Surveillance Update/USA Freedom Act

The massacre in Paris was yet another sad defeat for the intelligence community. The attacks were a total surprise. Once again, a group of heinous criminals completely avoided monitoring and detection, a fact that highlights the weaknesses in current espionage practices.

Refusing to Do the Hard Work

The security experts’ failure can probably be traced to an over-reliance on signals intelligence (go to this link for more on signal intercepts).

Intelligence specialists seem to assume that terror plotters are stupid, that they’ll leak their plans in phone conversations, text messages, etc. So government spies “collect it all.” They gather all data on everyone. In effect, each person is now a suspect and any presumption of innocence is gone.

But as one ACLU lawyer points out, this approach is ludicrous. The spies are looking for a needle in a haystack (terrorists and their plots). So, does it make sense to make the haystack bigger by targeting everyone?

As we’ve seen, terrorists don’t advertise their plans. It’s no surprise to learn that signals experts have never uncovered a single terror plot or halted an attack (check this link for more info and this article provides additional details).

It seems that no one wants to do the hard work that could interrupt terrorist plots. That would require actual on-site human intelligence-gathering, and this means infiltrating agents, for example, into terrorist cells or purchasing turncoats within terrorist ranks. Good luck with all that.

And Say Goodbye to the Patriot Act

The so-called US Patriot Act expires at the end of November. Its replacement, the “USA Freedom Act,” continues the current global surveillance practices with several tiny changes.

Responsibility for storing “metadata” on US domestic calls will shift back to the phone companies. If you live in the US, government spies will need a warrant before they access your phone metadata (metadata is all information related to a call except for the actual message content).

These cosmetic adjustments are just smoke and mirrors, more feel-good propaganda.

“Collect it All” Still Stands

In general, you can take it as an article of faith that governments retain unlimited access to your electronic communications. That won’t change, and your government probably apes the NSA approach to data: “collect it all.” (Go here and visit Privacy International for details on mass surveillance.)

Your electronic messages are an open book to our “Five Eyes” friends (check this out). Five Eyes taps intercontinental fiber optic lines where they emerge from the oceans. At these points, the spies upload about 90 percent of the world’s phone and Internet traffic.

As Edward Snowden’s whistle blowing revealed, relatively low-level government employees can tap virtually anyone’s phone conversations, email, chats and all other records — even if these communications use the latest encryption (go to encryption vulnerabilities to see why it takes special measures to hide).

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