Saturday, June 7, 2014

NSA Reform is Dead: Tech Companies Must Act to Protect Us Now

Not that it is surprising that the NSA Stasi is protected by a firewall of entrenched and corrupt members of our pathetic excuse for a legislative branch - the US Congress remains the number one enemy of the American people - and that any sort of effective reform in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks has always been dead on arrival. The USA Freedom Act seemed to be a perfect counterpart to the fascist USAPATRIOT Act when it was introduced, with the backing of US Representative James Sensenbrenner who was largely responsible for the latter monstrosity but as the establishment stalled enough time had passed for it to be gutted. The intelligence committee chairpersons of the House and Senate, respectively the right-wing talk radio bound fanatic Mike Rogers and the always ghastly Dianne Feinstein would be there to protect the warrentless mass surveillance and data-mining in all of its Constitution trashing glory because the protection of criminality is the main reason why the got their gigs in the first place.
The USA Freedom Act, in its watered down version which prolific security blogger Marcy Wheeler of Emptywheel has brilliantly pegged as the USA Freedumber Act not only preserves the powers of the NSA but now provides them with official cover. The Freedumber Act is the Obama administration's wet dream as it would allow the narcissistic one to present himself as a champion of the American people by fixing the system and the business of getting all of the phone calls, financial data, images, book purchases, associations, family information, political affiliation, blog traffic, internet searches, sexual orientation, religious preferences, text messages and thousands of other data points to sock away in their massive storage facilities like the one out in Utah. Then Obama can get about the business of avenging the injury to his ego when Vladimir Putin prevented a war in Syria and Russia provided asylum to Snowden saving him from a US torture chamber and starting a new cold war which will ensure that military contractor money rolls in for the next election cycles.
Barring the promised bombshell revelations from journalist Glenn Greenwald - which are taking forever and making many (although not myself, at least not yet) nervous that he sold out to billionaire Pierre Omidyar and that the real stuff is never going to see the light of day - are so shocking as to make serious reform possible the great hope at this point is having to hope that Silicon Valley will come to the rescue. The NSA rampage has permanently tarnished the image of American big tech to the point that the only rational thing - at least from a business standpoint and these area after all businesses - is to improve their own security in order to prevent or at least make int more difficult for the government goons to penetrate their networks and customer communication activity.
This is currently in process and will continue to evolve as the US government has chosen to continue the programs rather than lose precious time between now and the day that the order comes down to use the data to go after those who are deemed to be threats to state power. According to a New York Times article entitled "Internet Giants Erect Barriers to Spy Agencies" that was published on Friday:
Just down the road from Google’s main campus here, engineers for the company are accelerating what has become the newest arms race in modern technology: They are making it far more difficult — and far more expensive — for the National Security Agency and the intelligence arms of other governments around the world to pierce their systems.
As fast as it can, Google is sealing up cracks in its systems that Edward J. Snowden revealed the N.S.A. had brilliantly exploited. It is encrypting more data as it moves among its servers and helping customers encode their own emails. Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo are taking similar steps.
After years of cooperating with the government, the immediate goal now is to thwart Washington — as well as Beijing and Moscow. The strategy is also intended to preserve business overseas in places like Brazil and Germany that have threatened to entrust data only to local providers.
Google, for example, is laying its own fiber optic cable under the world’s oceans, a project that began as an effort to cut costs and extend its influence, but now has an added purpose: to assure that the company will have more control over the movement of its customer data.
A year after Mr. Snowden’s revelations, the era of quiet cooperation is over. Telecommunications companies say they are denying requests to volunteer data not covered by existing law. A.T.&T., Verizon and others say that compared with a year ago, they are far more reluctant to cooperate with the United States government in “gray areas” where there is no explicit requirement for a legal warrant.
Eric Grosse, Google’s security chief, suggested in an interview that the N.S.A.’s own behavior invited the new arms race.
“I am willing to help on the purely defensive side of things,” he said, referring to Washington’s efforts to enlist Silicon Valley in cybersecurity efforts. “But signals intercept is totally off the table,” he said, referring to national intelligence gathering.
“No hard feelings, but my job is to make their job hard,” he added.
There is naturally the standard fear-mongering by the US government and the implied threat of terrorist attacks is tech companies do not allow the NSA to proceed with impunity. The NYT piece cites an Obama administration official who invokes the 9/11 card once again:
Robert S. Litt, the general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees all 17 American spy agencies, said on Wednesday that it was “an unquestionable loss for our nation that companies are losing the willingness to cooperate legally and voluntarily” with American spy agencies.
 “Just as there are technological gaps, there are legal gaps,” he said, speaking at the Wilson Center in Washington, “that leave a lot of gray area” governing what companies could turn over.
In the past, he said, “we have been very successful” in getting that data. But he acknowledged that for now, those days are over, and he predicted that “sooner or later there will be some intelligence failure and people will wonder why the intelligence agencies were not able to protect the nation.”
Companies respond that if that happens, it is the government’s own fault and that intelligence agencies, in their quest for broad data collection, have undermined web security for all.
BINGO on that last statement - the government to this day has yet to fire anyone who was on the job and failed to protect the nation on the morning of September 11, 2001 - why is that? Power will not be surrendered willingly and at this point, as there is ZERO chance for legitimate and serious reform of the unconstitutional practices of the NSA within the government it is incumbent on the tech companies to do what they can to go into a defensive mode and internet users to look into getting some serious encryption software installed.