UK spy agency tapped 1.8m Yahoo Web cams

During one six-month period alone, a UK spy agency called GCHQ recorded copies of the Web cam chats of 1.8 million Yahoo users from around the world, according to new documents released by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

The program, called Optic Nerve, captured one still image every five minutes of people using their computer cameras to have video chats, sometimes explicit.

According to the Guardian, which broke the story, the 1.8 million people were not necessarily terrorist targets.

And keep in mind, this is only the information we have for one six-month period.  That means a lot more information on a lot more people has likely been captured since that time.

The data could then be accessed based on username, or using facial recognition software.  For example, if the agency were looking into a terror suspect, they could then search this database to see if they had any chat records on the person, using that person’s name as the basis of the search, or their face.

Of course, there are a few problems here.  First of which, one could also search this system for anyone and everyone they wanted to blackmail or destroy.  Got a political opponent who’s being difficult?  See if you can find a Web chat between him and his mistress.

There’s also the question of how well facial recognition is going to work on sexually-oriented Web chat.  The spy document notes that, “the best images are ones where the person is facing the camera with their face upright.”  Faces are not always available in such chats.

I find myself divided on these Snowden stories.  As with Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, I grow concerned when “whistleblowers” appear to be indiscriminately taking and releasing massive numbers of documents about anything and everything.

Snowden, for example, didn’t help his case by releasing information about US spying on Russia’s leaders, something we absolutely should be doing.

As for Manning, it’s difficult to believe that, before blowing the whistle, she perused 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and 500,000 Army reports, to see which ones qualified as true “whistleblowing,” while taking care to ensure that none of them unduly put American lives at risk.

In my view, that’s an absolute requirement of whistleblowing. The information had better be relevant, and you had better do an assessment of the cost-benefit involved.  I don’t think you can do that with nearly 1 million documents.  And while none of us were fans of the Iraq War, I don’t accept the notion that opposition to the war necessarily means it’s acceptable to leak every classified document about that war.

Having said that, intercepting and storing images of the Web chats of people who aren’t even suspects is creepy as hell.

This seems to be part of a larger spy agency strategy of copying every bit of data that’s out there on all of us, so that they can have it available should they ever need it.  Meaning, if you’re never a suspect, no one will (hopefully) ever look through the files they’ve got on you.  So, the agencies argue, they’re not “really” violating your privacy by simply keeping copies of everything.  (Though that’s not even true – what if your name is similar to another suspect’s, or your face looks similar to his? In those cases, someone will be violating your privacy.)

minority-report

Minority Report is a movie about a police unit that uses psychics to find and arrest people who will commit crimes at some point in the future, but may not have any criminal intent at the moment.

But that’s still awfully creepy.

Do everyday citizens really want copies of every email they ever wrote archived just in case the government wants to come after them in the future? It’s almost a presumption of guilt before you commit any crime.  How about copies of every Web cam chat?  Copies of every text chat, and text message? How about a copy of every phone call or letter, or conversation they have with someone in person?  And what happens when hackers break into that treasure trove of data, or an angry former spouse subpoenas it in order to prove your infidelity?

While I suspect most of us are pretty honest people, I also suspect that you could probably create a pretty good case against anyone if you had a record of every communication they’ve ever had, and could sift through it at will at any point in the future.

Not to mention, even honest people have sex, and sometimes that sex happens online.  A point the GCHQ noted, with apparent surprise, in one of the Snowden documents:

“Unfortunately … it would appear that a surprising number of people use webcam conversations to show intimate parts of their body to the other person. Also, the fact that the Yahoo software allows more than one person to view a webcam stream without necessarily sending a reciprocal stream means that it appears sometimes to be used for broadcasting pornography.”

The Guardian reports that the spy document estimated that between 3% and 11% of the Yahoo Web cam images that were harvest contained “undesirable nudity.”  It’s unclear how much “desirable nudity” was among the images retained.

Even today, people have a basic expectation of privacy, based in part on the presumed-ephemeral nature of certain communications.  We don’t expect people to record our telephone or in-person conversations.  We still probably “believe” that our private messages on Facebook are not being stored somewhere, and won’t ever come back to haunt us. And even though we know people can go through archives of email lists were on, and try to piece together our “worst” emails in order to further some personal vendetta they have against us (as happened to me recently on a “liberal” email list I subscribe to, at the hands of one of the moderators), we don’t expect people to do so.

And while one person with a vendetta is kind of pathetic, a government with a vendetta is downright dangerous.


(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • Bill_Perdue

    I agree about corruption but my statement was about murdering American citizens. That’s unique.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I’m not denying the corruptness of the American government, I’m just saying it extends far beyond Obama and has a long history. Nothing unique here.

  • rose maryawn

    My Uncle Harrison recently got Infiniti Q50
    Sedan from only workin part time on a home computer… go to this website
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  • Bill_Perdue

    This means you have no backup for your preposterous lie. You lose.

  • John ‘Genryu’

    Get off your lazy ass and do the research. It’s been common practice throughout the history of the US. Or are you really admitting that you are so embarrassingly ignorant of your own history? Either that or you are simply dishonest. Which is it?

  • Bill_Perdue

    Supply us with a list of presidents who have ordered the racist, extralegal murders of citizens by name.

  • John ‘Genryu’

    Where do you want to start? It’s a long list.

  • John ‘Genryu’

    That’ll teach you to get your todger out on cam.

  • Bill_Perdue

    “What makes Obama so special when it comes to murder? He murders American citizens. That’s in addition civilians and GIs killed in his wars of aggression.

    For those who aren’t familiar with the ACLU and the CCR and their criticism of those murders I’ll provide the same link I’ve used at least a hundred times: https://www.aclu.org/national-security/aclu-ccr-lawsuit-american-boy-killed-us-drone-strike There’s a video embedded.

    The real question is why anyone would deny Obama’s murders and attacks on the Bill of Rights. I can understand pro-Obama partisanship but who would deny what he’s doing.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    What makes Obama so special when it comes to murder? Still you haven’t given evidence or cited anything.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    The kind that comes from the heart, and when it doesn’t appear that they want to be worshipped like a rock star. Like Manning and Assange.

  • cambridgemac

    Last time i checked, most of the dying was being done by brown people. When the drones start hitting white suburbs at cocktail hour, then it’ll be a problem. And not till then.

  • cambridgemac

    Bingo!

  • cambridgemac

    and I want to know what’s the right way for the government to assassinate a citizen. Doing it the wrong way causes disruption and bothers me. Liike, what if you’re having a party next to the wedding that gets droned? What a bummer.

  • HelenRainier

    What is the “right” way to whistle-blow?

  • Bill_Perdue

    What other American administrations routinely ordered ordered the racist, extra legal murder of US citizens.

    Who did that?

    Since Lincoln they’ve all been union busting crooks and warmongers and all have fought to limit the Bill of Rights, but racist murder of citizens is all Obama.

  • noGOP

    “There is a crack, a crack in everything. that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen, Sharon Robinson

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I applaud whistle-blowing when it’s done right, but I’m not convinced with him yet.

  • goulo

    Ah, well, that’s OK – I’m not sure what whether or not the Obama administration is uniquely powerful compared to past administrations has to do with the discussion either. :)

    In any case, I don’t see any problems to society caused by Snowden; on the contrary, Snowden helped publicize problems to society being caused by the government. If such problems are not publicized then they have very little chance of getting fixed. (Not that I’m highly optimistic about them getting fixed in any case, but at least the probability is better now…)

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I guess I’m not sure what Snowden having power over me has to do with it? I don’t trust a lot of people that don’t have power over me because they can disrupt society and cause a lot of problems.

  • MyrddinWilt

    This came out while I was on a plane to London for a W3C/IETF meeting on ways to prevent ‘pervasive surveillance’. So I am just waking up to it. BTW Snowden handed the documents over to Greenwald and Poitras to review/sift. So any blame for too much disclosure should be on them.

    What is staggering about the documents is that so far none of the ones reviewed has mentioned NSA COMSEC programs, that is protecting communications. And Bruce Schneier who has seen the originals tells me that is representative. So the NSA has not been doing the most important part of its mandate – keeping America safe.

    It does not surprise me at all that they have been pantysniffing. This is the sort of thing people will do if they have the power, a vague excuse and no accountability. I don’t think its because they want to see the porn, I think its the exercise of power thats the sexual fetish here. Knowing that they can do it gives them the thrill.

    One of the man technologies that is being considered is to use ‘opportunistic encryption’ to encrypt every connection. That would probably lock the Yahoo protocols against this but the problem then would be not knowing if Yahoo (for example) was suborned to help the NSA intercept. So we have to look at standardizing the protocol so its not completely in Yahoo’s control and there are some other things we are looking at.

  • goulo

    Assuming it’s true that every previous administration similarly murdered US citizens without trial, so what? That still doesn’t change the point of what Bill said: the government has immense power over you, while Snowden doesn’t.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I agree with you John but we seem to be in the minority. Snowden’s messiah complex is worrisome and alarming. I feel like there’s more to the story, and not sure what to make of him because of it. It takes away from what he did. People will say what he did is more important, but I’m wary of putting too much faith into someone I don’t trust.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    You’re so melodramatic sometimes. What you’ve said is true of every government we’ve had – nothing unique about the Obama administration.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    Yes.

  • dula

    Congress doesn’t even have any oversight powers over the NSA, why would anyone else?

  • usagi

    Where did I call you either, John? You’ve had a fixation on Snowden as a person since this broke. Your site; your call.

    Every time you write about doubting his status as a whistleblower, there’s a portion of your readers who push back because he is, by any reasonable definition, a whistleblower.

    I’m not asking you to like him, his methods, or all the consequences of his actions. I’m not suggesting you comp some ads for the committee to have him nominated for the Nobel Prize. I am asking you to consider dropping the BS line that’s being pushed by the administration that he’s not a whistleblower (or maybe at least dropping the scare quotes). You’re wrong on this. The only reason these stories are coming out are because Snowden and Manning blew the whistle on them.

  • Dave of the Jungle

    I quite agree.

  • Tone

    The terrifying thing is that the people wearing the symbolic tinfoil hats were right. And folks laugh at me for the little piece of tape I have over my Mac’s camera. Ya never know.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’m not disagreeing. Motive and method are, as you say, part of the story.

    But the story doesn’t answer the question, “Okay, we know this now. What do we do about it? Do we allow this to continue?”

    The thread running through nearly all of the whistleblower narratives of the last decade is utter contempt for morality and for the rule of law on the part of our political and military classes.

    Sure, Manning was hapless, naive, and sloppy. Snowden appears to have a bit of a messiah complex — and his politics, if reports are to be believed, seem to have a decidedly “Ron Paul 2012! Woohoo!” libertarian bent. Yes, these details are ‘part of the story.’

    However, the truthful information revealed by these flawed individuals keeps being brushed aside in favor of endless efforts to shoot the messenger.

    Do I agree with everything Snowden’s done or said? No. Am I grateful anyway he turned over the NSA rock to show us all the slime and worms scrabbling underneath it? Yes.

    So when do we have the conversation: “We know this is happening. Do we, as a people with a supposedly democratic republic, wish to allow it to continue? Is this surrender of ‘essential liberties’ in the name of security worth the sacrifice? Or would we all prefer to have a government that is not allowed to violate the Constitution and the rule of law at whim? Do we want a guarantee of privacy?”

    You and I are both old enough to remember Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, and how the story then was the same. Discredit, distort, and dismiss — and make sure the message is conveyed to future potential whistleblowers, that nobody is allowed to embarrass the powerful without the most severe of consequences.

    We’re told we have no expectation of secrecy or privacy for any aspect of our lives. Yet our political leaders pull out all the stops to protect theirs.

  • Max_1

    Are you suggesting that the NSA should hire people more trust worthy of keeping Constitutional violations secret?

  • Ford Prefect

    The only way to consider something you can’t possibly know is either 1), be clairvoyant, or 2), make stuff up. We can discount what NSA says, because they lie. All the time. They will say literally anything to shut people up. There’s no credibility there at all.

    That leaves Snowden himself. We can take him at his word or not. But we can’t know what it in his mind. We can’t know his motivations, outside what he says. If nothing else though, he isn’t a serial perjurer like those in the administration who’ve done nothing but lie to congress and the American people.

    That’s something we DO know.

  • Max_1

    Americans appreciate whistle blowers that reveal fraud, corruption or waste…
    … No matter how sloppy they reveal State fraud, waste or corruption.

  • pappyvet

    My questions about Snowden have always been admittedly simple.

    1. How did this super spy agency allow this one small individual to steal a million documents in the first place? Whether they are revealing or not it does raise suspicions on many levels.

    Is he a whistleblower or a spy?

    Well my reading is that a spy steals secrets from one government and gives them to another with as little fanfare as possible. But we are living at the very start of an information age that is quickly changing all the rules.

    Will Snowden live in fear of repercussions for the rest of his life? More than likely. Meanwhile the NSA will make corrections and move even deeper into the shadows. So whether we agree with what he has done or not our attention and questions about our various intelligence organizations I believe should continue to be the more important query. One that we would not have had it not been for Snowden in the first place.
    Did he break the law? Yes. Am I glad he did? Yes. Would I love it if Russia or China had the people willing to disclose their own gathering activities? You bet.
    As the world’s technology in information gathering and use continues to evolve , we may very well become thankful for the Snowdens while at the same time remaining fearful of the world wide attempts at destroying our fragile privacy that we may never discover.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    The UK has the Human Rights Act, which is essentially their own version of the European Convention of Human Rights, which affords most of the same protections as the Bill of Rights. Albeit, in a form with thinking more modern than 200 years ago; including the explicit right to privacy.

    Not that either seems to be any impediment to government psychopaths doing whatever they want, and justice departments happily looking the other way.

  • Silver_Witch

    Sorry Nicho – didn’t see your post – 100% agree.

    And might I add than when I walk down the street with cameras I spend an inordinate amount of time pulling my panties out of my crack…just to let them know I think they are asses.

  • Silver_Witch

    Every street corner you stand on, any ATM you use, any hospital, hotel, store or church you enter – you are being video’d and the police or government can call them up anytime to prosecute you….(unless of course you are a rapist those videos they always loose or are too fuzzy to make out the criminal).

  • nicho

    The Bill of What? You mean that scrap of paper that now only gives us the right to carry guns and murder young people?

  • nicho

    If only we held soldiers to the same standard to which you want to hold Manning and Snowden. If only we held people working for the CIA, NSA, etc. to the same standard. Do CIA employes or drone mechanics or programmers worry whether someone is going to die because of what they are doing? Do we demand that of them?

  • nicho

    Has he asked you to trust him with anything?

  • Silver_Witch

    Perhaps naive – definitely NOT dumb John.

  • Silver_Witch

    Oh BeccaM – I wish I could write with such fluidity and process of thought…I get to excited and babble…from now on I am just going to post “Yeah- What BeccaM Said”

  • nicho

    Just the hubris of the fascists running the country. They don’t think they have to hide.

  • Drew2u

    *cough*StephanieMiller*cough* >_>

  • Silver_Witch

    Exactly Ford Perfect!!! Exactly – all military and contractors take an oath – it is to uphold the constitution – not an oath to Spy, Cover up for Higher Ups or assist with military behavior against international law. Period…..

    It is insane to imply that because one has taken an oath they must behave in an immoral way – because someone higher up said so.

  • Drew2u

    Just like how emails sent out aren’t private? It’s like our snail-mail being intercepted mid-delivery, being xeroxed, then sent back on its way.

    I reserve the right to demand the NSA to give me back copies of my data if my computer crashes ;p

  • Silver_Witch

    When you are employed by an entity that does not have a process NOR, more importantly a belief, in the constitutionality of “innocent until proven guily” – to whom would one report such abuses. Perhaps to Diane Fienstein who believes that what the NSA is doing it perfectly justified and that those whinning should just shut up and get over it.

    Yes the world has indeed changed – we have allowed that change. It does not however mean it is the right change. We are, all, in fact “Innoncent until proven guilty” and might I add until proven so by a preponderance of the evidence.

    Collecting data, phone calls and photographs to “prove our guilt” is wrong on its face. And anyone that can not see that Snowden did what he had to do for the sake of ALL OF OUR FREEDOM, should look again. I would hope I would be brave enough to do the same.

    P.S. Edited to add – I believe Snowden should be pardoned and allowed to return to the US – as a man that tried to save us all.

  • Bill_Perdue

    You don’t have to trust Snowden. He has no power over you.

    Obama’s police state in construction, using the NSA, the FBI. FISA and other anti-democratic laws, does have power over you. Immense power. Thy can murder you like they murdered Anwar al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, ‘Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi and Jude Mohammed.

    Cross them and you’ll find out just how much power they do have.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Well then, why is it those who gave Snowden the access and didn’t do a proper security background check on him are apparently suffering no consequences for their malfeasance?

    For all the public pillorying of Snowden, there is no sign whatsoever that Booz Hamilton or its managers are being held to account, nor is anybody asking, “Why does any private, for-profit company have access to all this sensitive, highly classified information?”

    Y’know, to use an analogy, it’s one thing to blame the car thief, and another to ignore the car owner who left the car at the curb, keys inside and door open, with the engine running.

    There’s also the unspoken assumption that just because something is classified or highly classified, the decision to hide it from public view was itself moral and the classified thing is, at worst, morally neutral. The bulk of Snowden’s revelations can be summed up as, “The government’s claims they aren’t collecting every scrap of information and personal data available? It’s a lie.” And worse, these allegations appear by most rational analyses to be contrary to every law and Constitutional protection we supposedly enjoy.

    Secrets are poisonous to any democracy. A little can be tolerated. Too much kills. If we aren’t there already, we’re approaching the lethal dose.

    Instead, we get distracted by the obvious — “Oh, but he revealed we’re spying on Russia and our allies” — as if that calls into question the rest of what he revealed.

    Not that long ago, Chris Christie was a serious contender for the GOP nomination. Now we learn that at minimum, his underlings were engaged in gross abuses of power, including financial corruption and the punishment of perceived political foes, in the most petty ways imaginable. Maybe the Governor was involved, too, but it doesn’t matter: These things happened. Now imagine such an administration running the federal Executive branch. With vast databases of damaging information on political opponents, anti-secrecy advocates, and anybody the Administration deems an annoyance.

    Power corrupts. It always does. The power of secrets does it even faster.

  • Bill_Perdue

    I have never seen one shred of evidence that what gay and anti-war hero Chelsea Manning did caused any injury to American troops. Chelsea Manning tried, successfully, to stop the slaughter and GI’s agreed with his actions. http://www.truth-out.org/archive/item/91953:veterans-defend-accused-wikileaks-source-bradley-manning

    Those injures and deaths are solely the responsibility of the Bushes, the Clintons and Obama.They lied and stared and continued the wars of aggression that resulted in the deaths well over a million civilians and of about 6,000 GI’s with an even larger number of suicides in action and after they return. “The enemy within: Soldier suicides outpaced combat deaths in 2012″ – By Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor “More soldiers took their own lives than died in combat during 2012, new Department of Defense figures show. The Army’s suicide rate has climbed by 9 percent since the military branch launched its suicide-prevention campaign in 2009.” http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/03/16309351-the-enemy-within-soldier-suicides-outpaced-combat-deaths-in-2012?lite

  • Ford Prefect

    The only thing these people take an oath to is to uphold and defend the constitution. Secrecy is a contractual obligation, not an oath. If anything, Kiriakou lived up to his oath by violating secrecy. Ditto for the others as well.

    For some, it seems, keeping crimes secret is more important than the republic itself.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I think we all do, yet I think we all also dismiss it, thinking that so many people are giving the same data it will never come back to haunt us.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I have to disagree Becca. When you take a million pages of of documents, part of the story is going to be whether or not you should have done it. And part of that analysis is your motivation, and how you actually did it, whether you were measured, whether you actually cared about, and weighed the risk of, whether someone was going to die because of what you were doing. I dont’ see how one doesn’t consider that aspect of both the Manning story and the Snowden story, especially with Snowden. Manning has hardly been presenting herself to the world as some kind of new age hero. Snowden has. For all the people who say we should stop focusing on Snowden himself, Snowden himself has been happen to be some symbol of the new age. That’s one more reason that people are going to consider whether or not he truly is a worthy symbol.

  • Bill_Perdue

    It’s been dead since 1877, the year the Republicans and Democrats divided the nation between them and re instituted slavery in the South under the guise of Jim Crow laws and wage slavery in the rest of the country.

    Obama is taking the lead in that bipartisan effort. NDAA, FISA, the Paytriot Act and the racist, extrajudicial murders of Anwar al-Aulaqi, Samir Khan, ‘Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi and Jude Mohammed. One was a sixteen year old boy from Denver Colorado.

    Remember their names, who killed them and what it means.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MwB2znBZ1g

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yes, that’s it, I’m naive and kinda dumb. Thanks for clearing that up :)

    And I do agree, as I mentioned Becca above, it’s absurd that they could gain access, and copy, so many classified documents. It’s amazing that two people, who weren’t terribly senior, given their age, had access to so much.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Well… it’s not like snowden didn’t have an absurd amount of access to things someone of his rather-new stature should not have had access to. That doesn’t negate that he obviously got his hands on some pretty highly classified stuff, and legitimately highly classified.

  • Bill_Perdue

    It is, and in ways many people don’t suspect.

    From Glenn Greenwald “One of the many pressing stories that remains to be told from the Snowden archive is how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction. It’s time to tell a chunk of that story, complete with the relevant documents.” https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/02/24/jtrig-manipulation/ Glenn Greenwald:

    And from Common Dreams “Using sophisticated psychological templates, the slides show how theintelligence service believes it can use subversion to disrupt online networks
    by using various tactics, of which Greenwald describes two as key: “(1) to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of its targets; and (2) to use social sciences and other techniques to manipulate online discourse and activism to generate outcomes it considers desirable. In just one example, a slide titled “Disruption” offers a playbook for some of the tactics used to discredit a target. Those possible tactics include: infiltration, false flag, false rescue, and sting operations.
    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/02/25-0

    With Obama in the van, the creation of an American police state gets ever closer.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Exactly.

    Manning’s motive: Exposing war crimes. Imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately convicted. Now the narrative is all about how she didn’t whistleblow properly and didn’t take the time to sift through all those cables. And amazingly, nobody even comments anymore on how, if these were so sensitive, a low-level member of the armed services had access to them.

    Snowden’s motive: Revealing the lies about the NSA and how it actually IS hoovering up data like there’s no tomorrow. Now the narrative is all about how he didn’t whistleblow properly and how some of his revelations are embarrassing to VIPs and we mustn’t ever do that because NATIONAL SECURITY. Same thing: How the f*ck does a low-level security contractor working for a private company get access to all this information so easily? Or is the whole point of this NSA / NatSec apparatus not to keep the foreign spies out, but simply to keep the common citizens in the dark?

    Drake’s motive: Even before Snowden, Thomas Drake was sounding the alarm that the NSA was out of control and behaving lawlessly. Unlike Snowden, Drake did try to go through channels, but was shut down. He revealed the Trailblazer program — a billion dollar mass-surveillance boondoggle. Eventually charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 for ‘retaining’ classified information, and threatened with 35 years in prison. Most of the charges were dropped when it was revealed they were mostly specious to begin with and with rampant prosecutorial misconduct, but not before it was clear they were trying to convict Drake in one of the most rigged Kafkaesque kangaroo courts imaginable.

    Kiriakou’s motive: Revealing the fact the U.S. did in fact torture prisoners. Accused of leaking the identities of CIA operatives involved in the torture. Now serving prison time and, according to his accounts, being mistreated himself. David Petraeus himself, as head of the CIA, in an apparently irony-free context commented on how he was happy that Kirakou was convicted and remarked, “Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws.”

    Yeah right…

  • Zorba

    Yes. Exactly.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I don’t trust Snowden or the NSA.

  • nicho

    They now have cameras along the roadside that can read your license plate numbers — so they can track you. It’s not just on the Internet. Many cities have downtown surveillance cameras with face recognition technology. Same for sports arenas, shopping malls. People would be horrified if they knew how much data is being collected on them in all sorts or venues.

  • pappyvet

    I agree. Ask any American of Japanese descent who lived during W.W. 2 what “rights” means. We do not have rights it seems. What we have is more like privileges which can be scrambled denied or taken depending on how connected one happens to be.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I’ll admit I’m also dismayed at how quickly the narrative becomes about whether or not the whistleblower did their whistleblowing properly and with utmost responsibility — whether it’s Manning, Snowden, Drake, or Kiriakou — and not about why the whistleblowing was done in the first place and what was revealed by it. Ad hominem attacks and motives being questioned, but let’s not pay any attention to what they revealed.

  • Ford Prefect

    Just once, I would like to see this bogus suspicion supported with evidence that any such risk ever existed:

    As for Manning, it’s difficult to believe that, before blowing the whistle, she perused 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and 500,000 Army reports, to see which ones qualified as true “whistleblowing,” while taking care to ensure that none of them unduly put American lives at risk.

    It’s great that people can just toss that out there, without any supporting evidence, isn’t it? 90% of those docs weren’t even classified above “confidential,” which isn’t technically classified at all. It’s great how these passive-aggressive swipes somehow count as fact because why, exactly?

    The government is simply too corrupt to function properly anymore. The classification system is used more to cover up crimes than protect national security. Stealing viddy of people wanking off does not serve national security. It’s just about blackmail for the purpose of coercing collaboration or worse.

    But Chelsea wasn’t sufficiently careful with unclassified docs to be taken seriously. The war crimes she exposed don’t count! Nor do the crimes exposed by Snowden, because fake controversy!

  • usagi

    My guess is you’re divided on the Snowden stories because you seem to think the world is still playing by the same rulebook as when you entered the arena. It isn’t.
    Snowden and Manning were able to take “massive” amounts of documents because the documents existed. Their whistleblowing has nothing to do with the content of the documents so much as their existence. Until their revelations, there was suspicion that the US was doing this, expectation that the US was doing this, speculation about the scope, but no proof. Now there is. And the conversation has changed because of it.
    Infinitely more concerning to me than anything Snowden or Manning may or may not have revealed, shared, copied, stored, or used for any other non-designated purpose is the fact that they could get to it. They are not Bond villains, super spies, nor Manchurian-candidate sleeper agents. They’re average schlubs with some basic computer skills who managed to cart this information out the front door because they were concerned about what they saw.
    What the frill do you think the Chinese, Russian, Indian, Korean, and Iranian agents with fundamental spycraft and a better technological skills have gotten hold of? The biggest IT scandal isn’t the launch of the Obamacare website; it’s the fact that apparently most of the security background for NSA IT contractors simply wasn’t done. I’m not the least bit worried about Snowden. The stuff he has is sunk cost. It’s gone and can’t be retrieved. I’m very concerned about the other moles already in the organization who are better at this than him and have an agenda, to say nothing of the sadistic trolls who got into the organization because of the voyeuristic thrill they get being able to pick someone to stalk.

  • Zorba

    It is very, very close to already dead, Becca, if not there already. :-(

  • Zorba

    Me too, Elijah. I have been a member of the ACLU for 30 years, and counting.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    The Bill of Rights doesn’t seem to be doing us a whole lot of good, not when the Powers That Be simply declare that they’re not breaking the law or violating the Constitution.

    Remember “America does not torture”? Or James Clapper assuring Congress that the NSA does not engage in bulk collection of Americans’ data? Or how the simple application of the term “terrorist suspect” results in the immediate loss of all of those supposedly guaranteed liberties in the Bill of Rights?

    Now they’re talking openly about prosecuting journalists who report classified information…

    Our democracy is dying.

  • Zorba

    Sadly true. But not just everything you do on the internet, Dave. Every phone call you make, every bill you pay or credit card you use, etc., and very many of your actions in public, if you are anywhere near the increasingly ubiquitous security cameras.

  • Zorba

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
    John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902)

    True then, true now.

  • Zorba

    I agree, nicho. Sunlight is a pretty good disinfectant.
    And I’m very sure it was certainly no surprise to the Russians that we were/are spying on their leaders. No doubt they expect it. We spy on them, they spy on us.
    We need to know what the hell is being done in our name, and what the hell is being done to spy, not just on foreign leaders and their subjects, but on us.
    (And, on a side note, regarding the ever-increasing facial recognition software, I am coming pretty damned close to considering wearing a niqab- the Muslim face covering for women- at all times. I do not in any way like or condone the fact that some Muslims require this of their women, but I do begin to wonder if maybe we should all be wearing niqabs, men as well as women. Sigh.)

  • Hue-Man

    “As for Manning, it’s difficult to believe that, before blowing the whistle, she perused 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and 500,000 Army reports, to see which ones qualified as true “whistleblowing,” while taking care to ensure that none of them unduly put American lives at risk.”

    I have some sympathy with your point but it ignores the reality that our spy overlords are storing TRILLIONS of data items – Manning or any other whistle-blower is incapable of sorting through these volumes of data to achieve your goal. Even this revelation about web-cam spying raises similar concerns; what if you had a storage device with ALL the images stolen by the UK spooks? Would a whistle-blower have to sort through millions of images before blowing the whistle?

    The damage caused by the Russian spying disclosure is exactly zero. Anyone who has read a spy novel in the last 60 years knows that there is a routine Spy vs. Spy game going on between countries at multiple levels. This linked story from last year has outraged Canadians because $1 BILLION was stolen from Canadian taxpayers to subsidize a failing corporation. “The Department of National Defence may not move into its new headquarters at a former Nortel Networks complex because the building is riddled with eavesdropping devices.” http://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/dnd-may-abandon-1b-move-to-former-nortel-site-because-of-surveillance-bugs-1.1477766

  • http://liberawheeler.blogspot.com/ Elijah Jacob Shalis

    I am glad I renewed my ACLU membership. Too bad the UK doesn’t have the Bill of Rights like we do.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I feel the same way. 1.8m people who “were not necessarily terrorist suspects.”

    I’d say it’s just about guaranteed the overwhelming majority of that many people aren’t terrorist suspects, but rather a broad swath of random Yahoo video chat users.

    Far more to the point: Unfettered power like this is guaranteed to corrupt those who have access to it. It has in the past, and it will in the future — human nature is like that.

  • nicho

    I find myself divided on these Snowden stories.

    I don’t. These agencies are totally out of control. The specter of “terrorism” is just a ruse to scare people into acquiescing to this kind of Stasi-like behavior. And even people on the left are falling for it.

  • bkmn

    When you consider the ability of hackers to get into almost any system they want to get into, the fact that this data is being stored becomes an issue.

  • perljammer

    Yep, this is undeniably creepy. I guess it’s the visual aspect that makes it seem more creepy than listening in on phone calls (people do — or at least, they used to — have phone sex) or reading emails (which can get pretty steamy as well). I have a little trouble seeing how an everyday citizen (like an angry spouse) could succeed at subpoenaing classified data for use in a divorce action. And given Facebook’s enrollment numbers, I have more than a little trouble believing that the average person cares much about privacy, other than occasionally expressing some momentary outrage over a particularly egregious violation.

  • Dave of the Jungle

    I have always assumed that everything I do on the internet is considered fair game by someone.

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