There are some rumblings amongst tech types that Glenn Greenwald, in his reporting of the PRISM story, misinterpreted one of the alleged PowerPoint slides. Karl Fogel, a pro-open-source blogger tech type, calls it an "epic botch." So what happened?
Greenwald's original article over at the Guardian revealed that the government has been using a secret court order to force Verizon into handing over an extensive amount of user data on a regular basis. But Fogel, among others, points to this slide:
That slide has been interpreted as the government directly tapping into company servers to retrieve whatever information the government wants. The Washington Post, which also filed an extensive expose of the program (perhaps more extensive), said the agencies were "tapping directly into the central servers." Fogel has a problem with this language; his analysis of the slide indicates that what's actually going on isn't so much companies handing over keys to their servers, but companies creating a private digital locked box in which the government can access data they've requested through legal means.
Fogel writes: "The crucial question is: Are online service companies giving the government fully automated access to their data, without any opportunity for review or intervention by company lawyers?"
The New York Times, in their own investigation, found that this locked box concept is probably what's going on here. The government uses FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (the statute that specifies how and in what manner the government can obtain data), to demand information, and instead of the companies handing it over in individual chunks, the government requested these locked boxes so the handoff of information could be efficient and secure. It's sort of the internet-age equivalent of a source meeting a handler on back-to-back park benches and exchanging manila file folders while never looking at each other. These requests, by the way, are legally binding and also come with a gag order preventing the companies from discussing them.
Fogel, and many other tech types I've talked to, are outraged about the media handling of this story. In their mind, the media is bungling all of the intricate technical aspects of the story due to a lack of expertise in the field. And that's a fair point! Journalists, even tech journalists, are trained to report and write stories, not to have the same command of tech that an IT person has.
Fogel is being kind of ridiculous by calling Greenwald's discussion of "direct access" an "epic botch," though. I do think Greenwald misinterpreted the use of the word "servers" and in turn may have misunderstood how this program actually works--not a small thing, and in a case as sensitive as PRISM, we need to make sure we have as many of the facts as possible. (I don't blame Greenwald for this, by the way; this was a brand-new story and nobody quite knew the scope or effect of it, and he did a hell of a job exposing the surface of the program.)
This post, from Mark Jaquith, another tech type, hammers home that "this is not a pedantic point" and insists that Greenwald's misinterpretation could be "the difference between a bombshell and a yawn of a story." I completely disagree; I think it is a worthy point, one that should be discussed and cleaned up, but there's much more at stake here than whether the government had direct access to a company's data. I'm glad these guys are on the case; before we decide how to respond as a country to this program, we need to know exactly what's going on. But I don't think that if the answer turns out to be "no, the government did not have direct access to this data" that we can just brush off our hands and say "well, okay then."
First of all, once they were given the OK to get this data from these servers, the act of "getting" it was just a semantic. They most likely took a ton of data, outside of what was given to them, that these companies don't even know about. In order for this data to be useful, they have to be able to sift through it. Not sift through it in weeks, months, or years but in real-time. At least close to real time. In order to sift through that much data, that fast, they need a pretty dandy filtering algorithm. PRISM = a technology for filtering massive amounts of data. One massive data stream fed into an algo that separates it into useful data. Like a prism. Why is no one looking at the technical aspect of this program? How in the hell are they going to make that much data useful in a short amount of time to stop a terrorist threat?
"Do not try and bend the spoon. That is impossible. Only try and realize the truth - there is no spoon."
That 'Upstream' project uses 'black rooms', rooms in the 9 major telecom companies infrastructure to monitor communications. I've seen them while working for these companies. Given that they've tapped directly into the telecoms, I don't believe they wouldn't tap into Google, Facebook, etc.
What mentioning the fact the Mr.Snowden didn't graduate High School in a manner consistent with being allowed a paying job wasn't working either?
Tech types "outraged", really...? Tech talk grammar Nazis? Funny, allot of effort into swaying people into thinking the information was false, knowing the average person clicking around online has a 5 second attention span.
Almost seems as if the whole point of this article was to discredit Snowden or his revelations to the ignorant masses, knowing they wouldn't read far enough to see your argument is simply potatoes versus potatoes...
Somehow doubting tech guys are really sweating the slight variance in interpretation, same concept either way, wonder who scripted it though? Was this article written at the Pentagon?
I appreciate you perspective and comment.
What the USA government has been doing and is doing.
In the cold war days the USA government monitored all phone call communication that ventured outside of USA. They used key words monitoring via lots of massive super computers do listen on communications, when red flags popup, they system alerted to others to pay attention.
Since 9/11 and the new anti-terrorist laws, a new NSA was built in Utah using the best of money and an extreme amount of money for technology. This technology monitors around the world (EARTH) all communications. If the communications is encrypted it is saved for a later day to be broken. The NSA has thousands of super computers. Just use your imagination to what is communications; basically anything electronic.
Now with the new laws of 9/11 giving NSA much freedom, there are still some restrictions, but not so much for the people of UK. So this is a joint venture and they have free access to the NSA as well they are monitoring the world the same way too.
Add to this the legal & political word "'believe' to be a terrorist'". Suspect\possible belief is enough to consider a person a possible terrorist; Belief is now considered a fact word, when the word terrorist is concerned. One way to give more freedom of investigation and to protect the investigative system is to put the person in a location\position that has "no rights and no voice", GTMO Cuba and other places around the world. By putting suspect people of terrorist outside the country, the USA removes them from having rights, protects the NSA and USA laws investigative system and supposedly the "CITIZENS" from terrorist.
While the terrorist mind is absolute in self sacrifice and its random acts, the only defense against this is the currently USA 9/11 anti-terrorist laws and the freedom of NSA and keeping 'suspected terrorist' with our rights or voices outside of the country.
In theory this appears on the surface as a perfect response to terrorist, but it leaves off an absolute necessity protection.
By created this type of Anti-Terrorist Defense it has no system to ensure ITSELF will not be abused or corrupted. It can easily become a FASCIST\FASCISM Department of the USA\UK government. It has no oversight.
A republican created this, and a democrat supports it in his term now. Even if one day CUBA\GTMO does get close for politics, I am confident another place will be created in its place, just more secretive.
Social Security was fine in funding and has excess once. Then politicians could not leave the excess alone and wanted to borrow monies for 'Special Projects', leaving IOUs to pay for social security later. NSA is one of many payfored 'Special black ops Projects'. NSA annual budget is 20 billion or more currently. While the group of 'baby boomers' is large, had the politician left alone the excess funds in social security or payed back what they owed, the whole program would be fine. Now publicly they tell the USA citizens the baby boomers are causing the problem, leaving off they owe money to the program and never payed it back. These same politicians\leaders have a long term goal and do not care of they put the USA citizens in debt to reach their goal, hence our run-away debt and a frozen political leadership.
The FASCISM Department is getting much closer to becoming a whole FASCISM Government and the UK and other governments around the world are working together. A new world order is coming and they want to accomplish gently enough with as little blood shed in the process. When putting the sheep in the coral does hurt a few in the movement.
1.) Social Security will be broke 2033.
2.) Our debt is rising and our political leaders want more money always.
3.) Our currently political leaders are frozen in action to fix the debt problem, social security problem and health care\medical care problems.
4.) There is always more money available for bigger government and bigger military and more surveillance.
5.) Everyone is now being monitored.
6.) If you are suspect to be a terrorist, you will be removed and silence.
7.) There is no oversight to all these new systems.
There is an old known solution for any government to be influence and not become a fascism ideology corrupt or for an individual to become corrupt.
Open communications, freedom of speech, many groups elected oversight committees and no person does anything by himself without multiple confirmed checks from outside random approved sources in the operation of NSA and other associated resources.
It is not a requirement to keep this program a secret. In fact it is quite the opposite in letting as much a large public notice that their communications ARE being monitored, that influences correct behavior. I often heard from my family and church as I went about my day, "Behave yourself, because God or Jesus sees and knows your all you do throughout your day.”
The concept of NSA monitoring is not necessary wrong, if a large enough elected random defenses of oversight are in place to ensure it does not become corrupt and then grows in fascism department.
If good person is approach privately and shown clearly that someone they care about could be harmed, he is now influence\corrupted to change his behavior and do what the influence wants. By installing in the NSA personnel that any person action is not an individual decision alone and needs approval by many from various random access points helps to stop an outside source from corrupting the system, “Anti-Corruption Protection” is installed in the NSA system. The military uses this process often in protecting its assets.
You both raise wonderful points -
However, I am concerned about the careless and imprecise use of the term "fascist". Even if the NSA were using PRISM to crack down on political dissidents, this act would not constitute "Fascism", which promotes racial hierarchy and social Darwinism, with the ultimate goal of racial purity.
This is not a fussy criticism on my part; in a national discussion of such grave importance, one would hope the issue is debated with an academic, thoughtful tone. Clearly, you do not mean to say that the NSA strives for racial purity; because there are many who do not know the academic (read 'correct') definition of Fascism, but rather know the word through context and connotation, the importance of accuracy cannot be overstated.
Accuracy is, truly, a form of honesty. Let's not fool ourselves; anybody who can speak or write with a degree of eloquence has influence over the direction of public opinion. So let's be responsible with our words.
Read the political articles posted all about the web about htis. What is absolutely missing is OVERSIGHT!
"A republican created this, and a democrat supports it in his term now."
It has been in development since at least the 1960s. Nothing has been revealed lately that wouldn't be perfectly obvious to anyone who knows the technology and has put any thought to intelligence gathering. Yaaaaaaaawn!
In short, if anyone has thought of any such related technology then you can bet every dime you own that it is either in use right now, or they are just working out the bugs.
Anyone who is surprised, shocked, disturbed or has any other excited emotion about this should run real fast and catch the turnip truck they just fell off of.
What can you do about it? I recommend running through the streets, waving your arms, and screaming like Chicken Little. That will stop the spread of technology entirely.