Monday, April 02, 2012

All together now: If You Haven't Done Anything Wrong, You Have Nothing To Fea®

In case you haven't heard about the goings-on in Utah, "The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say):"

In the process—and for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration—the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.

One such insider was willing to go on the record for the article, William Binney. He is "a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network," who "left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program."

“They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.

Near as I can tell, Stellar Wind is just Total Information Awareness with a new brand name.

It's a long article. Obviously, I think it's worth reading in full. But you may want to start with a short editorial on the topic, from Dominic Basulto at Big Think, "We Just Built Skynet in the Desert, Now What?"

And it doesn't end there. For example, right after reading the above, I happened across an article in the NYT headlined "Police Are Using Phone Tracking as a Routine Tool." Here are some tidbits, if that's the right word.

Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services.


In cities in Nevada, North Carolina and other states, police departments have gotten wireless carriers to track cellphone signals back to cell towers as part of nonemergency investigations to identify all the callers using a particular tower, records show.

In California, state prosecutors advised local police departments on ways to get carriers to “clone” a phone and download text messages while it is turned off.

Emph. added.


Many departments try to keep cell tracking secret, the documents show, because of possible backlash from the public and legal problems. Although there is no evidence that the police have listened to phone calls without warrants, some defense lawyers have challenged other kinds of evidence gained through warrantless cell tracking.

“Do not mention to the public or the media the use of cellphone technology or equipment used to locate the targeted subject,” the Iowa City Police Department warned officers in one training manual. It should also be kept out of police reports, it advised.

On the upside, I am less worried about Gmail knowing which YouTubes I watched.


[Added] Similar woes across the pond.

[Added2] The news just keeps getting better, doesn't it?


Ocean said...

I'm very concerned. Soon being paranoid will be meaningless.

Brendan Keefe said...

Agreed. Paranoid cannot be seen as anything but normal at this point. We'll need a new term for those who aren't worried that the government is out to get them.