Sunday, August 04, 2013

EITHER STOP COLLECTING ALL THAT DATA OR LET ANYONE WITH A VALID WARRANT HAVE IT

The New York Times reports this today:
The National Security Agency's dominant role as the nation's spy warehouse has spurred frequent tensions and turf fights with other federal intelligence agencies that want to use its surveillance tools for their own investigations, officials say.

Agencies working to curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement complain that their attempts to exploit the security agency's vast resources have often been turned down because their own investigations are not considered a high enough priority, current and former government officials say.

Intelligence officials say they have been careful to limit the use of the security agency's troves of data and eavesdropping spyware for fear they could be misused in ways that violate Americans' privacy rights....
Wait -- what? The NSA is collecting all this information, but its use by other agencies might violate Americans' privacy rights? As if the collection itself is perfectly harmless to Americans' privacy rights, and the opening up of the data vault on the basis of warrants by a rubber-stamp secret court is also perfectly harmless, but allowing access to the data on the basis of other kinds of warrants, obtained via procedures that aren't secret and are subject to real scrutiny, would be a real problem?

Other agencies do get access sometimes, but they have to demonstrate that what they ant the information for is terrorism-related, and sometimes they're denied even then:
Smaller intelligence units within the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have sometimes been given access to the security agency's surveillance tools for particular cases, intelligence officials say.

But more often, their requests have been rejected because the links to terrorism or foreign intelligence, usually required by law or policy, are considered tenuous....

At the drug agency, for example, officials complained that they were blocked from using the security agency's surveillance tools for several drug-trafficking cases in Latin America, which they said might be connected to financing terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere....
I say screw it. Either you're violating our privacy by hoovering all this information up or you aren't. Hoovering it up and stamping it "FOR THE PREVENTION OF TERRORISM ONLY" (or, more likely, "FOR USES APPROVED BY THE NSA ONLY, BECAUSE WE LOVE FIGHTING TURF BATTLES") doesn't make the hoovering any less intrusive.

If you're going to collect all this, make it accessible to anyone with a valid warrant. I say that after hearing this story on the radio yesterday:
Monday, the FBI announced the success of a three-day, multicity child sex trafficking operation. The seventh and largest of its kind, the raid recovered 106 teenagers and arrested 152 pimps. Aged 13 to 17, almost all of the young people found were girls.

... The trade itself is not new, but the digital age is changing the tactics used by both pimps and law enforcement.

John Ryan is CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children...

"Up until about five years ago, sex trafficking of both adults and children were occurring in traditional venues, like street corners and alleys, bus stops," he tells NPR's Jacki Lyden. "The Internet has changed all that, particularly through social media platforms."

Sifting through those online channels was critical to the recent operation. During the FBI raids, the organization's office functioned like a command center, analyzing data gathered from the Internet....
I bet NSA data could have been beneficial in this case, at least if some of the relevant information went through offshore Web sites and servers. Is terrorism the worst thing in the world? I'm sorry, but I think it's a photo finish in a race between, say, the Boston bombing and the ongoing violent sexual exploitation of hundreds of teenagers for profit.

I think NSA data collection is out of control. But either curtail it or use allow access to it by any agency with a warrant that can do a serious amount of good with it.

8 comments:

Victor said...

What Steve M. said!!!

They'd get better PR for their snooping, too.

duffandnonsense said...

Tricky, this one, very tricky! It's one of those 'multi-handed' problems, you know, on the one hand this but on the other hand that, or there again, on yet another hand the other.

It seems obvious to me that all governments needs must collect information on their people otherwise government would cease to operate. As our host suggests, the essence of the problem is what is done with the information. If it is confined to the pursuit of criminal activities (using 'criminal' in the widest sense) then I can see no objection. The danger lies in when the information is used for investigating *social*, or perhaps, *anti-social* activities, by which I mean, activities that the government doesn't care for or support. The current IRS imbroglio is a case in point.

Thus, the way in which warrants are checked and approved is absolutely critical.

flipyrwhig said...

Wait, what? Isn't the chief privacy concern about the NSA surveillance that it might snap up information on Americans, which it can't by law? But it seems like you're now saying you'd rather have them snap up everything and share it? But that would clearly be far, far worse for privacy and would eliminate the firewall between foreign intelligence and domestic. What am I missing?

Steve M. said...

But thy already are snapping up a fir amount of information on Americans.

flipyrwhig said...

But by law they can't keep it, have to follow "minimization," etc. Sure, you can make a case that government agencies might as well stop that distinction between domestic and foreign, sweep up even more information, and then make it available under the terms of court orders, but privacy advocates would (rightfully) be pissed as hell, because that would go way beyond anything that's currently taking place. I really liked your point earlier in the week about how this is probably happening because it seems "cool" rather than because it works, but this piece strikes me as rather inconsistent with nearly everything else you've written since the story broke.

Steve M. said...

Yeah, maybe.

Joseph Nobles said...

But I get Steve's point. It's the natural consequent of having that huge database: why not out it to better use? This is the real slippery slope, and let some hypocritical fuckheads like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz get control of it (or anyone who feels beholden to them) and down the safeguards will come. Rand's cool with droning a liquor store robber coming out of the store. What wouldn't his kind do with the NSA database? Or pretend they could pull out of it on their political enemies?

Burn that facility down and salt the earth.

Paul Canning said...

According to this guy a laser focus on 'privacy' is impacting national security. He makes a very logical case.

He seems to be alone in worrying about this. Why that worry isn't at least somewhere in this 'debate' should concern people don't you think?