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It’s time for Silicon Valley to ask: Is it worth it? (pandodaily.com)
443 points by _pius on Oct 31, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 310 comments



I have an honest and serious question -- who are the developers and designers who put these systems into place for the NSA? Are they aware of what they're doing or is it all classified and contracted out? Are they proud of their work? Is it just a paycheck? Surely someone with such a high aptitude could easily get a job elsewhere -- I guess I'm just unable to make the connection on who willingly builds this kind of stuff.

I'm not trying to be intentionally obtuse, I just legitimately am curious


Everyone on HN acts like there's no possible reason for people to support these types of activities, but there could be very legitimate reasons these engineers choose to do what they do.

It could just be a challenge for them. Where else can you not only get away with, but be rewarded with a good salary and a pension for hacking into the most secure systems on earth? It must be thrilling to be 'Competing' against the best security engineers, best practices, with a massive budget to support your activities.

It could be that with their security clearances, they know things about threats that make their decision to work for the NSA a moral imperative. It's entirely possible that there are some really horrific classified things that were stopped via similar spying activities, so intercepting some Gmail messages seems like a much less evil alternative.

They could just be 'blindly' patriotic, have faith that the faults of the government are outweighed by the need to keep the US on top of the world.

There are many possible reasons.


Don't get be wrong, I don't think for a second that it wouldn't be a ridiculously exciting job -- I mean even the thought about having a government security clearance is a thrilling thought (even though I'm sure it's less cinematic than I might hope) --

I also completely buy the competition angle -- especially considering I'm not going to pretend that Google is the "good guy" here, fighting perilously for our freedom against the evil government.

And third, I also see the point that, ya know, at the end of the day, these guys are probably building some useful systems.

I suppose my curiosity is mostly granular; I'd love to read some interviews with people who are directly working on this stuff to get their side. It seems like they have some REALLY good engineers working there, and I'm curious how.


"...the thought about having a government security clearance is a thrilling thought"

Meh. Nothing cinematic about it at all. You fill out reams of paperwork (address and neighbors back 10 years), get interviewed by a tired bureaucrat, and all your friends, family, and neighbors get grilled by some other tired bureaucrats.

Then, if you're lucky, they grant you an interim clearance so you can start work while they do whatever other research they need to do (polygraph, etc).

And if you're unlucky, they don't grant the interim and you're left in limbo for months on end. And you don't have any say in the matter - if the interim is denied, there is no recourse. And if they take too long, your employer may just decide waiting around isn't worth the time and send you packing before the process completes. And you never find out what red flag they thought they saw.

All in, it's a total pain in the ass.


And the chances of you actually seeing anything particularly interesting is pretty low.


yes, that's pretty much the case, but one definitely should be able to get some mileage with one's peers and the ladies.


http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/201...

there is an account of an NSA employee thinking through the morality of his work


It could also be that they're former "hackers" that were caught and turned into informants/employees/slaves in exchange for their eventual freedom. An example of this is Sabu (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabu_%28hacktivist%29), who would have been sentenced to 124 years in prison, but instead decided to work for the FBI.


Sabu, for example, would almost certainly not be granted a clearance, even at the classified (lowest) level.


If you have immense personal leverage over someone, you can dispense with the bureaucratic paper pushing. They won't step out of line.


How can he be an asset for the FBI then?


Fairly easily, I should think; since when does any police agency entrust its secrets to its confidential informants?


< who would have been sentenced to 124 years in prison

This is a number floated as possible years of time, but it is not what he 'would have been' sentenced. We don't know because he decided to turn snitch.


...it's particularly misleading because you could be sentenced for 124 years for a several dozen different offenses but serve your time concurrently.


Correct, it is several flavors of misleading. I did not even consider that one.


> Everyone on HN acts like there's no possible reason for people to support these types of activities.

And they're right. You don't need to play devil's advocate. The devil has enough advocates.


EXTERMINATE ALL RATIONAL THOUGHT. Questions are not allowed. Consideration is not allowed. Context is not allowed. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.


There's a Deleuze quote about this that I really like: “It is not the slumber of reason that engenders monsters, but vigilant and insomniac rationality”.

What I understand this to mean is that the nature of “rationality” is such that a rational person can rationalize anything. Nobody is saying “EXTERMINATE ALL RATIONAL THOUGHT”, obviously this is just you trolling, but to the extent that anything intelligent can be distilled from your reply, that's my response to it.

We can always rationalise anything, especially misdeeds committed by those in positions of power over us. Sometimes it's important to halt that process and stop and just say "this is definitely fucked up", and yes, not to question it any further. It can actually be really hard not to question it sometimes, especially if you trust, or have been conditioned to trust, those in positions of power over you who are abusing you. You want to find reasons to defend their abuse of their power, you don't want it to be what it looks like. And you can find reasons for it, you always can. You will. But abuse is still abuse. So sometimes you have to stop and just say “this is fucked”.


> Sometimes it's important to halt that process and stop and just say "this is definitely fucked up", and yes, not to question it any further.

In my opinion, there are few things more tragic than someone carrying out actions with serious consequences on behalf of a belief that they refuse to question.

I believe I understand your pragmatic concerns. It is hard to act passionately while simultaneously entertaining doubts about your underlying beliefs. Obviously one does not need to set a timer and rigorously question their beliefs every five minutes. However, it is important that one welcomes evidence to the contrary and is willing to engage with that evidence. To do otherwise is to risk becoming a slave to dogma.


In a way I actually agree with nearly everything you say, I just think you haven't taken what you say to its logical conclusion.

The thing you seem to be missing is that there are no “neutral” beliefs. There's no “middle” in terms of ideology. Doing “nothing” is de facto maintaining the status quo, and acting to maintain the status quo is a positive action just as much as acting to abolish it is. The belief that the status quo should be maintained is a positive belief just as the belief that it should be abolished it is. Right?

The thing is, by the very nature of ideology, those who wish to maintain the status quo rarely have their beliefs subjected to the same level of scrutiny as those who to abolish it. Therefore it is very easy for those who wish to maintain the status quo to believe that their beliefs and actions are sane, rational, reasonable, etc., because everything seems to reinforce that, while those who wish to abolish it are often portrayed as insane, irrational, “extremist”, etc., and as someone who does wish to abolish the status quo, it's very hard not to internalise some of that. Being constantly bombarded with that, having all of your beliefs constantly scrutinised from every angle inevitably manifests itself as incapacitating self-doubt that's very difficult to overcome sometimes. Sometimes the only way to cope with this is to temporarily suspend this constant questioning of everything you believe in.

It is far more common that people who wish to maintain the status quo are slaves to dogma than that people who wish to abolish it are. Often, the latter do not have a choice about whether or not their beliefs are rigourously questioned every five minutes. But the former can comfortably go their whole lives without ever having their beliefs rigourously questioned by anybody.

Edit: I think an NSA agent participating in these programs out of a belief that they are “serving their country” and who refuses to question what “serving their country” actually means is a slave to dogma. I do not think that somebody who believes that their communications should not be monitored or recorded without their consent and who refuses to question that belief is a slave to dogma.


Thanks for the measured response. I hadn't really considered the strain that status quo beliefs/narratives put on those with marginalized beliefs/narratives. I actually live with a number of kids who are into anarchism/radical politics, so I've gotten a lot of exposure to more radical narratives. It's really disorienting/fascinating to meet people whose world-views differ so thoroughly from the norm.

I guess I just figured that those with radical beliefs became kind of immune to mainstream views, having rejected them. But you bring up a good point; it can be taxing to be viewed as a fringe element when you feel like you're the one who's right. I can see that being really frustrating.

Anyway, I'm not entirely sure I agree with this:

> The thing you seem to be missing is that there are no “neutral” beliefs.

If one knows nothing about an issue (concerning some status quo behavior), it would be wise for them not to take an action on that issue without first learning more about it. But until they learn about the issue, would we really consider them to have a "positive" belief on the issue?

What about when they knew a few scattered facts but didn't necessarily have the whole picture? Again, we would not want them to take a stance. (Or, at least, I wouldn't.) Would that count as a "positive" action?

I'm not certain if inaction is necessarily endorsement. True, you are allowing something to happen... but you're allowing a lot of things to happen every day, things that perhaps should be changed or stopped but that you don't have the relevant knowledge of or the means to address.

Anyway, I'm generally with you on the NSA stuff... not feeling too comfortable with what they're doing. But radicalization and ideology kind of fascinate me (mostly from a philosophical perspective) so it's always interesting to explore these interactions (though they often devolve into flame wars, sadly).

EDIT: Perhaps you could claim one has a moral obligation to research and judge the impact of the social/economic system(s) they participate in. That feels like a separate (but related) discussion altogether.


This is weirdly Orwellian.

If doing nothing is a 'positive action', than the words 'positive action' have no meaning. If think you mean to say that the effect doing nothing is to support the status quo, and morally equivalent to positive action supporting the the status quo, I still disagree, but you're on firmer ground.

Apart from that, all you need to do is thematically replace privacy rights & surveillance with class struggle & worldwide revolution and this is pure Bolshevism.


If you read my post carefully, you'll notice that I put “nothing” in quotation marks. You're close when you guess that I mean that “the effect doing nothing is to support the status quo, and morally equivalent to positive action supporting the the status quo,” but you have the direction of causation backwards. What I was trying to get at is that it's actually impossible to do “nothing”: you're always doing something, and if you're not, you're dead. The thing is, many actions which act to reproduce and maintain the status quo are ideologically defined as “nothing”: they're so normal that they're invisible.

I don't understand why you equate class struggle and global revolution with Bolshevism, or the implication that there's anything Orwellian about those things. That's completely disingenuous. There are several well known political traditions which advocate class struggle and global revolution but which at the same time have always fiercely been opposed to Bolshevism. Anarchist communism, left-wing communism, etc...


"There's no possible reason for people to support these programs", the preceding comment says, "and so it is pointless and even harmful for us to talk about possible reasons".


> There's no possible reason for people to support these programs and so it is pointless and even harmful for us to talk about possible reasons.

I almost agree with this, were it not equivocating two different senses of the phrase “possible reason”.

There's no legitimate reason for people to support these programs and so it is pointless and even harmful for us to talk about possible reasons.

There are possible reasons to support these programs, but they're not legitimate or sensible or reasonable or good. And that's precisely why it is harmful to talk about possible reasons to support these programs. You make it harder for people to be sure in their own minds that they are as fucked up as they seem, which makes it harder to build resistance to them, which is an urgent necessity. It might sound like what I'm talking about is immaterial, but it's not. To build resistance you need morale, to have morale you need at the very least to have the surety that you're right. To participate in the endless repetition of half-baked, rational-sounding defences of the indefensible is to make it harder for those who want to attack the indefensible to believe that they're not crazy. But we need them to believe that they're not crazy.


So I agree with the article and I agree that NSA has gone too far. But your comment feels like you have bought a jump to conclusions mat from "office space". If, for example, during the process of obtaining clearance, you were to receive certain information that you don't have now, perhaps that would change your opinion of legitimacy of these programs from a binary 0 or 1 to a more nuanced probability distribution


This reminds me a bit of Russell's teapot[1]. Basically, you're saying, imagine if there existed “certain information”, which nobody can tell me about, but if they could, it would change my beliefs? Okay. Given what I do know, I think the chances of these programs being legitimate are about the same as the chances that there is “between the Earth and Mars a china teapot revolving in an elliptical orbit”.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell%27s_teapot


You have heard Iranians chant "Death To America" at their official rallies right? How do you know that the chance that they don't mean it is zero ? Based on what information? Even at the height of the cold war nobody ever chanted "Death To America" in the Soviet Union.


I feel like you're assuming that I'm American and that I don't want America to die. I think most people in the world will be delighted when the American empire inevitably collapses. Not just “Iranians” — as if there are “official rallies” for an entire country of people.


There are official rallies in Iran orchestrated by those who are in power and dictate policy and when they chant "Death To America", I don't think they are talking about collapse of the empire but literal death. In any case, most of us on this forum do not want the American empire to collapse. My personal opinion is the United States, for all its flaws is a force of good in the world. Often times, Europeans adopt holier than thou attitude, conveniently forgetting their own troubled history with colonialism and heavily relying on the United States for defence


..and while the intelligentsia are busy debating the theoretical possibility of the existence of said teapot, the powers that be are acting decisively and defining the reality.


If such information exists, why not just reveal it to a few influential and reasonably trusted individuals and groups (such as Schneier, EFF, EPIC, ACLU) to get the public off their backs?


Who decides what's legitimate and what's not?


The short answer is: you.

Obviously there is no objective universal criteria for legitimacy or morality or anything like that. It will come down to what your personal politics are, a fact which will itself be hugely influenced by your material position in the web of power relations that structures your social reality.


This is true.


How are "It could just be a challenge for them." or "They could just be 'blindly' patriotic" legitimate reasons? Of course everything has a reason, we live in a causal universe. Your comment implies someone claimed it's magic, and I for one haven't heard that yet. So you may call that rational or intelligent, but that doesn't make it so.

And then there's

> "It's entirely possible that there are some really horrific classified things that were stopped via similar spying activities, so intercepting some Gmail messages seems like a much less evil alternative."

"some Gmail messages"? How is this not belittling it? How is that, pardon my french, not a fucking joke to say at this stage to this audience?

And how is that list complete? Why does "sustaining power over domestic and foreign democratic interests" not show up in it? It's not reasoning to just throw out some things, two thirds of it being silly [in the context of legitimate reasons, which is what the post started out claiming to enumerate] and stopping with one nice thing that could be possible, while ignoring not so nice things that could also be possible. It's rationalization.


I thought you were trolling, and he was just responding to you?


You're trampling over his legitimate point, which is that gears of the US government PR machine are massive, and the well-fed targets of their propaganda are well-fed and cozy, and yet the dangers of government overreach are bigger than ever.

Are there potentially reasons why "terrorism" might in fact be a greater threat to our ideals and way of life then government power? Sure! Anything's possible. But such threats would need to be justified publicly, they can not be justified behind closed doors with classified documents.


Are there potentially reasons why "terrorism" might in fact be a greater threat to our ideals and way of life then government power? Sure! Anything's possible. But such threats would need to be justified publicly, they can not be justified behind closed doors with classified documents.

This is, to me, the core point. Government exists to serve US, the People, not the other way around. And to maintain that order of things, government must be held accountable by the People. And we can't do that if our government operates in the shadows, behind a veil of secrecy - regardless of how they justify it.


If by some horrible miracle --- a "horribilicle" --- we had upon us a series of public referenda on a Constitutional amendment enabling foreign intelligence services to ignore the 4th Amendment in the service of any reasonable pursuit of Islamic terrorists, how do you think "WE" would vote on it?

I know how I'd vote ("fuck no"), but I don't think I could predict whether the amendment would pass.

It's worth keeping in mind that the government exists to serve all of us, not just us noisy nerds on Hacker News, and that we don't all agree on things that everyone on Hacker News believes we agree about.


Right, this is one reason I'm not actually a big fan of government and "democracy" at all... the "tyranny of the majority". Nonetheless, within the framework of what we are working with here, I think it's important that our government be very transparent, so that at least the option of holding the government accountable exists.


Maybe you are already well-read in this department, but you might like reading some anarchist critiques of different forms of democracy:

In Defense of Anarchism by Robert Paul Wolff: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/robert-paul-wolff-in-...

Democracy, by Monsieur Dupont: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/monsieur-dupont-democ...

Democracy vs. Desire: Beyond the Politics of Measure, by Andy Robinson: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/andy-robinson-democra...


I have not read any of those three, so definitely thank you for sharing. FWIW, my individualist anarchist tendencies have largely been influenced by people like Lysander Spooner and Murray Rothbard.


His entire point appears to be that an entire branch of discussion is out of bounds. If I'm trampling, consider it counter-trampling.


I don't know where you're getting this “out of bounds” thing from. I didn't tell anybody to shut up. I didn't tell them that they can't say what they're saying. And even if I did, it's not like I'm in any position of power to force them not have that discussion. I just alluded to the negative consequences of having such a discussion (yes, discussions on the Internet do not exist in a vacuum, and they do have material effects in the real world, therefore we have a responsibility to choose carefully what discussions we have and what we say). People can still choose whether or not they want to have it.

Edit: I know there is no malice intended in this, and it's not directly related to the discussion at hand, but I would appreciate it if people didn't assume that my preferred pronoun set was he/him/his. In general, it's best to use they/them/their unless you've been explicitly asked to use otherwise.


I looked you up before referring to you as a "he", but if your preferred pronoun is "they", I'm happy to respect that.


Okay, I appreciate that. People generally refer to me as “he”, and I usually don't say anything, but sometimes it bothers me. But that's neither here nor there. I appreciate that you made an effort at least.


I'm beginning to see the PR value of having a clear, consistent message and sticking to it, which I believe may be the point to which your fellow commenter alludes.

A willingness by one side of a debate to consider arguments that favor the other side could be perceived (or misrepresented) as weakness and counted in favor of the debating opponent.



Well, that was the same theory behind the Republican effort to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government and breaking the debt ceiling. Stay relentlessly on message and get what you want. Obviously, that was not a PR success.

I prefer the system where we actually talk to each other to see which ideas make sense and which ones are insane instead of trying to debate via religion.


Well, that was the same theory behind the Republican effort to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government and breaking the debt ceiling. Stay relentlessly on message and get what you want. Obviously, that was not a PR success.

We're not congress, though, we're an interest group. We want congresspeople to debate, reason, and compromise; we ideally want interest groups to do the same, but I fear it may be necessary for at least some of us to be relentlessly consistent in our appearance, to counteract the relentlessness of the other sides (NSA, RIAA, etc.).

I prefer the system where we actually talk to each other to see which ideas make sense and which ones are insane instead of trying to debate via religion.

So do I, but we don't necessarily exist within that system.


Speaking of rational arguments...


So, let's hear your defense of this. EDIT: Well since you have the power to channel the mind of the beltway security gnome, let's hear their defense of it.


You really can't discern between someone who can imagine NSA employees who believe in what they're doing, and someone who supports the NSA?

Oh, wait. This is an Internet message board. Of course you can't.


Why the childish tone in the midst of people trying to have a serious discussion?


Going a bit Bill Lee there.


Trying to identify the motivations of an action from the perspective of the perpetrator doesn't mean that one agrees with their actions. Rather, it's a way of getting a better understanding of the problem

For example, it's useful to look at the causes of various evil historical deeds because they shed light on how to prevent them from occuring. To say that exploring the causes of these deeds is tantamount to supporting them is to throw away any sense of rational discovery.


Unfortunately this kind of thinking dominates American politics. We can't even consider why our opponents do what they do. But many people in tech have indulged in accessing secured computers. It's easy to see how somebody on one side could be swayed to the other without acting irrationally.


Trying to identify the motivations of an action from the perspective of the perpetrator doesn't mean that one agrees with their actions, no, but the post that I replied to implied that there exist reasons to support “these types of activities”, which does imply agreement with the actions of the perpetrator.

Edit: And also, it has to be said that trying to identify the motivations of an action from the perspective of the perpetrator far too often amounts to little more than apologetics and defence of the indefensible, empathising with the perpetrator and blaming the victim. I'm not saying it's never useful to consider, but it's not like it's an uncommon thing to do. Blaming the victim is nearly always the default in this culture.


"There exist reasons" != "There exist good reasons"


This is true. I tried to clarify this equivocation in another one of my posts in this thread.


> It could be that with their security clearances, they know things about threats that make their decision to work for the NSA a moral imperative.

This I very much doubt.The builders would have security clearances, because what they're building is classified. But builders would not need and would not have access to intelligence; they aren't analysts or policy makers. They probably have barely more information on intelligence than you or I, and only in the form of more solid rumors than we have access to.


And Snowden came from the builder side of the house, so all we are seeing in his document release so far is classified capabilities, not the intelligence that they collected, or any plots that they thwarted.

The folks who do know that stuff are still following their own rules, so they can't tell us about them.

So we are all operating from an assymmetry of information. I'm really, really against the capabilities I've learned about so far, but I think it's likely that there are actual results that help NSA leadership rationalize these sorts of programs.


> I think it's likely that there are actual results that help NSA leadership rationalize these sorts of programs

AKA paying the mortgage


IIRC Snowden was a sysadmin with root.


In other words, a Morlock. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morlock


> It's entirely possible that there are some really horrific classified things that were stopped via similar spying activities

Unless they are trying to stop Xenomorphs AND Old Ones at the same time, I'm not sure these measures are really justified.

When I look at history of things "Intelligence agencies" have prevented I see more things that are made up or self made than what the enemy forces did.


My only real fear is that some of these less-legitimate surveillance practices will discourage US companies from forming and people using US-hosted services, which would be a major blow to the United States' already volatile economy. The tech industry is the only industry that is/was actually doing well during the recession, and now our government is behaving dangerously with the trust that many international firms have given us. With that in mind, it's very alarming to hear that the NSA surveillance extends beyond admitted and known data collection in supposedly secure networks.

Seems like a bad idea to undermine the trust of most of the people (e.g. the tech industry) keeping your country afloat, if you ask me. And I really hope my fear here is unfounded...


I don't understand the whole 'don't host in US'-thing. It doesn't make sense. The NSA/US gov made it clear that they have WAY less regard for foreign privacy vs. US privacy. If all major services move their data centres/servers overseas the NSA will do the exact same thing only this time they won't be dealing with spying on Americans issues as they're targeting overseas companies.


> I don't understand the whole 'don't host in US'-thing. It doesn't make sense.

By hosting in the US (or with something that the US claims jurisdiction over) you leave yourself open to other US agencies getting access, sometimes with valid legal documentation, or by just seizing the servers.

There's nothing you can do to stop the NSA having access, so you may as well assume that they've got it anyway. If you're worries about a targeted attack from NSA you're toast anyway, and if you're worries about them slurping the data - well, they're going to do it, so you can try to use encryption and hope everyone communicating with you is also encrypting. Obviously, this leaves you with metadata, which the NSA is also slurping.

But I agree that people saying "don't host in the US" seem to have it backwards quite often.


Not hosting in the US removes an attack vector, and a particularly nasty one. If I have to choose between being spied on passively, or having armed thugs with guns come in, ransack my house, and steal my equipment with the hosting provider's blessing.. well, you can see where I'm going with this.


It's not for protection from root kits and submarines hacking into fiber, it's for the National Security letters that require companies to spy on their customers and prohibit admitting it.


I don't think you understand how feudalism works. If you are based in the US, you have to tolerate NSA spying. But it's very likely that the NSA and FBI will be able to effectively root out foreign spies from the DGSE, PLA, etc, so that ONLY the NSA can spy on you.

If you are based in, say, Russia, you have the FSS spying on you instead of the NSA, but the NSA is still spying on you, perhaps even harder, and you have less protection from them and third parties.


Since when did a "challenge" justify or excuse immoral or illegal behavior?


I agree with mikeyouse's post here.


1 Reason: http://willyloman.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/boston-9.jpg (NSFW) Sometimes you need try and understand both points of view.


This is a terrible reason. These men were the definition of the type of thing a system like this should catch. intelligence agencies had been warned about one of them multiple times and they were both using the internet to self radicalize.

The fact that the Boston bombings still happened should be proof enough that these systems either A) Do not work or B) are not being used against this type of threat.

If it isn't in defense of incidents of domestic terror, what the fuck is it for?


>If it isn't in defense of incidents of domestic terror, what the fuck is it for?

Terrorism is a small subset of what the intelligence community supports. The majority of intelligence collection is used for strategic military planning and political decision making. See:

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


Or... the system catches things like this all the time, this is just one that slipped through, and if the system wasn't in place, there would be many, many more incidents of this type.

Maybe. (This is normally "bear-repellent amulet" type thinking, but I think there's a specific exemption in this case, in that there are good reasons why you'd see no evidence of the system's effectiveness: the government doesn't like to get the public riled up by terrorist threats--terrorism is entirely about riling-up, after all--and so, when the terrorism is caught ahead of time, you'd imagine they'd sweep it under the rug. I might be wrong, though; this still might be a bad justification!)


> the government doesn't like to get the public riled up by terrorist threats

I'm quite sure that's exactly what the government likes to do. That's the very reason that "terrorism" is in the headlines as much as it is: it serves the government by allowing them to extend their powers and budgets enormously. Feed scary stories about "terrorism" to an uncritical public and they'll beg you to take away their "freedom" in exchange for greater "security".


The government is not the media. Terrorism headlines are sensational and grab attention, thus advertising dollars. Don't confuse the two.


So if the system catches things like this all the time, how come they only stopped 54 (no wait, that's the old figure, the new figure is 1 or 2) terror plots?


*Perhaps 1 or 2. Perhaps not.


Except, they can't point to any plots that have actually been thwarted. First it was 52 plots thwarted, then 2, then none.


> there are good reasons why you'd see no evidence of the system's effectiveness: the government doesn't like to get the public riled up by terrorist threats

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lDZjiPok3w

Yes, it's a pointed example ("TERRIFIC ACTS OF ATROCITY!!!!1111"), but if you're going to tell me that "terrorism is entirely about riling-up", and therefore politics and powermongering aren't, I think pretty much all of known, including recent, history utterly destroys that argument.


There's no exemption. That's just 100% "bear-repellent amulet".


> if the system wasn't in place, there would be many, many more incidents of this type

Because it was happening all the time before


Extensive surveillance didn't do a thing to save that man, and future surveillance won't bring his legs back.

More people have suffered in Gitmo than were injured in the Boston attack, and more people died from drone strikes than when the towers fell.


Did you see the guys youtube videos? Russia contacted the U.S. about one of the brothers, also the FBI did track that he was going to Russia and also interviewd him. They failed in not being able to act on the intelligence they had. The question is what are you willing to give up to go to that LA Laker game without worrying about terrorism or whether your parents will get home safely from the game. I am not trying to stand up for the NSA but i thing we need to come together understand what we want, what we willing to give up and always look at both sides of the situation.

I always think about the movie "Carlitos Way" with Andy Garcia, where he plays a ruthless gangster but he develops a conscience. One day this kid crosses him but instead of killing the kid, he gives him a break, then at the end as he is giving this life up and going straight, running to catch his train, this kid pops up and kills him. The U.S. has been this ruthless gangster through the cold war, securing energy supplies, etc, now Obama comes in and thinks he is going to give the U.S. a conscience but unfortunately some guy lost his mother, wife and daughter during Iraq or in another instance and he doesn't care that you have a conscience now. The bottom line is that the U.S. has to watch it's back for a long time because they made a lot of enemies on the road to become the "mob boss", super power of the world.


I'm not willing to give up a single thing, because I don't worry about the evil terrorists. I also don't worry about the homeless people who walk by my home every night, or an asteroid somewhere out in space that could one day smash me where I stand, or the car that might jump the curb and hit me one day.

The nobility of man is partially predicated on our ability to carry on and build and dream without giving into fear, rational or otherwise.

The only way out of this mess is to accept that sometimes losses will exist and to be able to overcome them when they happen--even if you've built in N layers of security some day somebody somewhere will cut through N+1 of them, and to pretend otherwise is folly.

It's time for us to grow some fucking backbone.


It's not necessary to give up anything to go to that Laker game without worrying about terrorism. Just like it wasn't 20 years ago, when the threat was as great as it is today.

The only thing that has changed, is the bureaucracy acquired a massive amount of new money and power after 9/11 and they're unwilling to give any of it up. This despite the fact that the threat isn't even remotely as great as they've claimed for the past decade. The security theater production - eg most of what the TSA does at airports, in which they just pretend to work security - is meant to keep Americans living in constant fear.

The US Government's fear business has been booming, worth a couple hundred billion a year these days.


"Just like it wasn't 20 years ago, when the threat was as great as it is today." Do you have a link to the source of this data?


That also happened in "American History X", more or less. I'm not sure if basing foreign policy on Hollywood movies is the best idea.


You believe that Obama, when he started his first term, intended to "give the U.S. a conscience"? That's exactly what I believed when I voted for him first term, but by the second term, I had realized he was just another ambitious pol with easy morals, eager to represent himself as whatever was needed to win the election. So I did not vote for him (or anyone else) last election.

It is possible that he wasn't lying about certain other issues, and concede that he has long been reasonably concerned with poverty in the U.S., but it's clear that the whole "civil liberties crusader" persona he adopted as a senator was nothing more than a facade -- this despite the fact the he taught constitutional law!. It's become apparent (to me, at least) that to Obama, liberty comes in a very distant third after security and prosperity. That's a legitimate position to hold, but the lies he told about this issue to get elected make him just another lying pol.

I do admit the possibility, namely that Obama did hold these civil libertarian beliefs prior to being elected, but gave them up as a practical measure once he learned of the threats we are confronted with. To me, that approach is even more contemptible (you know the Franklin quote "those who would give up liberty..."), so I prefer to give Obama the benefit of the doubt and assume he was simply misleading us with quotes like these:

“This (Bush) administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short-cuts to protecting America.” --Barack Obama (Aug. 1, 2007)


>So I did not vote for him (or anyone else) last election.

You couldn't be bothered to vote for a third party?


"with Andy Garcia" - was Al Pacino but either way that's an interesting comparison. Hadn't thought about it that way before.


That is an emotional argument, not a rational one. Unfortunately, many people find those sort of arguments to be incredibly persuading.


If they were really interested in catching people doing that they had several opportunities

Now you're telling me that will all these apparatus they missed Beavis & Butthead there? (yes, that's what they were) And they had several warnings that went ignored and didn't depend on surveillance.

Looks like extreme incompetency or that they weren't looking for that in the first place.


NSFW on that link


I live in DC, and work intel-community adjacent in the infosec industry. I'll stipulate up front that I've never worked as a government employee, and despite doing some assessment work (like being hired to break into the Department of the Interior without their knowledge, or breaking hardware/software that was being deployed in far away places) everywhere I've worked has tried very hard to steer clear of government work (not for any ethical reasons, it just pays much worse than equivalent commercial work, and is almost always boring). In fact, the last two places I worked had distinct government and commercial divisions (where I ran the commercial divisions).

That said, I've built and run several security consulting practices in the DC area, and consequently have done hiring interviews for dozens of people who were NSA employees (1 of which we ended up hiring). Absolutely none of them have even the slightest apprehension about the nature of the work they were doing (so much as they were able to comment about it during interviews).

In fact, prior to the Snowden leaks, the NSA was pretty much at the bottom of my list for government agencies doing shit I disliked. They have a pretty clear scope and charter (which we've come to learn has been muddied).

But no one I've talked to, either who works there or works at a contractor in the DIB, thinks they've done anything wrong. Did you read those batshit NSA talking points that came out yesterday from Al Jazeera's FOIA request? They believe those things.

They think they're doing important, valuable work to protect the country. I can only imagine that internally within NSA there has been dissent about some of the stuff that's come out. Maybe people have resigned over it, maybe they've sent strongly-worded emails to their bosses. I really hope there was a great deal of dissent about the "intentionally fuck up crypto standards that we push to other branches of the government", but I doubt we'll ever hear much about it.

Your questions could just as easily refer to people who work on SEO spam, or targeted advertisements (I'm not saying those things are equivalent, but they're also jobs I've heard people on here posturing morally about).


What I'm about to say may be too unpopular on HackerNews.

Have you considered the possibility that not everyone shares the same moral standard and ideology? People came from different backgrounds and have different experiences, and most things are not black and white, but different shades of gray in this world.

I'm sure there are people who consider the Fourth Amendment to be obsolete just like there are people who consider the same for the Second Amendment.

I'm not saying I agree with it, but for people who believe they are actually serving their country, and in this era's unique geopolitical landscape, all means are justified, they WOULD be proud of their work for the NSA.

You came across as condescending due to the fact that you put yourself on a moral high ground from the phasing of the question.


Well, let's just admit the moral highground here, and take a stand:

These people are Wrong. We are Right, because we stand for personal privacy and liberty--ideals incompatible with their ideals.

There's the line in the sand.


No there isn't a line in the sand. It's a gray issue. Ideologies and society values change throughout the history, and there is not right or wrong answer in many of those cases.

Like a poster above mentioned, what IF thousands of lives are saved by sacrificing the privacy of a few million people? Is that worth it? If you say no, then what if I ask you the lives could be that of your loved ones?

Just want to stress from a different perspective, my family grew up poor in a 3rd world country, and they laugh at American's obsession with human rights and they just say "that's what people do if they never needed to worry about putting food on their table".

It's all a matter of perspective actually, and you will NEVER have a productive conversation without being able to understand what the other side is coming from.


The other side is coming from fear.

"Just want to stress from a different perspective, my family grew up poor in a 3rd world country, and they laugh at American's obsession with human rights and they just say "that's what people do if they never needed to worry about putting food on their table"."

And you know why it's a 3rd world country? Because they lived how they had to and not how they ought to. Progress is not made by simply putting food on one's table.

EDIT:

Look, moral relativism has its place and all, but it lacks explanatory power. Waffling because there's no objective factual right way of doing things keeps you from doing anything meaningful--it's the cowards' way out.


Your arrogance is astonishing. First of all, that 3rd world country moved a billion people out of absolute poverty without a "human rights revolution", sure there are still plenty of problems around, but progresses are absolutely made simply by making sure people are well fed. I'm not saying human rights/privacy isn't important, but sometimes different things have different priorities. Moral relativism does not imply inaction, it just implies that different people think differently on what is "meaningful". Despite your hubris you can't tell me your priority is more "correct" than mine, and I simply choose to focus on other actions that's meaningful to me.

If you want to resort to name calling then so be it, I've met my share of condescending people who always put themselves on a moral pedestal.


Says the guy living in a $2k a month studio in San Francisco whilst working from his $3k MacBook Pro at Starbucks?

So your answer to everyone living in fear, in let's say Juarez, Mexico is that they need to be out in the streets protesting against the psychotic drug cartels, because that's how they "ought to" live, since you know third world country and all?


I live in an old busted rented house in an old busted neighborhood in an old busted giant city, thank you very much, and type on an old busted workstation salvaged from a university. But hey, don't let facts get in the way of your narrative.

And yeah, maybe that's what needs to happen. Tyrants have never been disposed of by hiding indoors and hoping they'll go away.


Certainly they should be taking the most effective action they can to take down the drug cartels!


Also, if they are Americans then they are benefitting from the history of the United States whose founding fathers shared our ideals. Certainly there's an argument to be made that without those ideas and conviction we would have ended up much more like Brazil. And being a Brazilian-American, let me be the first to say that the average American could not imagine a life as the average Brazilian and the type of systematic oppression that they have come to expect over generations.


No condescension intended, I am honestly just more curious -- I'd love to read some honest, uncensored interviews from people working on these things, mostly to just get their side of things.

I totally agree that people have varying beliefs on this stuff and for some this might be just as noble as any other way of serving their country.


> I'd love to read some honest, uncensored interviews from people working on these things, mostly to just get their side of things.

Because losing their job and being charged with a felony for breaking a TS clearance is totally worth doing that for you. The NSA isn't a startup in stealthmode. I can guarantee you that some HNers know NSAers, and no doubt many HNers are NSAers, but there are very strong reasons why they're not participating in this dialogue.


We already have mountains of evidence that government secrecy is 99.999% trivial and petty. It's there to protect against embarassment, not terrorism.

Read the Wikileaks documents. Triviality. Small-thinking. Nonstrategic low-value goals being pursued. The diplomatic equivalent of spam. Read it, and you will be convinced there is no bear in the woods, no boogie man under your bed that the NSA can't tell you about.

And that last 0.0001%? We can afford that price for freedom. Total transparency won't hurt America at all.


Trust us we have really good reasons and arguments but we just can't tell you. lol


Also, we will lie about what we are actually doing. I can understand taking some drastic measures to prevent epic disaster, however, I see no good reason to cover up what is actually going on; threats and countermeasures. By lying, they are forcing us to assume the worst.


And if you assume the worst, they don't (and shouldn't) care. This isn't a popularity contest for them, and the NSA operates as if there is a legitimate national security purpose to what they're doing.

I don't like the fact that they're doing it, but presuming that they should operate in total transparency just so that the silicon valley "proper thinkers" won't assume the worst is fairly naive, IMO. They believe they're fighting a critical intelligence war, and secrecy is an integral and necessary part of that battle.

I wouldn't work there, but I respect the people who do, both for their technical ability and for their patriotism. (I may not agree, but I can respect.) In particular, they're making significant individual sacrifices in order to do the work they do. It's not the same sacrifice as doing IED patrol in Afghanistan, but anyone doing high level crypto for NSA could likely make more money and have a cushier life in the private sector.


In particular, they're making significant individual sacrifices in order to do the work they do. It's not the same sacrifice as doing IED patrol in Afghanistan, but anyone doing high level crypto for NSA could likely make more money and have a cushier life in the private sector.

Where does the funding come from? From the tax payers. Who gets spied on? Everyone and their dog. So yeah, they're making a sacrifice, but even bigger sacrifices are forced on just about everyone else.


>I don't like the fact that they're doing it, but presuming that they should operate in total transparency just so that the silicon valley "proper thinkers" won't assume the worst is fairly naive, IMO. They believe they're fighting a critical intelligence war, and secrecy is an integral and necessary part of that battle.

This would be a much more sensible argument if they weren't going around outright coercing Silicon Valley's tech companies into becoming their tools.

If the NSA wants to spy on everyone, they should do it the hard way!


> I'd love to read some honest, uncensored interviews from people working on these things,

That's very unlikely to happen, because it's all classified and secret or top secret or whatever.

There are a few interviews around.

Here's an ex-director (He stopped being director in 1978) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b039vhp0 - this is the first time he speaks about his time at GCHQ

Here's a radio documentary from 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p007fqc4

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rmssw


Just be aware that Gordon Correra's programmes about GCHQ ( and prior to that MI5 and MI6 ) are made with the co-operation of those agencies.

I have written to the BBC and asked what conditions the agencies laid-down but I did not receive a reply.


Read this guy's tweets: https://twitter.com/justinschuh

I'm certainly not a fan of his ideology, but he gives an insight from someone who came from the NSA and is supportive of the executive branch's behavior.


Is this a Google security engineer publicly stating that he sees nothing wrong with the NSA accessing all of Google's traffic? I can't believe that he'll stay employed by Google for long. At least, I hope he won't be.


Holy crap. He's exactly the type the government could recruit inside a company like Google.


I'm not surprised that I'm getting smeared by a sock puppet on HN, but I'll try to use it as a chance to clarify myself in more than 140 characters:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/+JustinSchuh/posts/SiSd4T9fgXH


I don't work for the NSA, obviously, but I agree on the point of the fourth amendment's obsolescence. A world where information is universally available and infinitely reproducible with minimal cost is necessarily a world without privacy. We need to get used to it as a society. People who grew up under the old system will be resistant to change like on every other social issue in history, and will die out to make room for the new generation.

My only objection to the NSA stuff is not the collection of information, but the asymmetry. Snooping on all my emails isn't wrong because email should be private, it's wrong because you have power over me by knowing my email without me knowing yours. Fortunately, things like facebook and twitter acclimatizing people to publishing everything about their lives which will eventually eliminate this asymmetry.


I would argue that this point is irrelevant. The leaked materials have shown complete disregard for the spirit of the law and the spirit of not being an asshole (see smiley-SSL-breaking-trollface): questioning the motives of those involved is not just acceptable but necessary.


>Have you considered the possibility that not everyone shares the same moral standard and ideology? People came from different backgrounds and have different experiences, and most things are not black and white, but different shades of gray in this world.

So what? By my standards, they're doing the wrong thing, and my standards are what count to me.


My moral compass suggests (s)he has the high ground. If there's varying mileage, it seems like (s)he's simply asking for an explanation - a point-of-view paper. And obviously no such thing exists. Not one that can be taken seriously.


I once met a young man who just graduated from college and started working for the NSA. During a Microsoft Kernel Drivers conference I grabbed a few minutes at my hotel gym and we struck up a conversation; or should I say he forced a conversation out of me. I generally mind my own business when working out.

It honestly didn't seem too far off the "Good Will Hunting" recruiting scene. From the start of the conversation all he wanted to talk about was what he did, but at the same time was incredibly vague. When I asked him for a little clarifying information just to keep my coherence of the conversation, he couldn't contain the gloating huge smile on his face. He responded, "I'm not allowed to say. It's classified." At that moment I understood why he had abruptly started a conversation with me. It was as if the whole conversation up until that point had been a setup for him to tell me how cool he was. Of course, I didn't see it that way, but the reality distortion field that he lived in left him with no question that he had the coolest job ever. There didn't appear to be any awareness in his reality that perhaps I intentionally didn't apply to the NSA, nor would I accept an offer from the NSA if one was given.

People like this exist. I know living in a progressive city it seems hard to believe, but not everywhere is like that, and there are people who have positive feelings, even today, towards the US war machine. People who believe we aren't at a juncture where we should take a step back and reflect on what we are doing in the world.

One other hypothesis I have on NSA workers is that working for the NSA is working for the most powerful government in the world. Some people crave power more than even wealth, and some of those people see the US government as the ultimate power on earth. I can't necessarily argue with that logic. That may also be a motive to work for the NSA.


> I didn't see it that way, but the reality distortion field that he lived in left him with no question that he had the coolest job ever. There didn't appear to be any awareness in his reality that perhaps I intentionally didn't apply to the NSA, nor would I accept an offer from the NSA if one was given.

I have seen some g-men and they perfectly fit this. The g-men that tried to recruit me also went for the same route, trying to sell the mission as something super mysteriously cool only a few select even know about. Thats the lure. Like a cult.


I am a long-time HNer who created a throwaway account to answer your question.

I have firsthand knowledge of engineers who work at the NSA, although I have no affiliation with any government agency.

What I can tell you is that these engineers believe that the NSA does not intentionally spy on Americans. This is something that the NSA constantly tells itself. They have various controls and procedures to minimize the data of US persons. They go to meetings about how not to spy on US persons.

I am not saying that these controls are effective. I am just saying that they exist, and they are very visible to NSA personnel. This creates the impression that the NSA takes the matter seriously.

As for non-US persons--they tend to view the US in some kind of infowar with various other countries. What you do in wars is things that aren't very nice. Since they are all adversaries, they act adversarially. So it is A-OK to spy on Germany or whatever, since everybody spies on everybody. The US is just better at it than most.

As for being "just a paycheck"--I think some of them feel very patriotic about it. In their mind, they are assisting their country in a warzone. They are under the impression that their actions save lives.

I gather that the whole thing is very compartmentalized and there are many who found out about PRISM and all these other programs at the same time as the rest of us. However there is a tendency to give your coworkers the benefit of the doubt when potentially harmful allegations come to light.


What I can tell you is that these engineers believe that the NSA does not intentionally spy on Americans. This is something that the NSA constantly tells itself. They have various controls and procedures to minimize the data of US persons. They go to meetings about how not to spy on US persons.

Do any of the Snowden revelations contradict these beliefs? Having the capability to spy on millions of Americans' Gmail accounts is not the same as unchecked use of that capability. It's interesting that in all the leaks, we haven't (to my knowledge) been given a single example of true abuse of access to intercepts that wasn't caught and punished. Were they just really careful with that information while careless with everything else Snowden made off with?


> Do any of the Snowden revelations contradict these beliefs?

No, they actually confirm them, or have up until this time. For example, take a look at this screenshot, part of the XKeyscore leaks:

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-9AyutDLLujY/UfnKBu83TfI/AAAAAAAAAe...

Now to you or me, this is a combo box that anyone could fill out falsely to pull data for Americans, possibly without being caught. To an NSA employee, this is an important safeguard of American privacy that ensures anyone using this system is either doing it for a legitimate intelligence purpose, or, committing perjury and/or treason. Exact same set of facts, just a more favorable interpretation.

Second example. According to Snowden's leak, XKeyScore led to the successful capture of 300 terrorists [1]. So that leak would confirm the prior belief that we are in an infowar and these programs contribute to American defense.

It will be interesting to follow this new leak, as it seems quite clear to me that the NSA is deliberately and specifically spying on American companies even if they are retaining data only on non-American persons. But I expect this fact to be overlooked by NSA employees because they will only run queries about foreign persons.

Finally, I have very much gotten a "take it up with the legislative/judicial branches" vibe from the NSA. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled [2] that a foreign alien outside the U.S. has no fourth amendment protection against search and seizure. Further, SCOTUS has ruled "That searches made at the border [e.g. of US persons], pursuant to the longstanding right of the sovereign to protect itself by stopping and examining persons and property crossing into this country, are reasonable simply by virtue of the fact that they occur at the border, should, by now, require no extended demonstration." In other words, the US government has the legal right to search anything at the border, full-stop. The fact that the NSA has procedures that minimize searching the network traffic of US persons goes well above and beyond the constitutional requirement, which allows anyone's data data to be searched as it leaves the US, US person or not. So, if you don't like the law, take it up with SCOTUS, or start a constitution convention, or pass an act of congress, or something. But the NSA does not view themselves as the bad guy for doing much less than what the legislative and judicial branches have authorized them to do. It's like getting mad at a cop for making weed arrests; you don't go after the cop, you go after the state law, or the DEA, or federal drug law, or something. Border searches have been authorized by the very highest authorities in American government, the NSA is just the cop that executes the search according to the principles established by the higher authorities.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/31/nsa-top-secret-...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._Verdugo-Urquid...

[3] http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=6107136132398268...


Maybe the security community could have a discussion about whether it's time to start shaming people like TheGrugq.

The people who are working for the NSA are people in the security community. You can see it in the phrasing on some of the material that's been release (WIN! stood out to me w/r/t one of the previously released docs regarding some MITM scenario).

Obviously there are some very smart people in the community who are working as contractors for the government. Ostensibly this community has had a rich tradition of civil liberties, and the current generation is now selling them out for as much money as they can at the fastest rate possible.

Two years ago, we had people like Charlie Miller saying "No more free bugs."

Look where we are today and ask yourself if Charlie has ever had any ideals outside of looking out for number one.

I am turning sour on the security community.


"ask yourself if Charlie has ever had any ideals outside of looking out for number one."

Problem is, if he doesn't, who will? I think that one thing that might have changed in our generation, is that we have the distinct impression that nobody has our back. I'm not saying that politics are more messed up than they used to be, it's just more blatant. Nobody gives a fuck that people are dying in the streets, that we're invading countries to enrich defense contractors, and that we're bankrupting our own country just "because we won't be disrespected". So one guy decides that, fuck it, he has one life, and he'll have his fun. You may call this guy coward, selfish, anything. And maybe you're right. My guts agree with you. My head tells me he's on to something.


And my head tells me that if you think defecting on a Prisoner's Dilemma at the national scale is "smart", our civilization is dying.


I like the analogy with the prisoner's dilemma, although I think the situation is slightly different. It'd be like playing the game against someone who's repeatedly shown that he'll betray you whenever possible. The optimal strategy in that case is not cooperation.

As for the civilization is dying thing, I'm not prescient, so I can't give a clever answer. But even if it is so, that has no impact on what the optimal behavior is for someone purely selfish. Like good king Louis XV used to say, while bankrupting the kingdom of France: "After Me, the Flood".


screw it, i'll repost my comment here too. I know i'll get the down-vote brigade but meh:

Here's what bugs me about all the people chiming in about how messed up this all is. It's like you all think we live in some sort of utopia whereby we are the only ones doing this sort of surveillance.

Every single sophisticated foreign intelligence is doing this back at us, their citizens and their enemies - probably with more resources and state sponsorship. China, Russia, Israel, Iran, etc. Why wouldn't we continue to push the boundaries and try and have a leg up on this? Should we bury our heads in the sand and hope that China doesn't pwn our entire national electric grid? (google it)

Additionally, these actors are directly targeting and stealing intellectual property, reverse engineering and compromising state secrets in order to gain military & intelligence advantages directly from US based companies (see Boeing - google it).

State actors are embedding backdoor trojans into US destined products (example: look at the wikipedia page on Huawei)

Fundamental extremists do exist and want to destroy Americans at any cost (including their lives). Why wouldn't we surveil their cell phones, email and IM accounts?

Before every gets up in arms about this, consider the world in which we live first.


> Fundamental extremists do exist and want to destroy Americans at any cost (including their lives). Why wouldn't we surveil their cell phones, email and IM accounts?

They should. Ever heard of the practice of getting a warrant before surveilling someone's communications? (google it). At this point this seems to be a foreign concept to so many people because one side is suggesting no spying at all, while the other side is suggesting they're okay with the NSA spying on everyone. There's a middle ground, and it's called getting a warrant.


More specifically, getting a warrant from something other than an automatic warrant dispenser.


So external threats are real. Granted. How does turning on your own population, and people who are not a threat and wish you no ill worldwide, help here? Being a better baddie is not the only way to deal with baddies, the bit in Team America about assholes, dicks and pussies is stupid bullshit, and the fact that so many people are eating it up doesn't make it less bullshit. Simply consider that everything you just said, "they" tell their people, too, and use it to keep them in line and under control. This kind of thinking is aiding the very things it claims to fight. E.g. War profiteers and mullahs sending people on suicide missions are of the same class, not opposing poles.


3 serious questions:

How do you know the difference between a person who is a threat, and a person who is not a threat, before you look at that person a little to determine they are not a threat?

How much looking is needed to determine "Not a Threat" and put them in the ignore pile?

How long before you should look a little again to make sure they're still not a threat?


There is still a difference between checking someone out, and treating them essentially as second-class people. Or, say, torturing people then declaring said torture "classified becuz national security".

Also, how does this not doubly so go for certain agencies and politicians? The transparency mostly goes one way, doesn't it? How deeply does the public need to be able to inspect these agencies before they can be sure they're not a threat? How long before it needs to look again?


What is that difference? Please be as precise as you can. Because in the popular usage today, saying people (how many, and who?) are being treated as "second-class people" carries a very derogatory connotation. And if the difference is very small, it feels like an inappropriate statement to make.

Re: your second sentence, my mind asks: "How many people have been tortured?"

My gut tells me that the percent of people alive today who have been tortured by the US intelligence community is nil. I don't even know how to guess. A few hundred? Divided by 6 billion? 5 X 10^-6 percent of the world's population, maybe?

Is the outrage is equal to the hazard in the situation, or is the outrage is artificially high compared to that hazard?

I am not arguing torture is good or bad, I'm specifically saying it as a supporting argument feels like a distraction.

Politicians live in the public eye. This has been shown time and again, in the US and elsewhere, that especially in the Internet age they get all the oversight needed. Obviously the same is becoming true for agencies, given the prevalence of leaks and whistle-blowing.


Second-class? What about people in Gitmo, people without security clearances, people not in the NSA? Sorry, classified. On principle. Outsiders are not guilty until proven innocent, they are guilty, period. Insiders are innocent, period. That's how I see it when I max out the contrast. That China or other countries are that way is no excuse to do the same, it is even more reason to be not like that. The US is not the only country doing it, but it's the most powerful and it has the people in it that are used more than any to freedom. If the US falls too deep, the world would get real dark real quick, that's how I see it.

> "How many people have been tortured?"

How would I know? e.g.

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2012/1212/9-11-trial-An...

This blob of classified is, to those without clearance, just one, big, and in parts kind black, blob. It seems to like to snatch up things and return them 50 years later. Anything connected to that blob is by default important to me.

There also was something recently about something like this on HN, but I couldn't find the link since the exact title escaped me. IIRC the defense attorney mentioned the plaintiff had been waterboarded 118 times, and the judge called him to order, because torture is classified. The question is, are some things mistakes just mistakes made in good faith, or does this structure of power consider itself beyond accusation out of principle?

> I don't even know how to guess. A few hundred? Divided by 6 billion? 5 X 10^-6 percent of the world's population, maybe?

It would not be 0.00something of some imaginary unnamed unit, it would not be a pure number in a vacuum, it would hundreds of people, each of them indivisible. And the severity matters, too. Don't forget the drone strikes; being killed and then first responders getting hit with a second, delayed strike, is "just" one event, but for how much torture does it count? Why can't honest mistakes not be acknowledged, and maybe even explained? Why can't there be consequences for mistakes out of neglect or other reasons? Because everybody else has to go first? Then we're fucked, because everybody else says that, too.

I would love for US media and citizens to expose such shortcomings in my country and all, nothing could be more helpful and welcome. It's not about pointing fingers because others aren't as bad as the US, not to mention worse, or because anyone could claim to sit on a high horse, it's about everybody else being that bad or worse, and the US being so immensely powerful and influential. In my mind, the US should be the best bet against such things, not the country that does them the best.

And to me a deep, continuous concern is not "outrage", either. Declaring something "too much outrage" is not a valid argument for something, and a useless argument against something. It's really kind of a red herring.

How total has control to become before you start worrying about it falling into the wrong hands, into real deep shit at some point down the road? How would total control be safeguarded? Would even honestly striving for total control for the sake of "good" not be an argument for all other states to completey controlling their own territory, too? How would you try to ensure that you'd a.) always stay "two-tiered but good" and b.) never loose the race against the other fascist systems?

So, assuming the answer is "you really can't, you just have to hope and work hard and what not", how is the race itself not bad and crazy? Then why play with such kind of fires? Because it's like a social nuclear bomb and we can't even comprehend the scope before we detonated a few, a chain reaction with states that are just interacting with each other and all have more scapegoats than things to excuse? Why can't the information age not be the age of being well informed, instead of being well informed on?

> Politicians live in the public eye.

Are you serious? In their private lives maybe, but these power structures are decisively not (trying to be) in the public eye, and as far as individuals are in the public eye.. if almost all things they say are soundbites, and if the public stops adding all those little soundbites and actions together, and has hardly any long-term memory, then the systems the "visible" individuals work for and enforce on others still becomes effectively invisible and untouchable.

> This has been shown time and again, in the US and elsewhere, that especially in the Internet age they get all the oversight needed.

Please, take me to that planet, I just don't see it sorry :/ The internet tells me more and more about how much oversight is lacking, am I holding it the wrong way or something?

> Obviously the same is becoming true for agencies, given the prevalence of leaks and whistle-blowing.

Yeah, and given how those are being treated and mostly ignored, up until Snowden anyway. In reaction to which the NSA said they'd cut down on employed engineering a bit and use more machines, and effectively you're saying this is getting better, well enough fast enough, so nobody should worry about this particular thing - because there was this one guy with this one set of documents, and because you're sure there will be more?

The thing is, the worse stuff like this gets, the harder blowing the whistle on it will be. How much change did whistlebowers achieve so far? Any, at all? And do you think it made secret police in general more transparent, or more opaque?


> What about people in Gitmo, people without security clearances, people not in the NSA?

Do I understand then that the US government is, in this definition, treats everyone like second-class citizens? I'm not quite sure what the punishment has been.

> it would hundreds of people,

A few people are people, a million people are a statistic. Quite true.

> And to me a deep, continuous concern is not "outrage", either. Declaring something "too much outrage" is not a valid argument for something, and a useless argument against something. It's really kind of a red herring.

The hazard/outrage measurement is not a red herring, it's an established risk communication methodology, developed academically in the late 70s (published in the early 90s) to aid environmental activist groups, corporations and governments alike in eliciting effective, responsible actions from corporations or the public, respectively.

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

> Please, take me to that planet, I just don't see it sorry :/ The internet tells me more and more about how much oversight is lacking, am I holding it the wrong way or something?

Not knowing the scope of our ignorance is a reflection of less oversight, not more. If you know more and more the breadth of what we don't know, oversight is increasing.

> Are you serious?

I think so, yes. I see regularly reports far and wide of misconduct by politicians. I feel like they're regularly being taken to task in their communities. How TMZ would you like it to be for them before you feel they're watched sufficiently?

On the whistleblowers, I really know so little about the topic it'd be dishonest for me to try and add anything on the subject.


"Why wouldn't we surveil their cell phones, email and IM accounts?"

Because we're Americans, goddamnit, and that's not what we do.


You must live in a utopia where there are no evil-doers.


The great big threatening evil doers?

You're more likely to die by lightning strike than terrorism.

You mean the police right? They kill drastically more innocent civilians every year in America than terrorists do. And that has been true on average for decades.

You mean automobiles? Drunk driving?

Diabetes and heart disease from high fructose corn syrup and smoking?

Yeah, it's the evil doers that we should be giving up all of our liberties to fight. Because they're a big bad threat - somewhere between the number of people that drown by putting their heads in buckets of water, and the number of people that die every year from 60" televisions crushing them.


And then let's not forget the number of people dying of treatable diseases they can't pay to survive!


I don't need to live in a utopia to see that doing the right thing despite being afraid and aware of existential threats is something worth doing.


Would your opinion change if a nuclear bomb was detonated in Houston, TX?


Nope.

In fact, the thing that would bring the best rest to my soul would be the expectation of my fellow citizens to pick up the next day where they left off.

You win by showing your opponent that whatever they do it does not matter. That's true strength.

You know how many rigs, refineries, and lives we've lost building our energy sector? How many times Galveston has gotten back after getting wiped off the map by hurricanes?

We're strong, we're stubborn, and we rebuild and recover from any disaster without giving into fear. That's the legacy I want to leave.


Is that the sort of scenario that keeps you up late at night? That isn't normal. Normal people do not spend their time worrying that Texas is going to get nuked. You should probably talk with somebody about that.


No. If your morals change because you're scared, they aren't morals are they! Laws should stem from values, not your worst fears. We shouldn't trade freedom for security, and especially not phony security.


A nuclear bomb has not been detonated in Houston, TX. But nice straw man.


Or in a dystopia where sometimes evildoers are inside -gasp- the government itself.


Before every gets up in arms about this, consider the world in which we live first.

We live in a world where a foreign power invaded our soil, captured our capital and burnt it to the ground, and we did not suspend our Constitution to deal with the threat.

We live in a world where an internal faction, in rebellion, threatened to end our existence as a country, and we did not suspend our Constitution to deal with the threat*

We have increasingly abandoned that ideal in favor of "the Constitution is not a suicide pact", but we have faced existential threats before and survived them.

So I, personally, need a stronger argument than "there are threats out there".

* Lincoln did suspend habeas corpus, and legal scholars can argue over whether it was done in the proper form, but the Constitution does permit the suspension in times of rebellion.


> Lincoln did suspend habeas corpus, and legal scholars can argue over whether it was done in the proper form

There's not really much debate on the matter -- from the contemporary decision in Ex Parte Merryman and the numerous other district court and circuit court decisions finding against the suspension until it was abandoned up through a chain of decisions repeating its logic (the most notable recent example being Hamdi v. Rumsfeld), the pretty clear weight of decisions from the courts -- and there's not a whole lot of contrary scholarship -- has been that, to the extent that the writ can be suspended, it can't be suspended unilaterally by the executive branch.

> the Constitution does permit the suspension in times of rebellion.

Actually, the Constitution does not expressly permit the suspension of habeas corpus in any circumstances, it (in Art. I, Sec. 9, among limits on Congress' powers) prohibits the suspension of the writ of it with some exceptions to the prohibition.


Not one of those reasons, except the last, has anything to do with a vast majority of the revelations about what the NSA is doing that has people up in arms.

And the only legitimate argument about protecting against terrorism, people are starting to realize that the threat is miniscule and is amplified due to cognitive interpretations of data.


Every one of those reasons (and likely many more we don't know about) is why the NSA is doing what they do.


You did read that the NSA trains their people to shout "9/11!" when questioned about the need for what they do? Or did you not get the joke about the cow?


> Fundamental extremists do exist and want to destroy Americans at any cost (including their lives)

No, they don't want to destroy Americans, they want to destroy America through terror. Killing Americans is a means, not the ends.

And, on the other side, American patriots do exist and want to preserve the freedoms that define America at any cost (including their lives).


Four words: "Need to know basis".

It's entirely possible many of the component parts needed for this were developed as "black box" (i.e., they were told not to ask questions as to why this was being developed, and the developers just assumed it would be used on a foreign network.) This is done commonly for graduate students working on weapons research in government labs who do not have the appropriate clearance, for instance. They need to know an explosive force is acting a certain way to model their calculations, but never is the student told exactly who or why that explosive force might ever occur. In fact, they may be told it's a completely theoretical exercise.

A surprisingly small number of people are actually needed to "deploy" something like this in the wild, if you're willing to pay for enough testing to ensure your black boxes work exactly as promised...


If you tell a graduate engineer about the great mathematical problems there are to solve and that solving them will protect the American people, it's quite easy to get a strong workforce behind you.

And if they were just engineering small parts it was probably hard to see the whole picture, even more so to judge if it's right or wrong.

However, this big PR outrage will probably have them come to their senses and crumble down the NSA workforce. Checks and balances.


Yeah I suppose I buy into the micro/macro argument -- "Oh, I'm just working on this awesome data crawling problem that our country will use to stop bad people from entering the country" x 1000s of employees, and then you get a few dedicated folks at the top who put it all together, it gets pretty easy to see how that could result in the types of programs we're seeing


Yup


However, this big PR outrage will probably have them come to their senses and crumble down the NSA workforce. Checks and balances.

This seems extremely optimistic to me. If you're assuming these people joined up because of good marketing by the government, how can you possibly argue that a "big PR outrage" will be an easy and immediate knock on the head resulting in "oh hey, this is terrible?"

I don't doubt that some of the people in these positions were lured in with the promise of helping America or Americans. But at this point they live in the machine. They are its cogs and wheels. That's a very different situation from those of us on the outside looking in, thinking how black and white it all is.

The government and parts of the media are still managing to convince many people -- people who don't work for the government at all -- that this is actually not a bad thing. The idea that they're not concentrating time and resources to keeping the faithful in the fold is unfathomable to me.

Some might see this and bail. But I think many more are somewhere along the spectrum from convinced to brainwashed.


Crumble the workforce? HAH

Here's the bitch of the situation, and the part that most who think like you do not understand -- the people that you're hoping will "come to their senses", if they take the oaths they signed seriously (and they signed oaths, the breaking of which are punishible by imprisonment) -- are not allowed to possess (ie, read, since that would involve having a copy of the document on the device being used to read it, even if only temporarily) the documents driving "this big PR outrage", because even though those documents are out in public, they are not automatically declassified.


Considering that neither the STASI, nor the KGB had any difficulties in recruitment, hoping for bad PR about their employer to change the mind of the choir is... Naive at best.


I'm sure both had plenty of difficulties. There must have been lots of really good people who'd never have considered working for either of them.


All sorts of bad employers manage to hire capable talent in this industry. I don't think the NSA is any exception. And if they treat their people well, that already puts them in the upper 50% of desirable workplaces.


Not before we lose a big chunk of the high tech industry and start to ask why. It takes a $100Billion pin to prick the bubble they live in, if not more.


Most are members of the overwhelming majority of software developers who do not participate in online forums like HN, which is a reason they may seem alien to you.


You are claiming some "silent majority" is with you. And you are doing it in a forum that contains a lot of thought leaders. Color me unconvinced.

This is utterly the same as the people who claimed reddit was irrelevant until reddit readership got to be some huge percentage (70M, about the same as Pinterest) of the population.


That is an impressive amount of wrong to pack into a single 9-word sentence.


Huge percentage? Really?


6% of USA adults are redditors. That's larger than some ethnic minorities.


If 6% is a huge percentage, I literally do not have the words to describe what kind of percentage 94% must be.


I'll probably get buried here but that's okay. The graduate school and university I go to churns out employees to three letter agencies probably at the highest rate that I know of.

I also have grad classes with many current employees amd contractors. They are regular nerds. They like building things. They like breaking things. Most of all, they are really smart and talented and pretty straight edge. Usually from a small town.... I have nothing bad to say about any of them. Honestly great people.

They a lot of times end up in the government because of really huge scholarships they give you like hot cakes where I'm at. 20k a year stipend plus free school room board books conferences. After that they are required to work for a few years in the government.


I think it's similar to people in the military who are given a gun and told to shoot someone they've never met. There are many people who believe what they're doing is for the good of their country and trust the people giving the orders.


I understand how you feel about this. I feel the same way. I wish the Software Engineering Code of Ethics[1] is taught in engineering schools and instilled into the minds of youth so that they can exercise their judgement in the future. Of course, I understand teaching something in school doesn't instill anything, but at least it will expose a few students to the points it makes. Take these points from it for instance --

1.03. Approve software only if they have a well-founded belief that it is safe, meets specifications, passes appropriate tests, and does not diminish quality of life, diminish privacy or harm the environment. The ultimate effect of the work should be to the public good.

2.09. Promote no interest adverse to their employer or client, unless a higher ethical concern is being compromised; in that case, inform the employer or another appropriate authority of the ethical concern.

5.12. Not punish anyone for expressing ethical concerns about a project.

If you've not read the SE Code of Ethics, I urge you to take a few minutes to glance over a few of the points.

[1] http://www.acm.org/about/se-code


I study CS at the University of Maryland at College Park, a school that has a strong research presence in security and is conveniently located for many of the private and govt defense firms. 2 Months ago I posed the following question on the University's subreddit:

"With recent revelations about the roles played by Palantir, SAIC, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the NSA, in alarmingly unconstitutional acts, what are people's feelings about these entities recruiting so heavily from our CS program?"

http://www.reddit.com/r/UMD/comments/1jrm56/cs_open_housecar...

I think the replies are a good representation of what I hear in person from many of my peers, and I don't think the NSA et al. are hurting to find recruits.


A blog post which writes about someone who interviewed with the NSA: http://mathbabe.org/2012/08/25/nsa-mathematicians/

Choice quote: ‘Out of the 6 or 7 people I met, everyone but one person responded along the lines, “I believe everything the United States Government does is good.”’


William Binney is one example of a mathematician working at the NSA (building Stellar Wind) who has spoken at length about this:

http://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000001733041/the-pro...

http://www.democracynow.org/2012/4/20/exclusive_national_sec...

Apparently he was happy producing these tools for use on foreigners, but then they were turned against the domestic population and he had a change of heart. The first interview is an interesting overview from him of how the surveillance works - pulling together all the threads of someone's life from the internet and compiling them into one record giving an overview of their entire life.

I imagine people doing this are both proud and feel they are doing some good, because they've bought into the lie that this is primarily used to combat terrorism or other terrible crimes.


I wouldn't underestimate the power of "just a paycheck". It does warp your world view when your livelihood depends on it, and you may not even realize by how much. Also, you are surrounded by others who believe what they are doing is right (whether a priory or similarly warped).

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" - Upton Sinclair


People will do almost anything for money, just right people and enough money


When I was in college, the spy agencies were around recruiting. I said no!


That's exactly what you would expect to hear from someone who had said yes :-D


The reality is that these systems were made possible by scale-out hardware architectures and open-source software solutions. It's plug-n-play and developers don't have to know where content is coming from.

Those parsers googlers wrote for the "white" FISA-based datasets probably also work on the "black" datasets from cable-taps.

Contributed to open-source? Your software is probably running at Ft. Meade too. Are you proud of that?


So, are you upset that they are so smart that they are gaming the system? Or are you upset that they are gaming the system?

I am not sure if they are proud themselves-- but some people see their work and probably grin.

Also, a caveat on making judgement about information being released piece-meal: You can pick a sentence out of an essay to make the author look to be at fault.


If the govt. will spend $600M+ on the steaming pile of dog poo that is healthcare.gov, I am sure they are successful in finding able-bodied hackers worth their salt that can build data mining infrastructure and router firmware hacks that lead to this mess we are in.


> Are they aware of what they're doing or is it all classified and contracted out?

Much (most?) of it is compartmented. One engineer is only working on a small piece of the whole system and almost never is aware of the scope of the entire project.


Patriotism has many definitions. Some people are more than happy to serve the US as it currently stands. Why is that so hard to understand for you? Not everyone shares the usual Hacker News anti-government stance.


Knowing these people... they're not dumb, they know. But it pays the bills and then some. Ethically, I will have nothing to do with them, and leave it at that, otherwise profanities will fly.


Even though I am very vocal about my opposition to NSA spying a fat paycheck can always make me change my mind.


They hire Mormons who are all about God and Country and don't ask questions. No Im not trolling.


This is going to be mostly speculation. There are a couple of members of my family who work in government. I've had long conversations with them in which my goal was to understand their distinctive point of view. A few things stand out to me. They speak as proud members of a larger ethos that very obviously has a separate existence. They see themselves first as part of this big something. As a loner, mercenary programmer, I can barely comprehend that kind of belonging to something. And it isn't at all that they can't think for themselves. These people are brilliant, highly educated, and can debate their views intelligently for hours. But still, they are part of this enormous establishment that has an identity, a way of thinking, a way of living, a way of being, and specific things it cares about. It's more like this: imagine that you had a really good, strong, close family. They make up a large part of your life. Together, you form a culture, with traditions, favorite things and places. You agree about most things. That's how it seems with these people in my family, except that 'family' is huge, and it's the government.


The NSA has reveled in the joy of invading our privacy, has undermined our ability to hold a secret (by intentionally weakening/undermining cryptography), paid its employees outrageous salaries, and is a caricature of George Orwell's "Big Brother"[1] - surpassing even the Stasi of Soviet Russia in its pervasiveness. The Patriot Act (among others) needs to be repealed. Period.

But that will never happen, because bureaucracy doesn't shrink. Period.

This explains my libertarian-leanings --> laws aren't written by the people, they are written by those who stand to benefit most directly from their passing. And the devil of a bill is always in its details, which laymen (sometimes even the congressman presenting the bill) can't understand/decipher. Read the Pulitzer-prize winning biography "The Powerbroker" if you want a lesson in how to abuse the public's ignorance through the cunning drafting of legislation. There is no CTRL-Z in DC.

There are movements, gaining traction, to introduce state-sponsored "internets" - because this is the path we have prescribed to the world. Yet such a profound outcome was not mindfully chosen by the people, it was incidental to the law.

We therefore have forfeited the greatest invention of our time through our collective lack of understanding and/or vulnerable&reactionary mindsets.

I'll be spending the rest of my life ruminating on this simple fact: the internet is sick, and my government is the disease.

[1] - And now that caricature-metaphor has a literal face, drawn by one of NSA's own--if you ever wanted to know what Big Brother "looked like."


Minor nitpick: Stasi was East Germany, not the Soviet Union.


I find it most ironic that when the Internet was owned by the public (government) it was decentralized and more free. When it was given to private business in the mid 90s it became what it is today.

You may want to consider the economics of why the Internet has turned out the way it is. Why do these companies feel they need to collect so much personal information that it can be abused?

I think the answer is clear. There is no money to be made from a decentralized and free Internet by Silicon Valley...


A libertarian anarchy will simply lead to another hierarchy being set into place. You can't have a society where there is no ruling class. It's unnatural.


This is a completely ridiculous statement. The lack of something doesn't imply it can't or won't exist, it just doesn't exist yet. The idea of liberty is relatively new and we're still learning.

Up until recently you could have made all sorts of arguments about the rights of women or minorities and how another form of segregation will settle into place -- because it's "natural"


People have tried building such societies many times: all have failed. The problem is that you've got ambitious humans and less ambitious ones. So how is it ridiculous to claim that a leader caste automatically appears in every situation? It doesn't have anything to do with gender or race. It's the simple fact that we are not born equal and have different abilities.


If you throw a bunch of mammals in a shared space, then generally a hierarchy and a 'ruling class' emerges. That is testable (and tested), and it is natural, literally, part of our nature. Now, wether it's unavoidable is a a different question, and wether its morally good is a yet different one; but it certainly is the natural order of things.


Orly, seriously? Find me the study that proves that for a group that is larger than a few million! Please just prove this point. It is sooo naive to just assume, "hey I saw 5 chick sand a hen, the hen ruled them, I think hundreds of millions of americans must be ruled by one hen too". Clever, clever... I am writing a scientific paper and just believe me (as you seem to believe easily, without proof) that Hierarchy is natural in small groups only, remember small groups. Absolutely NOT scalable!

I am sorry for my tone, sir. I didn't want to educate you or spray my opinion in your face. But please understand me, it drives me mad when people still believe that it's natural that the World, the Country, or the Cities must be ruled by one leader. To me it's as if somebody is truly believing that the earth is flat and want's to convince everybody else about that.


That statement said nothing about one person, but a ruling class. Look at every primate species. They all have a hierarchy of some fashion. Do you honestly believe that our ability to be really successful at breeding and exploiting the resources around us really make us exempt from natural selection?

Small group, large group, we're all monkeys.


Social hierarchies in apes and monkeys run a huge gamut of behaviors and structures. That a hierarchy exists doesn't say anything about social structure and how that hierarchy operates.


To update the above comment ('edit' is disabled) -- to the "And the devil of a bill is always in its details..." line, I just saw this article headline on Techmeme: "Feinstein Releases Fake NSA Reform Bill, Actually Tries To Legalize Illegal NSA Bulk Data Collection" [1] Pretty shameless on her part. Here's the HN item: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6653190

[1] http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20131031/12394625090/feinst...

--

Websites like Reddit and HN are extremely vulnerable.

Hijacking my comment here to talk about a big concern of mine. This EFF article argues that there's a place for Anonymity on the Internet [2], and I think most of us agree. Especially if we emphathize with those in Iran, China, Syria, and the like.

But anonymity is also the key to websites like Reddit and Twitter (including HN). These websites represent breakthroughs in sociology: memes; open, real-time, transnational, popular (upvote/downvote, retweetable) discourse.

It's not an understatement to say that Reddit, Twitter, even H.N. are some of the greatest manifestations of the Internet-age -- look at the impact they have had on mainstream media and raising the bar for popular discourse.

(Ex.1: I would argue that the Snowden revelations would not have persisted in the public conscious nearly as long if it hadn't been for Reddit's continued rage. Ex.2: As it is, news outlets hawk Reddit/HN for story-material, and build the story's narrative with Twitter.)

But what HNers must realize is that: The mainstream Internet __can not become__ the Tor-visited Dark-Net that many believe is inevitable -- WITHOUT losing its positive sociological impact.

Yet without the perception of anonymity, sites like Reddit will stop flourishing.

Reddit's culture thrives on anonymity, throwaway accounts, and people being themselves without representing themselves.

There are two issues at play. Now obvious: 1.) Reddit usernames can be mapped to people's actual identity. Not as obvious: 2.) Users up and down votes can also be mapped to their identity. Reddit as a dev-team has retreated from the idea of providing HTTPS for its voting/web API, so people's actions (aside from comments) can be mapped as well. I tried to raise this point 5 months ago [3]. I know there's an argument to be made that SSL/HTTPS is useless anyway (just use Tor!, they say), but the bigger question remains:

Can a mainstream community like Reddit exist in tomorrow's Internet?

People and the press are paranoid about Facebook/Google privacy because its users identify themselves explicitly, but the reality is no different with sites like Reddit - just the perception. Just think about how much more is shared on a site like Reddit by its members because of their pseudonyms! Few people aside from the avid Tor users have realized this.

Reddit is the internet "as we know it," and I feel the Internet is about to change.

In hindsight - Google's initial "no pseudonyms" policy for Google+ was prescient -- though the company eventually capitulated to popular demand for them. [4] Perhaps they wished to save each of us the unsavory realization that aliases exist in name-only (pun intended). :/

[2] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/10/online-anonymity-not-o... [3] http://www.reddit.com/r/privacy/comments/1n73s0/again_reddit... [4] http://www.ibtimes.com/google-allowing-nicknames-pseudonyms-...


Why do you describe it as libertarian leanings? What in the libertarian philosophy still makes you uncomfortable?


I can't answer for spenvo, but for myself, I would be happy to call myself "libertarian," except that extremely limited government is bad at protecting the poor from the rich, and libertarianism places a little too much emphasis on individualism to the detriment of communities.


Two points:

- The evidence seems to be that the bigger the government, the wider the gap between the rich and the poor. This might sound counter-intuitive, but that's the date we have. The rest is pure speculation. It could be that there is some hidden variable that makes the rich/poor gap and government grow at the same time, but it's not enough to just repeat some dogma;

- I am for communities, but the only point of communities is to make the individuals that compose them happy. If a community is thriving by some metric but the individuals that compose them are unhappy, the community is pointless of even counter-productive.


> I am for communities, but the only point of communities is to make the individuals that compose them happy. If a community is thriving by some metric but the individuals that compose them are unhappy, the community is pointless of even counter-productive.

I think there has been a very pernicious, detrimental focus in recent history on ensuring "happiness." Life is not about being happy. Communities do not exist to make people happy.

A thriving community is one that provides needed support to its members, "needed" and "support" being variables defined by those members.

> The evidence seems to be that the bigger the government, the wider the gap between the rich and the poor. This might sound counter-intuitive, but that's the date we have.

Define "bigger". Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, all have governments that are significantly more activist in the daily lives of their citizens, and the wealth gap does not exist in those countries like it does the US.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_Coefficient_World_CIA...

I don't know many that would say, per capita, these governments are "smaller". But they do actively redistribute wealth, a large part through social health care, higher education and retirement systems.


I would agree, but the wealth gap exists here too and it's growing bigger. There are only a handful people who have earn a big percentage of what's earned in total in the country. Sorry, but had to make this clear. I am from Europe.

     Countries with most Billionaires:
     1) USA – 409
     2) China – 317
     3) Russia – 88
     4) Germany – 61
     5) England – 56
     6) India – 53
     7) Switzerland – 41
     8) Brazil – 33
     9) Taiwan – 32
     10) France – 31
     10) Turkey – 31
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Germans_by_net_worth

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_der_500_reichsten_Deutsch...


Don't take the List as absolute data, it's only showing publicly known billionaires. There are MANY secret billionaires. Germany might have +120 secret billionaires according to this article: http://translate.google.de/translate?hl=de&sl=de&tl=en&u=htt...


Well, the gap isn't growing in the same way in every European country. I'm guessing you're from Germany?

Billionaires certainly exist in every country. The count of billionaires in a particular country, however, does not actually talk to the wealth gap in a country. I'm simply stating that it is suppressed by wealth redistribution, and is not reliably a function of the size of a government, nor am I sure how one would go about meaningfully measuring the size of a government.


> I think there has been a very pernicious, detrimental focus in recent history on ensuring "happiness." Life is not about being happy. Communities do not exist to make people happy.

I am familiar with the argument and you are free to think that, of course. My view is that happiness is our ultimate internal gauge. Any alternative to wanting to be happy is typically some form of religion (including some political ideologies). I am willing to sacrifice for the people I love or even for strangers, but that's because it makes me happy. Most people will arrive at the same conclusion if they're honest with themselves.

> Define "bigger". Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, all have governments that are significantly more activist in the daily lives of their citizens, and the wealth gap does not exist in those countries like it does the US.

I define "bigger" as government spending per capita. Take this graph:

http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=7373

Then compare it with this one:

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

Give the NSA disclosures, the size and activity of the US military and the fact that the USA has the largest percentage of its citizens arrested of all countries in the world -- the majority for victimless crimes, it's maybe hard to argue that the other countries you mention have bigger or more intrusive governments.

I live in Germany and the only intrusion in my life is that I don't have to pay for health care.

Notice that I'm not anti-american by any means. I actually admire America and many of its achievements, and this is why its current direction depresses me.


Really? I'm quite interested in that, do you have the research on it? The disparity in countries with barely functioning governments can be extreme, with a very small ruling class with most of the wealth. England, for example, has a much bigger government than it used to yet less of a gap between rich and poor (Victorian times -> now).


> The evidence seems to be that the bigger the government, the wider the gap between the rich and the poor. This might sound counter-intuitive, but that's the date we have.

Could you please link to this evidence? Certainly that doesn't seem to be the case in Europe, and in terms of relative equality in the 20th Century United Kingdom, I think it's the reverse, thanks to big government expansions such as the NHS.


Scandinavian countries don't exhibit this quality either.


> - The evidence seems to be that the bigger the government, the wider the gap between the rich and the poor. This might sound counter-intuitive, but that's the date we have.

It sounds counterintuitive because it's absolutely unabashedly false. Nordic countries, whose governments are bigger than any, have greater equality than 3rd world African countries, where government is non existent.

This is just more libercrazian BS; the data that you have is completely whack, which is probably why you didn't bother to cite it.


You make a good point, but just so you know, when I see political put-down portmanteaus (politdownteaus?) like "libercrazian", "libtard", "randroid", etc., it immediately sets off my alarm bells for people who are operating on an us-vs-them instead of a reasoned-thinking basis. I doubt I'm the only one for whom a good argument seems weakened by this sort of silliness.


I want to distinguish between rational libertarians and the whacko ones that seem to hang out with them but throw rationality out the window. Basically, libertarian != libercrazian.


How is it that the poor need protection from the rich? It seems to me, the most imminent danger to the poor is the government: it sends poor people, who don't have money for lawyers, to prison for victimless crimes; it violates their rights by spying on them, exercising unchecked force; it requires numerous expensive licences to start certain kinds of businesses poor people could start. Why would the poor need protection from the rich and from what kind of actions exactly?


Can you cite your reference on extremely limited government being bad at protecting the poor from the rich? I'd be happy if you could just provide an example of extremely limited government. From what I've seen, government acts as enforcer for the rich.


One thing I find interesting is that it's somehow okay as long as it's directed at 'the foreigners'. Who are these foreigners?

Is it Sergey Brin or Larry Page, before they moved to the US? Elon Musk? Peter Thiel?

Many Americans need not look further than their grandparents to see a 'foreigner' (and, excluding a few natives, the entire nation has been built by foreigners). Would it not makes sense to show the same courtesy for peoples privacy to people who weren't necessarily born here.


It's not okay; it's still morally questionable at best.

But it is infinitely more legal. The government has all sorts of restrictions on what it can do (e.g., the 4th amendment), that apply to citizens, but not foreign nationals.

If they are not even bothering to respect the distinction, it's the case that they violate both the spirit and the letter of the law without a care; it's a much more dangerous position of disrespect for regulation.


But it is infinitely more legal.

Infinitely. And I don't get the outrage that foreigners have that the American people aren't outraged that we are spying on foreigners. That's what spies do - for both sides. The electronic monitoring of foreign communications is the charter of the NSA. By the way, China is quite silent on all of this because they are hacking the shit out of the US trying to steal everything from political to military to commercial secrets.

The outrage about the NSA is domestic spying. Intercepting communications of Americans outside of the US is a gray area but doing it to Americans on US soil is completely against the NSAs charter, tramples due process, and takes a dump on the Constitution. Anyone who said that was ok needs to be thrown into prison.


Infinitely. And I don't get the outrage that foreigners have that the American people aren't outraged that we are spying on foreigners. That's what spies do - for both sides.

Well, for many people, the spies have gone too far (and apparently you think they have domestically). To my mind what you are defending here is the building of a tyrannical superstate the likes of which the world has never seen, with absolutely no restrictions on spying because 'spies will be spies', and spying easily crosses boundaries. To apply that rule domestically and then give free reign when turned on others is the height of hypocrisy, and will gain you nothing anyway, because the NSA interprets anything involving foreigners or crossing a border as within their remit, and of course your laws have no meaning for fellow 5-eyes states in your view, so all your data is fair game to them, and they'll just have to share it with the NSA. If you don't like that and you think others should be spied on in the same way, frankly, why should we care?

If you accept restrictions on spying and gov. intrusion, they should apply equally to all people, at least that's what the founders of the US thought:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men 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.

They were responding to an unreasonable, tyrannical state which wanted far too much control of their lives, but now we have come full circle and the US, with UK connivance, is behaving in exactly the same way toward its vassal states and their citizens (in fact toward the entire world), and yet we still hear that as long as it is done to foreigners, it's ok, because everyone does this sort of thing. Well no, everyone doesn't, and because some governments do doesn't make it ok with the people concerned, just as its not ok with you. This spying should be cut back right to the essential purpose, which is protecting the nation from attack, not economic espionage, political espionage, or dragnet surveillance of any kind - that is just far too dangerous in my view.

The electronic monitoring of foreign communications is the charter of the NSA. By the way, China is quite silent on all of this because they are hacking the shit out of the US trying to steal everything from political to military to commercial secrets.

Great to hear that compared to the totalitarian regime in China, the US is not quite as evil, that's quite an achievement.


I understand that this is "what spies do", that's not the primary point of outrage (not for me, at least).

What is a valid cause of outrage is being spied (to this extent) from a country that states to be your partner/ally. More than outrage, it's a valid reason to change allies and commercial partners, too (or at least to seriously look around). I think this is stupid and probably very bad at long term for US tech industry.


The government has all sorts of restrictions on what it can do (e.g., the 4th amendment), that apply to citizens, but not foreign nationals.

Are you sure about that? IANAL, and I've not kept up with more recent laws, but the forth doesn't say anything about "citizens", it says "people".


The distinction comes from the SCOTUS interpretation of the constitution, not the constitution itself. They've been quite consistent in limiting the constitutional rights to American citizens/soil/etc.


"The People" is commonly interpreted to mean the citizens, i.e.:

We the People of the United States

There is no way to interpret "people" in that line as including Saudis and Chinese.


It says "the people"


> Larry Page, before [he] moved to the US

Michigan is admittedly weird but it's not technically another country.


As a "foreigner", I don't really have a problem with that. Covertly gaining advantage for their own team is what spies are supposed to do.

The rest of the world needs to encrypt and, where possible, route around the damaged areas.


Not to speak toward the validity of your comment, more to nitpick, but Larry Page was born in Michigan, so there was no "moving to the US" :)


Je plussoie. As I read the HN pres about NSA, it sounds as if the rest of the world has no human rights at all. Apple, Google and Microsoft are international, and I'm appalled Europe doesn't find a way to constraint them to respect EU citizen privacy in an equal manner, to which I have the following answer: Should EU pass laws to forbid the use of american services? That's the only consistent way to protect our constitutional rights.

The same happens for social rights when moving countries: When moving, say from France to Australia, you temporarily or permanently lose your social cover: unemployment, health, retirement, unless you pay 2 systems at a time. Today's civilization is international and we ought to protect "mobile citizen" under an equality banner.


As the article said, the USA turned away Huawei because they were too closely tied to the Chinese Government. The rest of the world could eventually do the same to Silicon Valley for the same reasons.

It's actually really short sighted, because by costing US companies the rest of the world as customers or forcing the rise of zero-knowledge companies, they're losing the ability to subpoena information on credible threats and actual criminals.


Google needs to fight back. The first thing Google should do is encourage HTTPS everywhere.

Google should change the algorithm to prefer sites that support HTTPS everywhere. Matt Cutts should make some video like: "Google uses over 200 different signals to determine page relevancy. Our users value privacy, so one of the signals we use is whether the site uses HTTPS. We tend to prefer to send search users to secure sites... blah blah blah ... Enabling HTTPS with PFS will increase your search rank. HTTPS will slow page load times, but the privacy boost exceeds the speed penalty for 99% of sites."

The only reason I don't use HTTPS always is because it slows down page loads, and page speed is huge for PPC performance, and big for SEO. Google needs to hardcode a "privacy" boost into the rankings and make that public.

Within a year, 80% of the web would be HTTPS.


That would be great, but it would not have done a thing against the most recently revealed NSA attack vector. NSA compromised the private fiber intranet connecting Google's datacenters. Perhaps those should have been encrypted but at any rate, client-server encryption isn't going to guard against that sort of attack. It's really appalling.


Wait guys, let me get this straight: You guys are not okay with the US government accessing your data that Google has, but you are somehow okay with sharing your data with Google?

I just see big "evil" vs small "evil." I'm not seeing much of a difference.

Also, would you be okay if another government had access to your data in Google's cloud?

You guys are probably not seeing the futility of it all.


Shockingly, most people are happier when their data is shared only with the party/(ies) they agreed to share it with. That doesn't mean we're all 100% ok with sharing our data with Google, but as long as we're informed about who gets our data we can think about it. If the data is going to the NSA (and who knows where else), that decision is a lot more complex.

If you think it's futile, I suggest you leave us to our, 'lost cause,' and get on with living in a world where things can't get better at all.


Also, realize that the -entire- ecosystem that we have now is probably insecure and will probably be insecure for the foreseeable future.


Realize that it's probably just not the US government that has this type of access.


This false equivalency thing is getting really fucking old. If you can't see the difference between voluntarily giving info to Google and the government literally stealing this info, than just please don't get involved in any discussions about this.


Oooh, cursing. That's one way to show your larger than average wiener size in HN, isn't it? ;)

I am not sure I said they were equivalent-- they are two sizes of evil.

Besides, "stealing" is a relative term, and the government does not consider what it is doing as stealing.


I wasn't trying to show my weiner size. I was frustrated at your point being a pile of disingenuous garbage. People are upset the government is stealing their data. Your brain somehow mashed this together into "lol you idiots have no problem with voluntarily giving your info to a company but DO have a problem with it being stolen?" Is this just a desperate hope to improve your self esteem? Because it certainly has no connection to reality. The idea that you've followed it up with snark as if you think you're remotely close to being right is just really disappointing for our species honestly.


Funny, you seem to be "frustrated" a lot. ;)

A lot of peeps in HN seem to have this expectation that their data is somehow secure when they give it to a third-party. This is a completely false and an impossible expectation. To me, this _is_ and has been reality for a while. If an entity with resources really wants to get to your data, they will get to it. It doesn't matter if they steal or get a court order-- that, to them, is just semantics.

I'm not the one having trouble accepting this. It's just everyone suddenly realized this last week.


Wow, the degree to which you're reaching to make yourself feel to superior to strangers on the internet is honestly pretty scary.

No one "has an expectation that their data is completely secure when they give it to a third party", you literally just made that up. Regardless, this statement is still different from the original implication that people were "stupid" because they would give their data to Google and have the audacity to be upset that the government stole it. But hey, don't let me disrupt your snarky, disingenuous bullshit? Hopefully you pretending strangers on the internet you assigned emotions to are dumb and you are smart helped your issues.

Looking forward to utterly insane snarky sentence that completely ignores that you are laughably incorrect followed with an emoticon! ;)


Hehe, given that you have been constantly attacking me so far, I think it's the other way around: I think you feel you are somehow superior to me. :)

You also need to learn to quote properly since I did not claim anyone to be "stupid."

Also, it has not been shown that the government has stolen anything. People are upset that the government has an indirect mechanism to access their data. And I am saying that giving third-party your data implies that other entities will get to it if they want it.

Not looking forward to your ad-hominem reply. ;)


"Hehe, given that you have been constantly attacking me so far, I think it's the other way around: I think you feel you are somehow superior to me. :)"

"Wait guys, let me get this straight: You guys are not okay with the US government accessing your data that Google has, but you are somehow okay with sharing your data with Google?

I just see big "evil" vs small "evil." I'm not seeing much of a difference.

Also, would you be okay if another government had access to your data in Google's cloud?

You guys are probably not seeing the futility of it all."

If you can type those two things so close together, you literally have zero self awareness. This started with you actually having the gall to imply that strangers on the internet stupid because of an insane projection you made up. Now your brain has managed to twist you insulting random strangers into someone else trying to feel superior.

"Also, it has not been shown that the government has stolen anything. People are upset that the government has an indirect mechanism to access their data. And I am saying that giving third-party your data implies that other entities will get to it if they want it."

It takes a record breaking amount of obtuseness to claim that the government doesnt steal data and then saying "the government has an indirect mechanism to access this data". I genuinely am unable to accept that a human brain can cloud logical thought that much.

Anyway, you clearly are going to prop yourself up as superior in your own mind no matter how many times I quote you contradicting yourself and making no logical sense, so I'll leave you to whatever you hope to gain from being a disingenuous jerk to strangers on the internet over a point you quite literally made up...? Cheers.


I take the "ad-hominem reply" back-- It seems you are at the "name calling" stage of disagreement:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Graham%27s_Hierarchy_of_Di...


But can we still trust Certificate Authorities at this point? If HTTPS was widely adopted, that would just give the NSA a new point of attack. CAs have already been compromised, and there are probably plenty that have handed over keys to the NSA that we don't know about.


HTTPS everywhere carries a cost to Google -- crawling the web. There certainly are increased costs associated with crawling an HTTPS-only internet, and the search appliance no doubt prioritizes HTTP over HTTPS.


Even at Google's scale, at this point, I think it's a negligible cost.


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