Tuesday, August 20, 2013
What do we do about NSA?
They have been around for a long time. NSA is descended from the World War II codebreakers who contributed so mightily to victory in that war. Back in the 1940's they merely tuned in enemy radio messages and then decrypted them. Back then we civilians were happy if the government didn't read our mail and got a warrent to tap our telephone.
Times move on. NSA is now obtaining and storing all the telephone bills in the land. "metadata" they call it, but it is just the information on your telephone bill, each number you called and how long you stayed on the line. NSA has direct taps into the phone company computers to suck off the "metadata" and store it, forever.
Question. Should we allow this? On the security side, when they finger one terrorist, they go into the "metadata" and find everyone he ever telephoned. Very handy, no doubt about it. Tidier than interrogation or waterboarding the suspect, and they can do it even if they haven't caught 'em yet.
On the defense lawyer side, all they have to do is find just once, that my client telephoned some unsavory character, and he is convicted. If they want to hang my client for income tax (like happened to Al Capone), insider trading (Martha Stewart), campaign finance offenses, or walking on the grass, talk to every one on his phone list and you are bound to find some dirt to bring to court. Scary.
NSA claims that they only look at their store of "metadata" to solve terrorist cases. Even if this is true, today, pretty soon cops will want to use it on other "worthy" causes. Like kidnapping cases, or school shooter cases, or drug cases. Pretty soon they will be using it in child support cases. Or divorce cases.
After thinking about it for some time, I think the dangers of innocent citizens getting railroaded out weigh the chances of catching terrorists.
We ought to pass a law forbidding NSA to access, read, copy or store "metadata" of any kind. Companies should be forbidden to allow snoopers to see customer data without a court order. Court orders to be limited to ONE suspect at a time, no court orders for "all single black men 18 to 24 years old" stuff.
NSA is also snooping email. Scanning it by computer, and reading it if it is from someone on the watch list or the scanner picks up on some suspicious keywords. We ought to forbid that too. And pass a law requiring Gmail and the internet service providers to keep customer email secret.