“That’s a pretty scary prospect” says hacker activist Jacob Applebaum
No 466 Posted by fw, April 29, 2012
“So it’s not only that this data is being collected, but now they want to share it with the Department of Homeland Security, with the FBI and the NSA, essentially legalizing military surveillance over U.S. civilians—and the whole planet, frankly. So this has dramatic international implications in addition to national implications. And this is the same FBI that abuses the national security letters that have been given to them in the USA PATRIOT Act that abuses their authority on a regular basis. And they want to be without some kind of judicial oversight for all of their actions.” —Jacob Applebaum
Jacob Applebaum is spearheading a public education effort to alert citizens in the United States and beyond of efforts by the US government to legalize domestic surveillance of all digital traffic. Applebaum is a developer and advocate for the Tor Project, a network enabling its users to communicate anonymously on the internet.
The following post extends his April 23 interview appearance on Democracy Now. An abridged transcript with my subheadings and additional links follows the embedded 17-minute video. To access the unabridged transcript, click on the linked title below.
Targeted Hacker Jacob Appelbaum on CISPA, Surveillance and the “Militarization of Cyberspace”, Democracy Now! April 26, 2012
Amy Goodman introduces Applebaum — When SOPA was put forward — the Stop Online Piracy Act — the Congress members, Republican and Democrat, thought it would sail through. And then there was just a wildfire on the internet, and they backed off. The Obama administration has said it would veto it. They also said they’d veto the National Defense Authorization Act, and they ultimately didn’t. But what are your thoughts? What kind of online activism is happening right now?
[Unless otherwise noted, the remainder of this transcript focuses solely on the words of Jacob Applebaum].
“This week, they [the government] decided to legalize all the stuff that… was already occurring”
I think a lot of people are organizing around this. I think the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in particular, deserves a great deal of respect for the work that they’ve done and what they’ve written about this. For example, they show pretty clearly that this is a dramatic expansion of essentially powers of surveillance, not just in terms of the government, but in terms of corporations and their ability to be held liable. So there is this extremely scary part of the bill with a two-year statute of limitations. And the problem is that in the cases that the EFF has been fighting with the NSA, the government—
Essentially, the government has said that they invoke state secrets privilege, and so they’ve been in litigation for six years on some of their cases. So, a two-year statute of limitation, it’s unlikely that we would even discover that our rights had been violated in that time frame. Additionally, FOIA exemptions would mean that companies wouldn’t even be able, maybe, or would not disclose that information. So it’s—the deck is essentially stacked against regular people. And this is basically what Bill Binney was talking about last week when he was talking about the warrantless wiretapping program. It’s as if this week they decided to legalize all the stuff that Bill [Binney] warned about and said that was already occurring. So that’s a pretty scary prospect.
[Juan Gonzalez refers to and reads from a Brookings Institute paper titled, Recording Everything: Digital Stories as an Enabler of Authoritarian Governments and Applebaum responds in that context].
The US government wants to legalize military surveillance over U.S. civilians—and the whole planet
It’s pretty concerning. I think one thing that’s important to note here is that it’s not a theoretical thing. For example, the WikiLeaks’ Spy Files showed that this kind of dragnet surveillance of all the phone calls of a country is in fact a product that is often sold. I believe it was Libya that purchased some of this equipment from a company called Amesys in France. So, it seems to me that people will try to dismiss it and say, “Well, they’ll never be able to analyze that kind of data.” But that’s the problem they’ve been working on for the last 20 years, but especially in the last 10 years.
So it’s not only that this data is being collected, but now they want to share it with the Department of Homeland Security, with the FBI and the NSA, essentially legalizing military surveillance over U.S. civilians—and the whole planet, frankly. So this has dramatic international implications in addition to national implications. And this is the same FBI that abuses the national security letters that have been given to them in the USA PATRIOT Act that abuses their authority on a regular basis. And they want to be without some kind of judicial oversight for all of their actions.
[Amy Goodman asks Jacob to comment on his questing of the deputy general counsel of the FBI about the agency’s use of and belief that national security letters (NSL) provide judicial oversight with respect to FBI actions. The counsel asserted that the FBI does not have to go to a judge to get approval to serve persons with a national security letter. Moreover, she pointed out that persons who are served an NSL can seek judicial review. The problem with the judicial review option, responded Applebaum, is that there may be circumstances where a served person remains unaware s/he has been served. Applebaum himself suspects that he has been served with an NSL. In this context, the interview continues].
Legalized powers of government surveillance would make it “impossible for anyone to resist or to have judicial oversight”
I mean, it sounds to me like they are trying to expand that power to include all facets of the government, including the military, over civilian life with regard to surveillance and essentially to make it impossible for anyone to resist or to have judicial oversight. And that is a serious problem, in my opinion.
This is “an existential threat to anonymity online, to privacy and to security of everyday people”
The network is made up of people who care, right? So someone downloads it [TorProject.org anonymity software] and says, “I want to help,” and then the network gets bigger. We don’t run the network like Google runs the network. So, different people make it up.
The problem is that if the U.S. government was allowed to spy on everything, they can try to watch all of the network. And that’s where it starts to break down. So one of the scary things here is that we’re just not even sure how to exist in a complete—what’s called “global passive adversary world,” where they can watch the entire internet. And so, this is, I think, an existential threat to anonymity online, to privacy and to security of everyday people.
CATCH 22 — People using Tor will be presumed suspect for trying to protect their online privacy
Yeah, I think that that’s a really interesting tell about this. They suggest that people who protect themselves online, especially from the state, which is known to abuse its authority and power against innocent people on a regular basis — to suggest that that means that you’re a threat is an absolute scary, scary prospect.
[Amy Goodman asks Jacob to comment on National Security Agency whistleblower, William Binney’s allegation about the National Security Administration’s practice of collecting and storing most of the emails circulating within US borders – a practice that began post-9/11. Applebaum responds.]
“The government is lying about what they are doing and what they have done, and they have not been held accountable in the last 10 years” And now they want to legalize it!
Basically what he’s [Binney] saying is that the government is lying about what they are doing and what they have done, and they have not been held accountable in the last 10 years. And so, when they want to dramatically expand their ability to do these things in a so-called legal manner, it’s important to note what they’re trying to do is to legalize what they have already been doing and to suggest that they will be held accountable in a system where they already are not held accountable when they’re breaking the law. So if it were legal, it seems incredibly fishy that things would change and it would somehow improve, when in fact it seems to be just getting worse.
So what Binney is saying here is amazing, because he spent 40 years at the NSA. To get a guy like that to come onto a show like this and to talk with us is an incredible thing. I mean, that says to me that he believes that it is a threat to national security in a way that everyone should be concerned about.
Appelbaum urges citizens to visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website, eff.org, to find out how to help oppose the militarization of cyberspace
What they also need to do is visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website, eff.org, and actually take action against CISPA [Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act]. We have to stop this legislation from passing. It is an incredible threat to our privacy, and it is a militarization of cyberspace.
[In a reference to Bradley Manning, Jacob concludes] Blowing the whistle on war crimes should not be a crime.