Big Brother is listening
Big Brother is listening

How the heck did this happen? From Wired magazine: Five police agencies in Hampton Roads have been compiling a massive database of telephone records under the aegis of the Hampton Roads Telephone Analysis Sharing Network. The localities include Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Suffolk. Writes Wired:

The effort is being led in part by the Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Task Force, which is responsible for a “telephone analysis room” in the city of Hampton, where the database is maintained.

The unusual and secretive database contains telecom customer subscriber information; records about individual phone calls, such as the numbers dialed, the time the calls were made and their duration; as well as the contents of seized mobile devices. The information is collected and shared among police agencies to enhance analysis and law enforcement intelligence.

Rob Poggenklass, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said:

The database runs afoul of a privacy law in Virginia known as the Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act, designed to curb the overcollection and misuse of digital personal information by state and local agencies.

He points to an interpretation of that law issued last year by Virginia’s attorney general in reference to controversial automated license-plate readers that police departments nationwide have adopted enthusiastically in recent years.

Maybe there’s an innocent explanation for this. Maybe it marks a scary expansion of police power. One way or the other, we need a full airing of what’s going on.


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11 responses to “When Big Data Turns Bad”

  1. I vote for out of control.. and to their credit the Va State Police wanted none of it.

    but the head of the FBI opposes encryption on phones and wants the govt to have a “backdoor”.. Until I heard him say that – I thought he was an intelligent and well-intentioned person but apparently his police perspective has overwhelmed his ability to see what foreign govts an bad guys would also do with that back door.

    I never thought I’d see the day when American leaders would advocate for the same kinds of restrictions on liberty that despotic governments pursued.

    but no matter what Apple or Google does – there will be encryption available to whoever wants it ..from 3rd parties. and James Comey has indicated he is considering going to go to Congress to make it illegal to have encryption on a phone…from any source… (which means that he and the NSA and others probably already have).

    the whole idea of unreasonable search and seizure and the right to privacy is out the door with the police – the threat terrorists have accomplished in America what the likes of Hitler, Mao and Stalin did.

    and it’s actually worse than that , here’s another one to worry about:

    Stingray phone tracker
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    The StingRay is an IMSI-catcher (International Mobile Subscriber Identity), a controversial cellular phone surveillance device, manufactured by the Harris Corporation.[1] Initially developed for the military and intelligence community, the StingRay and similar Harris devices are in widespread use by local and state law enforcement agencies across the United States.

    In active mode, the StingRay will force each compatible cellular device in a given area to disconnect from its service provider cell site (i.e., operated by Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and establish a new connection with the StingRay.[12] In most cases, this is accomplished by having the StingRay broadcast a pilot signal that is either stronger than, or made to appear stronger than, the pilot signals being broadcast by legitimate cell sites operating in the area.[13] A common function of all cellular communications protocols is to have the cellular device connect to the cell site offering the strongest signal. StingRays exploit this function as a means to force connections from unsuspecting cellular device users.”

    one should read the entire wiki article….

    these devices are portable can sit in a squad car or on a drone… etc…

    of course, as they say, if you did nothing wrong..nothing to fear.. eh?

    anytime anyone complains, the Police say they are protecting us from “terrorists” – it’s become the threat of choice to scare at least some of us into giving up even more of our precious Constitutionally-granted rights.

    the Police seem to have no trouble at all using these technologies to shred the Constitution… and the Tea Party and “strict Constitution” folks – the guys you’d think would be hard on this – they’re either clueless or have other political fish to fry. The folks who ARE worried about this are the ACLU – the group that Conservatives and “liberty” groups seem to hate.

  2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    There is no right to privacy for telephone numbers dialed. In 1979, the Supreme Court held a pen register is not a search that would require warrant and probably cause because the “petitioner voluntarily conveyed numerical information to the telephone company.” Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 744 (1979). Whenever we dial digits, we make them public. Conversations are protected, but not the dialing of digits to make the call.

    However, Congress cut back on the use of pen registers very slightly in 1986 when it amended federal criminal law. The definition of a pen register was expanded some in the Patriot Act. The largest use of pen registers occurred in 2013 by the Obama administration after approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

    1. TMT – the police are not even getting warrants any more – read that article.

      they’re using the numbers to then look at thing like texts and other things like contacts and email….

      the head of the FBI wants Congress to outlaw encryption.

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        Larry, I was not making any comments, but rather, trying to inform the discussion about what is permitted under law. The original post seemed to suggest a person has a right to privacy for the telephone numbers he/she dials. As I explained, that is not true and has not been true for many years.

        1. TMT- isn’t capturing all the numbers that everyone dials – without a warrant – under question?

          I KNOW that law enforcement can get a warrant to get telephone records of individuals or group but thought they could not do that without the warrant.

          1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            By dialing a telephone number, the caller is sending the called number (as well as the calling number in most instances) to every carrier involved in handling the call. It’s like addressing an envelope. A person dialing a phone number has no expectation of privacy in the number called. Even speed dialing exposes a 7-to-10 digit number for calls to the U.S., Canada and most of the Caribbean area.

          2. I would actually agree on that part – but it’s part after that where data such as text messages and contacts are gathered without a warrant that the line is crossed.

            this is akin to saying that because the govt can track your phone calls that they can see you contact book… or see the content of your mail or voice messages.

            the police – do not make such distinctions any more.. they see it as all the same thing.

            I’m in favor of cameras, license plate readers, etc anything in a public setting is fair game and I’m all for using every legal method to get the bad guys but my concern is the police now days know no such limits.

          3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

            Larry, intercepting the content of a call or message is different in my mind and the law’s too. Probable cause and a warrant is normally required. Ditto (generally) for getting information about which cell tower a phone pings or handles a call from.

            And as you mentioned, after a person is arrested, the cops seize the cell phone and “page” through it. Just like they look through your wallet and other contents of your pockets.

          4. TMT – I do not think they can legally search you unless they have probable cause which I realize is a legal term but the dividing line is that they have to suspect you of something specific and the judge agrees.

            they cannot go on a fishing expedition..

  3. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Really interesting story. However, TMT may be right. The cops may be able to do this, just as they can view videos of where you have been driving. Kudos of the State Police for not participating.

    A couple of personal points. One is that I lived and worked in Moscow for a total of six years, including three under Communism and very active KGB surveillance. It was something you just lived with.

    Secondly, when I was a summer intern at The Virginian-Pilot in 1973, the Portsmouth police department was the target of a big State Police probe for corruption. Several high ranking cops were convicted. It came out that other Tidewater police departments would not share drug intelligence with Portsmouth because it would be out on the streets in five minutes. Curious.

  4. basically the police cannot dig into your affairs – without a justifiable reason.

    they cannot just sift through bulk data looking for certain thing like phone numbers to then use that to get a warrant.

    The FISA court has proven to be nothing more than a rubber stamp – reminiscent of the way that Russia and China investigate their citizens.

    we should worry.

    all of this blather about the Tea party and the Constitution and the role of govt (like the EPA) or Obama on immigration does not hold a candle to what the law enforcement agencies are doing now days with data.

    when the head of the FBI wants Congress to outlaw encryption, you know we are in trouble.

    People who encrypt don’t have to be bad guys. They can be ordinary people who don’t want others, including the police traipsing through their data – no more than they’d want the police wandering through their house…

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