Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday Post #1: The most important news story since Watergate.

If you follow our twitter feed, you know we have had a keen interest in the PRISM whistleblower story going on in the United States right now.

This may well be THE most important news story since Watergate in the early 1970s.

The very idea that a government organization has been collecting information for seven years on every phone call, domestic and international, that Americans make was long rumoured and dismissed as the ramblings of the tin foil hat crowd.

Warrants for wiretaps? Constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure by government agents? Silly formalities the conspiracy theorists alleged.

But it turns out these aren't the ramblings of wing nuts.

 It turns out it's all true.

The NSA has recorded and logged every phone call, every email, every internet post you have made and stored it. They have done this with the implicit support (and granted access by) organizations such as Facebook and Google.

It's all been saved, waiting for the day you come under 'suspicion' of having done 'something' in the future.  At which point all of this data will be brought up and analyzed.

As investigative journalists report on what whistleblowers are telling us, the growing awareness of the intrusions of America's National Security Agency (NSA) into the everyday lives of Americans is of profound significance.

If you haven't been following this story, go to this link for a video interview with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: 'I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things'

From The Guardian newspaper, an editorial by the author of The Pentagon Paper titled "Edward Snowden: saving us from the United Stasi of America":
In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden's whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an "executive coup" against the US constitution.

Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under Fisa – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: "It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp."

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

The fact that congressional leaders were "briefed" on this and went along with it, without any open debate, hearings, staff analysis, or any real chance for effective dissent, only shows how broken the system of checks and balances is in this country.

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people's privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

There are legitimate reasons for secrecy, and specifically for secrecy about communications intelligence. That's why Bradley Mannning and I – both of whom had access to such intelligence with clearances higher than top-secret – chose not to disclose any information with that classification. And it is why Edward Snowden has committed himself to withhold publication of most of what he might have revealed.

But what is not legitimate is to use a secrecy system to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse. Neither the president nor Congress as a whole may by themselves revoke the fourth amendment – and that's why what Snowden has revealed so far was secret from the American people.

In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:

"I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."

The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America's intelligence gathering capability – which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era – "at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left."

That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former "democratic republic" of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.

So we have fallen into Senator Church's abyss. The questions now are whether he was right or wrong that there is no return from it, and whether that means that effective democracy will become impossible. A week ago, I would have found it hard to argue with pessimistic answers to those conclusions.

But with Edward Snowden having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage – in the public, in Congress, in the executive branch itself – I see the unexpected possibility of a way up and out of the abyss.

Pressure by an informed public on Congress to form a select committee to investigate the revelations by Snowden and, I hope, others to come might lead us to bring NSA and the rest of the intelligence community under real supervision and restraint and restore the protections of the bill of rights.

Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans' and foreign citizens' privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we're trying to protect.


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  1. Doesn't the massive expansion of the Surveillance Society date back to (at the very least) The Patriot Act of 2001? So that happened back when Bush Jr. was President....remember him?

    Also, pretty much everybody in the US Congress - save a few brave souls - voted in favour of the legislation...

    Some highlights (from Wikipedia, natch):

    "...Title II (Patriot Act) is titled "Enhanced Surveillance Procedures", and covers all aspects of the surveillance of suspected terrorists, those suspected of engaging in computer fraud or abuse, and agents of a foreign power who are engaged in clandestine activities. It primarily made amendments to FISA, and the ECPA, and many of the most controversial aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act reside in this title. In particular, the title allows government agencies to gather "foreign intelligence information" from both U.S. and non-U.S. citizens, and changed FISA to make gaining foreign intelligence information the significant purpose of FISA-based surveillance, where previously it had been the primary purpose...

    ...The scope and availability of wiretapping and surveillance orders were expanded under Title II. Wiretaps were expanded to include addressing and routing information to allow surveillance of packet switched networks[35] — the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) objected to this, arguing that it does not take into account email or web addresses, which often contain content in the address information.[36] The Act allowed any district court judge in the United States to issue such surveillance orders[35] and search warrants for terrorism investigations.[37] Search warrants were also expanded, with the Act amending Title III of the Stored Communications Access Act to allow the FBI to gain access to stored voicemail through a search warrant, rather than through the more stringent wiretap laws...

    ... Subpoenas issued to Internet Service Providers were expanded to include not only "the name, address, local and long distance telephone toll billing records, telephone number or other subscriber number or identity, and length of service of a subscriber" but also session times and durations, types of services used, communication device address information (e.g. IP addresses), payment method and bank account and credit card numbers...."

    I think the message here is that NOBODY can have an expectation or presumption of anonymity or privacy when using any form of electronic communications. If they do then they're just being naive...

    1. Naive... Yes, that's the word.

  2. The American Republic died in the Appomattox battle and the American Democracy in Hiroshima and you stil didn't notice?
    Time to wake up, I guess

  3. "It turns out it's all true"

    No, it isn't.

    1. Quite the battle for public opinion on this within the pages of the New York Times itself. Just like the early days of Watergate...

  4. Neil Macdonald's take:

    Big Brother is listening in and no one seems to care. Repeat after me: You have nothing to worry about if you don't talk to terrorists
    By Neil Macdonald, CBC News
    Posted: Jun 10, 2013 5:17 AM ET

  5. It's amazing how gullible some people are. Clinton couldn't even get a blow job without everyone finding out. Even this program was blown (pun not intended) by a low level employee.

    Mass illegal spying by the US government on its own citizens is virtually impossible.

    1. "Mass illegal spying by the US government on its own citizens is virtually impossible."

      Say what? How is it impossible?

      Isn't this what the whole program was/is all about? When you have access to information it's quite easy

  6. ".........CSEC Capable Of Similar Surveillance: Experts"

    Really!.... ROFLMAO !!

  7. Anyone replying to a post like this and showing anything but enthusiastic support for our benevolent leaders rightful concern for our security have now been flagged for extra inspection to determine why they love the terrorists so much!

    For the record, I love and trust our government absolutely, and will fully support any and all further intrusions into our personal lives, up to and including identity chips implanted to be scanned at our doorsteps and every hundred meters thereafter and also getting permission to move, marry/divorce, have children, change jobs, try a new food (as long as it ain't foreign), change our bathroom routine (to safeguard against this subversive activity cameras will need to be installed).
    All in the glorious task of ensuring we remain safe from from the ignorant hordes of bad people who hate our freedom.

  8. I wonder why people are surprised? The Windows, Linux, Apple OSX computers that you all use have backdoors to surveillance agencies - they can log key strokes, retrieve any documents, take over the web cam, take screenshots - all without detection. Why? Because it is possible.

    1. That is a paranoid fantasy. Is it technically possible that there are back-doors in all of our computers and that the government is taking screenshots and logging keystrokes? Probably. Is it the case? I doubt it. Can you justify your certainty? No.