Sunday, September 1, 2013

Could the Constitution be Employed in a Social Engineering Exploit?

Jay Rosen was kind enough to correct my understanding of Snowden's security precautions by providing a link to this recent article: How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets

So, it's inaccurate to characterize Greenwald as clueless. At the same time, material has still been transferred, via a journalist, to a realm where data security protocols are not the norm--where a password to the material is written down and carried on person, and where presumably few have the background to inspect the encrypted digital content of drives for more than document files, or to prevent skilled unauthorized access and transfers of material.

No one should misunderstand me to be saying press freedoms and protections, safety of person, or privacy, are of no consequence--they are of the utmost importance to democracy. But, much of the public conversation is one-dimensional, to the extent that it obscures consideration of  other threats to democracy that are equally potent and real, and that attend the transfer of digital information.

Peter Maass cites quotes Poitras' fears over the growing threat of the nation-based shadow governments. What frightens me is the absence of the cartels from the discussion--the shadow governments that have even less of their iceberg apparatus showing above water, rapidly expanding powers--extreme liquidity--and certainly access to just as much technological sophistication as any democracy.

They have repeatedly infiltrated global banking, subverted the Secret Service and possibly the ATF, hired returning American soldiers as hitmen and kidnapped digital communications engineers in a quest to create impenetrable communication systems. They could easily be the shadow governments with the most interest in crippling PRISM, acquiring information about NSA methods, accessing their files, and transporting an NSA level engineer into their realm. Is it coincidence, or of utmost concern, that cartel activity formerly based in Colombia has now moved to Ecuador? What about McCain's contention that there is ample evidence that Russia's most powerful organized crime group is deeply intertwined with their government, at the highest levels? When I note the two countries with the most interest in hosting Snowden,  I worry--for us and for him.

If the power most integral to the cartels' success is their ability to operate in secret, to create massive "icebergs" with very little showing above water, social engineering would be the most sensible method of acquiring the information they need. As a result, I don't just ask myself about freedom of the press and personal privacy, I also ask whether those values could not be socially engineered so that we, in our altruism, miss a sleight of hand. My questions bother me, but I don't think they're "bad" questions in the era of digital information: 

Could the Snowden affair go down as the social engineering feat of the decade? Was the Manning incident a practice run? Are journalism companies and individuals without info security protocols and training vulnerable, in the course of investigative reporting on traditional core Constitutional issues, to also being used as digital information vectors, in the service of organized crime?

We absolutely can't have a war on journalists' lives and our privacy, but we also can't afford not to know what these extremely wealthy, liquid and sophisticated sub rosa governments are doing, either. How do we protect our democracies from both threats?

I want to see that conversation.

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