Metatdata, meet chilling effect

A massive crowd of demonstrators gather to protest government actions, hoping for the anonymity of the crowd to help shield them from official retaliation. A while later they receive a text message:

Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

Anyone that tells you mass collection of cell phone metadata is benign is a fool, a useful idiot, dumb as a stump, or a government agent planning on using it. Or all of the above.

Coming soon to a protest near you… if it isn’t there already.

h/t to Paul


26 thoughts on “Metatdata, meet chilling effect

  1. Saw a post the other day, maybe WRSA, about a Samsung Galaxy Touch. Basically an android version of the itouch thing, or a Galaxy phone without the phone. Open (legal of course) wireless networks abound in urban areas these protests are likely to take place. Skype, uploading video of good and/or bad events, non SMS text messages for communication. Versions from 3.6″ screen to 5.0″. Discontinued, but both new and used available on amazon and ebay, ~$100.

    • Hmmm… Joe, is there an app for that? 🙂
      Bet you it would become very popular, at least until the Feds made it illegal. You know a bit about phone location, I believe. Serious opportunity here.

      • The problem is that the app processor is a slave of the modem (phone processor). They both can query the GPS independent from the other. The phone company gets its location data from the modem, not the app processor. The app processor can’t spoof the data the phone company gets.

        • Seems like there should be a way, other than leave it at home, to make the data collected useless. Either adding lots of “extra” stuff, or forcing it to use something other than the strongest signal to get the lowest resolution location, or something. I’m sure you know much more about the inner workings of the phone than I do. What data pathways, what signals, what exactly are they looking at, and how could any step of that be messed with, if communication isn’t actually needed at the time. That is, if you take your phone with you, but make no calls, what sort of hand-shaking is going on, and being recorded, that might be open to massaging? Or is any attempt to do that already explicitly illegal?

          • I believe a phone that’s on talks to the nearest base, to register with the system. That way incoming calls can get to you.
            On the modem (“base band processor” is the term it seems is used) — the trouble is that that’s a closed system and very poorly documented. I saw a book in a bookstore last year that I should have bought — because I can’t find it anymore and can’t even find the title. It described how to modify the baseband processor software by getting in via some security flaws in its kernel. (It is “Nucleus” if I remember right — not Android.)
            And there does exist an open source baseband project, but that seems to be incomplete last I looked. It’s probably also against FCC regulations to use that software, though it’s not clear if they could tell.

        • Wait–can’t the phone company get the data about which cells the phone is connected to, independent of anything else? Yes, in a rural area that might not do much to locate you, but in a big city with lots of subscribers, the individual cells have got to be pretty small.

          Plus, I’ve never heard of totalitarian states being worried that the spillover of their threatening lands on people who weren’t actually guilty… … .. *this time*.

          • “I’ve never heard of totalitarian states being worried that the spillover of their threatening lands on people who weren’t actually guilty… … .. *this time*.”

            The pernicious big government equivalent of what police departments considered “rough justice”. “We didn’t get you for what you actually did, you got away with stuff we never caught you on, so this is for those times.”

            The natural outgrowth of three felonies a day and the transformation of a Federal felon from Al Capone to Martha Stewart.

  2. Makes me think of Big Brother and the Mark of the Beast all rolled into one. Even if you wanted to live off the grid the advent of facial recognition software for cameras that are everywhere is going to make it a challenge to go incognito forever.

    • Facial recognition isn’t that good against someone trying to avoid being identified. It’s barely any good at verifying the identify of someone that wants to be recognized. Grow a beard (or shave it), wear glasses, and wear a hat and you’re good to go anywhere you want.

  3. I send my phone back and forth between home and work when I’m out of town, and have someone else use it. Or do I? My phone doesn’t have biometric identification of the user, so you can’t prove who’s using it.

    • Not much experience of totalitarian regimes, have we? Surely you know, or can find out, just how reluctant those sort of governments are to whack anybody who *appears* to be a problem (reality and probably-cause be damned) just pour encourager les autres?

  4. For how long has it been must-follow advice to stay off the darn phone with anything of interest to The Authorities? To not mail incriminating info? Cell phone is the same thing only more so.

    Realistically, Leave your phone at home” is only a short-term fix for the likes of us. We’re on the Internet with Dangerous Opinions; we’re all already *on* a list. I’ll try’n save you some less moldy potatoes if I get sent to the camps first.

    • Hmmm.. A thought.
      You are suspected “of something.”
      They tell you to hand over your phone. You say you don’t have it. They say “well, you must be hiding something, so that’s grounds for a warrant.”
      They tell you to hand it over, you say “I loaned it to a friend.” They say “tampering with evidence, that’s grounds for a warrant.”
      They tell you to hand it over, you say “I don’t own one.” They say “Another anti-tech unibomber type, that’s grounds for a warrant.”
      Don’t know it that would stand up in court, but fighting it would be expensive, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think the cops would go there.
      No need for tattoos. We will be expected to buy our own branded, bling-laden tracking collars.
      …. Not that I’d ever use that in a new book, or anything.

  5. I’d return the text with something like, “and in return, you’ve been noted to be an authoritarian, state-fellating douchenozzle. Have a nice day”

      • Just to crank the paranoia level up a few notches:

        1. How do we know that ‘B’ isn’t a government agent provocateur, trying to do a Ruby Ridge on us?

        2. Even if #1 is not the case, why wouldn’t the universal surveillance we assume is going on allow the government to take everyone who’s purchasing these phones online, subtract out those who actually hold a Radio Amateur license, and — bingo! — we’re on Another List of Persons Of Interest.

        All joking aside (but am I joking?) those radios, at those prices, are *amazing*. Less than half the price of an entry-level Marine VHF handheld. Which, by the way, would be another useful option, as long as you’re far enough from any significant body of water.

        And yes, any kind of non-encrypted radio transmission is easily intercepted, have your code phrases ready.

        • Aye, that is indeed the rub…..While those who know me might vouch for the fact that I am not an agent provocateur, you cannot depend on that. I see that comment as healthy paranoia.

          I was merely making a few suggestions in light of the lesson that the Ukranians learned the hard way.

          There are other methods of communication that can be used, but really, why do we even need comms at an event like these?

          And as I posted, really, if yer afraid then one must weigh the value of going to the protest at all.

          I ALWAYS expect that Big Brother is watching and remembering. Blogposts, comments such as these, emails, snail mails, Faxes, phone calls, etc. I assume anything I send via any form of communication is read or tapped.

          “Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead…”
          Ben Franklin.

          Yeah, I know I am paranoid, but am I paranoid enough?

          • There are other methods of communication that can be used

            FRS. Cheap, easy to buy at e.g. Big Five for cash, , but really, why do we even need comms at an event like these?

          • Oops, mean to comment further on:

            but really, why do we even need comms at an event like these?

            Depends on if just anarchy or self-organization at each particular site is all you need. Certainly onsite you could make good use of comms if the site were big enough (consider Ukraine itself, looking at picture and maps, it’s about 1000 feet from Maidan Square (where the faceoff is taking place) to European Square (being used by the dissidents as a delivery area.)

            FRS, your suggested ham radios, or even VHF marine radios might come in very handy for the REMF’s asking what to do with incoming deliveries of food, bringing medical help to casualties, etc. For such purposes, a simple code book could be changed every day, and if the authorities can’t see what’s going on (look at all that burning-tire smoke!) it might take them longer-than-its-worth to decode ‘need paramedic!’ from ‘where do you need sandwiches?’ from ‘NOP’ (yes, when there’s no move from the authorities to drive the dissidents from their dug-in positions, a bit of inscrutable radio traffic isn’t going to help the authorities much.)

          • A good scheme for short distance communication is Wifi, with PGP. (And with suitable antennas, “short distance” may easily be quite a number of miles.)

  6. I recall reading something in the 70’s about the NSA or the CIA (at this remove I forget which one it was), where the employees answered the telephone with the phrase, “This line is not secure.”
    If they were actually listening in, though, that would be a major tell for a covert operation or someone seeking to avoid attention.

    • Hell, that was SOP on DoD phone lines. “4th Brigade HHC, Specialist Smith speaking. THIS LINE IS NOT SECURE. How may I help you, Sir or Ma’am?”

      That spiel was printed on a card (emphasis by all-caps in original) taped to EVERY PHONE IN THE UNIT I was in at the tail end of the Cold War. It was a Stateside infantry unit.

      The phone on my desk at work has both an “THIS MEDIUM IS UNCLASSIFIED” sticker (US Gov’t form SF710) under the handset (so it jumps out at you when you pick up the phone) and a big red sticker that says “DO NOT DISCUSS CLASSIFIED INFORMATION” sticker (DD Form 2056) on the handset itself.

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