Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Uh, the only reform of domestic surveillance is dismantling it

A lot of smart people are cheering the reforms of domestic surveillance in the USA "FREEDOM" Act. Examples include  Timothy Lee, EFF, Julian Sanchez, and Amie Stepanovich. I don't understand why. Domestic surveillance is a violation of our rights. The only acceptable reform is getting rid of it. Anything less is the moral equivalent of forcing muggers to not wear ski masks -- it doesn't actually address the core problem (mugging, in this case).

Bulk collection still happens, and searches still happen. The only thing the act does is move ownership of the metadata databases from the NSA to the phone companies. In no way does the bill reform the idea that, on the pretext of terrorism, law enforcement can still rummage through the records, looking for everyone "two hops" away from a terrorist.

We all know the Patriot Act is used primarily to prosecute the War on Drugs rather than the War on Terror. I see nothing in FREEDOM act that reforms this. We all know the government cloaks its abuses under the secrecy of national security -- and while I see lots in the act that tries to make things more transparent, the act still allows such a cloak.

I see none of the reforms I'd want. For example, I want a law that requires the disclosure, to the public, of the total number of US phone records the government has grabbed every month, regardless of which law enforcement or intelligence agency grabbed them, regardless of which program or authority was used to grab them. After Snowden caught the government using wild justification for it's metadata program -- any law that doesn't target such all such collection regardless of justification will work to reign it in.

A vast array of other things need to be reformed regarding domestic surveillance, such as use of "Stingray" devices, the "third party doctrine" allowing the grabbing of business records even without terrorism as a justification, parallel construction, the border search exemption, license plate readers, and so on.

Bulk collection happens. our lives are increasingly electronic. We leave a long trail of "business records" behind us whatever we do. Consider Chris Roberts, "Sindragon", who joked about hacking a plane on Twitter and is now under investigation by the FBI. They can easily rummage through all those records. While they might not find him guilty of hacking, they may find he violated an obscure tax law or export law, and charge him with that sort of crime. That everything about our lives is being collected in bulk, allowing arbitrary searches by law enforcement, is still a cyber surveillance state, that the FREEDOM act comes nowhere close to touching.

The fact of the matter is that the NSA's bulk collection was the least of our problems. Indeed, the NSA's focus on foreign targets meant, in practice, it really wasn't used domestically. The FREEDOM act now opens up searches of metadata to all the other law enforcement agencies. Instead of skulking in secret occasionally searching metadata, the FBI, DEA, and ATF can now do so publicly, with the blessing of the law behind them.


John Thacker said...

Regarding the DEA, the House just accepted yesterday (by voice vote) an amendment by Polis (D-CO) to the DEA funding for this year banning it from doing bulk data collection. Certainly they'll probably get the FBI to do it instead.

CuriousOldHarry said...

I would like to show how written literature can be somewhat predictive of real life and also warn us of the consequences of following a similar path through this science fiction novel of "1984" even though it is far past this time-frame. Our Framers had to do this type of consideration when writing our Constitution.

Could these type laws be sort of like the "Thought Police" from the Book - 1984 or misused for this similar purpose ? In this book, 1984 - one of the theme's was, the psychological, technological, and social dangers of political authority.

You can pull from the following stated theme, "It warns that people might believe that everyone must become slaves to the government in order to have an orderly society, but at the expense of the freedom of the people.", could this be applied to the current day, that most people must believe to have a civil society with the specter of terrorism we must give up our freedoms for the individual.

Here are a FEW thoughts and quotes :

The danger of totalitarianism rests in its power to suppress the individual. (Could you replace totalitarianism with the word - politics ?)

Big Brother is watching has become a common term in our modern language, BUT the phrase has lost some of its potency, has it ?

This slogan was used by the book's party - WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. With this sentiment and different wording, could this slogan be used yet today ?

I leave you to consider these thoughts ....