AT&T Lobby. Photo by eTombotron.
Everybody complaining about this today like Chris Soghoian and company from the ACLU are leaving out the terrorism part.
The information is NOT the content of your phone call -- the companies don't tape your speech from telephone wires or retain the data from your voice over the Internet.
Heres what it's actually about:
The program adds a new dimension to the debate over government spying and the privacy of communications records, which has been focused on National Security Agency programs in recent months. The disclosure sheds further light on the ties between intelligence officials and communications service providers. And it shows how agencies beyond the N.S.A. use metadata — logs of the date, duration and phone numbers involved in a call, but not the content — to analyze links between people through programs regulated by an inconsistent patchwork of legal standards, procedures and oversight.
Every day, I wake up in the morning and look through the news and think to myself, "Today's the day that maybe I'll be finally convinced that something Snowden has divulged is worrisome, and maybe he's right." As I click on a story every day, whether it is "the one" -- Merkel's phone? Undermining encryption? And every day, I come away saying, "No sale."
At this point, I'm pretty sure, after six months or so of the Snowden thing, that nothing will convince me that he is right and I am wrong -- in fact, more and more information is coming forward that shows him in an increasingly unfavourable light -- like that deception of his co-workers.
Some people think that represents a training from a hostile foreign intelligence like Russia or China. I think it's just like 4chan.
How many zillions of customers have I had in Second Life that wept about their account compromised. Why? They gave their password to a trusted friend or lover or business partner "just for a second" and they stole everything or wrecked everything. Why? Because the scammer told them they would "help" with somehing. Perhaps something broken on their simulator, or something they couldn't figure out to build, or something they couldn't access to remove without permissions or whatever -- some annoyance. And that trusted party would say, "Let me help -- give me your PW for a minute and I'll take a look -- you can change right after I'm done." Famous last words.
I think it's more likely Jacob Appelbaum suggested this to him than Ivan Ivanov from the FSB.
But wait, am I actually saying maybe some day Snowden's revelations *might* convince me?
Yes, truly, I do ask this question, even though I'm one of the greatest antagonists to the entire Snowden Snow Job and all its promoters.
And that's because I think you have to always be your own devil's advocate if you can. Why not? After all, I don't have a stake in the government being right on this. I view the NSA's dragnetting as legitimate, but if it turns out to be, it will only be a secondary issue to the initial dragnetting that is Google, Facebook, etc.
That's why I'm not for forming little guerilla clusters on Twitter and constanting badgering and heckling the opposition but trying to use reasonable arguments with them. To be sure, they'll view ANY critical response as "bullying" and "harassment" because they are paranoid loons. So what? Some are reasonable and it's worth comporting oneself so they can't make a case that, for example, you used their private health tragedies as some form of attack against them.
So I've said no one has come up with a case, so come up with one. Let's say Snowden finally came up with a file on, oh, Code Pink's Medea Benjamin. I definitely have very different views than she does, but I share her concerns about drones and the fact that they are not under military control but CIA control. As much as her whole shtick isn't for me, I wouldn't want her to be persecuted by the government, hounded or harassed, unlawfully put under surveillance. She has a right to dissent and we all depend on her ability to maintain it. Even so, she goes beyond mere freedom of association and expression to "direct action" -- which all the kids and even 1960s types like herself have moved a slider on very duplicitously in our day. They use this oxymoron (Jacob Appelbaum is particularly notorious for this) -- "peaceful direct action."
Direct action is not peaceful. It is not non-violent. It is coercive. It often triggers and provokes vilence (think: Gaza Flotilla). It is not going limp and submitting to arrest; it is blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. It's refusing to disperse when the permit for the march expires. Sorry, it's unlawful and there has to be consequences to such behaviour. Nowadays Occupy and WikiLeaks and Anonymous all howl in rage if they engage in unlawful behaviour -- hacking and blocking real-life streets -- and then whine that they are persecuted and they were only doing "non-violent" activity. Baloney. It is violent because it is coercive. It's not shooting a gun or breaking a window, even, but it provokes the use of force, and that leads to things like the infamous pepper spray cop. Few people realize that the demonstrators not only didn't disperse, they whistled to their friends and put another ring around their sit-in that then blocked the police themselves and traffic. So sorry, that's when the pepper spray comes out.
But... let's say Medea discovers she is a target of surveillance and begins to howl. Should I join her? Well, for one, I don't think that direct-action anti-war activists get to demand absolute privacy and absolute encryption for their anti-state anarchist and radical activity. So I think it's more than fine for the FBI to watch her using open sources, just as I think it's fine for the FBI to watch anti-war.com -- I'm not sharing the pearl-clutching that Spencer Ackerman is showing over some of this. If there was clandestine surveillance of their private life, say, following them at their homes, following them as they associated with friends or family or even had private work meetings, I would say that looks unlawful. But sending a field agent to a public lecture? Of course not. Reading their blogs and reporting on their doings regularly? Of course not. The Southern Poverty Law Center loves to follow extremist movements of the right; it won't do it for the left. So the FBI has to.
As for the CIA, I think following someone who hooks up with Imre Khan in Pakistan and then takes part in an anti-American march that is absolutely uncritical of the Taliban also deserves a look-see. It's a public event, after all. Is there grounds for a wire-tap? No, not that we can see. This is radical activity, but not illegal activity. The "direct action" consists of bursting into hearings and other public meetings and running around with protest signs or big "watching us" glasses. This deserves a disorderly conduct charge or simply an eviction, but doesn't warrant a wire-tap -- and no judge has issued one.
So let's say we found that the NSA hoovered up Medea's metadata -- everyone she called while in Europe or Pakistan. Why? Because she contacted Pakistani Taliban apologists who were being watched by the CIA because they were part of the Taliban milieu. I can't see that I'd object to this legitimate and lawful activity on their part.
But what if the NSA or CIA intercepted the content of all her phone calls and her friends' phone calls without a warrant? That would be unlawful most likelyl. Worse, what if they used that content to stage various annoyances for her -- spread rumours, leaked personal information that might be detrimental to the conservative press, that sort of thing. That's COINTELPRO, that's unlawful.
The people supporting Snowden and absolute encryption don't recognize the right of society and law-enforcement to surveil radicals like Justin Raimondo or Medea Benjamin at all, in any form. But I do. Because they are a threat to all of our freedoms and human rights if they come to power, which they are bent on doing. These are not mere commentators or reformers; they are people who want to bring down the government. They have radical, authoritarian ideologies in the end -- Benjamin doesn't blink about the Taliban and myopically focuses on America; Raimondo is a conspiracy loon. They are entitled to untrammeled freedom of expression and -- by the way -- get it. But they aren't entitled to undemocratically take over by force. People who run through a hearing on drones or surveillance to "make a point" today maybe just "make a point". But tomorrow, they may get their friends and run through a hearing to shut down the functioning of Congress. I'm not for letting them do that.
Meawhile, everything I see in the CIA and AT&T story sounds fine to me:
o the government request is lawful as it is related to terrorism cases, not "everything"
o when it has overreached, it has been slapped down by the DOJ, and that shows the system works
o there are real cases in which real terrorists are stopped, or the claim is made that they are stopped (Muhtorov). No need to allow another Tsarnaev Brothers story to reoccur.
o selling the data doesn't bother me -- it's work, it's effort, let them pay
o AT&T is often the telecom the geeks love to hate because it's a telecom, antithetical to Google and the Internet companies they prefer. Too bad. It's a good thing there is a separate bastion of telecoms in our society that can stand up to Google.
Call me when you have a case.