Beyond the Cusp

July 12, 2013

NSA Snooping Bothersome, How About the IRS?

Ever since Edward Snowden blew the lid off of the NSA Prism Program and the cataloguing virtually every single electronic signal worldwide, people have been in panic mode worrying over an overly intrusive government. The fact that the information readily available is that of trends and unless some trigger causes there to be suspicions about a particular person, the government would never actually listen to or read any of one’s personal catalogued information. This does not appear to have allayed many people’s fears and likely with a fair amount of good cause. The simple fact that this treasure trove of personal data and possibly inconvenient facts are in some gigantic storage site just waiting for somebody to decide to misuse these presumably secure files for whatever nefarious purpose their evil little heart’s desire is simply too much of a threat to allow people to maintain absolute sense of calm.

 

To those amongst us that knew about the predecessor to Prism which was called Echelon, we faced this fact back in the late 1980s or 1990s when that system was sufficiently powerful to record almost every electronic signal of the day. Running concurrent to Echelon was an agreement between the Anglo-nations of Australia, Canada, Britain and the United States that each nation would monitor the civilian information gathered through Echelon and should anything of interest be found then alert the nation where the suspected person resided. This allowed for domestic monitoring of each nations citizenry without running afoul of the laws against domestic spying by the intelligence agencies such as the CIA and NSA. No longer does the government feel it is necessary to go to such extents to avoid the regulations and laws which make spying within the borders by our intelligence agencies forbidden. Now they simply promise that the information they are collecting will simply be left unsifted beyond searching for suspicious patterns or other such traits trip set indicators. Of course we need not fear as we all can be assured that there are no people in government who might, without cause, actually sift through the personal information even if they have a friend who suspects his or her spouse may be having something undesired and would really appreciate knowing who he or she has been trading emails with? I mean, what could possibly go wrong when every phone conversation, email, instant message, web site visited, television show or movie watched, and purchase made is recorded and available to anybody within the Federal Government with the proper security clearance to peruse at their leisure?

 

Believe it or not, the invasion of privacy that Prism permits the Federal Government through the NSA is about to be dwarfed by the invasion of our medical privacy by an arm of the Federal Government which has already been proven to use their powers for nefarious and vindictive reasons when the IRS held up and demanded unnecessary details and information from conservative and pro-Israel organizations seeking tax exempt status. Starting with the advent of Obama Care the IRS will be charged with keeping the files of our entire medical histories. They will be able to profile every American for health problems and have influence over treatments that will be allowed to be made available. They will assess fees and make numerous health care decisions. Does having the IRS, who already holds every iota of your personal financial information, now be charged with your entire health care and medical history make you feel at all comfortable? Between the IRS and the NSA there will no longer be a single secret about your life that the government will not be privy to. I would be hard pressed to pick which I find more troublesome, the NSA with every byte and possibly bit of my electronic history or the IRS having every piece of my financial and health histories at their fingertips. And even if one could choose which is worse, you can depend on the fact that there will be sharing of this information between the two agencies whenever anybody’s name becomes one of those “names of interest”, whatever that may come to mean.

 

How much longer before we will all find ourselves being careful not to allow too much emotion to show as such discretions might raise the suspicions of some government minder who would then file your name as a person of interest which would start a full review of your files to decide if your show of emotion was out of sorts requiring further investigation and monitoring or simply some understandable reaction to a recent event. We must also remember the networking by numerous municipalities of all the city’s public and private security cameras tied to facial recognition software, and more are joining this list every month. And just to make an obvious prediction, the government at all levels will very soon be able to track your vehicle on every trip it makes. This will come into play once sufficient numbers of people drive vehicles which use little or no petroleum fuels. This will cause the government to tax your vehicular mileage which will require every vehicle to be fitted with an electronic identifier with GPS route and distance tracking for the purpose of collecting revenue. Such would never be utilized by the government to discover who belongs to the gun club or regularly drive to TEA Party events or other places of particular interest. Some people will tell you the government already has this ability to track movements of anybody by following their cellphone. The answer to that is sometimes let your cellphone stay home while you clandestinely go to your destination assured of arriving under complete secrecy. Privacy? We don’t need no individual privacy.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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June 11, 2013

Prism, Echelon, Unlimited Data Mining, the NSA, Where Did it Start?

We are hearing stories and rumors, facts and flights of fancy, truths and misdirections, and enough information overload to the point that our heads are spinning and we end up so confused that we likely just shake our heads, take a couple analgesics for the headache and go off to forget the whole mess. Unfortunately, once we know that our every communication, our every internet search, every web site we visit, every purchase we make, and even our every move is being tracked, stored and can be retrieved any time in the future and collated to make any story desired about us believable. Add to that the fact that with computers tapes can be made in which there is nothing that cannot be produced showing us doing anything from sleepwalking to murder and saying anything from the kindest compliments to the worst treasons. When we delve deeply into the potential powers that the government could use in nefarious efforts to paint us as guilty of any crime and part of any conspiracy which they could ever dream up we realize that the powers that be have the ability to make our lives into whatever scheme their sick little minds desired. But at some point in our paranoid fog the thought creeps into our consciousness, when and how did all of this start and how long has it been turned against the people?

 

The beginning of modern data mining was espionage, both between rival city states and within city states by the different members of the ruling court. Espionage was accepted by the common person as it was something that did not affect their lives and it also diverted the ruling classes from further ruining their lives. That has all changed as it is now utilized by governments in order to control the lives of the people. Totalitarian governments have long been known to have secret police and entire departments within their governments which collected information on the general public and went even deeper on persons of interest. The targets usually contained the wealthy, political activists and anybody who was thought to be a potential problem, threat, rival or simply somebody who may need some convincing to assist with gathering information on any others. With the advent of the electronics age espionage became both more technical and also easier to employ against a wider set of targets. Even as electronic data increased geometrically, the ability to gather and store data increased exponentially far outstripping the rate of increase of available data. The unfortunate fact is that the ability to collect data has reached the dream point for the political class as they can now record everything. And since they have the ability to collect every iota of available data they have reached the obvious conclusion, they collect everything, why not.

 

The first major data collecting on masses of people in the United States where anybody who may be of use or importance was monitored for whatever secrets or damning information that could be uncovered was FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover. His files on politicians, leaders of industry, and anybody who was somebody became stories of legend. But J. Edgar Hoover would have salivated had he ever seen the NSA system known as Echelon, the forerunner of Prism. Echelon was preceded by international signal monitoring between nations but Echelon was capable of such volumes of data gathering as to make everything preceding it seem almost amateurish. Today’s data mining capabilities make Echelon appear almost primitive. Echelon was implemented over a quarter century ago and gave the NSA (National Security Agency) unprecedented capabilities outstripping their wildest dreams of the founders back in 1952. With Echelon the NSA finally realized their dream of having the capability to collect data on almost anybody their little hearts desired. But even the immense gathering powers of Echelon were outpaced by the amounts of data being generated very soon after its inception with the addition of general use of the Internet plus cell phones and a simple explosion with the advent of the electronics age. The onset of the electronics age also provided the solution to the unimaginable amounts of data generated. This presented the NSA with the opportunity to meet the challenge before them, the ability to collect all data from all sources. This required an extensive storage facility. That is exactly what the NSA just officially opened in Nevada where they estimate they have sufficient storage medium to store every electronic signal generated worldwide for the next century. Even if it only does as advertised for half that time, it will still have been an impressive system.

 

Echelon caused a stir amongst many people who follow government abuses, politics and conspiracy theorists. Much of what was known in the public about Echelon was refuted by government as the NSA and others denied its existence. Eventually, like anything which requires large numbers of people to run the equipment and make the raw data into something presentable that had real uses and meaning, the secret got out and enough became known that denial was no longer possible. Armed with the experience of the warnings and denials over Echelon, the revelations about Prism are easily believed by the people and thus no attempt appears to be in the works for denial. That leaves the government with the choice of facing the music or making what they are doing appear to be both necessary and innocuous. Trust one who was a believer and ever suspicious of Echelon, Prism is every bit as dangerous with levels of misuse beyond the wildest of imaginations. We have already been witness to the powers of Prism. General Petraeus and General John Allen were early victims of the powers of Prism as they were disgraced into retirement by the revelation of their private emails. The information of their emails that were released did not result from their government email accounts but from their private email accounts. The power of Prism became evident in these two cases as once those who wished to destroy these men’s lives took the knowledge that there had been emails that might be of a questionable nature and then gathered the entire history of these emails simply be entering a query into Prism data search and waited for the results. Presto, everything that matched the query for the past decade at their fingertips to use in any manner against these men. These were private emails and before you claim they should have known better than to leave such evidence, what would your bosses think if they had access to every email, chat, instant message, tweet, and Facebook entry you have made over the past decade? Would your job be safe? What about that comment you made after a particularly bad day about that slave-master who runs your office? That is the potential damage anybody in our government with access to Prism can bring down on any citizen of the United States for the foreseeable future. I am fairly sure that Prism also is collecting data from other nations as well and its capabilities are being made available to friendly government within limits. With Prism now fully activated and connected to the immense storage facility in Nevada the government can continue collecting every electronic signal and run their queries at their convenience as the data will be available for the rest of time, well, in theory at least.

 

Some may be interested in what are the main differences between Echelon and Prism other than the sheer immensity of the data that can be stored indefinitely by Prism versus Echelon. Well, that actually is the basic difference. Under Echelon the government entered key words and phrases which could be adapted depending on what were deemed to be of interest. With Echelon they had permanent key words such as bomb, President, terror, attack, assassinate, kidnap, Echelon, and the names of important or noteworthy people. When a piece of data crossed the Echelon data input channels containing any of these keywords it was saved and if it contained the right combination or sufficient numbers of key words, it was marked for review by an actual person. Echelon was monitoring all the trans-Atlantic phone cables, satellite uplinks and downlinks, Internet providers’ data points to the Web, and numerous other data points which were considered necessary or sensitive. The main deficiency of Echelon was the amounts of data it was capable of both storing and monitoring. Prism does not have such limitations as it has the capability to take in all the data that the NSA can manage to find a method to intercept. There is no requirement for keywords with Prism. Using Prism does require keywords but they can be entered well after the data was stored, not using them as a hurdle to clear in order to be stored. When accessing the Prism database one enters the names and keywords which they wish to pull the data on just like we do when searching the Internet. The difference is Prism has far more data than the Internet and Prism can track any piece of data in its memory back to the person or people who were parties to the conversation or otherwise connected to the data. Prism has another capability that too many will be even more ominous. If you wish to track the movements of someone you only need to enter a few key numbers to gather tracking information for them from that point further. Whether Prism has the ability to track one from past data it would likely be limited to tracking where any person received a cell call or used their OnStar or tracked their lost vehicle. Any way one looks at the power and potentials for misuse of Prism, it definitely is a sign that Big Brother has arrived and we may soon need to monitor our every facial expression so that our faces do not arouse suspicions, after all there are cameras almost everywhere.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

June 8, 2013

Do You Love Big Brother Yet?

If you are among those who do not believe that the Federal Government has not achieved the equivalence of the Big Brother qualities from George Orwell’s book “1984”, then you probably disagree with Tea Party conservatives, not that that is necessarily wrong. It is very likely that most Tea Party chapters would probably disinvite me from their membership within a year if I were to join one of their chapters. That aside, the scandals currently demanding front page top of the fold coverage really does resemble themes from 1984 with a small flavoring of Aldous Huxley’s book “Brave New World” included. Exhibit one is the new National Security Agency (NSA) data storage complex that recently held its official ribbon cutting and was proclaimed open for business. Of course for the NSA’s meaning of open for business means that all your information is allowed in but can never leave while you may not get in or even approach the complex. This data storage complex is claimed to be capable of storing every email, instant message, Facebook post, Twitter message, phone call (cell or landline), search engine returns on your searches,  and all other electronic communication everywhere in the world in real time for the next century and beyond. Do you remember in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were people whispering in hushed tones of the conspiracy that was listening in on everybody’s phone calls and later on monitoring all Internet traffic named Echelon? Well, that turned out to be valid paranoia as Echelon actually did exist but became obsolete before the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, thus the Echelon replacement that has probably been on line for the past couple of years even if it was just completed. There is no reason that the front end could not have been being fed all of our data while the back two-thirds were being installed. Presumably, this new Echelon on steroids complex is not only capable of monitoring and recording every electronic communication across the globe, it can theoretically even monitor your every keystroke as long as your computer is connected to the Internet including the backspace key, so they will know what you send in a message and what you rethought and deleted.

 

As this is discussed and everybody gets to add their two cents worth and the rumors and suspicions expand to the point that paranoia seems to have taken hold of everybody’s imagination, we still may not be capable of uncovering all the myriad of abilities these monitor gathering systems will actually possess. I remember the early days when the rumors of Echelon were the buzz of the conspiracy minded and it was otherwise being debunked as all in the imagination of a paranoid few. Within the decade we found out that the paranoid few were actually the well informed. So, taking that into consideration, I might tend to give credence to much of the most extraordinary theories that I hear. Why not as it can only serve to give me reason to be as careful as I can in sharing. Of course blogging is not exactly the best way to keep your head down, but at least I will not be owning the newest game systems with the camera and on-line links. Between monitoring computers and phones, using cell phones and anti-jacking car systems as GPS locators to track our movements, anything with a camera or microphone to monitor video and listen to our conversations, drilling our children through psychological testing, smart meters and appliances, networked cameras with face recognition software everywhere in public, along with whatever else their tiny little minds can invent to follow, monitor, categorize, analyze, and eventually predict future actions, why get all worked up as the Government will do what Government will do and there is little we can do to prevent them. I would rather know what they are doing than have them do everything serendipitously. Do I approve or like the idea of being under the proverbial microscope? Not really but then I have adjusted to such as after attaining ballot access for the United States House of Representatives, I have very likely been on a watch list for quite some time. Truth be told, major companies have been collecting as much information as they could in order to predict purchasing habits. I realize that this data mining by the Government is far more nefarious and invasive than most would like and it would serve them best to support candidates who will actually curb and rein in the levels of invasive monitoring without a warrant.

 

The real debate concerns exactly where will the Government go with this high level of data being available? If it were just the Government it would be one thing but it is so much more. All the way back in the good old days of the Presidency of Dwight David Eisenhower (the 1950s) the President made a speech with an ominous warning that we are now finding out was quite prescient. President Eisenhower warned that the people needed to be wary of the “Military Industrial Complex” by which he meant the large companies and the Federal Government as well as State and Local Governments. President Eisenhower foresaw a future where a group of too big to refrain companies teamed with the Government in order to apply undue pressure and influence over the public and affect their lives adversely. President Eisenhower feared a future where the Government in partnership with major corporations would have such an ability to control and influence society with such an iron fist that nobody would be beyond their controlling influence and nothing would be private from the snooping and controlling interests and invasions of this out of control behemoth. The one question we all likely have foremost in our minds is, “When will we know for certain that this has gone too far?” One sign might be the availability of a channel where they have a continuous program depicting an evil entity that has been identified as public enemy number 1 and it is advisable that when things are going poorly in your life you should tune to this special channel and yell at public enemy until you feel relieved. OK, so that might be too odd even for government. Well, how about if you begin to notice at most Starbucks there are middle age and older men and women dressed in heavy clothing regardless of the weather and season sitting there endlessly nursing a mocha java mumbling something, almost a whisper. If you get too curious and stand close to one of these poor souls you can hear them repeating slowly, painfully, endlessly, “I love Big Brother.” When these people begin to appear it is too late to worry, it is even too late to run, just join them now and maybe the government will leave you alone.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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