Saturday, June 22, 2013

CISPA and the NSA: was the NSA "doing everything" anyway?; Man indicted for a mere hyperlink

Today, in the elevator at the Wayne Street Garage in Silver Spring, MD, when going to AFI Docs, I overheard a “libertarian conversation, which aimed at the whole topic of the NSA snooping. The man (I wonder if he knows former Libertarian Party candidate Arvin Vohra from Montgomery County) said that the rationalizations that ordinary people had nothing to fear from the snooping “wasn’t the point’.  The issue was, what kind of democracy do we want to have.  Of course, the democracy of the founding fathers wasn’t always benign.  He did say that the average private user has much more to fear from criminals and hackers than the federal government, in practice. 
Is there any connection between CISPA and the current NSA “scandal” underlined by Edward Snowden?  The literature is rather loose on the subject.  It seems that CISPA would authorize (more easily) the government’s looking at the content of specific emails or private social media posts.  Others say that CISPA will make purely domestic “metadata” surveillance easier because it removes the “foreign involvement” component from most legal surveillance.  In practice, it seems to make little difference. 
It’s not totally clear, but most of the NSA looks probably do involve suspicion of a foreign connection, although that can be quite generous. 
It strikes me that is someone like Holmes (in Colorado) suddenly amasses an arsenal of weapons (and this is entirely domestic) and the NSA can detect it (from “pen register topology”), the public may be better off.  Is this part of the tradeoff?  I can’t say yet.   (Rural gun owners or “doomsday preppers” will say no way.) But on balance, right now, the risk of asymmetric terror is probably greater in practice to most citizens than is the risk of government intrusion.  What if someone is amassing components domestically to make a crude WMD (the the Xray gun in New York Stat, or an RF flux gun, that can destroy electronics for at least a few city blocks).  What if there is some novel miniature weapon, like a flash camera capable of inflicting injury?   Right now, the balance is really a troubling question, as far as I am concerned.
Robert X. Cringley has a story in Infoworld, “NSA, PRISM and CISPA: The conspiracy behind the conspiracy” link here.  The government, it says,   is specifically sheltering executives of Internet companies from liability for sharing information with the government.  Downstream liability, anyone? 
US News writer Jason Koebler has also been tracking the subject, as here

Looking up this subject today, I found a tangentially related story by Patrick McGuire on “Motherboard”,  about Barrett Brown, who was indicted apparently for supplying a hyperlink (in a chat room)  to a list of stolen credit card and authentication codes, link here. It’s rather scary that a simple hyperlink can bring the rather of a United States Attorney and a secret grand jury.  You might not know what hit you.  ("Stay out of jail!") 

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