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IRS Claims Two Years Of Emails Were Destroyed In A ‘Computer Crash;’ Congressman Asks The NSA To Supply ‘Missing’ Email Metadata

By Tim Cushing | Techdirt | June 16, 2014

The IRS is currently being investigated by Congress for some possibly politically-motivated “attention” it directed towards “Tea Party” and other conservative groups that operated as tax-exempt entities. Along the way, IRS official Lois Lerner, who was the first to publicly disclose the inappropriate targeting, was also one of the first government officials to plead the Fifth (twice) in government hearings.

The Congressional investigation demanded copies of Lois Lerner’s emails from the IRS. Some were turned over to the House Ways and Means Committee, but not everything it sought. Now, the IRS is telling the committee that it’s not going to get everything it asked for.

The IRS has told Congress that it lost more than two years’ worth of emails involving former IRS official Lois Lerner, due to a computer crash.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) on Friday said it was “unacceptable” that he was just learning of this problem now, after a lengthy investigation into Lerner’s involvement in the IRS targeting scandal.

Camp points out that the IRS withheld these emails for over a year before suddenly “discovering” they were unavailable. The IRS says it can find everything Lerner sent to and received from other IRS employees but nothing containing correspondence with those outside the agency.

Obviously, this convenient “computer crash” has generated a lot of skepticism. For one thing, a “computer crash” doesn’t really have the power to destroy electronic communications. Email is almost always stored somewhere else other than the local user’s computer. And even if the IRS meant a “server crash” instead of a “computer crash,” any decent server system contains multiple levels of redundancy.

The Blaze sought input from Norman Cillo, a former Microsoft project manager, who presented six reasons why he believes the IRS is lying about its inability to recover these emails. Number one on the list seems to be the most applicable.

I believe the government uses Microsoft Exchange for their email servers. They have built-in exchange mail database redundancy. So, unless they did not follow Microsoft’s recommendations they are telling a falsehood.

The IRS’s own policies on email state that its employees use both Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, which means it should have some form of backup available.

Secure Messaging enrollment is an automated process for all LAN accounts with an Exchange mailbox in IRS. You can find the instructions for configuring the Outlook client to use the certificates at the Secure Enterprise Messaging Systems (SEMS) web site: http://documentation.sems.enterprise.irs.gov/.

According to Cillo, the only other explanation for the IRS’s inability to recover these emails is that the agency is “totally mismanaged and has the worst IT department ever.” Unfortunately, the government seems to have a lot of mismanaged and terrible IT departments, so this may be closer to the truth than anyone would really like to admit. Perhaps the general ineptitude of large government agencies is behind the Treasury Department’s policy that all email sent to or from IRS employees be “archived” via hard copy printouts.

If you create or receive email messages during the course of your daily work, you are responsible for ensuring that you manage them properly. The Treasury Department’s current email policy requires emails and attachments that meet the definition of a federal record be added to the organization’s files by printing them (including the essential transmission data) and filing them with related paper records. If transmission and receipt data are not printed by the email system, annotate the paper copy.

There’s more information here, citing the IRS’s own internal guidelines on tape backups, etc., that suggest further levels of redundancy, as well as the commissioner of the IRS testifying that the agency stores its emails on servers.

Critics believe the IRS has simply “vanished” the crucial emails in order to cut Lerner adrift and make it appear she acted alone. Any evidence that would tie outside government agencies (including the administration itself) into this situation has been deemed unrecoverable. Supposedly, there should be paper copies of the missing emails, but no one in Congress has requested these and the IRS certainly isn’t offering to look.

But one Congressman thinks he has a solution to the missing email dilemma. Steve Stockman (last seen here threatening to bring a defamation lawsuit against someone who uttered true facts about his criminal past) knows some people who have a whole lot of email data just laying around.

“I have asked NSA Director Rogers to send me all metadata his agency has collected on Lois Lerner’s email accounts for the period which the House sought records,” said Stockman. “The metadata will establish who Lerner contacted and when, which helps investigators determine the extent of illegal activity by the IRS.”

Yeah, let me know how that works out for you, Steve. The NSA can’t even confirm or deny its monthly water usage at its Utah data site, much less that it has metadata pertaining to Americans’ communications.

[Sidebar: I do really love the fact that this sort of thing is becoming increasingly common -- the use of the NSA as the backup-of-last-resort for phone/email/internet communications data. If anyone claims it can't find email X or phone record Y, someone's going to say, "Hey, I'll bet the NSA has a copy!" Hilarious. The NSA will never again be allowed to pretend it doesn't harvest data on American citizens.]

The whole letter, which begins with some light ass-kissing of new NSA director Michael Rogers (“thank you for your 33 years of, and continued service to, our country...”) and closes with a bit of grandstanding, surreally asking “the Agency” to send all relevant metadata on the missing Lerner emails to “Donny@mail.house.gov.” All in all, probably one of the most incongruous demands the NSA has ever received, a letter which conjures up the image of a late-night meeting in an underground parking garage, with sunglassed NSA liaisons handing over a briefcase full of metadata to a 19-year-old intern dressed in his dad’s suit.

It’s pretty hard to shake the impression that this is a coverup. As always, the specter of pure ineptitude lurks in the background, as it often does when large bureaucracies tangle with technology. But until the IRS presents further evidence detailing how exactly these emails went missing, it’s safe to assume there’s been an active effort made to cover up government impropriety.

June 16, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception | , , | Leave a comment

China rejects latest US hacking accusation

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China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying

Press TV – June 11, 2014

China has dismissed the recent allegation by the US that the Chinese military has been involved in hacking a US security firm, describing Washington’s approach on the issue as unconstructive.

A private US cyber security firm accused a unit of China’s military on Monday of hacking attempts to access information on US satellite and aerospace programs, Xinhua reported.

China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying rejected the allegation at a press briefing on Tuesday.

“I have noticed the report you mentioned, its wording and style looks familiar, citing the names of the hackers and their claims of their military identity,” she said, responding to a question about US reports alleging Chinese hacking attempts. “Have you ever seen thieves bearing a name tag saying ‘thieves?’” she said.

Washington had issued an indictment against five Chinese military officers on charges of cyber theft earlier on May 19.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman further challenged the integrity of the US allegations against her country, referring to the massive American espionage efforts across the globe as part of its PRISM program under the US National Security Agency (NSA).

The program, which was revealed by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden in 2013, showed that the US was spying on the phone and email communications of top world leaders, including those of Washington’s allied countries as well as China.

“The US is a hacking empire,” Hua said. “It is not constructive for the US to attack others instead of repenting and correcting its own mistakes.”

The Chinese official further pointed out that cyber attacks are a global challenge – transnational and anonymous in nature – requiring cooperation among all countries to be countered.

June 11, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Germany To Begin Formal Investigation Into NSA Surveillance — But Only Of Angela Merkel

By Glyn Moody | Techdirt | June 6, 2014

The German government has been trying to avoid upsetting either the US by denouncing the large-scale surveillance being carried out by the NSA in its country, or the German people by not denouncing it. It finds itself in the same quandary as regards opening a formal investigation into the spying, which is probably why it has held off for so long. But now, the German authorities have come up with a sort of compromise, as GigaOM reports:

Germany’s federal prosecutor has launched the country’s first formal investigation into the activities of the NSA in Germany, specifically the U.S. intelligence agency’s reported bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

Harald Range said on Wednesday that the other potential avenue of investigation — that of the surveillance of the German people — remained open, though no investigation was being launched yet due to a lack of evidence.

Leaving aside the question just how much evidence the federal prosecutor needs before he investigates whether the German people have been subjected to US surveillance — a signed confession from President Obama perhaps? — the other issue here is the astonishing lack of sensitivity this move displays. The German government seems to be saying that spying is outrageous and must be investigated immediately if it’s directed against the powerful; but if it’s against the little people, then, well, sorry: we need more evidence before we could possibly risk upsetting the US.

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Thought better of it: NSA can get rid of evidence, judge says

RT | June 7, 2014

A federal judge who ordered the National Security Agency to retain all records of its secret telephone surveillance related to an ongoing case has reversed the order – just a day after it was issued.

“In order to protect national security programs, I cannot issue a ruling at this time. The Court rescinds the June 5 order,” US District Judge Jeffrey White said from the bench on Friday.

The NSA had been prohibited from destroying any of its records of communications surveillance on Thursday – specifically under the government’s Section 702 program.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has been used by the NSA to justify widespread collection of phone calls and emails.

White first ordered that the agency retain records in March, to which the NSA responded that it was legally obliged to destroy all documents after a five year period.

White issued the temporary restraining order (TRO) in March to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, on Thursday, EFF filed an emergency motion, stating that in the past week interactions with government lawyers demonstrated that the destruction of records had continued.

Records could form a basis of evidence for two pending lawsuits posing a challenge to the surveillance program. One was filed by AT&T customers and the other by 23 Californian organizations.

The case – Jewel v. NSA the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the NSA and other government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers.

The Friday hearing saw lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) going up against lawyers from the Department of Justice.

The case has stagnated in the court system for several years. In 2008, the original complaint was filed against AT&T and the government, which it was alleged, was involved in “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency and other Defendants in concert with major telecommunications companies.”

Evidence pre-dated Snowden’s revelations in June 2013, and was based on evidence from former San Francisco AT&T technician Mark Klein in 2006.

“I don’t want the preservation effects to get in the way of national security, but I don’t want national security to checkmate our case,” Cindy Cohn, an EFF attorney, told the court, reported arstechnica.

Justice department lawyers sought a stay. They argued that phone records and internet programs were separate. Section 702 allows the government access to emails and Facebook messages. The lawyers said that their compliance would put the program at risk.

June 7, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

Remember When Venezuela and Bolivia Kicked the U.S. DEA Out of Their Countries, Accusing It of Espionage? Looks Like They Were Right…

By Stephan Lefebvre | CEPR Americas Blog | May 22, 2014

In their latest article on U.S. government spying for The Intercept, Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras review and publish leaked documents that show that the U.S. government may have used the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to aid the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on U.S. citizens and non-citizens in foreign countries. The NSA is shown to have assisted the DEA with efforts to capture narcotraffickers, but the leaked documents also refer to “a vibrant two-way information sharing relationship” between the two intelligence agencies, implying that the DEA shares its information with the NSA to aid with non-drug-related spying. This may explain how the NSA has gathered not just metadata but also the full-take audio from “virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.”

The authors write,

The DEA has long been in a unique position to help the NSA gain backdoor access to foreign phone networks. “DEA has close relationships with foreign government counterparts and vetted foreign partners,” the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts reported in a 2004 memo. Indeed, with more than 80 international offices, the DEA is one of the most widely deployed U.S. agencies around the globe.

But what many foreign governments fail to realize is that U.S. drug agents don’t confine themselves to simply fighting narcotics traffickers. “DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent who works with the drug-reform advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”

What’s more, Selander adds, the NSA has aided the DEA for years on surveillance operations. “On our reports, there’s drug information and then there’s non-drug information,” he says. “So countries let us in because they don’t view us, really, as a spy organization.”

While the documents accompanying the article reveal detailed information that has never before been available to the public, this is not the first time that the DEA has faced allegations of spying.

In 2005, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela stopped cooperating with the DEA after accusing it of espionage in his country. At the time, a State Department spokesperson responded by saying, “the accusations that somehow the Drug Enforcement Agency is involved in espionage are baseless. There’s no substance or justification for them.” Using arguments that would change very little over the next nine years, a State Department official said at the time, “I think it’s pretty clear to us that the motivation for this is not the accusation itself or not what they state is the problem. The motivation is an effort to detract from the government’s increasingly deficient record of cooperation.”

Three years later, President Evo Morales expelled the DEA from Bolivia saying, “there were DEA agents who worked to conduct political espionage.” He also said, “we can control ourselves internally. We don’t need any spying from anybody.” The State Department spokesperson said in response, “the charges that have been made are just patently absurd. We reject them categorically”, and the news agency EFE reported that “Washington has repeatedly denied that the DEA has been involved in any activities in Bolivia apart from the war on drugs.”

Few of the press reports from 2005 or 2008 took these accusations seriously, and the State Department dismissed the allegations categorically, but in 2008, CEPR’s co-director Mark Weisbrot wrote that “To the Bolivians, the U.S. is using the “war on drugs” throughout Latin America mainly as an excuse to get boots on the ground, and establish ties with local military and police forces.” To this list, we can now add access to national phone and communication networks, and storage of the content of phone calls.

May 22, 2014 Posted by | Deception | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Irony Alert: US Filing Criminal Charges Against China For Cyberspying

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | May 19, 2014

Even as more and more examples of questionable surveillance by the US government are revealed, the US is apparently still trying its “hey, look over there!” strategy in response. This morning, Attorney General Eric Holder is announcing that the US has filed meaningless criminal charges against members of the Chinese military for economic espionage done via the internet.

Of course, there’s no chance of any actual prosecution happening here. If anything this is all just a bit of diplomatic showmanship. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to quickly see China respond in kind with “criminal charges” being announced against folks from the NSA for the various spying that they’ve done on China. US officials will, as they always do, insist that what the People’s Liberation Army does is “different” because it’s economic espionage, in which the Chinese army breaks into networks from certain industries and companies, and shares the details with Chinese companies. The US does not appear to do the same thing directly, though there are indications of indirect economic espionage (i.e., spying on companies to then inform general US policy that might help US companies). The Chinese have (quite reasonably) questioned how there’s a legitimate distinction between the different kinds of espionage.

Either way, at a time when the US is under intense scrutiny for its questionable espionage efforts, including installing backdoors into US networking equipment (which is what they’ve accused the Chinese of doing repeatedly, despite no actual evidence), filing criminal charges against the Chinese for cyberspying… just looks really sad. It stinks of hypocrisy.

May 19, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mike Rogers’ Plan To ‘Stop’ Bulk Collection Of Phone Records Riddled With Dangerous Loopholes That Will Expand Surveillance

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | April 1, 2014

Now that people have had a chance to go through the proposal by Reps. Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger to “stop” the bulk phone record collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, they’re finding more and more things to be concerned about. We had noted some potential easter eggs in there for law enforcement, but the deeper people look, the worse it gets. Trevor Timm notes that the bill is really a trojan horse to expand surveillance capabilities, while pretending to end them.

Curiously, a large majority of the House bill focuses on new ways for the government to collect data from “electronic communications service providers” – also known as the internet companies. Why is a bill that’s supposedly about ending bulk collection of phone-call data focused on more collection of data from internet companies?

From there, we turn to Julian Sanchez, who has given one of the most thorough explanations of what’s actually in the bill, noting that it fails to really end the bulk collection of phone records while also potentially massively expanding other surveillance capabilities.

First, the HPSCI bill’s seemingly broad prohibition on bulk collection turns out to be riddled with ambiguities and potential loopholes. The fuzzy definition of “specific identifiers” leaves the door open to collection that’s extremely broad even if not completely indiscriminate. Because the provision dealing with “call detail records” applies only to &sect:215 and the provision dealing with “electronic communications records” excludes telephony records, the law does not bar the bulk collection of telephony records under FISA provisions other than §215. The prohibition on non-specific acquisition of other communications “records” probably does not preclude bulk collection under the FISA pen register provision that was previously used for the NSA Internet metadata dragnet. And, of course, none of these prohibitions apply to National Security Letters. If the government wanted to keep collecting metadata in bulk, it would have plenty of ways to do so within the parameters of this statute given a modicum of creative lawyering—at least if the FISC were to continue being as accommodating as it has been in the past.

Second, something like the novel authority created here may well be necessary to enable fast and flexible acquisition of targeted records without dragnet collection. However, once we get down to details—and even leaving aside the question of ex-post versus ex-ante judicial approval—this authority is in some respects broader than either the current §215 telephony program, the president’s proposal, or the pre-Snowden understanding of the FISA business records authority. Critically, it eliminates the required link to a predicated investigation—which, in the case of U.S. persons, must be for counterterror or counterespionage purposes.

In other words, this appears to be a superficial attempt to end bulk collection “under this program,” while at the same time knocking down a bunch of barriers to much broader bulk collection under other authorities, with less oversight and fewer ways to push back against abuse. Did anyone really expect anything different from the NSA’s two biggest defenders in the House?

April 1, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Administration Increasing Censorship rather than Increasing Transparency

By Noel Brinkerhoff | AllGov | March 18, 2014

The Obama years in Washington were supposed to be transparent ones, with increased public access to and awareness of Executive Branch operations. If anything, however, censorship and maintaining government secrets have been more prevalent the longer President Barack Obama has been in office.

“The government’s own figures from 99 federal agencies covering six years show that halfway through its second term, the administration has made few meaningful improvements in the way it releases records,” Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum reported for the Associated Press.

“In category after category—except for reducing numbers of old requests and a slight increase in how often it waived copying fees—the government’s efforts to be more open about its activities last year were their worst since President Barack Obama took office,” they added.

In 2012, the year of Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency (NSA) revelations, the administration cited “national security” as reason to keep hidden information a record 8,496 times.

That was 57% more than during the previous year and more than double during Obama’s first year in office, when it cited that reason 3,658 times.

Nearly all of the refusals last year to disclose information on national security grounds came out of the Department of Defense, the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency.

Even agencies whose mission is not the defense of the nation cited this reason for denying Freedom of Information Act requests. The Farm Service Agency did it six times, the Environmental Protection Agency did it twice and the National Park Service once.

“I’m concerned the growing trend toward relying upon FOIA exemptions to withhold large swaths of government information is hindering the public’s right to know,” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the AP. “It becomes too much of a temptation. If you screw up in government, just mark it ‘top secret.’”

In 2013, a federal judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle, upbraided the Obama administration for trying to keep secret a non-classified policy directive regarding “Global Development.”

Obama has also failed to get federal agencies to update their procedures for handling FOIA requests.

Fifty of 101 agencies still haven’t updated their FOIA regulations to comply with Congress’ 2007 FOIA amendments, and more than half of them (55 of 101) haven’t even complied with changes called for by Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to establish a “presumption of disclosure” to encourage the release of more documents, according to the National Security Archive at The George Washington University.

To Learn More:

US Cites Security More to Censor, Deny Records (by Ted Bridis and Jack Gillum, Associated Press)

Half of Federal Agencies Still Use Outdated Freedom of Information Regulations (National Security Archive)

48 Years after Creation of Freedom of Information Act, State Dept., Defense Dept. and VA Get Failing Grades (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Judge Chastises Obama Administration for Using “Secret Law” to Withhold Documents (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

March 18, 2014 Posted by | "Hope and Change", Deception | , , , | Leave a comment

US Supreme Court Denies Review of NSA Warrantless Surveillance Case

Center for Constitutional Rights  | March 4, 2014

New York – The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would not hear Center for Constitutional Rights v. Obama, a lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of people within the United States. The suit sought an injunction ordering the government to destroy any records of surveillance that it still retains from the illegal NSA program. The Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in response to the Court’s decision:

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review this case guarantees that the federal courts will never address a fundamental question: Was the warrantless surveillance program the NSA carried out on President Bush’s orders legal? The Court’s decision also guarantees that the Obama administration, which has for the last five years refused to take any position on that question, will now never have to answer either.

Despite mounting evidence of government spying on attorneys’ privileged communications, the Court yesterday declined to review the lower court’s determination that CCR attorneys’ fears of surveillance under President Bush’s NSA program, which involved no review by judges or Congress and flew directly in the face of express criminal prohibitions, were too “speculative” to allow CCR to challenge the program in court.

The Court’s decision comes as increasing evidence suggests the government has been surveilling attorney-client communications for some time. The New York Times recently reported that in 2013 the NSA surveilled law firm Mayer Brown while it represented the government of Indonesia in trade talks with the United States. In 2008, The Times reported Justice Department officials had confirmed that attorney-client communications in terrorism cases were sometimes subject to surveillance. And a document accidentally released to an Islamic charity in 2004 indicated that the D.C.-based attorneys for the charity had been subject to surveillance while speaking to their clients.

A memo released by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicated that the government only excludes attorney-client communications from collection when the client is under actual indictment in the United States. Communications of attorneys not directly with a client (for example, with expert witnesses or investigators abroad), or with a client not formally charged in the United States (including, for example, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ many Guantanamo detainee clients, none of whom are charged in federal courts) might now be subject to surveillance under broad orders issued under the current FISA statute.

press@ccrjustice.org

March 6, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

NSA bugs Merkel aides instead of chancellor

RT | February 24, 2014

In the wake of President Obama’s promise to stop spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US intelligence has switched its attention to her top government officials, a German newspaper reported.

Washington’s relations with Germany were strained last year after revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting mass surveillance in Germany and even tapped the mobile phone of Chancellor Merkel.

Facing the German outrage, President Barack Obama pledged that the US would stop spying on the leader of the European country, which is among the closest and most powerful allies of America.

After the promise was made, the NSA has stepped up surveillance of senior German officials, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BamS) reported on Sunday.

“We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor’s communication directly,” it quoted a top NSA employee in Germany as saying.

BamS said the NSA had 297 employees stationed in Germany and was surveying 320 key individuals, most of them German decision-makers involved in politics and business.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is of particular interest to the US, the report said, because he is a close aide of Merkel, who seeks his advice on many issues and was rumored to be promoting his candidacy for the post of NATO secretary-general.

A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry told the newspaper it would not comment on the “allegations of unnamed individuals.”

Privacy issues are a very sensitive area in Germany, which holds the memory of invasive state surveillance practices by the Nazi government and later by the Communist government in the former East Germany.

Part of the outrage in Germany was caused by the allegation that US intelligence is using its surveillance capabilities not only to provide national security, but also to gain business advantage for American companies over their foreign competitors.

Berlin has been pushing for a ‘no-spying deal’ with the US for months, but so far with little success. Germany is also advocating the creation of a European computer network which would allow communication traffic not to pass through US-based servers and thus avoid the NSA tapping.

February 24, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What Happens When You Marry The NSA’s Surveillance Database With Amazon’s Personalized Marketing?

By Glyn Moody | Techdirt | February 21, 2014

By now, most people who shop online are aware of the way in which companies try to tailor their offers based on your previous purchasing and browsing history. Being followed by strangely relevant ads everywhere is bad enough, but what if the government started using the same approach in its communications with you? That’s one of the key ideas explored in an interesting new article by Zeynep Tufekci, strikingly presented on Medium, with the title “Is the Internet good or bad? Yes.”

Tufekci suggests that neither of the two main metaphors regularly wheeled out for today’s global surveillance — George Orwell’s “1984″ and Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon — is right:

To understand the actual — and truly disturbing — power of surveillance, it’s better to turn to a thinker who knows about real prisons: the Italian writer, politician, and philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who was jailed by Mussolini and did most of his work while locked up. Gramsci understood that the most powerful means of control available to a modern capitalist state is not coercion or imprisonment, but the ability to shape the world of ideas.

The question then becomes: how can people’s ideas be shaped so as to control them? Simply bombarding the population with messages only works for a while, until people become jaded and resistant to them. That’s where Edward Snowden’s revelations about “big data surveillance” come in, Tufekci suggests:

Individually tailored, subtle messages are less likely to produce a cynical reaction. Especially so if the data collection that makes these messages possible is unseen. That’s why it’s not only the NSA that goes to great lengths to keep its surveillance hidden. Most Internet firms also try to monitor us surreptitiously.

She’s worried about this approach being used to influence people’s political behavior, and points to a recent study in Nature that explored precisely this area:

By altering a message designed to encourage people to vote so that it came with affirmation from a person’s social network, rather than being impersonal, the researchers had shown that they could persuade more people to participate in an election. Combine such nudges with psychological profiles, drawn from our online data, and a political campaign could achieve a level of manipulation that exceeds that possible via blunt television adverts.

Indeed, Tufekci thinks the process has already begun:

During a break [in a conference called "Data-Crunched Democracy"], I cornered the chief scientist on Obama’s data analytics team, who in a previous job ran data analytics for supermarkets. I asked him if what he does now — marketing politicians the way grocery stores market products on their shelves — ever worried him. It’s not about Obama or Romney, I said. This technology won’t always be used by your team. In the long run, the advantage will go to the highest bidder, the richer campaign.

He shrugged, and retreated to the most common cliché used to deflect the impact of technology: “It’s just a tool,” he said. “You can use it for good; you can use it for bad.”

That’s hardly very comforting, and neither is Tufekci’s concluding thought:

Internet technology lets us peel away layers of divisions and distractions and interact with one another, human to human. At the same time, the powerful are looking at those very interactions, and using them to figure out how to make us more compliant. That’s why surveillance, in the service of seduction, may turn out to be more powerful and scary than the nightmares of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Follow Glyn Moody @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

February 22, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | | Leave a comment

Brazil-Europe Internet cable to cost $185 million

BRICS Post | February 13, 2014

Brazil is pushing ahead with plans to boost its Internet security by developing an undersea fibre-optics communications cable that would reroute its online traffic directly to Europe, bypassing the United States.

State-owned telecom provider Telebras recently announced that it was entering into a joint venture with Spain’s IslaLink Submarine Cables to build a link between the northeastern city of Fortaleza and the Iberian Peninsula.

The undersea cable is budgeted at $185 million and construction is scheduled to begin in July.

Brazil, along with most Central and South American countries, traditionally routes its Internet traffic through the Network Access Point, which is hosted in Miami, Florida.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa currently use hubs in Europe and the US to connect to one another, which translates into higher costs and leaves open the opportunity for data interception and theft.

Telebras project coordinator Ronald Valladão says the cable will boost Brazil’s Internet security and cut online costs for the consumer.

“This new submarine cable provides a direct connection to the European continent, decreasing latency. It is expected that this will result in cost reductions,” he recently told the media.

Since Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who leaked vital intelligence to the media on US domestic and overseas surveillance, published information that Washington was aggressively spying on Brazilian officials, including the president, Brasilia has made Internet security and communications a priority.

Brazil and its fellow BRICS partners are also moving ahead with building a massive undersea cable that would connect all members.

By the time it is completed, the BRICS Cable will be the third longest undersea telecommunications cable in the world, covering a distance of 34,000km.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has also pushed a new Internet bill that would compel Google, Facebook and other networks to store locally gathered data in the country, and not on overseas servers.

The new legislation would force foreign-based Internet companies to maintain data centres inside Brazil that would then be governed by Brazilian privacy laws, officials said.

Rousseff has repeatedly said that the US spying regimen is unacceptable, and postponed an official visit to the US originally scheduled for October 23 in protest.

“The illegal practices of intercepting the communications and data of citizens, companies and members of the Brazilian government constitute a serious act against national sovereignty and individual rights, and incompatible with the democratic coexistence of friendly countries,” a presidential statement said when revelations of espionage in Brazil were made public.

On November 24, Brazil and Argentina urged other South American countries to discuss a bilateral treaty on cyber-security.

On November 27, the UN Rights Committee passed a “right to privacy” resolution, drafted by Brazil and Germany.

The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural affairs, unanimously adopted the resolution, saying surveillance and data interception by governments and companies “may violate or abuse human rights.”

In late January, talks between Brazil and the US failed to satisfactorily answer the spying charges or eke out a “permanent solution” to restore bilateral ties damaged by the Snowden revelations.

February 13, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | Leave a comment

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