NSA Apologist Says The NSA's Actions Are Fine Because 'Privacy Is Dead'

from the column-still-serves-as-useful-'how-NOT-to-argue-your-point'-guide dept

When we last discussed columnist Froma Harrop, she was acting as a surveillance state apologist. She took some of the usual paths (directing snark at "clueless" internet users, conjuring up the threat of terrorism) and some unusual ones (claiming those opposed to the surveillance state only did so because they "hate Obama"). All in all, it was the perfect storm of condescension and cluelessness that NSA apologists do all too well.

Harrop's back again, offering an unsolicited eulogy for privacy and some plaudits for the surveillance state. She lays this all out in seven easily refutable statements, which makes a point-by-point takedown a breeze. Kudos for that, Froma.

After telling us to "relax" because the government has the ability to "collect and recall our every keystroke," she opens up her Seven Point Plan by telling us to submit.

1. Admit that we are powerless to stop this new technology. (We don’t have to like it.)
It's seldom a good idea to open your defense of something by utilizing arguments a rapist might use. "Relax." "You're powerless." Just submit to what's coming because you can't fight it.

All this argument means is the aggressor (the NSA and Harrop the Apologist) wants you to believe that fighting this is futile and will only make things worse. But it's not true. Fighting back does have an effect, but neither the NSA nor the conjured rapist want you to know that.

There are several ways to fight back, many of them underway as we speak. The discovery that some underlying encryption processes have been broken and that various tech companies have been compliant in allowing the NSA access to pre-encryption data and zero day exploits may be a kick in the teeth, but it hardly signifies the battle's not worth fighting.

Deciding you're powerless plays right into the hands of intelligence agencies. They want the path of least reistance. Even small steps taken to protect your privacy slows down its efforts. So, fight back. Anyone telling you to admit you're powerless in the face of government malfeasance cannot be trusted, whether it's a government agent or just a citizen who thinks the reaction to the NSA's tactics is overblown.
2. Stop confusing capabilities with actions. The U.S. government is capable of leveling Mount Rushmore. That does not mean it intends to launch drone attacks on South Dakota, no matter what your local tea party chapter says.
Here Harrop does two things, both completely disingenuous.

First, she confuses capabilities with actions and decides only the "actions" matter. The NSA has repeatedly used this tactic itself. When queried about the capabilities of its systems, it always redirects the question towards its "authority," as if that distinction actually matters. This deferral ignores the ever-present desire for humans to abuse powerful systems.

Look at former NSA director Michael Hayden's own words: "Give me the box you will allow me to operate in. I’m going to play to the very edges of that box." Look at the NSA's own actions, where it repeatedly operated outside the court-ordered confines of the bulk records program. The NSA has plenty of capabilities and it appears willing to test the limits of its authority, if not exceed them completely.

The slam on the Tea Party is just Harrop being Harrop and thinking the opposition to the NSA's programs comes solely from extremists who hate Obama. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it's a cheap way to score some ideological points with the ignorant, who might feel that opposing the NSA means becoming some sort of right-wing conspiracy theorist.
3. Recognize that this surveillance is key to national security.
Some targeted surveillance programs are key to national security. The aspects that are receiving the most attention clearly aren't. Even the most ardent defenders of the NSA are hard pressed to find examples of how bulk, untargeted data collections have prevented any terrorist acts. The agency has made multiple attempts to reframe this argument as well, diluting the question by referring to "potential terrorist events," but even the NSAs deputy director, John C. Inglis, has admitted that the agency "could not identify a single case where the bulk phones records collection led to the prevention of a terrorist attack."
4. Appreciate that we do have safeguards. When the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court berates the NSA for violating the rules, that’s an example of checks and balances in action. China and Russia pass on such niceties as surveillance courts, and they want to do exactly what the National Security Agency does (if they don’t already).
Let me respond with a few points of my own.

1. The safeguards don't work, as they are heavily reliant on program depictions provided by the most unreliable narrator of all, the NSA.

2. Yes, that is an example of checks and balances, but it occurred after three straight years of abuse. And there's no indication that these were isolated events, related solely to the bulk records collections. That's just the information that's been declassified by the NSA. The leaks released so far detail many more collection programs, most of which we have yet to see addressed with more than the usual "because national security" statements by the NSA. If the NSA steadily abused this one program, there's no doubt it's abused others.

Harrop (and the NSA's other defenders) needs to acknowledge the fact that the only reason this information has been made public was Ed Snowden's leaks and lawsuits filed against the government. That's not "checks and balances." The government is supposed to regulate itself with "checks and balances," not rely on whistleblowers and lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups to keep it "honest."

3. Congratulations to us! Not as bad as Russia and China! We used to be the world leader in freedom and now we're supposed to be pleased with simply not being as awful as two heavily censorious countries. If that's your standard of excellence, Froma, no wonder you're satisfied with the NSA's half-assed explanations and justifications. It doesn't take much to clear a bar set that low.
5. Admit that commercial spying is a privacy matter, as well. Retailers follow your cellphone around the mall. Amazon.com knows all about your interest in socialism and passion for manga cartoons. Of course, the telecom companies know whom you called and for how long. If the issue is privacy, what makes a business conglomerate more honorable than the government?
I don't think anyone's making an argument to the contrary, but using one form of abuse to justify another is a rhetorical race for the bottom. Harrop has built a commanding lead in that race with this column and this sort of "pointing fingers" defense will only increase the gap between her and pundits who aren't prone to such lapses in logic.

What makes conglomerates more honorable? It's the fact that they're commercial entities. Their main goal is making money, not sacrificing constitutional rights in pursuit of an unattainable ideal. If you're seriously going to compare a spy agency's bulk records collection with an online retailer tracking your purchases in order to recommend products, then it's time to hand in your "high school freshmen debate team third alternate" credentials and go back to the rhetorical drawing board.
6. Call out media sources hurling thunderbolts at NSA spying while spying on you.
Let's keep this short:

1. Ads and trackers can be blocked. Easily.

2. If someone exposes a particularly insidious tracking method (or, you know, Facebook), they rarely end up facing years of imprisonment for "leaking" the details.

3. Most social media, etc. have at minimum implied consent for the tracking (even if it's nothing more than an ultra-crappy browserwrap agreement). Even so, the option to use these services and sites is left up to the individual. There's no "do not track/opt out" feature for the NSA. (Nor is there for the companies the NSA "interacts" with.)

4. Stop using the "two wrongs make the NSA right" argument.
7. In assessing government surveillance activities, distinguish between a “who” and an “it.” A computer is an “it.” The fact that it is ruffling through all the metadata or even keeping the content of such communications in a vault for five years should not overly concern us. When an actual human being takes a look, then it’s time for questions. When the system works properly, the NSA still needs a warrant to look at content.
I think US citizens can decide for themselves whether or not to be "overly concerned." Attempting to play this off as a neutral device sorting harvested data completely ignores the fact that humans build the algorithms, maintain the processes and provide the queries (which also include queries made before the data arrives at the "neutral" database). Implying the NSA needs warrants to search the database is simply incorrect. As was revealed last month, the NSA has a backdoor loophole letting it run searches on data collected on Americans without a warrant, so long as the original collection was a part of a "targeted" effort, even if the collected info has nothing to do with the "target." And, the NSA specifically asked for and received this ability. Even if that loophole wasn't in place there are still concerns. No matter what the rulebook might say, the NSA has full access to info stored on its servers at any time. These constitutional niceties might be occasionally respected, but more often than not, the agency will wave them aside with National Security Letters, overly broad court orders, "exigent circumstance" claims and, in many documented cases, simply ignoring the limitations altogether.

So, to recap: NSA defender opens her defense of the agency by deploying rapist logic and wraps it up by appealing to authority, with stops along the way to state that the agency is a) not as bad as China or Russia and b) no worse than the tracking software deployed by various web entities. At no point does she bring up a single affirmative argument. (The "surveillance stops terrorism" argument comes close, but is completely undercut by the evidence to the contrary.) Everything else is comparative or dismissive.

Defending the indefensible agency severely cripples logic. Apologists like Harrop should just give it up. Every time more evidence of wrongdoing is revealed, the defenders look even worse. A powerful intelligence agency that has been protected by two consecutive administrations really doesn't need any outside help.

[Hat tip again to silverscarcat, who is the apparent bane of Harrop's existence.]



Reader Comments (rss)

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    Ninja (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 4:58am

    It's about time people stopped comparing what the NSA does to what companies do. Put aside the fact that you can opt-out of the commercial sphere there's the undeniable fact that Google, Facebook, Target etc don't have the guns and can't put you in jail because of some ethereal, broadly-defined term like terrorism. The worst they can do is offer you weird products because they can't figure you out due to lack of tracking.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:09am

    Privacy only [b]appears[/b] dead because of the likes of the NSA and their apologists.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:09am

    In assessing government surveillance activities, distinguish between a “who” and an “it.” A computer is an “it.” The fact that it is ruffling through all the metadata or even keeping the content of such communications in a vault for five years should not overly concern us.

    This should be of great concern, because anyone who gets the keys and wishes to use the data has it readily available. This data probably includes enough information to derail, or at least seriously inconvenience any who decides to stand against existing party candidates, or worse, to run on a platform to limit the governments spying abilities.

     

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      Chris Brand, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 10:02am

      Re:

      I guess she'd be fine with me installing cameras in her bathrooms, as long as I promise not to watch the resulting videos...

       

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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:17am

    Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

    Google: Cloud users have 'no legitimate expectation of privacy'

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/14/google_cloud_users_have_no_legitimate_expectatio n_of_privacy/

    Google's Eric Schmidt says government spying is 'the nature of our society'

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/13/eric-schmidt-google-nsa-surveillance

    And so on. You ALL know that Google is a SPY AGENCY, but resolutely ignore the facts and implications of what just that one mega-corporation means for the future.


    "The new Google privacy policy is: You have no privacy."

     

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      Nellius (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:28am

      Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

      You can opt out of using google if you don't like how they use your data. You can't opt out of the NSA.

       

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        out_of_the_blue, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:50am

        Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

        @ "Nellius"
        You can opt out of using google if you don't like how they use your data. You can't opt out of the NSA.


        Sheer baloney. FIRST tell me EXACTLY what Google does with "my data", and how you know that. Inquiring minds want to know! Then tell me EXACTLY how to avoid being tracked all over the web, how I can avoid EVERY bit of Google on EVERY site. I bet you don't even grasp how extensive Google is on the web or what "services" it provides. -- Just look at the HTML for this Techdirt page and COUNT the number of Google urls. In fact do that FIRST and state it here, just to prove that you're minimum competent and aware.

        And if you say that I just go to Google and tell it not to track me, SHEESH! How could it possibly comply unless can identifies me by some prior knowledge, and HOW can I KNOW whether they actually do? -- In fact, "opting out" just tells Google / NSA that you're of higher than normal interest.

         

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          Ninja (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:04am

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          Google is not the internet. You can opt out. There's a nice add on for the major browsers called Ghostery that successfully blocks trackers. I have 14 trackers blocked here on Techdirt.

          How could it possibly comply unless can identifies me by some prior knowledge, and HOW can I KNOW whether they actually do?

          You don't have to ask them not to track you. The add-on mentioned does the trick. If you are that paranoid you can block Google via other means such as your hosts file, a firewall and others. The NSA doesn't need Google to track you if they have taps in the infra-structure itself.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:17am

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          FIRST tell me EXACTLY what Google does with "my data", and how you know that

          http://www.google.com/policies/privacy/
          http://mashable.com/2012/03/01/google-privacy-data- policy/#_
          http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2010/03/google-keeps-your-data-to-learn-from-good-guys -fight-off-bad-guys/

          Then tell me EXACTLY how to avoid being tracked all over the web, how I can avoid EVERY bit of Google on EVERY site.
          https://duckduckgo.com/
          http://www.yahoo.com
          http://www.bing.com/

          need a plug-in to help? if you have Chrome, here are a few links:
          https://www.google.com/search?q=chrome+anonymous+addon
          +N - new untrackable window

           

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            Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 8:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

            Then tell me EXACTLY how to avoid being tracked all over the web, how I can avoid EVERY bit of Google on EVERY site.

            Ixquick needs some love:

            https://ixquick.com/

             

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:17am

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          Go ahead. Opt out of the NSA, then. It seems like you think that doing that is far easier than opting out of Google, so by all means show us lowly ignorants how.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:21am

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          In fact, "opting out" just tells Google / NSA that you're of higher than normal interest.

          roll your own services. But remember - if you encrypt your data and Google can't read it - so what. they have a data stream that they can't use. But...if the NSA can't read it - well, then you may violate US Export Laws, US Encryption laws, etc - and get thrown in jail. Please - in the spirit of YOUR email - show me where I am not correct.

           

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          John Fenderson (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:01am

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          Then tell me EXACTLY how to avoid being tracked all over the web, how I can avoid EVERY bit of Google on EVERY site.


          This is actually really simple to do in a number of ways. My favorite is by adding a couple of lines in my hosts file. You could also use your firewall to accomplish this, or if you're only worried about web-based tracking, then use one of the several plugins that will do it. A quick search will reveal tons of options. Pick one.

          You know what you don't have to do? Ask or trust Google to do anything at all.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:19am

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          Set cookies and java script to 'off' in your browser. Use an extension like disconnect or ghostery. Problem solved. I bet you don't even grasp how easy it is to block third party content on sites. I am right now and they're blocking all the shit you're complaining about.

          How could Google, or any other ad company for that matter, identify you without prior knowledge? Cookies on your computer. Specifically ones that tell them not to track you.

           

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          ottermaton (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:34am

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          You're such a jackass OOTB.

          Here's a thought: compare your moronic post that was reported into invisibility against the one that was voted repeatedly as Insightful several posts above.

          It's the same thing I've said to you over and over and you can't get it through your thick skull: Google et. al. can't put anyone in jail or "murder" them "legally". That's the EXACT difference in what they're doing with your data compared to the gov't.

           

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          JMT (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 3:28pm

          Re: Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

          "FIRST tell me EXACTLY what Google does with "my data", and how you know that."

          First, why don't you tell us what you think Google does with your data (which you've just admitted to voluntarily providing them). Inquiring minds want to know! It'll be good for a laugh id nothing else...

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:15am

        Re: Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

        What's more I now can't opt-in to Google, knowing full well what they'd have access to, without the NSA inviting itself along for the ride.

         

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      silverscarcat (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:31am

      Re: OotB being an idiot again

      What army does Google have?

      What laws does Google enforce?

      What laws does Google write?

       

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        out_of_the_blue, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:58am

        Re: Re: "silverscarcat" shilling for Google again.

        With diversionary stoopid "questions". Any idiot can write questions, as you prove. Now tell me some positive FACTS, sonny.

        Tell me how much data Google gathers and how they collate it to track persons all across the net, all without explicit permission, it's just technically possible so they do it. Tell me why that's okay when people do NOT want to be spied on.

        Tell me how many billions Google is keeping offshore without paying taxes on it. Tell me the effective tax rate Google pays. Tell me how many lobbyists Google has in DC.

        Where Mike sez: "Any system that involves spying on the activities of users is going to be a non-starter. Creeping the hell out of people isn't a way of encouraging them to buy. It's a way of encouraging them to want nothing to do with you." -- So why doesn't that apply to The Google?

         

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          Ninja (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:07am

          Re: Re: Re: "silverscarcat" shilling for Google again.

          You can opt out of Google collection.

          Tell me how many billions Google is keeping offshore without paying taxes on it. Tell me the effective tax rate Google pays. Tell me how many lobbyists Google has in DC.

          Irrelevant to this discussion. Every major company does the same. In fact Google is lobbying harder because the MAFIAA and the likes made them aware of it.

           

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          silverscarcat (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:17am

          Re: Re: Re: OotB being an idiot again

          Any idiot can write questions, as you prove.

          Way to avoid my questions, blue.

          And you prove yourself to be an idiot too.

          BTW, the amount of lobbyists google has is FAR less than the MAFIAA has.

          The only thing I will defend is that I can choose to use a browser that doesn't have google, choose not to use google's android phone, choose not to use gmail, choose not to use google's search engine.

          Can I choose to not let the NSA have my data?

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:22am

          Re: Re: Re: "silverscarcat" shilling for Google again.

          Impressive dodge! Are you going to address the fact that Google's powers to assassinate or imprison you are non-existant and therefor what the NSA can do with the same data is orders of magnitude worse than what Google can and therefor the comparison is abjectly absurd or not? I'm guessing not.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:45am

      Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

      You don't even know what your first link means.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:46am

      Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

      yea, I was pissed about the new privacy policy, I wasn't even suprised about it but still, who are the working FOR? who ARE they spying for?

      sure they'd spy on their users for themselves too just to know what ads to show you and what not but they are spying FOR someone OTHER than themselves.

      they're big shit compared to us, because of us. but they're still PEE ONS!

       

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      Ninja (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:09am

      Re: Hey, sounds EXACTLY like Google!

      You are doing with those articles what you do regularly here, you are interpreting them as it suits you. Try not taking stuff out of context, it helps. And take your medicines.

       

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    RyanNerd (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:35am

    NSA's 7 Step Program for accepting your new Police State

    Hi. My name is Ryan and I've been surveillance state apologist for nine months now. Let's repeat our steps for acceptance:
    1. Accept you are powerless.
    2. Know that just because the government can destroy you it probably won't.
    3. The government spying on you is in your best interest and will make you safe.
    4. Realize that other countries have worse oversight to their spying programs than we do.
    5. You trust corporations with your personal information you should trust the government with your information.
    6. The media is spying on you so you should accept that the government is spying on you also.
    7. Don't be concerned -- the government is only gathering your meta-data and then it's only for five years.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 8:56am

      Re: NSA's 7 Step Program for accepting your new Police State

      How I learned to stop worrying and accept the Police State.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 1:00pm

      Re: NSA's 7 Step Program for accepting your new Police State

      What's with all the "funny" votes? This right here is INSIGHTFUL.

       

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    out_of_the_blue, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:41am

    Actually, minion, you argue FOR "business conglomerate".

    If the issue is privacy, what makes a business conglomerate more honorable than the government?
    I don't think anyone's making an argument to the contrary, but using one form of abuse to justify another is a rhetorical race for the bottom.


    Then you go right into your numbered points arguing to the contrary, mostly the laughable notions that one can avoid commercial tracking on the internet without losing its function -- a trend that will only increase as more sites use google-analytics or Google's API suite. I run into that often, finding some sites simply unusable due to Google spying on me without permission, and incredible amounts of javascript: up to a megabyte per page! The spying goes on in every way possible: every browser header sent includes last date visited, and other identifying information. Users have no effective way of controlling that, nor of limiting what sites do with it, since, as the minion claims, it's given "voluntarily". The internet is made for spying: it's the main "business model".

    Now, I've been arguing against ALL forms of spying by ALL types of spies. Big difference: I'm not trying to justify either one, but trying to wake people up to the corporate spying. But both Harrop and the minion ARE arguing FOR one type of spying, saying that the bottom should be dug lower.

    No form of spying can be reconciled with a free society. It may be necessary for gov't purposes, but it's always an evil that puts us at risk. Commercial spies will at best continue to invade the last areas of privacy for their profit, until we "natural" persons are completely monetized. -- Is that what corporations are for? To solely serve moneyed interests without regard to humanity? Or are they just legal fictions meant to serve the common good?

    Edward Snowden: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren't fighting for our interests the same way -- Ed, those soul-less amoral entities care only about the billions they get BEING snoops!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:27am

      Re: Actually, minion, you argue FOR "business conglomerate".

      Mini-me don't you have anything better to do?

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 5:33pm

        Re: Re: Actually, minion, you argue FOR "business conglomerate".

        out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:52am

    "Retailers follow your cellphone around the mall."


    I rather doubt that. A department store chain has better things to spend it's money on than setting up equipment capable of tracking you across the mall from the relatively small chunk of it they've leased, just so they can watch you go to their competitors and to stores entirely different from them, without ever going near you.

    The mall itself might do so, but I rather doubt it could legally do more than get a count of how many people are going into which store. Which is of rather limited value, and the sort of thing they could just as easily track by other means.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:53am

    we already know that these assholes aren't on our side. what else is there to know. that alone should be enough to draw the line.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:16am

      Re:

      I'm no legal expert and I'm not the most intelligent person in the world but I sincerely believe the whole reason we are slaves is because of a particular land issue and because of co-dependance and of course belief that we are bound by rules that someone made up.

      no matter what, we will always be slaves until we stop spending their money, stop using their water, their electricity and stop paying for their land.

      I mention land because you can't even own land without paying taxes on it because at best you get the deed to the land. that's not owning it. so we'll always be a slave and we'll always have to spend their money and we'll always be co-dependant.

      the point I'm trying to make is:
      even if you supplied your own electricity, grew your own food and depended 100% on no one except yourself you'd still have to pay for the land you live on. that's a huge problem right there.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 8:32am

        Re: Re:

        I believe you are referring to a serf rather than a slave. Serf is actually somewhat worse.

        I think the co-dependence you are talking about is a traditional part of history. If you lived 100 % without contact with the rest of the world I think you would reckon that the educational lack in such a parrallel society would be problematic. Therefore you need to define a way for education to be financed in that society too.

        In the end, we are all part of a bigger scheme economists, legal scholars and philosophers barely understands.
        The room between these opinions are where politicians have a fair place to fill.
        Unfortunately we are slaves of the past (not serfs here, mind you :)). Modern democracy is build upon the ruins of feudalism and unfortunately that historic fact, makes a geographic limitation of power inevitable.

        Those are some of the moral, historical and philosophical reasons for why a parrallel society is unlikely to succeed. The true rational behind who is in power has always been the a macho "who has the most powerful weapons and are not afraid to use them?". Unfortunately that rational still somewhat holds true today and makes these experiments at the mercy of the golden rule: He who controls the gold, makes the rules.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 10:36am

          Re: Re: Re:

          thanks for the comment. I gotta admit you have made some good points. but didn't there used to be something called a land patent which was much better than a deed?

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:01am

        Re: Re:

        As another AC you are correct.

        The sheep running about in the former "Land of the Free" seem to just not get it.

        The government, local or central, should only be allowed to collect taxes on sales.

        Stop paying your taxes on income or land and find out quickly who owns YOU and YOUR property.

         

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    dennis deems (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:00am

    Missed the "joke"?

    Tim, this is a great piece, but either you completely missed the fact that she is parodying the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, or you felt acknowledging her joke to be beneath you. I think it's worth consideration. The Twelve Steps are for people who have lost control of their lives due to addiction. She is equating privacy with addiction. As if somehow reliance on privacy makes people weak, dysfunctional, out of control. It's a hopelessly muddled metaphor that starts off with a false note and gets more false with each "step".

     

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      dennis deems (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:06am

      Re: Missed the "joke"?

      And what I meant to say is that your rapist reference is completely wrongheaded. Step 1 of the Twelve Steps is: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable".

       

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      Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 8:07am

      Re: Missed the "joke"?

      You could be right. The Twelve Steps never occurred to me. (Maybe it would have if she had used twelve statements.)

      In light of this new, possibly true information, the rapist tangent seems a bit off... or it adds some really weird implications to AA's methods.

      But, as you point out, basing this on the Twelve Steps isn't making her metaphor any better or any more coherent.

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:06am

      Re: Missed the "joke"?

      you completely missed the fact that she is parodying the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous


      If that's true, it makes her piece even more offensive.

       

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      Ninja (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:26am

      Re: Missed the "joke"?

      Hmmm it seems a stretch to me. As in you are giving her too much credit. Still I agree with Fenderson on this one..

       

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    stefan, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:02am

    NSA isn't even the main problem

    The NSA spying on internet traffic is not really the threat to privacy. Rather, the threat is the practice and policy of secret laws, secret orders and effective outlawing of privacy protection.

    If not for the secret gag orders, and the government secretly forcing service operators to subvert their services, we could all have private communications despite the NSA wiretapping.

     

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    sch, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:21am

    Just trust?

    She's just asking us to trust the government, and as the Yahoo Serious line goes: "If you can't trust the governments of the world, who can you trust?"

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:26am

    Lets take her argument to the extreme

    Lets have some fun taking her argument to the extreme.

    Why we shouldn't care if the government decides to install hidden cameras in all our bathrooms and bedrooms, based on Harrop's own NSA defense.

    1. Admit that we are powerless to stop the government from installing hidden cameras EVERYWHERE. (We don’t have to like it.)

    2. Stop confusing capabilities with actions. The U.S. government is capable of blackmailing the entire US population with their Internet search history and by threatening to upload videos of you going to the bathroom and having sex with these cameras. That does not mean it intends to do so.

    3. Recognize that this surveillance is key to saving lives! Think of grandma slipping and falling over in the shower and having no way of calling for help!

    4. Appreciate that we do have safeguards. When the boss berates the people watching the cameras for watching videos of you having sex with your lover, that’s an example of checks and balances in action.

    5. Admit that commercial spying is a privacy matter, as well. Sex toy and condom retailers already know what's going on in your bedroom.

    6. In assessing government surveillance activities, distinguish between a “who” and an “it.” A computer is an “it.” The fact that it is ruffling through all the camera footage should not overly concern us. When an actual human being takes a look, then it’s time for questions. When the system works properly, the government still needs a warrant to look at content.

    7. Remember, it's different when the government does it! If an individual spied on your Internet browsing it would be illegal and wiretapping, but not when the government does it for your own good! When an individual installs hidden cameras in your bedroom and bathroom without telling you they're a sexual pervert, when the government does it they're doing their patriotic duty to protect you from evil terrorists!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:28am

    "If you can't trust the governments of the world, who can you trust?"

    that's a perfect example of the conditioning that we have been exposed to all along.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:30am

    Froma makes a good point

    Yeh, corporate surveillance and selling of private data is a big problem, it needs to be addressed too. Thank you for reminding us of that.

    Choicepoint's data aggregation in particular is used to gerrymander elections and was used to block democrat voters in Florida polls. The violation of privacy certainly does damage democracies.

    Also the 'data retention directive' was pushed by Bush and Blair so the telcos would keep all the call data, and the NSA could grab that data without suspicion of any crime. Again a problem with privacy created by the spooks. It violates the freedom to associate principle.

    And bank data was grabbed in violation of the banking secrecy act, on the claim (without any evidence submitted) that it might be proceeds of crime being sent, i.e. money laundering. That's a violation of search without warrant.

    But it's good that she reminds us there is a big problem with corporate privacy invasions too. We need to tighten those laws aswell.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:09am

      Re: Froma makes a good point

      I agree that corporate spying is a real issue, but it's rather distinct from government spying. Still, there are some classification issues here.

      For example, I would classify the things you've cited (gerrymandering, data retention, bank data) as government spying, using corporations as their tool.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:35am

    ex Stasi police appalled by NSA

    An ex-Stasi man, explains why

    http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/26/195045/memories-of-stasi-color-germans.html

    "Even Schmidt, 73, who headed one of the more infamous departments in the infamous Stasi, called himself appalled. The dark side to gathering such a broad, seemingly untargeted, amount of information is obvious, he said."

    "It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used,” he said. “This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.”

     

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    GeoTel, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:56am

    Sadly

    Unfortunately, their PR plan seems to be working when it comes to the masses. If you ask a variety of people, many will say that they aren't doing anything illegal, so they don't care. They aren't going to fight against this platform the NSA is following.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 1:18pm

      Re: Sadly

      If you ask a variety of people, many will say that they aren't doing anything illegal, so they don't care. They aren't going to fight against this platform the NSA is following.


      Denial of risk is the luxury that people have when they don't want to address the risk. When driving: accident happen to others. With the governmens spying: I have nothing to hide.

      Only in prison we do not have that luxury. You know when you're inside and you'll have to cope with that.

      Now with the Snowden/Greenwald revelations, people are robbed of this luxury. Where do you think the anger comes from.

       

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    anonymous coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 7:57am

    I think a better way to describe this is:

    Accept that things are far worse than you imagine. Prepare to get whipped like a puppy and shamed in public for not towing the line.

    There's a lot more to find out. It seems that Snowden does not have the real dirt. Don't set yourself up for failure.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 8:45am

      Re:

      Snowden likely has at least some of the real dirt. The only question is if the journalists can angle it in a way that doesn't threaten national security.

       

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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 8:23am

    According to the Borg

    "Resistance is futile!"... This is the Borgification of the USA, to turn us all into compliant drones that only serve the collective!

     

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      Internet Zen Master (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 8:46am

      Re: According to the Borg

      Considering that the NSA's current boss is a big (and I mean BIG) Trekkie, this statement feels way more accurate than it should be.

       

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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:11am

    Fantastic piece

    Excellent essay, Tim, thank you!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:21am

    Using the same logic, it's okay if I kill someone, because they don't care anymore after they're dead.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:39am

    Welp

    "Recognize that this surveillance is key to national security."

    Recognize that killing people is the key to winning a war, so don't object when we kill you, ok?

     

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    Rapnel (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 9:41am

    OK

    Alrighty then, the NSA has access to just about everything for just about as long as they want it via secret courts, orders and legal threats. National Security, that's an interesting word combination. Seems more like the enforcement of authority for the sake of authority. National Authority Security.

    Here we have almost entirely obliterated the middle class, completely stymied upward mobility, on ongoing assault bent on eradicating any social safety programs, an accommodation of the engorgement of banking via mortgage fraud, legal gambling with other peoples money, market manipulation of, for and by some weird 1% ruling class subordination, gross expenditures on the products of military defense, EXTREME incarceration rates for .. mostly doing something to yourself and two entire generations of children completely and irrevocably future fucked. For icing you get 30 years and counting of a profound enrichment of the rich couched in some sort of socially grotesque "fairness" doctrine.

    Aaand we have the venerable NSA, CIA and FBI's establishing all but complete control (yes, information equates to a distinct advantage in any endeavor) over your past, present and future presence on the face of the planet. (and, to me, it would not be any stretch of the imagination to follow the paths of money, information and access to the clearly upward direction of monies for the last several decades into the pockets of Military/Policing Industrial Complexes and Corporate Shareholders with fees invariably sucking dry any "trickle down" pocket change via interest and exploitative industries.)

    Aaand we have corporate ownership of information creeping its way into untenable institutions of information control priming the government of the public to work directly against the interests of the public.

    Fucking awesome, cunts. Fuck the NSA and the five living presidents' horses they rode in on. Congress? Yeah, right. How's my stock doing? How's my reelection coffer doing? HOW ARE MY FUCKING PEOPLE DOING? Tits up.

     

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    Ruben, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 10:06am

    RGJ has an ethics page.... LOL!!!

    Holy effin' shit. You couldn't make this stuff.

    http://www.rgj.com/viewart/99999999/NEWS/130524002/RGJ-journalists-principles-ethical-cond uct

    * We will be honest in the way we gather, report and present news.

    * We will be vigilant watchdogs of government and institutions that affect the public, fighting to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public.

    * We will seek solutions as well as expose problems and wrongdoing in order to effect change for the good in the communities we serve.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 10:18am

    I voted for Obama twice. I am but one voice calling for his impeachment over these programs.

     

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    Adrian, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 10:32am

    Observation

    In assessing government surveillance activities, distinguish between a “who” and an “it.” A computer is an “it.” The fact that it is ruffling through all the metadata or even keeping the content of such communications in a vault for five years should not overly concern us. When an actual human being takes a look, then it’s time for questions. When the system works properly, the NSA still needs a warrant to look at content.

    The amount of data readily available once an actual human being decides to take a look actually makes a huge difference. We could, for instance, install cameras and microphones inside people's homes and stream video and audio to government computers nobody can access without a warrant. According Harrop's logic, we shouldn't have a problem with it, since it doesn't really matter until somebody takes a look at it, but I think we all know better.

    The problem with having all that data is in what it enables once a person does take a look at it: lots of data that wouldn't have been collected under normal circumstances is now available for mining and perusal, so that everything you've said and done in the past can suddenly be used against you by an adversary. All it takes is a warrant (or an unauthorized search) to hold your entire life up to scrutiny. That is the difference.

     

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    Loki, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 11:42am

    2. Stop confusing capabilities with actions.

    So let's look at actions:
    1) Redefined language and words so as to create specialized interpretations of laws. Interpretations that are kept secret and confidential (one has to assume because if they were made public the vast majority of the people would cry foul and buillshit).

    2) Created a set of "checks and balances" in such a way that they do neither. Not even close.

    3) Repeatedly violated and broken even your own special interpretations of the laws. So much so that you even have special classifications for those violations (LoveInt) - and that's just the ones you know about.

    4) Created a system where literally hundreds, if not thousands of people could access data the is supposedly "secure" without any real way to trace or audit it. Not only can't they tell us what, where, or how Snowden took what he did, but they have no way to know if he was the first (and one can fairly reasonably assume from Putin's statement while Snowden was confined to the airport - that "Snowden can't tell us anything we don't already know" - that Snowden was NOT in fact the first person to collect such information, and at LEAST one other person had accessed that data previously and provided it to Russia, and most probably other countries like China as well).

    5)Not only deceived and obfuscated, but outright lied, even to the highest levels of authority, and even under oath.

    I could add several more but that is more than enough to start. So no, sir, madame, or whomever, we are NOT judging you on your capabilities, and ARE judging you on your actions. And your actions are illegal, unjustifiable, and intolerable.

     

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    Greevar (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 11:47am

    I had to stop at "National Security"

    I think this term has been bandied about and abused to justify far too many abuses of the citizenry and not just in the US nor in the present. Personally, I'm of the opinion that it's not the government's business to provide "national security" because they are both inept at the task and do so at the great neglect of upholding the constitution. Clearly, national security and upholding the constitution are conflicting interests. They should utilize what has been provided in the constitution to leave national security to the people as it was reserved for them to secure. We are in a state of lies, secrets, and spies that threaten all out conflict with other nations and peoples. Our hubris that we can police the world, spy on them, and keep secrets from them all is exactly what has made us a target to anyone that doesn't like what we do.

    For the sake of us all, I plead to all that is rational that we give up the military imperialism, the secrets, the lies, and the spying.

     

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    Ramon Creager (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 12:57pm

    Further argument against point 3


    3. Recognize that this surveillance is key to national security.


    Even if true this point is invalid because it fails to consider whether some effective tool or another is not only effective, but acceptable in a Constitutional democracy. Lets take, for instance, torture. Even if we grant that torture is effective--or even "key", is this the kind of thing we want for our country? Not I. Not our founding fathers, who by putting in place a Bill of Rights rejected tactics like these while facing perils far greater than we will ever face. So effectiveness alone is no argument.

     

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    Zack (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 2:24pm

    Good to know that a passion for manga cartoons is on par with an interest in socialism.
    Also, I believe they're called anime.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 2:38pm

    Privacy isn't dead it just diminished.

     

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    John Reynolds (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 3:32pm

    "Trust Us" doesn't work

    The "trust us" argument doesn't wash. The 4th Amendment was designed to make it hard for government to get personal information on citizens unless they could convince a judge they probable cause of a crime. But NSA says, "We're hunting terrorists, so we don't need no stinking 4th Amendment."
    The only real solution is to get a private cloud, like a Cloudlocker (www.cloudlocker.it) that works like a cloud service but stays at home where they still need a warrant to look inside.

     

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    The IT Skeptic, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 3:37pm

    Agree except for the bit about privacy

    I totally agree that we get the surveillance we deserve. Managing entities like the NSA comes down to (a) good government and (b) personal integrity and morality in IT http://www.itskeptic.org/content/personal-accountability-and-morality-it and clearly they need managing better.

    But that's not the same as countering the statement that privacy is dead. It is. Stone cold. Welcome back to living in the village http://www.itskeptic.org/node/439

     

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      Rapnel (profile), Sep 24th, 2013 @ 6:48pm

      Re: Agree except for the bit about privacy

      I understand your premise but I think you're conflating what is occurring, what can be done, what will be done and where an effective privacy currently isn't but needs to exist into some single, tangled ball of unbridled internets.

      It's like someone passed you the facebook ball and you fucking ran with it. Towards the wrong end of the field.

      Don't roll over and expect me to pat your belly. We have hunting to do, get the fuck up.

      This is not some mamby-pamby question about IT morality, rather, it is a question of how much control you're actually willing to submit to, for how long and how intimate (fantasy, one-sided freak show style) the details that you would allow access to for an an effective means of begin controlled.

      We're getting the surveillance that's been forced down our fucking throats - No, we're not getting the surveillance that we deserve, nor are we getting access to the available means to make our lives better. I'm about done sacrificing for some ridiculous safety fantasy.

      I've got a 21st century bet placed alright, but my horse is not going to run on your track. Not now, not ever.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2013 @ 10:10pm

    The day privacy goes extinct, so does freedom. Froma Harrop sounds like a control freak. You know what another work for control freak is? Dictator.

     

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