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Government Privacy

Mass Surveillance: Can We Blame It All On the Government? 123

Nicola Hahn writes Yet another news report has emerged detailing how the CIA is actively subverting low-level encryption features in mainstream hi-tech products. Responding to the story, an unnamed intelligence official essentially shrugged his shoulders and commented that "there's a whole world of devices out there, and that's what we're going to do." Perhaps this sort of cavalier dismissal isn't surprising given that leaked classified documents indicate that government intelligence officers view iPhone users as 'Zombies' who pay for their own surveillance.

The past year or so of revelations paints a pretty damning portrait of the NSA and CIA. But if you read the Intercept's coverage of the CIA's subversion projects carefully you'll notice mention of Lockheed Martin. And this raises a question that hasn't received much attention: what role does corporate America play in all of this? Are American companies simply hapless pawns of a runaway national security state? Ed Snowden has stated that mass surveillance is "about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power." A sentiment which has been echoed by others. Who, then, stands to gain from mass surveillance?
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Mass Surveillance: Can We Blame It All On the Government?

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  • depressed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Noah Haders ( 3621429 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @06:49PM (#49253349)

    It's depressing. As a privacy-aware and generally technologically literate but not super savvy about encryption protocols, etc, I don't know what to do. I want to have some measure of privacy, but I don't want to step out of the mainstream phone ecosystem. These days is it mandatory for me to put my tinfoil hat on to get a bit of space to myself?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Agreed it is depressing, and in answer to the question posed, the big money behind the government, the shadow government, is the winner. It's all about absolute power and wealth generation in the end. Global NSA and CIA spying - do you really think that is to save *us* from external threats? C'mon, it's all about the bottom line; period.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        External military threats could harm rich people just as easily as poor people. The 9-11 attack killed quite a lot of rich shadow-government members.

        So, you bet the spying is about protecting us from foreign threats. Absolutely.

        It is also about gaining a superior knowledge of the current state of the market, trade secrets, not-yet-announced products, and so on. This allows those in power to practice stock market manipulation to their extreme profit. This seems blatantly obvious to me. I am surprised th

        • In what way did the NSA dismantle the Occupy movement?

        • The 9-11 attacks killed a piddling amount of people compared to road traffic accidents, or even people shot by the various US police forces. Probably construction and farm accidents both killed more people. I don't have the data.

          The reality is that terrorists are a tiny proportion of the threats to the average American.

          There are only two possibilities:

          a) The European view: Americans are a bunch of spineless, knicker-wetting, yellow bellied softies, or

          b) The American View: those Corporate American Commi

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by MobSwatter ( 2884921 )

            The 9/11 attacks killed around the same number of people that Pearl Harbor did and how did we eventually respond then? The US has been on a path since the 50's that will eventually bring us all to a point where collapse is the only option to move forward. One might ask as to what happened back then to produce such a strong side effect of self destruction. Hint; paperclip, breach, assassination.

    • Re:depressed (Score:4, Interesting)

      by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <william.chuang@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Friday March 13, 2015 @07:10PM (#49253491) Homepage

      The only way to avoid technical surveillance is to keep everything sensitive away from email or phone calls or instant messages. There is no way to avoid being the target of the NSA and CIA if they really want to get your data. None at all. The NSA and CIA are creating these techniques against countries such as Russia, China, and Iran with devastating success. (Look at the Iranian nuclear weapons program getting hacked by Stuxnet.) You have no way to avoid the hacking of your data if they are really set in doing it.

      Now, you can try to make your data so computationally intensive that the CIA/NSA hopefully will not go out of their way to hack your accounts. Email is NOT secure. But you can use PGP or whatever to try to encrypt your emails. You can encrypt your hard drives to try and avoid hacking. You can avoid the iPhone and move to an open source cell phone firmware such as Cyanogenmodâ"at least you have a CHANCE of someone finding any NSA/CIA backdoor. Use anonymous VPN religiously to avoid having the same IPs.

      Otherwise, there's nothing much you can do except to decrease your electronic footprint. Everything you put out there is hackable.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        The only way to avoid technical surveillance is to keep everything sensitive away from email or phone calls or instant messages.

        I don't have any sensitive stuff I'm afraid they'll see. It just annoys me that I can't have a private conversation in the privacy of my own home. Even if I'm not a target for "tailored operations", my data is still vacuumed up through PRISM/XKEYSCORE/whatever other program. And that really sucks.

        am I really SOL?????

        • doh. quote tag fail.

          The only way to avoid technical surveillance is to keep everything sensitive away from email or phone calls or instant messages.

          I don't have any sensitive stuff I'm afraid they'll see. It just annoys me that I can't have a private conversation in the privacy of my own home. Even if I'm not a target for "tailored operations", my data is still vacuumed up through PRISM/XKEYSCORE/whatever other program. And that really sucks.

          am I really SOL?????

          I'll also add, since I'm reposting anyway, that it sucks that LA County installed license plate readers everywhere and now they log all my car trips. cmon people, srsly? next

          • Re:depressed (Score:4, Insightful)

            by kilfarsnar ( 561956 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @08:44PM (#49254053)

            ...next thing they're going to get rid of cash.

            Oh, they're working on it. As with a lot of this stuff it is being sold as convenience. Most people don't appreciate the value and importance of cash and are happy to use Level Up or Apple Pay or whatever other payment method. I'm not saying those services are in league with NSA/CIA/etc. (though it wouldn't surprise me). But as the public gets more used to using cashless systems the idea or getting rid of cash will seem natural. Once that's done say goodbye to any anonymous transaction. There will be a record of every purchase we make, subject to review.

            I use cash whenever possible, even when it isn't convenient. But I think it's only a matter of time.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Shakrai ( 717556 )

        The only way to avoid technical surveillance is to keep everything sensitive away from email or phone calls or instant messages.

        "Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."

        It was good advice before the electronic era and remains so today. For reasons a lot more applicable to us mere mortals than NSA and CIA.

      • The only way to avoid technical surveillance is to keep everything sensitive away from email or phone calls or instant messages. There is no way to avoid being the target of the NSA and CIA if they really want to get your data. None at all. The NSA and CIA are creating these techniques against countries such as Russia, China, and Iran with devastating success. (Look at the Iranian nuclear weapons program getting hacked by Stuxnet.) You have no way to avoid the hacking of your data if they are really set in doing it.

        Pretty much this. Ergo, if you are intent on inviolable secrecy, you wouldn't be posting on ye olde green line site... nor any other. Who then, is willing to give up the internet and the freedom of speech to ensure no measure of antiestablishmentarianism viewpoint is uttered and recorded?

        That I can still post my POV freely from the south side of somewhere without being erased by a midnight death squad is proof enough that the battle for your freedoms is not yet lost.

        Vote for candidates, serve on juries,

      • Re:depressed (Score:4, Informative)

        by guises ( 2423402 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @10:06PM (#49254329)

        There is no way to avoid being the target of the NSA and CIA if they really want to get your data.

        This is too tin-foil-hatish. The thing is, they don't really want your data. They don't care about you, you are just one person who has gotten caught in their wide-ranging net. And further: I don't want to stop them from getting the data of people who they're really going after. If they have a genuine reason to pursue someone, sufficient to pass that tiny speedbump of getting a FISA warrant, then that is what they should do.

        What I do want to stop them from doing is sweeping up everyone, including people who they don't really care about, in that wide-ranging net. So the objective is not to absolutely secure my emails and instant messages and phone calls, it's to ensure that getting those personal bits of data is sufficiently difficult that they're not going to do it for no reason. More than that: I am a lot less concerned with the NSA and the CIA doing this, who have some marginal level of oversight, than I am concerned with private companies doing this. The above poster "doesn't want to step out of the mainstream phone ecosystem," but what does that mean exactly?

        Let's take it as a given that if you're running a closed-source operating system then you have no control over your own privacy. This rules out iPhones, but you can still use an Android phone with a third-party ROM. That's still mainstream, you can still run standard Android apps with that. Of course, you may have to turn to non-Google sources to get them (I get all my Android games from the Humble bundle, DRM-free). But those apps could be doing who-knows-what, so you'll need to firewall them. Not a problem [xda-developers.com], we're partway there. How about emails, phone calls, text messages, and location data? Well emails and text messages are essentially the same thing, and securing them means the same thing [gnupg.org], the only roadblock comes from the lack of widespread adoption. If we want to noticeably increase our privacy, pushing GPG out there as hard as we can as something which everyone should be using is probably the largest difference that we can make. For you and your privacy, at least, getting your friends to use it should be your goal.

        Location data: we've stopped our phone from sending back location data directly, but the phone company can still track us, and they do, by following what cell towers we're connecting to. Can we do something about that? Eh... you can get a SIM card with a pay-as-you-go plan which you register for using a fake name (or no name), paid in cash. This will help a little, but location data can never really be anonymous - how many people live in your house and travel to your workplace and back every day? Probably not too many. The same is mostly true for phone calls, they're not very securable. Encrypted VoIP doesn't work (at least in the US) with the way that data plans are structured, and if you're on a pay-as-you-go program then you don't have a data plan anyway. You could not use your cell service for calls, and only make VoIP calls from wifi hotspots, but this largely nulls the benefits of having a cell phone. I don't know what to say here, if you want to both own a cell phone and use it then regulation is really your only hope for privacy. On the plus side, by cutting out the phone manufacturer and and the various app developers there's only a single point of failure where your privacy is compromised: your phone company. If you can address that problem, somehow, then you've achieved a reasonable, but not bulletproof, level of personal privacy.

        Have you stepped out of the mainstream phone ecosystem to do this? Partly. A lot of popular apps which rely on a network connection are off limits in this scenario. Facebook, first and foremost, but you're also excluding yourself from all of the other fad-of-the-moment social networking tchotchkes: Instagram, Yik-Yak, SnapChat, etc. It's not mainstream to care about privacy. I don't know what to say about that. If this is a problem for you, you can either give up or get better friends.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Lemme see, technologically illiterate AND you want a measure of privacy?
      Forget about it, either don't communicate anything with national security implications around a phone (mobile, wireless or land-line, including most connected devices like laptops, etc...), use something lo-tech like one time pads for text based communications, or... just stop worrying and learn to love the bomb

      But in the real world, if you are not about to attempt to overtake the US government, carry munitions on commercial aircraft, t

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by phantomfive ( 622387 )

      I want to have some measure of privacy, but I don't want to step out of the mainstream phone ecosystem.

      Richard Stallman suggests that if you carry a cell phone, you're being tracked. And he's probably not wrong.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Shakrai ( 717556 )

        Richard Stallman suggests that if you carry a cell phone, you're being tracked.

        Duh. That's kind of how they work. The cellular network can't deliver calls or data to your phone if it doesn't have a general idea of where you are. If Verizon knows then it's a simple matter for anyone else to find out, ranging from NSA to the private investigator working for your wife's divorce lawyer.

        Thanks for the insight RMS.

        • Yeah. I always used to laugh at how the tinfoil-hat-brigade freaked out about GPS being in every cellphone these days. Jusy from having the phone turned on, you can be traced to half a block or so. And that's easily enough to send in the vans with the triangulation gear.

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      Aww. Don't be depressed. The NSA isn't interested in your collection of penis photos. Their file on you says "Mostly harmless." Also, you should be using heavy duty foil. The lighter stuff just lets their mind control rays right through.
      • "The NSA isn't interested in your collection of penis photos."

        Yes it is.

        If not today, maybe tomorrow when you become a disturbing sindicalist, or judge or politician or some other kind of public figure.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Be aware of the boondoggle and rent seeking contractors and brands they front for or watch over for mil and gov interests.
      The mainstream phone ecosystem is now well understood to track, gps, record, locate and log all material for later review over years.
      So keep that phone when just working or walking.
      If your meeting a journalist be aware of what kind of tracking they bring to a meeting and the tracking you will face after that meeting.
      Rethink any mainstream phone devices during that contact and be awar
    • by jtgd ( 807477 )
      Dunno. Has tinfoil been proven to thwart the fMRI machine that reads your thoughts?
  • We ALL win! (Score:2, Insightful)

    Since we live in a paradise and don't want anything to change ever, universal surveillance is a great way to make sure that no bad actors mess things up. Duh. What's wrong with you? What are you, POOR?

  • You want to give a government the resources and the power to "solve problems" and this is what you get.

    Gee, power corrupts.

    Imagine that.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Those with the money decide who we get to vote for, and what they do once they get into office.

      Democrat or Republican, both wings of a single party: the corporate party.

      • Those with the money decide who we get to vote for...

        That is such bullshit. The idiots who believe their propaganda and expect them to bring back some juicy contracts decide who you get to vote for. The entire blame for all of it falls squarely on the voters' laps. They sell their votes to the bling.

    • Actually, the Canadian Constitution, and the EU-US Data Treaty both preserve the Right of Privacy for citizens of those countries in the USA.

      The lack of enforcement, or lawyers with kahunas big enough to use them, says nothing about the existence of these protections.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In this oligarchy where does the corporation end and government begin anyway

  • While corporations will happily sell the government anything and everything, they usually do not care very much about whether it actually works. See, e.g., the "wonder scanners" for airports, multiple defense projects, and multiple public IT projects. My guess would be that unless doing surveillance (not selling tools for it) is your core business, like with Google, Facebook, etc., corporations care very little about establishing effective and efficient surveillance.

    That said, of course come corporations ar

  • Well since I need to type here too maybe we can blame the people who think they have nothing to worry about; the very same people who didn't think through government blackmail of every single politician, CEO, and political activist by using said system.
  • it's not possible to put something out on a wire and expect it to be private

    i don't walk down main street naked and expect privacy

    same problem

    passing some law insisting everyone look away is going to be effective you think? that's your protection?

    if you want privacy, go walk with someone on the beach next to the crashing surf (to drown out the telescopic mics)

    otherwise, if you or what you are saying is interesting, someone can eavesdrop. that's not a new problem. it's always been that way

    what is new is this

    • Might add to that: anyone using Facebook either doesn't understand privacy/technology, or doesn't want privacy for that corner of their life.
    • by grumpy_old_grandpa ( 2634187 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @08:31PM (#49253989)
      You are mixing random concepts here, applying the same label to them, and concluding that there is no privacy. Sounds like a straw man argument to me. But let's dissect it.

      The first problem is comparing privacy from your family members to society as a whole. Sorry, but there is little power to be gained from peeking through the window of your older brother. And it will definitely not affect anybody else on your block. Now, if somebody were to drive down the street with a camera, film everybody and everything and put it on the Internet, that would be a whole different story. Google tried, and they had to blur faces, lower their cameras or stop altogether in different countries. The key difference is the scale of the operation, and number of people affected.

      The second problem with your argument, is comparing police, state and government surveillance with private data collection. You might think Google, Microsoft, Facebook are evil, and should not hold your private data. You're probably right. However, none of these companies will kick down your door and shoot your dog. The very purpose of government surveillance is to retain power and control. That has always been the case, and the Internet and computers didn't change it. It has just made the rulers' job so much easier.

      The beauty of total government surveillance is that it doesn't have to be total in order to achieve its goal. It is enough if most people merely believe they are watched most of the time, just like you describe. We start to self-censor. We'll be more careful about what we write, what we criticize, who we associate with. It fences our thoughts and ideas, and limits our ability to seek alternatives, which is precisely its purpose. The opposite is not privacy, it is freedom and liberty.
      • you have secret piece of info {X}

        you are going to put it on a public wire, and expect that secret piece of info {X} to magically stay secret

        where exactly does that erroneous perception come from?

        i don't have a problem with laws against government surveillance invading your privacy: going into your house and rifling through your stuff, for example

        but i also don't have a magic expectation that if i leave my secret stuff in the middle of main street, that no one is going to see it, never mind the government

        to

        • you have secret piece of info {X}

          you are going to put it on a public wire, and expect that secret piece of info {X} to magically stay secret

          where exactly does that erroneous perception come from?

          What about public-key encryption or one-time pads? Theoretically at least, while I am no expert, the concept of transferring something in plain sight while the message remains indecipherable seems to not be an impossible task.

    • by s.petry ( 762400 )

      To first answer TFA's question, the answer is "yes" and "no". It really depends on the context. Has the NSA, CIA, DHS, FBI, ATF, and just about every other 3 letter acronym caused problems? Yes! Have they extended problems or made them worse? Yes! Are they the only actors when it comes to stealing data and unauthorized access? No, but they are the only agency immune to prosecution and punishment for those actions.

      Now to your point. Sure, what I post on Slashdot or Facebook is considered public and I

  • They are active participants, and are salivating at the chance for its expansion.

    The simple heuristic is: unless they are explicitly against surveillance and government intrusion, they are for it.

    It's a new, untapped growth industry. One in which the customer has literally infinitely deep pockets, and wields the power of the law.

    Is this a real question? Seriously?

  • where i grok and empathize with all the complaints about government surveillance, i am just left wondering how if they can spy on us so easily, why can they not provide us with better regulations for life. i mean with all the data analytics and voice/video/txt information, you think they would at least provide us with better standardized living.
  • Just make sure to keep the dream alive and blame it on anything and everything but ourselves. No no no... We play no part. We are just helpless passengers.

    • This being said, what do you feel is an appropriate response for the low-man:
      socially acceptable things like protest, voting, letter-writing, funding of PACs
      or
      discordianism, graffiti, and general subversive behavior, or some other alternative?
      Personally, I favor the latter, but I would like to get the input of others.

  • It's not our fault people have computers with webcams and microphones that we can easily hack into and install monitoring software to record everything they say and do, because we're involved with the encryption and security standards and can design-in backdoors that we can access easily.

    That's not our fault at all. Stupid citizens.

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @08:27PM (#49253959)
    There are many long time computer users who have felt that Apple products were for the less than able who wasted money on expensive software as they were on the helpless side with computers. And yes the corporations are probably even more guilty than our government of spying or contributing to spying on US citizens. As far as who will benefit from all the spying and snooping and analyzing well all of us will. We will gain and lose as well. Safety, convenience and financial opportunities may be created from data mining and analyzes. Loss of privacy and an inability to get away with crimes will punish most people a bit. Those under the table jobs and cash flows will soon be next to impossible to get away with. Even crimes like prostitution will become next to impossible as financial records are compiled and things like hotel records are traced to individuals. A car thief better have one heck of an explanation as to how he pays his rent, pays his bills, and pays for his food. A person can be held to account for every penny that passes through their hands as this technology becomes ever more present. So we all win and we all lose.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Privacy will be an excellent discussion to have later at tea time, as a secondary, also relevant issue.

    As a non-US national, my understanding of the situation is somewhat more somber.

    > Yet another news report has emerged detailing how the CIA is actively subverting low-level encryption features in mainstream hi-tech products. Responding to the story, an unnamed intelligence official essentially shrugged his shoulders and commented that "there's a whole world of devices out there, and that's what we're go

  • Sousveillance (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kulervo ( 1597181 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @09:05PM (#49254123)

    A discussion about surveillance and no one has said "Sousveillance"? Or mentioned David Brin?

    As a purchaser of surveillance data, I can tell you that the answer to the question of the original post is a resounding: No.

    A previous poster mentioned his license plate being tracked by the civil authorities. Well, I can tell you that corporations do that too. Tow trucks now come with cameras to read your plate to see if there is a repossession order out for your car. And when they OCR your car, they dump it into a database with a geotag, and then they SELL that data. To people like me. I won't tell you what I do with it, but it's to your economic detriment.

    So, yes, people with power, the government, the corporations, the wealthy, are all going to use information to try to rule you. What are you going to do about it? Complain about tech un-savvy idiots? Hide like discrete rams among the sheep? Or are you going to stand up and look back?!

    There's a lot of smug above this in the comments, so if you are really so much better than everyone else: Prove It. If you've got the Talent, pick up the tools and fight for what you think is right.

  • Snowden talked about social control, economic espionage, etc etc... There are a lot of things that those could mean. Economic espionage could range from the somewhat innocent, possible necessary, such as monitoring potential dual application industry to ensure that weapons are not being made. But it could also mean that agencies are stealing incomplete intellectual property from citizens and giving it to huge businesses that can afford to complete and right protect it faster. Social control could mean that angry citizens are talked away from extremist groups that might operate among us, or it could mean that random agents choose people they personally dislike and harass them.

    The important issues related to this topic have nothing to do with blame. People can't just drop their smart phones today any more than their cars. That's standard equipment, and one can get by without it, but only with hardship.

    I'm worried primarily about two kinds of abuse: political capture of our nation (a coup through intelligence services) and theft from motivated American minds working to accomplish things that could benefit us all. The overarching problem is that there is absolutely no way for the average citizen to know these abuses are not happening.
  • by Bob9113 ( 14996 ) on Friday March 13, 2015 @11:05PM (#49254513) Homepage

    Ed Snowden has stated that mass surveillance is "about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They're about power." A sentiment which has been echoed by others. Who, then, stands to gain from mass surveillance?

    Whoever has the best combination of intel and computer aided psychological operations tools. We The People can win, because we have the numbers on our side by an enormous margin. We just have to recognize that we're in a war and beat our plowshares into swords.

    Learn big data. Learn information security. Learn hacking. Learn mesh networking and darknets. Learn cryptography and steganography. Build a client for your favorite communications platform and start spidering the new commons. Whatever tickles your fancy, or all of the above. Network with others with those skills. Get your friends to register and start aging off multiple social network personas, each with credible histories. Develop a following, or multiple followings with different personas, on new media.

    Best case, none of the things that look like they are already happening actually come to pass, and you'll have a valuable career skill set. Worst case, you'll have the tools you need to defend the nation from a bloodless coup built on next generation propaganda.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      That would go a long way to counter the open and closed systems that ship with a few encryption standards that they all share and have been set for use over the years.
      Only now are a new generation of crypto experts finally understanding what can be done to compilers, crypto, telco, networks, OS and applications when a gov asks, funds or requests.
  • People do stuff. People watch other people do stuff. People write down what people are doing. People sell the information about what people are doing to other people. People build a business out of using lists of what people do. Someone notices. That someone has imagination, paranoia, a bit of delusion, a computer, the internet, access to an online discussion board, and marginal social skills. That person begins to write on blogs, forums and discussion boards using terms like privacy, government, big-brothe
  • You Are (The Government)

    Hey, sit down and listen and they'll tell you when you're wrong
    Eradicate but vindicate as progress creeps along
    Puritan work ethic maintains it's subconscious edge
    As old glory maintains your consciousness
    There's a loser in my house and a puppet on a stool
    And a crowded way of life and a black reflecting pool
    And as the people bend, the moral fabric dies
    Then country can't pretend to ignore it's people's cries
    'Cause you are the government
    You are jurisprudence
    You are the volition
    You are ju

  • Are you as worried about the first two? Does free expression only pertain to only what not where? Does shall not infringe only to apply active militia members?

What hath Bob wrought?

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