A Weak Defense of the NSA Program

The Right Call on Phone Records

Richard Falkenrath does the politically expedient thing and hangs the NSA program squarely around the neck of General Michael Hayden. With any luck, the two will sink together.

Falkenrath lies right out of the gate. He says that "anonymized domestic telephone records" are "records stripped of individually identifible data." To a point, that's true, but the telephone number remains, and can be linked right back to that individually identifible data by consulting another database. Yet Falkenrath calls attention to his phrase "anonymized data" like it was an amulet against the truth, which it is.

The three companies reported to have supplied telephone records to the NSA also appear to be acting lawfully. The Telecommunications Act of 1934, as amended, generally prohibits the release of "individually identifiable customer proprietary network information" except under force of law or with the approval of the customer. But, according to USA Today, the telephone records voluntarily provided to the NSA had been anonymized.
Liar. Telephone numbers, all by themselves, are not anonymized records. It's the "Joe Wilson's wife" argument all over again.

Falkenrath has a nice little example of how Mohammed Atta calls person A (the pizza guy), who calls person B (the pizza guy's girlfriend), who calls person C (her daddy), who calls Khalid Sheik Mohammed (wrong number). Surely it behooves the government to run all three of these people through Fort Gitmo. It'd be the most effective waste of money imaginable.

As Taking on Goliath points out:
His little ring of contacts scenario could also be achieved by nSA officials going to the FISA court, and limiting their warrant to all people who have contact with a known terrorist, and let's says any person within six degress of those contacts. The FISA court has proved it is willing to assist them in anyway possible, so if it turns out that kind of net would be insufficient, they could go back and ask for 10 degrees out or 15 or 20.

My point here is this: There is no way that mining through millions (if not billions) of anonymous phone records can in any way, shape, or form be more effective and valuable than targeting a select few of non-anonymous contacts that you have a probable cause to believe might be assisting a terrorist.

And watch this argument:
Clearly, there is a compelling national interest in understanding and penetrating such terrorist networks. If the people associated with domestic telephone numbers A, B and C are inside the United States and had facilitated the Sept. 11 attacks, perhaps they are facilitating a terrorist plot now. The American people rightly expect their government to detect and prevent such plots.
Falkenrath makes it sound like only this program is standing between us and another 9/11. That damn well better not be the case, because this program is illegal on grounds stretching back to the founding of this country.

Luckily, Americans are waking up. They are voting with their business and their disapproval (come on, Washington Post, give us a fair and honest chance to understand what's happening before you push-poll us). There will be a day of reckoning, and thank goodness it's coming soon.