Gen. Alexander Offers To Store Phone Metadata At A 'Neutral Site' To Alleviate Concerns About The NSA's Spying
from the as-if-that-would-change-anything dept
Good news, privacy warriors and transparency advocates! NSA head General Alexander has just suggested a fix that should finally put the national debate about security vs. privacy behind us and allow us to move forward, together, to keep this country safe from all the terrorists the NSA's programs haven't prevented from attacking us.
The National Security Agency’s director said Tuesday he is open to storing telephone records in a neutral “repository” to alleviate concerns about government snooping.Well, that would be all well and good except for the fact that the data itself comes from "neutral" sites, or at least sites that were neutral before they were approached by the government. It was already stored at neutral sites. If the NSA would just stop collecting the data, it would remain at neutral sites.
General Keith Alexander, speaking about the controversy over bulk collection of phone “metadata” said his personal view is that more transparency would help restore public trust in the secret intelligence service.
“I believe it is in our nation’s best interest to put all this phone data into a repository where you the American people know what we are doing with it,” Alexander told a cybersecurity forum sponsored by the news organization Politico.
“I’m open for greater transparency. I’m open for where we put the data.”
Storing the collection at a neutral site is meaningless unless there's complete transparency about the NSA's access. To date, the NSA hasn't been interested in sharing those details. It prevents the companies it taps into from providing any details to the public about the collections.
No abuse can be prevented and no concerns "alleviated" if the entity handling the neutral storage can't openly discuss what sort of inquiries are taking place. Let's not forget the FBI so thoroughly abused the system that its inquiries devolved from requiring warrants to the issuance of an unlimited amount of National Security Letters and "exigent circumstances" claims to Post-It notes to simply copying down info while staring over the shoulder of a telco employee running searches for it.
With nothing in place to prevent the neutral site from being abused in the same fashion as every neutral site the NSA harvests data from, the slight nod towards transparency is worthless. Keeping the phone metadata away from the NSA's fire-prone servers probably sounds like a huge concession to Gen. "Collect all the data!" Alexander, but to anyone outside the system, it just sounds like off-site storage -- storage that will be accessed with the same frequency and same lack of oversight as the NSA's proprietary data banks.
This is what the NSA feels is a "concession" and the only reason it's being offered is because there's a chance that its bulk records collections may actually be cut off. Alexander points out that the NSA will still need to have access to "deal with any terrorist threat from overseas." This would presumably be on-demand whenever the agency feels the collection might contain "relevant" data. In other words, nothing changes but the address.
I can't even offer Alexander an E for effort here. Changing the venue to a "neutral site" (like, say, AT&T? Or a Redmond address?) does nothing for transparency or privacy. As long as the whole process is subject to gag orders and layers of secrecy, the NSA can continue to perform its spying efforts completely unimpeded.