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Metadata and the Intrusive State

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the zum-beispiel dept.

Privacy 66

An anonymous reader writes with an excerpt from an intriguing article at TechDirt about the sometimes very low-tech methods of the East German Stasi. They may have been using more pencils than computers, but they were gathering information on their targets using the same kind of metadata whose significance the U.S. government has lately been downplaying: "They amassed dossiers on about one quarter of the population of the country during the Communist regime. But their spycraft — while incredibly invasive — was also technologically primitive by today's standards. While researching my book Dragnet Nation, I obtained the above hand drawn social network graph and other files from the Stasi Archive in Berlin, where German citizens can see files kept about them and media can access some files, with the names of the people who were monitored removed. The graphic shows forty-six connections, linking a target to various people (an 'aunt,' 'Operational Case Jentzsch,' presumably Bernd Jentzsch, an East German poet who defected to the West in 1976), places ('church'), and meetings ('by post, by phone, meeting in Hungary')."

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Of course they were big on meta-data (3, Insightful)

unitron (5733) | about 8 months ago | (#46441395)

Guilt by association was one of their primary tools.

Re:Of course they were big on meta-data (1)

invictusvoyd (3546069) | about 8 months ago | (#46441511)

It's barely usable over dialup .. I used it for a couple of days at 3K

Re:Of course they were big on meta-data (2)

garyisabusyguy (732330) | about 8 months ago | (#46442729)

Just in case you didn't notice, metadata, as Pen Registers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pen_register) has been used in the US for decades and it was even ruled Constitutional by the SCOTUS in Smith v Maryland

Just because _any_ intelligence organization is using a particular method does not mean that _all_ intelligence agencies are like the Stassi

Re:Of course they were big on meta-data (1)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 8 months ago | (#46443473)

and it was even ruled Constitutional by the SCOTUS in Smith v Maryland

And your point is what? That government thugs vote to give government thugs more power? Big surprise.

Re:Of course they were big on meta-data (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46444895)

The Stassi's tactics were ruled totally necessary by the East German government too. Just because they appoint people to say its ok doesn't mean we have to agree.

Re:Of course they were big on meta-data (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46446727)

And more recently, the "three hops rule" shows that guilt by association is alive and well within our own STASI clone.

While researching my book ... (3, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 8 months ago | (#46441397)

While researching my book

At least it's not another slashvertisement, then.

Great movie on the subject (3, Interesting)

suso (153703) | about 8 months ago | (#46441413)

There is a great movie that came out in 2006 called "The Lives of Others" that provides an account of the practices of the Stasi. It may not have been completely accurate, but its nevertheless a good insight into what it was like and a great movie overall.

Re:Great movie on the subject (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441923)

Ah, yes it is a great movie. I highly recommend everyone watching it, "ja, es ist für jedermann!".

Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441427)

Assuming we even believe it's just metadata being gathered - what informed citizen actually believes it's a non-concern?

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (3, Informative)

BradMajors (995624) | about 8 months ago | (#46441605)

Obama. Obama says we should not be concerned that the NSA is collecting all our metadata.

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (5, Insightful)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 8 months ago | (#46441635)

Merry Old England would have rounded up the Founding Fathers using "just metadata" (who called whom, and when) and therefore they would have forbidden its collection to government without a proper warrant.

The US concept of The People forming a government inherently distrusts those in power, so specifically grants limited powers. It's not a case of "well, WE will use it right!". The power itself is what's wrong.

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 8 months ago | (#46441837)

Merry Old England would have rounded up the Founding Fathers using "just metadata" (who called whom, and when) and therefore they would have forbidden its collection to government without a proper warrant.

That analogy might have swayed people decades ago when Americans all had rosy views of the benevolence of the Founding Fathers, but from the better informed perspective of Americans today, maybe it would have been better had the British authorities been able to nip the Revolution in the bud. The Commonwealth countries show that staying a colony for another century would not have been a bad thing at all, and stopping the Revolutionaries would have saved America's Tories from having their houses burned down by self-appointed "guardians of liberty", being looted of their possessions and driven off to Canada just for wanting to stay with the mother country.

Re: Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anywa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441911)

"That analogy might have swayed people decades ago when Americans all had rosy views of the benevolence of the Founding Fathers, but from the better informed perspective of Americans today, maybe it would have been better had the British authorities been able to nip the Revolution in the bud. The Commonwealth countries show that staying a colony for another century would not have been a bad thing at all, and stopping the Revolutionaries would have saved America's Tories from having their houses burned down by self-appointed "guardians of liberty", being looted of their possessions and driven off to Canada just for wanting to stay with the mother country."

Right on, Piers Morgan!

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (1)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 8 months ago | (#46443627)

America did two great things; Drove out the royals and wrote the Constitution -- a model for real liberty the world over that was adopted and expanded by many other nations. And the other would be; the New Deal where Socialism made America the "Capitalist haven" from 1940 - 1980 that idiots say was entirely the result of the "free market."

So now you want to bring back the Tories who promoted class privilege? .. well I suppose it was only a matter of time. Can I hear a "whoop whoop" for Toxic waste? Someone around here has to be a fan of that.

"from the better informed perspective of Americans today"
Better informed has to be another word for "reads propaganda from Think Tanks." And Slashdot needs a "Scary comment we all hope is parody" tag.

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (3, Insightful)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 8 months ago | (#46444139)

I think by that logic, you could also argue that the Magna Carta was bad.

It's quite possible that the more enlightened practices employed on the later colonial separations were influenced by both the example of what could happen when their separation was forbidden and by the model documents that the American revolution brought into being.

Almost but no (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46442031)

Its power without accountability is wrong. The NSA wasn't reporting to anyone or getting court orders to obtain this info.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely!

Re:Almost but no (1)

garyisabusyguy (732330) | about 8 months ago | (#46442739)

Wrong again, the FISA courts had oversight, just because you didn't have access did not mean that it didn't happen

Re:Almost but no (1)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 8 months ago | (#46443477)

Its power without accountability is wrong.

The ability to collect the metadata is an abuse in and of itself.

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (2)

Vitriol+Angst (458300) | about 8 months ago | (#46443611)

I think this completely nails the real agenda with the NSA.

The status quo abuse by Multinationals to reduce labor costs and resource expenditures requires a guarantee that "we the people" don't get in the way of their agenda.

The NSA is designed so that "no Founding Fathers" can ever spring up again in the USA.

I'm waiting for some genetic engineering to make a more complacent America. Likely it won't be all bad -- your "calm genes" will also help you be "Roundup Ready". The poisons that take out trouble-making Americans and weeds won't be hurting you as much.

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (2)

msk (6205) | about 8 months ago | (#46444269)

The flip side of that will be . . . Reavers.

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (1)

cardpuncher (713057) | about 8 months ago | (#46445027)

Merry Contemporary England still has a system in which the power of the government is theoretically delegated from the Sovereign whose authority is established by divine right.

The Founding Fathers' descendants still have a system based on the quasi-divine right of the constitution.

One has GCHQ, the other has the NSA.

Using only one side of the paper, explain how the "US Concept" to which you refer makes a material difference to "The People".

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (1)

CRCulver (715279) | about 8 months ago | (#46441821)

Assuming we even believe it's just metadata being gathered - what informed citizen actually believes it's a non-concern?

While I don't align with the politics, I occasionally dip into Charles Johnson's blog Little Green Footballs [littlegreenfootballs.com] because in its 12-year history it has had an interesting dramatic arc (highly influential right-wing site in the wake of 9/11, then massively dropping in importance after Johnson turned his back on the right and presumably most of his readers as well). One thing that surprised me is how quick Johnson has been to excuse the NSA's activity, saying it is just "metadata", and collecting just "metadata" harms no one; in fact, revealing the collection of "metadata" has harmed our national security. Johnson processes news all day long and posts his own thoughts on the issues of the day as a profession, and here he is being adamant that it is a non-issue. There must be more news junkies out there who don't feel it's something to protest.

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46443555)

Yawn, next shill please. That one was maybe a 2 out of 10 troll.

captcha: rancid

Re:Who believe "just metadata" reassurances anyway (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 8 months ago | (#46444143)

If metadata is so unimportant, why have I been seeing ads for metadata specialists on the job boards lately?

And if (1)

invictusvoyd (3546069) | about 8 months ago | (#46441471)

They had directed all that human effort towards making a better country for their citizens .. and making better cars ..

Re:And if (1)

Aviation Pete (252403) | about 8 months ago | (#46441513)

They had directed all that human effort towards making a better country for their citizens .. and making better cars ..

They had not much of a choice. Remember, this was a puppet regime, closely controlled and directed by their Soviet Russian masters. In 1953, the GDR was the first of several Soviet-bloc countries to rebel (after that, in 1956 Hungary and in 1968 the Czech Republic went similarly "astray"), so control and supervision was doubled for the next decades. Only under Gorbatchev things lightened up, but by then the (by then really old) old guard was too much set in their ways to relax or reform anything.

Re:And if (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46442141)

I took a class on the Soviets once, and a little anecdote about the Eastern Bloc was quite illuminating.

The Soviet Union actually had three votes in the UN. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all had seats, and all were constituent Soviet Republics. Sometimes the Russians would change their vote at the last minute, and not everybody would get the memo in time. In the first few years of the UN the Bulgarians voted against Russia less often then Ukraine. Kruschev loosened things up a bit, which was one reason the Communist Party fired him.

The Russians wanted obedient little puppets, which meant they wanted no street demonstrations, which in turn meant that all Eastern Bloc leaders needed something very much like the Stasi or they'd be replaced.

Re:And if (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 8 months ago | (#46444149)

I took a class on the Soviets once, and a little anecdote about the Eastern Bloc was quite illuminating.

The Soviet Union actually had three votes in the UN. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all had seats, and all were constituent Soviet Republics. Sometimes the Russians would change their vote at the last minute, and not everybody would get the memo in time. In the first few years of the UN the Bulgarians voted against Russia less often then Ukraine. Kruschev loosened things up a bit, which was one reason the Communist Party fired him.

The Russians wanted obedient little puppets, which meant they wanted no street demonstrations, which in turn meant that all Eastern Bloc leaders needed something very much like the Stasi or they'd be replaced.

Street demonstrations were just fine as long as they were approved demonstrations - for example, anti-US rallies. It's where the term "rent-a-crowd" gained parlance.

Today's standards (2)

peppepz (1311345) | about 8 months ago | (#46441523)

http://www.google.com/dashboar... [google.com] draws a much more accurate depiction of every espect of my life, and it's just one piece of paper away from the government. Today the stasi espions would be unemployed.

But it's okay Google does this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441553)

No more words could describe the utter nonsense of it all. And not just Google, but it's the one in the poster.

TSA To Ramp UP Airport Terrorism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441617)

With the loss of the Malaysian airliner DHS has given authorization for TSA to ramp up terrorism against their old hated enemy, the USA citizen, at airport across the USA in the coming hours.

TSA will demand eight pieces of "evidence" before a USA citizen is allowed to board an aircraft. The "evidence" will include bank records, court records, credit card records, dental records, divorce/marriage records, education records, employment records, hospital records, membership to club records, subscriptions to magazines records, social security records and voting records. Failure to provide any one will result in termination of the boarding pass and initiate deportation actions with Immigration and Naturalization.

Isn't the USA wonderful ! We get attacked by homeless Egyptian and Saudi men then the US Congress invents the TSA to blame and terrorize us.

Brazil

Wrong Information Here ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441645)

Posting this from an Android device, so have to abuse the above comment for my posting. The MfS actually had (for that time) extremely advanced SIGINT/COMINT capabilities. They did use airborne and hilltop listening posts very much like NSA-GCHQ, the French and the west Germans did.
MfS had all the stuff they needed to perform this and if east block equipment did not fit the bill, they were able to acquire whatever they needed from the west: computers, receivers, spectrum analyzers, you name it.
From a military and intelligence POV, east Germany was a top-notch power and what did them and the general eastern bloc was the inefficiency of their economy; certainly not the inefficiency of their intelligence and military apparatus.
Sources: Manfred Bischoff's SIGINT website; various public CIA and NSA reports; NSA history of Vietnam SIGINT.

Re:Wrong Information Here ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441879)

Back in the 1980's, state of the art spy-tech was the laser beam bounced off a window to pick up sound waves. And their was the infinity transmitter on telephone lines. They had microphones everywhere - not too different from streetlights with built in microphones.

Re:Wrong Information Here ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46442583)

If you weren't clueless you would not talk about child tools.

Re:Wrong Information Here ! (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 8 months ago | (#46441901)

Airborne and hilltop listening was fun in the late 1940's-60's - after that both sides knew to be more careful or just understood what the other side could collect.
"Computers, receivers, spectrum analysers" where bought in for unique operations but the ongoing hard currency would never cover massive US/UK style computer use or even a fraction of it - i.e. cheap domestic grade 1980's 'home' computers where found for domestic sorting experiments.
"extremely advanced" SIGINT/COMINT capabilities where static and well understood by NATO for looking in to the West - every skilled nation around that time in the region could do that via the tech help of Russia or the USA - shared facilities - with less of the shared part in many cases.. The spying on a total population was the interesting part.
East Germany had to ready computer files for Moscow on every new and ongoing case. The East German daily spy work was mostly paper with the exception of some 'home' computer databases efforts.
Why no no large scale computer use? They had an epic walk out of all their full West spy lists early on and decided never to place all the material in one paper/digital database for a long time.
So the factual information about their agents in the West was kept in a few different paper files in different locations - no one person could ever walk out again with anything connecting 'everything'. No options to try to connect name, address, ongoing details without top officials knowing in person.
Slow but it kept staff working on their projects with less insight into details they did not need to know per agent in the West.
This effort did fail at one time near the fall of East Germany. A computer database was constructed and stored in a bunker so in case of war the correct codes could be sent to all agents - fast and with new, updated war instructions. The CIA got the list and turned the East German agents as expected.
The rest was vast amounts paper files, audio tape and other physical material on its own population.
So 'acquire whatever they needed from the west" was also never a long term option for new hardware and ongoing spare parts - it exposed spies and cost too much. East Germany did not have endless amounts of cash to spend in the West or helpers to just go big iron "shopping". West Germany/CIA was always waiting for that attempted buy too ;)
Also recall usefull computing power was not cheap in the 1970-80's and needed ongoing support over time.
Even Russian computer exports where expensive, limited, underpowered and hard to get.
The other option was a rapid industrial option to build electronics in East Germay - like Russia, East German found building their own useful computers expensive, limited, underpowered and hard scale into the 1980's.

Re:Wrong Information Here ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46442621)

Given that they took massive amounts of highly valuable* intel from west German microwave telecom links I stick to the arguments that they were top-notch. They used computers to filter out all the irrelevant phone numbers and record only their targets. They had three types of collection aircraft, one being a quite modern Russian transport plane.
You bet they also built Social Graphs from the phone calls intercepted.

* phone calls of people like Helmut Kohl and lots of colonels and generals

And they certainly had all the computers they needed to do their work. Knowledge is power; the GDR leadership knew and the Russians even more. They manufactured both VAX and S/360 copies.

Again, look at my quoted sources and then come back with your semi-smart comments.

Some here: DISKANT (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46443001)

www.manfred-bischoff.de/DISKANT.htm#01

HVA III (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46443007)

http://www.manfred-bischoff.de/ha_iii.htm#HA%20III

Re:Wrong Information Here ! (1)

AHuxley (892839) | about 8 months ago | (#46443145)

"They made manufactured both VAX and S/360 copies" near the end and at great cost i.e. it was never enough for the needs of East German intelligence use, science and government.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K... [wikipedia.org] production in 1988 with work starting in 1985 - 4 years to ramp up for a VAX-11/780 clone.....
Others where prototype runs - huge costs, limited numbers of units after rushed efforts from the early/mid 1980's
As for tapping optical lines and other methods - they could get optical calls into Berlin and sort them... and then act on that flood of data how.....in time?
The tech to tap optical and not get caught was simple - how to act on the information and not get caught was complex and costly.
East Germany lived on Soviet cash flows i.e. it was always a question of funding and constant new tech needs...
East Germany could sort calls, watch the West but it was stuck as to getting spies into the West or shaping the West beyond useful people feeding information back.
The ability to act long term in the West on insider chatter via teleco taps was always just too risky.
East Germany had 2 main goals - get more spies into long term top/mid ranking West German positions over decades (20 something staff entering private sector) and spread revolution via expensive aid and support for various groups and methods.
Another option was to find well positioned West Germans with a ww2 past they had managed to hide and ask them to work for East Germany.
The rest was to watch for internal issues.
Your view of 'advanced' is given Soviet tech at the time and then missed the next step ... no East German cash to act or the ok from Moscow..
i.e. East German could listen but not risk their own or endanger KGB/GRU efforts...
If East Germany had more cash they could have swayed West German politics more but everything was too late or could not be worked on.
The big iron computers, more computers for science, a new hi tech killer Berlin wall, waiting for their young staff to move up in West German firms, the nuclear power options, space, export deals to the West for hard currency.. - East Germany had big dreams but could not work well with what it could gather.
Think of East Germany as a Canada or New Zealand to the NSA now. Lots of amazing tech, loads of data sorting, great taps into many data steams but few options in the real world without the OK of the USA.
West Germany kew what they faced, the GCHQ and NSA understood all that Russia could do in East Germany... great tech up front but so much paperwork and audio tape at the backend.

Stop supporting the NSA with FAKE terms (0)

jackb_guppy (204733) | about 8 months ago | (#46441777)

METADATA has a meaning. It defines the column characteristics and use help text associated. Think as "standing" on a row, in a column, what is the definition of that spot.

DATA defines the other items on that same "row".

Someone started to talk about a picture, that date, time and location of that picture is the METADATA. It is not, is the DATA on the same row storing the blob called picture. NSA is using this same misinformation to minimize the from number, to number, start time and duration of the call.

I for one (1)

fisted (2295862) | about 8 months ago | (#46441787)

invoke Godwin's Law, right on the TFS.

Re:I for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441857)

No.
Please make a new law for use with the DDR.

Re:I for one (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46441985)

Fisted's law: when you compare a practice to the East German Stasi and your opponent thinks you're talking about Nazi Germany, your opponent is too young to know better. Aren't they cute?

And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46442111)

Clearly fingerprints shall forevermore be banned as evidence in Court trials. We have a moral duty to free all prisoners convicted by fingerprint evidence. There is clearly no difference between gathering fingerprints to having 3% of the population employed as informers, and sending anyone who questions the great leader to a re-education camp.

I'm not saying what the NSA does is acceptable, or that it shouldn't be stopped. I am saying that if you seriously think this post will convince anybody to stop the damn NSA snooping you are a fucking moron. The logic simply doesn't follow. An Agency that employs a guy like Snowden isn't a very good tool of mass repression, so implying it is only makes you look crazy.

This appeals to the miniscule minority that honestly thinks government databases are evil. And it's clearly a tiny minority because I can name three Federal agencies that know more about me then the NSA, and quite a few state and local agencies are even worse.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

gIobaljustin (3526197) | about 8 months ago | (#46443573)

I'm not saying what the NSA does is acceptable

Then knock it off. Stop being an NSA apologist and trying to trivialize the issue, which is what your post is obviously trying to do. Seriously, if you're going to say that you're trying to say that what the NSA does is acceptable, you shouldn't go on to try to trivialize the harm the NSA is doing.

The logic simply doesn't follow.

The logic does follow. It's essentially that previous corrupt governments used this same type of tactic for wide-scale oppression, and we should therefore be wary of it when our government is using this sort of information gathering on basically everyone.

An Agency that employs a guy like Snowden isn't a very good tool of mass repression, so implying it is only makes you look crazy.

All governments fall apart and make mistakes. But you'd be a fool to ignore the hundreds of millions of people throughout history who were abused or murdered by governments. Just because the government makes mistakes doesn't mean they can't oppress on a wide scale.

This appeals to the miniscule minority that honestly thinks government databases are evil.

This appeals to people with brains. This appeals to people who know that collecting 'metadata' on basically everyone's communications is evil.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 8 months ago | (#46444155)

Databases are not evil.

It's what you do with them that makes them evil.

It's why you don't put wolves in positions as watchdogs over herds of sheep.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46447129)

It's also why you regularly feed and care for the sheep dog, so it doesn't decide to turn wolf.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46447667)

There is a difference between gathering fingerprints from crime scenes and convicted felons and gathering them from everywhere and everyone.

However, there have been suggestions that law enforcement should be forced to discard DNA samples from people who turn out to be innocent (either found not guilty or never prosecuted).

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46450803)

If that's the case you're making you don't argue that "OMG! The Stasi! had fingerprints!" you argue "OMG! The Stasi had everyone's fingerprints!" Fingerprints are clearly a useful law enforcement tool, just as having a suspected criminals entire Facebook/google history is a useful law enforcement tool.

There're basically two ways to fix the NSA problem:

1) Get Congress to skoosh all mass-data collection initiatives by defunding them.

2) Get our allies to bitch until they stop.

1 is a long shot. We can get some effective action in Congress (ie: grill these guys in front of committees), but nothing effective. If we could grow the coalition, that would help a lot. Stories like this don't help much.

2 is not gonna actually happen. They'll issue press releases, have self-righteous press conferences, and go through the motions of bitching; but they ain't actually gonna rock the boat in NATO as long as Putin exists. They prefer to be surveilled by the least-secret-secret agency to paying for toys that can stop the Russian Army.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46451593)

Agreed. I would very much like to see the NSA out of the picture and law enforcement back to getting a warrant in a regular court for particular data upon show of probable cause. Actually getting back to that is a hard problem.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46469059)

Right now my best plan would be to create some new, privacy-protecting entity to hold most of this data. Then the Federal Data Storage Service only talks to the CIA/FBI etc. when there's a specific warrant. The NSA gets totally cut out because they are a Signals Intelligence service, which means that they are only supposed to be involved in collecting data, not using it. This would protect privacy, while still allowing the government to get it's hand on the digital records of people it needs to spy on.

The FDSS idea would be a lot more effective at protecting privacy then any of the ideas I've seen so far from anyone else. Federal Agencies are pretty good at following various legal standards protecting people's privacy if those legal standards are actually written into the statute authorizing them. The IRS/Social Security/Census Bureau/VA/etc. all have records several thousand times more sensitive then any NSA metadata, and yet the NSA hasn't been able to incorporate them into it's databases. It's not perfect, but it's a lot more likely to work then alternatives like simply banning the government from collecting this info itself.

This is because privates contractors could do the job. Private contractors typically have a right to record any data they find on you (if they didn't paparazzi would be incredibly easy to ban), and it's virtually impossible to ban the government from buying info that sold to the public. Which means if a private contractor has a drone that flies around your neighborhood taking pictures of license plates, and then sells the data on any given plate to anyone for $25, the government now has the ability to know precisely when you leave for work for $25, and they don't need to bother with any of that silly warrant nonsense.

Yeah the data available to a contractor is different then the data available to the NSA, but if you make it really difficult for the government to get NSA-style data on everyone then you have by definition made it very difficult for them to get NSA-style data on any specific subset of "everyone" including criminals, and law enforcement at all levels has a very strong interest in throwing those contractors enough $25 queries that they'll be able to get something on drug dealers.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46471261)

Really, we need to restore the understanding that if the law forbids something, it forbids paying someone else to do that thing. Murder is illegal, so it is also a crime to hire someone to commit murder. Government prying without a warrant is illegal, so buying the same information from someone else is just as illegal.

The NSA is not supposed to have any domestic operation at all. If they happen to capture a Citizens call at the foreign endpoint, that's one thing, but no call that stays in the U.S. should ever be seen by the NSA.

However, at this point, we would pretty much have to dismantle the NSA entirely and form it again to break their culture of lawlessness.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46479175)

That's statutory law, which applies to us normal people. It only applies to the government when the government wants it to. In Constitutional law (which does apply to the government) the Fourth Amendment bans unreasonable searches by government agents. The First Amendment allows private citizens to say pretty much anything they want. Thus if I'm a private citizen and I legally obtain a bunch of data on my neighbors, I have a First Amendment right to sell that data. Since the data is (legally speaking) my property, the government can buy it. If a "search" is happening I'm the one being searched, and I consented to the search when I cashed their check.

This is the disadvantage of having a 225-year-old Constitution that is almost never amended, and is virtually impossible to update because everyone worships. Constitutional protections that would have been perfectly adequate in 1789 are obsolete because work-arounds have been discovered, and it takes 38 states to deal with the work-around. And it's very difficult to find an issue where 13 states won't torpedo the whole shebang because Cali/Texas/etc. already signed on and those people are crazy.

Let me put it to you another way:
The Constitution and a software program are similar in that they are sets of instructions created for a specific entity (in the Constitution's case, the government; in the program's case, a given computer) to follow. They are also similar in that bad guys will try to abuse the instructions. In the government's case, potential oppressors need to get around the letter of various protections, in the programs case black-hat hackers want to get it to do something it's not intended to do.

The Constitution is more then two centuries old. It got 10 Amendments in 1791. Which means that since 1792 it's got 17 Amendments in 222 years. That's one every 13 years.

You would not be surprised that a computer program that old, which is patched less then once a decade, had some pretty glaring security flaws that needed to be fixed. Are you really surprised the Constitution is equally in need of an update?

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46479395)

Actually, it is a principle of common law and so is a lens the Constitution is to be read through (though our current government seems to consider the Constitution as non-applicable as well).

The problem with a more easily amended Constitution is that we would have the same idiots that brought us the Patriot Act amending it.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46479503)

Which principle of common law are you referring to? Most principles of common law don't actually apply to the government. Sovereign immunity is a bitch. Even for non-governments, just because it's illegal for you to do something doesn't mean it's illegal for you to pay someone else to do that thing. If you don't have a pilot's license you can still pay someone with such a license to fly you places.

The Founders solution to the Patriot Act problem would probably have been periodic Constitutional conventions. Unlike us, they had lived under four very different Constitutional regimes (the Brits, the Continental Congress of the Revolution, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution); so they'd probably be very surprised that we decided to have a permanent Army but still hadn't amended the Constitution to allow ourselves a permanent army. Or that we'd decided Judicial Review was great but still hadn't written it into the Constitution.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46479799)

If you don't have a pilot's license you can still pay someone with such a license to fly you places.

The crime is flying a plane without a license. It would be a crime to hire someone to fly a plane without a license. It would not be a crime for you to operate a plane if you did have a license, so it is legal to hire someone with a license to operate a plane.

Government can't claim sovereign immunity from the Constitution. That includes constructive violations. There is no such thing as immunity from legal principles, only from laws. Mind you, that doesn't mean that the courts (including the well stacked Supreme Court) haven't routinely looked the other way for any number of violations.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46495207)

The US Constitution is not common law. Common Law is only binding on the Federal government to the extent that it supplies the definitions of words, phrases, and legal concepts that are actually explicitly in the Constitution. You "can't say "Common Law principle X restricts ordinary people, therefore it restricts the government." That just isn't the case.

The airplane analogy is quite instructive. Just as I am not legally allowed to fly a plane, the government is not legally allowed to create certain massive databases*. But since other people are allowed to do these things (ie: fly a plane or create a massive, intrusive database), both me and the government can pay them to do it.

As I've said before, this is actually the biggest security hole we've found in 200 years of Constitutional Law. It's trivial for a bad actor in government to get someone outside of government, and thus not restricted by any of the Constitutional bans on governmental oppression, to do the dirty work. He won't be as efficient as the Gestapo or KGB, and he needs some help from all three branches; but that doesn't mean he can't actually do his dirty work.

And the problem is in the basic architecture of the document. It can't be fixed without an Amendment or a bunch of Judges who are convinced the country will be much better off if they BS this one.

*The Census Bureau and the IRS are examples of perfectly legal extremely massive databases.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46495319)

No, but I can say that the principles of construction and agency apply. Because it applies to all laws.

The Constitution says the government can't gather that information without a warrant. So yeah, if the government can hire someone who already has a warrant that would be fine.

It's only a security hole because of sophists in the judiciary bending over backwards to avoid the obvious finding.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46501807)

Are you sure you're not the one twisting the Constitution? Because it seems to me that you have an idea of what a reasonable Constitution should say, and you're subconsciously reading that into our Constitution. This is what our Constitution has to say about law enforcement's right to gather information:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

That's not a blanket ban on information-gathering. It explicitly allows the government to gather whatever information it wants, as long as the method used to gather that information is not an "unreasonable search." It's allowed to do unreasonable searches, provided it gets a Judge to sign off on the warrant, and the warrant is limited in scope.

You'll also note that the Amendment cannot be used to protect you from things other people tell the government because those other people are agreeing to be searched when they snitch, which means the government doesn't need a warrant. In fact the Amendment assumes snitching is legal because "oaths or affirmations" from third parties about you are written into the Amendment. Which means you can't ban a business specifically designed to create aforesaid "oaths and affirmations" without breaking the Amendment you're claiming to be defending.

It would be very nice if the Founders had included a privacy Amendment that actually protected privacy. But they didn't. They wrote an Amendment that protects people from searches (but only unreasonable searches) by government agents. They also have a First Amendment allowing you to personally record any information you want, and tell that information to whomever you want for whatever price you want. It's called the First Amendment.

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

sjames (1099) | about 8 months ago | (#46502211)

The fourth ammendment's meaning is fairly well understood. I am adding nothing to that. I am simply invoking the principles of agency and construction to point out that the government cannot legally bypass the 4th by paying someone else for the information.

Is that REALLY so hard to understand?

Re:And I'll bet the Stasi used fingerprints too... (1)

NicBenjamin (2124018) | about 8 months ago | (#46511217)

I understand your argument perfectly. You think that if the Fourth bans massive, intrusive, law-enforcement databases in government hands then (under several common law principles) it bans the government from using those in private hands.

The problems with your argument are two-fold. First the databases are not explicitly banned. What's explicitly banned is government agents doing the search to find the information that can be put into the database. You can argue this means they are implicitly banned, but government access to the 18th-century equivalent of a massive database (ie: some dude's memory and/or paper records) is explicitly allowed by the "oaths and affirmations" clause. Given that the current Supreme Court's response to unwarranted GPS tracking was to consider whether the Founders would have thought it was legal for an 18th-century cop to hide in a carriage that's pretty important. They're gonna say "If the government can use 'oaths and affirmations,' then it can pay for those 'oaths or affirmations,' and it doesn't matter that the 'oath' comes from a database."

The second problem is that Common Law cannot trump the Constitution, or Statute, or even an Executive Order. Common Law provides a bunch of very basic legal principles that allow the government to function without bothering to recreate every legal idea that's ever existed. But it can't trump the laws that governments do create. Some states, for example, define the crime of "robbery" in their criminal codes. Virginia doesn't. That means in Virginia the common-law definition is used (in legal parlance it is "controlling), whereas in those other states the non-common-law definition is controlling. When common law contradicts a state-level statute common law loses.

So you have to base your argument solely on the Constitution. Common law just is so low-level that state-level statutes can change it, therefore the federal Constitution kicks it's ass. Since Nixon started gutting Judicial activism in the 70s, your argument has to be based on a fairly literal reading of the Constitution. Judges who speculate on 18th-century GPS just are not gonna go for an argument based on a vague principle that isn't explicitly defined, and isn't related directly to the technologies available in 1789..

As easy as Matrix Multiplication. (3, Insightful)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about 8 months ago | (#46442223)

Here's a simple walkthrough of how easy social graph analysis is which demonstrates how invasive metadata is. [kieranhealy.org]

comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46442513)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_and_the_Holocaust

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