Friday links! And dot-com the wolves edition

A federal contractor performs a routine stop to listen to your voicemails.

A federal contractor performs a routine stop to listen to your voicemails.

Let us say, just for a second, that someone invented technology that allowed everyone on Earth to communicate with one another almost instantaneously. People could use this marvelous machine to say anything they wanted, and they could say it to just one person or broadcast their ideas all over the world. You couldn’t use it to exert force or shoot lasers or anything; the machine could only convey speech and the written word, plus pictures. Approximately 20 years after this machine is invented, a government announces it has the right to record and read, at its leisure, everything everyone uses the machine to say. It must do so to protect freedom. Does this government sound democratic to you? Today is Friday, and the wolves have come out. Won’t you shiver in the vast field of prey with me?

As I write this, President Obama is delivering a speech that describes his proposed overhaul of NSA data collection programs. He’s not rolling them back quite so far as his advisory committee recommended, but neither is he leaving them exactly as-is. He is likely to add to surveillance courts a sort of devil’s advocate who argues against government requests for information. He also agrees that having the government store metadata on virtually all US phone calls is not appropriate. But telecommunication companies don’t want to hold that information, either, so until a third party can be contracted, the feds will keep doing it. Don’t worry, though—they won’t abuse that power. And if you see the guy who told us they were exercising that power in the first place, please tell them so we can put him on trial for treason.

The world is a henhouse, and the foxes in our executive branch promise to guard it as best they can. The Guardian continues to release information from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who has revealed that the NSA collects almost 200 million text messages a day. They’re only looking at metadata from those messages, though, because to read the contents of those sent by US citizens would be illegal without a warrant. That’s why internal notes remind analysts to be sure to click a toggle when they search. Quote:

The note warns analysts they must be careful to make sure they use the form’s toggle before searching, as otherwise the database will return the content of the UK messages—which would, without a warrant, cause the analyst to “unlawfully be seeing the content of the SMS.”

The form defaults to showing the content of all messages in a search, because it assumes you have a warrant for everyone. But don’t worry—the NSA is really careful not to do anything illegal.

Not that we need an overreaching government to mess with our telecommunications. The profit motive can do the same thing much more efficiently, and without reading your emails to Mom. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s open internet rules, effectively foxing net neutrality. Internet service providers can now charge fees to make some websites load more quickly than others, disable applications and block content on their own networks, and generally make the internet the kind of pay-for-play, centrally administered communications platform futurists hoped it would be. Note, though, that the court did not strike down net neutrality itself. It merely ruled that the FCC does not have the power to enforce it, since in 2002 the agency determined that ISPs were not “telecommunications services.” So net neutrality could come roaring back; all the FCC needs to do is ignore the demands of the second-largest industry lobby in Washington.

Get ready for some long load times, because I can tell you right now that Combat! blog is not going to pay for Internet Premium. It’s moments like this when I long for a simpler time. Fortunately, the Onion AV Club is there to cater to my mid-thirties nostalgia with the 1995 edition of its Fear of a Punk Planet feature. Much of it centers on …And Out Come the Wolves, the Rancid album that never, ever gets old no matter how many times you listen to it. Both thematically and historically, it’s about the moment when a scene turns ugly. Or we just bring that reading to it ourselves, and it’s actually about nothing; you can never tell with Tim Armstrong. But I prefer the freighted interpretation. As a younger Tim Armstrong once said, take warning.


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