Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Total Information Awareness

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly has been expounding the theory that the NSA bugging illegally ordered by President Bush reflects the use of recently development data mining technology. This, in his mind (and the minds of may others), suggests that the reason that the Bush Administration didn’t use the FISA court was simply that they were spying on virtually everyone. They could hardly go to court, even one as friendly as the FISA, and ask for a warrant to spy on hundreds of people and then on the hundreds of people with whom those people might have come in contact.

Kevin’s theory revolves around two issues: First, that the means of collecting data were not simply wiretaps or intercepts directed to or from specific phones or ISP (Internet addresses). Second, that technology exists that makes it possible to sort through millions of pieces of data rapidly and pick out those considered relevant.

Reassembly the above in reverse order, you come to this.

The technology to rapidly sort through millions (billions) of electronic transactions and pull out specific information does exist both in the private sector (think Google) and in the government (think Total Information Awareness - TIA).

Using this data mining process is not like asking for specific permission to monitor a phone number or an ISP. This process does not start from a single suspect, it starts by looking a everyone’s data and then sorting it into more and more discrete categories until the information comes down to a specific person of interest.

The TIA project was designed to achieve the sort of domestic spying that fits the pattern noted above.

“…if the TIA program becomes reality, a central database will be established which, ‘would allow the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense to collect and analyze a combination of intelligence data and personal information like individuals' traffic violations, credit card purchases, travel records, medical records, [and] communications records.’"

Adding credence to the TIA/data mining theory is this letter from Senator Jay Rockefeller to Vice-President Cheney expressing his alarm after being provided a very sketchy overview of the Administration’s intelligence gathering process.

“As I reflect on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology and surveillance.

Without more information and the ability and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.”

The police state is here. The Bush Administration has decided to trash 200 years of Constitutional government and take over the country. Their rationale: we have to destroy the country to save it. Personally, I’ll take my chances with the loonies of al Qaeda, before I turn the responsibility for my freedom over to George Bush and Dick Cheney.