Obama (finally) confirms drone strikes in Pakistan

Barack Obama has confirmed for the first time that US drones have been used to target individuals in Pakistan, the Telegraph reports.

In a chat with web users on Google+ and YouTube, Obama discussed for the first time the covert drone program that has dramatically escalated under the Obama administration. Previously the administration refused to discuss the strikes publicly.

Talking down the estimated civilian casualties as a result of the strikes, Obama said: “I want to make sure the people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties. For the most part they have been very precise, precision strikes against Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, and we’re very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.”

The New America Foundation think tank in Washington says drone strikes in Pakistan have killed between 1,715 and 2,680 people in the past eight years, while the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates between 2,386 and 3,015 people have been killed including between 391 and 780 civilians and around 175 children killed. It is not known whether Obama is accepting these civilian death counts as not being a “huge number” or whether his own administration has much lower estimated death counts. Either way, human rights campaigners have expressed deep concern over increased use of drone strikes.

Obama has increased drone strikes since he came into presidency. The Telegraph has a video of Obama discussing the drone strikes for the first time.

Google soon to merge all user data collected across its websites

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Image via Wikipedia

Google has recently announced its controversial plan to merge all user data collected across its websites into one profile, which would then be used to target users with advertising and services and to further alter Google search results.

User data from Google products – including Gmail, Youtube, Google+, Google Maps, and even Android mobile – will be collated and treated as a single set of data to be used for various targeted services and revenue-generating schemes.

The Guardian reports that “users will have no way to opt out of being tracked across the board when the search company unifies its privacy policy and terms of service for all its online offerings, including search, Gmail and Google+. The move is being criticised by privacy advocates and could attract greater scrutiny from anti-trust regulators.”

Google’s director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten, wrote in a blogpost: “Our new Privacy Policy makes clear that, if you’re signed in, we may combine information you’ve provided from one service with information from other services. In short, we’ll treat you as a single user across all our products, which will mean a simpler, more intuitive Google experience.”

“Our recently launched personal search feature is a good example of the cool things Google can do when we combine information across products. Our search box now gives you great answers not just from the web, but your personal stuff too.”

“We can make search better—figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too.”

The changes take place on March 1st, and users will be unable to opt out of the changes.

“Google’s new privacy announcement is frustrating and a little frightening,” said Common Sense Media chief executive James Steyer told the Washington Post. “Even if the company believes that tracking users across all platforms improves their services, consumers should still have the option to opt out — especially the kids and teens who are avid users of YouTube, Gmail and Google Search.”

Google can store cookies on people’s computers to see which Web sites they visit or use its popular maps program to estimate their location. It can collect information about users when they activate an Android mobile phone, sign into their accounts online or enter search terms. For the first time, this data will be collated across its services into one user profile .

“There is no way anyone expected this,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group. “There is no way a user can comprehend the implication of Google collecting across platforms for information about your health, political opinions and financial concerns.”

 Twitter, Facebook and Myspace have launched a tool called Don’t Be Evil – which is Google’s motto – that claims to neutralise any attempt by the search engine to skew results towards its Google+ service.

Mat Honan from Gizmodo wrote: “It means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number.

“If you use Google’s services, you have to agree to this new privacy policy. It is an explicit reversal of its previous policies.”

An interested TED talk on Google is posted below. In it, Eli Pariser speaks about how Google is literally changing the way we view and use the internet, and not necessarily for the better.

 

 

 

 

US rank in press freedom drops due to targeting of journalists

The United States of America has dropped 27 places in a ranking of press freedom due to targeting of journalists covering the Occupy movement.

The US is now rank 47 on the Press Freedom Index, which stated that the country “owed its fall of 27 places to the many arrests of journalist covering Occupy Wall Street protests”. The index was released on Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders’.

Journalists covering the Occupy protest in 2011 were repeatedly targeted by police. The Huffington Post reported last year that: “Since September, journalists have been arrested in Boston, Nashville, Rochester, Richmond, Milwaukee, Oakland, Atlanta, and Chapel Hill, according to Josh Stearns, associate program director of Free Press, a non-partisan media reform organization. Journalists have also reported rough treatment at the hands of the cops along with difficulties obtaining press credentials under rigid and often arbitrary rules established by police departments in big cities.”

The Huffington Post also reported that “Reporter after reporter — many using the hashtag “#mediablackout” — tweeted through the night, saying that police had either blocked them from seeing what was happening or had acted violently towards them. Some correspondents were also among the scores of people arrested by police.

“At his press conference about the raid on Tuesday morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said journalists were barred from covering the raid “to protect members of the press,” and “to prevent a situation from getting worse.”

Reports of beatings, arrests and harassment led the US to drop 27 places on the Press Freedom Index. Iraq (152nd) fell back 22 places, close to its 2008 position (158th). Syria also fell in the index, to 176th position, due to “total censorship, widespread surveillance, indiscriminate violence and government manipulation made it impossible for journalists to work”, the index reported.

As it released its 10th annual press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders stated: “This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world.

“Many media paid dearly for their coverage of democratic aspirations or opposition movements. Control of news and information continued to tempt governments and to be a question of survival for totalitarian and repressive regimes. The past year also highlighted the leading role played by netizens in producing and disseminating news.”

The day the internet was blacked out: SOPA and PIPA online protests

Websites protest against Sopa and Pipa on 18 January 2012. Photograph: ars technica/ minecraft/mozilla/ reddit/ wired

Yesterday (18 January), thousands of websites joined in unanimous protest against proposed US legislation – the biggest online protest in history. Websites joined in protest against two controversial US bills, SOPA and PIPA, aimed at combating online piracy and protecting copyrighted materials.

Websites that joined in the blackout included Wikipedia, the 6th most visited website in the world, Wired, Reddit, Firefox and thousands of other websites who blacked-out or censored aspects of their websites in protest against US legislation – an unprecedented move. Visitors arriving at Wikipedia yesterday were greeted with a blacked-out page with the message:

“Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.

“For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet.”

One of the most interesting websites to view yesterday was Wired.com, which had censored virtually every headline, link and text on its homepage as a statement. The only uncensored headline was an article stating “Why _____ Censoring Wired”. Here Wired explained why they were engaging in this day of protest:

“Under the current wording of the measures, the Attorney General would have the power to order ISPs [internet service prividers] to block access to foreign-based sites suspected of trafficking in pirated and counterfeit goods; order search engines to delist the sites from their indexes; ban advertising on suspected sites; and block payment services from processing transactions for accused sites.

“If the same standards were applied to U.S.-based sites, Wikipedia, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Google and Wired could all find themselves blocked.

“Such requests would need to be reviewed and approved by a judge. But accused sites would get little notice of a pending action in U.S. courts against them, and, once blacklisted, have little effective means of appeal.”

Wired censors its homepage in protest

A full list of participants can be found at sopastrike.com. But what is SOPA and PIPA all about? And why is the internet banding together to protest against US law?

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, while PIPA is the Protect IP Act. The two bills are similar in nature, aiming to stop or prevent the piracy of online copyrighted material on websites outside of the US.

As the Guardian writes: “SOPA would allow copyright holders to complain to the US attorney general about a foreign website they allege is “committing or facilitating the commission of criminal violations” of copyright law. This relates mostly to pirated movies and music. Sopa would allow the movie industry, through the courts and the US attorney general, to send a slew of demands that internet service providers (ISPs) and search engine companies shut down access to those alleged violators, and even to prevent linking to those sites, thus making them “unfindable”. It would also bar internet advertising providers from making payments to websites accused of copyright violations.Sopa could, then, shut down a community-based site like YouTube if just one of its millions of users was accused of violating one US copyright.”

The US bills are an attempt to expand the US federal government’s power to impact the internet. Protestors have pointed out that the two anti-piracy bills are essentially allowing censorship of the internet, a move which is not in keeping with the notion of democracy.

Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said:

“These bills propose new powers for the government and for private actors to create, effectively, blacklists of sites … then force service providers to block access to those sites. That’s why we call these the censorship bills.”

EFF’s McSherry also defiantly stated that “no one asked the internet – well, the internet is speaking now. People are really rising up and saying: ‘Don’t interfere with basic Internet infrastructure. We won’t stand for it.’”

It seems as if support for SOPA is withdrawing, but that doesn’t mean the battle is over. An anti-piracy could still be rushed through Congress.

Chris Dodd, former senator and chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), slammed Wikipedia and others protest plans, calling them “dangerous” and a “gimmick”. He called on Congress to engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy. A vote on Pipa is still expected in the senate on January 24.

The rise of the international Military-Intelligence complex: International corporations selling surveillance technology to repressive regimes

Today Wikileaks is set to release around 1,100 documents, brochures and manuals for products and technology sold by companies relating to systems for surveillance and interception of telecommunications. What is being revealed is an industry centred on surveillance, spying and intelligence interception that is worth around $5 billion a year.

Julian Assange, of Wikileaks, stated in a video interview by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism: “Over the last 10 years, an international industry has grown up providing state intelligence agencies with mass surveillance equipment. Those industries are now exporting that equipment around the world in an uncontrolled manner.”

Assange continued: “This is something new. Previously we had all thought ‘well, why would the government be interested in me… I am not a criminal’. Now we have a situation where these companies sell to state intelligence organisations the ability to spy on the entire population at once, that is called strategic interception; take all telecommunications traffic out of a country and permanently record it.”

Annie Machon, former MI5 intelligence officer, has written an analysis for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in which she describes a “military-industrial complex [that] is evolving into the military-intelligence complex. It is a world, I fear, that is propelling us into a dystopian surveillance nightmare.”

Machon stated:

“Since the attacks of 9/11, I have watched with increasing dismay as more powers, money and resources have been pumped into the international intelligence community to combat the nebulous ‘war on terror’. As a result, civil liberties have been eroded in our own countries, and countless innocent people have been killed, maimed and displaced across the Middle East.

“The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which was designed to allow our spy agencies to lawfully intercept our communications to counter terrorism and organised crime, has been routinely used and abused by almost 800 public bodies. MI5 admitted to making 1,061 mistakes or ‘administrative errors’ this year alone in its application of RIPA, according to the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Paul Kennedy.”

Coming from an MI5 intelligence officer, that is worrying stuff.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in collaboration with Wikileaks and Privacy International, gained access document trove of 160 companies that sell surveillance technology to governments around the world.

Eric King, Policy Director at Privacy International, said: “The surveillance industry sells anything from mass interception equipment through to location tracking equipment. They provide technology that allows controller to read every single email, see every single webpage you visit, every text message you send, and these are companies that are selling equipment to some of the most repressive regimes in the world.”

What is also worrying is the lack of accountability and regulation with these companies that sell state-of-the-art surveillance equipment. Jerry Lucas, the president of the company behind ISS World, the international expo that brings surveillance and interception professionals together, did not deny that such companies sell this technology to repressive regimes. Rather, Lucas believes that a free market in surveillance technology is perfectly acceptable:

“The surveillance systems that we discuss in our seminars are available all around the world. Do some countries use them to suppress certain political statements? Yes, probably. But it’s not my job to sort out who are the good and bad countries. That’s not our business, we’re not politicians.

“Our business is to connect those who want to buy these technologies with those who sell them. You can sell cars to the Libyan rebels, and those cars could be used as weapons. Should General Motors and Nissan ask how their vehicles will be used? Why don’t you go asking questions to the car companies? It’s the free market. You can’t stem the flow of surveillance equipment.”

However, commenting on such technology, Lucas stated:  “This technology is absolutely vital for civilization. You can’t have a situation where bad guys can communicate and you bar interception.” – Yet Lucas seems adamant that it is not his ‘job’ to sort out who the bad guys are.

The rise in electronic communications, from social networking to Skype, from text messages to emails, and an increase in the accessibility of such technology means that it is increasingly easier for governments and corporations to intercept and store communications data. This year’s ISS conference, hosted in Dubai, saw around 1,300 attendees from all corners of the world. However, Lucas said that it was Middle Eastern governments that were the most avid buyers of such software and equipment.

“When you’re selling to a government, you lose control of what the government is going to do with it,” Lucas said. “It’s like selling guns to people. Some are going to defend themselves. Some are going to commit crimes.”

Such technology is being sold to repressive regimes such as Syria and Libya. Two links detailing Libya’s surveillance can be found here:

Eric King, of Privacy International, said that it is imperative that we do not allow “British companies to profit from selling equipment that is used to oppress in foreign regimes.”

However, it is not just repressive regimes that are a concern; domestic surveillance by corporations and governments is a real concern, as well. As Annie Machon warned. Continued her analysis for the BIJ, saying:

“The last decade has also been a boom time for companies providing high-tech surveillance capabilities. One aspect of this in the UK – the endemic CCTV coverage – is notorious. Local councils have invested in mobile CCTV smart spy cars, while cameras that bark orders to you on the street have been trialled in Middlesbrough.

“Drones are increasingly used for aerial surveillance – and the potential for militarisation of these tools is clear.

“All this despite the fact that the head of the Metropolitan Police department that is responsible for processing all this surveillance information stated publicly that CCTV evidence is useless in helping to solve all but 3% of street robberies in London. In fact, since CCTV has been rolled out nationally, violent crime on the streets of Britain has increased.”

Machon, calling upon her experience at MI5 and using recent examples, issued a warning:

“That would never happen in Britain – would it? We retain an optimistic faith in the long-term benign intentions of our government, while tut-tutting over Syrian police snatch squads pre-emptively arresting suspected dissidents. Yet this has already happened in the UK: before the royal wedding in April, protesters were pre-emptively arrested to ensure that they would not cause embarrassment. The intent is the same in Syria and Britain. Only the scale and brutality differs – at the moment.”

There is much more to be said about this matter, and the Wikileaks surveillance leak will provide much more information, hopefully sparking debate and discourse in the mainstream media. With the latest revelations of phone hacking and surveillance by tabloid newspapers, the British public may find such emerging information regarding the unaccountable, lawless surveillance industry distasteful.

 Despite her warnings, Machon ends her analysis on an optimistic note:
“The balance of power, bolstered by new technologies, is shifting overwhelmingly in favour of the Big Brother state – well, almost. The WikiLeaks model is helping level the playing field, and whatever happens to this trailblazing organisation, the principles and technology are out there and will be replicated. This genie cannot be put back in the bottle. This – combined with the work of informed MPs, investigative journalists and potentially the occasional whistleblower – gives me hope that we can halt this slide into a Stasi state.”

Why I am striking: One man’s reasoning and his anger at government policies – Worth a watch

[Warning- Contains strong language]

One man’s anger at the government, and his reasoning for striking on November 30th. Contains strong language and many good points. Share and debate, and leave your comments below.

Anonymous threatens ‘Robin Hood’ operation to steal from banks to give to the poor

Two hacker groups, Anonymous and Team Poison, have released a joint statement on Youtube saying that they have joined forces to steal money from the banks and give to charities.

Operation Robin Hood is going to return the money to those who have been cheated by our system and most importantly to those hurt by our banks. Operation Robin Hood will take credit cards and donate to the 99 per cent, as well as various charities around the globe,” the duo said in a YouTube video statement.

The collaboration between the two groups, which they have dubbed Poisanon, seems to rely on the idea of stealing personal data of credit card holders and using it to distribute it to the poor rather than using it for their own ends. The group believes that the banks will be forced to reimburse the damages, meaning that they will be the ones losing out.

“We are going to make the banks deliver your money back to you with a smile on their faces and hate in their heart,” the group stated.

Anonymous has been in the news recently for targeting Lt. John Pike, the officer behind the notorious pepper-spray attack on students at UC Davis. The ‘hacktivist’ group released targeted Pike, releasing his personal details online including his phone number and address.

Supposed Anonymous members targeted another police officer a couple of months ago, posting personal information of NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna. An alleged Anonymous member wrote online:

“As we watched your officers kettle innocent women, we observed you barberically [sic] pepper spray wildly into the group of kettled women.”

“We were shocked and disgusted by your behavior. You know who the innocent women were, now they will have the chance to know who you are. Before you commit atrocities against innocent people, think twice. WE ARE WATCHING!!! Expect Us!”

Team Poison have said that it carried out the hacking of a UN server and stealing logins and passwords of the international organisation’s employees.

Both hacker groups have taken credit for several high-profile attacks on computer networks in the past.