I very recently became aware of letters in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society under the title Mathematicians Discuss the Snowden Revelations. Although it dates back to June/July 2014, I think it's relevant here.
The letter from Keith Devlin is worth reading (no maths involved). He was involved in analysing how to extract valid information from very large amounts of data, and his conclusions were clear that if you want to find a tiny number of needles, then you need to target the analysis, not grab all you can. A few quotes:
"I concentrate on whether indiscriminate “vacuuming up” of personal information that, according to the documents Edward Snowden has released, the NSA has routinely engaged in for several years can effectively predict terrorist attacks. I’ll say up front that, based on everything I learned in those five years, blanket surveillance is highly unlikely to prevent a terrorist attack and is a dangerous misuse of resources that, if used in other ways, possibly could prevent attacks (such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing). Anyone with a reasonable sense of large numbers could surmise a similar conclusion. When the goal is to identify a very small number of key signals in a large ocean of noise, indiscriminately increasing the size of the ocean is self-evidently not the way to go. "
"So when I hear officials from President Obama down say, “It’s just metadata,” I smell a deliberate attempt to mislead the population they are supposed to serve."
"How could we take an impossibly large amount of data and produce a human-sized output that a trained analyst could make effective use of? It would involve filtering, condensing, fusing, and processing information to a truly gigantic degree to provide that analyst (actually a team of analysts) with something manageable. And that was just the first step. That analyst would have to take his or her conclusions and start a cascade of persuasion and decision-making running up through the command chain until it landed on the desk of a person who could initiate an action—an action having huge ramifications for public safety, the pursuit of which would carry the risks of danger to many people and of possible massive political fallout."
"Data mining systems don’t identify and take out terrorist groups; people do."
I thought these days that baggage had to be locked with TSA approved locks when flying to the USA. This means the TSA have the master keys to get in, or else they will cut the bag open if they want to see what's inside.
I do not suppose that it was difficult for baggage handlers to get their hands on those master keys.
I've filled in the questionnaire (as an EU citizen), and thanks to all the good work in clarifying the issues on the various sites. It occurred to me that ISDS creates an asymmetry, which judicial systems normally shun. If I had a dispute with a corporation (sorry, sir, investor), then even if I won, the investor could take the case to the arbitration panel claiming that the local laws were antithetical to the investor's business model. But even if I could afford it, could I get to put my case?
"The act gives a definition of terrorism as an act or threat "designed to influence the government", that "is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause" and that would pose a "serious risk" to the health or safety of a section of the public."
Voting for the opposition at a general election seems to fall into the definition of "terrorism" according to this statement.
1. Designed to influence the government? Yes - in fact attempting to overthrow the government.
2. Made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause? Yes - promoting the political aims of the opposing party.
3. Pose a "serious risk" to the health or safety of a section of the public? Yes - listen to any raucous parliamentary debate in the House of Commons and it is clear that the party in power believes that the other side will serious damage the health of the nation or part of the population. Look like good character witnesses for any trial.
This legislation is a disgrace and needs repealing.
P.S. all my attempts to put in html tags just got stripped out when previewed. How do you make an indented blockquote?
2) The Intelligence community is simply saying, fuck you we can do whatever we want because no one will stop us.
I think you've got it right there. They believe they have the capability and are going to use it whatever anyone says. Spies are in the business of manipulating others and have no regard to what anyone thinks of them doing so. It's the sort of psychopathic behaviour that will brazen everything out right up until someone takes their toys away.
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