In the valley of the blind

The one-eyed man is king! Nice to know someone’s trying to stand up for us:

Of course, what’s now also come out is that, despite Google and Microsoft releasing transparencyreports about government requests for data, they don’t include FISA requests because of the gag orders on them. It’s only recently that both Google and Microsoft were able to include “range” numbers for how many national security letter requests they get. One hopes they’re pushing to be transparent on FISA requests as well.

The article makes it clear that Twitter was alone among the companies in refusing to join this program. That does not mean that Twitter does not hand over data to the government when receiving a legitimate FISA order. I’m sure it does. But it does mean that they have not set up a special system to make it easy for the government to just log in and get the data requested. Some people have suggested that the government has little need for Twitter to join the program since nearly all Twitter information is public, but that’s not true. There is still plenty of important information that might be hidden, including IP addresses, email addresses, location information and direct messages that the NSA would likely want. Besides, YouTube is a part of the program, and most of its data is similarly “public.”

This is not, by the way, the first time that we’ve seen Twitter stand up and fight for a user’s rights against a government request for data. Over two years ago, we pointed out that Twitter, alone among tech companies, fought back when a court ordered it to hand over user info. Twitter sought, and eventually got, permission to tell the user, and allow that user to try to fight back. It later came out that, as part of that same investigation, the government also had requested information from Google and, with fighting back and losing. It never became clear whether Google fought back.

Separately, however, Chris Soghoian has noted that an “unnamed company” fought back and lostagainst a FISA court order… and that, according to the PowerPoint presentation, Google “joined” PRISM just a few months later. It is possible that Google fought joining the program, and then only did so after losing in court. That said, Google’s most recent denial insists that “the government does not have access to Google servers—not directly, or via a back door, or a so-called drop box.” Perhaps they don’t consider a special server set up for lawfully required information a “drop box,” but others certainly might.

In the end, it appears that the initial Washington Post report was overblown in that it suggested direct access to all servers, rather than specific servers, set up to provide information that was required. That said, it is still true that the FISA Court appears to issue a fair number of secret orders for information from a variety of technology companies, some of them quite broad, and that many of the biggest tech companies have set up systems to make it easier to give the NSA/FBI and others access to that info — though, they are often required by law to provide that information. The real outrage remains that all of this is happening in complete secrecy, where there is little real oversight to stop this from being abused. As we noted just a few weeks ago, the FISA Court has become a rubber stamp, rejecting no requests at all in the past two years.

Given the revelations of the past week, the public (and our representatives) need to demand much more transparency and oversight concerning these surveillance programs.

That’s really the story here. We need a public discussion as to the limits of these programs, their lack of robust oversight, and the potential for political abuse. Let’s have that discussion, instead of nitpicking over the details.

One thought on “In the valley of the blind

  1. The strange case of chess master Bobby Fisher. We do need a discussion about limits. That discussion should include the cost of using contractors like Booz, Hamilton & Allen to spy on us. BH&A was paid $5.76 billion taxpayer dollars last year to spy on all of us. The Rand Corporation claims that we taxpayers spend $10 billion tax dollars each year to keep our overseas military bases open. One company gets $5.76 billion dollars to spy on us and the entire cost of operating overseas military bases is $10 billion dollars a year? What’s wrong with this picture? We should also discuss the fact that every, single elected official lies to us on a daily basis. Do you trust the people running “our’ government? Research Bobby Fisher, it’ll blow your mind.

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