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Mata
I couldn't decide whether this should go in the US government corruption thread or in a new one, so I figured I'd go for a new thread and keep that more on-topic.

Itís been a big scandal that the NSA is illegally taping the conversations of several million Americans. It's been denied that the project was so out of control, but it seems like every time the story is returned to that the numbers go up.

There is a writer called Borges who came up with some brilliant ideas in his stories, but the one that returns to me as being the most relevant on an everyday basis is about a king who wanted an accurate map. I heard this several years ago, so this is probably my spin on it, but it went something like this:

There once was a king that, when he was done with war and had conquered all he desired, wanted a map so he could see everything that he ruled over. His closest entourage are sent to make a map of his land. They bring it back to him and spread it over his table. He looks at the map, and sees that it is good, but it does not show all the streets of his city, so he asks for a better map.

More people are sent out to make a better map. Much time is spent on making an accurate map of the city and the land. When it is done they return to the king and spread it out over the floor, because it is now much bigger than the table. The king looks at the map and sees that it is good, but it does not show every building.

A huge amount of people are sent out to make a map of the land so accurate that it shows every building, every field, every stable, and every shed. After many years the map is done. They spread it out over the city, because the map is so large that it cannot fit inside the castle. The king sees that this is a very good map, but it does not show the rooms.

The whole country begins to make a map that is accurate to the last detail. Everything, every room, every table, every tree, is included. The country begins to crumble and the map expands until it covers the whole land. The country is engulfed in the map, and in places the map and the countryside cannot be told from each-other. The map is finally completely accurate, but the land has been destroyed.

The NSA seeks to build a map of the people, but they are getting so much information that it becomes meaningless. The detail with which they are now capable of looking at people means that they can no longer distinguish any patterns or purpose. Meanwhile, the land itself is changing and being destroyed by the processes that are needed to collect all the data.

It seems logical to me that the more data there is, the more the signal to noise ratio disappears into the distance. William Gibson is a writer dealing with things like the NSA spying in his new novel, and I'm really looking forward to seeing that, but I can't help but wonder whether this scandal is making his life easier or harder. He's been quoted as saying that the marriage of Priscila Presley to Michael Jackson upped the stakes for speculative fiction writers; do you think that confirmation that the NSA is doing these things is going to present a similar need to increase the level of creativity/paranoia in thriller fiction?
Calantyr
The NSA has managed to force AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon to hand over all their documents on phone communications. This is not just for their cutomers, but also includes the calls made by people who use other service providers that call customers they have.

The net result is that the NSA has be collecting data on over 200 million US citizens. At that point... doesn't the information become useless? So why the hell do they want it all?

The administration has previously said that only data would be collected from those who pose a threat or have links to terrorist connections.

So either they think over two thirds of the US population are involved in terrorism, or they have been lying through their teeth.

I think the relevations come from a recent USA Today report.

Slightly worrying.

It started off with collecting data on few individuals. Then they realised that it's bloody hard to challenge their process. "If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to stop us."
And so more and more people are being monitored... And now most of the country is. And anyone who calls the States from outside will have their details sent to the NSA too.

Blimey. But of course, "If they wern't guilty they wouldn't be suspects."
Mata
Very true. The problem is that history has shown that when civil liberties are removed then only an act of force seems to ensure their return. No matter how 'temporary' security laws may be, they always seem to find their way onto the law books. It's more convenient for law enforcers to have more power, so it always stays.

Agencies such as the NSA, MI5, etc. do need to be able to get this kind of information easily when they need it, I've got no argument theren, but there's no point in having everything that ever happens in front of them. It's a map of the world that's as big as the world: there's no point in having it because you haven't narrowed down your data at all.
Astarael
I've heard varying views about whether they're taping the actual conversations or just recording the times and numbers of calls, but either way the trend is worrying. As Mata pointed out, once the government has a new power or privilege, it's very difficult to give it up. Lincoln originally instituted the income tax to pay for the Civil War and promised that it would end when the war did. The tax did end, but it kept popping back up and now it's firmly a part of the American tax structure. "Pork barrel" legislation was originally just a way of spending the enormous Gilded Age budget surplus and stimulating the economy, but it continued long after that surplus became a balance and then a deficit, to the point that pork barrel spending continues to dangerously increase the national budget deficit today. The American government, despite Bush's claims that he would try to make it smaller, is now at its largest in American history. When will the government decide that the terrorist threat has receded enough to consider slicing off some organizations like the NSA? Call me paranoid, but wiretapping could continue under the justification of suspicion of a terrorist threat and be hidden under the veil of national security.
Wiretapping the very tiny specific conversations that had definite terrorist links seemed fine to me, especially because the wiretappers had to have probable cause and a search warrant. Now the whole business has gotten out of control and the government is snatching information that it doesn't really need on the off chance that a break in a pattern might reveal something. The original small and somewhat efficient focus has vanished in the overwhelming grab for more and more information, and we keep hearing about more widepsread information grabbing after Bush has promised that something far more limited is happening. Some wiretapping and information is certainly needed for genuine reasons of stopping terroists, but there's no way that the currently huge mounds of phone call times and Internet visits are really going to accomplish that goal. The NSA needs to narrow its focus and start looking for probable cause again.
Jonman
QUOTE (Mata @ May 13 2006, 05:42 PM) *
It seems logical to me that the more data there is, the more the signal to noise ratio disappears into the distance.


Just wanted to pick you up on this one. I think you're dead wrong here. The larger your statistical sample, the better your signal to noise ratio becomes. Assuming that there's issues with having enough computational power to process such a large dataset (which given the Pentagon/NSA's likely hardware resources, I think we can accept that this is the case), then the more data the better.
Tremer
I don't know why people have such a big problem with this? If you are not doing anything wrong then what do you care if some FBI guy listens to your phone conversations? Do you think they really care about your aunt Bertha's cheating on her husband?

This is just my point of view, if it will save Americans from another bombing feel free to record all my phone conversations. I just really can't see how this can be used against me unless I am breaking the law, in which case it should be used against me.
Feyliya
QUOTE (Tremer @ Jun 3 2006, 06:39 PM) *
I don't know why people have such a big problem with this? If you are not doing anything wrong then what do you care if some FBI guy listens to your phone conversations? Do you think they really care about your aunt Bertha's cheating on her husband?

This is just my point of view, if it will save Americans from another bombing feel free to record all my phone conversations. I just really can't see how this can be used against me unless I am breaking the law, in which case it should be used against me.

I don't like the thought of some anonymous goverment official listening in to my conversation when I'm having phone sex with my fiancee because we're visiting relatives in different states and we're both horny as hell. I don't want some dude listening in when I'm on the phone with my grandmother trying to explain the emotional trauma she's caused me and how that's why I don't call or talk to her. I don't want the government on the line when I'm having one of those excruciatingly embarassing conversations with my mother about birth control (which she sees fit to have with me regularly, just to make both our days). I don't want someone else listening in when my dad has tracked down my unlisted number and I'm explaining to him that I don't want to ever communicate with him. I don't want anyone else on the line when I'm talking to my credit card company/bank about my account (government officials have temptation, too).

And, most of all, I ESPECIALLY don't want "some FBI guy" listening to me shooting the shit with my friend Brent while we're joking about how much we hate the American government and how we'd both love it if someone pegged Bush. Because you know what past experience has shown the American government will do with me if they hear that and are dumb enough to consider it legitimate? They'll toss me into Gitmo and hold me on terrorism charges, indeffinitely. Or they'll ship me off to a secret detainment center in Lithuania, or Armenia, or some other country where they can torture me to find out "what I know" about other terrorist activities to their heart's content.

You may not care if the government is listening in while you're talking about your Aunt Bertha cheating on her husband, but how does Aunt Bertha feel about it?

And where's it going to stop when tapping phone conversations becomes common? What's next? Reading through my mail? Having all American-based email routed through government computer databases? Watching my credit and debit card transactions to see what I'm buying? Invasion of privacy is a slippery slope.
Daria
After reading Mr Nice (Howard Marks's autobiography) and about how his phones were tapped- and what happened to the information the DEA gathered from it- I really don't agree with the mass tapping of civillian's homes. The information gathered from his conversations was badly transcribed, was un-coded wrongly and was basicaly just manipulated to be what the DEA wanted it to be. I suppose it is the same with any evidence, but there just seems to be something more sinister anf Big Brother-ish about phone tapping.
Calantyr
In the current situation supposedly very few calls are actually listened in on. It's mainly keeping records of who called who from where, for how long, etc etc. THey don't record what is actually said.

Oh, except for emails. If you write an email, a text message, or use an instant messaging program then they keep it all.
monkey_called_narth
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