Friday, February 03, 2006

The ACLU's estimate of NSA activity

So what's the NSA up to that Bush couldn't use the FISA courts? The current consensus is that the most controversial things they're doing are:

1. Using messaging metadata and algorithmic analysis to target individuals for wiretaps that would otherwise not be identified.
2. Applying wiretaps to the individuals identified via #1 based on evidence (algorithmic ratings) that, by itself, would be very insufficient to justify a wiretap.

If you listen to what Bush says, he focuses on the intercepts, not on the legality of how the intercepts were selected.

The upshot of this is they're probably monitoring a lot of journalists, and a lot of family members of the true targets. They may learn interesting things in the monitoring of journalists, such as the identity of anyone in the government, NSA, or CIA who's blabbing about the NSA's programs.

The ACLU fills in the details:
American Civil Liberties Union : Eavesdropping 101: What Can The NSA Do?

Data mining is a broad dragnet. Instead of targeting you because you once received a telephone call from a person who received a telephone call from a person who is a suspected terrorist, you might be targeted because the NSA's computers have analyzed your communications and have determined that they contain certain words or word combinations, addressing information, or other factors with a frequency that deviates from the average, and which they have decided might be an indication of suspiciousness. The NSA has no prior reason to suspect you, and you are in no way tied to any other suspicious individuals %u2013 you have just been plucked out of the crowd by a computer algorithm's analysis of your behavior.
If we don't put a stop to this, we will pay a very high price. I really do believe that, at the moment, the Bush administration is a greater threat to our future than al Qaeda (in large part, of course, because the non-Iraq part of the 'War on Terror' did make sense and al Qaeda appears to be both weak and to have a very thin bench team).

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