Tag: Security

The School to Prison Pipeline Becomes Literal

Eh, what?

We’ve received reports that yesterday, a Belleville school teacher was locked in a bathroom at the High School due to the RFID system malfunctioning. Since school policy is to not allow the use of cell phones, no one knew where she was, or what happened to her until they went looking for her. Luckily, the teacher was carrying her purse, with her phone inside. When her co-workers retrieved their phones to try to call her, they found that she had been frantically trying to call and text people to come help her.

By the way, this is the same RFID system that the Board of Education pushed through as part of their controversial surveillance system, installed and managed by Clarity Technologies Group, at a cost of $2 million.

Even worse, when they actually discovered that she was locked in the bathroom, they could not open the door by swiping with their own RFID cards because the system had malfunctioned. Apparently someone had to come and pry open the door to finally get her out.

So … let me get this straight. In an effort, presumably, to protect schoolchildren from being abducted by aliens or something, this school spent $2 million — remember how our schools are supposedly strapped for cash? — to build an RFID system. This system is so awesome that it apparently doesn’t include a panic bar on the inside of locked room so that can people can get out in case of malfunction, loss of card or a damned fire?! We are literally locking kids into rooms they may not be able to get out of in the name of safety?

I honestly hope this report turns out to be garbled. Because I can not believe a school system could be that dumb.

Wait a minute. Yes, I can.

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?

The Clemency Question

The NYT has run an op-ed calling for Edward Snowden to be granted clemency or a plea deal so that he can return to the United States. While acknowledging that he broke the law, they argue:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

In retrospect, Mr. Snowden was clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public and let the resulting furor do the work his superiors would not. Beyond the mass collection of phone and Internet data, consider just a few of the violations he revealed or the legal actions he provoked:

■ The N.S.A. broke federal privacy laws, or exceeded its authority, thousands of times per year, according to the agency’s own internal auditor.

■ The agency broke into the communications links of major data centers around the world, allowing it to spy on hundreds of millions of user accounts and infuriating the Internet companies that own the centers. Many of those companies are now scrambling to install systems that the N.S.A. cannot yet penetrate.

■ The N.S.A. systematically undermined the basic encryption systems of the Internet, making it impossible to know if sensitive banking or medical data is truly private, damaging businesses that depended on this trust.

■ His leaks revealed that James Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, lied to Congress when testifying in March that the N.S.A. was not collecting data on millions of Americans. (There has been no discussion of punishment for that lie.)

■ The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rebuked the N.S.A. for repeatedly providing misleading information about its surveillance practices, according to a ruling made public because of the Snowden documents. One of the practices violated the Constitution, according to the chief judge of the court.

■ A federal district judge ruled earlier this month that the phone-records-collection program probably violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He called the program “almost Orwellian” and said there was no evidence that it stopped any imminent act of terror.

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

If you want read the dispatches of that shrill brigade, you can check them out here and here. Most of it is the usual boilerplate — Snowden’s a traitor, the NSA is saving our lives, don’t be so hysterical. But they do raise one valid point. If we were to cut some kind of a deal to allow Snowden to return, does this create a moral hazard for other NSA or CIA employees to reveal classified information?

That is a legitimate concern. Our country does have some secrets it needs to keep. But I find myself agreeing with Conor Friedersdorf that we can craft things so that we allow true whistleblowers to come forward while not endangering necesssary secrets:

Here are some possible standards:

When the leak reveals lawbreaking by the U.S. government

When the leak reveals behavior deemed unconstitutional by multiple federal judges

When a presidential panel that reviews the leaked information recommends significant reforms

When the leak inspires multiple pieces of reform legislation in Congress

When the leak reveals that a high-ranking national-security official perjured himself before Congress

When the leak causes multiple members of Congress to express alarm at policies being carried out without their knowledge

All of these are obviously met by Snowden as they were crafted around his acts. But that is the point. Clemency or pardon or a plea deal is not obviating the law. It is acknowledging that the law was broken but forgoing or reducing punishment due to extenuating circumstances. In this case, it is very easy to make clear what those extenuating circumstances were and tailor the circumstances to just cover Snowden.

Mataconis responds to the “hang Snowden” critics, most notably on the contention that Snowden should have gone to Congress. But he also raises a practical point:

There is, of course, one final point to keep in mind. Edward Snowden is currently beyond the reach of U.S. Law Enforcement and Intelligence Agencies for the foreseeable future. This means that we will remain unaware of what else it is that he might be in possession of that could be made public someday? Wouldn’t it make more sense to discuss making some kind of deal with him, in exchange for his full cooperation in exploring (1) what data he was able to obtain, (2) How he was able to obtain it even in cases where he apparently didn’t have the proper Security Clearances, and (3) How Intelligence Agencies could make their systems more secure in the future, rather than just leaving him hanging out there, apparently happy with his current living conditions, wondering when the next shoe is going to drop?

This carries a lot of weight with me. While Snowden is in foreign countries, the information he has, whatever it might be, in in danger of being revealed to our geopolitical enemies. Wouldn’t we much rather have him and his computers on American soil?

In the end, I find myself coming around to the idea that Snowden should be granted some sort of clemency … but only on things covered under the conditions Conor lists above: things related to massive surveillance, to law-breaking or to deception. He should not be granted any sort of clemency for any information he has given to Russia or China that compromises our national security. If Snowden has not revealed that kind of critical information to those countries, as he and his supporters claim, he should have no trouble accepting such a bargain.

Obama won’t do this, of course. He and his supporters have a lot invested in vilifying Snowden and defending the surveillance state. But maybe it’s something for Future President Rubio to consider.

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.

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.

The Surveillance State Continue to Close In

Following on Alex’s note about the CFPB (jeez, who would have thought that would go wrong?), I thought I’d round up stories from the last week or two just to emphasize the point: the more we find out about our surveillance state, the worse it gets. I would explain, but there is too much. Let me sum up:

  • The NSA is working very hard to break encryption algorithms. This isn’t surprising; it’s what the NSA does. But it does mean that the NSA has unlimited access to financial information, medical records, internet chats and phone calls. Does anyone think we should just “trust them” not to abuse this information? Anyone?
  • They are also engaging in massive efforts to hack smart phones. Again, this is what the NSA does. I want them to hack the phone of terrorists. But this a tremendous amount of power for NSA to assume. Does anyone think we should just “trust them” not to abuse this information? Anyone?
  • It turns out that the NSA isn’t even the biggest snoop out there. The DEA is collecting massive troves of information on us, paying AT&T for access to decades worth of phone records. Cuz drugs and stuff.
  • Just in case you’re thinking that this is only being used against terrorist and drug dealers, Popehat reminds us that the NSA and their defenders frequently cite “others” as being among those they need to keep track of. As we have often found out to our shame, “others” can include people like … oh, just to take an example almost at random … Martin Luther King.
  • But … nothing to worry about here. It’s all for our safety. Just be sure to speak clearly into the telephone. You wouldn’t want to be misunderstood.

    More From The NSA

    As the debate over NSA’s powers unfold, the usual suspects are citing NSA’s denials and obfuscations as “proof” that there is nothing untoward going on. The latest debate is over XKEYSCORE, which is a user interface for data mining.

    It’s important, however, that you understand how NSA says things. The denials and reassurances are very carefully worded and Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman untangle some of the euphemisms that are employed. For example:

    Collect. If an intelligence official says that the NSA isn’t “collecting” a certain kind of information, what has he actually said? Not very much, it turns out. One of the NSA’s foundational documents states that “collection” occurs not when the government acquires information but when the government “selects” or “tasks” that information for “subsequent processing.” Thus it becomes possible for the government to acquire great reams of information while denying that it is “collecting” anything at all.

    This is key. The government collects — in the everyday use of that word — tons of information. It has inserted the claws necessary for exploitation of enormous masses of data. Where the reassurances come is not that the infrastructure doesn’t exist or that the data aren’t being collected. It’s that the data aren’t being “collected” in the sense that no one is looking at your information right now. But a quick warrant and your entire life is at their fingertips.

    We are assured that this won’t happen, that information is highly compartmentalized and that anyone who abuses their snooping authority is punished. But considering the government’s record on this matter, I find these reassurances meaningless. No incident of wrongdoing by NSA has been discovered … yet. But considing that it took us a couple of years to get confirmation of IRS abuses and that the IRS is not an agency operating in secret; considering James Clapper has already lied right to Congress with a straight face; considering the secrecy with which the very existence of these tools is shrouded; considering the hysterical reaction to the Amash Amendment last week …

    You’ll forgive me if I don’t take the NSA at their word that they are playing nice.

    Update: Friersdorf:

    The NSA’s activities may be “focused and specifically deployed against — and only against” foreign targets. But the fact that it isn’t “focused” on American citizens doesn’t mean their phone data, Internet behavior, and other information isn’t being collected in vast, searchable databases. If and when access to that information is abused, the focus of the program that first collected it won’t matter.

    So long as the NSA operates largely in secret, with tools that enable intrusions into privacy on an extreme scale, the odds that there will eventually be serious abuses approach 100 percent. If and when that happens, Presidents Bush and Obama, NSA Director General Keith Alexander, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and many others will share the responsibility for the totally preventable catastrophe they enabled.

    Manning Verdict

    The story is still breaking, but it looks like Bradley Manning was just convicted of espionage but not convicted of aiding the enemy.

    I know it won’t make me popular with fellow libertarians, but I think the verdict is reasonable and it’s easy to see why when you contrast his behavior against Edward Snowden. Snowden blew the whistle on very specific programs he believed were violating the Constitutional rights of Americans. Manning dumped a whole bunch of documents. Some of these contained embarrassing information or showed lousy behavior; most of it he clearly had not even reviewed. It’s one thing to break secrecy when you think our citizens’s lives are being violated; it’s another to break it just for the sake of breaking it. (You can see my take on some of the more explosive Manning allegations here).

    Snowden has been careful about releasing information with compromising national security (so far). Reports that he has turned over classified info to the Chinese and Russians are unverified at this point but would obviously change the equation. But Manning dumped everything to Wikileaks and there is evidence that insufficient vetting has cost the US dearly and cost some our allies their lives.

    Whatever evils you may attribute to our government, they do not make Manning’s indiscriminate leaking of classified and secret information justifiable.

    However, it does not appear that he was deliberately aiding Al-Qaeda or any of our enemies. So not convicting him of the more serious charge (which would have been the Civil War) seems reasonable.

    Further Thoughts on Prism

    A few notes as this story evolves:

    You should read the NYT’s story about PRISM. It makes everything consistent: Greenwald’s original report, the tech companies denial and the reports we’ve been hearing off and on for the last seven years. Money quote:

    Each of the nine companies said it had no knowledge of a government program providing officials with access to its servers, and drew a bright line between giving the government wholesale access to its servers to collect user data and giving them specific data in response to individual court orders. Each said it did not provide the government with full, indiscriminate access to its servers.

    The companies said they do, however, comply with individual court orders, including under FISA. The negotiations, and the technical systems for sharing data with the government, fit in that category because they involve access to data under individual FISA requests. And in some cases, the data is transmitted to the government electronically, using a company’s servers.

    “The U.S. government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers,” Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, and its chief legal officer, David Drummond, said in a statement on Friday. “We provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law.”

    Statements from Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, AOL and Paltalk made the same distinction.

    But instead of adding a back door to their servers, the companies were essentially asked to erect a locked mailbox and give the government the key, people briefed on the negotiations said. Facebook, for instance, built such a system for requesting and sharing the information, they said.

    The data shared in these ways, the people said, is shared after company lawyers have reviewed the FISA request according to company practice. It is not sent automatically or in bulk, and the government does not have full access to company servers. Instead, they said, it is a more secure and efficient way to hand over the data.

    Tech companies might have also denied knowledge of the full scope of cooperation with national security officials because employees whose job it is to comply with FISA requests are not allowed to discuss the details even with others at the company, and in some cases have national security clearance, according to both a former senior government official and a lawyer representing a technology company.

    This is less alarming than the initial reporting but still very very concerning. Keep in mind that, according to the Verizon story, the FISA court has been granting extremely broad warrants for surveillance. Keep in mind also that, according to the FISA laws, communications involving US citizens can be monitored.. Think about how many people overseas are on Twitter, on Facebook, use Google or read this very blog.

    Do we have reason to be worried that these powers — which were a secret until now — will be abused? We already have reports that electronic communications of innocent Americans have been “accidentally” intercepted. The NSA is also trying to prevent the release of a Court opinion finding that they had engaged in unconstitutional spying.

    And even if this weren’t the case, we know that these powers, especially when they lurk in secret, only have a tendency to expand. Powers intended for terrorism rapidly extend to drugs (which often involve foreign agents) and are then extended to ordinary crime. Think about the Constitution-shredding tactics used in the War on Drugs — asset forfeiture, for example — and how they been extended beyond the War on Drugs. Once you give our government a hammer, they will get the courts to rule that everything is a nail. I’m not particularly moved by the arguments — put forward by DNI Clapper and his apologists — that national security has been compromised. Not when some of our basic liberties are at stake. I’m pretty sure the terrorists are either completely clueless or avoid electronic communications, having assumed that something like this was going on.

    The one thing I keep hearing is that we need to have a public debate about this. But keep in mind that the public debate hasn’t happened yet and is only happening to the extent that it is because of the leak. The Administration’s defenders would rather we not have had the debate at all.

    Ah, the Administration’s defenders. Libertarians and some conservatives are responding to this revelation as you might expect. But the response of the Left Wing is disappointing if unsurprising. You know how we’ve used the terms “Bush Derangement Syndrome” and “Obama Derangement Syndrome”? They describe someone who has an irrational hatred of one of the two Presidents to the point where they always assume the worst motivations, the worst intentions and instantly believe any absurd story that emerges about them. Well, in the past few days, we’ve been seeing a lot of “Obama Defense Derangement Syndrome”: people who believe that any criticism of Obama falls into the ODS category (or is a sign of crypto-racism). Their increasingly mindless defense of the President is not based on any facts or any actions of his; they are based on who his critics are. So if Rand Paul disagrees with the President … well, Rand Paul is a nut so the President’s actions must be defensible.

    The ODDS starting immediately with people saying the Prism slides didn’t look professional and might be faked. After they were confirmed, they jumped on the tech companies denial of the existence of the system (conveniently ignoring the Greenwald specifically mentioned those denials in his original report). Then they said that Bush started it (true enough; but Obama ran against that and has now brought it to its apotheosis). Now they’re claiming that we had a public debate (the tense is wrong; we’re having one now, thanks to the leak).

    They have further parroted the President’s lie that Congress and the Courts signed off on all this without a qualm. But Senators Udall, Wyden and Paul were among many who objected to these powers, who tried to get basic civil liberties protections into the laws and warned us about the surveillance state that was being built. Senator Sensenbrenner, one of the architects of the Patriot Act, blasted the President for going beyond what was intended and not getting Congressional approval. As noted above, the Courts have pushed back on this, to the extent that they’ve been consulted. And, it bears repeating, much of the detail is in secret with many participants forced into silence under penalty of law. Citing the Sunday Morning Talkshow Dipshits as though they were an authority is simply abandoning your duty as a citizen.

    The biggest tell for ODDS is ad hominem attacks on his critics. And, in this case, it’s attacks on Glenn Greenwald. I have my issues with Greenwald. I agree with him on civil liberties but the list of things I disagree with him on — Bradley Manning, Israel, the War on Terror, healthcare — is very long. But to suggest, as many are doing, that his revelation is based on some kind of personal animus against the President is ridiculous. Greenwald calls it as he sees it. He was highly critical of Bush, too. He is highly critical of almost everyone. He is always inflammatory on the subject of civil liberties. This sometimes leads him to overstate his case or assume the worst. But that’s his way and it always has been.

    In this case, he has a legitimate story: the federal government has now admitted that the infrastructure exists for massive electronic surveillance; that they are already using this with FISA on foreign targets; that they have been able to get broad court orders to get meta-data from cell phone companies (which can be as intrusive as actual wiretapping). Claims that this reporting is “irresponsible” or “hysterical” misses that we should be kind of hysterical about broad surveillance powers. Reporting on this kind of government program is the press’s job. And responding to it by saying that we should just trust our government, that we should let Obama make these decisions, that “no one elected Glenn Greenwald” is subservient hogwash.

    There is a need for our government to keep some things secret (and Greenwald specifically refused to publish technical details of PRISM for that reason). All Americans understand that there are things the government has to do on the quiet. But the creation of a massive surveillance state — a state that could be turned on us quite easily — is not something we should just trust our politicians to execute, no matter who they are or how much of a tingle they might give us up our leg.

    Postscript: The identity of the leaker is now known. He has fled to Hong Kong, citing their commitment to civli liberties. This frankly strikes me as deranged, given Chinese law. I suspect the real reason for going there is to avoid extradition.

    PPS: As for the political impact of all this, I suspect it will be small. Unfortunately, the American people are all too willing to ignore encroachments on their liberty.

    The YouTube Problem

    This is all kinds of wrong:

    Obama administration officials said Thursday that they have asked YouTube to review the video [that reportedly set off the embassy attacks] and determine whether it violates the site’s terms of service, according to people close to the situation but not authorized to comment.

    This is just plain wrong, especially given that YouTube had already said the video didn’t violate their terms. It’s one thing for citizens to call on YouTube to censor itself or for YouTube to voluntarily pull a video. But when the government “asks”, it does so under the implicit shadow of threat. As I have shown many times, the government can easily find a law you’ve inadvertently broken and make your life hell if they decide to go after you. That is the context in which this request was made.

    Moreover, I think it’s missing the point. There is growing evidence that this film is more an excuse for the anti-American demonstrations than a reason. I guarantee you that most of the rioters have not seen it or have no idea what’s in it. Why on Earth would anyone think pulling the video would make them say, “Oh, well, that’s OK then. Back to our poverty!”? Standing up for free speech costs you nothing; wavering on it gains you nothing.

    But more importantly, you can’t put the genie back in the fucking bottle. The movie is out there. If YouTube pulls it, someone else will host it. Hell maybe Julian Assange will put it up. (Wouldn’t that be fun? Wikileaks v. the Islamists). As anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the internet will tell you, removing something — a nude picture, a dumb blog post, an offensive video — is an exercise in Whack-A-Mole. Nothing ever leaves the net.

    I suspect that what this is really all about is a crude attempt to placate some of the anger. “Hey, we asked those guys to pull it but they wouldn’t!” But if so, it’s a stupid one. This will carry little water with people who want to burn every book that isn’t the Koran.

    It’s possible to say both that the film is ridiculously offensive and that we defend free speech. We’ve been doing that with Fred Phelps, the KKK and the Illinois Nazis for decades. Obama and Romney both have already said that about this video, as has about 95% of the commentariat. And, yes, it’s possible to say that without glowering at YouTube and looking like the thought police.

    This isn’t fascism or the destruction of the Constitution. Let’s not get carried away. But it’s stupid, thoughtless and thuggish.