Intelligence Lawyer Robert Litt Claims Searching For Possible Privacy Violations Will Violate Privacy
from the route-all-privacy-concerns-to-/dev/null dept
The ODNI’s head counsel, Robert Litt, had made statements over the past few months that seem to hint that he’s actually some sort of android, rather than a living, breathing human being. Maybe this is what happens to anyone who spends too long on the inside of the intelligence panopticon. When delivered in the real world, arguments that sounded plausible in the echo chamber give off the eerie tone of a not-quite-human “being” badly in need of an empathy chip upgrade.
Case(s) in point:
1. July 23rd – Robert Litt delivers a speech in which he asks this question:
“Why is it that people are willing to expose large quantities of information to private parties but don’t want the Government to have the same information?”
It almost sounds reasonable until you consider what’s being asked. “Why do people voluntarily give up information in exchange for services they find appealing/ useful but remain opposed to involuntarily having their data harvested by a secretive government agency?” There’s a huge difference between the two, but Litt’s cyborg mind fails to spot the gap. Data is data, he argues. If you’re already sharing, why not let the government have a taste? [Of course, the whole argument is largely moot as the government already has access to this data anyway.]
2. November 5th – While meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Litt makes this claim:
In theory, storing the data with the companies, instead of at the NSA, would allow the telcos to serve as a kind of privacy watchdog. They’d be in a position to examine the government’s requests for information about their customers and possibly to object to them in court.
But the intelligence lawyers warned that Americans’ would be subject to even greater privacy incursions if their personal information were stripped from NSA’s control.
In short, storing metadata at a neutral site would somehow result in more privacy violations than it would in the [LOL] careful stewardship of the NSA. Limited access to metadata, according to robotic-overlord-in-waiting Robert Litt, is more harmful to Americans’ privacy than potentially unlimited access to data stores onsite.
Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and Bradford Wiegmann, deputy assistant attorney general, told the Committee on Privacy, Technology and the Law today that it would have a “privacy diminishing effect” if intelligence officials were forced to review every piece of data vacuumed up under its internet and phone surveillance programs…
“Attempting to make this determination [identify the number of US persons whose data has been “inadvertently” swept up by various NSA collections] would require the intelligence community to research and review personally identifying information solely for the purpose of complying with the reporting requirements, even if the information has not been determined to contain foreign intelligence,” they argued. “Such an effort would conflict with our efforts to protect privacy…”
Litt, while addressing the panel, added that such a requirement “would perversely” undermine privacy.
There’s a hole in Litt’s argument you could drive a truckload of logic through. Kevin Bankston steps up and takes the wheel.
“The privacy has already been violated,” he said.
Litt must be an adherent of the Rogers Theorem, which states that privacy violations don’t actually occur until they’re noticed. That’s the only way he could make such an argument with a straight face (although being not quite human probably helps).
The ODNI’s arguments are beginning to resemble the outer limits of quantum mechanics, in which privacy violations are caused not by the wholesale amassing of pterabytes of data, but by NSA analysts checking to see if anything American has been inadvertently snagged in the NSA’s enormous baleen. [ALL METAPHORS ARE GO.]
In other words, the outcome is changed by the measurement. Tons of data grabbed indiscriminately? No privacy issues. Peering into said tonnage for specifics? Privacy violations galore.
No mention is made of maybe putting some effort into refining its programs or dialing back its collections. Nope, to do so is to subject America to somewhere between 0 and 54 terrorist attacks over the next dozen years. This much we can be sure of because… well, just believe the nice “man” in suit, OK? The NSA’s defenders have worked very hard to come up with dozens of tenuous justifications for its data dragnet and they don’t need the very violated American public casting aspersion on the agency’s lack of finesse.
This is what happens when the talking points begin suffering routine catastrophic failure. The NSA’s defenders are reduced to responding like quarreling schoolchildren: “No, you’re violating privacy!” How pathetic.