Friday, May 12, 2006

They are spying on content, not meta-content

On Monday, former NSA director Admiral Bobby Ray Inman (Hayden's predecessor) was asked whether the NSA is only looking at the meta-data, rather than actively involved in recording, storing and searching the content of email and phone traffic:
Is this all about who-called-who? "No, it isn't," he answered. "For voice communications, which are tough to search, that might be the case, he added. But with e-mail? No way." (link)
That's Hayden's predecessor! You think he knows what he's talking about? Yet the media parrot President Blinky's nonsense all day today.

It isn't entirely clear whether they are actually recording voice communications, for later use. For example, USAToday says:
This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations.
But I'm not entirely convinced, not only because they use the now-famous "this program" wiggle-room - but let's also go to the
transcript of the Russert/ Risen / OHarrow interview

Risen: I think that we can look at what they've done overseas - because that's where they've applied the full resources that they've had for a generation - they have listening stations all over the world - where they can download an entire country's telecommunications system - and then store it in their data systems...

O'Harrow: ... the NSA and the CIA are overwhelmed by data. At some level that is true - they're collecting more than they can make sense of - in this given moment of time - but don't be misled by that, because the ability to collect information is one thing. They're getting much much better at applying the data - and the tools that they have - so that this power is increasing dramatically - and people need to realise that we're at the beginning of this data revolution - and that the NSA is way out in front of everybody else - and their capabilities are improving by the minute.... because while we may be overwhelmed by data, they're getting better and better all the time.
My guess? They are recording all voice conversations and can go back and listen to them individually if they need to (heck, they might even get FISA warrants for that, bless their souls) - but in the not-too-distant future, they will be able to retroactively run keyword searches through prior voice conversations.

(update here)

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