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The Interest-Divergence Dilemma Between the Tech Companies and the NSA* | Translation Exercises

… [As] the tech letter [from Google, Yahoo, etc.] shows, while the language they resort to is the time-honored liberal discourse between security and freedom, in fact the balance they care about is the balance between corporate profits, government power, and customer complacence. It is not necessarily a problem to tip over from freedom to security, as long as government surveillance doesn’t begin to cause unrest among their customers such that they lose their profit machine.

Presumably “being sensible” means not undermining “trust in the Internet,” which makes total sense, when your business profits depend on your customers’ trust in the Internet. So the appeal from the tech companies to the USG, in essence, is to continue their collaboration with the corporations to mine and acquire as much data as possible, but to be less obtrusive, less extreme, less confrontational about it. One way to do so, is to re-institute strict controls on which persons are the focus of data collection.

This is the quintessential neoliberal environment: corporations and the government converge to strip the focus away from rights so as to have better control over individuals. But at the moment that corporate profit is threatened, corporations no longer act in complete concert with the state, but rather each “institution” (the government and corporations) battle each other for control over consumers/citizens.

I think there’s a different (or another) red herring … : It is the red herring of “interests.” In other words, the discourse of interests distracts the “public” conversation from naming several realities (i.e. this is what is NOT printed as part of the official record, as in Reuters or the NYT; it doesn’t mean that many of us don’t see it).

1) It distracts us from being able to identify the struggle over the limits of surveillance as being about the limits of corporate power versus the state’s power and not, as its typically articulated, to protect persons/subjects/consumers/citizens.

2) This struggle is better understood as that between corporate interests for profit and (managing its customers’ behaviors for that purpose) v. government interests to acquire all information as a mode of securing control over subjects and companies.

In other words, the struggle between the tech companies and the government is over managing individual actions en masse, and by extension, its dialectical counterpart: consumers’/subjects’ resistance to being managed.

And this battle reflects the red herring of interests: The discourse of “interests” saturates the public conversation, such that privacy is no longer a relevant question. In fact, the prime concern that governs state actions is “its” own interests. This makes more sense if we revert to the assumption that the state’s interest is in its own survival, not that of its subjects/citizens. The corporations have their own interests in mind is obvious, but their interests are profits as extracted through the control/management of consumers’ actions (such as through Google’s and Facebook’s data collection methods, which in turn are enhanced by targeting personalized ads at each user, which in turn extracts more information about user behavior.

The issue at stake is not about principles, or ethics, or privacy per se. Rather, the real concern—from the perspective of the tech companies is their profits being lost. That is the tipping point that shifts the balance away from profit in the service of overwhelming government desire to know everything that’s going on. That interest was okay, so long as the public (customers) didn’t know (or didn’t focus so much on) the fact that their information was being handed over in volume by the tech companies. But when that knowledge threatens to drive away their customer base, then the “balance” qua fine-tuning has been lost. [READ]

I just don’t buy this argument that, you know, this hurts national security. I covered al-Qaeda for The New York Times, and, believe me, they know they’re being monitored. The whole idea that somehow it comes as a great surprise to jihadist groups that their emails, websites and phone calls are being tracked is absurd. This is—we’re talking about the wholesale collection of information on virtually most of the American public, and the consequences of that are truly terrifying. At that point, we are in essence snuffing out the capacity of any kind of investigation into the inner workings of power. And to throw out this notion that it harmed—this harmed national security, there’s no evidence for that, in the same way that there is no evidence that the information that Bradley Manning leaked in any way harmed national security. It didn’t. What the security and surveillance state is doing is playing on fear and using that fear to accrue to themselves tremendous forms of power that in a civil society, in a democracy, they should never have. And that’s the battle that’s underway right now, and, frankly, we’re losing. Chris Hedges (via azspot)

(via azspot)

Obama OKs Netflix-to-Facebook Sharing as E-Mail Privacy Reform Falters | David Kravets

President Barack Obama signed legislation Thursday granting the public the right to automatically display on their Facebook feeds what they’re watching on Netflix.

It’s great news for those wanting to flood their Facebook feeds with whatever time-suck they’re watching. But it’s bad news for privacy. Lawmakers cut from the legislative package language requiring the authorities to get a warrant to read your e-mail or other data stored in the cloud. [++]

Orlando Florida Patrolled By Surveillance Drones As Early As This Summer

When Congress passed a bill last February allowing unmanned drones to fly American skies it became only a matter of time before UAVs patrolled U.S. cities for local law enforcement.

While most drones in the U.S. are flown along the Mexican border, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office wants to put them over metro Orlando within the next few months. The Greater Orlando metropolitan area is home to more than 2 million residents and is Florida’s third largest city.

Dan Tracy at the Orlando Sentinel reports the local sheriff wants a pair of unarmed UAVs able to record the activities of everyday citizens and criminals alike.

From the Sentinel:

Sheriff’s spokesman Jeff Williamson … would not say exactly how the drones would be used, he wrote in an email that they might be deployed when looking for explosives, barricaded suspects and to inspect “hostile/inaccessible terrain” or at train accidents.

As for civil-rights concerns, Williamson wrote, “The OCSO has the privacy of its citizenry as a foremost concern. The device will only be put into operations on the command of the high risk incident commander.”

The sheriff still needs the County Commission to sign off on the request before it goes to the FAA for approval. The federal agency should have no problem accommodating as it was ordered by Congress to get as many drones as possible into the air by November, and be able to handle 30,000 UAVs by 2020.

Susie Madrak: Drones Will Be The New Normal in The U.S. If We Let Them:

Here’s how it happens: The defense contractors see dollar signs, buy themselves a bouquet of Congress critters, and then suddenly we have an ‘urgent’ civilian need for military equipment. It will keep us ‘safe’. Sure, there’ll be a few major collisions and ‘accidents,’ but it will become generally accepted as the New Normal. And once that’s firmly ensconced in the public mind as necessary, we’ll then develop an urgent need for armed drones.

This will affect everyone except you. No worries.

Google report reveals sharp increase in government requests for users' data | guardian.co.uk

Government surveillance of citizens’ online lives is rising sharply around the world, according to Google’s latest report on requests to remove content and hand over user data to official agencies.

In the first six months of this year, authorities worldwide made 20,939 requests for access to personal data from Google users, including search results, access to Gmail accounts and removal of YouTube videos. Requests have risen steeply from a low of 12,539 in the last six months of 2009, when Google first published its Transparency Report.

Authorities made 1,791 requests for Google to remove 17,746 pieces of content in the first half of 2012, almost twice as many as the 949 requests made in the same period last year, and up from 1,048 requests made in the last six months of 2011.

“This is the sixth time we’ve released this data, and one trend has become clear: government surveillance is on the rise,”Google said in a blogpost.

One of the sharpest rises came in requests from Turkey, which held an election on 12 June 2011. Google reported a 1,013% rise in requests from Turkish authorities in the latest reporting period, including 148 requests to remove 426 YouTube videos, Blogger blogs, one Google document and one search result. The contested items allegedly criticised Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the first president of Turkey), the government or “national identity and values”. Google restricted Turkish users from accessing 63% of the YouTube videos. It did not remove the other content.

The US accounted for the most requests, as it has consistently since the report was launched. US authorities asked for private details of Google users on 7,969 occasions, up from 6,321 in the last reporting period. The number is more than a third of the 20,938 requests for users’ details worldwide. Google fully or partially complied with 90% of those requests.

Surveillance Tech, Western Companies and Authoritarian Regimes

futurejournalismproject:

We’ve mentioned it before and we’ll mention it again and again: the digital tools that help liberate are also used to repress, and are often put in the hands of authoritarian regimes by Western companies.

Via The Atlantic:

For all of the good this technology has done, activists are also beginning to understand the harm it can do. As Evgeny Morozov wrote in The Net Delusion, his book on the Internet’s darker sides, “Denying that greater information flows, combined with advanced technologies … can result in the overall strengthening of authoritarian regimes is a dangerous path to take, if only because it numbs us to potential regulatory interventions and the need to rein in our own Western corporate excesses.”

The communications devices activists use are not as safe as they might believe, and dozens of companies — many of them based in North America and Europe — are selling technology to authoritarian governments that can be used against democratic movements. Such tools can exploit security flaws in the activists’ technology, intercept a user’s communications, or even pinpoint their location. In many cases, this technology has led to the arrest, torture, and even death of individuals whose only “crime” was exercising their universal right to free speech. And, in most of these cases, the public knew nothing about it.

Recent investigations by the WallStreetJournal and BloombergNews have revealed just how expansively these technologies are already being used. Intelligence agencies throughout the Middle East can today scan, catalogue, and read virtually every email in their country. The technology even allows them to change emails while en route to their recipient, as Tunisian authorities sometimes did before the revolution.

(Source: futurejournalismproject)

WikiLeaks Unveils the Selling of Surveillance

99anon:

The WikiLeaks submission system may still be incommunicado, but the secret-spilling site woke up on Thursday to release a trove of marketing documents from surveillance companies hawking their wares to governments — though many were previously published by the Wall Street Journal or were already publicly available on the web.

The site published 287 documents that it says are part of a larger cache of hundreds of such documents that reveal price lists, manuals and marketing claims from companies like Blue Coat, whose spying technology is being used by Syria, as well as Nokia-Siemens, Lucent and other large technology firms that have been criticized in the past for selling their wares to oppressive regimes.

The documents so far are getting mixed reviews from critics who point out that the Wall Street Journal published more than 200 of the marketing documents last month in an exposé focused on shining a light on the vast global market for off-the-shelf surveillance products…

The documents are searchable on the WikiLeaks site by company name, product name and technology type — such as GPS trackers, video surveillance and internet traffic monitoring. (more)

Note: The Wikileaks link is very eye-opening, with such files as:

Western Surveillance Technology & Repressive Regimes

futurejournalismproject:

In a longread, the Washington Post explores how Western surveillance technology that listens in on cell phone calls, monitors Internet activity, takes pictures of people while they use their computers and otherwise tracks people while it hacks their digital devices, ends up in the hands of the world’s most repressive regimes.

Via the Washington Post:

Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur Jerry Lucas hosted his first trade show for makers of surveillance gear at the McLean Hilton in May 2002. Thirty-five people attended.

Nine years later, Lucas holds five events annually across the world, drawing hundreds of vendors and thousands of potential buyers for an industry that he estimates sells $5 billion of the latest tracking, monitoring and eavesdropping technology each year. Along the way these events have earned an evocative nickname: The Wiretappers’ Ball.

The products of what Lucas calls the “lawful intercept” industry are developed mainly in Western nations such as the United States but are sold throughout the world with few restrictions. This burgeoning trade has alarmed human rights activists and privacy advocates, who call for greater regulation because the technology has ended up in the hands of repressive governments such as those of Syria, Iran and China…

…But the overwhelming U.S. government response has been to engage in the event not as a potential regulator, but as a customer.

The list of attendees for this year’s U.S. Wiretappers’ Ball, held in October at the North Bethesda Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, included more than 20 federal agencies, Lucas said. Representatives of 43 countries also were there, he said, as were many people from state and local law enforcement agencies. Journalists and members of the public were excluded.

H/T: @AnupKaphle

(Source: futurejournalismproject)

Governments Co-opting Internet Firms for Surveillance

futurejournalismproject:

Via Reuters, from an Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi:

Internet companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook are increasingly co-opted for surveillance work as the information they gather proves irresistible to law enforcement agencies, Web experts said this week.

Although such companies try to keep their users’ information private, their business models depend on exploiting it to sell targeted advertising, and when governments demand they hand it over, they have little choice but to comply.

Suggestions that BlackBerry maker RIM might give user data to British police after its messenger service was used to coordinate riots this summer caused outrage — as has the spying on social media users by more oppressive governments…

…Demands from governments for Internet companies to hand over user information have become routine, according to online privacy researcher and activist Christopher Soghoian, who makes extensive use of freedom-of-information requests in his work.

“Every decent-sized U.S. telecoms and Internet company has a team that does nothing but respond to requests for information,” Soghoian told Reuters in an interview.

Soghoian estimates that U.S. Internet and telecoms companies may receive about 300,000 such requests in connection with law enforcement each year — but public information is scarce.

Somewhere arguments about Internet privacy just got more academic.

(Source: futurejournalismproject)

A prime aim of the growing Surveillance State | Glenn Greenwald

The Western World has long righteously denounced China for its attempts to control the Internet as a means of maintaining social order.  It even more vocally condemned Arab regimes such as the one in Egypt for shutting down Internet and cell phone service in order to disrupts protests.  

But, in the wake of recent riots in London and throughout Britain — a serious upheaval to be sure, but far less disruptive than what happened in the Middle East this year, or what happens routinelyin China — the instant reaction of Prime Minister David Cameron was a scheme to force telecoms to allow his government the power to limit the use of Internet and social networking sites.  Earlier this week, when San Francisco residents gathered in the BART subway system to protest the shooting by BART police of a 45-year-old man, city officials shut down underground cell phone service entirely for hours; that, in turn, led to hacking reprisals against BART by the hacker collective known as “Anonymous.”  As the San-Fransisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation put it on its website: ”BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak.”  Those efforts in Britain and San Fransisco are obviously not yet on the same scale as those in other places, but it illustrates how authorities react to social disorder: with an instinctive desire to control communication technologies and the flow of information.

The emergence of entities like WikiLeaks (which single-handedley jeopardizes pervasive government and corporate secrecy) and Anonymous (which has repeatedly targeted entitiesthat seek to impede the free flow of communication and information) underscores the way in which this conflict is a genuine “war.”  The U.S. Government’s efforts to destroy WikiLeaks and harass its supporters have been well-documented.  Meanwhile, the U.S. seeks to expand its own power to launch devastating cyber attacks: there is ample evidence suggesting its involvement in the Stuxnet attacks on Iran, as well as reason to believe that some government agency was responsible for thesophisticated cyber-attack that knocked WikiLeaks off U.S. servers (attacks the U.S. Government tellingly never condemned, let alone investigated).  Yet simultaneously, the DOJ and other Western law enforcement agencies have pursued Anonymous with extreme vigorThat is the definition of a war over Internet control: the government wants the unilateral power to cyber-attack and shut down those who pose a threat ot it, while destroying those who resists those efforts.

House Panel Approves Bill Forcing ISPs To Log Users

Under the guise of fighting child pornography, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation on Thursday that would require internet service providers to collect and retain records about Internet users’ activity. The 19 to 10 vote represents a victory for conservative Republicans, who made data retention their first major technology initiative after last fall’s elections. A last-minute rewrite of the bill expands the information that commercial Internet providers are required to store to include customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses. Per dissenting Rep. John Conyers (D-MI): ‘The bill is mislabeled… This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.’

(Source: azspot)

notforpublicconsumption:

[The] ACLU is calling it “A direct assault on Internet users” 
Yesterday  a U.S. House committee approved HR 1981, a broad new Internet snooping  bill.  They want to force Internet service providers to keep track of  and store their customers’ information — including your name, address, phone number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses.The  American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, the  Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, and 25 other civil  liberties and privacy groups have expressed our opposition to this  legislation. Will you join us in opposition by emailing your lawmakers right away?  Just click here.They’ve  shamelessly dubbed it the “Protecting Children From Internet  Pornographers Act,” but our staunchest allies in Congress are calling it  what it is: an all-encompassing Internet snooping bill.CNet Reports: Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who led Democratic opposition to the bill said, “‘It  represents a data bank of every digital act by every American’ that  would ‘let us find out where every single American visited Web sites.’”“The  bill is mislabeled,” said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the senior  Democrat on the panel. “This is not protecting children from Internet  pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a  lot of other purposes.”Please  click here to join the Center for Democracy and Technology, the  Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Privacy Information  Center, Demand Progress and 25 other civil liberties and privacy groups  in opposing this legislation.
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FROM BITSHARE:  To help stop this bill from becoming law, you will need to fill out this form here and submit it. It  will be sent to your state representative in an  attempt to get  everyone to overturn this bill.  Please make sure to  share this with  anyone you know that uses the Internet (should be  everyone!) to help  get this bill overturned.

notforpublicconsumption:

[The] ACLU is calling it “A direct assault on Internet users” 

Yesterday a U.S. House committee approved HR 1981, a broad new Internet snooping bill.  They want to force Internet service providers to keep track of and store their customers’ information — including your name, address, phone number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, and 25 other civil liberties and privacy groups have expressed our opposition to this legislation. 
Will you join us in opposition by emailing your lawmakers right away?  Just click here.

They’ve shamelessly dubbed it the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act,” but our staunchest allies in Congress are calling it what it is: an all-encompassing Internet snooping bill.

CNet Reports: Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who led Democratic opposition to the bill said, “‘It represents a data bank of every digital act by every American’ that would ‘let us find out where every single American visited Web sites.’”

“The bill is mislabeled,” said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the panel. “This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.”

Please click here to join the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Demand Progress and 25 other civil liberties and privacy groups in opposing this legislation.

.

FROM BITSHARETo help stop this bill from becoming law, you will need to fill out this form here and submit it. It will be sent to your state representative in an attempt to get everyone to overturn this bill. Please make sure to share this with anyone you know that uses the Internet (should be everyone!) to help get this bill overturned.

(via mlesblog-deactivated20120325)