We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The NSA will soon be reformed…

… and nothing much will change.

My predictions:

There is only one group of people that the NSA is spying on that matters to most Americans. And that is other Americans. So what will happen is even more of that particular function… spying on Americans… will be outsourced to the British GCHQ, which already effectively acts an arms length subsidiary of the NSA, bought and payed for with US taxpayers money.

But the rules will be re-written to make it theoretically harder for the NSA to engage in mass surveillance of Americans, at least the ones in America. This will mollify enough of US public opinion to take away the pressure for any actual reduction in budget and capabilities. Indeed capabilities will continue to be expanded now that the NSA has been seen to be ‘brought under control’. Not that it was ever actually out of control.

And if you are not an American, you will just have to get used to the idea that the USA will be logging your mobile phone and internet meta-data… at least until enough of the internet gets fragmented into national enclaves which are capable of keeping the data secure from the Americans (at the baleful expense of making it easier for one’s own national government to control things).

And even people who were previously well disposed towards America will start see the institutions of the USA’s government as a threat rather than an ally. Reflexive anti-Americans will beat that drum long and hard and sadly it will be impossible to refute them, because for once they will be quite correct.

This will of course materially change the internet, and indeed the world, for the worse.

But most Americans will not give a damn as the net will still seem to work just fine in the USA and who cares if the US government is logging who calls who in Germany and Brazil?

But the upside, which is already happening, is new methods and approaches to security will appear and that is actually a ‘long war’ that the NSA and GCHQ cannot possibly win. I suspect Edward Snowdon’s lasting legacy will be simply making far more people aware that they were in a different battle for security than the one they thought they were in, and that means there are some rather interesting market opportunities for many different kinds of security.

But whatever ‘reforms’ for the NSA that get trotted out over the next few months and years, I would be very surprised indeed if anything really changes. The deck will get shuffled but the game and the stakes will remain the same.

Using Metadata to find Paul Revere

Here is a splendid explanation of why you really do not want to trust any government with wide un-targeted surveillance powers.

I mean, who knows where that might lead eh?

To be a career politician takes a certain mindset

Sometimes it is worth pointing out the obvious…

Rand Paul, the Great White Hope of people who want things to be Less-Statist-Than-Now, is a career politician. As a result, he may be preferable to authoritarians like McCain or Obama or just about any of the mainstream politicos in the US right now… but it is still a career politician.

So… when it was suggested to me that if Edward Snowden were really one of the good guys, he should have taken his revelations to that tireless fighter for liberty, Rand Paul, rather than getting said revelations published in The Guardian, the assumption seems to have been that Paul was going to be a better custodian of these secrets than the dismal pinkos at the Guardian. Moreover Snowden would not have had to go on the run to avoid prison to whatever country dislikes the USA enough to not extradite him as Rand Paul would have made sure we would be safe.

Think again.

Senator Paul thinks Edward Snowden deserves a ‘light sentence‘ of a few years in jail, which rather suggests to me that he would rather not have had these revelations made at all, but as they are out there, he might as well make some political hay out of it. I mean one does not suggest prison for someone doing something vital to the cause of liberty, but rather one argues for that person’s vindication.

So on one hand Paul chastises the NSA for its vast programmes of indiscriminate spying based on the Snowden revelations… and on the other, he wants the person to actually told the world about it so that people like him can do something about it… to go to jail for having done so.

More than ever I am convinced Snowden did the only thing he could do rather than place his trust in some career politician. And that includes a career politician called Rand Paul.

Samizdata quote of the day

Today, if you carry a cell phone in Sao Paolo, the NSA can and does keep track of your location: they do this 5 billion times a day to people around the world. When someone in Florianopolis visits a website, the NSA keeps a record of when it happened and what you did there. If a mother in Porto Alegre calls her son to wish him luck on his university exam, NSA can keep that call log for five years or more. They even keep track of who is having an affair or looking at pornography, in case they need to damage their target’s reputation.

American Senators tell us that Brazil should not worry, because this is not ‘surveillance,’ it’s ‘data collection.’ They say it is done to keep you safe. They’re wrong. There is a huge difference between legal programs, legitimate spying, legitimate law enforcement – where individuals are targeted based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion — and these programs of dragnet mass surveillance that put entire populations under an all-seeing eye and save copies forever. These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.

Edward Snowden

Yet it is Snowden who is the indicted fugitive…

A US Federal Court has found against the NSA’s ‘Orwellian’ mass surveillance on the grounds it is probably unconstitutional… yeah no kidding.

So… even if the NSA’s programme of indiscriminate data mining is shut down (yeah right), will a large number of people… hell… will anyone actually go to jail for this blatantly illegal project? Will anyone even lose their jobs? I would not hold my breath on that score if I were you.

In the meantime, Snowden remains an indicted fugitive for revealing what a court has now ruled unconstitutional.

This is not about ‘child abuse’… it never was and never will be

The governments of the world love to use crimes that produce an understandable emotional revulsion as justification for measure of vastly wider reach.

Child abuse is perhaps the most common of these.

The current moves to make unacceptable sites simply not show up on search engines is actually about getting the infrastructure in place to make whatever is deemed ‘unacceptable’ invisible with the flick of a switch.

I do not believe for a moment that the people pushing for this do not have as their ultimate goal giving the state the ability to control everything you can see online. And if you think the state, any state, can be trusted with that kind of power, then you are either a fool or a totalitarian.

Thirty pieces of nickel-brass alloy

Sometimes the Guardian justifies its name. This is worth knowing about:

Police tried to spy on Cambridge students, secret footage shows
Officer is filmed attempting to persuade activist in his 20s to become informant targeting ‘student-union type stuff’

Of this sort of thing is not new. A friend of mine was asked to spy on far-left groups back in the ’70s. Perhaps it is inevitable; among the innumerable sects that split and reformed and split again to become the RCPBML and CPGB(ML) we all know and love this week, there were a few that really did need spying on, as do some of the Muslims who have replaced them. But “student-union type stuff”? Yup, MI5 really needs a deep cover mole in the the SUTS. And were they always such cheapskates?

The officer also suggested the man he hoped to recruit would be paid expenses or other sums. “You might go to a UK Uncut or Unite Against Fascism meeting one evening, you might get say £30 just for your time and effort for doing that. That’s the sort of thing you are looking at.”

Samizdata quote of the day

The goal has been the same for over a decade: Total Information Awareness. The government seeks to have all the data it can possibly get, and keep tabs on every documented detail in your life. They will share this data with law enforcement agencies that have nothing to do with terrorism, which is itself a minuscule threat compared to what America faced during the Cold War.

The only way to stop this is a nationwide movement to restore the Fourth Amendment completely. No more warrantless searches—for any reason: drugs, guns, taxes, money laundering or terrorism. This system cannot be reformed, because the system, from top to bottom, is all aimed at abolishing every last bit of personal privacy.

We have been told it’s a balance between liberty and security, but look where that game has gotten us. The government wants total control. Only if we reject their entire agenda can we have any footing in restoring our liberties.

In George Orwell’s 1984, everything was monitored, except the protagonist Winston Smith did have a small corner he could hide in, where the cameras couldn’t see him. Where we’re heading, we won’t even have that corner.

Anthony Gregory

So the NSA has spied on Americans. Guess what…

So the NSA has spied on Americans.

Guess what…

… if you are one of the approximately 6.8 billion people who do not have the ‘privilege’ of being taxed worldwide by the USA (i.e. you are not a US national), the fact the NSA has made a mockery of the US constitution is of purely academic interest.

I just watched a rather good Guardian presentation on the NSA revelations. As I watched outraged talking head after outraged talking head decrying what the US has done, and generally agreeing with them I might add, I was also struck by the fact some gave me the impression that the fact the NSA (and GCHQ) have actually intentionally damaged the infrastructure of the internet itself was not as important as the fact they had spied on Americans.

No, it really is not the main issue at all, not by a long shot.

The fact the intelligence agencies of Germany, France, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and (particularly) the UK were complicit with the NSA making us all less safe by subverting the encryption upon which our economies increasingly depend (not to mention our right to privacy), well that is a vastly bigger issue. And it is why the Snowden revelations are of global interest, not just American interest.

The First World’s security states, like the foam flecked wild horses pulling the NSA’s chariot, are out of control and that makes this a vastly bigger issue than the breaking of one country’s constitutional limitations.

If the NSA had improbably somehow managed to only spy on foreigners and not a single American, whilst introducing backdoors and flawed encryption standards world wide, it would not make this any less dire.

Interesting developments on the privacy front…

Two coms companies, Lavabit and Silent Circle, are working to make e-mail rather harder for the likes of the NSA to snoop on.

I would be interested to hear from our more tech savvy readers what they think of the proposals when they get more details.

Samizdata quote of the day

Enjoyable as it is to read Huhne’s opinions on law, order, liberty and privacy, funny he never felt so strongly about the activities of our security services while he was in power and could actually do something about it.

Guido Fawkes

Samizdata quote of the day

This lack of information, and therefore accountability, is a warning that the supervision of our intelligence services needs as much updating as their bugging techniques. The state should not feel itself entitled to know, see and memorise everything that the private citizen communicates. We cannot even rely on incompetence as a bulwark for our freedoms. The state increasingly has the capability to retain everything as the cost of computer memory collapses.

I have been shocked but also mystified by Snowden’s revelations. Throughout my time in parliament, the Home Office was trying to persuade politicians to invest in “upgrading” Britain’s capability to recover data showing who is emailing and phoning whom. Yet this seems to be exactly what GCHQ was already doing. Was the Home Office trying to mislead?

Chris Huhne