Written by Glenn Greenwald via The Intercept,
The National Enquirer engaged in behavior so humbling and unscrupulous that it created a seemingly impossible storyline: The world's richest billionaire and a notorious labor abuser, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, as a sympathetic victim.
On Thursday, Bezos published e-mails in which the parent company of the Enquirer had explicitly threatened to publish intimate photo's of Bezos and his mistress, apparently exchanged between the two via their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed with a series of requirements concerning silence about the behavior of the company.
In a perfect world, none of the sexually careless materials that threatened to release the Enquirer would be damning or shameful for Bezos: it implies sex between adults between men and women who are the affairs of no one other than those involved and their husbands. But that is not the world we live in: few news events generate moralizing interest, such as sex scandals, especially among the media.
The prospect of Bezos' bare selfies would naturally produce intense media attention and all kinds of adolescent giggling and hypocritical judgments. The Enquirer's reports of the adulterous affair of Bezos seemed to have played at least an important role, if not the primary one, in the recent announcement of the divorce of Bezos from his wife of 25 years.
Apart from the genuine interest in sex scandals, this case brings with it some newsworthy questions because of the political context. The National Enquirer was so actively committed to Donald Trump's election that the president of his parent company agreed to help make taciturn payments to kill stories about Trump's business, and received immunity for his co-operation in Trump's criminal case lawyer Michael Cohen, while Bezos, as the owner of the steadfast anti-Trump Washington Post, is considered by Trump to be a political enemy.
All this raises serious questions, which until now have been limited to pure speculation, about how the National Enquirer obtained the intimate photographs that were exchanged between Bezos and his mistress. Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it has to do – implying that there is no evidence that Trump is the culprit (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But under the circumstances, these are legitimate questions to investigate (although responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before sending such insinuations).
If the supervisory powers of the NSA, the FBI or other agencies were used to obtain incriminating information about Bezos because of their view of him as a political enemy – and again, there is no evidence that this happened – it certainly would not be the first time. Those authorities have a long and shameful history of doing just that, and that is why the democratic adoration of those agencies and the recent two-fold further empowerment of them was so disturbing.
Indeed, one of the stories we could report using the Snowden documents, one that received less attention it should have, is an active NSA program to collect the online sex activities, including browsing data from porn sites and sex chats, from people considered by the US government to be radical or radicalizing to use their online sex habits to destroy their reputation. This is what and who the NSA, CIA and FBI are and that have been long.
WERE AS BOUGHT the political victim of abuse by surveillance states, it would be shameful and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic.
That's because Amazon, the company that made Bezos the richest man on the planet, is a crucial partner for the US government to build an increasingly invasive, militarized and expanded state of surveillance. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon's business, and thus one of the main sources of Bezos's vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to make the US government more powerful and sophisticated, including guarding weapons.
In December 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected the new facial recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is largely intended for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU soon warned that the product is "dangerous" and that Amazon "actively helps governments to implement it."
"Powered by artificial intelligence," ACLU wrote, "Rekognition can identify, track and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in one image, quickly scans information it collects into databases with tens of millions of faces." The group warned "Amazon's Rekognition evokes profound civil liberties and civil rights problems." In a separate advisory report, ACLU said about this facial recognition software that Amazon's "Marketing material reads as a user manual for the kind of authoritarian surveillance you're currently China can see. "
BuzzFeed has obtained documents with details about Amazon's work in implementing the technology at the Orlando Police Department, those who do "Reveal the accelerated pace at which law enforcement embraces face recognition tools with limited training and little or no supervision by regulators or the public." Citing the work of Amazon to implement the software with police departments, the ACLU explained:
With Rekognition, a government can now build a system to automate the identification and monitoring of everyone. For example, if cameras from police cameras were equipped with facial recognition, devices intended for transparency and accountability of officers would continue to transform into surveillance devices aimed at the public. With this technology the police could determine who is attending the protests. ICE could try to continuously monitor immigrants while they are starting a new life. Cities can routinely follow their own residents, whether they have reason to suspect criminal activities or not. As with other monitoring techniques, these systems are disproportionately focused on minority communities.
Numerous legislators, including leading privacy lawyers from the Congress, wrote a letter in July 2018 expressing serious concerns about how this software and similar programs for mass recognition by government and law enforcement agencies would be used. They asked a series of questions based on their concerns that "this technology involves inherent risks, including compromising Americans' right to privacy, as well as racial and gender bias."
In a separate article on Amazon privacy threats, the ACLU explained that the group "and other civil rights groups have repeatedly warned that face surveillance is an unprecedented threat to civil liberties and civil rights that must be stopped before it is widespread."
The extensive relationship between Amazon and the NSA, the FBI, the Pentagon and other supervisory authorities in the West is multifaceted, very lucrative and fast growing. Last March, the interception of a new app that Amazon developers and British police forces jointly developed to use in the police work, simply & # 39; the latest example of aid, automation and in some cases replacement by third parties of the functions of law enforcement agencies – and raises privacy questions about the role of Amazon as an intermediary. "
In addition to allowing police services to store crime reports of citizens on Amazon's servers, rather than police, Amazon crime users can report crimes directly to their smart speakers, an innovation David Murakami Wood, a scholar of surveillance , warned "serves as a surprising reminder of the growing reach that technology companies have in our daily lives, intimate habits and vulnerable moments – with and without our permission."
Then there are the serious dangers to the privacy caused by the "Ring" cameras from Amazon, unveiled in the Intercept last month by Sam Biddle. As he reported, Amazon's Ring, referred to as a home security system, "has a history of lax, sloppy overview when it comes to deciding who has access to some of the most valuable, intimate data of a person: a live, high-definition feed of about – and maybe inside – their house. "
Among other offenses: "Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team with virtually unrestricted access to a folder on Amazon's S3 cloud storage service that contained every video made by every Ring camera around the world." Biddle added, "This would amount to a huge list of highly sensitive files that can be easily viewed and viewed, and downloading and sharing these video files from customers would require little more than a click." About the Ring Surveillance in particular, the ACLU explained:
Imagine that a neighborhood was set up with these doorbell cameras. Simply walking to a friend's house can result in your face, your fingerprint, or your voice is marked as "suspicious" and delivered to a government database without your knowledge or consent. With Amazon selling the devices, operating the servers and pushing the technology on law enforcement, the company builds all the pieces of a surveillance network, reaching from the government all the way to our front doors.
Bezos' relationship with the military and intelligence wings of the American government is difficult to overestimate. Last October, his company, Blue Origin, won a $ 500 million contract from the US Air Force to help develop military missiles and spy satellites. Bezos thanked them personally in a tweet and proclaimed how & # 39; pride & # 39; he is & # 39; s to serve the national security space community. & # 39;
Thank you to the @American Air Force for your confidence in the @BlueOrigin team and ours #NewGlenn rocket ship. We are proud to serve the national security space community and strive for safe, reliable access to space for the nation. #GradatimFerociter pic.twitter.com/AeO3xXhnUi
– Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) October 10, 2018
And then there is the patent that Amazon received in October last year, as reported by the interception, "with which the virtual assistant Alexa can decipher the physical characteristics and emotional state of a user based on their voice." In particular, it would enable anyone using the product to determine someone's accent and likely place of origin: "The algorithm would also consider the physical location of a customer – based on their IP address, primary shipping address and browser settings – to help them determine accent. "
All of this is taking place while Amazon is pushing for, and the favorite is to win, one of the biggest Pentagon contracts to date: a $ 10 billion deal to provide exclusive cloud services to the world's largest military. CNN reported last week that the company is now in scandal about that effort, especially a formal investigation into "or Amazon a former Defense Ministry employee who was involved in a $ 10 billion government contract for which the technical company is involved, on unauthorized manner has hired. compete."
The relationship between Bezos and the military and espionage authorities of the US government and law enforcement agencies around the world dates back to before the purchase of the Washington Post and has become a central part of Amazon's business growth. In 2014, Amazon signed a major contract with the CIA when the spy agency agreed to pay it $ 600 million for computing cloud software. As the Atlantic said at the time, Amazon's software will "maintain all 17 agencies that are part of the intelligence community."
Considering how important the military and espionage agencies are now for Amazon's business, it is not surprising that the amount Amazon pays to lobbyists to serve its interests in Washington has exploded: quadrupling since 2013 from $ 3 million to nearly $ 15 million last year, according to Open Secrets.
JEFF BEZOS IS AS JUSTIFIED as someone else for his personal privacy. The threats of the National Enquirer are grotesque. If Bezos & preventive self-publication of his private sex material reduces the unfounded shame and stigma surrounding sexually sexual activities of adults, that will be a social good.
But Bezos, given how much he works and makes a profit to destroy the privacy of everyone else (not to mention the labor abuse of his company), is about the least sympathetic victim imaginable against privacy invasion. In the past, hard-core surveillance simulators in Congress, such as Dianne Feinstein, Pete Hoekstra and Jane Harmon, became sudden, outraged privacy defenders when they discovered that the surveillance state device they had been laughing at had been turned against them.
Perhaps he is the victim of a privacy invasion, Jeff Bezos will prove the evil of his business. Time will tell. From now on, one of the world's largest privacy invaders has just invaded its privacy. As the ACLU put it: "Amazon is building the tools for authoritarian surveillance that have repeatedly warned advocates, activists, community leaders, politicians and experts."
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