Aug 09 2007

Some of my worst nightmares coming true

Published by at 3:59 pm under Government,Privacy

Susan Landau wrote an article for the Washington Post explaining why Congress giving the NSA right to tap phone conversations without a FISA warrant is such a bad idea.   To boil it down, in order to tap phone conversations between people outside the US and people in the US, the NSA would need to have standing taps in nearly every single phone interchange through out the United States.  And as the Greek government has already learned the hard way, any surveillance technology that can be used by the government can potentially be used against the government. 

Especially after attending Black Hat and Defcon, I’m under no illusions that such a system can’t be compromised.  It may only be for a few minutes at a time, as in several of the examples cited by Susan, or it may go on for years, as happened to the Greek government.   And the potential for the same system to be misused by the NSA and other law enforcement agencies (can you say FBI?) is almost as scary; our democracy only works as well as it does because each of the branches of has oversight from the other branches.  Without even the tenable controls of the Foreign Intellegence Surveillance Act in place, abuses could be rampant in the system and no one would ever know.

I know there’s a good possibility that a certain analyst friend of mine is going to call me “Captain Privacy” again over this post, but this really is a scary proposition.  Such a system will be abused.  The question is, are the risks worth the potential abuse?  I don’t think they are.  I think it’s already been proven that the federal government can’t be trusted to act without oversight.  But Congress seems to think the NSA will act responsibly with their power.  I just don’t want to be part of the group that’s going to have to become an example to prove them wrong. 

By the way, am I the only one who’s noticed that Bruce Schneier usually only writes one or two sentences and includes large blocks of quotes in many of his blog posts lately?  It’s a blog, so that’s okay, but he used to write so much more.

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5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Some of my worst nightmares coming true”

  1. Jack Danielon 09 Aug 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Martin, I’ll buy you a Captain Privacy cape and encourage you to wear it proudly.

  2. jthon 09 Aug 2007 at 9:22 pm

    Not to jump on a Schneier bandwagon, but he began with (paraphrased) “I was going to write a blog post expounding on the horrors of this bill, but Susan already did so.” I’ve noticed the same thing, but I hope it’s a sign of him being busy rather than him avoiding writing anything. And it’s nice to read blogs where the author isn’t simply repeating what others have been saying. (Not meaning to slam NSB here, to be clear…)

  3. Martinon 10 Aug 2007 at 7:56 am

    No slam taken. I admit, many of the shorter posts I are just pointers to full length articles by other authors. It’s rare I write something longer than 3-4 paragraphs. I’m just used to longer, more involved stuff from Bruce, so when I see him filling up space with block quotes, I begin to wonder.


  4. pragmatiston 11 Aug 2007 at 7:22 am

    If you love the idea of increased surveillance in U.S. systems (to catch terrorists), you should still want it built so that unauthorized parties cannot use it against you.

    If you hate the idea of increased surveillance (as an invasion of privacy or whatever) then you should be crying out for robust controls in such systems simply as a tactic to slow down or head off their deployment, or at least to reduce the risk if they are deployed.

    Both sides, each for their own reasons, should be calling for congressional review of the system to assure robust control.

    Why hasn’t it happened? Such a technical review could be turned to political advantage for either side.

    The only dumb thing is to ignore the issue.

  5. Peteron 13 Aug 2007 at 5:28 am

    The whole wiretapping thing is very disturbing. There are already people and procedures in place to handle all these situations, the current administration just doesn’t feel the need to be bothered by them. They could get exactly the same result by going through the proper, legal procedures, but they feel they are “above the law.”
    To me, that is the scariest thing about this administration. They have used the threat of terrorism to slowly chip away at 200+ years of checks and balances. They want to be all 3 branches and anyone who dares question them must be a terrorist.
    We need MORE oversight and MORE questioning of what the government is doing.

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