The president's NSA advisory board grew teeth in the wake of the Snowden revelations, and they have done good service in identifying the civil liberties issues raised by the NSA's program of secret mass surveillance. Read the rest
In 1981, Harvard law professor Roger Fisher, director of the Harvard Negotiation Project, published a thought experiment in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists: what if the codes to launch nuclear war were kept inside the chest-cavity of a young volunteer, and the President would have to hack them out of this young man's chest before he could commence armageddon? Read the rest
The day after a Snowden leak revealed that the NSA builds fake versions of Facebook and uses them to seed malicious software in attacks intended to hijack "millions" of computers, Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg telephoned President Obama to complain about the NSA's undermining of the Internet's integrity.
As many have pointed out, it would have been nice to hear Zuckerberg taking the Internet's side before his own stock portfolio was directly affected, but better late than never. Zuckerberg's post on his conversation excoriates the US government for its Internet sabotage campaign, and calls on the USG to "be the champion for the internet, not a threat." Curiously, Zuckerberg calls for "transparency" into the NSA's attacks on the Internet, but stops short of calling for an end to government-sponsored attacks against the net.
In the end, though, Zuckerberg calls on companies to do a better job of securing themselves and their users against intrusive spying. It's not clear how that will work for Facebook, though: its business model is predicated on tricking, cajoling, and siphoning personal data out of its users and warehousing it forever in a neat package that governments are unlikely to ignore. I'm told that 90% of US divorce proceedings today include Facebook data; this is a microcosm of the wider reality when you make it your business to stockpile the evidentiary chain of every human being's actions. Read the rest
Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation writes, "Tomorrow night, President Barack Obama will give the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and today the Sunlight Foundation unveiled the State of the Union Machine. It allows you to generate your own random speech modeled on the language from different presidents' previous addresses.
The project uses natural language processing on the corpus of nine previous presidents to generate random text based on the sliders that adjust the weight given to each president. The speeches are a mix of eloquent presidential prose and uncomfortable executive dissonance." Read the rest
Last night at dinner with a couple of friends who are civil liberties lawyers, I asked why they thought Obama had changed his tune on surveillance; from campaigning for limited, closely overseen, transparent surveillance regimes to establishing a secretive, overarching, totalizing surveillance system that necessitates prosecuting more whistleblowers than all the other presidents in American history, combined.
They suggested that Obama might have taken office and been immediately assailed by surveillance-happy spooks who assured him that the world was full of existential terrors and that if he did anything to get in their way of Total Information Awareness, he would be drummed out of office in ignominy as the president who let America get attacked. Like LBJ, one friend said -- never wanted to ramp up the Vietnam war, but didn't want to turn his administration into the administration that lost a war.
Which got me to thinking: has there ever been a US president who cost his party the next election (or lost office) by being insufficiently hawkish about some war? By having an attack on his watch? GWB would probably have been an embarrassing one-termer but for Osama bin Laden (whom GWB never caught, incidentally, and this never seemed to be taken for weakness in his campaigns and in the campaigns of his would-be successors).
I'm no scholar of US history, but some of you are. Is it realistic to think that a president who isn't a big enough hawk will cost his party the next election, or be remembered in history for leaving America vulnerable to the Kaiser/Osama/the Spanish Armada/General Santa Ana/whatever? Read the rest
Here's Obama the Presidential Candidate debating Obama the Second Term President on surveillance; note how Obama the younger smashes through the cheap "privacy vs security" rhetoric of Obama the elder, showing the man for a thoroughly co-opted cynic who'll let the nation's spooks run wild. Here's Mike Masnick's take:
Not only is there a massive difference in what's being said, but also in how it's being said. The Candidate Obama spoke clearly, directly strongly and without equivocation about protecting civil liberties and not giving up our freedoms. President Obama's speech, on the other hand, sounds weak, vague and unpresidential in comparison.