Friday, May 12, 2006

Why It's Not So Great To Spy On Us

The NSA, the Database and YOU
by SusanG
Fri May 12, 2006 at 09:36:44 AM PDT

Awakening this morning to the astounding news that nearly two-thirds of Americans are A-OK with being spied upon, I hastily threw together a Top Ten list of talking points as to why average citizens should worry about this. The NSA's logging of millions and millions of phone calls has many more drawbacks, I'm sure, than I'm listing here. But off the top of my head, here are obvious and fundamental problems that all Americans should worry about with this program:

1. It's inefficient. As networking analyst Valdis Krebs said, as reported on, "If you're looking for a needle, making the haystack bigger is counterintuitive. It just doesn't make sense."

2. It's costly. It is, according to William M. Arkin of the Washington Post, a "multi-billion dollar program, which began before 9/11 but has been accelerated since then." An exact cost, of course, will never be pinned down because it's operating in the shadows. But it's safe to assume with this administration's track record that it's in mind-blowing, borrowed from your great-grandchildren funding territory.

3. It's been lied about. Repeatedly. This fact alone should give pause to all Americans. Common sense should tell us that you only lie if you suspect you're doing something wrong; otherwise, come clean on the extent of the program and justify it to citizens. We can live without details of specific operations that would alert the "evil-doers." But we should not be asked to accept this level of intrustion without a full - and truthful from the beginning - account of who is being spied upon and why.

4. It's illegal, according to constitutional scholars. And last time I checked, the president was not above the law. Setting a precedent of approved lawbreaking by any citizen - no matter how powerful - is bad for the nation.

5. The information is not only available to the government, but to all the subcontractors involved in the program, which Arkin estimates is at least more than 100. What level of employees at each subcontracting company has access to your records and could sell the data is unknown because there is no oversight of the program.

6. Given the state of one-party rule in this country, in which lobbyists write their own legislation (warning: PDF) and the president signs it, it seems not unlikely this data is being shared with corporations. Letting health insurers know how often you call your doctor, your pharmacy, your physical therapist, your mental health counselor seems ripe for a situation of coverage denial.

7. Businesses should worry that logging of phone calls to, say, a company under consideration for buy-out would be shared with a bigger GOP donor who is a competitor. Same with R & D research. Same for calls to limousine services and hookers.

8. Given the fact that it's being touted as the largest database in the world, it's highly unlikely we're simply talking about logs of phone calls made. It's probably not targeting just who you called and who called you. Emails, instant messaging and text messaging are also possible data being tracked, according to AP.

9. Blackmail opportunities are ripe. Government employees, politicians, employees of subcontractors - all could conceivably have information, not necessarily on you, but on ... say ... your Congressional rep that would guarantee votes and legislation not in your best interest.

10. It's "un-American." This level of spying is just gut-level creepy, especially since there's no oversight. When people and agencies as disparate as Joe Scarborough, the ACLU and the conservative Chicago Tribune are up in arms together, there's something wrong at the basic level with such a program, and it's crying out for oversight.