NSA Codebreaking: I Am The Other

I am The Other.

No, not from Game of Thrones.

I mean I am the "other" contemptuously categorized by my government, a vast category of people with an interest in using encrypted communications to thwart my government's attempt to spy on me.

Yesterday documents revealed by Edward Snowden suggested the scope of the NSA's efforts — and successes — in defeating commercial encryption on the internet:

The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show.

People much smarter than I am suggest that the NSA hasn't, and very likely can't yet, break all crypto technology currently available to us, and that there are still methods of keeping our communications secure from spying by the Security State. I hope that my more technologically adept co-bloggers will expand on that point in this space in the near future, and will watch for discussions elsewhere.

The NSA's official response is to suggest that wanting to secure our communications from our surveillance is inherently suspicious and suggestive of criminal activity.

It should hardly be surprising that our intelligence agencies seek ways to counteract our adversaries’ use of encryption. Throughout history, nations have used encryption to protect their secrets, and today, terrorists, cybercriminals, human traffickers and others also use code to hide their activities. Our intelligence community would not be doing its job if we did not try to counter that. [emphasis added]

I am not — at least not yet — classified as a terrorist, cybercriminal, or human trafficker. So I suppose I am the "other." I want to learn to use strong crypto effectively, and encrypt my professional and personal communications from government spying.

I am the other because I do not trust my government in general, or the people working for its security apparatus in particular.

I am the other because I believe the Security State and its representatives habitually lie, both directly and by misleading language, about the scope of their spying on us. I believe they feel entitled to do so.

I am the other because I believe the Security State and its representatives habitually violate such modest restrictions as a complacent and compliant legislature puts on their spying — again, because they feel entitled to do so.

I am the other because I don't believe the Security State and its representatives when they say that government spying is reserved for foreign terrorists. In fact, the NSA's "minimization" techniques — touted as methods for restricting spying to foreign terrorists instead of U.S. citizens — are often transparently and insultingly ridiculous.

I am the other because I don't believe my government when it tries to convince us that enhanced spying techniques are used to protect us from terrorists. I believe, instead, that the increased powers acquired by my government since 9/11 have been habitually brought to bear for domestic purposes, including such things as the ruinous and amoral War on Drugs.

I am the other because I represent people accused of crimes by the government. Based on nearly 20 years experience in the criminal justice system, I believe my government and the people working for it are likely to (1) use national security apparatus to gather intelligence on defendants accused of domestic crimes, (2) pass that intelligence along to domestic prosecutors, and (3) lie about and conceal the source of the information or how it was transmitted. I know many individual prosecutors who, I believe, would not review and use intercepted attorney-client communications and conceal them from me. However, institutionally, I believe the United States government and many of its prosecutors are willing and able to do so.1

I am the other because I believe a free person needs no excuse whatsoever to keep communications secret from the government, whether those communications are weighty or frivolous. I am the other because I believe the mantra "what do you have to hide" is a contemptible and un-American sentiment that fundamentally misconstrues the proper relationship between citizen and state.

I am the other because I want to ask some fundamental questions about the Security State. Is the security the government says it is providing after 9/11 worth the vast increase in government power and the fundamental changes to our society? Would it be better to say back to the government "no thank you" and accept a higher risk of terrorist attack if it means not living in a society of entitled spies? Are the methods the government uses "necessary," in any use of that word? Will anyone thank us in one generation, or two, or ten, for accepting our role of the frog in the kettle, swimming placidly as the heat of the Security State gradually turns up? Thousands of Americans have fought and suffered and died to preserve freedom over our history — does it make sense to sacrifice freedom now because the state tells us people will die if we don't? How can free people interact with a government that demonstrates it is willing to lie and cheat to us about its intrusions on our privacy?

Let's have an ongoing discussion about crypto methods and whether, when, and how people should use them. I wonder: what if a substantial number of Americans started using strong crypto on a routine basis?

Faced With The Security State, Groklaw Opts Out

For ten years Pamela Jones has run Groklaw, a site collecting, discussing, and explaining legal developments of interest to the open-source software community. Her efforts have, justifiably, won many awards.

She's done now.

Running a blog long-term can be exhausting, irritating, and sometimes discouraging. Creative efforts have arcs, with a beginning and an end. If Jones were closing up shop because she's had enough and has accomplished what she set out to do, I would be sorry to see her go, but it would be the kind of sorry you feel when you finish a good book.

That's not why she's stopping.

Pamela Jones is ending Groklaw because she can't trust her government. She's ending it because, in the post-9/11 era, there's no viable and reliable way to assure that our email won't be read by the state — because she can't confidently communicate privately with her readers and tipsters and subjects and friends and family.

I hope that makes it clear why I can't continue. There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don't expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That's it exactly. That's how I feel.

So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can't do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.

In making this choice, Jones echoes the words of Lavar Levison, who shut down his encrypted email service Lavabit. Levison said he was doing so rather than "become complicit in crimes against the American people":

“I’m taking a break from email,” said Levison. “If you knew what I know about email, you might not use it either.”

Lavabit was joined by encryption provider Silent Circle:

“We’ve been thinking about this for some time, whether it was a good idea at all. Yesterday, another secure email provider, Lavabit, shut down their system lest they ‘be complicit in crimes against the American people.’ We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail.”

The extent of NSA surveillance is unknown, but what little we see is deeply unsettling. What our government says about it can't be believed; the government uses deliberately misleading language or outright lies about the scope of surveillance.

So I don't blame Pamela Jones or question her decision. It's not the only way. I don't think it's my way, yet — though I am having some very concerned conversations about whether it's safe, or even ethical, to have confidential attorney-client communications by email.

I hope that Pamela's decision will arouse the interest, or attention, or outrage, of a few more people, who will in turn talk and write and advocate to get more people involved. Groklaw was a great resource; citizens will care that it's gone. (The government and its minions won't.)

Pamela's choice will likely be met with the usual arguments: the government doesn't care about your emails. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about. This is about protecting us from terrorist attacks, not about snooping into Americans' communications. Don't you remember 9/11?

I tire of responding to those. Let me offer one response that applies to all of them: I don't trust my government, I don't trust the people who work for my government, and I believe that the evidence suggests that it's irrational to offer such trust.

Let me close by repeating my four points from yesterday that guide my evaluation of such matters, this time without links:

1. The government lies to you about the extent of its surveillance of you.

2. The government says it needs secrecy, but lies about its secrets and the grounds for keeping them secret.

3. The government says it needs expanded powers to fight terrorism, but lies: in fact it uses expanded "anti-terrorism" powers to advance a variety of domestic agendas.

4. Terrorism is whatever the government says it is.

Secrets And Lies

Last week we learned that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which purportedly acts as a check on United States government surveillance power — has instead approved steady increases in surveillance. The FISA court has expanded the government's power to spy on us structurally (by approving surveillance categorically rather than on a case-by-case basis) and substantively (by approving supposed Fourth Amendment exceptions based on the government's assertion of a special need):

In one of the court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.

The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.

Exactly how far has the FISA court gone in endorsing government spying, and what sorts of rationales has it used? The United States would prefer that you not know, and wants you to believe that you must not know, for the common good. Consider the United States' brief opposing the ACLU's request that the FISA Court release opinions discussing the scope of its own power under the PATRIOT Act:

if the Court were to find a First Amendment-based right of access to FISC opinions, the "greater risk of declassification and disclosure over Executive Branch objections" would have the potential to "chill the government's interactions with the Court." Id. at 496. This Court observed that such a "chilling effect could damage national security interests, if, for example, the government opted to forgo surveillance or search of legitimate targets in order to retain control of sensitive information that a FISA application would contain." Id. In addition, this Court found that in cases that are presented to the Court, "the free flow of information to the FISC that is needed for an ex parte proceeding to result in sound decisionmaking and effective oversight could also be threatened."

The United States government's requests to conduct surveillance beyond the traditionally understood confines of the Fourth Amendment depend on its assertion of special need. The United States government's requests to keep secret the targets of its spying, and how it is spying, and even the legal justifications for its spying, are all also premised on its assertion of special need. It appears the FISA court has been routinely accepting that assertion of special need.

There's a fundamental problem with that acceptance.

The United States government lies.

The people who represent the United States government lie.

In fact, the entire framework of secrecy and privilege is founded in lies by the United States. The state secret privilege — the half-century-old doctrine that holds that the government may ignore the rule of law by invocation of claims of secrecywas premised on a lie by the United States. This shouldn't surprise us. The United States government, through its employees, lies about a great many things. The United States government lies to us — perhaps giving us the "least untruthful" story — when we question its use of power, and then lies to us about having lied to us. The United States government lies to us about war, its purpose, and its progress. The United States government lies to us about its treatment of detainees and its justifications for that treatment. Nor are the lies all about "security." The United States government is the sort of entity — made up of the sort of people — that will tells impoverished black men that it is treating them for "bad blood" when it is actually experimentally observing their untreated syphilis.

Yet America's modern surveillance state — and the secrecy that cloaks it — is premised at every level upon the United States government saying "trust us." But how is it even minimally rational to do so? Would the United States government or its advocates repose trust in anyone who lies as frequently and unabashedly as they do? How can you trust an organization with a proven record of lying — an organization so devoted to lying that it seeks to enact rules explicitly permitting it to lie to us?

Our approach to the creeping security state cannot be premised on credulous acceptance of the government's claims of "special need." Accepting that means accepting the word of a proven liar as a justification to restrict our freedom.

We're From The Government, And We're Here To Help You With A Temporary Membership At FreeCreditReport.Com, The Leading Online Provider Of Almost Up-To-Date, Not Quite Real-Time Credit Score Monitoring!

Let's say I'm tired of carrying around wads of cash.  I consider applying for a credit card, perhaps at a bank, or at at some retail operation, like a department store.  But I'm paranoid.

I'm worried that I might expose myself to identity theft by giving up my name, address, social security number, and other private information.  Mistakes are made, after all.  Someone within the company might misuse my information, or the company might inadvertently expose it to hackers.

I can of course go to a large department store, one that (hopefully) uses modern encryption techniques and has a modicum of data security enshrined as corporate policy and procedure.  I can eschew the department store credit card entirely, and use a card from a bank.  A large bank, in the hope they'll have their act sufficiently together to protect me from the Russian Internet Identity Thieves?

If I'm sufficiently paranoid, I can refuse to get a credit card at all, living "off the grid" and keeping my wad of cash.  If all else fails, and my spotless credit rating is exposed, I can find a new bank, shop at new stores, and I can sue the bastards responsible.

But what if the government exposes my identity to theft and fraud?  Can I refuse to deal with the government?

Or can I at least shift my business to a new government?

The Social Security numbers of dozens of New Hanover County [North Carolina] property owners were mistakenly published on the county website for anyone to see.

The lists containing the numbers were removed from the site Tuesday so county officials could scrub them from the data, said Chairman Jason Thompson, who learned that the numbers were published from a resident. The Social Security numbers were published in two lists containing property owners delinquent on their taxes.

County Manager Bruce Shell said the list contained 9,845 accounts, of which 163 Social Security numbers were included. The Social Security numbers should not have appeared in the data and weren’t caught before they were published. It's unclear how many people were affected because some numbers are linked to more than one account.

It was an isolated incident, Shell said.

Of course it was an isolated incident.

That's precisely what my bank would say if it published my social security number on the web.  "It was an isolated incident, and we've adopted new safeguards to see that this sort of thing doesn't happen in the future.  Although the information was exposed for only a limited time, we're offering free credit monitoring service to customers who are concerned about this isolated incident."

And I'd sure as hell sue them once the Chinese Identity Pirates of Wuhan started buying new cars using my name and credit.

Of course, since this is the government, irritated property owners are out of luck.  So, for that matter, are injured property owners, those whose identities are stolen and who'll start getting "past due" notices from credit card companies they never dealt with, scammed merchants who will have to swallow some of the charges, and the scammed credit card issuers themselves who will have to swallow the rest.

All they're getting is a subscription to freecreditreport.com:

Shell said the county plans to provide these property owners with credit monitoring for a year to prevent fraud issues from developing.

“We’re on top of it,” Shell said. “We’re trying to do the right thing by them.”


"Doing the right thing by them" would mean indemnifying them for the costs of this fuckup.  But if New Hanover County is sued, you can bet its attorneys will raise the doctrine of sovereign immunity ("The King Can Do No Wrong"), an absolute defense to liability in North Carolina.  The individuals responsible would raise the qualified immunity doctrine as a defense.  And the County would win.

Why shouldn't it?  If damages were awarded, it would be the innocent taxpayers of New Hanover County who would have to pay, not the negligent Barney Fifes of the tax department.

Here's a thought: Our friend TJIC often calls for "Rope" when government employees are caught in this sort of shenanigan.  Others call for "Tar and Feathers."

That seems extreme.  After all, we don't hang taxi cab drivers who paralyze the innocent through negligent driving.  Why should we hang the nasty lady behind the counter at the DMV?

Why not just waive immunity for the negligent who work for the government, making them as responsible for their torts as you or I would be if we started publishing clients' social security numbers for all to see?

If they don't want to be responsible for their actions, perhaps they shouldn't be given sovereign power over others in the first place.

Here's a second thought:  If past performance is any guide, it will be thirty minutes before one of the lickspittle government apologists (I had to stop calling them "willing serfs" because that upset them) who infest our readership shows up to point out that these victims were tax delinquents.  "I have no sympathy!"

On the contrary.  These people weren't tax delinquents at all.  They were doing what any sensible consumer would do to a corporation that misuses customers' private information.  They were boycotting the New Hanover County tax office, just as they'd boycott Wal -Mart if it published social security numbers on the web.  Of course, one difference between Wal-Mart and the government is that the government destroys all competition, not with low low prices but with guns.  The customer has nowhere else to go in a monopoly environment.  Another difference is that Wal-Mart can't throw those who refuse to buy what it's selling in jail.

But given the level of service they've gotten from New Hanover County, can anyone blame these people for refusing to pay their taxes?

Agent Friendly Would Like To Be Your Friend

As long as Patrick is cheerfully bashing Facebook — that unrepentant bull in the china shop of our dwindling online privacy — I feel duty-bound to join in.

So, via Hit&Run, that government agents have been "friending" citizenship applicants, and other people of interest to the government, to monitor their status. And does the government understand the social networks it is using? Well, that depends on whom you ask:

First the memo engages in armchair psychology by assuming a large friend network indicates “narcissistic tendencies.” Second, and perhaps more disturbing, the memo assumes a user’s online profile always accurately reflects her offline life. While Facebook and MySpace would like their users’ profiles to always be current and accurate, users may have valid reasons for keeping some of their offline life out of their online profiles (for example, many users still feel their relationship status is private). Unfortunately, this memo suggests there’s nothing to prevent an exaggerated, harmless or even out-of-date off-hand comment in a status update from quickly becoming the subject of a full citizenship investigation.

I'll pass on the narcissism issue.

But it would certainly not be out of character for government agents to completely misunderstand hyperbole, sarcasm, and venting and take it as literal truth — they do it with real-world verbal comments all the time, so what are the chances they'll take a contextual view of the sort of nonsense we spout online?

If anything, the government is slow in picking up on this possibility. Lawyers already knew that Facebook is Walt Disney World for attacking credibility.

Russian Agents Are Brilliant, Beautiful, And Highly Trained. But They Don't Understand How To Delete A Facebook Account Either.

Anna Chapman, a/k/a Аня Чaпмaна, who is accused of spying for the Russian federal security service, still has a Facebook page.  And it's going to hang her.

Chapman's extensive online presence, including more than 90 photographs posted to Facebook and an apparently glamorous lifestyle as a property millionaire, has made her the focus of much of the media coverage of the case. …

Chapman's CV also claimed that she worked for a hedge fund in London called Navigator. No record has yet emerged that such a fund existed, according to the specialist hedge-fund website, FINalternatives.

She is also said to have been married to a British citizen, but this has not been confirmed.

She probably wasn't.  In fact, it appears that most of Chapman's life is an invention, one thoroughly documented online.

In its way, this is a brilliant idea on the part of Chapman and her masters in the FSB.  Where Soviet agents in the cold war had to spend dull, dreary decades establishing an identity, it seems Chapman was able to invent herself out of whole cloth in a relatively short time.

But there's the rub.  Past deep cover agents such as Whittaker Chambers, Kim Philby, and Richard Sorge (the greatest spy in history) spent years establishing roots.  They were very difficult to uproot, and in some cases, such as Alger Hiss, to this day have gullible defenders despite overwhelming evidence of guilt.

Chapman appears to have unraveled in a very short time, in part because her online identity didn't check out.  And she can never testify in her own defense, because the very internet she used will destroy her on impeachment.

I wonder how many of Chapman's Facebook friends, 167 strong as of this writing, have removed the association.  And whether they know that their names are now forever in an FBI file as possible associates of a Russian agent, despite the removal.

Never write anything online that can be written on paper.

Never write anything on paper that can be spoken in private.

Never speak to two people if one will do.

If you do speak to two people, hunt down one and kill him in secret, to let the other know you're serious about your privacy.

Why I'm Quitting Facebook

I've been using Facebook for a couple of years now. I've had a substantial amount of fun with it. I've reconnected with people I'd lost touch with, grown closer to others, and followed events in the lives of family and friends that otherwise I wouldn't know about.

Despite that — and despite the fact that I haven't found a good alternative to Facebook — I'm quitting fairly soon. Here's why.

[Read more…]

Government Employees lol At Your Desire For Privacy

Remember Blake J. Robbins? He's the kid who sued the Lower Merion School District in Pennsylvania, asserting that district employees were spying on him and other kids through webcams installed on "free" laptops distributed by the district.

Subsequent developments are making it look worse than originally thought, not better. Via Radley Balko, I see that Robbins' lawyer now claims, based on documents produced in discovery, that the district captured more than 400 pictures from Robbins' laptop and thousands from others. The district's previous justification — that it only used the webcams to track stolen or missing laptops — turns out to be exaggerated. Robbins' own laptop webcam was repeatedly activated because his parents had not paid the $55 insurance fee, and the district repeatedly activated the webcams even when it knew exactly who had the laptops (when, for example, students did not return them in a timely fashion).

I've retrieved the recent motion Robbins filed from PACER and uploaded it here. The motion seeks sanctions against district administrator Carol Cafiero, one of two people who ran the webcam program, for refusing to produce her home computers for examination. The judge previously granted Robbins' motion to compel Cafiero to sit for deposition; in light of the pending federal grand jury investigation of the incident, she prudently took the Fifth. Quoting emails produced in discovery, the motion paints an ugly picture of Cafiero's attitude towards her ability to spy on kids through their webcams. The motion claims that an IT staffer wrote to Cafiero that using the webcams was like a window into "a little LMSD soap opera," and claims that Cafiero responded "I know, I love it."

Robbins' motion goes much further than that. It rather unfairly accuses Cafiero of being a voyeur, which I think is an irresponsible and baseless accusation — at least if "voyeur" is defined as someone who derives sexual pleasure from secretly viewing others. Robbins doesn't cite any evidence that Cafiero used the system for sexual gratification. The quote from her, however, suggests that she used it for bureaucratic gratification — the pleasure that petty officials take in nosing into the private lives of citizens. It may not be sexually perverse, but it is, in fact, sick and despicable. Robbins' motion asserts that the district had no written policy about how the spying function should be used (which, in itself, is astoundingly reckless), and circumstances suggest that the spying was the result of a petty official drunk on her own power and unrestrained by the distaste that decent, normal people would feel about spying on kids.

Patrick points out that the State of Pennsylvania has also recently produced prosecutors who charge sexting teens with child porn distribution and juvenile court judges who sent kids to juvie in exchange for kickbacks. As Patrick suggests, it's beginning to look as if Pennsylvania is to child welfare what England or Canada are to free speech.

Mike Troxel Sows Thuggery And Reaps The Whirlwind

I don't like the health care reform bill. I have a number of strong objections to it. I haven't blogged it because (1) I'm lazy and hope Patrick will do it, and (2) I'm lazy and stupid and I'm waiting for someone to do the definitive thoughtful analysis that I can link to.

There's a lot of fury out there about the bill. There should be outrage, I think. But leaving aside, for a moment, the question of whether the outrage is hypocritical and oddly selective, its predominant expression is counterproductive. Scary spittle-flecked rage from the Right may well be one of the best things the Left has going for it when we reach the mid-terms, particularly if the economy improves. The base can be energized by rage, but the wide middle is unlikely to be moved, except perhaps towards distaste.

Case in point: the latest instance of "let's harass and intimidate people by publishing their home address and suggesting that angry people should 'visit' them."

Mike Troxel writes for Virginia 6th, a self-described "tea party watchdogs weblog." Troxel was very angry about the health care vote. Troxel was particularly irritated at Rep. Tom Perriello, who represents a different district in Virginia, and who voted for the bill.

So Mike Troxel published what he thought was Rep. Perriello's home address on the blog.

He accompanied that with what I submit is a smirking, barely veiled exhortation to harassment and violence:

Just in case any of his friends and neighbors want to drop by and say hi and express their thanks regarding his vote for healthcare. I personally believe it’s so important for representatives to remain fully grounded and to remember exactly what it is their constituents are saying and how they are telling them to vote. Nothing quite does that like a good face-to-face chat. It has a much more personal touch to it.

Leaving the moral issue aside, there was an immediate problem: Mike Troxel is a shitty researcher. He actually published the home address of Rep. Perriello's brother, who has four young children. Confronted with this error, Troxel refused to yield, uttering this deathless line:

Troxel, a 2005 graduate of Liberty University, added “I was a journalism major in college, so I have every reason to believe my research is accurate.”

Ten thousand monkeys could type for ten million years and never write anything that funny. Even if they did graduate monkey cum laude from Liberty University.

Anyway, this irritated me, for reasons I'll get into. I considered spending five minutes researching the right address for Rep. Perriello myself, to demonstrate that Troxel is sloppy as well as thuggish.

But as I said, I'm lazy.

So I fed Mike Troxel to Fark.

[In doing so, I took into account Fark's consistent and admirable policy against posting the personal contact information of people criticized there. I also took into account that, as you'll see below, Troxel's address had already been published.]

It took Farkers minutes to research the issue and establish, by two different methods, that Troxel had the wrong address. As the Farker in question put it, "Done in by a farker who graduated with a C average and didn't go to college." Troxel beat an ignominious retreat and deleted the incorrect address, but is still soliciting the correct address to publish.

But Troxel sowed scummy thuggery, and now he's going to reap the whirlwind. I'm not, by far, the only one to notice this, and there are plenty of people eager to respond by finding and publishing Mike Troxel's home address and phone number. I learned of this at Doug Mataconis' consistently great blog Below the Beltway. A commenter quite quickly found Troxel's address and phone number and published it in the comments. Doug, being a decent human being more interested in issues and justice than spittle-flecked outrage and threats, immediately deleted it. Fark has also policed any such attempts. There's lots of people out there with no such scruples, though. I've already seen three of them on the internet. And several people have suggested feeding Troxel to 4chan. Mike Troxel, welcome to the consequences of your actions. Read your Heraclitus: "Character is destiny."

Publishing (or re-publishing) the home addresses and home contact information of political opponents is scummy and calculated to threaten and intimidate. Mike Troxel's smirking verbiage — "Nothing quite does that like a good face-to-face chat" — is clearly calculated to convey to Rep. Perriello that as a result of his vote, he now needs to watch out for people lurking in his shrubbery and assaulting him every time he enters or leaves his home. Fortunately Rep. Perriello doesn't have kids to be assaulted or followed to school; unfortunately, his brother (whose address was published by the inept Troxel) does. In-person and telephonic threats, obscenities, and harassment at best, and physical assaults at worst, are the predictable result of reacting to a controversial political event by publishing the participants' home addresses and telephone numbers to a like-minded angry audience. That's why when blogger Michelle Malkin republished the addresses and phone numbers of some asshole protesters, it was entirely predictable that her audience of flying monkeys would deluge them with threats and abuse, and when Michelle's detractors retaliated by publishing her personal contact information, it was entirely predictable that the flying monkeys of the left would respond with reciprocal threats and harassment of her and her family. Even if someone's address could be found somewhere by a dedicated searcher, republishing it to a angry like-minded crowd has predictable — and nasty — results.

And it's not just threats and harassment. In today's climate — particularly with pundits whipping up talk of "total war" — Troxel's actions make violence substantially more likely. This sort of thing is likely to lead to (1) a politician, or a politician's family member, or a politician's neighbor, getting hurt by an unbalanced protester who shows up at the politician's house, (2) some random person getting hurt by an unbalanced protester who shows up at the wrong address because he's stupid or crazy or because he's gotten the wrong address from some madrassa-educated dipshit, or (3) some unbalanced protester is going to wind up with a nice big hole in him because he showed up at an armed politician's home and threatened him or his family. I'm kind of rooting for #3, frankly. (And if the Tea Party movement is intellectually honest in their support of the Second Amendment, so should they.)

Can terrifying people by subjecting them to threats, harassment, and the likelihood of violence be effective? Of course it can. You can shut people up, drive them from public life, intimidate them into acting out of physical fear rather than based on their choices. You can do that not only to the target of the abuse, but to the people who observe it. Thugs like Troxel know this. That's why they do it. Decent people shouldn't. People who want a nation built on ideas and principles, not on threats and force, shouldn't.

Recognizing that does not require admiring, agreeing with, or condoning the actions of the people we are tempted to target for abuse. Asshattery is not a zero-sum game. If Perriello's vote was wrong — and I think it was — it was just as wrong if we recognize that he and his family should not be subjected to threats and violence for it. Recognizing that Troxel is an ass does not make Perriello less of an ass. Recognizing that Troxel is a noxious thug does not make the people who published his address and phone number any more admirable.

Some people are saying that Troxel should be investigated and prosecuted. Though the definition of a true threat is somewhat flexible, I think that Troxel probably didn't include enough exhortation to violence to make his post a true threat outside the scope of the First Amendment as defined by relevant precedents. But Mike Troxel, I think, will reap a whirlwind — just not a legal one.

Edited to add: I see that the Lynchburg Tea Party site has commented, saying that the organization had not "requested, sanctioned or endorsed" the action, but conspicuously failing to condemn it.