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Hullabaloo


Friday, June 07, 2013

 
Indiscriminate metadata gathering is a bad way to "protect America"

by David Atkins

Conservadem Senator Dianne Feinstein, trying to explain why the NSA feels it is necessary for the NSA to sift through the metadata for every single person in America:

Feinstein said she could not answer whether other phone companies have had their records sifted through as Verizon has.

“I know that people are trying to get to us,” she said. “This is the reason why the FBI now has 10,000 people doing intelligence on counterterrorism. This is the reason for the national counterterrorism center that’s been set up in the time we’ve been active. its to ferret this out before it happens. “It’s called protecting America.”
It's almost like waking up in the middle of the Bush Administration, isn't it?

Hyperventilating aside, it's clear what the feds are trying to do here in theory. Having been caught with their pants down by missing the threat from the Tsarnaevs (as well as several other close calls over the last decade), the NSA wants to vaccuum up every single phone call to see who is making "suspicious" calls outside the country. Now that they have the capacity to process mindboggling amounts of data at one time, the feds are running a dragnet of every single phone call to see what turns up. Unlike the Bush Administration which illegally bypassed the FISA court in order directly wiretap calls, the Obama Administration is apparently (so far as know at this point) staying within the law by going through the FISA court to get not the calls themselves, but metadata on the calls. Casting that wide a net seems to me (and, I suspect, most Americans) to be an egregious violation of the 4th Amendment, nor given the secrecy of the government's arguments can we reasonably trust that the question of 4th Amendment protections will or even possibly can be adequately determined by any court.

Beyond the Constitutionality of the program, there's something else that bothers me about it. It seems that Dianne Feinstein believes that we're supposed to be reassured by this massive overreach on the part of NSA that the feds are doing everything necessary to protect us from a terror attack. But the opposite is true.

What the Boston Bombing tells me on a counterterrorism level is that we clearly weren't paying enough attention to connections from Chechnya; whatever intelligence we have on the ground in Chechnya and among Chechen immigrants is obviously inadequate; red flags should be going up when discontented young men spend long amounts of time overseas in areas known to foster terrorism; and the government should probably be doing some detailed inquiry and outreach among other communities previously considered 2nd-tier potential for homegrown attacks. It seems that the Tsarnaev problem requires a focused effort involving narrowly targeted inquiry.

Instead, the feds have seen fit to just cast the widest possible net in the hopes that something will turn up if they churn through enough phone numbers. Even if that major and probably unconstitutional intrusion into civilian privacy weren't being abused at all, it hardly instills confidence that the NSA is doing what it takes to protect America. On the contrary, it seems to be literally throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks.

Constitutional issues notwithstanding, if Dianne Feinstein thinks that's the right way to "protect America", then perhaps it's time for her retire and allow someone with more common sense (to say nothing of greater respect for civil liberties) to take on oversight of the Executive Branch's national security activities.


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