Posts Tagged ‘spying’

Edward Snowden: Saving us from the United Stasi of America

June 10, 2013

Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us a chance to roll back what is tantamount to an ‘executive coup’ against the US constitution.

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under Fisa – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: “It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp.”

For the president then to say that there is judicial oversight is nonsense – as is the alleged oversight function of the intelligence committees in Congress. Not for the first time – as with issues of torture, kidnapping, detention, assassination by drones and death squads –they have shown themselves to be thoroughly co-opted by the agencies they supposedly monitor. They are also black holes for information that the public needs to know.

The fact that congressional leaders were “briefed” on this and went along with it, without any open debate, hearings, staff analysis, or any real chance for effective dissent, only shows how broken the system of checks and balances is in this country.

Obviously, the United States is not now a police state. But given the extent of this invasion of people’s privacy, we do have the full electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. If, for instance, there was now a war that led to a large-scale anti-war movement – like the one we had against the war in Vietnam – or, more likely, if we suffered one more attack on the scale of 9/11, I fear for our democracy. These powers are extremely dangerous.

There are legitimate reasons for secrecy, and specifically for secrecy about communications intelligence. That’s why Bradley Mannning and I – both of whom had access to such intelligence with clearances higher than top-secret – chose not to disclose any information with that classification. And it is why Edward Snowden has committed himself to withhold publication of most of what he might have revealed.

But what is not legitimate is to use a secrecy system to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in their breadth and potential abuse. Neither the president nor Congress as a whole may by themselves revoke the fourth amendment – and that’s why what Snowden has revealed so far was secret from the American people.

In 1975, Senator Frank Church spoke of the National Security Agency in these terms:

“I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

The dangerous prospect of which he warned was that America’s intelligence gathering capability – which is today beyond any comparison with what existed in his pre-digital era – “at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left.”

That has now happened. That is what Snowden has exposed, with official, secret documents. The NSA, FBI and CIA have, with the new digital technology, surveillance powers over our own citizens that the Stasi – the secret police in the former “democratic republic” of East Germany – could scarcely have dreamed of. Snowden reveals that the so-called intelligence community has become the United Stasi of America.

So we have fallen into Senator Church’s abyss. The questions now are whether he was right or wrong that there is no return from it, and whether that means that effective democracy will become impossible. A week ago, I would have found it hard to argue with pessimistic answers to those conclusions.

But with Edward Snowden having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage – in the public, in Congress, in the executive branch itself – I see the unexpected possibility of a way up and out of the abyss.

Pressure by an informed public on Congress to form a select committee to investigate the revelations by Snowden and, I hope, others to come might lead us to bring NSA and the rest of the intelligence community under real supervision and restraint and restore the protections of the bill of rights.

Snowden did what he did because he recognised the NSA’s surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans’ and foreign citizens’ privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we’re trying to protect.

— Daniel Ellsberg

Published in The Guardian.

It was The Guardian that first exposed the PRISM mass surveillance programme operated by NSA.

Please sign the petition to the House Oversight Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee to demand an immediate investigation of this spying.

The world owes a huge debt of gratitude to the courage of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Please sign the petition thanking him.

Web freedom faces greatest threat ever

April 16, 2012

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In an interview with The Guardian, Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world”. “I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

The threat to the freedom of the internet comes, he claims, from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behind Google’s partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks. He said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long, but now says he has been proven wrong. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,” he said.

He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

“There’s a lot to be lost,” he said. “For example, all the information in apps – that data is not crawlable by web crawlers. You can’t search it.”

Brin’s criticism of Facebook is likely to be controversial, with the social network approaching an estimated $100bn (£64bn) flotation. Google’s upstart rival has seen explosive growth: it has signed up half of Americans with computer access and more than 800 million members worldwide.

Brin said he and co-founder Larry Page would not have been able to create Google if the internet was dominated by Facebook. “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”

He criticised Facebook for not making it easy for users to switch their data to other services. “Facebook has been sucking down Gmail contacts for many years,” he said.

Brin’s comments come on the first day of a week-long Guardian investigation of the intensifying battle for control of the internet being fought across the globe between governments, companies, military strategists, activists and hackers.

From the attempts made by Hollywood to push through legislation allowing pirate websites to be shut down, to the British government’s plans to monitor social media and web use, the ethos of openness championed by the pioneers of the internet and worldwide web is being challenged on a number of fronts.

In China, which now has more internet users than any other country, the government recently introduced new “real identity” rules in a bid to tame the boisterous microblogging scene. In Russia, there are powerful calls to rein in a blogosphere blamed for fomenting a wave of anti-Vladimir Putin protests. It has been reported that Iran is planning to introduce a sealed “national internet” from this summer.

Ricken Patel, co-founder of Avaaz, the 14 million-strong online activist network which has been providing communication equipment and training to Syrian activists, echoed Brin’s warning: “We’ve seen a massive attack on the freedom of the web. Governments are realising the power of this medium to organise people and they are trying to clamp down across the world, not just in places like China and North Korea; we’re seeing bills in the United States, in Italy, all across the world.”

Writing in the Guardian on Monday, outspoken Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei says the Chinese government’s attempts to control the internet will ultimately be doomed to failure. “In the long run,” he says, “they must understand it’s not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off – and they can’t live with the consequences of that.”

Amid mounting concern over the militarisation of the internet and claims – denied by Beijing – that China has mounted numerous cyber-attacks on US military and corporate targets, he said it would be hugely difficult for any government to defend its online “territory”.

“If you compare the internet to the physical world, there really aren’t any walls between countries,” he said. “If Canada wanted to send tanks into the US there is nothing stopping them and it’s the same on the internet. It’s hopeless to try to control the internet.”

He reserved his harshest words for the entertainment industry, which he said was “shooting itself in the foot, or maybe worse than in the foot” by lobbying for legislation to block sites offering pirate material.

He said the Sopa and Pipa bills championed by the film and music industries would have led to the US using the same technology and approach it criticised China and Iran for using. The entertainment industry failed to appreciate people would continue to download pirated content as long as it was easier to acquire and use than legitimately obtained material, he said.

“I haven’t tried it for many years but when you go on a pirate website, you choose what you like; it downloads to the device of your choice and it will just work – and then when you have to jump through all these hoops [to buy legitimate content], the walls created are disincentives for people to buy,” he said.

Brin acknowledged that some people were anxious about the amount of their data that was now in the reach of US authorities because it sits on Google’s servers. He said the company was periodically forced to hand over data and sometimes prevented by legal restrictions from even notifying users that it had done so.

He said: “We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done.”

Originally published in The Guardian.

I could not agree more with what Sergey Brin is saying, this creation by facebook of a net within the net, a walled garden, the only way to sample the delights within is to sell your digital soul at the gate.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. If it is free, it is because you are the product on sale.

Watch carefully the next time you click a link from within facebook. You are diverted elsewhere, before going to the site you wish to visit.

Facebook deposits software on your computer which track what you do.

Activity within facebook is walled off from the outside world, forcing others to sell their digital soul at the gate. It is you who creates the content, not facebook. Facebook is merely the platform, but it is not a neutral platform.

There is a partial way around, little tunnels under the wall and into the garden.

If you use facebook for sharing photo albums, set those albums to public, and post the links outside facebook where they can be found and followed.

Sharing of data between facebook and third parties

Is your local council spying on you?

January 26, 2012

An elderly lady living in Lincolnshire had her Single Person Council Tax Allowance (discount on property tax for single person occupancy) stopped. [see You and Yours]

When she queried this with her local council North Kesteven she was told this was done on the basis of additional data. Adiditional data? This set alarm bells ringing. The lady queried what additional data? Getting information out of local councils who forget they are there to serve the public is always akin to getting blood out of a stone. She was told a check had been made on her with Experian, a credit rating agency, and that monitoring of her post showed another person was living with her.

There was no one else living with her. Her daughter who lives outside the UK uses her mother’s address as a post box for her mail.

Experian denied they were monitoring post, but freely admitted North Kesteven had asked for checks on people. Experian also volunteered that they were performing this service for more than 200 other councils and that other credit rating agencies were doing the same.

It is one thing for a local council to pursue possible fraud where they have got good grounds to believe there is fraud, it is quite another to trawl through innocent people in the hope it may throw up some fraud.

Police have to obtain a Search Warrant for very good reasons, they have to have grounds. They cannot simply wander into everyone’s homes in the hope they may find evidence of a few crimes being committed.

If a bank wishes to do a credit check on you, they have to obtain your written consent. The council was not offering a loan. The council did not seek written consent. Apparently a notice in a local paper that no one reads (and who reads the official notices at the back anyway) was deemed as obtaining consent.

If a bank does a credit check (and the information held is often wrong) the fact that they see flagged up a local council had done a credit check, they may wonder why, decide not to take the risk and refuse the loan.

It has yet it be answered why or how this lady’s mail was being monitored.

I have of late being getting mail for unknown persons, including a Mr Paito. Does this mean all these people are living in my house? Where are they, hidden away in my cellars? I suspect some scam is taking place.

Not many people realise local councils can quite legally mount electronic surveillance on their local citizens. They should never have been granted these powers as they were open to abuse, and that is exactly what has happened. Less than 5% are genuine investigations. Upset a senior official, highlight corruption and maladministration (which is rampant in local councils), challenge the council in Court, then there is a good chance you have been placed under electronic surveillance.

Filled out any forms? You will notice there is usually pages and pages of questions that have no relevance for the purpose of the form. They have no relevance. They are crude trawls for information. Only provide what is relevant. If told you have to fill out the rest, challenge it, ask for the relevant statutory authority. There is usually none.

Never give a phone number. Do people never pause and think, why do I get all these junks calls? I never get any. Why? Because I do not hand out my phone number.

Councils are covered by Data Protection, but one would not think so. They are quite caviller in handing personal information to third parties without client consent.

I have direct personal experience of dishonest council officials knowingly passing on confidential client information to equally dishonest third parties. I am still waiting for these dishonest officials to be prosecuted for what is at the end of the day a criminal offence. They are still in post.

What personal information was handed to the credit reference agencies? At a guess: Name, address, date of birth.

Individuals are also caviller with their personal information. They post on facebook: date of birth, place of birth, school, university, partner etc etc. All should be removed, but I suggest first post false information to overwrite the databases then remove.

We have become used to CCTV monitoring our every move. It has nothing to do with crime. If it has, why do town centres like Guildford become no go areas Friday and Saturday nights when drunken thugs run rampage, the town centres not safe for decent folk to walk at night?

In Aberdeen the local council is monitoring the visitors to a tower block. Newham, one of the London Rotten Boroughs, requires a register to be kept of visitors to tower blocks. Even the Sun was outraged, not a rag renowned for its concerns with privacy and human rights.

Aberdeen Council wants to see your visitors
Local authority data loss exposed