Thursday, January 16, 2014

142.3 - Unintentional humor: the NSA and privacy

Unintentional humor: the NSA and privacy

Next up is an example of what I call unintentional humor, where something that's not intended to be funny, just is.

Early this month, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote to NSA Director Gen. Keith "Starship Captain" Alexander, asking if the NSA has spied or is spying on members of Congress or other American elected officials. The letter defined spying as including "gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

The definition was included because the NSA maintains that collecting such information is not "spying." "Spying," the spooks say, only happens when some agent physically examines some specific record.

Well, nearly two weeks later Sanders got his answer and it of course doesn't answer the question. The Starship Captain insisted that nothing the NSA "does can fairly be characterized as 'spying on Members of Congress or American elected officials'" - if, that is, you define "spying" in the agency's narrow, self-serving way.

Alexander then went on to say that he couldn't go beyond that because, he claimed, he would be violating the civilian protections of the program if he did.

In other words, the NSA, which is known now to be sucking up metadata on tens of millions of domestic phone calls, monitoring web traffic and emails, and so much more, with the avowed intent of knowing everything, of being able to track, trace, and record every bit of electronic data in the world, is now telling a US Senator that it can't confirm if he's among those whose data has been collected because that would violate his privacy.

The lack of self-awareness is sometimes just stunning.


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