Our Comments on The NSA’s Review Panel Suggestions (Part I)–More To Come

Source: Executive Summary “Liberty and Security in a Changing World”; 12 Dec 2013

With Regards ToSurveillance of US Persons

“With respect to surveillance of US Persons, we recommend a series of significant reforms. Under section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the government now stores bulk telephony metadata, understood as information that includes the telephone numbers that both originate and receive calls, time of call, and date of call. (Meta-data does not include the content of calls.). We recommend that Congress should end such storage and transition to a system in which such metadata is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes.”

Our Analysis: Let’s keep in mind that the NSA’s role is to be preemptive in their intelligence assessments – meaning, acts of terror against the homeland or abroad must be detected and deterred before they occur. To be successful the NSA must use whatever means and technologies are, or become, available to map terror networks, or identify operatives directing, training and financing cells or plots. Maintaining a large and inclusive metadata database is critical to tracing and mapping cells operating in the homeland and/or abroad. An intercept or in theater intelligence collection could have linkages that go back 5 or more years, and it’s essential for the NSA to retain metadata for as long as it is feasible so that all linkages can be identified and followed through a complex road map of contacts and communications.

The report describes meta data as the call record and correctly asserts that conversations are not part of what is collected. The authors also recommend that rather than government housing the metadata, it be stored by a third party and available to be accessed by the government as needed. In our view, this is a bad idea.

Metadata is currently used by telecommunications providers for rendering statements, billing and traffic studies. Traffic studies ensure that network planners understand and plan for peak period loads so that adequate capacity and provisions for overflow are incorporated in their physical network designs. Other than statutory requirements, call records are discarded as they serve no purpose once used in the activities mentioned above. Asking a third party or a telecommunications provider to retain metadata, adds to their cost structure and opens the door to further erosion of  individual privacy, as the information held could be used for marketing, or sold to outside parties. Leaving metadata with the NSA is considerably safer from cyber attack,  more cost effective (2 Terra Bytes of storage can be purchased commercially for $69.99) and enhances individual privacy.

The issue can be address with Congressional oversight and regular internal and outside audits.

“We endorse a broad principle for the future: as a general rule and without senior policy review, the government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes.

We endorse new steps to protect American citizens engaged in communications with non-US persons. We recommend important restrictions on the ability of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to compel third parties (such as telephone service providers) to disclose private information to the government. We endorse similar restrictions on the issuance of National Security Letters (by which the Federal Bureau of Investigation now compels individuals and organizations to turn over certain otherwise private records”

Our Analysis: Again we revert to the “preemptive” requirement. Undigested “non-public personal information” is in need of specificity. Without that we end up excluding data points that could reveal a future 9/11. Furthermore, the authors are restricting the NSA from what commercial enterprise presently engages in without ANY oversight (judicial or congressional) and over individual objection. So, it seems ludicrous to deny the NSA ,access to or collecting, authority to the same data currently collected by the business sector. Are we saying that we lack trust in the NSA’s integrity or ability to protect individual privacy and liberty?

We endorse new steps to protect American citizens engaged in communications with non-US persons.” We see this as an admirable goal but we must never allow the United States or individuals with residency or citizen status to become centers of finance, command and control for terror cells or groups by hiding behind a national shield. 


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