Government Spying Tactics

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Yard Dart, Nov 7, 2015.

  1. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator


    Often, the discussion on government surveillance in the U.S. is all about the NSA or the FBI. But the feds aren’t the only ones spying on you. Local law enforcement has been getting in on the action, and it’s not good.

    If you dressed up and enjoyed yourself over the weekend, you might think that a layer of paint and a wig is enough to make you unrecognizable. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Government spending on surveillance technologies for domestic law enforcement—like IMSI catchers, biometrics, and cameras of all kinds—has increased exponentially in recent years, despite the fact that in the last 20 years, crime rates in the United States have steadily and significantly declined (PDF).

    Invasive street level surveillance technologies are popping up in towns across the US—and around the globe. A Halloween costume is no match for these technologies when it comes to protecting your privacy. Here are a few of the disturbing surveillance technologies that local law enforcement is increasingly adding to its arsenal, and how you might encounter them on a typical day. As we walk through these technologies, try to imagine what you’d have to do to go a single day without surveillance.

    Social Media Monitoring

    Did you RSVP to any Halloween parties on Facebook? Maybe tweet about your plans? Posted an Instagram of your costume? These days, when you’re reading tweets or looking at your friends’ photos, you might be joined by cops.

    That’s right. It’s not just the NSA or FBI looking at your Facebook. Local law enforcement does extensive monitoring of social media too, and so do private companies working for the government—all without even reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. Officials engage in fishing expeditions on social media, gathering data about your location and who’s there with you—just as they’ve done to Black Lives Matter activists and protests.

    And don’t assume that marking a post as “private” will keep it from law enforcement. Officers have created fake accounts and even pressured friends of people they’re keeping tabs on to share their login credentials. In a highly-publicized New York case, the DEA had to pay a woman $134,000 for creating a fake Facebook account using her identity.

    There is some good news on the social media front. With a few common sense steps, you can make yourself a lot harder to spy on.

    Automated License Plate Readers

    Once you get in your car, get ready to be tracked, no matter how well your face is disguised. Law enforcement agencies all over the country use ALPRs (automated license plate readers) to track drivers’ locations and activities. ALPRs are cameras—mounted on police cars or placed in stationary locations like light poles—that detect when a car passes, capture a picture of that car, and record its license plate number. Accumulated location data creates a history of drivers’ movements that can provide private and intimate details on people’s lives, like where they work, where they live, where they worship, where they go throughout their day, and who they associate with. Law enforcement agencies like the NYPD have used ALPRs in exactly this way, trying to map out the entire Arab and Muslim community of New York and Newark. The Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Sheriff’s Department scan three million plates every week.

    The privacy implications of ALPRs alone are shocking, but the way they’ve been implemented poses even further security risks. EFF recently discovered that many law enforcement agencies hadn’t taken basic steps to secure the feeds. Some can be accessed publicly over the web, without any passwords or other basic security measures—placing the location information of thousands of people at risk.

    EFF has been trying to find more information about how and where law enforcement agencies use ALPRs, but our attempts are often stymied by the courts. Along with the ACLU, we recently asked the California Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling that ALPR data could be withheld from the public.

    Automatic Toll Readers

    Speaking of driving, do you go through any tolls on your commute? Many cities have switched to electronic tolls, either via an RFID chip in your car or via an account tied to your license plate number. In 2013, we noted that the San Francisco Bay Area had switched to all electronic tolls, making it functionally impossible to cross the Golden Gate Bridge without authorities knowing about it. And the Bay Area isn’t alone; other major urban areas like New York and even some states, like Washington, have moved to all (or nearly all) electronic tolling.

    You could take public transportation to avoid the privacy threats when driving—but don’t buy your ticket with a credit card. Transit agencies in the US, Canada, and South Africa “hand over private information about travelers gathered by electronic ticketing systems to law enforcement agencies on a voluntary basis.”

    Surveillance Cameras

    You may escape tracking by not driving and by purchasing a transit ticket in cash, but you’ll still be captured by ubiquitous surveillance cameras. In many US cities, there are now surveillance cameras on every block. In San Francisco, you could appear on security cameras dozens of times in one day. In New York, “[t]he NYPD can tap into roughly 6,000 street cameras, two-thirds of which are privately owned. There are another 7,000 in public housing and more than 4,000 in the city’s subway stations.”

    These cameras are a mix of private and government owned, but in some cities, law enforcement asks private owners for access—or even to register their cameras so that law enforcement knows who to ask for footage from any particular camera.


    You’ve probably noticed that Facebook recognizes yourself and your friends in your photos. A mask might not be enough, though: facial recognition technology has gotten so good that Facebook can even recognize the back of your head.

    But that’s just the tip of the iceberg in biometrics, a growing field in identifying people based on every aspect of their appearance and behavior. Even if you succeed in hiding your face from all those surveillance cameras, you can give yourself away with your voice, the way you walk (PDF), the shape and size of your hands, and even the way you type. And if you have any visible scars or tattoos, it’s privacy game over.

    IMSI Catchers

    Planning on using your cell phone today? The police don’t need an NSA-style agreement with the phone company to know where you are. They can just use an IMSI catcher.

    International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers (commonly known as Stingrays, after a popular brand of catcher) trick cell phones into revealing their locations by masquerading as cell phone towers. When your phone connects to a Stingray, officers know that you’re near it. While law enforcement says it uses IMSI catchers to locate suspects, they can sweep up the signals of people in a wide radius—for example, at a demonstration.

    There’s good news. As of September, federal law enforcement agents can no longer use IMSI catchers without a warrant. And in California, recently passed bills SB 741 and CalECPA limit the acquisition and use of IMSI catchers. Unfortunately, most states treat them as fair game for local enforcement.

    Speak Out

    As scary as all these tactics are, there’s a bright side: unlike the lawmakers that have failed to oversee the NSA, local lawmakers are often more responsive to pressure. When people speak out, local governments listen. Just a few weeks ago, California passed one of the best digital privacy laws in the United States, largely thanks to pressure from voters. And at the city and county level, we’ve seen communities successfully fight aggregated surveillance cameras, IMSI catchers, drones, and more.

    EFF has a new online hub called Street Level Surveillance (SLS) to help activists do just that. SLS unites our past and future work on domestic surveillance technologies into one portal. It has information on how surveillance technologies work and how you can fight back. If you’re spooked by pervasive surveillance of your every move, we hope you will.
    Are you familiar with these creepy government spying tactics? - Personal Liberty®
    kellory, Ganado, hank2222 and 6 others like this.
  2. pearlselby

    pearlselby Monkey++

    Thanks Yard Dart, I cannot say that I am surprised.
    Taku, Altoidfishfins and Yard Dart like this.
  3. TailorMadeHell

    TailorMadeHell Lurking Shadow Creature

    We love Big Brother. He keeps us safe from all those crazies in the world. Sheesh. The ways we let ourselves be imprisoned for security.
    Taku, Altoidfishfins and Yard Dart like this.
  4. Katana Lee

    Katana Lee Monkey

    Nice post thanks.
    Ganado and Yard Dart like this.
  5. William Antrum

    William Antrum GunMetal Monkey

    That's funny because my wife's phone started talking all it's own today with "cop" talk which leads me to believe they are up to their same 'ol tricks. I know from past commo experience that what had happened was a sting ray with hot Mike. So I truly believe it is gonna continue as if all this had never happened.
    Ganado, BTPost and Yard Dart like this.
  6. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    They will continue to push us... till we push back.
  7. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Make an Official Report to the nearest FCC Field Office, in person, and in writing, and DEMAND, an investigation... It is ILLEGAL for any State or Local Entity to operate a StingRay Device, in the USA...
    Homer Simpson likes this.
  8. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    It may be illegal... but you still have to prove they are doing it in a court of law. They have an endless bank account (your tax dollars) to prove a deniability to the accusation that they are using a stingray................................
    Ganado likes this.
  9. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    That is why you get the local FCC Field Office involved.... It is their job to track down these extraLegal Devices, and determine if the are operating legally... That is why, you make an Official Complaint in Person, and in writing... They must then do the investigation, and write a Report, which is Public Record, if it is not a Federal Entity doing the Operating.... If it turns out that it IS an Illegal Operation, then they must act on that information, and take it to the US Attorney for that area, OR To an FCC Adminstative Law Judge, and get a ruling.... Which is also a Public Record, and be tracked... In Florida, when this happened, the US Marshal Service came in and Grabbed up all the Records and Equipment, that the State and local Sheriff had and made it disappear, before it could go into Court. That ended their operation, and the inquiry.... The last thing these boys want is to get caught in Court, in an illegal operation... Much better to fold up the operation and disappear....
  10. Legion489

    Legion489 Rev. 2:19 Banned

    Ganado likes this.
  11. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    We have a Samsung 3D Smart Tv... After looking at it, the first thing I did was write a Packet Filter in my Router, that blocks ALL incoming Traffic, that has the MAC Address of the Samsung Tv, except Traffic that was initiated from device, directly.. This precludes all Traffic, incoming to the Device, which the device did NOT INITIATE..... So no one can activate the Mic, REMOTELY... Then I wrote another Packet Filter for outgoing traffic from the Samsungs MAC Address, and dumps it into the Bit Bucket, if it consists of Audio Data from the Mic, which I determined by watching the Packet ID Frame, when the Mic was activated... I can still use all the "Features" of the Tv, but have no worries about someone listening in on audio from our Front a Room.. and should I become aware that my Security was breached, it will only take about 45 Seconds, to grab my Cordless Drill, mount a 1/4" Bit, and drill a Hole in the Mic....
    RJFab and Ganado like this.
  12. Ganado

    Ganado Monkey+++

    @BTPost lol the cordless drill comment was priceless! Writing a Packet Filter is beyond most people's capacity. Iknow I cant do it. Any suggestions for where to start learning how to do that?
  13. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Read the OS manual for your Router.... and see who wrote the firmware, that runs it... Then google the outfit, that writes and updates, the Open Source Code that runs on your Router, and then research what they use to generate that code.... very likely one of those Folks , has already written, what you seek, and would help you customize the code for your specific installation.... It is ALL about getting to the Right Guy....
    Ganado likes this.
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