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the worst tactical mistake made by any government to date

Why would this be a tactical mistake? The general public DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK. The government(s) know(s) this quite well.

If you think for a second that detention of associates of political enemies matters to an electorate far more interested in the minutiae of Kanye West's baby, you're living in a fairy land of your own making.




I'm kind of confused by what you consider the "general public" here.

Right now, in addition to this being the top story on HN, it is is on the default reddit front page at #9 and rising. It's also on the front page of the New York times website, and also in the top three headlines at news.google.com. Google reports 25 articles most being published in the last hour.

By these measures, it seems to me that a lot of people are rather interested in the story.

Now, I understand that you may not consider "the population that consumes its news on the internet" to be equivalent to the "general public". But any argument about that question is a much larger one than an argument about the public's interest in this particular story.

The fact is, even amongst all of the tabloid trash real news stories do matter to people, and people who consume cotton candy celebrity media for entertainment can also be consumers of hard news. The existence of one doesn't preclude interest in the other.


Neither the BBC, Independent, The Sun nor Daily Mail report on it; q.e.d., the "general public" doesn't care.

Edit: The Sun does, however, have boobs on its homepage, the Daily Mail talks about celebrities and the BBC's international site talks about Syria, Gibraltar and Usain Bolt, with its England page concerned with assisted suicide, a rider who died after a horse accident, something about climate activists and this gem: "Leicester Globe pub closes over anti-military rumours"...

Edit 2: Colour me impressed, the Telegraph not only reports on it on its frontpage, it also has an additional quote by an Amnesty International spokesperson. That's at least something, I suppose?


It's now the second-to-top story on the www.bbc.co.uk website


Certain HN contributors seem to subscribe to a very strange idea that if something is news on HN, it surely is not news elsewhere.

You see it all the time. Go back to the very first HN discussions about PRISM and phonetapping and you'll see people swearing on their mothers life that nobody outside HN will ever care because it is just a 'nerd issue' or something.


This is starting to look like a nice example of the Streisand effect. The more work the authorities do to squash the story and intimidate those associated with it the more legs it is getting.



This could be due to them receiving D-Notices.


It's possible, but I don't think it's likely. D-notices are very British things - they're a polite request to the media not to report on specific areas, and carry no legal weight. The assumption is that as long as they are issued in good faith, then the media goes along with them and everyone's happy because the security services don't have to start lobbying for censorship powers.

Now, along comes a situation which looks a lot like an attempt at journalistic suppression by the state. The incentive for the media to go along with any potential D-notice has evaporated because this is just censorship by other means, and if you're going to censor us anyway, why bother with D-notices? Issuing a D-notice over harrassing a journalist (via their family, in this case) would be something of a bodyliner, and I don't think even the British press would have a hard time figuring out what to do about it.


Or a super-injunction


The super-injunctions were ridiculed pretty much out of existence. TV newscasters talked so much about them they started letting names slip or details sufficient that "everyone" knew. Twitter was overflowing of people publishing the names. TV comedians ridiculed anyone involved, and made jokes about how they'd get arrested, faked calls from their lawyers to shows they were on, and in general showed no respect for them.

If anyone issued a super-injunction over this, the British media would see it as a challenge as to who could ensure the details were insinuated in such as way as to ensure the widest distribution.


Front page of the BBC News right now.


Just been a spot on it on Radio 4, too.


I didn't catch it all but it had a significant section on the main BBC Six O'Clock News.

I wrote to my MP, (Michael Gove) about this. While I disagree with him on many (if not most) things as an ex-journalist I hope he is unhappy with this.


It's a mistake because targeting a journalist's family member is quite likely to piss the average journalist the fuck off. The Washington Press corps can make Obama's life fucking miserable if they so choose, and absolutely drown his agenda in press about Snowden, Greenwald, how and when the White House communicated with the UK about this, and a million other things.

They can make an oxygen-sucking scandal out of nothing. This could devour the rest of Obama's second term if it gets out of hand (and the Republicans decide there's more mileage in beating him up about it rather than supporting the security state).

The public does not have to care for this to be a huge negative for the gov't. The only people who need to care are precisely the ones most likely to--folks rather like Greenwald.


You realise that such speculation is more immoral than the acts carried out so far right? You're ostensibly describing trying to blackmail the most powerful man in the world.


Stop licking the boots of power for a second and think about what you've said: literally, that imagining questions one might ask of misbehaving public servants is worse than the original misbehavior of those public servants. What color is the sky in your world?


No, what I said was that the actions being speculated are blackmail. Blackmail of the POTUS. Not a very moral or smart decision.

The fact that you instantly jump to 'licking the boots of power' indicates to me that you don't tolerate any dissent from your views.


The actions cited: investigating the behavior of government, and questioning public servants about that behavior. Which is basically the role of the fourth branch; read any founding father. But you describe this, with a vindictive imagination zealous enough to do any federal prosecutor proud, as "blackmail". Journalists, doing their jobs. What. The. Fuck.


Journalists doing their jobs is quite a lot different to what the poster posted:

> They can make an oxygen-sucking scandal out of nothing. This could devour the rest of Obama's second term if it gets out of hand

This is not 'journalism'. This is blackmail.


If it were up to those in power to define what is and is not "an oxygen-sucking scandal out of nothing", nothing would get investigated by journalists, ever. That's why, at least until recently, it has been journalists who have decided the proper focus of their work. The First Amendment is not vague on this point: Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...

I know you're trolling me here, but fuck it there probably are some halfwits out there nodding along with these power-worshiping redefinitions of old, well-understood law. From 18 U.S.C. § 873, blackmail: "Whoever, under a threat of informing, or as a consideration for not informing, against any violation of any law of the United States, demands or receives any money or other valuable thing, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned..." There's no money here. What is the "other valuable thing"? The safety of journalists' innocent loved ones? That's monstrous, and that isn't a proper interpretation of law.


> There's no money here. What is the "other valuable thing"? The safety of journalists' innocent loved ones? That's monstrous, and that isn't a proper interpretation of law

No, the 'other valuable thing' in this case is immunity from search or seizure.


Such putative immunity, with the due process of law, has never existed for anyone, let alone journalists, and isn't being discussed here.


It's the first amendment in practice.


No, the actions being speculated were about the possibility of retaliation if the government pisses off the wrong journalists too much. For there to be blackmail, someone would need to make a threat in advance.


Retaliation for a perceived offence can be blackmail. I'm not suggesting the poster was actually blackmailing anyone, but it's hardly the most moral position to take.


No, I think that's a rediculous assertion. Journalists have choices about what the direct their attention to. Various things help them make those choices, and misuse of state power against somebody they can personally identify with is the sort of thing that will draw their attention.


...what?


The parent poster said that the US should not detain journalists as journalists could dig up all sorts of nasty secrets.

"Don't do this or I will harm your reputation" is blackmail. Not really a moral thing to be talking about doing.


It is a tactical mistake because stuff like this will tip the scales into the direction of the general public caring about it without giving much of anything in return. It's mostly downside unless Greenwald & co did something dumb, and so far they don't strike me as dumb.


Really? If you talk with any of your non-tech friends about this topic, does a single one of them care? My money is on no. And in the unlikely case the answer is nonzero, the proffered solution is always to vote for "the other guy".

It's naiveté at the highest level to think that any meaningful proportion of the electorate cares, and that a single thing will change. If anything, the State now has tacit permission to press even further down the road of dystopia.

We live in a highly insular world in which our ideas are echoed by like-minded people. In such a world, it's easy to make the mistake of assuming that the broader populace is similarly like-minded. The reality, however, is that so long as sufficient bread and circuses are provided, nobody will care nearly as much as you or I do.


The number of random people who ask me about NSA spying now vs. 6 months ago is huge.

The DEA partnership basically won over minorities, drug people, young people.

You could probably find ways to make this an anti-immigrant issue in general (spying on foreigners; obviously if you're Muslim or brown, but maybe it could somehow extend to Chinese immigrants too?)

Tech people hate it naturally. Business people (other than defense contractors) hate it because it makes doing business harder, particularly if you're doing business with Europe or other international business.

This abuse of Greenwald's lover might win over gay people.

Gun people were already super suspicious of the government since Sandy Hook w.r.t. registry and confiscation (honestly for the entire Obama administration, and even during Bush, and definitely during Clinton, too, but more so now)

Right wing people are suspicious due to IRS and general hatred of Obama. "NSA shares records with IRS" would be a great extension to the story, but even lawful IRS subpoena of electronic records supports the case for strong crypto under the control of the end user.

All we need is for NSA records to be used against Christians (pro life groups? I'm finding it hard to find ways NSA spying is specifically anti mainstream Christians) to essentially have 80% of people on the side of freedom, each for his own reason and maybe totally different from the others.

The only people left on the other side are die-hard militarists, defense contractors, and the political class, or people who are irrationally putting hypothetical safety over even their own liberty (I'd expect people to sacrifice unused liberty or the liberty of other people for their own hypothetical safety, always).


VFW / Veterans -- their brothers died for our freedoms, now our own government is taking those freedoms away.

This is the demographic we need.


Basically all the people I met in be military we're essentially libertarian and "personal responsibility" on safety issues; some of the more religious people were against eg gay marriage for moral/religious reasons. I don't think most of the military outside the IC is in favor of domestic spying at all -- they are even pro drug decriminalization.


I fit in sroerick's demographic. My evidence is anecdotal, but pretty much exactly in line with your critique, for both me and my ex-military friends.

It may not be related, but we know first hand what its like to have the government entirely too "in the know" about your life. Not many of us are fans of it, even when it was arguably necessary to keep people alive.


If you talk with any of your non-tech friends about this topic, does a single one of them care?

FWIW, the nephew of a very close friend of mine mentioned the topic of Snowden to me. He's a former army ranger, just recently mustered out and now going to veterinary school. He thought Snowden was a hero. His mom, who basically owns a few gas stations, has been very pro Assange and Bradley Manning for years and I'm sure is also paying a decent amount of attention to Snowden's story.


Snowden has been on the front page of the Huffington Post for months - just like this particular story is at just this moment. This submission was posted from The Guardian. Masses of people read these publications.

Astrophysicists, mathematicians, and scientists, for the most part, don't read Hacker News. But they do read the Huffington Post. Some of them even are so clever they made these microwaveable-beef taquitos that always come out crunchy that I'm just about to snack on. They don't care about issues that directly affect their freedoms and liberty? The masses are unwashed?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyuoUwxCLMs


The reality, however, is that so long as sufficient bread and circuses are provided, nobody will care nearly as much as you or I do.

Your corrosive cynicism isn't helping them care, nor is it furthering the debate any.


I suspect you suffer from this insularity you reference. You're completely out of touch with "Main St" where this story has legs and is turning the tide against terrorism based laws. Look at quotes from various leaders of US congress for how the shift is in play.


It took nearly half a year of revelations before people began to care about Watergate. I figure that it would take that this time as well.


In fact that could be one of the reasons behind the revelations/leaks coming out in bite-size doses. To counter the short public memory, instead of a big dump of the information with short shelf-life, a drip feed of revelations/news on abuses and overreaches would help keep the issues in line of sight and would help cementing public opinion.

People may not be up in arms and shouting in streets now, but once the public opinion takes root in the mind, it would be hard to change come election no matter who promises what.


People don't care. Never did, never will. Yet, things do change, from time to time. One way out of this deadlock of apathy and perception of apathy would be to study -- in depth, historically -- what has made power erode, often in very short periods of time, sometimes even single events. Maybe you'll come to the conclusion that just "raising awareness" is not what gets you there, and that there may be situations where people who, essentially, don't care are much more likely to bring down a regime than people who do.


You're misunderstanding @jacquesm. He's not saying people will care, he's saying that prima facie this move could only possibly make people care more.

It'd be like giving a batter an extra swing. He'll probably miss, but there's no reason to give him the opportunity.


Spot on.


My non-tech friends care quite a lot about this story too.


I've seen a few comments that say the same thing. Care to elaborate how far their "care" really goes? Are they doing something about it, or is just like any other news in America where it's dinner-table conversation, but nothing else.


Over the past few months at a 'working class' bar that I regular, I've listened to plenty of people rant about the NSA, DEA, and the Feds in general, usually prompted by a television turned to 24hr news.

What catches my attention is the wide variety of reasons people have for carrying. Some are afraid that the government is going to use it to take away their guns, others are concerned about surveillance of GSM/LGBT activists, others are particularly disturbed by the NSA/DEA angle. One of those conversations was then followed up with a tirade about 9/11 and the moon landing... but the vast majority of people who are concerned by this are perfectly normal people.


Frankly, I don't think this has got beyond the "dinner table" stage anywhere, outside of a very few activists. It's early days yet, though.


> If you talk with any of your non-tech friends about this topic, does a single one of them care?

From what I've seen so far, many people care, but not in the way we'd like. A surprising amount of people think along the lines of "If Greenwald/Snowden/etc are doing something wrong, maybe they shouldn't be doing it" or "If this makes me safe from terrorists, then I support it".

Don't underestimate the stupidity of the general populace. People are dumb and selfish and generally won't stand up against injustices unless it somehow directly affects them.


Of course they care. Everyone I have asked whether techy or otherwise has said the government has no business reading people's e-mails etc.

This has been news for two months now and it continues to be news. It affected US-Russia relations, its big in Brazil, Germany. There was a vote which almost succeeded in defunding the NSA. Ordinary people do care and opinion polls show it.


So what do you propose as a solution? (And you're not obligated to have one. I agree with what you're saying here, and I don't know of any solution.)


The first, obviously, is swift and violent revolution. Historically speaking, totalitarian power has only ever succumbed to greater power. Obviously this is not an option I would advocate or consider. Nor is it an option that's even possible. Drunk NRA members with Mini-14s versus the US Naval Carrier Fleet, USMC, and USAF, all of which are provided with dossiers on high value targets sympathetic to the cause provided by the NSA? Lulz, no contest.

The second option is equally unpleasant, but for different reasons. We would require a total and catastrophic economic collapse, such that bread and circuses can no longer be affordably provided and such that the populace becomes sufficiently uncomfortable to actually start giving a shit. THIS solution is also not advisable, since such scenarios don't offer options to guide who is elected in the place of the devil we know. The transition from the Weimar to the Third Reich offers a valuable, and scary, precedent here.

Since both of the above are unpalatable, my solution is to drink heavily and bitch endlessly on the internet while still enjoying my comfortable life.


You could also look at what Upworthy is doing: a "mission-driven" company engineering viral content for the purpose of promoting social awareness and other things they find to be generally healthy for society.

People overestimate the impact of the Internet, but they also underestimate it; I have a suspicion that the dissolution of traditional mass media will make it easier for interest groups to influence the public sphere via social networks, using propagation techniques similar to those that Upworthy is currently harnessing. That's what I find fascinating about Upworthy: using social media marketing strategies to sell ideas instead of products.


Maybe you should stop the heavy drinking. Swift and violent revolution? That'll work just dandy, let me go get my AK-47 out of the storage grease.

FFS don't talk nonsense and if you must don't do it here.


You're attacking a strawman, since he made it quite clear that he wasn't calling for swift and violent revolution: "Obviously this is not an option I would advocate or consider. Nor is it an option that's even possible."


Right, because here we love the president.


There is a political solution. Public opinion holds great sway. So the politicians may go on a uturn to keep their jobs.

There is a legal solution. Courts may yet declare this unconstitutional.

Then there is a voting solution. People voted for Obama because he promised to get rid of all this. As Bush said fool me once, you cant fool twice. So people might in 2016 elect someone who has a record of being against these measures.

Plenty of solutions before a violent revolution. See for example the transition from The McCarthy era.


> Really? If you talk with any of your non-tech friends about this topic, does a single one of them care?

I've had quite the opposite experience so far. Most of the non-tech people I met recently on buses, shops etc. seemed to understand the problem very clearly and they cared. People cared about the issues at hand and quite intensely at that.

True that the majority seems silent, but deep inside almost everyone expressed a kind of hatred towards the 'O-force'.

Let's not misunderstand people because each one of us wants to hear positive news everyday. Stuff like Kanye's baby. This is not an unexpected behavior because ordinary people like us really want only one thing: Not being hassled by assholes.

In my opinion most of the times people are in pursuit of happiness and that is also, mark my words, the sole reason why people voted the O's to power in the first place. Let's not underestimate the power of people and lose hope altogether. It's much quicker to fall downhill than to climb high in the trust game of politics. Ever wondered how many people still dislike the bygone Bush?


Who's Kanye? But seriously, there's a lot of people who care. I think we have to shake the habit of concluding that what the celebrity insider press reports on is what people at large care about. Most people don't read the papers that aren't covering the story. So what?


The typical reaction I've seen is snark. The most memorable one was a Facebook post:

"I don't care if Obama reads my text messages. All he'll learn is how to sext."

Most of the "smart" people I know, both in and out of the tech industry, are more interested in Egypt, Syria, and the large drop in US stock market indices last week.

How sad is it that Orwell's dire portrayal of Big Brother is no longer as relevant to most people as following reality TV's Big Brother...


That's probably because Orwell's utopia is too extreme to happen... the steps that lead to it are too radical, and can only happen in some extreme circonstances.

So Orwell was a little paranoid... but Huxley was spot on.


Except for the orgy-porgy part. Still waiting on those to start up, Aldous.


I guarantee that they were not expecting the intensity of the reaction on this one.

A lot of stories, like the LavaBit shutdown for example, never elicited the strong backlash that it should have. It was however, well known in security and technology media circles.

Because it is a slow(er) Sunday news morning, the reaction on twitter to this story has been quite intense, and that is translating into a huge amount of print and broadcast news stories.

If this was intended to intimidate journalists, that would have been achieved through the inevitable reporting in specialty blogs and twitter feeds of those intensely interested in the subject.

This controversy on the other hand, is blowing up in their face, which will result in reporters making the next 72 hours hell for the various authorities involved on both sides of the pond.


My sense from obama's recent remarks is that there is definitely some change under consideration as a result of the snowden revelations and greenwald's important involvement. So I disagree with you pretty strenuously. And I do think more people care about this than you think, both in the tech and non-tech worlds.


Obama is on the record saying that these changes under consideration have nothing whatsoever to do with Snowden, Greenwald or the leaks.


Well, of course - to say otherwise would be to legitimise Snowden. But nonetheless, is that really credible?


Politically, he can't say based on recent leaks we are reconsidering policiy as it suggests wrongdoing.


I know... I'm just taking the man at his word. My bad ;)

Either those changes are due to Snowden and then he should own up and show some of that transparency he's promised or he's lying through his teeth. Either way it is not looking good.


"have nothing whatsoever to do with Snowden, Greenwald or the leaks"

Probably need a citation for that. I didn't see such an assertion in his conference. In fact, he said "repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate".


Fortunately, an act such as this oftentimes is enough to start getting celebrities involved and prompting them to be outspoken to their fans. We don't always need to make Americans care directly. It can be enough to make the people who Americans listen to to care.


> Why would this be a tactical mistake? The general public DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK. The government(s) know(s) this quite well.

It might be a well-planned tactical move: perhaps they wanted to enrage and provoke Greenwald, hoping he might make mistakes, accidentally disclose sources or additional material.

But yes, the most likely explanation is that they simply don't care, they abuse their power all the time and act like criminals, why should they respect people like Greenwald?


The lesson is that some celebrities need to be recruited to act as ambassadors for the cause of privacy. If Tom Cruise had been held for nine hours the whole world would have known.




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