No, not the tiny fresh-water animal but rather the mythical Greek many headed sea monster, the Hydra of Lerna. If there were a modern Hydra, it would be the NSA, a secret government agency maintained by an enormous (but secret) budget and supported by a secret court (the FISA Court).
I’ve just finished Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Read. This. Book. And that said, Greenwald really only scratches the surface.
He starts with Snowden’s months of anonymous overtures trying to get him to download the PGP encryption program so Snowden could tell him about a bombshell revelation about US surveillance, but Greenwald was already by that point overscheduled, and having no reason to believe a faceless source had anything worthwhile, made no attempt to accommodate his mysterious contact. But then Laura Poitras arranged a private meeting where they could not be overheard and told him that she was in contact with a source who claimed to have a trove of documents describing how the US was spying on its own citizens. This was enough to get Greenwald serious about setting up PGP, and then, when he’d seen the first explosive document, flying with Poitras to Hong Kong to interview Snowden.
That was a year ago, and since then we’ve seen revelation after revelation about NSA surveillance with something new almost every day, too much for most of us to keep up with. Well, except that some of our indefatigable bloggers out there are keeping up with it, and i’d like to recognize one of them here: It’s Some Assembly Required and should be daily reading for those interested in watching the death spiral of democracy. Click on that link and take a look. And to whet your appetite, i’m pasting in below a selection of items from the posts of the past week.
Shhh! They’ll Hear You: The administration has argued in a federal appellate court that ‘national security concerns’ justify keeping the number and effectiveness of drone strikes secret. Sure, they admit, the enemy knows who we’re killing, but that doesn’t mean the public needs to know.
Ubiquity: British-based international telecommunications giant says that most of the 29 countries it operates in require direct access to the telephone network so they can monitor every conversation “using secret cables to network equipment”. You know, like the infamous Room 641a in San Francisco where the government installed a direct tap which gave them “the capability to enable surveillance and analysis of internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic.” Egypt, India, Qatar, Romania, South Africa and Turkey make it illegal to disclose any information about how interception is carried out, or how often. The Irish government now seemingly caught in the act of tapping thousands of phones and Deutsche Telekom has said it will release documents on “state surveillance.‘ Nice to know we’re not alone.
A Play In Three Acts: First we read top secret documents released by Edward Snowden that say the NSA is collecting vast numbers of facial photos. Then the NSA chief says it is collecting only foreigners’ faces. That is then re-stated to claim that the NSA may “inadvertently” collect American photos, but that its use of facial recognition software stays within legal guidelines. Note that that last one admits collecting the images, but pretends that it uses them only ‘legally’.
Let’s Review: Things you know now that you didn’t know before Mr. Snowden told you: The NSA intercepts computers and servers in order to insert Trojan horses. It can and does get into your computer, even if it is not connected to the internet. Its analysts can watch you as you type your emails – they don’t have to break your encryption. They can track you through your cellphone and can turn on your phone’s mike and camera whenever they want to do so. They now have a database that tracks your credit and banking information. And they are gathering huge numbers of images of people from all over the world and putting them through facial recognition programs. Yes, Big Brother is watching you. Ever more closely.
Not So Fast: The NSA is building a “pre-crime” computer analysis system that will use factors such as ethnicity, gender, breathing, and heart rate, as well as webcam videos taken inside your house when you thought the computer and cell phones were turned off, to “detect cues indicative of mal-intent.” That is, they want to know if you are likely to commit a crime in the future. The system is called “Future Attribute Screening Technology.”
Hard to come up with a suitable photo after all that, but here’s one, not to get too apocalyptic about it: