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Scoop Blogwatch: Are We Paranoid Enough Yet?

Are We Paranoid Enough Yet?

On 26 Jan 2006 I wrote:

Particularly scary is that the Patriot act gives the feds the right to basically march up to every ISP in the country and install special 'black boxes' [doing] God only knows what and the ISP's cannot even mention this fact publically let alone not comply...


Now we have confirmation from a whistleblower that this is exactly what they've been doing.

"I learned that the person whom the NSA interviewed for the secret job was the person working to install equipment in this room," Klein wrote. "The regular technician work force was not allowed in the room."

.. he learned from a co-worker that similar cabinets were being installed in other cities, including Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego."While doing my job, I learned that fiber optic cables from the secret room were tapping into the Worldnet (AT&T's internet service) circuits by splitting off a portion of the light signal," Klein wrote.The split circuits included traffic from peering links connecting to other internet backbone providers, meaning that AT&T was also diverting traffic routed from its network to or from other domestic and international providers, according to Klein's statement.The secret room also included data-mining equipment called a Narus STA 6400...

And what can we find out about the Narus 6400? Well the google cache appeared busted on the subject but the preview gives us this one sentence..

Fully configured, the Model 6400 captures application-layer usage details via NARUS Semantic Traffic Analysis (STA) on up to six full-duplex 100 BaseT

(Update: Dailykos has since published an artice All About NSA's and AT&T's Big Brother Machine, the Narus 6400 which fills out a lot of the details).

In my opinion the key words here are "Semantic Traffic Analysis".

As I wrote previously:

Many people think ECHELON simply targets 'keywords'. However, based on patents filed by various government agencies you can assume it is *much* more sophisticated than that, for instance rudimentary 'language recognition' patents as well as 'topic classification' patents.

The topic classification patent is especially interesting, because, if they are able to create a map of all the types of people / types of conversations that people have, then they can more easily filter out the 'Jana's having a baby!' conversations and zero in on the 'lets organize a march' conversation of radicals and other undesirables - oh, yeah, and [those] "terrorists" and "drug dealers" - the only problem here is that to find the largest number of these in the most cost effective way all they would need to do is walk down the hall start arresting people..

The words semantic analysis are used somewhat differently in the patents I mention than in the technical specs for the Naurus 6400, but forgive me for assuming that the NSA has technology that is more advanced (by a small margin and in the same direction) than what is available to the general public.


I guess this casts the Google action in preventing DOJ into their data centers in a quite different light. As I said previously, this isn't about reading the query log - this was always about the right to install a room of 'black servers' right in the middle of the google data center. Google's actions in standing up to that are all the more laudable.


Just to be crystal clear on this; at this time what we now have is clear evidence of (sophisticated) *monitoring and analysis* of internet and phone traffic - something we pretty much knew for a long time.

Thats very scary (and illegal, in my opinion), but its certainly better than actual direct government censorship of content on the internet ('chilling effects' on free speech aside).

On the pessimistic side, however, direct (but covert) censorship is probably the next obvious step once you have the right hardware installed in the key data centers.

It may be that if you want to actually directly censor and block information all you need to do is control the choke points - which means ISP's (like AT&T) and not the search engines (like Google). However, it could well be that a more sophisticated (and probably more practical) form of censorship is to control the search engines. Certainly the Chinese found that controlling the search engine content was more effective (and subtle) form of censorship than outright blocks on entire search engines or particular websites.

My suspicion (OK, its a total guess) is that, in the States at least, the NSA and other parts of the state/non-state military-technological apparatus are probably experimenting with the censorship of certain specifc pieces of information even right now. A good place for them to start might be, for instance, information about themselves, their methods and what they plan to do next.

At this time I'm pretty sure that direct censorship or control of political discourse on the internet is something that organisations such as the NSA wouldn't consider themselves able to do. Despite all their technology and hardware, the number of bits to flip and the sheer volume of content to mechanically 'understand' and filter makes that effectively impossible. It can be argued that have achieved a high degree of success in the mass media - ask someone who's actually lived in the states for a few years and I'm sure you'll see what i mean - but its still too hard for them to control the discourse of 'blogosphere' directly at this stage - but you just wait and see.. as soon as they believe they can do this - they will. Furthermore, if 'they' are smart they won't give any indication that this is their next step until they are ready to go.

"The internet" may be the last truly free bastion of political free speech in the States at ths time.. and if that were to be closed down via a more sophisticated version of 'the chinese firewall" .. well God help us all.


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