Category Archives: FOIA Requests

Oakland Privacy’s Brian Hofer at the 2019 EFF Pioneer Awards

The EFF has made a full transcription of the entire 2019 Pioneer Awards available here.

Video of Brian Hofer’s speech on YouTube here.

See video/transcriptions for Tracy Rosenberg & Mike Katz-Lacabe.

oakland privacy

EFF’s nash Sheard presents a 2019 Barlow Award to members of Oakland Privacy (Left to right: Nathan “nash” Sheard, Tracy Rosenberg, Brian Hofer, Mike Katz-Lacabe)

Brian Hofer’s Speech:

So my name is Brian Hofer, I recently left Oakland Privacy. I founded Secure Justice with a handful of our coalition partners that are, some of who are in this room tonight. And we’re going to continue carrying on the fight against surveillance, just like Oakland Privacy. I also had the privilege of chairing the city of Oakland’s Commission, as you heard earlier, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be recognized by EFF for the same reasons that my former colleagues have been saying, because you’ve been standing next to us in the trenches. You’ve seen us at the meetings, lobbying, joined in the long hours waiting at city council meetings late at night just for that two minute opportunity that Nash is now an expert at. You know how much labor goes into these efforts, and so I really want to thank you for standing next to us.

This path has been pretty unexpected for me. I quit a litigation job, was unemployed, and I read this East Bay Express article by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston based on public record requests that Oakland Privacy members had founded. And there’s a little side bar in that journal that the very next day, just fate I guess, that this upstart group Oakland Privacy was meeting and that I could attend it. It’s even more strange to me that I stayed. It was a two hour discussion about papier-mache street puppets and the people asking me if I was a cop when I walked in. Nobody wanted to sit next to me.

So when I finally spoke up and asked how many city council members they spoke to, the room got quiet. And so that became my job, because I was the one guy in the suit. At the honorable Linda Lye’s going away party a couple months ago, I remarked that if we had lost the Domain Awareness Center vote, I would have never become an activist. I would have returned to my couch. I spent hundreds of hours on that project, and I would have been really disillusioned. But March 4th, 2014, which was the vote, is still the greatest day of my life. We generated international headlines by defeating the surveillance state in the true power to the people sense.

It was quite a contrast the following morning, on the Oakland Privacy list, when the naysayers thought the world had ended in calamity. Little did they know, that was the formation of the ad hoc privacy commission; we were about to change the conversation around surveillance and community control. EFF is directly responsible for helping us form that privacy commission in Oakland, and so it’s my turn to congratulate you. Matt Cagle of the ACLU, Dia Kayyali, and myself were sitting around trying to figure out how to make it a permanent thing, and we noticed that another piece of technology was on the agenda. We didn’t have any mandate or authority to write a privacy policy for it. But Dia signed a letter with me asking that we be given that task.

It worked, and that established the Privacy Commission as a policy writing instrument that remains today. As our colleagues were saying, that’s been the launching pad for a lot of this legislative success around the greater Bay Area. It’s the first of many dominoes to fall. I want to close with a challenge to EFF——and not your staff—like any non-profit, they’re overworked and underpaid, because I’m sending them work and I don’t pay for it. I was supposed to insert an Adam Schwartz joke there.

I believe that we’re in a fight for the very fabric of this nation. Trump, people think he’s a buffoon. He’s very effective at destroying our civic institutions. The silent majority is silent, secure in their privilege, or too afraid or unaware how to combat what’s going on. So I’m going to tell you a dirty secret about Oakland Privacy: we’re not smarter than anyone else. We have no independently wealthy people. We have no connections. We didn’t get a seat at the table via nepotism or big donations. We have no funding for the tens of thousands of volunteer hours spent advocating for human rights. And yet as you heard from the previous speakers, the formula of watching agendas, which anyone with an Internet connection can do in their pajamas, submitting public record requests, which anyone can do in their pajamas, and showing up relentlessly, which in Berkeley and Oakland, you can do in your pajamas—that led to a coalition legislative streak that will never be duplicated. That four year run will never happen again. So I ask that you challenge your membership to do the same, pajamas optional. We need numbers. We need people to get off their couch, like me, for the first time. The Domain Awareness Center was literally the first time I ever walked inside the open city hall, and I apologize for the police lingo, but your membership is the force multiplier and it’s critical that more folks get involved. If you don’t already know, somehow next week turned onto facial recognition ban week. Berkeley, Portland, Emeryville, we have our Georgetown national convening where I know EFF will be. It’s critical that new diverse faces start showing up instead of the same actors. As Tracy said, they can see us from a mile away. We need more people.

In October, we expect four more cities to jump on board. Only one is in California, demonstrating that this isn’t just a Bay Area bubble. It’s got legs. And like the Domain Awareness Center moment, we’ve got a chance to change the national conversation, and we better take advantage of it. Thank you for this honor and thank you for this award.

Oakland Privacy’s Tracy Rosenberg at the 2019 EFF Pioneer Awards

The EFF has made a full transcription of the entire 2019 Pioneer Awards available here.

Video of Tracy Rosenberg’s speech on YouTube here.

See video/transcriptions for Mike Katz-Lacabe and Brian Hofer.

oakland privacy

EFF’s nash Sheard presents a 2019 Barlow Award to members of Oakland Privacy (Left to right: Nathan “nash” Sheard, Tracy Rosenberg, Brian Hofer, Mike Katz-Lacabe)

Tracy Rosenberg’s speech:

Thank you, Mike, and hi, everyone, and thank you so much for this wonderful award. We are honored.

We’re splitting up the speaking here because Oakland Privacy is a coalition and is a collective, and that’s important to us. We have no hierarchy after all these years, and I’ve been doing this for five years. All that I get to call myself is a member. That’s all I am.

I want to highlight, there are people in the audience that are not coming up on stage. J.P. Massar, Don Fogg, Leah Young. There are people that are not here whose names I won’t mention since they’re not here, but it’s always a coalition effort.

And this week I’ve been jumping up and down because the broader coalition that includes EFF and Consumer Reports and ACLU and a bunch of other people, we just stood down the Chamber of Commerce, the tech industry, and pretty much every business in California in order to keep the Consumer Privacy Act intact.

There were six people on a whole bunch of conference calls, you don’t want to know how many, and somehow we actually did it. It’s official as of today. There is power in coalition work.

I’m incredibly grateful to Oakland Privacy because I was incredibly upset about the encroaching surveillance state, and I didn’t know what to do. And in the end, in 2013, Oakland Privacy showed me what I could do, and I will never be able to repay the group for that.

I was thinking back to our first surveillance transparency ordinance in Santa Clara. EFF actually came down, and they took a picture of me speaking at that meeting and put it on their blog, and I thought, I wish I could put into words what lay behind that picture, which was 11 stinking months of going down to Santa Clara and sitting in that room with the goddamn Finance and Governmental Operations Committee where they were trying to bury our ordinance because let’s face it, the powers that be don’t want transparency. And every month standing there and saying, “I’m not going to let you do that. I’m just not.”

We succeeded. It became law, I think it was June 7th, 2016, which doesn’t feel like that long ago. And now there are 12. Eight of them are here in the Bay Area, a couple in Massachusetts, Seattle, and somehow Nashville did it without us and more power to them.

So I think that’s pretty much what I kind of want to say here. I mean, what Oakland Privacy does fundamentally is we watch. The logo is the eye of Sauron, and well, I’m not a Tolkien geek, but I deal with what I am a part of. Hey look—I went to a basement, it was all guys. It is what it is. It’s a little more gender-balanced now, but not entirely. But the point is that eye kind of stands for something important because it’s the eye of “we are watching,” and in really mechanical terms, we try to track every single agenda of God knows how many city councils there are in the Bay Area. I think we’re watching about 25 now, and if a couple more of you would volunteer, we might make that 35.

But the point is, and every time there’s a little action going on locally that’s just making the surveillance state that much worse, we try to intervene. And we show up and the sad truth is that at this point, they can kind of see us coming from a mile away, and they’re like, “Oh, great. You guys came to see us.” But the point is, that’s our opportunity to start that conversation. Oakland is a laboratory, it’s a place where we can … And Oakland’s not perfect. All that you need to do is take a look at OPD and you know that Oakland’s not perfect. Right? But it’s a place where we’ve been able to ask the questions and we’re basically trying to export that as far as it possibly can, and we go there and we ask the questions.

And really, the most important part to me and the part that gives me hope is we get a lot of people that come to the basement to talk to us and basically share with us how dystopia is coming, which we know. It’s here. There’s no hope, right? But when those people find the way to lift up their voices and say no, that’s what gives me hope. So thank you. Thank you and Brian Hofer is also going to make a final set of comments. Thank you.

 

Oakland Privacy’s Mike Katz-Lacabe at the 2019 EFF Pioneer Awards

The EFF has made a full transcription of the entire 2019 Pioneer Awards available here.

Video of Mike Katz-Lacabe’s speech on YouTube here.

See video/transcriptions for Tracy Rosenberg and Brian Hofer.

oakland privacy

EFF’s nash Sheard presents a 2019 Barlow Award to members of Oakland Privacy (Left to right: Nathan “nash” Sheard, Tracy Rosenberg, Brian Hofer, Mike Katz-Lacabe)

Mike Katz-Lacabe’s speech:

So I first have to confess I’m not just a member of the EFF. I’m also a client. Thank you to Mitch Stoltz and your team for making sure that public records that I unearth remain available on the Internet for others to see.

So as Nash said, Oakland Privacy’s strength comes not just from the citizens that volunteer as part of its group, but also from the coalitions that we build. And certainly every victory that is credited to us is the result of many, many other coalition members, whether in some cases it’s the EFF or the ACLU or local neighborhood activists. It’s really a coalition of people that makes us stronger and helps us get the things done that sometimes we not always deservedly get as much credit for. So I want to make sure to call out those other groups and to recognize that their work is important as well and critical for us.

My work for Oakland Privacy comes from the belief that only from transparency can you have oversight, and from oversight derives accountability. So many examples of technology that have been acquired and used by law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area were never known about by the city councils that oversaw those police agencies.

In the city of Oakland, it was seven years after the city of Oakland acquired its stingray cell site simulator that the city of Oakland and the city council became aware of the use of that device by the police. In my city, I live in San Leandro, it was five years before the city council became aware of our city’s use of license plate readers and a very notorious photo of me getting out of my car that was taken by a passing license plate reader got published on the Internet.

We do our best work when working together. That’s been said. Let me give you … speaking of stories, I’ll take take off from Adam’s talk here. For example, recently journalist Caroline Haskins obtained a bunch of documents pertaining to Ring, you may know the Ring doorbell, and its relationship with police departments. A post about a party that Ring held at the International Association of Chiefs of Police meeting with basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, where each attendee got five free Ring doorbells. That was highlighted by EFF Senior Investigative Researcher Dave Maass.

I, or we as Oakland Privacy, we then found a social media post by the police chief of Dunwoody, Georgia saying, “Hey, look at this great party with Ring, and there’s Shaq.” Dave then went and took that information, went back and looked at Dunwoody and found that subsequently, a few months later, Dunwoody was proud to announce the first law enforcement partnership with Ring in the state of Georgia. What a coincidence.

Oftentimes it’s these coalitions working together that result in prying public records free and then establishing the context around them. The work we do involves very, very exciting things: Public records requests, lobbying of public officials and meeting with public officials, speaking at city council meetings and board of supervisors meetings. We’re talking, this is, primo excitement here.

So, as was mentioned, our work with Oakland Privacy was helpful in getting the first privacy advisory commission, an actual city of Oakland commission going, within the city of Oakland. It’s this organization, led by chair Brian Hofer, that passes policies regarding surveillance technologies, and not only passes policies but actually digs down and finds out what surveillance technologies the city of Oakland has. It has been a model for cities and counties, and we’re proud that our work will continue there in addition to working on many other issues surrounding surveillance.

In fact, I would be very happy to tell you that we’ve had … just recently the California assembly and the Senate passed a ban on the use of face surveillance on body-worn cameras. Again, our work with coalitions there makes the difference. And now, I would like to introduce another member of Oakland Privacy, Tracy Rosenberg.

 

Aaron Collaborated with Barrett Brown on “Persona Management” FOIA Request

Learn about all this and more at our Raw Thought Salon on March 8th – from 7-9pm.

Then stay from 9pm-2am to dance and hang out in Grumpy Green’s super special Psychedelic Chill Room (an immersive art installation). DJs include: Melotronix, Tha Spyryt, Ailz, & Cain MacWitish – with visuals by Projekt Seahorse – all at our March 8th Raw Thought at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco! TICKETS

Barrett Brown and Aaron Swartz Exchanged Emails and worked on a FOIA project together

Short version of this story: Barrett Brown and Aaron Swartz filed a FOIA together on “persona management software” and here is the document that came back on that request.

Index of a few highlights of this document:

Page 1 – $2,760,000 bid

Page 3 – Explains what the software does

Page 4 – Explains the VPN and “user traffic mixing”

Page 4 – Explains Static IP Address Management

Page 5 – Explains “Virtual Private Servers”

Page 6 – Explains “Point of Presence Locations” to allow personas to appear to originate from different locations

Page 7 – Explains the “Secure Operating Environment”

Page 8 – Says $2,760,000 again

Detailed version of the story:

As I was preparing Barrett Brown and Trevor Timm’s segment from the Aaron Swartz Day Evening Event for publication, and transcribing some of it, I realized that he and Aaron had actually kinda known each other.

This was amazing to me, as I had asked Barrett to start participating in our last two years of Aaron Swartz Day’s because his projects had felt so on-target with Aaron’s concerns and values, not because I knew that they had ever exchanged emails, much less collaborated at any point.

Barrett himself had basically forgotten about it until recently at the end of his talk with Trevor Timm during last year’s Evening Event. As I was transcribing the talk last week, my ears perked up as Barrett explained their interactions:

“He (Aaron) once offered to do an FOIA request on persona management. One of my interests back then. One of these disinformation propaganda methodologies that have come out of the intelligence contract industries, and had been encouraged by various states. Something that I think is very dangerous. So he offered to do his thing on that. To explore the possibilities and see if we could get some information on it. And the interesting thing about that is that I’d sort of forgotten about it until very recently. I’m not sure where that was left. I’m not sure if he got some results back.”

Aha! The hunt was on – I wanted to find this request and find out what information ever came back for it. I still didn’t know what “persona management” was exactly, but I could guess the outcome – sock puppets. I had always known that sock puppets were very dangerous, from the first day I learned of their existence en mass.

I had been working with Muckrock intensely all week myself, filing dozens of public records requests to numerous police and sheriff departments for the Aaron Swartz Police Surveillance Project. (Which just revamped it’s Muckrock templates, by the way.)

I wrote Barrett an email immediately asking what ever came of it. He said, to his knowledge, it was filed, but he didn’t know if anything was ever sent back on it. He sent me this Project PM link on “Persona Management”:

Persona management on Project PM:

Persona management entails the use of software by which to facilitate the use of multiple fake online personas, or “sockpuppets,” generally for the use of propaganda, disinformation, or as a surveillance method by which to discover details of a human target via social interactions. Various incarnations of this capability have been discovered in the form of patents, U.S. military contracts, and e-mail discussions among intelligence contractors.

My first idea was to go back to the original story by Jason Leopold in Truthout that was published immediately after Aaron’s death. There was a link in it to all of Aaron’s FOIA requests, but it was broken. So I wrote Michael Morisy, founder of Muckrock, and asked him about it. He not only gave me a good link of every FOIA request Aaron Swartz ever filedand what he received back, on Muckrock. But he sent me the exact FOIA request in question, asking about persona management software. As well as the document that came back.

I sent the link to the response to Barrett.

He replied:

“Hey, I believe this is the same RFP that became public in 2011, though I’m not entirely sure. But yes, that’s exactly what it’s used for; social media accounts are the main vector, and as seen by the recent NYT story on the Israeli firm that Trump campaign approached regarding this, it’s definitely been marketed to entities as a means of influencing elections (in this case, influencing GOP delegates).” (I have reposted the NYT story on our blog .)

This software allows you to have sock puppets on steriods, provide VPNs for masking your geographical location, with the ability to actually pull in feeds from the geographical location you are claiming to be in, so you make the right comments and comment on local posts/issues and such.

Sock puppets and fake personas were not a new invention, of course. But you usually had to be a technical wizard of sorts to be able to pull it off. You would have to actually write things in a certain voice and monitor the input and output feeds of a given location on your own. Perhaps a gifted individual could have 5 or 10 of these going at once, but that would be impressive.

In contrast, using the software described in the RFP that was retrieved from Aaron’s FOIA request on Barrett’s behalf, someone could have dozens or even hundreds of these things going at once; without having to remember everything. In addition, the software could refresh one’s memory about a certain profile before having to interact with a human. And human interactions come so rarely anyway. Most all social media interactions are passive – like email, as opposed to conversations in real time.

From the NY Times story:

“A top Trump campaign official requested proposals in 2016 from an Israeli company to create fake online identities, to use social media manipulation and to gather intelligence to help defeat Republican primary race opponents and Hillary Clinton, according to interviews and copies of the proposals.

The Trump campaign’s interest in the work began as Russians were escalating their effort to aid Donald J. Trump…

The campaign official, Rick Gates, sought one proposal to use bogus personas to target and sway 5,000 delegates to the 2016 Republican National Convention by attacking Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Mr. Trump’s main opponent at the time.” – NY Times Article by By Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, David D. Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman.

I will keep you posted as things develop.

Come discuss this and other Aaron Swartz Day mysteries at our March 8th Raw Thought Salon.

References:

  1. Persona Management listing on Project PM (courtesy of the Internet Archive): https://web.archive.org/web/20170326000753/http://wiki.project-pm.org/wiki/Persona_Management (http://wiki.project-pm.org/wiki/Persona_Management is temporarily down.)
  2. Document returned from Aaron’s “persona management” FOIA request : https://www.muckrock.com/foi/united-states-of-america-10/persona-management-software-544/#file-9522
  3. Every FOIA Aaron Ever Filed on Muckrock, https://tinyurl.com/Aaron-Swartz-FOIAs
  4. Aaron Swartz’s FOIA Requests Shed Light on His Struggle, By Jason Leopold, for Truthout, January 16, 2013 https://truthout.org/articles/cyberactivist-aaron-swartz-legacy-of-open- government-efforts-continues/
  5. Rick Gates Sought Online Manipulation Plans From Israeli Intelligence Firm for Trump Campaign By Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, David D. Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman for the New York Times, October 8, 2018 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/08/us/politics/rick-gates-psy-group-trump.html

 

NYT Article About Persona Management Software & the GOP

This article – with the relevant parts highlighted below – is here as a reference to this blog post about Aaron and Barrett Brown filing a FOIA together.

Aaron Swartz Filed a FOIA request, in collaboration with Barrett Brown, asking about Persona Management software. (Read the full story here, but here’s the document obtained via Muckrock.)

On the first page of the RFP, it shows its for a $2,760,000 bid  (see page 1).

Note that I am not saying this RFP was directly connected to the NY Times article (it probably isn’t) – but it does look like this kind of software:

1) has become commonplace among state actors

2) goes for about 3 million a pop – as both the RFP and the NY Times’ reported that the price of the software was around that price.

The New York Times explains how this kind of software can be used to influence elections, was probably used in the 2016 election.

Rick Gates Sought Online Manipulation Plans From Israeli Intelligence Firm for Trump Campaign

From the article:

After scouring social media accounts and all other available information to compile a dossier on the psychology of any persuadable delegate, more than 40 Psy-Group employees would use “authentic looking” fake online identities to bombard up to 2,500 targets with specially tailored messages meant to win them over to Mr. Trump.

The messages would describe Mr. Cruz’s “ulterior motives or hidden plans,” or they would appear to come from former Cruz supporters or from influential individuals with the same background or ideology as a target…

Each approach would “look authentic and not part of the paid campaign,” the proposal promised. The price tag for the work was more than $3 million…

A third document emphasized “tailored third-party messaging” aimed at minority, suburban female and undecided voters in battleground states. It promised to create and maintain fake online personas that would deliver messages highlighting Mr. Trump’s merits and Mrs. Clinton’s weaknesses or revealing “rifts and rivalries within the opposition.”

References:

1. Rick Gates Sought Online Manipulation Plans From Israeli Intelligence Firm for Trump Campaign By By Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, David D. Kirkpatrick and Maggie Haberman for the New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/08/us/politics/rick-gates-psy-group-trump.html

2. RFP that Aaron Swartz filed while working with Barrett Brown. (Courtesy of Muckrock)