State Of Surveillance: PRISM & Other Driftnets
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Some of you out there may be shocked and dismayed that the NSA and the FBI as well as other “customers” in the IC world have been collecting vast amounts of data from sources like Verizon (telco) and Google (internet) sources. Others already knew this but perhaps did not understand the sheer scope of the hoovering that has been going on. Myself, well I have had an inkling since I read the manuals for the NARUS STA-6400 system back in 2003 I think it was. That system was the progenitor of what we are seeing now within not only PRISM but other as yet to be named projects. Suffice to say though that we are well and completely surveilled and we have ourselves to blame really. We elected these people into positions of power and we also have not taken enough steps to insure that our elected government is being ethical, moral, and legal in their actions.
These programs have been ongoing for some time now and it seems now they have become monsters that some even within the vast machine have decided are too big and too scary for the government to have control over without the public’s knowledge. Whoever leaked this information must have reached much the same conclusions that we all are now post the leaks that the government wields a set of tools that it should not be using without the approval of the governed who’s rights they are “encroaching” upon and for this I laud them. It is my personal feeling that the government and the LE as well as IC community have overstepped their bounds in this driftnet surveillance behemoth that they have built in the name of anti-terrorism. It is also my opinion that the number of plots allegedly broken up before going into action does not outweigh the constitutional rights that they are contravening to uncover and stop them.
Since the revelations on the wiretapping, metadata, and now internet content slurping we all have seen the reaction of the IC and the administration in response to them. What we have seen thus far has been a set of carefully worded speeches and ameliorating press releases hoping to quell our distrust in our leaders and these constitutionally questionable programs. The height of this for me was President Obama’s press meeting to address the issues where he uses language that basically says “ok yes you are right, your rights are being encroached upon but the benefits of this program outweigh your rights” This was a telling for me as the implication here is that the president, who is in fact alleged to be a constitutional scholar knows and admits that these programs are infringing on our fourth amendment right to privacy.
So what we have here is an administration that has not only carried on the programs and ideals of the previous piteously poor one but gone as far as to expand them for our “greater good” all the while increasing the classification of everything to protect their bad decisions from the public they claim to be protecting. This all may well have been done with good intentions but as “we the people” see it after the fact it comes off as overreach and Orwellian to say the least. In my world view having the power to do something is one thing if you have a sunlight policy that allows for some transparency but all of this is covered in a cloak of secrecy under the rubric that it is to protect us all from terrorism. While I can understand the need for operational security in anti-terrorism and intelligence work I cannot say that this data mining in the way it is being carried out outweighs the fundamental right to privacy that the Fourth Amendment affords all citizens. Furthermore all of the alleged oversight and controls that are in place over these programs may be best intentions but this is not to say that the programs cannot be abused or end run around by those in the chain of command to their own ends. Remember that it was Nixon who ordered the taps of enemies including the NSA as a means to that end until J. Edgar Hoover, out of a feeling of losing his own power, stopped the NSA by threatening to out the president and the program. So there is a history here to be cognizant of and that history is basically the aphorism; “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”
No matter the equivocations or couched and secretively worded explanations that this is all for “our good” the people have a right to reserve judgement as well as demand accounting on what is being done in their name by their duly elected government. The problems though for me are that all too many times the choices are classified, national security letters used to quash any resistance, and oversight by the people prevented with rhetoric over the greater good and this is wrong. The governed need to have a say in this and the government is not allowing that by classification and word play. Games of word semantics may be fun if it were just a game but when it comes to programs like PRISM it’s all really just sleight of hand and NLP to allow the government to do what it wants to, the most expedient thing, to protect the homeland (another nice NLP there by the way) from terror. I guess the question then becomes could this activity be carried out in a better and more transparent way that would still work against terrorism?
Look we know that communications are being watched. The terrorists know it too and have used tradecraft to protect their actions in the past. It’s really just common sense, so really do we need to keep it all a secret that we are collecting information? For that matter, do we need to really collect everything and sift through it to find that needle in the haystack as the press has been going on about? As I remember it the players have pretty much been known quantities even after the advent of the internet and the FISA court was a good tool in keeping the government on the straight and narrow with regard to taps and surveillance. In fact the FISA was set up to prevent another Nixon like abuse of the system. Now though it seems like the technology has outstripped the ability of a court like FISA to really watchdog the watchers and has become more of a lapdog than a pitbull. Remember that the FISA court was being end run quite a bit during the Bush administration because it held them up in their eyes. What then happened was the Patriot act and other mechanisms to make it easier for the LE’s and IC’s to just get what they wanted without a warrant, something we came to know as “warrantless wiretapping” or “roaming taps” where the FBI and others could just start surveillance without a warrant for up to 72 hours. It all began there really and down the primrose path we all went.
Frankly the Congress in my eyes went along with all of this because of a couple reasons. The first reason was fear. The second reason was fear of not being re-elected. Both of these reasons are no good and completely spineless. What has happened is that we went from a country of checks and balances to a country with few of either because you can’t check or balance that which has been classified as secret can you? Of course I also blame the populace as well for not being engaged in their governance as well but in cases like this it is much more about things being done in secret and not about us being disinterested. The telling thing will be what happens from here. Will the populace demand some sort of accountability? Will there be a groundswell of support for measures to insure the government is not abusing this power they have in collecting all this data? Or will we all go back to sleep collectively and settle in to watch Survivor and probe our navels? Things will remain status quo unless the populace speaks up and does something about it and if they do not it is my opinion that we will keep sinking further into a surveillance state.
Anger is what we need now and it is anger we should be feeling over all of these revelations this past week. I want you all out there to take a long look back at our country’s actions and laws since 9/11 and think. Do you really want to be represented to the world by the actions of total information awareness and prevarications by John Yoo that torture is acceptable as a common practice? Do you really trust that the government, law enforcement, and the IC’s will not overstep even more and abuse the system in place today for their own needs? Finally, do you really think that your government and those within it are that altruistic as to be all shining versions of Mr. Smith? I really don’t believe that you all think that that is the case so why would you just lay there and allow all this to go on without at least some kind of sunlight policy allowing the governed to know what the government is doing in their name or more to the point to the governed?
As for me well, I am just a dark bastard as some have called me. You might read this and think well that’s just him, but, I implore you all out there to take a step back and look at our history and the nature of human nature and then decide. I think you will all come to the same conclusion that this is the wrong path to be on. No matter how many times the players may tell you that the game is played fairly and for your protection ask yourselves and them to tell you how many times it has foiled a plot and saved us from ruin. If they say “well we can’t because it’s classified” then I want you to see them in a pair of plaid pants and white belt with matching shoes trying to sell you a car …because that is what they are doing.
Get angry and demand some transparency. Keep your eye on them because in fact you cannot trust them. Given the power to do what they like they will do so especially if there are no repercussions as it’s all classified. Alternatively though and in reality all you can do today is use encryption and take care with your communications if you do not want Uncle Sam and his pals to know about them. As I see it now they have a complete backdoor into everything and people start to use more encryption I would expect crypto to become a munition again….
But that’s just the dark bastard in me I guess…