Canard of the Week: A Little Privacy in Exchange for Security.
Let me give you my down and dirty regarding the government collecting anything it wants electronically. Yes, I did say anything it wants. There are no legitimate controls in place. One would hope that NSA domestic spying is dead, but let's not assume anything.
We use this information to stop terrorism. Urm, uh, Yeah.
The government has been vacuuming up your electronic data like my wife vacuums up my breakfast crumbs, for years. I'm a very sloppy eater. According to the FBI this has never led to a major breakthrough in a case to solve or prevent terrorism.
The Civil Liberties Oversight Committee has stated that there appear to be no instances where an attack has been thwarted by the use of mass data collection (probably true)…
…and that there have been no instances of abuse of the system. This one is not true. There were cases of the very agents responsible for the collection and storage of the data using it to spy on their girlfriends and wives. It is also too narrowly defined. It doesn't allow for patterns of abuse that would make the existence of this data a moral hazard.
Last year, the Obama administration through its drooling guard dog, Eric Holder used a similar program, far older than the NSA data mining program with greater safeguards, to illegally dig into the private life of James Rosen who was running a story uncomplimentary to the American Emperor. To do this, they named Rosen as an un-indicted co-conspirator. The NSA's program needs only the approval of the rubber stamp FISA court to dig into anything it wants.
In any case the system is not designed to do any of the things listed above so it is no surprise that it hasn't been of much value to date.
Why It Can't Work as Sold:
Imagine you are an intelligence analyst responsible for gathering intel on Godammistan, an ancient sand pile in the armpit of the world whose government and other "bad actors" have it in for the United States. You have a pile of information on the country and dossiers on the government and powerful citizens. But you want to "spot patterns". So you tell your agents to get you every word ever written about the country, about every citizen, about every street corner, every pet, etc. The more successful your agents are, the less successful you will be as an analyst. The reason is that you have burdened yourself with too much information. From it you will not be able to produce a decent recipe for egg nog. Good intel is knowing what you don't need more than what you need.
Our government will have you believe that they are collecting everyone's metadata so they can spot patterns and foil attacks on the homeland. The problem is that such a mountain of data cannot be used for that purpose and they know it. Its ONLY usefulness is to be stored for LATER use. They don't need to keep such a gargantuan database to spot patterns. It is too much information. The assumptions needed to program a search in such a sea of data would be outlandish and unrealistic; worthless. So would be the product.
Another reason they don't need the metadata is that is already exists. For all that data to be useful, the analyst first needs a name or a number that is already suspicious. This can be presented to a phone company or service provider. And voila (that's French for TA-DAAAA!) you have everything you need on your subject.
If there is a pattern of requests, even under warrant, that seems spurious or capricious, the provider will start to understandably balk and fight the requests. ATT has. This is because they have competitors that customers can go to if a provider seems to fast and loose with information and because of a fear of lawsuits. In the case of ATT there is even talk about something called…let me think…the 4th amendment. It's in some kind of constitution thingie.
Government employees have only their jobs and pensions to think about. They will dig up anything they are told to dig up. A warrant from a FISA court protects no one.
One warrant sent to Verizon asked them for everything they had on all their customers. What kind of a bullshit warrant is that? Verizon, of course, asked for a tad more specificity.
But, you say, what if the information requested is time-sensitive? The existing law already allows for post facto warrants. Get the request in, get your info and cover everyone's ass with a warrant later.
This is fishy too, but you can at least leave the government out of the spy-on-every-American business and still know they can access the stuff they need when they need it. And we should require real specificity in these requests. Besides, if I wanted a minute data point or an email based solely on a name or phone number, I damn sure would't ask a govvie to get it. Cheese ages faster. I'd ask a professional at a private company.
Is it Google's job to protect my interests? No. But it is in their best interest to not look like an extension of the FISA court lap dogs. It is the governments job to protect us, you might argue. Why not exchange a little privacy in the face of grave danger?
Kaffee: Grave danger?
Jessup: Is there any other kind?
God, I love that movie!
Two reasons: It does not provide the protection and the system will not be used in that way anyway. The system has only one value.
How Mass Metadata Will Work as Designed:
Let's go back to Holder and his circus stunt warrant against Rosen. To compel a real judge to grant his warrant, he had to LIE and say the Rosen was a target of a criminal investigation. His excuse was that everyone does it and that he was going to correct the record later. He then tore into every aspect of Rosen's life that technology would allow. But he is just a slimy, corrupt cog in a larger machine that has in recent years slouched into a norm of corruption.
When you find yourself at odds with these unethical creatures, do you think for one minute that they won't use the data collected to pick you apart? Do you really believe that every GS-9 clerk in DC or Fort Meade is another Snowden, ready to trade his career, and life as he knows it, to save you from harassment or character assassination? If so, I will put you in for the Naive Dupe of the Decade Award now. Of course the data will be teased out one way or another. I trust Verizon more than Mary Punchkey in the NSA records department.
But it's only "metadata" like the kind of information you find on the outside of a piece of mail. It's not like they are listening to our phone calls*. Well, it's a bit more specific than that. As Charles Cooke says in his 29 May 15 National Review article:
"They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
"They know you spoke with an HIV testing service, then your doctor, then your health insurance company in the same hour. But they don’t know what was discussed.
"They know you received a call from the local NRA office while it was having a campaign against gun legislation, and then called your senators and congressional representatives immediately after. But the content of those calls remains safe from government intrusion.
"They know you called a gynecologist, spoke for a half hour, and then called the local Planned Parenthood’s number later that day. But nobody knows what you spoke about."
In my case they may know that I subscribed to a dating site called "Middle-aged Leather Queers" and exchanged 42 emails with a guy named DungeonPete. But they cannot, from that, determine my shoe size.
And again, FISA is not a real court set up to protect your rights. It is a sham to provide a paper trail for the government official hacking into your life. But I suspect that when we finally see someone caught with their hands in the cookie jar, we'll find they had been swimming in files without even a FISA warrant. Sort of like Bill Clinton's wife and the hundreds of FBI files she had hidden and then "found" in the White House residence. Try a stunt like that in your residence and see how quickly you find yourself trading cigarettes for "favors" in poorly decorated surroundings.
So Rand Paul is on the right track. He is pounding away at this issue. He is trying to make it as difficult as possible for the government to continue the practice of mass data collection. His detractors say that his argument is invalid because he is running for president and this is meant to bolster his numbers. That is not a valid argument. He is running for president, and a stunt this may very well be, but that doesn't validate or invalidate Paul's argument. And he's been standing up for these kinds of things for years. The fact is, political stunt or not, he is the loudest voice standing against the government prick who will one day tear your life apart because you're for gay marriage or reject global warming.
* A note about phone calls. In the course of this debate, TV talking heads have said repeatedly that, "It is only metadata. It's not like they are listening to our phone calls." (commentator smirks). That is half true. Under the Patriot Act there is no provision for warrantless wiretap of just anyone. But the NSA has been listening to phone calls for decades. Mostly these are calls between government officials, ours and theirs, members of the military, etc. But they can listen to anyone they wish. So can any phone repair guy checking a line or looking for good stories for happy hour. Both are true.