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iPhone A Target for Total Information Awareness?

When it comes to understanding the breadth of the reborn Total Information Awareness electronic espionage program, there are a lot of dots to connect. Here’s one that’s new to me, but pretty important, especially if you’re one of those people who likes to get the latest technology.

Early adopters’ fad of the summer is the Apple iPhone, a cell phone which incorporates the MP3 player technology of iPods, the cellular technology of mobile phones, and the Internet browsing and email functions of computers. It’s an all-in-one communication device for its users.

Perhaps the iPhone is an all-in-one spying device for the National Security Agency too. I’ll give first credit to Cyber Warriors, because that’s where I first found the story, but additional credit to the Vs. iPhone blog, which points me to the a mobile phone backup web page at AT&T that explains how every AT&T authorized cell phone, including the iPhone, periodically sends information back and forth from the cell phone to a “secure server” and then to an AT&T web site.

att cell phone backup system spyingYou see here the picture of how the system works. My attention was caught right away by the claim of the “secure servers”. If you read the Frontline interview with Mark Klein, you’ll realize that the AT&T servers are anything but secure. The National Security Agency seems to have giant supercomputers copying traffic from AT&T’s networks, with NSA people observed going in and out of these facilities.

Consider how weird it is that AT&T would have this automatic backup system for contact information, when most people sync their cell phones with their computer address books. That’s all the backup that most people need. What other information is being sent and retrieved through this system, other than just contacts?

It’s the NSA, remember, that has been running the illegal warrantless wiretapping programs (involving all forms of electronic communication, not just telephone calls) that have just been made legal by the Protect America Act. The Cyber Warriors do the good job of connecting the capability of the iPhone, and all other AT&T-tied cell phones, to the EFF and state government lawsuits trying to force the government to reveal the extent to which a new Total Information Awareness operation is at work in communications hubs like those operated by AT&T. The timeline of coincidences between those lawsuits and the sudden push for the Protect America Act at the beginning of August gives new details to those who are trying to understand the architecture of the massive government spy operations against innocent, everyday electronic communications.

1. Cell phone “backup” software connected to AT&T servers
2. NSA reborn Total Information Awareness program gathers information from AT&T servers
3. The Protect America Act legalizes the NSA Total Information Awareness electronic spying program

In the interest of fairness, I don’t think that it’s safe to just pick on the vulnerabilities of the iPhone and AT&T. The NSA electronic spy program at AT&T was discovered by accident, but it’s reasonable to conclude that the other telecommunications systems are similarly infiltrated by the government. If you’ve got a cell phone, then the government most likely has the information you have on that phone, or can get access to it quite easily.

The iPhone, as the cutting edge of mobile phone technology, is a particularly good symbol of why the dangerous new power given to Alberto Gonzales and his spies under the Protect America Act matters in our everyday lives. That iPhone has the potential to capture a huge amount of information about a person’s private life, bringing telephone calls, emails, web browsing, text messaging, event calendars, photography, audio and video recordings, and who knows what else next, together, all in one place, connected to the not-secure-at-all AT&T servers, where it is as easy as pie for the National Security Agency to pick up and dump into its Total Information Awareness database.

It’s enough to make me want to communicate through an old-fashioned analog rotary phone, or better yet, the Pony Express.

3 comments to iPhone A Target for Total Information Awareness?

  • What makes you think the can’t get info from a rotary phone or the pony express rider? This needs to be fixed at the government level. We have to remove the corrupt two parties of the apocalypse from power, and replace them with elected officials who respect our civil rights…

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  • Yes, you’re right. I should have said that it’s “almost” enough to make me want a rotary phone or the Pony Express. We have to keep on living as we have, but the thing that bothers me is that, with this over our heads, we all start to think twice about what we say and what we do. Self-censorship, just in case, is where the twisting of society starts.

  • John Stracke

    Consider how weird it is that AT&T would have this automatic backup system for contact information, when most people sync their cell phones with their computer address books.

    It’s not weird at all, because most people don’t sync their cellphones to their computers. Some phones can’t sync; some phones need a $25 data cable (or even a $150 kit, with a data cable plus software); most sync software runs only on Windows; and most people aren’t sufficiently worried about their contacts to figure out how to sync. Out of my close family, I don’t know anybody who syncs their cellphones—not even my wife, even though I’ve told her I could set it up for her.

    So, rather than get the phone manufacturers to implement easy sync, AT&T sees it as a business opportunity: they provide over-the-air sync, which gets them data traffic.

    Now, I’ll grant you, I wouldn’t trust AT&T to store my data. But I don’t think they’re offering this service because they’re untrustworthy; I think they genuinely expect to make money off of it.

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