A bill to reform the mass surveillance practices of the National Security Agency died in the U.S. Senate last week without debate and without a vote.

The main reason opponents of the bill gave for their opposition? “The Caliphate (aka Islamic State, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, etc.) is coming, the Caliphate is coming.” Like a modern day Paul Revere, Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss, who will replace Lady DiFi as Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned The Caliphate

“wants people to walk the streets of New York… and start killing people.”

Eeek! I have tickets to NYC for New Years.

Revolving door telecom/military/government/executives/generals/officials Michaels Hayden and McConnell were more explicit in their Wall Street Journal op-ed which served as talking points for the opponents of reform. The headline?

NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love.

Why? Because

Islamic State terrorists continue to rampage across Syria and Iraq, even as the group, also known as ISIS, uses sophisticated Internet communications to swell its ranks with recruits bearing U.S., Canadian or European passports who can easily slip back into their native countries and wreak havoc.

After all, as the anti-havoc Senator from Maine Susan Collins put it, “Why would we weaken the ability of our intelligence community at a time when the threats against this country have never been greater?”

The threats against our country have never been greater? Really?

(Well that can be read a number of ways.)

Though the specter of The Caliphate may scare Congress into inaction, it hasn’t stopped individuals, groups and other countries from finding new and potentially effective means to escape the Panopticon’s all-seeing eye.

Glenn Greenwald, who broke the Snowden story, says when it comes to placing limits on the NSA, Congress is irrelevant. Here’s what matters:

1) Individuals refusing to use internet services that compromise their privacy;

2) Other countries taking action against U.S. hegemony over the internet;

3) U.S. court proceedings; and

4) Greater individual demand for, and use of, encryption.

It is the last point, the increased awareness of the need for encryption, which Greenwald thinks may be key. He quotes Wired Magazine from this past May.

Early last year—before the Snowden revelations—encrypted traffic accounted for 2.29 percent of all peak hour traffic in North America, according to Sandvine’s report. Now, it spans 3.8 percent. But that’s a small jump compared to other parts of the world. In Europe, encrypted traffic went from 1.47 percent to 6.10 percent, and in Latin America, it increased from 1.8 percent to 10.37 percent.

But can mass encryption get in the way of mass surveillance? Greenwald thinks so.

Increased individual encryption use is a serious impediment to NSA mass surveillance: far stronger than any laws the U.S. Congress might pass. Aside from the genuine difficulty the agency has in cracking well-used encryption products, increased usage presents its own serious problem. Right now, the NSA—based on the warped mindset that anyone who wants to hide what they’re saying from the NSA is probably a Bad Person­—views “encryption usage” as one of its key factors in determining who is likely a terrorist. But that only works if 10,000 people around the world use encryption. Once that number increases to 1 million, and then to 10 million, and then to default usage, the NSA will no longer be able to use encryption usage as a sign of Bad People. Rather than being a red flag, encryption will simply be a brick wall: one that individuals have placed between the snooping governments and their online activities. That is a huge change, and it is coming.

See the complete Greenwald piece, a very worth-while read, here.

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Mark Rabine has lived in the Mission for over 40 years. "What a long strange trip it's been." He has maintained our Covid tracker through most of the pandemic, taking some breaks with his search for the Mission's best fried-chicken sandwich and now its best noodles. When the Warriors make the playoffs, he writes up his take on the games.

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  1. Hmmm, lots of material taken from others, not much thinking, not much to do with the Mission. I guess when one lives in the Mission one can safely mock concerns about ISIS etc. If one’s family was being beheaded, one might take these issues a little bit more seriously.

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  2. This really has nothing in particular to do with the Mission. However, it is poorly written and unconvincing. The degree of cutting and pasting suggests that the author doesn’t really understand the issues nor does he know how to make an argument. I guess we are all just supposed to applaud him for the smug political correctness of his views.

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