The U.S. government has been looking and often gathering and collecting data on almost every phone call, website visited, and credit card transaction we make. In case you want to get caught up one this issue which hit the news world hard yesterday, this article on the National Security Agency (NSA) program called Prism is a good quick start. Here's a juicy quote of a quote from the article:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

While it's hard to feel happy about this, could it be necessary to prevent another 9/11? If it did prevent something like a nuclear device being detonated in Chicago killing a million people, would it be worth it? Does this revelation give the bad guys notice that they need a new way to stay in touch?

Obviously, a government needs some secrecy, but how much is too much?

Tags: Agency, FBI, NSA, National, Security, data, mining, privacy, secrecy

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I'm sure he was worried about his safety. Does it seem at all odd to you he selected China? That's not gonna help his cause. Hell, the Chinese probably have all that data already. They make and control most of the worlds telecom equipment. They will be reading this message in 1,2,3,4,5 seconds. Hi Chinese Guy !!

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revel...

The 29-year-old source behind the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history explains his motives, his uncertain future and why he never intended on hiding in the shadows

The individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden has been working at the National Security Agency for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors, including Booz Allen and Dell.

The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.

Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning. He is responsible for handing over material from one of the world's most secretive organisations – the NSA.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

Despite his determination to be publicly unveiled, he repeatedly insisted that he wants to avoid the media spotlight. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."

He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. "I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me."

Despite these fears, he remained hopeful his outing will not divert attention from the substance of his disclosures. "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in." He added: "My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them."

He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves. "I'm willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building."

'I am not afraid, because this is the choice I've made'

Three weeks ago, Snowden made final preparations that resulted in last week's series of blockbuster news stories. At the NSA office in Hawaii where he was working, he copied the last set of documents he intended to disclose.

He then advised his NSA supervisor that he needed to be away from work for "a couple of weeks" in order to receive treatment for epilepsy, a condition he learned he suffers from after a series of seizures last year.

As he packed his bags, he told his girlfriend that he had to be away for a few weeks, though he said he was vague about the reason. "That is not an uncommon occurrence for someone who has spent the last decade working in the intelligence world."

On May 20, he boarded a flight to Hong Kong, where he has remained ever since. He chose the city because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent", and because he believed that it was one of the few places in the world that both could and would resist the dictates of the US government.

[read entire story here]

What they are saying on CNN this morning is that while it was possible for him to access the information he says he could, in doing so he went beyond his job description and broke the law in doing so. In other words, he abused the tools made available to him, much like a file clerk who pokes around in files that are available but which have nothing to do with his/her job.

If true, then the government has the argument that they are not abusing the information available to them but that a rogue employee might do so.

It may seem a meager defense, but as I've asked before, if in fighting terrorism we use only the tools no one can abuse, what are we left with?

If true, then the government has the argument that they are not abusing the information available to them but that a rogue employee might do so.

No they don't. The "information available to them" IS the abuse. It was made available to them by searching the digital effects of American citizens: without warrants, without probable cause, and without particularly describing the things they seized in the searches. That's a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

That applies to every one of the billions of American emails, text messages, electronic files, recorded calls, voice chats, video chats, or other digital content they lifted from a server or off a wire without a such a warrant: unequivocally illegal.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It may seem a meager defense, but as I've asked before, if in fighting terrorism we use only the tools no one can abuse, what are we left with?

It's the abuse of the Fourth Amendment that needs to stop, not the use of the tools we have.

If the NSA or FBI wants to search your Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, Paltalk, AOL, and YouTube accounts then let them do what the Constitution says: go to court, state their probable cause against you, specify what they're looking for and will take, and GET A WARRANT.

If following the law makes law enforcement and signal intelligence that much harder then GOOD. Protecting your civil liberties should be the hardest job there is. A free society is always more vulnerable to attack and there is no avoiding that.

The Constitution exists purposefully to LIMIT the powers of government, not so Bush or Obama or anyone else can throw a cloak of secrecy over what they're doing when they want to get around those limits.

I don't think we're totally clear on whether a human being gets to read emails, chats, TA, etc., without a warrant, or if the items which are flagged by pattern recognition software are simply warehoused in case they are needed later, by a warrant at that time. 

I say we're not clear because I've seen experts interviewed this morning who say he's lying, he doesn't know what he's talking about, etc.

I don't think we're totally clear on whether a human being gets to read emails, chats, TA, etc., without a warrant,

The top secret NSA and FBI documents cited in the Washington Post are totally clear in describing;

(1) NSA analysts (human beings) access emails, chats, electronic files, etc,
(2) that they use "foreignness" not "warrants" to do so,
(3) the acceptable standard to determine "foreignness" is 51% accurate, and
(4) they blow it (look at American content without warrants) so often they have to write quarterly reports and issue training materials to reassure worried human beings not to lose any sleep over what they've done.

What part of that isn't totally clear?

But none of it matters in the least, because even if none of them ever reads the email, chat, or electronic file, the search that put it into the database was illegal in the first place, so it's still a Fourth Amendment violation.

or if the items which are flagged by pattern recognition software are simply warehoused in case they are needed later, by a warrant at that time.

A search and seizure is a search and seizure. A wiretap is a wiretap. No special exception is made for pattern recognition or if the means is automated. Whether it's done by a human ear or human eye, some futuristic police robot, computer program, Star Trek scanner, automated copy machine, tape recorder connected to a phone line, or whatever, if it was done without a warrant it's against the law: a Fourth Amendment violation.

Rest assured, the FBI of the future cannot just park a white van next to your house, run a Star Trek scanner that inventories everything you own-- liquid, solid and electron--  and then pinky-promise not to look at any of the data, just in case they might need to take out a search warrant on you someday.

The FBI of the future is no more allowed that than the NSA of the present is allowed that with your email, chat, electronic files, voice conversations, and whatnot. But they're doing it right now. Your Fourth Amendment rights are all but gone where the internet is concerned.  

I say we're not clear because I've seen experts interviewed this morning who say he's lying, he doesn't know what he's talking about, etc.

You mean, after yanking down the trousers of the most powerful and sophisticated intelligence agency in the world, some people are calling him a liar? I'm shocked, Unseen!

The guy has produced the evidence: top secret documents. I'll believe the pants-on-fire campaign when these "experts" can demonstrate those documents are fakes, or that he didn't work as an NSA contractor, or he couldn't possibly have had access to photocopy them.

The top secret NSA and FBI documents cited in the Washington Post are totally clear in describing; 

(1) NSA analysts (human beings) access emails, chats, electronic files, etc, 
(2) that they use "foreignness" not "warrants" to do so, 
(3) the acceptable standard to determine "foreignness" is 51% accurate, and 
(4) they blow it (look at American content without warrants) so often they have to write quarterly reports and issue training materials to reassure worried human beings not to lose any sleep over what they've done.

What part of that isn't totally clear?

So, you believe something simply because you read it in the Washington Post?

I will wait for some verification that the "top secret documents" are actually legitimate top secret documents. I'm not sure yet that the Washington Post isn't just taking his word for it. 

Do they have "Top Secret" stamped on them? You can buy a stamp for a few bucks. 

You seem a little unskeptical, GM. Remember: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. We don't yet know what's truth, what's half truth, and what's totally false.

Certainly, there's some truth, which I've already granted, and which I base on the fact that the government would like to extradite him, but we don't yet know what's what.

If it can be demonstrated with certainty that constitutional rights are being violated, I'm totally with you.

So, you believe something simply because you read it in the Washington Post?

Don't be fatuous, Unseen. You write this as though the say-so of the Washington Post is the only source of information available about the leaked documents.

I will wait for some verification that the "top secret documents" are actually legitimate top secret documents.

And precisely what "top secret document verification test" is that? Is there some special chemical that can be applied to the paper? A particular NSA font used there and nowhere else? Who are you waiting for to perform this verification?

I'm not sure yet that the Washington Post isn't just taking his word for it.

If he showed up with no top secret documents, no ID badge from the NSA, no check stubs proving that he worked there, or what have you, and just a tall tale, and they published his story anyway? That would be "just taking his word for it". You can be sure: the WP did not do that.

Now, if he went to Fox "News" or some wretched yellow rag that Murdoch publishes, instead of a legitimate and respected newspaper, that would be cause to be unsure.

What the WP did is check out his story, background and evidence as best they could, make an editorial judgement call: this is credible enough to publish. So they did.

The rest is your call as the reader. 

Do they have "Top Secret" stamped on them? You can buy a stamp for a few bucks. 

You haven't LOOKED? *Laughing* Oh, for fuck's sake. You wanted a test, Unseen? Start with the "get off your ass and look" test.

If you wanted to fake a top secret NSA document to fool the world, would it resemble the half-assed work of a high school junior?

You seem a little unskeptical, GM. Remember: extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. We don't yet know what's truth, what's half truth, and what's totally false.

And you seem a little lazy, Unseen.

Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." I've done little else but examine the claim and the evidence that has come to light in the past few days regarding PRISM. I find them both to be extraordinary: the claim and the evidence. I'm surprised you don't.

(Your turn, Unseen. Regarding the claim the top secret documents are fakes? Evidence, please?)

The credibility of evidence is a separate issue. The guy gave up a $200,000 a year job in Hawaii, knowing he'd likely spend the rest of his life in prison or possibly be killed. The feds all the way up to the President himself have rolled back layers of secrecy surrounding PRISM as a result of his actions.

The top secret documents were the most damaging part. If they're bogus, why no denials of authenticity from the NSA and FBI? Why not say it flat out: He faked the documents! None of it is true! It's a web of lies! The Chinese are behind it all, now he's kissing ass in Hong Kong!

But his former bosses didn't put the lie to him. Instead, out came the Twister board: officially he was out of context!  I have yet to see any "context" added that makes the activities described in those top secret documents any less illegal.

Certainly, there's some truth, which I've already granted, and which I base on the fact that the government would like to extradite him, but we don't yet know what's what.

If it can be demonstrated with certainty that constitutional rights are being violated, I'm totally with you.

What sort of "demonstration" would that take, Unseen? Top secret documents and NSA whistle blowers aren't good enough for you, so what it'll be? A confession from Clapper himself at the NSA? (Gosh everybody. Sorry we're violating the Constitution like this. We'll knock it off right away.)

They got caught doing the same illegal warrantless snooping in 2009 and promised to fix everything. Silly us, getting the impression "fixing it" meant they'd stop wiping their asses with the Fourth Amendment, when fixing it just meant drawing the NSA curtains so we'd never moan about what they were doing again. Until now. Oops.

I'm 100% certain the US public Internet is NSA wiretapped, which is a no-brainer since the telecoms have been required by law to let the NSA plug in since 1996. This is drying up as a source of signal intelligence since SSL/TLS encryption is becoming increasingly the norm: all they get is gibberish. So they need other sources: new sources.

I'm about 90% certain that (1) the major tech companies (voluntarily or not) grant the NSA server access (likely via software APIs) (2) the access occurs without warrants (as it did in 2009, either because it never stopped or because it started up again), and (3) the number of companies that do this is growing.

I'd say our duly elected officials decided that the Fourth Amendment is a necessary casualty when it comes to gathering intelligence (a decision they do not have the power to make) and that what we don't know won't hurt us (only now we know).

if in fighting terrorism we use only the tools no one can abuse, what are we left with?

Freedom, privacy, constitutional rights? We're not arguing that there's a trade-off of rights vs security, right? It's about where we draw the line.

I flip the stop-think-cliche "freedom isn't free": the cost of freedom is sticking to your principles and setting a good example for all to see and appreciate. There are still larger, healthier ventures to invest in to improve quality of life. We could be saving thousands more lives a day and quality of life, if our priorities weren't base on spectacular events more than our daily, mundane suffering that's not on the front page.

If only people weren't people.

Perhaps the government needs some (some) secrecy, but we also need it, I had an spouse that made a big deal about everything I did. I got tired of playing secret agent with her about harmless stuff. I got tired of watching my back all the time. I don't relish the idea of having to be constantly watching my back from bureaucrats and other sammies  looking for witch hunts.

Well, the difference (one of them) is that the spouse uses the information (or the suspicion that there is information) to f*ck with you, whereas you're unlikely to ever hear from the government, unless of course you're doing something that's a threat to national security, or you know someone who is.

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