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The NSA Can't Tell the Difference Between an American and a Foreigner (foreignpolicy.com)
309 points by mehmehshoe 1429 days ago | hide | past | web | 119 comments | favorite

Has anyone else become seriously depressed over all this?

I mean the TSA was one thing, they are still horrible but I never fly or take a bus or train, I just hate the idea of them existing.

But since the NSA exposure, I just feel seriously depressed about the state of who is running this country and the "just try to stop us" thug mentality. It's a weight on my mind constantly this past month.

I haven't become depressed, but I've become angry, and thoughtful. I often have new software ideas, and my more recent ideas have turned to ways to organize voters to democratically overthrow the corrupt incumbents.

Basically, I imagine a political party, defined by the software it runs on. The first incarnation of the software (website) focuses on organizing party members (users) to win elections, but it then gets iterated to include tools for distributed, direct democracy (i.e. the site will let the party members cast votes on what the elected leader votes on, but I also imagine most people proxy their power to others, which is a feature of the site).

The website first needs to get a few local leaders elected... city council, uncontested state positions, maybe a state senator if the v1.0 launch goes well. We need to both recruit people to run for office, then build the software to help them get elected, then build tools to allow transparent governance with direct oversite from the people.

It's hard to imagine capturing national congressional seats or the presidency on the first go, but I think that applying iterative processes to the formation of a political party and its infrastructure is one possible way to overcome the existing machine.

The Australian Democrats had a deliberate structure along those lines, although less revolutionary than what you're proposing. They'd been a successful minor party for about thirty years, but imploded from in-fighting about ten years ago.

They're a useful case-study for talking about ideas around direct democracy. See http://www.adelaide.edu.au/apsa/docs_papers/Others/Gauja.pdf

The causes of the party's decline is controversial. My take - that they ran into scaling problems when their parlimentary party grew large. Parts of their parliamentary party felt hamstrung by a membership who were free to take positions on issues that weren't well-considered or practical. They needed to move quickly on issues, and the direct democracy process stalled them. The federal parliamentary party went rogue, and a large section of the membership felt betrayed. This killed the collaborative culture that was the heart of what they stood for, and the party collapsed in infighting.

I'm pretty frustrated with the way freedoms are being eroded in the west, but direct democracy is not a strong response to this. It's complicated, ripe for gaming and diffuses responsibility - bad qualities. When it fails, people will look to a "strong leader" who "gets things done" to replace it. Danger.

Keep thinking though, because there will be better models out there. I suspect that if you could draft a new constitution, you could produce a free society with strong real democratic qualities using a structure similar to the old Icelandic Commonwealth - basically lots of statelets.

The major weakness of this kind of system is that it's hard to fight big wars, even to defend yourself. That's a reason that the awesome original Articles of Confederation were replaced with the current US system.

Actually, I was fairly heavily involved with the Dems at the time (it's the "dem" in my pseudo!), and what actually happened is worse. They had no structure in place at all to gauge what the party rank and file wanted, no structure for debate, and pretty much no structure at all. They got to be the maximum size that a party can be before internal strains make them implode I think. So when the Howard Government proposed the GST, the Democrat Senators achieved a consensus amongst themselves on what would be an acceptable form of the GST (they, in particular Natasha Stott Despoja, added in many of the exemptions, such as on books, fresh food and so on).

There was no mechanism for the rank and file to state their resistance in a timely fashion in a way that the leadership could hear, and of course the membership itself was deeply divided on the issue - once again, there was no mechanism for dissension amongst the membership to be dissipated. The result was that the party blew up in spectacular fashion at the next elections, unable to get the membership enthusiastic enough to put boots on the ground to run election activities, with a consequent massive drop in the polls, leading to a drop in funding, leading to extinction.

I was in the NSW branch and as a result of this mess became policy manager and tried to put in place what we would call a crowd-sourced policy creation system. But this was in the early 2000s, the Internet was still not entirely ubiquitous, and management in NSW decided that we had to do this thing on paper, not on the Web. It was slow, painful, and I moved countries before getting to the end (and anyway, it was too little too late, the writing was on the wall).

All of that to say that I don't think we can use the Australian Democrats as a counterexample for direct democracy. They never really had the processes in place to give such a system a chance. Today the story might very well be different if a direct democracy party was tried with a correct set up of tools to allow the rank and file a chance to meaningfully participate in policy creation. I've often thought about trying to set one up on that basis, but since I live in a country now where I'm not even a citizen, I've never tried.

Basically, I imagine a political party, defined by the software it runs on.

You realize you are essentially proposing that we switch from the Republican Party vs. the Democratic Party, to the Vim Party and the Emacs Party- right? We all know how vim vs. emacs debates go down.

iOS vs Android Mac vs PC

There are some interesting parallels there.

The German Pirate Party worked with this concept, calling it "Liquid Democracy"[0] and using the software LiquidFeedback[1]. AFAIK they abandoned it when discussions grew too large.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delegative_democracy [1] http://liquidfeedback.org/

If you weren't already aware you will probably be interested to read about the 5 star party, a new Italian political party that is concerned with direct democracy


It's important to note that the system I want isn't in the end "direct democracy." I want "distributed democracy."

Most citizens will not participate in day-to-day votes, because they will have proxied their votes to other party members they trust. This will bear some resemblance to the power structure of modern day political parties, but it will be transparent, accountable, and easy to change. Some people will still be influential and hold big swaths of votes in their district, and then continue to command this power after the election.

In some cases, the candidate might have such faith that he/she holds the majority of the proxies in the district, meaning they have broad power to make all decisions.

You're talking about "delegative democracy" or "liquid democracy". Here's the software to support that:


The German Pirate Party already uses this as their decision-making platform.

EDIT: Just posted this and discovered that quadhome and I had the exact same idea at the exact same time. :-) Whoops!

This system exists, is open source, is behind the German Pirate Party, and needs your support!


Based on WebMCP, "a web application framework written in Lua and C". Includes RocketWiki, "a small parser written in Haskell which translates a wiki dialect to HTML". They use mercurial for version control.

Regardless of your personal coding preferences (my next project might be in golang, tbh), choosing niche technology for what should be a mass open-source effort is not the most promising start. No wonder in Italy they're having trouble implementing it, knowledge must be thin on the ground.

A software like this must be built on EASY technology so that every organisation can adapt it to their own local needs for cheap; it has to be the web equivalent of VB6/VBA, something everyone can pick up fast, something widespread like PHP/Java/Python/Ruby/.Net.

Congratulations, you're an anarchist! (or at least an autonomist of some sort...)

You may really, really enjoy David Graeber's recent book, 'the Democracy Project.'

sounds a lot like anarchosyndicalism if you leave out the economic side.

cue a quote from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"....

Very interesting. I've also had similar ambitions. I found this essay inspiring (although pretty long):


It basically outlines strategies for how a new political party can realistically gain traction. As you allude to, an important factor is focusing on elections that can be won rather than just running to make a statement.

Perhaps it's possible to write software to analyze past election results, polling, etc. to find races where a third party has a chance and would be the best to allocate resources to, kind of like a Moneyball of politics.

Someone should hire Nate Silver to do that kind of analysis.

An idea i've heard and liked is to allow direct democracy like you've described, but also allow anyone to select any representative that they want (they're brother, someone with a good history, etc). Allow them to override their representitive wherever they want, and change their representitive whenever they want. This gets you direct democracy without as much tedium.

IMHO, the work that has the most chance of making the difference is not in new software, but in new cryptographic techniques, and ultimately a standard protocol. Anonymous end-to-end auditable voting can and should be distributed, rather than relying on a centralized website on which to cast votes and present arguments.

My friend built something along these lines: http://democratize.ca

I've had the exact same idea and would be willing to work on open-source technology to make this happen.

Nope. No depression here. I'm a little bummed that all people do is whine all day on HN about this. There should be a place to intelligently discuss what's needed for national security, etc, but this isn't the place.

People seem to have a hard time trying to understand why the most powerful country in the world might want to try to influence other countries, or try to monitor foreign and domestic terrorists by mining data on the Internet, phone calls, etc. I think even small countries will try to do the same thing.

Yes, I also understand that some people don't want to build products, start companies, discuss cool technology, self improvement, science, etc. Maybe politics is your thing but this isn't the place to spend hours on end.

Finally, if you really do want to change something, it's going to take a lot of work. Signing a White House petition is just a waste of time. The endless Internet chatter isn't going to accomplish anything. It may require that you build something to increase government transparency, a better political chat forum, a political graph to better target government, or something a little more clever. It could be a crowd sourced project. Can we there 1,000 people here that want to contribute. I'll even pitch in.

I do think you're right that it's important to _act_ and not talk, but I don't think dismissing talk altogether is productive. I don't think that HN is the appropriate avenue for social change either, but social sites are sort of the contemporary equivalent of the town square, which is where social change _used_ to come from. In order to organize political action, talk needs to occur, and it needs to happen in a place that is public so as to attract passers-by.

Yes, the Internet is a very public and it's a great place to discuss the issue.


I'm not trying to dismiss the discussion, in general. HN really isn't a good site to debate issues. Besides, I don't think people want to debate. Seems like they're just blowing off steam.

Join us on July 4th for a nationwide demonstration! http://restorethe4th.net

Yeah protests - just like with civil rights, it only took 50 years to end Jim Crow laws which were incredibly outrageous and it looks like it's going to be 50 years since Stonewall before gay people can finally be treated like human beings and marry across (most) states.

So in 50 years they will suddenly agree that maybe the TSA and the NSA are a step too far.

When protests don't work in democratic nations it's because defeatist attitudes keep people home. You know what they say, if you don't try then you've already lost.

As it stands right now this may be our best shot. Y'know... that and sitting around bitching about it on the internet.

This sounds like a red herring to me. Why did you just stop at 50 years? Why not go all the way back to the first recorded instance of slavery? That would make your argument even stronger.

Fact is that the reversal of anti-GBLT laws accelerated immensely in the last few years -- maybe even just the last decade. We're not talking 50-year scales for major societal changes anymore.

You're cherry picking social movements here. Take a look at how fast the 26th Amendment (mandating the US voting age to 18) was passed in response to the Vietnam War.

In Canada, marriage equality started being a major issue in 1995, and things started changing in 1999 when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled many of the rights of marriage. In 2002-2003 most of the provinces' and territories' courts ruled that they could marry.

And finally, in 2005, same-sex couples gained full marriage equality at the federal level after several drama-filled months in the House of Commons that included one MP (Belinda Stronach) crossing the floor then retiring from politics, attempts to bribe another MP (Chuck Cadman) on his deathbed, and several MPs (including the Prime Minister, Paul Martin, and former Prime Minister, Jean Crétien) being denied communion at their church.

Then it was over. In 2006 the law was upheld in a free vote under a new Conservative Party government, thus cementing the law and ending all serious debate about overturning it.

So really, things changed over the course of 10 years here in Canada (1995-2005), and same-sex couples have had full marriage equality for 8 years now. A whole generation is coming of age now in the time since gay marriage was legalized. People entering adulthood now at at 18 years old were 10 years old when the law was passed -- too young to have been concerned about things like this.

At best, they only vaguely remember that there was once a debate about it. To them it's been legal 'forever'. They hear about the marriage equality debate going on in the states, but even the more conservative teenagers (mostly, ones who have conservative parents) don't understand what all the fuss is about.

Frankly, I don't either.

Hey today it's actually an anniversary of Stonewall riots! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots

Now you're just wallowing.

Start by referring to the holiday properly, as Independence Day.

Perhaps part of the reason it's lost so much meaning is that nobody refers to it by anything but a number.

It's simply useful in this case since it's the 4th of July, and people are protesting to protect 4th amendment rights. But yes, I generally agree with you.

Trusting anonymous protest groups that are not transparent, lack accountability and seem 100% driven by social media (Reddit / Facebook) is a bad idea. Especially if they use media that is eminently traceable, is known to be data mined and is hosted by unfriendly sources (which Reddit and Facebook BOTH are, don't kid yourself: just because Advanced Publications aren't directly working with the NSA doesn't mean they're not using the data in other ways. And trust me, you're product on Reddit, 100%).

This is not what grassroots organizations look like, this is what astroturf looks like.

And no, I don't care if you're politically different than the Tea Party, manufactured dissent is a terrible abuse of Democratic principles. Shame, Shame, Shame on you.

It seems America, in the age of Kony2012, has totally lost the plot when it comes to effective protest. "Restore the 4th" is the vaguely socially progressive Kony2012, well done.

I'd love to, but there's nothing scheduled for Denver.

Don't be depressed. Angry? Sure. But not depressed.

We're living in the last decades/centuries of a doomed empire. Our leaders have shot themselves in the ass and are now too stupid and stubborn to admit it or figure it out on their own. The system they have created will not work. It will lean toward tyranny, and corruption, and there will be a long, boring, dull fizzle as it all grinds down.

But trade is still good. Technology rocks. Robots should dramatically change the lives of every first-world human, as will auto-drive cars. There's a long way to fall, and I don't see any huge explosions. (Although I would recommend a good backup power supply)

It's the last days of Rome. Sure, the barbarians are at the gates, the government is hosed, and in places the people are rioting. But out in the country, on a farm, away from the spotlight, it's possible to lead a quiet and successful life with a family.

The question is whether you want to make a difference or lead that quiet life. I'm not sure you can have both.

We're living in the last decades/centuries of a doomed empire... The system they have created will not work. It will lean toward tyranny, and corruption, and there will be a long, boring, dull fizzle as it all grinds down.

This reminds me of Venkatesh Rao's idea of 'Hackstability'. Part of this concept describes how the antiquated and inefficient institutions of present could be maintained indefinitely through the continuous application of hacks and jury-rigging. This is proposed as an alternative to oft-entertained future trajectories like an apocalyptic cataclysm or technological singularity. Rao envisions our present system hobbling along for another century or so, growing incrementally more kludgey with each passing day, but persevering nonetheless.

Mr. Rao describes it far more lucidly than I, if you've never read his work you ought to check it out.


What is even more depressing is this:


I wonder who gave buzzfeed secret documents to make Ecuador look bad? Sigh.. The good part of the story was Ecuador's response.

Could someone fill me in on Buzzfeed? Their menu says LOL Win OMG Cute Trashy Fail WTF? What's Hot.

"The people who provided BuzzFeed with these documents say that they attempted to leak them to WikiLeaks three days ago, but were unsuccessful. WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson called this claim “false” and said “No one in our team recognises having been approached with such material as you describe.”"

Anyone want to try again with the line that WikiLeaks isn't simply opposed to the U.S. Government, but wrongdoing from governments around the world? Well WikiLeaks, here's your chance to "leak" it for real now that BuzzFeed has co-opted you.

Maybe goto http://wikileaks.org/

There is more than US only leaks... Guess that wouldn't fit your narrative though, so maybe don't go.

Well I went.

Didn't see anything about the Ecuador leaks though. Should I wait another few months maybe?

I did see Syria Files though, and was even briefly excited, but I see that WikiLeaks was able to work in a dig at the whole West in the synopsis alone so now I'm sad again.

Are you saying that the files don't implicate 'western' companies/government?

You are passing judgement on wikileaks becasue they don't have a leak... But I thought wikileaks was just an option for leaked documents, they don't proactively hunt leaks... Am I wrong on that?

The persons who leaked to BuzzFeed tried to go to WikiLeaks three days before. WikiLeaks says they have no record of that so maybe the leakers simply couldn't figure out how to properly submit. But the story's been out for like 2-3 days now apparently, certainly would be useful for WikiLeaks to archive surveillance state abuses by Western democracies, no?

... I'm sorry, I really don't understand your position. Wikileaks isn't an archiving system, it's a way to publish leaks... If Wikileaks is proven to be rejecting leaks (which is unproven allegations at the moment) then I could understand your point.

But you are literally just believing some random on the internet, which could well be an effort by the US to discredit Wikileaks and Ecuador at the same time (purely speculation).

What wikileaks do is not complicated, you can always create an alternative. They'd probably support your efforts.

I feel the same. Mostly because I feel helpless about it. How are we supposed to bring about real, lasting change? How can we trust a government that views the Constitution as an inconvenience instead of our most important legal document? One that they swore to uphold. I'm trying to come up with an effective way to help solve this problem, but everything, including encryption, has serious issues. The only truly effective thing I can think of is to start using Bitcoin, because the government has no power if it can't tax, but Bitcoin is a whole new area of FUD.

Have you seen the joke meme where they label Obama "you were the chosen one" - sadly it's not a joke to me. It really, really feels that way.

I had no illusions he was perfect. I despised the marketing pitch of "change". But I didn't expect this. I mean even the right would have to admit they are a little surprised.

The government can tax Bitcoin too.

If somehow the USD went to shit they could even make you pay it in BTC, unless you felt you were able to hide your identity, but we have people paid only in cash play that game already without serious detriment to government power.

Could you elaborate on how the government would be able to tax Bitcoin? As I understand, since the government can't see your n number of wallets, all of which are probably anonymous, they would have no idea how much tax you owe.

As you to fill out a form declaring how much you earned, determine that you are falsifying that form based on information provided by your transactions' counter-parties, then put you in prison. See Al Capone.

Is this a trick question?

You're not alone. What's been seriously depressing is the relatively weak public outrage. It's hard to say whether the One-Way Panopticon is a product of democracy's failure, or of its success.

Fortunately, we don't need public outrage. For once, we will be saved by the fact that our government is practically owned by large corporations:

The PRISM participants, specifically Microsoft/Skype, Google, Apple, and Facebook, have more customers outside of the US than they do inside of the US.

This "we only surveil foreign entities without a warrant" (despite being a lie) is more than sufficient to put a bullet in the head of the US internet industry, or at least its significant competitive advantage in the global market.

Google is leading the charge, but don't expect the others to be quiet about it, either— we're actually talking about direct effects on revenue here.

Many in Europe are already calling for penalties for violating EU privacy laws (many/most/all of these companies use the Double Irish tax minimization strategy, subjecting them to EU law at some point in the chain). Some municipalities and governments have already prohibited the use of e.g. Google Apps on security grounds.

You can't throw one of the largest industries in the US under the bus in the global market and not expect them to spend as much as they need to to protect their business models.

Why would you never take a bus, plane, or train?

While the argument that privacy doesn't matter if you have nothing to hide is dangerous to make policy, certainly if you have nothing to hide, then there is nothing to gain by remaining so "depressed" in your life.

Very personally, I don't care if the NSA or anyone else, besides perhaps certain exes, knows about my travel patterns. I do care that the NSA can and wants to know, but I don't care that they actually know.

There is no reason to restrict your travel other than as a protest, which I think is an extremely ineffective method of pushing for change and a ridiculous personal sacrifice for what is probably a counterproductive result.

You don't have to make yourself miserable to push for human and privacy rights. By restricting your travel, you are submitting to a system of oppression, not fighting it.

> certainly if you have nothing to hide

I feel similarly to ck2 on this and the blase "oh, YOU don't have anything to worry about, DO YOU?" attitude I see everywhere is pissing me off. A lot of my political opinions are politically incorrect, but you won't catch me discussing anything specifically online. Tweeting unpopular ideas has been known to land you on the no-fly list, or worse. In that respect, you don't have to go out of your way to make yourself miserable. Every tweet or post is a reminder that this is the one that could make it impossible to leave the country.

And whichever party is in power, you will have the same situation IMO. Electing one or the other will change virtually nothing WRT this.

In a game of world domination, sadly the "foibles" of the masses don't really matter. Whatever keeps the country at the top of the heap trumps all.

Maybe life in a mid-tier, first world country that doesn't get caught up in all this is a good idea? e.g., somewhere in Scandanavia. (Ignore Assange case, talking about world conquest, etc.)

Join an anarchist or communist group in your local area.

How does that help get us closer to our Constitutional rights again? The Fourth Amendment (with its strong emphasis on the right of a person to be secure in their own home i.e. property) is contradictory to the idea of communal ownership of all property.

As far as ownership of business property, you could form a co-op or other employee-owned company structure today if you wished.... but the government won't force you to structure your business that way, either.

I don't know what kind of communism the OP refers to, but some kinds of communism defend the idea of personal property but are against private property.

Although I agree: How does joining a Communist or Anarchist group help? We need a broader movement. This isn't even a leftist thing (or only leftist).

All communists recognize personal property. Remember, communism is about communal ownership of the _means of production_, which is what 'private property' refers to. Nobody wants to share your toothbrush.

In some Communist states you didn't own your home or even your car.

To be fair, many Communists don't consider those states real communism. This is analogous to Libertarians rejecting state-run crony capitalism.

As soon as you permit property ownership you introduce a whole slate of ills with nary an end though.

Even personal property alone leads to greed and envy, which lead to suffering and eventually violence. Communism is not magic in this regard, nor is it the proper solution. There will always be a bully out to take your lunch money, at least with capitalism and representative democracy we're able to acknowledge that and try to rein in that aspect of human nature.

>at least with capitalism and representative democracy we're able to acknowledge that and try to rein in that aspect of human nature.

Citation needed. You'd need to find a group who lived completely outside of capitalism their entire lives and yet still exhibit these bad behaviors. And as it happens, lots of such examples exist. They don't bolster your assertion though.

You can't prove a negative, and nor can I. As you say, there are lots of examples of people who tried to setup economic systems outside of capitalism and still failed to keep humans from acting like humans, so I'd wager to say that the totality of evidence has definitely bolstered that particular assertion.


This group lived outside of governance for 2 millennia and don't seem to have what you call "human nature". The fact is, our nature is partially "human nature" and partially a product of our environment. No one knows how much those two things contribute so you can't say "X is human nature". We don't really know and it's not easy to test. But capitalism doesn't exist everywhere and doesn't spontaneously pop up everywhere. What is true, however, is that capitalism seems to rely on continuous growth so they eventually encroach on non-capitalists and "convert" them.

If enough people started doing that, the US government will just use those handy little militia laws Clinton put in place after the OK City bombing to lock you all up.

Wrote a paper on exactly such a website: http://wybowiersma.net/pub/essays/Wiersma,Wybo,A_global_advi...

If it makes you feel any better, most indications are that President Obama (very modestly) scaled back these programs. In other words, it's not that it's getting worse, it's just that we didn't know how bad it was before.

I just want him to leave now. I won't feel relief until I see that helicopter flying him away on that last day.

It's one thing when there is a clear idiot like Bush but when someone as educated and thoughtful as Obama supports this and lies to the people with word-play (making it legal instead of ending it) it just makes me sick.

Even worse, is watching all the liberals support and defend this and try to paint Snowden as someone selfish. Only commentator I can watch these days is Chris Hayes, he "gets it" because he is a progressive and not just blindly liberal.

Maybe it's always been this way and I am just realizing it, but MSNBC has went to hell. Like you said, Chris Hayes is one of the only progressives on mainstream TV to actually standup for Snowden. Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnel, they're nothing but Obama apologists. I hope that Chris maintains good ratings because television really needs him. I've been watching way more independent sources now such as Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. Really great program and they have a podcast.

Edit: For those who haven't seen his program, here's Chris Hayes at his best. (From today, June 27th, 2013)


This is not a partisan issue. Bush started it, Obama continued it and amplified it. The next President will very likely do the same.

The problem is with the bureaucracy, and that is almost wholly unaffected by who sits in the White House.

I understand what you're saying, but do you honestly think a President McCain or Hillary or Rubio or Christie would be better?

I sometimes find it amazing how partisan people can get over such simple concepts.

That's interesting, because what I've read indicates he has massively scaled up the programs, including through the continued expansion of PRISM during the last four plus years.

Do you have any sources where I can read up on Obama scaling back the programs by comparison? In all seriousness.


Here's from the "NSA reading your email headers" article currently on the front page:

In 2011, the program was terminated by President Obama "as the result of an interagency review," an administration spokesperson told The Guardian.

I require more than one example. But I'm curious.

Did they cancel the project because of fears of it infringing on civil liberties?

Did they cancel the project because it was ineffective for its defined purposes regardless of civil liberties?

Did they cancel the project to move its resources to another, more secret project that could possibly be more damaging to civil liberties?

Lots of programs get canceled for lots of reasons.

Yes. It finally hit me today. I've been bitching about this stuff for years but it kind of overwhelmed how absolutely abmismaly little I trust my government. Combine that with, seemingly intelligent people running around here downplaying the severity of the problem based on some outdated anecdotes... and I just sigh inside. As far as I'm concerned, we full on passed my threshold for "hair on fire". I just don't know what in the ever loving fuck to do about it.

When I hear endless defeatist propaganda I can't help but wonder if it's state sponsored. This should be great news! The truth is finally seeing it's day.

Why would the state encourage unrest? The state wants to encourage that everything is A-OK.

But failing that, the second most convenient thing would be "all politicians are corrupt, we can't do anything anyway, let's go shopping!".

Wow, the article managed to explain the comment that I had been holding out as the most ridiculous comment ever. And I understand why it was said.

The comment was that it would violate the privacy of Americans to try to figure out how many Americans were under surveillance.

The key to understanding this is that the NSA believes that it can avoid having to follow the 4th as long as it never intentionally "searches Americans" by doing any analysis on data collected about identified Americans, and immediately throwing away analysis already done once the identification was made.

Figuring out how many Americans had been caught up in the dragnet would require doing analysis on identified Americans. That triggers the protection of the 4th, and can only be done under their legal theories with a real warrant. Which they don't have. Therefore attempting to answer that question really does cross the line that they have set for what is and is not legal.

At this point everyone knows that the NSA cares very, very little about what is legal or not. They are confident that Obama will cover their asses in any way he can, and any judge that tries to rule against them - including the Supreme Court judges - will be branded an activist terrorist-lover.

Maybe that is my European view, but how can anyone seriously expected secret services to respect any laws?

That doesn't mean they shouldn't be punished when found to be abusing their powers, though. Otherwise we might as well agree to having a shadow government in our democracies, and be fine with it.

Nope it's not European view, it's yours. Unless you men "secret" with no oversight and such, so there is no judge on if they are following the law.

Like a few European countries in the last century, I got to enjoy what a dictatorship means, secret services don't follow the law, they make the law.

At this point everyone knows that the NSA cares very, very little about what is legal or not.

Actually I don't know that. My inclination would be to assume that. But the Snowden leaks are showing an organization which has come up with an interpretation of what is legal, and is following their interpretation exactly to the letter.

The first fear is that in any such arrangement their interpretation of what is legal and what anyone else will think is is legal will differ.

The second is that over time they will find ways to come up with ever more extreme interpretations.

And the final one, of course, is that eventually the safeguards get disregarded.

But for the moment they have gone to lengths to stay within their interpretation of the law. While recognizing and criticizing them on the rest, it is worth acknowledging that current (and somewhat surprising) reality.

As a "foreigner" (From the American POV) I am getting increasingly annoyed at the whole "American vs foreigner" issue as if spying on normal people from other countries is perfectly ok.

Is it so much to ask that I be given the same privacy levels as a US citizen and not be caught in overly-broad privacy invading dragnets?

I keep hearing this from non-Americans. And while I respect it, I always wonder what country they come from that apparently makes no legal distinction between its own citizens and anyone else, and which apparently has no intelligence service at all...

This isn't really something that's unique to America, this 'us vs them' attitude is something that's fundamental to the way nations operate, I think.

For me (as an American) it's a moral question. If the principles of the country are so fundamental and so sacred, why would you hold others to a lower standard? Spying on Americans, that's clearly wrong! Imprisonment without a trail, no way! Except for foreigners, then it's legal, so it's fine...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all me are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

What is unclear about that?

I just don't understand that we live in a society where it is ok to 'deliver' freedom to others by force, but where we maintain that digging through every german's gmail account is 'legal' in the US, so it's ok.

It's not only hypocritical, but short-sighted. Why would a French company use Gmail or Exchange Online if the US maintains that it and any subcontractor can read their mail at their leisure with no real consequences? Why would a Belgian visit the US if they could detain him because one of his facebook friends got in trouble with the police when he visited Florida?

I would argue that most other countries to not have such far-reaching interception programs with access to so much internet traffic[1] and therefore, while their intent is the same, their capability is wildly different which changes priorities somewhat.

[1] As the NSA presentation said, an awful lot of backbone traffic passes through the US.

Yes, but the political and social barrier between 'citizen' and 'foreigner' is still more or less the same wherever you go, especially where governments are concerned. When I leave the United States, I become a foreigner. My money may be welcome but my motives may be suspect, and I probably don't have the same rights as the locals.

The internet shouldn't be a part of it, though. I agree with that 100%. The internet is not America's, we don't own it, we can't act as if anything going through our part of it belongs to us, to do with what we will.

Actually reading back I didn't make my point correctly.

I am naturally outraged at the antics of the NSA and similar organisations (GCHQ etc.).

But right now I am really annoyed that the entire debate seems to have focused on "This is affecting us". It seems to have been accepted by everyone (Government, News, Public) that spying like this on foreigners is fine and dandy.

I just wish there was a bit more outrage / discussion on the "Is it actually ok to spy on foreigners like this?"

> I just wish there was a bit more outrage / discussion on the "Is it actually ok to spy on foreigners like this?"

Well, you can't really fault American media for focusing on Americans (or maybe you can.) But it would be interesting to see that break into the national consciousness.

I'm afraid, though, that if you asked most Americans their answer would be "of course it's OK, as long as we're the best at it."

... I can see how that could be incredibly infuriating.

I am American and I share this sentiment.

There are rights that differ for foreigners, but the basic rights are the same for everybody. It's not like you can kill a foreigner without consequences, or steal from him, right? Secrecy of correspondence is in constitutions of many european countries http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secrecy_of_correspondence (funny how even USSR had had it since 1936 - what the state do with its constitution is another matter it seems). Certainly not all countries are listed, cause Poland isn't there, and it also have this law.

And it's considered basic right, so why shouldn't foreigners have it?

The more I learn about USA the stranger it seems. Guns are legal cause freedom, even at cost of lives, and secrecy of correspondence is just nice-to-have? Why do you need the guns, if you don't use them to defend your privacy?

The more I learn about USA the stranger it seems. Guns are legal cause freedom, even at cost of lives, and secrecy of correspondence is just nice-to-have? Why do you need the guns, if you don't use them to defend your privacy?

Bear a few things in mind... most Americans don't own a gun, and most who do don't have them to rise up against the government, and quite a few don't fit into the stereotype of 'gun loving American' at all. After the Newtown shooting (I believe it was) there was widespread support for gun control legislation (close to 90% IIRC) but it was summarily killed because of the power of lobbyists.

America is bigger and more complicated than perhaps it seems from the outside. Also, gun ownership is a constitutional issue... IANACS* but the purpose of that is to allow the people to rise up against the tyranny of either an oppressive government or an outside enemy (as there was no assumption at the time that a standing national army would be a thing, or that Britain was going to leave us alone.) So that's been something we've been arguing over since the beginning.

Meanwhile, a lot of Americans just aren't as politically charged about privacy as they are about gun rights. There's no privacy lobby which is as powerful as the NRA, an you can't win midterms by scaring your constituents about how the other party is coming to take your private keys away. There might be outrage about this eventually, but you've got to give it time to bubble up. All many Americans even know about Edward Snowden is some vague notion that he 'stole secrets' and 'gave them to China.' Meanwhile all you see on the news now is the George Zimmerman trial.

* I am not a constitutional scholar

> I keep hearing this from non-Americans. And while I respect it, I always wonder what country they come from that apparently makes no legal distinction between its own citizens and anyone else

Not all countries have Guantanamo. Most won't allow foreigners to be imprisoned indefinitely without charges. Heck, in my country (Brazil), foreigners are usually treated better than citizens, even when charged with a crime. Despite the low rate of conviction, crimes against foreigners draw more attention from the justice system. The legal protections for foreigners are that strong, and Itamaraty (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itamaraty) enforces them. If you are living here (even temporarily), you hold all the rights that citizens have, minus some things (like the obligation to vote).

> and which apparently has no intelligence service at all...

Not as extensive as the US system, but that's to be expected.

At some point it might be necessary to make a distinction between citizens and foreigners, but only when it matters.

Not at all. In europe you'll be treated equal. Except for UK we don't assassinate people, period.

Having previously posted a similar comment to yours and subsequently thought about it a lot, there is one justification, weak as it may be, for focusing on Americans in this.

It's the potent implications of the democratic integrity of the nation that come from your government having a giant database on you. If they can, at will, get access to any and all of the communications of any citizen they have incredible power over the voting public. I have no doubt that at this point, if the Obama administration desperately wanted to get hold of some individual's communications - to discredit them, implicate them, or just learn better how to manipulate them - they could do it. I actually doubt they would do it, and I'm not suggesting they will. But once the means for the corruption are there, and the temptation is there, it is utterly inevitable that it will be used. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, etc.

So for your case, yes, they are violating your privacy, and that's bad. But for US citizens, they are dismantling the very fabric of democracy itself. It's orders of magnitude more important than a mere raping of privacy.

Hmm, actually that makes perfect sense as a reason to rile up the proletariat, never considered that angle.

Isn't the fact that the NSA can't tell if you're American their entire justification for harvesting everyone's data?

If they could tell the difference, then there would be no justification for dragnet surveillance.

You also have to presume that terrorists will attempt to look like U.S. citizens (e.g. "John Smith" connecting from a U.S. IP via tunnel) to avoid surveillance.

When you monitor all of the network traffic, you can easily deanonymize (even encrypted) tunnels via simple timing attacks. VPNs don't help.

I keep getting into discussions with people this month about Tor, and they keep bringing up the fact that "we don't know how many tor nodes are run by the government or other attackers". Fact is, if you can monitor all of the long-haul network traffic in full, you don't need to run _any_ tor nodes to deanonymize all of the users. You can just watch the traffic flows as they go into the tor network, bounce around, and pop out - encrypted or not.

Agreed. But when you have "John Smith" coming in over VPN from a foreign IP to a domestic email account, how can you tell if they are an expat citizen or a masquerade? Presumably this is why the NSA monitors whenever at least one half of the connection is foreign.

The number of expat citizens is small enough as to be statistically insignificant at this scale of monitoring. For all intents and purposes they can just be treated as foreigners.

I mean, what real American would ever deign to leave the homeland?! If you leave the USA to go live in some stupid foreign land you must not want your human rights anyway.

> If they could tell the difference, then there would be no justification for dragnet surveillance.

... of Americans.

I think the NSA considers this a feature, rather than a bug.

If they can't tell the difference it makes it far easier to suspend rights reserved for Americans in the process of spying.

There is a joke in that title somewhere...

Replace "foreigner" with "hole in the ground"

Replace "foreigner" with "Jew" to remember a history lesson that America should not repeat.

What's the difference between an American and a Foreigner?

Not knowing what is self, and non self is called Immunity disorder than an organisation protecting people.

In Human Body it causes death, in a System it causes Death of Democracy, In a family it causes chaos.

It's a feature, not a bug.

They want to case a wide net.


Although I would make a case for profiling based on names.

Right one brother! Those arab named bastards.

Just like that??

Yet they can enough to deny foreigners any rights.


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