Home / General / Your Privacy Through A PRISM

Your Privacy Through A PRISM


The Verizon order was problematic, but the PRISM program revealed by the WaPo yesterday seems much worse than that.

A key lesson, I argue, is that as often happens the separation of powers doesn’t produce checks and balances so much as the legislative branch delegating broad authority so it can wash its hands of a policy problem. The Bush and Obama administrations are the primary villains here; power delegated can go unused or be used more prudently. But this kind of overreach was inevitable as soon as the modified FISA passed, and my guess is that congressional majorities will continue to find this state of affairs perfectly. At any rate, read the whole thing for the whole argument.

…and, yes, the fact that there’s no political price to be paid for erring on the anti-privacy side is a major part of the problem.

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  • Weaker Boener’s hypocrisy — in critiquing a program he has voted to extend every single time it’s come up — is particularly galling. I can’t recall which Republican it was who came out and stood against his own party and said “Yes, we approved it and it stopped at least one terror threat,” but I’d like to buy him a drink.

    • Todd

      “Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, says that phone data collected by the NSA “thwarted” a domestic terror plot “in the last few years,” Politico reports.

      “Within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States,” Rogers said. The program is “used to make sure that there’s not an international nexus to any terrorism event that they may believe is ongoing in the United States. In that regard, it is a very valuable thing. It is legal,” he said.

      Rogers’ committee hopes to declassify information on the allegedly thwarted plot and make it public.”


  • Cody

    Of course this would blow up on a Democratic President. Odds a Republican who championed the program is the whistleblower?

    Any ways, this is pretty appalling. I would not have thought FISA granted this kind of power. Obama’s only response to this is to immediately move to introduce a bill making this clearly illegal.

    I’m sure there is a Democrat out there willing to champion it, and move the spotlight off of him and onto Congress. Then we can all amuse at Republicans either being caught supporting the police state, or having to actually take a step back from it.

    Either way it’s a win (assuming it goes through somehow).

    I wonder how much knowledge Obama had of this? Could it have been running in the NSA without his knowledge as just a “minor” project, or is there no chance of that? I know it doesn’t matter, just curious. Always trying to figure out exactly where he stands on these issues, and where he pretends to stand for politics.

    • joe from Lowell

      Could it have been running in the NSA without his knowledge as just a “minor” project, or is there no chance of that?

      Maybe, maybe not.

      I’d like to get an answer to that question.

      Scott writes this up as if he knows it was ordered from the Oval Office, but we don’t seem to know. Congress certainly did more than merely hand the President the authority to do this; they drafted and passed legislation to make the particular program happen.

      • tonycpsu

        they drafted and passed legislation to make the particular program happen.

        I have a problem with phrasing this as legislation “mak[ing] the particular program happen.” What really happened is that Congress gave the executive branch the power to make it happen and the executive branch exercised that power on its own volition. The White House was never required to create this specific program or anything like it.

        It’s more the way Scott phrases it — Congress ceded power to the President with overly-broad statutes and the President (Bush and then Obama) took that power and ran with it.

        • joe from Lowell

          What really happened is that Congress gave the executive branch the power to make it happen and the executive branch exercised that power on its own volition.

          Well, no.

          First, the executive branch (during the Bush administration) made the program happen. Then, Congress went along and passed language, at the behest of the Bush administration, directing the executive to make the program happen.

          This is more like the Controlled Substances Act and related War on Drugs bills, that direct the executive to do certain things, than like the the Clean Air Act, which gives the executive a broad authority.

          • joe from Lowell

            That should be ‘could be more like.’

            We need more information before making that call.

        • Heron

          I wouldn’t even say “took the power and ran with it”; as Udall and Whyden have repeatedly pointed out, the authority for these over-wide programs rests in the Executives interpretation of their legislative grant. Just as the Executive’s interpretation of Classification is clearly abusive in its expanse, and clearly intended to prevent those harmed from challenging their mistreatment, so too is their interpretation here going much farther than Congress may have intended*.

          *If you’re willing to believe Congress even understood the Patriot Act when they passed it. I happen to believe they, at most, skimmed it (and a small number of them at that), never seriously debated it, didn’t really comprehend all of what was in it, and then signed off on it because they all believed it’d be “terrible optics” not to vote for an act so named after the September 11th attacks (a belief I’d dispute, but you’d certainly think that from what the Media was saying at the time). They continued reauthorizing for the usual reason; not doing so would mean they were wrong the first time. So basically, we have PATRIOT for the reasons we usually have bad laws in the US; laziness, complacency, and ego.

      • Murc

        Scott writes this up as if he knows it was ordered from the Oval Office, but we don’t seem to know.

        Even if this wasn’t ordered by Obama AND he had complete ignorance of its existence (both things I doubt) he knows about it now and the buck, as they say, stops at his desk.

        • DocAmazing

          This was the argument made about the Bay of Pigs: that it was launched by the previous administration, that it was already underway when the new administration came aboard, that the new administrations was not adequately briefed about it, and that the new administration was effectively manipulate into letting it happen by a semi-rogue intelligence agency.

          The largest difference is that this is happening in Bayonne, not Bahia de Cochinos.

  • NonyNony

    The Bush and Obama administrations are the primary villains here; power delegated can go unused or be used more prudently.

    Except of course that power delegated that goes unused can be used to attack the executive rhetorically for “not doing all they can to stop terror attacks” once something happens. There is literally no incentive to not use the delegated power and strong incentive to maximally push its use to the limits that the law allows. And that’s intentional because Congress set it up for this authority to be used in exactly this way.

    So sorry but no – the primary villains here are in fact Congress because they actually could do something about this but won’t because this state of affairs is exactly what they want.

    And in fact I’d say the primary villains here are the American people who continue to elect a Congress that refuses to act as an actual check on executive authority. Because the majority of the American people don’t actually WANT a check on executive authority when “their” guy is in power.

    If the majority of the people in this country actually cared about this it wouldn’t happen. Hell if even a dedicated large minority of the population actually cared about this it wouldn’t happen either. But that isn’t the case – most of the country is very much in the “I’m not doing anything wrong so who cares if they read my e-mails/monitor my credit card usage/see who I’m calling” camp.

    I’ve been depressed and angry about this state of affairs for going on 2 decades now. And nothing that came out this week is news to any of us who have been watching the trajectory of this crap since the 90s.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      i think it’s more people saying to themselves, “i’m not doing anything wrong so they *don’t* read my e mails, etc”

      • Exactly, which is why privacy issues seldom move voters. And why Congress never feels compelled to reign in the executive branch.

        In fact, other than in the 1970’s, has Congress ever done much to check the executive branch on surveillance, transparency and due process? Sure didn’t after WWI, didn’t during WWII, Congress actually pushed things further through the McCarthy crap, and there wasn’t much in concrete actions because of Iran-Contra.

        I think the problem has been marginally worse with Republicans, but other than the 1970’s the Democrats have been pretty shitty too.

        • Davis X. Machina

          The Democrats were pretty shitty in the’70’s too. For every Frank Church, there was a John Stennis, for every Bob Drinan, there was a Richard Shelby (he was a Democrat then.)

          And it’s been that way since 1943 or so.

          The national security state is to no small extent the creation of people who are otherwise liberal icons.

          • We’re not really disagreeing. My point was just that they were sufficiently less shitty in the 1970’s that enough of them, with some GOP support, were able to actually do their job of checking the power of the executive. But yes, there were still quite a large percentage of them who were horrible.

      • NonyNony

        Not in my experience. It’s more like “I’m not doing anything wrong, so I don’t care if Google/Yahoo/the Feds/etc. are monitoring my emails.”

        And I’ve also had the argument proclaimed to me that they should be monitoring everyone’s internet traffic to catch pedophiles. So even if somehow we could “win” the “War on Terror” and wipe out any terrorist threat tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter because some other bogeyman would serve just as well.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          people i talk to in real life seem to be more bothered by the notion of the government going through their e mail, etc than people i read on the internet. i don’t quite understand why that is – other than i do happen to know a fair amount of libertarian types

    • joe from Lowell

      I would rank the villains as

      Bush administration
      Obama administration

      The Bush administration made this program happen. They gave the orders to the NSA and FBI to do this.

      Congress worked with the Bush administration to make sure that the program would happen. They passed legislation in order to protect it from judicial restrictions, and to add their voice to the President’s in directing the NSA to do this.

      Obama continued the program that the previous administration and Congress put into place. He did not try, at least not yet, to bring it to an end. He didn’t order it shut down on the executive end, and he hasn’t put in any effort to get Congress to change the law.

      • zombie rotten mcdonald

        I think that’s a fair way to look at it.

      • EH

        I don’t think they necessarily need to be ranked when they all work in concert to keep our heads below the water.

      • Ronan

        Well sure, the Bush admin came first, sooo..

  • rea

    It’s private information I shared only with my cell phone provider, my ISP, my credit card company and Google! Darn government invading my privacy . . .

    • Slate Editorial Board

      By this logic, since my garbage is shared with my municipal government already, the feds have every right to search everybody’s trash, using one blanket warrant.

      • Malaclypse


        • zombie rotten mcdonald

          ooo what a giveaway.

      • Cody

        Who knew Slate had editors?

      • rea

        Uh, yes, they do–without any warrant at all (that is, trash you put out for pickup).

        • joe from Lowell

          I’m going to be generous, and assume that the poster knew that, and was making fun of the stupidity of the Slate editorial board by writing that comment.

          • Malaclypse

            Nah, it has been a long week, and I was stupid.

      • ChrisTS

        Um, actually, they do that already. The Supremes have held that you have no expectation of privacy regarding your trash, once you have put it out.

      • desertrat

        They do. Greenwood v. California.

        The moment your trash is put out on the curb for pickup, it’s considered to be ‘abandoned’, therefore they do not need a warrant to search it.

      • sapient

        I thought they already did have the power to search everybody’s trash. I don’t even think they need a warrant. I’ll have to go look it up. Yes: California v. Greenwood

    • joe from Lowell

      It’s private information I shared only with my cell phone provider, my ISP, my credit card company and Google!

      In the same way that you share your love letters with the post office? You give them to them to deliver – does that mean you are authorizing them to share the contents?

      The change in technology from 1920s analogue telephony to what we have today may well have created a legal loophole, since now there is an actual thing – a data packet – that you give to your provider to look at. However, if the standard is a reasonable expectation of privacy, should some grandma who only knows she is picking up and dialing the phone and talking on it, just like she did in 1966, be reasonably expected to know that the technological changes she doesn’t know anything about have made her conversations less private?

      The reasonable expectation standard is about what is in the mind of the person talking on the phone.

      • catclub

        Unless you are encrypting your emails, it is more like handing a postcard to the post office.

        Is anyone trying to use pgp? Enlisting more of their correspondents? Will this motivate some of that?

        • Barry

          “Unless you are encrypting your emails, it is more like handing a postcard to the post office.”

          Bullsh*t. A post card is open to the casual eye; e-mail is not. Deliberate actions have to be taken to read it.

        • Philip

          This is a really poor analogy. Major email providers (ie google) encrypt mail that is in transit. The sender and destination are visible, sure, but unless you subject all your postcards to strong cryptography…

        • Rhino

          Would that be the PGP widely believed to be readable by the NSA due to sleazy back doors in the systems?

      • catclub

        As to phone calls, is the conversion of a copper landline to IP phone service ( which AT&T has done for me) also a notable event for wiretapping distinction purposes?

      • desertrat

        THIS is why you should use encryption. Your love letters are put into a sealed envelope for delivery. Email is like sending every communication on a post card.

        However we’ve been conditioned by decades of corrupt authoritarians into believing that ‘only drug dealers and terrorists use encryption!’

        • Davis X. Machina

          People don’t use encryption because the available products are either expensive, or hard to use, or both, except in those situations when encryption isn’t hard to use, expensive, or even visible to the end user. (SSL, VoIP…)

          It’s not 1997 and we’re not still fighting over PGP.

          And less-than-fully-assed human factors engineering, far more than corrupt authoritarians, are the choke-point.

          Show your grandmother how to use TOR sometime…. and good luck.

          • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn

            Jesus, *I* can’t even get Tor to work right.

        • NonyNony

          But again – despite the fact that I care about the government and other people sifting through my e-mails, I don’t actually think that anyone other than my e-mail service providers (in my case Google, Yahoo and my employer for my work e-mail) actually IS sifting through my e-mails. And though I don’t trust Google, Yahoo or my employer much I also don’t use anything via e-mail that I wouldn’t want the three of them to know I was doing.

          So why use encryption? A better standard is to make e-mail delivery equivalent to Federal Postal Service standards and make it a Federal crime to tamper with e-mail without a warrant. That might even give our e-mail providing overlords pause before pawing through our private message. We’ve gone exactly the opposite way with data security and have made “blaming the victim” the defacto standard instead of actually doing something to protect it.

          And, frankly, this is because most Americans want the Feds to be reading everyone’s email. Because if you haven’t done anything wrong, you shouldn’t care, so if you care it must be because you’re hiding something.

          After dealing with this mentality even among so-called libertarians for 20 years, I just don’t have any ideas left about how to tackle it.

          • FlipYrWhig

            I really like the idea of treating pawing over e-contents as much a crime as snail-mail tampering.

    • Barry

      “t’s private information I shared only with my cell phone provider, my ISP, my credit card company and Google! Darn government invading my privacy . . .”

      Looks like another right-winger who stops caring about government intrusion the minute that the national security complex is doing the governing.

  • And what do we do to stop it?

    All any politician has to say is, “National Security,” and more people than not, will agree with him/her. They’ll say, “Well, if you’re not doing anything wrong, then why are you worried about this? It’s here to protect us.”
    And how do you argue that?

    I’m not saying we have to like it, but let’s face facts, it’s here to stay. No matter how much I wish it wasn’t so, it is so.
    And it doesn’t matter who’s President – all s/he’ll have to say is, “National Security,” and we’re back off to the races.

    And I’ll ask again – why are people shocked by this?

    That horse left the barn back in The Civil War days, when the government said it could open and read the mail, and intercept and read telegraph messages.
    A phone, cell or landline, is just a much better way of communicating, than dots and dashes, and the internet is much faster than The Pony Express, and can carry a whole lot more information than those poor little horsies.

    Some of us protested that we were losing rights, right and left, when the idiotic “War on Drugs” started, and were largely ignored.
    We were DFH’s who probably loved using drugs, you see – or so it was assumed.

    This genii will never go back into the bottle.
    I don’t mind trying.
    Futility has kind of become my middle name, of late.

    • brad

      This spares me having to type similar sentiments. I even had the words genie and bottle written in the beginning of a comment.
      I’ve been assuming everything I do involving a data connected electronic device is monitored and/or recorded since at least 2003, and to cling to that late a date is probably naive.

      • any moose

        This spares me having to type similar sentiments.

        Good, I’d have hated to read two of the same lazy thought-free shitpost.

        And how do you argue that?

        By arguing with it, you fucking dolt.

    • ChrisTS

      All too true. Further, I think younger people don’t really expect or value privacy. So, those of us who find this deeply disturbing are probably dying out.

      • Chris, that’s a great point!

        But you’re right.
        When I was a kid, I valued my privacy. I’d go to my room, and read books, or listen to albums.
        Nowadays, kids are used to social networking mediums – hell, they grew up with them. They were raised, sharing information, photo’s, video’s, and music.

        And when my niece and nephew criticize me for not being on Facebook, or Twitter, or the others, I tell them, “When they invent anti-social media, call me, THAT, I might join!” :-)

        • joe from Lowell

          An app that tells people to go away?

          I’m in!

          • Bill Murray

            or to get off my lawn

            • DocAmazing


        • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn

          But isn’t the act of joining inherently a social act, which would therefore negate the premise of the anti-social network?

        • ChrisTS

          Several years ago, now, one of my wealthier students proudly showed me his new phone that would allow him to be located anywhere in the world. “Why in any god’s name would you want that?” I asked.

          Since then, I have pretty much given up.

      • Cody

        I’m not really kept up thinking about it I guess.

        Most of the junk I put on the internet, I could care less about. If the government wants to come after me about trolling CNN commentators, I am counting on someone like the ACLU to back me up.

        Of course, these things can slip away. That’s the fear. I don’t upload things to Google Drive that are deeply “personal”. The only thing on the internet that I worry about is my financials. I would say I pretty much have to trust the US Government not to steal my credit cards or bank account info and use them. After all, if I can’t trust them exactly what good is the dollars I’m using…

      • Philip

        I’m not sure it’s fair to say that they (we) don’t value privacy, exactly. Most people I know around my age value it, but have given up any expectation of it. People share a lot, but most also have a very well developed, barely-conscious filter that keeps things they consider private offline. There are a lot of things you just don’t do or say online.

        • ChrisTS

          I appreciate this, but you cannot imagine how difficult it is to get the message to our students. I mean, hell, look at Steubenville.

    • any moose

      All any politician has to say is, “National Security,” and more people than not, will agree with him/her.

      victim-blaming the public, the fun and easy alternative to attributing responsibility to the people actually responsible.

  • Ann Outhouse

    The other villains are the companies that rolled over for this.

    If M$, Apple, Google et alia and the big telcos got together publicly and gave a giant unified middle finger to the feds, the program would go away tomorrow.

    I can’t imagine what they thought was in it for them, other than some vague promise of immunity from liability if a terrorist sent an email through their servers.

    • I think there’s enough legal ambiguity that from a purely business standpoint they probably figure the safe move is to comply with the request but to challenge it is very risky.

    • joe from Lowell

      Back during the Bush administration, WorldCom gave the Bush administration the finger when they were asked to help out with the illegal domestic surveillance program.

      Shortly thereafter, the CEO of WorldCom was in federal prison.

      It still remains to be seen whether the top management of these companies knew about this. The NSA and FBI might have been working through assets that didn’t inform corporate.

      • EH

        You’re thinking of Qwest and Joseph Nacchio.

      • Bernie Ebbers would have been glad to sell out to the government, for a profit, if he had had the chance.

    • Well, there pretty happy to play ball with authoritarian regimes in other countries. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they didn’t bat an eyelash at the idea of supporting authoritarianism at home. Hell, Google just about explicitly states that their business is spying on anyone and everyone they can.

      • DocAmazing

        But of course, that is not “being evil”.

        • Rhino

          Well, actually the spying isn’t evil. The potential for evil is in what you do with the products of your spying.

    • wengler

      Would you rather see yourself and your friends enriched beyond your wildest dreams or would you like to stand up for a principle and end up dead or in prison?

      These are just the rules applied to third world countries coming home to roost. Expect many more fat, rich cowards than hungry, penniless heroes.

  • Ronan

    Is 20 million not an unusually small amount of funding for a program like this to get?

    • zombie rotten mcdonald

      As a secret project, wouldn’t it be likely that it is being funded through the Black Budget?

      • Yeah, I don’t think we should assume we have any idea how much is being spent on it.

      • Ronan

        Yeah fair enough, but this was a leak rather than official statement so there isn’t that impediment to getting a ‘realistic’ figure

    • joe from Lowell

      It’s not a small amount if “a program like this” only refers to the collection of ones and zeros and their storage on system.

      It would take real money to analyze and use that data. That is almost certainly not included in the $20 million.

      • ChrisTS

        I heard someone on NPR saying that some NSA agents dislike all this data collection as a technique. The metaphor he used was that of a haystack getting ever bigger, making it more difficult to find the needle.

        • Philip

          They’re collecting so much data that doing proper analysis is just not feasible. It’s like the allegations about the “secret room” at AT&T. How do you do thorough analysis on the entire Internet?

      • (the other) Davis

        It’s not a small amount if “a program like this” only refers to the collection of ones and zeros and their storage on system.

        $20 million “wouldn’t even cover the air conditioning costs and the electrical bill for the datacenter” needed to house that data for any length of time.

  • L2P

    A key lesson, I argue, is that as often happens the separation of powers doesn’t produce checks and balances so much as the legislative branch delegating broad authority so it can wash its hands of a policy problem.

    I don’t think there’s any chance that Congress wouldn’t have enacted the PRISM program. The main reason there’s no checks and balances isn’t the legislature delegating power, but because the executive is doing exactly what the legislature wants. If Congress actually didn’t like stuff like PRISM, they would say so.

    • joe from Lowell

      Remember what Congress did in response to Obama ending the practice of putting terrorism suspects into indefinite detention: they put a mandate that he resume doing so into the NDAA, and only scrapped it in response to his public veto threat.

      • Even easier examples are available – Gitmo.

  • Kurzleg

    Evidently, Barro wants to undermine his own argument:

    The perverse impact of zero tolerance for terrorism doesn’t just show up in surveillance. It’s the reason we all have to take our shoes off at the airport, that Boston shut down for a day after the Marathon bombings at a likely cost of over $100 million, and that we invaded Iraq.

    • I can see a reading of that which is accurate: without 9-11, pretty much zero chance we would have invaded Iraq. We didn’t invade Iraq because it perpetrated 9-11, but 9-11 created the necessary environment and provided the necessary source of fear and vague sense of association with 9-11 that made possible the sufficient public and media support to go forward with the invasion.

      • Kurzleg

        Barro is claiming that the Iraq invasion is one of “the perverse impact[s] of zero tolerance for terrorism.” I can see the connection between zero tolerance and his other examples, but the Iraq invasion is quite a stretch. I won’t deny that the 9/11 attacks created a mood that enabled those who’d been pushing for the invasion for a long time prior to 9/11, but that’s different from saying it was the result of the “perverse impact of zero tolerance.”

        • I get the point you’re making, and I agree with you on Iraq not literally being about terrorism, at least not 9-11–since in the past Saddam had supported terrorism, just not religious terrorism–but I still see how what he said can be correct. But I don’t think there’s any argument that if my interpretation is closer to his intention that it was a bit sloppy for him to include that example without caveats or further explanation.

      • If former Treasury Sec. Paul O’Neill is to be believed the Bushies were talking about invading Iraq as soon as they entered the White House.

        They may not have been successful in that effort but I think the chances were much greater than zero.


        • Pretty much. 9/11 was the excuse. PNAC was the very public motivation.

          Preparation (motivation to exploit public fear on Iraq)


          opportunity (susceptibility to national security overreaction)

          Bush/Cheney was going to provoke Saddam or invoke the Maine, the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, or manufacture some other casus belli.

          9/11 just accelerated the process and made the selling so much easier.

          Unfortunately the preparation did not include actually preparing for conducting the war and the inevitable power vacuum requiring occupation. Minor details.

  • MPAVictoria

    This is appalling but there is little to be done. Privacy concerns appeal to only a small section of the electorate. And it is not like we have many choices anyway.

    • Democracy does not mean the electorate will value the right things.

      A lot of what’s wrong with America the past 30 years was done with full volition of the majority of the electorate (including the non-voting apathetic).

      You can say they didn’t have full knowledge of Republican economic policies, the intrusions on their liberties, but I will assert that it was with full understanding that they didn’t care to know the details and when involuntarily become aware of them, they still acquiesce.

      You can’t really lead people where they don’t want to go.

  • LeftWingFox

    Yeah. Meanwhile the hacker who helped expose the Steubenville atrocity has been raided by the FBI and faces 10 years in jail.


    • That really irritates the hell out of me. The rapists got one and two years in jail. The guy who helped expose them could get so much more. And the bankers who fucked up the economy got nothing at all. >:(

      • Malaclypse

        And the bankers who fucked up the economy got nothing at all.

        That isn’t true. They got bonuses.

    • ChrisTS

      Jeebus H. I might just go back to bed.

    • Cody

      Surely there has to be accountability for this. Who uses a SWAT team to serve a search warrant on a non-violent suspect?

      That’s dumb. A huge waste of resources.

      And not even touching the fact the guy doesn’t appear to have done anything remotely illegal except drawing attention to a rape case that was being covered up.

  • Jesse Levine

    Two thoughts.

    1.Bin Laden’s sending planes at D.C. made the Congresscritters fearful for their own safety, not the safety of troops on actual battlefields. They will place no limits on any program that hints at making them personally secure.

    2.If the right loves “trading” liberty for security so much, maybe they should consent to confiscation of all guns. That would definitely save millions of lives.

  • Alex

    “If emails and other data stored on personal home computers doesn’t carry an expectation of privacy, the Fourth Amendment would become very nearly a dead letter.” -SCOTT LEMIEUX

    Err, the entire point is that this is information that is not stored on a person’s home computer.

    The question being asked is “Is there an expectation of privacy when using third-party companies to communicate?” The answer, at the moment, is no. I disagree with that and think it should be yes, but that’s the Constitutional justification behind the program.

  • PGervais

    Hi y’all

    Whew! I am sorta kinda relieved.I was bitchin’ 4 posts ago about the lack of just such a discussion…

    However, I am a bit depressed as well: since when “this will never go away” and “we can’t do anything about it” became mantras in left-wing blogs? If this was ever true, we would still have child labor (ask Erik Loomis about the prospect of that going away in 1885), and Social Security would never ever be attacked by the Republicans (ask the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce about the chances of its outlook becoming national policy in 1965…).

    Just saying. I am NOT giving up, which is why I keep posting. This has to be turned around -which means outrage.


    PS: How about making the 4th Amendment the left-wing equivalent of the 2d Amendment? It’s not any crazier…


    • Steve S.

      Learned Helplessness. It’s what the folks in charge desire for the rest of us. It’s the same line of thinking that tells women they must dress and act with extreme modesty because men are bigger and stronger and just can’t help themselves.

      Remember this post from last year? “Civil liberties don’t just have a strong political constituency no matter who’s in the White House.” Greenwald has shown that with a little (or maybe a lot of) persistence you can not only get an issue into the public arena you can even dominate the news cycle for a couple of days. That said, there is no single column, or even a series of them, that is going to turn the tide. It’s a long game and you have to be prepared for modest victories as well as outright defeats. For now I’m pleased to see the apologists for the National Security State a little bit on the defensive and hope that they remain so for a while.

  • any moose

    “problematic”, whoa callllllm down there, you might strain something.

    But hey linking to that article victim blaming the public sure took courage

  • PGervais

    P.S. To Alex: a contract with a private company does not automatically includes you waving your privacy rights, it seems to me. Indeed the contract itself, and all activities arising therefrom, should be protected by the 4th Amendement, no? (disclaimer: I am no lawyer).

    And P.S. to all: I started using VPN tunnels a couple of years ago, in the hope of bugging the NSA. Since, for various reasons I won’t go into here, they are probably pretty sure I am a “Friend of the U.S.A.”, whatever that means, it was probably a waste of money and they didn’t pay attention. Still, encryption is cheap; Do it till they ban it, and then let’s find something else.

    And P.P.S.: on the plus side, there are precedents for total surveillance States, and they prove the liberal point that it’s a f***g waste of money. Talk to the East Germans: nothing in Dick Cheney’s wildest dreams ever came close to what they did (1/3 of the population filing daily reports on what the other 2/3 were doing!), and they still collapsed like a house of cards when their time came. So if you feel down, whisper to yourself “Stasi”, and you will feel much better.


  • DrDick

    While this does not make me happy, it is hardly surprising. This is exactly what NSA has always done with international communications and with communications between the US and foreign countries. Data mining is what they do. It would not surprise me in the least if this has been going on at least since the Patriot Act passed, if not much longer. Intelligence agencies are information junkies and will never be happy until they can collect all possible information on everyone in the world. They still will not have any idea what to do with it or how to make sense of most of it, but they will have it, which is what makes them happy.

  • JimInMissoula

    It’s been about 10 years since Congress de-funded Total Information Awareness program, but I was pretty sure that some day we’d find out that it just got moved into some discretionary black budget and continued apace.

    BTW, the NSA recently broke ground on a massive $2 billion data center down in Utah.

  • wengler

    How excited do you think Republicans got when Obama started blowing the dust off odious laws from 100 years ago in order to prosecute whistleblowers? The next Republican President is going to have so many nifty tools to implement the rightwing agenda.

    Whatever journalists are left that refuse to play ball with the corporate state will be going to prison by the bucketloads.

  • I’m a little surprised by the general level of naivete on this.

    Google’s been a pawn in our relationship with China. Why do you think that is? Maybe the Chinese have been on to this longer than our ‘intrepid’ press, ya think?

    Oh, the CIA signs a cloud contract with Amazon, known as the most insecure of the cloud services providers. Not thinking the intelligence community is looking for a back door to search through all your files, pictures, business records, and even software code being developed – at the very least on Amazon. Maybe also providing other commercial network launch points into other cloud services/networks – so they aren’t traceable to gubmint CPUs? No sir, not me.

    And after the immunity given to companies after cooperating after 9/11 and before the FISA redo act how can anyone think this hasn’t been happening for a good long while.

    This horse left the barn a long time ago. In fact it’s been rode hard, put away wet, and been slaughtered to feed the NSA appetite.

    The real issues are what have they been up to that we can’t even imagine right now.

    • The Daniel Ellsberg advice to Henry Kissinger is what people should understand. On national security and intelligence the discussion is always limited to what part of the tip of what iceberg these people are allowing to be in the public domain.

      “You will deal with a person who doesn’t have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know.”

      Wish it was different, but I have no illusions.

      The whole program could be over cyberwar attacks by China launched from private accounts on private domestic networks that have been successful. Or it could Goldman Sachs revolving door staff using government resources to refine their trading algorithms through predictive models of trading behavior in various demographic groups. Who the hell knows? And that’s why the general public doesn’t get upset about it. It could be what saves us everyday or what lines the pockets of the elites. But what can they do about it anyway?

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