What Can the N.S.A. do With Cell Phone and Internet Data?

Friday, June 07, 2013

There is growing outrage at the revelation this week that the Obama administration required Verizon Business to provide call data on their customers. The idea that the government can access private data in a blanket fashion is cause for concern for many.

Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee. In response to questions from Senators about collection of the phone records, he said:

“Members of Congress have been fully briefed as these issues, matters have been underway."

John Cutter, formerly with the NYPD’s Criminal Intelligence Section on issues of counterterrorism, explains why the NSA is seeking these large amounts of call data.

The NSA’s collection of data is not limited phones. The Guardian broke the story that the NSA is mining user internet data via sites like Google, Facebook, and Apple for audio and video chats, emails, documents, pictures and more.

Douglas Rushkoff, author of "Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age," isn't surprised by the news. He's also the author of, "Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now."


John Cutter

Produced by:

Tyler Adams, Kristen Meinzer and Jillian Weinberger

Comments [7]

CK from Westchester

Like the recorded message saying "how can this bother people" that there's no privacy and people post much on Facebook: that's a choice some make. Taking phone logs and other info that is NOT publically available is the issue and is different. If YOU post your whole life on FB or other, that's up to you. So many just want to look the other way while this is under Obama I am stunned. Where's the outrage? They're taking your info, they're defying reason and there are so many who excuse it. Unbelievable. Keep telling yourself this is okay, and pretty soon they'll just be taking all our private info to use as they wish.

Jun. 07 2013 04:02 PM
Greg M from Portland

At the end of the day, we should recall that Joseph McCathy's "Red Hunts". The black balling of Hollywood due to "associations" is exactly the problem.

Give me Insecurity and liberty, rather than security and chains.

Jun. 07 2013 01:22 PM
Maggie Dunham from Dallas

I personally have very mixed feelings about this "new" revelation. However, this really isn't new. It has been going on for years - long before Obama. So both parties are participating.

I, did, however feel that the discussion this morning could have been much more informative than it was. As a data mining professional, I have myself looked at Call Detail Records (CDR). These records are much like what we see in our monthly cell phone bills. They contain general information (source phone number, destination phone number, time, length of call). There are no specifics about the content of the calls themselves.

These CDRS are used to create a social network graph showing relationships among phone numbers that can be weighted based on things like number of times calls between these numbers were made or length of the phone calls.

What is important here is the BIG PICTURE.

More information would need to be obtained to find out what was said in a phone conversation.

Jun. 07 2013 01:21 PM
Chuck Woolery

Of course your police guest is an NSA apologist. Nothing about this is alright, and the fact that people keep parroting "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" is incredibly reminiscent of past police state rhetoric.

Jun. 07 2013 01:16 PM
Bari from Dania Beach, FL

I find it hard to believe that with all this spying going on the Obama Administration still wasn't able to prevent the Boston Marathon bombing. It begs the question, is the invasion of our privacy truly worth the cost? Americans seem so willing of late to sacrifice "a few" to save many but we if we continue to sacrifice "a few" with each new security operation in the end we have sacrificed many; many good, honest, hard-working, loyal Americans.

Jun. 07 2013 01:03 PM
Angel from Miami, FL

To paraphrase Peter Fonda in Wild Angels, "We wanna be free! We wanna be free to say what we wanna say. We wanna be free to text. We wanna be free to text with our machines without being hassled by The Man! ... And we wanna get online. And we wanna have a good time. And that's what we are gonna do. We are gonna have a good time... We are gonna have a party."

What all this is leading up to is a way to automate the job of espionage. To integrate it to a level where it runs on its own, flagging when it think it needs to flag and send out teams to neutralize "dangers"... even false positive ones. And we're all paying for it. Tens of millions of tax dollars go into vast server farms collecting data on mostly law abiding people and it's never affected by budget cuts. We will cut free lunch for poor kids in school if that's what it comes to.

But that's fine because poor kids don't vot... uh, sponsor political campaigns. Why fight it? Let's just have a party!

Jun. 07 2013 09:24 AM

Have news reporters been following the news lately?
We have an administration using private information
for political reasons and targeting law abiding political opponents.
Are they "bad guys" in the Obama era?

Jun. 07 2013 09:17 AM

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