Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Trying to Save Freedom

In the event of FISA capitulation by congress, they will have signed the warrant of our demise as an open society governed by a system of checks and balances - a government that is in theory responsible to the people and our rights.

Voting them out is not the end of our power. If the new rule is to get elected, raid the treasury and change the laws that hamper you, and then go away, then we are just voting in new thieves.

The great joke of 2006 was this: we said that we want change, and they took us literally. A handful of change if you make the minimum.

Here is a letter that I just wrote to Bruce Schneier asking him for advice on a course of action by the people, for the people. Bruce Schneier is an expert on security and cryptography with superb credentials.

My letter to him in now way can be construed as sedition. I just want my 4th amendment honored. Since destroying the equipment that is listening to us is destruction of property, I wonder if there might not be another way around it.

Below is my letter:

Since it looks like we will not be allowed to discover the extent of eavesdropping on US citizens by granting retroactive immunity to telco's, what are the options for the people to take?

The abdication of congressional responsibility has been ongoing for some time, but FISA capitulation, in my mind, would mark the point where the cracks in the dam were allowed to stand. The temptation is too great for any administration to pass up knowing they have unchecked access to any information they desire on any individual or organization.

The rule of law is mankind's greatest triumph. It ensures that all actions and transactions are zero-sum endeavors. We agree on a value and trade if we are willing to match in kind. If we steal, justice puts up the capitol to balance the transaction. It forcibly extracts the balance from the thief and charges interest. When an injustice is allowed to stand, the damage is greater than the original injustice. It undermines the system and fosters the notion of an entitled class that is above the law. Resentment is our internal justice system that works not by raising our own self worth, but by lowering the worth of the other class, seeding distrust and even hatred. Scooter Libby was within the arms of justice but was release by an entitled class that was above the law and let his roll in a dangerous and senseless crime against this country go unpunished. Joe Wilson, in my mind, would be justified in taking action that would prevent those that would place the life of his wife in danger.

The phone companies should be able to hold up a presidential order in court for any illegal act they perpetrated. I can understand that. What I can't understand is not being able to find out if they followed the presidential order or went beyond it. Even more unbelievable is not being allowed total oversight of the scope of datamining and how that data is used in all cases. FISA was created by the abuse of the 4th amendment in the past by the government. That abuse, as always, led to other abuses such as the burglary at Watergate.

The phone companies have a body of information so valuable that many specific laws have been enacted to safeguard it and the unfair advantage it creates if a privileged class has unfair access. It's not just the possibility of being able to listen in on the content of a call; the telemetry of calling patterns is in itself of immense value and can be used for grossly unfair advantages. Analyzing the calling patterns of an investment bank can greatly increase the chance of speculating correctly that a certain company might be in play for a takeover. Analyzing the calling patterns in and out of certain phones at the FBI or Justice department can be used as an early warning of an investigation. Congressional offices. Defense contractors. Law offices. Doctors offices. Local police. Party headquarters. Husbands/wives/paramours/competitors/personal enemies. All for the taking. All for sale. Possibly unchecked.

Any and every time a telco complies with a request that is not public knowledge and might otherwise be illegal, the telco gains a bit too. They can begin to think of it as the norm and maybe start helping themselves too because after all, they can hold up examples for all the world to see if they felt pressured in any way. Leverage is a great way to unhinge justice.

The premise of the governments efforts to gather information is to thwart terrorism. They will use the argument that stopping even one attack makes it worth the violence being done to our liberties. I personally reject that argument because I am used to evaluating risks and acting accordingly. My assessment is that, luckily, I will most likely die from a heart attack or cancer, or maybe slow death syndrome will catch me when I'm 99. I can comfortably say that I, or you, won't die in an act of terrorism. Even with low odds, if eavesdropping were certain to stop terrorism, then I might accept it with strict oversight. The fact is, it is unlikely a terrorist would communicate in the clear in a way that the automated collection apparatus would catch. Why do that when they can just post a picture of an ugly purple couch on Craigslist at an address in Walla Walla Washington as a signal to do something.

Concentrating and analyzing the motherload of all data under the excuse of looking for terrorists is just an excuse. The power is too great to not abuse. The FBI has already admitting to abusing this information and has thoughtfully informed us that they are attempting to reduce the abuse. How will we know? We are not allowed full oversight.

Since congress very well might abdicate their responsibility to their constituents - us - then is there anything we the people can do for ourselves? It has to be done now because soon, it might be impossible to organize any kind of protest or action without the government being in on every detail.

One thought that I had would be to show how easy it is to undermine the premise of the system. If software was written to work on computers and cell phones that constantly emitted non-specific, non-localized, threatening-sounding, non-threats (can't call it FOX News - already taken) then it would overwhelm the automated collection systems, causing them to flag billions of messages for review by human eyes every day. Harmless phrases such as "Flea bomb the white house at the end of the street," might drive any system that is looking for terrorists crazy. Even worse would be to take specific sentences from Tom Clancy books and randomly emit them.

Which brings me to my question: what is the legality of running a SETI-like program that performs the above task? I don't mean virally, I mean voluntarily? If one million people did it, what would be the government's response in your estimation? Do you think it could mess with their premise?

Unless that data is open to everyone, it should be open to no one. The government has not acknowledged any program of datamining. How can we know that? If they are not mining, then the program mentioned above should have no detrimental effect.

Thank you very much

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