Monthly Archives: August 2013

James Risen

The case of James Risen is illustrative of the problems we have with the overreach of the National Security State. If you look at the topics Risen has reported on, it’s easy to see why the government might want to intimidate and suppress his reporting. I would remind readers that the First Amendment says

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press

The “no law” part is kind of absolute. And we can thank the founding fathers for that bit of prescience, because governments will always overreach if not kept in check. We have millions of people with security clearances in the United States. These are the people running the technology that violates our Fourth Amendment rights. The government, contrary to the Constitution, makes these individuals sign an agreement to give up their free speech rights. Ostensibly, this is to prevent them from communicating state secrets to the enemy. But more and more we see that it is used to prevent potential whistleblowers from speaking out about abuses of power. And that’s what the Risen case is all about.

There will need to be more whistleblowers, and sooner rather than later. The surveillance state is working to take more humans out of the equation, so that secret government actions are not subject to independent moral scrutiny such as a human being might offer. As we move forward, there will be more automated systems, fewer “System Analysts” like Snowden with access to compartmentalized data, and an increasing government crackdown on “leakers.” For those of you with a security clearance, knowledge of government wrongdoing, and a conscience – the time to act is now. Don’t trust the laws to change to protect you, trust the technology to change to thwart you.

If you are an intelligence analyst reading this blog because I’m on some list identifying me as a threat, ask yourself why. Why are you going along with targeting a nonviolent citizen with no links to terrorists who is simply expressing his opinion? In what way is this serving the public interest? You have a First Amendment, use it – or know that I know you are nothing but a coward.

The New Miranda Rights

Here in the US, we’ve long had the concept of “Miranda rights” which stem from the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona, which found that the rights of Ernesto Miranda had been violated during his arrest. This Miranda case has stood as one of the primary safeguards against police abuse of power as can occur in an arrest situation. Police officers as individuals have a tough job to do, but they are acting as representatives of state power, and Miranda has always been a check on that power, guaranteeing persons taken into custody have basic rights – the right to remain silent, the right to consult with an attorney, and a guarantee that even poor persons can have some representation.

Now we have the case of David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, detained and questioned by UK police for 9 hours, denied an attorney, threatened with jail, his possessions stolen. These are the new Miranda rights, which the UK has accorded itself. The new Miranda rights are the rights of the state to abuse laws designed to protect the public from terrorism in order to harass and intimidate critics. Add to that destroying computers belonging to the Guardian containing documents from Snowden. They knew these documents were sequestered elsewhere. What was their goal other than straight intimidation of the press?

Fortunately the old Miranda is still here with us in the US, but for how long?

There is a battle going on right now between freedom and control, transparency and secrecy, accountability and classification. This is not a battle with weapons, but a battle of ideas, and as an American, I’m ashamed to see the abuses of power we’ve tolerated in this country, and I’m glad to see that there are some people who are willing to do something about it, regardless of the risk to themselves.

Certainly our government and intelligence agencies have devoted too much time to people like Glenn Greenwald, David Miranda, Laura Poitras, Juilian Assange and Jacob Appelbaum. The problem is these people are transparency/privacy activists, and their argument is a political one. They are the voices of freedom that we should be trying to protect. It is beyond inappropriate that our intelligence and security apparatus that is explicitly designed and charted to counter violent terrorism, should be used for political reasons against these individuals. Ask yourself which side is fighting for your freedom here…

What Are We Doing??

I’ve written before on the dangers to the US tech industry from NSA surveillance. Those dangers are now in full view. This week, Lavabit, the secure email service supposedly used by Edward Snowden, abruptly shut down. The owner left no doubt as to what was happening:

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit

This was followed hours later by Silent Circle shutting down its email service to preemptively avoid being subject to the same treatment. Silent Circle continues with other services for secure telephone, texting and videoconferencing, but believes the current email standards are too insecure for them to be able to guarantee the privacy of their customers.

All of this after Google engineer Dr. Joseph Bonneau was announced the winner of the National Security Agency’s first annual “Science of Security Competition” and then chastised them in a blog post:

“I’d be remiss not to mention my conflicted feelings about winning the award given what we know about the NSA’s widespread collection of private communications and what remains unknown about oversight over the agency’s operations. Like many in the community of cryptographers and security engineers, I’m sad that we haven’t better informed the public about the inherent dangers and questionable utility of mass surveillance. And like many American citizens I’m ashamed we’ve let our politicians sneak the country down this path,”

All of this, as Europeans and people around the world continue to question if they can trust their data with any US company. US cloud services are already expected to lose billions of dollars because of this. How far does this go? Do we sacrifice our tech industry to this insatiable appetite for surveillance? Have we just given up on a free and open internet?

I know what needs to happen. Ladar Levison, the owner of Lavabit took a courageous stance, sacrificing his business in order to not be forced to comply with what he felt was wrong. People under this sort of attack from the government will have to go further, and start ignoring the gag orders. A gag order is not legal and violates the First Amendment, and it will take brave people to stand up, defy these gag orders – National Security Letters, or whatever form they come in – and fight it in court. Let the courts then enforce these bad laws, and throw good people in jail for speaking the truth. Let the outrage grow. At some point, Congress will understand they must do something, or lose what remaining legitimacy they have. If there’s anything worth fighting for, it’s that here in America, we have an absolute right to free speech. Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. Wasn’t that the freedom we were supposed to be defending?