NSA Put A Premium On Collecting Info, But Not Making Sense Of It

from the needle-in-a-haystack dept

You may remember that almost exactly a decade ago, the news leaked that key Iran-Contra political operative John Poindexter, still working for the US government, had been working with the NSA to create a system called Total Information Awareness or TIA. The news quickly went viral, with people (quite reasonably) worried about the government snooping on their private data. Suddenly everyone was against this program, Poindexter was soon out of a job, and the TIA was officially put on the shelf. Except… that’s not quite what happened. As you should be aware by now, the NSA has been Hoovering up pretty much every bit of data it can, sometimes using confusing loopholes or legal changes to make it possible.

As a writeup at the NY Times notes, the NSA is basically doing everything that was promised in the TIA program… but without the basic safeguards that were included with TIA:

What’s missing, however, is a reliable way of keeping track of who sees what, and who watches whom. After T.I.A. was officially shut down in 2003, the N.S.A. adopted many of Mr. Poindexter’s ideas except for two: an application that would “anonymize” data, so that information could be linked to a person only through a court order; and a set of audit logs, which would keep track of whether innocent Americans’ communications were getting caught in a digital net.

And let’s not even waste time discussing how the NSA actually had a much cheaper program that actually did have safeguards, because the guy who exposed the world to that almost end up in jail for a few decades.

Of course, the bigger issue here is that in gathering pretty much everything they can, actually making sense of the data is becoming more and more difficult:

The N.S.A. came up with more dead ends than viable leads and put a premium on collecting information rather than making sense of it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean people’s privacy isn’t being violated (something even the NSA itself will admit when forced — though it still refuses to say how many Americans are having their privacy violated). So the end result is that the NSA is collecting all of this data, violating people’s privacy (and, most likely, the 4th Amendment). And, out of that they’re turning up very little in the way of useful leads.

That’s not exactly a compelling pitch.

But, as the NYT piece notes, even though the NSA built a system more powerful and privacy invading, and less effective (and probably more costly) than the original, much decried, Total Information Awareness program, very few people seem to be raising the alarm or particularly concerned about it. Apparently, the NSA has learned the best secret of all. If you don’t actually name the program something creepy and Big Brotherish, and don’t have a conspiracy-theory-inspired logo to go with it, you can get away with all sorts of stuff.

There. Now don’t you feel safer knowing that your tax dollars are funding this kind of thing?

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Comments on “NSA Put A Premium On Collecting Info, But Not Making Sense Of It”

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Anonymous Coward says:

If you don’t actually name the program something creepy and Big Brotherish, and don’t have a conspiracy-theory-inspired logo to go with it, you can get away with all sorts of stuff.

What’s the point of coming up with an evil scheme if you don’t name it something ominous? As far as I’m concerned, any villain who can’t come up with a decent fear-inspiring name for their master plan is a total scrub.

F! says:

Google = TIA

If you were following the timeline, the TIA program was ‘abandoned’ around the same time the CIA & Google signed some mysterious secret agreement. The fact of the matter is that Google is much more effective at collecting, sorting, and profiling data than the CIA could ever hope to be.

Now, what could the CIA and Google be doing together? No conspiracy here, rest assured your details are safe from the enemy, citizen.

Ninja (profile) says:

It can also lead to false conclusions like “guy drives twice or three times a week to an area known for having lots of brothels thus he uses such services frequently” when in reality the grandma of his ex-ex-girlfriend with whom he developed a good friendship and visits often. Not too probable? Maybe. Impossible? No. The authorities in general have shown they can misunderstand information that’s in front of them.

Richard Hack (profile) says:

The NSA doesn't care about "sense"

They want power. You get power for hoovering up everything, regardless of whether you can use it to track “terrorists”.

Enough info will be retrievable and useful for the real purposes of such information gathering, i.e., spying on “threats” such as libertarians, anarchists, or anyone who simply doesn’t like the way the government is run by corrupt politicians.

It’s also useful for spying on the people who are supposed to do “oversight” on the NSA.

Anyone with any knowledge of intelligence agencies in any century knows that collecting masses of ostensibly useless information is a basic cornerstone of such agencies. The Russians did it in the 19th century, the Nazis did it in the 20th century, and the US has been doing it over the same time span. So does every other intelligence agency in every other country. The US is just better at it because it can throw more taxpayer money at it – money from the people being spied on.

The US taxpayers no longer control the US government – if they ever did. They can’t stop the US government from starting wars, they can’t stop the gov from spying on them, they can’t stop the gov for arresting them for no reason and throwing them in a mental institution like that Marine.

Face it – it’s over. You’re living in 1984 and have been since well before 1984. And there’s nothing the taxpayer can do about it because he’s too gutless to take up a gun.

Michael says:

Although their name might not be sinister in appearance, that logo certainly is. One has to wonder what the real deal is with these domestic spying programs. Such a massive undertaking requires an absurd amount of financing and resources. Since we know that there aren’t really terrorists hiding everywhere, there must be another explanation/agenda.

Since life is fleeting and you don’t take anything with you when you go (except your deeds), obtaining power is useless, in fact dangerous. I hope that these people are prepared to answer to God in the afterlife for acting like little tyrant overlords, spying on the populace against their wishes, looking to exert their false sense of supremacy. Any institute which acts in secrecy is to be treated with caution, not trust, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if Freemasonry was somehow involved in all of this.

Anonymous Coward says:

I know I'm late, but...

That law doesn’t really have the ‘teeth’ it used to have, plus it’s much easier to get military to follow orders they may not agree with than ordinary police.

Ok, go round up that town and ship them to guantanamo wouldn’t work with police, but with the military, the answer is, “Yes sir, how soon do you want them delivered there, sir?”

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