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Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters (rollingstone.com)
198 points by devx 762 days ago | 52 comments

I was kinda expecting Palantir to be on the list. In other words, they should have been.

I still find it amazing to see how much true 1984 is becoming. I am sure the next phase is thought control, because "crimes" start there and have to be prevented at all costs. Let's get inside the minds of people and put CCTVs and audio recording devices everywhere. In tables under restaurants, in cars, in buses, every possible place. Crime has to be prevented.

The future is scary.


At the same time, Huxley's Brave New World also appears to be becoming more and more true.

"In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies -- the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant.

In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." [0]

Most people don't perceive these changes to affect them/their daily lives, so they are not concerned with it. They don't care.

[0]: http://www.huxley.net/bnw-revisited/


Panem et circenses... Governments never change.

It was Juvenal that coined this system, a mechanism of influential power over the Roman mass. "Panem et Circensus", literally "bread and circuses", was the formula for the well-being of the population, and thus a political strategy. This formula offered a variety of pleasures such as: the distribution of food, public baths, gladiators, exotic animals, chariot races, sports competition, and theater representation. It was an efficient instrument in the hands of the Emperors to keep the population peaceful, and at the same time giving them the opportunity to voice themselves in these places of performance. [0]



During the Barrett Brown leaks, Palantir specifically gave a presentation diagramming the social network of Occupy, and suggesting which nodes the FBI should target to divide the movement as much as possible. They absolutely should have been in the article.


A coworker was offered a job there recently. I told him if he took the position he was dead to me.

Thankfully he did not, as he is an amazing engineer and he's more valuable to the world not being there.


What a weird thing to be proud of.


It's long established here on HN that you and I absolutely are not aligned on our values of privacy and security.

When are we having that beer?


I don't think this has much to do with politics.

How does it even make sense for you to be asking about getting a beer with me? Your friend considers a job you don't approve of and is dead to you. What am I? Presumably something worse than that, right?

My point is, reconsider coercing your friends into taking only the jobs you approve of.


Heh -- Yeah, typical tptacek form:

1. How does Palantir's technology which deeply enables the blackmailing surveillance state NOT have to do with politics.

2. You have a shitty sense of humor. Can't a friend say to another friend "You do X, you're dead to me"

3. You stated in a previous post where we deeply disagreed "But I'd still have a beer with you"

4. Your comments do begin to reinforce something I said to you previously which you took very deep offense to; I believe that you're being an apologist to the egregious security state that the NSA has made the USA become. To me, it is subtle but still apparent, I am pretty damn sure, through all our interactions here on HN, that you are incapable or purposefully reticent of seeing what a threat to the world the US intelligence apparatus is. I had said this previously, based on my opinion that this was due to the nature of your work/livelihood - and that at the time that was an assumption, but it is actually your direct comments that reinforce my position.

Stop trying to make NSA (and the surrounding technology/security companies) acceptance happen. Its not gunna happen.


2. Doesn't track. “Dude if you don't make it out for drinks tonight, you're dead to me” would make sense. “If you do <serious thing> you're dead to me” isn't really funny.


Sure, if you have no context; Friend and I are totally aligned on what we think of the current state of the int environment is.

We work in tech. We share same aversions to certain activities.

He's talented IT guy, companies interested; had offer from several SV bigco's - had offer from this company as well, which we talked about in depth. He ended up making a different choice - and then later I had told him what I stated in my OP; the context and the parties between which this conversation happened; it was funny.

The core of the sentiment though is not: I personally am against companies which built their core business on supporting the surveillance state.

A lot more can be said on that topic; debates over proper use of tech, where lines are drawn, define core business, these problems apply to all industries, etc.

But the fact remains that there are companies who services are more greatly leveraged by the surveillance state. This company is one of them. I don't support them.


First, the idea that the "you're dead to me thing" was just a funny joke is disingenuous. Your meaning was plain.

Second, if this person is actually your friend, and not, I don't know, some kind of minion, you'll respect that they have their own brain and their own moral compass and they're capable of making their own judgements. Maybe you'll even be comforted by the fact that you'll occasionally disagree, as those events validate the notion that we have free will and are not simply deterministically arriving at the same conclusions from the same stimuli.

We're dragging this out a bit now. Obviously, I don't believe that you'd cut off your friend because they made a career decision you didn't approve of.

I'll be in SFBA the week of the 18th. Happy to buy you a beer.

(Among the users whose comments I read religiously is 'pg, in whose tag cloud the largest words would be "PLEASE" and "STOP" and "THIS", and I sort of live in fear of triggering one of those comments myself, so, "uncle" or whatever it takes to end this thread).


I would contest that samstave is doing The Lord's work, in this here situation. To that, I say Amen.


...oh, and let's not leave out the fact that these are private companies. This is not Socialism. This is not INGSOC.

Even without the totalitarianism, the very same oppression crops up. Instead of the single Big Brother brand name, it's a cottage industry private security firms acting as thought police.

Invisible hand of The Market, indeed.


No, the police are doing the policing, and the private companies are supplying the technology.

There is nothing in the article for you to believe otherwise (that the tech companies are doing the policing or any other scenario).


Academi (née Blackwater) is a private company, which has been hired by US police departments for crowd control. For example, they were sent to New Orleans, right after hurricane Katrina plowed into the Gulf coast.



It's like someone made an unholy bit of fan-fiction mashing together Robocop, 1984, and the bleak bits of Gibson, and it then was used as a policy document.


In the actual year 1984, everyone was reading the novel "1984" for fear that we had gotten there. Most regular folk concluded that we in fact were not even close.

However, keen observers knew then that this attitude was, well, uninformed. It was clear that 1984 was true well before 1984.

So I find that much of this alarm is overwrought.


Sounds like the UK where you can be jailed for a tweet.


You can be jailed for a tweet pretty much anywhere if that tweet is a direct, credible threat of violence.


In the UK you do jail time if it hurts someone's feelings.


The law responsible for that was recently overturned: http://reformsection5.org.uk/

In short, it is no longer illegal to use what a policeman or court might judge to be "insulting words or behaviour".


> Another program, made by Bright Planet and called BlueJay, is billed in a brochure to law enforcement as a "Twitter crime scanner." BlueJay allows cops to covertly monitor accounts and hashtags; three that Bright Planet touts in promotional material are #gunfire, #meth, and #protest. In another promotional document, the company says BlueJay can "monitor large public events, social unrest, gang communications, and criminally predicated individuals," as well as "track department mentions." Bright Planet did not respond to a request for comment.

The firehose, which BlueJay presumably collects from, doesn't capture geolocations that aren't already in the public data, right? So it looks like the end of the road for criminals who tweet about their #meth lab and have let Twitter geocode their tweets. Hopefully, that consists of the majority of villains the police have to deal with


Many people in the London riots were using BBM to coordinate rioting or looting.



Blackberry claims to help police.




It's stupid. That is what it is. The industrial surveillance complex that is being set up, do these companies really think people are that naive?

And what makes me even more sad about this is that #meth and #protest are considered as dangerous.


The Silk Road founder was caught because he was stupid.

My friend got robbed at gunpoint this week, her phone and purse were taken. The cops found the suspect because she had Find My iPhone enabled.

Simple things often lead to catching bad guys.


In this context, "stupid" isn't binary. It makes strategic sense for law enforcement to invest in systems that create requirements for criminals to be smart all the time; lots of people can avoid stupidity for short stretches, but far fewer of them can be consistently competent over the long term.


Totally agree.


I actually don't have a problem with private surveillance, regardless of purpose. As long as it's legal (!!!), it's probably more effective than what government agencies like the NSA could do with their more intrusive and illegal methods. I would love to see the NSA domestic surveillance done away with and then have some sort of transparent government incentive for companies that can effectively monitor terrorists, dissent groups, disruptive individuals, whatever, legally. Like private investigators looking into terrorist groups. That's fine, and if the public doesn't like what those dollars are being spent on, such as monitoring peaceful protests (and how are police supposed to know the protestors have peaceful intentions unless they look into them? I've seen some nasty things happen at some of the occupy events in Zugatti park...), they can vote the guys out of office who are in charge of designating targets. It's the complete lack of accountability that causes problems...


I once worked for a company that did pre-employment background checks. Before I left the CEO was talking about the next big thing in weeding out undesirables from the workforce: a system that would keep track of every time someone was placed behind bars/arrested, adding that to a database, and notifying potential/present employers that person A either working for them or applying to work for them had been arrested, either at one time or now.

Not charged with a crime, not falsely arrested, just simply placed behind bars. I left before really delving into the legality of it, but it apparently was.

Remember, the bill of rights only applies to the government. A private company doesn't have to care about WHY you were placed in a jail cell or whether you actually are a criminal, just that you were detained by the police at one time.

If every protester who'd been arrested (I'm thinking Occupy from a while ago) was now in a database that prevented them from ever getting a job again even though they've never committed a "real" crime, then being legal sure doesn't seem fine at all.

I should also mention that I've worked for a few companies handling private information about people. The lack of security in the private area is astounding. I'm honestly surprised that massive SSN and other personal info don't leak out of private companies more often, most of the time it's not difficult to walk out with a million DOB/Name/Current Address/SSN/Duplicatable Signature on thumb drive, there's no internal tracking and no encryption most of the time. The private sector is the last place surveillance should be happening, it's really frightening to think what could happen should they mess up.


Most police forces are institutionally right wing, and so are quite happy to help corporations build blacklists to keep people involved in unions or who brought up health and safety issues out of work. I'm sure police forces hate left wing occupy protesters and will be quite happy to supply detailed information about who they have arrested or information gained from undercover operations to help build blacklists.


Police officers across the country supplied information on workers to a blacklist operation run by Britain's biggest construction companies, the police watchdog has told lawyers representing victims.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has informed those affected that a Scotland Yard inquiry into police collusion has identified that it is "likely that all special branches were involved in providing information" that kept certain individuals out of work.


There is an entire blackmailing mugshot industry.

Not sure if the company you worked for was one of the ones involved, but it is very much a thing.



I have a problem with surveillance in general and I don't think that private surveillance is really any better. Because it still descends from government, I think you'd end up with most of the same problems in addition to problems resulting from trying to make profit.

I mean, what surveillance companies are going to get the most contracts and make the most money? The ones that 'discover' dissent groups, non-peaceful demonstrations, and terrorists. Given that these are relatively rare in our society, a business has incentive to forge evidence on groups and hand them over to law enforcement. Since we're just talking surveillance, no real crimes have to be committed. We can't expect the businesses to be transparent in their methods, because that's their competitive advantage. Whatever government agency signing the checks would be just as happy with this as with their own illegal spying, because they get to point to all these 'wins'.

I guess my point is that moving a controversial issue from the public sector to the private sector doesn't make it magically better. You can say you're fine with it "as long as it's legal", but that qualifier can be applied to government surveillance, too. The problem is that this kind of surveillance lends itself to corruption. I've seen nasty things happen at Thanksgiving parades. What percentage certainty do we need of a demonstration becoming disruptive before law enforcement comes down on the heads of the organizers? 90%? 50%? How often do you think a protest against the current establishment is going to cross that threshold?

Gah, </ramble>


This negative feedback you imagine is worse than you imagine and it has already happened.

The contractors the NSA use, i.e. Lockheed Martin are able to spy on others that may get work on NSA contracts, they can therefore put in a preferential bid to make sure that they get the work.

Now factor in how Lockheed Martin also do the census. They also do the nuclear weapons.

1984 wasn't really that imaginative, the Lockheed Martin script is far more out there.


So after reading that article, if I were a protestor or insurgent; I would be thinking about how to feed false information to these surveillance systems. For instance creating ghost marches; or faking mandatory response incidents in ways that are likely to get innocent bystanders beaten up or shot by the security services.

Anytime you have a fast feedback loop like this, you're going to be getting a lot of noise and a fair amount of disinformation.

Imagine a scenario in which Anonymous is sending out several hundred messages in multiple formats describing an incident in which "Just saw a guy in a suit shoot a cop at Xth and XXX" features prominently. Especially if police communications were being selectively disrupted at the same time...


I've been wondering about this for a while but here it goes:

- what if every medium sized website (in terms of traffic: 1k pageviews per day), injected background ajax calls for google queries about any number of sensitive issues topics?

- what if those same websites used this link[0] or similar for other major services in ajax calls/or iframe with click jacking to send emails on behalf of people which included sensitive information?

I wonder what that topology would look like…

[0]: https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=cm&fs=1&tf=1&shva=1


There's a roughly similar browser extension called "Track Me Not". I have no idea if it's any use. I've been told that it's trivially easy to filter this kind of noise.




If one would consider all the traffic noise, then I can see it being trivially easy (since the traffic would look so much different from everything else), but what if it contained some that weren't really noise? Like if someone piped the output to a database anyone could access?

What about for the emails?


I am a lot more bothered about private companies doing surveillance than I am about whatever NSA / GCHQ are doing.

For a long time my assumption has been that well funded government agencies can, and do, slurp everything I type. (Even though that breaks several laws.)

That has little to no effect on me. But private companies do - they lose the data; they're open to blackmail or corruption; they're insecure; they inaccurate; etc.

Many more people are caused harm by Equifax listing someone else's debt problems under their name than by the NSA doing whatever it is they do.

This post is not saying that government surveillance is acceptable, or that we shouldn't do stuff to stop it!


>That has little to no effect on me. But private companies do - they lose the data; they're open to blackmail or corruption; they're insecure; they inaccurate; etc.

How do those issues not apply to NSA / GCHQ?


Except that the government has a monopoly on force. If a private company harms you, there are often civil and potentially criminal concequences. If the government uses your private data against you and violates your rights, who do you turn to?


> If a private company harms you, there are often civil and potentially criminal concequences.

It is really difficult to sue a company that has a team of lawyers while you are a individual just trying to get by, esp. if said private company did something that really disrupts your life, like wrongly foreclosing on your home or wrongly firing you.


1) It's unequivocally bad if the government spies on its citizens.

2) Some people manage to obtain justice when they are wronged. Often it's just not that easy.


> If a private company harms you, there are often civil and potentially criminal concequences.

This is not at all true, unless you're referring to penalties (civil and criminal) imposed by the government, with the underlying threat of force.


This is normal, expected and working as intended. Adam Smith said it back in 1776 in his book Wealth of Nations:

"“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”


How do you boycott these folks if they don't sell to the general public?


Boycotting only works effectively in a free society. If someone taxes your by force, and hands some of that money to these companies, then short of becoming an elected member of government, you can't do anything about it.


You can campaign and support elected officials who promise not to do so.

Of course, in the meantime they could be targeted against you and anyone you associate with.


That's still not actually doing something about it.

IMO voting is the same as praying. I mean, sure; Your ruler may decide to grant one or more of your wishes, but you'll never know if it was them, or simply chance.

Also, my point was regarding boycotting, and how free association and volunteerism become ineffective when dealing with government or government sponsored corporations. Boycotting on free market ideals, means they don't make money if most people don't like them. This can't happen when the operation itself if funded through tax dollars and currency controls.


We know politicians always keep their promises :)


>...elected officials who promise...

We need an accountability contract; You campaign to do XYZ. You sign it. You get elected. After N month you get audited. if you fail - you lose the position.


You dont directly. Use secure communications methods. Be wary of e.g. geolocation tagging in posts and in images.

Be a good steward of your private data.


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