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House Votes to End N.S.A.’s Bulk Phone Data Collection (nytimes.com)
368 points by colinmegill on May 13, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 186 comments

Let's be clear about what the "FREEDOM Act" does. It does not make NSA Bulk Collection of phone data illegal. What it does is rearrange the laws and request process and more carefully enumerate and define procedures by which the NSA may acquire and query phone records that are stored in bulk.

It also focuses primarily on phone records and one phone record program. There are dozens of phone record programs and hundreds of different types of signals that are collected that are not subjects of the "FREEDOM Act".

Now (like it presumably was before) the NSA will not have full takes of all American phone records. They will force companies to keep these records for them though, and they will continue to have the ability to query them.

It doesn't matter if nobody is watching 99.5% of CCTV footage. If CCTVs watch every square inch of a city and record it for later possible inspection, that's surveillance. It does not matter if human analysts do not inspect 99.5% of the bulk data. It is still surveillance.

It was also surveillance when the KGB forced private citizens to keep tabs on one another. It does not matter whether it is Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, Facebook, and Comcast doing the surveillance on compulsion of the Fed. All of our data and communications are being stored and processed.

It is still, categorically, surveillance.

It's quite sad that even a relatively smart and educated community like HN fell for the "oh, they're putting restrictions on surveillance" thin veneer of bullshit when it's pretty damn obvious as soon as you look at the details that this act is doing exactly the opposite of what it claims to do.

If we here are not smart enough to see through this bullshit, then the vast majority of the US certainly will also fall for this.

I've found that a very easy way to quickly determine whether an act of congress harms our rights is in the name itself. They almost always use doublespeak. In other words, an act called the FREEDOM Act is more likely to harm freedom than help it.

Well said.

I think the Internet needs more communication services that operate on the client-side and communicate in a decentralized manner.

Only truly distributed, client-side services can resist the kinds of mass metadata collection that governments force service operators to engage in.

I personally have long since lost faith in the political systems of the world to safeguard the interests of their people. It's about time we took the matters into our own hands and start coming up with technological solutions.

Check out secure scuttlebutt

When they were phone tapping in Eastern Bloc during communism they at least were nice enough to remind you about it through prerecorded message[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telephone_tapping_in_the_Easte...

My parents and grandparents lived in Romania at the time. There was no prerecorded message, just fear and uncertainty.

I guess it was just in Poland then.

I guess you have an ideological bent that considers it a shuffling of deck chairs. At the end of the day, I would rather have private companies holding the records than government for reasons that should be obvious.

But isn't this just like forcing these businesses to be a free-of-charge private cloud storage for the government? Oh, silly me, of course there's gonna be payola bigtime for providing a service like this.

If the government can query the whole trove whenever she deems there is a need, what difference does it make where the hard drives live?

Just more lacklustre theatre where nothing really changes and the partners/cronies get some extra loot.

Sadly you're right, our tax bucks are going to go toward huge overcharging by these companies.

As of 2013, the FBI was paying $325 per wiretap (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/07/10/what...)

> I would rather have private companies holding the records than government for reasons that should be obvious

They are certainly not obvious to me. With government, there is a democratic oversight, you can (at least in theory) vote to have these records destroyed or stop collecting them and so on.

However, when private company does it, what kind of control do you have over them? Especially if they are 3rd party.

The only reason we have any democratic oversight over the NSA's actions is that Snowden broke the law to let us know what they were actually doing.

Yeah I don't see why it's better to have private companies hold the data either. Private companies have a different set of incentives, such as mining that data for advertising...

Government has a monopoly on violence. Private companies do not.

In the theory from which that line originates, it is definitional rather than descriptive: under that theory, whatever has a monopoly on legitimate use of force in a territory is called the State, whether or not it is the thing that purports to be "the government" or not.

There's a bill of rights and a system of checks and balances that protects me from the government. None of those things exist with private companies, not even in theory.

And what given American history makes you think that companies will behave better than government?

At least Governments are somewhat accountable.

The fight is long from over, but everyone should be calling for Snowden's unconditional pardon and then a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The fight isn't even started, this is just another punch in the face. According to https://www.usafreedom.fail/ this act actually extends spying rather than restricting it. Of course, it's being presented as the opposite of what it is. That's par for the course in US politics these days though.

I do appreciate you providing backup to your claim. I do find it hard to give the link much credence. It would be like me commenting about how horrible meat is for people while linking to a fantastically pro-vegan website.

This very first link about the bill extending section 215 (the section under which spying has been justified) until 2019 is pretty self-explanatorily demonstrated by this link, from the page, via a third party legislation tracking site, govtrack.us: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr2048/text/ih#li...

I'm on my phone so I can't check out the other ones, but perhaps you can point to specific claims that are not supported? At the very least this one seems clearly correct.

Edit: also, I disagree with your implicit assertion that a site can't be credible if it has an opinion that it asserts and backs up with facts. It's not always true (frequently not, in the case of U.S. politics) that both sides are viable. Often, one side is just plain wrong or lying, as seems to be the case in this present situation.

It is not actually true that good outcomes from Snowden's actions eliminates all his culpability. In fact: we don't even know how culpable he is --- we haven't seen the last Snowden disclosure yet --- so it's pretty difficult to come to the conclusion that he should be unconditionally pardoned.

I credit him with good outcomes and government leaders who forced his hand for the bad outcomes, so I was ready to pardon him on nearly the first day. I also don't believe any leak, short of one that causes nuclear war, could damage America more than a definite march towards a police state.

This idea that the US is becoming a police state is a joke. The biggest scam ever pulled on the American people is convincing them that the US government is in control of the country. The country is barely managed, hell there are tens of millions of undocumented aliens.

It has the most incarcerated people per capita of any country in the world. That's enough to qualify it as a police state in my mind.

It is kind of humorous that you change the definition of police state because you want so badly to call the US a police state.

"A nation in which the police, especially a secret police, summarily suppresses any social, economic, or political act that conflicts with governmental policy."

Not exactly a great fit.

> It is not actually true that good outcomes from Snowden's actions eliminates all his culpability.

Well, the government and the military uses very often this "good outcomes" concept when they pardon individuals who committed "collateral damage" (aka civilian casualties).

I would like to know how one could be a whistleblower without being "culpable" of "aiding the enemy" (not quoting you here). If some very powerful agency is doing something that doesn't respect the constitution, after reporting that internally and being completely ignored, I believe it would be a crime to not disclose these actions. It seems to me that there is no escape in this culpability game...

> Well, the government and the military uses very often this "good outcomes" concept when they pardon individuals who committed "collateral damage" (aka civilian casualties).

CIVCAS is simply not a crime by itself, "good outcome" or not. The legality of use of force has nothing to do with the outcome of that use in international law, except insofar as a nation that can guard its borders can prevent the rest of the world from bringing war criminals to justice.

E.g. if you deliberately target civilians in an attack that would be a crime, even if you accidentally managed to kill a bunch of important enemy military in a way that would have made the attack legal if you would have known the enemy military were there and targeted them.

Conversely if you target what you have every plausible reason to believe is a concentration of enemy military and it turns out to be, say, a wedding with no military present, that still wouldn't be illegal in international law.

The outcome is almost completely immaterial, it's the process that leads up to the decision to attack that determines the legality of a use of armed force.

Snowden did the right thing. He should be pardoned for that.

Why are you so sure of this? Aren't you essentially saying "no matter what else comes of the Snowden leaks, enough good has been done that Snowden can't possibly be culpable"?

Your question is trying to bottle me into defining Snowden's behavior by the outcomes. I'm saying he should be defined by the morality of his decision when he made it.

Even if it resulted in something detrimental or even catastrophic, I still think that Snowden made the moral choice because those programs don't belong in a free society.

Why should he be automatically defined by his intentions, good or bad? There are plenty of crimes for which good intentions are not a defense.

There are also crimes for which they are. In fact I think we can judge him on outcomes alone and he will still come out ahead, but even in the face of adverse outcomes, the fact that he sought to expose these very illegal programs with repercussions that echo around the globe, means that at the very least he deserves better than de-facto exile and the threat of assassination.

It's like the Good Samaritan law: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Samaritan_law

If you are a doctor going to save a life, it's OK to violate the speed limit.

How can you judge someone on anything but intentions? Nobody knows the future, nor can we ever say what would have happened if an action hadn't been taken.

If drove drunk and ran over a pedestrian, and he turned out to be a mass murderer on the way to strike again, you should still go to jail. You didn't intend good or act morally based on your knowledge at the time, and society would do well to discourage people from following your example.

We'll never know all the outcomes from Snowden's actions, good or bad. We'll never know what would have happened if he'd kept quiet. But why did he do it, and what did he believe would happen if he did or didn't speak up? That's the question. Not easy to answer, but it's the moral question.

> Your question is trying to bottle me into defining Snowden's behavior by the outcomes.

Why else is behavior even a concern, except for its outcomes?

When people oppose surveillance, it's because they fear the possible outcome(s) of surveillance.

Likewise, then, for Snowden. It shouldn't have taken John Oliver to have to point out to Snowden (while interviewing Snowden literally opposite from the Russian intelligence headquarters) that he has to accept responsibility for his actions, good and bad, but apparently that's the world we live in now.

Because if you assault me on the street and chop off one of my legs, and then it turns out that that leg had cancer, I would still expect you to go to jail.

What he did was illegal, which is why he needs a pardon to begin with (if not to signal that he has political support in case of an attack from other gov branch).

> Why else is behavior even a concern, except for its outcomes?

Because expected outcomes matter, too. If I shoot you and you live, that's called "attempted murder", and IMHO should be punished exactly like actual murder. If I shoot you and a paramedic who is trying to stop your bleeding gives you a medicine that you're allergic to and you die, the paramedic should still be treated as someone who acted honorably.

We judge actions based on intent because we want to encourage people to act with good intentions. Outcomes are frequently beyond our control.

> he has to accept responsibility for his actions, good and bad

True, but it's common for us to honor those who choose a good tradeoff. Eg, "yes, you shot the criminal and killed him, which is bad, but you rightly judged it was better to save the hostage's life. That's a wise and moral tradeoff, here's a medal."

Many people believe Snowden's tradeoff was right.

> Many people believe Snowden's tradeoff was right.

Any my assertion is that the people who believe that do not understand the trades that Snowden made, but instead think that because Snowden punched the boogeyman, anything else Snowden could be responsible for is mitigated completely.

I'm not saying we should hang Snowden from the yardarm, but it would be nice if people would at least acknowledge the negative repercussions that we know of today, and the possibly much more negative repercussions that have yet to be revealed, and weigh that into their calculus somewhere.

The fact is that NSA is still around, will continue to be around, will continue to collect information overseas, will continue to be able to collect information domestically (albeit under more policy controls), and all of this was completely predictable when Snowden flew out of Hawai'i for the last time.

Was everything else that came with it worth it? Playing populist politics to try and drive a wedge between Europe and the U.S. (just prior to Putin's heel turn with Ukraine, no less)... was that and everything else worth it?

And someone please explain, why was it not possible to simply leak the civil liberties concerns such as phone metadata, AND NOTHING ELSE? He'd still have "started the debate", no? Why did he steal Tier 3 information that he's only leaked to China (and no other journalists) up to this point?

He's not responsible for anything. He was legally required to leak when his bosses ignored his reports. You can't be "responsible" for doing what you're required to do.

Besides, the NSA mass surveillance programs are next to worthless.

Moving from collecting 5% of the uninteresting communication in the world to 99% is irrelevant when it's the 0.0001% that isn't so easily collected that we're looking for.

A program of mass surveillance like that is only good for things that aren't a national security risk, such as stopping drug dealers, counterfeiters, etc. Perhaps useful, but nothing we need a massive secret-police force able to tap everything for.

What we need are military trials for treason.

> literally opposite from the Russian intelligence headquarters

Wow, do you rant about conspiracy theories outside of HN as well? Because that's the lamest piece of "evidence" I've ever heard.

Also, we know from multiple leaks that the USA threatened Germany and other countries to keep them from giving Snowden asylum. He literally had no other choice than Putin's Russia.

There is a traitor in the room, I'll give you a mirror to help you find them.

A straw man and a red herring, well played. You're seriously going to play the Russian spy card? Surely you can do better that that one.

Everything save the FSB HQ-sponsored interview was dead serious... and the snark on said FSB shout-out was why it was parenthetical.

You can't simply argue that 1 good thing outweighs an arbitrary number of bad things from your decision. Otherwise the NSA would be able to use that logic to argue for an actual policy of no limit to surveillance: "Hey, we disrupted that one plot from our decision to engage in illegal spying, so that makes it OK to scale up surveillance as much as we want, right?"

Has anyone even figured out what Snowden did with all the stuff he leaked from NSA while at Booz-Allen (i.e. the rest of stuff with the IP addresses of Chinese servers NSA was attacking, that he leaked to Chinese media)? The stuff he leaked to Greenwald was from when he worked at Dell, not Booz-Allen. Greenwald and the other journalists claim they never got the documentation that Snowden obtained while he was at Booz-Allen, Snowden claims he took nothing with him to Russia... so where is it? Where did it go?

Did he destroy it all in Hong Kong? If so why did he claim he needed to jump over to Booz-Allen to get to the "Tier 3" information in the first place, if he was never going to leak that data to anyone?

Where was he in the 11+ days between when he left Hawai'i and when he apppeared in Hong Kong?

He may not be a Russian spy but even now he has left as many questions as he's answered...

No, we're saying that leaking a major conspiracy is never the leaker's fault. He wasn't the one who broke the laws, he was the one compelled by law to report it.

All problems coming from the inconvenient revealing of the NSA's programs are firmly the NSA's fault. (The way accidental deaths during a crime are felony murder...)

Do you blame rape victims too? And I ask in all seriousness. Because he's being called a traitor and being forced to flee to Russia because he told us our employees are lying to us.

I'm not arguing with the idea that we don't yet know all of the downsides from the leaks, I have to concede that point.

However, I would argue that the probability of his leaks causing more substantial damage to the US than the very organization perpetrating the act is vanishingly small.

There are different ways of measuring damage, but I'm not talking about destroyed vehicles or dead bodies.

Damage is not necessarily a bad thing. A doctor damages your tumor when they remove it.

Aren't you essentially saying "no amount of good done by an action can outweigh a wrong caused?"

No, that's not an equivalent statement. Mine hinges on the fact that we don't know everything that's been disclosed yet. Mine incorporates the current unlimited downside of the leaks.

Considering that Snowden massively raised awareness of how much closer to 1984 we are than many people thought, and considering that 1984 is considered to exemplify a horrific dystopia, it's hard to imagine a realistic downside to a Snowden disclosure that would evict him from my head as a hero.

Wanna scoff at a 1984 reference? Fine, Snowden demonstrated that the government's power and reach is much greater--much much greater--than most people imagined.

Of course, if the downside risk is unlimited, if it's actually infinite, then literally no good Snowden has done could overcome it. Seems like a bit of a gotcha to me.

Also consider that the bad guys (insert: terrorism, Russia etc) probably had some functional understanding of what the spying capabilities were, and those doing the spying probably knew they knew. So what's left is the public being the only party who didn't know, was least prepared and least deserved it. It leaves you wondering.

Now here we are, and I think that while it's nice that we're trying to fight these invasive practices in courts and through policy, security by design is what's needed most. The invasive practices were either completely unlawful or stretched the definition of what is lawful anyway, so the policy side of things should focus on protecting the legality of encryption, not making it illegal to spy.

Everyone needs to understand that everyone is spying on everyone, and every time a system is implemented to protect someone from spying, the spy will test the topology of that system and find a new way in. So begins a Cold War in the protection of privacy - unending, but honest at least.

Unless the US government is hiding an unfriendly boxed AI and the Snowden disclosures have introduced a risk that this AI may unbox itself - no the downside can not be anywhere near unlimited. How about we look at what we already know of the disclosures along with reasonable guesses of what remains, along with the probability that the remaining disclosures will ever become public knowledge, and judge him based on that.

If you want to be so precise, then lets go ahead and admit that the information to be disclosed cannot have an unlimited downside (what does that even mean, if we blow up the entire world have we reached unlimited downside?)

Meh... every action has "unlimited potential downside" if you engage in enough hypotheticals. We can speculate a scenario where the leaking of the Pentagon Papers results in a worldwide pandemic of a superbug 200000x more contagious and deadly than Ebola. I mean, nobody can prove that that couldn't be a possible outcome.

But by the same token, there's little or no reason to believe that such a thing is likely, just like there's little or no reason to expect any sort of dramatic consequence from Snowden's leaks. I mean, really, why would we expect the papers who have the leaked data to suddenly throw caution to the wind and publish anything any more damaging than what they already have? As far as that goes, if they had anything more revealing and were going to publish it, why wouldn't they have done it earlier?

As a sidebar on epidemiology, a superbug 200000x more contagious and deadly than Ebola would result in a circle around the initial infection wherein everyone inside is dead, and everyone outside avoids entering it.

It would be much worse to have a less deadly and more contagious pathogen. Airborne transmission, plus long linger times for surface transmission, plus long incubation periods, plus low survivability, times zero treatment options, times international airports, equals annihilated species.

This might connect with government secrets somehow if there were a secret project to develop a weaponized virus, and a vaccine for it, then to sneak the vaccine into a multivalent vaccine commonly given to the domestic population, but not to foreigners. The revelation might startle another bio-capable nation into pre-emptively releasing their supervirus, relying on quarantines to save a portion of their population from the American weapon.

There are practical limits on the downside. The worst we could probably do at our current tech level is kill everything on the Earth's surface except for the extremophiles like D. radiodurans, and even that would assume that a lot of people have been telling a lot of lies about existing stockpiles of cobalt-salted nuclear weapons or other types of salted nukes.

That's actually pretty interesting. I just threw something hyperbolistic out there to make a point, but I remember reading some stuff about Ebola a while back, where they were making some of these same points.

Interestingly enough, the main "thing" that ever got me intrigued by the idea of a "deadly superbug" was reading The Stand by Stephen King.

That's pretty lopsided. The leaks have the potential to save the country.

Also, we're talking about blame for actions committed. I feel no remorse for the criminal, anticipating that every new leak will be the one that tightens the noose. That's their fault for the crimes they committed, not the person who turned them in.

If we were talking about a poor kid who robbed a liquor store people would be saying "Can't do the time, don't do the crime."

Snowden is a hero, but a hero that committed a crime, he should pay a punishment. The question to me is not if there should be a penalty, its what form should the penalty take (I feel much the same about Chelsea Manning)

I think some misdemeanor (misuse of government documents or somesuch) and a nominal fine would be a suitable punishment, I am merely one citizen of millions however.

The issue that I have right now, is our existing laws for the kind of crime to me are blatantly unjust, and used so selectively as to create the impression of selective persecution of unwanted and unpopular views.

This is the Just-World Fallacy, as you presume there is some sort of reliable map between things being a crime and things being morally wrong. This is clearly not true, as laws change all the time.

Furthermore, there is the concept of extenuating circumstances. Killing people is usually a crime, but we generally accept self defense as a legitimate justification that requires no punishment. Regarding Snowden, in a country where oaths are taken to defend the Constitution - and not the country itself - informing the people that important parts of the Constitution are under attack or being ignored is an incredibly strong and obvious example of extenuating circumstances.

Anybody that has a problem with that really needs to focus their attention on the people that made such an extreme defense of the Constitution necessary. Yes, we need to update a lot of laws. Hopefully, we can accomplish those changes soon, before someone else is forced to make the choice between following the law and protecting the Constitution like Snowden.

I'm of a mixed mind about it. I believe some of what was released, was potentially very harmful (more so in the case of Ms. Manning) to our interests abroad, and was collected via legal means (aka, not domestic spying), but I also believe that the whistle blowing aspect largely ameliorates whatever damage was done. Thats why I think there should be some criminal prosecution, is warranted, but not for what is being currently pressed or called for.

I try not to pass judgement on weather spying on our allies is morally wrong, I can't say what I'd do if I were president, however I'd always assumed that everyone spies pretty evenly on everyone else, same with the telephone meta data tracking, while I was appalled at the depth and retention time of program, I wasn't really surprised it was going on, as the government has long had easy access to call detail records, this is only an extension of that.

That said, I don't think its right to spy on American Citizens, at home or abroad, spying on there, meh, YMMV, I don't think the government should be doing things in private it wouldn't want to come out later.

Exactly right tptacek... people forget that Snowden isn't just disclosing NSA spying. For example, he disclosed intelligence about a failed al-queda plot that:

revealed that the United States intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Qaida, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, discussing an imminent terrorist attack [0]

And as a result, they may have changed communication methods.

He's had other questionable discloses as well.

0. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/us/qaeda-plot-leak-has-und...

You mean the journalists, who vetted and chose to publish the material, disclosed this. As has been discussed exhaustively, Snowden didn't disclose anything himself, opting to rely on the expertise and judgement of partner journalists to select which items to write about. Keep in mind, many times more items were withheld than not.

No, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. If Snowden truly is a hero, then he has to be held responsible for the outcomes of his actions. By definition, heroism involves intent and responsibility.

Snowden was a steward of the documents, albeit taken against the will of the NSA. Relinquishing those documents to journalists he knew to be technologically uneducated (remember, he had to teach Poitras and Greenwald how to use PGP and adopt the basics of computer security) cannot, with logical consistency, be considered as placing them into authoritatively safe hands.

In most cases, information disclosed to a journalist should be considered to be disclosed to that journalists' readership.

I'm not sure how this is seen as a positive thing. Journalists, with, on average, limited knowledge of infosec, holding in their possession classified documents. Lots and lots of classified documents. I'd wager a guess that at least a handful of these journalists were holding said documents on a system that had its share of known vulnerabilities.

I'd be absurdly happy to be proven wrong, but there is a very high chance that every single document snowden distributed is on sale to the highest bidder, and has been for a while.

There is zero evidence that the data was stolen from these journalists and sold to the highest bidder. Since there is zero evidence, you have to cinsider yourself wrong for now.

Ah, I am not so sure about that. [1] These are just things publicly available on google in a 3-minute perusal of search results.

Paragraph 15 [0]

[1] http://politix.topix.com/story/6798-who-stole-computer-from-...


Even still, no claims by any government agency or any other source have been laid that the data in question was stolen from Greenwald or his team. Believing that the data was stolen and sold is mere conjecture.

I guess you didn't read the links.

> Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.

I believe that qualifies as a "claim by a government agency"

actually, i did read it (you seem to assume a lot of things). speculation by two ex-intelligence experts hardly confirms that the data was stolen. Believing the assumptions of two experts is no better than believing your own assumptions.

You have an odd definition of disclosure. Snowden took the documents and gave them to journalists. That _is_ disclosure.

If what you say were true, then Snowden should just come back to the US. He doesn't even need a pardon. Afterall, he didn't disclose anything.. the journalists did.

“The switches weren’t turned off, but there has been a real decrease in quality” of communications, said one United States official, who like others quoted spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence programs.

A couple of days ago news outlets were calling Seymour Hersh a conspiracy nut because his report contained information gained off anonymous sources in the intelligence community.

Seymour Hersh is a conspiracy nut. He believes USSOCOM is run by Opus Dei. Opus Dei actually had to release a statement.

He is also one of the most important investigative journalists of the last 100 years. The two roles are not mutually exclusive.

“Many of them are members of Opus Dei,” Hersh continued. “They do see what they’re doing — and this is not an atypical attitude among some military — it’s a crusade, literally. They see themselves as the protectors of the Christians. They’re protecting them from the Muslims [as in] the 13th century. And this is their function.”

My understanding of that statement is that he meant that they were deeply religious and were members op Opus Dei, not that there's a secretive organization that's controlling USSOCOM.

I said "_may have_ changed communication methods". Whether or not they changed, it doesn't change the fact that Snowden disclosed monitoring of AlQueda's communications.

And if anyone was wondering, Seymour Hersh is the journalist who wrote the killing bin laden story. He has nothing to do with the article I linked to.

Even terrorists have the right to private communications.

tptacek always makes sure that his comments are legalistically true. He's not a fascist endorsing authoritarian tendencies.

Awww, I bet you say that to all the fellas.

And an unconditional pardon doesn't solve things long term anyway. We need to stop things like the Espionage Act which makes leaking a defenceless crime.

But where do you draw the line? If you accept that Top Secret information should exist, how do you determine what sort of information leaks are ethical, and which are just pointless and reckless, even if the leaker's intent is not espionage or treason?

You can't really say "the law", since a large portion of what the NSA is doing is legal under the PATRIOT Act and various intelligence bills and processes. And you can't really say "the Constitution" either, since only the Supreme Court truly possesses that power.

I do think Snowden should be pardoned, and I think his intentions were pure and he mostly acted properly (though I do have a few issues with some aspects of how he handled it), but the Espionage Act exists for a reason.

I cited the Espionage Act specifically because it has almost exclusively been used against leakers in recent years because there is not legal defense for a leaker who releases something that is in the common people's best interest to have released. There is essentially no defense Snowden's lawyers can take against that charge where they could possibly win, and that in itself is a big issue.

We don't need to make leaking all things all the time legal, but we need our legal system and our courts to have the option to decide whether or not something is in the people's best interest to have released and then pardon those leakers on a case by case basis, punishing those who aren't. It's a case of balance.

> You can't really say "the law", since a large portion of what the NSA is doing is legal under the PATRIOT Act and various intelligence bills and processes. And you can't really say "the Constitution" either, since only the Supreme Court truly possesses that power.

The Supreme Court may be the final arbiter (within the system of government, at least) when there is a controversy over what is constitutional, but it does not mean that they are the only entity that has the power or obligation to interpret and act on the Constitution even when other laws purport to mandate something contrary to it.

> but the Espionage Act exists for a reason.

The Espionage Act may exist for a legitimate reason, but the manner in which it purports to serve that reason has been the subject of serious and sustained criticism from pretty shortly after it was adopted nearly a century ago.

It might be a good idea to rethink it from first principles, rather than accepting a framework laid out in the early-20th Century Red Scare and then tightened under McCarthyism.

Why can't you say the law? Seems like you're assuming that everyone disagrees with what the NSA has been doing, which is totally off base.

> It is not actually true that good outcomes from Snowden's actions eliminates all his culpability.

That claim requires certain assumptions of moral first principles, so whether its "true" or not is not something people are liable to agree on even if they agree on the material facts.

Some time ago tptacek argued against a suggestion that HN members include disclosure of their company/org affiliation in threads with possible conflicts of interest. This was a suggestion that at least merited a rational, constructive debate.[0]

However, his comments in that discussion were dismissive, obnoxious and negative.

Now tptacek publicly argues against Snowden's pardon without disclosing his NSA affiliation.

The original comment calling for disclosures was heavily downvoted by HN community. I am interested in the opinion of the HN members present in this thread. Should there be an effort to expose possible conflict of interest on HN?

Context is important: HN is one of/the most influential tech and startup media/community. tptacek is a respected, well-known and authoritative HN member with lots of clout.


"My NSA affiliation". You people are funny.

Wouldn't a pardon only apply to current charges?

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon and Nixon wasn't even charged with a crime.

Richard Nixon should not have been pardoned!

Both sides have a good argument.

Nixon shouldn't have been pardoned, he should have had to answer for the crimes he committed, but in a way, he did.. he was permanently removed from circles of power, and left in disgrace.

I wont really make the argument that what history meted out to him what sufficient just merely that the prosecution would have taken another 5+ years, while in the mean time the nation and government would have been by in large paralyzed, I believe it was healthier in the long run to close the chapter on that phase of history, and move on.

Something else I'd note, the laws passed in the wake of watergate were reduced in scope, and allowed to be skirted by a compliant and fearful of terrorism congress, the wiretapping is not the fault of the executive, its a failure of congress to provide anywhere near enough oversight.

> Wouldn't a pardon only apply to current charges?

A pardon, at maximum (as usually understood, though I don't think the commonly-accepted belief that prospective pardons are invalid has actually been tested), could apply to all federal offenses committed prior to the pardon being issued, whether or not they were now known, or whether "current charges" even existed.

That sounds a bit like Guilty until proven innocent. Who knows what any of us will do tomorrow or the fallout from it?

No, it is not at all "guilty until proven innocent".

Can you please explain?

If I had to summarize tptacek's argument it would be something along the lines of:

1) Assumption: A pardon of Snowden is only appropriate if the upsides of the leak outweigh the downsides of the leak.

2) We don't know the full downside of the leaks (since that requires knowledge of the future) [1]

3) Therefore, the potential exists for the downside of the leaks to outweigh the upside.

4) Therefore, we shouldn't offer to pardon him yet as we don't know it's appropriate.

The conclusion of the argument relates only to the decision on whether to extend a pardon to Snowden. We don't need to make a presumption of innocence or guilt when deciding to offer a pardon to someone. There is no right to a pardon, and no right to be considered for a pardon. These decisions are the prerogative of the President (for federal crimes).

Calling his argument "guilty until proven innocent" would only be a fair assessment of his argument if tptacek was advocating for punishing Snowden before a trial court and jury determine his guilt.

[1] As an aside, I don't see how this statement could ever become false — at least for time scales that would be relevant to offering relief to Snowden.

Yup. Thanks!

Could you please share with us your idea of one of these potentially damaging downsides?

I personally am of the belief that the government is entitled to zero secrets. I fail to see any downsides that the release of any of this data might cause.

There are lots that could damage US intelligence gathering, but I don't see that as a downside at all. Spying should be hard, as every human is entitled to private communications, even the ones born outside of our imaginary invisible lines we call USA NUMBER ONE.

A direct democracy is not entitled to secrets. But a democratic republic can agree to delegate secrets to a capable representative. The representative would then be responsible for determining whether the public would be better served by keeping a secret or disclosing it.

Of course, if the public cannot have effective oversight over its representatives, it's not a democratic republic any more, but an oligarchic or aristocratic republic, and the representatives are acting on behalf of the elites rather than the general public.

Just as a quick disclosure of my personal opinion: I'm of the belief that Snowden's disclosures were reasonably well managed, and a net good for society. I wouldn't advocate for a pardon of Snowden, but I do think the current charges against him should be dropped.

> "I personally am of the belief that the government is entitled to zero secrets"

While I think the government absolutely has abused its privilege to hold secrets from the public, I think it's pretty clear that the government is entitled to some secrets.

Information that — if disclosed — would lead to a clear and present dangers to specific individuals seems like a clear-cut case of reasonable government secrets. Some examples of this:

* The names of police officers working undercover-cases and the names of their targets * Specific troop position and movements in a time-frame that would allow a reasonable adversary to extrapolate current positions (e.g. information from 10 years ago is not necessarily relevant) * The names of targets of ongoing criminal investigations

Some examples of things that I think are inappropriate uses of government secrets:

* The legal-justification of some FISC rulings * The legal-interpretations of government attorneys that support ongoing government actions * A high level overview of information that the government captures on its citizens (who have no suspicion of criminal activity).

> "I fail to see any downsides that the release of any of this data might cause."

I think it's very likely that the data that Snowden leaked to responsible journalists contained the names of undercover agents in the field. If one of the journalists irresponsibly leaked these names it could easily be responsible for the deaths of those agents.

I don't think this is likely, as I think the journalists that Snowden leaked his documents to have been — on the whole — fairly responsible. However, it is certainly a potential downside of the leak.

I am not of the belief that the government is entitled to zero secrets, so there's probably no productive conversation to have on this topic.

I said in the same breath that I fail to see any downsides that the release of this data could cause. Perhaps my views change with additional thoughts and ideas, which is why I asked for yours.

Essentially the American state religion to which your refer is largely predicated on the concept that any law may be ignored by those in power so long as the intent is to produce "good outcomes" for some state perception of good. (i.e. 'the constitution is not a suicide pact' or read "Enemies: A History of the FBI")

Law (so far) is merely stains on paper until interpreted by the mind of an individual in some context (time, place, society). Societal context is some collective consensus over right and wrong -- some popular mush of common sense, the influence of which can be seen in the evolution of, for example, supreme court decisions over socially controversial issues. Where large numbers of individuals subscribe to a particular set of beliefs about what the law is, and proceed to act accordingly, a very convincing illusion of government emerges. And one may refer to this as a state religion in the sense it is entirely an emergent property of belief rather than reality.

Thus, absolute law is a myth. Pardons are an outlet for the elected leadership to short-circuit the legal process when, in a given instance, punishment is perceived to exceed the crime. It is thus arguably irrational to assert that a pardon is premature in the Snowden case, considering the outcome thus far.

Of course, those capable of issuing such pardons are themselves true believers. Snowden has committed blasphemy against the state religion. Thus a pardon can only occur should some popular unrest threaten those in power.

No. Exposing what he did was good. The way he did it was bad and he should paid the penalty for that.

How do you reckon? He tried going through the official channels for many months, and when it was clear that the system he was working in would not allow those programs to receive even the slightest airing in public, he went to the press.

What would you have had him do?

Do you have any evidence that he tried going through the official channels for any amount of time? The only evidence shown was an email where he asked about executive orders vs legislation to the office of legal counsel for the NSA during his last 30 days of employment.

I know you can't prove a negative, but ordinarily we shouldn't accept unsubstantiated claims.

Hypothetically, if no more evidence for or against this claim surfaces, we probably should give him the presumption of innocence on this point -- and since "avoiding the proper channels" is likely illegal, we have to assume that he tried.

Cool. They're stopping that one spy program everybody knows about.

How many more do you think there are that are even more egregious but they don't have public pressure to end because nobody realizes they exist?

Exactly, they are ending the one that was exposed. They did the same thing with the TIA after 9/11 ending it in May 2003.

We need a constant stream of Edward Snowdens so we know what our own free country is up to.

On the flipside, if you were tasked with security in the US and you had everything at your disposal, you'd go as far as you could into privacy until the people noticed and pushed back. So it is important that this is a constant battle.

There's also the possibility this is all a Limited Hangout - COINTEL Tactic

Ignore video - read description. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wApOHk92Ds

I only bring this up as it is within the realm of possibility. Especially with the massive media narrative surrounding the entire thing. Although it seems a little too conspiracy theory for people to sink their teeth into the possibility.

The sheer amount of spying operations makes me think its sincere on Snowden's part. If it were truly a limited hangout operation, why would they release so many programs? Why not only 1 or 2? What would they be trying to distract the general population from? What could their agenda be behind doing this at all?

The closest "agenda" they could be trying to push is the "necessary backdoors to circumvent encryption then we wouldn't need all these spy tools for mass surveillance" pitch that kinda flopped for obvious reasons.


To clarify there can be other reasons for a limited hangout. For example, to test the water of the governments control over the population. How many people have you seen that hold the opinion Snowden is an American Traitor who should be killed?

That is a red flag to me that there are Americans who trust the government enough to forego their own privacy for promised security, even when the security has failed to be delivered. This is good testing grounds to see "how far the government can push things" to keep control over the population. Knowledge is power - and the government is collecting it en masse on its people.

We've learned enough from history that brutal dictatorships end in downfall of the leaders. What about a complacent "ownership" where the 99% slave away for the 1% in rather blissful happiness of their situation? It's not all bad, they make a decent living after all, why would they ruin it with a revolt? If I were part of the 1%, that would be my goal. Keep the 99% happy and make my life an easy one where I can do anything I like.

All speculation and philosophical thinking to spark discussion of course.

At the very beginning I thought Snowden was a plant, mostly because he claimed to have hundreds of thousands of docs but was releasing very few, but as time went on and more kept on being leaked I realized it couldn't be.

The American population tends to forget about incidents mere months after they happen. Small releases over time was how Snowden made sure that people did not forget about it. I believe he even stated that was why he handed over the documents in large groups, but not all at once.

I do not think he is a plant. * Puts on my conspiracy hat * But maybe that's what they want me to think?

If true, another Snowden, Binney, Drake, or Wiebe will emerge to help end it.

It would be a fallacy to assume that every secret abusive program has a whistle blower, just because every secret abusive program we know about has had a whistleblower. It's like saying "there's no such thing as the perfect crime". Well, maybe, but if there were, we wouldn't know about it.

I agree, but my theory is that any mass surveillance program will necessarily employ a quantity of highly educated and intelligent people. People capable of interpreting the 4th Amendment for themselves and responding ethically, as the existing whistleblowers have done.

They're not ending anything. This bill makes the spying slightly less egregious, while explicitly authorizing and extending the spying.

> They're stopping that one spy program everybody knows about

Yes, I'm sure it will stop.

I actually wonder what the NSA will do if this legislation will pass. I believe they used an excuse in Court before that they "can't" shut down the program (or a similar one). So would they actually shut it down or rename it and move it to a different facility? Who gets to verify that they're going to obey the new law? The Intelligence Committee members that already oppose the new laws?

Yeah, at this point I'm pretty sure the NSA doesn't give a shit what Congress says. If Congress cut off their funding, they'd make it up by orchestrating the sale of arms and/or drugs on the black market, and keep right on doing what they're doing now.

They'll do everything they did until now and more[1].

[1] https://www.usafreedom.fail/

I think the NSA will continue to spy. They might go to the trouble to hide it from Congress, but I doubt it, and I doubt Congress will actually care.

Here's your answer: according to https://www.usafreedom.fail/ this act doesn't actually restrict the NSA. In fact, it extends the spying powers of the NSA. So they'll continue what they're doing, and do more of it.

Is it just me, or did anyone else have to double-check to see that this was an ANTI-spying bill and not a PRO-spying bill? I wish bills were required to have descriptive names.

TL;DR: It's a good one, but EFF and others feel it doesn't go nearly far enough to curb spying.

> "TL;DR: It's a good one, but EFF and others feel it doesn't go nearly far enough to curb spying."

Actually, it's NOT a good one. To quote Rep. Justin Amash on USA Freedom: “H.R. 2048 actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data“

* http://tumblr.fightforthefuture.org/post/118897240668/justin...

Amash is emerging to play a Ron Paul esque role of which both Paul's supporters and detractors made incredible use:

He's the only one who is strangely saying something different than the rest.

At his young age, it's possible to imagine Amash breaking Paul's record for casting the largest number of sole nays.

He also goes through the hassle of explaining his votes. Which is nice to see and understand his thought process.

What does that say about the EFF marking this a neutral?

Yeah. Based on the name and past history of the government, I assumed it was something nefarious. (And probably like the Congressmen, I haven't read it, so maybe they did slip something nasty in.)

Honestly, they ought to just pass a law that bills can't have names and can only be numbered, to avoid propagandized or just plain dishonest titles.

My god this might be brilliant! It will get nicknames from each partisan side but it WON'T have a title.

But it's got "freedom" in the name. It couldn't possibly be bad... You know, like the "Patriot" Act. </s>

Anything with a patriotic word in the title is suspect. Anything with a victim's name in the title is presumed awful.

I dunno, the AMBER alert system was a pretty damn good idea.

I turned amber alerts off on my phone after multiple alerts at 2am for someone over 100 miles away.

Isn't that the thing that wakes me up at 4 AM when I forget to disable it on a new phone? No, I don't think it's a good idea.

Good idea, less than great implementation. But still, it's just a presumption--presumptions can be overcome.

Were we really expecting the government to just one day give us exactly what we wanted?

Being a libertarian, I don't want to do all the knee-jerk stuff on here in response, but for context we must remember that bulk data collection was never authorized in the first place.

So it very well may be that metadata collection ends under the Patriot Act and continues under some sealed executive order from the G.W. Bush years.

If watching DC over the last decade or so has taught me anything, it's to be very careful noticing the difference between what things appear to be and what they actually are.

ADD: Just to be clear "Congress votes (and the president signs) a law to outlaw bulk data collection" is one headline. "The House of Representatives fails to authorize some forms of bulk collection by no longer continuing certain provisions" is another. The House is not voting to end anything.

Mr. Headline Writer Person: please do not confuse these two completely different scenarios.

Wake me when the president signs a bill into law that ends the Patriot Act, once and for all.

To be honest, we should have standards and secret courts and "national security" letters are the very thing that the constitution was designed to stop. (the fourth amendment and the like were meant to put an end to the equivalent of that era.)

Signing or voting for any continuation of the Patriot Act should be considered an unforgivable act by anyone who values freedom.

How about you wake up yourself, call your congress-critters and express you opinions, instead of falling back asleep. We NEED you to participate in democracy. You, an intelligent internet user that is smart enough to seek out and use a site like HN are far far above the average voter in terms of awareness of internet freedom issues and their implications. Whatever your opinions are, they are likely much more informed than the average US citizen's. Please, please, please, wake yourself up and participate in this great experiment.



The nondisclosure restriction on NSLs is tied directly to PATRIOT (or at least may have only been tested in the context of PATRIOT), but the concept of an NSL predates it. Really, your issue is with Smith v Maryland.

> (the fourth amendment and the like were meant to put an end to the equivalent of that era.)

Do you know off hand the name of those era's equivalents? Just some search terms to get me going would be appreciated. I'd like to learn more about the historical precedent.

I haven't finished reading it yet but this appears to be a good read with sources https://www.eff.org/files/filenode/att/generalwarrantsmemo.p...

It's linked to from this page which also may help http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/07/nsa-spying-is-exactly...

The 'general warrants' referred to elsewhere were often used by British customs enforcement who were supposed to use those warrants to search for evidence of smugglers in colonial America.

But since they had a general warrant they were easily abused in practice, which in part led to the wording of the Fourth Amendment.

I think the term "general warrant" was used. Hopefully this gets you started, and hopefully others comment with more information.

Portions of the Patriot Act are up in June, where will our representatives stand? https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/01/section-215-patriot-ac...

I'm so confused. What about this?


Oh I see what they did. Patriot Act section 215 was up in June 1, 2015. So they did this "USA Freedom Act" a month before to extend that to 2019. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr2048/text/ih#li...

"Section 102(b)(1) of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (50 U.S.C. 1805 note) is amended by striking June 1, 2015 and inserting December 15, 2019."

So no need to fight that Patriot Act fight for another 4 years.

It is definitely time to switch to SB, HB and numbers for bills and no propagandistic naming of bills for sure so they can't get this fast track mentality. They are also pushing through TPP with strong-arming while presenting this false NSA good news as a top story.

> It is definitely time to switch to SB, HB and numbers for bills and no propagandistic naming of bills

I think this is what should happen.

Good. Domestic spying means less and slower social progress, because the leading edge of social progress will be seen as dangerous and programs like what NSA have been running will be used to crush it in the early stages of development. There is a real cost to living in a panopticon.

This re-enforces the spying apparatus by giving them rules they otherwise made up for themselves. This bill doesn't give you any privacy.

Is the Freedom act even relevant at the moment? Since a district court ruled that the bulk collection is already illegal under the current law and Rand Paul and Ron Wyden are threatening to filibuster the renewal of the expiring Patriot Act, it seems that civil rights hawks currently have the upper hand, or at least an advantageous bargaining position. Why pass another law that could be skewed to give the intelligence agencies more loopholes?

The court ruled it was illegal but did not order the end of the program and instead said it was the job of congress to either let section 215 expire or knowingly renew the program.

The district court decision is anything but established precedent.

Not sure why you both wrote "district court". It was the Second Circuit: http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/NSA_ca2_20150507.pdf

Freedom Act is a Trojan Horse: https://www.usafreedom.fail/

I'm not 100% sure, but I think that a legislative end to the program moots any currently running judicial challenges to it. So, if Congress shuts the program down, the Supreme Court will never get to weigh in on the constitutionality of the whole thing.

If I'm not wrong about that, I would much rather let the damn thing run for a few more years and have the Supremes kill it for good.

The risk, of course, is they might rule it's legal.

It seems that that risk is small: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2015/05/senate-intelligence-ch... (Paragraph four is most relevant, but 'graphs one through three also make good reading.)

Moreover, recent court cases at all levels make it clear that the Judicial system is pretty sick of surveillance methods that rely on creative interpretations of law.

If the Supremes don't get a chance to weigh in and stake this behavior through the heart, Congress will soon dismantle some or all of it, only piece the programs back together over the next few years[0].

[0] Much as Ma Bell pieced itself back together (sans Bell Labs) after the breakup.

You're most likely correct in that they would rule it illegal, though I don't think we should underestimate the court's ability to produce convoluted decisions to support the status quo. See Gonzales v Raich.


I think it's totally worth the risk.

Such sophistry from The Paper of Record. Honest headlines might be:

House Declines to Let The Patriot Act Expire as Planned

or House Votes to Extend the Patriot Act...Again

or House Votes to Extend the Patriot Act, Attempts to Curtail Worse Excesses

Here's a hint, NYT. When Milton Friedman said "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program," he was being critical not descriptive.

... And in related news, NSA internal leadership votes to continue bulk data collection anyway.

Call me overly cynical, but I suspect that the legislative branch lost meaningful influence on the executive in this area some time ago.

Hell, the executive and the chain of command both would have a hard time forcing the hand of a recalcitrant NSA: "Joint Chief Smith, we're happy to discuss your objections to our policy, but first we'd like to review some saved communications we have that document some of your conduct. On page 2, we cover your first year at West Point..."

Only because Congress is happy with things the way they are. Letting the NSA (and other agencies) carry on with these kinds of programs gives them an out no matter what happens.

If the program gets discovered and the public is upset legislators can pretend they didn't know about it. Nancy Pelosi did this rather famously, pretending she'd never been briefed on programs she was documented to have been briefed on.

On the other hand, if a big terrorist attack happens and the public is in the mood for greater leeway for security services Congress can point to programs like this one and say "See, we've been looking out for you all along by authorizing intrusive data collection."

This is the way legislative politics works in the US. The goal is to put yourself into a "heads I win, tails... I win" situation, and they're very good at it. To operate with principle is to risk giving your electoral opponents ammunition when you're up for office next.

If Congress actually wanted to enforce its will here you would see concrete changes. But it doesn't.

> A compromise of some form must be reached before June 1, when the provision of the Patriot Act that allows the N.S.A. dragnet expires.

Actually, it would seem the best outcome would be to prolong things past the 1st...

What happens to records already collected?

well its about time.

but i am sure they will come up with another clever name for it and just keep on doing it.

Great, but what about bulk collection of Internet traffic which is even more critical?

And should we expect a rise in the VOIP industry to get around these proposed changes?

so... only phone data collection then. what about everything else?

Is Obama going to veto this? If he does that would be out of character and alarming. At the same time, he has never really shunned the NSA at all.

It gives me some hope for this country that this issue doesn't fall along the normal party line divisions.

I suspect this is always the case when both sides feel equally vulnerable to an issue.

Is it me or is this a misleading title?

Great, so now all the people who make phone calls in the US will be safe from metadata collection of their contact graph...

...unless they make them on a smartphone OS from a PRISM partner vendor like Google or Apple.

Or call someone outside of the country that only holds 4% of humans.

Or make the call on Skype or Facebook.

Or send an email.

It's progress, I guess. But is it meaningful progress?

There is zero evidence establishing that a source appearing in PRISM implies that their smartphone OS is backdoored.

Snowden said directly, twice, and it meshes with my own speculation from having worked at two of the implicated companies, that PRISM is the NSA-side codename for an efficient warrant process and nothing more.

Calling them warrants when they are issued by the FISA rubberstamp court (or are NSLs) is quite a stretch.

Collecting metadata doesn't require a backdoor.

There is tons of evidence that putting a name in your iCloud or Google contacts means the NSA gets a copy.

Please cite the iCloud evidence to which you're referring.

The entirety of the evidence for the very specific claim you made is a single slide with the word "Apple" on it alongside every other big tech company?

Better assume they are backdoored and every communication and stored information is accessible by govt and its organizations. That way we would be conscious about our activities on devices and elsewhere and try our best to protect ourselves until the system changes (which could be never).

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