Growing backlash to government surveillance

Oct 13, 2013 by Martha Mendoza
Software engineer and entrepreneur Jeff Lyon stands for a photo in San Jose, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. Lyon spent Labor Day weekend developing "Flagger," a program that adds words like "blow up" and "pressure cooker" to web addresses that users visit. "The goal here is to get a critical mass of people flooding the Internet with noise and make a statement of civil disobedience,' he said. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

From Silicon Valley to the South Pacific, counterattacks to revelations of widespread National Security Agency surveillance are taking shape, from a surge of new encrypted email programs to technology that sprinkles the Internet with red flag terms to confuse would-be snoops.

Policy makers, privacy advocates and political leaders around the world have been outraged at the near weekly disclosures from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that expose sweeping U.S. government .

"Until this summer, people didn't know anything about the NSA," said Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University co-director Amy Zegart. "Their own secrecy has come back to bite them."

Activists are fighting back with high-tech civil disobedience, entrepreneurs want to cash in on privacy concerns, Internet users want to keep snoops out of their computers and lawmakers want to establish stricter parameters.

Some of the tactics are more effective than others. For example, Flagger, a program that adds words like "blow up" and "pressure cooker" to web addresses that users visit, is probably more of a political statement than actually confounding intelligence agents.

Developer Jeff Lyon in Santa Clara, California, said he's delighted if it generates social awareness, and that 2,000 users have installed it to date. He said, "The goal here is to get a critical mass of people flooding the Internet with noise and make a statement of civil disobedience."

University of Auckland associate professor Gehan Gunasekara said he's received "overwhelming support" for his proposal to "lead the spooks in a merry dance," visiting radical websites, setting up multiple online identities and making up hypothetical "friends."

And "pretty soon everyone in New Zealand will have to be under surveillance," he said.

Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins in San Francisco has a more direct strategy: by using encrypted email and browsers, he creates more smoke screens for the NSA. "Encryption loses its' value as an indicator of possible malfeasance if everyone is using it," he said.

And there are now plenty of programs, many new, and of varying quality.

Software engineer and entrepreneur Jeff Lyon sits next to a computer showing the "Flagger" program he developed in San Jose, Calif. on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. Lyon spent Labor Day weekend developing the software that adds words like "blow up" and "pressure cooker" to web addresses that users visit. "The goal here is to get a critical mass of people flooding the Internet with noise and make a statement of civil disobedience," he said. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

"This whole field has been made exponentially more mainstream," said Cryptocat private instant messaging developer Nadim Kobeissi.

This week, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University released a smartphone app called SafeSlinger they say encrypts text messages so they cannot be read by cell carriers, Internet providers, employers "or anyone else."

CryptoParties are springing up around the world as well. They are small gatherings where hosts teach attendees, who bring their digital devices, how to download and use encrypted email and secure Internet browsers.

"Honestly, it doesn't matter who you are or what you are doing, if the NSA wants to find information, they will," said organizer Joshua Smith. "But we don't have to make it easy for them."

Apparently plenty agree, as encryption providers have seen a surge in interest.

Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, a free encryption service was being loaded about 600 times a day in the month before Snowden's revelations broke. Two months later, that had more than doubled to 1,380, according to a running tally maintained by programmer Kristian Fiskerstrand.

Andrew Lewman, executive director of TOR, short for The Onion Router, said they don't track downloads of their program that helps make online traffic anonymous by bouncing it through a convoluted network of routers to protect the privacy of their users.

But, Lewman said, they have seen an uptick.

"Our web servers seem more busy than normal," he said.

Berlin-based email provider Posteo claims to have seen a 150 percent surge in paid subscribers due to the "Snowden effect."

Posteo demands no personal information, doesn't store metadata, ensures server-to-server encryption of messages and even allows customers to pay anonymously—cash in brown envelopes-style.

CEO Patrick Loehr, who responded to The Associated Press by encrypted email, said that subscriptions to the 1 euro ($1.36) per month program rose to 25,000 in the past four months. The company is hoping to offer an English-language service next year.

Federation of American Scientists secrecy expert Steven Aftergood said it is crucial now for policymakers to clearly define limits.

"Are we setting ourselves up for a total surveillance system that may be beyond the possibility of reversal once it is in place?" he asked. "We may be on a road where we don't want to go. I think people are correct to raise an alarm now and not when we're facing a fait accompli."

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who introduced a bipartisan package of proposals to reform the surveillance programs last month, told a Cato Institute gathering Thursday that key parts of the debate are unfolding now.

"It's going to take a groundswell of support from lots of Americans across the political spectrum," he said, "communicating that business as usual is no longer OK, and they won't buy the argument that liberty and security are mutually exclusive."

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User comments : 14

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verkle
1.5 / 5 (15) Oct 13, 2013
What is really behind these the work of these people? Flooding the net with noise? They seem more interested in justifying their own dark worlds.

Neinsense99
1.9 / 5 (13) Oct 13, 2013
What is really behind these the work of these people? Flooding the net with noise? They seem more interested in justifying their own dark worlds.


What is really behind the work of people who make assumptions and publish innuendo that is devoid of evidence under the guise of just asking questions? I agree that the noise is perhaps silly, as most of it is probably not done well enough to avoid smart filtering.
210
1.3 / 5 (14) Oct 13, 2013
" Labor Day weekend..." I don't know if I should laugh or cry..! I look at the resources of the hacker-verse, the ENTIRE PLA and every computer in China, for example, against, "Labor Day weekend"...are we serious here? The NSA has oversight, the Comment Crew does not. Why is there no 'backlash' against the spiteful hacking of The Honkers for example? Why? Because everyone in the West is addicted to cheap Chinese rip-off products and wants to keep that crap coming over. The NSA is NOT the enemy here...and I for one want them out there fighting and pulling up those Russian and Chinese hacker-skirts: shame them publicly. China, Russia, Singapore, HACKERS have botnets by the multiplied thousands all over this planet - find them and kill them! NOW!

word-
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.6 / 5 (5) Oct 13, 2013
Some interesting and little-known facts:

"Stewart Baker, formerly the NSA's general counsel, told the House Judiciary Committee this month that Europeans are more likely to be spied on by their governments than Americans are by theirs. And he had data to back that up.

"According to the Max Planck Institute, you're 100 times more likely to be surveilled by your own government if you live in the Netherlands or you live in Italy," Baker said. "You're 30 to 50 times more likely to be surveilled if you're a French or a German national than in the United States."
Roderick
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 13, 2013
Gentlemen,

Your claims are inaccurate. Surveillance without specific cause is illegal in most European countries, virtually none of which have the infrastructure to do massive NSA style surveillance.

NSA surveillance is most effective against law abiding citizens. It will not be particularly effective against sophisticated terrorists (who are not using ATT or Verizon cell phones).

DavidW
1 / 5 (14) Oct 13, 2013
"Activists are fighting back with high-tech civil disobedience, entrepreneurs want to cash in on privacy concerns, Internet users want to keep snoops out of their computers and lawmakers want to establish stricter parameters."

People are Most Important, as they are Life. It is not appropriate or ethical (based in Truth), to call that which is factually Most Important a label and imply a lie (inequality) to people.

http://ethics.npr.org/

NPR position:
Accuracy

"Our purpose is to pursue the truth."

Accuracy in our reporting

"Accuracy is at the core of what we do. We do our best to ensure that everything we report faithfully depicts reality – from the tiniest detail to the big-picture context that helps put the news into perspective.
Zera
1 / 5 (11) Oct 13, 2013
Within this forum of conversation, I have been paranoid for the past 5 years over who is actually a government employee hired to disseminate false information.
Humpty
1 / 5 (11) Oct 14, 2013
Oh you mean all those videos of me snorting coke, binge drinking and maturbating across the internet, will affect my security clearance.

Hmmm I was always of the opinion, "If it's good enough for George Bush, it's good enough for me."
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (2) Oct 14, 2013
The idea of adding keywords to your email that trip intelligence agency filters isn't exactly new. I remember we were doing this regularly at uni back in the early 90's.

that Europeans are more likely to be spied on by their governments than Americans are by theirs

And this would be (if it were true) an excuse? "They murder a lot more than me - so it's OK that I murder a little bit"?. Really? That's a rationale to make everything OK?

And surveillance in Europe (at least in germany) is by court order ONLY (with an exception for imminent danger wher the court order can be generated afterwards).
There were a few cases where the BND failed to get these court orders - leading to the respective evidence being inadmissible in court (botched a few neo-nazi investigations that way).
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (5) Oct 14, 2013
if that were true
What, you doubt the max Planck institute?

And why would AA prefer to be spied upon by corrupt local yokel police with axes to grind?

"We can have a debate over whether or not the judicial and legislative approval process is working here in America, but the fact is, it exists, and in many places in Europe you don't have that kind of due process," Wolf says. "You don't have legislative oversight. In fact, the national security investigations are done completely in the dark or mostly in the dark." He cites Germany's Office of Criminal Investigation as an example.

"It's permitted to use a computer virus to search IT systems and to monitor communications and collect data, without the knowledge of users or service providers," Wolf says. "And while a court order is needed to use it, the service providers often aren't even aware of its deployment."

The US has courts to approve it's spying activities.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 14, 2013
Really? That's the rationale to make everything ok?
No it's the rationale to be used against US-hating euros when they try to make the US out as the great Satan. It is only one example of how in reality their countries are often far worse in many respects. It's called hypocrisy. 'Nous attendons votre jardin.'
Noumenon
1.7 / 5 (22) Oct 14, 2013
The US has courts to approve it's spying activities.


Correct. As I understand it, the NSA and their warehouses of servers accumulate and time cache data, to be searched later upon court order.
Noumenon
1.8 / 5 (24) Oct 14, 2013
The political left or those who view themselves as liberal progressives, or don't know enough not to (Huffington Post readership), ....are not being consistent by complaining about this data mining. They vote for increased powers of government and the nanny state, but then proceed to wet their pants when they receive it.

The 'liberal progressive's' entire MOO is to pore over social statistics and implement "fixes" for every arbitrary social ill they mine. This is data mining, and worse, it is social engineering and so control and correcting of your behavior.

Now dingbats and liars like VendicarE will say that its Bushes fault. Wrong. The NSA program has evolved way beyond taping calls originating from suspect countries by court order, to massive and indiscriminate data collection.

In fact the original author of Bush's Patriot Act is trying to Stop The NSA.

..
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Oct 14, 2013
Correct. As I understand it, the NSA and their warehouses of servers accumulate and time cache data, to be searched later upon court order.
"The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, also called the FISA Court) is a U.S. federal court established and authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) to oversee requests for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States by federal law enforcement agencies. Such requests are made most often by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)."