Sunday, May 12, 2013

How To Talk Canadian Good

Back in 2007, the Washington Post reported the testimony of retired AT&T technician Mark Klein before a Congressional committee. Klein told the representatives that as early as 2002, "the [National Security Administration] set up a system that vacuumed up Internet and phone-call data from ordinary Americans with the cooperation of AT&T . Contrary to the government's depiction of its surveillance program as aimed at overseas terrorists, Klein said, much of the data sent through AT&T to the NSA was purely domestic. Klein said he believes that the NSA was analyzing the records for usage patterns as well as for content.

"He said the NSA built a special room [inside an AT&T office] to receive data streamed through an AT&T Internet room containing 'peering links,' or major connections to other telecom providers. The largest of the links delivered 2.5 gigabits of data - the equivalent of one-quarter of the Encyclopedia Britannica's text - per second, said Klein, whose documents and eyewitness account form the basis of one of the first lawsuits filed against the telecom giants after the government's warrantless-surveillance program was reported in the New York Times in December 2005."

The NSA, Klein told Congress, "was sweeping up everything, vacuum-cleaner-style. The NSA is getting everything. These are major pipes that carry not just AT&T's customers, but everybody's."

In his Guardian column for May 4, Glenn Greenwald reports on a CNN interview with Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, who carefully explained (and repeated in a second interview the next day) that any telephone calls between the late Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and his widow, Katherine Russell (calls which might implicate her in the incident), are not lost in cyberspace, as we all think our phone conversations must be, but are completely accessible, thanks to the NSA and our major communications carriers. "We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation," Clemente told the CNN interviewer. "Welcome to America," Clemente said. "All of that stuff is being captured as we speak, whether we know it or like it or not."

"All of that stuff," period. It's scarcely worth mentioning that this activity is entirely illegal, done in secret, in violation of the Constitution, since Congress has retroactively immunized the nation's telecom giants for their participation in illegal Bush-era spying programs. Klein's claims were thereby prevented from being heard beyond a Congressional hearing, in a proper courtroom. 

But it's the Obama era these days, and the NSA has carte blanche to do what it likes. It has settled quietly in among the closet polygamists of Bluffdale, Utah and is completing a million-square-foot data collection facility, the Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center, just for plain folks like us.

Wired Magazine describes it: "A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital 'pocket litter.' "

Three days ago, in its May 7 issue, the New York Times reported that "The Obama administration . . . is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services . . . . While the F.B.I.’s original proposal would have required Internet communications services to each build in a wiretapping capacity, the revised one, which must now be reviewed by the White House, focuses on fining companies that do not comply with wiretap orders." 

Two billion dollars American and a sheep-like Congress will get you lots of data storage. And the Internet is a remarkably transparent data stream just waiting to be Hoovered up (I was getting depressed, I needed that pun). It just happens that Barack Obama is a better manager of his presidential brand than George W. Bush was of his own brand. The dude shoots hoops, smiles a lot, sings Al Green hits. Liberals think he's God's gift, even Fox News thinks he's a liberal. But recently, the ACLU submitted a FOIA request to obtain the Obama administration's policy on intercepting text messages sent to and from cell phones. Here is what they actually received.

I may have to expatriate myself, as I do not expect things to improve in the way of civil liberties. I'm making a serious attempt to learn the Canadian language so I can emigrate. It's not as easy a task as it might seem to pronounce "Ottawa" or "Toronto" properly (say "Odduwuh" and "Tronna"). Or "poutine," which is easier to pronounce than it is to eat . . .


But still, mispronounce it and everyone thinks you said "putain."

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