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AT&T Invents Surveillance Programming Language 119

Posted by Zonk
from the code-breathing-on-the-other-end-of-your-phone dept.
An anonymous reader writes "AT&T has long been associated with advances in the programming arts as well as communications. They've recently brought those disciplines together to create a powerful datamining language called Hancock. Hancock is a C variant developed to mine gigabytes of the company's telephone and internet records for surveillance purposes. 'The manual for the language includes a Hello World variant that shows you how to write a program that will parse logs of IP addresses and record them into permanent hashes. The program for parsing millions of records as they flow into permanent data farms sounds oddly close to the data mining the NSA performed after 9/11 to find targets for its warrantless spying on American citizens calls and emails."
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AT&T Invents Surveillance Programming Language

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  • by EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @10:47AM (#21170687)
    What, was Palmdong taken?
    • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @10:50AM (#21170725) Journal
      No, they thought Orwell would be too obvious.
      • by sgt_doom (655561)
        Gee, I wonder if this will be as successful as that old AT&T Unix PC they last developed?? But Bell Labs no longer really exists, and Lucent belongs to some other nimrod, so I strongly suspect we're still safe from AT&T-----Unless they really are part of the Illuminati (along with the Post Office and those mangey Roscruicians....).
    • by djasbestos (1035410) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:00AM (#21170905)
      Eh, it looks close enough to C that it can, in the vein of C++ and C#, be referred to as C====>
    • John Hancock (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Speare (84249) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:23AM (#21171291) Homepage Journal

      Jokes aside, is this related to John Hancock?

      John Hancock was an American Revolutionary, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He signed it as largely and boldly as possible, much larger than any of the other signatures on that document, so that the King of England would have NO trouble identifying him in the face of his (and his compatriots) clear act of treason. His name is now synonymous with autograph or signature, as in, "Can I have your John Hancock here, please?"

      If the AT&T technical staff called their data mining "language" Hancock, it may have been a poetic choice: AT&T is signaling their actions, and/or the actions of the government agents, are akin to treasonous. Yes, the charge of 'treason' is nearly moot in modern US law, but the fact remains that any sensible reading of the Constitution would not indicate any authority for what the government is doing with our communications.

      • Re:John Hancock (Score:4, Insightful)

        by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:54AM (#21171761)
        Actually, I would think that by calling it Hancock, they are referring to the fact that people monitored are supplying their own Hancock simply through their actions.

        In other words, there would be no doubt as to who was behind the words coming from the machines. An involuntary Hancock as it were.
      • so that the King of England would have NO trouble identifying him
        Maybe they're naming it Hancock because the current rulers won't have trouble identifying people either.
      • by ggvaidya (747058)
        That's an interesting theory, but the urban legend is wrong: Hancock signed his name on the Declaration of Independence in a large script because he was the first one to sign it [snopes.com], and he had the whole of the rest of the page to himself. It was first printed in that form - with only two names, and one signature, on it (John Hancock, as the president of the Continental Congress, signed it on behalf of the entire Congress). The others didn't sign it until later that year, at which point they had to make sure th
      • It's HERBIE Hancock

        ...idiots
    • by Wowsers (1151731)
      HANCOCK

      Has
      Anyone
      Noticed
      COvert
      Curveillance
      Kode

      Okay, it relies on typo's, but it works, sort of.
  • Ironic Name (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    One would think that John Hancock would not be pleased to learn that his name is being applied to a project that violates the Constitution he so famously signed.
    • !constitution (Score:5, Informative)

      by The Iso (1088207) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @10:57AM (#21170865)
      Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence.
    • by jhsiao (525216) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @10:59AM (#21170901)
      Even more ironic that someone so focused on the rights in the Constitution would mistake it for the Declaration of Independence.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        Even more ironic that someone so focused on the rights in the Constitution would mistake it for the Declaration of Independence.
        We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all documents are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creators with certain identical Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness
        • We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all documents are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creators with certain identical Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

          Funnily enough, Jefferson didn't actually "write" the preamble, so much as dictate it, and in his original vision our self-evident truths were: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of a penis. TJ didn't catch the goof in time, and the rest is our nonpenis-pursuing history.

      • Even more ironic, a programming language designed to spare lines of code named after the guy whose signature takes up the most space on the declaration of independence.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by mikael (484)
      In Europe, Hancock is the name of a famous British Comedian, Hancock's Half Hour [bbc.co.uk]
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      What specifically makes this technology anti-constitutional rights?

      At a glance, it looks like a fairly cool graphing toolkit. Sure the sample apps are for marketing and "tracking terrorists." Seems like there are probalby tons of uses. Just like the bittorrent people always say... just because it's primarily used for breaking the law doesn't mean it doesn't have legit uses.

  • web server (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Can I replace php with this? PHP is insecure I heard. Hancock must be secure because it is the government.
  • by UncleTogie (1004853) * on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @10:55AM (#21170815) Homepage Journal

    "Hey, what's that whirring sound?"

    "It's the founding father [wikipedia.org] this programming language is named after...spinning in his grave..."

    • by Yetihehe (971185)
      So can we use him as power source? If we used it to power servers running datamining applications, we would have perpetuum mobile!
    • by Thought1 (1132989)
      Yes, but the real question is: Can we use his motion to generate limitless power, that we can use to power AT&T's computers running Hancock?

      Unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to get a patent on it. Alas, perpetual motion machines are forbidden. (:
  • Monitoring communities of interest is no doubt something of interest there..
  • Variations (Score:5, Funny)

    by WED Fan (911325) <akahige@@@trashmail...net> on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @10:57AM (#21170855) Homepage Journal

    We are already working on:

    • Hancock++ - Because a single + was not enough
    • H# - .NET version of the language
    • GNU/Hancock - Returns the results as an open source document and publishes it to the freakin' world
    • GoogleHancock - Datamines Chinese citizens and returns the results to party headquarters and the People's 9mm Ammunition Billing System
    • HancockScript - Great for client side mining
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      pCock - Python variant
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Don't forget JCock - the J2EE version being promoted by IBM and Sun. IBM has also announced a version of WebSphere optimized for JCock and middleware called CockSphere.

      Finally, the Mozilla Foundation has announced a datamining extension for it's popular Web browser called Firecock.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Just Some Guy (3352)

      Don't forget:

      • hancocK - the KDE version
      • Data Mining Language - the Gnome version
      • Diptheria - Miguel's version of H#
      • HerbieHancock - automated music librarian that tags 99% of your music as "pop crap" and deletes it. Also detects audiophile owners and scrubs their drives (to give them "more danceable sound").
    • GoogleHancock

      Too long, people will have to abbreviate it GooCock or gCock.
    • GoogleHancock - Datamines Chinese citizens and returns the results to party headquarters and the People's 9mm Ammunition Billing System

      Actually, that is YahooHancock and MSHancock. GoogleHancock is the one that absolutely requires a warrent to see the data.

  • Ummm.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Otter (3800) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @10:59AM (#21170893) Journal
    This is at least a decade old, was published in 2000 (I like the breathless "unearthed today", like it was some sort of secret -- the original Hancock paper is listed as having 29 cites) and has rather obvious applications for marketing, billing and security. The "oddly close to the data mining the NSA performed after 9/11" seems a bit excessive.
    • by cybermage (112274)
      I'd say "you must be new here"; but, with a uid of 3800, surely you've seen more than your share of blatant exaggeration in story summaries. Why did this one bother you particularly? Seriously. I'm curious.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      "oddly close to the data mining the NSA performed BEFORE 9/11 [wired.com]"
    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      This is at least a decade old, was published in 2000 (I like the breathless "unearthed today", like it was some sort of secret -- the original Hancock paper is listed as having 29 cites) and has rather obvious applications for marketing, billing and security.

      Yup. For anybody curious, here's the (slightly garbled) research abstract for the paper published in 2000:

      Hancock: a language for extracting signatures from data streams [ucla.edu]

      Massive transaction streams present a number of opportu
      nities for data mining techn
  • Don't worry! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Peter Trepan (572016) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:00AM (#21170919)

    If you haven't done anything wrong, then you have nowhere to hide!

    Whoops - I mean nothing. Nothing to hide.

    • by skintigh2 (456496)
      Correction: if you have done nothing ***the goverment considers wrong*** you have nothing to hide.

      What the govenrment cosiders wrong is subject to change at any time, without warning or restriction, you milage may very, contents may settle during rendition.

      PS: As for your sig, how about "Conservatives: nominate Ron Paul, the ONLY Republican candidate who does not want to preemptivly start a thermonuclear world war III. Liberals: for the love of God, make sure none of those nut cases get into power."
      • by Elyscape (882517)

        Correction: if you have done nothing ***the goverment considers wrong*** you have nothing to hide.
        No, that's not how it works. In reality, if you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. The government will helpfully make something up and "hide" it for you, then pretend to be shocked when it "finds" it.
  • Hello world (Score:5, Funny)

    by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:01AM (#21170929)
    update Users set Status = 'suspicious' where Username in (SELECT Username, ipAddress, MissleAddress from IncomingCalls ic, OutgoinCalls oc where Volume = 'whispering' and Username not in (select Username from RepublicanDonors));
  • not a new language (Score:5, Informative)

    by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:04AM (#21170975) Homepage Journal
    this is a collection of libraries and some domain specific keywords/structures, but to say that this is a new language is a stretch of imagination.
    • by snarkh (118018)

      A dialect?
    • by davidsyes (765062)
      Maybe they are just patent trolling.

      I wonder if this will get some people into trouble when they try to get cute and build logs on government operations.

      Damn. I cannot find the site, but there is one that essentially is titled "IP Addresses to NEVER Ping..." if you want to avoid trouble with the law. It contained thousands of addresses, hundreds of class group names, and these are held by universities, BBN, ATT, NSA, CIA, DEA, DIS, NIS, and all sorts of other alphabet soup letters.
  • by _14k4 (5085)
    Well, at least they didn't realize they could do it in perl and then give perl the bad name...
  • *AFTER* 9-11? (Score:3, Informative)

    by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:15AM (#21171175) Homepage
    I think we've been seeing a trickling of stories and evidence showing that Bush/Cheney/Addington were ALREADY doing many 'questionable' things prior to 9-11. At the speed of government, doesn't it make you ask how they were able to cobble together the DHS?! And if I recall, some of the surveillance activities declined by Qwest were requested prior to 9-11.

    Bottom line? 9-11 is irrelevant to their intent... 9-11 helped provide some justification in the eyes of some, but the evidence shows that this stuff has been planned WELL in advance of 9-11 and this is not a reaction or over-reaction.
    • Hmm could you please provide some proof to these claims? I would LOVE to see some proof about how this administration was doing questionable things prior to 9-11. By questionable I will assume you mean spying or wire tapping etc.

      At the speed of government, doesn't it make you ask how they were able to cobble together the DHS?!

      Also I think after an act of war such as 9-11 the government can act quite fast.
      • by 3waygeek (58990)
        Here's some interesting evidence [slashdot.org]. Note that Nacchio's testimony refers to events before 9/11/2001. Specifically, on 2/27/01, he met with NSA to discuss several projects, including at least one that Nacchio considered to be illegal and thus refused.
      • by sgt_doom (655561)
        Hmm could you please provide some proof to these claims?

        Dood!!! While the post to you provides some rather obvious evidence --- have you been living in a cave these past five years???? The evidence - quite a bit of other stuff besides Nacchio's trial docs - has been popping up in the news media ever year. Don't you ever read -- or listen to any news????? This is a harsh criticism --- but please don't cry like a bedwetting Boehner (Senator from PA who only lasted four weeks in Navy bootcamp due to chr

  • The language already exists: it's Soviet East German.
  • by Lemming Mark (849014) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @11:19AM (#21171245) Homepage

    The manual for the language includes a Hello World variant

    Never has that program name been so fitting.

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      The manual for the language includes a Hello World variant

      Never has that program name been so fitting.

      Kinda gives a whole new dimension to "Reach out and touch someone", doesn't it?

  • The program for parsing millions of records as they flow into permanent data farms sounds oddly close to the data mining the NSA performed after 9/11 to find targets for its warrantless spying on American citizens calls and emails.

    Ok, this is going WAY too far! Could you have at lease included some LINKS to actual PROOF that ANY government agency conducted warrantless spying on US citizens? I mean other than the FUD that the NYT and Democrats spread which also is not based on any actual proof. IIRC the wa

    • by iter8 (742854)
      Hmmm...I don't think your recall is 100%. Read this description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSA_warrantless_surveillance_controversy [wikipedia.org]. The Bush administration claimed that they were intercepting calls originating outside the US even if that call terminated in the US. It's not unreasonable to assume that some of those calls might have been to US citizens. In any case, without oversight and since the complete details of executive order authorizing this are not known, who can tell what they were up to.
    • by vertinox (846076)
      Ok, this is going WAY too far! Could you have at lease included some LINKS to actual PROOF that ANY government agency conducted warrantless spying on US citizens?

      If they didn't do it, then why are they asking for immunity with the current legislation?
    • Ok, this is going WAY too far!
      [...]

      I mean other than the FUD that the NYT and Democrats spread which also is not based on any actual proof.
      [...]

      If you're going to make outrageous claims, you need to back them up with actual proof.
      If only the administration held itself to that same basic standard...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Oh, good god.

      Either you must be new to this whole inter-tubes thing, or you're a right-wing apologist who's been assigned to ./.

      How about you go through the huge mass of stories reference here on Slashdot alone [slashdot.org] before whining about what everyone else is up to speed on, that you personally have been ignoring all this time. That link points to a large number of articles that touch on the subject (and several more showing that sadly, the US isn't the only government attempting to bloom into full-blown fascism
    • by sgt_doom (655561)
      Ok, this is going WAY too far!

      Dood - you soooo obviously don't read - so please attend to the list below for a minimum of enlightenment!

      21st Century Reading List:

      The Bush Agenda by Antonia Juhasz, American Dynasty by Kevin Phillips, Blood Money by T. Christian Miller, Hostile Takeover by David Sirota, Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast, Brothers by David Talbot, Other People's Money by Nomi Prins, Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, No Place To Hide by Robert O'Harrow, Screwed: The Undec

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've been Hancocked!
  • I try to stay upbeat about all this, I try to think of ways to fight back against this kind of crap, I do everything I can to not have to deal with this kind of obscenely orwellian garbage...but...sometimes it just hits ya right in the gut...and you feel dreadfully sick...
  • with a Manual Guide... I wonder when this application will "cock up" (in English parlance) and screw over people not part of the serve.. sir vail-ance ... umm surveillance.

    I thought many of these ISP and ISP parent companies had stated officially that they had issues with excessive data retention (storage space, processing of the enormous data sets, legal issues, etc...). Now, this, from one company that is probably going to make some enemies.

    What good (other than government surveillance and corporate marke
  • by Weslee (1118943) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @12:22PM (#21172205)
    Its basically just C with some generic structures thrown on top of it.

    Also, it was created in 2000.
    Its intent, as some have mentioned, was marketing.
    Basically it does what Google Analytics or WebTrends does for the web.

    It actually seems like a nice language, for those who want to quickly run through gigs of data.

    I see nothing evil about the language itself.
    It, like C, perl, PHP, or any other language you chose to use - Can be used for whatever purpose the programmer chooses.
    Its intent was marketing, and almost every company in existence wants to know more about their customers.
    • Its basically just C with some generic structures thrown on top of it.

      Also, it was created in 2000. Its intent, as some have mentioned, was marketing. Basically it does what Google Analytics or WebTrends does for the web.

      It actually seems like a nice language, for those who want to quickly run through gigs of data.

      I see nothing evil about the language itself. It, like C, perl, PHP, or any other language you chose to use - Can be used for whatever purpose the programmer chooses. Its intent was marketing, and almost every company in existence wants to know more about their customers.

      Ok, let me enlighten you: there is a blue pill, and there is a red pill... oh, you've already taken one... nevermind

  • by squidguy (846256) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @12:43PM (#21172569)
    Gee, can you conspiracy theorists take a break for a second and consider that, just perhaps, this was written for commercial telecom management, marketing and fraud detection purposes? It was written and in the public domain before 9-11.
    The US Government uses Linux, so are we to presume that Linus Torvalds is an agent of George Bush and the broad conspiracy to spy on you?
    • Gee, can you conspiracy theorists take a break for a second and consider that, just perhaps, this was written for commercial telecom management, marketing and fraud detection purposes? It was written and in the public domain before 9-11.
      What conspiracy? Since it was written before 2001, that means... what does it mean?
  • 'The manual for the language includes a Hello World variant that shows you how to write a program that will parse logs of IP addresses and record them into permanent hashes

    Sure, I can just imagine what the hash function is, based on AT&T's recent history:

    long long hashForNsaEyesOnly(long long phoneNum) {
    int wink = -1;
    int nod = -1;
    return (2 * phoneNum * wink * nod) / 2;
    }
  • by Algorithmnast (1105517) on Tuesday October 30, 2007 @12:54PM (#21172729)

    If you look here [findlaw.com] and research the case a bit, you'll find that a Maryland company may have actually been more responsible for ATT's abilities than ATT would like to admit. That company is now defunct, unfortunately, and so it's now safe for ATT to pretend that they've done work in the area without answering to more law suits.

    It was a very technically challenging job. We helped to index records for these guys [lexisnexis.com] until mid-2005. We did it in effectively O(n) time - the cool factor was higher than the say-nothing factor.

    And yes - I know that academia will claim that it's not possible, that data correlation must be O(n^2). For the decade that we did it, we were sure glad that academia held to that position.

    Enough reminiscing.

  • Wat, someone reinvented regexp?
  • Because I know the Han(d)s are on my shoulders and I then know where the rest of the name is going!!
  • Ellen Hancock? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Any of you young-uns here remember the clipper chip? President Clinton's ingenious plan to bug every phone in America:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper_chip [wikipedia.org]

    Wasn't Hancock the name of the academic stooge that was pushed front and center by the feds to shill for this thing, claiming that we could trust Bill & Algore with the key escrow? I seem to remember a fawining article in the ACM Communications pimping for the clipper chip.

    I wanna say Ellen Hancock, former IBM and Apple exec, but her bio makes n
  • Hancock's Half Hour
    The time taken to scan any arbitrary volume of call detail records, being half that of prior technologies.
    • by Kittenman (971447)
      So it wasn't just me that thought of Tony Hancock, rather than the US founding father ...
  • Oh I love it. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The system was built in the late 1990s to develop marketing leads, and as a security tool to see if new customers called the same numbers as previously cut-off fraudsters -- something the paper refers to as "guilt by association."

    When I was hacking and phreaking back in 1980 to 1987 me and some friends were writing War Dialers for PC's, Apple II and C64's. We had something like 2000 people running our software round the clock, all working on finding long distance codes.

    I started to notice patterns on how people would get busted.
    Kid A finds a valid code.
    Kid A calls his buddy Kid B using the code, and gives him the code.
    Kid B then calls Kid A back using the code.
    From there the dispersion of this code goes out exponentially for 2 week

  • This might be an interesting language for many purposes... just because those who created it had one purpose in mind, doesn't mean it can't be used elsewhere. But that depends on the license, which the article doesn't seem to mention.

    The license clearly isn't BSD, but it could, conceivably, be GPL...depending on what the article writer translated into "Hancock's source code and binaries (now up to version 2.0) are available free to noncommercial users from an AT&T Research website. " (In the article t
  • Nothing to C here. Move along.
  • SQL jokes FTW!
  • I wish the satellite providers would offer (one way) internet service. They could use several TV channels, and continously download channels of information. You could have a geek channel with slashdot, cnet, lwn (linux week news). You could have a news channel. Yes could still get on the internet through other means as well. 0) No extra satellite dish required. 1) We have very large, affordable, hard drives to store the information. 2) We have many channels available on satellite already and most of the

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