The NSA Views Privacy As Damage And Routes Around It

from the solutions-are-needed-and-time-is-of-the-essence dept

Bruce Sterling, sci-fi author and wearer of assorted other hats (public speaker, design theorist, journalist) recently got together (so to speak -- the conversation was a messaging give-and-take facilitated by seminal internet entity The WELL) with Jon Lebkowsky (a "future-focused social polymath") to discuss 2013 and gaze into the upcoming year.

No discussion of the year's events would be complete without including Ed Snowden's NSA document leaks. Sterling's opening salvo addressed the NSA, pointing out how its ethos directly contradicts the utopian internet ideal.

Is it any wonder that the NSA took a page from Google, and started throwing money in the direction of anything that even LOOKED like it might be surveillance? The NSA interpreted privacy as damage and routed around it. Why not give that a try? The NSA has no effective civilian oversight. Whoever does?
Contrast the NSA's goals with the internet in general, which has always perceived censorship as damage and routed around it. The openness that has been fostered is now threatened by an agency that views this ideal as a gift. The internet does most of its work for it, circumventing censors and providing a platform for unlimited and unfettered sharing of information. The people behind the sharing are not interested in giving up their privacy, which may seem at odds with the free flow of information.

The people propelling this free flow aren't important -- or rather, they're not where the focus should be. The NSA changes this. Where it flows from -- and whom it reaches -- is of chief interest to it. The agency's ability to pull communications right from the "trunk" of the internet undercuts the anonymity of the "transactions" and chills future sharing.

Sterling also calls out the agency for its lack of oversight, something it continues to claim is protecting the American public from its powerful capabilities. The talking points always route back to the Congressional oversight, but as Sterling points out, not only is the oversight ineffective, but being composed of politicians, it's extremely susceptible to being humored, rather than respected.
Suppose the entire US Congress came to your house in a body, to you, as a citizen, and they told you, well, anything at all -- in their collective wisdom -- something minor maybe, say they recommended a roach insecticide, for instance. Would you take that act at face value?   Would you listen to the Congress with the respect due legally elected officials, and do what they said?

"Hey," you might say, "the US Congress is the legitimate, elective legislative body of a superpower; so they can't be that bad! I'd better buy that aerosol can and spritz it around some!" Would you do that? Really? Wouldn't you pull an NSA, and pretend to do it, and then lie to them, lying as minimally as you could?
The oversight can't be trusted as its internal workings are particularly fallible. Legislators mainly exist to be reelected. Tough decisions and meaningful legislative change aren't effective ways to remain employed. And so the agency lies to the oversight. And the oversight (for the most part… until very recently) accepts the lies, because doing so allows it to appear "effective." In fact, those involved may have had no idea until recently that they were being lied to. They just accepted the NSA's statements because to do otherwise would mean questioning a large variety of surveillance programs that have been extended and expanded over the last dozen years with little to no discussion.

So, the agency lies to Congress. And Congress lies to itself. The problem now is that the American public is engaged in the debate, and some of those people vote. It's no longer acceptable to simply accept the agency's inaccuracies, misdirection and flat out lies. But to those truly paying attention, the truth is clear. Congress allowed the agency to run rampant for multiple years, and now it's finding it's a lot harder to roll things back than it is to let them spiral out of control.

The fixes needed, unfortunately, will be routed through the same people that took a hands-off approach to national security for so many years. Some adjustments will be made. There are a handful of legislators who have been attempting to hold the NSA accountable for years, but for the most part, the assumption that it was "fighting the good fight" was reason enough to not ask too many questions.

At the moment, it's politically expedient to pressure the agency to change. In a few years, this uproar may be all but forgotten. If changes are going to be made, they need to be made now, before leak fatigue sets in or the business-as-usual-brigade steers everyone back onto the path of least resistance. If the NSA manages to weather this unprecedented situation without sustaining any serious "damage," it will emerge stronger -- and more willing to overstep its bounds -- than ever.



Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 7:52am

    the assumption that it was "fighting the good fight" was reason enough to not ask too many questions

    Hitler (Obligatory Godwin) was fighting the good fight, for the Aryans! The Inquisition was fighting the good fight, for God! Islamic terrorists are fighting the good fight, for Allah! The NSA is fighting the good fight, for national security! Vladmir Putin and the Russian Govt are fighting the good fight, for the children! The MAFIAA is fighting the good fight, for the poor poor artists!

    I say it's enough of fighting the good fight alright.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 9:39am

    Re:

    Stalin was fighting the good fight of Marxists.

    The NSA is fighting the good fight for cronyists.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
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    out_of_the_blue, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 9:59am

    Your notion of "the utopian internet ideal" is just plain WRONG!

    The internet was ALWAYS, from start, the 1940's actually, intended to be total surveillance. It's literally the telescreen system of Orwell's "1984". And it's getting worse.

    Now, this is actually BACKWARDS:
    Is it any wonder that the NSA took a page from Google, and started throwing money in the direction of anything that even LOOKED like it might be surveillance?
    -- When it's abundantly clear that Google is a creature of the surveillance state throwing almost unlimited funds at new ways to surveil and control The People! (Doesn't matter whether was more directly NSA or CIA: those are just slightly competing departments of the total state. Definitely not a sheerly commercial operation.) But if you don't see Google as integral part of the de facto surveillance state, then you're part of the problem whether fool or knave or fool who thinks he's a knave. GOOGLE IS A SPY AGENCY. You can't separate those into commercial and "voluntary" and gov't and "Involuntary" because both are just one huge SNOOPY monster.

    Google. We're spying right up to the creepy limit. (tm) -- And soon as you're used to it, we get creepier!

    05:58:03[g-365-3]

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 10:20am

    Re: Your notion of "the utopian internet ideal" is just plain WRONG!

    If Google is a spy agency, then why haven't they eliminated you yet?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re:

    way to lose sight...

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Grimmbo, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 11:02am

    Re: Your notion of

    I can't believe there are still Google conspiracy theorists. This is a grand day indeed.

    But seriously it's been pretty evidently demonstrated that it runs directly against Google's financial interests to use any information they collect against you.

     

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  7.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 11:08am

    Re:

    i'm part of the aryan master race, you insensitive clod ! ! !

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Re: Your notion of

    It's absolutely in Google's financial interest to use the data they gather about you. It's their entire business model. The only reason they offer services is so you'll use them and allow them to gather more data.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 2:50pm

    "design theorist" HAHA

    talk about stupid "job titles"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 2:54pm

    Re: Re: Your notion of

    of course, how could Google be anything apart from the opposite of EVIL !!! All hail the mighty new GOD.. Google. All truth and light, and kissing babies and helping the poor and under trodden.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 2:59pm

    Re:

    a long way of saying 'one persons right fighter is another persons terrorist'.

    what is evil is trying to force your 'rights' on the rights of others, Hitler is entitled to his right, but that does not mean he can invade other countries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 3:07pm

    bullshit title

    "The NSA Views Privacy As Damage And Routes Around It"

    NO, the NSA did not state that, therefore that is a lie right!

    Sterling said it, not the NSA,

    "Sterling's opening salvo addressed the NSA, pointing out how its ethos directly contradicts the utopian internet ideal.

    Is it any wonder that the NSA took a page from Google, and started throwing money in the direction of anything that even LOOKED like it might be surveillance? The NSA interpreted privacy as damage and routed around it."

    so this 'sci-fyi' writer said it, but you lie and state the NSA said it, its a simple thing, but the truth is so much better for your credibility.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 3:08pm

    "The NSA interpreted privacy as damage and routed around it."
    (Like Google did, as they 'took the page' from them).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 3:09pm

    Re: bullshit title

    Go home Darryl, you're drunk. Oh wait, you always post drunk.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 3:53pm

    Re: bullshit title

    so this 'sci-fyi' writer said it, but you lie and state the NSA said it


    You're the liar. You should take your own advice.

    The article never claimed the NSA said this. The article also doesn't attribute it to Sterling, but given that it's about Sterling's remarks, the (quite accurate) implication is that it's Sterling's sentiment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 8th, 2014 @ 3:56pm

    Re:

    Really? Google is hacking into internet lines, weakening encryption standards, forcing companies to fork over your data and lie to you about doing it?

    I missed that news.

    Google is antagonistic to privacy, that's certainly true. But "route around it?" Not even close. Google takes more of a sweet-talk approach and gives you a value proposition to encourage you to hand it over voluntarily.

     

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  17. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Just Sayin', Jan 8th, 2014 @ 5:02pm

    Maybe if you weren't such a pirate, Masnick, this wouldn't happen.

    Of course you're going to hide this post until no one bothers arguing with me. What a joke this site has become.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    get a load of this guy, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 5:04pm

    Re:

    LOL

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
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    design threatist, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 7:35pm

    Re: "design theorist" HAHA

    ...talk about dream jobs

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    smoke gets in your brown eye, Jan 8th, 2014 @ 7:37pm

    Re: Re:

    more like they blow smoke up you ass and piss on your back and tell you it's raining

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    braveNewWorld, Jan 9th, 2014 @ 9:03am

    Privacy Vs. Security

    How do we propose to attempt to safeguard from terrorists?
    Let them (terrorists) communicate their plans freely and the rest of us (non-terrorists) rebuild and bury our loved ones because for the love of privacy we let them go about their business' freely.
    Yippee let's canonize the likes of asange and snowden.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    braveNewWorld, Jan 9th, 2014 @ 12:02pm

    Ironical

    me again...Everyone is clamoring for privacy, but that's not really what is sought nor encouraged.
    Case in point I wanted to register on this site but was unable to do so because I have a web mail address.
    Not that it matters much whether I can register or not, but somehow a web mail is deemed too anonymous.
    So let's decry loss of privacy but let's deny it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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