If The NSA's System Is Too Big To Comply With Court Orders, Court Should Require It To Change Its System
from the something's-badly-broken dept
While we focused mainly on the whole issue of the NSA/DOJ destroying key evidence in a case about its surveillance efforts, the ACLU has made another important (if related) point: if the NSA's systems are really too complex to comply with a preservation order, isn't that a pretty serious problem?
The ACLU calls this "too big to comply," a play on the infamous "too big to fail" claims towards Wall Street during the 2008 economic crisis. Of course, back in 2008, I made a simple suggestion on the "too big to fail" argument, which would seem to apply equally here. Back then, I pointed out that if banks are "too big to fail," there's a reasonable solution that doesn't involve making them even bigger (which was the government's solution): it was to require them to get small enough to fail again. Basically, the government could offer them bail out money on the condition that the banks be reorganized in a manner that if particular pieces started to fail, it didn't create systemic risk to the entire system. In some forms it wouldn't be all that different than a traditional antitrust breakup. And, yes, there's a lot of complexity hidden within such a proposal, but it seems like the only thing that really made sense (though, unfortunately, no one in the government seemed to agree).
For an agency whose motto is "Collect It All," the NSA's claim that its mission could be endangered by a court order to preserve evidence is a remarkable one. That is especially true given the immense amount of data the NSA is known to process and warehouse for its own future use.
The NSA also argued that retaining evidence for EFF's privacy lawsuit would put it in violation of other rules designed to protect privacy. But what the NSA presents as an impossible choice between accountability and privacy is actually a false one. Surely, the NSA — with its ability to sift and sort terabytes of information — can devise procedures that allow it to preserve the plaintiffs' data here without retaining everyone's data.
The crucial question is this: If the NSA does not have to keep evidence of its spying activities, how can a court ever test whether it is in fact complying with the Constitution?
So, shouldn't we take the same approach with the NSA? If its systems are truly "too complex to comply" or "too big to comply" with preservation orders, then shouldn't the court require the NSA to change its systems such that it can actually comply with legal court orders to preserve evidence needed in lawsuits that explore the constitutionality of their surveillance efforts?