Edward Snowden: The Untold Story of How One Patriotic American Exposed NSA Surveillance

I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom, and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building… the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default… they are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.

-Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden might not yet be a historical figure, but he certainly is a hero. He is the whistleblower of all whistleblowers, the American who blew the lid off of Washington’s spying on private citizens. But Snowden’s leak revealed that it’s not just the U.S. government that is spying on virtually every American – big American telecommunications companies are also helping them to spy as well.

Snowden’s upbringing is largely uneventful. His maternal grandfather was a Coast Guard rear admiral and his father was also an officer in the Coast Guard. His mother was a U.S. District Court clerk. His parents divorced around the time that he would have graduated high school in 2001, but Snowden is a high school dropout. After a nine-month absence due to mononucleosis, he simply took the GED exam and then began taking community college classes. Despite a lack of a bachelor’s degree, he worked at a master’s online from the University of Liverpool.

Snowden had a keen interest in Japanese popular culture, and even worked for an anime company early on in his career.

Continue reading Edward Snowden: The Untold Story of How One Patriotic American Exposed NSA Surveillance at Ammo.com.

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Laws Are Creating Immigration Issue

Imagine you have an antique car in your back yard behind a privacy fence. A neighbor climbs your fence, sees the car, and decides something must be done about it. How he decided your property is his concern is a mystery. Clearly, he’s a bad neighbor who doesn’t mind his own business.

Then it gets worse. He doesn’t ask about the car, offer to buy it or to help you get it running. Instead, he hires the local crime boss to force you to build a shed for the car, paint it pink, give it square wheels, and pay an annual ransom for the privilege of owning it. Or else it will be taken from you and you’ll be punished.

This is how government solves problems. Very often these problems shouldn’t even be government’s business, even if it’s possible to apply a law or two to the situation.

If you are waiting for government to solve a problem you are wasting time.

If you imagine problems where none exist, you are the problem.

This is why most political discussion is, at best, misguided.

People debate how government should address health care when government shouldn’t be involved in health care at all. Don’t insist government come up with a health care plan, demand it gets out of the way.

Easily manipulated people panic over “climate change.” Even if it’s a net negative and your fault, don’t ask government to make up laws to violate your life, liberty, and property to fight it. It’s not government’s business. Don’t soil your own nest with pollution or laws.

People argue over immigration, border walls, and sanctuary cities when the Constitution doesn’t allow the federal government to keep people out of the country. Yes, it outlines steps for people already here to become citizens and regulates the importation of slaves, but those are not what people argue about.

Government laws create the immigration issue. Don’t look to government and its laws to address immigration; insist government stop criminalizing private property rights, the right to self-defense, and the right of association.

Everyone has the right to associate with — or avoid — anyone for any reason. Laws that force people together or apart are the problem.

Anything you ask government to address gives government more power. Government employees feed on this power like vampires feed on arterial blood. You won’t solve a problem — real or imagined — by involving those who use problems as an excuse to gain power.

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Assange, Trump, and Obama

Yes, president Trump is doing the wrong thing by not dropping all charges against Julian Assange immediately. Very wrong.

Yet, had Obama done the right thing– and he had plenty of time and opportunity to do so– this wouldn’t even be up to Trump. He could have ended this years ago. He is every bit as much to blame. This isn’t just another Trump crime, it’s an Obama crime, too.

Presidents are cancer. Assange is a cure, as are all whistleblowers. Of course presidents are not going to be fans of his.

Coincidentally, and with amazing timing, Ammo.com just sent me a link to their newest: A Historical Guide to the Freedom of Information Act.

It’s perverse that government believes they have a “right” to decide whether or not (usually not) to let you know what they are up to, and that your right to know what these parasites are up to needs an “act” to codify it and give them excuses to hide things. The very notion that anyone working for government has any “right to privacy” where their “job” is concerned is absurd. But this is the world of statists we live in.

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Social Media Regulation: Speak of the Devil and in Walks Zuck

In a recent column on the mating dance between Big Government and Big Tech, I noted that “Big Tech wants to be regulated by Big Governments because regulation makes it more difficult and expensive for new competitors to enter the market.”

Two days after I hit “publish” on that column, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called for government regulation of social media in a Washington Post op-ed.

Zuckerberg offers expansive arguments for regulating four areas of social media content, but those arguments are specious. My own claim as to his real reasons leers visibly over the shoulder of each argument he makes.

Zuckerberg’s first proposed regulatory area is “harmful content.” “Regulation,” he writes, “could set baselines for what’s prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum.”

Who’s best equipped to build such systems? Facebook, with assets of nearly $100 billion and annual revenues of $56 billion? Or a new site started by some middle class guy (or even an affluent Harvard student like Mark Zuckerberg 15 years ago) with a great idea and some spare time?

The second regulatory area is “protecting elections.” Zuckerberg: “Our systems would be more effective if regulation created common standards for verifying political actors. … We believe legislation should be updated to reflect the reality of the threats and set standards for the whole industry.”

Facebook, of course, has already invested billions in developing technology to identify users and advertisers and connect the two types of parties — all in-house.  Most startups don’t have the money to develop their own such systems. They hook into a third party advertising service or a standardized ad sales plug-in. The effect — and the intent — of those “updates” would be to protect Facebook from those startups (and the American political establishment from its own would-be competitors).

“Third, effective privacy and data protection needs a globally harmonized framework. … it should establish a way to hold companies such as Facebook accountable by imposing sanctions when we make mistakes.”

Facebook can easily accommodate “sanctions” that would kill most potential competitors. It already has big bucks in the bank (unlike a new company that may be years away from turning a profit), and that “globally harmonized framework” will almost certainly be built around its own standards and practices.

Finally, “data portability. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another.” What will the “standard data transfer format” Zuckerberg calls for look like? Existing formats for handling user data. Who handles the most user data now? You know who. New competitors will be forced to build systems like Facebook’s, and forbidden to try their own, possibly better, user data handling schemes.

The Internet’s potential is encapsulated in the expropriated Maoism “let a hundred flowers blossom.” Zuckerberg agrees, but only if each of those hundred flowers is cloned from a geranium grown in his proprietary nursery.

Regulation, not competition, is where monopolies come from. Facebook isn’t a monopoly yet, but Zuckerberg clearly wants to make it one.

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Homeschoolers: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

My eight-year-old daughter and I recently read about the Salem witch trials. She had heard about Salem from a friend who visited the nearby town during its popular Halloween festivities, and she was curious about the witches. We went to the library to get some books on the topic of how 20 innocent people were put to death for “witchcraft” in 1692, with scores more accused and jailed.

What struck me most about revisiting the Salem Witch Trials with my children was the fact that these English Puritans who had recently settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony had no presumption of innocence. Those accused of a crime at the time, both in the New World and elsewhere, were guilty until proven innocent. The presumption of innocence in trials, with court defenders and impartial juries, would take centuries to catch on. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” was coined by an English lawyer in 1791, but even then it took a long while to become the legal precedent we all now take for granted.

A Pattern of Privacy Invasion

Of course, this legal designation is still imperfectly applied, particularly in cases of fear and bias against certain groups. The US PATRIOT Act, for instance, allows law enforcement agencies the authority to conduct surveillance on individuals and groups by monitoring personal phone calls, emails, and financial documents without a court order. First passed in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and reauthorized since, it is intended to root out the evils of terrorism but does so by violating individual liberty and presuming guilt over innocence.

We see this pattern of privacy invasion by the state and presumed guilt in other areas, as well. In the United Kingdom, for example, there has been such a dramatic rise in the number of homeschoolers that the state believes it must regulate and monitor the practice. Estimates suggest that the number of homeschoolers in the UK increased 40 percent in just three years, and it is thought to be the fastest-growing education option in the UK, with approximately 60,000 homeschooled children in 2018.

The rapid growth of parents taking back control of their children’s education has led to calls by government officials to create a “compulsory register” of homeschooled children and to monitor their education. The UK’s Department of Education told the BBC through a spokesperson this week:

Where children are being home educated, we know that in the vast majority of cases parents are doing an excellent job. We also know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be.

The idea that all homeschooling families in the UK must now be presumed guilty of neglect because a “very small minority” might be is not a legitimate reason to violate the privacy and personal freedom of law-abiding citizens. There are already laws to protect children from abuse and neglect in the UK and elsewhere, and those laws should be duly enforced; but subjecting all homeschooling families to regulation and oversight because of fears of a few is a blatant example of state intrusion.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Families often choose the homeschooling option because they are especially attentive to their child’s well-being. As The Guardian reported last fall:

Many parents who opt to homeschool their children say they are avoiding bullying, exam pressure and stress. Others have concerns about special educational needs, not getting a place at the school of their choice, or the school environment.

In other words, most of these homeschooling parents are going above and beyond to provide the best education for their children and should not have their decisions questioned and educational approaches monitored.

Supporters of homeschooling regulation, both in the United States and abroad, frequently say that it’s really no big deal. If you’re one of the vigilant homeschooling families then you shouldn’t mind state oversight. But that’s like saying if I have nothing to hide, it’s okay for the government to search my house and read my emails—without a warrant. It presumes guilt over innocence.

Intentions may be good. The Salem Puritans wanted to root out witchcraft and what they saw as the work of the devil. The PATRIOT Act aimed to prevent terrorism through government surveillance. Monitoring homeschooling families is presented as protecting children. But in all cases, innocent people are suspected of guilt and must prove themselves worthy. It’s antithetical to the values of a free society.

I wanted to tell my daughter that we’re so much better now than those Puritans, that “innocent until proven guilty” now prevails. But I’m honestly not so sure.

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Why I am Still a Cryptocurrency Enthusiast, 2019 Edition

Cryptocurrencies had a rough ride in 2018. As of January 7, 2018, the total market capitalization of all cryptocurrencies tracked by CoinMarketCap.com came to more than $800 billion, its highest point ever. As I write this on January 3, 2019, that total market capitalization is down to about $130 billion — about 1/6th of the market’s high point.

You might be surprised to learn that I’m still a cryptocurrency fan. But, just to be up front, yes, I am.

Not because I’m sitting on a huge pile of the stuff (as of this moment, my cryptocurrency holdings are worth less than $100 US), nor because I expect to make a killing speculating (when I get some crypto, I generally spend it without waiting very long to see if it increases in value).

I’m still enthusiastic about cryptocurrency because I’ve seen what it can do and make plausible predictions about what it will be able to do in the future. Cryptocurrency seizes control of money from governments and puts it in the hands of people. With improvements in its privacy aspects, that’s only going to become more true. In short, cryptocurrency fuels freedom.

But can it last? Will it win? I think that the last year, far from dispelling that notion, reinforces it. Let me explain.

Two kinds of noise related to cryptocurrency seem to have faded in tandem with the market cap’s downward trend. As one might expect, the ultra-bullish “Bitcoin will go to $100,000 real soon now!” voices have gone down in number and volume. But so have the voices comparing cryptocurrency to a Ponzi scheme or to the 17th century “tulip bubble.”

Yes, there are exceptions. One is Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman, who still seems to think that transaction costs and lack of “tethers” to fiat government currencies will make crypto a bad bet. Of course, Krugman also said, in 1998, that “[b]y 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.” So however expert he may be in other areas, I doubt I’m alone in discounting his predictive abilities when it comes to technological advancements.

This year-long market correction has been exactly that — a correction toward real values. After a period of hype (“Initial Coin Offerings” based on bizarre use cases) and scams (“pump and dumps” cons based on new fly-by-night “altcoins”), the wheat is separating from the chaff, the fraud is settling down to a level consistent with the rest of human activity, and the financial “mainstream” attitude has gone from dismissive to curious to “how do we get in on this?”

Cryptocurrency is getting better and better at what it was meant to do. It facilitates transactions without regard to political borders, it safeguards the records of those transactions through a distributed ledger system (“blockchain”), and to varying degrees (depending on which currency and the individual user’s habits) it protects the privacy of those who use it from prying eyes.

Cryptocurrency, and the freedom it entails, are here to stay. Welcome to the future.

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