Feeds

Telcos wish to deny mass snooping

'Compassionate totalitarianism' proves tricky for the private sector

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

The essential guide to IT transformation

Now for a brief word on just how bad this mess actually is. Assuming the NSA program is as advertised, it would not constitute a serious threat to privacy. So long as the agency sticks to its stated goal of analysing call patterns, without identifying data, it's fairly harmless.

That's not to say it's a good thing. Indeed, it might well be illegal. The Bush Administration is betting its authority to analyse domestic phone calls on a presumption of wartime powers, and subsequent certifications by the US Attorney General that the practice is legal under the circumstances. These certifications amount to a get out of jail free card for the telcos, if scant insurance against a PR backlash.

However, if Bush's authoritarian house of cards, built on a very questionable claim of "wartime authority", is to blow away, the shock waves will be severe throughout Washington (and Fort Meade, and Langley). And the telcos could face a PR debacle of Biblical proportions.

Second, the potential for abuse is enormous, when we consider how easy it is to purchase, quite legally, personally-identifying data from sources like ChoicePoint, et al. The NSA has demonstrated, in the (post-Church-Committee) recent past, that it is admirably conscientious about protecting the privacy of US persons insofar as it can. But today it's absurdly easy to get all of the personally-identifying data one could wish for merely by paying a data broker, while the climate of paranoia, endless emergency, and imperious swagger within the Bush Administration is palpable. The outside pressure from the administration, and the internal temptations, to take it to the next level must be tremendous. One has got to figure, if they haven't given in yet, it's only a matter of time.

Still, at least until we learn more, this program appears to be minimally intrusive, if quite foolhardy. The NSA is going to be buried in data, and making useful sense of it is a long shot.

Far more ominous is the admission, by Bush himself, that the NSA has been eavesdropping on the actual content of phone calls and emails between US persons and foreigners, without a FISA warrant. This is a felony. And if the telcos have been cooperating with this outrage - if this is what they cannot confirm or deny - then there is no number of "certifications" from the Attorney General that will keep the gaoler's hand off their collars. ®

Related stories

CIA defends unaccountable snooping(18 May 2006)
Protection from prying NSA eyes (17 May 2006)
DoJ intervenes in 'warrantless' wiretapping lawsuit (15 May 2006)
NSA data trawl furore (12 May 2006)
Senate to save Bush's bacon on illegal wiretaps (8 March 2006)
NSA searches for advanced data mining tech (27 February 2006)
NSA uses ECHELON against US citizens (16 December 2005)
Arrest at UK's spook station after NSA UN bugging claim (9 March 2003)
This is how we know Echelon exists (14 September 2001)
What are those words that trigger Echelon? (31 May 2001)

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
6 Obvious Reasons Why Facebook Will Ban This Article (Thank God)
Clampdown on clickbait ... and El Reg is OK with this
Mozilla's 'Tiles' ads debut in new Firefox nightlies
You can try turning them off and on again
No, thank you. I will not code for the Caliphate
Some assignments, even the Bongster decline must
Banking apps: Handy, can grab all your money... and RIDDLED with coding flaws
Yep, that one place you'd hoped you wouldn't find 'em
TROLL SLAYER Google grabs $1.3 MEEELLION in patent counter-suit
Chocolate Factory hits back at firm for suing customers
Primetime precrime? Minority Report TV series 'being developed'
I have to know. I have to find out what happened to my life
Netflix swallows yet another bitter pill, inks peering deal with TWC
Net neutrality crusader once again pays up for priority access
Ex-IBM CEO John Akers dies at 79
An era disrupted by the advent of the PC
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.