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How To Foil NSA Sabotage: Use a Dead Man's Switch 259

mspohr writes "Cory Doctorow has an interesting idea published in today's Guardian on how to approach the problem of NSA 'gag orders' which prevent web sites, etc. from telling anyone that they have been compromised. His idea is to set up a 'dead man' switch where a site would publish a statement that 'We have not been contacted by the government' ... until, of course, they were contacted and compromised. The statement would then disappear since it would no longer be true. He points out a few problems... Not making the statement could be considered a violation of disclosure... but, can the government force you to lie and state that you haven't been contacted when you actually have?" has been doing this for years; rather than the statement disappearing in case of an NSL being issued, it simply would stop updating. Indeed, their canary text also points out the same possible flaws: "This scheme is not infallible. Although signing the declaration makes it impossible for a third party to produce arbitrary declarations, it does not prevent them from using force to coerce to produce false declarations. The news clip in the signed message serves to demonstrate that that update could not have been created prior to that date. It shows that a series of these updates were not created in advance and posted on this page."
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How To Foil NSA Sabotage: Use a Dead Man's Switch

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  • by kju ( 327 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:08AM (#44806543)

    can the government force you to lie and state that you haven't been contacted when you actually have

    As we should have learned, the government by large does not care if they "can" (in a legally sense), they just do it. But if necessary: Those rubber stamp courts will surely find a way to make it happen in a way which is legal on paper.

  • Clever Tricks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:12AM (#44806571)

    When it comes to prosecuting, it's entirely alright to punish people based on the spirit of the law. So whatever tricks they tried, as long as they're under a rule of nondisclosure, would land them in deep shit if they disclosed things they were barred from disclosing. However, the spirit of the law is rarely taken into consideration when it helps people, like the whistleblower laws. No one looked to see if the people who were blowing the whistle were exposing corruption or making the country a better place to live, all that mattered was that they violated the letter of the law and needed to be sorry for doing so.

  • by schwit1 ( 797399 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:16AM (#44806597)

    Don't expect a prosecutor to buy this argument. Anything you do that alerts others to a gag order will be treated as a violation. You may win in court, but you will be thousands of dollars in debt defending yourself.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:17AM (#44806605) Homepage

    All these tricks are just wishful thinking.

    If other people learn you've been contacted then you're guilty no matter how you did it - by telling them or by stopping updates to a web site. It's all communication.

  • Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:29AM (#44806677) Journal

    We're talking about the government doing just about anything they want, and we're wondering if they'd restrain themselves according to something as little as the "letter" of the law?

    +2 Funny.
    +4 Sad.

  • by ciderbrew ( 1860166 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:36AM (#44806713)
    If you like the law, or do not disagree with it, comply.
    If you don't like the law, comply.
    If you don't trust your government, comply.
    And if all else fails, comply.
  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:41AM (#44806739)

    Most people cannot legally emigrate, so that isn't really an option. If you have dual citizenship, or unique in-demand skills, this may be more feasible, but China is not going to accept random American citizens who want to move there, especially not people who want to move there due to political disgruntlement.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <> on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:43AM (#44806747)

    I don't think the intent is to argue that it isn't contravening the intent of the gag order due to a technicality, but rather to set up a constitutional challenge to the gag order. Compelled speech is reviewed at a higher level of scrutiny, so if the gag order actually requires you to affirmatively state things that you neither believe in nor are true, that would be a basis for challenging the gag order. You may still lose, but it would require violating a constitutional rule that thus far has been respected.

  • by __aaltlg1547 ( 2541114 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:44AM (#44806753)
    There are different ways you might be contacted by the government.

    For example, maybe somebody who uses your website stole something. Suppose for example the FBI suspects that person of having sold it to someone else who uses your website and is looking for evidence of the same. So they get a warrant and go throught is one person's email, don't find the evidence they were looking for leave.

    In another example, maybe one person who uses your website had his car washed by a guy who got an email from a dude who was seen in a cafe with a suspected terrorist. They issue a National Security Letter that threatens you with horrible consequences if you divulge anything, seize a copy of every record on your site going back to 2005, discover another 50 people who got messages from the guy whose car was washed and by the associative property of terrorism, they're terrorists, you're a terrorist and everybody who uses your site is a terrorist.

    See the difference? It's not about being contacted by the government. It's about being swept up in a potentially vast and unwarranted (literally) investigation when you didn't do anything wrong.
  • by TWiTfan ( 2887093 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:50AM (#44806803)

    Agreed. In an America of secret courts, indefinite detention without trial or habeas corpus, secret police who prohibit you from even telling anyone they've contacted you, etc.--the concept of "proving yourself innocent" is laughable. "Because we said so" is the only charge the feds need anymore. Everything else is just dressing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:54AM (#44806835)

    Anything you do that alerts others to a gag order will be treated as a violation.

    That's not vaguely true. As we've already seen with various companies closing down, they are allowed to say "I can't provide any details because of a gag order". They can't discuss _WHAT_ they are being prevented from saying but they can most certainly say that they aren't allowed to say something.

  • by Dins ( 2538550 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:55AM (#44806845)

    Yes, but say there are only 30,000 people in the entire country who AREN'T being tracked, then "we don't search and store data on 10's of 1,000's of Americans" is true.

    The converse statement is, "We DO search and store data on 329,970,000 Americans"...

  • Re:Clever Tricks (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TWiTfan ( 2887093 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:55AM (#44806849)

    I bet the employee orientation at the NSA and CIA includes the admonition "Yes, you're going to lie to Congress, The President, and the American people. You're going to do it every fucking day, and LIKE it. And if you DON'T like it, either head to Russia or we'll arrange a cell for you right next to Bradley Manning."

  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:57AM (#44806869) Homepage

    Secret? They do that openly. It is common knowledge they can jail you forever without trial or even telling you of what crime you may have violated. And the American public love it because it's "fighting terrorisim".

    Secret means it's hidden, All of this is out in the open and publicly accepted.

  • by mounthood ( 993037 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @08:58AM (#44806879)

    As we should have learned, the government by large does not care if they "can" (in a legally sense), they just do it. But if necessary: Those rubber stamp courts will surely find a way to make it happen in a way which is legal on paper.

    Techies never seem to understand this, even though they read it over-and-over: the law is not a set of rules you work with, "it's the chain I go get and beat you with 'til ya understand who's in ruttin' command here." If an NSL isn't the right excuse, they'll make another.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @09:01AM (#44806899)

    Wouldn't it be better to always have a message saying that you are collaborating with the NSA / currently being gaged. If that siuation does ever occur, you then remove the message because otherwise you will be breaking the law...

  • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @09:13AM (#44807001)

    If I recall right (and strongly paraphrasing), Gandhi's solution to the atomic threat was to allow yourself to be nuked so that the children of the "victor" would express enough horror at the methods that they would reject the philosophy used for the strike

    Trouble is, the history books tend to be written by the victors.

    ...Although occasionally, due to lack of notoriety or some such, the lesson isn't completely learned until the next generation reads it in their history books...

    And given that so many people increasingly do not read at all (except in gobbets of 140 characters), I don't hold out much hope that their attention span will accommodate a book of any length.

  • by Dave Marney ( 2977859 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @09:18AM (#44807037)
    No, we don't "love it", we're appalled, angry, embarrassed and saddened. Trust in government is at an all-time low.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @10:13AM (#44807617)


  • Exactly right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phoenix666 ( 184391 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @10:26AM (#44807757)

    We all need to ostracize and refuse to have anything to do with any of these people. Looking to hire a subcontractor, and one of the firms in the running has connections to these people? Knock them out of the running and let them and their competitors know why. If we tag and track all of them and make them effectively persona non grata everywhere, and those who do their bidding likewise persona non grata, then we would begin to see change.

    Society in general must excise these people or risk imploding catastrophically.

  • by celtic_hackr ( 579828 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @01:02PM (#44809515) Journal

    You all seem to miss the important aspects here.

    1) Most Americans I talk with, who know about these things happening, hate everything that is going on.
    2) But a good number of people aren't paying attention to most of it. My wife, and most of my close family, being among them. And these people don't want to know, because they know they'll get upset and frustrated about it.
    3) Among those who know and are disgusted, few complain about it except to friends. Why, because, most of this activity doesn't have an immediate impact on Americans ability to travel "freely", buy food, earn a comfortable living, have spendable money and the ability to spend it mostly how they want, raise a family without major restrictions, go to the church of their own choice, live in any neighborhood they can afford, eat what they what, and have entertainment they want. In other words daily life in the USA is fairly stable and unrestricted. People are comfortable. Until, the activities of the government get so overbearing that life is no longer comfortable, few will be willing to do anything about it.
    4) The American Revolution didn't happen because the middle class people weren't comfortable anymore. Life was not really that bad in American Colonies back then. The American Revolution happened because the wealthy were feeling uncomfortable and the Crown was messing with their livlihoods.

    Ergo, nothing is going to change, unless:
    1) The government actions start having a serious impact on the upper classes, or
    2) The government makes life so hard for the average citizen that they have no choice but to revolt. You can complain to your politicians till you're blue in the face and it likely won't change anything, for long. They will relent, for a while, and then try it again when they think you aren't looking. Search your feelings, you know this to be true., or
    3) Enough people get fed up and actually start a new political party, that alters the landscape.

  • by Yakasha ( 42321 ) on Tuesday September 10, 2013 @02:53PM (#44810841) Homepage

    The voting numbers don't reflect that. 98% vote to keep things as they are.

    Please explain to me how to vote against it. There is no option for that on the ballot and the powers that be won't allow any.

    I voted for Gary Johnson. You could have too. Maybe next time you won't throw your vote away on a Demopublican like Obama.

Exceptions prove the rule, and wreck the budget. -- Miller