Marcy Wheeler's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

from the on-the-civil-liberties-beat dept

It’s rather intimidating doing Techdirt’s Favorites of the Week just two weeks after Jennifer Hoelzer’s much-read favorites post, as that broke new ground on the NSA’s efforts to obscure how it spies on Americans. But seeing as how that’s what I’ve been neck deep in myself — covering civil liberties at — there’ll certainly be a lot of continuity. Because the stories of the week still focus on NSA’s inability to offer credible answers about its surveillance programs.

Consider the empty reassurances NSA Director Keith Alexander gave to Stanford Professor Jennifer Granick about the NSA’s surveillance reported by Techdirt here. Roughly three weeks ago, Alexander assured her she’d feel better about the Section 215 phone dragnet once she saw the Primary Order. But then earlier this week, James Clapper’s office finally released the October 3, 2011 FISC opinion on Section 702 that not only revealed the NSA was collecting and using up to 56,000 US personal communications a year in violation of the Fourth Amendment, but that,

Contrary to the government’s repeated assurances, NSA had been routinely running queries of the metadata using querying terms that did not meet the required standard for querying. The Court concluded that this requirement has been “so frequently and systemically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall … regime has never functioned effectively.”

That ruling was released as part of ODNI’s roll-out of … a Tumblr! Somehow, none of the people with the word “intelligence” in their titles realized the URL “” invites jokes about the Intelligence Community as the “I Con” community.

The “I Cons” spent most of their rollout conference call refusing to answer three different questions about a WSJ report published the night before, which described how between the telecoms — which do a first scan on data — and the NSA, they have “the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence.” But then by the end of the day, they had released a sheet purporting to provide the “facts” but instead playing on the words “sift through and have unfettered access to” in an attempt to distract from their underlying confirmation that in fact the WSJ’s reporting was correct.

Meanwhile, we’ve had conflicting reports about how much abuse there really still is. By the end of the week, even Bloomberg was reporting what Techdirt did earlier: that there are, in fact, intentional abuses. Bloomberg appears to base that claim on a still-classified (and unleaked) “new report by the NSA’s inspector general.” That report says there are “an average of one case per year over 10 years of intentionally inappropriate actions by people with access to the NSA’s vast electronic surveillance systems.” But the audit report released last week actually shows that 9 to 20% of violations are “lack of due diligence” — which means the person didn’t follow the rules; that probably works out to about 300 deliberate rule violations annually, not one. As Barton Gellman has explained,

If they are performing the mission that the NSA wants them to perform, and nevertheless overstep their legal authority, make unauthorized interceptions or searches or retentions or sharing of secret information, that is not abuse.

And many of the worst violations — database query violations — are primarily found through audits, and anonymous sources this week admitted that the NSA can’t really audit its own data.

But these serious issues were not without comic relief. Wednesday night we started getting reports that Obama’s (or James Clapper’s?) “outsider” “independent” review panel was actually going to be staffed by four people with White House or Intelligence Community backgrounds: former White House homeland security czar Richard Clarke, the very recently retired CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, former White House adviser Peter Swire, and former White House regulatory czar Cass Sunstein. While I’m happy Swire’s on the list, not only did they not appoint a single technologist to address an issue that is all about technology, but Sunstein’s appointment seems designed primarily to make us all believe the NSA’s repeated lies.

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Comments on “Marcy Wheeler's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week”

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Anonymous Coward says:


But the audit report released last week actually shows that 9 to 20% of violations are “lack of due diligence” — which means the person didn’t follow the rules

Hi Marcy,

First, and fwiw, your hyperlink (from over at Emptywheel) to the May 3, 2012 audit is giving me an ?Access Denied? error today. This morning, though, I did find a copy from the Washington Post. And, this morning, I carefully went through that executive summary provided by the Post. I presume we’re talking about the same audit report? And that all we have raw access to is that executive summary? Or is the complete report available elsewhere?

If we are on the same page at this point, then I’m not convinced that ?lack of due diligence? is sufficiently intentional, or, in your word, ?deliberate?, so as to fall outside the NSA’s ?inadvertent? category.

I do, however, agree that ?lack of due diligence? may imply some measure of culpability.

Anonymous Coward says:

To me every official announcement meant to assuage the concerns of the public has amounted to cover up given that within a day or two, the exact opposite of what has been given to the public to be a “setting the fact straight” announcement. It seems that every official that has done so has come away with egg on their face within a day or two revealing that they weren’t serious.

This has led me to understand that the NSA and the government is not going to willingly come clean. Every revelation has been one that says yes, what you are saying you don’t do, is exactly what you are doing.

I have now come to the opinion that the NSA is incapable of telling the truth. That those in the know don’t know what Snowden has or there would be some sort of preparations in these public releases that dulled the accusations and that isn’t happening meaning they have no advance knowledge of what is in Snowden’s possession.

We’ve learned there is no oversight despite the claims, there is a total failure of the three branches, Congress, Executive, and the Courts, to either address realistic methods or to obtain the straight forward unvarnished facts they are supposed to be in possession of to actually provide oversight.

I am now at the point of I don’t listen to what the NSA says with the expectation of learning anything other than them being on the record to show how bad their lies are. Congress is quickly falling into the same bucket when hearing the statements of King, Feinstein, and other members of the Intelligence Committee.

My question now is did Obama know he was lying or was he fed false info? I expect some movement towards impeachment if he was in the know. I find it hard to believe he was not in the know given his treatment of past whistle blowers where it appears the big concern is punishing them rather than addressing the misdeeds. Especially in light that it is the whistle blowers going to jail, not those exposed for misdeeds.

More and more it begins to seep in that our government is rotten to the core.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re:

thank you for calmly and rationally stating what i was going to rant and foam at the mouth about:
in short, ‘your’ (sic) gummint LIES to us ALL THE TIME…

whether it is ‘clever’ technical dissembling, as we are seeing Professional examples of on a daily basis, simply gross exaggerations that have no meaning (the whole basis for the war on some drugs and the GWOT), or -as is MOST often the case- the HUGE lies of omissions which do not discuss reality, but impose false narratives on us, they lie…

they lie about lying, they lie about lying about lying, they lie about what is a lie, they lie out of habit…

our country is both broke and broken, and the tools and fools in power ain’t going to fix it, because it serves their puppetmasters ends to be broke and broken…

only one way it will be fixed…
ain’t gonna be pretty…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Anonymous Coward says:

Google?s agenda inextricable from US Government?s

Google?s agenda inextricable from US Government?s ? Julian Assange
? Collage: Voice of Russia

The latest revelation being credited to Edward Snowden concerning top-secret U.S. Government documents that he leaked to the Guardian, is that the U.S. Government paid millions of dollars to certain tech companies participating in the PRISM program to make them compliant. This fact further brings into question the true ?independence? of the known PRISM program participants and may have a resoundingly chilling effect on the World Wide Web.

Initial claims by all companies involved that they had never heard of PRISM and/or never provided the U.S. Government with their users’ private data now ring hollow but, it also shows an even higher level of involvement than may have previously been suspected or provable. It also shows that U.S. taxpayers were footing the bill and subsidizing the huge corporations while education, healthcare and social programs were being cut.

According to the NSA?s own documents the companies currently known to be involved in PRISM, and subsidized ?to bring them into compliance? with FISA decisions are: Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype and AOL.

Documents released to the Guardian and hence by the U.S. White House claim that the millions of dollars in costs were incurred as a result of the companies being forced to comply with ?program? requirements and restrictions set out in an October 2011 U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling which clearly stated that: ?? the NSA?s inability to separate the communications of U.S. based American nationals from those of foreign individuals violated the U.S. fourth amendment rights of U.S. Citizens?.

Although the collection methods were deemed to be unconstitutional, the companies and the NSA continue to operate under temporary authority as they seek to bring the programs into compliance with the law.

While the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is supposed to guarantee U.S. citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures this in no way does anything to protect the rest of the world?s population from U.S. Spying.

In an article by Julian Assange, published in the independent news source, The Stringer, Mr. Assange recalls a meeting he had in 2011 with the then chairman of Google Eric Schmidt. In summarizing the meeting Mr. Assange concludes that Google?s true agenda was: ?? inextricable from that of the US State Department?.

Mr. Assange recalls that the meeting, a transcript of which can be found on WikiLeaks, was arranged under the pretext of a book that was ?pre-endorsed? by the likes of ?Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Michael Hayden (former head of the CIA and NSA) and Tony Blair?.

Using the book as an example, and the related meeting, Mr. Assange reveals the role that Jared Cohen, advisor to both Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice and its co-writer, played. In effect Cohen, the director of Google Ideas, is the bridge between the U.S. State Department and Google.

Regarding the book Mr. Assange says ?? the book is a mechanism by which Google seeks to project itself into Washington. It shows Washington that Google can be its partner, its geopolitical visionary, who will help Washington see further about America?s interests. And by tying itself to the US state, Google thereby cements its own security, at the expense of all competitors?.

He then goes on to cite Stratfor e-mails, published by WikiLeaks in which Fred Burton, the Vice President for Intelligence and a former senior State Department official describes Google: ?Google is getting WH [White House] and State Dept support and air cover. In reality they are doing things the CIA cannot do?[Cohen] is going to get himself kidnapped or killed. Might be the best thing to happen to expose Google?s covert role in foaming up-risings, to be blunt. The US Gov?t can then disavow knowledge and Google is left holding the shit-bag?

Mr. Assange also wrote that: ?WikiLeaks cables also reveal that previously Cohen, when working for the State Department, was in Afghanistan trying to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto US military bases. In Lebanon he covertly worked to establish, on behalf of the State Department, an anti-Hezbollah Shia think tank.? and ?Cohen is effectively Google?s director of regime change. He is the State Department channeling Silicon Valley?.

Assange concludes: ?That Google was taking NSA money in exchange for handing over people?s data comes as no surprise.?

So Google, which is now into everything from satellite navigation systems to instant messaging, is in effect just another tool of the U.S. Government. Which explains its monopolistic rise to global dominance and why it has more lobbyists than most major weapons contractors in Washington.

If all of these companies are taking millions of U.S. taxpayer?s dollars to bring them into compliance with FISA requirements so that they can continue to spy on the world?s populace then all of the aforementioned companies; Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc. can also be assumed to be just such tools.

Which leaves most of the world?s populace with what may no doubt be the uncomfortable realization, and here it is important to recall, the NSA and the U.S. intelligence community can ?legally? target you if you are not a U.S. citizen so even disingenuous claims and the discomfort they may have with admitting they are spying on Americans do not apply to you.

If Google is a U.S. ?tool?, then Microsoft, a company which produces nothing tangible, other than a few peripherals, is as well. One might step back and wonder about all of the secret code in Windows and why the founder of Microsoft is the richest man in the world.

With all of the super advanced technology of the NSA it would not be a stretch to assume that they have access to all of the data on all the computers worldwide which are connected to the internet. Including those being operated by the world?s governments.

In article in the New York Times in 1983 the boundless scope of the NSA?s activities is taken to task. David Burnham wrote regarding the investigation of the Church Committee: ?Senator Frank Church stressed that the equipment used to watch the Russians could just as easily ”monitor the private communications of Americans.” If such forces were ever turned against the country’s communications system, Senator Church said, ”no American would have any privacy left. … There would be no place to hide.”

Remember he wrote this in 1983, before the internet: ?No laws define the limits of the N.S.A.’s power. No Congressional committee subjects the agency’s budget to a systematic, informed and skeptical review. With unknown billions of Federal dollars, the agency purchases the most sophisticated communications and computer equipment in the world. But truly to comprehend the growing reach of this formidable organization, it is necessary to recall once again how the computers that power the N.S.A. are also gradually changing lives of Americans – the way they bank, obtain benefits from the Government and communicate with family and friends. Every day, in almost every area of culture and commerce, systems and procedures are being adopted by private companies and organizations as well as by the nation’s security leaders that make it easier for the N.S.A. to dominate American society should it ever decide such action is necessary.?

With all of the revelations by Snowden it may be time to do what the Russian FSB has done. Go back to typewriters and pens and paper. Can we live without Google and the internet giants when they are tied into everything?

Sure we can, but it might be hard. We will all have to get smart again. As one of my favorite anecdotes go: ?You have to respect your elders, they finished their education before the internet, when you had to actually remember things.?

If we are over dependent on devices and the internet and we cannot extricate them from our lives, the reality appears to be, we are in the hands of the U.S. Government. And that is just the way they want it. Time to get smart.

The views and opinions expressed here are my own. I can be reached at

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It's Snowinginfo says:

I am so grateful at the wealth of info coming out about the spying by our governments in this world and all the players involved having their “terms of service” looked at with a microscope ..and basically being called out for what they are , Google is no longer the little guy fighting the big bad microsoft corp they are microsoft’s twin brother evil no greedy and uncaring of privacy yes ..just like any other corporation where the financial ends justify the means. The Snow.Mann Revelations have brought so much to the table , no amount of thank yous are enough.

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