“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
A cornered rat has a deadly bite, or so says the lore from the 19th century, when rat baiting was common sport. The same is true of a cornered empire today. Every hour that goes by presents the evidence. It’s getting absolutely dangerous out there for anyone who dares to stand up against the empire and for basic human rights, which is to say that it is dangerous to corner the rat.
Recall the NSA’s Edward Snowden blockbuster revelations that the U.S. national security state has been data-mining all email, cell calls, chat and other communications and routinely investigates the results without any authority of law whatsoever. Seeing this all around him, Snowden came forward because he was disgusted by the practice, but also because the whole operation was taking place without any public knowledge, much less congressional approval.
Now, you might think that this information would be a terrible embarrassment to the agencies involved, and to the president who is supposed to be overseeing them. You might think there would be a scramble to find a fall guy, and maybe even a pullback on the part of the bureaucracies themselves. Under normal conditions — where the law matters and government was actually accountable to the governed — exposure on this level might cause the bad guys to do damage control.
But these are not normal conditions. The national security state is too well developed and too habituated to the perception of itself as the final ruler and the arbiter of all law. It believes itself to be above Congress, above any appointed official, and above the court system too, even the military court system. It is a government unto itself and it gets its way.
Snowden had only behaved as a patriot should, but he then found himself on the run from the law, trying to find safe haven somewhere in the world where the U.S. did not have control. The safe haven he found was the old Cold War enemy of Russia — a deeply embarrassing reality for those of us who cheered the U.S. victory in the Cold War.
But that was just the beginning. The national security state is out there right now trying to settle all family business, Godfather style, taking down anyone and everyone who might have assisted him in his deeds.
The fate of the email provider Lavabit is an example. This is the small company, run out of a Dallas apartment by one Web developer and a few friends, that has provided encrypted email. It is widely believed that this is the service that Snowden used to communicate with reporters.
Well, Lavabit was hit with an order from some agency within the state apparatus. It demanded access to all records and, most probably, a direct pipeline to the company’s own servers. In the past, Lavabit had complied with specific requests for information whenever it seemed reasonable. But this one was different. It was a demand for sweeping access.
Lavabit took the principled stand and shut down its own thriving business rather than go along.
This was a real act of courage. When an order like this comes from Homeland Security, it comes with a demand that the recipient not speak to anyone about the demand, on penalty of law. What about business partners? The order says no one. What about spouses? No one. What about attorneys? Again, no exceptions. You are laid bare and totally captured. It’s not different from jail. One wrong move and your life is over.
(Having been on the receiving end of one of these orders myself, I’m still reluctant to talk about it. I completely understand what it is like.)
“I could be arrested for this action,” Ladar Levison told NBC News. Indeed. In interviews, he chooses his words very carefully, fully aware that one misplaced bit of information would lead him out of compliance with the order from Homeland Security and cause him to spend untold amounts of time in prison.
Just so we are clear here, this totally arbitrary attack occurred after the Snowden revelations, in seeming and shameless retribution. And it was not the only attack. An Internet service called Silent Circle, which specializes in private communications, saw the writing on the wall and pre-emptively shut down its email service. Now the company tells its customers that email is not and cannot be secure. It is focusing entirely on cell coverage and text messaging.
These are just the two attacks we know about. Many other services that advertise secure email have most likely been approached. It wouldn’t be surprising if they failed to mention this to their subscribers. Again, this is the nature of the orders the government issues.
They say comply immediately and tell no one, or else. Maybe you think you would do the principled thing and refuse, but anyone who believes that has not been on the receiving end of such demands. There are few things more terrifying in this world than to have the imperial spotlight suddenly hit your face.
Continuing on with Homeland’s family business, a remarkable thing happened to Glenn Greenwald, the reporter who revealed Snowden’s NSA leaks. His domestic partner, who is not even a reporter, was arbitrarily detained at Britain’s Heathrow Airport on route from Germany to Brazil. The authorities took his computer, files, and even his cellphone, so that he couldn’t even communicate with those who were expecting to meet him at the airport.
He was detained without explanation for a full nine hours, which is the maximum that British law allows. The purpose of the law, of course, is to stop terrorism, but here we see how it is really used. It is used in an attempt to intimidate someone close to a journalist who leaked the Snowden stories — a clear aping of old mob tactics of going after loved ones.
It’s all part of the great drama called “the empire strikes back.”
The beauty here was that the secret of his detention came out super fast. Greenwald himself wrote a blog post for The Guardian, and within minutes, the story was all over the Internet and world press. Indeed, the next day, The New York Times featured a detail report about the detention. It was yet another black eye on the national security state, and more indication that it is on the fast track toward being enemy No. 1.
This kind of behavior seems counterproductive in every way. No private-sector business that was caught bilking its customers would respond by ramping up the rip-off. Not even politicians can get away with this sort of thing. But the FBI, the NSA, and Homeland Security believe that they are invulnerable and don’t have to obey anything or anyone, and especially not public opinion. At the same time, they want to operate in secret.
What they do not understand is that in a world of freely flowing information, nothing they do is a secret anymore. There’s no turning back: What the NSA and Homeland have done to citizens of the world, people are now doing to NSA and Homeland.
The rat is cornered. The empire is panicked and behaving exactly as we might expect, complete with nasty hissing and biting and victims all around. But this is not a sign of its strength. It is a sign of its desperation to preserve its power and privilege in world that is moving beyond these search-and-destroy tactics. The national security state has its data-mining centers, but the institution called the Internet is working daily to bring accountability to their egregious tactics.