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back to article We're losing the battle with a government seduced by surveillance

As Scott McNealy - always a man who deliberately gives good quote - famously said in 1999, "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." On Thursday night he tweeted "Wow! I was righter than I ever thought I would be as an American. You have no privacy but this is hard to get over." It really is, but it shouldn’t be. Anyone who …

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Anonymous Coward

False positives

The number of 'false positives' with surveillance on this scale must make it all but useless for preventive action, surely? And as the UK (and maybe the US?) is only too well aware, even when folks are on the 'anti-terrorist intelligence' radar, it's not necessarily going to stop bad (and mad) things happening.

red green bush. echelon. da bomb.

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Re: False positives

But the trouble is they fear the false NEGATIVE over the false positive because they believe the false negative to be an EXISTENTIAL threat and therefore to be snuffed at all costs (when the price of failure is cessation of existence, no price is too high).

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Re: False positives

Are you saying "it's all worth it so long as one person's life is saved?" I entirely disagree. Some things are worth dying for, liberty is one. That means not becoming the thing you hate. It means not negotiating with terrorists and it means that you live with a little more risk in the world because you refuse to have your ideals and beliefs compromised by extremists with a grudge.

Your beliefs are either worth defending or they are not. In the end, the person who is most willing to stick to his beliefs - come what may - will win. So, which beliefs are you prepared to live under? Which are you willing to defend? Or will you simply choose apathy and let someone else dictate the shape of the society you will inhabit?

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Thumb Up

Re: False positives

@Trevor Pott Excellently put, I said something similar in a Reg forum post a while back, and got into an argument with another poster who claimed to have been a victim in some small capacity of terrorist attacks, but seemed too emotionally involved to not see the irony of his demand that the security services, police and government be given more powers to monitor citizens...when that is exactly the kind of society that extremists want.

The thing is, I too have had a close brush with atrocities and like Iain said in the article, and whilst I was lucky I would not change anyone's right to privacy to change the outcome. I walk around thinking, talking and acting freely knowing full well that there is a minuscule chance that I or my loved ones could be injured or killed by those who do not wish me to have those freedoms. This is the price I and all of us pay to exist in our hard-won democracy, and it's high time everyone realised what living in such a society requires of them.

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Anonymous Coward

September 11, 2001, the day when Americans decided that freedom was not worth the risk.

September 11, 2001, the day when Americans decided that freedom was not worth the risk.

On September 11 2,977 innocent people died.

In World War II, 55 million people died.

It would have taken 50 years and 4 months of one 9-11 a day for World War II to kill all 55 million people.

The free world decided that the deaths of 55 million people were a regrettable but acceptable price to pay for freedom.

And other than the USA, most of the world still feels that the deaths of 55 million people are an acceptable price to pay for freedom. We would do it all again if necessary.

But in the USA, they've decided 2,977 innocent deaths is too high a price -- so they don't get to be free any more.

They don't get to be free any more, fine, that is their decision.

My problem is that US voters are deciding for the rest of us, those of us who live in countries that would prefer to stay free, that would prefer to not have intelligence agency bosses telling our politicians what the laws should be and how the budgets should be spent.

US voters through their government have installed two successive governments, GW Bush and Obama who removed freedom from the free world.

How can David Cameron or a future Ed Milliband refuse to go along with a US demand when the NSA can reveal something embarrassing about him? They don't have to have done anything illegal, even publishing a private political they held years ago, a view that turned out wrong, could be enough to sink them.

That is the thing, it isn't spying on regular people that is the danger, it is spying on people in power, allowing the CIA to become another FSB/KGB running the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the US government plus incorporated companies, and through MI5 and CSIS running the UK and Canada.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: False positives

"Are you saying "it's all worth it so long as one person's life is saved?'" I entirely disagree. Some things are worth dying for, liberty is one."

Many people would say that it depends on who's dying. If it were you, then I'd agree. But if it wasn't....

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Re: False positives

I'm not saying that's what *I* believe. I'm saying it's what *THEY* (the US government) believe. And frankly, while I disagree with it, it's hard not to understand the perspective. What happens when you're down to a stark choice between privacy and security with no overlap?

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Re: False positives

No. Most people - most people who aren't American - would say that liberty is something you can only purchase in lives and that the cost is worth it. The totality of human history demonstrates our willingness to pay the price with each new generation.

My life, the lives of my family or friends...if they are required so that we can retain liberty then so be it. I promise you my wife and my friends feel the exact same way. Some things, you have to be prepared to defend, to the death if necessary. Liberty is one. It is more important than the individual. More important than many individuals. At a large enough scale, it is even more important than entire nations.

Only the unbelievably selfish would put their own security above the liberty of their entire nation.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: False positives

Are you saying "it's all worth it so long as one person's life is saved?" I entirely disagree

Ditto here. Let me stretch this argument into absurdity (or Gitmo territory).

If I sling every 10th person in jail who walks past me on Oxford Street on a busy Saturday afternoon, simple statistics guarantee that I have reduced shop theft, terrorism and domestic violence. THAT is what is being done, because intercept used to be a law enforcement privilege that could only be used with reasonable cause.

Doing this "preventative" is raw BS, because they could leave the data where it is collected, and only request a focused extract if and when there was reasonable cause, which had to be proven to a judge, and which requests would be subject to scrutiny a year later. Instead, everyone is treated as a criminal (naturally except those who order this sort of mass surveillance) and transparency and oversight is fought tooth and nail by fanatically waving the "national security" banner.

I fully and wholly disagree with the way Wikileaks works, but sometimes I have to agree that exposing those skunks would be a good idea (no, still disagree). The problem is that they get protected and pardoned so they can go on burying the great ideals the USA started with. To me, that is a much bigger crime, it's almost treason.

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Re: False positives

So let me take the question further. What if it was EVERYONE'S security you were trying to protect? What if one slipped secret basically meant game over: meant your home country and everyone in it was basically doomed. Would your decision stand? Would you (and everyone else) rather die than live under Big Brother?

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@Charles 9

Nice false equivalence. Very Bill O'Reilly. "The only two choices available to you are extremes."

Well, let's deal with your straw man. Would I sacrifice my nation as a whole rather than live under totalitarianism? You're goddamned right I would. Some things you die for. It amy even mean that your entire culture evaporates while fighting the good fight. But those deaths - and that dead culture - will live on in the memories of those who survive elsewhere.

If a single man can martyr himself and birth a revolution, what then the martyrdom of an entire nation? There are more nations than mine? There are more people in this world that are contained in my nation. There are billions - perhaps trillions or even more - of human being yet to be born. It is our duty to all those who remain to stand up to injustice, to fight for our essential liberty and to never - ever - give in to terrorism. Terrorism of the individual, the group or the state.

To give in to terrorism is to signal your weakness to the world's predators. It is to open the floodgates to an infinite number of others who will spend the rest of eternity trying to gnaw on your bones. We can no more let a nation-state crush our will as a people than we can allow a group of religious terrorists to cow us into changing our beliefs with a bomb, a plane or even mean words.

You will live and then you will die. We will all live and then we will all die. Neither you nor I nor any other human being has control over that; we are all mortal, we are all ephemeral and temporary. The one thing you do have control over is what you stand for. What legacy will you leave for your posterity? What will you fight for, what will you - if necessary - die for? That is the only thing you have any real control over in this world.

I will not die cowering under Big Brother's skirts bleating in fear about some manufactured boogyman. If necessary I will tackle the sonofabitch on the plane. I will stand up to the corrupt cop and say "no." I will pick up a shovel and dig strangers out of the rubble. I will do what needs to be done to defend what I believe in and what I believe in is personal liberty and the foundations of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps you need to fear less and believe more. In something...anything! I don't care what you believe...just believe.

"I must not fear.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

I will face my fear.

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

Where the fear has gone there will be nothing......Only I will remain."

--The litany against fear, Frank Herbert, The Dune series.

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Big Brother

Re: False positives

" 'false positives' with surveillance on this scale must make it all but useless for preventive action, surely? "

Not at all.

If your goal is to frighten the populace with both the threat of a terrorist attack and the threat of indefinite detention without trial (like the 100+ inmates of Guantanamo Bay who are "cleared" but have still not been released) this is not a problem.

It's a feature, not a bug.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: False positives

Yes. You would think that, wouldn't you?

I'll just bet that someone came along with this idea on a train, and while discussing it, some IT bod from the security or intelligence services said something like "It will never work, it will just pick up travelling salesmen."

And yet here we are, to quote Edna Modes.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: False positives

I take it that you're prepared therefore, to perform humint attacks on your local mosque then ?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: September 11, 2001, the day when Americans decided that freedom was not worth the risk.

Completely facile and flawed argument with absolutely no understanding of history.

The 55 million deaths caused by WW2 happened in a six year period. They could have been avoided with an extra judicial murder of less than a 1000 people, all of whom, we knew undoubtably who they were.

What you're basically saying is that for the sake of freedom, we should

1. Let those thousand nazis live.

2. Then stand up and be counted.

The truth is that _no_ country wanted to stand up for freedom, Britain sacrificed Austria, and Czechoslovakia, before the inevitable response. Chamberlain is viewed by some as a man who bought us some time, but in reality he was a non interventionist chicken sh*t tw*t.

Equally, the American people, didn't want to go to war in either World War, and the US government was secretly helping us, until Pearl Harbour.

There hasn't been a single major conflict in history, where the damage caused was thousand times greater than would have been "simply identifying and killing the people likely to cause it."

Britain has 2.5 million Muslims. 20% of these have openly admitted they would prefer to live under Sharia, and would happily support Jihad. If Britain falls, America will too.

I would like a world where little girls play in parks, wearing pink ribbons, and dream of Santa Claus bringing them a load of kett at Christmas, but America has no choice in what they do. The sheer number of nutters out there, defies belief. Look on any website which logs murders on behalf of Islam.

Less than a hundred years ago, Turkey marched 1.5 million Christian women and children, into the desert so they could starve them to death, and steal their homes, because it was cheaper than shooting them. Hitler actually used this as an argument for the final solution. "No-one will care," he said, "who remembers the Armenian Massacre?" (which had only just happened.)

Your argument on bent powerful is also wrong, MI5 are tasked with preserving democracy. If they thought any politician was bent enough to be a risk, they'd leak the bad news themselves, I'm sure.

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Re: False positives

Would you (and everyone else) rather die than live under Big Brother?

History suggests that quite a lot of people are willing to die in order to oppose totalitarian regimes. I'm quite grateful that they were prepared to, letting me live a pretty reasonable life. I'm glad they didn't just roll over in the face of vague, ill-formed paranoid fantasies.

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Re: September 11, 2001, the day when Americans decided that freedom was not worth the risk.

If you want to trust big brother, that's your right. Me? I trust that two or three generations of exposure to a society that believes in intrinsic liberty of the individual will remove from anyone the desire to live under Sharia - or any other theocratic, totalitarian law.

There are plenty of Muslims living in Alberta; they've been here for quite some time. I have never met a single one that thought Sharia was a good plan. I have met thousands who would fight against Sharia and be perfectly willing to die defending the freedoms we all hold dear.

I don't fear Muslisms the way you seem to. Certainly I don't fear the ones in my nation. They aren't "Muslims". They are Canadians. That they believe in a religion is of no concern to me so long as they aren't dedicated to forcing others to believe...and the ones I've met here have no interest in doing so.

As you your Nazi question...

...yes. You do allow the Nazis the right to run for office, become elected and form a government. You do not track them with Big Brother and murder them before they can do something bad. You presume people are innocent UNLESS they are proven to be guilty of something. It is the price we pay for liberty: eternal vigilance.

For us to be truly free we must acknowledge the intrinsic rights to liberty and freedom of all others, including those who disagree with us. We can only act if others choose to violate the laws of our society. NOT BEFORE.

You also present a false dichotomy: that the only alternatives are Big Brother and Genocide. That is utterly fallacious. The reality is that in a properly vigilant society there is a place in between where you catch those in charge violating laws, freedoms and fundamental liberties after they have done some damage but before they have committed crimes anywhere near that scale.

Right now, today, that is what all the people in this thread are up in arms about. There are people in charge of the USA who have committed crimes, violated freedoms and ignored fundamental liberties. We are outraged and demanding action be taken before those corrupt individuals start committing genocide.

Given some of the paranoid delusions I've seen here, it may well not be far off until some dumb shit decides that "the terrifying Muslims" need a "final solution" and we'll be right back at war again; this time against those who used to be our own leaders. That you cannot see this...that scares me.

You pull up Nazis as an example of why we must violate the liberties of all to catch the very, very few without understanding the irony of your example. It is exactly that sort of thinking that allowed the Nazis to evolve as they did. They certainly didn't start out to destroy the Jews/Gypsies/etc. They set out to reshape a battered Germany into an economic superpower. The rest snowballed as the dude in charge went nuts and those around him either followed, were more nuts than him, or wiped out those that weren't nuts.

You don't seem to understand that evil movements, organizations and governments don't start out with a subterranean lair and a bald guy petting a cat. They start out with a group of people doing what they think is right. They compromise one ideal then another and then another. Their morals and ethics fall like dominoes as they fixate on the end, justifying any means to achieve it.

"The right thing" turns into something monstrous and those who have become obsessed with the often originally noble end become blind to the horrors they have wrought. Some wise up, but generally by the time they do they have surrounded themselves with fanatics. Fanaticism reinforces fanaticism and it gets pretty ugly from there.

Mass surveillance of innocent people is not right. There is no moral or ethical justification for that activity. It is a means that is unacceptable towards any end.

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Pint

Re: False positives

Precisely. Talk about killing two birds with one stone...

Henri

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Catch 22

I’m reminded of the conversation a character (I forget which one) in Catch 22 has with an old Italian man around the phrase “It’s better to die on ones feet then live on ones knees”, with the Italian saying it is the other way around, pointing out he would rather be smart enough to know how to live on his knees, then be brave and dead.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: False positives

I have to say that I am finding it more and more difficult in living in a passively-aggressive country. We will make a show of strength and then pull out on the vinegar stroke. We are a nation of wankers - we no longer have the social cohesion and Dunkirk spirit we were once famous for. We all want to live in our spastic bubbles and don't give a toss about anyone else. Merkinism has leeched in and displaced our national identity.

This country is on the way down and I feel trapped. My age is against me getting out of this shit-hole. Maybe I'll be blessed by being a victim of a car crash before having to rely on any form of state help in my old age.

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Re: False positives

Plenty of people died last century to protect freedom, the lazy have given it away without a whimper. Threaten someone with something - even if it just isn't true - and too many cave in immediately.

Terrorism? My arse frankly... The Americans have funded just about every terrorist group in existence in their deluded fight against the plebs having a reasonable share of the rewards for the plebs hard work. What wasn't funded for that fight was funded because they were fighting the age old enemy - the British, look at the billions of pounds and tons of weapons sent to the IRA for just one example (not to mention everyone in the old empire who could be roused to fight the oppressive empire).

No the Americans are plain dangerous - always have been - they are as religiously lunatic as any group (lived there for a while - 1 pub, 15 churches - says it all), prone to over exaggeration - especially of how great (awesome) everything they do is (even when it is demonstrably not).

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Re: September 11, 2001, the day when Americans decided that freedom was not worth the risk.

"Britain has 2.5 million Muslims. 20% of these have openly admitted they would prefer to live under Sharia, and would happily support Jihad"

That's certainly the most fictional-sounding thing I have read all week.

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Trollface

Time to pack up and leave

Time to pack up and leave the USA. Time to find some remote out of the way place outside the USA and its co conspirators and find some remote cabin in the woods. Maybe make take up a hobby like making little wood boxes ;)

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: Time to pack up and leave

Good luck, sir.

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Re: Time to pack up and leave

You will just be Ruby Ridged and that has nothing to do with Ruby on Rails.

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Unhappy

Re: Time to pack up and leave

"Time to pack up and leave the USA"

And go where? Every country is enthusiastically adopting technology to spy on and ultimately control their citizens. The dictatorships you can understand. But the "democracies" are more puzzling. I think the rationale is simply that in most mature democracies you have buggins turn between two major political parties (or two like minded blocs, if coalition governments are the norm). Add in an entrenched and unaccountable civil service and even less accountable intelligence agencies, and there's no option for the public to say "no", because there's nobody in power, or with the prospect of power who will stop this.

So in the US, the masses still vote elephant or donkey, even though there's nothing to choose. In the UK the proles choose between Labour and Conservative parties, who likewise have the same policies, the same illiberal love of intelligence gathering. And it's interesting to note how similar these two sides are on almost all policies. Subtle differences exist, mostly in how they suggest they are different, but none run a balanced budget, none have any answers on the economic woes, all subscribe to more legilslation as a solution to problems caused by legislation, all are in the pocket of business lobbyists, and all think that it is essential that they have permanent access to what I read, do, or say.

Will the public wake up and start voting for breakthrough parties, and force the entrenched incumbents to listen? I sadly doubt it. Not specifically privacy issues, but we can still learn a lot from protest parties like the Tea Party, who came, made a hugely important point, but were then subsumed into the Republicans, and the voice and the message lost; In the UK UKIP has made some noise, but will be overborne by the masses who still vote for the same party their grandad voted for, without thinking that these parties have left the British economy a smoking wreck. Even protest parties in broken democracies like Greece, Italy,or Spain stand little real chance of resetting the agenda, because too many people vote for parties that don't listen, and repeat the policies that have failed, have reduced freedom, and subvert democracy..

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Unhappy

Re: Time to pack up and leave

"Time to pack up and leave the USA. Time to find some remote out of the way place outside the USA and its co conspirators and find some remote cabin in the woods. Maybe make take up a hobby like making little wood boxes ;)"

So you've just given in.

The number of places that is a viable option for is falling.

And those places will probably not give you the kind of lifestyle you are used to.

Sooner or later there will be no place you can sit this one out.

What will you do then?

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Alien

Re: Time to pack up and leave

Just make sure it's a woods and not a mountain. Otherwise, a few years down the line, you'll get a phone call about that book you were supposed to have written by now.

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Re: Time to pack up and leave

those places will probably not give you the kind of lifestyle you are used to.

Switzerland looks good for a decade or two longer, if you can hack the exchange rate. Unfortunately, it's surrounded.

I find the omnipresent surveillance nightmare more troubling than any other SFnal visions of the near future. Soon enough, we will be living in a world where everything is networked, and everything has eyes and ears and a CPU, and no-one will be willing or even able to break the rules. I can't see a way past that trap. And then we'll be no more able to react to changing circumstances than insects, and the subsequent fall will be deeper than any previous fall in history. Especially if by the time it happens, there is no longer any place outside "the empire" to flee to or to be invaded by.

When the Roman Empire fell, the people left in England lost the technology of throwing pots on a potter's wheel. This, even without nukes and surveillance.

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It's the gagging order that's the problem

It's funny, I was making this point in a post here back in Feb 2010:

http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2010/02/11/europe_rejects_data_share/#c_692851

The scary part of the US Patriot Act is that it has provisions for a gagging order. You can expect the really important providers to "legally" lie to the customers in the coming weeks and months because the Patriot Act requires them to do so.

It's therefore actually very easy for them to come out and say that no such monitoring is in place; doing otherwise would have them in breach of the USPA.

What's worse is that this is flagrantly in violation of the US-EU Safe Harbour regulations and the implication is that the EU was lied to about the extent of this as well.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's the gagging order that's the problem

@Timothy Creswick

Question: Do you have to post as a non-AC to get a complete URL to your past posts?

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Re: It's the gagging order that's the problem

Makes me wonder what happens if they're caught BETWEEN two laws. What if a company is required to disclose by law but at the same time forced to NOT disclose by another law of equal priority: damned either way?

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Re: It's the gagging order that's the problem

Though they could presumably say, legally...

'We are not doing any tapping but please bear in mind that if we were it would be illegal for us to say that were were and would would have to say we were not'

Y'know, just to keep it uppermost in voters' minds...

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Re: URL to your past posts

Interesting question. I'll try an experiment...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: URL to your past posts

Whoo hoo! Ken is a clueless tosser! ha ha ha ha ha...

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Re: URL to your past posts

http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2013/06/07/hold_the_death_of_conspiracy_theory_for_conspiracy_science/#c_1853775

Nope. It looks like you can click on the "Posted Saturday 8th June 2013 17:36 GMT" text and that creates (and goes to) a permalink to the particular reply.

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it's probably MUCH worse than this

I sait with a couple of friends having a coffee few months back, and one of the guys was showing me one of those apps that is supposed to help you thwart phone theives.

It basically allows you to remote control the thing silently, without any indication you are:

- taking photos

- listening in to conversations

- checking GPS data

- turning GPS and other features on and off remotely as required

It does not seem a huge stretch of the imagination to conceive that a government that is reading your emails, listening to your phone calls and monitoring everything you do or say online, is also doing far more intrusive surveillance via your mobile phone, laptop web cam and microphone, etc.

I mean... who produces the software used on virtually every smart phone? Apple, Google and Microsoft. All of them implicated in this PRISM scandal.

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Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

What about a rooted phone with custom software compiled from source?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

what if it's living in the silicon

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Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

Chips made outside the US? Uncooperative gatekeeper OS (How will it know what to send? Without it, it'll just catch all the network overhead)? Kept out of the loop (airplane mode or simply out of range) too long, unable to retain everything? Sounds like a hardware eavesdropper would be too prone to discovery or other modes of failure.

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Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

It's not imagination - most mobile operators can send a service text to update firmware. It's possible to make that a 'silent' update not visible to the user and that can be used to intercept the on/off signal and allow auto pickup of correctly coded calls, turning the phone into a bug. That's old (pre-2001) technology for any phone smart enough to run java. That's why batteries come out for meetings (or did in the days before all management had iphones).

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Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

You will find that Java ME could not even properly send SMS and sometimes could not even address the screen without barfing all over itself and taking the phone with it, so don't tell me you could turn the phone into a bug with that kind of stuff. You would need to go lower level than that.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

I noticed that Microsoft was the first company to get on board with the NSA. I also noticed that Microsoft's new XBox One has a compulsory always on Kinect device that can listen and see in both visible and infra red wavelengths. No wonder the NSA are building a huge new data centre.

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Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

Much worse yes.

It is not just going to be the headline companies that are subverted. There's probably hundreds of companies subverted into allowing the NSA to copy private documents and create logs of private transactions.

And I personally have little doubt that shareware, resources such as SourceForge and Linux, have been subverted to aid in data collection.

Confirming that might be a nice project for someone.

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Bronze badge

Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

Rooted phone and custom software?

So first you need to get the software approved to work on your network.

Packaged software compiled from source? Do you know how many obvious bugs can be in 10,000 lines of code? It would be easy to hide vulnerabilities in there. Many eyes do not catch all the accidental bugs, we know that from history, and they won't catch all the spying bugs either.

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Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

The Android IS is open source, meaning many eyes get to look at it.. And it's based on Linux, which is based on UNIX, which at least has some history of security compartmentalization. If someone can sneak an exploit into Android, why not into the Linux kernel?

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Pint

Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

Many (i)Phones will drain their battery in a couple of hours if you run the GPS much *. A battery that normally last all day will mysteriously be flat by mid-afternoon if someone is remotely tracking you - such as your government or spouse.

(* Your Battery Life May Vary.)

Perhaps the Government spooks can send power through the air to compensate. LOL.

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Pint

Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

"...It's possible to make that a 'silent' update not visible to the user..."

It'd be nice if the moronic PC programmers of the world (MS and Linuxtards too) would try out this technology. Updates not being a complete frickin' Dog and Pony show each and every time, combined with beeping and bopping and rebooting and deleting the MBR by accident. Idiots!

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Re: it's probably MUCH worse than this

You'd rather the MBR get trashed silently I suppose?

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Thumb Up

Well said.

Worth a read for this bit alone :

And to those of you who say I'm naive in expecting government to act for the people, I say screw you for your cynicism. "You should have expected this," is no excuse. We should demand better of our governments and be willing to pay the price.

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