‘Civil Liberties VS Security’ Discussion on Forum Lecture Of 4/27/14 By F. Sheikh

Dr. Shoeb Amin sent an important e-mail , which is posted here and my comments are at the bottom.

Comments by Dr. Shoeb Amin

“As part of the discussion re the activities of the NSA, a question was raised if you should worry about the NSA collecting our private data, if you had done nothing criminal or you had nothing to hide. The case of Brandon Mayfield – described in the link above – was given as an example of why you SHOULD worry even if you had nothing to hide. After having read the whole article, i find that it was the FBI’s I unprofessional conduct and not secret eavesdropping that was at fault. I agree that innocent people do get into legal trouble sometimes but given the choice of preserving my privacy vs. increasing my safety, i would lean towards safety. It is true that the NSA has not provided concrete evidence of any terrorist acts thwarted by their activity, it is certainly possible that people w/ bad intentions know someone’s watching and are wary of being caught.

I would like people who were at the meeting on 4/27/14 and even those that were not present to share their views re. privacy vs. security.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Mayfield

Comments By F. Sheikh

It is a good topic to have discussion and question raised by Dr. Shoeb was the main crust of my talk. Unfortunately I did not write the article in full and wrote notes on the main points for discussion. It is appropriate that I should write my thoughts on this point so that there is some basis for the discussion.

I think since 9/11 a lot has been achieved for security of our country and we are much safer now, but no matter how much more we spend in money and human life, it can never be 100% risk proof. There will always be some sporadic incidence of terrorism, both external and internal. I think we are either already at that stage where throwing more money and compromising our civil liberties may add very little to the national security and might even do more harm than good. As I pointed out in the lecture, the NSA is very important entity for cybersecurity not just for our country but for the whole world.

During a Senate hearing in March 2013, the nation’s top intelligence officials warned that cyber-attacks and digital spying are the top threat to national security, eclipsing terrorism.

Unfortunately because of recent revelations, as per David Ignatus of Washington Post, the NSA has lost the trust of many foreign countries who are now building their own networks without the involvement of US technology companies, which they think are in bed with NSA. It will cost US companies billion of dollars and future of cyber-security is also in jeopardy. As per article sent by Dr. Shoeb,( Meta-Data http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/nsa-meta-data_b_4499934.html

) the last paragraph reads;

“The Review Group concluded that the information obtained through the section 215 telephony meta-data programs had not proved necessary to the prevention of any planned terrorist attack since the program’s inception in 2006. At the same time, though, it is certainly possible to imagine a situation in which the section 215 program might produce highly valuable information.”

It is obvious that after eight years, any benefit from the Surveillance program is still speculative, but it has inadvertently undermined the cyber-security, which is even more dangerous than terrorism. During the same surveillance period unfortunately Boston Marathon Bombing took place.

As Dr. Shoeb pointed out about Bradon Mayfield case, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Mayfield)

and rightfully said that it was abuse of law by FBI, but let us look at the case from ramifications of collection of vast Meta-Data,heightened environment and how innocent citizens can get tangled into the web.

The brief story of case. Mr Mayfield is an American born and educated attorney in Oregon. His wife is Egyptian and he is a converted Muslim. He was arrested 20 years ago, unknown case, and has defended one person with terrorist charges. In 2004 Madrid bombing took place. Spanish authorities sent suspect finger prints to FBI who matched it against its own data base. Its results showed 20 matches in USA. The investigation included medical records, financial records, employment records, etc. on all 20 people and their families. It was during this time that Brandon Mayfield’s name rose to the top of the list. The Spanish authorities informed FBI twice that they have possible suspect here and you have wrong person as suspect. The FBI disregarded all this and eventually arrested Mr. Mayfield as material witness without giving any access or information to family or attorney.

After Spanish authorities arrested the actual suspect, who also confessed the crime, the FBI has no choice but to release Mr. Mayfield but a gag order was imposed on him. Later gag order was lifted, Mr. Mayfield sued the FBI and a settlement was reached with FBI with 2 million dollars as settlement.

Apart from FBI’s abuse of law and possible religious discrimination, the case shows following problems on the direction, we as freest nation on earth are heading;

1-      If we have vast non specific data, it will show in greater number false positive (innocent suspects) results. FBI has vast data and showed 20 innocent people as suspect in Mayfield case. All of them went through FBI investigation and their all the records , including medical and financial were collected.

2-    Mr. Mayfield was wrongly arrested. It was not just that FBI abused the Law, but FBI agents were working under heightened zero risk tolerance environment which took precedent over common sense approach. They were scared of consequences of letting a Muslim suspect free and ignored evidence from Spanish authorities.

3-    !9 other suspects were not arrested, but they also went through FBI investigation. They are innocent but what will happen to their record in FBI computer files?  Will it pop up at airports or other places for unrelated investigation? We know many people say they have no idea why their names are on no fly list. They spend hours on Airport for clearance. What if anyone of them innocently gets matched again?

4-      As the article by Dr. Shoeb pointed out, collection of telephone data  has similar problem. It can include lot of false positive (innocent suspects).

Just because we are doing more, spending more resources and compromising our civil liberties, does not necessarily makes us safer. At some point, it does more harm than good. I think we as a nation, are at that point now.The same resources can be used for other important issues-like cyber-security.

P.S. Any  computer expert will tell you that once a data is on computer, it is almost impossible to get rid of it.

Fayyaz A. Sheikh

 

11 thoughts on “‘Civil Liberties VS Security’ Discussion on Forum Lecture Of 4/27/14 By F. Sheikh

  1. It is interesting that the US Supreme Court is currently considering two cases in which the defenedants were stopped by police for minor offenses and then took information from their cellphones to develop and convict them of serious crimes. The court is considering whether the police should have obtained a search warrant from a judge or was their decision to troll through the phone information directly legally permissible. The ruling can have a significant impact upon police power to investigate without probable cause.

  2. I am not being cavalier about guarding our privacy; it is an important right. But first of all, is there any privacy left – with social media, cookies in our computers, ezpass etc.? And don’t we give up our privacy by letting TSA employees open both our checked or carry on luggage for the sake of safety? Again, the NSA does not actually read every email or hear every phone conversation but just looks at suspicious activity after a person interest is identified and there may be false positives but would you not have 5 false positives than have 1 false negative? One incident that we missed b/c we were so worried about our privacy that we missed someone plotting to carry a nuclear device into a subway. Under our present circumstances, I think the tide has changed in favor of safety over privacy. I value my safety more than my privacy, specially since i have nothing – or very little – to hide.

    In the example quoted by Nasik Elahi, the police were within their power to do those searches after hearing Dr. Sheikh’s presentation of all the laws passed since 9/11 giving police sweeping powers.

    • By Fayyaz Sheikh in response to Dr. Shoeb Amin

      Unfortunately I may be repeating some of the points to make my position clear. It is little lengthy, I wanted to cover some of the things I said in the lecture.

      I agree the measures taken such as airport security at our airports and forcing other countries to follow similar rules, at unavoidable cost of some privacy, has produced favorable results and should be continued. Nevertheless, these procedures are limited to people who chose to travel by Air and agree to the rules of flying. Same is true about security at other events.

      Other measures of intelligence co-operation with other countries and sharing of information within intelligence communities and law enforcement officials has also helped and should be continued.

      But what I am objecting is broader surveillance by NSA and other such measure that are undermining our civil liberties and have not even proven to be beneficial for our security in the last eight years as per Huffington Post article sent by you. On the contrary, these measures have undermined our cybersecurity, which is even more important than terrorism as per security officials. This broader surveillance is part of spending resources on measures in order to make us 100 % safe, which is impossible. At some point, this overtreatment becomes more dangerous than the disease itself.

      Apart from collecting data of emails and telephone calls, the NSA is doing much more than that; as per Wikipedia; “It (NSA) has also created or maintained security vulnerabilities in most software and encryption (by collaborating with, coercing, or infiltrating numerous technology companies), so that the majority of the internet is susceptible to cyber attacks from the NSA and other parties.” As per Bloomberg news, (denied by NSA) Heartbleed bug in Bank accounts and other accounts to steal our passwords were used by hackers and also by NSA for surveillance.

      As I said before and is worth repeating, NSA is considered top agency for cybersecurity, unfortunately it was undermining cybersecurity itself. It lost trust and confidence of many foreign countries and it will have serious consequences both in economic as well as on cybersecurity. Mr. David Ignatius, a pro-security journalist, writes in Washington post on the consequences of NSA surveillance disclosure;.

      “The Internet governance issue is fraught, too. For the past several decades, basic standards and architecture have been managed by a private body known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. But this group, though passionate about privacy, is now seen as U.S.-dominated, and therefore contaminated. An alternative would give more oversight to the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union.
      The leading candidate to head the ITU next is a Chinese official, Houlin Zhao, the group’s deputy secretary-general.
      Protecting data networks may actually be harder in the post-Snowden environment, argued both Europeans and Americans. That’s because sophisticated cyber-protection involves cooperation between agencies such as the NSA (and its foreign counterparts) and private Internet service providers. Such contacts are now anathema.”

      It is true that lot of personal information is on social media, but as I mentioned in my lecture, it is by our own choice and consent. Consent is the most important principal guiding our daily life from as simple as tress passing property to consent for surgery and consensual sex. Sex without consent can turn into a rape. Telephone and other information was being collected without the consent or court order, and there is no evidence that it even provided any additional security. Undermining “Consent” law can have serious consequences in other spheres of daily life.

      The most pernicious effect of broader surveillance of a society is “fear”. It is most prevalent among the minorities who watch and measure what they say, write or do. It affects their First Amendment rights as a free person. It does not matter whether one is guilty or not, it affects the society at large.

      Fear sells! It has been used by politicians to jack up their rating, by Defense Industrial Complex to sell their security gadgets and by intelligence agencies.to justify their encroachment on civil liberties. Majority of us buy into this fear without many qualms, because who does not want their loved ones to be safe? We were sold fear of mushroom clouds to attack Iraq, who did not has nuclear weapons and did not attack us.

      Yesterday White House released a report, which is now talking about improving security at social media and communication companies. That is what I was suggesting that the NSA should focus and spend more resources on Cybersecurity which is even more important for our national security than terrorism.

      This debate on security and safety is not new but is important. This debate was taking place in 18th century when President Benjamin Franklin said;

      “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”

      F. Sheikh

  3. I am not being cavalier about guarding our privacy; it is an important right. But first of all, is there any privacy left – with social media, cookies in our computers, ezpass etc.? And don’t we give up our privacy by letting TSA employees open both our checked or carry on luggage for the sake of safety? Again, the NSA does not actually read every email or hear every phone conversation but just looks at suspicious activity after a person interest is identified and there may be false positives but would you not have 5 false positives than have 1 false negative? One incident that we missed b/c we were so worried about our privacy that we missed someone plotting to carry a nuclear device into a subway. Under our present circumstances, I think the tide has changed in favor of safety over privacy. I value my safety more than my privacy, specially since i have nothing – or very little – to hide.

    In the example quoted by Nasik Elahi, the police were within their power to do those searches after hearing Dr. Sheikh’s presentation of all the laws passed since 9/11 giving police sweeping powers.

  4. As Dr. Fayyaz Sahib has concluded, “This debate on security and safety is not new but is important,” I like to relate here a fable from Sheikh Sa’adi’s Gulistan:

    People saw a fox running in panic. They stopped her and asked what was the problem. She replied, “King’s men are catching camels.” People asked, “But you have nothing to do with the camels, why are you afraid.” She replied, “It’s my color and they can confuse me as a calf of a camel.” People laughed and said, “Don’t worry, when they find out that you have no relation to a camel, they will let you go.” She replied, “But firstly they will catch me and who knows what happens next. So better be safe first and do not think of what can and cannot happen next.”

    Mirza Ashraf

    • That is one sly fox. I am assuming that Mirza sahib’s fable
      tends to favor security over privacy. Mirza sahib, please let me know if
      i drew the wrong conclusion.

      shoeb

      • You are right the sly fox is concerned about security. However, when
        security is breached, privacy, undoubtedly, is at stake.

        Mirza

        • Mushtaq Sahib, I think you were wrong about Mirza Sahib’s
          conclusion, as you see in his response. Ben Franklin’s quote is really
          nice but i think if he was born in the 21st century he would have said ”
          people who only care for privacy MAY end up dead and then have neither
          privacy nor security”.

  5. I think the example by Mirza Sahib and response by my friend Dr. Shoeb Amin illustrates the whole dilemma we are facing on security and privacy. When innocent citizens (fox) are afraid of rulers and running around for security from rulers, it is a bad commentary on free democratic society.

    Comments on Benjamin Franklin, that present day people may end up dead and they neither will have security or privacy. I do not think Benjamin Franklin will change his words even today, because many people are arguing the same point today in ardent defense of civil liberties, which distinguishes us from the rest of the world.

    As I commented before on fear,“You will be dead” is a fear instrument used since 9/11 for all purposes. When we sell and buy fear, then all we get is fear and security is just distant a hope. It chokes discussion and clouds rational decisions. As I argued before, it does not have to be all or none security or privacy. Some targeted security measure are beneficial and should be continued, but broad surveillance is overreach and is not one of them.
    I came across an article on “Why Privacy Matters, even if you have ‘nothing to hide’. One may not agree on all its contents, but it is informative and worth reading. I will be posting it soon.

    Fayyaz

  6. Mushtaq Sahib, you were wrong about Ben Franklin being the President but you were absolutely right the quote i quoted was my imagination. I am very glad our discussion encouraged you to become an active participant; please keep sending those passionate opinions. I have to say though that even though Ben Franklin was much, much smarter than me, his quote is actually an OPINION – a wise one – but an arguable opinion, but my quote is actually an undeniable FACT; neither liberty or privacy is of any importance to a dead person; cannot argue about that.

    Shoeb

  7. I am running with the sly fox, can’t trust some brute operators of NSA. Intentions of NSA may be good but some one (NSA official) will abuse the laws. I used to think also that innocent need not worry but some sixth sense in me tells me that it is a mistake to assume that people with extraordinary powers will not abuse their powers.

    We can never be 100% safe whatever liberties we sacrifice, so I would rather have my privacy and take my chances on security. I don’t think terrorists are such idiots who will contemplate their plans on emails or cell phones without using code words which no one can catch. I would prefer a dog sniffing for actual bomb than a high strung NSA official snooping for the word bomb in the private conversations. It is also better for NSA officials to not get paranoid and maintain their nerves by not reading too much into innocent conversations, we don’t want jittery people in charge of our security .
    Excellent fable shared by Mirza Sahib.

    Babar

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