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June 8th, 2013

Big Brother Now Controls Your Telescreen

Friday FOSS Week in Review

Apple trumps Microsoft’s product placement

We had to laugh last Friday night while watching a rerun of Hawaii Five-0 on CBS–a show we don’t normally watch. Pretty close to the beginning, in what was an obvious example of paid product placement by Microsoft, the Five-0 crowd whipped out their tablet computers, which were probably Surface Pros, but we’re not sure. We’re not really up-to-par in our knowledge of the Windows tablet category.

We do know it was Windows, however. The camera lingered on the GUI formerly known as Metro. That was followed by a lot of gee-whiz swiping and hey-look-at-this-app sort of stuff; then some Skyping–making sure the Skype logo was noticeable.

It was a pretty impressive non-ad until they cut to a commercial. The first ad up–Apple. An iPhone ad. How cool it is. Plays music and all that. It looked a lot cooler than the “made for business” Windows tablets. But not as cool as a Galaxy or a Nexus.

Twenty-nine years after 1984

We don’t want to go all negative on you, but this job we’ve given ourselves here at FOSS Force to “keep tech free” keeps getting harder and harder all the time. In fact, right now, it’s looking damn near impossible. If it’s not the feds screwing around with the press, it’s the feds timing your phone calls while paying attention to the numbers you dial or that dial you. If not that, it’s the feds tapping into every server on the planet watching and listening to everything you do, hear and say, in real time.

It’s always the feds, and they’re always doing it to protect you. In fact, you shouldn’t even be worried. They’re not even watching you, because you’re a U.S. citizen. It’s those godless people overseas, or up in Canada, or down in Mexico. For the time being, you’re being ignored.

In the latest round of domestic spying, first it was the Associated Press under fire. Although it now seems like a lifetime ago, it was only a few weeks back that we learned the feds had obtained “secret” subpoenas for the records of a slew of Associated Press phone lines, including reporters’ cell phones and some fax lines.

The feds, of course, claim this was completely necessary–that it’s their duty to turn over every single rock in America so long as a terrorist might be hiding behind or under it. Besides, they knew exactly what they were doing and were acting with precision, as this item published by The Peacock Network proves:

“Schultz said the subpoena for a Washington phone line that had been shut down years ago raises questions about assertions by Deputy Attorney General James Cole, in a letter last week, that the subpoenas were narrowly crafted and only issued after a ‘comprehensive investigation’ that included over 550 interviews and reviewing tens of thousands of documents.”

Schultz would be David Schulz, chief lawyer for the AP.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to get good and riled up about this. Before we could, the Brit press–those godless foriegners–attacked us with all they had when The Guardian reported this week that the feds had been looking at our phone calls. They hadn’t actually been listening or anything, they’d just been turning the egg timer over to see how long we were on the phone–and checking to see who might be at the other end of the connection.

Except they weren’t doing that either. It seems they weren’t really looking at these things; they weren’t allowed to do that. They were just getting the records, sight unseen, so they could store them away somewhere in case they needed them. We were not-to-worry, they couldn’t look at this stuff without getting another court order.

“The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

“The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

“The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.”

It was just for three months. It was just a little thing. What’s the problem? Don’t you want to stop terrorism? We were all ready to reply, “Yes, we do. We don’t want dinosaurs eating our children either. Do whatever you have to do.”

Before we could, however, we learned that the little three month part of the story was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It seems there had been an uninterrupted string of three month periods going back seven years. Not only that, we learned that President Obama, the nice fellow we elected to straighten out all the Orwellian things Cheney had ordered Bush to do in our name…we learned he’d approved all of this and thinks it’s just peachy keen. We were surprised when he spoke of this that he said nothing about when we might expect the trains to run on time.

“A White House spokesman said that laws governing such orders ‘are something that have been in place for a number of years now’ and were vital for protecting national security. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said the Verizon court order had been in place for seven years. ‘People want the homeland kept safe,’ Feinstein said.”

Oh yeah, Diane Feinstein. A long time ago we quit expecting her to know better about anything.

In God We Trust

In God We Trust

At this point of the story the world seemed to be turning into that Bob Dylan song from Highway 61. We knew there was something going on around here, but did not know what it is, when we learned that The Guardian and The Washington Post were both sounding the alarm on PRISM, which is evidently pretty much the government eavesdropping on anyone they please, through their chats, through their email, through VoIP, through video conferencing, through just about any way people use the computer through services like Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

Those guys–Google, Facebook and Yahoo–all denied it ever happened. Not on their watch. Not on their servers. But Obama was on the radio all afternoon pretty much admitting it was true. We’re not supposed to worry, however. It’s just the godless foreigners who’re being targeted. And if the godless foreigners are living in the United States, they’re safe too. U.S. soil is evidently some kind of base, like in baseball.

We found this to be particularly disturbing. We remember the stories we’ve been trying to forget about the huge data center the feds are building that will be so massive it’ll be able to store practically every single thing that happens on the Internet. We don’t like thinking about that, because we gave up having real lives a long time ago in order to live on the Internet. Now we understand the Internet is a lot like Toon Town, and none of us are safe.

But wait! The Washington Post is now backing down, according to Forbes:

“The original text:

Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

“Now reads as:

Congress obliged with the Protect America Act in 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which immunized private companies that cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence collection. PRISM recruited its first partner, Microsoft, and began six years of rapidly growing data collection beneath the surface of a roiling national debate on surveillance and privacy. Late last year, when critics in Congress sought changes in the FISA Amendments Act, the only lawmakers who knew about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.”

So they made a few changes. So what? Oh, there’s more:

“The original:

“The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley.

“The updated:

The technology companies, whose cooperation is essential to PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley, according to the document.

It looks like the Inner Party has that Outer Party hack Winston Smith hard at work on his rewrites, eh?

We don’t know what to make of all of this except that it’s true. You can try to discredit those of us who are legitimately concerned about this kind of activity all you want by calling us paranoid, but that won’t change the fact that the people in our governments are no longer necessarily people who have our best interest in mind.

According to them, there are terrorists under every rock and they only do the things they do to protect us. Today we heard Obama on the radio, saying something like, “You can’t have safety from the terrorists without giving up your privacy.”

He also said something like, “If you can’t trust the executive branch, if you can’t trust Congress and the courts, then we have a problem…”

To which we reply, “Mr. President, you are correct. We do have a problem.”

We were not born into a world in which we expected our every move to be watched. We were not born into a world in which we expected to be controlled by our governments. The parents of our generation fought to make sure that we would not be ruled by tyranny.

Somewhere, somehow, sometime in our lifetime something went drastically wrong and we’ve completely lost control of our lives and our communities. We are now ruled by people who claim to know better than us and who show us the same patronizing face that a doctor in a mental ward shows a patient when that patient tries to assert him or herself whenever we try to sound the alarm.

There was a lot of news in the FOSS world this week, but it got pushed aside by George Orwell and Yevgeny Zamyatin speaking from the grave. If free and open source software is being used against us, then it’s not free. Indeed, it comes with quite a price.


Until next week, may the FOSS be with you…

Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

3 comments to Big Brother Now Controls Your Telescreen

  • I’ve been saying for a long time that my Dad’s generation failed to kill enough Fascists.

  • P Smout

    Blwwdin Yanks thinking they can police the world agian, LEAVE ME ALONE! I am not a US citizen have no wish to even visit your country how am I a security risk? Delete all data on me and I will not take you to court under my countries (the UK) Data Protection Act. And surely if I have to abide by your countries laws Uncle Sam should abide by my countries laws thats only fair.

    Leave me alone, I am no risk to you yet your country is a risk to me, as now my data is on federal servers, and we all know how safe that is!

  • P Smout, if you think it looks bad from where you sit, think of how it looks from here. Evidently, our government still recognizes the sovereignty of other nations. That’s why we use drones. Somehow our government has come to the conclusion that whenever we attack with drones, it’s not an act of war. That would explain a lot about Germany’s actions against London back in the day, eh?

    Ross, Yup. The sad thing is, if we replaced Obama with someone from the other party, the situation would rapidly get much worse, I’m afraid.