Friday, June 28, 2013

Is the NSA actually accomplishing anything?

I am somewhat embarrassed to relate that I am only just now wondering whether the NSA collection of phone information--and this would include the Bush era collection of calls made to foreign phone numbers that (unlike the Obama program) has semi-plausible protection in the 4th Amendment--actually is of use in fighting terrorism.  Now the NSA is claiming "dozens" of plots have been detected using this method, but that's not the right question.  The question is whether plots are detected in a way that other methods would have missed.  So let's do a little thought experiment.

Here's the Obama (and Bush) method; find a suspected terrorist, get a warrant for his phone records, pull them from the NSA database.  If the numbers are interesting, go to Ma Bell with another warrant to identify the numbers called.

Now here's the method Ma Bell has offered since the beginning of phone service a century ago: find a suspected terrorist, get a warrant for his phone records, pull them from Ma Bell's (or Verizon's) database.  It will also have--unlike the NSA database--clear indication of who was called in most cases, and if my online payments are indicative, it's on the screen within a minute.

In short, it appears that the NSA and its handlers never once did a basic process flow map to realize that the system Ma Bell has offered for a century actually offers better tracking of terrorists than the system they're spending billions of dollars to create.   Fourth Amendment issue, yes, but an even bigger issue is that the NSA is apparently being run by people who don't know how to think.

Update: in related silliness, apparently Dodd-Frank authorized the collection of five million sets of spending records from credit agencies and others--information that has been readily available from lenders for "only" about fifty years.  Of course, we are promised that nobody would ever connect the information to the borrower through the use of birthdate and census block number. 

It's time to send a note to your Congressman and Senators and ask them to stop this stupidity.  It's an affront to the 4th Amendment, as well as a colossal waste of money.

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