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Big Brother watching you, again

Shortly before Christmas, The New York Times disclosed an enormous domestic spying operation. More revelations followed almost daily, including reports of the National Security Agency's widespread eavesdropping on the phone calls and electronic messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands of American citizens. The justification given was that it was a time of war and that we were facing a ruthless enemy and that rules had to be broken. The public was outraged, and Congress vowed to begin an investigation.

That was three decades ago, in December 1974.

James Bamford wrote the excellent NSA book Body of Secrets, which I know has a fan or two in our readership. Today he reviews James Risen's new book about War on Terror spying for the New York Times.


At 12:06 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

I'd be interesting in hearing your opinion on robot spying: using algorithms to monitor many (all?) lines of communication, which only brings a human in the loop after a sufficient level of certainty is reached.

Naturally, if there are laws you disagree with, you will not want to aide there enforcement. Try to speak independent of that fact. Perhaps that is asking a lot.

At 12:18 PM, Blogger Miguel said...

The main pitfalls of special wartime terrorism spying powers are as follows (in no particular order):

1. If the spying is unconstitutional or extralegal (as the president says his program is), guilty parties with decent lawyering will go free because of it.

2. The spying may be used for crimes which aren't extraordinary (paging a pot dealer or arranging a poker game, for instance). This is a major societal shift and an awful idea.

3. Reporters and political figures will expect their calls to be monitored. Through this activity, political power will accrue to the executive in an unamerican way. The executive will then go mad like Nixon, and shame the country.

For these reasons, spying programs need to be codified and have good oversight features. Until new laws are developed, I think a strict interpretation of existing laws should limit your robots to non-domestic traffic.


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