Tech Friday with Dave Hatter - April 30th 2021 - SPONSORED BY INTRUST IT


USPS spies on Americans' social media posts:

  • The law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service (USPS) has been tracking and collecting Americans’ social media posts despite facing financial insolvency
  • The program known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) was not previously made public
  • iCOP analysts scour social media sites for "inflammatory" posts which are then shared with various government agencies
  • A March 16 government bulletin said "Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021"
  • The bulletin is marked "law enforcement sensitive" and was distributed through Department of Homeland Security fusion centers
  • Per the bulletin, "The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service," and "As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation's mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail."
  • This type of data collection has raised concerns about government surveillance of peaceful protesters
  • University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone said "There are so many other federal agencies that could do this, I don’t understand why the post office would be doing it. There is no need for the post office to do it — you’ve got FBI, Homeland Security and so on, so I don’t know why the post office is doing this."
  • Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice, questioned the authority of USPS to monitor social media activity. In regards to social media users, she said "If they’re simply engaging in lawfully protected speech, even if it’s odious or objectionable, then monitoring them on that basis raises serious constitutional concerns."
  • USPS is not unique in the expansion social media surveillance, DHS officials recently spoke about monitoring social media for domestic terrorism threats

Your "smart home" is spying on you:

  • In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment protects cellphone location information
  • Thanks to that ruling, law enforcement agencies are required to get a warrant before obtaining location data
  • The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently reported government lawyers have argued that a warrant is not required because the data is commercially available
  • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has reportedly been accessing phone location data on millions of Americans by buying it straight from private firms
  • Since the United States has no privacy laws, law enforcement can approach a data broker, buy data, and use it however they see fit
  • Known as the "third-party doctrine", this approach has come under increasing fire and there is hope that courts and/or laws will catch up
  • There are many data brokers that aggregate information acquired from phone apps and IoT devices for a growing data economy
  • This situation is exacerbated by ever increasing numbers of Internet of Things (IoT) devices
  • Potentially sensitive data is available on millions of Americans because of these devices
  • The IoT devices in your "smart home" are always watching and the data they collect may be sold to anyone including law enforcement
  • For example, Amazon’s Ring home security system has documented ties with law enforcement
  • WSJ reported that DHS uses the information to generate law enforcement leads and search for undocumented immigrants, and has been doing so as far back at 2017
  • Venntel is a company that has been selling the data to the government. According to their website, their platform “merges, categorizes and interprets disparate location data.”
  • Venntel provides "global coverage" and "historical data."
  • WSJ reported that this data was recently used to track the phones of people suspected of smuggling drugs into the US from Mexico
  • A Customs and Border Protection official told WSJ that the data is not "ingested in bulk" and "doesn’t include cellular phone tower data." It also does not include the cellphone owner's name
  • Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that so-called "anonymized" can nearly always be identified
  • Imperial College of London researchers recently published a study indicating they could accurately re-identify 99.98% of Americans in anonymized datasets
  • The ACLU and other organizations have raised concerns about this practice

Corrupt the data that Big Tech collects about you:

  • You are constantly leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs that tech companies use to track you
  • Some are explicit, like things you post online, others are implicit, like location data that is collected. This implicit data is known as data exhaust
  • Your data is fed into machine-learning algorithms that attempt to understand your preferences and target you with ads
  • Data oriented tech companies like Facebook and Google are making gigantic profits off your data
  • Northwestern University (NU) researchers are suggesting poisoning our data to limit their power
  • NU PhD students Nicholas Vincent and Hanlin Li have suggested three ways to poison the data:
    • Data strikes: Withholding or deleting your data so a tech firm cannot use it. This includes leaving a platform, installing privacy tools or explicitly withholding data
    • Data poisoning: Give them meaningless or incorrect data. AdNauseam is a browser extension that will click every link to send bogus data
    • Conscious data contribution: Use a different platform than the one(s) you want to protest
  • If millions did these things, it might be enough to have an impact
  • Researchers did a simulation that found if that if 30% of users stopped sharing information, it could cut a movie recommendation algorithm's accuracy by 50%
  • Researchers hope that more people will do more simulations to identify vulnerabilities in big tech system that can help consumers take back their privacy