Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rand Paul's Plan To Challenge Surveillance

Rand Paul lays out plans for legal action over government surveillance

By Sean Sullivan, Updated: 

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Thursday that he is taking steps toward bringing legal action against the government over its sweeping surveillance efforts.
“The president said he want a debate. It starts today,” Paul said at a Capitol Hill news conference, where he was joined by a handful of lawmakers as well as representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative group FreedomWorks, among others.
Paul announced Sunday that he planned to file a class action lawsuit and discussed his intention in a subsequent interview on Wednesday, so Thursday’s announcement was not a surprise.
“Well, we are asking people who have been affected by this spying if they want to sue the government and say, you know what, this is unconstitutional,” Paul told Fox News Channel on Wednesday. “And since everyone’s phone records were spied upon, I would guess that that includes millions and millions of people. … So what we’re saying is, is that the government has no right through a single warrant to search everyone’s records.”
Paul said Thursday that more than 250,000 people have signed on to a petition indicating an intent to be part of a lawsuit.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit Tuesday that challenges the constitutionality of the surveillance effort that collects the telephone records of millions of Americans.
Paul is still exploring the specific avenues through which he can file a lawsuit. For example, Paul said he is still working to determine whether he can join other lawsuits. For now, he said, the goal is to provide Americans who share his concerns with a gathering point.
“Right now we are a portal for people to come and collect and say we are unhappy with what the government’s doing with our privacy,” he said.
The senator said that discourse about the government’s surveillance efforts is a good thing, not a harmful development.
“What would be wrong is if someone released the computer programming code about how we are doing this — that’s a secret,” he said.
Imagine that one day you came home to find a shiny little bubble of one-way glass in an upper corner of every single room, and a notice left on your kitchen table: “As required by the Safe Society Act, we have installed remotely controlled cameras throughout your home. (Also your office.) But don’t worry! They’ll probably only be activated if the government believes that a non-US citizen might have entered this building.” Would that give you warm fuzzy feelings of safety and security?
I ask because that’s a pretty good metaphor for what happened this week. I refer of course to PRISM. You may have noticed the flurry of reportsfollowed by a flurry of denials regarding the “top-secret National Security Administration data-mining program that taps directly into the Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple servers among others.”
Meanwhile, with (surprisingly) much less furore, the Wall Street Journal took the previous revelationthat the NSA “is secretly collecting phone record information for all U.S. calls on the Verizon network,” and expanded it considerably.

The New York Times, apparently. Hats off to them, and to Twitter; and shame on all the PRISM companies. The NYT’s report on PRISM is revealing.
Which is appalling enough right there: but let’s not lose sight of the even bigger and uglier picture, one which includes the WSJ’s claims. Going back to my cameras-in-the-home metaphor, until this week we all knew that the government could break in and install cameras in every home if they wanted to … but now we know they’ve actually done it. Oh, the ones in your home probably haven’t been turned on yet, but they’re there. They’ve been there for years.
And how has the government responded to these revelations? Mostly with frothing fury. Senator Dianne Feinstein immediately called for an investigation….into the leak. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called this “unauthorized disclosure of information” “reprehensible.”
That’s what really gets my blood boiling. There is no reasonable justification for keeping even theexistence of FISA requests and programs like PRISM secret. Does the NSA really think that its targets currently believe that all their online activity is perfectly safe and secure? Well, in the extremely unlikely and idiotic case that that was the reason for total secrecy, then hey, that barn has sure burned down now, hasn’t it?
The powers that be can shout “national security!” and “terrorism!” as stridently as they like, but it seems patently obvious to me that they’re just afraid that the American public might not like it if they find out how much they’re being spied on — and that their blanket surveillance programs might not be legal.
As Bruce Schneier points out, what we don’t know is far scarier than what we do. 
The sad thing is, this is typical of the Obama administration, which has already prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers as all previous presidential administrations combined. “I welcome this debate. And I think it’s healthy for our democracy… I think that’s good that we’re having this discussion,”Obama said yesterday. Hours later, Reuters reported: “President Barack Obama’s administration is likely to open a criminal investigation into the leaking of highly classified documents that revealed the secret surveillance of Americans’ telephone and email traffic.”
Page and Zuckerberg say “There needs to be a more transparent approach … the level of secrecy around the current legal procedures undermines the freedoms we all cherish” and “We strongly encourage all governments to be much more transparent about all programs aimed at keeping the public safe,” respectively. Too right. But the current administration has shown no real interest in greater openness, much less two-way transparency.
So the only other solution is for the tech world to do what it can to normalize end-to-end encryption of all online activity. Right now HTTPS can (probably) protect your data while it’s in transit between your apps and the Apple/Google/Microsoft/Yahoo servers; but if your government insists on star-chamber surveillance, then that’s no longer enough.
Instead we’ll need to start encrypting our communications all the way from sender to recipient. Security is hard, and there aren’t many good tools for this, yet. What’s more, this would be bad for Google’s business model. But if governments continue to pass and then stretch the bounds of outrageous and draconian laws like FISA, then it’s only a matter of time before angry techies make end-to-end encryption easier to use, and its use becomes widespread.
If there’s any thin silver lining to this debacle, it’s that by insisting on secrecy, and clandestine so-called “accountability,” governments are actually hastening how fast and how thoroughly the online data they so badly want will become unreadable. Given the contempt with which they’re currently treating the populace, I for one can’t wait.

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