TIME China

What the GSK Sex Tape Says About Surveillance in China

CHINA-BRITAIN-PHARMACEUTICAL-CORRUPTION-EARNINGS-GSK
A Glaxo Smith Kline signboard outside their facilities in Shanghai on July 25, 2013. GlaxoSmithKline expects its performance in China to take a hit from Beijing's probe into bribery allegedly carried out by senior staff AFP—AFP/Getty Images

Surveillance, or the threat of surveillance, is a constant

Years ago, when my husband and I were living in Shanghai, a crew of men came to change the smoke-alarm battery in our bedroom. It seemed a lot of people to change a single battery, and they took their time about it. The leader of the battery-changing brigade was a man in a dapper pin-stripe suit. The smoke alarm was above our bed.

The men, all but one in uniforms from our apartment building yet unfamiliar to us, eventually departed. We had a lunch to get to, so we too left a few minutes later. As we walked out the back door of our apartment building, we saw the suited gentleman riding away in a black Toyota Crown, then considered the favored car of the Public Security Bureau. For several nights, my husband and I stared up at that alarm, wondering whether it was doing more than just sensing smoke.

This past weekend, the Sunday Times reported that a video of unknown provenance had circulated showing a British pharmaceutical executive having very friendly relations with a Chinese woman. Mark Reilly is the former China head of GlaxoSmithKline, the British pharmaceutical company that has been accused by Beijing authorities of bribery involving nearly $500 million. Reilly has been barred from leaving China and charges against him made in May potentially carry a long prison sentence. Other foreign pharmaceuticals have also been targeted in graft probes, presumably part of a nationwide anticorruption sweep by China’s President Xi Jinping.

The sex video, according to the Sunday Times, was “filmed clandestinely in Reilly’s Shanghai flat, [and] was sent by email to senior Glaxo staff including the chief executive Sir Andrew Witty.” The film clip accompanied one of many anonymous emails alleging financial impropriety at Glaxo — emails that were, in some cases, sent to a Chinese regulatory agency as well as company officials. The British newspaper reported on speculation that a Chinese ex-Glaxo employee might have been linked to these whistle-blowing missives but no proof has turned up in the public sphere.

Surveillance — or the threat of surveillance — is a constant in China. As a journalist, I may be more interesting to the powers that be than some other foreigners here. But other expat friends who’ve been followed, hacked or otherwise tracked in China include diplomats, NGO staff and businesspeople. Also, artists and academics.

Sometimes, the scrutiny can yield helpful consequences. A diplomat in China remembers commenting to his wife in his then nearly empty apartment that they were out of toilet paper. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door and a bearer of new rolls arrived.

In most instances, it is in no way reassuring to have your email auto-forwarding mysteriously activated or to be tailed by a black Audi while on assignment in the Chinese countryside. Nor are foreigners the only ones subject to such treatment. The days of communist neighborhood-committee grannies poking their noses into residents’ sex lives may be over, but it’s hard to feel completely private in China. Each Chinese citizen still has a dedicated personal file kept by local authorities. The contents are supposed to be secret but a friend who once gained accessed to hers found, among other things, an old high school paper and a copy of a letter from an ex-boyfriend.

As for the smoke alarm, my husband and I eventually paid it no heed. You can’t be on guard all the time or you’ll end up paranoid. Besides, we weren’t hiding anything. Like other foreign reporters, if I work on a sensitive story involving, say, dissidents, I’ll take precautions. But otherwise, my daily life proceeds without incident or spy-sparring guile — no matter who may be watching.

TIME Security

A ‘Nightmare Scenario:’ Vodafone Reveals Huge Global Snooping Program

A Vodafone sign on May 30, 2006.
A Vodafone sign on May 30, 2006. AP

If you're a Vodafone customer, chances are your government has the tools to listen in directly

Just a day after the first anniversary of Edward Snowden’s watershed surveillance leaks, the world’s second-largest mobile phone company has announced that numerous government agencies have direct and open access to the conversations of its 381 million customers across the globe.

Privacy advocates are calling it a “nightmare scenario.”

The Guardian reported on Friday that Vodafone, which has operations in 29 countries, is to release a document describing “secret wires” that allow governments to monitor and record phone calls, text messages, and Internet data use.

The wires, Vodafone says, are “widely used” by a number of agencies.

Stephen Deadman, Vodafone’s group privacy officer, told the Guardian that “These pipes exist, the direct access model exists.”

The 40,000 word document, entitled Law Enforcement Disclosure Report, will be released publicly on Friday.

U.K. civil liberties advocate Shami Chakrabarti said to the Guardian that the fact that governments were able to “access phone calls at the flick of a switch” created a situation that was “unprecedented and terrifying.”

Vodafone said it intends to call for an end to “direct access to an operator’s communications infrastructure without a lawful mandate.”

TIME National Security

NSA Collects Millions of Facial Photos Daily, Snowden Documents Say

The NSA collects around 55,000 facial-recognition-quality images each day

The National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting millions of images a day for facial-recognition purposes, according to classified documents obtained from Edward Snowden by the New York Times.

Of those millions of images, approximately 55,000 a day are “facial recognition quality images,” according to the documents. The documents reveal that the NSA is using new software to mine social media, emails, text messages and other digital communications for images. They also show the agency is capable of and interested in intercepting forms of communication beyond text and audio.

“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information,” read one document from 2010. An NSA spokeswoman declined to tell the Times if the agency is collecting facial images from social media through means other than digital intercepts.

[NYT]

TIME National Security

Snowden: NSA’s Email Release Is Incomplete

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, an analyst with a U.S. defence contractor, is interviewed by The Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong
NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden in a still image taken from video during an interview by the Guardian in his hotel room in Hong Kong on June 6, 2013 Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras—The Guardian/Reuters

The former intelligence contractor says he wrote many more emails that officials have chosen not to reveal, and that the single release after so many denials “shows the NSA feels it has something to hide”

The email released by the National Security Agency (NSA) that Edward Snowden sent to its Office of the General Counsel is only one of many, the whistle-blower said in an interview with the Washington Post.

“Today’s strangely tailored and incomplete leak only shows the NSA feels it has something to hide,” Snowden said.

On Thursday, the NSA released the email dated April 5, 2013, in which Snowden — who then worked as an intelligence contractor — asks whether regulations from different institutions take precedence over each other, and whether Executive Orders can outweigh federal statute.

The email’s release is the first acknowledgement that Snowden did contact officials before leaking information about widespread surveillance by the agency, though the NSA maintains that he did not raise concerns about mass data collection before going rogue.

“I’m glad they’ve shown they have access to records they claimed just a few months ago did not exist, and I hope we’ll see the rest of them very soon,” Snowden said.

As the release comes “after more than a year of denying any such contact existed,” he added, it “raises serious concerns” about the NSA.

“It reveals as false the NSA’s claim to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in December of last year, that ‘after extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention,’” the 30-year-old told the Post.

Snowden says he sent many more emails to other officials raising concerns about illegal surveillance.

[The Washington Post]

TIME justice

Rise of the Private Surveillance State

Street graffiti by elusive graffiti artist Banksy is seen on a wall in central London
Street graffiti by elusive graffiti artist Banksy is seen on a wall, next to a CCTV camera, in central London on Nov. 25, 2008. Toby Melville—Reuters

Secretive data brokers have amassed thousands of details on virtually every household in the country.

Think you get to surf the internet for free these days? Think again. There’s a good chance you’re paying for the privilege with a little piece of your privacy, according to a Federal Trade Commission report released Tuesday. The ads you see on web pages are often automatically chosen to reflect your interests, based on collected bits and pieces of information you have made public as you go about your life online, and off.

And who’s doing the collecting? Data brokers, the largely unregulated middlemen in the privacy-for-personalization transaction at the heart of the digital economy. The FTC’s report, based on the responses of nine major data brokers to orders issued to them by the commission in 2012, shows just how far those companies have gone in amassing a huge information mosaic of Americans’ lives.

Of the nine data brokers, one data broker’s database has information on 1.4 billion consumer transactions and over 700 billion aggregated data elements; another data broker’s database covers one trillion dollars in consumer transactions; and yet another data broker adds three billion new records each month to its databases. Most importantly, data brokers hold a vast array of information on individual consumers. For example, one of the nine data brokers has 3000 data segments for nearly every U.S. consumer.

Among those thousands of “data segments” are seemingly private details, the report finds, like:

  • What kind of clothes you buy
  • Which charities you give to
  • What kind of pets you own
  • What movies you like to see
  • How big your house is
  • What kind of car you drive
  • Whether you’re liberal or conservative
  • Where you’re thinking of going on vacation
  • What kind of stocks you invest in
  • Whether you smoke
  • What kind of over-the-counter drugs you buy

The FTC found that consumers benefit from many of the purposes for which data brokers collect and use data. “Data broker products help to prevent fraud, improve product offerings, and deliver tailored advertisements to consumers. Risk mitigation products provide significant benefits to consumers by, for example, helping prevent fraudsters from impersonating unsuspecting consumers. Marketing products benefit consumers by allowing them to more easily find and enjoy the goods and services they need and prefer. In addition, consumers benefit from increased and innovative product offerings fueled by increased competition from small businesses that are able to connect with consumers they may not have otherwise been able to reach. Similarly, people search products allow individuals to connect with old classmates, neighbors, and friends.”

But the dangers are real, too. Consumers could be “denied the ability to conclude a transaction based on an error in a risk mitigation product,” without having any recourse to correct the mistake. Lower marketing scores could result in “different levels of service from companies.” The FTC also concluded that stored data on consumers could be vulnerable to “unscrupoulous actors” who could use the private data “to predict passwords, challenge questions, or other authentication credentials.”

The FTC found “a fundamental lack of transparency about data broker industry practices.” The brokers collect thousands of pieces of information about individual Americans’ lives, creating detailed mosaics of who they are and what they do, analyzing and sharing it with clients in multiple industries. But “all of this activity takes place behind the scenes, without consumers’ knowledge.”

The FTC says there is little it can do to mitigate the danger other than report on it. The Fourth Amendment and multiple federal laws constrain what the National Security Agency can do with the masses of data Edward Snowden revealed the government collects on Americans and others. But the law governing the use of personal data by commercial entities doesn’t cover marketing. So while Snowden imagines a dystopian future in which the government uses its collected information to endanger Americans, it seems that future already exists in the commercial realm.

TIME Surveillance

The New Cop on the Beat May Be a Bot

Knightscope K5 promises enhanced policing capabilities, courts controversy

Have we as a species learned nothing from Robocop?

A Silicon Valley company called Knightscope is currently testing a prototype robot designed to detect and monitor criminal activity, much the way a police officer or a security guard would.

The Knightscope K5 is a five-foot-tall autonomous robot (one presumes that its resemblance to a Dalek is merely coincidental) that roams around your neighborhood, observing and gathering data and trying to predict where and when criminal activity will occur.

It carries no weaponry, but it has a pretty complete sensor package that includes thermal imaging, license plate reading and facial recognition.

This takes public surveillance a step beyond stationary cameras, and the challenges to personal privacy are clear. The K5 could do a whole lot of good by deterring crime, especially in neighborhoods that lack the resources to field an adequate police presence.

But where do you draw the line?

TIME National Security

NYPD Nixes Muslim Spy Unit

Authorities have ended a widely criticized surveillance initiative that collected details about Muslim communities after a re-evaluation by the city's new police commissioner. The deacde-long program never produced leads about possible terrorist activity

The New York Police Department has shuttered a program designed to spy on Muslim communities, the department announced on Tuesday.

The surveillance initiative, which began in 2003 and was once known as the Demographics Unit, sent detectives into neighborhoods with Muslim populations to eavesdrop on conversations and record detailed information about where and how Muslims spent their time. The decision to end the program signifies a re-evaluation of the department’s post-9/11 intelligence policies by the city’s new police commissioner, William Bratton, the New York Times reports.

The department’s activities attracted both criticism from the FBI and civil rights organizations as well as multiple federal lawsuits.

“The Demographics Unit created psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour, of the Arab American Association of New York, told the Times. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the café where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”

The NYPD has admitted that its tactics never generated a lead about possible terrorist activity.

[NYT]

TIME Journalism

Greenwald, Poitras Return to U.S. For First Time Since Snowden NSA Revelations

Glenn Greenwald arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Glenn Greenwald arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, April 11, 2014. John Minchillo—AP

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras return to America for the first time since breaking the Edward Snowden story to receive the George Polk Award. They will share the journalism honor with The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill and The Washington Post's Barton Gellman

Two American journalists who reported on the National Security Agency documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden arrived back in the U.S. Friday for the first time since their reporting on those files was first published.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who broke the Snowden story and met with the whistleblower in Hong Kong, are in New York City to receive the prestigious George Polk Award. Greenwald, formerly a columnist for The Guardian and now a partner in the upcoming First Look Media venture, and Poitras, a documentary filmmaker, will share the journalism award with Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, the Huffington Post reports.

Greenwald, who currently resides in Rio de Janeiro, told The Huffington Post that he wanted to return to the U.S. because “certain factions in the U.S. government have deliberately intensified the threatening climate for journalists.” He noted that language used by government officials suggested that reporters who investigated Snowden’s documents were complicit with him.

Greenwald and Poitras, who lives in Berlin, expected to be detained immediately upon their arrival Friday, but they left John F. Kennedy International Airport without incident.

[BoingBoing]

TIME Domestic Surveillance

Obama to Propose Ending NSA Phone Data Collection

The National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md.
The National Security Agency headquarters building in Fort Meade, Md. Reuters

The White House is set to propose major changes to the NSA's oft-criticized bulk collection of data from millions of Americans' phone calls, in the Obama administration's most significant response yet to outrage over domestic surveillance

President Barack Obama is set to announce a new proposal to scale back one of the most sweeping and controversial domestic surveillance programs in U.S. history, according to multiple reports.

The proposal, which will be presented to Congress, would end the National Security Agency’s collection of vast amounts of data about U.S. phone calls, according to the New York Times, which first reported the plan.

The Obama proposal is the most significant White House effort yet to address the global furor that was sparked after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked reams of classified documents about the NSA’s secret snooping programs. The proposal would end the NSA’s bulk collection of so-called phone metadata, which includes the number the target called, when the call was made and how long the conversation lasted.

The NSA phone-metadata-collection program was part of a secret U.S. surveillance system that former President George W. Bush approved after the 9/11 attacks. It remained hidden from the public until the Snowden revelations.

Under the Obama proposal, the phone records would instead be retained by phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon. Those companies would not be required to retain the data for a longer period of time than they do now, the Times said. The proposed policy shift was not unexpected — it was one of the major recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, which delivered its report in December.

(MORE: NSA Spying Scandal Could Cost U.S. Tech Giants Billions)

The timing of the White House proposal is also not a surprise. The current court order authorizing the NSA program — which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) must approve every three months — expires on Friday. The U.S. has decided to renew the NSA metadata-collection program for at least one more 90-day cycle, the Times said. The purpose of the program is to identify possible terrorist threats to the U.S., but government officials have offered scant evidence that the system has actually thwarted any major terrorist attacks.

On Tuesday, Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican, and Representative C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the Maryland Democrat, will introduce bipartisan legislation also designed to scale back the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata. The two lawmakers told the Washington Post on Monday that their goal is that their bill “can be the compromise vehicle that arrives at the President’s desk.”

The White House proposal differs from the Rogers-Ruppersberger legislation in key respects. The former would maintain FISC oversight with respect to individual phone-record orders, while the latter “would have the court issue an overarching order authorizing the program, but allow the NSA to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval,” the Times said. Obama called on Congress in a press conference Tuesday to “pass the enabling legislation quickly,” saying his proposal would address many of critics’ concerns.

Instead of collecting and storing the phone records of millions of Americans, the White House proposes to obtain “individual orders” from the FISC that apply “only to records linked to phone numbers a judge agrees are likely tied to terrorism,” the Times reported. Under the current policy, the NSA holds the phone data for five years, under authorization by Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The proposal will not require that phone companies retain the data “longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require,” the paper reported, after intelligence agencies determined that the impact of that change “would be small because older data is less important.”

Under the new system, the FISC would require the phone companies to “swiftly provide” phone records “on a continuing basis,” including data about “any new calls placed or received after the order is received,” the Times reported. The new system would also allow the U.S. to seek phone records for people “two calls, or ‘hops,’ removed” from the original number that is being scrutinized, according to the paper.

Lauren Weinstein, a tech-policy expert and privacy advocate, expressed guarded optimism about the White House proposal. “On its face, this sounds like a definite improvement over the status quo of the program, but the devil will be in the details,” Weinstein says.

Reached by TIME, representatives of Verizon and AT&T both declined to comment on the White House proposal. Earlier this year, AT&T and Verizon began issuing so-called transparency reports providing data on the number of law-enforcement requests for customer information that the company receives in the U.S. and other countries. Those reports do not separately disclose information about orders made under FISA, but instead combine such orders with other government requests.

TIME Surveillance

VIDEO: Jimmy Carter Believes NSA Is Reading His Emails

The former President tells NBC's "Meet the Press" he now communicates with foreign leaders by snail mail

Former President Jimmy Carter told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that he has his own system to avoiding being monitored by the National Security Agency, which is under scrutiny following leaks from its former contractor Edward Snowden: “When I want to communicate with a foreign leader privately, I would type or write the letter myself, put it in the post office and mail it.” He added that the spy agency had abused its authority.

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