You know, I hate to rain on the little “courage is contagious” Snowden parade currently marching through the internet in all its idiotic, chest-beating glory, but unfortunately the Associated Press doesn’t share my reluctance. Today it reported that:
The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology — all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government…
Did you see that bit there kids, about cellphone surveillance? But you can continue to ridiculously whoop it up since a spokesperson for the FBI assured AP’s reporters that:
the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”
Of course the planes don’t do bulk collection. There are phone companies for that, and they’re still obliged to give up records to law enforcement agencies, including the NSA and FBI, whether they want to or not. But should those channels fail, there’s always the U.S. Marshals service and their spy planes, which according to the Wall Street Journal –
scoop data from tens of thousands of cellphones in a single flight, collecting their identifying information and general location…
This would be an odd thing to resort to, though, since the FBI planes use the same “dirtbox” technology as the U.S. Marshals. Perhaps the FBI spokesperson who talked to AP differs on what you and I might call bulk.
Since our instructions are to be all about the phones right now, let’s try not to think about this bit in the AP story at all:
the planes can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over for prosecutions.
Bulk video collection. Cool.
AP reports that FBI planes were used in coordination with local police during the protests that followed the murder by police of Freddie Gray.
On the ground and in the air, the FBI uses devices that mimic cell phone towers and collect data from all phones within a certain area. That means your phone if you happen to be near a target of an investigation. We’re being told that use of these FBI “roving wiretaps” is among the Patriot Act provisions that expired. But there’s no indication of any new constraints on the one in four local police departments that also do warrantless roving wiretaps, and bulk collection via “tower dumps” that provide data on the identity, activity and location of any phone that connects to an individual cellphone tower over a set timespan.
According to USA Today, police are coy about what they do with the cellphone data of non-targets, but there are private companies that sell police departments software for analyzing it. As I wrote about here, local cops can also buy software for analyzing public data like Facebook and Twitter posts. Imagine the possibilities of analyzing that data and cell phone data together. Certainly someone already has.
This is bad enough on its own, but considering the veritable federalizing of cops since 9/11 in large cities is there anything to prevent the FBI or the NSA from delegating the paltrey few things they can’t do to local police? But in a few days, that won’t really matter, at least not for a while. The Freedom Act, the NSA “reform” bill, could pass some time this week or next, at which time the NSA will have six months to transition to the proposed new system, which requires a FISA rubber stamp for cell phone data collecting. So all this chest-beating is really about a few days alleged respite from one small element of one agency‘s spying activities.
I’ve said before that among the worst things about the Snowden Show is how, by focusing almost entirely on a single agency, it minimizes a massive surveillance and control apparatus that includes sixteen other Federal agencies, scores of private companies, and state and local police. Even if you arbitrarily restrict your inquiry to signals intelligence — the only thing the NSA does –unless you are investigating the signals intelligence activities of the CIA, the FBI, the DEA, local police and the companies they work with, you’re barely scratching the surface. Stories like today’s AP revelations about surveillance planes come and go constantly. But the motto of the infosec cabal’s big players seems to be, “NSA docs or it didn’t happen.”
This narrow focus is worse than foolish. It’s a pernicious lie.
I missed this, from yesterday.
[Rand] Paul also proposed hiring 1,000 new FBI agents to track potential terrorists.
Oh and here’s the only thing Greenspleen has tweeted about the FBI story, while busily RTing tributes to Ed Snowden’s great virtue for bringing us to this point.
Is it obvious yet that these clowns don’t give a shit about the security state in any meaningful sense? Greenwald is all about the whistleblower/journalist metanarrative he stars in. Paul just wants to make a pre-election spectacle of moving the chairs around.