The NSA and Line Drawing

That NSA story is sticking around far longer than I would have thought - cross a threshold of atmospheric pollution unseen in 100,000 years (Source: Scripps Institute)  and it barely even warrants a mention, but if you record the fact that I called my mistress in Peoria, IL at 2:16 am on March 23, you're gonna pay!

The best article I have read on the subject is the piece in the Atlantic today: "Why Should We Even Care If the Government Is Collecting Our Data?" The power imbalance does "feel" like the biggest issue here - not that they're going to break down my door at any moment but the fact that I have to cede my privacy to a hidden organization presided over by a hidden court and congressional oversight behind closed doors.

As a former government employee, I could not be LESS concerned about this. The government is made up of a bunch of people who generally work their 40 hour a week jobs and are terrified of being the ones hung out to dry in a screw up. Nothing would make a government worker more terrified than being the guy identified as the culprit in some malfeasance - they all just want to do their job and, almost universally, in the public interest. If there is one group I do trust my information with, it is these guys.

On the other hand, if there is one group I do not trust my information with, it is the people I necessarily have to engage with in order to have the service in the first place - the telecommunications industry. These folks are constantly terrified of becoming dumb pipes and so need to leverage every bit of my information in order to make a nickel. Sell the fact that I called Japan three times in the last month to JAL so they can send me special discounts in the mail? That probably happens ten times a day, and twenty on Friday. 

Yet here is where we have completely ignored the ridiculousness of our current concerns. You know who ALREADY has 100% of our data? Corporations. I get every call I made every month on my phone bill. They can do data mining up the wazoo. Hell, they don't even NEED to hand the information over to the government - the NSA could just set up a Web service and say, "Hey Verizon, anyone call 212-555-1212 in the past three months? Who else did they call?" and Verizon could hand it over in twenty seconds - TODAY. If we're drawing lines, I'm not sure why the fact that the NSA has the data is the one we are drawing. 

I have a personal opinion and that is that I do trust congress and the FISA courts to be as right as reasonably possible (call it 1 out of 100 were done on completely innocent people). This is probably as good as regular warrants - if I have a greenhouse in the backyard that pulls 100x as much energy as my neighbor and no income because I am independently wealthy, I don't think that a judge would be in the wrong for issuing a warrant of probable cause that I could be growing marijuana. 

I believe the only thing we could do to make this better is just have more judges and more oversight, not stop the activity altogether or make it 100% transparent. Ultimately, the only way to have this work is to have institutions and people that we trust with checks and balances all the way down.