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NSA monitors all internet traffic, ISP complies by facilitating them in-house?
Posted: 10 November 2007 07:05 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Big Brother is really Watching You?

Whistleblowers account by ex AT&T technician, testifying to the alledged existence of a closed room in the At&T central office to which only the NSA has access, and through which all internet traffic handled by AT&T is routed.

Some news coverage on it here too.

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Posted: 10 November 2007 08:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Really, I don’t see what the fuss is.  They’re the NSA.  They’re supposed to monitor telecommunications, looking for potential threats.  That’s their job.  They’ve been doing it for years.  People fuss and complain when they don’t manage to intercept terrorist messages.

It’s not as though they’ll be sitting there in some little dark room, reading every single e-mail and forum posting and web page that you write.  Nobody has that sort of manpower, resources, or time.  There may be a few people who they’re already suspicious of who they will pay personal attention to, but for the most part it’s probably a system where the data goes into computers, and the computers look for certain phrases that may be signs of criminal activity or terrorism or whatever.  Then, if the computer finds something like an e-mail that sets off too many alarm bells, some clerk will glance at it and say, “Nope, that guy isn’t plotting a coup” or “Nah, this woman hasn’t stumbled onto the truth behind the JFK shootings”.  And then he’ll forget about it and go on with his job.

Pretty much anything you write online, even if it is routed through the NSA’s or any other government agency’s computers, is never going to be read by any of their people.  It’s not just a matter of they don’t have the ability; they just can’t have the time and people to randomly read through everybody’s stuff.  There’s no agency big enough.  You’d need half the world’s population working for them.

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Posted: 10 November 2007 09:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Acci,

There is a very fine balance between the Governments (c.q. it’s designated Agencies) right and task to trace security threats (or criminals) on the one hand; and people’s rights to privacy on the other.

This is the reason the Justice department and Secret Service in most civilized democratic countries are not allowed to tap people’s communications at will, but need a court warrant: supplied only if there are grounds of suspicion with regard to the person to be tapped.

Here we appear to have the situation however, of communications by every random US (and foreign) citizen being made readily available for scrutiny (whether they really do scrutinize all, is less relevant: it is the potention to do so).

Accessing communications of all civilians at will, opens serious concerns for abuse.  After all, tomorrow you may be considered the “threath” of concern. “Terrorists” are the current Bogeymen; 30 years ago it were liberal students opposing the Vietnam war; 50 years ago communists.

If you look at what is happening in your country the past years, you see a massive erosion of your rights and liberties as a citizen, all with reference to the “war on terror”: as if terror threat justifies everything, justifies removal of all your privacy and liberties.

And this can be easily abused. What happened in the haydays of McCarthyism in your country should be a strong warning to you. Don’t let yourselve think this can’t happen again! If they can tap your communications at will, searching with whatever flag words they seem fit in the current security concern dogma without any external public control, they have all in place, ready to set and go. Next, you can find yourself on a black-list, just like Charley Chaplin and ten-thousands of others in the fifties.

And that’s why you should be concerned. No government has the right to scrutinize communications of every citizen at will, whatever the reason behind it may be. Not in a free society. If you allow that, your free society is at dangerous risk, of something much more threatening than terrorism.

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The Kruger-Dunning effect is rampant on internet fora.
J. Kruger & D. Dunning (1999), Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 77, 1121-1134

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Posted: 10 November 2007 09:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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And you will notice that, when you are not allowed onboard a plane because you are in some list, on which you ended up because some system picked up some flagged words in your e-mails or Google keywords. That is the direction into which it is going in your country currently as a result of all this terror security paranoia, and the way your government tries to use it to wave (waif? sp.?) key civil rights easily.

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The Kruger-Dunning effect is rampant on internet fora.
J. Kruger & D. Dunning (1999), Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 77, 1121-1134

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Posted: 10 November 2007 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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But they wouldn’t be scrutinizing the communications of every citizen at will, LaMa.  Unless you were somebody who they were already looking for, they wouldn’t be reading your communications.  Computers would be reading your communications, which they’d be doing anyway since you wouldn’t be able to send an e-mail without computers reading it.

It would only be when certain established levels of alarm are brought to someone’s attention by these computers that any notice of your communications would be taken.  And if they do find something that could be serious, then they’d know to get a warrant and find out more.  There has to be some initial bit of information to arouse their suspicions in order to justify getting the warrant.  They can’t issue warrants without cause.

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Posted: 10 November 2007 09:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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LaMa - 10 November 2007 02:17 PM

And you will notice that, when you are not allowed onboard a plane because you are in some list, on which you ended up because some system picked up some flagged words in your e-mails or Google keywords. That is the direction into which it is going in your country currently as a result of all this terror security paranoia, and the way your government tries to use it to wave (waif? sp.?) key civil rights easily.

That’s all not an argument against the general idea of monitoring telecommunications for threats, though.  That’s an argument against governments going overboard with how they use what they have.  It comes down to the trustworthiness of government.  If you have monitoring of telecommunications, you have to trust that the government won’t abuse its power.  If you don’t have monitoring of telecommunications, then you still have to trust that the government won’t abuse its power.

If a useful and helpful tool that can be used well and put to good use is misused by a government, then it’s not the tool that needs to be fixed.  It’s the government that needs work.

wave (waif? sp.?)

Waive.  Similar to a waiver, which is generally a signed document wherein you waive certain rights or privileges.

Although a waif would be interesting, too.

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Posted: 10 November 2007 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Accipiter - 10 November 2007 02:32 PM

It comes down to the trustworthiness of government.

Exactly. And there it is why you should be concerned. That government told you there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for example.

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The Kruger-Dunning effect is rampant on internet fora.
J. Kruger & D. Dunning (1999), Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 77, 1121-1134

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Posted: 10 November 2007 10:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Don’t trust on the goodwill of the people operating such a system, Acci. If such a system is in place, it should be thightly and publicly controlled, not something running in the dark. It can easily go wrong, especially when Agencies are given a free hand, and operate in a climate of suspicion and paranoia where the rights of an individual are deemed less important than National Security concerns.

A TRUE STORY

Just a true story that happened here to highlight what I mean, how this can interfere with the lives and rights of innocent people if such liberal tapping opportunities are allowed to run wild. It happened recently to a Science teacher here in my country, and your NSA and their random internet tap activities play a role in it.

The Science teacher in question is named Jaco Alberts. He was officially retired, but a member of the Cito committee that puts together exam questions for our national high school student exams.

In preparing one potential exam question for the Chemistry exam in 2004, he did some internet research. This intended exam question was a calculation involving “heavy water”. The teacher remembered that the amount of human bodily water can be determined using a technique including “heavy water”. He hit to internet to find the details, and also to find some info on the production technique of “heavy water” to use in the introduction of the question. So he Googled, and you guess it: with keywords like “Heavy water”.

In June 2004, two agents of the AIVD (the Dutch Secret Service) contacted him and said they wanted to talk to him. About “Weapons of Mass Destruction”. “We know you looked up info on Heavy water on the internet” they said. When Alberts told them it was in his role as a Chemistry teacher they said: “we checked that, but you are retired”. Alberts said: “yes but it still has my interest”, and they answered: “Your interest is much too deep for that”. He then told them about his membership in the Cito National high school exam committee; and that it concerned preparation of an exam question (questions which are prepared in secret until the exam in question is taken of course).

It turned out these agents knew exactly what and where he had been checking on the internet, and where in his network he asked around. Because the whole process of making questions for the National Highschool exam is secret, this can only have been revealed through taps on Alberts e-mail and internet browsing. Much later, in the process of a complaint procedure filed by Alberts, there has been some suggestion that the source of this information was gathered “at the other side of the water” (i.e, the USA, due to your NSA’s internet monitoring). Officially, the AIVD doesn’t want to disclose their sources.

It later also turned out that prior to talking to Alberts, the AIVD agents had questioned colleagues at the school he worked for until his retirement, and people in his contact network. In fact, his former employer already had informed the AIVD agents that Alberts was a member of the Cito exam committee and that this involved research to prepare exam questions.

Next the AIVD agents suggested there was a connection with Abdul Qadeer Khan. Turns out: misfortune had it that Alberts had, decades ago during the ‘70-ies, been living in the same street as Khan, the infamous Pakistani scientist who during his stay in my country stole secret information on Uranium enrichment centrifugion techniques, which allowed Pakistan to develop it’s atomic bomb.

(continued below)

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The Kruger-Dunning effect is rampant on internet fora.
J. Kruger & D. Dunning (1999), Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 77, 1121-1134

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Posted: 10 November 2007 10:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Apparently “the system” had turned an innocent Science teacher doing research for a national high school exam question in his role as a member of the Cito committee into a potentially dangerous terror suspect, by linking up his internet information gathering with the fact that he once lived in the same street as the notorious Khan.

The point is, that while questioning Alberts and suggesting connections to the activities of Khan, the two secret service agents in question showed some blatant ignorance of the science behind heavy water and it’s use. For example, they suggested it could be used as part of the centrifugion technique stolen by Khan to produce an atomic weapon. Ignorance plus full and uncontrolled access to the private communications of a civilian, in combination with the stereotype mono-directed suspicion of an Agency responsible for (inter-)National security taking this information completely out of context, all came together here.

It has taken Alberts quite some effort to dig up at least some facts behind the fact that he was investigated. For example, when he specifically asked whether the AIVD had checked with contacts of him, that was denied: until a number of these contacts themselves revealed to Alberts that they in fact had been questioned on him. There has never been a written acknowledgement that the source of the AIVD information leading them to question Alberts and contacts of Alberts, was the NSA: it has been suggested to him in a talk with the chair of the government committee responsible for checking upon the secret service activities.

For Alberts, the results have been serious. After they had been visited by the AIVD agents, some of the contacts in his networks stopped their involvement with him, for example.

And the idea of his communications having been scrutinized without him being aware of it, left quite a mark on him. he no longer stores documantation on his home pc, and for internet research as part of his Cito exam commitee membership, he now uses internet caf

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The Kruger-Dunning effect is rampant on internet fora.
J. Kruger & D. Dunning (1999), Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 77, 1121-1134

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Posted: 10 November 2007 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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*googles “heavy water” to see if the men in suits come to her door*

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Posted: 10 November 2007 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Post Scriptum:

The story of Alberts has been covered by several Dutch language newspapers at the time. Alberts’ own account (in Dutch) can be found here.

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The Kruger-Dunning effect is rampant on internet fora.
J. Kruger & D. Dunning (1999), Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 77, 1121-1134

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Posted: 10 November 2007 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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MadCarlotta - 10 November 2007 03:39 PM

*googles “heavy water” to see if the men in suits come to her door*

Heh! As part of my own research to compile my post, I googled today on such terms as “heavy water”, “uranium”, “Khan”, “Pakistan” etcetera.

So if I disappear from the forum suddenly, I am probably in some clandestine CIA prison in Syria or whereever…..

If “they” do their work well, they should in fact be able to link me to a former director of DARPA. He was/is a personal friend of mine. Hope this doesn’t damage his career. And doesn’t raise “their” suspicion even more…

* goes on the lookout for black unmarked helicopters *

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The Kruger-Dunning effect is rampant on internet fora.
J. Kruger & D. Dunning (1999), Unskilled and unaware of it: how difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. J Pers Soc Psychol. 77, 1121-1134

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