of if-you-like-to-spy,-you-want-to-be-spied-on-wouldn’t-you? department
In recent months, much attention has been paid to private companies assisting governments with surveillance. Most of these efforts have focused on companies like Clearview (a company that scavenges the public web for data to sell to its customers) and NSO Group (an Israeli company that sells powerful cell phone exploits to a variety perpetrators of human rights violations). Other reports have focused on data brokers who use information gathered from phone apps to provide location data to US law enforcement, allowing them to circumvent protections put in place by the Supreme Court. . Carpenter decision.
What has been exposed by security researchers and investigative journalists is just the tip of the iceberg. Governments crave data and want to convert the ubiquity of smartphones into actionable information.
And this is where things get even sketchier. We assume that our respective governments will respect the rights and engage in good faith relationships with companies providing unrestricted access to devices and data.
Our assumptions are wrong. Governments, for the most part, do not care about the citizens they serve. And they certainly don’t care about people beyond their borders – people they assume have no natural rights who can be targeted with a modicum of stealth and surveillance.
Further evidence of the unwillingness of US corporations and the US government to care about the negative side effects of unfettered domestic surveillance came courtesy of Sam Biddle and Jack Poulson of The Intercept.
A company with a non-existent web footprint is promising the US government new ways of warrantless surveillance — and it’s doing it by leveraging location data gathered from any possible source. A new war is underway, and despite the lack of direct US involvement, a private company is selling technology to the US government that will allow it to monitor the war via location data purchased from Twitter.
According to Brendon Clark of Anomaly Six – or “A6” – combining his cell phone location tracking technology with social media monitoring provided by Zignal Labs would allow the US government to effortlessly spy on Russian forces as ‘they would gather along the Ukrainian border, or similarly follow Chinese nuclear submarines.
Twitter may have gone to great lengths to prevent government agencies from directly accessing its data, but it isn’t as proactive about private companies selling that data to government agencies. Content moderation is not possible. Moderating access to Firehose isn’t easy either, especially when third parties aren’t honest about what they’re doing with that data.
The twist in this case is how Anomaly Six demonstrated its prowess in exploiting social media: it turned secret US government employees into targets.
To prove the technology worked, Clark pointed A6’s powers inward, spying on the National Security Agency and the CIA, using their own cell phones against them.
Do you want to know more about Anomaly Six? Good luck. The only thing on its website is an email address — an address tied to an account that presumably ignores pesky questions from reporters and only responds to email addresses tied to higher levels of federal agencies.
At best, Anomaly Six seems like another option for location data that allows the government (federal, local) to dodge the warrant requirement enacted by the Supreme Court. At worst, it’s the multiple firehose interceptor that allows government agencies to convert social media usage into real-time tracking of citizens’ movements and activities.
Social media services are the vector of attack, as highlighted in a recording obtained by The Intercept.
According to audiovisual recordings of an A6 presentation reviewed by The Intercept and Tech Inquiry, the company claims it can track approximately 3 billion devices in real time, equivalent to one-fifth of the world’s population. The staggering surveillance capability was cited during a pitch to provide A6’s phone tracking capabilities to Zignal Labs, a social media monitoring company that leverages its access to A6’s rarely granted “firehose” data stream. Twitter to sift through hundreds of millions of tweets per day without restriction.
Laws and legal precedents limit what the government can do. Anomaly Six asks why be limited by laws and precedents? Simply get what you want from third parties, act on the information, and rest assured that the gray area between citizens and government will almost always result in favorable decisions for government investigators.
The tools provided by this company, which apparently has access to Twitter’s fire hose, allow customers to take a look at global Twitter usage and track relationships between Twitter accounts, using data location tracking to see what other accounts were in the area and who targeted users interacted with.
Not only is this company apparently circumventing restrictions on US law enforcement, but it is allegedly violating agreements made by private companies like A6 when purchasing firehose access to Twitter.
The source also claimed that Zignal Labs deliberately tricked Twitter into denying broader military and corporate surveillance use cases its access to the fire hose.
As the Supreme Court has noted in decisions relating to the Fourth Amendment and the “reasonable” expectation of privacy, sharing something with a private company is not the same as endorsing flames access by government agencies. Anomaly Six operates outside of Fourth Amendment protections and citizen expectations of how their data will be treated. Sooner or later it will cost the government convictions, if not real money. But, for now, it’s just (government) business as usual – business the government apparently feels comfortable doing even when its contractor has demonstrated that even the most secretive federal agencies don’t. are not out of reach.
Filed Under: cia, location data, mass surveillance, nsa, private data, surveillance
Companies: anomaly 6