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Surveillance Shocker: Sprint Received 8 MILLION Law Enforcement Requests for GPS Location Data in the Past Year
This October, Chris Soghoian — computer security researcher, oft-times journalist, and current technical consultant for the FTC’s privacy protection office — attended a closed-door conference called “ISS World”. ISS World — the “ISS” is for “Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception, Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Gathering” — is where law enforcement and intelligence agencies consult with telco representatives and surveillance equipment manufacturers about the state of electronic surveillance technology and practice. Armed with a tape recorder, Soghoian went to the conference looking for information about the scope of the government’s surveillance practices in the US. What Soghoian uncovered, as he reported on his blog this morning, is more shocking and frightening than anyone could have ever expected
At the ISS conference, Soghoian taped astonishing comments by Paul Taylor, Sprint/Nextel’s Manager of Electronic Surveillance. In complaining about the volume of requests that Sprint receives from law enforcement, Taylor noted a shocking number of requests that Sprint had received in the past year for precise GPS (Global Positioning System) location data revealing the location and movements of Sprint’s customers. That number?
Sprint received over 8 million requests for its customers’ information in the past 13 months. That doesn’t count requests for basic identification and billing information, or wiretapping requests, or requests to monitor who is calling who, or even requests for less-precise location data based on which cell phone towers a cell phone was in contact with. That’s just GPS. And, that’s not including legal requests from civil litigants, or from foreign intelligence investigators. That’s just law enforcement. And, that’s not counting the few other major cell phone carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. That’s just Sprint.
[M]y major concern is the volume of requests. We have a lot of things that are automated but that’s just scratching the surface. One of the things, like with our GPS tool. We turned it on the web interface for law enforcement about one year ago last month, and we just passed 8 million requests. So there is no way on earth my team could have handled 8 million requests from law enforcement, just for GPS alone. So the tool has just really caught on fire with law enforcement. They also love that it is extremely inexpensive to operate and easy, so, just the sheer volume of requests they anticipate us automating other features, and I just don’t know how we’ll handle the millions and millions of requests that are going to come in.
Eight million would have been a shocking number even if it had included every single legal request to every single carrier for every single type of customer information; that Sprint alone received eight million requests just from law enforcement only for GPS data is absolutely mind-boggling. We have long warned that cell phone tracking poses a threat to locational privacy, and EFF has been fighting in the courts for years to ensure that the government only tracks a cell phone’s location when it has a search warrant based on probable case. EFF has also complained before that a dangerous level of secrecy surrounds law enforcement’s communications surveillance practices like a dense fog, and that without stronger laws requiring detailed reporting about how the government is using its surveillance powers, the lack of accountability when it comes to the government’s access to information through third-party phone and Internet service providers will necessarily breed abuse. But we never expected such huge numbers to be lurking in that fog.
Now that the fact is out that law enforcement is rooting through such vast amounts of location data, it raises profoundly important questions that law enforcement and the telcos must answer:
- How many innocent Americans have had their cell phone data handed over to law enforcement?
- How can the government justify obtaining so much information on so many people, and how can the telcos justify handing it over?
- How did the number get so large? Is the government doing massive dragnet sweeps to identify every single cell phone that was in a particular area at a particular time? Is the government getting location information for entire “communities of interest” by asking not only for their target’s location, but also for the location of every person who talked to the target, and every person who talked to them?
- Does the number only include requests to track phones in real-time, or does it include requests for historical GPS data, and if so, why did the telcos have that incredibly sensitive data sitting around in the first place? Exactly when and how are they logging their users’ GPS data, and how long are they keeping that data?
- What legal process was used to obtain this information? Search warrants? Other court orders? Mere subpoenas issued by prosecutors without any court involvement? How many times was this information handed over without any legal process at all, based on government claims of an urgent emergency situation?
- Looking beyond Sprint and GPS, how many Americans have had their private communications data handed over to law enforcement by their phone and Internet service providers?
- What exactly has the government done with all of that information? Is it all sitting in an FBI database somewhere?
- Do you really think that this Orwellian level of surveillance is consistent with a free society and American values? Really?
These questions urgently need to be asked — by journalists, and civil liberties groups like EFF, and by every cell phone user and citizen concerned about privacy. Most importantly, though, they must be asked by Congress, which has failed in its duty to provide oversight and accountability when it comes to law enforcement surveillance. Congress should hold hearings as soon as possible to demand answers from the government and the telcos under oath, and clear the fog so that the American people will finally have an accurate picture of just how far the government has reached into the private particulars of their digital lives.
Even without hearings, though, the need for Congress to update the law is clear. At the very least, Congress absolutely must stem the government’s abuse of its power by:
- Requiring detailed reporting about law enforcement’s access to communications data using the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), just as it already requires for law enforcement wiretapping under the Wiretap Act, and make sure that the government actually fulfills its obligations rather than ignore the law for years on end.
- Requiring that the government “minimize” the communications data it collects under ECPA rather than keep it all forever, just like it is supposed to do with wiretaps.
- Prohibiting the government from using in a criminal trial any electronic communications content or data that it obtains in violation of ECPA, just as the government is prohibited by the Wiretap Act from using illegally acquired telephone intercepts.
- Clarifying that ECPA can only be used to get specific data about particular individuals and cannot be used for broad sweeps, whether to identify everyone in a particular geographic area or to identify every person that visits a particular web site.
It’s time for Congress to pull the curtain back on the vast, shadowy world of law enforcement surveillance and shine a light on these abuses. In the meantime, we give our thanks to those like Chris Soghoian who are doing important work to uncover the truth about government spying in America.
UPDATE: Sprint has responded to Soghoian’s report:
The comments made by a Sprint corporate security officer during a recent conference have been taken out of context by this blogger. Specifically, the “8 million” figure, which the blogger highlights in his email and blog post, has been grossly misrepresented. The figure does not represent the number of customers whose location information was provided to law enforcement, as this blogger suggests.
Instead, the figure represents the number of individual “pings” for specific location information, made to the Sprint network as part of a series of law enforcement investigations and public safety assistance requests during the past year. It’s critical to note that a single case or investigation may generate thousands of individual pings to the network as the law enforcement or public safety agency attempts to track or locate an individual.
Instances where law enforcement agencies seek customer location information include exigent or emergency circumstances such as Amber Alert events, criminal investigations, or cases where a Sprint customer consents to sharing location information.
Sprint takes our customers’ privacy extremely seriously and all law enforcement and public safety requests for customer location information are processed in accordance with applicable state and federal laws.
This response provides some important answers, while raising even more questions. First off, Sprint has confirmed that it received 8 million requests, while denying a charge that no one has made: that 8 million individual customers’ data was handed over. Sprint’s denial also begs the question: how many individual customers have been affected?
As for Sprint’s claim that in some instances a single case or investigation may generate thousands of location “pings”, that is certainly possible, but that doesn’t make the 8 million number any less of a concern, or moot any of the important questions raised by Soghoian in his report or by EFF in its post regarding the lack of effective oversight and transparency in this area.
Even assuming that Sprint’s statement about “pings” is true, 8 million — or, in other words, 8,000 thousands — is still an astronomical number and more than enough to raise serious concerns that Congress should investigate and address. Moreover, the statement raises additional questions: exactly what legal process is being used to authorize the multiple-ping surveillance over time that Sprint is cooperating in? Is Sprint demanding search warrants in those cases? How secure is this automated interface that law enforcement is using to “ping” for GPS data? How does Sprint insure that only law enforcement has access to that data, and only when they have appropriate legal process? How many times has Sprint disclosed information in “exigent or emergency circumstances” without any legal process at all? And most worrisome and intriguing: what customers does Sprint think have “consent[ed] to the sharing [of] location data” with the government? Does Sprint think it is free to hand over the information of anyone who has turned on their GPS functionality and shared information with Sprint for location-based services? Or even the data of anyone who has agreed to their terms of service? What exactly are they talking about?
These questions are only the beginning, and Sprint’s statement doesn’t come close to answering all of them. Of course, we appreciate that Sprint has begun a public dialogue about this issue. But this should be only the beginning of that discussion, not the end. Ultimately, the need for Congress to investigate the true scope of law enforcement’s communications surveillance practices remains. Congress can and should dig deeper to get the hard facts for the American people, rather than forcing us to rely solely on Sprint’s public relations office for information on these critical privacy issues.
September 15, 2009
A Member of Congress proposes to use taxpayer money to fund the development of technology to track motorists as part of a new form of taxation. US Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) introduced H.R. 3311 earlier this year to appropriate $154,500,000 for research and study into the transition to a per-mile vehicle tax system. The “Road User Fee Pilot Project” would be administered by the US Treasury Department. This agency in turn would issue millions in taxpayer-backed grants to well-connected commercial manufacturers of tolling equipment to help develop the required technology. Within eighteen months of the measure’s passage, the department would file an initial report outlining the best methods for adopting the new federal transportation tax.
“Oregon has successfully tested a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fee, and it is time to expand and test the VMT program across the country,” Blumenauer said in a statement on the bill’s introduction. “A VMT system can better assess fees based on use of our roads and bridges, as well as during times of peak congestion, than a fee based on fuel consumption. It is time to get creative and find smart ways to rebuild and renew America’s deteriorating infrastructure.”
In 2006, the Oregon Department of Transportation completed its own study of how to collect revenue from motorists with a new form of tax that, like the existing fuel excise tax, imposes a greater charge on drivers the more that they drive. The pilot project’s final report summed up the need for a VMT tax.
“Unfortunately, there is a growing perception among members of the public and legislators that fuel taxes have little to do with road programs and therefore should be considered ‘just another form of taxation,’” the March 2006 report stated. “By itself, this situation appears to be preventing any increases in fuel tax rates from being put into effect.”
The money diverted from the fuel excise tax on non-road related projects must be made up for with a brand new VMT tax, the report argued. Merely indexing the gas tax to inflation or improvements in fleet gas mileage was rejected as “imprecise.” Instead, the report urged a mandate for all drivers to install GPS tracking devices that would report driving habits to roadside Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) scanning devices.
Blumenauer is a long-time advocate of bicycling and mass transit in Congress. Many of his largest campaign donors stand to benefit from his newly introduced legislation. Honeywell International, for example, is a major manufacturer RFID equipment. The company also happens to be the second biggest contributor in the current cycle to Blumenauer’s Political Action Committee (PAC), the Committee for a Livable Future. Another top-ten donor, Accenture, is a specialist in the video tolling field.
H.R. 3311 awaits a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee. A copy of the bill is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.
HR 3311 (Congress of the United States, 9/14/2009)
Paul Joseph Watson
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Three million Americans are being forced to answer intrusive questions about their private lives under threat of home visits and fines by the government in the guise of The American Community Survey.
The survey, which is sent to 3 million random homes each year, is in addition to the census but demands far more invasive information from citizens, such as how many times they have been married, if they have a toilet that flushes, and how much is left outstanding on their mortgage.
According to one North Texas resident, “The questionnaire also wants answers about where she works, how much money she makes, and what time she leaves for work each day – the hour and minute! “I thought it was intrusive. I don’t have a high regard for the federal government collecting this information anyway,” the woman told CBS 11 News. “You don’t know what they’re going to do with it.”
“Why do they need to know this? They don’t, in my opinion,” the woman said, before further stating that she thinks the personal questions are un-American. “Do they really need to know if we have a mortgage and whether this house is free and clear? That’s intrusive.”
The U.S. Census Bureau claims the survey helps them “determine where to locate services and allocate resources.”
If the person refuses to respond to the the survey or merely skips one question, then the Census Bureau promises that they will be fined and harassed until they do, a process that includes telephone calls and home visits.
However, it’s all hot air as no one has ever been charged with a crime for refusing to answer the ACS survey, and indeed several members of Congress have denounced the invasive questions as a violation of the Right to Financial Privacy Act.
On its very face, this is also a flagrant violation of the 5th amendment. Any census form that goes beyond asking how many people live in the residence is a violation of the 5th amendment, and court cases have established this, yet the census becomes more and more invasive each time.
Despite the fact that refusal to respond to the survey carries no ultimate penalty, the vast majority of the millions who receive it will doubtless comply in the face of threats of harassment and fines.
Objections to the invasive information being demanded by the government in the form of the survey arrive on the back of similar concerns about the 2010 census itself, particularly how census workers are using GPS to electronically tag every home in America.
In February, the Obama administration moved control of the census out of the Department of Commerce and into the White House, a tactic slammed as a trick by Democrats to keep their majorities in Congress.
July 17, 2009
Each equipped with $48,000 worth of GPS components, electronic maps, and wearable computers, troops of the Army’s 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division are heading to Afghanistan as part of the resurrected Land Warrior program. The Army is hoping the revised, eight-pound set of gear will be more beneficial than when the $500 million program was canceled in 2006.
As the latest futuristic military program to be made real, Land Warrior gear will allow troops to identify comrades and enemies on the battlefield, receive updated objectives, locate buildings and find the nearest exit–all through a head-mounted eyepiece.
This is the long-awaited realization of the Army’s 15 year plus program to help out troops who were previously buying their own walkie-talkies and GPS units to stay in contact with their team.
The problem is, not everyone finds it helpful.
By Lauren Boyer
Inquirer Staff Writer
HARRISBURG – Invasion of privacy is an issue that really gets under State Rep. Babette Josephs’ skin.
That’s why the Philadelphia Democrat introduced a bill, passed unanimously last week by the House, that would ban the forced implantation of computer chips in humans.
Conjuring Orwellian images, Josephs worries the identification devices – the size of a grain of rice – could lead to a real-life Big Brother nightmare.
“I’m doing, I think, what the legislature does too little of,” she said. “This is a problem on the horizon, and I want to address it before it becomes a societal disgrace.”
Though the technology hasn’t debuted in Pennsylvania, VeriChip, a company in Florida, received federal Food and Drug Administration clearance in 2004 to market the implanted microchips, which were tested on 200 Alzheimer’s patients.
Injected into the triceps, the chips have unique 16-digit codes and GPS capabilities that allow nursing homes to find wandering patients.
“I think it’s really horrible that we want to chip them like barcoded packages of meat,” said Kim Sultzbaugh, a research specialist who helped Josephs write the bill.
California, North Dakota, and Wisconsin have enacted laws similar to the ban Josephs is proposing.
The technology can also be used for security, as in a widely reported case in Mexico. There, the implants were required for some government employees to enter restricted buildings.
A bar in Scotland even offers to implant patrons with chips that allow them to purchase pints without a credit card, according to news accounts.
Despite the technology’s potential usefulness, Sultzbaugh said, some Christian groups liken the identification devices to the “mark of the beast,” a Satanic mark described in the Book of Revelation and represented by the number 666.
Josephs said electronic ankle bracelets could keep track of someone in a less-invasive manner.
But for some “murderers, killers, and rapists,” ankle bracelets won’t do the trick, said State Rep. Dan Moul (R., Adams).
Moul amended Josephs’ bill to allow chips to be implanted by court order. The bill also would allow the chips to be implanted in Guantanamo Bay detainees who end up in Pennsylvania.
“Terrorists could take that ankle bracelet off with a saw and strap it to a dog and let them run around,” Moul said. “We need to know if these people are returning to the war to fight against America.”
Josephs called Moul’s changes “inflammatory” and “sensational” and hopes the Senate throws them out when it considers the measure.
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said the bill was not scheduled for immediate action.
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The Kansas City Star
July 1, 2009
The year is 2020 and the gasoline tax is history. In its place you get a monthly tax bill based on each mile you drove — tracked by a Global Positioning System device in your car and uploaded to a billing center.
What once was science fiction is being field-tested by the University of Iowa to iron out the wrinkles should a by-the-mile road tax ever be enacted.
Besides the technological advances making such a tax possible, the idea is getting a hard push from a growing number of transportation experts and officials. That is because the traditional by-the-gallon fuel tax, struggling to keep up with road building and maintenance demands, could fall even farther behind as vehicles’ gas mileage rises and more alternative-fuel vehicles come on line.
June 3, 2009
This will be the first in a series of essays about the practical aspects of creating a fascist state. I have long written about the New World Order and its intentions of reestablishing the Middle Ages with its Feudal system. That plan is now well along in its implementation in my view. There are still some aspects to be finished, but the fascist state is pretty much in place. It is not completely in place now; however, that is not due to a lack of trying. While there are many different aspects of this rapidly forming global fascist state, one of the key ones is what I call “the knowing state.” By this I mean the global state wants to know everything about you. Again, there are many parts to this general statement. Today I will write about one in particular.
One of the most distinctive technologies highlighted in the “Star Trek” franchise was the ability of the Federation/Star Fleet to find all of their people any time they wanted. The way Star Fleet did this was to have this little pin on their chests. This particular technique would apply more to microchip technology than to the GPS system in my view. Still, it is clear the NWO watched Star Trek and took notes. Over the last few decades the GPS, or Global Positioning System, has been upgraded far beyond its original intention. In case you forgot, GPS was sold as a way to rescue people who were lost etc. etc. etc. In reality, GPS was always a military system. Always has been and always will be. GPS is a satellite based locator technology, cruising at 22,000 miles in a geo synchronous orbit used by the military to target their missiles. These GPS satellites maintain a relative position with the earth and this allows them to maintain a proper alignment with the earth.
It is this stable alignment which makes GPS useful in locating objects on Earth.
GPS has been in the news a lot recently. First, I have seen several articles which say that GPS is in crisis and needs to be upgraded, replaced or whatever. I find that interesting. Further, we are now told that the US Census Department wants to make GPS locator marks on every household location in the USA. Why is that? Such a GPS locator mark doesn’t fall anywhere in the logical mission of the Census Department. Granted, the Census Department, like all government blobs, engages in mission creep. Mission creep is the government version of algae growing in a lake dosed with large amounts of fertilizer run off. Unless you go in there and suck it up with a shop vac, the algae will overwhelm the lake. Likewise, government mission creep is like that.
I ask myself exactly why would a civilian census department, originally intended merely to count the numbers of people in the country has done this. Exactly why does the Census Department need to know the precise GPS location of every household in the USA? Of course, the answer is they don’t. The next question is who does and why do they need that GPS locator? Like I said before, GPS is a military technology that has certain non lethal applications. GPS can either be used to locate a missing hiker on Mount Hood, or it can be used to target a Predator drone missile. The choice is all in the use of the technology. Given the history of the US Federal government, at Waco with the Branch Davidians, at Ruby Ridge among others, you will excuse me that I am not buying the Census story.
The reason is simple. There is absolutely no reasonable, rational or logical reason for the Census Department to have, or need the precise GPS location of every household in the USA. However, there is a need for the Department of Defense to need this kind of info. Things happen in clusters in my view. It is all in the context in my view. If all you look at is the GPS locators, you will miss the big picture. First, we have that pathetic example of humanity called Janet Janet of the Fatherland Security Department with her delusional ranting in these so called reports of hers. We have state level reports, as in Missouri, stating the “terror threat” of certain classes of American citizens. So, the way I see it the GPS locator program makes sense only if you view it from a military standpoint. Otherwise, putting a GPS locator mark on every household in the USA is merely government mission creep gone amuck. However, I do not for one instant think that is the case. It is much more than that. It is much more sinister than that. And it is part of a larger fascist program that is ongoing.
To put it in the plainest terms possible, the only reason you would use a GPS locator system designed to target military weapons, is indeed you intend to use it for military targeting purposes. Otherwise, why would you do it? You wouldn’t. At this point, I do not particularly care if people think I am a fruitcake, conspiracy nut. We are way beyond that point in the USA of 2009. I am telling you quite openly, in the little remaining time we have left, the main purpose of the 2010 Federal Census is to get these GPS coordinates into the Pentagon Data Base. And the reason to get them into the NWO controlled US military database is they will used to target “dissidents” with the kind of warfare being perfected in Pakistan’s tribal areas as I write this essay. The US military is now engaged in live fire training, under the guise of fighting terrorists, of the specific technology, methodology and techniques which will soon be used here in the USA against “domestic terrorists.” You may believe or not believe as you see fit. You have that freedom for a short time longer.
I will tell you plainly, the NWO controlled American military wants these GPS markers so they can launch Predator Drone missile attacks, the aptly named HELLFIRE missile I might add, against a long list of undesirables here in CONUS, continental United States. This is my opinion. I think the facts, the history and the current situation all support my conclusion. They, whoever you think “they” are, intend to kill you for your political, religious and cultural views. And they intend to do it in the most intense “shock and awe” manner they can. You can be sure the population control will be much easier if TV shows, for instance, a Predator Drone strike on the Waco compound. The other thing, since the NWO enforcement groups are cowards when faced with actual military resistance, is remote control, GPS based long range missile strikes will reduce their own casualties. These NWO people want to kill you, but they sure don’t want to die while they are doing it.
This concludes the first essay in the series. One thing I will say for the NWO is they are very precise in their methodology. I do not believe they are very intelligent, but they are cunning and do certain things very well. One of them is to put a missile on a GPS identified target. So, when a HELLFIRE missile shows up at your front door, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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May 22, 2009
Aoyama Gakuin University is phasing out traditional methods of taking attendance at its School of Social Informatics, in favor of free GPS-enabled iPhones.
The faculty began providing Apple iPhone 3Gs to all 550 staff and students Friday, using the GPS function to determine whether they are in school or not. The university will initiate full operation of the system in the autumn. The school also has plans to expand their use to setting simple tests and questionnaires, submitting homework and reviewing class video materials.
The university is to pay the basic charges itself, ensuring no extra financial burdens will fall on students.
The same day, it also announced a tie-up with iPhone provider Softbank Mobile Corp., called “Mobile & Net Society Education and Training.”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Transport for London has just begun testing a new technology that will artificially limit the top speeds of taxis, buses and government fleet vehicles. Called Intelligent Speed Adaptation (ISA), the system will keep track of speed limits all over London and will prevent operators from accelerating past that legal limit. The device is capable of slowing the vehicle down regardless of the driver’s wishes.
Alternatively, the system can be switched into an advisory mode that simply informs the driver when the speed limit has been reached. If these tests prove successful, it’s likely that the ISA technology will be made available within the next 12 months to private motorists that wish to limit the top speed of their personal vehicles. So far, there’s no indication that the government will mandate the use of the ISA system.
It’s hoped that a large number of drivers will choose to equip their vehicles with the ISA technology. Transport for London believes that both accidents and road congestion would be drastically reduced, which would also have the desirable effect of reducing fuel consumption and emissions.