A Taxonomy of PRISM Possibilities

I have been fielding a decent number of calls and emails from reporters on the NSA PRISM scandal. A lot of people are trying to synthesize reasonable technical explanations for how the NSA could implement the program described in the leaked PowerPoint deck and keep it secret for so long. In an effort to improve the quality of the public discussion, I have decided to create a taxonomy of the theories that I have seen floated and supply my own commentary in italics.

To be clear, I have no special knowledge or insight into this program. Everything listed below is based upon data contained in the news articles I have seen. I also recognize that many of these theories sound far-fetched, although I have to admit that my personal Overton Window for crazy conspiracy theories has shifted in the last 24 hours.

My goal is to keep this list up to date as more information is published, so please let me know if you have any corrections or additions by leaving a comment or via email. My GPG key is available here.

The list is below the fold…

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The Truth about Aaron Swartz’s “Crime”

I did not know Aaron Swartz, unless you count having copies of a person’s entire digital life on your forensics server as knowing him. I did once meet his father, an intelligent and dedicated man who was clearly pouring his life into defending his son. My deepest condolences go out to him and the rest of Aaron’s family during what must be the hardest time of their lives.

If the good that men do is oft interred with their bones, so be it, but in the meantime I feel a responsibility to correct some of the erroneous information being posted as comments to otherwise informative discussions at Reddit, Hacker News and Boing Boing. Apparently some people feel the need to self-aggrandize by opining on the guilt of the recently departed, and I wanted to take this chance to speak on behalf of a man who can no longer defend himself. I had hoped to ask Aaron to discuss these issues on the Defcon stage once he was acquitted, but now that he has passed it is important that his memory not be besmirched by the ignorant and uninformed. I have confirmed with Aaron’s attorneys that I am free to discuss these issues now that the criminal case is moot.

I was the expert witness on Aaron’s side of US vs Swartz, engaged by his attorneys last year to help prepare a defense for his April trial. Until Keker Van Nest called iSEC Partners I had very little knowledge of Aaron’s plight, and although we have spoken at or attended many of the same events we had never once met.

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