US Capitol rioters accused of erasing content from social media, phones

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2021

US Capitol rioters accused of erasing content from social media, phones

  • Experts say the efforts to scrub the social media accounts reveal a desperate willingness to manipulate evidence once these people realized they were in hot water
  • Only a handful of the more than 500 people across the US who have been arrested in the riot have actually been charged

PHOENIX: They flaunted their participation in the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol on social media and then, apparently realizing they were in legal trouble, rushed to delete evidence of it, authorities say. Now their attempts to cover up their role in the deadly siege are likely to come back to haunt them in court.
An Associated Press review of court records has found that at least 49 defendants are accused of trying to erase incriminating photos, videos and texts from phones or social media accounts documenting their conduct as a pro-Donald Trump mob stormed Congress and briefly interrupted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
Experts say the efforts to scrub the social media accounts reveal a desperate willingness to manipulate evidence once these people realized they were in hot water. And, they say, it can serve as powerful proof of people’s consciousness of guilt and can make it harder to negotiate plea deals and seek leniency at sentencing.
“It makes them look tricky, makes them look sneaky,” said Gabriel J. Chin, who teaches criminal law at the University of California, Davis.
One such defendant is James Breheny, a member of the Oath Keepers extremist group, who bragged in texts to others about being inside the Capitol during the insurrection, authorities say. An associate instructed Breheny, in an encrypted message two days after the riot, to “delete all pictures, messages and get a new phone,” according to court documents.
That same day, the FBI said, Breheny shut down his Facebook account, where he had photos that he taken during the riot and complained the government had grown tyrannical. “The People’s Duty is to replace that Government with one they agree with,” Breheny wrote on Facebook on Jan. 6 in an exchange about the riot. “I’m all ears. What’s our options???”
Breheney’s lawyer, Harley Breite, said his client never obstructed the riot investigation or destroyed evidence, and that Breheny didn’t know when he shut down account that his content would be considered evidence.
Breite rejected the notion that Breheny might have been able to recognize, in the days immediately after Jan. 6 when the riot dominated news coverage, that the attack was a serious situation that could put Breheny’s liberty at risk.
“You can’t delete evidence if you don’t know you are being charged with anything,” Breite said.
Other defendants who have not been accused of destroying evidence still engaged in exchanges with others about deleting content, according to court documents.
The FBI said one woman who posted video and comments showing she was inside the Capitol during the attack later decided not to restore her new phone with her iCloud content — a move that authorities suspect was aimed at preventing them from uncovering the material.
In another case, authorities say screenshots from a North Carolina man’s deleted Facebook posts contradicted his claim during an interview with an FBI agent that he didn’t intend on disrupting the Electoral College certification.
Erasing digital content isn’t as easy as deleting content from phones, removing social media posts or shutting down accounts. Investigators have been able to retrieve the digital content by requesting it from social media companies, even after accounts are shut down.
Posts made on Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are recoverable for a certain period of time, and authorities routinely ask those companies to preserve the records until they get court orders to view the posts, said Adam Scott Wandt, a public policy professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who trains law enforcement on cyber-based investigations.
Authorities also have other avenues for investigating whether someone has tried to delete evidence.
Even when a person removes content from an account, authorities may still get access to it if it had been backed up on a cloud server. People who aren’t involved in a crime yet were sent incriminating videos or photos may end up forwarding them to investigators. Also, metadata embedded in digital content can show whether it has been modified or deleted.
“You can’t do it,” said Joel Hirschhorn, a criminal defense lawyer in Miami who is not involved in Capitol riot cases. “The metadata will do them in every time.”
Only a handful of the more than 500 people across the US who have been arrested in the riot have actually been charged with tampering for deleting incriminating material from their phones or Facebook accounts.
They include several defendants in the sweeping case against members and associates of the Oath Keepers extremist group, who are accused of conspiring to block the certification of the vote. In one instance, a defendant instructed another to “make sure that all signal comms about the op has been deleted and burned,” authorities say.
But even if it does not result in more charges, deleting evidence will make it difficult for those defendants to get much benefit at sentencing for accepting responsibility for their actions, said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
Some lawyers might argue their clients removed the content to lessen the social impact that the attack had on their families and show they do not support what had occurred during the riot. But she said that argument has limits.
“The words ‘self-serving’ will come to mind,” Levenson said. “That’s what the prosecutors will argue — you removed it because all of a sudden, you have to face the consequences of your actions.”
Matthew Mark Wood, who acknowledged deleting content from his phone and Facebook account that showed presence in the Capitol during the riot, told an FBI agent that he did not intend on disrupting the Electoral College certification.
But investigators say screenshots of two of his deleted Facebook posts tell a different story.
In the posts, Wood reveled in rioters sending “those politicians running” and declared that he had stood up against a tyrannical government in the face of a stolen election, the FBI said in court records. “When diplomacy doesn’t work and your message has gone undelivered, it shouldn’t surprise you when we revolt,” Wood wrote. His lawyer did not return a call seeking comment.
Even though she is not accused of deleting content that showed she was inside the Capitol during the riot, one defendant told her father that she was not going to restore her new phone with her iCloud backup about three weeks after the riot, the FBI said.
“Stay off the clouds!” the father warned his daughter, according to authorities. “They are how they are screwing with us.”


Elon Musk targets ad tech firms in Twitter suit over takeover deal

Updated 19 August 2022

Elon Musk targets ad tech firms in Twitter suit over takeover deal

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is attempting to walk away from his deal to acquire Twitter Inc. , is seeking documents from advertising technology firms as part of his quest to gain more information on bot and spam accounts on Twitter, according to filings in a Delaware court on Thursday.
Twitter has sued the Tesla chief executive, who has accused Twitter of hiding information about how it calculates the percentage of bots on the service, for attempting to walk away from the $44 billion agreement. A trial is scheduled for Oct. 17.

Musk’s lawyers have subpoenaed both Integral Ad Science (IAS) and DoubleVerify for any documents or communications on their involvement in reviewing accounts or participation in any audit of Twitter’s user base.
IAS and DoubleVerify, which are both based in New York, use technology to independently verify that digital ads are viewed by real people. Advertisers use the services to ensure the ads they pay for are seen by potential customers and not automated bots.


Twitter, IAS and DoubleVerify did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In response to a tweet by a user who questioned how Twitter audits its service and also linked to a Reuters story on Musk targeting the ad firms, Musk tweeted: “Those are the questions that Twitter is doing everything possible to avoid answering …“
In a countersuit earlier this month, Musk claimed that Twitter’s monetizable daily active users are 65 million lower than what the company has touted. Twitter has said it stands by its disclosures.
The metric measures users who log onto Twitter through the website or apps that are able to serve ads or used paid products like subscriptions, according to Twitter filings.


Apple warns of security flaw for iPhones, iPads and Macs

Updated 19 August 2022

Apple warns of security flaw for iPhones, iPads and Macs

  • Apple released two security reports about the issue on Wednesday

SAN FRANCISCO: Apple disclosed serious security vulnerabilities for iPhones, iPads and Macs that could potentially allow attackers to take complete control of these devices.

The company said it is “aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.”

Apple released two security reports about the issue on Wednesday, although they didn’t receive wide attention outside of tech publications.

Security experts have advised users to update affected devices — the iPhones6S and later models; several models of the iPad, including the 5th generation and later, all iPad Pro models and the iPad Air 2; and Mac computers running MacOS Monterey. It also affects some iPod models.

Apple’s explanation of the vulnerability means a hacker could get “full admin access to the device” so that they can “execute any code as if they are you, the user,” said Rachel Tobac, CEO of SocialProof Security.

Those who should be particularly attentive to updating their software are “people who are in the public eye” such as activists or journalists who might be the targets of sophisticated nation-state spying, Tobac said.


StarzPlay partners with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait

Updated 18 August 2022

StarzPlay partners with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait

  • The telecoms company’s subscribers on selected plans will get free access to the streaming service
  • StarzPlay is one of Virgin’s first partners in Kuwait to offer free subscriptions bundled with mobile plans

DUBAI: Streaming platform StarzPlay has partnered with Virgin Mobile to offer the telecoms company’s subscribers in Kuwait free access to its library of movies and TV shows.

Virgin Mobile users who sign up for selected monthly, six-monthly or annual plans will receive a free StarzPlay subscription. The cost of eligible mobile plans range from 7 Kuwaiti dinars ($23) to 19 dinars a month.

StarzPlay is one of Virgin Mobile’s first partners in Kuwait to offer free subscriptions bundled with mobile plans as a value-added benefit for customers.

“Bolstering our telcos (telecommunications companies) portfolio has been a strong focus for us from the start,” said Raghida Abou Fadel, StarzPlay’s senior vice-president of business development and sales. “Virgin Mobile has been a strong partner for us across the region.”

Last year, for example, StarzPlay partnered with Virgin Mobile in Saudi Arabia to offer free subscriptions to customers with selected plans.

“We want to make content easily accessible for our subscribers in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and partnering with local telco players offers us a great opportunity to reach and connect with newer audiences,” said Abou Fadel.

Benoit Janin, the CEO of Virgin Mobile, said: “Our continued partnership with StarzPlay highlights our commitment to providing excellence and additional benefits to our customers and we are excited to extend this partnership in Kuwait.”

StarzPlay is home to original shows such as “Baghdad Central,” “Power,” and “Vikings,” among others. It also offers Western classics such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Office,” as well as Arabic and anime content.

It ranks among the region’s top three subscription video-on-demand services, according to the company, and is available in 19 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.

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CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network

Updated 18 August 2022

CNN cancels ‘Reliable Sources,’ host Stelter leaving network

  • The show will have its last broadcast this Sunday.
  • CNN has been looking to cut costs but also to put forth a less opinionated product

NEW YORK: CNN has canceled its weekly “Reliable Sources” show on the media, and said Thursday that its host, Brian Stelter, is leaving the network.
The show will have its last broadcast this Sunday.
CNN has been looking to cut costs but also to put forth a less opinionated product. Stelter has written a book, “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” and been critical of Fox News, making him a frequent target of the CNN’s conservative critics.
Stelter came to CNN from The New York Times, where he was a media writer.
“He departs CNN as an impeccable broadcaster,” said Amy Entelis, executive vice president of talent and content development at CNN. “We are proud of what Brian and his team accomplished over the years, and we’re confident their impact and influence will long outlive the show.”
Stelter said that he was grateful for his nine years at CNN, proud of the show and thankful to its viewers.
“It was a rare privilege to lead a weekly show focused on the press at a time when it has never been more consequential,” he said. “I’ll have more to say on Sunday.”
The “Reliable Sources” newsletter, a daily compendium of the media’s big stories, will continue and will be led by CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy.

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Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

Updated 18 August 2022

Asset managers on alert after ‘WhatsApp’ crackdown on banks

  • Demand for software to record, archive messaging on the rise
  • Continued remote working underscores risk of compliance missteps with banks paying hundreds of millions of dollars in regulatory fines

LONDON: Asset managers are tightening controls on personal communication tools such as WhatsApp as they join banks in trying to ensure employees play by the rules when they do business with clients remotely.
Regulators had already begun to clamp down on the use of unauthorized messaging tools to discuss potentially market-moving matters, but the issue gathered urgency when the pandemic forced more finance staff to work from home in 2020.
Most of the companies caught in communications and record-keeping probes by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have been banks — which have collectively been fined or have set aside more than $1 billion to cover regulatory penalties.
But fund firms with billions of dollars in assets are also increasing their scrutiny of how staff and clients interact.
“It is the hottest topic in the industry right now,” said one deals banker, who declined to be named in keeping with his employer’s rules on speaking to the media.
Reuters reported last year the SEC was looking into whether Wall Street banks had adequately documented employees’ work-related communications, and JPMorgan was fined $200 million in December for “widespread” failures.
German asset manager DWS said last month it had set aside 12 million euros ($12 million) to cover potential US fines linked to investigations into its employees’ use of unapproved devices and record-keeping requirements, joining a host of banks making similar provisions, including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse.
Sources at several other investment firms — described in the financial community as the ‘buy-side’ — including Amundi, AXA Investment Management, BNP Paribas Asset Management and JPMorgan Asset Management, told Reuters they have deployed tools to keep all communications between staff and clients compliant.
Spokespeople for the SEC and CFTC declined to comment on whether their investigations could extend beyond the banks, but industry sources expect authorities to cast their nets wider across the finance industry and even into government.
Last month Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the country’s top data protection watchdog, called for a review of the use of WhatsApp, private emails and other messaging apps by government officials after an investigation found “inadequate data security” during the pandemic.
Regulations governing financial institutions have progressively been tightened since the global financial crisis of 2007-9 and companies have long recorded staff communications to and from office phones.
This practice is designed to deter and uncover infringements such as insider trading and “front-running,” or trading on information that is not yet public, as well as ensuring best practice in terms of treatment of customers.
But with thousands of finance workers and their clientele still working remotely after decamping from company offices at the start of the pandemic, some sensitive conversations that should be recorded remain at risk of being inadvertently held over informal or unauthorized channels.
Brad Levy, CEO of business messaging software firm Symphony, said concerns on managing that risk had driven a surge in interest for software upgrades that make conversations on popular messenging tools including Meta Platforms’ WhatsApp recordable.
“Most believe the breadth of these investigations will go wider as they go deeper,” Levy said.
“Many markets participants have retention and surveillance requirements so are likely to take a view, including being more proactive without being a direct target.”
He said Symphony’s user base has more than doubled since the pandemic to 600,000, spanning 1,000 financial institutions including JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
Symphony peer Movius also said its business lines specializing in making WhatsApp and other tools recordable have more than doubled in size in the space of a year, with sales to asset managers a growing component.
“Many on the buy-side have recognized that you can’t just rely on SMS and voice calls,” said Movius Chief Executive Ananth Siva, adding that the company was also seeking to work with other highly-regulated industries including health care.
Movius software integrates third-party communications tools such as email, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WhatsApp into one system that can be recorded and archived as required, he said.
Amundi, AXA IM, BNPP AM and JPMorgan Asset Management all confirmed they had adopted Symphony software but declined to comment on the full breadth of services they used or when these had been rolled out.
Amundi and AXA IM both confirmed they used Symphony services for team communications, while AXA IM also said they used it for market information.
Amundi, BNPP AM and JP Morgan AM declined to comment on whether they thought regulators would seek to investigate record keeping at asset managers after enforcement actions against the banks were completed.
A spokesperson for BNPP AM said it had banned the use of WhatsApp for client communications due to compliance, legal and risk considerations including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

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