Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Edward Snowden claims a "won position" in his own chess game

Edward Snowden appears in a garish front-page picture in the Washington Post Christmas Eve, with the headline “I already won”.  He has a silver laptop open with an Electronic Frontier Foundation banner “I support online rights”.  He reclines, his coat jacket retreated to reveal a hairless forearm.  Perhaps he has already paid his price. How ironic!
  
Barton Gellman’s big story today in the Washington Post is, “His leaks have fundamentally altered the U.S. government’s relationships with its citizens, the rest of the world.”  The link is here. That revealing photo was taken in Russia.
    
Gellman talks about the PRISM program that developed after 9/11, and how major tech companies had to share user communications with government agencies.  But the special metadata analysis of NSA went even beyond what PRISM does, and apparently was illegal within the US without FISA supervision. The NSA did not most of this snooping overseas but apparently couldn’t resist doing so at home.  And it’s dubious, given the experience of the Bush years, that FISA provided much real supervision.

Gellman also reports that Snowden says that he did try to work through the system at first. 
   
The Washington Times used the AP version of the story here
  
It appears that the NSA can triangulate with almost any electronic communication made by anyone in the world, including domestically.  The mathematical process ferrets out unusual patterns that could show terrorist activity.  It works on a “degrees of separation” concept.  Is this process likely to stop a catastrophic EMP attack plot if one ever develops?  Probably so.  Could it catch an innocent civilian with unusual but legal and harmless connections?  As my own father would have said, “Highly unlikely”, but, like so many things in life, “it can happen to you.”  The fear of the snooping could have a big effect on the business models of social media, as has come out in recent meetings at the White House between Obama and tech companies.
  
  

All the linear programming (hint: my first job in 1970, at RCA) and data collection in the world doesn’t change the fact that to solve crimes and stop potential attacks, you have to interpret “human” behavior ad hoc.  Many clues are hidden in plain sight, in social media available to all, without snooping.  There’s a 2008 case involving a national security employee where I still don’t think police fully understood the clues available on Myspace and even Blogger (I’ve actually discussed it with them, can’t say more here).  You have to do more than collect metadata and run it through supercomputers; you have to know about controversies and understand how people behave.  

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