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Congress Must Act After US Government Admits To Warrantless Wiretapping (eff.org)
297 points by mtgx on July 24, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

There are two disconcerting trends I see in the NSA wiretapping fiasco independent of whether wiretapping is a good idea, a necessary evil, or a bad idea.

The first is the amount of effort it takes to get very basic level of information regarding NSA activities, even when those activities are known to exist. A "secret national security court"[0] determines whether the laws voted on by Congress are constitutional? Good information is paramount in developing good opinions. It would certainly be unwise to inform parties that have been wiretapped, but ballpark estimates of how many people are wiretapped and with what level of intrusiveness are necessary to really form an opinion.

Second, there is a surprising level of apathy on both sides. Of course most people would object to a secret court to resolve questions of government power, if asked, but no one seems to consider this a question worth debating. I see some editorials explaining that warrantless wire taps are an unfortunately necessary tool in modern law enforcement, but these seem to focus on explaining why the taps really aren't a huge deal, or why the airport scanners are not really invasive, but never why they are positive steps in the right direction, actions to be applauded.

These two properties combine in an unfortunate feedback loop: it takes an inordinate amount of effort to obtain reliable information on programs such as this, and without enough initial paranoia, few delve deeper. But without easy access to what's actually happening, it's hard for the non-paranoid to get upset: there's little to do other than to say "hey! the NSA might be wiretapping, we think, but we don't know who, and we don't know when and we don't know how many."

[0] WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000087239639044409790457753...

Do you have an alternative source? The WSJ article is behind a paywall. :\

Holy smoke! That actually works! I can actually read WSJ from behind their paywall now?!? Awesome!

Just redirects to the paywall for me.

Weird, I've always had going through Google work.

Try turning sending referrer information on.

Doesn't mention the important part about the court "determines whether the laws voted on by Congress are constitutional" which, now that I typed it out, seems to be the definition of Judicial Review.

I agree that the the situation is alarming, but this particular statement strikes me as misleading in that regard.

In the past they sidestepped the law about spying on their own citizens by partnering with other nations, then swapping lists of people to monitor.

This was ECHELON. There were 5 nations involved: The US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.


That was before 9/11. Why are people surprised that warrantless wire-tapping happens now?

This is because traditional media doesn't police this stuff for us anymore and the average person is too busy to keep up with these issues on their own. Most people have trouble just keeping up with their hobbies let alone politics.

This has been a weird week for personal privacy.

NSA insider reveals NSA has a file on ALL us citizens.

NSA admits to warrantless wiretapping.

NYTimes admits that all news orgs allow government censorship of media.

I mean, what kind of world do people think we really live in?

Once those things come true, stories like http://www.stewwebb.com/GOP_using_Echelon_software_to_spy_on... no longer seem so loony after all.

Wait I missed the NYT story. Link or title?

edit: found it http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/16/us/politics/latest-word-on...

Don't forget "NSA dude is going to speak at DEFCON".


I mean, the nerve.

What is the probability of Congress actually doing something regarding this? Close to zero! Remember, these are the same fools that brought the US Government within days of not being able to pay its bills. These are the same fools who thought is was okay to have laws that banned trading off of insider information while effectively carving out a loophole for themselves. These are the same fools who will stand amongst union workers in a GM plant and villianize the banking system for taking bailout money so that the financial system doesn't fall apart but never mention that GM is one of those who also took money but has yet to pay it back. These people are nothing but self-serving swine. Don't expect them to do what is in the best interest of the American public.

EDIT: I am aware that certain provisions regarding Congressional insider trading have been closed; however, this did not occur until 60 Minutes raised the issue nationally.

In the past I've felt cynical about these sorts of issues. Recently I went to Hackers on Planet Earth, a hacktivist conference, and left it with a sense of optimism: there are very, very smart people working on protecting our privacy, and recently their efforts are starting to come to fruition.

Perhaps. But the smart people working on these problems are very different than the politicians who make choices on how things will operate.

too little to late. We could take all the smart people and fund their work and give them minions for years and we would never get back what we have already lost.

But we might just manage to keep some of what we still have.

The cynical side of me says that, while warrantless wiretapping is bad and the NSA will get a strongly-worded condemnation, not much else will come from this once the furor dies down.

Every American citizen should know the 4th by heart. It protects us from "unreasonable search and seizure". When a government agent stops you (a police officer), you have the right to not consent to search. You should always exercise this right. It may seem like a harmless question when the agent asks, "If you have nothing to hide, then you won't mind if I look, right?", but it is not a harmless question, he is asking you to consent to a search and to give-up your constitutional right against such searches. Always say, "I do not consent to searches" and be polite to the agent. The agent may not place his hands in your pockets. He may not open your purse, and if he does these things, he's breaking the law as you have not consented.

> "The agent may not place his hands in your pockets"

Unless you live in NYC, in which case it's an explicitly condoned policy of the NYPD and the city government.

Most definitely unconstitutional, but since it's targeted exclusively at poor minorities, the odds of it ever it getting enough legal playtime is slim.

Wait, they can? Reach into pockets? Are you sure? (I'm not, btw).

I know the NYPD is demanding that people empty their pockets. But you can respond to that demand with a polite refusal, like "I do not consent to any search". Similarly, the police (everywhere) will routinely "demand" that you open your trunk; it's happened to me several times, and while they sure as hell do get pissy when you say "I do not consent to a search of my car", they will eventually back off.

I've read the General Orders for the Chicago PD, but not NYPD's, and consistent with the "Terry Stop" doctrine, the Chicago Police cannot search pockets without probable cause (which is to say, they can't randomly stop people and reach into their pockets).

A much bigger problem with "Stop & Frisk" is that most people will casually waive their rights and, more importantly, will not have the wherewithal to fight a charge (especially not a petty charge) over chain of evidence issues.

> The odds of it ever it getting enough legal playtime is slim.

I have some hope, since people have been fighting for years to repeal the heavily racially-biased 'open to public view' loophole in New York's marijuana laws, and Cuomo and Bloomberg recently voiced support for it (though it was right before the end of the session, so take that for what it's worth).

(For those not familiar with the loophole: in New York, possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana is a civil citation (think speeding ticket) and not a criminal offense. Despite this, NYC arrests more people per capita and by volume for marijuana possession than any other city in the entire world.

Why? Because having marijuana either burning or 'open to public view' is a Class B misdemeanor. So when the policeman says 'Empty your pockets for me; I know what's in there', he's essentially giving the victim an opportunity to incriminate himself for a misdemeanor that gets 90 days in jail, as opposed to a $100 fine with no arrest record[1].)

[1] Disclaimer: I'm actually not 100% sure how public the records for possession citations are; New York does this differently from Massachusetts, which passed a much more sensible law in 2008.

Holy entrapment, Batman!

If the officer can articulate (or manufacture later, on the stand) reasonable suspicion, which is a vague standard far below probable cause, it is a Terry stop and he can frisk you for officer safety. The supreme court majority that decided Terry v. Ohio did not adequately consider the consequences of their decision, but it's the law.

If there's anything in your pockets that feels like it might be a weapon of any kind, he can then retrieve it, even if turning your pockets inside out from the start might not be allowed.

Realistically, carrying anything larger than a sheet of paper -- like keys and a cell phone -- will mean that the officer will usually get away with rifling through your pockets.

It sounds like the loop hope is the word "unreasonable". The agent may always search you as long it is "reasonable".

"I have nothing to hide, your search is not reasonable, so I do not consent."

There is only one guaranteed solution to the problem of government wiretapping, and that is the concept of "privacy by design".

Which more or less translates into client-side encryption. Which some people here don't like, weirdly.

It's not weird, in fact it's perfectly logical. They have a vested interest in the proliferation of private information into the public space (the Internet), and -- more particularly -- that interest is financial.

If such private information were encrypted by default it would put a sizeable dent into their pocket book.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but if most of your communication is over GMail/Google talk/Skype/Facetime/etc, there isn't a way the feds could wiretap that without the cooperation of Google/Microsoft/Apple, and AFAIK, they will require a warrant.

You're more or less wrong.

1) You do not need cooperation of those services if you sit on the network in between the end-user and the service. We know that the NSA does.

2) Securing cooperation does not require a warrant. Information can be requested by the FBI using a National Security Letter, without a warrant, simultaneously collecting information while gagging the service provider from informing the customer their information was collected.


3) Any person's communications can be wiretapped by court order from the FISA court, separate from our normal court system. The FISA court judges see only evidence from the Department of Justice, and no information about their hearings is ever released or even recorded. Between 1979 and 2009, the FISA court has only declined to issue a court order for surveillance 11 times out of thousands.


1) Facetime seems to be vulnerable to MITM wiretaps, but none of Google's services are transmitted in the clear anymore. Skype, afaik, is encrypted, as well.

2) Wikipedia says that "from 2003 to 2006 the bureau issued 192,499 national security letter requests". That's a long shot from the mass surveillance affecting "millions of Americans" (from this article), or the NSA having "a dossier on every citizen" (recently here, as well).

3) Good point.

Each national security letter can request the records of thousands or even millions of customers. 200,000 requests can certainly encompass all Americans.

The article you link talks about the collaboration in response to the "January 2010 cyberattack on Google that targeted the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists", not the massive surveillance the NSA allegedly performs without judicial oversight. I'm not surprised Google and the NSA collaborated in the former, but would be highly surprised if Google collaborated in the latter.

Or a National Security Letter.

You now live at the mercy of the government. It is an oligarchy. The rule of law is gone, as it does not apply to all.

It is time to leave. The writing is on the wall.

Beware normalcy bias. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normalcy_bias

You must gather your possessions and your family, and move your business and self to another soverign state which respects its constitution and courts.

Wow that's kind of ridiculous.

Where will you hide? The boogey man is going to come find you and get you no matter where you go.


Vote Ron Paul

Really? Wow that guy's a blithering idiot. This is the guy that let Bruno fool him. Your savior is the guy who wants to follow the Constitution by instituting libertarian ideology which has nothing to do with the Constitution (I mean come on, you can't just come out and see you want to take Constitution and burn it?).

Is your big concern really whether women are getting abortions? That's the guy that is going to save from the boogey man? I don't think you're safe either. :)

Excuse my ignorance, but what is the end-all be-all for internet privacy? Is there any configuration that would guarantee complete anonymity? All the possible solutions I've heard of (Tor, Freenet, etc.) have security holes which allow unmasking of the end-user.

There are no total solutions for the surveillance issue just like there are no total solutions to the piracy issue. You can't put the cat back in the bag without walking away from having an Internet.

At the end of the day, this is a social issue not a technological one. Our only hope is to hold our leaders accountable and help saner heads to prevail.

I doubt it. In order for a message to reach you, the sender needs to know where to send it. And (in the USA) your ISP logs your IP address, so the feds always know who got the message.

The issues with things like Freenet are far more subtle than that. What you describe is easily addressed.

What about FreedomBox? There's a great talk about it here:


a network comprised of lots and lots of number stations http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numbers_station

very bandwidth heavy though.

Just post GPG-encrypted messages to USENET.

There's always the Mixmaster type-2 remailer network, though its current state seems to be in neglect. It's a shame the 90s-era cypherpunks haven't moved on to build more visible tools for protecting privacy,

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