Here’s the thing: the NSA listening dumps have been an ongoing invasion of privacy since shortly after Bush finished reading My Pet Goat, or, to be precise, the day the Patriot Act passed. As this dismal week draws to a close, the NSA Verizon phone scandal was probably the least of our worries.
For example, late last week the Washington Post and Guardian dropped concurrent bombshell reports. Their subject was PRISM, a covert collaboration between the NSA, FBI, and nearly every tech company we rely on daily. Its stated purpose is “to monitor potentially valuable foreign communications that might pass through US servers”, but it appears to have gone far beyond that in practice.
When the NSA monitors phone records via Verizon, it’s only supposed to collect the metadata. To and from whom the calls were made, where the calls came from, and other generalized information. According to authorities the actual content of the calls was off-limits.
By contrast, PRISM allows full access not just to the fact that an email or chat was sent, but also the contents of those emails and chats. According to the Washington Post’s source, they can “literally watch you as you type.” The type of data that Prism collects includes:
“…audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs… [Skype] can be monitored for audio when one end of the call is a conventional telephone, and for any combination of “audio, video, chat, and file transfers” when Skype users connect by computer alone. Google’s offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms.”
Did you get all that? Similar depth of access applies to Facebook, Microsoft, and the rest. This covers practically anything you’ve ever done online, up to and including Google searches as you type them.
So this new scandal, PRISM, makes the Verizon scandal look like a legal hang nail.
That about peaked my outrage meter for last week, until I heard about the anonymous hacker in Kentucky whose house was ransacked by the FBI because he had the temerity to reveal to the world what amounted to a cover up of a rape in Steubenville, Ohio. You might remember that story. Two high school football players were convicted of sexually assaulting a young girl at a party. The case gained national attention after the “hacktivist” group Anonymous leaked significant social media evidence implicating the assailants — including tweets, Instagram photos, and a 12-minute video of Steubenville high schoolers joking about the rape. But it turns out that working to expose those rapists may land one Anonymous hacker more time in prison than the rapists themselves.
Deric Lostutter, whose house was raided, confirmed he was KYAnonymous, the leader of KnightSec, the Anonymous offshoot that carried out “Operation Roll Red Roll,” which targeted Steubenville over the rape by two football players of the 16-year-old girl. In a few weeks in late 2012 he became a well-known figure in the Steubenville storyline, at one point giving an interview to CNN in a Guy Fawkes mask. (The two football players were found guilty of rape in March.)
In a statement posted on his website, Lostutter described the raid:
“As I open the door to greet the driver, approximately 12 F.B.I. Swat Team agents jumped out of the truck screaming for me to ‘Get The Fuck Down’ with m-16 assault rifles and full riot gear armed.”
“This is my call to you, in the media, in the world of anonymous, who look to change the world to a free, transparent one, to my friends and family as well, to come to my aid, if you can find it in your heart, share my story, donate, buy a sticker, rally in the streets to demand the investigation against me be dismissed.”
Now I am not one to applaud online hacking in any form, but I’m having a tough time legitimizing our government secretly listening to every digitized byte of information on Earth, while at the same time viciously prosecuting similar behavior that tries to reveal a problem, rather than cover it up.
If our government is actually going to bother to sift every last inch of our digitized souls, you would think there might be a few leads out there about money laundering hedge fund managers who stash their gold in off shore bank accounts? Eh? Or, football players who brag about their rape victims in online forums with impunity until some hacker cooperative finally lays them out?
Instead, they prosecute the whistle blowers -KYanonymous, in this instance– but more broadly folks like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange who have the temerity to point out the subterfuge of government’s actions on a global scale.
Oh, that’s right. And Bradley Manning’s trial started this week, too.
From a quick perusal of stories, it appears our press is trying its hardest to fit the Manning trial into a narrative of how we should keep our data more secure and do better background checks on folks with top-secret clearance—emphasizing Manning’s ‘mental’ state, his gender confusion, his personal excesses, etc. Almost no word, of course, is given over to the actual horrific crimes—war crimes—that Manning exposed.
Slate was one of the few outlets that did a decent job summarizing those crimes:
• During the Iraq War, U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape, and murder by Iraqi police and soldiers, according to thousands of field reports…
• There were 109,032 “violent deaths” recorded in Iraq between 2004 and 2009, including 66,081 civilians. Leaked records from the Afghan War separately revealed coalition troops’ alleged role in killing at least 195 civilians in unreported incidents, one reportedly involving U.S. service members machine-gunning a bus, wounding or killing 15 passengers…
• In Baghdad in 2007, a U.S. Army helicopter gunned down a group of civilians, including two Reuters news staff…
This last incident was the notorious video in which our helicopter pilots shot a group of civilians, murdering reporters and wounding two children in a van, to which our pilots quipped, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle.”
So far as I can determine, not one of these folks has gone to jail, or had the FBI break down their doors in the dead of night, for that matter.
Commenting on Washington’s spying on journalists and members of the public, as well as his own treatment by US authorities, Julian Assange said:
“Over the last ten years the US justice system has suffered from a collapse, a calamitous collapse, in the rule of law.
“We see this in other areas as well — with how Bradley Manning has been treated in prison, with US drone strikes occurring — even on American citizens — with no due process.”
With regard to the war on whistle blowers, Matt Taibbi, in Rolling Stone, frames the larger point well: “If you can be punished for making public a crime, then the government doing the punishing is itself criminal.”
By the way, this week is also the anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s prescient dystopia “1984”. Just saying.