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Electronic Frontier Foundation United States Cellphones Government Privacy

EFF Begins Investigating Surveillance Technology Rumors At Standing Rock (eff.org) 147

Electronic Frontier Foundation has dispatched a team of technologists and lawyers to a protest site in Standing Rock, North Dakota, to investigate "several reports of potentially unlawful surveillance." An anonymous reader writes: The EFF has "collected anecdotal evidence from water protectors about suspicious cell phone behavior, including uncharacteristically fast battery drainage, applications freezing, and phones crashing completely," according to a recent report. "Some water protectors also saw suspicious login attempts to their Google accounts from IP addresses originating from North Dakota's Information & Technology Department. On social media, many reported Facebook posts and messenger threads disappearing, as well as Facebook Live uploads failing to upload or, once uploaded, disappearing completely."

The EFF reports "it's been very difficult to pinpoint the true cause or causes," but they've targeted over 20 law enforcement agencies with public records requests, noting that "Of the 15 local and state agencies that have responded, 13 deny having any record at all of cell site simulator use, and two agencies -- Morton County and the North Dakota State Highway Patrol (the two agencies most visible on the ground) -- claim that they can't release records in the interest of "public safety"...

"Law enforcement agencies should not be allowed to sidestep public inquiry into the surveillance technologies they're using," EFF writes, "especially when citizens' constitutional rights are at stake... It is past time for the Department of Justice to investigate the scope of law enforcement's digital surveillance at Standing Rock and its consequences for civil liberties and freedoms in the digital world."
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EFF Begins Investigating Surveillance Technology Rumors At Standing Rock

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2016 @12:41PM (#53508117)

    The police seem to think they have limitless powers, it is disgusting. They were given extra powers to deal with the likes of ISIS, not for repressing peaceful protestors. They need to learn they work for the people and not a few company owners.

    • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @03:13PM (#53508999)

      If you think that the authorities are hexing your field communications, bring in some radio hams with mobile gear to patch your calls through. Hams live for opportunities like this, and police are clueless about the tech they use.

      • by plover ( 150551 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @07:26PM (#53510439) Homepage Journal

        Emergency agencies where I live train and use ham radio volunteers to operate communications in their mobile command centers. A ham friend of mine trains with them occasionally. The expectation is the hams will still get through if and when the standard tech fails. They don't deploy hams for normal police actions, but if there's a natural disaster or other emergency, he'll be there.

        I wouldn't rely on the ignorance of others.

        • I'd be surprised if you could find 10 hams who actually know enough about the communications technology to get anything through these days. They're mostly appliance operators any more, so the days of cobbling together a radio from some banana peels and discarded metal sunglasses are long gone I'm afraid. Take away their repeaters and Internet links and they are as helpless as the cops and firemen.

          • Really? I bet you could find several dozen experienced ham operators in your area. Every prepper should have a ham radio.
          • I dare to disagree. Sure, you can get a ham license easily without knowing the first thing about the inner workings of your toys, but true "ham street cred" is what most ham operators are after. And I can't speak for your country, in mine they are subject to a lot of regulation and it's a favorite pastime of many ham enthusiasts to sidestep it, of course this entails knowing a lot about how to tweak, build and rebuild your tools because simply buying something that boosts your performance is not an option.

            • Here in the United States it seems to be a career for some "hams" to cause harmful interference to legitimate communications, especially during nets to aid victims of natural disasters or other directed nets. Lowering the barriers to entry has allowed people who have no life to make misery for the rest who have one.

              Then there are those with this bunker mentality (are we calling them "preppers" now?) who put up repeaters with restrictive access so that only the chosen few (usually only the owner himself and

              • That's what ham has degenerated into in the US? That's sad. It's way different over here in Europe. If there's a disaster happening anywhere you can rest assured that people will load up their trucks with their equipment and travel across the continent to be there. There's also little that's more reliable than these guys when it comes to getting information into and out of areas that have been flooded or hit by any other disaster.

              • Here in the United States it seems to be a career for some "hams" to cause harmful interference to legitimate communications, especially during nets to aid victims of natural disasters or other directed nets. ...

                I think you are getting "Hams" (licensed Amature Radio Operators) mixed up with CB pirates. Or maybe the CB pirates are buying illegal shortwave equipment ?

                Be aware, though, that long distance means that just because you can hear them, does not necessarily mean they can hear you. ;-)

  • by klingens ( 147173 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @12:45PM (#53508139)

    By now it should be public knowledge for any protester against any government that their personal communication devices and the communication itself will be always under attack. Whoever goes to such protests and especially anyone who is networking with others about it, needs to encrypt all devices and all communications. Not just at the protest itself but in their private life too. One is always under threat to get arrested. If one is arrested the cellphone is the first thing confiscated and of course tried to access. Any US protester who uses US communication services like google, whatsapp, facebook for anything is simply a dumb fool. How many NSLs have been granted wrt Standing Rock already?

    Governments infiltrated protest movements 50 years ago with COINTELPRO including assaults on people, did the same in the 90s cross border in Europe, fathered children with activists even and now of course will attack all communications, in meatspace and online. Attacking communications is the first step since it's easy: they own the means of communication. Google hast to comply, since it's the law. They didn't change the amount of effort they will go to, they just changed their tactics. The amount of effort is comparable to spies going deep undercover, to live whole lives over decades to infiltrate, so eavesdropping on communication is a very small and minor step.

    • by rantrantrant ( 4753443 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @12:58PM (#53508195)
      Citizens have little effective defense against govt or private security hacking and penetration, installing malware and spyware in their mobile devices. The only real defense is not to keep a phone with you. I'm sure that it's happening and it's be great for EFF to get some solid evidence of it and then take the appropriate legal actions.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2016 @01:07PM (#53508239)

        That begs the question, what ARE the appropriate LEGAL actions? We're talking about warrantless surveillance using NDA's and gags to silence disclosure of their usage to the citizenry. In many cases this is almost completely unauthorized by the spirit of the law and only a very specific interpretation by a very limited few "secret" judges allow this to continue nationwide, and also in individual states and jurisdictions with state-level bullshit authorization, another layer of abstraction. Still, unless they can prove that it went on and they were monetarily damaged by it? They have no standing to even make it into any courtroom.

        Imagine trying to sue the 3rd reich. It's not unlike that.

      • They have, but they have to have their own geek advising them about it. You will need to sacrifice convenience and possibly even invest some money: buy a used notebook as a computer which deals with the protest using Veracrypt, leaving your normal desktop for other things. Buy a 2nd used phone (less than hundred bucks) with prepaid for the protest only and run CM on it with encryption. Don't use any western companies for messaging. If you can't use decentralized messaging, then use ones in countries like Ru

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The fact that they shouldn't be surprised doesn't negate the fact that the government shouldn't be doing it.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It's not a surprise, just a great opportunity to research some if the tech and see if any illegal use by law enforcement can be proven.

      • Proven, yes. But more importantly reverse engineered, subverted, then used against its maker.

        Security isn't a one way road. If you know your communication is being tapped and your opponent does not know that you know it, it becomes a very useful tool to feed him false information.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      We've got between 2 and 7 generations of CPUs with potential 'spyware' built in. ARM, Intel, AMD. While I still haven't heard of any documented example of it being used in practice, I also haven't heard of anybody setting up reciever hardware to snoop on their cellphone's cellular traffic patterns and determine if suspicious transmission patterns are happening that might indicate keys, baseband/management processor level spyware is being uploaded.

      The point being: There is a lot more needed to retain any rig

    • Encryption is only useful if you do not trust the communication way but can trust the parts that do the actual encryption. In this case, you cannot do that.

  • by Nkwe ( 604125 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @12:50PM (#53508161)
    Please call them protesters or demonstrators. Calling them water protectors is biased toward the protesters just as calling them dissidents or terrorists would be biased toward the pipeline supporters. The story itself is interesting and is news for nerds. I do want to hear about technology and possible indications (such as battery drain rate) that surveillance is occurring. I would prefer that the summary is not politically biased as I can make my own opinion as to if the pipeline is a good thing or a bad thing.

    I know it is a pipe dream, but could we please get back to being a news (for nerds) site and not a political discourse site?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Whiny bitch without the balls to protest for anything has a problem with a group of protesters labeling themselves defenders of that which they're protesting for. And blames slashdot. Of course.

    • Calling them water protectors is biased toward the protesters just as calling them dissidents or terrorists would be biased toward the pipeline supporters.

      Uh, NO. They are literally trying to protect their watershed, thus making "water protectors" just as reasonable as calling the oil supporters "security contractors".

    • I also found this terminology misleading. I thought 'water protectors' were government employees whose job is to measure and protect the quality of drinking water reservoirs.
  • Battery drain can be because of incorrectly configured hotspots. No doubt anyone who is in the same place all the time could spot a "stingray" - a cell tower that appears and disappears. So they could look for some obvious possibilities,

    Disappearing Facebook posts? Is their password that bad, or are they posting content that could be subject to DMCA takedown? Otherwise I'm not sure FB would cooperate.
    • Yeah, it's not like Facebook has removed posts from other countries as they steamroll over their citizens. Nope. No chance.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @01:27PM (#53508339)
    one of the protestors lost an arm to one. The police dropped the grenade too close to them and the shrapnel shredded her arm. It's still attached, but it doesn't work. The best part? The only reason she's gonna win her lawsuit is that the doctor who treated her was smart enough to save the shrapnel lodged in her arm so it could be presented as evidence. The police chief was already accusing the protestors of throwing the grenade until he found out they had proof.

    Anyway, this is why you don't militarize the police. They don't have the training to use these kinds of weapons even when they're 'non-lethal'...
    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      The only reason she's gonna win her lawsuit is that the doctor who treated her was smart enough to save the shrapnel lodged in her arm

      Citation needed; there's so much fake news going around on this topic you can't believe everything you hear. I couldn't find any reports of shrapnel from a grenade being the cause. However, there is a report of a young woman being injured by a homemade bomb [valleynewslive.com]. I also found reports that the FBI collected bits of flesh from one of the propane canister bombs, so someone was injured by it.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        And yet, all of the pictures show in-tact but charred disposable cylinders.That includes the one claimed to have bits of human flesh on it. If that is indeed human flesh, it seems far more likely that it happened right after someone said "Hey, you shouldn't throw empty tanks in a fire!". Weed or alcohol may have been involved.

    • Not only did a protestor *not* lose an arm to a grenade, but you've lost all your credibility in this conversation due to believing fake news.
  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @01:27PM (#53508341) Homepage Journal

    Battery life is lower in remote areas with poor cell coverage for a number of reasons. The radios in the phones transmit at the lowest power needed to maintain a connection. Out in the boonies where the cell towers are just barely in range the phone has to use the maximum wattage which kills the battery. Data rates are usually lower as well (1X or maybe 3G)., which results in longer transmission times to send and receive data, which again kills the battery. So the battery part is no surprise to me. Poor and intermittent data connectivity can also result in applications freezing, and I had at least one older Android phone that would lock up and crash if cell service kept dropping in and out over and over. When riding in the mountains I'd have to just turn it off and only power up to use it when I needed it.

    I'm certainly not saying they aren't being monitored or hacked or whatever, but a number of the things they are reporting are normal to those of us who are often out in the country where cell service is marginal.

    • Came here to write this. From personal experience in search & rescue ops in BFE.

    • by BuckB ( 1340061 )

      In fact, if there were a Stingray or other Fake Cell Phone then the protestors' batteries would last longer than usual because it would be closer.

      Why does Slashdot keep posting this fake news?

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        Re "In fact, if there were a Stingray or other Fake Cell Phone then the protestors' batteries would last longer than usual because it would be closer."
        What the reporters and press need is a computer lab with a testing centre.
        A protected location that can create a cell tower in a lab setting and then examine the cell phones connections, data requests and telco connections.
        Then take the phone to a real tower and see what data moves and to what ip ranges.
        Test for telco/mil/clandestine telco level alteratio
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 18, 2016 @01:38PM (#53508411)

    Good way to contribute something to all for the holiday season.

  • Sure....

    And then you have bad weather and the LEOs can't fly their drones and suddenly the network works.

    --
    BMO

    • by Uberbah ( 647458 )

      I wonder how many of those drones were pointing weapons [independent.co.uk] at the unarmed protesters. If you're going to break out the mine-resistant vehicles from the National Guard, might as well bring in your mini-Predators as well.

  • For the facts, see this comment:
    https://yro.slashdot.org/comme... [slashdot.org]

  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Sunday December 18, 2016 @03:15PM (#53509005)

    As others have pointed out, cell towers are few and far between in the Dakotas. When the dropped connections, battery drain, and phone crashing stops, then you'll know they've brought in the Stingray. It'll be much closer to the protesters, and provide a much more reliable signal.

    The Facebook login attempts are happening the old-fashioned way, from protesters being identified by taking a photo with a zoom lens, running it through the FBI's gigantic facial recognition database, and then Googling the result. The login attempt is definitely an unconstitutional search attempt. The facial recognition database and its usage... might not be. With the Supreme Court we have had and are going to have, it's not.

    Probably no Stingray though. At least not yet.

  • "uncharacteristically fast battery drainage, applications freezing, and phones crashing completely"

    This has been an much under-reported problem with the latest upgrade to iOS 10.1.
    Likely a bug in the upgrade is responsible at least in iOS....
    It seems like there is very little posted on it.

    Here is the section in apple discussions:
    https://discussions.apple.com/... [apple.com]

    Forbes reported on the issue and then has reported again about the latest 10.2 upgrade making the problem worse.
    Here is a report in Forbes:
    http://ww [forbes.com]

    • Exactly. We know these hipster "protesters" all have iPhones too. The EFF is wasting time and money "investigating" this. No one is going to bother with draining someones cellphone battery. Get a grip people.
      • Seems like so many iPhone users either are themselves having or know about someone else having stark battery drain after upgrading to iOS 10.
        None of the people I know of are anywhere near ND hahahaha

        So little reporting about it..... why?

  • If EFF shows that whatever was done was illegal, there will be a bill flying through congress soon enough to make it legal - and backdating so that the police last week did not do wrong.

  • I'm over 50. I'm living in the world I read about in SF when I was a kid. Warning: it's a scary place.
  • Its not the feds/locals.
    Private companies use tech to do the monitoring, then sell the info to the feds.
    Feds never do it. Constitution is not violated.

    • by moeinvt ( 851793 )

      Should the government use a proxy to do something that would violate the Constitutional Rights of U.S. citizens if done directly by government, legal precedent holds that it is still a violation. This has come up repeatedly in the context of evidence gathering.
      As far as using dirty tricks to violate the Rights to free speech and peaceable assembly(among others) I'm sure the government wouldn't hesitate.

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