Print 70 comment(s) - last by Black1969ta.. on May 8 at 12:35 AM

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.

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.

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

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Ya, but...
By wiz220 on 3/15/2012 4:20:46 PM , Rating: 5
The guy was on parole. Correct me if I'm wrong but, a person who is on parole was released early from prison for any number of reasons but has not fully recovered all of their rights as a citizen yet. They are still subject to many conditions that a regular (non criminal) citizen would not be. So, in this very specific case I don't think it's unreasonable to expect his privacy to be invaded to a certain degree. Parolees also must submit to drug tests and any other number of things that citizens could not be forced to do.

Could this situation set a precedent that could be misused in the future, of course it could, and it's good to stay on top of things like this. But, in this specific instance I don't think this guy has much to complain about. Especially after he lied about having a phone while on parole!

RE: Ya, but...
By macdevdude on 3/15/12, Rating: -1
RE: Ya, but...
By JediJeb on 3/15/2012 5:16:15 PM , Rating: 4
The world has been a "bad place" for a long long time, far before even the U.S. Constitution was written. Read up on the mid to latter days of the Roman Empire if you think that terrorism, corrupt government, crime, and evil people are something new. Take away your 24 hour news feeds and you will probably think that even today there is little to no crime in the world. The only real difference now is that you can know what is going on 24/7 on a global scale.

The constitution is not there to protect terrorists and drug dealers, it is there to protect law abiding citizens just like you and me. Those guys who wrote it long ago when the world was a less bad place (lol) wrote it that way because they had experienced what it was like to have the government knock your door down and haul you away even if you are innocent.

RE: Ya, but...
By Adonlude on 3/16/2012 3:55:52 PM , Rating: 1
The constitution is not there to protect terrorists and drug dealers, it is there to protect law abiding citizens just like you and me.

You are wrong. The constitution is there to protect all american citizens, even criminals. In fact, parts of the constitution were specifically writen to protect criminals. The 8th amendment's protection against cruel and unusual punishment is obviously a protection for criminals seeing as we dont punish law abiding citizens.

RE: Ya, but...
By theascended on 3/15/12, Rating: 0
RE: Ya, but...
By Pirks on 3/15/2012 7:00:28 PM , Rating: 4
You keep going around on comment threads here complaining people don't understand the constitution and that if you could you would rewrite it to fit your own utopian world view and that we need to just "deal" with your interpretation
Would you expect anything else from an Apple fanatic that camps out for a new iPad? Totally normal posts for a brain dead Apple zombie. All zombies like him post similar BS all the time.

Nothing to see here people, move along.

P.S. Tony Swash is a Windows zealot compared to macdevdude :D

RE: Ya, but...
By macdevdude on 3/15/12, Rating: -1
RE: Ya, but...
By JediJeb on 3/15/2012 5:32:16 PM , Rating: 2
The guy was on parole and yes, he is subject to many types of searches and controls that a normal citizen is not. The problem here is how the police want to do their work. If they think he is talking to people he shouldn't they why can't they simply go to a judge with their suspicions plus a little evidence or whatever is needed and get a warrant to pull his phone records, then they backtrack those calls and find out who he has been talking to? All it takes is a little investigative work, but seems they want to take the easy way out and try to get all the info from his phone. The problem here isn't that the law is protecting a criminal, but that the police are trying to shortcut around the law to save themselves time and work. There are perfectly good ways for them to get what they want without stepping on the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution.

RE: Ya, but...
By dragonbif on 3/15/2012 7:55:48 PM , Rating: 2
Somewhat wrong here, they could pull the phone records if there are any. They do have apps that let you make calls without using the smart phones number or phone service. Anyone can use those free internet call services on a smart phone. But still this guy is on parole so they dont need a warrant if that is stated in his terms.

Also if this guy is on parole and he is required to declare things like this and they find him with it that is all they need to search it. You make certain agreements when you go on parole so this guy new about it. If they wanted they could find him in violation of his parole and send him back to jail.

This is not new so I dont know what all the fuss is about? The practice of parole has been around for a long time. Its not like this was a warrantless search or something. We cant spend our time fighting the wrong battles here. The FBI probably didnt want the guy to know so he or his cohorts wouldn't run. Making a request to google is a little iffy but they went down the right road by going to a judge so they still have not done anything unlawful or unethical. That is for the judge to dicide.

I didnt see any links to the terms of this guys parole so this is just guess work anyway. It is an article with vary little info so none of us can really form an educated opinion.

RE: Ya, but...
By jfish222 on 3/15/2012 10:55:55 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly what I was thinking!

Parole implies a conditional release prior to the completion of all obligations to the state for a crime.

As for the others spouting off about legalizing pot, right to bare arms, etc . . . Wrong article!

Seriously, to many opinions, not enough facts. Blaming Mexico's destabilization on weed? How about cocaine and crystal meth (the latter being a major export since the crack down on the sale of primary ingredients in the US)? The fact is, whatever is outlawed will become an avenue for illegal trafficking. Does that mean I'm say legalize it all? Not even a little, and I'm very much on the fence re. the right answer. But I also encourage everyone to learn more than a 60min hist. channel episode's worth of sociology, anthropology, and medical jargon to make a decision. Oh, and re. no drug problems in the days of the constitution . . . though the opium war didn't hit until the 1840's the precipitants dated back to the 18th century (that's 1700's for those unaware - it's ok, that's how we learn.)

As for our parole friend having his rights violated . . . the 8th Amendment (1791) was a little vague. :P

Ugh but I'm sure I'm wasting my time . . . DTech comment page's aren't renowned for their discourse!
Troll away!
More questions and fewer almost facts please . . .

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki