NSA spies on lovers’ emails


More revelations have emerged that despite the NSA’s claims of strict safeguards to prevent abuse of its spying capabilities, the it systematically violated its pown privacy requirements in thousands of cases and committed even more illegal acts, with a judge ruling back in 2011 that the NSA had also been deliberately misleading the courts about what it has been doing. What a surprise! This information emerged as a result of the declassification of some documents in the wake of the uproar over what the Snowden revelations told us about the government spying on its own citizens.

And the revelations keep coming. The latest today is about LOVEINT, the name given to those cases where “National Security Agency officers on several occasions have channeled their agency’s enormous eavesdropping power to spy on love interests”.

Of course, in all these cases, NSA defenders immediately come out with the claim that these were just a few cases by rogue elements and steps have been taken to stop such bad apples from gaining such access in future. And then we will almost inevitably learn later that the violations were more extensive than first reported and that the new safeguards were also broken.

It is practically an ironclad law of human behavior that if you collect and store personal information on people, that information will be abused by those who have access to it to further their own agenda.

Comments

  1. Jeffrey Johnson says

    It is practically an ironclad law of human behavior that if you collect and store personal information on people, that information will be abused by those who have access to it to further their own agenda.

    I completely agree with this statement. The next question becomes, by what means should we address this problem?

    1. One option is to try to block the government from ever collecting any of that information.

    2. Another option is to recognize that there is utility to that information being gathered, and that we can work harder to put better oversight, monitoring, and accountability in place.

    After all, the problem you identify in human nature is even more dangerous if you put people in offices of power in government, as we routinely do by elections. Recognition of this human frailty to temptation is why our government was designed with checks and balances. So do we despair of the possibility that such checks and balances, when they break down, can be repaired and strengthened, and consequently give up hope and dismantle every aspect of government because all of it is subject to such temptations, or do we redouble our efforts to restrain and monitor? I think the first approach, to dismantle government, is basically the Grover Norquist approach to government.

    I gather that implicit in your post is the opinion that #1 is the correct option. I think in the long run this could cause more harm than might be caused by an anonymous glance at an emotional love letter.

    Personally, if I see a stranger’s personal information, it ceases to be personal. It’s meaningless and abstract, and not very interesting. It would bother me if my personal love letters were read by family, friends, co-workers, or others who knew me. If a random stranger anonymously happens upon it, it seems completely harmless to me.

    On the other hand, if the love letters of a major terrorist or criminal are intercepted, that could contain important clues as to how to find them, or how to lure them to their capture. This is really an ancient practice in espionage, getting to know a subject’s personal life.

  2. Chiroptera says

    You left out a third option:

    Gather the information only for those individuals for whom there exists probably cause (from other sources) that they may be involved in criminal activity or conspiring ot commit criminal activity.

  3. Jeffrey Johnson says

    Sure, that option exists, is not nearly as effective as casting a wide net and gathering all communications.

    You don’t know two years in advance who may or may not become a suspect. By the time you apply for a warrant, lots of history will be gone forever, history that could be used to reconstruct the behaviors, locations, patterns, and contacts of a suspect from the past prior to when we become aware of them.

    The idea is that data is gathered provisionally to construct a database that will enable us to travel back in time effectively, once the need becomes clear due to probable cause.

    By not enabling such a powerful technology to be used because of the fear that some random anonymous person may accidentally look at your love letter, a extremely small probability by the way, something he or she could care less about, is to place personal vanity over and above the real need to defend lives.

    Of course there is great potential for abuse; we need to think hard to decide if we can put controls and accountability in place to defend against such abuse, and whether we can get Congress to force government to be less secretive about what it is doing, or do we need to disable the ability to potentially save lives in order to protect our personal vanity from possibly but unlikely being wounded?

  4. says

    All through your post I could not help but think of Benjamin Franklin’s quote on sacrificing liberty for freedom.

    If we really want to be the “land of the free” we have to make some concessions to our security in return. And ultimately, when toddlers kill more people than terrorists, how much are we really being protected by these invasions?

  5. nathanaelnerode says

    Just plain wrong, Jeffrey.

    In practice, it’s much more effective to only gather information after you have probable cause.

    Collecting a dragnet database just leaves analysts *paralyzed* when there’s actual work to be done. Too much information! Too many choices! Too much to look at!

    What we know about human cognition says that too much information is as bad as none at all.

    And this is being proven, repeatedly. There were actual warnings from the Russian government to the FBI about the Tsarnaevs. These were disregarded. Why? Apparently because the FBI was busily engaging in wild goose chases with their vast information dragnets.

  6. nathanaelnerode says

    “Of course there is great potential for abuse; we need to think hard to decide if we can put controls and accountability in place to defend against such abuse, ”

    Noticed this too. Obviously we can’t. Tried that with the Church Committee, and here the NSA is, breaking the law again, even more so.

    Shut the NSA down. Shut them all down. The only way to have any safety is to utterly liquidate these operations, down to the last wire.

    If you want to be spied on, move to a prison. Leave the rest of us alone so that we can have a democracy and the rule of law.

  7. Paul Jarc says

    It would bother me if my personal love letters were read by family, friends, co-workers, or others who knew me. If a random stranger anonymously happens upon it, it seems completely harmless to me.

    Then I take it you agree that this is a serious violation. LOVEINT involved NSA officers surveilling their own personal love interests.

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