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The Courts Privacy

US Federal Judge Rules NSA Data Collection Legal 511

Posted by Soulskill
from the time-to-escalate dept.
New submitter CheezburgerBrown . tips this AP report: "A federal judge on Friday found that the National Security Agency's bulk collection of millions of Americans' telephone records is legal and a valuable part of the nation's arsenal to counter the threat of terrorism. U.S. District Judge William Pauley said in a written opinion (PDF) that the program 'represents the government's counter-punch' to eliminate al-Qaeda's terror network by connecting fragmented and fleeting communications. In ruling, the judge noted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and how the phone data-collection system could have helped investigators connect the dots before the attacks occurred. 'The government learned from its mistake and adapted to confront a new enemy: a terror network capable of orchestrating attacks across the world. It launched a number of counter-measures, including a bulk telephony metadata collection program — a wide net that could find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data,' he said."
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US Federal Judge Rules NSA Data Collection Legal

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  • Time to appeal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by s.petry (762400) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:23PM (#45798089)
    I don't have much confidence that the Supreme Court would rule any differently, especially considering other rulings this supreme court has made. Have to try though, and if not time to start throwing people out of office.
  • Expected (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nehumanuscrede (624750) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:26PM (#45798125)
    This will bounce back and forth until it reaches the Supreme Court. I'm sure they are already dreading it.

    Were I in possession of the Snowden documents, I would simply wait and see how this plays out. If it simply goes back to "business as usual" for the NSA by being declared completely legal by our bought-and-paid-for judicial system, I would simply pull another juicy document or two out of the pile and add it to the growing pool of public knowledge. Wash, rinse and repeat until the government finally does the right thing ( or you run out of documents I suppose )

    Either way, it's a win for privacy. ( We get a little bit of it back, or learn how much of it we've lost )
  • by rbrander (73222) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:34PM (#45798251) Homepage

    TFA didn't appear to go into the matter of law - does the program violate the 4th or not, and why. The decision must have done so. It's little short of bizarre that a judge went on about matters not of law - how the program is valuable or a "counter punch" for 9/11 or whatever. Surely such talk is all about an end justifying a means. I'm not allowed to break the law just because I've got a valuable end in mind; the government, the same, one would think. If the end justified the means, then, heck , allow cops to search every house at will for evidence of child-molestation.

    The NYT article [] says specifically that he ruled that the 4th does not apply to information given to 3rd parties. TFA notes that he went on about how we give info to 3rd parties all the time so that they can profit from them. What the heck voluntarily and openly giving over information to vendors in return for free services or whatever has to do with the government taking information non-voluntarily and without notification, he doesn't seem to have explained.

    So one comes back to the "end justifies the means" parts of his comments. There seems to be capture of the 3rd-branch "regulator" here: he believes the program is saving lives, or something, whereas the judge two weeks ago noted that he was cleared for all possible secrets, yet was shown no cases where they'd averted a crime that would otherwise have occurred. So much for the "54" terrorist plots averted.

  • The good old... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:38PM (#45798323)
    The good old ends justify the means justification for violating the 4th amendment.
  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:49PM (#45798451)

    The problem is the third party doctrine which holds that voluntary disclosing information to 3rd parties removes any expectation of privacy.

    That works more or less pre-digital age. However the idea that disclosing all of this information now is voluntary is ridiculous. You would have to live like Thoreau did in his shack on Walden Pond to avoid this.

    There needs to be legislation or even better an amendment to fix this.

  • Re: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chalnoth (1334923) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:58PM (#45798573)

    Take a look at the article. It isn't just that nothing happened, but they didn't even have any positive detections. And it only takes a little bit of knowledge of neural networks and statistics to understand that this kind of program is doomed from the very start: the signal these data collection systems are looking for is exceedingly tiny. There are at most dozens of actual terrorists seriously working on plans to attack somewhere in the US at any given moment, compared to a population of over 300 million. In order for the system to actually detect those terrorists, then, it needs to have a detection accuracy that is better than the ratio of the non-terrorists to the total population. Otherwise, most of the "detections" will actually be false detections that do nothing but mislead law enforcement and infringe on the rights of innocent citizens. If we assume 50 terrorists, that means the system would need a precision better than 99.99998%.

    It's almost impossible for any learning model to have a precision that high. Learning models in general have this problem with what are called long-tail errors. If you want to know what these errors are, check out Google's or Apple's speech recognition software on a smartphone (you can also access Google's speech recognition on the web on any PC with a microphone). Most of the time, it's pretty good. But sometimes the mis-detections are so far off it's ludicrous. Why in the world would you ever trust a system that needs obscenely high precision to an algorithm that has such nasty errors?

    To be fair, it is possible to reduce the needed precision by filtering out people in the population who are unlikely to be terrorists (e.g. children, the elderly, women), but it's just not possible to reduce it enough to make sifting through large pools of information worthwhile.

  • Re: Time to appeal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jamstar7 (694492) on Friday December 27, 2013 @03:05PM (#45798653)

    What a nice conspiracy theory you have there.

    Unless you live in a monastary or a convent all your life, you have something to hide, whether it was cheating on a question on an exam, your neighbor hitting on you while your wife was passed out, something. Just read the FBI files on Martin Luther King Jr. And you think there isn't a damned thick dossier on all the Supremes? Hell, *I* have an FBI file simply because I was in the military and they investigated me for security clearance. I'm not rich, famous, or particularly influential, but that 40 year old file is still in the stacks.

  • Logical Fallacies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Friday December 27, 2013 @03:21PM (#45798819)

    Which logical fallacies apply to this?

    False Cause [] - They perceive that 911 happened because we didn't have enough info so their solution is to collect "ALL THE INFO".
    Appeal to Emotion [] - You don't want another terrorist attack, now do you?
    Black or White [] - Either we collect all of the information on everyone or the terrorists win. Whose side are you on?

    Additionally, courts have used Burden of Proof [] before. Want to prove this is illegal? Well, first you need to have been negatively impacted by this uber-secret program. Since it's an uber-secret program, you aren't allowed evidence that they spied on you. Since you have no evidence, you can't prove anything. Lawsuit tossed out. Next!

    Finally, I propose a new Logical Fallacy - the More Information Fallacy. This one presumes that we'd be able to do X if only we had more information or less roadblocks to obtaining information. This is true in a sense. The police could arrest a lot more people if they didn't need to worry about so many rules about evidence. Do you know how many criminals would be behind bars if they didn't get off on a technicality? However, the flip side to this is lowered rules lead to corruption and abuse. Lower rules on evidence handling and you can have cases where evidence is planted or tampered with and innocent people get convicted.

    In the case of the NSA, they think that "more information" will help them spot terrorists. In an ideal situation (for them, not us), knowing everything about everyone *would* let them spot and stop terrorist attacks. However 1) this would lead to abuse and mission creep to the point that the program would be used for non-terrorism related crimes or for attacking people the NSA didn't like and 2) the NSA would never be able to parse through that much data in the real world. So the claims that "more information will stop attacks" are just plain false.

  • Re: Time to appeal (Score:3, Interesting)

    by amiga3D (567632) on Friday December 27, 2013 @04:30PM (#45799601)

    Well I think the fact that the IRS did target political opponents of the administration is so obvious now that only the most steadfast supporters of the Obama administration deny it. The events leading to the death of the ambassador were largely an almost comic display of incompetence and stupidity and not the big conspiracy that the right makes it out to be. The lies they told were to try in a pathetic way to make it seem they were not absolute and total idiots. As for the NSA tracking every communication I seriously doubt that. Only because the job is a little too large even for their network so that they have to make some compromises to limit the truly extraneous stuff. The fast and furious stuff played out before Congress on CSPAN. They have no Fox News affiliation I know of. Of course you probably think CSPAN is right wing tv too because it's not MSNBC.

  • Re: Unconstitutional (Score:5, Interesting)

    by operagost (62405) on Friday December 27, 2013 @05:44PM (#45800365) Homepage Journal
    It said right in the constitution that no laws concerning slavery could be passed until 1808, at which time they promptly outlawed the importation of slaves. Also, the 9th amendment implicitly gave the right to regulate slavery to the states. If you'll recall, from fourth grade history, some states were "slave" states and some were "free". So, this arrangement was morally wrong, but constitutional. The sticking point came with the fugitive slave law, which many called unconstitutional because, again, slavery was in the jurisdiction of the states. But the federal government pulled out the weapon which eventually became the Swiss-army-knife of government oppression we know today: "regulation of interstate commerce". So it decided it had the ability to force escaped slaves dwelling in free states to return to their masters.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]