Exactly 25 years ago, a British engineer working at the European nuclear research center CERN wrote a paper entitled "Information Management: A Proposal." It had a very specific purpose:
This proposal concerns the management of general information about accelerators and experiments at CERN. It discusses the problems of loss of information about complex evolving systems and derives a solution based on a distributed hypertext system.
Things have moved on somewhat, and so has the author of that proposal, Tim Berners-Lee -- now Sir Tim Berners-Lee -- who has used the occasion of the Web's 25th anniversary to make a call for global action to defend users of the technology he created all those years ago:
The inventor of the world wide web believes an online "Magna Carta" is needed to protect and enshrine the independence of the medium he created and the rights of its users worldwide.
As we reported last year, Berners-Lee has been outspoken in his criticism of the US and UK governments for their unjustified and disproportionate spying activities, something he is still concerned about:
Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the Guardian the web had come under increasing attack from governments and corporate influence and that new rules were needed to protect the "open, neutral" system.
Speaking exactly 25 years after he wrote the first draft of the first proposal for what would become the world wide web, the computer scientist said: "We need a global constitution -- a bill of rights."
In the light of what has emerged, he said, people were looking for an overhaul of how the security services were managed.
So it's no surprise that at the heart of his new initiative lies an attempt to protect some of the areas that have been harmed by massive surveillance programs and online business models based on gathering and exploiting users' personal data:
Principles of privacy, free speech and responsible anonymity would be explored in the Magna Carta scheme. "These issues have crept up on us," Berners-Lee said. "Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years."
He hopes to do that as part of a broader "Web We Want" campaign:
calling on people around the world to stand up for their right to a free, open and truly global Internet. The first step: Drafting an Internet Users Bill of Rights for every country, proposing it to governments and kickstarting the change we need.
Alongside these core areas, there are some specific issues he would like to see addressed:
We also need to revisit a lot of legal structure, copyright law -- the laws that put people in jail which have been largely set up to protect the movie producers &... None of this has been set up to preserve the day to day discourse between individuals and the day to day democracy that we need to run the country," he said.
Although that last point is likely to be resisted, many will doubtlessly support the broader aims of his high-profile attempt to take the Web back to the roots planted 25 years ago:
Berners-Lee also spoke out strongly in favour of changing a key and controversial element of internet governance that would remove a small but symbolic piece of US control. The US has clung on to the Iana contract, which controls the dominant database of all domain names, but has faced increased pressure post-Snowden.
Rejecting the idea that government and commercial control of such a powerful medium was inevitable, Berners-Lee said it would be impossible: "Not until they prise the keyboards from our cold, dead fingers."
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The Raw Take order appears to have been the first substantial demonstration of the court’s willingness after Sept. 11 to reinterpret the law to expand government powers. N.S.A. officials included it as one of three court rulings on an internal timeline of key developments in surveillance law from 1972 to 2010, deeming it a historic event alongside once-secret 2004 and 2006 rulings on bulk email and call data.While the 9/11 Commission certainly did later find that a big problem in not uncovering the plot before it took place was the failure of the agencies in the intelligence community to share information with each other, this ruling seems to be a key point in having FISC go beyond merely giving the thumbs up or thumbs down to warrant requests and start interpreting the law, and doing so in a way that secretly (and massively) expanded the power of the intelligence community. From there, it was apparently off to the races, and other expansionist rulings followed:
The newly disclosed documents also refer to a decision by the court called Large Content FISA, a term that has not been publicly revealed before. Several current and former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Large Content FISA referred to sweeping but short-lived orders issued on Jan. 10, 2007, that authorized the Bush administration to continue its warrantless wiretapping program.The fact that the FISC is clearly reinterpreting law -- such that a secret law is developed which clearly contradicts the public's (and many politicians') understanding of the law -- is on display:
But the orders are also mentioned in a classified draft of an N.S.A. inspector general report that Mr. Snowden disclosed, which calls them “Foreign Content” and “Domestic Content” orders. The report cites a legal theory that reinterpreted a key word in the original FISA — the “facility” against which the court may authorize spying because a terrorism suspect is using it.The article also notes that the "Raw Take" report made it easier for the intelligence community to share information on Americans (information it's not really supposed to have, for the most part) with foreign nations:
Facilities had meant phone numbers or email addresses, but a judge accepted an argument that they could instead be the gateways connecting the American communications network to the world, because Qaeda militants were probably among the countless people using those switches. Privacy protections would be applied afterward, the report said.
The Raw Take order, back in 2002, also relaxed limits on sharing private information about Americans with foreign governments. The bar was higher for sharing with outsiders: Raw information was not provided, and even information deemed relevant about a terrorism issue required special approval.Also, the new documents reveal that despite Keith Alexander and others insisting that only a limited number of specially trained analysts could access the massive data collections, within the NSA it was widely known that the controls were not that strong and violations were likely to occur:
Under procedures described in a 1984 report, only the attorney general could authorize such dissemination. But on Aug. 20, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft, citing the recent order, secretly issued new procedures allowing the N.S.A. to provide information to foreign governments without his clearance.
Access within the N.S.A. to raw FISA information was initially limited to its headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. But in 2006, the N.S.A. expanded sharing to specialists at its code-breaking centers in Hawaii, Texas and Georgia. Only those trained would obtain access, but a review demonstrated that wider sharing had already increased risks. A document noted that the agency was mixing two types of FISA information, each subject to different court-imposed rules, along with other records, and “it is possible that there are already FISA violations resulting from the way data has been stored in these databases.”While the revelations from the past few months had already exposed the basic concept of what was happening (the FISC going way beyond what most people thought it was there for, using pretzel logic to interpret laws into saying things that they clearly didn't say), this new report provides an insightful timeline and a peek into some of the key decisions, and how the NSA used those rulings to massively expand its ability to spy on Americans with near total secrecy.
The sharing of raw information continued to expand after the enactment of the FISA Amendments Act. On Sept. 4, 2008, the court issued a lengthy opinion, which remains secret but was cited in another opinion that has been declassified, approving minimization rules for the new law. A video explaining the new rules to N.S.A. employees noted that “C.I.A. and F.B.I. can have access to unminimized data in many circumstances.”
The NSA is still working hard to make the world's computer usage less safe. The latest leak published by The Intercept shows the agency plans to infect "millions" of computers worldwide with malware, making it easier for the NSA to harvest data and communications from these compromised machines.
The classified files – provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – contain new details about groundbreaking surveillance technology the agency has developed to infect potentially millions of computers worldwide with malware “implants.” The clandestine initiative enables the NSA to break into targeted computers and to siphon out data from foreign Internet and phone networks.The methods detailed include the agency masquerading as a Facebook server and sending out laced spam emails in order to subvert users' computers and give the NSA access to local files as well as control of webcams and microphones. Not only does the agency actively work to delay bug fixes in order to exploit systems, but its ongoing malware mission ensures that using a computer and/or accessing the web will always be more dangerous than it should be.
Mikko Hypponen, an expert in malware who serves as chief research officer at the Finnish security firm F-Secure, calls the revelations “disturbing.” The NSA’s surveillance techniques, he warns, could inadvertently be undermining the security of the Internet.The NSA has argued previously that its malware targets are strictly national security threats. But the evidence provided here undermines this defense of NSA malware deployment.
“When they deploy malware on systems,” Hypponen says, “they potentially create new vulnerabilities in these systems, making them more vulnerable for attacks by third parties.”
In one secret post on an internal message board, an operative from the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate describes using malware attacks against systems administrators who work at foreign phone and Internet service providers. By hacking an administrator’s computer, the agency can gain covert access to communications that are processed by his company. “Sys admins are a means to an end,” the NSA operative writes.The Intercept's report notes that the GCHQ has deployed similar tactics, hacking into computers owned by Belgacom system engineers. The malware attacks go far beyond end user computers, targeting routers and setting the agency up for man-in-the-middle attacks (something that has become far more necessary as fewer and fewer people actually open, much less click links in spam email). The NSA may view this all as fair game -- a means to an end -- but the ugly truth is that the agency's malware/hacking attempts are not limited to threats, but rather any person/service it believes can offer access to even more communications and data. At this point, the only thing slowing the agency down is the audacious size of its undertaking.
The internal post – titled “I hunt sys admins” – makes clear that terrorists aren’t the only targets of such NSA attacks. Compromising a systems administrator, the operative notes, makes it easier to get to other targets of interest, including any “government official that happens to be using the network some admin takes care of.”
“One of the greatest challenges for active SIGINT/attack is scale,” explains the top-secret presentation from 2009. “Human ‘drivers’ limit ability for large-scale exploitation (humans tend to operate within their own environment, not taking into account the bigger picture).”The program -- utilizing the previously discussed TURBINE (part of the agency's TAO - Tailored Access Operations), as well as several other NSA tools like SECONDDATE and WILLOWVIXEN -- is aimed at "Owning the Internet" according to the leaked documents. This internet "ownership" ultimately belongs to the American public, whether they want it or not -- the price tag (according to the leaked Black Budget) was $67.6 million last year. As the scope continues to broaden, the budget will expand as well. The end result is the US public funding the weakening of security standards and encryption worldwide, all in the name of "national security."
Why Won't Senator Feinstein Call Torture Torture? (Say That Again)
States earn about 20 percent of all state sales taxes from auto dealers, and auto dealerships can easily account for 7-8 percent of all retail employment.... The bulk of these taxes (89 percent) are generated by new car dealerships, those with whom manufacturers deal directly. As a result, car dealerships, and especially local or state car dealership associations, have been able to exert influence over local legislatures. This has resulted in a set of state laws that almost guarantee dealership profitability and survival--albeit at the expense of manufacturer profits. Given these laws, manufacturers do have a financial interest in closing down new car dealerships, and in choosing which ones wil close. Additionally, available evidence and theory suggests that as a result of these laws, distribution costs and retail prices are higher than they otherwise would be; and this is particularly true for Detroit's Big Three car manufacturers--which is likely another factor contributing to their losses in market share vis-a-vis other manufacturers.There is basically no valid reason for such laws. They serve no purpose other than to enrich local car dealership owners and state tax coffers at the expense of everyone else -- especially the public.
“We need to talk about the fact that we are for a free-market society that allows your effort and ingenuity to determine your success, not the cold, hard hand of the government.”Right up and until the biggest supporters of state taxes demand your own government kills off sales of an innovative new competitor. Then, the "cold, hard hand of government" smacks you down.
A second argument is that having local dealers is necessary to ensure that customers are adequately served. For example, Bob Glaser of the North Carolina Automobile Dealer’s Association has asserted that the restrictions are a form of “consumer protection,” since “a dealer who has invested a significant amount of capital in a community is more committed to taking care of that area’s customers.” The obvious rejoinder is that Tesla has as much or more of an interest as the dealers in seeing that customers get the level of service they’re willing to pay for. If Tesla gets a bad reputation for quality, it will fail. I suppose that one might worry if Tesla were a fly-by-night operation selling customers an expensive durable good at a high price and then fleeing with its profits and leaving customers without support. But that’s obviously unlikely of a company that’s pouring billions of dollars into the creation of a new product and a recharging and battery swapping infrastructure. Car manufacturers make considerably larger fixed capital investments than do dealers and I’m sure that the dealer failure and exit rate is considerably higher than that of manufacturers.Furthermore, if it were true that consumers were harmed by letting companies sell directly, you'd think consumer advocates would be supporting the dealers. But they're not. They're supporting Tesla:
A related argument is that dealers play an important role in complying with local laws regarding titling and safety inspection. But this argument doesn’t work either. First, observe that at present most states only prohibit manufacturers from opening their own dealerships—they don’t prohibit online sales from outside the state. (North Carolina recently passed a statute banning online sales as well). There’s no reason why a manufacturer-owned dealership should be less capable of complying with local laws than an independent dealer. Second, why should Internet sales involve evasion of state titling and safety inspection laws? Internet sales can just as easily be subject to the same titling and inspection requirements as dealer-initiated sales.
Jack Gillis, with the Consumer Federation of America, disagrees. Customers actually don't like haggling over prices, as evidenced by the fact that we haggle over almost nothing else except cars. A one-price system, like Tesla's, is fairer, Gillis said, because it's more transparent and doesn't put less belligerent shoppers at a disadvantage. If the price is too high, customers just won't buy the product.In the end, New Jersey's actions just confirm what lots of people already knew, that New Jersey is hopelessly corrupt. But, this is nothing new. As Dan O'Connor points out in his story about all of this, a century ago, people did the same thing against the automobile, and in favor of horses. The (I'm not joking) Horse Association of America was created more or less to fight back against those evil cars, and presented talking points like the following:
If the extended displacement of horses and mules by motors resulted in economic gain to the nation as a whole, the campaign of the Horse Association of America to increase the production and use of horses and mules would not be warranted. The Association states that ample evidence has already been secured to prove that in many instances, such displacement is economically unsound, resulting in less reliable, less efficient service at greater cost. Consumers, grain dealers and grain producers alike suffer from such substitution, which, according to a leading traffic manager in New York City, is due chiefly to ignorance on the part of business men regarding the actual cost of operating horse drawn and motorized equipment.That sounds mighty familiar. A century ago, politicians mostly saw through the insanity of it. But there wasn't so much money at stake back then. Today is different, and we all suffer because of it.