Friday, May 12, 2006

NSA spying update

It's been a very busy day at work, and other bloggers are way ahead of me. So I'll just point you to the insights at the following purveyors of food thought:

The Moderate Voice has a good roundup of opinion.
One Donklephant poster explains his concerns, while another asks "does datamining work, anyway?"

My few thoughts:

The Washington Post poll showing 63% support for the program is worthless, because it's based on 400 people interviewed the same day the story broke. It's a sampling of opinion, but not necessarily informed opinion.

The idea behind "social networks" is to find out who's connected to whom. You find a suspect, find out who's talking to him, then find out who's talking to those people, and so on. Sounds great -- unless you've ever played the Kevin Bacon game. Do that and you soon come to the conclusion that it's possible to connect anyone to nearly anyone else in relatively few moves. Which makes sense, because the connections progress geometrically.

So to find a meaningful pattern, you have to start with a known terrorist phone number. And if you've got that, you ought to be able to get warrants to tap that phone, pull its records, and look at those direct connections.

If that's true -- and I freely admit to not be an expert -- all the database does is save a little time. Is that worth the huge invitation to abuse that it offers?

Finally, ThinkProgress notes that the phone companies could be liable for billions of dollars in damages if they turned over records illegally. Somehow I think they'll get excused from that, given the NSA arm-twisting, but there could be some expensive lawsuits in their future.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Dyre42 said...

I'm pretty sure W will cover the phone companies butts using a a war time powers type of defense.
Which in my mind goes something like this,"They could not resist the war time powers of The Decider!"

5/12/2006 10:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you mean it's "not an informed opinion?" This isn't the first leak on the subject. The first leak occurred about 4 months ago and the polls were the same then: showing about 65% of the American public in support of the NSA spying. The public has had PLENTY of time to form a solid opinion on the matter.
JP5

5/13/2006 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Often times, in defense of intrusive govt actions I hear: "I don't care if they ___, I have nothing to hide!" This is so classically ignorant it's sad. History tells us that we cannot afford this ignorance. Consider: The Nazis rounded up and murdered 6x10^6 Jews in approximately 10 years. That is a logistical challenge even with today's technology. How could he have been so effective? Answer: Census data. In 1930s, when Jews were filling out their census information they proudly declared their Jewish identity, firmly believing they had "nothing to hide". Less than 5 years later we had the Night of Broken Glass.

If you are worried about the NSA or any Big Brother spook eavsedropping on you or your calls, I would recommend VoIP and Encryption. Skype being the best of the breed. Or, use obscure chat clients like Gadu-Gadu from Poland. All of that chat traffic goes to the "other" bucket.

5/25/2006 8:48 AM  

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