Modern technology is amazing, but every day we’re hearing about cases where someone’s electronic device ends up tying them to the crimes they’ve committed. Usually it’s cellphone location data or photos that busts someone for a crime, but in this case police arrested Ross Compton for arson because his story didn’t line up with data from his electronic heart monitor:
Middletown police said Compton told them that he was able to pack his suitcases and throw them out his bedroom window after he broke out the glass with a walking stick.
According to court documents obtained by WLWT, a cardiologist told police that those actions were “highly improbable” because of Compton’s medical condition.
Police sought to prove that by collecting electronic data stored in Compton’s electronic heart device. They wanted to know Compton’s heart rate, pacer demand and cardiac rhythms before, during and after the fire.
Police told WLWT on Friday that it was an excellent investigative tool, and the information that was retrieved didn’t match Compton’s story.
“It was one of the key pieces of evidence that allowed us to charge him,” Lt. Jimmy Cunningham said.
It’s believed this is the first time data from an electronic heart monitor has been used in this manner. Of course, it helps that the arson inspectors say the fire was started with gasoline at multiple points around the outside of the house and it was on the clothes Compton was wearing at the time, but this is the icing on the cake.
I’m always amused by the criminals who don’t think to leave their cellphones at home when undertaking a planned crime because that’s going to be the first thing the police are going to check. Turning it off is another option, but that looks suspicious if it’s only off during the time the crime takes place. Especially if it’s during the day when you’d have it turned on.
Having a heart monitor, however, is not something you could (or probably would want to) turn off. I suppose you could start the fire and then go through the motions of what you are going to claim to have done so that the data links up, but given that it’s physically demanding you’d be putting yourself at risk of heart failure while in the middle of a burning building which doesn’t seem too smart either. Probably want to change your clothes after handling the gas too.
I dunno, seems like the smart thing to do is not to do this in the first place.
Bought a Samsung computer recently? Might want to run a malware check on it as it appears they may be intentionally installing a keylogger on it without telling you. Security consultant Mohamed Hassan has written an article for Network World that explains how he discovered the software on two new Samsung computers he purchased:
While setting up a new Samsung computer laptop with model number R525 in early February 2011, I came across an issue that mirrored what Sony BMG did six years ago. After the initial set up of the laptop, I installed licensed commercial security software and then ran a full system scan before installing any other software. The scan found two instances of a commercial keylogger called StarLogger installed on the brand new laptop. Files associated with the keylogger were found in a c:\windows\SL directory.
According to a Starlogger description, StarLogger records every keystroke made on your computer on every window, even on password protected boxes.
Hassan removed the software and continued on his merry way until some system trouble prompted him to return the laptop and purchase another higher-end Samsung from a different store. When he got home he found that it also had the StarLogger software on it:
Again, after the initial set up of the laptop, I found the same StarLogger software in the c:\windows\SL folder of the new laptop. The findings are false-positive proof since I have used the tool that discovered it for six years now and I am yet to see it misidentify an item throughout the years. The fact that on both models the same files were found in the same location supported the suspicion that the hardware manufacturer, Samsung, must know about this software on its brand-new laptops.
Once might have been an anomaly, but twice makes it pretty clear that this was by design. Given the fiasco with the Sony BMG rootkit a couple of years back you’d think Samsung would know better than to pull something like this, but, just like Sony before them, they tried to claim no knowledge of the software:
On March 1, 2011, I called and logged incident 2101163379 with Samsung Support (SS). First, as Sony BMG did six years ago, the SS personnel denied the presence of such software on its laptops. After having been informed of the two models where the software was found and the location, SS changed its story by referring the author to Microsoft since “all Samsung did was to manufacture the hardware.” When told that did not make sense, SS personnel relented and escalated the incident to one of the support supervisors.
The supervisor who spoke with me was not sure how this software ended up in the new laptop thus put me on hold. He confirmed that yes, Samsung did knowingly put this software on the laptop to, as he put it, “monitor the performance of the machine and to find out how it is being used.”
In other words, Samsung wanted to gather usage data without obtaining consent from laptop owners.
Yeah, that’s a bullshit answer. Keyloggers don’t monitor performance, they monitor your fucking keyboard. Hence the name KEYLOGGER. This particular keylogger is also capable of taking screenshots and emailing them along with the captured data without you ever knowing about it. Imagine buying a brand new computer and doing some online shopping or banking without knowing that it’s recording everything you type and sending it back to the manufacturer. Well, some of you probably don’t have to imagine that happening to you.
I can’t think of a single legitimate reason for Samsung to be capturing that kind of data. What are they really using it for? How are they securing it? How long are they keeping it? What makes them think this is even remotely legal?
This is particularly annoying as I like a lot of things Samsung makes, the LCD monitors on my desk are from Samsung. I don’t own any computers made by them and I’ll definitely think twice before picking one up. The only question now is how long before the class action lawsuit is filed.
[Updated 9:35AM 3/31/11] Samsung didn’t waste anytime looking into this and it appears that they may be the victim of a false positive according to this article at CrunchGear:
Word comes from Samsung’s official Korean language blog, Samsung Tomorrow, that the company was able to recreate the incident and a keylogger is not on a factory-fresh notebook. The company states that the VIPRE security software used by the original whistleblower mistakenly reports the Microsoft Slovene language folder (c:\windows\SL) as the commercially available Starlogger keylogger. See the screenshot above for the proof — or if you have a R525 or R540 notebook, recreate the test yourself. As it sits right now though, it seems Samsung didn’t follow Acer’s lead and ship infected notebooks.
This is good news indeed. I can imagine Samsung wanted to nip this potential PR disaster in the bud as quickly as possible.
Take a look at the following picture and tell me what’s wrong with it:
Oh my! It's so scandalous!
Apparently that’s all it took for a Georgia high school principal to fire English teacher Ashley Payne:
“He just asked me, ‘Do you have a Facebook page?'” Payne said. “And you know, I’m confused as to why I am being asked this, but I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘Do you have any pictures of yourself up there with alcohol?'”
In fact, the picture that concerned the principal – showing Payne holding a glass of wine and a mug of beer – was on her Facebook page. There was also a reference to a local trivia contest with a profanity in its title.
Payne was told a parent of one of her students called to complain. And then, Payne says, she was given a choice: resign or be suspended.
“He told me that I needed to make a decision before I left, or he was going to go ahead and suspend me,” she said.
She resigned. Attorney Richard Storrs is fighting to get Payne’s job back.
Again, this was a PUBLIC high school as opposed to, say, a private religious school of some sort. Apparently the idea that a young teacher might partake of both beer and wine was too much for those delicate Georgia sensibilities.
Here’s the kicker, and why the topic of the CBS articles is about the Internet and privacy, Payne thought she had set her FB privacy settings so that the picture wouldn’t be public:
But here’s the really troubling part: Payne had used the privacy settings on Facebook. She thought that only her closest friends could see her vacation photos or her use of the “B” word.
“I wouldn’t use it in a classroom, no,” she said. “But Facebook is not the classroom. And it’s not open to the students of my classroom. They are not supposed to see it. I have privacy in place so they don’t see it.”
I would argue that even if they did manage to see it, which apparently they could have, there’s nothing present that should be a concern. She’s not half-naked in the picture, she’s not obviously drunk, she’s not breaking any laws, and swearing outside of work shouldn’t be grounds for dismissal. (If it is, I’m in big, big trouble.)
The rest of the article is the usual ‘we’ve lost all sense of privacy in the Internet age’ stuff that’s no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. Though as an interesting aside, I did try the Reputation.com website that the reporter used to learn what personal info was on the net:
Michael Fertik, a Harvard Law School grad who runs a company called Reputation.com, came up with information I thought was private. I was wrong.
“I think this is your Social Security number,” Fertik said. It was!
He also revealed what he called my “online reputation,” based mainly on where I happen to live.
“Our query is pretty confident that you’re a Democrat and pretty confident that you’re a Catholic,” Fertik said.
“But that may not be correct,” said Moriarty.
“It may just not be correct,” he explained.
And then there’s something that could cause a real headache down the road …
“There’s an Erin F. Moriarty who grew up just a few miles where you did, who has been convicted of serving alcohol to minors,” Fertik said. “And it’d be very easy for a machine to confuse you and that person, and to think that you are a convicted criminal.”
They offer a free scan to give you a taste of what they can find. I came away from it totally unimpressed. I put in “Les Jenkins” and the email address I most commonly use with it (email@example.com) and it failed to find me. I tried my jenkinsonline.net email address and it still didn’t find me. Then I tried my full first name and my SEB email address.
That was enough for it to kind of find me. It listed my name as Lesley R Jenkins (my middle initial is a T), got my age right at being 43 and having been born in August of 1967, and listed my address as still being in Orion Township, MI. I’ve not lived there for over 12 years now. When I went to the next step it congratulated me for not having any significant personal info on the Internet. Well, I thought, considering that’s technically not my real full name and I no longer live there, I’m not at all surprised by that revelation.
Considering that putting “Les Jenkins” into Google will list me in 7 of the first 10 results (and the first 4 results to boot), it should go without saying that I’m not at all difficult to find on the Internet. SEB, Twitter, and my LinkedIn profile pages are all right there with all manner of publicly viewable info about me and without getting my middle initial wrong. This doesn’t speak well to the data gathering ability of the folks at Reputation.com.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that Payne’s firing is pretty fucking ridiculous regardless of how public or private that picture happens to be. There’s nothing any reasonable person would consider objectionable about it and, even if there was, so long as she’s not taking it into the classroom it shouldn’t be a problem.
The U.S. Government has been pushing what they consider a better passport since August 2007. It contains a contactless smart card in the back cover that contains the same data about you as what is printed in the passport itself. The idea is that this is supposed to make passport forgery impossible for the evil-doers of the world. The official website lists off several potential attacks which the cards are supposedly protected against including skimming, eavesdropping, tracking, and cloning.
Which all sounds really good except that since the cards were introduced a number of hackers and researches have demonstrated that almost of the protections in place can be successfully attacked and compromised with very minimal resources. The Wikipedia entry for biometric passports has the details and links about the attacks if you’re interested. It doesn’t help that not all of the security measures are mandated with things such as Active Authentication and Extended Access Control being optional.
In short, cloning data on a passport is not difficult at all nor is burning it to a blank passport, something that was done back in 2006 before they were even being issued regularly. More difficult is modifying the data as there is a cryptographic hash used to verify the data, but that relies on the scanner reading the passport making use of it (not all do).
You’d think, given all of the above, that the government would at least take steps to make sure the chips aren’t compromised before they’re ever issued. Perhaps, say, ensuring that they’re produced in a highly secure facility someplace within the United States?
Don’t be silly. The chips are currently being made in Thailand and have been for years:
The U.S. government agency that prints passports has for years failed to resolve persistent concerns about the security risks involved in outsourcing production to foreign factories, a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity has found.
“On a number of levels this is extremely troubling,” said Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security . “Something like that ought to be produced only in the United States, under only the most rigorous security standards.” A report on the outsourcing of U.S. passports to high-risk countries can be seen on World News with Diane Sawyer tonight.
Despite repeated assurances they would move production to the U.S., a key government contractor has continued to assemble an electronic component of the nation’s new, more sophisticated passport in Thailand.
The factory is near the same Bangkok suburb where a notorious terrorist extremist was captured in 2003. There have been bursts of violence in the industrial city, Ayutthaya, as recently as last month.
Both the inspector general at the Government Printing Office and the agency’s own security chief have warned specifically against producing the computer chip assembly in the Thai facility. One internal report obtained by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity warned of a “potential long term risk to the [U.S. government’s] interests.”
All this bullshit talk by the Powers That Be about making things More Secure™ and not only are the chips being used easily cloned for a couple hundred bucks, but the factory that’s producing them is in an unstable area of a foreign country where terrorists are known to operate. The reason this is such a concern is because the U.S. Government, in its infinite wisdom, has made owning one of their fancy e-passports a shortcut past some of the more stringent security procedures — one official describes it as an EZ-pass — that would otherwise apply to people entering the United States.
Oh, but that’s not the best part. No, the cherry-on-top that I just know you’re going to love is the fact that there is absolutely nothing in place to make sure blanks don’t fall into bad guy’s hands:
GPO’s inspector general has warned that the agency lacks even the most basic security plan for ensuring that blank e-Passports — and their highly sought technologies – aren’t stolen by terrorists, foreign spies, counterfeiters and other bad actors as they wind through an unwieldy manufacturing process that spans the globe and includes 60 different suppliers.
This disturbs Rep. John D. Dingell, D.-Mich., who wrote letters to the agency two years ago raising questions about passport production.
“Regrettably, since then, our fears have been realized because the inspector general and other people in charge of security at the government printing office have pointed out that the security is not there,” Dingell told ABC News. “There is no real assurance that the e-passports are safe or secure or are not in danger of being counterfeited or corrupted or used for some nefarious purposes by terrorists or others.”
Feel safer yet? Oh, and there are stolen blanks out there from several different countries including a big heist of U.K. blanks in 2008.
Supposedly, most of the production of the chip has already been moved out of Thailand and officials are pledging to have the last bits moved out by the end of July. Also, as far as anyone is aware, no one has successfully made a forgery of a biometric passport using cloned data and a stolen blank chip. Given the number of vulnerabilities that have already been demonstrated it’s probably only a matter of time before someone figures out how to clone and modify a passport that’ll pass as real.
Sadly, all of the concerns and problems with this system were known by the U.S. back in 2004 having been raised by numerous security and privacy experts. Rather than take the time to address the issues raised they decided to just ignore them instead and pressure everyone else to adopt our flawed standard. That is, after all, the American way.
Technically it’s actually episode 3 if you count the Great Lost Episode that was brought about by my momentary technical ineptitude. In this episode we spend way more time than we probably should have recapping what we talked about in the Great Lost Episode. Alas, my ADD was in full force tonight and ***Dave was along for the ride so we end up veering all over the place. For example we start to talk a little about the whole South Park Muhammad controversy and somehow we end up talking about playing Dungeons & Dragons and from that we get to talking about the new Tron movie due out this year through one of the most geeky admissions on my part ever. There’s a Catholic hierarchy lesson, some talk about jury duty, Facebook’s devious changes to their privacy policies, people’s general carelessness about what they post on Facebook, and, as always, the hobby of blogging.
I have to admit, this is not as good an episode as the one I lost which makes its loss that much more tragic. Still, we had a good time doing it and I hope it’s at least mildly entertaining for you folks as well. It’s just a little over an hour and a half in length and you can either download it by clicking here or by using the little flash player below.
Let us know what you think, what you liked and what you didn’t, and any suggestions you have for the next episode in the comments.
A Brownsville high school teacher has been suspended for 30 days without pay after she appeared in a picture someone else posted on Facebook that included a male stripper at a bridal shower.
[…] Board member Stella Broadwater says the suspension is appropriate because the photo became public, but member Sandra Chan says it was too harsh because the teacher had no control over the photo being posted.
It’d be one thing if the teacher had printed out this picture and passed it around to her students, but to be suspended because someone else posted the picture on Facebook is pretty stupid. Granted I’ve not seen the picture in question, but I’m not sure it should matter much. Short of staying home and never doing anything outside of work, I’m not sure how she had any control over the posting of the pic.
This also reflects one of the problems with Facebook’s move towards removing the privacy options that it has traditionally made available to its users. As these barriers come down you’ll be reading about more and more news items like this as pictures that were once thought to be limited to family and friends become viewable by the public at large.
There are already a number of sites popping up to chronicle embarrassing Facebook postings including Failbook.com from the folks who brought us I Can Has Cheezeburger? I mean, do you really want wall updates like this one viewable by the whole world?
It’s embarrassing enough that your mom knows you’re brushing up on AMAZING SEX, but what happens when a potential employer is able to do a Google search and has this come up? At least the Failbook.com folks remove last names and blur pics. Google isn’t going to do that.
OK, I’ve gotten off on a tangent here so allow me to wrap this up. The point I’m trying to make is that, sure, the idiot in the above screenshot probably shouldn’t have posted something like that if he didn’t want folks (including his mom) to know about it, but the teacher that got suspended didn’t post the picture that got her in trouble and that’s not fair. Which is basically my point.
One of the features of the newer iPhone’s and Google Android based cellphones allow the phone, and any applications you’re running on it, to determine where you are to varying degrees of precision. Using a combination of cell towers (500 meters), Wi-Fi (30 meters), and GPS (10 meters) and various software packages that make use of that info you can literally broadcast your whereabouts to the whole world pretty much continuously.
This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities, both good and bad, and has attracted a growing group of people practicing a Location-Aware Lifestyle. Wired magazine’s Mathew Honan decided to try spending a few weeks living the lifestyle to see what it was like:
The location-aware future—good, bad, and sleazy—is here. Thanks to the iPhone 3G and, to a lesser extent, Google’s Android phone, millions of people are now walking around with a gizmo in their pocket that not only knows where they are but also plugs into the Internet to share that info, merge it with online databases, and find out what—and who—is in the immediate vicinity. That old saw about how someday you’ll walk past a Starbucks and your phone will receive a digital coupon for half off on a Frappuccino? Yeah, that can happen now.
Simply put, location changes everything. This one input—our coordinates—has the potential to change all the outputs. Where we shop, who we talk to, what we read, what we search for, where we go—they all change once we merge location and the Web.
I wanted to know more about this new frontier, so I became a geo-guinea pig. My plan: Load every cool and interesting location-aware program I could find onto my iPhone and use them as often as possible. For a few weeks, whenever I arrived at a new place, I would announce it through multiple social geoapps. When going for a run, bike ride, or drive, I would record my trajectory and publish it online. I would let digital applications help me decide where to work, play, and eat. And I would seek out new people based on nothing but their proximity to me at any given moment. I would be totally open, exposing my location to the world just to see where it took me. I even added an Eye-Fi Wi-Fi card to my PowerShot digital camera so that all my photos could be geotagged and uploaded to the Web. I would become the most location-aware person on the Internets!
People, particularly younger folks, already put out a lot of information about themselves on the Internet. I’m guilty of this myself with this blog. Not only do I have my real name on it, but there’s a fairly detailed history of the major ups and downs of my life over the past seven years in the archives. Everything from my best friend being needlessly killed by a traffic cop and how I dealt with the loss to my eventual downsizing from Ford Motor Company and the long struggle to get back on my feet. My politics and religious outlook are extensively documented as is the general area that I live in. SEB is the number one search result on Google when you type in “Les Jenkins” followed by some poor bastard who shares my name that works at Colorado One Mortgage.
For all that I put on SEB there are some folks who put me to shame particularly on sites like Facebook and MySpace. You may recall a few months back an entry I wrote about a woman who had been emailing me about her “psychic visions” of my future. I mentioned in a comment that I was able to track down where she lives (to a specific street address), how big a house she owns, how much she bought it for, how many pets she has, what musical instrument she’s trying to teach herself to play, what books shes been reading, her daughter and son-in-law’s name, where they lived, when their wedding was supposed to happen, and a whole host of other personal info with nothing more than her email and IP address. That’s pretty impressive, but even that pales to what some folks make available and then when you add location-awareness into the mix you make it all that much more immediate. Which could have its downside:
The trouble started right away. While my wife and I were sipping stouts at our neighborhood pub in San Francisco (37.770401 °N, 122.445154 °W), I casually mentioned my plan. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re not going to announce to everyone that you’re leaving town without me, are you? A lot of weirdos follow you online.”
Sorry, weirdos—I love you, but she has a point. Because of my work, many people—most of them strangers—track my various Flickr, Twitter, Tumblr, and blog feeds. And it’s true; I was going to be gone for a week on business. Did I really want to tell the world that I was out of town? It wasn’t just leaving my wife home alone that concerned me. Because the card in my camera automatically added location data to my photos, anyone who cared to look at my Flickr page could see my computers, my spendy bicycle, and my large flatscreen TV all pinpointed on an online photo map. Hell, with a few clicks you could get driving directions right to my place—and with a few more you could get black gloves and a lock pick delivered to your home.
To test whether I was being paranoid, I ran a little experiment. On a sunny Saturday, I spotted a woman in Golden Gate Park taking a photo with a 3G iPhone. Because iPhones embed geodata into photos that users upload to Flickr or Picasa, iPhone shots can be automatically placed on a map. At home I searched the Flickr map, and score—a shot from today. I clicked through to the user’s photostream and determined it was the woman I had seen earlier. After adjusting the settings so that only her shots appeared on the map, I saw a cluster of images in one location. Clicking on them revealed photos of an apartment interior—a bedroom, a kitchen, a filthy living room. Now I know where she lives.
Think about that for a moment. Her being in an apartment would make any attempts at larceny a bit more difficult, but what if she lived in a single family home in a suburb? Take the geo-location data on the pictures and look it up in Google Maps—yes you can use latitude and longitude in Google Maps—drop down to Street View and you could even see what the house looks like so long as Google has been through that neighborhood. Above and beyond simply showing folks where to go to score a nice flat screen TV, this could also potentially be used to allow people to find you anywhere you happen to be making it a boon for potential rapists, stalkers, and plain old crazy people. Those, of course, are worst-case scenarios so let’s not dwell on them too much. Instead just consider how creepy it is that Honan was able to pick a perfect stranger out in a park and with just a little effort peer at the filthy living room in her apartment.
The technology is not without its upside though. Honan talks in the article about how it actually made him more social as friends who had seen he’d be in their area would turn up to hang out for a few minutes and touch base. Additionally some of the tools he was using allowed him to learn more about the area he was in, find the cheapest gas prices, and discover new places to eat he’d never realized were there before. And it’s not as though you have to make use of the tools that expose your precise location every second of the day. The whole article is worth a read if for no other reason than to educate yourself on what’s possible. Right now you have to put some work into setting yourself up to be so exposed, but developers are working to make doing stuff like that easier all the time so it may not be too long before you could set yourself up to broadcast your location constantly without realizing it.
According to this video (and this article), there are now services that can pinpoint exactly where a Google search is coming from, down to the exact address. While many of us have known that the search terms we enter in search engines aren’t exactly secret, there has always been the assumption (correctly?) that who is searching for something remains secret. Or at least wasn’t going to be shared with just anyone. Apparently, even that isn’t true anymore.
The ramifications are pretty significant. If you live in a house and not a big apartment building, your identity is pretty easy game with such a tool. Getting embarrassed by more or less targeted advertising (“We found from your searches that you are interested in naked teenagers wearing rabbit ears? Do WE have a deal for YOU!”) is almost the least worry (though if I got a call from the home business woman in the video clip, I’d be furious at having my privacy invaded, rather than show an interest in her stuff!) But there’s even worse possibilities – what if somebody finds our that you are looking for legal advice, or something similarly crucial to be kept private? Information about an illness, or depression for example?
At the moment, the searches seem to only allow tracking back from websites -> via search terms -> to the orignator of the query. But how long until the direction is reversible? Do we all have to become hackers and hide behind sophisticated software just to browse in peace?
The U.K. has a shitload of closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) almost everywhere you go. One local artist who realized that he was monitored almost constantly by the police decided to see how long it would take them to notice an 8 foot tall alien wandering on an empty street so he got some friends together and made it happen:
In short, it didn’t take very long for police to show up and they weren’t thrilled at the prank. Watching the video brings home just what living in such a society would be like for anyone who’s at all out of the ordinary. The idea of being constantly watched is chilling indeed and there are many who would love to replicate that sort of thing here in America. It’s already started in some places around the country. I suppose on the one hand it’s a good thing that the police are able to notice and respond to a potential threat so quickly, but it’s so easily abused and the hassle of dealing with countless false alarms is sure to cause many of them to discourage anything that would require them to waste time checking it out. Things like walking around in an 8 foot alien costume.
It also shows how unrealistic Doctor Who is. A police box suddenly appearing out of no where would be swarmed by the police within moments by the looks of it, let alone anything truly alien looking.
The new FISA “compromise” bill that the Senate is about to pass makes me angry just to think about, but deep down I’ve long suspected that our government pretty much spies on us with impunity already. This Baltimore Sun news article pretty much confirms that suspicion:
“There’s virtually no branch of the U.S. government that isn’t in some way involved in monitoring or surveillance,” said Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian and fellow at the National Security Archives at The George Washington University. “We’re operating in a brave new world.”
[…] The Bush administration argues that the privacy and civil liberties protections in place for surveillance not covered by the FISA rules are “unprecedented.” In addition to the data-mining, use of financial transaction databases and satellite imagery, the surveillance includes monitoring the travel patterns of airline passengers.
[…] But critics say the safeguards don’t always work. Some blunders in the use of such protections have become public. New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright wrote in January about one such experience. In 2002, while he was researching The Looming Tower, his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on al-Qaida, two members of an FBI terrorism task force arrived at his home. Why, they asked, had his daughter been speaking with someone in the United Kingdom who was in touch with suspected al-Qaida operatives?
It wasn’t his daughter, he told them flatly. Wright himself had made the calls. And the person he contacted was a British civil rights lawyer who had asked him not to speak with her clients, some of whom are relatives of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s chief lieutenant.
“My daughter is no terrorist – she went to high school with the Bush twins,” Wright said. “I was taken aback. They were apparently monitoring my phones.”
Wright said he was particularly surprised because he was aware of protections supposedly in place to conceal his name and other identifying information that would have been gathered during the creation of transcripts of the call.
Wright said he doubted the government would have been able to get a warrant for the information, and he said he didn’t know how the FBI obtained his daughter’s name, let alone got the impression that she was communicating with the British lawyer.
It’s somewhat ironic to note that the new FISA bill actually has more civil liberties protections than the other domestic spying programs that aren’t covered by it. It makes me feel foolish for getting so worked up about the new FISA rules because, really, the cows got out of the barn a long time ago. There’s been reports of various abuses and misuses of these programs for years now and every time a government agency gets new powers, such as the FBI and its “security letters” thanks to the Patriot Act, it’s usually not too long before we hear about them being abused. If anything I suppose I should be angry that the new FISA bill provides the government with even more power it can abuse, not that they haven’t abused the system under the old rules already. They’re just trying to make it quasi-legal to do so now that everyone knows about it.