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United States Government Privacy

Officials Say NSA Probed Fewer Than 300 Numbers - Broke Plots In 20 Nations 419

Posted by samzenpus
from the time-to-justify dept.
cold fjord writes "Yet more details about the controversy engulfing the NSA. From CNET: 'Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, explained how the program worked without violating individuals' civil rights. "We take the business records by a court order, and it's just phone numbers — no names, no addresses — put it in a lock box," Rogers told CBS News' "Face The Nation." "And if they get a foreign terrorist overseas that's dialing in to the United Sates, they take that phone number... they plug it into this big pile, if you will, of just phone numbers — it's like a phonebook without any names and any addresses with it — to see if there's a connection, a foreign terrorist connection to the United States." "When a number comes out of that lock box, it's just a phone number — no names, no addresses," he said. "If they think that's relevant to their counterterrorism investigation, they give that to the FBI. Then upon the FBI has to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is."' From the AP: ' ... programs run by the National Security Agency thwarted potential terrorist plots in the U.S. and more than 20 other countries — and that gathered data is destroyed every five years. Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records ... the intelligence officials said in arguing that the programs are far less sweeping than their detractors allege.... both NSA programs are reviewed every 90 days by the secret court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under the program, the records, showing things like time and length of call, can only be examined for suspected connections to terrorism, they said. The ... program helped the NSA stop a 2009 al-Qaida plot to blow up New York City subways.'"
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Officials Say NSA Probed Fewer Than 300 Numbers - Broke Plots In 20 Nations

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  • by kthreadd (1558445) on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:51AM (#44027947)

    That's not the problem. Just tell people what you're doing. Make sure that it's legal and ethical. Don't be shy of what you're doing. Then we might accept it.

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:56AM (#44027987)

      Yup, the reason this is interesting is the secret courts and total lack of transparency.

      There is no reason the court can't be open. If you need to hide the number/person you are getting a warrant against the same procedures used to hide the identities of children from the press can be used. Just use John Doe Number X or 555-555-55XX for the number. Making it secret sure looks like they are hiding something illicit.

    • by tgd (2822) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:02AM (#44028049)

      That's not the problem. Just tell people what you're doing. Make sure that it's legal and ethical. Don't be shy of what you're doing. Then we might accept it.

      Well, to be fair, telling people what you're doing makes doing it pretty useless when "what you're doing" is covert surveillance.

      • by sjbe (173966) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:40AM (#44028437)

        Well, to be fair, telling people what you're doing makes doing it pretty useless when "what you're doing" is covert surveillance.

        Hardly. You and I are both well aware that our police regularly do covert surveillance of suspected criminals. The fact that they do so is public knowledge and we are fine with that. While it is sometimes necessary to temporarily hide the tactical details of a specific surveillance, it is not necessary to hide the existence of the program to do so or to hide the findings of such surveillance indefinitely. Furthermore the authorization for such surveillance is overseen by reasonably transparent judicial review, it typically limited in scope and time frame and the results of the surveillance are revealed to the public in due course.

        The NSA on the other hand has a system where they have a secret program, with secret directives, overseen by a secret court, whose findings are kept secret. Though many suspected the NSA was conducting surveillance of some sort, the very existence of this program was kept secret from the public. At no point in this system does the public have any means by which to be notified of abuses of this system. The entire progress is treated as a secret and hidden effectively forever from public scrutiny. No reasonable person has a problem with the idea of our government looking for bad guys but the methods used matter greatly and not all methods are acceptable. This is EXACTLY like the end of the movie "A Few Good Men" where the government is screaming at us that we can't handle the truth and that they do not have to explain themselves to us. Cheesy as that sounds, it is a perfect analogy to what is going on here.

    • by coId fjord (2949869) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:05AM (#44028075)

      Transparency isn't the only problem. Freedom and privacy are simply more important than security. If freedom or privacy must be sacrificed (and that's a dubious claim), I don't want whatever you offer.

      • by DrEldarion (114072) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:28AM (#44028323)

        YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you. You can't really expect the government to stop doing these things when so many people support it.

        See: http://www.people-press.org/2013/06/10/majority-views-nsa-phone-tracking-as-acceptable-anti-terror-tactic/ [people-press.org]

        The internet can be like an echo chamber, especially in places like Slashdot where a lot of like-minded people come together. With all the outrage that you see, it's easy to be blind to the reality of the situation.

        You need to work on changing the minds of the public, then maybe you'll see changes in the government.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you.

          It doesn't matter what they think. The Constitution is designed to protect the individual from the idiocy of the masses. If they have a problem with that, then they are more than welcome to amend the Constitution. But they'll need a 2/3's majority which they simply don't have, so they try to find ways to wiggle around those protections.

        • YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you.

          We don't have a direct democracy, but a representative republic. Furthermore, the government is supposed to be bound by the constitution, and as such, it does not matter how many people want the government to violate it.

          Well, it doesn't work out that way in practice. You're right that the public at large will have to stop being cowardly morons before anything will actually change.

          it's easy to be blind to the reality of the situation.

          I am not blind; I am well aware that many people are cowards.

        • by Triv (181010) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:53AM (#44028611) Journal

          That poll is flawed.

          If you ask Americans if they're okay with the government tapping the phones of Americans for national security, 56% say yes, but if you ask them if they're okay with the government tapping the phones of ORDINARY Americans for national security, that number flips to 58% opposing it.

          The way it was worded and due to the weird ways people make assumptions about the authority of the people asking polls, most people assume that the feds were only tapping the phones of bad guys.

        • YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you. You can't really expect the government to stop doing these things when so many people support it.

          Cute. Of course people respond wildly differently depending on exactly what question is being asked. "Do you support killing terrorists?" will get a much higher positive response than "Do you support violating your civil rights so that we can kill terrorists more easily?" I can find surveys with just slightly different phrasing of the questions that will have much different results. Don't get too excited by one survey with misleading results. Some people support using torture too but that doesn't make

        • by BlueStrat (756137) on Monday June 17, 2013 @10:11AM (#44028823)

          YOU say that, but the majority of the US, who these officials represent, serve, and are employed by, disagree with you. You can't really expect the government to stop doing these things when so many people support it.

          See: http://www.people-press.org/2013/06/10/majority-views-nsa-phone-tracking-as-acceptable-anti-terror-tactic/ [people-press.org]

          The internet can be like an echo chamber, especially in places like Slashdot where a lot of like-minded people come together. With all the outrage that you see, it's easy to be blind to the reality of the situation.

          You need to work on changing the minds of the public, then maybe you'll see changes in the government.

          How was that poll conducted, as in what question was actually asked?

          There's a huge difference between:

          "Do you think the NSA should secretly monitor phones to catch terrorists?"

          To which most people would say "Yes, monitor their (the terrorist's) phones."

          And:

          "Do you think the NSA should secretly monitor everyone's phone and permanently store the data in case it's needed to catch terrorists?"

          To which most people would say "Hell no, get a warrant!"

          As far as the claims and promises being made as reported in TFS/TFA, too late. Too many officials have obviously lied over and over. NSA, FBI, Benghazi, IRS, F&F, etc. There is no trust, nor any logical reason for trust, given their track record on honesty and truthfulness. If they said "water is wet" I'd have to see the results of multiple scientific studies by multiple independent and prestigious international sources. And I'd still have doubts given who we're talking about.

          Strat

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by gr8_phk (621180)

        Transparency isn't the only problem. Freedom and privacy are simply more important than security. If freedom or privacy must be sacrificed (and that's a dubious claim), I don't want whatever you offer.

        If you take them at their word, no freedom or privacy is being lost. Just remember the phone company already has these records and if it's legal they're trying to monetize the data already. The issue is that such a system has enormous potential for abuse. I'm actually more interested in how they control use o

        • Just remember the phone company already has these records and if it's legal they're trying to monetize the data already.

          That isnt relevant to the legality of it.

          If a cop wants access to your papers, "just remember that you already have these records"... but the 4th amendment blocks the government from gaining access to them without a warrant.

          I suppose a company might voluntarily disclose their records, but I think that creates all sorts of other issues.

      • by It doesn't come easy (695416) * on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:37AM (#44028417) Journal
        I agree. An old saying, one I believe originated in World War 2 while fighting the Nazis: "The end results do not justify the means used". If the US government breaks the very laws they are responsible to uphold, then it is wrong, regardless of the results. A government that ignores its own laws when they are inconvenient is NOT a democracy and should not expect its citizens to uphold the law any more than they do.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      300 numbers? More like 300 million numbers. The government isn't efficient enough to stop 20 plots by checking only 300 numbers.

      • by Mitreya (579078)

        The government isn't efficient enough to stop 20 plots by checking only 300 numbers.

        These are the same 300 undercover people using NSA-issued phones in all 20 cases. You don't think they stopped any actual terrorist plots??

        If they had, they'd be advertising it like there is no tomorrow. Just like if TSA ever catches or stops an actual terrorist accidentally, I assume it will be in the news for months.

    • by icannotthinkofaname (1480543) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:13AM (#44028165) Journal

      Don't be shy of what you're doing.

      Isn't that what they tell us? "If you're doing nothing wrong, then you should have nothing to hide"?

      And then they decide that they should probably hide this massive surveillance program? :P

    • by Culture20 (968837)

      That's not the problem. Just tell people what you're doing. Make sure that it's legal and ethical. Don't be shy of what you're doing. Then we might accept it.

      No. Some people will never accept it because a massive database is being made which can easily be used for other purposes like identifying Joe Schmoes who are likely politically against the administration du jour and using that info to harass them with IRS et al. The existence of a database like this is uneccessary as the Feds can subpoena duces tecum for the specific data needed for investigations already. The only purpose for a universal database like this is for trend-tracking or other misuse. If its

    • Or, to use an argument that NSA proponents have used, "If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about [by being more open about the program]."

      • By being open about this program, or any others, it shoots down the usefulness of these. As it is, I suspect that this one has been massively harmed.
    • by dc29A (636871) *

      Everything the government says it's true? Am I right? I mean look at all the weapons of mass destruction we found in Iraq. Sure, only 300 phones were tapped.

      • There is a difference between agency's vs. lying politicians. It was W's admin that spoke about the weapons, not CIA, NSA, etc.
        Who should be speaking about this is not rogers, but somebody from the NSA.
      • by EETech1 (1179269)

        They likely only entered in 300 numbers, but after the computer checked everyone they called, and everyone they called, and everyone they called, they just ended up with 70% of America anyways, with the rest being of absolutely no interest.

        Hello Kevin Bacon again and again.

    • what they're doing is storing everything. Whether they probed it or not isn't the question. They are storing it.

      • by asylumx (881307)
        You're the only one whom I've seen make this point. This would be like arguing against the MPAA -- "I know I had 500 downloaded movies on my NAS, but I didn't watch any of them, so I didn't do anything wrong."

        Lord knows that argument wouldn't fly against MPAA's lawyer-deamons, why should it fly for the NSA against the public?
    • by Simulant (528590)


      I'm not sure it's effective. And if it is, I doubt it's effective enough to warrant the amount of money thrown at it or the misuse that will inevitably occur.
        I'm also not sure why we should believe anything they say.

      I'd rather take my chances with the terrorists over opaque security organizations who can spy on me whenever they wish.
      I'm far more likely to get shot or run over by a fellow citizen anyway.

      Turn your spying ability on the bankers and then we'll talk.....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:51AM (#44027949)

    Then upon the FBI has to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is.

    Unless they figure out that they can just run a check against the phone book. The scary thing is, this guy may be as stupid as he sounds.

    • I think he is a lot smarter myself, yet another very carefully crafted statement that glosses over the underlying issue.

      >>> Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records
      Meh, whatever. Certainly they may have investigated fewer than 300 numbers, but...

      The question remains: how many domestic telephone conversations underwent some form of traffic analysis by NSA systems? Period. What mechanism exists to tell the intercept system the differe

      • The question remains: how many domestic telephone conversations underwent some form of traffic analysis by NSA systems?

        The question remains: how many domestic telephone conversations underwent some form of traffic analysis by Booz Allen Hamilton systems?

        That's more my concern. What is preventing them from using all that data for some other dubious business purposes . . . ?

        Snowden outed himself. He has no financial gain. But what others are still lurking around inside Booz Allen Hamilton . . . ?

        I guess Booz Allen Hamilton is busy shredding documents and disks right now.

  • Proof or STFU (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nickodeimus (1263214) on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:52AM (#44027955)
    Plain and simple. If this were at all true then each of these 20 incidences would have been widely touted in the media. They never would have had to give the source of their intelligence or at worst they could have \ would have said that inside information that was actionable was provided to their security forces.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If they did they'd be tipping off terrorists on how they caught on to them, so the terrorists would revise their communication methods. As they reportedly are doing now, in response to Snowden's revelations.

      There's no right answer here. Personally I'd prefer more Congressional oversight, but then you have to trust those guys to be effective overseers on our behalf.

    • Re:Proof or STFU (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Shavano (2541114) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:23AM (#44028251)

      The vast majority of Verizon's (and any US carrier's) calls are from one US number to another US number. They could just have requested all phone calls from/to a short list of foreign numbers. Or at most they would have asked for all calls to/from a list of foreign countries. That's still a lot of calls but hundreds of times less than the full call database. Then, once they had identified a US number that seems associated with foreign terrorists, they could examine all calls to/from that number and tap the line.

      The court order says every call. Why would a judge give them that level of access if all they wanted was calls to/from a handful of numbers? Bottom line, the story the Congressman is telling is completely at odds with what we now know about the extent of the information the NSA requested and received.

    • Re:Proof or STFU (Score:4, Interesting)

      by bieber (998013) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:41AM (#44028459)
      I don't doubt the number, but it's a meaningless figure. Think about it for a moment, they have this huge database of phone data they've scraped from all the major carriers, they have it available at the touch of a button (effectively, with a secret court to rubber stamp requests), so of course they're going to use it in any and all terrorism investigations they have going on. Then, when the program comes under fire some years later, they can say "Well look, we used that program to help thwart all these terrorist plots," complete with a number that looks impressive but is really just the count of every single major terrorist investigation they've undertaken since the program came into existence. Of course they won't tell you exactly what role the program played in those investigations, or whether it would have even been more difficult to bust the plots without that data, let alone impossible. And that's not even to begin getting into how many of those "terrorist plots" never would have happened without FBI agents getting them going in the first place...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why would they need the names? There are lots of programs like 411 that can do a reverse look up on phone numbers.

  • Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sparticus789 (2625955) on Monday June 17, 2013 @08:56AM (#44027983) Journal

    If only the NSA had pulled 2 more phone numbers, adding the Tsarnaev brothers to their list of terrorists.

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      And what would they have caught?

      "Sup?"

      "Hey bro, let's go shoot some hoops and talk about that stuff I wanted to talk to you about earlier."

      "Yeah, see you there"

      In this case, what would you find out? Not much. Phone tracking works for some stuff, but not so much for other stuff. All they would have gotten from that conversation was that they were brothers and stuff would be talked about. They didn't need a phone log to figure that out. Of course, the "stuff" they would be talking about in person would h

  • Bull-fucking-shit.

  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bradley13 (1118935) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:02AM (#44028045) Homepage

    First, the "we broke 20 plots" is bullshit. They have have used these tools in 20 investigations, so what? And what about the other 280 they admit to? And anyway, how many people's data was involved in each of these investigations? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?

    In any case, we still come back to the basic problem: The police could certainly stop a few more crimes, if they were allowed unfettered access to people's homes. See someone suspicious? Walk in and search the house, no warrant required. The point is: This price is not worth paying.

    Why? For many reasons, but here are the ones that leap immediately to mind:

    (1) People need to feel they have personal privacy.

    (2) Government bureaucrats are humans: some good, some bad, most just muddling along. Put this kind of power in their hands, and it will be abused. Whether for political ends, to get back at the ex after a nasty divorce, or whatever. Because they work for the government, they will not be punished. See the recent IRS scandals for a perfect example of this.

    It is important to limit government power, because this is the only sure way to prevent abuses. You can't abuse power you don't have. If this makes police work a little more difficult, that is a price well worth paying. Convince a judge and get a warrant before spying on someone - this just isn't that hard.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Remember the S&P downgrading the US' debt rating? In short order the government loudly and proudly announced an IRS investigation into them. Do we forget this quickly?

    • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hort_wort (1401963) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:42AM (#44028469)

      First, the "we broke 20 plots" is bullshit. They have have used these tools in 20 investigations, so what? And what about the other 280 they admit to? And anyway, how many people's data was involved in each of these investigations? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?

      Also, don't forget the government tendency to declare victory. I'm reminded of how it designates "all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants". How many of these plots would have even gone anywhere? They might've broken into someone's home who ordered some waffle mix overseas, declared him a "terrorist", shipped him off to Guantanamo Bay, then chalked up another point for the Good Guys(tm).

      I tend to be a pessimist about things that happen in secret.

  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:04AM (#44028059)

    It's been established the US government does not want to disclose domestic surveillance programs. They said so in front of cameras, "national security, blah blah".

    Now I need to evaluate the claims of a government official regarding domestic surveillance programs... hmmm. Not very comforting.

  • by a2wflc (705508) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:04AM (#44028061)

    He seems to want to focus on the 300 "numbers only" they checked and not the big database of "phone records" that exists. But I'm sure the "database of millions of U.S. phone records" he refers to is at least as secure as the existence of the program itself. It's not doubt more secure but that doesn't mean it's safe. And many attackers would love to just get a handful of records (congressmen, judges, candidates, ceos, opposition party leaders).

    Plus I've already heard quotes from politicians and other government officials that the database needs to be more widely shared. FBI and DHS need access now. I imagine the IRS could find a few things and "improve" tax collection if it was shared with them. We better not get used to being ok with the NSA having access to "numbers only". The nature of government is to expand and make "better" use of data, not to ignore a valuable resource because of privacy concerns. And also to protect those in power, so any 3rd party leader making progress better have a squeaky clean record. One place the 2 parties can agree is on attacking any opposition to their power.

    • by Quila (201335)

      I imagine the IRS could find a few things and "improve" tax collection if it was shared with them.

      Starting with any organization with "patriot" or "freedom" in its name, they would discover the network of anyone calling anyone, and hit everyone with an audit.

  • in his formal speech, he's lying. Mostly... as in, they mostly just lie through their teeth.
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      When you hear a politician say "just" in his formal speech, he's lying. Mostly... as in, they mostly just lie through their teeth.

      Oh, no, no, no. They lie out their asses too.

  • by dutchwhizzman (817898) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:07AM (#44028097)

    Once the word is out this database exists, other uses will be found for it, either by the NSA or by other organizations. History has proven that once data exists, people will use it any way they want to.

    They can be almost as effective if they only start monitoring those phone numbers that are correlated to "terrorism" because they get dialed by a foreign terrorist. They'd miss "historical data" but I doubt the effectiveness of that will weigh up to the giant loss of privacy people suffer because their "metadata" gets stored.

    Nobody has even proven the effectiveness of this sort of measures against terrorism, it costs billions and the elected government is spying on the people that elected them in the first place. If you, as a politician, don't trust the people that voted for you, your democracy as a country is in serious trouble.

    • History has proven that once data exists, people will use it any way they want to.

      I think you've hit the biggest danger right there. The police have databases to look up the names and addresses for license plates. Abuse of that system is chronic. Everyone seems to know a friend who can look up license plates.

      Access to this phone record database will develop the same way. First one government organization will really need access, then another, and so on . . .

      . . . and fairly soon a lot of folks will be able to get a list of who their ex-wives, business partners, etc. are talking wit

  • When a number comes out of that lock box, it's just a phone number — no names, no addresses," he said. "If they think that's relevant to their counterterrorism investigation, they give that to the FBI. Then upon the FBI has to go out and meet all the legal standards to even get whose phone number that is.

    Because doing a reverse phone lookup isn't possible until they have a court order right?
    http://www.whitepages.com/reverse_phone [whitepages.com]

    What a joke.

  • by SuperCharlie (1068072) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:08AM (#44028115)
    For around 3 years I posted regularly that this was coming, I warned everyone I could about this. I explained why it was important. I was called tinfoil hat, I was humiliated, I was belittled and I was told I was a moron. I gave up. I dont care. Its too late and guess what.. it only takes the APPEARANCE of 51% of the sheep to keep this ball of hell chugging along. Screw every one of you who said "if youre not doing anything wrong.." and "there is no way they have that much control" and the myriad other excuses to get back to American Idol. Screw. You.
    • by Culture20 (968837)

      For around 3 years I posted regularly that this was coming, I warned everyone I could about this. I explained why it was important. I was called tinfoil hat, I was humiliated, I was belittled and I was told I was a moron.

      You were called those names because it's such a bad scenario it's like saying "The President sacrifices babies which survived abortion procedures on an altar under his desk in the Oval Office". You need proof before people will believe something this bad. Now we're getting proof, but unfortunately, you've inoculated some people such that they now need more proof than they originally would have because they still emotionally equate "belief in government tracking of all phone data" with tinfoil-hatism, even

  • by gweihir (88907) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:09AM (#44028117)

    Nice how they left out that little fact. In many cases a simple Google search will already be enough. Where that fails, use the customer database of the phone service provider. I expect lifting the anonymity from a number will take significantly less than a minute, possibly less than a second.

    This is classical lying by omission. It builds of the lack of understanding of the common person. De-anonymizing metadata is an easy and cheaply solvable and well understood problem.

  • To recap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sjames (1099) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:09AM (#44028123) Homepage
    • They did it but it was necessary.
    • They didn't do it.

    • Well, OK they did.
    • But they only looked at 300 numbers and Oh yeah, we've been meaning to mention for 4 years it helped us stop something that might have attacked the NY subway (or not).
  • by ArcadeX (866171) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:11AM (#44028141)
    knowing there is a 'secret court' reviewing every 90 days....
    • by Bucc5062 (856482)

      Out of the myriad issues with this topic, this is the one that bothers me the most. First, if we are aware of it then it is not secret any more. Just the idea of "secret" and "court" send warning bells up. Why do we need secret courts? What else do they do? Are they even constitutional (6th I believe) since the accused may not ever get to face the accuser.

      In the fight over terrorism we, The People, have systematically dismantled the very foundations that this country was founded on. We cry out "Justic

  • by 1_brown_mouse (160511) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:12AM (#44028151)

    Bet they cured cancer and helped a little old lady across the street too.

  • by MAXOMENOS (9802) <maxomai AT gmail DOT com> on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:13AM (#44028161) Homepage

    They claim to have a list of millions of phone numbers, against which they only checked 300 numbers last year.

    I want to know what criteria they used to generate that list of millions of phone numbers.

    More precisely, I want to know what criteria they used to build the training data sets to train the classifiers that filtered through all our communications metadata (and probably our communications content data as well) in order to generate that list.

    What are they looking for? How do they say that a phone call goes into the training set or stays out? That's what I want to know; not the details of Snowden's sex life or whatever the media are pushing now.

  • by Trailer Trash (60756) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:14AM (#44028175) Homepage

    But it still doesn't make it legal.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:16AM (#44028189)

    We take the business records by a court order, and it's just phone numbers — no names, no addresses — put it in a lock box,

    And who controls the key to this so called lock box? What accountable party keeps them from unauthorized use? The FISA court isn't accountable. Neither is the administration or congress since they do not publish their findings. By what method does the public find out about abuses of this system?

    Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records .

    Big deal. Nobody calls these days anyway. What about the rest of the phone meta-data? Emails? Text messages? Facebook? Twitter?

    both NSA programs are reviewed every 90 days by the secret court authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

    So we have a secret program with secret directives reviewed by a secret court whose findings are secret. Gee, why am I not reassured? [/sarcasm]

    • What about the rest of the phone meta-data? Emails? Text messages? Facebook? Twitter?

      We should leave twitter off such a list - it's explicitly public anyway. Anyone on earth could create a database of tweets.

  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmhNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:16AM (#44028191) Journal

    ...to gush loving, glowing praise over unchecked, jackbooted authority like a Twihard over (Edward/Jacob) once again.

    You can't trust anything the NSA says at all. They have everything to gain by lying their asses off and nothing to lose. Assume they're intercepting and recording anything (which personally, I'm pretty sure they're doing) and don't assume that there are any limitations to their access to that info. If you buy any of the backpedaling that's been coming out in the last few days, much of it submitted to Slashdot by cold fjord...well I have a bridge you might be interested in.

    Even if this article describes the access interface of some analyst at some agency...all the info is still there, your privacy was still violated.

  • Missing the point... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fished (574624) <amphigory@ g m ail.com> on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:21AM (#44028225)

    The point is not what the NSA has done with the information. The point is what they could do. Having "legally" (I use the term advisedly) obtained all this information on every American, they could now use it for any nefarious purpose. Having done so in secret, they hardly seem trustworthy.

    I'm old enough to remember the days when we posted garbage at the end of messages for the "NSA line eater." Time to do that again.

    • I think the algorithms are good enough to side-step any tag-line comments.. I think that the only hope at this point is a massive DOS type deal where masses of people generate copious quantities of data... something along the lines of gigs/day/person. Im not sure how that would be implemented or what the data might contain, but if they are capturing and storing everything I would think you could over-run the bucket with enough give-a-shit. Problem is.. average joe really dosent give a shit.
  • The Zazi Lie (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Monday June 17, 2013 @09:26AM (#44028283) Homepage

    The ... program helped the NSA stop a 2009 al-Qaida plot to blow up New York City subways.

    That is at best an extreme exaggeration of the value of the cell phone records. I'm sure his data was in the database, and was probably accessed after he was discovered, but his plot was discovered as a result of monitoring that was (or easily would have been) warranted.

    Wikipedia: Operation Pathway [wikipedia.org]:

    On November 9 2009 The Telegraph reported that the operation produced the tip that lead American security officials to place Najibullah Zazi under investigation. British security officials were reported to have intercepted an email from a Pakistani planner to Najibullah Zazi containing instructions on how to conduct his attack.

    The Telegraph: British Spies / Zazi [telegraph.co.uk]:

    The alleged plot was unmasked after an email address that was being monitored as part of the abortive Operation Pathway was suddenly reactivated.

    Operation Pathway was investigating an alleged UK terrorist cell but went awry after the then Met Police counter-terrorism head Bob Quick was pictured walking into Downing Street displaying top secret documents.

    Eleven Pakistani suspects were arrested immediately after the gaffe but later released without charge.

    However, security staff continued to monitor the email address which eventually yielded results.

  • Officially they probed less than 300. In this one program. Which is all pointless if an agent can listen in on a conversation without a warrant and no alarm bells go off.

  • Although (supposedly) only few hundred are listened to, I suspect that ALL conversations are recorded and stored (to be recalled if needed).
  • If what they say here is true, why the world weren't they more honest about what they were doing all along and in the first place? In Europe, government access to phone records is codified in law in such a way that protects the privacy of everybody who isn't a suspect in an investigation, and does so in broad daylight. There may be violations, but the persons whose privacy is invaded also have recourse there. They have no such recourse against the NSA that continues to argue, even as it releases details of this program, that it is "secret" and thus would compromise national security to reveal the details.

    One more example of where honesty and truth-telling would be preferable to obfuscation and lies.

  • by spacepimp (664856) on Monday June 17, 2013 @10:25AM (#44029025) Homepage
    The double speak is getting nauseating. This one in particular: "Last year, fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked against the database of millions of U.S. phone records gathered daily by the NSA in one of the programs". There are 4 programs, which program are they saying had on 300 checked. Which of the 4 is particularly used for tracking phone calls? How manyin total were there among all four programs? As for the FISA oversight, the Amended Act was so controversial that Obama himself said he would never vote to support it, but voted for it despite campaigning otherwise. That act sanctified the inability for citizens to sue the telcos and ISP's for infringing on our civil liberties. The oversite is a complete failure, and this smells like a lie hiding behind more wordplay. For example: Collection = reading the data not collecting.
  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Monday June 17, 2013 @10:30AM (#44029091) Homepage

    program helped the NSA stop a 2009 al-Qaida plot to blow up New York City subways

    No, what happened was (from Buzzfed)

    Public — though not widely publicized — details of the Zazi plot cast into doubt the notion that a data mining program had much to do with the investigation. Zazi traveled to Pakistan in 2008 to train with al Qaeda. He was charged in 2009 with leading two other men in a plot to detonate suicide bombs in the New York subways.

    The path to his capture, according to the public records, began in April 2009, when British authorities arrested several suspected terrorists. According to a 2010 ruling from Britain’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission, one of the suspects’ computers included email correspondence with an address in Pakistan....

    Later that year, according to a transcript of Zazi’s July, 2011 trial, Zazi emailed his al Qaeda handler in Pakistan for help with the recipe for his bombs. He sent his inquiry to the same email address: sana_pakhtana@yahoo.com.

    An FBI agent, Eric Jurgenson, testified, “I was notified, I should say. My office was in receipt of several e-mail messages, e-mail communications.” Those emails — from Zazi to the same sana_pakhtana@yahoo.com — “led to the investigation,” he testified.

    Another case cited by that wonderduo Feinstein and Rodgers is of Headley. who cased the Mumbai hotel. Rather that quote why the NSA program had little if anything to do with his arrest (note he was previously a prized drug enforment for the DEA), just read this [propublica.org].

  • by FellowConspirator (882908) on Monday June 17, 2013 @10:34AM (#44029133)

    Were I in the same situation, I'd say the same thing, true or not. It might not justify the program, but it might make people feel better about it.

    If they want people to buy it, though, they'll need to proffer some proof. Not just some documentation, but something concrete that would be irrefutable. The NSA has the problem that they are coming from a position of weakness. They're in the business of being secretive, they've been caught in a position where they appear to have betrayed the nation's trust, and they'll need something extraordinary to restore that trust.

    They should just lay all their cards on the table - declassify all of it. The ne'er-do-wells are already tipped off and working around it, so there's little more to lose if they'd been on the up-and-up. Clearly, if they weren't doing anything wrong, then there's nothing to hide.

  • by Dracos (107777) on Monday June 17, 2013 @11:32AM (#44029837)

    If the phone spying program is so inconsequential, then what does the NSA plan to do with the $5.1B data data center they're building in Provo, UT? 300 numbers a year could be checked by one guy in one cubicle, and he'd still have lots of time to spend hanging around the water cooler.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Monday June 17, 2013 @12:59PM (#44031017)

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/06/16/snowden-whistleblower-nsa-officials-roundtable/2428809/ [usatoday.com]

    When a National Security Agency contractor revealed top-secret details this month on the government's collection of Americans' phone and Internet records, one select group of intelligence veterans breathed a sigh of relief.

    Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe belong to a select fraternity: the NSA officials who paved the way.

    For years, the three whistle-blowers had told anyone who would listen that the NSA collects huge swaths of communications data from U.S. citizens. They had spent decades in the top ranks of the agency, designing and managing the very data-collection systems they say have been turned against Americans. ...

    Jesselyn Radack: Not only did they go through multiple and all the proper internal channels and they failed, but more than that, it was turned against them. ... The inspector general was the one who gave their names to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act. And they were all targets of a federal criminal investigation, and Tom ended up being prosecuted â" and it was for blowing the whistle. ...

  • by ThatsNotPudding (1045640) on Monday June 17, 2013 @01:21PM (#44031309)
    Lay money: before the year is up, we will hear about an NSA employee (or more likely, one of the several thousand contractors with Top Secret clearance that is given out like tissue paper) using all this data against their ex or soon to be ex-spouse in a nasty divorce fight. Or for stalking the babysitter. Or insider trading. Or screwing over a shitty neighbor. Or...

    And this, dear Frightened Compliant Snowflakes, are but a few reasons why this system is dangerous and deadly to democracy; NOBODY IS WATCHING THEM.
  • by gnu-sucks (561404) on Monday June 17, 2013 @04:42PM (#44033475) Journal

    From Wikipedia:

    General writs of assistance [wikipedia.org] played an important role in the increasing tensions that led to the American Revolution and the creation of the United States of America. In 1760, Great Britain began to enforce some of the provisions of the Navigation Acts by granting customs officers these writs. In New England, smuggling had become common. However, officers could not search a person's property without giving a reason. Colonists protested that the writs violated their rights as British subjects. The colonists had several problems with these writs. They were permanent and even transferable: the holder of a writ could assign it to another. Any place could be searched at the whim of the holder, and searchers were not responsible for any damage they caused. This put anyone who had such a writ above the law.

    Does this not bear a resemblance to what is going on today?

    Let us re-visit the 4th amendment:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

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