• Freedom in North Korea (I Hate Travel Stories About North Korea)

    March 31, 2016 // 7 Comments »


    Every travel story about North Korea reads the same:

    We went to North Korea voluntarily, and were shocked to find that we couldn’t like hang out at clubs with everyday Koreans, and the dudes there, like, spied on us.

    And we couldn’t use WhatsApp or take selfies anywhere we wanted, or like mock the hell out of the fat guy who dictates the place LOL. It’s like so oppressive and I’m so glad to be back in the U.S. where sh*t is totally free, I mean literally, bro.

    Wash, rinse, repeat.

    So here’s another one, from the New York Times who should know better but clearly had space to fill or something. This story not only drops the mic on the usual tired *ss tropes about North Korea, but it is written by a Korean-American so offended by the bad Korea she can barely contain herself spewing dumbbuttery.

    The writer, “Marie” Myung-Ok Lee, has a lot to say.

    She opens with this:

    North Korea recently sentenced Otto Warmbier, an American college student and tourist, to 15 years of hard labor. Not surprisingly in the surveillance state to end all surveillance states, there are security camera images of Mr. Warmbier trying to steal a propaganda sign from an off-limits area of the hotel. In photographs from the trial, he seemed utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted.

    Let’s unpack that.

    “Security camera images of a theft?” This is a surprise? Hell, every minute of my life in America is captured on security cameras, “Marie,” and yours, too. My apartment building has them in the halls and public areas, the police have them on the streets, the stores I shop in have them everywhere and the NSA uses my webcam to look into my bedroom.

    As for Warmbier looking “utterly shocked that he was being prosecuted,” the dude tried to steal something. What did he expect to happen to him, a pat on the back? You get prosecuted for theft anywhere in the world. Sure, 15 years is heavy, but we all know the North Koreans won’t keep him that long. At least he’s not a black guy in America, where he’d risk being beaten or shot for “resisting arrest” after his crime.

    Later in her article, Marie is outraged she can’t photograph what she wants to, because Government. I’d invite her here in the Homeland to take her camera out to snap a few photos at the nearest military base or nuke facility in her state, and see how the guardians of freedom react. Better yet, let her be beaten by a cop who objects to her exercising her right to film him doing his duty beating up peaceful protesters for “resisting arrest.”

    On her way out of North Korea, Marie discovers her luggage was searched, and expresses her shock and outrage, that sense of being violated.

    You’re right Marie, that certainly doesn’t happen in America. Except in major subway systems like New York and Washington DC where the cops do “random” bag searches as a condition of riding. Or at the airport where full-body scanners are employed on children, the elderly and the disabled.

    As someone who, during my whistleblower fight against the State Department, found myself “randomly selected” for detailed searches by TSA, and who has friends on the No Fly list with no explanation offered, and who is aware how the U.S. government detained and searched and confiscated the electronics of journalists like Laura Poitras because she covered Edward Snowden’s story, yeah, f*ck yeah, I can understand that sense of being violated.

    Only I didn’t need to go all the way to North Korea for it. I just had to open my eyes here at home. And yes, I understand about “matters of degree,” but caution that it is just a matter of degree, and the North Koreans have been in the police state game longer than the U.S. has. But we’re catching on.

    Look around; there’s no place like home.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America

    Police are Calculating Your ‘Threat Score’ to Decide How to Treat You

    January 12, 2016 // 14 Comments »


    I watched a documentary about North Korea which explained how the government there assigns a score to each citizen, based on how large a threat to the regime s/he is perceived to be. When I lived in Taiwan under a military government years ago, such a number was encoded into every national ID card. Those citizens every interaction with the government and police force was shadowed by those scores.

    Same as in 21st century post-Constitutional America.

    Even as our nation learned more about how our daily lives are cataloged by the National Security Agency, a new generation of technology is being used by local law enforcement that offers them unprecedented power to peer into the lives of citizens. Ominously, software that is part of such systems, assigns each citizen monitored a Threat Score, allegedly to alert cops enroute to a crime scene of what to expect of the once-innocent-until-proven-guilty citizen they will encounter.

    One such product is a software suite called Beware. On their website, the maker claims:

    There are no such things as routine calls… Accessed through any browser (fixed or mobile) on any Internet-enabled device including tablets, smartphones, laptop and desktop computers, Beware® from Intrado searches, sorts and scores billions of publically-available commercial records in a matter of seconds – alerting responders to potentially dangerous situations while en route to, or at the location of, a 911 request for assistance.

    Intrado Beware® is a tool to help first responders understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 911 event.

    Police officials say such tools can provide critical information that can help uncover terrorists or thwart mass shootings, though no such uncovering has ever happened.

    Programs such as Beware scour billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and social media postings. One example is how authorities in Oregon are facing a civil rights investigation after using social media-monitoring software to keep tabs on persons using #BlackLivesMatter hashtags.

    Does anyone expect that a police response to a citizen labeled at a “low threat” level will be as preloaded for disaster as one for a “high threat” person? What if that police response is based primarily on the free speech protected use of a hash tag?

    I wonder if my score will change after this article. Or yours, for reading it.

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    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America

    Be Very Afraid: New Surveillance Tech and the Fourth Amendment

    March 10, 2012 // Comments Off on Be Very Afraid: New Surveillance Tech and the Fourth Amendment

    A guest blog post by John W. Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute.

    U.S. v. Jones: The Battle for the Fourth Amendment Continues

    In a unanimous 9-0 ruling in United States v. Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects. But what does this ruling, hailed as a victory by privacy advocates, really mean for the future of privacy and the Fourth Amendment?
    While the Court rightly recognized that the government’s physical attachment of a GPS device to Antoine Jones’ vehicle for the purpose of tracking Jones’ movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, a careful reading of the Court’s opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, shows that the battle over our privacy rights is far from over.

    Given that the operable word throughout the ruling is “physical,” the ruling does not go far enough. The Court should have clearly delineated the boundaries of permissible surveillance within the context of rapidly evolving technologies and reestablishing the vitality of the Fourth Amendment. Instead, the justices relied on an “18th-century guarantee against un-reasonable searches, which we believe must provide at a minimum the degree of protection it afforded when it was adopted.”

    As Justice Samuel Alito recognizes in his concurring judgment, physical intrusion is now unnecessary to many forms of invasive surveillance. The government’s arsenal of surveillance technologies now includes a multitude of devices which enable it to comprehensively monitor an individual’s private life without necessarily introducing the type of physical intrusion into his person or property covered by the ruling. Thus, by failing to address the privacy ramifications of these new technologies, the Court has done little to curb the ’s ceaseless, suspicionless surveillance of innocent Americans.

    In the spirit of the Court’s ruling in US v. Jones, the following surveillance technologies, now available to law enforcement, would not require government officials to engage in a physical trespass of one’s property in order to engage in a search:

    Drones—pilotless, remote-controlled aircraft that have been used extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan—are being used increasingly domestically by law enforcement. Law enforcement officials promise to use drones to locate missing children and hunt illegal marijuana plants, but under many states’ proposed rules, they could also be used to track citizens and closely monitor individuals based on the mere suspicions of law enforcement officers. The precision with which drones can detect intimate activity is remarkable. For instance, a drone can tell whether a hiker eight miles away is carrying a backpack.

    Surveillance cameras are an ever-growing presence in American cities. A member of the surveillance camera industry states that, “pretty soon, security cameras will be like smoke detectors: They’ll be everywhere.” The cameras, installed on office buildings, banks, stores, and private establishments, open the door to suspicionless monitoring of innocent individuals that chill the exercise of First Amendment rights. For example, the New York Police Department has adopted the practice of videotaping individuals engaged in lawful public demonstrations. The government also uses traffic cameras as a form of visual surveillance to track individuals as they move about a city. In some areas, a network of traffic cameras provides a comprehensive view of the streets. In 2009, Chicago had 1500 cameras set up throughout the city and actively used them to track persons of interest.

    Smart dust devices are tiny wireless microelectromechanical sensors (MEMS) that can detect light and movement. These “motes” could eventually be as tiny as a grain of sand, but will still be capable of gathering massive amounts of data, running computations and communicating that information using two-way band radio between motes as far as 1,000 feet away. The goal for researchers is to reduce these chips from their current size of 5 mm to a size of 1 mm per side. In the near future law enforcement officials will be able to use these tiny devices to maintain covert surveillance operations on unsuspecting citizens.

    RFIDs, Radio Frequency Identifications, have the ability to contain or transmit information wirelessly using radio waves. These devices can be as small as a grain of rice and can be attached to virtually anything, from a piece of clothing to a vehicle. If manufacturers and other distributors of clothing, personal electronics, and other items begin to tag their products with RFID, any law enforcement officer armed with an RFID reader could covertly search an individual without his or her knowledge.

    Cell phones, increasingly, contain tracking chips which enable cellular providers to collect data on and identify the location of the user. The collected geodata is stored on the device, anonymized with a random identification number, and transmitted over an encrypted Wi-Fi network to the cell phone provider. It is reasonable to expect that government will eventually attempt to tap the troves of information maintained by these cellphone providers.

    Collection of Wi-Fi Data: Recently, a professor at Stevens Institute of Technology invented for a mere $600 an aerial drone that can spy on even private Wi-Fi networks. The drone the professor created was a mere eighteen inches long. Such a device could be used to detect financial information, personal correspondence, and any other data transmitted over the wireless network. Coupled with the visual component of the aerial drones, these drones will be capable of detecting almost all intimate or personal activity.

    Facial-recognition software is another tool in police forces’ surveillance arsenal in which police take a photograph of a person’s face, then compare the biometrics to other photographs in a database. Such a system can easily be placed onto the back of a smart phone and only weighs 12.5 ounces. Facial-recognition software is currently being used in conjunction with public surveillance cameras at airports and major public events to spot suspected terrorists or criminals. Cities such as Tampa have attempted to use this technology on busy sidewalks and in public places.

    Iris scanners have quickly moved from the realm of science fiction into everyday public use by governments and private businesses. Iris recognition is rarely impeded by contact lenses or eyeglasses, and can work with blind individuals as well. The scanners, which have been used by some American police departments, can scan up to 50 people a minute without requiring the individuals to stop and stand in front of the scanners. The introduction of sophisticated iris scanners in a number of public locations, including train stations, shopping centers, medical centers, and banks in Leon, Mexico, is merely a foreshadowing of what is coming to the U.S. The information gathered from the scanners is sent to a central database that can be used to track any individual’s movement throughout the city.

    As this list shows, the current state of technology enables government agents to monitor unsuspecting citizens in virtually any situation. One of the hallmarks of citizenship in a free society is the expectation that one’s personal affairs and physical person are inviolable so long as one conforms his or her conduct to the law. Otherwise, we are all suspects in a police state. Any meaningful conception of liberty encompasses freedom from constant and covert government surveillance—whether or not that intrusion is physical or tangible and whether it occurs in public or private. Thus, unchecked technological surveillance is objectionable simply because government has no legitimate authority to covertly monitor the totality of a citizen’s daily activities. The root of the problem is not that government is doing something inherently harmful, but rather that government is doing something it has no lawful basis to be doing.

    Unfortunately, by failing to establish a Fourth Amendment framework that includes protection against pervasive electronic spying methods that are physically unintrusive and monitor a person’s activities in public, the Court has ensured that the core values within the Fourth Amendment will continue to be fundamentally undermined. New technologies which enable the radical expansion of police surveillance operations require correspondingly robust legal frameworks in order to maintain the scope of freedom from authoritarian oversight envisioned by the Framers.

    Obviously, the new era of technology, one that was completely unimaginable to the men who drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, requires an updated legal code to enshrine the right to privacy. The courts, first of all, must interpret the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure as a check against GPS technology as well as future technologies which threaten privacy. Second, as Justice Alito recognized, “the best solution to privacy concerns may be legislative. A legislative body is well situated to gauge changing public attitudes, to draw detailed lines, and to balance privacy and public safety in a comprehensive way.” I would take that one step further and propose that Congress enact a technological Bill of Rights to protect us from the long arm of the surveillance state. This would provide needed guidance to law enforcement agencies, quell litigation, protect civil liberties including cherished First Amendment rights, and ensure the viability of the Fourth Amendment even at the dawn of a new age of surveillance technology.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America

    US Provides Iraq with Super Surveillance System

    August 3, 2011 // 2 Comments »

    So what do all those bad boy US special operators do in Iraq these days?

    They whack people. They hunt down individual bad guys and kill them. The bin Laden raid was a varsity-level operation of this type, but night after night such raids, albeit on a much smaller scale, are taking place in Iraq (as in Afghanistan) to pop bomb makers and local cell leaders. The fighting in Iraq has moved from mass operations to very specific killings on both sides.

    A Shiite militia has no need to target a marketplace when what they really want to do is whack one specific Sunni police captain hassling them. The US, with its vast, frightening and ever-growing surveillance machine, doesn’t need to carpet bomb a village when a ten man special ops team can motor in one night, knowing they Shiite militia commander they want to murder is at home, second floor, back bedroom, on the phone to his Qods Force controller (also being whacked simultaneously).

    It was always thought that the array of electronics needed to do this kind of thing will stay with the special forces in Iraq and/or be quietly slipping through the night sky far, far above. But now it seems the US will gift Iraq with such capabilities, useful of course not only for Iraq’s dirty work, but conveniently there for America as well.

    The United States is planning to provide the Iraqi government with a wiretapping system to eavesdrop on cellular calls and messages “to assist in combating criminal organizations and insurgencies,” according to a US Air Force contract solicitation reported in the Washington Post.

    The proposed system would allow Iraqi officials to monitor and store voice calls, data transmissions and text messages.

    Ah yes, preparing the battlefield for 12/31/2011, when US forces will sort of, maybe, kinda leave Iraq.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA, Post-Constitution America