Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Who Sells Your Personal Credit Information?

The following article outlines just one of many offensive marketing practices by companies in the finance industry that compromises financial privacy without the knowledge or permission of consumers when they apply for loans, credit or mortgages. It is shocking that the practice of sale of personal financial information is allowed at all, since the data is so sensitive and subject to abuse by any individual who might "legitimately" come in contact with that information in the course of their job at any one of the agencies handling that financial data.

It just takes one dishonest employee at the mortgage company, escrow office, competing lenders or any other touchpoint for your financial data to compromise your financial privacy and put you at risk for identity theft.

While Jeanette's article looks at how the information is sold and traded legally, this practice should be stopped to protect the financial privacy of all credit consumers.

Copyright © Jeanette Joy Fisher

It's not well known, but if you have recently applied for mortgage credit, the information you shared was probably sold within twenty-four hours of your mortgage application. Credit reporting agencies commonly sell what they term "trigger lists" of folks who have recently contacted mortgage lenders for rates or loan preapproval and have given loan officers permission to check into their credit.

These leads are being bought by data marketing companies who then resell the information to lenders who are interested in trying to entice you to use their lending services. The information the data marketing companies provide is valuable, because it tells lenders everything about your creditworthiness before lenders pitch you their offers.

One such company is Mortgage Inquiry Data, which tells lenders that they can provide access to every potential borrower who applies for a mortgage loan within twenty-four hours of the original request, making them prime candidates for lending services in the immediate future. Another company, Intellidyn, offers what it calls IntelliAlert, which provides similar valuable information to prospective lenders.

The data is worth a great deal to lenders, and comes with a hefty price tag. For instance, Intellidyn charges $31,395/month for its "platinum" level information, for which Intellidyn promises to let lenders know about every mortgage inquiry or application in any designated area in the U.S.

Just what other sort of information is being sold?

Mortgage Inquiry Data also sells: credit scores open mortgage balances monthly payments loan-to-value rations revolving credit card balances personal credit information besides just marketing application information.

All this leads to ethics questions in the minds of many bankers, who generally have to pay to get the information, only to then see it sold to other lenders who may be in direct competition with them for home loans.

Of the three major credit reporting firms, Equifax and Experian have publicly confirmed that they sell trigger lists within twenty-four hours, but TransUnion has yet to comment. However, Equifax and Experian both state that such lists aren't in violation of any laws. Instead, they view them as simply fresher versions of preapproved credit lists they have routinely sold to lenders for many years.

One of the most disturbing things about this process is that even if you don't want your credit information shared, there's currently no option available for refusing to allow it to be sold. However, consumer protection agencies in several states are looking into the practice, and you can personally express your disapproval by contacting the Federal Trade Commission.

Copyright © 2006 Jeanette J. Fisher. No translations.

About The Author: Jeanette Fisher teaches first-time home buyers and real estate investors how to meet the 5 requirements beyond credit scores. Credit Information FREE Credit Help ebook

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Veterans Identity Theft Fears Surge After VA Data Theft

What follows is my daily news alert on identity theft from Google News Alert. While it is not unusual to see a bump in the number of stories on identity theft after a data breach, theft or major hacking news, this appears substantially larger than an average day.

While many of these stories are the same AP news story reported by several news organizations, television news and radio stations - it shows that there is a widespread concern about ID theft and represents just one of many alarm bells set clanging over the past year.

How long can this go on without those holding sensitive private information on hundreds of millions of Americans taking steps to lock down that data, limiting those with access and assigning strict liability to those who compromise that sensitive data?

We'll see legislation making it illegal for non-authorized employees from removing this type of data from a workplace (the Veterans Administration in this case), I suspect little will be done beyond offering free credit reports to victims from among the 26.5 million Veterans listed on the disk stolen from the unauthorized VA employee.

Google Alert for: identity theft

New laws target identity theft
By Associated Press. HONOLULU (AP) _ Governor Lingle has signed into law a package of bills passed by the Legislature to combat identitytheft. ...
See all stories on this topic

Senator says identity-theft protection should be priority
Benton County Daily Record - Bentonville,AR,USA
... more information, Pryor said. "Identity theftis a serious concern, costing consumers time and money to fix. The fact that millions ...

Prison Time Looms For Identity Theft Suspect - Dayton,Ohio,USA
... and child care. DeVaughns pleaded no contest to 24 counts of tampering with government records and two counts of identity theft.

Vet Theft Effects
WTHI - Terre Haute,IN,USA
... people they say was on it is unbelievable. If the wrong person gets ahold of that....We have enough problems with identity theft."....
See all stories on this topic

Free Help To Vets At Risk Of Identity Theft
KFMB - San Diego,CA,USA
More than 300,000 San Diego veterans are in danger of becoming a victim of identity theft. This after a laptop computer was stolen

See all stories on this topic

Lingle Signs New Laws to Fight Identity Theft
HONOLULU (KHNL)- Veterans across the nation continue to reel from the latestidentity theft scandal- a frightening reminder of just how vunlerable everyone is ...
See all stories on this topic

Identity Theft: A Lesson For Us All
Magic City Morning Star - Millinocket,ME,USA
... While we can not entirely control whether we will become a victim of identity theft, there are steps we can all take to minimize
our risk and to minimize the ...
See all stories on this topic

Identity LOST: Vets at risk after theft
Belvoir Eagle - Fort Belvoir,VA,USA

... VA officials are encouraging all veterans to carefully monitor their financial accounts for any signs of fraud or identity theft....

State Helping Vets With IdentityTheft
Hartford Courant - United States
... Today at a veterans awareness event in Hamden, the governor's task force in charge of helping veterans avoid identity theftgot their first chance to advise ...

See all stories on this topic

Identity Theft And The Medical System
The Chattanoogan - Chattanooga,TN,USA
Being an IT professional I know all too well the widespread and growing problem of identity theft. Name, social security number, and ...

Local Vets Weigh In On Identity Theft Scandal
Veterans have a lot of stories, and considering what they've been through, they have every right to tell them. But right now veterans ...
See all stories on this topic

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Data Breach Exposes Veterans' Medical Info

The following is a press release from the The Health Privacy Project decrying the loss of sensitive personal medical and social security number information on up to 26 million veterans from the home of a Veterans Administration employee who was apparently not authorized to have the information.

This is only one in a long string of laptop losses from government and educational institutions. A recent loss of financial data from the home of an financial analyst disclosed credit information for a large number of victims during a break-in at his home. Laptop thefts are becoming more common simply for the value of the machine, rather than it's contents.

But we have got to impress upon those handling sensitive data, whether it is financial, personal or medical data, that we demand strict protection of that information, multi-level encryption of the data when it must be moved, and strict liability for those who compromise that private personal information.

May 24, 2006 202.721.5614 (o)
202.904.0899 (c)

Disability ratings stolen along with names and Social Security numbers

(Washington, DC) The names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and disability ratings in some cases of as many as 26.5 million veterans were stolen recently from the home of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee. This theft represents the biggest unauthorized disclosure of Social Security data ever.

"Millions of U.S. veterans may now suffer the aftermath of this serious and unauthorized disclosure of medical and other highly sensitive personal information, all because the Veterans Administration did not take steps adequate to ensure its security," according to Paul Feldman, Deputy Director of the Health Privacy Project. "It is completely unacceptable for the VA to have a system in place which makes possible employees taking personal information home in briefcases or laptop computers."

The VA Inspector General is very critical of the department for its lax information security and emphasizes that the employee was not authorized to remove such sensitive material.

"Our personal medical information must be safeguarded, especially by the federal government itself," continues Feldman. "What can Americans expect with respect to medical privacy if our government cannot ensure the security of our most personal information? This is a crushing blow to much-needed efforts to establish safe and secure electronic health information systems. American consumers deserve better, and Congress should use this unfortunate event as a wake-up call to be vigilant to protect the security and privacy of medical and other personal information."

The Health Privacy Project is dedicated to raising public awareness of the importance of ensuring health privacy in order to improve health care access and quality, both on an individual and a community level. Founded in 1997 by Janlori Goldman, Director, the Health Privacy Project provides a broad array of healthcare stakeholders with the information and tools they need to work more effectively toward greater protection of health information through cutting-edge research studies, policy analyses, Congressional testimony, extensive work with the media, and a Web site Visit The Health Privacy Project to learn more.

1120 19th Street, NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC 20036

202-721-5614 (Tel) * 202-530-0128 (Fax) *

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ACLU Launches Anti-Surveillance Campaign

The ACLU has launched a campaign to stop the spying by phone companies for the NSA with a nationwide newspaper ad campaign in 20 markets. Their website hosts a Spy Thriller spoof movie to drive home the point that the surveillance is focusing on the wrong target - the American Public.

Will this be enough to get Bush censured or even impeached? We can only hope that the shotgun toting Cheney is indicted first so that he doesn't take over if Bush is ousted. What could be done to expedite the process, so that we dump them before their term is over? Special prosecutors and more controversy might result in resignations if enough Americans were upset enough.

Will NSA spying via the phone companies bother the US populace more than Iraq & Afghanistan? I doubt it. I also doubt dropping approval ratings will do much worse than cause a drooping lame duck president to be entirely ineffectual in the time he has remaining in office. I'd bet that little of substance is accomplished by Bush for the next couple of years. I'd love to listen in on his phone calls during that time though.

W slumps in his Oval office chair, taps his Cheney hotline speakerphone and sighs, "Dick, I miss the good old days in late 2001 through 2004 when we could do anything we wanted."

Thank goodness those days are over. But it will take a few years to dismantle the Total Information Awareness surveillance and spying program built through Homeland Security and the Patriot Act. Who knows what else lurks in the dark corners of the CIA, NSA and the phone company secret rooms?

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Monday, May 22, 2006

Stop Bush's Illegal Wiretaps Petition

Take Action: Stop Bush's illegal wiretaps -- act now! The link takes you to a petition spearheaded online by Senator Barbara Boxer asking Arlen Specter to hold public Congressional hearings. Clearly it is a bit old now as it urges Specter to take up the challenge to hold those hearings before Congress acts to "take up Judge Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court."

Regardless, the wiretapping issue has got politicians jockeying for congressional election issue dominance. The issue has got politicians advertising on Google Adsense, which I discovered as I visited my own post on the EFF vs. AT&T (NSA) spying case. I was startled to see the Google Adsense link to Barbara with a headline reading, "Stop Bush Illegal Wiretap" and another from Americas with the similar headline reading, "Stop Illegal NSA Wiretaps" in the Adsense ads on my blog page.

It will be quite interesting to see how those political ads change as this issue evolves over the next few weeks and months. Adsense ads can often be excellent indicators of where the money is in an issue and watch it evolve over time.

I've watched the ads on this blog over time and through several privacy issues and have noted that those making money on privacy issues include privacy compliance software and privacy consultants to email encryption tools. Somehow ads always lead to those making money from the topic discussed.

The Adsense ads from Democrats indicate not that they hope to make money, but the currency of politics, votes and voter support. It is clear that Congressional dems are spending advertising money hoping to gain political election currency in these Google Adsense ads on the surveillance, spying and privacy invasion concerns of Americans.

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Voice Encryption Tool Draws Government Concern

Phillip Zimmerman, the creator of "Pretty Good Privacy" AKA PGP has developed a VOIP voice encryption program that may get him in hot water with the NSA. Zimmerman's program works with several, but not all VOIP programs, except the largest - Skype. Ebay owned Skype uses its' own encryption algo and according to them, is secure against eavesdropping by the feds.

So while bad guys scramble to find ways to talk securely by phone and those of use who simply want privacy wonder why the NSA needs to hear about our daily lives - Zimmerman has provided another tool to provide strong encryption against VOIP eavesdropping. In the process he has attracted government scrutiny once again. Odd that we need to find ways to keep Big Brother out of our basements and closets when they are mostly empty. We do it because it just feels wrong to have eyes and ears in every crevice of our lives.

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Snuggly Security & Privacy

Snuggly the Security Bear The linked headline leading to this flash cartoon by Mark Fiore shows how the Bush Administration would like us to see the NSA spying & AT&T surveillance fiasco (AKA Total Information Awareness). They're protecting us from evil terrorists by watching all phone and internet traffic of the American Public thanks to AT&T, Verizon and Bell South.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) continues in it's lawsuit to stop the surveillance.

Now there is some major news media concern that journalists are being targeted for surveillance after CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour is being surveilled.

While the NSA and Bush Administration busy themselves being snuggly and warm about protecting citizens by spying on them, it gets more raspy and grating by the day - soon to turn into a porcupine of privacy invading surveillance.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Legal Loophole in NSA Spy Case

Legal loophole emerges in NSA spy program as outlined in this thoroughly researched article by Declan McCullagh of C|Net news - quoting Bradford Berenson, associate White House Counsel at the time Bush authorized the NSA surveillance program in 2001. He claims that "AT&T is essentially an innocent bystander." according to a C|Net story today. He cites federal law, 18 U.S.C. 2511, which allows a telecommunications company to provide access to calls as long as the attonrey general authroizes it in writing.

Well, now AT&T is off the hook and Congress will be chasing down the "Who knew what and when and who authorized the secret surveillance of web and phone traffic at several phone companies?" Ashcroft was Attorney General at the time, but Berenson would have been able to authorize the action if Ashcroft directed it.

So long to the EFF vs. AT&T lawsuit, it has served its purpose to expose the illegal spying, now we'll see if there is enough public outrage and ongoing furor to chase down the Attorney General (or his minions) who approved the wiretapping and web tapping in 2001.

I highly recommend reading this thorough article by Declan McCullagh while we wait for Capitol Hill press corp to bare their fangs - if they have any.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Court Deals AT&T (&NSA) a Spying Setback

Court Deals AT&T a Setback in the spying case of EFF vs. AT&T (and the NSA) by allowing documents obtained by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (and published by Wired News Wednesday) to remain in evidence. Defense counsel for AT&T is claiming they can't defend themselves due to required secrecy of the information program and data they are feeding the NSA through splitter equipment provided to the NSA in locked rooms at AT&T which require NSA security clearance to enter.

June 23rd is the date set for the judge to hand down a decision on whether the case will continue after the NSA claimed "State Secrets Privilege" to prevent the trying of the case in open court.

If this case succumbs to that rule, it will be immediately appealed in the 9th Circuit Appellate court. Now that the documents have been publicly displayed by Wired News and by bloggers online, we can move on to the meat of the case. Why did AT&T, Verizon and Bell South provide complete and unfettered surveillance of all phone and internet traffic to the NSA - and as Klein states in his court papers, continue the Total Information Awareness program - even though it was officially ended by Congress when they thought they stopped funding it?

Admiral Poindexter disappeared as head of the program and the evil looking logo for TIA was scrapped and the program was re-named "Terrorist Information Awareness" to make it more palatable to the American public, but the program clearly continues in the hands of the NSA.

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AT&T NSA Spying Evidence

The following was taken in it's entirety from Wired News in the belief that the NSA and the Bush Administration will do all they can to get it removed from the internet and to keep it out of the news. This case will be the equivalent of the "Pentagon Papers" case for the new millennium. Wired News should be commended for taking a stand and publishing this information.

Bloggers can do their part by making this information public and exposing the NSA and AT&T spying. As mentioned in this story, other locations besides the ATT San Francisco office have built these secret NSA spying rooms intended to for surveillance of all long distance and local phone calls, as well as all internet traffic on the internet backbone fed into this spy room at ATT.

Wired News

AT&T Whistle-Blower's Evidence

Former AT&T technician Mark Klein is the key witness in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's class-action lawsuit against the company, which alleges that AT&T illegally cooperated in an illegal National Security Agency domestic-surveillance program.

In this recently surfaced statement, Klein details his discovery of an alleged surveillance operation in an AT&T office in San Francisco, and offers his interpretation of company documents that he believes support his case.

For its part, AT&T is asking a federal judge to keep those documents out of court, and to order the EFF to return them to the company. Here Wired News presents Klein's statement in its entirety, along with select pages from the AT&T documents.
AT&T's Implementation of NSA Spying on American Citizens

31 December 2005

I wrote the following document in 2004 when it became clear to me that AT&T, at the behest of the National Security Agency, had illegally installed secret computer gear designed to spy on internet traffic. At the time I thought this was an outgrowth of the notorious Total Information Awareness program which was attacked by defenders of civil liberties. But now it's been revealed by The New York Times that the spying program is vastly bigger and was directly authorized by President Bush, as he himself has now admitted, in flagrant violation of specific statutes and constitutional protections for civil liberties. I am presenting this information to facilitate the dismantling of this dangerous Orwellian project.
AT&T Deploys Government Spy Gear on WorldNet Network

-- 16 January, 2004

In 2003 AT&T built "secret rooms" hidden deep in the bowels of its central offices in various cities, housing computer gear for a government spy operation which taps into the company's popular WorldNet service and the entire internet. These installations enable the government to look at every individual message on the internet and analyze exactly what people are doing. Documents showing the hardwire installation in San Francisco suggest that there are similar locations being installed in numerous other cities.

The physical arrangement, the timing of its construction, the government-imposed secrecy surrounding it, and other factors all strongly suggest that its origins are rooted in the Defense Department's Total Information Awareness (TIA) program which brought forth vigorous protests from defenders of constitutionally protected civil liberties last year:

"As the director of the effort, Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, has described the system in Pentagon documents and in speeches, it will provide intelligence analysts and law enforcement officials with instant access to information from internet mail and calling records to credit card and banking transactions and travel documents, without a search warrant." The New York Times, 9 November 2002

To mollify critics, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) spokesmen have repeatedly asserted that they are only conducting "research" using "artificial synthetic data" or information from "normal DOD intelligence channels" and hence there are "no U.S. citizen privacy implications" (Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General report on TIA, December 12, 2003). They also changed the name of the program to "Terrorism Information Awareness" to make it more politically palatable. But feeling the heat, Congress made a big show of allegedly cutting off funding for TIA in late 2003, and the political fallout resulted in Adm. Poindexter's abrupt resignation last August. However, the fine print reveals that Congress eliminated funding only for "the majority of the TIA components," allowing several "components" to continue (DOD, ibid). The essential hardware elements of a TIA-type spy program are being surreptitiously slipped into "real world" telecommunications offices.

In San Francisco the "secret room" is Room 641A at 611 Folsom Street, the site of a large SBC phone building, three floors of which are occupied by AT&T. High-speed fiber-optic circuits come in on the 8th floor and run down to the 7th floor where they connect to routers for AT&T's WorldNet service, part of the latter's vital "Common Backbone." In order to snoop on these circuits, a special cabinet was installed and cabled to the "secret room" on the 6th floor to monitor the information going through the circuits. (The location code of the cabinet is 070177.04, which denotes the 7th floor, aisle 177 and bay 04.) The "secret room" itself is roughly 24-by-48 feet, containing perhaps a dozen cabinets including such equipment as Sun servers and two Juniper routers, plus an industrial-size air conditioner.

The normal work force of unionized technicians in the office are forbidden to enter the "secret room," which has a special combination lock on the main door. The telltale sign of an illicit government spy operation is the fact that only people with security clearance from the National Security Agency can enter this room. In practice this has meant that only one management-level technician works in there. Ironically, the one who set up the room was laid off in late 2003 in one of the company's endless "downsizings," but he was quickly replaced by another.

Plans for the "secret room" were fully drawn up by December 2002, curiously only four months after Darpa started awarding contracts for TIA. One 60-page document, identified as coming from "AT&T Labs Connectivity & Net Services" and authored by the labs' consultant Mathew F. Casamassima, is titled Study Group 3, LGX/Splitter Wiring, San Francisco and dated 12/10/02. (See sample PDF 1-4.) This document addresses the special problem of trying to spy on fiber-optic circuits. Unlike copper wire circuits which emit electromagnetic fields that can be tapped into without disturbing the circuits, fiber-optic circuits do not "leak" their light signals. In order to monitor such communications, one has to physically cut into the fiber somehow and divert a portion of the light signal to see the information.

This problem is solved with "splitters" which literally split off a percentage of the light signal so it can be examined. This is the purpose of the special cabinet referred to above: Circuits are connected into it, the light signal is split into two signals, one of which is diverted to the "secret room." The cabinet is totally unnecessary for the circuit to perform -- in fact it introduces problems since the signal level is reduced by the splitter -- its only purpose is to enable a third party to examine the data flowing between sender and recipient on the internet.

The above-referenced document includes a diagram (PDF 3) showing the splitting of the light signal, a portion of which is diverted to "SG3 Secure Room," i.e., the so-called "Study Group" spy room. Another page headlined "Cabinet Naming" (PDF 2) lists not only the "splitter" cabinet but also the equipment installed in the "SG3" room, including various Sun devices, and Juniper M40e and M160 "backbone" routers. PDF file 4 shows one of many tables detailing the connections between the "splitter" cabinet on the 7th floor (location 070177.04) and a cabinet in the "secret room" on the 6th floor (location 060903.01). Since the San Francisco "secret room" is numbered 3, the implication is that there are at least several more in other cities (Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego are some of the rumored locations), which likely are spread across the United States.

One of the devices in the "Cabinet Naming" list is particularly revealing as to the purpose of the "secret room": a Narus STA 6400. Narus is a 7-year-old company which, because of its particular niche, appeals not only to businessmen (it is backed by AT&T, JP Morgan and Intel, among others) but also to police, military and intelligence officials. Last November 13-14, for instance, Narus was the "Lead Sponsor" for a technical conference held in McLean, Virginia, titled "Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception and Internet Surveillance." Police officials, FBI and DEA agents, and major telecommunications companies eager to cash in on the "war on terror" had gathered in the hometown of the CIA to discuss their special problems. Among the attendees were AT&T, BellSouth, MCI, Sprint and Verizon. Narus founder, Dr. Ori Cohen, gave a keynote speech. So what does the Narus STA 6400 do?

"The (Narus) STA Platform consists of stand-alone traffic analyzers that collect network and customer usage information in real time directly from the message.... These analyzers sit on the message pipe into the ISP (internet service provider) cloud rather than tap into each router or ISP device" (Telecommunications magazine, April 2000). A Narus press release (1 Dec., 1999) also boasts that its Semantic Traffic Analysis (STA) technology "captures comprehensive customer usage data ... and transforms it into actionable information.... (It) is the only technology that provides complete visibility for all internet applications."

To implement this scheme, WorldNet's high-speed data circuits already in service had to be rerouted to go through the special "splitter" cabinet. This was addressed in another document of 44 pages from AT&T Labs, titled "SIMS, Splitter Cut-In and Test Procedure," dated 01/13/03 (PDF 5-6). "SIMS" is an unexplained reference to the secret room. Part of this reads as follows:

"A WMS (work) Ticket will be issued by the AT&T Bridgeton Network Operation Center (NOC) to charge time for performing the work described in this procedure document....
"This procedure covers the steps required to insert optical splitters into select live Common Backbone (CBB) OC3, OC12 and OC48 optical circuits."

The NOC referred to is in Bridgeton, Missouri, and controls WorldNet operations. (As a sign that government spying goes hand-in-hand with union-busting, the entire (Communication Workers of America) Local 6377 which had jurisdiction over the Bridgeton NOC was wiped out in early 2002 when AT&T fired the union work force and later rehired them as nonunion "management" employees.) The cut-in work was performed in 2003, and since then new circuits are connected through the "splitter" cabinet.

Another "Cut-In and Test Procedure" document dated January 24, 2003, provides diagrams of how AT&T Core Network circuits were to be run through the "splitter" cabinet (PDF 7). One page lists the circuit IDs of key Peering Links which were "cut-in" in February 2003 (PDF 8), including ConXion, Verio, XO, Genuity, Qwest, PAIX, Allegiance, AboveNet, Global Crossing, C&W, UUNET, Level 3, Sprint, Telia, PSINet and Mae West. By the way, Mae West is one of two key internet nodal points in the United States (the other, Mae East, is in Vienna, Virginia). It's not just WorldNet customers who are being spied on -- it's the entire internet.

The next logical question is, what central command is collecting the data sent by the various "secret rooms"? One can only make educated guesses, but perhaps the answer was inadvertently given in the DOD Inspector General's report (cited above):

"For testing TIA capabilities, Darpa and the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) created an operational research and development environment that uses real-time feedback. The main node of TIA is located at INSCOM (in Fort Belvoir, Virginia)…."

Among the agencies participating or planning to participate in the INSCOM "testing" are the "National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the DOD Counterintelligence Field Activity, the U.S. Strategic Command, the Special Operations Command, the Joint Forces Command and the Joint Warfare Analysis Center." There are also "discussions" going on to bring in "non-DOD federal agencies" such as the FBI.

This is the infrastructure for an Orwellian police state. It must be shut down!

-- End of Wired News Coverage

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Computers, Freedom, & Privacy Conference 2006

net.wars: Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference commentary by Wendy M. Grossman.
"Everyone seems depressed," someone said a half-day into this year's Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference. It's true. Databases are everywhere this year. FEMA databases made of records from physicians, pharmacists, insurers. The databases we used to call the electoral rolls. Choicepoint. The National Health infrastructure they want to build. Real ID. RFID tracks and trails – coming soon to a database near you. And so on.
This is an assessment from a privacy advocate that makes me happy I didn't attend this year. The comment about everyone being depressed this year is inevitable as I witnessed at previous CFP conferences I did attend, for everyone to go from angry to depressed means they are giving up or resigning themselves to Big Brother attacks on our civil liberties. I've been angry enough to talk about privacy issues for years - the difficulty is in getting anyone to care enough to talk about it, subscribe to discussion lists or to contact their elected representatives to object.

The abuses of the Patriot Act are eroding our privacy protections. The pendulum appears to be starting its return swing toward sanity now, but a depressed opposition to privacy incursions will not stir up the voters. What will is anyone's guess.

I was sure that the ridiculous Total Information Awareness program, headed by John Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame, would wake up the sleepy populace. It didn't. I was certain that the ChoicePoint absurdity would stir up those concerned about loss of privacy. It didn't. I thought that the recent AT&T spying case would rile up the populace. It doesn't appear to be much of a concern to most.

If the CFP attendees are depressed and not angry, it could be that they are depressed because nobody else seems to care about privacy issues and that is depressing. Privacy advocates who attend CFP all understand the dangers of losing privacy protections, but can't seem to get anyone else to pay attention. As long as EFF and EPIC continue to fight privacy erosion, I'll stay happy enough to keep talking about the importance of protecting our privacy.

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Government Motion to Dismiss AT&T Surveillance Case

The following is from the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Government Files Secret Motion to Dismiss AT&T Surveillance Case - DOJ Intervention Comes Just Days Before Hearing on Sealed Evidence

San Francisco - Early Saturday morning, the United States government filed a motion to dismiss the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF's) class-action lawsuit against AT&T for illegally handing over its customers' telephone and Internet records and communications to the National Security Agency. The government claims that its legal brief and two affidavits from senior intelligence officials that accompanied the motion are classified, preventing even the parties to the lawsuit, EFF and AT&T, from seeing them.

While EFF was not permitted to see the government's entire brief, in a redacted version made publicly available the government said that the case against AT&T should be immediately terminated because any judicial inquiry into whether AT&T broke the law could reveal state secrets and harm national security.

"The government is trying to lock out any judicial inquiry into AT&T and the NSA's illegal spying operation," said EFF Staff Attorney Kurt Opsahl. "It is illegal for major telecommunications companies to simply hand over private customer information to the government. They should not be allowed to hide their illegal activity behind government assertions of 'state secrets' to prevent the judiciary from stepping in to expose and punish the illegal behavior. If the government's motion is granted, it will have undermined the freedoms our country has fought so hard to protect."

EFF's federal lawsuit against AT&T alleges that the telecommunications company has given the NSA secret, direct access to the phone calls and emails going over its network, and has been handing over communications logs detailing the activities of millions of ordinary Americans. This week, a USA TODAY report bolstered key allegations in EFF's lawsuit, detailing how AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth provided phone call records about of tens of millions of their customers to the NSA without any legal authorization. The same week, lawyers at the Justice Department were forced to halt their probe into the DOJ's involvement in the spying program because they were refused security clearance by the NSA.

"The press has already widely reported on the illegal domestic surveillance that is the basis for our case. Allowing a court to determine whether AT&T broke the law would in no way harm national security. Indeed, our case is meant to protect Americans -- by requiring that AT&T follow the law and protect its customers from unchecked spying into their personal communications," said EFF Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston.

On Wednesday, May 17, at 10 a.m., a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco will hear oral arguments about the unsealing of critical documents in the lawsuit. The sealed evidence at issue includes a declaration by Mark Klein, a retired AT&T telecommunications technician, and several internal AT&T documents that support EFF's allegations. AT&T wants the documents returned and argues that they should not be used as evidence in the case. For more information about attending the hearing, please email EFF
Donate to EFF and Stop the Illegal Spying
Redacted government motion(PDF)
USA TODAY's story
More on the AT&T lawsuit

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posted by RealitySEO at 6:27 PM 0 comments

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Google Search Trends on Privacy

I discovered another useful tool at Google Labs today that allows you to track the popularity of search terms searched over time and to compare them to other searches over that same time period. Clearly this tool has broad uses beyond the one I've linked to on Privacy but that search is illuminating as it shows that we sit up and pay attention to privacy issues only rarely. The tool links to related news stories in a sidebar and highlights the story along the timeline, usually ocurring at a spike on the graph showing the number of privacy related searches.

Interestingly, two of the linked news stories shown on that graph are related to Google - one has to do with the introduction of Gmail, free email service announced by Google in April of 2004 and the controversy over the Department of Justice demand for search records and the Google refusal and resulting court case.

But there is an unexplained spike near the tail end of the graph without a news story linked to it. That is very likely to be related to the ATT vs. EFF lawsuit over the Bush Administration illegal wiretapping - as that is the only news event with privacy implications that Americans have seen reported recently.

The really interesting thing about the Google Trends results page is the breakdown of cities, regions and languages below the graph. That area shows a substantial interest from Italians, with double the number of searches for privacy related terms. Of course, the language information shows Italian as the highest interest in privacy and the cities area has it broken down like so:

1. Torino Italy
2. Naples Italy
3. Florence Italy
4. Bologna Italy
5. Rome Italy
6. Milan Italy
7. Brisbane Australia
8. Washington United States
9. Ottawa Canada
10. Vancouver Canada
#7 Brisbane, Australia outranks the US in searches about privacy issues and most of those from the US come from Washington (DC I presume, although it doesn't distinguish).

I'd love to be able to speak Italian so I could see what feeds the privacy concerns there. Italians spell privacy the same as we do in English. The top result when searching for "Privacy Italian" is a document called ITALY’s NEW DATA PROTECTION CODE Legislative Decree no. 196/2003

In any case, Italians seem to have far more interest in privacy than Americans and the Australians report on privacy issues in the news pretty frequently. How odd that Americans, who claim to be offended by privacy intrusions, are not searching for privacy related issues much. I hope something comes along to spark more American interest before the Patriot Act further erodes our civil liberties.

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posted by RealitySEO at 11:55 AM 0 comments

Bush Denies ATT-NSA Privacy Violations - Bush: We're not trolling your personal life This linked story is an Associated Press piece in which Bush denies the NSA is looking at phone calls of average Americans through the phone call record information provided by AT&T, Verizon Communications Inc., and BellSouth Corp. phone providers. The story quotes several congress members on the illegal phone record monitoring:

"I don't know enough about the details except that I am willing to find out because I'm not sure why it would be necessary to keep and have that kind of information," said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told Fox News Channel: "The idea of collecting millions or thousands of phone numbers, how does that fit into following the enemy?"

Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he would call the phone companies to appear before the panel "to find out exactly what is going on."

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said bringing the telephone companies before the Judiciary Committee is an important step.

"We need more. We need to take this seriously, more seriously than some other matters that might come before the committee because our privacy as American citizens is at stake," Durbin said.

The congressional attention to privacy invasive Bush administration activities comes as Bush nomination for CIA head, General Michael Hayden is facing a confirmation vote, but the story makes clear that Bush will face increasing scrutiny on nominations to important and sensitive positions related to protecting privacy:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who has spoken favorably of the nomination, said the latest revelation "is also going to present a growing impediment to the confirmation of Gen. Hayden."
Even though the NSA is likely killing the EFF vs ATT lawsuit, we can very likely expect to see congressional discussion pressed by democrats seeking election issues for 2006.

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posted by RealitySEO at 11:32 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

NSA to Kill ATT vs EFF Spy Suit

Wired News: Feds Go All Out to Kill Spy Suit over Bush Administration illegal wiretapping. As predicted, the governement has invoked the "State Secrets Privilege" to kill the illegal wiretapping case filed against AT&T by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The linked Wired News story quotes William Weaver, a law professor and senior adviser to the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, who claims that Judges almost invariably agree to such requests.

"It's like one of magic rings from The Lord of the Rings," Weaver said. "You slip it on and you are invisible -- you are now secret.

"Ostensibly judges could have flexibility, but they have not done that," Weaver said. "There has never been an unsuccessful invocation of the state secrets privilege when national security is involved. The (EFF) suit is over."

Weaver points to a 1978 decision by a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit against the NSA by Vietnam War protesters as a precedent for what is likely to happen in the lawsuit against AT&T.

It appears that the NSA are essentially saying that it's none of our business what they are doing, and like a parent scolding a child for disobeying, when the child asks why? - "Because I said so! That's why!" Invoking the State Secrets Act is the equivalent of "Father Knows Best" for the NSA and we are the naughty children that caught them doing things we're not intended to understand yet. It is "for our own good" and we shouldn't ask questions. "When you grow up and run the government yourself, then you can do it any way you like - but until then, you will do as you are told."

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posted by RealitySEO at 11:20 AM 0 comments