[Politech] John Gilmore on wiretapping cell phones aloft: FBI's real motivations [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Wed Jul 13 2005 - 21:37:10 PDT

Previous Politech message:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Politech] Feds push for wiretapping cell phones aloft: 
CALEA takes flight! [priv]
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2005 13:48:11 -0700
From: John Gilmore <gnu@private>
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@private>, politech@private, gnu@private

> For example, the use of satellite-based communications and data services 
> onboard aircraft could potentially facilitate a coordinated attack 
> between (1) a person on the aircraft and a person on the ground, (2) 
> persons traveling on different aircraft, and/or (3) persons traveling on 
> the same aircraft located in different sections of the cabin, who could 
> communicate with one another using these services...

We know the FBI is not full of idiots, so their proposal is merely
designed to mislead.  The FBI does not propose ripping out all the
back-of-seat phones in current aircraft, to prevent eeeeevildoersssss
from phoning their buddies.  On my Virgin flight last month
seat-to-seat calling was even free.

They don't also propose to take down the national cellphone netowk
that the 9/11 victims used to call law enforcement.  Presumably any
remaining terrorists noticed that "illegal" cellphone use on airlanes
WORKS ANYWAY.  And no plane would ever be full of sleeping people who
would fail to wrestle a forgetful miscreant cellphone user to the
ground and punch them out to show how tough on terrorism we are...

There are far more FBI agents in the US than terrorists, and we have a
much longer and better documented record of their abuses of the
innocent (and particularly of ethnic minorities and those out of favor
politically).  Let's ban FBI agents from communicating because they
might violate our civil rights.  And require all such communication to
be accessible to the interested public in real time upon application
to the Big Data Center In The Sky.

Or better yet, let's presume that all communication among people in
the US is lawful and protected by the First, Fourth and Fifth
Amendments.  Like any honest agency charged with protecting civil
rights would, in a free country.

     John Gilmore
     "Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy." - Orson Welles

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Politech] Feds push for wiretapping cell phones aloft: 
CALEA takes flight! [priv]
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2005 23:50:07 -0700 (PDT)
From: Thomas Leavitt <thomas@private>
To: <declan@private>
References: <42D4AA14.1080403@private>


Geez... how helpful of the Feds to provide a detailed list of the
technological features needed in software designed to render their
activities pointless. Seems to me that an encrypted "ssh" connection to a
server, that is then used to connect to an IRC server, would be enough to
defeat most of these security measures (and that shoulder surfing could be
defeated by using a language most of the other plane passengers are
unfamiliar with)... or how about a web-based voice/multimedia
conference/meeting system running on a server somewhere, to which
participants connect via VPN? Pull on the virtual presence eyeglasses and
the headphones, and no one would be the wiser.

Now, being a terrorist is no guarantee that you're not stupid (possibly
quite the latter), so of course it is possible that you might have
terrorists communicating in the clear on airplane based phone systems
about the attack they're about to launch... but I wouldn't want to bet my
life on it.

How many corporate workers are going to be connecting to the home office
via a VPN? Quite a few I bet (and more as time goes on). Given the
socio-economic status of the 9/11 high-jackers, I'd guess it would be hard
to distinguish their activities from those of the average corporate

Thomas Leavitt

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Politech] Feds push for wiretapping cell phones aloft: 
CALEA takes  flight! [priv]
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2005 11:07:57 +0200
From: Brad Knowles <brad@private-abuse.org>
To: Declan McCullagh <declan@private>
References: <42D4AA14.1080403@private>

At 1:43 AM -0400 on 2005-07-13, you wrote:

 >  But still worth noting. Excerpt:
 >  For example, the use of satellite-based communications and data
 >  services onboard aircraft could potentially facilitate a coordinated
 >  attack between

	Newsflash: Satellite communications could be used to ... communicate!

	Man, just how bright are those guys?

 >  Other operational capabilities that the Departments request include that
 >  the satellite-based service provider or carrier be able, by a date
 >  certain, to:

	Some of these things are going to be pretty much impossible,
while others are actually reasonable.

 >  (1) Expeditiously identify the verified location/seat number (if 
 >  or relative location (i.e. forward or aft) of the user of a given
 >  broadband-enabled communications device on a given aircraft which has a
 >  communication in progress;

	Unless the device in question is wired to a particular location
within the aircraft (e.g., the phones installed in every business
class seat), this isn't going to happen.  Any push by the government
to try to make it happen is just going to wind up wasting money for
no good purpose.

	The fact that they're asking for this at all is a clear indicator
of just how stupid they are and how they completely fail to
understand even the most basic aspects of the technology.

 >  (2) Expeditiously identify all broadband-enabled communications 
device users
 >  on a given aircraft who have communications in progress to or with a
 >  broadband-enabled communications device user onboard another aircraft
 >  that are serviced by the same or an associated provider;

	Identify them how?  You've got X known communications in
progress, and their MAC addresses are W, Y, and Z?

	How would you know where the end point is?

 >  (3) Expeditiously interrupt a communication in progress on a given 

	How do you know which one?

 >  (4) Expeditiously conference law enforcement with or to a 
communication in
 >  progress on a given aircraft;

	This is the actual wiretap part.  Probably not too hard so long
as the people in question are using standard technology that is not
encrypted and allows for this kind of functionality.

	Of course, real terrorists would be unlikely to be stupid enough
to do that, so it's pretty pointless.  Or, all they'd use an
unencrypted communications for is a simple binary signal like "Go!",
and there would be nothing about the communication that would
otherwise be distinguishable.

	Any SMS message that arrives at the mobile phone would be enough
to blow up the bomb, if the detonator was directly attached to the
ringer/buzzer.  It doesn't matter what the SMS message would say.  Of
course, thanks to Madrid, we now know that terrorists don't use SMS,
they just use mobile phones as a cheap and ubiquitous source of
semi-decent quality battery-powered digital alarm clocks.

	Even if you denied the entire world the use of mobile phones, all
you'd do is push them to find a different source of semi-decent
quality battery-powered digital alarm clocks -- perhaps they'd use
real battery powered digital alarm clocks?

 >  (5) Expeditiously redirect all communications destined to or originating
 >  from a given aircraft;

	I'm on the fence about this one.  Certainly, if you contact the
aircraft, they could do this themselves.

 >  (6) Expeditiously terminate the ability of all broadband-enabled
 >  communications device users on a given aircraft to send or receive
 >  communications without impairing the ability of authorized personnel
 >  to communicate;

	Terminate them all, that's easy.  But you're not going to be able
to selectively terminate everyone but law enforcement, unless they've
got some sort of magic wand they can wave that will identify the
officers in question, and some way to automatically wave that wand on

	Of course, that begs the question of what would happen if the
terrorists got control of the wand (or got their own copy).  But I
guess this is okay since we know that no terrorist has ever gotten
control of any kind of illegal substance or ever done anything
illegal with the substances they've gotten....

 >  (7) Provide the ability to transmit emergency law enforcement/public 
 >  information to airborne and terrestrial resources, as appropriate; and

	This actually makes perfect sense.  What I find difficult to
believe is that they were actually able to put a semi-coherent
thought together.

 >  (8) Provide a dedicated service or reserve bandwidth (which can be
 >  accomplished through preemption protocols) to support the 
transmission and
 >  reception of emergency communications information to and from aircraft
 >  security elements, independent of passenger use;

	Damn.  You mean that they actually put two semi-coherent thoughts together?

 >  (9) Assure the technology used is compatible with Wireless Priority
 >Service to
 >  enable National Security/Emergency Preparedness (NS/EP) users 
 >  in emergency situations.

	Assure what?  How?  Where are the definitions for these things?

Brad Knowles, <brad@private-abuse.org>

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little
temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

     -- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), reply of the Pennsylvania
     Assembly to the Governor, November 11, 1755

   SAGE member since 1995.  See <http://www.sage.org/> for more info.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Politech] Feds push for wiretapping cell phones aloft: 
CALEA takes flight! [priv]
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2005 00:02:53 -0700
From: Fred Heutte <phred@private>
To: <declan@private>

Bruce Schneier nailed this in the recent Crypto-Gram:


And of course if the "authorities" can "expeditiously" interdict
the bad guys' cell calls, they will also stop the ones from
the passengers getting ready to gang-tackle them.  But
building the "expeditious" bit into the cell networks -- well,
we have seen CALEA before, haven't we.



Risks of Cell Phones on Airplanes

Everyone -- except those who like peace and quiet -- thinks it's
a good idea to allow cell phone calls on airplanes, and are
working out the technical details. But the U.S. government is
worried that terrorists might make telephone calls from
airplanes and coordinate with accomplices on the ground, on
another flight or seated elsewhere on the same plane. Or that
they could use the system to remotely trigger an explosive
device on an airplane.

This is beyond idiotic. Again and again, we hear the argument
that a particular technology can be used for bad things, so we
have to ban or control it. The problem is that when we ban or
control a technology, we also deny ourselves some of the good
things it can be used for. Security is always a trade-off.
Almost all technologies can be used for both good and evil; in
Beyond Fear, I call them "dual use" technologies. Most of the
time, the good uses far outweigh the evil uses, and we're much
better off as a society embracing the good uses and dealing with
the evil uses some other way.

We don't ban cars because bank robbers can use them to get away
faster. We don't ban cell phones because drug dealers use them
to arrange sales. We don't ban money because kidnappers use it.
And finally, we don't ban cryptography because the bad guys it
to keep their communications secret. In all of these cases, the
benefit to society of having the technology is much greater than
the benefit to society of controlling, crippling, or banning the

And, of course, security countermeasures that force the
attackers to make a minor modification in their tactics aren't
very good trade-offs. Banning cell phones on airplanes only
makes sense if the terrorists are planning to use cell phones on
airplanes, and will give up and not bother with their attack
because they can't. If their plan doesn't involve air-to-ground
communications, or if it doesn't involve air travel at all, then
the security measure is a waste. And even worse, we denied
ourselves all the good uses of the technology in the process.

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