Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

From stuxnet to heartbleed – a late-breaking news update, added in as a supplemental installment

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on December 6, 2014

I add this posting into my blog as a rare breaking news supplement, in this case to an ongoing series on the more operational side to national cyber-security as it is carried out by modern nation states (see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications, postings 58 and loosely following for Parts 1-15 of this series and Page 2 of that directory, posting 296 and following for its Parts 16-19.) And I add it into this flow of installments, more specifically to a subseries of postings that all carry the tagline “From Stuxnet to Heartbleed” in their titles that I have been posting here since July 30, 2014, starting with The Impact of US National Cybersecurity Doctrine and Practices on Businesses and Markets 1.) And I add that I insert this into a flow of already written upcoming installments that I will only update for their opening comments where I indicate where a reader can find earlier related postings.

Sometimes events unfold that merit immediate comment and even when the goal of a series is more long-term and not to focus on the immediate here and now. So I write this posting and set it to immediately go live, rather than writing it to add to my more usual weeks and even months in advance queue.

The late-breaking news that I would write about here took place in Great Britain over the last two days, and involves legal challenge to key open-ended national security-justified surveillance programs that were initially outed and made public by Edward Snowden, including but not limited to the United States National Security Agency (NSA) initiated PRISM program. But for background, I am going to begin this posting’s narrative in the United States and with the less than unified Republican and Democratic Parties and how they approach open-ended government surveillance as an ongoing generally applied practice and policy.

These surveillance programs have become rancorously divisive issues within both political parties, even if this debate is largely confined to Party leadership and not recurringly appearing in the news. On the Republican side – usually more known for its iron fisted control of dissent in keeping, for example Republican members of Congress in line, this pits more mainstream Republicans against more libertarian Tea Party Republicans. More mainstream and more traditionally right-wing Republicans as a group actively support the continuation of these national security programs and initiatives, and are very likely to resist and to block any legislative effort that would be made to close down, limit or outside-regulate them, and certainly through imposition of what they saw as politically motivated challenge to them. Tea Party Republicans, on the other hand, start out actively opposed to Big Government and most particularly to big government where they see that as intruding on our interfering with individual rights.

There is an expression, to the effect that “politics makes for strange bedfellows.” That certainly applies here. Republicans in general, and the Tea Party wing of that political party in particular see Democrats – all Democrats as “liberal” – a curse word to them, and “progressive” – another curse word to them, and as fundamentally misguided and wrong as to fact and reasoning, if not morally wrong too. But on this complex of issues, the strongest potential allies that anti-surveillance program Republicans have, Tea Party or otherwise, are to be found among their Democratic Party colleagues and certainly in Congress – where together they could control whether legislature on this could even be brought to a vote. That is true now in the last waning days of the session of Congress that is scheduled to formally expire at the end of this year, but more importantly it is certain to be true as the new, next session of Congress commences in January 2015, and with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.

Republicans in general need to show they can get things done and that means finding at least more conservative Democrats who they can work with in drafting and co-signing legislation that they can push through into law. The more-Tea Party wing of their Party are much more comfortable challenging the system rather than making it work, and they are loath to be seen as compromisers for the sake of next-election cycle (November, 2016) political purposes. But in a fundamental sense, it is the Tea Party Republicans, and I add Democrats in Congress who feel just as strongly against them as they feel towards Democrats, who have the most to gain if they could bridge their ideological and rhetorical gaps and find common cause on this set of issues that they do agree on. So the result will probably be that any attempt to legislatively rein in NSA-led and other US government initiated open-ended surveillance programs, at least from within the US government, is likely to fail to even get to a vote.

And this brings me to today’s news in the United Kingdom, where Britain’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruled that PRISM and related programs as developed and implemented by the United States NSA and its British counterpart, their Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) are all legal. Their ruling left open the possibility that use of these programs in specific instances might not be legal. But that is a moot point when any and all specific applications of these programs against any specific individuals or groups are automatically included by national law under top secret government security classification – and it is illegal to notify anyone that they are or have been under such surveillance in the first place. I add here that the politics of national government surveillance programs are at least as complex in Great Britain as they are in the United States and both in political party leadership and among the British people as a whole.

Efforts to challenge these programs in US courts, up to now have been denied with any such challenges being sent back to the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) – the US counterpart to Britain’s IPT. But this is news of note here, because the plaintiffs in this British case have gone public that this has happened, and that they will seek relief on this by bringing further challenge to these surveillance programs and their use to the European Court of Human Rights in Continental Europe, where personal rights to privacy are more stringently legally defined and more actively legally protected. This is not likely to actually reach that court for action until late 2015 at earliest given the court’s already full docket, but even the possibility of an international ruling against these programs and against the governments that run them is likely to have at least some impact – and both pro and con as to how these programs are run and supervised, and how they are legislatively determined. The coming year should be interesting for this. (And for a news story link on this at least as of today see the December 6, 2014 New York Times article: British Court Rules In Favor of Electronic Surveillance.)

Meanwhile, you can find this posting and related at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and at its Page 2 continuation.

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