Tag Archives: Spying

Baltimore Police used secret technology to track cellphones in thousands of case

Baltimore Police used secret technology to track cellphones in thousands of cases

Baltimore police often surveil cellphones amid US secrecy

The Baltimore Police Department has an agreement with the U.S. government to withhold certain information about secretive cellphone surveillance technology from the public and the courts.

By

The Baltimore Police Department has used an invasive and controversial cellphone tracking device thousands of times in recent years while following instructions from the FBI to withhold information about it from prosecutors and judges, a detective revealed in court testimony Wednesday.

The testimony shows for the first time how frequently city police are using a cell site simulator, more commonly known as a “stingray,” a technology that authorities have gone to great lengths to avoid disclosing.

The device mimics a cellphone tower to force phones within its range to connect. Police use it to track down stolen phones or find people.

Related:  See How This Spying Technoloyg, Stingray, works.

FBI Stingray device technology listening cell phones
FBI Stingray device

Until recently, the technology was largely unknown to the public. Privacy advocates nationwide have raised questions whether there has been proper oversight of its use.

Baltimore has emerged in recent months as a battleground for the debate. In one case last fall, a city detective said a nondisclosure agreement with federal authorities prevented him from answering questions about the device. The judge threatened to hold him in contempt if he didn’t provide information, and prosecutors withdrew the evidence.

The nondisclosure agreement, presented for the first time in court Wednesday, explicitly instructs prosecutors to drop cases if pressed on the technology, and tells them to contact the FBI if legislators or judges are asking questions.

Detective Emmanuel Cabreja, a member of the Police Department’s Advanced Technical Team, testified that police own a Hailstorm cell site simulator — the latest version of the stingray — and have used the technology 4,300 times since 2007.

Cabreja said he had used it 600 to 800 times in less than two years as a member of the unit.

Nate Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said 4,300 uses is “huge number.” He noted that most agencies have not released data.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says its officers have used the device about 1,800 times. Police in Tallahassee say they have used it more than 250 times; police in Tacoma, Wash., 170 times.

Former U.S. Judge Brian L. Owsley, a law professor at Indiana Tech, said he was “blown away” by the Baltimore figure and the terms of the nondisclosure agreement. “That’s a significant amount of control,” he said.

Agencies have invoked the nondisclosure agreement to keep information secret. At a hearing last year, a Maryland State Police commander told state lawmakers that “Homeland Security” prevented him from discussing the technology.

Wessler said the secrecy is upending the system of checks and balances built into the criminal justice system.

“In Baltimore, they’ve been using this since 2007, and it’s only been in the last several months that defense attorneys have learned enough to start asking questions,” he said. “Our entire judicial system and constitution is set up to avoid a ‘just trust us’ system where the use of invasive surveillance gear is secret.”

Cabreja testified Wednesday during a pretrial hearing in the case of Nicholas West, 21, and Myquan Anderson, 17. West and Anderson were charged in October 2013 with armed carjacking, armed robbery, theft and other violations stemming from an attack on a man in Federal Hill.

Cabreja took what he said was a copy of the nondisclosure agreement to court. It was dated July 2011 and bore the signatures of then-Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III and then-State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein.

Defense attorney Joshua Insley asked Cabreja about the agreement.

“Does this document instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and Circuit Court, even upon court order to produce?” he asked.

“Yes,” Cabreja said.

Cabreja did not comply with a defense subpoena to produce the device in court. He said he was barred from doing so by the nondisclosure agreement.

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the technology or the document.

The signatories to the document agree that disclosing the existence of the stingray would “reveal sensitive technological capabilities possessed by the law enforcement community and may allow individuals who are the subject of investigation … to avoid detection.”

They agree that “disclosure of this information could result in the FBI’s inability to protect the public from terrorism and other criminal activity” by rendering the technology useless for investigations.

The signatories agree that if they receive a public records request or an inquiry from judges or legislators, they will notify the FBI immediately to allow “sufficient time for the FBI to intervene.”

Cabreja testified Wednesday that his unit received information about a stolen cellphone. He said detectives obtained a court order to get the phone’s general location using cellphone towers from a cellphone company.

With that information, detectives ventured out to the Waverly neighborhood with the Hailstorm. The device is portable and can be used from a moving vehicle. Cabreja likened it to a metal detector for cellphone signals.

The device forces cellphones to connect to it. In this case, it was a Verizon phone, so identifying information from every Verizon customer in the area was swept up.

Cabreja said the data was collected but “not seen.” Detectives were interested only in the target phone.
Cabreja said the device allows police to make a stronger signal emanate from the phone to help them find it.

“It, on screen, shows me directional arrows and signal strength, showing me the phone’s direction,” he testified.

The detectives traced the phone to a group home and knocked on the door. They told the woman who answered that they were conducting a general criminal investigation and asked to come inside, Cabreja said, and the woman agreed.

Seven detectives entered the home, he said. They used the Hailstorm to make the phone ring before anyone knew why they were really there.

Amid growing questions about the stingray, details of the technology have been trickling out of some jurisdictions, and it is now relatively easy to find descriptions online of what it does.

Insley, the defense attorney, called it the “worst-kept secret,” and questioned why local police continue to be gagged.

Cabreja took notes with him to court that he said came from a discussion last week in which the FBI coached him on what to say in court.

The talking points included: “Data is not retained.”
Cabreja did not refuse to answer any of Insley’s questions, but he said his answers were constrained by the nondisclosure agreement.

Defense attorneys and privacy advocates express concern about the scope of the stingray’s powers, and whether the courts are equipped to provide proper oversight of the police who use it. They argue that the use of the device amounts to a search and requires a warrant.

Baltimore police obtain court orders under the state’s “pen register” statute. Insley says that law authorizes police to capture only the numbers that are called or received by a phone, not the more detailed metadata and location information the stingray collects.

He said those orders also require a lower standard of proof than a search warrant, and judges are not aware of what they are authorizing.

“They’re basically duping these judges into signing authorizations to use stingrays,” Insley said. “If they can increase the signal strength of your phone or make it ring, they can pretty much make it do anything.”

But prosecutors say the language in the orders authorizes real-time GPS location, and Cabreja testified that police only use the stingray to find “target” phones and not to spy on the innocent.

In Maryland U.S. District Court last fall, an argument about the stingray device was cut short when the suspects took plea deals. And on Wednesday, following Cabreja’s testimony, prosecutors and defense attorneys entered into plea negotiations instead of debating the merits of the stingray further.

In cases where the stingray becomes a sticking point, Wessler said, “defense attorneys are being able to get really good deals for their clients, because the FBI is so insistent on hiding all of these details.”

“There are likely going to be a lot of defense attorneys in Baltimore who may have an opportunity to raise these issues,” Wessler said. “They are on notice now that their clients may have some arguments to make in these cases.”

A year after firestorm, DHS wants access to license-plate tracking system

A year after firestorm, DHS wants access to license-plate tracking system

A police car in Alexandria, Va., that has been equipped with a license-plate scanner. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

By Ellen Nakashima

The Department of Homeland Security is seeking bids from companies able to provide law enforcement officials with access to a national license-plate tracking system — a year after canceling a similar solicitation over privacy issues.

The reversal comes after officials said they had determined they could address concerns raised by civil liberties advocates and lawmakers about the prospect of the department’s gaining widespread access, without warrants, to a system that holds billions of records that reveal drivers’ whereabouts.

In a privacy impact assessment issued Thursday, the DHS says that it is not seeking to build a national database or contribute data to an existing system.

Instead, it is seeking bids from companies that already gather the data to say how much they would charge to grant access to law enforcement officers at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a DHS agency. Officials said they also want to impose limits on ICE personnel’s access to and use of the data.

“These restrictions will provide essential privacy and civil liberty protections, while enhancing our agents’ and officers’ ability to locate and apprehend suspects who could pose a threat to national security and public safety,” DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron said in a statement. The solicitation was posted publicly Thursday.

Privacy advocates who reviewed a copy of the privacy impact assessment said it fell short.

“If this goes forward, DHS will have warrantless access to location information going back at least five years about virtually every adult driver in the U.S., and sometimes to their image as well,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Commercial license-plate tracking systems already are used by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as some local and state law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement groups say the fears of misuse are overblown. But news of the DHS solicitation triggered a public firestorm last year, leading Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to cancel it and order a review of the privacy concerns raised by advocates and lawmakers.

Over the following months, ICE and DHS privacy officials developed policies aimed at increasing “the public’s trust in our ability to use the data responsibly,” according to a senior DHS privacy officer. The DHS is the first federal agency, officials said, to issue a privacy assessment on such a solicitation.

Commercial license-plate-tracking systems can include a variety of data. Images of plate numbers are generally captured by high-speed cameras that are mounted on vehicles or in fixed locations. Some systems also capture images of the drivers and passengers.

The largest commercial database is owned by Vigilant Solutions, which as of last fall had more than 2.5 billion records. Its database grows by 2.7 million records a day.

DHS officials say Vigilant’s database, to which some field offices have had access on a subscription basis, has proved valuable in solving years-old cases. Privacy advocates, however, are concerned about the potential for abuse and note that commercial data banks generally do not have limits on how long they retain data.

ICE said it will restrict agents’ access to the data to the number of years corresponding to the relevant statute of limitations for any crime being investigated. For civil immigration cases, where there is no statute of limitations, the agency is adopting a five-year limit, officials said.

ICE officers and agents also will be required to enter the type of crime associated with each query to gain access to the database, and there will be random audits to ensure that no one is using the database to look up information on personal associates. Officers and agents may search only for particular plate numbers.

ICE queries will not be shared with other agencies, unless they are working on a joint investigation, a senior DHS official said. ICE personnel also will be able to put plate numbers of interest on an “alert list,” enabling those personnel to be notified almost instantly when a plate is spotted.

Ginger McCall, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Open Government Project, said the new safeguards are not “meaningful.” She called the data retention requirements “exceedingly vague” and said tracking a person through alert lists without a warrant is troubling.

The senior DHS privacy officer said case law does not require the government to seek a warrant for such data.

“This is a step in the right direction, but it’s not nearly strong enough, given the particular acute privacy and civil liberties issues implicated by locational data,” McCall said.

Facebook accused of tracking all users even if they delete accounts or ask never to be followed

Facebook accused of tracking all users even if they delete accounts or ask never to be followed

Network tracks its users so that it can give them more tailored advertising

ANDREW GRIFFIN

A new report claims that Facebook secretly installs tracking cookies on users’ computers, allowing them to follow users around the internet even after they’ve left the website, deleted their account and requested to be no longer followed.

Academic researchers said that the report showed that the company was breaking European law with its tracking policies. The law requires that users are told if their computers are receiving cookies except for specific circumstances.

Facebook’s tracking — which it does so that it can tailor advertising — involves putting cookies or small pieces of software on users’ computers, so that they can then be followed around the internet. Such technology is used by almost every website, but European law requires that users are told if they are being given cookies or being tracked. Companies don’t have to tell users if the cookies are required to connect to a service or if they are needed to give the user information that they have specifically requested.

But Facebook’s tracking policy allows it to track users if they have simply been to a page on the company’s domain, even if they weren’t logged in. That includes pages for brands or events, which users can see whether or not they have an account.

Facebook disputes the accusations of the report, it told The Independent.

“This report contains factual inaccuracies,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “The authors have never contacted us, nor sought to clarify any assumptions upon which their report is based. Neither did they invite our comment on the report before making it public.

“We have explained in detail the inaccuracies in the earlier draft report (after it was published) directly to the Belgian DPA, who we understand commissioned it, and have offered to meet with them to explain why it is incorrect, but they have declined to meet or engage with us. However, we remain willing to engage with them and hope they will be prepared to update their work in due course”.

The report does not have any legal standing, and was written by independent academics.

With respect to its European data, Facebook is regulated by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who checks that Facebook is acting within the EU’s Data Protection Directive. As part of that regulation, Facebook is regularly audited.

Facebook has a page on its site that gives users’ information about cookies and how they are used on the network. The company makes clear that cookies are used for the purposes of advertising and other functions, and that users can opt out of such tracking if they wish to.

US Declassifies Document Revealing Israel’s Nuclear Program

US Declassifies Document Revealing Israel’s Nuclear Program

Obama revenge for Netanyahu’s Congress talk? 1987 report on Israel’s top secret nuclear program released in unprecedented move.

By Ari Yashar, Matt Wanderman

Dimona nuclear reactor circa 1960s
Dimona nuclear reactor circa 1960s

In a development that has largely been missed by mainstream media, the Pentagon early last month quietly declassified a Department of Defense top-secret document detailing Israel’s nuclear program, a highly covert topic that Israel has never formally announced to avoid a regional nuclear arms race, and which the US until now has respected by remaining silent.

But by publishing the declassified document from 1987, the US reportedly breached the silent agreement to keep quiet on Israel’s nuclear powers for the first time ever, detailing the nuclear program in great depth.

The timing of the revelation is highly suspect, given that it came as tensions spiraled out of control between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama ahead of Netanyahu’s March 3 address in Congress, in which he warned against the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program and how the deal being formed on that program leaves the Islamic regime with nuclear breakout capabilities.

Another highly suspicious aspect of the document is that while the Pentagon saw fit to declassify sections on Israel’s sensitive nuclear program, it kept sections on Italy, France, West Germany and other NATO countries classified, with those sections blocked out in the document.

The 386-page report entitled “Critical Technological Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations” gives a detailed description of how Israel advanced its military technology and developed its nuclear infrastructure and research in the 1970s and 1980s.

Israel is “developing the kind of codes which will enable them to make hydrogen bombs. That is, codes which detail fission and fusion processes on a microscopic and macroscopic level,” reveals the report, stating that in the 1980s Israelis were reaching the ability to create bombs considered a thousand times more powerful than atom bombs.

The revelation marks a first in which the US published in a document a description of how Israel attained hydrogen bombs.

The report also notes research laboratories in Israel “are equivalent to our Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge National Laboratories,” the key labs in developing America’s nuclear arsenal.

Israel’s nuclear infrastructure is “an almost exact parallel of the capability currently existing at our National Laboratories,” it adds.

“As far as nuclear technology is concerned the Israelis are roughly where the U.S. was in the fission weapon field in about 1955 to 1960,” the report reveals, noting a time frame just after America tested its first hydrogen bomb.

Institute for Defense Analysis, a federally funded agency operating under the Pentagon, penned the report back in 1987.

Aside from nuclear capabilities, the report revealed Israel at the time had “a totally integrated effort in systems development throughout the nation,” with electronic combat all in one “integrated system, not separated systems for the Army, Navy and Air Force.” It even acknowledged that in some cases, Israeli military technology “is more advanced than in the U.S.”

Declassifying the report comes at a sensitive timing as noted above, and given that the process to have it published was started three years ago, that timing is seen as having been the choice of the American government.

US journalist Grant Smith petitioned to have the report published based on the Freedom of Information Act. Initially the Pentagon took its time answering, leading Smith to sue, and a District Court judge to order the Pentagon to respond to the request.

Smith, who heads the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, reportedly said he thinks this is the first time the US government has officially confirmed that Israel is a nuclear power, a status that Israel has long been widely known to have despite being undeclared.

Hillary and Snowden Broke Same Laws

Hillary and Snowden Broke Same Laws

by 

Hillary Clinton Benghazi attack

When it comes to classified information, some leaks are more equal than others. If you are a whistleblower like Edward Snowden, who tells the press about illegal, immoral or embarrassing government actions, you will face jail time. But it’s often another story for US government officials leaking information for their own political benefit.

Two stories this week perfectly illustrate this hypocrisy and how, despite their unprecedented crackdown on sources and whistleblowers, the Obama administration – like every administration before it – loves to use leaks, if and when it suits them.

Consider a government leak that ran in the New York Times on Monday. The article was about 300 of Hillary Clinton’s now notorious State Department emails, which had been hidden away on her private server for years and were turned over to Congress as part of the never-ending Benghazi investigation.

“Four senior government officials” described the content of her emails to New York Times journalists in minute detail “on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their access to secret information”.

Surely the Obama administration will promptly root out and prosecute those leakers, right? After all, the emails haven’t gone through a security review and the chances of them discussing classified information are extremely high. (Even if they don’t, the Espionage Act doesn’t require the information to be classified anyways, only that information leaked be “related to national defense”.) But those emails supposedly clear Clinton of any wrongdoing in the Benghazi affair, which likely makes the leak in the administration’s interest.

But that disclosure was nothing compared to what appeared in the Wall Street Journal a day later, in the wake of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s underhanded attempts to derail a nuclear deal with Iran. The Journal reported on Tuesday that not only did Israel spy on Americans negotiating with Iran, but they gave that information to Republicans in Congress, in an attempt to scuttle the deal.

How does the US know this? Well, according to the Journal and its government sources, the US itself intercepted communications between Israeli officials that discussed information that could have only come from the US-Iran talks. The disclosure of this fact sounds exactly like the vaunted “sources and methods” – i.e. how the US conducts surveillance and gets intelligence – that the government continually claims is the most sensitive information they have.

It’s why they claim Edward Snowden belongs in jail for decades. So while it’s apparently unacceptable to leak details about surveillance that affects ordinary citizens’ privacy, its OK for officials to do so for their own political benefit – and no one raises an eyebrow.

We can be quite certain that no one will be prosecuted for the leaks given that they benefitted the administration’s powerful former Secretary of State, and bolsters its position in its public dust-up with Israel.

When it comes to leaks, the powerful play by different rules than everyone else – despite the fact that they’ve violated the same law they’ve accused so many other leakers of breaking. That’s why David Petraeus was given a sweetheart plea deal with no jail time after leaking highly classified information to his biographer and lover. (He’s apparently already back advising the White House, despite leaking and then lying to the FBI about the identities of countless covert officers).

It’s also the same reason why investigations into a leak suspected to have involved General Cartwright, once known as “Obama’s favorite general”, have stalled. As the Washington Post reported: the defense “might try to put the White House’s relationship with reporters and the use of authorized leaks on display, creating a potentially embarrassing distraction for the administration”.

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling faces sentencing next month after being found guilty of leaking information to New York Times reporter James Risen. Sterling’s problem is that he leaked information showing a spectacular and embarrassing failure on the CIA’s part – which did not help a powerful politician score points. He is also not a general.

As a result, he faces decades in jail.

Is NYC’s new gunshot detection system recording private conversations?

Is NYC’s new gunshot detection system recording private conversations?

Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri shot dead

As Tyrone Lyles lay dying from a gunshot wound on an East Oakland street in 2007, he let out a few last words that would ultimately help authorities convict his killer.

“Why you done me like that, Ar?” he pleaded. “Ar, why you do me like that, dude?”

The exchange, which was used in court, was recorded by ShotSpotter, a gunshot detection system that has been installed in over 90 cities across the country. By placing a series of microphones around high-crime neighborhoods, the system is able to pinpoint the location of where a gunshot took place with surprising accuracy, leading to faster response times from police.

This week, 300 of the microphones were activated in Brooklyn and the Bronx as part of a citywide pilot program.

“Today, we are rolling out cutting edge technology to make the city safer, to make our neighborhoods safer, to keep our officers safer,” NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said in an appearance with police commissioner William J. Bratton to announce the initiative. “This gunshot detection system is going to do a world of good in terms of going after the bad guys.”

But cases in which microphones have picked up incriminating evidence have raised the eyebrows of privacy advocates, who note that there could be Fourth Amendment implications.

“We are always concerned about secondary uses of technology that is sold to us for some unobjectionable purpose and is then used for other purposes,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told Take Part. “If [ShotSpotter] is recording voices out in public, it needs to be shut down.”

A 2013 investigation of ShotSpotter devices in Newark, NJ, found that 75 percent of the gunshot alerts had been for false alarms.– WNYC

On its website, ShotSpotter claims that its microphones “do not have the ability to overhear normal speech or conversations on public streets,” and says that it does not offer an audio livestreaming service for police departments. Only two seconds before a gunshot and four seconds after a gunshot are recorded, the company claims.

“In all cases [where voices have been recorded], the words were yelled loudly, in a public place, at the scene of a gunfire-related crime, and within a few seconds of that event,” the company writes. “The simple fact is that there has never been a case of a private conversation overheard or monitored by any ShotSpotter sensor anywhere at any time. Period.”

However, the company’s microphones have a history of not being as precise as the company claims. A 2013 WNYC investigation of ShotSpotter devices in Newark, NJ, found that 75 percent of the gunshot alerts had been for false alarms, meaning that audio clips were taken when there is likely no crime in progress. In those instances, police were still deployed to the area.

In the most recent case of a ShotSpotter voice recording being used in a criminal trial, the microphones picked up parts of a street argument just before a murder in New Bedford, Connecticut. “No, Jason! No, Jason!” someone could be heard in the recording before shots were fired. Two men—Jason Denison and Jonathan Flores were arrested and convicted of the murder. Though other evidence was presented at trial, the audio recording was used to corroborate the witness testimony.

It’s hard to argue with that outcome, but the case does bring some troubling questions to mind. If there was never gunfire, would law enforcement officials still have had access to that audio recording of the argument? How would they have used or acted upon it? And if such a large amount of ShotSpotter calls are for false alarms, how much ambient noise from the neighborhood are police at headquarters listening in to?

At the time, ShotSpotter spokeswoman Lydia Barrett emphasized how rare it was that the devices had picked up an argument.

“This is a very unusual circumstance if (the sensors) actually picked up any voices,” Barrett said. “In particular, I can’t ever remember in the history of our technology the sensors ever hearing a fight or some kind of argument going on.”

“There is no expectation of privacy on the street when you’re outside yelling on a public street,” Former Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter (who is now the city’s Mayor) said about the New Bedford case, noting that the confrontation woke up neighbors even before shots rang out.

In New York City, Letitia James, the city’s public advocate, has introduced a bill to the city council to require quarterly reports on the data gathered by the new systems in Brooklyn and the Bronx. There has not been any legislation looking at the privacy implications of the technology.

Venezuela Arrested US Pilot Saying He Was Spying

Venezuela Arrested US Pilot Saying He Was Spying

This Venezuelan government photo shows President Nicolas Maduro waving a flag to celebrate the anniversary of the
This Venezuelan government photo shows President Nicolas Maduro waving a flag to celebrate the anniversary of the “Caracazo” revolutionary uprising; in a speech at the rally, he announced the arrest of a U.S. pilot for alleged spying, Feb. 28, 2015.

VOA News

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told a rally Saturday that his government had arrested a U.S. pilot for alleged spying.

Maduro said the American was captured in the state of Tachira along with what he described as “all kinds of documentation.” He said the pilot was of Latin origin, but he gave no other details, including whether the man was a commercial, military or private pilot.

The U.S. Embassy had no immediate comment.

Also Saturday, Venezuelan authorities freed four U.S. missionaries who were questioned about alleged spying. They left the country.

Maduro also announced that U.S. tourists would now need visas to travel to Venezuela.

Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, have consistently accused the United States of plotting to topple their socialist governments, but they have never given any evidence.

The president ordered the arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an opposition leader, last month, accusing him of planning a coup with U.S. backing.

The White House called the charges “ludicrous” and said the president has to stop blaming others for the country’s grave situation.

Maduro is facing numerous challenges in Venezuela, including a shrinking economy, an unhappy electorate, and shortages of basic foods and household products.

Senator questions Samsung about its eavesdropping Smart TV policy

Senator questions Samsung about its eavesdropping Smart TV policy

The State Column, Tom Sherman

Samsung Smart TV spying

Senator Al Franken asked tough questions of Samsung and LG after reports exposed the companies Smart TVs record and transmit user voice data to third parties.

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) is investigating the policies and practices surrounding Smart TVs and their ability to record user conversations and transmit them to a third party.

“If such communications are unnecessarily captured along with voice commands, is it possible to extract that data before transmission to a third party?” asked Franken in a letter to Samsung North America CEO, Gregory Lee.

Franken detailed a list of eight questions aimed at determining the scope of the voice recognition technology. Among the topics covered were the ability to turn off the voice recognition software within the TV, who the third parties are that receive the data, whether any third party can “use, sell, share, or retain” information, and how Samsung observes user’s viewing habits and make use of that data. (Full letter to Samsung here)

The two-term senator inked a letter to the LG U.S. President, William Cho, as well, only days after the news broke that buried within Samsung’s privacy policy there was an ominous sentence warning: “please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

Samsung expressed its explicit support for Franken and his “commitment to consumer privacy” and declared the company is grateful for “the opportunity to respond to his inquiries regarding the voice recognition feature on our Smart TVs,” in an e-mail with PC World.

Samsung has been on the defense over the past week, as consumers and privacy advocates have balked at the idea of a private corporation eavesdropping on them in their home. In a blog post, Samsung has countered by stressing the fact that “a specific search request to the Smart TV by clicking the activation button either on the remote control or on your screen and speaking into the microphone on the remote control.”

“You may disable Voice Recognition data collection at any time by visiting the ‘settings’ menu,” said Samsung in the post. “However, this may prevent you from using some of the Voice Recognition features.”

White House cuts off information sharing programs with Israel

White House cuts off information sharing programs with Israel

The State Column, Tom Sherman

White House cuts off information sharing programs with Israel

The U.S./Israeli relationship has taken another awkward turn after White House press secretary Josh Earnest admitted the White House needed to quarantine Israel from any information regarding the current nuclear talks with Iran.

The level of diplomacy between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations has hit a new low Wednesday after the White House admitted that they are purposefully withholding information from the Israelis after repeated leaks to the media. White House press secretary Josh Earnest called to the repeated leaks as “a continued practice of cherry-picking” and criticized the Israelis for publicly trying to undermine the negotiations.

“There’s no question that some of the things that the Israelis have said in characterizing our negotiating position have not been accurate,” said Earnest. “There’s no question about that.”

The repeated incidents have hampered negotiations between the U.S., Iran and the five world powers, and frustrated both White House and State Department officials trying to broker a deal with very thin margins. According to the Charlotte Observer, senior officials in the White House blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “changing the dynamic” of a once solid relationship.

“[The Israelis] tell part of the story, like how many centrifuges we might consider letting the Iranians hold,” said one American official, who spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity as not to interfere with current negotiations between the State Department and Tehran. “What they don’t tell you is that we only let them have that many centrifuges if they ship most of their fuel out of the country.”

However, Earnest did try to keep a diplomatic tone towards the normally staunch ally. Over the past few weeks, a strained U.S./Israeli relationship has been showcased very publicly, as the respective heads of state have feuded via standoffish media stories.

“I think it is fair to say that the United States is mindful of the need to not negotiate in public and ensure that information that’s discussed in the negotiating table is not taken out of context and publicized in a way that distorts the negotiating position of the United States and our allies,” said Earnest.

Besides vowing to “thwart” any nuclear deal that Israel did not approve of, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation to address a joint session of Congress from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH), unbeknownst to the Obama administration, which is a breach of standard protocol and courtesy visiting executives usually afford each other.