Interesting speculation that the NSA is storing everyone’s phone calls, and not just metadata. Definitely worth reading.
I expressed skepticism about this just a month ago. My assumption had always been that everyone’s compressed voice calls is just too much data to move around and store. Now, I don’t know.
There’s a bit of a conspiracy-theory air to all of this speculation, but underestimating what the NSA will do is a mistake. General Alexander has told members of Congress that they can record the contents of phone calls. And they have the technical capability.
In an excellent essay about privacy and secrecy, law professor Daniel Solove makes an important point. There are two types of NSA secrecy being discussed. It’s easy to confuse them, but they’re very different.
Of course, if the government is trying to gather data about a particular suspect, keeping the specifics of surveillance efforts secret will decrease the likelihood of that suspect altering his or her behavior.
But secrecy at the level of an individual suspect is different from keeping the very existence of massive surveillance programs secret. The public must know about the general outlines of surveillance activities in order to evaluate whether the government is achieving the appropriate balance between privacy and security. What kind of information is gathered? How is it used? How securely is it kept? What kind of oversight is there? Are these activities even legal? These questions can’t be answered, and the government can’t be held accountable, if surveillance programs are completely classified.
When former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle on NSA spying, the story had bracing and wonderful effects. But alert Americans should have already known at least five reasons to be alarmed at the agency and its activities, and the general state of surveillance and privacy in the U.S.A.
1. Whistleblowers have warned us about an out-of-control NSA before.
Before Snowden became a household name, there was Thomas Drake, indicted in 2010 under the Espionage Act after he said publicly that an NSA data collection program might be being used illegally to gather data on Americans. (Drake pled guilty to one small charge. The bigger ones were ultimately dropped.)
And don’t forget William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe. Each had their homes raided by the FBI in 2007, when they were suspected of being the sources of a 2005 NSA data-collection scandal broken by the New York Times. That scandal circled around the NSA’s Bush-era warrantless wiretapping program.
Facebook (here), Apple (here), and Yahoo (here) have all released details of US government requests for data. They each say that they’ve turned over user data for about 10,000 people, although the time frames are different. The exact number isn’t important; what’s important is that it’s much lower than the millions implied by the PRISM document.
Now the big question: do we believe them? If we don’t, what would it take before we did believe them?
John Mueller and Mark Stewart ask the important questions about the NSA surveillance programs: why were they secret, what have they accomplished, and what do they cost?
My hypothesis is that science will someday be able to identify sociopaths and terrorists by their patterns of Facebook and Internet use. I’ll bet normal people interact with Facebook in ways that sociopaths and terrorists couldn’t duplicate.Anyone can post fake photos and acquire lots of friends who are actually acquaintances. But I’ll bet there are so many patterns and tendencies of “normal” use on Facebook that a terrorist wouldn’t be able to successfully fake it.
Okay, but so what? Imagine you had such an amazingly accurate test…then what? Do we investigate those who test positive, even though there’s no suspicion that they’ve actually done anything? Do we follow them around? Subject them to additional screening at airports? Throw them in jail because we know the streets will be safer because of it? Do we want to live in a Minority Report world?
In a request today to National Security Agency director Keith Alexander and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the group argues that the NSA’s recently revealed domestic surveillance program is “unlawful” because the agency neglected to request public comments first. A federal appeals court previously ruled that was necessary in a lawsuit involving airport body scanners.”In simple terms, a line has been crossed,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told CNET. “The agency’s function has been transformed, and we think the public should have an opportunity to say something about that.”
A fine piece: “A Love Letter to the NSA Agent who is Monitoring my Online Activity.”
A similar sentiment is expressed in this video.
Skype, the Internet-based calling service, began its own secret program, Project Chess, to explore the legal and technical issues in making Skype calls readily available to intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials, according to people briefed on the program who asked not to be named to avoid trouble with the intelligence agencies.Project Chess, which has never been previously disclosed, was small, limited to fewer than a dozen people inside Skype, and was developed as the company had sometimes contentious talks with the government over legal issues, said one of the people briefed on the project. The project began about five years ago, before most of the company was sold by its parent, eBay, to outside investors in 2009. Microsoft acquired Skype in an $8.5 billion deal that was completed in October 2011.
More than passively eavesdropping, we’re penetrating and damaging foreign networks for both espionage and to ready them for attack. We’re creating custom-designed Internet weapons, pretargeted and ready to be “fired” against some piece of another country’s electronic infrastructure on a moment’s notice.
This is much worse than what we’re accusing China of doing to us. We’re pursuing policies that are both expensive and destabilizing and aren’t making the Internet any safer. We’re reacting from fear, and causing other countries to counter-react from fear. We’re ignoring resilience in favor of offense.
For the sake of argument, we may assume that from President Obama on down, government officials sincerely believe that gathering Americans’ telephone and Internet data is vital to the people’s security. Does that make government spying okay?
No, it doesn’t.
I promised myself to stay away from Orwell metaphors for the duration of the latest surveillance-state controversy. But the punditocracy’s recent “two-minutes hate” against National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has me backsliding already.
Judging by the vicious — and irrelevant — attacks on Snowden’s character, all too many leading pundits and journalists love nothing more than a ritual ragegasm against an alleged enemy of the state.
The Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen calls Snowden a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood”; he’s a “total slacker” with “all the qualifications to become a grocery bagger” jeers Politico‘s Roger Simon. Snowden’s “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison” offers The New Yorker‘s Jeffrey Toobin; Fox News’s Ralph Peters raises the stakes: a “narcissistic traitor” who belongs on death row.