Sunday, February 17, 2008

Footnote to the preceding

Contrary to the fulminations of the deranged right, the problem often isn't not enough information, but too much information. Sunday's New York Times tells how you can be spied on without even being spied on.
A technical glitch gave the F.B.I. access to the e-mail messages from an entire computer network - perhaps hundreds of accounts or more - instead of simply the lone e-mail address that was approved by a secret intelligence court as part of a national security investigation, according to an internal report of the 2006 episode.

F.B.I. officials blamed an “apparent miscommunication” with the unnamed Internet provider, which mistakenly turned over all the e-mail from a small e-mail domain for which it served as host. The records were ultimately destroyed, officials said. ...

[A]n intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because surveillance operations are classified, said: “It’s inevitable that these things will happen. It’s not weekly, but it’s common.”
It's what's called "overproduction," getting more data than you wanted, and according to FBI testimony before Congress last March, yes, it is common. It means the government could be getting access to your telephone calls or email or whatever without you being a target of an investigation, a suspect, or even a mere "person of interest," but just because you happened to get swept up with the rest.

The spooks are supposed to dispose of the information, that's part of minimization, and yes, there is a certain logic to expecting they would because it's just extraneous stuff that can get in the way of what they're looking for - but it remains true that the less oversight there is, the less assurance we have that will be done and done properly, as opposed to, say, "well, we'll just file this away, just in case," or "we didn't ask for it but now that we've got it, why not see if there's anything here." At bottom, at the very least, it adds another thick layer of "just trust us" to the whole business.

And since I already don't trust them, I find that impossible.
The 2006 episode was disclosed as part of a new batch of internal documents that the F.B.I. turned over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group in San Francisco that advocates for greater digital privacy protections, as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit the group has brought. ...

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the privacy foundation, said the episode raised troubling questions about the technical and policy controls that the F.B.I. had in place to guard against civil liberties abuses.

“How do we know what the F.B.I. does with all these documents when a problem like this comes up?” Ms. Hofmann asked.
GMTA, Ms. Hofmann.

Footnote: The original (redacted) FBI document is here in .pdf format.

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