Thursday, February 09, 2006


NSA, FBI, DIA, CIA readers, welcome!

That's my tongue-in-cheek way to introduce an article from The Christian Science Monitor about a spy program called "Advise". The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity. What's so nice about text-- it's easy for computers to read, a compact form of data, and lasting for easy reference-- is exactly what makes it so attractive to people with Orwellian aspirations. Voice, after all, has to be transcribed, which is the only thing that has so far prevented the massive invasion of privacy that Alberto Gonzales celebrates from turning into a routine tool for Big Brother. So far, it has only been used against a few "dangerous radicals," like Joan Baez and Martin Luther King. And let's not kid ourselves. This generation of intelligence agents may have scruples. But there's no guarantee about the next. People on the right should consider what they are, in effect, authorizing a President Hillary Clinton or a President Cindy Sheehan to do to them. ...ADVISE and related DHS technologies aim to do much more, according to Joseph Kielman, manager of the TVTA portfolio. The key is not merely to identify terrorists, or sift for key words, but to identify critical patterns in data that illumine their motives and intentions, he wrote in a presentation at a November conference in Richland, Wash. For example: Is a burst of Internet traffic between a few people the plotting of terrorists, or just bloggers arguing? ADVISE algorithms would try to determine that before flagging the data pattern for a human analyst's review. At least a few pieces of ADVISE are already operational.... Indeed, even data that look anonymous aren't necessarily so. For example: With name and Social Security number stripped from their files, 87 percent of Americans can be identified simply by knowing their date of birth, gender, and five-digit Zip code, according to research by Latanya Sweeney, a data-privacy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. I think ADVISE is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, though perhaps penumbral. Recall that a central complaint of the Declaration of Independence was that King George had erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power. Consider how precisely those mirror the complaints against George Bush. As stated by former Majority Leader Daschle, George Bush has falsely claimed a general declaration of war as justification for his acts. Bush has created secret programs that have no civilian oversight. He has created numerous special access programs which have the effect of leaving many innocent people looking over their shoulders. The Fourth Amendment describes the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" It was written in a world where the King's officers simply couldn't be everywhere. They might overhear a seditious conversation in a pub, but they couldn't creep up to listen on every conversation on the back porch. Even sending people to listen in to conversations in pubs was considered harassment by our forebears, and we have never permitted it as a general investigative tool (although, of course, a police officer sitting in his neighborhood bar is not expected to close his ears, either). Blogs are America's back porch, where friends and neighbors chat. So, should we be fortunate enough to have any visitors from the intelligence agencies, please come to this back porch as friends and neighbors-- to talk, to listen, to teach, to learn. If you come to this or any blog as spies vacuuming up massive amounts of information, you are not serving the Constitution, but King George. [As to whether this is a Fourth Amendment issues, this is what The 'Lectric Law Library says: "Blanket searches are unreasonable, however 'evenhanded' they may be, in the traditional criminal law enforcement context. See, e.g., Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U.S. 85, 91-2, 92 n.4 ('79) (invalidating a blanket patdown search of all patrons in a tavern, even though there was probable cause to search the bartender and the premises). The ill that the Fourth Amendment prevents is not merely the arbitrariness of police discretion to single out individuals for attention, but also the unwarranted domination and control of the citizenry through fear of baseless but 'evenhanded' general police searches."] So, yes, datamining blog posts is unconstitutional.
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