Friday, June 07, 2013

Curtain pulled back on total surveillance

You act like you thought this was your government!
The Washington Post reports that pretty much anything anyone does on the internet is directly available to our spooks by way of the big internet companies. The person who leaked the news says
“They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.
That includes this blog of course, since Google provides Blogger and Google is named as one of the sources for the National Security Agency.

The White House is parsing madly. They want us not to worry our pretty little heads about the snoops and they'll hold off those scary terrorists. Oh, and we should trust them to obey the law, though they won't tell us what they think the law says. That's "classified," a government synonym for hidden from the citizenry.

I can't pretend I'm surprised. The accessibility of Big Data -- our lives as lived via the internet -- provides an opportunity for surveillance no state has ever had before. But they have it now. They will use it.

Security guru Bruce Schneier explains:

“With this data you can surveil everybody.” ... In a reference to cops chasing a suspect Schneier notes, “It’s like ‘follow that car’, became ‘follow everybody.’”

Yet most people argue that they live lawful lives. They don’t care whether the government knows that they prefer Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts. They don’t care if the government knows they have a lot of friends in Seattle and Miami. They don’t care if the government knows they call Comcast customer service a lot (mostly in the evening after work).

But, “that’s the fundamental problem with liberties. You don’t notice them until they’re gone” Schneier points out. “This is what a police state looks like. That argument supposes this spying will only be used for other people.”

I fear the "benevolence" of those who would "protect" us by rummaging through our desires and hopes far more than I fear distant enemies. I may be wrong in this, but I doubt it.


Rain Trueax said...

It's hard to say what all they actually can look through considering their inability to use the computer for a lot of other things, but I have a story that tells a bit of why this might be happening.

It was after 9/11, but I cannot say what year. Let's guess before 2005 and I used to go into Yahoo chat, the garden group just to do a little general chatting about plants, etc. I had Yahoo chat also and sometimes talked to friends there with that. So I'd go in there, and I had a photo of myself in my profile. Within moments, I would be totally inundated by men from Pakistan, Iran, etc. Sometimes as many as 20 would start trying to send me private messages to 'hook up' or something. I basically had to leave as it made it impossible.

Now my assumption was these young men from that region were not in gardening regularly. They were though online at Yahoo and somewhere they could spread the word that a woman was in gardening-- check her out. I wondered then and still do if that wasn't a way they were communicating other purposes than picking up an older, maybe desperate for young men, hot, rich, gullible woman from America. I even asked a friend who had connections in the military whether that was being watched as I had a feeling it would be an easy way for them to plot if that was their purpose. Call me paranoid but it didn't seem coincidental that it was those nations, young men and could get to me that fast with their chat requests etc.

I have heard with the phone which has been going on probably long before 7 years ago that it's just who they call, not the words. It's hard to say what they were looking at with the Internet. But I have long felt wherever we go on the Internet, we better not be ashamed or want to hide it as somebody can find out-- not always government even with hackers as they are.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain -- I too have long assumed that all is seen, by somebody, on the internet. I have been a political activist since the late '60s and have seem some confirmed episodes and many suspicious ones.

But I cannot trust my own government to use this capacity in a benign fashion so long as they refuse to describe their capacities and what they do with them. Democratic governance is impossible when government exercises unchecked powers -- I think.

We may evolve technologically through this stage. Schneier calls the current period the "golden age of surveillance." That seems right.

Rain Trueax said...

What has been interesting to me about this is how it is like it's new news but this was a big story a few years back when they said it was all being monitored and named the phone company. Then they seem to forget about it and a new reporter supposedly 'breaks' it and it's brand new again.

I remember how Jane Fonda (and many on her level) was monitored and harassed during the Vietnam War-- still is actually although maybe not monitored anymore. They still use her as a whipping target for the hate somebody bunch.

I don't think these guys though are looking for political differences but groups that are into doing something violent about it. I have yet to see where they are going after freedom of speech or meeting other than what the police do without such monitoring-- which certainly is plenty and not from a federal level (that we know of)!

My husband's father told him they always know and have for years for those they want to find out and consider important. Big brother and all that. I don't know an alternative either as we don't want dangerous groups to meet and plot and yet we also want freedom of assembly. Makes it a sticky wicket for the government as if they don't catch them before they attack, they get blamed but if they use espionage to catch them, they get blamed. Not sure what the balance would be either.

Hattie said...

The important point is that they assume the right to know everything about us, whereas we do not have the right to know anything about them. That is why I am grateful for Wikileaks and look upon Bradley Manning, an unassuming and "unimportant" man, as a hero.
Obama's spy program is becoming public now, and in great detail, thanks to Greenwald and others.

Rain Trueax said...

Anytime you use a social media, more than the government is storing up your info. Facebook especially but I am sure Twitter etc. They use it to sell us products, aim spam at us. Certainly they know what TV shows we watch (for those of us who have it) It's an illusion to think we have privacy in this world given we bank and do so many things online. Best to be sure whatever we do, we are proud of.

Obama said they aren't listening in on phone calls. Just gathering who is being talked to, etc. I guess he could be lying. I am sure the far right and left both assume that.