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Lawmakers in the U.S. Want to Disclose Domestic Surveillance Numbers

15 May

Ever since Edward Snowden pulled back the curtain on NSA spying techniques on American citizens a few years ago, privacy in the digital age has been a pressing concern. Now, this conversation is about to get significantly more serious in nature. Earlier in April, a United States congressional committee asked the Donald Trump administration to officially disclose a reasonable estimate of the total number of Americans who had digital communications “incidentally collected” under foreign surveillance programs.

Domestic Surveillance: The Current Situation

In this context, it is important to note that “incidental collection” means that an American was not the target of an investigation, but their communications were intercepted anyway.

If a particular foreign agent were under close supervision by an organization like the FBI, for example, all of their communications would be monitored –regardless of who they were actually talking to. If they pick up the phone and contact an American citizen – someone who should not be monitored under the constitution – a record of that communication would still take place.

This discussion is happening at a particularly important time, as certain portions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are due to expire by the end of 2017. As Congress contemplates whether to reauthorize those parts of the act, they have indicated that a reasonable estimate of incidental collection will be “crucial” when it comes time to make a decision.

The request is notable for its bipartisan support – something increasingly rare in the modern era. The request was formerly filed by both a Republican and a Democrat from the House Judiciary Committee – Chairman Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers, respectively. The letter was addressed to Dan Coats, the current Director of National Intelligence.

The other major reason this is such a notable request has to do with the currently unsubstantiated claims that the Obama White House improperly used surveillance techniques to spy on the Trump Administration, both after the November election and during the weeks leading up to it. Again – to date, there has been no evidence to back up the accuracy of those claims, but it’s hard to argue that the situation is entirely impossible considering that certain portions of the act (also commonly referred to as FISA) seem to allow for it.

<h2<FISA Section 702

Much of the controversy surrounding this topic stems from a very particular part of FISA, dubbed Section 702. Section 702 legally allows the collection of Internet-based communications from foreigners that are currently believed to be living overseas. If you’re a person of interest in a FISA-related case and you send a message on your iPhone, there’s a good chance that someone from the FBI or the CIA may be reading it in the name of counter-terrorism. Lawmakers, however, argue that things might not stop there.

Some experts believe that there could be as many as several million Americans who have had digital communications incidentally collected under FISA and similar surveillance situations. Depending on the context, this could expose them to warrantless searches by federal investigators and more.

Digital Privacy in the United States

Even on a surface level, the conversation of surveillance in the United States is a complicated topic. How much of our freedoms and our privacy are we willing to give up in order to aid counter-terrorism efforts across the globe? The answer to that question is not an easy one as it will obviously vary from person to person.

At the very least, some type of accurate estimate as to how many United States citizens have had their data incidentally collected will form the basis of further discussion before Section 702 of FISA expires on December 31, 2017. As the blooming scandal involving the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia continues to unfold, this will also likely play a part in precisely what happens to our domestic surveillance efforts as a country.

London Police Discover Hidden Cameras in Cash Machines Across the Country

10 May

In many ways, there are few pieces of personal information in your life that are more important than your ATM pin. This multi-digit code doesn’t just let you withdrawal cash whenever you need – it’s also the only thing keeping someone who happens to steal your debit card from also stealing your finances and possibly your identity.

According to London police officers and a piece that originally ran at TheIndependent.co.uk, this battle for personal privacy just got a bit harder. Police in London discovered a series of tiny, hidden cameras fixed to ATM machines across the country. Virtually invisible to the naked eye, these cameras provide footage clear enough to allow thieves to steal someone’s credit or debit card details – all without alerting them to the fact that they’re being recorded at all.

The Problem With London’s ATMs

In February, police were called to the scene of a cash machine outside St. Paul’s Churchyard in London. A user had noticed a tiny pinhole located just above the keypad that, upon further examination, was revealed to include an incredibly powerful hidden camera. That camera was recording every second of every user interaction at the machine – capturing countless PIN codes in the process. In addition to that code, all someone would need was the associated debit or credit card (or a digital copy) to have access to every cent in a person’s bank account.

To make matters worse, a similar device was found just two weeks later at another ATM located not far from St. Paul’s. Two additional hidden cameras – both just as small and impossibly sophisticated – were discovered a few days later.

A representative for local law enforcement said that while they are investigating the matter, no arrests have been made. They said that the police regularly work with banks, financial institutions, and even cash machine vendors to help make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen on a regular basis. However, thanks to the rate at which technology continues to advance, it’s easy for things to slip through.

Police recommend that if you ever use a cash machine and spot anything unusual about it, or if you think that you’ve discovered signs of tampering, you should immediately stop what you’re doing. Do not use the machine – the consequences are far too severe. Police also recommend using cash machines INSIDE bank branches as opposed to outside, as they’re more carefully observed by bank officials and are, therefore, more difficult to compromise.

Identity Theft Facts and Figures

Again, a stolen ATM PIN code does more than just give a thief access to your money. With just a few taps of their finger, they have the ability to see virtually every piece of data associated with the same account. If they’re willing to put in a bit of additional work, they have everything they need to steal a person’s identity and do a potentially catastrophic amount of damage in the process.

This isn’t a problem that is limited to the United Kingdom, either. According to the experts at IdentityTheft.info, approximately 15 million people are affected by identity theft in the United States each year. Total combined financial losses reach into the neighborhood of $50 billion dollars. Some studies estimate that roughly 7% of all adults in the country have had their identities “misused” at some point in their lives, with each specific instance being responsible for roughly $3,500 in personal losses.

According to the website, there have been over 4.2 million victims of identity theft so far in 2017. If things continue at this pace, that number could climb as high as 16 million by the end of the year.

 

All of this goes to underline the importance of always being aware of your surroundings – especially when incredibly valuable personal information is at stake. We’ve entered an age where hidden cameras are smaller, more powerful and more affordable than ever – which means that you should always be extra vigilant in terms of your public activities.

 

Best Practices for Detecting Hidden Cameras and Microphones

3 May

These days, technology has advanced to the point that hidden cameras and microphones are both more powerful and less expensive than ever before. If you have a sneaking suspicion (no pun intended) that you’re being watched in sensitive environments such as at work or at home, there’s a very real possibility that you may be right. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re completely powerless.

If you want to detect any hidden cameras or microphones in any environment that you fear may be compromising your privacy, there are a few key techniques that you can use.

Common Sense Is Your Ally

One of the best ways to detect hidden cameras and microphones in nearly any environment is to let a little good, old-fashioned common sense be your guide. Ask yourself the following question — “if I were trying to secretly record someone, where would I have to place a camera to do it?”

If you’re worried about someone secretly recording you while you’re sitting at your desk in your office, for example, take a look around the room and carefully examine your surroundings. Where would a camera lens have to be placed to accurately collect sensitive information? How far across the room would it have to be before the footage was useless? If you were worried about someone recording your phone calls, how close to the actual phone would a microphone have to be to accomplish this goal?

Likewise, think about the types of cameras that people might be hiding. To continue to use the example of your office, has anything been moved recently that you found suspicious? Has a new desk clock or USB charger shown up in the room that wasn’t there before? Did a fancy new pen recently make an appearance in the pen and pencil holder on your desk that you don’t recognize? Hidden cameras and microphones could potentially be placed inside all of these types of devices, so take a close look for anything that could be a prime candidate for surveillance.

Another particularly helpful trick of the trade is to walk into the room that you think may be under surveillance and immediately turn off all the lights. Shut all the windows and make the room as dark as you possibly can. Do you notice any red or green LED lights anywhere? Many modern-day hidden cameras still have indicator lights when they’re in operation to let the user know that they’re actually working. This isn’t a design flaw, by any means, but it is something that you can definitely use to your advantage.

When All Else Fails, Use Technology

Common sense is a great asset to have in your quest to detect hidden cameras and microphones, but at a certain point, you’re going to need to dig a little deeper. If the person who you think may be watching you is particularly savvy, they’ll know how to hide a device so you’ll never find it — even if you specifically go looking for it. For those types of situations, you’ll want to employ a wide range of different counter-surveillance tools, depending on the extent of the issue you may be dealing with.

Many different companies sell signal detectors, such as those that identify RF signals or Wi-Fi signals, that are perfect for doing a sweep of any environment for bugs. If a hidden camera or microphone is using wireless signals to broadcast data back to its source, these powerful little devices will help you put a stop to it.

Likewise, you can also purchase a lens finder from many online stores that perform a similar function. They’ll help you properly scan your room and identify any camera lens that may be present, even those that are all but invisible to the naked eye. You can then manually remove the lens and take steps to avoid this type of situation in the future.

 

Hidden Cameras Reveal How People Are Treated Differently Based on Gender in Pawn Shops

26 Apr

If reality television has taught us anything, it’s that pawn shops are environments where you really need to walk in knowing exactly what you’re doing. If you present someone with a priceless old family antique and get an offer of $25, you need to be able to think quickly in order to stop yourself from getting ripped off. However, according to a new hidden camera study, even arming yourself with all the knowledge in the world may not make any difference. It was revealed that many pawn shops treat men and women very differently, to the point where many female customers found themselves getting shortchanged by up to 60 percent or more!

Hidden Cameras: Pawn Shops in Action

In 2016, a social experiment was conducted at various pawn shop locations in the famous Diamond District in New York City. Jacob Worth, a jewelry professional with years of experience under his belt, sponsored the experiment with the help of his company, “I Want What It’s Worth.”
The setup was simple: While wearing hidden cameras, Mr. Worth and a woman would take the same diamond ring into the same pawn shops at different times to see what they would be offered based on their gender. For the record, Mr. Worth’s company valued the ring at a cool $18,000.

At the first location, the woman was offered $6,000 for the ring — not necessarily terrible when you consider that pawn shops naturally lowball most offers in an effort to increase markup as much as possible during the resale process. Later on at the same location, however, Mr. Worth was offered $10,000 for the exact same piece of jewelry.

As with any good experiment, a single test is never enough to truly prove or disprove a hypothesis. Still wearing hidden cameras, Mr. Worth and his female counterpart targeted a second location with the same piece of jewelry. Mr. Worth was offered $11,500. The woman, on the other hand, was again offered $6,000 — and dinner later that evening. The pawn shop owner estimated that a fancy dinner in New York City would cost anywhere between $500 to $1,000, taking the true value of her offer up to around $7,000.
Mr. Worth was not offered the possibility of a dinner date.

Things were less interesting at the final location in that there were no bonuses offered to sweeten the deal, but the price discrepancy became even more apparent. Mr. Worth was offered $13,500 for the ring, which is actually incredibly reasonable when you consider what he already knew to be the fair market value. The woman, on the other hand, was offered just $5,000.

Once the experiment had been completed, it was effectively proved that women were given offers that were on average 59 percent less than what men were offered. Keep in mind that Mr. Worth did not walk into any pawn shop and immediately present himself as a jewelry expert; all he had to do was be a man.

To be fair, the woman was able to negotiate a few of her offers to higher values — but not by much. In the end, the woman’s final offers averaged about 62 percent of what Mr. Worth was offered in the same locations. The team hypothesized that pawn shop owners would assume that the woman was not the one who had originally purchased the ring, which could be a contributing factor in some of the lower offers. However, gender on its own absolutely played a role, too.

In the end, studies like these serve to underline the importance that hidden cameras play in our society. Yes, hidden cameras are great for things such as keeping an eye out on nannies while they care for your children or making sure that nobody steals anything from your home when you’re not around. But they also have another major benefit: one of honesty. You can learn a lot about people by the way that they treat people when they think nobody else is watching, which this particular experiment went a long way toward proving.

Nanny Cameras: Invaluable Peace-of-Mind for Parents Everywhere  

1 Mar

Let’s face facts: children can be a handful. One minute, your little one is sitting in the middle of the floor, reading a book and mind their own business. You turn your back for a second and turn back and find – nothing. They’re gone, you have no idea where they may have gone to but you do know that somehow, somewhere, something in your house is getting broken right now.
Stop Child Abuse

Thanks to the rapid pace at which technology has continued to advance, many parents are turning to devices like nanny cameras to keep a watchful eye over their kids at all times. But they don’t just protect your children from their own mischief – if you’re one of the many parents who needs to hire a full or part-time babysitter, they can be an invaluable addition to your home in that situation, too.

Nanny Cameras: What You Need to Know

Nanny cameras are a particular type of small, hidden camera that is designed to be cleverly concealed inside an everyday household item while you’re away. Unlike more visible cameras which are meant for deterrence, the aim of a nanny camera is one of honesty. They’re designed to empower you with the knowledge that only comes with knowing what people are up to when you’re around.

The classic image of a nanny cam is one hidden inside a stuffed animal like a teddy bear, though they come in a host of shapes and sizes. They can be hidden inside desk clocks, picture frames and even USB phone chargers. When placed strategically around your home, they help make sure that your eyes (and often your ears) know no limits.

Why Nanny Cameras Are So Important

As your kids continue to age, a nanny camera might come in handy in the classic situation of “when the parents are away, the kids will play.” If you want to see who your teen is inviting over when you’re not around, or if you just want to make sure that the all-ages party that you’ve heard about isn’t taking place in your home, a nanny camera would be a great way to do it.

Beyond that, nanny cameras also serve a hugely important function when it comes to an unfortunately all-too-real topic: child abuse at the hands of those who you’ve trusted to care for them.

According to a study conducted by the University of New Hampshire Scholars’ Repository at the University of New Hampshire, crimes against children by babysitters in particular are a lot more common than you might think. There are approximately 18.5 million children in the United States, with roughly 14% of them being under the age of five-years-old – or the age range likely to be looked after by a babysitter.

It should come as no surprise that kids who fall into this age range are also the most likely to be victimized by a babysitter. The study revealed that while babysitter offenses are very rarely likely to result in death, sex-related crimes actually outnumber physical assaults nearly two to one. Likewise, juvenile offenders (meaning teenage babysitters) are much more likely to commit these types of activities to the tune of 48%.

 

With the right nanny camera at your side, however, you can help make sure this doesn’t happen. Many nanny cameras not only offer HD video and crystal clear audio, but also offer motion activation – allowing you to “set it and forget it” without worrying about missing anything. Many can also stream live footage over a home network to the Internet, allowing you to continually check in on the situation at home while you’re at work.

In addition to helping to catch people in the act and to make sure that you have the type of footage you would need in the event that you found yourself in court, nanny cameras also bring with them the most important benefit of all: the peace-of-mind that only comes with knowing that your child is being properly cared for. It’s the type of thing that you just can’t put a price on.

 

The HORRIBLE Cause of a Toddler’s Injuries Revealed Via Secret Nanny Cam

13 Feb

When people think about hidden cameras, the image they usually call to mind is one of the traditional “nanny cam” – a secret recording device hidden inside your average teddy bear. It’s a picture that has been painted for years not only in the news, but in film and television shows. Sitcom characters use those spying bears to get into all sorts of fun and wacky situations all the time.

secret-nanny-cam
Because of this, it’s easy to forget that even when hidden in something like a teddy bear, nanny cams DO still play a very important role in our society. The footage they capture is often anything but fun – oftentimes, it’s used to shed light on horrible situations going on right under our noses. Such was the case when one Connecticut teacher used a nanny cam to uncover the true, awful cause of injuries that her toddler had been developing.

The Connecticut Nanny: What Happened?

In 2015, a mother from Connecticut returned home from her job as a school teacher to see her biggest fear come to life. Though her toddler had been in the care of a nanny all day long, as she had so many days before, this time was different. The three-year-old was not only sporting a black eye, but she also had second degree burns on her hands and legs. The mother immediately turned to the nanny, a woman named Lidia Quilligana, to see what happened.

Lidia said that the three-year-old had fallen down accidentally, burning herself on the stop in the process. During her fall, she also hit her eye on a knob – thus explaining both the burns and the black eye. For the mother, however, this explanation didn’t make much sense. What was a three-year-old doing ABOVE the stove in the first place? What are the odds of getting both a black eye AND burns during the same incident? The nanny said that the toddler was helping her make pancakes, but again – something wasn’t right.

This also wasn’t the first time something strange had happened. Even before this incident, the child had begun to slowly developed bruising and other unexplained injuries all over her body. This activity is what led to the installation of the camera to begin with.

In a normal situation, these are the types of questions that would go unanswered. Unfortunately for Quilligana, she was already being watched without her knowledge. After Quilligana went home for the day, the mother downloaded the footage from the secret nanny camera in her home that she’d had installed. What she saw was every mother’s worst nightmare.

The tech-savvy mom had hours of footage of the nanny repeatedly taking the three-year-old by the wrist and forcing her hands onto hot stove burners. She had footage of the nanny jumping on the child while she laid on the ground. She had crystal clear images of the nanny pulling the little girl’s pants and underwear down and spanking her mercilessly, seemingly for no reason at all.

Further examination of the footage also revealed that the nanny was regularly force-feeding the three-year-old incredibly hot food, which led to blisters all over the inside of her mouth.

The mother was horrified, but she was also determined to make things right. She immediately called her child’s doctor, who told her to bring the three-year-old in for a medical examination right away. She also contacted the local authorities, who were quick to charge the nanny with first degree assault on the basis of cruel and unusual punishment.

Though this is undoubtedly a terrible situation, it is also one with a thankfully happy ending. The Connecticut mother was able to use modern technology to get to the bottom of something heinous and in the case of the nanny, justice was served. The three-year-old is also finally free from all harm, which is the most important benefit of all. None of it would have been possible without the mother’s secret nanny camera.

 

Protecting Businesses From Industrial Espionage: Why Counter Surveillance is Important

1 Feb

In terms of the many different types of surveillance techniques being employed around the world, industrial espionage is unique for a few different reasons. Also called economic espionage, industrial espionage is often employed for commercial purposes instead of those of national security. It often occurs between two or more different corporations and is often used to gain insights that can be used to build a competitive advantage in an admittedly crowded marketplace.

protecting-businesses-from-industrial-espionage
Thanks to the global economy that we’re now living in, industrial espionage cases are also on the rise. In 2015, CNN reported that the FBI had seen a sharp increase in these types of cases – particularly notable due to their Chinese involvement. When technology has advanced to the point where even the smallest businesses can now compete on a global scale, industrial espionage has very much become an international concern.

When people turn to the topic of counter surveillance and protecting themselves from these types of incidents, they most often assume that their primary concern should be malware. Rogue computer programs, when downloaded to a system, can potentially compromise every last kilobyte of data contained on it. While this will always be a danger, in terms of industrial espionage the tools are often much more severe. Many spies in these situations choose to bypass malware altogether, instead getting the information they need via a variety of terrifying “black bag” tricks.”

Piggybacking

One common black bag trick often employed in these cases is called smartphone piggybacking, using a feature built into a smartphone from the time of purchase against its users. Most modern day smartphones have the ability to set themselves up as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing the owner to use the phone’s Internet connection on a nearby device like a laptop or tablet. Many hackers often use these Wi-Fi hotspots in public locations as a way to trick people into connecting to them. You think you’re connecting to the Wi-Fi hotspot in your favorite coffee shop, but in reality you’re connected directly to someone’s phone.

Once that connection has been established, all it takes is the right piece of software to “snoop” on every piece of data you’re sending or receiving – no malware required.

Fake Cell Phone Towers

Another common technique employed in the case of industrial espionage is the fake cell phone tower. All smartphones need to use a nearby tower to send and receive not only calls, but information from the Internet via the cellular network. Every single piece of data you access on your phone at some point will make its way across one of these towers. If someone sets up a fake tower near your location and your phone connects to it, suddenly they have something more powerful than any strain of malware could deliver: they have all of your data and they can do anything they want with it.

Vulnerabilities = No Malware Required

Another unfortunately common tactic employed by hackers involves the use of a smartphone or other device’s own security vulnerabilities against it. There have been many reported cases of people gaining access to a smartphone via a network connection and using security holes to either gain undetected access to the device’s microphone, its camera or both at the same time. At that point, the user will likely never realize that they’re carrying a portable surveillance device around with them in their pocket all day long. By that point, the damage has already been done.

All of this goes to underline the importance of counter surveillance. In an age where more and more of our personal (and professional) information is being stored digitally, taking steps to protect yourself from prying eyes is more essential than ever. Understanding what you’re up against – and acknowledging the fact that it isn’t just malware that you have to worry about – is one of the keys to making sure that your confidential business information stays that way.