A Reason Why Governments Tip Toe around Facebook?

September 6, 2019

Is Facebook a criminal evidence preservation resource?

How important is Facebook to law enforcement, and how important should it be? How broad should efforts be to preserve potential evidence on the platform? These are some questions we pondered when we read the Daily Caller’s article, “Facebook’s New ‘Clear History’ Tool Hits a Legal Roadblock Over Criminal Evidence Concerns.” The tool in question, Off-Facebook Activity, addresses privacy concerns by giving users control over what data other apps and websites share with Facebook. (It does not, however, completely “clear” user’s browsing history, as some had hoped.)

The Texas civil case at hand is one of human trafficking facilitated, alleges the plaintiff, through Facebook’s platform. The victim’s attorney, Annie McAdams, filed a temporary restraining order to block Off-Facebook Activity altogether, reasoning the tool would obscure data relevant to her case. In doing so, she cited the federal Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop enabling Sex Traffickers Act, both enacted in 2018. This would seem reasonable but for a couple of factors, reporter Audrey Conklin argues. For one thing, U.S. Code Section 230 protects social media companies from being held responsible for content published by others on their platforms. Furthermore, Facebook has other mechanisms for preserving data relevant to legal cases. Citing tech lawyer Brad Shear, Conklin writes:

“Shear explained that law enforcement can still access information behind Off-Facebook Activity under proper legal procedures because ‘Facebook still has that information on the back end because they don’t delete any information on their platform.’”

Interesting. The article continues:

“Facebook is used regularly as a resource to catch both active and potential criminals, including mass shooters and drug traffickers, so long as law enforcement subpoenas the information needed to identify them. …

We note:

“Facebook also works with Polaris and the National Human Trafficking Hotline ‘to provide resources and assist victims of human trafficking,’ according to a page on its site dedicated to human trafficking information, which also includes a list of human trafficking hotlines in various countries. The social media giant complied with 88% of 41,336 U.S. government requests for information in 2018, according to Facebook Transparency. There were 23,801 search warrant requests made for 36,652 accounts, 90% of which were produced. Of 8,360 subpoena requests for 13,728 accounts, data was produced for 83%. Hundreds of requests related to national security threats were also requested.”

So, according to Conklin, McAdams is approaching the issue all wrong. Instead of filing a broad restraining order against the Off-Facebook Activity tool, she could have asked Facebook nicely. However, the Transparency page states it will preserve information upon request from government law-enforcement, not private attorneys. Perhaps the issue is more complicated than the write-up suggests, and McAdams is not simply tech-ignorant, as Conklin charges.

Whatever the case here, there is no denying Facebook data has been playing an increasingly important role in law-enforcement efforts. Is that why punishments are mostly hand waving?

Cynthia Murrell, September 06, 2019

Citizen Action within Facebook

September 5, 2019

Pedophiles flock anywhere kids are. Among these places are virtual hangouts, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and more. One thing all criminals can agree on is that they hate pedophiles and in the big house they take justice into their own hands. Outside of prison, Facebook vigilantes take down pedophiles. Quartz reports on how in the article, “There’s A Global Movement Of Facebook Vigilantes Who Hunt Pedophiles.”

The Facebook vigilantes are regular people with families and jobs, who use their spare time to hunt pedophiles grooming children for sexual exploitation. Pedophile hunting became popular in the early 2000s when Chris Hansen hosted the show To Catch a Predator. It is not only popular in the United States, but countries around the world. A big part of the pedophile vigilantism is the public shaming:

“ “Pedophile hunting” or “creep catching” via Facebook is a contemporary version of a phenomenon as old as time: the humiliating act of public punishment. Criminologists even view it as a new expression of the town-square execution. But it’s also clearly a product of its era, a messy amalgam of influences such as reality TV and tabloid culture, all amplified by the internet.”

One might not think there is a problem with embarrassing pedophiles via live stream, but there are unintended consequences. Some of the “victims” commit suicide, vigilantes’ evident might not hold up in court, and they might not have all the facts and context:

“They have little regard for due process or expectations of privacy. The stings, live-streamed to an engaged audience, become a spectacle, a form of entertainment—a twisted consequence of Facebook’s mission to foster online communities.”

Facebook’s community driven algorithms make it easy to follow, support, and join these vigilante groups. The hunters intentions are often cathartic and keen on doling out street justice, but may operate outside the law.

Whitney Grace, September 5, 2019

Google Country Faves?

August 30, 2019

Google, according to the Intercept the search engine has returned to Egypt in “Google Is Deepening Its Involvement With Egypt’s Repressive Government.” Google abandoned its Cairo office in 2014 when a military coup placed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the presidency. The Sisi government is notorious for silencing political activists and dissidents, while using the Internet to form a Big Brother surveillance system. It gets worse, because Sisi’s administration is also censoring Web sites, news, and violating human rights.

Google will soon hire full time staff under Google executive Limo Cattaruzzi. The company will also work with the Egyptian government to expand its “Skills From Google” program that provides digital training for entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, the Sisi government is involved with this endeavor.

Google faced some eyebrow raising for working with the Chinese government on Project Dragonfly. Advocacy groups. The US Congress asked questions. Some Google employees protested Dragonfly. In a bold move, Google backtracked.

Google will probably face similar backlash when it reopens its Cairo office in September:

“Rights groups are concerned that a more permanent presence in the country will expose Google to added pressure from the Egyptian government, which has a history of using data collection and monitoring to punish dissidents, journalists, and human rights advocates.

We noted:

‘Re-opening an office in Egypt when the government is aggressively asking other internet companies to provide disproportionate access to their data sounds alarming,’ said Katitza Rodriguez, the international rights director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Google has an obligation to respect human rights under international standards, Rodriguez added, and the company should disclose what steps it will take to safeguard them.”

Egyptian political dissidents have some history with Google. When the Egyptian government shut down the Internet in 2011, Google allegedly flipped on some digital lights during the blackout.

Will the Sisi government use its partnership with Google and other foreign companies to brand Egypt as a foreign investment haven?

Whitney Grace, August 30, 2019

Weapon Identification Cards

August 24, 2019

Interested in weapons? Want playing cards to help you identify devices? If you answered, “Yes,” check out these links which were valid as of 730 am US Eastern on August 24, 2019:

Iranian weapons

Chinese weapons

Russian weapons

Thanks to Secrecy News.

Stephen E Arnold, August 24, 2019

Web Browsers Impede Kazakhstan Surveillance

August 23, 2019

Big browsers are making friends in far places. Engadget reports, “Google and Mozilla to Block Web Surveillance in Kazakhstan (Updated).” Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and (we learn in the updated article) Apple Safari are now auto-blocking Kazakhstan’s latest attempt to spy on its citizens. That attempt revolves around a root certificate that government forced upon its internet users last month. Reporter Amrita Khalid explains:

“The nation forced ISPs to cooperate by making it mandatory for all customers to install the certificate in order to gain access to the internet. Turns out that the root certificate was a Trojan Horse. It allowed the Kazakhstan government to perform a ‘man-in-the-middle’ or MitM attack against HTTPS connections to a list of 37 domains, including Facebook, Twitter, Google and more, according to a study published by University of Michigan’s Censored Planet. Normally, HTTPS websites are encrypted in a way that ISPs or governments won’t be able to access it. In the case of Kazakhstan, the MitM attack broke the encryption in these sites, allowing the government to freely spy on private internet activity.”

Kazakhstan has since backed down after legal challenges within its borders. Google, Mozilla, and Apple are taking no chances, though, and will continue to block the certificate, just in case the government changes its mind again. Khalid writes:

“Given Kazakhstan’s track record, it’s not unlikely that such a vulnerability will be exploited again. In its 2018 Freedom on the Net report, Freedom House classified Kazakhstan as ‘not free’ due to the authoritarian regime’s tight controls on media and internet. Internet censorship in the nation is currently at an all-time high under the regime of its current leader, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The government regularly blocks news sites and shuts down the internet and messaging services following protests. Due to a 2014 law, state agencies can freely block websites without a court order.”

Mozilla has said it will keep an eye on Kazakhstan and will act to deflect any similar certificates down the line. We expect Google and Apple will be similarly vigilant.

Cynthia Murrell, August 23, 2019

Web Site Accessibility

August 20, 2019

Over the years, the DarkCyber team has had to create Web sites which conform to the ADA and 508 guidelines for Web site accessibility. In that same span of time, Web sites have become more and more difficult to use, not just for individuals with disabilities but for people in general.

We noted “The Internet’s Accessibility Reckoning.” We found the information and point of view in the article generally in line with our ideas.

This passage captures the sentiment often expressed:

In order to be accessible to consumers with disabilities, businesses often need to update their website’s software code to work with screen readers and other technologies that make websites more accessible to those with disabilities.

This observation seems accurate as well:

Inconsistent court rulings and regulatory positions on the issue over the years have brought little clarity on whether businesses have to legally update their software, leaving millions of Americans unable to access retail and consumer websites.

DarkCyber wants to point out that Web sites evokes an image of a large computer and a desktop monitor. The reality is that the majority of Internet access is from:

  • Mobile devices, some of which have tiny screens and interface elements which are impossible for a person with a vision impairment, no matter how slight, to identify and press accurately.
  • Internet of Things devices which assume a person can talk to the gizmo and it will deliver the desired function.
  • Behind-the-scenes or predictive services which display what an algorithm determines the user requires.

The problem with each of these interface “spaces” is that the article does not discuss them, few Web designers think about them, and most regulators are unable to perceive these issues.

To sum up, making Web sites accessible is a bit more difficult than writing a regulation that adequately addresses each of these three areas. The word “reckoning” might be missing the mark. Perhaps “impossibility”?

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2019

FedBizOps to Become Sam.gov

August 16, 2019

“Sam” is System for Award Management. The acronym evokes Uncle Sam, a personification of the United States dating from the early 19th century.

Image result for uncle sam

FedBizOps is going away. The new site will be sam.gov. Instead of the confused, often baffling search system, Sam.gov will be more information, more features, and more wonderfulness.

The service will include a search and retrieval system with an advanced search function with drop down boxes. Plus there will be a help function called “Learning Center.” There will also be a “Data Bank” and a “Workspace.”

The idea is that the system will deliver notifications — called “Follow” —about opportunities which work. We assume there will be a way to disable notifications. One annoying notification is not a big deal. But for those who monitor hundreds of notifications, these helpful reminders quickly become a bit of a challenge. Disabling is helpful.

The GSA, which is a unit of the White House, has provided a Transition Fact Sheet and some basic information located on the “Learning Center.”

DarkCyber believes that nothing can replace listening and learning about projects before these are publicly announced. Nevertheless, some organizations rely upon FedBizOps, regardless of its name.

The shift occurs in FY2020.

Has Google Outfoxed Its Anti Military Staff?

August 15, 2019

Last year, Google faced a strong employee backlash when it was revealed the company had been working with the Department of Defense on its AI drone program through the secretive Project Maven. Lest anyone thought the company’s supposed change of heart was genuine, it seems it has simply become more underhanded about it. The Intercept reports, “Google Continues Investments in Military and Police AI Technology Through Venture Capital Arm.” Writer Lee Fang reveals:

“Rather than directly engage in controversial contracts, Google is providing financial, technological, and engineering support to a range of startups through Gradient Ventures, a venture capital arm that Google launched in 2017 to nurture companies deploying AI in a range of fields. Google promises interested firms access to its own AI training data and sometimes places Google engineers within the companies as a resource. The firms it supports include companies that provide AI technology to military and law enforcement. …”

Evidence? There are emails:

“Google employees — who spoke anonymously, fearing reprisal — said the work embraced by Gradient Ventures startups appears to circumvent the commitment by their employer to carefully vet and disclose military and law enforcement applications of AI technology. The startups not only receive financial support from Google. Google employees shared internal company emails with The Intercept that stated that all firms backed by Gradient Ventures ‘will be able to access vast swaths of training data that Google has accumulated to train their own AI systems’ and ‘will have the opportunity to receive advanced AI trainings from Google.’”

These internal emails also reveal that senior Google engineers rotate into firms backed by Gradient Ventures. This includes CAPE Productions, which supplies drone-surveillance technology to U.S. law enforcement, and Cogniac, which does the same for both law enforcement and the military. See the article for more on each of these companies.

Naturally, Google tries to dismiss the arrangements as run-of-the mill investments with minimal involvement on their part. A company called Enduril may be one beneficiary of Google’s anti government actions, and the company is hiring.

Cynthia Murrell, August 15, 2019

A Palantir Founder Considers the Google

August 2, 2019

DarkCyber read “Good for Google, Bad for America.” Interesting essay. DarkCyber noted several items and circled each in our favorite marker color: Truthful Blue.

Let’s take a look at these:

First, Google’s smart software is not advancing:

DeepMind, having now gone on three times longer than the original Manhattan Project, is not clearly any closer to its core goal of creating an “artificial general intelligence” that rivals or replaces humanity.

Second, Google has a smart software research facility in China:

Google decided to open an A.I. lab in Beijing. According to Fei-Fei Li, the executive who opened it, the lab is “focused on basic A.I. research” because Google is “an A.I.-first company” in a world where “A.I. and its benefits have no borders.”

Third, Google has an attitude:

The Silicon Valley attitude sometimes called “cosmopolitanism” is probably better understood as an extreme strain of parochialism, that of fortunate enclaves isolated from the problems of other places — and incurious about them.

DarkCyber finds these points thought provoking. What’s clear is that Google has invested in smart software. Its principal value has been to enhance its online advertising revenues. The Loon balloon, while interesting, drifts intelligently. The comparison is apt.

Locating a facility in China makes it easy for information to diffuse from the facility into other sectors. Cooperation with government authorities for some in China is a standard operating procedure. Google may believe that its “basic A.I. research” is compartmentalized. But is that belief warranted?

Finally, the attitude. DarkCyber is not sure what the five dollar word cosmopolitanism means. DarkCyber is not sure about parochialism either. DarkCyber does understand the concept of incurious. Why think differently when certain thoughts are obviously correct.

To sum up, DarkCyber wants to know who benefits from the alleged “cooperation” with China?

Stephen E Arnold, August 2, 2019

Palantir: Did ICE Paid $60 Million for an App

August 2, 2019

DarkCyber spotted a short article in Counterpunch. The title?

Records Show Palantir Made $60 Million Contracting with ICE for Mobile App

The write up said:

A critical July 2019 exposé from WNYC based on documents obtained via FOIA request shows how Palantir’s proprietary software, in this case the FALCON mobile app, is essential to the removal operations of ICE and related agencies. As WNYC explained, “FALCON mobile allows agents in the field to search through a fusion of law enforcement databases that include information on people’s immigration histories, family relationships, and past border crossings.”

Counterpunch then shared its own research findings:

Counterpunch has learned that since 2016, Palantir has made more than $60 million in contract awards from ICE for access to FALCON and for Operations & Maintenance (O&M) for the mobile application. This, of course, is solely for FALCON and related services, and likely just scratches the surface of the true scope of Palantir’s profits from collaboration with ICE, to say nothing of Palantir’s lucrative relations with other government agencies such as CIA, DoD, etc.

The write up covers some other information about Palantir. DarkCyber finds the $60 million for an app interesting.

Stephen E Arnold, August 2, 2019

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