gunsandbigdata.com

  • Surveillance
  • Technology
  • Privacy
  • Security

We are the target

Everyday people are surrounded by highly invasive technologies that gather data about our every move, click, search, email, chat, sms, phone call and purchase. We don't opt in to these, we didn't click "I Agree" to a Terms Of Service agreement. The US National Security Agency just collects this stuff, and other countries are not far behind. In a country that calls itself "free" and "democratic" there was no open debate by an informed public about these policies, they have just evolved on their own, in secret. In fact, discussion of these topics has been criminalized at the same time technology has advanced to make surveillance ever more pervasive and powerful. We are told this is necessary to protect us from terrorism. That may or may not be true, but this system impacts our lives and has consequences that are far broader than the "war on terror."

This is the era of big data - collect everything, figure it out later. If you think encryption will shield you from this, you are likely wrong. NSA specifically targets encrypted communications, and stores them for later analysis. Anything that cannot be decrypted now is saved for when algorithms and the machines hosting them have evolved. Governments and private companies are pursuing this big data with increasing momentum. Many people just accept the loss of privacy because they "have nothing to hide", but the fourth amendment to the US Constitution stands in stark contrast to the government role in these developments.

We used to have a dystopian ideal in the form of George Orwell's "1984". Now Edward Snowden has revealed we've slipped into something far worse than Orwell could have imagined. We've found that the free, open system we call the internet is poisoned with systems of control that it was originally designed to prevent.

...even if you're not doing anything wrong you're being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it's getting to the point where you don't have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody even by a wrong call. And then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you've ever made, every friend you've ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis to sort to derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.

Clearly these systems offer a massive opportunity for abuse. There is no way to know if they are being abused or to what extent without transparency. That is the nature of a democracy. If you have unchecked power that operates in secret, this is not a democracy, it is something else. I believe we should be able to live in a democracy, where the government impacts our lives in ways that are transparently beneficial to the public. We have a long way to go.

In my opinion, and I think there is ample evidence to make the case, the Surveillance State is the other side of the Military-Industrial-Complex. The two work hand in hand. Private financial interests drive our foreign policy, for their own ends - the current experimentation with drones is a good example. The death, destruction, misery and hatred this causes in other countries creates a blowback that necessitates the Surveillance State to protect us from the resulting terrorism. Both the Military-Industrial-Complex and the Surveillance State profit from this situation, with some of our most powerful companies participating in this and funding politicians who will ensure ever more opportunities for this extremely profitable convergence of interests. The only losers are human beings. Yeah, we are kind of losers to let this happen.

I have long been a critic of surveillance and US foreign policy. I put a lot of effort into this because I care about security, and I want us to get it right. The problem I keep seeing is that policy is driven by private economic and institutional interests, and this becomes confused with the public interest. I have strong differences with policymakers on these issues, but I also have high regard and great respect for the work being done by the military and intelligence professionals who carry out these policies. I'm not "against" the US military or the NSA. What I'm "for" is open debate, and the idea that our tax dollars should be spent in a way that produces the desired result. Our military and intelligence systems are the best in the world, and that's a good thing. It is up to policymakers to use them in ways that really do keep us safer and serve the public interest. It is by having an open, and sometimes adversarial public debate that we can make sure we are using our military and intelligence systems in the best way possible. For me, that means keeping Americans safe, and showing the world that we are a friend, not an enemy, and that our actions reflect the values we claim to hold dear.

The politics of surveillance

The UK Guardian has an excellent series on NSA surveillance based on the Edward Snowden leaks.

cryptome has for many years been publishing any intelligence related matter they come across

Democracy Now has featured many interviews over the years on the subject of NSA surveillance.

Bruce Schneier's Cryptogram Newsletter features excellent commentary on surveillance, privacy and computer security.

Privacy International has data on surveillance in different countries, and the companies involved.

Solutions

prism-break has technological solutions to allow you to "opt out" of NSA's Prism program. Some of these may not work as intended, because encrypted communications are generally of high interest to NSA.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Restore the Fourth is a political action campaign to pressure politicians to respect the fourth amendment to the US Constitution.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center(EPIC) has generally excellent information about surveillance and a petition to stop the NSA's domestic surveillance program.

Why make a site like this?

When I first had the idea for this site back in May 2013, I wanted it to be a resource for helping people understand how the massive powers of the National Security Agency might be used to provide a technological solution to the political debate about guns. I figured my biggest problem would be to get people to understand what at the time seemed to be this crazy conspiracy theory that the NSA was watching everything we do electronically. This has been public knowledge for several years, if you have been following people like Thomas Drake, William Binney, and James Bamford. Still, these were not subjects covered much in the mainstream media, and the general public seemed largely unaware, not only of the consequences, but the basic facts of electronic surveillance.

My original thesis, that we could easily use the available powers of the NSA to make the connections between people who are stockpiling weapons while visiting websites inciting hatred to make any additional gun laws unnecessary - now seems trivial compared to the massive issues people are now discussing because of the Snowden leaks. I believe my original point still holds true, but since we are now having a much broader discussion about surveillance there might be some other things we want to sort out before addressing how this applies to firearms.

About me

I'm Brian Coburn. I'm a web developer with an interest in technology and politics. In 1992, as Tone Def I made the song "Bushwack" - a popular parody song of the first President Bush. I also made popular parody songs on Clinton and GW Bush, the George W. Bush Public Domain Audio Archive, and the world's first virtual band, "The Bots" -consisting of 3d characters combined with speech synthesis. That is all on thebots.net, which I am no longer actively maintaining. This website continues in the tradition of a blog I had on thebots.net in the early 2000's discussing issues of surveillance, foreign policy and technology. I do not work for any intelligence agency, or the US Government, and I have no security clearance. Everything I talk about on this site is public knowledge, or my own extrapolations and synthesis of that public knowledge.