The NSA’s PRISM internet snooping: By the numbers

See on Scoop.itDidYouCheckFirst

The National Security Agency’s program to mine electronic data from America’s biggest internet companies is mind-boggling in scope. The top-secret effort — code-named PRISM — is reportedly aimed at cross-checking emails and other information exchanged by foreign targets to head off potential threats against the U.S. (Read our helpful primer on PRISM here.) Just how much of an intelligence goldmine is PRISM to analysts trying to foil terrorist plots, and how deeply did they delve into Americans’ private information? Here, a look at PRISM’s reach, by the numbers:

9 Internet companies whose servers the NSA allegedly tapped, according to documents leaked to The Washington Post and The Guardian. The tech giants affected are reportedly Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple.

 

7 Companies on the list whose executives say they never knowingly gave the NSA access to their servers…

See on theweek.com

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Now We’re Angry About Spying?

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None of the revelations so far surrounding PRISM strike me as all that newsworthy. Our country’s leaders have had a long love affair with spying.

The real question is why the sudden outrage and worry about the government abusing this power? Even better, where was the outrage from the right when Bush was doing it illegally?

It is understood that NSA spying didn’t originate with Obama, right?

And by the way, Obama was not the president who duped us into believing we needed to amp up the federal government’s powers with something so deceptively labeled and expertly marketed to us as The Patriot Act.

Besides, isn’t it those of us on the left who ought to be the most outraged with Obama over his willingness to walk a trail blazed mostly, but not exclusively, by his immediate predecessor? Instead, it seems mostly to be the right’s latest excuse to label something as an “Obamanation.” (Cute, huh?)

Well, here’s my take on this outrage du jour.

To anyone who thought they weren’t being monitored until now – until Obama! – it’s only because, and with all due respect, you either,
a) know better and are just being hyper-partisan while choosing to ignore Bush’s record in this matter,
b) don’t have a complete understanding about Big Data, the technology of networks and computers, and how they’re used by organizations, both private and public or,
c) you’ve convinced yourself that you’re somehow special or immune from the realities of living a digital life and all that entails in terms of bits, bytes, packets, and microprocessors.

It’s not called Big Data for no reason.

If you think the government looking at metadata of daily cell phone calls is disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing until you look at what corporations know about you.

No, I don’t like any of it, either. I do understand, however, that corporations and government both already know a lot about us, and technology is making that easier all the time. That’s reality, and that genie is never going back into the bottle. Data is the new coin of the realm, and the people who stand to benefit from it are far, far, FAR more likely to be gainfully employed in the private sector than they are to be government officials.

This isn’t an indictment of corporations. I’ve spent my entire career in technology. It’s simply a matter of fact that corporations are the ones who are creating and who are much more motivated to develop more and better ways of knowing everything about you. Anyone who doubts this should Google or search YouTube with phrases like, “how digital ads work”, “behavioral advertising”, “Big Data”, and “deep packet inspection.”

I’m also not minimizing the threat and concerns about a government knowing too much about its citizens. The issue here is where the balance is between privacy and security.

In the private sector and, like it or not, we agree to give up our privacy every time we choose to accept the user agreements. Those are the endless documents of fine print you never read but agree to by checking off a box when you sign up for a service. It comes with living a part of our lives online.

Why aren’t we just as incensed by the fact that profit-driven corporations collect tremendous amounts of data about us?  Am I just not hearing about that outrage? At least when it comes to the government we have some say in who gets elected, right? That’s not true in the private sector. Even with publicly traded companies the individual voices of average shareholders mean nothing compared to institutional investors.

Privacy is mostly a fantasy in the 21st century. You might even call it a quaint notion. It has very nearly no basis in reality in a modern world. Ted Kaczynski didn’t leave digital bread crumbs. He might have been the last person not to do so. I suspect that that’s not a lifestyle most of us would find appealing.

On the other hand, lots of people now seem to be in love with cameras in public spaces, a la Boston, and what it might mean for safety and security. Is that what we want, to be captured more and more in our public lives, both in the real world and online, all in the name of safety and security?

So why all this outrage now? Why now over the renewal – not the creation, the renewal – of the NSA’s spying authorization?

Could it be for political gain?

What can be done about it?

Well, for starters and unlike with the private sector, we have some say in the matter when it comes to our government.

The question about what the government can and can’t do when it comes to privacy comes down to the choices we make. Call me naive, but I still believe in democracy. On a very regular and predictable schedule we Americans get to exercise a very valuable right to choose our leaders for ourselves. What the government does from there is, in part, a result of those choices we make as citizens. 

We need to decide.

Are we going to demand more and better safety and security from our government? Then we need to get used to the idea of domestic “spying.” We’ll suffer much less angst and anxiety if we stop agonizing and complaining about government spying (and profiling). How else do we expect the government to keep us safe?

We’ll also be well-served if we stop deluding ourselves into thinking that the NSA gives a shit about our cell phone calls. Sorry, John and Jane Q. Public, but you’re just not that important or that interesting. Get over yourselves. All we can hope for is that government officials will learn how to spy in a digital world really, really well from the real experts at Google, Facebook, et. al. We don’t want to inadvertently be caught up in any plans to foil terrorism, the Tsarnaevs notwithstanding. Either way, keep reminding yourself that Minority Report was just a movie. There will be crime and terrorism in the future, and no amount of surveillance can prevent all of it.

Now, if you prefer privacy – absolute, unequivocal, Rand Paul Libertarian-type privacy – then I think you need to be prepared to sacrifice some of that (false?) sense of safety and security. Just don’t be too surprised when “bullshit” is called on your complaints when (not if) the next heinous crime is committed. If security requires advanced knowledge and that knowledge comes from data and you don’t want the government to have that data, then you don’t get as much security and you really don’t have much of a leg to stand on to complain about less security.

We’ve been told in the past, and we’re told still today, that all this data surveillance helps to foil terrorist plots. I hope that’s true, but how do we know? We’re not privy to the details. If we’re going to take the government’s word for it when the GOP is in the majority and in the White House then we have to take the word of the Democrats on that, too, don’t we?

So, if privacy is your stronger desire then my advice is to start by cutting up your credit cards. Follow that with deleting all your online accounts. Next, close all of your bank accounts and use the cash to secure a one-room shack in the middle of the woods. I hear there’s a vacancy without running water or electricity in Montana.

Better yet, get involved. Make your concerns known to your elected officials. Vote in primaries and elections for people like the Senators and  Representatives who voted No to extend the Patriot Act.

If we’re really concerned about what the government knows about us and how they learn it, we at least have elections where we get to vote for our fellow citizens who ostensibly will represent us and our interests.

Who knows? If we elect candidates who actually care more about the rights of people than they do the big money special interests and corporations then we might even end up with a government that gives us back a little of our privacy without sacrificing too much security.

If you want to help get money out politics, check out Coffee Party USA’s 535 Campaign at http://www.coffeepartyusa.com/ask_your_representative_to_be_a_leader

Coffee Party USA no longer has my support or endorsement. Click here if you’re curious as to why that is, and please drop me a Comment if you see any links to them on this site I may have missed.

Sources:

“Timeline of NSA Domestic Spying”, Electronic Frontier Foundation. https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/timeline

“Bush Let’s U.S. Spy On Callers Without Courts”, New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0

“Speak Softly and Carry a Big Data”, The New Yorker. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/06/nsa-prism-big-data-national-security.html

“Surveillance Cameras Sought by Cities After Boston Bombing”, Bloomberg. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-29/surveillance-cameras-sought-by-cities-after-boston-bombs.html

“Inside Congress” The New York Times. http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/votes/112/senate/1/84 and http://politics.nytimes.com/congress/votes/112/house/1/376

Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts – New York Times

See on Scoop.itDidYouCheckFirst

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the National Security Agency has spied on hundreds of people inside the U.S.

Greg Russak‘s insight:

Quick reminder. 

See on www.nytimes.com

Where Was GOP Outrage Before Benghazi?

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I find the GOP’s outrage over Benghazi to not only be an insult to everyone who died in the illegal and unjust wars waged by Cheney and Bush, it’s an insult to every thoughtful American who knows full well what they’re doing now. They stayed silent in the Bush years because it wasn’t in their political interest to express any real and sincere outrage at a time when it was actually justified. Now they want us to think they’ve suddenly developed a conscience?

For most politicians, outrage is put on display only when it suits them and their purposes. The GOP have become absolute masters at this since the 2008 election. This feigned outrage over Benghazi is just the latest example. It’s a weak and pathetic attempt to dupe Americans into believing that the White House and the State Department actually colluded and intentionally misled us so that Obama could win reelection.

News flash: He didn’t need the help. It was a landslide on every level and in every demographic except older whites.

What’s particularly stunning is the GOP’s audacity to complain about wanting a smaller government while they’re wasting time and effort on Benghazi, as well as finding the time to vote for the 37th time to repeal a law SCOTUS says is legal. Give it a rest, already, Republicans. You’re actually past embarrassing yourselves, and it’s really starting to look like some kind of clinical psychosis.

Democrats are no prize, either. They’re barely different, really, but they are just different enough. At least the Blue Team doesn’t deny science and actually cares about programs that support human and civil rights.

What I am upset with the Democrats about is their capitulation, cowardice, and silence during the W years, and with Obama’s Republican-lite approach on too many things.

AP tapped? Why are we surprised? Want to know why the government felt it was ok to tap the Associated Press? Trace it back to the fear we bought into after 911 and the rush in DC by the Legislative and Executive branches to empower our government to take away some (a lot) or our freedoms and liberties with the Patriot Act and the FISA amendments that allow the continuation of warrantless wiretapping.

Holder says it was to protect us. That excuse was perfectly fine with Republicans when Bush used it.

For what it’s worth, I’m proud to say that I marched with thousands of people in DC twice in protest of Bush, the Iraq war, and this overreach of government power. I haven’t changed my mind about any of it. I’m disappointed in Obama for not doing more to reverse these trends. In fact, his drone policy is very disturbing. Still, I’d have him everyday over any GOP candidate.

Maybe the GOP “outrage” over Benghazi can somehow be justified on some level. Time will tell, I suppose. The real question that’s going unanswered is where was – and where is – their outrage over what happened from 2001 to 2009 when a Republican was in the White House and all these people died for oil, money, and lies?

Where’s their outrage over the mess W left with our standing in the world? Where’s their outrage over how our economy was crashed thanks to 30 years of Reagan’s failed trickle down economics? Where’s the outrage from having left yet another mess for the Democrats to have to clean up?

Guess that explains the silence over Iraq. Republicans can remain confident in the knowledge that they can pretty much say anything is Obama’s fault and know that some portion of the population will believe it.