Friday, June 7, 2013

Hit Parade

The Guardian says the N.S.A. went for more than just phone records.

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

As I noted on Twitter last night, I look on the bright side: now I know my readership is actually higher than StatCounter says it is.

I understand that a lot of people are upset by this news.  I refuse to be one of them.  It’s not that it doesn’t concern me that there is an agency out there that is gathering information and that there is every possibility that they’re doing it at this very moment.  But anyone who thinks that it hasn’t been going on for a very long time in a very systematic method and that it doesn’t matter whether there’s a Republican or a Democrat in the White House needs to take a cold shower of reality.

It’s not that the folks in the tin-foil hats are right and the secret government agents are out there to spy on each one of us individually and that they’re up to no good.  Anyone who’s ever worked in any sort of bureaucracy, be it a government entity or your local Wal-Mart, knows that they gather information.  That’s life.  It’s a part of the bargain we make in living in what we hope is a free society that is also protecting us from those who want to harm us.

So unless you plan to live completely off the grid and don’t plan on buying anything, making a phone call, or Googling yourself, then you can expect this kind of news.  As a lot of the people who knew about it said, it’s old news: a lot of other people know what you’re doing with your car, your computer, your TV, and your grocery list. But not your guns.

5 barks and woofs on “Hit Parade

  1. It’s not that I’m upset by all this – it’s that I refuse to be upset by it only now.

    This law has been on the books for over a decade, and has been used – fairly widely – most of that time, for exactly this kind of activity. If anyone is upset by the latest revelations, it’s because either a) s/he hasn’t been paying attention or b) s/he still hasn’t accepted that the Permanent Republican Majority is over, and Good Right-Thinking Patriotic Xtian Ahmurrcans™ are being observed along with all Those Other People.

    I also can’t help but wonder at all the old volk with their CVS cards and their VIC cards and their Netflix subscriptions etc etc who are being tracked by private enterprise each and every day – and the private outfits collect a lot more information than DHS – who are suddenly all aghast that Big Gubmint is looking at metadata on their telecom activity. DHS can infer from a call to a doctor and a pharmacy that you had a prescription filled – but CVS will know immediately that you bought Depends along with your Viagra, and can be counted on to send you discounts for condoms and rubber sheets based on that one transaction.

    • Kroger tracks our purchases and sends us discount coupons for the very things we seem to prefer – like Ben & Jerry’s (free!) and a pound of butter (free!) and a buck off our next purchase of Dial shampoo. I love it.

      • I won’t argue that targeted advertising/discounts/whatever doesn’t have redeeming qualities. But have you thought about what happens when InBev, or ConAgra, or P&G buys Kroger’s data – and starts sending you coupons for their stuff? Or what would happen if a mortgage lender got this sort of data to take to court (“Sorry, Your Honor, we have to dispute the plaintiff’s request to restructure their mortgage – they spent $1357.39 per month on average just on groceries, buying gourmet ice cream, premium fruit juices, premium cuts of meat and high-end cosmetics, so they clearly have enough excess income to meet their obligation…”)?

        • Deep sigh. This isn’t happening now? The waste basket is for tossing junk mail and the refinancing is for working it out with the bank or shopping banks before any court gets involved. If you’re spending more than your mortgage payments you need to work it out with a financial counselor before it comes to this. Right? It’s all called capitalism and we’re supposed to love it.

  2. Along with all the hueing and crying about the outrage of government snoops checking on everyone’s Very Important Private Business there’s a nice little bit in the Times on Glenn Greenwald, the author of the Guardian’s so-called expose. What I didn’t know is that Greenwald’s specialty has been surveillance since he started his own blog after leaving the law firm that had employed him. He wanted a louder voice. Salon offered him one and promised him no editor would see what he wrote before it was published, a most unusual way to handle an author. I used to read his stuff daily, but finally got irritated by the “booga-booga they’re spying on you” monotone and moved on. As someone pointed out in the Times piece, Greenwald has no idea what it takes to run a government or a war. He’s a purist who would never survive in real world of compromise that makes a country run. (viz: the Tea Party “shrink the government” folks.)

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