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back to article Snowden speaks: NSA spies create 'databases of ruin' on innocent folks

Ex-NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden used his first public Q&A to call for the US to lead a global initiative to ban mass surveillance of populations. He also wants governments to ensure that intelligence agencies can protect national security while not invading everyday privacy. "Not all spying is bad. The …

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Targeted surveillance is pretty much the old-school way of doing things. The plods get some tip-off from the public, get a warrant and do some wire tapping etc. The critical factor is that you need someone being vigilant enough to give the tip-off. No tip-off and the whole chain does not happen.

The whole point of mass surveillance is that it does the data mining for you and generates the tip-offs.

Without that, 99% of what the NSA does is meaningless and you might as well shut them down.

Asking the US to ban mass surveillance is like asking them to give up the atom bomb. The fox will not hand over the keys to the hen house.

I am not at all suggesting the NSA are a nice bunch of people on an ethically sound mission, merely that they cannot provide a useful surveillance function to help detect criminals unless they profile all the data they can get their mits on.

There really is no middle ground. You can't find the needles unless you sift through the haystack.

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Re: Charles Manning

. . . and if it can be proven you're not finding the needles anyway?

Given that, the implication is that you can either have marginally more effective protection but at the cost of the near-complete loss of your privacy or you can have less-effective protection but keep your privacy.

Matt Bryant's rants aside, Alexander has all but confirmed that this broad, ongoing erosion of privacy has not appreciably made the US a safer place so what, then, is the pay-off for the loss of privacy?

Given it's the people who are both the recipients (ostensibly) of the protection and the targets of the surveillance, shouldn't it be up to them to decide how much they are willing to pay for that protection?

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False needles

Unfortunately, given that the 'needles' that the NSA are searching for are vanishingly rare, most of what they will find are going to be false positives. Which is going to be worse than useless. And of course the NSA has no role or authority to catch criminals: they are tasked with security and intelligence.

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As pointed out in another article about The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board report, they had this to say.

"Based on the information provided to the board, including classified briefings and documentation, we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation,"

To me, that's a pretty damning indictment on the usefulness of the mass surveillance. While the technology may be cheap (which I doubt when Govts are involved) I doubt the whole [illegal] program itself is cheap and the results according to this report show that there is not a single return on the investment. There is however a massive price and that is the privacy and civil liberties of citizens.

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@ Charles Manning

You are totally right, the best way to prevent speeding and drunk driving is to close all roads and ban cars. But on a more serious not, what makes you so damned scared. Are you, or are you just too dumb to understand how much you pay for services you don't need.

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"The whole point of mass surveillance is that it does the data mining for you and generates the tip-offs.

Without that, 99% of what the NSA does is meaningless and you might as well shut them down."

April 15, 2013. Having been warned numerous times about potential upstarts and even interviewing those upstarts the Boston Marathon was still bombed. Afterward with photos of suspects they had plenty of forewarning and knowledge of, they had to turn to the public to identify them. No data mined tip-off, no clue as to what or when and they still couldn't recognize someone they sat across the table from and 'interviewed' after being warned. It seems that even with all that mass surveillance 99% of what they do is meaningless. Last one out, turn off the lights.

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I am okay with the needles going unfound. Liberty is too high a price to pay for the illusion of security.Indeed, it would be too high a price to pay even for actual security.

Leave the hay where it is, and give up the search for needles.

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c'mon now, everybody knows that the way to find the needles is to burn down the haystack and sift the ashes.

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@Charles Manning

Untargeted mass surveillance is also an old school way of doing things. In the past it was not closely associated with the United States of America though, but rather with other countries with extensive security apparatuses. It was rarely, if ever, in the arsenal of regular plods, unlike following up on tip-offs. The official justification of "fighting external enemies" is very old school as well.

The preferred approach in those other countries was labour-intensive rather than technology-intensive, the technological foundation is the only "innovation" the US can chalk up. To put it in terms sadly familiar from our own industry, no "business process" patents will be awarded - just a "one click" one.

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@Trevor_Pott

Yep. At some point, the people of the US (and their government) have to ask themselves what is more important - their "essential libert[ies]" or their "temporary safety".

A hackneyed quote perhaps but apt nonetheless.

When thinking about the men and women who instituted, supported, expanded, conducted and concealed these activities, I wonder how they would answer, face-to-face with some of the founding fathers of their their country, who professed the value of liberty and freedom above all other concerns.

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You Americans give far too much weight to the "founding fathers". They are just people who probably would have done exactly the same thing today if they could have had that power. They are just symbols, and i'll bet each and every one of them had their own Monica Lewinsky tugging at their parts.

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Stop

The Framers

Jefferson had an affair with a cousin's wife--or came close. Later he actually had children by one of his slaves. Benjamin Franklin was an infamous gad about whose sone rejected him and all he stood for by returning to England. There is not a single one of those men that was perfect. That makes their achievements even more astounding. They were flawed human beings who found a proper way for a populace to govern itself. That is what is going on right now. It's not pretty, but then neither is sausage making.

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"As for the decision to go public, Snowden said he had no choice. Contractors are not covered under existing whistleblowing statutes and said that although some NSA analysts were very concerned about the situation, no one was prepared to put their careers on the line."

If anything there is probably some real truth behind this statement. I don't think that even President Obama is privy to what really goes on behind the scenes.

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@terra

Perhaps, and for every "power always thinks that it is doing God's service when it is violating all his laws" or "there is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty" there may well be a Sedition Act*.

But the broader question, I suppose, is: when looking back at 21st century America, would Bush, Obama et al rather the histories say that the US faced tragedy and terror and stood firm, neither cowering nor wavering but instead strengthened their commitment to liberty and freedom or that they sold cheaply the freedoms so dearly won during the American Revolution?

Ignoring the 'Founding Fathers', for what values will the presidents and politicians of this era be known?

And at any rate, I am not a US citizen, just someone who knows a few, the majority of whom strongly believe in the ideals of freedom and liberty as the cornerstones and guiding principals of that country.

* - Not that Adams actually supported that Act (and the associated others) but, nevertheless, he signed it into law.

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Don't oversimplify. It tends to weaken the argument.

Indeed, there is little difference between plod err...plodding around asking questions when they suspect possible malfeasance and the NSA doing this by electronic means, except for the scale.

The analogy however breaks down in the face of what happens next.

Plod wil have to present their evidence - a lot of it possibly circumstantial - to a judge and ask for a mandate to officially open an inquiry and gather evidence on the suspect (s). In this case the judge also decides the scope of the mandate. Any broadening of said scope has to be equally sanctioned by the judge. This guarantees separation between the powers.

The NSA, however, broad as their mandate is, is not hampered by such trivialities. They qualify every fart as a threat to national security (much as Homeland does, apparently), have the resources and manpower to open an unlimited blanket investigation against which there is no legal protection, decide for themselves if the evidence supports their claim, and nick whoever they want. They can not hauled into a courtroom to explain themselves, and are not bothered by details such as habeas corpus.

This is wherein the problem lies : not the collection of the information, but the action which is taken upon it. And we all know absolute power corrupts absolutely.

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Re: Don't oversimplify. It tends to weaken the argument.

And let's not forget the mortal threat of people recording movies on google glass.

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RE: LarsG

"If anything there is probably some real truth behind this statement. I don't think that even President Obama is privy to what really goes on behind the scenes."

Without a doubt.

The career staffers are not going tell a transitory politician anything they don't need to know, alla Independence Day.

President "There are no aliens at Area 51"

Mil Bod "Technically sir, that's not entirely true. Plausible deniability..."

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Re: The Framers

That is certainly NOT what is going on right now.

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I am pretty sure cameras and microphones in every house will also general a fair few leads too. Far more than reading everybody's email.

People might at first feel uncomfortable that they're being filmed w*nking in the shower, and being recorded whispering in their loved-one's ear at night. But the NSA are not interested in this. As long as you're not a terrorist you've got nothing to fear.

As a first step, let's make it voluntary, and all those supporters like yourself who value security over privacy and 'have nothing to fear' because you've 'got nothing to hide' be the first to have the cameras and microphones installed in their houses.

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@Trevor_Pot

Leave the hay where it is, and give up the search for needles.

You do have the luxury of commenting from a country where, to date, the level of Islamic terrorist activity is very low.

I had friends on tubes when Islamic extremists blew up London. Lucky for them they got away with it that time.

This doesn’t seem to have happened for a while. That said there seems to have been plenty of needles in other places. Personally if the intelligence services are responsible I would rather like them to carry on reducing the frequency of this sort of thing.

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@terra

Well said, sir. The only reason the US has a democratic constitution is that its creators distrusted the voters less than they distrusted each other. Those creators were worldly wise politicians, and that is why the constitution they created has lasted so long.

The kings of Rome lasted two centuries. The republic lasted five centuries. The empire, in the east, lasted over a thousand years. How long will the US last?

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

@ Titus Technophobe

How many times have the extremists blown up the UK? How many hits have we taken? How about the US? The recent report showing this excessive data collection has stopped nothing. The claim was 50 attempts stopped by this excessive monitoring and yet the figure is a big fat round one.

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@ Charles Manning

I always tell my students when they have to do pattern recognition that adding hay does not make finding needles easier. Instead, use a magnet.

In almost all machine learning (or data mining if you will) good features that give a good (wide margin) boundary in the first place are what you should aim for. A few good (targeted) features in a simple machine learning tool generally give far superior results to poor features combined with more advanced machine learning methods. One key problem in this particular case is that you do not want (m)any false positives, (i.e. false accusations or suspicions), not just because of the risk of jailing or at least harassing innocent people, but also to prevent loads of unnecessary work for people following up on these false leads.

Thus any way in which you can reduce the probability of false positives is welcome. The simplest is to reduce the number of people under investigation in the first place. Using methods equivalent to the much reviled "wall-of-death" fishing methods, the risk of "collateral damage" as they might euphemistically call this is very real indeed.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

> You do have the luxury of commenting from a country where, to date, the level of Islamic terrorist activity is very low. [snip 2005 tube bombing refs] Personally if the intelligence services are responsible I would rather like them to carry on reducing the frequency of this sort of thing.

I would rather they concentrated on preventing donkeys kicking people to death. They could significantly raise their run rate of lives saved.

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Re: The Framers

@SundogUK

You may well be right, sir. But, everytime we get into a tight spot we teeter on the edge of the abyss. We may still plunge into tyranny, but them's the breaks. Either we will survive this crisis, or you would be well advised to prepare for war with us, because if we lose this fight, we will become a tyranical power bent on world domination.

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Re: Don't oversimplify. It tends to weaken the argument.

As an ex-plod: asking a judge? Perhaps this is a reference to some USA system or to the Scottish Procurator Fiscal. In England and Wales I never had to ask a judge to be allowed to investigate. One of my jobs was to investigate the causes of any complaint, crime or accident without having to seek permission to do so. Perhaps you are thinking of warrants for property searches.

However, the real point is that, at least in England and Wales, a policeman can not just do random investigations. There is the concept of "reasonable" suspicion. Of course initial inquiries may involve asking people if they know anything; but it still has to be related. For a burglary in a village in Buckinghamshire, one does not do house to house enquiries in Inverness, asking if anyone saw a strange car outside the house last night.

To search a suspect's house, the policeman must, then, apply for a warrant with evidence to justify it.

So, as opposed to this approach involving reasonableness and evidence, the NSA is simply doing the equivalent of detaining and questioning (and recording full details and diary/mobile phone contents) of everyone it meets on the off chance of one of them having done something naughty. This can be summarised as a surveillance society. It is not targetted, nor justified espionage that any country at war or risk of war should do. It is totalitarian-style assumption of rights over all our daily lives.

If you live in such fear, that you think the loss of freedom is worth the claimed increase in safety, I feel very sad for you. Freedom in a personal sense involves some risk. This 1984 style intrusion has got nothing to do with freedom or safety and, contrary to the thoughts of more extreme USA citizens, is a totally different thing from a state welfare system providing freedom from the worst effects of illness and wont.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

So, you think this intrusion into "ordinary" lives can prevent tube attacks by extremists. So why did it not work?

Do you really think the loss of freedom is worth the price of being under control all the time? How did Britain survive the IRA for so many years? The dangers then were far greater and real; but we managed to live and have our being, relaxed and peaceful, even though most of us had heard bombs explode (three in my part of London) or knew people who had been affected in, say, the Harrods bomb or the destruction of Manchester city centre. Fortunately, mass hysteria against Irish accents did not occur and fear of visiting the Tower of London was not apparent.

Grow up and accept that nasty things do happen but we must not let them beat us by extreme measures that change our own lives more effectively than the terrorism itself. You are more likely to fall under a bus or a car or slip on an icy street and bang your head lethally. Are you going to forbid all traffic and confine people indoors when the Winter comes? Oh, most accidents happen at home. Forget that. Lots of burglaries and assaults too. Hmm.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

So, you think this intrusion into "ordinary" lives can prevent tube attacks by extremists. So why did it not work?

Have there been any attacks on the tube recently?

Do you really think the loss of freedom is worth the price of... How did Britain survive the IRA for so many years? ... Fortunately, mass hysteria against Irish accents did not occur and fear of visiting the Tower of London was not apparent.

During the time of the IRA there wasn’t as such an Internet. But that said it is rumoured that GCHQ did collect traffic information. So a question for you do you think that some, maybe even quite a few, of the attacks by the IRA were thwarted by this monitoring? Possibly allowing the lack of fear of people with Irish accents, visits to the bloody tower and so on …..

Grow up and accept that nasty things do happen ... change our own lives more effectively than the terrorism itself. ...... Hmm.

I don’t think of the Internet monitoring as much of a change between now and say the 1970s and 1980s. I would see this monitoring as very similar to what happened with telecoms but extended to encompass the Internet. How do you see it?

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Re: Oh Titus, please look at the actual casualty figures...

quote: "You do have the luxury of commenting from a country where, to date, the level of Islamic terrorist activity is very low.

I had friends on tubes when Islamic extremists blew up London. Lucky for them they got away with it that time.

This doesn’t seem to have happened for a while."

I have the luxury of living through most of the London Bombings of the last 40 years, mostly perpetrated by that terrorist organisation the IRA (or pIRA, or Real IRA, or whichever copycat it was at the time). And I think the reasoning for "we must collect all the chaff in order to sift out the wheat" is a crock of shit; 100% blanket surveillance of every inch of the UK will still fail to catch some "terrorist" plots.

Also note that over the last half century, we've mostly been terrorised on native soil by Christians (the aformentioned IRA) rather than Muslims.

I'd also invite you to look at the numbers of lives (potentially) saved; feel free to peruse this list of UK terrorist attacks, add up all of the numbers of killed and injured over the last 40-50 years (I couldn't be bothered, sorry), and then compare them to, say workplace deaths and injuries for one year or possibly road (un)safety figures.

Then feel free to use those to justify the money and manpower currently spent on anti-terrorist surveillance, vs using that same spend and manpower to make our roads safer.

I may well be wrong and terrorism might be a credible and likely method of me being killed in the UK. Personally I still think I'm far more likely to die by being rammed off the road by an unobservant driver, but that may be a personal bias based upon perceived threat, rather than actual statistics. I'll be happy to be proven wrong, if UK terrorism attacks are actually far bigger killers than roads or workplace accidents :)

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Re: Oh Titus, please look at the actual casualty figures... @NumptyScrub

I'd also invite you to look at the numbers of lives (potentially) saved; feel free to peruse this list of UK terrorist attacks,

The point I am making is that during the last 40 -50 years the UK has always, or at least it is rumored, had in place a communications traffic monitoring system. The monitoring of the Internet as revealed by Snowden is just an extension of the systems.

As I mentioned before if we hadn’t had these systems how many more attacks would have been successful?

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

@Titus Technophobe

"Have there been any attacks on the tube recently?"

Well, no - but neither have there been any alien invasions or incidences of cheddar mutating into flesh devouring monsters. Ah, the NSA & GCHQ's excessive snooping *must* be the reason then!

I'd say it's significantly more probable that there just aren't many people who want to go round blowing things up, or indeed have the ability to do so.

BTW, I have a rock that keeps away tigers for sale - you interested in buying? It's always worked for me so far!

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Have you got the quote off the real P-dunce that was taken from, just after Pearl Harbour was attacked?

Not the "live in infamy speech" but the off the record one:

"Oh?

Really?

Oh!"

or similar.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

You do have the luxury of commenting from a country where, to date, the level of Islamic terrorist activity is very low.

So do you. We all do.

Vic.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

@ Titus Technophobe IT wouldn't matter if the level of terrorism were high or not, regardless of the ethnic provenance of the individuals doing the terrorizing. Liberty is too high a price to pay for the illusion of security..

Maybe I'll die today. Maybe it will be a heart attack from being so overwhelmingly fat. Maybe it will be a car, or lightning, a drug-crazed bum freaking out and trying to rob me or - far, far, far, far less likely - maybe I will be killed by a terrorist.

Maybe instead of me dying it will be my wife. Maybe my father or sister. Maybe we all die, or maybe we're just wounded and I have to pay large sums of money for the rest of my life to keep us going.

No matter what may come, fundamental human liberties are too high a price to pay for the illusion of security. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Even if that "one" is me. Or my wife. Or any of my loved ones.

I'm a human being god damn it. I have a choice. I am not an animal run on pure instinct and driven by fear. My ancestors died to build the society we live in today and as his noodly self is my witness, I will do my damnedest to leave it a better world than when I left.

That means - at a minimum - not giving up those rights that cost us so very much out of fear. It means - at a minimum - not allowing our society to become more like the society the terrorists are demanding we live in just because they use guerrilla tactics against civilians.

You, sir, are a coward. A dishonorable coward. One that would sell out not only your own self but the rest of your species out of abject fear. I despise you and all who are like you. I am repulsed and offended by your mewling weakness, your greed and your selfishness. I am distressed to know that we share a common genetic heritage. It sickens me..

If you live in fear of the unlikely, so much that you would betray your fellow man just to lessen the fear that little bit then perhaps you need to work on a little mental exercise.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

The litany against fear is more effective than the rock in my left hand that keeps tigers away or the PRISM on my right that wards off terrorists. And it doesn't require selling all our souls because of your personal cowardice.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot why it did not work

One of the attacks on London's Tube failed because the plonker involved got on a bus.

To have the mass hysteria rampant in USA deputy sheriffs of You Tube [meme implied, for the hard of thinking] is a complete fail for security and an ongoing hit for UBL. I can't imagine him having a better legacy. How long has it been now?

And every assault by the securitards is a hit for him. How many other terrorist attacks have come anywhere near that?

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

> You do have the luxury of commenting from a country where, to date, the level of Islamic terrorist activity is very low.

Sorry, but that is a total straw man argument.

a) It has been declared, by the people that know and are privy to what we cannot know, that the mass surveillance conducted by the NSA to date has not been significantly involved in *any* discovery of terrorist activity to date.

b) In a free society, you accept that people will do bad things. That is what we as a free people accept. We live with this danger all the time. We do this because the alternative is unthinkable. Ask anyone in China, or North Korea, or East Berlin (when it existed) or Russia what they would rather have, a free society or security: you can't have both.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

> You, sir, are a coward. A dishonorable coward. One that would sell out not only your own self but the rest of your species out of abject fear. I despise you and all who are like you. I am repulsed and offended by your mewling weakness, your greed and your selfishness. I am distressed to know that we share a common genetic heritage. It sickens me..

I'm sorry Trevor: I can't improve on that one bit, and I tried, believe me I tried.

ElReg, can be have an Upvote +10 button please?

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But the problem is...

...you're not sifting a haystack for needles, you're either sifting a haystack looking for hay or a pile of needles looking for needles...

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

The price of freedom is that in a statistically insignificant number of cases, mad people kill others at random and are not stopped before they excute their plot.

We used to accept this, then some time in the last 20 years or so everyone thought they were at no risk of dying at all except for being killed by maniacs.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

I'm sure they did monitor, must have been directed by good intelligence in those days. Perhaps that helped.

Of course it wouldn't have been enough even if they had been able to monitor everything. I'd always wondered whether airport airside security was very good then or whether the authorities were just very lucky. Tuirns out it was the latter, there was a bomb that didn't detonate placed on a Trident airliner flying from Belfast to London. The reason it didn't work is simple, it was placed under a seat but luckily the passenger that sat there was a fat bastard and his weight disrupted the device so that either the timer failed or the wiring was disconnected in a crucial spot. It was found at Heathrow and the whole thing was hushed up.

You won't find this in the official archives, but I know someone who was there and it's as true as any other actual IRA incident of the 70s. Personally I missed the Harrods bomb in the early 80s by about half and hour, some of my friends were inside the place when it went off. None of us would have been in favour of the current arrangements because on a large scale they just don't work and they are a threat to everyone for as long as the data is kept in storage for poring over later.

Sometimes it just comes down to the percentages, there is a tiny chance of being killed by a terrorist in your lifetime but being totally surveilled is always a 100% bad thing for the population at large.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

>You, sir, are a coward. A dishonorable coward.

Says the guy behind a keyboard. Just because someone does not share the same opinion as you does not make them a coward or any other name you care to call them. Having to resort to name calling is sad, pathetic, and immediately loses sight of the argument. You had a good post going until the paragraph with the above quote, then you lost all credibility and your good post turned into a schoolboy rant.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

"Says the guy behind a keyboard."

I use my real name, on a website where I publish articles. Go to http://www.trevorpott.com and you'll see a great big button for my LinkedIn. My address and phone number are public record and available through the local yellow pages. I own a company - http://www.egeek.ca - where the same sort of information is available through public records, and that company has been mentioned here in the comments, on my personal website and in The Register.

I hide behind neither pseudonym nor anonymous coward moniker. The individual in question is a coward not because he disagrees with me - I don't give a flaming fuck if you disagree with me, other than that I find arguing with people amusing - they are a coward because of the ideology of outright cowardice they openly espouse.

Also, for the record, I used voice recognition software to dictate that comment. So basically you're wrong about everything. Welcome to the internet. Your ignorance will be preserved forever.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

You, sir, are a coward. A dishonorable coward. One that would sell out not only your own self but the rest of your species out of abject fear. I despise you and all who are like you. I am repulsed and offended by your mewling weakness, your greed and your selfishness. I am distressed to know that we share a common genetic heritage. It sickens me..

I will not really go into my opinion of you, other than to say a personal attack on doesn't really provide much to strengthen your argument.

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@terra

You Americans give far too much weight to the "founding fathers". They are just people who probably would have done exactly the same thing today if they could have had that power.

Argumentum ad hominem. The character of Benjamin Franklin or any of the other political theorists of the early USA has no bearing on the quality of their theories. But do come back when you learn how to pose a rational argument.

(For that matter: Many of us keep the "founding fathers" well in perspective. Many of us are well-aware that the US wasn't the first modern European-derived liberal republic, that the founders were motivated largely by economic interest, that their philosophies were based on a long European tradition with sprinklings of ideas from other places, and so on. Of course, many of us are also capable of avoiding sophomoric generalizations about the beliefs of the entire population of a nation.)

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

The argument has been made and made again thousands of times throughout human history. Every time people forget that liberty is too high a price to pay for the illusion of security really bad things happen. Fall of empires kind of bad.

You openly preach a doctrine of fear in full ignorance of our species history. I call that outright cowardice. I won't bother with attempting the logical back and forth because fear is by it's very nature irrational. You cannot convince someone who is motivated by fear of anything using logic. It's a basic tenet of human psychology and one of the foundational principles of group dynamics.

As for what you think of me, I do hope that you are capable of understanding this, but I could not care half a quantum fluctuation less about what you think of me. As far as I am concerned you are a coward and a traitor to our entire species. The value of your opinion to me is exactly equal the regard I have for the opinions of sociopaths: null.

What logical reason would I have to respect the opinion of someone would well sell my freedoms for the illusion of personal security? I cannot comprehend how that individual is any different than an individual who would blithely see me murdered or enslaved for $self_serving_reason. Life without liberty is no life at all. I will fight against people like you who would see me stripped of my liberty with every last ounce of strength, iota of influence, and every bent copper I have.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. It is against those who would steal our liberties that we must be vigilant. Whether their rallying cry be the illusion of security or a deity that does not exist.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

OK attempting to strip out the direct personal insults... seems to leave your first paragraph.

The argument has been made and made again thousands of times throughout human history. Every time people forget that liberty is too high a price to pay for the illusion of security really bad things happen. Fall of empires kind of bad.

Your entire argument appears to be that when people forget liberty empires fall. I have to assume that by 'forget liberty' you mean 'spy on other people is bad'. That said so how do you view the activities of GCHQ's predecessor in cracking the Enigma ciphers?

Looking at the rest of your post all I would say that you may have over estimated my place in the grand scheme of things.

You openly preach a doctrine of fear ... As far as I am concerned you are a coward and a traitor to our entire species. ... I cannot comprehend how that individual is any different than an individual who would blithely see me murdered or enslaved for $self_serving_reason. Life without liberty is no life at all. I will fight against people like you who would see me stripped of my liberty with every last ounce of strength, iota of influence, and every bent copper I have......

I have almost no influence on any of the above apart from a vote for one of three parties all of whom generally seem to approve of that which you seem to disapprove.

That said it is still my opinion that the most effective defense against terrorism is police action supported by effective intelligence.

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Re: @Trevor_Pot

Cracking enigma was targeted, and it was spying against the military of a nation state. It was not dragnet surveillance of civilians. That's where you start getting into the SS of Nazi Germany and various other dictators throughout history.

Beyond that, your personal influence needn't extend beyond your ability to post. You influence others by voicing your opinion. An opinion so dangerous that it must be challenged. It must be challenged not only on the basis of logical arguments, but also making it perfectly clear that other members of western society absolutely do not find your beliefs socially acceptable.

The most effective defense against terrorism is to build a strong a society based on personal liberty and to never compromise your principles, no matter the actions of said terrorists. Show weakness and they will never - ever - stop until you are crushed. Giving up liberty in the vain hope of catching them is demonstrating weakness. You gain nothing and you lose everything.

To live in fear is to let the terrorists win. I'd rather die a man than live a coward.

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Re: @Trevor_Pott

I don't quite agree with Trevor's phrasing but I agree with his main point. That much should be obvious from my posts.

I don't, however, believe those who disagree to be cowards; at least not necessarily.

For my part, my view stems from a personal preference: that liberty and freedom are essential to my own happiness. I would of course love safety as well, but, like any reasonable person, I have priorities and safety is somewhat further down the list than freedom.

What follows is selfish - I want a society that protects what is essential to my happiness and quality of life, even if it must lessen the surety of my safety to do so.

@Titus evidently has a different personal preference; to him, safety is evidently more important than liberty and freedom and thus he wants a society that preferences the safety of its citizens even at the cost of their freedoms.

When I promote and argue for a society that preferences freedom over safety, I am promoting a society that accords with my personal happiness but is in opposition to Titus's personal happiness.

So how do we resolve this?

From an objective standpoint, treating both safety and liberty as equally important, you have to ask yourself which will be the harder to regain if it is lost?

My answer, as well as Trevor's and a great many people on this forum, is that liberty and freedom are by far the harder to regain. History (as well as contemporary events) has shown us that when a people lose their freedoms, the only way to regain them is either a violent revolution or a long, drawn-out conflict; neither without loss of life.

In places like Egypt and Syria we have seen just how much bloodshed can result from such conflicts. And, while hard information is difficult to come by, some reports estimate up to 200,000 people interred in North Korean 'labour camps' - often for life, which, in the conditions is often not all that long, with a terrible attrition rate due to starvation, frostbite, illness, etc... Many of the people in these camps are political prisoners.

The point is that whatever safety you gain in abandoning freedom and liberty, you will lose far more safety in trying to regain those freedoms and liberties.

As a parting thought, let me address one of your (@Titus) statements:

"That said it is still my opinion that the most effective defense against terrorism is police action supported by effective intelligence.

That opinion is valid and you are entitled to it, but is largely beside the main point, which is that the goal of 'defen[ding] against terrorism', however important, is not more important than defending against the loss of freedom and liberty.

To quote Shep Smith (Fox News) when discussing torture: "I don't give a rat's ass if it helps. We are AMERICA! We do not f%$king torture!!"

Easily adaptable to this situation. The message is that 'effective[ness]' is not the sole criterion when determining the best course of action. As someone above said, it would be even more effective to put cameras and microphones in every room of every house, apartment, store, office block and public toilet. We could also implant every person with tracking devices that monitor their movements and everything they say, do and see. That would be more effective but that doesn't mean it's the right thing.

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Re: @Trevor_Pott

@dan1980 I believe that anyone who allows fear to rule their judgement is a coward.

To be clear: to feel fear is not to be a coward: fear is a good and necessary tool. But fear cannot be allowed to control us. It especially cannot be allowed to control the decisions we make at a societal level.

I've no interest in pussyfooting around here with conciliatory gestures and diplomacy. Straight to the heart of it!

The argument here is authoritarianism versus liberalism. It is control versus liberty. Religion versus science. It is huddling in a cave, terrified of every sound in the night versus exploration and adaptation. The argument is as old as mankind itself and just as fundamental.

Are we to be animals? Ruled by our fear and jumping at every bright light? Or are we to be men, building a better world for ourselves, our society and our descendants? That is the debate that we - as a society - are faced with today.

I don't believe that an overwhelming desire for safety is legitimate. I don't believe his "personal preference" is legitimate. I don't believe that his personal preference - or mine - matters a single bent damn.

We're not talking here about the choice of wearing blue jeans versus trousers. We're talking about the kinds of decisions that shape entire empires. We're talking about molding societies and building nations.

Authoritarian regimes based on control and "security" never work. The peasants get more than a little revolting and a whole bunch of lives are lost.

Maybe that's a lesson we need to keep relearning with each generation. Maybe humanity needs to fight this battle forever. That's deep metaphysics to which I will never have answers.

What I do know is that we have a choice. We can learn from the past or not. We can choose to overcome our animal fear or we can submit to it. Personally, I view submission to one's own fear as cowardice at a personal level and ruinously dangerous at a societal level.

It isn't, however, about what I think, or what Titus thinks. It is about the future of our nations, and whether or not we really need to relearn the lessons that our forebearers died to teach us. Every year we have Remembrance Day; even if some nations call it something else. The catchphrase is "lest we forget" and the lesson is "never again."

I have not forgotten, and I will work hard to ensure it doesn't happen again. Too many of my friends have died fighting for my liberty. I owe it to them, to myself and to my entire society to challenge any attempt by anyone - individual or government - to make their sacrifice meaningless.

If that nets me downvotes on The Register, sarcastic remarks and the hatred of some commenters...so be it.

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