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NSA Files Decoded: What the revelations mean for you (theguardian.com)
288 points by msantos on Nov 1, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

Woah. This is a pretty cool reactive article. It's the first one that I've personally encountered which reacts like it's supposed to, engaging me as I read.

Congratulations to whoever put this together, it was very well done.

I agree...except that if you select any text it prompts you to tweet it. For readers that compulsively select text as they read (like me), it's infuriating.

I'm in the same boat, I've considered looking for a Chrome extension to kill all scripts that do this. I've used text selection to mark my place for longer than I can remember and all the popups are starting to get extremely annoying. I fear that I am in the minority when it comes to this though...

I've always done that and I just checked the comments to see if someone else complained about that horrible flaw.

How on earth did they think that text selection as an event to open a popup is a good idea?!

A small, but vocal minority.

I don't think it's a small minority. I'd say every 2 or 3 of 5 heavy computers users I know do this.

I'm not one of them (I do it, just rarely), and I've gotta say it annoys the hell out of me too. Totally unnecessary distraction is what it is.

It is a classic design failure mode - form over function. It may even be the most common category of design failure out there.

Does it at least stop, when you tweet?

This happened to me 5 or 6 times before I had the wherewithal to kick the habit.

This is probably the coolest site I have seen in terms of reactiveness. They even had the insight to have the backgrounds of the videos the same color as the site background. Awesome!

Transcends the genre to feel more like a museum exhibit than a news article. I love it.

From the bottom of the article:

Video: Bob Sacha

Production: Kenan Davis, Nadja Popovich, Kenton Powell, Ewen MacAskill, Ruth Spencer, Lisa van Gelder

Additional Production: Spencer Ackerman, Kayla Epstein, Paul Lewis, Amanda Michel, Katie Rogers, Dominic Rushe




Yeah, very well designed and with proper HTML video.

This might be the coolest news article layout I've seen...It's awesome to see HTML5 video used in an unobtrusive, classy way like this.

I was also excited to see they're using Video.js, with a super subtle theme that matches the rest of the site (when controls are showing). Really well done.

Since most news and media sites are plagued by buggy Flash video players which barely if ever work for me on Linux, this in contrast was really refreshing.

Shouldn't auto-play, though. That is never OK.

Normally I would completely agree. However, since it doesn't autoplay until the active video is fully on screen and there is a prominent link to turn autoplay off right next to the video control, I'm willing to forgive the use of autoplay this time.

All Flash video for me, FF24 on Linux. Thankfully, because Flashblock did its thing and suppressed it all. What an horrific example of presentation over content.

Anyway there is no 'HTML5 video'. It's H264, or VP8, or whatever.

No Flash for me there at all. I checked the video - it was Theora/Vorbis (OGV). I wonder how you got Flash instead.

There is HTML video - the video tag. No Flash attached.

I agree. Anyone have any knowledge of the tools used to create this?

The video player is Video.js with light styling (or controls disabled entirely). Other than that it's all CSS and some JS to trigger events (such as play/pause in the player at scroll points).

This guy, Stewart Baker:

"You ask me proofs that it works, I can show you proofs that the lack of it really fails"

That is so flawed from a logic point of view that I won't even bother.

"We can't be transparent .. we have to get comfortable with the idea that we're delegating to somebody.."

There are two things here: 1) Most people agree that we can't talk about the details of implementation of a strategy agreed to by the US people to defend our country. The problem is that the mass surveillance that we've heard of in the last 5 months is not exactly a "detail of implementation" is it? It's a whole gods damn strategy that the US people didn't directly agree to. (Now yes, it's a democracy, we elected representatives who agreed to this. So what? Our constitution doesn't give full power to our representatives. If they didn't think for a second that a question of that magnitude might require some public debate, they are wrong, period).

2) He talks about trust. The problem is that trust is not something that you just ask for. If you are corrupt, lie, cheat, and all around screw up for long enough, people will stop trusting you.

> not exactly a "detail of implementation" is it? It's a whole gods damn strategy that the US people didn't directly agree to ... we elected representatives who agreed to this.

Well, the people who wrote the law which the NSA is claiming authorizes this also said they didn't agree to this.

So much for any kind of "rule of law" or "oversight".

The claim that "the US people didn't directly agree to [broad NSA traffic/metadata analysis]" is a mere cavil at best; "the US people" need not "agree", nor particularly need our representatives, who debate and pass laws, but who do not interpret them -- such questions are considered and ruled upon by judges, and ultimately by the Supreme Court. (Or by the FISC, whose members' appointment by the Chief Justice I'd argue gives them roughly equivalent standing.) The final root of the current question being whether NSA acted in accord with applicable law, and whether said law is itself in accord with the Constitution, the Supreme Court or its FISC delegate is the proper venue in which to settle it -- and the sort of pointless, ugly public furball we see before us gains no one anything who has the slightest interest in the rule of law.

Does this seem perhaps unsavory to you? A hair totalitarian, perhaps? Should the will of the people not be the ultimate sovereign? I bid you welcome to the Republic! -- the Republic built upon the rubble of the popular-sovereignty concept as codified in the failed Articles of Confederation, the Republic which for at least the last century or so has actually done a pretty solid job of living up to its primary design goal, which put simply is to keep the levers of power safe from the mob, and vice versa. Of course, the Republic has lately grown a thick, sclerotic crust of permanent civil service at the boundary between the two, and that's hardly ideal, but given that the only plausible alternative at this point is the catastrophe of mob rule, I'm perfectly happy to take what I can get. So should you be; especially in the modern era, genuine democracy has some really nasty failure modes, not least of which was das tausendjährige Reich.

> That is so flawed from a logic point of view that I won't even bother.

Do bother, if you're going to show someone up as screwing around with logic, make it easy for everyone to see it too.

To cure cancer everyone needs to wear green hats


In the past not everyne wore green hats and they got cancer.

Does that seem like valid reasoning?

No, it doesn't (and I wasn't asking for me). Thanks.

> "You ask me proofs that it works, I can show you proofs that the lack of it really fails"

> That is so flawed from a logic point of view that I won't even bother.

Well, I don't blame you; trying to disprove p ⇒ q ∴ ¬q ⇒ ¬p would probably cost you some embarrassment.

Please, do replace "p" and "q" with whatever you had in mind then meditate on the meaning of "=>". If you still don't get it refer to doctoboggan's counter-example.

Maybe it's something along the lines of "an effective security mechanism implies safety; if there is no safety then it follows that no effective security mechanism is in place"

The description about Feinstein is wrong. She didn't backtrack about anything. She's only pretending to do it, while passing Newspeak bills with backdoors that codify and legalize NSA's mass spying.


Feinstein has done nothing but help the NSA so far. She's not going to just stop because she suddenly developed a conscience. I wish Californians would just recall her, because otherwise we're stuck with her and her pro-surveillance state bias until 2018. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad, if she wasn't also the head of the Intelligence Committee, and having tremendous power in the Senate to continue things as they are.

She continues to support the NSA while at the same time proving she doesn't know exactly what they are doing. Not really two things that should be combined.

This is the same lawmaker who wanted to ban "the shoulder thing that goes up". She should have been laughed out of office long ago, but for some reason enough people love this authoritarian idiot enough to keep her in office since 1992. It boggles the mind.

In a two party system, being in office a long time isn't necessarily a sign of being loved by your constituents, it can just be a sign of being disliked less than the alternatives that get offered when elections come around.

And there's few political organizations in the country better at producing candidates unacceptable to the the statewide constituency they are offered to than the Republican Party of California.

Feinstein (and Pelosi, also pro-NSA and representing San Francisco of all places) could easily be removed from office via a primary challenge. Doesn't necessarily need to be a Republican opponent.

So, can CA do it? Doesn't Silicon Valley have enough clout to throw behind a candidate who will stand for privacy, rights, innovation, etc.?

Dear God I hope so, but it's going to take politically-connected heavy hitters to care about it and I don't see that happening.

For instance, it's baffling to me that Ron Conway doesn't care about this issue, given his entire portfolio is internet startups. I think Arrington was right to call him out on that.

It doesn't say anything about her backtracking. It says she defends the program and that her "reform" bill maintains the status quo.

With these NSA revelations, I feel like there is still an elephant in the room nobody has yet started talking about...


It's not just privacy we should be concerned about. It's our economy.

Whether it is corporations willfully collaborating in secret with the government or government secretly infiltrating corporations - either way, this presents a serious opportunity for exploitation of the public marketplace.

Because with this amount of data, the NSA has a goldmine of business intelligence that it can put to 'strategic use' via third-party 'partners' who can actively participate in the market; ie- COMPETE WITH YOU.

This is unfair and a terrible flaw in an economic system.

This is exactly what Brazil is so upset about http://rt.com/news/us-spied-brazil-oil-588/

And really if you have the data, why not?

That is one very big multi-tens-of-$billions and maybe more reason our allies are deeply unhappy about the extent of snooping.

If you are preparing a bid at Embraer, you may get the feeling the only ones you win will be the ones Boeing finds unprofitable.

The NSA has the data to rig the economy globally, and to rig politics within the US.

Who here is going to stand up for them and say: No, they wouldn't. They have too much restraint.

I'm not sure about the US, but in the UK GCHQ has this sort of activity explicitly as one of its three principal mandates - it's something along the lines of "protect the economic interests of the UK". You can imagine the applications to the UK's huge arms industry, for example, which has historically had very strong ties to the government.

Totally aside from the content, this is a really good example of effective design of long-form exposition in the medium of a web browser. Designed for the affordances of the screen, without sacrificing in-depth textual content.

I found myself only watching the videos while I am usually more attracted to text than video. So I question the effectiveness of it. Maybe others noticed the same behaviour?

It's very nicely made. I love how instead of hijacking scroll, it “plays with” the scroll, turning the videos off and on.

Only the first video played for me on Linux/Firefox nightly, and Readability choked on it.

Videos not auto-playing but can be started OK. The fibre optic graphic not working. Other content apparently accessible.

gNewSense 3.0 / Iceweasel 3.5.16

Text can be captured using

    w3m http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/nov/01/snowden-nsa-files-surveillance-revelations-decoded > nsa.txt
for those having problems with readability

Worked fine for me (Firefox 25 on Linux).

Worked perfectly for me. Chrome

Weird, others here report that it played fine. Both Chrome and Nightly failed to play it for me. Perhaps a bandwidth issue for me.

Worked pretty great, Safari 7 on Mavericks.

Worked fine here. Firefox 17 + CentOS 6

This reminds me of newspapers in Harry Potter.

Why are so many people persuaded by arguments of the form, "It doesn't matter what the government knows if you have nothing to hide?"

I'm not questioning why the NSA uses this argument -- clearly, they use it because it works -- people are persuaded by it. What I'm asking is, why does it work?

Just World fallacy: the belief that things happen for a reason, that bad things happen to those who deserve it, and that the world is ultimately fair.

That is, they prefer to believe the government is a superhuman entity that has everyone's best interests at heart, rather than facing the reality that it's made up of fallible, selfish humans who are only interested in covering their own asses.

The only thing I am disappointed is no subtitles/transcripts for the videos. Unless I overlooked it?

I concur. Accessibility takes a backseat yet again.

Not sure if I have seen such an elaborated article about a subject ever. Remarkable.

I really don't want to distract people from the matter at hand: NSA's massive spying dragnet.

With that said, you haven't seen the Snow Fall article by the NYTimes? [1]

[1]: http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/#/?part=tunne...

Excellent! I'm excited about mixed media articles getting better and better!

One small tweak I would make is to have the video start playing not when it's in the middle but closer to the top of the page.

Reason is, I find myself distracted by listening to the guys speak before I finish reading the text.

In that case you will enjoy the blog of Adam Curtis:


He uses archive footage in his exceptionally well written articles to make a hybrid documentary that is not plodding (like how TV is if you actually count the words per minute) and not devoid of moving pictures (every picture tells a thousand whatever).

I wish more news and current affairs was presented in this mixed-medium way.

The problem I have is that on my smallish (13"? Not too small) monitor, the top and bottom of the video are always very close to the top and bottom of the viewport. On a 24" monitor it would be better, but I found watching the videos to feel very claustrophobic.

> 13"? Not too small

It's 2013, and size matters. Thirteen inches, for an article like this one, is too small.

Can someone explain why, if I change the slider to indicate that I have only one friend, the number of "friends of friends" is 163? Is my only friend really so popular?

Because they say that each person has 190 friends on average based on a Facebook data survey linked just below that vis.

Really liked the TOR visualization.

And the PGP one too, I think it is the clearest explanation I've seen of public key encription.

There's also this easy to understand youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QnD2c4Xovk

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