Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

The NSA and Consumer Privacy

January 23, 2009

MSNBC has reported, based upon the statements of a former NSA Analyst, that the National Security Administration used credit card purchasing records and financial transaction information in tracking surveillance suspects. According to Russell Tice, a former NSA Analyst appearing on MSNBC Countdown Wednesday, “National Security Administration had access to all Americans’ communications–faxes, phone calls and their computer communications.”

On his subsequent Thursday appearance, Mr. Tice also seem to indicate that there may be instances in which individuals were subject to governmental surveillance based upon consumer purchasing information. Referring in part to his prior interview, Mr. Tice indicated that profiles (“algorithms”) had been developed which may flag certain common activities, such as a brief telephone call, as a terrorist–pattern behavior. In his example, he explained that a 1 to 2 minute pizza delivery call could potentially cause this flag to be raised and instigate surveillance of the individual. He further discusses the use of consumer information by the NSA to monitor the behavior of individuals, some of whom may be ordinary citizens and journalists. This revelation stirs up a host of legal issues concerning privacy and the reasonableness of search/seizure. Mr. Olbermann characterized Mr. Tice’s Wednesday revelations as whistle-blowing. However, in regards utilizing individual consumer buying records, information about this practice by private industry and the government has been available for some years.

Robert O’Harrow’s book No Place to Hide describes the accumulation and sale of consumer buying information by private industry, the correlation of this information with other critical data (such as addresses, birthdates, personal relationships), datamining, and later collaboration between this industry and the government. The result is the potential for surveillance into the intimate details of any person’s life and presents serious questions about what the true and legal meaning of privacy may be. The technology developed to correlate this information is also part of the subject matter of O’Harrow’s book.

Credit goes to Professor Ralph M. Stein for recommending this book to me in 2006 when I was doing research on the topic of internet privacy and national security.

References:

No Place to Hide by Robert O’Harrow, Jr., 2005/2006 Free Press/Simon & Schuster
MSNBC Countdown, January 21, 2009, #3
MSNBC Countdown, January 22, 2009, #3