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.


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    Ninja (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 6:37am

    Anomalies, Mike! All anomalies. Are you really going to keep attacking this fine program that has avoided doomsday for America because of a few million anomalies? In other news Vegetta is baffled.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 7:51am

    It's so bad it's comedic. Insisting that an infraction occurring once every 4 hours or so throughout a year isn't that big of a deal since they perform a level of spying that boggles the imagination should somehow make us feel more at ease...

     

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      Dogbreath, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:09am

      Re:

      It's like they're saying, "Hey, it's not that bad. We don't violate some random persons Constitutional Rights every second of every day. We only violate some random persons Constitutional Rights every 4 hours."

      I'm sure it looks like an infinitesimal amount on their Powerpoint slide pie chart, but Bad is Bad.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 10:15am

        Re: Re:

        Using that logic: "One murder is not that bad, your honor, when compared to all of the people that get killed everyday."

         

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 10:16am

      Re:

      “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.”

      That's like saying that because the Boston bombers injured so many people, the fact a few of them happened to die isn't really relevant, right?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 7:59am

    Officer, in relative terms, I speed so much and so fast, that this is but a minor infraction....

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:13am

      Re:

      If in relative terms I don't infringe much but in absolute terms I do then what would be the punishment? Or if I break any law in absolute terms despite all the laws I do follow?

      People in jail for murder may have followed most of the laws in relative terms but they get judged by the worst thing they have ever done. Why does the government get to get away with so much and receive no punishment when the rest of us don't get that benefit?

      Imagine telling the judge, "but your honor, in absolute terms I follow most traffic laws. The officer catching me breaking the law was an anomaly."

       

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    AB, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 7:59am

    Besides, that's really no worse then accidentally imprisoning the wrong person. A few thousand times. It's not like anyone important gets hurt...


    /sarc

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 7:59am

    Approaching 0%

    So, I'm guessing that in order to make ~2800 mistakes approach 0%, we're talking about 3 million actions a year - at that one DC region.

    In relative terms anyway :)

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:02am

    Understandable as purpose of "leaks" is to accustom public.

    Doesn't matter what they say, since the over-arching purpose is to acquaint the public with the program and get them to accept it -- forever. Had to be done at some point, and so far, I note a lack of marches on DC. This will fade soon, no matter how often Mike runs scary headlines. -- As Snowden notes, worries about NSA and its corporate data sources are confined to "technology circles". -- And not even fully there, as some don't worry about the corporate sources.

     

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      Rikuo (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:11am

      Re: Understandable as purpose of "leaks" is to accustom public.

      You do realise what the NSA official said, in laymen's terms, don't you? Here, lemme translate it to a language you might understand

      "It's an anomaly, they don't count".

      The exact same bullshit you spew when we talk about when copyright is used to censor.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:17am

      Re: Understandable as purpose of "leaks" is to accustom public.

      honk honk, make room for the goose stepping ootb!

       

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      silverscarcat (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:57am

      Re: Understandable as purpose of "leaks" is to accustom public.

      I'm waiting for congress to get back into session so I can bombard them with phone calls and emails about this stuff.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 1:02pm

      Re: Understandable as purpose of "leaks" is to accustom public.

      That snowden quote you posted in another thread was for a chat long several years ago...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:06am

    Those people in congress have lost all respect for the American people apparently.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:29am

      Re:

      Over the decades, I've heard many times that one of the big secrets in Washington is the level of contempt they hold for the average US citizen.

       

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    TasMot (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:06am

    Then let's talk some prison terms for the violators

    Just a couple of the violators should then spend the rest of their lives in jail. That's what a couple of decades? Compared with the billions of years the universe has existed its practically zero.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:26am

      Re: Then let's talk some prison terms for the violators

      This isn't so much a case of needing to imprison the violators. The violators are relatively low level employees doing what they're told. The ones we want to imprison are the ones in charge that are directing the lower level people in such a way that there are routine violations that are downplayed and ignored.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:08am

    Didn't Alexander say in ABSOLUTE terms that there were NO INSTANCES of abuse whatsoever?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:11am

      Re:

      I'm sure he'll make the excuse that he was given a report that said 0% abuse (rounded of course, for convenience).

      Hell, given the amount of information they're collecting, it might have even said 0.00% abuse (rounded)

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:09am

    So as long as relative numbers are low, its okay to break the law and violate the constitution? Awesome! That will go over great in a copyright lawsuit.

    Yes your honor, I downloaded the entire game of thrones series, but you see, since I bought so much other content, it really doesn't matter in a relative sense.

     

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      Pamela The Cheesberger, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:27am

      Re:

      Erm, isn't that often the argument actually given? i.e. I downloaded Season 1 and ended up buying all the boxsets.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:31am

        Re: Re:

        Given that copyright infringement is supposed to be a civil suit, there has to be proof of damages... which is why it's so ludicrous to penalize people thousands of dollars for watching free TV.

         

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        John Fenderson (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:43am

        Re: Re:

        I don't think that's used as a justification for piracy so much as an indication that the economic effects of piracy may not be as severe as is often claimed.

         

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      Rikuo (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 9:12am

      Re:

      Well yes...the $150,000 is called "statutory damages", key word there being damages. The Battlestar Galactica files my friend gave me? That led to an economic GAIN for the show's producers once I bought the boxset. No gain would have been possible without my friend giving me the files and basically forcing me to watch, since before then, BG's style of sci-fi wasn't to my taste (there's no aliens, barely any mention made of its FTL drive and no tech talk - yes I came from a Star Trek background). So it would be ludicrous if the studio were to track me down and say I damaged them and their show, and owe them tens of thousands of dollars, even with me waving the box set around.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:18am

    At his trial for domestic abuse, the professional boxer said, "Compared to all the other folks I beat up, I didn't hit my wife tha often."

     

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    Donglebert the Unintelligible, Aug 16th, 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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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:34am

    “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.”

    He doesn't even realize what he's saying here. Not only are there abuses, but he's admitting they do SO MUCH SPYING that these thousands of cases of abuse are minor. How about if you can't cut back on the abuse, you cut back on the MOTHERF*#KING SPYING?!

     

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    Michael, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 8:56am

    “You can look at the murders I have committed as a percentage of the total people that die each day,”

    “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.”

     

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    Nick (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 9:30am

    When you look at the relative number of US citizens terrorists are able to kill compared to the total population, you realize it is actual a small number of deaths. I am not trying to be ironic, that is the truth.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      And when you look at the relative number of citizens who ARE terrorists compared to the total population of citizens of the US, then that number is also actually very small so why should they worry about it either. It kind of defeats the whole argument for what they are doing in the first place now doesn't it?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 10:21am

    Both absolutely and relatively speaking, no violation of the constitution is acceptable by people sworn to protect it.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 16th, 2013 @ 10:38am

    War on Drugs!

    No child left behind!

    Zero Tolerance!

     

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    Enlighted, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 11:46am

    It's all about math

    So 3032/365=8.30684932… So 8 times a day. If they have eight-hour workday, it's once every hour. And this is just the reported errors..

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

      Re: It's all about math

      Snowden already said he was unquestioned on queries, they would just tell him to find a way to justify it after the fact. 3032 is just the number they couldn't justify after the fact.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2013 @ 2:56am

    More word games. The unconstitutional NSA spying apparatus is a monstrosity. An unconstitutional monstrosity.

    I could kind of see this spying being pointed outside America's borders. But to point it at your own people, the very people funding this program. It's shameful, insulting and worst of all, unconstitutional.

     

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    Peter, Aug 18th, 2013 @ 12:19pm

    what the fuck kind of shit is this. that's like going into court and saying "i know i rape a lot but if you look at the number of times i have consensual sex compared to my daily rape cases its a little different." ...really? you would still go to prison/ get raped and killed but they are gonna get off scott free

     

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