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Tag: Cell phones

Cell Phones Seized by Border Patrol Triples in One Year; Congress May Intervene

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The number of cell phones turned over to demanding Border Patrol agents has nearly tripled from 2015 to 2016.

That has led Congress to consider legislation the would require a warrant before people would be entitled to turn over their phones on the requests of agents, according to a new NPR report. 

Here’s a partial transcript of the interview:

As the Trump administration looks to carry out extreme vetting of those who want to enter the U.S., one screening practice has already been amped up. In 2016, the number of people asked to hand over their cell phones and passwords by Customs and Border Protection agents increased almost threefold over the year before. NPR’s Brian Naylor reports this is happening to both foreign visitors and American citizens.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It happened to Sidd Bikkannavar in January. He was returning from a trip to Chile and at the Houston airport was told to report to passport control by Customs and Border Protection, CBP.

SIDD BIKKANNAVAR: And the CBP officer started a series of questions and instructions. It was all pretty benign and uneventful. He ultimately told me to hand over my phone and give the password to unlock it.

NAYLOR: Bikkannavar is an American citizen. In fact, he’s a NASA engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

BIKKANNAVAR: You know, as politely as I could, I refused. I told him I wasn’t allowed to give up the password. I have to protect access. It’s a work-issued phone. So I pointed out the NASA barcodes and labels on the phone.

NAYLOR: But all that didn’t matter to the CBP agents who continued to insist and handed Bikkannavar a document warning there’d be consequences if Bikkannavar didn’t go along. And so he did. Now, you might be wondering – doesn’t the Constitution protect Americans from this sort of thing? Well, it turns out the law isn’t entirely clear. CBP maintains it has the authority to look through everyone’s phones at border crossings and airport customs checkpoints. Here’s Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly before a Senate panel last week.

FBI Can’t Access 13% of Password-Protected Cell Phones Because of Encryption

cellphone-tower-photo2By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Password-protected cellphones have become a big problem for the FBI.

Since Oct. 1, the bureau has been unable to unlock 13% of the password-protected phones that were part of an investigation, a top bureau official told a House panel Tuesday.

Investigators are having a tougher time than ever cracking into phones since data encryption has become stronger, the USA Today reports. 

“Clearly, that presents us with a challenge,” Amy Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI’s science and technology branch, told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Congress is debating whether to pass legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to bypass security features.

Washington Post: Why Apple’s Fight Against FBI Is Important to Your Security

By Bruce Schneier
Washington Post

Earlier this week, a federal magistrate ordered Apple to assist the FBI in hacking into the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Apple will fight this order in court.

The policy implications are complicated. The FBI wants to set a precedent that tech companies will assist law enforcement in breaking their users’ security, and the technology community is afraid that the precedent will limit what sorts of security features it can offer customers. The FBI sees this as a privacy vs. security debate, while the tech community sees it as a security vs. surveillance debate.

The technology considerations are more straightforward, and shine a light on the policy questions.

The iPhone 5c in question is encrypted. This means that someone without the key cannot get at the data. This is a good security feature. Your phone is a very intimate device. It is likely that you use it for private text conversations, and that it’s connected to your bank accounts. Location data reveals where you’ve been, and correlating multiple phones reveal who you associate with. Encryption protects your phone if it’s stolen by criminals. Encryption protects the phones of dissidents around the world if they’re taken by local police.  It protects all the data on your phone, and the apps that increasingly control the world around you.

This encryption depends on the user choosing a secure password, of course. If you had an older iPhone, you probably just used the default four-digit password. That’s only 10,000 possible passwords, making it pretty easy to guess. If the user enabled the more-secure alphanumeric password, that means a harder-to-guess password.

Apple added two more security features on the iPhone. First, a phone could be configured to erase the data after too many incorrect password guesses. And it enforced a delay between password guesses. This delay isn’t really noticeable by the user if you type the wrong password and then have to retype the correct password, but it’s a large barrier for anyone trying to guess password after password in a brute-force attempt to break into the phone.

But that iPhone, an older model, has a security flaw. While the data is encrypted, the software controlling the phone is not. This means that someone can create a hacked version of the software and install it on the phone without the consent of the phone’s owner and without knowing the encryption key. This is what the FBI — and now the court — is demanding Apple do: It wants Apple to rewrite the phone’s software to make it possible to guess possible passwords quickly and automatically.

The FBI’s demands are specific to one phone, which might make its request seem reasonable if you don’t consider the technological implications: Authorities have the phone in their lawful possession, and they only need help seeing what’s on it in case it can tell them something about how the San Bernardino shooters operated. But the hacked software the court and the FBI wants Apple to provide would be general. It would work on any phone of the same model. It has to.

To read more click here. 

Justice Department to Allow More Oversight over Long-Secret Tracking of Cell Phones

cellphone-tower-photo2By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

In an attempt to get more oversight, the Justice Department said Thursday it will seek more judicial and internal supervision as it uses technology to track cellphones, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

In the past, technology was kept a secret, drawing criticism from privacy advocates, judges and lawmakers.

At issue are cell site simulators, which enables investigators to secretly scan phones.

Under the changes, supervisors would be required to more closely examine the use of the devices. Data collected on innocent Americans also would need to be deleted at least once a day.

FBI Flying Low-Hanging Surveillance Planes Using Fictitious Names

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

The FBI has been operating a fleet of small planes equipped with video and occasionally cell phone surveillance technology, concealing the information from the public by registering the aircraft under fictitious company names, the Associated Press has found. 

What’s more, the surveillance is often used without a judge’s approval.

The AP found that the bureau flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states in a recent 30-day period.

The AP traced the aircraft, which the FBI acknowledged for the first time it was using, to at least 13 fake companies.

The technology allows the FBI to identify thousands of people on the ground through their cell phones.

The FBI says it’s doing nothing wrong.

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” FBI spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement. “Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.” Allen added that the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”

 

Congressmen: FBI Plan Would Make American Phones Vulnerable to Hackers

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com

Two Congressmen with computer science degrees said the FBI is making Americans vulnerable to hackers, and any suggestion otherwise is ignorant, CNN reports.

U.S. Reps. Will Hurd of Texas and Ted Lieu of California are criticizing FBI Director James Comey’s insistence that cell phone companies allow a “backdoor” for the bureau to see what’s on the phones of Americans during investigations.

The elected officials said such a move would allow hackers the same access as the FBI and that terrorists are using software tools to conceal their communication anyway.

“We strongly, but respectfully, disagree with the FBI’s proposal to force privacy sector companies to weaken the security of their products and services,” Hurd and Lieu wrote. “As computer science majors… we strongly urge the FBI to find alternative ways of addressing the challenges posed by new technologies.”

The FBI declined to comment.

MassLive: Justice Department Is Wrong to Work with CIA on Spying on Americans

By MassLive
Editorial

If the CIA and the Justice Department were to get married, what kind of kids might the odd couple have?

One answer: Spies who’d believe that they possess the legal smarts to talk their way out of nearly anything.

When The Wall Street Journal reported late last year that the Justice Department was operating airplanes that flew across the land carrying devices mimicking cell towers scooping up details about the mobile phones of innocent citizens below – normal people who were accused of nothing, suspected of nothing, all in the name of tracking a few criminal suspects – we said in this space that the program was fundamentally anti-democratic. It was, plainly stated, un-American.

To have the authorities flying over the land and sweeping up information about the citizenry – even if it was in the name of locating a few bad actors – treated ordinary people like outlaws. We asked at the time – and we’ll ask again now – what becomes of the data that the Justice Department gathers? Who has access to it? How long is it retained?

Now comes a new report in the Journal detailing the CIA’s work with Justice. The U.S. Department of Justice is supposed to be working to enforce the law, not seeking to find novel ways to spy on the people. And our nation’s Central Intelligence Agency, established in 1947, was created to watch over the doings in foreign lands, not to aid Justice in spying on the American citizens.

To read more click here.

Democratic Senator Creates Bill to Counter FBI Attempts to Make Cell Phones Less Secure

Sen. Ron Wyden, via the Senate

By Steve Neavling
ticklethewire.com 

As FBI Director James Comey wants to force phone makers to create products that are easier to monitor, a Democratic senator is trying to pass a law that would protect the consumer’s privacy, Gizmodo reports.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has proposed the Secure Data Act “to protect Americans’ privacy and data security.”

The bill is an attempt to revive trust in the use of technology and data.

“Strong encryption and sound computer security is the best way to keep Americans’ data safe from hackers and foreign threats,” he explained in statement. “It is the best way to protect our constitutional rights at a time when a person’s whole life can often be found on his or her smartphone.”

The bill aims to block any government attempts to make data security less strong.