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  1. As an example regarding how current events are often viewed in a highly-polarized manner which leads to pointless concept-derived debates – as well as how a more balanced view can potentially be far more useful – here’s an overview of matters related to Edward Snowden, and the controversy surrounding his actions. Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) who took and disclosed information on top secret NSA programs related to the mass surveillance of American citizens, has been one of the most polarizing figures of recent times. This is largely because many people view Edward Snowden through polarizing conceptual lenses: On the one hand, many see Snowden as a hero – for fighting government excesses that they are sure are unconstitutional. Or, on the other hand, many see Snowden as a traitor – for violating his security clearance, betraying his country, and very likely being solely and simply a self-serving spy for one or more foreign powers. Are there other possibilities? There certainly seem to be clues that there may well be. Recognizing these other possibilities boils down to reviewing the facts – and, most importantly – being willing to form opinions after review of the facts, rather than before. Regarding the idea that Edward Snowden is a traitor, there are a few facts that I feel are pertinent which indicate that he is not. These facts do not necessarily vindicate him overall, but they do indicate that he is not a traitor. First, the U.S. government, which has taken a hard line against his actions, has not charged Edward Snowden with treason. They have charged him with theft of government property (per the files he took, regarding the NSA programs), and espionage (for passing the information to journalists, who do not hold security clearances). Second, Snowden himself seems to have an ability to clearly self-assess, as well as to articulate a clearly-stated and consistent message, which he has provided at many different times in the thirteen months or so since his initial actions took place. Speaking via video to a TED audience in March 2014, Snowden replied to the “hero or traitor” question by saying: "Everybody who is involved with this debate has been struggling over me and my personality and how to describe me. But when I think about it, this isn't the question that we should be struggling with. Who I am really doesn't matter at all. If I'm the worst person in the world, you can hate me and move on. What really matters here are the issues. What really matters here is the kind of government we want, the kind of Internet we want, the kind of relationship between people and societies. And that's what I'm hoping the debate will move towards, and we've seen that increasing over time. If I had to describe myself, I wouldn't use words like "hero." I wouldn't use "patriot," and I wouldn't use "traitor." I'd say I'm an American and I'm a citizen, just like everyone else." Regarding whether or not Snowden may possibly be a hero, despite his own modesty, there are some significant opinions from credible parties which differ wildly from the opinions of certain offended Americans and the United States government. As just one example, in September 2013, the parliament of the European Union nominated Snowden for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, considered Europe’s top human rights award, which has previously been bestowed on luminaries such as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. In March 2014, that same body, the parliament of the European Union, invited Edward Snowden to provide testimony, regarding what many people feel are intelligence-related human rights violations by the United States and some of its European allies. To clarify his attitude and views further, in his introduction to his testimony, Snowden said: "I worked for the United States' Central Intelligence Agency. The National Security Agency. The Defense Intelligence Agency. I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue. And I have risked my life, my family, and my freedom to tell you the truth.” (Snowden does not object to targeted surveillance, which he feels has been legal, ethical and effective; he objects to clandestine mass surveillance, which has been implemented, prior to his disclosures, without the knowledge or consent of the general public.) A bit further on in his testimony, Snowden clarifies his position regarding clandestine surveillance, and the inherent right of people, in his view, to be free from it: "The right to be free of unwarranted intrusion into our private effects -- our lives and possessions, our thoughts and communications -- is a human right. It is not granted by national governments and it cannot be revoked by them out of convenience. Just as we do not allow police officers to enter every home to fish around for evidence of undiscovered crimes, we must not allow spies to rummage through our every communication for indications of disfavored activities." Finally, it is pertinent to note that at least one federal judge in the United States has stated via legal ruling that he agrees with Edward Snowden that the NSA programs in question are, indeed, unconstitutional. This ruling, along with the fact that in May 2014 the United States House of Representatives passed the first legislation (and with extremely rare bipartisan support) to restrict the activities of the NSA – activities that were not known even to members of Congress or the President, prior to Snowden’s disclosures. And so – is Snowden a hero? A traitor? A whistleblower? After listening carefully to what he has said over the last year, I would describe Edward Snowden as “an interesting and potentially powerful social catalyst”. He has served as the impetus and catalyst for a series of important national and international conversations to take place – as well as for hitherto unprecedented citizen-protecting legislation. Comments? PS – Per the fact that the best and clearest information on Edward Snowden comes from Edward Snowden, I’ll plan to put some additional posts in this thread featuring Snowden’s video interviews and talks, transcripts, articles, etc. – so that Snowden can speak for himself – and so we can discuss what he has said as we may decide to do.
  2. Original Article can be found here. Edward Snowden's NSA leaks 'an important service', says Al Gore Former vice-president argues whistleblower exposed 'violations of US constitution far more serious than crimes he committed' Ewen MacAskill, defence correspondent The Guardian, Tuesday 10 June 2014 14.31 EDT Al Gore refused to go as far as labelling Edward Snowden, above, a whistleblower but signalled he viewed him as being closer to that category than a traitor. Photograph: AP Edward Snowden has secured his highest endorsement yet in the US when former vice-president Al Gore described the leaking of top secret intelligence documents as "an important service". Asked if he regarded Snowden as a traitor or whistleblower, Gore veered away from the "traitor" label. He refused to go as far as labelling him a whistleblower but signalled he viewed him as being closer to that category than a traitor, saying: "What he revealed in the course of violating important laws included violations of the US constitution that were way more serious than the crimes he committed." Snowden, the former CIA and National Security Agency computer specialist, leaked US and British documents to the Guardian and Washington Post in June last year, starting a worldwide debate on the balance between surveillance and privacy. His revelations have led to proposed changes in legislation in the US and a backlash against government surveillance by major telecoms and internet companies. But he remains a polarising figure in the US. An NBC poll a fortnight ago showed 24% backing him and 34% disagreeing with his actions, with 40% having no opinion. Among the younger generation there was more support, with 32% backing him and only 20% opposed, with 47% having no opinion. Some members of Congress have welcomed the revelations but refuse to go as far as supporting Snowden, who is wanted by the US and has sought asylum in Russia. Gore, interviewed at the Southland technology conference in Nashville, Tennessee, was asked if he viewed him as a whistleblower or a traitor. "I hear this question all the time. I'm like most people: I don't put him in either one of those categories. But I'll be candid and give you want you want. If you set up a spectrum. " The interviewer interrupted: "How would you define it?" Gore replied: "I would push it more away from the traitor side. And I will tell you why. He clearly violated the law so you can't say OK, what he did is all right. It's not. But what he revealed in the course of violating important laws included violations of the US constitution that were way more serious than the crimes he committed. "In the course of violating important law, he also provided an important service. OK. Because we did need to know how far this has gone." The documents released by Snowden showed massive government surveillance but also the extent of co-operation between the government and the large telecoms and internet companies. Gore called on the internet companies to work with the public to help draw up a "digital Magna Carta" that provides protection of freedoms. "They need to pay attention to correcting some of these gross abuses of individual privacy that are ongoing in the business sphere," he said. Snowden's hope of a return to the US is dependent on a change in a major shift in opinion that would allow him to escape a lengthy prison sentence. His supporters will seize on Gore's comments to help make the case that he is a whistleblower and should be allowed to return to the US as a free man. Ben Wizner, Snowden's US-based lawyer, said: "Al Gore is quite obviously right. Regrettably, the laws under which Snowden is being charged make no allowance for the value of the information he disclosed. Whether the NSA's activities violated the law or the constitution would be irrelevant in a trial under the Espionage Act."
  3. The National Security Agency is harvesting huge numbers of images of people from communications that it intercepts through its global surveillance operations for use in sophisticated facial recognition programs, according to top-secret documents. The spy agency’s reliance on facial recognition technology has grown significantly over the last four years as the agency has turned to new software to exploit the flood of images included in emails, text messages, social media, videoconferences and other communications, the N.S.A. documents reveal. Agency officials believe that technological advances could revolutionize the way that the N.S.A. finds intelligence targets around the world, the documents show. The agency’s ambitions for this highly sensitive ability and the scale of its effort have not previously been disclosed. The agency intercepts “millions of images per day” — including about 55,000 “facial recognition quality images” — which translate into “tremendous untapped potential,” according to 2011 documents obtained from the former agency contractor Edward J. Snowden. While once focused on written and oral communications, the N.S.A. now considers facial images, fingerprints and other identifiers just as important to its mission of tracking suspected terrorists and other intelligence targets, the documents show. Photo Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, left, who tried to bomb an airplane, and Faisal Shahzad, who tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square. The attempts prompted more image gathering.CreditReuters; U.S. Marshals Service, via Associated Press “It’s not just the traditional communications we’re after: It’s taking a full-arsenal approach that digitally exploits the clues a target leaves behind in their regular activities on the net to compile biographic and biometric information” that can help “implement precision targeting,” noted a 2010 document. One N.S.A. PowerPoint presentation from 2011, for example, displays several photographs of an unidentified man — sometimes bearded, other times clean-shaven — in different settings, along with more than two dozen data points about him. These include whether he was on the Transportation Security Administration no-fly list, his passport and visa status, known associates or suspected terrorist ties, and comments made about him by informants to American intelligence agencies. It is not clear how many people around the world, and how many Americans, might have been caught up in the effort. Neither federal privacy laws nor the nation’s surveillance laws provide specific protections for facial images. Given the N.S.A.’s foreign intelligence mission, much of the imagery would involve people overseas whose data was scooped up through cable taps, Internet hubs and satellite transmissions. Because the agency considers images a form of communications content, the N.S.A. would be required to get court approval for imagery of Americans collected through its surveillance programs, just as it must to read their emails or eavesdrop on their phone conversations, according to an N.S.A. spokeswoman. Cross-border communications in which an American might be emailing or texting an image to someone targeted by the agency overseas could be excepted. Civil-liberties advocates and other critics are concerned that the power of the improving technology, used by government and industry, could erode privacy. “Facial recognition can be very invasive,” said Alessandro Acquisti, a researcher on facial recognition technology at Carnegie Mellon University. “There are still technical limitations on it, but the computational power keeps growing, and the databases keep growing, and the algorithms keep improving.” State and local law enforcement agencies are relying on a wide range of databases of facial imagery, including driver’s licenses and Facebook, to identify suspects. The F.B.I. is developing what it calls its “next generation identification” project to combine its automated fingerprint identification system with facial imagery and other biometric data. The State Department has what several outside experts say could be the largest facial imagery database in the federal government, storing hundreds of millions of photographs of American passport holders and foreign visa applicants. And the Department of Homeland Security is funding pilot projects at police departments around the country to match suspects against faces in a crowd. The N.S.A., though, is unique in its ability to match images with huge troves of private communications. “We would not be doing our job if we didn’t seek ways to continuously improve the precision of signals intelligence activities — aiming to counteract the efforts of valid foreign intelligence targets to disguise themselves or conceal plans to harm the United States and its allies,” said Vanee M. Vines, the agency spokeswoman. She added that the N.S.A. did not have access to photographs in state databases of driver’s licenses or to passport photos of Americans, while declining to say whether the agency had access to the State Department database of photos of foreign visa applicants. She also declined to say whether the N.S.A. collected facial imagery of Americans from Facebook and other social media through means other than communications intercepts. “The government and the private sector are both investing billions of dollars into face recognition” research and development, said Jennifer Lynch, a lawyer and expert on facial recognition and privacy at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “The government leads the way in developing huge face recognition databases, while the private sector leads in accurately identifying people under challenging conditions.” Ms. Lynch said a handful of recent court decisions could lead to new constitutional protections for the privacy of sensitive face recognition data. But she added that the law was still unclear and that Washington was operating largely in a legal vacuum. Laura Donohue, the director of the Center on National Security and the Law at Georgetown Law School, agreed. “There are very few limits on this,” she said. Continue reading the main story DOCUMENT Identity Intelligence: Image Is Everything An excerpt of a document obtained by Edward J. Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency, referring to the agency’s use of images in intelligence gathering. OPEN DOCUMENT Congress has largely ignored the issue. “Unfortunately, our privacy laws provide no express protections for facial recognition data,” said Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, in a letter in December to the head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is now studying possible standards for commercial, but not governmental, use. Facial recognition technology can still be a clumsy tool. It has difficulty matching low-resolution images, and photographs of people’s faces taken from the side or angles can be impossible to match against mug shots or other head-on photographs. Dalila B. Megherbi, an expert on facial recognition technology at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, explained that “when pictures come in different angles, different resolutions, that all affects the facial recognition algorithms in the software.” That can lead to errors, the documents show. A 2011 PowerPoint showed one example when Tundra Freeze, the N.S.A.’s main in-house facial recognition program, was asked to identify photos matching the image of a bearded young man with dark hair. The document says the program returned 42 results, and displays several that were obviously false hits, including one of a middle-age man. Similarly, another 2011 N.S.A. document reported that a facial recognition system was queried with a photograph of Osama bin Laden. Among the search results were photos of four other bearded men with only slight resemblances to Bin Laden. Continue reading the main story RECENT COMMENTS Bob Sterry 18 minutes ago It must be time to start the company that makes those masks that worked so well on the original Mission Impossible series. The vision of a... NYT reader 18 minutes ago Hey, maybe the NSA could use this data to catch terrorist.Someone should tell them. Jason Ryan 18 minutes ago "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?""Who will watch the watchers?"-Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires SEE ALL COMMENTS WRITE A COMMENT But the technology is powerful. One 2011 PowerPoint showed how the software matched a bald young man, shown posing with another man in front of a water park, with another photo where he has a full head of hair, wears different clothes and is at a different location. It is not clear how many images the agency has acquired. The N.S.A. does not collect facial imagery through its bulk metadata collection programs, including that involving Americans’ domestic phone records, authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, according to Ms. Vines. The N.S.A. has accelerated its use of facial recognition technology under the Obama administration, the documents show, intensifying its efforts after two intended attacks on Americans that jarred the White House. The first was the case of the so-called underwear bomber, in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, tried to trigger a bomb hidden in his underwear while flying to Detroit on Christmas in 2009. Just a few months later, in May 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, attempted a car bombing in Times Square. The agency’s use of facial recognition technology goes far beyond one program previously reported by The Guardian, which disclosed that the N.S.A. and its British counterpart, General Communications Headquarters, have jointly intercepted webcam images, including sexually explicit material, from Yahoo users. The N.S.A. achieved a technical breakthrough in 2010 when analysts first matched images collected separately in two databases — one in a huge N.S.A. database code-named Pinwale, and another in the government’s main terrorist watch list database, known as Tide — according to N.S.A. documents. That ability to cross-reference images has led to an explosion of analytical uses inside the agency. The agency has created teams of “identity intelligence” analysts who work to combine the facial images with other records about individuals to develop comprehensive portraits of intelligence targets. The agency has developed sophisticated ways to integrate facial recognition programs with a wide range of other databases. It intercepts video teleconferences to obtain facial imagery, gathers airline passenger data and collects photographs from national identity card databases created by foreign countries, the documents show. They also note that the N.S.A. was attempting to gain access to such databases in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The documents suggest that the agency has considered getting access to iris scans through its phone and email surveillance programs. But asked whether the agency is now doing so, officials declined to comment. The documents also indicate that the N.S.A. collects iris scans of foreigners through other means. CONTINUE READING THE MAIN STORY596COMMENTS In addition, the agency was working with the C.I.A. and the State Department on a program called Pisces, collecting biometric data on border crossings from a wide range of countries. One of the N.S.A.’s broadest efforts to obtain facial images is a program called Wellspring, which strips out images from emails and other communications, and displays those that might contain passport images. In addition to in-house programs, the N.S.A. relies in part on commercially available facial recognition technology, including from PittPatt, a small company owned by Google, the documents show. The N.S.A. can now compare spy satellite photographs with intercepted personal photographs taken outdoors to determine the location. One document shows what appear to be vacation photographs of several men standing near a small waterfront dock in 2011. It matches their surroundings to a spy satellite image of the same dock taken about the same time, located at what the document describes as a militant training facility in Pakistan. A version of this article appears in print on June 1, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: N.S.A. Collecting Millions of Faces From Web Images. Order Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe Source: New York Times, June 1, 2014
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