Posted by Amy MacPherson
A terrible tragedy befell the nation’s capital yesterday, when a shooter opened fire at government sites in Ottawa. A full investigation must begin to assemble the details, as the flames of hysteria are fanned in the public consciousness. The words “terror” and “terrorism” have been tossed around so casually, that nowadays any hardened criminal would classify as a terrorist according to the Harper Government and mainstream news sources. For that matter, political activists who take issue with the government’s policies at home and abroad are referenced in the same manner.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, social media is rife with suspicion that this horrendous event may represent a false flag operation, to assist the government’s dismantling of civil liberty and human rights in the name of war, profit, political posturing and public control.
That’s not to say this wasn’t an act of terrorism. Maybe it was, but surely it’s too early to reach a conclusion when the names of suspects hadn’t been released to hypothesize a motive. Or had they?
At 10:13am EDT, The Globe and Mail‘s Josh Wingrove reported that tactical officers were pointing guns at every parliamentary journalist on site. (Via Twitter)
At 12:11pm EDT, The CBC’s Kady O’Malley reported her group was ordered to leave a local rooftop by police, as they continued to search for a culprit and attempted to secure the area.
By 1:14pm EDT, Ms. O’Malley reported a continuing lockdown that blanketed Ottawa. She was unclear if the event was over, as no further information was available.
While Canadian news personalities were at police gunpoint, American outlets like CBS News and the Associated Press had a full story to sell, complete with the dead shooter’s name.
Before the scene was secure at 10:54am EDT, a joint release was published to identify the culprit. It stated,
“The gunmen has been identified by U.S. officials to CBS News as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a Canadian national born in 1982.”
By 4:58pm EDT, the story was edited to remove the shooter’s name, or any mention of the U.S. government’s knowledge.
The only problem is that no one could update the Google database quick enough with these changes, so the original information still appeared with search results.
This story was altered again in the evening, when the Canadian government allowed the name of a shooter to be released and American media added law enforcement to their list of official sources. They also added a middle name, Abdul, to emphasize the suspect’s Islamic ties with an accusation of terrorism.
As members of parliament begin to piece this tragedy together, they’re advised to inquire how American intelligence knew the name of a ‘possible terrorist’ as the mayhem was still unfolding. How did Americans know when Canadians didn’t, and how was the information so widespread that foreign media and Google had access to distribute, but domestic reporters on the scene did not.
Canadian parliamentary bureau chiefs didn’t posses the same information as their U.S. counterparts and they faced the barrel of police guns as a narrative was provided on their behalf by another country. If this is dubbed an act of terrorism that American sources had knowledge to pre-report, then why weren’t steps taken to prevent the violence?
Many have questioned how a gunman could enter parliament with a rifle unnoticed, despite the massive security and busy lineups. Some are calling for greater state police control and warmed to relinquishing their Charter rights, in an effort to fight the new war on domestic terrorism. Something has to justify police militarization since the War on Drugs has been transformed into a lucrative product of capitalism.
All Canadians who pay attention to the news are acutely aware of a creeping police state and the loss of privacy rights in the tradeoff. In fact, one Liberal MP, Joyce Murray, proposed Bill C-622 to gain oversight of CSIS and CSEC, so law enforcement can’t overstep its bounds to the degree that’s been revealed through Snowden leaks.
The journalist who brought these Snowden leaks to light is in town to promote his new book about the overreaching powers of a surveillance state. Glenn Greenwald will be speaking just a few blocks from Parliament Hill, in the same neighbourhood that’s under lockdown. It’s purely coincidental that he wrote a scathing piece about the Canadian government and co-dependent media’s abuse of the word “terrorism” a day earlier.
Meanwhile, the NDP noticed a different terrorism anomaly regarding the violence in Quebec on the day before as well. The Prime Minister’s Office was accused of planting a foreboding comment in Question Period, that preempted police reports of a “possible terror attack against soldiers”.
Public Safety Minster Steve Blaney reported the Monday event was “clearly linked to terrorist ideology”, but the Toronto Star reported multiple witnesses saw the suspect with his hands in the air, when at least one police officer opened fire. They also say a knife was “lodged into the ground near where the incident occurred”.
Well, that’s what the original story by Allan Woods, Bruce Campion-Smith, Joanna Smith, Tonda MacCharles and Les Whittington stated. A syndicated copy had to be located at the Cambridge Times, because a newer, edited version at the Toronto Star appeared dramatically altered by Tuesday.
Forsaking journalism ethics, the Toronto Star surprised industry watchers by editing this story without providing a notice to reflect the consequential changes. Now the article claims the suspect was an Islamic radical, who emerged from the vehicle with a knife in his hands. There is no mention of any witnesses who saw his hands in the air and the knife was no longer lodged in the ground. All information from witnesses was removed without explanation, or apology for reporting incorrectly at the onset, if indeed the witnesses were mistaken. The French press at TVA still values the eye witness accounts, but no English speaking media reflects these reports from the scene.
This TorStar article was more than edited and qualifies as being replaced entirely, having lost its tone, facts and spirit from the original published version. It was radically changed to support the government’s narrative and censored independent sources that previously appeared, replacing them with quotes from the Harper administration that focus on the suspect’s motive for Islamic terrorism.
If it wasn’t for smaller newspapers syndicating the Toronto Star‘s original content, there would be no proof of the first comprehensive version. Professional journalists don’t normally condone editors changing the spirit of their work without a caveat, especially when five reporters collaborated to produce the same entry. The history created by print newspapers also couldn’t be erased with the click of a button, before the press migrated to internet-based reporting that appears to lack mechanisms of accountability.
These two examples oppose each other due to the disparity between facts and there is no footnote to reflect this glaring incongruency. The Toronto Star has been a leader in journalism ethics and wouldn’t alter published pieces to discredit their own reporting without a reason being provided. That is, until they and a bevy of established journalists who remained silent, had a taste of the politics of fear.
Any reasonable person should be afraid when gunshots are flying from hostile individuals, but will fear be allowed to dictate a terrorism narrative in place of the facts? The Opposition’s privacy and ethics critic, MP Charlie Angus, also describes gunshots around 10am EDT, while American media had solved the event by 10:54am EDT and members of parliament were being detained without access to the same information.
If the U.S government could assess a terrorist attack on Canadian soil before the Canadian government was aware, then why was it not prevented? On the same token, if the Canadian government was in the middle of mayhem, then how did Americans obtain information that wasn’t available to affected bureaucrats, from their own intelligence and law enforcement agencies? What powers does America have over Canada that Canada doesn’t have itself? If a shooting on government property can be solved before it’s even finished, then why wasn’t CSIS, CSEC, DHS and the NSA capable of early intervention? After all, the Wednesday shooter was already placed on the government’s watch-list.
The timing is incredible and may very well be motivated by the war against ISIS/ISIL. Canada shed its peacekeeping status for more aggressive combat that generates profits for the Canada Pension Plan, with the potential to invite ideological backlash. This is not disputed. An unbiased investigation is required, but the public should be patient for confirmed, judicial facts; bearing in mind political motives, various narratives and the race to sell fear.
On the very day terrorism was alleged in Quebec, the Harper Government passed Bill C-13 without much notice from the peanut gallery. Until Monday, Bill C-13 was one of the most controversial pieces of legislation that was presented under the guise of cyber-bullying, but even the mother of Amanda Todd spoke against the exploitation of her daughter’s death as a tool to create a warrantless surveillance state in this vein.
Due to terrorism accusations made by the Harper Government that took up most of the day, no mainstream news reported the bill’s passage later in the same day. CBC was the only major outlet to mention the bill on Monday, but they neglected to note the House of Commons vote or passage of this legislation at any point in the story. They presented the information as incremental progress while failing to report its successful, parliamentary completion.
This too presents a problem with ethical journalism, but CBC has seen its fair share of challenges since the Harper Government appointed ten Conservative donors to the board of directors, with influence over the public broadcaster’s direction.
Regardless, the only mention of Bill C-13 passing arises from a Saanich News editorial. The smaller publication urges everyone to be vigilant as this legislation completes the last step of approval (ascent) with senate, that is dominated by a Conservative majority.
Surprisingly, the senate passed a first reading of Bill C-13 the very next day. It accomplished that hurdle expediently on Tuesday, but this wasn’t reported by any source whatsoever. Senators then scheduled a second reading in two days’ time, on Thursday, October 23, 2014. The only lapse in this process was the Wednesday parliamentary shooting.
By today Bill C-13 may see the quickest passage through any bureaucracy in the democratic world, without the public or media noticing and while legislators are reeling from the ominous smell of gun smoke. Neither the parliamentary reporters who stared down the barrel of a police gun on Tuesday, nor the members of parliament who were barricaded, would be rested very well.
Plus there’s an RCMP press conference about the Wednesday shooting that will surely distract attention from the new law. In the days ahead, it’s likely they’ll tout Bill C-13 as a way to catch terrorists, also under the guise of cyberbulling and even though being watch-listed with preexisting surveillance powers didn’t prevent Michael Zehaf-Bibeau from taking action.
This brings us to what’s at stake. The taboo that nobody wants to evaluate. The decision senators will have to make while recovering from a psychologically traumatic breach of personal security.
We’re talking about public data surveillance, or what closely resembles stalking.
There are plenty of ambiguous words used to describe big data monitoring, but few understand what it means or how deeply it’s abused behind the sealed doors at CSEC. Warrantless internet surveillance has the potential to track a target’s GPS movements with updating by the minute. It can penetrate the entire chain of communication between an individual and their contacts, including strangers who make reference to the target by any degree of separation across the world wide web. The technology has predictive behaviour capabilities. Every citizen caught in this widespread dragnet is psychologically assessed through language semantics and assigned a persuasion, to determine if any of them presents a public relations issue, or if the original target has too much influence to garner support for their business, political and/or social beliefs.
Five Eyes governments have established media surveillance programs specifically. They surveil news topics and journalists, to monitor the reporter’s effect on public perception. When anyone posts a news link on any form of social media, all comments are collected and ranked for government and law enforcement dissemination. Canada spent $20 million and hired 3,300 staff to spy on journalists and political opponents since 2012. The European Commission and United States does the same, in this vacuum of nonexistent legislation to protect the public’s privacy in the modern age. Instead of updating constitutional rights to reflect modern technology, they’ve crafted legislation like Bill C-13 that revokes those rights entirely.
This goes beyond the confines of metadata and only the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has taken up the cause, likely to the chagrin of political parties that have begun to use similar technology against their opponents during elections. Whatever good this intrusive spying could accomplish is outweighed by the bad. Michael Sona only possessed a list of phone numbers and intentions, let alone mapping of the entire public’s thoughts and updates on the location of political foes by the minute.
If anyone physically tailed a political candidate, volunteer or supporter every minute of the day and night, or attempted to record every one of their exchanges, it would be considered criminal harassment. If that person also tailed every contact who spoke about their target and psychologically assessed them to create charts, it would surpass Hollywood’s fascination with the complex plotting of serial offenders.
But this isn’t fiction and warrantless internet surveillance can be used to harm a civilian, based on their political beliefs. In the United States it’s already used to surveil judges, adding a difficult challenge to the essence and appearance of democracy. The dialogue is strictly controlled to conceal these uses and they’re couched in the terrorist argument, to discourage the public from searching deeper.
Residents have been told if they don’t break the law, there is nothing to fear. This subverts any purpose of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and replaces that document with a Trust Me clause from the government. It replaces the core legal relationship between citizens and law enforcement, with unrestrained power and no oversight to justify its use. It imperils evidentiary laws that are designed to protect the innocent.
Beyond the dry language of legislation, this is how the words of Bill C-13 can be utilized by an aggressive government and the Five Eyes intelligence community. Suggested reading provides the history and development of technology and related policies in Canada, the United States and Europe. It was becoming law in Canada when the airwaves were filled with terrorism accusations and the government expected no one would notice. It also relates to media surveillance that could explain a few altered stories, deleted posts and political misunderstanding.
Edit, November 22, 2014: Liberal Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette published a diary of events during the Ottawa shooting, while barricaded in an office with numerous colleagues. Her honest and forthright account also challenges the Harper government and American explanations. The timed entries conflict with media reports, as documented above. She further includes mention of a second shooter.
Tags: #cdnpoli #onpoli, Abdul, Bill C13, Bill C622, Canada, constitutional rights, CSEC, election spying, Five Eyes, Free The Press Canada, Harper government, Liberal, media surveillance, Michael Zehaf Bibeau, NDP, NSA, Ontario, Ottawa, Ottawa Shooting, parliament, surveillance, terrorism, watch-list
Posted by Amy MacPherson
A recent Snowden leak drew fire from Julian Assange’s legal advisor and civil liberty monitors around the world, as visitors to WikiLeaks learned they were being tracked by US government in addition to its architect. Stopping by the website was enough to get an IP address logged and from that information users can be identified, if the NSA wished to take the investigation further.
Days later in the United Kingdom, the news broke that British spies at GCHQ intercepted millions of Yahoo webcam chats. Images of civilians were collected for a facial recognition program, with little regard to their nationalities or compromising situations. Many users were captured during intimate encounters, proving nothing is sacred when it comes to privacy in the eyes of Big Brother.
In both cases journalists and constitutional experts condemned the intrusion, united in their arguments by a selection of key themes: The ambiguity of laws that govern digital spying allows for government abuse and due to secrecy, the public has no idea when its rights are being transgressed. The Five Eyes spy agencies answer to no one and without oversight, there is no recourse for abuse. Press freedom is essential to a functioning democracy and government surveillance of their communications is tantamount to intimidation, thereby quashing a reporter’s independence and ability to protect sources. Finally, the surveillance of civilians has crossed new lines, if they’re now being tracked due to reading public content. Some have said the government is making a list and checking it twice, without ever informing the innocent citizens they’re surveilling.
Where defence advocates cite the threat of terrorism, civil liberty groups accuse governments of going too far under the guise of national security. Photos of our neighbours sharing private moments don’t appear to keep a country safe and neither does detaining the mates of journalists. In the US and Egypt reporters have been criminalized for the act of recording and telling the truth. In Canada, a judge tasked with approving CSEC warrants admits his orders are being misrepresented and abused in the international arena.
At least, at some point along the way, a covert court, congressional or parliamentary committee condoned these actions. They had to evaluate evidence that justified a temporary suspension of civil rights in the name of human safety, before allowing the NSA, GCHQ or CSEC to proceed. Whether citizens disagree with the mode, the means or the reason, an authority of some sort provided guidance until we craft laws around metadata and what constitutes privacy in the modern age. There is a telephone number to call with complaints and the election ballot box collects everyone’s messages.
The process is slow, expensive and fraught with debauchery, but it does exist. Lawyers are pushing for new legislation to close extensive spying loopholes and journalists are right beside them, urging governments to restore respect for the press. But what if it’s not the government spying and the global public is subjected to the same risk?
This privacy saga has expanded through a series of new developments and regrettably I must use myself as the example. It’s rare for an investigative journalist to become part of the story and it is with great caution that I endeavour to do this. It’s also the only way I can relate these facts, through a collection of evidence that arose from my experience and carefully considered indignation.
On February 13, 2014, I published an article on FreeThePressCanada.org. It’s a special report that addresses government conflict and proposed oil fracking beside a nuclear waste repository along the shores of the Great Lakes system. This significant resource provides drinking water to millions of residents in Canada and the United States. As anticipated, it raised concern on both sides of the border and the response has been overwhelming.
I chose to publish on this website because I’m a freelancer and I control the content here. Although I’ve written for mainstream media and Canada’s national broadcaster, relationships are being questioned between the oil industry, government and news organizations in our country. This investigation was too consequential to relinquish to another party, in the event anyone could seek to suppress the information. Our press was free to the point of envy, but much has changed under the current administration. Today the government keeps an “Enemy List” and Canadian scientists aren’t the only names on it.
Due to my access, I was able to monitor the analytics and keep an eye on the story’s progression. I receive data indicating how many people have visited, what articles they’ve inspected, what country they hail from and if they arrived at the site from links posted at an alternate location (all information is anonymous and only tallies are provided).
Facebook, Twitter and Reddit account for the most common referrals. Sometimes the audience visits via forums, blogs or other news sites, where users are discussing the issue in a comment section and someone shares the link. Less frequently a referral may appear that I fail to recognize and six days after publishing, I noticed a curious entry.
The combination of “spotter” plus “alias to create” was enough to pique my interest. I tried visiting the page that showcased my work, only to find it contained a secure log-in for an incredibly powerful tech corporation. Since the area that contained my information was restricted to me, I set off to learn more about this company.
Spotter.com is impressive to say the least. At first glance they compile big data and work with matters of reputation management. They gather consumer feedback from platforms like social media and there are multiple competitors that do the same. Everyone using these network tools has come to accept that ads appear according to the same technology.
Corporations like Google have kept privacy czars at bay by reinforcing their policies to ensure this practice is anonymous. For no reason would this exercise in text mining become personal and connect with an individual. The advertising is based on general demographics and categories of interest.
However, in 2011 Spotter unveiled proprietary software that surpasses these capabilities. They sought the metadata and location of internet users to match with items they’ve posted, for the purpose of building a private database and tracking system. Whereas government collects IP addresses through judicial warrant or National Security Letter, this company obtains GPS coordinates for targets under private surveillance, directly from internet pages. Without legal clearance to capture this information like the NSA possesses, the only way for Spotter to achieve the same feat is by running script that may skirt the law and calls everything into question about the goals of big data.
This would barely represent the violation I was about to feel. My article was clearly entered within the Spotter monitoring centre, because that’s the location a visitor clicked a link to arrive at my page in the first place. I couldn’t know who was paying the company to keep tabs on my work and their main accounts weren’t particularly encouraging.
Prominently displayed on the Spotter site are logos for the European Commission, Dubai Courts, Air France, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. That may account for a quarter of wealth in the world and suggests these services don’t come cheap. Spotter headquarters are located in France and they conduct business in the US, Canada, UK, Switzerland, Luxemburg, UAE and Qatar. Early literature mentions operations in Belgium, Denmark, Spain and Portugal as well.
Inspired to know more, my investigation continued. I quickly found it wasn’t just me this faceless observer was watching. If the public discussed my website their GPS was logged the same as WikiLeaks discovered. The only difference is the NSA claimed jurisdiction over Assange and in my case there was no court to grant a private company permission to pinpoint everyone in a journalist’s readership.
Armed with GPS coordinates the Spotter software then builds a map. Everyone who shares or speaks about the surveilled link may be tagged, to assess my reach as a reporter. In this way the technology resembles a worm-type virus, because those who visit can have their personal information seized and there is nothing I can do to stop a third party intrusion. The software updates reader responses in real time and can catalogue half a million entries per day.
This isn’t a matter of beefing up security or cleaning an infection from my site. It’s happening externally through Spotter and if I wasn’t alerted to the company, I would never have known about this peril. Whether sharing happens directly from my news site or somewhere else like Twitter, this program will penetrate the entire network to identify readers. The script to obtain the audience’s location is therefore infecting all of social media. One line is all it takes to be included, regardless of where it’s occurring.
Profiling Syntax and Tone
This software goes deeper than text or data mining. It also performs sentiment mining by analyzing the words for “syntax and tone”. A psychological profile of sorts has been assembled from my writing style and content. Again it’s the same for anyone who comments, to gauge how I’ve affected the pubic audience. A Spotter client is profiling everyone with an opinion related to my work, with as much depth as they’ve applied to me.
The definition of commenting includes any words associated with the link while sharing and resulting discussion with friends. These friends may not have posted the article, but if a response is entered their sentiments will be catalogued in addition to the person who did. Spotter proceeds to save these comments, along with everyone’s GPS. That means people who didn’t click the link can be caught in the same dragnet.
It doesn’t matter if you’re on a different continent with better privacy laws than North America. If you spoke negatively or positively about my investigations, this program will know the difference and add you to the watch-list database through the mapping module. There is no protection or discernment for members of government and if an elected official joins the conversation, the psychological meaning of their text will be analyzed the same as anyone else. In this sense, there is no such thing as diplomatic immunity from having one’s thoughts surveilled.
It’s important to understand that sentiment mining was already in development, but due to the early stages of this research, ethical arguments were only beginning as well. It was introduced as another anonymous tactic that didn’t focus on the individual, but when Spotter used this tech to target a specific journalist the mission became intensely personal. As they married this feature to hunting down my audience, it also personalized surveillance of the readership. No longer can anyone claim this effort was anonymous, because they save exchanges from those who comment to reference with GPS coordinates, from which they can be singled out. Everyone with a blog is equally being surveilled.
How The Data Is Used
Stunning by itself, this collection of data must serve a purpose to validate the cost of running an elaborate operation.
Spotter software combines the location and syntax analysis to determine a journalist’s risk and influence. Once they’ve identified a nuisance to their clients, a plan to deal with the problem is devised under the heading of reputation management. Attention to corporate persona is normally good for business when it’s used to resolve customer complaints or deal with emergencies. On the other hand, if used nefariously to stalk someone for political reasons, that ability can become a weapon in a hurry. History has proven this time and again, from the Glavlit to the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.
The company’s capacity to use this intel against individuals is reinforced by a decision-making segment within the Spotter Studio. The reason this monitoring occurs is so clients can prepare an effective defence of their interests and confront the source of unhappiness directly. The other option is promoting allied influencers to mitigate the damage, commonly referred to as “spin”.
A client can determine their own strategy, or they can employ a Spotter communications team to handle these reputation issues. The company notes a favoured tactic is winning over detractors and engaging them to promote the object of their criticism.
It would be up to a journalist, government employee, NGO, business or targeted entity, whether to accept these overtures or not. Perhaps an anti-nuclear or anti-fracking agency would come on board and begin touting the benefits of this energy, instead of criticizing it anymore. Perhaps a news producer would begin to deny stories that had a negative impact on their alliance, that was forged through negotiation with the vested Spotter client. Whatever the change in attitude, it likely doesn’t come free. If the individual doesn’t cooperate, it’s also conceivable there may be repercussions.
Although we must speculate about the intentions of anyone using this software, what can’t be overlooked is the intention to interfere with media. Journalism wasn’t meant to double as public relations for corporate interest and allowing intimidation through private surveillance destroys the constitutional ideal of press freedom at its core. Covertly collecting the GPS coordinates of readers should handily remove any benefit of the doubt, as it surpasses the NSA’s mandate and goes well beyond the confines of anonymity in metadata.
Spotter goes on to say that politicians use their services and the European Commission is front and centre on that list. It raises the question if a government actor is behind the surveillance of journalists and members of the public. With no oversight of companies that perform similar spying to that of intelligence agencies, we must ask if private watchers are contracted by bureaucrats to bypass procedures or keep monitoring off the record. In this respect Spotter may have more power than any government, because they’re free to target for money without needing to justify their actions. The more effective they are in helping a client defeat their opponent, the greater everyone’s year-end bonus.
Complicating this situation is the international structure being surveilled. While the Spotter company is based in France, I’m in Canada and the website in question is technically located in the United States. The client that watch-listed my work could be located in any country and my readership extends globally as well. Lawyers may have a heyday trying to sort this out, but meanwhile I have no recourse to shield myself or the informed citizens who support investigative journalism.
The public doesn’t realize they’re being run through behavioural diagnostics and mapped for reading the news. It’s as if a plague began the moment Spotter inputted my web address and I suspect major publications took priority over my platform. At this point a wiretap would be less intrusive for its reach and the implications extend to every profession that uses the internet. The government may track journalists suspected of telling too much, but a corporation will watch anyone they’re paid to study and both will be tracking a target’s entire network of contacts. The private version of this surveillance will also be more intrusive than what the Five Eyes are allowed to perform.
Without knowing which of these engaged Spotter to surveil my audience, I can only say that five days after being privately watch-listed, the US Department of Homeland Security called my house.
Blurred Lines Between Corporate and Government Spies
Most intriguing are Spotter’s quiet relationships. They have a longstanding history with the International Olympic Committee, providing surveillance and reputation management that covered the Sydney, Australia games. They assist prospective host cities by out-maneuvering the competition with proprietary intelligence. Their politically minded sports clients include the World Anti-Doping Agency, Rugby World Cup and Tour de France. If you spoke about any of these topics on the internet, there’s a chance your words were already added to the Spotter database for monitoring purposes. That means all your friends who responded too, along with a regular update of everyone’s movement.
In August 2011, Spotter announced a $7 million contract spanning four years with the European Commission. The company notes their previous affiliation and goes on to celebrate the most recent project, assessing European issues in the media. More important are the Decisional Analytics designed to navigate and steer opinion regarding policy matters. The monitoring for this database includes all 27 member states, as well as third party countries and any number of “influencers”.
By the end of 2012, Spotter secured another contract with the European Research Council. After demonstrating their software could deliver on its promises, the institution sought their services to develop a global media monitoring and analysis system. The term “media” includes all traditional forms, plus social media, blogs, forums and comment sections spanning the world wide web.
Since the company admits to saving copies of all media and comments in a proprietary database, this may present legal problems in the United States and several countries that value copyright. In the Associated Press v. Meltwater case (2013), the court held that clipping copies wasn’t protected by fair-use doctrine and this practice was an infringement. My own site states that payment is required and yet I’m guaranteed that Spotter has taken my work without notification, compensation or permission. I certainly didn’t give them access to mine or the readership’s GPS, but they’ve taken that without anyone’s knowledge. A similar case in the UK had the opposite outcome, but surveilling the audience network along with geo-location metadata wasn’t considered among the issues.
This comprehensive data saved by Spotter is a new phenomenon that addresses more than copyright and assumes possession of the readership, in addition to diagnosing their behavioural tendencies and movement. It’s unknown how this would impact privacy laws in Canada, involving an untested example of researcher surveillance. The University of Montreal engaged Spotter to monitor names related to the school and devise a ranking system, based on their public influence.
Deepening the mystery regarding Spotter’s stature and authority, the company cites the UK Home Office as a high profile client in limited print material. This government ministry oversees national security, counter-terrorism and MI5. The latter works in concert with British spies at GCHQ, in partnership with the Five Eyes intelligence community including the NSA and CSEC. Therefore it’s possible a government client watch-listed me through a private mechanism that circumvented traditional approval.
The LexisNexis Connection
Behind every good surveillance company is an exceptionally skilled programmer and Spotter hired Olivier Massiot as its Chief Technology Officer. Prior to joining the team, he is credited with the development of text mining and analytics for a powerful American competitor, LexisNexis.
LexisNexis also treads a fine line between corporate intelligence, law and national security. They’re predominantly known for providing databases to universities and cataloguing case law plus legislation from each of the Five Eyes countries. QuickLaw is one of their proprietary services and it’s used by most lawyers in Canada to research trends and precedents.
What little is known about the company (that requires log-in to most pages) is trusted by all courts and prestigious schools in North America. Judges stateside may not realize that additional products in the suite are used to surveil them akin to journalists, however. Profiles are created to find weaknesses, bias and relationships about not only judges, but also opposing counsel, arbitrators and experts. This may involve checking assets, business registrations, deed transfers, licences, tax filings and social interaction with others.
We probably haven’t heard much about LexisNexis because they provide Advanced Government Solutions, although these services are available to the private sector as well. The client list includes: Attorneys General, Corrections, Parole and Probation, Courts and Judiciary, Health and Human Services, Municipal Attorneys, Regulatory and Administrative, Tax and Revenue, Law Enforcement, Defense, Intelligence and Homeland Security.
Working with 4,000 state, federal and local police departments, the company boasts about their ability to provide officers with investigative data that isn’t available through public records. This includes documentation of a target’s mental health without any effort to seek patient consent. They licence access to proprietary records that are described as “inaccessible to general law enforcement searching”. The exclusive information can then be shared across a private network for police investigators in the LexisNexis program.
As Spotter collects GPS coordinates for private customers, LexisNexis does the same for police. They also map relationships and analyze links between people that can be integrated with the force’s internal records. This raises another set of questions if law enforcement is allowed to possess private information that would “otherwise be inaccessible”.
In October 2013, LexisNexis released a Social Media Monitor that behaves similar to the product from Spotter. Police can highlight a geographic perimeter on any touchscreen device and this program will collect posts from users in the area. Surveillance can be set by keywords or target names and the software contains a predictive feature that PoliceOne editor, Doug Wyllie describes as resembling the Minority Report. With forward looking semantic technology, it attempts to assess the precognition of crime and no, it’s not a prototype.
On the Homeland Security front, comparative software monitors terrorist threats and hunts for fugitives who are trying to stay off the radar. Experts at LexisNexis assist the government with a customized repository for their abundant information, as well as access to the company’s records that were obtained both publicly and privately.
In service of the Department of Defense and National Security Agency, this multifaceted corporation collects, analyzes and “enriches” international data to help with greater insight. This may include social media and information about journalists, or anyone who landed in a geo-surveillance circle. An itemized contract with the government indicates they train spies and support staff how to operate the software as well.
It’s confusing that no conflict of interest was raised when LexisNexis sought to influence government policy. They’re employed to create these surveillance programs and in the next breath they help the intelligence community devise civil liberty and privacy rights, while compiling personal data about judges.
Likewise, this company represents the energy industry and it’s impossible for a target to know if they’ve been watch-listed by a corporate client or the Five Eyes collaboration. A disturbing scenario exists in Canada and CSEC is deflecting criticism for sharing intelligence about activists with oil tycoons, offending public perception in the same manner.
LexisNexis also analyzes the news, but it appears Spotter goes one step further by personalizing surveillance of the journalist and audience. In the LexisNexis example, metadata is extracted from internet pages and the same situation could arise if they choose to follow Europe’s lead in the future.
In any event, the information is collected in bulk and when the same technique was applied to telephone metadata, the President’s advisory council admonished the NSA for breaking a good, long list of constitutional protections. If widespread surveillance of telephone data was seen to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and association, then it stands to reason the unrestrained collection of online information would be equal if not more offensive.
When all else fails, LexisNexis is a go-to source for political campaigns. A candidate can purchase their services to surveil the competition with every intrusive tool previously mentioned. A framework of personal and business associates will be unearthed, from basic assets to global sanction lists. If they’re not busy digging up the dirt, they will also help with PAC registration forms. Another conflict of interest appears imminent and the Harper government in Canada has announced its intention to use similar technology in the next election.
Should a client go awry and require legal assistance, LexisNexis offers Council Benchmarking to decide if the cost is worth defending or better to settle with a complainant. The justice of these matters seems to have little bearing, when a decision is made by crunching the fees and odds with computerized analytics.
It must be reiterated that I would not have known about this company if Spotter didn’t hire their text mining and analytics developer. Spotter is also connected to the LexisNexis database, sharing private resources to accommodate client wishes while bringing this relationship full circle.
Metadata or Democracy?
Growing the team hasn’t been easy according to Spotter executive, Frédéric Marcoul. Recruitment agencies didn’t produce the type of developer they were seeking and the company began canvassing the winners of gamer coding competitions. This tactic resembles the NSA’s presence at hacking conferences and raises eyebrows, still.
Despite this challenge, corporate and government spies have no trouble collecting the public’s information and tracking individual movements over time. In the absence of a warrant this behaviour is downright dangerous and civil liberty is non-existent for more than journalists. So far the debate has centred on privacy and freedom of speech, but this involves freedom of thought and association, not to mention voting and justice. In the wrong hands these programs could terrorize an innocent life and judges aren’t sheltered from it either.
Technology doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong, nor does it possess a moral compass. As governments drag their heels about modernizing defence and privacy legislation, every person on the internet is being profiled and catalogued for the highest bidder. There is no regulation regarding how the data is used and watchers now control the levers of democracy more than any elected official.
No online newspaper can protect readers from being surveilled, let alone their staff. No blog or forum is safe. If a client has a web address to input, then no website is immune to spying. Celebrities on Twitter are also at risk, because the company profits from sharing their metadata and the policy makes users agree to this.
Law enforcement can monitor citizens by the same means, but we must remember that any private client can do the equivalent. In fact, police that lack this warrantless spying would be at a disadvantage, if corporate customers chose to surveil them as individuals for their own reasons. It’s a double-edged sword and the only winners are companies that traffic this information without restraint, authority, oversight or allegiance to anything but profit.
These lists extend globally, as do the targets being monitored. You might be an Average Joe who lives on Main Street, but rest assured that if you read this article, someone is likely paying attention. Next week a new client could purchase your data and this process will repeat for as long as intelligence agencies lobby to let it continue. In the meantime the public is at its most vulnerable and world leaders have been rendered impotent by the very power they sought to wield. If there is anything remotely amusing about this, it’s that twenty-year-old gamers took the reins from political veterans. I dare say it’s time to take them back though.
Tags: #cdnpoli, behaviour analysis, Canada, constitutional rights, CSEC, democracy, Europe, European Commission, first amendment, Free The Press Canada, freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of thought, GCHQ, GPS, internet metadata, journalists, judges, media surveillance, metadata, metadata or democracy, NSA, precognition of crime, press freedom, privacy, privacy laws, private surveillance, public surveillance, researcher surveillance, sentiment mining, social media, social media monitor, social media surveillance, Spotter, spying, surveillance, telephone metadata, text mining, United States, watch-list