barlow_on_nsa - Decrypting the Puzzle Palace previously...

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Decrypting the Puzzle Palace previously published in the July, 1992 issue of Communications of the ACM by John Perry Barlow "A little sunlight is the best disinfectant." --Justice Louis Brandeis Over a year ago, in a condition of giddier innocence than I enjoy today, I wrote the following about the discovery of Cyberspace: Imagine discovering a continent so vast that it may have no other side. Imagine a new world with more resources than all our future greed might exhaust, more opportunities than there will ever be entrepreneurs enough to exploit, and a peculiar kind of real estate which expands with development. One less felicitous feature of this terrain which I hadn't noticed at the time was a long-encamped and immense army of occupation. This army represents interests which are difficult to define. It guards the area against unidentified enemies. It meticulously observes almost every activity undertaken there, and continuously prevents most who inhabit its domain from drawing any blinds against such observation. This army marshals at least 40,000 troops, owns the most advanced computing resources in the world, and uses funds the dispersal of which does not fall under any democratic review. Imagining this force won't require the inventive powers of a William Gibson. The American Occupation Army of Cyberspace exists. Its name is the National Security Agency. It can be argued that this peculiar institution inhibits free trade, has damaged American competitiveness, and poses a threat to liberty anywhere people communicate with electrons. Its principal function, as my colleague John Gilmore puts it, is "wire-tapping the world." It is free to do this without a warrant from any judge. It is legally constrained from domestic surveillance, but precious few people are in a good position to watch what, how, or whom the NSA watches. Those who are tend to be temperamentally sympathetic to its objectives and methods. They like power, and power understands the importance of keeping it own secrets and learning everyone else's. Whether it is meticulously ignoring every American byte or not, the NSA is certainly pursuing policies which will render our domestic affairs transparent to anyone who can afford big digital hardware. Such policies could have profound consequences on our liberty and privacy. More to point, the role of the NSA in the area of domestic privacy needs to be assessed in the light of other recent federal initiatives which seem aimed at permanently denying privacy to the inhabitants of Cyberspace, whether foreign or American.
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Finally it seems an opportune time, directly following our disorienting victory in the Cold War, to ask if the threats from which the NSA purportedly protects Americans from are as significant as the hazards the NSA's activities present. Like most Americans I'd never given much thought to the NSA until
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This note was uploaded on 10/24/2009 for the course CC CAd 504 taught by Professor Chickenyoun during the Spring '09 term at University of Washington.

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barlow_on_nsa - Decrypting the Puzzle Palace previously...

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