Posts tagged web
New York-based entrepreneur Nicholas Merrill is making progress on a project he revealed in April: an encryption-based telecommunications provider designed to be “untappable.” After crowd-funding almost $70,000 in donations, Merrill says that he has held talks with a host of interested venture capitalists and a few “really big companies” apparently interested in partnering up or helping with financial support. Now the “surveillance-proof” software is in development, and he is on track to begin operating a limited service by the end of the year.
Merrill’s ultimate aim is to create a telecommunications infrastructure that inhibits mass surveillance. First, he is building an Internet provider that will use end-to-end encryption for Web browsing and email. Then he plans to roll out a mobile phone service that will enable users to encrypt calls, making them difficult to intercept.
The key to decrypt the communications would be held by each individual customer, not Merrill’s company. Because the telecom firm would be unable to access the communications, law enforcement agencies that want to read or listen to communications would be forced to serve warrants or court orders on individuals directly. “This would make it impossible to do blanket, dragnet surveillance of all the customers of a telecommunications carrier,” Merrill says.
The idea for the project is not to help bad guys evade detection, though undoubtedly that’s how some critics will see it. Rather, Merrill is particularly keen to develop the technology to help journalists and human rights organizations—groups, he says, “whose right to confidentiality is more or less accepted under the law.”
Merrill has a strong record of defending user privacy. In 2004, he became the first ISP executive to successfully challenge a secret FBI “national security letter” demanding he hand over customer information. His willingness to question the constitutionality of the secret letter at the time put him at odds with most major telecoms providers, which have a poor track record when it comes to protecting customer privacy. In 2005 and 2006, a number of companies were revealed to have handed over troves of customer data and opened up wiretaps to the National Security Agency, sometimes without a warrant.
Today, Merrill admits prospective funders of his latest project have expressed concerns that it could lead to a confrontation with powerful actors (“It’s challenging to go up against some of the forces that are trying to open up all communications to wiretapping,” he says). But he is trying to address this by showing that government and law enforcement agencies could themselves benefit from his technology. Cybersecurity and privacy are part of the same problem but framed differently, he believes. Both could be addressed at once by ubiquitous encryption of communications and data transfer—protecting user privacy while also helping prevent malicious hackers from stealing information.
by: J. D. Heyes
How out-of-hand has the “war on terror” become? So much so that now, the Department of Homeland Security has taken to monitoring social media Web sites trolling for would-be terrorists, as if the world’s most dangerous killers were Tweeting their plans.
Only, DHS isn’t just trolling for terrorists by monitoring Twitter and Facebook. No, the department – which at least one presidential contender, Rep. Ron Paul, believes is out of control – is wasting valuable and limited assets evaluating media reports, organizations and news sites like The Drudge Report for anti-government attitudes and social unrest.
But wait, you ask. What does monitoring American-based Web sites and social media applications have to do with the war on terror? Probably nothing, but you may remember that the Department of Homeland Security was born out of legislation passed immediately after the 9/11 attacks to protect “the American people from terrorist threats.”
First Amendment, anyone?
You’re not the only one who isn’t buying the spying. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog organization looking to protect civil liberties, privacy, the First Amendment and constitutional values in an increasingly interconnected world, has convinced a House subcommittee that the DHS activity is suspicious enough to warrant closer examination. The hearings come on the heels of the group’s acquisition of some 300 pages of DHS documents resulting from a Freedom of Information Act request which lay bare the agency’s “intelligence gathering” activities online.
“The Department of Homeland Security’s monitoring of political dissent has no legal basis and is contrary to core First Amendment principles,” says EPIC’s director, Ginger McCall, who says a government agency that monitors what ordinary Americans are saying about federal policies goes too far, and has direct implications on freedom of speech.
“The language in the documents makes it quite clear that they are looking for media reports that are critical of the agency and the U.S. government more broadly,” she said. “This is entirely outside of the bounds of the agency’s statutory duties.”
EPIC says documents it has obtained show that DHS has used contractors to monitor Twitter, Facebook, Hulu, Wikileaks, Drudge and other news sites including the Huffington Post. The documents reveal that the contractors were required to provide DHS with reaction regarding potential “threats and hazards,” as well as any media reports that reflect adversely on the U.S. Government and the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) ability to prevent, protect and respond, to recovery efforts or activities related to any crisis or events which impact National Planning Scenarios.”
The program should also highlight “both positive and negative reports on FEMA, C.I.A., C.B.P., ICE, etc., as well as organizations outside of D.H.S.,” the documents said.
Looking over your shoulder
Now, DHS officials admit that, yes, the agency was monitoring the Web for any negative opinion of the government. But they said the operation was only undertaken as a one-and-done test, then quickly dropped, because it didn’t meet “operational requirements or privacy standards” which “expressly prohibit reporting on individuals’ First Amendment activities.”