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Is the CIA Spying on the Senate?

CIA spying on senate?What happens when a spy agency spies on the Congressional body that was created to keep spying in check in the first place? What are the implications of the CIA spying on the Senate?

That is exactly what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asserts has happened.  In a scathing address to the Senate, Feinstein, who has been a strong advocate of the intelligence community in the past, accused the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of violating “the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution including the Speech and Debate clause”.

This accusation stems from an agreement between the committee and the agency to allow committee aides to review millions of confidential documents related to the post 9/11 Bush administration detention program for handling terror suspects.  In the process of reviewing these documents, staffers came across an internal review of the agency’s practices. When the CIA became aware of this, Feinstein claims they searched the network — including the committee’s internal network — and removed the documents.

Both sides have accused each other’s staffs of improper behavior and both sides are denying any wrongdoing.  Feinstein stressed that her staffers did not hack into the network to obtain them, but merely came across them in their review of the materials.  CIA Director John Brennan denied the allegations saying, “Nothing can be further [from] the truth, we wouldn’t do that. I mean that’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”

I hope nothing is further from the truth, because the implications of spy agencies spying on those who oversee and contain their spying activities suggests that surveillance power has run amok and those wielding it consider themselves above the law. To me, if this turns out to be true, it is a bright red flag signaling the erosion of some of our most fundamental democratic principles. 

Perhaps Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it best: “Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it’s true.  If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA.” But first, we must figure out if there’s any truth behind the question: Is the CIA spying on the Senate?

John Sileo is an author and highly engaging speaker on internet privacy, identity theft and technology security. He is CEO of The Sileo Group, which helps organizations to protect the privacy that drives their profitability. His recent engagements include presentations at The Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security and Northrop Grumman as well as media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.

Internet Explorer 9 Privacy Feature Limits Tracking

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Microsoft has announced that the latest version of Internet Explorer will offer users a new anti-tracking privacy feature. This will help prevent marketing and advertising companies from watching where you surf and what you do online without your consent. Users will be able to set their preferences to prohibit companies from obtaining sensitive tracking information. This is a first step in the right direction – browsers should step up as the first line of defense against unwanted information collection.

This comes at a time where advertisers want to reintroduce the use of deep packet inspection in order to more closely watch and market to consumers online.  This method reads and analyzes raw packets of your personal data as they travel across the Internet – for obvious reasons deep packet inspection has been the subject of much controversy. Internet users are becoming more aware that what they do online is not private and are beginning to ask for tools to protect their browsers from spying.

Internet Explorer already offers InPrivate Filtering, a feature that works on blocking third-party scripting and tracking devices. This is only a temporary solution that is not very reliable because it often fails to block many tracking devices.

The new changes are no surprise, due to increased concerns on browser tracking. Both consumers and the government have been working to allow a more “opt-in and opt-out”  friendly version of internet browsing.  The FTC called for  a “do not track” button on browsers in order to block any kind of third-party usage tracking.

Tracking Protection Lists would potentially be a finer-grained equivalent, allowing users to opt out of some or all tracking systems depending on their preferences. Tracking Protection Lists will be an opt-in-feature and Internet Explorer 9 will not provide any lists themselves.  The lists will update weekly and most likely come from third parties and privacy advocacy groups.The lists will be useful to prevent the kind of spying that is getting many companies into trouble.

Support for Tracking Protection Lists will first arrive in a release candidate of Internet Explorer 9. Redmond did not give a date for this, but it is likely to be early next year.

Google Spying Cost Them $1

Some months ago, [intlink id=”2349″ type=”post”]Google got caught sniffing[/intlink] the wireless connection in our homes as they photographed our houses to post on Google Street View. Although the case may be newsworthy, the settlement is only peanuts.  Google has been found guilty of trespassing on Aaron and Christine Boring’s home and will have to pay them the astounding amount of $1 for punitive damages. The search engine giant admitted that they trespassed when they took a picture of the plaintiffs house for Google Street View and ended up settling the case. The couple were hoping to make a point, but also realized that they financially can’t take on the huge corporation.

The Street View cars have found controversy not only because they drive around and take pictures of homes to post to the Internet, but they were also collecting sensitive information from WiFi connections while doing so. Google admitted that it had in fact accidentally collected private details, and stated they deleted all the private information gathered. Although we are left helpless with that data breach, we DO have the option to remove our homes from Street View.  Recently I outlined how you can do this by following a few simple steps to remove yourself from Google Street View.

This case may not change the way Google operates, but it does keep bringing to light privacy issues that the company is facing. These privacy issues directly affect you and me and hopefully one day we will not be quite so helpless in protecting our identity from Google and other Internet gorillas.

John Sileo is the award-winning author of Stolen Lives and Privacy Means Profit (Wiley, August 2010), a professional Financial Speaker and America’s leading identity theft expert. His clients include the Department of Defense, FTC, FDIC and Pfizer; his recent media appearances include 60 Minutes. Contact him on 800.258.8076.

Geotag, You're It! Disabling GPS Coordinates

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Geotagging allows others to track your location even though you don’t know it.

With the increased use of Internet-enabled mobile devices such as the Blackberry, Droid and iPhone, geotagging has seen a huge increase in popularity. When social media users take a picture or video and upload it to their page, they are probably transmitting far more data than they think. With the ability to quickly add GPS information to media, smartphones make geotagging a simple task.

So What is Geotagging?

Simply, geotagging is where location or geographical information, such as your GPS coordinates, are added and embedded to different types of media (.jpg, .mov files, etc.). Invisible to the naked eye and the casual observer, geotags are part of the meta-data, or underlying data about the data, that accompanies each file. Examples of meta-data include when the file was created or modified, by whom, using what device and software. This data is often loaded on to your computer along with the original file.  Browser plug-ins and certain software programs can reveal the location information to anyone who wants to see it.

Twittervision makes great use of geotagging. Twittervision is a web mashup combining Twitter with Google Maps to create a real time display of tweets across a map (see photo above).  It also has a 3D mode that displays a globe of the Earth which spins to pinpoint arriving messages from Twitter.

So, who would want to know where you are?

While most of the uses are not fully apparent yet, your real-time location can reveal your home address, work address, places you visit often and at what time of day. It can reveal if you go to the doctor, a lawyer, a court date, or any other type of private meeting. Geotags make it very easy for friends, relatives, bosses, spouses, parents, enemies, law enforcement, stalkers, and thieves to know exactly where you are.

Telling everyone on your Facebook status that you are out for the evening can invite burglars; geotagging can do the same without you updating your status in any way.  By taking a picture at the Barry Manilow concert and uploading it to your twitter account, you are broadcasting the fact that you are probably over 40, away from home and, thanks to the geotag, exactly how far away you are.

If you’ve never seen Minority Report with Tom Cruise (where ads are served up to you on giant screens based on biometrics and your current location as you walk through the city ), it’s worth your time. Of course the movie exaggerates reality, that is one of the hallmarks of science fiction. But it does so in order to make you think about the possibilities and future realities. And that is exactly what corporations are doing. Using geotags that you upload into social networks (photos, videos, check-ins), they can see that you enjoy Starbucks and live in a certain neighborhood, so they may purchase a billboard in the area or more likely, target an ad to you on your Facebook wall. Although this can seem harmless, it will eventually raise larger concerns on consumer privacy.

In this fast paced electronic world, more and more people are using smartphones and therefore we can expect an increased use of geotags in the future. The problem with geotagging is that since it is not visible to the naked eye, most people don’t even realize they are sharing their location data. So what if you don’t want to transmit your location data?

Keeping location data private can be difficult, but here are some places to start:

  • Understand that anytime you take a picture, video or post an update from a networked device (somehow connected to the internet), your location is probably being appended to the file, even though it is hidden from you. As with all things technological, there are advantages and disadvantages to all features. Location based services also allow you to use handy tools like maps; give you Big Brother-like power in tracking your kids’ whereabouts, and allow thieves to burgle you when no one is home using tools like Foursquare and Facebook Places.
  • Disable geotagging application by application on your iPhone 4. In your phone, go to Settings, General, Location Services. Here you can set which applications can access your GPS coordinates, or disable the feature entirely (which could cause you problems using maps, restaurant finders, etc.)
  • Disable geotagging for photos on your BlackBerry. Go into picture-taking mode (HomeScreen, click the Camera icon), press the Menu button and choose “Options”. Set the “Geotagging” setting to “Disabled”. Finally, save the updated settings.
  • Disable geotagging for photos on your Droid. Start the Camera app (this is the menu on the left side of the camera application; it slides out from left to right). Select “Store Location” and make sure it is set to “Off”.
  • Although Facebook does remove geotags from uploaded photos, other social networking sites do not. Look into your privacy settings and turn off location sharing. As mentioned above, you can generally turn this feature off in your camera or phone as well.
  • Take particular care if you are uploading photos to a website where strangers will see them — such as Craigslist or Ebay.
  • Consider installing a plug-in on your browser to reveal location data – such as Exif Viewer for Firefox or Opanda IExif for Internet Explorer, so you can see geotagged data for yourself.
  • Take the time to stay informed about geotagging and other types of new technologies. By knowing what is out there, you can ensure the next photo or piece of media you upload won’t share your location with the World Wide Web.

John Sileo speaks professionally about social media exposure, identity theft and cyber crime for the Department of Defense, Fortune 1000 companies and any organization that wants to protect the profitability of their private information. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076 or visit his speaker’s website at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com.