I put Middle Earth Journal in hiatus in May of 2008 and moved to Newshoggers.
I temporarily reopened Middle Earth Journal when Newshoggers shut it's doors but I was invited to Participate at The Moderate Voice so Middle Earth Journal is once again in hiatus.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Go ahead caller, we're listening

Of course it's possible that the NSA will only tread within those narrow boundaries: but if that's so, why would our spooks need everyone's records? By asking only for the calls of suspected terrorists and their contacts, the agency could avoid the painful (and possibly illegal) tradeoff of handing over the telephonic fingerprints of millions of innocent Americans who never get within spitting distance of a malfeasant.
So says Steven Levy of Newsweek, talking about recent disclosures that the NSA is collecting the phone call records of everyone in the country to sniff out terrorist activity. His analysis of this program, including comments from Valdis Krebs, an expert on "social-network analysis," indicates that a massive database of every call placed by Americans may be both a huge waste of time and money and a violation of personal privacy, where a "bottoms up" approach could be far more efficient while being less invasive.
The NSA's historic request for the nation's phone logs signals a desire to perform massive "traffic analysis" of calls within the U.S.—an examination of who calls whom, when they call and for how long—to identify potential threats. This in turn is expected to be used for the kind of analysis that Krebs performed. But Krebs says you don't need the indiscriminate volume of phone records requested by NSA in order to perform effective social network analysis. The best way to snare the bad guys is to "go bottom up," he says, beginning with the bad guys, charting only the people in their circles and investigating from there.
The big danger, as Krebs sees it, is the vast number of "false positives" that you will get. Each of these will represent a government intrusion into the personal communications of an American with no terrorist ties, while tying up time, money and resources which could be used to go after the actual bad guys.

I don't find myself particularly alarmed by the phone company tracking who I'm calling and when. That's part of how they run the technical end of the system, and those records do need to be on hand for any legal government request (with a court order) for the purpose of finding criminals. As long as they aren't tapping the call and listening in to the actual content, I just can't get that worked up over it. However, it is a different matter for the government, without such an order, to be collecting this information constantly. First, it seems like a big waste of time. Plus, there is simply too much potential for abuse. With that information at their fingertips, the temptation exists for secretiveve government entity to figure out who is doing what for political advantage. That abuse potential appears to be far too great to justify the lack of payoff as described in Krebs' analysis above.

So when you pick up the phone, unless you use Qwest, remember... we're listening.

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