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Privacy The Military Government United States

Former NSA Director: 'We Kill People Based On Metadata' 155

Posted by Soulskill
from the kill-metadata-based-on-people-instead dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An article by David Cole at the NY Review of Books lays out why we should care as much about the collection of metadata as we do about the collection of the data itself. At a recent debate, General Michael Hayden, who formerly led both the NSA and the CIA, told Cole, 'we kill people based on metadata.' The statement is stark and descriptive: metadata isn't just part of the investigation. Sometimes it's the entire investigation. Cole talks about the USA Freedom Act, legislation that would limit the NSA's data collection powers if it passes. The bill contains several good steps in securing the privacy of citizens and restoring due process. But Cole says it 'only skims the surface.' He writes, 'It does not address, for example, the NSA's guerilla-like tactics of inserting vulnerabilities into computer software and drivers, to be exploited later to surreptitiously intercept private communications. It also focuses exclusively on reining in the NSA's direct spying on Americans. ... In the Internet era, it is increasingly common that everyone's communications cross national boundaries. That makes all of us vulnerable, for when the government collects data in bulk from people it believes are foreign nationals, it is almost certain to sweep up lots of communications in which Americans are involved.' He concludes, '[T]he biggest mistake any of us could make would be to conclude that this bill solves the problem.'"
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Former NSA Director: 'We Kill People Based On Metadata'

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  • by AceCaseOR (594637) <alexander@case.gmail@com> on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:10PM (#46969305) Homepage Journal
    Calling Dr. Arnim Zola to the white courtesy phone. Dr. Arnim Zola to the courtesy phone please.
    • '[T]he biggest mistake any of us could make would be to conclude that this bill solves the problem.'

      But that is exactly what the lawmakers are busy trying to sell us, that this 'solves' the problem.

  • by colinrichardday (768814) <colin.day.6@hotmail.com> on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:10PM (#46969309)

    As Jefferson would say, only eternal vigilance can protect us.

    • by PPH (736903) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:43PM (#46969467)

      Something like that.

      But what Jefferson (and others who made similar statements) were talking about was the public keeping an eye on its own government.

      • by houghi (78078)

        The public has outsourced that. They have now companies who do that for them. Much cheaper and more efficient.

        (Not sure if I go for funny or scary points)

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      Jefferson also created a standing navy and invaded a foreign nation using a military unit called the marines. The success of this invasion depended on foreign intelligence collected by citizens of that foreign nation and delivered to the US. He did this all to protect the citizens of the US.

      You can get a "that a boy" if you can tell me what province or state which was part of that country who allowed us to stage in their ports and conduct operations from it. I'll give you a hint, some think it is all about

    • by plopez (54068)

      Yes, that is why the NSA must be eternally vigilant in protecting America.

  • Who cares (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    GHCHQ can monitor US citizens and then tell the NSA the stuff they need. What we need are spying restrictions to EVERYONE not just the americans. The only exception should areas where the US is at war.

    • Re:Who cares (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PPH (736903) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:34PM (#46969431)

      The only exception should areas where the US is at war.

      We're always at war. The war on drugs. The war on porn. The war on obesity.

    • So that's not going to be an improvement.

    • Re:Who cares (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:55PM (#46969529)

      Posting AC to be a devil's advocate here:

      What is ironic is that the NSA isn't a real threat. Nobody gets dragged off in the night. However, there are real intel agencies which will be more than happy to make people disappear. Those are now running unchecked and unfettered now that the "good" (relative here) guys are under the microscope.

      In fact, with NIST standards and kernel hardening (SELinux for example), they have done some good to keep the real bad guys out.

      I know this is an unpopular opinion, but people need to always know who to be worried versus ignored. For me, the NSA isn't on my list. Lots of people/organizations higher up on that (the top being the neighborhood meth-head looking to do a burglary to score some rock to feed his addiction.)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There is zero irony in your statement. In fact it's irrelevant. The criticism of the NSA is merely soup of the day, the criticism is really meant for the entire federal government. Between the 18 plus intelligence agencies, they certainly do drag people off the street. And people have been killed in the street. And "anonymous tips" sent down from on high, to the local bureaucratic layers at the state/county/city levels. They aren't going after bad guys ala "24", a television show, in which the dumbest

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Nobody gets dragged off in the night.

        No, you are wrong.

        I spent a couple of years in prison c. 14 years ago and I met a few inmates who had been snatched up by the
        government and imprisoned without a trial or anything resembling due process of law. In one
        case one of these poor bastards had been locked up for over TEN years. The families of these people
        did not even know where they were or what had happened to them.

        It wasn't clear whether the NSA had any involvement with the above people being snatched off the street,
        but the fact remains that this

        • If they were in general population, they would have had access to phones. If for some reason, they were in population but the guards were constantly watching them to make sure they didn't use the payphones, they could have been handed a cell phone to use in their cell during lockdown. Cellphone use could have been purchased in ANY prison for the cost of a few days worth of breakfast trays...or so I have heard.

      • Re:Who cares (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rogoshen1 (2922505) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:10AM (#46970771)

        yet. seriously, yet.

        if the NSA gets *really* good at intercepting all communication in and out of the US, the genie is out of the bottle, and suddenly the other spookier agencies have that same capability. Similarly corporations like Facebook or Google getting that capability, leads to the same result. And once it's there, there's no dismantling it. It will be a permanent fixture in our society until the day the sun goes nova.

        worse, and i think you're missing this really super crucial point -- just because people aren't getting disappeared 'today' does NOT mean they won't get disappeared tomorrow. 'Disappearing' is the most hyperbolic/tin-foil hat way of addressing the overreach, but regardless -- democracy is not compatible with total state surveillance. Freedom of speech is not compatible. We're being really really dumb about this whole thing, and seriously missing the god damn forest for the trees. FWIW: I won't Godwin the thread, but there was a definite progression in Nazi policies. They didn't start off with the final solution.

        By allowing the panopticon to be constructed in the first place, we're virtually assuring its use later on -- like literally every other governmental 'tool' its use will at first be controversial, then accepted, and then law enforcement/government/whoever will cry out that it's mandatory in order to keep us safe. Once we give these people a new tool, they will never, ever relinquish it. the only way to win is to prevent them from getting their grubby little mitts on it. But that's cool, google gives us maps and email, and the NSA protects us from cyber terrorists out of Russialand who want to hack our freedoms.

      • Posting AC to be a devil's advocate here:

        What is ironic is that the NSA isn't a real threat. Nobody gets dragged off in the night. However, there are real intel agencies which will be more than happy to make people disappear. Those are now running unchecked and unfettered now that the "good" (relative here) guys are under the microscope.

        In fact, with NIST standards and kernel hardening (SELinux for example), they have done some good to keep the real bad guys out.

        I know this is an unpopular opinion, but people need to always know who to be worried versus ignored. For me, the NSA isn't on my list. Lots of people/organizations higher up on that (the top being the neighborhood meth-head looking to do a burglary to score some rock to feed his addiction.)

        BZZT! Wrong. Thanks for playing. There has been a long history of presidential administrations [aclu.org] using the foreign intelligence security apparatus to spy on its enemies, real or imagined. The courts and Congress long took a dim view of this, but apparently they think it's okay now.

        The NSA *may* have done some things to help us secure our systems, but they have the apparatus in place (and are using it, to what extent we don't really know) to spy on Americans. Even if (and that's a big 'if') the Obama admi

      • What is ironic is that the NSA isn't a real threat. Nobody gets dragged off in the night.

        But the NSA does help the organizations doing the dragging by collecting information that will allow them to more easily isolate and harass people who do things the government disproves of; legality and morality be damned.

        I know this is an unpopular opinion, but people need to always know who to be worried versus ignored. For me, the NSA isn't on my list.

        The fact that you're not concerned that the NSA is violating the highest law of the land and everyone's fundamental rights proves that you're unprincipled and ignorant of history.

        Not a single person is a perfect being who can do no wrong or make no mistakes; especially not those in the gov

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        The NSA is providing these intelligence agencies with the information they use to decide who to grab. The quality of this intelligence is of great concern, as is the fact that they gather it on everyone. When they have that much insight into a individual's life they can always find some reason justify to grabbing them.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      You cannot put spying restrictions on everyone unless you conquer them and subjugate them to your authority. Well that unless they voluntarily agree to your terms which is the case with international treaties. However, the nature of spying is secret so secretly ignoring international law will happen.

      It's easier said than done and not very realistic in the real world.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      We need spying restrictions that cover Americans, regardless of what source the information has. It should be illegal to disseminate GHCQ intelligence involving targets that would be unlawful for the agency to pursue on its own.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:26PM (#46969387)

    Erdös Number.

    If they can store 3 phone call hops of metadata of who a suspect called over the last 2 years (or was it three) then they have everyone's metadata forever.

    That's one obvious bit of mathematics that the god damn media missed in the latest lies from the White House.

    They have your metadata forever because you're ALWAYS 3 phone call hops from a terrorist who after all once called for a plane ticket or a pizza or a taxi or called someone who did.

    And nice to know that they kill people based on metadata, and that they've made sure that none of your secure communications are secure. The ghosts of Stazi secret police are dying a second time from orgasming all day and night.

    • Lets say an average person calls 100 different numbers over a two year period. One hop gets 100 people. Two hops gets 10,000. Three hops gets 1,000,000 people. That is for one terrorist. So, it might not be everybody.....unless you start with hundreds of terrorists, of course. Three hundred terrorists and you pretty much do have everyone in the US. If any of these numbers are for the pizza, or taxi, then you might get there with one terrorist.

      In any case it shouldn't slow them down much.

      • If any of these numbers are for the pizza, or taxi, then you might get there with one terrorist.

        If one suspect calls AT&T to get phone service, everyone who knows someone who has (or had) AT&T phone service is swept up in three hops.

        Or maybe they call Entergy to turn on the electricity in their apartment. You're now within three hops if you live in the southeastern US.

        While you're correct if we assume that all calls are to private individuals, your assumptions fall flat when we consider calling

      • by Anonymous Coward

        NSA doesn't like someone.
        1) They buy cell phone.
        2) They call terrorist, setting it in metadata.
        3) They then use same cell phone to call person they don't like.
        4) Profit!

        Your example is overly complex, this is much simpler and gets any single person who has a phone number on the kill list in a matter of minutes with a cost under $100. But I did like how you try and point out accidental killings on purpose.

      • Lets say an average person calls 100 different numbers over a two year period. One hop gets 100 people. Two hops gets 10,000. Three hops gets 1,000,000 people. That is for one person of interest who, in all likelihood, has nothing at all to do with terror attacks..

        There. FTFY.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      It's actually worse than that. They store all phone metadata, regardless of how many hops it is from a suspected terrorist (not an actual terrorist, just a suspect remember). Then later on if they do a search and find some of it useful they can find a way to get the three hops. The system doesn't limit searches, it's just a legal justification they use later.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:30PM (#46969413)

    This new America that was invented by Bush and refined by Obama is nothing short of terrifying.

    I want leadership that cares about the people more than the whims of big business, and can provide meaningful change instead of "lightweight" legislation designed to appease a small segment of people superficially, such as drug legalization and immigration reform.

    Ending our pointless war on terror and dismantling the domestic spying program would be a huge step in the right direction. We can't justify either one of them at all, and both were developed as unworkable solutions to hypothetical problems. They cost too much, they hurt too many people, and they are ultimately pointless.

    Sad thing is, in the next election neither major party will have anyone to offer who is significantly different from what we've seen before. The Democrats will have a lukewarm nice guy who's soft on the major issues, and the Republicans will have a hard-right nutjob who talks directly to God. And the third parties will offer the same crackpots who have more interest in building marijuana dispensaries and legalizing ferret ownership than the hard issues that impact our rights, our privacy, and our way of life.

    Sucks when "None of the above" is the only option. I'll still vote Democrat because they are "less evil", but these days, not by very much at all...

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "This new America that was invented by Bush and refined by Obama is nothing short of terrifying."

      They fear political awakening, while you may be reasonably comfortable. Many in the bottom billions of poor on planet earth are in abject poverty and oppression. Capitalism wants to keep those people in their place, hence the elites desire to control the internet.

      People are waking up to the fact that the governments are all power hungry and corrupt and are not there to serve the interests of the people, but that

    • I must disagree with you about the marijuana issue. I think that it is an important issue that is being ignored.

      Here in the USA, we arrest 750,000 people each year for marijuana. Most people seem to know someone who smokes the stuff and would not want someone's life torn apart because someone in DC didn't what he was doing.

      I have come to believe that in the future, the struggle to legalize marijuana will be seen as one of the defining civil rights issues of our time.

      And oh yes, legalizing marijuana will l

      • by sjames (1099)

        The war on drugs has an effect far beyond the injustice to a few harmless pot smokers. Thinking about my friends and the drug laws, I concluded that I would feel morally compelled to impede the police in any way I could if they wanted to enforce the drug laws. More and more average people are coming to that same conclusion. It's one thing when organized crime sees the cops as the enemy, it's quite another when average citizens come to agree.

    • democrats/republicans = good cop/bad cop...

      I'll still vote Democrat because they are "less evil"...

      The state and its corporate masters appreciate your loyalty to the Party which will provide a "safe and secure society which I assure you will last for ten thousand years"

    • by antdude (79039)

      It is time to get off Earf and start a new colony. :P

    • by Sarius64 (880298)
      What will you do if Hillary suddenly converts to Mormonism?
  • by Blaskowicz (634489) on Saturday May 10, 2014 @06:36PM (#46969437)

    .. a well crafted and up to date hosts file helps to deal with that!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When are people going to wake up and realize this.

  • They collected everything they could on us, and nothing we have is hidden. They have it all. Metadata can spotlight many things in a person. Their likes, dislikes health family banking, credit cards etc. Phone records and recording is nothing compared. I said before they have all of this and then some. I stand by what I say. They can write a book about you.

    Now that new rules are in place I don't believe you are anymore private than you was before the new rules. The NSA is a very private entity. Secu
  • Criminals should not rest easy as the article points out what i have said for years. A computer may be wide open to the government despite some real efforts to secure your information. At times I strongly suspect that the very programs that one might use to secure a PC are actually making it even easier to penetrate the PC. Those that have been naughty should be rather afraid. Tax cheats, child porn, and dope problems might lock you away forever.
  • TFA is an off-kilter criticism

    1. Here's a way to head off alot of pointless banter on this issue:You're either a full pacifist or it's a question of **when** to use deadly force...that's first in any conversation about military action. You can't criticize just *one* military decision to kill without any context or comparison unless you are a 100% pacifist for all situations...because if you're not a total pacifist, then it's just a question of what conditions your think justify lethal force.

    2. In war, we kill on all kinds of imperfect data...**it's all we ever have**

    3. The US military can legal engage in lethal force without a formal declaration of war on another country by Congress.

    4. Both drones & piloted craft shoot missiles at enemies that cause collateral deaths, and any criticism of the use of either is a criticism of the use of both

    I'm sick of the banter & want real discussion on this issue

    • by jittles (1613415)

      2. In war, we kill on all kinds of imperfect data...**it's all we ever have**

      There hasn't been a formal declaration of war in many (any??) of these countries (Pakistan, Yemen, etc). Of course the data is going to be imperfect, but you have to have much stronger evidence to engage in this kind of activity in a country where you are not at war.

      4. Both drones & piloted craft shoot missiles at enemies that cause collateral deaths, and any criticism of the use of either is a criticism of the use of both

      I disagree with this wholeheartedly. The person in an airplane is there live. They see everything that is going on in the situation (the canopies on the aircraft give you more of a view of the area than having to PTZ a camera), and their live

      • you're an idiot...it's obvious you barely read my post and that you have no concept of what 'war' actually means

        There hasn't been a formal declaration of war in many (any??) of these countries

        i already addressed this from my original post: 3. The US military can legal engage in lethal force without a formal declaration of war on another country by Congress.

        I disagree with this wholeheartedly. The person in an airplane is there live.....

        None of those things you mentioned are salient factors in the decisio

        • by jittles (1613415)

          you're an idiot...it's obvious you barely read my post and that you have no concept of what 'war' actually means

          Straight to the ad hominem I see. Glad to see you didn't waste any time with a real argument. There are many definitions of war, and I know what it means. I've spent many years working with the US Army in its attack helicopter program. I have seen the actual war footage, worked with the pilots and ground personnel, I've heard their stories and experiences. Now what is your resume for knowing what war actually means?

          There hasn't been a formal declaration of war in many (any??) of these countries

          i already addressed this from my original post: 3. The US military can legal engage in lethal force without a formal declaration of war on another country by Congress.

          Did you read my argument? I said that we need to be more careful when we take action in

          • Straight to the ad hominem

            because you deserved it...just because you can form paragraphs with proper sentence structure doesn't mean your arguments aren't any less shit

            this is about people's lives in war

            it's obviously an abstract concept to you, like playing Starcraft or inventing a fictional narrative...

            killing people is really, really bad...no ammount of actuarial science or spreadsheet analysis can justify an innocent death...it harms the person who pulls the trigger as well...IMHO we should probably all

            • by jittles (1613415)

              Straight to the ad hominem

              because you deserved it...just because you can form paragraphs with proper sentence structure doesn't mean your arguments aren't any less shit

              this is about people's lives in war

              it's obviously an abstract concept to you, like playing Starcraft or inventing a fictional narrative...

              killing people is really, really bad...no ammount of actuarial science or spreadsheet analysis can justify an innocent death...it harms the person who pulls the trigger as well...IMHO we should probably all be 100% pacifists but that's not how I act in real life...and really it's not realistic but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise

              if you take these ideas beyond abstractions your ideas really do look silly

              They are not silly at all. Part of the rules of engagement revolve around the cost (in equipment, manpower, and financial resources) of executing an engagement. There are even political and collateral calculations in the rules of engagement. And again you call into question my understanding of war, even after I provided you with my experience regarding war. And what have you provided to back up your points? What personal experience do you claim to have? None. Look man. I've seen what war does to peopl

              • What's your disagreement then?

                What, specifically, about my original comment do you think is actually *wrong* not a misperception or misphrasing?

                You can point out pedantic differences between drones & piloted craft but the bottom line is just criticizing "drones" is fucking stupid...so we should use a more expensive piloted craft instead?

                I was in the AF myself and I rabidly defend manned craft in the "manned craft vs drones" debate for future development pipelines, but this is about killing or not killin

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In the eyes of the American government, American citizens have some rights, the rest of the world no (civil) rights at all except the right to be kidnapped, tortured, killed by videogame, etc. etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The bigger discussion should be who's doing the killing, is it our professional military, civilian intelligence agencies (CIA, etc.), civilian law enforcement (DEA, etc.), or civilian contractors? The first step towards getting our military policy back on a sort-of moral foundation would be to reinstate the monopoly of the regular uniformed military on using lethal force in the name of national security. IMHO, there are just too many agencies using lethal force, each with their own ROE, chain of command, ta

  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Sunday May 11, 2014 @03:22AM (#46970991) Homepage

    so what's the difference between the NSA's plan and Hydra's plan in Captain America Winter Soldier? absolutely nothing as far as i can tell. can anyone tell me if i am mistaken?

  • The NSA has made the terrorists' job much easier.... now that they just need to create some fake metadata, and the US government will do the rest of their work, for them.

    Yeah... that's right the Islamic extremists are now the brains behind the operation, and your precious US Government are now the real terrorists.

    Their modus operandi has already begun to shift towards defining any dissenters as terrorists.

    People who have traditional morals? Terrorists.

    2nd amendment supporters? Terrorists.

  • Now aren't we all glad we are investing in "eventually consistent" database? Database which could make "Tuttle vs Buttle" mistakes almost impossible to fix?

  • by countach (534280) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @10:21AM (#46972773)

    Don't worry folks, it's only meta data. Nothing to worr.....
    NO CARRIER

  • So maybe you want we should kill people with no data at all! Or maybe we should kill people knowing a lot less about why we target them.
  • It is pure insanity to live in a world where someone like that can say 'we kill people based on metadata.' right in your face, and isn't jailed on the spot for being straight up evil. That person will just continue on eating kobe beef and drinking scotch. Its just sick. All that is missing is that guy pressing his nose to your nose and saying- "...and just what are you gonna do about it? we will kill YOU right now." Thanks.

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