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FBI operating fleet of surveillance aircraft flying over US cities (theguardian.com)
379 points by denzil_correa on June 2, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 217 comments



>The FBI asked the AP not to disclose the names of the fake companies it uncovered, saying that would saddle taxpayers with the expense of creating new cover companies to shield the government’s involvement, and could endanger the planes and integrity of the surveillance missions. The AP declined the FBI’s request because the companies’ names – as well as common addresses linked to the Justice Department – are listed on public documents and in government databases.

Glad to see AP still has gumption.


Gumption? They're just calling out sloppy work. Either you don't need secret cover companies, or they shouldn't be uncoverable via public data.


Gumption will be when they write the follow up article and print the names of the new she'll companies and continue to expose this disgusting behaviour.


how hard let's see:

     -use lawyer to open up LLC as trust in Nevada as we can have those things not listed publiclally
Is FBI new at this?


What a bunch of assholes.


If only that gumption extended to the US tax payer footing the bill to be spied upon.


... are you suggesting that the entire US population refuse to pay any taxes until surveillance issues are fixed? Because that's a terrible idea.


I wouldn't suggest that such a plan is remotely likely, but a massive organized tax protest would be interesting and probably even beneficial.


Totally agree. The first country where people do this will write history about who is really in charge in a country.


That's already happened - December 16, 1773.


That is slightly different but similar. I am expecting a sovereign country's citizens to do something like that, as far as I know that did not happen yet.


Aren't they already doing this in Greece?


No, that's just tax evasion for financial gain.


Depending on your perspective, you could accuse anyone refusing to pay taxes as evading taxes for financial gain.


Wondering why the top 1% can get away with it in the US...


Demand an upper limit on total government spending as a % of GDP + upper limit for marginal tax rates for all individuals. Given the popularity of welfare very likely government will be forced to bring sense into its spending.

That is the only way. Other way is to use your second amendment rights.


No they will cut benefits starting with single people just like the UK where you don't get any of this feather bedding of 99 week social security. 180 days is your lot - oh and you had better be spending 40 hours a week applying for jobs and be abele to prove it or that gets stopped


That is even better.


What happens if you want government to spend money on things in general (infrastructure, healthcare, national and international aid in case of disasters, reasonable defense projects), just not on spying on civilians?


As I said put an upper limit, I did not say do away with government spending. Let the government manage in that much money by spending more judiciously then sucking our hard earned wealth. They can start for example by selling off the luxurious homes that our Congressman end up having for free.

For any other cause let people contribute out of their own volition.Which works much better.


Stopping tax payments isn't the only way to protest.


I'd love to hear ideas on this.

I am dismayed, nay, infuriated that we waste taxpayer dollars in such a manner when the returns have been found to be non-existent. Yet, I read about atrocities committed every day by ISIS and the US government sits back and does little.

This is not the world I want to live in, and I have no idea how to solve these non-technical problems.

EDIT: Regarding downvotes and the replies as of 1433272217:

If ISIS wants us to engage them, we just sit back and allow them to rape whole villages and sell women into the sex trade?

You don't go to war for oil. You go to war for human rights and to prevent the slaughter and abuse of innocent people.


>If ISIS wants us to engage them, we just sit back and allow them to rape whole villages and sell women into the sex trade?

ISIS are an insignificant mock army of goat herders with guns. They could be eradicated in an afternoon. It's presense though helps with strategic goals of instability for the region.

>You don't go to war for oil. You go to war for human rights and to prevent the slaughter and abuse of innocent people.

That has never happened in the history of modern war. It was all about strategic interests, political influence and resource grabbing.

Heck, if anything lots of dictators have been put to place and pampered, allowed to "rape whole villages" and kill innocent people, by the same people pretending to care for "human rights" in other instances. From Mossadeq to being in bed with Shaddam, the Taliban, Pinochet, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador "death squads", etc. And then bringing even more death and chaos when those deals went out of favor or allies changed.

Besides that's the role of cops. Who appointed any country world cop? Should third countries had invaded the US to end "slavery", seggregation, the "police state" killing blacks etc?


> It was all about strategic interests, political influence and resource grabbing.

This is true, if you omit the 'all'.

> That has never happened in the history of modern war.

This is not true.

A state may go to war for both human rights and self-interests; these are not always contradictory. One casus belli does not preclude others, and it is better that a state have more than one reason to go to war. It might be rare for there to be a war that is actually fought for humanitarian means, but I would argue than one modern example is the Cambodian-Vietnamese War [0]. A Cynic might say that this war was for solidifying Vietnam's influence in the region, and the international reaction was to view the war as such, but perhaps there was a hint of sincerity in the Vietnamese propaganda claiming one reason for the war was to stop Khmer Rouge's domestic terror.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodian%E2%80%93Vietnamese_Wa...


It's all about Realpolitik. Can't really get around that. With regards to slavery, it was rampant all over the world. On paper some had begun to illegalize it, but the only ones not practicing slavery in one form or other didn't because they couldn't (it was unprofitable) To this day we have what is essentially roman style slavery in ME counties. Few bat an eye at the official policies.


> Besides that's the role of cops. Who appointed any country world cop? Should third countries had invaded the US to end "slavery", seggregation, the "police state" killing blacks etc?

You don't appoint someone to do the right thing. The US civil war was large enough that it was tantamount to another country (the North) overthrowing the South to end slavery.


>The US civil war was large enough that it was tantamount to another country (the North) overthrowing the South to end slavery.

Only slavery was just a pretext for that war.


The South claimed that secession was about the imminent threat to slavery from the Northern states, but that the war was just Northern aggression.

The North claimed that the war was about preserving the Union, not about slavery.

So how was slavery a "pretext" for the war?


The Southern states (at least the initial ones) seceded over slavery, yes. The war, however, was over the states' right to secede (and the adverse impact of the secession on the country as a whole — particularly economically) far more than it was slavery, itself.

Its being about slavery was just the story offered to the polity in order to sell them on having a war at all.


> Its being about slavery was just the story offered to the polity in order to sell them on a having war at all.

The Union never claimed the war was about slavery (which would have been counterproductive, since the North contained slave states), but instead consistently said the war was about preserving the Union.

So, no, it wasn't a story offered to the polity to sell them on having a war. Because it wasn't the story offered to the polity at all.


It's the story offered to children in modern grade school history classes.


Every grade school class I've heard of has taught that Lincoln was elected on a platform of preserving the union, that the South seceded over slavery, that the north -- including slave states -- fought to preserve the union, and that ending slavery was an effect of, not the motive for, the war.


"Doing something" about IS is exactly what they (the leadership of IS) want. They want the West — and particularly the US — to engage militarily with them, to give credence to their particular, perverse brand of apocalyptic Islam.

Letting them continue to alienate themselves amongst all the other Muslims on the planet by the way they treat their fellows (if you're Muslim, but don't believe in IS's specific notions of the caliphate, you're an apostate, and must be killed) will, in the long run, do more to destroy them than even nuking all of Syria ever could.

EDIT: re your edit: if the West engages militarily with IS, that becomes an even bigger recruiting tool for them than did the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Imagine how many villages will be raped and killed and sold into sex slavery when IS has three times as many crazy fucknuts who all believe their heinous idiocy?

So, yes, by all means. Let's just go ahead and print their recruiting posters too, while we're at it.

This is long, but it's well worth the read. The Atlantic's article, titled "What ISIS Really Wants": http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isi...

Don't mistake me. I think IS and what they're doing are heinous and disgusting. But to react to what they're doing and try to stop them with force of arms will be massively counter-productive. Sometimes, blowing shit up just makes it worse. I mean, IS wouldn't even be a thing if the US hadn't blown up Iraq. How, exactly, is doubling down a good idea, again?

In the days immediately after 9/11, I said in an online forum to some friends that I really didn't want the US to spend the next several decades playing Whack-a-Mole with the jihad-inclined parts of Islam. Guess what we've done, and what you seem to be calling for doing...


> Letting them continue to alienate themselves amongst all the other Muslims on the planet by the way they treat their fellows (if you're Muslim, but don't believe in IS's specific notions of the caliphate, you're an apostate, and must be killed) will, in the long run, do more to destroy them than even nuking all of Syria ever could.

Waiting it out is not an option.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-bur...

"Amid all the atrocities carried out by Isis — its massacres of civilians, its beheading of hostages, its pillaging of antiquities — the systematic violence the jihadists have carried out against countless enslaved women and girls never fails to shock. For months now, we've heard appalling testimony from women who escaped Isis's clutches, many of whom endured rape and other hideous acts of violence."

"Here's a chilling excerpt: "After attacking a village, [the Islamic State] splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness. The youngest, and those considered the prettiest virgins fetch higher prices and are sent to Raqqa, the IS stronghold."

"We heard about one girl who was traded 22 times, and another, who had escaped, told us that the sheikh who had captured her wrote his name on the back of her hand to show that she was his 'property'."

"Estimates vary, but there are believed to be somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 women enslaved by the Islamic State. Many are Yazidis, a persecuted minority sect that the extremist Islamic State considers to be apostate "devil-worshippers," in part because of the Yazidis' ancient connection to the region's pre-Islamic past. The jihadists' treatment of Yazidi women, in particular, has been marked out by its contempt and savagery."

Here's Bangura again: "They commit rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and other acts of extreme brutality. We heard one case of a 20-year-old girl who was burned alive because she refused to perform an extreme sex act. We learned of many other sadistic sexual acts. We struggled to understand the mentality of people who commit such crimes."


> Waiting it out is not an option.

The last time we "had to" intervene in the Middle East because "waiting it out is not an option", we generated the conditions giving rise to the Islamic State.

Perhaps we need to consider more than whether there is something we don't like going on in the region, but also whether we have a the capability to actually execute something that has net positive result, when considering the social/political impacts of our involvement, including the reactions of people in the region to the US specifically acting in the region, given our historical and current involvement with regional actors.

Everytime the US acts in the region, it promotes, rather than reduces, anti-western Islamic extremism. There's lots of obvious and subtle reasons for that (the least subtle being the convenient propaganda magnet for extremist groups that our involvement with Israel, combined with the Israel/Palestine conflict, combined with pretty much any of the inevitable accidents of war -- and even worse, any actual abuses by US troops, whether as policy or by rogue bad actors -- provide.)


>The last time we "had to" intervene in the Middle East because "waiting it out is not an option", we generated the conditions giving rise to the Islamic State.

America did not intervene militarily in Syria (covertly, perhaps, but not militarily) yet Syria managed to fall apart. Similar to Syria, Iraq was an autocracy/oligarchy in which a religious minority ruled over a religious majority with pretenses of secularism. If these conditions were sufficient for the destabilization of Syria, it seems to me unclear whether the conditions for destabilization of Iraq were introduced with American invasion or were simply dormant.


Yes we did. Friends in a foreign military said there were plenty of American SF on the ground helping out. Otherwise the insurgency wouldn't have lasted a single month.


> Waiting it out is not an option.

This is where I am torn. The short term is horrific, but by engaging militarily it seems that we ensure that we have the same problems in the future.

How do we break the cycle? How can we use the resources and technology at our disposal to protect the innocent, without adding more fuel to the fire?

An open ended question. I'm not sure what the answer is. We look at it in terms of "non violent intervention" vs "military operation" and I can't help but wonder what options in the middle we are leaving out due to the myopic nature of our society.


>"Here's a chilling excerpt: "After attacking a village, [the Islamic State] splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness."

So, like what Australians did to their indigenous population right until the 70's for example:

>The Stolen Generations (also known as Stolen children) were the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1909 and 1969, although in some places children were still being taken until the 1970s.

The children were placed in concentration camps, forced into servitude for white families, and often raped.

>The report said that among the 502 inquiry witnesses, 17% of female witnesses and 7.7% of male witnesses reported experiencing a sexual assault while in an institution, at work, or with a foster or adoptive family.

The main idea was to "white out" their population (sometimes decorated with some racist BS about protecting the children from their savage parents that were unfit to parent them etc, but other times spelled out clearly).

Or how about what the current "allies", and highly sophisticated people, the Germans did, less than a century ago, to several million jews, gays, gypsies and commies...

Or how about the ever popular torture, rape, sexual assalts etc. perpetuated by armies wherever they ventured to bring "democracy" to (it's not like the pictures from that prison in Iraq were that far back).

I'm giving those examples to put what's happening there in some perspective, because some people just see "them, uncivilized subhumans" and "us, sophisticated democrats", whereas it's more like the pot calling the kettle black, with the exception that the pot has better PR and pisses far away from where he lives, so the stink doesn't come as easily...


I'm not quite sure how, because atrocities previously have been committed, its acceptable to allow them to be committed now.


>I'm not quite sure how, because atrocities previously have been committed, its acceptable to allow them to be committed now.

The problem is they haven't just "previously been committed" they are constantly being commited by people who pretend to have the "moral high ground".

Even on a much larger scale than ISIS.

So it helps to a) highlight the hypocrisy, b) highlight the unsuitability and inner motives of self-proclaimed saviors, c) bring to the front additional atrocities that need to be aknowledged and stopped.

If there's a serial killer in your town that's killed 300 people, it's not actually optimal to mobilize the whole town to go catch a gang that killed 2 people in a nearby village.

Especially if your actual target is to get some access to some nice beach-front property in the nearby village, so you could not give less fucks about the effectiveness of your methods or what happens after your involvement. (E.g. civil war, chaos, and hellish instabililty in what were more of less stable societies for decades).

Case in point: who destroyed Iraq's stability and helped ISIS take over in the first place?


> "Waiting it out is not an option."

Oh, you mean like Saddam putting his soccer coach in a plastics shredder? (Didn't happen. Nobody followed up on who planted that story.)


Yet, I read about atrocities committed every day by ISIS and the US government sits back and does little.

Perhaps this is venturing into political territory, but what "returns" would you expect from an expedition into Syria to engage ISIS?


Yeah, consider that ISIS is a product of the last time the US decided it needed to do more to rearrange the political situation in the region.


If ISIS is a product of US foreign policy, than the responsibility falls square on the US government to clean up its mess.


Only if that's a thing they're capable of doing in the first place. Which, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure they are. It seems like any time the US military gets involved in something nowadays, the surrounding people end up worse off than when they started.


If "nowadays" means "over the last fifty years" then I agree. Amazingly enough, this seems to correspond with the time period over which the military-industrial complex has held a monopoly over the civic and political discourse in USA. I wonder, could we be killing people primarily to support the armaments industry?


Isis was originally armed by the U.S. "doing something" about Assad.


...and doing something about Libya, too.


After "doing something" about Saddam Hussain.


Going by the USA's history of waging wars against Islamic terrorism I think the track record is very poor. USA has lost a lot of money and has made situations only worse. There is no point saving some child in Iraq by taxing an American


A closer look at history should show that war is very profitable for this country. WMDs? No, profit.


It is not profitable for the country. It is profitable for third rate defense manufacturers who produce the hardware.


"and sell women into the sex trade"

Because that is a problem we don't have in the U.S...


Downvotes for suggesting we have human sexual trafficing in the U.S. and it's a massive problem? Thumbs up to you guys.


Best idea I've read on HN in days. b^)


I've written up my findings (almost 100 aircraft, 17 front companies) and how I reached them at https://storify.com/jjwiseman/tracking-fbi-aerial-surveillan...


The surprising thing was how easy it was to do this. Really, all you had to do was look: These planes seem to literally use (unencrypted, easily decoded) transponder codes that mean "FBI surveillance", the public records show company names that mostly fit a simple regex, and one of the front companies even has the exact same address as the U.S. Dept of Justice.


JJ,

I love your research on this, with SDR Dongle.

I'm building up my ADS-B receiver with a NooTech SDR. One question, you talked about capturing squawks with your SDR - did you try for ADS-B or do you know if these aircraft employ it? This would give you location.

Kudos to you, man!


Yes, I use dump1090 which can decode Mode S/ADS-B with or without location and Mode A/C.


Since you can look up the aircraft based on the N number using the same transponder code doesn't really make much difference.


Yes, but I did it the other way around: I found the aircraft that were using the transponder code, then looked up who they were owned by and what other aircraft they had. That's how I was able to identify potential front companies that don't fit the "XYZ Aviation w/ PO Box in VA" template.


you do understand that flightaware data is crowdsourced, yes? the data format is trivial to fake, and subsequently upload. i am not saying thats the case here, but implicitly trusting user input makes me skeptical about the entire conclusion.


Read my link from the parent comment: https://storify.com/jjwiseman/tracking-fbi-aerial-surveillan...

tldr: I didn't use Flightaware; I observed these aircraft directly using my own receiver, decoding their callsigns and squawk codes, and correlated with FAA records and the company confirmed by the FBI itself to be a front.

But it's true, most of this evidence is still circumstantial. Just because a company with an odd name and no internet presence has the same PO Box as the DOJ doesn't prove it's a front company; but it's pretty suggestive.


almost like they weren't trying with that last point.


Hi John,

Had you heard about the discovery of the plane last year in Sacramento? Here [1] is the story where they figured out the "JENNA" call sign. Here is the story that started it all. [2]

[1] http://www.news10.net/story/news/local/arden-lariviera/2014/...

[2] http://www.news10.net/story/news/local/sacramento/2014/03/18...


Here's a reference to the FBI using "JENNA" from 2011: http://theaviationist.com/2011/05/15/the-white-fest-b757-and...

I found one link that claimed he found an FAA or DOJ publication that had at one time mentioned the JENNA callsign, but was then edited to remove the reference.


This is similar to the callsigns of the Area 51 planes flying from vegas. JANET was an acronym for Just Another Non-Existent Terminal[0]

Interested to see what JENNA stands for.

[0]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janet_(airline)


Someone on reddit claims they got a close up photo of the camera. http://postimg.org/image/hm861sw61/


Do you have a link to the reddit discussion?



It's kind of fun to read a story with tweets intertwined. It's like tweets are the new bold.

Anyways, great to see this stuff still so accessible even if hidden at first glance.


I think this is our future, whether it's dystopian or not.

Technology is eventually going to make it impossible to really prevent "Persistent aerial surveillance". What requires an expensive small blimp today might become the size of a ping pong ball (or wide area flock of them) and come out of a 3D printer tomorrow.

So who will be using such tech? Governments and private entities alike - we can try to legislate against either but technology will probably overpower the legislation quickly.

So what is the impact of this sort of technology? Maybe it's not all George Orwell. Your bike was stolen on Third St at 1pm? Roll the video back or forwards to know exactly where the thief is. Someone shot up a nightclub and rushed out in a crowd? automated video analysis caught them.

Yes it sounds scary if it were a monopolized power, but eventually I don't think government will be able to hold monopoly on it.


I think it sounds scary anyway.

I mean, I'd know everything about you -- where you lived, where you shopped, where you worked, where you ate out, where your friends lived, what you did with your friends, when you did it, etc.

I could even get further than you might imagine: I probably have a really good guess (>0.99) what you do at your work, given your activities outside of work and the people you associate with.

I tell your boss when you lie about being sick, I tell your insurance how often you do risky things when not driving, I tell your ex where she can find you at the club.

This is the future you're presenting, and claiming that there's some upside. On the contrary, I think humans can't handle it, and are literally going to drive themselves insane with machines.


You think people can't handle it but it's actually pretty close to the way most people lived before urbanization brought anonymity to the masses. Now, technological changes might eliminate privacy which would be unprecedented but it's anonymity that's historically weird, not its lack.


It was always possible to hide or leave town. Plus people forget.


Anonymity sure. We're talking about privacy. It's always been at least non-zero available.


Live in a faraday cage. I'm only semi-joking; I think that it could be a solution to your issue if you're that concerned about it. Whatever the outcome technology is going to be persistently ubiquitous.


That's not necessary. Also, lack of emissions would attract attention, and so be counterproductive. But using shielded equipment in a shielded room, that would be prudent for private work.


not only in that context worth a read:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diamond_Age


Absolutely


I agree that some of the possibilities of such tech are scary.

However, putting on my optimist hat, they are only possibilities. Of course it will be possible to do such things. The question then becomes: why would anyone do them, and (somewhat linked) what are the chances that anyone will do them to you?

> I tell your boss when you lie about being sick, I tell your insurance how often you do risky things when not driving, I tell your ex where she can find you at the club.

All of these things were possible 50 years ago. They are possible now. They will be possible in 50 years.

Increasingly advanced technology reduces the amount of effort, and to some extent, the prior knowledge about you required to do these things - but that doesn't automatically make them more likely to happen. For the vast majority of people the motivation to do such things remains extremely low relative to the motivation to do other more interesting things.

> I mean, I'd know everything about you -- where you lived, where you shopped, where you worked, where you ate out, where your friends lived, what you did with your friends, when you did it, etc.

Again, this is not far off being trivial with today's technology. Yet you can't imagine (at least I can't) what benefit or pleasure anybody would get out of knowing such information about a person today. Therefore it's extremely unlikely anyone will care enough to do it - evidenced by the fact that practically nobody does. Why will this change in the future?

Taken to the extreme, ask yourself even if you could retrieve this information about any given person instantly, for zero cost or effort, would you even care enough to do it? Are the things you could do with that information more exciting or interesting than what you were otherwise going to do today? For how many people is that answer going to be yes?


> The question then becomes: why would anyone do them, and (somewhat linked) what are the chances that anyone will do them to you?

Let me rephrase the items from the GP comment:

1. A company that your boss hires will tell him when you lie about being sick.

2. Your insurance company pays to find out how often you do risky things when not driving

3. where-is-she.com charges 29.99 per month to report on someone's location at any time, using open drone surveillance data.

The point is, all of this can be turned into businesses and government services. In my opinion it's damned scary. I like Snowden's remarks on the topic:

> Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.


It's completely true that these things can (and, to be honest, probably will) be turned into services by companies, that's just one more way in which access to such information will become easier.

It doesn't change the point about motivation and the underlying reasons such information would be used not changing as a result of it being easier.

Let's further deconstruct those three examples:

1. If your boss pays for such a service, it probably points to a wider issue with them, or you. Either your boss is happy with you and your performance, or they aren't. If the former, what incentive do they have to catch you red-handed lying about sick days? Do they even care, ultimately, if you're getting the job done? If not, why would they pay for and/or use such a service? However, if in their opinion you're not getting the job done, and they're actively looking for evidence presumably to support firing you, and you're actually guilty of lying about sick days - well... that sounds like an extremely unhealthy situation that would probably come to a bad end anyway, with or without them using such a service.

2. (Disclaimer, this may be wildly wrong or pure fantasy, IANAEconomist) How do they feed this data into their risk models exactly? This won't increase everyones' premiums - rather it would result in some premiums going up, others down. If, due to poor models, it results in some premiums going up unfairly, then presumably some other insurance company will figure this out so those actually-not-that-risky clients will switch to them for lower premiums. There will be disruption, and temporarily some people will be treated unfairly, but the market will adjust and actually may become fairer all round eventually. Transparency in this case should actually be a good thing, right? Or are we saying that people who are actually riskier should be subsidised by the less risky?

3. The type of person to use such a service would not just do so because it's easy. This is a fundamental matter of morals. The type of person to use this service would be incredibly likely to do bad things anyway, regardless of the tools available to them to do bad - technology will not take otherwise moral people and suddenly make them immoral just because it's easier now than it was yesterday. In rather simplistic terms, don't blame the weapon for violence, blame the person making the decision to use the weapon.


> Yet you can't imagine (at least I can't) what benefit or pleasure anybody would get out of knowing such information about a person today. Therefore it's extremely unlikely anyone will care enough to do it - evidenced by the fact that practically nobody does. Why will this change in the future?

I'm paid to profile people and discover facts about their lives from their habits and the stream of data their phones collect.

Quite literally, there's hundreds of millions of dollars on the line to get that information about you, because it allows people like me to teach computers to manipulate you in to doing what other people want (statistically).

> Taken to the extreme, ask yourself even if you could retrieve this information about any given person instantly, for zero cost or effort, would you even care enough to do it?

The data about people stalking their exes on Facebook strongly suggests that people would peep on each other all the time, given an easy way to do so. However, it doesn't suggest that such habits are healthy.

> Are the things you could do with that information more exciting or interesting than what you were otherwise going to do today? For how many people is that answer going to be yes?

I'm not worried about most people; I'm worried about the people for whom that information is useful, because it can be used against me in effective and highly problematic ways.


> All of these things were possible 50 years ago. They are possible now. They will be possible in 50 years.

But 50 years ago, these things were not trivial to accomplish. You couldn't just rewind a public feed, and find this information out about any given person - you had to dedicate manpower to tracking any one given individual.


That's very true - it's the point I address on the next line :-)

> Increasingly advanced technology reduces the amount of effort, and to some extent, the prior knowledge about you required to do these things - but that doesn't automatically make them more likely to happen.


I disagree that it doesn't automatically make them more likely to happen.


Reading this back, I didn't phrase this in the right way to get across my meaning.

I'm totally not taking the extreme and naively idealistic position that ease of access won't make bad things more likely to happen. It will in almost all cases by some margin - I guess my real argument is that margin might be small enough that it's not really a big deal in practice.

And this is definitely my 'optimist' argument. It's what I want to believe is true, and I think there's some rational justification for it, as I've discussed. However, sadly I can definitely see the opposite case as well, and totally accept that it's not only possible, it could be the more likely outcome.


I want to believe that, too, but when Amazon is spending serious money on a one-press-to-order button - thus betting that ease of access will increase use - I'm pretty sure I don't want to argue the other direction :p


Given you and most people reading this very likely carry a phone in your pocket that can track most of above fairly well, its already been here for years. I like the benefits of my phone despite the potential for abuse.

Challenges of advancement is nothing new for humans. Just like when cave men discovered how to make fire. It's incredibly beneficial when used well. It's incredibly harmful if used without control.


People for the first million years, lived in one anothers pockets. There was no anonymity. Arguably we're designed to be social because of that.

The modern tendency toward outbursts of antisocial behavior might be a product of anonymity.


... So what?

First, it's apples-to-oranges, because we lived in smaller groups.

Second, our cultural-programming changes at a much faster rate than genetic-programming.


That's not actually clear! Homo Sapiens adaptation rate increased 100-fold once we started this civilization thing. And for most of that time our social evolution was very slow. I guess today it might have turned around, but that's a blink in the history of our race.


What sort of "outbursts of antisocial behavior" are you talking about, and is there really a modern tendency towards it?


Oh anything really. Ranting on HN. Telling off sales clerks. Pushing to the head of the subway line. Anything you get away with because its anonymous. In the old days, you'd know every clerk, everybody in a line, and get harassed if you were antisocial.


You'd also be harassed if you deviated from any social norms, had the wrong religion/skin/... We should not want to return to such times.


That's very much a modern view. And not shared around the world at all. Racism is of course wrong. But social norms are the glue that holds us all together, to a degree. Its not black-and-white.


I sort of agree, but it just seems technology is going that way one way or the other. How could it be stopped?

When/if that sort of tech happens culture would be very different to say the least.


I believe this surveillance can be slowed down? We need to stop being so complacent with our photo being taken? We could start be not shopping at stores like Home Depot. Home Depot takes my photo multiple times for the purchase of a screw? I know all stores treat their employees and customers like convicted felons, but some are worse than others?

Then, maybe we could slow down on the posting of pictures? Show up at local town hall meetings--questioning the need for so many cams, and license plate readers? Especially, if said town doesn't have a problem with crime?


Argument based on reason and ethical principles is not how politics works.


That seems like a lot of effort just to keep your apocalyptic narrative alive.


It's scary because the US government has such a history of suppressing dissenting ideas, especially when it comes to anti-war activists, environmental activists, or any domestic groups which express opposition to the United States' form of capitalism. The FBI has a long history of infiltrating and undermining such groups.

I understand what you're saying, but it also means that many possibly beneficial ideas and/or movements tend to not see the light of day.


If the government wanted to stomp out dissent, it wouldn't take aerial surveillance. People loudly and openly dissent under their real name with no consequences.

Wanting to outlaw any technology that could conceivably be used against you is silly.


"we can try to legislate against either but technology will probably overpower the legislation quickly"

Technology is here to serve us. What's with this attitude that we don't have the tools (laws) to control what our government and people are and aren't allowed to do? It's like the good ideas of small government and libertarianism have been warped mean that laws are no longer the solution to anything.


Laws are great. Laws against use of information technology are pretty troublesome to enforce. Are you thinking of a law against building or operating drones? Or a law against using open source software which controls swarms of drones or stores video? Or a law against advanced 3D printers? I hear distributing copyrighted music is illegal...


"Roll the video back or forwards to know exactly where the thief is."

This is happening collaboratively today on Nextdoor.com when there is a crime in the neighborhood.

"What does your camera show, Mr. Neighbor, at such-and-such time and date?"


Thankfully that all happens manually and requires people to cooperate with one another. The FBI requires no such cooperation.


Everything you mentioned has been possible for several years now: with eyewitnesses, ubiquitous CCTVs, etc. The change will really be in that clearance rates on crimes will shoot upwards when these technologies are invented. Or criminals will find ways around the technology, as they have done for much of human history.

The bigger concern is the possibility of misuse and abuse of such technology, both by the government and by unscrupulous individuals. That is what will make the future dystopian. In fact it has been happening for many years now: think lie detectors and cell phone tower tracking- both demonstrably bullshit, but widely abused nevertheless!


There was an interesting recent book that covers a lot of privacy vs technology concepts that are increasingly relevant. I'd highly recommend checking it out. It's a quick read.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Circle_%28Eggers_novel%29


Doesn't it sound scarier if the government doesn't hold a monopoly on it? At least the government is [supposed to be] held to some standard of use. I think that type of technology and data being available to the general public at large is frightening.


It's also probably a lot easier to capture a ping pong ball than a blimp. Then you'll have people reverse-engineering them and figuring out countermeasures. It'll be illegal, of course, but someone will have a way to defeat them and probably use it.


A flying ping-pong ball I find in my house, is mine to do with as I will. I expect courts eventually will find that dominion to extend to some elevation above my backyard as well.


Sharper cameras, higher flights...


I think it will be a monopoly for people/organizations who have the necessary money.

And they will probably create rules that prevents others from getting information. So we will have some information have's and a lot of have nots.


And then after that everything will simply be recorded. Human activity prior to this point in time will be considered kind of "pre-historical".


> "Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams," the FBI said in 2009 when it asked Congress for $5.1m for the program.

Holy military state, Batman! It seems that the FBI has really taken to heart the change in mission statement from "law enforcement" to "national security"[1].

> The surveillance flights comply with agency rules, an FBI spokesman said. Those rules, which are heavily redacted in publicly available documents, limit the types of equipment the agency can use, as well as the justifications and duration of the surveillance.

Given the duration and location of these aircraft, it's very hard to see how these aren't an illegal search, given the past few years of judicial rulings[2][3]. It's become very clear that collecting movement data, even if that movement data is public, requires a warrant. No wonder the FBI wants to keep a layer of fake companies between it and these planes. Also, if you do collect wide area data for a specific target, can you keep the wide area data for use later on for another purpose?

I volunteer for an organization[4] that works with cities to adopt privacy policies regarding the data they collect, receive, and share. To date, our privacy policies have mostly been focused on disclosing how local offices are sharing local data (license plate readers, stingrays, etc.) with the feds, but now it seems we need to add sections about disclosing incoming data feeds from the feds.

[1]: http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/fbis-main-mission-now-not...

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Jones_%282012...

[3]: https://www.eff.org/cases/united-states-v-vargas

[4]: http://www.restorethe4th.com/


It falls squarely within California v. Ciraolo, which says there is no expectation of privacy in anything visible from the air. It also common sense. Any shmuck with a general aviation license can take up an ultralight and see what he can see. So can the government.

Jones involved a trespass on the suspect's property. Totally different situation.


Without knowing the details, it seems like they shouldn't really distil 'expectation of privacy' down a simple binary "could someone not breaking the law observe them or not" test.

IMO, the efforts to which that hypothetical person would have to go should influence just how much privacy a person could 'expect' to have. Otherwise why do people bother putting up privacy fences around their garden, when anyone could just fly over? Or hoist a camera on a stick?

The problem being that the more effort required to observe, the more confident an ordinary person could presume to be unobserved.

When we have UAVs that can loiter around (in public airspace, of course) random buildings and bounce laser microphones off the windows, along with thermal imaging and gait detection of individuals at a price that is affordable by average people, would that change 'expectation of privacy'?

As long as the tech is embargoed or ridicuously expensive, there's a distinct skew where the government can afford it and Joe Shmuck The Reasonable Individual can't.

In fact, the mere ability to continuously loiter for extended periods and make recordings is probably beyond an individual who doesn't have refueling support or additional friends in similarly equipped craft to change watches.

"If they could, then we can, will, and do"


The Illustrated Guide to the Law has some discussion of this question here: http://lawcomic.net/guide/?p=2201


Wow. That's great.

This panel explains why there is no 4th amendment protection of information you store in the cloud: http://lawcomic.net/guide/?p=2210.


There's a vast gulf between a random schmuck with some aerial imaging and a global, totalitarian, surveillance state with nearly omniscient powers. This stuff is merely yet another database input.


Totalitarian?

Nearly omniscient?

US law enforcement can't even keep bombs off airplanes, drugs out of prison, and people from getting away with murder.


> US law enforcement can't even keep bombs off airplanes, drugs out of prison, and people from getting away with murder.

They could if that were an actual priority of theirs. But I suspect it's not, and growing their power is.


[citation needed]


Would you prefer "random and haphazardly prioritized omniscience?" Reducing corruption among prison guards and raising violent crime solution rates is hard. Buying shiny stabilized cameras and airplanes is easy and it's wicked cool. So you need to use your super-powers and arrest some people for... whatever, to show you are using your shiny toys.

It's not hard to explain how a government can have seeming omniscience in some cases, and still be bumbling in many others. That also explains the warped priorities.


How do you reconcile [1] with the use of Stingray-like technology from outside the home (whether in the air or not)? Stingrays are not commonly available to the public, so no "shmuck" can go up there and do this.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyllo_v._United_States


I don't know how I feel about Stingrays. On one hand, I think if your phone is spewing out all sorts of information about you into the aether, that's your problem, not the government's. On the other hand, pretending to be a cell tower is an active process, unlike a purely passive device like an aerial camera, and that seems "more search-y" to me.

The solution, of course, is to not have utterly retarded cell phones that blindly trust whatever claims to be a base station.


Yeah, but isn't a similar argument made with regards to license plate readers, and isn't the common counter-argument that there's a difference between a license plate being readable by a random schmuck vs. all license plates systematically scanned, recorded and kept as records by the government?


How does that play into this ruling though? https://www.eff.org/document/vargas-order-suppressing-video-...


>It also common sense.

No it isn't. Any Schmuck has no authority to enforce laws.


Are you arguing the enforcing the law is a bad thing? I think it's clear people arguing this line of thinking aren't pro privacy, they just want people to get away with crimes.


Yes, actually; enforcing all of the laws all of the time is completely impractical. If you want always-on enforcement of every law, then we're going to have to seriously reform all of the laws. So, WRT your comment, I would tell you that it is my preference that laws be enforced to solve a specific social problem, not merely for the sake of enforcing a law.


The FBI isn't handing out parking tickets.


That are intimidating protesters. Much worse.


Exactly, they're doing a lot worse.


I think your last point about data retention is really the big question. Given the ever-growing use of Parallel Construction in making cases from illegally obtained data (or data authorized only for a different use), its not enough that all these policies be stopped -- we need to address how long they can keep the fruits of their labor.


It seems that the FBI has really taken to heart the change in mission statement from "law enforcement" to "national security After 9/11, that's what people seemed to demand.


That's not quite accurate, if you read the history of the FBI [1], they have been an intelligence agency as long as they've been a law enforcement one (pre-1950s, when it was called the Bureau of Investigation):

http://www.amazon.com/Enemies-History-FBI-Tim-Weiner/dp/0812...

They pride themselves in the idea hardly no one in the American public is aware of this fact.

9/11 made them focus their intelligence abilities on terrorism but those capabilities were hardly new to the FBI.


When it was imagined, we called it "distopian" - books were written and immortalized, movies were made, warnings were served.

When it happened, there was barely a murmur.


> When it was imagined, we called it "distopian"

I always though it was "dystopian" but your spelling made me check again. Apparently, "distopia" is used in some romance languages like

Spanish - http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distop%C3%ADa

Portuguese - http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distopia

Italian - http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distopia


Neat. I didn't do that on purpose... I misspelled it, but I'll leave it since you have a neat point.


They are two related terms A dystopia is a particular society like Metropolis in the 30's Fritz lang film film. Dystopian is how you describe say ubiquitous CCTV cameras.


It's appropriate, too, as "dis" is Latin while "dys" is Greek.


Video/Cell surveillance with a Judges order by the FBI (a NON-FISA Judge - the FISA ones are Rubber Stamps) is how the process is supposed to work.

The article raises two deeply troubling points:

1) That they operate without specific Judges orders - this means that they are pretty much Dragnets sweeping up vast swathes of information indiscriminately.

2) They are used to help in "disturbances" (by presumably recording Video & Cell info?). So even civil disobedience is prime target for these flights.

The combination points to a major overreach by the Feds. The temptation to use all that info in one way or another (Parallel Construction for e.g.) is too great. Needs ACLU & possibly EFF to sue & the courts to shutdown this crap.


To me it makes sense that the FBI needs a fleet of surveillance planes for investigations. It also makes sense that these aircraft carry civilian livery to be low-profile (same idea as an unmarked pursuit car).

What seems f-ked up are the shell companies. Why not come out and say "we have surveillance planes; we need them for investigations; here's how much money we've allocated in our budget to operate them."

The FBI shouldn't need to hide this.


The FBI using front companies for aerial surveillance of suspects seems fine to me; That's just doing their job of criminal investigation.

The worrying part is seeing their planes overhead for hours at a time, which looks more like potential persistent surveillance, or a dragnet that sweeps up hundreds or thousands of people into whatever video/cellphone recording they're doing.


> doing their job of criminal investigation

That hasn't been the FBI's job for some time now. They joined the "intelligence community" club and now claim is now about "national security".

http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/01/05/fbi-drops-law-enforcemen...

So why is it necessary to fly spy planes domestically to protect "national security". That would imply we've already been invaded... or their purpose is something else entirely.


Having a primary function doesn't mean they don't have other functions as well, such as criminal investigations.


It is amazing how prescient the movie "Enemy of the State" (with Will Smith, Gene Hackman) was. And how it holds up to a second viewing even today.


I recommend you watch Coppola's The Conversation as well, which is what originally inspired EotS. It's far more atmospheric and psychologically tense.


Agreed - The Conversation is quite good.


How can an ordinary person tell if one of these spy planes is currently overhead?

Is there some way to dink with them, similar to Matt Blaze's in-band signalling vulnerabilities discovery(s) (http://www.crypto.com/papers/wiretap.pdf) ? You know, use old phones that still have SIM cards, but have them try to register constantly? I'm a bit vague on cellphone protocol details, so spare me the nit picking, and get on with the revelations.



from u/jjwiseman

>DOJ/FBI surveillance aircraft often squawk 4414 or 4415 on their transponders.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9508812


I think this is a great thing about HN. Through the noise of the donate links to this and that, others help propagate information how they are building tools that could help decrease the asymmetry of the landscape/ increase transparency surrounding these things in ways more grounded in realism.

Hak5 had a couple episodes dealing with getting set up with SDR and such to be able to do this for yourself[0] that I didn't see covered in that thread which might be useful for others as well.

[0] http://hak5.org/episodes/hak5-1525


Probably by using something like:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=de.srlabs.snoo...

https://f-droid.org/repository/browse/?fdid=com.SecUpwN.AIMS...

I wish this kind of "firewall" was included natively in the operating systems, though, even as an opt-in feature. It's time for OS vendors to do something about it, just like they did with local storage encryption (enabled out of the box, even).


GPG for apk Version 0.1.28-alpha-b00 - Added on 2015-05-25

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A host of interviews and discussions in Washington such as the Holder interview on drone use in America and the legislation from the FAA on drones highly suggests that large drone systems (ARGUS) will be permanently placed in America's skys and that the use of predator drones on American citizens inside American borders deemed to be a threat to national security would be proper depending on official policy.


Haven't they always done this? They've always used surveillance vans parked outside of suspect's houses with listening equipment, for example. They even used fake company names on the sides of the vans. Why should we be surprised they're using airplanes too?


Which suspects are they parking the surveillance planes over?

The fear is that the answer is "none"--they're flying planes continuously to see what they can see across the whole city.

What if they started parking a surveillance van with listening equipment outside of EVERY single house in the city? Still ok?

Americans are ok with surveillance technology as long as its use is limited. The American system for limiting it has always been focused on the exclusion of evidence. If the state violated the 4th Amendment (like parking a listening van without a warrant), the evidence could be excluded from trial and the surveilled person is less likely to convicted.

The government is now pivoting to the concept of national security to get around all these limitations. If the FBI is not investigating a crime, it does not care about the 4th Amendment. Terrorism is defined as an act of war--not a crime--so as long as the FBI is doing "counter-terrorism" it can just collect all information about whatever it wants, whenever it wants, with no limitations. And it can keep the entire process secret.


I think HN and the public are extra sensitive to the concepts of "mass surveillance" by the government. A van parked out of a house doesn't seem like mass surveillance (even though it probably could be) but a plane "circling US cities" for some reason, raises these concerns to a higher level.

Also, the story is just ripe for the viral nature of the current news cycle: Mix in one part government entity (FBI), one part privacy (seeming mass surveillance) and one part secrecy (hidden corps) and you've got yourself a recipe for media success in 2015! In all seriousness, if the planes were "drones" you'd have a social media sharing grand slam.



Because now they can spy on millions vs 1. I think that makes the difference.


What if the target (being monitored by said van) took off and "lost" the van in the sidestreets of US city? The FBI would be criticized for it's ineffective surveillance techniques. The plan is just an upgrade - the laws and controls (or lack thereof) are what is important - not so much the tech.


The FBI can easily follow one suspect, but it's an expensive provision. The issue is when you decrease the costs you can start following thousands of suspects for the same net cost so it takes a much lower standard of evidence to start. Suspect > suspect’s friend > friend of friend and you quickly hit the point where everyone is being watched.

Worse large lists quickly become meaningless. Both the 9/11 hijackers and the Boston Marathon bombers where on a list, but that list was simply too large to be useful because 99.9% of everyone on those lists ended up doing nothing.

Now consider something like a DNA database. With 100 million random people on it a 99.999% accurate test going to report a false positive every single time and most tests are nowhere near that accurate.


Getting from the admitted targeted surveillance with to 'everyone is being watched' seems like a bit of a slippery slope argument to me.

I think, as you point out, that the overwhelming quantity of Data that would be produced by such an approach prevents this by creating a cost/benefit equilibrium for the FBI on the number of people they monitor with any regularity to build their cases.


License plate scanners are actually just scanning everyone so there is no slippery slope involved. Right now we are all being watched. It's a pure cost issue; camera + OCR + database lookup is really cheap so just tag everyone.


How did we go from the FBI flying aircraft with video cameras to license plate scanners which scan 'everyone'?

I ask because there is no mention of license plate scanners in any of the parent comments to this, or the article.

Also while I assume by everyone you mean everyone who passes through the field of view of the scanner, and not actually everyone; phrasing things in false absolutes like that does not further your point.


It's hard to directly read a license plate from an aircraft. However that's not necessary as the plates are being recorded as part of a separate system all it takes is continuous footage of a car from aircraft and you are recording everyone. https://www.aclu.org/issues/privacy-technology/location-trac...

Basically, aircraft follows car X, it passes by a scanner, you now know every car with timestamp that passed by the scanner and can look it up on the video. Doing this automatically is just a question of having enough video coverage and some fairly basic video analysis. They don’t even need to do this in real time as you can write the software after the fact.

In other words because they already have license plate scanners and are doing OCR + lookup they just need a video of the cars after that point.

Note: I doubt they have nearly enough footage to track everyone right now, but the cheaper it is to add one more camera and archive the footage the closer you get to that point.

PS: You can even back track cars so if you have a lot of footage of a car that then passes near a scanner you then know its path from wherever the footage starts.


You completely ignored my question to you. I asked how you got to the topic of license plate readers, I know how they work and an explanation of how they work does nothing to answer the question of how you transitioned to that topic.


I think you completely misunderstood my comment. If you have an hour of video footage of a blue car that you happen to collect from an aircraft while tracking a suspect then on it's own that says vary little. Historically you need to track a suspect to there car and then follow a car so together it's vary labor intensive to track large numbers of people.

However, if the blue car passed a license plate reader it stops being a random blue car and becomes license plate ABC-1234 registered to someone and your now "following" that specific car plus the original subjects car for that hour. Basicly, the readers enable you to track people not just where the reader physically is but wherever you have footage either leading up to that scan or after the fact. Together you can potentally follow millions of people for fairly low costs.

Granted, nothing says the person who the car is registered to is the actual driver, but you have someone who can probably tell you who was driving that car.


And how do they automatically detect the criminal wrongdoing being committed by that car or its occupants? That is the part I don't get. Yes if they decide to look for John Smith, License plate 1AMJ0HN, then they can probably automatically find his car in that footage, and they can watch that footage to see what he was up to. But watching that footage and figuring out if he did anything they can prosecute him for is not a simple task for any computer algorithm I can think of, and would require time to do manually. And with out doing it in an automated manner they can't possibly do this for 'everyone' which means they have to have reason to already suspect the people they do choose.

I see absolutely no way that bringing up the existence of license plate scanners created a situation where there was no slippery slope.

Also the recorded video collection grows to be a ridiculously large amount of data over time, even detecting all video of John Smith's car across the United States will become an expensive task to complete computationally. And for everyone? Well even more expensive.

Add on the concept that camera's will not be covering all of the United States at times, and if you are just using make, model, and color of cars to track people between license plate readers shell games where similar cars rearrange them selves in tunnels or garages will become extremely effective at defeating surveillance if license plate readers are not basically everywhere.

So in spite of you deciding to bring up license plate readers, and explain how they can be used to assist in tracking with airborne surveillance I still fail to see the relevance of how they ensure that 'everyone' will be monitored.


Did you forget about Speeding or the 1001 other traffic offences? Does anyone observe proper following distance for every second of every trip?

I suspect if you wanted to harass your ex-wife, or a dissident, then overhead footage of their car for a few hours would provide a multitude of crimes.

Sure, if you actually prosecuted everyone that's one thing, but selective enforcement plus mass surveillance is a very powerful and easy to abuse tool and you don't need anywhere near 100% coverage to make this effective.


How does more data hurt an investigation, if you are statistically literate? What is the conditional probability on that DNA test when it turns up a match with someone who also knew and was in recent contact with the murdered person and had a motive?

Same with watch lists, doesnt all the ineffectiveness go away if they have tiering or triage system?


> Same with watch lists, doesnt all the ineffectiveness go away if they have tiering or triage system?

If properly used, perhaps. However, the standards for government forensics have been... questionable.

Generally speaking, government "tests" seem more focused on confirming the prosecutor or investigator's theory than on actually resolving truth about facts.

You seem to be assuming a great deal of statistical literacy on the part of people utilizing these database tools, which I'm not sure is a solid assumption.


But a lot of arguments about surveillance tech seem to be really arguments about people not doing their jobs. If they get overwhelmed with the data, it's not the fault of technology. So preventing them from using new technology doesn't strike me as a right solution.


I don't think you can dismiss that argument until people actually do there jobs. Case in point there has been a big push to stop collecting SSN on so many forms. Not because you can't collect that information saftly in theory, but because people and systems have repeatedly failed to protect it in the past.


You’re now basing your case on circumstantial evidence which is considered near worthless for a reason.

If you have 5 suspects and then do DNA testing that's solid evidence. Ex: Paternity test. But, if you find someone with DNA testing you need to completely ignore that evidence after that point as 100% of its predictive power has already been used.

PS: To show just how easy it is to mess this stuff up. Suppose a murder occurred in NY city and the DB returned 20 people so you look at the closest 3 suspects and aha someone lives just 10 miles from the crime! However, note you already picked someone that was close by so you need to consider the odds that someone who lives close by happens to lives in the area. EX: A high percentage of people living in say NY state also live within 10 miles a crime in NY City.


That seems to be a textbook case of people failing to apply Bayes' theorem properly, not a fault of tests or technology. They, just like doctors analyzing cancer tests, need to remember to multiply one more number...


It's also the kind of information that's easily dropped or misunderstood by a jury at trial.


> Because now they can spy on millions

I didn't see that part of the article, can you link me to some resources for the planes having that level of camera and computer vision technology?


ARGUS-IS

"ARGUS is an advanced camera system that uses hundreds of cellphone cameras in a mosaic to video and auto-track every moving object within a 36 square mile area.

ARGUS is a form of Wide Area Persistent Surveillance that allows for one camera to provide such detailed video that users can collect 'pattern-of-life' data and track individual people inside the footage anywhere within the field of regard."

[0] https://youtu.be/QGxNyaXfJsA?t=51s

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARGUS-IS


So I did the deep dive of the ARGUS-IS wikipedia article. The majority of sources were regarding the possibilities of such a system. The one authoritative source, from fbo.gov, was an RFP. It appears that such capability doesn't exist, though it is interesting that a government agency is actively working toward the capability.

However, since you asserted that such a thing could happen, your link supports your point. I think it should have been qualified that the technology doesn't exist yet in the interest of full disclosure.


I'm a little confused about what you're trying to say.

Light googling indicates that this is an extant system that has been fitted to aircraft since 2009:

"DARPA, working in partnership with the Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, Air Force, Air Force Research Laboratory and National Geospatial Agency, conducted its first test flights using the ARGUS system last year [2009]."

The DoD indicates that the system was operationally deployed to Afghanistan in Q1 2011. [0]

LLNL has an article describing the system's optics, technical specs, and their work on processing the data streams it generates. [1]

BAE released an IR upgrade in 2010:

"BAE System's first flight tests of ARGUS-IR's predecessor, ARGUS-IS, concluded last October aboard a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter." [2]

[0] http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=62138

[1] https://str.llnl.gov/AprMay11/vaidya.html

[2] http://www.baesystems.com/article/BAES_028152/bae-systems-wi...?


Thanks for the added info. I didn't do any googling; I limited my commentary to the source you provided (I didn't look at the youtube video, that method usually carries a low signal to noise ratio). The wikipedia article is light on actual information about the ARGUS IS; the primary source is an article with the title "drone nightmare" in it. Other advertised capabilities don't exist yet. I will add your sources to the wikipedia article, they are much better than what is there.

I don't think that it should be expected that I exhaustively comb search engines to find support for your point; I think that it's reasonable that I look solely at the source you gave me.

That said, I found the capabilities in your first (0th) source to be chilling. That source definitely supports your point.



Those links don't support the ability to active track a million people. It's just a 360 degree camera used to track insurgents during combat. It's not tracking every person in a city over a period of time.


  The array of cameras on the aircraft that flew over 
  Compton can record high-resolution images of a 25-square 
  mile area for up to six hours. It can track every person 
  and vehicle on the ground, beaming back the pictures in 
  real time.


  It’s city-wide surveillance on an unprecedented scale.


  What we essentially do is a live version of google earth 
  only with a full TIVO capability, it allows us to rewind 
  time and go back and see events that we didn’t know 
  occurred at the time they occurred.
[0] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/new-police-surveillance-techn...


Also in 5 years those vans will be self-driving.


Honestly, unlike what the NSA is doing, this doesn't outrage me. Surveillance aircraft only see what is visible from the air—primarily public spaces.

When I'm in a public space, I don't have any expectation of privacy. Heck, a single private citizen intent on tracking my every move could easily "surveil" me in this way.

If the FBI is only exercising techniques which a private citizen could deploy, I really don't care. I fully expect that every minute I'm in public is being documented—it's spying on private communications which really outrages me.


"Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they are not making a call or in public. Officials said that practice, which mimics cell towers into coughing up basic subscriber information, is rare."


It appears that they do, however, get a warrant before collecting information via Stingrays.


Aggregation of data on thousands of people over an extended time has an entirely different quality to one person watching one place in public.


I feel like I'm not understanding the implications of this, because my reaction is "meh". Can't the FBI fly helicopters now without a warrant? What's different about this compared with past behavior? I guess I'd be more interested to learn what equipment they have on the planes, because that can greatly impact the work they are doing. I'm definitely concerned about drones taking over this work with better tech, but I feel like I should be up in arms about these flights and I'm not.


If you need to hide your surveillance behind fake companies, then you can probably surmise that it will not be met with public approval.


Are we sure its FBI and not some bigger 4 eyes operation? "Mystery Plane With No Callsign Circles South London For Hours":

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/22/mystery-plane-no-...



Yes! There are even articles from 3013 about the FBI using small planes for aerial surveillance, including IMSI-catchers. I think the reason the story might be catching on now is because of the compelling nature of seeing screenshots of multiple circle tracks over multiple cities, and even seeing photos of the planes and their camera turrets.


> Most flight patterns occurred in counter-clockwise orbits up to several miles wide and roughly one mile above the ground at slow speeds. A 2003 newsletter from the company FLIR Systems Inc, which makes camera technology such as seen on the planes, described flying slowly in left-handed patterns.

The way they mentioned counter-clockwise orbits and then talk about FLIR's newsletter mentioning left-handed patterns seems to be trying to use the left/counter-clockwise aspects to connect the two.

That seems rather a stretch. Pilots have better visibility to the left in most small planes, and so left turns are preferred. Also, propellers usually rotate clockwise, which causes some biases toward the left I believe, which may make it slightly easier to do left turns.


I think the realities of statecraft in the twenty-first century has made stuff like this to be impossible to do without, from what it seems like these agencies are not evil and they have merely had to evolve to the realities of this era.

I do not like it nor enjoy it but it seems like Russian/Chinese intelligence have free reign in america whereas our agencies are under constant assault by the public and all other nations versus us. Sometimes I fear we are bringing down the state with out actions.


I might have missed it somewhere, but I'm curious as to what cities they were flying over. Does anyone have a link/list of the cities that the FBI has been flying over?



If they actually had a warrant to look for some specific person or group of people I'd actually have no problem with this. Gangs, drug dealers, etc.

The problem is as usual, they feel they are above any judicial review, even if they know they would just get a rubber stamp from a "go to" judge.


This looks like the answer to a recent HN frontpage question

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9504825


- the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance”

At least not wittingly.


For your safety.


Wait until HN learns about satellite surveillance.


Well, I'd read about this, it's pretty interesting. Do you know any good articles/videos/resources?


FBI Agent on Foot: OK

FBI Agent in a Van: OK

FBI Agent in a Plane: Not OK

I'm assuming an FBI agent in a satellite would be really not OK.


Strawman. The issue is not the presence of the pilot in the airplane; it's the presence of high-res cameras, StingRays, etc.


The key issues would be scale of the surveillance and warrants.


no, that would be A-OK. load everybody onto the ISS and send it to orbit around Uranus.


It's like plane surveillance- except it's in the air for decades at a time.


As mentioned in a previous thread on this topic - they don't have to register surveillance blimps, tethered or free-flying. Based on altitude I think.


They do, they appeared on sectionals as obstacles https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2010/10/28/2010-272...




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