Michael Wolraich's picture

    I Don't Give a Damn About Privacy

    Go ahead, collect my phone records, track my websurfing, analyze my email.  I don't give a damn.

    I do not write this out of any loyalty to Obama or because I worry about the Terrorist Threat.  I simply do not care about my data privacy and never have.

    Why should I? My buying habits are ordinary, my emails are pedestrian, my phone calls would bore any spy to tears, my political opinions are very public and published under my own name. As long as no one spams me or steals my identity, why should I care what they do with my data?

    I know that I am unusual. Most people care very much about privacy. The idea that strangers might analyze their private communication, no matter how banal, freaks them out. I recognize and appreciate their fear just as I appreciate arachnophobia and the fear of flying, but I don't understand it. The emotion seems human but irrational.

    I know, I know, it starts with "meta-data" and ends with a creepy disembodied voice bellowing "YOU ARE THE DEAD!" as the Thought Police burst into my apartment. I've heard all the clichés.

    But I don't buy them. The Big Brother slippery-slope spiel seems as silly as the NRA's insistence that gun laws are the first step to Nazification. Sure, I can imagine that our government might one day turn totalitarian. I can conceive that it would then track its citizens and persecute the dissidents. But I've never read a cogent explanation for how surveillance turns a democracy into a police state.

    When you look at real historical examples--as opposed to dystopian fantasies--it always seems to work the other way round. From Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union, dictatorships create police states first. They subvert governments and courts, prosecute outspoken dissidents, and pass draconian laws. Only then, after the resistance goes underground, do they perfect the data-collection machinery and persecute the secret dissenters. If we ever reach the point that our country becomes a police state, no 2013 law curbing the use of meta-data will stand its way.

    In other words, as long as the First Amendment stands, we have nothing to worry about. And if the First Amendment goes, data privacy is the least of our problems.

    So I say to the government, analyze away. I've got nothing worth hiding.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke (Da Capo, 2010)



    I agree that we're not building Big Brother.  We won't because that wouldn't be profitable. But, there is a slope, even if it's not that slippery.  Step one: collect and preserve all the data.  Step two: use it when you need it.  We've always been told that we have a government unwilling to use this information except in dire cases of terrorism fighting.

    But it's pretty much, if not exactly, what the DOJ did to the AP a few weeks ago.  And that wasn't a terrorism case at all.  So, there are little slips, here and there.  And, we're in the early innings.

    I'm chewing on this. The AP is a subpoena case, so it's a bit different. But I suppose that there could be a relevant issue if the subpoena were denied, and then the government used the reporters' phone metadata to find the leak source. That seems like a realistic slope to me.

    In general, leakers and whistleblowers seem like the rare cases in which privacy is actually important. In a way, we want to protect their ability to break the law and get away with it.

    The government grabbed 2 months phone records that affects 100 journalists. Without the AP's knowledge, the gov still has all the records, and the bomb threat had already been allayed (either because the perpetrator was actually a US gov mole, or because the AP had held the story until after the gov had stopped the bombing).

    Wonderful precision subpoena there, care for the 5th estate.

    You understand of course that call records - "metadata" - for newspaper sources is often more important than the content? That IDíng the disgruntled employee for example or the dissenting exec is the main lynchpin in seeking retaliation and quieting the controversy.

    Yes, that's why acknowledged that their privacy is important.

    They subvert governments and courts, prosecute outspoken dissidents, and pass draconian laws.

    Glad that hasn't happened here.

    It has to an extent and on occasion, but we've never had a police state.

    Not for rich white people, no.

    Given your last paragraph, part of me wonders if you forgot to attach the satire tag to this post. In all seriousness, you make some valid points, but it's not my secrets I'm worried about. Like you, I don't have anything worth hiding, and even if I did, the government wouldn't care enough about me to ferret it out.

    However, consider the case of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example. The FBI followed him and were gathering dirt on him, including extramarital affairs. Those affairs weren't illegal (although they were immoral), but yet one can imagine a situation where the FBI could use such dirt to influence him to act in a particular way. There's no evidence this happened, and it seems reasonable to suspect it never did, but I can't help but wonder if they might have tried this had MLK, Jr. lived longer. There are thousands of other cases where the government (or other nefarious agents) might use similar secrets to pressure politicians or other leaders to "throw the game" or to act in subtle ways that betray the causes they would otherwise be ardently fighting for.

    We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11. They contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers. After he consulted with Legal, he refused. As a result, NSA canceled a bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top bidder for. And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put him in prison for insider trading -- on the theory that he knew of anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for the government, while the public didn't because it was classified and he couldn't legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock knowing those things.

    This CEO's name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he's still serving a trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.



    Yeah, the insider trading case against Nacchio was pretty weak, as I recall.  I believe his defense was that his stock sales were, in fact, pre-planned.  That's usually all the defense one needs.

    Perfect example of the coercion I've been discussing, and if a well-connected guy goes down like this, what happens when they use the data to twist the arms of little guys? Sorry, mom goes away for 10-20 unless you help us?

    Ha. No double entendre intended.

    There is an argument to be made for protecting the MLKs of the country, though I don't think it's the reason that most people object to government surveillance.

    Regarding the MLK point, the government should not be collecting any data, public or private, on perceived political enemies. A government that plots to intimidate political opponents is despotic regardless of the means employed. The problem was not so much what data the FBI collected, but whose data it collected and why.

    I would add that more laws against collecting data wouldn't have helped much. Hoover's agents broke the law, brazenly and repeatedly. Illegal wiretapping was only the tip of they iceberg. They also planted false stories, selectively prosecuted, perjured themselves, violated due process, etc. In short, the problem was not a lack of legal restrictions, it was a lack of accountability.

    To that end, I'm much more disturbed by the government's concealment of its actions than by the fact that it has been collecting metadata. It's the lack of transparency, not the lack of privacy that we should be worried about. (I would be even more worried if the oversight committees had been unaware of it.)

    I'm also (now) aware of the unintended irony of posting that I have nothing to hide under a pseudonym.

    One thing I do choose to mask (although not that well) are my religious and political views, in part because I work on big contracts with contract agents who might have political and religious views that differ significantly from me.

    The most hilarious part of this leak is the fact that the NSA could not stop the leak and Snowden made it to Hong Kong without problem.Its my understanding that he was staying in the Hong Kong Hotel under his own name. While Snowden was talking about being taken out by agents of the CIA based in the American embassy 15 minutes from his hotel, the DOJ was preparing charges in preparation for extradition.Now it seems Russia may be willing to provide shelter for Snowden.

    Best buy used to ask for zip codes when you made a purchase. Cookies get placed when you visit a host of sites. Unless you have an encrypted system sending information to another encrypted system, you are already compromised.

    If there is a lost relative who could be found by tracking cell phone pings, ping away. 

    If we really want our privacy back, the target is much lager than the government.

    Well, all righty then!

    Just so long as they don't find out about those two guys in Reno for chrissakes!

    I read in an article that Al Franken apparently said that all this surveillance actually "protects" us. I had situations in my personal life that made me realize how critical structure is to society and that chaos is really not a good thing.

    But we live in a country where mass shootings occur almost every day. These people often stockpile serious weaponry - AR-15s, Bushmaster rifles, etc. - and no one seems the wiser. No one intervenes or stops it before it happens? Alot of them have had weapons magazines in their homes or had written, detailed plans of what they planned to do to other people.

    These just happen. Every day - the shooters don't go to their intended target and find that the police are waiting to take them down after getting leads from surveillance. If we're being "protected," they're not doing a great job.

    We are not allowed to do background checks or log amounts of weapons purchased.

    I'm not sure what that has to do with what I said. All this surveillance didn't stop bombs from going off in Boston or lead to having the police sweep in and arrest James Holmes after his psychiatrist reported him to authorities. Even without that authority, a massive surveillance state should be able to stop some of this violence from happening.

    That suggests that we are not in a massive surveillance state.

    We can't track purchases and behavior that might detect those who pose a threat of violence. In the Boston bombing case, the focus was on Occupy Boston and not Tsarnaev. There was possible information there, it was not handled properly.

    I agree. What it really sounds like, though, is that alot of bad government activity happened under Obama so that he could stay President - Nixonian stuff, not Stalinist stuff. Obama's rise was always about him - he has an ego the size of Texas.

    We should have a robust Department of Homeland Security - if government exists for any reason at all, it's to keep people safe. If that meant surveying gun sales hardcore to the point that it would be uncomfortable and exhausting to get in to the gun sales market at all, so be it. People selling weapons or buying weapons should be harassed hardcore. It's insane that you can just go buy a gun no questions asked and it's more difficult to buy fireworks or a lighter.

    With or without the legality of gun ownership, it should be observable, and often is, when someone is planning a mass attack. Most of these guys were reported to someone - often times people that knew them said they were aware they were obsessed with firearms or were searching for large amounts of weaponry.

    It should especially be observable to government employees whose job it is to look for such things. The way the government of this country appears now doesn't appear like it's built or even intended to keep mass murder from occurring.

    In short, NRA's America:

    Assault weapons, guns and gun purchases are absolutely prohibited and protected from government tracking, record keeping, registration or licensing. We have gun shows so that anyone in America can buy a gun without any background check, government form or legal restriction. That is freedom.

    30,000 American are killed by guns every year, to date, no one is ever known to have died from NSA phone call data, it is, in fact, collected to try to save lives and stop crime.

    NCD, can you tell me where that quote came from?  I would like to tuck it away for use as needed.  Thanks.

    You know, most of us big he-men type don't worry about privacy - exhibitionism is something we pride ourselves on - I drink, I fall down, I get up. A geek worries about PGP - real men re-use the same password for 25 years.

    So much as I play a worrier on this blog, in real life outside the innertubez I can't be bothered to actually change my life.

    And this is part of where the worry sets in. People who would manipulate us know we're unlikely to change habits unless something really goes wrong. And they're great at changing just enough at each step to avoid us doing anything except grousing.

    "As long as the First Amendment stands, we have nothing to worry about." Well, if I'm Muslim, I have a lot to worry about - which might as well be a law regarding religion - strip me, surveil me, examine all my friends, check all my bank deposits, God forbid I give to a mosque or Muslim organization, and if you find me in an airport, be sure and detain me. If I blog and say something heated on Facebook, you just might give me 15 years - more than someone who lies to Congress or destroys evidence or tortures someone or fires on civilians on purpose in Iraq. Forget about any right to free association. PS - guess you'll feel free to bomb any relatives I might have overseas, or those who share my religion, and it would be wrong for me to express outrage and sympathy, unlike those Christians who've been doing that missionary thing & worrying about persecutions in China & what not whenever a Christian is harmed around the world.

    When government targets "black militants" or environmental advocates or those displeased with George Bush or Occupy Wall Street, & infiltrates their meetings, well that shuts down free speech. It's not unusual that the feds & local police will organize behind the scenes to pre-empt some of those "right to peacefull assemble" meetings or push them far away from where they can be heard (the veal pens during Bush's 2004 campaign, or preventing protesters from getting near BP-polluted beaches on the Gulf Coast). And if they're intercepting communications and otherwise gathering background info on people who might be concerned about being outed for being gay, for being liberal or having an affair (married or unmarried) in a conservative community, for being atheist in a Southern Baptist or Mormon town, for being anti-military in say Ft. Bragg, for being a Democrat when Karl Rove/Alberto Gonzales are doing their best to weed out Democrats in the hiring process...

    So that's freedom of religion, freedom of speech, right to assemble peacefully. By grabbing reporters' records without their knowledge, that's certainly infringing on freedom of the press - first in the specific case, 2nd in making sure all reporters are intimidated and believe their sources will be compromised. The only info that will be safe to reveal will be info that's not controversial or pre-cleared with the government. That'll be some dull useless reading - White House briefings and  have already turned almost completely useless. Reports on any of our foreign wars, drones, Gitmo & dark sites, the CIA, NSA, new activity in Mexico, Africa, Pakistan... forget it. When Clapper, head of National Intelligence, lies to Congress, he knows he'll get away with it - if the press tries to find out the truth, they'll be prosecuted for trying to grab classified info - since almost everything is classified these days. And if 1 of those 4 million people with security clearances tries to speak up, they'll be convicted of leaking. And in the new framing of the DoJ, if the NY Times receives classified material, they're "soliciting" it so breaking the law. Yes, this is the Big Chill.

    What's left? Oh, "petition the government for grievances".  Well the judiciary is ruling more and more that people don't have standing to petition the government or contest anything in court, unless they know for sure all the details of programs that are kept hush hush top secret. (And if they do know the details, oops, busted for leaking). Some of Gitmo captives weren't even allowed to see their own confessions to handle their defense. Al-Awlaki's father tried to sue to stop his son from being killed by a drone, but the courts wouldn't recognize his case. In Clapper v. Amnesty, SCOTUS ruled that Amnesty was just speculating about being tapped and couldn't prove it, so their changing their habits was unjustified and they have nothing to challenge in court. Just like Awlaki's father speculating his son might be killed, until he actually was (along with his grandson in a separate strike), and presumably then it becomes a national security issue in a don't look back, look forward transition.

    So 5 for 5 (or 6 for 5 with presumed freedom of association). How does that First Amendment look for you now? If data privacy is the least of our problems, which ones of these are the biggest?


    I guess if you are Muslim you might have more to worry about in a lot of Muslim nations than in the US. There is no evidence the recent leak had anything to do with targeting of Muslims by the government.

    Is this an argument? Russia is a wee bit better than Belorus, so be happy about the razing of Chechnya? I haven't noticed Morocco or Indonesia or Malaysia or Jordan or Oman being so awful, but I guess since some Muslims somewhere are mistreated, we should just ignore profiling of all of them in the US.

    The "recent" leak is about a program that's grown and grown since 9/11, and it's everything about targeting Muslims and using that fear to justify a complete dragnet of all communications records - personal and business - in the initial Patriot Act & subsequent rewriting of FISA laws (and the decrees & interpretations such as AUMF that completely circumvent FISA). Isn't the whole deal about better sharing between FBI & CIA (and thus NSA) what came out of the bizarre 9/11 review?


    It isn't 'just about Muslims'.  If it was, few Americans would care.

    The ones that are making a big deal out of it care because it may affect them, and their 'freedoms'.

    It's about stopping terror attacks like the one in Boston, whatever or whoever the source.

    Well, $80 billion a year for Homeland Security worked well for that. Not.

    So supposedly this disaffected Muslim immigrant goes flying off to Chechnya/Ingushetia & other places to get ideas for an attack, Russians tip us off to someone/something, but we're not able to anticipate anything or catch anyone.

    But US customs can find bloggers and search / confiscate their computers & phones.

    And follow Muslims to New York hair salons, but fail to actually predict a real plot.

    Useless as tits on a boarhog.

    What happened to all that improved coordination between CIA & FBI post-9/11?

    These guys supposedly couldn't even interrogate a friend/co-suspect of Tsarnaev without blowing him away?

    So here's your correct formula:

    "It's about putting up a show of being interested in security, while taking the lazy approach of mass intrusive info gathering & cameras and drones everywhere".

    "Intelligence" once upon a time implied using brain, not just computer muscle.

    The incompetence of the Feds on display in Boston and elsewhere is why I don't worry about the NSA having my address/phone book. Frankly, they need all the help they can get to stop bad guys. The phone/email digital dragnet may in fact be a distraction from good effective non-computer driven seat of the pants police work.

    They couldn't even remember who they interviewed or who the Russians tipped them off on when they had his picture at the scene of the crime. You don't need a high speed computer to do that, an old fashion Rolodex index card file of 'possible bad guys in Boston we talked to' might have sufficed.

    That incompetence is exactly what bothers me. It suggests that they're more likely to find the wrong person than the correct person using data mining. (See my most recent post for more elaboration on this.)

    Let me get this straight -

    if a new driver can't stay in his lane, the answer is to give him a bigger car that goes faster?

    if the new driver is a state trooper who's supposed to protect us & enforce laws but still can't drive, the answer is to give him a tank?

    As the story re: the nuns convicted of "felonies" for trespassing with spray paint shows, these cock-ups can mess with anyone.

    Look at the guys they recruited to do "terrorism", basically giving them unworkable plans for nuclear or biochemical activities and busting them for thinking about them.

    Very well summarized.

    Sadly I forgot the whole scene where 3 government contractor companies & the Chamber of Commerce set out to take down Glenn Greenwald & others - a pretty clear sub-contracted attack on the press.

    And as Obama prepares to target more countries in cyberattacks, is there any doubt that in a short time we'll find that a number of these techniques are being used inside the US? Through another leak, no doubt, since "transparency" seems to always be a promise just around the corner.

    [oops, should have read the 2nd quicker before posting - we already have our exception to an exception: "The directive also mulls the potential use of cyber actions within the US, though any such operations must be conducted with prior authorization of the White House, unless “it qualifies as an Emergency Cyber Action.” "

    How nice - so the White House can target people & companies in the US. And someone else (not stated who) can also pile on if it's an "Emergency Cyber Action". You know, ticking timebomb, or like in the case of not "Mirandaizing" Tsarnaev, the info is just too juicy to let pass even if it's a bit beyond the fringe. So we'll forgive a local FBI office for a Cyber attack if they were just trying to do good, honest.

    I'm sure this will turn out well]

    What should the response be to hacking originating in China or North Korea? Was the alleged software attack on a nuclear reactor in Iran unwarranted? If you were in congress or President how do you think the public would react to your failure to build any defense  or a means of offense?



    Uh gee, is having it monitored & overseen by a functional judiciary too bizarre a solution?

    Since when did it become important to give the executive branch unreviewable powers, and remove habeas corpus or burden of proof requirements?

    And these are offensive capabilities - we're basically saying when they attack us on the Internet it's an act of war, but if we attack them first, we're just upholding democracy and mom's apple pie.

    Calm down, I'm just asking a question. Should the review be in an open court or in a secret court? In other words do we run the risk of letting the hackers know that we are on their trail? If it is to be a secret court aren't we back to trusting the President, Congress, DOJ, NSA, etc.? What judicial structure do you envision to keep the public in the loop?

    Put Snowden, Greenwald and Manning in charge of our national defense? Or just go back to George W. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld? I'll settle for Obama and the Democrats.

    I'm still waiting for someone to give a link to a Greenwald piece on police abuse of the poor in Brazil, where he writes his whiny tripe.

    I have to admit that I find some relief in the ability to use software to impede the Iranian nuclear program. I also like the idea that Al Qaeda's online magazine could be hacked.


    Iran's nuclear program has been gone over in such detail. There's no there there. But we're great at exaggerating the threat, extrapolating 20% uranium into 95% weapons grade, if there's a puddle near a reactor they must be "washing away" radiation.

    All silly, big money game. We're just looking for regime change - only question is how fast or slow.

    When was the last time Iran attacked a neighbor? Now North Korea, those guys are kooky.

    Iran has launched cyber-attacks against the US,what would be your response? Are there any circumstances that would lead you to launch a cyber-attack?

    The US /Israel launched the Stuxnet virus against Iran way before - what do you call that?

    A Pre-emotive strike. The US deposed a sitting leader in Iran.The New the the Shah, was a brutal dictator. The revolt against the Shah ushered in the religious fanatics. If the situation you come into as a newly elected President is already dismal do you ignore it? There was the little thing called the Iran Hostage crisis coloring events.

    Neither the US or Iran seems eager for negotiations.

    Well, search warrants are usually done in closed court, no? But why do we need all these special courts - terrorism is a criminal act like anything else. Someone planning on robbing a bank vs. embezzling $10 million vs. blowing up a building. If someone appears to be planning something, put up real evidence. But it's just garbage that we can't keep relatively safe without tracking what 310 million people ate for breakfast or looked at on the internet or where they called during the day.

    Aren't search warrants public information?

    IANAL, but these guys apparently are, and typically search warrants become public information. (Of course, they're not immediately made public!)

    They're all bigger problems than data privacy.

    I think the relative size of the problems is arguable, and I'd possibly even agree with your argument, but data privacy issues have the effect of augmenting all of those already large problems.

    Yes, but so does any law enforcement power. Issuing weapons to police officers augments the problem of police brutality. Subpoena power augments the problem of prosecutorial intimidation.

    My response is quite complicated, and can be found heresmiley

    This Big Data dragnet to run over data privacy certainly undermines free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of press on a massive scale, even if we don't appreciate all the anecdotes and connected dots. And it's being downplayed to be only about call metadata, but it certainly cross-correlates internet activity, bank records, other activities.

    Not sure why you're so sanguine overall. The government ability to coerce & extort increases exponentially with this kind of leverage. A guy who dressed like Elvis was jailed & pursued as the Ricin sender long after the government knew he wasn't the one. Only to arrest his rival, a Wayne Newton impersonator. And then decide on his wife.

    Meanwhile the ACLU contemplates how vulnerable it is with the government digging into background info on it.

    See my comment to Atheist. Data collection is a tool that can be abused just as other law enforcement powers can be abused. It is the abuse of the tool, not the tool itself, that's dangerous.

    That sounds very similar to "guns don't kill people…"

    Yes, but the context makes all the difference.

    Well the tool is just a computer with software. It's people hooking it in to all the communications systems in the world and Hoovering up all the data that's the problem.

    If we put the machine somewhere in Death Valley and disconnect its power & data source, sure, the tool is harmless. But the ability to indiscriminately grab & cross-correlate all data is its purpose in life. That capability is its function, not a human flaw or poor training, and anathema to the First Amendment. It was built to be dangerous by people who don't consider mass surveillance dangerous or unconstitutional.

    What is the purpose in life of a police officer's gun? Of a prison? Are these not inherently dangerous? Can't they be exploited by a totalitarian state to oppress the citizenry? Should they therefore be banned?

    Yes, they're dangerous - they need explicit controls. We've seen this with tasers and drones and outsourced prisons and what not. Occasionally useful, but the risks of deploying new ideas are seldom addressed properly vs. the rah-rah enthusiasm to deploy something new as a cure-all.

    I agree with the need for controls.

    You're right that these innovations are often rolled out with rah-rah enthusiasm and little concern for the dangers other than from a few critics. The societal questioning often comes later, as we've seen with tasers (Don't tase me, bro), drones (Rand Paul's filibuster), and prisons (Abu Ghraib scandal).

    And now we're questioning data collection, as we should be. It surely would started sooner had it not been so top secret. As I wrote in a previous comment, the lack of transparency disturbs me more than the lack of privacy.

    I agree that the huge problem is the secrecy/transparency.

    But I also think that the privacy angle is more complicated than you are portraying it to be. You're obviously comfortable with being who you are, and I applaud you for making your life seamless, but in many ways you have the luxury of not being excessively vulnerable. If you were a gay man in the 50s, you might feel far more nervous about giving the government permission to track your movements and store the information.

    Given your views and activities, nobody's going to call you to be the CEO of a major corporation, but there's a relatively comfortable place in our society for an academic, left-of-center guy with well-thought-out-views and a successful career in expressing them.

    But please indulge me in a what-if, and see if it jogs your comfort level a bit.

    What if Snowden had called YOU? What would you have said/done? And even if you had turned down his story--if NSA/FBI/CIA agents were talking with you right now, just chatting, you know--would you be willing to tell them that you think we should be questioning data collection, and that you're glad it's not so top-secret anymore?

    (The mere existence of these programs carries with it an underlying threat of harm, and the secrecy makes that threat even more alarming.)

    That's a no-brainer. If I were able to document his authenticity, and if it were up to me alone (my co-editors might differ), I would have published.

    I'd like to think that I would do it regardless of the personal consequences, but in this case, it would take no great courage on my part. Publishing a story like that is a career-maker. Look at the prominence it's given to Greenwald.

    That's one thing that bugs me about the harassment people have been complaining about. No American journalist is suffering from government harassment that any third-world journalist would recognize as repression. To the contrary, to break controversial news is invariably beneficial to their careers.

    Yes, in the old days, being outed was a big deal, but not so much anymore. Nor has the government shown any inclination to out anyone since the days of J. Edgar Hoover.

    The only people at risk of serious harassment in this situation are terrorist suspects and leakers of classified information.

    The former is a law enforcement issue that occurs with any the abuse of any enforcement power--from wiretaps to airport searches to stop-and-frisk. We should implement checks and transparency to restrict data collection, just as we do other powers.

    The issue of leakers is the one problem that does bother me, as I indicated upthread. That's because we actually want to enable leakers to break the law, so increasing law enforcement powers undermines a public good in this case, even when those powers are used appropriately.

    I think this is a story that would only make the career of someone who already had a career and enough notoriety/smarts to be able to hold their own. If Snowden had been foolish enough to release his information to a low-level blogger with political naivete and any vulnerability at all, this would have been a different story. I mean, his girlfriend had a blog. I'm sure lots of his friends had blogs. If he had used them, and especially if he hadn't left the country, all of them would be deep in discussions with law enforcement, and I suspect there would be no press conferences involved.

    Hey! I'm a big time writer. ;)

    I was just running with the hypothetical. 

    You would have done a lovely job. 

    Ha. I think he made the right call with Greenwald.

    The people who should really be upset about the program:

    The 10​ 9 other largest private equity firms in the world since Booz Allen Hamilton is majority owned by The Carlyle Group 

    TPG Capital


    Yes but they aren't upset--because they have long-standing relationships with government and companies who put these programs together. They'd have lots of warning if somebody decided to come for them.......

    (Also might it be said that they have "capitalist immunity?" "My company was just serving its God-driven purpose of making money...." We have seen this argument.)

    You wouldn't mind if the government would or could just quarter troops in our homes because we shouldn't have anything to hide anyways, would you?...Maybe you wouldn't mind if the government, would listen in on our "Save the Forests" friends or  any anti - business/ anti American groups, because everyone knows "what's good for business is good for America" ....    Maybe we could just skip over the clandestine surveillance; if everyone would just call the handlers first and seek permission; so Big Brother could infiltrate the scheduled meeting of the "Throw the Tea" overboard committee. allowing Big brother to know in advance; our groups leaders will be dressed as Indians, and to let them pass unharrassed......  If big brother wasn't in agreement with any proposed protest plans, they could quickly get a judge to issue a warrant for a Mr Paul Revere or Thomas Jefferson or any other countless patriots Charging them with Treason or spreading Sedition breaking up the planned meetings ....... Our forefathers knew there would be those who wouldn't care what the government does; that's why the 1st Ten Amendments., THE BILL OF RIGHTS was written into the Constitution'...........  IN ORDER to protect US, from the apathetic who have nothing to hide or resist. THE BILL OF RIGHTS WASN'T WRITTEN FOR THEM ANYWAYS.

    He already pre-empted your (very predictable) straw-man-baiting argument in his original post:

    I know, I know, it starts with "meta-data" and ends with a creepy disembodied voice bellowing "YOU ARE THE DEAD!" as the Thought Police burst into my apartment. I've heard all the clichés.

    But I don't buy them. The Big Brother slippery-slope spiel seems as silly as the NRA's insistence that gun laws are the first step to Nazification. Sure, I can imagine that our government might one day turn totalitarian. I can conceive that it would then track its citizens and persecute the dissidents. But I've never read a cogent explanation for how surveillance turns a democracy into a police state.

    To be clear if you still don't have reading comprehension: He did not say he wouldn't mind it if troops were quartered in our homes. He said the collection of meta-data did not bother him. And that he has seen little proof that there is linkage between the two kind of things in democracies. And he suggests that in totalitarian examples, the surveillance seems to come last, after everything else has been instituted.

    For the benefit of the cognitive impaired, I may have assumed folks, would or could make the connection. Maybe this illustration would help you connect the dots? ..... What real difference, other than what tool to be used; whether a live soldier was posted in every ones homes to gather information for the king; or some listening device, serving the governments intrusion into our private matters..... Whether I would have had Ben Franklin and some of his friends, over for dinner to discuss plans or allowing the king to bug the meeting; the objective is the same. Invasive tools for the sole purpose of Invasion of Privacy.  I hope this helps you?      

    Looking at the disclosure as a design development, there is an aspect that isn't touched upon by the important consideration of individual rights under discussion; The structure of surveillance closely resembles the prison Jeremy Bentham wanted built in the late Eighteenth Century, the Panopticon. Bentham described it as:

    "A building circular... The prisoners in their cells, occupying the circumference—The officers in the centre. By blinds and other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed... from the observation of the prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of omnipresence—The whole circuit reviewable with little, or... without any, change of place. One station in the inspection part affording the most perfect view of every cell."

    I like JM Ross's description of the design:

    In 1785 utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham proposed architectural plans for the Panopticon, a prison Bentham described as “a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.” Its method was a circular grid of surveillance; the jailors housed in a central tower being provided a 360-degree view of the imprisoned. Prisoners would not be able to tell when a jailor was actually watching or not. The premise ran that under the possibility of total surveillance (you could be being observed at any moment of the waking day) the prisoners would self-regulate their behavior to conform to prison norms. The perverse genius of the Panopticon was that even the jailor existed within this grid of surveillance; he could be viewed at any time (without knowing) by a still higher authority within the central tower – so the circle was complete, the surveillance – and thus conformance to authority – total.

    In 1811 the King refused to authorize the sale of land for the purpose and Bentham was left frustrated in his vision to build the Panopticon. But the concept endured – not just as a literal architecture for controlling physical subjects (there are many Panopticons that now bear Bentham’s stamp) – but as a metaphor for understanding the function of power in modern times. French philosopher Michel Foucault dedicated a whole section of his book Discipline and Punish to the significance of the Panopticon. His take was essentially this: The same mechanism at work in the Panopticon – making subjects totally visible to authority – leads to those subjects internalizing the norms of power. In Foucault’s words “…the major effect of the Panopticon; to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary” In short, under the possibility of total surveillance the inmate becomes self regulating.

    In regards to the order by which police states have been created in the past, to have such a powerful design be adopted by society at large introduces a factor that suggests that past results are no guarantee of future performance.

    Since the prisoners surround the jailer, can't the prisoners gain the upper hand? Are the prisoners ways confined to their cells?

    The effectiveness of the panopticon (and it's modern successor, the video camera) depends on the threat of discipline. If the jailor could see you but could not punish your infractions, it would not produce self-restraint.

    To draw the analogy, if robust laws and independents courts protect the citizen from prosecution for dissent, surveillance will not stifle dissent. In a totalitarian state where dissent is punishable, then of course surveillance will help the government to suppress dissent. But the totalitarian state has to come first.

    I am not saying that the similarity of universal surveillance to this particular prison design is equal to living in a totalitarian state. By emphasizing the element of design, I hoped to point out a potentiality that wasn't present when the totalitarian regimes of the Twentieth Century got going. I am fairly certain that this difference is very significant but have no theory about how it will all come out after I am gone.

    Whatever this development means for the future, I was struck by how your post seemed to speak from the context of the Panopticon cells, as if to say: "I can come and go as I please and will not live my life as if 'you' could see everything I do, which you can."  In this context, to not be "self regulated" becomes a question that is not found by what you are but by what you do.

    In matters of money and politics, privacy is highly valued because you will have rivals and enemies when you try to do something. Thinking and feeling things without such an intention is not likely to arouse much interest.

    The following is not meant as a support for the previous statements but touches on some things you said.

    Being punished is a very personal thing. I have felt punished by sets of circumstances that later on I realized was just stuff happening. It is kind of like being in your own cell and deciding if you really can leave or not. If one is to entertain Foucault's idea, one has to accept, for the moment, that there is a connection between this personal experience and the way power works in society. Following that thought through is the very opposite of naming a cabal of oppressors one can henceforth dread and fulminate against.


    It's a fair point that technology has changed the nation-state, but if anything, I argue that new information technologies have had a destabilizing effect on totalitarian regimes. It is easier than ever for dissidents to broadcast and exchange information, which has undermined a number of autocrats, particularly in the Middle East.

    Want to avoid electronic surveillance? There's always pen and paper, which is all they had in the early 20th century. Of course, modern dissidents wouldn't even think of resorting to such old fashioned methods even with the threat of surveillance because they have new communications tools that are so much more effective.

    PS I would characterize my post differently. It's not that I live my life as if "you" don't see everything I do. It's that I don't care what you see because what you see has no effect on me.

    I argue that new information technologies have had a destabilizing effect on totalitarian regimes.

    Well yeah, until those totalitarian regimes get the software and hardware capabilities that the US has and they start doing the same thing our government is doing without the "balance." Then's its all over for the dissidents with their phones and internet.

    The Iranian government has certainly been working on getting some of that kind of control with their various hacking schemes during elections and protests.

    The latest flavor is an "intelligent software" that will help "moderate" social media without banning it.

    How nice of them.

    Moms of olde all knew this one. If not, where would they have gotten the warning Don't do anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the New York Times? Or the much simpler dont' kid yourself, I know what you've been up to.

    More puzzling: the reason why Ernestine and her fellow telephone operators could never instill fear of their power to those using the lines under their control.

    "to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary"

    And yet it did not work out quite like that in practice:

    The Presidio Modelo was a "model prison" of Panopticon design, built on Isla de Pinos (now the Isla de la Juventud) in Cuba. It is located in the suburban quarter of Chacón, Nueva Gerona.

    The prison was built under President-turned-dictator Gerardo Machado between 1926–1928. The five circular blocks, with cells constructed in tiers around central observation posts, were built with the capacity to house up to 2,500 prisoners in humane conditions.
    Most of the survivors of the rebel attacks on Moncada Barracks including attack leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul Castro, were imprisoned there, most from 1953 to 1955.

    Interesting historical note. I did not realize the Castros did time there.

    While they did not become ideal self regulating citizens during their stay, perhaps they learned some management techniques there.

    There's a reason we have precedents. Especially when we're trying to constrain the power of government.

    The boundary line doesn't matter until it matters. But if you don't complain until it matters, it's too late.

    The Constitution says no searches without probable cause. Even if we don't care about telephony metadata searches, we SHOULD care about the government dispensing with a Constitutional check on its powers without asking or telling us.

    I'm comfortable leaving the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment to the courts.

    I recognize that because of the secrecy involved, it has been difficult to bring a case in which the plaintiff has standing, but I assume that the courts will eventually find a case for which they can rule on the merits--especially if this practice is as dangerous as everyone seems to think it is.

     If I got to write the screenplay some spook whistle blower would publish personal emails of all the Supremes right after they agreed to hear a relevant case. 

    There's been far too many 5-4 decisions in at least the last dozen years that went the wrong way, imo, for me to be comfortable with the Supreme Court making the decision. Are you seriously going to say that the SC has never made a decision you disagreed with?

    I'm with you COMPLETELY, Michael!  I never gave a dam about the 4th amendment either but democrats seemed to be much squeamier when I was in office about netting everyone's phone calls and email and financial records and such. I mean, if you have nothing to hide you got nothing to hide so privacy is really nothing. We have these fancy computer programs using something called networked factor analysis that lets us know if your pattern of behavior might indicate that you are thinking of doing some terrorism. Then, we can stop you in your tracks. My hole attitude changed when Cheney told me that there were domestic terrorists too.

    Good article!



    Ha. Touché, W, touché.

    It could be that there is scandal fatigue. I don't think the public at large feels that there was a cover- up in Benghazi despite the Congressional hearings.I doubt the public believes that the WH directed the IRS to target the Tea Party. The AP phone grab was reported after the DOJ admitted what they did.

    Without an individual or group that they were directly harmed by the use of Prism or metadata searches, the outrage is largely about something theoretical. Nixon wanted the IRS to target individuals. The plumbers broke into Democratic HQ. 

    The major problem is if everything is a scandal then when a real scandal comes along, they public lumps it in with the other stories and decide to wait until the full facts are available. The ACLU sued the government. Hopefully this, and other suits will allow SCOTUS to assess what types of data mining are Constitutional. If SCOTUS rules aspects of the program Unconstitutional. The public won't be outraged, the program will still be viewed as an attempt to protect the citizens of the US thwarted by the ACLU. Yes. 

    Hopefułly, someone will get a poll on Congress to determine how many were briefed on the programs. Several members say that they were not briefed on the extent of the spying. The WH says Congress was briefed repeatedly.

    Public outrage is also muted by Snowden when after checking into a Hong Kong hotel under his own name, he suggests that the CIA might kill him. His hotel registration does not suggest a high degree of fear for his life. Snowden's presence in the scenario does raise the question of how many contractors with GEDs have access to classified data.

    In order for the public to be outraged, they are going to need a victim. Who had a conversation monitored and was pressured to do something they would not have done if not under pressure? I think the public already assumes their data is being viewed. There have been enough notices that consumers got from corporations acknowledging a breach of corporate servers. Hospital servers have been reached with hackers accessing private health data. The public did not panic.  

    The public is waiting to see evidence of a person actually harmed by the surveillance. Greenwald may have that evidence in future releases.

    Somebody at Gawker pointed this out to me.


    So, it's not jut Nacchio at Qwest.  The government's harassment of people who won't play along is very real.

    I found this Gawker article, The Smart Kids Are Going to Keep Leaking Forever:

    ... our comic book-sized spy apparatus doesn't just need good soldiers anymore. It needs smart employees who aren’t old. Spy monoliths like the NSA crave analysts, technicians, and officers who grew up making and breaking the same systems they’ll be tapping around the world. The NSA actively seeks out hackers—the bandits! These kids—the Snowdens—are different than the staid spooks who preceded them.

    They probably grew up stealing music. They at least know what Reddit and 4chan are—there’s a decent chance Snowden used the latter.

    Poitras is the filmmaker who shot the Snowden footage as well.

    She was much more than that, she was his main contact. He reached out to her, and she is basically the one who reached out to Greenwald and Gellman for assistance. Interview with her on it here at Salon, summary of the particulars here at the NYT. One of the interesting things to me in her story there is that her fears of retribution and of possibly getting fooled made her feel she should contact journalists employed by major MSM. Even though she had done considerable work on the topic, so much so that she felt she was being targeted. So those kind of guys are still good for something after all, eh? Gets one thinking about the difference between freedom of the press and freedom of speech for all. Sometimes entities with power are required?

    I just said the same to Michael--they needed to find a well-known journalist who would provide them with some cover while having enough power to get the story out.

    Whatever one's opinion about Snowden's personality and the legality/advisability of what he did, he did make some smart decisions about how to get the information out there. Even going to Hong Kong was, I think, a bit of a Crazy Ivan--he may not have information the Chinese want, and may be extradited quickly, but the choice has a razzle-dazzle feel to it. (The old "baffle 'em with bullshit" gambit.)

    From a practical standpoint, it's a huge place with (I assume) good wi fi access almost everywhere, hard to disappear in. And if his worst fears happen and he's taken by force, the event would almost certainly be recorded on cell phone video.

    My buddies tell me that he's got the goods on US spying efforts against China. I think some of that information got into the public record in an interview he gave this morning but he has much, much more, including specific methods. If he gives that away to get asylum, then he gives up any moral high ground.

    We are complicit in this thing by trusting thousands of twenty-something high school dropout type kids with the nation's secrets.


    Might have been a misstep on his part to reveal that. It's possible that both China and the US will decide to rid themselves of him ASAP.

    He was very effective at getting press, but he was more effective at getting press about Snowden than about the NSA. The country was actually engaged in an uncommonly healthy and vigorous debate about data collection until Snowden felt obliged to reveal himself from a hotel in HK. Now, everyone is back to the old Hero or Traitor controversy that it was having about Bradley Manning.

    "I don't want the story to be about me," he said. "I want it to be about what the US government is doing."


    aa, I'm very interested in what Snowden told LP in the Salon article.

    Do you think he meant something specific when he said selected?


    See page 4, the "hybrid model" and selected data. 

    What I think is odd and a little chilling, is that the rhetoric of all characters in a given situation is analyzed and is part of the prediction scenario, not just words of those who are suspected or expected to perform crimes/violent acts. So even a person who is trying to exercise a peaceful influence could be "selected" if their rhetoric were powerful enough to influence other actors. 


    Grass roots leaders will now be placed 6 feet below the grass, unless they are approved by the real and only leaders?....  You only get a choice between two parties; Democrat or Republican; all others will be excluded, or destroyed. Those in power, fear the people.......  Give them your guns... maybe that will help alleviate their fears? At least get your name on the National data base, so they will know who is armed?

    I don't see anything implying a conspiracy, only a suggestion that some David Brooks types are part of the mix of people with access.

    Flying through all of this discussion it constantly is hitting me that this is just the small town vs. big city thing allover again. The small town where everyone knows your business, you act according to the town majority/tribal norms, lest everyone shames you if you misbehave, with the consequence that life is safe and secure.  One could call that social engineering, but I don't.

    Update to my comment--there are quite a few PRISMs, it seems. HSCB's is different from NSA's, which is different from another agency's.....

    I am not sure about the not-social-engineering. Some of it is intimidation, which isn't good. (Destor Michael's point.)

    Uuuummmm so ... because you don't care that everyone knows you like to look at naked sheep, that means everyone gets to know we like to look at naked sheep together?

    Not cool dude.

    (although, I do like the civics-quiz captcha)

    Doh! Outed! Fine, I confess. I'm a dirty, dirty sheep-gawker.

    Very nice to see here, kgb. That civics captcha finally stopped the damn spammers. I've been meaning to blog about winning the spamwar at dagblog, but I haven't had a chance.

    Latest Comments