Saturday, May 13, 2006

What The NSA Polls Neglect

This from Newsweek: "President Bush tried to reassure the public this week that its privacy is 'fiercely protected,' and that 'we‚’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of innocent Americans.' Nonetheless, Americans think the White House has overstepped its bounds: 57 percent said that in light of the NSA data-mining news and other executive actions, the Bush-Cheney Administration has 'gone too far in expanding presidential power.' That compares to 38 percent who think the Administration's actions are appropriate."

What on earth do "most Americans" know about expanding presidential power? What on earth do "most Americans" even know about the Constitution? "Most Americans" know what the talking points of political operatives, media outlets and polling consultants prompt them with. If Americans are concerned about the government's reach into their personal lives, perhaps they should complain about the fact these processes, like the spy programs, are quite legal.

How concerned are we, really, about privacy? Any phone call we make to any major company is recorded. Websites and traffic counters log IPs and system specs. We give our social security numbers out like candy and we use our credit cards for everything. The point is that we're already being tracked by Big Business and when they tell us its for improved costumer service, we believe them. Being safe and terror free ought to rank a little higher than customized, cookie-enabled online experiences in our hierarchy of priorities. Apparently, it does not.



Anonymous Jon said...

Most Americans don't know squat about the Constitution. Sad. I don't like pen registers. However, they don't violate the 4th. Spy programs legal? You're going to need to justify that. The president ignoring statutes is legal? The arguments put forth are quite weak. Supporters of the unitary executive are going to support the executive's rationale. Hopefully, others won't be so supportive. Nixon engaged is similar conduct. He finished out his term, right?

How does trolling millions of Americans' phone numbers make us safer? It seems like a huge net is catching all our information when only a few are likely to be involved. They must have some known suspects, otherwise they don't have a starting point. With no person to start with all they have are a bunch of phone numbers, if you believe them(I don't). A bunch of phone numbers are useless unless linked to personal information about the person. So they should focus on the known suspect and only concern themselves with his/her associates, not millions of Americans.

I only use credit cards and the like when I don't care about Big Business knowing. When I don't want then to know what I am doing, I use cash.

2:10 AM  
Anonymous a.s. said...

As for the legality of the spy programs, I'm going to believe the NSA lawyers on that one, partly because they're watching.

Seriously, though, the latest leaks on this say that DeadEye pushed hard for expanded spy powers because of his firm belief in executive authority (fostered while he was Chief of Nixon's staff) and NSA lawyers pushed hard back. Bush asked Hayden if there was anything more we could be doing under the current laws, and Hayden put together the program now in question. The NSA lawyers approved, but who knows if that was because they actually thought the program was legal (that's the spin) or because they were eager to chalk up an agency victory over an overzealous VP.

All that aside, I firmly believe there are things the government is authorized to do under legal statutes and provisions that are themselves kept secret from the general public until occasions like these. Technically speaking, legal might not always equate with "public." I imagine there are secret orders that follow classified legal provisions that we only hear about when we need to. Over the next few weeks these previously obscure provisions will start to circulate and the Administration will be vindicated. That's my hunch.

I agree that trolling millions of phone numbers doesn't get us any closer to safety, but I am saying that the information the government is collecting is really no different, in practical terms, than information Big Business already has. Coordinating this information should help the war effort, especially, like you noted, with regard to specific suspects. I understand that that’s what warrants are for, but like I said, I’m taking it for granted that there are many, many levels of “legal” most of us will never know anything about.

Of course there’s also the possibility that I’m a Straussian, too. Chalk any doubletalk and faulty logic up to that.

2:52 AM  
Anonymous a.s. said...

I forgot to mention the reason why I keep saying none of this is news: it's been the stuff of urban legend since long before 9/11 and really shouldn't surpise anyone. That doesn't make it legal (but see above). Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I find it hard to believe that anyone in the information age could actually be shocked by any of these measures or hasn't been taking them for granted for some time.

3:09 AM  
Anonymous Chad Hogg said...

Indeed, I generally assume a complete lack of privacy. I pay with credit cards whenever possible, because the benefit of receiving a monthly statement informing me where I spent my money outweighs the detriment of having that information available to others as well. I am sure there is a record of me visiting the American Sage this morning, and it would not surprise me to find that all of the email messages I have ever written are in storage somewhere. That doesn't mean I think such surveillance is right and proper, it just isn't high on my list of things to crusade about.

Expanding the power of the Executive branch is nothing new; it seems to be precedent that each President take a bit more control than the previous since the beginnings of the nation. This is not surprising; everyone wants to be able to do their job effectively, even if that means cutting away some red tape that exists for good reason.

What I actually meant to comment about is the issue of whether or not trolling massive amounts of unfocused data such as telephone calls can be useful. The answer is an unequivocal "yes". Data mining is a field of computer science peripherally related to my research interests, in which useful patterns may be extracted from enormous, seemingly useless data. There is a research lab at Lehigh working on exactly this type of application, although in their case it is for deterring more traditional crime. I do not know what types of patterns in telephone calls are indicative of terrorist activity, but I have no doubt that such information can be found from this type of data collection. Whether or not it is necessary or the benefit is greater than the privacy risk for citizens is another matter, and one that I am not qualified to debate.

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

You think the NSA lawyers are going to say their program is illegal? "a judge cannot accept self-serving press statements of the attorney for one of the interested parties as authority in answering a constitutional question" J. Frankfurter
Cheney is always going to say the executive has great power. He believes it and that is the position he is currently in. Simply because he says it doesn't make it legal.
Secrets are certainly allowed. What concerns me is that things are being kept secret because they are illegal. If they are on the borderline, going to Congress would strengthen the president's position. My problem is Congress was not being fully briefed. Some was shared but not all of it. Also, those on the intelligence committee were unable to consult with legal experts. That hardly allows a member of congress to make a fully informed decision.
I think the president follows John Yoo's view of the unitary executive. From wiki(so take with a grain of salt) "Yoo acknowledged during a December 2005 debate at Notre Dame University with professor Doug Cassel that no treaty prevents the President from authorizing the torture of a detainee's child -- including by "crushing the testicles" of the child. When asked whether any law prevents it, Yoo replied that it would depend on why the President was authorizing it." I think his theory is ridiculous. Just look at the Constitution. The president has nowhere near the power of Congress. Each branch is going to try to extend their power. The other branches should fight them. The current problem is the other branches are not putting up the fight they need to. Congress is controlled by the Republicans. The Supreme Court has two justices Bush placed there.
Yes, the executive has sought to expand its' power, but that doesn't make it constitutional. The "red tape" is the Constitution and there should be no cutting through it.

I fully expect there to be a record of these posts. They are put into public domain. There is no expectation of privacy. I don't dispute there is some usefulness to trolling phone numbers. My problem is the effectiveness and how useful. I would think catching and storing all that information has some cost. Then it must be analyzed by a computer and/or human. Is this cost-effective? I can't imagine catching who everyone calls will provide useful information from all or even most calls. How is simply looking at who calls who going to provide information about criminal activity? There needs to be more information. I feel there needs to be a starting point(i.e. suspect) and then watch his contacts. A huge net catching all numbers doesn't seem to be that effective. Much is a balancing test and this techniques doesn't seem the best way to do it.

2:56 PM  
Anonymous a.s. said...

Specter on separation of powers/checks and balances in this debate: "There really has to be, in our system of government, checks and balances, separation of powers, and congressional oversight. There has been no meaningful congressional oversight on these programs."

Is calling for checks and balances/separation of powers and then demanding more congressional oversight a contradiction? I understand the the nature of checks and balances, but I'm always interested in who watches the watchmen. Expanding the power of Congress won't mean our rights are any more protected. Thoughts?

1:53 AM  
Anonymous Jon said...

The president is violating the separation of powers. He is to execute the law. He is not doing so. He is ignoring it and following no law in what he is doing. That is the violation. Acting in direct contravention to the law as it exists. I don't considering keeping Congress informed to be an expansion of their power. I consider it their right. In Art II they are given the power to make the rules and regulations of the government and army and navy. If they choose to have reports as a requirement, then it is allowed.

Yeah. I think another branch should be added. One whose sole job is to investigate the other three. I nominate us.

2:01 AM  
Anonymous a.s. said...

I totally concur.

2:03 AM  
Anonymous a.s. said...

(with the us branch of government). It needs a name...

2:13 AM  
Anonymous Chad Hogg said...

Actually, isn't oversight the job of the judicial branch? The purpose of Congress is to make laws, not to investigate whether or not they are being properly carried out. The purpose of the President and his minions is to, as you say, to execute the law. It is the judicial branch that is charged with determining whether or not the law is being properly executed. It might not be the best choice of bodies to perform this task, since they are appointed, but I believe that was the goal of separation of powers. If the legislature focused on writing laws, they might be able to get something done.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

No, judicial branch defn does not have oversight(I'm defining as management/supervision). The judicial branch can only hear cases or controversies. They decide the legality/constitutionality of something. Something must be brought before them. They have no right to go and investigate something on their own. That is one of the problems with the current spy program. When nobody(outside the gov't) knows is who under surverillance it makes it quite hard to find someone who has standing.

Congress needs to know the purpose of the law they are writing. To write a good law, one must be fully informed. They aren't investigating, they are being informed. Also, it they decide to investigate I would argue it is in their power. Look at the Constitution. Read Art I and Art II. Tell me who seems to have the real power. I would say Congress. They makes law, collect funds(taxes), and distribute funds. They can impeach and convict. No other branch has power like that.

They get stuff done. I would like it better it they didn't write many news laws. Refine and repeal. Some new law obviously needed.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Jon said...

When I say not investigating, I am talking about the intelligence subcommittees being informed about the spying programs.

7:54 PM  

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