Goose the Blog 2.0

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"This phone call may be monitored for quality control purposes."

by John at 5/11/2006 09:07:00 AM

The NSA is collecting data from Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth on billions of domestic phone calls made by tens of millions of American customers. Nice.

Q: Does the NSA's domestic program mean that my calling records have been secretly collected?

A: In all likelihood, yes. The NSA collected the records of billions of domestic calls. Those include calls from home phones and wireless phones.

Q: Does that mean people listened to my conversations?

A: Eavesdropping is not part of this program.

Q: What was the NSA doing?

A: The NSA collected "call-detail" records. That's telephone industry lingo for the numbers being dialed. Phone customers' names, addresses and other personal information are not being collected as part of this program. The agency, however, has the means to assemble that sort of information, if it so chooses.

Q: When did this start?

A: After the Sept. 11 attacks.

Q: Can I find out if my call records were collected?

A: No. The NSA's work is secret, and the agency won't publicly discuss its operations.

Q: Why did they do this?

A: The agency won't say officially. But sources say it was a way to identify, and monitor, people suspected of terrorist activities.

Q: But I'm not calling terrorists. Why do they need my calls?

A: By cross-checking a vast database of phone calling records, NSA experts can try to pick out patterns that help identify people involved in terrorism.

Q: How is this different from the other NSA programs?

A: NSA programs have historically focused on international communications. In December, The New York Times disclosed that President Bush had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international phone calls to and from the USA. The call-collecting program is focused on domestic calls, those that originate and terminate within U.S. borders.

Q: Is this legal?

A: That will be a matter of debate. In the past, law enforcement officials had to obtain a court warrant before getting calling records. Telecommunications law assesses hefty fines on phone companies that violate customer privacy by divulging such records without warrants. But in discussing the eavesdropping program last December, Bush said he has the authority to order the NSA to get information without court warrants.

Q: Who has access to my records?

A: Unclear. The NSA routinely provides its analysis and other cryptological work to the Pentagon and other government agencies.

The NSA is basically "datamining" the call records to try to find patterns of behavior, and this is certainly part of the Total Information Awareness program that was made illegal a few years ago and which, for all practical purposes and in defiance of Congress, was never actually shutdown. The dataminers would probably need to have examples of "people involved in terrorism" in order to identify other previously unknown cases. False positives (identifying as terrorists or terrorist enablers (or whatever) those people who are innocent) are, of course, the main logistical risk, which complicates the job of authorities and causes problems for otherwise innocent citizens. With tens of millions of suspects, even a very low percentage of false positives produces a vast number of investigations. And from the standpoint of liberal democracy, this is yet another instance of the growth of the police state, curtailing Constitutional guarantees of privacy and separation of powers, and a step in the implementation of a panopticon society.

And in a related note, also in today's news is the fact that the Justice Department investigation into the NSA's warrantless eavesdropping program (the one where the NSA, under the personal authorization of President Bush, listened in on domestically originated international phone calls without a warrant from the FISA court) has been closed because the NSA would not grant security clearance to the DOJ investgators. Reverse Kafkaesque!*

I don't mean to be alarmist, but our privacy, and therefore our freedom, is being taken away from us. And our stable and mostly just system of government is being dismantled by power hungry buttholes.

Update: There's a slashdot discussion of this, if you have the patience for that sort of thing. Set the threshold to 3 or higher to filter out a lot of the junk.


* I now get to use that term without pretension because I recently finished reading The Trial by Franz Kafka. Look for it in an upcoming episode of 30SBR.
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