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So you think you can offer 100% security?

Play the video below, and skip to 11m50s for the start of the juicy part.

In the video, a slightly flustered-looking Obama responds to a question by a reporter acting him to "react" to reports of widespread surveillance of the American populace by the spooks for the purposes of anti-terrorism.

We are, of course, referring to NSA's "Prism" programme, although on our side of the ocean, GCHQ is trying to make similar invasions of privacy in the alleged fight against terrorism.

The difference is, nobody in the British government has (yet) been stupid enough to say this:

You can't have a hundred percent security
and also then have a hundred percent privacy
and zero inconvenience.

He said that.
19m15s in the video above.

Obama said his two most important commitments are to keep the American people safe and to uphold the Constitution. It is perfectly reasonable that a president will do what is necessary to keep his people safe, although he might want to stop and ask if some of the overseas policies are the correct ones. Remember, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so something that America might think it is doing for the general good may well be viewed as acts of terrorism by others. I could point to their continuing support of Israel. This isn't to say that they should abandon Israel, for that situation could turn very nasty very quickly. Moderation and consideration are the keywords. Remember, Obama, that you were elected by Americans on the tail end of Bush's term getting the country involved in not one but two conflicts - one (Afghanistan) is probably a lost cause and it will bite you in the ass somewhere down the line, and the other (Iraq) took immeasurably more time, resources, and money than was originally planned. And, I might ask, for what, exactly? Every action has a consequence, and when you are the leader of a country as large, diverse, and powerful as The United States, you can be sure your consequences will be large.
As for the Constitution, you are aware - I hope, Mr. President - that a prime part of its focus is to reign in the powers of central government. It is an interesting reaction to the idea of a "king" who owns, well, everything. America is set up largely as the opposite of the implicit dictatorships that used to be omnipresent in Europe back in historical times. We're better now - Italy is a dictatorship and nobody cares, the French guillotined their nobility, the UK still has a royal family but their powers are greatly diminished now that parliament exists (although it is worth noting that in Britain you do not vote for the guy who runs the country - you vote for the party to run the country; hence when Tony Blair was ousted by Gordon Brown, there was no election to validate his position - the people voted Labour and they changed their leader...of course in the next election to be called, everybody made their feelings on this quite clear).
America, on the other hand, saw all of this, and having recently told the British where they can go shove themselves, decided to write a document to guarantee certain provisions and rights for the people. Some of this document is hopelessly outdated - the right for a person to have weapons made sense when about a third of the country was inhabited and god only knew what horrors lurked in the remaining two thirds. Nowadays? The most sane reason for people to carry guns is the fear that everybody else is packing heat. It works, but it is a logic fault in much the same was as Russia and America aiming their nukes at each other to state that "you're free to attack, but you'll all die too". It works, but it is crazy to have reached that position in the first place. Other provisions of the Constitution restrict the intrusion by the government, to assure the good law abiding citizens of a mostly peaceful life. Sure, once in a while you may get a pat down or be questioned - I was walking back from Bridgwater's KFC at 1am one night (back in '93) and a policeman pulled up beside me and asked who I was and what I was doing. I, in those days, didn't need to reply and they could only detain me if I was suspected of something - however I didn't mind. Some weird looking dude walking around a deserted shopping precint in the early hours with a large paper bag probably would raise suspicions, and I believe the police were justified in asking what I was doing. Likewise I got stopped by the Gendarmes several months ago for walking around the edge of town at 4am. Given that crime is turning up in rural France, it is logical to be wary of somebody walking around the industrial side on the middle of the night. They stopped me as I was eating Maltesers. I explained I'd just finished work, I work nights there (and pointed), I'm waiting to be picked up by my mother who is probably late because of the fog, then offered them some Maltesers. They declined the chocolatey goodness, and figured I looked tired and fed up and didn't leg it when they shone a light at me, so I probably wasn't here to knock over the car showroom and do a Vin Diesel in a Citroen DS...
Again, this does not bother me. There is crime, I'm walking around in the middle of the night, it's quite fair enough to stop and ask what I'm doing.

What is less acceptable is to want to monitor me intrusively. The people I call, the content of those calls, the texts I send, the emails, the location of me at each jucture, and maybe even my browsing history. I can see getting a court order and latching on to me if I am a suspected nutjob - they would have right to be worried if I was a regular visitor to Bombs'R'Us, looked for machine guns on eBay, and posted fanaticistic dribble on forums where hating a section of society "just because" is the order of the day. Not to mention if I posted pictures of myself posing with big-ass guns on Facebook. That ought to raise suspicions. Keeping an eye on somebody like that would be more than justified.

What is harder to justify is keeping an eye on everybody. You see, this massive data suck is primarily reactive and not pro-active. Once an attack has happened and a bunch of innocent people are dead and you think you've nailed the Bad Guy, you can identify him, then work backwards through his past to try to see what happened. This is what the British Press have been doing following that gruesome hack-job in Woolwich. The perp has been linked to the father of a young boy stabbed to death in a random attack many years ago, to hate-preaching clerics, to that Imam that Britain seems completely powerless to get rid of, to... actually, who the hell cares? If some guy massacres a person while yelling "Allah akbar", you can be sure that somebody somewhere will link him to all the other usual suspects. But you know what? The dead guy is still dead. If the spooks had recorded all the communications leading up to the attack, it doesn't mean a bloody think for the attack still happened. The only thing we can do is read in the papers that foreign governments warned the British about the perp and yet nothing was done in time to stop him becoming the poster-child for everything the National Front symphathisers hate in foreigners, especially those of Islamic persuation.

So let us assume that the NSA and their British counterparts are complicit with service providers for rampant data mining. Do you have any idea of how many false positives that could arise if they try to auto-profile people? The cleverest programmers and the biggest internet forces still are greatly hit and miss when it comes to advertising profiling. The most applicable suggestions I get from Amazon are those for products I've already bought. Likewise YouTube's weekly spam of "things I might like" are usually half crap I could care less about, and half stuff already on my favourites list. Once in a while they might hit a suggestion of something I'd enjoy, but I don't think one suggestion every so often out of a choice of dozens of things several times is a statistic you'd want to quote in a Powerpoint presentation. If you apply this to people, their habits, their activities, the things that they like and dislike, you will drown in a sea of crap that may well render a large percentage of the population to be deviant psychopaths hell-bent on world domination. And as a result, the fruitcakes we all ought to worry about barely make a blip on the radar.

For this reason, complete surveillance cannot and will not prevent terrorism. Sure, you can probably point me to a dozen examples of how slurping data has permitted the NSA to take down (or maybe take out?) some bad guys. In response, I would ask them to make a neat and tidy print-out of that and present it to the good people of Boston. If PRISM and the like has been active since 2007 (according to Wikipedia), one thing is for certain, it utterly failed to prevent the terrorist attack in Boston. Just like it didn't stop yet another school shooting (in the news as I write this).
It simply is not possible to have 100% security.

And Obama is a moron for even hinting at such a thing.

All of the spooks are doing their jobs with the resources available to try to keep us safe from harm. Safe from being blown up by somebody who thinks their ideology should be our ideology and isn't willing to accept "huh?" as an answer. Maybe, as in the case of the Oklahoma bomber, a person so disillusioned by their own government that a (futile) attempt to stop them seems the best solution. Frankly, it doesn't matter what the reasons are - some people will get in mind the desire to want to make a statement. And big bold statements are quite newsworthy. It is the job of the spooks to intervene and, frankly, shoot the bastard in the head if they won't listen to reason. I'm not being harsh, I'm being realistic. Again, go talk to the people of Boston. Ask if they'd rather a dead person they never knew, or a lot of dead and injured that they did know. However, it is also realistic to accept that this process will never be a hundred percent successful. Just like all the video cameras of the streets on London don't make it safe to walk around alone at night, unless you look like Vinnie Jones.

So there needs to be a true valid dialogue of how much people are willing to sacrifice in return for safety and security. While the media are going in to hype and making up a lot of rubbish; what is certain is that there are grave concerns for the amount of data collected now. For the possibility of attempting automatic profiling, and also concerns for the risk of alternative types of profiling. Are you some sort of deviant? Are you more likely to steal from your employer? You know that if this big pile of data is collected, there are many who will want to have a piece of the action. Many who will make judgements about you from half-facts and hearsay. Just like the President's assurances of recording data but not personal data. It's a blatant lie. If the spooks cannot tie their potential evidence to a person, it is worthless information. When it can match up with people and profiles, then it has value. But how much value? That's the question.

I should point out that a former President of the United States said that people willing for forgo their liberties for security deserve neither. In this day and age we may have no choice to forgo some liberties, but these lost liberties should be relevant (in other words, not a big data suck on the off chance that I'm a nutter), unobtrusive (I can stand being asked what I'm doing by a uniform once in a year, I would not stand having to show an ID card daily), and aware that those who wish to cause harm may come from inside as much as outside (look at the Viet Nam conscription; or McCarthy). Just as setting a good level of taxation is a balance between what the suits need and the people are willing to give, it is the same for security. We are supposed to be living in fear of terrorists. Push too hard and too zealously down this avenue, we might end up living in fear of the government instead.
And still, stuff will get blown up.
For a hundred percent security is a fantasy.


Oh, and Obama - you're right that leaks are often a Bad Thing that can compromise national security. However sometimes leaks are important to demonstrate what is really going on. The public might be more accepting of some of the measures put forward if this was done transparently and we minions were all on board. It is no good pointing out the process of approval by federal judges and such - if the people don't trust the spooks, what makes you think they'll trust a judge interacting with a spook?
So why not come clean and open with this? We already know that Google and Facebook amass more profiling information than your spooks are ever likely to get their hands upon; and... yet...


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joe, 21st June 2013, 12:16
If anyone thinks that his/her or her/his free emails and cloud drives are safe, than it should think twice, ask yourselves why all this stuff is free, not for your happiness and convenience, is free so someone else can look at your stuff.
Rick, 29th June 2013, 22:29
Exactly - the product is not Facebook or GoogleThingy, it is us. WE are the product.

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