We warned you: smart TVs are watching you

WikiLeaks recently published CIA documents detailing the agency’s array of hacking tools – including the ability, developed in partnership with MI5, to hack smart TVs in order to subvert them into covert listening devices.

The leaks also revealed ongoing projects such as the development of hacking technologies for car software, raising questions as to the risks of fatal outcomes.

Few of the security and intelligence agencies’ practices are more disturbingly Orwellian than the subversion of TVs to covertly spy on households.

 

In this short discussion on Jeremy Vine’s BBC Radio 2 programme, I explain why hacking TVs is a bad idea, why you need to be concerned about it, and what Liberty is doing to fight the UK’s own capabilities to hack citizens en masse. Also in the discussion are computer security expert Robert Shifreen, and the BBC’s Security Correspondent Gordon Corera.

The full programme is available here (expires 7 April 2017): BBC Radio 2

 

A Law That Treats All Citizens As Suspects

This is a video interview with Euronews, published on 27th January 2017, discussing how the Investigatory Powers Act (‘Snooper’s Charter’) affects us, and the onset of Liberty’s legal challenge to the mass surveillance powers.

Full video here: The UK’s new surveillance powers treat all citizens as suspects

 

 

 

The Snooper’s Charter passed into law this week. Our message to Government – see you in court.

By Silkie Carlo

Originally published on The Independent, 19 November 2016

The fact that you’re on this website is – potentially – state knowledge. Service providers must now store details of everything you do online for 12 months – and make it accessible to dozens of public authorities

This week a law was passed that silently rips privacy from the modern world. It’s called the Investigatory Powers Act.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism, the British state has achieved totalitarian-style surveillance powers – the most intrusive system of any democracy in history. It now has the ability to indiscriminately hack, intercept, record, and monitor the communications and internet use of the entire population.

The hundreds of chilling mass surveillance programmes revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013 were – we assumed – the result of a failure of the democratic process. Snowden’s bravery finally gave Parliament and the public the opportunity to scrutinise this industrial-scale spying and bring the state back into check.

But, in an environment of devastatingly poor political opposition, the Government has actually extended state spying powers beyond those exposed by Snowden – setting a “world-leading” precedent.

The fact that you’re on this website is – potentially – state knowledge. Service providers must now store details of everything you do online for 12 months – and make it accessible to dozens of public authorities.

What does your web history look like? Does it reveal your political interests? Social networks? Religious ideas? Medical concerns? Sexual interests? Pattern of life?

What might the last year of your internet use reveal?

Government agencies have even won powers to hack millions of computers, phones and tablets en masse, leaving them vulnerable to further criminal attacks.

You might think that you have nothing to hide, and therefore nothing to fear. In that case, you may as well post your email and social media login details in the comments below.

But I don’t think we do feel that blasé about our privacy – we cherish our civil liberties. Everyone has a stake in guarding our democracy, protecting minorities from suspicionless surveillance, defending protest rights, freedom of the press, and enjoying the freedom to explore and express oneself online. These freedoms allow our thoughts, opinions and personalities to flourish and develop – they are the very core of democracy.

Has any country in history given itself such extensive surveillance powers and remained a rights-respecting democracy? We need not look too far back – or overseas to see the risks of unbridled surveillance. In recent years, the British state has spied on law-abiding environmental activists, democratically elected politicians, victims of torture and police brutality, and hundreds of journalists.

In fact, as the Bill finally passed on Wednesday evening, I was training a group of British and American journalists in how to protect themselves from state surveillance – not just from Russia or Syria, but from their own countries.

When Edward Snowden courageously blew the whistle on mass surveillance he warned that, armed with such tools, a new leader might “say that ‘because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it”.

The US finds itself with a President-elect who has committed to monitoring all mosques, banning all Muslims, investigating Black Lives Matter activists and deporting two to three million people. And with the ushering into law of the UK-US free trade in mass surveillance, MPs may have a lot to answer for.

Liberty and its members fought tooth and nail against this new law from its inception to the moment it was passed. That fight is not yet over. Our message to Government: see you in court.

Silkie Carlo is the policy officer at Liberty

FACING DATA DELUGE, SECRET U.K. SPYING REPORT WARNED OF INTELLIGENCE FAILURE

Originally published on The Intercept, June 2016

By Ryan Gallagher.

A SECRET REPORT WARNED that British spies may have put lives at risk because their surveillance systems were sweeping up more data than could be analyzed, leading them to miss clues to possible security threats.

The concern was sent to top British government officials in an explosive classified document, which outlined methods being developed by the United Kingdom’s domestic intelligence agency to covertly monitor internet communications.

The Security Service, also known as MI5, had become the “principal collector and exploiter” of digital communications within the U.K., the eight-page report noted, but the agency’s surveillance capabilities had “grown significantly over the last few years.”

MI5 “can currently collect (whether itself or through partners …) significantly more than it is able to exploit fully,” the report warned. “This creates a real risk of ‘intelligence failure’ i.e. from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data that it has already collected.”

draft copy of the report, obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, is marked with the classification “U.K. Secret” and dated February 12, 2010. It was prepared by British spy agency officials to brief the government’s Cabinet Office and Treasury Department about the U.K.’s surveillance capabilities.

Notably, three years after the report was authored, two Islamic extremists killed and attempted to decapitate a British soldier, Lee Rigby, on a London street. An investigation into the incident found that the two perpetrators were well-known to MI5, but the agency had missed significant warning signs about the men, including records of phone calls one of them had made to an al Qaeda-affiliated radical in Yemen, and an online message in which the same individual had discussed in graphic detail his intention to murder a soldier.

The new revelations raise questions about whether problems sifting through the troves of data collected by British spies may have been a factor in the failure to prevent the Rigby killing. But they are also of broader relevance to an ongoing debate in the U.K. about surveillance. In recent months, the British government has been trying to pass a new law, the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would grant MI5 and other agencies access to more data.

Silkie Carlo, a policy officer at the London-based human rights group Liberty, told The Intercept that the details contained in the secret report highlighted the need for a comprehensive independent review of the proposed new surveillance powers.

“Intelligence whistleblowers have warned that the agencies are drowning in data — and now we have it confirmed from the heart of the U.K. government,” Carlo said. “If our agencies have risked missing ‘life-saving intelligence’ by collecting ‘significantly’ more data than they can analyze, how can they justify casting the net yet wider in the toxic Investigatory Powers Bill?”

The British government’s Home Office, which handles media requests related to MI5, declined to comment for this story.

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