Bad governments love big storage

Does stored data make you a target? Recent events underline the risk of massive data storage: the US Government's continued policy of arbitrary search and seizure of storage devices at the border; and the China-based hack attack on Google and 20 some-odd other companies. Microfiche, anyone?

Does lots of stored data make you a target? Recent events point to the downside of massive data storage: the US Government's continued policy of arbitrary search and seizure of storage devices at the border; and the China-based hack attack on Google and 20 some-odd other companies.

Build storage and they will come As Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks - "because that's where the money is." - governments want your data because they fear what you may be doing or thinking. Since they can't (yet) read your mind, they want to read your data.

Big disks and big storage are irresistible targets. When a notebook computer can store a terabyte or more - come on, there has to be something illegal or embarrassing a bored ICE agent can dig up.

In the US, the American Civil Liberties Union - a conservative group dedicated to protecting Constitutional rights - and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers are teaming up to fight the government's policy (pdf) of suspicionless searches at the border. Authoritarian hacks like El Supremos Thomas, Scalia and Roberts are against a "right to privacy" because it isn't granted by the Constitution - unless you read the 9th Amendment to mean what it says: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Oddly enough, few Supreme Court decisions reference the 9th. Is there bi-partisan agreement that Americans have too many rights already?

Of course, many frightened Americans are happy to let the government deny rights if it will keep them and their families safe. The problem is that, as history shows, government itself is the greatest threat. And they lie.

Today's Washington Post discloses that the FBI

. . . illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist or simply persuading phone companies to provide records.

Furthermore,

The stream of urgent requests for phone records also overwhelmed the FBI communications analysis unit with work that ultimately was not connected to imminent threats.

Some agent spying on his ex means real work doesn't get done. Photo-radar tickets have higher standards than the FBI.

Meanwhile in China The recent attack on Google mail servers is raising alarms. But is it really so different than the covert wiretapping of millions of phone calls by America's NSA or the FBI in the post-9/11 hysteria?

To their credit Google didn't roll over for the Chinese government the way most American phone companies did for the Bush administration (the CEO of Qwest, which didn't, is now in jail for "insider trading" - uh-huh). The US government ignored the minimal requirements of the secret rubber-stamp FISA court for warrants after the search or wiretap.

[Fun fact: the former head of the FISA court, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, was picked to craft a wrist-slap punishment for Microsoft's antitrust conviction. Then she was appointed to FISA.]

To be clear, Google did not say the Chinese government was behind the attacks. Rogue Xbox players could have mounted a ". . . highly sophisticated and targeted attack. . ." against Chinese human rights activists. Ri-i-ight.

SigInt What both governments were looking for wasn't so much the content of the communications as the names of people who emailed with suspects. The popular term is "guilt by association."

That's why encryption, which can protect content, doesn't really protect you or your friends. Most governments are capable of using rubber-hose or waterboard "decryption" methods - brute-force solutions not discussed in computer science classes.

The Storage Bits take Bad government is the single greatest cause of preventable misery on earth. Who else has as many guns, men, courts and prisons?

The Founding Fathers saw that keeping dumb, irresponsible and/or vicious people out of government was impossible. Instead they tried to limit the damage they could do through a system of checks and balances.

But the system only works if people enforce it. In the post-9/11 hysteria America didn't and politicians played on fear. We could learn much from the British response to the WWII bombing of London and later IRA terror bombings.

I wish the American government held the moral high ground on human rights issues. But as long as law-abiding Americans are subject to suspicionless searches and warrantless wiretaps our actions speak louder than words.

Kudos to Google for: a) tracking down the source of the attack; b) breaking the code of silence that most companies maintain on data breaches, and; c) their willingness to dump the Chinese market and its attendant profits in favor of uncensored search results. I hope they succeed in bringing a bit more freedom to the Chinese people.

Comments welcome, of course. Is it just me, or have the terms "left" and "right" lost all political meaning? "Authoritarian" and "libertarian" are more informative, at least as far as protection of individual rights are concerned.