Cross-Posted from Washington’s Blog.
A Cancer that Treats Any Immune System Response as a Threat to Be Challenged
In the wake of revelations about the extent of mass surveillance by the NSA and other agencies, people are trying to protect themselves by adopting encryption and other privacy tools.
The Guardian reported in January:
The gathering crisis of trust around consumer web services and the fallout from Edward Snowden’s revelations is fuelling a significant uptake in anonymity tools, new research shows, as internet users battle censorship and assert their right to privacy online.
Globally, 56% of those surveyed by GlobalWebIndex reported that they felt the internet is eroding their personal privacy, with an estimated 415 million people or 28% of the online population using tools to disguise their identity or location.
Aggregating market research data from 170,000 internet users worldwide, GWI found that 11% of all users claim to use Tor, the most high profile for anonymising internet access.
Tor was created – largely with funding from the U.S. government – in order to allow people who live in repressive authoritarian regimes to communicate anonymously on the Internet.
So it is ironic that the NSA targets as “extremists” (the word the U.S. government uses for “probable terrorists”) anyone who uses Tor or any other privacy tool … or even searches for information on privacy tools on the Internet.
Jacob Appelbaum and other privacy experts explain at Das Erste:
- Merely searching the web for the privacy-enhancing software tools outlined in the XKeyscore rules causes the NSA to mark and track the IP address of the person doing the search. Not only are German privacy software users tracked, but the source code shows that privacy software users worldwide are tracked by the NSA.
- Among the NSA’s targets is the Tor network funded primarily by the US government to aid democracy advocates in authoritarian states.
The NSA program XKeyscore is a collection and analysis tool and “a computer network exploitation system”, as described in an NSA presentation. It is one of the agency’s most ambitious programs devoted to gathering “nearly everything a user does on the internet.” The source code contains several rules that enable agents using XKeyscore to surveil privacy-conscious internet users around the world. The rules published here are specifically directed at the infrastructure and the users of the Tor Network, the Tails operating system, and other privacy-related software.
The former NSA director General Keith Alexander stated that all those communicating with encryption will be regarded as terror suspects and will be monitored and stored as a method of prevention,as quoted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in August last year. The top secretsource code published here indicates that the NSA is making a concerted effort to combat any and all anonymous spaces that remain on the internet. Merely visiting privacy-related websites is enough for a user’s IP address to be logged into an NSA database.
The comment in the source code above describes Tails as “a comsec mechanism advocated by extremists on extremist forums”. In actuality, the software is used by journalists, human rights activists, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary people who merely wish to protect their privacy.
Tor Project’s Roger Dingledine stated the following: “We’ve been thinking of state surveillance for years because of our work in places where journalists are threatened. Tor’s anonymity is based on distributed trust, so observing traffic at one place in the Tor network, even a directory authority, isn’t enough to break it. Tor has gone mainstream in the past few years, and its wide diversity of users – from civic-minded individuals and ordinary consumers to activists, law enforcement, and companies – is part of its security. Just learning that somebody visited the Tor or Tails website doesn’t tell you whether that person is a journalist source, someone concerned that her Internet Service Provider will learn about her health conditions, or just someone irked that cat videos are blocked in her location. Trying to make a list of Tor’s millions of daily users certainly counts as wide scale collection. Their attack on the bridge address distribution service shows their “collect all the things” mentality – it’s worth emphasizing that we designed bridges for users in countries like China and Iran, and here we are finding out about attacks by our own country.
If you think we’re exaggerating the threat to privacy from the NSA, remember that the Department of Homeland Security called DHS’ own privacy office “terrorists”.
And the Department of Justice blacked out words in a document saying their disclosure would pose a “grave threat” to national security. The words? The Fourth Amendment.
This flies in the face of American values. After all:
- 60% of Americans value privacy over anti-terror protections
- The Founding Fathers valued privacy over safety. Indeed, the Revolutionary War was largely started to stop the use of spying by the British. Background here. In other words, the Founding Fathers gave up their safe life with little freedom to strive for real freedom.
- The Founding Fathers – and later the Supreme Court – also said that Americans have the right to anonymous political speech
Indeed, it is like a cancer that treats any immune system response as a threat to be taken out.
Examples are – sadly – widespread in modern America:
- Reporters are treated as the enemy. And real journalism – that is, exposing government corruption – is treated as terrorism
- Whistleblowers who expose government wrongdoing are prosecuted … in order to hide government hypocrisy
- The Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies want to unmask everyone, so that we have no anonymity in our political speech
- Protesting against the government’s claimed power to indefinitely detain anyone without charge … could result in your getting detained
- Indeed, protesting anything is considered low-level terrorism
- The Associated Press reported in 2011 – in relation to the pepper spraying of peaceful UC Davis students participating in Occupy protests:
Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department’s use of force guidelines, said … After reviewing the video [of the pepper spraying of UC Davis students] he observed at least two cases of “active resistance” from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.
“What I’m looking at is fairly standard police procedure,” Kelly said.
- Videotaping or photographing police beating up peaceful protesters may be considered terrorism
Of course, NSA apologists will pretend that targeting privacy tool users is necessary to stop the bad guys. This argument is demolished by the fact that for 5,000 years straight, mass surveillance has always been used by tyrants to crush dissent.