In November 2010, The New Yorker published an extensive article on the use of e-reading by non-intelligence agencies. Although The Guardian did a lengthy account in the past year of the UK government’s e-reading capabilities, it was the first mainstream American publication to investigate how the CIA uses “smartphones.” (See also the Guardian’s excellent feature on the UK’s use of technology to spy on Britons.) Even after the Snowden affair and US President Barack Obama’s vow to fight “everyday” electronic surveillance to protect civil liberties, it remains to be seen whether American intelligence agencies will ever use these techniques and whether the US government will make its use of the technology public.
What’s in a digital signature?
In 2007, the NSA quietly published an information sheet titled “Digital Signature: What it does and Why it matters.” The document reveals that the NSA collects information from almost all forms of electronic communications (cell phone calls, email, text messages, data downloaded from the Internet, and so on), and the Agency will not stop there.
With such broad, non-stop surveillance, the Agency is in a position to make judgments as to how an e-mail message originated and to determine who actually sent it. The NSA’s goal is to be able to make the best possible intelligence assessments and inform decision-makers about new information it finds.
How do we prevent a crime with “digital fingerprints”?
Many criminals, even those who do not use encryption, have the ability to hide their digital footprints, either through the use of the software or a special software application such as TrueCrypt. The FBI and FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Command are known to develop such systems; it’s difficult for the average person to know how they work.
The FBI has spent decades in the business of collecting digital fingerprints through computer forensics. During the 1970s and before, it worked closely with the CIA and the U.S. Air Force to create a program called the International Data Storage Laboratory — it was used by the NSA since the mid-1970s. With the help of its close collaborators in the FBI, DARPA and the CIA, the NSA developed a “smartcard” card — the most common form of digital fingerprint in the US — which it would insert into a device to establish an individual’s identity.
Since the creation of the “smartcard” in 1998, when the FBI acquired the technology for the FBI’s National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Critical Information
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