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Snowden: US hacks Chinese mobile phone companies, steals SMS data (scmp.com)
286 points by teawithcarl 799 days ago | 172 comments



I don't understand why everyone thinks it's terrible if a government surveils its own citizens but it's totally a-ok if it does foreigners. Because if you think about the reflexivity of it all, that means that it's a-ok if China surveils all American citizens and America all Chinese citizens. The only way that makes sense is if you think one government (America or China, depending on who you are) is privileged to violate the privacy rights of citizens of the other.

I would hope that Hacker News would be more cosmopolitan. So much of our work, especially, involves interacting with foreigners. If our government thinks that their communications with us deserve no protections because they're some suspicious other, and their government thinks that our communications with them deserve no protections because we're some suspicious other... then no one ends up with anything.

ETA: And when you think about it, that principle creates a giant loophole: country X surveils country Y's populace, country Y surveils country X's populace, and they have a mutual agreement to share data about each other's dissidents. Just goes to show that if you undermine a universal right for even one person, that right disappears.

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The reason people consider it different is that they realise the world is a complex place with complex actors. In an ideal world, no country would spy on another. But they do. How could we stop China from doing so? We can't. So we spy back.

However, what our democratically elected government does to us is very much within our own power to change, and we have the ability to hold them to account.

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>In an ideal world, no country would spy on another. But they do. How could we stop China from doing so? We can't. So we spy back.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_wrongs_make_a_right

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No one ever said it was "right", just that its the most prudent course of action given the circumstances.

Even as individual people we don't live by moral absolutes. It's a bit weird to expect our government to.

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That doesn't mean we shouldn't aim for "moral absolutism" however.

As a foreigner I don't really consider USG spying on its citizens any more or less unjustified than spying on us foreigners. Just because you are born somewhere should not dictate how your rights can be violated. People should be treated and considered the same, especially when it comes to stuff happening over the internet. I don't think anyone can honestly argue otherwise on moral grounds, and the moment you throw in "but in real world ..." the argument loses its substance.

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I expect all governments to respect human rights. Article 12:

"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

To get somewhere as a species we need to leave behind this 'ends justifies the means' BS and start living by the principles we have all agreed to are absolute.

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I assume you would not stand for criticism of China for pursuing their own "most prudent course of action" then?

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> However, what our democratically elected government does to us is very much within our own power to change, and we have the ability to hold them to account.

We do not elect the Director of National Intelligence and we did not have a public debate about secret laws. The only reason these things are coming to light is due to the extralegal actions of one brave man, one technologist, one individual. Not due to "our democracy".

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Our democracy is why there is a free press to expose these things, and why we can talk about them freely. While we don't elect the Director of National Intelligence, our democracy allows us the right of peaceful protest to change it.

None of that would be possible in a country like China.

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We can't talk about them freely. It requires a leak before we're even aware of them.

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If you can't stop China from spying on you, how is "spying back" any more justified than ANY OTHER reaction? After all, it does not change anything.

What could change something, if one were to actually think freely, would be to have no secrets. Then suddenly what was stealing, is now just someone wasting their own time. BOOM. But of course, you can't have slavery and sitting fat on doing nothing without secrets, so that's not within the framework of allowed options.

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I'd be very surprised if any government could survive without holding secrets. Lets take something innocuous--medical records. Surely you'd have to keep those secret. And surely a foreign power would want to access those secrets as well, for blackmail if nothing else.

But even if a government tried holding no secrets, it would be at an information disadvantage compared to more secretive rivals. For instance, most people are unsatisfied with the notion of abandoning their own privacy (which is a personal form of holding secrets) as a defense against government invasions of privacy, yet this is the same solution you propose that governments attempt against rival governments.

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Why should governments even have medical records of its citizens?

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I dunno, military hospitals? Public hospitals? Medicare?

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Lets take something innocuous--medical records.

Those are secrets of people, not of nations.

But even if a government tried holding no secrets, it would be at an information disadvantage compared to more secretive rivals. For instance, most people are unsatisfied with the notion of abandoning their own privacy (which is a personal form of holding secrets) as a defense against government invasions of privacy, yet this is the same solution you propose that governments attempt against rival governments.

There is a huge difference between organizations and people, I never proposed such a thing when it comes to people vs. nations.

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> Those are secrets of people, not of nations.

Yes, now please bother to read the next two sentences of my original post and then think about it, because I'm not in the mood to repeat myself.

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As long as we live in a world where scarcity exists, we will compete for resources, or compete to provide them.

Spying on each other is a natural consequence of needing to have an edge on the competition. Therefore, it's actually harder to justify not doing so if you know that your competition, say China, will do so with little compunction.

Whilst we're waiting for this sunny amazing utopia with no walls, no ownership and no scarcity of commodities to happen, espionage and similar behaviours will continue.

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As long as we live in a world where scarcity exists, we will compete for resources, or compete to provide them.

When it comes to ideas however, scarcity is artificial.

When it comes to the physical scarcity, we are awaiting the heat death of the universe (= competition doesn't lead anyone anywhere, except into a giant joke that's on them), whilst sitting next to a ball of gas which blasts more energy than we could even imagine into space ( = competing over the scraps falling from that table while polluting our planet is also a game only idiots can play with sincerity).

Spying on each other is a natural consequence of needing to have an edge on the competition.

What need to have an edge? What competition, what danger is man facing, but man? Peaceful progress may be slower than constant war, but so what? What good is progress that just amounts to the "need" for even more bullshit? This expedition isn't going anywhere.

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So what are you willing to give up to see this peaceful progress?

You're on hacker news, so quite possibly work in the tech industry. Would you give up everything you knew, if it could be shown that technology by its nature encourages the kind of behaviour which feeds back into itself until we're screaming down the road into the future at breakneck speed, needing more and more to sate our desire for progress?

Are you prepared to give up the mass production line?

Are you prepared to give up cheap disposable items which make us devalue our commodities?

Are you prepared to have children by quota, so that we can control the ever increasing size of the human race and don't have to cut ever thinner the quotients of natural resources available to each?

You have something I want. It's my nature, I'm inclined to covet. I can either take it by force, by tact or by stealth. Unless you can change my intrinsic nature (me being any given human, anywhere), you cannot solve the issue of scarcity.

Only a few ideas put food in bellies, fire in the fireplace and water in the bath. This is a consequence of ideas being somewhat tortuously tied to meatspace, where the more prosaic rules. Nobility is a fine thing, but a poor provider.

I will always compete with you, because you are not me. Whether you're an individual or nation state, we are in competition. Either play and win, perhaps draw, or don't and be subsumed.

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You are mistaking human nature with pathology.

I will always compete with you, because you are not me.

That's like something straight of Mein Kampf. The trouble with sick people is that they assume everyone else HAS to be sick, too.

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People are the way that they are. It doesn't mean they cannot be more. The constraints of physical scarcity make us less (good/kind/moral) than we otherwise might be.

My statement was a simple description of the behaviour of individuals and states, and how each acts as their own agent. Some are more kind and selfless, and will go with less so that those around them can be lifted up, many others aren't so thoughtful. What do we do when an overwhelming majority of people and nations act primarily in their own interests first, even to the overwhelming detriment of those around them?

That you'd rather retreat into invective rather than critique my statements is telling. That you decided to Darwin the exchange is just a bit sad. Certainly what I am saying is somewhat bleak, I am a pessimist, but whilst bleak I do not think it an unrealistic portrayal of human behaviour. If it is, then perhaps I am too easily given over to misanthropy.

There are those wonderful moments where we rise above self interest and insensibility, I love it when that happens. I whole-heartily encourage people to pursue these outcomes, but the reason that states spy on each other is a realistic expectation that you cannot expect others to behave in a way that will not be detrimental to you, or your peoples interests.

It should also be noted that spying is not a natural by-product of war, but perhaps a better alternative. Tact and guile over brute force is preferable, honesty and jolly co-operation is of course best.

ps. You haven't said what you're prepared to give up so that we can curtail the rate of progress to a more sensible pace, and therefore not to pursue our interests so aggressively.

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Sure it changes something - it levels the playing field.

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If it levels the playing field where the Chinese and US governments are the players, what are their citizens? The pucks?

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Yes. The playing field sucks, no doubt.

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It builds a second tower of poop on it, to reach the first tower of poop. Then the first tower of poop also increases in height, and that cycle never ends. At which point does a "level playing field" come in? Oh, that's right, not ever.

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I get that you hate the playing field, and that's fine. I'm not sure your argument really disputes my point though.

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I get that you hate the playing field, and that's fine.

That's nonsense.

I'm not sure your argument really disputes my point though.

I am pretty sure you don't understand it, so maybe that can make up for your doubt in this matter.

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You are incorrect.

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About what even? Haha.

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> The reason people consider it different is that they realise the world is a complex place with complex actors.

People do no such thing. They are just members of the tribe and are highly suspicious of members of other tribes, like all primates.

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> How could we stop China from doing so? We can't. So we spy back.

We also spy on the same people & aggregate the data so that instead of doing it themselves, they only have to breach one data trove.

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Does Canada spy on US citizens? Because the US government does spy on me. In other words, it is not the case that the US government only spies on countries which spy back on the US.

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>I don't understand why everyone thinks it's terrible if a government surveils its own citizens but it's totally a-ok if it does foreigners.

What did you think the CIA and NSA was for?

Are we now going to have a debate about whether militaries and intelligence services need to exist?

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> >I don't understand why everyone thinks it's terrible if a government surveils its own citizens but it's totally a-ok if it does foreigners.

> What did you think the CIA and NSA was for?

There is a point when foreign signal intelligence project turns into an act of war.

Large scale hacking of phone companies and stealing SMS data gets pretty fucking close to that line, if not outright crosses it.

Not that you should care about my opinion of course, I'm just one of those silly foreigners whose right to privacy you think it's just fine to violate. You have a gov agency whose self-proclaimed job it is to monitor the world and violate everyone's privacy. Congratulations, it is doing its job very well. So, everything is fine, right?

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Yes.

Or at least exist at what scale, for what purpose, at "peacetime".

History has taught us over and over huge standing armies will be drawn into conflict (often quite easily) and wars ensue. Perhaps the same is true for huge standing intelligence services - not something we’ve had to deal much with in the past…

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You're going to lose that debate, and by engaging in it you're jeopardizing the other winnable issues, like domestic spying. There is zero chance that Obama (or any administration) will simply disband intelligence agencies because it turns out they spy on other countries. You're incredibly naive if you think that has any chance of success. Furthermore, Snowden is now treading into treason territory, and at the very least fits perfectly within the Espionage Act that he was charged with. It's one thing when Snowden exposes potentially illegal and unconstitutional actions by a government agency against the nation's citizens. It's another when he's leaking specific actions against specific foreign governments, potentially to buy himself leverage.

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I, personally, would not suggest that intelligence services don’t need to exist.

I would however suspect that civilian intelligence services are overly large, ambitious and funded for the goal of informing America of threats.

That’s a debate I would like to see happen.

-- Massively edited

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Not to say that this isn't a noble aspiration, but it is a glaringly naive point of view to say that organizations like the NSA and CIA don't need to exist.

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What are they needed for? Who do they benefit, how, and at what cost? Who/what decides when the cost/benefit is acceptable? Nationalism(our rights are more important than theirs)?

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I think the GP's real argument was the "at what scale, for what purpose" bit. I don't think many people want to see intelligence agencies entirely disbanded. But questioning what they do and how much they do it is legitimate.

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There is absolutely nothing naive about questioning whether intelligence agencies ought to exist.

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I don't think the issue is a government surveillance on its own citizens or on citizens of other countries. And, its ridiculous if you think about it. The intelligence services are using a brute force technique of spying on everyone (own citizens and citizens of other sovereign nations) to find a handful of wrong doers. It's analogous to saying if there is a murder then the police considers everyone as a suspect instead of finding any leads and pursuing them.

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All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side.

-- George Orwell ( http://orwell.ru/library/essays/nationalism/english/e_nat )

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It's ironic that I've been complaining about this exact same thing. It's a more specific instance of tribalism.

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Yup, and it is what has always led to war.

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What you describe in your edit has been happening between the US and UK for decades. They spy on each other (using the more permissive "foreigner" spying privileges) and then share the data.

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Do you have more information on this?

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UKUSA_Agreement

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I don't see where that says they spy on each other. I only see bits that mention they spy on other countries of common interest e.g. China and share that data.

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ECHELON is more relevant for this. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON) See especially the controversy section, which shows that the US was using the system for industrial espionage.

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Well, I say no to all mass slurping of data, foreign or domestic, but yes to targeted spying with the full weight of government and technology, foreign or domestic.

The problem is not spying, the problem the industrialised mass spying of literally everybody as though we are all the target.

I'm happy for any of us to be targeted as long as there is good reason to do so.

However the problem with public opinion is that a lot of it is either patriotic or of fear, rational or irrational. This is where we get those double standards, which are understandable, but should be resisted, even plain ignored. I say that we are all human beings first and foremost, citizens of arbitrary borders and religions second, right?

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> I don't understand why everyone thinks it's terrible if a government surveils its own citizens but it's totally a-ok if it does foreigners.

I think a lot of people are in the "right is might" way of thinking. Consider this quote from the Peloponnisian War.

"...since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

--The Athenians to the Melosians

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Your point from the edit is the most important point. I actually disagree with your views (that countries should not spy on a potential enemy's citizens), but I agree that the collusion of friendlies can have a catastrophic result for individual liberties. That needs to be clarified to be unlawful, if it is not intrinsically so due to the nature of the constitution of wherever you are living.

If China wants the US to stop spying on its citizens, it can negotiate, throw up technological barriers, or declare war. Vice versa.

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There is a difference between spying on potential enemies and spying on everyone to find potential enemies.

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If you mean "everyone" including those who are persons of the country doing the spying, then, sure.

Excluding those, I think the rules mostly come down to whatever treaties are in place between the two nations.

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"it's terrible if a government surveils its own citizens but it's totally a-ok if it does foreigners"

Because a foreign government doesn't have much if any power over a citizen of a foreign country?

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Supposedly it's about ability to punish. If someone can spy on you but can't do something horrendous to you and get away with it, then it's harm is far less. Loopholes such as you describe would be the same, since it still will be indirect surveillance.

Of course in practice it's not.

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We need a privacy equivalent of mutually assured destruction. All politicians submit documentation of their most hideous perversions to a central register. If the country is caught spying on another the information is released. It would also encourage people who are not bad to go into politics.

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It's already kind of happened informally. It acts like natural selection and you get really boring squares or people really good at hiding things.

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and the only way to ensure that all hideous perversions are submitted is... total surveillance!

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"And the former National Security Agency contractor claims he has the evidence to prove it."

Well... where is it?

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If your evidence is weak, I think it's better to leak a potentially controversial allegation well in advance of the evidence. Maybe it's conjecture from a bullet point in a PowerPoint slide?

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ARGHHH....WHY WOULD HE DO THIS?

All he is doing is muddying the waters.

How can I claim to defend what he has done, if he is giving sensitive intelligence data to the CHINESE!!!!

He shouldn't muddy the waters. Just keep it focused on how the USGov't is taking away US civil liberties and privacy.

I mean...I understand why he is doing this - self preservation - but now he is looking more like a "spy" than a "whistleblower".

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Oof. We're moving quickly out of whistleblower territory and into actual espionage.

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This is all a bit reminiscent of Frederick Forsyth's "Fourth Protocol". A few words about the plot: the book is set in the early years of Margaret Thatcher's tenure as Prime Minister, in the time of the Reagan Rearmament. Elements in the Politburo devise a secret plan to explode an atomic bomb near RAF Bentwaters, blame this on a malfunction of American nuclear ordnance and cause a leftist government to be elected and Britain to fall into the USSR's sphere of influence. This plan was to be kept secret even from the KGB.

Both MI5 and KGB get wind of this, and they work in concert to stop it while they remain enemies, because either side feels that if it succeeded they would open Pandora's box and have no institutional knowledge to deal with this new world.

It is my sincere hope that the world's intelligence agencies have the institutional knowledge to deal with the widespread knowledge on spying on its own citizens.

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Snowden's choice of Hong Kong as a hiding spot becomes more and more interesting. I suspect the timing of this particular revelation is timed deliberately just after the US files charges against him seeking his arrest by Hong Kong authorities.

A recent article suggested that China was already inclined to "solve" this problem (from a diplomatic and political standpoint) by doing what it does best: simply dragging its feet. This seems incredibly easy to do when the Hong Kong legal system is inclined to move slowly anyway, any extradition will go through a number of appeals and the process for applying for asylum is being revamped putting all such cases on hold (not that Snowden has applied for asylum yet).

It is an somewhere between widely suspected and an open secret that China engages in concerted intelligence efforts against the US government and US corporations. Many cyberattacks originate in China (and there is strong evidence that at least some are state-sponsored). And China is widely believed to have stolen nuclear secrets [1].

But this revelation goes the other way. I really can't predict how China will take this. I suspect they'll be more disinclined to hand Snowden over (or at least do it in any kind of timely fashion). To paraphrase Ned Flanders "We've tried nothing and we're all out of ideas!"

Who knew in 2008 that during the Obama administration it may get to the point of people wishing for the good ol' days of George W. Bush? Well maybe not that far but it's really not that far off. The war for intellectual property, Federal prosecutorial overreach (eg the Y12 "terrorists", Aaron Swartz), the relentless pursuit of whistleblowers and the end-run around the Fourth Amendment are simply stunning, particularly from an allegedly Democratic administration.

[1]: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/06/world/breach-los-alamos-sp...

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>Who knew in 2008 that during the Obama administration it may get to the point of people wishing for the good ol' days of George W. Bush?

I only wish that Snowden would have been in a position to leak this stuff about a week before Obama was reelected. At least then voters would have been able to make an informed decision. Romney may have been equally as evil as Obama in terms of surveillance ambitions and disregard for the constitution, but the difference is that part of Obama's election pitch was that he was going to get rid of these types of programs, while Romney never said anything of the sort. I don't like the fact that a man who clearly lied about his fundamental political views just to get elected is sitting in the Oval Office right now. Bush, and all Presidents before him, may have lied about many things, but at least you knew where most of them stood politically.

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I don't like people that would lie about their fundamental political views just to get elected sitting in he Oval Office.

A more charitable reading is that Obama didn't lie, he was just an idealist and changed position when he was confronted with the realities of being President.

That's not to defend it, but I don't think Obama knowingly and cynically lied his way into office.

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I don't know about that...he is on the record with incredibly clear statements that these types of programs run counter to his beliefs and that he would eliminate them. It is now equally clear that from the moment he took office, he expanded them. Even with your "charitable reading" it means that he is willing to betray his own set of values, and probably the Constitution, whenever advisers tell him to. Not a great characteristic for a President.

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Even with your "charitable reading" it means that he is willing to betray his own set of values

Right. I think this is critically important- and rather than attribute it to Obama being a liar, I suspect the reality is far more interesting/complicated. What would cause a person to betray their values? Certainly, the moment you are elected President you are privy to a lot more classified intelligence information than you are as a private citizen.

Something tells me we won't find out until an autobiography decades from now (if we do at all), but we'll see.

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He had been a US Senator since 2004, so he definitely would have known a lot more (given his security clearance) going into the presidency than the average private citizen.

Honest question: Does the president really have that much more access to classified information than US senators?

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Yes. The daily national intelligence briefing content is worlds away from anything that senators get. The only people privy to anything close to the same content would be the members of the intelligence select committee, but they receive periodic reviews not daily decision maker content. And it's worth considering that once you become president, by nature of your status you suddenly become the person everyone is spinning to. Even if you have access to the same thing, only one of you is getting told all the worst case horror stories that will benefit someone's budget if they get protected against.

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> Honest question: Does the president really have that much more access to classified information than US senators?

I, too, would really like to have an answer to that. My assumption based on very little evidence is that the Chief Executive should have access to all classified information held by the executive branch's agencies. That seems to be logical. I seriously doubt that the President would accept an answer from one of his chiefs that "that information is classified." Now, a more nuanced and interesting answer might be found by digging into not whether the President has access to all classified information, but whether the President chooses to interrogate that classified information. There, I assume a President should, because if s/he does not, that raises serious doubts about a President making thoroughly informed decisions.

The only way forward for solving this problem is for the People to collectively say, with full knowledge of the potential consequences, that they are absolutely not willing to compromise, and want their government to trade security for inviolable protection of their freedom.

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> The only way forward for solving this problem is for the People to collectively say, with full knowledge of the potential consequences, that they are absolutely not willing to compromise, and want their government to trade security for inviolable protection of their freedom.

The People did so collectively say: the Bill of Rights, which this president swore to preserve, protect and defend.

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I'm talking about now, not 237 years ago.

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Sfter some reading on how CIA works and how the information retrieved is used by washington, I guess that Obama is getting highly interpreted and filtered information. More opinions based on the opinions of analist's boses, than really having access to the whole picture.

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A much more charitable reading is that Obama is a patsy and the President isn't really in charge.

Far-fetched? No President could unseat Hoover. Why would any intelligence and surveillance apparatus be any less self-preserving?

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>No President could unseat Hoover.

This, despite Hoover's lifestyle (not that there's anything wrong with it, but there was then). Why do so many people scoff at the notion that the intelligence agencies of the US could be up to no good? I mean, it isn't disputed that Hoover was an SOB, a scoundrel who used his office's resources to extort basically anyone he could. That's conspiracy fact. And it went on for years.

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Hoover was also incredibly effective, at least earlier on...so he had a lot of political support within the government and within congress. The president is only one chamber of power, people tend to forget that. Its nice to fixate on Obama, but the whole government is in on this...congress, judges, state government, local government, and even...I dare say...much of the citizenry.

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Except that downandout is talking about his re-election, not his original election to the presidency. In that case, it's quite obvious he knowingly lied.

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I agree with you, but keep in mind that nobody likes to think that they were duped, myself included. And we may look for support for the notion that we aren't dupes, even if we are.

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> A more charitable reading is that Obama didn't lie, he was just an idealist and changed position when he was confronted with the realities of being President.

That's very charitable in my book.. but in no means noble or moral and not sure why you are defending him.

Let's give another example and stretch it a little bit. You are being promised a work of world peace leader, you love the idea you accept the job, the day you come into the work they tell you its all just public outlook, and in reality you are going to manage tanks and bombs factory.

Do you continue because you "changed position when was confronted with the realities" or you simply quit?? Nothing stops Obama from resigning given he was faced with the reality of the office. That's how you recognize a real man. He knows when the job is too big for him, OR when its against his views. If you change them as you go, you don't hold any integrity. But again, Obama changed his point of view and raped constitution too many times for me to expect anything else from him. He is best at entertaining masses at "The View" show or giving high-fives on women's NFL meetings.

> That's not to defend it, but I don't think Obama knowingly and cynically lied his way into office.

Saying "you have a right to your reading list and your library account not being scrutinized and searched through by government" during his 2008 election tour, while becoming President and doing nothing to stop that but heck going in the opposite direction and allowing the massive vacuum of the entire digital traffic channeling through US soil in the name of capturing couple bad guys does indeed prove to me he cynically lied and was never really interested to work in the name of american people. We could continue how horrible president he is but i fell like puking. It doesnt really matter because talking about all this won't change anything. We all need to pray for next 3 years that this man will do as little damage as possible and once done, whomever comes next (please have it NOT be Clinton) will clean up as much mess as possible.

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"or you simply quit??"

That's just silly. I'm not trying to defend his actions but I do want to defend a sane persons option to change their mind in light of more evidence / information. You don't just quit. You re-examine your priorities and adjust your outlook.

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Adjust, not abandon. And if you do abandon your stance, you owe it to your constituency to reveal the evidence and explain your change in reasoning.

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You're being too charitable: http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2010/12/22/president_obamas...

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I'm always curious of why people feel the need to defend various people who are obviously breaking rules, laws and other moral codes.

The government works for the people - not the other way around. We should be at least as suspicious of them as they are of us.

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I'm fiercely opposed to this newly unveiled surveillance state that US of A is... and yet I find myself not blaming Obama much for this.

I think people have misinformed notions about how much power the president really has. Obama's stated core focus was and has been on improving the situation for the poor/middle class. That's a big task on its own, I don't think you can expect one president to take on and dominate such variety of large tasks.

But now that things are in the open, support a candidate who in clear terms promises challenging these NSA programs for the next election cycle. Yes, Obama said he would do this in his own campaign trail, but it was unclear probably to him what he was up against exactly and how difficult it would have been to resist it alone. My optimistic take is now that we all know to a much greater degree what's going on, we're in better position to do something about it.

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And yet he lies to cover it up. If he really wanted to oppose it, he could simply expose what's happening on his own. He could issue executive orders shutting it down. The DOJ, FBI and NSA are all part of the Executive Branch, after all.

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At the very least he can explain why he changed his mind. I get it. I just can't trust him if he doesn't come as clean as he can about his reversal on Gitmo and surveillance and whatnot. I totally understand getting into office, seeing the real data, and saying, "I can't be the one that pulls the plug and causes people to die."

But he owes it to us to at least tell us that.

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How has he reversed his position on Gitmo?

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The Associated Press's Elizabeth White reports on a speech by Presidential hopeful Barack Obama, then a junior Illinois Senator, to a crowd in Texas. "We're going to close Guantanamo. And we're going to restore habeas corpus," Obama says. "We're going to lead by example—not just by word but by deed. That's our vision for the future." [0]

[0]: http://m.theatlanticwire.com/global/2013/01/obama-closing-gu...

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And then there's this, from May 1st this year: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/04/30/obama...

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> And yet he lies to cover it up.

Is there any evidence of that?

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Obama talking to Charlie Rose earlier this week:

> What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls and the NSA cannot target your e-mails.

Then The Guardian released a document several days later, signed by Eric Holder, authorizing numerous exceptions to that, with which they are allowed to spy on Americans.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/20/fisa-court-nsa-w...

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So you are sure Obama was lying through his teeth and not just ignorant? I mean, Obama must know every detail of Eric Holder's job right?

Or are you just using "lying" to make a strong political statement, and you really see no difference?

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The buck stops with Obama. Ignorance or incompetence is in some ways worse than lying as he might have some good reason to lie.

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> and yet I find myself not blaming Obama much for this.

Might not be his fault for creating it - but he definitely bears responsibility for continuing it.

If we really wanted to - he could call a press conference at any time & blow the lid off the whole thing. But instead, he goes the opposite route & prosecutes anyone who speaks out.

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yet I find myself not blaming Obama much for this.

That's fine.

Will you blame the next president who does it?

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I would say not. It seems the military/surveillance arm of the Executive has become a truly autonomous entity, with no one who takes the big seat willing to come down on it or do anything other than to listen to its [from our uninformed perspective] FUD, and follow its whims. I might guess, for example, that for the same reason Obama expanded surveillance, Bush went to war. There is no representative democracy here, at least where "national security" is concerned.

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If the president can't stand up to it, who can?

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bullshit. Obama could fire anyone from Eric Holder to Keith Alexandar. What is happening now is what Obama wants to happen. It's 100% his responsibility.

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>Yes, Obama said he would do this in his own campaign trail, but it was unclear probably to him what he was up against exactly and how difficult it would have been to resist it alone

Sounds like an Obamapology to me. Been hearing alot of those lately.

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> Sound like an Obamapology to me

I don't think these stupid partisan catch-phrases have any place on HN whatsoever.

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I wasn't aware that it was partisan. These days, IMO, it's a term of convenience. There are so many apologies that must be made for this guy that combining the two words will save a tremendous amount of time.

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The president's recent comment that he felt the urge to "pull a Bulworth" certainly fits with that.

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tl;dr Obama did lie. But every one else lies in the same way for the same reason so he probably didn't think much of it, and neither did anyone else.

Politicians openly game the system. They poll, then they change the message based on the poll, then they win. Then they do whatever they want since the platform on which they ran was a total fiction.

In truth, the only platform that really matters is the party platform. A career politician ignores that at his great peril, as they risk losing the support of an incredibly efficient, effective political machine.

And this is nothing new. The new thing is that, in an effort to feel sophisticated, more mainstream Americans are pushing aside the initial feelings of disgust. They tell themselves the story I've told above, and they tell themselves that that feeling of disgust is naive. It would be like being disgusted by gravity - totally pointless. The same thing occurs in the private sector, when bank leaders commit fraud and walk away. The fraud is explained away "well, he was just acting in his own interest" and the walking away is explained away "well, powerful people look out for each other."

The simple truth is that we need to stop pushing aside that feeling of disgust. It's there for a reason. We have an in-built sense of fairness that our government, and our business leaders, ignore at their great peril.

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> well, he was just acting in his own interest

That's a perfectly good justification, though: if you're feeling disgusted by people acting in their own interest, then you've designed the system of incentives (the thing that gives them interests to act in) wrong. To think otherwise is to be disgusted by the very concept of economics.

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Don't you see? That argument itself seeks to remove one of the costs of such behavior, the cost of lost reputation.

There used to be quite a lot of social value placed on people showing restraint. Having power, but not using it. Implicit in your argument is the assertion that you don't respect self-restraint. And when people stop respecting restraint, then people in power have no more reason to show restraint.

Reflexivity at it's best.

So, make that decision explicit. Would you prefer to live in a world where people with power restrained themselves? Or would you prefer to live in a world where people with power act with no more restraint than what is legal and in their interest? If the former then you need to stop using self-interest as justification for behavior.

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They kidnapped his dog.

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"I only wish that Snowden would have been in a position to leak this stuff about a week before Obama was reelected. At least then voters would have been able to make an informed decision."

For everyone for whom his war crimes, failure to fix healthcare, war on drugs, anti-transparency policies, support of the patriot act, legalizing the indefinite detention of Americans without trial, lack of action on climate change, failure to fix our infrastructure, failure to prosecute/reform wall street, illegal drone strikes, destroying freedom of the press, torturing whistleblowers, selling public schools to private corporations, war on religion, etc. weren't already enough.

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Because Obama can pass laws and is king of america? He can't do shit all if he can't get congress to agree on doing those things.

As others have said, it's a large group of people complicit in this machine, you can't put all of your focus on one figurehead and blame him like a scapegoat.

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It alarms me to think that people don't realize how little Obama had to do with this, and how much it has to do with Dick Cheney.

Obama is at fault for continuing it, but Cheney would have had way more hooks into a Romney presidency to continue to push it further and further beyond what it is currently.

Also, I don't think anything short of pictures of Obama eating children would have changed the outcome of that race.

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>I only wish that Snowden would have been in a position to leak this stuff about a week before Obama was reelected.

Politics is the mind killer. Partisanship is already interfering with many progressives' ability to evaluate this situation rationally; had it been released in the middle of a heated election battle, that problem would arguably have been much, much worse.

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Bush in 2000 ran on a platform of non-interventionist international policy.

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> I don't like the fact that a man who clearly lied about his fundamental political views just to get elected is sitting in the Oval Office right now.

Right, Mitt Romney didn't lie about anything. Except of course every time he opened his mouth (many links, here's one with a pretty long list: http://maddowblog.msnbc.com/_news/2012/10/12/14397013-chroni...)

Mitt Romney was an inveterate, habitual liar, on virtually every topic.

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"Who knew in 2008 that during the Obama administration it may get to the point of people wishing for the good ol' days of George W. Bush?"

C'mon man, why does everything have to be partisan? Can't you just admit that both of your major parties are douches and do something about it, instead of arguing about who's worse? It ends up hijacking the entire thread.

The whole republican v.s. democrat thing is just a tired facade... Kind of obvious by now isn't it?

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I don't think he was saying that Bush or Republicans are better, rather the opposite.

Back when GWB was in power he was widely deride as a tyrant (especially online) and the worst thing to happen to American foreign relations ever. Yet it would not be hard to make an argument that Obama has been worse with regards to civil liberties and foreign relations. Different guy, different party, same (or worse) policies.

Also remember Obama was (re)elected only some months ago.

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OK, I get it, however I just don't think it's productive to argue over who's the bigger tyrant. It's a fixation that tends to drown out all other potentially meaningful and / or productive conversation.

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I think you missed the point. He was basically saying that Obama and Bush are the same.

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IMHO the problem lies in the winner-take-all voting system. A vote for a third party just counts "against" the primary one you would've voted for if the 3rd wasn't there.

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It also prevents the crazies in the green and libertarian parties from getting any real power. And they do have extreme platforms that most Americans would not stand for.

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Great point. The real choice is between liberty and statism. And the difference between republicans and democrats on this point is truly minuscule.

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Wait, do you really think that the USG only started hacking Chinese communications, or collecting intel on foreign governments and countries, on or after Jan 20, 2009?

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>But this revelation goes the other way. I really can't predict how China will take this.

Super pissed and not at all inclined to play ball with the US. They probably knew/suspected anyway, but this just plays into their hand so they won't let such minor details interfere.

I sure hope China refuses to hand him over. The US intelligence has overplay its hand & they could do with a trashing or two.

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> But this revelation goes the other way.

That's not what this is saying. China hacks US and other foreign corporations for specific and exclusive economic gains. They steal intellectual property and pass that IP onto Chinese competing companies.

The US hacking into China is state run spycraft. Maybe it's not good, but it's not "the other way", because that implies the US government is taking intellectual property from Chinese companies and passing it on to US companies. There is NO evidence that such a thing is happening at a scale anywhere approaching Chinese activities.

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> Who knew in 2008 that during the Obama administration it may get to the point of people wishing for the good ol' days of George W. Bush?

Republicans.

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The great firewall of China is seeming less totalitarian and more pragmatic. The US at least has to hack to get chinese SMS messages; allowing its users visit Facebook/Gmail/etc is like giving data away.

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Excuse me if I am a little dubious of the South China Morning Post. According to the article, he gave them an exclusive interview 10 days ago that they are finally publishing now. Interesting that Snowden chose to completely ignore his contacts at the Guardian etc. for this.

Are there any other sources to back this up? Or evidence?

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The SCMP is the main English language newspaper in HK. It's been around for years and has reporters on the ground.

So what's a more "reliable" source? CNN? HuffingtonPost? Buzzfeed?

The Guardian is focusing on stories related to the UK, while the SCMP is focusing on stories related to HK and China.

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If Snowden granted them an interview ten days ago they've done a pretty bad job handling an internationally significant story. The one sole piece of evidence is this quote attributed to Snowden:

“The NSA does all kinds of things like hack Chinese cell phone companies to steal all of your SMS data.”

No actual evidence this time. Just a quote from a guy no one can call to verify.

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Which is why we should mostly ignore it. He's using the press to curry favor with HK residents. Nothing shocking about that.

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I wonder if he has given various journalists pieces of information to release at set times or in response to particular events. This one could have been triggered by the charges being brought against him.

I seem to remember one of the Guardian journalists mentioning that there was more information to come.

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>According to the article, he gave them an exclusive interview 10 days ago that they are finally publishing now.

A lot of wild interferences can be drawn from that fact, but isn't it just a common courtesy for a journalist or reporter to afford some control to a source providing information that can't be obtained elsewhere? "Off the record" and embargoed information are two widely accepted practices that exemplify giving publishing discretion to a source.

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The USA use electrnoic surveilance on China... China uses electronic surveilance on the USA... its the nature of things.

Seriously, countries spy on countries and China sure is not innocent in hacking foreign countries.

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Because of all this bad press, the US will rally around a fake-libertarian or Republican in 2016. Rinse, wash and repeat.

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I agree. It is always (somewhat) interesting to see who the elites place in the oval office every four years via near absolute control of the news media and a corporate owned congress, full of people who can switch talking points on demand.

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Not saying China is innocent, but this is why stuff like this needs to be transparent and the public needs to know about it, and if the government isn't willing to make it public, then whistleblowers like Manning and Snowden need to make the public aware of it, no matter what "laws" they have to break to do it. But then it's the public's responsibility to protect them against the government, for doing them that service.

Because you have no idea what the government is doing in your name, and what kind of conflicts they are creating, and then "all of the sudden" you end up with another war on your hands, and the US government propaganda machine tells you it's their fault and they are the aggressor against US, when in fact it could be the opposite, and the attack may simply be retaliation for USA's own actions.

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I agree. Even if this sort of thing happens behind the scenes, there are repercussions that will come back to affect people and businesses, even those without direct ties to China.

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Looks like he is bordering on treason. Be careful snowden.

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"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court."

Not that the US follows the constitution, but you know, in theory nothing he's done is remotely close to treason, and even if what he did qualifies, it might be difficult to get two Witnesses.

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I think he is well past that point. He might have done a big service to his constitution, but he certainly broke the laws and all sorts of oaths.

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Was thinking the same thing.

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This story was published in HK only 5 minutes before this posting onto HN, by the only other journalist in direct contact with Snowden himself - Lana Lam.

SCMP is a top HK newspaper, and along with the Guardian, the primary publishing source for direct news from Snowden himself.

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The only mention of SCMP being a "top newspaper" that I could find is in reference to it being the most profitable newspaper (per reader) in the world.

However, according to Wikipedia, its independence from the Chinese government influence is suspect.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_China_Morning_Post#Editor...

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teawithcarl did just call SCMP "a top HK newspaper" which is a much lower bar, than a global "top newspaper".

And frankly one I agree with from just wandering around HK for a few days (spread out over many years). And one I suspect you’d agree with if you did the same.

Their market share is large, and their reporting is way better than most local, city newspapers in America.

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Quite the opposite - SCMP is renowned for publishing freedom articles against the CCP party line, which is one of the reason Snowden chose SCMP to publish to.

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Interesting. I won't pretend to understand Snowden's motives, but the SCMP Wikipedia page does bring into question SCMP's independence from China, so I would appreciate it if you could comment on the issues noted on the wikipedia page.

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As someone who, five years ago, tried to get commercial bulk SMS connectivity out of these same main Chinese mobile carriers (China Mobile and China Unicom), and watched them largely quash spammy SMS broadcasting with automatic SMSC service suspension after a certain threshold outbound rate, this is interesting. The guys I talked to inside of these carriers led me to believe their SMSCs were just a Linux box.

Also, SMSCs appear to be provincial entities rather than national ones, so these compromises are likely only in a subset of cities. (Further evidenced online, eg. http://www.smsclist.com/downloads/default.txt)

Note also that this article is poorly concluded: US President Barack Obama says the NSA is not listening in on phone calls or reading emails unless legal requirements have been satisfied. That's apparently only for US citizens inside the US, IIRC.

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And the NSA's explicit mission is the surveillance of foreign powers to the benefit of the US.

This is where Snowden is sinking his message because literally nothing they do in this arena is illegal in the US, and confirming it or giving out details definitely is undermining US interests by the trust placed in him by the NSA to start with.

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More fundamentally, the "US Persons" protection in general is a distraction from the power and danger of this system. Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it's only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%. Our founders did not write that "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all US Persons are created equal."

-- Edward Snowden

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> This is where Snowden is sinking his message because literally nothing they do in this arena is illegal in the US, and confirming it or giving out details definitely is undermining US interests by the trust placed in him by the NSA to start with.

Why would anyone except American NSA apologists care about your peculiar legal system? It doesn't really change anything about what they're doing (in your name), does it?

Are you really saying that you consider "US interests" (which are basically US corporate interests and not yours, you know this) more important than bringing to light a grave scandal of global proportions, violating privacy and surveilling/monitoring all Internet and mobile phone users and who knows what else?

Because such attitude may prove a bit problematic, with this era of global communications and all. I'm not Chinese, but if I were, I'd probably be slightly more miffed than I already am.

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Agreed. His first little bit of knowledge about PRISM and what have you was very noble and a worthwhile cause. This information is just straight up harmful, and getting more into the "traitor" category of leaking information.

Also, people will complain about what the US is doing, but sure, go ahead and tell yourself that any other country isn't doing the same. China, N. Korea, Iran, UK, France, Israel, Australia, Germany, Russia, come on, it's a spy vs. spy world out there, and information is KING.... This leak of information slightly undermines the US bargaining power.

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Why is it harmful? Are you naive enough to think that the Chinese gov't is learning anything new? It's only "harmful" from a "US is such a fine upstanding freedom loving country" public relations standpoint.

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>> public relations standpoint.

^This is exactly what I meant when I said "This leak of information slightly undermines the US bargaining power." Politics and bargaining are a very sensitive game, and a very powerful game.

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"This leak of information slightly undermines the US bargaining power."

That's hardly treasonous. Inconvenient, as it should be. If it helps, consider what our gov't has been using that bargaining power for lately.

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exactly, in the US treason carries a very specific definition.

"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort."

If the US decides to characterize Snowden's actions as treason, that means they are also CHOOSING to characterize civilians of, say, China, as enemies.

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So the rest of the world public is rightly pissed off knowing this information, and you still think it's a good idea to argue this would've been better kept under wraps??

There's a lot of US people coming out of the woodworks spewing their ideas that American privacy is somehow more important than everybody else's ...

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Foreign governments can't oppress me except by invading my country. Which they might succeed at if my government does not have an effective intelligence network - the government which I depend on to protect me from that.

My own government shouldn't oppress me, and a big part of that is guaranteeing that we maintain appropriate rights and discretion in the surveillance of our own citizens.

This idea that any of this has anything to do with some universal right to privacy is farcical and naive.

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> Foreign governments can't oppress me except by invading my country.

In the 21st century, yes they can. If America wants to make some foreign person's life extremely difficult, they can do that without invading that country. Maybe not as easily, but they'll do it. See the Pirate Bay trials, the MegaUpload raid, WikiLeaks, etc.

> This idea that any of this has anything to do with some universal right to privacy is farcical and naive.

Well, obviously to you it doesn't.

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Not really "spy vs. spy." Rather spy vs peace activists, swat team vs. animal rights groups, fbi vs. striking unions.

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Don't forget lawyers and juries with insoluble volumes of constantly shifting rules and regulations vs. the illiterate and economically/educationally marginalized.

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Well, that's one view. Another view might be that he's not sinking his message since it's illustrative of what goes on that the majority of the world's public are unaware of (ie. constant electronic attacks mounted against other countries, constant surveillance of large numbers of global citizens). In addition, he covers his bases if he needs Chinese support to escape to a third country for the purposes of political asylum.

At the end of the saga, and in the history books, Snowden will not be judged by his own government but by the court of public opinion... and unlike its bloated bureaucratic overseers, that jury has already passed the verdict.

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Oh, what is the verdict then? The HackerNews verdict seems to be "innocent on all charges", but that's definitely not what I hear outside my techie echo chambers.

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Hero.

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Making that Espionage Act criminal complaint a little more valid as well.

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Accusing China of human rights violations and large scale cyber warfare is going to get more difficult in the future...

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Why? Those accusations would be dependent on whether they were doing them or not. China has been "accusing" the U.S. of cyber warfare activities as well, and anyone who knew what the NSA was before 2013 knew that China was probably being truthful about that in general.

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Is it legal for a foreign government such as the UK to spy on Americans and then hand that data to the US and vice versa? I bet they are doing that.

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They are: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UKUSA_Agreement

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Now he's just becoming a tool.

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Like all those egyptian,iranian,chinese,russian,syrian ones?

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What a disgusting circle-jerk of comments.

So far we have -

1. Only China should be able to hack and spy on other nations.

2. The USA should just leave everyone alone!

3. Ohh, and this guy is not committing treason and espionage by releasing things like this, he's a freedom fighter. No more secrets!

Anyone else stopped reading HN these last couple of weeks?

I stopped right around when people were beginning to suggest that random government employees should be shot in protest, and as I looked as some of the posters names, I recognized a bunch of them.

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