Archive for technology

How to find out what the government knows about you

Posted in Privacy with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by Bradley Hall

I wrote this article several years ago for 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. With the NSA spying on everyone being in the news recently, I figured I would revive this old guide and post it to the Internet for all to see. I also know that I’m effectively outing myself as the author of this piece as it appeared in 2600. No big deal. My nom de Hacker is the same as the name I use on every other website. I’m sure the NSA figured that out when they came across my Facebook page a few years ago.

Onward, to the article…

First off, this article assumes that you are a dude or dudette living in the United States who wants to know what the US Government knows about you. This is actually a pretty easy endeavor, it is not, however, quick. It involves snail mail and is guaranteed to take at least three months to receive any results.

Why you want to know what the government knows about you is your own business. However, if you know that you have done something that could get you arrested if they knew where you are, you might not want to proceed. Also, this is not a primer on how to get your brother’s records, or your mother’s, or your great-grandfather’s, who you believe worked for Al Capone.

There’s also that rumor that if you ask the FBI to send you a copy of your file and they find you don’t have one, they start one on you right then because if you’re asking for a copy of your file, you must be doing something that necessitates them having a file on you. It’s like the one where if you buy a copy of 2600 the ever-present “they” start tracking you. I’m starting to wonder what happens when you write for 2600.

First, who do you think has a file on you? I’m talking about those (typically) three-letter-organizations, the FBI, NSA, CIA, DHS, etc. Since it’s so easy to write one letter and change it slightly for each organization, why not send a letter to all of them. Remember, the price of a stamp is currently 44 cents. The price is set to go up to 46 cents in January.

There are two Acts at work here. First there is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), was signed into law by President Johnson in 1966. It is a law that promotes openness in government and allows members of the public to request documents from the various governmental entities. The second Act is the Privacy Act of 1974. This Act governs the collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of personally identifiable information about individuals that is maintained in systems of records by federal agencies. The Privacy Act also prohibits the disclosure of information from a system of records without the written consent of the subject individual.

In order to obtain any documents about yourself, you have to invoke both Acts in a letter to each organization you wish to contact about your records.

In your letter to each organization, it would help to follow proper letter writing protocols. That way whoever receives your letter will have an easier time reading it and figuring out what you want. The scope of this article does not include teaching you how to write a letter. If you would like a refresher course on how to write a letter, then type “proper letter writing format” into your search engine of choice. However, the CIA has a great sample FOIA/PA letter online at

Now that you are ready to write your letter, it should contain the following information: That you are seeking any records that organization has about you, make sure to explain that you are invoking both FOIA and the Privacy Act, your full name, any alias you may have used (if your name is William, but people call you Bill, this would fit, as would any screen name or “hacker name” you use or have used), date of birth, where you were born, social security number, phone number, current address, a fee you are willing to pay for this service (I recommend $25), note, that you do not have to send this money in unless they ask for it, and if they do ask for it, it means they must have quite a bit of files to send you. I have requested files from FOIA from several government organizations and none of them have ever charged me for the files they sent, though they did inform me that more information is available, at a price.

The Secret Service’s FOIA page states that you need to sign you letter and have a notary witness it or affix the following to your letter: “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on [date].” You should also include a copy of your drivers license or other identification so that they can compare your actual identification to the information you have provided (and your signature on your license to the signature on your letter).

Now that your letter is written, below are the addresses of the various governmental agencies you may want to try contacting. I am only giving the address to the main FBI location, not the branch offices. You may want to check the FBI’s website to find out the nearest branch office to you and appeal to them as well. These are just a few of the organizations you can contact about records. If you were ever in the military there is a slew of resources online available to help you figure out where to send your inquiry as to your military records.

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)

Freedom of Information Operations Unit (SARO)
Drug Enforcement Administration
700 Army Navy Drive
Arlington, VA 22202

Secret Service

Communications Center (FOI/PA)
245 Murray Lane
Building T-5
Washington, D.C. 20223

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Privacy Office
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Drive SW
Washington, D.C. 20528-0655

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Attn: FOI/PA Request
Record/Information Dissemination Section
170 Marcel Drive
Winchester, VA 22602-4843

National Security Agency

National Security Agency
Attn: FOIA/PA Office (DJP4)
9800 Savage Road, Suite 6248
Ft. George G. Meade, MD 20755-6248

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

Information and Privacy Coordinator
Central Intelligence Agency
Washington, D.C. 20505


Office of the General Counsel
INTERPOL-U.S. National Central Bureau
Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Defense Intelligence Agency

Defense Intelligence Agency
200 MacDill Blvd
Washington, DC 20340-5100

Odds are that you should only try contacting agencies you believe would have information on you. If you’ve never robbed a bank or tried to kill a President, you might not want to bother the Secret Service. But, even if you haven’t, why send them a letter anyway, you never know what you’ll find.


My piece about Bitcoin

Posted in Economy, Government with tags , , , on April 21, 2013 by Bradley Hall

As some of you know, Bitcoins are the new cryptocurrency currently sweeping the planet.

People are touting this as the end of government-controlled currencies, and yes, it does seem like something that’s really cool, but is it the end of money as we know it? That we have no need for government-controlled currencies?

No, I don’t think it’s the end of the Euro, Dollar, Yen, or whatever. An example of this can be found on Mt. Gox, the main Bitcoin exchange site. They list several currency exchange rates. Currently, the US Dollar is worth around $125 per bitcoin.

Sounds great, right? Well, yes, but…

The Bitcoin isn’t like the US Dollar where you have two decimal places of currency, like $0.00.

The Bitcoin goes to eight decimal places, so it’s 0.00000000.

To make this explanation easy, let’s imagine that one bitcoin (1.00000000) is worth $100 USD. So then we can say with certainty that….

0.1 BTC is ten dollars
0.01 BTC is one dollar
0.001 BTC is ten cent
0.0001 is one cent

Anything beyond that is pretty hard to communicate in terms of USD.

Okay, so, now, I have 0.00369536 BTC.

In our example, that would be $0.37 cent.

Over the past few days, I’ve been working off and on on a few “get bitcoins here” sites, most of which give 0.00000020 or less.

Oddly, even Crowdflower has programs that pay in BTC, but not a whole lot, like above. And yes, most of the BTC I’ve earned came from a few things they offered. Now, what’s odd, is that Crowdflower also offers small assignments via Amazon’s Turk program, where some things might pay 1 to 8 cent or so per task.

That eight cent would be 0.0008 BTC. So compare that to the 37 cent I’ve earned so far, and you see that by using those programs is a humongous waste of time since the ability to get up to the top three rungs of BTC will take far longer than just earning regular money.

Crowdflower also gets to pay out far smaller amounts than if the payout was in a recognized currency, such as USD.

So then, how to get BTC?

Apparently you can mine for it using computer hardware, but of course, my computer is too old and slow to be able to mine, either solo or as a group mining effort. The “mining” is essentially making your computer crunch numbers in an effort to uncover and decode new blocks of BTC data.

There was an article on Boingboing a few days ago where a guy who joined a joint mining group wrote about it. He earned more money from ads attached to his blog post about mining than he did mining for the week after he wrote it.

Another way is to do work in exchange for BTC. But of course, the problem with that is you’re paid in BTC, not USD, and 99.9999999999% of companies only accept money in USD right now. And because of that, I can’t put gas in my car with BTC or buy groceries with it either.

I liken the Bitcoin as almost a real-world version of the Darknet Credits from Daemon and Freedom (books by Daniel Suarez), or even World of Warcraft Gold. They have their uses, but so far too few people use them. Of course, as I’ve read many times over, it’s still the early days and there’s still plenty of coins to mine.

Of course, who knows where BTC will go. The price jumps around so much. At one point, 1 BTC was worth $10, then it shot up to $240, and is now around $125.

Just looking at the exchanges and stuff on is enough to get anyone wanting to jump on the bandwagon.