel and Google Ventures have seats on Recorded Future’s board. Ahlberg says those board members have been “very helpful,” providing business and technology advice, as well as introducing him to potential customers. Both organizations, it’s safe to say, will profit handsomely if Recorded Future is ever sold or taken public. Ahlberg’s last company, the corporate intelligence firm Spotfire, was acquired in 2007 for $195 million in cash.
Google Ventures did not return requests to comment for this article. In-Q-Tel Chief of Staff Lisbeth Poulos e-mailed a one-line statement: “We are pleased that Recorded Future is now part of IQT’s portfolio of innovative startup companies who support the mission of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”
Just because Google and In-Q-Tel have both invested in Recorded Future doesn’t mean Google is suddenly in bed with the government. Of course, to Google’s critics — including conservative legal groups, and Republican congressmen — the Obama Administration and the Mountain View, California, company slipped between the sheets a long time ago.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt hosted a town hall at company headquarters in the early days of Obama’s presidential campaign. Senior White House officials like economic chief Larry Summers give speeches at the New America Foundation, the left-of-center think tank chaired by Schmidt. Former Google public policy chief Andrew McLaughlin is now the White House’s deputy CTO, and was publicly (if mildly) reprimanded by the administration for continuing to hash out issues with his former colleagues.
In some corners, the scrutiny of the company’s political ties have dovetailed with concerns about how Google collects and uses its enormous storehouse of search data, e-mail, maps and online documents. Google, as we all know, keeps a titanic amount of information about every aspect of our online lives. Customers largely have trusted the company so far, because of the quality of their products, and because of Google’s pledges not to misuse the information still ring true to many.
But unease has been growing. Thirty seven state Attorneys General are demanding answers from the company after Google hoovered up 600 gigabytes of data from open Wi-Fi networks as it snapped pictures for its Street View project. (The company swears the incident was an accident.)
“Assurances from the likes of Google that the company can be trusted to respect consumers’ privacy because its corporate motto is ‘don’t be evil’ have been shown by recent events such as the ‘Wi-Spy’ debacle to be unwarranted,” long-time corporate gadfly John M. Simpson told a Congressional hearing in a prepared statement. Any business dealings with the CIA’s investment arm are unlikely to make critics like him more comfortable.
But Steven Aftergood, a critical observer of the intelligence community from his perch at the Federation of American Scientists, isn’t worried about the Recorded Future deal. Yet.
“To me, whether this is troublesome or not depends on the degree of transparency involved. If everything is aboveboard — from contracts to deliverables — I don’t see a problem with it,” he told Danger Room by e-mail. “But if there are blank spots in the record, then they will be filled with public skepticism or worse, both here and abroad, and not without reason.”
May 28, 2010
By Molly K. Hooper
Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) relayed a story Thursday morning at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast bolstering House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) charge of negligence on the part of the White House in the Gulf oil spill cleanup.
Asked if this was the president’s Hurricane Katrina, McCarthy responded, “It very well could be.”
September 16, 2009
The Seattle Times
By Sonia Krishnan
City signs have a unique way of greeting people. In Issaquah, for instance, motorists are told they’re entering “a special place where people care.” For years, Bothell invited people to stay “for a day or a lifetime.”
In Medina, a new sign bears this warning: “You Are Entering a 24 Hour Video Surveillance Area.”
Cameras have recently been installed at intersections to monitor every vehicle coming into the city.
Under the “automatic license plate recognition” project, once a car enters Medina, a camera captures its license-plate number. Within seconds, the number is run through a database.
If a hit comes up for a felony — say, the vehicle was reported stolen or is being driven by a homicide suspect — the information is transmitted instantaneously to police, who can “leap into action,” said Police Chief Jeffrey Chen.
“These cameras provide us with intelligence,” Chen said. “It gets us in front of criminals. I don’t like to be on a level playing field with criminals.”
He declined to give the number and location of all the cameras.
Medina — a city of 3,100 with an average household income of $222,000 — had discussed the idea for years as a way to discourage crime, city officials said.
Last year, there were 11 burglaries, Chen said.
“Some people think [that number of burglaries] is tolerable,” he said. “But even one crime is intolerable.”
All captured information is stored for 60 days — even if nothing negative turns up, he said. That allows police to mine data if a crime occurs later, Chen said.
Doug Honig, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said such a system smacks of privacy violations.
“Government shouldn’t be keeping records of people’s comings and goings when they haven’t done anything wrong,” he said. “By actions like this, we’re moving closer and closer to a surveillance society.”
Medina City Councilmember Lucius Biglow said crime prevention “outweighs concern over privacy.”
“Privacy is considerably less nowadays than it was, say, 50 years ago,” he said. “I think most of us are pretty well-documented by the federal government … simply because of the Internet and credit cards.”
It’s no secret cameras are everywhere — in stores, streets, parks and intersections where police want to cite drivers for running red lights.
A 2005 city survey showed that nearly a half of Medina’s residents agreed with the camera installation. In 2007, the City Council unanimously approved moving forward. (A cost for the project was not immediately available Tuesday from city officials.)
The city looked to nearby Hunts Point as an example. The peninsula-shaped residential community just north of Medina has been using a video-camera setup to record a continuous loop of car traffic in and out of town for more than three years, town administrator Jack McKenzie said.
The town of about 500 residents hasn’t had a single break-in since the cameras were installed. “I recommend it highly,” McKenzie said.
He said visitors to Hunts Point can’t miss the video equipment: “It’s 12 feet tall and covered with cameras,” he said of the installation, which is located at the traffic circle at the entrance to the community. There are eight cameras in all; pairs of cameras point in four directions.
No residents have ever complained about it, he said.
McKenzie said the town has used it for evidence in a couple of cases. In one case, he said, a woman driving a Mercedes ran into a mailbox pagoda, damaging the mailboxes and her car.
Medina police — who provide Hunts Point with police protection — reviewed the tape and picked out the undamaged Mercedes going into town, and the damaged car later coming out.
Medina City Council members say the cameras aren’t about preserving a gated-community atmosphere.
“We’re not elitist at all,” Councilmember Robert Rudolph said. “There is a mix of people in Medina of all economic strata. What we’re doing here is protecting our citizenry.”