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Domestic spying

2006-05-15 23:53:39.272865+00 by Dan Lyke 10 comments

Everybody's linking to: Federal Source to ABC News: We Know Who You're Calling:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

[ related topics: Politics Current Events Civil Liberties ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 03:03:03.670766+00 by: Brad

Less frightening even than the substance of that post—if you can imagine—is the tenor of the first few comments. Yes, by all means, let us give up our free and unfettered media, the better to support and defend our nation.

Hell is other people indeed. And other people scare the fuck out of me.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 03:26:05.404485+00 by: meuon [edit history]

Is evading such things by using bogus prepaid phones and calling cards a crime yet? Will it soon be? Will I be detained for posting this?

These questions and more answered on tonights news at [click]

It's not that they CAN do these things that bothers me, it's that they DO them.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 04:34:05.422213+00 by: aiworks

I can't find it now, but I remember seeing recently on a few different sites that Google has been updating slowly since February. And then, you've got Eric Schmidt at Google talking about how they've got a "machine crisis." I'll toss in that I'm a user of the Google homepage and it goes through hour long periods of giving HTTP/500 errors.

I'm sure this is just a rough patch, but it geels like the wheels are coming off.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 05:24:08.088+00 by: aiworks

(whoops, wrong thread)

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 15:31:39.201777+00 by: mvandewettering

Something which I haven't heard mentioned on the heels of this latest revelation is that the justification that the Bush administration put forth for its domestic surveillance program was to protect us from terrorism, yet this was clearly and obviously not the purpose in monitoring the phone calls of ABC reporters. The assertion that "we are only violating your rights for your own good" seems to require greater and greater amounts of medication to accept. I, for one, appreciate the role (albeit limited by laziness and corporate interest) that a free and unfettered media can play in our modern society, and it seems sad and even dangerous to allow that to be swept aside merely because we utter the words "war on terror".

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 17:24:44.202336+00 by: Mars Saxman

It's a war on terror, alright: any means necessary, against anything that scares the administration...

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 18:21:02.068892+00 by: ebradway

I'm kind of disappointed that everyone here has been jumping on the "civil rights attack" bandwagon and ignoring the comments about this creating "the largest computer database ever". Sure, it has "interesting" repurcussions on civil rights, but there are some very, very interesting aspects of the data.

First, I'm sure the phone records do not contain names or other personally identifiable information. I bet they only contain the origination number, the destination number, time/date, and duration. Similar to records used by the likes of BellSouth for auditting.

Second, what that information can provide is a massive social information network that can be used to locate "cell" behaviors. Of course, in the network, a terrorist cell also looks like a PTA calling tree...

A big plus the network provides is a quick way for law enforcement, after having picked up someone on terrorism charges to determine whose phone records to subpeona.

All that said, however, I have my doubts about the NSA being able to maintain "the worlds largest computer database". Maybe they're getting better, but the intelligence community, in general, has trouble actually implementing bleeding-edge technology. My guess is that they'll blow several billion dollars trying to get the thing to work and fail. Of course, in ten years this kind of database will be commonplace...

Another interesting thing I heard mentioned recently was that the CIA gets its most valuable and useful information from voluntary call-ins! That is, people just calling in and saying "I think something funny's going on here..." Makes me wonder why the government wastes $billions on boondoggles like the phone records...

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-16 18:44:24.21211+00 by: Dan Lyke

It would take a bunch of pattern analysis papers I haven't yet seen to convince me that there's a reasonable way to mine '"cell" behaviors' from telephone calling patterns in any meaningful ways. As you point out, differentiating between kids using cell phones to coordinate a party and any sort of coordination of a terrorist attack is going to be nigh impossible. In fact, differentiating between the results of those activities is probably difficult too, but I digress.

And if there's reasonable suspicion in the first place, there's no reason that the appropriate authorities couldn't obtain either a warrant or a subpoena.

The overall problem here is one of oversight. There are systems in place to provide oversight, the "authorities" are ducking those systems, and when the results of that surreptition become known it's fairly plain that the results of evading the law and bypassing those checks aren't leading to positive results for the citizens of this country.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-17 00:27:06.95325+00 by: Larry Burton

Heh, the coincidence of AIWorks' mistaken comment in the wrong place made me think that there may be more than just the phone companies cooperating with the government.

Eric, if they have your phone number they may as well have your SSN. My home phone number is what most vendors are now using as my customer number.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-05-17 04:36:57.357882+00 by: meuon

There is a LOT more information in calling records capabilities than just originating and destination #'s.. in many MANY cases it includes the name and address of each number, billing information (whom to bill and how inc. name and address) and even a phone company specific credit score.. ie: payment history score. as well as technical things like feature sets available on each end (call waiting, forwarding.. ) Lot's of data flowing down those B, D and SS7 channels besides just your voice.