Sunday, December 22, 2019

Holidaze: Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

More evidence has come to light this weekend that the Trump regime moved within hours after the now-infamous July 25th Trump phone call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to withhold millions in military aid to Kyiv in order to pressure the government of the former Soviet state to play ball with Trump's "favor" to fabricate an investigation into the Bidens in order to affect the 2020 race.

About 90 minutes after President Trump held a controversial telephone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in July, the White House budget office ordered the Pentagon to suspend all military aid that Congress had allocated to Ukraine, according to emails released by the Pentagon late Friday. 
A budget official, Michael Duffey, also told the Pentagon to keep quiet about the aid freeze because of the “sensitive nature of the request,” according to a message dated July 25. 
An earlier email that Mr. Duffey sent to the Pentagon comptroller suggested that Mr. Trump began asking aides about $250 million in military aid set aside for Ukraine after noticing a June 19 article about it in the Washington Examiner.

The emails add to public understanding of the events that prompted the Democratic-led House to call for Mr. Trump to be removed from office. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress along a party-line vote after documents and testimony by senior administration officials revealed that he had withheld $391 million in aid to Ukraine at the same time that he asked for investigations from the Ukrainian president that would benefit him politically.

The emails were in a batch of 146 pages of documents released by the Pentagon late Friday to the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit news organization and watchdog group, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. 
Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, has pressed for Mr. Duffey, a political appointee who is associate director of national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget, to testify in a Senate trial. On Twitter on Saturday, he pointed to the July 25 email as “all the more reason” Mr. Duffey and others must appear. Republican Senate leaders have indicated they do not plan to call witnesses.

The email raises further questions about the process by which Mr. Trump imposed the hold on the military aid, and the link between the hold and the requests he made of Mr. Zelensky in the telephone call, which prompted concern among national security officials with knowledge of the conversation. 
In the call, after Mr. Zelensky mentioned Ukraine was ready to buy anti-tank missiles to use in a war against a Russian-backed insurgency, Mr. Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” according to a reconstructed transcript released by the White House. He then pressed Mr. Zelensky to open an investigation based on a conspiracy theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 United States elections and one based on unsubstantiated claims of corrupt acts by former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential candidate.

Duffey, along with former National Security Adviser John Bolton's Mustache, and outgoing White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, absolutely need to testify before the Senate impeachment trial.

I'm under no illusion that Mitch McConnell will ever allow it, I fully expect him to dispose of the Senate trial before MLK Day with a quick series of votes.  But Nancy Pelosi was correct to hold back sending over articles of impeachment to the Senate until the rules of a trial can be made clear, and it's Mitch who's going have to eat the elephant dung sandwich on making the cover-up official.

It won't matter as far as the Senate trial goes, any more than the fact an overwhelming majority of Americans want universal firearms background checks, but if enough GOP senators pay the price in November for aiding and abetting Trump's crimes, along with Trump himself, maybe the republic will be given a chance to heal.

Holidaze Sunday Long Read: Smart Snitch Switch-Off

Your smartphone is a location narc, you are being tracked everywhere you go, and your location data is being bought and sold by the highest bidder, and the process is so easy even the NY Times opinion staff can track some of the most powerful people in the country with it.

Every minute of every day, everywhere on the planet, dozens of companies — largely unregulated, little scrutinized — are logging the movements of tens of millions of people with mobile phones and storing the information in gigantic data files. The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

After spending months sifting through the data, tracking the movements of people across the country and speaking with dozens of data companies, technologists, lawyers and academics who study this field, we feel the same sense of alarm. In the cities that the data file covers, it tracks people from nearly every neighborhood and block, whether they live in mobile homes in Alexandria, Va., or luxury towers in Manhattan.

One search turned up more than a dozen people visiting the Playboy Mansion, some overnight. Without much effort we spotted visitors to the estates of Johnny Depp, Tiger Woods and Arnold Schwarzenegger, connecting the devices’ owners to the residences indefinitely.

If you lived in one of the cities the dataset covers and use apps that share your location — anything from weather apps to local news apps to coupon savers — you could be in there, too.

If you could see the full trove, you might never use your phone the same way again.

The data reviewed by Times Opinion didn’t come from a telecom or giant tech company, nor did it come from a governmental surveillance operation. It originated from a location data company, one of dozens quietly collecting precise movements using software slipped onto mobile phone apps. You’ve probably never heard of most of the companies — and yet to anyone who has access to this data, your life is an open book. They can see the places you go every moment of the day, whom you meet with or spend the night with, where you pray, whether you visit a methadone clinic, a psychiatrist’s office or a massage parlor.

The Times and other news organizations have reported on smartphone tracking in the past. But never with a data set so large. Even still, this file represents just a small slice of what’s collected and sold every day by the location tracking industry — surveillance so omnipresent in our digital lives that it now seems impossible for anyone to avoid.

It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure the powers such always-on surveillance can provide an authoritarian regime like China’s. Within America’s own representative democracy, citizens would surely rise up in outrage if the government attempted to mandate that every person above the age of 12 carry a tracking device that revealed their location 24 hours a day. Yet, in the decade since Apple’s App Store was created, Americans have, app by app, consented to just such a system run by private companies. Now, as the decade ends, tens of millions of Americans, including many children, find themselves carrying spies in their pockets during the day and leaving them beside their beds at night — even though the corporations that control their data are far less accountable than the government would be.

“The seduction of these consumer products is so powerful that it blinds us to the possibility that there is another way to get the benefits of the technology without the invasion of privacy. But there is,” said William Staples, founding director of the Surveillance Studies Research Center at the University of Kansas. “All the companies collecting this location information act as what I have called Tiny Brothers, using a variety of data sponges to engage in everyday surveillance.”

In this and subsequent articles we’ll reveal what we’ve found and why it has so shaken us. We’ll ask you to consider the national security risks the existence of this kind of data creates and the specter of what such precise, always-on human tracking might mean in the hands of corporations and the government. We’ll also look at legal and ethical justifications that companies rely on to collect our precise locations and the deceptive techniques they use to lull us into sharing it.

Today, it’s perfectly legal to collect and sell all this information. In the United States, as in most of the world, no federal law limits what has become a vast and lucrative trade in human tracking. Only internal company policies and the decency of individual employees prevent those with access to the data from, say, stalking an estranged spouse or selling the evening commute of an intelligence officer to a hostile foreign power.
Companies say the data is shared only with vetted partners. As a society, we’re choosing simply to take their word for that, displaying a blithe faith in corporate beneficence that we don’t extend to far less intrusive yet more heavily regulated industries. Even if these companies are acting with the soundest moral code imaginable, there’s ultimately no foolproof way they can secure the data from falling into the hands of a foreign security service. Closer to home, on a smaller yet no less troubling scale, there are often few protections to stop an individual analyst with access to such data from tracking an ex-lover or a victim of abuse.

Right off the bat, the Times offers some helpful ways you can immediately stop your phone from squealing on you, so if you own an iPhone or Android device, do it.  Two of the three I had already done, and pausing your Google location history is a constant fight, but you should definitely turn these things off.

Second, getting rid of Ajit Pai as FCC Chairman and having a new Democratic president appoint new FCC commissioners are 100% needed.  We also need new regulations of this data, and tech companies need to pay a brutal price for abusing our lives like this.  So far, they're not.  They never will as long as the GOP is in charge (and some Democrats).

The larger point is though that we allow this to be done, so everyone needs to opt out.  Tell your friends, family, co-workers, everyone.  Spread the word.

Choke off the data gravy train.

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