S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Invasions of privacy - how should we react?

(image: Free-Pictures-Photos)

Data mining* is again in the news. It raises privacy concerns; it sets off alarm bells for civil libertarians. Privacy alarms went off for me the first time I heard about the idea in conjunction with how advertisers could secretly learn about my buying habits. They used it in order to send me targeted junk mail.
The Bush administration has taken the use of data mining to wild new heights. We began learning how high late in 2005 from the New York Times, who first got the courage to break the domestic spying story.
Government data mining prompted the Bush administration's 2004 internal fight over spying on Americans. So asserts today's New York Times. The newspaper carries the best summary to date, in my opinion, of this whole, always unsettling, story. Page 1 lays out the current facts. Page 2 of the article provides an excellent chronicle of several significant timelines, and concludes with this warning to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:

. . . After the hearing, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, sent Mr. Gonzales a transcript of his testimony with pointed instructions — to “correct, clarify or supplement your answers so that, consistent with your oath, they are the whole truth.”.
Data mining and domestic spying - Timelines include the NYT learning about, and subsequent disclosure of the program; as well as the unfolding accounts of AG Gonzales' and James Comey's Judiciary testimony about the internal disagreements. Written by Scott Shane and David Johnson and published on 7/29/07, the article begins —

A 2004 dispute over the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program that led top Justice Department officials to threaten resignation involved computer searches through massive electronic databases, according to current and former officials briefed on the program.
Only a few sources for this story were able to go on the record because of prohibitions against revealing classified information. Quoting further from the piece,

. . . [Intelligence Committee] senators’ comments, along with those of other members of Congress briefed on the program, suggested that they considered the eavesdropping and data mining so closely tied that they were part of a single program. Both activities, which ordinarily require warrants, were started without court approval as the Bush administration intensified counterterrorism efforts soon after the Sept. 11 attacks.

. . . A half-dozen officials and former officials interviewed for this article would speak only on the condition of anonymity, in part because unauthorized disclosures about the classified program are already the subject of a criminal investigation. Some of the officials said the 2004 dispute involved other issues in addition to the data mining, but would not provide details. They would not say whether the differences were over how the databases were searched or how the resulting information was used. Nor would they explain what modifications to the surveillance program President Bush authorized to head off the threatened resignations by Justice Department officials.

. . . Government examination of the records, which allows intelligence analysts to trace relationships between callers and identify possible terrorist cells, is considered less intrusive than actual eavesdropping. But the N.S.A.’s eavesdropping targeted international calls and e-mail messages of people inside the United States, while the databases contain primarily domestic records. The conflict in 2004 appears to have turned on differing interpretations of the president’s power to bypass the FISA law and obtain access to the records.
South by Southwest began reacting to the notion that our government was spying on its citizens on New Year's Eve of 2005. Trying to be optimistic, I titled the piece "Civil liberties have staying power in the long run." But by that time the government had already opened a criminal inquiry of the NYT for its publication of the story. In February of 2006 my post, "Examining Bush Administration Language," discussed Orwellian "Newspeak," as it pertained to domestic spying. I quote what I wrote:

Recently, the White House decided to redefine spying on Americans, domestic surveillance, as "terrorist surveillance." Media manipulators are trying to arbitrarily redefine the practice of the NSA's secret warrentless wiretapping program. And it is an affront to civil libertarians and to all the innocent plain citizens caught in the administration's data-mining web.
To what are we supposed to react? By September of that year, I was at it again with, "Domestic Intelligence or Domestic Spying?" With this post I had finally found the courage to write about my own feelings that I was being spied upon by my own government. Here I quote my reaction at that time:

Dateline Sept. 22, 2006 - I wish that today's post need not have been written. But the fact is that the domestic spying program revealed late last year is still in place. A recent site visit to my blog from NCTC makes that abundantly clear. And Congress has not yet finished fixing the problem . . .
Should I be intimidated? I went on to wonder -

As a liberal Democratic blogger, I have probably been guilty of insulting the state on more than one occasion. I am thankful that there is not an "article 301" in the U.S. penal code. And the last time I checked, my right to free speech is guaranteed in the U.S. constitution.
But my speech is not exactly free. It comes at a cost to my peace of mind, occasionally, like today, for instance. I discovered that my blog had a reader from the National Counter Terrorism Center's web address at a military site. The reader had searched out one of my archived posts, linked here: South by Southwest. The post title is "Civil liberties have staying power in the long run." The subject of the post was domestic spying.
I have had visits from other NCTC offices in the past, as well as the House of Representatives Info office and the Sargeant at Arms of the U.S. Senate. I am almost certain that these readers are not fans. Oh, well . . .
[regarding the first NCTC visit] - Quoting further,

In December of 2005 I drafted a post that I never published. It follows, just as I wrote it then (using a different font):

The story begins - The New York Times article exposing the administration's secret spy operation against American citizens was held for many months before it was published, according to a Newsweek story by Jonathan Alter. The story reveals that our current president asked the two people heading the Times to visit the oval office on December 6, 2005. At that time the president repeated his assertion that the story should not be published, but to no avail. Now we know what we know.
Reactions from others - This newspaper editorial from the Washington Olympian is very critical of the administrations policies on domestic surveillance.
This Josh Marshall thread explains a lot about what is probably going on with my visitor. My reaction is this: It is data mining using key words. The progression of my thoughts: Why would anyone at NCTC spend time on li'l ole me? . . . I am only one of thousands of little political bloggers. Yesterday the average number of people visiting my site was just 12, according to my SiteMeter service. The mass surveillance of the internet may be automated.

More reactions - Common Dreams writes about FBI surveillance of activist groups . This activist invites her president to "come and get me." According to a Washington Post article, one of the FISA court judges has resigned, purportedly in protest of the administration's warrentless policy.
What I wrote - Here are links to my most recent post at TPM Cafe; and from one of my posts in November at TPM Cafe.

Original Site Meter Reference of December, 2005:

Details > Visit Detail=Visit 1,953

Visit Entry Page
Visit Exit Page

Time Zone=unknown. Visitor's Time=Unknown .

A few weeks later I was still exorcised. I posted, "Modern communication issues in the forefront of the news" (9/29/06), which looked at all of the issues that were coming to the surface at the time. There were Republican taunts about "if you have nothing to hide, what are you worried about?" Congress was beginning to act to legitimize warrentless wiretapping. Court decisions pushed back against the administration. ISP's were under pressure to keep and disclose customer records to authorities.
Today my reaction is tempered by the passage of time and the course of events. I have not written about data mining for 10 months. Now it is heartening to see the The New York Times reporters still on the story. It is interesting to learn more about briefings to Congress. It is fascinating to learn that members of the president's own administration were willing to resign over civil liberties abuses and lawlessness. It is releiving to learn that those same people are now willing to contradict the man leading the night charge into his predecessor's hospital room. It is encouraging to see the power-up/power-down positions beginning to switch. It is enticing to anticipate that the outcome of this whole thing might mean that our system of checks and balances is working. I am still trying to be optimistic.
* "Data mining" references:

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My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Good Second Mondays is about the summer doldrums.


Kitchen Window Woman said...

I admire your bravery and respect you for keeping track of the wrong doings of this criminally destructive administration especially in the face of being "watched". I suspect that it is the goal of Bush and Cheney to render the Constitution and the rights of the American people obsolete. They ae very sick men.

Evidently some snoopers at NCTC value fascism over democracy which is strange because the military oath they took demands that they uphold the Constitution - not pander to a dictator.

There are many of us who are speaking out all over this country. It is our patriotic duty to do so. I plan to keep on speaking out - I do not want to see American democracy replaced by a fascist state. Just think of how much worse it would have been if we had all been blinded by propaganda and muted by intimidation!

The only data that needs to be mined is evidence for the IMPEACHMENT of Bush and Cheney, oh and Gonzoles, too!

Carol Gee said...

KWW, sorry it took me so long to get back to you with a comment in reply. I appreciate your very kind words about this post. it seems like this data mining issue is not going away easily, despite the current administration's best efforts. Thanks again for your comment, as always.

Data mining said...

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