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Pro-privacy folks likened to digital al-Qaida; feds want to ‘blind’ hackers

Aug 11, 20135 mins
Data and Information SecurityHackingMicrosoft

The world is increasingly more dangerous for hackers and privacy advocates; the FBI allegedly would rather teach hackers a lesson, “blind them,” than hire them, and pro-privacy Snowden supporters have been likened to a digital al-Qaida.

Cab drivers participating in “Taxis on Patrol” are like a “Neighborhood Watch on Wheels,” on the lookout for potential suspicious behavior and crimes. Recruiting them for See Something Say Something is not surprising because cabbies see and hear a lot. In fact, one Las Vegas taxi driver who “hates” hackers and called them “awful people,” told CBS Interactive’s Violet Blue that he drove some hacker-hating FBI guys to the security conferences to recruit hackers.

Feds going to security conferences to hire hackers is not surprising, but the taxis driver alleged that this fed said, “They just needed to hire them. But he said they didn’t want to give them jobs. He said he’d rather catch them and teach them a lesson. He said he wanted to blind them.” To which the driver responded with, “I said you should cut their fingers off. That’ll teach them a lesson. The FBI guys liked that one.”

It may or may not be to “teach a lesson,” but it’s no secret that the FBI considers people who value online privacy to be potentially suspicious of terrorist activities. According to a Communities Against Terrorism flyer, the FBI told Internet cafes to consider people suspicious and report them if they “are overly concerned about privacy, attempts to shield the screen from view of others.” Cyber cafe surfers “should” be considered suspicious and potential terrorists if they use “encryption or use of software to hide encrypted data in digital photos, etc.” Other potential terrorist indicators at Internet cafes include “suspicious communications using VOIP or communicating through a PC game” and the “use of anonymizers, portals, or other means to shield IP address.”

That was issued years ago, but apparently people valuing privacy are now likened to a digital al-Qaida. During a cybersecurity speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center, former NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden called whistleblower Edward “Snowden supporters and privacy proponents ‘nihilists, anarchists… twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in a five or six years’.” Hayden speculated that if the U.S. can get hold of Snowden, then his supporters may want to come after the U.S. military networks.

“Hayden wasn’t done yet,” Motherboard reported. “He hadn’t effectively established the symbolic link between pro-privacy activists/hackers and Islamic terrorists. Few self-respecting US officials would miss an opportunity to make the association, thereby broadening the ‘terrorist’ definition.”

“So if they can’t create great harm to dot-mil, who are they going after? Who for them are the World Trade Centers? The World Trade Centers, as they were for al-Qaida,” asked Hayden, equating digital activism with violent terrorist spectacle.

Hayden summed up Snowden supporters as “folks who are very committed to transparency and global transparency and the global web, kind of ungoverned and free.” He added, “I’m just trying to illustrate that you’ve got a group of people out there who make demands, whose demands may not be satisfiable, may not be rational, from other points of view, may not be the kinds of things that government can accommodate.”

Clearly the government can’t accommodate people who want digital privacy or government transparency, but the NSA says, hey, don’t worry about your electronic privacy because the agency only “touches about 1.6%” of the “1,826 petabytes” of data flowing through the Internet daily. The NSA wrote, “Put another way, if a standard basketball court represented the global collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court.”

But “you should care about privacy because if the data says you’ve done something wrong, then the person reading the data will interpret everything else you do through that light,” wrote journalist, activist and author Cory Doctorow. “You should care about dragnet surveillance because it gives cops bigger haystacks with proportionately fewer needles. What we seek is for the authorities to do their jobs well, not simply suck up all the data they can in the hopes that it will be useful, someday.”

It’s not what you say today about digital privacy; it’s what years and years’ worth of your opinions, tweets, and online comments might add up to. About a year ago, it was potentially a terrorist indicator. Last week, pro-privacy Snowden supporters are labeled as digital al-Qaida. What will it be in a year or two?

Jennifer Hoelzer, who formerly worked as deputy chief of staff for Ron Wyden, wrote:

I think it’s awfully hard for the American people to trust the President and his administration when their best response to the concerns Americans are raising is to denigrate the Americans raising those concerns. Because, you see, I have a hard time understanding why my wanting to stand up for democratic principles makes me unpatriotic, while the ones calling themselves patriots seem to think so little of the people and the principles that comprise the country they purport to love.

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.