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The NSA’s Porn Fix

Today we got a little Thanksgiving gift from Edward Snowden:

The National Security Agency has been gathering records of online sexual activity and evidence of visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a top-secret NSA document. The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, identifies six targets, all Muslims, as “exemplars” of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority.

In short, the NSA is using their massive surveillance capabilities to find out if our enemies (who are not actually terrorists, but are trying to radicalize others) are looking at porn. They want to use this information to discredit them. The most common defense I’m hearing is the one articulated by NSA apologist Stewart Baker: that discrediting these guys is more humane than droning them.

A few thoughts to unpack here:

First … the fuck you say? Discrediting them is more humane than droning them? Like those are our only options? Like droning someone who is not a terrorist but giving radical speeches is justified? I see how you tried to slip that one past; to act as though droning a radical speaker is somehow acceptable.

Second, revealing the porn-consumption habits of foreign enemies doesn’t sound too unreasonable (keeping in mind that the NSA gets to decide who our enemies are). We’ve used similar methods in the past to wage political wars against our enemies. However, I am dubious that this would have any effect.

Let’s back off from Islamism for a moment and look at the hypocrisy in our own country (a subject Glenn Greenwald should know a lot about, having written a book on the peccadilloes of his domestic political opponents). Newt Gingrich divorced two wives while they were ill and carried out a long affair while married to the second. Rush Limbaugh has been divorced four times. David Vitter hired a hooker and dozens or hundreds more might have had their names revealed in the DC Madam scandal has she had not died under suspicious circumstances. Elliot Spitzer saw a high-end call girl. Anthony Weiner texted dick pics to random women. Bill Clinton got blown by an intern while his wife and child were getting ready for church. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a love child. We have a lot of experience in political figures being exposed as hypocrites and perverts.

But these scandals rarely had a long-term impact the political prospects of politicians — even among the religious right. And these were just run-of-the-mill dipwad fairly mainstream politicians. Do you really imagine that the fanatical followers of some Imam will believe or care about a story from the United State Government claiming their leader likes goat porn?

We already know that many of the Wahhabists are flaming hypocrites. bin Laden, for example, had educated wives and spent his down time educating his daughters and playing video games with his sons. These assholes can’t live up to the Wahhabist lifestyle and everyone knows it. So embarrassing these guys is fine but it’s unlikely to accomplish anything substantive.

But what’s the risk? Well, the risk is that we have a government which has the ability and the willingness to use their enemies’ online sex habits to embarrass them. And there’s every reason to believe these methods could easily be turned against their domestic opponents.

Despite the fact that approximately 100% of men with internet access look at porn (and the percentage of women is probably closer to 100 than it is to 0), internet porn use still carries a mark of shame. Over at Popehat, Ken White has blogging the Saga of Prenda Law. What did Prenda Law do?

Prenda first came to prominence through the practice of identifying the IP addresses of Internet subscribers who, it claims, downloaded copyrighted X-rated videos. Prenda’s practice is to first file federal copyright infringement lawsuits against fictitiously-named “John Doe” defendants, and to then issue subpoenas to the Internet service providers (ISPs) associated with those IP addresses. Once the ISP subscribers are identified, Prenda sends letters to the subscribers accusing them of piracy and threatening a $150,000 statutory penalty. The letters offered to make the case go away for a fee—$4,000 was the price of silence offered to some.

The letters said that if the recipient refused to pay, the recipient’s name would be entered on a public legal document along with the names of the videos. That is, the recipient would be identified (e.g., to friends, employers, spouse, children, coworkers, etc.) as someone who illegally downloaded specific pornography titles on the internet. The amount demanded is usually less than a typical attorney would charge to defend the case on its merits, so even the completely innocent have a strong incentive to pay what Los Angeles-based U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II called an “extortion payment”.

Thousands of people paid up because they were embarrassed to go to court to fight an allegation that they’d illegally downloaded Sorority Sluts 5. Even in our permissive society, no one wants their neighbors to know what they’re doing online.

The NSA has shown that they have the ability and the willingness to do exactly what Prenda Law did, only without that whole federal lawsuit thing. Is it really tough to imagine them using this against domestic political foes? Is it really tough to imagine someone getting an anonymous letter like this?

… there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do it (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significance). You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

That letter was from FBI. It was sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. The FBI had information that MLK was cheating on his wife. And they threatened to reveal this information unless he killed himself. And the reason they had targeted MLK is because they thought — not without some justification — that King was working with Communists (who posed a far greater existential threat to our nation than Islamists have or will). So, no. It’s not hard at all to imagine this power being abused.

Our government has earned distrust. It has earned suspicion. There is only ones sensible reaction to the revelation that a barely accountable agency which has been chastised by the courts for exceeding their authority is trying to use a treasure trove of internet information to embarrass its enemies. Suspicion and a demand for accountability. We don’t need to all tinfoil hat black helicopter crazy. But we do need to be suspicious of a few thousand pervert smeller pursuivants when they say, “Trust us! We won’t try to embarrass you.”

2 comments

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  1. Seattle Outcast says:

    Sorority Sluts 5 wasn’t that good. You should watch Busty MILFS Go Anal 3 instead.

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  2. Poosh says:

    Does this even work ?

    So long as they’re not flapping to Muslim women I suspect this is actually ok. I mean, they can rape non-Muslims and that’s pretty moral and correct.

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