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Judge Deals a Blow to N.S.A. Data Collection Program (nytimes.com)
207 points by daegloe on Nov 9, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

The world is a better place because Edward Snowden helped create an enabling environment for transparency, accountability, and civil society monitoring of programs that make the world less safe and less free.

Perhaps even more importantly, I hope this public ruling will make it more difficult for any of us to tell our grandchildren that we didn't know[0] about serious things going seriously wrong.

0. e.g. "And, at that moment, I really realised that it was no excuse that I had been so young. I could perhaps have tried to find out about things."

Well... As the guy that did all of that let me tell you: it's futile. I knew back when Bill Binney came forward. It was all documented or otherwise obvious. From this I've learned something. People are HEAVILY biased towards the version of the "truth" that lets them do what they want. Like whatever they were doing before you started talking about this shit. lol. The WANT comes first for them. Then when you complain about all of this they assume the same of you. The actuality of anything is irrelevant. They assume you must WANT for it to be true. Then infer that you must necessarily be the kind of person who's WANT is to escape society. A loser. You hemerage status by talking about any of this. So you shut up. Honestly I don't think you did anything wrong... But also, I don't know what right is anymore.

> it's futile ... People are HEAVILY biased towards the version of the "truth" that lets them do what they want.

That's hardly futile - it's just the norm, the starting point for any social change. Our society gave civil rights to a small black minority (~12% of the population now; I don't know about then) after centuries of discrimination, gave equal rights to women after millenia of descrimination, grew an environmental movement, and much more. In all those situations, the people advocating change faced far greater obstacles than what you describe, yet they changed almost every person's perception, society's norms, and almost every industry's and business' practices.

I agree it seems daunting, but then I grasp the courage of people like MLK, Rachel Carson, and others even more. Think of what they felt as they looked at the culture of their day.

(And yes, all those movements still have much more to do.)

> it's futile

I agree. I've mostly (99.999%) given up on participating in American politics for the betterment of society.

> People are HEAVILY biased towards the version of the "truth" that lets them do what they want.

I just have to point out that by taking the stance that you and I are taking, we're doing the same. I'm biased towards the version of truth that lets me live as we want. In other words, I could massively disrupt my life as Snowden did, and that actually might make a difference. However, I convince myself that it wouldn't, so I can just work, make money, and pursue my usual definition of happiness.

>Well... As the guy that did all of that let me tell you: it's futile

Wait what? you're Snowden?

> "... I could perhaps have tried to find out about things."

I meant that.

> Wait what? you're Snwoden?

Not that.

It was very polite of the parent to misspell it Snwoden to give you room to make a truthful denial.

I meant the former. It's truthful even if spelled correctly. ;)

Damn it! I just read this 10 hours later. I totally know how to spell "hemorrhage". Don't judge me posterity.

Due to the nature of such surveillance - there is little oversight over what is actually being done. Which means there is no promise anything is being done. As a citizen, is there any way for me to know for certain or must I have faith my government is working how it claims to work? I'll explain...

[Begin conspiracy theory]If a judge marks it unconstitutional or not or forbids them from doing it doesn't necessarily mean that the NSA stops. That only works if you have faith in your government.

A government set to maintain its own power, after being outed by a whistleblower, would seek to save face. Have judges "ban acts of surveillance" and distribute that knowledge to the general public while secretly maintaining the actions behind the curtains. With a smaller, more loyal/contained group to prevent future whistleblowers. [/End conspiracy theory]

If it is found that the NSA continued to keep/records phone records after being "forbidden from doing so" - who would be held responsible? Would it be the head of the NSA? Head of the specific surveillance department in charge of the program? How would they be "punished"? How would the government insure it doesn't happen again? Who provides oversight of the NSA, outside of the NSA?

James Clapper's congressional perjury will probably make the history books as an example of modern corruption. For a crime committed against the very core of American democracy, the press gave him a pass and the president gave him a promotion.

Maybe he blackmailed everyone using NSA data...


> Maybe he blackmailed everyone using NSA data

Even if he didn't, it's only a question of time until the NSA starts blackmailing everyone with NSA data.

I'm not American, so your politics are largely irrelevant to me, but as an American I would find it probably worth looking at Obama's stance on bulk surveillance over time. Has he flip-flopped?

If so, either he was persuaded by evidence of its effectiveness in preventing terrorist attacks on the US, or maybe he was persuaded by evidence of its effectiveness after being shown his last 10 years of internet searches, presented on a CD, lying next to the duplicate sitting in an envelope marked "To the Editor, New York Times".

If you live on Planet Earth, American politics are relevant to you, as distasteful as that thought might be.

He doesn't want a serious attack to happen on his watch. There's a strong incentive to do "everything possible" to prevent one. Very few people would reward him for reigning in his own power, but nearly everyone will blame if an attack happens.

> Has he flip-flopped?

Well... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BmdovYztH8

Clapper didn't get punished because he did his job. Lying and spying is what he's been paid and ordered to do. If he didn't commit perjury my guess is that he would have been disappeared. I'm not arguing for him or the system but I'm not at all shocked that it was swept under the rug.

And there are the reddit style down votes as expected...

For the record I'm not saying clapper was in the right or that he shouldn't face charges, but in a country where sanctioned torture is the norm why should unpunished perjury by an official from a spy agency be shocking?

The fact that to date nobody has been held responsible lends a great deal of credibility to your conspiracy theory. I'd be highly surprised if they were upset at what they did, I think they're mostly upset at being caught.

I think that's pretty much correct.

A lot of the problems here are simply about the inherent tensions with intelligence gathering. The default statements from such agencies pretty much has to be, "if you knew what I new, you'd be very afraid". And the default reply, now that "we" know they are not trustworthy, has to be, "bullshit".

Short of the NSA actually behaving as if civilian control over their operations was a thing, and doing so for a generation, I don't see how they regain the trust of folks they are ostensibly there to protect.

Which is a bit of a problem, assuming they care about such things.

>The fact that to date nobody has been held responsible lends a great deal of credibility to your conspiracy theory.

Do you mind explaining why you think that? I do not think it makes my theory any more credible.

My concern is that checks and balances rely on oversight. Oversight relies on motivation. There doesn't seem to be any motivation to provide oversight of the NSA.

Anyone in a position to provide oversight can easily be bribed. Want to snoop on your SO or a love interest? Bam. They now have a reason to "glance over" the surveillance and use it for their own personal gain. There is zero motivation other than "integrity" for ratting on the NSA while the individual stands to benefit by keeping their trap shut.

Also because there are always the apologetic pro-authoritarian government shills out there: Yes. I firmly believe that all levels and positions of government can be corrupted or bribed. That doesn't necessarily mean that they are all corrupt. But it cannot be discounted as a possibility.

It lends credibility because if the culprits are known (and they are) and what they did was found to be illegal (and it seems we crossed that particular line long ago) then they should be in court as defendants rather than be promoted.

It's not that there isn't any motivation to provide oversight, it's the exact opposite, there is a strong motivation to look the other way. If it weren't then there surely should have been a lot more fall-out from the Snowden leaks but in fact it is mostly a re-arranging and re-naming of some programs and making sure the next Snowden has a much harder time of doing it (and probably an even harder time of getting out of the US before tshtf).

This has nothing to do with corruption per-se, it has simply got to do with that plenty of what goes on without our knowledge can not stand the light of day and the amount of complicity is such that no government official will want to look too hard at what other departments are up to because they're up to their necks in it themselves.

And that's not just limited to the USA either, I fully expect every western democracy to be doing roughly the same thing only limited by capability to execute and budget.

Sad to see your comment downvoted, its not fair when you get hammered like that on a follow up question on your own comment. Bleh.

It's most likely due to my last paragraph and not the follow up question itself. :) Don't worry about it.

These questions don't even sound like a conspiracy theory to me -- I feel like it was yesterday that people were talking about how the NSA doesn't do any work on American soil at all, now the fight is whether they can collect literally every bit of communication in the country. It makes me sad to think that, at the end of the day, I have no faith that the government will do the right thing, and almost no faith that they'd even do the legal thing.

Maybe it's naive of me to be surprised, but until all this Snowden stuff it never occurred to me that it was possible for entire government organizations to just flout the law because nobody was watching.

This is the biggest problem isn't it? The lack of true oversight and accountability. First you have the Oversight Committee act more like NSA's Public Relations Office, and then when we actually have proof of abuses, they get protected or even promoted. This is what allows the abuses to continue and grow.

2nd Ammendment probably existed for such cases but in modern times it is probably ineffective in its letter.

We can however keep the spirit of 2nd amendment and fight against NSA by actively creating incentives for those people who are willing to shut down NSA. For example a candidate like Rand Paul should get enough support. It is not even necessary that this candidate should win, but once politicians realize that there is vote issue to be exploited they will bite the bait.

It is remarkable that the government wants to spy teenagers sharing nudes but cant prosecute Hillary Clinton who seem to have actually put sensitive information at danger.

> A federal judge on Monday partly blocked the National Security Agency’s program that systematically collects Americans’ domestic phone records in bulk just weeks before the agency was scheduled to shut it down and replace it.

Well, for what it's worth, he did say that bulk collection is unconstitutional, didn't he? Doesn't that mean the USA Freedom Act is now wide open to lawsuits, too?

Thank heavens NSA have already redefined "collect" to exclude saving all the things in their database.

This "newspeak" with regard to government activity (and the intelligence apparatus especially) bothers me. It enables soundbites where government officials can say things like "no, we don't collect X", with essentially no real repurcussions by the other (legislative, judicial) branches of government that are supposed to keep them in check.

You can see some discomfort with this status quo in some of the questions that people like Senator Wyden pose to officials from the executive branch, but unless you already have the secret decoder ring (which CNN and their ilk at least pretend to not have) you miss the point entirely if you just follow the popular news. This makes it easy to gain popular support for agencies like the NSA since topics like this are of minor interest to most of the voting base, and most people won't dig deep enough to see what they really mean when they say things like that.

I really hope that we get something equivalent to the Church commision in the next decade or so to mitigate the potential damage that could result from our current intelligence apparatus, but I'm not too hopeful. I feel like the information that Snowden provided was our best chance for that, but I don't see enough popular support to convince our elected representitives that it's in their best interests.

"partly blocked the National Security Agency’s program that systematically collects Americans’ domestic phone records in bulk"

That's such a small, and arguably not the most important part, of NSA's wrongdoings -- collecting contacts, metadata, movement, all unencrypted Internet activity is much more potentially dangerous and damaging imho. Still, it's nice to see even a small step to the right direction.

If any law enforcement officer want to see what someone is up to, they can just ask one of the big metadata aggregators such as Google to see what they've been doing on the internet.

The move of this phone metadata from NSA to private telcos doesn't make these records less accessible, it makes them more so. It puts them in the same category as our other online metadata records held in private hands.

I don't get how people are all freaked out about NSA having these records but don't seem to worry that law enforcement will now have even better access.

Until they change the legal definition of "search and seizure" to include metadata held by third parties, I don't see any reason to celebrate.

The fact that a court overruled the original decision in a technicality really means they know the whole damned program is wrong and they were stalking whilst the program was being shutdown.

These coward judges don't want to make a precedent. At least there are brave judges still left!

Colour me a cynic, but I doubt this will curb their activities.

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