Reset the Net

It’s been one year since we started to learn the extent to which our government is surveilling us with massive, dragnet programs. There were hints before, but the government and the mainstream press actively suppressed the whistle-blowers who tried to warn us. Each revelation was met with denials and deflections, but each new revelation has been more damning than the last. And the revelations still continue a year after the story finally broke.

I believe these programs to be illegal, unconstitutional, and fundamentally incompatible with democracy. They have made us less secure, not more so.

Congress and the President have failed to take any significant steps during this year toward reigning in this unconscionable abuse. Worse, they’ve pardoned the telecommunications companies who collaborated with past illegal surveillance in order to buy their cooperation with the other programs. They’ve weakened encryption standards, which makes all of us less safe. They’ve sacrificed the moral high-ground necessary to use diplomacy to protect ourselves from cyber-espionage committed by other governments.

Congress needs to step up. This should be a matter of law, not of policy. Policies are much too fluid to protect the security and privacy of our nation and its people.

But if the government won’t protect us, we’ll have to do it ourselves. Learn to use encryption and privacy tools. Demand them from the software vendors you rely on. Think twice before committing to a cloud-based service. The NSA has taken advantage of the centralization of the telecoms systems and the trend toward centralization of the Internet in order to eavesdrop on all of us. But the Internet doesn’t need to be centralized. It wasn’t designed that way. Surveillance is damage, and we can route around it.

Fight Back

The government’s widespread surveillance of its own people is illegal, unconstitutional, dangerous to democracy, and bad for the economy. Let your representatives know that they’ve gone too far. Demand laws to curtail these unconscionable programs. Remind your reps that they swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

Petition to Award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Joseph Nacchio

I’ve started a petition to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Joseph Nacchio, the CEO of Qwest Communications, who was the only telecom CEO to say no to the warrantless wiretapping program back in 2001. Instead of being recognized for his bravery to stand up to the government’s illegal requests, his company was penalized by the loss of key government contracts.

An interesting thing to note is that Nacchio was approached about joining the illegal program in February, 2001, several months before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Not one person who was involved in the illegal wiretapping program was held accountable. Nacchio, however, was prosecuted and served a six-year sentence for insider trading, charges which reek of government retaliation. Meanwhile, all the other telecommunications companies were awarded retroactive immunity for their collaboration in the illegal mass surveillance of U.S. citizens that continued for years.

Backwards Apostrophes

One of my pet peeves is backwards apostrophes, so you could imagine my discomfort when I walked into a store with these signs posted all over. I had to leave the store.


How does a big national chain make an error like this on such a grand scale? You’d think an error like that would jump out at the graphic artist who made the signs. Presumably a big marketing campaign has an approval chain. Did nobody spot the error?

Of course, the real problem is the so-called “smart” quotes feature of most word processors. They use a simplistic rule for trying to figure out if you intended for the apostrophe to be a left single quotation mark. The rule doesn’t work when the apostrophe belongs at the beginning of a word or a number. It’s time for real smarts in smart quotes.