Friday, May 12, 2006

What's next?

I watched Keith Olbermann last night with my roommate. Keith spent about half the show on the NSA phone database. Quoth the roomie: "This is probably just a diversion from something even more outrageous." Paranoid much, are we?

Probably just a realist. Think Progress gives us this cheery thought for the weekend:
CongressDaily reports that former NSA staffer Russell Tice will testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week that not only do employees at the agency believe the activities they are being asked to perform are unlawful, but that what has been disclosed so far is only the tip of the iceberg.
Any guesses? Hint: Watch the skies. They're probably watching you.

6 comments:

woid said...

My guess — and am I right, NSA? [... crickets ...] — is:

They just went right on ahead and implemented John Poindexter's "Total Information Awareness," the program that was supposedly closed down, but was probably moved into the secret black budget realm instead.

It's not just phone call logs — it's every non-cash financial transaction from banks to grocery stores, every link to a web page, every email, every cell phone call (and its location), every ezpass tool booth...

That quantity of information is enough to tip off where you are, what you're doing, what you're reading, even what your diet is...

That's a lot of data on each of us — even if they are telling the truth about not monitoring the contents of phone calls. And I doubt they are. Why start now?

Mickeleh said...

From the "what do I know" department: Sounds like a reasonable guess to me. John Perry Barlow coined—or at least used—the vivid metaphor, "digital slime trail" and wrote about TIA back in 2002. He finds the all seeing eye on our dollar bill a prophetic image. Worth rereading.

excerpt: "This could ultimately include your bank statements, your grocery purchases, your grades in school, what you checked out from the library, your e-mails, your tax returns, your phone call records, all the porn movies you've ever watched in Marriott Hotels, every place you filled your car over the last year, the record of your scuba dives, your medical costs - indeed, everything that makes up the thick digital slime trail we all leave behind us in a deeply digitized society. Having assembled all these yottabytes (that's 2 to the 80th power) it would then data-mine the whole matrix in search of patterns that might correspond to evil-doing."

Shudder.

woid said...

Of course, this nightmare of the panopticon goes way back, centuries at least.

But in more recent history, I can remember it becoming a meme in the late 60s/early 70s. In the world of Nixon & J. Edgar Hoover, we all assumed we might be spied on. Which in those days would mean somebody who's literally spliced into our phone wires, listening in a nearby truck or perhaps an office somewhere.

It was also a widespread meme from early on in the computer age that everything about you could be stored in some giant brain somewhere. In fact, the computing power to do anything like that didn't exist at the time. But now it does.

There was an article in a Whole Earth Catalogue, or Whole Earth Review, or maybe it was the Co-Evolution Quarterly at that time in its bumpy history, that I remember reading in the late 80s or early 90s. It could very well have been by Barlow, who was an editor and contributor... can't find it through a quick google.

The article described the kind of personal data mining that was possible at that time, 15 or more years ago. It was scary stuff, about combining phone logs with credit card receipts and other data to profile people. But it was nothing compared to what's possible with today's technology. The data trail we all leave is enough to draw a detailed portrait, sometimes a lot more detailed than you might like.

TIA, as I understand it, means:
Have you visited a porn site? It knows.
Have you called a known terrorist? It knows.
Have you called a known pot dealer? It knows.
Have you talked to your illicit lover? It knows.
Are you a card-carrying member of the ACLU? It knows.
Do you take prescription drugs? It knows.
Are you gay and closeted? It probably knows.
and on
and on
and on...

I hope Russell Tice, the ex-NSA official who's promising to blow the lid off this scandal (he called what we know so far "the tip of the iceberg") keeps himself safe until he testifies this week.

woid said...

Of course, this nightmare of the panopticon goes way back, centuries at least.

But in more recent history, I can remember it becoming a meme in the late 60s/early 70s. In the world of Nixon & J. Edgar Hoover, we all assumed we might be spied on. Which in those days would mean somebody who's literally spliced into our phone wires, listening in a nearby truck or perhaps an office somewhere.

It was also a widespread meme from early on in the computer age that everything about you could be stored in some giant brain somewhere. In fact, the computing power to do anything like that didn't exist at the time. But now it does.

There was an article in a Whole Earth Catalogue, or Whole Earth Review, or maybe it was the Co-Evolution Quarterly at that time in its bumpy history, that I remember reading in the late 80s or early 90s. It could very well have been by Barlow, who was an editor and contributor... can't find it through a quick google.

The article described the kind of personal data mining that was possible at that time, 15 or more years ago. It was scary stuff, about combining phone logs with credit card receipts and other data to profile people. But it was nothing compared to what's possible with today's technology. The data trail we all leave is enough to draw a detailed portrait, sometimes a lot more detailed than you might like.

TIA, as I understand it, means:
Have you visited a porn site? It knows.
Have you called a known terrorist? It knows.
Have you called a known pot dealer? It knows.
Have you talked to your illicit lover? It knows.
Are you a card-carrying member of the ACLU? It knows.
Do you take prescription drugs? It knows.
Are you gay and closeted? It probably knows.
and on
and on
and on...

I hope Russell Tice, the ex-NSA official who's promising to blow the lid off this scandal (he called what we know so far "the tip of the iceberg") keeps himself safe until he testifies this week.

Mickeleh said...

Concern for Tice's safety was the first thing that crossed my mind when I read that he was ballyhooing his testimony.

Mickeleh said...

But then I thought... well... in this world "they" probably know what he's up to anyway. (And look at us... discussing this on the public internets where the scary bald general can track us. Yikes!