Saturday, May 13, 2006

NSA's collection of phone records

In the past few days, various newspaper articles have brought to light that the US National Security Agency (NSA) is obtaining call records from various telecoms (notably not included is Qwest) for all calls made on their network. This data is said to be needed for national security reasons. As far as we know, there is no judicial or legislative oversight of what is being done with the data.

As a (low-level) employee of one of the telecoms that is sending records to the NSA, I feel a sense of betrayal.

The data that the NSA is collecting is called CPNI (Customer Proprietary Network Information). It includes the "time, date, duration and destination number of each call". Even though my job takes me nowhere close to such information, I nevertheless must take an yearly refresher course on the safeguarding of such information. I don't pay close attention to all this, because it is not a situation that I encounter, but apparently, even to develop a sales proposal to an existing customer to provide them better service based on what the telco already knows of their usage patterns, one must get consent in writing from the customer.

Now this.

We can only speculate how the NSA might be using this data. One easy guess is that given a target number, it can find all phone numbers that received from or made calls to that target number, and then all phone numbers that called or were called from these numbers, and then, given that the Administration considers warrantless wiretapping to be justified, the NSA can listen in on all these phone calls.

This is simply not acceptable as a unilateral action by the Executive. The Constitution doesn't grant the Executive such sweeping powers.

I know right-wingers who don't want to use New Jersey's EZ-Pass (electronic toll-paying) because it means that someone somewhere knows when their vehicle has passed certain points of the highway, and this they feel, is a unwarranted intrusion on their privacy. They use the cash line instead.

Yet, people of the same stripe seem to be justifying the NSA action on the blogsphere.

Maybe the day is coming when every vehicle will have a GPS device and a transmitter and will report its position at all times to a central repository. It will certainly buy security - car theft will fall heavily if the engineering is put in to make this difficult to disable. Hit-and-run drivers will be easily identified. What do innocent people have to worry about, a benign and protective government having all this data? Well, the government is not your Mom, and you don't tell your Mom everything, do you? Why not?