Sunday, May 05, 2013

The examined life is not worth living

The most important ramification of the Boston bombing attack may be one that no-one anticipated: The investigation has led to the revelation that the government records and stores all telephone calls in the U.S.
On Wednesday night, Burnett interviewed Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, about whether the FBI would be able to discover the contents of past telephone conversations between the two. He quite clearly insisted that they could:
BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It's not a voice mail. It's just a conversation. There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

CLEMENTE: "No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

BURNETT: "So they can actually get that? People are saying, look, that is incredible.

CLEMENTE: "No, welcome to America. All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not."

"All of that stuff" - meaning every telephone conversation Americans have with one another on US soil, with or without a search warrant - "is being captured as we speak".

On Thursday night, Clemente again appeared on CNN, this time with host Carol Costello, and she asked him about those remarks. He reiterated what he said the night before but added expressly that "all digital communications in the past" are recorded and stored:

Let's repeat that last part: "no digital communication is secure", by which he means not that any communication is susceptible to government interception as it happens (although that is true), but far beyond that: all digital communications - meaning telephone calls, emails, online chats and the like - are automatically recorded and stored and accessible to the government after the fact. To describe that is to define what a ubiquitous, limitless Surveillance State is.
Forgive the long quote, but Greenwald has focused on an extremely important matter. His article sounds a theme we've heard in many previous posts: See here and here and here.

Although your parents and grandparents never would have tolerated America's culture of warrantless eavesdropping, today's sheepish generation accepts electronic totalitarianism without protest. Too many of your fellow citizens will happily chant that Nazi-era mantra: "If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about."

The NSA's monstrous, intrusive capabilities did nothing to prevent the Boston attack, did nothing to capture the perpetrators. The NSA does not protect us. It observes us. It restricts us. It controls us.

We do not need to stand naked before Big Brother. We do not need to let Uncle Sam record every moment as we interact, fantasize, scheme, aspire, search, investigate, communicate, seduce, masturbate, reveal our psychic depths. Only a masochist would make himself so thoroughly vulnerable. In BDSM terminology, we have become a nation of bottoms.

Socrates had it wrong. The examined life is not worth living.

We can have our old lives back. We can insist that our politicians investigate the NSA, reveal the way it functions, and tether the beast. Tolerate no closed-door committee hearings: We pay for what the NSA does to us and thus we have a right to know.

You know why the NSA doesn't want the facts disclosed? They aren't protecting us; they're protecting themselves. If more Americans knew what was happening, they would put a stop to this nightmare.

Here are a few more excerpts from Greenwald's piece:
Back in 2010, worldwide controversy erupted when the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates banned the use of Blackberries because some communications were inaccessible to government intelligence agencies, and that could not be tolerated. The Obama administration condemned this move on the ground that it threatened core freedoms, only to turn around six weeks later and demand that all forms of digital communications allow the US government backdoor access to intercept them. Put another way, the US government embraced exactly the same rationale invoked by the UAE and Saudi agencies: that no communications can be off limits.
Some new polling suggests that Americans, even after the Boston attack, are growing increasingly concerned about erosions of civil liberties in the name of Terrorism. Even those people who claim it does not matter instinctively understand the value of personal privacy: they put locks on their bedroom doors and vigilantly safeguard their email passwords.
Mass surveillance is the hallmark of a tyrannical political culture.
Greenwald's link goes to a Greg Sargent opinion piece, which in turn points to this Time/CNN poll:
When given a choice, 61 percent of Americans say they are more concerned about the government enacting new anti-terrorism policies that restrict civil liberties, compared to 31 percent who say they are more concerned about the government failing to enact strong new anti-terrorism policies.
But while Americans are increasingly amenable to passive surveillance efforts, including cameras and facial recognition, they are growing more opposed to expanded monitoring of cell phones and email and are more concerned about law enforcement monitoring Internet chat rooms. A plurality, 49 percent, are unwilling to give up civil liberties even if deemed necessary to curb terrorism in the United States — 40 percent say they are willing, and 9 percent day it depends.
Both the 49 percent and the 40 percent need to understand that the NSA's capabilities already go far beyond what most consider possible. The system has but one flaw: The people who run the surveillance state cannot easily use the data they acquire without revealing that a surveillance state exists.

Defeatism won't do any good. We need a movement. We need to make privacy an issue. We need investigations -- and we need to tell Congress that we will tolerate no hearings in executive session.
"No digital communication is secure" implies that encryption such as PGP doesn't work, where the NSA are concerned.

So the No Such Agency have been up to no good, with their worldwide network of dish-strewn bases, their 'friends' in Amdocs, their Cray mainframes, their control over most mathematics, etc. :-)

Apparently the lockdown in Boston was the biggest closure of urban territory since Watts 1965.
Spycatcher revealed that even back in the 70s MI5 were watching all the telegrams and letters that went in or out of the country. The internet was actually developed by the military, through the ARPAnet, and that prime anonymizer, Tor, was developed by the US Navy.

Modern encryption is probably still unbreakable, although the NSA has been investing in bigger and better supercomputers and in companies specialising in quantum computing, so that might not last. But for the moment, encrypting is as safe as the implementation. That's where the problem is, TrueCrypt has been accused of allowing backdoors in their software, OpenBSD, described by Torvalds as "masturbating monkeys" due to their obsession with security, were reported to have had an FBI backdoor implanted in their encryption stack. slashdot has had numerous stories over the last couple of years about most users of SSL having it set up so badly it's effectively worthless, and that's what secures your web transactions with Gmail, Amazon, your bank, whoever else. The intelligence services also like to run things like Tor exit-nodes to run man-in-the-middle attacks on people.

The biggest problem the NSA are likely to have is gathering too much information. Their new supercomputer complex, reported late last year as being built in one of the sandy bits of America, is mostly hard drives, to store all the information they need to sift through, so stay obscure and stay safe.

"Modern encryption is probably still unbreakable". Says you!
You are getting submerged by details. The NSA control western mathematics. Not everything that gets discovered gets published. Look at public-key encryption in the first place. The push for quantum computing is more about analysis than cryptanalysis.

Do you think Clemente's exaggerating when he says no digital communication is secure? It's pretty easy to encrypt the body text of an email using a very long key. SSL and Tor don't come into that. So it's easy to hide the content of an email from NSA? They'll know who you emailed and when and where from, but not what you wrote? Cloud cuckoo land!

There's a whole world of oh-so-hip crypto types talking about this. Cool techie guys with beards. A lovely and cosy scene for the 'concerned citizen' to follow the memes from, until they burn out. Privacy campaigns, kind of stuff. A bit like other parts of politics. Got to grips with why the left has always lost.

The reality is we're totally fucked. The elint situation is far worse than you think. Not just computers, but cars, face recognition practically everywhere (and other kinds of pattern recognition), domestic electrical mains, etc.
Maybe Greenwald has it backwards: maybe Saudi Arabia and the UAE banned Blackberries (did they, really?) was not because their governments could not hack into them, but because NSA could.
"The biggest problem the NSA are likely to have is gathering too much information." I am confident this is correct and perhaps an understatement. (UK?) So let's all give them plenty of worthless grist to grind in their satanic mills. Call up one of your peeps and say, "Hey you know that new movie we wuz talkin' about? It's a real BOMB. If you waste your money on that, your head will EXPLODE. It's like having someone go upside your head with an ASSAULT RIFLE." You get the idea. Might be futile, but it's worth a shot. I think we get credit for e-mail also.
I heard of some activists who started inserting random references to vegetables in their telephonic and email communications scallions on the theory that this would confuse leeks the computers and might even radishes make somebody crazy trying to figure out what the turnips code was.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is 

powered by Blogger. 

Isn't yours?