NSA's Defense Of All Those Abuses: 'Well, Compared To All The Spying We Do, We Don't Abuse It That Often'

from the uh,-that's-not-helping dept

In our initial report about the Washington Post's astounding revelations about NSA abuses of surveillance, we posted part of the NSA's "defense" of those abuses, but we left out the truly crazy part, which came right after the part we initially quoted:
“You can look at it as a percentage of our total activity that occurs each day,” he said. “You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.”
This was a senior NSA official, almost certainly the NSA's "compliance director," arguing, in effect, "we do so much spying that a few thousand mistakes per year is really no big deal." Except, remember, throughout all of this, all of the NSA's defenders, from President Obama to James Clapper to Keith Alexander to Mike Rogers, keep insisting that abuse is next to impossible.

Yet, now even the NSA is admitting that "in absolute terms" there's a lot of abuse, but we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about it, because in relative terms, it's not that much. This is the point at which anyone who understands the difference between absolute and relative numbers, and when each is the appropriate measure to use, starts coughing up a lung. The relative amount is meaningless here. The absolute number means everything, because it shows that abuse is widespread and happens daily -- something that the program's defenders have been trying to deny for months.

Filed Under: absolute numbers, abuse, nsa, nsa abuse, nsa surveillance

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  1. identicon
    Donglebert the Unintelligible, 16 Aug 2013 @ 8:25am

    He's correct that it's probably a small proportion

    but he's wrong in implying that it's OK because of that.

    That things happen is inevitable. That spying orgs spy and, indeed, step over the line sometimes is expected (and, in many instances, desirable).

    But moving the line so that the illegal becomes legal is wrong and sets a terrifying precedent. Not telling the people about it just makes it worse.

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