Hey Scalzi, Don’t You Have Anything Angry to Say About That PRISM Thing?

Uh, mostly not, because apparently I was the only person in the US who assumed the government was already doing something very much like this? Because it was doing it under Bush, and if Obama had gotten around to stopping doing it, his administration would have made a big deal about it, no? And since the Obama Administration never said a single word about it that I can recall, it was probably still going on? So I guess what I would say is, yeah, seems not surprising in the least, why are you suddenly freaked out about it?

This is separate and independent from the question of whether the government should be vacuuming up every single bit of information out there in our communication channels, to which my reflexive answer is, oh, very probably not. Seems like a bad idea, for all the usual reasons involving rights and civil liberties, and the fact that our government, while nominally seen as liberty-loving, is not forever guaranteed to be so (and of course there are many who do not believe it is that way now). With that understood, again, since this has been happening since the early days of the millennium, it seemed to me unlikely that it had suddenly had stopped. Our government doesn’t have a whole stratum of secret legal and operational apparatuses for nothing, you know. It’s being used. It hasn’t stopped being used, because, again, if it had stopped, the current administration would have made a fine show of not using it.

I’m not personally thrilled with the possibility/probability of everything I do online being strained through the government’s baleen, as it were, but I’ve assumed it’s been doing so for the last decade at least. Inasmuch as I live my online life with the assumption that nothing I do there is private and unknown anyway (i.e., it’s all discoverable at some point, and in some way), this did not require a huge adjustment on my part. The question I usually ask myself before I do anything online is this: Is this something I can tell my wife about, and she would be cool with? If the answer is “yes,” then if someone else finds out, meh.

(This doesn’t mean I’m keen to share all the (generally really not all that exciting, sadly) details of my online life with all y’all, “all y’all” including the NSA, and I think quite honestly most of you are probably happy with that arrangement as well. But if it happened, there’s nothing there that would surprise Krissy, and at the end of the day she’s actually the one that matters.)

On a related note, I’m also aware of how much privacy I’ve already given up on a daily basis to private corporations. For example, I’m nestled fairly deep into the Googlesphere at this point; I use its GMail service, have an Android phone and tablet and otherwise use a fair number of its services. Google knows where I am all the time (so long as I have my phone and/or tablet), reads my email and tracks a lot of what I do online, and in return it does a lot of things that make my life somewhat easier (I don’t get lost anymore when I go on the road, for example).

This constitutes a loss of privacy, to be sure, but it’s also varieties of privacy that I don’t feel terribly awful about compromising because a) I understand what’s being compromised and what I get out of it, b) Google doesn’t actually give a shit about my e-mail or other private information other than for keywords to offer me ads and services (and again I’m aware of that particular trade), c) a decade plus of dealing with Google has given me a good idea what I’m in for. Likewise Apple, Microsoft and Verizon, all of whose devices I use on a regular basis and have for years, and whose user agreements I actually do read.

Do I want Google (or anyone else) to allow the government access to their information on me without appropriate legal procedures? No (note Google’s flat denial of participation in a PRISM program here). On the other hand, again, simply as a matter of course, I have assumed the US government was getting my data one way or another. At the end of the day, the Internet  was born out of ARPANET, and the US government has never been keen of letting the Internet go entirely private. Once more, I’m slightly surprised people seem surprised.

And again, this lack of surprise is separate and independent from my thoughts on whether this assumed suctioning up of my data is correct, just or right. What I’m saying is that I’m not especially outraged at the moment. It’s hard to be outraged for an entire decade. At least it is for me.

163 thoughts on “Hey Scalzi, Don’t You Have Anything Angry to Say About That PRISM Thing?

  1. What I’m saying is that I’m especially outraged at the moment. It’s hard to be outraged for an entire decade.

    I assume you mean “I’m not especially outraged”.

  2. I’m glad the government has the information. I would just want stronger oversight and logging of its use. But I put actual value on the FBI having the ability to map criminal networks via their cell phone use.

  3. You should assume any communication you have over any electronic media is subject to and may actually be monitored by the government. If you’re concerned about this then you need to figure out how to practice good operational security (opsec) and good communication security (comsec). If you’re not concerned about goverment monitoring then please fell free to continue to post your stupid party, sex and dumbass stunt pictures, videos, texts and other communications.

  4. matthewcaffrey — anything They can do to Them, They can do to you and yours. *All* powers are abused. That’s why the Framers were so obsessed with checks and balances.

  5. Great minds think alike. I’ve just assumed that the government has been doing this for years, probably ever since I read The Puzzle Palace back in the day. I never say anything via email, Facebook, or comments on the Interwebs that I wouldn’t want published for everyone in the world to read. It probably helps that, as my wife charitably puts it, I don’t have a filter, so I’m not that concerned with what most people think about what I say.
    Which is not to say I don’t try to keep snoopers other than the government out of my stuff. I’m more concerned about what a fiendishly minded Google/Evernote/Dropbox employee might do with my stuff. My general policy is that if the data is not on a computer or a device that I have 24/7 physical control over, that data is encrypted. I love me some Boxcryptor for encrypting my files in the cloud, Truecrypt for encrypting files on my Windows PC at work, and FileVault for encrypting my Mac laptop and backups. I’ve no doubt the TLAs (Three Letter Agencies) could access my stuff if they wanted to, but likely no one else can.

  6. Sure, all powers can be abused. That isn’t a reason to give the government NO power. I think cell phone meta-data tracking is a good power for them to have. And like Scalzi, I assume they’ve had it since Patriot Act.

  7. If you’re concerned about this then you need to figure out how to practice good operational security (opsec) and good communication security (comsec).

    You know, whatever the rhetorical device of “well, you should know how to do this to handle this problem” is really close the blame-the-victim. Guess what? Rather than figuring out my opsec and my comsec, I’d rather my government didn’t do those things at all. And by the way what on earth makes you think that whatever “opsec” us ordinary folks can manage would actually work against a government determined to find things out?

  8. David,
    It’s not a matter of blame the victim. I agree the government should not be monitoring the communications of the the average ‘joe and jane on the street.’ I believe it is a violation of the 4th admendment of the Constitution. You will never have good opsec or comsec unless you can absolutely trust everyone you communicate with, or you keep everything to yourself; neither option is practical. The only way to ‘fix’ the issue is to vote all the incumbant rascals out of office and get a new pack of rascals. Even that is only a short term solution, at best.
    Regards,

  9. Wow. Really didn’t proof that first sentence, did I? Should be:

    “You know, the rhetorical device of “well, you should know how to do this to handle this problem” is really close to the blame-the-victim.”

  10. I’ve been outraged since I learned there was a COINTELPRO folder with my name on it. Got all outraged again about ECHELON in the 1980s. (Read James Bamford’s The Puzzle Palace for details.) Then … I mostly burned out on it. Left, Right, Good, Bad, Local, National, Foreign … they’re all doing it all the time, the only question is what are they doing with the data? Blackmail, treason, a few other things, are right out; hang ‘em. Privately snickering about someone’s private parts or parties? Yuck, these people (looking) should be grown-ups; fired. Finding someone planning to set off special materials weapons? Go for it, and quiet secret praise. Politician babbling about it … impeachments or recall elections could be a good thing, and the punishment should be harsher than that handed out to those who leak accidentally or intentionally.

  11. If there were a political channel to support privacy and digital freedom, I’d support it. I support ACLU and EFF (and CCLA), in the hopes that they somehow get some traction. I know how to PGP my email and use a Tor browser, and I wish this were a norm, but nobody else does it (and my email really isn’t that level of interesting). I’d rather have an elected government that make some mistakes but still does some good than have no government at all.

  12. maybe I have paranoid inclinations, but I’ve always assumed that the NSA was watching and that’s been since I learned of the agency’s exsistence , well before Bush 1…

    Someone mentioned that all power gets abused. Yes it does, to the fullest extent possible and far sooner than most would imagine.

  13. One thing you have to remember about the government, whether it’s true or not, or reasonable or not, they assume as an adult, you are competent. That includes all aspects of your communications. Until proven otherwise (probably in a case that requires the Supreme Court to render a decision) the whole ‘blame the victim’ meme is nothing more than an excuse and therefore pointless.

  14. Hey, when pulling out the acronyms like opsec (operational security), comsec (communication security) and all the other myriad OMG (Oh My God) WTF (What the F**k) government ridiculousness, please make sure you define the opint (oprational intellignece).
    Regards,

  15. It’s not blaming the victim to warn people to avoid STDs.

    And we have a winner in the silly analogy department. Yes, htom, the two situations are *exactly* the same.

    One thing you have to remember about the government, whether it’s true or not, or reasonable or not, they assume as an adult, you are competent.

    Homeowner: That SWAT team wrongly broke down my door and arrested my family!
    Patronizing Observer: Did you have a steel core door with multiple redundant locks?
    Homeowner: No
    PO: Well, then.

  16. David,
    I won’t comment on the STD analogy but, as for your homeowner/SWAT example…
    That looks like a court case, or a settlement out of court in the homeowners favor. Have you ever heard of the prank ‘SWATing’…That is a crime. So, there is an avenue for redress.
    Regards,

  17. @SMC — a long time ago [long story deleted] there were many people named Tom in an organization and we were each assigned a modification of Tom to use. Thom, Atom, Little Tom … mine was H.Tom. It stuck (there are many Toms in my age bracket), the period disappeared and it was lowercased as I worked in companies where usernames were loweralphas. It’s usually pronounced “Tom” if you know me as a person, “Harry” if you’re a computer.

  18. Prism by itself doesn’t bother me much. Add in phone records and it bothers me more. Add in IRS and it bothers me a lot more. Add in mulit-million round ammo purchases for DHS and it starts getting into the black helicopter zone.

  19. I am surprised, though, that there hasn’t been a spate of angry editorial cartoons with a badly distorted Obama shredding, or trampling on, or burning a piece of paper labelled “constitution.” There were plenty of them for Bush. So I guess a lot of people are in the “not especially outraged” state. Like me.

  20. jimbot,
    Let’s not invent conspiraciy theories where there may or may not be a conspiracy theory. There are enough crackpot conspiracy theories out there without inventing one that may actually exist…or may not. You decide.

  21. I have had, in the last couple days, two people specifically come and apologize to me that they had assumed that I was such a tin hat type the last few years because of my white hat security work (as founder of the Tor Project among other bits) and advocacy for EFF and outspoken “we don’t have to be sheep!” and call-me-Cassandra voice in the wilderness crap about ECHELON and PRISM and suchlike.

    It’s nice to find out you aren’t paranoid. Reassuring. Foucault would approve.

    Scalzi might not be outraged for the entire decade, but I am built of stronger stuff. I have managed it. I think I started from about age four and have made a lifetime project of it, I’m afraid.

    But yes, this one? I have been doing things this week such as reminding people that it’s the USA PATRIOT Act, an acronym and that it has a decade of history that they’ve blissfully ignored.

    That they need to call their Congressional delegation and *do* something, not just bitch and feel outraged. That they need to tell their administrations at work to ask their cloud providers to give them a full detailed legal review of their privacy policies in light of recent events.

    That we need to take action, not run around and yell that the sky is falling.

    Because you know, blogging doesn’t change anything, unless it catalyzes action.

    https://plus.google.com/101371184407256956306/posts/hYedUAqguog

  22. Just an FYI from wikipedia,

    “May you live in interesting times”, often referred to as the Chinese curse, is reputed to be the English translation of an ancient Chinese proverb and curse, although it may have originated among the English themselves. It is reported that it was the first of three[citation needed] curses of increasing severity, the other two being:
    “May you come to the attention of those in authority” (sometimes rendered “May the government be aware of you”). This is sometimes quoted as “May you come to the attention of powerful people.” (Alternately, “important people”.)[citation needed]
    “May you find what you are looking for.” This is sometimes quoted as “May your wishes be granted.”[citation needed]

  23. Without taking up too much time/space on a Friday night, what has gotten me specifically outraged here is that the government has been collecting metadata from EVERY call in the United States – including calls entirely inside the U.S – under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) order. FISA was originally a way to allow the U.S. to intercept international calls and call data where one party was inside the U.S. and one party was outside, hence the creation of a special classfied court under FISA, composed of sitting Article III judges. Even with the changes to FISA by the Patriot Act, I (and a lot of other people) were still under the impression that the normal rules within the U.S. (4th Amendment, Electronic Communications Privacy Act) that required a court order to get call data still applied. The difference is that authority originally intended and used to gather this kind of evidence in transit across borders is being used to obtain evidence entirely within the U.S., where a different, more strict set of rules is supposed to apply. The FISA order that kicked off this whole mess smells too much like the old “general warrants” that the Fourth Amendment was supposed to ban – no limits on time or place, no probable cause, not anything other than the bare assertion by the government that “we need this data.” Excuse me? Why didn’t the Judge say no? (Could the Judge had even said no?)

    Matt Apuzzo of the AP put it well in a tweet today: “If the programs needed secrecy to succeed, will NSA shut them down now? If not, did they ever need be secret? Or did I just blow your mind?”

    And am I the only person who has noticed that even though we’re supposedly kicking Al-Qaeda’s ass, the government seems to keep asking for even more expanded authority?

  24. It’s not about al-Queda or the Taliban. It’s about an external threat from (insert enemy of your choice here) in order to justify the continuance and expansion of the various surveillance programs. There is enough legitimacy provided, i.e. cyber-espionage from China, to justify the programs and their scope. Pretty classic tactics when you think about it.

  25. That looks like a court case, or a settlement out of court in the homeowners favor. Have you ever heard of the prank ‘SWATing’…That is a crime. So, there is an avenue for redress.

    Then why are you being the Patronizing Observer?

  26. SMC, the government is spending more time on internal threats (home grown terror) than external threats

  27. David,
    I’m not being a patronizing observer. You’re losing sight of the issue.
    Regards,

  28. Jimbot,
    I don’t think so. There are plenty of real external threats out there. Regardless, they are using those external threats, in part, to justify thier domestic operations. It will end up with a Supreme Court ruling on the 4th admendment…eventually.

  29. If you read the Guardian articles, it makes it pretty clear that the point of all of the PRISM hoovering is to pay attention to foreign nationals. Do we on the internet talk to foreign nationals on a regular basis? Sure. But the purpose of an intelligence agency is to gather intelligence in order to protect the State.

    Also, Google’s gone on the record saying it doesn’t believe that the NSA has any such ability. Of course, if the NSA did have such a thing, I doubt it’s likely that they’d tell Google about it anyway.

  30. Half a century ago, comedian Lily Tomlin said “Never say anything over the phone that you don’t want your mother to hear at your trial”.
    This applies to the anything you do via internet, also.

  31. Speaking as one of those billions of foreign nationals…and one who’s reasonably certain that their own government – and almost everyone else’s as well – has been pulling similar stuff daily for their own reasons all this time?

    Not outraged. Not surprised. Low-level angry over the years that it’s been going on all this time despite my own concerns. Would like to see our various nations’ governments feel honour-bound to junk the whole idea, preferably and unreasonably, soon in our various overlapping lifetimes. Looking to see what can be done to make that happen, or at the least, to rein in all these enterprises.

    Failing that, “sousveillance” will have to suffice as a defensive measure against the well-meaning and the ill-minded alike.

    John, I think we’re walking on similar paths here.

  32. Well, I must admit that I’m disappointed with the official Scalzi response to the PRISM story. Considering the added dimension of the IRS targeting specific groups and individuals for “special attention”, I had kind of hoped that someone who seems so interested in advocating that all groups are treated equally would be more concerned about this kind of thing. I happen to agree with John that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution grants gays the same rights as everyone else, whether it’s serving in the military or getting married, mainly because I know in my heart it’s the right thing to do, but also because I believe that we should strictly adhere to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    Now we have an administration that claimed to champion those rights trampling all over them, from impinging on our freedom of speech and assembly (preventing conservatives from organizing) and freedom of the press (wire-tapping the AP and Fox reporters) to unreasonable search and seizure (PRISM).

    Most of the targets have been people and groups that aren’t popular here, but should that matter?

    It seems so.

  33. Billy Quiets,
    The Declaration of Independence doesn’t not grant rights to anyone. It states its purpose in the first paragraph.
    “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”
    As for the Constitution, it does not not mention gays specifically, anywhere. Nor does it mention marriage (gay or straight), anywhere. However, the Constitution and bill of rights as well as the rest of the admendments apply to every US citizen, regardless of sexuality. The 4th admendment applies specifically, maybe, gotta wait for the Supreme Court to weigh in, as far as unreasonable search and seizure is concerned
    Regardless, how does the current discussion have anything to do with gay rights?

  34. I tend to take the view that if someone else wants to obsessively focus on my life, then more power to them. I mean, my life is dull enough living it. It has to be even more boring in print (unlike Adrian Mole, I don’t think my life would look any more interesting when written down). In many ways, I feel it’s the ideal revenge on the prodnoses: live a life which ensures they’re not going to be interested in what they find when they’re looking at you.

    That said, the inside of my head is a much more interesting place than the outside.

    I’m not so worried about the government (I’m in Australia; we have some rather nasty privacy laws hamstringing the various government departments). I’m more worried about the various businesses which are busy trying to demand demographic and personal information as part of the cost of doing business with them (which is why I don’t participate in the various “frequent buyer” programs available, no matter *how* good the rewards are). Australian government departments aren’t allowed to share my information with anyone else. Australian businesses are under no such obligation, and explicitly disclaim such in their terms and conditions.

    SMC: ooh, those are nasty curses, aren’t they?

  35. why are you suddenly freaked out about it?

    Lots of non-tin-foil-sporting people who generally like government have been concerned about it for decades. Now that it’s getting press via bigger alt platforms such as BoingBoing or HuffPo, we’re “suddenly freaked out”. So the question is: why are you just suddenly hearing these concerns?

    Is this something I can tell my wife about, and she would be cool with? If the answer is “yes,” then if someone else finds out, meh.

    So basically, why worry if you have nothing to hide? Great. Except that institutions of authority don’t always behave legally or justly, and they, necessarily, have powers that corporations and family members do not. Your wife cannot lock you up for letting the NYT know the government tortures un-convicted suspects, both citizens and foreign nationals.

    But if it happened, there’s nothing there that would surprise Krissy, and at the end of the day she’s actually the one that matters.

    Your wife is the commander and chief? Dayum, you’ve been holding out on us!

    Likewise Apple, Microsoft and Verizon, all of whose devices I use on a regular basis and have for years, and whose user agreements I actually do read.

    Good for you. Doesn’t make those “contracts” constitutional, or even legal. But can you afford a court battle with Verizon? You can? Good for you. Can every non-middle-class-non-straight-non-white-non-dude? No? Oops.

    Do I want Google (or anyone else) to allow the government access to their information on me without appropriate legal procedures?

    And what would you consider appropriate? Secret national security letters issued by fiat from the FBI without any transparent public oversight and with a gag order that will land you in the big house if you tell anyone? It’s not a conspiracy theory if it’s codified in the US Code of Laws. It’s not even a conspiracy. It’s what your Congress and Executive did openly, largely unchallenged and often encouraged by the voters. Democracy does not trump the Bill of Rights in a republic, and there is a reason amending the Fourth Amendment out of force is tremendously more difficult than electing a president or senator.

    What I’m saying is that I’m not especially outraged at the moment. It’s hard to be outraged for an entire decade. At least it is for me.

    Here we actually agree on something. Outrage is a high-powered candle that burns out quickly and elicits empty platitudes from the abusers of power at the best and scorn from the wider public at worst. But it would be a big mistake to confuse activism for outrage. Outrage sometimes brings support for a cause, but it is never a sustainable motivation.

    @matthewcaffrey

    I’m glad the government has the information. I would just want stronger oversight and logging of its use. But I put actual value on the FBI having the ability to map criminal networks via their cell phone use.

    Fine for you…and for me, for that matter…but not everyone has the privilege of not being the target of discrimination that can range from making their life difficult to baring them from gainful employment to landing them in a black site prison, even if they did nothing worse that have a distant relative that threatened criminal acts.

    @gnarlycat

    I was surprised by just how surprised everyone seemed to be over this.

    Most of the surprise seems to be directed at how “surprised” everyone else is. Indeed, the voices of surprise at the surprise are practically drowning out the actual surprise. I’m surprised at all the surprise by how surprised everyone actually isn’t.

    Sure, all powers can be abused. That isn’t a reason to give the government NO power.

    Yes, because that’s what everyone is suggesting. False dichotomy much?

    @htom

    It’s not blaming the victim to warn people to avoid STDs.

    This isn’t some force of nature. These are human beings entrusted with extraordinary powers. That should come with more responsibility than it does. As it stands, foot-soldiers (execution) and spear-carriers (support) routinely get indicted for doing their jobs while the Teflon dons (generals, spymasters and politicians) who give the orders stay high and dry.

    I actually agree with educating people on operational security, but using that as an excuse for letting the government listen to you kids’ phone conversations is some USDA choice bullshit.

    I am surprised, though, that there hasn’t been a spate of angry editorial cartoons with a badly distorted Obama shredding, or trampling on, or burning a piece of paper labelled “constitution.” There were plenty of them for Bush.

    There is a certain class of partisan idiot who is only against the abuse of power when their ideological opponents are in office. Their signature is the inability to think more than eight-years out.

    That we need to take action, not run around and yell that the sky is falling.

    + 1 Million.

  36. SMC, I’m well acquainted with the Declaration of Independence, thanks. It also says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” and “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

    Is it really so confusing to you where gay rights come in to this discussion? John is a well-known champion of that cause, and it is frequently a topic here on this forum. I just think it’s disappointing that when others’ rights are being trampled he cavalierly dismisses it as business as usual for the government.

    I readily admit that I’m bundling the PRISM story and the IRS scandal together since it’s the same administration behind both actions. I’m sure if it were the Bush administration, that wouldn’t cause any undue concern for you.

    I’m just asking for a little consistency, and as I said, his comment on the scandal was disappointing to me, given how vociferously he defends the rights of others.

  37. @Billy Quiets:

    “I readily admit that I’m bundling the PRISM story and the IRS scandal together since it’s the same administration behind both actions.”

    Yeah, but do you really link them? Unless you genuinely believe the NSA and the tax exempt status IRS auditors are legitimately sharing information with the intention of what? What benefit does the PRISM bring to the process of determining which tax exempt status applications to provide additional hassle and delay to?

    Bundling only brings them together to muddy the water to allow for imprecise arguments. It’s an InstantOutrage button. So, if you don’t actually functionally link them, then considering the folks running the legal meta data hoovering operations are thoroughly checking their words, I’d think precision is worthwhile.

  38. Outraged, yes. Surprised, meh. I spend my life assuming that everything I do (outside the bedroom) is under the microscope, I act in a way that I would not disappoint my children… when they look on my actions in the distant future. I assume the government is looking over my shoulder, although I doubt that the government is doing so (no diagnose of paranoid schizophrenia here, I am happy to say). I always try to treat others the way I want to be treated. As long as you follow that (assuming the other person is a reasonably good person…verdict on this is still out on @Scalzi), then no harm can come to you. Everyone else must accept the risk…

  39. Governments all the way back to Rome and beyond have behaved this way. They’ve just got different tools now, and if we had fantasies that those tools wouldn’t be used, well, now we don’t have those fantasies any more.

  40. Billy Quiets,
    You only seem aquainted with those portions of the Declaration of Independence you believe you can use to support your arguement. I stand by my statements (including the poor grammer), “The Declaration of Independence doesn’t not grant rights to anyone. It states its purpose in the first paragraph.”

    I am aware Mr. Scalzi is a champion for gay rights. I am aware it is brought up on his blog regularly. I’m sorry the Prism ‘scandel’ doesn’t concern gay rights but, it doesn’t.

    As for President Bush, I didn’t vote for him either time. As for President Obama, I didn’t vote for him either time. I didn’t vote for either man for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with gay rights.

    As for consistency, please tell me where I have been inconsistent. The Prism ‘scandel’ isn’t concerned about gay rights.

    As for rights, where in the Constitution is sexuality (gay or straight) or mariage (gay or straight) addressed? Unreasonable search and seizure is specifically addressed by the 4th admendment of the Constitution.

  41. One of the big problems with keeping tabs on everyone (and like Mr. Scalzi I was definitely not surprised by this, since the Patriot Act is still in force) is that determining who is a threat to the state is problematic. Everyone agrees about terrorists. But what if it starts extending to, say, socialists (like the Wobblies during WWI), or, who knows, Presbyterians? Heading down the slippery slope on an oiled sled…and creating a populace afraid or cowed by the state, or “It won’t affect me, because I’m not Jewish and isn’t the Autobahn a great thing?” There are serious rights at stake here. Is the State supposed to serve us, the people, or to spy on us? On the other hand, my life is pretty boring, but so were a great deal of Jewish lives, once upon a time. Being an average, boring, law-abiding person does not make you “safe” in a world where rights cease to have meaning.

  42. Other Bill, Sometimes specificity is only used to obfuscate.

    For instance, instead of merely saying ‘the IRS’, you have specified the “tax exempt status IRS auditors” thereby implying that the issue is of smaller importance since it relates only to a particular subset of the agency.

    Before long, you have the President of the United States (oddly another Bill, as if there weren’t enough of us in this debate) defending himself by saying stuff like, “it depends upon what the meaning of the word is, is.”

    Sometimes you don’t need to be able to label every tree to know you’re standing in a forest.

  43. @Gulliver —
    @htom

    It’s not blaming the victim to warn people to avoid STDs.

    This isn’t some force of nature. These are human beings entrusted with extraordinary powers. That should come with more responsibility than it does. As it stands, foot-soldiers (execution) and spear-carriers (support) routinely get indicted for doing their jobs while the Teflon dons (generals, spymasters and politicians) who give the orders stay high and dry.

    I actually agree with educating people on operational security, but using that as an excuse for letting the government listen to you kids’ phone conversations is some USDA choice bullshit.

    The comparison of Signal/Communication Security and STDs is because both involve two parties who desire to interact, and a third party that neither would intentionally invite, perhaps unknown to them, is also or desires to be a participant and needs to be actively avoided.

    Comparing the spooks and snoops to viruses, bacteria, and tiny insects is maybe a stretch. But not much. The bugs are getting very small.

    Yes, the perfumed princes usually get off with a promotion and a cushy job, while those they’ve blamed end up in Leavenworth. Some of those blamed deserve to be there, and they should have more princes as playmates.

    To do traffic analysis in warfare, you need the data. Not knowing who the target(s) are, you collect it all, and when you find a target, you can mine your data; collecting it after finding the target is the job of a criminal prosecution. Warfare has different rules. Most of the data collected is going to be written once and never read or heard. People using it for personal or political party gain should be eliminated from mankind’s society.

  44. Rob T, thanks for the link. I knew I’d heard this story before, but not how long ago that was.

    Good thing, bad thing, or meh thing, it’s not a surprise.

  45. I suppose one could put a positive spin on this. Apparently, they are only collecting basic call information. They should really be collecting all of our conversations. Then we could turn this into a valuable government service. If you forgot when you set up an appointment or what you said you’d bring to a party, just log in to your government eavesdropping account and play back your recorded call. Want to hear your late beloved’s voice again? It’s Uncle Sam to the rescue, offering connection and solace. Not sure just what happened with your in-laws, the new paint job and the frog machine, log in and listen; listen and learn. This is a valuable government service that Verizon or AT&T or Google, for that matter, would charge $10 or $20 a month for. Instead, it’s your tax dollars at work, and it’s helping to fight terrorism. It’s even patriotic. Total government surveillance isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    (Video surveillance would be even more useful. Think of how useful it would be to have a government record so you could find where you left your glasses, your keys or your cell phone. I might even check off a box on my 1040 to pay a little extra for this.)

  46. @Billy Quiets:

    Meh. I agree that one can miss the forest for the tree. But, my reference was to specifics as applied to the currently known facts of the IRS. So, your riposte in this case suggests that referencing specific facts in a debate leads to the slippery slope of one of the most ridiculed cases of word play in modern history.

    I don’t find the lumping compelling in this case because there is currently no evidence indicating that a massive meta-data hoovering is in any way related to the current IRS debacle (as far as I am aware). Your position that all of this is evidence that your specific rights as a conservative/libertarian are being trampled and destroyed BECAUSE of your political ideology doesn’t seem to be supported by the facts as a forest.

    Addtionaly, the analogy to LGBT rights is…not a good analogy.

  47. @htom

    Some of those blamed deserve to be there, and they should have more princes as playmates.

    True. And some of the scapegoats were spun a nice story about their actions being legal and backed by the higher-ups, only to be hung out to dry on the clothesline of deniability when the check came due. When it’s a sergeant’s word against a general’s, the sergeant is fucked.

    To do traffic analysis in warfare, you need the data. Not knowing who the target(s) are, you collect it all, and when you find a target, you can mine your data; collecting it after finding the target is the job of a criminal prosecution. Warfare has different rules.

    The lines between have been intentionally blurred because wartime powers are broader. Yet yielding those powers without limit or official legislative declaration is a recipe for their abuse. If you hand someone a shotgun and a dagger and tell them to pick one and go get the target, they’ll take the shotgun every time. I would.

    Most of the data collected is going to be written once and never read or heard.

    Yes, and most Afghans survived Taliban rule. Doesn’t help the collateral victims, whether you agree with the end goals or not. Me, I agree with fighting terrorism and religious extremism. I strongly disagree with both the efficacy and the morality of the tactics being used. Not only am I not on board with letting the abyss look back into us, I reject the conclusion that that’s only way to prevail.

    People using it for personal or political party gain should be eliminated from mankind’s society.

    Great in theory. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? According the PATRIOT Act (both in its original incarnation and its major overhaul) and it’s siblings and a raft of agencies using their unarrestability to operate above the Constitution and the Courts, the answer is that the watchers watch themselves and invoke bugaboos like executive privilege and national security and closed trials whenever the People or their lawyers question their conduct. Unacceptable.

    Moreover, as much as the targeted IRS audits were demonstrably an example of bureaucrats taking aim at groups they disliked politically, I, for one, do not believe colusion went beyond the IRS, and I hope the President follows through on his promise to eradicate that behavior. I tend to believe he will because, whatever his other failings, he’s smart enough to recognize that allowing IRS auditors and/or their immediate superiors to selectively use tax code enforcement as a political weapon with impunity would set a precedent that is guaranteed to backfire just as Bush II’s packing of the DoJ with GOP-loyalists backfired on the Republicans when the Democrats swung into office.

    But when you hand enforcers broad powers and vague mandates and send the message that a no-holds-bared approach is legal and necessary, it isn’t mere political or personal gain you need to worry about. Especially when you create a culture in which law enforcement are encouraged to behave like soldiers in a war, a war where there is no clear bright line between citizens and enemies. Soldiers are not taught the presumption of innocence; they are taught to clear every hostile and provisionally designate everyone on the battlefield not in their side’s uniform as a hostile. That’s how they stay alive long enough to win and restore functional government. The United States of America already has a functional government.

  48. Far as I’m concerned, personal privacy disappeared at least a couple of decades ago. The Virtual Panoptikon has been in place a long while. Wailing and carrying on about it now is just silly stuff designed to keep us in our cage.

  49. I am not surprised but I am outraged. I knew it must be happening, but until there was some acknowledgement that it was being done, there wasn’t much to be outraged about.

    I am more outraged by people like DiFi and to a lesser extent Obama who are defending it. I am more outraged that they think that it’s the right thing to do to keep it secret and thwart anyone trying to get more information about it for a decade. If they thought it was the right thing to do, it should have been discussed and debated openly. I’d still be against it, but you’re kind of required to make the argument in the open. That’s what is pissing me off.

  50. Other Bill, I tie the IRS and Prism together in that the IRS was using “key words” to determine who to single out for special treatment. Say the NSA decided to cross reference everyone who called the Rush Limbaugh show with a prism key word search on “impeachment” or “revolution” on these folks emails. A police state first needs to identify it’s enemies (whether with stars or digital record) prior to dealing with them. An administration under assault from all sides will find excuses to do things unthinkable in normal times.

    That’s when the black helicopter scenarios don’t seem so far fetched.

  51. Laughably, one of my Republican tweeps was claiming the NSA scandal was how to get “our libertarian friends” back in the fold. I pointed out that that would only work if he could somehow make the fact that those were all Bush Administration programs that the Obama Administration continued (and in some cases fine-tuned) go away.

    I’m pissed at Obama about a number of things, but they’re all for not being better than the Republicans. As I keep saying, it’s not really a matter of tradeoffs; Obama is in no way worse and in some ways better than Romney (or, gods forbid, McCain) would have been (according to their history and public statements). The fact that he’s not good enough to completely satisfy me is deducible from the fact that he was able to be elected.

    Also, it’s not like we didn’t know about this stuff, as John points out. Angry? Sure. Outraged? If you’ve been continuously outraged since 2002 I will come put a stone on your grave, because you have to be dead by now.

  52. Jimbot, that’s a dark dystopian scenario all right. So far, it’s complete fiction. I decline to hide in the hills with the hairy survivalists just yet…and if I vanish in the night you can quote this around the campfire to remind the hairy survivalists why they’re there. Also, the Obama administration faces criticism from all around, but as they’re Democrats they expect this. They’re only under assault (albeit a very focused, determined, and well-funded one) from one side: the right.

    Targeting innocent American teenagers for drone strikes? That’s already happened. Let’s focus our energy on things that are going on and need to stop.

  53. Is this something I can tell my wife about, and she would be cool with? If the answer is “yes,” then if someone else finds out, meh.

    Amen on the “would wife be cool with it?” standard. Personally, I think privacy is overrated. If the government has a survellience system like in the CBS breakout hit Person of Interest, I am good with that. I value safety (staying alive and healthy) over privacy any day. I wonder how our world would change if all antidiscrimination laws were enforced rigorously and our Fed tax returns, medical records, academic grades, all of that stuff were open to the world on the internet. Even our financial records, insurance records, etc. Be pretty hard to do anything shady, would it not? Hard to hide an affair from a spouce. Hard to be evil, I think. If the glare of sunlight shone on all aspects of our lives.

    To do wrong one must hide the wrongdoing. Hard to hide in sunlight.

  54. I suppose the people here will find my opinions on this subject hopelessly naive and/or stupid. I don’t feel especially bad about that. I’ve gotten used to it, over the last decade — saying things that I used to think were perfectly reasonable and people responding as if I were a little child asking for more ice cream.
    Oh, well. My feeling on this PRISM business is this: I’m… I suppose I’m the tiniest bit surprised; I thought part of the Obama movement ethos was being the change, yes we can, all that stuff — that while these things are still legal, if I’d thought about it at all (which I confess I didn’t), I’d have thought that they wouldn’t have been used, because such things are immoral.
    I can just hear the chuckles now, and I honestly can’t tell you how tired I am of this sort of argument. To me, it seems just the same as the ridiculous arguments we’ve had over torture over the last decade. The very idea that we’re even discussing monitoring everyone’s phone calls, e-mails, Internet traffic, and more as if it’s the kind of thing that’s supposed to go on outside of a science fiction dystopia is almost funny to me.
    Good grief. These things are wrong. The fact that what appears to be a substantial majority of Americans think they’re perfectly all right, and not least among that majority is the freaking President of the United States, is flabbergasting in the extreme to me.
    I mean, I honestly don’t understand what the fight against fascism was about, or anyway totalitarianism, if this is where we end up.
    I thought stuff like this was an outrage when Bush was sitting behind the big desk. Now that it’s Obama (a man I voted for, twice, and until very recently was proud to have done so) I still think it’s an outrage.
    I really believed in all that Hope & Change stuff. The more fool me, right?

  55. Considering the efficiency of our government, our secrets are probably a lot safer with them than with our friends. I referenced your article on my post today. I appreciate your sane approach to events that should come as no surprise to anyone.

  56. Xopher, when the NYTimes loses faith in you, the left is starting to join in. This admin has been able to piss a bunch of people off in a short period of time.

  57. When bad things happen and we all look around and ask why our government why it was unable to prevent this from happening. This datasift is the logical and technological response. “We the people” must demand that they hunt the ones with black hearts with a vengeance and turn the cheek on our own with indulgences that merely raise an eyebrow.

  58. Jimbot, I don’t think I understand what you’re saying. I’ve lost a bit of the faith I had in President Obama and his administration, but… are you actually suggesting that the American left is going to en masse desert the Democrats and vote conservative? Because that seems pretty unlikely to me, to put it mildly.

    Hell, the reason I’m so upset with Obama is that he’s acting like a Republican.

  59. Re: the “right to privacy” Weren’t Griswold vs. Connecticut and Roe vs. Wade decided on the basis that women (and their husbands and doctors) had a right to privacy? If PRISM etc. cause the Supremes to throw out a right to privacy, will this, in effect, repeal these decisions?

  60. That’s a strawman ES. Did Republicans start voting liberal after Nixon? This is looking more and more like Watergate. It will reach a head some time this summer. I have no doubts that the Republicans will try to drag it out til November, but it will be out of their control. You have lost some faith in the President after 2 weeks of hearing. What will you be feeling after 2 months, with testimony showing direct links from the IRS to the White House staff?

    But we’re off topic. We’ve seen something like an enemies list with the IRS. The size of the list is determined by the use of Prism and the phone records dump.

  61. I don’t see the IRS scandal as a scandal, Jim. We definitely differ there. (And on my using a strawman, but I don’t think that’s really an argument worth having.) I don’t actually think the government’s done anything wrong in that area. I mean, given the Tea Party’s ethos of feeling they shouldn’t have to pay their taxes, f’r example, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to do a bit of digging and make sure that they’re actually paying their share.

    Eh. I don’t know. What I do know is that my feelings have nothing to do with the IRS business or any “phone records dump.” They’re a couple of days old — although I suppose one could argue that I’ve felt less and less pleased with the Obama Administration since the drone business, even though President Obama’s military and foreign policies never pleased me to begin with.

    I — for a radical lefty with a fascination for old-school anarchism, I’m very VERY conservative when it comes to certain things, and things like the use of torture and the monitoring of people’s private communications — or, actually, the monitoring of people at all — are on that list. I still believe Obama and his administration are the best of the choices available to us, short of a Constiutional convention or a revolution. (The former I might support; the latter I definitely would not.)

    I honestly don’t care how useful a thing is as a weapon in the war on whatever it is we’re fighting this year (is it Eastsia or Eurasia? I keep forgetting.). You have to draw the line somewhere.

  62. @billy – “from impinging on our freedom of speech and assembly (preventing conservatives from organizing)”

    Really, Billy, really? No one is stopping anyone from organizing anything. I must have missed when the IRS showed up to prevent Tea Party meetings because they weren’t 501c(4). There is absolutely nothing preventing groups from organizing and operating whilst 501c(4) status is pending, and there is nothing preventing you from organizing outside 501c(4), anyway. That leaves aside the fact that 501c(4) (defined as a social welfare organization, not a political organization) is being horrifically abused by lobbying groups anyway, due to a spectacularly shitty SCOTUS decision. The Tea Party groups could (and should) have organized under the more appropriate 527 rules (which are again tax exempt) and there would have been no issues. Apart from the fact that 527 have to produce public lists of donors, 501c(4)s don’t.

    This is what 501c(4)s are not supposed to do:

    “. The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.”

    As for surveillance, I expected it but it still sucks. Apparently both sides feel free to shred the 4th amendment.

    Chris

  63. One theme I see here is, ‘I have nothing to hide so, let the government look all they want.’ That’s fine but it isn’t the point. Prism is, and has been, an invasion of privacy and potentially a violation of the 4th admendment. The Constitution is supposed to set the lines we don’t cross. Nothing effective was done when the Patriot act was originally passed and nothing effective is likely to be done with this ‘scandel’ but, if we continue to do nothing then it’s our own fault for not reigning in the government and we will continue to slowly lose our rights.

  64. In agreement, John. I wasn’t much surprised by the revelation and instinctively knew this had been going on since the days of Dubya (shock and awe still cracks me up but that’s a separate issue of the Bush 2 admin).

    The thing about data collection is it needs to be labeled. Since it’s for security measures these labels will measure, or index, some definition of threat. If someone has a high net profile, one can be assured one has been assigned some value on a threat index. Even more inevitable is that given the degree of data being collected, those labels are sure to be widely expanded. And that starts the process of taking on a value all its own. At some point the reason for collecting this data is in danger of becoming buried in a clandestine culture of threat. That is the worrisome part for me.

  65. @jimbot:

    “I tie the IRS and Prism together in that the IRS was using “key words” to determine who to single out for special treatment.”

    Well, according to the stories about the Verizon FISA warrants and the PRISM program are primarily about acquisition of massive amounts of personal data. Then the big difference is the normal baseline for applying for a tax exempt status involves sending the IRS a detailed explanation of your operation and its mission statement type stuff. There is no NSA involvement required, or FISA courts. Also, no espionage is alleged to be involved in the IRS scandal.

    The IRS scandal was that the IRS went directly to the group, based on the documents they provided directly to the IRS, and told them they shall provide additional information. Because, they’re, like, the IRS. And they have the power to do that. The IRS appears to have put a BOLO out to its tax exempt status division employees based on political ideologies. No spying necessary.

    “Say the NSA decided to cross reference everyone who called the Rush Limbaugh show with a prism key word search on “impeachment” or “revolution” on these folks emails. A police state first needs to identify it’s enemies (whether with stars or digital record) prior to dealing with them.”

    I agree that an enemies list police state is not good. And, if the NSA decided to do that, yes. It would be not good. But, as Xopher pointed on, they are concerns based on what ifs. There’s plenty of material to debate in this latest release, or other programs committed in the name of national security, without going to what ifs.

    “An administration under assault from all sides will find excuses to do things unthinkable in normal times.”

    How is now not “normal times”?

  66. Gary, that’s all true, but it comes from a place of privilege. If nothing honest, decent, and fair that you do would tend to reduce your employability or social status, that all works.

    You said “if all antidiscrimination laws were enforced rigorously,” and if you changed that to “if there were no irrational discrimination” I almost buy it. As it is there are no law barring discrimination on the basis of being into BDSM, or collecting penguin statuettes for that matter.

    Don’t quite buy it even so, because even if I can get hired, I may not want my coworkers to see me in my leathers, or with my penguin collection.

  67. I don’t think anyone who has read (or wrote) sci-fi is surprised about Prism. I don’t have much of a problem with the government collecting that data (and I also assume that every other government is doing the exact same thing). What I find very troubling is the how government will use or is using it, especially in cases like the witch-hunt or McCarthy-like commie hunt that investigation and prosecution of Anonymous and the Stubenville rape case.

  68. The bureaucracy is its own thing at this point, and it’s not Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist, or anything. It simply IS, and like any organism, it’s going to keep growing.

    Partisan bickering and clutching of pearls is pointless; working together to try to restrain the beast is what’s needed.

  69. @Xopher Agreed. I don’t want to view you in your leathers or your penguin statue collection. Nor would I or anyone else need to or particularly care. You might not want to post photos in any social media considering how you feel. Unless the terrorists groups got into leather in a big way I don’t think anyone would bother with you in any case.
    As to your point about irrational discrimination, I do get that. Some people are going to look at me or you or others askance for something we do that is perfectly innocent but outside the mainstream cultural values. My view is “so be it.” But then I have been an iconoclast most of my life not really caring if people don’t take a shine to me or look down on me for what I do and what I am. At the end of the day I see more good (safety and staying alive) from privacy being dethroned somewhat than from it being elevated even higher on the pedestal.
    Just think. If all the returns filed with the IRS were a matter of public record. Some 501C(4) social welfare organization really doing politics would be nailed by the general public by being “outed” in social media. An IRS agent doing a desk audit would find the public doing his or her work for them most of the time. Less privacy and more public sunlight would shine into a lot of dark, shady corners and bring them to view and censure.

  70. With all respect (not ironically), I’m pretty sure from what you’ve said that you must be a heterosexual cis male without kinky tastes in much of anything.

  71. It certainly is convenient how the furious defense of privacy, civil liberties and the Bill of Rights by this site’s owner and its commenters came screeching to a stop once a Democrat was in office. Now it’s a vague wave of the hand, a faux-exasperated roll of the eyes: surely you already knew this was happening? Why are you surprised? If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear, right?

  72. Xopher:

    “The question I usually ask myself before I do anything online is this: Is this something I can tell my wife about, and she would be cool with? If the answer is “yes,” then if someone else finds out, meh.”

    If you haven’t done anything wrong, then meh, right? Crazy wingnuts, getting all hot and bothered about a gigantic, secret, unconstrained government surveillance program that the NSA explicitly lied to Congress about. Here at the Whatever, we’re far too cool to worry about such things.

  73. I’ve heard that off the books warrantless law enforcement access to call logs has been going on since the 1950’s with good ole land lines. If so then this should be even less of a surprise.

  74. Didn’t anyone realize this is what the Patriot Act authorized? At least, that was my take on it way back in 2001 (or was it 2002)? The fact that this is happening and has been happening isn’t surprising in the least. And if there had been another terrorist attack? People would be blaming Obama for not doing this. It’s the damned if we do, damned if we don’t scenario. If they had been logging and listening for content on every call, don’t you think we would have caught more criminals?

    The funny thing about the NYT editorial? Not one comment I’ve seen supporting the NYTimes (of course, I only read through a few hundred). And the IRS thing? Was happening during Bush’s administration. The ironic thing is you don’t have to apply for a 501(c)4. So all these so-called charities doing this were kind of foolish. OK, I know, off topic. Sorry. I guess what I’m saying is this so-called “scandal” isn’t really a scandal to me at all. Who the hell is leaking all this stuff though? That’s the scandal. Yikes.

  75. @Gary R. Willis

    Hard to be evil, I think. If the glare of sunlight shone on all aspects of our lives.

    No, hard to be unpopular. Very. Different. Thing.

    To do wrong one must hide the wrongdoing.

    You cannot be serious. Societies perpetrate evil all the time. Morality isn’t some natural law that guides the actions of the masses. One person’s evil is another person’s righteousness. I cite the whole of recorded history as an example. The most evil is done by those in positions of power who guard their own privacy while ignoring that of others.

    @Xopher Agreed. I don’t want to view you in your leathers or your penguin statue collection. Nor would I or anyone else need to or particularly care.

    I don’t even know what to say to this, it’s so contrary to the real world. You may as well have said the Earth was flat.

    If all the returns filed with the IRS were a matter of public record.

    What on or off Earth gave you the impression that the NSA has one single iota of intention to make their dragnet a matter of public record?

    @Xopher Halftongue

    You said “if all antidiscrimination laws were enforced rigorously,” and if you changed that to “if there were no irrational discrimination” I almost buy it. As it is there are no law barring discrimination on the basis of being into BDSM, or collecting penguin statuettes for that matter.

    Even if you could end discrimination, whether through legislation (which has a spotty track record even when enforcement isn’t defanged) or other means, there would be no guarantee that such an improbably utopian toleration would last. Laws are much easier to dismantle than bureaucracies.

    @E.S. Gratton

    I mean, given the Tea Party’s ethos of feeling they shouldn’t have to pay their taxes, f’r example, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to do a bit of digging and make sure that they’re actually paying their share.

    It’s not the enforcement that you, I, other lefties and even the President should be concerned about. It is the selective enforcement. As it’s mainline revenue collectors, the IRS is necessarily one of the most powerful agencies of the federal government. But even it cannot economically do a full audit of every taxpayer and organization. It’s resources should not be allocated based on the political inclinations of its officers. Administrations can change those officers. Allowing this to set a precedent for political selective-enforcement would both turn the IRS into yet another political tool that allows the flow of money to determine power and backfire badly on the party in power when it began, which in this case is the Democrats. The President understands this, and it only remains to be seen if he will stand up to the trenchant bureaucracy that resists elected oversight. You would do well for your own sake and all of ours to be as prudent as the man you and I both elected POTUS.

    @Chris

    That leaves aside the fact that 501c(4) (defined as a social welfare organization, not a political organization) is being horrifically abused by lobbying groups anyway, due to a spectacularly shitty SCOTUS decision. The Tea Party groups could (and should) have organized under the more appropriate 527 rules (which are again tax exempt) and there would have been no issues.

    Absolutely. But the correct solution is not for the IRS to attempt to do an end run around the High Court’s decision. The correct solution is legislation. Bureaucrats serve many useful and essential purposes in government; deciding who should or should not be subject to the rules is not one of them. This is the one and only parallel I see between the IRS scandal and PRISM, but it’s nontrivial and I submit to John that it would be a mistake to evaluate PRISM in a vacuum.

    I would also suggest to Billy Quiets that these are not symptoms of the Obama administration – though they, like the Bush administration before them, bear responsibility for it while in office since they are the overseers who can and should put a stop to it – but rather symptoms of the larger bipartisan problem of decreased oversight by the government of its agencies and decreased transparency of the government by the republic.

    @Other Bill

    How is now not “normal times”?

    New normal for the frog on the hot plate.

  76. Gulliver:

    “I would also suggest to Billy Quiets that these are not symptoms of the Obama administration – though they, like the Bush administration before them, bear responsibility for it while in office since they are the overseers who can and should put a stop to it – but rather symptoms of the larger bipartisan problem of decreased oversight by the government of its agencies and decreased transparency of the government by the republic.”

    I agree with the first part of your assessment here. Well, outside of the ‘can and should put a stop to it’ portion. See further for an explanation of the lack of comment on that. But, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that they are a symptom of decreased oversight by the government of its agencies. Most of the reporting in this case seems to indicate that while – perhaps – stretched, all of the laws have been followed. And the response from the executive branch seems to indicate that oversight of these programs very much exists.

    Transparency is a tricky issue in terms of methods of collection for intelligence purposes. They are natural adversaries. And, I say intelligence because there is as yet no reporting indicating that these programs are being used for anything other than counter terrorism purposes. I would suggest that they are symptoms of a decade of the War on Terror and a sort of natural compromise between a grab for more intelligence gathering powers to support it meshed up with larger concerns of oversight of civil rights. I’m not asserting that as a value judgement on the outcome. I’m speaking to what I see as the genesis of this sort of program.

    Which is why I pushed back on the idea of lumping this in with the IRS issue. It isn’t an Obama administration issue. It’s a government issue. Granted, they’re the current face of the executive branch. But, they don’t pass the laws. And they don’t rule on the constitutionality of the laws. That isn’t to say that politics aren’t relevant to the genesis, but they are not the primary factor. I think it’s important to speak specifically about why something is happening in order to debate whether or not it should be happening.

    “New normal for the frog on the hot plate.”

    Ha. Indeed. Though, I see the “normal times” connotation as a sort of cousin of “now more than ever”ism. I find “normal” to be a delightfully vague way of arbitrarily bifurcating complex issues. Usually in a way beneficial to the speaker’s own position. It’s usually a verbal cue to consider what is actually being said.

  77. @Other Bill

    Well, outside of the ‘can and should put a stop to it’ portion.

    Not overnight, but if elected officials don’t double-down and shield the bureaucracy from public oversight, the waste, graft and, above all, the realization by people that their own private lives being investigated like criminals isn’t some abstraction has the best chance of reversing this course of casting a wide and ineffective faux-security net. See pretty much anything by Bruce Schneier on the topic for what I mean by that last part. Anyway, that will only happen if voters send the message that politicians’ job security depend on it. Because for all their similarities, the individual politicos in both major parties want to keep their own jobs at the end of the day, and few will sacrifice their own careers out of party loyalty. But voters will only do that if they’re made aware of how deep the iceberg goes. Hence the bipartisan war on whistle-blowers. As Billy said about something else, cui bono?

    And the response from the executive branch seems to indicate that oversight of these programs very much exists.

    Yes, that vertical consolidation under the Executive was a legacy of the Bush administration. The oversight I want to see would incorporate the Legislative branch, and better Judicial oversight which is slipping with extrajudicial searches and seizures. Even that’s a bit oversimplified. The reflexive classification that is de rigueur for all governments has reached a scope and size where even the Executive is hard pressed to know what the right hand is doing. This is a sign that our security apparatus has taken on a life all its own and arguably grown larger than is necessary, useful or safe.

    And, I say intelligence because there is as yet no reporting indicating that these programs are being used for anything other than counter terrorism purposes.

    Nevertheless, we don’t usually allow complete strangers into our private lives on the strength of them so far behaving well. Sure, you can stand by my daughter’s bed and profile her text conversations; it’s not like you’ve done anything wrong yet that we know about, person we don’t know. And while the aim may be counter-terrorism, I would argue that many operations, especially among those that have come to daylight, have had the effect of fostering extremism, entrapping or outright kidnapping on the word of sectarian enemies, and bureaucratic empire building. Good intentions are simply not enough.

    I would suggest that they are symptoms of a decade of the War on Terror and a sort of natural compromise between a grab for more intelligence gathering powers to support it meshed up with larger concerns of oversight of civil rights.

    It definitely pushed it into overdrive. Whether it has actually achieved its stated goals is highly debatable.

    Granted, they’re the current face of the executive branch. But, they don’t pass the laws. And they don’t rule on the constitutionality of the laws.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the legislature and courts also have duties to protect the People from governmental abuses. That’s why they’re elected or appointed and confirmed by the elected leaders. But I’ve long thought someone should permanently affix to the Resolute Desk President Truman’s sign reading The Buck Stops Here. The POTUS has both more and less power than most Americans credit him with. He cannot pass laws or rule on their constitutionality, but the main limit on his control over how they are enforced is largely down to the size of the Executive ship of state and how demanding he is of the people he appoints to run each department. It’s been often noted that one of the President’s greatest resources is the bully pulpit. He would find a lot more support if he took fewer excuses from the people that nominally work for him. One of the things that I think he has perhaps forgotten is that those of us who voted him into office in the first place did so in part because we believed he was a man of action. He still can be. It’s all up to whether he wants to please the Democratic Party’s establishment or leave a admirable legacy.

  78. I’ve been very troubled by the fact that so many people are simply apathetic about this or–worse yet–full on support this program. I had much higher expectations for the readers of your blog… but I am sadly disappointed to see it just as prevalent, here.

    Surprised? No. I’ve been closely following this issue with the NSA for well over a year and it has been going on for much longer than that. So no: no surprise there.

    Outraged? You should be. You *really* should be.

    Why? Take a look at our government’s track record:
    The Japanese Internment camps during WWII. McCarthyism and “The Red Scare.” The systematic use of COINTELPRO during the civil rights movement and targeting of civil rights leaders. The Department of Homeland Security’s interest and targeting of the Occupy Wall Street protesters and who coordinated multiple departments in order to discredit the movement, suppress protests, and to break up the movement.

    I have a very difficult time we have invalidated Milgram’s 50-year old “Obedience to Authority” experiments or that we are beyond the witch-hunt and mob-mentality psychological phenomena that contributed to McCarthyism and “The Red Scare.” Does anyone really believe the “voice of reason” will prevail, today, and that it wouldn’t simply be drowned out in the hysteria?

    These may not be “relevant,” per se, or the most current examples… but what they show is the government’s tendency to overreact to what it perceives as a threat, that our government has been willing–and capable–of going to extreme measures against its own citizenry… it *has* happened before. In *our* government… despite the constitution, bill of rights, or checks and balances. It has happened before and, while it may not be the exact same sort of situation or response (i.e., internment camps), it can certainly happen again.

    Now, what if these technologies and NSA capabilities had existed in those times, during those situations and events? While it may have been designed and intended to detect and prevent terrorism, do you believe they would not have used those capabilities to turn them against its citizens? Would they not have targeted and tracked Japanese Americans? Or suspected communists? Or civil rights movement leaders? Do you believe they did *not* use these programs in order to track, trace, and target organizers and members of the Occupy Wall Street movement?

    The government has made some broad definitions in the past about who and what it considers potential threats… it isn’t just people planning to bomb or kill Americans, it is people who it sees as disruptive and who pose a threat to the established system. (See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COINTELPRO — COINTELPRO is an aspect of the civil rights movement that most history books and classes tend to skip over…)

    This is a broad program with no transparency and no true checks and balance in place in order to prevent abuse and assure that American citizens’ privacy are not being violated or that it is only used to combat foreign threats of terrorism. They are issuing a dragnet… and they keep *everything* they collect. So while they may not actually be directly targeting Americans, they still *ARE* collecting it on a massive scale which could still be used later.

    Another reason this is such a dangerous thing: Just five days ago,–before the whole NSA subject even broke–the United Nation released a report showing that internet surveillance–and any undue interference with individuals’ privacy–can limit, both indirectly and directly, the free development and exchange of ideas. (You can read the entire UN report here: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session23/A.HRC.23.40_EN.pdf )

    The very presence and existence of these programs can chill and suppress free speech–regardless of how they are used or whether they directly affect or interfere with a person’s day-to-day activities. Just knowing that everything you are saying, whom you are talking to, or what you are reading is likely to be recorded, logged, and preserved indefinitely has a very chilling effect.

    Moreover, the Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure; it specifically requires there to be reasonable suspicion based of sufficient evidence or testimony to support the issuance of a warrant–warrants that specifically dictate and limit the scope, range, and target of the search or seizure. It directly prohibits broad, blanket sweeps or general searches without cause or suspicion and an issue the Founding Fathers deemed important enough to outright prohibit. This amendment has also been interpreted in Supreme Court rulings as the right to reasonable privacy.

    Obtaining phone records–even just the “metadata” like Verizon has been providing–has always required a warrant (or, at the very least, required sufficient evidence or case to convince a judge to issue a subpoena) for any law-enforcement agency (even federal ones, like the FBI) in order to obtain access. This important and necessary safeguard is in place in order to prevent government or law-enforcement from using these searches in order to harass, unduly target, or use as a means to intimidate or coheres citizens. The NSA programs do not adhere to that and its very existence violates that protection.

    So, to sum up:
    * The government has a long history of broadly defining what it perceives to be threats and a well-established track-record for responses that are, simply put: morally, ethically, and legally *wrong*.
    * It is easy to recognize these as being wrong in retrospect, however, at those times, they were believed to be the best course of action and even the “right” thing to do… by both the government and often society.
    * These all occurred under different administrations, different political parties and during different generational eras; these responses and behavior transcend the differences in culture, values, beliefs, etc., between the different generations. Therefore, it is logical to assume that our current generation is not immune to this, nor will future generations be.
    * If they were able to do these things in the past and were not able to recognize these things were wrong, and even able to justify the morality of their own actions at the time, it is exceedingly unlikely that we would or will be able to in the future.
    * It is, in fact, safest to assume that this *will* occur in the future and we should therefore not allow for systems and mechanisms to exist that could be used for malevolent purposes which they were not intended for. This is the only way to ensure they cannot be misused or misinterpreted.
    * The very presence of surveillance and any other interference with people’s privacy has been shown to chill free speech, even when there is no direct consequence or effect in day-to-day lives.
    * The Fourth Amendment protects American citizens from undue search and seizure; it requires the need for sufficient suspicion and evidence of crime or criminal intent before permitting government or law enforcement agencies to this access. It also requires specific limits and subjects to the scope of any warranted search. This directly prohibits any type of broad or sweeping searches and searches without suspicion or cause. It guarantees American citizens a reasonable respect of privacy.
    * The NSA programs collect and harvest data on Americans that is otherwise unable to be obtained without a court-approved subpoena or search warrant and, thus, are a direct violation of due process.
    * The information collected by these NSA’s drag-net is stored indefinitely and be used at any time in the future for whatever purposes they wish because the information has already been collected.
    * The entire program is shrouded in secrecy and completely opaque. It operates completely out of view; we have no way to be certain on how it is being used and no way of verifying or ensuring the scope and function of the program are being used appropriately, as described, or as it was intended. The only source of information Congress receives on the matter is simply what is provided to them by NSA officials and there are no further checks or audits in place that verify and ensure these reports are accurate.
    * The government having access to such an extensive and permanent database of detailed information on each of its citizens’ lives and personal affairs is dangerous; it poses a persistent threat which could be leveraged by the government to coerce, intimidate, or suppress political rivals or any person which opposes the government. The country’s citizenship serves as the final check and balance of governmental power; they are unable to perform this function if they are actively suppressed.
    * There are a myriad of ways in which this information could be used malevolently against American citizens; thus, its very existence presents a very real and significant threat to its citizens.
    * The only way to be absolutely certain this may never be used to suppress or harm American citizens is by not allowing this program to exist at all. Its continued existence will remain a constant temptation for abuse and–eventually–it will be.
    * It is our duty to ensure and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms for our children, our children’s children, and all future generations that follow by not allowing them to be undermined, encroached, or flat-out negated. Allow them to make the choice about what information about their lives they wish to share–and which parts of their lives they wish to keep private.

    And, finally, to quote a man much wiser than I:

    “They, who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
    –Ben Franklin

    The biggest obstacle we face in combating terrorism will *ALWAYS* be the constitution and the bill of rights. The protections, freedoms, rights, and liberties that they guarantee will be used to their own advantage and make it occasionally possible for them to succeed.

    We will never be able to totally combat and eliminate terrorism for as long as we insist in involving ourselves in the affairs of other countries. They do not despise us for our “freedom,” they despise us because we are outsiders who are involving ourselves in issues that are deeply rooted in religious ideology. And, as long as we pose the threat of becoming involved in their affairs, they will continue to target us. This is not sufficient excuse, however, to begin encroachment of our own freedoms and civil liberties. If we begin to compromise the fundamental values and principles of freedom that our country was founded upon in order to protect ourselves from their attacks then they are succeeding in undermining our entire country through terrorism.

    So should we be surprised? No. (Perhaps surprised that anybody has admitted anything instead of the usual “deny, deny, deny.”) The writing has been on the wall about this for ages. Wired had an in-depth look at the NSA’s surveillance capabilities last April.

    But should you be outraged? Yes. Yes you should. This isn’t an “Obama” thing or a partisan thing… Nobody’s hands are clean in this. Both parties have cooperated to great extents in order to make this happen. Bush created it. Congress passed both the Patriot Act and the FISA amendments. Obama continued the program. Both laws were set to expire under Obama but Congress voted to renew both of them. They shouldn’t have existed to begin with, let alone be renewed. But this has nothing to do with who’s in power or who’s responsible. It. Should. Not. Exist. Period.

    This isn’t a trade-off between privacy and security worth making because there is too much potential to lose both, here.

  79. Also, Google’s (and the other tech companies like Facebook) statement and denial on the matter is a bit suspect…. especially consider that every single company used the exact same phrase in their denials: “We do not give government direct access to our servers…”

    What are the chances that every single one of those companies would that exact phrase in their statements? To specifically state direct access? I don’t mean to sound conspiratorial or tin-foil-hatty, but c’mon… there’s subtext to read, there.

    It seems they aren’t given direct access to their servers… instead, certain companies like Google and Facebook appear to have built the government it’s own personal gateway portal and interface.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/08/technology/tech-companies-bristling-concede-to-government-surveillance-efforts.html?

    So direct access? No. But access and direct access are two different things.

  80. The presumption of innocence is the bedrock of justice and liberty for all, it is the foundation of all civil rights and the hope for all who are denied their civil rights by the State or its officers. Believing that you will not be punished so long as you do no wrong is a naïveté borne of the privilege of never being marginalized for how, where or to whom you were born. It is a privilege everyone should enjoy, but many do not because governments are as imperfect as the individual beings that constitute them, but far more powerful. Some with that privilege may believe that they will never be unjustly targeted, and do not worry about the preservation of due process. For abandoning their fellow human beings, they may find that their reward is to be abandoned when they fall out of favor with those in power or the populace which supports that power.

  81. I think the apathy is because some of us (including me) believe that there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. It’s clear that the NSA intercepts at least the beginning and end points of every phone call, and I would suspect every e-mail that anyone within the USA sends, and every e-mail and phone call that starts or ends within the US, at least at the metadata level, and has been doing so for at least a decade. I would be unsurprised if they didn’t slurp everything off the US ISPs into their datacenter in Utah – see the “direct access” to servers mentioned above, if you’re intercepting everything going in to and out of google apple et al then you don’t need direct access.

    Terrorism isn’t a significant threat, it seems to have boiled down to the occasional home grown nutter with a primitive bomb, which this monitoring clearly missed. Outside the US intelligence is needed to try to head off nuclear/chemical threats, though (chemical is difficult to do).

    My biggest concern is that the NSA has a historical record of everyone’s interaction, and as I understand it, can effectively get retrospective warrants to pull the records from anyone. This is where the potential for misuse is clear – witch hunts are us.

    I’d love to delete it all, and stop it going forward, but it ain’t going to happen, we’re stuck with it. Bar a couple of senators, this kerfuffle is going to subside and we’ll continue on our mostly oblivious merry way :(

  82. A couple of posters have mentioned the 4th Amendment, but it looks like the Supreme Court has already given the approval of this in Smith v Maryland, where it stated that the phone externals, like pen register data, was not protected under the 4th Amendment.

    Having the NSA know that I called Papa Johns 4 times like week to order pizza is less intrusive to me than Google Earth having a picture of my house and front driveway splashed on the internet, or that the IRS has me give them a form every year in which I’m expected to tell them where every single penny I earn comes from. We passed privacy in the rear view mirror long before the NSA started these programs.

  83. USA PATRIOT act: On the very day that inexcusable piece of legislative cowardice was passed, I renamed it the “Gestapo Enablement Act of 2001.” Nothing that has happened since has caused me to rethink. I predicted this very scenario at the time (I already knew a little about the NSA and it ‘s purpose and capabilities), and said so out loud. Repeatedly. My own sister gave me the “if I’m not doing anything wrong…” business. Just painful. First they came for the Muslims…

  84. “What are the chances that every single one of those companies would that exact phrase in their statements? To specifically state direct access?”

    You seem to have missed that “direct access to systems/servers” was what WaPo and Guardian/Greenwald accused everyone of providing. Those exact words appear four times in Greenwald’s first article, including in the subheading and the first sentence.

  85. I’ve run out of outrage. Maybe I’m shirking my civic duty, but I can’t get myself worked up enough to produce a decent blog-rant. I would send a strongly worded letter to somebody if I could just think who I should send it to. In the meantime, I challenge all of you to name ONE SINGLE GOVERNMENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD that has not spied on its citizens (or whatever they were called). It’s what governments do. Technology changes, but human nature doesn’t. Apparently we need to be outraged about something or no one will watch the news. Talkshow hosts will have nothing to rail about. Worse, if we aren’t in a state of high dudgeon, we won’t have anything about which to accuse one another. But me? I just keep laughing. Like there was someone who didn’t think the government was spying on us. You thought all those traffic cams were to monitor traffic? Really? Seriously? You didn’t figure it out and now you’re SHOCKED? (snicker, snicker)

  86. I challenge all of you to name ONE SINGLE GOVERNMENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD that has not spied on its citizens

    I challenge you to name a government that didn’t kill its own citizens. Does that mean we shouldn’t pay careful attention when the US government does it, too?

    I get the lack-of-surprise meme, and it’s great that you’re so hipsterishly sophisticated, but that lack of surprise could attend you all the way into a police state.

  87. “I suppose it all depends on the meaning of ‘direct access’.”

    Oh, absolutely. And what NSA meant with that might even have been explained on one of the many slides Guardian decided that they shouldn’t show you…

    (if you’re curious as to what it most likely means, read NYT)

  88. I figured it out in the early days of ECHELON — the snooping in the USA is done by the Xians, the snooping outside the USA (that is, in Xia) is done by NSA, and then they share through cooperative agreements. All legal, no direct access, no snooping on your own people.

  89. Gulliver:

    “Not overnight, but if elected officials don’t double-down and shield the bureaucracy from public oversight, the waste, graft and, above all, the realization by people that their own private lives being investigated like criminals isn’t some abstraction has the best chance of reversing this course of casting a wide and ineffective faux-security net.”

    I think public push back is the most likely way to curtail the described data gathering. However, I don’t think knowing everything about where a phone goes and who it contacts (as suggested by the Verizon reporting) is security theater. As described, it is legitimately a powerful tool. No disagreement – I mean, obviously right? – that as described it is a wide net.

    “The oversight I want to see would incorporate the Legislative branch, and better Judicial oversight which is slipping with extrajudicial searches and seizures. . . . I wholeheartedly agree that the legislature and courts also have duties to protect the People from governmental abuses. That’s why they’re elected or appointed and confirmed by the elected leaders.”

    I am not impressed by much of the Legislative pushback which suggests they don’t have the oversight required, or they were kept in the dark regarding the interpretation and execution of their laws. Suppose they were. If Congress genuinely suspected that the Executive Branch was implementing the laws they wrote in ways they did not foresee or approve, then the solution is to write a new law. Given that they have not, I’m skeptical of most assertions that put the responsibility primarily on the Executive branch. I mean, Congress *really* didn’t care for Obamacare and went on to shut the purse strings to every implementation step in the law they passed.

    “One of the things that I think he has perhaps forgotten is that those of us who voted [Obama] into office in the first place did so in part because we believed he was a man of action.”

    I understand the point you’re looking to make here. But, I’m not sure there’s any metric which could describe Obama as anything other than a man of action concerning counter terrorism.

    “And while the aim may be counter-terrorism, I would argue that many operations, especially among those that have come to daylight, have had the effect of fostering extremism, entrapping or outright kidnapping on the word of sectarian enemies, and bureaucratic empire building. Good intentions are simply not enough.”

    I think this IS the debate, based on the why these programs exist. But, that’s really a debate about the use of such information at a strategic level.

    “But voters will only do that if they’re made aware of how deep the iceberg goes.”

    I think that’s incorrect. As has been described in this thread, the majority of people are not outraged because they approve. Politicians won’t act unless their jobs are threatened. Well, I’d argue they have. I think the public largely considers a bitter but necessary pill. And I base that on the fundamental lack of pushback on this. I think it’s disingenuous – well, maybe oversimplified (whichever is less inflammatory of a response to your point here) – to describe a public that disagrees with one’s position as apathetic due to their lack of appreciation of the scope.

  90. Other Bill “As has been described in this thread, the majority of people are not outraged because they approve.”

    I suggest you hang out on other boards. The fact even some Obama supporters have posted about their disappoint on this liberal echo chamber show how much in trouble the administration is in.

    Nixon could have survived Watergate if the Republicans had closed ranks the way the Democrats did with Bill Clinton. Right now, there are a lot of Democrats stating “mistakes were made”, hedging their bets in case the ship of state sinks. Hell, even Baghdad Jim McDermott was using that line during the hearings last week.

    How many people would approve of this? http://blog.chron.com/texassparkle/2013/05/the-abuse-of-power-by-our-government-on-true-the-vote/

  91. More than a decade of repugnant, abhorrent behaviour with zero responsibility and zero accountability?

    What the fuck did anyone think would happen????

    Christ, just in the war crime/torture department alone, we’ve tortured somewhere along the lines of tens of thousands of people since 9/11. The initial reaction was denial. Then dismissal as a few bad apples. Then justified by lying about it being effective in doing anything useful whatsoever. Then “look forward, not back”. And then earlier this year, an independent review said that torture was rampant and was approved through the chain of command all the way to the presidency.

    But does America give a shit about any of that? Apparently not. And if we don’t give a shit about war crimes, torture, and murder on a massive scale, why in god’s earth would we be upset about something like eavesdropping, wiretapping, and electronic listening?

    This is what a decade of abject fear running the voting population looks like. It looks like the monsters are due on Maple Street.

    About the only thing that is going to save us is if we ever get the wits about us to admit the horrendous things we’ve done, hold people accountable for doing them, and take responsibility for letting panic run our lives for the last decade. Until we can fess up to the fact that we’ve made some horrendous fucking mistakes, we’re going to keep on coasting in denial, grasping for justifications, and disassociating ourselves from our own actions of the past pretending it was someone else.

    And as long as we’re doing that, then shit like PRISM is just par for the couse: Fear-based, zero responsibility, zero accountability, clusterfuck.

  92. Jimbot: I’ll amend my statement to say that as has been referenced in this thread, outrage does not appear to be the majority response. I suggest that this is because they tacitly approve, generally speaking, of expanded intelligence gathering powers to fight terrorism. This does not mean there are no outraged people.

    As far as the Team Obama / Team Conservative side of this story. I guess. Team Politics is a weird cauldron and both difficult and easy to predict radical swings in opinion. The folks that have been arguing to start the impeachment process since Benghazi are going to continue to argue to start the impeachment process. It’s ALL kindling, all the time in Team Politics.

  93. Nixon could have survived Watergate if the Republicans had closed ranks

    The obvious difference being that — despite the appalling nature of the surveillance — it appears to have been done legally and with Congressional and judicial oversight. Nixon, on the other hand and despite being never convicted, was guilty of so many felonies that I can’t even begin to list them.

  94. @Other Bill

    As described, it is legitimately a powerful tool. No disagreement – I mean, obviously right? – that as described it is a wide net.

    It’s entirely possible to cast a net so wide that it’s ineffective. PRISM isn’t a powerful tool for catching terrorists. It’s a tool for doing an end run around the Fourth Amendment and vacuuming up everything they possibly can so they don’t need warrants later on. The requirement for warrants exists for a reason. The only reason for PRISM is in case they might at some point need to spy on American citizens without probable cuase. It’s not security theater. It’s security bloatware.

    I mean, Congress *really* didn’t care for Obamacare and went on to shut the purse strings to every implementation step in the law they passed.

    HHS brass rarely get away with sitting in front of Congress and invoking national security.

    But, I’m not sure there’s any metric which could describe Obama as anything other than a man of action concerning counter terrorism.

    I think that he’s mostly gone along with how things worked when he took office. And that’s not the sort of action I was talking about. I meant his myriad campaign lies promises.

    But, that’s really a debate about the use of such information at a strategic level.

    It’s a debate about it legitimate necessity.

    I think the public largely considers a bitter but necessary pill.

    We have been lied to. I base my hope on the fact that people are not idiots, merely misinformed, frightened and acclimated to the lies by incremental fear-mongering. I know it’s fashionable to look down one’s noses at the idjit masses, but that’s mostly egotism.

  95. I don’t see anyone saying this, but I am pretty concerned that the leaker decided to seek asylum in Hong Kong. There is a 2 part interview with him on the cnn.com. He is under the delusion that he is safe from the Chinese government in Hong Kong. China may not be an official enemy, but they are a strategic competitor and there is alot of evidence that they actively hack our government and businesses to get intelligence and intellectual property. The Chinese would easily be able to compel him to tell them anything they want. He may not intend to give up secrets, but if the offer is ‘tell us stuff or we send you back to the US to face treason charges’ (or worse than that) or ‘tell us and you can stay here and get money’, what is he going to do?

    I work in software development and I have done work for the government on and off ( I float between public and private sector work… ), and I understand the technical skills he has as a system administrator. He knows stuff beyond these secrets. My understanding is that part of getting a clearance that high (never had one myself… ) is that you sign a contract stating that you cannot leave the country without permission. Its part of the deal to get access. People agree to this because the pay on these types of projects are often much higher than you can get elsewhere. This is because its hard to find people with technical skill who can pass a background check and these checks typically take 6 months to a year.

  96. David – Name one felony that Nixon performed himself? The NSA scandel is only one of 5 that the admininstration is trying to survive. I noticed that John chose the least damaging of the scandels to comment on. I would have thought that the wiretapping of the reporters would have been topic given his backround. I would think that whoever went before the judge for the wiretap could be charged with perjury for using “unindited co-conspirator” “flight risk” to describe a Washington reporter, while never intending to charge him with anything. Add in the IRS and Bengazi, and I’m sure you could get several felonies charged for admin officials.

  97. Name one felony that Nixon performed himself?

    Conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and suborning perjury just to start. That’s only Watergate; I haven’t even gotten into the enemies lists or his foreign policy.

    scandel

    The only thing worthy of commenting on in the rest of your note is that the word is spelled “scandal.”

  98. Dave, just wait. There have only been 3 weeks of hearings, and we still haven’t heard from all the players. You want to compare Obama’s enemies list to Nixon’s? Or compare their foreign policies (or lack of one in Obama’s case)?

    We’re getting off topic again. John, can you post on you opinion of the “reporter wiretaps”?

  99. Gulliver:

    “HHS brass rarely get away with sitting in front of Congress and invoking national security.”

    All executive branch departments do their best to stonewall Congress. While they may invoke the “that’s classified” argument during public sessions, Congress regularly receives classified briefs. In particular, the national security apparatus reports regularly to both the House Permanent Select Committe on Intelligence (which has a subcommittees dealing specifically with oversight, technical and tactical intelligence and counter terrorism and counter intelligence) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. So, my skepticism of the Legislative Branch’s lack of knowledge on this subject continues.

    “It’s entirely possible to cast a net so wide that it’s ineffective. PRISM isn’t a powerful tool for catching terrorists. It’s a tool for doing an end run around the Fourth Amendment and vacuuming up everything they possibly can so they don’t need warrants later on. The requirement for warrants exists for a reason. The only reason for PRISM is in case they might at some point need to spy on American citizens without probable cause.”

    In this instance, given the kind of data discussed in the reporting, it sounds like its effectiveness would be primarily evaluated on what kind of software they use to aggregate and sort the information and the quality of its ability to contextualize additional relevant information.

    I have trouble accepting the argument that something is simultaneously so destructive to our privacy as a potential threat to citizens as we evolve into a police state but is also an ineffective intelligence gathering tool. And, to be clear, I am in no way suggesting that the government should not need warrants to obtain or look at certain information. In this instance, it sounds like warrants were obtained where legally necessary. Which is what you would want from your national security apparatus. Lawful behavior. Then the discussion becomes a matter of what the law is, what it should be and how to effect that change.

    “I base my hope on the fact that people are not idiots, merely misinformed, frightened and acclimated to the lies by incremental fear-mongering.”

    I don’t think people are generally idiots either. Ok. That isn’t entirely true. But, I think you’re undervaluing how much people want to avoid attacks like Boston and how little they mind the government obtaining information they’ve been willingly forking over to corporations for the same reason: it makes their lives easier.

    “It’s a debate about it legitimate necessity.

    Well. Yes. In the sense that this comes back to how the information is being used. The information, as has been reported so far, is being gathered legally. So, if the conversation is about its absolute necessity, then it has to be about how the information is being used and what kind of options are available to fill that need that don’t violate the way we’d like to see the 4th Amendment interpreted.

  100. Dave, just wait

    So you’ve conceded the Nixon-felony thing? Good to know. As to the well-it’s-early-and-they’re-all-going-to-be-charged-with-something-eventually style of argumentation, all I can say is imaginary evidence is the best kind. You can make it be whatever you want.

  101. @Other Bill

    I have trouble accepting the argument that something is simultaneously so destructive to our privacy as a potential threat to citizens as we evolve into a police state but is also an ineffective intelligence gathering tool.

    It’s quite simple. Are you a terrorist? No. I’ll spy on you anyway. Doesn’t help catch terrorists, just trashes your right to due process, your presumption of innocence and Fourth Amendment rights not to be wiretapped without probable cause. To get anything useful out of spying on everyone, the NSA must first figure out where the needles are in the hay they’ve stacked around the office. Going after the needles in the first place through actual investigations that require warrants and respect due process forgoes massive waste. As I said, security bloatware.

    The information, as has been reported so far, is being gathered legally.

    Wiretapping by any other name. It’s entirely possible to respect the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. That is why laws are interpreted, and why their enforcers are supposed to have judicial oversight. This dragnet is an attempt to exploit legislation that has not caught up with technology.

    So, if the conversation is about its absolute necessity, then it has to be about how the information is being used and what kind of options are available to fill that need that don’t violate the way we’d like to see the 4th Amendment interpreted.

    In the end there is no substitute for a total surveillance state. It’s purpose is not to catch criminals. It’s purpose is to waste resources building a trove of data that can be mined for undefined future projects. That’s not security. That’s universal investigation. Help stop pre-crime.

  102. Dave – he was never charged.
    Obama probably won’t either. But he won’t be effective as a president.
    We’re still off topic

  103. Gulliver:

    “It’s entirely possible to respect the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. That is why laws are interpreted, and why their enforcers are supposed to have judicial oversight. This dragnet is an attempt to exploit legislation that has not caught up with technology.”

    But, in this instance the laws were written, applied, and reviewed judicially. If the program (as reported) is an attempt to exploit anyting, it’s the fullness of the law as written and approved judicially.

    “It’s purpose is not to catch criminals. It’s purpose is to waste resources building a trove of data that can be mined for undefined future projects.”

    Are you arguing that the national security orgs are not actively pursuing a counter intel/counter terrorism agenda? Because there’s a difference between deliberately building a trove of data that currently applies to no mission and potential future mission creep or abuse.

  104. OtherBill: I have trouble accepting the argument that something is simultaneously so destructive to our privacy as a potential threat to citizens as we evolve into a police state but is also an ineffective intelligence gathering tool.

    Doesn’t that just about perfectly summarize the use of torture and related disregard for the Geneva Convention for the last decade? It’s a horrendous thing, a terrible thing, an imoral thing to do. It is a war crime. And yet, we’ve been doing it since 9/11. Did we gain any useful intelligence from torture? No. In fact, torture is what got us into Iraqmire because we kept torturing people until they told us what we wanted to hear which then confirmed our paranoid delusions about Iraq, so we tortured some more until they told us what we wanted to hear, which got us involved in a decade long occupation that killed hundreds of thousands of human beings and cost america billions of dollars and any moral standing it ever had in the world.

    Torture is simultaneously massively destructive to our human rights and actually negatively effective because it generates fabricated intel.

    So, why can’t such a thing exist around delusions of the power of eavesdropping? Why is it so hard to simply acknowledge that people driven by fear do horrendously bad things that have no real positive effects?

    The Twilight Zone had it figured out back in 1959.

  105. OtherBill: Are you arguing that the national security orgs are not actively pursuing a counter intel/counter terrorism agenda?

    J. Edgar Hoover.

  106. Dave – he was never charged.

    jimbot – he was pardoned before he could be.

    And you nitpick me on spell Dave.

  107. And you nitpick me on spell Dave

    No, I point out that the President of the United States had to be pardoned by his successor because that successor (Gerald Ford) was worried that a felony trial of Nixon would tear the country apart. You can hand-wave all you want, but the point remains that, however appalling, the surveillance we’re hearing about right now appears to have been legally sanctioned by both Congress and the judiciary, as opposed to Watergate, in which the President of the United States was caught on tape admitting to a number of felonies, resigned before he could be impeached, and then was pardoned before he could be indicted.

  108. Greg:

    “Doesn’t that just about perfectly summarize the use of torture and related disregard for the Geneva Convention for the last decade?”

    Hm. I very strongly disagree with the reasoning that follows the quoted sentence (inasmuch as I don’t think it relates to the Verizon/PRISM reporting – no disagreement that torture is unproductive, immoral, illegal and counterproductive in the most dangerous ways), but, yes. I see what you’re saying here – or I suppose what I said. That’s a bit of a troubled wording. I’m having trouble figuring a better wording at the moment.

    “Torture is simultaneously massively destructive to our human rights and actually negatively effective because it generates fabricated intel.”

    As described in the press, the description of the leaked information doesn’t appear to fabricate intelligence in any way. There’s no hearing what you want.

    “So, why can’t such a thing exist around delusions of the power of eavesdropping? Why is it so hard to simply acknowledge that people driven by fear do horrendously bad things that have no real positive effects?”

    I’m not sure how you’re using “positive effects” here. Contrasted with the torture reference, I feel like it’s a comment on the utility of the information. And it seems like it would be very useful to the community to know this information. And fairly easily defended on that count.

  109. Obama’s too smart to be caught like that. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t doing much the same (enemies list, dirty tricks, conspiring, obstruction of justice, etc.). There just aren’t tapes or a paper trail. I wonder how many email account Val Jerrett has? It seems like everyone else over there has 2 or 3 off the record accounts.

    Still off topic.

  110. Obama’s too smart to be caught like that. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t doing much the same (enemies list, dirty tricks, conspiring, obstruction of justice, etc.). There just aren’t tapes or a paper trail. I wonder how many email account Val Jerrett has? It seems like everyone else over there has 2 or 3 off the record accounts.

    Oh, good. More imaginary evidence. You can insist that the absence of evidence is evidence but that does not force the real world to pay any attention.

    Still off topic.

    That’s not really your decision to make, is it? You brought up a historical comparison to the current situation (and topic of the post) and we’re discussing the inadequacy of that comparison.

  111. Know what I notice, jimbot? You keep on saying “we’re off topic” after you make your next point. If you were sincere about the topicality of the discussion, you’d just post “OK, this is way off topic, so I’m going to leave it there” after David made his point, and without saying anything further on the off-topic topic.

    As it is, it looks more like you’re just using topicality to get the last word.

  112. @ David

    When you spend time and thread space ridiculing other people’s typos, it makes you look like you’ve run out of substantive rebuttals, even if, as in this case, you have not. We can all see jimbot’s spelling errors. No one respects a grammar nazi. I humbly suggest focusing on jimbot’s Nixonian misconceptions.

    @Other Bill

    Are you arguing that the national security orgs are not actively pursuing a counter intel/counter terrorism agenda?

    I am telling you that they are doing a lot more than that, far exceeding their mandates, and entirely capable of both hunting the next wacko with a homemade bomb (quite poorly, I might add) and spying on people without probable cause.

    Terrorism is a much smaller threat than conventional un-politically-motivated murder, yet no one suggests we preemptively investigate everyone in case they’re planning on some day murdering someone. If the massively overinflated threat of terrorism justifies unconstitutional laws and universal surveillance of every American citizen (every world citizen, for that matter, as the internet is hardly confined to these United States), then murder rates alone would justify it. You could decide to kill someone someday. Why do you deserve privacy?

    On the other hand, the government has already killed many more people than you, and a significant subset of those were not justifiable homicide legally or morally. Yet the government is not offering to surrender its privacy. Why would you surrender your own and that of your fellow civilians without first demanding total government transparency? Could it be because surrendering privacy gives those to whom you surrender it immense power over you, and governments need privacy to function? If so, then why are you okay with giving such immense power to the government (and whoever inevitably eventually repeatedly else hacks them) over all of its citizens? Did you miss the last six recorded millennia of governments abusing their powers over their citizens?

    A government exists to serve its citizens.
    Citizens do not exist to serve their government.

  113. OtherBill: I’m not sure how you’re using “positive effects” here.

    Did anything positive come out of torturing people at Abu Graib? Gitmo? Baghram? Turkey? Insert CIA black site of your choice? No.

    Did anything positive come from Prism? Echelon? J. Edgar Hoover? No.

    The point of your statement “I have trouble accepting the argument that something is simultaneously so destructive to our privacy … but is also an ineffective” appeared to be that you disbelieve that the government could do something that is both abhorrent and ineffective. So the point of “positive effects” was to highlight that torture was ineffective. (I assume I didn’t need to prove that torture was also abhorrent.) Therefore torture as instituted by the US government from Bush Jr, to Cheney, all the way down to some Private in Abu Graib, was ineffective and abhorrent, and yet, there it was as state policy.

    Other examples of abhorrent AND ineffective government behaviors include Japanese internment camps during ww2, Tuskegee syphillis experiment that occurred until the 1970’s, and so on.

    And it seems like it would be very useful to the community to know this information.

    useful to the community to eavesdrop? Or useful to the community to know if anything positive came from PRISM?

    Previously, you said: As described, it is legitimately a powerful tool. which I took to mean you think PRISM is somehow effective at something. Torture has been defended since 9/11 as somehow effective at something. It is defended even now as being somehow effective at something. Maybe something classified that we might not know about. Somewhere. In some black site. And yet, when one looks with an unbiased eye at what positive effects torture has produced, the answer is none. Even if we disregard the negative effects of torture, there are still zero positive effects.

    If there is objective, specific, detailed information about how PRISM was a “legitimately powerful tool”, I’d like to see it.

    When word of Gitmo started coming out and people defended it with vague handwaves about valuable intel we could only get from torture, people who actually know what they’re talking about called it bullshit. People like Ali Soufan and others, who had gotten actionable intel from normal interrogation methods just prior to the people they were questioning being taken away from them and tortured in Gitmo.

    And in the end, the actions of the state cannot be made in a vacuum. The cost/benefit of policy cannot be answered as “legitimate” even if it worked in some case. The cost/benefit must balance the immediate benefit with the immediate false positives, the immediate abuses, as well as the potential for long-term abuse. And this is nothing but a potential for long term abuse. J. Edgar Hoover was not the last government man to abuse surveilance. There will be more.

  114. When you spend time and thread space ridiculing other people’s typos, it makes you look like you’ve run out of substantive rebuttals, even if, as in this case, you have not. We can all see jimbot’s spelling errors. No one respects a grammar nazi. I humbly suggest focusing on jimbot’s Nixonian misconceptions.

    In some of his comments, the only thing worth focusing on are the misspellings.

    Oh, and:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8fbrUjjivw

  115. @David: Hadn’t seen that one yet…er, hadn’t yet seen that one. *chuckles* My advice would be to ignore those comments.

  116. OK. Susan Rice is in the only place where she can’t be supoena’d by congress. You think she’d be there otherwise? In only two weeks, they have discovered that the rogue IRS agents were actually following orders from DC. You want to give them another 2 months to find out who gave the orders from there? How about another 2 months to figure out who actually wrote the final copy of the talking points that Susan Rice spouted off on that Sunday, and that Pres. Obama used 2 weeks later at the UN? i’d like to hear from David Petraeus and the commander from Africa Command (who was also forced to retire http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/robbins-report/2012/oct/29/general-center-benghazi-gate-controversy-retiring/). How about hearing from some of the people actually on site during the attack?

    I have already posted a link on collusion between branches of government on just one of the non-profits on the enemies list.

    If the internet was around in May 1973, you would have found that Nixon’s poll numbers were better that Obama’s, and less people knew about Watergate then than people know about Obama’s scandals now. Give it another 2 months and you will see Pres Obama’s poll numbers down in Nixon territory.

  117. Gulliver:

    “I am telling you that they are doing a lot more than that, far exceeding their mandates, and entirely capable of both hunting the next wacko with a homemade bomb (quite poorly, I might add) and spying on people without probable cause.”

    It’s clear from the release that they *could* be doing this. But, it is not clear that they *are* doing this.

    “Terrorism is a much smaller threat than conventional un-politically-motivated murder”

    I don’t disagree with this. Do you agree that counter terrorism is an important and necessary function of the government/intelligence community? So, what level do you see as acceptable?

    “Why would you surrender your own and that of your fellow civilians without first demanding total government transparency?”

    I’m not sure what to say here. This seems to fundamentally rule out the ability to classify information. How does the intelligence community function by making its specific technical methods for data acquisition known? Not to mention what it knows about who. What level of transparency do you mean when you say total transparency?

    “Why do you deserve privacy?”

    My understanding of the reporting is that while they acquire this data, they still require additional oversight as it becomes relevant to active investigations. I found Andrea Mitchell’s interview of the DNI interesting. So, while government agents can abuse their access to databases there are guidelines and oversight applied and enforced to the use of the information. But, I don’t think anyone is arguing that there *can’t* be abuse this tool, or anything intelligence gathering tool, or any government power. Or, at the very least, I am not trying to argue that.

    I saw a survey referenced on CNN today that said that 56% of Americans polled favored the type of surveillance being described in the news. Who is to say if that’s accurate, I don’t think it was a Nate Silver poll. Nonetheless, I found that very interesting.

    @Greg:

    “appeared to be that you disbelieve that the government could do something that is both abhorrent and ineffective.”

    Well, no. I openly conceded – as any right thinking, normal American would (harhar) – that torture is abhorrent and ineffective and practiced. So, I feel the same about the others examples you mentioned, as well.

    Stripping the issue of morals, torture has been roundly debunked as ineffective means of acquiring information. Right? Signals Intelligence has a pretty solid record of utility. Additionally, based on what they’re reporting, being able to know things like where a phone has gone and what other numbers that phone has called and what numbers those phones have called clearly allows for actionable information. That gives you cells and networks, their whereabouts and possibly even a hierarchy to their organization. Potentially even some insight into their possible plans.

    Meta data is abundantly proven to provide amazing insight into what and where people are doing things.

    If you are arguing that having access to this information is ineffective, you are completely demonstrably wrong. One of the objections to this type of surveillance is precisely because meta data is so identifying. You almost don’t need the content of a phone call.

    Morally speaking, I think you’ve got a long way to go to suggest that the actual torture and imprisonment without trial of human beings is analogous to the lawful, judicially reviewed oversight of an intelligence gathering operation.

    “useful to the community to eavesdrop? Or useful to the community to know if anything positive came from PRISM?”

    Um, I meant the first. But, the second is just as true.

    “The cost/benefit must balance the immediate benefit with the immediate false positives, the immediate abuses, as well as the potential for long-term abuse. And this is nothing but a potential for long term abuse. J. Edgar Hoover was not the last government man to abuse surveilance. There will be more.”

    I don’t particularly disagree with this sentiment. But, what I’m suggesting is that this leak of information does not self-evidentially represent an abuse of power by the government agencies involved. I also think some specificity on the term abuse is useful here.

    What qualifies, in the case of the Verizon/PRISM reporting, as abuse?

  118. @jimbot No, they haven’t (IRS), and I’m impressed that you can’t tell the difference “wrote inaccurate talking points” and “used the CIA to impede the FBI’s investigation of the felony you are covering up.”

    Actually, “impressed” is the wrong word.

  119. @Other Bill

    It’s clear from the release that they *could* be doing this. But, it is not clear that they *are* doing this.

    Claiming that data about communications isn’t part of private communication and so doesn’t fall under the Fourth Amendment isn’t being done for shits and giggles.

    Do you agree that counter terrorism is an important and necessary function of the government/intelligence community? So, what level do you see as acceptable?

    The level that respects due process by requiring investigators to present probable cause to a judge before gathering people’s private information.

    This seems to fundamentally rule out the ability to classify information. How does the intelligence community function by making its specific technical methods for data acquisition known? Not to mention what it knows about who. What level of transparency do you mean when you say total transparency?

    I was perhaps unclear. I don’t in fact demand total government transparency precisely because governments do need to keep secrets to function. And their citizens need privacy to protect their civil rights against the power with which we must entrust governments. Insisting that citizens give up that privacy without probable cause is absurd. It weakens citizens and strengthens governmental power of individuals regardless of whether they are suspected of wrongdoing. Information is power. Asking citizens to give their government increasingly greater power of search and seizure over them is as absurd as asking governments to surrender their own power to keep secrets.

    But, I don’t think anyone is arguing that there *can’t* be abuse this tool, or anything intelligence gathering tool, or any government power. Or, at the very least, I am not trying to argue that.

    The question is whether it weakens the citizenry to criticize, redress and generally take the government to task when they do abuse it. The answer is yes. This isn’t only a tool for gathering intelligence, it’s a tool for gathering intelligence on citizens that have done nothing to merit having their privacy removed. Lots of people like to talk about how privacy is a recent invention (as if that made it somehow unworthwhile) or how people will be fine once all privacy is gone. I promise you that every one of those people has secrets they keep from someone.

    I saw a survey referenced on CNN today that said that 56% of Americans polled favored the type of surveillance being described in the news. Who is to say if that’s accurate, I don’t think it was a Nate Silver poll.

    Even if it was accurate – and I’ve studied enough statistics to know how easy it is to cook results, whether by observer bias, poll wording, sample selection (intentional or inadvertent) or a half dozen other factors readers are rarely let in on outside of scientific studies – we do not, thank all that is Holy and Rational – live in a direct democracy. We live in a republic with a constitutionally-limited representative democracy. 56% don’t automatically get to decide for the other 44%.

    Signals Intelligence has a pretty solid record of utility.

    Only when it is targeted. There is no magic algorithm for pulling nefarious call-patterns from the background. No machine can make independent moral judgments. As I said, this is not intelligence gathering. It’s database building. Believe me, I spent most of the last decade building and selling tools for analyzing data, and many of my customers were government agencies, state and federal. I was quite good at what I did. There’s a lot you can do with pattern analysis. Morality judgment is not one of them. A computer cannot tell the difference between a crime and a game. Even if that changes some day, the presumption of guilt indelible to sifting through everyone’s garbage is simply too high a price to pay for a small portion of uncertain security. And, in the long run, it would make us less safe as society, for it would devolve police into security guards, detective work into watching everyone all the time and waiting for a machine to spit out suspicion.

    What qualifies, in the case of the Verizon/PRISM reporting, as abuse?

    Removing due process is abuse of power. That’s why it’s called due process, as opposed to privileged process or maybe if your lucky process. Removing that cornerstone civil right that we’ve fought tooth and nail for a hundred years to bring to every American regardless of creed, color or sex, would vastly lower the barriers preventing further abuses of power. The Fourth Amendment doesn’t cease to apply just because the Founders didn’t call information about information metadata.

  120. OtherBill: What qualifies, in the case of the Verizon/PRISM reporting, as abuse?

    Well, if you believe Edward Snowden, he says, among other things:

    “the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.”

    and

    Whenever we had a debate in the office on how to handle crimes, they do not defend due process – they defend decisive action. They say it is better to kick someone out of a plane than let these people have a day in court.

    The other thing is that even if this was approved by the legislative and executive branches, that doesn’t mean it will stand up to the judicial branch. You’re defense of prism appears to boil down to (1) it was “legal” in that congress/president approved it, regardless of whether it is actually constitutional and would stand up in court and (2) it isn’t bad as long as nothing bad happens.

    (1) seems to miss the point of separation of powers. and (2) seems to have the attitude that one can merely shut the barn door after the cows have gotten out and think that will fix the damage.

    Rather, I say the point is that given how we have been committing war crimes for the last decade on a grand scale, all the way from Abu Graib to the White House, it would seem entirely justified to assume the worse is happening and reign things in, rather than wait until we’ve completed our transformation into a brutal authoritarian regime before realizing that things like the 4th ammendment and other such safeguards actually exist for a reason.

    It is reminiscent of the greed and avarice of the 80’s and 90’s stripping away all the protections and regulatiosn put in place immediately after the Great Depression. These aren’t safeguards against any real threat, the argument goes, they’re merely roadblocks to successful busniesspeople making a profit. And unless you can prove ssomething would go wrong, we should get rid of these obstructions to capitalism. And then the biggest crash since teh Great Depression is the result, and by that point, it’s too fucking late to put the safeguards back in place to make any fucking difference.

    Signals Intelligence has a pretty solid record of utility.

    J. Edgar fucking Hoover.

    How the HELL do you say “signal intel has a solid record” and fucking overlook the top FBI guy abusing signal intel for half a century to build his own impervious empire??? You don’t get to cherry pick the successes and ignore the most blatant and horrendous abuses without having your biases exposed.

  121. @ Gulliver:

    “Claiming that data about communications isn’t part of private communication and so doesn’t fall under the Fourth Amendment isn’t being done for shits and giggles.”

    Sentimentally, I agree with you. But, based on the reporting in this case, they aren’t just claiming. It has Legislative, Judicial and Executive oversight.

    “There is no magic algorithm for pulling nefarious call-patterns from the background. No machine can make independent moral judgments. As I said, this is not intelligence gathering. It’s database building. Believe me, I spent most of the last decade building and selling tools for analyzing data, and many of my customers were government agencies, state and federal. I was quite good at what I did. There’s a lot you can do with pattern analysis. Morality judgment is not one of them.”

    To a certain extent, intelligence gathering IS database building. If you aren’t properly archiving your gathered information, it can’t be used to develop deeper pictures of the network you’re interested in. Why do you think they want that software? You need data to do pattern analysis. But, I’m skeptical that given the work hours I imagine are required to pull information and create products it’s unlikely that they’re building profiles on American citizens just to build maps of their like, for example, their political allies.

    And even if they were, these things *are* illegal. What’s been presented is not. Whether you think it’s morally right or wrong or an appropriate interpretation of the 4th Amendment, what’s been described so far is not illegal.

    The data exists. Verizon already has all this information. Google already has this information. If examination of my data requires probable cause (which it appears to) and oversight (which based on the DNI interview, it appears to) along with rules and regulations about how the government is allowed to look at this data, what difference does it make? I think that’s how people tend to see it. Which is why….

    “56% don’t automatically get to decide for the other 44%.”

    Well, not everything. But, yes. I agree with this paragraph. I wasn’t including it because I think popular opinion should decide civil rights or that a single unexamined poll is holy writ. I was including it because it notionally lends some credence to the supposition that this program is something that Americans tend to support. Which is significant, no?

  122. this program is something that Americans tend to support. Which is significant, no?

    May 2003, just months after the invasion of Iraq, a gallup poll found 79% of americans thought the Iraq War was justified.

    Are those numbers not similarly “significant”?

    Are those numbers not equally meaningless when compared to the morality of the events?

  123. Greg:

    “J. Edgar fucking Hoover…How the HELL do you say “signal intel has a solid record” and fucking overlook the top FBI guy abusing signal intel for half a century to build his own impervious empire??? You don’t get to cherry pick the successes and ignore the most blatant and horrendous abuses without having your biases exposed.”

    Utility and abuse are not mutually exclusive. The power to abuse increases with the utility or power of a tool. Dude. I haven’t once said that abuse is not an issue. And I haven’t said that abuse is impossible. What I’ve pointed out is that none of what’s been disclosed is technically an abuse of the law. Which is relevant and significant.

    “The other thing is that even if this was approved by the legislative and executive branches, that doesn’t mean it will stand up to the judicial branch.”

    Well, the FISA court is judicial review, right? Here, as reported, they *are* using judicial review and somehow that means there’s been no judicial review.

    “Well, if you believe Edward Snowden, he says, among other things…”

    I found the first bit you mention to be very interesting. But, still too vague for my taste. The second bit I found to be meh. But, that’s the road towards specifics. I mean, the guy says he’s a whistle blower, but the documented evidence provided is a reveal of a lawful, judicially reviewed program. The interview dialogue is heavily disputed by the corporations mentioned and the government.

    But, perhaps that’s what Glenn Greenwald is talking about when he says there is more to come. Hence all of the qualifiers of as reported.

    “(1) seems to miss the point of separation of powers. and (2) seems to have the attitude that one can merely shut the barn door after the cows have gotten out and think that will fix the damage.”

    Well, Congress writes the law and the Executive Branch enforces it. Sooo, (1) qualified as you have it still represents a reasonable amount of separation of powers and checks and balances. But, again, there IS judicial review. So, I’m not sure that separation of powers is the issue here.

    (2), well. I don’t think that because nothing bad has happened that it is predictive. It could absolutely be abused. Totally agree. But, considering the amount of review and oversight described, I find that to be a compelling counterargument to concerns over evidence which does not present actual unlawful behavior.

    “Are those numbers not equally meaningless when compared to the morality of the events?”

    Well, I’ve already said I separate morality and popular opinion.

  124. OtherBill: Well, I’ve already said I separate morality and popular opinion.

    Well, there’s you’re problem. In May of 2003, people would be pointing the absolute immorality of the Iraq war and you’d be pointing to opinion polls showing massive support for the war as meaning something “significant”. The Iraq war was immoral when it was popular and when it was unpopular. Pointing to the polls is as “significant” as saying “everyone else is doing it”, and just as irrelevant. It is nothing but a distraction.

    The only thing that matters is that this program is dangerous and immoral. The lack of prior public outrage only explains how we got here, not that this is the just or right place to be.

    The only reasons I can imagine you’re invoking the “everyone else is doing it” distraction is because you support this level of surveillance but don’t want to say as much, or you did support it but now regret it and this is like Republicans who voted for Bush trying to spread the blame for the Iraq war by pointing to the AUMF vote, or you don’t support it but you need something to numb the urge to do anything about it, or get too upset about it. Like Scalzi said, it’s hard to be outraged for an entire decade.

    Whatever the reason, the lack of public outrage about a thing is irrelevant to the morality of the thing. This level of surveillance is simply wrong.

  125. Greg:

    “The only thing that matters is that this program is dangerous and immoral. The lack of prior public outrage only explains how we got here, not that this is the just or right place to be. … Whatever the reason, the lack of public outrage about a thing is irrelevant to the morality of the thing.”

    Alternately, I’m pointing to the significance of the public support of a lawful program because one of the checks available to such a program involves Congress extracting the information aggressively due to public pressure to get the details and take action. Given that they write the laws AND run in popular elections it’s notably significant. Particularly in this specific case, as reported, where no criminal or judicial actions will have the desired effect since it’s both legal AND judicially reviewed.

    I don’t think that’s a distraction. I think Team Politics Outrage is a distraction though. Which, if you review my thoughts here in this thread, is where I started. And in a conversation where the primary concern is moral, since it’s ostensibly legal with judicial review, it’s useful to move away from objections based on the constitutionality of the program. Because where can those go?

    Although, I would be genuinely interested to hear about the technical details of 4th Amendment rulings. But, as I understand it it’s solid ground. I admit I’m not a SCOTUS 4th Amendment/FISA rulings expert. I’m definitely out of my depth there. Hence the interest in hearing more about that.

  126. So, the upshot of your conversation gentlemen is that we all must wait to see what the Supreme Court will rule when presented with this issue on a 4th amendment challenge? Right? If the Executive branch has truly over-reached the intent of the post-911 anti-terrorism legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President, then the Court’s ruling will reel the Executive branch back into line with the Constitution. Or so we hope. I am good with that.

  127. https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/10/data_mining_for_1.html

    For why this power doesn’t actually prevent anything bad from happening. Why it will likely never give a warning of a terrorist attack – and why the US Government says so.

    And yet it persists, because it’s a “feel good gesture.” “We’re doing something!”

    And building up a huge database.

    Just remember, it’s your civic duty to browse the most horrific thing you can every thirty minutes or so. Every time you make the NSA flinch, you’re buying valuable seconds of privacy for a fellow citizen.

    I protested in 2001. I protested in 2005. I protested in 2008.

    Now, I just profiteer. Do a google search for “KEEP CALM and STAY DOCILE.”

  128. OtherBill: Congress extracting the information aggressively due to public pressure to get the details and take action.

    Except the Judicial Branch, free from public pressure, is often the check against a majority population, operating from fear, trampling the rights of everyone else.

    I said before that the only thing “significant” about the lack of public outrage over this is that it explains how we got into this mess. It says absolutely nothing about the morality or effectiveness of the program. 70% supported the invasion of Iraq in May 2003. And it was neither moral nor effective.

    You keep pointing to the majority as if it means something more than that.

    I don’t think that’s a distraction. I think Team Politics Outrage is a distraction though.

    First of all, “everyone else is doing it” is a distraction for addressing the morality of the thing. Second of all, I’m not playing “team politics”. I voted tactically for Obama because he was better than Romney. But as far as I’m concerned, Obama’s track record since getting into office has been only a slightly better grade of shit than we would have gotten othewise.

    Obama swept all the war crimes of the last decade under the rug. Romney would have done exactly the same thing. Obama has drawn down Iraq troops because the Iraqi government refused to allow us to stay past the agreement they made with Bush. Romney would have done exactly the same thing. Obama has expanded the drone program, expanded and made official the policy about assiassinating american citizens without due process, failed to close Gitmo, expanded Baghram, and declared any male over 15 years old to automatically be an enemy combatant when killed by a drone. Romney would have done absolutely no different. Obama supports Prism. Romney would be no different.

    When it comes to matters of power projection, Obama has embraced the policy of I’m-afraid-therefore-unchecked-power-makes-me-feel-safe. No different from Bush before him. No different than what Romney would have done either.

    The difference is that a lot of Right wingers were cheerleading and chest thumping as we waterboarded our way into a quagmire in Iraq, and now that a democrat is in the white house, they suddenly think that 4 dead americans in Benghazi is the biggest war crime of the last hundred years. That, I agree, is Team Politics. But that’s not what I’m doing.

  129. Greg:

    “Except the Judicial Branch, free from public pressure, is often the check against a majority population, operating from fear, trampling the rights of everyone else.”

    I agree with this. But, I’m discounting it in this case because the program does appear to be judicially reviewed.

    “First of all, “everyone else is doing it” is a distraction for addressing the morality of the thing.

    The significance of the popularity is relevant to the extent that popularly elected politicians tend to respond to popular opinions. I am not addressing the morality of the issue based on the popularity. I’ve said as much directly several times now. If you think my point conflicts with those direct statements, then please lay that out for me. But, as it stands, I think you’re misreading what I’m saying. Particularly when it comes to your second point.

    “Second of all, I’m not playing “team politics”.”

    I’m not accusing you of playing team politics. If you reread my last post, you’ll see that I was noting that pushing back against Team Politics is what started me on this thread. I don’t think that’s what you’re doing here.

    “When it comes to matters of power projection, Obama has embraced the policy of I’m-afraid-therefore-unchecked-power-makes-me-feel-safe. No different from Bush before him. No different than what Romney would have done either.”

    I agree Romney and Obama would have done the same. I don’t think it’s fear based on *their* part. I do think it’s fear based on the part of the citizens. Look at the pushback on the FBI after the Boston incident for failing to perpetually survey the Tsarnaevs (one of who was a full US citizen) after the Russians (!) called him a terrorist for being ethnically Chechen. Even though they said they investigated and found nothing significant.

    Additionaly, based on the reporting here, I’m not sure I agree that this is unchecked power on the part of the executive branch. I agree that this is a thing that exists and is relevant in other areas. But, so far I don’t see the case for *unchecked* power here.

  130. The NSA did this all wrong in my opinion. All they needed to do was offer a free, advertisement free, public email client with a few terabytes of cloud storage, and a advert free social networking component, and people would have handed over all their private information without prompting.

  131. OtherBill: I am not addressing the morality of the issue based on the popularity. I’ve said as much directly several times now. If you think my point conflicts with those direct statements, then please lay that out for me.

    If a person disagrees with this program, disagrees with the NSA spying on pretty much every American citizen without a warrant, then whether or not there has been outrage to stop it up until this point is irrelevant.

    It might be one thing if you said you think the program is wrong and point to current polls to explain how we got here.

    But you don’t. You don’t make much of a point of going out of your way to just come out and say this kind of program is wrong. Rather you spedn quite a lot of energy playing verbal jujitsu and deflecting from the morality of the program (the important bit) and turning the conversation in some other direction.

    For ex: Do you agree that counter terrorism is an important and necessary function of the government/intelligence community?

    So what? That’s not the goddamn point. That’s exactly the kind of argument that people make tryign to defend torture. Implicit in that sort of argument is the idea that breaking the constitution is the only way to be safe. It’s not. This question deflects as much as questioning whether a person criticizing torture sufficiently loves their country or not.

    For ex: So, what level do you see as acceptable? I’m not sure what to say here. This seems to fundamentally rule out the ability to classify information. How does the intelligence community function by making its specific technical methods for data acquisition known?

    Again, this doesn’t come out and say it, but is gestures strongly in the direction of “the only way we can survive is if we get rid of all transparency in our government”.

    You also repeatedly distract with the idea that this program is “legal”, without so much as an acknowledment that Bush’s torture program has been argued repeatedly that it was and is “legal”.

    The entire reason we don’t call the prisoners of war we hold in Gitmo prisoners of war, and instead call them “detainees” is because some believe that so long as we don’t call them POW’s, then we don’t have to treat them in accordance with the Geneva Convention that we signed.

    You have spent a lot of energy deflecting, and very little energy actually addressing the heart of the issue: the fact that this program is abhorrent.

    Bruce Schneier, as always, sums it up well.

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/06/government_secr.html

    we learn, again and again, that our government regularly classifies things not because they need to be secret, but because their release would be embarrassing. … Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal — or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law — but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we’re living in a police state.

    His article has a link to this EFF site, but its worth reposting:

    https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/timeline

  132. Greg:

    “You don’t make much of a point of going out of your way to just come out and say this kind of program is wrong. Rather you spend quite a lot of energy playing verbal jujitsu and deflecting from the morality of the program (the important bit) and turning the conversation in some other direction.”

    I spent time pushing back against objections based on Team Politics, lawfulness and unchecked power. None of those address the morality of the program. And, none of them are particularly useful to having a productive conversation about this specific issue, wherein: this is a government power issue, not Obama or Bush; it is lawful; and while powerfully expansive, it is checked. I’m deflecting *those* arguments, not the argument about the morality of it.
    “You also repeatedly distract with the idea that this program is “legal”, without so much as an acknowledment that Bush’s torture program has been argued repeatedly that it was and is “legal”. “

    My understanding of this is that judicial review is represented in FISA court oversight and that the legality of it is founded in actual written law specifying this type of collection and oversight. As opposed to a memo issued by the White House legal counsel and cosigned by the AG, or vice versa.

    Where torture is clearly not legal and was boldly obfuscated by ridiculous legalese, this program appears to be genuinely lawful. This statement has nothing to do with the morality of it and very much to do with having a conversation that can go somewhere in terms of acting in response to the disclosed information.

    Regarding your two examples:
    The context of this was me trying to figure the extent to which Gulliver was arguing his position. I genuinely wasn’t sure how extensive his objection was and so I was asking questions to figure that out.

    I don’t mind breaking into the points you mention in those examples, provided you understand the following:

    “You have spent a lot of energy deflecting, and very little energy actually addressing the heart of the issue: the fact that this program is abhorrent.”

    Look, I’ve spent maybe 5k words talking about this issue here. If my belief that this is an important discussion isn’t self evident, then you know.

    If a conversation with you requires me to state, unqualified, that I agree entirely with your position on the abhorrence of this program and that it is exactly the same as torture, then we should not talk about it. Because, at the very least, there’s no conversation beyond that.

    At the very most, if you’re concerned I’m not conversing in good faith, then fine. Let’s not talk. I think I’ve given ample evidence in this thread that I’m discussing this in good faith, and in prior conversations with you. If you question that, then that’s okay. It really is.
    Please note my continued use of the word “conversation”. I’m not arguing. I’m not fighting. I’m not trying to change minds. I’m interested in conversing about this issue in a way that explores it. As such, I’ve found this to be a productive conversation in general and I’m not going to spend my time defending that to you in a non-mandatory voluntary participation environment.

  133. OtherBill: This statement has nothing to do with the morality of it and very much to do with having a conversation that can go somewhere

    Why do you keep acting as if pointing out the immorality of this program can’t “go somewhere”?

    It’s not like you state this in terms of your opinion or in terms of the kinds of conversations you’re intersted in having. You state it as if it were an absolute linguistic fact. And it’s just not true.

    For example:

    Torture is abhorrently immoral. And we don’t call the people in Gitmo POW’s because POW’s have to be treated a certain way according to the Geneva Convention that we signed. We call them “detainees” and pretend like that has any fucking legal difference.

    See? Pointing out the immorality of a thing doesn’t preclude a conversation about the facts and history and future of the thing.

    You’re relating to morality as something it’s not.

  134. Greg, there are things you must and must not do to be accorded POW status according to the Geneva Conventions. It’s not automatically awarded because you’ve been captured. There is a huge legal difference.

  135. Greg:

    “Why do you keep acting as if pointing out the immorality of this program can’t “go somewhere”?”

    I feel like there’s a miscommunication going on here. I really don’t understand where this question is coming from. The following gets into why I feel like we might be agreeing from different directions.

    Pretty much everything that I’ve discussed comes down to the idea that the problem seen here is a value judgement on what the government should and should not be able to do. The legality of it has nothing to do with the morality of it.

    The objections I’ve responded to are branches of a conversation I want to try and clip off to avoid getting lost in irrelevant weeds and instead push to what the core issue is: a moral/values judgement on what the government should or should not be able to do. It doesn’t appear to be illegal, there’s no reporting that it is actively abused, it doesn’t appear to be unregulated and it may not be unconstitutional. If you take away those avenues of objection, I’m pointing directly to a value judgement.

    So, it is a value judgement. I’ll be interested to see where the ACLU lawsuit goes, but I’m skeptical that it will be successful in terms of stopping the program. So, if – as I previously stipulated my agreement that it is the customary route especially for moral issues in which the people do not favor change – the the outcome of a judicial review for this legal/moral conundrum does not appear to be favorable for those concerned with privacy, what do you do to rectify your concerns?

    Hence the discussion about what the public seems to think. If the public was overwhelmingly opposed, Congress would start hearings and drag the truth out of the Executive Branch. But, the public isn’t overwhelmingly opposed.

    So. Morality/personal values are the issue. What do you do?

  136. htom: There is a huge legal difference.

    Bush and company didn’t call them “detainees” because they were concerned with following the “huge legal issues” of the Geneva Convention. They invented the word “detainee” as a handwave to pretend that this re-labeling somehow magically meant they could commit war crimes in the form of torture.

    OtherBill: Morality/personal values are the issue. What do you do?

    Saying “Morality/personal values are the issue.” isn’t the same as saying “This program is immoral”. If you want to have a conversation that explores this, then one place to explore is your own personal moral compass. I’m saying this program is immoral. What do you say about it?

    If you want to know what I’m going to do about it, then that’s a strange question coming from someone who just said you’re “not trying to change minds.”

    If the public was overwhelmingly opposed, Congress would start hearings and drag the truth out of the Executive Branch. But, the public isn’t overwhelmingly opposed.

    Sometimes the only thing to do is to publicly object to the thing your government is doing in your name. Even if you’re in the minority at the moment, it still matters. Because if it is government by the people of the people, then all the people have to have their say. Public dissent is important. Probably more important than voting every couple of years.

    So, that’s what you can do. You can dissent. You can say “This program is abhorrent”. And even if it doesn’t change what the govenrment does or change what people think, you’ve done your part as one of the people behind government of the people.

  137. I’m more than a bit late to this party, but it’s the “related note” that gets to me on this one. This kind of surveillance from government organizations is often described alongside the privacy that we give up willingly (though sometimes socially coerced) to corporations, and to me, that’s a bit of a false equivalence.

    I’m neck-deep in a lot of corporate atmospheres, between google, apple, facebook and various supermarket discount cards, I realize I put a lot of information out there. But to me, that’s my trade-off for the services rendered by these organizations. I give them personal information, they provide me with some really, really wonderful utility. But the adage of “if you don’t pay for it, you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.” just doesn’t work when governmental organizations are concerned, because we do pay for that. I’m fine letting my personal information be part of google’s product, like you said, they keep me from getting lost when I’m driving. But google doesn’t automatically get part of my paycheck.

  138. I, too, am very late to the party here, but I do have a couple of things I’d like to say:

    1. I agree entirely with those saying that we shouldn’t be surprised by this. I was surprised, at first, but that was because I had forgotten all the warning signs, and I had continued to take Obama at his word long after it was clear that his word was no good. We should, however, be outraged about this. This IS our own government doing wholesale spying on its own people, on top of arresting its own people without cause and holding them without trial, and occasionally torturing and assassinating them, too. This is NOT COOL.

    2. Let’s not let the legality of this one slide. The laws that permit this activity are in violation of other, more essential laws. This, too, should be no surprise to us, but it should be a cause for outrage. Also: some of the law involved is literally being kept secret (see: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/06/government-says-secret-court-opinion-law-underlying-prism-program-needs-stay ). Some secrets can be justified, but not secret law. We MUST be allowed to know the rules we’re playing by.

    3. That being said, we’ve got a long uphill battle to get back the privacy that has been taken from us. We cannot expect the spooks to hold off spying on us while this matter gets settled; for that matter, we cannot expect them to hold off spying even when they have been expressly forbidden to do so. In short, if you want the privacy that is your right, you’ve got to fight for it. It’s wrong, it’s unfair, and it’s the reality we’ve got right now. So, here’s a handy resource if you’re looking for one:
    https://www.wefightcensorship.org/online-survival-kithtml.html

    And one more thing:
    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/06/the-dirty-little-secret-about-nsa-spying-it-doesnt-work.html

  139. Greg: I got busy for for a couple days and I think I’ve lost the thread of the conversation. I think we can table this until the next it’s relevant. Which I’m sure will be sooner than later depending on how the multiple impending lawsuits go.

Comments are closed.