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The Panopticon State

The media and blogosphere are abuzz with the astonishing info-grab by the US government…

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

I assume the Guardian got this information because someone inside Verizon said “fuck this” and leaked it. I also hope the Guardian has the ghoolies to well and truly protect their source.

42 comments to The Panopticon State

  • Midwesterner

    More on this here.

  • jerry

    Having a long background in computers ( the real ones, not these ‘toys’ called PC’s 😉 I have often wondered just what, say, Mao or Stalin or the nazis would have been able to inflict on their respective victims had they possessed the networks and processing speed and capacity we have today. I strongly suspect FAR more people would have suffered.

    We just may be on the cusp of starting to experience just what would have happened back then.
    The mass collection of data on essentially about everything they do, say, where they go ( GPS anyone ?? ) on and on.
    This is dangerous, frightening, terribly wrong and unfortunately, I fear, just the beginning.

  • Dave Walker

    Interesting; even though CALEA mandates back doors in kit which the NSA can tap into unhindered, they still got the court order.

    PCs have their place; a high-end gaming PC without a graphics card makes a pretty decent server, these days :-). I’m also reminded of an old friend from University days who used to take the “PC” acronym literally; his primary home computer was a PDP11/45 with most of the rare options and a homebrew Transputer array hung out the back, and in those bad old days when Microsoft were doing their utmost to brainwash everyone that “if it doesn’t run Windows, it isn’t a computer”, he’d wind people up by referring to this 2-rack behemoth (he had a bunch of RK05s and RL02s on it) as “my PC”…

  • Midwesterner

    I second what Jerry said. The first computer I was paid to work on had core memory (a whopping 48K) and a paper tape and punch card reader along with removable disks. The disk cabinets stored a max of 18M total in each two drive cabinet. You can now drop 3,500 times that much into your pocket for under $20.

    And not just the hardware, the software is getting more powerful as well.

    With face recognition software, simply by comparing pictures found on the net, biasing their interpretation with known data, and running many iterations adding the discoveries of the previous iteration, they can build detailed networks of your personally relationships to a level that you are not even capable of. The data base knows what friends the guests at a party have in common better by far than the guests themselves do.

    And now, companies are selling camera/software devices to police, etc that when mounted on their cars will document and ‘run’ every license plate they encounter. One more data base to integrate into the whole.

    Your cell phone knows where you are all of the time. If you call 911, they can send somebody to your location instead of your home address. That part of it is good, but …

    Much of this is authorized by secret courts unknown and unsupervised by the public, who criminalize disclosure.

    This is all done in the name of making us feel safer.

    The question that must be asked is “safer from who?”

  • Laird

    I’ve already complained to my senators and congressman about this. Not that it will make a particle of difference, but I figure it’s time to get my name onto a few more lists.

  • Dishman

    Midwesterner wrote:
    This is all done in the name of making us feel safer.

    It occurs to me that our ‘perceived level of hazard’ normalizes over time.

    That is to say, over time, the average perceived level of hazard will be about average. It’s a Red Queen’s Race.

    It’s also increasingly divorced from reality.

  • Paul Marks

    Michelle Malkin has the chapter and verse on how this is vastly beyond anything Bush ever did – yet (according the media) the Bush Administration were monster, whereas (although they whine) the media (and academia) STILL support Comrade Barack.

  • Mr Ed

    Memo to self: I must not laugh if an outraged White House launches a drone strike on the Guardian HQ, which is, after all, owned by an overseas company with tax advantages.

  • RRS

    And now who has “failed-up to become the unvetted director of NSA?

  • nemesis

    The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
    H.L Mencken

  • Shlomo

    This is dire. But, that keyword ‘telephony metadata’ from the court order suggests that the US are a step behind the EU and the Data Retention Directive. I’m pretty sure all UK citizen’s ‘telephony metadata’ is stored for up to a year…

  • RRS

    Wait ’til you learn about . . . PRISM

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Gosh, if this doesn’t make America crimefree, I don’t know what will! The only place criminals will be able to hide will be in the Police Forces… or Congress!! I hope everyone’s feeling safer already!

  • Jamess

    Midwesterner’s link points out that this is done under the Patriot Act.

    When will the idiots learn that whatever new power they give to themselves, once they’re booted out of office the other side will still have those powers?

  • Laird

    RRS metioned PRISM. Well, here it is.

    I’m sure glad that the Guardian is performing some real investigative journalism. Certainly our own media isn’t. Thank you, Mr. Rusbridger.

  • JohnB

    One should bear in mind this could all have been seen coming 20, 30 years ago, and try to be realistic about the future.

  • RogerC


    When will the idiots learn that whatever new power they give to themselves, once they’re booted out of office the other side will still have those powers?

    I’m convinced that they know, but they just don’t care how much damage gets done. All they care about is who gets blamed for it.

  • RogerC

    A more important question is, when will the average voter learn? All too often we see the usual talking heads making the usual pronouncements to the effect that “the government would never abuse such powers” or “this legislation may appear draconian, but it’s only intended to be used in extreme cases” or some other such canard… and far too many people swallow it.

  • jdm

    Hey! Does’t this thread need a comment to the effect of what’s the problem, if you haven’t got anything to hide, why do you care if they snoop? 😉

    Mr Marks, the duplicity and hypocrisy of the MSM is well-documented (I was going to write well-known, but then I’d be asked by whom). My problem is that the Bush administration broke the ground, created the TSA, passed the Patriot Act, etc… they ought not get a free pass of sorts just because the MSM treated the two regimes differently.

  • That’s certainly true, Jdm – but then, organizations such as the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, the ATF and the rest of the alphabet soup were created even earlier.

  • jdm

    Quite true, Alisa.

    But I’m not sure how that applies to my point that just because the Bush administration was raked over the coals much worse than is the Obama administration for lesser versions of the same activities, that I should cut GWB and his crew some slack. A whole series of bureaucratic screw-ups were solved by creating an even larger and more powerful bureaucracy. That, for me, is not something that reflects well on W’s time in office.

  • Laird

    jdm, the reality of it is that Obama is just Bush redux. It’s been 16 years of the same policies; Obama has merely made things a little worse at the margins (and, of course, added a few abominations of his own, such as Obamacare). Obama has not eliminated a single Bush policy, and in fact has expanded most.

  • Exactly so Laird. Spread the meme… Obama is Black Bush. He has just taken the Bush trend lines and continued them up the chart. This is why voting for Republicans who have not repudiated the Bush legacy is a waste of time.

  • RRS


    Unless I am way off base, there probabaly is also another(Isreali?) “threads” system or program that will be surfacing.

    I think the moderate $20 mil cost of PRISM (ann.) is an indicator of the existence of ongoing developments in this field.

    Amazing, they can’t get the East Coast Air Corridor system brought up to date; nor correct the IRS malfunctioning systems.

  • Unless I am way off base, there probabaly is also another(Isreali?) “threads” system or program that will be surfacing.

    That would be NARUS/NARUSINSIGHT 😉

  • RRS

    Gee! I though the Paul Marks Org would report!

  • Julie near Chicago

    From the Daily Caller:

    New app claims to prevent government eavesdropping on cell phones


    “Developers in South Africa have developed an app called Seecrypt, which they say protects cell phone users from having their calls and texts tracked.”

  • jerry

    ‘I think the moderate $20 mil cost of PRISM (ann.). ………

    $20 Million annually ???
    If you believe that is the cost, I have several parcels of land, 3 bridges ( in very well developed metropolitan areas ) and several hundred miles of pristine ocean-front property, all offered at reasonable prices, that I would just LOVE to discuss with you !!!

  • $20 Million annually ??? If you believe that is the cost…

    Agreed. I would be astonished if that was even the monthly cost.

  • RRS

    Don’t be too hasty about forming conclusions on the annual operational (not developmental) costs of PRISM – at this time.

    But, I conjecture, that is an indicator of limitations that are being addressed in “threads” systems; which will go way past the 6 or 7 year-old NARUS (now U S controlled).

  • Mr Ed

    I have never seen Mr Obama as anything more than Bush II continued, I cannot see why people get so excited about him, either for or against.

    I have seen a Norwegian email provider Runbox, which might be a way to move away from US hosted email, if only as a gesture.

  • Mr. Ed: the difference is in the motives.

  • jdm

    Mr. Ed, I use Runbox and have for the last six or so years. My domain, a Danish one, is hosted by them. They’re fine. Their email service has been solid. Domain hosting is generally good. They respond quickly to questions. They’re open source.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Alisa. I prefer to judge on outcomes, a lazy Marxist might be worse than an energetic Neocon, but if Bush had had 16 years,what might he have come up with? Both have accelerated the collapse of the USA, some might say one by accident, the other by design.

    If the brakes on my car are rendered inefficient at a Government inspection by a malevolent but lazy mechanic, or a well-intentioned idiot who wrongly thinks he has improved them, to me the outcome is the same. Neither should have been permitted to touch my car.

  • RRS

    Another track to be aware of:

    CIVIS ANALYTICS You can Google it (very much Google)

    And think:

    How well would Democratic Candidate Eric Schmidt stay ahead of any Republican or other (hybrid) candidate.

    Read about it guess how it fits the current nharratives.

  • Ed, I see your point and I don’t necessarily disagree.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I’m sure there is no reason whatsoever to prefer B over A, where A is a doctor who, although he has at times prescribed poor or even counterproductive treatment, sees his patients as real human people and has a genuine commitment to trying to restore their health; and B is a doctor who is malevolent, has a genuine commitment to ruining the health of his patients, and has in fact nearly destroyed the health of several.

    B, by the way, also goes out of his way in his practice to employ nurses and other doctors who are known to be little more than gangsters and who flout the rules of medical sanitation regularly. Nor does he flinch from wildly overcharging his patients and then spending the money to support himself and his wife in the very lap of ostentatious luxury–and partying and vacationing instead of attending to his practice.

    But hey, I certainly don’t mean to imply that Obama is any worse in any way than former President George W. Bush. Of course, I’m not sure that it’s a great insult to the latter to suggest the idea that it would take him 16 years to do the damage the former has done in 4+.

    Nor do I have any truck with those who claim that Obama has never in his life taken the responsibility for an error, failed to claim the credit for an act that went well, nor blamed his predecessor for deeds that he himself has either done or at least allowed to occur. And of course, as is well known, Pres. Bush has incessantly blamed earlier Presidents for everything that went wrong on his watch.

  • Mr Ed

    @jdm thanks for the information, I think that I shall move from my US based (no such thing as a) free (lunch unless you are a bureaucrat) emails to them, not out of worry, but as a futile gesture.

    I think that history will judge Bush II as the unwitting Icebreaker for the SS Leviathan State.

  • …with ‘unwitting’ being the key word, Ed.

  • Bod

    I was thinking more of the word “witless”.

  • Mr Ed

    @ Alisa & Bod, I fear that you are both right there.

  • Unfortunately I fear so as well.