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Quick Takes: News You May Have Missed

Aaron Klein

Aaron Klein

Why Does The Government Need Our Phone Records?

Clues to the federal government’s reason for collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers may be found in a recently unearthed 2010 project seeking to predict criminal activity using vast quantities of data on citizens mined from social network websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

In February, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Massachusetts-based multinational corporation, Raytheon – the world’s fifth largest defense contractor – had developed a “Google for Spies” operation.

Herald reporter Ryan Gallagher wrote that Raytheon had “secretly developed software capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behavior by mining data from social networking websites” like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.

The software is called RIOT, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology.

Raytheon told the Herald it hasn’t sold RIOT to any clients but admitted that in 2010 it shared the program’s software technology with the U.S. government as part of a “joint research and development effort…to help build a national security system capable of analyzing ‘trillions of entities’ from cyberspace.”

In April, RIOT was reportedly showcased at a U.S. government and industry national security conference for secretive, classified innovations, where it was listed under the category “big data – analytics, algorithms.”

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, argues that such software raises major ethical dilemmas even though RIOT apparently utilizes only publicly available information from companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.

“The government has no business rooting around people’s social network postings – even those that are voluntarily publicly posted – unless it has specific, individualized suspicion that person is involved in wrongdoing,” Stanley wrote on the ACLU blog.

Stanley wrote that among the many problems with government large-scale analytics of social network information “is the prospect that government agencies will blunderingly use these techniques to tag, target, and watchlist people coughed up by programs such as RIOT, or to target them for further invasions of privacy based on incorrect inferences.”

“The chilling effects of such activities,” he concluded, “while perhaps gradual, would be tremendous.”

NSA Working Out Of The University Of Maryland?

Does the National Security Agency run covert facilities at the University of Maryland, and possibly other U.S. universities as well?

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations, told the UK Guardian newspaper that he previously worked as a security guard for what the publication described as “one of the agency’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland.”

Some reports indicate that the NSA runs a classified program at the university involved in data mining and the use of intrusive, controversial technology. One such report came from PBS in January 2009. The news agency described an NSA artificial intelligence program “designed to gain insight into what people are thinking.”

PBS reported that the system is so potentially intrusive “that at least one researcher has quit, citing concerns over the dangers in placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability.”

According to the PBS report, the data mining system and other surveillance programs were being run out of a 120,000-square-foot building in M Square Research Park in College Park, Maryland, operated in collaboration with the University of Maryland.

In the 2009 report, PBS referred to possible data mining from social media websites. “As more and more data is collected – through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records – it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think.”

Director Of National Intelligence Misled Congress On Data Mining

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seemingly misled lawmakers when he told a Senate committee hearing three months ago that the National Security Agency does not “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans.

On March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Clapper at a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clapper responded: “No, sir.”

Wyden continued by asking, “It does not?”

About the Author: Aaron Klein is a New York Times bestselling author and senior reporter for WND.com. He is also host of an investigative radio program on New York's 970 AM Radio on Sundays from 7 to 9 p.m. Eastern. His website is KleinOnline.com.


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