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.

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.”
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.

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.




Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    That One Guy (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 2:08am

    “I’m open for greater transparency. I’m open for where we put the data.”

    Well not constantly lying, both to the american public and the congress/senate people who are supposed to be overseeing the NSA's actions would probably be a good start on that 'greater transparency' he says he's willing to work towards.

    As for where to put the data, how about the recycle bin, followed by either the machine shop to have the HD's turned into high-tech swiss cheese if the recycle bin is digital, or the furnace/burn pit if it's physical.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 3:34am

    May I suggest that a new organization; the 'Neutral Storage Agency', to be based in Utah, be charged with this assignment?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 3:57am

    "Maybe if we store the metadata somewhere else, it will keep people from discovering we weren't supposed to be collecting them at all!" - K. Alexander

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:04am

    Alexander points out that the NSA will still need to have access to "deal with any terrorist threat from overseas."

    Alexander must be a foreigner, and lives in another country if the USA is overseas. If that is the case, the threat mainly come from US drone operations, which have become the biggest cause of death by an overseas agency.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:05am

    that should finally put the national debate about security vs. privacy behind us and allow us to move forward, together,

    I have some very bad news for you, the debate IS ALREADY OVER, even here on TD it never really even got started.

    Like this there is no debate, there is a lot of bitching, and complaining, and making equally stupid comments about everything ANYONE in ANY position says about it.

    But as for an actual debate on the subject, it really never materialised. As much as you tried to make that happen. It appears you too got caught up with Ed Snowden and forgot the main issue.

    Time passed, everyone moved onto other things, and starting reading articles about leaks that actually addressed the issues.

    Not a continuous flow of pointless comments on people comments and snide and frankly stupid and immaterial gibber about nothing.

    It's not a debate to cut and paste someone statements and provide your own noise to it, you are not debate the issues, your just coming over as a smart ass. It appears that you have no real substance for a debate, so you mock anything anyone else says.

    You've don't this so much and so often I would say almost EVERYONE here is well and truly glasses over when we see yet another NSA smart assed articles, desperately trying to keep something alive that really was a still born in the first place.

    The news cycle and timing is all important, especially when you want to incite your readers. Important, but you failed to even get started.

    You even wrote about how not to make Snowden the issue, yet you link "the public debate" to a TD article about Snowden, (but NOT the debate),, why.

    Because the "Debate" does not exist, certainly it does not exist here on TD.

     

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      silverscarcat (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:38am

      Re:

      The "debate" as you put it, is not over.

      It's just beginning.

      The government shutdown and impending default that's coming up are just distractions.

      People are still asking their congresspeople why the NSA has nothing reigning it in.

      This isn't like Miley Cyrus, or Lewinsky or even Iran-Contra

      This is bigger than even Watergate, and, if you studied history, you know that something like this doesn't just go away after only a couple of months.

      People don't like being lied to their faces. Those in power who have some morals hate it even more.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:20am

        Re: Re:

        But .. but he said there is nothing to see here and that I should move along.

        Surely he is right, the lack supporting material is simply anecdotal.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 6:17pm

        Re: Re:

        The "debate" as you put it, is not over.

        you forgot to add "here on TD", for the rest of the US and the world... IT's OVER!!!

        It might be more important for some TD fans, but for the rest of the world and the rest of America, we'll they have moved on, the politicians have moved on, the people have and the supreme court has.

        Even Ed Snowden has moved on, TD constant flow of white noise on the subject is not helping either. Say trivial and pointless things all the time, people will stop listening to you, but say something significant BUT RARLY and when you do people will TAKE NOTICE.
        I know TD has been around for a long time, how long does it take to work out that basic fact. Clearly longer than 'up till now'.

         

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      Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:19am

      Re:

      AC is right. The debate is over...that is why Alexander is still trying to cough up 'concessions' to appease everybody.

       

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      Brazenly anonymous, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:20am

      Re:

      This debate should have been over 230 years ago, but they forgot to put punishments into the constitution to give "Congress shall make no law" the teeth it requires. Congress wouldn't be willing to even flirt with our constitutional rights if politicians could lose their position for voting yes to a law later overturned by the supreme court (subject to adversarial hearings) or authoring such a law (not subject to adversarial hearings).

       

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      PT (profile), Oct 12th, 2013 @ 12:49pm

      Re:

      Interesting viewpoint, AC. I wonder where you're sitting as you view it.

      From where I sit it's true there doesn't appear to be a lot of debate going on, but it's a rare day when it doesn't come up several times in conversation at the office. In fact, it seems to be creating future political activists out of thin air. If you were to spend a little time researching the left-wing and libertarian blogs you would see the debate is far from over - though of course, it's suppressed on the "establishment" conservative blogs as a dissenting opinion, so you wouldn't see much there.

      Anyway, I don't think TD is going to drop the subject, and as an insider, I thank you sincerely for your contribution to the debate.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:27am

    Yes, because that's the only problem with storing ALL OF THE DATAS. It actually makes the information they hold considerably less secure, as instead of having to crack the safes of many companies, black hats only have to crack one.

    Idiots. They couldn't organise a hoedown in a hillbilly village.

     

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    Carl "Bear" Bussjaeger (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:31am

    Making a virtue of necessity?

    "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."

    Translation: "Our own data center keeps catching fire, so how 'bout we use someone else's servers?"

     

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    Crusty the Ex-Clown, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:47am

    But..but..but.....

    Jeez, the guy OBVIOUSLY has good intentions! What could POSSIBLY go wrong! Won't anyone think about the CHILDREN? Pay no attention to that man behind the CURTAIN. I am the Great and Powerful OZ.

    Gimme a break already. Sheesh.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:53am

    I got one for you. We're storing another repository if possible evidence for when the government tries to frame you. As long as we have your information, other agencies could be cause when we try to abuse it.

     

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    PopeRatzo (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:57am

    What a guy!

    General Alexander really takes us all for a bunch of idiots.

    The fact that he stays in his job shows that the government treats us as enemies.

     

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    Zem, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:10am

    I heard Gitmo is a neutral site.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:12am

    Clapper and Alexander belong in prison. Permanently.

    While Keith "Collect it all" Alexander is talking about merely changing the URL they use to collect and access our private data, everyone else is talking about sizing up a prison cell for Clapper and Alexander for their lies and deceit.

    There's an immense gulf between what Alexander and Clapper want and what the rest of he public wants. Those two would do well to learn the difference.

    There's more of us than there are of them.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:23am

    How about the neutral location being corporate servers of anyone who wants to buy this crap. /s - jic

     

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    Gert-Jan, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:28am

    nice try

    Apart from the proposed non-change: why would we want to reduce the discussion to "all this phone data"?

    This data is getting more and more irrelevant as its own category of data. First of all because of all other communication media, and secondly since virtually every phone call is handled digitally, and is covered with any "full take" to much greater extend than just the metadata.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 5:30am

    No, how about we end all NSA programs that even tangentially collect data on Americans, and *severely* limit NSA's powers on foreigner spying, too (no more political/corporate spying, etc).

    But before we do all that - for the love of everything democratic - FIRE ALEXANDER AND CLAPPER!!!

     

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    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 6:21am

    The perfect RFQ Response for hosting NSA data

    "I would be happy to host all of your data for you... and I already have a great reputation with my users for protecting their safety and privacy, and in running MEGA data centers without fire hazards - all with nearly 100% uptime and secure access".

    Kim.

     

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    Daemon_ZOGG (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 6:44am

    WTF US Gov.

    I'm sorry. But, I have to say it. I can't hold back the evil laughter anymore.. "Clap on... Clap off... Clap on, Clap off.. THE CLAPPER!". And, yes. I think we all agree, Alexander's pants have been ON FIRE for a very long time. Too bad he isn't made of wood, eh. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure he's not made of wood. Or his nose would be at least a hundred miles long. Hell. Communists governments don't even screw up as badly as the US government has done (and still doing). NO ONE in the US Congress has earned the right to be re-elected in the next round of voting. They're fired! And their only severance package should be the door hitting them in the ass on their way out!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 7:09am

    I agree with the man. All that data should be stored in a neutral site. I propose we store it in /dev/null.

    It has the added security benefit of making leaking the data virtually impossible. And the storage costs are very low.

     

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    jilocasin, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 7:17am

    Having this discussion conceeds the argument.

    I think we are in danger of missing the fundamental argument. If we get sucked in to discussing the best place to store collected data (NSA, FBA, ATT, somewhere else) we've already lost.

    The main argument isn't where to store the collected data, it's whether or not to collect it in the first place. The data should be created, exist, then disappear.

    If I'm not a suspect in any particular crime at the time of the collection, then my private data (phone calls, emails, *metadata*) shouldn't end up in any repository.

    It's the same tired data retention argument all over again.

    People can't be truly free if you have to worry that any utterance you make could someday be used to crucify you.

    As Cardinal Richelieu was famously quoted:
    "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 6:10pm

      Re: Having this discussion conceeds the argument.

      I think we are in danger of missing the fundamental argument. If we get sucked in to discussing the best place to store collected data (NSA, FBA, ATT, somewhere else) we've already lost.

      First, you guys don't seem to be really discussing anything, you just flame every SINGLE STATEMENT any says on the subject.

      At least you are right, We've already lost yes you have, the public debate stopped long ago, (never ready even got started), and TD screwed the pooch with a constant flow of pointless NOISE on the subject. TD still values quantity over quality (much like the NSA it appears).

      if you generate a constant flow of "this guy said this" "this group said that", then when (and if) a REAL and IMPORTANT and significant issues comes to light TD covers and puts it with the rest of the noise that is then promptly ignored.

      Has Snowden released ANY further documents since running away to Russia ??

      If so, why does TD miss that, or did they cover it and it being one of the things lost in the news.
      Ever done debating in school ? do you know the process of debate ?

      If you do you will certainly know TD does not contribute to a debate, Googleing terms and constant white noise generation is not engaging in a debate, nor is flow of inane "comments on the comments".

      To engage in a debate you need to actually address the issues and main points, KEEP ON SUBJECT, filter out the noise and comments/opinions, and debate the issues and subject.

      A debate on NSA has a momentum, like a train, once it's going it's hard to stop, once it stops it's hard to get going.
      The train stopped long ago, (if it really even got started), it ran out of fuel and stopped dead. Masnick and his crew are pushing hard, and with all their MIGHT, but that damn train just will not budge, it's as if someone has actually put the breaks on.

      The only problem is Mr Masnick and his crew have divided in two half pushing at one end of the train, and the other group push the other end, with equal force.

      End result, no debate, no momentum, but a lot of energy is used to push those two end of the train. No matter how hard you push on both ends that train will never move.
      (I believe that train is being decommissioned and is going to become a theme restaurant).

       

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    Jasmine Charter, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 7:18am

    Not the NSA...

    So... they are still violating the 4th amendment, still violating the actual law... they will still have access to the data... still be able to run illegal queries against the data... still be able to look up info on political opponents and old girlfriends...but the data will be stored in a neutral place.

    I feel much better.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 7:20am

    if we could trust those doing the collecting and there wasn't so much being collected in the first place, 99% of which, so we are led to believe, is useless, there wouldn't be any need to be scrutinised, would there?

     

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    Transmitte (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 7:29am

    Say that again in my good ear?!

    WTF?

    Seriously? How about Clapper(which sounds like a slang term for an STD) and Alexander"Alexikov the Kollector" just simply let it go. It wouldn't need "neutral" storage if you didn't collect it in the first place!

    They're gaming the system and hoodwinking the American public that they allegedly are trying to protect. Firing and prosecution is too good for them.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 7:51am

    This is 2013, who the fuck is dumb enough to think that the physical location of data matters in the SLIGHTETS? Fuck you General Alexander, you pandering idiot.

     

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    Bengie, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 8:21am

    Too many

    Caught them in too many lies to believe that they won't just keep a local copy.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 9:21am

    You know, Obama said he would welcome a discussion on the topic of security. Crap Alexander stated something very similar. Evidently saying that means they already had that as far as I can tell because since then, the Administration, the NSA group, Congress for the most part, are all doing their damnest to prevent it from happening.

    The folks at the NSA get a special prize for consistent and constant lying. So making the statement that a neutral site would work, ignores the issues, claims they aren't worthy of mention, and does the usual. Sorry, fresh out of gullibility when it comes to the NSA. Yeah, you lose creditability when you lie in public. So much of it has been done, most of the public would be very very happy to see this organization shut down and never restarted. It's not about where to store the data and never was. Alexander is smart enough to know that so this is a make believe effort to address a non-issue as an attempt to do the right thing. This is the reason why the NSA is the problem and what they do is of high concern to the public.

    The NSA has failed to tell the truth when it should have been doing so. Now is a bit late for hollering wolf.

     

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    lars626 (profile), Oct 11th, 2013 @ 4:01pm

    Perfect storage

    I have a great storage solution:
    rm *
    For Windows and Mac users the 'rm' is remove and the '*' is a wildcard for Everything.

    One last thing, for the sneaky bastard that keeps a backup copy; a felony conviction and ten years in a secure facility.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2013 @ 11:20pm

    It's not about terrorist it's about an never ending lust for power caused by corruption and greed.

     

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