Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Telecom and Tech Companies Are Government Agents

Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State
-6th Plank of the Communist Manifesto
Sources: TechCrunch, Law Enforcement Increasingly Using Google Search Warrants, United States v. Wilson

All means of communication are controlled by the federal government. So called ‘private’ telecommunications and tech companies such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and Google don’t just offer us a means of communicating and storing data; they are also tools of mass surveillance. These companies are little more than extensions of the executive branch who save police the cost and trouble building their own surveillance network.

In 2018, the NSA conducted some 9,637 targeted warrantless searches of the contents of our phone calls, texts, and emails, which was a 28% increase from the previous year. However, this is a conservative estimate that doesn’t account for search queries made by domestic law enforcement who also have access to the Bulk data collection. These warrantless searches, authorized under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, allow the NSA to collect data on both foreign nationals and American citizens from telecommunications and tech companies in secret, which then allows Law Enforcement to obtain fruit of the poisonous tree (i.e. evidence obtained without probable cause), under Executive Order 12333, and prosecute people using parallel construction

It was recently revealed, what we sort of already knew, that Google is also used as a means for dragnet surveillance. One man learned this the hard way. Jorge Molina was arrested for a murder he did not commit and spent a week in jail until he was able to prove his innocence. The only evidence linking him to the crime was his google data. Unlike traditional search warrants that specify person and place, police are now using google warrants to obtain the location data of all phones that have been near a crime, in other words, anyone who has ever walked or drove past a crime scene is now a suspect. Unfortunately for Jorg, the perpetrator, his mother’s ex-boyfriend, used his Honda Civic in the commission of the crime and he had just happened to be in the vicinity of the crime scene beforehand. Location tracking isn’t the only thing that Google does for police. An amicus brief filed in the case of United States v. Wilson reveals that Google also maintains an image matching algorithm that supposedly detects any child pornography uploaded through Gmail. While this might seem like a noble cause, there is no publicly available information on how this algorithm is able to detect child pornography by matching the hash value of images. There is also a much greater potential for abuse than simply falsely identifying images as child pornography. An image matching algorithm could also be used to keep tabs on members of subversive political movements, something Federal Law Enforcement agencies like the FBI have historically done to suppress political dissent.

None of this should be surprising. These same events precipitated during the height of the cold war (e.g. Project SHAMROCK, Project Minaret, COINTELPRO etc) and since the war on terror is in sense the new cold war, mass surveillance has become fashionable again.

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