Big Data Surveillance Is Real Purpose of Huge NSA Phone Record Sweep

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-06-06 Print this article Print

But there's one other thing I learned at that cyber-security conference. When organizations are studying cyber-security, they go to great lengths to clean the data of personally identifiable information so the data can be shared. The value of the data doesn't change and the information gleaned doesn't change, but then the sharing becomes legal.

That's not the case with the information the NSA is collecting. While the information is being securely stored in a huge database, it still remains tied to each phone number that was party to the conversation. This is necessary because the patterns of terrorist activity would be more difficult to discern if they were anonymous. But that also means that another agency with access to the data can mine it specifically to see who communicated with whom.

What this means is that if the FBI really wanted to see who perpetrated those information leaks to news organizations that the Obama administration is freaking out about, the FBI can possibly mine this same data to find out. And while such a use may technically require a warrant, the court order produced by a secret judge in a secret court may be all the justification that the Bureau thinks it needs. What this means is that while the NSA almost certainly doesn't care about you, the FBI might and they can get to the data, too.

It's this secrecy and the lack of public examination that bothers privacy advocates the most. The Center for Democracy and Technology is expressing its outrage. "This is a massive abuse of the Patriot Act," said CDT President Leslie Harris in a prepared statement on the organization's Website. "The NSA is collecting the telephone call records of Americans who have nothing to do with terrorism or terrorists, and who pose no threat to U.S. national security."

But this is one of those situations where the current administration seems to be relishing the power that it inherited from previous administrations and is loath to give it up. Despite the outrage that then-Senator Barack Obama expressed when the earlier NSA scandal was revealed, he seems to be in no hurry to express it again.

Worse, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has apparently never turned down a request to obtain records, seems to have given the Obama administration a strong grasp on a new source of power that it's not about to relinquish. Clearly, it's not the NSA you have to worry about. It's the people you elected.


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