Privacy, cellphones and HOPE

The front page of yesterdays New York Times included an article, More Demands on Cell Carriers in Surveillance, that offered statistics on how often law enforcement agencies query cellphone companies for data about their customers.

The headline number was 1.3 million requests last year. It's newsworthy both because the number is so high and also because, as the article said, it is " ... the first time data have been collected nationally on the frequency of cell surveillance by law enforcement." The actual number of data requests is likely even larger; the article cited "incomplete record-keeping". 

The requested data included text messages and caller locations. In one type of request, a cell tower "dump,"  the phone company provides the numbers of all their subscribers near a particular tower

AT&T responded to, on average, more than 700 data requests a day last year. Sprint responded to "at least" 1,500. Sometimes subpoenas were needed, sometimes not. 

The timing of the story was interesting, as I had just started reviewing the list of presentations for the upcoming hacker conference, HOPE Number 9 (Hackers on Planet Earth) in New York City. 

Privacy is a big issue in the hacker community. 

For example, the presentation Countermeasures: Proactive Self Defense Against Ubiquitous Surveillance, will be given by Greg Conti, the director of West Point’s Cyber Security Research Center and Lisa Shay, an assistant professor in West Point’s department of electrical engineering and computer science. 

Private investigator Steve Rambam is, to me, the home office of lost privacy. He has spoken at HOPE conferences before on the issue, and is scheduled for three hours this time around. He'll likely talk longer. His topic: Privacy - A Postmortem. The description of his talk, shown below, paints a picture of a place and time where there is no place to hide. 

With a few keystrokes, it is now possible for an investigator to determine a target’s location, activities, finances, sexual orientation, religion, politics, habits, hobbies, friends, family, their entire personal and professional histories... even accurately predict what they will do and where they will go in the future. Without leaving the office, a government agent can surveil a subject and “watch” their activities 24/7/365: where they drive, when they walk down the street, if they attend a church or synagogue or mosque or a demonstration or visit an abortion clinic or a “known criminal activity location” or meet with a “targeted person” or a disliked political activist.

For legal issues on warrant-less surveillance, Hanni Fakhoury, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation will discuss Cell Site Location Data and Nontrespassory Surveillance after U.S. v. Jones. The description of her talk, excerpted below, notes that the law may be changing. 

With the rise of smartphones, the government’s use of cell site location data to pinpoint our exact location has grown more widespread (and precise) over time. ...  we don’t have any privacy in data we turn over to third parties, like cell phone providers. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in U.S. v. Jones however, presented a “sea change” in the law of warrantless surveillance, calling into question the future viability of the third party doctrine. This talk will review the law of location data, go in depth into how Jones calls this law into question, and conclude with the steps we need to take in the future in order to safeguard our privacy.

Also on the legal front, Marcia Hofmann, another EFF attorney, will discuss Protecting Your Data from the Cops, addressing your constitutional protections should the police show up at your door asking for your computer and/or passwords. This is, after all, a hacker convention. 

Web developer Cooper Quintin will offer An Overview of Mobile Device Security, focusing on Android security. He will discuss both "how to protect your phone against warrantless search and seizure by law enforcement," along with password issues and protecting yourself from "the greatest of all threats to your phone: The Phone Company". 

On the software side, James Vasile, the director of the Open Internet Tools Project, will discuss Anti-Censorship and Anti-Surveillance Tools

The conference also features a couple spies. 

Former National Security Agency analyst, turned whistleblower, William Binney will be giving one of the keynotes. Binney, who served in the NSA for over 30 years, will discuss their monitoring of American citizens. Back in April, he discussed Growing State Surveillance on Democracy Now. Remember the recent story about the NSA building the largest spy center in the country in Utah? He was a source for the story. 

The other spy, Robert David Steele, will open himself up for two hours of questions. Steele was a Marine Corps infantry officer, a CIA clandestine case officer and a founder of the Marine Corps Intelligence Center. 

Some parts of the conference will be streamed online, free, by the HOPE radio station, Radio Statler. The schedule has not yet been published. 

I have no connection with the HOPE conference or 2600, the organization behind it. 

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies