The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

13 May 2006

1-800-HANGUP

I think what bothers most me about this whole NSA telephone-research business — and this could probably apply to some other activities, governmental and otherwise, almost entirely intact — is the bland reassurance that the operation was conducted within the specifications of the law and therefore Everything Is Just Fine.

I demur. It's no particular trick to design something to conform to the letter of the law, and I'm reasonably sure that NSA knows how to do such a thing. But as Captain Ed notes, that's no guarantee of governmental goodness:

In my opinion, the effort is reasonable and limited. The calls themselves do not get monitored, and the records do not contain billing information or even names in their raw form. With the US still in danger of terrorist attack and with the rational possibility of sleeper cells hiding in our communities, the use of this tool makes sense and provides security for a reasonable loss of privacy.

However, that does not make the collection of this data completely benign under any circumstances. This kind of data could be used for purposes other than finding terrorists. For instance, it could be used against whistleblowers to discover their contacts. It could get deployed against opposition parties to determine their scope and the location and number of their supporters. People could get blackmailed for their phone calls in ways that have nothing to do with national security. If the CIA or State Department (which has its own intelligence service) had this program rather than the NSA, many on the Right would feel much less sanguine about its implications.

Indeed. And this is what blows a hole in the much-bandied-about notion that "What do you have to worry about? As far as the government is concerned, you're not that interesting."

Replies Tam:

I'm plenty freakin' interesting. I'm so interesting that the Founding Fathers thought I was the most interesting person in the country, and they wrote a whole list of things the .gov couldn't do to me, some of which involved searches and warrants and stuff. Anything that makes folks twitchy on that angle deserves a better defense than "They won't stick it in too far."

Which, so far, has not been forthcoming; at best, we're getting "At least we're not telemarketers!"

Which inevitably leads to this:

Even in a perfect Libertarian wolkencuckcuckland, the telcos are private entities and you won't own the wire your call is going over or the electricity that's vibrating it. What's to keep Ma Bell from selling that data to a market research firm, or your boss, or Dr. Evil?

If you're really upset that Third Parties might have a line on you, get ready to lease a private mailbox, cancel your credit cards and media subscriptions and bank accounts and your MySpace page, and start buying disposable cell phones. Even if the government isn't looking directly at you, somebody is.

Posted at 10:16 AM to Political Science Fiction


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What's to keep Ma Bell from selling that data to a market research firm, or your boss, or Dr. Evil?

Privacy laws, that's what.

Of course, acknowledging this would require admission that not all regulation of corporations is evil, and that's not a concept you typically find on blogs with Instapundit on the blogroll.

Posted by: Matt at 6:37 PM on 13 May 2006

Really effective, those laws, weren't they?

Posted by: CGHill at 7:32 PM on 13 May 2006

"Of course, acknowledging this would require admission that not all regulation of corporations is evil, and that's not a concept you typically find on blogs with Instapundit on the blogroll."


Sorry, buddy, but that carries about as much weight as the Bushbots cries of "But... but... but... Clinton did it too!"

:Big roll of the eyes:

Posted by: Tam at 8:40 PM on 13 May 2006

The telemarketers already have your name...
I had the Democrats call me on an unlisted number in 2004, and they tried to talk to me in Spanish...
And we have been getting mail in Spanish for years.
And if you are REALLY worried about your privacy, don't get sick.
Your insurance company insists on knowing your diagnosis.
I usually lied for embarassing diseases, but some docs don't....

Posted by: Boinkie at 8:51 PM on 15 May 2006