NSA Goes From Saying Bulk Metadata Collection 'Saves Lives' To 'Prevented 54 Attacks' To 'Well, It's A Nice Insurance Policy'

from the this-is-why-no-one-trusts-them dept

Want to know why no one trusts anything NSA officials and their defenders have to say any more? When the bulk metadata collection was first revealed, those defenders went on and on about how the program "saved countless lives" and was instrumental in stopping terrorist attacks. Some skeptics then asked what terrorist attacks, and we were told "around 50" though details weren't forthcoming. Eventually, we were told that the real number was "54 terrorist events" (note: not attacks) and a review of them later revealed that basically none of them were legitimate. There was one "event" prevented via the program on US soil, and it was a taxi driver in San Diego sending some money to a terrorist group in Somalia, rather than an actual terrorist attack.

In fact, both judges and the intelligence task force seemed shocked at the lack of any actual evidence to support that these programs were useful.

And yet, the NSA and its defenders keep insisting that they're necessary. Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, a few months ago, tried out a new spin, claiming that effectiveness wasn't the right metric, but rather "peace of mind." Of course, the obvious response to that is to point out that spying on everyone makes most of us fairly uneasy, and we'd have a lot more "peace of mind" if they dropped the program.

And, now, the NSA number 2 guy, who's about to retire, John C. "Chris" Inglis, gave a long interview with NPR, in which he is now claiming that even if the program hasn't been particularly useful in the past, that "it's a good insurance policy."
"I'm not going to give that insurance policy up, because it's a necessary component to cover a seam that I can't otherwise cover."
Basically, we want to keep this information because we want that information, even if it's not been shown to be at all useful. Of course, that's the same logic one can use to defend just about any violation of the 4th Amendment. Putting a private drone with a camera and a recording device streaming everything it sees and hears while following around NSA deputy director Chris Inglis may not discover that he's a corrupt bureaucrat willing to lie to the public, but it seems like a reasonable "insurance policy" to make sure he stays honest. After all, without that, the American public can't prove that he's not corrupt -- so it seems like a reasonable "insurance policy to cover a seam we can't otherwise cover." At least, in the logic of Chris Inglis.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Rikuo (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 1:22am

    So there we have it. A powerful government official promoting a Pre-Crime policy, just out and out admitting it.

    Well done, 'Murica. You must feel so proud.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 6:11am

    That simplifies things

    If it's 'just an insurance policy', then I think pretty much everyone who knows anything about the program, aside from those personally benefiting from it, would agree: the price is too high, it has no proven upsides for the public while bringing a ton of downsides, and so it deserves to be scrapped and those responsible held accounting for their actions.

    On the other hand, if they're willing to say something like that, it sounds like they are really scraping the bottom of the barrel for excuses. From 'countless lives saved and terrorists stopped', now to 'well it hasn't done anything positive yet, but at some point it might, so we should keep it around', it sounds like even they know their lies aren't cutting it anymore.

     

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  3.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 6:22am

    Re:

    I imagine the 'Murica part is still vehemently defending such programs(due to what I can only assume is extensive brain damage, which causes them to blindly assume the USG is the greatest thing on earth), the rest of us however, not so much.

    Personally I agree with the idea at the end of the article, if 'pre-crime' actions like that are justified as 'insurance', let's have all the top people in the NSA under constant, around the clock surveillance, available to the public, see how much of that they can stomach, given they're always claiming it's 'no big deal'.

     

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  4.  
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    scotts13 (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 7:52am

    So - If you're career is or was largely dependent on the existence of a certain government program, regardless of what it is, would you come right out and say that program had no value? Preposterous. You'd promote, and quite probably rationalize in your own mind, ANY justification for it.

    To make a banal comparison, when I was going through a divorce, my wife told a continuous steam of lies throughout the proceedings. Years later, she asked me incredulously, "Did you really expect me to tell the truth?"

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 7:52am

    I could understand target surveillance, it does make sense and it is hard to argue about not being useful, but collecting everything from everyone oh well that is not going to fly anywhere.

     

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  6.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:00am

    Re: That simplifies things

    You know, their argument is on pretty solid ground in the current administration. They've been pretty vehement in making us buy insurance whether we want it or not.

     

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  7.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    What impresses me the most about this is that you can replace NSA with almost anything here and there's no way it doesn't sound like a complete and total unsubstantiated waste. In addition to being completely intangible regarding something that shouldn't be 100% intangible - security in any form is not nebulous.

    Way to go NSA, way to go.

    /facepalm

     

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  8.  
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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re:

    and a large problem, and the reason this will keep going, is many people in 'Murica are still to this day certain that the guy running the quickie mart is secretly a terrorist who would kill them if not for constant surveillance.
    Xenophobia is an amazing human trait, and exploiting our fear of people we don't know, refuse to get to know, and don't want to get to know works time and time again.

    I count in the circle of people I know people who were raised thinking I was a baby raping evil bastard. They were told this by their trusted leaders, that all gays are the same and all are evil. As they got to know me, they started to change their position. They saw that I am just another person in the world, with similar wants and desires as everyone else.

    By keeping the terrorist threat alive and well, pointing out they could be your neighbor, people refuse to engage with them. The fear of the unknown terrorist feeds this safety at any cost mentality. More people die from drunk driving, but terrorism gets billions. More people die from suicide, but there is no money for mental health care. As a country we need to stop the insanity, admit that racism is alive and well behind these terrorist notions and deal with that issue.

    As to this insurance policy, we are the regulator of their right to sell a policy. We need to point out how abusive it is, and how they have never paid a claim yet demand higher premiums.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:31am

    Re: That simplifies things

    It is an international ensurance program. The value of trading in this bulk meta data is through the roof after terrorism has made politicians around the world scared. Since the cold war ended the industry of secret horse-trading between the secret services has reached a worrying level, where the benefit of extending the programs are economically favourable in terms of trading values with foreign powers. It is extremely screwed up, but NSA has obligations towards foreign secret services and they need the more unique data to sustain the same level of trading in data since unique holds a lot more trading value than common, no matter how fringe the use of the unique data is...

     

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  10.  
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    krolork (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:34am

    We need a revolution.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:36am

    Maybe the programs are of dubious value and should be weighed in that context against issues such as privacy, cost, alternative means of surveillance, etc.

    The problem as I see it here is that all of the reporting is laden with conclusions (Absolutely, 54. Absolutely, 0 proof of anything.) Actual facts with a degree of granularity such that they are capable of being considered in detail are missing.

    I am not prepared to form an opinion as to which side holds the better argument given the absence of important and critical information, and believe that declarations one way or the other do seem a bit premature.

     

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  12.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:41am

    Meanwhile

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-phone-record-collection-does-little-to-pre vent-terrorist-attacks-group-says/2014/01/12/8aa860aa-77dd-11e3-8963-b4b654bcc9b2_story.html?hpid=z3

    An analysis by New America Foundation into 225 terrorist cases since 9/11 determines that surveillance had no discernible impact on preventing terror attacks.

     

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  13.  
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    Trails (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:46am

    Re:

    You were married to James Clapper?

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:47am

    The spying program was started with good intentions: to find out if Usama Bin Ladin had any more secret gangs operating in the country who were planning additional operations designed to kill a lot of Americans.

    But several years (and untold $billions) into the program, the NSA finally sees that it was all for naught: no terrorists to be found anywhere.

    So should we expect the director to come forward and admit it was a humongous waste of tax money, that it's not needed any longer, and recommend dismantling the agency and sending everyone home?

    Well, we all know that's not the way big government works. Once a government program grows to "critical mass" it then becomes virtually impossible to scale it back or abolish it, no matter how useless (or counterproductive) it turns out to be.

    And as to honesty in government, the infamous 'Downing Street Memo' said it well: "The intelligence and facts will be fixed around the policy."

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:49am

    Re:

    Either do something about it or make arguments pertaining to the OP.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:51am

    Re: Re: That simplifies things

    I think what's on solid ground here is the whole industrial - defense complex where politicians can help the defense industry and defense branches in government and get certain favors back in return.

     

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  17.  
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    Stranger in America, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:57am

    Defending the indefensible:

    Orwell didn't write How-To books. These yahoos defending spying on a level, of which the worst tyrants in world history could only dream about, are more dangerous to democracy than war itself or a president declaring himself emperor.

    I can even see legislators being afraid to reign them in.
    After all, total awareness of their whereabouts, conversations, etc., would make it very easy for a group of rogue intelligence and military officers to take them out.
    Does the NSA even consider such scenarios? Or what about some religious group infiltrating the NSA in order to advance the "End of Days?" The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

    And these guys are calling near total surveillance an insurance policy? More likely it is a blue print for killing America.

    Yet here we are on the cusp of the never ending nightmare of a complete tyranny.

     

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  18.  
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    Brazenly Anonymous, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 8:59am

    Re:

    The problem is that both are technically correct, they are just using different filters to determine what is and what is not a valid incident. The 54 events exist, metadata played an important role in discovering 13 of them, only 1 of them was connected to the US and none of them consisted of attacks against the US.

    This much information has been painstakingly pulled from NSA defenders who are steadfastly refusing to declassify this information. Note that the events in question were brought up in an attempt to prove that the metadata collection programs were valuable. Stating that you have evidence, but it can't be shown, is effectively the same as having no evidence.

    As such, given that a sufficient grace period has been allowed since evidence was requested to demonstrate the value of these programs, the only reasonable course is to act under the assumption that the programs don't have any value. Any other course will neither force the revelation of such evidence nor resolve the clear and obvious issue that a lack of such evidence demonstrates.

    Of course, even if these programs had significant value, there is still a question of whether it is worth the costs, including the opportunity cost for a more streamlined approach.

     

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  19.  
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    Ninja (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:00am

    An insurance comes from the premise that the amount paid for it does not exceed the benefits it may bring. For instance it seems reasonable to pay 4-5% of the cost of your vehicle to be insured against natural disasters and theft. It may be reasonable to up the amount if the area is known for the criminality rates. But it seems very unreasonable if you have to pay 2x the price of the car per year when the chance of being robbed is thin to the point 99% of the people will never use such insurance. Because that's what the Government is asking from the peopel: give up privacy, due process and Constitutional rights along with an insane amount of money and we'll insure you against perils that won't affect the overwhelming majority of the population if such things are never done.

    The next answer to why keep those programs if they are worth nothing even as insurance will be "because". And then totalitarianism.

     

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  20.  
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    DannyB (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:03am

    Re:

    No. We just need more:
    * Reality TV
    * Shiny new tech gadget
    * work to keep us distracted

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:04am

    Re:

    You might be taking the neutral stance a bit too far there, there are facts, it's just none of them are positive.

    NSA actives have...

    Violated US and foreign citizen privacy on a massive, global scale...

    Almost certainly violated the 4th amendment repeatedly and on a massive scale(the fact that they're doing everything they can to make sure the issue never comes up, and can be ruled on in an independent court would strongly suggest they know this too)...

    Been shown, repeatedly, to be far, far more extensive then they've claimed, showing that they have no problem at all lying to the people who are supposed to provide the 'oversight' that they are constantly claiming is there...

    Intentionally weakened electronic security, increasing the likelihood that criminals and/or terrorist groups(you know, two of the groups the NSA is supposed to protect americans from?) can and will access sensitive systems that would have otherwise been secure...

    Make a complete mockery of the entire court and law system, by setting up secret courts to rule on secret cases, based upon secret interpretations of secret laws.

    Severely damaged foreign relations with other countries, as well as caused massive distrust of american companies, which is likely to lead to very noticeable economic repercussions within a few years...

    On the other hand, NSA actives have not...

    Stopped a single terrorist or terrorist event.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:15am

    Re:

    Remeber, NSA is part of DoD. Their sole role is to support Armed Forces in spying. Spying on Congressman Peter King via his webcam, while he goes on alcoholic drinking binge and masturbates to online gay porn is contradictory to NSA' role.

    At this point, it is evident they are lunatics, and need to be dismantled for their own good. An agency lean as Gisele Bundchen is needed instead.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:17am

    Dear NSA:
    Please do not violate my constitutional right to no unreasonable search and seizure because it's a good "insurance policy".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:17am

    Re:

    The spying program was started with good intentions


    I'm far from certain that this is the case. The program was originally called "Total Information Awareness" and when the DoD announced it, the backlash was so enormous that it was quickly "shut down" (meaning broken into parts and continued under other names).

    This means that the government engaged in this with the complete knowledge that the majority of US citizens were adamantly opposed to it.

    That's not "good intentions". That's tyranny.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:23am

    I am yet to read if NSA activates webcams via Adobe/Macromedia software and stores these videos too? We know Microsoft's Skype is copied. Any hints?

     

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  26.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:23am

    Re: Re:

    Worse, actually. Tyranny would probably be preferable to what's likely the root problem, that of a group who honestly believe that everything they're doing is 'for the greater good'.

    A tyrant's greed will only take him so far, he'll eventually be sated with what he gains, but for a 'true believer' in the 'Greater Good', there is no limit to what they'll do, nothing too out of bounds, as long as they can convince themselves it's serving the 'Greater Good'.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:29am

    Maybe Clapper should try the "if it only saves one life, it is all worth it" gambit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:31am

    One more thing.

    Statistically, 5% of hard drives fail within the first year of usage. That is a truckload of hard drives failures at Fort Meade every single minute. There must be special crew to just dispose of them at the end of every shift. That means they have info holes like Swiss cheese.

     

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  29.  
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    David, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:38am

    Too little, too late

    Putting a private drone with a camera and a recording device streaming everything it sees and hears while following around NSA deputy director Chris Inglis may not discover that he's a corrupt bureaucrat willing to lie to the public, but it seems like a reasonable "insurance policy" to make sure he stays honest.


    That sounds like sending the National Guard to the Twin Towers on 2001/09/12 to make sure they stay upright.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:56am

    There are insurance policies and then there are insurance policies. Unlike the insurance industry, we the public don't get to pick the coverage and we don't get to pick the price. Some policies are too expensive for the coverage they provide.

    This bulk metadata is much too expensive a cost in terms of privacy. The only reason this is being addressed at all from the NSA is they see a very real probability they'll loose their precious. Congress is beginning to be pissed. Not only for lying to the Congressional Oversight committee but for the lack of any sort of hold back to what they wished to do.

    It is my concern that once denied this collection data that they will dismantle the old programs and add bits and pieces of it to other programs but the whole will continue on the same. Since there is no one that gets real oversight, there is nothing preventing them from doing this and getting away with it until another Snowden occurs.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:17am

    Re:

    Mumble.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:25am

    like everything else that the various govts and security services do. just because they can!

     

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  33.  
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    Brazenly Anonymous, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    No tyrant can succeed but that which is able to convince a powerful group of people that their tyranny is for the greater good.

    In slightly murkier territory, whenever an idealistic group gains a controlling influence on society, there is almost always a charismatic power-seeker, who is as often as not a false believer, at the helm. The reasons for this are somewhat complicated, involving the public image of the group, the redirection of energy from a singular cause to political dominance and the simple fulfillment of opportunity.

    A cause sought for the "greater good" can cause a lot of damage, but usually generates a counter movement the moment that damage begins to be realized. When potential tyrants are involved, the counter movement is targeted by force and propaganda. The tyrant candidate attempts to ramp up these measures to the point where they will exorcise the counter movement. The counter movement uses this persecution to garner increasing support from the populace.

    Eventually, should the tyrant succeed, they will be targeting everyone but the most zealous from the original movement and tyranny becomes fully realized. Alternatively, the counter movement is able to trigger a series of reforms through political pressures or revolution.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:48am

    ...The Day We Fight Back - FEBRUARY 11TH

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:52am

    Re: One more thing.

    Yeah, but those failures tend to be bunched up into the same lots. I've purchased hundreds of hard drives over the years, I've only had one fail in the first year of usage.

    Regardless, your point is correct -- they're going through a lot of hard drives. However, they're probably disposing of them according to DoD guidelines, which are pretty damned good and rendering any data on them unrecoverable.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Right. This isn't merely tyranny; it's zealotry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    Mike Raffety (profile), Jan 13th, 2014 @ 11:03am

    Bulk metadata collection 'saves countless lives'?

    Seems accurate to me. They couldn't count them, as there weren't any -- countless.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 11:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    To mock tyranny, Thales wrote that the strangest thing to see is "an aged tyrant" meaning that tyrants do not have the public support to survive for long.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 11:23am

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 11:32am

    Re:

    If it actually saves a life and doesn't cost more, I buy it

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Wanda, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 12:14pm

    Response to: Rikuo on Jan 13th, 2014 @ 1:22am

    Boy if that analsys isn't spot on
    "Pre-Crime"
    It's a cops/gov/military's dream come true-
    Thanks to Snowden we have proof -they have been lying-
    Previously they Lied w/impunity
    to congress(Clapper) w No consequences. So Y should we 👉Trust NSA abt anything?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Brazenly Anonymous, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 1:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    In the classical age, perhaps that was true.

    Cuba's Fidel Castro lasted 32 years and was 82 when he transferred power to brother, who stills retains power. North Korea's Kim Il-Sung lasted 46 years and was 82 when he died. His Grandson is currently in power.

    I'm not sure what point you are driving at, but your argument is severely flawed. An appeal to authority is bad enough, but when you are relying on an authority from ancient history...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 4:38pm

    Re: Re: One more thing.

    The drives are zero'd out, degaussed and crunched up into 1" pieces. Nobody is reading anything from those drives.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 4:41pm

    Re: Re:

    In all of the articles and comments I've read, you're the first person who has astutely brought up Poindexter's failed "Total Information Awareness" initiative.

    It's like Congress got together and said, "Well, we need to close this project down so that we appear like we care about privacy. We can approve version 2.0 behind close doors, under the guide of National Security."

    To date, I haven't seen one politician who voted to close this program mention their change of heart.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 5:31pm

    About as necessary as a hole in the head which happens to be something I'm not particularly fond of.

     

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  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Jan 13th, 2014 @ 9:14pm

    Target data breach

    Sorry to stray from the immediate topic, but- is anybody asking the question, "Is it possible that the target data breach could have been made through an NSA backdoor?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
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    Pragmatic, Jan 14th, 2014 @ 5:41am

    Re: Re: Re:

    What TAC says.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Jan 14th, 2014 @ 5:44am

    Re:

    @krolork I'd like to see how well that would work out for you in court. "I was only upholding the Constitution" is unlikely to fly in the inevitable terrorist trial, should you go down the revolutionary route.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Jan 14th, 2014 @ 5:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Thank you for explaining the war on women.

    However, before the "You must be a liberal socialist" nonsense kicks in, I should point out that the Dems have their noses too deep in the trough to deal with this properly.

    We need to let go of the idea that doing horrible things to people (or withholding things they need) "for the greater good" actually does any good. For the most part, it doesn't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 14th, 2014 @ 9:32am

    Re: Re: Re: One more thing.

    Yep. Where I work, we dispose of hard drives in a similar, but much more fun, way; Zero'd, degaussed, then destroyed using a log splitter.

    Drive destruction day is something we all look forward to!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  51.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 14th, 2014 @ 9:36am

    Re: Target data breach

    Anything's possible, but all indications point to no. It currently appears that the breach was a two-pronged attack: RAM scrapers at the points of sale (for the CC numbers), and either a database intrusion or inside job (for the customer info database -- names, phone numbers, addresses, etc.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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