NSA, Phone Records, and access to data systems

NSA – Nothing to See Anywhere around here. The past two days have been bad for the Obama administration for both leaks and for privacy concerns. It was leaked yesterday to the Guardian’s reporter Glenn Greenwald whom a lot of people in the US aren’t fans of because he sticks to his morals regardless of which party is in power. This leak showed something that really shouldn’t be that big of a surprise to anyone. In fact, Senators are all like, what’s the big deal this has been going on since 2007. This was originally just AT&T that was wrapped up in this, but everyone suspected other telecoms were involved. After that had come to light congress retroactively gave immunity to the telecoms, despite an ongoing law suit from the EFF – which was dismissed, although EFF filed another shortly their after.

Today was another turn of events where operation PRISM was unmasked, by both the Guardian and Washington Post. This system has direct access to major technology companies servers including Google and Facebook, although both companies deny this. Superficially, PRISM is intended to filter through to a majority of foreign based data. In this case it’s seriously the slimmest majority – only 51% – a majority though, although in the US Senate you’d never know.

How are these things possible? Two major reasons, the Patriot Act and the “Secret” FISA Court. I use quotes around “Secret” because it’s as “secret” as the drone program. However, we don’t know what decisions are being made, we don’t know what is being taken before the court, and we have no idea what sort of “do process” standards have been implemented in this court. If it’s anything like the drone program it’s likely just a few people sitting in a room talking about how bad terrorism is and data like the above to determine the guy needs to die. It’s no way to run a democracy.

With the combination of the data in our phone records and our internet usage the NSA can create a massive time based network of connections between both Americans and Foreigners. Abrupt changes in the make up of a persons network with people from countries of interest likely flag them as a risk for interacting with Terrorist. Additionally, if a new pattern was detected the NSA would likely go back and look at historic data to try to understand why this new pattern arose and what they could do to predict future shifts in networks towards engaging with these groups of people. It would also lead the NSA to create models that could indicate how likely someone is to develop behavior patterns of terrorists after their network shifts from one sub group to different subgroups. Furthermore, it’s likely that this information would be even more of interest if there’s a full shift of members of that person’s network towards more potential extremists.

We need to work to change this. The Senate knew about this and plans to hold closed door meetings to discuss it. These discussions should be public not behind closed doors. It’s a disgrace.

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