American Elephants

Spying, Collecting Phone Records, Data-Mining. Do You Trust Your Government? by The Elephant's Child

The big flap today comes from the Guardian’s (UK) article on the federal government’s secret gathering of millions of U.S. phone records. The administration calls the practice a “critical tool” in combating terrorism and insists that such actions don’t compromise American’s civil liberties.

The information acquired does not include the content of any communication or the name of any subscriber,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said aboard Air Force One. “It relates exclusively to call details, such as a telephone number or the length of a telephone call. The information … has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats.”

Earnest added, “The president welcomes discussion of the tradeoff between security and civil liberties.”

Funny, I thought that since the president killed bin Laden, there wasn’t any more terrorism.  That seemed to be the drift of the comments on Benghazi and of his foreign policy speech.

I love the hypocrisy. When Bush announced the Patriot Act in 2001, the howling from the Democrats was loud and prolonged. Remember the fuss about the possibility that they might look at what books you checked out of the library? The Patriot Act was quite public, hence the uproar, and specifically designed to intercept calls from America to or from numbers in terrorist areas. And they would be interested if someone under suspicion was checking out bomb-making instructions. I didn’t think it was a big deal then, and I don’t think it’s a big deal now.

In the light of the revelations about the IRS targeting, these things garner a little more suspicion. Now we learn the NSA and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”

The authorization for PRISM, according to Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as it is written, doesn’t seem to have enough protections for innocent American citizens. The Administration’s handling of the program is particularly ham-handed. It is ridiculous for programs to be revealed by the Guardian and The Washington Post “according to top-secret documents” at a time when trust in government is dropping precipitously. Horrible public relations.

Oddly, this is making the front page at the same time as the news that Google is hiring the Obama Campaign’s data-mining whiz kids to do some work for Google, but also to form a permanent group to do data-mining type work for the permanent Democrat campaign. If you ever wondered why, when you were doing a Google search, the information from a trusted right-of-center source couldn’t be found till you get to page 48 or 62, now you know. I forget who it was that explained that these techie people only understand Moore’s Law and are utterly clueless about capitalism and politics and the free market.

Google is a major American corporation involved in the information business, already operating in questionable territory with their Google street views photographing everyone’s home, aerial views, organizing the information they gather in politicized ways. That they would go into the business of political campaigns for Democrats and only Democrats is troubling. That doesn’t seem right. Not the fact that it is just for Democrats, but that a retail information business would politicize all their information. That’s going way too far. What do you think?


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