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Article posted Aug 29 2012, 12:51 PM Category: Big Brother/Orwellian Source: Techdirt Print

NSA Whistleblower Explains How The NSA Is Collecting Data On All Of You (And He's Sorry About It)

by Mike Masnick

Last year, in writing about the US government's vindictive lawsuit against whistleblower and former NSA employee Thomas Drake, we also talked about William Binney -- another ex-NSA employee and whistleblower (who was also raided by the feds, though they failed to find anything they could pin on him in a lawsuit). Binney is the mathematical genius behind one of the key algorithms the NSA is using to track everyone. Here's what the New Yorker said about Binner over a year ago:
Binney expressed terrible remorse over the way some of his algorithms were used after 9/11. ThinThread, the "little program" that he invented to track enemies outside the U.S., "got twisted," and was used for both foreign and domestic spying: "I should apologize to the American people. It's violated everyone's rights. It can be used to eavesdrop on the whole world."
Now, the NY Times has something of a following, including a short documentary feature about Binney and his whistleblowing over the NSA's domestic spying. It's really worth watching as it very simply highlights how vast the domestic spying effort is, however powerful it can be -- and also how the NSA dances around the fact that it's not allowed to spy on Americans. They claim that as long as they're not actually looking at the content they record and store directly, it's just collecting the info and not actually spying on people. That is, they think that acquiring all this data is fine, so long as they don't directly query the info. But... as Binney explains, his algorithms (which have likely been updated quite a bit) can still go through all this info and build basic "profiles" of just about anyone. It's really worth watching, if only to wonder how anyone thinks this is acceptable.

I'd embed the video here, except the geniuses over at the NY Times seem to have not figured out how to allow embeds with their video player.

The documentary was put together by Laura Poitras, who notes that thanks to some over-aggressive surveillance she, too, is on a "watch-list," thanks to a documentary she did about Iraq.
I have been detained at the border more than 40 times. Once, in 2011, when I was stopped at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and asserted my First Amendment right not to answer questions about my work, the border agent replied, “If you don’t answer our questions, we’ll find our answers on your electronics.”’ As a filmmaker and journalist entrusted to protect the people who share information with me, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to work in the United States. Although I take every effort to secure my material, I know the N.S.A. has technical abilities that are nearly impossible to defend against if you are targeted.
All of this attention, by the way, is to question why Congress is so intent on re-authorizing the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) which is what gives the NSA a pass on much of this spying, thanks to a "secret interpretation" of the law, which the public is not allowed to even know about. If this sounds like the sort of thing that shouldn't be allowed in a free and open society, you're just beginning to grasp the problem.

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