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Former FBI Agent: All Digital Communications Stored By US Gov't 621

Posted by timothy
from the and-soon-it-will-all-be-in-utah dept.
New submitter davesays writes "CNN anchors Erin Burnett and Carol Costello have interviewed Former FBI Counterterrorisim specialist Tim Clemente. In the interviews he asserts that all digital communications are recorded and stored. Clemente: 'No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.' 'All of that stuff' — meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on U.S. soil, with or without a search warrant — 'is being captured as we speak.' 'No digital communication is secure,' by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications — meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like — are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is."
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Former FBI Agent: All Digital Communications Stored By US Gov't

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  • Jupiter Tape? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @06:50PM (#43637359) Journal

    I doubt they have the storage capacity.

    • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CmdrEdem (2229572) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:06PM (#43637445) Homepage

      More than storage capacity, they need software and/or manpower to analyze everything. More likely his superiors just lied to his face about this or he was paid to say such things to make people think twice about doing any rebellious shit.

      • by Mashiki (184564)

        More than storage capacity, they need software and/or manpower to analyze everything.

        It's doable, whether it's doable currently I can't say. Remember that the STASI [wikipedia.org] did exactly this, and were able to comb through all personal communications.

      • by Yvanhoe (564877)
        Why do you want to analyze everything? If the goal is to find everything bad that someone you don't like said or browsed online, storing is all you need.

        "Oh, I know why you don't like interception capabilities, Mr Senator, but what can you tell us about your frequent visits to sexymilfinbestialbondage.com ?"
    • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by calzones (890942) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:31PM (#43637593)

      Not to assert one way or the other whether he's telling the truth, but...

      It's much more sensible to record everything and keep it for a short while and then begin a process of attrition. If everything is accessible for 1 hour, that's pretty powerful because you can freeze data after an event happens and look for what you need. After one hour, maybe only certain things and certain people are tracked for up to a day... then a week... a month... a year...

    • They already did this since the 40s. See echelon [wikipedia.org]. Pretty certain they have found some nifty ways to store all this data.
    • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DragonTHC (208439) <Dragon&gamerslastwill,com> on Sunday May 05, 2013 @08:27PM (#43637921) Homepage Journal

      There's not a lot of storage necessary. Not what you're thinking. Text messages and chats are very small in size. Phone conversations are very small using the right codecs. I also heard once about 8 years ago that the US government was buying up symmetrix like they were going out of style.

      Honestly, I believe it. It's entirely possible.

    • I doubt they have the storage capacity.

      ha ha, no. [slashdot.org] They totally do. Did you know that in 2011, 680 million [quora.com] drives were shipped? Do you really think a couple exobytes of data would even be a blip on the radar? That's only a few thousand drives.

    • Re:Jupiter Tape? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MrL0G1C (867445) on Monday May 06, 2013 @06:03AM (#43640313) Journal

      http://www.zdnet.com/blog/storage/worlds-1st-exabyte-storage-system/1266 [zdnet.com]

      All US telephone conversations per day approx: 1.5 Petabytes

      Fits easily.

      Room for 2 years worth, or are you going to tell me US govt 3-letter agencies don't spend much on data centers.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2013 @06:55PM (#43637387)

    Someone correct me. It just doesn't seem feasible.

    • Pshaw. I've got 26 fault-tolerant terabytes just for my media. Every piece of hardware is available from regular vendors like newegg, amazon, microcenter, etc. It fits in a mid-tower case with room to spare and the capacity could be doubled by switching to 4tb drives.

      Google was expected to pass an exabyte of data years ago. Amazon's somewhere around that range with their cloud services. Facebook claims a petabyte of duckface pics and videos. And those are companies that are designed to be making a pro

  • Seems unlikely (Score:4, Interesting)

    by asmkm22 (1902712) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @06:56PM (#43637391)

    I'm sure what he's saying is true, in a very broad sense. Cell phone conversations, texts, and major/popular version of things like video chat (skype), IM (yahoo messenger), and general social media (facebook, twitter, etc).

    This guy seems to be implying that the government has some kind of man-in-middle technology that intercepts and records *all* traffic, which simply isn't true. Unfortunately, either he or the news agency is trying to paint the whole thing as just that.

    • by amiga3D (567632)

      I don't doubt it at all. Maybe they can't get every little scrap but you can bet that anything they can get they will get. I wouldn't doubt that they have a lot more capability for this than you think either. I remember what was state of the art 30 years ago in the commercial world and it's incredible the changes and I'm more than confident that intelligence gathering has made at least as many leaps and bounds.

    • Re:Seems unlikely (Score:5, Interesting)

      by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:33PM (#43637607)

      This guy seems to be implying that the government has some kind of man-in-middle technology that intercepts and records *all* traffic, which simply isn't true.

      The majority of the internet goes over telecom links. The few parts of it that don't, almost always have at least one hop that transits one of the major carriers networks. They don't have to monitor "all" traffic. They just have to monitor one of the hops in the chain.

      All IP traffic can be reduced to a stream. TCP/IP has some extra error-correction options to keep it all in order, but a stream is a stream nonetheless. And when you start looking at very large data sets, you're going to quickly discover that the majority of it is just a copy of another set of data.

      People here seem to think that monitoring all network traffic is unrealistic because of the storage considerations, but they don't have to store every byte; Just the unique bytes. If you download the CNN homepage, the storage application doesn't need to hold onto that entire transaction; It can just record the headers and timestamp, and then reference the same stream that a few hundred thousand other people also downloaded.

      Most of the internet's traffic isn't encrypted, and so the amount of entropy on it is low, despite the very high bandwidth. This statistical fact paired with shannon's laws, which in turn are based on the laws of thermodynamics, provide the basis of a practical surveillance solution.

      When you add in intelligent filtering, the amount of data to be stored drops even more. You probably don't need to worry about terrorists communicating via Netflix for example; And that makes up a significant chunk of internet traffic (look it up; it's a surprise).

      The other thing about intelligence assets is that they all have a 'use by' date. The more time goes by, the less valuable the data becomes. Eventually, you reach a point of diminishing returns; That is the point at which you can safely delete the data. It doesn't matter whether it contained terrorist communications or the next 9/11 or not... if you haven't found it by the cutoff time, it's worthless.

      Combine these attributes and what this man is saying is, in fact, achievable. Now... processing that data and turning into useful, timely, and accurate intelligence... that, people, is a whole 'nother can of worms. And realistically, where the bulk of the resources is going to be. Storage is a non-starter. Analysis is the bitch of it.

      • by swilver (617741)

        Most of the internet's traffic isn't encrypted, and so the amount of entropy on it is low

        Most of the internet's traffic however is compressed, on which the entropy is high. Voice communications and video streams are definitely all compressed. Web pages can be sent zipped and often are.

        A lot of content is also dynamic, containing timestamps, unique identifiers or personalisation. Webpages with any dynamic content (like a page from CNN) is likely to have subtle differences each time they're requested, making deduplication harder.

  • Please! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:01PM (#43637409)

    Either this is true and so secret even most of law enforcement doesn't have access or it simply isn't true. Having run a large enough telecom operation to deal with CALEA I can say for sure that law enforcement very much needed our help to do anything with our customers' communications. Not only did they need to come to us with proper warrants in the first place, but they barely had enough technology sense to be able to do anything with it. Anything more complicated than taps and CDRs never even came up.

  • Citizen reply. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:01PM (#43637413)

    Clemente: 'No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.' 'All of that stuff' â" meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on U.S. soil, with or without a search warrant â" 'is being captured as we speak.' 'No digital communication is secure,' by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications â" meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like â" are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is."

    Dear US official;

    All of my communications are sent via encrypted proxy, and set to stream constantly. The proxy dumps into Tor and a half-dozen other networks. I originally did this for shits and giggles, to see how hard it would be. I will admit the latency is a bit higher than doing it locally, but it is very usable in spite of this. I also signed up for the Tor Cloud project and run an EC2 micro-instance to help others do the same.

    Originally, I just did this as an experiment, but after reading things like what you're saying and realizing that we've become a surveillance state on par with Iran, China, and North Korea (where did they get their filtering and monitoring hardware from again? Oh right: We gave it to them), I decided to keep it.

    I don't do anything special with my super duper encrypted "all the things" setup. I wish I could say I was some elite ninja hacker or something, but all I really do is browse internet forum sites and read the BBC news, and you know, download a few TV shows here and there. I'm one of those people that doesn't have anything to hide per-se, but when I live under the tyranny of a government that has turned their citizens into the enemy -- the attitude that we're all criminals or potential criminals, and must be monitored pre-emptively, I feel like it's my duty to frustrate the hell out of people like you.

    So I have been helping friends, family, and strangers, set their computers up the same way. Yeah, I know, some of them will probably use their newfound freedom and anonymity for evil, but frankly, even a terrorist attack a week and all the rantings in the world from you (that may even be justified) about how criminals can use this technology for their own nefarious purposes, doesn't deter me.

    You crossed a line; Morally, ethically, constitutionally. By criminalizing the average citizen, you have become a bigger danger than all the terrorists, all the "real" criminals. You are corrupt, dangerous, and seek to undermine our democratic way of life. You hide in the shadows and see conspiracies everywhere, and are convinced of your own righteous cause. You are as dangerous as a religious fundamentalist, because just like their dogmas, yours demands absolute purity. There will always be more justifications to invade the privacy of others.

    So I will continue to teach anyone who wants to, how to fight back against your tyranny. You're a threat to the way of life of not just myself, but my peers. You're a danger to all Americans -- you view us as the enemy. Your own people.

    You've lost your way.

    • Might want to watch this Defcon presentation. Trusting a random tor node is a bad idea.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLt_uqSCEUA [youtube.com]

    • Re:Citizen reply. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @08:59PM (#43638067)

      Have you written a detailed HOWTO article? That would be more helpful than just helping your immediate acquaintances.

    • by Jeremi (14640) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @09:40PM (#43638319) Homepage

      Dear US official; All of my communications are sent via encrypted proxy, and set to stream constantly. The proxy dumps into Tor and a half-dozen other networks.

      Dear girlintraining,

      We're in ur USB keyboard driver

      Recordin all ur passwerds

      - lolMIBs

    • by thoth (7907)

      (where did they get their filtering and monitoring hardware from again? Oh right: We gave it to them)

      You might want to address your "open letter to a US official" to corporate America as well... they're happily selling the tools of oppression for profit. Come to think of it, they make big profits off selling guns and ammo as well.

  • This is probably the most telling bit of it:

    CLEMENTE: We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

    Basically, this capability exists, can and does get used, BUT the fruits of which aren't directly presented in the courts, because that would divulge too much as to its existence. Instead, it gets used to get the suspect to admit what might otherwise be unattainable through a normal interrogation.

    Now the scary part:
    This could probably directly provide evidence for not just the Boston Marathon case, but many many other criminal cases in this country right now. Fo

  • That in that case classification is done more or less automatic.
    Down to the individual, we may assume.

    And yet, they are unable to prevent [insert latest bombing or amok event here].
    Clearly a government gone anal.

  • No one else would post such obvious crap.

    It is impossible for the government to record all digital communications because they aren't privy to them. Unless you mean to tell me they have a back door in my open source mail servers which communicate on their own private networks within my organization over physically secure channels.

    They don't ever get access to a lot of digital communications so they can not possibly be recording it all.

    typical timothy story, so blindly false, yet somehow the moron keeps pos

    • by chrismcb (983081)

      No one else would post such obvious crap.

      eh?
      it doesn't matter whether you agree with it, or not. It doesn't matter who posted in on slashdot. The fact remains a former FBI official made this statement, not once, but twice, to CNN. Is it true? who knows, but don't go and blame the messenger.

    • Re:Timothy stories (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Proudrooster (580120) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:40PM (#43637651) Homepage

      While the FBI might not be the sharpest tool in the shed they have infinite resources thanks to the national security black budget. Granted if you have a private network that doesn't peer with any of the big backbones like AT&T then your a probably safe. Once your voice/data hops onto a major backbone like AT&T your data has been sold to the US Government. There are even allegation that this system is contributing names to the no-fly list through heuristic language analysis of voice traffic. To see if you networks are safe, use the word "bomb" as often as you can and if you aren't added to the no-fly list, your networks are probably safe :)

      I think the real solution to the problem is to start generating massive amounts of meaningless data until the spooks run out of storage.

      Security and Privacy are an illusion. Welcome to 1984 about three decades late.

  • lost email? (Score:5, Funny)

    by hendrikboom (1001110) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @07:54PM (#43637739)

    Could I ask them to restore that email I accidentally deleted last week?

  • Not true (Score:3, Informative)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @08:05PM (#43637797)

    I work for a moderate sized phone company. Customers in the millions. The government has no link into our systems. WE can't even record all of your calls and monitor all your internet traffic. Think about it this way, your ISP likely doesn't even have enough bandwidth to provide you with the speed you're paying for some of the times... Netflix on a friday night for example. Do you really think they have the extra bandwidth to ship all that data off to the government as well? Phone calls are a whole other animal, and are mostly still analog. Duplicating that would involve upgrading the switch... an at least 30yr old piece of obsolete equipment... It just doesn't make sense. Sure, the government could pay for all this stuff... but it would be a HUGE project. Everyone in the company would know. The equipment in our data center is very obvious... we all know what each piece does. There's no mysterious black box in the corner... and there's no way they could be tracking everything without us knowing. There would be at least 1 piece of weird equipment somewhere. I've neither seen nor heard of any such equipment. On top of that, all that data would be meaningless without access to our databases. Capturing the data or phone calls raw would just give you a mac address or phone number. You wouldn't know who was using those numbers. So you'd have to query our database... a database that changes regularly... new systems come online all of the time. So they'd have to have access from outside of the company, so holes in our firewall, make SOAP requests into our system, Have an active user account, make requests to dozens of different DBs, hundreds of Tables, know how all their joins work, know when system changes go in, and on and on... No such thing could happen without the entire company knowing about it. It's just not possible.

    • by decora (1710862) on Sunday May 05, 2013 @09:49PM (#43638369) Journal

      i know that you work some place and thats impressive but there are just mounds of evidence that prove you are wrong. and several other comment threads above with the same idea.

      "i work for a telco, there is no way this is possible"

      "ok thats great, except for several well known court cases that prove the exact opposite of what you are saying"

    • Why do moronic moderators keep modding up idiotic statements such as these from people who think absence of evidence is evidence of absence? Who ARE those guys, here "Charliemopps", that they think they should have known everything? Since when is THEIR cooperation and knowledge necessary? Even if they knew all that was going on everywhere in their OWN company (which not even the CEO does), that company is not connected to others, right?

      This comment is STUPID STUPID STUPID.

      Sorry, I've had enough after readin

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