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New US Government Project To Monitor Electronic Communication 164

Posted by samzenpus
from the unseen-mechanized-eye dept.
An anonymous reader writes "PRODIGAL (Proactive Discovery of Insider Threats Using Graph Analysis and Learning) is a recently uncovered U.S. government program created in partnership with the Georgia Tech School of Computational Science and Engineering, ostensibly to monitor IMs, texts, and emails on government networks, is feared to be turned on the U.S. population at large. From the article: 'Cherie Anderson runs a travel company in southern California, and she's convinced the federal government is reading her emails. But she's all right with that. "I assume it's part of the Patriot Act and I really don't mind," she says. "I figure I'm probably boring them to death."'"
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New US Government Project To Monitor Electronic Communication

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  • Encrypt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Neutral_Observer (1409941) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:00PM (#38266614)
    Encrypt anything that goes "On Grid".
  • Re:Encrypt (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Openstandards.net (614258) <slashdot AT openstandards DOT net> on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:03PM (#38266672) Homepage
    We've had the ability to encrypt email for years, and we battled for PGP, yet no one uses it. The question is how do you get people to encrypt email by default, particularly when it requires participation by both sides. Add this challenge to IM.
  • wrong images (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:06PM (#38266710) Homepage Journal

    "I figure I'm probably boring them to death."'

    There's your problem.

    People don't mind because they don't understand what is really going on. With this or any other privacy intrusion (ignoring if this particular one is real or not).

    Cherie, no human being is reading your mails. Computers with natural language engines are, and they are searching for and generating patterns. Human beings come in long afterwards. They don't get to read your mails, what they get is a summary of your preferences, opinions, buying habits, and probably some kind of score indicating (depending on who is doing the spying) if you're a good customer, a potential terrorist, have the right political agenda, etc. etc.

    The 1984 "Big Brother" concept is 1984 - in the 21st century, you will not be arrested because some office drone in the ministry of truth read through all your e-mails and decided you're a bad person. No, in the 21st century you get put on the No Fly List and nobody can friggin' explain to you why , because the reason, as far as the humans involved are concerned, is that some score in some automated system crossed a threshold value.

  • Re:wrong images (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tatman (1076111) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:09PM (#38266750) Homepage
    Scary isn't it. No one will care until it becomes a problem for themselves; then they wonder what happened....
  • by masternerdguy (2468142) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:11PM (#38266780)
    That's the two criteria for a government technology project. This one is pure gold as far as they're concerned.
  • Money better spent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FellowConspirator (882908) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:18PM (#38266878)

    The thing is, as crime goes, terrorism is rare and the threat hasn't change appreciably in 50 years ( no matter what the evening news says ). The type of criminal activity in the US and international finance industries, however, is unprecedented and capable of causing far more damage. Unfortunately, we don't bring as many resources to bear on the greater threat to the country.

  • it does matter (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Killer Instinct (851436) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:20PM (#38266900) Journal
    In the old days, the ATF would just make up some charges against you (meth, guns), keep the press/news 2 miles away from your compound (Waco) and charge in shooting and setting fires to a building with your family in it. Now they can say "we have a report from our security system" that you are a threat. They dont even need to make up anything as a cover story, you are on a list..'nuf said. Theres a saying ive seen on here, around the net goes like this "when they came for the Jews, I didnt say anything because i wasnt a jew. when they came for the gays, i didnt say anything because I wasnt gay. Now they are coming for me, and theres no one left to say anything". The point is, with a system in place like this it is too easy to abuse and we are one step closer the end. And we cant stop it now, without a lot of people getting really upset, the very thing this system will detect and prevent. We are at the point now where we decide the next step in our evolution. Up until now, evolution had a pretty decent set of "rules" where the species that evolved certain traits, stuck around longer. At this point a system like this will make sure someone's idea of the next generation, will be followed, circumventing natural selection, and probably guaranteeing the human race, as we know it, will cease to exist.

    -KI
  • Re:wrong images (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BMOC (2478408) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:27PM (#38267020)
    Future TSA worker:

    "Ah, you can't fly, in fact, I'm supposed to arrest you. Come here please."

    "Oh, you say this is a mistake?"

    "Don't worry, this is just a result of a feature with a work-around. I'm sure they'll fix these bugs in CIA 2.0. In the meantime, enjoy your stay in Leavenworth."

  • by anorlunda (311253) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:38PM (#38267134) Homepage

    I've assumed that the US government has been intercepting all our communications since they first had the technical ability. Why? Because of the 911 commission. Goverment really reacts and overreacts to that kind of stinging criticism that they didn't protect us.

    What should we expect from them today? I expect that as soon as they find a terrorism suspect, that they are able to review his/her communications retrospectively; and also those whom he/she had contact with and so on 3 plys deep. To do that, they need an archive of everyone's messages 100% of the time, because they can't know in advance whose they want to review in the future.

    I too hate big brother and I hate invasions of my privacy. However, it is unrealistic to expect the feds to not fully exploit 21st century technology. If we were smart, we would give up on trying to restrict what data they gather and focus on restricting what they can do with gathered information.

  • Re:Private key (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest (867930) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:45PM (#38267224)
    There was an article here a couple of weeks ago about a browser plugin that managed your private keys and worked with webMail. I don't think many people are interested, which is unfortunate.
  • Idiot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:46PM (#38267228)

    From the article: 'Cherie Anderson runs a travel company in southern California, and she's convinced the federal government is reading her emails. But she's all right with that. "I assume it's part of the Patriot Act and I really don't mind," she says. "I figure I'm probably boring them to death."'"

    What an idiot. The problem is not a boring civil servant reading her emails and at most noting "oh how interesting, someone ordered flowers for Charles Manson again". The problem is her competitor donating money to a politicians campaign and inadvertently getting a copy of her emailed sales plan. The problem is a subcontractor of a contractor getting a copy of all emailed credit card numbers, ID thefting them, and she must be to blame, after all, she is the "only" common link. The problem is the civil servant's drug addicted gang member brother getting a copy of her bank statements, and noticing she makes all her weekly cash deposits at 3 pm on wednesdays, and being california, he's heavily armed, and she is completely disarmed. The problem is she tries to negotiate a better contract with her flower supplier, but thru "national technical means" her flower supplier has a copy of all her emailed communication with her accountant, and knows exactly how much profit he can extract from her. The problem is her local political muscle noticing via emailed sales figures that she is not donating the "correct" percentage of gross revenue to the politicians re-election campaign. The problem is the police notice, and blame her, when recipients of her "welcome home" gift baskets have their houses broken into and ransacked after the basket is ordered and before the basket arrives. The problem is she dates a police officer, it doesn't work out, she gets stalked by a guy with total electronic access to her life. Or a disgruntled client happens to work at the station, and has access to all her future emailed delivery plans, and knows just the dark alley to drag her into, and via the emailed schedule, knows just the right time to grab her.

  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Monday December 05, 2011 @12:51PM (#38267352) Homepage Journal

    Well, this is the Twitter generation. The worst thing that can possibly happen to you nowadays is that no one cares to listen to anything you say...

    It used to be that ${God} would listen to everything you thought and prayed for, and that used to be enough to let people think their problems and concerns were being addressed. I think it's healthy to have that feeling replaced by the warm, comforting feeling that the government is watching you and might choose to intervene.

    Or at the very least, it would encourage people to actually start using encryption :-P

  • Re:wrong images (Score:2, Insightful)

    by c6gunner (950153) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:04PM (#38267582)

    The 1984 "Big Brother" concept is 1984 - in the 21st century, you will not be arrested because some office drone in the ministry of truth read through all your e-mails and decided you're a bad person. No, in the 21st century you get put on the No Fly List and nobody can friggin' explain to you why , because the reason, as far as the humans involved are concerned, is that some score in some automated system crossed a threshold value.

    No, no, and HELL no. Your paranoid-delusions in no way reflect reality. The no-fly list at this point contains some 10,000 names. That's one out of every 30,000 americans. As a comparison, the "Terrorist Watch List" contains 400,000+ names. So, even though the the vast majority of the people on the terrorist-watch-list don't make the "no fly list", you expect me to believe that computer algorithms are automatically putting people on it based on innocent e-mails?

    STFU. Seriously.

    Yes, this system, like EVERY FRIGGIN' TOOL WE'VE EVER COME UP WITH has the potential to be abused. No, it is not currently being abused, nor is there any indication that it will be in the future. You seriously need to get some perspective.

  • Re:wrong images (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spidercoz (947220) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:20PM (#38267816) Journal
    I care. I try to educate people. They look at me like I'm off my nut.
  • Re:Encrypt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sloppy (14984) on Monday December 05, 2011 @01:23PM (#38267878) Homepage Journal

    When we get to talking about graph analysis and learning, suddenly who you are talking to becomes as interesting as what you are talking about.

    No, it's interesting, but it's not as interesting. "Looks like he called his wife again," doesn't tell you a whole lot.

    Imagine you're trying to decide which house to burgle. Some sends a message to someone else who is planning a party. You really want to know if they said, "I'll be there and am bringing a few growlers of homebrew quadbock. We are getting so 'faced! Can I crash at your place?" or "sorry, can't make it. I'm teaching the kids how to recycle ammo brass that night."

  • Re:wrong images (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:07PM (#38268490)

    [Sarcasm] I'm absolutely sure that any misuse was just a complete misunderstanding. [More more likely never, ever happened.]

    I mean really, counter-intelpro, Iran Contra, Watergate, due-process free assassination of US citizens [on exclusive executive branch say-so] are all just pure misunderstanding. We'd never really do something wrong. [I mean, if the president does it, it, *by definition,* it isn't illegal.]
    [/Sarcasm]

    The Prima facie case of misuse is that it's a "black" program.

    1) The rules for getting on the list are secret.
    2) How you get off is secret.
    3) Who is on the list is secret.

    Secret rules for secret laws for a secret government = abuse.

    That is pretty much all that needs to be said. When people [pretty much any people] are allowed carte-blanche to do as they will, abuses will occur.

    The only way that is [sometimes] prevented or rectified is accountability to the populace.

    Once accountability is lost - and believe me, secret laws, and secret programs, by secret police because we must be *scared*, very *scared* causes a loss of accountability - once that accountability is lost, then abuses happen. It's just a forgone conclusion.

    Examine the written history of man.

    So, while you may want to demand evidence - I say there is no need.

    Abuses happen when the laws, and their enforcement and prosecution are secret. Not might happen, just will and do happen.

    Anyone who takes even the most cursory examination of history will very quickly come to that conclusion. Thus, your asking "show me the evidence" - I think it shows that either
    1) You're woefully uninformed about the nature of people
    or
    2) You're just a shill for whatever abusive authoritarian structure is currently in place and feign ignorance of the results of such policies.

    If it's option #1 - I pity you. You're a stupid git and simply can't grasp that fact.
    If it's option #2 - they I pity me, since you're likely to place me on one of those secret list, based on secret laws written by our secret government. [Because, it's clear, I'm a subversive threat!]

  • by Qzukk (229616) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:43PM (#38269086) Journal

    It used to be that ${God} would listen to everything you thought and prayed for, and that used to be enough to let people think their problems and concerns were being addressed. I think it's healthy to have that feeling replaced by the warm, comforting feeling that the government is watching you and might choose to intervene.

    I dunno, given the past few years, I'd say the government is about on par with God in terms of delivering on promises.

  • by surgen (1145449) on Monday December 05, 2011 @02:49PM (#38269196)

    I've assumed that the US government has been intercepting all our communications since they first had the technical ability.

    I look at this the same way I might view a person who said to me "I've always assumed that an invisible Bigfoot watches me whenever I masturbate".

    Given the US government has given themselves the ability to perform wholesale monitoring of communications (Room 641A is the easiest proof to point to), we must also posit that there is an invisible Bigfoot, and that he frequently watches people masturbate.

Thus spake the master programmer: "After three days without programming, life becomes meaningless." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

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