Former State Department employee reveals spying on Americans by executive order

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By Ed Hightower
25 July 2014

In the latest revelation of unconstitutional spying on US citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA), former State Department employee John Napier Tye has given his account of ongoing violations of privacy under cover of a legal fig leaf known as Executive Order 12333.

Last week the Washington Post published Tye’s lengthy criticism of the Obama administration under the title “Meet Executive Order 12333: The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans.” The editorial underscores both the immense scope of illegal spying by an unaccountable military-intelligence apparatus and the sham character of the official “reform.”

President Ronald Reagan enacted Executive Order 12333 in 1981. The order was aimed at providing a lax legal standard for the collection of communication content —not just metadata such as call logs—of US citizens, as long as the communication was not obtained within the United States.

While 12333 was legally dubious even in 1981, it was not until the widespread transfer of data over the internet that it could be exploited for the mass collection of communications. Enormous amounts of data and communications generated by Americans in the form of emails, for example, are now routinely routed to servers all over the world, bringing the data within the now much broader reach of 12333.

Tye’s editorial calls attention to 12333, saying that the order is now used to justify possibly more illegal surveillance than Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which sanctions bulk collection of telecommunications records. While Section 215 has garnered more public attention, Tye argues that it “is a small part of the picture and does not include the universe of collection and storage of communications by US persons authorized under Executive Order 12333.”

Referring to “classified facts that I am prohibited by law from publishing,” Tye writes, “I believe that Americans should be even more concerned about the collection and storage of their communications under Executive Order 12333 than under Section 215 [of the Patriot Act].”

Because it is an executive order as opposed to a statute, 12333 is subject to virtually zero oversight. The attorney general, who is part of the executive branch and serves at the pleasure of the president, determines what restraints, if any, apply. Currently, intelligence agencies are permitted to keep data obtained pursuant to 12333 for up to five years.

Nor does 12333 typically require a warrant. Tye explains that the NSA keeps data obtained through 12333 even if it is not directly related to a surveillance target who was subject to a warrant. This so-called “incidental” collection represents the exception that swallows the rule.

As Tye describes it, incidental collection is “a legal loophole that can be stretched very wide. Remember that the NSA is building a data center in Utah five times the size of the U.S. Capitol building, with its own power plant that will reportedly burn $40 million a year in electricity. ‘Incidental collection’ might need its own power plant.”

Tye worked for the State Department from 2011 until this past April. He currently serves as legal director for the nonprofit advocacy group Avaaz. His Post article was reviewed and cleared by the State Department and NSA prior to publication. Before he left his State Department job, Tye filed a complaint about 12333-related spying with the department’s inspector general, and he eventually brought this complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as to the inspector general of the NSA.

While Tye did not leak any documents or data to the press, it is clear that what he saw and heard at the State Department deeply troubled him.

He begins his Washington Post piece with this disturbing anecdote:

“In March I received a call from the White House counsel’s office regarding a speech I had prepared for my boss at the State Department… The draft stated that ‘if U.S. citizens disagree with congressional and executive branch determinations about the proper scope of signals intelligence activities, they have the opportunity to change the policy through our democratic process.’”

“But the White House counsel’s office told me that no, that wasn’t true. I was instructed to amend the line, making a general reference to ‘our laws and policies,’ rather than our intelligence practices. I did.”

In other words, Tye was directed to remove from his speech something that might give the misleading impression that the US population has any meaningful oversight where the military-intelligence apparatus is concerned.

In his op-ed comment, Tye also points out the Obama administration’s “reforms” are bogus. Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies recommended that data obtained by incidental collection should be purged. Tye writes that an unclassified document he saw while working with the State Department made the White House’s position clear: there were no plans to change the practices around Executive Order 12333.

The rise of data and the death of politics

Tech pioneers in the US are advocating a new data-based approach to governance – ‘algorithmic regulation’. But if technology provides the answers to society’s problems, what happens to governments?

US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Government by social network? US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On 24 August 1965 Gloria Placente, a 34-year-old resident of Queens, New York, was driving to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Clad in shorts and sunglasses, the housewife was looking forward to quiet time at the beach. But the moment she crossed the Willis Avenue bridge in her Chevrolet Corvair, Placente was surrounded by a dozen patrolmen. There were also 125 reporters, eager to witness the launch of New York police department’s Operation Corral – an acronym for Computer Oriented Retrieval of Auto Larcenists.

Fifteen months earlier, Placente had driven through a red light and neglected to answer the summons, an offence that Corral was going to punish with a heavy dose of techno-Kafkaesque. It worked as follows: a police car stationed at one end of the bridge radioed the licence plates of oncoming cars to a teletypist miles away, who fed them to a Univac 490 computer, an expensive $500,000 toy ($3.5m in today’s dollars) on loan from the Sperry Rand Corporation. The computer checked the numbers against a database of 110,000 cars that were either stolen or belonged to known offenders. In case of a match the teletypist would alert a second patrol car at the bridge’s other exit. It took, on average, just seven seconds.

Compared with the impressive police gear of today – automatic number plate recognition, CCTV cameras, GPS trackers – Operation Corral looks quaint. And the possibilities for control will only expand. European officials have considered requiring all cars entering the European market to feature a built-in mechanism that allows the police to stop vehicles remotely. Speaking earlier this year, Jim Farley, a senior Ford executive, acknowledged that “we know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” That last bit didn’t sound very reassuring and Farley retracted his remarks.

As both cars and roads get “smart,” they promise nearly perfect, real-time law enforcement. Instead of waiting for drivers to break the law, authorities can simply prevent the crime. Thus, a 50-mile stretch of the A14 between Felixstowe and Rugby is to be equipped with numerous sensors that would monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles. The telecoms watchdog Ofcom envisions that such smart roads connected to a centrally controlled traffic system could automatically impose variable speed limits to smooth the flow of traffic but also direct the cars “along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even [manage] their speed”.

Other gadgets – from smartphones to smart glasses – promise even more security and safety. In April, Apple patented technology that deploys sensors inside the smartphone to analyse if the car is moving and if the person using the phone is driving; if both conditions are met, it simply blocks the phone’s texting feature. Intel and Ford are working on Project Mobil – a face recognition system that, should it fail to recognise the face of the driver, would not only prevent the car being started but also send the picture to the car’s owner (bad news for teenagers).

The car is emblematic of transformations in many other domains, from smart environments for “ambient assisted living” where carpets and walls detect that someone has fallen, to various masterplans for the smart city, where municipal services dispatch resources only to those areas that need them. Thanks to sensors and internet connectivity, the most banal everyday objects have acquired tremendous power to regulate behaviour. Even public toilets are ripe for sensor-based optimisation: the Safeguard Germ Alarm, a smart soap dispenser developed by Procter & Gamble and used in some public WCs in the Philippines, has sensors monitoring the doors of each stall. Once you leave the stall, the alarm starts ringing – and can only be stopped by a push of the soap-dispensing button.

In this context, Google’s latest plan to push its Android operating system on to smart watches, smart cars, smart thermostats and, one suspects, smart everything, looks rather ominous. In the near future, Google will be the middleman standing between you and your fridge, you and your car, you and your rubbish bin, allowing the National Security Agency to satisfy its data addiction in bulk and via a single window.

This “smartification” of everyday life follows a familiar pattern: there’s primary data – a list of what’s in your smart fridge and your bin – and metadata – a log of how often you open either of these things or when they communicate with one another. Both produce interesting insights: cue smart mattresses – one recent model promises to track respiration and heart rates and how much you move during the night – and smart utensils that provide nutritional advice.

In addition to making our lives more efficient, this smart world also presents us with an exciting political choice. If so much of our everyday behaviour is already captured, analysed and nudged, why stick with unempirical approaches to regulation? Why rely on laws when one has sensors and feedback mechanisms? If policy interventions are to be – to use the buzzwords of the day – “evidence-based” and “results-oriented,” technology is here to help.

This new type of governance has a name: algorithmic regulation. In as much as Silicon Valley has a political programme, this is it. Tim O’Reilly, an influential technology publisher, venture capitalist and ideas man (he is to blame for popularising the term “web 2.0″) has been its most enthusiastic promoter. In a recent essay that lays out his reasoning, O’Reilly makes an intriguing case for the virtues of algorithmic regulation – a case that deserves close scrutiny both for what it promises policymakers and the simplistic assumptions it makes about politics, democracy and power.

To see algorithmic regulation at work, look no further than the spam filter in your email. Instead of confining itself to a narrow definition of spam, the email filter has its users teach it. Even Google can’t write rules to cover all the ingenious innovations of professional spammers. What it can do, though, is teach the system what makes a good rule and spot when it’s time to find another rule for finding a good rule – and so on. An algorithm can do this, but it’s the constant real-time feedback from its users that allows the system to counter threats never envisioned by its designers. And it’s not just spam: your bank uses similar methods to spot credit-card fraud.

In his essay, O’Reilly draws broader philosophical lessons from such technologies, arguing that they work because they rely on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome” (spam is bad!) and periodically check if the algorithms are actually working as expected (are too many legitimate emails ending up marked as spam?).

O’Reilly presents such technologies as novel and unique – we are living through a digital revolution after all – but the principle behind “algorithmic regulation” would be familiar to the founders of cybernetics – a discipline that, even in its name (it means “the science of governance”) hints at its great regulatory ambitions. This principle, which allows the system to maintain its stability by constantly learning and adapting itself to the changing circumstances, is what the British psychiatrist Ross Ashby, one of the founding fathers of cybernetics, called “ultrastability”.

To illustrate it, Ashby designed the homeostat. This clever device consisted of four interconnected RAF bomb control units – mysterious looking black boxes with lots of knobs and switches – that were sensitive to voltage fluctuations. If one unit stopped working properly – say, because of an unexpected external disturbance – the other three would rewire and regroup themselves, compensating for its malfunction and keeping the system’s overall output stable.

Ashby’s homeostat achieved “ultrastability” by always monitoring its internal state and cleverly redeploying its spare resources.

Like the spam filter, it didn’t have to specify all the possible disturbances – only the conditions for how and when it must be updated and redesigned. This is no trivial departure from how the usual technical systems, with their rigid, if-then rules, operate: suddenly, there’s no need to develop procedures for governing every contingency, for – or so one hopes – algorithms and real-time, immediate feedback can do a better job than inflexible rules out of touch with reality.

Algorithmic regulation could certainly make the administration of existing laws more efficient. If it can fight credit-card fraud, why not tax fraud? Italian bureaucrats have experimented with the redditometro, or income meter, a tool for comparing people’s spending patterns – recorded thanks to an arcane Italian law – with their declared income, so that authorities know when you spend more than you earn. Spain has expressed interest in a similar tool.

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O’Reilly’s question: for whom are they working? If it’s just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it’s hardly a democratic success.

With his belief that algorithmic regulation is based on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome”, O’Reilly cunningly disconnects the means of doing politics from its ends. But the how of politics is as important as the what of politics – in fact, the former often shapes the latter. Everybody agrees that education, health, and security are all “desired outcomes”, but how do we achieve them? In the past, when we faced the stark political choice of delivering them through the market or the state, the lines of the ideological debate were clear. Today, when the presumed choice is between the digital and the analog or between the dynamic feedback and the static law, that ideological clarity is gone – as if the very choice of how to achieve those “desired outcomes” was apolitical and didn’t force us to choose between different and often incompatible visions of communal living.

By assuming that the utopian world of infinite feedback loops is so efficient that it transcends politics, the proponents of algorithmic regulation fall into the same trap as the technocrats of the past. Yes, these systems are terrifyingly efficient – in the same way that Singapore is terrifyingly efficient (O’Reilly, unsurprisingly, praises Singapore for its embrace of algorithmic regulation). And while Singapore’s leaders might believe that they, too, have transcended politics, it doesn’t mean that their regime cannot be assessed outside the linguistic swamp of efficiency and innovation – by using political, not economic benchmarks.

As Silicon Valley keeps corrupting our language with its endless glorification of disruption and efficiency – concepts at odds with the vocabulary of democracy – our ability to question the “how” of politics is weakened. Silicon Valley’s default answer to the how of politics is what I call solutionism: problems are to be dealt with via apps, sensors, and feedback loops – all provided by startups. Earlier this year Google’s Eric Schmidt even promised that startups would provide the solution to the problem of economic inequality: the latter, it seems, can also be “disrupted”. And where the innovators and the disruptors lead, the bureaucrats follow.

The intelligence services embraced solutionism before other government agencies. Thus, they reduced the topic of terrorism from a subject that had some connection to history and foreign policy to an informational problem of identifying emerging terrorist threats via constant surveillance. They urged citizens to accept that instability is part of the game, that its root causes are neither traceable nor reparable, that the threat can only be pre-empted by out-innovating and out-surveilling the enemy with better communications.

Speaking in Athens last November, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discussed an epochal transformation in the idea of government, “whereby the traditional hierarchical relation between causes and effects is inverted, so that, instead of governing the causes – a difficult and expensive undertaking – governments simply try to govern the effects”.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman

Governments’ current favourite pyschologist, Daniel Kahneman. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer
For Agamben, this shift is emblematic of modernity. It also explains why the liberalisation of the economy can co-exist with the growing proliferation of control – by means of soap dispensers and remotely managed cars – into everyday life. “If government aims for the effects and not the causes, it will be obliged to extend and multiply control. Causes demand to be known, while effects can only be checked and controlled.” Algorithmic regulation is an enactment of this political programme in technological form.The true politics of algorithmic regulation become visible once its logic is applied to the social nets of the welfare state. There are no calls to dismantle them, but citizens are nonetheless encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. Consider how Fred Wilson, an influential US venture capitalist, frames the subject. “Health… is the opposite side of healthcare,” he said at a conference in Paris last December. “It’s what keeps you out of the healthcare system in the first place.” Thus, we are invited to start using self-tracking apps and data-sharing platforms and monitor our vital indicators, symptoms and discrepancies on our own.This goes nicely with recent policy proposals to save troubled public services by encouraging healthier lifestyles. Consider a 2013 report by Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit, a thinktank, calling for the linking of housing and council benefits to claimants’ visits to the gym – with the help of smartcards. They might not be needed: many smartphones are already tracking how many steps we take every day (Google Now, the company’s virtual assistant, keeps score of such data automatically and periodically presents it to users, nudging them to walk more).

The numerous possibilities that tracking devices offer to health and insurance industries are not lost on O’Reilly. “You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet?” he wondered at a recent conference. “I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the internet of things.” Things do seem to be heading that way: in June, Microsoft struck a deal with American Family Insurance, the eighth-largest home insurer in the US, in which both companies will fund startups that want to put sensors into smart homes and smart cars for the purposes of “proactive protection”.

An insurance company would gladly subsidise the costs of installing yet another sensor in your house – as long as it can automatically alert the fire department or make front porch lights flash in case your smoke detector goes off. For now, accepting such tracking systems is framed as an extra benefit that can save us some money. But when do we reach a point where not using them is seen as a deviation – or, worse, an act of concealment – that ought to be punished with higher premiums?

Or consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. “We propose ‘payment by results’, a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus,” they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what’s expected.

The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It’s certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one’s poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn’t wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.

In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

However, a politics without politics does not mean a politics without control or administration. As O’Reilly writes in his essay: “New technologies make it possible to reduce the amount of regulation while actually increasing the amount of oversight and production of desirable outcomes.” Thus, it’s a mistake to think that Silicon Valley wants to rid us of government institutions. Its dream state is not the small government of libertarians – a small state, after all, needs neither fancy gadgets nor massive servers to process the data – but the data-obsessed and data-obese state of behavioural economists.

The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option. Unsurprisingly, one of the three lonely references at the end of O’Reilly’s essay is to a 2012 speech entitled “Regulation: Looking Backward, Looking Forward” by Cass Sunstein, the prominent American legal scholar who is the chief theorist of the nudging state.

And while the nudgers have already captured the state by making behavioural psychology the favourite idiom of government bureaucracy –Daniel Kahneman is in, Machiavelli is out – the algorithmic regulation lobby advances in more clandestine ways. They create innocuous non-profit organisations like Code for America which then co-opt the state – under the guise of encouraging talented hackers to tackle civic problems.

Airbnb's homepage.

Airbnb: part of the reputation-driven economy.
Such initiatives aim to reprogramme the state and make it feedback-friendly, crowding out other means of doing politics. For all those tracking apps, algorithms and sensors to work, databases need interoperability – which is what such pseudo-humanitarian organisations, with their ardent belief in open data, demand. And when the government is too slow to move at Silicon Valley’s speed, they simply move inside the government. Thus, Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and a protege of O’Reilly, became the deputy chief technology officer of the US government – while pursuing a one-year “innovation fellowship” from the White House.Cash-strapped governments welcome such colonisation by technologists – especially if it helps to identify and clean up datasets that can be profitably sold to companies who need such data for advertising purposes. Recent clashes over the sale of student and health data in the UK are just a precursor of battles to come: after all state assets have been privatised, data is the next target. For O’Reilly, open data is “a key enabler of the measurement revolution”.This “measurement revolution” seeks to quantify the efficiency of various social programmes, as if the rationale behind the social nets that some of them provide was to achieve perfection of delivery. The actual rationale, of course, was to enable a fulfilling life by suppressing certain anxieties, so that citizens can pursue their life projects relatively undisturbed. This vision did spawn a vast bureaucratic apparatus and the critics of the welfare state from the left – most prominently Michel Foucault – were right to question its disciplining inclinations. Nonetheless, neither perfection nor efficiency were the “desired outcome” of this system. Thus, to compare the welfare state with the algorithmic state on those grounds is misleading.

But we can compare their respective visions for human fulfilment – and the role they assign to markets and the state. Silicon Valley’s offer is clear: thanks to ubiquitous feedback loops, we can all become entrepreneurs and take care of our own affairs! As Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, told the Atlantic last year, “What happens when everybody is a brand? When everybody has a reputation? Every person can become an entrepreneur.”

Under this vision, we will all code (for America!) in the morning, drive Uber cars in the afternoon, and rent out our kitchens as restaurants – courtesy of Airbnb – in the evening. As O’Reilly writes of Uber and similar companies, “these services ask every passenger to rate their driver (and drivers to rate their passenger). Drivers who provide poor service are eliminated. Reputation does a better job of ensuring a superb customer experience than any amount of government regulation.”

The state behind the “sharing economy” does not wither away; it might be needed to ensure that the reputation accumulated on Uber, Airbnb and other platforms of the “sharing economy” is fully liquid and transferable, creating a world where our every social interaction is recorded and assessed, erasing whatever differences exist between social domains. Someone, somewhere will eventually rate you as a passenger, a house guest, a student, a patient, a customer. Whether this ranking infrastructure will be decentralised, provided by a giant like Google or rest with the state is not yet clear but the overarching objective is: to make reputation into a feedback-friendly social net that could protect the truly responsible citizens from the vicissitudes of deregulation.

Admiring the reputation models of Uber and Airbnb, O’Reilly wants governments to be “adopting them where there are no demonstrable ill effects”. But what counts as an “ill effect” and how to demonstrate it is a key question that belongs to the how of politics that algorithmic regulation wants to suppress. It’s easy to demonstrate “ill effects” if the goal of regulation is efficiency but what if it is something else? Surely, there are some benefits – fewer visits to the psychoanalyst, perhaps – in not having your every social interaction ranked?

The imperative to evaluate and demonstrate “results” and “effects” already presupposes that the goal of policy is the optimisation of efficiency. However, as long as democracy is irreducible to a formula, its composite values will always lose this battle: they are much harder to quantify.

For Silicon Valley, though, the reputation-obsessed algorithmic state of the sharing economy is the new welfare state. If you are honest and hardworking, your online reputation would reflect this, producing a highly personalised social net. It is “ultrastable” in Ashby’s sense: while the welfare state assumes the existence of specific social evils it tries to fight, the algorithmic state makes no such assumptions. The future threats can remain fully unknowable and fully addressable – on the individual level.

Silicon Valley, of course, is not alone in touting such ultrastable individual solutions. Nassim Taleb, in his best-selling 2012 book Antifragile, makes a similar, if more philosophical, plea for maximising our individual resourcefulness and resilience: don’t get one job but many, don’t take on debt, count on your own expertise. It’s all about resilience, risk-taking and, as Taleb puts it, “having skin in the game”. As Julian Reid and Brad Evans write in their new book, Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, this growing cult of resilience masks a tacit acknowledgement that no collective project could even aspire to tame the proliferating threats to human existence – we can only hope to equip ourselves to tackle them individually. “When policy-makers engage in the discourse of resilience,” write Reid and Evans, “they do so in terms which aim explicitly at preventing humans from conceiving of danger as a phenomenon from which they might seek freedom and even, in contrast, as that to which they must now expose themselves.”

What, then, is the progressive alternative? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t work here: just because Silicon Valley is attacking the welfare state doesn’t mean that progressives should defend it to the very last bullet (or tweet). First, even leftist governments have limited space for fiscal manoeuvres, as the kind of discretionary spending required to modernise the welfare state would never be approved by the global financial markets. And it’s the ratings agencies and bond markets – not the voters – who are in charge today.

Second, the leftist critique of the welfare state has become only more relevant today when the exact borderlines between welfare and security are so blurry. When Google’s Android powers so much of our everyday life, the government’s temptation to govern us through remotely controlled cars and alarm-operated soap dispensers will be all too great. This will expand government’s hold over areas of life previously free from regulation.

With so much data, the government’s favourite argument in fighting terror – if only the citizens knew as much as we do, they too would impose all these legal exceptions – easily extends to other domains, from health to climate change. Consider a recent academic paper that used Google search data to study obesity patterns in the US, finding significant correlation between search keywords and body mass index levels. “Results suggest great promise of the idea of obesity monitoring through real-time Google Trends data”, note the authors, which would be “particularly attractive for government health institutions and private businesses such as insurance companies.”

If Google senses a flu epidemic somewhere, it’s hard to challenge its hunch – we simply lack the infrastructure to process so much data at this scale. Google can be proven wrong after the fact – as has recently been the case with its flu trends data, which was shown to overestimate the number of infections, possibly because of its failure to account for the intense media coverage of flu – but so is the case with most terrorist alerts. It’s the immediate, real-time nature of computer systems that makes them perfect allies of an infinitely expanding and pre-emption‑obsessed state.

Perhaps, the case of Gloria Placente and her failed trip to the beach was not just a historical oddity but an early omen of how real-time computing, combined with ubiquitous communication technologies, would transform the state. One of the few people to have heeded that omen was a little-known American advertising executive called Robert MacBride, who pushed the logic behind Operation Corral to its ultimate conclusions in his unjustly neglected 1967 book, The Automated State.

At the time, America was debating the merits of establishing a national data centre to aggregate various national statistics and make it available to government agencies. MacBride attacked his contemporaries’ inability to see how the state would exploit the metadata accrued as everything was being computerised. Instead of “a large scale, up-to-date Austro-Hungarian empire”, modern computer systems would produce “a bureaucracy of almost celestial capacity” that can “discern and define relationships in a manner which no human bureaucracy could ever hope to do”.

“Whether one bowls on a Sunday or visits a library instead is [of] no consequence since no one checks those things,” he wrote. Not so when computer systems can aggregate data from different domains and spot correlations. “Our individual behaviour in buying and selling an automobile, a house, or a security, in paying our debts and acquiring new ones, and in earning money and being paid, will be noted meticulously and studied exhaustively,” warned MacBride. Thus, a citizen will soon discover that “his choice of magazine subscriptions… can be found to indicate accurately the probability of his maintaining his property or his interest in the education of his children.” This sounds eerily similar to the recent case of a hapless father who found that his daughter was pregnant from a coupon that Target, a retailer, sent to their house. Target’s hunch was based on its analysis of products – for example, unscented lotion – usually bought by other pregnant women.

For MacBride the conclusion was obvious. “Political rights won’t be violated but will resemble those of a small stockholder in a giant enterprise,” he wrote. “The mark of sophistication and savoir-faire in this future will be the grace and flexibility with which one accepts one’s role and makes the most of what it offers.” In other words, since we are all entrepreneurs first – and citizens second, we might as well make the most of it.

What, then, is to be done? Technophobia is no solution. Progressives need technologies that would stick with the spirit, if not the institutional form, of the welfare state, preserving its commitment to creating ideal conditions for human flourishing. Even some ultrastability is welcome. Stability was a laudable goal of the welfare state before it had encountered a trap: in specifying the exact protections that the state was to offer against the excesses of capitalism, it could not easily deflect new, previously unspecified forms of exploitation.

How do we build welfarism that is both decentralised and ultrastable? A form of guaranteed basic income – whereby some welfare services are replaced by direct cash transfers to citizens – fits the two criteria.

Creating the right conditions for the emergence of political communities around causes and issues they deem relevant would be another good step. Full compliance with the principle of ultrastability dictates that such issues cannot be anticipated or dictated from above – by political parties or trade unions – and must be left unspecified.

What can be specified is the kind of communications infrastructure needed to abet this cause: it should be free to use, hard to track, and open to new, subversive uses. Silicon Valley’s existing infrastructure is great for fulfilling the needs of the state, not of self-organising citizens. It can, of course, be redeployed for activist causes – and it often is – but there’s no reason to accept the status quo as either ideal or inevitable.

Why, after all, appropriate what should belong to the people in the first place? While many of the creators of the internet bemoan how low their creature has fallen, their anger is misdirected. The fault is not with that amorphous entity but, first of all, with the absence of robust technology policy on the left – a policy that can counter the pro-innovation, pro-disruption, pro-privatisation agenda of Silicon Valley. In its absence, all these emerging political communities will operate with their wings clipped. Whether the next Occupy Wall Street would be able to occupy anything in a truly smart city remains to be seen: most likely, they would be out-censored and out-droned.

To his credit, MacBride understood all of this in 1967. “Given the resources of modern technology and planning techniques,” he warned, “it is really no great trick to transform even a country like ours into a smoothly running corporation where every detail of life is a mechanical function to be taken care of.” MacBride’s fear is O’Reilly’s master plan: the government, he writes, ought to be modelled on the “lean startup” approach of Silicon Valley, which is “using data to constantly revise and tune its approach to the market”. It’s this very approach that Facebook has recently deployed to maximise user engagement on the site: if showing users more happy stories does the trick, so be it.

Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots. The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, in a pointed critique of cybernetics published, as it happens, roughly at the same time as The Automated State, put it best: “Society cannot give up the burden of having to decide about its own fate by sacrificing this freedom for the sake of the cybernetic regulator.”

 

Here are the states where you are most likely to be wiretapped

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court’s Wiretap Report, here’s where wiretapping occurs the most

 

Here are the states where you are most likely to be wiretapped

In terms of wiretapping — with a warrant — it turns out some states use the tactic far more than others.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Court released its “Wiretap Report” for the year 2013, and it turns out that Nevada, California, Colorado and New York account for nearly half of all wiretap applications on portable devices in the United States. Add in New Jersey, Georgia and Florida and you have 80 percent of the country’s applications for wiretaps. A chart from Pew Research can be viewed here.

Overall, according to the report, wiretaps were up in 2013:

“The number of federal and state wiretaps reported in 2013 increased 5 percent from 2012. A total of 3,576 wiretaps were reported as authorized in 2013, with 1,476 authorized by federal judges and 2,100 authorized by state judges.”

The report also found that in terms of federal applications The Southern District of California was responsible for 8 percent of the applications, approved by federal judges — the most by a single district in the country.

In terms of the nation, Pew Research reports:

“When we factor in population, Nevada leads the nation with 38 mobile wiretaps for every 500,000 people. Most Nevada wiretaps (187) were sought by officials in Clark County, home to Las Vegas; federal prosecutors in the state obtained authorization for 26 more, though only one was actually installed.”

The overwhelming majority of the wiretaps, nationwide — 90 percent, according to Pew Research — were requested to monitor drug-related criminal activity. Pew also reported that the wiretaps resulted in 3,744 arrests and 709 convictions.

Most of the wiretaps were for “portable devices” which included mobile phones and digital pagers, according to the report.



The states where no wiretaps were requested include Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont.

Of course, the report only highlights wiretaps that require a warrant, and not those done without.

h/t Gizmodo, Pew Research, U.S. Courts

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/14/here_are_the_sates_where_you_are_most_likely_to_be_wiretapped/?source=newsletter

 

Obama administration drops investigation into CIA spying on US Senate

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By Patrick Martin
12 July 2014

The US Department of Justice announced Thursday that it would not investigate charges that the CIA had spied on members of the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whitewashing the brazenly illegal actions of the US intelligence apparatus. “The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” read the Justice Department statement.

The department will also not investigate countercharges by the CIA that Senate staffers had gained unauthorized access to CIA documents, effectively equating the two and prompting the corporate-controlled media (which has largely buried the story) to portray the action as a neutral, “hands-off” position in a murky dispute between the Senate and the CIA.

The CIA surveillance of the activities of the Senate committee—which is charged by law with oversight of the CIA—was such a flagrant violation of the constitutional separation of powers that the panel’s chairman, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, took the extraordinary step of denouncing the agency in an hour-long speech on the Senate floor on March 11.

A longtime hardline defender of the intelligence apparatus, Feinstein was visibly disturbed by what she had learned of the CIA’s actions, which she said “may well have violated the separation-of-powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution,” and also “the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

The conflict arose over the four-year campaign by the CIA to stall the Senate committee’s inquiry into torture of prisoners at secret CIA-run prisons (“black sites”) between 2002 and 2006 under the Bush administration. Dozens of prisoners captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries were taken to these secret prisons in a half dozen countries—Thailand, Romania and Poland among them—and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture.

Bush ordered the “black sites” shut down and most of their prisoners transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, after the existence of the secret prisons became public knowledge. The Senate Intelligence Committee began an investigation in 2009 and has drafted a voluminous report, comprising more than 6,300 pages, including extensive details of both the torture operation and the efforts by the CIA to cover it up and lie to Congress and the American people.

The report was completed in 2012, but its publication has been repeatedly delayed by CIA stonewalling. At some point in 2013, staff members of the Senate committee became aware of an internal CIA document, dubbed the “Panetta review” after Leon Panetta, the CIA director who commissioned it, giving a summary of the evidence of torture. The review contradicted the official CIA position that the operations at the black sites conformed to international and US law.

When the Senate committee pressed for official release of the “Panetta review,” they were told that the document was privileged material for executive branch use only. CIA Director John Brennan told Feinstein in January 2014 that the CIA had conducted a search of the Senate committee’s computers in an effort to determine how the staff had obtained the document.

This search was a flagrant violation of the separation of powers set down in the US Constitution, which bars the executive branch from interfering in the internal operations and deliberations of the legislative branch.

Even more ominously, after the CIA inspector general filed a criminal referral to the Justice Department over the surveillance of the Senate committee staff, the CIA general counsel retaliated with its own criminal referral, seeking federal prosecution of the Senate staff members for alleged illegal access to classified documents. In other words, the CIA sought to criminalize any effort by Congress to supervise the CIA’s own operations.

Feinstein’s March 11 speech was a protest against this second referral, but it has been followed by four months of silence, both from congressional leaders, Democratic and Republican, and from the Obama administration. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify its torture report, but the White House handed over responsibility for declassification to the CIA itself—allowing the agency to decide what portions of the report criticizing its actions should be made public. No date has yet been set for final publication of what will be a severely redacted document.

Even the way the Justice Department announced its decision underscores the supremacy of the intelligence apparatus over the elected institutions that nominally hold sway in Washington. The department informed the CIA Wednesday that it would not investigate either criminal referral, but it waited to tell the Senate committee until Thursday.

The response of leading Senate Democrats was a further demonstration of their prostration before the intelligence agencies. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, “I think what the CIA did to my senators is wrong. I’m going to drop it at that.”

Feinstein issued no official statement, but commented briefly to reporters, calling the Justice Department decision “good,” because it ended the possibility of prosecution of her staff: “We have a lot of young people, with families, and with this it’s a very hard thing to have hanging over your head. And they’ve done a very good job. It’s just a good day.”

The California senator said nothing about the whitewash of the constitutional issues involved in the CIA spying on the Senate committee, which she had made the axis of her Senate speech four months before.

The two leading “critics” of the CIA on the Senate panel did address that issue, although in terms that indicated they accepted the refusal of the Obama administration to investigate.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said the CIA “still has some very serious questions to answer about the unauthorized search of Senate files and whether CIA officials believe they have the authority to do this again.”

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado said, “The Justice Department’s decision is troubling and draws a false equivalency between congressional staff fulfilling their constitutional obligations and an executive branch agency potentially breaking the law.”

However, Udall made it clear that his concern was to restore credibility to the CIA torturers, assassins and spymasters, not to hold them accountable for their crimes. “Independent oversight of our intelligence agencies is essential for the American people to trust what they’re doing to protect our national security,” he concluded.

The Justice Department action was greeted by most of the press with a yawn. There were perfunctory accounts published Friday by the New York Times (on page 8) and the Washington Post (a four-paragraph wire service story). The television networks ignored the issue.

When Feinstein made her speech on the Senate floor, the World Socialist Web Site pointed to the significance of the fundamental constitutional issues raised. We wrote: “The trajectory of this conflict is an ominous warning: the criminality of the military-intelligence apparatus is metastasizing into an open onslaught on constitutional principles, including such fundamental precepts as the separation of powers.”

But we warned, “Neither Feinstein nor any other capitalist politician in Washington, Democratic or Republican, is capable of serious resistance to the emergence of a police state in the United States… democratic rights are increasingly incompatible with the capitalist profit system, characterized by rampant social inequality and deepening economic crisis.”

This warning has been amply vindicated in the whitewash announced by the Obama administration, and the virtual silence that has followed it. The defense of democratic rights, abandoned by every representative and faction of big business politics, must be taken up by the working class, fighting in its own class and social interests.

How Modern Houses Can Watch You

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Presto Vivace (882157) links to a critical look in Time Magazine at the creepy side of connected household technology. An excerpt:
A modern surveillance state isn’t so much being forced on us, as it is sold to us device by device, with the idea that it is for our benefit. … … Nest sucks up data on how warm your home is. As Mocana CEO James Isaacs explained to me in early May, a detailed footprint of your comings and goings can be inferred from this information. Nest just bought Dropcam, a company that markets itself as a security tool allowing you to put cameras in your home and view them remotely, but brings with it a raft of disquieting implications about surveillance. Automatic wants you to monitor how far you drive and do things for you like talk to your your house when you’re on your way home from work and turn on lights when you pull into your garage. Tied into the new SmartThings platform, a Jawbone UP band becomes a tool for remotely monitoring someone else’s activity. The SmartThings hubs and sensors themselves put any switch or door in play. Companies like AT&T want to build a digital home that monitors your security and energy use. … … Withings Smart Body Analyzer monitors your weight and pulse. Teddy the Guardian is a soft toy for children that spies on their vital signs. Parrot Flower Power looks at the moisture in your home under the guise of helping you grow plants. The Beam Brush checks up on your teeth-brushing technique.
Presto Vivaci adds, “Enough to make the Stasi blush. What I cannot understand is how politicians fail to understand what a future Kenneth Starr is going to do with data like this.”
~Slashdot~

Shredding the Fourth Amendment in Post-Constitutional America

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Four Ways It No Longer Applies

 
By Peter Van Buren

Here’s a bit of history from another America: the Bill of Rights was designed to protect the people from their government. If the First Amendment’s right to speak out publicly was the people’s wall of security, then the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy was its buttress. It was once thought that the government should neither be able to stop citizens from speaking nor peer into their lives. Think of that as the essence of the Constitutional era that ended when those towers came down on September 11, 2001. Consider how privacy worked before 9/11 and how it works now in Post-Constitutional America.

The Fourth Amendment

A response to British King George’s excessive invasions of privacy in colonial America, the Fourth Amendment pulls no punches: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

In Post-Constitutional America, the government might as well have taken scissors to the original copy of the Constitution stored in the National Archives, then crumpled up the Fourth Amendment and tossed it in the garbage can. The NSA revelations of Edward Snowden are, in that sense, not just a shock to the conscience but to the Fourth Amendment itself: our government spies on us. All of us. Without suspicion. Without warrants. Without probable cause. Without restraint. This would qualify as “unreasonable” in our old constitutional world, but no more.

Here, then, are four ways that, in the name of American “security” and according to our government, the Fourth Amendment no longer really applies to our lives.

The Constitutional Borderline

Begin at America’s borders. Most people believe they are “in” the United States as soon as they step off an international flight and are thus fully covered by the Bill of Rights. The truth has, in the twenty-first century, become infinitely more complicated as long-standing practices are manipulated to serve the expanding desires of the national security state. The mining of words and concepts for new, darker meanings is a hallmark of how things work in Post-Constitutional America.

Over the years, recognizing that certain situations could render Fourth Amendment requirements impractical or against the public interest, the Supreme Court crafted various exceptions to them. One was the “border search.” The idea was that the United States should be able to protect itself by stopping and examining people entering the country. As a result, routine border searches without warrants are constitutionally “reasonable” simply by virtue of where they take place. It’s a concept with a long history, enumerated by the First Congress in 1789.

Here’s the twist in the present era: the definition of “border” has been changed. Upon arriving in the United States from abroad, you are not legally present in the country until allowed to enter by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. You know, the guys who look into your luggage and stamp your passport. Until that moment, you exist in a legal void where the protections of the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States do not apply. This concept also predates Post-Constitutional America and the DHS. Remember the sorting process at Ellis Island in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? No lawyers allowed there.

Those modest exceptions were all part of constitutional America. Today, once reasonable searches at the border have morphed into a vast “Constitution-free zone.” The “border” is now a strip of land circling the country and extending 100 miles inland that includes two-thirds of the U.S. population. In this vast region, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can set up checkpoints and conduct warrantless searches. At airports, American citizens are now similarly subjected to search and seizure as filmmaker Laura Poitras — whose work focuses on national security issues in general and Edward Snowden in the particular — knows firsthand. Since 2006, almost every time Poitras has returned to the U.S., her plane has been met by government agents and her laptop and phone examined.

There are multiple similar high-profile cases (including those of a Wikileaks researcher and a Chelsea Manning supporter), but ordinary citizens are hardly exempt. Despite standing in an American airport, a pane of glass away from loved ones, you are not in the U.S. and have no Fourth Amendment rights. How many such airport searches are conducted in the aggregate is unknown. The best information we have comes from a FOIA request by the ACLU. It revealed that, in the 18-month period beginning in October 2008, more than 6,600 people, about half of them U.S. citizens, were subjected to electronic device searches at the border.

Still, reminding us that it’s possible to have a sense of humor on the road to hell, the CBP offers this undoubtedly inadvertent pun at its website: “It is not the intent of CBP to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny.” (emphasis added)

Making It All Constitutional In-House

Here’s another example of how definitions have been readjusted to serve the national security state’s overriding needs: the Department of Justice (DOJ) created a Post-Constitutional interpretation of the Fourth Amendment that allows it to access millions of records of Americans using only subpoenas, not search warrants.

Some background: a warrant is court permission to search and seize something. As the Fourth Amendment makes clear, it must be specific: enter Thomas Anderson’s home and look for hacked software. Warrants can only be issued on “probable cause.” The Supreme Court defined probable cause as requiring a high standard of proof, or to quote its words, “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.”

A subpoena on the other hand is nothing more than a government order issued to a citizen or organization to do something, most typically to produce a document. Standards for issuing a subpoena are flexible, as most executive agencies can issue them on their own without interaction with a court. In such cases, there is no independent oversight.

The Department of Justice now claims that, under the Fourth Amendment, it can simply subpoena an Internet company like Facebook and demand that they look for and turn over all the records they have on our Mr. Anderson. Their explanation: the DOJ isn’t doing the searching, just demanding that another organization do it. As far as its lawyers are concerned, in such a situation, no warrant is needed. In addition, the Department of Justice believes it has the authority to subpoena multiple records, maybe even all the records Facebook has. Records on you? Some group of people including you? Everyone? We don’t know, as sources of data like Facebook and Google are prohibited from disclosing much about the information they hand over to the NSA or other government outfits about you.

It’s easy enough to miss the gravity of this in-house interpretation when it comes to the Fourth Amendment. If the FBI today came to your home and demanded access to your emails, it would require a warrant obtained from a court after a show of probable cause to get them. If, however, the Department of Justice can simply issue a subpoena to Google to the same end, they can potentially vacuum up every Gmail message you’ve ever sent without a warrant and it won’t constitute a “search.” The DOJ has continued this practice even though in 2010 a federal appeals court ruled that bulk warrantless access to email violates the Fourth Amendment. An FBI field manual released under the Freedom of Information Act similarly makes it clear that the Bureau’s agents don’t need warrants to access email in bulk when it’s pulled directly from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, or other service providers.

How far can the use of a subpoena go in bypassing the Fourth Amendment? Recently, the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a subpoena — no court involved — demanding that the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) turn over all information it has collected relating to abuses and mismanagement at VA medical facilities. POGO is a private, non-profit group, dedicated to assisting whistleblowers. The VA subpoena demands access to records sent via an encrypted website to POGO under a promise of anonymity, many from current or former VA employees.

Rather than seek to break the encryption surreptitiously and illegally to expose the whistleblowers, the government has taken a simpler, if unconstitutional route, by simply demanding the names and reports. POGO has refused to comply, setting up a legal confrontation. In the meantime, consider it just another sign of the direction the government is heading when it comes to the Fourth Amendment.

Technology and the Fourth Amendment

Some observers suggest that there is little new here. For example, the compiling of information on innocent Americans by J. Edgar Hoover’s low-tech FBI back in the 1960s has been well documented. Paper reports on activities, recordings of conversations, and photos of meetings and trysts, all secretly obtained, exposed the lives of civil rights leaders, popular musicians, and antiwar protesters. From 1956 to at least 1971, the government also wiretapped the calls and conversations of Americans under the Bureau’s counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO).

But those who look to such history of government illegality for a strange kind of nothing-new-under-the-sun reassurance have not grasped the impact of fast-developing technology. In scale, scope, and sheer efficiency, the systems now being employed inside the U.S. by the NSA and other intelligence agencies are something quite new and historically significant. Size matters.

To avoid such encroaching digitization would essentially mean withdrawing from society, not exactly an option for most Americans. More of life is now online — from banking to travel to social media. Where the NSA was once limited to traditional notions of communication — the written and spoken word — new possibilities for following you and intruding on your life in myriad ways are being created. The agency can, for instance, now collect images, photos, and video, and subject them to facial recognition technology that can increasingly put a name to a face. Such technology, employed today at casinos as well as in the secret world of the national security state, can pick out a face in a crowd and identify it, taking into account age, changes in facial hair, new glasses, hats, and the like.

An offshoot of facial recognition is the broader category of biometrics, the use of physical and biological traits unique to a person for identification. These can be anything from ordinary fingerprinting to cutting-edge DNA records and iris scans. (Biometrics is already big business and even has its own trade association in Washington.) One of the world’s largest known collections of biometric data is held by the Department of State. As of December 2009, its Consular Consolidated Database (CCD) contained more than 75 million photographs of Americans and foreigners and is growing at a rate of approximately 35,000 records per day. CCD also collects and stores indefinitely the fingerprints of all foreigners issued visas.

With ever more data available, the NSA and other agencies are creating ever more robust ways to store it. Such storage is cheap and bounteous, with few limits other than the availability of electricity and water to cool the electronics. Emerging tech will surely bypass many of the existing constraints to make holding more data longer even easier and cheaper. The old days of file cabinets, or later, clunky disk drives, are over in an era of mega-data storage warehouses.

The way data is aggregated is also changing fast. Where data was once kept in cabinets in separate offices, later in bureaucratically isolated, agency-by-agency digital islands, post-9/11 sharing mandates coupled with new technology have led to fusion databases. In these, information from such disparate sources as license plate readers, wiretaps, and records of library book choices can be aggregated and easily shared. Basically everything about a person, gathered worldwide by various agencies and means, can now be put into a single “file.”

Once you have the whole haystack, there’s still the problem of how to locate the needle. For this, emerging technologies grow ever more capable of analyzing Big Data. Some simple ones are even available to the public, like IBM’s Non-Obvious Relationship Awareness software (NORA). It can, for example, scan multiple databases, geolocation information, and social media friend lists and recognize relationships that may not be obvious at first glance. The software is fast and requires no human intervention. It runs 24/7/365/Forever.

Tools like NORA and its more sophisticated classified cousins are NSA’s solution to one of the last hurdles to knowing nearly everything: the need for human analysts to “connect the dots.” Skilled analysts take time to train, are prone to human error, and — given the quickly expanding supply of data — will always be in demand. Automated analysis also offers the NSA other advantages. Software doesn’t have a conscience and it can’t blow the whistle.

What does all this mean in terms of the Fourth Amendment? It’s simple: the technological and human factors that constrained the gathering and processing of data in the past are fast disappearing. Prior to these “advances,” even the most ill-intentioned government urges to intrude on and do away with the privacy of citizens were held in check by the possible. The techno-gloves are now off and the possible is increasingly whatever an official or bureaucrat wants to do. That means violations of the Fourth Amendment are held in check only by the goodwill of the government, which might have qualified as the ultimate nightmare of those who wrote the Constitution.

On this front, however, there are signs of hope that the Supreme Court may return to its check-and-balance role of the Constitutional era. One sign, directly addressing the Fourth Amendment, is this week’s unanimous decision that the police cannot search the contents of a cell phone without a warrant. (The court also recently issued a ruling determining that the procedures for challenging one’s inclusion on the government’s no-fly list are unconstitutional, another hopeful sign.)

Prior to the cell phone decision, law enforcement held that if someone was arrested for, say, a traffic violation, the police had the right to examine the full contents of his or her cell phone — call lists, photos, social media, contacts, whatever was on the device. Police traditionally have been able to search physical objects they find on an arrestee without a warrant on the grounds that such searches are for the protection of the officers.

In its new decision, however, the court acknowledged that cell phones represent far more than a “physical object.” The information they hold is a portrait of someone’s life like what’s in a closet at home or on a computer sitting on your desk. Searches of those locations almost always require a warrant.

Does this matter when talking about the NSA’s technological dragnet? Maybe. While the Supreme Court’s decision applies directly to street-level law enforcement, it does suggest an evolution within the court, a recognition of the way advances in technology have changed the Fourth Amendment. A cell phone is not an object anymore; it is now recognized as a portal to other information that a person has gathered in one place for convenience with, as of this decision, a reasonable expectation of privacy.

National Security Disclosures Under HIPPA

While the NSA’s electronic basket of violations of the Fourth Amendment were, pre-Snowden, meant to take place in utter secrecy, here’s a violation that sits in broad daylight: since 2002, my doctor can disclose my medical records to the NSA without my permission or knowledge. So can yours.

Congress passed the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) in 1996 “to assure that individuals’ health information is properly protected.” You likely signed a HIPPA agreement at your doctor’s office, granting access to your records. However, Congress quietly amended the HIPPA Act in 2002 to permit disclosure of those records for national security purposes. Specifically, the new version of this “privacy law” states: “We may also disclose your PHI [Personal Health Information] to authorized federal officials as necessary for national security and intelligence activities.” The text is embedded deep in your health care provider’s documentation. Look for it.

How does this work? We don’t know. Do the NSA or other agencies have ongoing access to the medical records of all Americans? Do they have to request specific ones? Do doctors have any choice in whose records to forward under what conditions? No one knows. My HMO, after much transferring of my calls, would ultimately only refer me back to the HIPPA text with a promise that they follow the law.

The Snowden revelations are often dismissed by people who wonder what they have to hide. (Who cares if the NSA sees my cute cat videos?) That’s why health-care spying stands out. How much more invasive could it be than for your government to have unfettered access to such a potentially personal and private part of your life — something, by the way, that couldn’t have less to do with American “security” or combating terrorism.

Our health-care providers, in direct confrontation with the Fourth Amendment, are now part of the metastasizing national security state. You’re right to be afraid, but for goodness sake, don’t discuss your fears with your doctor.

How the Unreasonable Becomes Reasonable

At this point, when it comes to national security matters, the Fourth Amendment has by any practical definition been done away with as a part of Post-Constitutional America. Whole books have been written just about Edward Snowden and more information about government spying regularly becomes available. We don’t lack for examples. Yet as the obviousness of what is being done becomes impossible to ignore and reassurances offered up by the president and others are shown to be lies, the government continues to spin the debate into false discussions about how to “balance” freedom versus security, to raise the specter of another 9/11 if spying is curtailed, and to fall back on that go-to “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” line.

In Post-Constitutional America, the old words that once defined our democracy are twisted in new ways, not discarded. Previously unreasonable searches become reasonable ones under new government interpretations of the Fourth Amendment. Traditional tools of law, like subpoenas and warrants, continue to exist even as they morph into monstrous new forms.

Americans are told (and often believe) that they retain rights they no longer have. Wait for the rhetoric that goes with the celebrations of our freedoms this July 4th. You won’t hear a lot about the NSA then, but you should. In pre-constitutional America the colonists knew that they were under the king’s thumb. In totalitarian states of the last century like the Soviet Union, people dealt with their lack of rights and privacy with grim humor and subtle protest. However, in America, ever exceptional, citizens passively watch their rights disappear in the service of dark ends, largely without protest and often while still celebrating a land that no longer exists.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A Tom Dispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now. This is the second in a three-part series on the shredding of the Bill of Rights.

 

Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175861/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren%2C_what_we%27ve_lost_since_9_11_%28part_2%29/#more

Did Obama Know that ISIS Planned to Invade Iraq?

What Did the White House Know?

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by MIKE WHITNEY

“I think we have to understand first how we got here. We have been arming ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in Syria.  ISIS, an al Qaeda offshoot, has been collaborating with the Syrian rebels whom the Obama administration has been arming in their efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”  – Senator Rand Paul, Interview CNN 

Today’s head-scratcher: How could a two-mile long column of jihadi-filled white Toyota Land rovers barrel across the Syrian border into Iraq–sending plumes of dust up into the atmosphere –without US spy satellites detecting their whereabouts when those same satellites can read a damn license plate from outer space? And why has the media failed to inquire about this massive Intelligence failure?

Barack Obama is a big proponent of “inclusive democracy” which is why he wants Iraqi prime minister Nouri al Maliki to either include more Sunnis in the government or resign as PM. In an interview with CNN, Obama said, “We gave Iraq the chance to have an inclusive democracy, to work across sectarian lines to provide a better future for their children and unfortunately what we’ve seen is a breakdown of trust…There’s no doubt that there has been a suspicion for quite some time now amongst Sunnis that they have no access to using the political process to deal with their grievances, and that is in part the reason why a better-armed and larger number of Iraqi security forces melted away when an extremist group, Isis, started rolling through the western portions of Iraq.

“Part of the task now is to see whether Iraqi leaders are prepared to rise above sectarian motivations, come together, and compromise. If they can’t there’s not going to be a military solution to this problem … There’s no amount of American firepower that’s going to be able to hold the country together and I’ve made that very clear to Mr Maliki and all the other leadership inside of Iraq (that) they don’t have a lot of time.” (New York Times)

Anyone who thinks Obama  gives a rip about sectarian problems in Iraq needs his head examined. That’s the lamest excuse for a policy position since the Bush administration announced they were sending troops to Afghanistan to “liberate” women from having to wear headscarves.  If Obama was serious about “inclusive democracy” as he calls it, then he’d withhold the $1.3 billion from his new dictator buddy, Generalissimo al Sisi of Egypt who toppled the democratically-elected government in Cairo, installed himself as top-dog in conspicuously rigged elections, and is now planning to execute 200-plus Egyptians for being members of a party that was legal just a few months ago.   Do you think Obama is pestering al-Sisi to be “more inclusive”?  No way. He doesn’t care how many people are executed in Egypt, anymore than he cares whether al Maliki blocks Sunnis from a spot in the government. What matters to Obama and his deep-state puppetmasters is regime change, that is, getting rid of a nuisance who hasn’t followed Washington’s directives. That’s what this is all about. Obama and Co. want to give al Maliki the old heave-ho because he refused to let US troops stay in Iraq past the 2012 deadline and because he’s too close to Tehran. Two strikes and you’re out, at least that’s how Washington plays the game.

So Maliki has got to go, and all the hoopla over sectarian issues is just pabulum for the News Hour. It means nothing. The real goal is regime change. That, and the partitioning of Iraq. In fact, the de facto partitioning of Iraq has already taken place. The Sunnis have basically seized the part of the country where they plan to live. The Kurds have nailed down their own territory, and the Shia will get Baghdad and the rest, including Basra. So, the division of Iraq has already a done deal, just as long as al Maliki doesn’t  gum up the works by deploying his army to retake the parts of the country that are now occupied by ISIS. But the Obama team probably won’t allow that to happen, mainly because the bigshots in Washington like things the way they are now. They want an Iraq that is broken into smaller chunks and ruled by tribal leaders and warlords. That’s what this is all about, splitting up the country along the lines that were laid out in an Israeli plan authored by Oded Yinon 30 years ago.  That plan has already been implemented which means Iraq, as we traditionally think of it, no longer exists. It’s kaput. Obama and Co. made sure of that.  They weren’t satisfied with just killing a million Iraqis, polluting the environment, poisoning the water, destroying the schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, and leaving them to scrape by on meager rations, foul water and a tattered electrical grid. They had to come back and annihilate the state itself, erase the lines on the map,  and remove any trace of a nation that was once a prosperous Middle East hub. Now the country is gone, vanished overnight. Poof. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Of course, al Maliki could try to reverse the situation, but he’s got his own problems to deal with. It’s going to be hard enough for him just to hold onto power, let alone launch a sustained attack on a disparate band of cutthroats who are bent on wreaking havoc on oil wells, critical infrastructure, pipelines, reservoirs, etc as well as killing as many infidels as humanly possible. No matter how you cut it, al Maliki is going to have his hands full.  Obama has already made it plain, that he’s gunning for him and won’t rest until he’s gone. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry is in the Middle East right now trying to drum up support for the “Dump Maliki” campaign. His first stopover was Cairo. Here’s a wrap-up form the Sunday Times:

“Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Sunday morning on the first leg of a trip that is intended to hasten the formation of a cross-sectarian government in Iraq. In his swing through Middle East capitals, Mr. Kerry plans to send two messages on Iraq. One is that Arab states should use their influence with Iraqi politicians and prod them to quickly form an inclusive government. Another is that they should crack down on funding to the Sunni militants in the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The group is largely self-sustaining because of success in extortion and its plundering of banks in Mosul, Iraq. But some funding “has flowed into Iraq from its neighbors,” said a senior official on Mr. Kerry’s plane.” (Kerry Arrives in Cairo on Trip to Push for New Iraqi Government, New York Times)

How’s that for priorities? First we get rid of al Maliki, says Kerry, then we move on to less important matters, like that  horde of jihadi desperados who are descending on Baghdad like a swarm of locusts. Doesn’t that seem a little backasswards to you, dear reader?

And why isn’t Obama worried about a jihadi attack on Baghdad?   Think of it: If they did attack Baghdad and the capital fell into jihadi hands, then what? Well, then the Dems would take the blame, they’d get their butts whooped in the upcoming midterms, and Madame Hillary would have to take up needlepoint because her chances of winning the 2014 presidential balloting would drop to zero.  So, the fallout would be quite grave. Still, Obama’s not sweating it, in fact, he’s not the least bit worried. Why?

Could it be that he knows something that we don’t know?  Could it be that US Intel agents have already made contact with these yahoos and gotten a commitment that they won’t attack Baghdad if they are allowed to remain in the predominantly Sunni areas which they already occupy? Is that it? Did Obama offer the Baathists and Takfiris a quid pro quo which they graciously accepted?

It’s very likely, mainly because it achieves Obama’s strategic objective of establishing a de facto partition that will remain in effect unless al Maliki can whip up an army to retake lost ground which looks doubtful at this point.

But, here’s the glitch;  al Maliki is not a quitter, and he’s not going anywhere. In fact he’s digging in his heels. He’s not going to be blackmailed by the likes of Obama. He’s going to this fight tooth and nail. And he’s going to have help too, because young Shia males are flocking to the recruiting offices to join the army and the militias. And then there’s Russia; in a surprise announcement  Russian president Vladimir Putin offered to assist al Maliki in the fight against the terrorists, a move that is bound to enrage Washington. Here’s a clip from the Daily Star:

“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday offered Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Moscow’s total backing for the fight against jihadist fighters who have swept across the Middle East country.

“Putin confirmed Russia’s complete support for the efforts of the Iraqi government to speedily liberate the territory of the republic from terrorists,” the Kremlin said in a statement following a phone call between the two leaders…
Russia is one of the staunchest allies of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and has helped prop up his regime during three years of fighting against a hotchpotch of rebel groups, including the ISIL.”  ( Putin offers Iraq’s Maliki ‘complete support’ against jihadists, Daily Star)

That makes a third front in which Russia and the US will be on opposite sides. It’s just like the good old days, right?  Putin seems to be resigned to the idea that Moscow and Washington are going to be at loggerheads in the future. He’s not only opposed to a “unitary world order”, he’s doing something about it, putting himself and his country’s future at risk in order to stop the empire’s relentless expansion and vicious wars of aggression.  Needless to say, proxy wars like this can lead to rapid escalation which is always a concern when both parties have nuclear weapons at their disposal.  Now check this out from the Oil Price website:

“Here’s why the threat goes beyond Iraq and Syria…Modern Syria is bordered by Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan and Israel to the south and Lebanon to the west.

‘Greater Syria’ incorporates most of the territories of each.

This is what ‘Syria’ means in the mind of Middle Easterners, says Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and author of the respected blog SyriaComment.com

‘If we can teach people that so many Arabs still think of Syria as Greater Syria, they will begin to understand the extent to which Sykes-Picot remains challenged in the region,’ said Landis.

Sykes-Picot, of course refers to the secret agreement drawn up by two British and French diplomats — Sir Mark Sykes and Francois George-Picot — at the end of Word War I dividing the spoils of the Ottoman Empires between Britain and France by drawing straight lines in the sand.

To this day, many Arabs refuse to accept that division and think of ‘Syria’ as ‘Greater Syria.’ Some go so far as to include the Arab countries of North Africa – which from the Nile to the Euphrates forms ‘the Fertile Crescent,’ the symbol of many Muslim countries from Tunisia to Turkey. And some even go as far as including the island of Cyprus, saying it represents the star next to the crescent.

Given that, anyone who thinks ISIS will stop with Iraq is delusional.”  (Insiders reveal real US aims in redrawing map of ME: Greater Syria, oil price)

Interesting, eh? So, if Mr. Landis is right, then the fracas in Iraq and Syria might just be the tip of the iceberg. It could be that Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh –who we think are the driving force behind this current wave of violence–have a much more ambitious plan in mind for the future. If this new method of effecting regime change succeeds,  then the sky’s the limit. Maybe they’ll try the same stunt in other countries too, like Turkey, Tunisia, Cyprus, and all the way to North Africa. Why not? If the game plan is to Balkanize Arab countries wholesale and transform them into powerless fiefdoms overseen by US proconsuls and local warlords, why not go on a regime change spree?

By the way, according to the Telegraph, Obama and friends knew what ISIS was up to, and knew that the terrorist group was going to launch attacks on cities in the Sunni territories, just as they have. Get a load of this:

“Five months ago, a Kurdish intelligence “asset” walked into a base and said he had information to hand over. The capture by jihadists the month before of two Sunni cities in western Iraq was just the beginning, he said.
There would soon be a major onslaught on Sunni territories.

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), a renegade offshoot of al-Qaeda, was about to take its well-known cooperation with leftovers of the regime of Saddam Hussein,  and his former deputy Izzat al-Douri, to a new level.

His handlers knew their source of old, and he had always proved reliable, officials told The Telegraph. So they listened carefully as he said a formal alliance was about to be signed that would lead to the takeover of Mosul, the biggest city north of Baghdad, home to two million people. …

‘We had this information then, and we passed it on to your (British) government and the US government,’ Rooz Bahjat, a senior lieutenant to Lahur Talabani, head of Kurdish intelligence, said. ‘We used our official liaisons.’

‘We knew exactly what strategy they were going to use, we knew the military planners. It fell on deaf ears.’  (How US and Britain were warned of Isis advance in Iraq but ‘turned a deaf ear, Telegraph)

“Deaf ears”?

I’m not buying it. I think the intelligence went straight to the top, where Obama and his neocon colleagues came up with the plan that is unfolding as we speak. They figured, if they just look the other way and let these homicidal madhatters seize a few cities and raise a little Hell, they’d be able to kill two birds with one stone, that is,  get rid of al Mailiki and partition the country at the same time. But, it’s not going to work out like Obama expects, mainly because this is just about the dumbest plan ever conjured up. I would give it an 80 percent chance blowing up in Obama’s face in less than a month’s time. This turkey has failure written all over it.

As for the sectarian issue, well, Iraq was never a sectarian society until the war.  The problems arose due to a deliberate policy to pit one sect against the other in order to change the narrative of what was really going on the ground. And what was really going on was a very successful guerilla war was being waged by opponents of the US occupation who were launching in excess of 100 attacks per day on US soldiers. To change the storyline–which was causing all kinds of problems at home where support for the war was rapidly eroding–US counterinsurgency masterminds concocted a goofy plan to blow up the Golden Dome Mosque, blame it on the Sunnis, and then unleash the most savage, genocidal counterinsurgency operation of all-time. The western media were instructed to characterize developments in Iraq as part of a bloody civil war between Shia and Sunnis. But it was all a lie. The bloodletting was inevitable result of US policy which the Guardian effectively chronicled in a shocking, but indispensable hour-long video which can be seen here. James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq – video

The US made every effort to fuel sectarian animosities to divert attention from the attacks on US soldiers. And due to a savage and deceptive counterinsurgency plan that employed death squads, torture, assassinations, and massive ethnic cleansing,  they succeeded in confusing Iraqis as to who was really behind the daily atrocities, the human rights violations and the mountain of carnage.

You’d have to be a fool to blame al-Maliki for any of this. As brutal as he may be, he’s not responsible for the divisions in Iraqi society. That’s all Washington’s doing.  Just as Washington is entirely responsible for the current condition of the country and for the million or so people who were killed in the war.

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/24/did-obama-know-that-isis-planned-to-invade-iraq/

 

GLENN GREENWALD ON PRIVACY

Glenn Greenwald: ‘What I Tell People Who Say They Don’t Care About Their Privacy’

“Those people don’t believe what they’re saying,” the civil liberties-focused journalist says.

Since he obtained and published Edward Snowden’s leaked National Security Agency documents a little more than a year ago, journalist Glenn Greenwald said people have told him over and over that government surveillance does not concern them.

“Those people don’t believe what they’re saying,” he told a sold-out audience last week at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco.

To illustrate this, every time someone would come up to Greenwald and say they didn’t mind people knowing what they were doing because they had nothing to hide, he would proceed with the same two steps: first, by giving them his email address and then by asking them to send him all their email and social media passwords — just so he could have a look.

“I’ve not had one single person send me them,” he said, as the room swelled with laughter. “And I check my email box constantly!”

The humorous anecdote, Greenwald said, exemplifies how people instinctively understand how privacy is vital to who we are. Just as much as we need to be social, we need a place where we can go to learn and think without others passing judgment on us.

“Privacy is embedded in what it means to be human and always has been across time periods and across cultures,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald recalled prominent figures who have tried to distance themselves from this fundamental need. Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said in an interview in 2009, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.” But four years before, Schmidt blacklisted CNET after it published an article on privacy concerns that listed where he lives, his salary, his political contributions, and his hobbies — all obtained from a 30-minute Google search.

Another privacy hypocrite Greenwald mentioned is Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. Feinstein has been a major supporter of the NSA program, and has maintained it’s “not a surveillance program,” but rather a collection of lists of data. And while Greenwald said the program does regularly spy on people by listening to their phone calls or reading their emails, he said lists of your conversations  — perhaps with a self-help hotline or medical clinic — are just as insidious. After all, he said, Feinstein never responded to a campaign calling on her to publish a list of all the people she emailed and called on a given day.

“Somebody collecting the list of all the people with whom you’re communicating will know an enormous amount about your most invasive and intimate realm,” he said. “Oftentimes even more than they’ll learn if they’re listening to your telephone calls, which could be cryptic, or your email communications which could be quite stunted.”

Greenwald then listed three well-known media figures who have also claimed that they weren’t worried about being targets of surveillance: MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell, Washington Postcolumnist Ruth Marcus and Hendrik Hertzberg of The New Yorker.

“I started thinking about what those people have in common,” Greenwald said, adding that he realized they all more or less defend the government in their reporting. But if you go into American Muslim communities, or the Occupy movement, or groups who challenge the status quo, he said, you’ll find countless people afraid of being targeted.

In addition, this notion implies that if you don’t challenge the government, you won’t have to worry about being spied on. But “the true measure of how free a society is,” Greenwald said, “is how it treats its dissidents.”

He added, “We should not be comfortable or content in a society where the only way to remain free of surveillance and oppression is if we make ourselves unthreatening and passive and compliant as possible.”

The discontent with the way society operates is starting to ignite change. While the NSA has not closed up shop, because, as Greenwald said, a government isn’t going to limit its own power, there’s no reason to be pessimistic. Greenwald pointed to the countries worldwide that are angered by what the United States is doing and are pushing back. In addition, tech giants like Google and Facebook, which enthusiastically assist the NSA, are threatened by their bottom line, as people can refuse their services and seek other developing platforms that don’t put their privacy up for sale.

Ultimately, the lesson of Snowden’s actions signifies that people can spark change. After all, Greenwald said, Snowden was a 29-year-old high school dropout who grew up in a working-class family.

“And yet, through nothing more than a pure act of a conscience, a choice to be fearless in the face of injustice, Edward Snowden literally changed the world,” Greenwald told the audience. “I’ve come infected by that courage.… All of this should be a personal antidote to the temptation of defeatism.”

Glenn Greenwald will be speaking in other cities in the upcoming week about the NSA, privacy, and his new bookNo Place to Hide.Click here for more info.

The government’s idea of protection seems awfully self-serving.

Just Whose National Security?

http://ribble.house.gov/sites/ribble.house.gov/files/styles/section_front_boilerplate/public/natd.jpg?itok=3Mm9ndt1

BY Noam Chomsky

Policy must assure the security of state authority and concentrations of domestic power, defending them from a frightening enemy: the domestic population, which can become a great danger if not controlled.

In the past several months, we have been provided with instructive lessons on the nature of state power and the forces that drive state policy. And on a closely related matter: the subtle, differentiated concept of transparency.

The source of the instruction, of course, is the trove of documents about the National Security Agency surveillance system released by the courageous fighter for freedom Edward J. Snowden, expertly summarized and analyzed by his collaborator Glenn Greenwald in his new book, “No Place to Hide.”

The documents unveil a remarkable project to expose to state scrutiny vital information about every person who falls within the grasp of the colossus – in principle, every person linked to the modern electronic society.

Nothing so ambitious was imagined by the dystopian prophets of grim totalitarian worlds ahead.

It is of no slight import that the project is being executed in one of the freest countries in the world, and in radical violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and guarantees the privacy of their “persons, houses, papers and effects.”

Much as government lawyers may try, there is no way to reconcile these principles with the assault on the population revealed in the Snowden documents.

It is also well to remember that defense of the fundamental right to privacy helped to spark the American Revolution. In the 18th century, the tyrant was the British government, which claimed the right to intrude freely into the homes and personal lives of American colonists. Today it is American citizens’ own government that arrogates to itself this authority.

Britain retains the stance that drove the colonists to rebellion, though on a more restricted scale, as power has shifted in world affairs. The British government has called on the NSA “to analyse and retain any British citizens’ mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses, swept up by its dragnet,” the Guardian reports, working from documents provided by Snowden.

British citizens (like other international customers) will also doubtless be pleased to learn that the NSA routinely receives or intercepts routers, servers and other computer network devices exported from the United States so that it can implant surveillance tools, as Greenwald reports in his book.

As the colossus fulfills its visions, in principle every keystroke might be sent to President Obama’s huge and expanding databases in Utah.

In other ways too, the constitutional lawyer in the White House seems determined to demolish the foundations of our civil liberties. The principle of the presumption of innocence, which dates back to Magna Carta 800 years ago, has long been dismissed to oblivion.

Recently the New York Times reported the “anguish” of a federal judge who had to decide whether to allow the force-feeding of a Syrian prisoner who is on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.

No “anguish” was expressed over the fact that he has been held without trial for 12 years in Guantanamo, one of many victims of the leader of the Free World, who claims the right to hold prisoners without charges and to subject them to torture.

These exposures lead us to inquire into state policy more generally and the factors that drive it. The received standard version is that the primary goal of policy is security and defense against enemies.

The doctrine at once suggests a few questions: security for whom, and defense against which enemies? The answers are highlighted dramatically by the Snowden revelations.

Policy must assure the security of state authority and concentrations of domestic power, defending them from a frightening enemy: the domestic population, which can become a great danger if not controlled.

It has long been understood that information about the enemy makes a critical contribution to controlling it. In that regard, Obama has a series of distinguished predecessors, though his contributions have reached unprecedented levels, as we have learned from the work of Snowden, Greenwald and a few others.

To defend state power and private economic power from the domestic enemy, those two entities must be concealed – while in sharp contrast, the enemy must be fully exposed to state authority.

The principle was lucidly explained by the policy intellectual Samuel P. Huntington, who instructed us that “Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

Huntington added a crucial illustration. In his words, “you may have to sell [intervention or other military action] in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you are fighting. That is what the United States has been doing ever since the Truman Doctrine” at the outset of the Cold War.

Huntington’s insight into state power and policy was both accurate and prescient. As he wrote these words in 1981, the Reagan administration was launching its war on terror – which quickly became a murderous and brutal terrorist war, primarily in Central America, but extending well beyond to southern Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

From that day forward, in order to carry out violence and subversion abroad, or repression and violation of fundamental rights at home, state power has regularly sought to create the misimpression that it is terrorists that we are fighting, though there are other options: drug lords, mad mullahs seeking nuclear weapons, and other ogres said to be seeking to attack and destroy us.

Throughout, the basic principle remains: Power must not be exposed to the sunlight. Edward Snowden has become the most wanted criminal in the world for failing to comprehend this essential maxim.

In brief, there must be complete transparency for the population, but none for the powers that must defend themselves from this fearsome internal enemy.

Noam Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy. He writes a monthly column for The New York Times News Service/Syndicate.

http://inthesetimes.com/article/16810/noam_chomsky_glenn_greenwald_NSA

Facebook is giving folks more control over which ads they’ll get, while also plowing deeper into user data

Facebook’s faux transparency: The company is rolling out a new ad plan while digging deeper into user data

 

Facebook's faux transparency: The company is rolling out a new ad plan while digging deeper into user data
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (Credit: AP/Jeff Chiu)

Today you may have received a notification from Facebook that said: “We’re improving ads based on apps and sites you use, and giving you control. Learn more.” Clicking on that notification probably brought you to this video:

Facebook has long been sharing user info with advertisers based on on what you might “like” on Facebook, list as an interest or click on your newsfeed, according to The Verge. And now, they’re actually notifying users about the process.

It is part of new Facebook advertising features. Next week, users will be able to click a drop-down menu on a particular advertisement and see why you are targeted with that particular ad. Users will also be able to view their entire “ad preferences” and make alterations to them. Seems pretty great, right? After all, Facebook did say they are “giving you control.”

Well, yes and no. The New York Times explains:

“Facebook’s move also comes as the Federal Trade Commission and the White House have called on Congress to pass legislation that would better protect consumers’ private data, including requiring companies to give people more control over the digital files collected on them.

“It is unclear how privacy advocates and public officials will react to Facebook’s efforts to provide more clarity about how its ads work. The F.T.C., which was briefed on the company’s intentions, had no immediate comment. Users will start seeing the changes within the next few weeks.

“Although Facebook will now give its users a way to modify the customer profiles that drive the ads they see, users can’t completely get rid of ads. If people were to delete everything Facebook had collected about them, they would simply see generic pitches. Nor it is clear what level of detail a user can control.”



At the end of the day, our “control” really just helps the company learn more about us, and target us with more specific ads. You know, because you really wanted Facebook to help you buy a new TV, or suggest a new brand. The move is disingenuous and creepy. And while there is the possibility of changing ads to not fit who you are, you are still being bombarded with ads — for stuff you don’t even like. Basically, users are feeding this tech giant more information so they can make money under the guise of user control.

To top it all off, Facebook also announced that it was going to start using more than just “likes” and other Facebook activity, it is also going to dig into Web browser and smartphone data to help target ads. According to The Verge, Facebook has had this data for a while, but was mainly using it for security purposes.

Users can opt out of this data sharing, but they’ll have to visit the Digital Advertising Alliance on their computers, and adjust settings on their smartphones.

h/t The Verge, The New York Times

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/12/facebooks_faux_transparency_the_company_is_rolling_out_a_new_ad_plan_while_digging_deeper_into_user_data/?source=newsletter