Saturday, June 15, 2013


Snowden's disclosure didn't surprise anyone who was paying attention. Anyone who wanted to know, did; and Snowden just confirmed a few troublesome details.  Emphasis on 'few'.  And Snowden is just the most recent NSA whistleblower.

Big data and data mining are not new.  The technology has been visible for a while, and attentive folks are aware that leading edge players in the world's industry and governments are pursuing the benefits thereof. No surprises there.  Next issue.

Whether you think spying is okay or not depends on if the spy is looking at you or somebody else.

Everyone in industry is aware of cybercrime, system hacking, identity misuse, account cracking.  We're aware that criminal cyber intrusion from outside the country occurs continuously, thousands of attempts per day conducted by individuals and groups.  What are the chances that intelligence agencies not doing their version of the same thing?  What are the chances you're not included in one data sample or another?

We know of NSA employees resigning formally for ethical reasons.  The actual number is classified, of course.  And as far as we know, their concerns are not addressed.  (Note the list in the top photo; look them up.)  That's troubling, of course.

Today, our concerns regarding the NSA are the agency's oversight, appropriate restraints, accountability and compliance.  The news is troubling, but it isn't 'new'.  The same questions have been with us for more than a decade.

We're told that there are sixteen federal agencies that collect data about citizens as part of this or that investigative initiative, by the way.  The NSA is just the one in the news today.  The concerns are perhaps national and law rather than agency centered.  Bloomberg reports, "U.S. Agencies Said to Swap Data With Thousands of Firms"

We long ago approved limits to our fourth amendment rights.  We are deliberately trading freedom for security.  We were warned against such creeping change a couple of centuries ago, but it appears that now is the time it gains some momentum.

What we find in NSA's activities are only frightening perhaps because of the scope and automation.  We know police can see our phone records if they have a reason to.  We know the feds can read our email if they run across it in the course of an investigation.  We don't worry that public security cameras can identify and track us.  We're ok with phone companies noting how many calls we make and putting our calling history on our bill.  What's spooked the masses, I suspect, is the 1984ish sense that large-scale, computerized processing brings to the picture.  Now, a robot can point at me.  Or you.

Remember the last time the government didn't overreach in such matters.  Me either.  Industry does the same, of course.  They can, so they do.

As unnerving as it might be that our multi-billion dollar semi-secret is spotlighted, finding that the U.S. citizenry is now broadly targeted for general surveillance is perhaps more so.  But not a surprise; not at all.

As Peter Christian Hall wrote in The Huffington Post in January 2010, a 1975 Senate committee investigating COINTELPRO found that the FBI, "...broke into homes and mailboxes; created bogus documents to frame targets as government informers; tried to break up marriages with anonymous letters, and jobs with secret tips to employers; sent letters encouraging violence between street gangs and the Black Panther Party; sought to stir up tax audits; and dispatched agents provocateurs to discredit antiwar groups with unpopular and unsuitable activities." 

And it was done to keep us safe.

Similar assaults have been perpetrated over the years on NSA whistleblowers.

If You're OK With Surveillance Because You Have "Nothing to Hide," Think Again

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