Picture 2

Picture 2

Jun 15, 2015

Is the NSA Collecting Phone Numbers an Open and Shut Case?

The NSA collecting phone numbers is more of a grey area than liberals and libertarians make it out to be. Before computers, security services used to run what were known as mail cover operations. They would monitor the envelopes of postal letters sent to people suspected of spying. They would track where the letters were post marked, what return addresses were used and anything else they could find out without opening the letter. They did not need a warrant for this because the outside of the envelope was public information disclosed to allow the letter to be delivered. The argument for collecting who called whom is that this information is similar to information on the outside of an envelope. The NSA collects that you called your mother's phone on Wednesday at 3:45 PM.  It does not listen to the phone call without a warrant.  

What makes it troubling is the massive amount of data collected. However, as a computer programmer with experience dating back to 1968, I don't think the solution proposed by the House bill is technically feasible. They want all of the local phone companies to save the data and allow federal access to it when served with a search warrant.  Mining the phone call connections for useful patterns requires an extensive set of calls collected in one place that you can examine all at the same time.  In essence you have to build the haystack before you can look for the needle. As a Republican with a Libertarian domestic view and a strong defense foreign policy view, I don't have an easy way to solve the technical problem of getting the information when it's needed while protecting people from intrusive government.  What I do know is that any proposal involves trade offs.  As my grandfather used to tell me, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

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