Here’s a well written article by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic. Of course, it’s tongue in cheek.
But listen to the serious argument by an attorney who represented Homeland Security, and a response by Freedom of Press Foundation:
“You can’t debate our intelligence capabilities and how to control them in the public without disclosing all of the things that you’re discussing to the very people you’re trying to gather intelligence about,” he said. “Your targets are listening to the debates.” In fact, he continued, they’re listening particularly closely. For that reason, publicly debating intelligence techniques, targets and limits is foolish. As soon as targets figure out the limits of what authorities can touch, they’ll change their tactics accordingly. In his view, limits should be set in secret. A class of overseers with security clearances can make the necessary judgment calls.
Trevor Timm, co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, attempted to defend normal democratic debate. “What separates us from countries like Russia and China is that we can have these types of debates with an informed public that are completely aware of what types of surveillance are available to governments and what the legal standards are,” he argued. “We’re not specifically debating who the NSA is going to spy on, but whole surveillance regimes. If we didn’t debate that in this country, the Fourth Amendment would be classified. But it’s not.”
Hypocrisy is not a beautiful thing, though sometimes it is a tiny bit gratifying. Rolling Stone reports. My favorite is #8:
8. The CIA was so angered by the Senate having its hands on the Panetta Review that it spied on the work of its Senate overseers.
[O]n January 15, 2014, CIA Director [John] Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search” – that was John Brennan’s word – of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the “stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.
According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.
Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.
Mike Morris offers us a timely proposal at his website, Funmentionables. The article, complete with Mike’s brand of Bible quoting humor, ends ominously with a declaration that there are two Americas. Here’s his opening which, in his hallowed tradition, he supports with Bible chapter and verse:
On January 28, 2014, Representative Michael Grimm (R-NY-11) issued a direct verbal threat to a reporter inside the Capitol building by saying “I’ll break you in half” and “throw you off this f—ing balcony,” which was a direct violation of D.C. law (District of Columbia Official Code, Division IV, Title 22, Subtitle I, Chapter 4, § 22-407): “Whoever is convicted in the District of threats to do bodily harm shall be fined not more than $ 500 or imprisoned not more than 6 months . . .”
Rep. Grimm was never arrested for his actions, and Congress has taken no punitive action against him. By its inaction, the US Congress is essentially condoning a Congressperson’s right to threaten to kill average Americans, though conversely, when average Americans threaten the life of a public official, they are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. In keeping with this double standard and to codify for all time this special status, I propose the following:
Expressing support for designation of January 28, annually, as “Throw a Reporter “Off This F—ing Balcony” Day”.
Chris Hedges explains that U.S. citizens now live in a “dual state”:
We live in what the German political scientist Ernst Fraenkel called “the dual state.” Totalitarian states are always dual states. In the dual state civil liberties are abolished in the name of national security. The political sphere becomes a vacuum “as far as the law is concerned,” Fraenkel wrote. There is no legal check on power. Official bodies operate with impunity outside the law. In the dual state the government can convict citizens on secret evidence in secret courts. It can strip citizens of due process and detain, torture or assassinate them, serving as judge, jury and executioner. It rules according to its own arbitrary whims and prerogatives. The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are hollow, political stagecraft. Fraenkel called those who wield this unchecked power over the citizenry “the prerogative state.” The masses in a totalitarian structure live in what Fraenkel termed “the normative state.” The normative state, he said, is defenseless against the abuses of the prerogative state. Citizens are subjected to draconian laws and regulations, as well as arbitrary searches and arrests. The police and internal security are omnipotent. The internal workings of power are secret. Free expression and opposition political activity are pushed to the fringes of society or shut down. Those who challenge the abuses of power by the prerogative state, those who, like Snowden, expose the crimes carried out by government, are made into criminals. Totalitarian states always invert the moral order. It is the wicked who rule. It is the just who are damned.
The fact that we feel free does not mean that we are free:
Societies that once had democratic traditions, or periods when openness was possible, are often seduced into totalitarian systems because those who rule continue to pay outward fealty to the ideals, practices and forms of the old systems. This was true when the Emperor Augustus dismantled the Roman Republic. It was true when Lenin and the Bolsheviks seized control of the autonomous soviets and ruthlessly centralized power. It was true following the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi fascism. Thomas Paine described despotic government as a fungus growing out of a corrupt civil society. And this is what has happened to us. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, can be described as free. The relationship between the U.S. government and the U.S. citizen is now one of master and slave. Yet the prerogative state assures us that our rights are sacred, that it abides by the will of the people and the consent of the governed.
StopWatching.us is a coalition of more than 100 public advocacy organizations and companies from across the political spectrum. Join the movement at https://rally.stopwatching.us. This video harnesses the voices of celebrities, activists, legal experts, and other prominent figures in speaking out against mass surveillance by the NSA. Please share widely to help us spread the message that we will not stand for the dragnet surveillance of our communications.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is a nonprofit civil liberties law and advocacy center that has been fighting the NSA’s unconstitutional spying for years. Learn more at https://eff.org.
Glenn Greenwald recently left The Guardian to begin a new journalistic enterprise, which has now launched. The mission statement of The Intercept is as follows:
The Intercept, a publication of First Look Media, was created by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill. It has a two-fold mission: one short-term, the other long-term.
Our short-term mission is to provide a platform to report on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Although we are still building our infrastructure and larger vision, we are launching now because we believe we have a vital obligation to this ongoing and evolving story, to these documents, and to the public.
Our NSA coverage will be comprehensive, innovative and multi-faceted. We have a team of experienced editors and journalists devoted to the story. We will use all forms of digital media for our reporting. In addition, we will publish primary source documents on which our reporting is based. We will also invite outside experts with area knowledge to contribute to our reporting, and provide a platform for commentary and reader engagement.
Our long-term mission is to produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues. The editorial independence of our journalists will be guaranteed. They will be encouraged to pursue their passions, cultivate a unique voice, and publish stories without regard to whom they might anger or alienate. We believe the prime value of journalism is its power to impose transparency, and thus accountability, on the most powerful governmental and corporate bodies, and our journalists will be provided the full resources and support required to do this.
While our initial focus will be the critical work surrounding the NSA story, we are excited by the opportunity to grow with our readers into the broader and more comprehensive news outlet that the The Intercept will become.
President Obama kicked off a meek and week NSA reform effort. The EFF has described what real reform would involve. [Reposted with creative commons permission by the EFF):
1. Stop mass surveillance of digital communications and communication records.
It doesn’t matter what legal authority is being cited—whether it’s the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments Act, or an executive order—the government should not be sweeping up massive amounts of information by and about innocent people first, then sorting out whether any of its targets are included later. The NSA has disingenuously argued that simply acquiring this data isn’t actually "collecting" and that no privacy violation can take place unless the information it stores is actually seen by a human or comes up through an automated searches of what it has collected. That’s nonsense. The government’s current practices of global dragnet surveillance constitute general warrants that violate the First and Fourth Amendments, and fly in the face of accepted international human rights laws. Obama needs to direct the NSA to engage only in targeted surveillance and stop its programs of mass surveillance, something he can do with a simple executive order.
2. Protect the privacy rights of foreigners.
The NSA's surveillance is based upon the presumption that foreigners are fair game, whether their information is collected inside the US or outside the US. But non-suspect foreigners shouldn't have their communications surveilled any more than non-suspect Americans. The review group recommended limited protections for non-US persons and while that is a good start, the president should do more to ensure that actual suspicion is required before either targeted or untargeted surveillance of non-US persons.
3. Don’t turn communications companies into the new Big Brother: no data retention mandate.
Obama’s review group recommended ending the NSA’s telephone records program, which we strongly agree with, but then indicated that a reasonable substitute would be to force American communications companies to store the data themselves and make it available to the government. The group ultimately recommended a data retention mandate if companies won’t comply voluntarily. But companies shouldn’t be pressed into becoming the NSA’s agents by keeping more data than they need or keeping it longer than they need to. To the contrary, companies should be working on ways to store less user data for less time—decreasing the risks from data breaches and intrusions like the one that just happened to Target. Data retention heads in the wrong direction for our security regardless of whether the government or private parties store the information.
4. National Security Letters need prior judicial review and should never be accompanied by a perpetual gag order.
One recommendation of the review group we heartily endorse is reining in National Security Letters. The FBI uses these letters to demand user data from communications service providers with no judicial review. Providers are forbidden from talking about receiving NSLs, which means the letters also serve as perpetual gag orders. EFF was successful in convincing a federal judge to strike down these NSLs last year. The case is on appeal but Obama can remedy the situation more quickly by instructing the FBI not to issue NSLs without prior judicial review, and to limit its use of gag orders.
5. Stop undermining Internet security, weakening encryption, and infiltrating companies.
Recent revelations show that the NSA is undermining Internet encryption, making us all less secure when we use technology. These practices include weakening standards, attacking technology companies, and preventing security holes from being fixed. As the president’s review group recognized, this has serious consequences for any industry that relies on digital security—finance, medicine, transportation, and countless others, along with anyone in the world who relies on safe, private communication. Obama should follow the recommendations of his review group and immediately stop the NSA’s efforts to undermine or weaken the security of our technologies.
The articles have been coming at a steady clip, and it’s difficult to keep track of all of the revelations. But this article by Jodi Avergan lists the access that the NSA has to our private lives, many of these with links.