When personal privacy is lost — nay, thefted by the very government sworn to protect us — under the mask of personal protection from terrorism, those small intimacies are forever forsaken but not in freedom of the Greater Good but rather in slavery to the Broader Bad as our tiniest thoughts are dissected to determine guilt beyond the shadowy frame of reasonable checks and balances.

The NSA is Listening


Today’s newspapers read like a spy novel instead of ordinary news reportage.
Today’s Wall Street Journal:

Without knowing the precise nature of what the NSA is
doing, some legal experts say the administration appears to be
operating in a fuzzy area about what legal permission is required for
sifting through data, especially if the data don’t include personal
information or the actual content of phone calls or emails.

Former AT&T engineers and law-enforcement officials involved in
electronic surveillance say the NSA is likely to be monitoring what is
known in the intelligence community as signals traffic — the data that
accompany every phone call or email.

Among other things, signals traffic reveals who is contacting whom and
what circuit they are communicating over. Every time a phone call is
placed or attempted or an email is sent, a record is generated. There
is an international protocol for this information, called Signaling
System 7, which makes it easier to track.
AT&T, for example, collects this kind of detail in two massive
databases, and manages it with a system it calls Daytona. One database,
dubbed “Hawkeye,” contains records of nearly every telephone call made
over AT&T’s domestic network in the last five years, while another
called “Aurora” performs a similar function for email traffic.

Today’s Washington Post:

After the New York Times disclosed the eavesdropping in
December, the White House dubbed it a “terrorist surveillance program”
and said it involved only international communications by people with
“known links” to al-Qaeda and its allies. The Washington Post reported
in February that about 5,000 Americans had been subject to
eavesdropping under the program and that nearly all of them had been
cleared of suspicion…

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has sued AT&T over that
and other alleged violations of privacy law, said the call database
spans 312 terabytes, a quantity that would fill more than 400,000
computer compact discs…

One government lawyer who has participated in negotiations with
telecommunications providers said the Bush administration has argued
that a company can turn over its entire database of customer records —
and even the stored content of calls and e-mails — because customers
“have consented to that” when they establish accounts…

Today’s New York Times:

“The concept of the N.S.A. having near-real-time access to
information about every call made in the country is chilling,” said Mr.
Bass, former counsel for intelligence policy at the Justice Department.
He said the phone records program resembled Total Information
Awareness, a Pentagon data-mining program shut down by Congress in 2003
after a public outcry.

Today’s Wall Street Journal
reveals a newer chill on the president’s approval rating in a
shattering no-confidence vote. It finally appears the majority of
Americans have had enough of the spying and the pecking and the
tracking of our personal private lives:

President Bush’s job-approval rating has fallen to its
lowest mark of his presidency, according to a new Harris Interactive
poll.
Of 1,003 U.S. adults surveyed in a telephone poll, 29% think Mr. Bush
is doing an “excellent or pretty good” job as president, down from 35%
in April and significantly lower than 43% in January. It compares with
71% of Americans who said Mr. Bush is doing an “only fair or poor” job,
up from 63% in April.

At 29% and falling there are few straws left for grasping except a
final, last gasp, attempt to once-and-for-all curry all information
about us everywhere for as long as possible until congress or the
courts wake up and put a stop to the bad behavior in our shared better
interest.

For this administration there is nothing left to win and everything
else is left to lose until everything about us is pushed into a
government-controlled database for analysis in a last-ditch attempt to
identify the traitors and terrorists among us to validate their spying
effort. The problem with that push is — as of today — the idea is
dead in the ditch.
Once the lock on private information has been scored open, a loss of
faith in the public trust begins a crumbling of blinded belief in a
cause that can never again be reconstituted.

The lesson in this mess is to be wary of the web you weave because the
prey you catch may just be your own foot as it slowly climbs into your
mouth while your secretive subversive intent is made public.

29 Comments

  1. Dave —
    You make an excellent point — if you’re innocent you have nothing to worry about — we’ve all heard that silly mantra pointed at us like the business end of a gun.
    The problem comes in the manipulation of the “innocent” data without third-party protections and when bad intentions are applied to that data.
    Data can be skewed to come to any conclusion. There’s an old joke in science that if your data doesn’t support your theory you just “re-run the numbers” using different ways to “view” the results so that your idea can remain intact.
    Now the really good scientists will change their thesis based on what the data says but some may claim that is no different than changing the data — data and ideas and accusations and theories are all fluid and liquid and they can all be massaged and manipulated to prove any pursuit.
    Numbers never lie, right? So the numbers we skewed on you must show your bad intent, right?
    Once data loses its privacy protections it then becomes a commodity that can be bargained with and sold to the highest bidder.
    Can you think of any for-profit companies beyond our government that might like access to all our phone records so they can track our trends and contacts and interchanges?
    We lose our liberty in the ka-ching of cash registers ringing up our information because that’s The American Way and that is how Democracy Works and that is how a Free Market must be freed to work.

  2. Dave —
    Yes. Assume you are always being surveilled.
    I am peeking at you right now.
    I am always investigating you — subversive posts or not — your Avatar commands us to because you are obviously hiding something!
    :mrgreen:

  3. This blog post has been recorded for proper classification and comparison against exisiting data sets.
    Also, your phone conversations have been monitored for your protection.
    Thank you for your cooperation.
    We’ll be contacting you shortly.
    Recording and divulging telephone numbers to government agencies has been official authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court since 1979 and probably has been going on since the days the telephone system was put into operation. See Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979), in which the Court held:

    We therefore conclude that petitioner in all probability entertained no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and that, even if he did, his expectation was not “legitimate.” The installation and use of a pen register, [442 U.S. 735, 746] consequently, was not a “search,” and no warrant was required. The judgment of the Maryland Court of Appeals is affirmed.

  4. Good news! The government is required to get a court order to use a pen register.
    Bad news! All requests shall be granted by the judge pursuant to the statute, according to some commentators.
    Writes the Center for Democracy and Technology:

    “A 1986 federal law requires a court order for use of such devices, but the standard for approval is so low as to be nearly worthless – a prosecutor does not have to justify the request and judges are required to approve every request

  5. 786-879-6669 is evil.
    Thank you for your expression of concern about the above referenced telephone calls to your telephone.
    Please do not worry.
    The above referenced number is just a ping to make sure that your telephone number is being monitored properly for your safety, comfort, and convenience. This value-added service is provided by your government at no extra cost to you!
    After 24/7 monitoring for the past several years, we’ve determined that our system is providing extra security for all of your personal and business telecommunications needs. The system has been at optimum operation status for at least 99.99% of the time that your phone lines have been in use.
    We are proud to provide this service in an effort to keep you safe and secure!
    Please continue to go about your business as normal.
    There is nothing to worry about.
    Best regards,
    Department of Numerical Recordation and State Security, Telephony Division.

  6. I wonder what happens if Leet is translated into Legalese, then back?
    BTW, I saw a car yesterday with a license plate that included the number 1337 (Leet). I think it was a suspicious message that needs to be followed up!
    I should have followed it and reported it to the proper authorities. I’m sure they are monitoring it right now using the IPASS system. 😉
    Also, this is the first time this has ever happened via telephone. (I’ve participated in Zogby polls on the computer). I got a call from Gallup last night asking about the President, the economy, etc. I like the President as a person, but until gas prices go down …

  7. Gallup came up on the caller ID, so I decided to answer the phone. (I should run a reverse-phone number check to double check it also). The woman asking the questions also gave me the location she was calling from in Nebraska, and I checked Gallup’s website and they have a location there.
    I bet Gallup calls random phone numbers, because they didn’t know my name. They asked me for my name and address so they can send me things through the mail, which should be interesting.
    I always wondered who they spoke to for their opinions. It’s pretty cool that I get to participate.

  8. Chris!
    Yes, Gallup is huge in Nebraska. They had a big building in Lincoln and then they moved to a giant tract of land in Omaha near the river so they could be closer to a larger and better airport.
    I’m glad you’re in with Gallup! Do they pay you anything for your participation?
    When I first moved to New York I had a “job” where I’d get a $100 every week to give “consumer feedback” for an hour on Friday nights. We’d look at Ad campaigns, taste stuff, try on clothes and the like. It was a tremendous amount of fun!

  9. The caller didn’t say anything about compensation, but they are sending a packet of information so I can keep my hopes up! Actually, it’s cool that they are asking me questions.

  10. We have both high speed internet connection and dial up, depending on the place I stay. Having personal high speed connection is rare because of its ski high price, but cyber-café is quiet popular where you can have high speed internet access paying a meager hourly rate.
    I need at least three weeks off (it’s a 30 hours leg, one way, that too I am talking about the shortest possible route) – I am planning to be there for 18/20 days if I can.
    Do I anticipate any problems re-entering? Depends on what I am reading or carrying! 😀
    Jokes apart, no. I am in the middle of my studies which I got to complete, so I don’t think I will have any problem.

  11. Katha!
    We already miss you!
    😀
    I am glad you have access to fast internet. That is important.
    30 hours!! Wow! How many stops do you have on that trip? Do you fly Coach or First Class? What is the longest amount of time you are on a single airplane?

  12. Flying first class??? A round trip economy class will cost around $1400.00 or more, that too if I can buy it at least six months before my departure, a first class roundtrip would create a permanent hole in my pocket! 😀
    My trip is going to be something like this;
    From Minneapolis/ Chicago to Amsterdam/ London – flying 10/11 hrs. nonstop (I hate it, at times I feel like jumping out of the window!)
    Waiting there for a couple of hours (from 4 to 8 hrs, depending on the flight schedule)
    From Amsterdam/ London to Delhi/ Bombay, India – another 9/10 hrs. leg nonstop
    Waiting there for 3/ 4 hrs,
    From Delhi/ Bombay to Calcutta – 1/ 2 hrs
    By the time I reach home I am in a complete mess as far as the date/ time goes!

  13. Not yet, as far as my knowledge goes getting a tourist visa is a bit tricky, a parent needs a solid reason (graduation ceremony, marriage, child birth etc.)to visit their child in USA. Till date I didn’t have any ….D
    I didn’t want them to apply for it and getting rejected.