Obama Administration to Expand Sharing of NSA Data from Snooping

This is why you shouldn't accept the FBI's 'just one phone' decryption argument.


Hey it's one of those "back room" discussions John Kasich thinks they should have to decide how much privacy Americans should have.
White House

At the same time that Republican candidates at last night's debate were signing on to the FBI's claim (a completely untrue claim) that they only wanted to force Apple to help them access a single phone, Charlie Savage at The New York Times was reporting a plan by the Obama administration to increase the number of people and government agencies allowed to review data collected by the National Security Agency (NSA).

While these two issues are not directly connected, it's an important reminder that when you're dealing with the government (or any large institution) whatever authority it is granted is bound to expand whenever possible. And in this case, it's actually likely a direct result of intelligence agencies trying to do a better job of evaluating the information that it collects, something that has been a consistent problem in anti-terror efforts. It's not that the government isn't getting the right information; it's not sharing the information with the right people.

But the problem is that—because we are now aware that the NSA has been collecting absurd amounts of data about American citizens "incidentally" as part of its anti-terror efforts—such a plan potentially means more eyeballs may end up looking at private information about you and me:

The change would relax longstanding restrictions on access to the contents of the phone calls and email the security agency vacuums up around the world, including bulk collection of satellite transmissions, communications between foreigners as they cross network switches in the United States, and messages acquired overseas or provided by allies.

The idea is to let more experts across American intelligence gain direct access to unprocessed information, increasing the chances that they will recognize any possible nuggets of value. That also means more officials will be looking at private messages — not only foreigners' phone calls and emails that have not yet had irrelevant personal information screened out, but also communications to, from, or about Americans that the N.S.A.'s foreign intelligence programs swept in incidentally.

Civil liberties advocates criticized the change, arguing that it will weaken privacy protections. They said the government should disclose how much American content the N.S.A. collects incidentally — which agency officials have said is hard to measure — and let the public debate what the rules should be for handling that information.

"Before we allow them to spread that information further in the government, we need to have a serious conversation about how to protect Americans' information," said Alexander Abdo, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer.

What will happen under this new system is that the NSA will be able to allow other federal agencies (like the CIA and FBI) raw access to surveillance data that has not had "irrelevant" information about American citizens who are not suspected of any sort of criminal behavior masked or redacted. The current system puts the NSA in charge of deciding what to share and requires them to mask information incidentally swept up by surveillance.

The Obama Administration has been working on this plan since 2009 (though it was authorized initially by an executive order by George W. Bush in 2008). I imagine it never occurred to them that Americans would discover how much of this information is about us, not suspected terrorists; otherwise this probably wouldn't have even been a story. Thanks again, Edward Snowden!

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  1. Ow my nuts.

    Before we allow them to spread that information…

    Fuck you ACLU, because you won’t try to prevent them; you’ll just make sure you get your fingers into the mix for a taste.

  2. “George W. Bush set the change in motion through a little-noticed line in a 2008 executive order, and the Obama administration has been quietly developing a framework for how to carry it out since taking office in 2009.

    The executive branch can change its own rules without going to Congress or a judge for permission because the data comes from surveillance methods that lawmakers did not include in the main law that governs national security wiretapping, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

    FISA covers a narrow band of surveillance: the collection of domestic or international communications from a wire on American soil, leaving most of what the N.S.A. does uncovered.”

    So the main law which we have regulating and limiting government surveillance doesn’t actually cover the most important government surveillance.

    Good to know, thanks for sharing.

  3. We need to infringe upon your rights to protect your rights.

    Oh…and we need more money. /The G

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  5. It’s not that the government isn’t getting the right information; it’s not sharing the information with the right people.

    Maybe. But I think a bigger problem is not understanding the information: determining which parts of it are important, and figuring out what it means. Adding more and more data–99% of which doesn’t have jack shit to do with terrorism or any other crime–makes that problem harder, not easier.

    In many famous intelligence failures in history, the right people had the right information but just didn’t believe it. The Battle of the Bulge went down that way; the Allied commanders had intel about the coming offensive in the Ardennes but didn’t regard it as credible.

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