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The Information Revolution and the Snooping State

July 8th, 2013 - 7:23 pm

With the information revolution, things changed in at least two ways.  First, the amount of “data” metastasized.   I was often amazed at NSA’s abilities (as when, before my time, they figured out a way to listen via satellite to the Soviet dictator’s car phone), but those capabilities now look like child’s play.  Now there’s all that stuff on Internet, and email, and cell phones.  Bad guys make calls and send emails and browse the Net, right?  Ergo, it’s in our interest to get on top of it all, and since Google has a monster storage facility for its data, we need an even bigger one for ours.  And so we get the enormous facility in Utah.

I’m not absolutely sure about what I’m about to say, but I have some smarter friends who tell me that the quantity of “information” is so vast, it’s unmanageable.  Like me, they have had good experiences with NSA, and respect its work as a general principle.  But it could well be that NSA fell in love with “big data,” and just assumed that they needed to have it all.  But they don’t.  They need specific data, having to do with specific problems, and it strikes my friends that there’s actually a danger of losing focus in the galaxy of data now being stored.  Most of it is probably useless for the government’s purposes–even if you assume the worst about its intentions–and the bigger that galaxy becomes, the harder it will be to locate and analyze the valuable stuff.

In short, this might well be one of those cases where a fabulous technology has been adopted, only to discover that it makes things worse, because it diverts money, analysts, and agencies from paying attention to real people.

Mind you, I’m not saying that NSA shouldn’t listen to phone calls or read emails to or from people who may be plotting to do evil things.  I’m just saying that having a list of all the phone numbers called by bin Laden or Zawahiri probably doesn’t get us useful information about their mafia.  The top terrorists change their phones with such frequency that records of calls are long since overtaken by events.  The ones who cling to  their “smart” phones are stupid.

Which is not to say I’m not worried about snoopers.  I am, big time.  I’m worried about the current practice of the FISA Court to approve requests for all data the government claims might be “relevant” to national security.  Its critics are calling it a “parallel Supreme Court” that only hears the government’s side of the request, and last year it approved all of the 1800 requests it received.  Nobody’s perfect, and that number tells me that oversight–the purpose of the court, after all–is insufficient.   It also suggests that the court is being entranced by the “big data” dream.

Oh, by the way, it isn’t only “big data” that is being gobbled up by the state;  snail mail is being targeted as well.  The government has greatly expanded its monitoring of envelopes and packages delivered by the postman.  My old buddy Angleton is undoubtedly having a few chuckles over that one, since he was purged from CIA in part because he was reading mail to Americans from bad guys overseas.

But I’m even more worried about the government’s obsession with keeping its own secrets.  Not just classified information, which is kosher, but things it would prefer we don’t know.

The president has unleashed a little-noted but truly scary “spy on your colleagues” campaign within the federal bureaucracy, calling on government workers to report suspicious behavior by their cohorts.  The mission is to identify potential leakers before they spill the beans on what our government is up to. This (classic McCarthyite) campaign is being applied to all manner of information, including stuff in the Agriculture Department and the Peace Corps, that is not remotely classified.

The thing is so ugly that civil servants have been warned that they may be singled out for punishment for failure to report suspicious behavior.

Civil service all of a sudden sounds scary.

And then there’s the “education” snoopers.  I started worrying early in the Obama first term when the government took over the student loan program, since it provides bureaucrats the ability to decide who gets college money, and who doesn’t.  The opportunities for political corruption are obvious:  if they like your parents, you get the money.  Otherwise, no deal.  The latest instrument for governmental control over our kids is the scheme to tailor education to each and every student’s personal “needs.”  If little Mohammed is having trouble with arithmetic, and is a big baseball fan, then his math homework would ask him about RBIs instead of boring numbers, for example.  To that end, a huge database is being assembled, containing all manner of information about students, starting with kindergarten.  That information inevitably includes lots of personal stuff about little Mohammed’s family:

Some of the student characteristics being discussed and coded are very sensitive, and their relevance to education is questionable at best. Those characteristics can include voting status, family income, religious affiliation, discipline problems, number of hours worked per weekend, medical laboratory procedure results, amount of non-school activity involvement and computer screen name.

This frightens me.  And while I do worry about the NSA’s data galaxy, I worry even more about Education’s snooping into the details of our kids’ lives.  For extras, I don’t like the notion of trying to tailor school programs to “fit” each individual student.  I don’t think it can work.  I want good teachers and good books, both seemingly in ultra-short supply nowadays.  “Data” can’t replace quality, no matter how high it’s piled up.

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Top Rated Comments   
This wouldn't be a problem of such magnitude if, as the means of gathering information has expanded into infinity, the national character hasn't been degraded into a small, puny nugget of sludge. It isn't the accumulation of personal data that's frightening us as much as the motives of the bureaucratic creeps who are doing the accumulating.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (35)
All Comments   (35)
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Who could be concerned about the cover story of "we want to tailor our education to the needs of each individual student"? Really? Seems like maybe we want to be able to make sure we have all the information we need to control and or blackmail each and every citizen. BUT that wouldn't sell so like everything else that comes from these PROGRESIVES it is cloaked in a lie. It is afterall just for the children.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"these data"

Thank you for that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is the good side. If someone is to do me wrong, I can turn my cell phone on and record. Also, I think the police have had to change their methods; casual brutality is likely to be recorded. (And yes, there was a lot of that; it woudl be interesting to learn if civil rights and law enforcement really are compatible.)

Please remember the Linda Tripp, who life was ruined (among countless others) by the Clintons, was prosecuted at the insistence of the Maryland State Legislature using a law explicitly passed to protect corrupt politicians (as per longtime Baltimore newsman Fank Luber).

In many cases, the privacy laws should be loosened, not strengthened, so you and I can protect ourselves from government officials and others who might do us harm.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"No person can survive a detailed biographical inquiry. We’ve all done things we shouldn’t, and we’ve failed to do things we should. "

And please note that Hilary Clinton, who may be our next President, obtained ALL of that information on her opponents at the start of the Clinton presidency. Filegete, remember? This is fact.

It doesn't take high-tech.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Michael, how true to life was "The Brotherhood of the Rose"? It saw Robert Mitchum as a deputy director of the CIA?

Thanks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
dunno. i guess i better see it, huh?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It certainly was believable when a greenhouse that was used by Mitchum was blown up, and then he resigned from his post. It seems he kept a lot of information below it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"This (classic McCarthyite) campaign "


Um, Mr. Ledeen, I think you got this backwards. This is a Stalinist campaign.


McCarthy was right.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I’m just saying that having a list of all the phone numbers called by bin Laden or Zawahiri probably doesn’t get us useful information about their mafia."

Actually, that data set does get us useful information about their mafia. It's having a list of all the phone numbers called by your phone or mine that does nothing to prevent terrorism.

And unfortunately, the latter is what we seem to have signed up to with the Patriot Act.

Businesses get to see us as data sets and targets. They can't use force to make us do anything, and they can be prosecuted for misusing our information.

"Government" can't be prosecuted -- only individual officials can be prosecuted, and the US does no better at that than any other nation has -- but government can most definitely use force to make us do things. We signed up in 1913 with the income tax for government seeing us as a manipulable data set. But we shouldn't have. Government has too much power to be allowed to see us that way. Even when we're fighting terrorism, government should always be constrained to see every US person as a holder of unalienable rights, and not as something filtered out by a sifting of data sets.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
amen
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Slight correction: with the EXPANSION of the Patriot Act. Obama expanded it when he renewed it. Republicans went along, so they are culpable, too; but the Patriot Act we have today is NOT the same one Bush signed into law.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
true. but i worried a lot about the first one already. testified against it, in fact...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, it's not. That one was plenty bad enough, and the one we have is the predicted offspring of the original.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is absolutely egregious that Obama Inc feigns concern over terror to justify snooping/spying on ALL Americans. For if their intent was to thwart plots, then how come the most intrinsic piece to the puzzle has been gutted? - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/06/18/the-purging-an-omerta-re-islam-terror-within-americas-power-centers-eviscerates-nsas-domestic-spying-say-what-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/

So the question becomes:What are they up to? Does a "dissidents" list" sound far fetched? Not exactly.

Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My worry is that the IT types who built NSA's data collecting system either left a back door into it or the Soros Junta has opened a back door into it. I'm thinking all the stories about the volunteer nerds and dedicated college students building the database that made the Obama Campaign's GOTV in "battleground" states so effective was really just a legend to cover for the fact that the database is a highly centralized operation that mines NSA data and which is now in the hands of OFA. Funny how they got just the right number of votes in just the right places. It isn't much of a step to take such date and completely fabricate a person that "looks" real and have them registered to vote, vote absentee, or use that identity for the voting crews that ride around from polling place to polling place. The propaganda about how voter ID is suppressing minority votes has worn thin with 110% turnout in some minority precincts. They've now developed a way to provide authentic ID for fake voters. If that is true, there will never be another honest election anywhere in the Country. It would also explain why the Junta has been so dedicated to protecting HRC, the apparent chosen successor, and equally apparently a Soros asset though not a willing one. Remember it was the Junta that leaked the info about the IRS targetting conservative groups; heard much about Benghazi since? Ben who? If anything sticks to HRC that drives her poll numbers down too far, they can't credibly steal the '16 election and continue the "transformation" unabated. They have to maintain the illusion that we are still a functioning republican democracy while still being able to manipulate elections as necessary to always win, close, but convincingly. If HRC is at 30% in the polls, getting 51% on election day would strain the credulity of even LIVs and they wouldn't be able to so easily dismiss people like me as paranoid sexists and racists.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They don't need a back door, Art.

They own the front door.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Do they, really? This is classified stuff; it doesn't work the way the IRS does, not are the programmers and language experts likely to think the same way.

IAnd I can't imagine there woudl be a back door; this is NSA, not AT&T.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't know why you can't imagine a back door. There isn't a government computer system in the Country that isn't being used improperly by somebody either in IT or at the end user level. I always assumed that anything I wrote on a network computer would be in the hands of a union or political adversary before it got to the intended recipient. For most of my career, the only things I ever did on the network were final versions of formal documents that were to be released as public record and documents intended for deception and disinformation. By the time I was far enough up the chain to be involved in policy making, I resisted requests for briefing and decision memos and if forced to do them, did them either at home or not on the network and made canary copies so I could tell who leaked them.

Give me access to money, toys, or a pretty women with negotiable virtue, and I'll find some computer weenie to give up whatever I want. Background checks and security clearances are like locks; they're for honest people and dogs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
good comment, though hard to read. Paragraphs, my friend, really help these tired old eyes and slow brain.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The overstepping of bounds by government can always be corrected under Rule-7.62 -
sometimes that's the only way such corrections can be effective!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So even the "blood of patriots" people have gone metric?

That's scary.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To apply the 7.62 rule would be no solution, it would be the end of everything, the descent into the maelstrom, the failure of civilization, not its salvation. The only way to preserve a world in which my grandchildren and yours can live in some measure of freedom and opportunity is to hold the line as best we can by constitutional means for one more year, at which time we can elect a new senate - an ever greater likelihood - and then install a new president by constitutional means. If the election were held now, Obama could not win the office of dogcatcher. The rest of the Democratic leadership is getting old and have by now exposed themselves through the failure of their policies, on all fronts foreign and domestic. They have "PAST" written across their foreheads - even Hillary. The Republicans are full of youth and vigor, the Tea Party is winning - not losing - its cause and is more savvy now than ever. 2013 is the zenith of the progressive movement, 2014 will show it in retreat. As for the electronic snooping, we will never return to the lives of privacy that we once had, not without the collapse of the Electronic Age. The New Man will live in the New World, not in our world.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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