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Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

To judge NSA reforms, look to the tech industry

January 21st, 2014

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In 1976, Senator Edward Kennedy first introduced the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to rein in government scrutiny of Americans. That law made America’s telecommunications companies the gatekeepers of the public’s information. But back then, “Ma Bell” was still around — AT&T wasn’t broken up until 1982 — and mobile phones were a distant dream. Now, nearly 40 years and a tech revolution later, President Obama faced similar questions on how to protect the American people’s privacy.

A majority of Americans think that NSA collection has gone to far, and an even greater percentage think that the data are being used for more that just terrorism. Many don’t trust the government with their personal data. And the public should be worried — the potential for serious abuse of civil liberties is ever-present in today’s surveillance programs. The history of abuses goes back to the Nixon era, and it continued through the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping after 9/11. All of that is well-documented.

Now, people at home and abroad want reassurances that there’s real transparency and powerful checks in the system to prevent potential abuses. But they also want to be protected from terrorism.

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NSA Snooping’s Negative Impact On Business Would Have The Founding Fathers ‘Aghast’

December 20th, 2013

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James Madison would be “aghast.” That was one of the incendiary charges leveled at the National Security Agency and its mass surveillance activities by Judge Richard Leon in his December 16 opinion ordering the government to stop collecting some of the data that it’s been gathering on private citizens here and abroad.

But Thomas Jefferson might be horrified as well, because the NSA collection efforts are having a fairly profound effect on American business and its efforts to sell goods and services abroad. Jefferson, a big believer in the American “taste for navigation and commerce,” would be dismayed that our government was doing things that could hurt our competitiveness and our ability to set the terms of global trade.

To be sure, there has always been some tension between U.S. high-tech industries and our national security. In the 90s, the rules were fairly primitive, such as limitations on exports of high-performance computing designed to prevent countries from developing weapons of mass destruction. Those restrictions were quickly rendered outdated by Moore’s Law, but had they remained they would have prevented the exports of game consoles like Xbox.

Since then, increased globalization and the rise of terrorist organizations operating in the shadows and across national boundaries have complicated both the security and economic issues. The current debate about Edward Snowden’s intelligence revelations may seem like an unlikely place to see that tension emerge, but beyond the discussions of civil liberties and counterterrorism, it is becoming clear that the post-9/11 surveillance apparatus may be at cross-purposes with our high-tech economic growth.

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Fear of Government Rivals Fear of Terrorism

August 12th, 2013

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At his August 9 news conference, President Obama said “People may want to jigger slightly sort of the balance between the information that we can get versus the incremental encroachments on privacy that, if [they] haven’t already taken place, take place in a future Administration or as technology is developed further.” Pretty tentative language for an issue that’s exploding on the political scene.

For the first time since 9/11, according to the July Pew poll, more Americans say they are concerned that the government’s anti-terrorism policies “have gone too far in restricting civil liberties” than say that they “have not gone far enough to protect the country.” Concern about civil liberties has jumped from 27% in 2010 to 47% today. That’s the impact of the Edward Snowden revelations.

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Chill Out About the American Embassy Closings

August 7th, 2013

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From the tiny island-nation of Mauritius to mighty Saudi Arabia, numerous U.S. diplomatic facilities are being shuttered this week because of an intercepted message by al-Qaida’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, calling for the head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasir al-Wahishi, to strike American targets

But, dear reader, there is no need to freak out, because the system is working. Here are three reasons why:

1) America caught wind of the terrorists’ plot. This signals intercept shows that that the mission of the much-embattled National Security Agency remains critical to thwarting terrorist attacks. Given that this communication occurred between two terrorists living abroad, the U.S. government’s overseas signals collection effort did not impinge on Americans’ civil liberties or privacy. Stopping or thwarting terrorist plots is exactly why the U.S. has these sophisticated tools and techniques – and we can see it here in action.

It’s not like the U.S. intelligence community’s intercept capabilities work in a vacuum. The embassy closures were based upon a “broad range of reporting” – presumably from information derived from other American intelligence agencies and foreign liaison services.

This is not new. For example, the CIA has worked with other intelligence services in the region, helping to thwart AQAP attacks in 2010 and 2012. America’s lethal counterterrorism tactics have taken key AQAP operatives (such as the group’s second in command) “off the battlefield” – though some argue this broad effort is ultimately counterproductive. Read the rest of this entry »

The Illogic of Ecuador

July 1st, 2013

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Note: This piece was co-written with Gary Ashcroft, National Security intern at Third Way.

Where’s your dream destination when you’re a 29-year-old who has infuriated the most powerful nation in the world? Apparently … Ecuador. Edward Snowden, the now-famous former National Security Agency contractor, may (or may not) be heading to that South American nation. At first glance, Ecuador seems like a logical hiding place, but that logic breaks down under even a cursory investigation of how the country treats dissidents.

Here are at least a few reasons why Snowden’s move seems logical: the 140-year-old U.S.-Ecuadorextradition treaty states that “[t]he stipulations of this treaty shall not be applicable to crimes or offences of a political character.” Therefore, Snowden may believe that Ecuador should protect him. After all, Ecuador is currently sheltering Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at its embassy in Great Britain for similar reasons.

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