DARPA Spending Millions Improving Voice Recognition Surveillance Tech

The Anti-Media
by Cassius Methyl

surveillance

Between 2015 and 2017, the Pentagon will have the ability to decipher human voices in surveillance audio even if background noise makes the covertly recorded conversations inaudible.

This may bring to mind the surveillance audio secretly recorded through our smartphones when they are in our pockets. On or off, we know now that our conversations are being recorded by a wide array of electronic devices, and our conversations we used to consider private are actually being stored in data collection facilities like the one in Utah aptly titled the ‘Utah Data Center’.

With this multimillion dollar technology, our seemingly private conversations can be stored and analyzed by government officials even if the background noise is too much for a normal audio recording.

Newly released documents from DARPA show that they are in the third phase of their ‘RATS’ program (Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech). This information indicates that they are going to great lengths to make sure that secretly recorded conversations can be analyzed by the government.

According to the documents, “the research division of a government agency will be testing the speech activity detection algorithm to incorporate into their platform.”

The ‘platform’ is an insidious word for massive, incomprehensible surveillance grid with an unspecified endgame. This ‘platform’ opens doors up to the powers that be, infinite doors to be utilized with what we have every reason to believe is nothing but malicious intent.

According to a USA Today article “DARPA has spent $13 million on RATS. It now wants to spend another $2.4 million, contract records show, to make the final push to make the system operational by the Air Force as early as this year but by 2017. Other agencies, particularly those in the intelligence community, will also use the system once it’s operational.”

The program also seeks to recognize different languages, and filter surveillance audio by recognizing keywords. This may also imply that people in other countries will be targeted.

The US government was also caught hacking into billions of SIM cards recently.

An important question to ask would be, how will they actually put this to use?

Will the government try to start prosecuting people in legal cases with the data collected with the surveillance grid being covertly imposed around us? Perhaps it should be phrased, when will they start using this surveillance data to incarcerate people?

We are surely all aware of the fact that smartphones, certain TV’s, and a wide variety of other devices are actually functioning microphones in a surveillance grid being set up that is apparently a high enough priority to the powers that be to be worth millions of dollars in funding.

So we all know this is happening, but why? Where is this going, how far will they go in analyzing this data and how will they utilize is to prosecute and target people who oppose the interests of the US government and their allies?

The actual plethora of potential malicious uses of this data is essential to speculate on. As activists and people concerned about the state of our society and the unchecked power of the US government and other organizations, we must think long and hard about these things. I highly recommend you do research on DARPA, and try your best to fully comprehend how this technology could be utilized against political opponents, dissidents, activists and innocent Americans.

Please share this with everyone. This info is relevant to every single person around you.

The Anti-Media

Big Barbie is Watching You – Meet the WiFi Connected Barbie Doll that Talks to Your Children and Records Them

Liberty Blitzkrieg
by Michael Krieger

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 2.04.22 PMEarlier this month, I highlighted the fact that the latest Samsung Smart TV can and will listen to your conversations, and will share the details with a third party in the post: A Very Slippery Slope – Yes, Your Samsung Smart TV Can Listen to Your Private Conversations.

Well a couple of weeks later, and we learn that Mattel’s latest high-tech Barbie doll will bring the “internet of things” right into your child’s playpen. From the The Register:

Toymaker Mattel has unveiled a high-tech Barbie that will listen to your child, record its words, send them over the internet for processing, and talk back to your kid. It will email you, as a parent, highlights of your youngster’s conversations with the toy.

If Samsung’s spying smart TVs creeped you out, this doll may be setting off alarm bells too – so we drilled into what’s going on.

The Hello Barbie doll is developed by San Francisco startup ToyTalk, which says it has more than $31m in funding from Greylock Partners, Charles River Ventures, Khosla Ventures, True Ventures and First Round Capital, and others.

Its Wi-Fi-connected Barbie toy has a microphone, a speaker, a small embedded computer with a battery that lasts about an hour, and Wi-Fi hardware. When you press a button on her belt buckle, Barbie wakes up, asks a question, and turns on its microphone while the switch is held down.

The doll is loaded up with scripts to read, and one of these is selected depending on what the kid said. If the tyke shows an interest in a particular past-time or thing, the doll’s backend software will know to talk about that – giving the kid the impression that chatty Barbie’s a good, listening friend.

Crucially, the recorded audio of children’s voices (and whatever else happens to be going on around them when they push the buckle button) is kept on ToyTalk’s computers. This material is supposed to help Mattel and ToyTalk improve Barb’s scripted replies. It’s also good test data for developing the voice-recognition code.The ToyTalk privacy policy page, dated last April well before Hello Barbie was revealed this week, states:

When users interact with ToyTalk, we may capture photographs or audio or video recordings (the “Recordings”) of such interactions, depending upon the particular application being used.

We may use, transcribe and store such Recordings to provide and maintain the Service, to develop, test or improve speech recognition technology and artificial intelligence algorithms, and for other research and development or internal purposes.

We may make such Recordings available to the parent account holder and permit the parent account holder to share such Recordings with third parties.

By using Hello Barbie, parents agree to these terms. It’s not clear how long the recordings stay on ToyTalk’s systems.

You’ve been warned: Big Barbie is Watching You.

Liberty Blitzkrieg

NSA and GCHQ: Big Brother Would Have Never Believed

New Eastern Outlook
by Vladimir Platov

563323Recent days have been marked by a record number of news about the US and its allies trying to establish a total control over Internet users.

On February 16 researchers at Moscow-based security group Kaspersky Lab announced the discovery of an ultimate virus that has virtually affected all spheres of military and civilian computing in more than 40 countries around the world. They’ve managed to discover a piece of malware that must have been installed on vhard disks while they were still being manufactured, and due to its complexity and a certain number of features that it shares with Stuxnet, it’s safe to assume that it was created by US secret services.

On February 18 The Guardian confirmed that for the last 7 years Government Communications Headquarters had been sharing personal intelligence data en masse with America’s national security agencies, regardless of the fact that it had intercepted millions of foreign citizens conversations. The ruling of a UK court clearly suggests that these actions were illegal on top of being carried out in violation of the the European convention on human rights.

On 19 February it was announced that National Security Agency (NSA) along with its British partner in crime – the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has manged to steal encryption keys from Gemalto – the world’s largest manufacturer of SIM-cards. This allowed the above named intelligence agencies to tap any phone and intercept data from any mobile device that was using a SIM-card produced by Gemalto. This conspiracy was unveiled by The Intercept, that added that Gemalto was created nine years ago when a French company Axalto merged with Gemplus International that was operating in Luxembourg. Today Gemalto has more that 85 offices across the globe along with a total of 40 factories, that are working in close cooperation with the leading telecommunication corporations, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, along with many others. Representatives of the three above listed companies refused to comment on this scandal.

By the way, one can easily trace the German Deutsche Telekom among the customers of Gemalto group of companies. Hence it is highly unlikely that anyone would have any doubt on the involvement of US intelligence in the tapping of Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, that was uncovered back in the mid 2014. What is particularly peculiar in this situation is the decision of The Federal Attorney General of Germany to stop investigating the Chancellor tapping case as it was reported by Focus Online on the pretext of “zero possible outcome of the investigation.” Well, the claims of the same Focus Online that “Merkel now has a new cell phone that cannot be tapped.” looks ridiculous enough, since this brand “new phone” uses the same-old Gemalto SIM-card. So the NSA can spy on Madam Chancellor as long as they see fit, while the general attorney sees nothing wrong about it. Well, perhaps, Germany has finally agreed to stand in line with the citizens of other countries and their political and business elites, eager to play the role of laboratory rats in the US intelligence surveillance game.

One would be surprised to learn that Gemalto is producing up to 2 billion SIM-cards per year, along with chips for bank cards and identity cards. According to many information security experts, US intelligence agencies, due to the encryption keys they’ve stolen are able to retrieve any information from mobile devices, bank cards, e-passports.

The Wall Street Journal reported the “successes” of US intelligence agencies in retrieving information from millions of US citizens’ cell phones back in 2014. Most of the US citizens are under constant control of the security forces, due to the surveillance systems that were mounted on light aircraft and drones, that was developed by Boeing, which allows to collect private data from dozens of thousands of mobile phones. In addition to the ability to establish whereabouts of a person, that can be tracked with the accuracy to within three meters, his phone can be remotely block, while all of information stored on it can be easily stolen.

On February 20, the spokesperson for the United States Department of State Jen Psaki in her typical manner complained about how difficult it is for the US to confronts thousands of hostile attacks in cyberspace. However, she has never mentioned the above listed facts and Washington’s paranoiac desire to dominate cyberspace.

Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”

New Eastern Outlook

Worst Spying In World History – Worse Than Any Dystopian Novel – Is Occurring RIGHT NOW

Washington’s Blog

watchful eye

NSA Spying Worse than Stasi or Nazi Germany, J. Edgar Hoover … Or Orwell’s 1984

We noted in 2012 that Americans are the most spied upon people in world history.

Top NSA officials previously said that we’ve got a “police state” … like J. Edgar Hoover – or the Stasi – on “super steroids”.

Spying by the NSA is also worse than in Nazi German:

The tyrants in Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and Stasi Eastern Europe would have liked to easedrop on every communication and every transaction of every citizen.  But in the world before the internet, smart phones, electronic medical records and digital credit card transactions, much of what happened behind closed doors remained private.

Indeed, a former lieutenant colonel for the East German Stasi said the NSA’s spy capabilities would have been “a dream come true” for the Stasi.

NSA contractor Edward Snowden said in 2013 that NSA spying was worse than in Orwell’s book 1984. (See update below).

We noted at the time that the NSA is spying on us through our computers, phones, cars, buses, streetlights, at airports and on the street, via mobile scanners and drones, through our smart meters, and in many other ways.

And we learned that same year that the NSA is laughing at all of us for carrying powerful spying devices around in our pockets. And see this.

A security expert said the same year:

We have to assume that the NSA has EVERYONE who uses electronic communications under CONSTANT surveillance.

What’s happened since these statements were made?  Spying has only gotten worse. The government is doing everything it can to completely destroy privacy.

Postscript:  Nothing has changed … and it will keep on getting worse and worse unless we the people stand up for our rights against those who want to take our freedom away.

Update: Bill Binney is the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information. A 32-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency, Binney was the senior technical director within the agency and managed thousands of NSA employees.

Binney tells Washington’s Blog:

While the spying programs that we have heard about so far deal with the “who and what” and on occasion the “why” of what people on the planet are doing, Treasuremap is the NSA/GCHQ/etc. program to acquire and follow the movements of people (objective is to follow 4 billion folks) simultaneously in near real time. So, Treasuremap gives them the “when and where” aspects of individual lives.

All in all, this gives the participating governments (primarily the Five Eyes countries) unrestricted knowledge of individual lives.

Current surveillance is far beyond an Orwellian state.

Although on a much smaller scale, we need to remember that these type of activities were some of the primary “articles of impeachment” of president Nixon.

Washington’s Blog

Media Blackout on the U.S. “Smart Grid Deployment”: Designs and Monied Interests Behind “Smart Meters” Installed across America

Global Research
By Prof. James F. Tracy

Dees_Smart_Grid

David Dees

Over the past several years a conspiracy of silence has surrounded the implementation of the Smart Grid across the United States, perhaps with good reason. If the public were aware of what lay behind this agenda there would likely be considerable outcry and resistance.

“Smart meters”–the principal nodes of the Smart Grid network–are being installed on homes and businesses by power utilities across the United States under the legal and fiscal direction of the United States government. In December 2007 both houses of the US Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA).

This 310-page piece of legislation employs the dubious science of anthropogenic CO2-based climate change science to mandate an array of policies, such as fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and “green” energy initiatives. Tucked away in the final pages of this law is the description and de facto mandate for national implementation of the Smart Grid that the Bush administration promised would result in “some of the largest CO2 emission cuts in our nation’s history.”[1]

The bill unambiguously lays out the design and intent behind the Smart Grid, including surveillance, tiered energy pricing, and energy rationing for all US households and businesses through round-the-clock monitoring of RFID-chipped “Energy Star” appliances.[2] Congress and “other stakeholders” (presumably for-profit utilities and an array of Smart Grid technology patent holders[3] whose lobbyists co-wrote the legislation) describe the Smart Grid’s characteristics and goals via ten provisions.

(1) Increased use of digital information and controls technology to improve reliability, security, and efficiency of the electric grid.
(2) Dynamic optimization of grid operations and resources with full cyber-security.
(3) Deployment[4] and integration of distributed resources and generation, including renewable resources.
(4) Development and incorporation of demand response, demand-side resources, and energy efficiency resources.
(5) Deployment of “smart” technologies (real-time, automated, interactive technologies that optimize the physical operation of appliances and consumer devices) for metering, communications concerning grid operations and status, and distribution automation.
(6) Integration of “smart” appliances and consumer devices.
(7) Deployment and integration of advanced electricity storage and peak-shaving technologies, including plug-in electric and hybrid electric vehicles, and thermal-storage air conditioning.
(8) Provision to consumers of timely information and control operations.
(9) Development of standards for communication and interoperability of appliances and equipment connected to the electric grid, including the infrastructure serving the grid.
(10) Identification and lowering of unreasonable or unnecessary barriers to adoption of smart grid technologies, practices, and services [emphases added].[5]

Less than two years after EISA’s enactment President Barack Obama directed $3.4 billion of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to Smart Grid development. Matching funds from the energy industry brought the total initial Smart Grid investment to $8 billion.[6] The overall completion of the Smart Grid will cost another $330 billion.[7] Today a majority of energy delivery throughout the US is routed to homes equipped with smart meters that monitor power consumption on a minute-to-minute basis.

As noted, the American public remains largely unaware of the numerous designs and monied interests behind the Smart Grid–not to mention how smart meters themselves pose substantial dangers to human health and privacy. This is because the plan for tiered energy pricing via wireless monitoring of household appliances has been almost entirely excluded from news media coverage since the EISA became law on December 19, 2007.

A LexisNexis search of US print news outlets for “Energy Independence and Security Act” and “Smart Grid” between the dates December 1, 2007 to January 31, 2008 yields virtually no results.

An identical LexisNexis search of such media for the dates December 1, 2007 to February 18, 2015 retrieves a total 11 print news items appearing in US dailies (seven in McClatchey Tribune papers; one article appearing in each of the following: New York Times 8/14/08, Santa Fe New Mexican, 5/12/09, Providence Journal, 2/24/11, Tampa Bay Times, 12/13/12).[8]

Even this scant reportage scarcely begins to examine the implications of the EISA’s Smart Grid plan. The New York Times chose to confine its coverage to a 364-word article, “The 8th Annual Year in Ideas; Smart Grids.” “It’s a response to what economists would call a tragedy of the commons,” the Times explains.

[P]eople use as much energy as they are willing to pay for, without giving any thought to how their use affects the overall amount of energy available … Enter Xcel’s $100 million initiative, called SmartGridCity, a set of technologies that give both energy providers and their customers more control over power consumption … Consumers, through a Web-enabled control panel in their homes, are able to regulate their energy consumption more closely — for example, setting their A.C. system to automatically reduce power use during peak hours.[9]

News in far more modest papers likewise resembles the promotional materials distributed by the utilities themselves. “There will soon be a time when homeowners can save electricity by having appliances automatically adjust power for peak-demand times and other periods of inactivity by a signal sent through the electrical outlet,” an article in Sunbury Pennsylvania’s Daily Item reads. “‘Right now, it’s at the infant stage,’” a power company executive observes. “‘We didn’t worry about this until two years ago. Nobody cared when electricity was five cents per kilowatt hour. People just bit the bullet and paid the bill.’”[10]

Hoffman_Smart_Grid_Czar

Smart Grid Czar Patricia Hoffman

Along these lines, the Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability Patricia Hoffman, is charged under the EISA with federal oversight of nationwide Smart Grid implementation. In other words, Hoffman is America’s “Smart Grid Czar.” Yet despite heading up such a dubious program since 2010, she has almost entirely escaped journalistic scrutiny, having been referenced or quoted in only four US daily papers (Washington Post, 2/8/12, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/26/12, Palm Beach Post, 5/12/13, Pittsburgh Tribune Review 11/13/13) since her tenure began.

In an era where news media wax rhapsodic over new technologies and fall over each other to report consumer-oriented “news you can use,” the Smart Grid’s pending debut should be a major story. It’s not. Indeed, almost the entire US population remains in the dark about this major technological development that will profoundly impact their lives.

When one more closely examines the implications and realities of the federally-approved Smart Grid scheme—from the adverse health effects of electromagnetic radiation to surveillance and energy rationing—there should be little wonder why this degree of silence surrounds its implementation. Such a technocratic system would never be freely accepted if subject to an open exchange and referendum.

 

Notes

[1] “Fact Sheet: Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” whitehouse.gov, December 19, 2007.

[2] “ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency. The ENERGY STAR program was established by EPA in 1992, under the authority of the Clean Air Act Section 103(g).” http://www.energystar.gov/about

[3] Jeff St. John, “Who’s Got the Most Smart Grid Patents?” greentechmedia.com, August 5, 2014.

[4] The word “deployment,” commonly used in government and technical plans for the Smart Grid’s launch, is a military term. From the Latin displicāre, “to scatter,” the modern definition is “[t]o distribute (persons or forces) systematically or strategically.”

[5] Public Law 110-140, Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Title XIII, Section 1301, Washington DC: United States Congress, December 19,2007.

[6] “President Obama Announces $3.4 Billion Investment to Spur Transition to Smart Energy Grid,” energy.gov, October 27, 2009.

[7] Jon Chavez, “Expert Sees $2 Trillion Benefit For Country in Smart Grid,” Toledo Blade, January 16 2013.

[8] In contrast, seven times as many articles (78) appeared in law journals over the same seven year period.

[9] Clay Risen, “”The 8th Annual Year in Ideas; Smart Grids,” New York Times, December 14, 2008.

[10] Jaime North, “Devices Will Soon Monitor Themselves,” Daily Item, October 4, 2008.

Global Research

Your Smart TV Is Spying on You

The New American
by C. Mitchell Shaw

smart tv

In the “Internet of Things” in which people now live, there are a variety of devices that use the Internet connectivity to improve functionality. Refrigerators can remind their owners via text or e-mail when to buy milk or eggs. Homeowners can adjust their thermostats and arm their home security systems with mobile apps. People can access Internet programing and change channels and volume levels on Smart TV’s using voice and gestures. But how secure is the “Internet of Things” for those who are concerned about privacy?

A recent development in Smart TV’s has caused a stir among privacy advocates. Samsung’s newest models have been called into question over the last few months for security issues related to the combination of WiFi connectivity, a built-in camera, and a built-in microphone. Cybersecurity experts are concerned about the “always on” feature of these components and the risks inherent in consumers having a device in their homes that is watching, listening, and reporting to a third party via the Internet.

Samsung spells out some of these risks in their SmartTV Supplement to their Global Privacy Policy in language that is fairly clear. Unfortunately they do it in a way that focuses on convenience instead of privacy. They sell the problems as features.

For instance, they make it very clear that the voice recognition feature, if activated, is always listening and transmitting to a “third party” that handles the voice to text translation, “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.” So, don’t say anything in front of your Smart TV that you wouldn’t want strangers to hear, because they will hear it.

Samsung also addresses the functionality and risks associated with the use of the built-in camera. “To provide you with the ability to control your SmartTV through gestures, the camera mounted on the top of your SmartTV can recognise your movements. This enables you, for example, to move between panels and zoom in or zoom out. We record information about when and how users use gesture controls so that we can evaluate the performance of these controls and improve them,” the privacy policy states. It goes on to say, “You can use facial recognition instead of, or as a supplementary security measure in addition to, manually inputting your password.” While the images users record are not transmitted via the Internet, “Your image will be stored locally, Samsung may take note of the fact that you have set up the feature and collect information about when and how the feature is used so that we can evaluate the performance of this feature and improve it.”

The Smart TV also monitors the content consumers view so as to make “recommendations” of other relevant content that they may find interesting. This is a buzz-phrase for advertisement-based programming. As it is explained in the policy, “In addition, if you enable the collection of information about video streams viewed on your SmartTV, we may collect that information and additional information about the network, channels, and programs that you view through the SmartTV. We will use such information to improve the recommendations that we deliver to you on the SmartTV.”

If a consumer chooses to use the “fitness features” of their SmartTV, they must provide “certain basic information about [themselves], including [their] height, weight and date of birth.” Along with the login credentials and facial photos many consumers will store on their Smart TV’s, this information is an identity thief’s mother lode.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing parts of the privacy policy supplement are the portions about how this information is shared with third parties. To view content from “third parties,” the Smart TV must make certain information available to the “third party.” According to the policy, “Samsung is not responsible for these providers’ privacy or security practices. You should exercise caution and review the privacy statements applicable to the third-party websites and services you use.” So, how is that different than what happens when you watch a movie on Netflix on your PC? Well, for one thing, your PC is not listening and watching when it’s turned off.

The chain of privacy/security is only as strong as its weakest link, and there are a lot of links in the Smart TV chain. If a hacker, or overreaching government agency, or irresponsible employee of one of those “third parties” gained access through any point in that chain, the consumer would have essentially provided the best device for spying that could probably be imagined. Hackers, government agencies, and irresponsible corporations have shown themselves to be more than willing to spy on individuals for any of a number of reasons, none of which matter to the individuals who are being spied on. Is it really smart for people to put Smart TV’s in their homes and make it that much easier?

Samsung’s policy spells out ways to eliminate many of the risks associated with Smart TV’s. As to the microphone, “You may disable Voice Recognition data collection at any time by visiting the “settings” menu. However, this may prevent you from using all of the Voice Recognition features, but “Samsung may still collect associated texts and other usage data so that we can evaluate the performance of the feature and improve it.” So, it’s not listening, but it’s still listening.

The solution for the camera is really no better. According to the privacy statement, “The camera can be covered and disabled at any time, but be aware that these advanced services will not be available if the camera is disabled.” It sounds like Samsung is saying the only way to be sure the camera is disabled is to cover it. So, consumers have a choice between duct tape or these specially designed stickers to cover a camera that should just have a hardware switch that is not dependent on software that can be hacked.

As for the advertisement-based content that is derived from having consumers’ Smart TV’s monitoring their viewing habits, the solution follows the usual trend. “If you disable personalised recommendations, then the information and content displayed on your SmartTV may not be as relevant to you. Samsung may still collect information about your usage of the SmartTV for the purposes described in this Samsung Privacy Policy.” So consumers can disable the benefits of the monitoring, but not the monitoring itself.

It seems the only real option is to disable the Internet connection and keep the information that the Smart TV collects from ever leaving the Smart TV. Even then, it would still be storing that information and if ever stolen, could provide the thieves the ability to do much greater harm. Having your identity stolen is enough to make you miss the good old days when you just had your TV stolen.

So, consumers who are concerned about privacy can buy a Smart TV and disable the voice recognition, camera, recommendations, and WiFi connection and have a Smart TV that is only slightly more risky than a regular old TV, but wouldn’t that sort of defeat the point of buying it in the first place?

(SmartTV is a trademark of Samsung.  This article uses the term Smart TV to refer to all TV’s that connect to the Internet and only uses SmartTV when refering specifically to the product made by Samsung.)

The New American

5 Ways Mass Surveillance Is Destroying Our Economy

Washington’s Blog

mass-surveillance

Prosperity Requires Privacy

Privacy is a prerequisite for a prosperous economy. Even the White House admits:

People must have confidence that data will travel to its destination without disruption. Assuring the free flow of information, the security and privacy of data, and the integrity of the interconnected networks themselves are all essential to American and global economic prosperity, security, and the promotion of universal rights.

Below, we discuss five ways that mass surveillance hurts our economy.

1. Foreigners Stop Buying American

Foreigners are starting to shy away from U.S. Internet companies, due to the risk that American spooks will spy on them.

American tech companies – including Verizon, Cisco, IBM and others – are getting hammered for cooperating with the NSA and failing to protect privacy. The costs to the U.S. economy have been estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. And see this and this.

That doesn’t even take into account the just-revealed NSA program of infecting virtually all popular Western hard drives with spyware.  This will cause huge markets like China to insist that locally-produced hard drives be used, to make it harder for the NSA to hack into them.

So the NSA’s shenanigans are hurting dual pillars of the U.S. tech sector: computers and Internet.   (The sale of mobile devices might not be far behind.)

2. Trust and the Rule of Law – Two Main determinants of Prosperity – Are Undermined By Surveillance

Trust is KEY for a prosperous economy. It’s hard to trust when your government, your internet service provider and your favorite websites are all spying on you.

The destruction of privacy by the NSA directly harms internet companies, Silicon Valley, California … and the entire U.S. economy (Facebook lost 11 millions users as of April mainly due to privacy concerns … and that was before the Snowden revelations). If people don’t trust the companies to keep their data private, they’ll use foreign companies.

And destruction of trust in government and other institutions is destroying our economy.

A top cyber security consultant points out:

If privacy is not protected while performing mass surveillance for national security purposes, then the people’s level of trust in the government decreases.

We noted in 2012:

Personal freedom and liberty – and freedom from the arbitrary exercise of government power – are strongly correlated with a healthy economy, but America is descending into tyranny.

Authoritarian actions by the government interfere with the free market, and thus harm prosperity.

U.S. News and World Report notes:

The Fraser Institute’s latest Economic Freedom of the World Annual Report is out, and the news is not good for the United States. Ranked among the five freest countries in the world from 1975 through 2002, the United States has since dropped to 18th place.

The Cato institute notes:

The United States has plummeted to 18th place in the ranked list, trailing such countries as Estonia, Taiwan, and Qatar.

***

Actually, the decline began under President George W. Bush. For 20 years the U.S. had consistently ranked as one of the world’s three freest economies, along with Hong Kong and Singapore. By the end of the Bush presidency, we were barely in the top ten.

And, as with so many disastrous legacies of the Bush era, Barack Obama took a bad thing and made it worse.

But the American government has shredded the constitution, by … spying on all Americans, and otherwise attacking our freedoms.

Indeed, rights won in 1215 – in the Magna Carta – are being repealed.

Economic historian Niall Ferguson notes, draconian national security laws are one of the main things undermining the rule of law:

We must pose the familiar question about how far our civil liberties have been eroded by the national security state – a process that in fact dates back almost a hundred years to the outbreak of the First World War and the passage of the 1914 Defence of the Realm Act. Recent debates about the protracted detention of terrorist suspects are in no way new. Somehow it’s always a choice between habeas corpus and hundreds of corpses.

Of course, many of this decades’ national security measures have not been taken to keep us safe in the “post-9/11 world” … indeed, many of them [including spying on Americans] started before 9/11.

And America has been in a continuous declared state of national emergency since 9/11, and we are in a literally never-ending state of perpetual war. See this, this, this and this.

***

So lawlessness infringement of our liberty is destroying our prosperity.

Put another way, lack of privacy kills the ability to creatively criticize bad government policy … and to demand enforcement of the rule of law. Indeed, 5,000 years of history shows that mass surveillance is always carried out to crush dissent. In other words, mass surveillance is the opposite of the principle of the rule of law (in distinction to the rule of men) upon which America was founded.

Free speech and checks and balances on the power of government officials are two of the main elements of justice in any society. And a strong rule of law is – in turn – the main determinant of GDP growth.

3. The Free Flow of Information Requires Privacy

Moreover, surveillance hampers the free flow of information as many people begin to watch what they say. The free flow of information is a core requisite for a fast-moving economy … especially an information economy, as opposed to economies focused on resource-extraction or manufacturing.

As quoted above, the White House states:

Assuring the free flow of information [is] essential to American and global economic prosperity, security, and the promotion of universal rights.

Mass surveillance makes people more reluctant to share information … and thus hurts the economy.

4. Mass Surveillance Hurts Productivity

Top computer and internet experts say that NSA spying breaks the functionality of our computers and of the Internet. It reduces functionality and reduces security by – for example – creating backdoors that malicious hackers can get through.

Remember, American and British spy agencies have intentionally weakened security for many decades. And it’s getting worse and worse. For example, they plan to use automated programs to infect millions of computers.

How much time and productivity have we lost in battling viruses let in because of the spies tinkering? How much have we lost because “their” computer programs conflict with “our” programs?

Microsoft’s general counsel labels government snooping an “advanced persistent threat,” a term generally used to describe teams of hackers that coordinate cyberattacks for foreign governments. It is well-known among IT and security professionals that hacking decreases employee productivity. While they’re usually referring to hacking by private parties, the same is likely true for hacking by government agencies, as well.

And the spy agencies are already collecting millions of webcam images from our computers. THAT’S got to tie up our system resources … so we can’t get our work done as fast.

Moreover, the Snowden documents show that the American and British spy agencies launched attacks to disrupt the computer networks of “hacktivists” and others they don’t like, and tracked supporters of groups such as Wikileaks.

Given that the spy agencies are spying on everyone, capturing millions of screenshots, intercepting laptop shipments, creating fake versions of popular websites to inject malware on people’s computers, launching offensive cyber-warfare operations against folks they don’t like, and that they may view journalism, government criticism or even thinking for one’s self as terrorism – and tend to re-label “dissidents” as “terrorists” – it’s not unreasonable to assume that all of us are being adversely effected to one degree or another by spy agency operations.

Bill Binney – the high-level NSA executive who created the agency’s mass surveillance program for digital information, a 32-year NSA veteran widely regarded as a “legend” within the agency, the senior technical director within the agency, who managed thousands of NSA employees – tells Washington’s Blog:

The other costs involve weakening systems (operating systems/firewalls/encryption). When they do that, this weakens the systems for all to find. Hackers around the world as well as governments too.

These costs are hard to count. For example, we hear of hackers getting customer data over and over again. Is that because of what our government has done?

Or, how about all the attacks on systems in government? Are these because of weakened systems?

5. Creativity – A Prime Driver of Prosperity – Requires Privacy

The Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Canada – Ann Cavoukian, Ph.D. – noted recently:

Privacy is Essential to … Prosperity and Well-Being

Innovation, creativity and the resultant prosperity of a society requires freedom;

Privacy is the essence of freedom: Without privacy, individual human rights, property rights and civil liberties – the conceptual engines of innovation and creativity, could not exist in a meaningful manner;

Surveillance is the antithesis of privacy: A negative consequence of surveillance is the usurpation of a person’s limited cognitive bandwidth, away from innovation and creativity.

The Financial Post reported last year: “Big Brother culture will have adverse effect on creativity, productivity“.

Christopher Lingle – visiting professor of economics at ESEADE, Universidad Francisco Marroquín – agrees that creativity is a key to economic prosperity.

Edward Snowden points out:

The success of economies in developed nations relies increasingly on their creative output, and if that success is to continue we must remember that creativity is the product of curiosity, which in turn is the product of privacy.

Silicon Valley is currently one of the largest drivers of the U.S. economy. Do you think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs could have tinkered so creatively in their garages if the government had been watching everything they do?

Everyone who has every done anything creative knows that you need a little privacy to try different things before you’re ready to go public with it. If your bench model, rough sketch or initial melody is being dissected in real time by an intrusive audience … you’re not going to be very creative.  And see this.

Washington’s Blog

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