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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 10:09am

    Wait...

    Are you saying...

    He might actually be a HUMAN after all?

     

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  2.  
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    Ninja (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 10:26am

    there's simply no justifiable explanation for the NSA collecting information on just about everyone

    Yes there is. Free webcam porn.

     

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  3.  
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    Ninja (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 10:27am

    Re: Wait...

    It means he retired so he's not hooked by his pockets anymore.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 10:56am

    Re:

    Still not justifiable... no one wants to have to sort through all of the ugly people in search of the hot ones!

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:02am

    He doesn't want history to remember him as the "Collect it all" man.

     

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  6.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:02am

    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.

     

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  7.  
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    AricTheRed (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:06am

    Re: Re:

    As other NSA and GCHQ surveilance has likley proved, not everyone has the same tastes in internet porn as you.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:06am

    He must have found out what the lobbyists were paying everyone else. He's In the you still have a chance to pay me more mode or I'll start making waves.

     

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  9.  
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    St. Pat, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:11am

    Well...

    This is good, right? I mean, it doesn't suck.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:13am

    Re: Well...

    Instead of beating his wife, he's down to just verbally abusing her and issuing death threats, so I guess that's better.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:32am

    IIRC Pen registers have been in use for more than a century at this point. Since we have had the concept of electric signaling there have been pen registers of one form or another.

     

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  12.  
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    Violynne (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:39am

    Alexander must be senile.

    In no way will this "revolutionary idea" work because all the NSA will do is classify every American as a terrorist and we're right back to square one.

    Hold on a second. I just had an epiphany.

     

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  13.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:43am

    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.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:43am

    WOW!!! what a great idea!! you can see why he's got the job of head of the NSA, cant you! who else could have come up with an idea like this, other than someone with a super brain, specifically trained to route out terrorists!!

     

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  15.  
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    Rich Fiscus (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:47am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Keroberos (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:47am

    We can't let him retire now. This idea is pure genius. Only collect info on suspected bad guys and those in contact with them. I can't believe no one thought of this before now.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:54am

    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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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 11:58am

    Re:

    It's almost as novel of a concept as Clapper's idea to actually tell the public about the plans to violate their privacy to see if the people will ok it before actually doing it.

     

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  19.  
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    DannyB (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Wait...

    No. I don't think there was any intent to imply that Keith Alexander is human.

    Instead, consider this.

    When he is an insider he wants to collect all phone data.
    When he will soon be an outsider, he is for limited collection.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 12:20pm

    Neither Clapper nor Alexander have been found to be believable in the past. Leopards don't change their spots.

    There is a carcass somewhere under that can. The NSA doesn't use the same meanings for words in the English language as everyone else that speaks it.

     

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  21.  
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    kP (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 12:33pm

    Problem is, we're all suspects!

    Al-Qaeda, even.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 12:42pm

    Horses, hold them.

    "He said if the government could work out a system "

    IF

    Progress, none.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 1:23pm

    WHAT?

    Why don't we land the 747 at an airport instead of lower Manhattan? Well DUH. The ironic part is that was their job in the first place. Where did they find this idiot and who promoted him?

     

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  24.  
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    Jerrymiah, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 2:24pm

    Re: I'm not buying it

    This from the man who spent millions of taxpayer dollars only to have his control center look just like the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise from Star Trek the Next Generation. I just don't believe him.

     

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  25.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 2:50pm

    Re: Re: I'm not buying it

    Actually, if memory serves, in that one case he gets a pass, as it was apparently like that when he moved in.

     

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  26.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 2:57pm

    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.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130916/00583024525/how-information-dominance-center-was-made-to-l ook-like-starship-enterprise-bridge.shtml

    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.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 5:04pm

    Re: Problem is, we're all suspects!

    I was wondering what exactly his definition of "suspected terrorist" is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    BernardoVerda (profile), Feb 28th, 2014 @ 6:00pm

    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?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 28th, 2014 @ 8:31pm

    HAHAHA this will never work! The NSA needs information on every single American and foreign national because otherwise the terrorists win! /sarc

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 1st, 2014 @ 1:39am

    F that S. I dont trust them to have the god damn system, i'll start sleeping better when i hear and SEE them and their surveilance systems, TORN DOWN...........

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    Loki, Mar 1st, 2014 @ 11:29am

    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".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Mar 1st, 2014 @ 6:10pm

    Re: Re: I'm not buying it

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

    Approximately 300 million from just one country in fact by their 'definitions' of just what/who classifies as a 'terrorist'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 2nd, 2014 @ 1:39am

    Re: Re: Wait...

    When he is an insider he wants to collect all phone data.
    When he will soon be an outsider, he is for limited collection.


    Indeed. Human.

    However, not something to be proud of.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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