Representative Mike Rogers (R-Michigan), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said of Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who published secret material leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that:
“[Greenwald] doesn’t have a clue how this thing works. Neither did the person who released just enough information to be dangerous.”
The snippet above was taken from an article by Jane C. Timm (@janestreet) on the MSNBC/Morning Joe blog in which Greenwald defends his own actions, and those of Snowden as "essential to Democracy.
Here is what I have to say to Rep. Rogers, and all the rest of our electeds who provide supposed "oversight" in relation to the type of intelligence gathering which involves collection of data from American citizens, on American soil, with no notice, no recourse, and no probable cause:
Please, Mr. Chairman, please do enlighten us, with sufficient information to NOT be dangerous, and so that we, the people YOU WORK FOR, DO have a clue "how it works."
When you are collecting my private communications, I expect you to act with accountability. As a proud American, I am ashamed that those who (somehow) find themselves elected to office anymore seem to think they act with impunity. The safety of our nation is indeed a priority. But there are ways you can get what you need without obliterating our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and protections.
In the wake of news reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly mining data from large internet service providers Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Larry Page both released statements about their respective company's position on the matter.
While both read like well-thought-out, carefully crafted (but very "corporate") responses, and appear to support the notion that neither company actually participates in a program like the alleged PRISM, both statements also read like thinly disguised paraphrases of the same script. You know, almost like they were being spoon fed.
We've Never Heard of PRISM
Both companies also appear to craft their statements using very carefully chosen language. From Zuckerbergs post on Facebook (Emphasis mine):
"Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively. We hadn't even heard of PRISM before yesterday."
And now, From Larry Page's post, released shortly prior to Zuck's statement (again, emphasis mine):
"First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday . . . Until this week’s reports, we had never heard of the broad type of order that Verizon received"
Interesting that in both instances, each CEO is very specific in stating what their company is not doing. They have not granted the government direct access to their servers. They have never received a blanket request such as that reportedly received by Verizon. If you read the full content of each CEO's statement you will find that they are essentially paraphrasing each other, or some third source.
Apple spokesman Steve Dowling also responds with a similar statement:
"We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order."
When asked whether Apple had joined the joint NSA-FBI data collection program, Apple declined to comment, according to the Huffington Post.
Only with a Court Order?
All of the companies that have responded publicly make some form of statement indicating that they comply only with court orders, and under applicable law. Each gives some lip-service to resisting attempts by government to compromise the privacy of users. However, in an article from the Washington Post, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union states:
"I would just push back on the idea that the court has signed off on it, so why worry? This is a court that meets in secret, allows only the government to appear before it, and publishes almost none of its opinions. It has never been an effective check on government."
Bad things are happening on the web. Governments around the world seek to monitor and control this invaluable communications resource. Totalitarian governments like those of China and Iran have set the example for what we, in the US, do not want to see happen.
Except, well, it kind of is happening, and has been for several years now.
I understand that, to paraphrase US President Barack Obama, you can't have 100% security, and 100% freedom, and 100% privacy with zero inconvenience. But the lack of transparency and sheer underhandedness of the US government in this case appears to be not only appalling, but growing by the minute.
It's not the Crime that Kills You, It's the Cover-up
We don't know all the facts at this point, and we likely never will. But paying close attention to the manner in which the big internet providers respond is at the very least interesting, and quite possibly a sign that there is, indeed, more here than meets the eye.
I encourage the Googles and Facebooks and Apples of the Silicon Valley to remember the old political adage: It's not the crime that kills you, it's the cover-up. John on Google
A work in Progress
It becomes more and more apparent each year that the historical frameworks governing copyrights and patents in this country (if not the world) has become strained under advances in modern technology, and particularly, the internet. The digital millennium has changed the face of content creation, distribution, and consumption to such a degree that legislation governing copyright, infringement, and plagiarism can scarcely keep up.
One of the principal tools in use today in the United States is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed into law in October of 1998. We are all at least somewhat familiar with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. At least, we know it has to do with “protecting” copyrighted works online, and that it allows online content to be “removed with” the simple issuance of a “takedown” notice by the party alleging infringement, usually to the hosting entity.
In broad strokes, the DCMA requires that, upon receipt of an infringement notice, the Internet Service provider or hosting site must block or remove public access to the alleged infringing material in order to be protected from liability under “safe harbor” rules built into the DMCA. In the meantime, the content host generally notifies the user or customer who posted the content, who is then free to file a counter-notice establishing that the content does not, in fact, infringe as claimed.
The above description is intentionally broad and vague, because I am not an expert in copyright or the DMCA. In addition, more detailed information abounds online. You can start HERE if you want more information. In short, the DMCA was a step forward in that it established explicit measures protecting internet service providers and content hosting sites from being held liable for infringing content uploaded by users.
Big Media, for the Takedown
I am proposing that the DMCA has potential to be a reasonable compromise in terms of bringing copyright enforcement kicking and screaming into the modern age (ok, at least to the eighties or nineties). The problem at present is that, like many things, the current implementation is one-sided in the extreme, unduly favoring the plaintiff, which is most often a heavily-lawyered, well-healed large corporation. Essentially, all one need do to get somebody’s content blocked, even temporarily, is issue the takedown notice. It then becomes the problem of the content publisher to demonstrate that the posted content does not, in fact, infringe upon the plaintiff’s work.
Certain major media companies have taken to issuing indiscriminant take down notices, apparently using internet search algorithms and “web crawling” technology to identify potentially infringing content. In some cases, it appears that content is targeted based upon keywords, titles, or other criteria which may well identify infringing works, but also a good many other sites which are not in fact plagiarizing or pirating the work of others. Often acting through surrogates, big media companies seem to favor a shoot first, ask questions later approach, issuing the take down notices indiscriminately. The current law provides no penalty for this, and the result is that, if YOUR content happens to contain the right combination of keywords, your content might be yanked, pending resolution through a counter notice.
Balancing the Equation – a Common-Sense Solution
I propose that the DMCA be modified to penalize those who issue a takedown notice which turns out to be invalid. If someone is going to claim MY content infringes upon their previously published work, they should be damn sure that it does if they are going to step on my livelihood. Just as in civil court, if I sue you, and I lose, I will be required to pay your attorney’s fees and other legal costs. Under the modification I propose, at the very least, those who are found to have issued a bogus or insufficiently researched takedown notice should have to pay for my costs to get my content restored, plus any lost revenue arising from the period during which my content was off line. Other penalties should also be levied, since at present, there seems to be no mechanism to regulate the profligate issuance of these takedown notices in a slash-and-burn manner by big media companies.
I am very much against plagiarism and piracy. I think that those who seek to profit by illegally distributing copyrighted materials, and/or through plagiarism, should be punished accordingly. But I don’t feel that the laws by which this is accomplished are balanced fairly at the moment, and the situation is skewed too far in the direction of the big publishers.
Don’t steal. Don’t plagiarize. And don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
We can do better.
John on Google