Keith Alexander's Big Idea: What If The NSA Just Collected Phone Data On Suspected Terrorists?

from the this-option-just-came-to-you? dept

In what may be NSA boss Keith Alexander’s final appearance before Congress before retiring in a few weeks, he appeared to (for the first time publicly) acknowledge that perhaps they don’t need to track everyone and could, instead, try just watching the phone records of suspected terrorists. He acts as if this is a brand new idea. Seriously:

One option that Alexander called feasible involves sharing what amounts to a watch list of suspected terrorists’ phone numbers with phone companies. The companies would search for links to other numbers, returning that data to the government.

He said if the government could work out a system in which it could share those “terrorist selectors” in a classified manner, “it sets the case in precedent” for sharing classified threat data with industry for cybersecurity purposes.

Of course, as others have pointed out, you don’t need “a precedent” for that — we have it already. It’s called a pen register and has been widely used by law enforcement for a decade, and there’s a whole law discussing how it can be used.

Alexander said that there were “pros and cons” to that particular approach, but that’s a pretty big shift from the man whose mantra has long been “collect it all.” Also, all this may not matter at all since Alexander is about to be out of the job — so perhaps it’s just in his final moments as NSA boss that he finally admits what plenty of people have been saying all along: there’s simply no justifiable explanation for the NSA collecting information on just about everyone.

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Comments on “Keith Alexander's Big Idea: What If The NSA Just Collected Phone Data On Suspected Terrorists?”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

I'm not buying it

…before retiring in a few weeks

Yeah, bull.

He doesn’t believe a word he’s saying, he’s just trying to trick people into thinking he does, so he doesn’t leave the position with the reputation of ‘Grab it all!’, but instead someone who was willing to ‘compromise’ in order to ‘protect’ the privacy rights of americans.

If he’d cared in the slightest about those rights before, he had plenty of time to make those changes, the fact that he only brings up the possibility of maybe scaling things back, right before he retires, shows it’s nothing more than a scam, a trick to try and salvage his reputation some.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm not buying it

Yup, here’s the relevant bit.

Update: As some folks pointed out in the comments, the Washington Post is noting that Alexander inherited the room, which was built a few years before he took over. Our apologies. The Foreign Policy story suggested otherwise. The Post notes that Alexander still liked to use the room to impress politicians, but he did not build it himself.

Blame him for what he has done by all means(there’s more than enough of that to last), but blaming him for things he hasn’t done just makes it less likely people will believe the real stuff when it’s exposed.

BernardoVerda says:

Re: I'm not buying it

“Well… you know… I am headed for the out door. So I can afford to make whatever meaningless conciliatory noises might take some of the heat off. After all, since I won’t even be around anymore to take any concrete action on this, who could even be held responsible for whether there’s ever any actual follow-through on my casual musings?”

Loki says:

Re: I'm not buying it

The thing is, nothing he said actually suggests he is even considering the possibility of scaling things back.

Because until now almost evrything he has said and done pretty much implies his definition of “terrorist” is something along the line of “anyone who doesn’t philosophically agree that what we are doing is totally right”.

Under such a definition there are still potentially millions of “terrorists” out there and therefore what he said boils down to “nothing should change”.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The companies would search for links to other numbers, returning that data to the government.”

I think it hinges on the “degree of separation” nonsense. If they maintain the whole “can search two (or three) hops away” stance, then these requests would end up returning most of the information they had been collecting anyway — which means that as nice as this sentiment sounds, it’s really not that nice.

The odds are very good that you are two or three “hops” away from a terrorist subject, no matter who you are.

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

It may seem like he’s saying the NSA shouldn’t have access to everything but actually he’s laying the groundwork for another CISPA push. If anything that would expand their data collection capabilities while also making their corporate partners lawsuit proof.

But while he appeared to soften his position on bulk domestic surveillance on Thursday, Alexander also implored Congress to pass legislation that would expand the authority of the NSA and its twin-sister military organization, Cyber Command, to protect private and business networks from online data theft and cyber attacks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Baby steps for Little Keith...

Ok, we have a start in the right direction. Now, that you’ve come this far, next let’s address what needs to happen to put someone on that list. You take what you have to support why you suspect this person needs to be on that list to a judge and ask them if they will give you permission to put them on that list. If they agree, they will then give you something known as a warrant. I know you’ve never heard of such a thing before, but they do actually exist, and you can get one quite easily if can show that you have a really good reason to suspect the person is actually a terrorist. You then take that warrant and give it to the telco and they will give you the information you requested. Start doing that, and we will also get you an nice doormat for your office so you can stop wiping your feet on the Constitution.

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