William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

XKeyscore: Too Early For I Told You So?

Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety, unless they’re scared of terrorists, and then it’s okay—Benjamin Franklin

So the latest revelation, which will shock many but which was well predicted by percipient curmudgeons, including (ahem) Yours Truly, is that our beneficent government, which loves us and only wishes to care for us, scoops up all you do on line. All as in all.

We're spying on you for your own good

We’re spying on you for your own good

Remember Ed Snodwen? He’s now officially a Pal of Putin (a club with limited membership).

His first leak was that Leviathan grabbed and cherished all our phone “meta” data, news which was dismissed by many as “Not interesting”, these folks not having a clue what “meta” meant. Well it meant the precise time, locations (for people move about when making calls), and the tos-and-froms of the calls. Yes, even the calls you wish you didn’t make and later regretted. Rich information, that.

Minions jumped at microphones to reassure us this behavior was benign: “Sure, we keep all that meta data—which isn’t real data after all—but we don’t listen in on calls.” This was probably a lawyer’s truth, which is a statement which is true if viewed in the correct way (“It all depends on what the meaning of is is”), but which is really false.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, except when it can be done easily by keystroke, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That is to say, Leviathan is surely grabbing some to all phone calls but actual human persons are not physically putting ear to speaker for each and every one of them. Thus a minion can say “We don’t listen to phone calls”, by which he means “We listen to some but not all,” and feel he is telling the truth.

Next came the news that Leviathan—in a project code-named Panopticon—was vacuuming up all the bits and bytes of your emails. But hey: they did this to protect you. Yes, this included all those emails that you wish you hadn’t sent, or which can be misconstrued, or which are damaging or damning (but of which, we pray, you have repented), or which your political enemies will gleefully read and use to expose you to the IRS.

More minions were dispatched to Sunday-morning coffee shows with the talking point “Poo-poo.” They said, “We’re not reading these emails,” by which they meant they personally were not reading them, but that computer algorithms were. The minions also let it be known that the algorithms were able to nab 31.4 terrorists—well, it’s what the algorithm claimed—so why worry?

The poo-pooing worked. People said, “They have our phone meta data, and maybe a few calls here and there, and also our emails, but think about the children! At least they don’t have our browsing history. That might prove embarrassing.”

The latest—but not, we predict, the last—revelation is that, yes indeedy, Leviathan scoops up not just your browsing history, but everything else you do online, including chats, Facebook activity, searches, and (this part is a guess on my part) probably purchases. See this link for more.

Since this busted wide open just last night, the minions have not yet spoken. But we can guess their words: “We only use this data to catch terrorists. Don’t you want to be safe? There are safeguards, just like at the IRS. We would never misuse this data. The Constitution? Our program is legal and NSA is just following orders.”

Want some good news? Most of us have more than one online persona, more than one email, use more than one browser, make calls from all kinds of sources, and do all this at multiple locations. This is, at present, too much data, so much that Leviathan has to toss some out. It thus will be difficult, and even in some cases impossible, for the government to tie all sources together to paint one cohesive picture of You. But don’t be too happy. Leviathan has intimidation and infinite resources on its side, so if they want to get you, they will.

And did you see that NSA chief General Keith Alexander is using the oldest trick in the book to silence domestic critics? He’s throwing money at them. Thing is: the trick is old because it works.

Guess on next revelation: admission that content of phone calls is captured.


51 Comments

  1. I don’t understand why any of this is surprising or shocking. When you are online, ads tied to purchase registrations, web browsing, etc. come up. If the data is out there, you can be sure the government can access it. I have always assumed that everything I typed online or any pages I browsed were recorded somewhere and that “Big Brother” would be able to peruse my information. I don’t consider this so much “for the children or for our safety” but rather “because they can”.

    The same is true for phone calls. Even with a land line, the government (or any clever techie) could find out what was said on calls, even without a tap.

    Is all of this scary? No–it’s the price we pay for wanting everything accessible and instantaneous. Just don’t write those emails you will later regret (think “They” are reading this before typing) and don’t discuss anything on the phone you don’t want half the nation to later find out. There’s still “in person” contact if you really want privacy. Just check for those pesky cameras first, and chat away! 🙂

  2. I worked for a large retailer for awhile – the amount of data they have on each customer is astounding. I shudder to think of what information they are sharing with the government. Purchasing patterns, combined with emails, phone call metadata, and IRS / obamacare health data could easily lead to some very scary scenarios. “Pre-crime” computer models in our future?

  3. too much data, so much that Leviathan has to toss some out

    More likely, simply not considered and just misplaced. The problem is two-fold: it will be there forever and the smallest items can eventually be informative.

    One of my former girl friends worked for the NSA and probably still does. Over a period of five years, the tiny bits of what I knew added up and I pretty much narrowed down what she did there without her telling me. The look on her face confirmed I wasn’t far off.

    If TV programs are any clue, the smallest detail can trip you when Big Bro has you in its sights. When viewed “properly”, the most innocent of actions can be easily misconstrued — even when perfectly legal.

    Who knows. One day what you’re doing may be declared illegal and then there will be a record of all your damning past behavior.

  4. It seems like the Land of the Free has changed coordinates. Now dissidents looking for freedom run away to Moscow; life has this jokes.

  5. Interesting comment Fran. It does seem ironic.

    As noted by DAV, your past can come back to haunt you, even if it’s not directly by he government. Look at what happened to Paula Deen.

  6. Sheri

    Is it me or you are threatening me for making use of my freedom of speech?

  7. Fran: I don’t know. I thought I was complimenting you, but I could be wrong?

  8. Sheri

    Ok sorry, it was me then, haha 😀

  9. On a related topic, speaking of poo-pooing, caught a bit of Terry Gross (it was an accident! I swear!) on NPR (No, really! The car radio has a mind of its own sometimes!) and she was interviewing somebody about the IRS scandal – so I listened for a few minutes.

    The minion, whose name I did not catch, played a subtle card: he poo-pooed the scandal based on some evidence (not presented) that showed that it wasn’t quite exactly the scandal (tone of voice implies adult tolerating children) that the Right is claiming it is. Yet I’ve seen no evidence that the scandal isn’t *exactly* what the Right claims it is: a gross and criminal abuse of government power.

    So, the idea here is that you assert an unsupported contrary to cast the entire event as somehow dubious, when in fact the core of the problem is untouched by the claim. I am reminded of an old accusation against Jesuits: Accuse a Jesuit of murdering 3 men and a cat, and he will promptly produce the live cat.

  10. The real problem with too much information is the need for something that approaches infinitely accurate analysis. 99.9% doesn’t cut it. The 0.1% starts killing you with overhead and the bad guys start talking in plain language right in front you and you ignore them.

    Any information you gather has to somehow be marked actionable. Resources have to be allocated.

    We don’t need to worry about them coming up with an algorithm that accidentally targets us with this. We need to worry about triggering the target algorithm externally which then causes scrutiny and warrants to be issued. They will find all of our not so perfect perusals of the internets.

    especially for places like http://stillspirits.com

    I leave this here to try and barage them with too many people wondering how to make spirits.

    For less than an ounce of gold, you too can get a machine that produces way more than an ounce of gold. How much is 2 gallons of good whiskey worth? Vodka? Gin?

    I blabbered too much somewhere else. gotta cover my tracks by blabbering a little more.

  11. Data mining of social media data is already being commercialized, and there’s a pretty good chance the NSA has been doing it for awhile.

    I just had a demo today from this outfit:

    http://datasift.com/

  12. Nullius in Verba

    August 1, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    The reason metadata is not protected, technically, is that you have already shared it with your phone company or internet service provider. The phone company can read the data. Its employees can read the data. You have therefore (technically) agreed to other people seeing this data, and therefore it’s not “private”. You already know that people can and quite possibly do read it.

    The distinction, of course, is that while you would trust the phone company with the data – after all, they probably have no interest so long as you’re not ripping them off – people don’t trust the government with it. To government types and other statists, this does not compute. Government is by definition the most trustworthy entity there is. Government acts as the watchdog on everyone else, the final arbiter, the ultimate authority and safeguard. If you don’t trust government, what can you trust?

    Assume anything you do online is monitored. If you want to keep it private, you need to use encryption or codes, and to use some anonymous means of communicating. (The easiest is to post comments to some unfussy blog that you both read. Anyone who reads the blog could be the recipient.)

    The big risk for the government is that they might push it enough to make security precautions mainstream. At the moment, only people with a definite reason for doing so take precautions. The fact they do is interesting metadata in itself. If people become bothered by government spying, the precautions may become mainstream, and security services will lose that access and insight. But if a few hundred million drop off the open part of the internet, it will become increasingly difficult to track what’s going on.

    However, at the moment few people care. That’s why nothing will be done to stop it.

  13. NiV,

    Trust no one. The dog howls at the moon while the cat sleeps in the pantry.

  14. Thomas Esmond Knox

    August 1, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Once a label enters common discourse, it is hard to change.

    For example, “social media” is more fittingly labeled “anti-social media”.

  15. Sylvain Allard

    August 1, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Should American be surprised?

    Remember the movie “Enemy of the State” with Will Smith and Gene Hackman. It was in 1998, 15 years ago. The movie is actually about the worst that could happen to anyone. Actual targeting by someone in power.

    But, does the government really need these super computer to do the job, when Edgar J. Hoover did exactly that for the better part of 50 years. Back then it was a lot worst than whatever is happening today.

    The recording of all phone conversation is a low probability since the amount of data space required for it would be phenomenal.

    With online activity the hardest part is to link a pseudo to a person. The NSA can follow an IP address but it is much harder to assign it to an actual person.

    Also the government is not the one to be afraid of the most. The worst is what some employee could do with the data, selling to the highest bidder.

  16. Sylvain Allard

    August 1, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Joseph Moore,

    1-) you can read the full transcript that Darrel Issa was rejecting to release here:

    http://democrats.oversight.house.gov/images/stories/IRS_Screening_Manager_Part_I.pdf

    2-) you can also see how progressive were also targeted making everything a false scandal. Look at the two upgrade at the bottom.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/24/irs-progressive-groups_n_3492679.html

  17. Folks, if you don’t scramble your 1’s and 0’s, what do you expect?

    I’d like to respond to some of the comments above; and the original post. But there’s really nothing to be said — yet.
    The technology is driving this “non-debate”… (It’s driving it onto the roads’ shoulders: Nothing with flat tires or overheated radiators should remain to obstruct traffic, eh? 🙂 What can be done will be done, even if it shouldn’t be…

    As much as I dislike what Manning (via Assange) and Snowden (via the Russians and the Chinese) have done, I’d say our “secret service” needs yjod wake-up call. If they don’t get this one, they’ll miss the obvious once too many times.

  18. @Nullius in Verba

    The reason metadata is not protected… Its employees can read the data. You have therefore (technically) agreed to other people seeing this data, and therefore it’s not “private”.

    I completely disagree. This argument could be used as well for your medical records, financial records, school records and anything that anyone had access to due to their jobs, and this includes, of course, your e-mail accounts since they can be accessed by the e-mail provider engineers.

    @Don Jackson

    Folks, if you don’t scramble your 1′s and 0′s, what do you expect?

    Well, I would expect my grandma not to have to learn to use cryptological tools for sharing pictures of her grandsons. This technology could be implemented in mail accounts by default by Google and other companies, but they don’t for obvious reasons.

    As much as I dislike what Manning (via Assange) and Snowden (via the Russians and the Chinese) have done…

    Sorry but, the media you listen to claim that Manning was recruited by Assange and Snowden by China and Russia as double agents? really?? Also, what is exactly what you dislike?

  19. @Fran:
    I think your grandma is okay, as long as she isn’t encrypting state secrets in those photos. (It’s another matter, whether she’s allowing perverts to hone in on her kidlings… Or just enjoy their pics on the web. But you’ve tried to warn her, haven’t you?)

    What, I’d ask, are the “obvious reasons” that preclude, e.g., Google, from implementing the kind of security you’d like?
    My guess would be: They’re pointless and ineffective. Your milage, I’m sure, will vary.

    I made no claims about Manning and Snowden being recruited; I merely mentioned that their efforts to do whatever it is you think they’ve done were facilitated by hostile foreign actors.
    What I dislike is that they both broke their oaths, violated the security protocols they agreed to, and seemed oblivious to the harm their reckless actions might occasion. Not to mention, what their facilitators might do…

    I’d guess you don’t think either Snowden or Manning did anything wrong?
    As you hinted to Nullius above, a clerk in a medical records department who disclosed (or otherwise abused their access to) private records faces criminal and civil prosecution.

    On what basis would you except Manning and Snowden?

  20. We could try an experiment. Someone could post the comment, “Let’s all band together and form a terrorist cell to bomb the Pentagon” then Briggs could check for unusual activity in his access logs…

  21. [blockquote]I’d say our “secret service” needs yjod wake-up call[/blockquote]Forgive me for quoting myself…

    But is no one else interested in this aspect of the story?

  22. @Don Jackson

    I think your grandma is okay, as long as she isn’t encrypting state secrets in those photos. (It’s another matter, whether she’s allowing perverts to hone in on her kidlings… Or just enjoy their pics on the web. But you’ve tried to warn her, haven’t you?)

    It is interesting you mention the “perverts” thing because that’s the second excuse governments use to strip citizens from any right to privacy.

    “It is to protect the children! It is to fight terrorism! What are you? A pedophile or a traitor!?” And then citizens go “well… I’m neither so I guess I have no right to privacy, only criminals would want that.” Right Don?

    What, I’d ask, are the “obvious reasons” that preclude, e.g., Google, from implementing the kind of security you’d like? My guess would be: They’re pointless and ineffective. Your milage, I’m sure, will vary.

    Pointless and ineffective, right? Yeah, I guess that’s why the US government tried to jail Phillip Zimmerman for sharing his own freaking code under the accusation of arms trafficking.

    I made no claims about Manning and Snowden being recruited; I merely mentioned that their efforts to do whatever it is you think they’ve done were facilitated by hostile foreign actors.

    No, it was a domestic factor. They grow up thinking they were living in the land of the free and home of the brave… Now they are paying the price for trying to be both.

    What I dislike is that they both broke their oaths, violated the security protocols they agreed to, and seemed oblivious to the harm their reckless actions might occasion. Not to mention, what their facilitators might do…

    Show me the harm.. In any case, time for quoting

    “I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

    That oath includes the 4th amendment, so denouncing corrupt practices of your Government actually is within your oath.

    I’d guess you don’t think either Snowden or Manning did anything wrong? As you hinted to Nullius above, a clerk in a medical records department who disclosed (or otherwise abused their access to) private records faces criminal and civil prosecution. On what basis would you except Manning and Snowden?

    They were exposing a crime. The questions is not on what basis you would except Manning and Snowden, but on what basis would you except the treason against the US Constitution committed by government officials.

    I’d say our “secret service” needs yjod wake-up call

    This is what security experts assisting to the Black Hat Briefings think about the NSA (very short video):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4X8ulsmTwE

    Guys assisting to these conferences are the ones ending up protecting the NSA systems, so unless NSA plans to hire rednecks to protect their computers they have a hell of way to go to clean the image… Good luck with that!

  23. Well, I guess you’re right: We need more government to oversee the government. (We could just pass a law, but you know how well that works, eh?)

    But this whole idea of a right to “privacy” is ludicrous. Where I grew up, there were still beat cops. Lord knows what problems you’d have with that!

    The 4th Amendment is rather specific:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Privacy is but another example of reification…

    But read something like Transparency for NSA Surveillance Practices if you’d like to know what the issues are.

    BTW: That beat cop wasn’t required to shut his eyes, stopper his ears, or ignore all rumors…
    We live now in a different world, I’ll grant. But yours is much closer to paranoid delusion, I think, than mine.

  24. Rich: Let’s all say we’re members of the Tea Party and we’re having meetings to work on winning back the Senate in 2014.

  25. Rule Number 1: (do not ever forget this!).
    If it’s digital, it’s everywhere.

    Interpretation: If something is digital, then assume that it’s everywhere immediately. Always assume this. Always.

    The music industry has/is learning this.

    Cell phone users are learning this.

    Internet users are now learning this.

    If it’s digital, it’s everywhere. Some guy in Sri Lanka is looking at your financial data. Some guy in Brazil is listening to your phone calls. Some guy in Nigeria is watching you as you type in your browser. Always assume that this is true. It’s an actual fact that not every single that you put out there is read by someone else right then, but you should always assume that it is true. Always.

  26. Nullius in Verba

    August 2, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Fran,

    “I completely disagree. This argument could be used as well for your medical records, financial records, school records and anything that anyone had access to due to their jobs, and this includes, of course, your e-mail accounts since they can be accessed by the e-mail provider engineers.”

    Yes, that’s right. They do.

    And the same argument applies. The government says it has the right to search metadata that you have voluntarily handed over to someone else without violating the 4th amendment, because they’re not searching *your* property to get them, and the same principle certainly applies to everything else you mention. And yes, they can certainly access your financial records – they can even freeze them if they choose.

    Sylvain,

    “The recording of all phone conversation is a low probability since the amount of data space required for it would be phenomenal.”

    Not with today’s technology.

    http://blog.archive.org/2013/06/15/cost-to-store-all-us-phonecalls-made-in-a-year-in-cloud-storage-so-it-could-be-datamined/

    Scotian,

    “Trust no one. The dog howls at the moon while the cat sleeps in the pantry.”

    🙂

    “Xf dboopu dpoujovf up sfmz pomz po pvs njmjubsz jo psefs up bdijfwf uif obujpobm tfdvsjuz pckfdujwft uibu xf’wf tfu. Xf’wf hpu up ibwf b djwjmjbo obujpobm tfdvsjuz gpsdf uibu’t kvtu bt qpxfsgvm, kvtu bt tuspoh, kvtu bt xfmm-gvoefe.”

    Cbsbdl Pcbnb.

  27. Briggs

    August 2, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    All,

    When I’m wrong, I admit it. Newest and latest revelation: USPS takes photos of all mail.

  28. Interesting quote in that USPS link: “It’s extremely expensive to keep pictures of billions of pieces of mail. So there’s no need for us to do that.”

    So then, if it weren’t expensive there would be a need?

  29. Sheri,

    I really hope that you will put other Todd Akin, Richard Mourdocks and the like on the blallot in 2014 ensuring that the démocrates keep the senate. I hope that you are working really hard so the tea party can help the democrat for the democrat.

  30. Sheri,

    I really hope that you will put other Todd Akin, Richard Mourdocks and the like on the blallot in 2014 ensuring that the démocrates keep the senate. I hope that you are working really hard so the tea party can help the democrat.

  31. Sylvain: Try again for interpretation of my comment. Note to whom I addressed it and then think about its actual meaning. You are a mile (or kilometer, in your case) off.

    (As for your preferences for OUR politics, I really could not care less. Nor do I care what Canada does for politics, which apparently makes conservatives much more tolerant and accepting than liberals, doesn’t it???)

  32. If anyone is still interested (yes, there’s some sarcasm intended there…), Stewart Baker has an informative post over at The Volokh Conspiracy:
    Does NSA Work Harder to Protect Privacy than to Protect National Security?

    He finishes with this:

    Arguably, existing oversight mechanisms have already led NSA to protect privacy better than it protects national security. Adding more oversight, as Congress seems inclined to do, will shift NSA’s priorities further in the same direction. At some point, I fear, that will lead to a serious national security failure.

    Repeating a quip by Franklin as though it were a mantra will not obviate the risk.

  33. Sylvain Allard

    August 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Sheri,

    I would love not to care about US politics, except that the US have the very bad habit of meddling in everyone else business. On this matter, Republican have a very poor track record.

    The overthrow of a democratically elected in Iran in 1953 has only been replaced by a war killing over 100k Iraqis base on blatant lie promoted by the vice-president himself.

    For one I would be in favor for Canada to ban any sales of oil to the US. How long do you think it would take the US to invade Canada if our Prime Minister took such a decision.

    Luckily for the US the tea party extremism makes it certain that democrat win senate election because redistricting cannot guaranty a republican win like it can in the house election.

    The Tea Party is the reason why the senate will stay democrat for a long time, just as the president.

  34. The US will NOT invade Canada for any reason whatsoever, unless Obama declares himself king. All bets are off then. It is apparent I am wasting my time responding to someone who has such a low comprehension of how politics and the world works. I will no longer comment if you are involved.

    You still completely missed the mark on my comment, adding to my resolve to spend time responding to those who can learn, not the hopeless.

  35. “It is apparent I am wasting my time responding to someone who has such a low comprehension of how politics and the world works. I will no longer comment if you are involved.É

    Really funny to read from someone who probably never finished high school. Of course, it is not surprising that your main feed of information are Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Foxnews. No wonder you people believes the earth is 6k year old.

  36. Thank you, Sylvain the Psychic. Do you do parties?

  37. Yes, but the parties I do are were smart people are. So tough luck

  38. Lot’s of heat; little to no light… Was this what you intended, Briggs? 🙂

    (You should read the comments on Baker’s piece, over at The Volokh Conspiracy: They’re much the same!)

    I must say, I’m disappointed.

  39. Briggs

    August 4, 2013 at 8:37 am

    So, Don Jackson, we can put you down in the poo-poo column?

    All,

    Other agencies clamor for data compiled by NSA.

  40. These are birthday parties for 6 year olds. I assume their intelligence won’t intimidate you.

  41. Yup, Briggs. Definitely, put me in the “pooh-pooh” column…

    As with folks who think we (the World, but specifically, the U.S.) can control the earth’s climate, those who think Privacy is an over-riding concern are ignoring the technological facts: Much of the privacy they think they have, and hence should be protected, exists mostly in their imagination.
    And, as fighting pollution and making sensible decisions about land use, will yield acceptable adaptation to a changing climate, maintaining reasonable safe-guards for actual 4th Amendment rights will allow us to come to terms with this changing technology.
    And provide adequate intelligence capability.

    Reality is messy. Can we agree on that much? 🙂

  42. Sheri: I wasn’t entirely joking. It’s been suggested that the purported backdoor in Skype has been verified using particular message content.

    But I was mostly joking. And my preference for tea parties is genuine porcelain and Darjeeling tea.

  43. Rich: I was joking, but I guess it lost something in translation.

  44. This (from Reuters, via Jerry Pournelle’s site…) is relevant. No? 🙂

    Still in the “pooh-pooh” column, though… (I’ll explain, if anyone is interested.)

  45. Briggs

    August 7, 2013 at 9:23 am

    All,

    Under the category Oh, What A, Uh, Surprise: T.S.A. Expands Duties Beyond Airport Security.

  46. For those who don’t think they can save all the data, thats 71,428,571,429 pages for each person in the world:

    “A 2012 article in Wired reported that NSA needs the megaplex partially because the Pentagon wants to expand the military global communications network to manage yottabytes of data. “A yottabyte is a septillion bytes—so large that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude,” the article said. “Should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about 500 quintillion (500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text.” NSA officials told Government Executive, however, they do not discuss such operational details.”

    http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2013/07/nsas-big-dig/67406/

    Photos, VOIP and video would take up more space, but still, they have plenty of room.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

© 2016 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑