All-seeing eye

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Electronic surveillance of freedom - or is it a threat to it?

If a graduate of the Faculty of Chemistry and a Muslim by religion go to a low-paying job at a pharmacy, then what does this mean? Does he just need a temporary part-time job, or is he trying to get access to potassium nitrate (used as fertilizer and in the manufacture of explosives)? What if some individuals with Arabic names make him money transfers? What if he buys a plane ticket for the same flight with one of these senders, but they sit in different parts of the cabin and purchase tickets separately, and pay in cash? What if his credit card reports show purchases of clockwork devices?

If the competent authorities had the opportunity to collect such data bit by bit, this would open up new opportunities for upsetting the insidious intentions of diverse terrorists. At the same time, this would make a lot of innocent citizens suspicious of negligence in displaying not quite standard behavior.

In November 2002, there was news that the Pentagon was developing a secret program called Total Information Awareness. The purpose of this program was to identify suspicious patterns of behavior using the technology of "data mining", also known as the technology of "pattern recognition", which involves the computer processing of large amounts of electronic information. After the public raised an unhappy screech, the name had to be changed to Anti-Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA). However, this did not help stop the flurry of protests and in September 2003 Congress stopped funding the program.

However, six of the seven component parts of the TIA program continued to exist as separate secret projects with secret funding. In a February report by the US Department of Homeland Security, three programs are mentioned that aim to identify suspicious patterns of goods movement. Similar projects are booming, among other countries, in China, Britain, France, Israel and Germany.

U.S. human rights activists are waging an intensified battle against dataming, which the FBI has made its primary tool for tracking citizens. They report that in recent months, the administration has been trying to legitimize such programs, which are held under the exclusive leadership of the White House, bypassing Congress. If the law is passed, the special services of the federal and local levels will receive more powers for the exchange of operational data. On September 20, the US Secretary of Justice filed a petition with the federal court to grant judicial immunity to telecommunications companies that provide intelligence services with international phone calls.

A month ago, after a meeting with the Department of Justice regarding the FBI's secret plans to use datamining technology, a group of US Congressmen filed a complaint with the Secretary of Justice stating that such programs would allow the FBI to monitor citizens “without any reason for suspicion.” The project in question may be unveiled in the coming weeks.

In Europe, at the moment, such programs are not carried out, at least openly. Nevertheless, according to the agreement concluded in July last year, airlines flying from the European Union to the United States must provide the American secret services with information about the tickets booked, as well as data received by the airport security. This may include the passenger’s race and religion, occupation, family relationships, hotel reservation, and credit card information. Internet providers and telephone operators in the EU are now obligated to save for two years (while not yet automatically transferring where necessary) the data about which websites their customers visited, as well as the data of phone calls that they made or received (but, not the content of the conversations themselves).

Private business does not miss the opportunity to get enough of total surveillance

The Norwegian company FAST, which Microsoft bought this year for $ 1.3 billion, collects data from more than 300 sources (including the Internet) for national data mining programs commissioned by many countries in Asia, Europe and North America. In April, members of the British Parliament learned that almost a year earlier, the country's secretary of internal affairs had secretly allowed foreign secret services to provide license plate numbers obtained using roadside surveillance cameras. In June, the Swedish parliament voted to pass a law on a national data mining program that the Secretary of Defense has been pushing hard. Starting January 1 of next year, this will provide extensive authority to monitor international electronic communications and phone calls.

The rapid development of information processing capabilities based on data mining technology allows us to expand the interpretation of the suspicious. In June, the US Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, together with a group of police chiefs, published the “Suspicious Activity Report - Support and Implementation Project”. This document requires law enforcement officers to explain to citizens who, among other things, use binoculars, measure the number of steps, make notes in a notebook, draw plans and diagrams, change their appearance, enter into conversations with security officers and photograph objects “not having significant aesthetic value. "

Companies, and in particular companies that provide reports on credit transactions, usually enjoy greater freedom than government bodies in relation to the provision of personal information of clients to third parties. They treat the special services as the most grateful customers. The head of the company Visual Analytics from Maryland, which serves software for dataming for various intelligence agencies, says that the amount of data that these companies supply is "very significant." An expert at UNIMAS University in Malaysia says companies sell intelligence services access to their databases "at a level you never dreamed of."

Legal issues regarding the use by the state of data stored in various companies are raised in the courts of many countries, including the US Supreme Court. However, court decisions, for the most part, are hardly capable of seriously protecting the integrity of personal data. A former legal adviser in the Senate and the Committee of Representatives of Intelligence Structures reports that, thanks to improvements in the technology of dataming, intelligence agencies find it possible, while remaining within the framework of court orders, to extract from it as much data as was not provided for by the court. For example, such lawsuits are usually associated with permission to use data from a specific source, such as bills for telephone company services. However, if you study several different databases at the same time,

Internet surveillance is unfolding at a rapid pace. A mining expert at the University of the Armed Forces of Germany in Munich reports that many systems remotely analyze the content of web pages visited by citizens. A person who has ever visited the city of Peshawar, the stronghold of Islamic extremism in Pakistan, is considered more dangerous if he also has the imprudence to read the blog of a radical Muslim priest. Well, if this priest also lives in Peshawar, then the personal level of suspicion of such a citizen increases sharply. Through datamining, each citizen is assigned a personal level of suspicion, taking into account all the pages that are visited from this computer. For example, visiting a philatelic website reduces the overall level of suspicion.

Such profiles are built to a large extent using "emotional analysis". The head of the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Arizona reports that the emotional analysis conducted by American and international intelligence agencies is one of the most advanced and promising technologies. Its purpose is to detect changes in the behavior and language of Internet users, determining when an aggressive-minded young person begins to turn into a suicide bomber. For example, a citizen showing a marked interest in various Islamic sites, as well as engaging in relevant discussions on forums, can be “flagged” by an emotional analysis program, if he begins to show signs of discontent and call for violence by distributing links to military-related videos. The head of the Laboratory also reports that the intelligence service of the United States, Canada, China. Germany, Israel, Singapore and Taiwan are regular users of this technology.

Is there any real benefit?

The director of public relations of the non-profit organization In-Q-Tel, which helps the CIA stay abreast of the latest computer technology innovations, believes that datamining now "plays a key role for our national security." However, privacy advocates are quite alarmed. One of the fears, which is especially strong in the UK, after the incident with the intelligence services losing a huge amount of secret personal information, is that the state may be even more irresponsible when dealing with important data than private companies. Another fear is related to the fact that innocent people fall under the distribution, followed by investigation, or adding to the “watch list”, which may become an obstacle to air travel, banking operations and getting jobs in places, where radioactive materials are used, for example, in a hospital. According to the United States Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is actively fighting surveillance, the list of monitors used by the FBI Terrorism Detection Center now contains more than 900,000 names, and 20,000 new ones are added to the list every month. Removing a name from the list is extremely difficult.

At the same time, datamining can serve poorly, not only in relation to civil liberties, but also in relation to national security. Such programs are often developed as fraud tracking applications used by financial institutions. However, terrorism is more cunning. Identifying hotspots online that can spill out into terrorist attacks is a much more difficult task. A former FBI agent, and now an ACLU consultant, reports that intelligence agencies rely excessively on the “magic elixir” of total information surveillance, which draws resources that could be directed to more productive activities, such as working with informants and secret agents.

A former spokesman for the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate reports that at some extremist forums various tricks are being discussed in detail to help trick the dataming system. For example, a phone call to a sex-phone service significantly reduces the level of suspicion of its owner. "The new generation of Alkaeda is actively using these tricks," - said the former intelligence officer.

Last year, due to privacy issues, two pattern definition programs, ADVISE and TALON, were stopped by the US Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, respectively. Nonetheless, privacy advocates say other programs are still ongoing - and many are led by the National Security Agency (NSA), with very little external control. The NSA states that everything happens with the knowledge of Congress. The NSA readily defends datamining by arguing that if the systems in place today were used before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, much could have been prevented.

In July, updating the expired Foreign Intelligence Act (FISA), which was issued at the request of President Bush after September 11, Congress, after heated verbal battles, established new restrictions on wiretapping of citizens by intelligence agencies. This is the basic law governing the use of datamining, and which provides authorities with extensive rights related to electronic surveillance. However, freedom fighters like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch claim that the updated law does not affect a number of secret and comprehensive NSA programs that collect data on a huge number of people, including millions of Americans. A significant part of this data comes from the Ministry of Finance.

Mr Bush says the FISA helps protect civil liberties “by carrying out the necessary intelligence activities.” A few hours after the president signed the bill, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on the grounds that the extra powers of wiretapping that the executive is vested with are contrary to the constitution.

In 2001, pro-US forces drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan, destroying Alkaeda training camps. The German Armed Forces Advisor on Terrorism reports that during the retreat, the Islamists threw out valuable data related to their online communications and other important electronic plans. These findings suggest that datamining and other pattern analysis systems can, and should, be applied. The German adviser believes that such techniques are the “only answers” ​​to jihadist extremism. It is this argument that is an insurmountable obstacle to the tireless fighters for civil liberties.

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Translation from English:
Roman Ravve

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