mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“It’s All About Who’s In The White House”: Republicans Only Oppose NSA When ‘Big Brother’ Isn’t Them

Let’s cut to the chase: If Big Brother wants you, he’s got you, Act 215 telephone “metadata” notwithstanding. This disconcerting fact of modern life has been true more or less since the invention of the camera, the microphone and the tape recorder.

See the excellent German film The Lives of Others for details. The Stasi managed to collect vast libraries of gossip and slander against East German citizens entirely without computerized databases. It wasn’t people’s smartphones that betrayed them to the secret police, because they didn’t have any. Mostly it was colleagues, neighbors, friends and family.

Similarly, when J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI wanted to dig the dirt on Martin Luther King, they bugged his hotel rooms and infiltrated his inner circle with hired betrayers. Once the target was chosen, technological wizardry was secondary.

I am moved to these observations by the fact that the Republican National Committee has now joined the Snowdenista left in pretending to be outraged by something they manifestly do not fear.

The same GOP that rationalized torture and cheered the Bush administration’s use of warrantless wiretaps as recently as 2006 now denounces the National Security Agency’s “Section 215” bulk collection of telephone data as “an invasion into the personal lives of American citizens that violates the right of free speech and association afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Oh, and the Fourth Amendment too. See, keeping a no-names database of phone numbers called, date, time and duration threatens fundamental privacy rights, although actual wiretapping evidently did not. Never mind that Republicans in Congress approved it.

It’s easy to suspect that for the RNC, it’s all about who’s in the White House. The End.

However, there’s an equivalent amount of exaggeration at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Partly for dramatic effect, people talk about data collection as if it were equivalent to surveillance.

Here’s the estimable blogger Digby Parton on the “chilling effect” of NSA data hoarding:

“It’s the self-censorship, the hesitation, the fear that what you say or write or otherwise express today could be lurking somewhere on what Snowden referred to as your ‘permanent record’ and come back to haunt you in the future. The collection of all this mass data amounts to a government dossier on every individual who has a cell phone or a computer. It’s forcing journalists, teachers and political dissidents to be afraid of doing their jobs and exercising their democratic rights. It’s making average citizens think twice about even doing silly things like search Amazon for pressure cookers or take a look at a controversial web-site.”

I don’t think Digby herself is afraid for one minute. I know I’m not. Are you?

She adds that “no matter how much you may trust Barack Obama not to abuse that information, it was only a few years ago that a man named Dick Cheney had access to it.”

Point taken.

Oddly enough, that’s pretty much what President Obama had to say in his speech proposing NSA reforms: “Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us. We won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached.”

Accordingly, Obama proposed several reforms calculated to make misuse of NSA data more unlikely. He accepted the suggestion of his own commission to take telephone records out of NSA’s control. Instead, the data would be stored either by the phone companies where it originates or by some third party as yet undefined.

To access that database, NSA would need an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. No intelligence bureaucrat would be able to spy on his ex-wife or your mother-in-law strictly on his own say-so.

The president also proposed adding citizen advocates to the FISA court specifically to defend civil liberties—making that body function less like a grand jury and more like a court of law. He added a presidential directive explicitly forbidding NSA from spying upon domestic political critics.

Obama would also sharply limit the number of people whose records can be searched even with a valid FISA warrant.

Taken together, these are fairly substantial reforms. As a pro-cop liberal, I worry that forcing NSA to gather data from hither and yon might prove too cumbersome in an emergency. Sometimes, though, perfect efficiency ill accords with democratic values.

Meanwhile, however, the 18th century ain’t coming back. Anybody who imagines that NSA data gathering and cyber-espionage are going away may as well yearn for a world where there are no hostile, anti-democratic powers or mad religious extremists eager to bring down the Great Satan through whatever combination of sabotage and mayhem they can inflict. Indeed, we must pray that our adversaries are as fearful and intimidated by U.S. intelligence agencies as are some of our more imaginative countrymen.

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, January 29, 2014

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Bad History And Bad Policy”: The Hidden Consequences Of Snowden’s NSA Revelations

There is more than a little hypocrisy to the outcry that the government, through the National Security Agency (NSA), is systematically destroying Americans’ right to privacy. Edward Snowden’s revelations have been stripped of their social, technological and historical context. Unless you’ve camped in the Alaskan wilderness for two decades, you know — or should — that millions upon millions of Americans have consciously and, probably in most cases, eagerly surrendered much of their privacy by embracing the Internet and social media.

People do not open Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts because they wish to shroud their lives in secrecy. They do not use online dating services or post videos on YouTube because they cherish their anonymity. The Internet is a vehicle for self-promotion, personal advertising and the pursuit of celebrity.

The Pew Research Center’s surveys confirm that these behaviors are now entirely mainstream. In 2013, 85 percent of Americans used the Internet. Of these, almost three-quarters (73 percent) belonged to social media sites (the biggest: Facebook). Almost one-fifth of adult Internet users have posted personal videos, many hoping, says Pew, that “their creations go viral.” Among people “single and looking” for mates, nearly two-fifths (38 percent) used online dating.

If Americans think their privacy is dangerously diminished, there are remedies. They can turn off their PCs, toss their smartphones and smash their tablets. Somehow, this seems unlikely, even though another Pew survey finds that “86 percent of adult Internet users have taken steps . . . to avoid surveillance by other people or organizations.”

To these conscious sacrifices of privacy must be added murkier, collateral losses that are orchestrated by the world’s Googles, Facebooks, service providers and “data brokers,” writes Alice Marwick of Fordham University in the New York Review of Books. They scan users’ digital decisions (sites visited, products and services purchased, habits and hobbies favored) to create databases, often merged with other socio-economic information. These target advertising, improve political appeals — President Obama’s campaign excelled at this — and influence hiring decisions, as Don Peck notes in the Atlantic.

The NSA’s damage to privacy is dwarfed by the impact of market activity. The sensationalism surrounding Snowden’s revelations obscures this. Case in point: The disclosure that U.S. telephone calls are open to NSA monitoring. Suddenly, Big Brother looms. In our mind’s eye, we see the NSA’s computers scouring our every phone call. We’re exposed to constant snooping and the possibility that the government will misuse the information it finds.

The reality is far more limited. The NSA is governed by legal restrictions. It does not examine the full database. It searches individual numbers only after it has determined there’s a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a number might be linked to terrorist groups. In 2012, there were 288 of these findings. After one is made, the NSA can retrieve three items about the number: the dates of calls made and received for five years; the other phones’ numbers; and the calls’ length. The NSA is not entitled to listen to conversations, but it can order similar searches on the other numbers involved. Thousands of calls are caught in the dragnet, but the total is puny compared with the untold billions of annual calls.

Whether these searches are effective in fighting terrorism is disputed. The NSA says they’re valuable. A panel of experts appointed by Obama concluded that the monitoring “was not essential to preventing attacks.” But more important for civil liberties and privacy, the panel found that present practices don’t approach past abuses. During the Vietnam War, the panel noted, the CIA investigated 300,000 anti-war critics. The government also sought to “expose, disrupt, and neutralize their efforts to affect public opinion.”

By all means, let’s debate the NSA. Some policies seem suspect, spying on the heads of friendly governments topping the list. It’s also important to recognize that government can coerce and punish in ways that private markets cannot. The potential for abuse is greater. But let’s also keep the debate in perspective.

In a digitized world, spying must be digitized. Then there’s cyberwarfare. Our electronic systems remain vulnerable, as the recent theft of data from millions of credit and debit cards at Target demonstrates. Government and the private sector need to collaborate more closely to protect vital systems. But these “efforts are as good as dead for the foreseeable future,” says Dmitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm. The NSA controversy has “significantly damaged the trust between the private sector and government.” This may be the Snowden affair’s most insidious (and overlooked) consequence.

Vilifying the NSA — letting Snowden dictate the terms of debate — promotes bad history and bad policy. It’s bad history, because the most powerful assaults on privacy have originated in markets. It’s bad policy, because weakening the NSA leaves the United States more exposed to cyberattacks.

 

By: Robert Samuelson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2014

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Edward Snowden, National Security | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Yes, Mess With Texas”: To Ensure Fairness At The Polls, Southern States Still Require Scrutiny

Pro-tip: When you win a big court case giving you the go-ahead to suppress voter turnout for your political opponents, don’t gloat about it.

That is surely one of the lessons in the remarkable news that the U.S. Department of Justice is challenging new voting-rights laws in Texas and elsewhere even after the Supreme Court ruling that eviscerated the part of the Voting Rights Act that the feds had relied on for decades to challenge voting restrictions. What made the ruling especially galling was the celebration that followed from Republicans in states, including Texas, who immediately vowed to proceed with voting restrictions that had been challenged under the now-undermined part of the VRA.

The alacrity with which Texas, North Carolina and other states have rushed to take advantage of the ruling seriously weakened the sober conservative argument, from Chief Justice John Roberts and others, that Southern states no longer needed to be singled out for special scrutiny because they had long since left their discriminatory ways behind. And it all but invited Attorney General Eric Holder to take this new step, to announce that his department would still do everything in its power to ensure fairness at the polls.

This will of course be decried as executive overreach and an assault on checks and balances, but the case for declaring it such would be much easier to make if Texas and other states hadn’t been so gleeful in their rush to capitalize on the ruling. Texas takes the cake for the speed of its response, but North Carolina surely takes the prize for sheer brazenness: The legislation making its way through Raleigh is so extreme that it earned even a tut-tut from arch-conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Stephen Moore. The legislation will not only add a strict Voter ID requirement by the polls, but reduce early voting days from 17 to 10 (early voting has been used disproportionately by African-Americans in the state), prohibit counties from extending polling hours in extraordinary circumstances, like unusually long lines, and eliminate provisional ballots for voters who show up at the wrong precinct, among other changes. A separate bill seeks to give a tax penalty to parents whose dependent children register to vote somewhere in the state other than where the parents reside, a nifty way to discourage voting by college students.

What impact would the changes have? My colleague Nate Cohn, who has generally warned against over-reaction on voter suppression measures, ran the numbers and found that the Voter ID provision alone could swing enough votes to win the state for Republicans in a close statewide election—and that’s not accounting for the early voting cutbacks and other changes. The New York Times has declared North Carolina “first in voter suppression,” a judgment quoted approvingly by election-law expert Rick Hasen, also not one prone to overstatement.

Holder is now, essentially, using the giddy brazenness of the voting-restriction push in these states to justify federal challenges even in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. Under the “pre-clearance” provision in Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act that was eviscerated by the ruling, a whole swath of states and municipalities, mostly in the South, had to submit voting law changes to the feds for approval as a matter of course. Holder is now threatening to use a different part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 3, which allows the federal government to demand pre-clearance rights by “bail-in.” As the Times puts it, if “the department can show that given jurisdictions have committed constitutional violations, federal courts may impose federal oversight on those places in a piecemeal fashion.” In other words, if the states’ recent track record on voting rights is sufficiently egregious, they may still need federal approval.

That is not to say, though, that the Supreme Court ruling was not enormously consequential. It will be much harder for the federal government to press its case by the Section 3 route.  And whether the DOJ decides to make the effort to move against states will depend even more on which party holds the White House. As South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley boasted when I saw her on the stump in Greenville with Mitt Romney in early 2012, whereas the Obama administration had challenged her state’s stringent new Voter ID law,  “President Romney [will say] that’s our right.”

 

By: Alec MacGillis, Senior Editor, The New Republic, July 26, 2013

July 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Civil-Liberties Freak-Out”: Caught Up In The Conspiracy

Unaccustomed as I am to agreeing with Marc Thiessen, hell has frozen over and he’s on the right track about the National Security Agency–leaks nonscandal.

First of all, we pretty much knew everything that has “broken” in the past week. The NSA has been involved in a legal data-mining operation for almost a decade. Its legality was clarified in the renewal of the Patriot Act, which I supported. It has been described, incorrectly, as electronic eavesdropping. What is really happening is that phone and Internet records are being scanned for patterns that might illuminate terrorist networks. If there is a need to actually eavesdrop, the government has to go to the FISA court for permission.

Those who see the federal government as a vast corporate conspiracy or a criminal enterprise — in other words, paranoids of the left and right — are concerned about this. More moderate sorts should also have cause for concern — especially if a rogue government, like Nixon’s, were in power. We have to remain vigilant that the snooping stays within reasonable bounds; that’s why we have congressional oversight committees. And that’s where the paranoid tinge comes in: the FISA court, the congressional committees, the President and journalists like me are obviously incompetent or caught up in the conspiracy. Of course, there has been absolutely no evidence presented that the current parameters are unreasonable. Yes, I expect that some of my phone and e-mail traffic has been picked up in the data trawling. I travel fairly frequently to places like Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, the West Bank and the rest of the region; part of my job is to talk to partisans on all sides — and also to talk to sources in the U.S. military and intelligence communities. I have no problem with the government knowing that I’m doing my job.

I do have a problem with individuals like Bradley Manning divulging secrets that may well put lives in danger; his reckless actions require criminal sanction. I also have a problem with sources within the government who leak news that endangers the lives of U.S. intelligence assets overseas — the leaker or leakers who gave the Associated Press the story about the second undie bomber, for example. That leak compromised a highly sensitive operation that involved the Saudi bombmaker our government considers the most dangerous man in the world. (I think that the Department of Justice hounding the Fox News reporter, or any other journalist, was well over the line, though.)

This is a difficult issue and will become even more difficult in the future as technology becomes more sophisticated. I applaud civil libertarians like Glenn Greenwald who draw our attention to it. But it is important to keep it in perspective. Far too many people get their notions of what our government is all about from Hollywood; the paranoid thriller is a wonderful form of entertainment, but it’s a fantasy. The idea that our government is some sort of conspiracy, that it’s a somehow foreign body intent on robbing us of our freedoms, is corrosive and dangerous to our democracy. This remains, and always will be, an extremely libertarian country; it’s encoded in our DNA. We now face a constant, low-level terrorist threat that needs to be monitored. A great many lives are potentially at stake … and our national security is more important than any marginal — indeed, mythical — rights that we may have conceded in the Patriot Act legislation. In the end, the slippery-slope, all-or-nothing arguments advanced by extreme civil libertarians bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the slippery-slope, all-or-nothing arguments advanced by the National Rifle Association.

 

By: Joe Klein, Time Magazine,  June 10, 2013

June 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: