Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 25 – the Obama legacy 3

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on June 28, 2014

This is my 26th posting 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 the first 24 postings to this series, available at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.)

I have been discussing the issues of credibility in the United States government’s conduct of its War on Terror for several consecutive series installments now, and as a discussion thread that has run throughout this series as a whole (see as examples, Part 23 and Part 24: the first two installments where I have focused specifically on the likely impact of this on the Obama presidential legacy.) And I stated at the end of Part 24 that I would continue its line of discussion here. I will follow through on the issues that arose there and that I stated I would address next, but before doing so I want to step back and reconsider the War on Terror and the US national intelligence systems that largely carry it out from a very specific perspective that is perhaps quite appropriate to this blog and its basic approach.

This is a business and technology blog so the approach that I suggest here, for viewing and evaluating the War on Terror might at least initially seem forced – an example of an “if the only tool that you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like nails” approach. But I would argue that a well-run and responsible business and a well-run and responsible government do hold some fundamental core qualities and features in common. Both seek to be efficient in the use of the resources that they claim ownership of and hold control over. Both are responsible, and both in their internal systems and operations, and when affecting larger outside communities. Both have to be accountable for what they do in all of that, and for what they fail to do as well. And ultimately, both seek to create larger sustaining value and a greater good, as would be understood by and as would hold meaning for the members of their communities.

For a business that might mean developing and offering best possible products or services, that offer value to a community through its marketplaces. For a government that means protecting and enforcing basic individual and group rights and offering specific types of services that societally contribute to that overarching goal. And in an open and democratic society, where its citizens are expected to go to the polls to vote for their government’s leaders, accountability is essential if any of that is to work. And so is transparency and certainly where information disclosure would not create specific significant, avoidable public risk. That is the only way that a citizenry can have the information resources that they need if they are to vote in ways that support their needs, and that sustain their basic principles when choosing their government’s leaders.

The Snowden revelations of the US government’s open-ended surveillance programs, coupled with the US government’s response to them, show that all effort has been made to keep as close to everyone as possible, ignorant of even the most superficial details of War on Terror programs and even when those programs very indiscriminately and very directly impact upon and intrude upon essentially everyone and through essentially complete abrogation of any presumed rights of privacy.

But this posting is only superficially about how good governments are at least as responsive and responsible as are good businesses. And I add that my goal for this installment is not to delve into how these open-ended surveillance programs systematically violate much of the United States Bill of Rights as incorporated into its most fundamental body of law: its constitution.

So I only note in passing, for example, the ongoing deleterious impact of these surveillance programs on the fourth amendment rights of essentially everyone, where in an information age our personal and confidential information are among our most crucially important personal effects. And in this, I add this bill of rights amendment states that under US law there is a fundamental “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and that this right “shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” At the very least this specifically and categorically outlaws general and open-ended surveillance where it is conducted without specific probable cause regarding individuals under investigation, and without specific warrant naming those individuals to be investigated and why.

• I write here about credibility and trust.
• And I write about how the United States conduct of its War on Terror, and its National Security Agency (NSA) that carries out much of that,
• Rob this country of its moral high ground for when it would speak out about other countries and their surveillance and information access control programs.

How can the US government speak out against programs like China’s comprehensive online surveillance programs against its citizens when its own surveillance programs are as far-reaching? (See my series: The China Conundrum and its Implications for International Cyber-Security at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 69 and loosely following for its Parts 1-23, for a discussion of China’s cyber-surveillance and related programs.)

I readily acknowledge as I write this posting, and this series that President Obama has been pursuing an initiative to strengthen and update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, with a goal of adding in at least some fundamental protections from law enforcement officers accessing email and other electronic communications without warrant, as is now only required for hard copy postal system-delivered mail and other hardcopy documents. And the Obama administration is seeking stronger controls limiting how businesses and other private institutions can collect, use and share personally identifiable information gathered as big data. But these initiatives all exclude restriction of access, use of, or interagency sharing of personal information gathered in any way under the general and even generically applied rubric of “national security.” These privacy rights protecting initiatives do not in any way change or address the issues and challenges that I have been discussing here. They in fact simply redirect the conversation away from federal governmental information access and usage policies and practices as currently so actively in place.

I am going to conclude this series here at that point. I said at the end of its Part 24 that I would more fully discuss “the issues of credibility of US companies for their ability to safeguard personal and confidential information about their customers and potential customers that they have gathered.” And I added that I would “also look further into the impact that these surveillance programs and their disclosure have had on telecommunications companies and on online businesses in general.” I will do that, but as a restarting of a series that I have not posted to since August, 2011 (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time, postings 58 and following for its up to now 15 installments and with its final August, 2011 posting: Stuxnet – a more detailed analysis of its code and update on this still unfolding story.)

As a note of connection to that series, when I initially wrote about stuxnet and related cyber weapons and cyber-militarized systems, I focused on how they can be, and will be used in asymmetric conflicts where one competing side holds what amounts to overwhelming military advantage if only conventional arms are considered, but where stealth and misdirection provided by cyberspace-based approaches can give strength to a seemingly weaker opponent. And I wrote about how it can be all but impossible to know with certainty where a weapon like stuxnet was produced or by whom and certainly when it is still freshly emerging into general awareness from its use in an attack.

I will switch directions as I continue that series, with a next installment tentatively to be named “From stuxnet to heartbleed.” And I will switch back with that, to taking a much more operational approach to the topics of national security in an information age, with the gathering and use of zero-day attack vulnerabilities by government agencies, among other cyber resources as they seek to surreptitiously gather, manipulate and disseminate online information. And in anticipation of that I will at least briefly discuss the Olympic Games program that created and launched stuxnet itself. The discussion to come from this is complex and it holds wide ranging importance and for both the public and private sectors and for businesses and individuals.

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.

As an update, added May 25, 2014: I am currently writing and uploading my blog postings on the order of a month and a half in advance. And approximately 10 days after I finished and uploaded this posting, the Obama administration and its Justice Department brought formal charges against a group of individually named members of the military of the People’s Republic of China, charging them with industrial espionage cyber-attacks against American businesses, and against US government online resources. So I will resume posting to my more operational series on cyber-security and cyber-threat as noted above. But before I do so I will post a 26th installment to this series, on what is developing into a more fully formed Obama cyber-doctrine. Unfolding events have prompted me to rethink and re-plan on how to proceed on this general area of discussion and I am going to proceed accordingly.


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