U.S. says it will not export tools to interfere in politics

Even the cicadas must know by now that the U.S. is engaged in massive collection of data on phone calls, emails, web access, and banking transactions. Those who a week ago were criticized as ‘conspiracy theorists’ for claiming the Government had such massive secret spying programs will now be criticized as  ‘naive’ for not knowing this was going on all along. What more can we say? What can we add that has relevance to elections and election integrity?

Today, there are two articles, an op-ed, and an engaging cartoon in the New York Times:

U.S. Helps Allies Trying To Battle Iranian Hackers <read>
How The U.S. Delved Deeper Via Technology <read>
Your Smartphone is Watching You <read>
The Strip: Secret Agent Smartphone <read>

Restating the Obvious

Internet voting is unsafe and not guaranteed to be secret. Our voting is most vulnerable to insiders.

  • Iranian, Chinese, or Al Qaeda hackers attempting to compromize a U.S. election have a more difficult job changing votes.
  • Foreign and outsider efforts are likely to be detected if they change votes or disrupt a Federal election – detected and reversed or mitigated.
  • I really don’t care if foreign governments or terrorists know who I voted for, not sure they care, few would be intimidated by their potential to find out.
  • But insiders are are another matter. They have an easier job. Their legitimate access and sanctioned unconstitutional or illegal access is less likely to be detected or prosecuted.

We can only suggest that anyone who trusts politicians and other insiders to never use every tool available, or trusts that Internet voting is somehow immune from compromise has a serious case of cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately, when it comes to Internet voting that virus has infected our entire state Legislature. While we are pleased that Connecticut’s entire Congressional Delegation have expressed concerns with the NSA spying, we doubt that they are convinced that Internet voting is unsafe.

Thanks For Small Assurances

In the 1st article, we learn:

Officials pledge that computer hardware and software eventually provided to allied nations will be evaluated to avoid providing the type of defensive systems that also can be used for domestic surveillance or to punish political opponents.

We find nothing particularly surprising in this statement. Yet, for ‘naive’ readers, let me regain the skeptical mantle of ‘conspiracy theorist’ by pointing out:

  • This assurance is presumably given by some of those same “officials” who until a few days ago claimed that the U.S. does not have these secret spying programs, that now claim that they are not a big deal, yet hid their existence and still hide the questionable legal justifications.
  • I’d love to see how systems that allow foreign surveillance can be released that cannot be used for domestic surveillance. For the technically challenged, consider that Saudi Arabia could ‘rendition’ its domestic spying or political manipulation to Japan or South Korea in return for a bit of oil.
  • Are we saving the software that allows domestic surveillance and punishing opponents for our own domestic use?
  • Since it is not mentioned, are we exporting software that could manipulate election results?
  • Would a country that would work to overthrow foreign leaders through a coup, and openly work to change election results, hesitate to punish foreign politicians, or manipulate foreign election results? (Hint e.g.: Google “Chavez Coup CIA”)
  • Would insiders from top leaders, to individuals with  the keys to the kingdom, hesitate to manipulate U.S. elections?

Once again, those who would call this farfetched have little knowledge of U.S. History and the fallibility of human nature. Our Democracy was designed to defeat human nature with checks and balances, with the bill of rights, including transparency, individual privacy, and a subsidized free press.

What Can They Know And How Can They Use It?

The op-ed provides a chilling summary, including:

 It is at least possible to participate in online culture while limiting this horizontal, peer – to – peer exposure. But it is practically impossible to protect your privacy vertically — from the service providers and social media networks and now security agencies that have access to your every click and text and e – mail. Even the powerful can’t cover their tracks, as David Petraeus discovered. In the surveillance state, everybody know s you’re a dog.

And every looming technological breakthrough, from Google Glass to driverless cars, promises to make our every move and download a little easier to track. Already, Silicon Valley big shots tend to talk about privacy in roughly the same paternalist language favored by government spokesmen. “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know,” Google’s Eric Schmidt told an interviewer in 2009, “maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The problem is that we have only one ma jor point of reference when we debate what these trends might mean: the 20th – century totalitarian police state, whose every intrusion on privacy was in the service of tyrannical one – party rule. That model is useful for teasing out how authoritarian regimes will try to harness the Internet’s surveillance capabilities, but America isn’t about to turn into East Germany with Facebook pages.

For us, the age of surveillance is more likely to drift toward what Alexis de Tocqueville described as “soft despotism” o r what the Forbes columnist James Poulos has dubbed “the pink police state.” Our government will enjoy extraordinary, potentially tyrannical powers, but most citizens will be monitored without feeling persecuted or coerced.

So instead of a climate of pervasive fear, there will be a chilling effect at the margins of political discourse, mostly affecting groups and opinions considered disreputable already. Instead of a top – down program of political repression, there will be a more haphazard pattern of politically motivated, Big Data – enabled abuses. (Think of the recent I.R.S. scandals, but with damaging personal information being leaked instead of donor lists.) In this atmosphere, radicalism and protest will seem riskier..

The second article some chilling details:

Accompanying that explosive growth has been rapid progress in the ability to sift through the information. When separate streams of data are integrated into large databases — matching, for example, time and location data from cellphones with credit card purchases or E – ZPass use — intelligence analysts are given a mosaic of a person’s life that would never be available from simply listening to their conversations. Just four data points about the location and time of a mobile phone call, a study published in Nature found, make it possible to identify the caller 95 percent of the time…

Industry experts say that intelligence and law enforcement agencies also use a new technology, known as trilaterization, that allows tracking of an individual’s location, moment to moment. The data, obtained from cellphone towers, can track the altitude of a person, down to the specific floor in a building. There is even software that exploits the cellphone data seeking to predict a person’s most likely route. “It is extreme Big Brother,” said Alex Fielding, an expert in networking and data centers…


  • They can find every candidate we have contributed to. Every email  we have sent. Pretty much every event, protest, or meeting we have attended.
  • Every ‘conspiracy theory’ we have believed or investigated along with ‘naive’ views we have held, every contradictory statement, and link us to others with all sorts of views we may or may not agree with.
  • Every donation, medical condition, every mistake, or misstatement we have ever made.
  • Bad enough that they will know every Facebook post and every (sort of) public statement, but also anything  written or said candidly, casually, or unthinkingly.
  • Are we sure that potential employers or potential friends or allies will not find this information or  be given that information to  harm us or them?

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