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NSA Chose Invasive Phone Analysis Option 307

Posted by Zonk
from the why-do-things-the-right-way-when-you-can-do-it-the-easy-way dept.
Encrypted Anonymous Coward writes "The Baltimore Sun reveals the existence of an interesting experimental NSA program codenamed ThinThread from the late 90`s. The program involved link analysis of traffic data, with a twist; The phone numbers from the U.S. would only be analyzed in an encrypted form. This way the analysis would potentially be possible under existing privacy laws, according to the people behind the program. The NSA could gather further unencrypted details if there was evidence of a threat. Political infighting seems to have dropped an interesting and respectful program from the books."
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NSA Chose Invasive Phone Analysis Option

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  • Privacy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

    by alx5000 (896642) <alx5000@@@alx5000...net> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:34AM (#15356869) Homepage
    Well, if that is legal, I recommend you to change your laws...

    Anonimity isn't really privacy. When I say "I love you" or "I'm going to kill you" I want to know it's ME saying THAT to THAT PERSON who is meant to receive it, and to no one else. I don't wanna be an anonymous coward sending my thoughts over to the NSA and get busted because they can look up my IP if I've been a bad boy...
    • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Enderandrew (866215) <enderandrew@g m a il.com> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:49AM (#15356965) Homepage Journal
      For better or worse, there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution. The fifth amendment means you can't be forced to incriminate yourself, and we have laws about the collection of evidence.

      However, people demand security. Often security and privacy conflict with one another and we as a society need to decide where that line needs to be drawn. If we don't want the government to look over our shoulders, then we can't bitch when they didn't see something coming.
      • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Informative)

        by mausmalone (594185) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:56AM (#15357013) Homepage Journal
        But the "right to privacy" in the sense of a right not to have unwarranted searches and seizures definitely extends into the realm of wiretapping and phone records. The government wants these records specifically to see if you're doing anything illegal, not for a benign purpose. In that respect it should fall under the fourth ammendment.
        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.
        Obviously at the time of writing, phone lines didn't exist, but it's reasonable to see that as an "effect" belonging to an individual.
        • Also, I think it's reasonable to argue that wiretapping is a search, and the amendment wants people to be secure from unreasonable searches.
        • I have a difficult time seeing how a phone line or satellite that you don't own or operate counts as an "effect". The physical phone? Sure. The lines inside your house? Sure. If you want to talk from the upstairs to the downstairs, knock yourself out, but once that conversation leaves your house, I assume it's at the discretion of the phone company.

          Not that I'm arguing a legal point with you; I'm actually not sure whether phone conversations are directly covered by the 4th amendment, other than the rea
          • What about a letter? If I send a letter to a friend, does it become public property once it leaves my house?

            Is there a difference in whether I send the letter by USPS (gov't entity) or UPS/FedEx?
          • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

            by mjm1231 (751545) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @11:14AM (#15357536)
            Neither do I own the air which is used to transmit my voice when I speak to someone in a closed room, but it still requires a warrant to hide a recording device in the room. A person's speech is their effect, regardless of the medium used to transmit it.
            • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:3, Interesting)

              by (trb001) (224998)
              A person's speech is their effect, regardless of the medium used to transmit it.

              No. This is decidedly false considering anything you do/say in public can be used against you without a warrant. The air inside your house is contained within your house, which you own. If you're so freaking loud that someone could hear you across the street, that could be used against you as well.

              --trb
        • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

          by smithmc (451373) * on Thursday May 18, 2006 @12:56PM (#15358542) Journal

            Obviously at the time of writing, phone lines didn't exist, but it's reasonable to see that as an "effect" belonging to an individual.

          The switches that route your call, and record the source/destination/time, do not belong to you; they belong to the phone company. The same could be said about a written letter - the letter and its verbal content are yours, but the information about where the letter came from and where it is going are necessarily shared with the Postal Service, which then possesses that information and can do with it as it pleases.

      • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MojoRilla (591502) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:00AM (#15357039)
        For better or worse, there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution. The fifth amendment means you can't be forced to incriminate yourself, and we have laws about the collection of evidence.

        Uh...what about the fourth 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.

        I would consider monitoring my phone calls to be an unreasonable search, without probable cause.
        • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Informative)

          by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:05AM (#15357068) Journal
          Thank you!

          One of the scariest/funniest things out of the Attorney General's mouth in response to the revelations back in December, was that the searches* "weren't unreasonable", and thus didn't need warrants.

          *phone taps
        • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Insightful)

          by EvolveFuzzy (950359) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:30AM (#15357246)
          The, "there is no right to privacy in the constitution," argument requires a strict interpretation of the constitution and it's amendments, and that you completely ignore the 9th amendment which specifically addresses the concept of unenumerated rights. I'm so tired of this myth.
        • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Grym (725290) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @01:37PM (#15358997)
          Well... for that matter, what about the Third Amendment?

          No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

          Bear in mind that quartering was not a military necessity but a way of finding and uprooting dissent at it's roots--the common household. They didn't just quarter at random. Suspected sympathizers were often specifically targeted for the simple reason that having a few brutish and nosey soldiers from the government in your house either makes you clean up your affairs or start explaining yourself in front of a judge.

          The third amendment was a response to a specific type of attack on privacy by a people which had been traumatized by it. You can bet your powdered wig that if England had tried to read the correspondence of every suspected revolutionary (wire-tapping) or recorded data about every conversation that ever occurred in a public square and the parties involved (phone database), that those too would have been specifically mentioned as well.

          Kept in its historical context, the third amendment represents a limit to the imposition of households and the government's ability to intrude upon the private lives of ordinary citizens.

          But you know what? What about the Ninth Amendment?

          The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

          Any reasonable person can conclude that a right to privacy exists on some level. We shouldn't need a document of finite length, written over 200 years ago to tell us exactly what rights we, by virtue of our humanity, possess. In fact, this ridiculous argument we're having over whether a right to privacy exists or doesn't is the entire reason that the ninth Amendment was devised.

          Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 84, said it best (emphasis mine):
          "[I] affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not content that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it [an enumerated Bill of Rights] would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretence for claiming that power."

          -Grym

      • there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution

        My comment here has nothing to do with anything, but why the hell not? Why is there less of a push for a privacy amendment than there is for a let-Arnold-run-for-president amendment? Frigging ridiculous. Someone with a law degree, or at least anyone more electable than an unemployed programmer, please get on top of that.

        If we don't want the government to look over our shoulders, then we can't bitch when they didn't see something coming.

        I bet
      • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Informative)

        by MacJedi (173) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:44AM (#15357352) Homepage
        The Supreme Court of the United States has generally ruled that the right to privacy is protected by the 9th ammendment [wikipedia.org] and that aspects of the right privacy are explicitly protected, as you noted, by the 4th [wikipedia.org] and 5th ammendments. [wikipedia.org]

        See: Loving v. Virginia [wikipedia.org], Griswald v. Connecticut [wikipedia.org] and Eisenstadt v. Baird [wikipedia.org], among others.

        • Er, amendment. That'll learn me not to hit preview. :(
        • The first case had absolutely nothing to do with privacy. The other rulings mention privacy, but aren't about privacy. In several instances when the Supreme Court wanted to hold up rights in regards to sexual choices, they upheld them in the right of "privacy" rather than make specific stands on sexual activites. However, it should be noted the Constitution does not directly protect privacy.

          I think there should be clear legislation on where our rights lie there. Because why the Supreme Court gives us pr
      • by DrSkwid (118965) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:47AM (#15357373) Homepage Journal
        Universal Declaration of Human Rights
        http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html [un.org]

        Adopted and proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) of 10 December 1948

        Article 12.

                    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

        Article 30.

                    Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

        Member -- (Date of Admission)

        United States of America -- (24 Oct. 1945)
        • No one takes the UN seriously. China is on the security council and violates almost every precept of the security council and no one cares.

          Iran last month flat-out said the UN was a joke and the UN has no response.

          I'd like to see a good, solid world government. It doesn't exist. UN laws mean nothing, especially here.
      • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:5, Informative)

        by caudron (466327) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:56AM (#15357429) Homepage
        there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution.

        Well, actually, in 1965 the Constitutional basis for a right to privacy was recognized explicitly by the Supreme Court. It began with the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479). In short, they explained that the Constitution has what are called "penumbral rights"---rights that are inferrable by virtue of being necessary precursors to the rights more explicitly spelled out.

        From Griswold v. Connecticut:
        "The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were described in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 630, as protection against all governmental invasions 'of the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life.' We recently referred in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 656, to the Fourth Amendment as creating a 'right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully and particularly reserved to the people.' See Beaney, The Constitutional Right to Privacy, 1962 Sup. Ct. Rev. 212; Griswold, The Right to be Let Alone, 55 Nw. U. L. Rev. 216 (1960) ... The present case, then, concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees."

        The explicit rights that grant a right to privacy as a precursor are the 4th, 5th, and the 9th, though the Justices said (and have upheld numerous times since, fyi) that the right to privacy may be inferred from other amendments as well, it's just that the 4th, 5th, and the 9th are particularly obvious in their inference.

        So, yes, since 1965, U.S. Law has upheld EXPLICITLY that we have a Contitutional right to privacy.

        Tom Caudron
        http://tom.digitalelite.com/ [digitalelite.com]
      • there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution.

        Um, yes there is. The 9th amendment.

        "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

      • For better or worse, there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution.

        I heard Pat Roberts (chair of Sen. Intel. Ctte.) on the radio this morning, being quoted as saying that some secrets need to be kept secret despite people's desire to know. So it's good to hear that the government does value some privacy. Just not yours.

      • by why-is-it (318134) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @11:05AM (#15357487) Homepage Journal
        For better or worse, there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution.

        Do you only have the rights that are explicitly defined in your constitution?

        However, people demand security. Often security and privacy conflict with one another and we as a society need to decide where that line needs to be drawn. If we don't want the government to look over our shoulders, then we can't bitch when they didn't see something coming.

        I think that Bruce Schneier's recent article in Wired [wired.com] is one of the most reasoned and insightful responses to your line of argumentation.

        As he states, it is not a debate over security versus privacy - it is liberty versus tyranny.

      • Re:Privacy Issues (Score:4, Informative)

        by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @12:06PM (#15358027) Homepage Journal
        >For better or worse, there really isn't a real "Right to Privacy" in the Constitution.

        Did you know that some of the Founders didn't want to include a Bill of Rights? All were in favor of human rights (at least for white people, sigh) but some were afraid that if they wrote down a list then later generations might mistake it for an exhaustive list and might begin violating rights that hadn't been written down.

        They put in the Ninth Amendment to spell out in black and white that all other rights were still guaranteed even if they didn't get a slot in the Bill of Rights. They did that to make absolutely sure that nobody in the future could ever disparage a right by saying "it's not in the Constitution".

        >If we don't want the government to look over our shoulders, then we can't bitch when they didn't see something coming.

        Why not? Aside from the "if they've got something why don't they get FISA warrants" question, why can't we bitch when the government finds plots (without mass domestic spying) and refuses to even ask for warrants? [time.com]
  • NSA track record (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cyber_rigger (527103) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:40AM (#15356894) Homepage Journal
    ...and of course the NSA has an excellent track record of unbreakable encryption (in case these records get in the wrong hands).
    • by geoffspear (692508)
      I think the point is to keep the NSA from knowing whose phone records it's looking at, not to protect them in case they fall into the "wrong hands".

      If you think it's more likely that the records are going to be stolen from the NSA than from your phone company, you're probably vastly overestimating the security and hiring practices at the phone company.

      • Re:NSA track record (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:11AM (#15357111) Journal
        I think the point is to keep the NSA from knowing whose phone records it's looking at, not to protect them in case they fall into the "wrong hands".

        Depending on the circumstances, how do you make the distinction between the NSA and the "wrong hands"? =)

        But seriously, ThinThread as originally constituted contains the mechanism necessary for oversight. It's amazing that they dispensed with that part of the program, especially now in hindsight when the Administration is embroiled in a scandal. What were they thinking? Are they that arrogant? That stupid?
  • Four intelligence officials knowledgeable about the program agreed to discuss it with The Sun only if granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

    Let's hope they didn't talk on the phone...

  • "...an interesting experimental NSA program codenamed ThinThread..."

    3 lettered government agencies seem to be able to come up with cool codenames for their projects. Maybe they have a coterie of fine arts graduates, dressed in casual black outfits, drinking exotic coffee drinks, whose only job is to come up with cool names for projects.

    I wonder if we can get them on board F/OSS projects in a naming capacity? F/OSS projects usually have some halfbaked, nerdy name like GIMP .Maybe if F/OSS projects had real

    • Exactly! Perhaps they could come up with a descriptive name that alludes to the level of utility and usability of the program. In which case, they'd end up calling it...The Gimp!

      *ducks*
    • In projects like, um, SELinux, perhaps? And you missed an obvious emphasis:
      beautiful actresses dressed in black LaTeX
      Ooh, \matron!
    • Actually, they DO have a department that makes up these names. Seriously. You call down to the department and they give you a code name for a project. Often they're two semi-random words stuck together like that, though occasionally they'll recognize that projects are related by giving them related names.

      There's a very good reason for having a separate department to make up the names: it ensures that you're not accidentally giving away information about the project in its name. The name is usually unclas
  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Living Fractal (162153) <`banantarr' `at' `hotmail.com'> on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:46AM (#15356937) Homepage
    NSA: "Stand very still, we're going to beat you with this baseball bat."
    U.S. Citizen: "Don't I have rights? You can't just beat me with that bat!"
    NSA: "Don't worry, we've encrypted it."

  • Right. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:49AM (#15356960) Homepage Journal
    And be assured, citizens, that we will never, ever, let a curious finger wander across the board and idly press the beautiful, shiny button labeled "decrypt."

    The jolly, candy-like button...

  • HA! (Score:2, Funny)

    by j0nkatz (315168)
    Yeah, and I "encrypt" all the mp3s I download for free off the internet. I never listen, I just analyze.
  • Trust not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:53AM (#15356994) Journal
    "* Analyzed the data to identify relationships between callers and chronicle their contacts. Only when evidence of a potential threat had been developed would analysts be able to request decryption of the records.

    Says who? The NSA?

    Who defines what a potential threat is? A judge of the court, or some bureaucrats in the NSA?

    Why would we trust an agaency known to play games with the law to have access to this data? A layer of separation (the encryption) doesn't change the fact that the data is still there for misuse. Just because it's harder to tie to an individual doesn't mean it can be misused.

    All the encryption does is make it harder for a rogue/spy to get access to actual phone numbers. Systemic abuse or misuse of the data is not prevented at all. And frankly, systemic abuse/misuse frightens me much more than one person being able to misuse the data.
    • Actually, this could be integrated into the FISA court quite easily, so there's your oversight.

      Further, there was another (discarded) component of the program that would have automated oversight.

      Would or could (if they decide to bring this back) any of this be perfect and avoid abuses? Maybe, maybe not. But it would be a hell of a lot better than the current set up, which is constitutional abuse in and of itself.
  • Still tracable (Score:3, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:55AM (#15357007) Homepage Journal
    Obviously the encrypted info could be decrypted or traced back to the source for further investigation. So this can't possibly bypass privacy laws. After all, it's the NSA. Isn't it part of their job to decrypt information? I'm glad it died.
  • Actually led to this pilot being shelved, and there being less evil law-evading call monitoring by the NSA. I'm amazed that something this insidious was actually abandoned in the wake of 'rising terror threats'.
  • by GundamFan (848341) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @09:58AM (#15357027)
    We are at a crossroads, and we need to take a step back from the emotion of September eleventh (nearly 5 years later) and really look at what we want to see in the future.

    I won't stand on a soapbox here and force my opinion on others but I think it is time for a very serious debate over what is acceptable to give up in the name of security, what secrets we will let our government keep from us and what checks and balances need to be in place.

    I think we are in trouble of letting "terrorism" be the ultimate excuse for any unpopular move by the government and it sadens me to see that the events of 2001 have changed us so much.

    P.S.
    The latest Justifications I have heard for the NSA wire taping are indicative of the problem... saying "we havent had a terrorist atack because of this program" is like saying "the wolly mammoth repelant is working" unless you can show proof that attacks have been thwarted .
    • by ERJ (600451) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:06AM (#15357078)
      Not that I disagree with your statement, we need to be rational about this and figure out the best balance, but this is talking about a project which predates 9/11.
    • The latest Justifications I have heard for the NSA wire taping are indicative of the problem... saying "we havent had a terrorist atack because of this program" is like saying "the wolly mammoth repelant is working" unless you can show proof that attacks have been thwarted.

      I hate it when people justify using the calls intercepted on Sept. 10 but not translated until Sept. 12 that say stuff like "the match is tomorrow" or whatever and say "See! That's why we need wiretapping!"

      No, ... we got those from

    • "I think it is time for a very serious debate over what is acceptable to give up in the name of security"

      With all the effort it would take to get Americans to hold and respect a serious debate your energies would be better spent solving the problem. There is no way for serious debate at the highest levels of government. The people in power have no incentive as they only stand to loose. In their brains it's loosers who want to hold debates. And who wants to be seen on stage with loosers.

      No, what is neede
    • we need to take a step back from the emotion of September eleventh (nearly 5 years later) and really look at what we want to see in the future.

      We had that debate - it was held in secret and American citizens lost. It would be nice to think that electing a different party to control the government would settle the issue, or turn the clock back, or ... anything, but the fact is, it won't.

      This administration has mauled constitutional interpretation like a Dutch macacque and the next one only has to be a hair b
  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:01AM (#15357045)
    From all this invasion of privacy and analysis of our records, have we caught anyone? Stopped any attacks? Where's Osama?

    It would just be nice to know for ONCE the consequences of the actions other than reading about how ordinary people can be spied upon by their Government.
    • Would you stop aiding the terrorists already! You know if they answer that, the terrorists will have won.
    • by ianscot (591483) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:18AM (#15357158)
      Among the most Orwellian moments I've had in the past several years -- and we've had our share of "the new people will go by 'Total Security Agency'" moments, haven't we? -- was the time when my ex-brother-in-law explained that the only way to tell an intelligence agency was succeeding was when you knew nothing about it at all.

      In this person's world, by definition, the public should never be able to point to an intelligence accomplishment. Our best response to the existence of stuff like these NSA capers is to keep our heads down. So said my brother-in-law, who had previously explained to me his rationale by which Nixon was the best President we've ever had.

      One can see the obvious stepping off point to "the real traitors are the ones who *reveal* our secret, extra-constitutional prison system."

      Confronted with evidence of past incompetence on the part of the CIA -- I mentioned the massive expense of the Glomar Explorer misadventure [the-kgb.com], which got us basically nothing new (old details about an aging vintage Soviet sub) for the staggering money involved -- John simply suggested that there must've been a lot more to the story, and that it obviously succeeded because we didn't know about the successful parts. (Whereupon he spun straw into gold and disappeared like Colonel Flag on M*A*S*H -- "like the wind" -- from our family. I believe he's living as an expat in China now.)

    • From all this invasion of privacy and analysis of our records, have we caught anyone? Stopped any attacks? Where's Osama?

      We, as in the US. No. Well, we found Saddam in a hole, but we can't find anybody else. They did find the supposed "mastermind" behind the 9/11/01 attacks in Pakistan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalid_Shaikh_Mohamme d [wikipedia.org]

      They just aren't that good at this stuff, but persistence is the key.
    • It doesn't matter, the ends don't justify the means.
    • Where's Osama?
      His name is Osama bin Laden, as in the oil family Bin Ladens. Bush would never harm a hair on his head.
  • Selective memory (Score:2, Insightful)

    by theid0 (813603)
    Slashdot readers typically don't know much past what is being screamed about in the mainstream media.

    Doesn't anyone here even remember ECHELON [wikipedia.org]? Stop drinking the Kool Aid.
    • Oh I see, if it's being done already, then obviously it's OK to do.

      ECHELON is not for domestic surveillance (though it is possible, even likely, that it has been used or is being used for domestic surveillance, whether directly or via intelligence-swap with the UK).

      In theory, the NSA domestic surveillance programs are very different from ECHELON, and while discussion of ECHELON is relevant, calling slashdotters a bunch of Kool-aid drinkers is pointless, and doesn't apply here at all. You've used it as
      • I believe the use of ECHELON required (and got) warrants from FISA for its work...

        do please correct me if you know this not to be true...

        [ramble]
        quis custodiet custodes is the phrase I think I'm looking for... though my memory is a less than it ought...

        Being the 'good guy' is almost always a losing proposition, except in Hayes code movies and Comics code comics. There is always someone who will say "look at that sucker..." and take advantage of some possibility for profit when they think they 'can get away
    • "Let me put it to you in Texan: If al-Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know." - Bush, Feb 01 2006

      I think it's safe to infer that "calling into" the United States would be done from outside of the United States. So why does Bush not use Echelon? It seems that it was designed for this situation. It's purported to have been used to track Khalid Shaikh Mohammed down in Pakistan.

      Seems Echelon was doing its job - monitoring foreign communications - just fine.

  • by GroeFaZ (850443) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:08AM (#15357092)
    I highly doubt it. This layer of defense against privacy intrusion is less than paper-thin. If the NSA gets to decide what the NSA may or may not find "suspicious", then what's the point? Checks and Balances, kids, Checks and Balances. That's the only thing that can hope to be interesting and respectful. Get juidical approval or leave me TF alone. (I'm not American, but the point remains the same)
  • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:11AM (#15357114)
    Political infighting seems to have dropped an interesting and respectful program from the books.

    Big freaking deal if the numbers are 'encrypted' or not. The problem is not that the NSA knows people's phone numbers - that's why we have phonebooks. The problem is that they have this huge database that lets anyone with access draw all kinds of inferences about people's relationships with each other. The right to freely associate is not free at all if it means that you end up on some big list in a government computer (or anyone else's computer for that matter).

    Having your phone number encrypted when it is in the database doesn't help a bit because the encrypted number is just another unique identifier. Its the equivalent of saying that they used social security numbers in place of the phone numbers.
  • by Creepy (93888) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:12AM (#15357115) Journal
    I don't see how this gets around the fact that, like the CIA, the NSA [wikipedia.org] is NOT supposed to be gathering intelligence within the borders of the United States (see the executive order that created the NSA [utexas.edu])- that is the FBI's responsibility. President Bush used an executive order to allow for the NSA to investigate within the USA after 9/11.

    I believe that any monitoring that originates and terminates in the United States prior to Bush's executive order is illegal (it's also illegal after Bush's order, IMO) unless Clinton also gave an executive order to permit it.

    From wikipedia: ...the NSA's United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18 (USSID 18) strictly prohibits the interception or collection of information about "...US persons, entities, corporations or organizations..." without explicit written legal permission from the Attorney General of the United States"
    • Not quite... (Score:3, Informative)

      by ChePibe (882378)
      You're correct in that the CIA, NSA, and other arms of the Intelligence Community are tasked to target foreign entities, but they are not as geographically limited as you might imagine.

      The CIA, for example, operates within the U.S. performing some functions like those it has overseas. It attempts to recruit foreign assets who will work with them upon return to their home countries, interviews Americans that travel overseas to countries of interest on a strictly voluntary basis, and supports and cooperates
  • by IEEEmember (610961) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:14AM (#15357138) Journal

    Technical details of such a system are documented in "Vegas 911" in April's issue of the IEEE Spectrum.

    The article document's Jeffery Jonas' development of an anonymized system for the NSA based on his security work in Las Vegas. The work is now being done by IBM. The example in the article demonstrates how anonymized cruise passenger data could be compared with an anonymized watch list by a trusted third party. If the trusted third party finds correlations in the data, the government agency can get a warrant for the specific passenger data from the cruise line.

    http://spectrum.ieee.org/apr06/3171 [ieee.org] (registration required)

  • by hackstraw (262471) * on Thursday May 18, 2006 @10:16AM (#15357146)
    because the jokes they tell just don't have a funny punchline anymore. Take this quite from the FA:

    ThinThread was designed to address two key challenges: The NSA had more information than it could digest, and, increasingly, its targets were in contact with people in the United States whose calls the agency was prohibited from monitoring.

    a) they are spying on so many people that they can't even process the data. I've been under that assumption for quite some time, and now its clear. Hey, its a win for us.

    b) they are spying on people they can, but the important stuff is "off limits"

    Huh?

    I'm beginning to think that these people are just like peeping toms or people rubernecking at an accident on the side of the road. They clearly don't even seem to know what the fuck they are doing, it just looks cool, they know they shouldn't do it, but they simply can't help themselves. What a bunch of children.

    Now, although the article has not much more info, the article seems to imply that the NSA is going about their surveillance of innocent people, but to get around that pesky 4th amendment*, they are anomalizing (correct word?) the data via some encryption thingy, and if the random stuff looks interesting enough, I guess they have to get a warrant (or not??) to decrypt the data into something real.

    Now, at first that sounded OK, but then I thought about it. Isn't the data already anonymous and anomalized (??) by default? I mean, even if they have my name, say George Bush, and phone number, and the name and phone number of the guy I called, say Aleister Crowley. Unless the NSA already knows both of these people, that data is still anonymous. It would take a little more investigation to determine if it was George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, or just a namesake or the real deal themselves.

    So, in other words, get a fucking warrant, and stop wasting my tax money randomly looking at "chatter" of innocent people. The process goes like this. 1) Find out something is wrong 2) Get an idea of who is doing the wrong and develop "probable cause" 3) Get a warrant, and go after the bad guys.

    Otherwise, sit on your asses and drink coffee or eat a donut. Don't waste my tax money and be a peeping tom.

    Back to that pesky 4th amendment. If you haven't seen it yet, check out the new dipshit that is the new head of the NSA:

    http://movies.crooksandliars.com/Countdown-nsa-Ha. mov [crooksandliars.com] (about 2.5 megs)

  • Political infighting seems to have dropped an interesting and respectful program from the books.

    I wouldn't call it "interesting". Any social researcher knows this is an effective method to circumvent Institutional Review Boards.

    For example, if I wanted to record how students are using a certain web-based system, and then publish my findings, I would need to get IRB approval and have each student agree to an "Informed Consent" document.

    Instead, a third party, such as the system provider, can gather the data
  • In the 90's even when we had the intelligence on terrorists we did apparently little about it.

    "It will later be revealed in US court that by April 1996, US intelligence agents are aware that an al-Qaeda cell exists in Kenya. By August 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members. The tapping reveals that the cell is providing false passports and other documents to operatives....Yet, despite all of these monitored communications, neither Mohamed, no

    • Well, obviously if we find out that some people in Kenya are falsifying passports, we should launch a full-scale invasion which will guarantee that we catch them.

      By the way, how effective has the invasion of Afghanistan been in catching Osama so far?

      I'm not even going to bother answering your straw man argument about how no one cared that the NSA was spying on people in Kenya so they shouldn't care if they're spying on Americans.

    • Nobody currently cares about US wiretapps of... foreigners, only Americans not involved in a warranted criminal investigation.

  • Lots of people seem to be worried that the encrypted information would have been decrypted and then misused. C'mon people, haven't any of you dealt with a federal government agency? Do you have any idea what kind of mounds of paperwork an analyst would have probably had to have gone through to decrypt anything? Probably so much paperwork that they'd rather just dismiss the most blatant evidence just so they wouldn't have to work on the bureaucratic shuffle.
  • Bring back ninjas.

    Fire everyone at the NSA.

    At least you'll feel cool while being spied on.
  • by 0xC2 (896799) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @11:25AM (#15357632) Homepage
    As long as you wear a paper bag over your head, the Feds should be able to explore your body cavities!
  • by unity100 (970058) * on Thursday May 18, 2006 @11:57AM (#15357948) Homepage Journal
    and too much 'politically correct' saying.

    It should not be 'NSA Chose Invasive Phone Analysis Option' ..

    Its correct saying is 'NSA have violated your privacy'
  • Red Herring (Score:3, Insightful)

    by karlandtanya (601084) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @12:13PM (#15358085)
    Encrypted? By whom? Not by me, that's for sure. Who controls the decryption? Again not somebody who answers to me. Encryption is not a magic incantation that protects secrecy. Encrypting some data produces some other data, which in itself is useless--you have to reverse the process to get the original data back. Encryption happens to be a special sort of process can only be reversed under certain conditions (when the correct keys are present). You don't need a technical understanding of the latest encryption technology to understand this. It's common freaking sense. Somebody has spied on you. They promise to keep the results of their spying a secret. Therefore, your rights have not been violated. Seriously--does anybody buy this? Are we that stupid? Oh, yeah--this message has been encrypted, so it's safe. See? Rapelcgrq? Ol jubz? Abg ol zr, gung\'f sbe fher. Jub pbagebyf gur qrpelcgvba? Ntnva abg fbzrobql jub nafjref gb zr. Rapelcgvba vf abg n zntvp vapnagngvba gung cebgrpgf frperpl. Rapelcgvat fbzr qngn cebqhprf fbzr bgure qngn, juvpu va vgfrys vf hfryrff--lbh unir gb erirefr gur cebprff gb trg gur bevtvany qngn onpx. Rapelcgvba unccraf gb or n fcrpvny fbeg bs cebprff pna bayl or erirefrq haqre pregnva pbaqvgvbaf (jura gur pbeerpg xrlf ner cerfrag). Lbh qba\'g arrq n grpuavpny haqrefgnaqvat bs gur yngrfg rapelcgvba grpuabybtl gb haqrefgnaq guvf. Vg\'f pbzzba sernxvat frafr. Fbzrobql unf fcvrq ba lbh. Gurl cebzvfr gb xrrc gur erfhygf bs gurve fclvat n frperg. Gurersber, lbhe evtugf unir abg orra ivbyngrq. Frevbhfyl--qbrf nalobql ohl guvf? Ner jr gung fghcvq? Bu, lrnu--guvf zrffntr unf orra rapelcgrq, fb vg\'f fnsr. Frr?
  • by karlandtanya (601084) on Thursday May 18, 2006 @12:17PM (#15358116)
    It should have been encrypted. Then it would have been safe. If only if only they would have encrypted it.

    Encrypted?
    By whom? Not by me, that's for sure.
    Who controls the decryption? Again not somebody who answers to me.

    Encryption is not a magic incantation that protects secrecy.
    Encrypting some data produces some other data, which in itself is useless--you have to reverse the process to get the original data back.
    Encryption happens to be a special sort of process can only be reversed under certain conditions (when the correct keys are present).

    You don't need a technical understanding of the latest encryption technology to understand this. It's common freaking sense.
    Somebody has spied on you. They promise to keep the results of their spying a secret. Therefore, your rights have not been violated.

    Seriously--does anybody buy this? Are we that stupid?

    Oh, yeah--this message has been encrypted, so it's safe. See?

    Rapelcgrq?
    Ol jubz? Abg ol zr, gung\'f sbe fher.
    Jub pbagebyf gur qrpelcgvba? Ntnva abg fbzrobql jub nafjref gb zr.

    Rapelcgvba vf abg n zntvp vapnagngvba gung cebgrpgf frperpl.
    Rapelcgvat fbzr qngn cebqhprf fbzr bgure qngn, juvpu va vgfrys vf hfryrff--lbh unir gb erirefr gur cebprff gb trg gur bevtvany qngn onpx.
    Rapelcgvba unccraf gb or n fcrpvny fbeg bs cebprff pna bayl or erirefrq haqre pregnva pbaqvgvbaf (jura gur pbeerpg xrlf ner cerfrag).

    Lbh qba\'g arrq n grpuavpny haqrefgnaqvat bs gur yngrfg rapelcgvba grpuabybtl gb haqrefgnaq guvf. Vg\'f pbzzba sernxvat frafr.
    Fbzrobql unf fcvrq ba lbh. Gurl cebzvfr gb xrrc gur erfhygf bs gurve fclvat n frperg. Gurersber, lbhe evtugf unir abg orra ivbyngrq.

    Frevbhfyl--qbrf nalobql ohl guvf? Ner jr gung fghcvq?

    Bu, lrnu--guvf zrffntr unf orra rapelcgrq, fb vg\'f fnsr. Frr?

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