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Officials Say NSA Probed Fewer Than 300 Numbers - Broke Plots In 20 Nations

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the time-to-justify dept.

United States 419

cold fjord writes "Yet more details about the controversy engulfing the NSA. From CNET: 'Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, explained how the program worked without violating individuals' civil rights. "We take the business records by a court order, and it's just phone numbers — no names, no addresses — put it in a lock box," Rogers told CBS News' "Face The Nation." "And if they get a foreign terrorist overseas that's dialing in to the United Sates, they take that phone number... they plug it into this big pile, if you will, of just phone numbers — it's like a phonebook without any names and any addresses with it — to see if there's a connection, a foreign terrorist connection to the United States." "When a number comes out of that lock box, it's just a phone number — no names, no addresses," he said. "If they think that's relevant to their counterterrorism investigation, they give that to the FBI. Then upon the FBI has to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is."' From the AP: ' ... programs run by the National Security Agency thwarted potential terrorist plots in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries — and that gathered data is destroyed every five years. Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records ... the intelligence officials said in arguing that the programs are far less sweeping than their detractors allege.... both NSA programs are reviewed every 90 days by the secret court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under the program, the records, showing things like time and length of call, can only be examined for suspected connections to terrorism, they said. The ... program helped the NSA stop a 2009 al-Qaida plot to blow up New York City subways.'"

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I'm sure it's effective (4, Insightful)

kthreadd (1558445) | about a year ago | (#44027947)

That's not the problem. Just tell people what you're doing. Make sure that it's legal and ethical. Don't be shy of what you're doing. Then we might accept it.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (4, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44027987)

Yup, the reason this is interesting is the secret courts and total lack of transparency.

There is no reason the court can't be open. If you need to hide the number/person you are getting a warrant against the same procedures used to hide the identities of children from the press can be used. Just use John Doe Number X or 555-555-55XX for the number. Making it secret sure looks like they are hiding something illicit.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028205)

Making it secret sure looks like they are hiding something illicit.

Um, how? Does the NSA even have a job higher up than dog catcher that isn't secret?

Re:I'm sure it's effective (4, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44028219)

Because sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Why would them hiding even more stuff make anyone trust them more?

Re:I'm sure it's effective (5, Insightful)

kannibal_klown (531544) | about a year ago | (#44028343)

There are two schools of thought. Both are valid but it requires a balancing act between the two.

A) Who watches the watchers. If an organization is too secret and has too much power / autonomy then it's a dangerous thing: both to our safety and our liberties.

B) You need to actually be secret and discreet if you want to spy successfully. Face it, there will always be spies and espionage: every country out there does it to some degree. People in surveillance + intelligence + espionage can't "do your job" if you're too far into the sunlight.

USA Politician: Oh, here's a list of personnel and here are the strategies we're using.
Foreign Politician: OK, good to know... we'll work on messing with these people and/or bribing them, and our counter-Intel guys will try to avoid your strategies.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44028379)

I never disagreed with either of those.

You can hold a reasonable court without disclosing that stuff.

John Doe #1 has communicated with John Doe #2 and John Doe #3, all are suspected terrorists. We would like a warrant to monitor John Doe #1 as we already have on the other two. Here is some evidence of the other two discussing a plot to pollute our precious bodily fluids.

No sensitive data would be leaked, but it could still be audited and subject to normal perjury rules. No judge would sign warrants that failed to meet the normal burdons, unlike now since they do not need to fear any repercussions.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | about a year ago | (#44028563)

I never disagreed with either of those.

You can hold a reasonable court without disclosing that stuff.

John Doe #1 has communicated with John Doe #2 and John Doe #3, all are suspected terrorists. We would like a warrant to monitor John Doe #1 as we already have on the other two. Here is some evidence of the other two discussing a plot to pollute our precious bodily fluids.

No sensitive data would be leaked, but it could still be audited and subject to normal perjury rules. No judge would sign warrants that failed to meet the normal burdons, unlike now since they do not need to fear any repercussions.

If you leave the part about the "plot to pollute our precious bodily fluids" in there, how exactly does that not give the would-be terrorists the exact information they need to know in order to abandon their plot, go into hiding, and start a different plot a week later?

And if you take it out, the court is just a money-wasting repeat of "John Doe 1 talked to John Doe 2 about [redacted] can we have our warrant now?" What's wrong with just waiting 50 years for all the info to be declassified? [/snark]

Re:I'm sure it's effective (4, Insightful)

Jhon (241832) | about a year ago | (#44028527)

I don't think there are just two problems with this. There are multiple problems with this.

It sounds like they are pulling ALL call data and warehousing it to mine via some secret warrant. The problem is that data now exists and is accessible to the government WITHOUT a warrant of someone decides to go "rogue". It's a lot more difficult to mine that data without a warrant if it were still in the hands of the original vendors.

The uses may be noble now and there may have been horrible things prevented with this system. That doesn't mean that it won't be abused by some future government. One of the things our Constitution provides for is a way to "survive" poor or malicious leaders until the next round of elections.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028263)

Making it secret sure looks like they are hiding something illicit.

Making it secret means they can lie about "only 300 numbers".

Re:I'm sure it's effective (4, Insightful)

tgd (2822) | about a year ago | (#44028049)

That's not the problem. Just tell people what you're doing. Make sure that it's legal and ethical. Don't be shy of what you're doing. Then we might accept it.

Well, to be fair, telling people what you're doing makes doing it pretty useless when "what you're doing" is covert surveillance.

"You can't handle the truth!" (5, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | about a year ago | (#44028437)

Well, to be fair, telling people what you're doing makes doing it pretty useless when "what you're doing" is covert surveillance.

Hardly. You and I are both well aware that our police regularly do covert surveillance of suspected criminals. The fact that they do so is public knowledge and we are fine with that. While it is sometimes necessary to temporarily hide the tactical details of a specific surveillance, it is not necessary to hide the existence of the program to do so or to hide the findings of such surveillance indefinitely. Furthermore the authorization for such surveillance is overseen by reasonably transparent judicial review, it typically limited in scope and time frame and the results of the surveillance are revealed to the public in due course.

The NSA on the other hand has a system where they have a secret program, with secret directives, overseen by a secret court, whose findings are kept secret. Though many suspected the NSA was conducting surveillance of some sort, the very existence of this program was kept secret from the public. At no point in this system does the public have any means by which to be notified of abuses of this system. The entire progress is treated as a secret and hidden effectively forever from public scrutiny. No reasonable person has a problem with the idea of our government looking for bad guys but the methods used matter greatly and not all methods are acceptable. This is EXACTLY like the end of the movie "A Few Good Men" where the government is screaming at us that we can't handle the truth and that they do not have to explain themselves to us. Cheesy as that sounds, it is a perfect analogy to what is going on here.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (4, Insightful)

coId fjord (2949869) | about a year ago | (#44028075)

Transparency isn't the only problem. Freedom and privacy are simply more important than security. If freedom or privacy must be sacrificed (and that's a dubious claim), I don't want whatever you offer.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (5, Insightful)

DrEldarion (114072) | about a year ago | (#44028323)

YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you. You can't really expect the government to stop doing these things when so many people support it.

See: http://www.people-press.org/2013/06/10/majority-views-nsa-phone-tracking-as-acceptable-anti-terror-tactic/ [people-press.org]

The internet can be like an echo chamber, especially in places like Slashdot where a lot of like-minded people come together. With all the outrage that you see, it's easy to be blind to the reality of the situation.

You need to work on changing the minds of the public, then maybe you'll see changes in the government.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028421)

YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you.

It doesn't matter what they think. The Constitution is designed to protect the individual from the idiocy of the masses. If they have a problem with that, then they are more than welcome to amend the Constitution. But they'll need a 2/3's majority which they simply don't have, so they try to find ways to wiggle around those protections.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

coId fjord (2949869) | about a year ago | (#44028429)

YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you.

We don't have a direct democracy, but a representative republic. Furthermore, the government is supposed to be bound by the constitution, and as such, it does not matter how many people want the government to violate it.

Well, it doesn't work out that way in practice. You're right that the public at large will have to stop being cowardly morons before anything will actually change.

it's easy to be blind to the reality of the situation.

I am not blind; I am well aware that many people are cowards.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (1, Insightful)

gr8_phk (621180) | about a year ago | (#44028333)

Transparency isn't the only problem. Freedom and privacy are simply more important than security. If freedom or privacy must be sacrificed (and that's a dubious claim), I don't want whatever you offer.

If you take them at their word, no freedom or privacy is being lost. Just remember the phone company already has these records and if it's legal they're trying to monetize the data already. The issue is that such a system has enormous potential for abuse. I'm actually more interested in how they control use of the system and mitigate corruption than what activities they actually carry out. Without proper protections (and I don't really know what that means) such a system will certainly evolve into everything people worry about.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (1)

coId fjord (2949869) | about a year ago | (#44028445)

If you take them at their word

Why would I do that? And even if I did, freedom and privacy are still being lost.

Just remember the phone company already has these records and if it's legal they're trying to monetize the data already.

That has nothing to do with this.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (5, Insightful)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | about a year ago | (#44028417)

I agree. An old saying, one I believe originated in World War 2 while fighting the Nazis: "The end results do not justify the means used". If the US government breaks the very laws they are responsible to uphold, then it is wrong, regardless of the results. A government that ignores its own laws when they are inconvenient is NOT a democracy and should not expect its citizens to uphold the law any more than they do.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028095)

300 numbers? More like 300 million numbers. The government isn't efficient enough to stop 20 plots by checking only 300 numbers.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028485)

Only a fool would think 20 pots were stopped by contact chaining ONLY 300 numbers.

NSA have a huge number of other data sources and accesses they use.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028541)

They collect all the phone number transactions, but only admitted to examine less than 300. There is a difference in what they are saying.
So what stop them from examining more or more truthful in reporting?

Re:I'm sure it's effective (5, Insightful)

icannotthinkofaname (1480543) | about a year ago | (#44028165)

Don't be shy of what you're doing.

Isn't that what they tell us? "If you're doing nothing wrong, then you should have nothing to hide"?

And then they decide that they should probably hide this massive surveillance program? :P

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

coId fjord (2949869) | about a year ago | (#44028177)

Important people are talking now, citizen. Get back in line.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028213)

You are off message. It's "the ends justify the means". Repeat after me:

The ends justify the means. Your concerns are not valid. We wouldn't lie* to you.
The ends justify the means. Your concerns are not valid. We wouldn't lie* to you.
The ends justify the means. Your concerns are not valid. We wouldn't lie* to you.

* Note: the "least untrue" statement is not interpreted by the Administration to be a lie.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#44028221)

That's not the problem. Just tell people what you're doing. Make sure that it's legal and ethical. Don't be shy of what you're doing. Then we might accept it.

No. Some people will never accept it because a massive database is being made which can easily be used for other purposes like identifying Joe Schmoes who are likely politically against the administration du jour and using that info to harass them with IRS et al. The existence of a database like this is uneccessary as the Feds can subpoena duces tecum for the specific data needed for investigations already. The only purpose for a universal database like this is for trend-tracking or other misuse. If its only purpose is misuse, then it should not exist.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (1)

Jason Levine (196982) | about a year ago | (#44028229)

Or, to use an argument that NSA proponents have used, "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about [by being more open about the program]."

Re:I'm sure it's effective (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about a year ago | (#44028319)

By being open about this program, or any others, it shoots down the usefulness of these. As it is, I suspect that this one has been massively harmed.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (1)

coId fjord (2949869) | about a year ago | (#44028517)

But I thought they said that only bad people hide things? What, are they suddenly disagreeing with their own logic?

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

dc29A (636871) | about a year ago | (#44028233)

Everything the government says it's true? Am I right? I mean look at all the weapons of mass destruction we found in Iraq. Sure, only 300 phones were tapped.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

WindBourne (631190) | about a year ago | (#44028329)

There is a difference between agency's vs. lying politicians. It was W's admin that spoke about the weapons, not CIA, NSA, etc.
Who should be speaking about this is not rogers, but somebody from the NSA.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

EETech1 (1179269) | about a year ago | (#44028369)

They likely only entered in 300 numbers, but after the computer checked everyone they called, and everyone they called, and everyone they called, they just ended up with 70% of America anyways, with the rest being of absolutely no interest.

Hello Kevin Bacon again and again.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (3, Insightful)

DragonTHC (208439) | about a year ago | (#44028285)

what they're doing is storing everything. Whether they probed it or not isn't the question. They are storing it.

Re:I'm sure it's effective (2)

Simulant (528590) | about a year ago | (#44028351)



I'm not sure it's effective. And if it is, I doubt it's effective enough to warrant the amount of money thrown at it or the misuse that will inevitably occur.
  I'm also not sure why we should believe anything they say.

I'd rather take my chances with the terrorists over opaque security organizations who can spy on me whenever they wish.
I'm far more likely to get shot or run over by a fellow citizen anyway.

Turn your spying ability on the bankers and then we'll talk.....

Finding out whose phone number it is (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44027949)

Then upon the FBI has to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is.

Unless they figure out that they can just run a check against the phone book. The scary thing is, this guy may be as stupid as he sounds.

Re:Finding out whose phone number it is (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028143)

Or, dial the number on a throwaway cell, hit voice-mail, and hang up. If you don't hit voice-mail, ask, "Uh, to whom am I speaking?" they answer with their name, and you say, "Oh, sorry, I think I have the wrong number."

It's not like phone numbers were designed to be anonymous, anyway.

Re:Finding out whose phone number it is (2)

digitalchinky (650880) | about a year ago | (#44028179)

I think he is a lot smarter myself, yet another very carefully crafted statement that glosses over the underlying issue.

>>> Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records
Meh, whatever. Certainly they may have investigated fewer than 300 numbers, but...

The question remains: how many domestic telephone conversations underwent some form of traffic analysis by NSA systems? Period. What mechanism exists to tell the intercept system the difference between domestic and foreign parties? Is it enabled always such that domestic parties are never processed by NSA computers in any way at all?

Re:Finding out whose phone number it is (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year ago | (#44028399)

The question remains: how many domestic telephone conversations underwent some form of traffic analysis by NSA systems?

The question remains: how many domestic telephone conversations underwent some form of traffic analysis by Booz Allen Hamilton systems?

That's more my concern. What is preventing them from using all that data for some other dubious business purposes . . . ?

Snowden outed himself. He has no financial gain. But what others are still lurking around inside Booz Allen Hamilton . . . ?

I guess Booz Allen Hamilton is busy shredding documents and disks right now.

Proof or STFU (5, Insightful)

Nickodeimus (1263214) | about a year ago | (#44027955)

Plain and simple. If this were at all true then each of these 20 incidences would have been widely touted in the media. They never would have had to give the source of their intelligence or at worst they could have \ would have said that inside information that was actionable was provided to their security forces.

Re:Proof or STFU (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028109)

If they did they'd be tipping off terrorists on how they caught on to them, so the terrorists would revise their communication methods. As they reportedly are doing now, in response to Snowden's revelations.

There's no right answer here. Personally I'd prefer more Congressional oversight, but then you have to trust those guys to be effective overseers on our behalf.

Re:Proof or STFU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028359)

And stopping terrorists from using cell phones is a bad thing? To avoid a fight you want to make the other guy think you can stop every trick in the book. The only reason to keep this program a secret is if it was bending the Constitution.

Re:Proof or STFU (4, Interesting)

Shavano (2541114) | about a year ago | (#44028251)

The vast majority of Verizon's (and any US carrier's) calls are from one US number to another US number. They could just have requested all phone calls from/to a short list of foreign numbers. Or at most they would have asked for all calls to/from a list of foreign countries. That's still a lot of calls but hundreds of times less than the full call database. Then, once they had identified a US number that seems associated with foreign terrorists, they could examine all calls to/from that number and tap the line.

The court order says every call. Why would a judge give them that level of access if all they wanted was calls to/from a handful of numbers? Bottom line, the story the Congressman is telling is completely at odds with what we now know about the extent of the information the NSA requested and received.

Re:Proof or STFU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028339)

I think it's a fair assumption that Congress would lie less than the NSA. Neither ever tells the truth, but it's simply degrees pathological lying.

Re:Proof or STFU (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028537)

I don't think so. Were I in charge of the program, it wouldn't stop at foreign -> US Calls. Once the terrorist call is identified inbound to the US Number, then I want to look at all calls *that* number has made. (Not making, or will make. Has made.)

One thing I have not seen or heard... How long does Verizon (and other cell carriers - you can't tell me they stopped at Verizon) keep metadata information? Is this a case of, "by the time we know the number to track, Verizon no longer has what we're looking for." So they archive all that data.

Yes, proper procedure would be require the phone companies to keep all that information and your cell bill goes up a dollar a month for all that data storage. Then issue as many warrants as needed.

None of that means in in favor of what's being done.... I'm still in the, "we don't know [and probably never will know] enough information to judge the program." And, yes, the default should have been transparency. I do not understand why Terrorism automatically requires secrecy and classification.

Re:Proof or STFU (3, Interesting)

bieber (998013) | about a year ago | (#44028459)

I don't doubt the number, but it's a meaningless figure. Think about it for a moment, they have this huge database of phone data they've scraped from all the major carriers, they have it available at the touch of a button (effectively, with a secret court to rubber stamp requests), so of course they're going to use it in any and all terrorism investigations they have going on. Then, when the program comes under fire some years later, they can say "Well look, we used that program to help thwart all these terrorist plots," complete with a number that looks impressive but is really just the count of every single major terrorist investigation they've undertaken since the program came into existence. Of course they won't tell you exactly what role the program played in those investigations, or whether it would have even been more difficult to bust the plots without that data, let alone impossible. And that's not even to begin getting into how many of those "terrorist plots" never would have happened without FBI agents getting them going in the first place...

Re:Proof or STFU (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year ago | (#44028481)

In the Second World War, when they broke codes or even did something that made it seem like that enemy codes would have been compromised, they were prepared to shoot people or let our own troops die to keep that secret. In no way would you necessarily trumpet your abilities to the other side.

Given the relative scale of the conflict now, letting troops die or having someone who is there to shoot you if you might be caught would be extreme. Not having it on the front of newspapers, however, is not that extreme.

How dumb do they think we are? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44027979)

Why would they need the names? There are lots of programs like 411 that can do a reverse look up on phone numbers.

Re:How dumb do they think we are? (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44028025)

Because that does not work on cell phones, or did not last I looked. It surely does not work on prepaid phones. You could get those names by watching who they call and when.

Obvious (3, Insightful)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about a year ago | (#44027983)

If only the NSA had pulled 2 more phone numbers, adding the Tsarnaev brothers to their list of terrorists.

Re:Obvious (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year ago | (#44028439)

And what would they have caught?

"Sup?"

"Hey bro, let's go shoot some hoops and talk about that stuff I wanted to talk to you about earlier."

"Yeah, see you there"

In this case, what would you find out? Not much. Phone tracking works for some stuff, but not so much for other stuff. All they would have gotten from that conversation was that they were brothers and stuff would be talked about. They didn't need a phone log to figure that out. Of course, the "stuff" they would be talking about in person would have been making bombs, of course. Between some guy and his shady contact, that might have set off alarms, between brothers? Not so much.

Some more juicy FUD, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44027995)

Hmmmmm, just delicious. =)

My Eloquent Reply (2)

The Wild Norseman (1404891) | about a year ago | (#44028011)

Bull-fucking-shit.

Re:My Eloquent Reply (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028347)

I'm with you on this one.

If all they wanted was phone numbers... Why couldn't they submit the offending phone number to the phone companies with a warrant and have the phone companies themselves return the numbers that phone number called???

An SQL query like that could be preformed by a first level tech in a matter of minutes. Yet the NSA needs the entire database of everyone in the country?? Tell me that isn't ripe for abuse.

Nope.. Much more going on that is being admitted to. We are being lied to yet again.

Captcha - unrest

I'll believe it when they show me proof. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028019)

Letting us read your email stopped attacks. What attacks? Um, bad ones, real bad ones. No you don't need to know the details, just take our word for it.

Data Disconnect (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028035)

How is it that we see 9000 requests in 6 months of 2012 being reported by SOME providers, and then this story of fewer than 300 phone numbers? There seems to be a disconnect. I recognize the difference in the nature of the requests, but when the numbers are off by an order of magnitude and more, one has to wonder

Re:Data Disconnect (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028077)

The 9000 requests are from any government agency, the 300 cited in the summary are from (presumably) NSA/CIA alone. On a side note, why is this guy allowed to cite numbers when Google, Facebook and MS et. al. aren't?

Officials say lots of things. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028037)

There are 2 possibilities, either it is true, that they only 'probed only 300 phones last year' or it is not true.

Assuming it is true, this does not answer the question whether those 300 phone numbers were CONSTITUTIONALLY 'probed', I would stay bullshit on that. They didn't get any court orders, they just 'probed' them.

Assuming it is true, this doesn't mean that what they are doing this year and will do next year will amount to 300 phone numbers.

Assuming it is true, this does not change the fact that they are violating Constitutional rights of people even then.

However I will not assume that it is true, they they only 'probed' 300 phone number (and if they did, that would be only because they didn't have enough people to probe 300,000,000 numbers, but I believe they are lying regardless).

They are lying, they are lying about the facts and about meaning of the facts that they are lying about.

Everything they do is unconstitutional from the very moment they put a 'prism' into that light beam that is transferring people's private information.

Everybody involved in this and I mean the entire government that is involved in this either 'wittingly' or 'unwittingly' should be dissolved, these NSA centers need to be demolished and people should take their freedoms back.

roman_mir [slashdot.org]

Right (1)

Reliable Windmill (2932227) | about a year ago | (#44028043)

Ok.

Bullshit (5, Insightful)

bradley13 (1118935) | about a year ago | (#44028045)

First, the "we broke 20 plots" is bullshit. They have have used these tools in 20 investigations, so what? And what about the other 280 they admit to? And anyway, how many people's data was involved in each of these investigations? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?

In any case, we still come back to the basic problem: The police could certainly stop a few more crimes, if they were allowed unfettered access to people's homes. See someone suspicious? Walk in and search the house, no warrant required. The point is: This price is not worth paying.

Why? For many reasons, but here are the ones that leap immediately to mind:

(1) People need to feel they have personal privacy.

(2) Government bureaucrats are humans: some good, some bad, most just muddling along. Put this kind of power in their hands, and it will be abused. Whether for political ends, to get back at the ex after a nasty divorce, or whatever. Because they work for the government, they will not be punished. See the recent IRS scandals for a perfect example of this.

It is important to limit government power, because this is the only sure way to prevent abuses. You can't abuse power you don't have. If this makes police work a little more difficult, that is a price well worth paying. Convince a judge and get a warrant before spying on someone - this just isn't that hard.

Re:Bullshit (3, Insightful)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44028235)

Remember the S&P downgrading the US' debt rating? In short order the government loudly and proudly announced an IRS investigation into them. Do we forget this quickly?

Re:Bullshit (4, Interesting)

hort_wort (1401963) | about a year ago | (#44028469)

First, the "we broke 20 plots" is bullshit. They have have used these tools in 20 investigations, so what? And what about the other 280 they admit to? And anyway, how many people's data was involved in each of these investigations? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?

Also, don't forget the government tendency to declare victory. I'm reminded of how it designates "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants". How many of these plots would have even gone anywhere? They might've broken into someone's home who ordered some waffle mix overseas, declared him a "terrorist", shipped him off to Guantanamo Bay, then chalked up another point for the Good Guys(tm).

I tend to be a pessimist about things that happen in secret.

Very suspicious explanation. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028051)

So they have a big elaborate system that allows them to enter a suspect phone number and get... Just that phone number back out...

For some reason I doubt that's all it does.

Re:Very suspicious explanation. (1)

FictionPimp (712802) | about a year ago | (#44028079)

Exactly, I can't see in value in a system the way they described it.

They have a record of all people calling.
They get a phone call that says A called B and A is linked to terror.
They plugin A into their record and get back B.
They give B to the FBI.

Why not just skip the middle and give B to the FBI.

Re:Very suspicious explanation. (3, Interesting)

brxndxn (461473) | about a year ago | (#44028269)

After multiple instances of lying or 'lying the least they could', they have given us zero reason to believe yet another explanation of the system. My belief is that this is a system used by the 'powers that be' to keep promoting the political and financial dominance of the powers that be. Whereas, the 'powers that be' is defined as those people with enough financial and political influence that set the agenda and policies of the entire world.

The reason I believe this is because reports show that Germany was one of the countries that was spied on the most. If this was a system used only to 'combat terrorism', it would make zero sense to spy on the country that has repeatedly been shown to be an ally in the 'War on Terrorism'. But, if this was a system used for financial and political gain, it would make sense to keep the most records on the countries with the largest amount of financial competition.

All power structures must answer to the law. In order to prevent the continued movement of the US towards fascism, it is our duty (the peoples') to continually be skeptical of those in power. We need to question this, shine a light on this, get it audited - and even shut it down - if this is a system that violates the US Constitution.

Start from the facts (2)

Sponge Bath (413667) | about a year ago | (#44028059)

It's been established the US government does not want to disclose domestic surveillance programs. They said so in front of cameras, "national security, blah blah".

Now I need to evaluate the claims of a government official regarding domestic surveillance programs... hmmm. Not very comforting.

and the database is secure (3, Interesting)

a2wflc (705508) | about a year ago | (#44028061)

He seems to want to focus on the 300 "numbers only" they checked and not the big database of "phone records" that exists. But I'm sure the "database of millions of U.S. phone records" he refers to is at least as secure as the existence of the program itself. It's not doubt more secure but that doesn't mean it's safe. And many attackers would love to just get a handful of records (congressmen, judges, candidates, ceos, opposition party leaders).

Plus I've already heard quotes from politicians and other government officials that the database needs to be more widely shared. FBI and DHS need access now. I imagine the IRS could find a few things and "improve" tax collection if it was shared with them. We better not get used to being ok with the NSA having access to "numbers only". The nature of government is to expand and make "better" use of data, not to ignore a valuable resource because of privacy concerns. And also to protect those in power, so any 3rd party leader making progress better have a squeaky clean record. One place the 2 parties can agree is on attacking any opposition to their power.

Re:and the database is secure (1)

Quila (201335) | about a year ago | (#44028419)

I imagine the IRS could find a few things and "improve" tax collection if it was shared with them.

Starting with any organization with "patriot" or "freedom" in its name, they would discover the network of anyone calling anyone, and hit everyone with an audit.

When you hear a politician say "just"... (1)

Rooked_One (591287) | about a year ago | (#44028087)

in his formal speech, he's lying. Mostly... as in, they mostly just lie through their teeth.

Re:When you hear a politician say "just"... (2)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#44028259)

When you hear a politician say "just" in his formal speech, he's lying. Mostly... as in, they mostly just lie through their teeth.

Oh, no, no, no. They lie out their asses too.

Officials say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028091)

Well then I guess that's settled. Nothing to see here. Move along citizen.

Thats what *they* do with it *now* (3, Insightful)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about a year ago | (#44028097)

Once the word is out this database exists, other uses will be found for it, either by the NSA or by other organizations. History has proven that once data exists, people will use it any way they want to.

They can be almost as effective if they only start monitoring those phone numbers that are correlated to "terrorism" because they get dialed by a foreign terrorist. They'd miss "historical data" but I doubt the effectiveness of that will weigh up to the giant loss of privacy people suffer because their "metadata" gets stored.

Nobody has even proven the effectiveness of this sort of measures against terrorism, it costs billions and the elected government is spying on the people that elected them in the first place. If you, as a politician, don't trust the people that voted for you, your democracy as a country is in serious trouble.

Re:Thats what *they* do with it *now* (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year ago | (#44028581)

History has proven that once data exists, people will use it any way they want to.

I think you've hit the biggest danger right there. The police have databases to look up the names and addresses for license plates. Abuse of that system is chronic. Everyone seems to know a friend who can look up license plates.

Access to this phone record database will develop the same way. First one government organization will really need access, then another, and so on . . .

. . . and fairly soon a lot of folks will be able to get a list of who their ex-wives, business partners, etc. are talking with on the phone.

uh huh (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year ago | (#44028113)

When a number comes out of that lock box, it's just a phone number — no names, no addresses," he said. "If they think that's relevant to their counterterrorism investigation, they give that to the FBI. Then upon the FBI has to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is.

Because doing a reverse phone lookup isn't possible until they have a court order right?
http://www.whitepages.com/reverse_phone [whitepages.com]

What a joke.

I gave up a while back.. (3, Informative)

SuperCharlie (1068072) | about a year ago | (#44028115)

For around 3 years I posted regularly that this was coming, I warned everyone I could about this. I explained why it was important. I was called tinfoil hat, I was humiliated, I was belittled and I was told I was a moron. I gave up. I dont care. Its too late and guess what.. it only takes the APPEARANCE of 51% of the sheep to keep this ball of hell chugging along. Screw every one of you who said "if youre not doing anything wrong.." and "there is no way they have that much control" and the myriad other excuses to get back to American Idol. Screw. You.

Re:I gave up a while back.. (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about a year ago | (#44028375)

For around 3 years I posted regularly that this was coming, I warned everyone I could about this. I explained why it was important. I was called tinfoil hat, I was humiliated, I was belittled and I was told I was a moron.

You were called those names because it's such a bad scenario it's like saying "The President sacrifices babies which survived abortion procedures on an altar under his desk in the Oval Office". You need proof before people will believe something this bad. Now we're getting proof, but unfortunately, you've inoculated some people such that they now need more proof than they originally would have because they still emotionally equate "belief in government tracking of all phone data" with tinfoil-hatism, even if they no longer rationally equate the two.

Re:I gave up a while back.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028381)

Well my curmudgeonly friend, if you made the issue more about yourself than the issue like you're doing now, I can't really blame them for not listening.

So what will you contribute further to the discussion that's useful, perhaps more than brandishing your cane about?

The "just a number" can be de-anonymized easily (4, Interesting)

gweihir (88907) | about a year ago | (#44028117)

Nice how they left out that little fact. In many cases a simple Google search will already be enough. Where that fails, use the customer database of the phone service provider. I expect lifting the anonymity from a number will take significantly less than a minute, possibly less than a second.

This is classical lying by omission. It builds of the lack of understanding of the common person. De-anonymizing metadata is an easy and cheaply solvable and well understood problem.

To recap (5, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44028123)

  • They did it but it was necessary.
  • They didn't do it.

  • Well, OK they did.
  • But they only looked at 300 numbers and Oh yeah, we've been meaning to mention for 4 years it helped us stop something that might have attacked the NY subway (or not).

i feel safer already (3, Insightful)

ArcadeX (866171) | about a year ago | (#44028141)

knowing there is a 'secret court' reviewing every 90 days....

Re:i feel safer already (2)

Bucc5062 (856482) | about a year ago | (#44028387)

Out of the myriad issues with this topic, this is the one that bothers me the most. First, if we are aware of it then it is not secret any more. Just the idea of "secret" and "court" send warning bells up. Why do we need secret courts? What else do they do? Are they even constitutional (6th I believe) since the accused may not ever get to face the accuser.

In the fight over terrorism we, The People, have systematically dismantled the very foundations that this country was founded on. We cry out "Justice" while denying due process. We cry out "Freedom" when we silence many. We fight for "Truth", but accept the lies like candy. There should be no secret Court. There should be no absolute trust in a Government and the best way to fight terrorism, is with an informed, not cowed populous, The safest I ever felt flying after 9/11 was three weeks after the event and before the TSA. I knew, boarding that plane there were 90-120 people who hearing the words "This is a hijacking" would have crowd-sourced the man to the floor.

I accept that there are secrets and I can accept that even Governments need to keep them for a time, but not when it deals with Justice, with Constitutional rights.

Of course they did (3, Funny)

1_brown_mouse (160511) | about a year ago | (#44028151)

Bet they cured cancer and helped a little old lady across the street too.

Re:Of course they did (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028523)

Beat cancer and help old ladies?

I believe they help cancer and beat old ladies. Because cancer does not have a purse with Dihydrogen Monoxid inside!!! SICK OLD LADIES!

Interesting word, "probe." (3, Interesting)

MAXOMENOS (9802) | about a year ago | (#44028161)

They claim to have a list of millions of phone numbers, against which they only checked 300 numbers last year.

I want to know what criteria they used to generate that list of millions of phone numbers.

More precisely, I want to know what criteria they used to build the training data sets to train the classifiers that filtered through all our communications metadata (and probably our communications content data as well) in order to generate that list.

What are they looking for? How do they say that a phone call goes into the training set or stays out? That's what I want to know; not the details of Snowden's sex life or whatever the media are pushing now.

That's all real nice (3, Insightful)

Trailer Trash (60756) | about a year ago | (#44028175)

But it still doesn't make it legal.

Secrets keeping secrets (4, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | about a year ago | (#44028189)

We take the business records by a court order, and it's just phone numbers — no names, no addresses — put it in a lock box,

And who controls the key to this so called lock box? What accountable party keeps them from unauthorized use? The FISA court isn't accountable. Neither is the administration or congress since they do not publish their findings. By what method does the public find out about abuses of this system?

Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records .

Big deal. Nobody calls these days anyway. What about the rest of the phone meta-data? Emails? Text messages? Facebook? Twitter?

both NSA programs are reviewed every 90 days by the secret court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

So we have a secret program with secret directives reviewed by a secret court whose findings are secret. Gee, why am I not reassured? [/sarcasm]

Re:Twitter (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | about a year ago | (#44028427)

What about the rest of the phone meta-data? Emails? Text messages? Facebook? Twitter?

We should leave twitter off such a list - it's explicitly public anyway. Anyone on earth could create a database of tweets.

cold fjord returns... (3, Informative)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year ago | (#44028191)

...to gush loving, glowing praise over unchecked, jackbooted authority like a Twihard over (Edward/Jacob) once again.

You can't trust anything the NSA says at all. They have everything to gain by lying their asses off and nothing to lose. Assume they're intercepting and recording anything (which personally, I'm pretty sure they're doing) and don't assume that there are any limitations to their access to that info. If you buy any of the backpedaling that's been coming out in the last few days, much of it submitted to Slashdot by cold fjord...well I have a bridge you might be interested in.

Even if this article describes the access interface of some analyst at some agency...all the info is still there, your privacy was still violated.

Re:cold fjord returns... (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#44028425)

Maybe he's part of their 'reputation management' team. Lord knows they could use some. It seems to be working. Effective outrage is absent.

Remeber . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028215)

. . . it is not that these statements are false, they are just the least un-truthful statements that can be made about the program.

"On a mountain halfway between Reno and Rome, we have a machine in a plexiglas dome which listens an looks into everyone's home"
-Dr. Seuss

Missing the point... (5, Interesting)

Fished (574624) | about a year ago | (#44028225)

The point is not what the NSA has done with the information. The point is what they could do. Having "legally" (I use the term advisedly) obtained all this information on every American, they could now use it for any nefarious purpose. Having done so in secret, they hardly seem trustworthy.

I'm old enough to remember the days when we posted garbage at the end of messages for the "NSA line eater." Time to do that again.

Re:Missing the point... (1)

SuperCharlie (1068072) | about a year ago | (#44028393)

I think the algorithms are good enough to side-step any tag-line comments.. I think that the only hope at this point is a massive DOS type deal where masses of people generate copious quantities of data... something along the lines of gigs/day/person. Im not sure how that would be implemented or what the data might contain, but if they are capturing and storing everything I would think you could over-run the bucket with enough give-a-shit. Problem is.. average joe really dosent give a shit.

How is this not "sweeping"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028265)

" the intelligence officials said in arguing that the programs are far less sweeping than their detractors allege"

Wait a second. So, they do hoover up every single phone record in the country, put it in a big database, and then run highly specific queries on it once they get a court order to do so?

Even if they have the most secure and careful setup imaginable, the fact remains that they are still collecting all that information in one gigantic pile, exactly in the sweeping invasion of privacy that has people so alarmed, and they did it without properly consulting people about whether it was okay for the government to do so. I appreciate that they've *tried* to make the access to it very narrow, but it's still a recipe for abuse, especially when it is trivial to get plenty of other information the moment you have someone's phone number even if you aren't in law enforcement.

They're basically doing something that collects all this data that is ripe for abuse, and then saying "trust us". That it is collected all in one spot is alarming.

Do the ends justify the means? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028277)

I guess they do. Thanks for settling that. Now we can all get on with our lives. /sarc.

The Zazi Lie (4, Informative)

Bob9113 (14996) | about a year ago | (#44028283)

The ... program helped the NSA stop a 2009 al-Qaida plot to blow up New York City subways.

That is at best an extreme exaggeration of the value of the cell phone records. I'm sure his data was in the database, and was probably accessed after he was discovered, but his plot was discovered as a result of monitoring that was (or easily would have been) warranted.

Wikipedia: Operation Pathway [wikipedia.org] :

On November 9 2009 The Telegraph reported that the operation produced the tip that lead American security officials to place Najibullah Zazi under investigation. British security officials were reported to have intercepted an email from a Pakistani planner to Najibullah Zazi containing instructions on how to conduct his attack.

The Telegraph: British Spies / Zazi [telegraph.co.uk] :

The alleged plot was unmasked after an email address that was being monitored as part of the abortive Operation Pathway was suddenly reactivated.

Operation Pathway was investigating an alleged UK terrorist cell but went awry after the then Met Police counter-terrorism head Bob Quick was pictured walking into Downing Street displaying top secret documents.

Eleven Pakistani suspects were arrested immediately after the gaffe but later released without charge.

However, security staff continued to monitor the email address which eventually yielded results.

Their point is? (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44028289)

Officially they probed less than 300. In this one program. Which is all pointless if an agent can listen in on a conversation without a warrant and no alarm bells go off.

Remember . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028303)

...what is being said are the "least un-truthful" statements that can be made about the biggle ball program.

"on a mountain halfway between Reno and Rome we have a machine in a plexiglas dome which listens and looks into everyone's home"
-Dr. Seuss

But all the conversations are recorded and stored (2)

Squidlips (1206004) | about a year ago | (#44028317)

Although (supposedly) only few hundred are listened to, I suspect that ALL conversations are recorded and stored (to be recalled if needed).

"Just a phone number" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44028495)

It's almost as if Representative Rogers doesn't realize that a phone number is, and has been for 20+ years, a better identifier than your social security number or home address even. Like he doesn't realize that having a telephone number is practically synonymous with having a name and address--not just for the NSA, who presumably has easy access to this information, but for anyone with an internet connection and basic Google skills.

I'm not sure which is scarier--if he's faking this ignorance and speaking deceptively to an uninformed public, or if he actually is so unknowledgeable about something he's the chairman of.

It's unsurprising (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44028525)

The government keeps ignoring the fundamental problems of the programs and keeps insisting, "but, but, but...it's working!"
 
The question has never been "does it work?", but "does it violate the rights guaranteed by the constitution."

Yeah right.. (1)

Steve_Ussler (2941703) | about a year ago | (#44028543)

Nice claims...but zero trust...nothing to back it up with. FUD to the highest degree

"Only terrorism" (1)

mi (197448) | about a year ago | (#44028547)

Under the program, the records, showing things like time and length of call, can only be examined for suspected connections to terrorism

It just seems wasteful to limit the data-use to counter-terrorism only. After all, far more people die from drunk driving than from terrorism. How long until the program is expanded to search for clues on would-be drunk-driving? "Hey, buddy, I had a few too many — can you pick me up? No? Oh, well, I guess, I'll make it..."

Well, may be, not right a way. But surely searching for child molesters would be a worthy application of this system, wouldn't it? And ye "good old" rapists and murderers? And tax-evaders?.. Voila, pre-emptively recording conversations (or just meta-data about them) it is as common a crime-fighting tool as fingerprints or DNA-samples, which are already taken pre-emptively too.

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