NSA Chief Defends Facial Recognition Database By Denying Claims That Weren't Made

from the we-don't-do-the-things-no-one-says-we-do dept

James Clapper's defense of leaked NSA programs have fallen into the "strictly legal + oversight" framework so often it's become a cliche that can be ably wielded by lower level staffers. Occasionally, Clapper fires off something longer, like his defense of the NSA's collection of French phone metadata. During this longer "debunking," Clapper denied accusations that were never made by attacking a lousy translation of the original French article. This provided for some plausible deniability ("NSA does not collect recordings"), even if the underlying claims -- correctly translated -- pointed to something the agency was actually doing (bulk phone metadata collection).

The new head of the NSA, Michael Rogers, is doing the same thing. Addressing the latest New York Times' article on the NSA's collection of images for its facial recognition database, Rogers denies claims that were never made and accusations that were never stated.

Rogers insisted the agency was not collecting such images of U.S. citizens, unless they were linked with an investigation of a foreign subject, and then only after taking the appropriate legal steps.

"We do not do this on some unilateral basis against U.S. citizens," he told a conference hosted by Bloomberg. "We just don’t ... decide, 'Hey, today I’m going to go after Citizen X, Y or Z.' We don’t do that. We can’t legally do that."

He said some people thought the NSA was combing through databases of photographs for U.S. drivers licenses but said that was not the case.
In terms of collecting images, no one stated anything to the contrary. The collection is likely operating like many other NSA collections -- on a large scale that increases the likelihood that incidental collection of American data and content will occur. The "appropriate legal steps" are the same ones that have been used as talking points over the last year.

Likewise, no one suggested in the article that the NSA targeted US citizens. In fact, one of the biggest complaints about the NSA's programs is the fact that they're clearly untargeted. The NSA doesn't select a person and start the surveillance from that point. The surveillance is pervasive and ongoing and any selection tends to occur long after tons of data/communications have been collected. It's the after-the-fact nature of the programs that makes them so dangerous. Further, the lack of solid minimization rules means tons of data from bulk collections sits around in NSA servers just waiting for someone to find a reason to look through it. So, while the NSA may not "unilaterally target American citizens," it has the mechanisms in place to do so.

As for Roger's last non-denial, it was clearly stated in the New York Times article that there was no indication that the NSA had access to US drivers license databases. Rogers' last denial addresses "some people" (whoever they are) that have a clearly wrong interpretation of the leaked documents, but doesn't address what was actually written. And it completely avoids the undeniable fact that, with as many "input" channels as the NSA has, collecting the sort of information a drivers license database holds would be simple enough, even without direct access.

Rogers also doesn't address the previous denial handed out by a spokesperson who refused to clarify whether or not the NSA collects images of Americans from social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter. Instead, Rogers focuses on the anonymous concerns of people who may or may not exist. Plausible deniability, delivered implausibly.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 4th, 2014 @ 11:59am

    It only works because the press lets it

    If the press was willing to push back on meaningless 'denials' like this ('We do not do X.' 'That's nice, but that's not what was claimed, could you answer the real question/concern?'), then maybe they'd put some real effort into their lies(because 'telling the truth' is obviously out of the question, even when evidence is presented of what they're doing), but as long as the MSM just lets their lies and dodges go unchallenged, why put any more work into it than they have to?

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 12:31pm

    Classic misdirection!

    If you don't have a controversy yet, but know it will soon become one... then fabricate the things you WANT to be on the defensive about... people will just kinda sorta blindly follow!

    It's one of the reasons a meaningless denial is presented!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 12:31pm

    collecting?

    Rogers insisted the agency was not collecting such images of U.S. citizens, unless they were linked with an investigation of a foreign subject

    Is that the English definition of collecting, or the NSA definition of collecting?

     

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  4.  
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    Mega1987 (profile), Jun 4th, 2014 @ 12:39pm

    Re: collecting?

    NSA definition....

    The one that Lacks Common sense and replace it with Troll sense.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 1:01pm

    "Excusatio non petita accusatio manifesta"

    An excuse that has not been sought [is] an obvious accusation.

     

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  6.  
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    Applesauce, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 1:19pm

    If these NSA apologists had any brains they would just shut up. But as I find their constant and consistently unbelievable prevarications so entertaining, I'm glad they keep talking.

     

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  7.  
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    Mason Wheeler (profile), Jun 4th, 2014 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Classic misdirection!

    It's got nothing to do with the B-3 bomber!

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    John Cressman, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 1:30pm

    The PRess

    The press are liberal left wing puppets serving the whims of their liberal political masters. Right now, we have the King of Liberals as President and the Duke of Liberal Fascists as Senate Majority leader, so the liberal media happy laps at their feet and does nothing to make them look bad.

    Hopefully, we will get some Republicans elected so that the Press will actually have an "enemy" to attack and go after some of these horrendous policies.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Re: Classic misdirection!

    So that's what they are developing those things for now?

     

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  10.  
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    Hans, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 1:48pm

    Re: collecting?

    Exactly. As with previous revelations and the meaning of "target", it's not "collected" until they look at it.

     

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  11.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 4th, 2014 @ 2:21pm

    Re: The PRess

    Please tell me that was a Poe...

    In current US politics there really isn't a true 'liberal' party, there's just 'Conservative'(Republicans) and 'Slightly less conservative'(Democrats), and other than some minor differences in priority(Increasing government vs private businesses for democrats/republicans respectively), they're pretty much two sides of the same coin.

    The whole 'It's all the fault of those dirty democrats/republicans!' bit is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, getting people focused on useless labels while both parties screw the public over.

     

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  12.  
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    Lurker Keith, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 2:28pm

    NSA to English translation

    Since the NSA always lies, & is now denying stuff they had not, yet, been accused of, it is clear the following is an accurate translation:

    The NSA does collect images of US Citizens unrelated to foreigners.

    The NSA does do so unilaterally against US citizens. Both targeted & untargeted.

    The NSA does have access to DMV records (thus proving the above).

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 2:43pm

    Re: collecting?

    Also, they use the word "linked," which likely means: "at some point one of your ancestors did not live in the United States; ergo, you are linked to a foreign subject," or maybe: "You are currently inhaling oxygen that, at one point, was inhaled by a foreigner; therefore, you are linked."

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 2:49pm

    Re: The PRess

    I've got news for you. There is no left any more, at least not in government. There are only different degrees and flavors of right.

    As for the press, especially the mainstream press, without a doubt they are as right wing as they come.

    Perhaps you need to learn a little about the actual history and meaning of the terms left-wing and right-wing before you use them, because I don't think they mean what you think they mean. The terms Right-wing and Left-wing come from which side of the French Parliament the different groups sat on just prior to the French Revolution. On the right you had those that represented the established aristocracy and on the left you had those that represented the common people. In today's society, right-wing would be those that stand to support large very well established corporate interests and the uber wealthy where as the left would be those what support the interests of the working people. These days almost all of the politicians are in the pockets of the large established corporations. On each "side" there may be different corporations being represented but there is no representation for the working class anymore. And the mainstream media is about as old school corporate control backed by big money as you can get. There's no left their either.

    So where is this liberal press you are talking about. PBS? NPR? Pacifica? With all of the right-wing propaganda blather that dominates talk radio, Fox News and other cable news, you are really going to complain about the impact those 3 have? Really?

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 5:15pm

    Hey, is this the same guy who was suddenly talking about Chinese routers being bugged by China or whatever, before it was revealed that they were being bugged by the NSA? Or is it someone else with a guilty conscience?

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Angelo, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 10:58pm

    Re: Re: collecting?

    That is so funny...!!

    In other words, every single US citizen, since are all "linked" by ancestry to foreign countries (UK, France, Germany, Spain, etc..)

    And that means your government is justified in watching you and everything you do (meaning everyone).

    The only native residents are the, well, the native American Indians. The rest of you are, by ancestry, foreigners.

    Result: Foreigners spying on foreigners - shouldn't be a problem then.

    Man, this circular reasoning is hurting my brain. Well, it's nearly 08H00 here in South Africa, time to start work.

     

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  17.  
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    junkyardmagic, Jun 4th, 2014 @ 11:40pm

    nsa at it again

    Surely it's time one of you tech experts developed an NSA spokesperson translator. It's really simple, it just needs to replace certain words with "straw-men' . Ie "its import for us to address these straw-men head on'

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2014 @ 1:23am

    I still think the NSA collects all drivers license pictures from DVM state databases, because these databases are the perfect source for building a searchable facial recognition database.

    The NSA can deny it all they want, but I don't believe them. There's no way they'd pass up the opportunity to datamine a picture database that has everyone's name, address, date of birth, a close-up picture of their face, drivers license and social security numbers.

    There's absolutely no way the NSA isn't datamining this stuff into a national facial recognition system. All in the name of Safety and Security, of course.

    Of course the NSA is lying. They've been caught lying since the very beginning, and they'll keep lying all the way to the very end. It's a proven fact.

     

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  19.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 5th, 2014 @ 2:08am

    Re:

    And therein lies one of the bigger problems they face. Even if, against all odds, they tell the truth on something, no one will believe them. They've been caught lying, to the public, and even to the politicians that are supposed to oversee them, so many times, that only a complete fool would believe a single thing they say now.

    Their reputation is so toxic and tainted that even should they tell the truth, people will assume that they're lying yet again. And why wouldn't the public assume as much, it's not like the NSA has been generous with the truth in the past, so it's simple common sense to assume that anything and everything they say is a lie, half-truth or 'least untruthful answer' at this point.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    David, Jun 5th, 2014 @ 2:50am

    Re: Re: collecting?

    It's not "collected" until there is a subpoenable record of them looking at it.

    Remember: they are professionals.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    David, Jun 5th, 2014 @ 2:53am

    Re: Re: Re: collecting?

    The only native residents are the, well, the native American Indians. The rest of you are, by ancestry, foreigners.

    The native American Indians are linked to terrorism by ancestry. They used "stand your ground" kind of rules before they became law and used threats of violence to keep the U.S.A. from becoming American, a beacon of freedom.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    David, Jun 5th, 2014 @ 4:04am

    Re:

    They have brains, but they are twisted. The willingness to let oneself's brain become so twisted as not to be able to tell right from wrong is a prerequisite for a career in those professions, so it is little surprising that the self-professed speakers of those institutions deliver speeches that are more convincing to politicians and their own staffers than to people with a background in sanity.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2014 @ 7:55am

    NSA is a story about a boy who cried about a boy who cried about a boy.... who cried "WOLF!!" And they are all named PINOCCHIO!

     

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  24.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 5th, 2014 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Re: The PRess

    Yep. Or, as Frank Zappa once put it in one of his songs: "Republicans are fair if you're a multimillionaire, Democrats are fine if all you own is what you wear."

    The landscape has changed since he wrote that.

     

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  25.  
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    garrett, Jun 5th, 2014 @ 2:05pm

    facebook images

    think of the treasure trove of personal identification, wsocial links and facial images that are the standard fare of facebook, instagram and the like. You think NSA wants to didle around with driver's liscences with that gold mine?

     

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  26.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 5th, 2014 @ 2:13pm

    Re: facebook images

    "You think NSA wants to didle around with driver's liscences with that gold mine?"

    Yes.

    The reason being that driver's license photos are now taken with face recognition in mind. That's why you see lots of weird new rules about your DL photo: no smiling, you must remove your hat, you have to sit exactly so, etc.

    Facebook photos are more numerous, but they aren't optimized for face recognition. Driver's license photos are a higher quality data source for that sort of thing.

     

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  27.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jun 5th, 2014 @ 2:13pm

    Re: Re: facebook images

    Also, more people have driver's licenses than use Facebook.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    GEMont, Jun 5th, 2014 @ 2:42pm

    A little more snake-oil please

    Surely you're not still wondering why this man is being so handsomely paid by what used to be "your" government....

    He, like Obama, has a unique talent, necessary to the proper functioning of any fascist business plan.

    They can both lie right to your face, even when you already know the truth, and actually appear to be sincere. And when even the best lie simply won't do, they both know how to create any number of important sounding straw-men, so the rubes will keep on believing.

    Use to be called Snake-Oil Salesmen.
    Not sure what to call them today.
    Snake-Oil Salesmen perhaps.

     

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


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