NSA data collection

There are a lot of things wrong with the NSA conducting mass surveillance. One aspect hasn’t gotten enough attention, I think.

The governing doctrine, as I understand it, is that the Fourth Amendment search and seizure rule doesn’t apply to data collection. It only counts as a ‘search’ that may or may not be ‘reasonable’ when they actually look at the data and attach identities to the actions tracked.

They’re asking for a lot of trust. But not just trust in the present.

I don’t know how long they keep that data, but keeping it is cheap, and the agencies involved are known for keeping records a long time. That means even if you trust the current administration with it, you’re also trusting future administrations as well.

Thus: say you are a woman who called your doctor and then called Planned Parenthood. You might trust the Obama Administration with records of those calls. But what would a Santorum Administration do with that data? I’m sure there are hypotheticals a conservative could come up with in the converse.

One of the ways Americans avoid slippery slopes is to not grant powers on the basis of personal trust. You don’t grant power to an Obama Administration that you wouldn’t trust to a Santorum Administration, or vice versa.

It’s bad enough that this policy exists and could be expanded upon by future administrations. But that’s compounded by the archiving of the data itself. Who knows what policies will be applied in the future to data the NSA has now?

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4 comments

  1. John, well and simply stated. I dunno how this works legally, but I think we (as a group) also operate with the cultural phenomenon of grandfathering as an action. That is, with the belief that legal activities now will not harm us in future wherein they might be illegal. I dunno if that’s uniquely American, but we know there are grudge-holding or revenge-seeking cultures that don’t embrace this goodwill at all (if I can call it that) and take for granted that our society will maintain that level of play.

    The model of data collected against an uncertain future makes me squeamish if I replace activity data with genetic data. What if Monsanto decided to patent something uniquely yours?

  2. John —
    Spot on — holding less than full trust in the people responsible for keeping confidential any information gleaned and with not trusting any pledge to curtail expansion of any data mining ops.

    The runaway NSA clerk, Snowden, illustrates the frailty of men with access and illustrates your concerns. Jon Stewart’s ability to bring up ten year old videos of pols flipping & flopping illustrates the prevailing tendency to hoard rather than warehouse. Money is budgeted to collect intelligence, not to organize it or prune old files.

  3. Nowhere does it say that creation of a law or system must be comfortable. Surely, I was not comfortable during my working life when I had to have 15% of my earnings sent to FICA. I am not comfortable with a Defense Department doing a necessary job while being incapable of handling rapists within its domain. I am not happy with Medicare that does not have the power to negotiate prices for drugs–or services. What we must consider is the danger that is involved with granting government the power that is necessary to solve the problem under consideration. The case at hand with the NSA is the risk of allowing terrorists to fly air liners into tall buildings.

    1. No, it’s not. That plot didn’t even last the full day of 9/11–on the fourth plane the passengers stopped it. And today it’s not even a consideration. Any hijacker is going to get overpowered immediately, and the cockpit doors are armored and locked so they won’t be able to take control of the plane.

      The issue is not comfort, it’s potential for abuse. There are lots of things I can do and tell you they make you safer. But who will protect you from me? The problem you name is solved.

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