Read

Search form

Have a Nice Day, NSA: Brazil's "Mad Cow" Retaliation to U.S. Spying

Have a Nice Day, NSA: Brazil's "Mad Cow" Retaliation to U.S. Spying
Mon, 9/30/2013 - by Vanessa Barbara
This article originally appeared on The New York Times

At the opening of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Dilma Rousseff, the president of my country, Brazil, delivered a scolding speech in response to reports that the National Security Agency has monitored electronic communications of Brazilian citizens, members of government and private corporations. Like a displeased school principal, Ms. Rousseff seemed to speak directly to President Obama, who was waiting in the wings to deliver his own speech.

She called the surveillance program “a breach of international law” and “a situation of grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties; of invasion and capture of confidential information concerning corporate activities; and especially of disrespect to national sovereignty.” She seemed personally offended when she demanded “explanations, apologies and guarantees that such procedures will never be repeated.” Last week, she called off a planned visit to the United States, after she learned that the N.S.A. had gained access to her own e-mails, telephone calls and text messages.

All in all, it was a nice example of what Brazilians call “Dilma Bolada,” or “Furious Dilma.” (A Rio de Janeiro publicist has even created a fake Twitter profile under that name, to make fun of our president’s famous short temper.)

Her strong response was likely more a symbolic position than a political act with practical outcomes, and some interpreted it as nothing more than a way of boosting her popularity for the presidential election next year. But it was well received in Brazil, where for the last four months people have been closely following the news about the secret documents on the spying program leaked by Edward J. Snowden.

The Brazilian newspaper O Globo first reported on the surveillance of Brazilian citizens in July. The series of articles, based on documents provided by Mr. Snowden to Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist living in Rio, detailed how the agency had established a data collection center in Brasília, systematically tapped into the local telecommunication network and intercepted the e-mail and telephone records of millions of citizens. Inside its own country, the N.S.A. needs a warrant to wiretap citizens. But not abroad. According to one document, Brazil is included in a group of key countries being closely monitored by the N.S.A. under the rubric “Friends, Enemies, or Problems?”

Like most Brazilians, I was annoyed to learn that the American government might have been gathering data from my computer and phone calls. But on the bright side, I am hoping that it has kept a backup of my files, since a few months ago I realized that I could no longer find an important video anywhere in my computer. (Mr. Obama, if you’re reading this, please send me the file “summer2012.wmv” as soon as you can.)

The United States has suggested that its interception of data also aims to protect other nations against terrorism. But Ms. Rousseff had an answer for that, too: “Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself.”

The country’s strategy on that matter does not limit itself to diplomatic grumpiness. Ms. Rousseff has also proposed establishing “a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet.” It would ensure “freedom of expression, security and respect for human rights” by protecting personal information online.

But for now, we citizens have our own plan. It has become something of a joke among my friends in Brazil to, whenever you write a personal e-mail, include a few polite lines addressed to the agents of the N.S.A., wishing them a good day or a Happy Thanksgiving. Sometimes I’ll add a few extra explanations and footnotes about the contents of the message, summarizing it and clarifying some of the Portuguese words that could be difficult to translate.

Other people have gone so far as to send nonsensical e-mails just to confuse N.S.A. agents. For example: first use some key words to attract their surveillance filters, like “chemical brothers,” “chocolate bombs” or “stop holding my heart hostage, my emotions are like a blasting of fundamentalist explosion” (one of my personal favorites, inspired by an online sentence-generator designed to confound the N.S.A.).

Then write indiscriminately to friends and acquaintances about serious stuff like: how Doc Brown stole plutonium from Libyan nationalists, or why poor Godzilla had to attack the City of New York. It is recommended to act as crazy as possible, in order to raise questions about your secret intentions.

I call this tactic “vaca louca.” (The term comes from mad cow disease, though it could also refer to a Brazilian song called “Levada louca” (“crazy rhythm”) by Ivete Sangalo, which most of us originally misheard as “A vaca louca” — but I’m digressing here.)

All this is to say that I found the news earlier this month about the actions of a group of Brazilian hackers perfectly appropriate. In an attempt to protest the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, they accidentally attacked NASA’s Web site.

It’s all part of our Mad Cow Retaliation Plan.

Vanessa Barbara, a novelist, edits the literary Web site A Hortaliça and is a columnist for the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo.

Originally published by The New York Times

Sign Up

Article Tabs

Paris climate accord, COP21, carbon emissions, 2 degrees C, emissions reductions, renewable energy transition, renewable energy investments, clean energy investments, solar power, wind power, fossil fuel divestment

Changing the way the world is powered means big spending – and huge investment opportunities – with energy finance models suggesting clean power investments need to rise by an additional 75 percent, to $12.1 trillion, in the next 25 years.

Chinese monetary policy, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Chinese currency, Chinese currency manipulation, Special Drawing Rights, rising dollar

If war and hostilities between the great powers are to be avoided, the future of global capitalism may well rely on a combination of Western markets and institutions backed up by totalitarian institutions like the regime in Beijing.

Few police shootings of Latinos make national headlines – a lack of attention and outrage that stems from a poor understanding of the history of state violence against them in the U.S.

U.K. housing prices, soaring home prices, soaring rent costs, Eviction Resistance, housing bubble mortgage-backed securities, Great Recession, rising homelessness

Housing prices in London have risen by 50% in the last five years – and when the UK property bubble goes boom, it will be proportionally bigger than the U.S. housing bust at the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, corporate trade deals, Investment Court System, German Magistrates Association, Investor State Dispute Settlement, ISDS, Global Justice Now

The German Magistrates Association (DRB) last week dealt a major blow to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, as judges said special courts allowing firms to sue countries were unnecessary and "had no legal basis."

This week we passed the five-year anniversary of Tahrir Square, but do we even know – or care – what's happening there now, and do we see the parallels with what's going on right here? We speak with an Egyptian activist who sets the record straight.

Posted 6 days 13 min ago

The media, which came to the story so late, can only process so much – but if you live in Flint or the State of Michigan as I do, you know all too well that what the greater public has been told about the water crisis only scratches the surface.

Posted 4 days 10 hours ago

Congressional hearings on the Flint water crisis were convened on Wednesday – but two people who should be in the hot seat weren't there. Next up, Iowa Caucus: Is this what Democracy looks like? And Obama signs the TPP.

Posted 4 days 10 hours ago
Flint water poisoning, Flint water contamination, Flint lead poisoning, water privatization, Rick Snyder, Darnell Earley

Incidences of poisoned water, not isolated to Flint, are snowballing into a colossal emblem of government's prioritization of corporate interests and profit over the basic health and human rights of citizens.

Posted 5 days 4 hours ago
Kamala Harris, Southern California Gas Co, methane leaks, Sempra Energy, Clean Power Plan, emission reductions, climate change goals

The civil suit accuses Southern California Gas of violating state health and safety laws when it failed to promptly control the release of 80,000 metric tons of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Posted 6 days 31 min ago
Flint water poisoning, Flint water contamination, Flint lead poisoning, water privatization, Rick Snyder, Darnell Earley

Incidences of poisoned water, not isolated to Flint, are snowballing into a colossal emblem of government's prioritization of corporate interests and profit over the basic health and human rights of citizens.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, TTIP, corporate trade deals, Investment Court System, German Magistrates Association, Investor State Dispute Settlement, ISDS, Global Justice Now

The German Magistrates Association (DRB) last week dealt a major blow to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, as judges said special courts allowing firms to sue countries were unnecessary and "had no legal basis."

The federal agency warned of an unfolding toxic water crisis in Flint but was “met with resistance” by Michigan authorities, a fiery congressional hearing into the city’s public health disaster revealed Wednesday.

Responding to tough talk by presidential candidates about price gouging by drug companies, pharmaceutical executives have told investors that they are working actively to influence the political debate.

This week we passed the five-year anniversary of Tahrir Square, but do we even know – or care – what's happening there now, and do we see the parallels with what's going on right here? We speak with an Egyptian activist who sets the record straight.