Pres. Obama reverses Sen. Obama ....
Last Thursday saw reports on National Security Agency (NSA) daily monitoring of the calls of over 100 million Americans, and on the NSA's PRISM program monitoring most Internet calls via access to the servers of nine major Internet firms; another program targets 50 companies, including credit card company records. The NY Times reports that the government collects some 100 billion data-points per month. Americans now annually generate some 161 exabytes, equal to 161 quintillion (million trillion) bytes, or to 37,000 times the volume of data contained in the Library of Congress.
The NYT cites an IBM estimate that 2.5 quintillion bits of new data globally created daily--400 exabytes per year. This estimate, if accurate, would mean that the NSA collects less than one-billionth of new global data per day. Further, IBM estimates that 90 percent of global data was created in the past two years, and that data extant will double annually through 2020. Seven doublings would mean a 128-fold jump in database size, with world data creation up to 320 quintillion bytes per day. At 320 exabytes per day, the yearly total would be 117 zettabytes (billion trillion bytes).
President Obama underwent a surveillance evolution by adopting & vastly expanding a policy of his predecessor, one he excoriated as a senator, until he supported a 2008 law expanding what he had hitherto assailed--in the process, alienating his base (which, Jon Yoo reminds us, went haywire when Pres. Bush's smaller prrogram was outed in 2006). The NSA's umbrella name for its data-mining is "Boundless Informant"--(excuse a pun) "spookier" than Bush 43's short-lived Total Inforation Awareness Pentagon program. One report credits the NSA programs with helping to thwart a 2009 NYC bomb plot. Another report says that the Justice Dept. is fighting to keep secret a Dec. 2011 ruling holding part of the program unconstitutional. Sunday the original source for the story surfaced, a young CIA employee involved in IT security, formerly with NSA as a security guard for a covert facility (improperly vetted, according to soldier-author Ralph Peters on this AM's "Fox & Friends", because he came via an outside contractor). Several points:
History: The 2006 Debate. The high-voltage debate seven years ago took place with an off-year election coming up in the fall, one in which the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. The National Security Agency's Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP) monitored some 7,000 terror suspects overseas and 500 suspects inside the US. TSP was reviewed every 45 days, and had been reauthorized over 30 times since Sept. 11, 2001.
On March 24, 2006 I posted on the TSP issues (not accessible online externally anymore, for reasons known only to Typepad). A few snippets from that post put the massive Verizon & Internet PRISM programs today in perspective:
Begin with that each year (as of 2006) voice and data calls involving American users--adding together wire line telephony, wireless phones and Internet access, domestically and overseas--probably total 500 billion calls annually: that's two trillion calls during any four-year Presidential term. Each year Americans make 200 billion minutes of international calls. If each call averages 5 minutes that is 40 billion calls--110 million calls per day. In a country of 300 million souls 3 million is one percent, and 500 suspects is 1/6,000th of one percent. It does not sound like the government is eavesdropping on everyone in the US of A, does it? In one respect the program is clearly conservative: Suppose A, a known operative in Afghanistan, calls suspects B in Baltimore and C in Columbia, Maryland. NSA, under this program, monitors only calls between A & B and between A & C. Now, suppose B and C exchange some calls--these would be domestic calls (intrastate); yet a reasonable adjunct to the tracking of A-B; A-C links would be to add B-C, and this could pass judicial muster. But it is not being done. Calls between C and say, D, with D having no calls with A, are outside this ambit--D might be a dry cleaner; presumably the legal standard to justify monitoring C-D links is higher. To intercept B-C or C-D calls NSA goes to the FISA Court the NSA program, A-G Gonzales stated, re calls between B & C (see above), that 43 decided not to monitor B-C calls, despite believing it lawful to do so, for fear that public reaction would be highly adverse were such monitoring revealed. Thus 43 was deterred by fear of media-created political backlash from monitoring calls his legal advisers told him he could legally monitor. It gets worse: Intercepting a communication outside the US is OK, but if the call traverses US soil and the intercept is here, it is illegal, per FISA.
Call volume is far higher today, with an estimated 420 billion e-mails daily being sent by Americans; add to this that the NSA monitors data on 3 billion voice calls per day--1.1 trillion annually--and you get the drift. This means 153 trillion e-mails alone sent annually--which means 5,000 e-mails sent every second of the year (31,536,000,000 seconds per year). Wireless industry data show that the US has 326 million mobile phones, which generate some 2.3 trillion minutes of voice calls & 2.2 trillion text messages annually. At end-2012, 36 percent of US households were wireless-only.
The NSA uses "metadata" analysis--scanning call records for name, location, duration, frequency, etc. information, to extract call patterns that call for closer scrutiny--to decide which applications to file with the courts to examine call content. Of course, mistakes have indeed been made--yes, even in THE ERA OF THE ONE.
Trust is the glue that holds civil society together. This administration's abuses have destroyed that trust for millions of Americans. Specifically the list of outrages includes: the IRS harassing hundreds of conservative organizations for years via abusive, bad faith audits; the Justice Dept. ignoring legal conditions concerning issuance of press subpoenas; the secretary of health & human services extorting funds from companies whose health plans she will regulate; the web of concealment & deceit spun by the administration over the Benghazi debacle last Sept. 11. Peggy Noonan writes that the Surveillance State is here to stay, as political incentives all point towards avoiding a terror attack blamed on failure to find the bad guys in advance, and oversight of abuses is too lacking in glamour to work well.
A WSJ editorial warns that ending data-mining would lead to more intrusive measures being adopted:
If the NSA isn't scrubbing vast amounts of data, then it can't discover who is potentially a threat. The alternative to automated sweeps is more pervasive use of lower-tech methods like wiretaps, tracking and searches—in a word, invasions of persons rather than statistical probabilities. The political attack on data-mining could increase rather than alleviate the risk to individual rights....
What our self-styled civil libertarians should really fear is another successful terror attack like 9/11, or one with WMD. Then the political responses could include biometric national ID cards, curfews, surveillance drones over the homeland, and even mass roundups of ethnic or religious groups. Practices like data-mining save lives, and in doing so they protect against far greater intrusions on individual freedom.
But Pres. Obama's using his mendacious A-G as a "sin-eater" hardly inspires trust. More scrutiny of administration programs is thus warranted.
Letter from the Capitol, LFTC, Homeland Security, Terrorism, National Security, Cosnervative Politics