The Wall Street Journal has revealed that a “select few lawmakers” have received a heads up from the NSA regarding their controversial sweeping telephone-surveillance program whereby the major phone companies provide the NSA with the phone records of *all* of their customers. In response to White House and Congress demands that the NSA change the program to one that conducts a selective search against telephone company records, the NSA has told the technologically-literate Congress, “Sorry, no can do. It’s just tooooo hard.”
The Wall Street Journal explained the origins of the controversial program and why it’s popping up in the news again:
“The phone-data program was created in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, but was not put under court supervision until 2006. It has been criticized by lawmakers in both parties since leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed a secret court order compelling Verizon to turn over all of its phone call records to the NSA. That order expired last Friday, and DNI officials said the U.S. authorization to collect phone data had been renewed at the government’s request, a rare public announcement about an order of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”
The NSA’s excuse for not reworking their program to one more in line with the protection of basic citizen rights? The searches against the telephone company databases would be too slow and since each telephone company stores their data differently, it would be too cumbersome. In addition, the NSA says the phone companies do not keep historical records of their customers so a complete record of the data would be lost.
Geek Slop response – Hogwash! Just because you’re funded by a national government doesn’t mean you get to take shortcuts and violate the rights of the citizens. Besides, Congress isn’t getting the full story – or at least they’re not getting the explanation in first-grade terminology that they can understand. Three words explain the solution – look them up. SOA + Data + Mining.
It’s easy enough for the NSA to fund the creation of a service oriented interface to the phone company data. Using existing technologies, the data can be secured and provided anonymously, and I’m sure the phone companies will be willing to lease the NSA a chunk of server space in order to cut back on latency and ensure speedy delivery of the data. Once the data is retrieved by the NSA, data mining technologies can be used to parse and consolidate the data points into meaningful chunks of information. Do we really think the NSA doesn’t already know how to “data mine”? Get real. They’re experts at it. And what about the fear that phone company historical data is purged too often? Enter Sarbanes-Oxley type guidance – require that they keep records for X number of years. Pretty simple (and I’m available for contract programming if you need someone to jump in and do it for you).
What the NSA really want is a quick and dirty solution and one that gives them unfettered access to phone company data. And that’s just not how the United States has been designed to operate.