Facebook Is Teeming With Fake Accounts Created By Undercover Cops

In the summer of 2015, as Memphis exploded with protests over the police killing of a 19-year-old man, activists began hearing on Facebook from someone called Bob Smith. The name was generic, and so was his profile picture: a Guy Fawkes mask, the symbol of anti-government dissent. Smith acted as if he supported the protesters, and, slowly, they let him into their online community. Over the next three years, dozens of them accepted his friend requests, allowing him to observe private discussions over marches, rallies and demonstrations.

But Smith was not real. He was the creation of a white detective in the Memphis Police Department’s Office of Homeland Security whose job was to keep tabs on local activists across the spectrum, from Black Lives Matter to Confederate sympathizers.

The detective, Tim Reynolds, outed himself in August under questioning by the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, which sued the police department for allegedly violating a 1978 agreement that prohibited police from conducting surveillance of lawful protests. The revelation validated many activists’ distrust of local authorities. It also provided a rare look into the ways American law enforcement operates online, taking advantage of a loosely regulated social media landscape — and citizens’ casual relinquishing of their privacy — to expand monitoring of the public.

The proliferation of fake Facebook accounts and other means of social media monitoring ─ including the use of software to crunch data about people’s online activity ─ illustrates a policing “revolution” that has allowed authorities to not only track people but also map out their networks, said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice.

She is among many scholars who worry that expanded social media surveillance could make people less likely to engage in online activities protected by the First Amendment, from sharing their opinions to organizing protests of the government. But there are few laws governing this kind of monitoring. Few courts have taken up the issue. And most police departments don’t have policies on how officers can use social media for investigations, according to Levinson-Waldman’s research.

“It’s pretty open territory,” she said.

How Fracking Companies Use Facebook Surveillance to Ban Protest

Facebook is being used by oil and gas companies to clamp-down on protest. Three companies are currently seeking injunctions against protesters: British chemical giant INEOS, which has the largest number of shale gas drilling licenses in the UK; and small UK outfits UK Oil and Gas (UKOG), and Europa Oil and Gas. Among the thousands of pages of documents submitted to British courts by these companies are hundreds of Facebook and Twitter posts from anti-fracking protesters and campaign groups, uncovered by Motherboard in partnership with investigative journalists at DeSmog UK. They show how fracking companies are using social media surveillance carried out by a private firm to strengthen their cases in court by discrediting activists using personal information to justify banning their protests.

Included in the evidence supplied by the oil and gas companies to the courts are many personal or seemingly irrelevant campaigner posts. Some are from conversations on Facebook groups dedicated to particular protests or camps, while others have been captured from individuals’ own profile pages. For instance, a picture of a mother with her baby at a protest was submitted as part of the Europa Oil and Gas case. Another screenshot of a post in the Europa bundle shows a hand-written note from one of the protesters’ mothers accompanying a care package with hand-knitted socks that was sent to an anti-fracking camp. One post included in the UKOG hearing bundle shows two protesters sharing a pint in the sun — not at a protest camp, nor shared on any of the campaign pages’ Facebook groups. A screenshot from INEOS’s hearing bundle shows posts from a protester to his own Facebook wall regarding completely unrelated issues such as prescription drugs, and a generic moan about his manager.

It is not always clear how such posts are being used against these activists except to portray them in a bad light, and a judge could disregard them as irrelevant to the case. But their often personal nature raises questions about how these companies were scrutinising the private lives of campaigners to justify shutting down their protests.

In 2011, the UK government ordered a public inquiry led by Lord Justice Leveson into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press after a leading tabloid newspaper was convicted of phone hacking. One of the activists subject to surveillance, Jon O’Houston, who has been part of the Broadford Bridge Protection Camp, said he felt it was equivalent to the phone hacking cases, which led to the Leveson review.
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“What’s said in the groups is generally taken either out of context or cherry-picked”, O’Houston told Motherboard. “When taken out of context, you can make anything look bad or good.”

Despite his posts being used to strengthen the case for injunctions against protesters, he said he wouldn’t necessarily change his behaviour on social media.

“I don’t think I’d ever change the way we operate our groups. There’s too much information there already. If someone wants to go back five years and have a look at what was going on in these groups five years ago, they could do that,” he said.

“It would be very difficult if we stopped using Facebook as a platform,” he added. “We would lose so much of that important stuff. In a way, it’s got us trapped.”

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Surveillance tools for “War on Terror” used on indigenous activists

“A shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. The documents provide the first detailed picture of how TigerSwan, which originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror, worked at the behest of its client Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, to respond to the indigenous-led movement that sought to stop the project.

TigerSwan spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters.

Activists on the ground were tracked by a Dakota Access helicopter that provided live video coverage to their observers in police agencies, according to an October 12 email thread that included officers from the FBI, DHS, BIA, state, and local police. In one email, National Security Intelligence Specialist Terry Van Horn of the U.S. attorney’s office acknowledged his direct access to the helicopter video feed, which was tracking protesters’ movements during a demonstration. “Watching a live feed from DAPL Helicopter, pending arrival at site(s),” he wrote. Cecily Fong, a spokesperson for law enforcement throughout the protests, acknowledged that an operations center in Bismarck had access to the feed, stating in an email to The Intercept that “the video was provided as a courtesy so we had eyes on the situation.”

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The Internet of Things is a surveillance nightmare

… or a dream come true for those in power. And those in power are the same entities pushing IoT technologies.

A little background reading about JTRIG from the Snowden documents is helpful. It’s the modern-day equivalent of the Zersetzung—the special unit of the Stasi that was used to attack, repress and sabotage political opponents. A power greatly expanded with a society driven by IoT.

Full article from Daily Dot:

“In 2014, security guru Bruce Schneier said, “Surveillance is the business model of the Internet. We build systems that spy on people in exchange for services. Corporations call it marketing.” The abstract and novel nature of these services tends to obscure our true relationship to companies like Facebook or Google. As the old saying goes, if you don’t pay for a product, you are the product.

But what happens when the Internet stops being just “that fiddly thing with a mouse” and becomes “the real world”? Surveillance becomes the business model of everything, as more and more companies look to turn the world into a collection of data points.

If we truly understood the bargain we were making when we give up our data for free or discounted services, would we still sign on the dotted line (or agree to the Terms and Conditions)? Would we still accept constant monitoring of our driving habits in exchange for potential insurance breaks, or allow our energy consumption to be uploaded into the cloud in exchange for “smart data” about it?

Nowhere is our ignorance of the trade-offs greater, or the consequences more worrisome, than our madcap rush to connect every toaster, fridge, car, and medical device to the Internet.

Welcome to the Internet of Things, what Schneier calls “the World Size Web,” already growing around you as we speak, which creates such a complete picture of our lives that Dr. Richard Tynan of Privacy International calls them “doppelgängers”—mirror images of ourselves built on constantly updated data. These doppelgängers live in the cloud, where they can easily be interrogated by intelligence agencies. Nicholas Weaver, a security researcher at University of California, Berkeley, points out that “Under the FISA Amendments Act 702 (aka PRISM), the NSA can directly ask Google for any data collected on a valid foreign intelligence target through Google’s Nest service, including a Nest Cam.” And that’s just one, legal way of questioning your digital doppelgänger; we’ve all heard enough stories about hacked cloud storage to be wary of trusting our entire lives to it.

 
But with the IoT, the potential goes beyond simple espionage, into outright sabotage. Imagine an enemy that can remotely disable the brakes in your car, or (even more subtly) give you food poisoning by hacking your fridge. That’s a new kind of power. “The surveillance, the interference, the manipulation … the full life cycle is the ultimate nightmare,” says Tynan.

The professional spies agree that the IoT changes the game. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” then CIA Director David Petraeus told a 2012 summit organized by the agency’s venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft,” according to Wired.

Clandestine tradecraft is not about watching, but about interfering. Take, for example, the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG), the dirty tricks division of GCHQ, the British intelligence agency. As the Snowden documents reveal, JTRIG wants to create “Cyber Magicians” who can “make something happen in the real…world,” including ruining business deals, intimidating activists, and sexual entrapment (“honeypots”). The documents show that JTRIG operatives will ignore international law to achieve their goals, which are not about fighting terrorism, but, in fact, targeting individuals who have not been charged with or convicted of any crime.

The Internet of Things “is a JTRIG wet dream,” says security researcher Rob Graham. But you don’t have to be a spy to take advantage of the IoT. Thanks to widespread security vulnerabilities in most IoT devices, almost anyone can take advantage of it. That means cops, spies, gangsters, anyone with the motivation and resources—but probably bored teenagers as well. “I can take any competent computer person and take them from zero to Junior Hacker 101 in a weekend,” says security researcher Dan Tentler. The security of most IoT devices—including home IoT, but also smart cities, power plants, gas pipelines, self-driving cars, and medical devices—is laughably bad. “The barrier to entry is not very tall,” he says, “especially when what’s being released to consumers is so trivial to get into.”

That makes the IoT vulnerable—our society vulnerable—to any criminal with a weekend to spend learning how to hack. “When we talk about vulnerabilities in computers…people are using a lot of rhetoric in the abstract,” says Privacy International’s Tynan. “What we really mean is, vulnerable to somebody. That somebody you’re vulnerable to is the real question.”

“They’re the ones with the power over you,” he added. That means intelligence agencies, sure, but really anyone with the time and motivation to learn how to hack. And, as Joshua Corman of I Am the Cavalry, a concerned group of security researchers, once put it, “There are as many motivations to hacking as there are motivations in the human condition. Hacking is a form of power.”

The authorities want that power; entities like JTRIG, the NSA, the FBI and the DOJ want to be able to not just surveil but also to disrupt, to sabotage, to interfere. Right now the Bureau wants to force Apple to create the ability to deliver backdoored software updates to iPhones, allowing law enforcement access to locally stored, encrypted data. Chris Soghoian, a technologist at the ACLU, tweeted, “If DOJ get what they want in this Apple case, imagine the surveillance assistance they’ll be able to force from Internet of Things companies.”

“The notion that there are legal checks and balances in place is a fiction,” Tynan says. “We need to rely more on technology to increase the hurdles required. For the likes of JTRIG to take the massive resources of the U.K. state and focus them on destroying certain individuals, potentially under flimsy pretenses—I just can’t understand the mentality of these people.”

Defending ourselves in this new, insecure world is difficult, perhaps impossible. “If you go on the Internet, it’s a free-for-all,” Tentler says. “Despite the fact that we have these three-letter agencies, they’re not here to help us; they’re not our friends. When the NSA and GCHQ learn from the bad guys and use those techniques on us, we should be worried.”

If the Internet is a free-for-all, and with the Internet of Things we’re putting the entire world on the Internet, what does that make us?

“Fish in a barrel?”

Cop Watchers (2016)

Groups of citizens wielding cameras take to the streets of New York to document the systemic police brutality and racism facing the public. The cops hate it and so they push back hard. This is how police accountability plays out in the real world. Take heed.

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CIA’s “Siren Servers” can predict social uprisings several days before they happen

“The CIA claims to be able to predict social unrest days before it happens thanks to powerful super computers dubbed Siren Servers by the father of Virtual Reality, Jaron Lanier.

CIA Deputy Director for Digital Innovation Andrew Hallman announced that the agency has beefed-up its “anticipatory intelligence” through the use of deep learning and machine learning servers that can process an incredible amount of data.

“We have, in some instances, been able to improve our forecast to the point of being able to anticipate the development of social unrest and societal instability some I think as near as three to five days out,” said Hallman on Tuesday at the Federal Tech event, Fedstival.

This Minority Report-type technology has been viewed skeptically by policymakers as the data crunching hasn’t been perfected, and if policy were to be enacted based on faulty data, the results could be disastrous. Iraq WMDs?”

I called it a siren server because there’s no plan to be evil. A siren server seduces you,” said Lanier.

In the case of the CIA; however, whether the agency is being innocently seduced or is actively planning to use this data for its own self-sustaining benefit, one can only speculate.

Given the Intelligence Community’s track record for toppling governments, infiltrating the mainstream media, MK Ultra, and scanning hundreds of millions of private emails, that speculation becomes easier to justify.”

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“Faceless” recognition can identify you even when you hide your face

“With widespread adoption among law enforcement, advertisers, and even churches, face recognition has undoubtedly become one of the biggest threats to privacy out there.

By itself, the ability to instantly identify anyone just by seeing their face already creates massive power imbalances, with serious implications for free speech and political protest.”

Microsoft pitches technology that can read facial expressions at political rallies.

“But more recently, researchers have demonstrated that even when faces are blurred or otherwise obscured, algorithms can be trained to identify people by matching previously-observed patterns around their head and body.

In a new paper uploaded to the ArXiv pre-print server, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Saarbrücken, Germany demonstrate a method of identifying individuals even when most of their photos are un-tagged or obscured. The researchers’ system, which they call the “Faceless Recognition System,” trains a neural network on a set of photos containing both obscured and visible faces, then uses that knowledge to predict the identity of obscured faces by looking for similarities in the area around a person’s head and body.”

[…]

“In the past, Facebook has shown its face recognition algorithms can predict the identity of users when they obscure their face with 83% accuracy, using cues such as their stance and body type. But the researchers say their system is the first to do so using a trainable system that uses a full range of body cues surrounding blurred and blacked-out faces.”

 

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FOI request garners 18hrs of drone spy footage from FBI of Black Lives Matter protests

In a very COINTELPRO-esque context, the ACLU has received more than 18 hours of video from surveillance cameras installed on FBI aircraft that flew over Baltimore in the days after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015. The footage offers a rare insight into the workings of a government surveillance operation targeting protests.

“The cache is likely the most comprehensive collection of aerial surveillance footage ever released by a US law enforcement agency… The footage shows the crowds of protesters captured in a combination of visible light and infrared spectrum video taken by the planes’ wing-mounted FLIR Talon cameras. While individual faces are not clearly visible in the videos, it’s frighteningly easy to imagine how cameras with a slightly improved zoom resolution and face recognition technology could be used to identify protesters in the future. ”

The collection of aerial surveillance footage of Baltimore protests from April 29, 2015 to May 3, 2015, from FBI archives is available on their website, or better yet, the Internet Archive.

“Records from the Federal Aviation Administration showed that the FBI’s aircraft, which were registered to front companies to conceal their ownership, carried sophisticated camera systems on board, complete with night-vision capabilities.”

The FBI says they’re only using the planes to track specific suspects in “serious crime investigations,” and that “the FBI flew their spy planes more than 3,500 times in the last six months of 2015, according to an analysis of data collected by the aircraft-tracking site FlightRadar24.”

“The FBI has been criticized in the recent past for its actions regarding domestic advocacy groups. A 2010 report by the Department of Justice Inspector General found the FBI opened investigations connected to organizations such as Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker movement that classified possible “trespassing or vandalism” as domestic terrorism cases. The report also found the FBI’s National Press Office “made false and misleading statements” when questioned by the media about documents obtained by public records requests.”