Friday, July 26, 2013

Final Salvoes

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. -- Amendment IV, U.S. Constitution

Do you regard your Internet passwords as among your "effects?" I do. I would regard anyone who tries to compromise one of them as a burglar, to be resisted by any means necessary. I would insist he be prosecuted even for an unsuccessful attempt.

Apparently, the federal government differs with me:

The U.S. government has demanded that major Internet companies divulge users' stored passwords, according to two industry sources familiar with these orders, which represent an escalation in surveillance techniques that has not previously been disclosed.

If the government is able to determine a person's password, which is typically stored in encrypted form, the credential could be used to log in to an account to peruse confidential correspondence or even impersonate the user. Obtaining it also would aid in deciphering encrypted devices in situations where passwords are reused.

"I've certainly seen them ask for passwords," said one Internet industry source who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We push back."

A second person who has worked at a large Silicon Valley company confirmed that it received legal requests from the federal government for stored passwords. Companies "really heavily scrutinize" these requests, the person said. "There's a lot of 'over my dead body.'"

Some of the government orders demand not only a user's password but also the encryption algorithm and the so-called salt, according to a person familiar with the requests. A salt is a random string of letters or numbers used to make it more difficult to reverse the encryption process and determine the original password. Other orders demand the secret question codes often associated with user accounts.

A Microsoft spokesperson would not say whether the company has received such requests from the government. But when asked whether Microsoft would divulge passwords, salts, or algorithms, the spokesperson replied: "No, we don't, and we can't see a circumstance in which we would provide it."

Google also declined to disclose whether it had received requests for those types of data. But a spokesperson said the company has "never" turned over a user's encrypted password, and that it has a legal team that frequently pushes back against requests that are fishing expeditions or are otherwise problematic. "We take the privacy and security of our users very seriously," the spokesperson said.

Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, AOL, Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast did not respond to queries about whether they have received requests for users' passwords and how they would respond to them.

If the major Internet service providers are resisting successfully, I applaud, and encourage them to keep up the good fight. But the federal government is relentless. Refuse it once, and it comes back a second time, with incentives in hand. Refuse it again, and it comes back a third time, usually with a fistful of threats.

We are looking at the extinction of all privacy in communications.

This massive invasion of Americans' paltry remaining privacy is, of course, being argued for on the grounds of "national security."

I wrote just a few weeks ago about the pernicious nature of "national security" laws and institutions. In particular:

    For purposes of this subsection, the term "transnational threat" means the following:
    (A) Any transnational activity (including international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the delivery systems for such weapons, and organized crime) that threatens the national security of the United States.
    (B) Any individual or group that engages in an activity referred to in subparagraph (A).

[Sections 101.i.5 (A), (B)]

Note that the enumerated "transnational threats" are not all the "transnational threats." More strikingly, though the terms "national security" and "national security interests" occur innumerable times in the text of the Act, the "national security" and "national security interests" of the United States are never defined.

Liberty's Torch not being a terribly popular site, I didn't expect to stimulate a torches-and-pitchforks charge up the hill of our Imperial City. I got far less than that: a bare handful of persons read the piece and only two bothered to comment.

I can't imagine why. Isn't this rather important? Will it become important, now that your online hijinks are threatened by federal snoopery?

The "security state" isn't terribly new. It goes back at least to 1947. In the sixty-six years since then, the encroachments of the federal government on the previously unassailable rights of Americans have advanced steadily, without a single setback.

Hearken to William Pitt, in his heyday known as the Great Commoner:

Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

"National security" has been the "necessity" of our era. Spies? Terrorists? Persons making off with our precious bodily fluids? Clearly we must erect a regime of infinite power, authorized to know everything, to go everywhere, and to detain and interrogate anyone, on the merest hint of a threat. No one is above suspicion! Rights? Bah! Don't you know there's a war on?

The irony embedded in the thing is so tremendous that I'm almost embarrassed to note that in no sense, by no one's definition of the critical terms, is our nation "secure:"

  • Enemy agents penetrate our borders with ease.
  • Enemy agents steal our military and technological secrets with impunity.
  • So do the agents of some of our allies.
  • The "security rules" imposed upon most federal contractors are a great help to such agents: They tell them how to identify valuable materials and secrets, where they're stored when not in use, and what sort of job to pursue to gain unrestricted access to them.
  • Several organs of our federal government even collaborate with the nations that dispatch such agents to steal from us.

Pretty bad, eh? But the Ace kicker is this: The men who control the security agencies are aware of all of it, and are essentially untroubled by it.

How do I know? Well, let's say I have my reasons. But for confirmation, you need only reflect on this: despite the massive failure of the security state to achieve even the least of its overt objectives, there have been no changes in its key provisions or methods since it was first established.

Let that sink in for a moment.

"When men fall for some piece of vicious insanity, with no way to make it work and no reason to explain their choice -- it's because they have a reason they do not wish to tell." [Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged]

I expect it won't be long before the FBI approaches Google or Microsoft with "an offer you can't refuse." The rationale will be that the feds are absolutely positive that one of the target company's subscribers is a terrorist, but they can't be certain which one without being enabled to monitor every byte of every subscriber's Internet activity. Should the target refuse to comply, it will develop that some obscure provision of the National Security Act empowers the feds to take over the entire company and run it as they please. Alternately, a federal charge of some sort could be leveled against the top officers of the company. Remember, "the process is the punishment:" even a successful defense against such a charge can cost millions of dollars and terminally disrupt one's life.

Will a terrorist be discovered in this manner? Will a destructive act be forestalled? The feds won't be overly concerned with that. Nor will they be much interested in withdrawing their antennae from your online frolics.

Only two days ago, I wrote that:

...the subjugation of a free people -- their conversion from citizens to subjects -- requires that the State assume unchallenged authority over three things: communications, education, and weaponry. The latter two are now firmly in the State's hands; only the first remains largely unfettered.

That exception won't last much longer.

UPDATE: Scott Chaffin offers a technological approach to conserving at least some of our Internet privacy.


robins111 said...

Good post, and great points.. kudos

Anonymous said...

We're screwed.

There's gonna be a fight.

Let's win.

Keep writing, Fran. You get it.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps sometimes you don't get much back in the way of comments because your readers feel that you have hit the nail on the head and that there isn't anything they can say that you haven't said better.

The only thing I can say that you missed out on is that there are a couple of things the ordinary individual can do to at least make it more difficult for them. 1) use TOR for web browsing it makes it difficult for anybody to follow what you are doing on the internet, and 2) use PGP encryption for as much e-mail as you can. Even if you don't plan on using PGP encryption go ahead and download it now before there are versions out there with a back door.

The more the general public uses these methods the less able the government is to spy on anybody's internet presence because the more resources the government has to devote to just the first phase of intelligence gathering; determining what they want to decrypt or gain access to the less they have for other things.

Anonymous said...

Fran -

I got out of line once, and you rightly called me on it. I apologized to the individual (Mark - who forgot) as well and asked his forgiveness, as I ask yours.

I read your site every morning - early - after my usual devotions.

You have a unique capacity to capture the gravitas of what is happening now. While it is discomforting to say the least, there is also much good in knowing what one faces.

I wear two hats, as you may remember, (and sin under both) and it often causes me to be torn between the two in the issues you raise.

I'd like to talk with you more at length. You are making more sense than anyone else online right now, and I'd like to pick your brain, if I might. Advance thanks - jb

Crustyrusty said...

I hope people saved their 56k hard modems.

Mike Austin said...

Dear Fran:

I have read you almost daily for years. As another commenter has written, you get it. You do more good than you might know. Be well.

---Mike Austin (aka “The Return of Scipio”)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sir, for calling it as it is.

Redleg said...

Every day something new surfaces that makes me say to myself it can't get any worse than this (as far as the governments misdeeds are concerned)...and then every day something else surfaces...and I feel like I'm living in an episode of the Orwellian Twilight Zone.

Thanks for shining light on the ongoing government abuses and for your cogent commentary on every new excess!

Malcolm Hays said...

And as I said in my comment to the previous post on National Security, how long will it be until our Lords and Masters demand we submit to their decrees "for the good of the State", without any other explanation given?

If they are able to steal our passwords online, then we have NO recourse other than the unthinkable to reclaim our lost liberties. They will monitor us and prosecute us until the world described in 1984 really will become a true utopia by comparison.

Anonymous said...


I read your offerings every day that you post them. Normally you leave me nothing to say but, "Well said!"

Today is no exception.

I am suffering from exhaustion though- there are so many, many things wrong with this country that I love- that it's wearing me down.

Now I'm just trying to get by, day by day. How many times can I call John Boehner to tell him he's a worthless POS? It never seems to result in his growing a backbone. The repubs are just like the dems & there's no one going to jail for all the multitudinous crimes that have been committed.

If you have some solutions, please post them. I really don't have anything left to offer.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding as usual Francis. I never comment because my intellect doesn't match yours and even if it did I could never relay my thoughts in such an eloquent style as you utilize. Blessings.


furball said...

"Perhaps sometimes you don't get much back in the way of comments because your readers feel that you have hit the nail on the head and that there isn't anything they can say that you haven't said better."

Basically, ditto. And I only add the "basically" so as not to sound too terse.

Anonymous said...

How much longer will our nation, those that believe in liberty, allow this to continue? I do not want a civil war, with modern weapons, but it is becoming quite clear that there will be war...or we, as a nation, will roll over passively and accept slavery.

Anonymous said...

After the first one, the rest are free. Shoot, shovel, and shut up.

KG said...

" is becoming quite clear that there will be war...or we, as a nation, will roll over passively and accept slavery."
All across the West, people will roll over and accept slavery.
Generations of soft living have ensured that outcome.
Of course, there's always the chance that an unexpected spark will set off a chain reaction, but it's a long shot.

StukaPilot said...

The un-collectivized part of the population has millions of light weapons and plenty of ammunition. As to the heavier stuff, when the Ponzi collapses, the military too will fragment. The ZOGlobalists know this well, and that's why they so desperately grab at everything in the present. As far as the Gubmint knowing my thoughts goes, they are welcome to them. Washington DC, and all who dwell therein: you stink of death, and that will be your wages.

Magnus said...

Honestly (and I say this with respect), I usually don't comment because I know that it won't foster a discussion. It appears that you are loathe to reply to a comment (and I understand, for you do have a life outside of blogging), but I sometimes comment and ask questions to only hear the sound of (digital) crickets.

That being said, you're one of my daily reads, and you do not realize how valuable you really are to your readers. Plus, you exhort us to pray. I am truly happy that you decided to continue blogging. Really.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Magnus, the reason I rarely comment here is because I regard the comment section of Liberty's Torch as the readers' preserve. After all, I've got the whole "above-water" blog to blather in, so I leave this domain to you.

It's true that not many extensive discussions occur here. I sometimes wonder why. Whatever the case, by all means keep coming back, and keep commenting; some comments have germinated ideas for future essays, and all comments reflect a concern with the topic at hand -- a high sign to other readers that here might be something worth their time and attention.

Mark Alger said...

I might offer this glimmer of hope, though I have no idea of the odds for or against.

When you fight the government,you don't have to fight the whole thing. What you have to fight is one bureaucrat in one office with one budget.

Make an example of the first one and the next one may be reluctant to follow on.

Remember that the law is on your side. The Supreme Law of the Land (says so right there on the side of the box) says the gummint ain't allowed to do that, it doesn't matter what Congress has to say to the contrary. And especially not administrative regulation or executive order.

The bureaucrat -- the one giving the orders -- is liable for civil rights violations and there is no such thing as sovereign immunity. The penalties are severe, and if the local USA won't prosecute (probably not), he, too is liable.

You have the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances and a Ninth Amendment right to assert any right you please.

Now. The challenge becomes to find a lawyer you can afford who will argue your case successfully.

Disclaimer: I have yet to try this. Let's you and him fight.


Magnus said...


"All across the West, people will roll over and accept slavery. Generations of soft living have ensured that outcome."

That's one of my big fears. As I mentioned in a previous post's comment, half the nation is hopelessly ignorant, stupid, or left-wing (or a lively combination of the three), and they aren't going anywhere (nor will they be quickly converted). Unfortunately, most conservatives (i.e. conservative liberals) aren't much better.

The Tea Party, while admirable in its own right, also demonstrates your statement. They railed against government spending, but when asked what they would actually cut, they wanted to keep their entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security, oh and let's not forget massive, unchecked war spending. Well, just what do they want to cut if not the biggest expenditures and the largest drivers of our debt?!

My point being that even a large number of what we would call Conservatives would never truly want to stop suckling our wet-nurse mammy Government. Maybe I'm being too hard here (I don't mean to be negative), but my point is that there is almost no one who is willing to go back to true constitutional government.

Hard times are indeed a'comin. In the words of CA, "Let's win."

pdwalker said...

I read, and I think about what you've written.