No, that title isn’t the start of a joke.

Now I feel like an idiot for April’s post on the CISPA bill and its potential to strip privacy protections online.

After all, we now know that we already have no protection.

With this week’s revelations about phone companies being required to turn over metadata for all calls and the existence of the PRISM program that gives the NSA full access to everything that Microsoft, Google, Apple, and a host of other large Internet companies know, it’s clear that if you use a phone or computer, you have no privacy whatsoever.

Consider: According to the Guardian and Washington Post reports, to conduct a PRISM search, the NSA has to be 51% sure that the subject is foreign. That’s the only limitation. A barrier that low will allow a massive number of false positives, but that’s almost irrelevant, because once the search begins, it can (again according to the reports) be extended to all of the contacts of the subject and all of the contacts of the contacts. By design, anyone who is “probably” not a US citizen is – and has been since at least 2007 – a terrorism suspect.

Hell, more than half of the regular readers of this blog are “foreign”; they have no protection against being the subject of a PRISM search: PRISM was designed to allow the NSA to monitor everything they do online to “protect against terrorism”.

Last week’s picture of Kokoro lurking in the headboard of my bed drew likes from people in England, Wales, and Moscow. The NSA knows that (and knew it before this post told the world). Since I’m now associated with those foreign “suspects”, all of my online activities are now available to the NSA, and because I’m associated with you, so are yours. And by “you”, I’m not just talking about those of you reading this post. Everyone I’ve communicated with falls into that category – as described, PRISM would make it trivially easy for the NSA to link the email address I use for this blog to all of my other email addresses, at which point they’ll find out that I’ve exchanged emails with citizens of India, Japan, and China. Better check all of their contacts; since they’re foreign, the rule of “two levels of contacts” resets and the NSA can chain their searches outward from there. Nice work, Kokoro. You’re single-pawedly responsible for the investigation of thousands of people around the world for their possible roles in plotting terroristic acts against the US.

Yes, I do have a sudden urge to make myself an aluminum foil hat. Why do you ask? Right now it’s seeming like the most sensible thing to do.

Seriously though folks, if even half of the capabilities being touted for PRISM are accurate, by combining its output with the results of the phone company data, the NSA can figure out not only damn near everything you’ve done online, but also what you’re doing out in the real world. Legally. And that’s why I feel like an idiot about getting bent out of shape over CISPA – all that adds to the government’s capabilities is to let the FBI and Homeland Security track US citizens without first linking them somehow to someone “foreign”.

Please, no comments along the lines of “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t care.” If nothing else, when the government can secretly monitor everything you do, “wrong” is what they define it to be. I don’t think I’m being overly pessimistic in saying that “Niemöller” and Orwell were conservative.

Frankly, I think there’s very little we can do. The capability won’t go away: even if a public outcry forced the repeal of the PATRIOT Act and the other legislation that enables this warrantless surveillance, you can be sure that the tools will stay in the hands of the government agencies that have it now. They’re just too useful for them to give up. And removing the laws that limit their use will just encourage the agencies to use them more: why shouldn’t they if any use is illegal?

Heck, given the administration’s position that these data collection programs are “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats”, even trying to take those toys away can be classed as a terroristic act (giving aid to terrorists).

If y’all will excuse me, I’m going to go downstairs and arrest myself. Maybe if I save the government the effort of doing it, they’ll let me share my cell with Kokoro.

5 thoughts on “Knock-Knock

  1. The interesting thing about this is the almost total lack of outcry from “the public”. There are expressions of rage and opposition from the “usual suspects” (a term which has a whole new meaning now, of course) on FB, but I’m not getting a sense that the “Man on the Street” gives a hoot, if he’s heard about it at all.
    I’m not surprised. Since 9/11 (aka: Bush’s “Trifecta”), we have seen what can only be called a revolution in America, as, piece by piece, our rights and our assumptions about our rights have been dismantled in the name of “Security”. C’mon folks. Your phone calls and emails are being monitored? Big, frapping deal. Our current Federal Administration has taken it upon itself, in its unquestioned wisdom, to kill any man, woman or child, anywhere on earth (along with anyone standing within a hundred yards or so), including American Citizens, without a shred of legal, due process. They say you’re bad: Poof. Next? Not hearing a lot of outrage about that. In fact, a lot of people seem to think it’s a pretty good idea. We’ve become a lynch mob nation.
    No, it’s too late now, I’m afraid. Too many poorly educated people disapproved of the rights they had in the first place, and saw no reason for other people to have them. The rest of us? Well, the term that seems to apply is “Outrage fatigue”: Fine. This is the way it usually ends for Democracies. It’s all good until we get scared, then we look for a Strong Man to keep us safe, and never mind how, or what lovely Ideals we had, back when we didn’t know better. What’s on TV?


    • I think that very few of the people who have been paying any attention are surprised at the extent of monitoring. What’s surprising most people is the sheer chutzpah of the administration saying flat out “It’s OK because it’s legal. Now shut up and leave us to it.” That’s a level of candor and bluntness one rarely hears from elected officials. It certainly seems to have surprised the heck out of the usual Republican mouthpieces: they’re so stunned that most of them are even admitting that the programs started under GB and forgetting to add the expected excoriations of BO for expanding their use (whether he did or not).

      Privacy expert Bruce Schneier has, as usual, a great piece on the situation with emphasis on the importance of whistle-blowers and the need to ensure that there are mechanisms for whistles to be blown.


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