The U.S. government has been looking and often gathering and collecting data on almost every phone call, website visited, and credit card transaction we make. In case you want to get caught up one this issue which hit the news world hard yesterday, this article on the National Security Agency (NSA) program called Prism is a good quick start. Here's a juicy quote of a quote from the article:

The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.

While it's hard to feel happy about this, could it be necessary to prevent another 9/11? If it did prevent something like a nuclear device being detonated in Chicago killing a million people, would it be worth it? Does this revelation give the bad guys notice that they need a new way to stay in touch?

Obviously, a government needs some secrecy, but how much is too much?

Tags: Agency, FBI, NSA, National, Security, data, mining, privacy, secrecy

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It is not all or nothing on that choice. Virtually everyone is fine with the normal system of getting a warrant from a judge for a specific person. And it is  not like that has never been abused. The question is just how much potential for abuse are we willing to hand the government to be somewhat more effective at stopping terrorists.

As I often say, if we can only use the methods to fight terrorism that can't ever be abused, what are we left with?  Answer: that leaves nothing.

Question: How many public figures (or any in this discussion) say we must only fight terrorism using the methods that can't ever be abused?

Hint: It's the same number of people who are saying we must only fight terrorism using the US Navy's orbital fleet of particle-cannon nuke fortresses that are operated by super-intelligent cyborg monkeys.

Answer: None.

Nobody says we must fight terrorism using methods that don't exist. But thanks for so often taking that courageous stance against them anyway!

Headline on British newspaper The Telegraph today:

Is Edward Snowden's story unravelling? Why the Guardian's scoop is looking a bit dodgy.

Now that the dust has settled after the Edward Snowden affair, it’s time to ask some tough questions about The Guardian’s scoop of the week. Snowden’s story is that he dropped a $200,000 a year job and a (very attractive) girlfriend in Hawaii for a life in hiding in Hong Kong in order to expose the evils of the NSA's Prism programme. But bits of the story are now being questioned. (read more)

Is Edward Snowden's story unravelling? Why the Guardian's scoop is looking a bit dodgy.

The author of the linked blog entry doesn't conclude that Snowden's story is unravelling or dodgy.

The blogger (1) asks why Snowden went to China, (2) said his employer claims to have paid him less than he stated, (3) said a real estate agent claims his house was empty before he left, and (4) that the US government is disputing his story.

And the blogger's conclusion?

"None of this debunks outright Snowden’s claims that the NSA is gathering data, that it has extraordinary power or that it has lied to Congress about it. But it does smack of a lack of fact checking on the part of The Guardian and it risks giving credibility to those who think this is a lot of fuss about nothing (and I'm not one of them)."

So the Telegraph thinks his story is unravelling because... he's in China, underpaid, afoul of a real estate agent, the government who lied to protect PRISM wouldn't dream of lying about it some more, and (brace yourselves) the blogger who wrote that stuff doesn't think his story is unravelling.

Way to go, Telegraph headline team.

NSA director: Data mining follows law, thwarts terror

CNN:  Phone records obtained by the government through a secret surveillance program disclosed last week helped to prevent "dozens" of terrorist acts, the director of the National Security Agency told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.

Army Gen. Keith Alexander provided the most detailed account so far from a government official of the program in which the agency collects phone records that then can be accessed under federal court permission to investigate suspected terrorists.

The scope of the secret program -- potentially involving phone records of every American -- set off a political firestorm when details emerged with publication of a leaked document.

Further leaks revealed other secret programs that collect computer activity and other information.

Critics on the right and left accused the government of going well beyond the intended reach of the Patriot Act enacted after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Questioned by senators from both parties at a hearing on broader cybersecurity issues, Alexander provided a spirited defense for the programs he described as critical to counter-terrorism efforts.

"I think what we're doing to protect American citizens here is the right thing," he said. "Our agency takes great pride in protecting this nation and our civil liberties and privacy, and doing it in partnership with this committee, with this Congress, and with the courts."

Alexander added that he welcomed a public debate over protecting America while preserving civil liberties.

"To date, we've not been able to explain it because it's classified, so that issue is something that we're wrestling with," he said. "... This isn't something that's just NSA or the administration doing that and so on. This is what ... our nation expects our government to do for us. So, we ought to have that debate. We ought to put it out there."

In the end, he said, some aspects of the giant surveillance apparatus created after 9/11 would have to remain classified.

"And they should be, because if we tell the terrorists every way that we are going to track them, they will get through and Americans will die," he said. (Read more at CNN)

Watch this video of General James Clapper of the NSA lying to the US Senate Intelligence Committee about PRISM during a hearing on March 12, 2013. Then tell me why we should believe anything General Keith Alexander told the US Senate hearing on June 12, 2013.

(Go to 5:59)

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.): “This is for you, Director Clapper, again on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference, and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘The story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is completely false.’

“The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Director of National Intelligence JAMES CLAPPER: “No, sir.”

SEN. WYDEN: “It does not?”

DIR. CLAPPER: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

SEN. WYDEN: “Thank you. I’ll have additional questions to give you in writing on that point, but I thank you for the answer.”


This exchange during a congressional hearing has suddenly achieved new prominence in the wake of the revelations of National Security Agency programs that include the collection of data from U.S. phone call records and the NSA’s surveillance of online communications to and from foreign targets.

Through the top-secret program known as PRISM, authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the NSA apparently can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data.

On Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued a tough statement, saying Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did not give a “straight answer” to his question. Wyden added that the day before the hearing, he gave Clapper’s office advance notice that he would be asking this particular question and that “after the hearing was over, my staff and I gave his office a chance to amend his answer.”

Wyden’s staff declined to release the correspondence, citing a policy of wanting to keep communications with administration officials private. But Wyden’s statement strongly suggests Clapper had been deliberately misleading when he appeared before the Senate panel.



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