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Dictionary.com’s 2013 Word of the Year is Privacy

In Archive, NSA, Snowden, Surveillance on December 22, 2013 at 11:23 PM

woty-2013-privacy

12/17/2013

Dictionary.com:

From PRISM and the Edward Snowden NSA scandal to the arrival of Google Glass, 2013 was the year that the desire to be seen and heard was turned on its head. Consider the following: In January, the TSA scrapped airport body scanners that produce near-naked images of travelers; In June, Edward Snowden revealed the widespread global-spying program, Project PRISM; In October, Google announced new privacy policy plans that allow the company to incorporate user data into advertisements. The discussion of privacy – what it is and what it isn’t – embodies the preeminent concerns of 2013. For this reason, privacy is Dictionary.com’s Word of the Year.

Privacy is defined as “the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one’s private life and affairs.” The distinction between privateand public predates the English language. In Ancient Rome, privatus and publicus were juxtaposed terms that distinguished that which belongs to the state (publicus) from that which belongs to the individual (privatus).

Now there are more variables in the equation: corporations collecting user data and millions of individuals with recording devices. Many of us have embraced social media, choosing to volunteer intimate particulars and personal photographs on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; this robust participation echoes an observation by Mark Zuckerberg in 2010 that the public’s comfort level with sharing personal information online is a “social norm” that has “evolved over time.” Even so, a recent survey by Harris Poll shows that young people are now monitoring and changing their privacy settings more than ever, a development that USA Today dubbed the “Snowden effect.” In her eloquent and extensive history of the right to privacy in The New Yorker, Jill Lepore summarized these seemingly at-odds impulses surrounding privacy as “the paradox of an American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity.”

On a global scale, early December saw the release of an open letter, signed by more than 500 world-renowned writers, urging the United Nations to create an international bill of digital rights. They highlighted the individual’s right “to remain unobserved and unmolested” in “thoughts, personal environments, and communications.” One of the signatories, Jeannette Winterson, asserts, “Privacy is an illusion. Do you mind about that? I do.” But the conversation doesn’t stop at the level of the individual; the very companies that the public feels a growing distrust for face their own higher-level privacy battles. Also in December, Apple, Google, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo! signed a petition to the federal government beseeching them to impose limits on the government’s power to collect user data. As Shel Israel lays out in Forbes, in this digital age “trust will become the new currency,” and corporations are acutely aware of this.

As the discussion unfolds, we are scrutinizing what privacy means today, and in so doing, we wonder, does the definition of privacy need another clause? From whose intrusion do we want to be free? The government’s? Foreign governments’? Corporations’? Other individuals’? All of the above? The answer is the missing puzzle piece that we are deciding on together as the wavering definition of privacy solidifies.

woty-2013-privacy-infographic

Federal Judge: CSIS Misled Court, Outsourced Spying on Canadians Abroad to Foreign Agencies, Operated Outside Law

In Archive, Canada, CSEC, CSIS, Five Eyes, NSA, Surveillance on December 22, 2013 at 6:33 PM
Judge Richard Mosley

Canadian Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley

12/20/2013

Ian MacLeod/OttawaCitizen:

Canada’s foremost jurist on national security law has slammed CSIS for deliberately keeping the Federal Court of Canada “in the dark” about outsourcing its spying on Canadians abroad to foreign agencies, according to a redacted version of a classified court decision made public Friday.

In a thundering rebuke, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) purposely misled him when he granted it numerous warrants beginning in 2009 to intercept the electronic communications of unidentified Canadians abroad suspected as domestic security threats.

“This was a breach of the duty of candour owed by the service and their legal advisers to the court,” Mosley said in his Further Reasons for Order.

CSIS also mistakenly assigned powers to the warrants that the court never authorized and which do not exist in law, he said.

“It is clear that the exercise of the court’s warrant issuing authority has been used as protective cover for activities that it has not authorized,” Mosley wrote.

Furthermore, tasking foreign security intelligence services to spy on Canadians overseas “carries the risk of the detention of or other harm to a Canadian person based on that information.

“Given the unfortunate history of information sharing with foreign agencies over the past decade and the reviews conducted by several royal commissions, there can be no question that the Canadian agencies are aware of those hazards. It appears to me that they are using the warrants as authorization to assume those risks.”

Mosley, a former assistant deputy minister with the Justice Department who was intimately involved in the creation of the 2001 Anti-terrorism Act, has crossed swords with CSIS before, including in security certificate cases.

At the time the first warrants were issued, CSIS told the court “on clearly stated grounds” that the electronic intercepts would be carried out from within Canada by the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the country’s foreign signals intelligence spy service.

CSIS is largely restricted to domestic spying operations. If an investigation involves the use of intrusive techniques, such as electronic intercepts, Section 21 of the CSIS Act requires it to obtain a warrant approved by a Federal Court judge to guard the Charter right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.

CSEC, meanwhile, is not allowed to spy on Canadians anywhere unless it is to provide technical and operational assistance to federal law enforcement and security agencies such as CSIS.

And the federal court only has jurisdiction to authorize warrants under the CSIS Act as long as the communications in question are intercepted within Canada.

CSIS successfully argued before Mosley that by limiting execution of the interception techniques to passive listening posts on Canadian soil, the arrangement would be within the power of the court to authorize. It also would respect the territorial sovereignty of the country or countries in which the terrorist targets were staying. No reference was made to tasking allied foreign agencies.

Yet once the so-called 30-08 warrants were approved by the court, CSEC, on behalf of CSIS, turned around and handed the jobs to one or more of its partners in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-gathering alliance between Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Mosley found out about the situation late this summer and summoned CSIS, CSEC and government officials and lawyers to court to explain themselves. The public version of his reasons for order was released Friday.

Legal observers say this case and Mosley’s scolding will harm CSIS’s credibility and raise questions about whether the service has broken Criminal Code provisions dealing with the invasion of privacy.

“When a judge says the government breached its duty of candour that is a very big ‘ouch’ moment,” Craig Forcese, a national security law scholar at the University of Ottawa, wrote in a recent blog posting.

“Imagine a circumstance where CSIS says, ‘We’ve got concerns about these Canadians overseas and we’d like you to intercept their communications,’ and the [U.S. Central Intelligence Agency] decides it’s time for a Predator drone …” Forcese told Globe and Mail’s Colin Freeze.

Related Links:

CSIS Should Be Subject of Independent Investigation

CSEC Admits to “Incidentally” Spying on Canadians

BC Civil Liberties Watchdog Sues CSEC Over Illegal Spying on Canadians

DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials: Google-Owned SCHAFT Robot Wins

In Archive, DARPA, Google, Technology on December 22, 2013 at 2:28 PM

drc-trials-2013

12/21/2013

SlashGear:

The Google-owned Japanese robotics company SCHAFT has won the DARPA Robotics Challenge Trials by a wide margin. It scored 27 out of 32 points, beating its nearest competitor IHMC Robotics by seven points. Coming up third was Tartan Rescue with 18 points, and MIT following that with 16 points.

The contest took place Dec. 20-21 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where 16 teams from around the world did their best to guide their robots through a series of tasks. The robots were to be programmed in such a way that they could be guided by simple commands issued by a non-expert, e.g., “Open the door” or “Clear away the debris in front of you.”

The object of the challenge, DARPA says, was to create a robot that could stand in for humans in disaster and emergency zones. In all, eight tasks were included: drive a vehicle; walk across rubble; remove debris; open a door and walk through it; climb a ladder and cross an industrial walkway; break a concrete panel with a tool made for humans; find and close a valve; and connect a fire hose to a pipe and open the valve.

The SCHAFT entry is a 216-pound robot based on the company’s preexisting HRP-2 model. It is bipedal and stands 4.8 feet tall with a 4.3-foot wingspan. Business Insider says the SCHAFT robot is “ten times stronger than any other” in the DRC Trials.

Check out the SCHAFT robot performing the eight DRC Trials tasks in the sped-up video below. The tasks were actually performed at a much lower speed, as was the case for all of the robots in the competition. The suspension cables you see are for saving the robot in case of a fall; it is actually self-supporting and self-propelled.

The DRC Trials are the last stop along the way before next year’s DRC Finals, where qualified robots will compete for DARPA’s grand prize of $2 million. The Finals are to take place in December 2014.

Day 1 Live Broadcast

Day 2 Live Broadcast

Google Acquires Pentagon-Linked Boston Dynamics and Its Creepy Robots

In Archive, DARPA, DoD, Google, Pentagon, Technology on December 22, 2013 at 2:01 PM

google-atlas

12/14/2013

John Markoff/NYTimes:

BigDog, Cheetah, WildCat and Atlas have joined Google’s growing robot menagerie.

Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year. Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts, which are being led by Andy Rubin, the Google executive who spearheaded the development of Android, the world’s most widely used smartphone software.

The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.

Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992 by Marc Raibert, a former professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has not sold robots commercially, but has pushed the limits of mobile and off-road robotics technology, mostly for Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. Early on, the company also did consulting work for Sony on consumer robots like the Aibo robotic dog.

Boston Dynamics’ walking robots have a reputation for being extraordinarily agile, able to walk over rough terrain and handle surfaces that in some cases are challenging even for humans.

A video of one of its robots named BigDog shows a noisy, gas-powered, four-legged, walking robot that climbs hills, travels through snow, skitters precariously on ice and even manages to stay upright in response to a well-placed human kick. BigDog development started in 2003 in partnership with the British robot maker Foster-Miller, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Harvard.

More recently, Boston Dynamics distributed a video of a four-legged robot named WildCat, galloping in high-speed circles in a parking lot.

Although the videos frequently inspire comments that the robots will evolve into scary killing machines straight out of the “Terminator” movies, Dr. Raibert has said in the past that he does not consider his company to be a military contractor — it is merely trying to advance robotics technology. Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts, but that it did not plan to move toward becoming a military contractor on its own.

Under a $10.8 million contract, Boston Dynamics is currently supplying DARPA with a set of humanoid robots named Atlas to participate in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a two-year contest with a $2 million prize. The contest’s goal is creating a class of robots that can operate in natural disasters and catastrophes like the nuclear power plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan.

Boston Dynamics has also designed robots that can jump and climb walls and trees as well as other two (PETMAN)- and four (LittleDog/RHex)-legged walking robots, a neat match to Mr. Rubin’s notion that “computers are starting to sprout legs and move around in the environment.”

A recent video shows a robot named Cheetah running on a treadmill. This year, the robot was clocked running 29 miles per hour, surpassing the previous legged robot land speed record of 13.1 m.p.h., set in 1999. That’s about one mile per hour faster than Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter dash. But it’s far short of a real cheetah, which can hit 65 m.p.h.

Google’s other robotics acquisitions include companies in the United States and Japan that have pioneered a range of technologies including software for advanced robot arms, grasping technology and computer vision. Mr. Rubin has also said that he is interested in advancing sensor technology.

Mr. Rubin has called his robotics effort a “moonshot,” but has declined to describe specific products that might come from the project. He has, however, also said that he does not expect initial product development to go on for years, indicating that Google commercial robots of some nature could be available in the next several years.

Google declined to say how much it paid for its newest robotics acquisition and said that it did not plan to release financial information on any of the other companies it has recently bought.

Related Links:

Stop the Killer Robots: Expert Warns of Real-Life Skynet

Rise of the Machines: Why Increasingly “Perfect” Weapons Help Perpetuate Wars and Endanger Our Nation

CIA, NSA, & Raytheon Smart Bombs: Covert Program Helping Colombia Kill Rebel Leaders

In Archive, CIA, Colombia, NSA, Raytheon on December 22, 2013 at 11:14 AM

“There is no country, including Afghanistan, where we had more going on,” said William Wood, who was U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2003 to 2007 before holding the same post in war-torn Afghanistan for two years after that.

cia-colombia-rebels-infographic

12/21/2013

Dana Priest/WashingtonPost:

The 50-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), once considered the best-funded insurgency in the world, is at its smallest and most vulnerable state in decades, due in part to a CIA covert action program that has helped Colombian forces kill at least two dozen rebel leaders, according to interviews with more than 30 former and current U.S. and Colombian officials.

The secret assistance, which also includes substantial eavesdropping help from the National Security Agency, is funded through a multibillion-dollar black budget. It is not a part of the public $9 billion package of mostly U.S. military aid called Plan Colombia, which began in 2000.

Above: A Colombian Air Force member cleans an A-29 Super Tucano, a turboprop aircraft typically involved in strikes on FARC targets. (Raul Arboleda/AFP via Getty Images)

The previously undisclosed CIA program was authorized by President George W. Bush in the early 2000s and has continued under President Obama, according to U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic officials. Most of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because the program is classified and ongoing.

The covert program in Colombia provides two essential services to the nation’s battle against the FARC and a smaller insurgent group, the National Liberation Army (ELN): Real-time intelligence that allows Colombian forces to hunt down individual FARC leaders and, beginning in 2006, one particularly effective tool with which to kill them.

That weapon is a $30,000 GPS guidance kit that transforms a less-than-accurate 500-pound gravity bomb into a highly accurate smart bomb. Smart bombs, also called precision-guided munitions or PGMs, are capable of killing an individual in triple-canopy jungle if his exact location can be determined and geo-coordinates are programmed into the bomb’s small computer brain.

In March 2008, according to nine U.S. and Colombian officials, the Colombian Air Force, with tacit U.S. approval, launched U.S.-made smart bombs across the border into Ecuador to kill a senior FARC leader, Raul Reyes. The indirect U.S. role in that attack has not been previously disclosed.

The covert action program in Colombia is one of a handful of enhanced intelligence initiatives that has escaped public notice since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Most of these other programs, small but growing, are located in countries where violent drug cartels have caused instability.

More…

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