Posts Tagged ‘Surveillance’

The new age of surveillance capitalism

May 13, 2019

There are two categories of Americans who are under constant surveillance.  One consists of paroled convicts and criminal defendants on bail who are under court order to wear electronic ankle bracelets.  The other consists of everybody.

That is what I took away from reading THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff, which came out earlier this year.

It’s about the prevalence of the new business of collecting information about people, usually without their knowledge, and using that information to shape their behavior.

If you have a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, it’s making floor plans of your house.  If you have an OnStar GPS system in your car, it’s taking notes on your driving habits.  If you have a Next thermostat, it’s recording your energy use patterns.  If your children play with Genesis toys, they’re recording your children’s behavior.

Technical experts in Canada, France and the Netherlands found that the Google Street View trucks were not only taking photographs, but using Wi-Fi to collect telephone numbers, credit information, passwords, e-mails, records of on-line dating, pornography, browsing behavior, medical information and video and audio files.

All this information has economic value.  In fact, according to Zuboff, it often has more value to the provider than the fee for the service itself.  What she calls “market capitalism,” where a business makes money by selling a product or a service, is being replaced by what she calls “surveillance capitalism,” where a business makes money by collecting, processing and using data to shape human behavior.

It’s been said that people who use social media and other Internet services, especially free ones, are the product, not the customer.  Zuboff said that, in fact, the users are not even the product; they are the raw material.   The product is the model of their behavior  derived from the data they provide.

Click to enlarge.

The frontier of surveillance capitalism is gathering up seemingly meaningless information—what is called “data exhaust” or “digital breadcrumbs”—and using machine intelligence to correlate this information with human emotion and behavior.

Machine intelligences are not sentient, they have no understanding of the human mind.  They don’t need to. All they need to be able to do is look for correlations, and test them.  They are using the behavioristic psychology developed by B.F. Skinner.  He taught that it isn’t necessary to understand how individual people think and feel.  All that is necessary is to know what stimulus evokes what response.

How often you click on a “like” button on Facebook, how hard you step on the gas when accelerating your car, your willingness to answer questions about your politics and religion—all these things can be used to create a model of your behavior, which then can be tested.

Who would want such a model?  Advertisers,  Insurance companies.  Employers.  Lenders.  Credit rating companies.  Landlords.  And, of course, politicians.

Jaron Lanier wrote about some of these issues in Ten Reasons for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,  His explanations were more brief, more readable and more clear than Zuboff’s 525-page tome (plus 124 pages of end notes).

But Lanier thought that the problem is limited to two companies, Google and Facebook, and could be easily fixed by changing their business models from advertising to fee-for-service.  If you read Zuboff’s book, you will understand that Google, Facebook and their imitators can no more give up collecting, processing and selling personal information than Starbucks can give up brewing strong coffee.  It is is not an aberration.  It is the core of their business model.

(more…)

Who’s listening?

December 5, 2018

Source: XKCD.

You may have a police “threat score”

January 13, 2016

Beware-Landing-Page-Banner-01

Software companies are selling services to police that scan publicly available information, including social media, to determine your “threat score”.

Foreign dictatorships, as Peter Van Buren pointed out on his web log, already monitor their citizens through the Internet and assign them ratings that determine how they are treated.

bigbrotherNow private enterprise is doing the same thing in the United States, and I can only guess what the National Security Agency has been doing all along.

What bothers me is that I don’t see any obvious way to put a stop to this.  You can pass legislation to require that certain categories of information, such as medical information, be kept confidential.  But I don’t see how you can stop private companies or government agencies from correlating publicly available information and drawing conclusions from it.

If I were a police officer responding to a call, I would want all the background information I could get on people I was going to be dealing with.  Ideally, this would benefit all concerned.  In practice, there would likely be many false positives about threats with potential to cause over-reaction.

The most worrisome thing is the idea of assigning each citizen a “threat score” based on the judgement of some unknown person or, worse still, a computer algorithm, which determines how the person will be treated by the criminal justice system.  Intrado, which sells the Beware software, says its formula for calculating the “threat score” is a trade secret.

(more…)

The passing scene – October 14, 2015

October 14, 2015

On Building Armies (and Watching Them Fail) by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Andrew Bacevich is a West Point graduate, a Vietnam veteran and a retired career Army officer who now teaches political science.  He said the goal of the neo-conservative faction in the U.S. government is military domination.

Since most Americans are unwilling to fight except against actual threats to the nation, the neo-conservatives try to use foreign fighters as proxies.  But foreigners also are unwilling to fight for American neo-conservative goals.

Those who are willing to fight have their own agendas, which is not the same as the U.S. agenda.  The latest example is the attempt to train “moderate” Syrian rebels.   Where, asks Bacevich, did Americans ever get the idea that they are especially good at training foreign armies?

I would be interested to hear from anybody who could make a case that the American people are better off for any of the U.S. military interventions during the past 15 years, or that the people of the target countries are better off, or that the world is better off.

Aerospace Trade: Trump’s Winning Card by Eamonn Fingleton for the Unz Review.

Eamonn Fingleton, a former editor of Forbes and the Financial Times, says Boeing is a prime example of the failure of U.S. trade policy, which is based on obsolete ideas about free trade.

As a condition for doing business, Japan, China and other countries insist that U.S. companies such as Boeing shift not only manufacturing operations to their countries, but share vital technological know-how.  The short-term benefit is a boost in profit for the U.S. company.  The long-term cost is a hollowing out of American industry.

He thinks it would take an outsider such as Donald Trump to change this.  I agree it would take someone not beholden to the American business establishment.

How to Protect Your Personal Data—and Your Humanity—From the Government by Walter Kirn for The Atlantic.

Electronics, the Internet and computer algorithms give governments and businesses the means to monitor your every move and draw conclusions—not necessarily accurate ones.

I’m reminded of the old definition of a paranoid:  Someone who lacks the normal person’s ability to diminish awareness of reality.

A History of Secret Torture at Guantanamo Bay by Bonnie Tamres-Moore for the Washington Spectator.

For Murdoch and Fox, the chickens may be coming home to roost by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Svetlana Alexievich: The Truth in Many Voices by Timothy Snyder for the New York Review of Books.

China tests using credit scores for social control

October 12, 2015

Chinacredit1433817334738_646Source: China Daily.

Chinese authorities are experimenting with a new method of social control.

It is a credit score generated by Big Data methods that evaluates not only a person’s financial record, but everything that could throw light on their moral character, including associations and lifestyle choices.

A good credit score would give a person not only certain privileges, but prestige.  Conformity would be induced not through threats and punishments, but through positive reinforcement.

Last year the Chinese government announced it is working on something called a “social credit system” to enhance “sincerity discipline” in government, commerce and society in general, which is scheduled to be launched in 2020.

More recently a Chinese credit card company started testing a credit rating system that will use social media to gather information not only on people’s finances, but their hobbies, shopping habits, overall lifestyle and interactions with friends.

Based on that, the person will be given a rating of between 350 to 950 that not only determine their access to credit, but other privileges as well.

Some analysts think the two systems will come together to produce a system of total Orwellian surveillance, a kind of incentive-based totalitarianism.

Every aspect of a Chinese person’s life, including political opinions and friendships, would be fed into the system, which would produce a numerical score based on an algorithm.   That score in turn would be the basis for rewards and punishments that would shape the person’s whole life.

Now this is speculative.   I don’t know that the Chinese government actually has this in mind.

(more…)

Notes on our surveillance dystopia

October 9, 2015

The proximate reasons for the culture of total surveillance are clear.

Storage is cheap enough that we can keep everything.

Computers are fast enough to examine this information, both in real time and retrospectively.

Our daily activities are mediated with software that can easily be configured to record and report everything it sees upstream.

But to fix surveillance, we have to address the underlying reasons that it exists.  These are no mystery either.

State surveillance is driven by fear.

And corporate surveillance is driven by money.

Source: Idle Words

The quote above is from a talk given by Maciej Ceglowski to the Fremtidens Internet Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.  I thank my friend Daniel Brandt for the link.  The whole talk is important and highly recommended.

It is about how advertisers destroyed on-line privacy and then found themselves swindled by robots and how Silicon Valley thinks it can change the world without bothering about San Francisco.

Also, six fixes that Ceglowski thinks could restore on-line privacy.

LINK

What Happens Next Will Amaze You by Maciej Ceglowski.

Russia, the surveillance state

September 9, 2015

With unlimited warrent-less surveillance and unchecked governmental power, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is an example of what I fear the United States will become.

2014-03-07-PUTINI was reminded of this by a couple of recent articles I came across this week—two reviews of a book entitled The Red Web (which I haven’t read myself) and an interview with Edward Snowden on the occasion of him receiving a human rights award.

I’m not sure that “red” is the right adjective.  Putin is the heir of the Soviet state but not of the ideology of Communism.  I wouldn’t want to live under his government, but I see my own government becoming more Putin-like.

I don’t think the United States government has helped matters by confronting Russian power close to Russia’s borders.  This could culminate in another global Cold War, but as a pure struggle for power, minus  ideological conflict.   Both nations would suffer.  The best that could be hoped would be the good fortune to once again avoid nuclear catastrophe.

LINKS

The Red Web by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: review – Russia’s attack on Internet freedoms by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

How Putin Controls the Internet and Popular Opinion in Russia by Masha Gessen for The Intercept.

Edward Snowden attacks Russia rights curbs, would prefer to go home by Agence France-Presse via LiveMint.

The Bill of Rights: use it or lose it

April 6, 2015

candorville.surveillanceSource: Candorville.

The doctrine of state secrecy, which was never enacted into law, is being used to override the Constitution.  It has been used to conceal government blunders and lawlessness.  Increasingly it is being used to deny people the right to due process of law.

Andrew Napolitano, writing in the Unz Review, gave an example.

When Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of both the CIA and the NSA in the George W. Bush administration and the architect of the government’s massive suspicionless spying program, was recently publicly challenged to deny that the feds have the ability to turn on your computer, cellphone or mobile device in your home and elsewhere, and use your own devices to spy on you, why did he remain silent?

The audience at the venue where he was challenged rationally concluded that his silence was his consent.  [snip]

We know that the NSA can listen to all we say if we are near enough to a device it can turn on. (Quick: How close are you as you read this to an electronic device that the NSA can access and use as a listening device?)

And we also know that the feds gave secret roadside listening devices to about 50 local police departments, which acquired them generally without the public consent of elected officials in return for oaths not to reveal the source of the hardware.

It came from the secret budget of the CIA, which is prohibited by law from spying in the U.S.  [snip]

For our liberty to survive in this fearful post-9/11 world, the government’s lawless behavior must be rejected not just by the words of dead people, but by the deeds of we the living.

When the president violates the Constitution and the Congress and courts do nothing to stop him, we have effectively amended the Constitution with a wink and a nod — by consent, if you will.

via The Unz Review.

(more…)

‘Why spy? It’s cheaper than playing fair’

March 13, 2015

The French economist Thomas Piketty believes that if the gap between rich people and the majority becomes as wide as it was before the French Revolution, there could be another such revolution.

But Cory Doctorow, writing in The Guardian, says the financial elites are aware of the danger of revolution and their response is to press governments to spend money on the police, the military and government surveillance, rather than on measures that would allow a more broadly shared prosperity.

technology police statePiketty is trying to convince global elites (or at least the policymakers beholden to them) that it’s cheaper to submit to a redistributive 1% annual global wealth tax than it is to buy the guards to sustain our present wealth disparity.

There’s an implied max/min problem here: the intersection of a curve representing the amount of wealth you need to spend on guards to maintain stability in the presence of a widening rich/poor gap and the amount you can save on guards by creating social mobility through education, health, and social welfare is the point at which you should stop paying for cops and start paying for hospitals and schools.

This implies that productivity gains in guard labor will make wider wealth gaps sustainable.

Improvements in military and surveillance technology tilt the balance against economic reform.

Why spy? Because it’s cheaper than playing fair.

I think Doctorow is right.  I think the reason so many known suspicious characters are able to commit acts of terrorism is that the U.S. government and other governments are more concerned about putting down social unrest.

LINKS

Technology should be used to create social mobility – not to spy on citizens by Cory Doctorow in The Guardian.

Why salaries don’t rise by Harold Meyerson for the Washington Post.

 

U.S. Chamber and high-tech dirty tricks

September 2, 2014

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a leading—maybe the leading—lobbyist for big business and conduit for big business campaign funds.  Now a new high-techninitiative, code-named Team Themis, has begun to use disinformation and NSA-type surveillance to discredit the Chamber’s critics.

Lee Fang of The Baffler has the story.

ChamberOfCommerce_Logo_black_med_TeamThemisFollowing the 2010 midterm elections, a group of defense contractors, including Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley data analysis startup, exchanged hundreds of emails discussing how to customize their wares for an exciting new prospective client.  The contractors were developing a state-of-the-art surveillance system and had been in direct conversations with the Chamber and its law firm, Hunton and Williams … … .

The spying operation would gather massive amounts of personal information, some from meta-data scraped off social media accounts like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. and some stolen through illicit “custom malware” attacks.

The group, nicknamed “Team Themis” after the Greek goddess of law and order … … would keep tabs on an array of journalists, activist groups, and labor unions.

As one of the people crafting the proposal explained, Team Themis would resemble the “fusion cell” used by the Joint Special Operations Command—the elite military unit that hunted down Osama bin Laden.

For these contractors, the opportunity seemed like a natural application for their technology.

USChamber_Themis_PPT_BradFriedman_medAfter all, Palantir, a Big Data firm founded in part with an investment from the Central Intelligence Agency’s venture capital arm In-Q-Tel, has won contracts from several U.S. intelligence agencies, the Marines, and the Army. And Palantir’s proprietary software scans through immense quantities of information, searching for patterns. It’s tracked Taliban insurgents and Somali pirates, and it’s gained traction within the private sector, including a well-publicized contract to help JPMorgan Chase detect fraud.

The two other firms that make up Team Themis, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies, employ a roster of executives with extensive backgrounds in clandestine cyber-security work.

The president of HBGary Federal’s sister company, HBGary, is a legendary developer of “rootkits”—undetectable software that can be planted on a target computer for malicious purposes.

For a modest charge of $60,000, HBGary offered a rootkit designed in partnership with General Dynamics that could monitor keystrokes, delete files, and crash a computer infected with its proprietary code.  HBGary Federal—which, as the name suggests, is the government-sector wing of the company—attempted to sell contracts to the U.S. Air Force, among other clients.

There is no evidence that Team Themis is being paid directly by the Chamber.  It is working with the Chamber’s law firm, Huntoon & Willaims, not with the Chamber itself.  But its targers are critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, such as U.S. Chamber Watch, which may have little influence as yet, but are seen by the Chamber as a major threat.

(more…)

NSA: a bureaucracy in search of a function

April 22, 2014

Edward Luttwak, a historian and long-time consultant to the Pentagon on military strategy, wrote an article in the Times Literacy Supplement of London recently arguing that the National Security Agency’s all-encompassing surveillance is simply the result of a bureaucracy looking for a way to justify its existence.

Compared to the days of the Cold War, he wrote, there is little scope for the NSA is trying to keep track of scattered Islamic militants who don’t even use phones for communication.  The NSA’s response was, in its own way, a stroke of genius.  Don’t just track people who are threats to the United States.  Track everybody who is a potential threat, which means tracking everybody.

Luttwak’s article is behind a pay wall, but Peter J. Leithart wrote a good summary in First Things magazine.

In a TLS review of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, Edward Luttwak traces things back to dynamics within the post-9/11 intelligence bureaucracy. In Luttwak’s telling, it’s a case study of bureaucratic expansion.

He argues that “Only a few hundred were really justified of the many thousands employed to service collection antennae on land, at sea and in the air operated by the signals’ branches of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and of the many thousands of translators, cryptologists, decoders, super-computer operators, and analysts of all sorts as well as more thousands of managers. As the Cold War receded, there was an increasing danger that the fiscally prudent on Capitol Hill might uncover the situation, and demand mass firings.”

Edward Luttwak

Edward Luttwak

After all, “the sum total of emitters in Afghanistan was tiny, while communications identified as suspect worldwide were scarcely more numerous. . . . things looked up for the signals intelligence business with the 2003 Iraq war, but again the volume of business was not substantial, compared to the huge size of the installed capacity – so long, that is, as it was suspects that were to be intercepted.

If there wasn’t enough work, the solution was not to cut personnel, but to make more work: “the answer to the problem of the shortage of suspects was simply to intercept ‘possible’ suspects as well.”

On the other hand, he charges, the CIA doesn’t do what is necessary actually to have a major impact on terrorism – they aren’t engaged in operations: “terrorist groups simply cannot be defeated without action on the ground, to infiltrate them with volunteers, to detect them in the dodgy places where they can still emerge, to lure them into false-flag traps, and such like – all the activities that the CIA performs splendidly in films, but which in real life interfere with intra-office, other-office, interagency and intra-embassy meetings, so that in reality they are not performed at all. . . . Operators are outnumbered even by fairly senior managers, they are outnumbered by the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office, they are outnumbered by the human relations and affirmative action.”

When Congress increased the CIA budget, little went to improving operations: “The CIA knew exactly what to do with the money: it promptly added new layers of management on top of the old ones, just in time for the arrival of a whole new intelligence Directorate for all intelligence organizations placed over it, increasing the administrator/operator ratio to levels scarcely credible.”

The intrusions that Snowden revealed arose, Luttwak claims, in a context of incompetence and cowardice: “the mass intercept of everyone’s telecommunications became just another way of evading the penetration and disruption tasks that need to be done – the tasks that the CIA will not do because of sundry inconveniences and possible dangers.”

via Snowden and Bureaucracy | Peter J. Leithart | First Things.

In  Luttwak’s opinion, Edward Snowden is a true patriot for revealing the extent of the NSA’s improper opinions.  He said Snowden should be invited to return to the United States and granted amnesty for his lawbreaking.   He said the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency should be scaled back to what is needed to collect information, and a new agency, separate from the CIA, should be created to conduct operations against terrorists as Israel’s Shin Bet does.  The new agency should consist of people who speak foreign languages, understand foreign cultures and are willing to get out of the office and take risks.   This all sounds reasonable to me.

Click on The interception scandal for something else by Luttwak on Edward Snowden’s disclosures about NSA surveillance.  He thinks the disclosures will result in a drastic change in U.S. policy.  I’d like to think he’s right.

USA: weak democracy, powerful ‘deep state’

March 3, 2014

Mike Lofgren, a former congressional staff member with top secret clearance, says there are two levels of government in the United States — a democratic government which is increasingly unable to pay for its normal operations, and a “deep state” with virtually unlimited funds to wage undeclared wars.

Republican opposition in Congress prevents President Obama from filling numerous vacancies in the federal courts and the federal bureaucracy.  Yet there is no check on the President’s drawing up death warrants to be executed by killer drones or special ops teams or authorizing covert interventions in foreign civil wars.

The U.S. government is unable to afford to keep bridges on interstate highways in good repair, and there is continual talk of cuts in Social Security and Medicare.  Yet the same government can somehow afford to build a $1.7 billion facility in Utah covering an area of 17 footballl fields with the capacity to store the electronic communications of all Americans – the equivalent of a million sets of a billion volumes each containing a billion pages of text.

Lofgren said the reason for the disparity is that there are functions of government that the normal democratic process does not get at.   These are found in the National Security Council, the Departments of Defense, State, Homeland Security and Justice and the Central Intelligence Agency, in private contractors who serve them and in a couple of federal courts where national security cases are tried, plus a handful of Senators and Representatives who are allowed a limited look at these operations.

It also includes the Treasury Department and the biggest Wall Street banks and brokerage firms, which finance the national security state and in return receive support for their political agenda and immunity from federal prosecution.  And it includes key Silicon Valley firms who provide the technology that enables contemporary surveillance and war and in return receive support for their political agenda.

Lofgren talked about this in an interview with Bill Moyers, shown above, and in an article written for Moyers.  Click on Anatomy of the Deep State to read Lofgren’s article.  It is well worth reading.

Government spying and corporate spying

February 28, 2014

spy-vs-spy-without-bombs-775529I’ve been told that I should not complain about secret NSA, CIA and FBI surveillance of the public because corporate surveillance is so much more thorough and detailed.   Google knows more about me than the NSA ever could.

I’ve also been told that I should not complain about corporate spying because any information I yield up through a commercial transaction is the result of a voluntary decision on my part.

I think that the question of whether Big Government or Big Business is the worse problem is, increasingly, a distinction without a difference.

I think government surveillance agencies have access, or soon will get access, to all the information that Google, MasterCard, Barnes & Noble and other corporate entities have about me.  And I think that if I ever were able to create serious problems for a big corporation, they would be able to get access to any files that police and intelligence agencies have.  From the standpoint of those in charge, Big Data will be one seamless whole, and it won’t matter whether a particular datum’s origin is public or private.

ANATOMY OF THE DEEP STATE by Mike Lofgren for Moyers & Company

http://billmoyers.com/2014/02/21/anatomy-of-the-deep-state/

The rise of the surveillance workplace

February 20, 2014

spying

Increasing numbers of American businesses are using NSA-type surveillance technology to monitor employee behavior on a minute-by-minute basis.  The data gathered by these monitors will be used to create algorithms for judging in advance which employees will be productive and which won’t.

One striking example of this technology is the Hitachi Business Microscope, a device that resembles an employee name tag.  An HBM can generate data on how an employee spent their day, when they stood up and sat down, when they nodded their heads, waved their arms, pointed their fingers or stretched, who they talked to and in what turn of voice, when they went to the bathroom or coffee machine and how long they spent doing it.

Hitachi says this data can be used to maximize “employee happiness.”  I can think of less benign potential uses.

The HBM is part of a new industry of manufacturers and consultants that purport to use surveillance technology to improve employee productivity.

I question how much improvement will actually take place.  Data is only useful to those who know how to interpret it correctly.  Having more data than you can comprehend is counter-productive.

What the new surveillance technology will do is to increase managerial control, which most managers fail to realize is an entirely different thing.

Developments like this make me glad I’m 77 years old and retired.   The great thing about being a newspaper reporter during the 40 years I worked in journalism was that you were free to do your job as you saw fit, and were judged by results.

I remember talking to some machinists for Eastman Kodak Co. in the late 1970s, who marveled that I in my job as a newspaper reporter was not only free to go to the bathroom without asking permission, but also to get up at will and go to the vending machine for cup of coffee.

Later on I was thankful not to be a telephone operator, telemarketer and customer service representative, who was monitored on whether he or she followed scripts and completed calls within an allotted time, or a data processor, whose work was measured keystroke by keystroke.

But the new technology takes workplace surveillance to a whole new level.   It is like the difference between Tsarist Russia and Soviet Russia.

(more…)

Who are the NSA’s real targets?

February 4, 2014

privacy+violation

Is the National Security Agency simply over-zealous in trying to protect Americans from foreign terrorists, or do NSA officials regard Americans themselves as a potential threat to the powers-that-be?

I think the answer is indicated by the fact that the NSA has weakened cryptography and installed back-door systems that weaken the ability of Americans to protect themselves and their businesses from foreign spies, cyber-criminals and malicious hackers.  It shows that NSA officials are more interested in spying on Americans than protecting them.

Any government needs some sort of secret, intelligence-gathering operation.  And, I agree, you can’t have such an operation of any low-level employee is allowed to indiscriminately publish confidential information for all the world to know.  A certain amount of confidentiality is necessary to the administration of any structured organization.This was as true of the newspapers where I worked as anything else.

But when the organization is guilty of wrong-doing, there is a duty to report to higher authority.  And who is the higher authority when the government itself is violating its laws and Constitution?  In a democracy, the higher authority is the citizens.  In a dictatorship, the higher authority is the world.

I think in the case of the U.S. surveillance scandals, we are well past the point where governmental authority can be trusted to act in good faith and correct itself.

This is shown by the massiveness of the surveillance, the huge number of people inside and outside the government (it may be as many as a million) with secret clearances, the willingness of government officials to lie about the scope of what is being done, and the willingness of high-level administration officials to leak confidential information themselves when it makes them look good.

LINKS

The Three Leakers and What to Do About Them by David Cole for the New York Review of Books.   The three leakers are Snowden, Assange and Manning.

A Vindicated Snowden Says He’d Like to Come Home by John Cassidy for The New Yorker.

How the NSA Threatens National Security by Bruce Schneider for The Atlantic.

NSA defenders’ shameless “national security” bait and switch by David Sirota for Salon.

It’s About Blackmail, Not National Security by Alfred McCoy for TomDispatch.

Spy Agencies Probe Angry Birds and Other Apps for Personal Data by ProPublica, the New York Times and the Guardian.

Forget Metadata … the NSA Is Spying on Everything by Washington’s Blog.

It’s Vitally Important That Your Government Continue to Spy on You by Chris Bray for The Baffler.

Hat tip for the cartoon to jobsanger.

The world of surveillance, private and public

January 16, 2014

Senator Jay Rockefeller is rightly indignant that somebody has compiled lists of rape victims, which are sold to marketing companies for who-knows-what purpose.

But the fact is that we all provide information to private businesses that, when shared, enables them to know all about us. Short of never using a store discount card, never buying anything over the Internet and never using a credit card, there is no realistic way to get around it.

What I worry about is not so much what people in these companies know, or think they know, as what they do with the information. If the information is used by marketing companies to guess what products I might buy, this may be annoying, but it does me no great harm.

If it is turned over to lenders or employers and affects my chances of getting credit or a job, this would be a serious problem.  If it is turned over to government agencies to determine whether I am a potential terrorist or even a troublemaker, this would be an even more serious problem.

Knowledge is power, and there is a lack of balance of power. These people know, or think they know, a lot about me. I ought to be able to know who they are and what they know, or think they know, about me. If my life is an open book to them, I ought to be able to read that book.

So long as the information that companies and agencies have about me is secret, there is no penalty for wrongful derogatory information about me, and no incentive to double-check to make sure it is correct. All the incentives are to err on the side of suspicion.

The right to privacy only extends to individuals. Organizations and institutions should be transparent. (more…)

The passing scene: Headlines & links 11/22/13

November 22, 2013

China Tests First Combat Stealth Drone by Agence France Presse.

PROC Says No Longer in China’s Interest to Increase Reserves by Bloomberg News.

The Chinese government is developing its military technology and increasing military spending.  At the same time the Peoples Bank of China announced it will no longer increase its dollar reserves, which was done to hold down the exchange rate for the Chinese yuan.  This means U.S. imports from China will cost more in dollars.  This may mean that China intends to reduce its holdings in U.S. Treasury Bonds, since their value would be less in terms of Chinese money.  China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt.

Turkey pushes crossroads politics by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to make Turkey the crossroads between Europe and Asia for oil and gas pipelines.  This means keeping in the good graces of the governments of Iran and Iraq.

Ukraine Won’t Sign EU Agreement by Michael Kelley for Business Insider.

By rejecting an invitation to join the European Union and instead joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the government of Ukraine has decided to align itself with Russia rather than the West.

Japan’s Losing Battle Against ‘Goldman Sachs With Guns’ by Willliam Pesek for Bloomberg News.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

The Yakuza, Japan’s crime syndicate, operates opening and controls a large and growing part of the Japanese economy.

UN surveillance resolution goes ahead despite attempts to dilute language by Ewen MacAskill and James Ball for The Guardian.

The United Nations General Assembly is ready to go ahead with a strong resolution condemning unlawful and arbitrary surveillance and asserting a basic right of privacy, despite efforts by the U.S., British and Australian delegations to water it down.  Those three nations, plus Canada and New Zealand, are part of the “five eyes” to share surveillance data.

Hamid Karzai urges Afghans to let US forces stay another decade by Emma Graham-Harrison for The Guardian.

United States gives Afghanistan year-end deadline for crucial security deal by Hamid Shalizi and Jessica Donati for Reuters.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

As the old proverb goes, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.

Surveillance, corporate and governmental

September 25, 2013

fact.terroristClick on Ted Rall’s Rallblog for more from this cartoonist.

The secret state and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

August 19, 2013

Ladar Levison, who closed down his Lavabit e-mail service rather than comply with a secret government order, is in the classic Prisoner’s Dilemma situation.

h-LAVABITHe and other business owners would be better off if they stuck together and resisted the government’s secret demands in the courts.  But because of the government’s gag orders, none of them has any way of knowing whether others are fighting the same battle or they are all alone.

Levison is forbidden to say just what the government ordered him to do and what his objection was.  His secret appeal against a secret order will be tried in secret.  This is crazy.   This is bizarre.  It is like some unpublished short story by Franz Kafka.

We have a huge national security apparatus which operates in secret.  The President of the United States issues secret orders for assassinations of people deemed national enemies, based on a secret legal ruling.  These operations are subject to review by a secret court.  We the people are supposed to be reassured by congressional committees which receive secret testimony they are not allowed to tell us about.

The philosopher Hannah Arendt, writing about the Nazi and Soviet regimes in The Origins of Totalitarianism, said that the aim of totalitarian governments was to destroy all institutions that stood between the individual and absolute power, so that any person who dared dissent felt helpless and alone.

We’re not in that situation in the United States—not yet.   But we do have a growing totalitarian mentality.  Washington is full of politicians and commentators who labels as a “narcissist”  anyone who defies authority in the name of conscience.

If the United States exists 30 years from now with liberty under law, it will be because of brave individuals such as Ladar Levison, who was willing to sacrifice a business he spent 10 years building up rather than sacrifice the liberties of his fellow citizens.

(more…)

Leakers of secrets who won’t be punished

August 12, 2013

[Update 9/24/13.  The “leak” may have been disinformation.  No such conference call seems to have taken place.  Either the information came from other sources or it was bogus.]

Somebody leaked to The Daily Beast, an on-line newspaper, that the reason the U.S. State Department is closing embassies throughout the Middle East is information revealed in a conference call between Ayman al-Zawahiri, the top leader of al Qaeda, and more than 20 al Qaeda affiliates.

Al Zawahiri thought his communications were secure, but, because of the information leak, he now knows they aren’t.  If that information hadn’t been leaked, maybe it would have been possible use to continue eavesdropping and figure out the locations of al Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders.

Why then was the information leaked?  My guess is that the leakers’ purpose was to silence critics of the Obama administration who claim that the closing of the embassies was intended as a distraction from the controversy over Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program.

Unlike Snowden and others who leak information embarrassing to the government, these leakers will not be tracked down and punished, any more than earlier leakers who have revealed information about successful intelligence operations against al Qaeda.

The U.S. government has always been concerned about the leaking of information to the public that makes the government look bad, even when the information happens to be well-known to America’s enemies.  Since 2001, it has seldom if ever been concerned about leaking of information that may be helpful to America’s enemies but makes the government took good.

These leaks make me skeptical of the claim that the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping has thwarted plots that the agency can’t reveal because of national security considerations.  If there were successes, the information would be made known.  The pattern I see is that public relations trumps national security.

(more…)

Six lies about NSA surveillance

August 4, 2013

Secrets and lies

July 2, 2013

A British blogger wrote that the reason governments have so many secrets is that they tell so many lies.

Every credit has its debit, every positive its negative.  So for every secret there must be a lie, and every lie must be kept secret.

061813ClassifiedThis is the currency of power today.  Fiat truth.

We are not allowed to have any secrets any more.  And yet those who insist they must know the truth about us, who spy upon us to extract our secrets, tell us. in return, only lies.

It is a dangerous, corroding imbalance of power, because lies, like debts, compound.  […]

The private dealings of the ordinary citizen are considered suspect and must, we are told, be rooted out.  The secrets and outright lies of the corporate and governmental worlds, however – they are confidential.  They are protected – behind razor-wire threats of legal action and closed door tribunals of hand picked experts.

via Golem XIV – Thoughts.

Lies, like crimes, compound.  You have to tell more lies to cover up the initial lies.  That’s what brought down President Nixon in the Watergate scandal.

Click on Secrets and Lies for the full post.  Hat tip to naked capitalism.

Post reveals more NSA PRISM slides

July 1, 2013

Over the weekend the Washington Post revealed more of the NSA slide presentation on the secret PRISM program.  Click on NSA slides explain PRISM data-collection program for the Post’s report.  Here are the slides, in their order on the Power Point presentation.   I think they make more sense in that order, even though you have to scroll down to see the newly-released slides.   Double click on the slides to enlarge them.

prism-slide-1 (more…)

Big Brother in your mobile phone

August 10, 2012

And it’s not just in Germany, and not just mobile phones.  Almost any routine electronic communication or use of the Internet can be monitored.

Obama’s promise of transparency

April 4, 2011

News item: Obama given award for transparency.

Click on Mike Keefe Political Cartoons for more like this.

(more…)