More on Snowden, Miranda, Greenwald, & the Criminal Behavior of the Intelligence Community

(Preface: I was away for a week, so this is a bit of an omnibus post, largely drawn from the excellent TechDirt. TD has in the past focused mostly on abuses of intellectual property law — copyrights and patents — and their damaging effects in the tech world. Since the NSA disclosures, though, they’ve been a vital source for anyone trying to keep up; you should be reading them directly.)

As always, Bruce Schneier is on top of it. The clear takeaway here is that the terrorism law provisions were clearly misused to bully and intimidate Miranda as a proxy for Greenwald and Snowden — in other words, to “send a message“. From Schneier’s piece:

This leaves one last possible explanation — those in power were angry and impulsively acted on that anger. They’re lashing out: sending a message and demonstrating that they’re not to be messed with — that the normal rules of polite conduct don’t apply to people who screw with them. That’s probably the scariest explanation of all. Both the U.S. and U.K. intelligence apparatuses have enormous money and power, and they have already demonstrated that they are willing to ignore their own laws. Once they start wielding that power unthinkingly, it could get really bad for everyone.

Once again: Fuck That. This is not how honorable nations behave. I’m increasingly skeptical this matters to anyone in power (even if it mattered to them before they gained power, even). The government’s incredibly illegal reaction to Manning’s leaks — n.b. that she’s been given a sentence well in excess of those convicted of actual espionage, and that the criminal acts exposed by the leaks have resulted in ZERO punishments — make it pretty clear Snowden did the right thing by leaving.

The NSA and the rest of the American security apparatus are wildly out of control. They have no real oversight (and are probably not worth the money they cost), and their apologists think this is fine. It’s not. Anyone given power over their fellow citizens must be policed MORE than average citizens, not less, because power absolutely corrupts. Just as the standard of behavior for a beat cop must be higher than that of a civilian, we must hold our spy agencies to similarly high standards. And that means civilian oversight. Government secrecy is anathema to freedom, and is self-evidently out of control — I mean, if the idea of secret laws and *secret courts** don’t freak you right the hell out, I don’t know what I can do for you.

Instead of a rollback, though, so far we’ve just gotten metastasis. Government agents are acting like thugs, blatantly intimidating perceived enemies. You probably heard that a secure email service called Lavabit shut down earlier this month after receiving one of those so-called “national security letters;” the thought at the time was that he was afraid of what the Feds might ask for in the future (and that he wouldn’t be able to complain about it, because of the gag provisions in the security letters). In response, the Feds are now threatening him with arrest and charges for shutting down — which makes us wonder if their real goal wasn’t a back door that would allow them access to everyone’s Lavabit mail. Good on Levison for doing the right thing, because it’s a matter of record that, when given the chance, the NSA is datamining the shit out of everything they can get their hands on, which at this point we realize includes about 75% of US Internet traffic.

Fortunately, we’re getting outrage on both sides of the pond to the overreach of intelligence organizations — outrage that can only be fueled by amazingly tone-deaf defenses from the British Home Office and American right-wing hacks like John “Torture is A-Okay!” Yoo (who, amazingly, argues that while the Justice Department should be governed by the 4th Amendment, military and intelligence agencies should be free to ignore it). In the UK, the fire’s been further fueled by the darkly hilarious development that spooks showed up at the Guardian and demanded to be allowed to destroy the hard drives holding the Snowden documents, and invoked the Prime Minister’s authority to do it — and never mind that Greenwald has clearly made copies and backups kept in other locations. It’s just more hamfisted intimidation tactics, and it’s not likely to work well for the Cameron government. Fortunately.

It’s become clear that we can trust absolutely nothing that the NSA says about its programs, and that Congress should have the same expectation. It’s time to clean house and start over. Neuter these fucks. Remind them who they work for, and put to rest forever the bullshit “well, if you knew what I know, but can’t tell you, you’d be happy I was doing $Illegal_thing in your name” defense.

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