The Confident Watchers

The latest news story about the U.S.’s global dragnet looks on face value as if it’d be a bombshell revelation, at least for people who don’t understand how cell phones work. The fact that it’s easy to track someone with their cell phone & it is routinely done is itself not a shock, as it’s even a common trope of cop shows on TV, though the mass and persistence should be troubling anyway as its scope belies any plausible claims of restraint for PR purposes. Yet at the same time this shows a general idea we already by now know to be true: that the state will attempt to know everything, & goes to great lengths for such. I’m at the point where my question is what we do about it.

So no, the general thrust of that Washington Post article doesn’t raise an eyebrow for me. What does that is a couple details within it that likely are being breezed by:

One senior collection manager, speaking on condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data is often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.

In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among individuals using them. [emphasis mine]

The gesture of the NSA releasing their own to remark like this shows how little they think of any prospects for curbing mass surveillance. It is as if this “senior collection manager”, upon hearing that there was supposed to be a conversation about it all said “I got your conversation right here” whilst grabbing his crotch.

There was also a reminder that they have co-conspirators:

According to top-secret briefing slides, the NSA pulls in location data around the world from 10 major “sigads,” or signals intelligence activity designators.

A sigad known as STORMBREW, for example, relies on two unnamed corporate partners described only as ARTIFICE and WOLFPOINT. According to an NSA site inventory, the companies administer the NSA’s “physical systems,” or interception equipment, and “NSA asks nicely for tasking/updates.”

May the unnamed be named, across the whole system. Also, if some kind technically inclined souls could do some things I will not explicitly spell out on this page that’d be nice too.


About b-psycho

Left-libertarian blogger & occasional musician.
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4 Responses to The Confident Watchers

  1. Todd S says:

    speaking on condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA

    Another takeaway from that line is that they’ve finally cottoned on to the notion that official leaks are still leaks and are technically just as punishable as unsanctioned leaks. So now they specify that not only are they official, but permissible as well. Anything said without permission will be prosecuted.

  2. B Psycho says:

    Basically though they don’t fear us, they fear The Boss.

  3. Atticus C. says:

    My feeling, as it should be obvious to everyone, is that if the Government CAN use the device to collect data on a person they ARE using the device to collect data on the person. Whether that be cell phones, lap top webcams, automobile voice navigation, etc.

    I think the hard part, that the Government may or may not yet do well, is actually sorting and searching that data. The question of “is it being collected” is a given.

  4. dmantis says:

    I think they are much better at sorting and searching than they let on.

    Their problem is storage.

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