Essays Tagged "Atlantic"

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Why the NSA's Defense of Mass Data Collection Makes No Sense

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • October 21, 2013

The basic government defense of the NSA’s bulk-collection programs—whether it be the list of all the telephone calls you made, your email address book and IM buddy list, or the messages you send your friends—is that what the agency is doing is perfectly legal, and doesn’t really count as surveillance, until a human being looks at the data.

It’s what Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper meant when he lied to Congress. When asked, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” he replied, “No sir, not wittingly.” To him, the definition of “collect” requires that a human look at it. So when the NSA collects—using the dictionary definition of the word—data on hundreds of millions of Americans, it’s not …

How the NSA Thinks About Secrecy and Risk

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • October 4, 2013

As I report in The Guardian today, the NSA has secret servers on the Internet that hack into other computers, codename FOXACID. These servers provide an excellent demonstration of how the NSA approaches risk management, and exposes flaws in how the agency thinks about the secrecy of its own programs.

Here are the FOXACID basics: By the time the NSA tricks a target into visiting one of those servers, it already knows exactly who that target is, who wants him eavesdropped on, and the expected value of the data it hopes to receive. Based on that information, the server can automatically decide what …

The NSA-Reform Paradox: Stop Domestic Spying, Get More Security

The nation can survive the occasional terrorist attack, but our freedoms can't survive an invulnerable leader like Keith Alexander operating within inadequate constraints.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • September 11, 2013

Leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden have catapulted the NSA into newspaper headlines and demonstrated that it has become one of the most powerful government agencies in the country. From the secret court rulings that allow it to collect data on all Americans to its systematic subversion of the entire Internet as a surveillance platform, the NSA has amassed an enormous amount of power.

There are two basic schools of thought about how this came to pass. The first focuses on the agency’s power. Like J. Edgar Hoover, NSA Director Keith Alexander has become so powerful as to be above the law. He is able to get away with what he does because neither political party—and nowhere near enough individual lawmakers—dare cross him. Longtime NSA watcher James Bamford recently …

The Only Way to Restore Trust in the NSA

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • September 4, 2013

I’ve recently seen two articles speculating on the NSA’s capability, and practice, of spying on members of Congress and other elected officials. The evidence is all circumstantial and smacks of conspiracy thinking—and I have no idea whether any of it is true or not—but it’s a good illustration of what happens when trust in a public institution fails.

The NSA has repeatedly lied about the extent of its spying program. James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has lied about it to Congress. Top-secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, and reported on by the …

The Real, Terrifying Reason Why British Authorities Detained David Miranda

The scariest explanation of all? That the NSA and GCHQ are just showing they don't want to be messed with.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • August 22, 2013

Last Sunday, David Miranda was detained while changing planes at London Heathrow Airport by British authorities for nine hours under a controversial British law—the maximum time allowable without making an arrest. There has been much made of the fact that he’s the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter whom Edward Snowden trusted with many of his NSA documents and the most prolific reporter of the surveillance abuses disclosed in those documents. There’s less discussion of what I feel was the real reason for Miranda’s detention. He was ferrying documents between Greenwald and Laura Poitras, a filmmaker and his co-reporter on Snowden and his information. These document were on several USB memory sticks he had with him. He had already carried documents from Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro to Poitras in Berlin, and was on his way back with different documents when he was detained…

The NSA Is Commandeering the Internet

Technology companies have to fight for their users, or they'll eventually lose them.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • August 12, 2013

Danish translation

It turns out that the NSA’s domestic and world-wide surveillance apparatus is even more extensive than we thought. Bluntly: The government has commandeered the Internet. Most of the largest Internet companies provide information to the NSA, betraying their users. Some, as we’ve learned, fight and lose. Others cooperate, either out of patriotism or because they believe it’s easier that way.

I have one message to the executives of those companies: fight.

Do you remember those old spy movies, when the higher ups in government decide that the mission is more important than the spy’s life? It’s going to be the same way with you. You might think that your friendly relationship with the government means that they’re going to protect you, but they won’t. The NSA doesn’t care about you or your customers, and will burn you the moment it’s convenient to do so…

Mission Creep: When Everything Is Terrorism

NSA apologists say spying is only used for menaces like "weapons of mass destruction" and "terror." But those terms have been radically redefined.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • July 16, 2013

One of the assurances I keep hearing about the U.S. government’s spying on American citizens is that it’s only used in cases of terrorism. Terrorism is, of course, an extraordinary crime, and its horrific nature is supposed to justify permitting all sorts of excesses to prevent it. But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning: mission creep. The definitions of “terrorism” and “weapon of mass destruction” are broadening, and these extraordinary powers are being used, and will continue to be used, for crimes other than terrorism.

Back in 2002, the Patriot Act …

What We Don't Know About Spying on Citizens: Scarier Than What We Know

The NSA's surveillance of cell-phone calls show how badly we need to protect the whistle-blowers who provide transparency and accountability.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • June 6, 2013

French translation
Russian translation
Finnish translation

Yesterday, we learned that the NSA received all calling records from Verizon customers for a three-month period starting in April. That’s everything except the voice content: who called who, where they were, how long the call lasted—for millions of people, both Americans and foreigners. This “metadata” allows the government to track the movements of everyone during that period, and build a detailed picture of who talks to whom. It’s exactly the same data the Justice Department collected about AP journalists…

Transparency and Accountability Don't Hurt Security—They're Crucial to It

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • May 8, 2013

As part of the fallout of the Boston bombings, we’re probably going to get some new laws that give the FBI additional investigative powers. As with the Patriot Act after 9/11, the debate over whether these new laws are helpful will be minimal, but the effects on civil liberties could be large. Even though most people are skeptical about sacrificing personal freedoms for security, it’s hard for politicians to say no to the FBI right now, and it’s politically expedient to demand that something be done.

If our leaders can’t say no—and there’s no reason to believe they can—there are two concepts that need to be part of any new counterterrorism laws, and investigative laws in general: transparency and accountability…

Do You Want the Government Buying Your Data From Corporations?

A new bill moving through Congress would give the authorities unprecedented access to citizens' information.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Atlantic
  • April 30, 2013

French translation

Our government collects a lot of information about us. Tax records, legal records, license records, records of government services received–it’s all in databases that are increasingly linked and correlated. Still, there’s a lot of personal information the government can’t collect. Either they’re prohibited by law from asking without probable cause and a judicial order, or they simply have no cost-effective way to collect it. But the government has figured out how to get around the laws, and collect personal data that has been historically denied to them: ask corporate America for it…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.