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America's plans for its police state accelerate

In George Orwell's 1984 a dystopian vision of the future was painted in which the mindless majority was duped into a nationalistic fervor by a series of never-ending global conflicts.  Meanwhile a single totalitarian regime, the "Inner Party" rules with supreme authority, oppressing the public's freedoms of everything of politics to sexuality.  Enforcement is carried out by a complex government spying network that both relies on human informants and digital surveillance.  The nation was gripped by a "police state" in which police had supreme authority to monitor their citizens' digital presences, as epitomized by the slogan "Big Brother is watching you."

I. All Your Androids are Belong to U.S. 

Today America is seeing alarming movement towards that fictional vision of the future.  Top political candidates are supporting state-sponsored sexual oppression of the population [1][2].  Police have been granted blanket powers of surveillance -- many of which require no warrant. The latest effort to step up surveillance is to try to bully operating system and device manufacturers into removing software that protects users' privacy.

The issue has come into the spotlight after an affidavit [PDF] filed by the U.S. Federal of Bureau of Investigations in court-received publicity.

The court filing pertains to the case of Dante Dears, an alleged Californian drug dealer and pimp.  Mr. Dears is an ex-convict who served time for his actions with the street gang PHD ("Pimpin Hoes Daily").  Upon release, police believe he reconvened with his former associates and went back to his lifestyle of crime.

Their monitoring indicated that he was using a smartphone to place calls with drug dealers and prostitutes.  Mr. Dears' parole officer requested that the man surrender his phone for inspection.  At that point Mr. Dears allegedly denied owning the phone.  However, during a search of his house, the parole officer seized the device.

The phone was given to the FBI, who attempted to access it to search for evidence.  However, they were foiled by the device's grid-based gesture unlock, a feature found in Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android operating system.  After exceeding the maximum number of attempts, the phone password locked itself, giving the agents a big headache.

Grid unlock
The FBI is upset that Google's grid unlock prevents them from unencumbered searches of users' devices.  They want to be able to force, via court order, Google to hand over user passwords in order to circumvent the system. [Image Source: BGR]

So they crafted a novel solution -- get a judge to issue a court order forcing Google to:

provide law enforcement with any and all means of gaining access, including login and password information, password reset, and/or manufacturer default code ("PUK"), in order to obtain the complete contents of the memory of cellular telephone.

Note:
As ArsTechnica's Nate Anderson notes, Mr. Dears has "signed away" his fourth amendment rights, in exchange for being granted a second parole (he violated his first parole).  That said, the quesiton of whether it's a Constitutionally valid practice to allow people to "sign away" their Constitutional rights to the government is exchange for freedom is a questionable one.

In other words, despite the fact that he has been charged with no crime and that federal agents don't know exactly what they're looking for on Mr. Dears' smartphone, they want to be able to force Google -- a private-sector company -- to pay to allow their agents to freely invade Mr. Dears' privacy in an open-ended search.

The FBI requested that the court not inform Mr. Dears of the request.  Unfortunately, they forgot to seal the court order [PDF], so news of the request hit the media.

II. "Police State" Works to Erode the Fourth Amendment

Recently law enforcement agencies have been frustrated by users' device encryption and password protection hindering their wish for unhindered surveillance.  While the Fourth Amendment to America's most important government document, the Constitution, guarantees:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

However, many in the law enforcement community feel that "probable cause" or at least its strictest interpretations are inconvenient.  So they've moved to try to circumvent those protections.

Note:
The "Fourth Amendment" waiver did not apply to Mr. Dears' digital property, thus the Fourth Amendment is still applicable.  However, Mr. Dears parole stated that any efforts to protect his digital presence were tantamout to a violation of parole.  This, however, is yet another questionable legal stance and possibly unconstitutional.
 
U.S. police trooper
Many police officers find "probable cause" an inconvenience and are seeking court permission to force companies to compromise citizens' privacy, without knowing what they're looking for exactly. [Image Source: Reuters]

Unlike in the case of GPS tracking, where officers faced little resistance at first to tracking without a warrant, this case the warrant is virtually mandatory due to the fact that business would be eager to resist efforts to compromise their customers' privacy.  Future laws could be passed to allow the enforcement of warrantless requests.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that warrantless GPS tracking was illegal.  In its ruling, the court indicated that a key reason for the illegality was the invasion of the person's property to plant the device.

This case may be similar, as the police invaded Mr. Dears' residence to collect his smartphone.  In this case they did have a warrant, however, the validity of that warrant -- specifically, whether there was sufficient probable cause to seize and search the device -- is certainly debatable.  This could get interesting, should Google, Mr. Dears, or consumer privacy groups challenge the request in court.

These developments should concern even law abiding citizens, as granting the police power to invade your private devices and email accounts with or without warrant opens the door both to petty abuse and to concerted harassment efforts against political adversaries.

III. Headed to the Supreme Court? 

The issue also bears some relation to recent cases in which police have seized suspects’ laptops and ordered that they surrender their passwords to access the laptop and to decrypt onboard data.  Some federal courts have ruled that this practice is illegal, as it amounts to self-incrimination (hence violating the Fifth Amendment) and fails the test of probable cause (violating the Fourth Amendment).  Other courts, however, have ruled that it's perfectly legal and that if a suspect does not hand over the passwords; they can be found in contempt of court and imprisoned indefinitely.

The issue is likely destined to be taken up eventually be the Supreme Court, given the divergent rulings.

Likewise given the increasing number of requests for blanket invasions of citizens' private email and web accounts, both in civil and criminal cases, this may be fodder for another Supreme Court case.  In one recent famous incident Sony Corp. (TYO:6758) received permission of the court to invade the internet hosting, Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail accounts of hacker George "GeoHot" Hotz in an apparent court-sanctioned harassment attempt.

Sources: FBI [PDF], Threat Post



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Hmmm
By Cybercat on 3/15/2012 3:45:56 PM , Rating: 4
Such a dramatic article!




RE: Hmmm
By geddarkstorm on 3/15/2012 3:51:46 PM , Rating: 2
You're a cat! On the internet!


RE: Hmmm
By NellyFromMA on 3/15/2012 3:59:35 PM , Rating: 5
Is it dramatic if it's true?


RE: Hmmm
By macdevdude on 3/15/12, Rating: 0
RE: Hmmm
By OneArmedScissorB on 3/15/2012 4:57:24 PM , Rating: 4
They had alcohol, guns - and an oppressive government, their real problem.

Ever drank a beer? If so, then you've consumed a chemical far more lethal than whatever a drug dealer "ruining" the country could be selling.

And yet, prohibition is the only amendment that was ever repealed, because prohibition itself harmed the country, while people who minded their own business did not.

Please stop and think about that next time you give someone else the OK to tell you who to be and how to live.


RE: Hmmm
By macdevdude on 3/15/12, Rating: 0
RE: Hmmm
By spread on 3/15/2012 5:20:51 PM , Rating: 5
So you are saying that drugs are not safe in moderation? If they're not safe, then lower the dose because you're clearly not using them in moderation.


RE: Hmmm
By OneArmedScissorB on 3/15/2012 5:21:01 PM , Rating: 4
My apologies. I didn't realize it made you liberal to want to leave the Constitution as it is.

And for the record, certain "drugs" are legal in some states, while there is no amendment to ban them.

However, in Mexico, 50,000 people have died in a war we caused, over a plant that never killed anyone, purely because the federal government won't allow states to grow enough of it over here.

Ciudad Juarez, right next to our border, is the most murderous city on the face of the entire planet.

If that makes you feel safer, and you don't see the problem here, no one can help you.


RE: Hmmm
By JediJeb on 3/15/2012 5:24:46 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
And your guns are another example of how today the constitution should be rewritten. today people should not have guns as there are drug dealers and terrorists with guns.


The exact reason a law abiding citizen should be allowed to legally own a gun. Unless you are going to stand outside my home and fight off any criminal what would come to harm me. Or am I just supposed to lay down and let some gun toting criminal do with me and my possessions as he wishes and hope the police can find him later and arrest him. That wouldn't do me much good if I am dead now would it.

The Founding Fathers of this nation knew what they were doing, too bad so many today think they are so much smarter and would blindly hand over all of our freedoms to a government that would become just like the one they fought to rid us of so many years ago if we do not keep our eyes open an keep it under control.


RE: Hmmm
By MechanicalTechie on 3/15/2012 7:56:50 PM , Rating: 5
OK so now all the pieces are falling together...

Your illrational, easily leaded, highly opinionated, emotionally unstable wanna be... i get it now... that's makes all the ifanboy comments all make sense now!!

Alcohol is far more danagerous than various other recreational drugs, but hey dont question that!

Guns dont kill people... people kill people.. a folk can be danagerous in the wrong hands. You can't prevent stupid people from doing stupid things with a blanket of laws.

The world isn't so black and white and talking in absolutes only makes you look arrogant. Everyone makes mistakes in life, some end up in prison.. have some compassion you never know if you'll need it later in life!

You obliviously have too much faith in government to think they will not abuse their powers... how short slighted :( It's people like you that allow governments to improach our civil liberties


RE: Hmmm
By elgueroloco on 3/16/2012 5:00:00 PM , Rating: 2
Those 6 brief paragraphs poor jumbled English contain more wisdom than all of Obama's flowery speeches.


RE: Hmmm
By fhornmikey on 3/15/2012 8:20:03 PM , Rating: 5
Ignorant fools like you are the reason this country is going down the toilet, not drugs, guns, or "terrorists." The entire point of the constitution is that it protects everyone, for it to not do such is completely counter to everything the document stands for.

Go read a book, learn how to spell check, and pull your head out of your ass.


RE: Hmmm
By MechanicalTechie on 3/15/2012 8:49:43 PM , Rating: 2
Nicely put :)


RE: Hmmm
By Warren21 on 3/16/2012 7:31:20 AM , Rating: 2
Is this kid 12? Honestly?

"Badguyshavegunsandgunsarebad"

The world isn't as simple as you. It wasn't in 1776 either.


RE: Hmmm
By 91TTZ on 3/16/2012 11:09:34 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
And your guns are another example of how today the constitution should be rewritten. today people should not have guns as there are drug dealers and terrorists with guns.


So you'd want to ban something that was responsibly handled by ordinary citizens for hundreds of years because criminals have begun using them?

What about recreational aircraft? Starting in the 1960's drug dealers started using them, too. Maybe we should ban that was well.


RE: Hmmm
By Tequilasunriser on 3/16/2012 12:03:51 PM , Rating: 2
Wow, you're pretty ignorant lol.

Gotta take those rose-tinted shades off once in a while, friend.


RE: Hmmm
By Schrag4 on 3/16/2012 12:20:11 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
And your guns are another example of how today the constitution should be rewritten. today people should not have guns as there are drug dealers and terrorists with guns


Yeah, I can tell you haven't thought this through. So you think making guns illegal would stop drug dealers from carrying guns? I would agree with you if making dealing drugs illegal would stop drug dealers from dealing drugs (oh wait, it already is!!!). In your perfect world, only people intent on harming others would be armed.

Let me also point out that nearly all guns carried by drug dealers are carried illegally, in the US anyway. State laws vary, but generally you have to have a concealed carry permit or license (CCP or CCL) to carry - and nearly always that's dependent on having a clean record, meaning you lose all rights to own a gun if you're a convicted felon. I don't think many drug dealers meet these criteria. And, yes, I know some states allow open carry without a permit, but I don't think that's common for drug dealers either. All this just to say that criminals, by and large, are already carrying illegally. Law abiding citizens carrying after jumping through hoops to prove that they're clean is not the problem.


RE: Hmmm
By DarthKaos on 3/16/2012 3:12:06 PM , Rating: 2
Wow! I am very impressed with your uninformed opinions. You are very passionate with little to no facts backing up your opinion.

Criminals do not apply for gun licenses. Unless you have a way to collect all weapons on earth and destroy them, taking away the right of citizens to have guns only helps the criminals.

As far as alcohol being perfectly save when consumed in moderation and drugs not being safe when consumed in moderation, I would have to point to towards people with cancer and glaucoma. Marijuana is consumed by both to help with their diseases. If a person with cancer can consume marijuana without concern for making their cancer worse, can it really be more harmful than beer. I bet no doctor recommends beer to cancer patients.

Please become more educated before you spout your ill informed opinions.


RE: Hmmm
By NellyFromMA on 3/16/2012 3:35:00 PM , Rating: 2
Marijuana is perfectly find in moderation and if you choose not to believe that, you're just denying what most of America already knows while the rest is learning. Sorry.


RE: Hmmm
By Michelobe on 3/16/12, Rating: 0
RE: Hmmm
By formulav8 on 3/17/2012 9:04:07 PM , Rating: 1
For such a nutty comment as yours there should be the ability to give a -negative-negative-1000 rating on here. sheeesh...


RE: Hmmm
By Iaiken on 3/15/2012 5:32:16 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
The fourth amendment is good but G. Washington and all were living in a time where the world was a safe place and there were no drugs or bombs.


AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Wow...just... so stupid...

Neither drugs nor terrorism are even remotely new... a large portion of the former British Empire was founded on both.


RE: Hmmm
By JediJeb on 3/15/2012 5:44:40 PM , Rating: 4
Yea, he needs to watch the "Real Pirates of the Caribbean" and get an idea of how things were back then. Not to mention reading up on the religious oppression of the Protestants by England which drove most of them here to actually found the U.S. Or how about during the French Revolution when they were cutting peoples heads off simply because they owned a business or were in the former government or were anything other than a peasant worker.

Funny how Opium predates George Washington's time yet there were no drug problems in the world and also there have been bombs ever since gun powder was invented.


RE: Hmmm
By Etsp on 3/16/2012 11:26:25 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Funny how Opium predates George Washington's time yet there were no drug problems in the world and also there have been bombs ever since gun powder was invented.
Well, I find that funny because it isn't even true. There have been drug problems for as long as there have been recreational drugs. What problems are you referring to that this idyllic past of yours didn't have?


RE: Hmmm
By JediJeb on 3/16/2012 3:55:02 PM , Rating: 2
It was meant as somewhat rhetorical but didn't come out quite right. I was making fun of how he thought there were not problems what so ever from drugs back then yet they easily predate George Washington.


RE: Hmmm
By kyp275 on 3/16/2012 4:28:36 AM , Rating: 4
well... it IS macdevdude, what else did you expect from him? :P


RE: Hmmm
By theapparition on 3/16/2012 12:16:41 PM , Rating: 2
On a positive note, he did post on something non-mac related. Trolls like him and Tony don't post anywhere except mac topics.

On second though, that's a terrible precedent. The trolls are coming out from beneath their bridges. Everyone look out.


RE: Hmmm
By TSS on 3/16/2012 7:35:11 PM , Rating: 2
Instead of turning in his grave, i think Washington did a full 360 noscope.....


RE: Hmmm
By luseferous on 3/15/2012 7:56:57 PM , Rating: 3
I'm not a U.S citizen (i don't live there either) so have no great axe to grind either way but surely your constitution is there to defend all U.S citizens not just the ones you happen to approve of.

What next Drug dealers, 'terrorists', liberals, the unemployed, left hander's, short people ?


RE: Hmmm
By LSUJester on 3/16/2012 1:54:29 AM , Rating: 3
Left-handed people definitely have to go. We can't be having them using the wrong hand to write and throw baseballs. It's detrimental to our nation.


RE: Hmmm
By 91TTZ on 3/16/2012 11:05:50 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
Get a clue, the guy is a parolee. terrorists and drug dealers are not protected by the consitution and should not be. even if they are us. citizens. If they are, we need to change the constitution then.


What if you're not a terrorist or drug dealer but the police want to prove that you are? Should they be allowed to rile through all of your stuff in an attempt to build a case?

quote:

The fourth amendment is good but G. Washington and all were living in a time where the world was a safe place and there were no drugs or bombs.


The world was less safe then. G. Washington had to worry about a world superpower coming over here and taking over the colonies since we declared independence. Gunpowder was invented hundreds of years before G. Washington was around so there were definitely bombs.

As for drugs, you had opium, coca, and marijuana.


RE: Hmmm
By Crazyeyeskillah on 3/16/2012 4:44:43 PM , Rating: 1
you might be the worst person i have ever come across on this website. It's quite clear you have no friend irl with your comments and stance of which neither make sense.


RE: Hmmm
By rs2 on 3/15/2012 7:26:40 PM , Rating: 4
It's dramatic because the article headline is:

quote:
FBI Orders Google to Give it Access to Users' Locked Android Phones


Which makes it sound like the FBI is ordering Google to place some sort of backdoor on *all* android phones. That would be alarming if true.

However if you follow the article, you will see that they are actually dealing with just one specific phone, belonging to a paroled drug dealer, who is suspected of using the phone to continue dealing drugs. That is much less alarming and sensational. Individuals on parole have not recovered their full rights as a citizen, and the FBI has only ordered Google to unlock *one* phone to assist in a specific case.


RE: Hmmm
By Dorkyman on 3/15/2012 9:29:18 PM , Rating: 4
Maybe the headline should have left off the "s" on "phones."


RE: Hmmm
By rs2 on 3/15/2012 10:35:42 PM , Rating: 3
Yes, and also "Users'" should have been "User's", or perhaps even "Suspected Drug-Dealer's".

And while we're at it, instead of "FBI Orders Google ..." something like "Judge Grants FBI Request, Orders Google ..." would be closer to what really happened.


RE: Hmmm
By Black1969ta on 3/16/2012 1:06:41 AM , Rating: 1
After that statement, I have wonder if you can see past the end of your nose.
Sure it starts with this one Dealer, who by the way, as far as this case goes has a clean slate, he served his time. Past performance has no bearing on current his case.

Once this order is allowed to proceed, the particulars of this case will just be the tip of the iceberg. not to go down the road of logical fallacy, but the constitution sets individual rights specifically for a reason, they knew that any vagueness would compromise the rights of every person in the U.S.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Ben Franklin


RE: Hmmm
By dragonbif on 3/19/2012 12:50:00 PM , Rating: 2
What "clean slate" he is on parole! He does not have a clean slate until that is done with. Being on parole is just getting out a little early but there are terms to your parole you have to follow.
Thats why they were able to search his house without a warrant. Thats why they can search his phone without a warrant. I am willing to bet that the terms of his parole (that he has to agree to before early release) requires him to forfeit things like that at the request of the parole officers. It did not help his case when he lied to his parole officer about having a smart phone.
I wonder if you can read past the end of your nose? This article does not have a lot of info on the case but it did say the guy is on parole.


RE: Hmmm
By Black1969ta on 5/8/2012 12:35:37 AM , Rating: 2
While the article focuses on the example of this parolee, it references other cases where parole is not an issue. Further if this case is clear-cut, based upon his parole, then than issue would not be one that even the federal courts cannot agree on. the question is not whether the parole officer can confiscate his phone. The issue is whether a Judge can order Google to violate civil rights by forcing Google to crack the security, in an open ended search. Opened ended searches are not constitutional, that much is clear cut.
Clearer than the end of your nose.


RE: Hmmm
By TSS on 3/16/2012 7:30:07 PM , Rating: 2
No it's dramatic only if it's not true.

If it is true "tragic" would be the right definition.


"I mean, if you wanna break down someone's door, why don't you start with AT&T, for God sakes? They make your amazing phone unusable as a phone!" -- Jon Stewart on Apple and the iPhone














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