The NSA's New New Phone Database

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Woke up this morning to the following headline, emailed from Open Source‘s fifth Beatle, John Barth:

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren’t suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

Leslie Cauley, NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls, USA TODAY, May 10, 2006

The White House would not discuss the domestic call-tracking program. “There is no domestic surveillance without court approval,” said Dana Perino, deputy press secretary, referring to actual eavesdropping.

Leslie Cauley, NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls, USA TODAY, May 10, 2006

So this is different from the surveilled phone calls to foreign entities that we talked about last month. Judging from the USA TODAY article, it’s database of almost every phone call made in America. Every phone call.

The administration’s response hinges on the word “surveillance.” If they aren’t listening, but merely tracking whom you call, how often and when, what can they learn? Have you been calling a Lebanese bakery twice a week? Do you — as we do to book this show — regularly call the Middle East? Are you having an affair? Can this information, once collected, be used for something other than counter-terrorism? And how, exactly, is “data-mining” of every phone call in America going to reveal who is or might be a terrorist?

Patrick Radden Keefe

Writer and lawyer, author of Chatter

Ryan Singel

Reporter, Wired

Glenn Greenwald

Lawyer

Blogger, Unclaimed Territory – by Glenn Greenwald

Author, How Would a Patriot Act?, forthcoming

William Gibson

Novelist, author of Neuromancer

Coined the term “cyberspace”

It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret.

In the age of the leak and the blog, of evidence extraction and link discovery, truths will either out or be outed, later if not sooner. This is something I would bring to the attention of every diplomat, politician and corporate leader: the future, eventually, will find you out. The future, wielding unimaginable tools of transparency, will have its way with you. In the end, you will be seen to have done that which you did.

William Gibson, The Road to Oceania, The New York Times, June 25, 2003
Update from the comments thread, May 11, 3:36

I do research with others that do just this type of analysis, and let me tell you that what they need is a better understanding into the problem, and not more data. … As my own method of protest, I routinely state over the phone lines when talking to friends, especially if an international call, “Thermite, explosion, assination, Bin Laden, Get a FISA warrant you lazy bastard’’. If everybody did this then there simply would be no signal to lock in on.

oolitic, from comment to Open Source, May 11, 2006

In the wake of the net neutrality discussion, it’s nice to see that the major telecoms actually do like to work with the government.

FilkeeVT, from comment to Open Source, May 11, 2006

I’m not saying accumulating data isn’t useful. But I do think there comes a point when so much has been amassed, with so much of it irrelevant and distracting, that the sheer weight of it gets in the way of fast, flexible problem solving. …apart from the ethical dubiousness, I think a database of almost every domestic phone call would only serve to weigh down efficient and decisive action.

mynocturama, from comment to Open Source, May 11, 2006

Comments

77 thoughts on “The NSA's New New Phone Database

  1. Apart from the obvious privacy invasion issues, I wonder whether, putting myself in the position of those working to track terrorist activity, if such an immense, pedantic endeavor is even practical. Indeed, it may prove counterproductive. I recall a comparatively trivial, though perhaps relevant, anecdote from Malcolm Galdwell’s “Blink,” in which the task of deciding what jar of jam to buy at the store, looking at nutritional information, considering what flavor would be favored by your family, quantity and expense, etc…, can be actually undone by too much data, the consumer in effect overwhelmed and turned off by the surfeit of information. The situation works best when streamlined. Gladwell also gives a much more pressing and immediately relevant example of an expensive and very involved war simulation, in which the US military, having at hand huge amounts of data and analysis, ends up defeated by a rogue commando, working with minimal resources, unburdened by massive databases, relying only on the most important information and tactical creativity.

    I’m not saying accumulating data isn’t useful. But I do think there comes a point when so much has been amassed, with so much of it irrelevant and distracting, that the sheer weight of it gets in the way of fast, flexible problem solving. That’s really the main theme of Gladwell’s book, how our capacities both for problem solving and quick and decisive action are so often undermined by our tendency to privilege painful, pedantic, deliberate accumulation of data and detail. So, again, apart from the ethical dubiousness, I think a database of almost every domestic phone call would only serve to weigh down efficient and decisive action. Such a ridiculous behemoth can only end up impractical and counterproductive.

    Unless someone from the administration or the NSA stands up and makes a real case for this data-mining project, demonstrating persuasively how such an indiscriminate amassing of information can actually help track and capture terrorists, there are at least two fronts from which to condemn this, ethics and practicality, which end up finally, I think, informing one another.

  2. Sounds like busy work because they don’t know what else to do. Its frighteningly lame. Doesn’t give me any sense that we have competency in our intelligence agencies.

    We can we get real leadership with real problem solving skills?

  3. In the wake of the net neutrality discussion, it’s nice to see that the major telecoms actually do like to work with the government.

  4. It is conceivable that just the caller information alone could be used to aid research into programatically identifying social networks and the like, and could perhaps be analyzed postmortum after an attack to identify relevant parties.

    That said, I can not imagine how anyone would give _any_ program that was remotely associated with the executive branch even a small benefit of the doubt.

    I do research with others that do just this type of analysis, and let me tell you that what they need is a better understanding into the problem, and not more data.

    If it looks and smells like a fascist-jackboot invasion of privacy, then it likely is.

    As my own method of protest, I routinely state over the phone lines when talking to friends, especially if an international call, “Thermite, explosion, assination, Bin Laden, Get a FISA warrant you lazy bastard”. If everybody did this then there simply would be no signal to lock in on.

    Hope they have WiFi at Gitmo :-)

  5. KCRW’s To The Point aired a related show this morning (Pacific time morning, anyway):

    show for Thursday, May 11, 2006

    Domestic Surveillance

    The National Security Agency isn’t the only one keeping tabs on Americans. Since September 11, local and state police have received more than a half-billion dollars for intelligence operations. Thursday, on To the Point, will they protect civil rights and privacy or go back to spying on politicians, peace activists and animal rights groups?

    http://www.kcrw.com/cgi-bin/db/kcrw.pl?tmplt_type=program&show_code=tp

  6. This data is not being used to discover trends that would lead to the uncovering of suspected terrorist plots. That would indeed leave the government susceptible to accusations of incompetence.

    Let me offer an example of how this data will be used: The government puts together a huge database of every phone number and what phone numbers each of them has called, ever. No harm done right?

    But now the government determines that Joe Quaker is a potential Al Queada operative (for any reaseon including that he showed up at an anti-war rally) and they want to investigate who he has been calling, assuming that they too may be Al Queada. Rather than apply to a court for a subpeona for his telephone records, they simply look him up in the phone book, then take his phone number over to the NSA database and extract his phone records from there. Heck, if that isn’t enough to convict, simply take all those numbers and look up who they’ve called. According to the Small World Phenomenon it should take no more than 6 iterations to connect Mr. Quaker to an actual Al Queada operative.

  7. I had a nervous few months post 9/11 before I left the US in February 2002. I had received a phone bill in September that listed 2 calls to Afghanistan made in August sometime prior to 9/11. Each call was for only a few seconds. Not knowing anyone in Afghanistan at the time, I was about to call the phone company. Then on close inspection of the number (937221XX) – I discovered my error. 93 is the international dialling code for Afghanistan and the rest of the number (7221XX) was apparently functional because the calls had been answered. My parents number in New Zealand was 64-937221XX. I had obviously attempted to call them (twice) and forgot to insert the 64. A combination of my immigrant status, that I was in downtown NYC on 9/11 and these calls –I was half expecting a knock on the door. I am safely (?) 1000’s of miles away now.

  8. Listen, one can argue along the legal, moral, or technical angles here. But you need to be a little more prepared if you’re going after the technical angle.

    mynocturama:

    You missed on crucial aspect of Blink. The approach of Cook County Hospital to limit the input for diagnosing heart attacks was only possible after Dr. Goldman and his team did the exhaustive research on 482 patients and analyzing all of the possible indicators. Here’s the academic paper Gladwell cites.

    Furthermore, you cite Gladwell’s take on the “Red vs. Blue” war games, where the “Blue” coalition forces were outwitted by a resourceful general on the “Red” team who relied on his wits. Granted, the real war didn’t play out that way, but the lesson was that in the heat of battle, one can’t stop to run regression analyses. But the fine folks at Fort Meade aren’t in the heat of battle: they have the luxury of time to crunch through the numbers.

    oolitic, you said: “I do research with others that do just this type of analysis, and let me tell you that what they need is a better understanding into the problem, and not more data.”

    Who is “they” in this case? The “others that do just this type of analysis” or the NSA?

    I have much reason to doubt the NSA on its legal interpretations; but I have no reason to doubt them on mathematics. Furthermore one could argue that the use of signal intelligence (data mining) is merely overcompensating for the shortfalls of human intelligence (informants).

  9. You’re absolutely right Jon, they are overcompensating for the shortfalls or lack of human intelligence. They’ve build hundreds of wonderful websites around the verbal pratfalls President Curly has made. It’s the next phase new wave dance craze honey but it’s still politics as usual to me.

  10. Jon,

    You should be skeptical of the mathematics of the NSA! At least for their new challenges.

    They have a huge infrastructure for easedropping on Russia circa cold war, but now they have to reinvent themselves to be relavant for a totally different kind of world. A digital world where any rube can thwart detection.

    Social network analysis is totally in the infant stage with truely modest achievements. That doesn’t mean that me and my colleagues won’t promise the world to get federal monies to study it however :-)

    As far as SigInt being an overcompensation, I am not sure what you mean.

    Do you mean that with $300.00 and a BSc in computer science and you could completely flummox the NSA? If so I agree.

    NSA can do fabulous things with easedropping on regular telco lines, but in the digital world they are irrelevant dinosaurs.

    If they aren’t looking at the content of the calls (like they claim), then good luck with the other barren data landscape.

  11. I want to respond to William Gibson’s comment. “The age of the leak and the blog”? Well, blogs have been around for several years, but leaking is as old as the press. Neither blogs or leaks uncover secret information; people do.

    Last week, Jack Shafer wrote in his column about some of the natural consequences of the Bush administration snubbing its nose at the press: “Starve them and they may well go prospecting for news in the vast bureaucracy where White House feeders aren’t in control.”

    The press is still good for something.

  12. oolitic, employee of “Charles River Analytics develops custom intelligent systems for a number of government, defense, intelligence and commercial customers.”

    Ok, I’ll cut you a little more slack.

    But again, I still doubt that the NSA algorithms trip up over the obvious words like Jihad, Queda, and bababooey. I saw a very cool demo of Attensity’s Text Analyics two weeks ago which can help figure out what code words suspects are using.

  13. OMG – I forgot that was in my title!

    My daughter must have posted while I was in the bathroom.

    These kinds of surveillance activities are really quite straightforward as long as sufficient monies are channeled to small research companies in the Bay State. :-)

  14. Could it be that AT&T, et. al. were given sub rosa assurances that no prosecutions would make it through the Justice Dept. nor through the congress? Why did only Qwest balk at this? Surely they were given the same “get out of jail free card?”

  15. plaintext: according to the USA Today article, Qwest demanded a FISA order. The other companies felt moved by patriotism, duty, and the path of least resistance. And prosecutions don’t make it through the congress… and civil suits don’t need the Justice department.

  16. Jon,

    Thanks for the link — interesting. BBN also does some amazing speaker recognition stuff that is also very impressive.

    Once you have an unencrypted stream the problem is much easier, but what do you do with the encrypted VOIP like http://www.skype.com and others?

  17. Justice has stepped in on both the EFF civil suit and the congressional testimony given earlier this year about the constitutionality of the eavesdropping. Unless congress appoints an independent prosecutor which the assurance that at least some testimony will not be covered by executive privilege or national security.

  18. oolitic: good question on Skype! Let’s hope that the producers bring this to the attention of the guests tonight.

    I was at BBN years ago, and I heard they are doing searching of podcast content. Note that the way Attensity’s technology, when they heard some terrorism suspects planning a “barbecue” for several weeks (and didn’t go into the merits of gas vs. charcoal, or who was bringing the cole slaw), they figured that the barbecue was code word for something nepharious. That’s data mining for you.

  19. In terms of what the data might be useful for, or how it would work, three contemporary works of fiction are interesting: the TV shows Alias, 24, and Numb3rs. In Alias and 24 all sorts of amazing tracing of links turn up locations and people that drive the plot – sorta plausible, but for someone who has collected and tried to process the data when I know what is going on, those guys are genious or fictional. With Numb3rs we have an interesting cover for the process of data mining – various math geometry and operations research (or is the preferred name information) theories.

    Now those are the mechanisms, but for the purpose, use, and misuse, we can look to 1984 perhaps, but I would say that Asimov’s Foundation series is the earliest major work touches on the topic. Behind the major up from plot line was a secret group of psychohistorians that were analyzing massive amounts of data and then predicting the crucial inflection points and then manipulating those events to change the future.

    So, that is my scifi contribution.

    As to the legal rational and stuff, my suggestion is to start a semi-secret search for a Rovian cross between whats-his-name the dirty trickster for working in the Whitehouse after the almost certain Democrat is elected. His task would be to find the connections between the people who are calling the 700 club, and who they talk to, the people calling the right to life groups, the baptists, and whatever, to find out who the key influencer is for the largest number of these people and have them fed lies and distortions that will cause the “enemy” to react negatively to the Republicans trying to regain power.

    This is a cross between Numb3rs and the Foundation series psychohistory manupulating things at the inflection points. Of course, Gibson certainly has some examples as well, I’m not that familar with his work (sorry) and can’t lay it out.

  20. As fascinating as the information science may be, the issue is one of civil rights and the government’s or other entities’ ability to gather potentially incriminating information about private citizens. Wether by doing so they are able then to predict weather patterns over Cuba is irrelevant.

  21. I really don’t see this as a big deal. I would assume that phone companies sell this data to each other or others for a free.

    This would be similar to how medical insurance and treatment information is shared by companies.

    The sharing of medical information allows medical insurers to check on pre-insurance conditions and allows them to decline to insure someone with pre existing medical conditions.

    http://www.mib.com/html/about_us.html

  22. If someone does not go to jail after this administrations reckless and directed attack on our civil and legal rights, the conspericy theorist are right on the Mark.

    What does the Bush administration have to do before it is told told NO MORE. What will it take to wake up the citizens of this country.

    I’m flabbergasted………………..

  23. Every time you go to the store and swipe your customer card, big brother knows what you’ve purchased. Same goes for the banks/credit card companies.

    This information is then sold on to marketers and other interested companies.

    All this does is bring to light something that should have been kept quite. The old saying ‘loose lips sink ships’ needs to be kept in mind by NSA staff and journalists.

    Remeber in World War II that reporters never let out that President Roosevelt had polio and could hardly walk. Try pulling that off these days…

  24. MJC — welcome. We read you loud and clear, saw your earlier post, and I suppose this might make for a whole new show. William Gibson is talking about this right now, where we “assume” this. And you’re right, the story did emerge about how the wireless phone companies have sold their phone records.

    But I hope the guests tonight help us be concerned a little more.

  25. Are we now at a point where we are our the only stewards of our own privacy? That the government or anyone else finds no incentive or moral imperative to preserve this very basic tenet of humanity?

  26. I admire people’s ability to grant the government a level of benevolence regarding private information but I find it very difficult to ascribe them anything beyond incompetence but more likely something potentially sinister.

  27. Jon -

    There’s probably some clause in all of our phone bills (just like the one for MIB) which allows phone companies to sell our data, including who we call, how long, and when.

    So there probably isn’t a legal issue there.

    If you can imagine the size of a database/system required to tape all phone calls.. it isn’t happening.

    This ‘issue’ takes the focus off of issues which need to be addressed.

    Similar to Shumer’s outrage over Dubai Ports World followed by his outsourcing security to a company owned by DPW..

  28. MJC– Very well. The legal aspect would have been something to bring up with Greenwald, since he’s the lawyer who’s book is #1 on Amazon.

    e.g., in other news today, the investor tax cuts were extended.

    But, privacy of medical data deserves attention as well.

  29. listening to the telecom experts on most of the news talk shows today, i think there are laws that prevent sharing any phone data with out a warrant or subpeona… I think this maybe the straw that breaks the Bush administrations back……….

  30. twould be nice, but I’m feeling rather pessimistic after all the other scandals they’ve slipped the noose on.

    If you have access to Salon, Peter Daou wrote an essay on how we’re frogs in slow-boiling water. He correctly predicted how December’s NSA spying scandal would play out (or fade out, as it happened)

    Meanwhile, the next scandal is already looming, as The Left Coaster sees hints of prepositioning troops for a June attack on Iraq…

  31. Hi MJC,

    Well, not to claim that it would be a reasonable approach, but the modest hard drive on this computer would store 5 years of compressed voice calls, assuming podcast quality compression, and also assume that I do not spend more than an hour on the phone.

    Even using this relatively expensive medium, it clearly is possible to record all telephone conversations of every resident.

    Furthermore, they could just archive it, and review it later once they have decided who is naughty and nice.

    As far as other forms of information and not being worried about the telephone since much else is captured… I can’t say I really agree with you.

    For myself, in least to most sensitive information order (1) I eat skippy brand peanut butter and buy it 4 times a month, (2) I talk to Jane Smith down the street four times a week, and (3) I have a brain tumor.

    These all seem very different to me. Still, I would rather super-privacy for the individual but have no idea how we could collectively put the genie back in the bottle.

  32. When asking about why young people don’t seem to care that their conversations or internet use could be read or heard by others, I think you have to factor in a propensity for exhibitionism that is a growing trend in our youth. As a teacher and parent I first became aware of this in the 90ies. The “Girls Gone Wildâ€? sort of thing, is everywhere. There seems to be a new found excitement that comes with being seen. Teens and young adults are being conditioned to “feel” it’s not only normal, but something desired. What’s missing are the consequences. As parents and teachers we don’t help them to “feel” the consequences of their actions. We buffer them, protect them, or try to crush the behavior so that they don’t have to encounter natural responses. Perhaps we’re also becoming a bit numb to it – “the being seen”. What do we feel when we’re seen in compromising situations. Does shame still exist? Maybe all the teaching to say “thank youâ€? and “I’m sorryâ€? – without letting the child feel gratitude or sorrow is a key. I have always put forth that there will be a natural swing in the opposite direction eventually – once the dam of natural consequences bursts. But who will be ready to deal with the flood?

  33. Information about consumers is no longer stored in paper files (except the clinical information which is on paper at your doctor’s office!).

    If there are laws stopping telecom companies from selling data, why are there not laws stopping insurance companies from sharing claims information?

    If you have home insurance and make too many claims, your insurance company might drop you. When you try to find a new company, they know about your past claims?

    If you loose your medical coverage and have a serious illness, what happens when you try to apply for coverage with another insurer?

    Consumers don’t have access to data which can pinpoint the accuracy of what people assume about the insurance industry. Lawmakers should look into protecting consumers from this type of industry practice.

    You can argue both sides of the data argument. You need to weigh the cost/benefit of divulging this information and giving it to the media.

    I personally think it doesn’t do the country any good.

  34. Interesting, but I thought someone would comment on this:

    “As to the legal rational and stuff, my suggestion is to start a semi-secret search for a Rovian cross between whats-his-name the dirty trickster for working in the Whitehouse after the almost certain Democrat is elected. His task would be to find the connections between the people who are calling the 700 club, and who they talk to, the people calling the right to life groups, the baptists, and whatever, to find out who the key influencer is for the largest number of these people and have them fed lies and distortions that will cause the “enemyâ€? to react negatively to the Republicans trying to regain power.”

    I guess the idea of the president data mining all the phone calls to get re-elected is assumed…

  35. My thought is, why does the government need to know who I talk to on the telephone? I’m not concerned about the government linking me to terrorist organizations, at this time; but to me it is a bit like wanting to know everything that anyone checks out at the library, the only good it could possibly do is help someone on a fishing expedition. Right now the terrorists are considered middle eastern men, but what if the government decides that terrorists are anyone involved in environmentalism, or anyone who politically disagrees with President XYZ.

    I refuse to participate in the supermarket club cards. I figure they can track product sales through what goes off the shelf. The supermarket doesn’t need to know specifically that I bought Green Forest toilet paper. At least I have a choice of refusing to sign up for the card.

  36. the great thing about snooping is that there’s a built in punishment for the snooper. There are reasons to not look in someone else’s dirty laundary or underware drawer. There are things you don’t want to know (even for the government) I look forward to a time when the world (including our government) becomes more aware of the sheer number of law-breakers out there, and thus more tolerance is born. an impass… the war on drugs is a good example. Imagine if the DEA could calculate where the drug-dealers where! There’d be too many of them to prosecute! Maybe then, there’d be no choice but to decriminalize!

    Practically everyone breaks one or another law virtually every day. I think that means that we have too many laws, or that they are way too strict.

    BTW

    you guys should require less info to register. This info is going to be part of the government’s cache as well soon for all we know.

    -peace

  37. Is there another hour to do to follow up on this show?

    What’s the new angle and who would you want to hear from?

  38. Mary, I’d say this could easily be another “series.” Here are some ideas for you:

    1) “Technological Tyrannies.” – Was it William Gibson who mentioned that we have become immune to the tyrannical nature of technology in deference to the conveniences it affords us? Where does the trade-off – personal liberties vs. convenience – originate? Is this a psychological or social phenomena? Maybe the philsophy of Jacques Ellul can shed some light.

    2) “Politics of Apathy.” Bush and his party are at the nadir of their popularity and yet there is little public pressure for change. Could it be that the neocons are playing a brilliant game of Stonewall Attack. As imposing as it is debilitating for all but the most persistent, the opposition is thinned to a manageable extent, the remainder is subsequently undermined along highly customized lines. An interesting link

    3) “Realistic Defense to Terrorism.” Part of the success of the neocon revolution is the absence of a realistic defense strategy against terrorism. In a macarbre way, an unrealistic strategy involving much bloodshed and loss of liberty is seen as preferable to no strategy at all – something which worked quite well for many, many years prior to 2001. Is there any “new” thinking going on – NSA wiretapping notwithstanding and hardly new anyway.

  39. I haven’t read all of the other comments yet, so someone else may have already made the following observation, but I was somewhat dismayed to hear one of your guests make the suggestion that encrypting one’s email traffic is not a good idea because it makes it stand out from the background “white noise”, as one of you put it. In point of fact, many of those who are interested in privacy issues would tell you that if more people would encrypt all of their traffic, it would make it prohibitively expensive/time-consuming for NSA or anyone else to effectively deploy these broad-brush techniques of sweeping up massive reams of data in the hope of finding the golden nugget. The amount of computing power necessary to mine through plain-text communications looking for keywords, while certainly extensive, in no way compares to the amount that would be needed in order to overcome any decently strong encryption before the data mining can begin. This is a way that the average citizen can use the emerging technologies in their own favor, rather than having it used against them.

  40. First, I find it a little amusing that anyone assumes we live in a less than transparent culture/society/shared reality. Not in this day and age. And if you think we the people know everything the Washington Power Elite/entrenched bureaucracy/Military Industrial Complex knows and does, then you are sadly mistaken. So it goes.

    In 1999 by a voice vote, the US Senate authorized President Clinton’s adminstration and the NSA to do the exact kind of data-mining of phone records everyone is so troubled about today. Many feel this vote was just to get an “black-ops” activity on the public record. Something that had been going on for “years”.

    On top of that, in Dec. of last year the New York Times published the exact same information published by the USAToday.

    Manipulation and spin. A political tempest in a teapot. Look nothing up my sleeve. Disregard the man behind the curtain. Folks. It comes at you from both sides and in all directions.

  41. As other people have rightly mentioned. The NSA has not broken the law here. Furthermore, most sane people want the government doing this type of data analysis, especially these days. Polls are already starting to show how Americans support these types of pro-active anti-terrorist measures – be prepared to see Democratic politicians back down on this issue in the coming days too. Watch for it! Islamofascism poses the largest threat to civilization as we know it, and I, like most Americans, am glad our government “gets it”.

    Furthermore, the NSA has a long history… why are people over-reacting about it now, especially when you consider the *real* threats modern civilization faces today?

  42. mrkwst: “voice vote”? please be more specific – how about a link to the congressional record?

    joemo: “The NSA has not broken the law here” how about FISA? Or are we to take AG Gonzalez testimony (not under oath, BTW) as constitutional authority?

    mary: go for it – you got it girl – how can I help?

  43. Mary: The next show in the series has to be on Watching the Watchers. Yes, the question of apathy is important, and this would take us into education, consumerism, etc. But apathy is not new. What is more important is what those trying to protect the rights of the people and the democracy are doing, even if they are in the minority. Here is a good article for starters.

    http://chronicle.com/free/v52/i28/28a01801.htm

  44. Fascinating show. I came to the program prepared to indulge my sense of outrage over the latest assault on our freedoms by the Bush administration. This was in fact duly accomplished. But I also went away from the program with something I had not anticipated: the beginning realization that the phenomenon we learned of may represent a larger turning point in human history than simply the politics of the day. The idea that a record of our interactions may now be being created that will archive at least some aspects of all of our lives in considerable detail is simultaneously chilling and absolutely amazing. In a funny way it reminds me of how so many other major changes in civilization, be they the invention of sharp steel, atomic energy, etc. can be used for good or for evil. That such a huge database can now even be created ranks as a major change in our civilization. So far, though, its propensity to be used in dangerous ways dominates at least my own ability to conceptualize it. Will future generations view this differently?

  45. President Clinton signed into law the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994. After it was passed in both the House and Senate by a voice vote. The law was enacted “to make clear a telecommunications carrier’s duty to cooperate in the interception of communications for law enforcement purposes, and for other purposes.” The act made clear that a court order isn’t the only lawful way of obtaining call information, saying, “A telecommunications carrier shall ensure that any interception of communications or access to call-identifying information effected within its switching premises can be activated only in accordance with a court order or other lawful authorization.”

  46. It seems to me that the primary problem is one of trust. Do you trust the government to act in your best interests with this information. Do you trust a leader who refused to divulge information about his own national service during the presidetial election, and who managed to have crushed those who attempted to air it out; whose presidency is marred by false information about WMDs, who appears to be surrounded by those who take personal advantage of their position for wealth and power; and on and on? If you trust this leader then you have no problem with the gathering of private information. If you do not, or if you are concerned about future leaders being the recipients of private information, then you do not want them to have this power. Who do you trust?

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