Is There Any Evidence In The World That Would Convince Intelligence Community That More Surveillance Isn't The Answer?

from the just-wondering dept

We’ve already discussed how the usual surveillance state defenders quickly rushed into action following the Paris attacks to demand more surveillance — and also noted that the two attacks in Paris in the past year happened despite that country expanding its own surveillance laws twice in the past year (once right before the Charlie Hebdo attack and once soon after). And all of that raises a simple question in my mind:

If the intelligence community and its supporters will call for greater surveillance and less encryption even after the surveillance capabilities have been shown not to work at all — is there any evidence at all that will convince them that maybe this is not the right idea? It’s a strange kind of argument that repeatedly points to its own failures… and follows it up with “well, that proves we need more of that!”

Such an argument, by itself, seems self-refuting, because there is no other side. If things are working okay, call for more surveillance. If the surveillance doesn’t work, just call for more surveillance. It’s the default answer to anything, and thus these calls should be ignored. The fact that the surveillance community wants more power is not news and it’s not surprising. It’s not because of the Paris attacks — they’re always asking for this and they’ve mostly gotten it. And it didn’t work.

A sober analysis would suggest that perhaps it’s time to try something different. But that’s not how these things tend to go apparently.

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Comments on “Is There Any Evidence In The World That Would Convince Intelligence Community That More Surveillance Isn't The Answer?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Masnick’s article is moronic. “Electronic surveillance didn’t stop 11/13 so ditch it because it’s not working.”
yea, that’s some brilliant analysis there. Does Masnick have evidence that electronic surveillance has not resulted in beneficial intel for French law enforcement? Of course not.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hey, Moron!

Mass surveillance either isn’t working or is actively being ignored. Given that GCHQ are claiming that they had the identities of the suspected attackers before the attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, I’m suspecting that their surveillance wasn’t passed on.

Which means that blood is on GCHQ’s hands.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

-Because they could not
You provided me with inspiration, well and Dr. Seuss

Hi my name is Sam
Sam I am.
Do you like my data program?

I do not like the data program, sam I am.

Would you like it here or there?

I would not like it here to there
I would not like it anywhere
I do not like your data program
I do not like it sam I am.

Would you like them in your house?
Perhaps disguised as a mouse?

I do not like them in my house
Certianly not disguised as a mouse
I would not like it here or there
I would not like it anywhere
I do not like your data program
I do not like it sam I am.


Sam, if you let me be
I will try it you will see.

(Tries the data program)

Say! My neighbors gay!
Did not know that till today!
My fiance is cheating with some guy named bob
Time for me to contact the mob!
Thank you sam you changed my life
Now I won’t be married to a cheating wife!

The data program is really great
I can even use it to find a date!
I like it I like it this data program
Thank you thank you sam I am

Anonymous Coward says:

The question in the headline brings to mind the hammer and nail expression. OF COURSE the NSA/CIA would see MORE intelligence as the solution to all of the world’s problems, whether it’s terrorism, cybersecurity, or solving world hunger. Their jobs – and budgets – depend on it. Just see the UK: thanks to the fearmongering the GCHQ just doubled its budget overnight.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know about anybody else, but I REALLY wish I had bosses like these communities do.

*boss* Employee #426! Your performance is down, you haven’t met a single company goal, and your last progress report was full of rumors about Jen from accounting!

*me* Well, clearly its because I’m not being paid enough. I’m sure if you just pay me more money… maybe a company car… time share at the executive condo… then my job performance will suddenly skyrocket to where you already expected it to be a before you gave me my last raise.

*Boss* The raise we gave you for lackluster performance a week ago?

*me, feet up on desk and picking nose* Yeah, yeah.

*Boss* I see. Good to see we have a pro-active thinker in the company. Here’s another few million.

Seriously… the world would be a better place if EVERY job had these kinds of standards!

Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

No argument whatsoever

Imagine “Abu” has raised the suspicions of an intelligence service (IS). Paranoia flares, there is no innocence: once suspicious, always.

Finding no confirmation for its suspicions, the IS can, of course, hold closer surveillance on Abu in the future.

But one cannot go back and add surveillance in the past. Since the IS cannot, by its own lights, be wrong in its suspicions of Abu, paranoia concludes that past intelligence opportunities must have been missed. If only there had been total surveillance on Abu in the past.

But they didn’t know Abu needed to be watched until suspicion flared: they never know anyone needs watched until suspicion flares. This in turn leads to the reasoning that everyone must be under total surveillance, for it is only by this means that the IS can ensure they will have all necessary surveillance on all future suspects.

Perhaps this sounds paranoid or stupid. But an IS is paranoid by definition, made stupid by its paranoia…and this is your answer: No argument whatsoever, will satisfy an IS of a need for less than total surveillance.

Anonymous Coward says:

No, see the NRA for another example of this

The answer, nope. Look at the NRA and their stance on the need for more guns and more easy availability of guns.

It never fails that after yet another tragic mass shooting by some nut with a gun that the NRA or other gun rights supporters will always say “this would have never happened if a good guy had a gun, that’s why we need open-carry laws/easier access to guns”.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

Yes, there is a side calling for more whenever there’s a shooting, and it’s not the NRA [admittedly there are always a few unaffiliated from both sides, but I’m talking about organizations here].

Look back over the last few publicized incidents, college shootings, Sandy Hook, etc. The call was for stricter gun control laws. After Sandy Hook, NY and CT even passed them.

When the elementary school and then the was church was shot up gun control advocates cried out for universal background checks conveniently forgetting that the shooters who purchased their guns did so even after passing a background check.

So, just like the intelligence community, when surveillance didn’t stop the last attack, that just means we need MORE surveillance.

Gun control advocates think that since background checks didn’t stop the last criminal from getting his guns, even though he passed those background checks the answer is to have more people [mostly not criminals] undergo background checks that have already been proven not to work.

I think when you are standing in a glass house, the stones you throw only end up breaking your own windows.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

I don’t think the same logic applies. Also there have been cases that a citizen with a gun stopped a shooting but those are boring to report. Either way, stricter gun laws or more surveillance is only attempting to treat the symptoms, not actually solving the problem. But society won’t solve the problem the same way most people won’t change bad habits. They just want that miracle pill (Law) that makes it all go away.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Re: Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

For the intelligence community, gun control advocates, the military industrial complex, there is a different sort of logic at work.

Event and especially tragic events, are nothing more than an opportunity, a means, to advance their chosen cause or agenda.

They all try to scare us. When we are scared, we don’t think straight. We think with our guts. We want to be protected. All they have to do is claim that their solution will protect us. Make the bad go away. Ca-ching instant sale.

If there isn’t a tragedy, no problem, simply make one up.

The US has been in the longest continuous state of war in its history. It’s a war against an idea not an enemy, and so it can go on for as long as those in power find it useful…. or until we wake up, shake off the shackles of fear and declare it over.

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

–James Madison, Political Observations, Apr. 20, 1795 in: Letters and Other Writings of James Madison, vol. 4, p. 491 (1865)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

The solution is either everyone has guns or no one has guns. Straddling the middle will never work because murderers with guns obviously won’t care if they’re breaking the law.

Since guns are a technology that will never go away, you’re stuck with them. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

It never fails that after yet another tragic mass shooting by some nut with a gun that the NRA or other gun rights supporters will always say “this would have never happened if a good guy had a gun, that’s why we need open-carry laws/easier access to guns”.

Thank goodness they weren’t able to defend themselves, eh?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

France has stricter gun laws than the USA, those laws did not stop the terrorists from possessing AK-47s. I doubt the authorities granted these terrorists the permits needed to legally possess them.

Restricting gun ownership only reduces ownership by law abiding citizens. The criminals don’t give a crap about laws, that’s what makes them criminals.

Besides if guns are hard to get I hear Walmart sells pressure cookers and marbles. Let’s ban those too. Better ban household chemicals too, and gasoline, kerosene and fertilizer. Don’t forget pipes, those make good bomb casings. Terrorists hide bombs in vehicles, so lets ban those too. Beer kegs would make nice bombs too, better ban those. Someone might distill beeer from bottles to get concentrated alcohol, put it in bottles and make Molotov cocktails, better ban all alcoholic beverages. I hear flint can make sparks and start fires and that wood burns, better ban flint and wood before some terrorist goes on an arson spree.

I’m sure you will be OK without transportation other then your feet, nothing to disinfect the surgery room, no running water and all the other items that are dangerous.

Padpaw (profile) says:

Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

how would allowing more law abiding citizens to have guns be a bad thing in this scenario? They could have fought back against their attackers instead of waiting to be shot.

Criminals never obey gun laws, yet law abiding citizens do. I would think you would want the people following the laws to outnumber the criminals when it comes to owning a gun

Morgan Wick (profile) says:

Re: No, see the NRA for another example of this

Really, this applies to pretty much anything the right wants. Corporations bring down the economy? Clearly it was because of too much regulation keeping them from creating jobs! Huge gaps between rich and poor? Clearly the poor are relying too much on government handouts, cut their benefits and they’ll lift themselves up by their bootstraps in no time! Government on the verge of shutdown, or actually being shut down repeatedly? More tax cuts for the wealthy! Making abortion harder only increases the risks to women’s health? Clearly they’re still having too many abortions, make it even harder!

DannyB (profile) says:

Evidence That Will Convince

The evidence that would convince an intelligence community is the same evidence that would convince the congress which is controlled by that intelligence community.

Let me get my checkbook out . . . . now how much evidence would you be needing today?

If it works for the Congress, why wouldn’t it work for the bosses of congress: the intelligence community?

This kind of evidence always convinces. For example.
Smoking does not cause cancer.
Global warming is a myth.

Frankz (profile) says:

The question is not “is there any evidence that will convince them”, but “is there any evidence they would accept”. The answer, of course, is no, because their goal isn’t to be convinced or accept any kind of evidence at all. Their goal is more surveillance, terrorism or no terrorism, at any cost. Terrorism is just the simplest excuse for them to try to get more and more surveillance, no matter what.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Emporer's new clothes...

If the FBI, DHS, et al want back doors, have them place back doors for foreign governments in their own encryption. I’d imagine that would go over really well. Considering if Apple, Google, Microsoft and other US firms have to do it for the US government, I’m sure everyone else will want their own back door as well to do business in their country. The only good thing I could see come from it, is that most people will move to FOSS that is vetted by the community so that such things would be out in the open and closed quickly.

Anonymous Coward says:

no difference betweem this and the way the entertainment industries react. they keep expanding so-called protection and prevention measures which not only dont work, they know will never work but because it’s athe only way they will consider and the only thing they can get by buying politicians and security forces to do their bidding, every other suggestion doesn’t even get to be discussed!!

jilocasin (profile) says:

The only way to get a dead horse to win....

The only way to get a dead horse to win…
is to beat him harder.

The beatings will continue…
until moral improves.

The only way to prevent terrorists from turning our society into a rigid, ideologically pure, police state….
is to do it ourselves.

“So this is how liberty dies…with thunderous applause.”
[Padmé Amidala, Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith]

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: I say they should put it to the test

Not going far enough, make it personal for them. If someone wants to claim that broken encryption is safe enough, force them to lead by example.

Every politician, every government agency, every individual who pushes for the idea of ‘backdoored encryption’ has their pay/budget/personal account pooled together in one account, protected by the very same ‘golden key’ that they insist would work. The account is publicly known, they can defend it however they want within reason, but the encryption hole/’golden key’ system must remain, and it has to be accessible in the same manner that other major systems are.

I’d give it a week, at most, before every last one of them was completely broke, with the account drained dry.

Padpaw (profile) says:

more surveillance allows them to let more threats through. Which in turn paves the way for more dictatorial laws. The end goal is not safety but a dictatorship where the few reap the benefits and wealth of the many.

There is much precedence in what is currently happening in the world if one only knows the history behind how most dictators rose to power.

step 1: create a threat

Step 2: use said threat to convince your citizens they need to transfer their rights and power to said individual to combat the threat.

Repeat step two until those that dissent are vastly outnumbered by those that will become slaves for the promise of safety and security.

Step 3: outlaw any groups that you deem undesirable, make sure to couch it in terms that it’s for the betterment of society if these groups are no longer allowed.

Step 4: imprison and arrest anyone that still speaks against you.

Step 5: congratulations you turned another wealthy former democratic country into a 3rd world nation with a petty dictator at it’s head that holds 99% of the nation’s wealth and resources to play King with.

TRX (profile) says:

short answer: no

Surveillance is what they do. That’s their performance metric. That’s how they get appropriations.

As they see it, they’re doing the job they were created, authorized, and funded to do. And even in the government, there are people who still try to do the best job they can.

To limit what they do, you first have to unequivocably define the limits of what they’re allowed to do. In the US, anyway, the Fed and Supremes that haven’t done that for some things, or have conspicuously ignored violations of others.

jlaprise (profile) says:

Misunderstanding Mass Surveillance.

Mass surveillance is not about stopping terrorist activities; it’s about terrorist resource depletion. It does this in two ways:

1) Terrorist organizations must devote resources to implementing organizational communication security.

2) Mass surveillance makes it more difficult and risky to coordinate large scale, complex attacks. For all its bloodiness, the Paris attacks were far simpler than 9/11.

Net-centric warfare has been a staple strategy for decades and this is one implementation.

Mass surveillance should be understood as a risk reduction strategy to avoid 9/11 scale attacks by making it harder and more expensive for terrorist organizations to organize rather than a panacea to every threat.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Misunderstanding Mass Surveillance.

For all its bloodiness, the Paris attacks were far simpler than 9/11.

Then why are the surveillance supporters pointing to it as an intelligence failure and asking for more powers? Although maybe that has died down now that we know they weren’t using encryption. If what you say is true, they should be talking about what a great success the Paris attacks were because they were on a much smaller scale than 9/11. Of course, even then they would go on to say “so we need even more money and power so the next attacks will be even smaller”. There is no path that doesn’t end with them asking for more.

jsf (profile) says:

Different Question

The thing is that more surveillance is the answer for the leaders of the intelligence community. It is just that the question they are trying to answer is different than the one you are asking.

For them the question is not how can we make things safer? The question they are trying to answer is how can I/we get more power and a bigger budget?

More surveillance most definitely answers the second question.

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