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After Endless Demonization Of Encryption, Police Find Paris Attackers Coordinated Via Unencrypted SMS

November 19, 2015

In the wake of the tragic events in Paris last week encryption has continued to be a useful bogeyman for those with a voracious appetite for surveillance expansion. Like clockwork, numerous reports were quickly circulated suggesting that the terrorists used incredibly sophisticated encryption techniques, despite no evidence by investigators that this was the case. These reports varied in the amount of hallucination involved, the New York Times evenhaving to pull one such report offline. Other claims the attackers had used encrypted Playstation 4 communications also wound up being bunk. 

Yet, pushed by their sources in the government, the media quickly became a sound wall of noise suggesting that encryption was hampering the government’s ability to stop these kinds of attacks. NBC was particularly breathless this week over the idea that ISIS was now running a 24 hour help desk aimed at helping its less technically proficient members understand encryption (even cults help each other use technology, who knew?). All of the reports had one central, underlying drum beat implication: Edward Snowden and encryption have made us less safe, and if you disagree the blood is on your hands. 

Yet, amazingly enough, as actual investigative details emerge, it appears that most of the communications between the attackers was conducted via unencrypted vanilla SMS:

“…News emerging from Paris — as well as evidence from a Belgian ISIS raid in January — suggests that the ISIS terror networks involved were communicating in the clear, and that the data on their smartphones was not encrypted. 

European media outlets are reporting that the location of a raid conducted on a suspected safe house Wednesday morning was extracted from a cellphone, apparently belonging to one of the attackers, found in the trash outside the Bataclan concert hall massacre. Le Monde reported that investigators were able to access the data on the phone, including a detailed map of the concert hall and an SMS messaging saying “we’re off; we’re starting.” Police were also able to trace the phone’s movements.

The reports note that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the “mastermind” of both the Paris attacks and a thwarted Belgium attack ten months ago, failed to use any encryption whatsoever (read: existing capabilities stopped the Belgium attacks and could have stopped the Paris attacks, but didn’t). That’s of course not to say batshit religious cults like ISIS don’t use encryption, and won’t do so going forward. Everybody uses encryption. But the point remains that to use a tragedy to vilify encryption, push for surveillance expansion, and pass backdoor laws that will make everybody less safe — is nearly as gruesome as the attacks themselves.

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Facebook says governments demanding more and more user data

November 12, 2015

US authorities made the most requests for users’ information, while India and Turkey had the most takedowns for content that violated local laws.

guardian fb

Facebook has said government requests for data and demands for content to be taken down surged in the first half of 2015, which the social network has seen continually increase since it began publicly releasing such data two years ago.

Government requests for account data globally jumped 18% in the first half of 2015 to 41,214 accounts, up from 35,051 requests in the second half of 2014, Facebook said in a blogpost.

The amount of content restricted for violating local law more than doubled compared with the same period in the second half of 2014 to 20,568 pieces of content, it said.

Most government requests related to criminal cases, such as robberies or kidnappings, Facebook said. The government often requested basic subscriber information, IP addresses or account content, including people’s posts online.

The bulk of government requests came from US law enforcement agencies. US agencies requested data from 26,579 accounts – comprising more than 60% of requests globally – up from 21,731 accounts in the second half of 2014.

France, Germany and Britain also made up a large percentage of the requests and had far more content restricted in 2015. Some of the content taken down in Germany, for example, may relate to Holocaust denial, Facebook said.

India and Turkey were responsible for most of the content taken down for violating local laws. India had 15,155 pieces of content restricted – nearly triple the amount in the second half of 2014 – while Turkey had 4,496 items, up from 3,624.

The technology industry has pushed for greater transparency on government data requests, seeking to shake off concerns about their involvement in vast, surreptitious surveillance programs revealed by the former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

“Facebook does not provide any government with ‘back doors’ or direct access to people’s data,” Facebook wrote.

Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Google began in 2014 publishing details about the number of government requests for data they receive.

Source: The Guardian

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Snowden: Democratic debate showed major shift in how I am perceived

November 9, 2015

NSA whistleblower points to ‘extraordinary change’ in attitudes as he notes that Democratic candidates for US president did not call him a traitor

Edward Snowden says he plans to attempt to vote in the 2016 election.
 Edward Snowden says he plans to attempt to vote in the 2016 election. Photograph: Alan Rusbridger for the Guardian

Edward Snowden has described the Democratic presidential debate last month as marking an “extraordinary change” in attitudes towards him.

In a lengthy interview with Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter published on Friday, Snowden said he had been encouraged by the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, her main challenger for the Democratic nomination.

During the televised encounter, both candidates called for Snowden to face trial, but Sanders said he thought the NSA whistleblower had “played a very important role in educating the American people”.

That marked an important shift in the US debate over Snowden’s action, he said.

The former National Security Agency analyst said it had taken 30 years for Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam war, to shift from being described regularly as a traitor.

But not once in the debate had Snowden been referred to as a traitor.

Snowden, who is living in exile in Moscow after leaking tens of thousands of secret documents from the NSA and its sister agency in the UK, GCHQ, said: “I did see the debate live. It was actually extraordinarily encouraging. In 2013, they were calling for me to be hanged. They were using the word ‘traitor’ and things like ‘blood on your hands’.

“Nobody on the stage, as far as I know, used the word traitor now. In just two years, that’s an extraordinary change.”

In the debate, Clinton said that Snowden had violated US law and should face trial.

Sanders also suggested that he ought to be tried. “I think there should be a penalty to that,” he said. “But I think that education should be taken into consideration before the sentencing.”

Snowden, asked if he would vote, said he would definitely try, even if only as a symbolic gesture.

“I’ll send them my vote by mail. It’s not like it will count in a meaningful way because such a small portion of the votes come by mail. But that’s not the point; the point is the expression of it,” he said.

Snowden, who in the past supported the Republican Ron Paul, was asked if he would vote for Clinton or Donald Trump. He laughed, declining to comment on the grounds that it would be too inflammatory.

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