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The Future of Tech And NSA Wiretaps 643

Posted by Zonk
from the momentous-events dept.
Tyler Too writes "Is there more to last week's story about President Bush authorizing wiretaps without court review? Ars Technica writes about what's going on behind the curtains with the National Security Agency's technology: 'When the truth comes out (if it ever does), this NSA wiretapping story will almost certainly be a story not just about the Constitutional concept of the separation of powers, but about high technology.'"
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The Future of Tech And NSA Wiretaps

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  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:14PM (#14304238)
    How about this plan:

    We begin the call in the clear. We tell each other our public encryption key.

    Go silent and key in the other parties public key.

    Begin speaking again and the voices are encrypted using the public keys.

    On the receiving end, the encrypted packets are decrypted using the private keys.

    There we have a phone call that's impossible to tap.
  • Re:Kein Problem (Score:5, Interesting)

    by peculiarmethod (301094) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:17PM (#14304270) Journal
    "Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires-a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

    George W Bush
    April 20, 2004

    Here is his full statement from that day:

    http://usinfo.state.gov/is/Archive/2004/Apr/21-381 579.html [state.gov]
  • Soft Triggers... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tenchiken (22661) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:18PM (#14304272)
    The article talks about "Soft Triggers" which are interesting. A lot of focus has gone on keywords, but there are far more efficent technologies out there for building predective models. Why do you want a predective model? Simply put with Petabytes of data out there from intercepted transmissions you have to predict based on the content of a message if a message in innocent or threat. Replace the words "threat" with "spam" and all of a sudden technologies like Bayes and other data mining techniques are interesting.

    If you don't think this is valuable, go read a book on Enigma and find out how much exactly reading your opponents mail helps.

    However technologies such as this are not covered by FISA. I think it would have been better to revise FISA to cover technologies such as this, but non-withstanding that, it's really nothing new in terms of excercise of power then anything Clinton or even Carter did.
  • Re:muddy issues (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ghstomahawks (847102) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:22PM (#14304307)
    err ... I don't know about you, but "groups like Greenpeace and PETA" are in my mind "prone" to terrorism. Surely not every member, and probably not 99%, but I'd like to suggest that maybe their members' likelihood of participating in terrorist-type ativites would be higher than your average person's? Sure, they might have a point on some of their crusades, but PETA is sort of considered a joke (at least where I'm from). I'm not saying that it's necesarrily right what the NSA may have (or more like definitely) did, but there is some sort of logic there. PETA may be a great organization, but it does attract the sort of radical viewpoints that can lead to that sort of activity.
  • by tenchiken (22661) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:26PM (#14304351)

    If the article in question is to believed, and they are scanning 1% of all US calls, they probably aren't distinguishing between foreign and citizen conversations. They're simply eavedropping on everybody and then trying to figure out what's going on.

    No, the original article stated that this could cover "hundreds or maybe thousands" of people. 1% of all US calls is completly bogus. Even the NYT makes the provisos that this covers international calls that originate or terminate in the US. Hardly 1%.

    Ignoring civil liberties is almost never warranted, and every time we do it, it turns out that not only do we regret it, but most important *it was never necessary to do in the first case*.

    Nice plattitude by the reverse has been shown throughout US history. During times of crisis typically civil liberties have been slightly restricted (more so in the Civil War and World War I, less so in World War II). As time has gone by, the tripod of American politics has safely re-established protections. That's what is going on here.

    Didn't we learn anything from the internment of Japanese citzens during WWII?

    I think we need a follup on Goodwin's Law... Talking about the Japanese citizens when it has nothing to do with the question at hand means automatic mass-deletion of the post.

  • Re:Make Your Choice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by FatMacDaddy (878246) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:27PM (#14304361)
    I guess I'll side with ol' Bennie Franklin, who said something like "Anyone who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."
  • by jlowery (47102) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:28PM (#14304365)
    If the Dems manage to gain back a majority in the house next election, I would think they would be obliged to begin impeachment proceedings against Bush. It would have a lot more validity than the impeachment of Clinton, and they would look like wimps if they didn't.
  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:35PM (#14304454) Homepage
    Except that Bush lied about it to the American public. From the whitehouse website via salon.com:

    [["Now, by the way," he said, "any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so. It's important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think 'Patriot Act,' constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution."

    That certainly seems to be different from what Bush is saying now -- that over the past three years, he has authorized and repeatedly reauthorized the "interception" of communications without warrants.]]

  • USA! USA! USA! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bobocopy (816690) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:37PM (#14304474) Homepage
    A reality of abolutes and black-and-white would be convenient for ethicists, philosophers and just about anyone else who wants to know the difference between right and wrong. You must know that it doesn't work that way. Invoking terrorism as an excuse for abusing civil liberties? Please. We may as well invoke the bogey-man as a reason to pay taxes or Santa Claus as a reason to be a moral person. Let's all put our shirts back on, set the can of Old Milwaukee down and take a deep breath. Civil liberties are at the core of a strong democracy, and as they are eroded, so will be a democracy's strength.
  • Office of Censorship (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Derling Whirvish (636322) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:38PM (#14304481) Journal
    Didn't we learn anything from the internment of Japanese citzens during WWII?

    A better question might be: "Did we learn anything from the use of the 'Office of Censorship' which opened and read every international letter, postcard, package, telegram, or telephone call sent or received by US citizens from 1941-1945?" The answer to that would be a "Yes, it worked." Spies and sabateurs were caught. It was effective. And the program was terminateed when no longer needed in 1945.

  • Factual error (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Linux_ho (205887) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:46PM (#14304536) Homepage
    The difference that you missed between what the Bush Administration has done and what past presidents have done is this: FISA only allows warrantless surveillance of NON-US-PERSONS. Warrants are still legally required under FISA and the Patriot act for surveilling US Citizens. Which is why the FISA court was set up - so they could get a warrant in minutes if necessary, or even within 24 hours AFTER the surveillance had begun. So what's their excuse? Judicial oversight just too much hassle, with that minutes-long waiting period?
  • Re:Make Your Choice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by McGiraf (196030) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:49PM (#14304564) Homepage
    Do not fear, I live far from you, I live in a training camp in Pakinstan.

    Seriously:

    Hate does not spring from nothing.

    I do not say will should be nice to terrorists, they are criminals. We should be nice to people then there would be no terrorist and no popular support for them.

    I, for one, do not wish to live under a highly corrupt, two hundred an sixteen year old country that wants to rule the world.

  • by peculiarmethod (301094) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:54PM (#14304620) Journal
    something terribly wrong is going on when you feel you have to go around a court and judge system that hands out wiretaps like candy.
  • Re:muddy issues (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vishbar (862440) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:57PM (#14304646)
    No, the issue is that liberties are being taken with regard to surveillance.

    The National Security Agency is one of the United States' most powerful weapons, able to intercept nearly any communication. Therefore, it is ONLY for use against foreign targets. Even mentioning the name of a US Citizen that was intercepted from a foreign source is extremely tedious. By turning the NSA against the American people, the government has violated the trust of Americans in the agency.

    Situations like this could be potentially disastrous for the American people. Bush has, quite honestly, scared the shit out of me--I knew before that he would attempt to change the law in order to spy on americans (the Patriot Act), but this is a clearcut violation of the law.
  • Re:Make Your Choice (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @06:58PM (#14304659)
    except none of these will stop a looney that likes "the way these al qeeeeeda people work" and walks onto a $transportationForm with a homemade bomb in his bag.

    Terrorism will be a problem as long as people are pissed off about something and have no other means to show it.
  • by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @07:09PM (#14304754)
    I wish you hadn't been modded troll, because I don't think you're trolling. But when you say RTFA which article should I read? It would help if you included links and relevant quotes.

    So far I have listened carefully for any rational justification from the Bush administration, and the ONLY thing I've heard is vague assurances [cnn.com] that "I've got the authority to do this; it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and we're guarding your civil liberties." And some bogeyman story from Cheney that the measures "saved thousands of lives." I'm sorry if you take this as partisan, but this administration doesn't have the credibility to make unsubstantiated claims like that any more.

    What I'm eagerly awaiting is some rational explanation of why the President thought he had the legal right to do this. If he can present a plausible argument, the next step would be to pass a new law to convince him otherwise. But if he clings to the vague notion that wartime places him above the law, what is to be done?

  • by budgenator (254554) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @07:25PM (#14304887) Journal
    The other mink ranchers might disagree especialy after the third or fourth murder; let's not leave out the Dermatologist that get's murdered because he has the same last name as an OB/Gyn that does an ocasional abortion. Plenty to go arround for both the right and left here.
  • Re:muddy issues (Score:2, Interesting)

    by daigu (111684) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @07:36PM (#14304983) Journal

    Let's not forget those scary Quakers [afsc.org]! If they bring out another threat like the one that follows, I cannot guarantee my bowel control...

    One example of identified "threats" is a group in Lake Worth, Florida that included five Quakers and a 79-year old grandmother who met at their local Quaker meeting house to discuss how to protest military recruiting at an area high school. Other examples of "threatening" events in the database included handing out literature in front of military recruiting stations and commemorating the second anniversary of the Iraq War.
  • by alfredo (18243) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @07:36PM (#14304988)
    I believe four of their requests were turned down. bush doesn't like any challenge to his authority.

    Another possible reason was the taps were on political opponents. You don't want someone outside your circle to know what is going on if you are engaged in criminal activity.

    I wonder if McCain and Kerry were monitored by NSA?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @07:39PM (#14305011)
    Events and admissions like these always make it easier to 'follow the thread ' of conspiracy...

    Echelon has always had critics who charge that the Gov't engages in corporate espionage for big business. Iraq is at least tangentially about control of oil reserves and transport mechanisms. What FISA would not theoretically approve of is US oil interests spying on foriegn oil interests. Similar to the Airbus/Boeing espionage accusations.
  • Re:slashdot effect (Score:2, Interesting)

    by N6546R (713094) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @07:56PM (#14305138)
    Interesting that ArsTechnica is down right now...it's weathered many a slashdot storm in the past. Think Bush bothered with the court order to pull the plug, or did the black helicopters simpy swoop down at the ISP?

    Perry

  • by shanen (462549) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @08:04PM (#14305202) Homepage Journal
    There's no mud here, except possibly in your mind. If such powers are available, they will be used and abused.

    More importantly, the powers will be abused at EVERYONE. The way Dubya's kind of absolutist self-righteous thinking works, anyone who opposes him is impeding his effectiveness, and therefore deserves to be treated as an enemy. Some people really do see the world in black and white, or "with us or against us", as Dubya put it.

    The problem is that there is no black or white in the real world. Everything is more or less gray, but if you've decided the world is black and white, and you believe that you're "white", then anyone who is not white equals "black". Ultimately, this 'thinking' extends to include everyone else as an enemy, since no one will be perfectly "white" according to our "white" believer. Here's relevant joke [slashdot.org].

    By the way, this is a 'revenge' karma-recovery post after another anonymous and cowardly troll moderator splattered me with his muddy mod points. I also feel like I should 'retaliate' by racking up a few extra positive mods. However, what I really want is to know who my spineless 'accuser' is.

  • Big Brother Bush (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Philip K Dickhead (906971) <folderol@fancypants.org> on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @08:16PM (#14305277) Journal
    http://xymphora.blogspot.com/2005/12/big-brother-b ush.html [blogspot.com]

    The answer to the mystery of the NSA snooping scandal - why did they break the law when it was so ludicrously easy to get FISA warrants? - appears to be developing [democratic...ground.com]: they weren't just wiretapping, they were data mining. They were using [cryptome.org] Echelon [hiwaay.net] to 'Able Danger' the whole country (this is Poindexter's Total Information Awareness, which is supposedly dead, in action). The problem is that FISA was enacted prior to the current capability for data mining, and didn't anticipate how ubiquitous it could be. The reason they couldn't use FISA is that they would have had to obtain a FISA warrant for every person in the country. Data mining requires that you follow each link discovered by your snooping, and wouldn't work if it had to be subjected to FISA or the Constitution. The NYT article, now being spun [msn.com] as resisted by the Bush Administration (as if the NYT would publish anything without Rove's say-so), appears to itself be part of the spinning, a limited hang-out to cover up the bigger scandal.

  • by vik (17857) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @08:33PM (#14305401) Homepage Journal
    So, what are you supposed to do when the President declares himself above the law?

    Roll over?

    That's where your "defence of liberty" kicks in. Of course, tinpot dictators won't like that one bit and will try to eliminate your ability to covertly take the country back.

    From the outside looking in, I see the process is probably already underway.

    Vik :v)
  • Re:muddy issues (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iamwahoo2 (594922) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @08:34PM (#14305409)
    Is you serious or is this just extremely subtle sarcasm? I hope sarcasm, because true Republicans do not support a secret govt branch that operates without check and spies on US citizens. That is why so many powerful republicans are speaking out against the executive branch's actions.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @08:57PM (#14305534)
    Probably you won't laugh long. It's all coming down. Whatever happened to secret prisons, torture, abuse in other countries by Bush Administration will gradually extend to the states. They will first tap wire you in secrecy, then ship you out to secret prison in other countries for extracting valuable information; then when people get used to it. The administration would not even borther outsourcing anymore and just set up secret prisons on domestic soils.

    It's no longer an imagination that US citizens start disappear like what's happened in USSR before.
  • by wass (72082) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @10:17PM (#14306049)
    The wiretapping in question was done using broad analysis of a random sampling of phone calls.

    Except Bush claimed they only used this to spy on 500 people w/ what he claims were al queda ties. If that were so, they could easily have gotten 500 approvals under FISA.

    So if what you're claiming is the reason, then it's an indirect admission from Bush that they were spying on far more than 500 people.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday December 20, 2005 @10:47PM (#14306228) Homepage
    Any legitimate security issue would have gone through the FISA court without problems. Somebody is hiding something they shouldn't have been doing, and it's probably going to be really embarassing when it comes out.
  • by geekee (591277) on Wednesday December 21, 2005 @12:07AM (#14306619)
    "Throwing blood on minks is NOT a "terrorist" activity.

    Burning down an empty house is not a "terrorist" activity."

    If your intent is to make a person fear you, and hence change their behavior becuae of that fear, you're a terrorist.
  • hold on now (Score:3, Interesting)

    by subtropolis (748348) on Wednesday December 21, 2005 @12:54AM (#14306792)
    Who said anything about corner wardens? Gestapo? Fascism is an ideology, not a costume party. None of us seriously expects the good citizens to start turning out zieg heiling or anything. We don't need to wait for a president in uniform (oh, wait...)

    You dismiss this too lightly.

  • by macsimcon (682390) on Wednesday December 21, 2005 @12:59AM (#14306815)
    Actually, parts of the Constitution do pertain to non-citizens: some people are protected by clauses containing "no person" and other clauses contain "no citizen."

    So, why didn't the framers use "no citizen" exclusively? This document was crafted over many weeks, so I think it unlikely that they just missed the inconsistency. No, they intended some rights to apply to citizens, and others to everyone.

    Look at the fifth amendment: "..nor shall any person be subject.." Not any citizen, but any person.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 21, 2005 @01:02AM (#14306824)
    Call me silly, but their primary job is to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." In other words, defend the country and ensure that the country endures. I'm all for saving American lives, but I'm dead set against violating the 4th amendment to the Constitution. IMO this act is far more detrimental to the country (in the long term) than any act of terrorism to date.

    The question is whether he has the authority to spy on US citizens without any sort of warrant. I think not, and if by some chance there is some law out there granting him this power, then I want that law reviewed by the US Supreme Court because I think the Bill of Rights is pretty darn clear in this matter.
  • Re:muddy issues (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 21, 2005 @02:22AM (#14307069)
    If there is reason to need to monitor someone, i think that by all means they should.

    "If there is reason to need to monitor someone," then they should be able to get a bloody court order from a judge.

    The fact is I was astounded by the barefaced lies your president said [cnn.com] on Monday.

    "I just want to assure the American people that, one, I've got the authority to do this; two, it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and three, we're guarding your civil liberties," Bush said in a news conference Monday.

    One, he does not have the authority. Even in a declared war against a foreign power, the US President doesn't have that power and the US is not currently at war with any country. Yes, Congress did overlook that during the Second World War and you have had to apologize for the internment and mistreatment of Americans of Japanese descent. Not the best precedent to follow, is it? FISA specifically requires court orders for wiretaps and surveillance of American citizens and makes illegal the activities that have come to light but, unlike the lies that Cheney and Alito peddled to the contrary, doesn't prevent wiretaps from used on short notice by allowing post-facto court orders to be obtained retroactively up to 72 hours AFTER surveillance begins.

    Two, it is also a necessary part of the President's job - heck, his oath of office - to defend the constitution of the US and he is trampling it, first with the Patriot Act and second with this illegal spying. You don't protect people by invading their privacy. As for actually protecting Americans, 2150+ American soldiers are dead and thousands more are injured in an incompetently run war that was declared under false pretenses. Millions more than before now hate the US for its imperialist actions and either want to cause harm to its citizens or have become indifferent to such harm because they view the populace as supporting the US' imperialist activities. It's a "protection" racket all right.

    Three, they are trashing your civil liberties. Bush gave his blessing to a project that involves spying on Americans with no regulatory oversight. The fall of democracies begin with much smaller abuses than this.

    It's not just the Great Lie, it's three Great Lies in one!
  • by niktemadur (793971) on Wednesday December 21, 2005 @04:09AM (#14307347)
    Isn't that what happens to any conservative speaker who visits a college campus these days? Maybe you should ask Ann Coulter. I'm sure you don't agree with what she says, but doesn't she have a right to say it?

    Ann Coulter spews hate-filled tirades on an almost daily basis in her widespread column and in her countless network appearances, so she can hardly be considered an oppressed voice crying out in the wilderness. In one of her college stand-up routines, many students stood up and left the hall, prompting Coulter to yell: "Yeah, that's right, leave! The anal sex classes are just down the hall!" That's a little one-liner that would have made the brownshirts proud.

    If GWB was half as bad as you make yourself believe he is, you'd already be dead. Michael Moore would be thin...in line for the "Showers" at Bush's Death Camps in West Texas.

    No, but under gwb and his executive orders, his government has the power to detain you indefinitely without legal representation and even to outsource you to one of a prision in Guantanamo, Syria, Egypt, Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Pakistan and various other countries in Africa and Asia; hey, now that is one distinguished list!

    So until we have forced labor camps and we're filling gas chambers daily, I suggest you rethink your position and keep your mouth shut.

    And

    So, go ahead, join what's left of the Taliban if that is what your truly belive.

    Wow, spoken like a true west texas brownshirt.

    Once we have forced labor camps and we're filling gas chamber daily, it's already too late by several years, OBVIOUSLY.

    What has happened in every country whose population has allowed its' government to take away its' freedoms for the sake of the illusion of a little safety is that eventually that population loses its' freedom with no benefit of safety. History only repeats itself over and over again because of ignorance. Vincible ignorance. Lazy ignorance. Mediocre ignorance. Ignorance creating fear, and this combination in turn creates a soul-destroying hatred which makes it impossible for meaningful analysis and discussion to take place.

    Fortunately, the United States of America on the basis of an incredibly resilient document called The Constitution which cannot be destroyed overnight. But it can be destroyed with some time, a dash of power-crazed corporate whores, and a whole lot of ignorance from the population.

    Oh, and speaking of ignorance, the Taliban controls around half of Afghanistan. The other half, the so-called good guys, the Northern Alliance (did you know that's their name, the Northern Alliance?), has in the past four years overseen the biggest bumper crops of opium in Afghanistan's history, most of it exported to Europe and Northern America. Right under the gun barrels of what's left of United States troops in the region.

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