Monday Highlights

Good morning.

  1. Of turbulence and wake.
  2. A topic for these guys to look at?
  3. How nice that’s settled now.
  4. Two points of view of the latest meta-data government capture update, here and here.
  5. And here is a roundup of quotes from the Congressional knuckleheads.
  6. An epic recalled.
  7. Grist for the IRS “Somebody rid me of that troublesome priest” discussion (HT).
  8. Careful carver.
  9. The fruits of dishonesty.
  10. Yah, we know what “meta-data” means … apparently it had to be explained to someone.
  11. The cold war revisited.

18 Responses to Monday Highlights

  1. 7.Grist for the IRS “Somebody rid me of that troublesome priest” discussion (HT).

    Quite consistent with my hypothesis, namely a bunch of political groups had risen around the Tea Party meme, the IRS therefore concluded quite rationally that groups calling themselves ‘Tea Party XXX” applying for a status that required them to be mostly non-political should be questioned.

    Very much non-supportive of your hypothesis. Of course if a bunch of new Republican centered political groups suddenly come on the scene, Democrats are going to criticize them. That’s what you’d expect with political groups. Where you have failed is to support the ‘knights hearing the ‘joke” aspect of your analogy. If lots of people are seriously questioning a political group forming ‘shadow groups’ and that same political group suddenly starts applying for apolitical tax status, it does beg to be investigated.

    All you have left is the objection to profiling. Great, except you’ve been an advocate of profiling while Democrats have opposed it.

  2. Boonton,

    If lots of people are seriously questioning a political group forming ‘shadow groups’ and that same political group suddenly starts applying for apolitical tax status, it does beg to be investigated.

    Let’s see. You demonstrated note … when Mr Obama demonized them years earlier … and the IRS went after them after said remarks “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names” “slippery organizations with generic-sounding names” “”benign-sounding Americans for Prosperity, the American Crossroads Fund” are “front groups for foreign-controlled companies.” These are not (in your mind) a call for the IRS to investigate. Unlike your pretense, “Democrats are going to criticize them” … this is a particular Democrat calling on the IRS to investigate them for political purposes.

    I see. The investigation into why the IRS agents actually took it one themselves to become political activists. Your pretense at this point is that they did it independently. Your naivete regarding the motives of Democrats is astounding.

    “nobody knows” who is behind conservative groups … apparently Mr Obama doesn’t understand populism.

    All you have left is the objection to profiling.

    Uhm, no. My objection is that the IRS is to be politically neutral and independent. This is not the case, this is why the President is (ostensibly) “outraged”. Apparently you are blind to that.

  3. I think you’re spinning so hard you’re tripping over your statements.

    when Mr Obama demonized them years earlier … and the IRS went after them after said remarks

    Errr you said the IRS went after groups before the Tea Party rose? Which came first here?

    “slippery organizations with generic-sounding names”

    Hang on, haven’t you followed the story? The IRS did the exact opposite. They created a list of trigger words to be on the look out for. The Tea Party group trying to do an organization called “Happy Children of America Fund” wasn’t being profiled. It was terms like ‘Tea Party’ or ’9/12′ or ‘Patriot’ which have clear connotations politically.

    So your story that the IRS was running with Obama criticism of ‘shadow groups’ fails here. If Obama was criticizing shadow groups whose names were choosen to hide what they were really about, the IRS was creating rules premised on the idea that a group’s name is a good indication of what they are about. Congrats, you just shot your theory of a connection between Obama and the IRS in the foot.

    this is a particular Democrat calling on the IRS to investigate them for political purposes.

    Errr no the article you cite has nothing of the sort. The only IRS mention is the Democratic Party filing a complaint with the IRS alleging that a specific group, Americans for Prosperity, violated its tax exempt status. Charges that pseudo-political groups are inviolation of their tax exempt status has been going on for decades. For example, Republicans spent the 90′s and 00′s demanding the IRS investigate the NAACP status as well. The charge that group X should not have tax exempt status because they have broken the rules has nothing to do with the IRS issue which concerns applications for exempt status by new groups, not the adjucation of charges on existing groups.

    Uhm, no. My objection is that the IRS is to be politically neutral and independent.

    Then you’re against profiling, even though this is a good example of how profiling might lead to more efficient enforcement of the law as it is written. If a new political movement motivates a lot of new groups to suddenly apply for a special status, it makes all the sense in the world to create a profile for spotting such groups for greater scrutiny. How is that any different than, say, creating a profile that says young, Muslim males going to or coming from Pakistan, Yeman, or Somalia should be looked at in more detail than Jewish grandmothers returning from Israel.

  4. 4.Two points of view of the latest meta-data government capture update, here and here.

    A good summary of the NSA program here: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/06/the_nsa_s_phone_call_database_a_defense_of_mass_surveillance.2.html

    A fast summary of what goes down:

    Step 1. Get metadata on all calls from the major carriers. Put them into what is essentially a ‘box’.

    Step 2. Say a raid in Afghanistan uncovers a cell phone in a terrorist camp. Has that cell phone been in contact with people in the US? If so who and when?

    Step 3. Query database, get answers and then go from there depending upon what they are.

    Essentially this is all perfectly legal to do by simply waiting until step 2 and then asking the phone companies to search their database for calls to or from that number. The problem is that, believe it or not, even in this age of cheap data storage the phone companies destroy this data on a regular basis so the idea is if the NSA has a copy of it, they can search it directly whenever they need too.

    The weak spot is the potential for abuse. What’s to stop an analyst, say, from querying the database to get all the numbers her bf has been calling? One answer might be to require the phone companies to preserve their data. But then you may build delays into the system since you’d have to question each phone company and wait for their response (besides, accidents happen, if a flood in lower Manhattan destroys the servers of AT&T and it turns out some clutz accidently overwrote the backup tape in Idaho the data may end up being lost).

    One idea might be to let the judicial branch hold the ‘box’, it can only be queried with a warrant which an analyst would have to get a judge to issue based on probable cause.

    Another idea might be to let a different department hold the box. One with no connections to the analysts querying the box. Queries could come in unrelated to law enforcement (for example, who does the Russian ambassador call every day at 12 midnight?)

    The existence of the box, though, raises the question of whether we can keep it secret. Suppose you’re accused of murdering your wife, you say you’re being framed, she faked her death to run off with her lover. You assert this can be proven by pulling this phone metadata and your lawyer demands a query on your wife’s cell phone calls before and after her supposed death. Could the court or agency deny such a request? Likewise from a historical perspective this is amazing data. Imagine being able to write a biography of Kennedy or Roosevelt and be able to browse this ‘metadata’ from the White House phones of that era?

    What might have to happen is something like the ‘raw data’ from the census. It’s made public every 70 years. Before that it’s essentially impossible to get at unless there’s special cause for a query to run.

  5. 10.Yah, we know what “meta-data” means … apparently it had to be explained to someone.

    Obama critics are a very dishonest bunch prone to veer towards easy to understand (but false) charges over ones that may be less dramatic and more complicated but more truthful. It is important to emphasize that unlike the Bush era tapping, this is not about analysts being able to listen in on calls live. Nor is it even about having a database of recorded calls or messages that could be searched later on.

  6. Boonton,
    I see, you support the straw man argument because your opponent (you pretend) is … well, something. Gotcha. So it’s not a straw man if I pretend (but don’t really believe) that the other side is actually making that point.

    I think you mis-remember the details of the Bush tapping.

  7. It’s a pretty reasonable prediction that discussion will veer towards the easiest tracks possible. In this case the easiest track is to turn the story into “the NSA listens to every phone call, reads every email etc.” ala the CIA headquarters in any given Jason Bourne movie. Since that track in this case is clearly wrong, it’s important to put some road blocks on it before the train leaves the station.

  8. I think you mis-remember the details of the Bush tapping.

    Warrantless listening in on phone calls where one party was in a foreign country. For example, it was reported some analysts amused themselves by listening in on calls made between US troops stationed abroad to their wives and/or gfs.

    In fully domestic cases, the gov’t cannot tap into phone calls without a warrant.

    The ‘metadata’ case does in fact have a warrant to create the ‘box’ but does not require one (it seems) to query the box.

  9. Boonton,

    It’s a pretty reasonable prediction that discussion will veer towards the easiest tracks possible.

    I see. It’s even worse than a straw man argument. It’s straw man with an assumption that your debate partner is mentally challenged. Do you begin to see why conservatives find liberals annoying? BTW, this has got to the be the worlds lamest defense of the straw man argument on the books.

    So, at one point in this discussion I wondered about disconnecting the “who” from the data being researched. Because at the onset, knowing the particulars of who “Mrs Boonton” is is less interesting than the possible links and connections, shopping habits, various social network connections. Once you’ve established via social network links/connections, phone connections, shopping habits, spending habits, and so on that a particular person is interesting … my suggestion that a warrant would be required to find out who is really identified with a particular network ID might be what requires a warrant.

    Question … supposing there are more kids and people with talent who want to put their talents to constructive uses than not … why not make the PRISM data with a net_ID replacing actual identity public in the “cloud” and challenge (reward) people for developing algorithms and dumpster diving that data dump for interesting things. The challenge for NSA would be to make it very hard or impossible to go (without warrant) from net_ID to actual identity. This could be a boon to social scientists and open-sourcing anti-terror defense research may ultimately be more effective than what the NSA is doing behind closed doors.

    In Stephenson’s REAMDE we are informed that the MMORPG being played outsourced TSA-like searches by mapping search to game entities and gamers would be rewarded for identifying interesting targets … except their reward was in-game and mapped to game symbols and the MMORPG host was also being paid by the search clients (TSA). This was unrealistic because once you’ve done the mapping … you’ve done all the hard algorithmic work and the “interesting” target identification becomes probably trivial. But … this has some parallels here, in that this data, once names are removed, has interest … and real money could be paid out to people finding criminals and terrorists.

  10. Boonton,

    For example, it was reported some analysts amused themselves by listening in on calls made between US troops stationed abroad to their wives and/or gfs.

    So, how do you think the meta-data in this case was being abused? Hmmm?

  11. Boonton,
    And … are you good with that? Or do you think there might be a better alternative?

    And do you suffer from the same mental disconnect as the President who on the one hand claims the war in terror is over and on the other explains that we need enhanced government access to our social networks, purchasing and email to combat terror (and that this same access has stopped attacks which are, at the same time, over).

  12. I see. It’s even worse than a straw man argument. It’s straw man with an assumption that your debate partner is mentally challenged.

    A straw man argument presumes an argument. All you have is a statement of fact, which appears to be very true and a very relevant distinction.

    Once you’ve established via social network links/connections, phone connections, shopping habits, spending habits, and so on that a particular person is interesting … my suggestion that a warrant would be required to find out who is really identified with a particular network ID might be what requires a warrant.

    My understanding here is that the network data is the problem. Again using the example of finding a phone in Afghanistan. The phone # might have been used extensively a year ago. At that point simply getting a warrant for all phone company data about calls made or received from that number might be too late. So the gov’t is essentially keeping a copy of the data and using it to research when an issue comes up.

    Question … supposing there are more kids and people with talent who want to put their talents to constructive uses than not … why not make the PRISM data with a net_ID replacing actual identity public in the “cloud” and challenge (reward) people for developing algorithms and dumpster diving that data dump for interesting things.

    I think you overestimate the ability to keep a handle secret. Look at wikipedia stories recently about editors being ‘outed’ by reporters who had a hunch there was something self-interested in their edits. I think if you did this many ‘kids’ would occupy their time trying to crack the net_ID’s rather than find ‘interesting people’. Once you get one or two others would fall pretty fast.

    So, how do you think the meta-data in this case was being abused?

    A lot less easy to ‘abuse’ it. Knowing that phone 570-123-1234 made a call to another phone on July 3 2011 for 60 seconds isn’t quite as fun as reading someone’s email or listening in on their late night calls. If you called your cell phone company and told them you see that number on your bill and want to know how often it showed up, you wouldn’t be shocked if they could answer you. If you asked them to remind you what your wife asked you to pick up for dinner and they answer you, though, it would be a different story IMO.

    And … are you good with that? Or do you think there might be a better alternative?

    You could require the phone companies to keep the data. If a number comes up you’d do a warrant to each one to respond what info they could report about it. Or you could keep the ‘box’ in the hands of a different dept. than the analysis one. Queries could only be done by requests from one dept to another with logs and audit trails.

    And do you suffer from the same mental disconnect as the President who on the one hand claims the war in terror is over…

    He did? I missed that speech. And kind of surprising given the big deal during the election made by Republicans for not being fast enough to call Libya terrorism and with the Boston bombing still fresh….you’d think if Obama did make that statement Republicans would be screaming left and right that terrorism is still here. Care to provide a source for this claim?

    enhanced government access to our social networks, purchasing and email to combat terror (and that this same access has stopped attacks which are, at the same time, over).

    You seem to be confusing the NSA ‘box’ of meta phone data with PRISM as well as some ignorance of networks here. Your Facebook postings are most likely no more visible to the gov’t than they are to Google, neither is your email. Possibly if you did some surfing from a foreign country your postings might have been more visible to Prism as they passed thru servers. Purchasing does not flow through regular internet servers unless it’s encrypted nor does financial transactions. If you connected to your bank account via an internet connection in a hotel in Pakistan, all that would be visible to someone watching servers in the US would be encrypted noise. As I pointed out, discussions tend to veer towards the easier paths but not the right ones. You seem to be inserting the Jason Bourne meme a bit too quickly into the story here.

  13. So it’s not a straw man if I pretend (but don’t really believe) that the other side is actually making that point.

    http://www.fallacyfiles.org/strawman.html

    The straw man fallacy is overdiagnosed (as is ad hominem). The straw man requires two steps:

    1. Set up an argument or position not being made by ‘the other side’ and knock it down.

    2. Declare victory by knocking down the argument in #1.

    Simply making a point that the other side didn’t isn’t sufficient. For example:

    “McDonald’s food tastes like crap”

    “McDonald’s food doesn’t cost much”

    “I never said it’s expensive, that’s a straw man!”

    Not quite. While the accusor never asserted the food was overpriced, it’s fair to defend against the attack by pointing out something positive. So the positive is that the food doesn’t cost much. The defender is leaving himself open the ability to argue that the good quality of being cheap offsets the bad quality of bad taste…or he still has the option to deny the bad taste charge. In that case his argument would become even stronger if he could show the food doesn’t taste bad AND it’s inexpensive!

    To transform this into a straw man, the defender would have to position the counter argument as a knock out blow.

    “It tastes like crap”

    “You are a cruel person to deny to people who don’t have a lot of money to spend an option for a fast and inexpensive lunch!”

    In that case you’d have a better argument for a straw man since the person never said he would deny the option for those who want it nor did he even say the food was overpriced.

    So here we would have to go a bit meta and ask where are these arguments going in terms of context? If we are having a discussion of the best tasting food available, the first example would be non-responsive while the second would be a straw man. If we are having a discussion of eating out options the first is not a straw man since cost is a valid consideration, even if the attacker did not raise it. The second would be a straw man, though.

    In this case we are not having a discussion of just a specific program or tactic. We are having a discussion of the balance between security and privacy and the balance between gov’t being intrusive and gov’t having the ability to use useful tools. Which is what Obama made clear in his statement. In that case it is quite relevant that the NSA warrant or even PRISM didn’t amount to people ‘listening to your phone calls’.

  14. Boonton,
    OK. It isn’t a straw man argument. It’s more akin to noting “we didn’t rape anyone” … when nobody is accusing you of rape.

    He did? I missed that speech.

    Google is your friend.

    Your Facebook postings are most likely no more visible to the gov’t than they are to Google, neither is your email

    So. What data was provided by google and facebook? Metadata on activity, apparently.

    Let’s see, you cite “abuse” of phone conversation of analysts listening to GIs talk to their spouses. Yet fail to imagine how anyone might abuse meta-data. As always failure of imagination on your part is very partisan.

    I think you overestimate the ability to keep a handle secret.

    Huh? Or you figure the only way to fix a handle is the trivial one … and the NSA can’t be clever enough to design a uncrackable handle. Your ideological imagination strikes again.

  15. Google is your friend.

    See this is another example of your inability to be taken seriously. You claimed Obama said the war on terror is over, I ask you for the quote and you give me a right wing column which fails to feature a single actual quote from Obama, let alone one to that effect.

    So. What data was provided by google and facebook? Metadata on activity, apparently.

    Metadata is phone companies and sounds like essentially a communications log between phone numbers (call phone num A to num B 34 seconds…call num c to num a 900 seconds etc.). As far as we know so far, there’s no metadata for goodgle and facebook (what would it be? “10 searches on Tuesday from IP address X. 11 searches from address Y”)

    It sounds like server access was provided for international traffic. So if you were in Spain writing a Facebook message to your friend in England that might have been visible if the packets routed thru a Virgina server because the one in Paris was overloaded at the moment.

    Huh? Or you figure the only way to fix a handle is the trivial one … and the NSA can’t be clever enough to design a uncrackable handle.

    The problem is you’re going have a lot of social data associated with these encrypted handles. If I know handle XYA13244 lives in Chicago, has a blog, associates with several people I might be able to figure out that’s you. If XYA133245 is married to 13244 then I got your wife. From there you can unravel more people and then you’ve cracked the handles. You don’t have crack the encryption used on them, you don’t care about that you care about the connections.

  16. Boonton,
    How do you get “has a blog” from facebook, phone, and google transaction metadata records? You know I “associate with several people” … lots of people in Chicago “associate with several people” …

    How do you get “is married to” from meta-data?

    As far as we know so far, there’s no metadata for goodgle and facebook (what would it be? “10 searches on Tuesday from IP address X. 11 searches from address Y”)

    OK. But data is being retrieved from Facebook and Google. What data?

    See this is another example of your inability to be taken seriously.

    And your inability to google. Seriously. Try it sometime.

  17. Boonton,

    (what would it be? “10 searches on Tuesday from IP address X. 11 searches from address Y”)

    Or it could be network information. Google also does commercial transactions, (google wallet). Amazon? Are they in on this?

  18. How do you get “is married to” from meta-data?

    So what are you encrypting here. Let’s say your Facebook name is encoded as XY123 and your wife is XY124. What will be visible to amateur hackers in this public dump of data? XY123 is married to XY124? Birthdays? Neighborhood where you live? Where you went to HS? If so someone could narrow down XY123 as Mark Olson, which would then reveal the identity of XY124. If XY512 is XY124′s boss then revealing 124′s name reveals 512′s and so on.

    Now if you start stripping out data you can make that exercise very hard. For example if all you know is XY123 sent 100 times the Facebook messages to XY124 than XY512 that will tell you there seems to be a much closer connection between 123 and 124 than 123 and 512. But without location data that becomes very difficult to analyze. If XY124 is in Chicago and so is XY123 that doesn’t seem very interesting. But what if XY123 was working off an anonymous satellite phone somewhere in the badlands of Afghanistan? Or from KGP headquarters in Moscow? That would be very interesting from an intelligence POV.

    But then if you put out location data it may be possible to get to your public identity and then start outing your private information…maybe a few years ago you have a brief Internet fling with XY610…that’s totally irrelevant for national security but amateur hackers might have more fun finding out that type of info than trying to find the lone terrorist among thousands of Facebook connections.

    OK. But data is being retrieved from Facebook and Google. What data?

    Check me on this but it sounds like data going thru Facebook or Google servers where at least one endpoint is a foreign country. That sounds like it could be any email, message, posting. It could also be non-Facebook or Google traffic that’s just riding thru their servers on their way to their final home. Then the question is whether or not such data is being encrypted or not? Things like online banking and purchasing are so communication you do from a Paris hotel that rides over a Google server in the US would just be jibberish if it was ‘sniffed’. Things like Yahoo IM chats are probably not so encrypted.

    And your inability to google. Seriously. Try it sometime.

    1. If you make a claim someone said something, then you should be able to support it. I’m not obligated to do your Google searches for you. You either heard it, or didn’t.

    2. I think this snippet from the 2nd result that comes up says it all:

    The general consensus by American punditry was that Obama has now proclaimed the war on terror is over and, by inference

    In other words, Obama never said what you said he said. You are channelling what pundits ‘inferred’. The difference in reliablity here is roughly akin to comparing an old priest stepping forward and saying your grandfather once confessed to being part of the St. Valentines Day massacre to him versus a ditzy kid with a ouji board claiming your grandfather confessed to it through the board.

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