Credibility

Credibility… It’s the only currency that means anything on this kind of playing field. Dean’s got the tape, and he’s gonna come out with it. And when he does, I want his credibility. I want people to know he’s lying before they hear what he says.

That’s a quote from the 1998 movie ‘Enemy of the State’, spoken by NSA man ‘Thomas Reynolds’, played by Jon Voight. To miss the parallels between this movie and what is happening to Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and others, would be foolish! Foolish I say.

Is the general public so blind as to get completely sidetracked from the real issues by the media and the government throwing us crap about how Snowden never graduated from high-school, or how his girlfriend is a pole-dancer? Or how Manning is a homosexual or whatever? What does that have to do with.. well anything? Credibility. If you break the character, anything he or she says will be interpreted in that broken light. Surely anything that stinking homo-sexual says can’t be taken seriously! (/sarcasm, in case it wasn’t clear enough).

On the note of credibility, this week saw former vice president of the United States Dick Cheney call Edward Snowden a ‘traitor’ and possibly a spy for china. That’s rich! Coming from a man who lied to an entire nation about the reasons to go to war in Iraq. How come he has credibility enough to spew crap like that? Well for one, he’s a politician. He’s wealthy. He has a name for himself. Snowden on the other hand is a nobody, and therefore easier to break.

This week we also had the Director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee (part of the US Congress as I understand). The gist of the thing was denial, of course, but behind it all, I (and others) sense a play on words and semantics. Gen. Alexander is denying that the NSA is actually actively looking at the data. Quote:

“It’s a very deliberate process,” Alexander said. “We don’t get to look at the data. We don’t get to swim through the data.”

This has been repeated multiple times, worded differently.. This doesn’t say the NSA doesn’t collected the data. It says they don’t actively look at the data. They are separating collection from examination. The key issue is that you can’t look at data that you never collected. Once you have that data, it’s easier to go back and say “Ok, let’s see what we have”. This is the same as with many other issues, some of which I have discussed on this blog in the past (such as the Finnish national fingerprint database for passport holders).

Other comments of note are:

“I think what we’re doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing,” he said. “We aren’t trying to hide it. We’re trying to protect America.”

Ding ding ding. Protect America. After that we can just do whatever the hell. And you’re not trying to hide it? That’s probably why the program (and I’m sure) many other such programs are classified, and legal permissions to do this are decided in a secret court. Actually, it’s called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is apparently the place where they rubber stamp approvals for NSA surveilance. Rubber stamping you say? Doesn’t the court actually review the warrants before accepting them? They may. We don’t know. Because it’s like, classified. This list here, by the EPIC (eletronic privacy information center) tells a story. Observe closely the columns “Applications Presented” and “Applications approved”.

Another play on words happens during the hearing when some questions presented to Gen. Alexander, namely “Is the NSA on private companies servers as defined under these two programs?”, “Does the NSA have the ability to listen to Americans phone calls or read their emails under these two programs?”, and “Does the NSA have the ability to flip a switch by some analyst to listen to Americans phone calls or read their emails?”. These questions were asked by the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. The answers to all three questions were “No”. But not just a simple no, the answers were, “The NSA does not have the authority to do so.” The question was whether the NSA has the ability or not. The answer was about the authority to do so. Also note the phrasing of the first question: Is the NSA on company servers? I could think of a number of ways that they could look at the data without being “on their servers”. He’s most certainly being truthful. If that was a real hearing, say in a court of law, there would have been a follow-up question to General Alexander, something like: “Sir, please answer the question as asked?”. The answer to the question of whether the NSA has the ability, is most probably yes. Is this the whole “We are not trying to hide it”-part? The two programs mentioned in the question are ‘215’ and ‘702’, the former being the “Verizon-wiretapping“-thing, and the latter being Prism.

That whole Verizon thing is curious, too. It seems to do exactly the opposite of what Gen. Alexander said. Except there was another play on words. “Can they listen to phone calls” -“No”. Okay, let’s pretend for a moment that’s the case. The Verizon wiretapping was about the meta-data of the phone calls, not the audio of the call itself. I would argue the meta-data can be even more harmful, because it tells you locations of potentially both parties, it tells you information on the handset etc. I would venture that once you know the cell-site your target is in, the discussions could then be captured using any number means (other than wiretapping, which I do not believe for a second they aren’t doing), like your standard parabolic microphone, HUMINT resources, boots on the ground, you know that sort of thing? Like somebody said (it’s too late in the night (2:12) for me to dig up the source for this one, sorry), “In order to find a needle in a haystack, you first need to have a haystack.”

But according to General Alexander, these programs have prevented “50+” terrorist attacks. Which attacks? Oh well. Attacks. Just general attacks. Around. Two of the planned attacks were mentioned (the plans to attack the New York subway, and the financial district). That leaves “48+” attacks. Where is the transparency? What is the damage in telling the public exactly which terror attacks, by which terrorists, in which countries? What can the terrorists gain by knowing which terroris attacks were prevented by US Surveilance programs? I’m pretty sure it’s not a secret that the US conducts foreign and domestic surveilance. I think there was the comment that “talking about the specifics of the cases would reveal details about the surveilance programs, which would help terrorists circumvent the surveilance”. If I was an American, I would have some questions for my elected officials.

Ok before I’m completely wrapped in tinfoil, let me conclude this post by saying: There’s credibility, and then there is credibility. When you reach a certain position, you can do or say whatever you want.

A slippery slope

I was wathcing the news yesterday, and there was a piece on the government supporting teachers getting the right to go through students bags and such while at school. I think this is a horrible idea. Let me tell you why.

Traditionally, a person and his property are his. You need probable cause to search this person or his or her property. What they are now proposing is that teachers get the privilege to go through their students stuff, in order to..what prevent school shootings? I guess that’s the subtext, since we’ve had a few of those. Now, I don’t have to tell you school massacres are a bad thing; hint: they are. What I’m saying is loss of privacy is even worse. What would the teachers consider harmful? The article, posted on yle.fi here, mentions harmful items and substances. So drugs and guns? Let me be the first (not) to tell you that this will not solve the problem of school shootings. Why? Because I can come to school in the middle of the day and start shooting, before anyone has had a chance to look at my bag. Should we then install metal detectors at schools, and be all American, and shit? Not a bad idea, but imagine the amount of false positives? Start X-raying the pupils bags? Fine, but imagine that scene from the Matrix. Yeah that one. This isn’t creating security, this is creating insecurity, delays and loss of privacy.

Where we should spend money, in my humble opinion, is mental care, and early detection of mental issues at school. Talking to people works better than patting them down. We all remember that kid from school that nobody talked to, who always sat in the back of the class and didn’t speak to anyone unless spoken to. These are the people (among others), that we should be talking to. Making connections, talking to parents, talking to peers.

There is no amount of physical security that will prevent all shootings. You can say that “Sure, but it’d stop some, so isn’t that worth it?!”, but I don’t think it is. The determined person will always find a way. And what we will have lost in the process is much more valuable.  Because once we start down that road, there’s no stopping. Next we’ll have authorities looking at what books are checked out from the (school) library, what people chose to eat at school or work, and using that to start profiling people, and comparing those profiles to those of ‘threatening individuals’, or anything that’s indicative of risky behavior. We’re gonna start getting the classic “If you’re not a bad person, you shouldn’t have anything to hide”-argument. People are gonna shrug, and go along. And before you know it, we’re in the surveilance society. Finland still has a fighting chance. We don’t have cameras everywhere. It’s a big country with low population density.

We know by example that what the authorities tell us is just their best effort. Start collecting fingerprints for passports? Promise us to just use them for that purpose? Fast forward a few years, and we have police/politicians saying “Okay, now that we have these handy fingerprints of almost every Finn, why not.. use this data? I mean, we already have it!”. The authorities are not robots. They are not immune to personal desires and misbehavior. Look at the amount of police looking, illegally, into the cases of a number of celebrity crimes (Anneli Auer, Mika Myllylä to mention a few; the latter of which had 136 police officers snooping around data that they were not authorized to view). The fact that the data is collected, or the authority given, does not protect us from mis-use. It makes it easier.

We’re now considering installing traffic cameras that would look at not only speeding and running red lights, but see if a car has been inspected (as is mandated by law), if it’s registered, whether people are wearing seatbelts etc. Again we get the “So don’t do anything wrong!”-argument. But this doesn’t change the fact that we are getting authorities with increasing amounts of data on our movements and actions that they have no business knowing. The fact that they will collect the data will lead to them abusing the data. Imagine if that data were to get to the hands of advertisers? Minority Report, anyone?

We saw the S-chain of stores use loyalty card data to send out warnings on a product that contained harmful substances. So you buy a bag of chips, and flash your loyalty card (or bonus card as we call them here) at the checkout, and whammo, the store knows what you bought, when, how you paid, etc. “No no, this is just for statistics and..” ..and when you want to contact people to let them know they bought a potentially dangerous item. And maybe if you want to send targeted advertising to people based on what they bought? Or maybe sell that to third parties who also want to know what you buy and when. Hey, bought adult diapers? Either you’re a pervert or you have a medical condition. Maybe someone would benefit from knowing that information. Would you like that information to be public? Probably not. But then, the store wouldn’t use that data to do anything evil, now would they?

So don’t use loyalty cards. Don’t pay by credit. Don’t drive. Don’t move. Don’t go to school. Don’t get a passport and don’t travel. Don’t..