The Campaign Spot

The NSA Sees All, Collects All, Keeps All, and Can Use All

I’m scheduled to appear on Real News on The Blaze network this afternoon.

From today’s Morning Jolt:

Quick Summary: The NSA Is Collecting Everything You Write, Short of Your Handwritten Grocery List

If you typed it or spoke it into an electronic device, the government probably has a record of it.

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

PRISM was launched from the ashes of President George W. Bush’s secret program of warrantless domestic surveillance in 2007, after news media disclosures, lawsuits and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court forced the president to look for new authority.

In case you had forgotten what Candidate Barack Obama said:

Barack Obama believes that we must provide law enforcement the tools it needs to investigate, disrupt, and capture terrorists, but he also believes we need real oversight to avoid jeopardizing the rights and ideals of all Americans. There is no reason we cannot fight terrorism while maintaining our civil liberties. Unfortunately, the current administration has abused the powers given to it by the PATRIOT Act. A March 2007 Justice Department audit found the FBI improperly and, in some cases, illegally used the PATRIOT Act to secretly obtain personal information about American citizens. As president, Barack Obama would revisit the PATRIOT Act to ensure that there is real and robust oversight of tools like National Security Letters, sneak-and-peek searches, and the use of the material witness provision.

• Eliminate Warrantless Wiretaps. Barack Obama opposed the Bush Administration’s initial policy on warrantless wiretaps because it crossed the line between protecting our national security and eroding the civil liberties of American citizens. As president, Obama would update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to provide greater oversight and accountability to the congressional intelligence committees to prevent future threats to the rule of law.

Tyler Cowen:

The general problem is the unholy government and tech alliance, based on a mix of plutocracy, information-sharing, and a joint understanding of the importance of information for future elections. Which current politician wouldn’t want to court the support of tech, and which major tech company can today stand above politics?

Late Thursday night, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a lengthy statement.

The program does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber. The only type of information acquired under the Court’s order is telephony metadata, such as telephone numbers dialed and length of calls.

The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism -related communications. Acquiring this information allows us to make connections related to terrorist activities over time. The FISA Court specifically approved this method of collection as lawful, subject to stringent restrictions.

The information acquired has been part of an overall strategy to protect the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it may assist counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities.

Here’s the thing: this latest round of mega-data-collection got started just after the Boston Marathon bombing. I’m all for having the good guys know who known or suspected terrorists are calling. So why wouldn’t you start with those phone records, and then work your way out from there? Collect the numbers they called, and then check out who was on the other end of those calls, and then check out the outgoing calls from those people, and so on, until you feel like you’ve rolled up the cell.

The only way that this method of collecting every bit of data produced works is if you take the whole dataset and then start applying various searches, presumably through algorithms, having decided criteria A, B, and C are indicators that this person is a terrorist or a threat.

Here’s a fascinating July 2012 article:

The algorithms that the NSA has created, according to whistle blower William Binney, are actually a part of the Big Data Research and Development Initiative, which has the official purpose to improve the tools and techniques needed to access, organize, and glean discoveries from huge volumes of digital data. William goes on by saying that the algorithms will go through the data base looking at everybody.

We in the general public have no idea if the algorithms work, if they’re fair, if they’re putting a lot of innocent Americans under suspicion or on watch lists, etc. This is simply not the way criminal investigation or even counter-intelligence has ever worked in this country under our Constitution; it’s working backwards. Those we have entrusted with the duty of our protection always previously started from the wrongdoing (or a tip of wrongdoing) and work their way out from there; it has never been, collect every bit of information they can on absolutely everyone, and then sift through it until they find what they’re looking for.

Clapper emphasizes, “The program at issue here is conducted under authority granted by Congress and is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). By statute, the Court is empowered to determine the legality of the program.”

But who watches the watchmen?

“I would just push back on the idea that the court has signed off on it, so why worry?” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is a court that meets in secret, allows only the government to appear before it, and publishes almost none of its opinions. It has never been an effective check on government.”

Andy Levy: “DNI Clapper also tells Steve Turner of Carlsbad, CA that his vacation pics look great, but that he should ‘maybe slow down on the shots lol’”


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