By Barrie Zwicker (Special to Truth and Shadows)
We know massive surveillance has nothing to do with actual terrorism – that it is all about control and eliminating dissent.We know that the surveillance state knows more about us than we ourselves know.
But do we know how long may be the window of opportunity to achieve some real curbs on runaway surveillance, before a New Dark Ages is entrenched beyond all resistance?
It could be only “a few months” in the opinion of Professor Andrew Clement of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information.
“If we don’t do something now,” Clement warns, “the opportunity will be missed, and we’ll regret it for a long time.”
Clement issued the warning at the fourth annual RightsWatch Conference of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), presented this year in partnership with Ryerson University.
“Civil Liberties and Democracy in the Digital Age: Privacy, Media and Free Expression” was the title of this year’s conference, held in Toronto on Friday and Saturday, September 20th and 21st. Two dozen Canadian and U.S. civil libertarians and digital experts addressed the more than 200 who registered.
Glenn Greenwald will “run out of new information” in a few months, Clement predicted in the opening plenary session on Saturday. Greenwald is the American investigative reporter whose accounts of the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden appear mainly in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
The consensus was that citizen pressure led by a coalition of organizations such as CCLA is the major hope to set back the drive by “intelligence” agencies to achieve their Kafkaesque goal of “continuously monitoring the life of everyone in the world every day with multiple algorithms.”
That goal was imputed by William Binnie, one of two Friday evening keynote speakers.
Binnie is a 32-year veteran of the National Security Agency who for several years has been among a few NSA whistle blowers whose warnings got little traction in the MSM until Edward Snowden’s revelations raised the ante. 
The other opening keynoter was Ben Wizner, director of the Speech, Privacy & Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Binnie said the current state of surveillance capacity provides a “timeline” on everyone the spy agency has ever tracked. The timeline blends those individuals’ phone calls, emails, credit card transactions, travel details, social media exchanges, and more.
The NSA already has developed “graphs of social relationships” of all users of the world’s 2.5- to 3-billion telephones and the 1 billion persons with Internet ID’s, Binnie stated.
In response to the question “How long will it take the NSA to identify everyone attending this conference?” Binnie responded: “About 20 milliseconds.”
Wizner added that in addition to organized grassroots pressure, the juggernaut could be slowed by “heads of state cancelling visits to Washington, D.C.” Binnie quipped that many in Washington refer to D.C. as “the District of Corruption.”
That U.S. corruption is so deeply entrenched was further underscored by Wizner when he stated flatly that the impetus for trimming the wings of the NSA and other such agencies “will have to originate outside of the U.S.A.”
Binnie offered the sobering opinion that whatever brakes are put on the NSA’s spying on American citizens, the NSA “will never give up spying on all the rest of the world.” Wizner seconded the motion: “We (in the U.S.A.) cannot stop foreign dragnetting.”
This added to the impact of technical information provided on Saturday by Clement. It was new to me and I think many if not most of the others in attendance.
He outlined the practice of “boomerang routing” of digital communications that originate in Canada and end in Canada but follow a roundabout path through U.S. data centres sucked dry 24/7 by the NSA.
As one instance Clement cited all communications between Canada’s National Research Council and the Prime Minister’s office. These are routed through New York and Washington, District of Corruption. Closer to home, all communications between Ryerson University, where the conference was held, and The University of Toronto, travel through New York and Chicago. The digital myth that I’d bought into until Clement’s presentation was that no one controlled the route of an email, for instance, that it was random.
Random, schmandom. Clement said there’s “strong reason” to suspect that Bell and Rogers are handing over their traffic to “boomerang routes,” hiding behind “carrier interconnection policies.” Canadian carriers offer no transparency about this, Clement said. Transparency is necessary but not sufficient, he added.
A four-page pamphlet available at the conference, “Has the NSA Read Your Email?” provides a means of shedding light on that question. By going to http://www.IXMAPS.CA you can use “custom trace-route visualization techniques to show the path that packets take from the user’s device to their destination across the Internet ‘backbone.’ These path maps show where the NSA has likely intercepted your packets and which carriers are involved.”
Canadian “boomerang” routing is particularly highlighted, showing “where packets start in Canada and end in Canada, but travel via the USA and NSA surveillance.” An introductory video on this issue can be found at http://vimeo.com/67102223
The much-touted purpose of surveillance systems being to “catch terrorists” should not be accepted, Clement said. “It lets people off the hook because they’re not terrorists. The system is not designed to find terrorists – a few singular individuals. It’s much better at managing populations, at finding people with ‘odd political views,’ views that challenge government.”
Clement declared: “Moving online should not compromise the privacy we’ve enjoyed historically.”
He added: “The statement that, ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear’ works both ways. It also applies to [spy] organizations. If they’ve done nothing wrong, why would they want to hide what they’re doing? Return the gaze. Hold those organizations to account. Resist asymmetry.”
The trend for laws regarding surveillance to serve the surveillers, moving from “reasonable grounds” to “reasonable suspicion,” was noted with alarm. “It scares the crap out of me,” said Valerie Steeves, an associate professor in the Department of Criminology at The University of Ottawa.
What I took from the conference was that however intrusive you believe the surveillance state has become, it has metastacized even more than that. That impression was buttressed by the fact that none of those in attendance – speakers or audience – took issue with Clement or with the revelations and opinions of other speakers, including keynoters Binnie and Wizner.
Regarding the citing of “terrorist threats” as justification for massive spying, “more people have been killed by their furniture than by terrorists,” Wizner observed. 
The current capacity of the NSA is made possible by a two-step (or “two-hop”) process, Binnie said. This is surveillance of “suspicious persons” (think yourself) and in turn those you’re in touch with. This is sufficient to catch all genuine terrorists, Binnie stated.
NSA officials, however, recently testified that they have developed the capacity for “three-hop” collection. This means gathering at least metadata on you that includes the identities of all those persons and organizations you ever have been in communication with (one hop), as well as the same information on all those others (second hop) which includes the identities of all those that they in turn have been and are in communication with (third hop).
The “hops” are exponential. If Binnie is right that within 10 years the NSA, if not held in check, will essentially go four-hop, it would mean that those in control of the U.S. Empire will know more about almost everyone than almost anyone knows about himself or herself.
If knowledge is power, this would be atomic power in both senses of atomic. The scope and complexity of neural networks revealed with this much expansion might be beyond them, but that does not mean that they won’t try.
Binnie’s conclusion: “They know what’s coming. They’re prepared. We better be prepared too.”
Post Script: During the Q & A of the Friday keynote session I asked Binnie: “Can you list, say, three reasons why – at least to my knowledge – NSA whistleblowers seldom if ever question the official narrative of the events of 9/11. Let me say that I for one can think of one good reason, namely that questioning the official narrative in public virtually guarantees that one will be instantly labeled as a conspiracy theorist in the mainstream media, something of a kiss of death for one’s credibility… But it’s your reasons that I’m interested in hearing.”
Binnie replied: “I can say that they suppressed certain information that could have prevented it.” This brief response could be taken as implying that Binnie accepts the official version of 9/11. But an insightful colleague later commented: “It was an interesting reply, in that he might have been suggesting a great deal in a seemingly bland answer.” I like to think that is so.
 Worldwide Militarization and the Weapons Industry: America’s Surveillance and Targeted Assassination Machine by William C. Lewis, Global Research, September 29, 2013
 For a video with transcript of a round table session with three NSA whistle blowers and editors of USA Today (NSA veterans speak out on whistle-blower: We told you so, June 16, 2013, USA Today) go tohttp://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/06/16/snowden-whistleblower-nsa-officials-roundtable/2428809
 There are killers other than furniture even more likely to kill you than will a terrorist. Among the other worse-than-terrorist killers are toddlers and deer. For a full rundown on the statistical odds of your being harmed by “a terrorist” compared to other persons or circumstances, go to “You’re Much More Likely to Be Killed By Lightning than by a Terrorist” posted September 20, 2013 by Washington’s Blog