Tag: National security

Covering Up Incompetence

A while back, I blogged about the Rahinah Ibrahim case. In short, a Stanford University Ph.D. student found herself barred from flying into the United States because she was on a no-fly list. She challenged this and tried to find out why she was on the list. The Feds refused to divulge this information and even added her daughter to the no-fly list to prevent her from testifying in the federal case. They said revealing why she was on the list would compromise national security.

Well, we found out why Dr. Ibrahim was detained: the Feds fucked up:

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

This cover-up has been going on for seven years through two Administrations. And what, precisely were they covering up? A paperwork error. There was absolutely zero danger to national security in just admitting that they messed up, that they placed a scholar on the no-fly list by accident. But the reflex to lie, to cover-up, to deceive is so strong in our government that they engaged in a a ridiculous expensive seven year legal struggle to prevent this information from coming out.

This is the danger of creating things like the “states secrets privilege”. If you give any human beings that kind of an umbrella, they will put anything they want under it, including pointlessly detaining a PhD student because they checked the wrong box on a damned form.

But … you know … maybe they have a point. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for us to find out how arbitrary, stupid and error-filled this no-fly list is. Because if we find that out, we might question the entire massively expense security theater our government has built. And we can’t have that, can we?

Trust Us Now?

Holy crap:

As Edward Snowden prepares to defend himself in a worldwide webinar Thursday, the Justice Department is accusing the private contractor that vetted him and thousands of other intelligence workers of bilking U.S. taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars by conducting phony background checks.

USIS, the giant private contractor that conducted the background checks of both Snowden and Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, is accused in a Justice Department lawsuit filed Wednesday night of conducting 665,000 fake background checks between 2008 and 2012.

“USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits,” said the Justice Department in its complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama.

This is not the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing — remember the Obamcare navigators? But the epic scale of this deception is amazing. Not just because of the crime that was committed — but because our government needed 1.6 million background checks in just four years. That should give you an idea of just how massive our federal civilian work force is.

But this again illustrates why “just trust us” is not good enough for government surveillance powers. How many of these 665,000 had access to sensitive, classified or personal information? How many have security clearances? How many had access to the NSA’s databases? We are constantly reassured that our government’s power is double-checked and that there is a careful system of checks to make sure it isn’t abused. Then we find out they keep information away from federal judges, cover up sharing of information with the FBI and DEA and faked 40% of their background checks.

Feeling safe now?

Another Punch to the NSA

A few months ago, in response to Edward Snowden’s leaks, Obama put together a commission to whitewash his surveillance misdeeds make recommendations for how to improve privacy protections in the Surveillance Age. Yesterday, they came out with a slew of recommendations. Conor has a good roundup:

The panel’s 46 recommendations, all implicit critiques of the way the NSA operates now, would rein in the agency in many of the ways civil libertarians have urged. The timing of the report is significant, since it comes just after a federal judge issued a ruling calling the NSA’s phone dragnet “almost Orwellian” and likely unconstitutional. In other words, despite surveillance state protestations that its programs are legal, unobjectionable, and subject to oversight by all three branches of government, assessments of the program after the Snowden leaks have now resulted in strong rebukes from a federal judge, numerous legislators, and now a committee formed by the president himself.

Some of the most significant reforms suggested:

The government’s storage of bulk metadata is a risk to personal privacy and civil liberty, and as a general rule, “the government should
not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons.” Following this recommendation would end the Section 215 collection of telephone-call records as now practiced.

The conversations Americans have with people overseas should have more protection.

There should be new limits on the ability of FISA courts or National Security Letters to compel third parties to turn over private business records.

Telephone companies and Internet providers should be able to reveal general information about the amount of data that the government is requesting.

Regular people in foreign countries should enjoy at least some protections against unconstrained NSA surveillance.

The NSA should not intentionally weaken encryption or exploit security flaws in commercial software that have not yet been made public.

The director of the NSA and the head of the U.S. military’s cyber command should not be the same person.

The secret court that grants FISA requests should be an adversarial proceeding, not one in which the government gets to make its arguments unopposed.

The big question going forward is this: will Obama do any of this? These recommendations were a pleasant surprise and the ACLU has endorsed them (although the EFF thinks they don’t go far enough and I’m inclined to trust their judgement). But I think they were an unpleasant surprise to Obama, who expected the report to say he was respecting our liberty just fine.

I’m sure Obama’s supporters — his few remaining supporters — will praise him for putting the commission together and acting on even a tiny fraction of the recommendations. But remember: none of this would be happening without Edward Snowden. Obama was perfectly happy to have things go on as they are. Or get worse.

Judge Slams NSA

Poor poor NSA. Just last night, 60 minutes gave them a 20-minute infomercial about how wonderful they are. And all the Obama supporters, who blasted CBS for their Benghazi story, fell in line and said it reassured them.

And then, today, this:

A federal judge said Monday that he believes the government’s once-secret collection of domestic phone records is unconstitutional, setting up likely appeals and further challenges to the data mining revealed by classified leaker Edward Snowden.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata — phone records of the time and numbers called without any disclosure of content — apparently violates privacy rights.
His preliminary ruling favored five plaintiffs challenging the practice, but Leon limited the decision only to their cases.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” said Leon, an appointee of President George W. Bush. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Leon’s ruling said the “plaintiffs in this case have also shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits of a Fourth Amendment claim,” adding “as such, they too have adequately demonstrated irreparable injury.”
He rejected the government’s argument that a 1979 Maryland case provided precedent for the constitutionality of collecting phone metadata, noting that public use of telephones had increased dramatically in the past three decades.

This will certainly be appealed. Judge Leon didn’t overturn Smith vs. Maryland. What he did was make the pretty straight-forward argument that the information the government was collecting in 1979 by bugging an exchange for a few days to see who someone was calling is different from automatically slurping up comprehensive meta-data about millions of Americans every day. Check here for the ACLU’s demonstration of what can be done with “just” meta-data.

The usual suspects are decrying Judge Leon’s decision, although that seems entirely motivated by the lawsuit having been brought by, among others, Larry Klayman. Personally, I don’t care if the lawsuit was brought by Tarzan of the Apes. The fact is that the NSA’s meta-data collection program, which was kept secret until Snowden’s leaks, has to be addressed by the Supreme Court, not by some secret FISA Court.

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.”

All Your Infos

Well call me Nancy and color me surprised:

Maryland’s Health Connection, the state’s Obamacare marketplace, has been plagued by delays in the first days of open enrollment. If users are able to endure long page-loading delays, they are presented with the website’s privacy policy, a ubiquitous fine-print feature on websites that often go unread. Nevertheless, users are asked to check off a box that they agree to the terms.

The policy contains many standard statements about information automatically collected regarding Internet browsers and IP addresses, temporary “cookies” used by the site, and website accessibility. However, at least two conditions may give some users pause before proceeding.

The first is regarding personal information submitted with an application for those users who follow through on the sign up process all the way to the end. The policy states that all information to help in applying for coverage and even for making a payment will be kept strictly confidential and only be used to carry out the function of the marketplace. There is, however, an exception: “[W]e may share information provided in your application with the appropriate authorities for law enforcement and audit activities.”

Remember, this is Maryland, the state that won the right from SCOTUS to take your DNA on arrested and try to cross-match it any crime in their database. Do you think this state will hesitate to share any insurance information with law enforcement authorities? How long will it take for them to carve out exemptions to HIPAA to force doctors and insurance companies to share information about drug use, spousal abuse or gun ownership?

Oh, I’m being paranoid am I? Well, check out this story. The Border Patrol is using drones to look for illegal immigrants. But they now admit they have shared information from these drone flights with other agencies 500 times. What agencies? They won’t tell us. I’m going to guess we’re talking about ATF and DEA, looking for gun and drug runners, respectively. Also check out this graph showing what the NSA does with information they collect. Notice the inclusion of the FBI, the CIA and foreign governments.

This is what I keep yammering on about with the surveillance state. Once your information is out there, it’s out there. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Information is so fluid, it can flow easily from agency to agency with minimal supervision. All it takes is a few clicks of the keyboard. The constant response of the surveillance defenders — just trust us — was inadequate when government agencies didn’t have our personal healthcare information. It’s doubly inadequate now.

September NSA Update

Even as the boot-lickers continue to assure us that there is nothing to fear from NSA, that they are our friends, that there’s no indication of systematic abuse, we keep finding out more and more. To summarize events from the last few weeks.

Information has emerged about NSA employees using their access to stalk girlfriends, boyfriends and random people. That’s just a dozen that we know about; there is obviously no read on how often this happened when people were better at covering their tracks.

In addition, the sheer scale of NSA’s abilities is becoming clearer. Diane Feinstein inadvertently admitted that the NSA is tapping the internet backbone. This sounds trivial, but it is really important. You remember PRISM, the program where the NSA were working with tech companies to get data? This tap allows them to bypass even PRISM and collect data directly from the internet. They have also created programs that analyze social network data to get more information about the targets of their surveillance. Better hope your social circle doesn’t include too many “anti-Obama” radicals or maybe the IRS will pay you a visit.

Finally, information about the NSA’s past surveillance has emerged:

The National Security Agency eavesdropped on civil rights icon Martin Luther King and heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali as well as other leading critics of the Vietnam War in a secret program later deemed “disreputable,” declassified documents revealed.

The six-year spying program, dubbed “Minaret,” had been exposed in the 1970s but the targets of the surveillance had been kept secret until now.

The documents released Wednesday showed the NSA tracked King and his colleague Whitney Young, boxing star Ali, journalists from the New York Times and the Washington Post, and two members of Congress, Senator Frank Church of Idaho and Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee.

The declassified NSA historical account of the episode called the spying “disreputable if not outright illegal.”

The justification for this was that these people opposed Vietnam and therefore might be communist agents. Considering that our leaders have an attitude that any opposition to their policies is de facto siding with the terrorists, how long will it take them to use the same logic to spy on their political opponents? Ten seconds? What will we find out forty years from now, when the NSA has to reveal their secrets?

So … to round up. We’ve found out more about bona fide NSA abuses, we’ve found out more about just how extensive their programs are and we’ve found out that they’ve abused their authority in the past.

Reassured yet? Don’t worry. If you’re nervous, it’s just because of the evil influence of someone like Rand Paul. Ignore them. Trust government.

NSA and The Florida Department of Departments

I’m on vacation this week in Disneyworld with the wife and Sal 11000 Beta. It’s a quiet week in politics anyway, with the most interesting commentary revolving around the NSA’s pathetic lies and the pathetic pundits who believe those lies. Check out this evisceration of Jeffrey’s Toobin hacktastic work in which compares Snowden’s leaks to the MLK assassination (seriously).

You can also check out ZDnet’s hilarious “data driven analysis” which tries to convince us that NSA is no big deal. Taking it apart is pretty trivial:

  • The 2776 leaks documented by Snowden are from one year and one collection center and represent reported leaks. It does not include illegal abuses that have no been reported (duh). The NSA is increasingly reminding me of a bad liar. “We don’t routinely collect data”. “Well we do, but we don’t collect data we shouldn’t.” “Well, we don’t do so abusively. It’s all an accident.” We know what the next lie is: “We do abuse it but only on bad people like Tea Partiers”.
  • The claim that Facebook collects 20 times more data per day is irrelevant and misleading. FB collects a ton of information, so if NSA is collecting 1/20th of that, that’s way too much. And remember the euphemisms NSA uses for “collecting” data. Also, FB can’t put us in prison.
  • That the percentage of reported errors is tiny is not very relevant, since the system is still leaky. It also contradicts point one. You can’t simultaneously claim that the errors are tiny compared to the vast amount of information NSA collects and then claim that the NSA doesn’t collect a lot of data.
  • He claims the NSA collects an amount of data less than one MP3 file. This is bullshit. He deliberately confounds metadata — of which the NSA collects trillions of pieces without a warrant — with records, of which it collects a lesser number. He also claims that NSA only makes 2776 mistakes a year. That is flat wrong. That 2776 errors, some of which means thousands of pieces of illegally collected data, not metadata. So this complete horseshit.
  • He then says that these numbers would be regarded as a triumph for a corporation. Well, first of all, if ATT erroneously charged people for phone service, they’d get sued. And second … do I need to say this again? … apparently I do … corporations do not have police power over us.
  • Anyway, that’s the NSA rant that has been building in my mind whilst taking advantage of the free wireless Disney provides in long lines to get princess signatures.

    I did think you’d get a kick of this, however, which I photographed on a vending machine today:


    As far as I could tell, the point of that notice is to be a notice. But Ken at Popehat tweeted me that he blogged about this over a year ago. The best explanation in the comments, which sounds right to me, was this:

    My brother and his wife own a large vending machine company. The stickers are not proof of taxes paid, or anything like that. You can buy them from private vendors. The reason for the stickers was that they used to have information on them as to who owned or operated the machine. The problem is that they had the FEIN of the business on it, and this was frequently used to fraudulently steal the identity of the operator.

    To fix this, the vending companies were lobbying to have the law changed so that the decals were no longer required. This effort was unsuccessful, but in 2010 the vending lobbyist was able to accomplish the next best thing: They had the requirements of the sticker changed so that it no longer has to contain information that can be used by identity thieves. That is how it happened.

    Even if that’s right, it’s still pretty stupid.

    Have a fun week, guys.

    Another NSA Bombshell

    All of you people who said there was zero evidence that the NSA had ever abused their authority? Feeling stupid yet?

    The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.

    Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

    The documents, provided earlier this summer to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, include a level of detail and analysis that is not routinely shared with Congress or the special court that oversees surveillance. In one of the documents, agency personnel are instructed to remove details and substitute more generic language in reports to the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

    Just one of these incidents involved unauthorized information on 3000 individuals. In another, the FISA court was not notified for months about a program.

    Astoundingly, the NSA/Obama defenders are not moved. The NSA claims that this is OK because it’s a small percentage of what they do. Let me restate that. The NSA is saying that thousands of illegal and unauthorized surveillance incidents every year are tiny compared to the authorized surveillance. LGF*, by far the biggest NSA apologist going, somehow claims this report vindicates the NSA because it shows oversight. Glenn Greenwald has responded with the obvious question: if NSA will admit to breaking the rules thousands of times a year, how many times a year do they not admit to it?

    (*Johnson demonstrates his inability to understand declarative English sentences by confusing the statement that one incident involved 3000 people with a belief that only 3000 total people had their rights violated. In fact, the article states the NSA has no way of knowing how many people had their privacy violated. In one incident, their computers confused the Washington area code with the area code for Egypt. That incident alone may have violated the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people.)

    There’s also this:

    The May 2012 audit, intended for the agency’s top leaders, counts only incidents at the NSA’s Fort Meade headquarters and other ­facilities in the Washington area. Three government officials, speak­ing on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said the number would be substantially higher if it included other NSA operating units and regional collection centers.

    So yeah, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And this is just the “data”. “Data” does not include trillions of pieces of metadata on phone calls.

    And as for that wonderful oversight that Obama’s defenders keep telling us about?

    Despite the quadrupling of the NSA’s oversight staff after a series of significant violations in 2009, the rate of infractions increased throughout 2011 and early 2012. An NSA spokesman declined to disclose whether the trend has continued since last year.

    I have to hand it to Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and the WaPo. They really are giving Obama, the NSA and the ODDS sufferers enough rope to hang themselves. They put out some documents, the bootlickers scramble to explain that this is no big deal and then they put another document showing Obama’s defenders to be completely full of it.

    It would be fun if it didn’t involve the systematic evisceration of the Fourth Amendment.

    Update: I want to quote this at length, since a lot of you are not on Twitter. Conor Friersdorf got on a roll last night about this:

    I agree with everything up there. Every piece of additional information we get is more and more alarming. Yet the apologists keep doubling down and insisting that we’re not a police state … yet. Do we need to wait until we are a police state before we push back?

    Barry Goldwater said that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. I’m not worried about our nation being done in by people who are too protective of our civil liberties.

    Anti-Corporate Government Bootlicking

    As more and more comes out about the surveillance state that Barack Obama has erected, the victims of ODDS (Obama Defense Derangement Syndrome) continued to spin, continue to insist that this is nothing, continue to insist that this is all overblown hysterical paranoid hype. The latest is this piece of anti-libertarian boot-licking hogwash. It is one-stop shopping for absurdity. A few examples:

    Schneier literally begged internet tech companies to shield him from the big bad government by refusing NSA’s requests to attain user data as part of the agency’s effort to monitor overseas communications. Yes, this is where we’ve arrived: Team Greenwald is pleading with for-profit corporations to protect them from the government.

    Horseshit. What he’s asking them to do is to refuse to cooperate in mass surveillance. Anyone who uses the internet has to place a certain degree of trust in tech companies to not exploit their information. Often this trust is violated when they use our information for marketing purposes. What Schneier and others are asking is for the tech companies to not violate our trust in the most dangerous way possible — by making it easy for government to snoop on us.

    NSA, and the U.S. government in general, isn’t interested in our Instagram pics of our disgusting dinners or our Wonka memes or our goats-that-scream-like-men videos.

    Condescending nonsense. The Boston bombers were caught because of pictures taken by private citizens. Don’t think for a second this went unnoticed. Electronic records and media are routinely used in criminal cases. Government is interested in your instragram pictures if they show illegal activity or something that might be connected to illegal activity. And the more the technology improves, the more they will become interested.

    The unspoken reality is that the government invented the internet when it established ARPANET, under the Defense Department agency now known as DARPA (home of the creepy robots). The government also regulates the internet. Government R&D funding helped to create Mosaic, the first web browser. The government will spend $1.4 billion on web infrastructure and content next year (not enough, in my opinion). The United States ranks ninth in internet speed and this pathetic ranking won’t be solved by tech companies alone. The government is the only thing that stands between net neutrality and corporate-tiered bandwidth. The reality is that in terms of “commandeering” the internet, the government was here before you were.

    Government also builds roads. Does that mean they can pull us over and search our cars without suspicion? The federal government has specific authority over navigable waterways. Can they therefore pull over a cruise ship and strip search everyone on board? Can they search the computer of anyone who uses Amtrack? (Actually, they already are doing a lot of these things, with little protest from so-called liberals).

    But the real thrust of the article is one we’ve heard before: eeevil corporations are collecting data on your all the time through cookies, through tracking and through software. So why on Earth would you object to government looking for terrorists when tech companies are looking for marketing info?

    Well, first of all, many of us do object to that. But, second, and more important is something that is apparently too complicated for the government bootlickers to understand. What is the worst thing that Facebook is going to do to me based on the data they collect from my profile? Market something at me? Give my information to marketers? I’m not happy with that. But it pales in comparison to what government can do with my information. Government can fine me. Government can jail me. Government can take away my children. Government can execute me. Many of these things — such as taking my children or my money — government can do without trial.

    We give our government extraordinary powers that corporations simply do not have. We give them these powers because they are necessary for our society to function. But we also give government these powers under certain conditions, which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights. No putting us in jail without a trail. No taking away our guns. No restraint on our speech. And no snooping through our papers without a warrant. And we are mindful of the euphemisms government uses to conceal violations of our rights.

    What is going on now is that the government has pressed against and, in some cases, broken through the thin veil promises it has made to respect our lives, liberty, property and privacy. And we are pushing back. Pushing back against government over-reach is fine when it involvs war or poverty or Wall Street bailouts. But it’s suddenly hysterical Ron Paul gibberish when it comes to surveillance?

    There is simply no moral equivalence between corporations putting cookies on our computers and the NSA engaging in mass surveillance with extra sugary promises that they’ll be nice. To draw such an equivalence is to demonstrate that you failed high school civics. We should be suspicious of corporations. But we should be more suspicious of government because they wield a far larger and more pervasive power.

    Again, how many people has Facebook executed? How many people has Twitter jailed? Did General Motors inter thousands of innocent Japanese people? Did Proctor and Gamble pretend to cure black men of syphilis just to see what would happen? If they did do these things, would they not be held accountable?

    That government will abuse its surveillance power is not some Ron Paul fever dream. It has. It does. It will. Just last week we found out that the DEA is using NSA data to pursue drug cases. We know that other government agencies are clamoring for access to NSA data. In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Radley Balko shows instances where regulatory inspectors have had cops “ride along” with them and conduct warrantless searches for contraband. These powers will be abused, especially if they are allowed to fester in secret, away from the public eye.

    And again, it’s worth repeating this point:

    There is no such thing as having nothing to hide. If someone decides that you are inconvenient, they can find something to pin on you. And NSA surveillance gives them the means — under the pretext of terrorism — to look for something to pin on you.

    I’m not going to pretend that big business is all sweetness and light. I’m in favor of government regulations to protect the environment, improve worker safety and keep our food clean (although I think the current regulatory framework has become far too burdensome). I favor these things not because I think corporations are evil, but because I know they are run by human beings (just like the government is). And human beings find it very easy to rationalize irresponsible behavior (just like the government does). The lead industry spent decades denying the evidence of their own eyes about the damage they were wreaking on society.

    (It’s worth noting, of course, that some of the worst corporate behavior is often enabled by crony capitalism, eminent domain abuses, regulatory capture and outright corruption. Government encourages corporations to engage in rent-seeking and punishes those that do not genuflect to it. In past centuries, vast business empires were built on government corruption. Even today, cash-strapped cities bend over backward to subsidize and support the politically powerful. Detroit may be bankrupt but they’re going to find $400 million to fund a stadium for the most successful franchise in the NHL.)

    If you’re worried about corporations tracking our computer use, I share that worry. If you think government should regulate that behavior, I disagree, but at least that’s defensible. But you can not possibly look at the current situation and think that the answer is less scrutiny of the government.

    When you really break it down, the focus of Cesca’s article, and indeed the focus of much of the defense of NSA, is revealed by the Ron Paul jalopy graphic that accompanies it. What matters to people like Bob Cesca and Charles Johnson and all the other ODDS suffers is a deep raging hatred of libertarianism. They haven’t really thought about the issues very clearly. What they’ve thought about is that Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Glenn Greenwald and a bunch of civil liberties whack jobs oppose it, therefore they favor it. They can not possibly find themselves on the same side of the issues as those … those … those crackpots.

    The first sin in political thought is to define your beliefs entirely by whom you oppose, by which groups of — take your pick — libertarian nuts, dirty hippies, shyster lawyers, religious radicals or conservative nazis — you hate the most. Much of the support for Obama’s policies is born of a deep dislike for his critics.

    That isn’t brilliant political insight. That’s tribalism.