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]

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

23 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Regional

    Every one on the planet is tracked and monitored?

  • No Regional, only the people who use a phone or the internet.

  • PeterT

    I assume they track their ‘targets’ many times each day, rather than every person once a day.

  • Laird

    “They’re about power.”

    That’s the crux of it. These programs aren’t about fighting terrorism, or furthering any legitimate governmental interest, or even simple law enforcement. They’re just a reflexive application of raw power. The NSA spends trillions of dollars gathering and storing all this useless data for the same reason a dog licks its balls: because it can.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I doubt they track everyone in real time; but they apparently can track anyone retrospectively: a distinction without much difference.

  • RAB

    Yes of course it’s about Power, pure raw and simple, and the retention of it.

    I have assumed for many years that “They” were spying on us and will continue to do so just because they can, but my comfort has always been… how can they possibly screen,sift and evaluate all that data so that it is in any way useful to them? Surely they will end up as gridlocked as the old East German Stasi?

    Well of late the penny has dropped for me, they don’t need to. All they need to do is have all the raw data as reference, every email you’ve sent, every website you’ve visited, every comment you’ve made. So if and when your head comes above the parapet and it looks like you might become any kind of problem or threat to them, then they will be able to trawl through your electronic life and find something to fuck you around with or even imprison you for. Even if the charges don’t ultimately stick, the process becomes the punishment, and you and me and millions like us will be taken out of the game.

  • Dom

    ” …every email you’ve sent, every website you’ve visited, every comment you’ve made …”

    Do they actually store the content of phone calls (“every comment you’ve made”) or do they just have a record of the phone number? In the latter case, it is not very different than the records phone companies keep, although (big difference here) it is in the hands of the government, and a court order isn’t needed to get to the records.

    This is a serious question, btw. I can’t make sense of the news reports.

  • RAB


    I was referring to comments like the one I just made above here, rather than phone calls. But who knows what the state of play of technology is now. The NSA and GCHQ may indeed be able to retain those too. It has to be taking the piss for our security services to tell us that they keep our e-mail address and the e-mail address we sent a message to, but not the contents of the message itself, hasn’t it?

  • Bod

    Re: storing the contents of phone calls.

    The technology is certainly adequate to store your conversation if you were foolish enough to discuss the overthrow of the state, if you, or your co-conspirator were foolish enough to have done so using Google Voice (GV).

    The standard functionality of GV permits either the capture of actual voice as a digitized recording, or as a (currently rather inaccurate) voice-to-text service. Given Google’s participation in PRISM, I think that it’s quite likely that the NSA has technology at least as capable as Google’s production code.

    All they then need is somewhere to run a very large data center to store the resulting treasure trove – oh – wonder where that might be? – NSA’s Utah Data Center.

  • Dom

    Thanks for the response, RAB, and I see what you mean.

    Here’s the problem I’m having. Terrorists exist. They have killed many, and they are planning to kill many, many more. Among them, they have already committed one genocide (Armenian), they praise another (Hitler’s) and they openly talk about a third (Israel), and I think they should be taken seriously. I don’t think the NSA project is about power, and they certainly don’t seem to be about economic spying (what is that, anyway?). I think it may become about power and when the threat is removed it will be that, but in the light of the evil we are facing some sort of surveillance is necessary. I despise Islamism, and I’m not all that thrilled about Islam itself frankly. It is the fascism of our day. The NSA project is clumsy and heavy-handed, and the recent court decision is a step to control it. But get used to it. Controlled surveillance is here to stay.

  • Eric Tavenner

    Dom, there has not been a single instance of a terrorist attack being stopped or even warned of, by these programs. It is all about power over we the serfs.

  • Regional

    It’s we the smerfs.

  • Regional

    The security services are sheltered workshops for pinko soapdroppers.

  • thefrollickingmole

    Remembering also this agency is under the control of a politician who has apparently had no qualms about siccing both the EPA and the tax department on his own “dissidents” in the tea party.

    Why shouldn’t I believe he wouldn’t turn around and tell a rival “by the way we see you clicked on “underage donkeys and grandmothers gone wild” website back when you were 17…

    We will end up being ruled by either psychopaths (who use the info), or sperglord saints who have never done anything wrong..ever..
    Either option is uncomfortable.

  • Greg

    Eric Tavenner,

    “there has not been a single instance of a terrorist attack being stopped or even warned of, by these programs.”

    Had you said “single report”, I might agree. I’ve not researched all sources for such reports, but I could believe it. But you said “instance” which means you are either speculating or you are another “Snowden” with inside knowledge.

    So, if there have been no “instances”, is that because there have been no attempts or is it that the attempts were thwarted by means other than NSA’s alleged capabilities? If you have inside knowledge in this regard, some here would probably like to know about it–not me. If the US or anyone else are effectively thwarting the Islamists, I prefer the methods be kept quiet if discovery of them renders them less effective.

    In any case, you might want to consult with Snowden on means for effective flight and hiding before you disclose more.

    Or go for it now and make this website even more famous!

  • Laird

    Whether or not there exists “a single instance of a terrorist attack being stopped or even warned of, by these programs” is entirely irrelevant. That’s a purely consequentialist argument; an assertion that the ends justify the means. If the efficacy of governmental action is the only test then warrantless searches and coerced self-incrimination would be the norm. Frankly, I don’t care whether any terrorist plots have been thwarted by unconstitutional governmental action; the cost (in the loss of our freedom) is too high for the (putative) gain. (Also, keep in mind that it is entirely in the government’s interest to grossly overstate the risk of terrorism, which in actuality is extremely remote, and thus keep the populace in a state of perpetual panic.)

    There are entirely lawful and efficacious ways of gaining intelligence on terrorist activities; the fact that unconstitutional data-gathering is easier for the authorities is not an acceptable justification.

  • Jason

    @Dom, regarding phone calls, I’m pretty sure the documents Snowden leaked suggested it’s the metadata the NSA stores – that is, not the content of the phone call, but to whom it was made, the time of day and length, the location of the phone at the time and so on – presumably fed into a big data analysis tool to identify whatever patterns of behaviour the government of the day finds interesting.

    That is not to say it is any less insidious for it, in fact in a certain light it is rather more frightening that it is the metadata these fellows are interested in. To indiscrimiately tap phones – while unforgivably intrusive – would suggest ambitions rather more meagre than those of a programme that sets out to map a macroscale model of billions of relationships between individuals and categories of individuals.

    I nearly invoked Godwin’s Law with a reference to the 1933 German census, but on reflection I don’t think it is helpful. Suffice to say, little of any good comes when governments start taking this level of interest in people.

  • Jason

    On the plus side, the NSA and GCHQ must be pouring enormous amounts of cash into the data storage business.

  • Fraser Orr

    To add to Laird’s comment, there is another side to this. By expending vast resources on the collection of petabytes of useless information, we loose the opportunity to target these resources to where they really matter.

    There seems to be a number of incidents where the NSA collected data actually did prevent terrorist attacks, and that is good — that is what they should be doing. However, collecting data on grandma’s web browser history in Belo Horizonte contributed not one whit. On the contrary, it robbed the agency of that most vital of resources, focus.

    And there is another point that needs to be made. If our policy is billions for defense but not a penny for tribute, then we must recognize that we are already paying the Danegeld in spades. I live in the USA and the terrorists have had a very significant impact on my life. Flying in an aircraft is horrible, I am tracked and snooped and taxed and my liberty threatened every day.

    This gross loss of privacy is part of that Danegeld, and I think it is consequently a surrender to the terrorists. The purpose of the NSA is to protect our way of life; protecting us from terrorists is merely a means to an end. And so this enterprise is much like killing the patient to save his life.

  • Richard Thomas

    It should be borne in mind that they also track the data on the senators and congressmen. Who then is to stand against them?



  • Mr Ed

    The difference between state surveillance in the past is that organisations such as M15 were looking for people who might be Fenians or German spies c. 1914 and were looking for the needles in the haystack.

    Now it seems that the NSA wants to map the entire haystack and have data on every piece of straw, in case it turns out to be a needle, regardless of whether or not the haystack wants it to do so.

  • The Lincolnshire Poacher

    …get used to it. Controlled surveillance is here to stay.

    And from now on it will not be possible to prove that surveillance is regulated even if governments say it is. When the default has been lies how will we know what the truth looks like. But bare in mind that governments and security organisations now leak more information than they ever have before. We know more now about the intelligence services than at any time in history. Even before Snowden it was possible to infer a huge amount of information just by trawling the internet. It’s all open to anybody that looks. And this will continue. There will be more Snowdens and more Wikileaks. The digital revolution cannot be reversed. The future promises unknown and increasingly complex technologies in the hands of ordinary people. Governments can only compensate by increasing surveillance and attempting to increase social control. We are in a kind of arms race. Who knows where this will lead. Perhaps the default end of “progress” is destruction. If you’re in government and you’re looking at technology you should probably shit yourself.