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It's time to break up the NSA (cnn.com)
215 points by privong 947 days ago | hide | past | web | 98 comments | favorite



This is where the NSA overreaches: collecting data on innocent Americans either incidentally or deliberately, and data on foreign citizens indiscriminately.

Put aside the question of data on U.S. citizens: I don't understand how in an era of burner phones and widespread encryption any intelligence agency can do without some bulk foreign surveillance. Say HUMINT gets its hands on a foreign bad guy's contact list. Odds are the most relevant information you'd be able to extract is in the past, especially if the target knows you captured his list.

Is it really an "overreach" if the NSA can acquire the mobile phone records of Yemen "indiscriminately" and use the data to build social graphs for current and future (currently unknown) targets of interest?

EDIT: I don't mean to cast Schneier's argument uncharitably. He may very well make a distinction between "acceptable" and "overreaching" bulk surveillance, but if so he doesn't seem to outline it in this piece.


> Is it really an "overreach" if the NSA can acquire the mobile phone records of Yemen "indiscriminately

Yes. You can not commit act of violence indiscriminately just-in-case.

The US army could place a bomb under every house in Yemen, just in case that they would need to bomb it later. Would that be an overreach? If they don't activate them, how can it be harmful?


Where in the world did we start talking about bombing in the comment above? He is talking about passive communications collection.


Passive communications collection is extremely dangerous. If data get leaked, people are going to die left and right. If the data is somehow incorrect or corrupted, innocent people will die.

Surveillance is violence. It is that simple.


First you mention ways in which surveillance could result in violence, then you equate violence and surveillance.

Doesn't your own argument indicate that they are separate concepts? It doesn't seem simple at all.


That is a very semantic way to look at it. If a bomb explode, people die. Thus I (incorrectly?) equate violence and bombs even if they are technically two separated concepts. Any weapon, be that information or bombs or what have you can technically be disconnected with the violence they create, but its a very dishonest thing to say when the army uses it in a war zone.


You didn't equate bombs with violence, if you had you would have a chance of winning your argument. You equated intel to violence.

Edit: Just to be clear so you can't try to weasel out of what you said, troops need to be fed so food is violence. Is that clear to you?


Im commenting to "win an argument". If you want to believe that information that direct drones where to send missiles are equal harmless to food, then have a nice day.


Silence is violence. Talking is violence. Planning is violence. Shall I go on?


Communication collection is an act of violence, but of a much smaller degree than blowing something up, of course.


This seems like a tortured use of language. I have a very hard time believing that my friend who enjoys people-watching at the park is doing violence to anybody.


I suspect lucian1900 was being sarcastic. At least, that's how I read it. I'm not quite sure how anyone could make that much of a stretch with a straight face.


I game, lets test this then.

Lets hypothetically provide the full mobile phone records of US army personal located in Yemen, and lets count the bodies. Do you think a conventional bomb will result in few'er dead people? How many innocent friends and family would die?


I think you're stretching this just a tad.


>I game

Oh, you game. You so game.


Hopefully you are right, but the sister commenter actually believes it. People get confused.


I saw that. Curiously, someone also downvoted you for your observation. I guess they're also touchy. ;)

I admit I was having a little tongue-in-cheek fun. It's plausible that I'm wrong (and likely); perhaps lucian1900 was genuinely stating an honest opinion. If so, that's fine. Everyone's entitled to such things.

I guess what bothers me the most is how arguments on the Internet quickly escalate to arguments from extremes. Suggesting simple eavesdropping (even if it can't be helped, some people are loud) is committing an act of violence is so absurd, it almost hurts me to even entertain it. Yet look how little time it took to reach that conclusion.

I suppose that's what I get for being optimistic. Instead of rational debate, you have extremist, absurd language arguing from a stance no reasonable person would believe. Hence, I'd rather give someone the benefit of the doubt, believing that their motives were mostly humor and sarcasm. I have my doubts, especially since the argument itself seems so prevalent and so many other people in this thread are arguing the same thing.

Maybe I need to go back to bed. It's almost like a live play from the theater of the absurd.


Dealing with the necessities of the real world means drawing lines, and just because it may be ridiculous to draw the line in one place does not mean that the whole exercise is ridiculous. At the opposite extreme: even if a terrorist is heading at you with an AK-47, you shouldn't "commit an act of violence" because what if he chances his mind and decides not to shoot you?


That is comparing indiscriminately violence to self defense against a specific identified person.

The lines are not that silly. Yes, you can defend yourself against someone pointing a gun at you. No, you can not use a nuke, or release biological weapons that kill indiscriminately everyone in the whole nation. Reactions should be appropriate to the threat, and indiscriminately violence is rarely if ever appropriate.


Where is anyone releasing a nuke or a biological weapon indiscriminately at people?


It's a "reductio ad absurdum" argument. You know, test for the extreme values that can be passed into a function to see if that function can handle them. If it can handle the extremes, and a few other values correctly it probably handles everything correctly.


Is it really an "overreach" if the NSA can acquire the mobile phone records of Yemen "indiscriminately" and use the data to build social graphs for current and future (currently unknown) targets of interest?

That's not his line of argument. He says that bulk collection of data will not remain confined to the Yemen - there will be mission and scope creep, to include indiscriminate data collection on US citizens and the whole world. That way lies the "Deep State".


How do you read the piece that way? He calls bulk data collection useless: "It doesn't make us any safer." If he were carving out kinds of bulk foreign surveillance that would be acceptable were it not for the potential for abuse, I think it would be clearer.

Or are you discussing something else he has written?


Schneier calls bulk spying worse than useless. What he says is (emphasis mine):

"This is where the NSA overreaches: collecting data on innocent Americans either incidentally or deliberately, and data on foreign citizens indiscriminately. It doesn't make us any safer, and it is liable to be abused."

We know that politicians like to keep dirt on their opponents to protect their fiefdoms, and we have seen the phenomenon of sudden, unexplained resignations. We also know that government oversight of the secret agencies is lax. Some say effective oversight is not possible.

I admit to bias here - Germans of a certain generation are intimately familiar with the abuses of the Stasi.


I, for one, would accept a marginal increase in an already unlikely risk (terrorist attack) if it means better respecting the rights of innocents in Yemen. I'm not even convinced it would mean an increase, as the good will derived from respect may dominate.


What American security planners are worried about is exactly that marginal increase.

Suppose Yemen (sorry to pick on Yemen) becomes a secure base for bad guys who manage to bomb an airplane, a subway, or a major sporting event somewhere in the world "merely" half a dozen times a year. You can argue all you want about how you'd still be more likely to die from a traffic accident, but that won't change the political pressure for action. Frankly, a lot of that pressure would be rational: The costs of disruptive attacks of course go way beyond the mere casualties, even if everyone involved is perfectly stoic.

Now you're looking at the potential for a military incursion, dramatically escalated security at transportation hubs and public events, and/or a bunch of other responses that you might find a whole lot more distasteful than the intelligence agency of a democratic government keeping tabs on phone calls in an unstable country.


I know that's what they're worried about (assuming good faith on their part). The potential downside is not tiny[1], but the question is what change in the likelihood is produced by the change in policy. Remember that we are not talking about forgoing all intelligence gathering; we are specifically talking about focusing on HUMINT and targetted surveillance instead of mass surveillance. Resources spent on mass surveillance are not spent elsewhere. I contend that the change from shifting resources to mass surveillance is likely to be small (if it's even in the desired direction). And a small change is something I want to bear if it is the price of respecting the rights of innocent people, because I am not a coward.

[1] Though if we keep our heads - which is what I've advocated consistently - it can be small. Sadly, I don't think that's likely, but we should continue to push for it. Fear of terrorism is how democracies fall - anyone saying "you need to be freaking out about terrorism" is the enemy.


That's perfectly reasonable. I think you might be overestimating our ability to target HUMINT and other focused intelligence methods in a way that would cause a smaller sum of collateral harm to the innocent than less intrusive mass surveillance for the same amount of intelligence value. Bang-for-the-human-rights-buck, as it were. But you've identified the key tradeoff, and I don't feel like I know enough to argue further exactly where our policy should come down on it.

[A]nyone saying "you need to be freaking out about terrorism" is the enemy.

I am unaware of anyone in a serious position to affect public opinion or policy who is saying this. Which is good, because I don't think it's helpful in a democracy to brand anyone who's participating non-violently as an "enemy".


'I am unaware of anyone in a serious position to affect public opinion or policy who is saying this. Which is good, because I don't think it's helpful in a democracy to brand anyone who's participating non-violently as an "enemy".'

It was a paraphrase, of course, but the meme is not uncommon - particularly amongst those who stand to profit from security contracts or wish to attack political opponents suggesting saner courses of action. Its prevalence has certainly decreased since 2002.

I stand by my use of the term; the force is well deserved, for a substantial threat to our freedom. And, for clarity, it has certainly included politicians and media personalities. I would note, however, that 1) "enemy" status is transient, and 2) violence (or even other exercise of power, like surveillance) is not always the appropriate way to respond to an enemy - almost never so if they aren't acting violently themselves.


> Now you're looking at the potential for a military incursion, dramatically escalated security at transportation hubs and public events, and/or a bunch of other responses that you might find a whole lot more distasteful than the intelligence agency of a democratic government keeping tabs on phone calls in an unstable country.

You're assuming those things are inevitable. The argument seems to be that we are bound to act irrationally so let's just give in to it and do something harmful and ineffective. The right answer is to keep our heads in all cases.

Let's suppose you're right and the predominant cost of terrorist attacks is our overreaction to them. Isn't it then obvious that the solution is to prohibit the overreaction? Amend the constitution. Make it much more difficult for the government to engage the military in a foreign excursion. Prohibit all of this TSA security theater entirely. Take away from Congress the ability to self-inflict damage -- that's the actual problem so that's what the solution has to fix.


What American security planners are worried about is exactly that marginal increase.

Can I inquire as to how you know that? American security planners haven't exactly been forthcoming about their motivations and rationalizations.


> Is it really an "overreach" if the NSA can acquire the mobile phone records of Yemen "indiscriminately" and use the data to build social graphs for current and future (currently unknown) targets of interest?

Is it an overreach if the Yemeni government "indiscriminately" collects the mobile phone records of US citizens? Or, more realistically, China, Russia, UK, Germany, etc...? It seems to me, when you carry out that kind of surveillance (really any sort of wide reaching security/military tactics) you can only expect reciprocity. And at that point why even be bothered if the NSA can collect American data? Even if they cannot legally capture it on their own, they know exactly where they need to go to get it...

I guess my point really boils down to "Do unto others...".


Is it an overreach if the Yemeni government "indiscriminately" collects the mobile phone records of US citizens? Or, more realistically, China, Russia, UK, Germany, etc...?

By my thinking, no, not at all. It's life in the modern world of sovereign states and power politics. And of course one of the NSA's jobs is to make that kind of surveillance harder. (I'm less sanguine about the kinds of intelligence sharing operations with allies that are indeed end-runs around the Fourth Amendment.)


In theory, having every bit of data would be useful.

In practice (a decade or more of NSA collecting phone records), this doesn't seem to be the case. Multiple terrorist events have happened, but apparently NSA was not able to use all that data to detect or prevent them.

Where the data has been most useful has been in persecuting journalists and political rivals and whistle blowers and circumventing due process in courts.

I'd bet on NSA destroying our democracy long before a terrorist could.


> Is it really an "overreach" if the NSA can acquire the mobile phone records of Yemen "indiscriminately" and use the data to build social graphs for current and future (currently unknown) targets of interest?

If all they do is foreign activity like that, then no, probably.

That they routinely and indiscriminantly collect mine and other Americans' data, yes. You can't put aside US collection, because it's a huge part of their activity. They are arguably routing around the Constitution.


If all they do is foreign activity like that, then no, probably.

But that's not what Schneier wrote. He specifically calls out indiscriminate bulk surveillance of foreign citizens as "overreach", even without making a distinction between U.S. allies and adversaries.

Again, I'm not interested in having yet another discussion about exactly which data the NSA is or isn't allowed to collect accidentally or deliberately on U.S. citizens. If you think there have been a paucity of discussion threads about that, feel free to start another one.


it's not only overreach, it's obvious human rights abuse

people have a right to not be indiscriminately surveilled by every country that they don't live in.


> people have a right to not be indiscriminately surveilled by every country that they don't live in.

[citation needed]


> Article 12.

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

UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


> Article 22.

> Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

What does this even mean?

> Article 25.

> (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

Sounds pretty cushy.

> Article 27.

> (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

You're literally violating peoples' human rights when you torrent that music!

> Article 29.

> (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

What does this even mean?

The UDHR is a supremely silly document. It takes a grab bag of things that are desirable within a particular society, and elevates them to the status of human rights.


And in addition, it is written from the perspective of people who would like their particular form of society to continue unhindered.

As a variety of libertarian fond of endless arguments with multiple other varieties of libertarian, I know from many long and pointless discussion threads that the UDHR is not even consistent with itself. Article 25 implies that someone, a person not mentioned directly, would be violating "everyone's" human rights by failing to provide them with scarce resources at his own expense. It authorizes slavery and/or theft in the name of social security. As a human right.

It's fine as an aspirational declaration of principles, but as a foundational legal document, it sucks.

I also know from the aforementioned pointless libertarian arguments that a "universal declaration" of anything is doomed from the start. You're going to have a hard time even getting 7 billion freewilled humans to even agree that we all live on the same planet.


> Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, ...

It's a more verbose way to express the right to "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" that appears in the American Declaration of Independence.


What would you list as human rights, then, in a global sense?


That's a bullshit response. Buried in the middle of his comment is a glaring contradiction in HN's supposed support of the UDHR: the document hints at freedom from surveillance (one might stipulate), but directly demands support for moral and material rights for authors and artists. Virtually nobody on HN agrees with Article 27.

So, rather than moving the goalposts: 'rayiner was rebutting the proposition that the UDHR demonstrates a right for people around the world to be free from any surveillance. Do you disagree with him? If so, how do you square it with this site's overwhelming support for piracy?


... seriously?

First, my response wasn't meant as argument, it was meant as inquiry. With his "citation needed" rayiner questioned the notion that privacy against foreign governments was a right, someone pointed at UDHR, rayiner gave some grounds UDHR shouldn't be used for that. My question was accepting that premise (here); it was not intended as a statement that we have to use UDHR if he failed to come up with something better.

Second, you should be entirely aware that not every participant on this site is obligated to hold the views of the majority.

The question about Article 27 is interesting. It's poor to focus only on the second part of it, though. The entirety reads:

    (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the 
    cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and 
    to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

    (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the 
    moral and material interests resulting from any 
    scientific, literary or artistic production of which he 
    is the author.
I would say I agree with it, but point out that nothing in the UDHR specifies mechanism, and I think that our systems which purport to be implementation of part (2) overreach in ways that interfere with (1) (and/or just generally suck). As it happens, I don't think piracy is a great way of dealing with that overreach, but what we're seeing in that debate is the tension between people wanting to protect a particular (possibly aggressive) interpretation of one right and those wishing to reclaim a particular (possibly aggressive) interpretation of another.


Sorry, I wrote poorly. My objection is to the "flight to abstraction" that always seems to happen on threads like this: you have a specific critique of the UDHR that we can actually get our heads around, and instead of pursuing it, the thread pivots to an abstraction that no productive discussion can occur around. I could just as productively suggest a universal right to hair coloring products.


rayiner responded to "people have a right to not be indiscriminately surveilled by every country that they don't live in" with "[citation needed]", which would seem to indicate that this should not simply be a moral position one would individually hold but should be backed up by some source. This would imply either the existence of appropriate sources or the non-existence of human rights (or at least human rights we have so far discovered). Demanding that we find sources he deems acceptable, without any insight into what he deems acceptable, may be good rhetoric but is not productive conversation, and I reject your characterization of my prompt for more clarity as the unproductive act in the discussion.

Edited to add:

You really think arguing about arbitrary other clauses of the UDHR would be less of a rabbit hole than trying to pin down what the participants in the discussion mean when they say people do or don't have rights?


I wouldn't. Human rights delineate rights by species rather than moral capabilities. I am willing to recognize, respect, and defend the rights of anything also willing to do the same for me. This proceeds logically to the point where I can rationally say that pulling the power cord out of an AI's computer is more analogous to an abortion than to a murder.

After sufficient analysis, I reached the conclusion that arbitrary capriciousness is worse than deliberate cruelty. It is worse to allow someone else to die as a consequence of your actions without ever considering what his life is worth than it is to murder him after deciding that his death is worth more to you. That seems a little out of step with traditional morality, but then again, that is what created the world in which we live now.


That's not a ridiculous framework, but I think your application of it is misguided. Unless you think that there exist agents with those moral capabilities that we're overlooking, or countries made up entirely (or even primarily) of those lacking those capabilities then "human rights" is a correct label, to a pretty good approximation for our discussion here and others are going to better understand what you mean if you use the term.


It isn't really a matter of who we may be overlooking. Though in that case, any species that passes the mirror test deserves additional scrutiny for its members to determine if they are or are not people. True AI does not yet exist, but it will, and once it does, we might want to have something better than Asimov's Laws in place. We might create new biological species. There is also the indeterminate probability of encountering personhood-compatible aliens.

The important thing about the structure is that humans are not automatically considered people with rights. The defining characteristic is the moral capability. If you cannot or will not support the common-law structure, it will not support you in return. That creates a significant burden on the civilization for identifying its predators and parasites, and deciding what to do with them, but we do this all the time anyway, in the form of criminal investigations and jury trials.

But in order to keep everything from collapsing on itself in the current system, you really do have to assume that all humans are people with rights until they have proven otherwise beyond all doubt, because even if they are not upholding the fabric of civilization today, they could start tomorrow. Species groups like great apes, pachyderms, corvids, and cetaceans show potential, but so long as you have to keep the crows off your crops with force rather than a politely-worded notice, they won't have any standing to complain when they get shot.

The primary case for a framework not specific to humans is AI, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility of an extraordinary mutant bonobo or business school graduate somehow qualifying as a person.


Sure. But then it remains the case that "human rights" is a good approximation, and I think we're not yet near enough the point that it ceases to be that consciousness raising is more important than effective communication - so I'd encourage you to at least accept (and possibly use) the term, except where explicitly marked as an aside.


My point is that its silly to hold the UDHR as some evidence of social consensus given how many on this board alone would disagree with many of its provisions, especially libertarians.

Ultimately, a right is more than an aspiration. Its a social norm so established that other people will defend it on your behalf. At the global scale, pretty much the only thing that meets that standard is the right of groups of people not to be exterminated by genocide. That's the only thing that will get the international community to take up arms.


"My point is that its silly to hold the UDHR as some evidence of social consensus given how many on this board alone would disagree with many of its provisions, especially libertarians."

Right, my intend had been to grant that (at least for this thread).

"Ultimately, a right is more than an aspiration. Its a social norm so established that other people will defend it on your behalf. At the global scale, pretty much the only thing that meets that standard is the right of groups of people not to be exterminated by genocide. That's the only thing that will get the international community to take up arms."

It strikes me that there is a tremendous gulf between use of "human rights" in the sense of prosecuting people for violations or using force to prevent them, where we need broad agreement to exist and want it made explicit; and use of "human rights" in the sense of "I believe these are things all humans are entitled to", which one would like to see elevated to the former level but might not be there yet. When we're talking about what our government's behavior should be the latter is relevant, as abiding by norms strengthens them.


Norms that aren't enforceable aren't "rights" they are aspirations or opinions. The UDHR has lots of aspirations, stating that people should be provided the basic necessities of life, but without real buy-in, those are just someone's opinions.

Moreover, talking about "rights" which are mere aspirations makes the argument of "we shouldn't do X because it violates peoples' rights" utterly impotent. "We shouldn't spy on other people because I believe that people are entitled to privacy." Okay, and your beliefs are special because? If you can't cite some concrete basis, either in law or broad and deep social consensus, you're just expressing your opinion, but trying to make it seem more authoritative than an opinion.


I think you're overlooking some pretty self-evident truths, here.


That's a good point. I would say that society is, or at least can be, what we make of it. In this area we've most of us given the decisions for surveillance and other hostile activity to politicians and bureaucrats. It doesn't necessarily have to be that way.


Nobody gave the power to the politicians, except previous politicians.


Wow! What a lawyerly thing to write! Without some authority ("Patry on Surveillance", anyone?) our lives are open to anyone with money or an agency to pick over, pick apart and monkey with.

Some rights stand on their own. In another, more civilized age, they were termed "God given".


When in history was "not being surveilled" understood as a "God-given right"?


Are we invoking God? Whose God? I'm pretty sure there's no "right to privacy" in the Bible.


Couldn't you make the same trollish comment about any human right? Say we are talking about your right to not be tortured. Would you be able to provide a "citation" in your defense? What would be an acceptable source in your opinion?


My right to not be tortured is defined in the 8th Amendment.


And the fact that we have other rights that may not be clearly defined anywhere is explicitly spelled out in the 9th.


You seem to have skipped the most important part in your constitution: Human rights don't come from a piece of paper, they are not given to you by a government. They are innate.

If you really are an American, you will stop with the whole "Americans have rights, foreigners don't" argument.


The US Constitution says nothing about innate rights.


Ok it's in the declaration of independence, but congrats for being a smartass:

"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."


The Declaration of Independence isn't a governing document.


And? I'm talking about innate rights, and you keep trying to find where the government gave you those rights. You are the worst American ever.


There's no such thing as innate rights. Only the rights that we decide to give each other, define in some sort of governing document and then enforce.

You brought up a specific question about torture, I assume because you see it as an innate right to not be tortured. It's no such thing though, it's a right clearly defined by the 8th Amendment (in the US at least).

You can stomp your foot and declare over and over again as much as you want that there are innate rights, but just look around at the actual evidence in the real world and you will see that there is no such thing. The rights you have are the ones defined and enforced by society.


No joke, genius. By innate what we mean is that we should agree to protect them no matter where the person happened to be born. You sound like a sociopath, unable to grasp this concept that is intuitive for everyone else.


Basically the only right we've agreed to protect for everyone no matter where they were born is the right of a people to not be exterminated by genocide. That's just about the only thing that will compel the international community to act.

Now, maybe there are other things that you think we should agree to, but the fact is we haven't. So I don't know why you say that this concept is "intuitive for everyone else" when everyone else, quite obviously, hasn't agreed to your world view.


The division between citizens, residents, and nonresident concitizens does not exist in the law. The constitution recognizes the rights of "the people". It does not mention any other criterion. Foreigners have exactly the same rights to privacy and due process under the constitution as Americans under American law.

The difference in practice stems from the difficulties foreigners have suing for civil rights violations in American courts. State and federal district courts do not have personal or territorial jurisdiction over the plaintiff. The Supreme Court is reluctant to hear cases that have not already been decided by those lower courts.

So a foreigner has to file directly with the Supreme Court, and they, unsurprisingly, refuse to hear the case. As a result, the ability of the executive to violate the civil rights of nonresident noncitizens is effectively unchecked. Arms of the executive routinely break American law while abroad, utterly without fear of reprisal.

It would be naive in the extreme to think that mere laws could curtail military and industrial espionage, but when it comes to massive, Stasi-like domestic surveillance, you'd think that the law would at least make a dent.

The law is clear: no searches without specific warrants based on reasonable articulable suspicion. Forget who should be doing the legwork. Who the hell would be reading and signing all those warrants?

The mere fact that Bruce Schneier can be tricked into making a distinction between foreign and domestic is telling, because warrantless, suspicionless surveillance of foreigners is still an illegal infringement upon their civil rights to privacy and due process!


If the NSA were only "acquir[ing] the mobile phone records of Yemen" and nothing else, Edward Snowden would not have risked everything by leaking thousands of documents and we would not be having this discussion today.

Put another way, if you're characterizing the debate as merely about "acquir[ing] the mobile phone records of Yemen," you haven't been following the debate.


Schneier is suggesting reforms we should initiate based on the Snowden revelations. One of those proposed reforms is, apparently, the elimination of bulk foreign data collection by any intelligence agency. I think that's an unreasonable limitation for the reasons I articulated.

I'm not sure what about that claim indicates I'm not following the debate.


You are correct that Bruce mentioned, in passing, that it may not be a good idea for the NSA to collect "data on foreign citizens indiscriminately."

It's of course possible and perhaps reasonable to argue that Yemen has a far higher percentage of AQ leaders than, say, Canada, so vacuuming up all of Yemen's phone records is not "indiscriminate."

But the point I was making is that it's especially alarming when the NSA's giant electronic ear is turned inward, and the spy agency uses these vast powers granted for overseas surveillance for domestic surveillance. The Yemeni government can't order the NSA to hand over information gathered on Yemeni citizens. The U.S. government, on the other hand, can order the NSA to hand over information gathered on U.S. citizens.

That is what a good portion -- certainly not all, but a good portion -- of the NSA debate is about. (Also see: "DEA use of NSA intercepts for domestic criminal prosecutions.")


Scheier previously wrote his opionion about this subject.

I can't find it straight away, but the problem is that militaristic rhetoric presents mass-surveillance as straightforward and productive, while in reality - the way Schneier presents it - it's not.

A very serious problem is also that indiscriminate collection tends to be related to indiscriminate action; there have been some examples in HN in the last times.


We have a Cold War sized security apparatus. This is what led our leaders to think wars on the far side of the planet could be done at "only" a few tens of billions, and why the cost ballooned to multiple trillions. Because it could. Because we have the machinery in place.

Now we realize that machinery has put us in a panopticon. To keep us from creating any fundamental change in government or society. That will cost us more than trillions of dollars.


Actually most it was winding down after the cold war; it was Terror which really brought it back. (the IC was shrinking fast; the mainstream military had been cut in half but the rest had a long lead time to reduce beyond that.)

(EDIT: I meant "it re-inflated back to peak size; it's not like it's remained at that size since the Cold War" -- which is almost worse, since it means it was a semi-conscious choice vs. just inertia.)


At no point was it "cut in half."

Here's a graph: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/files/2012/11/M...

It's barely below the peak spending, including Star Wars and all that, of the height of the Cold War.

Cutting it in half would be a good start, along with Homeland Security.

More was spent on the recent wars than the whole Cold War. That's your grandchildrens' debt slavery right there. People should be very very angry about that.


The number of personnel in the Army was cut approximately in half (ok, more like 35%) after CW and Gulf War 1; the spending (and headcount) lagged new enlistment to a combination of inflation and Congressional protection (and the process of separating people being slow). BRAC, etc. was quite real. Capabilities were approximately cut in half under Clinton, too

http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0004598.html is a decent graph of headcount. Reductions in force lag 4-8 years, though.

We did have a massive ramp-up post-9/11 -- not arguing that. I'm arguing that in the 1990s the military was on a downward trajectory, which was good, and it was cut substantially and in-line with previous cuts.

Personnel count is a more inflation-insensitive way to measure defense spending, IMO. Part of that is due to increased contractor use, but that really didn't kick off until ~2001. The US military in the 1990s was objectively declining in size, capabilities, and mission, as it usually did after a war, until they developed the "perpetual war on a tactic" innovation.

The IC was the area which was cut a lot, though. CIA under Clinton was basically dumping ground for incompetent liberal artists starting their careers, with political motivations -- sort of like a third-string law school -- which was fine since there was ~no mission. The Cold War era people were essentially either of retirement age, or shifted to the commercial world. NSA wasn't growing much, either. NRO, I believe, was in sustainment mode. The problem is they ramped up the IC post-9/11 and did it with those people, and then bringing in trigger-puller types, including lots of "crusaders" (super-religious, relatively uninformed, un-nuanced understanding of any of the issues) people. It's kind of amazing we didn't end up actually invading Iran or whatever.


Do you have an article link for the graph? It would be good to see the caption and also to know what type of dollars they're plotting (inflation-adjusted, etc.).


"Second, all surveillance of Americans should be moved to the FBI."

This sounds like a great idea in theory, but in the current age of global communications I'm concerned that it's impossible to separate surveillance into "American" and "foreign". This gray area is what the NSA currently uses to circumvent the US Constitution, and I don't see how any other agency would handle it differently.


There's lots of middle ground. For example, just tell the foreign intelligence side that they can't tap any communication where at least one side of it originates in the U.S. and then install meaningful (or stringent or whatever you want to call it) oversight on the domestic side.


"This sounds like a great idea in theory, but in the current age of global communications I'm concerned that it's impossible to separate surveillance into "American" and "foreign"."

I've got an even better idea: No surveillance at all!

What do Americans gain from the all-encompassing, algorithmic surveillance? -Why precisely nothing, of course. On the contrary, they suffer massive losses in privacy.

So why is it done, then? -Not for the people's benefit, that's for sure.


"No surveillance at all" wouldn't just exclude "all-encompassing, algorithmic surveillance". It would also exclude warranted tapping of phones in connection with a murder investigation, and similar. I would be hugely leery of asserting that we gain precisely nothing from that.


You know what I was referring to.


No, I don't. I have a few guesses, but no clear picture of which you mean, since none of them is particularly close to what you said.


I was referring to NSA & Google monitoring everything anyone in the world does online. It's pointless to "refute" what I said with a "but what about criminal investigations?!" .. Well yeah, what abou them?

You don't need to monitor everyone everywhere to solve crimes. You know that, so you shouldn't be confused about what I was referring to.


"You know that, so you shouldn't be confused about what I was referring to."

I'm a fan of the principle of charity, but it only extends so far if we're to actually engage in meaningful discussion. If I always take what you wrote and assume you mean something I agree with, I might not actually be engaging with the ideas you are trying to convey. This wasn't a case of ambiguity, but (apparently) of hyperbole that I failed to recognize as such. Even recognizing it, I'm still not entirely sure how far you intend it backed off.


Nevermind.


I think the photo they picked to go with the article subtly undermines it. I wonder if that was deliberate.


Yeah, that's awful.


It's good to see a piece like this on cnn.com, but I doubt that anything will come of it.


Right after the military industrial complex and its pseudo "jobs program".


its


No need to break them up. They just need their virtually unlimited budget cut to the neighborhood of 1995 levels. A gas expands to fill its container. A political organization expands to fill its budget.


"It's time to bell the cat," the mice agree.


First, I am really surprised to see this on CNN....




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