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NSA gathers more data from non-targeted people than we thought.
July 6, 2014 10:27 AM   Subscribe

In Snowden’s view, the PRISM and Upstream programs have “crossed the line of proportionality.” [SLWAPO]
“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” he added, “their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering (58 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Honestly, I can't get worked up about this anymore. I assume everything that I write or click on the internet is monitored.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:30 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Define "we."
posted by one_bean at 10:35 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


They see you when you're sleeping, they know when you're awake...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:43 AM on July 6


Sure, sure. nobody is surprised. Let's just forget the whole thing, eh?

To me, a 9:1 ratio of "incidental" to targeted communications interception is disconcertingly high. That ratio coupled with the fact that the incidental data is not disposed of, but stored is REALLY disconcerting.

In the sample data given to WaPo, Ed Snowden showed he had access to the contents of over 1,200 electronic communications from/to Barack Obama. I wonder why lawmakers are so toothless when it comes to more NSA oversight....
posted by onehalfjunco at 10:53 AM on July 6 [10 favorites]


This story has been getting some mention, which is good, but the reporters missed the opportunity to tell a much more intense story. They had copies of 10,000s of illegally obtained surveillance documents and months to analyze them. And yet the best the WaPo could do is some vague mentions of " infants and toddlers in bathtubs". And one deeper incident of a woman whose nutjob Australian boyfriend really was trying to become a jihadi.

I have to believe there's more interesting stuff in the documents they spent months analyzing. Or at least a better way to characterize just how broad, deep, and untargeted the NSA's illegal spying has become. I mean NSA doesn't even have authority to spy on American citizens at all, and here we have the privacy of many Americans not even suspected of wrongdoing. Surely there could be a story with a bit more punch, or at least some simple soundbites to appeal to the TV-watching masses.

An example of privacy reporting that I think was stronger is the NYTimes on the 2006 AOL search logs.
posted by Nelson at 10:54 AM on July 6 [5 favorites]


Honestly, I can't get worked up about this anymore. I assume everything that I write or click on the internet is monitored.

The NSA labels anyone concerned about their privacy, or interested in open source software, an extremist. We currently use drones to indiscriminately murder people in Pakistan and Yemen based on suspicion of participation in 'extremist' and 'militant' activities. We torture people at Bagram and Guantanamo based on similar - and often flimsy and unsubstantiated - allegations.

The tactics used in the Mideast are coming home to us (American SWAT teams claiming to be unaccountable private contractors being only the most recent example.) Chelsea Manning has already, per the UN, been tortured, and intelligence officials have openly called for Edward Snowden's murder. There is no doubt in my mind that Americans tarred with 'extremist', 'radical', 'terrorist', etc. will soon be widely subject to similar abuse.

Will you get worked up when 'terrorist' journalists reporting on the NSA or 'extremist' security researchers who expose NSA backdoors begin to be imprisoned, tortured, and killed? Every week that goes by, we're closer to having a legal framework in place to allow it, and a public complacent enough to accept it.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:54 AM on July 6 [44 favorites]


The FPP buries the lede - more compelling to most folks, I suspect, is this:

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

posted by ryanshepard at 10:59 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


For close to a year, NSA and other government officials have appeared to deny, in congressional testimony and public statements, that Snowden had any access to the material.

I am currently gasping in shock to learn the NSA can't be trusted to tell the truth to Congress and the public.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:03 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


One analyst rests her claim that a target is foreign on the fact that his e-mails are written in a foreign language, a quality shared by tens of millions of Americans. Others are allowed to presume that anyone on the chat “buddy list” of a known foreign national is also foreign.

In many other cases, analysts seek and obtain approval to treat an account as “foreign” if someone connects to it from a computer address that seems to be overseas. “The best foreignness explanations have the selector being accessed via a foreign IP address,” an NSA supervisor instructs an allied analyst in Australia.

Apart from the fact that tens of millions of Americans live and travel overseas, additional millions use simple tools called proxies to redirect their data traffic around the world, for business or pleasure. World Cup fans this month have been using a browser extension called Hola to watch live-streamed games that are unavailable from their own countries. The same trick is routinely used by Americans who want to watch BBC video. The NSA also relies routinely on locations embedded in Yahoo tracking cookies, which are widely regarded by online advertisers as unreliable.


Have you ever eaten french fries? Likely foriegn.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:06 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


I'd be shocked if it were really as low as nine out of ten. 9999 out of ten thousand, maybe.
posted by kenko at 11:08 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


Have you ever eaten french fries? Likely foriegn.

What if I switched over to Freedom fries in October of 2001?
posted by radwolf76 at 11:19 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


The NSA labels anyone concerned about their privacy, or interested in open source software, an extremist.

they actually don't (scroll to appendix)
posted by p3on at 11:58 AM on July 6


radwolf76: "What if I switched over to Freedom fries in October of 2001?"

Three weeks of eating french fries in September 2001 exposes your sedition.
posted by double block and bleed at 12:00 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Take my wife... please.
posted by infini at 12:04 PM on July 6


they actually don't (scroll to appendix)

From the appendix:

// START_DEFINITION
/*
These variables define terms and websites relating to the TAILs (The Amnesic
Incognito Live System) software program, a comsec mechanism advocated by
extremists on extremist forums.
*/

$TAILS_terms=word('tails' or 'Amnesiac Incognito Live System') and word('linux'
or ' USB ' or ' CD ' or 'secure desktop' or ' IRC ' or 'truecrypt' or ' tor ');
$TAILS_websites=('tails.boum.org/') or ('linuxjournal.com/content/linux*');
// END_DEFINITION


So just anyone using TAILs - e.g. journalists and civil society activists - is an extremist? Or anyone using Tor or a VPN, apparently? Feels like we're splitting hairs.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:06 PM on July 6 [7 favorites]


Honestly, I can't get worked up about this anymore.

Which may be why national news outlets have been feeding us these leaked tidbits over time, rather than in one huge dump: maybe they feared massive outrage and serious disruption if the full depth and breadth of the crime became known all at once. So instead they're incrementally oversaturating us into passivity. We're all the proverbial frogs in gradually boiling water.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:08 PM on July 6 [8 favorites]


One comments notes that it is tiresome to get worked up about this any longer which, I guess, is just what NSA like to hear, see, read.
Another way of viewing things: NSA is a big bureaucracy. Huge. Like all forms of such things, it is convinced it is important and its central need is to stay and preserve itself and protect what it has become for those who make good bucks by belonging...in sum: like all other bureaucratic structures only bigger and more secretive.
posted by Postroad at 12:21 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Greg_Ace: That's some pretty sophisticated conspiracy mongering you're deploying there. Maybe "they"—Snowden and WaPo—want to keep the subject in the news. Maybe "they"—a different, mustache-twirling they, obviously—planted your comments here to discredit legitimate concern about this issue. Maybe this other sinister "they" let Snowden get the data he made off with, because "they" knew his pomposity would alienate the American people, tempering their outrage at what "they" (furthermore) knew would inevitably come to light.

Maybe baseless, unfalsifiable speculation is counter-productive.
posted by edw at 12:21 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Honestly, I can't get worked up about this anymore.
From a year ago
Public indifference is the real enemy in the NSA affair
What's even more alarming is that the one group of professionals who really ought to be alert to the danger are journalists. After all, these are the people who define news as "something that someone powerful does not want published", who pride themselves on "holding government to account" or sometimes, when they've had a few drinks, on "speaking truth to power". And yet, in their reactions to the rolling scoops published by the Guardian, the Washington Post, the New York Times and Der Spiegel, many of them seem to have succumbed either to a weird kind of spiteful envy, or to a desire to act as the unpaid stenographers to the security services and their political masters.

There are still people warning us of sleepwalking into a Stasi or “1984” society. They missed the boat by a long shot: we are already far, far past the point of Stasi or “1984”. The apparatus that governments have built to trace, track, and record citizens is the stuff of nightmares.
Blomburg Business week had a nice little infographic.
posted by adamvasco at 12:26 PM on July 6 [13 favorites]


So just anyone using TAILs - e.g. journalists and civil society activists - is an extremist? Or anyone using Tor or a VPN, apparently? Feels like we're splitting hairs.

it says that extremists have promoted tails, which isn't the same thing as saying 'using open source means you're an extremist'. that fact wasn't even news, we've known it since last year [pdf, page 7]
posted by p3on at 12:31 PM on July 6


Pfft, I promoted Tails on askmetafilter before it was "extreme".
posted by Poldo at 12:38 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Which may be why national news outlets have been feeding us these leaked tidbits over time, rather than in one huge dump: maybe they feared massive outrage and serious disruption if the full depth and breadth of the crime became known all at once.

this is nonsense, multiple sources have the documents and at least two of them aren't in the US; greenwald has been actively belligerent towards the US intelligence community and has made clear that he has trickled out stories so that he could have time to properly redact and establish a context for them. keeping it in the news cycle for a year plus with no end in sight (and with the potentially most damaging ones have yet to be released) is the smartest way to go about this
posted by p3on at 12:39 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


The source comment uses the fact that "TAILs (The Amnesic Incognito Live System) software program" is "a comsec mechanism advocated by
extremists on extremist forums" to justify their tracking of traffic that uses it. Which lumps all TAILS users, regardless of purpose, into the same boat because someone they call "an extremist" advocated it at some time on something they call "an extremist forum." That is an extremely low bar to pass for targeting a class of internet traffic.
posted by JHarris at 12:40 PM on July 6 [3 favorites]


Search for Tor, Tails, or any number of privacy tools online is enough to flag you as an extremist by the NSA.
In fact, just reading about news articles here on SecurityWatch or checking out reviews of privacy services on PCMag could have gotten you tagged.
See EFF
posted by adamvasco at 12:40 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


two other big stories implicit in this one:
-snowden had access to raw intelligence from fisa warrants (ie US citizens), which keith alexander explicitly said he couldn't have had
-snowden wasn't kidding about being able to spy on the president ('minimized US president' subheader)
posted by p3on at 12:45 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


In other words: if you're knowledgeable and committed, the NSA wants to know what you're looking at, because knowledgeable and committed people is a set that includes terrorists. (It also includes open source workers, activists and people learning about Sonic the Hedgehog characters.) But if you're a Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Vine sheeperson, you know, approved internet uses, they're not interested in the baa-ing noises that you make.

Wow. The scary thing about the comment I just made is, I was actually looking for ways to make it less inflammatory as I wrote it, I don't think that's literally true, but it seems to be.
posted by JHarris at 12:47 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Wow. The scary thing about the comment I just made is, I was actually looking for ways to make it less inflammatory as I wrote it, I don't think that's literally true, but it seems to be.

From Cory Doctorow's piece on this week's Xkeyscore revelations:

I have known that this story was coming for some time now, having learned about its broad contours under embargo from a trusted source. Since then, I've discussed it in confidence with some of the technical experts who have worked on the full set of Snowden docs, and they were as shocked as I was.

One expert suggested that the NSA's intention here was to separate the sheep from the goats -- to split the entire population of the Internet into "people who have the technical know-how to be private" and "people who don't" and then capture all the communications from the first group.

posted by ryanshepard at 12:52 PM on July 6 [9 favorites]


As a hopefully mood lightening aside --

The "Sonic the Hedgehog characters" thing above came because I wasn't sure what TAILS was before, so I searched for it. (Thanks for the info NSA, a new tool to use!) Google, to its credit, properly directed me for the first three links. But link four was to an image search for the character, and #6 the Wikipedia page on Tails.

It fills my shriveled black heart with glee to think of the fanfiction NSA operatives have had to sift through.
posted by JHarris at 12:53 PM on July 6


edw, there doesn't have to be a "mustache-twirling they", just a bunch of regular people concerned about their own jobs and lives and unsure of how fragile their status quo might be. I can't seriously dispute your or p3on's explanations (not that they necessarily have to be mutually exclusive...) Still, maybe apathy is also counter-productive.

I have no answers, no tangible plans; my post was due to frustration about some people's growing indifference to a serious issue, not because I have a particular conspiracy to tout.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:00 PM on July 6


I mean, if you want to go down the "conspiracy theory" hole, I could say your response to my speculation was awfully vehement, yet fact-free...
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:02 PM on July 6


Indifference is the best weapon in the War against [insert your favourite thingie here, no not that one]
posted by infini at 1:20 PM on July 6


Which may be why national news outlets have been feeding us these leaked tidbits over time, rather than in one huge dump: maybe they feared massive outrage and serious disruption if the full depth and breadth of the crime became known all at once. So instead they're incrementally oversaturating us into passivity. We're all the proverbial frogs in gradually boiling water.

I very much disagree. We all tried the "one huge dump" experiment with the WikiLeaks cables and the Iraq War Diaries. Everyone shrugged because virtually all the media attention was on the actual act of leaking rather than the contents of the leaked documents. By going slow, it keeps this stuff in the news and gives journalists time to distill huge amounts of complex information into individual stories simple enough for even a CNN anchor to try to understand.

To use your analogy, if you drop a frog in boiling water, it dies immediately, just like the story would have if it all came out at once.
posted by zachlipton at 1:25 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Indifference is the best weapon in the War against [insert your favourite thingie here, no not that one]

Hmm, let me try that with my open MF tabs...

Indifference is the best weapon in the war against...

pointessly outsourcing american factory jobs
sacrificing Bieber to the Elder gods
the alleged difference between Idaho and Iowa
possibly not killing farm animals in order to eat them
Phish fans

... yep, seems to check out!
posted by hap_hazard at 1:33 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


My current favourite is the War against Poverty. That's why we need to get all the billions online and using FB.
posted by infini at 1:39 PM on July 6


Which may be why national news outlets have been feeding us these leaked tidbits over time, rather than in one huge dump: maybe they feared massive outrage and serious disruption if the full depth and breadth of the crime became known all at once. So instead they're incrementally oversaturating us into passivity. We're all the proverbial frogs in gradually boiling water.

This is just ignorance of the actors. The people in question who have been feeding us these "tidbits" (or "bombshells", perhaps) have been asked and answered this question. It is clear that their motive is to maximise the impact of the leaks, and that they have learned from the mistakes of Wikileaks doing exactly what you proposed - a giant dump of everything. The dump was too large for news outlets to focus on anything more than a few surface tidbits, and becaus the dump was a data dump instead of vetted stories, the issues lost focus to criticisms about putting lives at risk, and then it's old news and the hundreds of bombshells never get covered.
Releasing the bombshells each on their own as vetted, researched stand-alone stories, with a little bit of time for people to digest it and understand it before the next bombshell lands (because in different times, every one of these stories would be a bombshell all on its own) is so far, the most effective way that the people involved know how to get the most impact out of what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull the corruption and mold into the sunlight.
posted by anonymisc at 1:46 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


there's also the nice side effect that trickling the stories out one at a time gives the intelligence community the chance to respond, and the reporters the chance to call them out on the lies they used to defend themselves in turn
posted by p3on at 1:50 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


I just assume that the current administration, and most of those in congress, are just puppets, and the NSA is merely one of the means of controlling them. Power has been concentrated in to so few hands that the public isn't even allowed to know who those people are.

On the other hand, the powers that be have allowed a level of corruption to flourish so much that the structures that support them are about to snap. Unfortunately those same structures keep most of us alive.
posted by MikeWarot at 2:01 PM on July 6


...intelligence officials have openly called for Edward Snowden's murder...

Except those quoted aren't officials and they aren't speaking openly.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:08 PM on July 6


...intelligence officials have openly called for Edward Snowden's murder...
Except those quoted aren't officials and they aren't speaking openly.
Your tax dollars at work: -
I personally would go and kill him myself,” a current NSA analyst told BuzzFeed.
“I would love to put a bullet in his head,” one Pentagon official, a former special forces officer, said bluntly.
posted by adamvasco at 3:20 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


we are already far, far past the point of Stasi or “1984”

We are and we aren't. The NSA's tools are certainly well beyond what the Stasi could do. But the citizen of East Germany or the party member of Ingsoc knew the information being collected could and would be used against them. The average American can say and do pretty much anything political without repercussions, and they (unwisely) have no fear of future repercussions.

Americans will be indifferent until the reality of the threat is somehow made clear to them. And, until the government oversteps in terms of actions taken against some "average" citizen, I'm not sure there is a way to get Americans to care. Maybe a modern version of It Can't Happen Here needs to be produced for the big screen.
posted by honestcoyote at 4:59 PM on July 6


It is clear that their motive is to maximise the impact of the leaks

And that method has really gotten people on their feet, hey? Which was my main point from the get-go, whether or not my framing of it was very good: Indifference is a problem.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:08 PM on July 6


I had a dream the other night. In it, the hackers and the activists all collected the online personal data of NSA analysts, and posted it all on line. Isn't that a peculiar dream?
posted by newdaddy at 7:27 PM on July 6


There's a real question about doublespeak here, because it seems apparent that the way the government uses the word "incidental" does not comport with common usage.
posted by rhizome at 11:37 PM on July 6


And that method has really gotten people on their feet, hey?

It really really has. The impact of making these violations digestible has been staggering compared to how things have gone in the past.
Big business is furious, they're lobbying government, they're upgrading their security to keep government snooping out. Regular people are talking about privacy and snooping who never really thought it affected them before. The demand for a "conversation" is so great that the Whitehouse is doing damage control, and not "the Whitehouse", but the president personally getting involved, delivering speeches, advisory committees, the whole hog.

A whistleblower revealed Room 641A way back in 2006. That bombshell wasn't even a blip on the national radar, and yet in contrast, lesser details from the Snowden leaks are now widely known by regular people, and discussed.

So yeah, this method has really gotten people on their feet compared to any method you've suggested. Sure, people generally don't want to get on their feet unless they absolutely have to, but that's not the fault of the journalists trying to break the story.
posted by anonymisc at 12:18 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


There's a real question about doublespeak here, because it seems apparent that the way the government uses the word "incidental" does not comport with common usage.

Add it to the list: Glossary of NSA doublespeak - which goes right up to and includes the director of National Intelligence using the word "no" to mean "yes" when testifying under oath to congress.
(Did he get arrested for that? Heh, no - that would be justice, and "justice" is something they reserve only for whistleblowers.)
posted by anonymisc at 12:27 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]


That glossary anonymisc posted is great. It plainly shows the systematic way the NSA has twisted the truth and adopted meanings no reasonable person would use, in ways that aren't even technically correct. It's a monument to the "art" of manipulating statements so they say one thing to the public and another to a privileged context. The result is, no statement an NSA person says can be trusted, because it's all couched in doublespeak and bizarre assumptions that only make sense to someone deeply inside their culture. posted by JHarris at 3:20 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]


Power has been concentrated in to so few hands that the public isn't even allowed to know who those people are.

Seems like Adams was prescient in Life, The Universe, And Everything.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:11 AM on July 7


> From Cory Doctorow's piece on this week's Xkeyscore revelations

His latest: NSA trove shows 9:1 ratio of innocents to suspicious people in "targeted surveillance"
posted by homunculus at 9:19 PM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Charles Pierce: The Snowden Effect, Cont'd
posted by homunculus at 9:22 PM on July 7


New story by Greenwald & Hussain: Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On. They're also answering questions on Reddit.
posted by Nelson at 8:18 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]


A leaked NSA memo reveals the Agency’s darkest secret
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:06 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


That piece is full of Swiftian levels of painful satire.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:30 PM on July 11


How 160,000 intercepted communications led to our latest NSA story. A remarkable followup from the WaPo on how they reported the story, answering a lot of criticisms and clearing up some misconceptions. Worth reading.

Also an unrelated story, NSA chief knew of Snowden file destruction by Guardian in UK. The US had pretended to not be aware of the meddling with the British press.
posted by Nelson at 7:37 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Meet Executive Order 12333 : The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans
posted by jeffburdges at 12:54 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Full audio of the Daniel Ellsberg & Edward Snowden talk at HopeX (via)
posted by jeffburdges at 5:00 AM on July 20


Meet Executive Order 12333 : The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans

Good god. The great majority of people I know don't care about this at all, which I don't understand. No wonder the administration and NSA has been able to get away with it, I guess, but it's depressing as hell.
posted by sallybrown at 8:28 AM on July 21


Yo: why the silliest app in tech makes the NSA look ridiculous
posted by Drinky Die at 10:58 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


McClatchy: The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.

The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.


Why didn't you just go to Congress, Snowden?
posted by Drinky Die at 12:20 PM on July 25 [1 favorite]


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