Thursday, June 27, 2013

Good luck, Mr. Snowden

According to the EFF,
The US government, with assistance from major telecommunications carriers including AT&T, has engaged in a massive program of illegal dragnet surveillance of domestic communications and communications records of millions of ordinary Americans since at least 2001.
In 2003, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (a now-former telecommunications technician) said:
"While on the January 2003 tour, I saw a new room being built....The new room was near completion. I saw a workman apparently working on the door lock for the room. I later learned that this new room being built was referred to in AT&T documents as the "SG3 Secure Room." The SG3 Secure Room was room number 641A, and measures approximately 24x48 feet."
As EFF's timeline of (public knowledge of) the warrantless wiretapping program explains, In January 2005, the EFF launched a lawsuit against AT&T on behalf of AT&T's customers (Hepting vs AT&T) for violating privacy law by collaborating with the NSA's illegal domestic spying program. Evidence in the case included undisputed evidence provided by Mark Klein showing AT&T routes copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA.

Clearly, the domestic spying program is at least ten years old and probably dates back to September 2001, when terrorism gave the NSA the excuse it needed to expand its mandate. Again from the timeline,
Ex-NSA Analyst J. Kirk Wiebe recalls: "everything changed at the NSA after the attacks on September 11. The prior approach focused on complying with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA"). The post-September 11 approach was that NSA could circumvent federal statutes and the Constitution as long as there was some visceral connection to looking for terrorists." While another ex-NSA analyst also remembers: "The individual liberties preserved in the US Constitution were no longer a consideration [at the NSA]."
Of course, congress never actually voted to put a warrantless wiretapping program in place. They did, however, vote to block the EFF's lawsuit against AT&T, whose discovery phase might have revealed details of what exactly AT&T and the NSA were doing together--perhaps (gasp!) allowing a court to decide whether the program was constitutional. As Snuggly the Security Bear explains, the "FISA Amendments Act" gave telecom companies immunity from liability for helping the NSA; then-senator Obama voted in favor of the bill after claiming to be opposed to immunity.

To those of us who have been paying attention the last ten years, the revelations by Edward Snowden, such as the fact that NSA folks can get "metadata" on any and all domestic phone calls in the US, is not the slightest bit surprising. When you've got secret rooms for intercepting all internet traffic, merely getting "metadata" seems like small potatoes, although the metadata is, in many ways, the most important data. As Kirk Weibe explains:
A common misconception is that an analyst must review the content of communications between people in order to establish a link between them. In fact, an NSA analyst would regard a person's association and the persistence of that association with other persons of being of greater relevance to a determination of whether the person is a member of a community of interest than the actual words used in a series of communications.
For instance, if you want to discover traitors to the British Empire like Paul Revere, metadata alone may suffice.

To get all that metadata on millions of Americans, the NSA apparently got themselves a piece of paper that says it was a warrant. I'm not a cop or a lawyer, but don't actual warrants have to be somehow limited in scope and related to some kind of crime? But don't worry, perhaps it's not even really necessary to have a piece of paper that calls itself a warrant:
The National Security Agency has acknowledged in a new classified briefing that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls, a participant in the briefing said.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, disclosed on Thursday that during a secret briefing to members of Congress, he was told that the contents of a phone call could be accessed "simply based on an analyst deciding that."

If the NSA wants "to listen to the phone," an analyst's decision is sufficient, without any other legal authorization required, Nadler said he learned. "I was rather startled," said Nadler, an attorney and congressman who serves on the House Judiciary committee.
What with this being entirely unconstitutional, you can see why President Obama and the NSA feel it so important to capture and prosecute Edward Snowden--the man who gave up a job that paid $200,000 per year, just to tell Americans the truth about what their government is doing--to make sure all the other NSA analysts don't develop any funny ideas about morality.

Of course, those that think terrorism is a vastly bigger problem than ordinary murder, or that the fourth amendment was a mistake, have come out in force to denounce the traitor. I can only assume this is why the tide seems to be turning, why more Americans are turning sour on Snowden:
...Public support for the former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of secret American surveillance programs has fallen during the past week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.

More than one-quarter of respondents said that Snowden should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, up 3 percentage points from a week earlier.

Just over one-third said he should not be prosecuted for revealing the National Security Agency's collection of Internet and phone data from billions of communications. That was down from a peak of more than 40 percent last week.

The percentage of Americans calling Snowden a "patriot" dipped from 36 to 32 during the last week, while nearly one-quarter of respondents said Snowden was a traitor, up slightly from 21 percent.
Well, America, if you don't demand to know what your own government is doing with the massive security apparatus you paid for with your tax dollars, don't be surprised if you don't find out.

As an American living in Canada, I must say, I am completely at a loss to understand America's mixed-up priorities and bizarre values these days. Enjoy your health care system America, the Democrat (ACA) and Republican ("let's do nothing!") plans are both substantially worse than the systems of any other industrialized nation. Enjoy your guns, you have 80% of the world's Gun murders (ignoring wars, I assume). Enjoy your so-called capitalism, which privatizes profit and socializes losses ("too big to fail"). Enjoy your racism, keep fighting the good fight against those wetbacks! Enjoy your democracy, in which two slightly distinguishable parties work feverishly to distance themselves from each other after passing laws to make sure no third parties are viable. Enjoy your media, which focuses on celebrities and tiny scandals while barely noticing the bigger things going on in America and the world. Enjoy your freedoms, just don't exercise them too much, because you are probably breaking any number of asinine laws right now and the feds have the freedom to indict you if it suits them.

Wake up America. This is corruption. It is more evil than revealing secrets, for evil flourishes in secret; it is more dangerous to America's future than a thousand terrorists, for evil from outside our borders brings us closer together, while evil inside our borders pushes us farther apart. Terrorists will never be able to destroy America's freedom, democracy, finances or constitution; only Americans can do that.

Since Ed Snowden has given up his freedom in order to speak to us, and is likely to spend the rest of his life in prison (whether it be a prison with bars, an airport terminal or an Ecuadorian embassy), we should at least hear what he has to say. I have been unable to find an unedited statement from Mr. Snowden, but here are some quotes from The Guardian's interview with him:
"I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,"

"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions, [but] I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

"I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

"I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."

"I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.... My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

"Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world," he says. "I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good."

"you can't wait around for someone else to act. I had been looking for leaders, but I realised that leadership is about being the first to act."

"I don't see myself as a hero," he said, "because what I'm doing is self-interested: I don't want to live in a world where there's no privacy and therefore no room for intellectual exploration and creativity."

"What they're doing [poses] an existential threat to democracy"

"There are more important things than money. If I were motivated by money, I could have sold these documents to any number of countries and gotten very rich."

"The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,"

"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."