US intelligence honcho channels Orwell, redefines privacy

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43 Responses to “US intelligence honcho channels Orwell, redefines privacy”

  1. Lone says:

    “Instead, it should mean that government and businesses properly safeguard people’s private communications and financial information…”

    And when exactly did they plan to get better at doing this? They’ve already proven to be poor or purely deceptive handlers, either with their own or everyone else’s information.
    On the topic of Orwell, how about flooding their front office with the book. Maybe someone of some function will take it home and read it. :P

  2. Stefan Jones says:

    “He noted that government employees face up to five years in prison and $100,000 in fines if convicted of misusing private information.”

    Uh, right. The key weasel word here is “misuse.”

    Creeps like Ministry of Information Director Kerr will see to it that legal uses will include anything they see fit to do.

    #1: Oh, come on! These guys not only know about 1984, probably have wet dreams of being the rat wranglers for Room 101.

  3. Dave X says:

    In other news, 9 out of 10 Boing Boing readers think Donald Kerr is a dangerous lunatic. The tenth could not be reached for comment, but was last seen constructing a steampunk-styled top hat from tin-foil and muttering something about “brain DRM waves”…

  4. Scoutmaster says:

    Privacy should be increased as society evolves. A thriving economy with limited corruption will engender a peaceful society. Fairness, justice and minding ones own business eliminates any need for government intelligence.

  5. anthropomorphictoast says:

    Great…more doublespeak from the people who run our country.

    Whomever makes a steampunk tinfoil top hat will have my undying respect. :3

  6. agnot says:

    That’s comforting!

    If I end up in “Gitmo,” I don’t have to worry about my government of, for and by the people revealing my private data that they misinterpreted.

    Whew!!

  7. AR says:

    It sounds kind of creepy to me…

  8. Squashy says:

    “Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are “perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data.””

    Yeah, what’s the matter with people? They trust some Johnny Foreigner to work at an ISP but don’t want the US Government recording all their email? How odd.

    Oh well, at least they can keep on recording all the email from everyone else in the world.

  9. Ed Bear says:

    I’ve been feeling like Terry Gilliam should be hailed as a prophet. At least the government in 1984 was reasonably competent at being evil – the real deal is a lot more like Brazil. I keep waiting for Cheney to start rambling on about the importance of information retrieval surcharges in Gitmo.

  10. stevko says:

    So, this is generally a bad thing. So, what do we do about this?

    One of the things that I usually hate about “discussion sites” is that eventually, it’s an echo chamber. And this is no exception.

    The only question is, at what point do we decide to make this stop? And what do we do to stop this? And at what point do we decide that it’s not worth it to stop this, and move elsewhere where the concepts of “privacy”, “freedom” and “torture” are not trivial things to be redefined at the whims of the Assistant Assistant Undersecretary of Naval Gazing?

  11. Kyle Armbruster says:

    I think you mean “navel gazing.”

    And it’s the biggest problem with the US, I think. As South Park pointed out, we “say one thing and do another.” We all say–and believe–that a lot of what is going on is rotten, but we don’t do anything to stop it.

    But what do you do to stop it? The country spoke loud and clear in the last congressional election, sweeping the Republicans out of office and replacing them with Democrats who we thought were going to bring the pain and serve the comeuppance. But what did they do?

    Nothing. A whole lot of it.

    We are sitting here where any idiot lawyer in the country could put together a rock-solid case for impeaching the president, vice president, and former secretary of defense, yet all the people we vote into offices where they can do that can’t seem to get their acts together enough to actually do it.

    And why?

    Because they don’t want to. Because they’re just the same. Because they’re cats and we’re mice.

    So what do you do when the checks and balances and popular oversight–no matter how weak to begin with–have been thoroughly compromised?

    Well, we happen to have an amendment to the Constitution that was penned to address just such an eventuality, but at some point it became illegal (in violation of the spirit and letter of the first amendment, I might add) to even discuss it, and, more ridiculously, most of the people most upset by the way the government is going also have a stupid and irrational fear of that amendment and the subject about which it is written.

    You can’t oust a totalitarian regime with hippie water and love beads. You can’t levitate the problem away with focused telepathic peace beams. And the policeman’s gun still fires no matter how many flowers you shove into it.

    But since it’s easier to whine and bang drums and strum guitars than it is to actually solve problems as grave as these, we opt for the former.

    Or we leave the country.

  12. Makeshift Propaganda says:

    Yes, what do we do about this? Hmmm…the culture war this last decade has obfuscated everything and no one will give a crap until an economic collapse. Then suddenly, its time to actually fight for freedom.

    Personally, I’m all for experimenting with an honor system type of Bill of Rights. It’s not like there’s historical examples were governments wiped their asses with there esteemed social contracts.

  13. Natasha says:

    This is too creppy, im scared :(

    -Natasha
    http://www.myafricansafaris.com

  14. Dave X says:

    Kyle said:

    “You can’t oust a totalitarian regime with hippie water and love beads. You can’t levitate the problem away with focused telepathic peace beams. And the policeman’s gun still fires no matter how many flowers you shove into it. But since it’s easier to whine and bang drums and strum guitars than it is to actually solve problems as grave as these, we opt for the former.”

    Although quite dramatic, I have to disagree with the general idea of what Kyle is saying. You can, indeed, overthrow governments of every kind through what you seem to view as useless activity. Think about it– nobody had a revolution to kill every typewriter in the US, people just drifted away from using them as better options became known. For those of us who know of, or can envision such better options for government, we can be leaders by living as if such a government existed right now– it’s leading by example.

  15. yotta says:

    #5: Whomever makes a steampunk tinfoil top hat will have my undying respect.

    The first requirement is to use real tin!

  16. danmanning says:

    The news isn’t want the guy said. It’s been this way for years and it isn’t going to change.

    The news is that he said it out loud. Before they tried to keep it quiet. Now it doesn’t matter.

    Every country gets the government it deserves.

    Welcome to the 21st Century sheeple!

  17. Jamie says:

    This environment will encourage people to create alternative identities and secret lives.

  18. Dave X says:

    I think you’re right, Jamie. IF THAT IS YOUR REAL NAME!!!

  19. Angstrom says:

    Jamie isn’t his real name, it’s actually Peter Bergham, 5 foot 10, wearing a yellow t-shirt and black canvas trousers. And now he is looking up at the camera as the Peace Agents arrive. Passers by avert their gaze.
    There is no Peter Bergham, move along citizens.

  20. Comedian says:

    Eerily remniscent to Rudy Giuliani’s comment on freedom:

    Freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything they want, be anything they can be. Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do.

  21. Dave X says:

    Peter WHO? Never heard of him!

  22. Anonymous says:

    A society is defined more so in the relationship between the individual and the society. Here, a decision has been made that the government is more important than the individual. Clearly, since the mechanisms of power reside in the hands of the state, this is an imbalance that potentially bodes ill for American society if there is no counterbalance to the free rein given to government.

    What happens when, one day, the people that use the snooping decide that they will use this to enforce their idea of government, right or wrong? We have already seen some of this in the actions of the NYC Police Department and how they aggressively collected information on people who attempted to legitimately exercise their rights as citizens in voicing their opinions before, during and after the last Republican National Convention and it is not just that there was a convention going on either.

  23. Halloween Jack says:

    “Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are “perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data.””

    Yes, it’s called outsourcing; my tech support calls go to Belfast and Bangalore, and I don’t think that his regime will change anything. The only hope we have of change is when people realize that privacy =/= being able to watch porn at home.

  24. drivenbyboredom says:

    Well as long as they can get a stiff fine for it, I am sure we are all safe…

  25. NickP says:

    “Kerr said at an October intelligence conference in San Antonio that he finds concerns that the government may be listening in odd when people are “perfectly willing for a green-card holder at an (Internet service provider) who may or may have not have been an illegal entrant to the United States to handle their data.””

    That’s so idiotic. A Green Card is the final step before naturalization, at which point the person could get a job with US intelligence. If we can’t trust Green Card holders, what makes Kerr think we can trust citizens?

    And since when did the U.S. start handing out green cards to illegal immigrants?

  26. erindipity says:

    Oh, well gee whiz, now that everything is out in the open and all…

  27. Anonymous says:

    I find the naivete of anyone surprised by this very quaint and charming, and the statement itself refreshingly honest. What the hell did you think nations’ intelligence services were for in the first place? Constitutional privacy protections have to do with your rights in the judicial system, not acts of war. The debate now is over the interfaces and/or degree of overlap between law enforcement and military action — that the spies would spy was never really in any doubt, just take what little satisfaction you can that your government actually admits it.

  28. Dayv says:

    That counts as channeling Orwell?

    If I run a meatpacking sweatshop, am I “channeling” Upton Sinclair?

    Please, stop being mean to George Orwell.

  29. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Kyle, I was absolutely with you until you got to the hippie part. The last time stuff like that impinged on mainstream politics, I was in middle school.

    I am nontrivially disappointed with the Democratic leadership, and I intend to vote for every one of them on my ballot next election. Two main reasons: first, not everyone in their national-level organization is a nutcase or crook. Second, they have a much higher incidence of people who think I’m part of the same game they’re playing.

    I can work with that.

  30. Nelson.C says:

    NickP @24:

    If we can’t trust Green Card holders, what makes Kerr think we can trust citizens?

    Kerr doesn’t care if we trust citizens. He probably thinks citizens are untrustworthy, which is why he wants to look after our data for us. He knows that his staff are trustworthy, because they’ve all been vetted. He just hasn’t made the final step of wondering whether the vetting process is trustworthy.

  31. schizocat says:

    “Millions of people in this country – particularly young people – already have surrendered anonymity to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, and to Internet commerce. These sites reveal to the public, government and corporations what was once closely guarded information, like personal statistics and credit card numbers.”

    Myspace and Facebook are revealing credit card numbers to the public, government and corporations? Really? I guess that goes on your profile now right between “Pisces” and “Married but looking.”

  32. hpavc says:

    Well obviously we all need to incorporate and conduct our ‘business’ in a more proprietary manner.

  33. Bazilisk says:

    *screams*

    CANADA HERE I COME?

  34. Taylor.R says:

    I wouldn’t get all trembly and nervous about the hubristic hopes of this GOP bureaucrat. His private philosophy cannot trump constitutional safegaurds.

  35. naggs says:

    i would start to get paranoid now but its already to late, whats the point

    violating peoples privacy to ensure their security is the easiest thing in the world to rationalize, too bad its unconstitional.

    its official, live free or die is only a bumpersticker. our freedom is consuming itself. i would rather die in a terrorist attack than live in a country where i dont have the freedom to be left alone.

    time to start thinking about canada

  36. EdT. says:

    @#11-Kyle_Armbruster:
    I’m afraid you’re guilty of thought-crime. Don’t bother getting the door, we’ll let ourselves in…

  37. JohnnyWeird says:

    #17, 18, 19:
    It feels like there’s a lot of game potential here. Fans of Calvin and Hobbes may remember his deliberately outrageous answers to survey questions and tests. This sentiment could easily be extended to profiles for websites, credit card applications, etc. If our searches are also monitored, why not deliberately search esoterica to create a false trail of nonexistant hobbies and interests?
    And to take it a step further, this sort of behavior would absolutely botch market research, opinion polls and other data collection methods. In the struggle to redefine privacy, is Kerr also doing away with honesty or accuracy?

  38. fltndboat says:

    Are we our information????

  39. doggo says:

    “Well obviously we all need to incorporate and conduct our ‘business’ in a more proprietary manner.”

    Heh. You joke, but you might be onto something there. Since corporations seem to almost have more freedom than citizens, perhaps it would be worthwhile to incorporate.

    You gather a group of your friends and file papers as a corporation. We are SpazzCo, Inc., don’t mess with us! Make sure you get a contract (like, refilling the staplers at the Justice Department) with the Ministry of Fatherland Protection so you can carry and use weapons without legal threat. Plus, with that fat government contract, you can have some serious walkin’ around money.

  40. Teresa Nielsen Hayden / Moderator says:

    Schizocat, good call on that quote. Equating the mild revelations of the personal information people put up on MySpace and Facebook with the information the government holds on us is profoundly bogus.

    If he really thinks they’re equivalent, he has no idea what he’s talking about. On the other hand, if he does know what he’s talking about, he’s making what he has to know is a false argument.

    I’m betting the latter is true. It’s disturbing either way.

  41. Bill Simmon says:

    Okay, since nobody else is, I’ll play devil’s advocate. I read the full transcript of Kerr’s remarks and I agree they’re scary — if you consider the source. The context — who Kerr is and what his job is along with the ongoing debate over NSA wiretapping — makes his comments seem Orwellian and all of that, but taken out of context…? Imagine a tech evangelist at a web 2.0 conference had said…

    Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed their name on Google understands that. Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured.

    Out of context, he’s really not all that far from the mark. Hell, replace the words “an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards” with “judicial review” and it’s positively progressive in the current political climate.

    The basic kernel of what Kerr is saying doesn’t strike me as being all that different from some of the stuff in the 2001 Wired piece, The Surveillance Society.

    We really do need to reconsider what “privacy” means in the digital age. That doesn’t mean we stop holding the government accountable for its abuses of power, but neither should we expect Uncle Same to plug his fingers into his ears, shut his eyes and yell “nananana I’m not listening!”

    I’m paraphrasing Bruce Sterling here, but if you give a totalitarian government a hammer, they’ll beat you on the head with it. If you distribute hammers to the population of a relatively free society, they’ll build houses. Modern information technologies are the hammers and we all have them (the digital divide notwithstanding) and so does the government. We need to be realistic about that and get on with the house-building.

    /devil’s advocacy

  42. zuzu says:

    There are two kinds of cryptography in this world: cryptography that will stop your kid sister from reading your files, and cryptography that will stop major governments from reading your files. This book is about the latter.

    –Bruce Schneier, Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C.

  43. naggs says:

    @#43 zuzu

    they already have ways around that, if your using encryption then you obviously are hiding something which means they watch you more closely and get the information one way or another.

    i wouldnt be surprised at all if they have supercomputers pumping out lists of people who use encryption. given the secrecy (read unaccountability) that the NSA operates in, and the known absence of judicial oversight, you are probably better off hoping they dont notice you than to make any attempt to protect your own rights.

    after all, that is their job! the NSA should just change its name to The Minestry of Privacy already.

    “…instead “privacy” will now mean having the right to expect that governments and companies won’t tell other people what they learn when they spy on you.”

    given that we already know that companies (at&t) will tell other people (the NSA) what they learn when they spy on you, this quote just goes to show that they dont care that they are violating your rights. privacy has been traded for the myth of security and it is just a matter of time until systemic corruption infects ‘the watchers’ who have the unchecked power to digitally track anyone.

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