Protest the ‘Panopticon’

June 3, 2014

Mohr-NSAOnce again like clockwork, high overcast and a bit breezy this way-early Tuesday on California’s north coast — weather for all its craziness, is pretty consistent up here, especially as the air heats.

And heating up, too, is the way the Internet is reacting to the NSA’s ability to see, hear and maybe even reach out and touch anybody, anywhere, anytime.

(Illustration found here).

As we approach a year’s anniversary of the Eddie Snowden disclosures, the latest shit-scoop seems appropriate for the occasion — yesterday via Mashable:

What sets the NSA apart from other government organizations using facial recognition technology is its ability to link that information to other forms of private communication, like emails or text messages.
It’s unclear exactly how many images the NSA has collected, or how many of those images are from Americans.
The agency did, however, attempt to gain access to national identity card databases in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, according to the report.

And from the New York Times:

The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden.
While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show.
“It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document.

The shit continues, and in an attempt to rein in this festering sore, some Internet heavy hitters will form a protest on Thursday against the overreach of the NSA and its bullshit waltz into everyone’s lives.
From Techcrunch:

A number of websites for Internet services, businesses and even several nonprofits, including Amnesty International, Greenpeace,, and others, will participate in a series of online anti-NSA protests this week.
The websites, which also include Reddit, Imgur, BoingBoing, DuckDuckGo, and several others are taking part in an online campaign called “Reset the Net,” which is specifically aimed at encouraging website owners and mobile app creators to integrate increased security protections into their services, like SSL and HSTS, for example.
The overall goal is to make it more difficult for government agencies to engage in their spying activities.
Explains the campaign on its website, “The NSA is exploiting weak links in Internet security to spy on the entire world, twisting the Internet we love into something it was never meant to be: a panopticon.”
While it’s not possible to stop the attacks, the site adds, those who offer users online services could help cut down on the mass surveillance by building proven security into the “everyday internet.”

And a panopticon? From Wikipedia:

The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without their being able to tell whether they are being watched or not.
Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly.
The name is also a reference to Panoptes from Greek mythology; he was a giant with a hundred eyes and thus was known to be a very effective watchman.

Really, really does sound familiar. And Thursday, too, is that one-year birthday bash in those Snowden files — the NSA on a daily basis is collecting the phone records of millions of Americans.
Nothing heavy…
And the whole shebang went down hill from there. Bubbling out of our useless, shit-faced Congress is the new-fangled USA Freedom Act, which is supposed to end the bulk collection metadata, end the secret laws created by the FISA court, and introduce a “Special Advocate” to represent public and privacy matters.
Late last month, the House passed its version of the bill, but its contents was so gutted, it became nearly ludicrous to continue:

“I’m disappointed that this popular bipartisan bill has been so drastically weakened,” Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), a sponsor of the original bill, said.
Representative Rush Holt (D-N.J.) asked, “How could anyone vote for legislation that doesn’t uphold the constitutional standard of probable cause?”
Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich), also an original sponsor who voted against the new version, wrote in a lengthy Facebook post, that the revised bill “doesn’t look much like the Freedom Act…It mocks our system of government that [President Obama and lawmakers] worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors.”

Marcy Wheeler had a great post up yesterday about what she nicknamed the USA Freedumber Act — some insightful points:

Ominously, Dianne Feinstein just scheduled an NSA hearing for Thursday afternoon, when most of the privacy community will be out rallying the troops.
Unless the surveillance community finds some way to defeat USA Freedumber, the intelligence community will soon be toasting themselves that they used the cover of Edward Snowden’s disclosures to expand surveillance.
The “Edward Snowden Put the NSA in Your Smartphone Act,” they might call it.
To prevent that, the privacy community needs to find a way to defeat USA Freedumber.
It’s not enough, in my opinion, to point to the judicial review codified by USA Freedumber to accede to letting this pass.
Not only doesn’t USA Freedumber end what most normal people call, “bulk collection,” but it expands collection in a number of ways.
That’s true, in part, because of the way the bill defines “bulk collection.” USA Freedumber only considers something “bulk collection” if it collects all of some kind of data (so, all phone data in the US).
If NSA limits collection at all — selecting to collect all the phone records from Area Code 202, for example — it no longer qualifies as bulk collection under the Intel Community definition used in the bill, no matter how broadly they’re collecting.

In my opinion, these changes mean the NSA will be able to do much of what they were doing in 2009, before what were then called abuses – but under this bill would be legalized — were discovered.
That, plus they’re likely to expand the dragnet beyond terrorism targets.
For a year, privacy advocates have believed we’d get reform in response to Snowden’s leaks.
For too long, advocates treated HR 3361 as positive reform.
But unless we defeat USA Freedumber, the Intelligence Community will have used the event of Snowden’s leaks as an opportunity to expand the dragnet.

She details the problems here and here.

I doubt much can be done and the Freedumber Act will make life even more Orwellian — observed without seeing.

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