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Great book on electronic surveillance and Civil Rights

Discussion in 'Tech Talk' started by glock39, Jul 27, 2008.

  1. glock39


    May 26, 2005
    Likes Received:
    Tyler, TX
    Review of "Little Brother" by Cory Doctorow, ISBN#978-0765319852

    The premise of "Little Brother" is that terrorists have launched a major attack on San Francisco. The Dept. of Homeland Security has responded with a massive program to monitor everybody's email, set up public surveillance camera's (like England has already got), and various attempts to track every citizen's movements every minute of the day. A group of students believes that these efforts are a bigger danger than the terrorists. They set up a private Internet that can't be monitored, and proceed to mess up the new security systems in various ways. Their objective being to get the public so aroused that they will rise up and demand their rights back.

    The book is Science Fiction, in that it contains some technology that doesn't yet exist. But it might more properly be called Science Near-Fiction, because everything in it is technically possible today (and most of it likely to be available in the next few years). In the book, you can buy individual components and build your own laptop computer from scratch. No, that's not really practicable today. But I've built several desktop computers from scratch, and if laptops continue to replace desktops as the standard household computer, then it's quite believable that we might get to where the book is within the next few years. The students use an Operating System called Paranoid Linux, that was developed to allow dissidents in China to communicate with being caught by the Communist government. Paranoid Linux doesn't really exist (although some people were inspired by the book and are now trying to create it). But regular Linux has been around for years (it's a little geeky, but has some definite advantages over Windows). As far as I can tell, all the encryption technology discussed in the book is accurate. If you want a practical overview of where computer security is today and might be in the immediate future, the story could almost be taken as a textbook example.

    In the book, the DHS goes wild and begins acting like Nazis. And yes, government behavior like that should be stopped. But should you begin by shutting them down completely? I mean, there have been several recorded instances where the FBI has violated people's civil rights. I think the individual personnel involved should have been criminally prosecuted for having done so. But would it be smart to shut down the FBI tomorrow, given that the majority of what they're doing is worthwhile? Likewise, if the DHS ever really became abusive of citizens, then it should be reigned in. But common sense would suggest that, if they're actually trying to stop terrorist attacks, then you should be a little bit concerned with deliberately trying to overwhelm the system with so many protesters that they don't have any time left to chase real terrorists.

    How does this happen in the story? Let's say the DHS is trying to catch terrorists by looking at who is sending and receiving a suspicious amount of encrypted email. Now, 99.9% of the encrypted email on the Internet is going to be perfectly legitimate. But if they found a way to filter it, and did a lot of hard work, it's just possible that they might be able to detect a terrorist that way. But then a bunch of students hear about the government "spying on their email". So, they get some of their friends, and their friend's friends, to send all their email using encryption. Now, the amount of encrypted traffic has suddenly increased so much that actually sorting through it all has gone from very difficult to completely impossible. Mind you, at this point, not one email has been read. The government may not even be able to break the encryption (and if they could read encrypted email, then they're probably going to go to great lengths to never admit it. The book practically has the DHS calling people's wives to tell them what their husband was doing the night before).

    The hero of the book is offended because the government originally treated him as possible terrorist. Well, many criminal investigations begin with examining everyone who had the opportunity to commit the crime, and involve questioning ten innocent people in the course of trying to find one guilty person. By itself, that doesn't mean the ten innocents were being persecuted. The book paints a picture of worst-case government abuses. The government doesn't just try to catch terrorists, but uses it's new found powers to silence all dissent. Anyone who questions what the government is doing is classified as a terrorist and arrested. Of course, in real life, one would hope that somebody in the government would have brains enough to distinguish between student protesters and terrorists.

    Much of the book, both in action and in dialog, is devoted to the discussion of Civil Rights and how much the government should be allowed to do. Personally, I find the book to set up false arguments on both sides of the issue. The government is trying to protect citizens, so it can suspend any Civil Rights it feels like, right? Well, no, it can't. That reasoning would allow any government to do anything it wants as long as it claims it's for your own good (just ask Josef Stalin how he defined "for your own good"). The government is trampling on our Civil Rights, so we're justified in doing whatever we want to in order to stop the government from functioning, right? Well, not necessarily. While I certainly think there are circumstances where Civil Disobedience is appropriate, it does not, for example, justify injuring innocent bystanders. In the story, the government has set up security checkpoints at, among many other places, hospitals. The students foul up the entire city's security systems so badly that, instead of waiting 30 minutes to get into the hospital, now everyone has to stand in line for two hours. Well, hooray for freedom. But what about all the people who were trying to get into the hospital because they were sick or injured or in pain? There are always human consequences to be considered, and the book tends to skip over these consequences.

    I also think care needs to be taken to ensure that you're not doing more harm than good. For instance, I seem to recall a few years ago that some intelligence agency got a hold of a phone list of known terrorists. They then got together with the cell phone companies and found a way to tap the terrorists phone calls. Now, this is starting to get into dangerous ground, because the government has no business tapping any phones of US Citizens unless it has a really good, legally justified reason for doing so. But apparently they were restricting their eavesdropping to foreign terrorists, and presumably getting a lot of valuable intelligence by doing so. Then the New York Times blabbed about it to the whole world. The next day all the terrorists were using a different method to communicate, that we couldn't listen in on. By the next week, the Times was, of course, back to blaming the government for not making any headway in catching terrorists. I will mention in passing that if, during WWII, any newspaper had attempted to publish the fact that the US Navy had broken the Japanese codes, FDR would have forcibly shut down that paper and had the Editorial Staff thrown in jail for the duration of the war (without charges being filed, no lawyers, no phone calls, etc).

    Personally, I'm pretty much a Civil Libertarian. I think three-fourths of the people working for the civil government should be fired, and the remaining quarter should be required to start doing something useful. I thing the vast majority of what the government currently does is both flat-out unconstitutional and ultimately destructive to society. However, one of the big things the government is supposed to be doing is protecting National Security. As "Little Brother" illustrates, that should not give the government free reign to trample citizens underfoot. At the same time, the government does have a legitimate interest in catching terrorists. And if you're trying to prevent terrorists from planting bombs, then I don't know a way to do that without sometimes checking innocent people to see if they're carrying a bomb into someplace.

    What's the proper balance between National Security and Civil Rights? Frankly, I'm not sure. Historically, some of the worst abuses have always occurred during times of war (speaking out in public against either Lincoln or Woodrow Wilson won you an all expense paid trip to the nearest Federal prison). But I don't believe the choice is between having a Police State and giving up on even trying to fight Terrorism. There is a balance between the two extremes.
  2. DonL


    Jul 22, 2002
    Likes Received:
    The abuse has already begun....Nobodies going to stop it....

    Spence: $2M settlement underscores loss of freedom
    Jackson attorney battles FBI, big government, Patriot Act.

    By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
    December 6, 2006

    Fresh from winning a $2 million settlement in a suit against the FBI for wrongly tying an Oregon lawyer to the Madrid bombing case, Jackson Hole attorney Gerry Spence warned Tuesday of growing fascism in America.

    Spence was the lead attorney in a case brought by Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield against the FBI for his arrest in the case that saw 191 people killed in Spain. The FBI began investigating Mayfield after computers said his fingerprints came close to matching a print found on a bag containing explosive detonators connected to the March 11, 2004, bombing.

    Mayfield announced the settlement last week in Portland, Ore., but the flamboyant Spence has been missing from many of the news reports of the incident. He spoke in a telephone interview from his home in Jackson Hole, cautioning against the government and corporations consolidating increasing power.

    “It’s a very frightening time in our country,” said Spence, who has made a career championing the cases of the common man and underdogs. “What happens is that the corporate king, or the government-corporate king, the two combined, [are] leading us into fascism.”

    As part of the settlement, Spence secured an apology from the FBI and will be able to continue a case challenging the Patriot Act. He said, however, that the mainstream media is shunning his warnings and that even a Congressional committee dis-invited him from testifying about the Patriot Act once majority members learned what he would say.

    Spence said the Mayfield story begins when the FBI received a copy of the print through Interpol, the international police agency, and used a computer to compare it to those it had on file. Among the prints in its database were Mayfield’s, on file since his service in the military.

    “Out popped 20 potential matches that now need to be viewed individually by the expert,” Spence said of the computer’s work. Mayfield’s was the fourth-best match, but he shot to the top of the list, Spence said.

    “What we have here is a Muslim card that was played,” Spence said.

    He characterized Mayfield as “a Kansas farm boy who married an Egyptian woman.” Mayfield converted to Islam.

    “In their papers for the arrest of Mayfield, they allege he had represented a known Muslim terrorist,” Spence said. “In fact, his representation was only on a child custody matter. They arrested him primarily because he was a Muslim.”

    Before the arrest, however, the FBI investigated the lawyer secretly.

    “They got a secret warrant and secretly came to Mayfield’s house and broke in like common burglars,” Spence said.

    Those famous FBI shoes were the giveaway.

    “In this case they didn’t realize in the Mayfield family – they take their shoes off before they go into the house,” Spence said. “There were shoe prints in the carpet. Locks were locked that weren’t usually.

    “They knew they were invaded but they didn’t know by whom,” Spence said of the Mayfield family, which includes three children.

    “Under the Patriot Act they have the power to install secret microphones and to bug the telephones and to put microphones under the kitchen table and under the bed,” Spence said. “One is never given the opportunity to determine what they have done, what they have taken and where they have disseminated this information.

    “They went into his papers, copied his computers, took his DNA,” Spence said. On one occasion, Mayfield’s son was terrified when he saw a stranger trying to break into his home, Spence said.

    The FBI also suspected Mayfield because he went to a mosque and advertised in a Muslim Yellow Pages directory. Ford and GM use the same advertising venue, Spence said.

    “And they claimed he must have had false papers because they couldn’t find any evidence he had left the U.S.” to take part in the bombings, Spence said. “If you have stayed at home and minded your own business, you’re also a criminal because you have fooled the FBI.”

    FBI denies role of religion

    The FBI has rejected allegations religion played a role in the investigation. In a statement issued earlier this year, the agency noted that it had cooperated with the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General in a probe into the botched investigation.

    “The OIG report concluded that religion played no improper role in the identification or investigation of Mr. Mayfield,” the FBI said.

    But once the investigation was under way, religion did weigh in, according to the probe.

    “FBI fingerprint experts probably were more resistant to re-examining their conclusion that Brandon Mayfield’s fingerprint matched one on a bag containing detonators like those used in the attacks in Spain because of his religion, Inspector General Glenn Fine said in the executive summary of a 273-page report that otherwise remains classified,” the Associated Press reported earlier this year.

    Spence said that when it came time to arrest the lawyer, the media got a tip.

    “The press was at hand when the FBI came in to arrest him, including a reporter from a national magazine,” Spence said. “Which means that they had notice of the arrest and of the case and what the government was going to do some time prior to the arrest. And it was leaked by the government to the press so the press could be on hand, which may be in violation of federal criminal laws that deal with privacy.”

    Spence said the settlement precludes him from pursuing that potential violation. Being jailed hurt Mayfield, he said.

    “He did suffer some injury – some physical injury being handcuffed and shoved in cells,” Spence said. “It was an experience that would be a nightmare for you and me as it was for him.”

    Mayfield spent approximately 11 days in jail.

    Spence said it also was upsetting that the investigation violated attorney-client privilege.

    “They looked at his client’s papers,” Spence said. “This is a horrible thing.

    “If we give the attorney information, it is secret,” he said. “It can’t be obtained by the court or anybody else. It’s as sacred as the parishioner-priest privilege.”

    Spence said arrogance of the FBI was key to its shortcomings.

    “The thing that makes this thing so bad, so very bad, is that the FBI was instructed by the Spanish police that they had made a mistake – even before they arrested Mayfield – and that this was not Mayfield’s fingerprint,” he said. “When you talk to the infallible FBI and tell them they’ve made a mistake – that’s heresy.”

    Spence said the FBI flew a crew to Spain to convince investigators there that they were wrong, the FBI was right. The Europeans would not budge.

    The FBI characterized the excursion differently, saying in a statement that it sent two fingerprint examiners to Madrid to compare an image of the fingerprint to the original in possession of Spanish authorities.

    The incident is troubling because the charge Mayfield potentially faced carried the death penalty, Spence said.

    “Consider what would have happened if the Spanish National Police had not remained solid in their position,” Spence said. “You then go into court with the average jury who has been told by the FBI it doesn’t make mistakes and that fingerprints are an absolute science.”

    He criticized the FBI culture, and prosecutors in general. “You have people in the organization, like in any government prosecutor’s office, who want to be able to put the big trophy on the wall and to be able to say, ‘I solved the train in Spain case,’” Spence said.

    The FBI contested that its agents were power hungry. “The OIG also found no evidence of misconduct on the part of any FBI employees involved in this investigation,” the agency said in a statement.

    The FBI’s most recent apology, published on, said the agency was sorry “for the suffering caused by the FBI’s misidentification of Mr. Mayfield’s fingerprint and the resulting investigation of Mr. Mayfield, including his arrest as a material witness in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombings and the execution of search warrants and other court orders in the Mayfield home and in Mr. Mayfield’s law office.

    “The United States acknowledges that the investigation and arrest were deeply upsetting to Mr. Mayfield, to Mrs. Mayfield, and to their three young children, and the United States regrets that it mistakenly linked Mr. Mayfield to this terrorist attack,” the statement said. “The FBI has implemented a number of measures in an effort to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield and the Mayfield family does not happen again.”

    Abusing authority

    Spence said the issue goes beyond a botched investigation or the misidentification of fingerprints. He said those in power are abusing events to gain more authority.

    “Fear is a powerful motivation,” Spence said. “Nobody has been better of making us afraid, of terrorizing us, than the power structure. By terrorizing us they can pass such acts as the Patriot Act.”

    The FBI said the act was not misused.

    “The OIG report concludes that there was no evidence of misuse of the Patriot Act,” the FBI said in a statement. “The report finds, ‘contrary to public speculation,’ the FBI did not use certain provisions of the Patriot Act and that the Act did not affect the scope of the FBI’s use of FISA surveillance or searches. Instead, the OIG report found that the effect of the Patriot Act on this investigation was to enable the FBI to share lawful information with other members of the law enforcement and intelligence communities.”

    Spence said the act is undemocratic and that he was stifled when asked to testify to Congress about it.

    “The sad part of it is the American citizen doesn’t know, has no idea, what this Patriot Act permits the government to do,” Spence said. “And so when the Patriot Act came up for renewal, a minority in Congress, then the Democrats, [U.S. Rep. John] Conyers asked me to come testify about the Mayfield case so the public could have some idea of what’s going on.

    “He says, ‘You have to write up a statement – would you submit it and then we’ll have you testify?’” Spence said about Conyers’ request. “So I sent the statement in.

    “The day before I was to appear I got a call from the lawyer representing the minority,” Spence said. “‘I’m sorry, Mr. Spence, but the Republican majority has read what you are going to testify to,” the lawyer told him.

    The message from Republicans was: “If you testify, all communication between us [Republicans and Democrats] is forever lost – we will never cooperate with you,” Spence said.

    “When I got that response I prepared a press release and sent it out to every major news force in the country,” Spence said. “There was not one that picked that news story up.”

    Spence said the loss of rights in this country inspired him to write his latest book, Bloodthirsty *****es and Pious Pimps of Power. He said he can’t get on a talk show to promote it.

    “And so we have a very precarious condition which can lead us into what I call the Fourth Reich,” Spence said. Mussolini predicted the Fourth Reich would occur when “government and corporations became indistinguishable.”

    “That’s what we really have today,” he said. “Because we are afraid, we are angry. The average person feels helpless – ‘What can I do?’”

    “Freedom,” Spence said, “requires a little bit of danger. You have to agree to a little bit of danger to be free.”

  3. noway


    Dec 14, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Davie "Cowboy" , FL
    Do you know just how much time/resource and don't even get me started with complexity with just doing the above and then the storage to track all email?

    Todo this with any thing achieved would require another complete GOV agency to gather/sort/distinguish and identify potential intel :upeyes:

    Please don't tell me you remotely believe this would happen ? It isn't like the big three alpha agencies don't have enough on their plate to deal with but now try to decrypt your email and then call your spouse to tell her/him what he/she was doing ? heck the spouse could just login into the desktop and review his/her email ;)

    and for DonL post, none of the above list article has anything todo with electronic surveillance and Civil Rights , the guy in that story was identififed as a possible match thru a FINGERPRINT database from his fingerprints entered from military service. Whoopity do.:tongueout:

    My fingerprints has been taken for the same reason and then again for about 6x times. I'm probably in a few database (nothing criminal btw ;) )

    to conclude my thoughts;


    NOTE: the gov has deployed various networking appliance to perform deep packet inspection (DPI) at various internet exchange primarily to sniff out traffic of interests. They write rules to key on certain "content payload" and to capture "certain" data types.

    So if your not using encryption your stuff is out in the wind in the clear and subject to be pryed on, looked at and reveiwed, but it has nothing to do with your civil rights.

    Basically if you have something to "hide" or not want "exposed", don't use a phone and definetely not a wireless one, nor put it on the net without encryption