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No Cones of Silence in the Surveillance State

Melanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA Read Comments - 12
Publish Date: 
Thu, 06/20/2013

 

In the madcap TV series “Get Smart,” secret agent Maxwell Smart evades surveillance -- and arch-nemesis KAOS – with an array of clandestine gadgets including a shoe phone and the legendary “Cone of Silence.” Americans once laughed at Smart’s privacy-enhancing schemes. But recent revelations about America’s ever-widening surveillance state have stirred many to Think Again about their privacy rights – and pine for their own “Cone of Silence.”

 

Originally designed to spy on foreigners and track the foreign correspondence of suspected terrorists, today the NSA digitally frisks US citizens, capturing and storing their communications data for up to five years. Under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the NSA now claims the authority to systematically – and without warrants or court orders -- sweep “metadata” into its dragnet, sourced from private telecom and server companies who enjoy immunity from civil liability or criminal prosecution.

 

The Patriot Act’s author, Jim Sensenbrenner, released a statement saying, “While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses…. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.” Sensenbrenner advocates amending the act to assure the secret FISA court system performs its designed role --  “to put a check on what the government could do.”

 

Under pressure to prove Uncle Sam isn’t a Peeping Tom, NSA and FBI officials pulled the curtain back on the ultra-secret surveillance programs. Testifying before Congress this week, they said the programs helped avert at least 50 threats, citing two specifically -- though it’s unclear whether they were “helped” by conventional surveillance techniques and gumshoe investigative tip-offs, or NSA’s data dragnet. “The encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process,” President Obama asserted in the NSA’s defense, while stressing that communication content can’t be accessed without a court order.

 

But the sifting and mapping of communications data can actually reveal more about a person than their communications’ content. Newer technologies like cell phones and the Internet serve up seemingly innocuous but clue-rich metadata -- sender and receiver email addresses, times of e-mails, phone numbers dialed and received, and call length -- that can reveal identities, locations and associations, without accessing content.

 

The Washington Post illustrated metadata’s investigative value, explaining how former CIA Director Patraeus’ mistress was identified, despite using anonymous e-mail accounts and hotel WiFi networks. Analysts discovered network IP addresses that traced back to hotels where there was one common guest – Paula Broadwell.

 

 

In 2006, Joe Biden pointed out that individual calling data reveals “a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive. And the real question here is: What do they do with this information that they collect that does not have anything to do with al Qaeda?” Metadata is so powerful, analysts can glean one’s religion, politics, doctors, Internet habits, and even uncover a CIA director’s infidelity.  

 

Fearing another 9/11, we’d much rather the government collect our communications data than our remains. But is that a false choice? Are we in fact violating Americans’ privacy while overlooking terrorists among us, especially considering that since October 2011, the Justice Department restricts FBI surveillance of mosques?

 

Rather than vacuum up exabytes of data from work-at-home moms in Omaha, could the Boston Marathon bombing and the Fort Hood massacre have been prevented by profiling and tracking their perpetrators, the Tsarnaev brothers and Nidal Hasan? Forget Russia’s forewarnings about the Tsarnaevs, how did their online activities – posting terrorist videos, communicating with Islamic extremists, researching pressure-cooker bombs -- evade the government’s dragnet, while tea party groups and the parents of Fox News reporter James Rosen didn’t?

 

If unscrupulous IRS officials were willing to share the confidential files of a pro-traditional marriage group with a gay marriage group, what’s to prevent rogue NSA officials from raiding the “metadata treasury” for partisan or illicit purposes? How can Americans have faith in congressional oversight when high-level officials use Orwellian doublespeak, lie, or invoke the Fifth Amendment?

 

Our founders understood that in the history of mankind, few have experienced freedom. To “secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” as the Constitution’s preamble declares, they designed a limited, separated, checked and balanced government that could contain corrupting power. They also protected the press so they’d inform us when power was abused, a goal to which the watchdog media must increase its commitment.

 

Power, it’s been said, attracts the worst and corrupts the best, and concentrated power is prone to abuse, even by the well intended. The era of the surveillance superstate means there are no “cones of silence,” presenting challenges to our civil society that must be understood and debated by We the People.

 

Think Again – when it comes to protecting our liberties, Americans can’t afford to “miss it by that much,“ as CONTROL Agent Smart used to say.

 

 

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Freedom and Liberty require a

Freedom and Liberty require a price paid. In this case, if it works, I am okay with it. I did not like the Patriot Act when it came about. I grew to understand certain parts of it were necessary in this type of war. We are not at war against a certain country the threats can come from anywhere. As long as there is not over reach of authority, I am fine with it. What was collected is no more than we have already allowed the phone company to do for a very long time. Google knows more about us than the NSA.

We live in an age where

We live in an age where people willingly post all kinds of personal information on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc. We live in an age where your financial institution, mortgage lender, health provider, credit card company, phone company, airline, car rental agency, internet service provider, etc. know all of your personal data. The federal government and state government know about your personal information from your tax filings, driver's license, etc. If anyone seriously thinks they're living what we used to think of as "private" lives, they're just deluding themselves.

In California (and probably other states too) the state is very concerned about people who reside there but claim for tax purposes that they are citizens of another state. The state investigates by subpoenaing your phone records, credit card records, gas stations charges, toll records, etc. to see exactly when you were present in the state. No one can go to court to challenge these subpoenas (it is useless to even try).

When you think about all the people who already have access to your most personal information (your health, your finances, your shopping habits, the web sites your visit, and on and on), the only reasonable expectation of privacy is the words which you speak orally to another person in a private conversation. Certainly not the words you write to another person in online communications.

Now when the federal government collects your metadata, it is far less intrusive of your personal privacy than the situations I mention above. If the NSA learns that Melanie in Aspen called Don in Chicago today and spoke for 10 minutes, I don't see where gathering that information is somehow horrible when viewed in the context of all of the above.

One final thought: when people say why should the government target everyone rather than just known or suspected terrorists, they are totally missing the point. The reason to target everyone is because they're looking for possible terrorists that they DON'T know about. For known or suspected terrorists the government can and does get subpoenas to tap their phones. If the NSA sweep notes that Joe Blow in Aspen called a number in Miami and spoke for 10 minutes, then that Miami number immediately called a number in Amsterdam, which in turn then called a number in Pakistan which is suspected of being linked to Al Queda, that's a pretty good reason to say maybe we ought to find out more about Joe Blow.

None of this has anything at all to do with the IRS (whether rogue agents or not) deciding whether some group or other qualifies for a tax deduction.

First, why is the government

First, why is the government compiling these massive databases? If they want to find out telephone numbers Major Hasan called and who he talked to for how long, all they had to do was go to Verizon or AT&T with a warrant and they could get that. Second, the argument that the phone numbers and billing records don't belong to the individuals is lame - they certainly don't belong to the government. Third, which is the most galling, I hate being lectured to about sacrificing liberty for security from people who have been lecturing for the last 40 years about a so-called "right to privacy". Where did all those high-minded civil libertarians who justified abortion in the penumbras and emanations of the 4th Amendment go after these revelations?

Frankly, I don't believe much

Frankly, I don't believe much of what the masterminds of DC are saying to us regarding the safeguards. Since I have nothing to hide as far as national security, I'm not concerned. I am more concerned about Obamacare, especially after seeing the charts pointing to the array of agencies that will be gobbling up our records. A central point will have access to our tax returns, bank accounts, where we live, our phone numbers, email addresses, medical records and more. One can only imagine the uses to which this information might be used. Who would have ever thought that the IRS would target people for their political belief? Now I am willing to consider any possibility.

No one has yet asked the real

No one has yet asked the real question. Everyone said that Obama utilized social media to get out the vote in 2012. It really helps if you can scan the entire internet and target you message to every individual - sort of like what Obama supporter Google does.

Not that it really matters - because the other big fact is that no one is going to do anything at all about the NSA etc.

There HAS been a cone of

There HAS been a cone of silence around DNC wrongdoing,
illegal immigration, release of felonies,
weaponizing of narcoterrorists,
release of the COLE terrorists,
the LAWFARE waged by Holder and Obama,
illegal wiretaping of Congress and SCOTUS,
and the utilization of this sigint,
and of course the warnings by several TERRORISTS’ families,
imams, ex-friends, and even Russia.

They really never do let INFO interfere with their agenda.

vacuuming huge swaths of data

vacuuming huge swaths of data without a specific warrant is problematic to me.

There seems to be a question of who owns my data (emails, pictures, texts, etc). The 1986 law that enforcement/intelligence organizations currently use is not up to date with the pace of technology, nor does it acknowledge that I pay for access to every service I use - even the "free" ones. Therefore, it stands to reason that I am in possession my data on the right of way my data is occupying (similar to a car on the highway or parking lot). This should require probable cause and a search warrant to access my digital footprint and the attendant records.

There is no middle road here and the administration has been exploiting this old law while ignoring the fourth amendment.

Moreover, last month Maxine Waters revealed that Obama has a "huge, secret database on everyone." We knew he had a sizable, effective data analytics team. Then we confirmed the IRS targeting conservative groups AND individuals. This is troubling on many levels and I think the media has largely ignored exploring links between the activities of government data mining, the IRS scandal, and Obama's data analytics. That's where the criminal scandal is.

The surveillance of

The surveillance of conservatives and the general public astounds me. I never thought I would actually see this in my lifetime. We have genuine threats that could be profiled, investigated, and surveilled, but our government seems to deem Christians, constitutional patriots, and the Tea Party as more of a threat than our actual existential threat, the jihadis. Why? I believe the reason is that we pose a threat to their power structure and the jihadis are a mere cultural threat, and they believe they could remain in power should the jihadis succeed. They are obviously in bed with them, with their support of the Arab Spring, Muslim Brotherhood, the spreading riots, and now supporting the Syrian rebels. I do not trust our surveillance state, the federal government, or our current power structure. Their deceit has been going on for many, many years, but now they are emboldened enough to flaunt their power over us. That is tyranny. We live under tyranny now, and we, those who support and will defend the constitution, are the only threat they see, thus the surveillance state. Do not give up your liberty for any claim of safety. Look back at history, a mere 70 years ago, and you will see the same claims, and then complete domination over a group of people. If you don't think that could happen again, think about this old adage. History repeats itself. It happens because 1) we don't learn from past mistakes and 2) humanity doesn't change. Its the same cast of characters, just different actors. Think about that and preemptively prepare for your own well being in the future.

I feel that for the average

I feel that for the average person this issue is irrelevant... as we are simply not worth spying on. It does matter, however, to those who are important figures in our society, who can become very vulnerable to attacks by any of their opponents or competitors or by those seeking to inhibit questioning of their own agendas. Of course, "opposition research" and "investigative journalism" have always existed, but modern technology makes such activities far more personally intrusive. Given the nature of this high tech beast, however, I am afraid that this unpleasant reality is simply something that we are going to have to live with and work around. The funny thing is... we all seem to enjoy seeing this kind of behavior in our entertainment features, like say on NCIS.

All you have to do is go the

All you have to do is go the actual public facing NSA site and you can see that:

their goal: “collect all information from all available sources all the time”

their target: “US Citizens”

their motto: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”

I’m dead serious.

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