Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 3 – some thoughts on possible lessons themselves 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on August 20, 2013

This is my fourth posting to date on what is becoming a series of leaks and unauthorized disclosures of classified US government documents that relate to its war on terror. See:

John Peter Zenger, Henry L. Stimson, Edward J. Snowden and the challenge of free speech and
Part 1 and Part 2 of this developing series.

I have been at least attempting to build a framework in this ongoing discussion, for thinking about these classified document leaks and the responses that have been developed as a result of them. I continue that here. I have, up to here primarily focused on the leakers and their access authority for obtaining these documents, and on the US response to their actions. But as I have at least noted in passing, the impact of all of this has spread out a lot wider than that, involving both allies and potential adversaries alike. I stated at the end of the above cited Part 2 series installment that I will at least begin discussing possible lessons learned and alternatives to the PRISM surveillance program that Edward Snowden publically outed. My goal for this posting is to at least begin that. But as a starting point, I want to begin with the all but firestorm of expressed concern and even outrage that word of PRISM has unleashed, and both within the United States itself and from its allies. And I would divide those responses publically shared into three categories, here simply focusing on more reasoned reactions that express possible change that could be operationally met.

• Surveillance programs such as PRISM need to be more focused in what types of confidential and personal information they gather and from whom if they are to be run at all. They should not simply sweep up everything that current technology makes possible to gather, and as indiscriminately as PRISM has for whom it collects all of this information on.
• Any such program must be more transparently accountable, even if that does mean maintaining effective security to safeguard necessary and prudently run information gathering operations. More specifically, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as authorized and run under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978: the FISA Court has come out of this looking to be little more than a rubber stamp approver that is not itself effectively subject to or accountable to any higher level judicial review of any type or significance. In this, the fact that the FISA Court virtually never denies any request for approval brought before it could, at least in principle, be misleading as it is always possible that in practice, only valid requests are ever brought that far. But that finding does raise legitimate questions and doubts too, that have to be addressed.
• And any intelligence gathering program or operation such as PRISM, that seeks out information across national borders in identifying and tracking terrorists and terrorist activities should involve the governments and their intelligence organizations of those other countries involved, wherever possible and certainly when they are our allies. I add as an aside, that this is not always going to be possible and certainly where a government’s intelligence agencies are not deemed to be secure in their own capacity to maintain necessary confidentiality. But the default should not be to simply conduct surveillance operations in other countries and even in close ally countries without ever notifying them at any level or in any way of this activity, and without involving them.

I have seen a number of very specific programs cited as possible role model alternatives to the US PRISM operation, and will simply note that it is certain that there is more to these European and other “model programs” that have been so cited than might initially meet the eye too. They all have highly classified, covert intelligence gathering capabilities, and wide ranging responsibilities that they actively seek to meet.

I left the strident rhetoric out of my list, above, but note that it is a very important part of this news story too, as it represents a very genuine pressure building up to, among other things:

• Reformulate the personal privacy and confidentially policies and practices as required by law that social media and social networking sites, and online businesses and businesses in general have to follow, regarding their collection, storage, use and sharing of personal information.
• Strengthen the legal oversight of personal privacy and confidentially laws, and the sanctions that would be imposed for violating them.
• Require more consistent and through international agreements on this and compliance to set agreed to shared standards, where online and I add telephony systems by their very nature are always going to be significantly transnational.

And still writing a month ahead for this blog, I write this installment on July 18, 2013 with Edward J. Snowden still as of now in limbo in a lounge area in the Sheremetyevo International Airport just outside of Moscow and with pressure from the US government effectively blocking any other government from offering him the asylum that he seeks. So the story continues as ongoing and unresolvable fresh news.

I am going to write a follow-up installment to this series, there focusing on the challenges of scale and of how a massive increase in the scope and range of a national security program and of what is classified can significantly increase the risk that leaks will occur. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and in my first Ubiquitous Computing and Communications directory page. I am also listing this under my In the News posting category.

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