Saturday, May 13, 2006

Is the NSA Becoming a PATRIOT?

Unless you've stepped away from all forms of media, you have learned that the NSA is constructing a database of phone conversations on just about every American. They say that they don't really "listen" for anything except for "terrorist" activity. There are many ways that I could argue how this violates civil liberty, privacy, or technology neutrality, but what concerns me most is the technical aspect of the NSA's argument. Let's consider the "terrorist" aspect for a second.

Specifically, I am concerned with how terrorist activity is defined. Recall, the Patriot Act? It was designed, albeit loosely, to give authorities more ease and power in their war on terrorism. However, in the process the authorities have basically redefined the notion of a terrorist threat. We now see people, who have almost zero chance of committing a terrorist act, accosted by the authorities under the auspices of the Patriot Act.

So here's my concern with respect to the NSA: What happens when the NSA goes the same route as the Patriot Act. They're not evil, but to find "terrorists" they have to widen their definition, their search, and their monitoring. Currently, many people believe that their conversations will not be monitored simply because they are not a terrorist. But if "terrorist" is ill-defined and "terrorist-related activity" is even less clear, then much much more of non-terrorist related phone conversation will be monitored with very minimal checks and balances in place. I shudder at the potential harms.

I wonder how many people will move to encrypted communications? Not everyone's a techowonk, so probably not as many as should.


Blogger Frito said...

is it my imagination, or do I remember hearing about the NSA searching phone conversations a while back. Maybe its just because I knew someone in the NSA, but this still is not a new thing.

11:40 AM  

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