They Can’t Hide Their Prying Eyes

A friend of mine described his recent hiring experience with a medium-large corporation. Normally, in these times, getting a good job with a “good company” should be a cause for celebration. But my friend felt sick to his stomach, and was shaking with fear, and mainly, loathing.

He had been required to fill out a form called a “request for background check”. The title made it sound like it was something he wanted, not something he was being forced to do. While the company insisted it was not required, they did say that if he didn’t fill it out, he would not be hired.

The form had a lengthy disclaimer section, in which it clearly stated that all information received in the process of the background check would be shared with the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service, and the litany of federal bureaucracies went on.

It didn’t take much research to determine what this was about. It is more invasion of privacy by the government, and a technique by which a citizen’s right to privacy can be (further) circumvented by “sharing information” between “consenting parties”.

What’s amazing about the information I’m receiving on the government’s attempts to fulfill the mandate of the officially denied “Total Information Awareness” program is that it seems the government is not satisfied with having just one copy of a piece of information: they want multiple copies! When you look at the broader picture, it’s as if the government is suffering from an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), or hording disorder. They are spending fantastic amounts of (deficit) money collecting the same information over and over again. It’s not just destructive economically and ethically, it’s psychotic behavior.

To put this in perspective, the information is being collected to “protect us from terrorists”. My regular street-check shows that the only party afraid of terrorists is the government, and most of the people on the street find the government’s obsession with terrorism a joke. Most people have already figured out that if terrorists wanted to strike America, we’d have suicide bombers blowing themselves up in malls and fast-food restaurants all over. Few of the people in my street checks believe the government is competent to prevent terror attacks. To the contrary, they don’t credit the government with the capability of doing anything but wasting time and money. Any “shoe-bomber” type terrorist interventions are credited to alert citizens, Airlines, and the like. And, such incidents always have the mark of lunacy about them; the grand schemes are always attached after law-enforcement gets involved.

The picture that is rapidly emerging is one of a corrupt bureaucracy that has run amok, and threatens to be crushed under the weight of the excessive and redundant information it is collecting and hording about its citizens.

Given the degree of invasiveness being reached we can only hope that the self-induced crushing begins soon.

[this article has received the new tag: “The Lockdown of America”]

Class Action Abuse

I received another one of those Class Action Lawsuit notifications. After filing a number of them, and not getting what was promised, and then noticing the trend from being promised cash awards to being promised a pen with advertising on it, or a coupon for $2 at McDonalds, my view of such lawsuits started to change.

At first, the idea seemed good. Lawyers championing the little guy, and filing suits against companies (some big, but increasingly small and unable to fight back) that no individual would ever take on in court. But as time went on, it seemed the suits that were being filed were becoming more and more trivial. And since the lawyers were taking all the booty, and not distributing it as promised, I was rapidly coming to the view that it was abuse of the legal system.

I did what you’ve probably done. I started treating the class action notices as spam, or junk mail, simply throwing them out. Of course, when you do that, you automatically become part of the class (“you need do nothing to participate”). The lawyers get the money for being parasites of the system. But what can you do?

This time I got annoyed, and took some action of my own. I encourage you to do the same when you find yourself in the same position.

The lawsuit was with a company that I’d done business with in the past, of course, but I thought it was a good business. The infraction that was alleged was that they had sent out text messages that were spam to their customers. I remembered receiving the messages and being briefly annoyed at the time. I called them and asked them to stop, and they did. On a scale of one to ten, the annoyance factor of the spam messages was a one.

It seemed clear to me that this was a case of Class Action Abuse. Here’s what I did:

  • I signed the line that excluded me from the class
  • I dated it
  • I put it in the postage paid envelope that was included
  • I put the envelope in the mail

No money for the lawyers from me. I almost felt good supporting the (otherwise decent) business that had spammed me.

Class Action Abuse lowers the quality of our lives by denigrating the legal system, which has already lost my respect due to corruption and cronyism, just for starters. It further reduces the quality of life by making the environment for private business more hostile. The role of the plaintiff lawyers is parasitic, and worse, they have manipulated the system to support their actions by default.

The next time you see Class Action Abuse in your mailbox, stamp it out by opting out of the action. All it takes is your signature in the right spot, the date, and stuffing the bad boy in its’ envelope and sending it on its’ way. By doing so, you’ll have taken a tiny step toward making our sadly broken system just a teensy bit better. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back, and give yourself a three minute break as a reward!

We Hold These Observations to be Self-Evident

I’ve been getting out lately. Talking with folks on the street, in offices, on the job. I’ve been talking to the clear-eyed ones, and tallying up what they see. It’s been interesting.

It’s been bi-partisan and non-partisan, and it hasn’t looked like what we’ve been shown on TV. For starters, I find a lot more Libertarians in the wild than are accounted for in the mass-media view of the world. Not surprising given the state of denial manifested by the press in the early goings of the Republican Primary season. As always, the mainstream media had a great deal of trouble admitting that Ron Paul existed, let alone that he was getting votes. But, I’ve also talked with many people who see the differences between Republicans and Democrats to be like the Emperor’s New Clothes.

The mood on the street is grim. Most of the people I’ve talked to feel that neither Obama nor Romney will be able to save us. They therefore conclude that an economic collapse is coming soon to America, and that the government is too paralyzed by corruption, greed, partisanship, and self-aggrandizement to do anything about it.

“The question isn’t ‘if’, it’s ‘when'”, explained an Information Technology Project Manager. “The question we need to answer is how bad it will be, and how we’ll pick up the pieces when the Federal government collapses”. The Texan brought in the topic of States’ Rights as exemplifying how the Feds have extended their reach beyond their grasp. He pointed out how the Feds are collecting far more personal information than they know what to do with, and agreed with me that it’s some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder. He also pointed out that they (the Feds) would like to think they can lock us down, but that we out-number them, and they might find the military and law enforcement switching sides if they try to crack down on the populace, say, by claiming that we need martial law to protect us from terrorist threats.

Just how much abuse will Americans take from their government? That question was rhetorically posed by the owner of a landscaping business in New Jersey. “I really don’t know” he complained. “It seems like when police break into peoples houses, they could be spread-eagled on the floor with a boot on the back of their neck and a gun pointed at them, and they’d beg for more”. He marveled at how it seems most Americans are willing to give up all their rights so they can remain “in a state of denial”.

A Vice President for Business Accounts at a Nebraska branch of a large national bank said: “when the sh*t hits the fan, nobody’s going to be breaking down _my_ door. I’m heavily armed, and anyone trying to enforce anything on me or my family will wind up full of holes.” He added “I’ve got a good supply of [freeze dried] food stashed away, and several hundred gallons of water.” Like many of those I talked to, he was keenly aware that if an interruption to the food supply chain in America lasted longer than three days, mass hunger would quickly ensue.

A common theme among those I talked to was that things have gotten so bad, the government will not be able to fix them. However, no one had any idea of who or what can. They all seemed to feel it will boil down to every man for himself, in one form or another, and that the future will therefore feature much chaos. The consensus was clear: the government is the cause of the problem, and is unlikely to be a part of the solution.

Ironically, although the views seem very dark and pessimistic in print, the people espousing these views were actually fairly upbeat. They all seemed to think that after the chaos of collapse, we’ll have an opportunity for a fresh start, and, perhaps, avoid the mistakes of the past.

One can only hope they’re right on the last point!

Dark Cloud: Big Brother is Watching Your DropBox

I’ve been working with my iPad and iTouch (an iPhone without the 3Gphone). The apps make frequent use of “The Cloud” for data sharing, export, and backup. Very convenient.

The problem is, the Cloud is like Facebook. While Facebook provides the FBI (and other government spook agencies) convenient access to alphabetized lists of your friends and acquaintances, along with phone number, email addresses, scheduling/calendar info, and more, the Cloud provides easy access to all personal data stored there. Easy access not just for you, but for others like criminals, banks, insurance agencies, and most incredibility (not)  – the Federal Government.

If I were the author of one of those free apps that store data in the cloud, I’d be tempted to take generous payments from the government to provide full access to the data. Wouldn’t you? Of course it’s hush-hush, but it’s all on the up-and-up. After all, it’s the Government, isn’t it? Aren’t they the ones who decide what’s right and wrong? What could possibly be wrong about taking money from the Government?

The Buying Out of American Business

The US Government learned a valuable lesson in the Savings and Loan banking crisis of the 1980’s. When it bailed out the banks, it essentially nationalized them, turning them into stoolies for the government, reporting every transaction over $8,000 and even much smaller transactions that, for any reason, might seem “suspicious”. You don’t suppose that’s been used against anyone in a personal vendetta by a government employee or elected official, do you?

Why stop with the banks? After all, most marketing-savvy businesses are avid collectors of information about their customers and even just hapless prospects. Why not just buy it from them and support big business instead of big government? It almost sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?

“Eyeball Networks” – the ISPs that service Internet consumers – are all picking up on this trend. They’re the ones in the best position to hand off records of all your Internet activities. Comcast charges $800/month to the Feds for each customer the government wants to snoop on. That’s way more money than they make for selling and servicing cable television to consumers, and with TIA (the Total Information Awareness program) is happy to pay with taxpayer dollars.

We learned recently another large ISP is earning millions selling the government the bits of data generated each time a computer looks up a hostname (e.g. on the Internet This includes identifying data such as your IP address.

Why stop there? Feds can simply buy your credit records. And, they can get your cloud data from Apple, Microsoft, DropBox, backup services like Mozy and Carbonite. It’s easy. It’s good for the economies of businesses taking the payoffs. It’s easy for the government.

How are YOU feeling about it? What is your threshold for this kind of abuse?

“My Cloud and Only My Cloud”

If you’ve browsed through this blog site, you know I write a lot about privacy. Enough so you should know, as I do, that we don’t have a shred of it, thanks to the Internet and “Total Information Awareness” by the government in the name of “fighting terrorism” and “ensuring our safety”. Left with the choice of rolling over and accepting that, or making some effort to claim or reclaim some of the rights, like, yes, privacy, that have been stolen from us, I choose the latter. My views are not universally shared. Translation: a lot of people don’t give a damn because their heads are buried so far up where the sun don’t shine. There are entertainment devices there too, no doubt, along with the concomitant snooping devices.

It with the foregoing backdrop that I took some pleasure today in reading a product review on Amazon. The review was for a product that lets you set up your own “cloud storage” on your existing Internet connection without monthly fees, without relinquishing your data as property you posses, and without service agreements that remind you that “authorities” can swoop in and demand access to your data (without you ever being aware of it) at any time. I quote:

I have yet to make the jump to cloud computing, because I guess that I just don’t trust it. I want control of my personal photos and documents and I don’t want anybody peeping in on them unless I authorize them. Oh I know, those cloud people say that everything is secure, but let big brother come along with their paperwork and watch how fast your personal info is shared with them. Then there is the problem of hackers.

— Island Dreamer

Thank you, Island Dreamer. I wish you knew how you cheered me up a bit with that spontaneous bit of backbone you showed. If only… if only…

Paper Shredding: Do’s and Don’ts

Just a reminder that the courts have OK’ed “Dumpster Diving” for Law Enforcement, so that beggarly looking individual going through your garbage could easily be a policeman, detective, FBI agent, or whatever…

When it comes to shredding paper with your name and address or other sensitive information on it, follow these important DO’s:

  • DO avoid stirring up the shreds. This makes it more difficult for Federal agencies to piece them back together.
  • DO take your shreds to your local police station for “recycling” — this will help ensure your shreds are taken directly to the Phillipines with minimum disturbance so they can be more easily pieced together.
  • DO shred only important or “incriminating” information – like bank statements, cash receipts, or voter registration notices: shredding blank paper or packaging materials increases the amount of work required to snoop your shreds.
  • DO bag shreds separately, and keep shreds from each shredding session together. Shred snoops don’t like to handle garbage. Help keep our taxes low by reducing the cost to our government of piecing together your shreds!

Now that we’ve had some sadly ironic fun…

In the particular state I’m in now, folks try to do what’s good for the environment. They try to do what’s right too, but that’s were things often go wrong. After all, some of the greatest damage is done by people trying to “do good”. In this state, there are regular media campaigns encouraging citizens to “bring in their shredded paper” to, of all places, police stations, to have it recycled. It seems no one has questioned this “service” being offered by the police.

Why not recycle it like other recyclables? In the greater metro area, recycling is universally available. In one place we checked out, recyclables are placed in blue bags to separate them from non-recyclable trash. Some communities support “single stream” recycling, where all recyclables are placed in a single recycling container, and the recyclables are separated at the recycling center.

Given this wide availability of recycling, why would one bring their shredded documents, that contained shredded personal information, to the police? I’m sorry, but in a land where the NSA records all phone calls and Internet activity, and then stores it forever, this brings up images of Filipinos who once worked for the FBI and CIA going through the shredded material and meticulously bringing it back to its original state for snooping purposes.

I’d like to find a better explanation, but I can’t think of one.

Occupy Boulder Fail?

Will 2012 be a fail year?

I traveled to the People’s Republic of Boulder, as neighboring Coloradans call it: 10 square miles surrounded by reality. The purpose of my visit was to check in on Occupy Boulder; Boulder City had changed the law to prohibit occupying park space overnight, thus making the Occupy Boulder encampment illegal.

Boulderites, being very politically correct, obeyed the new law immediately, saying (as reported in The Denver Post) that they would focus their efforts during daytime. Only one person was arrested as the encampment picked up and dispersed. However, the Boulder courts are clogged with previous Occupy Boulder arrests, as the crimes involved mandate jury trials under local law. Efforts to change the legal proceedings to alleviate pressure on the local courts have been criticized as being anti-homeless. Which they are. Surprise, surprise.

Streaming live video on Global Revolution, I combed the area looking for evidence of Occupy Boulder. I was threatened by a dealer posing as a Colorado University student, talked with a homeless person denied any knowledge of anything, and obtained a confession from a groundskeeper said the last he’d seen of them was when they moved out the encampment.

The intersection of Broadway and Canyon adjacent the Municipal Building had a beggar with a cardboard sign on each corner. These people are professionals, and I’d given them a wide berth. They don’t take kindly to encroachment of any kind on their territory; when encroachment occurs, violence ensues. The most effective sign these people have wielded is by far the one reading “Need money for beer and prostitutes” (if measured by resultant income). On this occasion, however, one individual was holding a sign that said: “Greed Is Not An Option” with “99%” written in extremely small characters. I asked this one if he had seen any “Occupy Boulder” protesters. He answered “I AM the Occupy Boulder Protestor”.

Please view my interview with him:

Also at YouTube:

Protest History Repeats: American Spring 60’s Style

As I write this, I’m watching it play out on live TV, and the same is happening across the country. It’s a marvelous awaking, but following a tried-and true plot:

Peaceful protesters gather at the local capitol building. They refuse to move. The politicians and/or police allow it for a while, but then feel that it makes them look bad. They try to break it up, first trying to bully the crowd through bull horns. It doesn’t work. Next, they make threats. The people refuse to move. Finally, the police move in, make mass arrests, and cart as many people off to jail as they feel comfortable with “processing”.

People see this on TV, and it makes them even more angry. More and more people join the movement. More show up to protest, taking time away from their home, family, business, or job. The government, wanting to stop the movement, cracks down, and there are more arrests, and more live TV coverage, which goes wall-to-wall.

This is history repeating itself. It’s the same formula as the 1960’s anti-Vietnam war protests, and the civil rights protests of that era. The current crop of politicians, ignorant of the role of government, and the role of people in a democracy as they are, have not learned from history, and now they are doomed to repeat it. They’ve foolishly allowed their ego and greed to trap them, and now they will get what they deserve, just like the corrupt and power-mad dictators in the Middle East are.

I wonder what has been going through the minds of these leaders as they’ve watched the Arab Spring unfold, which should have been as clear a warning as they could possibly have received: there was little time for them to repent and reform their bad attitudes and behavior. But now, that brief moment is past, and the cows are coming home, literally.

We are seeing people-power in action. It is an unstoppable force, as surely as a herd of cows or a flock of sheep. Nothing can stop it. Not throngs of police officers in riot gear armed with tear gas and rubber bullets, not helicopters armed with heavy weapons. Not huge prisons the government has secretly built in remote areas to deal with just such an “emergency”. The people, once mobilized, will prevail.

We are still in the early stages of this movement. However, it is easy to predict that the movement will continue to swell. As long as the protests are met with violence and punitive resistance by the government, the protesters will only be emboldened because their point is simply being underscored unwittingly by the government.

The poor, ignorant fools in power don’t see how closely they resemble the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm. The outcome for them will likely be just as foreshadowed in that book. If you haven’t read it, and want to get the picture of what’s happening, be sure to read it now. Or, if you’re not a reader, watch the animated film.

It is truly an irony that Martin Luther King has only recently been memorialized so close to the temples and monuments to the founding forefathers in Washington DC. Mr. King, more than Facebook and Twitter, is the true enabler of this global movement. He, and those who stand on his shoulders, made it crystal clear that people power is the most awesome force on this planet, and that no amount of violence and repression can prevail against it.

Now, many years after Mr. King’s assassination, his ideas have fully come to fruition on a global scale. It is impressive to see it unfold. Are we seeing what all the predictions concerning 2012 were about in this? Could it be that the cataclysm of 2012 is about mankind confronting itself?

Meanwhile, back on the television set nearby, the police have been loading protestors onto paddy wagons, processing them, and hauling them off to already crowded jails. It’s a muted form of violence, to be sure. But the unrepentant behavior of the corrupted government reminds me of the (paraphrased) words attributed to Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and P.T. Barnum alike: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”. The people, collectively, if not individually, are not fooled by government.

See also:

Wikipaedia article about George Orwell’s Animal Farm

Entire 1954 Animated Film (“sanitized version”; overthrow by second revolution)

Entire 1999 Live Action Film (regime collapses on itself)

Milking the Spooks Who Milk US

I came across this twist while researching invasion-of-privacy by the government.

Communications Companies Milk the Spooks

It’s fairly widely known that the government routinely asks for, and gets, telecommunications information on individuals from communications companies like Internet and telephone service providers. Sometimes these requests are legal (with an accompanying court order), sometimes not. They are almost always complied with. Or, were.

There are two trends in this landscape of communications providers ratting out our activities to the government:

First, communications companies have discovered the are huge profits to be made snooping on citizens for the government. For example, Comcast documents show that after an initial charge exceeding a thousand dollars, the cost per month to snoop on one individual is more than seven hundred dollars.

Second, perhaps to mitigate the increasing costs cited above, the need for law enforcement or government snoops to ask for this information is diminishing as the amount of information amassed by the Total Information Awareness “non-program” increases. The only stumbling point there is gaining access to the NSA‘s mother lode.

Spooks Milk US so They Don’t Have to Go Outside

Meantime, despite the recession, and perhaps to stem the needs to purchase information and instead just keep recording everything and store it forever, the NSA continues to expand it’s capacious data trove:

From: US spooks to build 60 megawatt data center by Timothy Prickett Morgan

According to declassified documents made available by the comptroller’s office for the Department of Defense, the US government’s fiscal 2012 budget includes $860.6m to build a high performance computing center at the NSA’s Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters facility. That is the cost for the facility alone, not the cost of the servers, storage, and networking gear that will inhabit the data center.

From:  NSA to Modernize With Cloud and Crypto Centers by Darlene Storm, Computerworld

NSA’s chief information officer (CIO) Lonny Anderson talked with Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller about the NSA’s mission, the three new state-of-the-art NSA cryptological centers in Hawaii, Georgia and Texas, as well as how efficiencies in IT with the cloud will help modernize the secretive intelligence agency.

NSA’s massive 65 megawatt data center is on 240-acres at the National Guard facility in Camp Williams, Utah. The self sustaining complex will have 1 million square feet of enclosed space with 100,000 square feet of working computer space. It will have its own “water and waste-water treatment plants, power, gas supply, battery backup, visitor-control facilities, vehicle inspection station and perimeter security.” It is supposed to be capable of storing staggering amounts of surveillance data, yottabytes of data . In case your mind does not automatically compute just how mega huge that is, CrunchGear described it as, “There are a thousand gigabytes in a terabyte, a thousand terabytes in a petabyte, a thousand petabytes in an exabyte, a thousand exabytes in a zettabyte, and a thousand zettabytes in a yottabyte. In other words, a yottabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000GB. Are you paranoid yet?”

Anderson said the Utah data center will support the Obama administration’s Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) as well as support the Intelligence Community (IC). It will have new tech and very efficient tech, designed with NSA’s future needs in mind. It will be used to assist Homeland Security, but Anderson said the NSA only helps DHS when asked. The massive data center will help focus on cyber threats to make certain national security networks are protected. All intelligence will “feed” from the data center, meaning the data will be stored in that single data center which will help discover threats in a “near real-time environment.”


Why We Can’t Trust the Government With Our Secrets

Logo of the Information Awareness Office, an a...

Image via Wikipedia

The title of this blog is the problem with the government’s widespread snooping on citizens. The government says it hasn’t implemented the Total Information Awareness Program… but there is plenty of evidence that it has. And that means that everything on the Internet, and all phone calls, are being recorded and archived by the government for data mining. That means anything said during a voice call or done on the Internet could come back to haunt you at any time in the future. And let’s be serious – we’re not just talking crime here. You have to know it will be used for political purposes (e.g. to control citizens).

I want to keep this post focused. So we’ll keep it simple:

Can we trust the U.S. government to keep all the information it amasses about us secret?

According to the government, we can’t.

This sad, but hardly astonishing fact was underscored yesterday in the publication of a memo from Donald Rumsfeld in 2005 while he was Secretary of Defense under President Bush:


Donald Rumsfeld

Donald Rumsfeld Image via Wikipedia


November 02, 2005
FROM: Donald Rumsfeld
SUBJECT: U.S. Government Incapable of Keeping a Secret

The United States Government is incapable of keeping a secret.

If one accepts that, and I do, that means that the U.S. Government will have to craft
policies that reflect that reality.


The actual memo is here.

… that’s short, sweet, and to the point. But if we accept Rumsfeld’s view, then we are in grave danger, and we must consider that any shred of privacy we may have once had, say, a decade ago… is now long gone.

Please see:

U.S. is “Incapable of Keeping a Secret,” Rumsfeld Concluded in 2005
July 15th, 2011 by Steven Aftergood

The Devil in your Cookies
July 15th, 2011 by Rex Latchford