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Beyond Privacy: Articulating the Broader Harms of Pervasive Mass Surveillance

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I’ve published a new paper titled “Beyond Privacy: Articulating the Broader Harms of Pervasive Mass Surveillance” in Media and Communication. Media and Communication is an open access journal; you can download the article from any location, to any computer, free of cost. The paper explores how dominant theories of privacy grapple with the pervasive mass surveillance activities undertaken by western signals intelligence activities, including those of the NSA, CSE, GCHQ, GCSB, and ASD. I ultimately argue that while these theories provide some recourse to individuals and communities, they are not sufficiently holistic to account for how mass surveillance affects the most basic elements a democracy. As such, I suggest that academic critics of signals intelligence activities can avail themselves to theory from the Frankfurt School to more expansively examine and critique contemporary signals intelligence surveillance practices.

Full Abstract

This article begins by recounting a series of mass surveillance practices conducted by members of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance. While boundary- and intersubjectivity-based theories of privacy register some of the harms linked to such practices I demonstrate how neither are holistically capable of registering these harms. Given these theories’ deficiencies I argue that critiques of signals intelligence surveillance practices can be better grounded on why the practices intrude on basic communicative rights, including those related to privacy. The crux of the argument is that pervasive mass surveillance erodes essential boundaries between public and private spheres by compromising populations’ abilities to freely communicate with one another and, in the process, erodes the integrity of democratic processes and institutions. Such erosions are captured as privacy violations but, ultimately, are more destructive to the fabric of society than are registered by theories of privacy alone. After demonstrating the value of adopting a communicative rights approach to critique signals intelligence surveillance I conclude by arguing that this approach also lets us clarify the international normative implications of such surveillance, that it provides a novel way of conceptualizing legal harm linked to the surveillance, and that it showcases the overall value of focusing on the implications of interfering with communications first, and as such interferences constituting privacy violations second. Ultimately, by adopting this Habermasian inspired mode of analysis we can develop more holistic ways of conceptualizing harms associated with signals intelligence practices than are provided by either boundary- or intersubjective-based theories of privacy.

Download the Paper

Photo credit: Retro Printers by Steven Mileham (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/5m5pyK

Half-Baked: The Opportunity To Secure Cookie-Based Identifiers From Passive Surveillance

rkBJB0J-300x225Andrew Hilts and I have released a new paper that is titled “Half-Baked: The Opportunity To Secure Cookie-Based Identifiers From Passive Surveillance.” Cookie-based identifiers are used by websites to deliver advertisements as well as collect analytics information about website visitors. Incidentally, intelligence agencies such as the NSA, GCHQ, CSE, and other Western signals intelligence bodies use the same identifiers to track the activities of individuals and their devices as they access, and use, the Internet. The paper respond to a series of basic questions: To what extent do major online properties encrypt the advertising, cookie, and other digital identifiers used by the NSA and other intelligence agencies to track users and their devices around the globe? Since the Snowden revelations began have providers actually encrypted more, or less, of these identifiers?

Full Abstract

Documents released by Edward Snowden have revealed that the National Security Agency, and its Australian, British, Canadian, and New Zealand equivalents, routinely monitor the Internet for the identifiers that are contained in advertising and tracking cookies. Once collected, the identifiers are stored in government databases and used to develop patterns of life, or the chains of activities that individuals engage in when they use Internet-capable devices. This paper investigates the extent to which contemporary advertising and analytics identifiers that are used in establishing such patterns continue to be transmitted in plaintext following Snowden’s revelations. We look at variations in the secure transmission of cookie-based identifiers across different website categories, and identify practical steps for both website operators and ad tracking companies to take to better secure their audiences and readers from passive surveillance.

Download the Paper

This post first appeared on the Telecom Transparency Project website.

New Update to the SIGINT Summaries

Grondstation van de Nationale SIGINT Organisatie (NSO) in Burum, Frysl‚nI have added one new item to the SIGINT Summaries page. The Summaries include downloadable copies of leaked Communications Security Establishment (CSE) documents, along with summary, publication, and original source information.1 CSE is Canada’s foreign signals intelligence agency and has operated since the Second World War.

Documents were often produced by CSE’s closest partners which, collectively, form the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network. This network includes the CSE, the National Security Agency (NSA), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Australian Signals Directorate (ASD),2 and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)).

All of the documents are available for download from this website. Though I am hosting the documents they were all first published by another party. The new documents and their summaries are listed below. The full list of documents and their summary information is available on the Canadian SIGINT Summaries page.

The new contribution comes from documents released by CBC and covers how Five Eyes intelligence analysts correlated telephony and mobile Internet communications information. For the first time I have noted, in the summary block, all of the codenames that were mentioned in the redacted document.

Synergising Network Analysis Tradecraft: Network Tradecraft Advancement Team (NTAT)

Summary: This slide deck showcases some of the activities, and successes, of the Network Tradecraft Advancement Team (NTAT). The slides focus on how to develop and document tradecraft which is used to correlate telephony and Internet data. Two separate workshops are discussed, one in 2011 and another in 2012. Workshop outcomes included identifying potentially converged data (between telephony and Internet data) as well as geolocating mobile phone application servers. A common mobile gateway identification analytic was adopted by three agencies, including DSD. NTAT had also adopted the CRAFTY SHACK tradecraft documentation system over the courses of these workshops.

In an experiment, codenamed IRRITANT HORN, analysts explored whether they could identify connections between a potentially ‘revolutionary’ country and mobile applications servers. They successfully correlated connections with application servers which opened up the potential to conduct Man in the Middle attacks or effect operations towards the mobile devices, as well as the potential to harvest data in transit and at rest from the devices. In the profiling of mobile applications servers it appears that EONBLUE was used to collect information about a company named Poynt; that company’s application was being used by Blackberry users, and the servers profiled were located in Calgary, Alberta (Canada).

The agencies successfully found vulnerabilities in UCWeb, which was found to leak IMSI, MSISDN, IMEI, and other device characteristics. These vulnerabilities were used to discover a target and it was determined that the vulnerabilities might let a SIGINT agency serve malware to the target. A ‘microplugin’ for XKeyscore was developed so that analysts could quickly surface UCWeb-related SIGINT material. (NOTE: The Citizen Lab analyzed later versions of UCWeb and found vulnerabilities that were subsequently patched by the company. For more, see: “A Chatty Squirrel: Privacy and Security Issues with UC Browser.”)

Document Published: May 21, 2015
Document Dated: 2012 or later
Document Length: 52 pages (slides plus notes)
Associated Article: Spy agencies target mobile phones, app stores to implant spyware
Download Document: Synergising Network Analysis Tradecraft: Network Tradecraft Advancement Team (NTAT)
Codenames mentioned: ATLAS, ATHENA, BLAZING SADDLES, CRAFTY SHACK, DANAUS, EONBLUE, FRETTING YETI, HYPERION, IRRITANT HORN, MASTERSHAKE, PEITHO, PLINK, SCORPIOFORE

Footnotes


  1.  Formally known as the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC). 
  2.  The ASD was formerly known as the Defence Signals Directorate (DSD). 

Five New Additions to the SIGINT Summaries

Grondstation van de Nationale SIGINT Organisatie (NSO) in Burum, Frysl‚nI have added five new items to the SIGINT Summaries page. The Summaries include downloadable copies of leaked Communications Security Establishment(CSE) documents, along with summary, publication, and original source information.1 CSE is Canada’s foreign signals intelligence agency and has operated since the Second World War.

Documents were often produced by CSE’s closest partners which, collectively, form the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network. This network includes the CSE, the National Security Agency (NSA), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Australian Signals Directorate (ASD),2 and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)).

All of the documents are available for download from this website. Though I am hosting the documents they were all first published by another party. The new documents and their summaries are listed below. The full list of documents and their summary information is available on the Canadian SIGINT Summaries page.

The new contributions come from documents released by CBC. They cover a range of topics, including extended discussions of the CSE’s domestic and international sensor networks, overviews of challenges facing Information Technology Security (ITS), which is itself responsible for defending government systems and networks, as well as overviews of the cyber threats CSE believed faced the Government of Canada.
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