Category Archives: Surveillance Politics

Profile of “genius” Parscale, who “won” for Trump & the Facebook political influence juggernaut

Parscale — and every political consultant in a similar situation — is doing this interview to build his business. The introduction of sophisticated digital tools to the process of electing candidates has resulted in a bumper crop of people claiming that they have mastered this inscrutable system and that you should hire them.

Fleshed out, Parscale is the man behind the Trump campaign’s digital media efforts in 2016. He was hired to create a website for $1,500 (as he explained in that “60 Minutes” interview) and then his role expanded until he was managing tens of millions of dollars intended to promote the presidential candidate online.

The point of the interview was, in part, to serve as a profile of Parscale but, more broadly, to explain the primary way in which those millions were spent. Per Parscale’s accounting, that was largely on Facebook advertising. Trump’s team advertised on other platforms, too, but “Facebook was the 500-pound gorilla, 80 percent of the budget kind of thing,” Parscale said.

If you do a search for Brad Parscale’s appearance on “60 Minutes,” the first thing that pops up above the results as of Monday morning is an ad for Brad Parscale. And that, in a nutshell, is Brad Parscale.

Right after the campaign, it was the firm Cambridge Analytica that was making this case, arguing that its black-box analysis of the psychology of American voters allowed Trump to target specific sorts of people with ads that dug deep into their brains to trigger a response. The company (owned in part by the family of Robert Mercer, which was in other ways essential to Trump’s success) wanted to convince future candidates that they could work their magic to get them elected, too.

To “60 Minutes,” Parscale dismissed that claim — in part because he was in the midst of claiming that he was the one with the magic touch. He didn’t think Cambridge Analytica’s system of creating “psychographic” profiles of people was sinister, he said — he just didn’t think it worked.

Which is a simply bizarre claim in the broader context. It isn’t that Parscale doesn’t think that building profiles of people to target ads to them doesn’t work. It’s that Parscale doesn’t seem to realize that this is basically what Facebook was doing for him, in real-time.

By its very nature, Facebook does a more complete and more robust version of what Cambridge Analytica claims to accomplish. In 2014, we explained how Facebook’s political tools work, how it combines data about what you’ve clicked with outside consumer data to get as complete a picture of who you are and what you like as anything that exists. But then it overlays the ability to advertise specific things to specific people — and to test and refine and improve on those ads.

This is what Parscale was describing to “60 Minutes” — not his genius, but Facebook’s. He shows the nifty tricks that you can do with Facebook, A/B testing (as the process is known) different versions of ads with different photos and ads that allow the most effective to quickly rise to the surface. He clearly used all of those secret buttons, clicks and technology that he sought, leveraging Facebook’s deep sense of its individual users and tools to target them. Stepping back, Parscale comes off like the guy who hires LeBron James to play on his team in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and then brags about his capable coaching. He’s an ad buyer, who lets the platform — say, on Google, when you search for his name — do the work.

The takeaway from the “60 Minutes” interview is simple. Facebook is a juggernaut that’s probably more influential in politics than it realizes itself. (See this New York magazine article to that end.)

Parscale says that his wife likes to say that “[he] was thrown into the Super Bowl, never played a game and won.” Right. It’s just that, in that example, he’s neither Tom Brady nor Bill Belichick. At best, he’s the guy who decided to hire them.

Full story ‘60 Minutes’ profiles the genius who won Trump’s campaign: Facebook https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/10/09/60-minutes-profiles-the-genius-who-won-trumps-campaign-facebook/?utm_term=.5c686f2463e8

Lyrics for a Surveillance Society – The Hacking Suite for Governmental Interception

Lyrics by Hacking Team. Music by Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and several United States agencies including the DEA, FBI and Department of Defense.

Criminals and terrorists rely on mobile phones, tablets, lap tops and computers equipped with universal end-to-end encryption to hide their activity. Their secret communications and encrypted files can be critical to investigating, preventing and prosecuting crime. Hacking Team provides law enforcement an effective, easy-to-use solution. Law enforcement and intelligence communities worldwide rely on Hacking Team in their mission to keep citizens safe. The job has never been more challenging or more important.

You have new challenges today

Sensitive data is transmitted over encrypted channels

Often the information you want is not transmitted at all

Your target may be outside your monitoring domain

Is passive monitoring enough?

You need more ….

You want to look through your target’s eyes

You have to hack your target

While your target is …. Browsing the web, Exchanging documents, Receiving SMS, Crossing the borders

You have to hit many different platforms – Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Symbian

You have to overcome encryption and capture relevant data – Skype & Voice Calls, Social Media, Target Location, Messaging, Relationship, Audio & Video

Being stealth and untraceable

Immune to protection systems

Hidden collection infrastructure

Deployed all over your country

Up to hundreds of thousands of targets

All managed from a single place

Exactly what we do

Remote Control System – Galileo – The Hacking Suite for Governmental Interception

Hacking Team – Rely On Us

ENDS

Boiling Privacy Frogs

I really wish that I understood more about psychology and the human condition. The behaviour that puzzles me over and over again and for which I have no explanation is our ability to observe something happening that is detrimental to us in every way and yet do nothing.

It is the “Boiling Frog Phenomenon” which was allegedly a 19th century science experiment where a frog was placed in a pan of boiling water, the frog quickly jumped out. However, when the frog was put in cold water and the water slowly boiled over time, the frog did not perceive the danger and just boiled to death. The hypothesis being that the change in temperature was so gradual that the frog did not realize it was boiling to death.

To demonstrate the same effect in terms of the privacy, surveillance, unwarranted government intrusion debate just trace the evolving public attitude to the J. Edgar Hoover’s Subversive Files, COINTELPRO, The Iraq WMD Lie, Snowden & PRISM, and WikiLeaks Vault 7.

I have come to the conclusion that in relation to our right to privacy that we are all frogs in tepid water, the temperature of which is starting to rise rapidly, and we have no intention of jumping out.

ENDS

The Laurel & Hardy of Cybersecurity

When Turnbull and Brandis shuffle off to some home for the bewildered in a few years it is all of us that will be left with the legacy of their carry-on.

Here are some of the victories that these two beauties have presided over, and they don’t even know how it works, not even a little bit:

In an effort to drag the continent out from under the “stupid boy” stereotype, the Lowy Institute for International Policy, has just attempted to polish a turd by proposing that despite everything “Australia might be on the right encryption-cracking track” after all.

“From a cyber security perspective, as Patrick Gray has pointed out, sufficient safeguards could be placed around these ‘updates’ to ensure that they couldn’t be reverse engineered – they wouldn’t need to be a ‘backdoor,’ open to abuse. And by focusing on a device rather than a specific app, the displacement effect, so obvious in focusing government efforts on just What’s App or Telegram, would not apply.

In theory then, this model appears promising. How closely it aligns with the legislation promised by Turnbull and George Brandis last week remains to be seen. But whichever legislative model Australia pursues, its progress will be watched closely by governments across the world. And of course, by a whole host of technology and communications companies.

Recent developments suggest that underneath the techno-babble, political point scoring and counter-terrorism blame game, governments the world over are faced by a very real policy problem. Australia may prove to be the test case for a policy solution that has far reaching consequences for privacy, technological development and the future of law enforcement operations.”

Try again gents.

ENDS

Australia Is A Proxy War for the Five Eyes & Also Hogwarts

The Aussie government is pushing a Five Eyes agenda. Australia seems to have become a proxy war in the ongoing assault on privacy. They are to the Surveillance Wars what Yemen is to the Saudi-Iran ideological conflict. It is always a good idea to vary the cast but in reality they are May acolytes. A testing ground.

The amount of nonsense emanating from the encryption debate Down Under though is astonishing. If you have not been keeping up to speed with some of the recent comments down under then here is a quick recap for you:

  1. The George Brandis metadata interview;
  2. George again (36th Attorney-General for Australia) and the summary of his “over a cuppa” conversation with the GCHQ chappie on the feasibility of reading messages sent by platforms implementing end to end encryption such as WhatsApp and Signal – “Last Wednesday I met with the chief cryptographer at GCHQ … And he assured me that this was feasible.”;
  3. Malcolm Turnbull (the Prime Minister) and his alternative theory on the exceptional laws that govern Australian reality “Well, the laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only laws that applies in Australia is the law of Australia”;
  4. And a much more eloquent articulation by Troy Hunt of the whole phenomenon “Firstly, a quick apology from Australia: we’re sorry. Look, our Prime Minister and Attorney General didn’t try to launch us onto the World Encryption Comedy Stage but unfortunately, here we are.

In an effort to find something of the same equivalence on the stupidity index as 1-3 above I chose to google “Harry Potter and places where the laws of mathematics do not apply, excluding Australia and Hogwarts”.

One of the things that I found in the search results was the perfectly reasonably comment by a HP fan on a Reddit forum that “Gamp’s Laws of Transfiguration and the Fundamental Laws of Magic spring to mind, they’re pretty much what you can and can’t do with magic. They’re a lot like Newton’s Laws in that they both deal with nature.

This guy really meant it and so did the other guys he was chatting with. They all really, really believed or rather really, really wanted to believe that it was all real and true and factual.

Just like Brandis and Turnbull believe.

Totally lost in a universe of their own creation where mathematics and people work differently.

And then I found a scholarly dissertation by Shevaun Donelli O’Connell of Indiana University of Pennsylvania titled “Harry Potter and the Order of the Metatext: A Study of Nonfiction Fan Compositions and Disciplinary Writing

” which said on P.24 that “I already knew that Harry Potter was an important part of my relationships with my family and friends, but increasingly I realized that Harry Potter metaphors and analogies were working their way into my thinking and teaching about writing.“.

And there it was. The struggle is real. It seems many, many people are having trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Christ help us when VRSNs arrive on the scene.

ENDS

So, So Reasonable, The Politics of Fear – Retrofitting Abnormality

I have read many, many reasonable articles about the need for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to have the ability to access the communications of person’s of interest.

Patrick Gray recently wrote in “No encryption was harmed in the making of this intercept” that:

“Over the last few days people have been losing their minds over an announcement by the Australian government that it will soon introduce laws to compel technology companies to hand over the communications of their users. This has largely been portrayed as some sort of anti-encryption push, but that’s not my take. At all. Before we look at the government’s proposed “solution,” it might make sense to define some problems, as far as law enforcement and intelligence agencies are concerned. The first problem has very little to do with end-to-end encryption and a lot more to do with access to messaging metadata.”

he continues …

“Thanks to our pal Phineas Fisher, we’ve had a glimpse into the sausage factory that is the law enforcement trojanware industry. Gamma Group and Hacking Team, two companies that make surveillance software for mobile phones, were both hacked by Mr. Fisher and the gory details of their operations laid bare. What we learned is that law enforcement organisations already have perfectly functional trojans that they can install on a target’s phone. These trojans canalready intercept communications from encrypted apps.”

and then …

“Do we believe that law enforcement bodies should have the authority to monitor the communications of people suspected of serious criminal offences? If so, what should the legal process for provisioning that access look like? I mentioned auditing access under this scheme a couple of paragraphs ago. If we’re going to have a regime like this, can we have a decent access auditing scheme please? These are the sorts of things I would prefer to be talking about.”

Think about everything that is happening at the moment in terms of the erosion of your privacy, free speech, and civil liberties. And then ask yourself the following:

  1. Do I think that politicians are concerned with striking an appropriate balance between the right to privacyfreedom of speech, and the preservation of civil liberties with the need to maintain the rule of law;
  2. Do I think that the current wave of proposed surveillance legislation is an attempt to normalise abnormal and illegal  practices by our governments and intelligence agencies, now that they have been exposed;
  3. Do I think that all of this proposed legislation is engineered to save our governments and intelligence agencies the bother of the endless crisis room PR;
  4. Do I think that our governments and intelligence agencies are tired of having to react to the publication of their illegal practices by whistleblowers;
  5. Do I think instead that they wish to fob off all objections to Mass Surveillance with a dismissive “we’ve heard it all before” hand wave, the benefit of a statute, while mumbling “imminent threat”, “terrorists”, “pedophiles”, “dark markets”;

ENDS

Some Members of Congress Are Trying To Invoke “CRA” To Sell Your Data

Congress is trying to strip away your online privacy rights.

Internet service provider knows a lot about you: the webpages you visit, the things you purchase, the people you talk to, and more. Last year, the federal government updated rules to ensure that the companies that act as gatekeepers to the Internet can’t compromise your privacy to make a profit. Those rules are set to go into effect this year.

Now some members of Congress are trying to change that.

Using a little-known tool called a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, some lawmakers want to not only repeal your privacy protections but also effectively prohibit the FCC from creating similar rules in the future.

That could leave consumers without a federal agency to protect online privacy rights.

You need to let your representatives in Congress know that they can’t put ISPs’ demands ahead of their constituents’ privacy.

Please call your lawmakers today and tell them to oppose the CRA resolution to repeal the FCC’s privacy rules.

Posted on behalf of Electronic Frontier Foundation.

ENDS