Tag Archives: paragraph

NSA clarification

I have written that we really didn’t know what was going on at the NSA. Well, this week we got some clarification.

From Kevin Drum:

Today, in the latest release of classified NSA documents from Glenn Greenwald, we finally got a look at these minimization procedures. Here’s the nickel summary:

The top secret documents published today detail the circumstances in which data collected on US persons under the foreign intelligence authority must be destroyed, extensive steps analysts must take to try to check targets are outside the US, and reveals how US call records are used to help remove US citizens and residents from data collection.

I have a feeling it must have killed Glenn to write that paragraph. But on paper, anyway, the minimization procedures really are pretty strict. If NSA discovers that it’s mistakenly collected domestic content, it’s required to cease the surveillance immediately and destroy the information it’s already collected. However, there are exceptions. They can:

Retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity.

The Guardian has posted two classified documents online. The first one describes the procedure for determining whether a surveillance target is legitimate (i.e., a non-U.S. person located outside the country). The second one describes the minimization procedures in case of inadvertent targeting of a U.S. person. There are a few obvious things to say about them:

  • The determination document repeatedly emphasizes that NSA bases its decisions on the “totality of the circumstances.” There are quite a few safeguards listed to make sure that only foreigners are targeted, but in the end these are often judgment calls from analysts.
  • The minimization procedures are fairly strict, but they do allow retention and disseminationof domestic data—without a warrant—under quite a few circumstances. “Threat of harm” is pretty broad, as is “criminal activity.” The latter, in fact, seems like a loophole the size of a Mack truck. It suggests that NSA could have a significant incentive to “inadvertently” hoover up as much domestic information as possible so it can search for evidence of criminal activity to hand over to the FBI.
  • The oversight procedures are pretty thin. Analysts have quite a bit of discretion here.

It’s genuinely unclear how big a problem this stuff is. It’s plainly true that determining whether someone is a U.S. person is sometimes a judgment call, and it’s possible that mistakes are rare. What’s more, if collection of domestic content genuinely is inadvertent, and is only occasionally turned over to other agencies when there’s evidence of serious crime, we should all feel better about this. But we really have no way of knowing. That would require, say, an inspector general to gather this kind of information, and the IG has specifically declined to do this.

Also, note that the documents posted by the Guardian are from 2009. It’s quite possible that procedures have changed since then.

(Editor’s note – for me the take-home lesson is there is still a lot that we don’t know.)

What the rape trial in Steubenville, Ohio tells us (Updated)

Let me clarify – Rape is wrong. Rape is always wrong. Rape should never ever happen in our society. In a truly free society both men and women must be able to decide who they want to have sex with, when they want to have sex and where. There are no exceptions. None. My opening paragraph below has been read by some that I believe that “rape happens.” No. This is not what I meant. I know that people do stupid things that shouldn’t happen. I know that our society has done very little, or better stated, not enough to protect women and punish those that prey on women. It is unclear to me why the Violence Against Women Act had such a hard time passing the House and the Senate. In an enlightened thoughtful, progressive society this should have been a no brainer. (BTW, I did an interview and long discussion about rape and rape kits.)

I must admit that I was paying little or no attention to the rape trial in Steubenville, Ohio. I was kind of shocked when the national news pushed the story. I didn’t get what the big deal was. Rape isn’t rare in the US (see data below). I thought that this was a typical case we see with kids in high school and college. There is no surprise that young boys do stupid, hurtful, awful things. Combine hormones and alcohol (and possibly other substances) and you have the soup of very bad things to happen. Now, it must be understood that I’m not trying to condone or minimize the crime that has happened. Rape is a crime. Rape should not be swept under the rug or hidden from view. (Did you know that over 900 women get raped in the US every day! Did you know that over 97% of men get away with rape?) Rape is wrong. Rape must be stopped.

Continue reading What the rape trial in Steubenville, Ohio tells us (Updated)

My Broken Samsung TV, how corporations force you to buy new (Update)

(If you have read all of this before, then skip to the last paragraph for the update.)

I will continue to complain about corporations until corporations fix their basic problem. Simply put – we don’t count. We, American consumers, only count when we’re buying new stuff. Otherwise, we are nothing. Corporations pretend to give service but they really don’t. They waste our time so that we get frustrated and finally buy something new.

So, back in November, I bought this 51-inch Samsung TV. Nice picture. Good size. High definition. Two weeks ago, I sat down to watch some football and the TV turned itself off and on, then off and on again, and then the screen went blank. Nothing. “This isn’t good,” I thought.

I called HH Gregg. I called them because they were the company that I bought the TV from and I had also purchased an extended warranty. After negotiating through multiple different prompts, I get some “service center” who will be happy to send somebody out to look at my TV in five days. Five days? That really doesn’t sound reasonable. Okay, I will wait for five days. Five days later, the serviceman comes out, looks at the TV and decides that the TV needs some new parts. Of course, he doesn’t have the parts. So he’s going to have to order the parts. We are told to call him back when the parts come in. He leaves. He does not give us his name. He does not give us a business card. We get nothing. Five days later, the parts arrive. Now, we get to the good part. Who do we call to let them know that the parts have come in?

I call HH Gregg. That was the company that I called before, so I foolishly thought that’s the company I should call again. After going through multiple prompts, I get to a bewildered service person who puts me on hold several times and asks for a lot of information only to tell me that he’s going to have to transfer me to someone who can help me with my problem. I get transferred back to the initial prompt at HH Gregg. Basically, I’m back to square one. I go through the various prompts once again and I get to another bewildered service person. I give him lots of information only to be placed on hold several more times and then I’m told I need to be transferred to Samsung. Somewhat frustrated, I agree to be transferred to Samsung. 20 minutes have passed. Continue reading My Broken Samsung TV, how corporations force you to buy new (Update)