1. Dunc says

    the NSA’s charter originally was foreign surveillance. …

    Of course, the other way around this is “intelligence sharing”… “Sharing” sounds good, right? Surely nobody could be against sharing intelligence? But it means that the NSA can spy on British citizens, and GCHQ can spy on US citizens, and then they pool the results… Hey presto! Nobody is technically breaching their restrictions on domestic surveillance, but the result is the same.

  2. anat says

    In King County, WA people are up at arms because the county bought commercially available info in order to guess who might be the owner of an unregistered pet, and send them a letter threatening them with a fine if they don’t register their pet. Obviously some people got letters despite not owning pets (maybe they buy pet food to donate?) or despite their pets being registered (perhaps under the name of another member of the household). It might have gone quietly if the letter had been worded more softly. What people aren’t talking about? Their information is out there. Anyone can use it for any purpose imaginable.

  3. says

    Of course, the other way around this is “intelligence sharing”…

    You are, of course, referring to the “5 eyes” UKUSA treaty group, in which CSE (Canada) GCHQ (UK) NSA (USA) ASIS (Australia) and New Zealand all share intelligence. That has been going on for some time. In fact, in some cases, the NSA hosted collection on UK soil “denyably” collecting communications between England and Ireland, which they then shared back to GCHQ.

    I have had the pleasure of chatting about this stuff with Duncan Campbell, who has done good work reporting on some of the weirder goings-on.
    He’s the fellow who disclosed the NSA tower that was right in the path of the microwave communications link between England and Ireland.

    It’s another of those ways that the various agencies deliberately bypass inconvenient laws, by parsing around them. It’s as if they’re a bunch of kids, or something, that simply won’t take “no” for an answer from their parents. Except, in this case, the parents deliberately look the other way. So they can pretend to be shocked.

  4. says

    What people aren’t talking about? Their information is out there. Anyone can use it for any purpose imaginable.

    There was a similar case in Oklahoma, in which the state police proposed to send speeding citations to any owner of a car that went between tollbooths faster than they could be expected to if they were following the speed limit. It’s a trivial application of data reduction but – as you can imagine – there was a tremendous, uh, “shit fit” and the upshot was that: the data is still collected, it’s just not used in that particular way at this particular time.

  5. says

    There was some discussion a few years ago about a fellow that had purchased a variety of customer databases (this was in the UK) and had then cross-scrubbed them against a few stolen databases collected off pastebin. Then, using a set of bayesian classifiers, extracted subsets of the data that matched various profiles – it was damn scary, e.g.: “cancer patients (by cancer)” “people who are likely dead” “people who are pregnant” the results were extremely accurate – less than 1 in 10,000. There are certain signifiers that are highly indicative which can be combined with multiple others.

    I believe the project was buried. The originators of the dataset proposed to sell subsets of the data for marketing purposes: that way an insurance company could say “Oh we didn’t do all that correlation – that’d be wrong – we just bought a dataset from a commercial company that specializes in that kind of thing… (flutters eyelashes)” Nowadays the “big data” folks have realized that to avoid regulators you have to do it all in-house.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    The intelligence apparatus has defined “surveillance” as “a pair of human eyeballs looks at it deliberately and knowingly.”

    No doubt the NSA equipment locker contains multiple sets of eyepatches to allow key staff to function within regulations while receiving information they might Need to Know.

  7. militantagnostic says

    There is currently a big scandal in Quebec over the provincial police and the Montreal police tracking reporters via their cell phones in attempt to find the reporters’ sources.

  8. says

    Were the systems put in for some other “appropriate” use? I.e.: terrorism or whatever?

    These systems always get put in place for the best reasons. And then they get used for something entirely different. But it’s important to understand that the people who put those systems in place always planned to abuse them. Unless they were so remarkably stupid that it somehow never occurred to them that cell phone tracking could be used to track reporters, only drug dealers. The manufacturers of the systems definitely know they are designed to be abused.

  9. Jake Harban says

    Based on my observation, published elsewhere, that power has no value unless it’s abused. Therefore anyone who wants power over others plans – whether they realize it or no – to abuse it. Thus, they are my enemy.

    The problem is that power always exists. You can’t get rid of it. And preventing the abuse of power requires power.

  10. says

    Jake Harban@#10:
    The problem is that power always exists. You can’t get rid of it.

    I’m not aware of any conservation law of power; It seems to me that power is a potential latent in any situation, and it does not always automatically need to be teased out to where it can be grasped and manipulated. Further, it seems to me that it can be gotten rid of, by coupling it with responsibility, or better still by redistributing it so that it’s no longer accessible without checks and balances. The “rule of law” is one example of a fair attempt to redistribute power – though, admittedly, powerful people seem to always be eager to place themselves above the law.

    And preventing the abuse of power requires power.

    Maybe… First off, the best way to prevent the abuse of power is to distribute it among multiple agendas (that’s a roundabout way of describing democracy) Secondly, I argue that leadership and power are two different things – in some situations it might be necessary to temporarily invest a sort of power in a leader, in the sense that “we are willing to follow your lead as long as we agree with you, during this crisis.” When the crisis is over, the willingness of the people to follow evaporates along with it. So I’d say it’s plausible that a people might temporarily form a power-bloc to disempower someone who was attempting to sieze power; that’s exactly what happened in Rome, to Tiberius Gracchus: “Now that the consul has betrayed the state, let every man who wishes to uphold the laws follow me!” and they beat him to death in the Senate. Following that moment of leadership, Scipio Nasica did not attempt to maintain power, it evaporated.