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PRISM update: Lawyers attack, PR spins up, and “The Boss” refuses to back down

“America has no functioning democracy at this moment.”

Ian Apperley
Sat, 20 Jul 2013

“America has no functioning democracy at this moment.” – Jimmy Carter, former President of the USA, on PRISM and the NSA. 

Carter made the statement this week and the mainstream media have missed it for the most part. He went on say that the Snowden leak was “beneficial” noting his belief that the spy scandal is “undermining democracy around the world.”

Back home, in Godzone, The Boss lashed out at the Human Rights Commission as the GSCB and TICS bills continue to stay in the limelight. Let’s not forget, those bills, if passed, will give a very similar capability to the GCSB that PRISM currently provides with added legal protection allowing them to spy on New Zealanders.

The Human Rights Commission said that “The legislation does not comply with the Bill of Rights and may affect human rights.” Going on to say “If the other Five Eyes partners share all such metadata with the GCSB, whether it asks for it or not, then New Zealanders are effectively being subjected to mass surveillance and the GCSB is getting information about New Zealanders that it could not itself gain lawfully without appropriate justification or oversight.”

Does not comply with the Bill of Rights. Serious stuff.

The Boss, John Key, appeared to threaten them in response, a style we are more used to seeing exercised by Frank Bainimarama. The Boss said “I actually didn’t think it was a very good submission at all and I think they need to pull their socks up and if they are going to continue to be a government-funded organisation they should meet the deadlines like everyone else did.”

Pull their socks up if they are going to continue to be a government-funded organisation. Sounds like a threat to me.

There was a chorus of dissent from high-profile figures in New Zealand over the last week including the Privacy Commissioner who attacked the lack of oversight in the law and questioned the impact of it on the privacy of New Zealanders.

Overseas the first legal attack was launched on the NSA over the PRISM debacle with nineteen companies, organisations, and NGO’s going after the spy agency. The sum of it is an attempt to stop the NSA from spying until allegations are investigated including potential breaches of the United States Constitution. In addition, a number of players are also filing legal action against telecommunication companies in an effort to stop them from supplying data to the NSA and PRISM.

In the UK, who arguably has the surveillance state well under control with allegations it collects every last piece of communications data, analyses, and keeps it all for seventy two hours, the Intelligence and Security Committee declared that it was all above board and legal. Which is somewhat laughable given that new information keeps flooding out about the spy agencies capabilities.

The NSA revealed this week to a rather agitated and annoyed congressional panel that its spying goes exponentially beyond what was first stated. For example, the NSA can go “three hops deep” on data, it has emerged, or “three degrees of separation.” That means that if they target you, they can target everyone you know, and then target everyone that knows them. The implications for privacy just got a lot worse.

The German government has taken a beating this week after originally denying being involved in PRISM, now seemingly caught out lying. A local newspaper, Bild, revealed that in 2011 a document was circulated to all of the NATO regional commands in Afghanistan laying out “instructions for cooperation under a programme called PRISM, which involved monitoring emails and phone calls, with access regulated by US Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System.” This, said Bildproved that the German Government was lying.

Not so, said the German Government in what can only be described as a disingenuous excuse, there are two PRISMs. That’s right, the German Government said that document referred to a different PRISM programme that was not identical to the first. Lying or not, it’s interesting for other reasons.

If Bild is correct, then not only is the German Chancellor in for a public pummelling, the world is going to have to understand the implications of a NATO wide PRISM collaboration, that so far, has been restricted to the “Five Eyes”.

The flood of customers to perceived safe Cloud services continues with increased blogs and media coverage of how to avoid the NSA and revelations that Microsoft is allegedly very deep in bed with the NSA. SpiderOak, a secure Cloud provider, has seen its signed up customers triple in the last few weeks and ArtMotion in Switzerland continues to grow exponentially, and that’s just two examples.

This has caused the tech companies to rally with a PR stunt or two that seems, well, weak. 63 companies wrote to Obama this week complaining and Microsoft released a strange statement via Blog that seemed to say “We’re breaching the constitution but we can’t tell you why” with calls on the NSA to let them out of legal bindings that forbid them from telling us more. Confusing, yes, misfiring PR stunt? Most likely.

This has been a complete disaster for Microsoft. All of their Cloud services, that they are trying to establish in a very competitive global market, have been called into question in terms of their privacy. Revelations this week from the Guardian that show; Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent encryption to allow access to chat on, the NSA had pre-encyption access to email on &, and Microsoft worked with the FBI to allow access to SkyDrive.

Given these are the engines that help power Microsoft 365 then the company should be worried. That’s because Microsoft 365 is used by companies as opposed to individuals. Personally, I am now considering my own use of the service given the revelations. As will be many hundreds of thousands of others.

Back home The Boss will see protests over the proposed GCSB and TICS bills scheduled for the 27th of July. Rallies are scheduled for Auckland, Hamilton, Napier, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, and Dunedin. I don’t think The Boss will listen, when you’re seemingly threatening the Human Rights commission and appearing to ignore the massive swell of opposition, a few protestors isn’t going to mean much.

You have to wonder if Jimmy Carter is right when he says that this surveillance is “undermining democracy around the world.” It’s starting to feel that way here.

Ian Apperley is an independent cloud computing consultant. He posts at

Ian Apperley
Sat, 20 Jul 2013
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PRISM update: Lawyers attack, PR spins up, and “The Boss” refuses to back down