Monday, August 27, 2012

Who's Watching the NSA Watchers? / NY Times

I was glad to see this piece, which explains that public horror at "Total Information Awareness" caused it to be cancelled in 2003--only to have a much grander, insidious and dangerous NSA program grow up in its place.

The current program lacks two critical pieces, including a way to track and record who accesses data and what they see.  Meanwhile, a million square foot repository is being built to contain all the communications being captured and analyzed.

This Op/Ed's alternate title is "Giving in to the Surveillance State:"
In March 2002, John M. Poindexter, a former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, sat down with Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency. Mr. Poindexter sketched out a new Pentagon program called Total Information Awareness, that proposed to scan the world’s electronic information — including phone calls, e-mails and financial and travel records — looking for transactions associated with terrorist plots. The N.S.A., the government’s chief eavesdropper, routinely collected and analyzed such signals, so Mr. Poindexter thought the agency was an obvious place to test his ideas.
He never had much of a chance. When T.I.A.’s existence became public, it was denounced as the height of post-9/11 excess and ridiculed for its creepy name. Mr. Poindexter’s notorious role in the Iran-contra affair became a central focus of the debate. He resigned from government, and T.I.A. was dismantled in 2003.
But what Mr. Poindexter didn’t know was that the N.S.A. was already pursuing its own version of the program, and on a scale that he had only imagined. A decade later, the legacy of T.I.A. is quietly thriving at the N.S.A. It is more pervasive than most people think, and it operates with little accountability or restraint...
What’s missing, however, is a reliable way of keeping track of who sees what, and who watches whom. After T.I.A. was officially shut down in 2003, the N.S.A. adopted many of Mr. Poindexter’s ideas except for two: an application that would “anonymize” data, so that information could be linked to a person only through a court order; and a set of audit logs, which would keep track of whether innocent Americans’ communications were getting caught in a digital net...

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