Craig Timberg at the Washington Post has an important story on efforts to keep online communications and user data safe from the prying eyes of Uncle Sam.
Timberg explains that in the arms race between government agencies like the NSA and big tech companies, giants such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and others, have begun to implement more and better encryption practices for online services. And even though encryption isn’t an absolute defense, it makes it much more difficult for the government to run large-scale surveillance programs:
[E]ncryption — essentially converting data into what appears to be gibberish when intercepted by outsiders — complicates government surveillance efforts, requiring that resources be devoted to decoding or otherwise defeating the systems…security experts say the time and energy required to defeat encryption forces surveillance efforts to be targeted more narrowly on the highest-priority targets — such as terrorism suspects — and limits the ability of governments to simply cast a net into the huge rivers of data flowing across the Internet.
Read the full article here.
A version of this article was originally published on rstreet.org.
Mike Herrera is a songwriter and record producer from Bremerton, Washington. He hosts The Mike Herrera Hour every Friday night on IDOBI.com. You can catch more of Mike’s musings on Tumblr.
What if I told you that the government knows you are reading this? In an article on June 6, 2013 by Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian, more damning evidence surfaced that “NSA PRISM program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others. The top-secret PRISM program claims direct access to servers of firms including Google, Apple and Facebook.” However, one day before from Greenwald again, “NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily.” Did he say daily? With these two huge stories on top of all the recent White House scandals — including kill lists, Predator drones, and the IRS debacle — this could read as a racy Hollywood drama much like the aptly named TV show, Scandal.
The real life scandals are worse! I feel consciously detached from the fact that some if not all of us are being recorded by the government. Many US foreign policies and our ongoing policing of the world has made me nervous to be an American on foreign soil many times over. I’m suddenly hit from behind by the fact that a large majority of US citizens don’t have a clue and don’t really want to know that everything you search online is recorded, every email saved in a government file. Ignorance is bliss. But when it suddenly affects those individuals, it’s too late.
The consistently principled Glenn Greenwald recently broke the story that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting phone records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers daily. Unsurprisingly, the usual Big Brother apologists chimed in with the rebuttal, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”
Ah, yes. Civil libertarians are used to hearing the nothing-to-hide argument from people who are willing to trade privacy for security, or a false sense of it, anyway. When American citizens strongly opposed the Patriot Act that allows the government to wiretap phone lines without a warrant, we were told: “No secrets? No worries.” When we criticized the warrantless house-to-house raids in Boston following the Marathon bombing, we were told: “If you’re not housing the terrorists, what’s the big deal?”
Here’s the big deal: privacy isn’t simply the option to hide bad things. Privacy enables us to freely pursue the things that we enjoy, on our own terms. Maybe the Kardashian family enjoys putting their entire life out there for the world to see and harshly judge, but most of us like to keep some things to ourselves— and rightfully so!
Privacy is your right to control the flow of information about yourself. You choose what details to share, when, where, and with whom. There are likely parties from college that you do not want your employer to know about. You may not want your mother to know all the juicy details about your love life, or your friends to know the humiliating health questions you’ve searched on WebMD. When the government is snooping without your consent, they have taken away your right to a very important personal choice.
Ok, so it’s not really this bad… yet. But if the incremental intrusions into our privacy aren’t stopped, a phone call like this isn’t so far-fetched for our future.
Who’s up for a little drone hunting? The sound of heading out doors to shoot down privacy invasive unmanned-vehicles flying in the sky above is actually appealing. That’s why some in a Colorado town are pushing a measure to be voted on this fall that will allow people to obtain “drone hunting” permits:
For the people of Deer Trail, Colo., November elections usually are reserved for electing town board members and state and federal lawmakers.
But in November, residents of the small town will decide whether to license the nation’s first official “drone hunters.”
On Tuesday night, the town board split evenly, with three members voting “yes” and three voting “no,” on an ordinance that would have made it legal for residents to apply for licenses and then shoot unmanned aerial vehicles out of the sky in exchange for a $100 cash reward.
The controversial measure now will appear on the November ballot, leaving the decision up to voters in the town of about 550 people.
Some Deer Trail officials and residents — along with many others across the nation — fear that the rapid rise of domestic drones poses grave new threats to personal privacy. Echoing the concerns of privacy groups, civil liberties activists and many state and federal lawmakers, those pushing the Deer Trail ordinance argue that citizens must resist the unprecedented surveillance capabilities brought by drones.
Well, this was completely inevitable. The New York Times reported over the weekend that a number of federal intelligence agencies want access to the surveillance tools used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect information on American citizens:
The National Security Agency’s dominant role as the nation’s spy warehouse has spurred frequent tensions and turf fights with other federal intelligence agencies that want to use its surveillance tools for their own investigations, officials say.
Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the security agency’s vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say.
The security agency’s spy tools are attractive to other agencies for many reasons. Unlike traditional, narrowly tailored search warrants, those granted by the intelligence court often allow searches through records and data that are vast in scope. The standard of evidence needed to acquire them may be lower than in other courts, and the government may not be required to disclose for years, if ever, that someone was the focus of secret surveillance operations.
Decisions on using the security agency’s powers rest on many complicated variables, including a link to terrorism or “foreign intelligence,” the type of surveillance or data collection that is being conducted, the involvement of American targets, and the priority of the issue.
Not only are Americans dealing the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance and metadata collection, they will also be forced to contend with yet another big government database, brought via ObamaCare, that will gain access to their vital information through data-sharing with government and third-party records:
Would you trust thousands of low-level Federal bureaucrats and contractors with one-touch access to your private financial and medical information? Under Obamacare you won’t have any choice.
Janet Napolitano, who has headed the Department of Homeland Security since 2009, announced this morning that she will resign her post to serve as president of the University of California.
“For more than four years I have had the privilege of serving President Obama and his Administration as the Secretary of Homeland Security,” said Napolitano in a statement. “The opportunity to work with the dedicated men and women of the Department of Homeland Security, who serve on the frontlines of our nation’s efforts to protect our communities and families from harm, has been the highlight of my professional career.”
Napolianto commended herself for policies that DHS has helped implement, including the harassment of travelers at airport security checkpoints, claiming that it has helped “minimize threats of all kinds to the American public.”
“After four plus years of focusing on these challenges, I will be nominated as the next President of the University of California to play a role in educating our nation’s next generation of leaders,” added Napolitano. “I thank President Obama for the chance to serve our nation during this important chapter in our history, and I know the Department of Homeland Security will continue to perform its important duties with the honor and focus that the American public expects.”
Americans have been lied to about the vast surveillance that their government has been conducting. While politicians and intelligence officials have said in the past that only those suspected of terrorist activity are the target of surveillance, we now know that intelligence agencies have been collecting phone records and data from Internet providers about Americans who aren’t suspected of any crime. These citizens are, understandably, bothered by the surveillance programs.
In a video released last week, Jim Harper and Caleb Brown of the Cato Institute discussed the depth of these programs and the dishonesty of politicians who denied that innocent Americans were being surveilled.
The outrage over the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs has motivated a broad coalition of advocacy groups and Internet companies to come together in an effort to bring it to an end. This coalition — which includes the EFF, FreedomWorks, ACLU, Daily Kos, Reddit, and Mozilla — has sent a letter to members of Congress to end the surveillance and launched a website, StopWatching.us, where concerned citizens can sign a petition supporting the principles of the letter to be delivered to lawmakers.
“The Washington Post and the Guardian recently published reports based on information provided by a career intelligence officer showing how the NSA and the FBI are gaining broad access to data collected by nine of the leading U.S. Internet companies and sharing this information with foreign governments,” noted the coalition. “As reported, the U.S. government is extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. As a result, the contents of communications of people both abroad and in the U.S. can be swept in without any suspicion of crime or association with a terrorist organization.”