Edward Snowden

End the idol worship: Ideas over men

Statue of Freedom

In the final minutes of the 2005 film, V for Vendetta, Peter Creedy, the head of the dystopian government’s secret police, fires several rounds into the Guy Fawkes-masked protagonist, V, fearing for his life.

“Why won’t you die?!” he shouts as his revolver reaches an empty chamber. “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh,” V says. “Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof.”

While he got the attention of the repressed people of England and encouraged them to stand up against a cronyist government and the surveillance state, V was a faceless symbol of an idea — an idea he hoped would live on after he died.

Edward Snowden got Americans’ attention last June after he, through journalist Glenn Greenwald, blew the whistle on National Security Agency’s vast surveillance apparatus. The disclosures continued throughout the last year and will, reportedly, end with a grand finale in the coming days when Greenwald releases a list of names the controversial intelligence agency has targeted for spying.

Just last week, Snowden, who is living a seclusion in Russia, gave an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams, the whistleblower’s first with a U.S.-based television network, in which, when asked, he said that he thought himself to be a patriot.

“Being a patriot means knowing when to protect your country, knowing when to protect your Constitution, knowing when to protect your countrymen from the violations and encroachments from adversaries,” Snowden told Williams. “And those adversaries don’t have to be foreign countries, they can be bad policies.”

Who Will Control the Internet?

The news, detailed in excellent fashion yesterday by Jason Pye in this space, that around 5 pm Friday — after many on the Hill had left their offices — the Obama administration formally relinquished involvement/control over the internet to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, was met with what has become a trademark in analysis of this current executive office: confusion.

Why would this administration quietly make a move like this now when — despite the loud and dire warnings of net neutrality enthusiasts — the internet is working pretty well by most standards of measurement (i.e. is free and open, relatively cheap, easily accessible, and rarely plagued by massive outages)?

Admittedly, ICANN has been a huge player in managing Internet architecture since it was created in 1998 as something like a quasi-governmental non-profit that would take control of the technical maintenance of root servers as well as managing all the unique identifiers associated with surfing the web — IP addresses, domain names, registries and the like. So it’s not like government is handing control over as much as they’re just stepping back and letting ICANN assume all responsibility when the contract expires with the group in 2015. Isn’t less government involvement in the business of the internet desirable?

Snowden raised concerns with supervisors before going to the press

It’s still hard for some of us to grasp the motives behind Edward Snowden’s decision to go straight to the press.

Some question why government officials were never warned that pressing concerns related to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs had to be addressed , and some even question the goals behind the final disclosure of the confidential programs to the press.

While all questions are valid and should be addressed timely, recent reports show that Snowden’s recent testimony to the European Parliament assured the public that his concerns had been discussed with at least 10 officials before he decided to go to the press. According to the report, Snowden would have a hard time pursuing any further whistleblowing mainly because of his status as a contractor.

According to the testimony, the decision to go to the press to leak confidential documents only came to Snowden after he exhausted all other formal avenues.

When asked about the circumstances, Snowden replied that he “had reported these clearly problematic programs to more than ten distinct officials, none of whom took any action to address them.” Edward Snowden’s status as an employee of a private company hired by the U.S. government makes it impossible for the contractor to be protected by whistleblower laws, which are only valid to U.S. government direct employees.

Snowden claimed that because he encountered these legal issues, he feared he “would not have been protected from retaliation and legal sanction for revealing classified information about lawbreaking in accordance with the recommended process.”

Americans Value Privacy Over Security, Survey Results Suggest

President Obama’s claim to be responding to people’s concerns related to the NSA’s surveillance programs hasn’t gained momentum, mainly because most Americans still believe that his promised reforms will do nothing to address the real problems.

According to Politico, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows that over 60 percent of people who participated said they value privacy over surveillance tactics disguised as anti-terror protections carried out by agencies like the National Security Agency. Since the last time this question was asked of respondents back in August by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the percentage of Americans that claimed to value privacy over security has gone up two points.

Since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made his revelations public, President Obama has been scrambling to gain the public’s trust back but none of his efforts seems to be paying off. He has recently promised to review NSA’s surveillance system by ensuring that new limits are going to be imposed to the intelligence committee. According to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Obama’s reforms are not going to be effective mostly because the President has misdiagnosed the problem.

According to the most recent poll, only 34% of respondents claimed to support Obama’s reform proposals concerning the FISA court procedures and the creation of a panel of attorneys that would offer counter-arguments to the government, while only 17% say Obama’s proposal to move collected phone data out of the NSA’s hands is valid.

Obama To Talk NSA Reforms Friday, It May Disappoint You

President Obama is expected to present his proposal addressing reforms to the National Security Agency (NSA) this Friday following a lengthy review of the agency in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations last summer of agency data collection.

But, as James Oliphant writes in the National Journal, don’t expect to see anything really concrete addressing the overreach of the agencies’ powers into the lives of ordinary Americans. Not likely from a man who is now promoting a “9/11 justification” for the NSA program:

To lay the groundwork for that position, aides to the president told the Los Angeles Times this weekend that the NSA’s metadata collection scheme could have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks. What’s more, Obama has adopted that “9/11 justification” for the NSA program, the paper reported.

That’s a blinking-red signal that the administration is not about to be accused of making the country more vulnerable by tampering with such a preventive weapon. Remember that George W. Bush, a Republican, walked back his warrantless wiretapping program in 2007 after a public outcry. This president, a Democrat, isn’t going to follow suit—especially given the new instability in Iraq and worries about the vacuum left by the coming pullout from Afghanistan.

U.S. IT Firms Lose Billions Due to NSA’s Surveillance Programs

The government’s intrusive NSA surveillance programs are not only causing Americans to fret over the limitless information government agencies are gathering daily without any warrants. According to The Independent, U.S. IT firms are also losing billions after reports proved they were involved with the bulk data collection programs.

The scandal is making it hard for American technology companies to sell their products to foreign companies and governments in Asia. Members of the export markets have begun to refuse making any deals with Americans because they simply cannot trust us anymore.

Tech giants like Cisco and IBM have seen a sales drop that surpassed the $1.7 billion mark since Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been gathering Internet data from millions of American users daily.

When foreigners don’t want what U.S. companies have to offer, especially after learning that surveillance programs have compromised their technology, China becomes the first place to go for an alternative. According to The Independent, IBM saw a drop of 15 percent of sales in Asia, while Cisco reported that it might have lost 10 percent of its customers in this current quarter.

The Asian market is not the only one that’s concerned with surveillance programs like Prism. According to the reports, the German government is urging tech developers to come up with an alternative local Internet and e-mail provider that would keep the consumer’s data private.

NSA tracks cellphone location data around the globe

After The Guardian reported that only 1 percent of the files leaked by Edward Snowden have been published, the Washington Post reported that the NSA also tracks location data from mobile phone users around the world, allowing the agency to gather “nearly 5 billion records a day.”

The NSA is able to do that because it manages to tap into the mobile networks’ cables that happen to serve worldwide cellphones as well as U.S. phones. The NSA does that to collect information regarding its targets.

With this data in its power, the NSA locates and analyzes data from cellphones anywhere in the world. This represents an effort that might have no matching historical precedent since analysts can use this data to retrace cellphones’ movements and uncover potential relationships among users anywhere.

Elements of the intelligence community are not collecting the bulk cellphone location data intentionally, according to Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA. But the NSA collects this information anyway, mainly because one of the agency’s most powerful analytic tools, the CO-TRAVELER, can search unknown associates of intelligence targets by tracing intersecting cellphones.

Better encryption for online services could throw a wrench in NSA mass surveillance efforts

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.

Just what can the NSA do with information

Micky Aldridge (CC)

How many times have you thought about returning an email to someone, and realized that you couldn’t immediately find that person’s original message? Stands to reason that once you’re at that point, you end up dropping the cursor into the little search bar that’s sitting on the top of just about every email client and webmail page, started typing in the person’s name, to run a search. It’s something that just about everyone with an email account anywhere has done, and taken for granted. Now, imagine if you couldn’t do that - or you couldn’t search for a specific topic within your emails.

Well, that’s what the NSA would like to have people believe about their system. According to a report from Pro Publica, the agency can’t seem to fulfill Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that happen to include at least a single domain for the outside source of emails, and a specific time period to search for said emails.

“There’s no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up, unfortunately,” NSA Freedom of Information Act officer Cindy Blacker told me last week.

The system is “a little antiquated and archaic,” she added.

Atlas Bugged II: Is There an NSA Mass Location Tracking Program?

Written by Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Way back in 2011—when “Snowden” was just a quiescent indie band from Atlanta—I wrote two posts at the Cato Institute’s blog trying to suss out what the “secret law” of the Patriot Act that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and others were raising alarms about might involve: “Atlas Bugged” and “Stalking the Secret Patriot Act.” Based on what seemed like an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence—which I won’t try to summarize here—I speculated that the government was likely engaged in some kind of large scale program of location tracking, involving the use of the Patriot Act’s Section 215 to bulk collect cell phone location records for data mining purposes.

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